Bred in Captivity
"Mr. Potter, please control yourself!" the wrinkled old witch cried over the din of the gallery, which had suddenly erupted into chaos. She directed her next command at the gawking masses. "Calm down, you lot, or we'll clear this room!"
Severus Snape (who'd spent his lengthy pretrial detainment in Azkaban prison, willing himself to die the death he'd so miserably failed to achieve by the still-weeping wound on the side of his neck) remained the only placid thing in the room. He'd spent much of the proceedings in a state of wholly unfeigned disinterest, shackled as he was to the chair in the center of the room, refusing to speak in his own defense.
Even he could not ignore Potter's antics. What was the idiot doing? Severus's hopes for a speedy trial and an expedited sentence of death were slowly deteriorating.
Once the reporters and outraged members of wizarding society had calmed themselves, a rather portly gentleman, two rows back and to the left of the old witch, addressed Potter sardonically, "Mr. Potter, your... vigorous and very public defense of Mr. Snape has been duly noted." He paused, then added, "I must admit to my surprise over your change of heart on this issue, however. As a matter of record, it was you who accused Mr. Snape of this crime to begin with."
Potter gritted his teeth, and Severus allowed himself to hope the brat's temper would win out, finally putting an end to this idiotic attempt to defend him.
Surprisingly, Potter composed himself.
"You've heard my testimony regarding that, but I'll repeat for the record—it was crucial to his cover that everyone, including me, believe Professor Snape had killed Professor Dumbledore in cold blood."
Ever the interfering sod, Potter continued, beseeching the entire court, "You've seen Professor Dumbledore's Pensieve memories, you've heard his portrait's testimony regarding the events of that night and you know it was an act of mercy. You've heard Professor Dumbledore's account, and those made by myself and others as well, detailing the enormous personal risks Professor Snape had to take over the years to ensure the defeat of Voldemort, acts of great courage.
"Taking all of that into account, I ask you, sir, with all due respect, how could you reasonably find Professor Snape anything other than innocent?"
Severus bristled at the word; he'd never been truly innocent, not even as a child. It seemed he was not alone in his thinking either, as the din arose again in the room around him. He turned his head, unable to stop himself, toward the portrait he'd so carefully avoided looking at throughout the proceedings, the portrait of his 'victim,' and immediately regretted it. A pang charged through him from, the core of his being to his extremities.
Potter's words were true enough: Albus Dumbledore was as good as dead already that fateful night; they'd just used the circumstances to their advantage. Knowing that he'd've died anyway didn't relieve the onus of guilt; it didn't keep the painful memory of Albus's final moments (made all the more horrifying by the shared thoughts of Legilimency) from haunting him; and it didn't stop Severus from keenly missing the man, whose likeness was currently twinkling and beaming with pride at Potter from an ornate frame. No doubt seeing in the young man an heir to his eccentric and meddlesome ways, if Potter's current behavior were any indication.
Hearing snippets such as "…a Death Eater!" and "…surely guilty of something!" bandied about the room, Severus returned to the comfort of his detachment, clutching a last straw of hope for swift justice and final rest.
The wrinkled witch, having had enough of the ruckus, brought her forefingers to her lips and whistled shrilly into the clamor, instantly bringing order to the room. "Thank you, Mr. Potter. Please take your seat."
The Wizengamot began its whispered discussion, and Severus remained unmoved as they eyed him and then Potter in turn, pointing and nodding in an unusual show of agreement, until the portly judge cackled gleefully, his three chins wobbling in disharmony against one another. Cackling did not bode well, and the nerves Severus had denied for nearly a year suddenly sprang to life in the pit of his stomach.
As the judges found their seats, the shackles on Severus's arms and legs opened without warning.
The old witch ordered, "Mr. Snape, please rise." She looked to his right and added, "Mr. Potter, please join Mr. Snape, as this concerns you as well."
Once Potter stood next to him, she continued, "It is the decision of this court, in its very first unanimous vote, I might add," much nodding and self-congratulatory back patting rippled through the rows of benches, "that Mr. Snape shall be released... conditionally."
The room remained oddly quiet following the confusing statement. Was he free or not?
"Mr. Snape, if you can show this panel, after a probationary period, that you are and remain an upstanding member of society, you shall be granted a full pardon." A buzz of conversation grew in the room, and Severus's left eye began to twitch. "Mr. Potter, your admirable defense of, staunch support for, and obvious confidence in the defendant has convinced the court that Mr. Snape should be released into your custody, where he shall remain from this day until five years hence—"
Severus was certain there was more to it, but while he could see her lips moving (indeed, her lips were all that he could see, as they appeared to have enlarged, filling his entire field of vision), he could hear nothing over the noise he'd first taken for burgeoning conversation. The buzzing grew exponentially, becoming nothing short of a million angry bees confined inside Severus's skull. Apparently, he'd forgotten how to breathe as well, which should not have been a problem for someone with a fervent death wish. But it seemed the involuntary function remained an important one to him.
So, in fact, the only thing he did hear was Potter's startled, "Snape!" before the blackness came over him.
Harry flinched as he watched the MLE official clamp the ornate shackle to Snape's ankle, an iron cuff he would have to wear for the next five years, restricting his freedom and use of magic, and, in a sense, binding him to Harry for the duration.
This was not at all what he'd had in mind when he'd taken up the man's cause.
Snape sat stone-faced, arms crossed tightly in front of his chest. He'd always been fairly skinny, as far as Harry knew, but his injury coupled with his time in Azkaban had not done him a bit of good—he was downright skeletal now and his normal sallow pallor was unnaturally grey, which set off the purplish-black circles under his eyes. There were no words to describe his hair. He looked absolutely wretched, and the shock Harry had experienced upon first seeing him this way hadn't diminished over time.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I wish I could've swayed them against a trial to begin with," Kingsley Shacklebolt said quietly near his ear.
"Yeah, me too," Harry replied. He smiled wryly. "I almost regret being so... loud about it. But I couldn't not say anything. I mean, taking him from St. Mungo's and throwing him into prison was beyond the pale."
"I fear we did rather too well in reforming this Wizengamot—they're a scrupulous lot, but maybe a bit overzealous in their desire to prove it. They wouldn't hear a word of extenuating circumstances." Kingsley shook his head. "Griselda Marchbanks, the new Chief, was a friend of Dumbledore's, and they needed for someone to pay. I certainly don't think anyone expected this outcome though."
"They did offer me an out, but I couldn't send him off to Azkaban. I reckon they knew that too. He might not be a hero, but he's not the villain everyone thought he was either. Anyway, I don't think my mother would've wanted him in Azkaban."
Kingsley squeezed Harry's shoulder. "If you need anything, let me know."
"Thanks, Kingsley. It'll be fine, as long as we don't kill each other." Which was a distinct possibility, Harry thought, his optimism a bit thin of late. He sighed, then smiled wryly. "Not even the Minister could help us in that case."
And what in the world was he going to do with Snape? He'd only just recently reclaimed his family's home—Bramble Cottage—where his Potter grandparents had lived. And though he had no recollection of it, it was the home in which he and his own parents had lived before going into hiding.
Now he had to share it with Snape. For five years.
That thinning optimism disappeared completely as he considered the disaster that surely lay ahead of them.
Potter's home was what the boy had termed a 'cottage,' though it was approximately twenty times the size of Severus's shoddy little row house in Spinner's End, and, in Severus's opinion, pushed the word to its very boundaries.
There was a hint of Muggle paint and sawdust in the air that spoke of recent renovation; a necessity no doubt brought on by long abandonment. The fact that Potter's insufferable father had not lived in this dwelling for nearly two decades (and certainly the fact that Lily had lived there, however briefly) did nothing to lessen the tightening in Severus's chest or the incredible, almost overwhelming wrongness of the entire situation.
He did not belong here. Surely, it was cruel and unusual punishment.
Potter was not helping matters: he seemed at a loss as to what to do with Severus, and so settled upon doting on him, as if Severus were an aged maiden aunt on holiday.
"Are you all right? Would you like some water? Do you need to sit down?" Potter paused, then, seeming to latch onto an idea, blurted, "Tea! I could make tea."
Severus's chest tightened; he wouldn't have it. If he was to be a prisoner, then he should be treated as such, no matter how posh the prison. "Show me to my cell, Potter."
The boy looked stricken, which only slightly righted the wrong-footedness he felt, and Severus managed to hold his tongue until his jailer finally led him into a sunny, nicely appointed guest suite that smelled pleasantly of lemon verbena.
"Sorry, fresh out of cells—this'll have to do."
There was a twist of irony in Potter's tone and a hopeful look on his face, which further tightened the band that had formed around Severus's chest. This would not do. "It's hardly befitting a murderer. Have you no cellar, no bars through which to shove my bread and water?"
Ignoring him, Potter said, "I wasn't expecting a guest—I've only just moved in myself—but everything should be in order. The loo is this door here." Potter opened said door, revealing an enormous en suite of gleaming granite and shining glass tiles. Severus was having trouble breathing again as Potter continued, "If you need anything, just call for Kreacher." Potter flushed, then added as he moved toward the door, "Or me. I'm, er, at the end of the corridor."
No, this wouldn't do at all. Forcing the necessary air out of his constricted lungs, Severus, desperate for a reaction that made any sort of sense to him, hissed, "I killed him, Potter."
Potter flinched slightly at the stark confession, but only nodded in understanding.
Suddenly looking decades older than the nearly nineteen years he could claim, Potter responded sadly, just before quietly closing the door, "I know, Snape."
"Wish you were coming to Australia with us this time, mate," Ron said, almost absentmindedly, for the third time that evening. He threw another peanut up in the air and caught it in his mouth. Harry watched him from across the table as he repeated the action several times with varying degrees of success.
The pub was loud and smoky, but in a comforting way, and Harry was glad they'd discovered the little Muggle place in Ipswich. And it was close enough to the cottage to walk (a long walk, but still doable) on those nights when splinching might be a better-than-average possibility.
Harry sighed. "Wish I were, too. But Snape's here now and I can't very well bugger off to another country and leave him alone. Especially since he hasn't been out of bed in four days."
"Four days? Is that true?" Hermione asked, sounding dismayed.
"According to Kreacher, yeah. I, er, haven't been inside his room."
"Can't say I blame you there," Ron put in as a peanut bounced off his nose and hit the man sitting at the table next to them in the back. Luckily, it went unnoticed.
"Oh, but that can't be good! He's not been up at all? Has he eaten anything?" Hermione's hand shot out with impressive speed and snatched the next peanut from the jaws of its fate. "Stop," she commanded quietly but firmly, then turned her attention back to Harry.
"No, not much if anything to eat. Not for Kreacher's lack of trying—he's a bit beside himself about it, actually."
"Professor Snape might be depressed." Hermione looked thoughtful for a moment. "It must be horrible for him."
"Thanks a lot." Harry chortled, not really taking offense.
"That's not what I meant," Hermione said. She explained, ticking off points on her fingers as she made them, "He's lived a double life, in an extremely precarious position, for the last several years. Then, while still recovering from a wound that should have been fatal, he was thrown into prison. It must've been an enormous shock to him that he lived through it, actually. Then, just when he thinks it's over, he's sentenced to be a prisoner in the home of a former student, one whom he's always been at odds with, as well as being in the family home of a man he considered an enemy, and a woman who was probably his only true friend. A friend he lost because of his own poor choices, yes, and one who died before he could set it right with her, again as a direct result of his poor choices. And he has no one to talk to about everything that's happened—has no one at all really. He must be terribly lonely. I'll wager his childhood wasn't ideal either. It's really no wonder the man is a mess."
Ron looked at Hermione as if she'd sprouted another head. "Where d'you come up with this stuff?"
Harry didn't comment, nursing his beer instead, and thought about what she'd said. He'd never told his friends about the memories he'd seen of Snape's childhood, but Hermione had always somehow seemed to be in tune with other people's feelings. And while, on the one hand, he could easily dismiss most of it as being Snape's own fault, he also didn't particularly want the man to suffer either. He'd had some time to come to terms with Snape's part in everything and the profound effect it'd had on Harry's life, all the way back to before Harry was born. And he'd accepted that it had all happened the way it absolutely had to in order to finally end it for good with Voldemort.
No, he laid the blame squarely at Voldemort's feet. It did Harry's head in a bit to think that without Voldemort, he likely would have two very much alive parents, maybe a bunch of younger siblings. He would've been raised in the wizarding world, and Snape would have been just some wanker that his parents had known at school, with whom they might never cross paths. Surely, Snape wouldn't have chosen teaching as his career....
A wave of melancholy washed over Harry as he had a sudden, crystal-clear vision of how his life might've been, all the people he'd lost, still alive and well.
Feeling choked up, he took another deep swallow of his beer to cover the moment, willing the feeling away. Wishing things had been different never helped; it was an emotional minefield that was best avoided. Making a list of what and who had been lost was a very, very bad idea.
Hermione and Ron appeared not to notice his brief journey into the land of What If. She rolled her eyes at Ron and turned back to Harry. "You can't let him do that to himself, Harry. You have to engage him somehow, challenge him, make him get out of bed at the very least."
He couldn't imagine making Snape do anything he didn't want to—he wasn't looking forward to an intervention—but she was right. "I know, Hermione. I'll do what I can."
The gloom that had invaded his mood did not improve when, a few moments later, Ron asked, "Hey, where's Gin? I thought she was gonna meet us here."
"She's, uh, not coming." Harry took yet another fortifying swig of beer, as, for the second time that evening, he felt a prickling sensation behind his eyes. No need to be such a girl about things. "She... we're not together anymore."
"What?" Ron asked, clearly shocked. "But how? When? Why?"
Hermione didn't look surprised, though; whether it was because of her mysterious powers of emotion divining or if Ginny had told her, Harry couldn't say.
"Honestly, Ron. Must you be so insensitive?" She squeezed Harry's forearm. "Are you all right? Do you need to talk about it?"
Thankfully, he managed to wrestle control over his composure before he lost it, and was able to respond without the pesky emotions welling up within him. "I'm all right, and so is she. It was mutual." Mostly. "Things weren't... I'm different, she's different, the world's different." He gestured vaguely with his hand. "Nothing clicked the way it did before. Maybe we were apart for too long. We decided we're better as friends, and that's all there is to it," he added, hoping Hermione wouldn't press him for more.
Just because it was true didn't mean it didn't hurt. It didn't mean he wanted to talk about it either.
She looked somewhat skeptical, but her attention was drawn away from Harry as Ron stood suddenly and walked away.
Before Harry could process what had happened, though, his best friend returned, placing two of the four beers he was carrying in front of Harry. "Drink up, mate."
Harry smiled in gratitude. Even Hermione seemed to understand the gesture for what it was, smiling fondly up at Ron.
And if later in the evening, as he found the bottom of the fifth beer, Harry had become a bit weepy, his friends were great enough not to mention it.
Severus had never developed a plan for After The War.
After The War was for the rest of the world, for those who hadn't sullied their souls to save it. His only plan had been to die, and by the end of it all, he'd begun to look forward to it… with relish.
The hope that the Wizengamot would see fit to sentence him to death was the only thing that had kept him from falling into an inescapable pit of despair. There was nothing, now, to stop the steady spiral downward. He'd crawled into the bed he'd been assigned—ironically, the most comfortable bed he'd ever lain upon—and remained there, stubbornly refusing the lavish meals the house-elf pressed upon him, ignoring the occasional knock on his door and the tentative, "Snape?" that invariably followed.
He lost track of time—it might've been three days, it might've been three weeks—and he'd achieved a sort of lethargic trance state to occupy the odd moments when he was not sleeping. Occasionally, he would wonder how long he could last this way, but couldn't possibly work up the energy to accelerate the process.
The new routine was not so much comfortable as numbing, and feeling nothing, he found, was an acceptable state of being while he waited for nature to finally claim him.
However, as in all things, Potter seemed to have his own ideas.
Severus's lethargy was so complete that he didn't even twitch when the door slammed open with a loud bang.
"Okay, Snape, time to get up!"
Severus could hear him moving around the room but did not acknowledge the intruder.
The bed curtain was drawn aside, spilling bright, unwelcome light into his dark cocoon.
"Merlin, Kreacher was right: you are ripe!" Potter proclaimed. "Congratulations. D'you know what it takes to offend a house-elf's senses? I didn't even know it was possible."
The bed curtains on the other side of him were thrust open without warning.
"C'mon, Snape—wakey, wakey."
Severus lifted his head, ignoring the pain that the bright light caused his eyes in favor of bestowing the brat with the most ferocious scowl he could muster, then froze when Potter came at him with wand drawn. This was more like it; perhaps Potter had come to put him out of his misery after all.
But no, Potter was apparently there only to add to it. Severus felt the tingle of magic, quietly and profoundly intimate, as the cleansing spell worked over his skin.
"Is it 'Abuse the Prisoner' day, Potter?" Severus croaked out of his disused and not entirely healed throat.
"Abuse? The only thing being abused here is my nose," the brat scoffed. "C'mon, Snape, up and at 'em."
"No. I've let you indulge yourself with this wallowing way too long. The bread and water routine is getting old."
Severus sat up then, experiencing a moment of lightheadedness from the sudden action. "Self-indulgent wallowing! You sanctimonious little—"
Potter raised his wand and hit him again with the cleansing spell. "Look at you, sitting up and everything."
Well, of course the trick had worked, Severus was not as sharp as he used to be, and Potter had always known which of his buttons to push.
"Look, Hermione reckons you're depressed." Before Severus could tell Potter exactly what he thought of that declaration, Potter continued, "Don't look at me like that—she's concerned. We both are. While nobody could blame you for it, I can't let you just waste away. At least let Kreacher change the dressing on your neck."
Had the boy no sense? "I am a prisoner, Potter. I demand that you treat me as such."
"No!" Potter shouted, his face becoming fierce. He repeated the word, in a quieter but no less adamant tone, "No. I lived through that—complete with bars on the windows and scraps of food shoved through a cat door." He added softly but firmly, "No one will be treated that way in my home."
Though he recognized the stubborn set of Potter's jaw, Severus tried again. "I’m certain the Ministry had punishment in mind when they attached this," he shoved his foot out from under the blankets, revealing the iron cuff binding him to Potter's property or person, "to my ankle, then foisted me on you. The question, it seems, is which of us were they actually punishing?"
"They didn't foist you on me."
He made to argue, but Potter shook his head and added, "After you fainted, they gave me a choice. If I chose not to have you here, you would spend the five years in Azkaban. So you're stuck with me. And you have to get out of bed."
Severus sat stunned, speechless for a moment. Potter had chosen to have him there, for some bizarre reason had spared him the magic dampening wards and brutal, bitter Squib guards of Azkaban. It was beyond his comprehension.
"Why are you doing this, Potter? Why do you even care? We've loathed one another from the moment we met—did you believe that killing the Dark Lord would change that?"
"Don't worry. I know exactly who and what you are: a bitter, vindictive man who can hold a grudge like nobody's business. And one who took way too much pleasure in hating me and making my life miserable." Potter sighed, suddenly seeming to deflate. "But my mother cared about you, and I know that I couldn't have done it without you. Too many people are gone, Snape. I'd like to think you survived Nagini's attack, against all odds, for a reason." He clenched his fists at his side. "And I need for you to be okay," Potter paused again, before saying one last, extraordinary thing, "because if you're okay, then maybe I can be too."
Severus found himself once again cast into the unenviable role of the savior's savior.
So be it.
"I did not faint."
Potter relaxed slightly and smirked. "Oh? Only it looked like fainting to me."
Harry sank into the worn sofa, grateful for the cool and quiet of the room, and for the general sense of comfort he always felt just by being at the Burrow.
"What're you doin' hiding in here?" Ron asked, navigating the journey through the doorway and across the room with the extreme care of someone who'd had a tad too much to drink, but not so much that he wasn't aware of it. Once he'd reached his destination, Ron abandoned that carefulness and flopped down, sprawling onto the sofa next to Harry.
"M'not hiding. It's just a bit too crowded out there."
They sat in companionable silence for a bit, then Harry reached over and poked Ron in the ribs.
"Hey. You're married."
"I am." Ron grinned stupidly. "Brilliant, innit?"
"Yeah, it is." Harry grinned back, genuinely happy for his best friends. "Rotten luck on the honeymoon, though."
"You don't know the half of it." Ron glanced furtively around the room, then said in a low voice, "She's planning on revising tomorrow. You thought she was mental at Hogwarts?" He rolled his eyes. "Nothing compared to Uni. I'm lucky I convinced her to leave off tonight." He shrugged. "We'll go somewhere eventually—her hols come round the same time the Warriors' season ends."
"Not expecting a championship game, then? S'been a good year for you."
"That'd be brilliant, but I don't think so. Too green, the lot of us. I'm really just hoping for experience, maybe get picked up by someone when we come back."
By 'someone,' Harry had no doubt Ron meant the Cannons. He couldn't allow himself to get excited about them coming back just yet though—Hermione had a couple more years left and anything could happen in that time. Changing the subject instead, he said, "Hey, who was that woman with Percy?"
"Winifred something or other. Ministry, 'course. I swear if she said, 'lovely ceremony' one more time, I'd've hexed her."
"Well it was nice."
"Yeah." Ron smiled. "Shame Snape wouldn't come."
"Just as well, really." Harry sighed.
Ron sniggered. "Still walking round in his knickers, is he?"
Stuffing down the disturbing image provoked by Ron's use of the word 'knickers' in reference to Snape, Harry sighed again. "Yes. So you can tell your bride that she was wrong."
"Sorry, mate—there's no way in hell I'm telling Hermione she was wrong about anything. Especially on my wedding night." Ron laughed. "How was she wrong?"
"I've embraced the underwear, just like she said—I even gave him some Muggle boxers for Christmas. You know, with cartoon characters and funny designs on them." He paused when he noticed Ron was shaking with laughter. "What's so funny?"
"You!" Ron gasped between howls. "Buying Snape underwear—funny picture underwear—and embracing it!"
Harry mock-scowled at him, and then laughed along with him.
"I'm sorry," Ron said, wiping at his eyes. "I'm all right now, I swear. Merlin that's funny." He snorted again. "Okay. I'll stop. Go on."
"Well, she thought Snape was only doing it for the shock value, so accepting it should've made it stop. Only it hasn't."
"Tough luck, that."
"Nah, I'm used to it now." It was really only a bit unsettling when Snape chose to wear the saggy gray ones he'd brought with him. "I think he's doing it... dunno, maybe as a sort freedom thing. He's expected to wear clothing, so he chooses not to. Does that make sense?"
Ron's half-shrug and half-nod was affirmative enough, so Harry continued, "So I've been letting him decide just about everything—he's taken over the kitchen, he has free rein in the library and has rearranged the books into some mad system that only he understands. He's taken over the garden too. He spends a lot of time out there, actually." Harry smiled wryly. Living with Snape was not nearly as bad as he'd imagined it would be—in fact, they got along fairly well. "Likely he thinks I'm an idiot who can't make a decision for himself, but he thought that before, so nothing new there."
"Kreacher doesn't mind Snape invading his kitchen?"
"I've heard them bickering, but honestly? Kreacher's old even for an elf. I think he's relieved and only argues for form's sake."
Harry and Ron fell into another companionable silence, and Harry's mind turned back to the image the knickers comment had created, which was disturbing only for its not-nearly-disturbing-enough-ness, and Harry was nowhere near ready to think about that, so he pushed it away again. Though it led to another: he'd tried to broach the subject with Ron and Hermione several times, but wasn't sure how to do it in a letter.
Maybe a bit of testing the waters was in order.
Without looking at him, Harry asked, "Ron? Have you ever known anyone who's gay?"
Much to Harry's surprise, Ron pressed a hand to his own chest, somewhat dramatically, slumping even further into the sofa, then said, "Oh thank Merlin!"
"Hermione said we weren't allowed talk to you about it unless you said something first. I've been goin' barmy waiting." Ron shifted, sat up straighter and turned toward Harry, hitching a knee onto the sofa between them. "So, talk."
"What're you on about?"
"Harry," Ron began wryly, "your letters are nothing but Ian this and Ian that—even I couldn't miss it. If I hadn't known it was Ian Ketteridge, the same spotty Ravenclaw Ian Ketteridge who was a year ahead of us at school, I'd've thought he invented magic."
"Oh." Harry blushed slightly. He hadn't realized he'd been so obvious. "He's, uhm, not so spotty anymore."
"I gathered that." Ron laughed, then asked, "So you're good? Happy? No emotional traumas I should go fetch Hermione to sort out?"
"Because I'm a poof?" Harry snorted. "None to speak of, thanks. I'm just having fun."
It was true enough. He missed Ron and Hermione terribly—Ron especially, because of Auror training, which had turned out not to be what he'd thought, but having Ian as a training partner had certainly helped.
"Who was the 'we' you meant when you said, 'we weren't allowed'?" Harry asked.
Shrugging, Ron said, "Pretty much everyone. Especially after yesterday."
"Yesterday? What happened yesterday?"
Ron smirked. "Charlie on a broom, ring any bells for you?"
Bells and more. Charlie's arse was a thing of beauty—round and firm—and Harry had wanted to take a bite of it when they'd been playing Quidditch, and... oh. Clearly, he'd made no secret of the fact. "Oh god."
"Nah, don't worry about it. No one minded. Least of all Charlie."
Which was why when Harry awoke later that night (with a head four times its normal size and a mouth tasting of sweaty socks), he wasn't at all surprised by the large, freckled, burn-scarred arm that pulled him closer to a broad, bare chest or the nearly inaudible, whisky-laden, "Shhhh," that followed.
But none of that—not the rather athletic tumble with Charlie, not the great talk with Ron, not the grinning, knowing looks he'd received from various smug Weasleys shortly before he left for home, not even the disturbingly-not-disturbing image of Snape in black lacy knickers—prepared him for what he witnessed from his own bedroom window the morning after the wedding.
Holding his swollen head gingerly—to keep it from rolling off of his shoulders—Harry Apparated home, directly into his bedroom. Thankfully, in one piece. It'd been risky to Apparate, but even the thought of Flooing home set his stomach roiling.
He loved Mrs. Weasley dearly, but putting her foot down about Hangover Potion, the sweet nectar of relief, coupled with the disapproving yet somehow highly amused, "You lot'll reap what you've sown," was just not on.
Harry grabbed the bottle he needed from his en suite, and shuffled the short distance to the little sitting area in his bedroom, swallowing the potion as he did so, then sat quietly for a moment, waiting for the dose to take effect. When his head felt relatively normal-sized again, he eased his eyes open to find the soothing sight of the garden outside the window to his right.
Looking down from his vantage point, he could see the riot of colors, the water feature, the meanders leading to the center of it all, where there was a birdbath in a grassy clearing.
Lying in the grass.
One hand working his cock, two fingers of the other pressing rhythmically in and out of his arse.
Harry looked at the bottle in his hand to be certain he hadn't taken the wrong potion, and no, it was the right one, so he wasn't hallucinating.
Knowing it was a horrible violation of Snape's privacy, he looked into the garden again and was then unable to look away. Harry pressed down on his own firming erection with the heel of his hand, until Snape threw his head back and came with a shout that Harry couldn't hear.
Despite that one not-disturbing knickers image, Harry had never thought of Snape as sexual, had never imagined the man even knew the word sex.
Good god, the look of abandon on Snape's face, the pure ecstasy of the moment....
Harry pressed down harder on the throbbing between his legs. Shower. It was definitely time for a shower.
Later that evening, Harry couldn't look Snape in the eye, so instead, he concentrated on the rather excellent meal in front of him.
"I wish to speak with you about the garden."
The conversation was doomed from the start, because whatever Snape might have said after that never registered: the word 'garden' flung Harry's mind right back to the garden scene he'd witnessed earlier in the day.
That was, until Snape said, "I'd like to try courgettes and squash..."
Harry choked on a bit of asparagus as the Snape in his head began using courgettes and squash in an unconventional but highly interesting fashion.
"Potter, have you heard a single word I've said?"
Snape's voice finally broke into the fog of Harry's fantasy.
"Uhm, one or two, yeah," he answered truthfully. "What was it that you needed?"
"The garden. Do try to keep up, Potter. I wish to make a vegetable garden." Snape rolled his eyes. "Really, if this is the effect that alcohol has on your already struggling brain function, it might be advisable for you to abstain in the future. Clearly, you cannot afford the loss of brain cells."
Harry looked up at Snape, then really looked at him. Gone were the purple rings under his eyes, his skin was a healthy color (healthier than Harry had ever seen it), he'd gained a bit of weight, his hair was long and though it still hung somewhat limply, it wasn't the disaster it'd been when he'd first arrived here. Basically, the man no longer looked like death warmed over. Snape would never be beautiful, but Harry suspected this was as good as he'd ever looked. Harry had a moment of pride: he'd done this, or at least had helped it along.
Furthermore, he realized, despite his dire thoughts early on about the success of their forced co-habitation, he actually liked having the bastard around.
That shocking thought alone drove him to say, "You know, Snape, you might just be right about the alcohol."
It took three and a half years, with the exception of one or two setbacks—oh all right, possibly several more than one or two—but Severus no longer wished to die with every fiber of his being.
A marked improvement, one would think.
And though he was still a prisoner, he was able to find his freedom in small ways. Not that Potter imposed any restrictions on him—indeed, Potter went out of his way to be accommodating. It did not change the fact that Severus was not, by definition, a free man.
The first time Severus had made an appearance in his undergarments had been entirely accidental, eighteen months into his stay with Potter. He'd merely wished to exchange the book he'd finished for another, and in his defense, it was shortly after two in the morning and modesty was rather far from his mind. He'd listened from his doorway for even the smallest sound indicating Potter might be up and about. The complete and utter silence had driven him down the stairs and into the library with confidence, only to find the room full of Potter's friends.
Instead of running, as was Severus's first instinct, he'd forced himself to continue on as if he were dressed for such a gathering. They'd already seen him, and it wouldn't do to appear bothered by the situation.
"Snape! Sorry, did we wake you? I thought the Silencing Charm would take care of the noise." Potter kept his face neutral and made no mention of Severus's state of dress, or rather, undress.
His friends, however, were not so adept at schooling their features.
"Do not mind me, Potter, I only wished to get the next volume in the series." He flashed the book in Potter's general direction as he walked to the shelf from which it'd come—though he had yet to make sense of Potter's imbecilic shelving system, he did find the rest of the series there.
Granger's cheeks had pinked, but apart from Potter, she'd been the only one who seemed to remain otherwise unaffected and had greeted him from her perch on one of the two overstuffed sofas with a pleasant, "Hello, Professor. I think you'll enjoy the second book—it's one of my favorites of the series."
"Thank you, Miss Granger. I'm certain I shall." He'd tipped the new book in parting as if it were a jaunty chapeau and they'd met in the park on a Sunday constitutional, and walked in a dignified manner out of the room, closing the door behind him. Heart pounding, he'd leant against the closed portal, grateful that the Silencing Charm was still in place.
He should have felt humiliated, a room full of former students; instead, he'd felt exhilarated. The looks on their faces, ranging from stupefaction to horror, had been priceless, absolutely delicious. Longbottom and Weasley in particular.
Part of the exhilaration had been inducing the shock, admittedly. But there was more to it than that; flying in the face of convention, of the expectations of others, had been incredibly satisfying, almost, dare he think it, freeing.
Potter, to his credit, had made no mention of his perpetual state of deshabille, and shortly after that first time, went so far as to give Severus complete autonomy over several household matters, including, to Severus's great relief, the library.
Although, in the year and a half since, he'd discovered that there were some advantages to proper attire—while cooking or gardening, for example. He'd found contentment in equal measure with both activities. And Potter's garden was spectacular, if he said so himself. Severus had labored tirelessly to bring it back to life, and he sincerely doubted it had ever before been as lush. It was his haven. He spent hours at a time there, enjoying the fruits of his labor, so to speak.
Severus inhaled deeply, taking in the delicious scent already wafting out of the bubbling pot in front of him. He added a pinch of this and a dash of that until he was satisfied, then lowered the flame.
His restricted magic left Severus unable to brew potions, left him, actually, unable to perform all but the most rudimentary of wandless spells: lighting and extinguishing lamps and candles was nearly the extent of it. Cooking was something he was able to do without assistance. And what was cooking, after all, but the combining of particular and hopefully harmonious ingredients?
It was an agreeable substitute.
With supper underway, Severus covered the pot and took off his plain white apron, hanging it on the hook near the door.
He'd developed a routine of sorts, and had found it rather satisfying. Satisfying in more ways than one, as the sudden and altogether unexpected return of his long-quiescent libido had led to an addition to his routine, to which his haven in the garden often played host. Severus had always found sex out of doors enormously stimulating; that he was alone did not diminish the thrill of it. Beyond that, however, he found that the self-assigned chores on his list helped keep him from falling back into that pit of despair, the precipice of which he'd frequently teetered on over the years.
With actual gardening on his mind this morning, Severus headed out the back door, only to realize that he'd left the vegetable garden schematic he'd come up with on his bedside table.
"Bugger." Sighing, Severus went back into the kitchen to make the walk through the house and up to his room. A back-staircase would have been extremely helpful at that point, but the house had been designed for a wizarding family of means, and of course, house-elves didn't require a staircase, back or front.
He moved silently, but stopped short of the entry hall when he happened upon a surprising scene that had him catching his breath.
Potter had someone... Severus squinted in the colorful half-light provided by the stained-glass transom window: the slightly overlong, soft brown waves of hair led him to suspect it was Ketteridge whom Potter had pressed up against the wall next to the Floo, kissing and laughing softly.
Something twisted inside him and he stood incredulous for moment, stunned by the world shifting slightly sideways. Then he pushed it aside—the incredulity, and that other painful, unnamed thing his insides were doing—becoming angry instead, which wasn't any more reasonable than the other nonsense, but was certainly more comfortable. He cleared his throat loudly and the two men sprang apart as if Severus had thrown a spell between them.
"Snape, I... uhm, thought you were in the garden." Potter's face had become a light crimson and his discomfiture helped ease the sudden anger, tempering it somewhat.
"Clearly, I am not."
"Mr. Ketteridge." Severus nodded curtly.
"Ian was just... er, going."
The young man in question jumped at the opportunity to exit. "Right. Going." He took a pinch of powder from the box on the mantel and turned to Potter with a smirk. "See you later?"
"Definitely," Potter responded with a half-smile that was somehow... intimate.
That same painful something within Severus twisted and reared its ugly head, and suddenly, he was outraged.
He knew this sensation, and it was preposterous—he was absolutely not jealous.
"Doesn't the Ministry frown upon fraternization, Potter?" Severus asked before he could stop himself.
Potter shrugged, insolent and defiant, as usual. "Dunno. Never thought to ask."
Desperate to be away from the scene, away from everything, especially his ridiculous thoughts, Severus moved towards the stairs.
"Snape?" Potter called out somewhat hesitantly when Severus had progressed halfway up the stairs.
Severus turned to Potter but made no response.
"You're not... are you angry because of Ian? I mean because he's a he?"
The situation was utterly and painfully laughable, but Severus managed to keep his composure. "That, Mr. Potter, would be entirely hypocritical of me," he confessed.
"So you're not angry?"
"No. I am not." And it was true. That burst of temper he'd felt initially had gone as quickly as it had gripped him.
"Wait, you said it would be hypocritical of you...."
"Evan Rosier was a beautiful young man." Severus watched as the Potter finally worked it out.
"You... But... I wish I'd known that when I was trying to figure this all out," Potter said quietly, almost to himself, seemingly still shocked by the revelation. He ran a hand through his already disastrous hair, wreaking further havoc. "Though I don't reckon you'd've fancied a conversation, in any case. And I can't say that I would've been eager for a chat with you about it either." He smiled wryly. "I just never imagined. Could I ask you a question?"
"You may, though I make no promise to answer it."
"My mother. I thought you..." Potter hesitated, gestured oddly, floundering.
Severus sighed, turned fully towards Potter, and sat down on the step behind him. This was neither the time nor the place for such a conversation—no such ideal moment or venue existed, as far as he was concerned—but perhaps a little clearing of the air was in order.
"It can't have escaped your notice that you've yet to actually ask a question," Severus intoned, stalling.
Potter merely shrugged.
Severus sighed again and leant forward, resting his elbows on his knees, glad for the second time that day that he'd chosen to don trousers and a shirt. He collected his thoughts while Potter waited patiently at the foot of the staircase, leaning against the carved-wood newel post. When Severus only sighed again, Potter moved up the stairs and sat next to him.
Not having to look at the boy was a relief, so Severus was able to begin by addressing the non-question, "You drew your own conclusions from the memories that I shared with you, and you believed what you needed to believe in order to trust me, and to understand what was being asked of you. Though admittedly, it wasn't entirely wide of the mark."
Was he actually contemplating doing this? It seemed that after years of silence, of things he'd thought buried too deeply to excavate properly, he suddenly felt compelled to elaborate, to speak of these things with another human being. That it was Potter seemed somehow fitting. Perhaps he owed the boy at least that much.
"When Lily Evans came into my life, I was a love-starved child, bitter and jaded, even at that tender age. She was unlike any person I'd ever before encountered, a mythical creature of light come to life. That she would find something worthy of befriending in me was incredible, unbelievable. And that disbelief colored everything in my world, certain as I was that at any moment she would come to her senses and turn me away.
"By the time we'd reached school, and adolescence had me thoroughly in its grip, my head was easily turned by Evan Rosier. Lucius Malfoy, as well. They were charming and beautiful and treated me as if I were of value, promising a special place for me in their 'New Order,' filling my head with nonsense and feeding my hatred of my Muggle father. I became infatuated with them and with what they were selling, utterly enthralled. And when Lily began distancing herself from me, it was only as I'd expected, you see, what I'd been waiting for all those years."
Severus took a moment, rubbing his face with one hand. It was more difficult than he'd imagined, reliving these things. He would not speak of Regulus, he decided. That was entirely too close and belonged only to Severus, memories both cherished and haunting.
"So you didn't hate my dad because he married my mum?" Potter asked when Severus remained quiet.
"Hardly," Severus sneered. "Your father earned my hatred entirely on his own merit. He and Black were despicable."
This, too, he could not discuss. The bitterness had lessened some over time, but had not died out completely with them. Strange to think they were all gone now. Even Lupin, whose only real offense had been associating with James Potter and Sirius Black in the first place.
There was a sudden warmth at Severus's side, and he realized that Potter had leant into him briefly, so that their shoulders touched. He meant to object, but he found the warmth (and the gesture), however fleeting, to be strangely comforting, companionable even, and he couldn't bring himself to speak against it.
"I never told anyone, you know," Potter put in. "About the memories I saw, the ones I wasn't meant to see, I mean. I talked to Remus and Sirius about my dad being such a berk—but I was still so ashamed. I'm sorry he treated you that way. You didn't deserve that."
Stunned, Severus finally turned to look at Potter, only to find that he'd been entirely sincere.
Severus cleared his throat, uncomfortable now, because he had to take this a step further than he'd been prepared to, and he was uncertain he would be able to do it successfully. "It is not for you to apologize..." Severus closed his eyes and took a breath before continuing, "Although, I understand why you might think it is. My treatment of you over the years—"
Potter's shoulder brushed his again as he interrupted. "Please don't tell me you never actually hated me. I don't think my heart could take the shock." There was a smile in his voice, which seemed to diffuse the powerful tension of the moment and Severus was grateful for it.
"Oh, make no mistake, I loathed you intensely," Severus said wryly, then hesitated before admitting in a far more serious tone, "and... quite unfairly." He couldn't look at Potter, and the boy did not interrupt this time. "In my grief- and guilt-stricken mind, I managed to transfer the entire weight of the blame to you, an infant. It was you who caused the Dark Lord to turn his attention toward Lily and then to ultimately kill her, or so I wanted desperately to believe. By the time you'd reached Hogwarts, I'd had years to cultivate this hatred, and it festered spectacularly. That you were, inevitably, the spitting image of your father only made it that much easier to perpetuate the delusion."
"I see," Potter said softly, a note of dejection in his voice.
"No, I don't think that you do." Severus took a calming breath and steeled himself for the rest. "You managed to surprise me. Oh, you often met my lowest expectations, behaving as I would expect the spawn of James Potter to behave, but there have been moments, many astonishing moments, most especially that last year..." Severus leant forward again, resting his elbows on his knees, and scrubbed a hand over his face. Keeping his eyes on the stairs stretching out below him, he continued, "I have been forced to... reassess my opinion of you on several occasions. Most recently, following my arrival here. As well, I've had to accept my own culpability—not only in my current circumstance, but also in the effect my decisions had on those around me. Most especially," Severus swallowed and closed his eyes briefly, "your mother."
Severus hoped Potter could hear or at least had understood the apology in the explanation, because he couldn't go on. He'd said more to Potter, and had spilled more truths, than he had to anyone in his entire miserable life. However necessary he'd deemed it, it had been too intimate, too personal, entirely too revealing for Severus's comfort.
The warmth was back at his shoulder, as Potter leant forward, mimicking Severus's position. "For what it's worth, Snape, I forgave you a long time ago, for everything. As far as I'm concerned, it's all down to Voldemort. And he's gone, nothing but dust and rot by now, or so I hope."
Stunned once again, Severus replied, "It is worth a great deal, Potter." Humbled, he continued, "I have done nothing to deserve such generosity from you; however, I am grateful for it."
Severus stood, suddenly weary to his very core. The garden could wait—it would still be there tomorrow.
Potter called out as Severus hit the first landing, "Snape?"
Once again, Severus turned without comment.
"We've... uhm, basically been living together for nearly four years. D'you think you could call me Harry now?"
"As you wish... Harry." It'd been remarkably easy to say, and Harry looked unaccountably delighted by it, which prompted Severus to add, Merlin help him, "You may call me Severus."
"Is it weird calling him by his first name?" Ian asked, silently casting a Lumos into the open doorway ahead of them.
Harry snorted. "Not any weirder than living with him, I guess."
It actually was weird, but Harry was thoroughly chuffed about it anyway. He wasn't about to share that with Ian though, or Severus's other revelations either, for that matter. Harry liked Ian well enough, but that was private, and not really his to share.
They entered the Muggle warehouse, which was dimly lit even in the afternoon sun. It was foul-smelling as well, and Harry couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. This was supposed to be routine: a small flare-up of magic in an unexpected place, insignificant enough to send two rookies.
He and Ian split up, taking opposite sides of the large space, though there wasn't much to see: the warehouse looked abandoned but for tall stacks of wooden pallets and some empty crates. Making his way to the center of the room, he could hear a soft ticking, which only added a more ominous element to his already heightened sense of foreboding.
Once he located the source of the sound, Harry recognized it immediately for what it was, having seen far too many of Dudley's favorite films, and began slowly backing away while mentally running through the spells at his command that might disarm it.
"What's this clock thing?" Ian asked, suddenly joining Harry from the opposite direction and reaching for the device.
"Ian, no! Protego!" Harry shouted, too late.
The explosion, when it came, seemed to happen in slow motion. It threw Harry backwards forty feet or so, though Harry didn't know it—he was unconscious before he hit the ground.
The Home Stretch
A small, warm hand on his shoulder woke Severus, though he was deliberately slow to open his eyes, until he recalled where he was.
"Professor, if you'd like to stretch out, I've transfigured something more comfortable than the chair for you," said a familiar voice in a hushed tone.
"Thank you, Miss Granger. I think I shall." Severus sat up, rubbing his neck to help ease the crick he'd developed. "When did you arrive?"
She smiled softly. "It's Weasley now, but I wish you'd call me Hermione. We got in twenty minutes ago, or so. Even with the emergency Portkey, we were delayed. Ron's dropping our bags at the Burrow, but he should be here shortly."
Severus nodded and stood, offering her the bedside chair with a gesture. "You must call me Severus, then. And I thank you for your intervention, Hermione—I might still be at Potter's otherwise."
Stuck there and nursing a towering temper because of a ruined meal and Potter's monumental lack of consideration. Shacklebolt had been apologetic and had whisked Severus away to St. Mungo's personally, but it still rankled that he'd been dependent on another for transportation.
"I don't think they left you out intentionally. But I was glad to remind them. How is he?" She took Potter's hand as she eased into the chair, her eyes taking in the freshly healed wounds on his face and neck, the worst of them around his eyes.
"They've put him in a healing sleep, to keep him immobile, allowing the mended bones in his back and pelvis to heal completely. The burns over his torso, neck and face have been successfully healed, though they had some difficulty healing the laceration on his chin until they discovered some metal shrapnel embedded deep within the wound. He'll undoubtedly have a scar there." Severus paused before adding, "The damage to his eyes was extensive. They've healed what they could, but the true extent of it cannot be assessed properly until he awakes."
"Good heavens." Appearing distressed, she rubbed the limp hand held loosely in her own. Hermione looked up at Severus and asked, "And Ian? Molly Flooed to tell us Harry had been hurt, but no one's said...."
Her eyes told Severus that she suspected the truth, which Severus confirmed with a small shake of his head.
"Oh." She closed her eyes, sending silent tears slowly rolling down her cheeks. Taking a deep breath, she seemed to collect herself after only a moment. She kissed the back of Potter's hand, then reached up with her free hand to stroke the black hair. "He'll blame himself."
"Of that I have no doubt."
"How... what happened? Do they even know?"
Severus sighed. He'd been told precious little and had Kingsley to thank for that much at least. That and eavesdropping had a faint picture forming for him, but he had no real information to impart, merely his own supposition.
"From what I've been able to glean, it appears to have been a random act—which will be of little comfort to Potter, I'm certain. They believe that Mr. Ketteridge was somehow at the point of origin. And there is some speculation that it was a Muggle incendiary device, though, as it was use of magic that drew the Ministry's attention to that location, it was likely no accident there were Aurors present at the time of the blast."
Hermione nodded without looking away from Potter. "That's terrible. Does Ian have any family, do you know?"
"I've heard talk of a mother and a sister, though my information is limited to what I am able to overhear. There might be more," he added.
"I'll speak with Kingsley, see if there's anything we can do for them." She smiled at him sadly.
Severus nodded and turned, walking to the other side of the room, to the chaise longue Hermione had transfigured for him. Finding it very comfortable indeed, he gratefully sank into a light slumber.
When he next awoke, it was to find a blanket covering him, and the room dark except for a low light emanating from an orb hovering near Potter's head. The Weasleys—Ronald and Hermione—were dozing in comfortable-looking chairs, which, since the upholstery matched, had likely been transfigured by the same hand as his own bed.
Severus rose and made his way to the patient's bed, stepping over Weasley's long legs along the way. He briefly considered offering the tall man the chaise, but he was reluctant to engage in a conversation, so decided against it.
He leant against the rail, watching the sleeping form for a few moments.
When he was a very young child, Severus had gone to a Muggle hospital to see his paternal grandmother, who had fallen gravely ill. To his child's mind, the place had been horrible and frightening: it had smelled odd; there were strange noises that spoke of pain, of sometimes-great suffering; and there had been a general air of despair that even he could sense. Despite that, he'd found some comfort in the gentle whirring sounds the machinery on the ward had made, and in the quiet but rather intimidating competence of the ward sisters.
There were no such reassuring signs of life in the wizarding world; it was, apart from Weasley's soft snoring, eerily quiet. Potter was so still, so pale in the soft light, that Severus was tempted to place a hand on his chest to verify that he was breathing. After a few tense moments of observation, he was able to discern, with great relief, a gentle rise and fall.
Checking over his shoulder to verify the Weasleys slept on, Severus took Potter's nearest hand into his own. With his free hand, he ran a tentative finger across a warm cheek, the welts marring the pale curve no longer an angry red as the magic worked to restore the skin.
"What mess have you stepped in this time, Harry?" The affection in his voice was evident even to his own ears, and he was glad for the darkness, as his face heated, surely glowing red.
He'd worked very hard to steel himself against any of the softer emotions. Acknowledging and letting such things grow, with regard to Harry Potter, no less, was the path of madness and pure folly, and couldn't be tolerated.
But here, in this place, in this circumstance, and in the forgiving darkness, the walls he'd carefully built and maintained around his heart seemed to crumble like so much ash.
The offending organ beat wildly in Severus's chest as he gave in to the impulse and lifted Potter's hand to his lips, brushing them against the knuckles just briefly. Emotion, rusty with disuse and wholly unwelcome, welled up within him: the idiot had almost died. Again. How many times over the years had Potter come so close to death? Nine? Ten?
"Foolish boy. One day your luck will not hold." The affection in his voice was tempered with exasperation this time.
Severus gently released Potter's hand, then felt rather than saw the eyes on him, just before he was joined by another at Potter's bedside.
"Do you know, Muggles believe that a person in a coma can hear and possibly find comfort in the voices of the people who care about them?" Hermione said in a whisper.
"I do not..." Clearly he'd been caught out, as the woman looked at him knowingly, and the denial died on his lips.
She touched his arm gently. "Don't worry. Your secret is safe with me, Severus." She smiled kindly before continuing, "But I do think Harry is going to need just that to get through this."
"If that is the case, then we are doomed," he said sardonically.
Hermione squeezed his arm before releasing it. "I don't know. I think you might surprise yourself. Perhaps Harry will as well."
Severus looked down at the sleeping young man who'd so handily breached his defenses. Hope was a luxury that he'd never had the means to afford, whatever absurd notion Granger had alluded to.
This... attraction was sheer madness, born of Severus's isolation and their forced proximity. Preposterous, ludicrous, patently ridiculous—a foolishness so grand as to be epic in proportions. And utterly unacceptable. He would fight this... absurdity, that's all there was to it. Fight it and harden his heart against Harry Potter, who certainly deserved better than the likes of Severus Snape.
Harry rolled into a fetal position, onto his left side. Changing position from right to left and left to right was about all he could be arsed to do, and pretty much the extent of his daily activity.
Unless one could count lying in the total darkness his bed curtains provided, and making an effort to Not Think.
If that counted, then he had a rather full day.
Harry sighed. There was an ache... not from his injuries, which had healed as well as they were ever going to, but just a general, all over, non-specific ache, and he wondered vaguely how long he could go on feeling this way.
Time had already escaped him. If he had to guess, he would say it'd been a month since he left the hospital, but likely it was longer; the days blurred into one another. He assumed it was daytime whenever Kreacher came round with a tray, but Harry never saw him, as he didn't open the bed curtains. In fact, he only saw the trays routinely left on the bedside table when his body made a rare demand for sustenance, and even then, he didn't eat much; the carefully prepared meals that he'd once enjoyed enormously, tasted like ash in his mouth.
Sometimes, he considered developing a taste for firewhisky, thinking it might help dull the ache and maybe help him with the Not Thinking.
Not Thinking about the explosion.
Not Thinking about being blind in one eye. Oh, it looked all right on the outside, but was entirely useless otherwise. Healthy, except for the fact that he couldn't see out of it.
"I'm afraid we have a bit of good news, bad news. We were unable to restore the sight in your right eye, however, your left eye healed so well that you should no longer have need for your spectacles. I'm very sorry I couldn't do more for you, Mr. Potter," the Healer had said. She'd looked it too, which didn't make a damn bit of difference.
And he was absolutely Not Thinking about... what he was absolutely not thinking about.
Harry realized he must have dozed (which was the other thing he did when he wasn't changing position, lying in the dark, and Not Thinking), because he heard Kreacher outside of his curtains again.
Only it wasn't Kreacher after all.
Suddenly, bright light spilled into his dark world. Harry blinked against it, trying to work up the energy to be outraged.
"Mr. Potter, you have had ample enough time to feel sorry for yourself. This ends today."
Harry pulled a pillow over his head. "Go. Away."
"I think not. Kreacher, if you would be so kind."
Harry felt the tingle of magic and knew he'd been hit with a cleansing charm.
"Kreacher—" he began indignantly.
Severus interrupted him. "Don't you dare order him to stop. You are, in your own words, ripe. Hit him again, Kreacher."
Harry bit his tongue as the spell worked over him once more, only because he knew that Kreacher would punish himself for it rather than Severus.
There was a whispered argument that Harry couldn't make out and suddenly, his bedding—pillows, linens, bed curtains and all—disappeared.
"It is well past time to face the day. Minister Shacklebolt will be here shortly, you have enough time to make yourself presentable."
"Well, Kingsley will be wasting his time—I won't see him."
"He shall see you, however. And if you prefer that it is in this room and you in this condition, then so be it."
"Why are you doing this? And what does he want?"
Severus sighed—looking, Harry now noticed, rather worse for the wear—and answered in a low voice, "If you could see past your own self-pity, you would realize that you are not the only person to have ever lost someone they cared about." He added, "And unfortunately, you are not the last."
Harry processed what had been said. He wanted to rail against it, initially, but something prickled at his sub-conscious, which had him asking, "Has someone else...?"
Spinning on his heel and crossing his arms across his chest, Severus looked every bit as dramatic in his Muggle trousers and shirt as he ever had wearing stark black robes, and Harry waited, filling with dread.
"Another Auror. This time the perpetrator was slightly more clever in disguising the device."
"Oh god." Harry closed his eyes. He sat up but drew his knees up and put his head down, searching for the comforting darkness. "Who?"
"A young man called Cooper Sedgwick."
Harry rolled to the side and curled up into himself. It was nearly too much to bear—Cooper had children. If only he'd been quicker, been able to stop Ian... they might've been able to end this sooner.
"What is it, Potter?" The voice was very close and when Harry opened his eyes, he was almost nose-to-nose with Severus, who hissed scornfully, "Would you blame yourself for this one, as well?"
Severus was angry, there was no mistaking it, but Harry'd never seen him angry in this way. He'd seen the man spitting with it, he'd seen him nearly mad with it, but this quiet almost pained anger... Harry didn't know how to interpret this, or how to deal with it.
His silence, his inability to deny the accusation in Severus's question seemed to be answer enough for the man.
"Taking on blame where it isn't due, is just as surely as arrogant as taking all the credit, perhaps more so. You would do well to get over yourself, and become useful instead."
It was a challenge motivating enough that, two hours later, after a painful but productive meeting with Kingsley, Harry found himself sitting in the library, contemplating his new position, should he choose to accept it, within the Auror department.
Severus stalked into the room, heading for a crystal decanter that Harry had never noticed before Severus raised it in his direction, an eyebrow arched in question.
Harry nodded and accepted the glass Severus handed him before taking a seat on the sofa opposite him.
"Sláinte." Severus lifted his glass toward Harry, then took a swallow.
Following suit, Harry discovered whatever the stuff was, it was both stronger and smoother than firewhisky. The heat exploded in his empty stomach, then rose steadily to the top of his head.
Perhaps noticing Harry's red face and the fine sheen of perspiration that'd formed along with it, Severus supplied, "Scotch."
He took another more cautious sip and decided he quite liked it, though if he was to become a productive citizen again, maybe he should indulge sparingly.
"Kingsley's offered me a position. A desk job." Harry drained his glass and put it on the low table between the two sofas. "Muggle Weaponry Expert. He wants me to work with the Muggle Ministry to get up to speed, whatever it takes, and then to stay on top of it," Harry paused for dramatic effect, "in order to educate the Aurors in what to look for."
"A teacher." Severus smirked. "How unexpected."
"Yeah, it is. Teaching isn't something I've ever considered doing. But since I can't do field work anymore anyway... They found the guy, Severus. That's almost the worst thing, because it really was just a random nutter. Entirely pointless." Harry sighed. "Right now, Kingsley is the only one familiar with Muggle munitions, apart from the Department of Mysteries, and they aren't talking. Since the Minister for Magic can't very well be the Auror department's expert too, they want me for the job."
"Will you accept it?"
He hesitated. "I think so. Ian had no idea what it was he'd picked up. That can't happen again. I just..." ...failed to save Ian. ...can't fathom being an Auror without him. ...don't deserve to do something I might enjoy. Harry felt his nostrils flare and his breathing become harsher with the effort to keep the strong emotions at bay. "How...?" he began, but couldn't finish, because really, 'how' about covered it.
Luckily, Severus seemed to understand. "I can tell you from experience that time dulls the pain of losing one you care deeply for, but you will, no doubt, always feel his loss."
"That's just it...." Harry began his horrible confession. "I didn't love him, not like he wanted, not like I should've. Not like he deserved. All I could think about was having fun."
Severus was quiet for a moment, then asked, "Are you telling me that you should have pretended to return Mr. Ketteridge's feelings for you? Or that you might have miraculously returned those feelings had you somehow known his fate?"
Not when it was put like that, but Harry wasn't ready to give up the fight just yet. "No, but maybe, I dunno, he would've been happy before he died."
"Your arrogance truly does know no bounds," Severus said, surprisingly without rancor. "Mr. Ketteridge was a grown man and fully capable of making his own decisions. He chose to take whatever it was you could offer him, and he did not seem to be suffering for it on the occasions I was able to observe him. Quite the opposite, in fact."
"But I should've...." ...loved him back. ...been happy to take what he offered me. ...not wanted something, somebody, else more. The arguments nearly choked him as they backed up in his throat. Harry swallowed hard and closed his eyes, saying instead, "It just feels so wrong to feel good about anything, when he never will again."
When Harry opened his eyes, he found understanding in the black eyes looking back at him.
"What you are speaking of is guilt, Harry, and wallowing in it is just as self-indulgent as self-pity; it serves only to feed itself. You did not cause his death, and nothing that you do or say now can change the fact that he is gone. What you must do instead, is ask yourself how Mr. Ketteridge would feel knowing that when he lost his life, you stopped living yours as well." Severus looked weary, Harry now realized as he watched him sit up and scrub a hand over his face before continuing, "It is not as easily done as said, I know, but I pray you make a wiser decision than I did."
Harry sat thoughtful for a moment, mulling over what had been said, until the last thing sank in fully. He looked up at Severus and the question in his eyes must have been loud and clear.
"Oh for pity's sake. We've had this discussion already. I was not in love with Lily Evans. I was speaking of Regulus Black."
Harry regretted stepping all over what Severus had offered him, because he now seemed less inclined to elaborate. He couldn't let it go completely, so he asked tentatively, "You... uh, loved Regulus?"
Severus sighed and seemed to weigh his answer carefully. "It was a situation not unlike your own. I was unwilling to commit because of our tenuous positions, which prompted Regulus to action and, presumably, his death." Severus stood suddenly. "I think I shall retire for the day. Granger's daily missive enquiring after your well-being has yet to arrive. Perhaps you could answer it yourself today?"
Harry nodded, then called out before Severus left the room, "Thank you. For everything."
Severus bowed his head once and then was gone, leaving Harry with a whole lot to think about.
The library had become Severus's favorite room in Potter's house. And Sunday was Severus's favorite day to spend in it. There were two Muggle newspapers to read through, a wizard one, and an excellent and extensive selection of books, not to mention a continuously replenished tea tray at hand.
After their somewhat excruciating conversation in this very room, Potter had seemed to recover sufficiently, suffering, understandably, a few bad days here and there over the ensuing months. Whatever comfort Potter had found in their discussion appeared to translate into a comfortableness between them, which had progressed from sharing the room on Sundays, to sharing opposite ends of the same sofa, to the current breach of personal space.
"Potter, your feet are like ice. Remove them at once."
"No, your skinny arse is surprisingly warm."
Severus made no further objection, concentrating instead on the Ipswich newspaper spread in front of him, trying to appear unaffected by the brat's wriggling toes underneath him.
He'd never got around to hardening his heart against Potter, and he knew he would suffer for it. Severus planned to spend the first few days of his freedom in a drunken stupor, and fully expected the next few after that would be spent in an angry snit. Once he'd finally purged himself of The Absurdity (as he'd come to think of his mortifying, Potter-based affliction), he'd be able to begin his new life as a free man.
To that end, an apothecary seemed a logical route, but lately, Severus had been considering cooking food rather than potions. A Muggle restaurant, where his successes or failures would rest solely on his abilities instead of his notoriety. It was a risky venture, but he had several years' worth of unspent salary, and a Muggle bank account he'd maintained since the first go round with the Dark Lord.
Potter would be well shut of him in only a few days time. He would be free to molest young men in the entry hall, in the kitchen, in this very library, wherever the urge hit him, uninterrupted. He would likely never see Potter again, determined as Severus was to put distance between them. It was a shame, really, because Ipswich was an ideal location for the type of restaurant he had in mind. But no matter, England was full to bursting with picturesque little towns and quaint villages—he would find something suitable.
Agitated by his thoughts, Severus had to consciously release his clutching hands from the newspaper, which was now rather crumpled. He tried to flatten the page, then gave it up for a bad job.
"I've arranged for a room at the Leaky Cauldron on Thursday," he announced. "If that's not acceptable, I might be able to arrange something for late Wednesday night."
The feet retreated abruptly, and Potter looked up from his book, stunned.
"I shan't impose on you any longer than necessary."
"You're not an imposition. I thought you liked it here. You haven't walked around in your underwear in months."
Ah, well, that was for purely practical reasons that had everything to do with his suddenly hyper-active libido, not that he'd tell Potter that. "You should be celebrating. Soon we shall both be free."
"But you don't have to go right away, or even at all. I have more than enough room here. You could take all the time you need to figure out what you'll do next."
The boy's face was filled with emotion, and Severus couldn't account for it.
"I have plans already, Potter."
"I see." Shooting to his feet, Potter said, "I have to... something. Forgot. Dunno when I'll be back," and all but ran from the room.
Severus nearly regretted handling it in that manner, as the next few days were extremely uncomfortable, walking on eggshells whenever they saw each other.
When Wednesday evening rolled around, Severus's near regret became fully realized. Potter had done nothing wrong, had defended him, and made what could have been an absolutely miserable experience for both of them an agreeable one instead. The fact that Severus couldn't fathom even a casual acquaintance with the man, because of The Absurdity, was hardly Potter's fault.
Potter had made himself scarce, so Severus hoped that he was holed up in his rooms, rather than out of the house altogether. He knocked on the door, then did it again when there was no answer. Nothing seemed to stir on the other side of the door.
Disappointment washed over Severus as he turned to head back toward his own room.
"Severus? Is everything all right?"
He turned back to find green eyes, no longer hidden by spectacles, looking at him warily, reminding him of another whom he had hurt terribly. He ignored Potter's question in favor of stating his purpose, "I wished to thank you."
Potter pulled the door open further, allowing Severus entry.
There was an opened bottle of Scotch and one glass on the table between the two chairs in the sitting area. He took one of the chairs as Potter wandlessly and silently conjured a second glass, then offered it to Severus with a gesture.
"Sláinte," Severus said, tossing it back.
Potter offered him another, which Severus accepted, though he nursed it this time.
"As I was saying, I wished to thank you for your hospitality. You made what could have been a wretched experience, for both of us, more than bearable."
Studying him for moment, Potter took a swallow of his own drink, then shrugged. "It was only what I would do for any friend."
He held Severus's eyes for a moment, seeming to see right through him, making Severus feel vulnerable, exposed. And ready to flee. He emptied his glass, and rose from his seat. "I couldn't take my leave without letting you know of my appreciation. I wish you well, in all that you do."
Severus moved toward the door quickly, but heard the sound of a heavy crystal whisky glass hitting the wooden table, then a muttered, "Fuck it."
How Potter made it across the room so quickly and so silently, Severus would never know, but a hand on his arm stopped him before he reached the door.
Turning, he found Potter only inches from him. They were nearly the same height, which Severus found surprising.
Their eyes met and Potter said, "I just wanted to—"
Potter, demonstrating that actions speak louder than words, was suddenly kissing him.
Severus was so shocked, it took a moment for him to respond. In that time, Potter began pulling away, which wouldn't do at all. Raising both hands, he held Potter's head in place and dived in, sliding his tongue along the full bottom lip, then inside to tangle with Potter's, putting everything he was into the kiss.
He was drowning in the sensation, and willingly so.
They broke the kiss gradually, but moved apart only slightly. Severus rested his forehead against Harry's, their ragged breathing mingling between them. "This is madness," he said.
"It's not. It's perfect, it's right. It's what I've wanted for a really long time." At some point, Harry's arms had wound around Severus and he tightened them now, perhaps sensing Severus's rising alarm. "I wanted to wait until you were free, so there wouldn't be any hint of coercion. I thought I'd have plenty of time to seduce you after the sentence was up."
"Noble to the last.... As if you could force me to do anything I did not wish to do. This is hardly a prison, with the trading of sexual favors for cigarettes or privileges," Severus replied, exasperated with both of them, and not a little bit stunned by Potter's revelation.
"Well, you might've made the first move instead, and saved us both from my nobility," Potter said wryly.
Severus pulled back slightly and lifted a hand, running his thumb along a high cheekbone. "I had no cause to believe that my attention would have been well received."
"Well received, and very much returned." Potter smiled. "So, do we wait for midnight? Or have you already succumbed to my powers of coercion and seduction?"
"Enchantment, more like." Severus couldn't hold back a moment more. Securing his hand on the back of Potter's head, he took his mouth once again, in a hungry, demanding kiss.
Potter laughed into the kiss, and broke away long enough to say, "Take that as a no on waiting, then?"
They tugged at each other's clothing, leaving a trail of discarded garments as Severus moved them steadily toward the bed. Potter shimmied out of his boxers, and stood before Severus unselfconsciously. Severus looked his fill, taking in the compact torso, with a fine sprinkling of dark hair that became denser as it led downward toward Potter's rather lovely cock, which bobbed when Potter shifted his feet.
Severus resumed kissing Potter, then mouthed along his stubbled jaw, down the cords of his neck, kissing and nipping along the collarbones, tonguing and nibbling each of the stiffening nipples. He pushed Potter backward onto the bed, then continued his exploration downward, until he reached his destination and used a flat tongue to lick up the length of Potter's cock.
"Is this the sort of sexual favor you had in mind, in trade for privileges?"
Potter laughed breathlessly, then responded, "If you don't mind, Severus, could we leave the role-playing for another day, and just fuck me?"
Severus smirked. "As you wish."
He removed his own boxers, kicking them aside, and heard an intake of breath from Potter.
"Gorgeous," Potter breathed, propped up on his elbows and looking at him hungrily.
"You have a very odd measure of aesthetics," Severus replied dryly, though he was pleased nonetheless.
Potter held up a hand, and a jar of lubricant flew into it with a slap. He handed the jar to Severus.
Taking his time, Severus coated his fingers with the slick substance, then used them to stretch Potter, who pushed into the rhythm Severus set. After two fingers, Potter cried out, "Oh god yeah. Good. I'm good, Severus. Please."
Severus ached with need, knowing that such a beautiful, debauched young man—more that this particular one—was offering himself so willingly, pleading for Severus to give him pleasure.
He climbed up onto the bed, then applied a bit of lubricant to himself before settling Potter's... Harry's legs on his shoulders and pressing into the incredible heat.
"Mmmmmm," Harry moaned as Severus slowly pushed forward until he could go no further.
Waiting for a sign from Harry that he was ready, Severus stilled, throbbing with the need to move. He leaned forward and kissed Harry thoroughly, and Harry smiled up at him. "Fuck me, Severus."
Something surged within Severus, something raw and desperate, and he took Harry at his word, moving smoothly in and out, trying different angles, until Harry cried out, "Yeah, right there. Ooooh don't move from there."
Severus braced himself and began thrusting in earnest, retaining just barely enough sense to take hold of Harry's leaking cock, stroking him in time with his thrusts.
And Harry met him thrust for thrust, moaning a string of incoherencies that only pushed Severus closer to the edge.
"Harder. Severus, please god harder..."
Severus obliged, really throwing his back into it until Harry cried out a long low moan. He watched Harry's face transform with ecstasy, felt Harry spend himself over his hand, and felt the tight channel constrict around him, pushing Severus over the edge he'd been skating on, into bliss, and pulsing his release into Harry.
He helped Harry straighten his legs, then they collapsed together into a tangled, entirely satisfied heap. As sleep worked to pull him under, Severus reached out without thinking, to do something, a skill and habit wizards usually learn to do as adolescents: he cast a wandless cleansing charm.
And was then instantly awake, when the spell actually worked, as it hadn't for five years.
"Severus? Are you okay?" Harry asked groggily.
He looked under the bedding they'd pulled over themselves to find the Ministry cuff was gone from his leg. The midnight hour had come and gone without his notice.
Harry became more alert and looked down at Severus's bare leg as well, clearly understanding the implication. He looked at Severus with eyes full of uncertainty, though he smiled and said, "You're free."
"I am. Yes."
"Free to come and go, free to do magic, free to choose."
Severus turned toward Harry and lifted a hand, meaning to caress Harry's face, but Harry took the hand and drew it to his mouth, placing a soft kiss on Severus's palm.
Taking a chance, Severus said, "If I am free to choose, then I choose you."
Looking both delighted and relieved, Harry threw his arms around Severus, sending them both falling back into a heap, then kissed him slowly and deeply. A promise rather than a demand.
"Good choice." Harry grinned.
Something in his expression prompted Severus to ask, "And what would you have done about it if I'd chosen otherwise?"
"Ah, I think you've let my boyish demeanor lull you into a sense of security. Don't forget that I am a highly trained Auror, with expertise in both Muggle and wizard restraint techniques."
"You would keep me in captivity?"
"Not for ever, just long enough."
"Long enough for what?"
Harry nibbled Severus's earlobe before whispering, "I am highly trained in the art of persuasion, as well."
"Ah, it all comes back to the sexual favors."
"Many favors, whatever it takes," Harry said huskily.
"Hmmmm." Severus put on a thoughtful expression and waited.
Harry looked up at him, and, as expected, asked, "What's wrong?"
"Well, I'm beginning to think I made the wrong choice after all."
"Ha bloody ha." Harry laughed, then reached around Severus and popped him on the arse.
"Corporal punishment as well. What other deviant things lurk in your repertoire?"
"That's for you to find out," Harry said beguilingly.
"I suppose I shall, then." Severus added far less jokingly, "It hardly feels like captivity at all."