He was lying in wait when they came.
Heedless to the usual spatter of terse words and frowns directed his way, Severus flicked the powder in, spoke the name and plunged into the green flames. Not long after, the fire spat him out, robes billowing, on the other side, into the semidarkness of an Auror Safe House. He straightened his posture and stepped into the room properly, surveying his surroundings with impatience.
Suffice to say, grimness sat poorly on Ronald Weasley’s rubicund face. Severus could attest to it, having witnessed it firsthand too many times to suit anyone’s liking.
‘Potter?’ he asked, voice down to a murmur.
The corner shadows crept closer to Weasley’s form, dulling the red in his hair, the blue in his eyes. Only his Auror robes gleamed in the candlelight, the colour of congealing blood. ‘Through there,’ he said, gesturing to a tall archway. ‘I must take care of this. I’ll come join you as soon as I’m able,’ he added, his attention set on the fireplace, from where out came stumbling in the dust-covered figures of the two auxi-Aurors he’d sent for Severus.
‘Never worry, Mr. Weasley, I will endeavour to somehow hold the fort in your absence,’ replied Severus, his usual acidic tone somewhat lacking, his mind already in the next room, focusing, as always, on Harry. Damn the boy! Still running full-steam ahead towards danger and the unknown, even after all these years.
The light was low and the corridor narrow and too long. Casting a Lumos, Severus fought the urge to rush. It would never do, he reminded himself, to make a spectacle of oneself; it was doubtful a grievously wounded Auror would’ve been left on his own. Besides, there was no need, he could feel the familiar throb of Harry’s heart against his own wrist pulse. It held steady.
So, it was, without even one single hair out of place, his stride smooth and even, that he arrived in front of the old wooden door. He paused for the length of a heartbeat before pushing it open.
In contrast to the rest of the house, this room was doused in light: floating golden lanterns crowded the corners, arched under the high ceiling, and traced a perfect halo above the headboard of the bed in which lay Harry, a still offering on some sacrifice altar.
Severus curled his lip in disgust. Surrounded by devotee sycophants as he was, it was no wonder the wretched boy had never grown up beyond what Albus Dumbledore had raised him up to be, which was a willing martyr. Give him a cause, any cause, and Potter would find a way to stake his life on it.
Startled, Severus turned to see the owner of the voice rise from an armchair hidden in a small alcove, a lithe figure swathed in lime-green robes. He released the breath trapped at the back of his throat and relaxed his wrists. He returned his attention to the bed.
‘Miss Chang, I see no use in such outdated appellatives,” said Severus as he swiftly withdrew his wand and started casting.
‘Iuxta Pellis! Animadverto irem!’
Light dressed into ribbons swirled violently at the tip, vibrating like a cataract waiting to break, then started gently pouring out. It inundated Harry’s near-naked body, coalescing into a gelatinous mass, quivering and slithering at the points of contact, only to abruptly still and sink under the boy’s skin.
There was a soft gasp from behind Severus, but Chang mercifully kept quiet otherwise, proving to have a tad more common sense than the usual feather-brained exemplar of her brethren.
Dismissing her from his mind altogether, Severus focused on Harry. He shut his eyes and tried to feel out the paths his magic was crafting while moving alongside the very fibers of Harry’s being. Soon, the charting would be complete, and it would be systematic and as close to perfection as only a spell of Severus’ own making could be. Yet, it could not compare to Severus using his raw magic as a divining rod to explore Harry from within. He knew every jerk of muscle, every pump of blood, every flicker of nervous cell, every expansion of acinus in that body. He’d had years to obsess over it.
Another gasp, this time accompanied by nervous shifting at his side reclaimed Severus’ attention. He opened his eyes. For a few seconds, he did nothing but stare down at his own hand that had curved itself around Harry’s jaw, softly cradling his bruised cheek, at his thumb brushing repeatedly over the fragile under-eye skin. He cursed himself for the inattention. Gently retracting his fingers so as not to jostle Harry, he turned his head towards the other person in the room.
Chang’s dark eyes had widened with shock. Her mouth was open, still she said nothing, only managing to gawk at Severus like a third-year facing a Boggart for the first time. A whole minute passed, agonizingly slow, and the silence remained unbroken. Severus tamped down his irritation and sent out a tendril of inquisitive magic to graze the surface of her mind. He was met with flickering, shifting images, continuously rearranging in repeating patterns, an experience similar to looking through a Muggle kaleidoscope. Nothing to grasp at, he decided, narrowing his eyes.
‘Miss Chang, I want you to tell me everything you’ve experienced of Auror Potter’s condition. Begin with how you’ve come to be here. You’re quite a long way off the beaten path.’ Severus firmed his jaw and went on the offensive. He would not be cowed by someone whom he’d met when she’d barely been a snotty brat.
A Healer to her bones, the request finally snapped Chang from her stupor, and she started speaking, haltingly at first, than as she went on, more and more firmly. Severus let her words wash over him, keeping only part of his senses engaged in her story, the greater part still gauging his diagnostic spell’s progress on Harry.
‘…and that’s when they Flooed in. They were carrying Harry, I mean Auror Potter. He was having trouble breathing, but Ron, I mean Auror Weasley, confirmed they’d initiated the basic early protocol for Common Poisonings. Even so, Har…, Auror Potter wasn’t responding adequately. In fact, he seemed to worsen by the minute.’
Chang stopped talking for a short while, seemingly to gather strength, then continued. ‘By the end of my fast MACE assessment, Auror Potter’ state had further deteriorated: he was unconscious, unresponsive and unmoving. He still had his magic, but it felt sluggish. Like water trapped under a layer of ice,” she said, a hint of wetness sheening the corners of her eyes.
Severus forced his breaths even and pressed his left wrist to his hip, hard enough to feel, resonating through the silver cuff, the heightened echo of Harry’s pulse answering the rhythm of his own heartbeat.
‘He nearly stopped breathing right then and there. His heart also seemed,’ she swallowed, ‘it seemed on the verge of giving up. All the spells I tried, even the Petrificus variant we use for placing patients in forced stasis, nothing was working,’ Chang recounted, her breathing growing ragged.
Severus clenched his fists. His Alarum spell had probably kicked in at that very moment, when Harry had been closer to death than life. He’d startled awake, wand already in his hand, caught between past and present, ready to be summoned. And summoned he’d been, only by a very different master.
‘Then I realized what a fool I’d been.’
‘The bezoar,’ muttered Severus. ‘It’d never made it through. He was choking on it.’
Chang laughed bitterly, wetly. ‘You would’ve known immediately. I very nearly killed him because I couldn’t tell.’ She wiped at her eyes, messily, with the back of her hand, like a child might. ‘We had to perform Heimlich. I still don’t know how we managed to get him stabilised,’ she said and fell quiet after.
Just then, the conduit for Severus’ magic burrowing inside Harry thumped, a dull sound resonating in his ears like a vessel that’d finally filled to the brim. The diagnostic spell had run its course.
Turning around, Severus crouched over the bed, peering down at its motionless occupant. Slowly leading his wand in a series of graceful flicks, he dispelled the nearby hovering lanterns, letting the shadows gather about Harry’s form.
Convoluted webs as well as single threads, all made out of multihued light, surfaced in the growing dark, hovering just above Harry’s skin, covering every inch of it. Severus hummed softly while laying the tip of his wand directly on to the coruscant strands, as if they were made of something sturdier than light, meticulously running over each of the colour spectrum. To a pair of novice eyes, it might look like an impossibly complex task, but Severus had become an old hand at it: he was through in under two minutes.
Then, head bowed, lips drawn in a thin line, he started calculating his next step. Obviously, Harry couldn’t stay here. He needed access to constant surveillance and the best possible treatment. And those responsibilities could only fall on Severus. He grimaced. He needed to speak to the Weasley boy. Harry needed to be moved at once.
‘It wasn’t just the bezoar not working, of course. He’s been resistant, impervious really, to most of the magic we’d thrown his way. Spells and charms, mostly. Not sure about potions, but with his difficulty in swallowing we’ve not risked it anyway.’
Chang, having seemingly regained control over herself, joined Severus at the head of the bed to examine the fine tracery of rainbow lights still crisscrossing the air above Harry’s near-naked body.
‘Deletum est! Induco!’ Severus cast in rapid succession and, once Harry was dressed in the lightweight sleepwear, he smoothly brought the thin coverlet up his torso. Unwilling to part yet, he let his hand linger near the pillow, a mere inch away from where he’d feel the warmth of Harry’s skin.
‘Well, chin up, Miss Chang, no use crying over spilled milk, is there? Potter’s bound to recover from this mishap, surely. After all, who can dare keep our Wizarding Wonder down,’ he drawled.
‘He shouldn’t be alive,’ Chang stated baldly.
‘For Merlin’s sake, your magic shouldn’t even work on him. It goes against every sign and symptom he’s shown up till now. That does just not happen in Healing,’ she spoke so quickly she was almost breathless at the end, but before Severus could interject, she still added, ‘And don’t you dare say to take things on faith. Muggles have faith, we have magic. There are rules.’
‘He’s never cared much for rules now, has he? Why start now?’ There was a slight tautness to Severus’ features and in his voice as he answered. He withdrew his hand from Harry’s pillow.
‘I need to summon Auror Weasley. There are urgent matters to be discussed. Your riddle,’ he paused, eyes going flinty, ‘will have to wait for another day.’
‘I’ll go. Your magic seems to be the only one he’ll tolerate. You’re needed here,’ Chang said in a firm voice and left the room, not before throwing Severus one last, speculative look.
Alone at last. Severus sighed, then slid his fingers through Harry’s messy locks, gently tugging.
‘You always get me into such trouble. I don’t know why I keep you around,’ he said in a low voice.
‘Harry, wake up.’
There was a weird distortion to the voice calling his name, like it’d been traveling underwater from some distant shore.
On the cusp of breaking through his state of drowsiness, Harry lay still, first taking stock of himself and his surroundings. He felt groggy. Nothing seemed to hurt, but there was, however, an uncommon feeling of stiffness in his joints and muscles.
He was lying on something soft, most probably a bed. A warm, soft hand was cradling his own, and the smell of ink and sage lingered in his nostrils.
Harry opened his eyes.
The darkness in front didn’t waver. Instinctively, he tried to raise his free hand to rub at his eyes, but he soon found he wasn’t even able to move one finger. A wave of fear spiked through his heart.
He heard some noises coming from somewhere on his left, sounding like someone first wanting to approach him, then deciding against it.
‘Harry, don’t panic, it’s Hermione. Do you remember what happened?’
This time he had no trouble recognizing the voice talking to him.
Hermione, he tried to say, but his lips didn’t move. He tried curling the fingers under her hand, again to no success. He could hear his breaths growing short and frantic.
‘Like I’ve told you, Miss Granger, we’re dealing with a temporary but complete loss of motor functions. A common pathology tied to the ingestion of the Ammokari poison. Mister Potter is currently unable to answer any of your questions.’
As soon as the man’d begun speaking, Harry’d felt his heart stagger in his chest, then, by the end, it’d nearly doubled its beats. He had to be sick, beyond the blindness and the paralysis. Surely, he was hallucinating. That or there was a monster here, trapped in the same room with him, a treacherous, shameless monster, a voice-mimicker, bringing out people from the past where he’d buried them. Otherwise, how else could Snape be present?
As if to further mock him, from his left, came the sound of steps approaching, a smooth, graceful tread he could still make out, especially after the years he’d spent learning how to evade it. Snape, he wanted to ask, but again his voice, his mouth, everything failed him.
The pacing stopped. Harry could now feel the man’s presence -was it really Snape? as he leant over his bed, so close that Harry easily rediscovered in it the warmth and solidity he’d thought long forgotten. Wetness swiftly built into tears, and he swallowed roughly, trying to take it all back into himself. He would not cry for Snape. Never again, he’d sworn.
A hand, firm, calloused and slightly dry, enveloped his free one. A low chant filled his ears with words he didn’t struggle to recognise. Against his will, he felt himself beginning to relax into the mellow cadence. His heart slowed and his breath evened. A comfortable coolness spread starting from his belly, going at the pace of a trickle, then doubling again and again into runnels and brooks, until a river was born inside him and took up running.
‘Open your eyes,’ Snape whispered, and Harry felt the touch of his breath, cinnamon-sweet, on his flushed cheek.
‘Open up your eyes, Harry,’ he repeated, lowering his tone until even Harry couldn’t be sure that the words he’d heard, especially that last one, weren’t all a figment of his imagination.
He opened his eyes. This time, Harry could feel himself acting out the desired movement, but there was still no change to the dark, vast nothingness lying before him.
‘I can’t see,’ he said in a raspy voice he could barely acknowledge as his own.
Hermione’s fingers suddenly tightened around his own. ‘Harry, calm down, we’ll soon get you up on your feet,’ she said, slightly out of breath. Harry tried to comfort her by squeezing down on her hand, yet couldn’t manage more than a faint twitch.
‘Professor, would you,’ she urged the other man present.
‘Everything is as expected at this point, Miss Granger. I’ve already started the healing process, as we can see from Mr. Potter wiggling around like a Pufferfish out of water. From this, we can definitely conclude he is to make a full recovery in no more than a fortnight.’
Harry should be feeling grateful, but he wasn’t. He knew exactly how masterful Snape was in his domain of knowledge, that he couldn’t possibly be in more capable hands. Yet, he couldn’t stand the way Snape talked, his words dripping with both professional poise and sarcasm, his tone and words precise and remote and utterly confident. Harry hated it, hated him with a passion. It reminded him of the before he could barely stand to remember.
He frowned, trying uselessly to remove his hand from Snape’s hold. Worse, that horrible man’s fingers clamped down even harder, until Harry could feel his short nails biting into his skin.
‘All will go well, Miss Granger, provided I can count on your and Mr. Weasley’s cooperation. Time remains, of course, of the essence,’ Snape said, somewhat snappishly.
Harry ceased his efforts to liberate his hand. That was more like it. That Snape was more like it. He’d take sullen pettiness and childish surliness over whatever Snape had been when they’d last seen each other.
‘Harry,’ Hermione started speaking, using her patented soothing voice, ‘I think, right now, Professor Snape is our most adequate option for your quick recovery. What you need most is a safe environment,’ she ignored Harry’s disbelieving snort, and went on, ‘and we both know why St. Mungo’s is completely out of the question.’
She hesitated, then asked him. ‘Harry, you do remember…’
‘I remember the investigation, ‘Mione,’ Harry said. ‘I remember the sting operation we had on for tonight,’ he slowly continued, stopping at times to draw breath and trying to organize his tongue and teeth as each new action felt foreign.
‘I don’t remember how I got like this, though. Feels like being flattened by the Knight Bus.’ He tried to laugh at his own joke, only to end up choking on air.
A cool palm with long, thin fingers smoothly slid under his nape, raising his shoulders so that he could breathe more easily. Harry’s coughs gradually subsided, but, even then, Snape kept his hand where it’d been, a steady support underneath Harry’s head. It would surely go to sleep, trapped under so much weight, and that was exactly what Snape deserved, Harry thought, bitterness giving way to glee. Hadn’t Snape said in the past that he’d never touch Harry again, that they’d meant nothing to each other?
‘There was some pretty nasty poison in your drink, Harry. Thankfully, you’d not drunk the whole lot, so we were able to quickly stabilise you,’ Hermione said, then faltered a bit before asking. ‘Harry, do you want us to let Ginny know?’
Following her question, an air front of chilled pressure seemed to build out, radiating from the man on his left side, making Harry shiver.
Ginny, of course. He’d forgotten all about about Ginny. Guilt flooded the inside of his mouth, coating his tongue in a thick, fishy taste.
‘No,’ he said, barely slurring, with a detachment he didn’t quite feel, ‘no, she still has more-than-half of her Quidditch World Tour left. She can’t fly if she’s worrying about me, you know that. This is important for her.’
Quietness, shroud-like, fell into the room, until even Harry’s skin trembled under the feel of the minute, unpleasant pressure.
‘I’m sure a top secret Harry Potter-led mission can be arranged in order to assuage Mrs. Potter’s misgivings between two bouts of Quidditch,’ Snape drawled,‘should she suffer from them.’
Harry dug his own fingernails hard into Snape’s wrist, knuckles banging against some metal band, while Hermione had to stifle a gasp.
‘Yes, quite. Ron’ll see to that, don’t worry Harry,’ she said, squeezing his hand. Then, after having cleared her voice, she continued in a respectful tone. ‘I do need a minute alone with Harry, Professor Snape. I’ve not yet finished lecturing him on how not to be a hotheaded berk when putting himself in dangerous situations. I’m sure you can approve of my endeavours.’
‘Of course, Miss Granger,’ Snape said, swiftly unentangling himself from Harry. Hearing the barely-there hiss of pain as he’d removed the hand serving for his pillow made Harry smile as wide and generous as a werewolf’s bite.
‘Until we meet again, Mr. Potter.’
As soon as Snape’d left the room, and before Harry could say anything, Hermione sighed, then said in her most serious, no-nonsense tone. ‘Harry, we need to talk.’
Snape’s house was large, and airy and quiet. It didn’t fit into any of Harry’s expectations.
Every room held a different smell: lavender in the halls and around the stairs (not that Harry was allowed near them), a mix between mint and lemon in the bathrooms (at least, that was the case in Harry’s), and hot cocoa and cinnamon in the kitchen (Harry’d definitely been a fan).
He didn’t know the one lingering in his bedroom, though it seemed like he should; it reminded him of salt and some sweet-smelling flower he’d forgotten the name of. In any case, since he’d come to Snape’s house, and slept in the room Snape’d prepared for him, there’d been no more nightmares. Every day, Harry went to bed as early as nightfall, fell asleep as swiftly as a tired-out babe, then woke up, lazily stretching under the morning sun.
He’d regained most of his mobility through the arduousness of Snape’s healing regimen. Only the day before, he’d been proudly been informed by the man himself, he was ahead of his schedule.
His eyes were a different story. In spite of Snape’s best efforts, Harry remained blind. The recovery process could last longer in some people, the Ammokari’s poison being recognised as exceptionally toxic for the optical nerves. There was even a small chance, very slight - Snape’d been quick to emphasise that to Harry - that he would never recover his sight.
That evening, he’d barricaded himself inside his room, using as many locking and privacy spells as he could muster in his wandless state. Beyond knocking on his door to remind Harry he was behaving like an intolerable brat if he let one small thing interfere with his rehabilitation, Snape’d done nothing else. Displaying such remarkable tolerance for what even Harry would later freely admit was a blunder on his part was again a thing completely outside Harry’s expectations of Snape.
Otherwise, Snape’d been reassuringly Snape-ish: surly and inscrutable and tight-lipped about everything besides Harry’s conditioning. There’d never been a surplus of words between the two of them, but silence with Snape felt peaceful now, in a way Harry hadn’t known it to be in the past.
Harry took one last deep breath of the damp sea air, then spelled the windows closed. The parrot clock squawked, then informed him it was already six o’clock in the evening. It was time for Harry’s soak.
Lying down in the deep, Griffin-clawed bathtub, Harry adjusted the faucet. His back propped up against the smooth inside wall, he let his head fall back against the rim, as water burbled, rising like a warm tide against his skin. When the level’d reached his chin, he murmured the spell to turn it off, then grabbed the jar full of herb powder mix prepared by Snape and turned it over.
His fingers moved slowly through the water, stirring it up in currents: clockwise for ten strokes, counterclockwise for fifteen, then wait for the scent notes to hit his nose. First came the peppery tones, no more than a couple of minutes, then something that managed to be both nastily bitter and dried-out and earthy at once, for more than ten minutes, then ending with the sweetest, juiciest rose Harry’d ever smelled. It lasted for a full half-hour. Once the rose hit, Harry could finally relax into the perfumed, still-warm water.
The merit lay, of course, with Snape. Every day, he’d prepare the powder, rising at Merlin-knows-what-hour, to cut and grind and sift and mix. In the beginning, when Harry couldn’t move more than a thrashing newborn, he’d even helped him take his soaks.
Harry’s whole body’d felt flushed and feverish as, twice-a-day Snape would unclothe him and carry him to the tub in his arms, like one would a bride, then hug his arms around Harry’s shoulders for nearly an hour so he could keep afloat. Even now, remembering everything, Harry wanted to dunk his head into water and smother himself. He’d been glad when he’d been judged as improved enough to take his own bloody baths.
What Snape’d felt through it all was largely a mystery. Outside of being quiet, of course, Harry had long grown accustomed to that. Six months after the end of their war with Voldemort, Snape’d come out of his extended stay in St. Mungo’s, looking much in the way of a haggard and sharp-angled ghost. He’d also been quieter than a Lethifold.
He’d gained some weight later on, during his months-long stay at Grimmauld Place. Then, Harry’d occupied himself with his Auror studies, but otherwise led the life of a recluse, due to the nature of their project. As much as one could consider oneself to be a recluse, when one was sharing the same roof with one’s former Potions Professor.
To tell the truth, 12 Grimmauld Place had lost a lot of its manic jaggedness during Snape’s stay. And Harry, well, he’d get through each grueling training day, while eagerly anticipating the thought of dinner and spending the evening in the company of the older man.
What a fool he’d been! What an utterly silly besotted fool!
Harry submerged himself completely underwater, wanting to hide from the shame of those memories. If he had some Gillyweed on hand, he’d love to scream out his frustration right about now.
He resurfaced with a gasp, with the taste of roses, faintly sweet on his tongue. It was fading fast, but he still licked his lips, seeking out the cloying honey of it.
An agile hand caressed the drenched curls at his nape, lingering for the worth of a couple of heartbeats, then quickly gave his head a light push forward.
‘This isn’t the sort of healing potion one usually drinks, you foolish child,’ Snape said, low and velvety. Suddenly, Harry could well imagine the weight of rose petals piling up on his tongue. He swallowed convulsively.
‘Out of the water now, you look as drenched as a Crup caught up in a storm.’ Snape’s voice sounded farther away, as he entered Harry’s room.
Harry rushed through the drying process, then, after tying his bathrobe in a loose knot, he left the bathroom.
He walked slowly, with one hand feeling out the shapes of the objects around him, and the other holding on to the modified cane Snape’d gifted him with; it came equipped with a weird sort of sticking charm that always kept it at an acceptable tripping-free distance from any obstacle on his path. If Harry was stubborn enough to disregard the firm pushback in his arm, it would then let out a ghastly shriek and squirt him with Resistant Bubble Soap liquid (it was a literal headache getting that out of his hair), combining Snape’s inventing ingenuity and some Weasley panache.
Back inside his room, the cozily familiar scent invaded his nostrils, calming him down. He dropped his bathrobe on the floor, and stretched himself on the bed, face-down.
A wave of shivers started building inside his bones, spreading without. He bit his lips, hoping this inner tremor would pass unnoticed. All day, he’d longed for the touch of those strong hands kneading his flesh.
A bitter laugh bubbled behind his teeth that he had to swallow down. How easily he’d fallen back into his Snape obsession! He was yet again treading the same worn-out grooves that’d come before.
As Snape’s hands began lightly touching the skin of his back, drawing the large circles of what he’d called the effleurage technique, Harry closed his eyes, fortifying himself under the weight of all his memories.
The first time Harry’d slept with Severus Snape, he’d been nineteen.
Before he was able to make heads or tails of that, it’d largely been over. What he could recall from the encounter was more to the tune of impressions than actual memories: the suffocating heat, the taste of salt on his tongue and also the raw, the unbearable feeling of flying right out of his skin, a sensation not so different from doing the Wronski Feint during a high-speed Quidditch chase.
Harry knew that his faulty memory was not due to him being intoxicated. At that point in his life, he wasn’t regularly hitting the bottle and Imperius remained, at least in his case, a tasteless joke. He’d not come in contact with any ‘funny’ new products from the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, and besides, Hermione’d thrown all but the cauldron at him in term of diagnostic magic, when he’d gone to her after the fact (Of course, he’d not told her about the why of the thing, give him some credit).
Snape’d said it was all due to their mental bond: that is, the fucking and the not-quite remembering. Harry’d figured, on his part, it was most likely due to nerves. The not-quite remembering, that is. The fucking, well, he’d had no explanation willing to offer, even to himself, for that. Not then, at least.
About the actual existence of a mental bond between them - forged when Harry’d poured blood and magic inside the fast-emptying shell of a Snape caught on Nagini’s fangs- well, Harry’d had his doubts since the beginning. So he’d snatched a dying man out of Death’s clutches, while technically being the Master of the Elder Wand, but wasn’t that just part of his insanely freaky luck streak? Besides, at that point in the story, he’d not yet been the Master of Death.
Also worth being noted, from a very young age, he’d been exposed to and had had ample experience with all sorts of mental intrusions, some from the very man who’d proclaimed the existence of the new mental bond. This one had been like nothing he’d felt before. In fact, it’d actually felt like nothing: there was no weight or sensation attached to the said link.
Then, why would Snape lie about its existence? For Snape-ish reasons he might’ve, but Harry had no longer been inclined to believe the worst of the man. After all, he’d seen the baring of this man’s soul, been privy to his most intimate thoughts. Above everything, it’d been because, despite Snape stubbornly refusing to ask for cooperation from St. Mungo’s Healers, he’d willingly brought Hermione on board as both research help and neutral observer. That alone was good enough for Harry.
Of course, now he knew things better than he did back then.
Returning to that night, what was stuck in his head as a vivid memory was the right after.
‘Does this change things? Are we..,’ he’d asked, trying hard to banish any leftover jitters from his voice. He’d been unsure what to add at the end of his unfinished question, feeling too much and knowing too little of the unnamed emotions surging through him.
Snape could’ve answered in loads of different ways, ranging from the hateful to the amorous, and Harry’s readied himself for almost everything, he’d thought. But what happened was, that in the end, Harry'd had to strain his hearing for the ragged whisper of the yet too-thin man.
‘No,’ he’d simply said, and that’d been that.
Afterwards, Harry’d been very careful about keeping his distance.
So, when Snape - a rather healthier-looking version of the haggard shadow St. Mungo’s Healers had entrusted to Harry’s care - left 12, Grimmauld Place, a couple of months after their ‘encounter’, Harry’d known it would be the last time he’d ever see the other man. Their mental bond was dormant, Snape’d said, no need for further interference. Hermione had restrained herself to a stern nod in approval.
The whole affair was finally at its end. Harry would soon be free to do as his wont.
And so he was, as the years went by, and he started and finished his Auror training, as he dated, got engaged and managed to wed Ginny in such dashing manner to be branded by the Daily Prophet as the ‘Whirlwind Romance of the Century’, as he made new friends and cherished his old ones.
And if, there had been times, growing more common by year gone by, where Harry’d dream of that unbearable feeling of flying right out of his skin, and he’d wake aching with the need to crush between his arms the bony figure of a man he’d never quite left behind, he’d simply need to remember that effortless ‘No’ to dispel any delusion lingering at dawn.
‘Harry, have you gone to sleep?’ Snape’s soft murmur drifted into his ear, drawing Harry out of his drowsiness. He covered the side of his face, yawning.
‘You can’t sleep like this. Induco!’ Snape’s spell washed out over Harry’s skin like drops of quicksilver chasing each other, until finally morphing into his thin sleepwear. Feeling warm and content, Harry curled even tighter on the bedding, much like a coiling snake.
‘Not like this, you awful brat, you’ll ruin all my good work if you fall asleep like this,’ Snape muttered as he manhandled him, rearranging and straightening his limbs, until he’d left Harry spread out like a starfish.
Snape then bundled him up, as tight as strings on a Christmas gift in a matter of seconds. But, Harry could feel him still lingering, seated at the edge of his bed. He knew Snape was looking down at him. Why he was doing it, what kind of expression his face was showing at this time, Harry hadn’t the faintest clue about those. What he did know was what his heart wanted, but that had never been enough before.
Minutes passed by the dozens, leaving them caught in this funny stalemate. Harry studiously kept his breathing slow and steady, slow and steady. Sleep had all but abandoned him, but in the Aurors he’d learned the patience of the predator to seek out his prey.
In the end, a finger landed gently on his forehead, following the contour of his scar, then smoothing over the near-perpetual line between his eyebrows. The finger turned into a hand, a hand that cupped Harry’s left cheek, its warmth slowly seeping underneath his skin.
‘Why won’t you learn to treasure yourself more, you obstinate boy? You’ll be the death of me one day,’ whispered Snape, just at the very limit of Harry’s hearing. His lips touched Harry’s, quick and tender, like a butterfly landing on a flower petal, only to immediately fly further away.
Harry opened his eyes, unfortunately still sightless, but muscle memory made him surge upwards, bringing his arms to firmly wrap about Snape’s shoulders. He dragged him closer and closer still, until he could feel weight of the other man fully settling on his own body.
At the same time, his lips blindly sought out Snape’s, dropping on the way wet kisses all over neck and chin and thin stubbly jaw, making them both shiver with rising want. As their mouths were finally joined for the second time that evening, Harry swore he’d felt electricity shooting straight up into his heart.
Snape groaned like a wounded animal, then, propping himself on his forearms, he pushed against and, in the end, broke through Harry’s weakened hold. He quickly got up, making the bedsprings creak once in protest. He didn’t leave, though, since Harry could hear him struggling to catch his breath.
They were separated by just inches, yet why did it seem they were part of two very different worlds. Snape desired him, and yet he’d once more denied himself and Harry. Harry’d finally dared to face up to the fact he still desired Snape, yet he’d been again thrown away by the other man.
‘You’re a coward, Severus Snape.’ Harry uttered every word with chilling softness, lips still wet from Snape’s saliva.
He shifted on his side, back turned towards whichever dark corner Snape still lurked in.
He counted beat by beat the rhythm of his heart thundering against his breastbone, and when he hit a hundred, he heard the tell-tale sounds of Snape retreating. Coward, he cursed once more.
Snape’s footsteps paused.
‘I can assure you, whatever you might think you feel for me is but a lie. It’s merely fiction forged by the shackles of our mental bond. It wants to draw us closer. If you give into its siren song, and if I follow your path, you silly boy, Severus Snape and Harry Potter will be no more, it will just be us.’
‘Is that such a bad thing?’ Harry asked, his mind in turmoil. ‘Wait…’
‘And what of Mrs. Potter? Shouldn’t your question be directed to her?’ Snape bit out his words viciously before leaving Harry’s room. The door banged shut.
Harry immediately got out of bed and carefully felt his way towards the farthest wall. Inside of him, uneasiness warred with hope, each growing side by side, and neither yet able to claim victory.
His hand hit the wooden casing and, with a wandless ‘Aperta!’, he flung open the windows. The salty sea breeze barged in, ruffling his hair and cooling his heated cheeks. He blinked, eyes stinging.
‘Harry, we need to talk.’
‘You need to be more careful with your choices. I’ve told you this before: you’re willing to take risks, and that’s the brave and honourable thing to do. But, you’re not just staking your own life.’
‘You need to know this, it’s only right.’
‘The Ammokari poison is as devious as it’s toxic. People can be saved from it, but it’s such a small percent really. You can’t use spells or charms to treat it, as the Healer’s own signature of magic makes the victim’s body start to consume itself. The only safe magic would be the victim’s, of course, but what patient could ever treat oneself while lying sick and unconscious?’
‘Never doubt it, Harry, you were on the brink of death, closer I think than anything since the Battle of Hogwarts.’
‘Professor Snape pulled you back. When your lungs stopped, he breathed for you, and when your heart stopped, his beat instead. The bond, Harry.’
‘Saving him back then the way you did, it changed both your magic signatures. You knew it as the bond, but it’s not mental, like we’ve called it before. It just means that magic is no longer simply yours or his, it belongs to the both of you. It got intrinsically blended into a new creation.’
‘He made me promise I wouldn’t tell you.’
‘He’d serve as guardian and insurer of your life. If you’d die, he could keep you alive until one of us got to you. Wouldn’t that be an advantage, he said, and I let myself be led by the nose.’
‘But, I was wrong to keep it from you. You have a right to know. You have a right to choose.’
‘And he has a right to be acknowledged for what he is. Your saviour.’
‘This isn't the first time he’s saved your life. I should’ve told you before.’
‘I’ve always seen the way you looked at him. Back then, in the beginning...'
‘I don’t know what happened between the two of you, but Harry, you haven’t been happy for a long time, I can tell.’
‘Harry, I’ve been a rotten friend.’
Harry started laughing. Tears flowed freely from his eyes, and he laughed and cried at the same time, until all the hurt and the shame and the sorrow drained away, leaving him dry and sane.
Severus’ sole objection - he’d admitted it just minutes ago - the weapon he’d used to stifle their newborn feelings was a mental bond that Harry knew to be fake.
Harry had been such a fool. How could he have not seen it before? It had never been a question of love lacking. No, in fact, Severus was hiding from it, the big coward. He’d made a mistake in the beginning, and he’d always been too proud to take it back. Instead, he’d hid behind a fallacy.
He wiped the leftover moisture on his cheeks, spreading it on his fingers. He’d make Severus lick them clean as punishment.
He Accioed his cane.
Severus’ room smelled of salt and wood and smoke.
His bed was too large for a single person, so Harry made himself comfortable as he waited for his host to join him. Undoubtedly, he’d triggered some alarm when he’d crossed the threshold of this sacred sanctuary.
He undressed slowly, then drew the silky sheets around his back, as he moved to lounge against the headboard. His front he’d left uncovered. He couldn’t tell what shade the bedding was, but knowing Severus, it’d probably be a choice between black or green. Harry looked great in either colour.
He squirmed against the shivery feel of the silken half-opened cocoon against his skin. Heat’d started building up, pooling at his groin and spreading out. Severus should hurry up, otherwise Harry would start without him.
In fact… Harry touched the inside of his thigh, fingers rubbing against the skin there, then sliding over.
Yes, things seemed to be shaping up nicely. Apparently, he was fully on the mend, and all due to the efforts of a single man. Harry had to make sure to thank him thoroughly, preferably with his body.
He curled his hand lightly over his cock, liking the sensation of it slowly growing, pulse beating strongly in the rhythm of his racing heart. Could Severus feel what he was doing, he wondered. Had he always been able to tell, even when Harry and Ginny…
Harry shook his head, freeing himself from useless thoughts. Ginny had no place here, in Severus’ bed.
He brought his palm to his mouth, licked it wet, then grasped his cock into a loose hold. He started moving his hand, setting a gentle pace, more to tease himself than bring him to completion. He hummed, then gasped.
He could feel the presence of another person standing in the open door. He’d made no sound, yet Harry’d known him at once. Severus was watching him enjoy himself.
Harry stretched, arching his back, feeling the wave of pleasure cresting even higher. He bit his lower lip as he brought his other hand into action. He stroked up his belly with the tips of his fingers, gliding over one flank then the other, feeling his muscles contract and his skin pebble under the barely-there touch. He’d always been sensitive there, almost ticklish. Harry wondered if Severus could tell. Come closer, Harry wanted to say, but couldn’t.
The hand on his cock had grown restless, sliding faster and faster over the dampened skin. He’d started leaking at the tip. He rubbed his thumb over it, gathering up the moisture, playing with the mess.
The mattress dipped as it settled under another’s weight. Harry had been so focused on pretending he was alone, that he’d missed Severus approaching the bed.
The hand tugging on his cock slowed its motion, as Harry, under the haze of his arousal, hesitated on the correct course of action.
‘Keep going, Mr. Potter,’ Severus drawled, his breath teasing the shell of Harry’s ear. ‘You’re not going to leave me hanging right in the middle of your performance, are you?’
Harry shook his head instinctively and did as bidden. He gasped and shuddered as Severus started suckling on his earlobe, in reward for his obedience.
He tightened the fist around his cock, jerking faster.
‘Slower, Mr. Potter,’ said Severus in his velvety tones, then blew air on the bit of flesh he’d just released from his mouth.
Harry shivered. ‘I can’t, please,’ he sobbed, ‘I can’t.’
‘How about I help you then?’ Severus pulled Harry’s hand away, leaving his cock free to surge against his lower belly. ‘Do you want me to help?’
Harry keened, reaching out to touch himself again. Severus stopped him, drawing his restless fingers towards his mouth.
‘I need you to tell me, Harry,’ he said, lips moving against Harry’s fingertips. ‘Yes?’ He asked, then licked the pad of Harry’s middle finger. ‘Or no?’ He sucked the fingertip inside his mouth, then kept sucking.
‘Yes, damn you, yes,’ Harry screamed out his answer.
At once, Severus put his own hand over Harry’s cock. His big, warm, calloused hand felt completely different from Harry’s grip. It was like the sweetest torture: slow and steady on the way up, with a wicked twist at the end, then fluid and gentle on the way back.
Lying in a comfortable sprawl, Harry’d had clasped both his hands on Severus’ body, and let himself enjoy the ride. One held on to Severus’ moving wrist, the other on to his nape, keeping them facing each other.
‘At least open your eyes, Harry,’ Severus chuckled, not trying to break free.
‘I can’t see,’ Harry said, continuously gasping out the most exquisite pleasure his lover was wringing him through.
‘But I can,’ came the fast retort as Severus slowed the tempo of his hand even further. ‘Let me see you, Harry,’ he leaned in and whispered his plea directly against Harry’s lips.
‘Let’s make a deal,’ Harry answered, his mouth touching Severus’ with each spoken word. ‘Take off your clothes and I’ll do as you say.’
His lover swore viciously, then quickly muttered the spell that left him exactly in the state as Harry’d wished for: naked as the day he was born. Obediently, Harry opened his eyes as large as he could muster. He could only hear Severus’ reaction. He was apparently not breathing. Harry pinched him.
‘Done ogling, brat?’
‘Done ogling, old man?’
They both spoke at the same time, then after a moment of startled silence, they broke into laughter.
Laughter soon morphed into heavy groaning, as they fell against each other, at last touching skin from head to toe. Eager hands on one side and the other roamed wildly, claiming new territories and remembering old ones.
Severus liked to suck until bruising, Harry liked to outrightly bite. They’d both delighted into marking the other for the days to come. Severus liked going slowly, Harry wanted it fast and hard, but they’d somehow found a rhythm to soothe them both.
They both liked to kiss. They kissed and kissed, until their lips felt swollen and tender, and their cheeks and chins reddened from rubbing stubble against stubble. They kept kissing even after that, drowning in the touch and the taste of each other.
And after Harry’d finally managed to come, despite Severus delaying it until he’d made him growl, Harry’d been content to lie back and let Severus move between his thighs, agonizingly slow, slow as molasses, until he’d come with a low shout.
Afterwards, Harry’d held Severus’ exhausted body in his arms, feeling sweat cool down and semen drying in patches and streaks.
‘Have you figured it out?’ Harry’d whispered into his ear. ‘Do you know I love you?’ Severus’d hummed, almost purring, and Harry’d known his lover had not heard a word of what he’d said. He closed his eyes and surrendered to sleep’s embrace.
When he next opened his eyes, Harry could see. There was no half-measure to it, his vision was as clear as ever (ever being counted as the time after Harry’s corrective spell for his advanced myopia).
He leisurely turned his gaze towards his lover. He lingered over every detail he could make out of Severus’ figure, going from his tar-black hair, to his still-pale skin showing off beautifully all the bruises Harry’d marked him with, to the flesh sweetening the hard angles of his body.
Back again to his eyes that’d opened in the while Harry’d taken to admire him, and now showed cautious wariness behind their charcoal-black luster.
Harry smiled. He’d make it right this time.
‘I want this to change things between us. I feel grateful that my magic bound us together. I want to protect you just as much as you do. I want to be your lover, Severus Snape.
'I’ll go to Ginny and admit my mistakes. I’ll ask for a divorce and I’ll make it right for her somehow. I’ll beg for forgiveness from her, from Ron, from Molly, from everyone, but I’m not giving you up.
'I want to keep you forever. To get that, to get us, I’m willing to fight for you and with you against anyone, and be at your side everyday starting from this very one. So how about it?'