Title: The Mating Rituals Of The Crabby Hermit.
Challenge: Summer of Snarry.
Other pairings/threesome: Ron/Hermione.
Word Count: +/- 10K
Summary: After two years of fruitless attempts to get closer to Severus Snape, Harry Potter finally realizes that he's been going about it in the wrong way...
Disclaimer: Don't own these characters. No money is being made out of this work.
A/N: Now you can download this story on PDF format at rue16
The Mating Rituals Of The Crabby Hermit.
The idea that Severus Snape was like a Hermit Crab: a soft-skinned and vulnerable creature that hid beneath a shell of derisive, misanthropic temper hit Harry Potter during a bout of drunken self-pity.
The following morning he remembered nothing of how he'd made it back to his teacher's quarters or how many rounds of Firewhisky he'd forced down poor Ron's throat while his lifelong friend accompanied him in his binge of misery-induced excess. But he remembered that one thought with the kind of perfect recall of all sudden and undeniable insight.
His stomach could not bear the simple thought of breakfast, but his heart refused to spend a single second longer without his daily fix of Snape-watching.
Summer vacation had just started and his usually reserved colleague tended to retreat even further into his impenetrable shell during the holidays. He knew that if he missed breakfast he'll be most probably unable to gaze upon Severus' pale and pinched visage until the next morning, since the man tended to forget every single meal that was served after ten thirty, which was the exact time when he could safely take out his trusty old cauldrons and start his brewing and experimenting sessions for the day without having Minerva breathing down his neck for disrupting the elves while they tried to clean the potions labs.
Dragging himself out of bed with a loud groan Harry stumbled into his bathroom and proceeded to almost drown his weary face under three very cold handfuls of water. His mirror showed him the picture of a pair of bloodshot green eyes that had barely recovered some of the shine they'd lost yesterday, after the millionth time that bloody man had turned down his invitation to join him for a few drinks at Hogsmeade to celebrate the beginning of the summer.
"Do I look like the kind of person who needs even more headaches to you, Mr. Potter?" Had been Severus' frosty answer to his latest effort and it had riled him so much that he'd decided to forget the blasted git forever, and move on to a nicer, younger man who wouldn't treat him with the coldness of a bloody iceberg.
"Bloody hell, Harry, I swear this is the last time I come over when you Floo-call to say that you are over your crush on Snape. My very guts are quivering with... with..."
Harry cringed as Ron's guts gave up right there and then, forcing his friend to bend over the toilet bowl and retch loudly. He ran out of the bathroom and into his office, attempting to escape the smell of his friend's post-drunken misery. Nothing was going to stop him from going down to breakfast. Nothing.
His hands searched for a quill and he wrote a single line on the pristine parchment that he'd placed on the blotter of his desk the moment he'd finished marking the last exam of the year with almost ceremonial glee. He'd promised himself not to write anything whatsoever on it until the kids returned for the next term.
-So much for that, old boy!- He thought to himself mockingly, but ignored the sarcastic bite of his inner voice in favor of concentrating on his wavering handwriting.
SS is like the Hermit Crab.
He wrote it carefully. With a focused attention that allowed him to forget for a second that Ron was actually there, until his friend read the words out loud over his shoulder and proceeded to groan with heartfelt annoyance.
"SS? Really, Harry? What are you, sixteen? And what's this nonsense about crabs?"
"It's my new idea. I had it yesterday at the pub."
Ron scratched the back of his head with obvious discomfort.
"Listen, mate, you've been trying to nail this old bugger for well over two years. You left me hanging at the Auror Academy to train as a teacher the moment you realized the bastard was going to make it past Nagini's bite, for Merlin's sake! You've turned your life upside-down so that you could come here and have a shot at winning this man over...
"It's just stupid to risk your chances on some ridiculous plan that you hatched while you were blind-drunk on Firewhiskey. Why the hell don't you grow the balls to tell him to the face that you fancy the pants off him? I'm telling you, Harry, nothing else will work."
He slumped on top of his desk with a loud plop and attempted to bang his headache out of his skull, managing only to make it worse. Much, much, worse.
"Just because Hermione melted at your feet when you confessed doesn't mean that Severus will do the same. They are both very different people and Herm was actually in love with you, Ron. If I plant myself in front of Snape and tell him that I want to lick his every pore until he explodes into a wild orgasm, he'll laugh me all the way to St. Mungo's!"
"Woa! Woa, Harry!... Did you really have to bring orgasms into this conversation? Look, mate, I'm trying to help you. But if you insist on torturing me with all those graphic little images that stay in my mind and haunt me, I'll leave you to your crazy zoology project and come back for the booze tour."
"It's not crazy. It's actually very simple. I've been going about this in the wrong way, don't you see? Severus is like a crab and I... I'm loud and crazy like a seagull or something."
Ron's left eyebrow twitched awkwardly in a painfully disastrous attempt at an ironic lift.
"Listen to yourself for a sec, Harry: a seagull... Really? Hermione will kill me if I let you go down to breakfast. You'll mess up big time and then we'll be stuck with your moping all summer long."
His brow furrowed with offended indignation.
"Hey! Isn't it your job to support me in my time of need or something? Some friends you both are turning out to be."
"Don't get all huffy on me, mate. You know what I mean. I wouldn't be nursing the hangover from hell if I hadn't come to hear your woes, so just... shut up and listen: go into the bathroom, brush your teeth and all that. Try brushing the hair, while you're at it, and change out of those clothes too , OK?
"I'll leave through the Floo and call you in the afternoon. Go see your beloved and don't spout this animal nonsense at him, for goodness sake! I'll talk to Herm again and we'll figure out a way to help you, mate. I swear. Just... don't do anything stupid until you are really, really, sober."
Severus Snape entered the Great Hall with his long roman nose already buried in a book that was at least six inches thick. It looked old and incredibly dusty. Harry sighed dispiritedly as soon as he spotted the long and unpronounceable word etched in golden letters on the cover.
So the man could read foreign languages like a pro on top of being a veritable genius with potions, a top-notch duelist, a formidable Defense Against The Dark Arts practitioner and more sexy than ten dragon-tamers put together... It was just so bloody unfair that his horrible headache increased, and his poor hopes died once again at the realization of just how unlikely it'd be for a man like Snape to ever even notice that he breathed.
He watched forlornly as those amazingly long legs carried their owner unerringly to his preferred chair without letting him stumble even once. The man's ability to walk and read at the same time was one of those mysterious skills that only him and Hermione had ever managed to develop in the entire history of wizardkind. At least that was what both, Ron and himself, had decided just last night.
Thick dust floated around Severus' head as one of the pages of his book twitched very slightly and a single black eye peeked at him from behind the thick tome.
"You look... ravaged... Potter. Drinking for a sport, no matter what the excuse, doesn't bring a man joy. Don't you see? I bet you can barely remember last evening and now you are clearly suffering, instead of having a good time on your first day of vacation."
"Maybe I wouldn't have drunk so much if you had accepted my invitation to come."
Snape's dark eye retreated behind that blasted book so fast that Harry blinked. Frosty silence filled the space between their neighboring seats for five excruciatingly long minutes before that shiver-inducing drawl bothered to address him again.
"Blaming others for your own appalling lack of self-control is an atrocious weakness, Professor."
Harry huffed and was a mere breath away from venting his spleen good and proper, when the eye peeked out from behind the safety of its thick and musty shield once more. He could see nothing else but that book and that eye, framed delicately by an ebony colored curtain of silky long hair, and the image reminded him so much of an Hermit Crab, peeping cautiously out of its protective shell, that the crazy idea he had last night came back to haunt him. He didn't care if Ron thought he was nuts. He knew he was right. He felt it in his gut, for Merlin's sake!
"I... I... I'm sorry. My temper isn't at its best this morning. I was out of line just now and I apologize." He held his breath as the very last syllable of his softly voiced apology left his lips, and waited with heart-stopping anxiety to see if it worked. Could a gentler tone of voice really make that much difference when it came to keeping this man engaged in conversation? Could he keep Severus' attention for longer if he reined in his impatience and just... gave the man some gentleness?
The book lowered ever so slightly and the eye that would have normally retreated by now, after its owner had cut him down a size or two with some huffed remark or other focused on him warily.
"Haven't you taken a healthy dose of hangover potion by now?"
The question rose from behind the book in a curiously neutral tone that froze Harry to the spot. This was it! This was the first time those lips hadn't bothered to form a sentence with the intention of berating him. Who would have thought it? Severus Snape, terror of students and professors alike, was a man who simply required to be handled with care...
"I don't stock potions. I'm too useless to brew them myself and, when I buy them from the apothecary, they always tell me to throw away whatever I don't use instead of storing it after it's already opened."
A snort came, loud and clear, from the other side of the aged cover and he swallowed with barely contained impatience to see if he could just... keep the moment going. This was already the longest conversation he'd ever shared with the object of his affections and he only wished that it could be possible for him to stop feeling like a recently summoned Inferius. He didn't want to end up associating this wonderful memory with his horrible hangover for the rest of his life.
"They tell that to everybody. It'd be hard to sell more medication if there are people out there keeping their old bottles in storage for whenever they may need it next. They avoid adding preserving agents, too. Makes the taste of the potions better, you see? Everything is a business for people like old Mr. Slug and his loathsome colleague."
Harry's heart hammered inside his chest as he was seized from head to toes by the kind of elation that could make a man float on thin air. YES! Oh, yes... This was definitely it! He bit his lower lip hard, in order to abort the smile that he could definitely feel attempting to blossom there and tried to turn the obvious gesture into a confused frown.
"Really? I always assumed that medicinal potions couldn't be stored long-term."
The book definitely lowered this time. He could actually see both of Severus' eyes and the very top of his fabulously long nose.
"Of course they can be stored. I'd be chained to the lab if they couldn't. Do you have any idea of how many potions I have to brew over the summer for the infirmary?
"The list gets longer every year and not a single member of the staff offers to help me. Then, just to add insult to injury, Minerva goes and restricts my access to the lab for half the morning. It's an absolute outrage. One of these years I'll take off on vacation to the bloody Arctic Circle and teach you all, greedy beasts, a thing or two about who does what for this school."
Harry blinked in astonished surprise, so puzzled by Severus' claims that he forgot to feel insulted by the fact that the man had actually called him a greedy beast.
"Wait. Wait... You are not researching your own stuff all summer long?"
The book closed altogether with a snap before its owner plunked it atop the table with an enraged thud.
"Research? What research, Potter? I haven't published an updated paper in close to fifteen years, for Merlin's sake! It's all revisions of old material or improvements made on the discoveries of others.
"My entire career is stagnating because I haven't got a single second to do something as basic as keeping up to date with my mastery's research, let alone actually going as far as attempting to come up with something new."
The words fell between them like a pebble over the placid surface of a lake, holding them both perfectly still. They were equally surprised by the fact that they had even been spoken, both uncertain about what to do or say next. Severus flushed scarlet in his very next blink and his chair screeched loudly as he got up hastily, usual gracefulness surprisingly absent in his every move.
"Do excuse both my words and the abruptness of my departure, professor. I shall retire now, if you don't mind. My schedule for the day is rather full."
Severus was gone before Harry could so much as whisper a goodbye, so he simply sat there: feeling equally gobsmacked and exultant in turns. He had a breakthrough with his slippery Slytherin. He'd finally, finally, managed to have a proper conversation with the reclusive man and it had been... fruitful. Fruitful indeed.
Hermione looked at him as if he'd gone crazy.
"Hermit Crabs are not at all like humans, Harry. They are crustaceans. They live in the sea and look rather creepy. You can't just decide that a person behaves like them. That's insane!"
"I'm telling you guys: it worked like a charm. He spoke to me. He did! We... connected... for about five minutes and then he got spooked. It's exactly the same with the crabs. I went out this afternoon and got myself a book about the little blighters. I've been reading it for hours and, the more I read, the more convinced I am that Severus is just like a gigantic -and evil-tempered- Hermit Crab."
"Really, mate, I told you to go easy with that crazy idea just this morning."
Harry turned his head around to look desperately at Ron, book still held tightly in his hand as he offered it to a horrified Hermione who refused to even touch it.
"And I did. I tried to. But then he came in with that awfully huge monstrosity that he was reading and his face was totally hidden behind it. That's when I realized that he was using it like a shield or something, and I remembered the crab thing...
"It worked, guys! It really did. He told me how he can't do his own research because he's stuck down in the dungeons, brewing stuff for the infirmary all summer long."
Hermione's brown gaze widened with appalled anxiety.
"Really? I always assumed that he was tinkering with his own personal projects. Now that you mention it, I remember hearing some complaints that he hasn't published anything new in years.
"The potions community is a tightly knit and proud one. They've been grumbling about the school's unwillingness to find an assistant for professor Snape for more than a decade. They blame Hogwarts for the fact that one of the most promising potioneers to have trained in the United kingdom in well over century hasn't been allowed to serve his own area of expertise to a greater degree."
"So it's true. He is serving the school, as always, and has been doing it for so long by now that nobody even remembers that he does it anymore. He doesn't complain openly about it, so he doesn't get help, and he is working like a slave down there while the rest of us enjoy our wonderful summer vacation. It's no wonder he gets grumpier in the holidays. Now I understand why nobody sees him unless they go down to breakfast. He has the right to feel cheated, abused, and absolutely furious with anyone who dares to try inviting him out for drinks, but doesn't bother to offer him the help he really needs."
His friends looked towards the floor uncomfortably.
"What a bloody mess, mate. You sure like the troubled ones, don't you? I guess you need to find a way to give the man a break. That'll free him to find some time and energy to think about something other than work, too. You get to play the hero and he gets to think about sex. It's a win-win situation, Harry. No need for the crab things to get involved here."
Harry frowned and opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it. He kept his mouth shut at the last second and scratched the back of his neck uncertainly. A sideways look towards Hermione showed her agreeing with her boyfriend with obvious relief.
He sighed then and closed his green eyes for a second or two. There was no point in getting into an argument over this, anyway. He was going to do it his way, no matter what. These two already had each other. They had probably forgotten how awful it felt to love someone so hard and not being able to hold them. They wouldn't understand that he just knew he was right about this. They all sighed and spent an unusually long time looking into the empty fireplace together, trying to decide how Harry was going to rescue Severus Snape from his current potion-brewing slavery.
Harry closed the door on his friends with a deep sigh of relief and almost ran towards his desk to pick up his book on the Magical Hermit Crab. He sat on his teacher's chair and picked up the single piece of paper where he'd written his brilliant flash of insight this morning, and stared at it for a very long time. His new book sat on his right. The almost blank parchment on his left. And on the top, right-hand corner of the table sat a single, empty vial of Hangover Potion. It had arrived in his rooms via house elf not an hour after breakfast.
The bottle had been still warm from the fire and, if Harry didn't know anything else about potions, he at least remembered that the Hangover Potion took about forty minutes to brew. Severus must have started it almost immediately after abandoning the Great Hall... That potion was the proof that he was not crazy. He was right about this, dammit!
He wasn't going to let anyone dissuade him of the fact that they were all treating the reclusive potion's master in the worst possible way to deal with the man. They treated him with wariness because he seemed so strong and self-sufficient, so ready to bite everyone's head off, that it simply didn't occur to anyone to imagine that the man was just... working on the assumption that he was going to be treated harshly. It was like a snake that insisted on biting its on tail. Like a never-ending circle. It was disaster in the making.
"But now I know what's happening, Severus. I know just how to reach you and hold your attention, and I'm going to free you, if you let me."
His whispered avowal traveled around the room, echoing softly off the walls at least three times before sinking into the heavy silence like a stone. Harry sighed once again and dragged his book closer, settling in for a long evening of learning everything there was to know about the Magical Hermit Crab.
"-The Magical Hermit crab is a creature of solitary inclinations and nocturnal habits. It travels alone and does not enjoy company. It reacts with defensive violence when disturbed or handled.
It makes for a very unsuitable pet for small children due to the natural shyness that will have it hide within its shell at all times, thus avoiding any sort of interaction with its owner.
When forced to abandon the safety of its own shell the Magical Hermit Crab will chirp loudly in distressed anger. It'll hold onto a handler's finger with determined ferociousness and pinch hard, until it either draws blood or is freed from the hold.
The Magical Hermit Crab should never be held against its will. It should be lured into a sense of security by a process of slow acclimatization with its owner or carer. The taming of the Magical Hermit Crab is a process that requires both patience and finesse. Exquisite gentleness is the key to conquer the natural misgivings of these misunderstood and beautiful creatures. Those who have managed to tame their Hermits tell stories of lifelong devotion and affection developing between owner and crab.
The true tragedy for this creature relates to the fact that, more often than not, the taming is abandoned due to impatience, thus not only failing to engage with a particular crab, but also already predisposing said animal against anyone else willing to try the same techniques.
The more a crab is rejected, or disillusioned and abandoned before proper taming can take place, the more difficult the process becomes. Hundreds of Magical Hermit Crabs are returned to pet stores every year by hasty owners who have failed to develop a proper relationship with them.-"
The words he read the night before rang in Harry's impatient mind as he waited for Severus to put in an appearance at the breakfast table. There were only three other teachers in the castle during the summer and none of them bothered to come down for breakfast quite this early.
Sybill usually stayed in her tower, unless she wanted to foretell someone's demise. Hagrid tended to come in only for lunch and Minerva... Harry didn't know when she had breakfast exactly, as she seemed to never sleep, in his opinion.
The rest of the staff had abandoned the place as soon as the express had whisked the children away. This was one of the reasons why Harry had decided to stay back for two years in a row. Valiantly disregarding Molly's increasingly puzzled invitations to go on vacation with the rest of the family, in order to stay back and... attempt... to forge a closeness that he'd never so far managed to develop with the elusive Head of the Slytherin House.
Severus finally arrived with the very same book in tow. Now that Harry knew to compare the awfully dusty thing to a huge protective shell he actually found the thick volume kind of cute. Only Severus would choose something so... geeky... as a shield of protection against the rest of the world. His wildly fluttering heart was already half melted with unrepentant adoration by the time the potions master sat stiffly beside him without even bothering to utter the smallest greeting.
A second or two of thick silence passed before Harry turned slightly around and opened the conversation with a very neutral:
"Good morning, Professor Snape. I hope you received my thank you note for the Hangover potion that you, so kindly, sent across yesterday. The gesture was greatly appreciated, you know? I felt immediately better."
The book didn't waver but he clearly heard a very faint: "You are welcome, Potter." coming from behind the thick barrier.
"I've been thinking about this problem with the infirmary potions... Why is it that the school doesn't commission them from outside? Shouldn't your dual obligations as a full-time professor and a Head of House make it impossible for you to take on such a large responsibility on top of everything else?"
Shocked disbelief was the trick to get rid of the blasted book-shield, apparently, as it lowered completely and fell on top of the table when the Slytherin jerked around to stare at him, as if poked with a rod.
"You've been thinking about my problems?" There was something that sounded so heartbreakingly close to deep bewilderment in that single six-word sentence, that it scratched across Harry's conscience like a jagged piece of glass. How many people had ignored this man's plight? How many took him for granted, every single day, here at Hogwarts? How many thought him unapproachable and mean? How lonely was Severus?
Pushing these troubling thoughts to the back of his mind with a firm and determined mental shove, Harry proceeded to shrug his shoulders in a carefully neutral way. It was difficult for him to curve his own impatient need to just barge in and save his man, but it was going to be so worth it.
He'd read the book. He knew that he had to establish contact carefully. Soothingly. Nothing overly eager or too excitable. No sudden movements or emotional inflections in his voice that might frighten his crab into defensive retreat. He needed to allow his hermit to bring out his own antennas all by himself.
"Well, technically, they aren't just your problems, Professor. They are ours. The infirmary is the school's responsibility, is it not? Dealing with supplying it shouldn't fall only on your shoulders. The entire staff should be made aware of this situation and consulted over what's the best way to deal with it. Maybe even establish some sort of rotation system to brew the supplies, if they can't be commissioned outside."
Severus blinked in what appeared to be speechless surprise and Harry felt so relieved when the book remained firmly forgotten on the table that it was an actual battle to force his mouth into repressing the bright smile that wanted to unfurl on his face.
"The Potions Master brews all school-related potion supplies. It has been this way since the founders themselves. This is the first time in this institution's history when the Potions Master happens to be also a Head of House. It's just my luck, really. There is nothing to be done about it, Potter."
Harry could hear the slight impatience that colored that dark tone. It indicated that his hermit was about to shy away, readying himself to retreat within the safety of his impenetrable shell and lick his wounds in solitary misery. He had to thread very carefully here. He had to offer the most appealing lure in his arsenal to see if he could... tempt... his crab into remaining out in the open for a few seconds longer.
"If it hasn't ever happened before then there are no rules already in place that tie you to this system. You can't labor like a slave for the benefit of the school without expecting some kind of help or recognition for your efforts, Professor. That's just not fair. I'm willing to offer my services as your assistant for the rest of the summer."
Snape was so flummoxed that he actually gaped at him. A strange look that was halfway between horrified rejection of the idea and a desperate need to avail himself of some help seemed to be fighting a confused and bloody battle within the man's mind, if his obvious indecision was anything to go by.
Harry allowed him only three shocked blinks before moving in for the kill. He needed to secure his position within his crab's new environment, while it was still floundering in disconcerted reaction to the shift in its usual surroundings: '-Do not let your Magical Hermit Crab establish its new routine without you or it'll consider you utterly useless to its survival thereafter.-' his book had been very insistent on that point. It was 'vital' that he remained firmly entrenched in Snape's daily life from now on. If he couldn't secure this chance then everything would be lost.
"I can guess what you are thinking. You are remembering how horrible I was at potions while I was a student, aren't you? I'm not saying I'll brew anything, unless you want me to. But I could prepare ingredients and the like. Most of the time spent in a lab is related to pre-brewing preparations, anyway. There's not much I can mess up there and it'll save you so much time..."
His crab was hooked. Harry could see it in the sudden narrowing of those lovely dark eyes and he forced his anxious limbs into unusual stillness, in order to appear as non-threatening as possible to the wary older man.
"I'm not sure about this, professor Potter. How much will your assistance cost me? I'm afraid I can't pay you for your time."
"I work here too, you know? Now that I've realized what is happening I feel it's my responsibility to chip in, so to speak. No payment will be necessary, professor. Some things are about what's right rather than about personal gain."
A pale hand rose to rub that magnificent long nose soothingly and Harry had to repress a sudden shiver of desire. It was crazy how much he wanted to lick the man's nose, every single time his mind so much as focused on it.
"Are you serious, Potter? You'll really give up your summer plans to spend a distressingly long part of your day locked in a dungeon with me?"
Harry didn't even want to start thinking about all the things he would gladly give up for the pleasure of being locked forever in a dungeon with the man. If he started down that road he might end up jumping the Slytherin right here, on the Great Hall's table, and that'll blow his every chance with his reclusive hermit.
"I'm willing to help, professor. Working hard for the school's benefit is not a problem for me. Doing the right thing by you doesn't hurt me, either. It'll ease my conscience and give me something to do with my time, other than drink myself into a horrible hangover every other night."
Snape's beautiful dark gaze lowered thoughtfully towards the table. A long index finger traced carefully over the elegant golden letters that were etched on the aged leather cover of his book, as the man became immersed in his own thoughts.
Harry knew that he had to give him time. He had to give him patience and a soothing sense of restful peace. He knew that his oblique hinting at some selfish need of his own would have settled the worst doubts within the Slytherin's suspicious mind. But he also knew that if he rushed Snape now he'll lose his crab forever.
The wait was unendurable, though. The silence thick and heavy. Severus' finger continued tracing the tittle of his book for such a long time that Harry felt like screaming. His every instinct told him to jump in and demand a bloody answer already, but he bit so hard on his tongue that he could taste his own blood and waited. He waited even longer. And then he waited some more. He waited for an entire bloody eternity, it seemed.
His excruciatingly painful incursion into the world of saintly patience ended up paying big time, though. After about a million seconds of tongue biting, Snape finally turned around once more. He stared straight at Harry with the kind of seriousness of a man about to gamble with the very safety of the universe and barked out a single, but very welcome sentence:
"I start exactly at ten thirty every morning, Potter, and I will not wait for you."
Harry allowed himself to smile then, but only a very small curve appeared on his lips. It'd be a disaster to over-do it now.
"I'll be there, professor."
Watching Snape brew his potions was an amazing experience. It was like a different man altogether took over his usual misanthropic persona and he became fluid poetry in motion. There was no impatience in him. No frown marring his pale features. There were no words being spoken in either derisive scorn or malicious exasperation. He was gentle with his equipment and careful with his every concoction. He was at peace down here with all his rods and cauldrons and it showed clear as day in his expression, in his demeanor, in his very attitude.
Now that he thought about it, Harry realized that he'd gone through seven years worth of potion classes without actually having witnessed this wonderful spectacle a single time. Not once.
"Why don't you brew examples of the potions that you teach in your classes, professor? Sometimes a visual aid like that can direct the actions of the less gifted students and avert the worst kind of disasters altogether."
The long hair that had fallen across the Slytherin's sharp-boned profile, and was obscuring it almost completely from Harry's view, shifted away as the older man lifted his head to stare straight at him.
"The art of brewing is a very exacting one. Potions require constant attention, Mr. Potter. If my mind is engaged in the brewing of my own project I could hardly be devoting any attention to the students' dismal efforts. I can't risk their safety in such a way for the small benefit that only a few might get."
"That's such a shame. Now that I see you do it, I can understand some of the points you used to scream at me about, you know? All those lectures about the breaks in the rhythm of a stir or the proper way to go from clockwise to anticlockwise motions. I didn't ever manage to understand why it would matter or how you could tell what we were doing from your position at the front of the classroom but, now that I'm watching you do it, even I can see how it makes everything look kind of... seamless. I'd bet it's also less tiring on the arm."
Snape's dark eyes turned thoughtful.
"Maybe you've got a point there. Maybe I should set up a demonstration-only session once a week or something. The students could watch and ask questions about proper technique and the like. It would be like a review session, only practical."
Silence settled once again between them both as Harry allowed the pensive comment to go unanswered. He wanted to continue that conversation so much that it took most of his energy to suppress his eager instinct to try pursuing the topic. But his book's winning advice had worked pretty well so far and he wasn't about to risk doing his own thing now.
'-Do not react too promptly to your hermit's every opening. If you readily supply the attention it secretly craves, it won't see the point of coming out of its shell to seek it from you.-' He repeated those words to himself over and over as the moment stretched and seemed to dissolve into unresolved nothingness. An opportunity gone past, unused. Lost.
It felt as if that one single decision had just cost him so much more than a few minutes of actual conversation with the object of his affections. His eyes closed and he sighed to himself, uncertain about this plan for the very first time. Struggling to decide if he should just forget about the book and go on with his gut feeling or attempt to wait and see.
"Don't you think the kids will get bored with such lesson, Potter?" The question caught him by surprise and he lifted his head jerkily, startling the older man so much that he actually halted the constant stirring of his potion. A single bubble of opalescent liquid rose to the surface and exploded with a warning pop that brought the potions master's attention back towards his concoction in a rush.
Harry stared at that lowered dark head with a sickeningly anxious churning twisting his stomach into knots. Finally realizing how close he'd come to blowing the whole taming-thing up. He needed to tone down his reactions. He needed to become a calmer, gentler version of himself or he would lose the only chance the man had ever given him...
"I'm sorry if I startled you, Professor." He whispered contritely into the silence, but the head he was addressing didn't shift a single inch. His heart froze with sheer panic and his mind whirled with anxious agitation.
His brain told him to speak further, drown the man in explanations and apologies, but the book was firm about treating the hermits with a minimalist approach to consideration. ' -Be gentle. Be constant. Be there. But don't insist on always being acknowledged-' That was the conclusion at the end of chapter five and it was circling his head like a loud mantra.
Quietude was an awful word in his humble opinion. It glossed over the most uncomfortable feeling known to mankind. That was the one lesson that he learned as he stood in that gloomy dungeon and stared straight at that lowered dark head, feeling completely wretched. He could do nothing but agonize over the debatable wisdom of his choice as the silence stretched without any sort of visible reaction from the Slytherin.
The cauldron settled into submissive conformity with the potioneer's expectations and still Severus remained glued to his station. He'd become utterly silent and mostly still. Aloof. Indifferent. Remote... He'd retreated inside his shell of frosty formality and Harry knew, without a shadow of doubt, that he'd lost him for the day.
'-Establishing a reliable routine is of vital importance to ensure your success when it comes to taming your Magical Hermit Crab. They must learn to expect your presence in their life at certain times of day and they must also learn to trust that you'll be present whenever they are being trained to believe that you should be. Failing to comply with your crab's assumption of your trustworthiness will result in you loosing their fragile trust forever.-'
Dedicating every single day to ingredient preparation was as boring as Harry had imagined. It was also frustrating beyond belief because Severus seemed to have retreated back into his shell completely. Trying to engage the man in even the shortest of conversations became an uphill battle that he lost with disheartening regularity. Still... Harry persevered in the hope that his persistent diligence was actually being perceived as trustworthy.
One fine day, almost three weeks after they had started working together, Severus lifted his dark gaze from his bubbling cauldron and looked at him thoughtfully for a very long time.
'-Rushing your crab into commitment will result in a very stressful confrontation that your hermit won't be capable of coping with. It'll make it retreat within its shell and set your relationship back for a long time. When dealing with your hermit you must remember that instant gratification isn't the goal of your efforts. You are fighting to establish a viable and lasting relationship. It is of utmost importance that you allow your crab the stress-free opportunity to initiate every increasingly intimate phase of your partnership at its own speed.-'
Harry's fingers twitched but he remained still. His bunch of Pamparial Ferns were being mostly strangled within the tense hold of his sweaty left hand, but his right kept on chopping it steadily with herculean effort. The rhythmic sound of his knife as it shifted through the yielding stalks became the only sound in the room for such a long time that he thought it'll become forever engraved on the inside of his ears.
"You never answered my question, Potter. I still don't know if you think that a purely demonstration class will bore the students or not."
This time Harry didn't even dare to blink in a rush. He swallowed repeatedly, trying to get rid of the thick knot of relief that was lodged in his throat before finally lifting his eyes and allowing them to settle thoughtfully over the older man.
"I can only say that I would have loved to see this. I've learned a lot in the last few weeks, just watching you brew. You make it look so effortless that it's just... I finally get it, you know?
"Potions are not impossibly complicated. They are not incomprehensible cooking classes meant only for geniuses, either. They can be simple, easy, soothing... I wonder how many of us would have taken it more seriously if only we had seen this. I probably would have and I think Neville's terror would have eased a lot. But now we'll never know. "
Severus' dark head turned very slightly to one side and he studied the wall behind Harry's head thoughtfully, allowing the usual silence to grow once more between them. Turning only the founders knew what kind of ideas around inside the impenetrable safety of his terrifyingly clever mind.
"I've been giving some thought to the possibility of... testing... your unusual theory, Mr. Potter. I'm still uncertain about the interest that such a class could generate. And I... I'm very reluctant to disrupt my tightly scheduled study plan with what basically translates as a remedial practical lesson."
The flow of words faltered there and Harry's every muscle became rigid with the powerful instinct to approach the Slytherin and hug him tightly. He wanted to offer him comfort. Tell him that they could seat together somewhere cozy and bounce ideas off each other. He couldn't do it, though. The book said he had to wait. See how far his hermit would open up and then... accept... that small opening. Cherish it. Encourage his crab further with the positive reaction to its first careful foray into the previously unexplored arena of hermit-owner togetherness.
"I... I would like to ask a favor from you, Potter."
Harry's mind froze with the welcome hope of believing that this was it. He was going to be invited to Severus' quarters for the very first time. They'd talk shop for half an hour and then have some little wine while sitting together on the sofa. And then... well, anything, anything, could happen. He'll take whatever crumbs the Slytherin wanted to throw at him, but... gosh!... he hopped that some seriously scandalous snogging would be on offer.
"I've been repeatedly brewing a very tricky fever-reducing potion that very few seven years ever manage to reproduce. I'd like to see if you have picked up enough basic understanding of my actions to replicate some of its basic brewing steps. You have been watching me rather intently of late, so... if your theory is correct, you should be able to manage at least part of the brew."
Utter dejection filled Harry completely. He was absolutely crushed. He was so disappointed that he felt like stomping straight out of the lab and yelling at this heartless monster to stuff his bloody potions up his... Wait. Wait. This was actually... Snape was going to trust him with a potion? Really? He blinked stupidly at the man and managed to swallow his crazed bark of hysterical laughter a mere half-breath before it broke forth from his stunned lips.
"I'll be happy to try it, professor." He said with a neutrally accommodating voice. He hoped the man didn't need simpering enthusiasm to understand his commitment to their togetherness because he felt totally unable to produce anything even close to it at that moment.
He abandoned his own work station and approached the Slytherin's cautiously. His eyes were wide open with sickening trepidation as he glanced at the carefully laid row of ingredients that were resting threateningly beside an empty cauldron.
He hoped to hell and back that his hermit would come to appreciate the sacrifice that he was making here. He hoped that he wasn't about to look like a complete twat in the man's lovely eyes. He hoped most of all for some sort of... physical... reward to his best efforts. Something lovely and wet and warm that would erase from his mind the awful memory of actually having to brew some smelly concoction. Something like snogging. Yeah... Snogging would be good.
'-Once your Magical Hermit Crab allows itself to come out of its shell, in order to interact with you, do not attempt to remove the protection of its shields at any point. Do not poke it on the shell or force it out into the light.
Your crab is attempting to find a new and intriguingly fun alternative shelter by your side. It is trying out the concept of... variety. It does not intend to abandon its trusty old shell for you. Nor should you force it to do so. If you want your hermit to be happy you must remember that it will eventually need to hide once more, if not for any other reason than the fact that it will need it in order to feel like... himself.-'
That blasted book was tying his hands down, fair and square, Harry thought grumpily as he walked away from the lab on Friday afternoon. He'd invited his crab out for a celebratory drink once again, eager to have them spend some time together that didn't include the lab, or the cauldrons, or a menacingly high tower of unprepared ingredients.
They'd just finished most of the usual potion stock and now only the special brews remained, and they were only mid-way trough the summer vacation. Severus had been so ecstatic that he'd agreed to call him Harry, as a way to thank him for his invaluable help. He'd even reciprocated by granting Harry permission to use his given name and, for a while, everything had been just... perfect.
They had looked at each other and smiled rather bashfully. Their eyes had connected in that magical way that spelled attraction and Harry had started to hear literal violins filling the air with their sweet music. He'd been certain that they were a breath away from falling onto the carpet like a pair of ravenous werewolves when his crab had just... retreated.
UUUGGGHHH! It was all so bloody unfair that he felt like screaming. Five weeks! He'd wasted five weeks of his life chain-brewing potions for the bloody infirmary and his hermit still felt like shutting him off in the blink of an eye. No warning. There had been absolutely no warning about it, either. Everything had been going swimmingly and then... nothing. Nada. Blank wall. Zero snogging!
Severus' hasty and unexpected retreat had made him panic and he'd issued the drinking invitation without thinking. Of course it had been rejected. He'd known that it was going to happen even before the man stuttered some flustered nonsense about being really busy with research, and he'd been about a millisecond away from demanding that the Slytherin set his bloody research on fire and come down to the pub instead when he'd remembered all that weird stuff about the shell thing.
You don't poke your crab's shell. That's a big no-no, mate! Harry knew that his potions, his books, and all those bloody buttons, the long hair, the nasty comments... all of that was a part of Severus' protective shell. He knew that he should respect all of it and never attempt to mess with it in any way, but it still had felt like hell to bite his tongue and smile gently, telling his retreating hermit that of course he understood that work came always first and he'll see him tomorrow.
Now he wondered how he was going to carry on like this. Was he going to become a side dish on Severus' busy table? Did he even want to become a side dish when, for him, the other man was pretty much the entire meal?
Wasn't he being utterly false by following the advice of his book and acting against his nature in order to gain the man's affection? Would he ever be happy if he had to... repress... his every natural reaction for the rest of his life in order to secure his love's interest?
He stood for a long time at the base of the stairs that would either lead him outside the castle, if he carried on straight and left through the main doors, or back up to his lonely chambers if he climbed up the stairs.
"Oh, what the hell!..." He huffed crossly under his breath before heading outside determinedly.
'-Be loyal to your Magical Hermit Crab. Even when you believe yourself to be out of its hearing range its incredibly accurate senses can still hear you. It can follow your body-heat signature for five to six miles during regular conditions, and if your magical aura is altered due to stress that distance could easily double. Do not touch or become friendly with other crabs during the period of taming. You are supposed to be committed exclusively to your hermit during this time. He'll sense it if you entertain another and you'll lose its trust forever through your own greedy efforts to branch out.-'
Harry closed the book that he now carried in the back pocket of his trousers wherever he went. The thin volume rested on the table like a strange and alien artifact. Madam Rosmerta's pub wasn't the kind of place were a man goes to enjoy the peace and quiet, no. It was the kind of noisy gossip-encouraging little village joint that usually never saw the written word, unless it was a customer's bill. And even that was often substituted by a healthy yell from the owner, calling out the amount to be paid in a firm and terrifyingly sober tone of voice.
His fire-whiskey still rested on the table. Ice already melted ages ago as he obsessively read the well-known chapters of the bloody book. He was trying to convince himself that he was doing the right thing. That this plan of his wasn't going to end up being a total bloody failure.
"You look like a man who could do with some fun, Potter."
Zabinni's coquettish drawl dragged his thoughts back to the present and he lifted his green gaze to look up at the man. Dark eyes settled over him and Harry knew that here was someone ready to fall back on a bed and give him a good time. Zabini was well known for his string of one-nighters. He was hot and he was fit. He was rumored to be an absolute devil in the sack, but... he wasn't Severus. Not by a long shot.
"I'm not in the mood, Zabini. Why don't you go hit on that brunette who is sitting at the bar? The guy is probably having a coronary watching you chat me up."
A single look over his shoulder was all it took to shift the Slytherin's attention away and Harry sighed at the bloke's lack of staying power. He wanted a man who stayed. He needed forever, really, and he wasn't going to let himself turn around and give up at the first hurdle. Forever didn't come to those who only worked for today.
"Are you sure Potter? This might be your only chance to have me, you know? I rarely make the same invitation twice."
Harry smiled tightly and inclined his head sharply towards the bar.
"Your boy is waiting, Zabinni. I'm not in the market for one-night stands anymore."
His former schoolmate walked away in offended indignation and Harry closed his eyes wearily. What the hell was he doing here? He wanted to be at home, talking potions with his bloody annoying crab. He wanted to second-guess himself and feel alive every time he managed to force the owner of the most mysterious pair of black eyes he'd ever seen to look at him for longer than a second.
"I've never heard anyone else turn Mr. Zabini away, once he actually bothered to offer 'fun'. Are you sure you are not so totally plastered that your ability to make wise decisions has been smashed right out of commission, Mr. Potter?"
Green eyes shot open wildly and he jerked in his seat when he encountered the magnificent vision that was Severus Snape standing beside the free chair at the other side of his table.
"Severus! I thought you were going to work on your research all night."
A faint blush colored the cheekbones of the older man and he looked down to the floor for a long second.
"I thought so too. But... I got bored. I hope you won't consider me too forward for remembering your earlier invitation and daring to presume my welcome."
"I... no. This is perfect. Just perfect. You know how much I enjoy your company. I'm just... I wasn't expecting to see you tonight, that's all."
Severus sat and they stared at one another in the growing silence for a very long time. Those dark eyes seemed bright and focused, alive with the kind of curiosity that the Slytherin very rarely directed towards anything other than his potions.
"Why do you drink alone on a Friday night, no less, and read books about..." Long, potion-tainted fingers turned his book around, allowing their owner to read the title. A single, finely delineated eyebrow shot up in disconcerted perplexity as his companion questioned Harry's taste in literature with evident puzzlement "Crabs, Mr. Potter?"
Harry turned beet-red, but he shrugged his shoulders in a clumsy play at nonchalance.
"I like them. They are kind of cool."
Severus blinked in astonished befuddlement.
Silence settled once again over the table as Severus opened his book and proceeded to read the very first lines of the third chapter.
"Are you planning on getting one of these creatures for yourself? They seem to require quite the commitment from an owner."
Harry's green eyes shone like jewels and he didn't need the book to tell him that his hermit had finally decided to come out and test his resolution. His trustworthiness. His crab was making his choice right now. This was the moment when all games came to an end, and he'd either be offered a chance to go on further or be left out in the dust, forever reduced to dwell within the emptiness of failure all by himself.
"Commitment is not a problem for me, Severus. I'm ready to settle down. I want to build a home for myself, you see? Somewhere safe and warm. Somewhere mine."
Nothing moved on their table for a painfully long second. No one breathed. No one blinked. No one seemed to have a heart that wasn't utterly paralyzed with anxiety. Then Severus closed the book with a short, decisive snap that seemed to thunder in Harry's over-sensitized ears.
"Settling down may be a mistake for a man of your age, Potter." A heavy sigh abandoned the Slytherin's lips as he half-turned his head towards the bar, settling those dark eyes over the predictable success of Zabini's seductive technique. "There are some seriously tempting opportunities out there that won't be open to you once you decide to... commit... to a life of hearth and home, you know?"
Harry could sense his hermit's intention to retreat. He could feel it in his bones, in his churning gut. Severus was going to stand up any minute now and give up on him. The bloody idiot was going to leave him alone to be feasted upon by the likes of Blaise Zabini. Cold sweat began to run down his forehead as he realized that the time to be himself had finally come. He needed to forget the book right now and go with his instincts. He was a millisecond away from losing it all and he had absolutely no intention of allowing that to happen while he sat there, blinking in bewilderment like some sort of brainless lump.
"I'm in love, Severus. I couldn't care less for temptation, no matter how prettily wrapped it is."
Shocked dark eyes focused on him with razor-sharp attention to detail. The silence grew, and grew, and grew as Harry's very future hung in the balance. He felt sick with the knowledge that he had rushed into a declaration way before his crab was ready for it, and had just probably lost whatever meager chance he'd had to win the man of his dreams.
"Love, Mr Potter? Are you the kind of man who makes such promises to secure a willing partner for the night or are you the kind who will belong to one man, and one man only, for the rest of your life?"
Harry swallowed and prayed. His eyes shone in the dim light like twin bright jewels as he forced his drying lips to have some courage. His hermit was still here, still asking him questions, still considering whether to move on or remain beside him. This was not the time to hide or lie. This was the time to behave like a Gryffindor.
"I'm the kind of man who has been in love with you for well over two years, professor Snape."
The words filled the space that separated them with about a million and one emotions. They swirled around them. Surrounded them. Embraced them. They sunk into their skin like arrows seeking bone.
"I've noticed your attention, of course. But I assumed it was mere curiosity on your part."
Harry's entire frame became rigid with anxiety and he started to shiver from head to toes.
"Curiosity is for kids and kittens, Severus. I'm a grown man of twenty-two. I know exactly what I want."
"And what you want is me. Is that what you are trying to say?"
Black eyes pinned him to the spot with the unavoidable power of their owner's quest for sincerity. His crab wanted the truth and nothing but the truth. This was going to be all or nothing. This was going to be either love or war.
"No. What I want is a home. A family. A life of togetherness with you. You are not what I want, Severus. You are who I love. You are the only man on Earth who can give me what I need. What I desire. There'll be only mirages of happiness for me if you are not there."
A single heartbeat pounded against Harry's rib cage as those unfathomable eyes looked straight into his own. His breath halted and his mind froze with anxiety as he waited for Severus' answer.
"But I am here, Harry. I'm right here."
Harry forgot all about crabs and books and minding his own reactions. He couldn't have remembered any of it had his life depended on it at that very second, anyway. With a loud whoop of joy he launched himself straight into Severus' unprepared arms and felt nothing but sheer bliss when his hermit actually caught him.
He was embraced carefully right here, in the middle of madam Rosmerta's pub, by a man who held onto his privacy like a miser holds his gold. The thought had merely crossed his whirling mind when he realized that they were both Dissaparating on the spot. He held on tightly, willing to follow wherever it was that Severus decided to take him from this moment on.
They landed right in front of the iron gates of Hogwarts and the guarding boars parted silently for them. The winding path up to the castle's front doors shone with otherworldly beauty under the bright moonlight, and the view was so romantic that Harry wanted to live within this instant for the rest of his life.
"Will you come into my rooms tonight, Harry? Will you allow me to make love to you?"
The question seemed to caress his very soul. It settled over him like a warm cloak. Like a promise of tomorrow. Like everything he had ever wanted or would ever have the strength to dream about.
"I will allow you to take me to the moon and back, Severus. As long as you love me. As long as this is not just for tonight. As long as you know that I... I need you to offer me everything."
Severus smiled at him for the very first time right then. The pale rays of the moon bathed him in the kind of gentle light that didn't clash with the shadows he preferred to dwell in, and it was at that very second that Harry finally understood that his crab was made for moonlight.
"Everything is implied in this offer, Harry Potter. Everything will be demanded from you in return."
Harry laughed with sheer joy and kissed his hermit right there, under the bright stars of a Scottish summer night. He was in love. He was being loved in return. He had the rest of his life ahead of him and he had finally, finally, managed to reach the snogging part.