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Coming Up for Air

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Severus Snape stepped into his chambers and shut the door behind himself. His body was shivering beyond control, teeth grinding against each other, and every muscle repeatedly contracting and relaxing in an effort to raise his body temperature. His heart was racing as the adrenaline boiled in his blood.

A wave of his wand sparked crackling flames in the fireplace at once. He unclasped his damp traveling cloak, threw it on a chair, and walked to the sofa in front of the fireplace, finally feeling the warmth of the flames enveloping his shivering body. For a minute he just stood there before sinking on the cushion of the sofa, and he buried his face in his hands. Feeling as though he had been holding everything in for the last hour, he allowed himself to let out a long, strained breath. Finally, he willed his heart to slow down but his mind was racing with images of the previous hour, the freezing cold of the Forest of Dean still rooted deep in his bones.

How his life had come to revolve around the wretched boy, he was not sure. But he knew, as certainly as he knew he would not survive the war, that Harry Potter would haunt him until the moment he drew his last breath.

Severus had held one such breath, observing from afar while a half naked Harry Potter had dived into the frozen lake. A trembling, freezing, bony, starving Harry Potter. And he had held his breath some more when he did not return to the surface. His heart thundering in his chest, Severus had cursed silently as he’d found himself only a fraction of a second away from abandoning his hiding place and saving Harry fucking Potter, again. And suddenly, with the sound of a crack, the Weasley boy had appeared in the clearing, and after a few seconds of confusion, followed Potter into the water. Severus had apparated back immediately, not waiting to watch the scene unfold.

Idiotic, foolish, sodding Harry Potter. Jumping in a bloody frozen lake alone in the night, without as much as a second thought for his own safety. A task truly fitting of a mindless Gryffindor. And damn Dumbledore in his grave, too. Conditions of need and valour, indeed. He could only hope that the boy wouldn't die of hypothermia. How ironic that would be.

And right then Severus decided he did not want to have this on his mind anymore. That right then, he would do anything not to have his thoughts flooded by the Boy Who Lived to Die. He needed to crush that worry that grew unsolicited in his gut. He wanted to forget this damned war, even if it was just for a short while. And in that moment, Severus decided that tonight he would let himself forget, for the first time since the beginning of this hellish term. He hadn't risked it in more than a year, but suddenly he craved it so badly that the desperate desire almost felt like a physical force around his throat. And as he made the decision he felt his muscles relax a little, and his heart rate slow down. He would forget, if only for an hour or two.

Severus collected himself in a matter of a few seconds, schooling his features into a blank face. He drew a long, heavy breath. And then he stood up and left his rooms.

He strolled down the dark corridors, out of the dungeons, walking silently until he reached his destination. An old wooden door with metal hinges and handles stood in front of him and Severus hesitated for a moment. This was the first time in many years that Severus felt unsure while standing in front of the entrance to these very chambers. There had never been any reason to question the discretion of its inhabitant since the start of their... agreement. But then, the stakes had never been higher. Severus clenched his teeth, knowing he would not make his way back to the dungeons without getting what he wanted. He would take the necessary measures to make sure this particular encounter would pose no risk to the efforts of the war.

Severus squared his shoulders and raised his fist, knocking thrice on the wood, the sound traveling through the empty hallway behind him. He felt heat collecting in the pit of his stomach, slowly growing in the seemingly endless seconds he waited for the door to open. And when it did, hinges squealing from lack of oil, he was met by a wrinkled, sunken face, pale eyes squinting in suspicion, hunched shoulders and a tired body. As he looked at Severus his posture relaxed a bit and he subtly bowed his head, eyes directed at the floor.

"Headmaster Snape," he said, his voice blank.

"Mr. Filch," Severus returned coldly. A moment went by before the man spoke again.

"Can I assist you with anything this evening?"

And with that question Severus felt the remaining anxiety dissipate from his tense muscles. This was familiar. This was what forgetfulness felt like.

"Yes," he replied, simply. After a few seconds, when Severus did not say any more, the man lifted his gaze, locking his eyes with Severus, head still slightly bowed. A ghost of a sneer appeared on his lips. He opened the door wide and stepped aside, stretching out his arm to motion in the direction of his chambers.

"At your service, Headmaster."

And Severus crossed the doorway, latch snapping into the lock behind him.