Chapter 1: A Real Hero
He was on his back, in a strange bed, and there was still a war on. Harry hardly let himself adjust to being awake before throwing the blankets aside and swinging upright, only to find that he hurt. Everywhere. And he found a few places hurting that he didn't even remember having before.
"Oh, god, what happened?" Even once he got his glasses on, everything stayed quite blurry, but the hands that caught hold of his shoulders definitely belonged to Sirius. The hands tried to make him sit on the bed; Harry braced himself and stayed put. "This is St. Mungo's, isn't it? What's going on? Where are my clothes?" He'd seen people with parts hanging off still throwing themselves into the fight; he didn't plan on letting other people fight in his place, as long as he could still walk. He thought he could still walk. Probably. He tried to get past Sirius to find out.
"Harry, hang on." Sirius sounded ragged, but then they all did, lately. "You've missed quite a bit. You need to take things a bit easy." He made a half-hearted effort to usher Harry back into bed, but didn't go as far as to restrain him. Harry looked around in the hope of finding his clothes without help, but only a hospital dressing gown came to light, draped over the back of Sirius' chair. He sighed, scratched the back of his neck and sat back down on the bed. Sirius was right. He did feel strange.
"Where's my wand?" Harry asked, determined to get himself dressed one way or another. "What happened? Neville, and Snape, and..."
"We... I think we won." Sirius didn't sound as if he believed it. "Neville's been a bloody hero. He's on the next ward. And you, you idiot, what were you thinking?!"
Harry scowled at him. He'd probably done something that deserved that tone, but he didn't remember, and he didn't like it.
"Where are my clothes? Where's my wand?"
"Your... your wand." Sirius stood up and started pacing again. He looked like he badly wanted to be a dog. "It's gone. I'm sorry." Harry watched him, his strange feeling going from bad to worse.
"I remember... I thought I'd had it. I gave it to..." His mouth dried up. Sirius stopped pacing and looked at him steadily, waiting, while Harry sorted through the fragments of memory and found himself at death's door, handing his wand to Snape, the only weapon they had left. "Is Snape..." Harry couldn't ask; the question stuck in his throat and wouldn't be moved. He tried a different tack. "Did he get Voldemort, then?"
"Harry," Sirius whispered, looking lost. Harry didn't think he'd look that way if Snape had managed to die a hero.
"What?!" Harry demanded. He would've jumped to his feet to emphasise the urgency of the question, but his body was feeling more and more like lead and something leaden was dragging at his mind, too. It felt a bit like dying, again. "Sirius, tell me."
"*Neville* got Voldemort. Snape saved your life, if he's to be believed." Sirius looked hopeful that Harry might give him a reason not to believe it, but Harry could only remember offering his wand, and the dark rage in Snape's eyes. "Yeah. Well." Sirius made a visible effort to pull himself together. "They've finished patching him up. He says he has to talk to you when you're... you know. If you don't feel up to it, tell me and I'll tell him to go to..."
"It's all right. Whatever he wants. I don't care." Harry decided that the pillows didn't look too bad, after all. There was something trying to weigh his eyelids shut, and even the sadness about his wand, and annoyance at Sirius' hedging, couldn't help him keep them open.
The next time he woke up, Sirius wasn't there and Snape was, standing by the bed, still as a statue. Harry didn't bother reaching for his glasses; there was no mistaking that black tower, and Snape didn't have very many expressions to look at. He struggled upright, settling back into the pillows and wondering how you said 'thank you' if you weren't sure somebody had actually saved your life.
Snape didn't give him the chance.
"You were dying. What I did, I did to prevent that. Never forget it."
"Uh... okay," Harry agreed, suddenly wishing he knew which Snape-expression went with that strained, quiet voice. "What did you do?"
"It appears that a side effect of destroying your wand was the Dark Lord's momentary inability to deflect Longbottom's counterspell with his own wand. He's dead." Neville? No, Sirius had said... *Voldemort* was dead. Probably. Harry's head throbbed.
"What did you *do*?" Harry asked again, grabbing his glasses and jamming them on his face. Snape looked white and pinched and ready to drop... but they'd all looked that way for months.
"I bound you to life with *Impertio*, Mr. Potter. To my life, to be exact. There will be repercussions beyond the shattering of our wands."
"... thank you." Harry wished that Snape would sit down in the chair. It was hurting his neck, staring up.
"Foolish boy," Snape said, but he said it quietly. "We will speak again when you're released from hospital. Black will contact me if you require my presence sooner. You may well, but it will draw attention to us if I stay here."
"Rest, Potter. Don't speak of this to anyone but Black."
Harry would have pointed out that he didn't have anything much to speak *about*, but Snape had already left by the time he got the words together. Harry looked down the dark, empty ward and sighed. He'd done a lot of daft things in his short life, but none of them had landed him in St. Mungo's, before.
Sirius came in a while later, peering around the door as though checking for Snapes before risking it. He was carrying two bottles of Butterbeer, and a paper bag that gave off the smell of fresh baking.
"I snuck these past the healers," he said, with a shadow of his mischievous grin. "Remus says the food here is dreadful."
"I wouldn't know, they haven't fed me." Harry wondered about that, for the first time. "How long have I been here? It feels like days."
"They scraped you out of Voldemort's dungeon this time yesterday," Sirius told him, glancing back at the door and the bright passage beyond. "You've been sleeping a lot." He handed over one of the bottles and put the bag in Harry's lap and then, just as Harry was about to take a swig, he put a hand on Harry's head and stroked his hair back, looking like he wanted to say... something. There was a strained silence, during which Sirius' hand fell to his shoulder and gripped uncomfortably hard. "You ever scare me like that again and I'll..." Sirius swallowed a few times, looking away. "Well I'll never buy you another bloody broomstick," he finished, his voice cracking slightly. Harry bit his lip, sipped his Butterbeer and then pretended to be really interested in the paper bag, until Sirius' hand stopped shaking. "Snape said he'd spend the night here. Did he?"
"I think so," Harry said, not sure what the right answer was. "He just left. Why did he..."
"I'm sorry I left you with him," Sirius said, quickly. "They caught Kreacher. I had to go and give him clothes before they could hand him over to Control of Magical Creatures. And then... well, I had to go to Hogwarts and use the library." Harry blinked at that. Sirius leaving his side to sort out Kreacher, that made sense. Sirius leaving his side to look at mouldy old school books... that didn't.
"Okay," he said, carefully, and sipped his Butterbeer again.
"Snape told you, then?" Sirius asked, looking at him uncertainly.
"He said he saved me with..." What had Snape said? "A spell, I think. That our wands shattered. He was weird." Harry snorted. "More than usual, I mean."
"Yeah." Sirius' hand settled on Harry's knee. "*Impertio*. That's the spell. It's news to me, too," he said, when Harry shrugged. "I found it in the library. Snape... Severus ... he..." Harry was starting to get really nervous. "The spell has a lot of strings attached," Sirius said, twisting the cap off his Butterbeer, then setting it down untouched on the bedside cabinet. "Lots of these old spells do. You'll have to spend quite a bit of time with him. For a while, anyway. The books talk about physical contact and ... side effects."
"I don't understand."
"Nor do I. Not yet. I'll go back to Hogwarts in a bit and find out what I can. Snape shared his life with you when yours ran out," Sirius said. "Bought you life with some of his own. It's... it's huge, Harry. It might be hard for you, but I can't be sorry you're alive, no matter what happens."
"What's going to happen?" Harry asked, warily. He'd gone off the Butterbeer, all of a sudden. "What do you mean, side effects?" And 'physical contact', what did *that* mean?
"Look, I don't know yet. These old magics aren't stuff you learn in class. They work differently for everyone. It all depends on ... on your intentions, and how much power you have and... and what you're prepared to sacrifice."
"You mean the wand?" Wait. Snape had said *their* wands. And...
"His *life*, Harry."
"What does that mean?" Harry repeated, but his mind had already given up on the concept. If he was honest, he didn't want to know.
"You're alive. That's what it means. For every moment you live, Snape lives one less."
"No." Harry's mind wouldn't hold that information. He tried to think about it and it just slipped away from him, too impossible to hold. "No." His hands felt numb. "No-one else because of me. That's why I went... that's why..."
"I know." Sirius took the bottle from his fingers and put it down beside the other. Just as well; Harry's hands were shaking and he felt weird, clammy and *wrong*. He put one hand to his forehead, expecting to find his scar hot and tender to the touch, but Voldemort was dead and this had nothing to do with him. "I know it's the last thing you wanted, but you're *alive*. Hang on to that."
"I... I felt better when he was here." Harry let Sirius tuck him in and make a bit of a fuss. Five years ago he might have actually enjoyed it. He might (as long as Ron and Hermione never got to hear about it) have asked Sirius to sit and talk to him for a while, or maybe read something to him. Now, he wished somebody would come along with a dreamless sleep draught, because he could feel the nightmares just waiting for him and he was too old to believe that Sirius could ward them away just by being his dad's best friend. "I think I might need him to come back, like he said." Harry said it as quietly as he could without whispering. It wasn't something he liked saying. "Will I die if he doesn't? If he changes his mind?" Dying without time to think about it, he could bear that, he'd been ready for it for ages, but if he knew it was coming, had to *wait* for it...
"Don't be daft," Sirius said, but his tone was too jolly and his teeth were half clenched. "Get some sleep. I'll tell the healers you're feeling bad." Sirius stroked his hair again, and Harry liked that in spite of himself. He could almost imagine that Privet Drive had been a nightmare and that Sirius had never been in Azkaban, and ...
"Sirius!" Harry was trapped by tightly tucked sheets and his mouth tasted of potions. A cold hand pressed down on his forehead, not stroking, but holding him down. There was another one wrapped around his wrist. "Sirius?"
"I most certainly am not." Snape's voice, rougher and deeper than usual, like he'd just woken up. "Lie still, you're disoriented."
"I said to lie still." There was a bite to the words, that time, and Harry obeyed. "You were given a sleeping draught and a potion against fever." Harry squinted around, some part of him accepting that it was dark, that he was feverish and ill and that he should do what Snape told him. Some other part panicked utterly.
"I can't see you!"
"It's dark and I am wearing your Invisibility Cloak," Snape said, putting that one to rest. "Not even famous Harry Potter, with a ward to himself, no less, is allowed to bend visiting hours at St. Mungo's."
"Oh," Harry whispered. He coughed, tasting more of the potions that, now he thought about it, didn't seem to be sitting too happily together in his stomach. He wasn't sure whether to be grateful or grumpy that it was Snape and his complete lack of sympathy hovering by the bed when he needed to ask for something to be sick in. In the end, though, he wasn't. Snape shoved a bedpan his way, sat down loudly on the chair, and didn't say a word while Harry hugged himself, shivered, rubbed his churning stomach and wished he'd never been born, but managed not to disgrace himself after all.
Harry was pretty glad that Snape was invisible, once his eyes got used to the dim light that filtered in from the corridor. He scratched his nose and realised that he smelled of soap, like the yellow creamy bricks of it that sat on the sinks at Hogwarts.
"I don't remember washing my hands," he said, vaguely.
"I understand you needed a thorough bed bath, after your godfather left."
"Oh," Harry said, huddling back down under the sheets and noticing that they felt much crisper and fresher than when Sirius had tucked him in. They must've needed to change them. "Oh." He rather hoped that Snape would go away and let him die. "Is this because of the spell you did?"
"That, a dozen healing spells and a cocktail of medicinal potions that I wouldn't give to a rabid dog. Yes. Not to mention a *Butterbeer*. You've not yet grasped the fact that you were almost dead, have you?"
Harry supposed he hadn't. He'd thought about it, half remembered it, heard Sirius choking over it, but he hadn't *thought* about it. About the world without Harry Potter, or about getting from the damaged, dying man he'd been to being healed and normal again. He didn't *want* to think about it.
"I wish you hadn't," he said, and his voice only shook a little bit. Snape was silent. "I mean, I'm grateful you did. But sorry too. How long will you... will we...?"
"I don't know."
"Are you sorry you did it?"
"I don't know."
"It's better when you're here. I feel better."
"Yes. It will pass. Go back to sleep."
For the first time, Harry couldn't. He felt queasy and, weirdly, hungry too; his mind wouldn't stop going over what he knew, or ignore the fact that Snape was there, invisible, but somehow driving back the worst of his discomfort in a way that the healers and their potions hadn't managed. He turned over, kicking the tight new sheets loose, and buried one arm under the cool pillow. He heard Snape stand up once, walk around a bit, sit down again and then, when Harry had long since been hypnotised by the dark and the unhappy quiet of St. Mungo's at night, a touch to his forehead, fingers resting over the pulse at his wrist. Then nothing. Snape went back to the chair and didn't move again until dawn.
"I can do up my own trousers." Harry was really quite glad that he didn't have a wand, by the time the healers decided they had no idea how to help him and sent him home with Sirius. He'd asked over and over if he could go into the ordinary ward with Neville, but Sirius had got him moved to a little private room, instead. He'd stopped asking, then, in case his next stop was a cupboard. "Sirius, get off!"
So, his hands were shaking a little bit; it didn't mean he couldn't manage to dress himself. Harry felt like pointing out that he'd been able to dress himself by the time he was three and a half, thanks, because his aunt and uncle had washed their hands of him once he was potty trained, but Sirius was touchier than he ought to be about that sort of thing, so he didn't say it. He just swatted Sirius' helping hands away, sat down on the bed and pushed his feet into trainers that hadn't been unlaced since Dudley wore them.
It was the longest he'd gone without a visit from Snape - nearly two days - and Harry could feel it creeping in on him, dragging him down, stopping him from getting better. His hands were shaking a lot by the time he'd fastened his cloak - Sirius' thick, midnight-blue wool cloak that was too long for him and stifling in the July heat - over his Muggle things.
"When will Snape visit?" he asked, trying to sound unconcerned, but the act was completely ruined when he stood up and his knees gave way. Sirius caught him without any trouble and Harry worked himself upright again, using Sirius for support, in case his godfather thought it might be a good idea to carry him to the Floo. Or, worse, levitate him like an old trunk. "Just a bit shaky," he muttered, but Sirius wasn't having any of it. He didn't let go.
"I'm taking you to him now," Sirius said. "He's going to stay with you for a bit. My grandparents had a house in the country, Challingford, turns out it's mine. Or it will be, when I'm properly pardoned. He's waiting there." Sirius steered him towards the door, not letting him break away, even when they stepped out into the corridor and, for the first time, there were people staring at Harry. He suddenly appreciated the private room idea a lot more, as visitors and junior healers put their heads together and whispered about him. Harry gripped the back of Sirius' shirt and walked as normally as he could, given that his knees were now made out of jelly.
"I thought it might be different now. With Neville and everything."
"Yeah," Sirius said, heavily. "That's why I brought this." And he reached across Harry's shoulders, flipping the heavy, blue-satin lined hood of the cloak up to hide his face before they walked on. Harry realised, just very quietly, that he loved his godfather to bits.
Chapter 2: The Middle of Nowhere
A journey by Floo was the last thing Harry needed when his head was already spinning. He staggered out of a large fireplace, tripped over the hem of his cloak and fell straight into Snape's arms.
"Oaf," Snape said, and yanked him out of the way before Sirius could ram into the back of him. Harry rubbed soot from his glasses with his sleeve and concentrated on not being sick all over Snape's forest green robe. Sirius stepped calmly out of the hearth, brushing ash from his trousers, and scowled when he saw them.
"You all right, Harry?"
"I hate Floo," Harry supplied. He hated Snape as well, but since he was already feeling a little better, he supposed he was just going to have to get used to being near the man. Just for a while, Sirius had said. Hadn't he? Snape looked him over, set him upright and stepped away, flicking at the smears of soot that Harry had left on him.
"It was the quickest way," Sirius said. There was a window seat a few paces to Harry's right. Sirius ushered him towards it and sat down close beside him, but spared him any further fussing in front of Snape, who Harry knew would have a field day if Sirius did anything soppy. "You're not to Apparate or try magic without your wand. You're not strong enough yet, and they might have trouble un-splinching you because of the *Impertio* connection."
"Unlikely," Snape said, giving Harry the distinct impression that he'd like to see them try it. "When you said 'a nice place in the country', Black, I must admit I'd envisioned something... furnished."
"Nothing stopping you doing magic," Sirius answered, his cheerful smile looking very forced indeed. "Or hasn't your Transfiguration improved?" Snape's face twitched and Harry kicked his godfather in the shin. "Yeah, all right. I already brought a couple of beds from London; they'll do for now. There's stuff in the kitchen and you can get whatever else you want - you know my vault number, Harry."
Startled, Harry nodded. Snape looked startled, too, but he didn't comment. Harry decided to wait until Snape wasn't around before asking Sirius any questions about it. He still had some of his parents' money left, but he'd never really thought about where he'd be after Hogwarts, or how much money he'd need to start his life in the wizarding world. How rich was Sirius, anyway?
"I take it you were discreet?" Snape asked, looking at Sirius with a coolness that, Harry had gathered over the years, meant he was really pissed off and trying not to show it. "Nobody heard your destination?"
"Nobody," Sirius said. "You, me and Harry know you're here. Kingsley, and Neville know a bit about what happened but won't tell anybody, and I'll be telling Remus everything, including where you are." He said the last with a hard, challenging look in Snape's direction. "I need his help to find out more about this."
"What about my other friends?" Harry wondered. "I ordered Hedwig to stay at Hogwarts where she'd be safe. Can you tell Hermione and Ron where I am?"
"... yeah, okay," Sirius said, and Harry would have been about as convinced if Sirius had said Snape was his new best mate.
"Sirius, why's all this a secret?" he asked, but he found himself looking at Snape. "We're all acting like he did something wrong."
"We require privacy, Potter, and I'll not tolerate the gawping of your friends. Learn to live with it." Snape turned on his heel and left the room. Harry saw Sirius' fist clench and unclench.
"You'll need to find your limits. What the spell's done to you, exactly. You can visit people when you're feeling better, but we... me and Snape, I mean ... we think it's a good idea if you keep all this to yourselves for a while. Anyway, I thought you were sick of people watching you?"
"I suppose you're right," Harry said. He felt too tired to argue, but he was already working out how to get a message to Hogwarts and get his owl sent on. Or maybe Snape had an owl he could borrow, or he could talk to Mrs Weasley by Floo and find out where Ron was... "Show me around, then."
"I've hardly seen the place myself," Sirius said, standing up and hauling Harry up by the arm. "Not since I was small. Didn't even know I'd inherited it until I got into my Gringotts papers last week. Think it's big enough for you and Snape?"
Harry glanced around the long, empty room that opened straight into the next with no doorway; the high ceiling, the carved wooden panels on the walls, the tall, leaded windows. He supposed it must be a pretty big house. He wished he'd been able to come and live here with Sirius when he was thirteen; just the two of them, in the middle of nowhere.
"Is it big enough for *you* and Snape, that's what I'm worried about," he grinned, and Sirius frowned, slipping an arm through his to support him as they walked.
"I won't be living here," he said, gently. "This is yours." Harry's heart sank to some point down below his knees. "And don't let Snape forget it."
"Oh," he said. "Thanks." He tried to look as grateful and happy as you were supposed to look when somebody gave you a massive house, but it wasn't very convincing.
Sirius hadn't said when he'd be back.
It wasn't quite as bad as Grimmauld Place - nothing seemed to have moved in and died, the furniture was just a scattering of harmless objects, the place didn't reek of Bundimuns and there weren't any portraits - but Harry still wondered how he was supposed to rest and mend in any house that had ever belonged to the pure-blood Blacks. Sirius wouldn't willingly live here alone; he knew that for a fact.
Snape was loving it. He'd staked out the master bedroom right off, charming the door (to keep Harry out, he assumed) and throwing scouring charms until any trace of the family Black had been obliterated from the room. Harry, who didn't have the luxury of falling back on an old wand and who refused to ask Snape to help him, resorted to cleaning out the smallest bedroom the Muggle way and ignoring Snape's barely-there smirks when they passed on the landing. When Harry wasn't busy hating him, he was trying hard not to admire Snape's sheer ability to get things *done*.
He'd just finished sweeping the floorboards of his own room when Snape's voice echoed along the landing, ordering him downstairs. Harry seriously considered ignoring him, but he was too tired for games. He dropped the dustpan and brush and went looking for Snape.
The entire ground floor was just an echoing cave; bare floorboards, bare walls and not a stick of furniture. Snape was waiting for him in the middle of the dining room, hands folded behind his back, his expression grave. Harry just hoped he didn't have any more nasty surprises up his sleeve.
"Ground rules," Snape said, sounding every bit like he was starting a class. "I am not your mother. You are responsible for your own care and feeding." Harry set his jaw and didn't answer; if he had anything to say in answer to that, he was sure it wouldn't sit well with Sirius' grave parting shot of *'try to make this work, okay?'*. "When you require my presence you will let me know. Otherwise, you would do well to respect my privacy."
"Like I even want to think about what you do in your spare time." It just slipped out. Harry couldn't help it. He tried a deep breath. "We'll leave each other alone. Anything else?"
"Yes. Continue to be discreet. If anyone asks, you're under consideration for apprenticeship and entering a probationary period of intensive research work."
"With you?" Harry almost laughed. As if anybody would believe for a second that he'd voluntarily spend the next few years under Snape's thumb! "They'd be more likely to believe I fell in love and married you than *that*."
"Even so." Snape didn't even blink, the frosty bastard. "Your godfather and I have agreed on this reason for my being here."
"Oh, well, that's fine then." Harry knew that he was starting to sound about twelve, but he was also starting to think he'd had more control over his own life back when he was twelve. "What else have you decided behind my back? Living here in this ... monument ... lying to my friends, pretending I can *stand* you for more than two minutes..."
Snape's expression didn't change but something darkened his eyes and left Harry feeling cold. *'You were dying. What I did, I did to prevent that. Never forget it.'* Snape had meant this. All of this. He'd seen it coming and known Harry well enough to know exactly how it would play out.
Harry started to apologise, more from guilt than because he was truly sorry. But the words stuck in his throat and by the time he'd swallowed enough of his pride to get the words out, Snape had gone. Harry heard him unpacking boxes in one of the garden-facing rooms.
All Harry had to show for himself was his school trunk. Everything he owned was in there, along with the bag of Galleons he'd seen Sirius slip in before he left. He'd be able to get himself a new wand, at least, though he wasn't sure he'd choose Ollivanders again. And he'd need some clothes, too; the few Muggle things he owned had all belonged to Dudley Dursley or been knitted by Mrs Weasley or Hermione, and Harry guessed that he'd need a set or two of robes if he wanted to blend in with the adult wizarding world. Not that he was really sure he wanted to. He wasn't glad about Neville lying in St. Mungo's, worse off than he was, but he was glad that Neville's name was the one on the front of the *Daily Prophet*, on the Award for Special Services to the School (even though, really, they'd already left school) and on the Order of Merlin, First Class that everyone knew Neville was getting, except Neville, who was having enough trouble managing things like custard and trips to the loo just for the moment. Harry didn't envy any of it.
Well, not much.
After a few minutes dithering where Snape had left him, Harry followed the sounds of clanking jars and hollow cauldrons and found Snape setting up shop in what had once been a drawing room. Without curtains, the leaded windows made the fading daylight seem cold and slightly creepy; the terrace and lawn had probably been beautiful, once, but now everything was overgrown outside, and the dead, pollarded trees dominated the skyline, reminding Harry of twisted, blackened human limbs.
"Um... Professor." Harry wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to call Snape, now. Sirius had sounded like he was gagging, trying to say 'Severus' all the time, but 'Snape' didn't really sound right, either. "Have you got an owl?" Snape shook his head, not really looking up from checking a stack of nested cauldrons against an inventory scroll in his hand. "I need to send for Hedwig." Snape breathed in an irritated sort of way for a moment, but he didn't try to throw Harry out of the room. He bent over a box and lifted out a stack of gleaming leather-bound books, looking for a place to set them. The room had no more furniture than any of the others, but it did have cupboards and an alcove with plenty of shelves. Just as well, because Snape seemed to have a lot of stuff. "How long will you... I mean, we, be staying here?"
"As long as necessary," Snape answered, curtly, and placed the books on the highest shelf, checking them quickly against his inventory. "Can you cook?"
"What?" Harry had been thinking along very different lines. Snape was looking at him like he was a moron.
"Cook, Potter. Prepare food."
"Yeah, a bit." Did that mean that Snape cared whether he starved or not, or just that he was missing the house-elves at Hogwarts? "I'll make something if you..." Harry felt the loss of his wand, worse than ever. "You'll have to light the range. It'd take hours with matches and paper." He tried to hold his head high, not to show how helpless he felt without a wand, but Snape was looking right through him.
"We shall both require a trip to Ollivanders," Snape said. "Tomorrow."
Harry hadn't known quite how to bring it up, since Sirius had gone to so much trouble to keep Harry from seeing anybody for the past week, but his heart leapt at the suggestion of a trip to Diagon Alley. A trip anywhere, for that matter, even if he had to go with Snape.
"You don't like your old wand?" he asked, suddenly desperate to bring a little light into the room; a smile, a joke. Anything warm.
"It does not like me," Snape answered, and held up his right hand, palm towards Harry. There was a wand-shaped burn across his palm and a blister on the pad of his thumb. Harry winced in sympathy. "Perhaps it will tolerate you." He drew the wand from under his robes and held it out.
"I ... uh... okay." Harry stopped himself from grabbing at it like a lifeline. He took it slowly, wrapped his hand around the carved ebony stem and felt for it with his magic. It wasn't *his* wand, of course, but it didn't feel as bad as Ron's broken one had, in second year, or Wormtail's. He was sure he could use it to light a stove. And blast the dust out of his little bedroom. And kill anyone who crept up on him while he slept... "Thanks. I'll make something to eat."
At least Sirius had thought about leaving them a bit of food to be going on with, and the kitchen, in spite of having cobwebs, was equipped with the range, a breakfast table and a couple of cupboards full of necessary things, most of which either resembled or actually were the things from Grimmauld Place. His godfather had been in a hurry to get away, but at least he didn't mean for them to starve.
Snape actually looked mildly impressed when Harry presented him with scrambled eggs on toast, but Harry was so sleepy and comfortable basking in front of the range that he hardly touched his own plate, and didn't even have the energy to be affronted at Snape's surprise. Snape, he noticed, didn't touch the open bottle of Butterbeer that Harry had set beside his plate, but fetched a goblet of water. He cut his food and ate in a steady, methodical way that gave Harry the creeps, and he left his crusts. When he'd finished, he got up, washed his plate and put it to drain, and briefly warmed his hands by the range, nearer to Harry than he had been since he got back from the hospital. Harry closed his eyes and made the most of his resulting comfort, knowing that he couldn't ever bring himself to ask.
"You may keep the wand, if you suit it," Snape said, suddenly.
Harry sat up straight, shaking his head, but Snape wasn't even facing him.
"Thanks... I'd rather get a new one. It doesn't feel right."
"But it didn't reject you?"
"No." Harry leaned forward in his chair, trying to get a glimpse of Snape's face and match an expression to that odd tone, but he could only see the usual fall of unpleasant, dirty hair.
Every step felt like dragging giant blocks of lead by the time Harry climbed the stairs towards his new room, relying on Snape's wand for light. As he closed the door, he heard Snape locking his, down at the end of the passage. Harry looked at the squashy, lumpy old bed that Sirius had left him, looked at the bare walls, the windows without curtains; he thought of Sirius settling down for the night somewhere else, maybe having a glass of wine and a cosy chat with Lupin before turning in. He looked down at the strange wand in his hand, heard the silence closing in around him, and realised that he was desperately, miserably homesick for Hogwarts.
Chapter 3: Master Snape
Harry was rubbing self-consciously at the Gryffindor crest on the breast of his black cloak when Snape finally joined him by the fireplace. It covered his faded Muggle things, but he'd felt silly in his school uniform since sixth year, and had already decided that he was buying robes, today, no matter what Snape's plans were. Muggle things too, if he could manage it. They'd managed to go their separate ways in the house; a few hours apart in London couldn't do him any harm, could it?
"Stop fussing with that," Snape said, emptying a pouch of Floo powder into one of the silver goblets from the kitchen. "It's quite appropriate to your role, to wear your uniform for the rest of the summer."
"The boy who lost his mind and decided to be your apprentice, you mean?" Harry pulled harder at the crest, but it had been put on by house-elves who were used to making things school-proof and it wasn't coming off without a fight. "Even if it was true, I wouldn't fancy walking around in my old uniform. I'm buying clothes."
"Yes," was all Snape said, but it was with a sneer down at Harry's crumbling trainers. Harry, who had slept badly in the most uncomfortable bed ever, felt like sticking his tongue out, but Snape had already looked away. Snape plunked the silver goblet down on the mantelpiece, waved his hand at the grate and got a fire going. Harry watched with grudging admiration, wondering just what else Snape could do without a wand. Not read minds, he hoped; Harry thought he'd know if Snape was poking about in his mind, but ever since their first Occlumency lesson he'd been niggled by the reluctant thought that Snape might be much better at Legilimency than he let on. Snape tossed Floo powder into the flames, ducked into the hearth and was on his way. Harry wondered what would happen if he put the fire out and went back to bed. Or tried to Apparate there instead. Harry guessed that Sirius was right and that he'd as likely end up splinched as appear neatly in Diagon Alley. Especially after he'd slept so badly. Not to mention being in a foul mood. Grabbing a pinch of powder and bracing himself, Harry followed Snape into the fire.
"What kept you?" Snape asked, as Harry stepped out into the parlour of the Leaky Cauldron, but he didn't wait for a reply. Harry made a face at Snape's back, put his head down to avoid the looks he was getting, and followed Snape through the pub to the courtyard.
It was a moment before he realised why Snape was glaring at him so impatiently.
"Oh. Yeah." Harry pulled out his borrowed wand and moved towards the hidden doorway, but Snape plucked the wand out of his hand and, holding it gingerly, tapped the bricks.
"Mr Ollivander disapproves of wand sharing," he said, by way of an explanation, pocketing it when he'd finished. "We shall need his good graces, today."
Harry wasn't sure what Snape meant, but he was all for not ticking off Ollivander. And all for Snape getting burned again by his own wand, for that matter.
"Are you scared of him?" Harry wondered. Snape usually spoke of the Hogwarts staff with some measure of respect, but there was something different in the way he'd spoken about Ollivander. As the doorway closed again behind them, Harry fitted himself into Snape's shadow - he had a good, long one - and tried to act invisible. Snape didn't answer the question, but then Harry hadn't really expected him to. "I think he knew, you know. When he sold me that wand. That it'd be the answer in the end."
"I doubt he holds with relying on blind luck," Snape said, striding ahead and forcing Harry to half jog behind him. "Besides, what makes you think he was on your side and not the Dark Lord's?"
Harry felt the back of his neck prickle, and shivered, remembering how very small he'd felt, the day Ollivander sold him the phoenix-feather wand; the day he'd found out he was a wizard. The day he'd found out that the world had things like Voldemort in it.
"I wish you wouldn't call him that," he said, when Snape stopped outside Ollivander's dusty shop window, straightening his cloak. "Voldemort. He's dead. What difference does it make, now?"
Snape looked down at him, coldly.
"Quite," he said, and went into the shop.
Harry had an immense sense of dj vu as the door clicked shut behind them. He could smell dust and see piles of dull boxes through the gloom. He might have stepped back eight years. He might have stepped back a hundred. Even with Snape standing right by him, he began to feel cold inside.
"How many have... you know?" he whispered, ignoring Snape's irritable sigh. He knew that wands had to be replaced, sometimes; they got damaged, or their owner outgrew them. He'd just thought of his holly wand as an extension of himself for so long that he couldn't imagine choosing another one. He couldn't imagine it turning round and burning him when he cast a spell, either... "I've only had one."
"This is Master Snape's fourth visit," Ollivander supplied, appearing from the gloom like a particularly creepy ghost. His peculiar eyes were fixed on Snape, who was rigid at Harry's side. "An unfortunate catalogue of events for one so young. And you, Mr Potter. Holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches. I gather your wand served you *very* well, at the last."
"I was a bit dead," Harry said, deciding that Ollivander wasn't going to scare him, if only to get one over on Snape. "I missed it, really." How did Ollivander know, anyway? Sirius said that nobody knew, except Kingsley, Neville and Snape...
"Yes. And how death changes a man." Ollivander smiled at Harry, and Harry did his best to smile back. "Oak and phoenix feather, Master Snape. Twelve inches. What became of it?"
Harry looked up, as keen to hear the details as Ollivander was, and saw Snape's unease shift into something almost predatory. The gleam in his eye was almost laughter, but Harry doubted that anything was funny.
"It paid a debt." There was a bad silence, then Snape took a step towards the counter. "We require wands." He made it sound like a threat of some kind. Ollivander inclined his head.
"Ebony and unicorn hair, ten and a half inches." He nodded meaningfully at Snape's left flank and waited for him to produce the wand in question. When he put it into Ollivander's waiting hands, he tried and failed to conceal the magical burn. "Ah, yes. Definitely not suitable." Harry felt rather smug when he realised that Ollivander meant Snape, not the wand.
Half an hour later, Harry felt as if he'd tried every wand in the shop; the only thing that made him feel any better was that Snape had actually been attacked by a couple more of them; the unicorn ones, in particular, behaved badly when he tried them. Harry just hadn't found one that felt right. When he'd chosen his first wand - or, rather, when it had chosen him - Ollivander had measured him every which-way and simply waited for a wand to behave the way he expected; this time, he interrogated Harry about every one. How did it feel? Was it warm to the touch? Could he feel himself growing into the wood, rooting into the core, resonating with the power? Harry had the same answer for each of them; something was missing. He wished Ollivander would just sell him the most likely looking one and throw him out.
"I believe there's something I must know," Ollivander said, finally, folding his arms and looking at each of them in turn. The counter and chairs were littered with boxes and discarded wands and Snape looked murderous and rather hot. "Master S..."
"It's *Professor* Snape," Snape snapped, and Harry actually jumped. "If you cannot sell us a wand, we shall look elsewhere."
"A wand," Ollivander mused, his eyes boring into each of them in turn. "There we have it." And he vanished into the back of the shop.
"It's no use biting his head off," Harry said, ignoring the fact that it was no more use his biting Snape's off. "It's not his fault none of the wands like you." He hoped that Snape might tell him why Ollivander seemed to enjoy baiting him, why he kept calling him 'Master Snape' like a ten year old, or why Snape had needed three wands before. But Snape just looked at him with eyes like flint and rubbed at his burned, dusty palm. "I'm tired," Harry said, after a while. "I want to go home."
Snape snorted, but Harry was spared a reply when Ollivander reappeared, carrying a stack of very long, thin boxes.
"Twinned wands," he said, in a rather dramatic, hushed tone. "They are usually only of use for very specific magic. But it seems you share more than uncommon difficulty finding a wand, yes?"
"We-" Harry realised that Snape's spell might be something the wand maker needed to know about, but Snape trod on his foot to shut him up. "Oh, bugger off!" Harry growled, and pushed him away. "Yeah, we're joined by an old spell," he told Ollivander. "Does that make a difference?"
"More than a spell, I think," Ollivander said, with a small, slightly smug look at the fuming Snape. "Twinned wands are identical, sharing bough, core and maker. There's very little demand for them, these days, but there are spells that require such tools - two wizards working as one. Powerful," he added, looking at Snape again, his eyes narrowing with suspicion. "In this I would advise that the wizard is as cautious in choosing the wand, as the wand in choosing the wizard."
"Show us," Snape demanded.
The first box (yew and unicorn) got them nowhere. Ollivander placed it under the counter and opened the second, running his fingertips across the wands which were laid tip-to-tip and slightly off-centre in the long, red satin lined box.
"Beech and dragon heartstring; twelve and three-quarter inches and thirteen and a quarter inches." Ollivander beckoned them each towards the box. Harry picked up the nearest one, the longer one, admiring the small, carved detail at the tip and base of the shaft. Snape picked up the other, without the hesitation he'd started to show over the unicorn wands, and looked at it the way Harry had seen him look at students who were too slow to obey an instruction.
"You're wasting our time, Ollivander," he snapped, after a glance at Harry, who shrugged. He liked the wand, and he got the feeling that it quite liked him, but it felt nothing like his old one.
"Hmm," Ollivander said, and plucked the wands from their hands, swapped them over and held them out again. "Try again."
Snape snatched the longer wand, looking like he wanted to stick it in Ollivander's eye. Harry sighed and took the other one, and gasped faintly as the invisible, missing *something* finally happened and left all his body hair standing on end. Beside him, Snape shivered and regarded the other wand with narrowed eyes.
"I thought you said they were identical?" he demanded. Harry rolled his eyes; was the man never happy unless he had something to complain about?
"As identical as human twins," Ollivander said, mildly. Harry was groping for his gold. He wanted to get out of there before anyone did anything to ruin the moment. "Each quite unique."
"Very well," Snape said, grudgingly. Harry watched him slip the wand inside his robe, and was glad to be able to do the same; he'd felt naked without a wand, and it wouldn't be much use in a box.
"Thank you," Harry said, when Ollivander took their gold, and Ollivander gave him a small bow before turning his gaze back on Snape, and staring until they were out of his sight.
Harry really was tired and he really did want to go home, but once they were back out in the sunlight and away from Ollivander, he wasn't in such a hurry after all. Snape went two shop-lengths away from Ollivander's window before rounding on Harry, lip curled in fury. Harry had seen him in that state too often now to be scared by it, but it still took him by surprise.
"You do know the meaning of the word 'discretion', Potter?" Snape hissed. Harry fell back a step, doing his best not to reach for the new wand in his cloak pocket. His old wand hadn't liked going up against another one of Fawkes' tail feathers; he dreaded to think what might happen if he tried duelling with Snape while they carried identical twin wands. "You arrogant, foolish little *brat*!" Harry watched a few spots of spit fly from Snape's mouth along with the words, and wondered what Ollivander had done to him.
"He needed to know," Harry answered, the back of his neck feeling warm as he realised that people were staring. Of course they were staring; Snape had taught at Hogwarts for nearly twenty years. Half the world hated him, and the other half thought Harry belonged on the cover of Witch Weekly. They were street entertainment. "We could've been there a month otherwise." He wished he'd worn the cloak that Sirius had given him, with its deep hood. Or, better yet, his Invisibility Cloak. "I'm going to the bank, then Madam Malkin's, then I'm having an ice cream."
"No," Snape said, backing him further against the wall, making a visible effort to both reign in his temper, and make their conversation slightly more private. "Enough for today. We've been too long. We're leaving." Harry narrowed his eyes, his grasp on his own temper slipping away fast.
"I'm going," he said. "You don't bloody own me."
"No," Snape said again, and gripped his upper arm, tight.
"Stop me," Harry dared him, wrenching his arm free and shouldering past Snape, into the slow-moving stream of witches and wizards. "Go on. Hex me in front of all these people. If you can."
Snape didn't, but Harry wondered if he might have tried, if they didn't have such an audience. He strode off towards Gringotts. He'd left school; Snape couldn't tell him what to do any more, or even take points off Gryffindor when Harry annoyed him. Just as well, since all Harry had ever needed to do to annoy him was breathe.
Two Gringotts carts, a clothes fitting and an ice cream sundae later, Harry was beginning to wish he'd gone quietly, like a good little boy.
He'd asked Florean Fortescue if he could borrow Barnaby, his barn owl, and tried in vain to pay the ice cream bill that he and his friends must have run up over the years. Fortescue took his money, after a good natured fight, but only for today's ice cream. While Harry sat writing out two quick notes to Ron and Hermione and tying them to Barnaby, then explaining to the small owl about Hedwig, an extra, free scoop of strawberry and walnut appeared in the top of his sundae glass, with a cherry on.
It was that last scoop, he decided, that had left him feeling so cold and queasy. It couldn't have anything to do with not seeing Snape for a couple of hours. Just too much ice cream, when he hadn't been well and hadn't slept last night, and hadn't really eaten very much for a week, and had sort of forgotten about breakfast.
Madam Malkin's assistant, a Gryffindor boy who'd left Hogwarts a couple of years before Harry, asked if he needed a glass of water, when he stopped in to pick up his new things. The woman behind the counter in the apothecary tried to sell him some pre-bottled Pepperup Potion, along with his small bag of Floo powder. Half the people in the Leaky Cauldron tried to buy him a stiff drink. It seemed to take him forever to get across the bar to the fireplace, and the trip was hell.
Snape found him retching by the hearthstone, making a strawberry-sundae mess of Sirius' drawing room floorboards.
"That'll teach you to buy ready-made Floo powder," Snape said, acidly, but Harry distinctly heard 'I told you so'.
Chapter 4: Blood From a Stone
Severus Snape rose at half past six in the morning, dressed, ate one piece of dry toast or a bit of fruit for breakfast, drank a cup of coffee with a nameless green potion tipped into it, and went directly to his 'study', where Harry would invariably find him, whenever he cared to look. Snape had taken to calling it his study, but Harry thought of it as Snape's potions room. He'd done something horrible to the floor, turning it to stone so that it clashed nastily with the panelled wooden walls and carved bookshelves, and he'd set up a long work bench in front of the windows and begun covering it with bottles, jars, tools and ingredients. Harry was summarily forbidden to touch anything in the room, but Harry didn't even go in there unless he had something important to say. And that didn't happen often.
Since their quarrel in Diagon Alley, Snape had been as unreadable as a slab of polished granite and Harry had done his best to keep out of the man's way. The house was big enough to keep their distance, the gardens were bigger, and the countryside beyond was perfect for flying. Sirius hadn't told Harry not to fly, and even if he did come back cold and shaking and hardly able to stand upright, and find it harder and harder to get out of bed each morning, it was better than being stuck in the same building as Snape all day. Harry was looking forward desperately to the end of the summer holidays when, at least, Snape would have to be at Hogwarts during the day. Wouldn't he?
Harry didn't ask and Snape didn't mention it, so Harry lived in hope until Hedwig turned up one morning with her talons full of *Daily Prophets* that had been piling up for him at school. He buried his fingers in her ruff and scratched her into a state of bliss while he sorted the editions into order with the other hand. Hedwig had brought the last week's worth, with a kind note from Professor McGonagall, wishing him well. Last Saturday's early edition made his heart sink; a small headline on the front page read;
*Hogwarts: Head of Slytherin Steps Down.*
It cited *'personal reasons'* and somehow managed to work in, without explicitly accusing Snape of anything, that his suitability to teach had been in question for a long time. And that dear, departed Dumbledore had been madder than a belfry full of crazed bats when it came to appointing staff. Harry couldn't really argue with either point, but his hopes of being rid of Snape at the end of the summer were dashed, and he felt sick. *'Professor Snape'*, it said, *'has been unavailable for comment since the demise of He Who (etc.) but was spotted in arguing in Diagon Alley with famous former student, Harry Potter.'*
Harry smoothed Hedwig's neck feathers back into place and took her to the kitchen for something to eat, wishing that Barnaby or Pig would turn up with a message from Ron or Hermione. Or Ron *and* Hermione. They'd done their best not to let on but Harry knew for a fact that they'd been doing it by the time exams were over and he'd started to wonder if he'd need a crowbar to get them apart, soon. Then all hell had broken loose and, for a while, it hadn't mattered any more. He would have expected to hear from them both in a big hurry, though, once his name was printed next to Snape's in the *Prophet*.
"Maybe they're busy," he said to Hedwig, setting her on the rim of a big cooking pot and looking thoughtfully at the darkest corner of the room while he pulled out his wand. "*Accio* mouse." Nothing. "Bad luck, Hedwig."
"Who on earth are you talking ... oh." Snape stopped just inside the kitchen door, looking annoyed. "Well, good, I have a job for it. Come here." He held out his arm, which Hedwig just looked at, interestedly.
"Hedwig's tired, she just got here," Harry said, coldly. "Come on, girl." And he lifted her onto his arm and carried her to the garden door. Hedwig didn't much like hunting in daylight, but she'd sleep better if she found a snack and the garden was overgrown enough to be promising. "I think there's snakes in the grass," he told her, and watched her soar off to the top of one of the creepy dead trees. He left the door open for her to get back in when she'd found something, and tried to walk past Snape without looking at him.
"Your attitude isn't improving," Snape said, blocking the kitchen door. "Neither is your health. We're both here for a reason. Remain near me today."
"Did it occur to you that I might rather have died than be stuck here with you?" Harry asked, but he didn't wait for an answer. "Excuse me." Snape moved aside, stiffly. "And leave my owl alone," Harry said, over his shoulder. He went straight to the front door, collected his broomstick and put a couple of miles between himself and the house.
He wasn't sure why he was so angry that he'd only found out from the newspaper that Snape had resigned; it wasn't as if they'd been spending any time together, chatting about their plans. It wasn't as if Harry *had* any plans, or really cared about Snape's. He thought that Sirius might have let him know, though. Once or twice he'd thought he heard his godfather's voice in the house, heard him talking with Snape or someone, but when he'd gone to investigate he'd found that he'd been imagining it and that the ground floor was as dead and bare as ever, except for Snape's hissing cauldrons or scratching quill.
It had only been a few days; he knew that. And the world, as Snape had always enjoyed reminding him, did not revolve around the wishes of Harry Potter. But Harry wished that he'd been allowed to go on the ward with Neville, that he'd had a message from his friends, even if it came through Sirius, and that Sirius had taken Harry with him, wherever he'd gone. Harry was used to not having what he wanted, but it never stopped him wishing.
He urged his broomstick on faster and flew right to the outskirts of the nearest Muggle town before, reluctantly, turning back.
By the time he landed on the cobbled driveway, Harry had worked himself into a proper temper, but he hadn't decided whether he wanted to go and tell Snape what he thought of him, or go to his room and fume at the ceiling instead. He dropped his broomstick carelessly in the entrance hall, only wincing slightly as his trusty old Firebolt bounced on the hard tile, and headed straight for the staircase, but the sound of voices stopped him. This time he *knew* he could hear someone; he wasn't imagining it and, as far as he knew, he didn't have a temperature anywhere near high enough to have him hallucinating (though he was feeling very weak and sweaty). Walking quietly and even trying to breathe quietly, Harry followed the sound of the voices to the drawing room, peeking around the dividing wall from the empty dining room. Sirius' head was in the fire and Snape was walking up and down in front of the hearth, looking very angry.
"Bloody hell, Snape, will you sit down or something? At least stop moving, you're making me dizzy!"
"Then come in person," Snape snarled, still pacing. "Sort the whining brat out for yourself."
"You're the one who wanted me to keep clear," Sirius answered, in the quiet voice that Harry knew was actually one of his most dangerous. "Not as easy to keep in line as you thought he'd be?"
Harry licked his lips and pulled back behind the wall, so he could listen but not risk being seen. His heart had started drumming on the inside of his ribcage and his mouth had gone all dry, but this time he didn't think it had anything to do with avoiding Snape for too long.
"He inherited Potter's mindless self-destructive streak," Snape said, his footsteps no longer clattering on the floorboards. "He's weakening, but I don't believe my absence will kill him. Far be it from me to stop a Gryffindor being a fool."
"What, you thought he'd fall on his knees and kiss your arse for this?" Sirius wasn't losing his temper and Harry, who'd seen him lose his temper at Snape for straightening his collar, let alone making a remark about Harry's dad, was impressed. "Maybe he thinks he's earned the right to choose his own life. Maybe he needs you to do more than bark orders at him and expect him to obey."
"If I'm to teach him further..."
"Oh, bullshit!" Sirius barked. "You know what needs to be done; what *he* needs, and he's not your fucking apprentice. Do you really want me to come over there and tell him? If I do, Snape, don't even think about telling me to get lost again after I do your dirty work."
Snape's reply was too quiet to hear, but it didn't sound very pleasant. There was a distinct 'pop' from the fireplace, and Harry slipped away before he got caught and yelled at.
Hedwig's talons made a soft clicking noise on the wooden floor as she paced up and down, and even that slight noise was setting Harry's teeth on edge.
"Give over, Hedwig. I've got a headache."
He'd had one for hours, but instead of opening the window or having a bath or asking Snape about a pain potion - instead of doing anything remotely constructive - Harry had been lying on his bed, getting annoyed at the uneven brushwork on the ceiling. Hedwig flew to the windowsill with an irritated *whoosh*, and Harry belatedly realised that she didn't have her cage, or anything to perch on except the cold brass bedstead.
"Sorry, girl. You don't really need a cage any more, though. What about a chair? Just for tonight?" Hedwig hooted and rapped on the window with her beak. Harry started to get up, then remembered that he was allowed to do as much magic as he wanted, now, and reached for his wand instead. He thought about all the years he and Hedwig had put up with the Dursleys, with locked cages and locked rooms, with remarks and not enough food, not being able to come and go as they liked. His spell slammed the window casings open with enough force to send ancient leaded glass showering down onto the crumbling kitchen patio below, and send Hedwig circling around the room with a shriek. "Just be grateful you can fly where you like," Harry snapped, feeling guilty, and Hedwig's next pass carried her out of the ruined window and off into the night before he could apologise.
So Sirius and Snape were still conspiring behind his back, were they? Harry had decided that the other times he thought he'd heard Sirius' voice must have been real, too; that Snape had been keeping the conversations from him with the same stealth and skill that had kept Dumbledore's plans from Voldemort. For a little while, he'd felt better knowing that Sirius hadn't chosen to stay away; that it was Snape's idea and, knowing him, more of a condition than a request. The feeling didn't last very long, though, once he locked himself in his bedroom and started to brood on what he'd heard. Snape had *told* Sirius to come, clear as day, and he'd refused, talking about Harry like he was some *problem* that needed solving. Maybe he was, Harry thought, but that didn't make it all right that he didn't have anyone to talk to, or try to make him feel better, or just keep him company while he tried to get better by himself. Snape didn't count, not for any of that, and even though his hands wouldn't stop shaking any more, he refused to go and ask Snape to keep him company.
He ignored the knock on his door, after dark, and another, more insistent one near midnight. He badly wanted to use the toilet, but there was no way he was unlocking that door while Snape was still prowling about the house. No way.
He found himself brushing his teeth in secret at two in the morning, not daring to flush the loo in case the sound woke Snape up, his kidneys aching from holding it for several hours, and told his reflection in the mirror that he wasn't being remotely unreasonable. His reflection stared back at him with bloodshot eyes, wearing toothpaste in the beginnings of a moustache, looking ill and guilty.
"You look like hell, Potter," Snape informed him, when their trips to the kitchen to make coffee managed to overlap, mid-morning
"Death warmed over, you mean," Harry answered, but found that he really and truly didn't want to fight. He was too tired, and the half piece of bread that he'd forced down for breakfast had settled like a knot of barbed wire in his stomach. "How long's this going to last?" he heard himself say, in a horrible, pleading voice that sounded just like the whiny brat Snape had accused him of being. "I'm here, we're.. here... why isn't it enough?"
He waited for the cutting comment, the put-down, the told-you-so, and scalded his fingertips on the kettle.
"Come to my study when you've had your coffee," Snape said, and left, holding his own mug close to his body, as if afraid somebody might steal it.
It was possibly the longest cup of coffee Harry had ever had, but eventually he reached the cold dregs. He managed to spend a couple more minutes washing and drying his mug, even though a spell would have done it in seconds. He felt exactly like he was going for a detention - or, god forbid, an Occlumency lesson - as he dragged his feet towards Snape's potions room. He hadn't seen inside the room for a few days, and his eyes widened at the transformation; the room now sported a second work bench opposite the windows, and two fire pits, over which Snape had suspended two cauldrons - one large, one small. Harry supposed that there wasn't much you couldn't do with magic, if you really put your mind to it, but he was still bound up enough in his Muggle upbringing that the sight of fire pits in a ground floor garden room made his brain hurt.
"It's really ... uh..." He looked for something to say that would sound at least neutral. "Like your office," he managed, noticing a pig brain in a jar of yellow gunge, above Snape's desk.
Snape had installed a writing desk near the one bookshelf that he was actually using for books, and was sitting on the single chair, still holding his untouched, black coffee. Harry noticed that he looked greasier than ever, but that he was wearing the sort of cool work-robes and apron that he'd seen the apothecary's apprentices wearing, in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. "What are you ...um ... making?" Harry gestured to the cauldron nearest the door, which was barely steaming over a very gentle flame.
"It's an experiment," Snape said, unhelpfully. Harry wondered how Snape was going to make a living, if he wasn't going to work at Hogwarts any more. He was about to ask, but Snape spoke first. "Do you trust me, Potter?"
"No." Harry spoke honestly and without malice, which was probably more than Snape deserved. "But I owe you."
"You do not." Snape got to his feet, slopping coffee onto the stone floor, but seeming not to notice. "We're even. All slates wiped clean. Do you understand me, Potter?"
"Yeah, all right," Harry said, feeling the conversation beginning to go downhill. "Keep your hair on."
"I'm asking for maturity, not obedience," Snape said. It sounded forced, weird. Rehearsed, maybe. Harry was too tired to face one of Snape's mysteries, but god, he just felt so much *better* being in the room with the man, just talking from a few feet away... "Give me that much and we'll weather this, somehow."
"Fine," Harry said, though he had no idea what Snape was on about. A token of reconciliation seemed to be called for and, with a tremendous effort, Harry swallowed his pride. "I feel better already. Thanks."
Maybe it was the wrong thing to say; Snape looked like he'd been stung, his lips parting on a sharp intake of breath. He stared at Harry for a moment, eyes wide and unreadable, then he turned and snatched up a small glass bottle from his writing desk.
Harry would have refused on principle, but Snape sounded like he was begging at least as much as he was ordering. Curious, Harry crossed the room and stood beside the chair. "Potter, you're going to have to tolerate more than my presence. This..." Snape jerked the tiny bottle towards him, then snatched it back again before Harry could really see more than a glimpse of sluggish, clear liquid inside. "This will help you."
"Okay," Harry said, utterly confused. He'd seen Snape in terrible rages, screaming under the Cruciatus curse, cold and efficient, calculating and cruel, but now the man looked *nervous*, and it was unsettling Harry's world. Snape's dark eyes fixed on his, glittering oddly. The stone floor felt cold under his bare feet; he wished he'd remembered some socks. He shivered.
"Turn up your sleeves," Snape said, quietly, and took the stopper from the bottle; attached to it was a rod of thin glass, like one of Aunt Petunia's expensive little perfume bottles. Harry turned up the sleeves of his robe (they were too long anyway) and watched Snape's hands, warily. "The effects are pleasant," Snape said, when Harry flinched away from the glass rod that Snape was trying to touch to the side of his neck. "External application. Painless." Harry held still and Snape stroked some of the clear liquid over Harry's pulse-points. Throat, then wrists, then he carefully put the stopper back and set the bottle up on a shelf above his desk. Waiting, curious, Harry looked up and Snape and saw that he had his eyes closed.
Snape swallowed - Harry saw muscles moving in his jaw and throat, the glimpse of dark, pink tongue wetting his lips. "I don't think it's working," Harry said. Snape opened his eyes, irritation taking the place of ... something Harry didn't really understand.
"The day you learn patience, Potter, you'll rule the bloody world." And he grabbed Harry around the waist with one hand and yanked up his robe with the other, pulling Harry hard against his hip. Faintly, somewhere far away from any thought that mattered, Harry realised that Snape's hand was in his pants, wanking him until he was hard; realised that his own hands were pulling Snape's robe up to expose one long, coarsely haired thigh so that he could hump it like a dog on a bitch. He was nearly there (did it usually feel like this?) when Snape pulled back, hoisted his robes up to his waist and sat down on the chair, beckoning. Harry had a glimpse of a hard cock, much darker and heavier than his own, but then he was straddling Snape on the chair, his cock shoving against flesh (any flesh, didn't care...) and he couldn't think about anything except the sound the chair made against the edge of the desk. Thump, thump, thump. It was good, it was... it was... Harry shook his head, trying to remember where he was; pulled his head back far enough to see Snape's face twisted (pleasure? pain?), and realised that he was driving splinters into his own palms from gripping the backrest of the chair. Thump, thump, thump. He was making noise, too, but he didn't know what, exactly; dirty words, slipping out, his lips moving against Snape's cheekbone, his jaw, trailing saliva and obscenity all the way to his mouth--
"No..." Snape wrenched his head to the side, lip curling. Harry felt strong hands pulling on his hips, heard the thumping get faster, the inkwell clattering against its spare, shoved one splinter-torn hand down into the hard heat and felt come splash up his fingers, up his arm, but it wasn't his, he hadn't... oh, god, he was, yes... yes... he squeezed hard with his thighs, trying to hold on to fleeting pleasure that he wasn't sure had ever really been there in the first place.
Snape planted his feet and stopped the thumping, held Harry's hips still, whispered something in his ear that was almost kind.
"It will pass in a moment."
Pass? Harry sat back, his weight on Snape's knees, wondering what he could possibly mean. Pass? He felt sleepy and warm and realised that he was rubbing come over his sticky belly with a slimy hand, and that it felt good. He looked down; Snape's cock was small and soft and shining with it, too; it was on his things in creamy little pools, on his potion-proof apron, right up to his chest. Harry laughed, put his hand to his mouth and found himself suckling on bitter, salty fingers, and he knew exactly where he was and he was in Snape's lap - *Snape's lap* - and they'd just had sex.
"You--" Harry dragged his robe down, covering himself frantically and stumbling back into the second work bench. Red coloured the edges of everything. "You... I can *taste* you," he accused, and spat on the floor at Snape's feet. "I *hate* you! You fucking..." (Snape's pig brain and jar exploded against the window-wall) "...perverted!..." (a kick sent the nearest cauldron topping from its tripod) "*prick!*"
Harry snatched up the tiny glass bottle, hating it, hating Snape to death, and smashed it at Snape's feet. Then he ran.
Chapter 5: The Order of Merlin, First Class
Harry got as far as packing his trunk before realising that he needed a bath because he stank of sex and Snape; as far as sticking his head under the water to rinse the shampoo out of his hair before noticing how he felt. Not about Snape and his pervert potion, but how he *felt*, in himself; strong and alert and alive again, like he'd been given the best medicine in the world. The realisation burst his anger like a soap bubble and left him with nothing in its place. Soapy water dripping from his fringe into his eyes, stinging, Harry sat hugging his knees and staring at nothing until the water was barely tepid and the slow dripping of the tap had hypnotised him into a kind of calm. Then he pulled out the plug, put it back in again and refilled the tub with hot, clean water, scrubbing his skin with soap and fingernails until every possible trace of Snape was off him.
He got hard again while he was towelling dry and ignored it, thinking instead about a trip to Diagon Alley. If he was going to live in this house then he was going to get it decent towels to replace the sandpaper ones he'd found in the airing cupboard. Huge ones, he'd buy, so thick and fluffy that you could bury your fingers in them; orange, so that when Ron came to visit he could see the Cannons' colours hanging in every single bathroom and know that Harry had planned to make him feel welcome. It was his house, and he could do that. He'd invite Hermione too, so he'd need the best cat toys that money could buy for Crookshanks, and some of the girly bathroom stuff that she always bought while they were in Hogsmeade, and a proper mirror to use it all with. And they'd need two rooms, so they could pretend they weren't sharing one. He thought he ought to feel happy, making plans like that, but he didn't. It just filled his head with purpose and a sense of direction that he hadn't had since Sirius told him that Neville had done for Voldemort. It kept him from dwelling on the cost of a clear head and steady hands.
"I'm not playing these stupid games any more. I'm seeing my friends. Don't," Harry said, when Sirius' reflection started to respond. "I'm feeling much better now. Thanks for the warning."
"Oh." Sirius frowned and Harry gathered from the way his image wavered that the hand holding the magic mirror wasn't too steady. "What happened?"
"You know what happened."
Harry felt a rather dark satisfaction that Sirius was still carrying the small mirror with him, after all these years, like it was some kind of proof that he cared. It had become a standing joke between them, that their respective ideas of Harry needing Sirius were so very different; that Sirius wished that Harry would call on him when he had a bad dream or got stuck with an essay, but that Harry didn't think being trapped by Death Eaters and fighting for his life was reason enough to bother his godfather. Of course, Sirius had been a wanted man for most of it and if there was one thing Harry wasn't prepared to do, ever and for any reason, it was get Sirius killed or captured by needing him in a crisis. He'd never used the mirror, before.
"You'd better come over here," Harry said, noticing a movement behind Sirius that was probably Remus Lupin trying to be somewhere else. "I want to know everything and I'm not asking him." And he stuffed his mirror back into his school trunk and shut the lid, in case Sirius had any ideas about arguing.
Harry felt like a proper wizard, dressed in his new robes. He'd chosen green because Mrs Weasley had always seemed to think it suited him, but with gold clasps and brown trims so that he wasn't walking around in Slytherin colours. He'd found out that wizards made boots that literally hugged your feet; the crisp new brown leather didn't pinch or rub and Harry found that he liked the feeling of height that the raised heel gave him. He liked how it felt to be wearing nothing on any part of his body that had ever belonged to anyone else, or to The Boy Who Lived, either. The heavy boots made a satisfying, solid sound on the wooden floors and Harry held his head high and his back straight, enjoying how it felt to be something else.
He noticed, as he passed, that Snape's bedroom door was locked.
Sirius arrived looking so agitated that it was a wonder he hadn't splinched himself. It felt strange, answering the front door to his godfather, when Sirius owned the place, but Harry let him in without comment. There was a lot he didn't know, he knew that, and he was going to hear it before he lost his temper again. He'd decided that much while he shaved, after the third time he'd had to heal a bleeding cut with his wand. And Snape had said he needed to learn patience, just before he'd...
"Harry, are you all right?" Sirius asked, before the door was even closed behind him.
*Fine, no thanks to you*, Harry thought, but he just nodded and walked towards the kitchen, chewing his lip to keep the nasty words from pouring out. He wanted to make Sirius feel bad, Sirius and Snape, but he wanted the truth, too. For a weird moment, Harry felt very grown up and empty, but the scared, angry feelings soon flooded back in to fill the gap. He put the table between himself and Sirius.
"Harry... if he hurt you..."
"You'll do what?" Harry asked, lightly, smoothing his hand over the kitchen table. "Kill him? Oh, wait, that'd kill me too, I suppose?" He let the bitterness of that sink in for a moment, until he could see every line on Sirius' face deepen with shame and grief. "No, he didn't hurt me."
"Harry." Sirius pulled out the nearest chair and sat down, hard. "When you used the mirror, I thought all kinds of awful stuff..."
*Good*, Harry thought, and even though he didn't say it, he thought Sirius could see it in his eyes, because Sirius looked hurt.
"If there's anything else nobody's bothered to tell me, you'd better do it now," Harry said, feeling the splinters in his hands sting as he gripped the back of the chair opposite Sirius'. "The Dursleys, Dumbledore, Mrs Weasley, you... somebody always thinks there's a good reason to keep stuff from me, don't they?" Sirius opened his mouth, but Harry didn't let him speak. "If I'm old enough for what Snape did to me earlier then I'm old enough for you all to stop treating me like this. Don't you think?"
"He wanted it this way. He was supposed to tell you... I promised not to interfere," Sirius said, sounding sick. "Your life's in his hands. What else could I do?"
"Oh, come on," Harry growled. "He saved my life! Does that mean he owns me?"
"I didn't say..."
"If it does then I wish he hadn't."
"Harry," Sirius said again, sadly, and looked down at his hands. "We haven't found out nearly as much as I wanted," he said, in a strange, flat voice. He didn't raise his head. "The spell he did shared his life between you, right?" Harry nodded, his natural urge to be obstinate giving way to desperate eagerness for more information. "Well it could've worked lots of ways. He could've just dropped dead then and there and you would've lived on, almost a normal life. It might have kept you alive but never given you the strength to heal from your injuries... you were really badly hurt, you know. I don't think you know how badly."
"I don't know much, do I?" Harry asked, and he wasn't sorry when Sirius winced. "Well, I'm fine now, so he can bugger off."
"He can't. Look, maybe in time the spell might balance itself out, Remus thinks so too now he's had a chance to read the accounts, but for now you need him around, near you, and the more intimate the contact the better. Did he..." Sirius gestured, unhelpfully. "I mean what did he...?"
"You'd better ask him, hadn't you, since you're best mates, now." For the first time, Sirius looked angry at Harry; he lifted his head abruptly and straightened in the chair, eyes flashing something like a warning, but Harry didn't care that he'd gone below the belt. In fact, he wanted Sirius to yell at him so he could yell back and let out some of the bitter hurt at being kept in the dark, about himself, *again*. "What? You've talked to him about all this, haven't you? You planned for him to be all over me but you didn't tell me about it. Why would you bother with that?!"
"Be quiet, Potter."
Sirius jumped out of his seat and turned around so fast Harry was amazed he didn't hurt his neck. Snape was back in the black robes, filling the kitchen doorway like a gloomy, expressionless statue. Harry noticed, out of the corner of his eye, that Sirius was blocking the way between them like a human guard dog.
"You were supposed to explain to him," Sirius said, his voice very different now that he had Snape in his sights. It was much more what Harry was used to when the two came face to face - taunting and bitter. "Enjoy yourself, did you?"
Snape spared Sirius a glance that was positively acidic, before returning his attention to Harry.
"There's a barn owl in my study, addressed to you. Remove it before I do."
"Don't speak to him like he's your fucking house-elf, Snape," Sirius warned, and Harry edged around the other side of the table, sidled past Snape (being very careful not to touch so much as a thread of his robe) and went to get the owl. Snape closed the kitchen door firmly behind him and, bizarrely, Harry felt grateful, for both the interruption and the dismissal. He'd demanded that Sirius turn up, tell him the truth, but found he didn't want to hear what his godfather had to say at all. Or, at least, didn't want to hear it from Sirius. Not yet, not while it was still stinging so badly and he just wanted to *hurt* everyone because he hurt.
Harry wondered if Lupin would tell him what they'd found out, or if he'd be worried about doing what Sirius wanted, the way Sirius seemed worried about doing what Snape said.
Barnaby, Florean Fortescue's barn owl, was standing on the back of the single, straight-backed chair. He was lopsided with the letters tied to his right leg. Harry had never felt so glad to see an owl in his life; not even Hedwig returning to Privet Drive with a message from his friends. He tried to see as little of Snape's study as possible as he coaxed Barnaby onto his arm, but he couldn't miss the dark splatter over the window-side wall, and the sight of that chair seemed to remind his palms about the splinters.
"Come on, Barnaby. Mr Fortescue will want you back. Where've you been? Are those from Ron and Hermione?"
Barnaby sidled up his arm to his shoulder and rode in splendour all the way up to Harry's room. A crash and a yell from the kitchen followed them up the stairs.
The messages were from Ron and Hermione; a short one from Ron asking why he'd gone into hiding and why Sirius wouldn't tell, and a much longer one from Hermione, over three pages, asking exactly the same thing and begging him to come and visit as soon as he felt well enough. Harry hadn't mentioned being hurt or ill, so it couldn't be all that much of a secret, if Hermione had heard it from somewhere else.
Barnaby was looking hopeful for a reply, but Harry offered him the dregs of a bag of owl treats, instead (saving the last one for Hedwig, who was still ignoring him) and told him to hurry back to Fortescue. Barnaby fluttered up to the window ledge, hopped through the broken panel with a quizzical hoot, and took off.
Harry half listened to the muffled argument that was going on in the kitchen, but most of his attention was reserved for writing long letters; one to Ron and his family, one to Hermione, and a shorter one to Neville at St Mungo's. He told each of them what had happened - the wands, the hospital, Ollivander - and, as he wrote, the heavy reality of it began to settle on him, word by word. Saying it made it seem real and Harry, who had never truly expected to outlive Voldemort, let alone any of the rest, had a sudden rush of compassion for Sirius. Saying it made it *real* and Sirius wouldn't want this to be real, any more than Harry did. Maybe Sirius had been looking forward to the time when they could finally live together, as much as Harry had?
He tried to hold that in his mind as he finished his letter to Neville, then lay on his bed for a while, adjusting to the unwelcome reality of it all, yet feeling strangely unreal himself. It felt almost as if he was dreaming and ought to be waking up soon. Harry wondered if Snape's potion was still affecting his mind, or if it was just him.
When the voices went quiet, Harry went downstairs, meaning to see Sirius and try to make it up with him, but Sirius had gone. Harry found Snape in a high temper, alone in the kitchen, banging pots and pans and cooking something over the fire in a cauldron, instead of on the range. He looked so furious that Harry didn't ask where Sirius had gone. Instead, he retreated to the drawing room, lit a big fire in the grate and sat in front of it for a long time, watching the flames. He did his best not to sulk about Sirius leaving - nobody had been very welcoming, after all, and it wasn't the first time any of them had stomped off in a huff - and, when Snape announced from the doorway that there were some leftovers going cold, if Harry wanted them, Harry thanked him, calmly, without looking up. When he got up and went to the kitchen to investigate, Snape's study door was locked and Harry could faintly hear the tinkling of glass on glass.
Snape's 'leftovers' were better than anything Harry's aunt had ever left over for him. He gathered that the plate of cold meats and the dish of hot soup were some sort of peace offering and, as he sat and ate, he wondered why he was at all surprised that Snape could cook.
Harry found breakfast waiting for him, too; porridge in a small cauldron over the fire. Snape had left a mess on the kitchen table; toast crumbs, soggy butter, dirty porridge bowl and half-drunk coffee. There was an impressive looking Eagle Owl roosting on the dresser, and a torn envelope lying across Snape's half-eaten toast. Of Snape, there was no sign.
Harry's curiosity got the better of him before he was halfway through his porridge and he reached across the table for the discarded envelope. It was heavy parchment with a heavier wax seal, the sort you only tied to a big posh owl and sent for official business. Harry noticed that the owl had cracked open an eye and was giving him a frosty look, and he quickly dropped the envelope back on top of Snape's toast. He knew better than to tamper with an official owl. Half the trouble he'd ever got into, with Snape, had come from his insatiable need to know what was going on. Nosy, Hermione called it. Infernal meddling, Snape called it, though Harry felt it was just a natural symptom of nobody ever bothering to tell him stuff. How was he supposed to know what was his business and what wasn't, if people wouldn't tell him the stuff that was? That thought brought him back to Snape again, and he hunched down over his porridge, trying not to think at all.
He'd woken up shaking, semen gluing his underwear to his body, feeling angry and hot and aroused and, for the first time ever, starkly aware that he was alone and wished he wasn't. He didn't know whether that was normal or not, the spell or not, or because Snape had sprung it on him or used the potion, but as he washed and dressed and apologised to Hedwig with the last Owl Treat so she'd carry his letters, he'd been nagged all the while by a vague, annoying awareness of his status as a sexual creature, as potential without an outlet. Unless Snape counted as one. He didn't think it counted if somebody had to slip you a potion to make you do it with them. At least, he hoped not.
His vague plans for the day gave way to a sort of apathy that had come and gone for him since childhood, where he itched to do something but didn't know what, or how to begin. He wanted to talk to Lupin, meet with Sirius on more neutral ground, spend a fortune in Diagon Alley so that the house was fit for his friends to visit, but all he managed was to clear the kitchen table and drift to the doorway of Snape's study in the hope of satisfying his curiosity. The door was open, just a crack, and Harry pushed it open, slowly, without knocking.
"Are you unwell?" Snape asked, from near the window. He continued to stare out, but Harry didn't think he was really looking at anything. He was standing with his hands folded behind his back, the mysterious letter hanging loosely and temptingly open from his fingers, and only the slight movement of his head betrayed any real interest in Harry's health.
"No," Harry said, far too loudly and far too quickly. From Snape's slight twitch and nod, Harry somehow gathered that his frantic response was amusing. "Glad you find it funny. If you ever do that to me again you won't have time to get a hand on your wand." His voice sounded pleasant and deadly, rather like Remus Lupin's did when he was about to really blow his stack. Harry made himself count to ten, in Latin, which was Lupin's tip for staying out of the worst kinds of trouble. "I suppose you think I should be grateful."
"Given the alternative," Snape answered, but he didn't sound like he was interested in a squabble, or even a conversation, let alone the fight that Harry half wanted to have. "I assure you that the situation is no more satisfactory to me."
"I didn't see you dosing up with a love potion to get in the mood."
"A what?" Snape turned and looked at him the way he looked at Neville most of the time; down his nose and disgusted. "Were you busy contemplating your tragic fame during my lessons on Restricted Potions, Potter?"
"I..." Harry shut his mouth until he had something to say. "No."
"Did my personal opinion of love potions pass you by?"
"No," Harry answered, again. Everyone knew he'd had a Slytherin called Jennet Rhys expelled for using one on Draco Malfoy, and it hadn't even made him do anything really stupid or dangerous. Snape had thrown her out personally and been unbearable for a month. *'I just think you're a fucking hypocrite, sir'*. For once, he hoped that Snape was prowling around his brain, but he managed not to say it out loud. "What was it you did to me, then?"
"It merely heightened your awareness of the physical. Don't flatter yourself that you were deprived of free will, Potter. You were not. Your lack of mental discipline is your own problem." Snape waited for him to challenge that, but Harry was too busy trying to take it in. He'd let Snape do that to him, of his own free will? He watched as Snape went to the bookshelves, selected a book, opened it and dragged the ribbon down to mark a page, then offered it to him. "See for yourself. And perhaps remember this the next time someone offers you an unidentified potion, before accepting it without question."
"I... believe you," Harry said, not taking the book. And he did, because Snape was a bitter, twisted creep, but he'd never told Harry a lie. He didn't think he could say that about anybody else. "You should have told me what you were doing."
"So I gather," Snape said, pushing the book into his hands and turning back towards the window with an unveiled look of disgust. "Flesh is flesh, boy, and sex need be no different to any other magical transaction. Learn that and learn to know when you need it."
Harry wanted to ask him for explanations, for everything he and Sirius knew and hadn't bothered to tell Harry, about what else he'd have to pay to stay alive, but something caught his eye; a flash of royal blue ribbon in Snape's left hand, concealed underneath the parchment. Then the slim, velvet box that lay discarded on the desk, amid brown paper wrapping and string.
"That's the Order of Merlin," Harry said, astonished. Blue, that meant.... "First class!" Snape's fist tightened, crushing both the ribbon and the edge of the parchment.
"Yes, it is."
Harry's first reactions were best left unsaid. Eventually, he managed to take the disbelief out of his voice and say,
"Well, congratulations." A deep breath. How many Death Eaters had Snape taken out, the other day? "You've earned it."
Snape turned, throwing his handful of parchment down on the desk and dropping the medal unceremoniously on top of it. His expression was frozen, bleak, taking the fire out of his answer.
"You're an unutterable fool, Potter. Get out."
Chapter 6: In Pen Alley
Whenever Harry tried to recall the events surrounding the last battle, his memories seemed to slip away from him, leaving him frustrated and, though he didn't want to admit it, scared that he'd been more damaged than anyone had told him. He and Snape had been defending each others' backs and looking for Neville, he remembered that much. Then they'd been surrounded and everything had gone bright white, tinged with flashes of magical red and green and blue, and he'd felt peppered full of holes, smelled his flesh cooking, and coughed up too much of his own blood. Snape had been hit, too, shaking and cursing Longbottom's name and telling Harry to get back on his damned feet. And Harry had given Snape his wand and a feeble apology before everything went blissfully black.
None of it tallied comfortably in Harry's mind with the accounts that kept coming out in the *Daily Prophet*. In the absence of Neville's story, Harry's, or Snape's, the *Prophet* was going on speculation and the minimal information released through the Aurors, based on Kingsley and Tonks' version of events. Harry had no way of knowing how much they'd left out of their reports to the Ministry of Magic, but he guessed that the Ministry of Magic had left out a great deal in its press release to the *Daily Prophet*. Today they were speculating on the death of Lucius Malfoy. Harry found Snape's copy of the *Prophet* burning gently in the kitchen fireplace, sending tall smoky flames up to spoil the cauldron of porridge, and kept a firm grip on his own copy as he helped himself to dry toast.
On the second page there was a small article under the headline *'Heroes of Dumbledore's War'*, with a picture of a gaunt-looking Neville being bustled out of St Mungo's by his gran, an Order of Merlin pinned to his chest. Neville's picture kept trying to cover it up while his gran kept yanking his cloak back open. If Harry felt vaguely unwell (and he did, he realised, his flesh crawling slightly) then Neville looked terrible - like he'd lost half his body weight and might burst into tears any second. Harry remembered how he'd felt when he heard the old prophecy for the first time - how it had felt to look forward to killing or being killed, not knowing which was better - and bit his lip, aching for Neville. He wondered what Voldemort had done and said, at the end.
Dropping his toast, barely touched, Harry folded the paper up, stuck it safely under his arm, and went to find Snape.
The kitchen garden was largely a mass of overgrown grass, but Snape seemed to have found something out there to interest him; after calling in the house, Harry finally found him out there, in the shady near left-hand corner, bending over what looked like just another patch of weeds. One of the weeds was fighting back, curling gently and repeatedly around Snape's right arm. Harry watched for a minute from the kitchen door, amused, but then the plant burst unexpectedly into crimson flower, Snape swore and went for his wand, and Harry reacted without thinking, pulling out his own wand and cursing the thing into a shrivelled brown stalk.
Snape stared at him, whiter than usual, as the magic crackled into stillness up his arm.
"Nothing wrong with my aim," Harry said, cheerfully.
"That might have been my arm, idiot!" Snape answered, but he didn't sound all that worried. He brushed at the dead vine and it crumbled away from his arm, harmless.
"Next time I'll let the nasty flower eat you," Harry promised, sincerely. He put his wand away and went over for a better look, ignoring the way Snape bristled as he got nearer and looking at the tangled bed, instead. "Heart Vine." Harry ran his finger over one of the buds and felt it shrink away from him. "What were you feeling?" Harry wondered, curious to know what a plant that fed on extreme emotion had found to bloom about on a cold fish like Severus Snape. "I suppose you're cross about being mentioned in the same article as Neville. And you're pissed off about the Order of Merlin, even though you've always wanted one. And you hate having me in the same house, let alone here talking to you and saving you from a plant." A new tendril of Heart Vine was groping for Snape's leg and Snape's fists were clenching tighter and tighter. Harry suspected that Snape would quite like to wrap them around Harry's neck.
"Don't presume to know my thoughts, Potter," Snape warned him, his voice silky soft and deadly. "Don't you ever."
Harry stepped on the vine and found himself far too close to Snape for comfort. The plant tugged under his boot, desperate to retreat.
"You do it to me all the time," Harry said, not sure what part of him was enjoying the quiet battle, and not entirely sure he liked it. "I'm going to visit Neville. Do you know how he killed Voldemort?"
Snape's face tightened at the name, but he gave no other sign.
"Not the killing curse?"
"No. The remains were... scattered, as I understand it."
Harry was glad he hadn't eaten more than a bite of toast. Voldemort was disgusting enough in one piece.
"I'm going to get stuff sent for the house," he said, taking a couple of steps back and letting the squashed vine shrink back into the bed. "I don't know when I'll be back."
He waited for Snape to challenge that, to give him a curfew or a warning, but he didn't. Snape was watching him with a strange expression that Harry didn't understand, and baiting him lost all its appeal.
As Harry turned back towards the house, several of the vines made a lunge for Snape's legs.
Harry was working out what to say to Neville's grandmother as he Apparated to the gate of their rambling garden, but his vague discomfort about the encounter was put right out of his mind when he saw the welcoming committee. The fence and gates of Neville's house were plastered with ribbons and flowers and garlands and owls; the path outside the fence was plastered with people, all pushing and talking and *peering* towards the house. There were cameras and reporters and a couple of dozen men, women and children, but it looked to Harry like a full-blown siege, and he wished he'd brought food for the prisoners.
For the first time, he was completely glad that Voldemort - and the medal, the headlines and the eternal fame and fuss - had gone to Neville, instead of himself. He simply couldn't be jealous of *this*. He'd just thought better of turning up unannounced and decided to send an owl instead, when one of the onlookers happened to turn around and spot him.
"Harry Potter!" was a familiar squeal, but the crowd that swarmed towards him, acting like he was the new Gilderoy Lockhart, was new enough to strike the fear of god into him. Harry kept one hand on his wand and backed away as the first grinning face reached him. Somebody asked for his autograph, and the hand that wasn't clutching his wand beneath his cloak was being shaken repeatedly. Harry, vividly remembering his first glimpse of the wizarding world at Hagrid's side, stood torn between Apparating away and pushing through in the hope of reaching the house. He stood on tiptoe to stare over the heads of the milling group when a familiar voice called his name.
"Professor Lupin!" Harry shouldered his way through the crowd without a second thought, meeting Lupin, who'd just emerged from Neville's garden gate and was closing it firmly behind him. The knot of people followed Harry, straggling and spreading out slightly as they realised his attention was diverted. A bright flashbulb caught the moment when Lupin put a friendly hand on his shoulder and leaned close to speak to him.
"I think we should go."
"I came to see Neville," Harry protested, gesturing towards the house. Lupin's lips thinned. He nodded and gripped Harry's shoulder more firmly.
"He's not really up to visitors, I've just been-"
"Remus J Lupin? Weren't you also a member of the Order of the Phoenix?"
"... Order of Merlin, Third Class," came another voice, out of the din. "A *werewolf*, can you believe it?!"
There was a moment of hush while everybody looked for the owner of that voice.
"Come on, Harry." Lupin steered him away from the crowd, muttering, "Meet me in The Leaky Cauldron."
He Disapparated with a brisk *snap* and Harry took one look at the smiling faces heading his way, and did likewise.
The reception in The Leaky Cauldron was much more muted. Lupin drew him over to the bar, to a relatively secluded pair of stools, and ordered them both a Butterbeer. Harry felt a strange delight at that, reminded of their private Patronus lessons at school, but all the same, he suspected they both needed something stronger than Butterbeer, today. His hands were shaking as he reached for the bottle, and he pulled them close against his body to hide it.
"Is that true?" Harry asked, watching self-consciously as Lupin paid for the drinks. "About the Order of Merlin?"
"I'm afraid so," Lupin said, but he couldn't quite hide his smile. "Dumbledore retains his influence, it seems." There was an uncomfortable pause. "First Class, for Severus, wasn't it?"
"Yeah," Harry said, his face heating as he realised that Lupin knew everything. For the first time, he had some idea of why Snape and Sirius had been so keen to keep stuff quiet. It was bloody embarrassing. He groped for a change of subject, even though he did want to ask Lupin what he'd found out. He didn't want to ask yet. "Uh... why don't you think I should see Neville?"
"Oh, well, it's not that you shouldn't see him," Lupin said, gently. "You might want to wait a bit, though. I saw him. He's really very ... well, it's going to take time. He's dreadfully shocked. He didn't say anything, while I was there."
Harry looked down at his Butterbeer, not sure why he was so upset. Neville was going to be all right... he wasn't the only one hurt or who'd seen or done terrible things in the past few years. Sometimes, though, and more often the older they'd got, Harry had thought Neville was the best of all of them, and everything was always so hard for him.
"Maybe I'll send him a plant, then," Harry said, after a few quiet sips of Butterbeer. "He'd like that."
"Yes, I'm sure he would," Lupin agreed. "Harry, what about you?"
"What's rare? I was hopeless at Herbology." That wasn't really true, but he didn't have the memory for plants and properties that Neville had. "He'd like something unusual." Maybe a cutting of the Heart Vine?
"Harry." Lupin tilted his head, trying to catch Harry's eye. "Would you like to go somewhere more private?"
"I..." Harry was in the process of saying no, he really didn't want to go somewhere private and be asked about Snape, when it occurred to him that this was Professor Lupin, that Lupin had answers he needed, and that actually, he desperately wanted to go somewhere private and talk to somebody. "Yeah. Please," he blurted, spilling some Butterbeer on his leg.
Lupin finished his Butterbeer in a long swig and led Harry towards the Diagon Alley exit.
"It's a bit of a walk, I'm afraid. Do you feel up to it, or shall we find some Floo powder?"
"I can Apparate," Harry said, watching Lupin tap the bricks. The amazement he'd once felt at watching the doorway rearrange itself was long gone; now he just kept his eyes peeled for more nosy crowds and tried not to remember coming here with Snape.
"No, you mustn't," Lupin said. "That last one took too much out of you. You're shaking. I shouldn't have suggested it."
Harry began to protest, but at Lupin's steady, patient look, he subsided.
"Can you tell me why?" he asked, instead, and started walking. He didn't want to arrive wherever they were going feeling Floo-sick. He wanted a clear head, and answers. Lupin fell into step beside him, letting Harry set the pace, and after they'd passed Ollivander's window, Harry walked much more slowly.
"You were lucky to survive your injuries, even with Severus' intervention," Lupin said, after a thoughtful silence. A few heads were turning as they passed, but it was nothing like the crush outside Neville's house, or even the gawping from the other day. Harry felt much less visible, walking beside Lupin, than he had trying to hide in Snape's shadow.
To his shame, Harry had never explored much further than the shady gadget shops at the near end of Knockturn Alley; between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade he had wanted for nothing in his entire time at school. He'd heard all sorts of wild rumours by seventh year; one ran that if you touched the right brick in a wall in the gents at a pub called The Second Charm, you'd find yourself in some sort of wizarding knocking shop. Harry doubted that one, personally, but he knew of a number of boys who claimed to have gone looking for the brick in question. He was surprised when Lupin took a left turn, not far into Knockturn Alley, and they passed that very pub. Harry's head turned and his gaze lingered on the door as they walked on, and when he finally looked where he was going (after bumping into a young witch who reeked of gin) Lupin was smiling broadly.
"It's not true, about that place," he said, succinctly. Harry blushed and hurried his steps. Knockturn Alley wasn't the sort of place where you wanted to look lost or confused, or like you didn't belong. "Where are we going, Professor?"
"I have a room in Pen Alley," Lupin answered, gesturing vaguely in the direction they were headed. "It's quite nice, actually," he added, and Harry felt guilty, realising that he must have had a funny look on his face.
"Yeah," he said, quickly, hoping that Lupin could afford somewhere nicer than the boarded up buildings they were now passing. "I just thought you were staying with Sirius." By Harry's reckoning, Sirius owned at least three houses and he was putting *Snape* up in one of them. Surely he had room for his oldest surviving friend?
"I was the main witness at his trial," Lupin said, indicating that Harry should turn left. Harry turned, but found himself face to face with a brick wall. "My story was bound to be more convincing if I wasn't living in his pocket and I didn't want to take any chances, even with the Veritaserum evidence. Besides, I thought he'd want the rooms for you, before too long. Three's a crowd." Harry thought that three sounded quite nice, actually, but he could see Lupin's point. Lupin put a hand on the brick wall, and the hand vanished. The wall wavered slightly, as if it wasn't quite there, and Lupin's hand came back out, still attached. "After you."
Pen Alley was narrower than Diagon Alley, and far nicer than Knockturn Alley. Each window they passed advertised a respectable service in discreet gold letters; healers, arithmancers, apothecary wholesalers, portkey agents and property rentals. The street was cobbled and clean, and they only passed one or two people.
"Time was a lot of people lived over the shop," Lupin explained, pointing to the upstairs windows of the nearest building. "The wizarding community is a lot smaller now, of course. Some of these rooms are for rent, others sit empty. Shame, really, I always liked it here. There's a library." Harry caught a glimpse of a proud looking building at the end of the street, before Lupin came to a halt outside a door marked *'Drooper and Arrowsmith, Est. 1889, Fine Potions & Supplies'.* "Felice Arrowsmith has been kind enough to add Wolfsbane to her private sales list. All very discreet, of course, under the counter, she has her reputation to think of, but her tolerance extends to the rooms as well. Three of us living over the shop." Lupin seemed to find it funny. Harry found it impressive, and amazing.
Harry nodded politely at the young man who was sitting at the clerk's desk, wondering if he was a werewolf, too. Lupin led him straight through to the door at the back, then up a dark, narrow, carpeted staircase. They passed three doors on the first landing (one of them helpfully marked 'here it is' like the loo at Privet Drive), but Lupin led him up one more flight, warning him to mind his head on the beams. For a moment, Harry thought he was being funny - Harry wasn't tall enough to hit his head on ceilings - but then he banged his head on something and remembered that it was usually best to do what Lupin told him and ask questions later.
"Sorry about that," Lupin said, cheerfully. "It's much brighter in here." He tugged open a door that wasn't quite adult-height and which opened unhelpfully outwards, and Harry was half blinded by sunlight.
They ducked and clambered from the top step, through the doorway, and into a tiny, bright attic room. One bed, two chairs, a desk and a large fireplace. Whitewashed walls and oak roof beams. When he nudged the door shut behind him, Harry noticed a tiny bathroom to his left, with just a loo and a sink.
Lupin was looking awkward and Harry remembered how Ron had been, the first time he'd shown Harry his bedroom at The Burrow. People were embarrassed about being poor and not having much, and Harry wished they weren't. Not nice people like Ron and Lupin, anyway.
"It's really cool," Harry said. It might take practice getting up to the door without banging your head, but it was way nicer than the drafty old pile where he'd spent the past few days. It was a home and it reached out and told you so. Lupin relaxed and smiled again, and invited Harry to make himself at home.
Chapter 7: Essential Magic
Lupin listened to everything that spilled out of Harry over the next half an hour, letting him talk without interruption. Harry found that it didn't much matter about making sense, even to himself, because Lupin would listen anyway. It felt like dropping a heavy load, leaving him weak with relief and slumped in Lupin's small armchair, not sure he'd ever be able to move again.
"God," he said, pushing his fringe out of his face and pressing the heel of his hand to his forehead. He felt shattered. "Thanks for that." He opened his eyes and found Lupin smiling, sadly, like he did when he was thinking about the past. "Now tell me I remind you of my dad."
"Not today," Lupin assured him. "Now, how about some facts?" It was the same voice he used when he offered a cup of tea.
"Please," Harry sighed.
"I know that Sirius has seemed complacent to you. He's anything but. He can only come between you and Severus and he knows it."
"Why doesn't he, then?" Harry asked, though he knew the answer, really. "I wish somebody would."
"Severus has an intuitive grasp of what's needed, as he's the one who performed the spell. Sirius is trying very hard to respect that and avoid making things more complicated for you." Lupin waited for his reluctant nod before continuing. "Sirius has been hunting down every historical reference to *Impertio*. I rather suspect he was looking for a way out, at first. There isn't one. If the spell is broken, you will revert to the condition you were in when it was cast."
"As good as. Yes. I'm not aware of anything that can break the spell, other than Severus' own death."
"Okay." The words were making it easier, somehow. Harry felt more like he was in a seventh year lecture than talking about his own life. Just another magical problem to understand and absorb. "But the spell's done, so why does it wear off and leave me like this?"
"It doesn't," Lupin said, rubbing his chin and looking up at the slanted roof window as he thought. "You're drawing your life's energy from Severus, now, and the mechanism for that is strengthening over time as the spell roots itself into your lives. Magic always finds its own level, given time, but your spell is still fragile. Needs reinforcement. Physical contact - sexual contact - may be a crude mechanism, but it's effective."
"Snape called it a magical transaction," Harry said, feeling his cheeks heat with shame. "Like I'm buying my life from him in return for..."
"Oh, Harry, no." Lupin leaned forward, shifting to the edge of his bed and waiting for Harry to look at him. "All spells directly affecting another person are founded on a magical transaction. Eye contact is the most obvious. A spell's directed energy making contact with the body is another. Severus is a potion maker, whatever else he fancies himself as; the human body can be broken down into a store cupboard of ingredients of which blood and semen are the most powerful. Magic at its most basic is the exchange or application of power in a ritualised transaction."
Harry knew that he had the blank look on his face that he'd worn for most of his last two years at school, whenever Hermione hadn't been around to lend her notes. He knew what Lupin meant, in the most basic sense - a drop of blood or a hair or a toenail clipping in a potion or a spell gave that spell or potion power over the owner, but sex wasn't a spell, wasn't *magic*; it was just bodies, and a splash of come on your body was no more magic, in its own right, than standing on somebody's discarded toenail clipping. And, in Harry's opinion, it was about as pleasant.
"I don't understand," Harry said, refusing to feel bad about it. Lupin was a good teacher and Hermione said questions were the only way to learn. "He didn't do magic."
"We'll die out, you know, if we don't start teaching our children more than how to parrot spells and wave their wand. Severus was obsessed with the Dark Arts from a young age, and I scorned that like a good little Gryffindor. As you have?" Harry nodded, not sure why Lupin sounded like that was a bad thing. "But he understood then what it took me years of further study to grasp; that there's more to magic than can be learned in a classroom and that any spell can be Dark, if you use it for a Dark purpose. Magic is the channeling of our power with intent. We've refined it into a shadow of itself, conveniently packaged in phrases learned by rote and designed to evoke a learned magical response as we think or speak them. All well and good, but there's far more to it, Harry. Far more. Severus is using that, just as he did when he performed *Impertio*."
"So I just have to let him." Harry hunched forward, hugging himself, even though the room wasn't cold. "He didn't tell me any of this, Professor. He just..."
To his horror, his eyes started to sting. He wasn't going to cry; not in front of Lupin. Not in front of anyone. He stood up, but the room was so small, there was nowhere to go. "The first thing he ever did was try to make me feel stupid and worthless and he's still doing it, like the last eight years never happened, like he doesn't know that I'm not any of the things he makes me out to be." Harry swallowed the massive lump that had been growing in his throat. He couldn't look at Lupin. "Why'd he bother saving me?"
"Have you asked him?"
Lupin patted the bedcover beside him and Harry sat, half wishing that Lupin would hug him and promise to make everything better. He knew, though, that he was too old for that now; he'd missed his chance at ever having things be that easy. And anyway, nothing was easy for Lupin, was it? He knew all about taking what life dropped on you and Harry had seen him turned aside, taunted, so weak and ill that he could hardly stand up, dressed in threadbare robes and looking like he hadn't eaten in a week, but he'd never once heard the man complain or throw blame on anyone else. What was a poke from Snape compared to a werewolf bite, in the grand scheme of things?
"Sorry," Harry said, his voice failing. "Selfish prat, aren't I?" He looked down at his hands, and felt insanely grateful when Lupin's hand rested over his own and squeezed them. "Don't suppose he's mad about having to do it with me, either. Wish I was more like you."
"Oh, god, don't wish that!" Lupin chuckled. He gave Harry's hands another firm squeeze before letting go. "Poor Sirius, if there were two of me." They smiled at each other. "Severus chose to make a tremendous sacrifice," Lupin said, after a comfortable silence. "I daresay he has his reasons. Now, you're tired, aren't you? You really should go back to him. There's no help for it."
*Not yet*, Harry wanted to whine. *Please, not yet*. The inner voice made him remember the morning Mrs Figg had picked him up from school because he'd been sick in Assembly; she'd felt sorry for him and not banged on about her cats as much as usual. He'd been curled up on her sofa, watching children's TV, looking worriedly at the carrier bag that held his stained school jumper, certain that Aunt Petunia was going to kill him when she got home. He'd begged to be allowed to stay the night, when the doorbell rang, but of course he'd had to go. And Aunt Petunia hadn't killed him, she'd only made him wash the jumper and swallow some minty white stuff, and miss dinner. He'd worried himself into knots over nothing and could've had quite a nice afternoon being spoiled in front of the telly, if he'd been more grown up about it.
"Yeah, I'd better," Harry said, taking a last look around Lupin's little room, hoping he'd be back soon. Hoping he might have somewhere like it himself, before too long. "Thanks. You know, for explaining stuff. It's better knowing. I think I'll be all right."
"Of course you will," Lupin said, and he sounded so confident about it that Harry could almost believe it himself.
Harry went by Floo from the fire in the back office of Drooper and Arrowsmith's, and immediately made a mental note about ordering several large packets of Floo powder from Felice Arrowsmith. Not only was she nice to werewolves, but their Floo powder was the smoothest ride Harry had ever known. He managed to step out of the fire instead of falling, and calmly brush down his robe the way Sirius did. It seemed a shame that nobody had been around to notice.
As soon as he arrived, Harry realised that he'd forgotten about the things he wanted for the house, and was far too tired to go back. He couldn't very well invite his friends to stay, or even for a visit, until he'd brought in a bit more furniture. Although Sirius had made a dig about Snape's Transfiguration ability, Harry doubted that his own was anywhere near Sirius' standard; it didn't get much harder than turning yourself into a dog with just a thought and Sirius had been doing that since he was younger than Harry. McGonagall and Dumbledore had always been able to bring stuff out of thin air, but Harry hadn't seen many other people do it. He filled up with a strange sense of relief, when it occurred to him that he could ask Sirius for some lessons in Transfiguration and solve several problems at once. He'd be able to spend time with his godfather, learn how to make the house how he wanted it, and have something to do other than brood about Snape and the *Impertio* spell.
He went looking for Snape, with a vague idea of offering to cook a meal.
"I worry when a Potter looks that pleased with himself," was Snape's greeting, when Harry put his head around the study door. For a horrible moment, Harry felt something very close to fondness at that familiar, sour drawl. "Is Longbottom mending?"
"I didn't get to see him."
Snape was bent over the cauldron nearest the door, stirring something smooth and blue, counterclockwise. Harry knew that he must be counting with great care, either the time or the number of stirs, and he wondered how Snape could carry on a conversation while he was doing that.
"And your 'stuff for the house'?"
"Er," Harry said. He leaned against the door frame, rubbing his chilled hands together. "No. I ..." His occasionally lax sense of self-preservation kicked in and warned him not to mention either the swarm of well-wishers and reporters, or the fact that he'd spent the morning with Remus Lupin. "I wasn't feeling very well, so I came back." Snape nodded. It almost looked like approval; at the very least it wasn't scorn or hostility. Harry hesitated, feeling twitchy and uncertain and reluctant to move forward now that he'd found a moment of relative comfort. "Look," he said, and it sounded forced and fake, even though he hadn't rehearsed it at all. "You gave me a fright the other day. I did listen though, before, when you said about maturity." In fact, he usually listened very carefully to Snape; it just didn't make much sense half the time.
Although his eyes were on Harry, Snape continued to stir his cauldron without missing a beat. In the silence, he reached the end of his count, paused, and began stirring clockwise. The potion turned green. Harry wished he'd say something, but he didn't.
"I'll let you ... you know. Do what you have to."
"How very generous." Snape was giving him another weird, unreadable look and Harry didn't want to deal with it. Didn't want to think at all. "Did you read the book?" Harry hadn't. It was on the floor by his bedroom door, untouched. He stopped the lie from getting past his lips and just shook his head. "Do so."
"I was going to make some food," Harry said, feeling stupid.
"Do that as well." Snape twitched his head towards the door. "I'm busy," he said, but Harry got the feeling that Snape just wanted the conversation to end as badly as he did.
There was little left in the kitchen beyond store cupboard basics; Harry wasn't sure how many ways he could serve up eggs before Snape got snotty about it, but he was far too tired to think about a trip for supplies. He re-heated Snape's pea and ham soup in a pan on the range (cooking in cauldrons just felt wrong, after all those potion safety lessons he'd sat through) and threw the last of the bread, eggs and milk together to make a bread and butter pudding. Ron had looked at him funny, once, when he found out that Harry could cook, but when Mrs Weasley found out she made a big fuss about Harry being the man every woman dreamed of marrying, which had shut Ron right up. Aunt Petunia had never let him cook anything important, but Harry had gone through a phase of desperately wanting to be useful, when he was seven or eight, and the Dursleys seemed happy to take it for granted when Harry served up breakfast. Besides, he got more food that way.
Harry stuck the dish of pudding into the oven, realised there was no way to set the temperature, and shrugged. He'd have to learn to feed himself, now that he couldn't wander into the Great Hall three times a day and have food appear on his plate. He might as well take Snape with him, if he was going to make any really bad mistakes. He went upstairs to get the potions book, then settled his chair near the range to keep warm while he tried to read it. The words kept blurring in front of his eyes.
Snape didn't appear for the soup, but must've followed his nose towards the smell of bread and butter pudding coming out of the oven. Harry half dropped the hot dish onto the table, relieved to see that the thing had set, even if it had burned across the top.
"This is the last of the food Sirius left," Harry said, pushing a bowl and spoon across the table by way of an invitation, then slumping into the other chair. "When this is gone we'll have to eat each other."
Snape quirked an eyebrow at him, spooned pudding into his bowl, and ate in silence. Harry pushed his own portion around the bowl. He tasted it to make sure it was all right, but he didn't really eat. He was growing more and more conscious of his tired, aching limbs. He'd eaten some of the soup, but hadn't really had any appetite all day. Maybe that was why he felt so weak. Still, he couldn't bring himself to eat. He stopped pushing the pudding around when his shaking hand made the silver spoon rattle against the china.
"I think I have to..." His words tailed off, more in misery than embarrassment. He looked at Snape, expecting to see something hateful written on his face, but still, the man stayed silent and unreadable. "I'm going to my room. I won't lock the door."
He heard his chair topple over in his haste to get out of the kitchen, after he'd said it.
He'd been watching the light soften through the curtainless, broken window for an hour, by the time he heard Snape's footsteps on the stairs; he'd washed and cleaned his teeth and put on his pyjamas, not knowing what else to do, but the second he heard the footsteps he felt stupid for doing it, and wanted Snape to find him fully dressed, unconcernedly reading the potions book, and not looking half as pathetic as his reflection in the mirror did.
Too late. Heart pounding, Harry lay down with his back to the door and closed his eyes, tight, wondering how quickly it was possible to have sex with somebody. It'd been pretty quick, the other day, hadn't it? Nothing had hurt (except the splinters), it had just been messy and weird and sudden, and did Snape even know or care that he'd never done it before, or that he'd not even had the chance to think whether he liked girls or the other, let alone try it?
Snape didn't knock.
"I can't," Harry said, sharply. "Forget it. I'll get some sleep and..."
"You're in no state to procrastinate. Look how you've weakened: we were apart less than an hour. It's time." Snape closed and locked the door, then Harry heard shoes coming off. "You'll have to give me your trust." Harry muffled a rather hysterical laugh with his fist and ended up biting his fingers when he felt the bed take Snape's weight, behind him. "Turn over," Snape said, pushing his shoulder. "On your front." Harry resisted the firm push, glaring over his shoulder.
"I said I don't--" The push got firmer and Harry struggled, but ended up with his face in the pillow, anyway. "What, you're not going to take no for an answer?" He didn't want to admit it, but the possibility scared him, when he was probably too weak to just Disapparate if things got ugly. He tried to push himself up but the soft mattress hampered him as much as the weakness in his limbs. His annoyed, alarmed 'don't touch me' got muffled in the heavy feather pillow, and Snape pushed both hands up under his pyjamas. "Please..."
"Stop bleating, Potter." Snape sounded resigned. He was wearing something soft and loose; the cuffs of it tickled Harry's back. "Have I ever harmed you?" Harry didn't think that was the point when he was face-down, held down and could feel his heart trying to beat a path out of his chest. He wanted to say something rude, hurtful, convincing, but instead his throat got tight and he clenched his fists around the linens. "Bad enough with you willing," Snape muttered, and Harry didn't know what to make of the extra layer under his gruff impatience. It didn't sound like a threat, or like it was meant to cut. "Be still." The pressure on his shoulders eased and, while Harry's brain wanted him to be on the far side of the room, brandishing his wand, his body stayed meekly put, muscles locked tight in silent protest, sweating a bit.
"Your godfather," Snape began, apparently through clenched teeth, "impressed upon me your abysmal naivety concerning matters sexual." Harry nodded into the pillow. So *that* was what they'd been growling about. Pity Sirius hadn't spared a minute to try explaining stuff, then, any time since Harry was thirteen. Who else did he think was going to do it? Dumbledore? "Whatever you think of me, Potter, it's not in my nature to ill treat you in this. I anticipated your reluctance and planned accordingly. Now lie still."
Tears burned in his eyes as Snape vanished his pyjama shirt, and took the cork from a bottle with a soft 'pop'. Whatever was in it smelled like bark, like strawberries - like Snape's potions room last Tuesday when they'd --
"I'll take the potion," Harry promised, more frightened by the fact that he hadn't run away than he was by Snape. Why couldn't he think?! "Tomorrow. Then we can and I won't mind. Please, don't."
"Potter," Snape said, sourly, rubbing his palms together with a wet, whispering sound and filling the air with the scent of the oils. "Shut up, before I just bugger you up the arse and have done with it." And his warmed, slick hands grasped the locked muscle at Harry's shoulders, and squeezed. Magic seeped in, something in the essence that felt familiar and safe, but Harry was too busy gasping for his next breath to chase the sensation down. Snape had just ground the heels of his hands into the soreness at Harry's neck, fingertips sliding round and coating his throat with oil that soothed and warmed.
"What--" he managed, before the strong hands moved again, streaking oil down his back to the very base of his spine, then pushing outwards, dissolving the tension in hard, practical strokes. It hurt, but it took the other hurts away, and he could feel the magic in the oil working deeper and deeper. He managed not to flinch when Snape moved, straddled his thighs; as contact with Snape went, a back rub was welcome... and he was good at it. Harry remembered a fifth year lecture, one of the very few Potions lessons in which no potions had been made; Snape strutting up and down in front of the class, chalk in one hand and wand in the other, instructing them on methods of application. Vulnerable spots. Less vulnerable spots. Some potions worked through the skin and there was an art to applying them. Theory until tonight; Harry could feel his body absorbing the magic, just as Snape had described. The man was working his thumbs up Harry's spine, his hands open and hot against Harry's skin and oil was the only barrier. "What's the oil?" he managed, finally, reaching for anything to stop his mind dwelling on his erection. He was too exhausted to move and *that* still happened? "It's magic."
"Very astute. It combines your essence with mine. Properly used it will balance the energies that are so disturbing you, now."
"It... conducts magic, then?"
"Ours. Yes. If you like." Snape's hands had reached his shoulders again, his weight unfamiliar, intimidating, but not uncomfortable. Harry realised that Snape was now stretched over his body, so intimate - too intimate - but it was hard to mind much, with those hands making him feel so much better than before. He drew a deep breath and let it out, let himself go limp against the mattress, and Snape's voice seemed to warm. "It will all be very much easier if you don't fight it." Harry wasn't ready to talk about that, or to get himself back to square one by thinking how *scared* he'd just been, that Snape would take everything whether Harry let him or not...
"Our essences. You ..." Harry's face, already hot against a sweaty, breath-warmed pillow, grew hotter still. "You used our..." Addled as he was by the massage, the fragrance, the relief and the magic, not to mention an annoying hard-on, Harry only just managed to remember how Snape felt about students who couldn't name ingredients without blushing. "You put semen in it?"
"It seemed appropriate. And available." Harry distinctly heard a smirk behind the words.
"Can you tell me before I come, next time, if I'm going to end up in your store cupboard?" He was tired, more relaxed than he'd felt in a week, longer even, and the words came out with a faint smile instead of outrage. He was hot and a bit faint and Snape was sitting on him, and he didn't even care. He half wanted to get rid of the pillow, lie flat and really find out what Snape's hands could do. But he wanted to sleep, too, and that was winning. Snape's hands moved over his shoulders again, more soothing than kneading, now, and Harry wished he'd never stop. "'s good stuff."
"Be sure to tell your darling godfather how attentive I'm being." Snape climbed off him without warning and Harry was too tired even to care about that. "Now sleep. I'll be staying."
"Here?" Harry made an effort to turn over, but only ended up rocking the bed and sinking deeper into the mattress. He decided that he didn't really care where Snape slept, so long as he didn't keep Harry awake a second longer.
Chapter 8: Transactions
He woke up shivering, feeling frozen, and realised that he was lying on top of the covers with a breeze playing over him from the broken window. He could smell rain and hear Snape breathing heavily beside him, not quite snoring. Harry's body took longer to wake up than his brain had and for a while he lay still, waiting for his limbs to want to move and wondering how long he'd been asleep. It hadn't been dark when he'd gone to bed, it had only been early evening, but now there was only cool, faint moonlight.
Harry rolled out of bed, stiffly, trying not to wake the other man, but Snape's breathing changed at once and he turned over, making the bed creak, softly.
"Potter? Are you ill?"
"No." Harry yawned, stretching and leaning on the brass for support. He'd been half thinking of a trip to the bathroom, but couldn't be bothered. He hesitated for a moment, not sure he really wanted to get back into the same bed as Snape, but there really wasn't anywhere else to sleep and turfing him out would probably get nasty, fast. Harry lifted the covers and slid under, and found Snape's warm body waiting. There wasn't really enough room to avoid each other, but Snape didn't quite touch him; he was just there and all warm, saying nothing. "Thanks," Harry blurted, when he couldn't bear the silence any more. "For before. For not..." He couldn't really remember what he'd been so scared about. Everything seemed worse when he was feeling weak and ill; was he a bit mad, too? "It'd be better if we didn't wait so long. I think it plays with my head."
"I agree," Snape said. He sounded sleepy, so Harry shut up and did his best to keep still. He didn't want to find out what Snape's mood was like after a poor night's sleep.
He slept strangely, himself, never quite losing his awareness of where he was or who was lying next to him, but having strangely vivid pictures in his mind of things that he wasn't sure had ever really happened to him. Every so often he'd come to with a gasp or a twitch, sweaty and hot, only to sink under again before he could work out how to get more comfortable.
Harry woke again with bright sunlight in his face, thinking he'd had a wet dream, but found Snape's hand down his pyjamas instead, rubbing slowly between his thighs. He was aching with a sort of pleasure he'd never felt before, almost burning around his prick, and couldn't even spare a thought to be indignant. Snape moved closer, hooked his left leg over Harry's and pressed an obvious hardon against his backside. Fabric slid on fabric, Snape's palm felt rough on his inner thigh, and Harry made a feeble sound that he knew he was going to be embarrassed about, later. He lifted himself and let Snape pull the pyjamas down around his thighs. He fell limp against the sheets when they settled again and the thin, smooth fabric of Snape's dressing gown was right against his cheeks, slippery and letting him feel everything. Snape, hard, squashed against him and moving - or trying not to move, or ... Harry's back arched and his toes curled so hard he felt like he'd snapped something, because the stroking hand had just taken hold of his nuts instead. He squirmed, his own hand going to Snape's hard thigh, then to the unfamiliar hand, then wrapping around his own cock and pulling like his life depended on it. Snape's hips jerked against him, shoving thigh against thigh, rubbing the thick cock against his buttocks, then Snape gasped in his ear and got hold of his hand, slowing his strokes, then prised his fingers away completely. Harry tried to keep quiet, but a small whimper got out anyway.
Magical transaction, he remembered, fuzzily, and tried to get a grip. More was better, but if more meant longer until next time, Harry wasn't sure he was bothered about waiting. He growled with frustration when Snape turned him over on his back, depriving him of the delicious pressure against his backside, too. They glared at each other with more heat than real feeling, holding on to great handfuls of each other's clothing or flesh. Harry loosened his hold, with his right hand, and let it slide over Snape's dressing gown, silk or satin, barely even between them. He heard the breath hiss between his teeth, then Snape rolled over him, pushing himself insistently between Harry's thighs, and it was all Harry could do to hang on for the ride. Snape's prick rubbed beside his own, skin, rough hair and the belt of the robe melting into an impossible mess of good feeling; Snape made noises when Harry gripped with his thighs, so he did it harder, wishing he didn't have his pyjamas in the way. Snape's hand shot out and grabbed a bar on the bedstead, steadying him, slowing them, but there was no help for it; Harry's brain registered the rapid creak of the bedsprings as their bodies moved, thought of coming in Snape's lap, hasty and harsh, splinters and the chair banging, and it was over, he was moaning and their cocks were sliding on wet silk, wet skin.
With a huge effort, Harry unclenched his teeth, unscrewed his face, opened his eyes and looked up at Snape. Dark, tangled hair was hanging about his flushed face and his eyes were wide, bewildered almost, his breath coming in short, sharp gasps. His whole body was rigid - his *whole* body, Harry realised, uncomfortably - and Harry wondered what he was supposed to do about it. It had seemed easy, when his brain wasn't working.
"Don't stop," he offered, uncertainly. A minute ago he wouldn't have believed either of them could stop, but there Snape was, frozen over him, pressing down on him, stopped. Harry tried to blink and couldn't. What had Lupin said, about eye contact? He unclenched a fist from the sheet and cautiously stroked the small of Snape's back, wondering how you were ever supposed to have enough balls to just get hold of someone, in full command of your senses, and start having sex like this. But Snape had done it, twice now, and whatever remained a mystery to him, Harry knew that being that hard hurt if you didn't do anything about it. "I know about it," he said, hardly knowing his own voice; soft and encouraging and deep. "About blokes. You could... if you wanted..." He found a bony buttock and gave it a wary squeeze, his fingertips slipping silk down into the crack between, and Snape stretched over him with a roar of sound, shoving Harry down into the mattress with sharp jerks as he came. He slumped down, pushing his face into the pillow beside Harry's head, and Harry bit his lip, feeling strangely as if he'd done something wrong.
After a while, when Snape's breathing was normal, Harry gave a hopeful wriggle; he needed the toilet and the dead weight wasn't helping make him comfortable. Snape rolled off him at once, off the bed, and stood looking unsteady, his back to Harry, trying to straighten out his dressing gown. Harry got out of the other side and realised that Snape's nightshirt was on the floor, by his house shoes and his wand and the oil bottle he'd brought with him last night. Harry wanted to ask why he'd kept the dressing gown on, but Snape wasn't looking at him, wasn't doing anything, in fact, and he didn't dare.
He hugged himself unhappily, as his bath filled with water, and held his breath when he heard Snape walking along the landing and going into his own room. The pipes creaked and the flow of water lessened, and Harry realised that the master bedroom must have its own bathroom. Showed how much notice he'd been taking. He warmed the water with his wand and slid into the tub, grateful to be able to take as long as he liked; he'd never been able, in his whole life, to just lie in the bath and wallow without worrying about who else wanted the bathroom after him. He would have enjoyed it, if he could've put the past few hours out of his mind, but he couldn't, and his body seemed keen to remind him how good it had felt to be touched. His brain was more preoccupied with how wretched Snape had looked after, and with half-formed questions that he didn't know enough to even ask properly, let alone answer.
Hunger finally drew him out of the water, along with the realisation that there was no food left in the house. His appetite had come back with a vengeance and, not knowing how long the feeling of being normal would last, Harry decided to make the most of it.
He hesitated outside Snape's door, feeling like he ought to say something before he left. But what? Snape wouldn't care that he was going out. Did you just walk up to somebody who'd hated you before he even met you and say 'thanks for the sex, feel loads better, 'til next time then'? For all Snape's cool words about just getting on with it, Harry got the feeling that Snape would rather they just pretended it hadn't happened at all.
*Gordon G Glutt and Daughter, Proud Provisioner to Magical Folk*, was a shop that Harry had passed numerous times in his explorations of Hogsmeade, but had never been inside. Hogsmeade had places that would serve you cooked food if you wanted it, and a sweet shop, and Harry couldn't think of another earthly reason for any student from the school to go foraging in the village. So he wasn't sure why he felt guilty about stepping inside for the first time. Certainly there were plenty of other people who must have gone seven years at Hogwarts without once thinking of where the food that Hagrid couldn't grow must come from. In fact, most of them probably never got as far as thinking about the house-elves in the kitchens, let alone who did the shopping. Harry couldn't help smirking a bit as he imagined Draco Malfoy trying to put together a shopping list.
Muggle shops had aisles and shelves full of items; you could browse and read the labels and compare prices. Glutts, on the other hand, reminded Harry of Ollivanders only without the dust; there was a counter, a row of chairs, a gleaming till and a bell ringing loudly over his head as he shut the door. Harry realised that he didn't have the first idea what he was supposed to do in a shop like this one, and seriously considered fleeing, changing his gold at Gringotts and going to Asda like Aunt Petunia did. The woman who appeared from the back room did so just in time to stop him running away.
"Can I help you?" she asked, placing both hands on the counter and looking very businesslike indeed. Harry hoped she could, because an elderly wizard had just come into the shop behind him, and he felt extremely foolish.
"I want to buy some food," he said, with confidence that he didn't feel. The woman, presumably the Daughter mentioned over the door, waited with a polite expression until Harry gathered that he hadn't done enough yet. Sudden inspiration saved him, as it so often had in the past. "Uh... why don't you go first?" he suggested to the bloke behind him, who looked like he might never get up again, if he sat down on one of the chairs. He was ancient. He wheezed his thanks, shuffling past Harry and taking ages to get a crumpled, purple piece of paper out of his robe pocket and push it across the counter.
The woman glanced at it, then grinned.
"The usual, Mr Gift?"
"Aye," wheezed the wizard.
Harry was disappointed, as that seemed to be that. The woman went into the back room, came back with a blue piece of paper and told the wizard that it came to fourteen Sickles, four Knuts. The wizard thanked her and left, without handing over any money or collecting any food. Harry realised two things: that food was expensive, and that he was going to have to tell the woman he didn't know what he was supposed to do to get some. He didn't have any paper to write a list.
"New account?" she asked, as the door jangled shut behind the wizard.
"Yes, I suppose so," Harry said, a bit desperately. The woman nodded, not looking like he'd done anything too stupid, and went into the back again. She came out with a pad of purple paper, her wand in her hand.
"You're Harry Potter," she said.
"Yeah." Harry had given up looking for witty replies to that, years ago. "Is that a problem?"
"Not at all. Just making sure." But she didn't smile. Harry wished he hadn't been so short about it, when she tapped the pad with her wand and his name appeared in bold printed letters at the top. Of course she needed to know his name. "Will you be ordering by owl?"
"Yes," Harry said, feeling like he'd never want to show his face in there again.
"... you know my name," he said, weakly. Then he realised what she meant and wished he was sinking quietly into a hole in the ground. "Oh. Sorry. Hedwig. Snowy."
"Thank you," the woman said. Harry wished he knew her name and that she knew what his usual was. She didn't look unfriendly, really; just busy. She had teeth like Hermione's had been before she fixed them, and big green eyes.
"Sorry," Harry said, when she'd tapped the pad again and a couple of small boxes had appeared at the side of the page, one of them with Hedwig's name in. "I've never done this before."
"I wouldn't have guessed," she answered, in a cool voice, but then she smiled and Harry felt stupider than ever. She was really pretty, not all that fussed that his name was Harry Potter, and he was making a complete idiot of himself. "You write your list on the top sheet. Bring it in or send it with your owl. Floo orders at your own risk; they keep catching fire. You get a receipt back and we add it to your account. Specify on the form where you would like the goods delivered. You pay monthly; cash or we can charge your vault number. There's a standard Progressively Worsening Hex if you miss a payment."
"Oh, right," Harry said, relieved. That wasn't so difficult. "But... what do you sell?" He wished he'd let Snape go and get food. He wished he'd gone to Asda.
"Food," she replied, slowly, clearly wondering if the stories about Harry Potter being a loony were true, after all. Harry swallowed and nodded.
Five minutes later, he'd scribbled a few things on the list, ordered far too many eggs ('Chicken? duck? quail? turtle? ant? fertile? infertile? You'll need to be quite specific, Mr Potter...') and found out that he had trouble spelling basic words like 'potato' and remembering how much milk a pint was, when nice looking shopkeepers were reading as he wrote. Harry hurried up the main street, clutching his purple order pad and wishing he dared to Apparate straight to his next stop. He'd really felt it on the way to the village, though, undoing some of the good Snape had done him and leaving him dizzy for a second after he arrived. And Apparation wasn't even the hardest magic he'd ever done; not as hard as half the Defence spells he'd used. Did it mean that he was going to have to be careful what sort of magic he tried, for the rest of his life? Or have a shag with Snape before he tried anything really difficult? That would narrow his career prospects a bit, wouldn't it? Harry caught sight of Hogwarts as he stopped outside the Three Broomsticks, and his heart sank. Had he spent seven years learning to be a wizard, the last two studying 'til his brain burst while Voldemort carved him up piece by piece from a safe distance, only to end up part Squib?
He sighed and went into the pub, and ordered a mug of hot Butterbeer for old time's sake before braving the Floo network to the Leaky Cauldron.
"I ordered some things," Harry announced, outside Snape's locked study door. He'd knocked and got no answer, so he wasn't even sure that Snape was in there, but he could hear a cauldron on the boil. "Some furniture, and some food. Food's here. Furniture'll start coming tomorrow. Are you hungry?"
Harry had lost his own appetite, somewhere between making a berk of himself in Glutts and the unpleasant Floo journey back to the house, but he'd still been pleased to see the boxes of food outside the kitchen door. So had Hedwig, who'd arrived with a short message from Ron at about the same time. She'd been used to getting his bacon rinds since the day he started school and he hadn't eaten bacon since he left; between that and the shortage of Owl Treats, she was looking a lot slimmer than she had a few weeks before. She was camped in the kitchen, completely ignoring her expensive new perch, guarding the meat box.
It felt weird, calling Snape that, after ... after. But it would feel weird calling him anything else. There was no answer, anyway. Harry gave up and went to the kitchen to sort through the food boxes and practice his storage charms.
Before it was really dark, Harry mended his window and went to bed, wondering how long it would be before he got another visit from Snape. He thought about the firm shopkeeper and Ron's sister and hot kisses until he was hard enough to come in his hand, but found that he had to make the bed rock and creak just so before it would finally happen.
He hoped Snape hadn't heard him.
Chapter 9: Appearances
There was a lot of stuff in Snape's potions book that Harry had never encountered before, even at NEWT level. Most people had treated Snape's 'ethics of potion making' classes as a bit of a joke, sort of like Voldemort teaching Muggle Studies, but Harry was somewhat humbled by the realisation that Snape probably could have poisoned any of them, at any time, and got away with it, just using this one book. There were lots of potions they didn't teach you at school, ones that didn't have cool names or standard ingredients and, as Potions had been a subject that he endured rather than enjoyed, he'd never bothered to do any extra reading, before. Harry lay in bed and flicked slowly through the book, glad that the potion Snape had used on him wasn't the one that made you sprout horns or puke yourself inside out or become permanently invisible. In fact, what Harry had taken to be a love potion was one of the more mundane ones in the collection. And, as Snape had claimed, it wasn't a love potion at all. It didn't make you adore the person who gave it to you, or fill you with burning lust, or take your mind away. It did exactly what Snape had told him, heightening your experience of the five physical senses, and Harry, who was getting miffed about Snape hiding in his room, was almost disappointed. He would have liked a reason to get angry, to pick a new fight with the man, and he wasn't sure why.
Snape was the one who had told him to grow up and get on with what needed doing, yet Snape was the one overreacting, wasn't he? He was the one acting like they'd done something disgusting. Harry had done far more disturbing things, in his young life, than lie there while Snape rubbed off on him; he was pretty sure that Snape had done lots worse, too, and it wasn't like they hadn't already seen each other at far from their best. The last two years had been all about doing what needed to be done to deal with Voldemort and, when Harry thought about it calmly, bumping bodies with Snape for a few minutes was a lot less disturbing than their useless Occlumency lessons, or his vision-dreams, or being tied up and tortured by Voldemort...
Memories piled up on him, too much that he'd been ignoring flooding in too fast. Harry tossed the book aside and swung out of bed, gulping deep breaths. He didn't want to remember any of it. It was over and compared to everything he'd lived through, living in the same house as Snape for a while should be easy. Especially if Snape kept locking himself in his rooms and only came out when it was time to do the other thing.
Harry read Ron's letter again over breakfast, feeding Hedwig the rinds and crusts from his stack of bacon sandwiches while she loitered looking for a reply. Ron was playing down his chances of being accepted into the new Auror training scheme, but Harry didn't have any doubts. Ron had the talent, he'd had plenty of practice at detecting Dark magic, and now the political climate on his side, what with Mr Weasley being promoted and the other heroes of Dumbledore's war being recognised left, right and centre. Harry briefly wondered if anyone was going to recognise his own efforts and was relieved to find that he really didn't care. He'd learned the difference between being a hero and being used - he'd been both - but it was Neville who'd done the job that needed doing. Neville was the ultimate hero of Dumbledore's war and the rest of them were cannon fodder that happened to survive. Or not.
Harry lost his appetite and left Hedwig the rest of his breakfast.
There was no word in the letter about when Ron might be able to visit, but Harry knew that the Auror assessments were long and demanding. Ron would have a break between the end of the testing and the start of the training. He could visit then and they'd catch up and... nothing would be like it had been before. Biting his bottom lip, Harry thought about Sirius and Lupin and Pettigrew and his own father; hadn't they been inseparable at school? And where were they now? All the things that had seemed so important, all through school, seemed different now - embarrassing and a bit stupid. His grudges and crushes, his need to prove something on the Quidditch pitch, even his friendships - they were all kid things and he'd taken an irreversible step away from being a kid, some time during the last weeks of the war. He didn't even know when, but he knew that the thought of drifting further away from Ron and Hermione hurt. He just wasn't sure what he could do to make sure it stopped. They'd all learned, the hard way, that sometimes you could try too hard, go too fast, and ruin everything.
The things Harry had bought for the house started turning up in strange places just after breakfast. A pile of linens and towels in the dining room and a dining table on the front steps alerted him to the telltale pops of his shopping appearing out of thin air. Harry assumed that this was the 'express delivery' he'd paid for and wished he'd opted for the cheaper 'careful delivery'.
He saw Snape only once during the morning, when a comfortable sofa appeared in Snape's bedroom, provoking a loud and lengthy outburst about Harry's carelessness. Snape had been so silent, before that, that Harry was actually rather glad to see him alive, even if it did involve being snarled at while levitating a three-seater sofa down a staircase. By the time he'd got it settled in front of the drawing room fire, the matching chairs had turned up too, again in Snape's bedroom, and Snape had retreated into his potions room and locked the door. Harry hoped nothing materialised in there.
It was the first chance he'd had to see inside Snape's bedroom, but he didn't dare to linger, just took a good look around as he was levitating the two armchairs towards the door. Snape's bed looked a lot newer and more comfortable than Harry's sagging brass one, not to mention bigger, but apart from the fireplace the room wasn't much of an improvement over his own. It was just bigger, and probably more drafty, and had long black curtains over the windows that shimmered slightly with magic. Harry was tempted to go back inside and examine the heavy drapes, but he knew Snape had been serious about having his privacy respected and, under the circumstances, decided it would be better to contain his curiosity. Maybe he'd get the chance to look around the room one night when they slept together.
The thought made his stomach flip and his ears burn, and his armchairs piled into each other at the top of the stairs before he got his concentration back and stopped them tumbling down. This thing with Snape was going to happen again. Probably lots of times. Harry wanted to be ready, but didn't have any idea how to be ready. They didn't teach the really difficult stuff at school and magic was easy compared to being alone with someone and knowing what to do. His ears were still burning when he dropped the armchairs into place, angled at either end of the long sofa, and sank into the nearest one with his knees shaking. It wasn't going away, at least not until somebody worked something else out, and hadn't Lupin said that time was the only answer? Crude but effective, he'd said. He thought of Snape crushing him into the mattress and panting in his ear; it was crude, all right. Harry tried to get some moisture into his mouth and tried not to imagine Snape touching him again or the incredible, sweet burn of having somebody else's body against his own... *Snape's* body, for god's sake, with the perpetual sneer and the potion-stained fingers, and he was looking forward to the next time?
He *was* looking forward to it, in a flesh-crawling, nervous sort of way, and he couldn't decide if that meant he was a lot more ill than anyone had told him, or just that he was desperate.
After his Firebolt was nearly squashed by a materialising roll of carpet, Harry decided it was time to ask Sirius to help him with his conjuring; having household items express-delivered was obviously dangerous.
Conjuring had been his biggest weakness, at NEWT level, though he'd been better at inanimate objects than at animals. Hermione insisted it was just lack of practice and concentration, but as she'd been conjuring fire since first year, Harry didn't think she had any idea how hard most people found it. It wasn't the magic he found hard; it was holding the clear image of what he wanted in his head for long enough to make it real. Maybe his godfather could give him a few tips. Anyway, he wanted to see Sirius and didn't dare call him up on the mirrors without a good excuse.
Sirius looked so glad to see his face in the mirror that Harry felt guilty for letting the silence go on as long as it had. He didn't think his outrage at being kept in the dark was unjustified, but he knew the second he saw Sirius that he'd rather be friends than go on being angry. They had enough to feel terrible about, without doing it to each other as well. He smiled and changed the subject before it even came up.
"Didn't you and my dad ever get caught using these in detention?"
"Yeah. We had to replace them twice in seventh year," Sirius said, warily. Harry didn't normally start conversations with questions about his parents. "Are you all right?"
"I think so. I'm having some trouble getting stuff in for the house. I hoped you could help."
Sirius' puzzled little frown deepened.
"Anything you need. Vault seven hundred and eleven..."
"Sirius, can you come and visit?" Harry interrupted. He hadn't spent any of Sirius' money yet and he wasn't sure he wanted to start. "I hoped you'd help me with my conjuring spells, that's all." Sirius' image wavered slightly, as though he was shifting the mirror. "Sirius?"
"If you're sure," Sirius said. He was holding the mirror at a slight angle, light glinting from somewhere, making it hard for Harry to see his face. "When...?"
"Now?" Harry hadn't meant to invite him over straight away, or even today, but suddenly waiting seemed stupid. They'd lost so much time. "Can you come now?"
"Yeah," Sirius said, sounding worried and confused, and the mirror went dark, but it was almost quarter of an hour before he rang the doorbell. Harry answered it at once, in case Snape decided to emerge from his study and do anything to upset things.
Sirius stood just inside the door and looked around, looking strangely hunted. It was an expression that Harry had seen on him quite often, but until a few months ago, he really had been hunted.
"Is he here?" Sirius asked, keeping his voice down and looking at Harry without looking into his eyes.
"Yeah. In there," Harry said, not bothering to keep his own voice down as he gestured to the garden-facing room. "His secret laboratory. He's hiding because it's raining furniture." Sirius didn't react. "Help?"
"Oh. Yeah. Well, the first thing I did when I got the place was an indiscriminate *Finite Incantatem*," Sirius said, apparently pulling himself together slightly. "I wasn't sure what nasty stuff might've been left behind here and I wasn't sure how much magic you'd be able to manage, yourself." He put his hands into the deep pockets of his loose, dark robe. "Ward the house against Apparation and it'll all get bumped out onto the lawn. Or wherever else you choose, but make it big or you'll wreck your stuff and hurt anyone who tries to Apparate in."
Harry remembered that nobody could Apparate in or out of Hogwarts. He'd never given a lot of thought to where people ended up if they tried it. One of these days, he was really going to have to read *Hogwarts, A History*. He certainly had enough time on his hands, all of a sudden.
"That rug nearly got my Firebolt," he said, when the silence became too long. Sirius looked down at the long roll of carpet and smiled, faintly.
"Still a good broomstick, that. Maybe you need a broom rack." Sirius gestured vague measurements at the wall by the door. Harry had seen broomstick racks in other people's houses and in the broom sheds at Hogwarts; sort of a cross between a gun case and an umbrella stand. He felt guilty for dropping his Firebolt, his first ever gift from Sirius, by the front door like an old pair of wellies. "Has he got one?" Sirius asked, with a valiant effort at sounding casual.
"Snape?" Harry sniggered, recalling that he'd only seen the man on a broomstick once in eight years. "I suppose so. Did he play Quidditch?"
"No." Sirius' smile grew a little wider. "Went for the team trials every year, though. Didn't stand a chance on the school brooms and couldn't fly straight till he was fifteen, but that never stopped him. He was so jealous of the way James flew, you could've seen him spit nails." The smile faded quickly and Sirius looked uncomfortable until a massive 'pop!' from the kitchen was followed by a crashing noise and a shriek from Hedwig. A moment later she came flying along the passage, swooped the top of Harry's head and ruffled his hair with her talons, before fluttering up to take refuge on the top of the banister, hooting in a pained sort of way.
"I think we'd better do that Apparation thing before somebody gets killed," Harry said, wondering what wreckage they'd find in the kitchen, and why Snape hadn't come out to investigate the noise. Then again, he'd probably made his potions room as secure as a Gringotts vault, like his office at Hogwarts; maybe he just planned to wait out the day in safety. Harry couldn't help seeing the funny side of the botched deliveries, but knew that he wouldn't be laughing if Hedwig or his Firebolt had come off any worse. "Is it a shield spell?"
"No, displacement," Sirius said, automatically. He didn't seem too worried by the sound of his house being attacked. "Like Disapparation itself."
"You'd be a good teacher," Harry said, suddenly picturing him impressing little kids with his dog transformation and making everything sound so easy. Sirius rolled his eyes, starting towards the kitchen. "Really. You would."
"Tell Remus that. It'll give him a good laugh."
Harry wasn't sure why the words made him feel so uncomfortable, but he didn't ask what Sirius meant. He didn't want to make things any more difficult; they were having enough trouble finding stuff that was safe to say. He'd learned from Hermione that, sometimes, the best way to put a disagreement in the past was to get on and do something useful together, without saying a word about it.
Sirius didn't need to teach him how to ward off the hail of furniture. Harry knew that he could have worked out how to do it by himself, if he'd had to - he'd learned enough theory at Hogwarts to be able to improvise. Still, he was uncomfortably aware of how patchy parts of his education had been. There had been parts where he just wasn't paying attention or doing all the reading, of course, but then there had been the ever-changing Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers, interference from the Ministry of Magic, the year when he'd been tied up with the Triwizard Tournament, and last year, with their entire world in chaos, Dumbledore gone and the staff dropping like flies, it was a wonder they'd learned anything at all. Harry was confident that he'd passed his NEWTs, but knew that he'd done the bare minimum, rather than grab every passing piece of knowledge, the way Hermione did.
Making the house impervious to furniture took a couple of hours, mainly because Sirius kept making him stop and rest before moving on to a different part of the house. It was mid-afternoon by the time the wards were in place and Harry felt tired, accomplished, and a lot more comfortable with his new wand than he had been before. He'd need to get more practice with it. Just because the war was officially over (not that it had ever officially begun) didn't mean that he'd never need another counter-curse in a hurry.
"You don't really need help with conjuring, do you?" Sirius wondered, helping Harry move a wardrobe from the kitchen towards the stairs. Harry's concentration had slipped when he tried to levitate it alone, and he'd accidentally flattened the kitchen table with it. "You thought you'd done all right in your exams, didn't you? Not that anyone could blame you if you had trouble keeping your mind on it," Sirius went on, hastily.
"Yeah," Harry said, uneasy at the way Sirius had picked up on the direction of his own thoughts, and wondering what he'd feel like if he had, in fact, failed everything. Sirius had five NEWTs, Hermione had taken five as well and would probably pass them all, and Snape had probably sat every subject... "I think so. I'm not bad at Transfiguration. I'm just not very good at getting stuff to appear from nothing."
"Well, there's your problem, then." Sirius gave a neat flick with his wand and the wardrobe began to float slowly up the stairs. He looked like he was barely paying attention. "You can't Transfigure nothing into something. You can change pure magic into whatever you want, if you have the power and focus. Trouble is, one careless dissolving spell and you have to start all over again. Better to buy the stuff you really need." Harry followed him up the stairs, his own wand held rather uselessly at his side. "Don't go mad with it, will you? Your magic's bound to be a strain on you just now, and we never really knew where Voldemort's ended and Harry started, did we?"
Sirius was the first person to say it that bluntly, and Harry was torn between being needled by the remark and wanting to kiss him for it. He hurried ahead to open his bedroom door, ignoring the slight dizziness that the burst of speed brought. Sirius let the wardrobe turn right side up and settle against the wall by the window, covering a patch of peeling paint.
"Did I lose my own magic? Is that why magic makes me tired, now? Am I taking that from Snape, too?"
"Not your magic." Sirius dusted his hands together, unnecessarily, and looked around as if he needed something else to do. "You're healing. Not just your body, the Healers fixed that pretty well. Your injuries were magical ones and your magic was wounded. By the fight and by Voldemort dying. Maybe by what Snape did, too." Sirius shrugged, looking grave. "Does everything make you tired?" he asked, and though they'd spent the past couple of hours working together, Harry felt like it was the first time Sirius had really looked at him. "All magic?"
"I haven't tried much." Harry heard a distant 'pop!' and went over to the window, peering down to see what had arrived and where it had ended up. "Candlesticks," he said, squinting to make out what was now sitting in the middle of the lawn. "And some boxes. That'll be the china. There can't be much left to come." He heard Sirius come over and found that he couldn't bring himself to move. "You don't hate me for having to do... what I have to do with Snape. Do you? For not thinking of something brilliant like my dad would've?"
"How can you ask that?" Sirius wondered, and he sounded so tired and sad that Harry was sorry he'd been born, let alone said anything. "I can't even hate *him* for it. You're here because of him and maybe I should've done more to spare your feelings, realised he'd make things worse like that, but I'm just thankful you're alive, whatever it costs. Your *brilliant* dad would rather have died than swallow his pride and take this and I..." Harry swallowed hard, hearing the sudden harshness in Sirius' voice, not really needing him to finish the sentence, and definitely not wanting him to. He leaned against the window case, still staring at the candlesticks on the grass.
"I didn't mean it when I said that. That I'd rather have died, I mean." It had been an even lower blow than he'd meant it to be, hadn't it? "I was just angry that nobody told me, it's not ... not pride. I'll do what I have to. I don't think I'm much like my dad."
"No." Sirius gripped his shoulder. "You're not much like him. Not really."
He sounded glad, and a bit proud, and Harry thought it might've got soppy next, if a large brass bed hadn't materialised in the middle of the lawn, two foot up, and dropped right on top of the china.
Chapter 10: Counting to Ten
Harry was both sorry and glad when Sirius made his excuses and left, near sundown. They had too much to talk about and not enough places to start, but Sirius had promised to come back soon and help Harry hone his conjuring spells. Harry would have liked to start straight away, but he couldn't hide how tired he was from all the moving, and Sirius would have none of it. Harry hung on to the promise of 'soon', his heart sinking when he found himself alone with Snape in a darkening house, but at the same time he felt as though something unwound inside him, when Sirius left. It hadn't been an easy visit.
More than anything, he was tired of feeling confused and he dearly wished that Hermione would turn up, roll her eyes at him and tell him exactly what was what and how to sort it. But he hadn't heard back from Hermione, and for some reason his visions of having his friends staying happily in his new house, chatting about their plans and old times, seemed silly now that he was surrounded by everything he'd bought with that in mind. Ron and Hermione were out there, getting on with their lives, while Harry was stuck waiting on an indefinite something, and his only company was people he didn't have a clue how to talk to.
Well, he was just going to have to learn, wasn't he? Being blunt had worked with Sirius, even if it had been painful. Harry decided he'd try it on Snape, too, and went to knock on the study door. He'd learned a little bit about Snape, at least; that he'd come clean about stuff if you baited him into enough of a temper, and that he didn't like conflict with his food. Snape had found fault with every breath Harry had drawn since first year, and probably before, but he'd not yet had anything unkind to say when Harry put food in front of him.
His knock got no answer.
"I'm hungry. Do you want something?" No answer. Harry glared at the door, but took care to keep the annoyance out of his voice. "I'll make enough, then." Harry didn't have an overly inflated opinion of himself (at least, he didn't think so) but he was pretty sure he'd never, even when he was a small child, been as childish as Severus Snape. Well, nobody could sulk behind locked doors forever; Harry could resort to provoking him into a temper again, if he had to. Sometimes, anything was better than living in a frozen silence that dragged on and on. He'd learned that at the Dursleys'.
Aunt Petunia had never let him cook steak, or eat very much of it either, but Harry had watched and learned anyway. It would make a good smell if he fried it and, if Snape decided not to put his head out, Hedwig would be pleased with the leftovers when she got back from hunting. Harry tried Mrs Weasley's potato peeling spell, grinning as several small ones popped out of their grubby jackets and fell neatly into a saucepan. A flick of his wand filled it with water and set it bubbling away without the aid of a flame. He didn't mind cooking the ordinary way, but cooking by magic seemed like it might be *fun*, not to mention a lot faster when he was hungry. The possibilities turned in his mind as he laid the table, fetched a jug of water and tossed the steaks into a hot frying pan.
He was hunting in the pantry for something he might be able to magic into a pudding when he heard Snape's study door open and close again. The steaks were sizzling and smoking nicely, nearly ready and smelling wonderful, and Harry grinned. He'd always thought Snape's biggest weakness was his nasty temper. Maybe it was his belly, instead. He wiped the grin off his face before turning out of the pantry, pudding forgotten, and gave Snape an indifferent nod of welcome on his way to the stove. He turned the steaks, poked his potatoes, and listened as Snape sat down. He was pleasantly surprised that the repaired kitchen chair took the weight, after its earlier encounter with the wardrobe. Harry had repaired the damage, but hadn't been entirely sure which bits belonged to the table, and which to the chairs.
"There's a dining table now," Harry said, warming plates with another touch of his wand, but deciding it would be safer to put the food on the plates the ordinary way. "In the dining room. I've been busy."
"I gathered as much from all the noise."
Harry turned, plate in hand, and found Snape sitting rigidly in the chair nearest the door. His hands were in his lap and he stared straight ahead. Harry had seen him wear just that stony expression when Dumbledore was trying to include him in something cheery, like pulling Christmas crackers or welcoming a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. He decided it would be a good idea to keep Sirius' visit out of the conversation.
"Here. You haven't eaten all day." Harry slid one hot plate in front of Snape, then fetched his own. "What happens to me if you starve yourself to death, anyway?"
Snape didn't answer, but he did eat.
Harry ate his steak and left his potatoes, and watched Snape over the rim of his water glass, working out what to say next. Snape kept his eyes down and worked slowly through the food, as if determined to prove that he wasn't absolutely starving. Compared to how awkward things had felt with Sirius, the silence was almost peaceful.
"What happened to your other wand?" Harry asked, when Snape was on his last potato. "Why does the other one burn you?"
Snape stiffened, looking unhappy, and Harry swallowed, wishing he'd decided to talk about the weather or something, instead. Snape put down his knife and fork and looked up, at last.
"It was my school wand. I've long since outgrown it." Harry knew an understatement when he heard one, but he didn't think Snape had any reason to actually lie about it.
"And the other one? Ollivander said..."
"Ollivander should mind his own business," Snape interrupted, firmly, but he didn't seem angry. It was hard to tell what mood he might be in, but Harry was almost sure he wasn't angry. "It was broken when I was twelve." Harry drew breath to ask how, but didn't get that far. Snape's eyes held his, challenging him to something. Harry didn't know what. "My father broke it."
"On purpose?" Harry gasped. The Ministry of Magic broke people's wands when they'd broken wizard law badly enough; if you could break your enemy's wand in a duel, you did, but parents expected a first wand to last their kids at least through Hogwarts... what kind of idiot would break a perfectly good wand?
"Yes. On purpose." Snape got to his feet, tugging his sleeves down at the wrist, even though they were down already. "Am I joining you tonight?"
Harry's mouth fell open and a meaningless little noise came out. Snape's careful, cool indifference turned into an impatient scowl and Harry picked the first of his racing thoughts and said it out loud.
"Do you want to?"
It wasn't the right thing to say, he knew that immediately. Answering questions with questions was Dumbledore's annoying trick, wasn't it? They'd both had enough of that. Harry stood up, folding his arms to hide his shaking hands. "Sorry. You don't want to. You're better than I am at knowing when, though. Lupin said it was intuitive."
"Lupin?" Snape's lip started to curl and Harry found one emotion rising up to dominate the many others that were pushing at him; guilt. He'd been so grateful to Lupin for listening, but maybe he'd said things he shouldn't have. Private things. At once, he felt angry about feeling guilty; he'd been the one hurt by the secrets. "Perhaps Lupin should also mind his own business," Snape suggested, coldly. "This is not his business."
"I needed to talk to someone!" Harry tried hard not to shout, to keep his argument reasonable so that Snape would listen. "What else am I supposed to do - read your mind? Lie back and think of England? I didn't understand anything until *he* bothered explaining!" He ended up shouting, anyway.
Watching him, jaw twitching with anger, Snape seemed to be holding his breath. When his chest rose and fell again, after a moment, it was slow and controlled. Harry wondered if he'd been counting to ten.
"I didn't know that you were inexperienced. You've turned every girl's head since you stepped off the train and I thought... I assumed that you'd already reaped the benefits of your fame, Potter."
"The..." Harry's voice failed on him trying to repeat that to see if he'd got it right. "I don't believe you... you breathed down my neck for eight years. I couldn't have a *dream* without you hovering over me and trying to turn it against me, somehow. Didn't you *see* anything?" He swallowed, trying to get his voice to work better. It felt like he might cry out of sheer frustration. "Why did you bother?" Snape narrowed his eyes, gave a tiny, uncomprehending headshake. "Saving me. *Impertio*. Why'd you bother saving me if you really think I'm just..." His voice had gone completely, and Harry looked at the floor. He couldn't remember why he'd wanted Snape to come out of that room, why it had seemed like a good idea to start a conversation. It hurt to swallow and his ears were ringing.
"I was wrong," Snape said. Harry heard him push in his chair. Distantly, he felt something die at the words. He gripped the table edge, trying to breathe. "No, not saving you. Idiot," Snape said, impatiently. "Wrong in assuming your knowledge of the world. I meant to spare you discomfort, not cause it." Harry managed a nod, not sure he could take in any more; was Snape apologising to him? He felt like he was drowning. "Lupin's wrong," Snape said, after a minute that felt like a week. "I know what the spell requires to sustain it but not... not when. Not when you need more than my presence in this house. You must learn to know and to be frank about it."
In that moment, Harry found himself with a hundred questions, all desperately jumbled in his head. He couldn't pin down any of them, but he tried counting to ten and taking a deep, slow breath, like Snape had, and it helped a little. When he looked up, Snape looked pale and displeased, and averted his eyes in the space of a blink.
"I don't mind half as much when we're doing it," Harry told him, dully. "Why's that?" Snape shook his head, his lips thinning, his face colouring slightly. "Can you bring that oil you made again? That was..." Snape looked up, startled, and for a second his expression was unguarded, his mouth slightly open, his bewilderment reminding Harry of that frozen moment, yesterday, with Snape's body tense against his own. Harry knew he didn't mind that half as much as he minded *this*. This was awful. "I'll be going to bed when it's dark," he said, and he was quite proud of his voice, this time; low and clear. Very grown-up.
As he left the kitchen, his steps dragging, he heard Snape pull his chair back out and sit down, and exhale very slowly.
Harry hadn't had much time, since he was old enough to care, to think about sex. Oh, he'd fantasised, touched himself and liked it, gone along with the other boys in laughing at the jokes and watching the girls when they weren't looking, but he'd never tried to imagine how it would *really* be. And if he'd tried, he didn't think he would've come up with the reality of humping Snape in that chair, or imagined anything like how it really felt when another person was heavy and real beside you. He'd thought about kissing girls - he'd thought about that quite a lot and in some detail, but his fantasies would quickly grow vague, flashes of sexy things being swamped by the rhythm of his hand, the welcome release of orgasm. It had never taken long to get there. He'd never had time to wonder if there was more, or even if he was normal to not be trying to turn fantasy into reality the way Ron and Seamus kept trying to, by sixth year.
Did getting excited when Snape touched him mean he liked men, or just the touching? Or just bitter, grudging old blokes with nasty hair and big dicks that felt good against his backside? Watching his erection rise at the memory, Harry seriously considered drowning himself in the bath. But the hot water felt nice and so did stroking his cock, tempting those feelings without trying to get off. It was good that he was in that sort of mood, he decided; that it wasn't going to take much to make him feel incredible. The less he had to think, when Snape started touching him, the better. He stayed until the water was lukewarm and the lamps had flickered to life, experimenting with his palm between his thighs. It had felt much better when Snape did it.
Snape seemed to have had the same idea about drowning in the bath; his hair was wet and rigidly combed, parted dead centre and hanging like two black curtains over his ears. Harry would've smirked, but his own hair was getting on the long side, and he was shocked at finding Snape sitting on the edge of his bed, even if he had as good as invited him there. Snape looked him over, slowly, then looked at the floor. He was gripping the edge of the mattress on either side of him, perched right on the edge like he hadn't quite decided to stay. He was wrapped in a dark blue dressing gown, layered up so that only his hands and face were bare.
"We don't have to," Harry said, and his voice sounded gentle and patient, even though he just felt bewildered and tired. He shivered at the sound of it. "I don't need to. Not yet. I won't drop dead if you don't, will I?"
"No," Snape said, and while he didn't exactly sound patient, he at least sounded quiet and reasonable. "You won't die. Nothing will break the spell." Harry was trying to work out something equally reasonable to say when Snape carried on, his voice almost cracking with the strain. "You should have been given that choice from the start. I was hasty with my assumptions."
Harry hadn't been sure, earlier, but that was *definitely* an apology. He bumped the door shut with his backside and leaned there, watching Snape watch the new rug.
"I want to," he said, when his heartbeat had slowed to something nearer normal. A bit of an overstatement, maybe, but he didn't *not* want to. That was a start, wasn't it? "Maybe you can..." Sex and words didn't belong together in the same room, Harry decided. "You can show me what to do. I don't really know. Show me how to make it okay. You know, for you." His cheeks flared with heat and his toes curled into the rug. It wasn't like he was *supposed* to know anything, but he still felt stupid about not knowing. He suddenly understood why Ron and Seamus had talked about 'getting it out of the way' in their seemingly relentless pursuit of girls. "Can you?"
"Buggered if I know," Snape muttered, or at least Harry thought he did, but then he straightened up and spoke clearly, almost looking Harry in the eye. "You've cluttered this house with an absurd assortment of objects. Why have you kept this miserable bed?"
Not knowing which part of that he was supposed to speak to, Harry fussed with his dressing gown instead. It wasn't a comfortable bed; Snape was right, it was horrible, but it hadn't occurred to Harry to replace it. He'd been too busy looking forward to having his friends to stay to do much about his own room, and besides...
"There's a new one. For guests. We could go there. I got new sheets and everything." He swallowed, feeling like a complete idiot, quite sure he could never tell Snape that the sound of the bedsprings creaking had worked its way into his fantasies.
"Where did you learn to be such a model of domesticity?" Snape asked, and although it was a bit sarcastic, Harry thought he was really asking, not just being nasty.
"My Aunt Petunia. My mum's sister," he clarified. Wizards liked knowing about family. Especially Slytherins. "I was her house-elf." He grinned, but Snape just stared at him like he'd farted or something. "You didn't really think I was spoiled rotten, did you?" Harry asked, half impatient, half curious. "You didn't believe all that 'famous Harry Potter' stuff you were always on about?" It was rubbish, all of it, and Snape was supposed to be so clever, wasn't he? Clever enough to trick Voldemort and manage a hundred slippery Slytherins, but he couldn't see what was right under his honking great nose. Harry dragged off his dressing gown and threw it over the end of the bed, went around to the window side and put his back to Snape while he undid his pyjama shirt. "I thought you were just..." He buttoned his lip before he said anything that would make things worse again. He didn't want to fight, and if Snape wasn't going to stay the night, he wanted the chance to finish what he'd started in the bath. "I'm going to bed. Are you staying or not?"
He got in, quickly, feeling cold without his top on, even though it was a warm evening. He lay with his back to Snape and the blankets up by his ears, hardly daring to take a breath. It was like the excitement of Christmas morning mixed with the nervous dread of a trip to the Headmaster's office, though neither of those had ever given him a hardon. Finally, Snape stood up, but he didn't head for the door. Harry heard the flap of cloth, layers coming off, and an impatient snort.
"You don't make this easy, Potter."
"Nor do you."
The bed bounced him around as Snape lay down behind him; the lamps went out, the crisp new curtains rattled shut, blocking out the dull late-evening light, and Harry closed his eyes, tight.
"No," Snape said, and a cool hand came to rest at the top of his spine. "I don't suppose I do." Harry tried to breathe evenly. He didn't want Snape to know that he was scared; of what might happen, of what might not, of how it would feel. But the hand just rested there, unmoving, gradually drawing warmth from Harry's body. Harry pushed his right arm under the pillow, settling his head better and closing his eyes, unwilling to ask for anything more, or to offer it. He wanted it over with; he wanted to go slowly. He didn't know *what* to want.
"Was I actually dead?" he asked, instead.
"Not quite. I'm a wizard, not a miracle worker."
"Oh." Harry remembered feeling as if he'd been dead. "I don't remember it clearly. That fight." He thought about the newspaper he'd found burning in the kitchen fire, about the hazy memory of all those curses coming at him. Two and two came together in his head, unbidden. "You killed Lucius Malfoy, didn't you? He knocked me down and you killed him."
Snape's fingers dug into his skin, all hard and blunt and bony.
Harry didn't think this was the sort of thing you were supposed to talk about in bed. It was about as sexy as toad brains. But what else was there? Snape had only ever been civil to him when it involved plans, strategy, reporting facts back to the Order - those conversations might not have been comfortable but at least they were common ground.
"Did you know you'd have to do this, when you did the spell?"
"It ... didn't work as I expected. It's done," Snape added, before Harry could ask what he *had* expected. "This is what we must do." Harry nodded, reluctantly, but the breath he'd been taking for an answer stuck in his throat when Snape moved his hand, down Harry's back to his waist, then over to his belly, which tensed and twitched against his will. It became a slow, exploratory touch, just that one hand visiting his navel, his nipples, his throat, so different from the firm massage that had sent him to sleep, before. This didn't make him want to sleep. Harry wanted to grab hold of that hand and stop it teasing him, yet at the same time knew he'd feel hungry if the touch went away. He did his best to keep still, but it wasn't easy when Snape lodged a knee between his. The hand went inside his pyjama bottoms, explored him with the same painful slowness, then wrapped firmly around his cock and stroked him until he was properly hard. He tried to relax, to focus on the stroking and how it felt, to enjoy it without letting it overwhelm him, but he'd been hard before Snape really touched him and he could feel his body tensing, ready; feel himself moving into that hand, almost against his will. Then he heard a soft grunt behind him, realised that Snape was wanking himself, too, the same rhythm, and it was too much. He had to stuff his fist over his mouth to stop himself shouting out loud. It felt so good, it left him dizzy and groaning and bumping himself uselessly against Snape's wet hand in search of more.
Lying quite still behind him, Snape couldn't be having half as much fun using his trapped right arm; Harry thought he should do something, offer to do something, but he wasn't exactly sure what, or that Snape would thank him for trying. He started to turn over, but Snape's stained hand grasped his hip, stopping him, then delved back under his sticky clothes, playing with him again. Like the other night, Snape had him lift his hips, pushed the pyjama bottoms down a short way and then spooned up tight behind him, hooking one leg over his. This time, the cock against his buttocks wasn't covered with any cloth, and it felt... marvellous. Exciting. Harry licked his lips again and shifted his weight, trying to get his legs comfortable so he could enjoy whatever was coming. The movement made Snape gasp out loud and jerk sharply against him and that, in turn, made Harry grin into his pillow.
"Do you like it when I wriggle?"
"Apparently, I do."
Harry had learned, over the years, that Snape did have a sense of humour. It just didn't fit very well with his own. He thought Snape was smiling, now, at least a little bit. His voice didn't sound so cold. It was good that they could see the funny side, because he could only imagine how stupid they looked.
"I like how it feels, like this. How you feel, there." Harry gave a much smaller wriggle, demonstrating, and Snape seemed to like it, so he did it some more, turning more onto his front and bracing himself against the bed, making Snape move further on top of him and slide against his buttocks for friction. Snape clutched him clumsily across the chest, moaned out loud and came all over his back.
Seemed like they'd found something they agreed on, at last.
Chapter 11: Exceeds Expectations
Sleeping with somebody had always been a comfortable euphemism, in Harry's mind. The actual reality of *sleeping* with somebody wasn't something he'd considered, before now. Somehow, during the night, he'd ended up with all the blankets and Snape was rigid at the opposite side of the bed, clutching one mean corner of a sheet over himself with his elbow. Harry could see the long grey nightshirt bunched up above Snape's pale knees. He could see a pair of hairy shins and narrow, unusually long feet. In fact, he could see a lot more of Snape than he'd ever seen before, and it was rather unnerving when he thought that, last night, that body had been plastered against his own and making him feel... making him feel stupid for ever dreading it, anyway. There was a bite in the air and, even though he hadn't meant to steal the covers, Harry felt guilty enough to untangle himself and drape a fair share of the blanket over the other man. Snape barely stirred, but Harry thought he looked a bit less stiff, once he started to warm up.
It felt too early to think about getting out of bed, but Harry knew that Snape was normally an early riser - in fact, he would have set his watch by Snape's morning routine, until the day he'd spent hiding in his rooms. Not used to having curtains in his room, Harry couldn't guess at how far the sun was up, but he didn't fancy being the one to wake Snape up, so he turned his pillow over and got comfortable again, instead, telling his body to quiet down. He was used to waking up with his cock hard, used to either indulging it or ignoring it without giving it much thought, but it was different with somebody else there; tempting, for one thing, and embarrassing for another.
Things were definitely easier in the dark; he thought that Snape had liked it better that way, too. Not faces, just ... flesh, was what Snape called it. Just flesh. So, would Snape go and shut himself away again, when he woke up, and stay in that funny, slightly alarming mood until the next time Harry asked him for sex? Was it that awful, having sex with him, that Snape couldn't bear him afterwards, or was he just embarrassed? Harry didn't think it had been awful, or that he'd done anything too wrong, even if he had no idea how to do it right. For a minute, there, it had been fun, and they'd both enjoyed it... hadn't they? Harry had thought, after Snape got out of bed, did a gruff Vanishing spell on their mess, then got back in again wearing that clean gown, that Snape had liked what they'd done. Their legs had touched as they settled down to sleep and Harry's soft 'good night' had been answered in kind before they put any meaningful distance between their bodies. It had seemed calm, almost pleasant. But Harry wasn't sure, any more; Snape looked tired and worried, even in his sleep, and his thin lips were dry and cracking - he didn't look at all like a man who'd enjoyed himself a few hours ago, or like he'd shared Harry's comfy, contented sleep. Of course, that might have had something to do with not having had any blankets.
All in all, it was hard to see the famous terror of Hogwarts in the man who lay sleeping beside him; thin and perpetually off-colour and grim as granite, but hardly terrifying, with his unusually clean hair tangled across his cheek and his breathing slow and even. Harry caught himself reaching out to pull back that hair and shivered, not recognising the cavernous, shifting feeling that made him want to touch the sleeper, nor the shame he felt at catching himself about to do it. He hadn't felt that shame last night, with Snape on his back, or coming in his hand; not even after the first time, in the study, where he'd said and done things he'd barely known he wanted to and hardly known the meaning of. Not shame. But Snape had always started it, hadn't he? He'd taken charge and pushed Harry past the reluctance, made him feel so good that those things didn't matter - in short, he'd done the hard part, and Harry wondered if Snape felt the same shame at reaching out to touch, even though he obviously thought it was necessary. There'd never been anything between them but blame, until the night Voldemort fell. Harry didn't know what to *do* with anything he might feel towards Snape that wasn't hate, or scorn, or anger, or blame. Maybe Snape didn't know, either. Maybe he was embarrassed. Or maybe he was ashamed.
Harry moved the knotted hair back from Snape's cheek, just with his fingertips, and froze with his arm outstretched, waiting to see if that would wake him up. How on earth would he explain it, if it did? His heart seemed to skip a few beats. But Snape didn't wake up and Harry was spared the effort of inventing a lie to cover his own, pointless impulse.
He slid quickly out of bed and collected his pyjama top and dressing gown on his way to the door. Snape still didn't stir.
Harry found himself whistling quietly as he hunted out breakfast in the larder; he really did enjoy putting a meal together with the help of some magic. No doubt the novelty would wear off, in time, but even with all he'd done, it was still strange to be free to use magic as much as he liked, instead of only when he was at school. There were no Muggles for miles around, so there was no reason he couldn't do anything he liked, from cooking tea and toast in under a minute with the help of his wand, to conjuring a pink elephant on the front lawn. Anything he wanted. The thought had him grinning as he settled down at the kitchen table and plastered marmalade all over his toast.
While he hadn't exactly forgotten that his NEWT results were due, not knowing exactly when to expect them had taken the edge off the nervous anticipation (not to mention that he'd had lots of other, more immediately worrying things on his mind). So Harry was completely unprepared when Hedwig shuffled from her place at the open kitchen window over to her day perch, making way for a smart-looking Barn Owl to enter. The Barn Owl deposited a crisp envelope next to the marmalade before landing on Hedwig's perch and greeting her with polite owl noises. Harry saw the Hogwarts crest on the back of the envelope and had trouble swallowing his large mouthful of toast.
Stupidly, his first thought was to crumple up the message and throw it into the fire. Even more stupidly, his hands shook as he picked up the envelope, and it had nothing to do with putting too much strain on Snape's spell. He felt fine, for a change, if you didn't count the sudden urge to go back to bed and hide under the covers. The last seven years of his life - the academic part, anyway, and most of his future - were summarised inside this envelope, which felt far too lightweight and thin to be so important. He took a deep breath before he opened it.
*Dear Mr Potter, Both Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the Wizarding Examinations Authority wish to apologise, once again, for the delay in notifying you of your NEWT level examination results...*
Harry let the rest of the covering letter blur in front of his eyes, wondering why they'd bothered. If anyone had managed to miss the very good reason for all the chaos and delay, they weren't going to make much of a wizard or witch, were they? He tossed the sheet aside and blinked to focus his eyes on the second page, with its five neat columns, but all he managed to take in was the row of final marks that stood out clearly, in red ink, halfway down the page.
*A. E. O. E. O.*
It took Harry almost a full minute to realise that those five letters meant he'd passed every subject. Then he laughed out loud and scared the Barn Owl right back out of the window by jumping to his feet, punching the air with his fist, and shouting 'yes!' at the top of his lungs.
He couldn't even stop grinning when he heard footsteps and creaky floorboards above him and realised that the noise had woken Snape up. He looked at the page again and followed the Potions column down, this time. It was one of the 'Outstanding' marks. Harry didn't know why he was surprised. Once Snape had given up finding fault with him over nothing and marked him on his actual work, somewhere between fifth and sixth year, Potions had seemed quite easy - a good way to lose his thoughts for a couple of hours in a subject that, as his studies grew more advanced, required a lot of concentration and attention to detail. He'd found the theory exam hard and the practical exam easy, and Snape hadn't excluded him from his parting comment to the class, of 'I'm certain that none of you have completely disgraced yourselves in your Potions examination. Go home.'
Of course, not all of them had made it home. Term ended and all out war began, and it was short and bloody and nobody's differences or school marks had really mattered, at the end. Snape had saved him in spite of everything and Neville, who'd failed his Potions OWL quite spectacularly back in fifth year, had saved everyone. It put the marks into perspective, a bit.
Harry made some more toast and freshened up the teapot before he heard Snape on the stairs, but Snape went straight into his study and shut the door. Harry frowned, straightening out the place setting he'd just laid. Was Snape *really* going to do that all over again? Harry had just started puzzling over what he might do about it, when the study door opened again and Snape came to the kitchen, after all. He had a potion bottle in his hand, the green stuff that he always put in his coffee, and Harry noticed, with some surprise, that he'd bundled back up in his dressing gown and slippers rather than getting dressed. He looked, in Harry's considered opinion, like hell, and his nod of greeting looked strained, to say the least.
"May I?" Snape asked, indicating the teapot. Harry gestured to the clean cup and saucer he'd set out. Snape took his usual seat and poured himself a cup of tea. Harry hovered by the table, trapped between his helpless excitement, his confusion, and the realisation that Snape probably wasn't in the mood to congratulate him and would very likely find something to burst his bubble with, even in set of perfectly respectable passing marks.
"Are you all right?" Harry asked, making himself sit down again and slipping the letter under his saucer, before refilling his cup.
"I slept badly," Snape answered, emptying his green stuff into his tea, then the tea into his mouth. Harry winced; his own fresh cup was scalding hot. Snape finished the first and poured another, and Harry realised that Snape had just lied to his face.
"You slept like a log," he said, lightly. "I was there, remember?"
Snape sighed impatiently through his nostrils, never happy at being contradicted, but he sat back in his chair, nursing the teacup between his palms, and changed the subject.
"Your results," he said, nodding to the letter that Harry had made a half-hearted effort to conceal. "Were you cheering or screaming?"
"Cheering," Harry said, quickly. "And sorry. I wanted to let you sleep, you looked really tired."
"I prefer to rise early," Snape said, in a dismissive tone. Then he sat forward, plainly hesitating over something, and tapped the rim of his small potion bottle with one long, bony finger. It left a small, green mark on his skin. "I require this. It must be taken regularly."
"Oh," Harry said, when his brain failed to supply anything that sounded more intelligent. Snape wasn't given to revealing personal information without prompting - without a nasty fight, for that matter - and Harry really wasn't nosy about people's private things, when they obviously didn't concern him. He hadn't planned to ask about the potion, even though he'd wondered before, but now he wanted to know what sort of potion was worth getting up at half past six for, every day. "Should I wake you up, then? Next time?"
His stomach flipped right over, at the thought of next time.
"Yes." Snape looked about as uncomfortable as Harry felt. He took a piece of toast, but put it on his plate and didn't touch it again. "Your results?"
"Five passes." Harry waited for a doubting remark, but Snape waited in silence for more information. "Here." He gathered up the parchment and envelope in a neat pile and offered the whole lot to Snape, who unfolded the pages and studied them both closely.
"Congratulations, Mr Potter," he said, at length. His long fingers smoothed the folds of the letter, before tucking it back inside the envelope. Harry noted how the parchment quivered when Snape held it still; his hands were shaking. "Remarkable results, given the distractions you've faced."
"Thanks," Harry said, uncomfortably. He wasn't used to Snape being nice to him, or even taking his achievements at face value, and it made him feel strangely anxious that Snape had shaking hands. Harry had seen him using the most delicate instruments without the slightest tremor. He wondered if he ought to ask again if Snape was all right, but decided he'd only get his head bitten off and looked for something else to say. "Do you have to call me 'Potter' all the time, like I'm still at school? And it seems a bit sick calling you 'Professor', for that matter, when we're..." He stopped, not because he didn't want to say what it was they were doing, but because he sounded accusing and he hadn't meant to. Why was it so hard to find the right thing to say? "You're not a Hogwarts professor any more, anyway."
"No," Snape said, blandly. If he cared when and how Harry had found out about his resignation, he didn't show it, but Harry suddenly found himself wondering what he *hadn't* found out about it, yet. Snape had wanted to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts forever; wouldn't McGonagall at least have encouraged him to apply for the new year? She seemed to like him more than most people did. Not that that was saying much. "I had hoped that matters would be resolved between us, by now. As it is, we're caught in our own fiction. With these results must come a decision about your future." He sounded like McGonagall, now; lecturing and teacher-like. Harry regretted reminding him that he wasn't one, any more. "About your supposed apprenticeship with me."
"What do you mean, you thought things would be resolved?" Snape didn't seem to notice the interruption.
"Your Outstanding mark, and my own situation, make it at least plausible that I'd consider you for..."
"You mean you thought you'd be rid of me, by now? What were you going to say, that I was so useless I failed this so-called 'probation'?"
"Potter, you're being offered an opportunity that many would envy, at a time when your opportunities are rather limited," Snape said, and his voice grew quiet, the way it did when he seemed to be reading your every thought. "You might at least do me the courtesy of paying attention."
"Everyone knows you hate me and spent seven years trying to get me chucked out of school, just because my dad picked on you. I'd have to be an idiot to give you any more power over me than you already have. I'm not an idiot." Still, he felt like one.
"I don't take credit for your own splendid efforts towards expulsion, Potter." Snape threw the parchment back down next to the teapot, his movements unsteady. "This story was invented to protect your already delicate reputation-"
"Your honking great pride, more like," Harry said, snatching his letter and standing up. "You're sorry now you're stuck with that stupid story? Well, that's not my fault." He should've known Snape only needed a few minutes to wake up before he started being ... well, being *Snape* again, shaking hands or not. "It's your lie. You and Sirius. I've only told people the truth. You sort it out, and don't you dare go telling the world you dropped the idea because I'm not good enough at bloody Potions." He brandished the letter in Snape's face. "NEWT results are published in the *Prophet*, remember?"
That wasn't unfair, was it? He hadn't asked Sirius or Snape to lie to protect his "reputation", so why should he play along with it? Apprenticeship in one of the disciplines was a serious commitment, years of work, and Snape had to be mad to think he'd do it just to suit a stupid cover story. If he'd got a good mark in Potions it was in spite of Snape, not because of him. Years more of having snide remarks muttered over his cauldron and the knife twisted when he got it wrong, to train for a profession he'd never once thought of entering in the first place? No, thanks.
Harry hurried up to his room to dress, intending to leave the house and Snape far behind until his temper cooled. He knew in his heart that he should just have refused Snape's half-spoken offer. Politely, calmly, because there really were idiots in the world who'd think it was an enviable option, to spend nearly a decade working for pocket money and three square meals, to learn what Snape knew about Potions. It would have been a generous offer, if it had come before the lie.
"Reputation," Harry muttered, straightening his cloak in front of the hanging mirror, then kicking his wardrobe door shut. It made a good, satisfying bang. "What a load of crap." But what Snape had said about his opportunities being limited nagged at him, anyway.
It was only when he stopped stomping around and caught his breath that he really noticed that Snape had made the bed before leaving, or that he'd left a dropper bottle of that oil behind on the neatly plumped right-hand pillow. A few long black hairs had stayed behind there, too - too long and too dark to be Harry's own. Snape had slept there. He'd touched Snape. He'd *wanted* to.
Sitting, slowly, Harry picked up the glass bottle and opened it, cautiously sniffing the wet-wood-and-strawberry scent. The memories that came with the smell were powerful, strange, burned forever into an association with sex and sweat and the way Snape smelled through the filter of the oil. Harry wondered why Snape had left the bottle, then remembered in a guilty rush that left his cheeks and ears blazing; he'd asked for it, hadn't he? Yesterday, when they talked in the kitchen. He'd asked and Snape had done as he asked, bringing the oil and leaving it for him, even though they hadn't needed to use it. Wondering if it was any use unless Snape was putting it on him, Harry tested a drop between his thumb and forefinger, but it just felt like any oil-based potion would. There was none of the comfort he'd felt when Snape rubbed his back with the stuff. He could sense that the substance was magical, but no more. They hadn't really needed it last night, but Harry thought he might have liked to have Snape use the oil again anyway, so he could find out how it felt with a clear head and try to understand how the magic worked on him. On Snape, too. There was so much he didn't know about the magic and he'd been so focused on the details of being shut up with Snape, on his anger at the situation, that he hadn't stopped to think about it as a wizard. And he *was* a wizard; of legal age and now fully qualified to begin just about any career he set his mind to. Auror. Healer. Teacher. Anything he wanted - except that Snape was right. His opportunities were limited by other factors and they weren't necessarily ones he could control. It was about time he started to *think* like a wizard, wasn't it? He was living a spell that he knew nothing about, that was keeping him *alive*, and he'd barely begun to understand how it might affect his future. He needed to *know* and to get on with it, not keep on...
Harry took a long, slow breath. He needed to stop turning it into a battle, just because it was easier to get angry with the truth than it was to face up to it. The real battles were over and, whatever else Snape had been, he'd been an ally when it counted the most. Harry carefully stoppered the oil bottle and put it back on the pillow, brushing off the black hairs. Snape was still an ally.
There was nowhere he could go, without eventually needing to be near Snape again, and nothing useful he could do or aim for, until he understood his limitations. Harry counted to ten in a couple of languages, just in case, and then went back downstairs to get on with it. He tried Snape's study, first, but found him still in the kitchen.
"Professor, I..." Harry didn't really know what he was going to say, whether it would be a peace offering or an apology or an obvious change of subject, but he didn't get that far. Snape was at the sink, half bent over the bowl of magically animated washing-up, with a white-knuckled hold on the edge of the basin. First, Harry thought he was being sick, but then he gathered that Snape was fighting for breath and hanging on to the sink to stop himself toppling to the floor. When Harry hurried over to shore him up, he was alarmed at the blueish colour around Snape's lips. "Sit down, come..."
"Bugger off ... Potter..." Snape wheezed, his lips glistening with saliva, but his hand clutched the cloth between Harry's shoulders, and his knees gave way the second he spoke. "God..."
Harry could hardly manage the weight, and rather inelegantly dumped Snape back into his breakfast chair, sideways.
"What is it? What's wrong with you?" Harry's mind wouldn't focus properly on what needed to be done. He'd dealt with people who were in trouble because they'd been cursed or injured but never really with anyone who was so plainly *ill*, before. "Tell me what to do."
"... told you..." Snape whispered, between gasped breaths, and Harry was relieved to notice that he seemed to be getting a bit more air. "Bugger... off."
"If you were anybody else, that'd reassure me you weren't dying," Harry said, grabbing Snape's left wrist and crouching next to the chair while he counted a rapid pulse. Snape seemed to be recovering, looking less blue at least, and mopping his chin weakly on his other sleeve. His rigid trembling had turned into a sort of clammy slump against the back of the chair, by the time Harry was satisfied that there was some sort of regular heartbeat going on. Hard to say what was normal; you never knew if wizards were entirely human, at the best of times, and it was rude to ask if somebody was part Snidget or something, especially if they were Slytherin and into the pureblood mindset. Besides, he had a fair idea of what Snape's heartbeat was normally like, didn't he? He'd felt it clearly enough when Snape's body was pressed against his own; rapid with excitement, but definitely normal, definitely human.
Harry caught himself thinking about sex again instead of counting heartbeats, caught Snape looking at him with watering eyes and resentful, teacher-like suspicion, and decided he'd make a terrible Healer.
Chapter 12: Care and Feeding
Snape was bound to be a terrible patient.
He didn't put up any kind of fight about going back to bed, since he'd obviously had the same idea himself, but that was the extent of his good grace. Having supported the cursing man up the stairs and across the landing, Harry found himself curtly dismissed the second Snape no longer needed him to lean on.
"Not 'til you tell me what's wrong," he answered, following Snape into his bedroom and watching him sink down on the edge of his bed. Harry wasn't sure whether he had his wand somewhere in the layers of nightwear, and wouldn't put it past Snape to start throwing curses just to spare his pride. "It's not big to pretend you don't need a Healer, when you do. It's just st..." He decided that calling Snape stupid wasn't the best way of handling the situation. "Stubborn," he finished, hardly missing a beat.
"I don't need a Healer. I need peace and quiet and entirely less of you." They glared at each other for a long moment, and Harry realised that if it came down to stubborn, they were too evenly matched. They could both dig in their heels and be stuck for weeks, and Snape didn't look like he'd last that long unless something gave sooner than that.
"At least let me help."
"If you want to be helpful, bring the green leather workbook from my desk and a cup of coffee. Black, and stronger than the piss you usually make." Harry wondered how anyone could turn asking for a cup of coffee into a personal remark. Snape pushed off his slippers by the heels and hauled himself under the covers. It looked like hard work, and he looked pretty miserable, trying to catch his breath again. Harry would have plumped pillows and made an effort at sympathy, for anybody else, but suspected that Snape would try to strangle him if he got anywhere near. "Today, Potter," Snape muttered and Harry said something rude under his breath, on his way to the door. Five minutes, that's how long he'd last as Snape's bloody apprentice. Maybe less, depending on how Snape phrased his first order.
Harry fetched the green workbook on his way to the kitchen. He found it on Snape's desk, under his quill and (Harry smirked) the box containing his shiny Order of Merlin medal. The book was tall, half an inch thick and well-used, and Harry valiantly resisted the urge to open it up and have a peek while he made coffee. Looking at the outside, he could remember Snape making notes in it as far back as fifth year. It had been on his desk during their Occlumency lessons and he'd written in it while supervising some of Harry's less traumatic Snape-detentions (by sixth year, he'd been busy enough with the Order that he hadn't bothered being creative with his punishments, any more). Harry had assumed that the book was just part of Snape's school routine, a punishment book or register or something, but guessed that he wouldn't have brought anything like that with him from Hogwarts.
To stop himself meddling with the book, Harry picked up Snape's empty potion bottle from the draining board, instead, and gave it a sniff. There was a faint scent of aniseed and almonds to it, mingled with the slightly rotten scent of stewed vegetable matter. Harry had no idea what it was supposed to be, but he couldn't imagine it did much for the taste of Snape's morning cuppa. Was it the potion that had made him ill, or was he taking it because he was ill? Vaguely noticing that it was time he ordered some more food and used a few serious cleaning spells around the kitchen, Harry poured hot coffee, left a warming charm on the pot for himself, and returned to Snape's bedroom.
He didn't have any hands free to knock, but he guessed that walking in unannounced, even when he was on Snape's errand, wouldn't put Snape in a better mood.
"Can I come in?" he called, and there was a reply that sounded suspiciously like Snape growling something obscene. He pushed the door with his heel and edged around it, very careful not to spill the coffee. Particularly over the book. Snape looked a lot better than he had in the kitchen, not blue, anyway, but Harry had the nasty feeling that a temper tantrum would bring on a relapse.
"Here." Harry put the book into Snape's waiting hands and carefully placed the cup on the rickety nightstand. "Coffee, black, not piss." Propped against a stack of pillows and looking nearly as white as the sheet that he was clutching to his chest, Snape give a thin-lipped nod. "Now will you tell me what's the matter with you?"
"You're concerned?" Snape scoffed, turning his face towards the opposite wall. A muscle twitched in his throat, and his hand, the one that was resting on his workbook, was quivering.
"Yeah, I am." It was worth putting up with a bit more of Snape's unpleasant attitude than usual, to make sure he kept breathing. "I've never seen you need help, before."
"As you said," Snape answered, unmoving, but looking suddenly stiff. "I am no longer your teacher." Not knowing what he meant, only that it reminded him of things that he'd do better not to think about just now, Harry kept quiet and had another quick glance around Snape's room, instead. The curtains still shimmered, and were still closed. There were papers on the chair beside the window. "You may use my name, if you want to."
"Pardon?" Harry had heard him perfectly, but his surprise answered for him. "I mean... yeah. That's better." He squirmed horribly at the thought of calling him *Severus*, but didn't think he could manage 'Snape', in normal conversation, without it sounding like the curse-word it had always been at school. "It's just not right. Professor, or sir, when we're..." This time, the words choked him with embarrassment and Harry wondered if he'd ever stop falling over himself. Maybe it was just in his blood; he'd have to ask Sirius. "Feels wrong." Which was stupid, really, because it was just a word, and what they were doing was... something else.
Snape grunted, still looking towards the window. It was like talking to a brick wall. No. Harry had, in fact, encountered brick walls that were more talkative than Snape, and ones he got on with better. He called on the memory of Snape being gentle with him, in bed, when he was terrified, to make himself keep being nice.
"Do you need anything else?"
"Your owl." Snape pulled in a slow breath and finally turned his head, and though his expression was faintly impatient, for once his bad mood didn't seem to be aimed at Harry. "If I may?"
Harry had meant to send Hedwig off to Ron with his exam news, or maybe with a shopping list so he didn't have to go into Glutts again, but he guessed that Snape wouldn't swallow his pride and ask nicely, unless it was pretty important.
"I'll bring her."
"You couldn't breathe," Harry tried, when he brought Snape a light lunch of soup and toast. "Is that going to happen again?"
"I would hope not." Snape let Harry put the tray on his lap, flipping his green notebook closed on the bed beside him, before Harry could see what he'd been reading. "Stop hovering over me like a bloody Grim, Potter. I'm not dying. You have a future, such as it is."
"That's not what I'm worried about!" Harry protested, but truthfully, he had wondered. He'd always had to depend on himself and he was used to that. Knowing that what happened to Snape would inevitably affect him, and that he couldn't necessarily do a thing about it, made him uneasy. He'd found it difficult to settle and do anything, though whether it was excitement about his results (he was looking forward to telling Sirius) or worry about what was happening to Snape, he couldn't say. He didn't fancy examining the squirmy feelings in too much detail. He only knew that his mind hadn't settled for more than a few seconds on anything, since he'd left Hedwig on Snape's bedpost, earlier.
"No," Harry said, firmly. He wanted to mention that he wouldn't let his worst enemy lie ill without any help, but he somehow didn't think that Snape would appreciate the sentiment, even if it had been a good long while since he counted as Harry's actual worst enemy. It was still there, between them, and always would be, no matter what either of them did now. "Is this my fault?"
Snape looked surprised. He stopped, in the middle of reaching for his spoon. Harry was just as surprised to find the core of his restless mood popping out like that, the question serious not sarcastic, but there it was. Was it because of *him* - because of the spell, or the sex, or the fight - that Snape looked like a ghost?
At least the ghost was hungry. Snape took a bite of toast and snorted, meaningfully.
"I know the world doesn't revolve around me," Harry sighed, anticipating the accusation easily and lifting his eyes to the ceiling, summoning all the patience he possessed. "That isn't what I mean, either. I mean, is there anything I can do to stop it, or stop it happening again?" Another one of his nagging worries surfaced, in the silence. "Is it because I didn't wake you up, this morning?"
Snape smiled around his toast. It wasn't a nice smile.
"How refreshing, to see you with a guilty conscience."
Harry bristled. Yeah, he had one of those. Ever since Cedric Diggory, he'd been lugging one around, hadn't he? Before that, even. His parents, Sirius... those parts of the world that *had* revolved around him, and paid a bitter price for it. He felt all that, he knew guilt backwards and Snape's words cut him far deeper than usual, because he was trying to *help*.
"You'd better be joking," he grated out. He wanted to storm out, close the door with a pointed snap and get away from Snape for a long time, but the darker, smarter part of him realised that Snape was probably hoping he'd do just that. He held his ground. "Answer my question."
"No," Snape said, picking up his spoon and placing it in the soup dish, but leaving it there and leaning back against his pillows. "It is not your fault and there is nothing you can do."
For some reason, that wasn't the answer Harry had been expecting, and Snape's weary tone took the wind out of his sails, rather. He was more used to Snape blaming him for things that weren't actually his fault, and overreacting badly to the things that were, but it seemed like he'd found a new sport, today, in making Harry actually guess what he'd done wrong. He felt like challenging Snape, trying to bait him into saying more, but he could hear a faint wheeze when Snape breathed, see renewed discomfort in his stiff posture, and he knew better.
"You saved my life," he said, instead. "Whatever you say, I owe you for that, and its in my best interests to make sure you're okay." A Slytherin ought to understand *that*, at least.
"Your point?" Snape asked, waving the tray away. Harry picked it up, mostly because Snape looked like he might heave if he looked at it again. While he was near, Harry took a good look at the sick man and at the papers and book that he'd left on the unoccupied side of the bed. He knew secrets, when he saw them. He'd learned to spot them a mile off, whether they concerned him or not.
"You did that much for me, you live here and you sleep with me, even though you can't stand it. I owe you. You might as well trust me. I'm good with secrets." Harry thought he could hear Sirius in his own voice, sometimes. Him and Dumbledore, and McGonagall, and Lupin, and Arthur and Molly Weasley. Little bits of wisdom he'd picked up from each of them, in his short years, going some way to making up for the fact that he didn't have much of his own.
Snape closed his eyes, put a hand to his slightly-straining chest, and didn't answer.
When Harry returned, later, with a mug of reheated soup and a glass of water, Snape was sleeping. He'd slipped down his pile of pillows and had his neck jammed at an awkward angle, and a pile of the layers he'd been wearing lay on the floor next to the bed. He was stripped to the waist, if not further, and still sweating a wide stain across the pillow. In fact, he was sweating buckets.
Frowning, Harry left the things he'd brought on the bedside table and bent over Snape. He didn't even have to touch to feel the damp heat coming off Snape's body, and his breathing was shallow and fast. At least he was pink instead of blue in the face, but neither was exactly his normal colour. Harry sat down, careful not to jolt the bed, and tried to peel back some of the heap of blankets, sheets and quilt. Snape woke up at the first touch and almost knocked Harry backwards off the bed, striking out.
"What the hell are you doing?!" he rasped, as Harry grabbed Snape's wrists to protect himself from the uncoordinated slapping. Snape's skin was burning, sticky with sweat, fever-flush over sickly yellow.
"You're too hot. Let me take these off you."
"No..." Snape's eyes looked a bit glazed, but Harry thought he still knew what he was saying. "Sweating is best." It didn't look very comfortable, but Harry nodded, reassured that Snape's mind was still working. "Sleep is best. Go away."
"I'm not leaving you like this." Harry was cautious about letting go of the older man's wrists, but when he did, Snape only drew them under the sheets and slid himself further down. Everything smelled of old sweat, almonds and rot, and the odor intensified when he moved. Harry wrinkled his nose, then recognised the smell in a rush of enlightenment. "You're trying to sweat out the potion!"
"Clever boy," Snape muttered, closing his eyes more tightly, as if he might be able to make Harry go away if he hid enough of himself. Harry pressed his knuckles to the exposed skin at the back of Snape's neck, instead, and winced at the unnatural heat. Snape twitched away from him, hissing through his teeth.
"I brought some water. That'll help, won't it?"
Snape mumbled something that Harry took to mean 'go away, Potter', then fell still. Either he'd fainted or he'd gone back to sleep and, Harry had to admit, he looked a lot happier that way. There was a nasty wheeze to his breathing, but after a while, Harry could hardly hear it over Snape's regular, restless snore. Remember how glad he'd been of Snape's cool distance, back at St Mungo's, Harry guessed that fussing and worrying wasn't going to be of any help to him. It sounded like Snape knew what he was doing and Harry couldn't imagine him making himself so uncomfortable, without a good reason. He just wished he knew the reason.
He decided that he would sit, and wait, and if he wasn't quite prepared to do as he was told and go away, he'd do the next best thing and try to mind his own business while he kept an eye on things.
It wasn't easy. Snape had fallen asleep with his green journal open at a solid chunk of writing, lists and diagrams. Harry was reminded of some of his own, more inspired seventh year research work and, as it didn't exactly look like the kind of light reading you fancied when you weren't well, he guessed it was relevant to Snape's potion and collapse. It was hard work, convincing himself not to reach out and pick up the book to find out. Harry distracted himself for a while by trying to place the ingredients he'd been able to smell in the mixture, then match them to one of the many potions he'd memorised and instantly forgotten about, over the years. Nothing came to mind, let alone anything that you had to take stupidly early every morning, or that could leave you in the sort of state that Snape was in, now. But Snape took the same potion every day, didn't he? Every day since they'd been living at the house, at least. He'd looked off-colour a few times, both before and during their time here, but who hadn't?
Harry's curiosity was half killing him, by the time Snape made another movement, but he'd kept reminding himself that any progress he'd made in getting along peacefully with Snape would be undone in seconds, if he picked up that book. He had to remind himself about the very nasty incident with Dumbledore's Pensieve, to stay convinced. He found that his teeth were aching from being clenched too tightly for too long, when Snape turned over and peered at him through a sheet of damp hair, struggling to get his left arm out from under the blankets.
"What time is it?"
Harry looked around for a clock, but Snape didn't have one.
"Not sure. Late afternoon. Teatime, maybe."
"And you've just been sitting there, watching me sweat like a pig, have you?"
Well, that sounded like Snape was feeling better.
"I thought you might need something." Harry wondered just how long he *had* been sitting there. "D'you want that water, now?"
It took Snape a while to get himself turned over and sitting up, and his movements were weak and unsteady, but Harry couldn't hear a catch in his breathing, any more, and the burning pink had faded somewhat from his cheeks. He held the inner sheet modestly up to his chest with his right arm, and let Harry press the glass of water into his left hand. He drank like he'd spent a week in a desert, water dribbling down his unshaven chin. Harry just hoped he wouldn't make himself sick, but decided it would be riskier to nag him about slowing down.
When he took the glass back, he noticed Snape scratching at a patch of raised bumps below his collarbone; they looked red and sore and ugly, and Snape's nails left the tops of the bumps raw or bleeding.
"Whatever you've got, it'd better not be catching," Harry said, wondering why he hadn't considered that possibility to begin with. Wizards had some very weird, not to mention very nasty and embarrassing, diseases going around. "You had a bad reaction to the potion, right?"
Snape pulled the sheet up higher, then noticed the state it was in and dropped it with a wince of disgust. As he was pushing it as far away as modesty would allow, he noticed the open book beside him, and turned a hostile and all-too-lucid stare on Harry.
"You-" Fortunately, he seemed to think better of what he'd been about to say. Harry knew that righteous indignation on his part would have been a bit rich, given their past, but he'd had just as much experience of being falsely accused.
"I guessed. I wanted to read it, but I didn't."
"How virtuous." It came with a sneer, but Snape still sounded like his heart wasn't really in it. "Perhaps you're growing up at last, Potter."
Harry thought that *was* rich, coming from him, but he didn't say so. He returned a sarcastic smile, noticing another patch of bumps coming up on the other side of Snape's collarbone, and hoping that he had them in some *really* uncomfortable places.
"So what's the potion? You take it every day, why did it do this, today?"
Snape's reluctant frown gave way to resignation which, in Harry's opinion, didn't suit him at all.
"It... was incorrectly prepared." Snape sat up a little straighter, trying to hang on to whatever dignity a pile of smelly covers in his lap could afford him.
"You don't make mistakes," Harry said, genuinely surprised. Then he remembered Snape's association with the Death Eaters, and qualified that. "Not with potions."
"No, I don't." Snape would never be accused of false modesty, any more than Harry was in the habit of complimenting his work. "I was forced to choose inferior ingredients. Clearly, the variation had unwanted side effects." He looked tired and resentful, and Harry realised that Snape wasn't just being stubborn; he was embarrassed and disappointed and worried, and it was all plain to see, once he stopped pushing against Snape's resistance, and stopped to *look* for a second. He was prying. He was unwelcome, and his being there to see all this was making Snape painfully uncomfortable.
Harry wondered what Sirius would say, to smooth things over. Then he decided that what Sirius might say to Snape, in any given situation, wouldn't be a lot of help, and he wondered what Dumbledore would say, instead. He got up, his leg tingling from being tucked underneath the rest of him for hours.
"Shout if you need anything," he said. Then, much more quietly, "I hope you'll trust me, with whatever it is." Snape stared at him, bleak and still resentful, and Harry searched for something to add that sounded right, and real, and honest. "I promise, I didn't read your book." Snape nodded, once, then became deeply fascinated with scratching a new patch of bumps on the inside of his left wrist, and Harry left him to it. He wondered why he felt like he'd done something wrong, again, when he'd been trying so hard to do everything right.
Sirius congratulated him enthusiastically on his exam results, his beaming face filling the mirror. Harry hadn't seen him look that happy in a very long time and it was infectious to see him grinning like he hadn't a care in the world. It was a conversation he'd waited a long time to have - the closest thing he had to a parent, showering him with approval and praising him for his success - so he couldn't do anything other than enjoy it. But Sirius had known him long enough to notice that there were things spoiling his triumph and, after studying his face in proud silence for a moment, he inevitably asked what was wrong.
"Nothing. I'm okay," Harry assured him, polishing a speck off the mirror. He liked talking this way; it was a whole lot more comfortable than sticking your head in a fire and, as far as he knew, the mirrors were still their secret.
"Is Snape treating you right?" Sirius' eyes narrowed a little, but he didn't have that creepy ability to look through people, the way Snape and Lupin seemed to. He just looked suspicious and worried.
"Yeah," Harry told him, truthfully, and went back to talking about his exam results and wondering how his friends had done. Sirius went along with him, though it took a while for his worried frown to fade again.
He did want to tell Sirius more, to include him the way he liked to be included and to ask his advice, but he'd learned that Snape had secrets and, even if he didn't know quite what they were, he'd boasted about being able to keep them. Snape wouldn't thank him for telling Sirius anything that made him look weak and Sirius, even now that he felt he was in Snape's debt, probably wouldn't hesitate to use it against him. On the whole, Harry felt a lot more grown up than the grown-ups, these days, which led him to wonder if there was actually any such thing.
"Oh, Harry," Sirius called, as they made to say goodbye. Harry raised his mirror, again. "There's a surprise on its way. See you soon." Sirius winked, and the mirror went blank.
The news didn't worry Harry too much. If there'd been a Weasley behind the surprise, or Hagrid, he might have been on his guard, but Sirius' comment just left him curious and slightly excited. Sirius' surprises were usually safe and very generous, from the Firebolt he'd sent, anonymously, back when Harry was thirteen to the house he'd casually given over, a few weeks ago.
Harry had just delivered a supper tray to Snape when the doorbell rang. Snape, who had sorted himself out with fresh nightclothes and some cleaning spells and looked ever so slightly better than before, if you didn't count the itchy rash, scowled over his buttered teacakes and tea.
"That will no doubt be Black, come to bolster your ego with congratulations."
"I don't think so," Harry grinned, and hurried downstairs to answer the door.
He had no idea what he'd really been expecting; a new broomstick (though Sirius knew how attached he was to the old one) or something showy and silly like a fairygram (which didn't seem quite Sirius, somehow), or perhaps a simple keepsake (though that didn't seem like him, either). So he was truly unprepared and fairly buzzing with anticipation, when he tugged open the front door and found Hermione Granger there, waiting to hug him half to death.
Chapter 13: Pillow Talk
It wasn't anything remotely like a surprise that Hermione had got herself five Outstanding marks. She'd worked for it from before she set foot at Hogwarts, she'd earned it, and that was all there was to it, as far as Harry was concerned. His own mixed bag of pass marks seemed poor, by comparison, but he showed her his letter, gracefully. If it wasn't for Hermione, her notes and her nagging, he would've been looking at a pile of fail marks instead. If anyone in their year had managed to beat Hermione's results, it would only be by being mad enough to take more subjects, and also completely missing the fact that there'd been a war to worry about.
"And Mrs Weasley says that Ron's been accepted into the full Auror recruitment scheme, without even another interview; his marks must've been really good, too." Hermione was practically floating with happiness and Harry found it almost as infectious as Sirius' grin, but when the greetings and congratulations were over, he caught her looking around the hall, trying to look as if she wasn't.
"Big, isn't it?" Harry said, feeling very sheepish, and beckoned her towards the drawing room. The dining room still looked silly, with a big table and a set of chairs, and nothing else in it, but he thought the drawing room looked cosy, even if it was still pretty bare. "Sirius just *gave* it to me."
"Lucky you," Hermione said, cheerfully. She seemed to like the look of the drawing room, too; she went straight towards the sofa and sat down, dropping her coat over the back and her handbag on the ground. Harry felt ridiculously pleased that his friend was making herself at home. He chose the armchair nearest to her, for himself. "I've been looking for somewhere, myself, but it's so hard to decide. I've applied for a job at the Ministry, so I think I'd rather live in London, but you have to be so much more careful with magic, in a Muggle area." Harry found that he was more than content to sit and listen to anything she had to tell him. It was wonderful to see her, to hear her voice and be treated, well, like she'd always treated him. Not a freak, not an invalid, and usually not an idiot. Just Harry. "Mr Weasley's working to create a whole new department devoted to Muggle Relations and Policy and he thought I might like to start there, as I've got insider knowledge, but the Bureau for the Relocation of Freed House Elves..."
Harry drew his knees up to his chest and listened, happily, asking the polite questions and letting her ramble, until Hermione had to stop for air, several minutes later. It was a relief to have a conversation that didn't feel like a duel, and to let it slip into silence that didn't feel like it needed filling.
"You're allowed to ask, you know," he said, when Hermione, fussing with her handbag, let slip a worried little look at him. There were enough things he wanted to ask her, so it was only fair. "About Snape."
"He's here?" Hermione's expression was much the same as any Hogwarts student's would have been, at that, and her voice dropped nearly to a whisper. Harry nodded. Reluctant to explain why Snape was in bed before nightfall, he left it at that. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Harry shrugged. "You don't have to whisper. He's upstairs, and he can't take points from Gryffindor, any more." Harry wondered, belatedly, how Snape was coping, without the ability to penalise anyone who annoyed him by taking House points.
"Yes, that's right," Hermione said, sitting forward eagerly. "I heard he was sacked! What happened?"
"I dunno," Harry admitted, hoping very much that Hermione hadn't come looking for answers to questions like that. He'd done a pretty bad job of keeping up with anything that had been going on, outside his own house, and Hermione's question only went to show that he wasn't keeping up with Snape, either. "Who told you he was sacked?"
"Ginny." Hermione glanced around again. Harry couldn't blame her for being nervous, even if she could handle Snape on her own terms, now. It wasn't pleasant, getting on his bad side. "I think she knows something from Mr Weasley, but she didn't say what. I suppose she has to be careful, since she's back there next year." Her eyes were big and bright and she looked so eager for information that Harry did his best to keep up his own end of the conversation, even though she seemed to know more than he did.
"I just saw the bit in the *Daily Prophet*, about him resigning. I don't know what happened."
Hermione seemed a bit disappointed, but she just gave an 'oh well' sort of sigh and put her handbag on the floor again. She shuffled to the end of the sofa nearest Harry's chair.
"What about you? *Impertio*? That's incredible. It hardly ever works and it's never predictable, and..." She caught her breath, obviously noticing that she was babbling. Harry could practically see her trying to get the right tone of voice, but he didn't care if she sounded like a know-it-all; she was his friend, and she hadn't changed when everything else did, and he was more grateful for that than he knew how to tell her.
"I'm all right. I think I'm better. I felt bad all the time, at first. Tired and sick and... horrible. Now it's better." Something Lupin had said came back to him. "The spell's getting stronger, I suppose, or more stable. I don't think I'll have to stay near him forever." Hermione answered with an encouraging little smile, and Harry felt like squirming. He hadn't said anything about having to sleep with Snape, in his letters, but Hermione was bound to have reached for the books, straight away. He was fighting the urge to get up and pace around, knowing that he should be grown-up enough, by now, to look his best friend in the eye and talk about things like that. He was looking for something else to talk about, when Hermione leaned across and put her hand on his knee.
"He must really have meant it, Harry."
Hermione didn't elaborate, and Harry wasn't sure he wanted to know what she meant. Sirius had said that intent mattered, but who could tell what Snape was thinking when he did anything? The thought gave him goosebumps and he changed the subject, not even caring that he was being obvious.
"Sirius said you were a surprise. Well, you are. I can get the spare room ready, if you want to stay..."
"No, it's all right," Hermione broke in, before he could jump up and start doing just that, whether she planned to stay or not. "I've got an interview in the morning, I can't stay. I just wanted... well, I thought Sirius wouldn't be able to turn me away on results day. He's a big softie, really, isn't he? And I've been worried about you, hidden away here. We all have."
"I haven't heard much from Ron," Harry said, trying to sound casual about it. He knew that Ron was busy, that there was nothing else to it. "I... uh... I don't know if it's rude to ask this." He'd wanted to ask Ron, who'd just tell him, but it didn't sound like he'd get a chance, any time soon. Hermione's shrug looked vaguely encouraging. "How's it going? You know, with you two? You and Ron?"
Hermione's blush could've lit up the room. Harry hadn't seen her that flustered in a very long time, but he wasn't sorry he'd asked. He was finding that he liked it, when Hermione did anything that reminded him of happier times.
"Oh. I thought... oh dear." Wringing her hands, looking over Harry's shoulder and out of the window, Hermione straightened up. "It was a bit silly of us, really. Not telling you, I mean. We knew that you knew, of course, but... well, nothing really came of it. By the time there was anything to tell you, there was ... nothing to tell you."
It took Harry several moments to make his way through her answer and work out what she'd said.
"You stopped going out?"
"Yes." Hermione sounded relieved, for once, that he was able to do his 'boy thing', as she called it, and simplify something difficult. "Before school ended, really."
"Ron really likes you." Harry wasn't sure why he had to go and say that. It just seemed important to support Ron's side of things, even if he didn't know exactly what that was.
"I know." Hermione looked at him, properly, hesitating and looking very serious and sad. "Don't ever sleep with your best friend, Harry."
Since he was looking at one of his best friends and had not the remotest chance of ever getting anywhere with the other, unless he wanted his balls hexed off, Harry doubted he'd ever need the advice. But he appreciated it, anyway.
"Experience is the best teacher?" he teased, gently, because he was slightly worried that Hermione might cry, and Hermione's sad smile turned into a shared laugh. He'd lost count of how many times she'd said that to him, about NEWT work. "At least with your best friend you wouldn't feel like a complete useless idiot." A stammer crept into his joking remark, and he swore mentally. He'd turned a happy reunion into a minefield of awkward moments, by bringing Ron into it; the last thing he needed was to bring his own messy stuff into it, as well.
"Maybe it's not good to be too comfortable," Hermione said, retreating back to an upright posture on the sofa, and to the matter-of-fact tone that had pulled both Harry and Ron through crushes, first kisses, failed dates and a couple of horrible lessons on female anatomy from McGonagall and Snape. "Snape's honour-bound to treat you properly. I'm guessing that he has." Harry nodded. He didn't think Snape had done anything to twist the knife. Not *that* way. "Don't be ashamed. It's only magic."
Harry found a smile, but it was a slightly twisted one. Wasn't that what Snape had said, in his own way, and Lupin too? He wasn't *ashamed*, not of touching or being touched that way, or even liking it. That didn't change the fact that he felt like a fool, stammering his requests and fumbling around without a clue what he was supposed to do or like or, worse, *not* do. Whatever Hermione said, he thought it would be better to find that out with your best friend than with your worst enemy. Wouldn't it?
"Well, at least it's better than Potions," he told her, trying to make a joke of it, but from the look on her face, Harry guessed that he'd just revealed more than Hermione really wanted to know. Even teasing her felt nice. Much to his relief, she seemed to feel the same way. Her smile had come back, anyway.
"Sirius sounded very calm about everything," she said, when Harry had fetched her a coffee. It was the strong stuff he'd made for Snape, the stuff he'd kept warm and forgotten about, and he was sure he saw Hermione wince when she sipped it. Harry tried his own, cautiously, as he returned to his chair, but found that he liked the heavy, smoky taste. "I never thought I'd see them agree on anything."
Remembering the fight that Sirius and Snape had had in the kitchen, not so long ago, Harry pulled a face into his coffee cup. But he didn't mention it, in case Hermione asked what the fight had been about. He might not be ashamed, but he definitely didn't want to talk about what had happened, with Snape, that first time. Or how he felt about it. Hermione liked to talk about feelings. Harry was perfectly happy to listen to her talk about them, as long as she didn't expect much input from his side. Usually, she didn't.
"It's silly," Hermione said, putting her mug down on the floor. She'd hardly touched the coffee, while Harry had almost finished his own. "I was actually scared of seeing him, when I came." She gave an exaggerated shudder, watching his reaction rather nervously. "He always makes me feel like..."
"A silly little kid handing in your homework late?" Harry supplied, when she dried up. Hermione nodded. "Yeah. But we're not, any more. I'm a fully qualified wizard and you're a fully qualified witch. Here's to us." And Harry toasted her with his coffee cup. Hermione beamed in full agreement, but rather pointedly ignored her coffee. "I don't think you'll see him today. I don't see much of him either, to be honest." He'd been about to tell her about Snape's offer, but something froze his tongue. It alarmed him that there were still things he was reluctant to tell his best friend. He'd expected to leave that sort of secret behind with Voldemort, along with an awful lot of other things that, he was beginning to realise, actually travelled with him wherever he went.
"Oh, I'm sorry this is such a short visit," Hermione sighed, after a glance at her watch. "I *promise* I'll see you again soon." She got up and Harry, feeling a horrible wrench when he realised she was leaving, did likewise. Before he could say anything, she had her arms around him again, though at least not around his neck like before. Harry squeezed her back. She'd always had an annoying habit of hugging him in front of Ron, or in public, and it was a lot easier to find somewhere innocent to put his hands, and to enjoy it, when he wasn't turning crimson for the benefit of smirking onlookers. "I'll come back as soon as I can. Can I use your Floo?"
"Yeah, of course." Harry let go of her, wondering whether the Floo powder in the goblet on the mantelpiece was the stuff he'd bought in Diagon Alley, or some of Snape's good stuff. "Good luck with your interview." Hermione nodded. It was very reassuring that she looked as if she'd rather stay, in spite of Snape and the bad coffee. "I'm glad you came, Hermione." It came out sounding a bit wistful, and Hermione looked even more unhappy. "Go on. I'm not going anywhere. Unless the Chudley Cannons call me up as their new star Seeker, that is. Then you won't see me for dust." His grin was weak but Hermione laughed, picked up her coat, and kissed him on the cheek before she reached for the Floo powder. Without anyone watching, he found he quite liked that, too.
In the couple of hours since he'd last seen Snape, the rash had spread in all directions; it had gone across his chin and forehead and nose, and Harry felt itchy just looking at it. Snape had tied his hair at the nape of his neck. He looked peaky and miserable, and like he wouldn't mind cursing something.
"Did I hear Granger's monotonous babble?" Snape demanded, as Harry bent over him to collect the supper tray.
"Hermione was here, yeah," Harry answered, amazed at his own calm. Some of the nastier battles between them had been precipitated by Snape saying something foul about Hermione. "She's gone now."
Snape muttered about small mercies as Harry cleared the accumulation of cups and glasses from the bedside table onto the tray. He also, Harry couldn't help noticing, started scratching the side of his neck, then caught himself doing it and glared at his own hand.
"I've got something that'll help." Mrs Weasley would be horrified, but Harry had a small stock of Muggle medicines in his school trunk; he hardly needed them, now that he was free of the Dursleys and able to do as much magic as he liked, but they'd come in handy while the D.A. was operating without, strictly speaking, the approval of either Dumbledore or the Order. "If you'll let me. Or would you rather itch?"
"I can't take potions for this, you fool," Snape growled. He grabbed the sheet with both hands, presumably to keep the hands from mischief, and Harry saw that the insides of his wrists were bloody.
"Not a potion. I'm not stupid. Wait there." Although his concern was genuine, Harry found that his patience was beginning to wear thin. He dumped the tray by the door on his way out. It wasn't Snape's fault that Hermione had had to leave so soon, but it was a shock to the system to go from laughter and mad hugs to being called a fool and treated like something Snape had stepped in. Harry counted to ten on his way to his bedroom, and had nearly got to fifty by the time he pulled his first aid box from his trunk. It had been Hermione's idea, he remembered; like the coins that told them when to meet... like having the D.A. in the first place. Hermione was usually right, but he had to wonder about what she'd said, about Snape being honour bound to treat him properly. Did that mean that something was stopping the man being even more unpleasant to Harry? It didn't bear thinking about.
Snape regarded the cardboard box with great suspicion, but either he was curious, or desperate, because he didn't say anything when Harry put it on the bed and sat down to rummage under the bandages, slings and bottles of paracetamol. Harry remembered, seconds after seeing the packet, that he'd also hidden a box of condoms away in there, in a fit of optimism that had come over him, back in the Christmas holidays of his sixth year at Hogwarts. If Snape noticed, or knew what the packet contained, he didn't react, but Harry shoved them quickly to the bottom of the box and stuffed bandages on top.
"Here. Calamine lotion. Muggle magic." He offered the bottle of pink stuff to Snape for inspection. "That won't do you any harm, will it?" Snape turned the bottle over and scrutinised the back, frowning. Harry didn't doubt that he was trying to find fault with the idea. "You put it on your skin, not drink it," Harry advised, hastily, when Snape unscrewed the lid and moved the bottle towards his face. Snape stopped, mid-sniff, and gave him one of the scathing looks that Hermione had been so nervous of encountering. "I don't know how much you know about Muggle stuff!" Harry protested, dropping the box on the other side of Snape's legs, out of the way. "I don't know anything about you!" He pulled out some cotton wool pads. "Most wizards think Muggles are something out of a story book; even the ones who're really interested, like Ron's dad, don't have much of an idea..."
"Yes, all right." Snape held out his hand for the cotton wool. "It seems harmless," he added, grudgingly.
"It's better than that." Harry took the bottle back from him, remembering how glad he'd been to have the stuff, when Dudley's gang wrestled him into a nettle patch, that summer... "It's easier if I do your back. Take your shirt off." Except, Harry realised, it wasn't a shirt that Snape was wearing, but that calf-length nightshirt of his, and taking it off presented more of a problem. Snape seemed to think so, too; his hand closed over the open collar and he lowered his eyes. "I'll turn my back, if you want," Harry said, and he stood up to do just that. He wandered over to the window for a closer look at Snape's magic curtains. "Not like I haven't seen you, already, though." He hadn't thought very much about what he'd seen; Snape had come to him in bed wrapped up like a mummy, and touching wasn't seeing. Harry felt his tongue get dry and try to stick to the roof of his mouth, the way it always seemed to when he thought about how Snape's body felt. He hadn't exactly done much touching, had he? Not with his hands, anyway. And his one glimpse of Snape's prick had been fairly intimidating, and weird; maybe it was better not to look...
"You can turn around." Snape sounded like he'd been forced to announce a hundred points for Gryffindor. Harry turned, clutching his bottle and the bag of cotton wool pads, and feeling pretty stupid.
"God," Harry said, and tried desperately not to laugh as he went closer.
Snape was *covered* in the angry-looking raised bumps; arms, chest, shoulders - every part of him that Harry could see, above the bedclothes, was alive with the things. There were lots of bits that looked well-scratched and painful, too.
"I'm so glad that you're amused," Snape said, dangerously quiet. "Get on with it." And he pushed the pillow out from behind him and, grasping the sheets firmly around his waist, turned to present his back to Harry.
"Sorry." Harry said, and he was. He remembered how miserable he'd been, after the nettle incident, and Snape's rash looked an awful lot worse than nettle sting. He shook the bottle, hard, and grabbed a couple of the pads. "It's pretty impressive, that's all. What did this?"
Snape's shoulders stiffened and he sighed through his nose, but as Harry made a first tentative dab at his back, he answered.
"I've been attempting to substitute various herbs in place of the active ingredients. It's a potion I've been taking since childhood." Harry carried on dabbing the chalky stuff on Snape's skin, moving his bundled hair out of the way to do the back of his neck. "I suppose this is something you need to know, in case there are any further incidents, but break my confidence, Potter, and so help me..."
"I won't. I never have." And that much was true. He'd found things out, one way or another, that Snape hated for him to know, and while he could have been making himself popular by spreading them around Gryffindor tower, he'd kept them to himself. Snape had to know that. "Are you ill? Is that why you need it?"
"No questions," Snape said, pulling the sheet up a bit higher. "My father married my mother, having been led to believe certain things about her that were not true. It was a poor match." Harry recalled a glimpse of a man, ugly with hate, and a sobbing, cringing woman. He nodded, even though Snape couldn't see him. "My mother's family arranged the marriage and, somehow, convinced my father, by implication, that my mother possessed the power of dream prophecy. It does run in the family. When neither she nor I showed any of the required talent, my father took matters into his own hands. I was given a potion, based on the crushed shells of Runespoor eggs. It was supposed to enhance any latent ability and assist in training the mind. Unfortunately, I have no more of the gift than my mother."
"But you did train your mind." Harry remembered that he wasn't supposed to ask questions and was glad that he hadn't quite asked one. He'd almost finished Snape's back, and pushed the sheet down to reach the rest. Snape held his breath for a few seconds, but let it out again when Harry went back to applying the lotion.
"There were ambitious plans for me, before I was even conceived." Harry couldn't really tell, but he thought that Snape sounded amused. "I was a bitter disappointment. Years of tutoring and discipline could not turn me into the powerful tool my father sought. Obviously. But I did learn a great deal. I grew up with this potion, Potter," Snape said, quietly. "Without it I would not know myself. My magic and knowledge are bound up with the benefits of the potion and without it I would become nothing." He'd gone stiff under Harry's hands, again, and this time it didn't ease off. Having run out of room for more white splotches on Snape's back, Harry cautiously tried his left arm.
"That's why you're so good at Occlumency and Legilimency," Harry said, when he'd reached Snape's elbow without him saying anything. "You get the extra focus from your potion."
Snape didn't answer, but he did take his left hand away from the sheet and allow Harry to carry on towards his wrist. "Is it helping?"
"This stuff. Is it helping?"
"Yes." Snape sounded thrown by the change of topic, impatient. "I've been diluting the potion, progressively, for a number of years. Slowly, without much noticeable effect. When the Dark Lord returned to full strength, I made the decision to return to the full dose. A great deal depended on my ability to conceal my intentions, to resist the Imperius Curse... to *think* clearly."
"So why are you messing with the ingredients, now? If gradually diluting it was okay before..."
Snape pulled his wrist from Harry's grasp, looking at his lumpy, white-stained skin.
"The ingredients are rare and valuable."
Harry was thinking about having a go at Snape's right arm, and wondering what Runespoors being rare had to do with anything, when Snape's meaning struck him.
"You can't afford it, because you lost your job. Because you're here with me..."
"That's enough. I can reach the rest." Snape turned and pushed him away, taking the bottle and almost slopping the calamine over the bed, because he was looking anywhere but at Harry and couldn't see exactly what he was doing. He didn't even seem to care that his sheet had slipped. "Leave me alone, Potter."
For once, Harry quietly did as he was told.
Chapter 14: Reflections
It seemed strange to Harry that the former Head of Slytherin House had been relying on a teacher's wages. He'd assumed, without even giving it thought, that anyone in Snape's position had to be as well off and well connected as Sirius' family had been, or the Malfoys, and that Snape's habitual austerity was a character flaw, not a sign of strained funding. Harry was used to feeling guilty when he found out that he was better off than other people, but it usually only applied to people he cared about. He'd often wished he could give the Weasleys half of everything in his vault, but as he got older, he'd seen what Ron had never been able to; the Weasley family always managed. There was never anything spare, but never anything hoarded either; it was honest in a way that Harry admired. They were happy while Harry, with his pile of gold from dead parents he couldn't remember, would have given anything to have the kind of riches that belonged to Ron, instead.
He wondered, again, why Snape had left Hogwarts. Was Hermione right about him being forced to resign, being sacked? Harry had been dismayed, for his own selfish reasons, to learn that Snape wouldn't be returning to Hogwarts at the end of the summer. He hadn't given Snape's side of it a moment's thought. He'd guessed that Dumbledore had Snape teaching at Hogwarts for his own reasons, since he was a dreadful teacher. It hadn't occurred to him that, perhaps, Snape worked there because he needed the job.
Harry was starting to get tired of feeling guilty. Being taken into Snape's confidence made him feel edgy and changed, rather as he'd felt after Dumbledore explained to him about Neville's parents. Wandering towards his bedroom, at a loss, Harry realised that he still hadn't sent Neville that plant, and that he'd had no reply to his owl, either. Perhaps that was why he felt guilty? Sometimes, Harry knew he wasn't a very good friend. He wasn't Snape's friend, though, so that didn't explain the squirmy knot of anxiety that sat in his stomach, now. Sighing, trying to release some of the unpleasant, burdened feeling, Harry diverted to the bathroom. He realised that he hadn't seen a mirror, lately, and that he had no idea what Hermione had seen when he opened the door. Fortunately, his hair, although getting far too long for his liking, was behaving much as it ever did. His face, although still a bit pale, didn't look so ghostlike as when he'd last studied his reflection. He was getting better and, if he was completely honest, he couldn't say that he was as unhappy as he'd expected to be with the situation. Confused, definitely. At times resentful and afraid, but not unhappy. Snape could easily have made him miserable with every breath - deliberately, rather than just being an uptight git - and Harry supposed he ought to be thankful that Hermione was right. Snape would treat him properly, even if properly didn't mean being...
Not sure what, exactly, he would prefer Snape to be, Harry turned his back to the mirror and started to run himself a bath.
It had been an eventful day and, looking back, it seemed to have been endless. Harry felt tired, but it was an ordinary kind of tired and it beckoned him towards a comfortable, lazy soak in the bath and an early night. He scrunched himself down in the water, so that only his knees and head were sticking out, and just reached out occasionally for his wand, to reheat the water. He'd wondered if he might be able to do the warming spell without his wand, but the danger of overdoing it put him off. He didn't think Snape would be too sympathetic if he scalded himself to death, after Snape had been to all that trouble keeping him alive thus far. Harry realised that he didn't even know what casting *Impertio* involved, exactly. More than just waving your wand and saying the word, that was for sure. Both their wands had been lost and, though his memories of the first days were hazy, he was sure that Snape had been in St Mungo's afterwards, too. The discomfort came back, then, the twisted knot feeling in the pit of his stomach, and this time it wasn't just guilt. He could remember Snape standing over him in the dark ward, touching him with great care. And he could feel other memories, just beyond his reach. Pain, but something else. Power, but more than that. He squeezed his eyes shut, as tightly as he could, but it wouldn't come. Harry took a deep breath and slid down until his head was underwater. He'd felt like he was drowning, at first, after he woke up in the hospital. He'd felt life being pulled slowly away from him. Snape's presence and touch had stopped the feeling. He tried to reach back, earlier, to the cursefight and the bleeding and the moment when *it* had happened, but still, nothing came.
He surfaced, slowly, before he really started drowning, and lay with the water lapping his chin, scowling until his forehead ached. He rubbed at the pain, irritated with himself for getting in a state instead of enjoying his bath. He deserved to relax a bit, after the day he'd just had. Far better things he could be doing, in the bath, than groping for memories that obviously weren't there. Just for once, he had to encourage his cock to a state of arousal; normally, the sound of running bath water was more than enough to set him off. All through Hogwarts, and for a lot of the time at Privet Drive, sitting in the bath was the only real privacy he'd had, so he'd learned to make the most of it. It was habit, and it usually grounded him nicely, left him comfortable and ready to sleep. Suddenly, though, his body seemed to know that there were better options. When he'd finally got himself hard enough to be really interested, he felt the lack of something in his own touch. It felt more like a chore than a reward, and he wanted it to be somebody else's hands. The only fantasies he could find were memories, of Snape; of a kiss that hadn't quite happened, and the unfamiliar pressure of a lean body between his thighs. When he came, after too long trying, it felt empty and left him aching inside.
Harry woke up well after half past six, the next morning. He remembered his promise to get Snape up in time for his potion and got up in a guilty rush. When he put his head around Snape's bedroom door, however, he heard some very unpleasant noises coming from the bathroom and decided that Snape was well awake, and not too pleased about it. He wondered if Snape had taken his potion again and, if so, whether he'd been desperate enough to take the same batch as yesterday. He hadn't said that he *needed* the potion, Harry thought, making his way downstairs. He'd said he didn't fancy being without it, but that wasn't the same thing. And why else had he said anything, if he didn't want Harry to help him get what he needed for the real thing?
Bewildered by his own sense of responsibility for Snape, Harry peeked around the door of the study. He couldn't see anything fresh brewing, or any empty bottles that looked like they'd held something nasty and green. Maybe Snape was worse because he *hadn't* taken anything. Harry wasn't sure which option to be more worried about, but he decided he'd give Snape a bit of privacy. It was definitely the wrong time to be asking difficult questions. He'd go up later with a glass of water and a bit of dry toast, cut up into appetising little quarters, and offer to buy whatever it was that Snape needed. And if Snape tore into him for that, then... Harry didn't know what then. Hoped he didn't have to think of an alternative, and that Snape would be back to his old self, soon. Harry had never *liked* the old Snape, just learned to work around him, but the shaking, tired, unhappy man he'd spoken with last night just frightened him. The old Snape had never done that... well, not until he'd been face down and helpless on the bed, not sure what was going to happen. But Harry wasn't sure *that* had been the old Snape, either. When it came to Snape, he wasn't sure about anything, any more.
Ten o'clock came and went without any sign of Snape. Harry had picked at his own breakfast and written out an order for Glutts. Remembering Miss Glutt's stern instructions, Harry sucked the end of his quill, wondering what would happen if he put 'Runespoor eggs, fertile'. They might sell food, but Harry had guessed that it wasn't limited to human stuff. The temptation was short lived. He didn't even know if he had enough money in his Gringotts account to cover an order for rare magical substances, and he couldn't afford to get barred from Glutts, either for non payment, or being flippant on the order form. He ordered ordinary, plain stuff that Snape might feel like eating, and then he set about making him up a tray for breakfast.
It was a foolish wizard who didn't keep chocolate in his pockets, Lupin had said, once. It might not have been the most practical advice Harry had ever received, but he'd never been sorry to find a chocolate frog or a Honeydukes bar in his pockets, whether because he was peckish or because he'd just faced down a Dementor. He had a box of Honeydukes' best, right on top of his Muggle first aid kit, because it had been one of the DA's few rules that everyone go into battle carrying a bar. It had made him a pretty popular leader. Harry fetched one on his way to deliver Snape's tray, but slipped it into his robe pocket rather than leaving it in plain sight. He wasn't sure Snape would appreciate the gesture, but the fact was, there weren't too many magical maladies that could be made worse by good chocolate. Harry hoped that poisoning yourself was one of the ones that responded well to chocolate therapy.
"Keep that food away from me." Snape's voice stopped him dead in the doorway. It was the same tone of voice he'd used when he found Harry snooping in the Pensieve, so Harry took it seriously. He put the tray down outside the door, but carried the glass of water inside. It wasn't food. Even Snape had to drink. He was sitting by the window, on a tall, spindly-looking stool, staring out through a small gap in the curtains. His hair was tied back, but escaping in every direction. He looked wrecked, clammy and exhausted, and his bumps had turned into raw red patches, instead. Harry decided that he probably didn't want the chocolate, just now. It looked like he'd dragged the stool over there to be nearer the toilet. "Let me rest, Potter."
"You're welcome," Harry said, under his breath, putting the glass down on the bedside table. The sheets, blankets and pillows were all over the place. Looked as if he'd had a bad night. "Did you take it again?"
"No. I can take nothing until I'm recovered."
"This is still from yesterday, then?"
"Yes." Snape let the curtain fall closed, but didn't move. Unable to see his face properly, Harry risked going closer. He'd learned that most of what was going on, with Snape, happened in his eyes, and that you had to be quick and watchful to catch it.
"Tell me what you need. Give me a list. I'll bring it." Harry's own pride had hurt quite often, but he didn't think he'd ever had it as badly as Snape's did, at that moment. It was only there in his eyes for a moment, smarting pride, and then hot anger took over. "Why did you tell me, if you don't want my help?" Snape didn't look as if he'd stand up to much of a battle. It might be better for both of them, if he gave in just because he wanted a quiet life, if he could blame Harry for annoying him until he just agreed...
"Why would you help me?"
"What?" Snape had spoken so quietly that Harry had to strain to catch it. Snape's hands, bone white and trembling, were clenched against his thighs. "Because you're ill. Because..." Harry didn't know if he could find an answer good enough. Snape wouldn't fall for any of the things that were easiest to say, and just about everything else would set him off on a rant about Gryffindor nobility or something. Harry had the mad, rather desperate idea that there might be somebody worth getting to know, under all the snapping, if you just had the stomach and patience to keep the conversation going for long enough to find him. "It's rude to answer a question with a question," he said, finally, and Snape bristled and glared. It wasn't very effective, in his nightshirt and with his hair like a haystack. "I'm offering to help you. You helped me and it cost you a lot more than gold. It's fair." Harry couldn't tell if Snape was even really listening. To his dismay, his patient, reasonable voice rose with indignation. "What about when I need to have sex again? Look at you."
Snape sniggered. Harry swore he did, but it was covered so swiftly by his hand, and turned so neatly into a cough, that he wouldn't have dared swear it to anyone but himself. The cough went on for a while; it might have started fake, but it turned real enough. Harry fetched the glass of water and waited. Patiently.
"I've enough for a week at half strength," Snape said, when he'd got his breath back. He sounded hoarse, and took the water, but knocked Harry's steadying hand away so that some of it ended up down his nightshirt before he drank. He didn't seem to notice. "It's not just a question of ... of funds."
"Oh." Harry hadn't thought of that, past realising that Glutts probably couldn't supply him with Runespoor eggs, fertile or otherwise. They weren't illegal, but they were restricted. It was probably a lot easier for the Potions master at Hogwarts to get hold of things like that, than for the average wizard on the street.
Snape stood up, steadying himself carefully on the dresser and leaving his water glass on the window ledge.
"Can you manage a mild Burn Balm without supervision?"
"What?" Harry wished he'd stop saying that before his brain moved into gear. Snape's limited patience wasn't worth wasting on stupid questions, especially not when he was feeling ill. "Yeah, of course I can. But you said no potions..."
"I want to bathe in it, heavily diluted, not apply it neat. Your Muggle lotion soothes and draws but doesn't heal."
"Right." Harry was sure he could manage it. Unfortunately, he was also sure that he'd never hear the last of it, if he made a mistake, which always made him nervous. Minor healing potions were fourth year stuff and it hadn't been his own fault that he was so distracted, for most of that year. "Do you have the--"
"It's all there. Sage grows in the garden, near the Heart Vine."
"Right," Harry said, again. The conversation had taken a distracting turn, and he didn't think he could get it back to the subject of Snape's poverty and need without really pissing him off. "I can't believe you're letting me loose in your secret laboratory," he said, with a weak attempt at humour.
"Neither can I," Snape assured him, with no humour at all.
It was Hermione's voice that got him through the simple but intensive process of brewing a Burn Balm. Harry was amused to find that he remembered potion recipes and instructions in her voice, not Snape's. Snape had done little more than throw them in at the deep end, hand them a weekly recipe and test them to make sure they'd done the background reading. And, of course, punish them if they hadn't. It hadn't been much fun, and the revision with Hermione had been a chore and a half as well, but Harry had to admit that something had sunk in. He had no trouble producing the potion, once he'd stopped the Heart Vine groping him as he picked the fresh sage. He was relieved to find out that a gentle, wandless *Impedimenta* was all it took to make the plant back off. There hadn't been any need to shrivel it, as he'd done with the one that attacked Snape. He made a mental note to take cuttings from the Vine, later, and find a way of getting them to Neville.
Harry found the process quite relaxing, once his confidence came back. Had Snape been breathing down his neck, it might have been a different story, but within two hours, Harry had the Burn Balm ready to pour into a jar, and his only mistake had been nearly including a slug that had been stuck to the bottom of a sage leaf. Feeling satisfied and accomplished, Harry left the jar to cool while he tidied up. He doubted Snape would let him loose again, if the room bore any trace that he'd been working there. He only hoped the Balm would do the trick. Snape knew what he was doing, but he was covered in a broken rash, not burns. Harry couldn't quite shake off the idea that Snape had said the very first thing that came into his head, just to change the subject.
He'd left Snape's bedroom door slightly ajar, before, not sure that Snape was half as well as he was trying to look, and wanting to keep an ear out for trouble. But there'd been no sound and, when Harry put his head around the door, Snape seemed to be sleeping quite peacefully. He'd pulled his dressing gown on over his nightshirt, and only buried his feet beneath the blankets. Harry went nearer, watching Snape's breathing, and realised that he'd fallen asleep with his green book under his hand, again. Was it research, in there? His attempts to find a better potion?
"Knock, Potter," Snape said, suddenly, and Harry almost dropped his jar.
"I thought you were asleep."
"All the more reason not to creep up behind me." Snape turned over on his back, propped awkwardly against a pillow, and regarded Harry with heavy-lidded eyes. "You managed?"
"You don't sound surprised." Harry raised the jar, then put it down on the bedside table. In fact, Snape sounded extremely weary. Used to the energy that usually crackled around the man, his own combination of power and anger and alertness, Harry was at a loss. "Will it help?"
"It should." Snape's face twisted slightly. His mouth moved without sound for a moment, as if he couldn't decide what to say. "Thank you." He looked like he'd half expected to choke on the words, and Harry was surprised that he hadn't.
"I'm not going to tell anybody about this," Harry told him, suddenly inspired as to a possible new opening on the real subject at hand. This was all about pride, about losing face, about being seen as weak. Snape hated it, but he'd hate Harry dining out on it even more. "I know when something's private. I have private stuff, too."
Snape looked faintly revolted, but he sat up, yanking out the cord that was tying back his lank hair. He looked less strange, with it back around his face.
"When I cautioned you about being responsible for your own care and feeding, I hardly expected you to take on mine. This situation is absurd."
"If I get those ingredients you need, it won't happen again, will it?" Harry was pleased with his reasoning, but Snape's expression darkened, his lips thinning further than ever, and he avoided Harry's eyes. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and paused, steadying himself before rising. He picked up the jar of Balm and peered at it as if it was homework. "I did it right," Harry said, with exaggerated patience. He was almost completely sure he'd done it right. He hoped so, and he hoped it did what Snape thought it would. The raw patches where the swellings had been were starting to weep and go crusty, and Harry hated to imagine the stink Snape would make if it came down to a trip to St Mungo's, after all.
Chapter 15: Errands and Owls
Late that afternoon, Harry steeled himself for a journey by Floo. With his shopping list in one pocket, gold in the other and a carefully wrapped parcel of cuttings in his hands, Harry stepped out of the great fireplace into the lounge bar of The Three Broomsticks and was greeted by friendly smiles from all directions. To his immense relief, nobody tried to buy him a drink or drag him into a corner for a chat; Hogsmeade seemed a lot saner than Diagon Alley, or perhaps it was just that the people here had seen more of him. He smiled and nodded back, finding that he was genuinely pleased to see some friendly faces. Perhaps he'd have time to stop in for a drink, on his way home.
Harry wasn't sure when he'd begun to think of Sirius' house at Challingford as 'home'. Sometimes, he felt he'd lived a lifetime there and, other times, he was acutely aware of how new and strange everything was, from shopping for his own food to sharing the place with Snape. A place where nobody would discipline him for being loud or messy or late, where there were no curfew hours, where he could have visitors or bring a friend or... anything he wanted. He'd lost track of time quite badly, since the subdued leaving feast at Hogwarts. He felt like he'd been lurching from moment to moment with Snape and Sirius ever since he woke up in hospital; between meals and sleep, morning and night, making hardly any headway. But time had moved on. Voldemort was dead. His scar had stopped killing him every other night. He had his NEWTs. His eighteenth birthday was looming and yet, for all the maturity he felt, for all the control he had over his own destiny, he might have been back in his cupboard at Privet Drive, wishing for a Sirius or a Hagrid to come and spirit him away.
No. Harry slowed down, on his way to the post office, looking around picture-postcard Hogsmeade with a small lump in his throat. Given the choice between what he had now and being ten years old again, locked in his cupboard and aching for something better that he'd never known, he'd choose Snape and the house and this uncertain, lesser future. He had Sirius, and he had friends, and he was a wizard, now. The wizarding world might not have lived up to all his dreams of a better place, but they'd been silly dreams, child dreams, and the magical world was still his home, for all its faults.
Harry had always liked looking at the owls in Hogsmeade's post office, being keen on owls in general, but it was easier to get away with loitering like that when you were wearing a school uniform. Harry felt self-conscious as he admired a row of larger birds, and so tore himself away and tried his best to look businesslike as he made his way to the counter, to post Neville's parcel. He opted for an Eagle owl with extra charms, one of the fastest and most expensive, and dropped his change from a Galleon into a collection box next to the till, which bore the crest of St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.
A deity somewhere was obviously smiling on him for his generosity, because Miss Glutt didn't seem to be on duty in the shop. Harry was spared a repeat of his blushes, handing his order note to Mr. Glutt and leaving again without mishap or sweaty palms. Smiling at the thought of finding fresh food on his doorstep when he got back home, Harry pushed his hands into his pockets and made a slow tour of the narrow streets, peering into shop windows. Having bought everything that he thought a house ought to contain, Harry was at a loss; the place looked no more like a home than it had before. It just looked like an empty old house with some new furniture stuck in it. Snape, as if to show him up, had managed to make his bedroom and study look lived-in and personal, but Harry supposed that, being older, he'd just had time to collect more stuff. Harry realised that he didn't know whether Snape had a place of his own, or family he could stay with. Had Hogwarts been his home as well as his job? If he couldn't afford potion ingredients, it was a good bet that he couldn't afford a place to live, either, or if he could, that he'd be lucky to get anything as nice as Professor Lupin had found in Pen Alley. Harry half wanted to ask Sirius what had been discussed, while he lay in hospital. Had the house been Sirius' suggestion, his plan for Harry all along, or one of Snape's demands?
Harry bought Owl Treats on his way back to the pub. He had a feeling that Hedwig would need some bribing, after Snape had used her, especially if she found out that Harry had gone to the post office with an important delivery, while she was gone. Snape hadn't said where he'd sent Hedwig and Harry hadn't asked, but he was still curious. Had he sent for potion ingredients, or asked someone for help? Harry hoped Hedwig would hurry back.
His sudden concern for Snape was starting to worry him. Nobody had said anything about the spell making him feel differently about Snape, and he thought that Professor Lupin or Hermione, at least, would have bothered to mention something that important. Harry knew what it was like to hate someone. He'd hated Sirius, before the truth had come out about his innocence. He hated Voldemort and Bellatrix and Pettigrew. He hated Lucius Malfoy, and in his darker moments he thought he truly hated his aunt and uncle, too, for trying to crush the magic and hope out of him when he was just a little boy. For years, he'd hated Snape too, but the reasons seemed trivial, when he compared Snape to all those other people. Snape had been petty and pathetic and unjust, but he'd brought Harry rage, not pain and loss. And there was the truth that Harry kept coming back to, whether he wanted to or not; Snape had been willing to give his own life to spare Harry's, and he was willing to put up with the present arrangement, too, although he clearly hated it. Harry doubted he'd ever understand the reason, but he couldn't argue with the fact. Thinking about it, and trying to understand, made him feel like he was drowning again.
It had been on his mind to ask Snape for an answer, the minute he got back, in the hope of catching him off guard or distracted, but Harry found him in the kitchen, unpacking food, and the thought went out of his head. He didn't look like he was in the mood for that sort of conversation, or as if he'd be easily moved and, anyway, Harry felt tired. He always felt tired after a trip away from Snape, and that was another of those thoughts that felt like drowning. He pushed it away.
Snape's raw patches had turned to dry, slightly white patches, and he looked a lot better for it. He'd got dressed, but Harry noted that he hadn't bothered with his usual layers, just a simple, loose robe, and that he wore slippers on his feet. Snape didn't take any notice of him, so Harry started to fish for something to say.
"Are you hungry?" He would have asked anybody else how they were feeling, but food had proved to be a fairly safe topic of conversation, with Snape. Snape shook his head, regarding a loaf of brown bread with resentment. "I could make soup," Harry suggested, taking off his travelling cloak and draping it over the back of a chair. "Something light. You need something."
"What's it to you?" Snape's acid tone convinced Harry that he really was feeling a lot better. "I'm starting to think you enjoy this, Potter." He slammed a jar of peaches down on the table.
Harry shrugged. He couldn't deny that he liked buying food, and making meals, and he doubted Snape would believe him if he denied anything else. He didn't see why hoping somebody got better was worth snapping about. He busied himself with a box of vegetables, sorting them into the pantry and avoiding Snape's eyes.
If Snape was past the worst of it then he wasn't going to put up with being treated like a worm, just for trying to help. He took a fresh bread roll and a Butterbeer, and went to his room without another word. With his door locked and his clothes discarded down to his underpants, Harry lay on his bed, getting crumbs everywhere, and reading the potions book Snape had loaned him from cover to cover.
Harry found himself up in the middle of the night, nursing a blinding headache that seemed to be the result of going to bed without supper, with Butterbeer for a nightcap. Either that, or reading too much about potions. He must have fallen asleep early because he felt slept out, even though his watch said it was only one in the morning. He pulled paracetamol pills out of his Muggle first aid kit and crept past Snape's door, on his way to the kitchen for a glass of milk to swallow them with. He didn't fancy waking Snape up and needing to explain about paracetamol. He'd never needed to brew a real potion for a headache, before, and he didn't fancy starting while he was in the grip of one. Knowing his luck, he'd end up poisoned, like Snape.
He badly missed Madam Pomfrey, as he sat waiting for two small, white Muggle pills to have some effect on the pain. She'd never been able to do anything for his head when it was his scar hurting, when it was Voldemort hurting him, but Harry realised now that he'd been spoiled by having everything else sorted out for him with the wave of a wand, or a few gulps of nasty potion. He wondered how Snape would react, if asked to brew a stock of home remedies. It would have been more sensible to have a Burn Balm on hand, than to make one when it was needed; if there had been real burns, the damage would have been getting worse the whole time the potion was brewing. Maybe Snape wouldn't be completely against the idea, Harry thought, laying his head down on his arm and shutting his eyes. He might at least let Harry use his equipment to do it himself. Maybe it was something they could do together? Sort of a project, to make the time they had to spend together easier to bear?
Catching himself thinking *that*, Harry decided it had been too long since he'd taken Muggle medicine, that it was way stronger than he remembered, and that he ought to go back to bed and sleep it off. Come to think of it, Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had never given him much in the way of medicine, unless there was a danger of him infecting the rest of the family. Harry could remember syrupy prescriptions, from when he was small, and vaccines (which he mostly remembered because Dudley howled like a banshee when he saw a needle), but he couldn't remember the last time he'd taken a Muggle painkiller.
It was helping the pain, he decided, as he climbed the stairs. He felt as sleepy and fuzzy as when Snape had rubbed his back with the magic oil, but not as comfortable, and it was only when he swayed at the top of the stairs and had to grab the banister that he wondered whether wizards were supposed to take Muggle drugs at all.
There was a crack of light showing under Snape's bedroom door, now. Harry squinted at his watch and hesitated, not sure whether it would be better to go back to bed and risk unexpected magic side effects, or grit his teeth and ask someone who was likely to know.
"Prof...Severus?" Harry called, just quietly. If Snape was asleep, he *definitely* wasn't waking him up, light or no light.
"What is it?" Not asleep, then. Harry felt like he'd just arrived for a detention. Snape was sitting up in an orderly bed, piles of pillows at his back and a book open in his lap.
"I just wondered--" Harry cleared his throat. Things were blurry without his glasses and he couldn't tell whether Snape was glaring or just looking at him. "I took some Muggle pills. For my headache. D'you know if ... does stuff like that work for wizards the way it does for Muggles?"
"It didn't occur to you to ask me this *before* swallowing the pills?" Harry could hear him sneering, even if he couldn't see it. He gripped the door, tightly, and tried to keep the answering snarl out of his voice.
"No. I was raised by Muggles, remember?" Harry's leg pressed against the cold paintwork and he realised, with a lurching sensation in his stomach, that he was only wearing his pants. He hid as much of himself behind the door as was possible, without being obvious about it.
"Your body may break down and excrete the substance faster than a Muggle, particularly if you do magic. I'm afraid you'll live." Snape had gone from his sneering tone to his lecturing tone, which at least carried a faint note of patience. Then it changed completely. "Is that really the reason you're here?"
"Yeah, I just..." Harry, already mildly embarrassed at standing there in his underwear, realised what Snape thought, and felt his cheeks and ears flare with heat. "Yeah, that's the reason," he said, trying not to fall over his tongue. "Night." He shut Snape's door, hastily, and groped his way along the dark corridor to the bathroom. He thought Snape had been making fun of him, not really *asking*, but his heart was pounding and his mouth was all dry again, and neither of those was helping his throbbing headache. Harry splashed cold water on his face, drank some from his cupped palms, then peered at himself in the mirror above the sink. What did he look like? Did he look so bad that Snape thought he needed... *did* he need to...?
Green eyes looked back at him, wider than normal, his pale reflection looking first frightened, then annoyed. "Oh, grow up," Harry told himself, and went back to bed.
Either the pills or the drugged sleep had seen off his headache, by morning. Unable to decide whether he was ravenous or slightly nauseous, Harry kept his face pressed into his comfortably warm pillow, and refused to move until his bladder insisted, mid-morning. Even then, he only moved as far as the bathroom, and ran himself a scalding hot bath. He wasn't in any particular hurry to face Snape and even his curiosity about the Runespoor potion seemed to have waned, overnight. It wasn't that his efforts at getting through to Snape hadn't worked, he just didn't know if they'd been worthwhile. He didn't know whether Snape had been mocking him or impatient with him or inviting him in for a shag, last night, and he didn't know what he'd do if Snape refused the one thing Harry could really do to repay him for the spell. He almost laughed out loud, remembering that he'd assumed the sex was some sort of repayment for that. If Harry had been any good at it, maybe; Snape *had* said he thought Harry must have experience. Maybe he was disappointed, or expecting something... better... than he was getting. Harry thought it was more likely that Snape just wished he'd hurry up and get well, so they could go their separate ways.
Small resentments knotted together into something much bigger, and Harry was in a foul mood by the time he pulled the plug out. If Snape hadn't turned some corner of his brain, while doing Legilimency on him, and seen that he was a virgin who only liked girls at a safe distance, then Harry was an international Quidditch star. And if Snape hadn't wanted to be near him, then he shouldn't have done such a stupid, unpredictable, *personal* spell. He should just have let Harry die and got on with the plan, and saved Neville. It wasn't as if anyone had been expecting Harry to survive Voldemort, anyway. Only Sirius would've thought any worse of him.
Harry had half a mind to tell Snape all that but the other half, the half that was still nagging him to grow up, get some breakfast and see if Snape was all right, came out on top. Harry went to the kitchen, instead of barging into Snape' study, and was somewhat mollified when he saw that Snape had made porridge again.
All he needed was to get out of the house more, Harry decided. He had to find things to do that had nothing to do with Snape, so he could go and do them when Snape got unbearable. That was probably the reason Snape spent so much time locked in his study, after all. He could take his Firebolt out and explore the area better; if he used a Disillusionment charm, he could even afford to go nearer to the Muggle areas and see what was there. There might be shops or something else that would come in handy. What Harry really wanted to do was to see Ron, but he doubted there'd be much chance of that, as long as the Aurors were putting him through his paces.
The porridge was thinner than Snape had made before, and tasted much more watery. Harry supposed he'd made what he thought his stomach would tolerate, but ended up feeling sick himself, looking at the greyish stuff in his bowl. Even once he added cream and sugar, it was hardly edible. Harry pushed the bowl away and concentrated on a cup of tea, instead. It calmed him down and soothed his stomach, so he made another and drank that too, propping his elbow on the table and his head on his hand, and staring vacantly out of the kitchen window. For all his grand plans about scouting the area on his broomstick, Harry felt more inclined to spend the day moving from one piece of comfortable furniture to the other, and staring into space.
Sometime after noon, Harry knocked on Snape's study door. He was half expecting to be ignored, or told to get lost, but Snape unlocked the door and jerked it open, so he went inside. Both cauldrons were full and cooling, and, to Harry's surprise, Hedwig was sitting on the sill next to the open window. She hooted contentedly when she saw him, and Harry saw that Snape had put a large pile of Owl Treats there for her. Unable to help his curiosity, Harry looked around for a letter or parcel, but Snape was standing in front of the desk.
"Good news?" Harry asked, doing his best to sound casual and indifferent, but feeling painfully aware of the fact that he sounded strained and bemused. Snape, whose complexion was very nearly back to normal, at least on the patches of bare skin that Harry could see, looked at Hedwig, then at his hands.
"I accept your offer," he said, shortly. "If it's still open," he added, when Harry didn't answer. Harry nodded firmly, not sure why his tongue was in a knot. He was perfectly willing to buy what Snape needed, and to ask Sirius for the money if he didn't have it himself. He was just astonished that Snape was letting him.
"Bad news, then," he came out with, when Snape started to look as if he would like the ground to open up and swallow him. Going nearer, Harry saw Hedwig listlessly turn over the nearest Owl Treat, and wondered if Snape had given her an entire bag at once. At least he wasn't blaming the messenger...
"I expected nothing better," Snape said, with the sort of bitterness that he usually reserved for talk of Harry's father. "My family aren't vastly wealthy, but there is a house, and a substantial sum of money. My inheritance. My mother died when I was a child and my father several years ago. I have yet to receive a Knut of it." Harry held his tongue. In fact, he held his breath. Snape glanced at him, then moved further away, to the window, touching Hedwig lightly between the wings until she shuffled out of reach. "There are conditions attached to the inheritance. Until recently I'd never intended to make a claim on what's rightfully mine." He lapsed into silence again, burying his hands in the opposite sleeves of his robe. Harry wondered if he was waiting for an interruption, something to give him an excuse to get angry and change the subject. Harry said nothing. "One condition is that I achieve the public recognition of my peers." Snape's twisted smile was an ugly sight. "The Order of Merlin certainly fulfils that obligation, wouldn't you say?"
"Uh, yeah," Harry said. He was fairly sure the question was rhetorical, but didn't want to risk seeming uninterested.
"I thought some negotiation might be possible, on the other terms. It seems not." Snape turned his back to Harry, looking out of the window and taking a deep, controlled breath. "I'm in your hands, Potter."
"My *life's* in yours," Harry answered, at once. Snape's shoulders twitched, in what might have been a small laugh. "We're just stuck with each other, then, aren't we?"
Snape clenched his fists, briefly, but his voice was quite calm.
"So we are, Mr. Potter."
Harry stole a quick glance at the desk, while Snape's back was turned. His green workbook sat open, showing columns of magical equations that he'd have to be Hermione to understand, and a torn and scrunched up letter sat on top of it. Next to it lay a stiff, creamy envelope with a broken seal of blue wax, and the seal bore the familiar wand-on-oakleaf insignia of *Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 352 BC.*
Chapter 16: As Good As
With the benefit of a simple Disillusionment Charm, Harry could have flown far closer to the Muggle settlements than he'd dared, before. He'd set out with every intention of getting to know the area better. Instead, he found himself seeking empty countryside, following rutted farm tracks and overgrown lanes until he was far from anywhere populated. It wasn't the first time he'd taken refuge in flight when he was angry but, this time, the anger wasn't on his own behalf. The more he tried to imagine the circumstances that drove a man like Snape to accept help, the more angry he felt. And finding himself on Snape's side, in a situation he knew little about, was extremely uncomfortable.
He supposed he'd better check exactly what was left in his Gringotts vault. He'd not used Sirius' money to pay for the furniture, but now that he needed money for something else - for Snape - that decision seemed proud and stupid. Sirius would let him take whatever he needed, or wanted for that matter, but how could he use Sirius' money without telling him what was going on? He just hoped he hadn't made Snape a reckless promise, either about keeping his secret, or helping him get his potion. He'd have to find out exactly what Snape needed, and how hard it was going to be to find it, and what it was going to cost them. He'd have to ask, and Snape was just going to have to come out with it and tell him.
With that decision made, he felt somewhat calmer, but he'd been distracted. He found himself flying too low, in the middle of nowhere, and actually had to use his broom compass to get himself pointed back at the house. His gut seemed to tie in knots as he realised why he was so woolly-headed and, for that matter, so driven to escape his troubles in flight. It was time again, already. Tonight, or tomorrow, he'd have to sleep with Snape. A long shiver crawled right up Harry's spine as he made another slight course correction. He had the feeling that Snape would rather not look him in the eye, just now, let alone anything else. There was something about the prospect of money changing hands between them that made it all seem ... different. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Harry had always appreciated that money was power, as much in the magical world as in the Muggle one. He'd seen men like Malfoy use it to buy influence, and men like Uncle Vernon use it to prove something. For the first time, he understood what Snape had said, the first time, just before he used the potion - why he had been so vehement about Harry not owing him anything. It was just too uncomfortable, thinking about having sex with somebody who owed you. As if it wasn't uncomfortable enough, anyway.
Still, Harry already knew that he liked *doing* it a lot more than he liked *thinking* about it. He could hang on to the possibility that Snape felt the same way. He hadn't complained and he'd always *finished* - that had to mean he liked something about it, didn't it? It would definitely be easier to ask for it, in future, if he was thought that Snape didn't hate it. And it had to be better for both of them if they understood that there was no question of anyone *owing* anything. For a moment, Harry had himself feeling quite confident, until the house came into view and it stopped being just a puzzle in his head. He couldn't solve Snape that easily, and he knew it, and he had to go and ask the man for sex. Again. Then again, what had Hermione said? Maybe it wasn't good to be too comfortable with someone. He hoped she was right.
The sound of conversation from Snape's study startled him so much that it took him two tries to get rid of the Disillusionment Charm. He hadn't been expecting any visitors and was rather ashamed of the urge to sneak up to his bedroom and hope they just went away. After all, it might be Hermione in there, or Neville, and they'd never forgive him for leaving them alone with Snape.
He went in without knocking. Snape, who was at his desk and quite alone, turned and stared at him, frowning with deep disapproval. Embarrassed, now that it was clear nobody needed rescuing, Harry searched for a good reason for barging in without warning.
"I heard you talking to someone and..." He stopped, noticing Hedwig on Snape's desk, and Snape looking decidedly uncomfortable. "Oh." Hedwig fluffed herself out and Harry sucked back a grin with all his might. He didn't think Snape would be in a better mood for being teased about talking to a bird. "I was out flying. I started feeling..." The urge to grin faded, fast. Snape tensed, so slightly that a stranger might have missed it, and he waited, unblinking, for Harry to continue. "If you're well enough, I think it's time we..." Why couldn't he just *say it*?! Harry clenched his fists by his sides, cold fingertips digging into his palms. "I need to have sex with you, soon." It came out sounding very much like a request to have teeth pulled, but it *did* come out, and he didn't blush.
Snape watched him for a long moment, then turned back to his desk, his back to Harry. Hedwig drew her feathers back in tight and watched them both, as if she had all the answers but just wasn't telling.
"Tonight, then," Snape said. He folded his hands on the desk and looked down at them. "Take your bird. It's been distracting me." Hedwig would have nipped anybody else, for talking about her like she wasn't there, but she seemed to understand. She flew to Harry's shoulder and nibbled gently on his glasses, instead. Harry thought that there was something he ought to be saying, something to make the moment less awful and awkward, but he couldn't think what it was.
He spent the afternoon trying to burn off the nerves, pacing, wasting his strength, watching the clock and picking at snacks. Snape was no better. He kept to himself, picked at his lunch, snapped at Harry for getting in his way at the sink, then disappeared back into his study and didn't come out until dusk.
They ate supper quietly, just cheese on toast with a pot of tea.
"Do you have any books I could read, about your potion?" Harry asked, pouring out tea while Snape picked his crusts apart on the plate. "I'd like to know about it."
Snape narrowed his eyes over his teacup and Harry just managed to stop himself launching into a messy justification for the question. It was a perfectly reasonable one, under the circumstances, and the strained silence had been getting unbearable.
"I will show you the process, and explain," Snape said, slowly, as if still trying to work out the real reason for Harry's curiosity. "If my teaching is not beneath you, that is."
Harry scowled across the table at him, but Snape was concentrating on his tea and didn't notice. It took Harry a few sips of his own tea to work out that he had actually deserved the additional remark. He hadn't exactly shown much appreciation, when Snape offered to go on being his teacher.
"I think the stupid lies about why we're here are beneath me, not your teaching. I know how good you are." Snape muttered something into his teacup. It sounded vaguely like 'Gryffindor'. Harry didn't ask him to repeat it. "I don't see why we can't tell people what you did for me." It was a messy situation, yes, but wasn't saving somebody's life, sacrificing yourself to do it, something to be *proud* of? Snape had never struck him as modest.
"Don't expect your popularity to cushion you if word gets out about the true nature of our association," Snape warned, frowning deeply. "Not that I expect *my* reputation to matter to you, but at least have a care with your own."
"I don't understand."
"Clearly." Snape put his cup down too hard. "The wizards you have met have been largely children, and friends of Albus Dumbledore. Interchangeably wide-eyed and liberal-minded, the lot of them. The general population is not so tolerant as you might expect. You have a great deal to learn."
Snape's tone of voice was enough to make him want to argue, never mind that he'd as good as claimed to be older and wiser and therefore right, but Harry managed to button his lip. Just because Snape was being snotty, it didn't mean he didn't have a point. Harry knew what Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia thought of men who liked men, because they'd always been vocal about how darling Dudley was not one of *those*. *Those * being only marginally above wizards and witches, on the Dursley scale of human worth. There had been jokes at school, and rumours about who fancied who, and people pairing off like Ron and Hermione, but Harry really didn't have any idea what the wizarding world thought of sex, let alone of who you had it with. Most of the adult wizards and witches he knew were either married, with a family, or alone. Or... discreet.
Harry risked a glance at Snape, who was still frowning into his teacup, and felt almost as if he was seeing him anew. He wanted to ask if this was the first time Snape had had to worry about his reputation, but he didn't dare.
Hermione had put two and two together without much trouble. She wouldn't be the only one who read old books. By telling people that they were living with *Impertio*, he was as good as telling people they were doing it. He'd as good as told Ollivander. No wonder Snape had been livid when he spilled the beans, if wizards didn't take kindly to that sort of thing... the sort of thing they were doing ... were about to...
"Did I make things worse for you, when I told Ollivander about the spell?" He hadn't meant to let on that he'd seen the envelope with its unmistakable seal, but Snape barely reacted. He certainly didn't look surprised.
"You can do my reputation no harm, in those quarters."
"Oh." Snape's closed expression and bitter tone didn't encourage him to ask what that meant. "I'll ... go up and wait for you, then."
Snape nodded once, but didn't look at him.
Washing and changing for bed, Harry found that he both wanted and didn't want Snape to hurry up and join him, which left him halfway between aroused and nervous as he listened to Snape moving around, first downstairs, then in his room. The plumbing creaked. After a while, leaning by the open window, Harry could detect the faint, seeping smell of sage from a potion bath. He left the window open, but closed the curtains, which moved slowly in the warm evening breeze. The semi-darkness was relaxing, and anticipation began to overtake his nerves. A pleasing awareness of his limbs, of the thin cloth on his body and the heavy, ready feeling between his legs made him feel both guilty and glad that he wasn't dreading the night.
He couldn't imagine how bad it would be, if one or both of them couldn't manage to do more than grit their teeth and bear it. If rubbing yourself against somebody you didn't like felt that good, how would it feel to go at it with someone who made you melt inside just to look at? Harry had melted for various fellow students; the first time had been more torment than fun and his first feeble grope, with Cho Chang, had been boring and wet, but there had been a few others after her. Less pretty and a lot more interesting, and better kissers who'd taught him how to do things with lips and tongues. He was nearly sure he'd made Rose Connolly come, last Christmas, when he met her behind the Quidditch changing rooms and she let him undo her bra and feel around under her Ravenclaw Chaser sweater. He'd liked it when the girls his age were old enough to have proper boobs and to make excited sounds when he kissed them, but nothing had ever tempted him to go further than squeezing and kissing and smiling stupidly at them. Not even Connolly, who was too clever for him anyway, and went too fast for him to keep up (in the air as well). But then, none of the girls he'd snogged had what Snape had, and Harry had found out one thing for sure; he liked another bloke's cock against his backside a lot more than he liked the feel of nice squashy boobs. He liked the definite feel of an erection against his body, and knowing for a fact when somebody had come.
Between Rose Connolly's possible-orgasm and the thought of Snape's very definite ones, Harry was getting closer than he wanted to one of his own, but he didn't have time to calm down. He heard the creak of the landing floorboards and dived for the bed. He didn't want Snape to see him leaking a stain on his pyjamas, or to wonder why he was already hard. He didn't fancy explaining about Rose, and the alternative explanation would be even worse.
Snape knocked, and Harry suddenly wanted there to be a lot more time, first.
"Yeah," he called, trying to arrange the covers in his lap and not look like he was hiding anything. "Come in."
He thought he could feel Snape's suspicious stare, even though it was too dim for either of them to make much out. His body felt too sensitive. The cool, fresh covers and the light breeze and that stare... Snape came a bit closer, but stopped halfway between the door and the bed.
"It's a warm night," Snape said, stiffly. Nicely. His voice almost made Harry jump - he'd been too caught up in the vague, excited anticipation to imagine what might *actually* happen once Snape joined him. He definitely hadn't anticipated Snape trying to start a conversation.
"Yeah," Harry heard himself say. His brain didn't seem to have much to do with the sounds that came out. His feet already felt like hot coals under the blankets. He was burning, but that had more to do with his memories than the weather. He leaned over and threw back all but the undersheet. "If you'd rather wait..."
"No." Snape cut him off a bit too quickly. Harry's heartbeat had decided that it couldn't go any faster, so it was doing irregular instead. It was getting hard to breathe normally, and it really *was* a hot night... Snape recovered smoothly, stopping beside the bed and shedding his heavy dressing gown. "Best get it over with." He laid the dressing gown carefully at the foot of the bed, on top of the messy pile Harry had just made of the covers. "You seem greatly improved for regular contact." There was only a small hesitation, before the last word, but it made Harry give up all pretense of breathing normally. He wished he hadn't let himself get so worked up before Snape arrived. Nothing he was feeling was unpleasant, but he didn't fancy knowing what Snape would make of it, if he noticed. Snape pushed his slippers under the bed and bent down to adjust the pillow. He'd tied back his hair again.
"You could take that off, if you're too hot," Harry suggested, watching Snape adjust his shroud-like lawn nightshirt. Weren't you meant to do it with nothing on, anyway? Snape froze in the act of reaching for the sheet and Harry felt his face turn scarlet and spread heat all the way down to his sweaty palms. Snape got in, still wearing the nightshirt, and flipped the sheet over his thighs. Harry supposed that meant he had to stay hot, too, since he didn't much like the idea of being naked while Snape wasn't. He was starting to wonder what Snape might be hiding, under there. There was a very awkward pause.
"Do you have the quartz essence?"
"The oil I left here, at your request. It's a modified quartz essence, Potter." Snape sounded resigned to Harry's stupidity, rather than annoyed about it. "*Accio!*" He stuck out his hand and caught the little bottle. "Take off your top." Harry was sure his blush alone would be enough to cook them both. He yanked his baggy t-shirt off over his head and dropped it on the floor. "Turn around." That gruff, matter-of-fact tone had reassured him, the last time Snape had used the oil - made it all seem less frightening. Now, it grated, made him doubt his conclusions about Snape not minding what they were doing. Resigned, supposing that he was right and they *should* just get it over with, Harry took off his glasses and dropped them on top of his t-shirt, then knelt with his back to Snape, facing the window.
He felt the creaky bed move as Snape moved, smelled the oil as Snape smeared it between his palms, and felt his stomach plunge at the memory of last time. He'd done it to himself then, too - got himself in a state before Snape arrived and been coiled like a spring, albeit with fear rather than frustration. The first touch, this time, almost overwhelmed him with the same magic. It moved straight through him, deep and reassuring, and forced the air from his lungs with its intensity.
"Wow," Harry whispered. He cleared his throat and tried to speak normally, while Snape's firm hands kneaded his back and made him sway. "Does the essence mature, get stronger?"
"No." Snape gripped his shoulders, fingers sliding back, and Harry swallowed, too aware of his dry mouth and noisy breathing, and of his angry erection. It was getting very uncomfortable. "You are stronger. The spell feeds itself. The oil merely--"
"Conducts. Yeah." Harry had been listening. Didn't want Snape to think he wasn't, in case he stopped telling him stuff again. He rested his hands on his thighs and let his body relax as best he could, but Snape's firm touch only fed his arousal. "It's... good. It helps. I can feel the magic..." He wondered if Snape could, as well. Did he feel like something was being taken, as Harry felt something being poured into him?
"It may be enough to sustain the spell." Snape's hands fell still, on his shoulders. He didn't sound very confident. "You have a powerful reaction to the oil. It might be enough to avoid subjecting you to further ... indignity."
Indignity? Was *that* what he thought of it all?
"If that's what you want." Harry felt the hands tighten. His shoulders were equally tight. "You don't need an excuse to stop this. You don't owe me anything." The oil seemed to conduct discomfort just as well as it conducted Snape's life-energy. The room seemed full of tension, every bit as tangible as magic.
"It's your decision to make," Snape told him, after a few moments in which Harry could clearly hear his own heartbeat. "I am willing. Either way. You must choose."
Harry thought it was a bit too late to start giving him real choices, but he didn't say so.
"I like it. In bed. The rest's just a mess and you keep making it worse. Do what you want. I'll still keep my promise." Snape let go of him and Harry looked over his shoulder, not sure what he was going to see, or if Snape was leaving, or... He felt glad that it was blurry and half dark, at least. "Are you sneering at me because I like it?" Snape said nothing, but the back of his knuckles brushed the base of Harry's spine. His fingers felt cool. "I can't help it."
"Nor I." Harry couldn't remember hearing Snape say anything like that, before; his voice tight, raw. "I don't lecture you about discretion for no reason." Snape's hand moved slowly up Harry's back, barely touching his skin, bringing him out in goosebumps all over. "One learns not to invite notice."
"Oh," Harry whispered. His mind had gone conveniently blank, the way it sometimes did when he was feeling too much at once. "Well, I didn't. Notice, I mean." He didn't think anyone else had, either. Any real ammunition against Snape would have been all over the school, in about ten seconds; everyone hated him enough to spread it without a thought of sparing his feelings. He didn't see how it could be written on the outside of you, anyway. The only way anyone could know was by how you acted. But that was what Snape had been trying to tell him, wasn't it? Discretion. Reputation. A pressing reason for the secrets and the lies. "You don't want to go, do you?" He just didn't want anyone to know. Snape's thumb pressed into the small of his back, one of those application points he'd taught them about, and Harry missed a breath. He wondered if you ever got used to being touched. He wondered if Snape felt the breath go out of him, too, when skin touched skin. "I'm turning around."
Snape moved back as he did so, ending up with his back against the bedstead. Harry could smell the oil on him and feel the heat from his body. Was he flushed as well? Shaken by the words? Hard? Too dark to tell.
"Let's get on with it, then." Snape grasped his arm, none too gently, and pulled him closer. "Sit still and let the oil work." He pulled again, until Harry was straddling his knees, then shoved the vial into his hand. "I'm tired. I want to sleep."
Harry stayed where he was and bit his lip rather than answer. He supposed Snape might well be tired; he'd been pretty ill, he'd got up early and worked all day... the brisk, irritated tone was a far cry from his words just now. He didn't know which was real and which was the act.
Snape put a hand over his heart and Harry slowly relaxed, letting some of his weight rest on Snape's legs. It was unlike anything they'd done before. Less touching, but it seemed a lot more... a lot more. It made him feel restless between his legs, anxious and, strangely, rather angry. Snape carried on spreading the oil, without paying much attention to the magical points of application, any more. Harry shut his eyes and concentrated on the hands that glided over his skin, stroking, smoothing, warming... pulling down the front of his pyjamas and stroking there, too... combing through his curls, grabbing his wrist and twisting until it hurt, until the vial clutched in his hand drizzled oil into Snape's cupped palm. Harry couldn't keep up, even though everything seemed to be going in slow motion. He couldn't tell if the blood was rushing to his head, or downward, then Snape gripped his cock in that oiled hand and he couldn't even tell which way was up, any more. He should have known that it would only take a touch, should have warned Snape, but before any of that occurred to him, he was coming in Snape's slippery fist and little spots of light were exploding against his eyelids, like fireworks. When he came to his senses, his clenched fists were resting on Snape's shoulders, his teeth were clenched, the vial was spilling the last of its contents over the pillow and down Snape's back, and Snape's hand was still moving slowly between his legs. Harry tried to coordinate his limbs for long enough to put the bottle down, but Snape's finger found a spot behind his balls that made him see stars again. He settled for dropping the bottle. He supposed Snape wanted to come as well, else the transaction would be a bit one sided. Well, he knew what had worked for Rose - he'd managed to take the initiative there, though he'd found it a lot easier to think, with her. He'd rolled her nipples between his fingers and they'd gone really hard, and he'd kissed her throat and behind her ear and the tender spot under her chin... Snape gasped out loud when Harry's fingers plucked at his left nipple and his head fell back against the brass bar when Harry tried the kiss. Harry wanted to ask if it was okay, if he was allowed, if Snape was angry, but Snape's fingers caught that magic spot behind his balls again and it was suddenly hard to care about anything except how that felt. He let his tongue move against Snape's skin, smelling sage and soap, moving his lips over the wetness and dragging the motion upward. Snape made a strange sound, a painful sound, and grabbed Harry's backside with both hands.
"Is this... I mean... can I..." Harry stopped trying when Snape made an impatient noise and yanked him closer. He could feel hardness through cloth, fingers parting his buttocks, freshly shaved skin beneath his lips and it was too good for words, anyway. He pressed against the hardness and dragged his lips across Snape's jaw... strong jaw, not fragile like Rose's ... Snape moved him, tugging and releasing in a rapid rhythm, faster than Harry liked for himself. Fingernails dug in between his buttocks with each tug and Harry wanted to come again, felt tight and frustrated again, couldn't breathe again. He kissed instead, Snape's chin now, and his cheek where the stubble was rougher, and the corner of his mouth so that he could feel Snape's rapid breaths against his cheek. He nudged at the corner of Snape's mouth with his tongue, pushing, parting, slipping between; waiting for the next gasp to gain better access then swiftly seeking Snape's tongue with his own. Snape made that pained sound again, louder, and opened his mouth for more.
He was a terrible kisser, Harry thought, but the larger part of his brain was devoted to the rhythmic movement of their bodies and he really didn't care that it was a bad kiss, just that it was a kiss, twisting and tasting and tugging, and that his cock was hard against Snape's belly, and he felt like coming again even though he just had. He was acutely aware that there was too much cloth, that he craved the heat of bare skin, that it was too late and Snape was already clutching him, coming, moaning wetly into his mouth and jerking under him, desperate for something that Harry could hardly comprehend. Oh, god, it was good - fabric clinging hot and wet between them, Snape's mouth moving weakly beneath his own, fingertip pushing painfully inside him, fireworks again... Harry wondered if you could hurt yourself, coming that hard again, so soon, but he couldn't stop himself.
His face was pressed against Snape's sweaty neck, his arms inexplicably wrapped around it and bruising against the brass bars, his knees in the pillows somewhere, and he didn't seem to be able to move. Snape's fingertip was still up his bum, and it didn't feel good, any more. With what felt like a vast effort, Harry raised himself up on his knees, turned over on his back and collapsed into the pillows. He thought he ought to feel content, relaxed, *satisfied* in the way that his own hand hadn't been satisfying him, recently. But all he felt was hot and tired and a little dizzy. His bum was sore and his balls ached, and his pyjamas were twisted tight and sticking to his thighs. He wished Snape would go, or say something, but Snape didn't seem to be in any hurry to move, either, and he was dead silent.
Harry threw his arm over his eyes, waiting for his body to cool and his heartbeat to return to normal. He'd got what he'd wanted, been sure that Snape liked what they were doing, got *answers* enough to know that their touching didn't disgust him... he'd come like he'd never come in his life... but still felt as if he'd been left high and dry. Which only left him to wonder what the hell was wrong with him.
Chapter 17: What Doesn't Kill You
Waking up next to Severus Snape was a disturbing experience, but compared to Harry's history of even more disturbing experiences, it hardly rated. He supposed it was all relative. Harry counted himself lucky that Snape was human (he thought Snape was completely human, most of the time) and one of the good guys. That was relative, too. Harry found himself pressed uncomfortably close to Snape's side and was reluctant to move, in case he called attention to the fact. He didn't think he'd gone there on purpose; the limp old mattress had probably rolled them both into the middle until they wedged together. It was actually quite nice and cozy, if he ignored the proximity of an armpit, and the fact that Snape would likely kill him when he woke up. Cautiously, he turned his head to get more comfortable. His cheek ended up against Snape's upper arm.
"You still have nightmares." Harry was startled when Snape spoke, sounding well awake already. Had he been lying there not daring to move, too? "You should have asked me for a Draught."
"I didn't know," Harry admitted, blankly. "I don't remember my dreams, any more." He wondered why Snape was bothered that he was still having bad dreams; it wasn't as if Voldemort could get in that way, any more. "Did I... um... say anything?" He'd been told by his roommates at school, and even by his cousin Dudley, that he talked during his most vivid dreams. He didn't know what might come pouring out...
"No. You thrashed around enough to make me seasick. I'll prepare the Draft today. You need to sleep properly if you're to recover fully."
"I can make it."
"Suit yourself." Snape shifted slightly, and went silent.
It was a very odd conversation, Harry thought, scratching his leg and wishing he'd had a chance to wake up properly before it started. He closed his eyes and wondered if he'd be allowed to go back to sleep. If he woke up again and found Snape not-there, it would be a lot easier. But Snape didn't move and Harry was waking up, in spite of himself.
"I was thinking," he said, when his own thoughts got too much for him. "We need some basic potions to put away. Burn Balm and Pepperup and stuff."
"Yes." Snape turned on his side, facing him, putting space between their bodies as if Harry, having spoken, suddenly made him uncomfortable. "It seems I may be here a while longer. I can contribute that much to your household."
"I didn't mean--" Harry didn't bother to finish the protest. It wouldn't do any good. "You said you thought it would be over, by now." Snape grunted, getting restless. Any minute, he was going to throw back the cover and grab his things and go, and Harry didn't want to dwell on the realisation that he'd rather Snape stayed a while. "What did you think would happen, when you cast the spell. How long did you think--?"
Snape gave an impatient little sigh.
"I understood it to be a simple transaction. My life for yours. Clearly, I didn't understand at all."
Harry swallowed, feeling as though too many answers had backed up in his throat.
"You thought you'd die. There and then. I'd live and you'd just die."
"I didn't *think* at all." Snape moved, suddenly, exactly as Harry had expected him to. He was out of bed before he'd stopped speaking. "You were dying. I acted to prevent it." He caught up his dressing gown, groping under the bed with his foot for his slippers. "Our circumstances may be less than ideal but some quirk of fate obviously found it better than the alternative." He looked like he couldn't move fast enough.
"Sn...Severus..." Harry had no idea what he was going to say, only that he had to say *something*... last night had been, well, he didn't know what, but ... he wished he had his glasses, so he could judge Snape's expression better. "Listen, I--"
"Don't question what I've told you," Snape barked, freezing him in place before he could follow. "Don't look for clear-cut answers where there are none, or rational reasons in a foolish, thoughtless act. Don't give it meaning beyond my blind ignorance of the implications. I would *never* have done this to you, had I known. The world may think otherwise, Potter, but I'll not have you think that I willingly bound you to ... this!" He waved his arm at the bed.
"I don't mind this," Harry told him, once again, but he didn't think Snape had heard him, on his way out of the room.
There was a lot to be said for Snape's home-made Floo powder, but Harry suspected that it wasn't entirely legal to make your own. You probably had to be registered with some Ministry department or other before tossing it in a fireplace, at the very least. It was nice to step out into the Leaky Cauldron feeling only slightly dizzy, instead of nauseous, but Harry thought it was probably time to make that trip to Drooper and Arrowsmiths and buy some of theirs.
Harry kept his head down and walked quickly past Ollivanders, ignoring the few curious glances that came his way. He was used to them, and was no longer sure that people would ever lose interest in him, completely. It made it all the more difficult to be 'discreet', though. Passing the offices of the *Daily Prophet*, Harry had a sudden, twisted feeling in his stomach at the thought of a headline in the paper, or *Witch Weekly*, exposing his private life.
He'd headed out early, partly to escape Snape (who was charging around the place in a fury) and partly to avoid the busy part of the day in Diagon Alley. He felt fine, after his night with Snape, but experience had shown that it paid to return home as soon as possible from his trips out. His first stop was Flourish and Blotts, which was the sort of shop where people tended to mind their own business. Harry had bought one or two gifts for Hermione, in Flourish and Blotts, but other than buying his school books, he'd never browsed for himself, before. He was able to find a small book on Runespoors and their magical uses, but had no idea where to start looking for information about a spell like *Impertio*. He ran his finger along the spines of the spellbooks, but saw nothing promising.
Sirius had needed to use the library at Hogwarts, for his research into the spell, but Harry really wanted something that he could buy, take home and read in the privacy of his own room. Asking the Headmistress if he could visit Hogwarts would be his last resort, for any number of reasons. Until earlier, he'd assumed that Snape understood the spell and just hadn't been explaining things very well. He was unnerved to find out that Snape had gone into it blindly, as well. But Snape had to have *learned* the spell, somewhere, or at least heard of it, else how could he have cast it? And there was every chance that he'd found that information in the Hogwarts library. Harry sighed, and gave up on the endless shelves of unlikely-looking books.
"I hear they make good pets, for a Parselmouth," the shop girl said, brightly. Harry stared at her and she went pink, gesturing shyly to the book he'd chosen on *Runespoors and Other Serpents and Their Applications in Potion Making*. It sounded like a heavy read, but he supposed he could give it to Snape for Christmas, instead, if it proved too difficult. "Of course, they're more of a familiar for a Dark wizard than..." The girl started wrapping his book, blushing furiously. Her words might have annoyed him - sharing Voldemort's ability to talk to serpents wasn't exactly something he was proud of - but he knew how it felt to put your foot in your mouth and blush like that. He wondered if she fancied him, or if his legend was just more intimidating than he knew.
"Snakes aren't bad," Harry said gently, when he'd paid. He'd liked nearly all the snakes he'd spoken with. "Only wizards."
She nodded, mutely, and he left.
Disappointed with Flourish and Blotts, Harry glanced past Gringotts, in the direction of Knockturn Alley. There was a bookshop there, too - all secondhand stuff, in the window and outside, but he was willing to bet that they had better stuff inside, perhaps locked away under the counter or in a private room. It wasn't the sort of place where you could browse unnoticed, though, and he had the strong feeling that Knockturn Alley would be a bad place to test Snape's advice about being discreet.
At something of a loss, Harry wandered past Florean Fortescue's window. He hadn't really felt like having ice cream, since being so violently ill after the last one (and in front of Snape, too - he shuddered just thinking about it), but it was always hard to walk past without buying something. He wondered if Fortescue used some sort of sneaky charm, to lure in customers. He moved on, drifting to the turning for Knockturn Alley and stopping there, glancing over his shoulder. It wasn't just fancying blokes that could ruin a wizard's reputation, he knew that much. Knockturn Alley wasn't a place to be seen lingering, if you didn't want nasty gossip spreading. Lupin had led him that way, though, on their way to Pen Alley; if he walked quickly, as if just passing through, perhaps something would catch his eye...
Of course! As Harry passed the first, dark shop, he remembered his walk with Lupin. Pen Alley had a library at the far end; Lupin had pointed it out to him on the way to Drooper and Arrowsmiths! He could browse all he liked in there, without anyone asking questions, watching what he picked up, or expecting him to buy anything. Harry quickened his step, keen to get through Knockturn Alley as quickly as possible. He was a grown wizard, now. It embarrassed him, rather, that he'd felt a lot safer making the same trip with Professor Lupin by his side.
Pen Alley was quiet and cool and Harry had the feeling that he'd stepped back in time, as he stepped through the hidden entrance. What had once been a grand and busy row of buildings was now slightly peeling and bare, but a few witches and wizards could be seen, entering or leaving one of the quiet, respectable businesses on the ground floors. Harry followed one tall witch in the direction of the library, but he paused opposite Drooper and Arrowsmiths, wondering if he ought to call on Lupin. He wasn't sure he'd said a proper thank you, when Lupin had explained things to him and calmed him down. Lupin knew all that Sirius knew, about *Impertio*, and Harry suspected that Lupin was rather more the scholar than Sirius, anyway. At the very least, he might be able to tell Harry where best to start looking in the library.
A strange looking wizard in a crumpled top-hat came out of Drooper and Arrowsmiths, tucking a small brown-paper parcel under his cloak. He looked as if he'd rather not be noticed, so Harry pretended that he hadn't.
The clerk behind the desk was taking a sip of tea when Harry entered, but Vanished the cup, hastily, and sprang to his feet, tucking his wand back out of sight under his robe. He looked very nervous and very young, and the way he jumped out of his seat and pushed out his chest reminded Harry strongly of Percy Weasley.
"Welcome, sir, to Drooper and Arrowsmiths..."
"You don't have to impress me," Harry said, quickly, before it turned into a speech. The young man looked both relieved and uncertain. Harry guessed it was a new job; there was no other reason for anyone to look that eager at the sight of a customer. "I ... I'd like to order some of your Floo powder." Well, it was true. It hadn't been in his mind when he came in, true, but he might as well make the most of the trip. He wished he knew what Snape needed for his Runespoor potion (besides the obvious). Drooper and Arrowsmiths had to be a good place to start.
"Certainly, sir!" He really was disturbingly like Percy. "A bulk order, or something for personal use?" He picked up a quill, dipped it in his inkwell, and bent over a sheet of crisp parchment.
"Personal. Look, there's no hurry. I've come to see Professor Remus Lupin. Do you know if he's in?"
The young man's manner changed so abruptly that Harry felt like reaching for his wand. The pleasant, too-cheerful expression grew hard and suspicious and he clenched a fist around his quill.
"What do you want with him?"
"Uh..." Harry noticed the dark half rings under the man's light green eyes, and the hollowed cheeks. They were just past full moon. He was a werewolf; Harry was sure of it. "Tea and a chat, really. He knows me. You could ask him, if you like. Harry Potter." He didn't usually go around giving out his name, since enough people recognised him as it was, but he had the feeling that he might have to prove who he was, just to be allowed in.
"He's in," the man said, relaxing as quickly as he'd tightened up. He dropped his quill, but not before his quivering hand sprayed droplets of ink all over the desk. "Sorry. It's just..."
"Yeah." Harry's compassion, as usual, took the form of a knot of anger beneath his ribs, and the helpless feeling that he hated most of all. "Don't worry about it. Shall I pay for the Floo powder now?"
"I'll have it ready for when you leave. Do you know the way?"
"Yeah, thanks." Harry gave the man what he hoped was a reassuring, sympathetic and not-patronising smile. "See you in a minute, then."
He was extremely glad to get on the other side of the inner door.
Harry could smell potions and food and hear quiet conversation from his left, but the stairs to Lupin's room were to his right. He climbed them two at a time, eager to see Lupin again, and quite keen to ask him about the wizard downstairs, who'd looked like he'd fight to the death rather than let the wrong person in to see Lupin. He'd looked scared.
He knocked on the door, then remembered that it opened outward onto the steep staircase, and moved down a couple of steps to avoid being hit in the face. He heard a scuffle from inside the room, then Lupin calling to him to hang on. His voice was quite strained. Harry had the sudden feeling that he ought to have sent word before visiting.
"Professor, I could come back..." he called, but the door flew open before he could finish.
"Harry!" Lupin looked very surprised, very ill, and very flustered. "Um... come up, come up..." Harry hauled himself through the awkward doorway, straightened up, and realised that Lupin wasn't the only occupant of the room. A witch got to her feet when she saw him; she was about Harry's height, about Lupin's age, and very good looking. She'd been sitting on Lupin's bed, and she briefly squeezed Lupin's hand, as she nodded to Harry.
"Oh," Harry said, shrinking back towards the door and rather wishing he was dead. "I didn't know you had..."
"Harry, this is Miss Arrowsmith," Lupin said, quickly. Harry noticed that he returned the hand-squeeze, before putting a couple of paces between himself and the lady. "I... you had the news so soon?"
"What news?" Harry managed to stop himself staring at Miss Arrowsmith. He stared at Lupin instead, who looked as puzzled as Harry felt.
Blank, Harry shook his head. Miss Arrowsmith picked up a folded copy of the morning *Daily Prophet* from the bed behind her and handed it to Lupin. It was so fresh that Harry could smell the ink and the magic.
"What about Neville?" he asked, looking between the two of them, then at the paper in Lupin's hand. There was a heavy feeling in his stomach, like frozen lead. It was over, it was all over... there *couldn't* be any more bad news...
"It says he tried to kill himself," Lupin said, quietly. "Last night."
Harry didn't believe it. He paid for his packet of Floo powder while Lupin used the fire in the main office to speak with Neville's gran. Miss Arrowsmith gave Harry a gentle smile and said that she hoped to see him again soon, before disappearing towards the place that smelled of food and potion-making. In the back of his mind, Harry realised that she'd be a good person to ask about Runespoor potion supplies, but he could hardly manage to thank the young clerk for his change, let alone concentrate on potions. When Lupin put his head around the door and beckoned Harry through into the office, he almost tripped over the leg of the desk.
Lupin had a smudge of soot across his forehead.
"She's blocked the Floo, again. I can't get through. I'll Apparate over and find out what's happening..."
"I'm coming with you." Harry fumbled his Floo powder into a pocket. "Neville wouldn't do this. He's not a..." Not a coward, Harry had been about to say, but something stopped him. What if Neville *had* tried to do himself in? "I'm coming," he said again, and Lupin nodded.
Harry couldn't imagine anyone wanting to die. He'd been willing to die for the right reasons, for things that were more important than himself, and so had Neville. So had Snape, and all of them. Everything was always harder for Neville than for everybody else, but he'd never looked for an easy way out. Never. He'd just tried twice as hard as everyone else and Harry knew he'd grown strong. He hadn't doubted that, whatever horrors Neville had been through in that confrontation with Voldemort, he'd get past it and go on. Now...
"Harry, you're shaking," Lupin said, touching his arm. "You don't look well. Maybe you shouldn't risk it."
"I'm angry, not ill." He felt fine, thanks to Snape, but he didn't feel like telling Lupin where he'd spent the night. And Lupin couldn't talk - he looked like he was ready to drop, himself. "I should've seen Neville before. I'm going now." And he Apparated before Lupin could suggest otherwise.
It was important, when Apparating, to start with a clear head and to visualise where you were going, which was probably why Harry ended up on his backside outside Neville's garden gate, while Lupin ended up on the front doorstep. To his relief, the crowd of well-wishers and press had been reduced to one photographer, who was sporting a variety of curse symptoms and took no notice of Harry whatsoever.
"Mrs Longbottom doesn't take kindly to intruders," Lupin said, as Harry joined him at the door. "Looks like she's started cursing the press."
Harry had gained a healthy respect for Neville's grandmother long before he'd properly met her, and wasn't the least bit surprised.
"Good for her." He felt bad, now, that he'd been glad about the attention being on Neville. Neville might deserve the recognition, but he hadn't lived with fame, before. Harry, of all people, knew that it was a rotten way to be noticed.
He let Lupin do the talking, with Neville's gran. He felt bad about not visiting sooner, about being too wrapped up in his own troubles to make the effort, and Neville's gran had never seemed the forgiving type. She welcomed Lupin warmly, though, and said nothing about what a terrible friend Harry was, as she led them to Neville's bedroom.
"Why don't you go in first," Lupin suggested, giving Harry a gentle push towards the door. "We don't want to overwhelm him." Harry got the strong feeling that Lupin actually wanted to talk to Mrs Longbottom, alone, so he went into Neville's bedroom and closed the door behind him.
He'd expected Neville to be in bed, or something, but he was sitting in a chair by the window, instead. It looked as if he'd been based there for quite a while; there were books and puzzles and empty cups on the table to his left, and plants on the windowsill to his right. Harry saw his Heart Vine cuttings among them. They were all dead and shrivelled.
"It's not true," Neville said, softly. "The paper. I didn't mean to. And the Healer only had to make me chuck up then Ennervate me. You didn't have to come."
"I should've come before." Harry wondered when Neville had last had any sleep. He made Lupin and the werewolf in the shop look healthy, by comparison. Neville's face was white and his eyes seemed sunken, his usually plumpish cheeks hollowed and pinched, instead. There was a blanket over his knees and he was clutching it with both hands. His nails were bitten raw. "I came once, but there was a huge crowd outside."
"Gran started cursing anyone she could see from the window," Neville explained. His voice was flat, heavy with tiredness. "They went away."
Harry didn't feel unwelcome, exactly. More as though Neville didn't care whether he stayed or went. He sat on the corner of Neville's neatly-made bed and looked around the room. It looked like Neville had grown up in it; cheerful nursery wallpaper had been papered over with maps and a load of Neville's Herbology notes. A cork noticeboard next to the wardrobe was almost completely hidden under all the reminders that had been pinned to it. Harry saw one about his own upcoming birthday, down in the bottom corner. The fact that Neville had made the effort to remember his birthday made Harry feel ten times worse.
"What happened, Neville?"
"*He's* not with you, is he?" Neville asked, his voice a bit strained. "Snape?" He half-whispered the name.
"Oh, no... no, Professor Lupin's here, though. Did you have my letters? That apprentice story they're spreading isn't true. I'm just living with him for a bit."
Neville nodded, catching Harry's eye for just a second before looking out of the window. It was a while before he spoke.
"After I killed him I started to remember things. He said... he said he could see inside my head. He did something. I never remembered Mum and Dad like they were before, but I do now. How Mum smelled. Dad's voice. He said he'd give me my parents back."
Harry didn't know what to say. Voldemort had done the same thing to him, offering him everything he wanted in return for the Philosopher's Stone - his mother, his father. He'd said no, had to, but it had been harder than anything he'd ever done before.
"What happened then?"
"He did," Neville said, with a small, slow shrug. "He did something in my head. It hurt. Then his wand went funny and ... I didn't plan it or anything, but this feeling came up, these memories, and he was laughing, and I killed him." As he spoke, Neville's voice turned reedy and weak. "I killed him. I blew him apart."
Harry guessed that Voldemort would have been able to defend himself without a working wand... if he'd had time to think of it. Snape's *Impertio* had destroyed one wand, disrupted the other, and Neville had acted in those few seconds...
He shivered. He'd never really believed in fate and destiny, but the prophecy had haunted him for years - and it had come true, in a way. They'd all been in the right place, at the right time, to accomplish what seemed impossible. Harry and Snape were paying their price and Neville was paying his. He swallowed, wishing he could think of something comforting to say.
"What happened yesterday, then?" he asked, when he could think of nothing else.
"I just wanted to sleep," Neville said, crossing his arms, tight. "The Healers say I must've been Obliviated when I was a baby, but I remember it all now, in my dreams especially. I made a Dreamless Sleep Draught while Gran was out shopping - she'd said I wasn't to take them any more, poured everything away, so I..."
Harry shook his head. "You failed Potions, Neville."
"I know. You won't tell Snape, will you?" Neville asked, looking suddenly frantic. It was a more welcome sight than his deathly disinterest, but Harry knew how scared he was of Snape. "He called me into his office after I failed the OWL and said if I ever made another potion in my life, he'd find out and he'd make sure I was locked up for the good of the world. He would, too..."
"Neville." Harry poked his knee. "He was trying to make sure you didn't go poisoning yourself like this. He can't get you locked up. He can't do anything to you, any more." Neville nodded, but he still looked scared. "I promise I won't tell him," Harry said, wondering what he *was* going to say. Snape would have had the paper, by the time he got back home...
"He's right, I'm just stupid. I just wanted a good night's sleep." Neville gave him a pleading look. "I didn't mean to hurt myself, not last night and not when I went after You Know Who. I don't think Gran even believes me. What's everyone going to think of me now?"
"I believe you," Harry assured him. It was far easier to believe that Neville had cocked up a simple potion than that he'd tried to end his own life. "And listen, Snape can't talk. He makes stupid mistakes, too."
Neville was almost smiling, by the time Harry had finished telling him about Snape's itchy rash and upset stomach.
Chapter 18: Checks and Balances
What Harry really wanted, when he got home, was to take his Firebolt out and try to sort his thoughts out, high in the air. But he'd been gone most of the day. He'd have to stick near Snape for the rest of it, if he didn't want to pay the price. Neville's gran had given them dry ham sandwiches and glasses of slightly warm milk, for lunch. Lupin had trodden on his foot when he tried to make his excuses, so Harry had stayed to keep him company, listening to Mrs Longbottom ramble on in shame and distress. Harry wasn't sure she still had all her marbles.
The snack was sitting like a brick of lead in his stomach and the Floo trip had been bad. After Lupin had talked Neville's gran into unblocking her Floo so that Harry could travel safely - Sirius reckoned that Lupin could talk anyone into anything, given enough time - it had seemed too rude to bring out his own, brand new Floo powder. He'd taken a pinch from the jar on the mantelpiece, instead.
The house smelled of strawberries, rose oil and bitter herb smoke, a combination that he would probably have enjoyed, had his stomach not been roiling from the trip.
Snape's study door was closed and, this time, Harry knocked before opening it. He didn't think he'd been at fault when Snape got upset, earlier, but saw no reason to go annoying him any further.
"Where were you?" Snape asked, frostily, while Harry took in the unusually chaotic scene. Snape seemed to be working on several things at once. A large cauldron and a small one held cooling potions, jars and bottles were open all over the work surface and desk and Snape's apron was stained with something oily and blue. His robe sleeves were rolled up to the elbow and there was something blue lodged under his fingernails. "There was an owl for you. A very small one. And you should see the paper." Snape gestured in the general direction of the kitchen. Harry thought he looked very out of sorts. There was a strange, unblinking brightness to his eyes and his movements were twitchy.
"Neville, I know," Harry said, vaguely. "The headline is rubbish. He's fine. I went to make sure." Snape's eyes narrowed with suspicion - Harry had the feeling of being utterly transparent. "You've taken your potion." It was a guess, but he didn't think it was a bad one. There had been something... less... about Snape, since he poisoned himself. Perhaps even before that. Snape was disconcerted - Harry *knew* he was, but there was little outward sign. Just the restless movement of his fingers and, finally, a blink. Snape stopped meeting his eyes.
"So you can tell." He sounded annoyed about it.
"I used a full dose. I must begin gathering ingredients for the next batch. I would prefer that your involvement is minimal. Those who supply what I need had best not know of our association."
"Fine." Harry knew better than to argue with that, though the remark piqued his curiosity something fierce. "I have forty Galleons in my trunk." He didn't mention that Sirius had put them there. "Is that enough for starters?"
Snape swallowed, hard. His hands stopped fidgeting and made tight fists, instead. "I despise this, Potter," he whispered, fiercely, and turned away. Harry felt an ache that had nothing to do with eating day-old sandwiches, and didn't know what to say. "I shall need fifty, but I believe I have the rest."
"I need to know how much," Harry pressed, uneasily. "I need to know how much to put by for this, and how often. I won't mention it except when I have to, I know you hate this, but I need to know."
"I will be able to tell you precisely in a few days. Dumbledore had a great deal of influence. I suspect I may find the cost higher, and the bargaining harder, without his patronage."
"Somebody told me they make good pets, for Parselmouths," Harry said, not knowing what to say about Dumbledore. He didn't even know what to *think* about Dumbledore, any more. "Runespoors. Maybe we could get one?"
"Don't be banal. Now, I need your contribution."
For a second, Harry thought they were still talking about money. Then he realised that Snape was pointing to a small cauldron of oil, over which a large chunk of rose quartz was magically suspended. Harry was caught somewhere between off-guard and indignation.
"Just drop my trousers then, shall I?" He wasn't sure he'd ever been less in the mood.
"If you prefer." Snape matched his sarcasm without missing a beat. "I, however, was planning to use blood, on this occasion." He held up his wand and his left hand.
Harry let it go, since it was in a good cause. He wondered if the oil would work the same, or feel as good, using blood instead of semen, but if the alternative was trying to get himself off in Snape's cauldron, with Snape watching, he'd chance it.
Once he'd made his 'contribution', Snape made it perfectly clear that his presence was no longer welcome. Harry went to find his letter, grinning when he saw Ron's carefully printed return address on the back. Not The Burrow; some place in London. Ron had never bothered putting a return address on anything before, that Harry could remember, and he didn't usually write in such large, neat letters, either. Harry hoped he was pleased with the place he'd found. He put off reading the letter though, keen to have something to look forward to for a while. He went upstairs to change into a comfortably loose robe, stowing the book he'd bought, and his personal supply of Floo powder, on the top shelf of his wardrobe. He wasn't sure how Snape would react to either purchase, and didn't particularly want to find out.
Lounging on his bed, Harry finally opened his letter from Ron. He could tell from the writing that Ron had dictated it to a quill rather than writing it himself, and grinned once again. He'd probably get a lot more letters from Ron, if he'd got himself a toy like that.
For the first time, Ron mentioned a bit of what had happened with Hermione, but most of his news was about the Auror training, his new uniform, his wand allowance, and his peril-enhanced trainee's salary. His flat sounded like a right hole, but Harry wasn't at all surprised that Ron was thrilled about getting a place of his own, no matter how bad; between his large family and his dormitory at school, Ron probably hadn't had real privacy in his life. He sounded happy, if rather overexcited, and Harry was glad for him. It had been nearly a month since he'd seen Ron - hardly any time at all, compared to the long summer holidays of their school years, but it somehow seemed much longer. He felt strangely reluctant to try writing back. He wanted to say a lot, but didn't want to put any of it in writing.
Harry turned over on his front and settled down, snorting into his pillow. Now Snape had him being paranoid about sending letters that mentioned their "association", as he called it. He wondered if Ron knew what their living with *Impertio* meant for the sleeping arrangements. Had Hermione told him? Ron's family was pretty traditional, for all their loyalty to Dumbledore; Harry was pretty sure that Ron would understand about him *having* to sleep with Snape. But what about his *wanting* to? What about his suspicion that, much as he liked girls, he liked the idea of blokes an awful lot better?
Harry had a pretty good idea of where Hermione stood on things; she understood, and she would probably roll her eyes and wonder why it had taken so long - and taken Snape, of all people - to make him notice something like that about himself. But Hermione was Muggle-born. From what Snape had said, he could expect a lot less sympathy from wizards at large. He wondered about Lupin, so matter-of-fact and dismissive of any shame, when it came to the spell. Would *he* be revolted to learn that Harry felt this way? Would Sirius? That last made his stomach flip over, all guilty and nervous. He didn't know how Sirius felt about blokes with blokes, but he knew exactly how Sirius felt about Severus Snape. If he got wind of the fact that Harry had felt like staying in bed with him and talking, this morning, he was going to think Harry had gone completely *mad*.
Before making supper, Harry added ten Galleons from his own money pouch to the pouch of forty that Sirius had left in his trunk, slipped into Snape's bedroom and left the bag on a pillow. Handing over the money wasn't a scene he particularly wanted to face, and he'd appreciated the way Snape left him the quartz essence the other day. He reminded himself that Snape had promised to explain about the potion when he showed how it was made; he didn't need, really, to be involved in getting the ingredients, too. But he *was* curious. He didn't think his joking suggestion of getting his own Runespoor had been a bad one (he liked snakes, and they usually liked him). Snape had hinted that he'd be dealing with some fairly shady characters and Harry had to admit that he was curious about that side of wizarding life. A lot of potion ingredients were restricted, and purchases registered. Harry doubted that Snape would be signing his name to very many of the ingredients he was after, on this occasion.
He wished he'd been able to ask Lupin about the library, but it hadn't seemed so urgent while he was worrying about Neville, and everything. And calling unannounced on Lupin was out of the question, if he had a ladyfriend; Harry knew how he'd feel, if he was caught at it by a visitor, and there wasn't much chance of privacy in a little flat like Lupin's. He supposed he'd have to send an owl, next time he wanted to drop in. He'd have to try the library on his own, then, and ask Sirius for more information - and pin him down until he gave it.
There was a pleasant, sweet-smoke smell from Snape's study, as he passed it on his way to the kitchen. Harry breathed deeply, recognising the scent but unable to place it. One of the herb-burning stages of a basic medicinal potion, he was sure. Snape was as good as his word. Harry wondered if Snape would ask him for any other supplies he needed, or if he'd be too proud.
The newspaper on the kitchen table showed a picture of Neville under the headline 'Hero Attempts Suicide'. Harry threw the paper into the fire, knotting up inside and having to breathe deeply to calm himself down again. Maybe it was for the best if people had the wrong idea about Neville; it might be bad for a while, but they might leave him alone, in the long run. Wizards were usually quite good at ignoring what they'd rather not think about. Harry imagined finding reporters camped outside his house, nosing into his business and twisting what they saw. Snape would have a fit. It only confirmed in Harry's mind that, however uncomfortable things got with Snape and the spell and everything, he'd rather be where he was than in Neville's place.
He served fish and potatoes and peas for supper, which Snape pushed around the plate, distractedly, while scowling at nothing in particular. Harry didn't have much of an appetite, himself, but he made slightly more of an effort with the food than Snape did.
"I didn't mean to make you angry, this morning," he said, when they'd both given up moving food around in the sauce and sat back in their chairs. "I don't think you should yell at me, when we're in bed."
"I wasn't in the bed." Snape was preoccupied with his left cuff, straightening it and smoothing it, his distant expression unchanged, unless you counted the slight twitch at his temple. "A few kisses don't change the fact that I like my privacy." He looked at Harry, at last, and the look made Harry feel hollow inside. "Don't ask intrusive questions if you dislike my manner of answering them."
"Even when they're about me?"
"Especially then." After too long a pause, Snape blinked. "We should maintain a truce in the bedroom. It's for the best."
Harry thought he'd just suggested that, himself. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from saying so.
"It was all right, then? That's what you like doing?" Harry didn't know why the question came out sounding slightly disdainful. Snape stiffened, though whether it was at the question, or his tone of voice, Harry couldn't tell. "Forget it," he muttered, suddenly feeling guilty and embarrassed for even mentioning it. He started to clear the table, putting their plates on the draining board and reaching for his wand to vanish the untouched meal. It let him put his back to Snape without looking like he was in a mood, but Snape had stood up, too. Harry could feel him standing too close. If he turned around, there wouldn't be anywhere to go. Harry wondered if he needed a bigger kitchen, or if they should start eating in the dining room. Maybe he should start eating in his room, if Snape liked his privacy that much...
"If the arrangement makes you uncomfortable, we should try the oil instead," Snape said, his voice low and almost ... gentle. "I believe it will be enough to keep you functioning, if you limit yourself to simple magic."
"I didn't say that," Harry pointed out, sharply. "I asked if *you* liked it. I'm *uncomfortable* with you looking at me like I'm something you trod in down Knockturn Alley."
Harry was quite used to feeling angry, since it happened all the time. He'd just never worked out where the words came from, sometimes. Things he thought but never meant to say; things he knew he'd regret, one way or another. It was only a few weeks since Snape stopped being his teacher and started being ... something else. The part of him that was bracing itself for a detention sat uneasily with the part that made his mouth go dry, remembering last night. Did they have an 'arrangement'? Was that why Snape had stayed quietly beside him, until he woke up? Harry didn't think he'd agreed to anything, but what did he know? Snape expected all sorts of things - expected him to *know* all sorts of things - without bothering to explain the reasoning. He always had, and he probably always would.
"I said I was willing. I didn't claim I was a prize catch."
Something in Snape's too-airy tone made Harry want to laugh, but he hid it, pretending to wipe his face with the back of his wrist.
"Yeah," he said, when he trusted his voice again. It shook slightly, but Harry didn't think Snape would be able to tell amusement from anger. "Well, that makes two of us."
It was a while longer before he trusted himself to turn around. Smirking in Snape's face never went down well, under any circumstances. He leaned against the sink, folding his arms across his chest. Snape was leaning against the table, and his arms were folded, too. He looked whiter than usual and his lips were pressed into a thin line, but Harry had the faint impression that he wasn't the only one trying not to smirk.
"I'm sure you won't find your opportunities as limited as mine, Potter," Snape said, with a healthy dose of sarcasm. "If you're fortunate, you may even outgrow the inclination and settle down like a real man."
Harry remembered how Snape's cock felt against his arse, remembered gruff sounds and rough movement and how hard he'd come last night, twice, got an erection just thinking about it, and doubted it very much.
Snape noticed his reaction - Harry was sure he did, but he didn't mind as much as he thought he would. Given what they were talking about, Snape ought to understand, if anyone did. He dreaded to think what *else* they might have in common.
"Okay," he said, ducking his head and glancing towards the door. He wasn't used to Snape hovering so close, or prolonging a conversation - especially not one that was turning so personal. "Truce in the bedroom, then."
"Very well." Snape still looked vaguely amused. Harry was starting to feel really young and ignorant, with Snape looking at him that way. He felt like getting the last word, but didn't know what to say, so he was glad when a familiar voice hollered from the distant drawing room.
*"Hey! Anyone home? Answer the bloody fire!"*
Snape rolled his eyes and stalked out into the kitchen garden. Harry went to talk to his godfather.
Sirius had lost more weight, since Harry last saw him, and Harry suspected that he'd fallen back on his old habit of missing meals and making up for it with booze. Nobody had blamed him, when Grimmauld Place was his whole world and Kreacher his most constant companion, but Harry had worried then, and he worried now, walking with his arm through Sirius', even though he didn't need anybody to lean on, any more. Sirius' ears were rather red, from having his head stuck in the Floo for so long. Harry wondered why he hadn't just Apparated over unannounced; did he think he wasn't welcome, or something?
"You should come and stay for a while," Harry suggested, recklessly. He could just imagine how Snape would take to that. "I miss you." He wondered if you could miss somebody when, really, you'd never seen much of them. He thought he did. Sirius squeezed his arm, and let go.
The long path down to the gate had interested Harry only for its usefulness as a clear landing strip, before, but Sirius said he liked walking there. Harry suspected he'd just wanted to be on the other side of the house from Snape, but had to admit that the scrunch of gravel under their feet made a soothing noise.
"Actually, I've been thinking about getting Buckbeak and going abroad for a while," Sirius told him, after a long silence. Harry wondered if that was the reason he'd asked to come over. "I'd come back if you needed anything," he added, far too quickly. "You know I would."
"I know," Harry said, puzzled, and stopped walking. They were nearly at the great iron gates. "I don't mind, if that's what you want. I'll visit you." He hesitated, uncomfortably aware that he didn't really know what Sirius was getting at. "If that's what you want."
His first thought had been to ask Sirius what more he knew about the spell, and what books he'd looked up, but one look at his godfather's head in the fire had put it out of his mind. He wondered how he'd managed not to notice how miserable Sirius seemed, then felt bad when he realised that he *had* noticed; he'd just been too preoccupied with himself to care.
"What do you know about Lupin's ladyfriend?" he asked, desperate to find something they could talk about without such long and painful pauses. Sirius was usually good for any subject that led on to the old days. Sirius worked his hands into his pockets, turned on his heel and started wandering back up the gravel path, even more slowly than before.
"Not much. I mean, she left school the year we started. I saw her around, then. Her mum died in the first war. But I don't know her. Haven't seen much of either of them, to be honest." A thin smile touched Sirius' mouth. "He's mad about her, though. Head over heels. You can tell by the way he doesn't say anything." The smile widened, showed a few teeth and a flash of mischief, but Harry didn't take much comfort from that. Sirius was making him really nervous.
"Have I done something wrong?" he asked, before he could chicken out. Like Snape said, it was stupid to ask a question if you didn't want the answer. He wasn't sure he wanted the truth, but ...
"What? No," Sirius said, frowning. He stopped again, finally looking Harry in the eye. "No."
"It's just... Snape said that wizards are funny about..." Harry's throat constricted. What if he told Sirius what he'd been feeling, what he suspected about himself, only to find that Sirius *was* one of the wizards who had a problem with it?
"When did you start listening to what Snape said?" Sirius wondered, and his faint smile seemed real, this time. He put his hands on Harry's shoulders. "Start spouting any of that pureblood shit and I'll have a problem with it," Sirius said. "There's nothing else you could do that I'd hate you for. Nothing, and definitely nothing you have to do to stay alive and well. Got it?"
His fingers were just about bruising Harry's shoulders, but he didn't want Sirius to let go.
"I'm not just doing it to stay alive and well," he said, in one breath, while he still could. "I like it." Sirius frowned, working out what he meant, then nodded, seriously. "And ... Snape. I think I like it ... with Snape."
"Ugh," Sirius said loudly and firmly. Then he hugged Harry so hard he couldn't breathe, and didn't let go for ages.
Chapter 19: Edge
The evening after Harry's talk with Sirius, Snape went out at dusk. He pulled a heavy cloak around his body, even though it wasn't at all cold, and put up the hood before he Apparated. Harry, too used to watching people go off on a mission and never come back, sat on the sofa and stared into the fire. He supposed that at least, if something bad happened, he wouldn't have time to find out whether or not he'd miss Snape. It was actually rather comforting to know that there was one person in the world he definitely wouldn't outlive.
He'd been restless since Sirius said he was thinking of leaving; he'd slept badly and got up early enough to see Snape taking the second to last dose of his potion. He hadn't mentioned the money or the ingredients and Snape seemed more at ease, the longer the silence went on, but there had been no doubting the reason for his trip out.
"I have to go out. I'll be late," had been his only comment on the subject, as he finished not-eating his supper. Harry had said something equally bland, and watched him go, his own food sitting like a punishment somewhere beneath his ribs. He hoped it stayed there.
Harry had thought he might enjoy being all alone in the great big house - he'd even sent Hedwig off with a reply to Ron - but after a couple of hours, as the last light faded and the stars came out, he found the stillness more ominous than enjoyable. The peculiarity of actually wishing Snape was around struck him, hard.
He'd never wished Snape *dead*, exactly, but neither had Snape been one of the people whose missions for the order left him sick with worry, waiting and dreading bad news. It felt very strange indeed, to be worrying about him now. And it wasn't as if he was off on any life-and-death mission! He'd gone to buy some iffy potion ingredients from some iffy people - probably people like Mundungus Fletcher - and while they might go hard on his money pouch, they surely wouldn't have any reason to want him dead. Would they?
To Harry's knowledge, Snape hadn't left the house alone since they'd first arrived. His Order of Merlin was common knowledge, and so was the fact that he'd been a key player in Voldemort's final fall. There had to be people out there who didn't think much of that. People on both sides.
Around midnight, Harry told himself to stop being stupid and get upstairs to bed... but he stayed where he was, massaging his sore neck and shoulder, and staring into the fire until his vision swam. He was a hundred percent certain that Snape wouldn't appreciate the gesture, and fairly sure it would piss him off, but he didn't care. He waited.
He'd been drifting for what felt like hours, when he finally heard the front door open and close, and Snape quietly casting a spell to lock it behind him. Harry had trouble making his eyes stay open; he'd never quite fallen asleep, but his body objected to being made to move, when he'd been so close. Everything felt slightly dreamlike. He stumbled around the sofa and followed the sound of Snape's footsteps, to his study.
Snape was shrugging off his cloak, when Harry put his head around the door.
"Why aren't you in bed?" Snape snapped, before Harry even managed to say hello. He laid his cloak over the back of his chair with unnecessary care. He moved stiffly.
"W...worried," Harry answered, around a massive yawn that he didn't bother trying to conceal. He leaned against the edge of the door and blinked until Snape came into clearer focus. "D'you get what you needed?"
"Yes. Naturally." Harry woke up, somewhat, at the bitterness in Snape's voice. He'd thought it would all be easier, once Snape had the stuff for his potion - that maybe then, Snape might trust him a bit more not to start making fun, or abusing his confidence, or whatever it was that put him in such a foul mood every time the subject came up. Apparently, he'd been wrong. "The price was high. I must release you from your promise to assist me. I have made... other arrangements."
Taken aback, Harry felt his mouth moving, but decided he didn't have anything to say, for the moment. He didn't like the sound of 'other arrangements', very much, and it didn't look as if Snape was too thrilled, either. He saw the empty money pouch, on the desk behind Snape, along with a very small bundle, and put his questions together carefully.
"Is that it? How long will it last? What other arrangements?"
Snape glared at him, scooped up his cloak and folded it over his arm, and swept past him into the hall. Flattened against the door as he passed, Harry noticed that Snape still seemed very *tall* when he was angry. "Listen, you've got to stop messing me about," Harry called after him, his voice rising. "Either you trust me or you don't! I'm in this! What other arrangements?"
"Get to bed," Snape barked back, not needing to raise his voice very much to make a point. "For once in your life, mind your own business and do as you're told."
Harry bristled, fully awake as his outrage reached a perfect peak. He'd waited, worried sick that Snape would find himself in trouble for his secrets - he'd offered to buy whatever the man needed, indefinitely, regardless of how their *association* played out, and this was his idea of gratitude?
"You *are* my business!" He managed to stop just short of calling Snape a few insulting names, on the end of it.
"Am I?" It was odd, how Snape's voice got quieter, the more enraged he became. He seemed to have been hanging his cloak; when he came back around the corner, it was with a swirl of dark robes and a sweeping movement that put Harry vividly in mind of his first year at Hogwarts, and a thousand pointless, petty encounters with that vicious tongue, since. "Or is it that you enjoy this? Look me in the eye, Potter, and tell me you don't enjoy seeing me humiliated for your body, for your money." He strode forward and grabbed Harry by the arm, hauled him into the passageway, and didn't let go. He bent down, his breaths fast and unsteady, and whispered. "Tell me."
Harry wondered, vaguely, why he hadn't considered reaching for his wand. He would have, a few weeks ago - would have gone for it if Snape so much as sneezed. He found himself caught up in that unblinking, black stare - felt like prey in something's talons. But he wasn't scared. Snape wouldn't hurt him.
"I don't," he breathed. "Of course I don't. Not like this." He tried to pull his arm free, but Snape just grabbed the other one, his eyes burning black, fevered with rage and something else, something dark and endless that Harry knew could destroy him. Both of them. "Stop putting words in my mouth," he demanded, very quietly, very clearly. "Stop putting thoughts in my head. You don't have any idea. You never did."
Snape looked, for a second, as if he might lose it completely; he was shaking, his hands clutching Harry like claws, his face twisted with bitterness and suspicion and *pain*. Then Harry couldn't see anything, any more, because Snape shoved him against the wall, tore off his glasses and pinned him with a fierce kiss. Harry couldn't move and didn't want to, even when he heard his glasses landing and smashing in the hall somewhere, several feet to his left. He didn't care. Snape had him shaking with something that lay between fright and hunger - desperate to prove his loyalty, his strength, his lack of duplicity... Snape's kisses were harsh, hard, bruising and suffocating. His nose got in the way and Harry felt smothered by the height and weight of him, but he kissed back, clung back, ground himself against Snape's thighs, until Snape heaved a great breath, turning his head to the side.
"If you're going to say no, say it now," he panted, his lips moving against Harry's ear. Overwhelmed, knees shaking, the only word that came to his lips was 'no', but he had no idea how he meant it, it was just an easy word, and he pressed his lips together to stop it getting out. He pushed himself against Snape's weight, trying to be encouraging, and shook his head, desperately. It all got very simple, when Snape forced his lips apart again, forced a knee between his thighs and started thrusting him into the wall.
He wasn't sure he knew the words for how Snape was making him feel - it was a hunger, mixed with the fear that it couldn't possibly be satisfied, by anything, ever. It was everything he'd felt when Snape gave him the potion, the first time, and had him in the chair; only, this time, his conscious mind was working, nagging, worrying at him even as he let it happen. And Snape wasn't stopping now, for anything. The thrill Harry felt at that would have been enough to make him come, but his cock could find no friction - Snape was avoiding him, drawing back, denying him... Harry made a grab for him, but Snape just grabbed his wrist and held him at bay. He was strong.
"*Accio*," Snape hissed, thrusting his free hand towards the study door. A green bottle came flying into his hand, but Harry didn't have time to see what it was; Snape was walking, still holding his wrist, and dragging him towards the dining room with rapid, urgent steps. Harry almost had to jog to keep up.
"Where are..." he began, but Snape stopped in the dining room, pushed him back so that the backs of his thighs hit the edge of the table, and smothered him again. This time, the kisses were slower, deeper, devouring something inside him; it was awkward, with their different heights, and Snape's bruising grips were starting to register as painful, but Harry *wanted*, the way he'd never wanted anything, in a lifetime of conscious and unconscious want. He hooked one leg behind Snape's, and felt Snape groan into his mouth.
He was still a terrible kisser.
The table didn't make sense, until Harry found himself lying on it, with Snape reaching up under his robes and yanking down his pants. The green bottle made sense, then, too, and Harry felt a cold chill wander up and down his spine, a few times, before exploding sweetly, somewhere near that spot Snape had found and played with, the last time.
"Are you going to?" he tried to say, but his mouth was too dry; it came out as a whispered croak. He'd imagined it before, but he'd never factored in a table... how was he supposed to...
Snape was stripping off his own underwear, one hand gripping Harry's ankle, as if scared he might run for it. For a second, when Snape bent over him, between his legs, Harry was scared he might, too. There was light in the drawing room, and in the hall, but in the dining room, Snape was only looming shadow above him.
With a sharp tug, Snape pulled him nearer, so his arse was hanging over the edge, and Harry gathered what they were going to do. His robes were somewhere around his waist, uncomfortable, and he felt exposed, vulnerable, with Snape above him and his legs captured. Snape was oddly gentle about taking off his shoes and socks, but discarded them with the same abandon that had smashed his glasses, before. He put Harry's ankles up on his shoulders, and held his thighs, tight.
"Oh, god..." Harry managed, before the sensation of Snape's bare skin against his own made the whole world go black, for a second. Skin felt hot, soft, there was give and movement when they twitched against one another, and it was *there*, and the contact seared his senses. He wanted to reach down and touch, to have Snape's cock in his hand, but found himself holding the table-edge with both hands, instead, too uncoordinated to do anything but lie there. Snape was touching his legs, fingertip caresses down the inside of his thighs alternating with his biting grip, each movement making Harry gasp and twitch. Sure that Snape was watching him, unable to see much in return, Harry hoped he didn't look too stupid, lying there.
Snape let go of him with one hand. There was a slight, soft 'pop', then something runny and cool, trickling down the inside of Harry's thighs. It made him shiver - it was cooler than room-temperature, a potion, something magic...
"No, no potions, no magic," he protested, trying to sit up, but Snape tipped him off balance and his head hit the table.
"You need this one," Snape told him, gruffly. "Unless you'd prefer me to spit in my hand?"
*Oh.* Harry closed his eyes. They needed something to make it easy... a little bit of magic might come in handy, for that... what could it hurt...
"Oh!" Snape smoothed a great deal of the cool stuff across his backside, fingers burrowing between his cheeks, and Harry's fingers locked painfully on the table edge. He couldn't lie still, his body moved, but didn't seem to know whether to move towards or away from that touch, so settled for rocking, unsteadily, back and forth. Two fingers slipped inside him, unexpected and easy, and Harry felt his body lock around those, too. "Oh..." The cool stuff felt incredible - felt warm inside him, made Snape's fingers move like silk against silk in there - made him clench and hurt and hunger for more. He panted for air and tried to cooperate, but couldn't keep still; his wriggling dislodged Snape's fingers, and that felt beyond words, too. He felt smothered by cloth, Snape's robe and his own all jumbled up, hot and unwelcome, but there was nothing he could do - could barely lift his head - hardly dared do *anything* in case Snape took it the wrong way, and stopped.
Snape pressed forward, pressing his legs into an awkward cramp; the first discomfort that had truly registered. He didn't have time to do anything about it, though; Snape caught hold of his right leg, wrapping one arm around it and gripping hard; the other hand was between his buttocks, again, moving easily with the slick potion, bringing a blunt pressure to bear... Harry didn't realise what was happening, until it had happened, until he was trying to push himself away from the maddening sensation of being filled from outside. Snape held him tight and pushed deeper, saying something in a deep, soft voice that was lost to Harry, meaningless - just a noise that added new sensation when he was already overwhelmed. He cried out, his own sounds meaningless, and felt tears slipping sideways down his temples. He wasn't built for this, he couldn't handle this, wasn't ready for this, but Snape was thrusting, sparking even deeper sensations that stole the last of his breath and made him choke on the tears.
Harry registered the touch to his cock, firm grip and swift strokes that matched Snape's movements, long before he gathered that it was his own hand doing it, that he was close to the edge, that somewhere in the storm of feeling there was *pleasure*, incredible pleasure, deep and complete, like the Cruciatus curse backwards; and that Snape was still talking, gasping and hissing words that Harry knew he'd regret not taking on board, but they meant nothing to him now. He wasn't in control, at all, of anything, and it felt *wonderful*.
He came, somewhere in the midst of it all, some time before Snape slumped over him, panting and pinning him to the table with one arm against his chest; the deep pleasure, the overload of feeling, was turning to an all-over numbness, but Snape's shaking registered, demanded some action on his part; Harry moved his right arm, like lifting lead, and reached for Snape's face. For a moment, Snape locked up, not even shaking, he was so frozen. Then his tongue moved across the palm of Harry's hand, nearly killing him with one feeling more, and Harry realised that his hand was still covered in come.
His next moment of clarity felt like an age later, when he was naked in Snape's bed, being kissed when every nerve in his body thought that he ought to be asleep, instead. It was a shallow kiss, shy almost. Harry fancied that it tasted of some sense of inadequacy. He moved his left arm, more to locate it than to put it anywhere, and felt Snape's arms lock around him, as if afraid he was trying for an escape. It was dark, completely dark. Magic whispered over him, from the enchanted black drapes somewhere to his right, from hidden Dark Detectors, and, somewhere so deep down it was barely even subconscious, from *Impertio*, feeding greedily on such intimacy between them.
He noted that the body against his own was slightly damp, nicely warm and very naked, put some effort into returning the kiss for a moment, until Snape loosened his grip a bit. Then he fell into a sleep that felt deeper than death.
Chapter 20: In Business
It took Harry a few moments to decide where he was, when he woke up. It took him a few more, after that, to decide with any certainty that he was awake, because Snape was next to him, stark naked and hot to the touch. Harry was spooned up tight behind him, and he was hard, and Snape was wanking himself, slowly, the slight movement unmistakable.
"Oh, god," Harry murmured, into Snape's back.
Snape stopped, and stopped breathing for good measure, but only for a few seconds.
"Good morning," he said, as though he wasn't sure about it. Harry wasn't sure, either; the room was completely dark. "Are you well?"
Harry squeezed his eyes closed, resting his forehead against Snape's back and trying to get a handle on the moment. Snape had asked him that often enough, making sure he was getting the contact he needed, but he'd certainly had *that*, last night. This was different. There was the possibility that he actually gave a damn, and a problem if he didn't.
"Yeah." He moved his right arm, which was cramped, and felt Snape tense and tremble as his hand moved over bare skin. "Can I touch you?" It was a stupid question, when at least half of him was already touching Snape, but he didn't dare just do it. He was full of other questions, but if he asked them... he didn't dare. "I mean..."
"Yes." Snape dislodged him, turning over, tangling with him again and half covering him. Harry wished that there was light, then remembered that he didn't have his glasses on, and that Snape had broken them, last night, anyway. He used his hands instead, feeling his way across Snape's back, then up to his shoulders, then down to his backside. He rubbed there, and Snape gasped, rolling further on top of him.
If it was that easy, Harry decided (as Snape located his throat and started kissing there like his life depended on it) then they'd be doing a lot of this, from now on. It wasn't quite what he'd had in mind, when he asked about touching, but it was better, so he didn't care. Snape came on his thigh and Harry came in his hand, and then they slept again.
He woke up with Snape so close, facing him, holding on to him with both arms, that it seemed natural to kiss him. It was easy not to think, just to feel, and Snape even took a couple of gentle nudges and got his nose out of the way for a fairly decent kiss. Harry couldn't work out how you were supposed to *stop*, once you'd started - would happily have kept going until Snape could make him come again, and not bothered with thinking ever again, if he hadn't remembered his promise.
"Your potion," he said, uneasily. Snape grunted, let go, and settled a short distance away, fingertips moving lightly in the tender spot on the inside of Harry's elbow. Harry felt too good - didn't want to nag on the subject, in case Snape remembered that they'd been fighting, first, and that sex had been the distraction... but he'd promised. "Is it time?"
"Probably." Snape stopped touching him, rolled over and scrabbled around among the clutter on the bedside table. Harry was dazzled by the flare from his wand, as he cast *Finite Incantatem* in the general direction of the window. The drapes vanished completely and the room was full of daylight - bright, way past morning sort of daylight. Harry shielded his eyes, wishing Snape hadn't done that. "Past time," Snape said, holding his wand with both hands, across his lap.
"Oh," Harry said. Daylight made him feel strangely timid, afraid that Snape might see what he'd done - who he'd done - with a clear head and... Harry didn't know what. Lock himself away, again? Leave? Treat him like it was just nothing? It hadn't been nothing, not like that, not when Snape was so...
He didn't think he was going to be very good at this.
"I should offer to leave your house. It would be the honourable course of action, after this." Snape was looking the other way. Harry had never heard that sort of uncertainty in his voice, before.
"I don't want you to. " Harry was half glad of his broken glasses. Daylight was bad enough; at least he couldn't see Snape's expression clearly. He sat up, keeping the sheet in front of him, though he didn't know why. He hadn't cared last night. Didn't even know which room his clothes were in... "Don't play head games with me. Not now. Not yet. I'm..." Happy, had been the word on his lips, but it wouldn't be spoken. "Hungry," he finished, muttering the word into his chest, and bowed his head over his knees, hugging them. He wished he could grow up faster; what had seemed easy, when he was tangled up in Snape and on the edge of coming, when they were kissing, made him feel like he was falling, now. He wondered if everyone was as complicated, or if it was just Snape. "Do you want to leave? You said you had 'other arrangements', you don't need me to..."
"I wish to stay." Snape sounded a bit more like himself, at that - brisk and ungentle and unreasonable, even though he was actually being reasonable, for once. "I will go when you ask me to go."
Harry relaxed a bit. That made sense; solid statements like those, he could deal with. Even so, he was tired and a bit cold, aching now that his body was cooling, and he wished he was still in the dark, feeling good and not remembering how to think.
"This is weird," he muttered, dragging the sheet with him as he got out of bed and clutching it tight. "I'm making breakfast."
He put his foot on his robe, near the door, and bent to pick it up. A few unusual aches made him wince, and he knew that Snape was staring at the back of his head.
It seemed to take him ages to get bathed and dressed and down to the kitchen; his mind kept wandering back, replaying bits of the night before, freezing him in the middle of whatever he was doing. Consequently, breakfast turned out to be a late lunch and Snape had spent an hour or more working, before Harry managed to get himself downstairs. Potion smells filled the ground floor, familiar. It reminded him of Hogwarts.
He found his glasses on the kitchen table, repaired, next to a hot coffee pot and an empty mug. Snape's empty cup and potion bottle were upside down on the draining board.
Harry didn't know how everything could look so *normal*. It wasn't normal - *everything* had changed last night... except, he still felt hungry, still needed his glasses, still hated the taste of Snape's coffee, still worried about Sirius and Neville and Ron and Hermione... so what *had* changed, exactly?
He wondered if Snape was as confused as he was.
Since they'd missed breakfast and just about missed lunch (and since Harry was fairly sure Snape ought to have eaten something with that potion of his), he put together a couple of rounds of ham sandwiches instead of his usual tea and toast. They were running low on basic food, now, but there was still enough stored meat to feed Dumbledore's Army for five days. Harry supposed he'd get the hang of running his own house, eventually - learn what he actually needed to buy to keep things going, but things were changing again. Sirius was going away and wouldn't be there to rely on if he managed to mess things up too badly. Harry wondered if he could get away with working during the day, coming home at night ... if he and Snape spent every night together... they would, wouldn't they?
Harry cut his finger with the butter knife, picturing himself behind a desk at the Ministry of Magic, at the same time as picturing himself gasping under Snape. He managed not to bleed on Snape's half of the sandwiches.
A plate of sandwiches in one hand, and his left index finger in his mouth, Harry tapped against Snape's study door with the edge of the plate, and pushed it open with his elbow. He was just in time to see Snape's hand close around a few Galleons and Sickles - very few - and sweep them from the desk into one of his robe pockets. Harry's jaw hardened.
"Here," he said, pretending he hadn't noticed. Snape pretended too, and took the plate, nodding some kind of thanks. It was such a normal thing to do that it made Harry uneasy. He'd once spent a week in detention for having a bar of chocolate in Snape's classroom; spent two evenings out of five writing several feet of essay on Why Having Food in the Potions Lab is a Stupid Thing To Do, and the rest scrubbing work tables until they were so sterile that you could, actually, have eaten off them. Snape had confiscated the chocolate, too.
"I will be making the Runespoor potion, this evening. If you still want to see how it's done." Snape slid the plate onto his desk, untouched. Harry couldn't remember when he'd last eaten. Worry jumped from his stomach to his throat - stupid, pointless. Snape was twice his age and had survived that long without anybody, apparently, worrying about him. He didn't need Harry. Not for that, anyway.
"I will also be making another potion. It might be better if you're not here at all, for that one."
"Dangerous?" Harry asked, curiosity replacing some of the burning worry. He'd lived with dangerous things for a very long time; Snape knew that he could handle himself around magic, around potions...
"Illegal," Snape replied, bluntly. "But worth a great deal of gold."
"Oh." Harry toed the floor, realised that he had a hole in his socks, realised that Snape was actually looking at him, just not at his face, and wished they were back in bed, breathless and sweaty and doing, not thinking. "We need bread and stuff. I'll ... I'll be shopping, tomorrow morning, I suppose. And I wanted to see the library in Pen Alley..."
"Good." Snape brushed something nonexistent off the desk, shifting in his chair. His green book was open at a page of columns, each full of numbers in Snape's spidery, angular handwriting. Accounts, Harry realised. The cost of his potion. Harry had the urge to smooth a hand across his shoulders - would have, if it had been anybody else. "I've lived so long on secrets," Snape said, very quietly, before Harry had decided what to do or say next. He held his breath, knowing that he had to catch every word - grasp, and understand. "I fear to give them up. Try to be patient. I ... will try."
"I really was worried, last night. That you might not come back. And not because I'll drop dead, if you do."
Snape nodded, still staring at Harry's midsection, his head slightly bowed.
"A fine match," he said, so quietly Harry had to strain to hear it. He sounded sad. When he turned back to face his desk, Harry heard the coins jingle in his pocket. He knew that it was all Snape had; those few inadequate coins, and Harry Potter.
Harry stayed up most of the night with Snape, learning the intricacies of his nameless Runespoor-based potion. In the morning, after they'd slept a couple of hours without bothering to undress, he drank a Pepperup Potion and some of Snape's cold, leftover coffee, and took the Floo to Diagon Alley. It was a cool, clear morning under a bright blue sky, promising a blazing hot day ahead. Harry enjoyed the shade, walking up the Alley without any great hurry, but with a sense of purpose so obvious that the few early morning shoppers didn't bother staring for long. Harry didn't care, anyway. Nothing felt entirely real - hadn't, since Snape went out for his potion supplies - and whatever capacity he had to feel resentment or anger was working, for the moment, on Severus Snape's behalf.
He hadn't said much, as they worked on the potion. Just enough.
The 'closed' sign was still hanging in the door of Ollivanders, but the door wasn't locked. Harry went inside, startled by the loudness of the bell that jangled above his head until the door fell closed, behind him. The box-lined walls gave the small shop a strange, muffled hush, not unlike a cramped library. Harry always felt that he ought to lower his voice, when he stepped inside. He tried to hang on to his determination, and forget that Ollivander gave him the creeps.
"I'm closed for inventory," Ollivander called, from somewhere in the rooms behind the counter. "Open at ten."
"I..." Harry's first attempt produced no sound; it was as if the unnatural hush had swallowed his voice. He cleared his throat. "It's Harry Potter. I need to talk to you."
The quiet was absolute, for a moment. Then Ollivander emerged, brushing dust from his hands, pinning Harry with a look of burning curiosity. He blinked even less than Snape did, after he'd taken his potion.
"Mr. Potter. How can I help you, today? Everything all right with the wands?" There was something oily, underlying the solicitous tone. Harry thought he might just be imagining it, seeing the worst, because he was angry... or maybe it had always been there. He'd always been a bundle of nerves, at their past meetings. Who could say what he'd missed?
"Tell me why you won't give Severus Snape his inheritance," Harry said. He shivered, hearing something of Dumbledore in his quiet, courteous command. "I know you could, if you wanted to."
"That is not for me to discuss with you, Mr. Potter," Ollivander said, peering down his narrow nose at Harry. "Has he sent you here?" His words were sharp, quick. It was hard to blink, himself, meeting Ollivander's luminous stare.
"No. Sirius ran into inheritance law, after they cleared his name. Turned out that nobody had any right to keep any property from him, because he was the only surviving male heir. Well, that's Snape, too. Isn't it?"
"There are conditions attached to the inheritance that Master Snape prefers not to meet. His father's property is in my trust, until such time as those conditions are satisfied. But you knew that," Ollivander said, lifting the counter flap and coming through. He wasn't much taller than Harry, and he was elderly and lightly built, but Harry was suddenly, deeply aware that Ollivander could break him in half without pulling a wand. "Perhaps it is within my power to be lenient. But I am not sympathetic to the needs of a *Death Eater*."
The words cut through him, like icy wind. Harry had thought, with Snape's veiled words about discretion, that his being queer was the problem - that Ollivander knew, and held it against him, and...
"That is why. "
Harry swallowed the nervous knot that was trying to settle in and block his windpipe.
"What does he have to do, then?" He wiped his sweaty palms down the back of his robe, trying to relax. Ollivander wasn't going to do anything worse than glare at him - if he hated the Death Eaters, especially. They were on the same side.
"Come. I have tea," Ollivander replied, and walked off into the back rooms before Harry could answer. He put his hand in his pocket, and gripped his wand, and followed.
There were boxes and boxes of wands, back there. Ollivander made them all, every one; he fetched the wood, bribed the bowtruckles, enchanted the core, shaped and sealed and crafted the wands into things of simple beauty. He did it all himself and there were hundreds of wands ... thousands, never mind all those he'd sold. Harry realised, for the first time, how very *old* Ollivander had to be.
"In here, Mr. Potter."
There was a small office, with a window facing out onto a dull, grey stone wall. Harry couldn't see a single wand in the square little room, but there was a desk, and a kettle, and a tea set. Ollivander spread the tea things over the desk, around his papers, took out his own wand (Harry tried to get a good look at it, and couldn't) and conjured a second, wooden chair.
"Please. Sit." He hit the kettle with his wand and sent a plume of steam towards the ceiling. Harry sat, stiffly, in the newly conjured chair, and watched Ollivander pour water into the teapot, carefully settle a striped tea-cosy over the top, then take the other seat. "Twinned wands. I've been thinking a great deal, about that. What is the nature of the spell that synchronised your magic?"
Harry hadn't got as far as thinking what he'd do, if Ollivander asked *him* any questions. But he had the very strong feeling that Ollivander already knew what he'd say, anyway.
"Ah," Ollivander nodded. He didn't look surprised.
"He saved me. He was willing to die. You can't think he's still one of them."
Ollivander steepled his thin fingers, frowning over them.
"I had the misfortune, Mr. Potter, of knowing Severus' father. A thoroughly unpleasant man with a fool of a wife - and a poor businessman, besides. We were in business together, for a short while, until I cut my losses. I knew Severus Snape as a small boy. Gave him his first wand, for his tenth birthday."
"Tenth?" Harry sat forward, then felt a bit embarrassed. He *was* desperate for information - for anything about Snape that he didn't already know - but he didn't have to look it. "Why so young?"
"Severus attended the Durmstrang Institute, where magical education begins at ten."
"He received a Hogwarts letter on his eleventh birthday, naturally, as he was born here. His father chose to move him to Hogwarts - I have my own suspicions as to the reason."
*Durmstrang*? Harry tried to stop his mind racing off, to listen, but he kept wondering why neither Snape nor Sirius had mentioned something like that. *Snape knew more curses when he arrived at school than half the kids in seventh year...* Sirius had told him that, ages ago. They taught the Dark Arts, at Durmstrang - and from what Viktor had told him, they didn't seem to teach much else.
"The will was drawn up shortly after Severus left school." Ollivander was pouring the tea; Harry tried to focus on him, to listen, to *think*. He had to understand this. "Severus was a troubled youth. I didn't blame him, given his upbringing. Cyrus Snape was less forgiving and imposed the conditions in an effort to make the boy behave."
"It didn't work."
"It most assuredly did not." For the first time, Ollivander smiled. Not a kind smile, but he seemed genuinely amused. "Blackmail seldom has the desired effect. Severus went his own way. After Snape's death - unmourned, I may add - I learned that he'd left the estate at my disposal and the conditions for me to enforce. I was possibly the closest thing the man ever had to a friend."
"What's in it for you?"
"The satisfaction of punishing a Death Eater who went unpunished. There is rebellion, Mr. Potter, and then there is abomination. I'll not reward him with an easy life."
"He didn't," Harry said, automatically gripping the cup and saucer that Ollivander thrust into his hands.
"He didn't go unpunished."
Mad-Eye wouldn't have agreed; Sirius might not, but Dumbledore would. Harry was sure of it. In fact, Dumbledore had seen to it. "He saved me. Risked his life for years, for Dumbledore, then he was willing to give his up for mine. Isn't that enough?"
"He didn't save your parents. His warning to Dumbledore came too late. Just a few minutes too late."
Harry felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. Tea sloshed into his saucer, scalding his thumb.
"He remained in your father's debt and a magical debt *cannot* go unpaid. The father, the son... look carefully at his reasons, Mr. Potter. Very carefully."
*It paid a debt...*
Harry knew there were tears in his eyes - he was so angry he felt like he'd burst. He knew he'd break the china if he didn't put it down - didn't care when, in doing so, he spilled strong, dark tea over Ollivander's paperwork. He stood up, fists clenched tightly by his sides, wishing Ollivander was a few hundred years younger, so he could punch him in the face.
"You must really hate him," he managed, around the painful knot in his throat. Ollivander looked hideous, sitting there with his pinky sticking out from his teacup, older than nature allowed, self-righteous and smug. "But I don't."
The sleepless nights were catching up with Harry, by the time he made it back to Challingford. He felt faintly sick - Ollivander hadn't helped, there - and stupid with tiredness, and wasn't much in the mood for visitors. He sat on the bottom stair and watched Snape place a small wooden box into the hands of a tall, hooded witch, who cackled - actually cackled, like one of the witches in the story books that Dudley never read - as she handed Snape his gold, in return.
She left, and Snape leaned against the door, looking a lot more sick than Harry felt.
"What was that?" Harry asked, unable to take his eyes off the surprisingly fat money pouch that Snape was now holding. It was more gold than he'd given Snape for the potion ingredients, that was for sure.
"You weren't supposed to see. Forget that you did. Here."
Snape made as if to toss the pouch to him, then reconsidered, joining him on the step. He dropped the money into Harry's lap, instead. "I can't be in your debt and share your bed."
"You aren't," Harry said. Ollivander's words twisted around in his brain, like vipers. They'd been cruel - crueler than anything Snape had ever said or done to him, because they were only a slightly twisted truth. "I can't see you end up in Azkaban because I'm stopping you from earning a real living." Harry looked at him, gauging his reaction with great care, and put the money back in Snape's hands. "I don't think they'd let us sleep together, in prison, do you?"
Snape shook his head, smirking a little. Harry wondered what he'd look like, if he actually *smiled* - not sarcastic, not sad, not smug, just a real smile. They didn't say anything, for a little while, and it was almost comfortable.
"What did you mean, in Ollivanders, that day? When you told him your wand paid a debt?" It was nice, just sitting with somebody he'd made love to; nice talking without getting his head ripped off, but he was too tired to manipulate the conversation away from what he actually wanted to talk about.
"Our wands shattered in my hand. Our hands. The spell was ... powerful." Harry felt Snape's cool hand close around his hot one, and heard him take a careful, steadying breath before he went on. "In being willing to sacrifice my life, in saving yours, I paid a debt. Your father." Snape's fingers nearly broke Harry's. "James."
"Is that why you did it?" Harry overlooked the fact that Snape spoke his father's name like it tasted bad.
"I told you not to look for simple answers." Snape looked discontent, edgy, tired. But not angry. Maybe he was just too tired to bother. "Nothing that matters is simple. The debt is paid." He scrubbed at his face with both hands, then straightened. "I'll not take on another, when there's an alternative. I'll take the risk."
Harry wondered what Snape had made for the cackling witch. He poked the money pouch, guessing that there were a hundred Galleons or more. For one potion - for most of a day's work.
"There are legal potions you could sell, aren't there? Maybe not for this sort of money, but..."
"Yes, Potter. A whole new way to whore myself, if I had the means to begin. I'm hardly a rival to Drooper and Arrowsmith, tinkering in your front room. God knows my *name* has no credibility."
Frowning, Harry decided that Snape was smiling, inside. Teasing him. He wished it was a bit easier to tell. At least when Snape was snapping his head off, he had some idea of where he stood.
"You do *like* making potions, don't you?"
"Yes." Snape sounded resigned. It was the way a lot of teachers sounded, when you asked them questions, and Harry wished he'd stop it. He had no business sounding like a teacher, after last night.
"And you want to stay here and carry on... with me..." For the first time in a while, he blushed. Snape's eyes grew darker, somehow, and fixed on him with unnerving intensity. He took it as a 'yes', and realised that Snape was going to kiss him, pretty shortly - that a lifetime wouldn't be enough to ease the need he'd touched, the other night - and they were going to end up in bed again, so he needed to get to the point. "But people will talk, if I'm not your apprentice." Snape nodded, averting his eyes. Maybe he'd finally admitted what a stupid idea that was. Harry grinned, suddenly feeling very pleased with himself. "Then I've got a better idea."
Maybe he was going to be okay at this, after all.
Chapter 21: Strange Bedfellows
"Move your accursed mess, Potter! Some of us have to *work* in here!"
Harry smirked. He didn't regret his unsubtle efforts to include Snape in his birthday, whether Snape liked it or not, but perhaps the steady arrival of nearly a dozen owls, all squeezing in through the narrow cellar window, had been a bit much. Feathers could make a lot of difference to a potion. He started gathering up wrapping paper and directing owls towards the door, telling them they could leave through the kitchen window. Snape did have a point - he needed the space and there was work to be done, birthday or no birthday.
"When's your birthday, anyway?" Harry asked, double-checking that the tiny Pigwidgeon had gone with the other birds, and that his gifts were set carefully aside, before vanishing the debris of his unwrapping from the table - the only reasonably clear surface in the room.
"I don't have one," Snape growled, rolling up his sleeves and picking up his work apron. "I need that work room *now*. Your planning is proving to be beyond abysmal. This enterprise will go under before it begins, at this rate..."
Harry let it roll over him, half-listening to the minor rant. He'd discovered, over the past few weeks, that if you didn't rise to the bait, but looked vaguely interested and nodded once in a while, Snape ran out of things to say before too long, or simply tried a different approach. He was sure that Snape had already worked out which methods of persuasion were actually effective on him, and just enjoyed ranting with an audience.
"You won't be complaining, when you're rich," Harry said, picking up the heavy, red leather-bound book that Hermione had sent him. It seemed to be blank, for writing in, and he couldn't imagine what Hermione thought he'd have to write about. "I'll get the room finished by tonight. You can start down at the far end tomorrow while I move in the rest of the gear, all right?"
"It's your birthday. Have you no plans to celebrate?" Snape twitched slightly, fiddling with a cauldron handle. "With your friends?"
"No." Harry put the book down and picked up his card from Sirius, instead. There was a fat, folded letter inside, but he hadn't looked at it yet. He'd tried to be grown up about it, but he did rather resent that Sirius hadn't stayed in England until after his birthday. It would only have been another few weeks. "Maybe this weekend." Celebrating with his friends was a bit awkward, given that Ron and Hermione were pointedly 'giving each other some space', which seemed to be some sort of grown-up code for not speaking to each other. Harry wasn't sure how it was different from all the other times they'd stopped talking to each other because they liked each other more than they were willing to admit, but he hadn't dared to ask. "You'll have to celebrate with me, instead."
"Joy." Snape lit a small green fire under his cauldron with a sharp jab of his wand, looking very disgruntled. Harry was sure, though, that Snape's mind had gone straight to the bedroom, at his suggestion. "You're going to have to grasp the fact that I cannot meet five complex orders in one day. You must schedule them among potions that require less attention."
"We only just started - we can't turn away customers. They might not come back."
"Look at this!" Snape picked up a small sheaf of papers, parchment orders, from the cluttered table behind him and waved them at Harry. His day's work. And he was right, there were too many to do comfortably, but his reputation had preceded him. Whether it was his reputation as a potion maker, or his reputation for appreciating the Dark Arts, Harry wasn't certain. He'd already turned down a couple of particularly iffy orders. "There is only one of me!"
"Thank God," Harry said, under his breath, but without malice. Snape's sharp tongue was so familiar, by now, as to be almost comforting, and there were definitely compensations, after hours. Louder, he offered a compromise. "I can do the Deep Dreaming Draught. Give me that one."
Snape snorted, but parted the letter from the rest of his bundle and crossed the room to slap it on the table, next to Harry's presents.
"The point of this exercise is to stay *out* of Azkaban, as I recall, so I suggest you make sure she wakes up in the morning. A light hand with the smokeroot and properly purify your base."
"Yes, sir," Harry answered, evenly, and grinned to himself when he heard Snape break stride, on his way back to the cauldrons. It was hard to get really annoyed, he'd found, when he could close his eyes and picture Snape having an orgasm. Harry shook himself. He liked having a sex life, no matter how odd it felt to have one with Snape. It was distracting, though. He'd thought about sex a lot, before. Now he seemed to think about it constantly. "What did you get for your eighteenth?"
Silence. Harry didn't push his luck. From what Ollivander had told him, and what little else he knew, he guessed that Snape probably hadn't done too well in the present department, as a boy. He stacked his gifts, carefully, and carried them towards the door. He hadn't expected one from Snape, of course. He was broke and he hadn't had five minutes to himself since Harry had found their first customer, two weeks ago. And, besides, he didn't think Snape was mad about being reminded that the man he'd spent the past several weeks sleeping with was only eighteen years old.
Harry sat down on his bed, spread out his presents for another look, then dug through the cards for his letters.
Sirius' letter was long, but didn't actually say very much. He missed Harry, he was getting a tan, the locals remembered him and were still happy to trade food for a bit of simple magic, and otherwise to leave him alone. He described the blue sea, the palm trees, the fish, and said how glad he was to see Buckbeak again. Harry thought he still sounded sad - or perhaps it was what he *didn't* say that made him sound sad - but he was also sure that Sirius meant it when he added 'see you soon' to the bottom of the parchment, under his name.
There was a letter in Neville's card, too. Neville had forgotten to sign it, but apart from that he sounded all right. He confided that his gran had baked him a birthday cake in the shape of a toad, as if she hadn't noticed he wasn't six years old, any more, and that the family-only party had been embarrassing. Worse than ever, since nobody was entirely convinced he hadn't tried to top himself. Harry (who'd remembered to send Neville a card for his birthday, too, much to his relief) didn't envy him, living with Mrs. Longbottom. He wasn't sure he'd have chosen life with Neville's strict, proud, old-fashioned grandmother over life with Severus Snape. And that was saying something. No. He didn't envy Neville.
He was making a pig's ear of the garden supplies, though (as Snape had helpfully mentioned, over supper, two nights before). He wondered if Neville could stand being within a mile of Snape long enough to give them some advice on starting a decent potions garden from scratch. Well, not quite from scratch. Once he'd cleared away the long grass, Harry had found all kinds of magical plants out there, hanging on against the odds. He didn't know what they all were, but Snape had made a quick tour and identified most of them, declaring them all useful. Harry thought it would do Neville quite a bit of good, if he could identify the ones that even Snape hadn't recognised. Neville loved plants, loved Herbology, and liked to be useful.
Smiling broadly, at the thought of Neville setting Snape straight, and Snape not being able to punish him for it (or do much of anything else to upset Neville unless he fancied spending several nights alone until Harry actually needed him again) Harry made a mental note to write back to Neville as soon as possible. Even if Neville didn't fancy coming, he might get a boost out of being asked for his advice.
Realising that it was already mid-morning, and that he'd done no work at all, Harry headed back downstairs to keep his promise, and finish turning the main part of the cellar into the space Snape needed to work. The hall and half the dining room were full of crates - all the stuff Snape said he needed, to make serious potions on a serious basis, for serious money. Sirius hadn't so much as twitched, when Harry had explained what he needed the money for, though he'd been smirking when they met up in Gringotts to put their signatures - ink and magic both - to the contract. Sirius Black, Harry Potter and Severus Snape. Partners.
Remus Lupin had fallen about laughing, when Harry told him.
Whenever there was a moment of quiet, between the work and the sex and the occasional war of words, Harry would catch himself wondering how long it would last. But he refused to dwell on it - couldn't afford to, because nothing that lay behind them would be easily reconciled with the future he wanted... thought he wanted ... that he sometimes wanted, anyway.
They were being left alone to follow their path and that, more than the pleasure or the forgetting or the being needed, felt good.
"I'm not the only wizard who'd be willing," Snape had said, the second or third night, when they managed to stay awake a while, after sex. "When you tire of this--"
"I know," Harry had answered, cutting him off, turning his back, closing his eyes. "Don't." So Snape hadn't, respecting their truce (and probably not wanting to get kicked out of bed), but every time Harry looked up and found him watching with darkened eyes and narrowed lips, or felt the stare on the back of his head, he knew that Snape was thinking it. Not 'if', but 'when'.
He was probably right, but Harry didn't want to think about it. He wished Snape wouldn't, either.
It was late and already dark outside, by the time they got around to eating anything; Snape, with the help of his potion, seemed to be able to work a solid day without a break, live on crumbs and water, have sex at least once before sleeping, and still get out of bed at six-thirty in the morning with the energy to do it all over again. Harry's school days had been long, too, but at least they'd fed him plenty of food, three times a day. He found himself standing in the larder doorway and wishing, for the first time since he'd moved in, that Snape would offer to cook.
"Bread and cheese?" he offered, wearily.
"Aren't you going to conjure a cake?" Snape wondered, coming up behind him and looking over his head, into the larder. Harry felt various bits of himself twitch or clench, at the sudden closeness. Snape did that a lot.
"If I do, it'll taste like Hagrid made it," Harry sighed. There was a big difference between passing Transfiguration at NEWT level, and being really good at it. He yawned, broadly. "I think I need some of your potion."
Snape gave an amused little grunt, and gripped his shoulders. For a moment, Harry had the peculiar idea that Snape was going to kiss him but, instead, he was moved firmly to one side, to give Snape access to the larder.
"You should try a dose, when you have more time." Snape found the bread and cheese and put them on the table, fetching plates and a knife while Harry unworked the storage charms. It took him two tries to uncharm the cheese. "You might find the experience enlightening."
"Seriously?" Harry sat down and let Snape finish serving the feeble birthday meal. "You'd let me?"
"I would prepare a milder dose. Mine was built up over a ten year period from childhood, refined to achieve the desired effect. It would probably knock you flat."
Snape placed a Butterbeer beside Harry's plate and a glass of water beside his own, fanning out his robe as he sat. Harry propped his chin on his fist and his elbow on the table, wondering if Snape could magic the food into his stomach, too.
"Does it help you do magic without your wand?"
"In part. It's not given a place at Hogwarts, but every child has produced accidental magic, long before receiving their first wand. We're all able." Snape frowned, hesitating before he cut them each a lumpy slice of bread. "It's saved my life. And yours, for that matter."
"Yeah." Harry scratched his head, putting the Butterbeer bottle to his lips and drinking, deeply. Snape's counter-curse had saved him from a potentially fatal fall, back in his first year at school and he hadn't used his wand for that. "D'you learn it at Durmstrang?"
Snape choked, briefly, on his water. Harry couldn't decide whether he looked more suspicious or astonished.
"I... wasn't there long enough. It's self-taught." Harry guessed that Snape was itching to ask how he'd known about Durmstrang, but hoped he didn't. He knew that his visit to Ollivander wouldn't go down well, even if he hadn't been meddling. Well, not *exactly* meddling... "Hogwarts became my home for many years. Durmstrang has by far the more practical curriculum, but Hogwarts..."
He paused, clearly not knowing how to put it, but he didn't need to finish for Harry to understand.
"You miss it."
"Yes." Snape shifted in his seat, his frown deepening to a scowl. "More than I expected to." He cut a lump of cheese for himself, then one for Harry. "But not the children."
Harry shook his head, saying nothing.
Hermione said, in one of her letters, that being with somebody was about getting used to their little habits. She'd been trying to sound encouraging, but she didn't know, yet, that Harry was doing more with Snape than catering to *Impertio* and flogging a few fancy potions. He'd have to tell her, eventually. Ron, too. But for now, it was enough that Sirius knew and hadn't completely lost it; that he had a place where nobody bothered him, and that Snape... Well, that was why he hadn't said anything to his friends, yet. He didn't even know if the words existed, to explain what was going on with Snape.
It was one of Snape's stranger habits, to cover his window with magical drapes before turning in for the night - even if he was going to sit and read by lamp light. Harry had to admit that it was easier to sleep properly without the summer light prolonging the day, but he was sure it couldn't be good for a person. He'd come to the conclusion that Snape missed his shady, dark dungeons, at Hogwarts. He had, after all, spent most of his life there. Sometimes, though, he thought that Snape just preferred sex in the dark; complete darkness, so all that mattered was how you touched, and the sounds you made. Like hiding. The more he thought about it, the less Harry blamed him. He didn't mind the dark. He was almost afraid, now, to ask Snape to his own room, where late evening and early morning light - even moonlight - would let them see each other. What would they see? On the other hand, Harry liked his bed. He liked the brass bars that he could hang on to and the persistent creak when he moved, and that his memories of how they'd started were woven around the old bed, like spells. He liked his own place, his own space, so for once, for his birthday, he asked Snape to come to his room.
Snape arrived, bathed and damp and tense, wearing one of his awful grey nightshirts. He wasn't the best-looking bloke in the world, far from it, but Harry knew he was a nice enough shape under his shapeless, drab clothing. They'd been at it for weeks, though, and he still hadn't had a really good look at the body that felt so good against his own. Snape hadn't done more than glance at him, naked, either. Maybe that was why Snape was stiffer than usual and hesitating by the door, the way he had before they decided that they were... that they liked this. Maybe he knew what Harry was going to say, why he'd been lured from his pitch-dark bedroom.
"Take it off. I have." He pushed the sheet down further, exposing the top of his hips, the top of his dark spread of hair. Snape's hand went to those places, often. Didn't he want to see what he liked touching? "Are you shy? Or do you just like the dark?" He knew what his voice could do to the man. He'd been finding that out, slowly, ever since they arrived at Challingford. The right tone, a deeper note than usual, and Snape would swallow, visibly, his eyes growing black. That he could be affected, that he could be swayed, intrigued Harry almost as much as the pleasure of sex. His rage had never worked on Snape, nor really on anybody else. A softer note seemed to work wonders. "Please? Then I'll put the light out."
The compromise did the trick, where his trial-and-error seduction hadn't. Snape closed the door behind him (why, Harry always wondered, when they were quite alone in the house?) and crossed his arms, gripping the fabric at his hips. He hesitated, then shut his eyes and hauled the nightshirt off over his head.
Snape stood, looking mutinous, his ugly nightshirt hanging from one hand. He was pretty hard, already. The wet hair sticking to either side of his face obscured any blush, but Harry could see his unease in his twitching gaze and in the way he hunched ever so slightly in on himself. Harry threw back the sheet, completely. Fair was fair. He was hard, too. Neither of them had spared much time for anticipation, before - they got together, they did it, they slept or sometimes talked, but suddenly Harry wanted to do more than that. He felt like savouring it, the way he would a delicious meal, and he wasn't sure what Snape would make of that, at all. He suspected he'd already used up the one concession he might be allowed, for his birthday. He smiled, waited just long enough to see Snape look utterly bemused, then turned over and reached for his wand.
"*Nox*." The moonlight was still bright. He dumped the wand on the floor, with his glasses. "Come on, then."
He spread himself out, as Snape came and lay down, and he shivered at the first touch. Snape's hand, hot, against the tender part of his belly. His notion of savouring the moment evaporated when the hand slid on down, between his legs. Snape's coarse forearm felt rough against his cock and the hand closed too tightly around his balls. He managed not to make a sound, beyond his gasp for air, but Snape didn't stop, stroking and squeezing, and the pleasure was intense. "W...wait..." Snape, who'd been catering gamely to Harry's inclination to come fast and come often, since their first fling on the table, let go and stared at him. He knew that suspicious stare, even in moonlight. "Lie down with me. Properly." He wanted a kiss. Snape was really starting to get the hang of it, though he only seemed to be able to take so much. "Yeah," he whispered, as Snape stretched out, half covering him, and rested a cautious hand on his upper hip. Harry craned his head and nudged Snape's lips with his own. It was a moment before Snape responded and the hesitation made Harry feel hollow. Then Snape rolled nearer, half over him, and carefully kissed his mouth.
It was harder, Harry found, to kiss someone slowly, while your brain was working and you had time to plan ahead. If he was honest, Harry had to admit that he'd always found planning ahead harder than simply *doing*. Snape liked to plan, everything, in exacting detail, but even he left it at the bedroom door and just got on with it. There was a happy, restless twisting feeling inside Harry, as he wondered just how much more uncharted territory lay ahead. He pushed his fingers up into Snape's hair, at the base of his skull, and gripped the damp mass; he liked long hair, he'd decided, and Snape's really wasn't half bad, when he bothered to wash it. He'd found out, by accident a couple of weeks back, that Snape's head would go where he guided it, once he had a good grip on the hair. Harry had been so far gone, by then, that he'd come before Snape's lips really touched his cock, or before he'd even known that he wished they would. He'd still had several strands of long hair tangled around his aching fingers, in the morning, and Snape had gone before he woke up.
Harry urged Snape down, towards his nipples, and let go as soon as he complied. He quite liked the feeling, but more than that he loved the thought of Snape there, bent in close, mouth working so greedily over so little. He'd imagined, in the dark, what it looked like and what expression was on Snape's face; tonight, he could nearly see as well, and wished there was just a bit more light. Hands moving lightly across Snape's shoulders, Harry let himself feel and thinking, planning, wondering and trying to please all faded away. Snape kissed downward of his own accord, wet and eager, making Harry moan; the sound came from so deep down that he couldn't have stopped it, had he tried. "Yes, please..." he groaned, at warm breath on his cock, and Snape did, bent awkwardly, clearly willing but not sure how. After a few aborted attempts to engulf Harry completely, he settled for holding the shaft and just driving Harry mad with long strokes of his tongue, until Harry stopped begging him to do it and started begging him to stop. Moonlight or darkness - it made no difference when the smallest touch seemed to swallow him up; Harry felt a dizzying movement, being pulled and rolled... came to his senses with Snape under him, lounged against the headboard, pulling him astride, clutching his buttocks and digging in hard. He swayed, unsteady until he caught hold of the cool brass behind Snape, then moved, testing the waters. Snape's cock was against the inside of his thigh - a good place for it, he'd found - and his own was responding with restless demands for relief. He wanted to move, fast, hard, not caring about anything but getting off, but this was teamwork. Harry thought Snape would laugh, if he voiced the revelation, but he didn't know another word for working towards a mutual goal. He hoped he'd always been a good sport...
"D'you want to?" he mumbled, panting. It was hard to think... "In me?"
"Move, damn you," Snape answered, teeth clenched, yanking on his backside hard enough to leave nail-marks between his cheeks. Harry put his free hand down, between them, and moved. The bed creaked, Snape exhaled a strangled, urgent note after every movement, and Harry bit his lip harder with every push of his hips, not making a sound. Listening. Feeling. Coming.
Snape came, too, but not as quietly.
Harry thought he'd been asleep a while, when movement woke him; Snape getting out of bed. Mixed feelings fluttered up, dissipating the sleepy mist in his mind, but before he'd resolved them, he felt magic move over him, scrunched his eyes shut against the brief glare of light from Snape's wand, and had just found his voice to protest when the bed dipped, and Snape got back in. A moment later, Snape pressed up beside him, and covered them both. Harry sought a kiss, unsure, and Snape returned it, managing, somehow, to convey intense exasperation in the gesture.
"Clean," he explained, sounding groggier than Harry felt. "Back to sleep."
Harry slipped down a little and pushed his face against Snape's shoulder. He'd put his stupid nightshirt back on, but Harry still had a foot sticking out from under the covers, somewhere, and gathered that the night had turned chilly. He bent his knee and drew the foot under, with the rest of him. "Sleep, Potter," Snape muttered, near the top of his head, not moving his lips much.
For once, Harry was content to do as Snape told him.
Chapter 22: Epilogue
The invitation called it a wedding, but in Harry's mind, the gathering of magical folk constituted a reunion of the Order of the Phoenix, as much as anything else. They hadn't gathered together since Voldemort fell, all more than glad to return to what passed for an ordinary life, but Harry could feel the undercurrents of pride and camaraderie, even while everyone was pretending to have their attention on the brief ceremony.
Remus Lupin and Felice Arrowsmith had rich, red velvet ribbon wrapped twice over their joined hands, exchanged rings of gold and magic, and kissed each other like they still didn't quite dare. They seemed encouraged by the applause, though, and tried harder.
Snape, sitting stiffly beside Harry in the second row of the circled seats, sounded his disgust with a snort and looked at the floor. On Harry's other side, Sirius glared at Snape. It was definitely a reunion of the Order of the Phoenix, and Felice's few relatives and many friends seemed to know that. There was no outward sign of what they'd done, not really, but people knew who they were. And Snape liked *that*, even if he'd nearly gone mental when Harry suggested he wear his Order of Merlin on his dress robes. He had a point, too; the only person Harry had seen wearing one was an old man among Felice's group of guests, and his looked a couple of centuries old (as did his outfit). Even Neville, who used to be forced to pin the stupid thing to his chest before he set foot outside the house, had managed to get away with not wearing it, today. His gran sat beside him, nodding at the vows and pretending not to look when the bride and groom kissed. Harry was rather relieved that she hadn't worn her best vulture. He wasn't sure Snape could be held accountable for his own actions, if somebody brought *that* up, at Lupin's wedding.
The setting was a large concoction of enchanted canvas, in a field behind the Arrowsmith family home, that put Harry in mind of a smallish, white circus tent. The trimmings and poles were gold, woven around with fine white ribbon; the food tables dominated the space, combining delicious scents with the sweet smell from garlands of fresh flowers, hundreds of which had been draped right around the top of the flimsy walls. It was bright, light and happy, and Severus Snape couldn't have looked more out of place. He'd worn dark green with grey, instead of absolute rigid black, but only after Harry insisted. He looked as if he longed to find a non-existent shadow, and skulk in it. Instead, once the seats were cleared, Snape took up residence behind a pole, near the punch bowl, and watched everybody while feigning utter disinterest. Harry left him to it.
A year or so in the tropical sun had done wonders for Sirius, who'd gone a nutty brown and taken to wearing the bright colours favoured by the locals. His dress robe was a rather wild patchwork of bold, rich blocks, stitched with gold. Harry had the sneaking suspicion that he'd made it himself. Sirius' hair was down around his shoulders, but full and clean, and he smiled a lot. Harry caught up with him by the sandwich platters, in time to hear Mundungus' opinion on the whole affair.
"If yer gonna bolt on the old ball and chain," he said, around his pipe, which was oozing a celebratory purple smoke, "might's well get yerself a rich one."
Harry didn't know Felice terribly well, but well enough to know that she'd have something to say about being thought of as a ball and chain.
Lupin didn't seem to think that at all, though. He couldn't take his eyes off her, and was hardly managing to hold up his end of the conversation with anybody else. Rumour had it - and wizard rumour was a robust thing, half the time - that they were waiting until they were married, so it was no wonder the bride and groom looked like making a break for the door and the impending honeymoon, in the near future.
Nodding to Mundungus, Harry took a sandwich and glued himself to Sirius' side for a while. Everyone else seemed to have *somebody*to stand around with, but Harry's 'guest' was an antisocial git who loathed half the assembled wizards, and was loathed equally by the other half. Compared to Snape, Harry felt right at home.
"Makes you sick, doesn't it?" Sirius said, good naturedly. He didn't seem upset that Lupin had chosen his young werewolf friend from the shop, to hold the rings; in fact, Harry hadn't seen them speak at all, though he knew they were still in touch by owl. "The rest of us struggle along, looking for love, and all he has to do is rent a flat." He looked down at Harry, blue eyes glittering. "Always said there was a jammy bastard under that 'woe is werewolf' exterior."
Harry grinned, but Mundungus was smothering him with the purple cloud, so he spent several minutes trying politely not to cough, or choke on his dainty little sandwich.
"Where is he, then?" Sirius asked, throwing an arm across Harry's shoulders and steering him away from Mundungus, who was eyeing a silver hot water urn on the centre table.
"What, my ball and chain?" Harry felt Sirius squeeze him, and a hesitation in his stride. "By the punch. Wishing he was dead, I expect." When Sirius didn't answer, he realised that he'd been taken seriously, about the ball and chain comment. "How many times, Sirius? It's fine. We're fine. Even *he's*fine, and that's saying a lot." He turned his head, looking for Snape with some vague idea of proving it, but an extended flock of Weasleys by the buffet obscured his view. Sirius picked up two goblets of mead, pushed one into Harry's hand, and leaned close when he spoke again.
"How long can you spend away from him, these days?"
They didn't talk about that sort of thing, in their letters. Old habits died hard, and Snape hadn't been wrong about the need for discretion. Though if a werewolf's wedding had made the society column, Harry thought there had to be hope for everyone else, too. He felt his cheeks getting warm.
"I dunno," he admitted. Sometimes it felt like Sirius was more a brother or a friend, until he had to admit to something, confess something, and then he was sure it felt like having a dad, and getting carpeted. "Haven't really tried it for long."
"Ugh," Sirius said, but he just rolled his eyes and left it at that. Harry suspected that Sirius would rather not think about what went on at Challingford, in too much detail - either the business arrangement or the personal one - and that suited him just fine. "Well, if you want to visit. I've built a place out of wood, by the beach. Used my bare hands." He proudly displayed several calluses. "Brilliant, if I do say so myself." And a world away from Grimmauld Place, Harry thought, but he didn't say it out loud. He sipped his mead and glanced around the tent, again. He waved to Ron, who'd broken ranks with the Weasleys to go and talk to Hermione. Hermione turned, looking surprised, then waved back at Harry, too, smiling. "They at it, or what?" Sirius asked, muttering close to his ear. Harry gave what he hoped was a mysterious shrug, and turned around, now determined to find where Snape had got to.
"Oh, no," he said, thrusting his goblet blindly into Sirius' hand. Snape was standing against the back wall of the tent, behind the heap of wedding gifts, and had been cornered by none other than old Ollivander, himself.
"Need some help?" Sirius asked, bemused, but Harry just shook his head, already walking. He skirted the healthy stack of presents and a flower display, and moved, silently, to stand behind Ollivander. Snape acknowledged him with the barest blink, but Ollivander didn't seem to realise he was there.
"Your business is a success?" Ollivander's slightly reedy voice made Harry feel ill, remembering his last conversation with the man, in the back of the wand shop. He only had to touch the memory of his own fury, to feel it again. "Miss Arrowsmith - or, should I say, *Mrs.* Lupin - seems to feel you're quite the rival."
"Perhaps if she spent less time chasing Lupin's tail and more time making potions, she'd have less to worry about," Snape replied. Harry blinked, wondering what had Snape so mellow. He usually went non-verbal at the mere mention of Mr. Ollivander. Perhaps he'd just been downing the punch.
"And you, Master Snape? Still chasing the forbidden?" Ollivander leaned towards Snape, almost eagerly, and Snape looked faintly revolted.
"That," he said, finally meeting Harry's eye properly, "is none of your business. And never has been. Good day."
Amazed, Harry made a note to remind Snape to stay on his best behaviour, more often. He smiled, ready to rescue Snape from Ollivander, but Ollivander turned and saw him and his pale eyes narrowed.
"I thought on your words, Mr. Potter," he said, unblinking. "Long and hard." He flexed his fingers, near his chest, and Harry noticed that they were rather too long. "Words and deeds." Ollivander looked at Snape again, who was looking at back at him as if he'd cracked. "I am old and resent inconvenience," Ollivander announced, apparently to nobody in particular. Certainly, there were only two of them close enough to listen (if you didn't count Mundungus, who was eyeing the gift pile). "Your father was an almighty inconvenience. I'm sure that on that, at least, we are agreed."
Harry wasn't actually sure which of them Ollivander was speaking to, but it was Snape who answered.
"The man's dust. Let it be." He made as if to walk away, and Harry was ready to follow.
"I have a duty to discharge." Ollivander's hand clamped around Harry's upper arm - a grip far too strong for a man of his apparent age. His left hand disappeared under his cloak, and emerged holding a creased, yellow envelope. "I leave the disposition of Cyrus Snape's lamentable legacy in your hands, Mr. Potter." A twinkle appeared in Ollivander's eyes, reminding Harry horribly of Albus Dumbledore. "I'm sure that you will manage him well."
He pushed the envelope into Harry's hands and, with a last look at Snape that could only be described as lascivious, Ollivander left.
"Was he even invited?" Harry wondered, gobsmacked. Lupin and Felice both looked rather surprised to see Ollivander lining up to shake their hands, on his way out.
"What did he mean, he thought on your words?" Snape asked, sounding equally stunned, but no less prickly than usual. "What have you been up to, Potter?"
"Oh," Harry said, deciding that the best policy was to brazen it out. Snape made a lot of noise, but Harry suspected that the man was actually quite keen on keeping him around, these days. For business and pleasure. "Meddling." He offered Snape the envelope, but Snape just stared at it. "Looks like I own you, then," he said, putting it into his own breast pocket, and patting the slight bulge it made in his robe. Snape could play hunt-the-letter later, when the shock wore off.
"You doubted it?" Snape muttered, but when Harry looked at him askance, he just scowled, pretending to study the crowd, and added, "Gryffindor."