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To Die Upon a Kiss

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Part One: The Smock-Fac'd Soldier

Harry drew close to Severus where he was bent over his writing desk and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. It was not a peck but a gentle caress. The Potions Master did not look up from his grading. Harry sighed and cast a disgruntled glance at Severus as he stepped away but did not let it show in his voice.

“How were they today?” he asked, tossing his bag down beside his armchair in front of the hearth before throwing himself into the chair after it. It had taken him a while, but he had eventually convinced Severus to properly furnish the sitting room.

“Brainless. Disrespectful. Inept,” Severus reported in monotone. “You ask as if you think one day they might be otherwise,” he grumped.

Harry sighed again. “Want me to take your mind off it?” he offered, waggling his eyebrows.

Severus snorted. “Later perhaps,” he muttered. Then, “Have you eaten?” he added, trying to sound indifferent but failing.

Harry knew what he was asking. “Oh, yeah. There’s a new Italian place down the street from the Ministry. Lasagna, garlic bread,” he quipped. Finally, Severus’ quill paused and he looked up at Harry. The young man grinned, but it wasn’t as playful as he’d intended. “You ask as if you think one day it might be otherwise. What do you think? I had a bloody sandwich and some chips," he said, toeing out of his shoes. "I do know how to keep track of the days of the week, you know.”

“That’s a new development,” Severus grumbled insincerely.

“So, I take it you’re hungry.”

The man paused, looking uncomfortable. “If you feel up to it.”

“Have I ever not?”

“That was before you started Academy.”

“Severus, you bled me once a week, almost every week, through an entire fucking war. If I can handle that, I think I can handle it during Auror Training.”

Harry tried to mean it, but the course was pretty brutal. The war had been different. Weariness had been a way of life then. Peace made him comfortable enough to resent it now. Still, he’d never shirked in this, and he wasn’t about to start.

Severus lay down his quill and regarded the younger man. “I needed it more then than I do now,” he said quietly. “If you no longer wish to-”

“Severus, shut up and eat me,” Harry said witheringly.

Rather than responding with irritation, Severus softened. He rose from his stool and swept over to kneel in front of Harry, bringing a hand to the young man’s face, and Harry sighed into the touch. He'd missed this, Severus’ tenderness. He’d seen it less and less often since death was no longer creeping around every corner. Harry wondered sometimes if the only reason the man cared about him, or had ever decided to express it, was because he had been afraid Harry would be ripped from him at any moment. Now that the biggest threat to Harry’s life was inattentive lorry drivers, he found Severus increasingly distant, and it troubled him.

“I love you, you know,” Harry reminded the man. He did it often. One day, Severus might return the favour.

Apparently, not today. “Do you want to make the cut? Or shall I?” he asked softly instead.

“You do it,” said Harry, closing his eyes and sinking back into the armchair. He was always so sleepy afterwards. He heard Severus collect the knife and healing salve. Thank Merlin for the stuff, or Harry would be covered in small, neat scars by now.

“Open your mouth,” Severus ordered him quietly. Harry’s eyes flew open and his heart tripped in his chest. It had been a long while since they’d done this.

Without a word, Harry offered his tongue to his typically recalcitrant lover, his eyes never leaving Severus’ face while the man ran the razor sharp edge of the blade across it. Harry had long ago grown accustomed to the dull, metallic pain. He waited with baited breath for Severus to lean forward and take the bleeding muscle into his mouth, which he did slowly, almost teasingly.

It was sublime. It always was when Severus took his blood--bittersweet and lovely--but this was something special. Harry often swallowed as much of the stuff as Severus did, but neither of them cared when the kiss was so deep, so precious.

The healing salve was forgotten as arms wrapped around bodies, as Severus lifted him effortlessly from the chair and carried him to the bedroom. Tonight would be a good night. The first in far too long.

 

Chapter Text

Harry was shuffling impatiently with a group of others for his turn to floo out of the Ministry lobby when he glanced over at a nearby newsstand and was mildly surprised to find he recognised one of the faces staring back at him from a magazine cover. Harry strolled over, losing his place in line, to pick up a copy of Wizards' Weekly, a fashion magazine he'd never read before. The cover proclaimed 'The Modelling World's Newest Golden Boy.' And there, in nothing but skin-tight, metallic-gold short pants, was Eric Conners. He lazed slinkily on an amber velvet sofa, smiling that wily smile Harry remembered so well and occasionally throwing his head back on his impossibly long neck or shaking out his long yellow hair, all the while throwing the reader small, suggestive winks.

Harry smiled nostalgically at the magazine he held. As stunning as Eric had been at school, now he was practically a demigod; certainly no longer the soft-edged boy Harry had met in the Alcove. He was longer, firmer, more defined, but still androgynous. Harry was a little amazed to realise he could have had this gorgeous creature, was taken aback remembering how once those perfectly pouting lips had stretched around Harry himself. He blushed, and then his blush deepened when he noticed the stand's proprietor was watching him. Harry had the impulse to set the magazine down and rush away. But he reminded himself that he was a celebrity by accident, and that he didn't give a damn about PR; that the only reason he hadn't already come out publicly was for Severus' sake, and that what one newsstand operator suspected didn't mean a damned thing.

Harry paid for the magazine and walked back over to the floo line, not attempting in any way to hide his interest in the cover or the article, which was generous with other photos. He'd have to hide it from Severus, of course, but Harry felt that, if the man was going to be so stingy with sex, he had to expect Harry to take care of things himself. And if this was how Harry wanted to take care of them, then...

Harry abruptly changed his mind. He was going to leave the damned thing on the coffee table when he got home. Eric's name was a dirty word in their household, and if anything could bring Severus out of his shell--and get him into Harry's pants--this should certainly do the trick. Harry forgot all about the flirting Adonis on the magazine he held. As he flooed out, all he could imagine was Severus, and how pissed off he was going to get, and how very much fun it would be when he took it out on Harry. Not tonight but soon, Harry hoped. He was still grinning when he stepped out of the floo in an 'abandoned' building near the Ministry and Disapparated.

“Honey, I’m home,” Harry sang jokingly down the hall of Grimmauld Place, weary but looking forward to Remus’ company.

The werewolf's head appeared peeking out of the kitchen doorway toward the entry. Remus was still wiping his hands on a towel as he stepped into the corridor to greet the young man, clearly interrupted in something but delighted to see him nonetheless. “Harry!” he said, tossing it to drape over his shoulder, “Wasn’t expecting you.” 

“Too tired to go back to Hogwarts tonight,” Harry explained, giving Remus one of those not-really-touching, slap-on-the-back hugs that men give. “Thought I’d crash here. They want us back early in the morning.”

“Wonderful. Well, not about the tiredness, but certainly about the company,” Remus amended. “Tea?”

“Oh, I love you,” Harry proclaimed with a smile, dragging himself down the hall behind Remus who led the way to the kitchen. “Actually, I’m starving,” Harry said as he tossed his things onto the kitchen table. “Fancy a bite?”

Remus nodded agreeably and started pulling open pantries. “I could eat. What’d you have in mind? I could make us a sandwich.”

“I’ve got it,” said Harry, his weariness falling away as he inspected the contents of the refrigerator, growing more excited by the prospect of food.

“Harry, you just got here and you’re exhausted. Sit down, let me make something for you.”

“No, I like to do it,” Harry objected, pulling out eggs and rashers of bacon. “Every morning at the Dursley’s, it was my job to man the stove. Never thought I’d miss it,” he said with a shake of his head. “And besides, I never get the chance with Severus.” 

Reluctantly, Remus took a seat. He poured them both a cuppa and nursed his while Harry busied around the kitchen, making breakfast of all things. “You do have a wand, you know,” he pointed out when Harry bent to rummage through a drawer for utensils.

“Where’s the fun in that?” Harry grinned. “Anyhow, I’m not sure how it would turn out. I never learned to cook with magic.” He set about slicing tomatoes while Remus watched, oblivious to the other man's brooding expression. Remus inspected the contents of his tea cup and let him get on with it, but he did not hold his tongue for long. 

“Actually, Harry,” he began cautiously. “I'm glad you're here. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something.”

“Yeah?” Harry asked distractedly over his shoulder, pulling out pans. “What’s that?”

“I’m moving.”  

Harry dropped the saucepan he was setting on the stove, barely managing to save it from the floor before straightening and turning an anguished look to his former guardian. “Why would you do that?”

Harry couldn’t conceive of Grimmauld Place without Remus. The man had been staying there for the past five years, most of it spent helping Harry turn it into a proper residence. Granted, Harry didn’t often stay, but Remus leaving seemed wrong somehow, like the Prime Minister leaving Downing Street. It just wasn’t done.

Remus sighed. “Come now, Harry. You’ll be twenty-one in a few weeks. The war is over. The Order no longer exists, much less has need of a Headquarters.”

“Your point?” Harry scowled, leaning back against the countertop as he turned to regard the werewolf.

“So, Grimmauld Place is completely yours now,” said Remus, sounding resigned. “And with you training to be an Auror--and I have no doubt you’ll be accepted onto the force--then you’ll have need of the place.”

“But I live at Hogwarts. With Severus,” Harry murmured, thinking it through himself. It hadn’t occurred to him that things would change so drastically. He’d just wanted to be an Auror. He hadn't known what else to do with himself other than continue to fight Dark Magic, but he reluctantly saw Remus’ point.

“Harry,” Remus said, giving him a frank look, “you realise you can’t leave out from Hogwarts every time you are called out on a mission. It makes much more sense for Severus to move here. His commute would be relatively simple, and there is ample space in the basement for his laboratory.” Remus looked as unhappy about the situation as Harry felt. “It's just more practical for you to be in London.”

Harry sighed, turning back to the tomatoes on the cutting board with much less enthusiasm than before. “It hasn’t come to it yet,” he said. “Stay, Remus. At least until I discuss it with Severus. Nothing is definite yet, and it may not be for a while.”

Remus shook his head. “Harry, I know you’re worried about me, but you know how I feel about-”

“Remus, this isn’t charity,” he said firmly, turning back to him. “It’s a favour you’re doing me. Who knows when we’ll actually move? Or if we will. And someone has to look after the place.”

Remus sighed again, reaching over and refreshing his teacup while he mulled things over. “Alright,” he relented. “But only until things are definite.”

Harry smiled at him and Remus returned it...at least until Harry turned again. The young man went back to making breakfast, relief renewing some of his enthusiasm for the task.

“So how’s the Academy? I’m sure you’re breezing through,” Remus said conversationally, sipping his tea.

“You’d think defeating Voldemort would count for something,” Harry complained only half-jokingly as he took an opener to a tin of beans. “They certainly don’t pull any punches. And I mean that literally. My jaw is going to be sore for days.” He grinned, then winced, massaging it.

“Good Lord, don’t tell Severus,” Remus muttered with a shake of his head and a smile, “he’ll assassinate someone.”

Harry grinned at the skillet he was holding and paused in lighting the stove while he imagined the scowl on Severus’ face as he plotted the death of innocents for daring to lay a finger on Harry. It wasn’t especially funny because it was not beyond the man; the plotting, not the actual killing. The smile was for how absolutely Remus had Severus pegged.

“Don’t worry, I know. He won’t hear it from me,” Harry promised. “You know, I’m half surprised Severus didn’t apply to the Academy himself, just so he could follow me on assignment to make sure no one fucks with me.”

“He is especially protective,” Remus mused.

“Possessive you mean,” Harry said wryly, not even joking by half this time. Talking about Severus caused his thoughts to keep drifting back to the magazine in his bag.

Harry suddenly didn’t feel that much like cooking anymore. He cast a disgruntled look at the opened tin and sliced tomatoes and decided they could wait, at least for a moment. He set the skillet aside and forgot the stove entirely to sit at the table and contemplate his tea cup.

Remus gave him a worried look. “You know...that’s just his way.” 

“I know,” Harry muttered, completely without humour, frowning at his cup.

Remus’ brow furrowed further. “Harry, is everything alright with the two of you?”

Harry looked up through his fringe but didn’t answer straight away. Talking with Remus about Severus was no longer as rare or as awkward as it had been in the beginning, but sometimes it was still uncomfortable, especially when the situation was less than ideal. Harry sat back in his seat with a sigh.

“Maybe,” he said finally, grudgingly. “He just,” Harry began, but he hesitated to say what he was really thinking, and Remus waited patiently for him to collect his thoughts and his courage. “He’s just been so distant lately. I mean, he was never...you know," Harry shrugged. "But it seems different now.”

Remus was silent, contemplating Harry while Harry contemplated Severus.

“I suppose he really does love me, doesn’t he, Remus?” Harry said, showing rare insecurity.

“Of course, he does,” Remus replied immediately, eyebrows drawn. He slipped a hand over Harry’s where it lay on the table between them. “I just imagine he’s not the kind to say it often,” he added kindly.

Harry scoffed. “Or ever.”

“Perhaps," Remus began but Harry interrupted him.

“Not once, Remus,” Harry clarified quietly, almost as angry now as he was upset.

Remus scowled. “You mean he’s never? In all this time?” 

Harry shook his head, fighting back tears. He hadn’t come here to cry to Remus, though he figured it wouldn’t be the worst thing if he did. Who else was there now that Hermione had gone off to University? And who else could understand the situation as Remus could?

“It’s not the only thing he’s never done,” Harry added bitterly. Remus, who had been sitting speechless trying to fathom what Harry had just told him, drifted a questioning gaze back to the young man as though he couldn’t imagine how it could be worse but suspected he was about to find out.

Harry had never spoken this aloud to anyone. Not even to himself, even to try to convince himself that he was not bothered by it. He swallowed nervously.

“He...he never lets me,” Harry began, blushing crimson as he decided he couldn't speak it after all. “Never once, Remus,” he said, meeting the other man’s eye and shaking his head, hoping the man could divine his meaning. “He’s never let me.”

Remus stared at him blankly for a moment before he understood what Harry was saying.

What? ” 

“I stopped trying a long time ago,” Harry explained in a small voice, studying his hands. “I suppose it’s okay, though, right?” he said then, trying to believe himself that it was true. “I mean, it isn’t as if he doesn’t take care of me other ways. Sometimes takes care of me and asks nothing in return.” But Harry couldn’t fight his hurt any longer, and his voice wavered. “It...it would just be nice, you know? Just once,” said Harry, quickly swiping at the rogue tear that had dared escape.

“Harry," said Remus, the very picture of sympathy and righteous indignation, “that isn't fair of him. None of what you've just told me is healthy. Have you not discussed these things with him?”

Harry gave a short, bitter laugh. “Yeah, because Severus is just the type to talk about his feelings. I can barely get him to tell me what he thinks of the new coffee table.”

“Do you think…” Remus offered hesitantly. “I mean, would you want me to-”

“Oh, gods, no!” said Harry, horrified, “Can you even imagine?” He shook his head again, scowling. “No. I just...it helps to talk to someone about it, Remus,” he said shyly. “Though, I know you probably don’t want to hear about it.”

“Harry, there is nothing you cannot talk to me about. You know that,” Remus gently insisted.

Harry gave him a weak smile and nodded. “Just because I can doesn’t mean that I should,” he said, suddenly wanting more than anything to unload all his doubts and insecurities.

Remus could see the young man struggling internally and rose from his chair to pull a surprised and abashed Harry to his feet and into a proper hug. Harry returned it gratefully, reluctant to let go.

“You told me it wouldn’t be easy,” he sniffed into Remus’ shoulder, holding him tighter. “I just thought...I don’t know what I thought,” he admitted, real tears falling now. “I suppose I thought I could handle it. That it wouldn’t matter.”

“Harry,” Remus said, drawing back to look the young man in the eye, “I also told you it had to be mutual, remember? There is no reason for you to feel you have to put up with ill-treatment simply because you decided years ago to love a difficult man. There are limits to what you should endure as compromise.”

“But I said I wanted him forever, Remus,” Harry said, stricken. “Just as he is.”

“Harry, you were a child,” Remus said, almost critically. Of the situation, not of the man in front of him. “People change. Lives change. One naive promise does not mean you have to consign yourself to a lifetime of pain. You deserve more if that is what you truly want.”

Harry wiped his face and nodded, feeling better and worse at the same time. “I know,” he admitted quietly. “It isn’t that I don’t love him the way he is. I just...I want more from him than I think he’s able to give. But not really so much that I would leave him to find it elsewhere.”

“Talk to him,” Remus said firmly, laying a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Give him a chance to change. Communication is essential to a relationship, Harry. He may not like it, but if he loves you, he will listen.”

Harry smiled at him and nodded again, more hopeful, more resolute. “You’re right, Remus,” he said, his familiar determination returning finally. “Thank you,” he added, giving Remus another quick hug.

Remus patted him on the back. “Anytime. It’s what I’m here for,” he whispered reassuringly. Harry almost felt bad acknowledging the truth of that statement.

“Look, I think I’m going to go home tonight, after all,” he said, glancing back at the started meal and then to Remus apologetically. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course, not,” Remus responded, moving to clean up. “Go do what you need to, Harry. I’m right here if you need me.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Harry flooed into their quarters from Severus’ office, nervous but determined. He’d spent the walk from the gates thinking on what he was going to say, but Harry’d never been good with that kind of thing. Until he had something to react to, he always drew a blank. Or else, he’d start as planned and an unexpected comment would throw him, and he’d have to make it all up as he went anyway. This kind of thing was even harder with Severus because he was so sardonic and so often caught Harry off guard. By the time Harry finally made it home, the idea was simply to barrel in and do it. Which was, in a nutshell, pretty much Harry’s approach to life in general. He was halfway down the steps to the Potions Lab when he heard voices.

“So, the Little One is staying over with Uncle Remus tonight, my love?”

Harry’s surprise quickly turned to confusion, and then to a threatening pain. Why was Loraina here? Harry’d seen Severus give her her week’s supply of Substisanguinus just a couple of days ago. Harry’s heart thumped in his chest, and he had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He carefully descended a couple of more steps and strained to listen.

“That’s what he told me an hour ago,” Severus drawled. Harry hated the sound of Severus speaking to Cobbleshot. It had always seemed too relaxed and familiar. It was the voice Harry liked to think was reserved for him, and he disliked being reminded he hadn’t been the first to hear it. “Why? Did you have something in mind?”

“A few things,” she purred.

Harry bristled, feeling as if some invisible band was tightening across his chest. It didn’t really mean anything, he told himself. Cobbleshot swung between purr and croak most of the time, as if alternately trying to seduce or dismiss the world around her. He wondered, though, exactly what things she had in mind.

“Not tonight,” Severus said flatly, and Harry swallowed the lump that suddenly formed in his throat.

Not tonight. Did that mean there were other nights?

“But, Sev. I’m bored,” she complained.

“And since when has it ever been my job to entertain you?”

Cobbleshot laughed at that. “But you have always been entertaining, whether you meant to be or not. Why do you think I fell in love with you? Your dashing good looks?”

Harry felt his face burn. He seethed. Seethed that she dared be so flippant about such a thing, that she could so casually insult Severus and that Severus seemed to take the comment in stride. Harry’d spent years trying to convince Severus he found the man genuinely attractive, and apparently, Cobbleshot had been strolling in Merlin knows how often, chipping back away at that. But most of all, Harry seethed at the mention of love, wondering if she referred to it in the past tense or not. His heart broke, regardless. They tossed the word around so easily between them. ‘My Love.’ Harry hated the pet name, despite that Severus had not used it for her in his presence since their relationship began.

Harry tried to tell himself he was reading too much into the conversation, that there was no reason to think this wasn’t an innocent misunderstanding. No reason except that Severus had been so distant and had seemed so uninterested in Harry lately. The bands around Harry’s chest tightened further.

“Loraina,” Severus sighed, “I have work to do.”

Harry closed his eyes, said a small prayer of thanks, and resisted the urge to peek around the corner. If it was less than innocent, a part of Harry simply didn’t want to know. Until Harry saw them touch, he could tell himself it never happened. And he needed that deniability. He didn’t think he could handle it if…

“I’ll see myself out, then,” Cobbleshot said with a disappointed sigh. “Let me know if you change your mind, my love.”

“I’ll do that,” Severus muttered, but not as dismissively as Harry might have liked. He panicked slightly, knowing Cobbleshot was about to come up the stairs he was standing on, and he crept quietly back up them so that he was stepping into his and Severus’ bedroom just as Cobbleshot stepped out of the lab.

She had spotted him. “Little Harry. You're here after all,” she greeted, seemingly too brazenly if she’d been there for what Harry was trying not to suspect. But then, this was Loraina, and that didn’t mean much. Harry back-stepped out of the room as though he hadn’t realised she was there.

“Rainey,” he returned, failing at the casual tone for which he was aiming. “Wh-what are you doing here?” 

Of course, she didn’t answer. Instead, she walked up to him and stroked the hair from his scar and looked at it with a fond sigh. Harry had learned long ago not to expect her to respect his personal space, but after what he'd just overheard, the gesture was more galling than usual. He swallowed his annoyance.

“No. I can’t call you that anymore, can I?” she whispered. “Not little any longer, are you, Our Harry?”

“Nope. All grown up,” he said with a forced smile, not feeling it at the moment; actually, feeling more a lost little boy than he had in a very long time.

She ran her eyes over him appraisingly, as if she hadn’t seen him every week for the past few years. “Yes, you are,” she said, smiling in a way that made him uncomfortable, “and how lucky is Our Severus?”

Harry shuffled awkwardly. “Not to be rude,” he said, not trying very hard at all to avoid it, “but I’m rather tired. I’m headed to bed.”

She paused almost as if she were about to ask to join him but finally just sighed and turned to go. Four years, and Harry still hadn’t become entirely accustomed to her oddness. But despite himself, Harry could see what Severus had loved in her, and how it would appeal to Severus especially: her casual disregard of convention, her boldness, and the echo of the beauty she must once have possessed. Harry tasted bile, he scowled at her as she went.

“Take care of him, Our Harry,” she threw back over her shoulder when she flooed out. Harry’s scowl deepened as he wondered if she was the reason he’d been failing lately to do just that.

Harry had not done what he’d come home to do, but he felt too conflicted now to attempt it. Cobbleshot’s presence changed things. Harry wasn’t sure how exactly. He’d never been the jealous type, and the feeling was new to him. Nevertheless, Harry fished his recent newsstand purchase from his bag and set it on the coffee table. He pointed it deliberately at Severus’ chair, taking a final, long look at the cover before taking himself to bed.  

 

Chapter Text

Harry barely slept that night, both hoping Severus would come to bed and dreading it. The man rarely slept himself, at least at night; particularly not when some project held his attention downstairs, and even more seldom when preparing for N.E.W.T.s.

Harry remembered a time when Severus would sometimes study him with a look that now seemed reserved only for test tubes and piping. He had loved and hated it at the same time, that still, intense look of fascination and anticipation, as if Harry were some slow-maturing potion. He had never been sure what change Severus expected to see in him. Harry smiled at the memory, but it was bittersweet. That seemed like such a long time ago now, especially to a man as young as Harry.

After a few more hours of tossing and turning, he finally gave up on proper sleep and got dressed, walking into the sitting room on his way to the bathroom where he noticed the magazine still sat untouched on the coffee table. Apparently, Severus had not come upstairs at all in the night. Really, why would he if he did not expect Harry to be home? The young man had long suspected Severus preferred his cot in the lab and only ever slept in the full size in the bedroom to appease his young lover. After much deliberation, Harry snatched up the magazine and stowed it in his satchel, not wanting to provoke even in the rather pleasant way he'd intended. For all his grumbling about Severus' possessiveness, a part of him delighted in it. It was often the only proof he had of the man's affection. Harry was almost afraid Severus wouldn't react to the magazine at all, and he was afraid of what, then, that would mean.

“Our Severus,” Harry muttered under his breath, not even really aware he was thinking of what happened the night before until the words slipped out.

'Our'. As if they shared. As if Severus wasn't his completely, his exclusively. It left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Harry told himself he was merely overreacting. He resolved to just give it time. Confronting Severus before he was sure of anything was certain to end in disaster, anyway. Harry flooed out for class, hopefully without the man ever knowing he'd come home.

It wasn’t as easy to leave the matter behind him as he had intended, though, and Harry was distracted all that day at Academy, suffering several bruises for it. Though Harry really did no worse than the other cadets, his instructor seemed mildly disappointed, and Harry cursed inwardly. Expectation insisted on following him. He’d naively thought that winning the war would have laid that all to rest, would have allowed him to be normal finally. But it had only solidified his reputation and increased his celebrity, neither of which Harry had ever wanted.  

Harry left for the weekend determined not to think about Severus or about his final assessment and graduation or...anything at all, actually.

Grimmauld Place was quiet when he walked in with his arms full of wallpaper and buckets of paste. He’d been meaning to strip and re-paper the third floor for months, and right now, he needed something at which to throw some mindfulness. Harry didn’t wait for Remus to get back from whatever errand he was on and instead headed straight upstairs and to work.

It was hot, messy business, and Harry stripped his shirt, focusing on the task at hand and ignoring, as best he could, the sweat that trickled ticklishly down his back. His work was steady and productive, and before long, Harry was empty of all thoughts of Severus. Of Severus and Loraina. Harry was only here and now, only sweating and scraping, peeling paper and burning muscles.

Which is why he didn’t hear Remus come home. Didn’t hear him climb the stair. Didn’t notice his expression when he wandered into the room, curious to see what all the noise was about. In fact, Harry didn’t realise the man was present at all until he returned a moment later and cleared his throat, offering Harry a glass of cool water. The young man was momentarily startled, then immensely and vocally grateful.

“You’re a lifesaver,” he grinned at Remus, stepping down from his stool and using his cast off shirt to swipe at the worst of his sweat before accepting the glass.

“You could have waited for me, you know.” 

Harry shrugged. “I needed to get my mind off some things,” he explained, still short of breath from his exertions. He took a seat on the step ladder and swallowed half his water in one go. “Made some progress, though,” he said brightly, surprised at the amount of work he was able to get done. Remus stepped back and leaned against the door frame with his arms folded. He scanned the room, nodding, but quickly turned his attention back to Harry, studying him much more thoughtfully.

“So,” he said, toeing at some discarded paper on the floor, “did anything in particular inspire this sudden productivity?” His tone was curious, but his look was concerned. It was subtle, and no doubt most others would not have picked up on it, but Harry had been reading the man’s expressions for years now and wasn’t so oblivious any longer to Remus’ frequent worry. Harry set down his glass lest it betray him should his hands began to shake, wiping the condensation on his jeans. He momentarily considered lying and saying nothing was bothering him. But Remus had been reading him for years, as well, and would see through it in an instant. Harry never had really been adept at dishonesty, anyway. He shrugged.

“Just...things didn’t go as planned last night,” he admitted finally to the floorboards.

Remus nodded again and found an unopened bucket to perch on, resting his elbows on his knees and waiting for Harry to elaborate. But Harry had spent all afternoon avoiding the subject and didn’t feel like confronting it now.

“How are you feeling today? Up for a bit of home improvement?” he asked Remus with a grin. He pointed to a roll of wallpaper, hoping to distract him. “Sorry I didn’t check with you first. What do you think of that pattern? I thought it might look nice with the new drapes.” He chuckled, “But then, I’m not all that domestic. Too used to bare dungeon stones. If you hate it, you had better say something before we put it up.”

“Harry,” Remus said softly, “it’s your house.”

Harry sighed and avoided looking at Remus, not wanting him to see the annoyance in his expression. “Yeah, but you live here still. And I think you have a better eye for this stuff, anyway.”

Remus looked at the wallpaper and nodded, but somehow Harry knew all this nodding had nothing to do with the pattern, and it was starting to get on his nerves. He knew what was coming.

“Harry, it’s fine. I like it. Listen,” he ventured, “do you want to-”

“Put up wallpaper?” Harry interrupted, his voice forcefully light. “Yeah. Want to lend a hand?”

Remus hesitated. Harry could tell he wasn’t going to let the matter go, just put it on hold. Remus nodded again, and Harry bit back the curse on his tongue.

“Where are we starting?” Remus asked finally, peeling off his cardigan--and then his shirt--while he surveyed the wall, and Harry was too distracted to answer straight away. Remus rarely removed his shirt, instead opting to sweat through whatever task they set about fully-covered. Harry had always suspected it was because he was self-conscious about his scars. But then, they all had scars now, didn’t they?

Actually, when he thought about it, Harry couldn't recall ever seeing the man disrobed in any way. Remus habitually wore at least as many layers as Severus. Shirt, jumper or vest, cardigan or jacket. Somehow, it had always made him seem vulnerable to Harry, though he wasn’t sure why. Severus never seemed vulnerable. His layers were his armour. But Remus never wore imposing black robes. His layers were mild-mannered, and it made him look...meek. Nakedness took a certain amount of confidence, and not the brand in which Remus was traditionally wealthy.

Now the man stood topless, showing no hesitancy or self-consciousness at being so as he rested his fists on his narrow hips and considered the walls, his ill-fitting trousers hanging low. And why should he be hesitant? Remus was surprisingly fit, a fact that apparently had always been well disguised by layers of knit and wool. Harry momentarily considered it some shock tactic to get him to talk, and if the aim had been to unsettle Harry, Remus had certainly succeeded. More likely, it was simply that it was hot in the room, and Harry was Harry. And Harry had his own shirt off, and not with any thought of affecting Remus.

Right?

Right.

So why was Harry so...bothered?

“Harry?” Remus asked, throwing the young man an inquiring look over his shoulder. Harry blushed and quickly grabbed his own shirt.

“Actually, you know, I just realised how tired I am,” he hedged, for some reason having difficulty finding the opening in his top in his rush to put it on. “I didn’t sleep well last night, and they put us through the paces today. We’ll do it later. I’ll probably be here all weekend, anyway. Apparently, Severus has N.E.W.T.s to take care of. Want to see about dinner?” he asked, finally managing to pull his t-shirt over his head.

Remus gave him one of those looks. One of those ‘stop moving about so much and let me puzzle you out’ looks. So, Harry didn’t wait for his response. He walked out the door and bounced down the stairs with Remus following more slowly, crawling back into his own clothes as he went.

In the kitchen, Harry began opening cupboards. Remus stayed out of the way of his increasingly frantic search.

“Anything in particular...?”

“I thought I saw some Firewhisky in here the other day,” Harry said, still digging.

“Ah. You meant that kind of dinner,” said Remus, almost to himself. “I thought you meant food in some form,” he added, nonetheless reaching overhead and pulling down a large, half-full bottle of brown liquor from the cabinet and setting it on the table. Harry quickly snatched up two glasses, leaving all the cupboard doors open behind him as he took a heavy seat and poured himself a shot. He downed it quickly, grimacing a bit at the bite, then poured another and also one for Remus this time. Harry leaned back in his chair and played with the liquid in his glass while he waited for the first drink to do its work. Remus took his glass in hand but looked only at Harry, and the young man could feel it on the back of his neck.

“Could you please not?” Harry said rather irritably, and Remus gave him a puzzled look. “Remus. Please, just sit, will you? Drink the bloody whisky.”

Remus carefully took his seat and sipped at his drink, being far more patient than Harry felt he had any right to be. Harry wasn’t trying to argue with Remus, but the man was so unflappable. It was a far cry from what Harry was accustomed to at home. Of course, there, the roles were reversed more often than not, with Severus doling out the irritability and Harry calmly taking it in stride.

Harry sighed. He determined once again to stop thinking about home and the man there who was unknowingly driving him slowly mad, and probably for some imaginary fucking reason.  

“You’re doing it still,” he pointed out with a roll of his eyes, feeling Remus’ gaze on him despite his whirling thoughts. 

“Harry, what exactly am I meant to be doing?” said Remus, exasperated but in a good-natured sort of way. Harry was finding it harder and harder to be annoyed when Remus was so mild. He shook his head.

“The Look,” he clarified, playfully wagging a finger at him. “You have many, but this one says...” Harry cleared his throat and attempted a hopefully non-mocking imitation of the man’s soft-spoken tone. “‘Now, Harry. We both know you’ll feel better if you talk about it.’”   

Remus looked slightly affronted. Then abashed. Then amused. He smiled reluctantly and took a drink, careful not to look at Harry as he did so. “I don’t really do that,” he said finally, “do I?”

Harry grinned, which triggered one in Remus as well. “Oh, yes,” he told him, “you do. Tell me, with a straight face, that wasn’t what you were just thinking.”

Apparently, he couldn’t, as he hid his blush in his glass, and Harry’s smile broadened, knowing he’d cornered him. They stared at each other for a moment, and then the silent giggles broke free of their tethers.

“Okay, fine. I admit it,” Remus said, still chuckling. “But I worry about you, Harry,” he added more soberly, “and I feel like the only thing I have to offer you is an open ear and my advice.”

Harry shook his head, finished his drink, and poured another. “Remus, really. I don’t just come here looking to burden you with my silly problems. It’s not like it’s your job or anything.”

“It’s not a burden or a chore, Harry,” he said, looking fondly at the young man. “It’s just what friends do.”

Harry accepted this with a smile and raised his glass. “To friends, then,” he toasted.

Remus played along, raising his own and then emptying it, allowing Harry to pour him another. “So," he said, looking a little rosy in the cheeks while he contemplated his new drink, “are you going to tell me? Or do I have to give you The Look again?”

Harry groaned but was smiling still. He’d had too much to drink too fast. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table, playing idly with his glass. He'd known as soon as he saw Remus’ face upstairs that they were going to talk about this eventually. Remus was as stubborn as Harry was. Gryffindor trait, he assumed. But he really didn’t want to talk about his suspicions yet. Because then he’d have to acknowledge them, and voicing them seemed like it would make them more concrete.

Of course, saying them out loud might also give Harry the opportunity to hear how silly they sounded, but he wasn’t ready to take that risk. 

“I just didn’t get a chance to talk to Severus, is all.” It wasn’t technically a lie. “He’s busy. I think it’s to do with N.E.W.T.s.” 

Remus scowled slightly. “Huh,” he said, reaching for the bottle. Even through the increasingly warm haze of his whisky buzz, Harry could tell there was something on Remus' mind.

“Huh, what?” Harry pressed. “Why do you ‘huh’?”

Remus looked up at him as if he hadn’t expected Harry to catch that. “It’s probably nothing,” he said with a dismissive shrug.

“No,” said Harry, shaking his head, “you can’t do that, Remus. Out with it.” 

Remus looked mildly uncomfortable. “Well. You were here last weekend for the same reason.”

Harry frowned. “Yeah?”

“How many N.E.W.T. students does he have this year?”

Harry burrowed through the fuzz in his brain to find an answer. “A handful,” he shrugged. “You know how picky he is when it comes to N.E.W.T.s.”  

“That’s what I thought,” said Remus, taking a contemplative sip but offering nothing further. Harry had the urge to shake the man until he just spit it out.

Remus,” he warned.

“It’s just that...he’s spending an awful lot of time on a handful of students,” Remus mused. The look on Harry’s face seemed to signal to Remus that he had wandered into dangerous waters and the man back-treaded. “But perhaps he just sees extra promise in these,” he reasoned aloud, attempting to brush it off.

“He didn’t have much nice to say about them last time I asked,” Harry muttered, deep in thought.

“Oh, well,” said Remus, picking up on Harry’s sudden shift in mood and possibly feeling it was time to lay the subject to rest, “You know him better than I do. I’d almost suspect insults are the closest Severus ever comes to compliments. If he really disliked you, he’d probably just ignore your existence.” 

“Yeah,” said Harry distractedly, “You’re probably right.”

Or maybe Severus wasn’t spending as much time with his N.E.W.T. students as Harry had thought. Maybe Severus just wanted Harry out of the house.

“Speaking of exams,” Remus ventured, “there’s still time to prepare, you know. Are you sure you don’t want to sit them? I’d be more than happy to tutor.”

“Now why would I do that when I’ve already been accepted into the Auror program?”

“Well, you might decide you don’t want to be an Auror forever. Or a day may come when you are no longer able to be. Being an Auror is dangerous business, and if you’re looking for employment elsewhere, they may not be as generous as the Academy has been. Special dispensations are rare, even for Harry 'Fucking' Potter,” he jibed.

Harry waved him off. “I graduate in a week, Remus. Besides, my vault at Gringotts is still fairly damned full. You and I both know I don’t really even have to work.”

“So why are you?” Remus asked him seriously.

Harry stared at his drink.

“It distracts me.”

Remus didn’t have to ask from what. They were all haunted by those they'd lost, but Harry even more so, because it had been his responsibility to save them. Severus had once provided Harry’s distraction. And now Harry needed Firewhisky to distract him from Severus. Though, it didn’t seem to be working as well as anticipated. He sat his glass down and pushed it out of easy reach. Remus silently stood and collected their glasses, emptying them in the sink. Then he surreptitiously plucked the bottle from the table and stowed it back in the cupboard while Harry brooded.
 
   

Chapter Text

Remus fetched them some takeaway, and once their bellies were full of curry, Harry found a second wind and decided he’d like to tackle the third floor after all.

Remus stripped his shirt again, with Harry following suit rather more reluctantly. He figured it was the nakedness, in general, that was distracting, not that it was specifically Remus’. Even after all this time, Severus was never, ever casually naked around Harry. No matter how admiring Harry’s gaze was, Severus seemed to subtly shrink under it. He’d filled out a bit once he’d started taking Harry’s blood on a regular basis, but he was still thin. Harry thought he was beautiful, his skin so pale it reminded Harry of pearls. The way he moved made his thin frame look lithe and efficient instead of malnourished. But still, it was the only time Severus ever exhibited anything less than complete confidence and self-possession. Harry found it endearing, if frustrating. And really, how could Harry convince the man he was attractive if Loraina showed up regularly to remind him that most of the world considered him less so?

But damn it, Harry thought irritably, the rest of the world shouldn’t matter should it?

It didn’t take long for Harry to become rather inured to a bare-chested Remus...for the most part. It was difficult not to make comparisons, though, especially when Remus reached overhead to spread paste or smooth paper over it, and Harry got a long, safe look at the way Remus’ muscles moved beneath his tawny skin; the satisfying bunch of his shoulders, or the ripple of his back. Harry tried his best to ignore it, but he suspected Remus snuck peeks at him, as well, and there was something exciting about that thought and about the newness of the situation.

Regardless, they functioned well together, and their work went smoothly with only the occasional clumsiness on Harry’s part when the other man did something particularly distracting. There were a couple of instances, though, when Harry heard thumps or bangs that weren’t the result of him accidentally knocking things over.

“What was that noise?” Harry wondered aloud, holding a length of paper flat for Remus to mark and cut.

“Oh. I meant to mention,” Remus said distractedly, smoothly pulling a box-knife from his back pocket and running it along the fresh lines he’d drawn. “We appear to have a boggart in the attic. I heard it yesterday but had some errands to run. I planned on taking care of it this weekend,” he told him, gathering up the precisely carved strip of wallpaper and moving immediately to smooth it in place.

The banging from upstairs sounded again, and Harry looked at the ceiling as though he would be able to see through the floors that separated them and spy the thing. “It’s getting dark outside,” he said to himself. “It must be getting restless.”

“Is it bothering you?” Remus asked, taking a break and regarding the young man. “I could go take care of it if you’d like.” 

“No. I’ll do it,” said Harry, still looking at the ceiling, mostly to avoid looking elsewhere. “It’ll be good practice. We covered boggarts, but I think they are saving the practical test for the final assessment, and it’s been awhile since I met one. I’ll go.”  

“I’ll clean up in here, then. Shout if you need me,” Remus told him. Harry was already halfway out the door.

He let the door to the attic swing open as he raised his wand and considered the stooped space in front of him. They really needed to get rid of most of this mess. They’d been tossing things up here for years when they didn’t know what else to do with them, and it was now crammed almost to capacity with random, potentially dangerous odds and ends.

Harry ignited the end of his wand with a pale blue light and crept through the labyrinth of boxes and dusty furniture, listening for the rattle and knock of the boggart. It seemed to have sensed his presence and was quiet until Harry was just a few feet from its hiding place. A trunk at his feet jumped a few inches, making a terrible racket on the creaky wooden planks, no doubt attempting to frighten Harry. The young man smiled.

“Gotcha,” he whispered, squaring off against it and taking a few steps back. Harry cast a spell to burst the rusty old lock and waited while the boggart considered him, working out his greatest fear. The black robed figure that rose slowly from the trunk was familiar, but not in the way Harry was expecting.

Instead of the usual Dementor, Harry watched as Severus stood and stepped out of the box. The boggart drew to full height in an intimidating fashion before its thin shoulders curled back into Severus’ usual, contemptful stoop.   

Severus? Why, of all things, was it Severus? Harry wasn’t frightened of his boyfriend. The young man was intrigued enough by this unexpected phenomenon that he did not cast straight away, and that hesitation was a grave mistake.

“I never loved you,” boggart-Severus sneered in a voice dripping with caustic disdain. The words were like a knife to his heart. Harry realised he had miscalculated, let his guard down. It was an inexcusable mistake for a would-be Auror. Though he knew, rationally, that the thing in front of him was a mimic, was not really his long-time lover, Harry staggered back until he was stopped by the precarious stack of rubbish behind him, surprised by how painful those four words hissed in Severus’ low voice could be.

“How could I? You’re a child,” the thing spat. “And male. It was fun for a while, but one does not simply become gay, Mister Potter. How very naive of you to assume I’d turned. For you,” it smirked. “For a foolish, talentless, scruffy-haired, scrawny, self-entitled boy. My gods. What if someone whose opinion I valued found out?”

Severus--no, Harry reminded himself, the boggart--shuddered. Still, Harry let out a small sob despite himself, feeling his stomach curdle. Remus walked in just as the creature’s rant really picked up steam.

“Never. I never loved you,” it snarled. “No one could! You’re pathetic. Whinging. Overrated. You should have stayed in that bloody cupboard, you repulsive-!”

Remus stepped in front of Harry who had, by that point, dissolved into a silently weeping mess on the floor, his hands over his ears trying to block out the hateful words. When Remus drew his wand, the boggart looked at the man, considered him, and shifted. Harry glanced up to find that Severus was gone. Now, he could see himself lying on the floor where Severus had been. He was wearing his Auror uniform, and his chest was still smoking from the spell that had killed him, his eyes staring blindly at the ceiling. Remus ignored the tableau and turned to the real Harry, helping him to his feet.

“Darling, are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Harry said in a shaky voice. “It just caught me off guard, is all. I expected...” He swallowed the lump in his throat. “Well. I didn’t expect Severus.”

“It’s been some time since you faced a boggart, Harry. Our fears change. We-”

The rest of Remus' thought was cut short by the strange sounds that had started coming from the boggart-Harry behind them. Remus' eyes widened and he turned to face it.

Harry stepped up beside Remus and patted his back as if to remind him that the real him was right there and unharmed, but neither of them could seem to turn away from the sight in front of them or bring themselves to cast the charm. The ‘Harry’ was no longer dead. It was changing. It was not shifting to another boggart-form, the form had already shifted. Harry watched in horror as 'his' face contorted painfully, his jaw seeming to dislocate before elongating, his neck cracking loudly as it lengthened, his knees breaking backwards...all while the not-him cried out in agony.

Remus’ greatest fear--or one of them besides Harry dying--seemed to be Harry becoming infected by Remus’ own bane. Harry was mildly fascinated by the process, though beneath it, his heart ached knowing Remus endured this month after month. A whimper from Remus snapped him out of his contemplation. All the blood had drained from Remus’ face, and he was backing slowly toward the door, shaking his head. “No,” he whispered, over and over, his wand falling from his fingers.

Harry quickly took possession of himself and turned to the snarling, now fully transformed werewolf and shouted, “Ridickulus! ” 

The thing found itself groomed like a French poodle with bows in its fur. A soft chuckle and a second wave of his wand banished the whimpering beast into a puff of smoke. It hadn’t been funny enough, though, for Harry’s humour to linger. He turned solemnly to Remus who looked sheepish and tear-stained. Harry mirrored the expression. It was more than a little embarrassing, considering who they were, that a simple boggart had so undone them both. Harry pulled Remus into a hug, which Remus returned as if afraid to ever release the young man again, his fingers biting lightly into Harry’s still-bare flesh.

"Anything could happen to you out there,” Remus explained in a quavering whisper, holding Harry even tighter. “Aurors encounter the very worst in our world.”

“Werewolves are hardly the worst things in our world,” Harry replied softly, stroking Remus’ back, blushing at how much he enjoyed the sensation. “I happen to know a rather decent one.”

“But they aren’t all like me. And if they feel threatened... Harry, sit the exams,” he begged, finally pulling away to look Harry imploringly in the eye. “For me. So that you have options. So that if you decide you’re tired of risking your life…” Remus choked on the rest of the his sentence.

“Remus, I had no idea you were so bothered by it.” 

“It’s your life,” said Remus, stepping away. Turning away. “I don’t have any business telling you what to do with it. No one does, not anymore. You’ve lived for others for far too long. I just worry,” he finished softly.

Harry stepped beside him and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “Remus, I’ll be fine. I’ve faced worse, you know,” he pointed out, and they both sighed in acknowledgement of the sad truth of that. "I was surprised to see Severus, is all. I can handle it out there. Really.”

“Out there, you can’t afford to be surprised, Harry. A distracted Auror is a dead one. Or worse.”

Harry ignored his unease and put on a brave face. “You know they throw the rookies at the simple stuff for a while,” he shrugged. “It’ll be fine, Remus. I promise. It’s not like I’m going to be infected on my first mission out.”

The man nodded reluctantly and shook off the last of his doubt, at least visibly. “Want to go finish that Firewhisky?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at the young man.

Harry laughed weakly and nodded. “Yeah. That actually sounds fantastic.”

They settled at the table with their glasses in hand, both silent for a while, reflecting on what had just happened. It was Remus who spoke first. 

“You know, don’t you, that even though he does not say it, there is no question that Severus loves you.”

The statement had been confident, incontrovertible. Harry looked up at Remus, wanting to believe him but still hearing the words the boggart had spoken in his head. They seemed to be louder just at that moment than Remus’.  

“How do you know that, Remus?” Harry asked, his voice smaller than he would have liked.

“Harry,” Remus tsked as if it were obvious. And perhaps it should be, but for some reason, it wasn’t. Not to Harry. “You know he’d die for you. He practically has on a number of occasions. His feelings are deep and sound. I don’t know what’s passed between you lately to make you doubt it, but-”

“Loraina,” Harry said simply, cutting him off. Remus fell silent as Harry polished off his drink. “The reason I didn’t get to speak to Severus last night was that, when I got home, Loraina was there.”

Remus looked unsettled. “Were they…?”

“Nothing happened,” Harry confessed. “He sent her away. I went to bed. I don’t even think he knew I came home. I just...it was unexpected.”

“Has it occurred to you you might be taking the visit out of context?” 

“Of course it bloody has, Remus,” Harry replied wearily, some of his earlier mood returning. He sighed. “I can’t get it out of my head, is all,” he added more civilly, digging the heel of his hand across his eyes.

“Well. Firewhisky isn’t likely the best method,” Remus replied, reaching over to take the bottle from the table.

Harry allowed it, though he still toyed with his glass. “It just seems like everything is changing, Remus,” he said. “And I hadn’t expected it to, for some reason. And I don’t think I like it.”

“Life is change, Harry,” Remus said philosophically as he set about making them a pot of tea.

“I suppose,” Harry sighed. “You know, don’t you, that Severus will never agree to move here. But you’re right. I can’t remain at Hogwarts if I intend to be an Auror. Unless he can floo directly to the Lab, he’ll just turn his nose up at the idea and…”

And Harry was afraid Severus would make him choose: Severus or a career. Life in general or life with the man he loved. Which was so static, but which would be more than enough for Harry if only Severus gave a little more of himself. Which, sadly, Harry could not see happening, no matter what Remus said. Harry had the rather ominous feeling that something precious was drawing to an end, and it made him want to curl into a ball, to hide beneath his covers like he used to do in his cupboard, dreading Petunia’s wake-up call, as if pretending could prevent its happening.

Remus handed Harry a steaming cup of tea before settling into his seat beside him. It was much more fortifying than the Firewhisky had been. “Have you thought of talking with Minerva?” he asked, waking Harry from his thoughts.

“About?”

“About connecting the floo from here to Severus’ quarters. Your rooms are so deeply buried in the Dungeons, the potential danger would be limited, and I have no doubt she’d be open to the compromise if it kept her Potions Master in place. And happy. Besides, you know how fond she of you.”

“Remus, you’re a genius,” Harry said, looking at him in amazement. It was almost perfect.

Remus flashed him a grin. “I have my moments,” he said quietly. But as he sipped his tea, he seemed less than pleased, perhaps, to have solved this particular problem.  

Chapter Text

“You don’t mind?” Harry blinked.

“Really, Potter. I was surprised you didn’t request something similar months ago when you started training. You know I’m fond of you, but it has been a bit strange to have you about. Especially since you refuse to resume classes,” she added with a stern look over her glasses.

McGonagall had encouraged him to continue his education after Voldemort fell, but Harry had resisted, not wanting to be the oldest student at Hogwarts; something that would be even odder now that he was no longer even a teenager. Hermione hadn’t been bothered, but then Hermione was Hermione. Harry had needed more time to get his head straight afterwards, anyway.

“Remus has been urging me to sit the exams,” he admitted, squirming under McGonagall's stare.

“As well he should. But in the meantime,” she sighed, “I’ll arrange to connect Severus’ floo to Grimmauld Place. You’ll have to floo elsewhere from there, however. I won’t have any of our floos connected to the Network in general.”

“Thank you, Headmistress,” he smiled, immensely relieved. “I’ll go and tell Severus.”

McGonagall pursed her lips and nodded curtly. She had never approved, and Harry had never blamed her, but there was little to be done about it at this point. “Good luck on your assessment this week, Potter. Are you certain you’re ready?” she asked more kindly. “Do you need any additional-”

“No, no. Thank you,” he said, heading her off and rising from his seat. “I’ve been preparing my whole life, Professor, and the Academy had brushed me up on everything I’ll need for the test. I’ve got it handled.” He smiled politely again, backing toward the door where he bid her goodbye. Harry made his way to the dungeons next, in a rather smashing mood, and he grinned wickedly to himself, figuring he knew a way to make Severus a bit more receptive to his proposal.

Severus’ office was empty when he entered it to floo to their rooms, which were empty as well. All the better, really. Harry tossed his satchel at his chair, ignoring as it bounced off and into the floor, and headed for the Lab, shedding his clothes as he went as if leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for Severus to follow. By the time he reached the bottom of the steps, he was completely naked. He rummaged around Severus’ desk to locate the knife and balm. It was time for Severus to feed, and Harry intended to make this week memorable.

After all this time, he enjoyed the little pain, the tiny thrill when he pricked his finger. It was a reminder that he was still full of life, as he could see it pumping red from the puncture he’d made. It bled freely, as though well-practiced, and he used the seeping digit to draw a wandering trail of bright red from his clavicle, around one of his nipples (which was already stiffening with anticipation), and down his stomach...then further, down his already stirring length, allowing the blood to drip haphazardly over its head. By the time he was finished, he looked like a morbid piece of living art. He liked the effect and had a feeling Severus would, as well. Harry licked his finger clean before smearing a bit of balm, healing it. Then he scooped up even more of the stuff and reached back to prepare himself.

Which was what Severus caught him doing when he wandered down the stairs, eyeing the trail of clothes littering the stairwell. Harry didn’t stop, he just locked eyes with Severus as he added a second finger, twisting to reach in a way that showed the vampire the still glistening map he’d drawn on himself. Severus froze, his mouth hanging slack, his eyes following every movement the young man made, but he didn’t draw closer until Harry’s preparations pulled a low moan from him. It was like a summons, and Severus stalked toward Harry, licking his lips.

“Someone came home in a mood,” he said, his voice tight and eager, studying the trail of blood.

Harry let his hand slip from himself when Severus took him by the arms, slowly laying him back across the angled desktop at the same time Severus’ tongue descended to Harry’s collarbone. The young man gasped and arched into the touch, urging the tongue to lap more firmly. Severus obliged, alternatively kneading Harry’s flesh with the probing muscle and lapping at the blood on Harry’s chest until Harry was a writhing creature of want. He was moaning Severus’ name well before the man reached the trail’s end and sank to his knees to claim the treasure there. Harry looked down on the bobbing black head and caressed it lovingly. His other hand fell to Severus’ shoulder, where he felt something tickle his palm.

Harry lifted his hand to see what was tangled in his fingers, and he froze. He had inadvertently picked up a hair from the shoulder of Severus’ robe.

A blonde one.

Harry stared at it, hardly noting Severus’ increasingly fervent ministrations as the implications struggled to penetrate Harry’s lust-addled brain. Severus noticed the sudden change and pulled back, looking up at him with questioning eyes.

“Harry?” he asked, lips red and swollen, his canines peeking from their part. “Is something the matter?”

Harry casually shook the offending strand from his fingers onto the floor and forced a smile. “Come here,” he requested softly, but instead of the kiss Severus stretched for, Harry turned his back and leaned over the desktop, bracing his elbows and pressing back into Severus’ still clothed erection in an attempt to distract them both from the troubled tears that threatened.

Severus groaned, gripping Harry’s hip with one hand and using his other to free himself from the stiff black layers of his unofficial uniform. Harry wasn’t as ready as he had been a moment ago, but that was fine. He hoped Severus noticed, and he hoped Severus was rough. That way, one or two wayward tears would go unremarked upon. He could feel Severus’ hardness hesitate at his opening. Harry didn’t wait for the slow, gentle pressure and instead pressed himself back firmly. He felt himself tear at the breach, but thanks to the balm, he instantly healed, and neither of them waited for Harry to adjust.

It was gloriously savage, for the first time in a long while. For months Harry had craved Severus’ tenderness, and that was what the man had given him when he gave him anything at all. But this...this reminded them both of when their affair had been new and urgent, when they hadn’t felt they had the time to spare on gentleness and preparation and every time was a wild, fevered rut. Neither of them seemed concerned with the items that fell in streams from either side of the usually immaculate desktop as Severus’ thrusts threatened the integrity of the desk’s structure, driving them both, grunting, toward climax with firm, insistent strokes.

“Harry,” Severus shuddered, on the brink. “I can’t…”

“Come in me, Severus,” Harry gasped.

Severus obeyed, emptying himself deep inside the young man with a ragged groan, bruising Harry’s hips with biting fingers while Harry’s erection still swayed painfully full beneath them. Severus pulled himself out gently, turned Harry to kiss him and noticed young man’s unsatisfied cock with dismay. He gave Harry a searching look and stroked his cheek.

“Have I done something wrong?” he asked, his expression so achingly soft and open after his release that it brought a lump to Harry’s throat.

Harry didn’t know how to respond. He didn’t know the answer to that question. He wanted desperately to, but he could still feel the phantom tickle of blonde hair on his palm.

He wasn’t going to have that conversation with Severus now, though. Not like this. He felt far too vulnerable. He knew Severus was as well at the moment, and it did not seem fair. Though, he hesitated, too, to tell Severus his news as he had planned, receptive as the man might be now. He forced himself to smile, hopefully believably, and he brought a hand to Severus’ face, his heart contracting ever so slightly at the way the man nuzzled his palm.

“I’m fine,” Harry rasped, feeling his erection fading. “It was nice. It's just, I think I’m not quite used to that anymore. We should do it more often,” he winked.

Severus did not seem convinced, but he didn’t press. He stepped back to allow Harry to stand upright and lean into his thin arms.

“I love you,” Harry whispered, near to tears but trying to hide it. If Severus would only say it. Only once...

He kissed the young man instead, and it was divine. It spoke of love without actually saying the words. Despite his disappointment, Harry melted into it, returning the sentiment with subtle desperation until Severus broke off to look at him.

“Four days,” he said in a barely audible whisper, looking unexpectedly stricken.

Harry, already upset, was moved further by Severus’ expression. “Four days?” he asked with a gentle scowl.

“Until it’s official.”

His graduation.

“Oh, that. Yeah,” Harry smiled.

“You realise I’m unregistered still,” Severus pointed out. When Harry didn’t seem to understand his point, he hesitantly elaborated. “Harry, once you take your oath, you’ll be legally obligated to report me to the Ministry. My position here would be placed under scrutiny. And our...relationship would be frowned upon,” he explained carefully. “You aren’t even meant to fraternise-”

“Enough of that,” Harry warned, holding him tighter.

Severus went on anyway, showing far more emotion than Harry was used to from the man. “It will look bad. Be bad for your career, if...”

If they were found out. Particularly if Severus was by someone else. No doubt, considering they were both men, never mind the age difference, many would assume that Severus held some sort of sway over Harry, and that would never be tolerated by the Ministry. They’d been over this once before when Harry had applied to the Academy. It hadn’t seemed like a big deal then. Harry had no intention of outing Severus, regardless of the circumstances. They’d determined to just deal with the obstacles as they came. If they came. Now the obstacles were infinitely closer but still not before them, not yet. However, Severus’ voice carried a grim finality, as if the damage had already been done.

“Severus?” Harry asked, dread increasing its icy grip on his insides, “What…what are you saying?”

Severus looked as if he were about to speak but couldn’t bring himself. He pressed his forehead to Harry’s, against the scar that was now just a scar. “Nothing,” he said softly. “I only want to be certain you are aware, fully, of the implications of-”

“Severus, shut up,” Harry whispered imploringly, his eyes squeezed shut. He kissed him to ensure he did just that. It was as lovely as the last, but it felt...different. Harry couldn’t help thinking it felt as if Severus was concentrating too hard, as if memorising the kiss.

Harry couldn’t help thinking it felt as if Severus was saying goodbye.        

 

Chapter Text

They parted reluctantly and then turned to survey the damage. Severus almost never used magic to clean, he considered it lazy, but the disaster that was his desk was too extensive for anything else. A wave of his wand sent the items that littered the floor momentarily airborne before they reorganised themselves on the tabletop. That in hand, the two turned to the stairwell where Severus went on ahead while Harry crawled back into his discarded clothing on his way up.

Harry had just pushed his head through the neck of his shirt when he cleared the top step and noticed Severus was stooped to pick up the contents of Harry’s satchel. Apparently, the thing had spilled when it bounced out of his chair and to the floor. It wasn’t until Harry saw Severus retrieving Wizard’s Weekly from beneath the coffee table that he even remembered the damned thing had been in there. Harry froze, was momentarily mortified. This was not how he had wanted Severus to find it, particularly after their recent exchange. He feared the man would misunderstand, and Harry held his breath while he waited for Severus’ reaction.

There wasn’t one to speak of. Severus straightened with the magazine in hand, gave the cover a long look and a sneer, and then placed the thing on top of the rest of Harry’s papers and stowed the pile back in Harry’s bag, setting it carefully on the floor beside the young man's chair. Harry’d expected hurt or shock, anger...a reproving look at the very least, but Severus merely took his seat in front of the hearth without a word about it. 

“Is Miss Granger coming to the ceremony?” Severus asked, idly picking something from his robe front.

Harry didn’t answer straight away. He was more unsettled than he felt he should be. He figured, though, he had simply worked the scene up in his head too much. Just because reality hadn’t met his expectation, it was silly to think Severus’ reaction to the fashion mag was a serious indicator of anything at all, really. That still didn’t quiet the sour twist in the pit of Harry’s stomach.

“No,” he said finally, distractedly, falling into his own chair. “She, uh...she has final exams. An important paper is due the next day. She can’t come.”

“I’m sorry I can’t attend, Harry,” Severus said sincerely.

Harry glanced up and waved off the apology. “Don’t be. Remus isn’t coming, either. An Auror Academy graduation can’t be a comfortable place for Dark Creatures or former Death Eaters.” Which pretty much summed up Harry’s entire circle of friends and made him wonder why he had thought it was such a great career choice in the first place. “Kingsley will be there,” he added as an afterthought. “I really just need someone to pull me away from the press afterwards. It’s not a big deal.”

“It’s the beginning of the rest of your life, Harry. It’s an important event.”

Harry didn’t like the sad way the man had said it, neither did he care for this suddenly fatalistic attitude Severus had adopted since they finished in the lab. “Severus, you are the most important event in my life,” Harry stressed, wanting to reach across and touch the man. Though, Severus’ attention was elsewhere, and he had never been much for hand-holding, anyway. Besides the semi-frequent ‘I love you’, Harry wasn’t usually so effusive, as Severus was not one who responded over favourably to sentiment, but Harry felt him pulling away and didn’t know what else to do but reassure the man of his affection.

“I really don’t care who is or isn’t around to watch me walk across a platform to collect a piece of paper,” Harry sighed, resting his head on the back of his chair. He felt a headache coming on.

“You should move to Grimmauld Place,” Severus said quietly after a long moment, waking Harry.

The young man scowled, stared long and hard at Severus. Even though he’d meant to broach the subject himself, suddenly the topic felt unwelcome. Severus hadn’t said ‘we’ should move. He’d said Harry should move.

“It would be more convenient for you,” Severus added casually, reasonably, rising from his chair but not looking at Harry as he moved to his grading desk and shuffled through some papers. Harry grumbled inwardly. He should have known he wouldn’t have quieted Severus with just a kiss or two. Harry didn’t have much else in his arsenal at the moment, though, and he didn’t feel like fighting.

No. This was fine. This was good, that Severus thought it was his idea. Harry just needed to open his mind a little further. “There is a lot of room in the basement.”

“For what?” Severus muttered, scowling at an essay.

“Your lab,” Harry said as if it should be obvious.

Severus scoffed. “It would be a good place for you to put some exercise equipment,” he murmured distractedly, dipping his quill and making a red mark on the offending homework. “I know you enjoy that sort of thing, and there’s never been any room here.”

Again, ‘you’ not ‘us’.  For some reason, it made Harry more angry than upset. Perhaps he felt like arguing, after all.

“Yeah. I could do that,” he muttered, placing just a touch of emphasis on the ‘I’, mulling over the dull pain of Severus so casually condoning Harry’s departure without including himself in the plan.

“We could meet up on the Weekends,” Severus added. “Maybe in Hogsmeade. As you so often remind me, we rarely go out. It might be nice.”

Harry was almost properly angry now. Granted, they’d seen so little of each other since Harry started at the Academy, but visiting? Like old school chums catching up on a Sunday over a fucking pint? Harry could almost see it: him with a mug brimming with ale, Severus’ brimming with blood, chatting about Harry’s latest assignment or Severus’ classes, each pretending they were genuinely interested in the trials of the other. But the two had never shared interests, only intimacy. And Severus seemed to want to throw that away.   

“Oh, surely you’d prefer to feed someplace more private,” Harry said bitterly. “Or are we to reserve rooms at the Three Broomsticks?” he spat. Severus finally lifted his eyes to him, looking as if he were fighting a scowl.     

“Harry, that’s not-”

“Should I prepare a guest room for you at Grimmauld Place? That would be cheaper than hiring rooms. Or hell, I could just bottle a pint of myself for you weekly and send it by owl. Would that be more convenient for you?”

“Harry, you misunderstand.”

“Oh, I don’t think I do, Severus,” Harry snapped. He was shaking. He rose from his chair and snatched up his bag, but instead of the floo, Harry approached Severus. “You aren’t getting rid of me that easily,” he said, his tone firm but voice unsteady.

“Harry,” Severus argued, stricken, “of course, I’m not trying to ‘get rid’ of you. But you cannot work-”

“There is no ‘but’, Severus. I’m not going alone,” he said, looking the man sternly in the eye. “How could you possibly think I would?”

“Harry, you cannot live here and work for the Ministry.”

“I hadn’t intended to, Severus. Move with me.”

Severus shook his head as if the idea were preposterous, opened his mouth to protest, but Harry cut him off.

“Because you love me, move there with me,” he challenged, begged.

Severus looked at him for a long while, warring internally. “I can’t,” he said finally.

Why not? ” Harry demanded.

Severus looked away and shook his head but did not answer.

Harry didn’t want to tell Severus about the floo. He didn’t want to lay out the reasons why it could work. He wanted Severus to choose this, to choose him. He wanted Severus to want them, convenient or not. They had needed each other once, as surely as they needed oxygen. They had been magnetic and explosive, coming together through whatever obstacle to collide beautifully; ripped apart over and again by circumstance but always finding a way to burst against each other once more. And now Severus wanted Harry to just forget that? To carve out that part of himself and leave it behind, out of convenience?

When the man still didn’t answer, Harry said firmly, “Then I’m not moving, either,” and started toward the floo. He wasn’t ‘leaving’, but he was too upset with Severus to be in his presence just at the moment.

“Harry,” Severus began, just as firm, as if trying to reason with the young man, but Harry turned back and stalked up to him, silencing him with a stubborn, angry kiss. Severus didn’t fight it, but he didn’t yield to it, either.  

No, Severus,” Harry whispered fiercely, still grasping the back of the man's neck. “I will walk away from the Ministry before I walk away from you, do you understand?” After all they’d been through, Harry would be damned if a normal life--if peace--was what finally defeated them.

It took a moment, one that felt longer to Harry than it actually was, perhaps, but finally, he felt Severus’ arms around him, felt the man surrender to the embrace with a sigh. “Obstinate fucking Gryffindor,” Severus muttered fondly. Harry smiled, though inside he felt like weeping; partly with relief, partly with fear. “We’ll discuss it later, Harry,” he promised.

Harry hadn’t forgotten the blonde hair, and it wasn’t that it didn’t matter, but it didn’t necessarily mean anything. Harry wasn’t going to let Severus just let him go. He had to try harder, was all. He wasn’t going to lose this man without a fight. 

And fighting was all Harry knew. Fighting was what Harry did best.


Chapter Text

Over the next few days, Harry rushed home after classes, taking his dinner in their rooms instead of eating while he was out in order to spend more time with Severus. Despite the man’s insistence that Harry needed more rest, he stayed up in the evenings to help Severus in the lab.

And he touched Severus, as often as he could; in casual ways while they worked, and in not so casual ways when they were done. But he failed to coax Severus to bed for anything other than sleep, and he worried that there was more to it than the older man not being able to keep up with Harry’s libido.

Harry couldn’t help but wonder if this extra attention was bringing them closer or driving Severus further away. He certainly was enjoying it, and Severus didn’t complain, but there was a subtle coolness in the man, and Harry didn’t know if he should increase his efforts or cease them. Severus had always been closed off, and Harry felt something that approached panic realising there was no way for him to know where he stood without cornering Severus and forcing the conversation he had promised but never again broached. One which Harry was suddenly afraid to have at all.

These insecurities were new. As difficult as the man could sometimes be, Harry never felt it was a portent of anything in particular. It was merely Severus, and Harry loved him. But their relationship was changing. It had changed, and Harry felt like he was slowly and silently drowning in his doubt. He did not succumb to it, however, until that Friday when he barreled, grinning, into Severus’ office after his assessment.

“Am I to assume, from your jovial mood, that congratulations are in order?” Severus asked, stepping from behind his desk.

Harry waved his wand, locking the door behind him before turning to slip his arms through the ones Severus held behind his back, hugging him around the waist. “I passed, if that’s what you mean.”

“Of course, you did,” Severus said, almost dismissively.

“Wasn’t much of a test, actually,” Harry went on, unsure what to make of Severus’ lukewarm reaction, whether it indicated confidence in him or disinterest. “Either they have very low standards, or they really didn’t want to risk me failing. And I’m not sure how to feel about either option, to be honest.”

“Let us hope it was the latter. You bring with you quite a lot of positive public opinion. I wager they’ll be putting your face on posters before the week is out,” Severus said with half a smile, softening and draping his arms loosely around the younger man.

Finally, Harry allowed himself to relax a bit. “Want to celebrate?” he purred suggestively.

Severus stiffened again. “I’m to meet another of my students soon,” he hedged. “Exams are next week.”

Harry was having none of it. He only needed a few minutes. “They’ll wait,” he whispered confidently, cupping the front of Severus’ trousers and following with his hand when the man shied away. Harry knew how to break down Severus’ defences when he really wanted to, but it only worked when he saved it for rare occasions. Harry’d been flirting for days, and now it was time to stick to his follow-through.

Severus’ eyes had drifted to a close and his breathing had shallowed well before Harry managed to chase him against the wall with a determined hand and bury his face in the crook of Severus’ neck. A part of him felt like leaving his mark there, and he smiled against Severus' skin, imagining what his student might think if the Potions Master swept into the classroom with a fresh love bite. He controlled himself though, ignoring Severus' weak, sighed objection when Harry deftly unbuttoned his fly. He knew he had won the clash of wills when Severus moaned his name, sinking his fingers into Harry’s hair as Harry sank to his knees in front of him, sliding the length of his body against the man as he went.

“I really...can’t,” Severus panted, making absolutely no move to stop him.

Harry grinned. “I’ll be quick,” he promised, tugging back Severus’ pants and kissing the hollow of his hip. He was rewarded with a stifled moan. Harry settled between Severus' legs and smiled up at him, loving the the way Severus’ dark eyes could darken even further with desire. But then Harry noticed something that soured his happiness. He broke off his gaze at Severus’ face and dropped it apprehensively to the organ directly in front of him.

Harry smelled something...new. Something particular that seemed to linger despite scrubbing or scouring. It was a scent that did not belong to Severus. Or to Harry. And after four years, Harry knew those two scents well. This wasn't even male. Harry knew because he'd never smelled it before. He didn't have to have.

The young man tried and failed to not reflect on the fact that Severus knew Harry would be occupied with the assessment that afternoon, that there was no chance of him turning up unexpectedly. It was a painful revelation; not only that Severus had possibly been unfaithful, but that he had the audacity to let Harry do what he was doing now even before the stink of the sin had had time to wear off.

But then, Harry had all but forced Severus to allow it. And perhaps this was why he'd had to.

Harry closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to Severus’ stomach, hugging him around the hips, feeling like a failure somehow but still not wanting to let the man go. A tear rolled from the tip of Harry's nose and onto the sable nest of Severus' pubic hair before Harry realised he was crying. He wasn’t even angry, just heartbroken.

“Harry?” Severus asked, stroking the top of his head. The gentle care in his voice sounded mocking to the young man now. “Is something the matter?”

Harry didn't trust himself to speak, and he didn't want Severus to see his tears. Feeling decidedly ill, he did what he'd settled himself in to do, bringing Severus to a quick finish, and in the process, cleaning what he was sure was the scent of a woman from Severus' cock.

Harry somehow managed to take possession of himself by the time he rose to his feet, but his hold was tenuous. He didn’t know why he felt guilty seeing the pain on Severus’ face when he shied away from the man’s kiss. Harry wasn’t the one who had betrayed them, so why was he the one who felt ashamed?

“I have a big day tomorrow,” he said in an unsteady voice, his back turned, “so I’ll likely be in bed when you get home.” Home. That word didn’t seem to fit anymore. “You’re late for your appointment,” he pointed out, heading for the floo. He was hurt further that Severus did not call him back, as he once might have done, demanding to know what was wrong, and Harry did not glance back at the man until after he’d dropped his handful of floo powder into the hearth.

The expression he saw on Severus’ face in that instant contained such a profound sadness that Harry lost his fragile composure. But the floo was already carrying him away, and Harry did not think it wise to floo back while he was weeping uncontrollably.

It might not be what he thought. Hell, Severus might have simply spilled a strange potion ingredient down his front earlier that day. What did Harry know about female scent? But he’d been trying to rationalise too much lately: Severus' coldness, the blonde hair, Cobbleshot’s visit...and now this. Harry’s suspension of disbelief could not weather this latest suspicion. And if it was all a misunderstanding, why had Severus looked so sad as Harry left?

As if he realised Harry knew?

 

Chapter Text

Severus did not come to bed that night, and Harry did not seek him out when he rose the next morning.

All that day, Harry felt oddly numb, as if he were stumbling through a dream, waiting to wake up. He wasn’t entirely certain how he later found himself on a rickety platform at the Ministry in his newly issued uniform, sitting alongside his fellow graduates as the Head of the Auror Department droned on about Honour and Vigilance. 

Harry wasn’t listening. He was watching the crowd. He was certain it was larger than usual for an Auror release ceremony, and that there weren’t typically so many reporters. Harry didn’t think it was just his imagination that everyone seemed to be looking at him, or that not everyone appeared friendly. In fact, a few spectators looked downright hostile, including one man who seemed to leave in disgust after a brief staring contest with Harry. The young man was not inclined to be bothered.

Of all the dozens of people eyeing the stage he sat on, Harry recognised only one. Kingsley sat in the front row looking up at him, full to bursting with pride. Harry didn’t feel he had done anything special, but he appreciated seeing a friendly face. Kingsley wasn’t the only Auror to have been in the Order, but all the others were off on assignment. Harry would never really be accustomed to being the centre of attention, and Kingsley’s presence was a welcome anchor in a sea of ogling strangers.

The program was short, and Harry’s walk across the platform undoubtedly raised the most boisterous applause. Afterwards, he spoke a few vague words for the cameras and politely declined several interviews. Then, on cue, Kingsley pulled him away on ‘official Auror business’, which consisted of a bacon sarnie at Grimmauld Place with Remus.

“I wish I could have been there, Harry,” Remus apologised while the three of them nursed a pot of tea after lunch. Harry waved him off as he had the Potions Master before.

“You and Severus both, so guilt-ridden over not seeing me walk across a bloody stage,” he said, much more light-heartedly than he actually felt. He didn’t fail to catch Remus’ analytical stare, but he ignored it. “Tell him, Kingsley. It was boring and uneventful.”

“He brought down the house,” Kingsley grinned instead, oblivious to the silent exchange.

“Traitor,” Harry grumbled, smiling into his tea cup.

Kingsley just guffawed and clapped Harry on the back, continuing undeterred. “You should have seen the cameras, Remus. One would have thought the Queen was making an appearance.” 

Harry groaned. “Well, there you are, Remus. It was well documented. I’m sure you’ll see it eventually,” he sighed and rose to his feet. “And if you want a preview, you can watch me walk to the loo, which is about as interesting as the ceremony was.”

Remus chuckled but followed him with concerned eyes. Kingsley’s deep laugh chased Harry from the room.

Harry didn’t particularly need to piss, he just needed a moment to himself. Even though he’d drifted through most of it in a haze, the day had been a bit overwhelming, and he still hadn’t completely processed what had happened the day before. It was as if the event had tripped some safety mechanism in his mind, not allowing Harry to really examine things in case he suffered a complete breakdown as a result.

Quite besides all that, Harry was at least as disappointed by Remus’ absence as Remus was; or at least, he was upset by the fact that Remus’ attendance would not have been wise. The man had been given a medal by the Ministry for his participation in the war, for gods’ sake. The first ever awarded to a ‘Dark Creature’. But that didn’t necessarily buy him the trust of the Auror force at large, which was Harry’s other conundrum.

Before the Academy, Harry’d only known Aurors like Kingsley and Moody: brave individuals who cared about what was right and good, who believed in justice. Harry’s more recent experiences with the department had left him disillusioned. He’d almost been tempted to fisticuffs on more than one occasion by some careless, prejudiced comments by his fellow students about werewolves in general, and once regarding Remus specifically. It was enough to make Harry dread the attitudes he’d face in the department possessed by older, less progressive veteran Aurors.

And that was nothing compared to the prevailing opinions about Severus. Far from receiving a medal, the man had merely been pardoned, mostly based on Harry’s testimony. So few knew--really knew--how important a role Severus had played in the war. Even Harry wasn’t privy to all the details, and when Dumbledore fell, he took most of Severus’ credibility with him. It galled Harry far more than it did Severus. It seemed unforgivable to the young man that he could be so hounded by praise when the real hero of the war was ridiculed and mistrusted. It bothered him that Severus wasn’t bothered by it, as if he’d long ago accepted injustice as a condition of life.

Harry leaned against the bathroom wall and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. Regardless of whether or not Harry had reason to doubt Severus’ fidelity, he would never wish harm on the man. But if there were ever a whisper about Severus’ condition, half the Auror department would be baying for his blood, and it felt as if Harry had thrown in with the enemy. If Severus were found out, Harry would be in place to possibly protect him. At the same time, he worried his presence on the force would make Severus’ discovery more likely.

Perhaps this was all a terrible idea. Perhaps he’d just wasted the last several months of his life. And perhaps this was one of the reasons Severus was cheating on him. Maybe he felt Harry had betrayed them first.

The young man decided he needed a drink, and he reluctantly returned to the kitchen to find Remus sitting alone at the table.

“Kingsley had to dash, said to tell you goodbye,” he informed Harry quietly. Now that their friend had gone, neither of them bothered pretending to be cheerful.

“Do we have any more Firewhisky, or should I go shopping?” Harry asked bleakly.

Remus stared at him for a long moment before responding, as though working through the wisdom of pointing Harry in the direction of alcohol. Of course, if he didn’t, Harry’d just go find some on his own and likely drink alone. “Under the sink,” Remus said finally. 

Harry didn’t answer, just strode directly over and tugged open the doors. He was satisfied to find the bottle was unopened.

“You’re drinking with me,” he told Remus. He left no room for refusal and Remus did not argue. He did not have to give Harry The Look. They both emptied their glasses in silence, twice, and then Harry opened the floodgates.

“Severus is having an affair,” he told Remus while staring holes in the tabletop.

Remus scowled, hesitated, then quietly refilled their glasses. “How do you know?” he asked as if the statement hadn't particularly surprised him. “Did you catch him?”

“As good as,” Harry murmured, considering his glass for only a moment before emptying it again. He didn’t even wince.

“Harry,” Remus sighed, “that's a serious accusation.”

Harry didn’t respond except by filling his glass again, and after he set down the bottle, Remus discreetly took it and placed it out of Harry’s reach. “Listen. I know he seems changed lately, but just because Severus is distant, it does not mean he doesn't still care for you. Or that he’s being unfaithful.” He could see Harry was no closer to being convinced, and Remus sipped his drink while he gathered his thoughts. “He was engaged in the war in a different way than we were. Now that he's no longer having to constantly play a role…” He shook his head, as if unsure how to say what he was thinking. “Perhaps he's so unaccustomed to showing his true feelings that he's simply struggling with it now.”

Harry scoffed, “Why now, Remus?” and shook his head adamantly. “He never had trouble expressing himself to me during the war. I used to think that made me something special,” he muttered, moving to down his drink and finding, to his annoyance, it was already gone. “Fuck being The Chosen One,” said Harry, setting his empty glass the tabletop and giving it a small shove, “Severus Snape let down his guard. For me. That was something. But why throw it back up when it’s finally no longer necessary?” Harry asked, searching for the bottle. “There used to be no hesitance in his touch, Remus. No question in his eyes when he looked at me.”

Remus leaned forward to rest his crossed arms on the table as if to nonchalantly block Harry’s access to the Firewhisky. “Things are just different now. Those times were charged with urgency, Harry. Surely you can understand that. Really, the only reason your relationship was condoned in the first place, and not just by me but even by Severus, was because-”

“Because no one expected me to live,” Harry finished for him.

Remus shifted uncomfortably. “Harry, I'm not thinking clearly just now,” he said, casting a dirty look at the glass of whisky in his hand. “I didn't mean-”

“I’m rather close to drunk myself, Remus, but I’m fairly certain I understood you perfectly,” he said bitingly. But Harry wasn’t angry with Remus, and he needed to stop directing his abuse at the man. He sighed and leaned back in his chair, raking a hand over his face. “It doesn't matter how it started or why, does it? It's existed this long, and nothing in the world prevents it from continuing. What? Am I not thrilling enough for him now that I'm not about to die? I'm about to become a bloody Auror. Is that not dangerous enough? Or do I need to be literally marked for death by some supervillain?” Harry lay his head in his hands, feeling drained, defeated. “I have never denied him, Remus,” he confided. “Ever. In anything. Maybe that's just it,” he added bitterly. “Maybe he's used me up. Maybe I bore him now.”

“I really don't think it works that way,” said Remus, looking as if he ached on Harry’s behalf, as if he wanted to console him but didn’t quite know how.

“You know what I really think it is?” Harry asked with a smirk, toying with his empty glass. “I think the problem is that my boyfriend isn't actually gay,” he said, causing Remus’ scowl to deepen. “I think I was a novelty.”

“Harry, of course, he doesn’t-”

“You know, I happen to be rather fond of my cock,” he went on as if Remus hadn’t spoken, “or I'd almost be inclined to just have them lop it off. But who in their right mind would go to such lengths for some crotchety arsehole who can't even say 'I love you'?” Harry asked with something between a laugh and a sob.

“Harry, slow down,” Remus urged. “What exactly makes you think he's been unfaithful?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “You mean besides the blonde hair I found on his robes?”

Remus winced and shook his head. “Harry-”

“Or maybe it’s Loraina’s unexpected visits when they think I'm staying over here,” he offered, growing angry.

“Harry. That doesn't necessarily mean-”

“It’s because I can fucking smell her on him,” Harry shouted, finally silencing the man. “And I'm not talking about her goddamned perfume on his collar, Remus,” Harry clarified, chafing again at the fact that his glass remained empty.

Remus was troubled. “Have you talked to him about it? Perhaps he has a reasonable explanation for all-”

Merlin's Beard, Remus," Harry scowled. "Why are you, of all people, trying to make excuses for him? You loathe each other!”

Remus fixed him with a pensive look, but Harry could not work out at all what the man might be thinking. “I want you to be happy,” he whispered finally, and Harry shot him a dirty look. “Granted, I realise you aren't happy right now. But you are stubborn as hell, and I don't think you're done with him yet.” 

“Well, it doesn't bloody well matter whether I'm done with him if he's done with me.” 

“I seriously doubt that he is,” said Remus. It didn’t soothe the younger man, though the fight did seem to leave him. Harry shook his head, finally gave up on Remus allowing him more alcohol, and slumped back in his chair, thinking quietly for a moment.

“Have you ever been with a woman, Remus?” 

The man seemed shocked by the question and stumbled a bit over his answer. “Um. Well, yes, I have,” he said, giving Harry a quizzical look.

“Is there something special about them?” Harry asked, his brow furrowed. “I don't know,” he shrugged, “I used to notice girls. And then I didn't so much start noticing boys as...I noticed you.” Their eyes met for a moment, but they both blushed and quickly looked away. “And then I couldn't see anyone but Severus,” Harry went on. “But maybe I should find a girl,” he said as if thinking it over and finding it appealing, “just for a night.

The more he considered it, though, the less confident Harry seemed to become. The world of female sexuality struck him as intimidating.

“Is it...? I mean, are they...?” Harry didn’t even know what he meant to ask, but Remus seemed to.

“They're different, is all, Harry,” he told him with a shrug. “Not better or worse, really.”

“They're softer, I bet,” Harry mused.

Remus smiled. “Sometimes, but not necessarily. I do actually quite like tits,” he added, surprising a bark of laughter from Harry. Remus grinned, perhaps relieved that Harry was lightening up. “Not boobs, mind you,” he clarified with a shudder. “That was Sirius’ thing. I never saw the appeal in really large breasts, when there's so much of them you feel like you're juggling pudding-filled balloons.” Harry cracked up again, scrunching his nose in distaste. “But,” Remus went on, “tits are actually quite nice. Small. Firm. Pert. Just enough for a handful.” He looked nostalgic and approving, apparently picturing the perfect pair in his mind’s eye. “Really, Harry, I highly recommend a set of nice tits,” he concluded, raising his glass to him and draining it.

Harry groaned, looking at the man as if he’d never really seen him before. “Oh, fuck, Remus,” he said, shaking his head with a lopsided smile. “I don't even know how I'm feeling anymore.”

“Well, you asked,” Remus shrugged, as if to say whatever trauma the conversation caused was Harry’s own fault. But then Remus’ humour faded, and he looked seriously at the young man. “I know you're hurt, Harry,” he confided. “I'm not trying to make light of it. And I don't like to encourage infidelity,” he added hesitantly, “and certainly not as a form of revenge-”

“So I shouldn't ring up Eric Conners?” Harry cheeked. “As if he'd have me now. Have you seen him lately? Gods. He's on bloody magazines and things.” And suddenly, Eric’s photo-spread was winking seductively at Harry in his mind’s eye, made even more appealing by the whisky in his veins. Harry's sighed wistfully. “Doubt he'd even give me the time of day.”

Remus considered Harry while the young man momentarily lost himself in daydreams. “Harry,” he began with a thoughtful frown, drawing Harry’s reluctant attention. “You know, with the exception of Eric, you never allowed yourself that time that most young people have. Where you at least flirt with anyone willing, tuck off somewhere out of sight to round second base with a practical stranger. Exploration is a healthy thing, and perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if you did meet a young lady.” 

Harry fixed Remus with an intent look. He still had Eric on the brain, but now he was remembering his only other serious sexual encounter before Severus, and his imagination, already limbered from its recent exercise, took off at full sprint.

“I don't think it has to be a woman,” he said quietly, narrowing his eyes at Remus.

“Then another young man,” Remus offered innocently, perhaps failing to notice the way Harry now considered Remus’ torso as though remembering it bared and sweat-sheened.

“You know. I don't think they even have to be ‘young’,” Harry said, his eyes drifting to areas where imagination took over for memory. Despite Remus’ tipsiness, there was no mistaking Harry’s look now, or the subtle, suggestive tone of his voice. Remus became visibly unsettled.

“Harry,” he cautioned, but Harry ignored him, placing his elbow on the table and leaning in closer to the man seated beside him.

“Maybe they just have to be different,” Harry went on stubbornly, his eyes dancing as they met Remus’. “Maybe,” he whispered, “they just have to be open to the things Severus isn't.”

Remus seemed frozen, unable even to lean away when Harry bent forward and reached across him in order to retrieve the bottle of Firewhisky. Harry didn’t withdraw, though, once it was in hand. Without a word, Harry topped off the glass Remus still held, ignoring the subtle tremor that disturbed the liquid’s surface. 

Remus took a shuddering breath as if he’d momentarily forgotten to breathe. “This isn't a good idea, Harry,” he finally managed.

“Historically, perhaps. But I'm an optimist,” Harry grinned incorrigibly. “Would you really deny me, Remus?” he asked, his brow creasing slightly as he considered Remus’ lips. “If I kissed you now, would you push me away?”

Was it just Harry’s imagination, or did the man look frightened?

“Shall I test it?” he asked, unconsciously licking his own lips.

Remus swallowed uncomfortably. “You shouldn't,” he said, though his voice was small and uncertain, and Harry smiled to himself. He’d been seducing Severus for years. Compared to that, Remus’ defences were child’s play.

“Because you don't want me to? Or because you don't feel it's the right thing to do?” he challenged. “You don't always have to be noble, Remus,” Harry chided. “It’s okay to be selfish sometimes.”

Remus didn’t answer, but his eyes had fallen to Harry’s lips, his own having fallen open slightly.

“I have an unfortunate history of it,” Harry admitted, not sounding in the least bit contrite. “Being selfish, that is. We have a history. Don't you remember it, Remus?” he asked breathily, half a second away from discarding his own self-control. “Don't you remember the last time I kissed you?”

Remus seemed to have lost the power of speech, and his amber eyes were imploring, but it was impossible to tell if they were begging Harry to stop or else to finish it and kiss him already.

“I daydream about it sometimes, you know,” Harry confessed, abandoning seduction for honesty. He still eyed Remus’ mouth, but he cast off his guile, wanting more from this man than a cheap, drunken thrill. “And I think, for a long time, I compared each kiss I tasted--had ever tasted--to yours.” Harry looked into Remus’ eyes, feeling suddenly vulnerable. Now he was the one who implored. “And I often found them lacking," he whispered, "just so you know.”

When Remus finally recovered his voice, it was to moan.

Oh, Harry.”

Chapter Text

Oh, Harry.

He hadn’t realised until that moment how much he’d longed to hear those very words fall from those particular lips in just that way. It was not lost on Harry that this was his First Love. What Harry had felt for Remus all those years ago had been so much more than a crush. He’d ached for Remus’ presence even before it had occurred to him that he might touch the man, might kiss him. The thrill he had felt at the addition of those possibilities had merely cemented Harry’s feelings for him.

Harry loved Severus, but his feelings for him were both more visceral and almost maternal. Harry wanted to care for him. He felt he must because there was no one else to do so. Or at least, no one to do it properly. When he looked at Severus, Harry saw a man who had been ill-treated; a man who, like Harry, had been taught to believe he was not deserving of love. Harry’s need to prove Severus wrong on that point was almost all-consuming. The physical desire he felt was strong and genuine, but what bound Harry to him most was the need to demonstrate those feelings to Severus in the almost desperate hope that he would one day accept them as truth. He bled himself into the man--in ways literal and figurative--and what he gave him, he never got back in kind. Neither did he expect to.

Remus was different, had always been different. If Severus was an abyss, Remus was a mirror. Harry saw himself reflected in the man, not only in terms of who he was and what he had lost, but also what he wanted. What he needed. Remus returned Harry’s warmth. He supported him, encouraged him, cared for him with little thought of himself. He was as much Harry’s friend as anything. And running beneath it, always, had been an attraction they had simply learned to ignore.

Harry ignored it no longer. This was not now some clumsy, virginal flirtation. Harry was an adult and well versed in the physical practices of adults. He understood, perfectly, what he wanted from this man, what they wanted from each other, and exactly how to go about fulfilling that desire. The Firewhisky was not a hindrance but, instead, was a fuel. It made everything seem more crucial and all the consequences beyond significance. This consummation had been a long time in coming, and suddenly it seemed more important to Harry than almost anything else in the world.

They reached for one another at the same moment, rising from their seats. Their lips met gradually, and their hands sought out each other’s face with reverent fingertips. Even through the haze of alcohol, it was better than anything Harry had remembered or imagined. This wasn’t the frenzied, lust-charged thunder clap Harry had intended when he’d first leaned across the table. It was a low, slow rumble that spoke of depth, immensity, and patience; the kind one feels deep within, incognizant of its approach until one is overwhelmed by its crescendo. This was the kiss they shared: slow and monumental, gentle and profound. A culmination of countless heart-to-hearts, endless trust, and years of fondness that had nothing to do with anything physical.

The kiss ended as sweetly and as weightily as it had begun, and Harry drew back, but he had no words. He could not describe, even to himself, the magnitude of what he’d just felt. Remus seemed to have felt it as well, though, as his face held the same kind of wonder as Harry’s when he looked at the young man.

There was no turning back now, and Harry resolved this would not be some drunken romp on the kitchen floor. Something like this had to be done properly. He reached down and took hold of Remus’ hand to lead the man silently up the stairs to his room. Harry realised, though, when he turned to Remus there, that he was out of his element. Whatever this was, Harry had never had it before.

There was no lead and follow, no dominance or submission, but Harry found he liked the unison, the unspoken understanding that they should unhurriedly relieve each other of their clothing and drink in the sight and feel of it. Harry certainly appreciated the slow brush of Remus’ hand as he pulled Harry’s shirt over the young man’s head and tossed it aside. He felt the electricity generated when his knuckles grazed Remus’ stomach while Harry unfastened the man’s belt, his lips aching to claim Remus’ once more but waiting because it did not yet seem time.

Gratifyingly, there was no reluctance on Remus’ part. Harry had feared the man might wrestle with his conscience and lose, as he had done before, and the rejection would have killed Harry this time. But then, there were no ancient magics that needed safeguarding anymore. For some reason, it only just occurred to Harry that that might have been the only reason Remus had pushed him away to begin with. Harry had been so heartbroken, had taken Remus’ rejection so personally before that, even after learning about the magical importance of his purity, it hadn't occurred to him to go back and reexamine what had happened between them, especially with Severus providing a distraction.

Harry reexamined it now, and he realised it had had little to do with conscience or convention or propriety. Nothing significant to do with Sirius or Dumbledore. The man had just felt so strongly for Harry that he did not trust himself to even remain in his presence, not when Harry’s safety could be endangered by it. Remus had loved Harry too dearly to act on it.

Nothing prevented them from acting on it now, though. Once naked, they came together slowly, taking in and appreciating the whole of the other as they drifted closer. It wasn’t reluctance, only a sense that they had waited so long to feel one another’s warm, bare flesh beneath their palms that to rush it would be a sin. When Remus finally touched him, it was in just the place Harry had forced his hand once before. He ran his hand up Harry’s chest and over his shoulder, drawing a sigh from them both. Harry slipped his own hand around Remus' waist--memorising every contour of every scar as he went--to settle on the small of Remus’ back and pull him close enough to kiss.

It was sweet and tender, and it spoke of inevitability and long-awaited fulfilment. But also, finally, Harry felt the heat. The low, slow burn in the pit of his stomach was like a long-dormant creature stirring after years of captivity to demand more. The kiss deepened, became the kiss Harry remembered; ravenous and ecstatic. Remus stepped into their embrace, wrapping his arms around the young man and pressing their bodies together, causing Harry to involuntarily break off their kiss with a contented gasp. It was as if some missing part of himself had been driven home.

In the next moment, they were on Harry’s bed, tangled in one another, knotting themselves tighter with every shift of their bodies. Both of them occasionally broke off to stare at the other, to momentarily to take in the fact that this was really happening, and that it really was as wonderful as it seemed, and that there was more of it to be had. More than Remus’ mouth on Harry’s neck, then trailing hungry kisses along the underside of his jaw. More than Harry’s hand grasping at the curve of Remus’ arse, and the swell of his thigh, and up and down the length of the strong back Harry had admired those days before.

Remus’ mouth found Harry’s once more, and at the same time, his hand found the young man’s cock. Harry gasped against Remus’ lips, unaware of how badly he had been aching until Remus sought to soothe it with gentle, thorough strokes. When Harry moved to return the favour, Remus moaned, shuddered, and Harry wondered how long it had been since anyone had touched the man. He wondered if Remus had been neglected since that night so long ago when they had both lost one of the most important persons in their world.

Harry wanted to make up for lost time, to somehow show Remus years of attention all at once. He slid himself down the length of Remus’ body, his hands stroking as much of him as was possible on the way, to wrap his lips around Remus' cock, savouring the unfamiliar shape of it in his mouth and taste of it on his tongue. Remus’ fingers raked through the young man’s dark hair while Harry devoted whatever expertise he’d acquired to making Remus writhe and buck. It was beyond delicious, the sounds he could draw from him, but nothing was sweeter than the sound of his name tumbling over and over from the werewolf’s gasping lips. Harry brought his hand to assist, stroking at the cleft curving away beneath his chin, but Remus halted him.

“Harry, wait,” he panted, sounding uncertain for the first time since they began. The young man looked up at him with question in his eyes. And gods, Remus was beautiful. His face was flushed, his golden eyes bright and adoring. “It’s been...a while,” he whispered down at Harry.

Harry understood Remus’ hesitation, but he urgently needed this man. He laid a parting kiss on the tip of Remus’ cock before rolling off the bed to snatch up his robes and frantically fish his wand from them. 

“Accio oil!” 

Harry had not specified, and at least four different bottles and phials came zooming to them through the open bedroom door. Remus chuckled at Harry’s enthusiasm. He shuffled through the offerings and handed one to Harry, and how the young man loved the trust he saw in Remus’ eyes. The question was whether it was well-placed. Harry had never done what they were about to do. It had been done to him on countless occasions, though, and so he felt a semblance of confidence. Harry grinned nervously at Remus as he settled onto the mattress between Remus’ legs, stretching himself out and looking back up at him from between the man’s thighs. He carefully slicked his fingers and then bent again to take Remus in his mouth.

It might have been a while since Remus had done this, but he quickly accommodated Harry’s finger, and then another. Harry would have been willing to patiently spend the next hour carefully preparing him, he was so enjoying the process, but it was not long at all before Remus was tugging at him, urging Harry back towards his lips and begging him, Please. Now.

Harry hadn’t felt so nervous or so excited since the accident of circumstance that had found him kneeling in the Malfoys' dungeons, but he pushed those thoughts aside. He wanted to think of nothing and of no one except Remus. He settled himself over him, felt Remus' legs wrap around his waist, and Harry marvelled down at the lust and affection he saw on the man’s face.

“Remus, I…”

“Don’t worry,” Remus whispered, adjusting his hips so that Harry rested at the proper angle. “It will be alright.”

Harry swallowed his uncertainty and pressed forward. Gods...how easily he slipped inside. And how glorious it felt: this hot, tight, silken revelation that was Remus. Harry could scarcely hold himself up, it was so overwhelming. Their eyes fluttered to a close and they were both moaning while Harry sank incrementally deeper. When Harry, panting, settled the last inch of himself firmly inside Remus, he rested there and wrapped his arms around Remus’ chest, lifted his head and claimed Remus’ mouth, accepting the man’s tongue. It was as if there were no boundaries between them, as if they were no longer separate entities and were, instead, one being.

“See?” Remus whispered with a smile. “Perfect.”

It was. So much so that Harry was reluctant to disturb it with movement. He withdrew slightly, mourning the momentary diminishment of their sense of completion before returning home. Even that small movement had been an epiphany. Each withdrawal unravelled him. Each careful thrust knit him together again. Holy gods. How had he ever lived without this? How had Severus dared deny him this?

He was not as artful as he would have liked, nor as smooth, but Remus clearly had no complaints, urging him with the roll of his hips to plunge deeper, to move faster, until they were undulating ceaselessly, synchronised. It would undoubtedly have been easier to manoeuvre if Harry had risen to his hands and knees, but he refused to loosen their embrace. In the end, it didn’t matter. Remus’ erection brushed against Harry’s stomach with each thrust, and the sensation was almost as pleasurable for Harry as it was for Remus. Their sweat eased the friction just enough to make the condition perfect.

Harry could feel his orgasm threaten, but he fought it. Though he knew it would, and soon, Harry never wanted this to end. But as he thrust again, harder, he felt Remus shudder. Again and Remus cried out and gasped Harry’s name one last time. Harry could feel Remus’ cock pumping between them, could feel the hot, thick proof of the man’s climax, and Harry could hold his own off no longer. He pressed deep and allowed himself to spill into Remus, unable to hold his weight off the man as all his strength seemed to bleed from him with his seed. Remus was not bothered. In fact, he held Harry to him even more tightly while they both trembled in the aftermath.

It was everything Harry could have wanted from the experience and more. Far more that he had anticipated. Far more, suddenly, than he could handle. He carefully slipped from Remus, and they stretched out beside one another without releasing their embrace. Harry lay a cheek against Remus' shoulder. He could feel the tears coming, but he was unable to stop them.

Alarmed, Remus gently forced the younger man to look at him. There was confusion and concern in his eyes. “Harry? Darling, what's wrong?” he asked, still out of breath. He kissed Harry's face, erasing the salty beads that sat there. “What's all this?”

“It should have been you,” Harry said in a choked whisper, allowing himself to be petted. “All this time, it should have been you. I'm sorry, Remus. I'm so sorry,” he sobbed, now inconsolable.

Remus smoothed the sweat soaked strands from Harry’s forehead. “Harry, you don't mean that,” he chided softly. “You love Severus. You're just feeling guilty. I apologise. This is my fault. I should never have allowed this. You were too vulnerable-”

“No,” Harry said, quiet but firm, still crying. “I know exactly what I mean. Severus cares for me, but he can't...” Harry's breath was coming in hiccups now and his thoughts were too fragmented to articulate the way he wanted. “No matter how often I tell myself otherwise, all this time I've been hoping he'd turn into something that he's not. Or that it wouldn't matter if he didn't. But it does matter, Remus,” he said with a quiet sob.

Remus held Harry tighter, clearly hating the young man's pain but not knowing what to do for him other than love him. He stroked Harry’s bare, sweat-cooled skin while the young man wept until Harry finally calmed, pulling away to lay on his back and stare despondently at the ceiling. Remus regarded him for a moment, then propped himself on his elbow to better look Harry in the face as he spoke to him.

“Harry, even if you hadn't chosen Severus then, you and I...it wasn't the right time. You were just a boy. It wasn't only the spells that drove me back here away from you those years ago, though it killed me to do it. It would have been even harder had you crawled out of that pit and declared yourself to me, but still, I would not have taken you. You were too young by far to understand what you asked. To know what you wanted.”

Harry drew himself up onto his elbow as well, ignoring the mess of tears on his face. “But you let me go to Severus. To be with Severus,” he said, confused.

Remus looked at him sadly and reached down to grasp Harry’s hand. “I knew better than to try to stop you. I could see the determination in you, and I knew nothing I did or said would keep you away from the man. Though, I think perhaps it was the right time for the two of you then,” he said thoughtfully. “You healed each other, Harry. Severus is a better man for having had you. But you are no longer the boy you were then. You no longer need the kind of support he provided. You're a man now. You have your own path to follow. Severus chose his long ago and cannot alter it. Darling, has it occurred to you you may simply have outgrown him?”

Harry rolled to his back but still held Remus' hand, digesting what the man had just said.

“None of this,” Remus added, gesturing to their still-naked bodies, “negates the happiness you found in him. And you cannot tell me you didn't find it, Harry. It was rarely remarked upon because it was...taboo, but everyone could see the care you felt for each other. He needed you as much as you needed him. There was no denying it. You were stronger together. But the war is over, Harry,” Remus whispered. “And perhaps what complimented the one in the other is simply no longer necessary.”

“You know, Severus spoke to me once of compatibility, of the nuance of seemingly incompatible elements complimenting each other. I'd almost forgotten it until just now,” Harry said absently, thinking back to that night in the lab when he had been serving detention. It was one of the first times Severus had relaxed around him, spoken to him as a person and not as a student. “But he was talking about potions ingredients. At least, I thought he was.”

“I'm not trying to drive you away from him,” Remus assured, seeing Harry’s lingering affection for Severus written clearly on the young man’s face. “I’m not trying to steal you from him, Harry. I only care about your happiness, and I haven’t seen it in you lately when you talk about him. Not for a long while, actually. That isn't to say you might not be able to salvage it.” Remus said this as if he felt he had to but was loath to do it. “The question you must ask yourself, my Darling, is whether you should try. It is okay to find contentment in what you have. But it's just as acceptable to want more, as well, and demand it. And consequently, to leave if those demands are not met.”

Harry wiped his tears, feeling foolish for bawling on the man moments after he'd fucked him. But this was Remus, and he didn't feel embarrassed enough to regret any of it. Remus did that. He made everything okay. He always had. Harry looked at him, as ever, amazed by his kindness, his selflessness. Harry made a considered choice then to lean forward and kiss him again. It was the kiss he’d reserved, held secret in his heart all these years but hadn't had the opportunity to share until now. It was the sweet, unhurried one that took their breath away and that Harry could still feel long after it ended. Harry pressed his forehead to Remus', and his eyes fell closed with a sigh.

“I love you, Remus,” he whispered, selfish because Remus allowed it.

“And I love you, Darling,” Remus replied without hesitation, bringing a hand to the back of Harry's neck. “Nothing will ever change that,” he said, echoing their younger selves.

Harry knew what he was really saying. Even if he went back to Severus now and the two of them never again touched in this way, Remus would cherish this time they'd had together, just as Harry had cherished their encounter before. It wasn't that Remus would wait for him. It was simply that his feelings would remain steadfast whether they were requited or not. And so Harry realised he needed to decide, and soon, whether that was the tragedy of the man or else his saving virtue.

Chapter Text

Remus cast the obligatory scouring spell and the two lazed together in Harry’s bed for some time afterwards. They didn’t speak. They simply enjoyed the nearness of each other. But as pleasant as it was, Harry’s discontent was slowly building and, before long, it soured the peace of the moment.

It wasn’t as if Harry had never known contentment with Severus, but it had been a long while, and being with Remus only highlighted what his relationship with Severus lacked. Harry found that he wanted this same thing with Severus, that he required it. He could no longer accept their relationship as it was. Harry resolved the man would give him more, or Harry would leave and accept it from someone who didn’t make him work so hard for a mere shadow of it. Harry recalled people always saying that love was a struggle, that relationships were hard work, and he'd certainly always toiled to be with Severus. But that seemed nonsense to him now. Loving Remus was as effortless as breathing.

Still, Harry wasn’t prepared to abandon Severus, even if his suspicions about his infidelity were confirmed. He was willing to forgive the man, especially when he knew--he knew --Severus had it in him to make Harry happy, if only he would try. Harry didn’t need much more from him, he was devoted to the man. But if Severus could not make such small concessions, Harry felt that perhaps his devotion was being wasted.

Remus did not comment when Harry disentangled himself and began dressing, a sense of purpose infusing his movements. He was silent still as Harry bent to give him a parting kiss, though Harry could tell by the way the man savoured it that Remus expected it to be their last. Harry wasn’t as confident of that. He genuinely wished he could be, and he concentrated just as hard as Remus to committing the sensation of the caress of the man’s lips to memory. But Harry knew Severus better than Remus did, and his heart was already breaking as he anticipated the confrontation to come.

Harry left Remus naked in his bed and made his way heavily down the stairs, steeling his determination as he went. He and Severus needed to have this conversation, and they needed to have it before Harry lost his nerve. He wasn’t entirely sober, but he still felt he was not inebriated enough to manage what he meant to do. Before making his way to the sitting room to floo back to Hogwarts, Harry covertly slipped back into the kitchen, fortifying his resolve with one final shot of Firewhisky.

This could be it. As Harry contemplated the hearth, floo powder in hand, he was conflicted. He was terrified, but he needed this situation to be resolved, regardless of whether he had Remus here to cushion the potential blow. Still, the fact that Remus waited for him made the endeavour marginally less frightening than it would have been otherwise. Harry felt like a coward considering it, but then, who is truly brave when it comes to matters of the heart?

Harry stepped through the hearth into the sitting room to find Severus perched at his grading desk. The man lifted his head to greet him, his expression more pleasant than usual, but as soon as he caught sight of Harry, Severus’ good humour faltered and shifted into concern, and then to mild disapproval.

He sighed and returned his quill to its stand, settling back on his stool and crossing his arms. “You're drunk,” Severus observed, no doubt smelling it on the young man.

“Not drunk enough,” Harry muttered with only a hint of a slur.

“Is there, perhaps, some reason for your getting sloshed before teatime?” Severus asked, eyebrow raised. “Don’t tell me. You stumbled on your robes on your way to the podium in front of the entire Wizarding World.”

Harry shook his head. He couldn’t dance around this. He had to just say it before he lost his nerve. Harry straightened and looked the man squarely in the eye. 

“Severus. Are you cheating on me?”

The question was clearly unexpected. Severus ruffled, then abruptly stood and swept, scowling, past Harry and down the stairs into the lab without a word.

“Don’t walk away from me, Severus!” said Harry, following closely at his heels. 

Severus declined to respond until he’d reached the centre of the lab. “I’d prefer not to have this conversation with you while you’ve been drinking,” he said tersely when he finally turned to Harry.

“That’s just too bad because we’re talking about this now.”

Severus scoffed, but he looked uneasy. He played it off as best he could by crossing to his desk and snatching up a parchment, squinting unseeingly at its contents. Harry followed, refusing to be so obviously brushed off.

Say something.”

“You clearly have your mind made up. I really don’t know what I’m meant to say,” Severus said stubbornly.

Harry took a deep breath. The harder he pushed, the more the man would close off.

“I just want to understand,” Harry said, his voice small and unsteady. “I’m not angry. Not much. I get that you aren’t really...gay.” Severus glanced up at him, unsettled by the comment. “If you tell me that I just can’t give you what you need, I’ll understand,” Harry promised, tearing up. “Or if you tell me that you just don’t love me...” Gods. Those words were so difficult to say out loud. “...then I’ll-”

He’d what? He’d shatter. He’d crumble to dust. What was he even doing? Why had he pressed the matter? Harry suddenly couldn’t breathe. They were going to end, and it would be his fault.

“Just explain to me why you’re even still with me if you're in love with Rainey,” Harry pleaded. “Why have you ever been with me, Severus?”

Severus dropped the parchment he was pretending to read. “For fuck’s sake,” he muttered quietly, scowling. “What makes you think I’m in love with Loraina?”

Please, Severus,” Harry spat in indignation, a rising anger infecting his heartache. “Stop treating me like a fucking child.”

Severus' lingering affection for the woman had never been a question. Harry had always just clung to the hope that that flame, if it could not die, was not as strong within Severus as the one which burned for Harry; the one which the young man tried to feed continuously, to Harry’s detriment.

“I know you've been having an affair,” Harry said, not as coldly as he'd have liked.

Severus' scowl deepened. “You know no such thing.” 

“The hell I don't!” snapped Harry, refusing to be the inept student to Severus' burnt-out professor. “Don’t do this, Severus. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. If you want her-”

“I don't want her,” Severus snarled, his blasé facade finally cracking. Then he sighed in exasperation, as if Harry were being an idiot. “But what else will I have when you leave me?”

It was as good as an admission. Even though Harry had been expecting it, it still devastated him. He stumbled back from Severus, shaking his head. Despite his near-confession, despite the hurt expressed by Harry’s every movement, Severus drew himself up as if he were the wounded one. Harry was beside himself.

“Why else would I leave you, Severus, if not over this? ” he cried. Surely the man could not be so blind.

“I'm not stupid, Harry,” Severus muttered, avoiding Harry’s gaze. “I've never deserved your love, and you have never deserved the burden of me. I knew it was only a matter of time before you realised that. You always insist on bringing up want, but what I want really has no bearing on things.”

Despite the years of adoration Harry had showered on the man, Severus was still that rejected, mistreated little boy. He was still the double agent convinced no one knew who he truly was and unwilling to believe anyone would accept him if they did. Harry stared at him, shaking his head, his insecurity voicing itself before he could question the wisdom of it.

“You don't believe it, do you?” he said in a pained, incredulous whisper. “I’ve told you a thousand times, but you still don't believe that I love you.”

Severus would not meet his eye, and Harry could tell the man was struggling. Harry hoped, though he felt he knew deep down that it was a doomed hope, that Severus would finally lay the matter to rest. That he would sneeringly tell the young man that he was being a fool. That of course he believed, and why was Harry being so melodramatic?

“No,” Severus sneered instead. “Of course, not. How could you?”

Harry's heart splintered in his chest, a thousand shards of stone that pierced and Harry could feel each and every one.

No. Severus couldn't mean what he'd just said. Harry knew he didn’t. What’s more, he knew Severus knew that Harry knew it.

But Harry was tired--so tired--of this struggle. He was sick of walking on eggshells and deflecting Severus' bloody mood like a stone in a bloody stream and pretending it did not touch him. Once, the man had been his champion, fierce and protective, strong in ways Harry never could be. Once, he made up the part of Harry that the boy lacked in order that Harry did not have to develop it in himself. But the young man no longer needed such things and, though the War was over, Harry still fought. Every day. And he was so weary of battle.

“And so that’s why you think it’s okay for you to start fucking your old flame?” he demanded tearfully. “Well...what if you aren’t the only one? ” It was spiteful and unnecessary, but Harry was wounded and did not quite manage to subdue that ugly part of himself that wanted to return the favour in kind.

Severus, however, didn’t bat an eye. “Yes, and how is Mr. Conners these days?” he spat back viciously.

Harry was taken aback. “Eric?” 

Severus smirked and retrieved something familiar from his desk. “‘And what inspired you to go into modelling?’” he read sarcastically from the article. “‘Well, I had wanted to go into Healing, but then I failed my Potions N.E.W.T.s. For some reason, not long after the start of my last year at Hogwarts, my Potions professor decided he hated me. Hated me. It was hell, I’ll tell you,’” Severus deadpanned. “‘Anyway, with that plan derailed, I started modelling as a lark. You know, just for a bit of extra jingle in my pocket while I figured things out. But it took off. The camera seems to love me’,” Severus finished, rolling his eyes and looking almost physically ill.

What? ” he demanded. “Leaving this on our fucking coffee table?” Severus hissed, shaking the magazine at Harry accusingly. “Taunting me with your affair because you felt whingy and neglected is somehow not as bad as anything I’ve done?”

Harry shook his head, too confused to even formulate a proper response. Severus’ scowl faltered as he took in the look of bafflement on Harry’s face.

No,” he gasped.

Harry knew he’d figured it out. Eric wasn’t the old flame Harry’d been referring to, and the young man had only one other to speak of. Severus reached out to his desk for support. He looked pained, panicked, and Harry’s face burned. He wasn’t exactly ashamed but, seeing the proof of it, he hated having hurt the man, despite that Severus had done the same to him and first.

“So that’s why you stink of wet dog,” Severus sneered coldly, collecting himself. He looked away in disgust.

Harry forgot his guilt as the comment stoked his anger again. “Well, at least I don’t stink of wet pussy,” Harry hissed angrily. “And I’m not asking you to suck it off me.”

Severus’ expression simply soured further, and he still refused to look at Harry. They had clearly reached the point of no return, and Harry felt it was time for his ultimatum.

“Severus. Tell me that you love me,” he said, his voice tight and halting with the effort of drawing breath through the pain in his chest. “Now,” he demanded shakily. “Say it out loud, or I'm going to walk up those steps and I am never coming back down them, do you understand?”

Severus did not respond except to close his eyes, as if trying to block Harry out.

“Tell me!” Harry choked. “Please, Severus. Just once. Tell me you love me.

Severus seemed to crumple, but only for an instant before he straightened and looked Harry in the eye, his expression hard. For a long while, he did not speak, and Harry waited, not daring to breathe. He willed the requested words to come, knowing his hope, his desperation, was written clearly on his face.

“And why would you wish me to lie about such a thing?” Severus drawled, his face completely impassive, sounding almost bored.

Truthful or not, it was too much for Harry. He would have preferred the man be demonstratively cruel, to hiss and spit. Anything but this, this casual indifference while he watched Harry finally come undone.

Severus' blank expression swam as Harry's vision was blurred by tears. He felt them stream down his face, and he wanted to follow them to the floor to burst with them there. Somehow, he didn't. Somehow, he managed to stagger back toward the stairs, to stumble his way up them, trying to hold on to himself long enough to make it back to Remus. He wasn't sure he had the strength. Each step that didn't find him a sobbing pile on the floor seemed a miracle.

Harry barely spared a thought to taking his things. He had so few and nothing that couldn't be replaced. Nothing but those few souvenirs that held sentimental value, and they would only remind him of Severus and his heartache. And so Harry left it all behind him, falling out of the floo at Grimmauld Place and almost directly into Remus' arms where he finally allowed himself to shatter.

Chapter Text

“You shouldn’t go in tomorrow,” Remus said adamantly from the bedroom door where he leaned against the frame with his arms crossed, giving Harry a particularly motherly look.

Harry sighed and pulled the coverlet over his head, wishing Remus would just come back to bed. He didn’t feel like having this argument right now. He felt like having a drink, and then crying some more, and then maybe sleeping for the rest of his life. But to his chagrin, Remus had rid the house of alcohol shortly after Harry had arrived and poured his soul out onto the man’s breast along with copious amounts of salt water. Granted, though, Remus admitted to disposing of most of the firewhisky down his own throat in the short time Harry had been gone. In lieu of a drink, Harry rolled to his side, turning his back on Remus and hugging the mess of blankets to his chest, feeling rather disappointed that he seemed to have temporarily run out of tears.

“I can’t miss my first day, Remus,” he croaked. His voice was worn to shreds by the sobs that had wracked him intermittently until embarrassingly recently. He felt swollen and heavy and hideous, and yet Remus still looked at him like he was some kind of wonder. Harry mentally shook his head at the man. He was more than slightly confused by the emotions stirred by the fact that his bed clothes smelled like Remus. Like Remus and him, and what they’d done the day before...before Harry’s universe had collapsed.

“Why not?” Remus sat down on the bed and raked his fingers through Harry’s dishevelled hair while the young man stared dejectedly at nothing. Harry had to admit he loved this, the way Remus petted him. He’d done it for ages after Harry had stumbled out of the floo. Harry sighed contentedly and rolled to his back to look up at him.

Severus had been Harry’s entire world for years, and getting over him would not be a simple or expedient process. But he realised, rather guiltily, that their break up was, in many ways, a relief. Being Severus’ lover was demanding, exhausting, and too often filled with disappointment. Harry wouldn’t say he wasn’t still in love with the difficult bastard, or that he wasn’t gutted by what had happened, but things could be so much worse for Harry right now, he reflected.

He could have tumbled into an empty sitting room to cry himself sick, alone, and in such a state of mind that there really was no telling what he might have done. Instead, he’d fallen into the arms of an endless source of comfort, an inexhaustible bastion. When Harry had wanted to cry, Remus had let him cry, holding him tightly when he was in the mood and stroking his back from a distance when Harry couldn’t tolerate any closeness that wasn’t Severus’ characteristically stiff embrace. But when Harry had wanted intimacy, Remus had obliged then, as well; not scolding or audibly analyzing Harry’s motivations when he had wrapped his arms around Remus’ neck and kissed him; not judging Harry or himself afterward when Harry had bawled to him again about the virtues of the other man, when Harry had felt he wanted no other kiss than one from Severus’ thin, curling lips one last time.

Since then, they had spent the night and most of the next day just lying in bed, touching in some way, while Harry continued to suffer from emotional hiccups. Until Remus had decided that he, at least, needed to eat and had warned that Harry would do so as well soon, of his own accord or no.

“It’s not as if they’d kick you off the force,” Remus persisted, stretching back out beside him. Harry felt almost ashamed for wishing the man had slipped beneath the sheets instead of on top of them. And for wishing, as well, that he would do so with considerably fewer clothes. Was almost ashamed, but not quite.

Harry sighed. “I don’t think I’d make many friends, though, do you?” he grumped. “Half the department already thinks I’m an entitled, overrated publicity draw,” he muttered. “I’m going in, Remus.”

Severus would have agreed with him, Harry thought. He would have told him to stop whinging already, and to get out of the bloody bed and fucking eat something for gods’ sake. Harry’s tears had apparently recovered enough to spill silently once more.

Remus’ brow furrowed. “Harry. Stay home,” he implored. “You simply aren’t in the right frame of mind to look after yourself. Whatever the fallout, your safety is more important.”

“It’s my first day,” said Harry, exasperated. “What could possibly happen? I’ll probably be sent to investigate some regurgitating toilets or something. Besides, I’ll have a partner. Really, Remus. I’ll have another good cry or two and everything will be…” Harry swallowed. He couldn’t even voice the lie that he’d be okay. “I’m still going in.” 

Remus heaved another sigh and reached up to wipe the fresh tear tracks from Harry’s face with gentle fingers. “Will you at least eat something?”

Harry shook his head and rolled closer to Remus, grateful for his presence, and took in the rugged perfection of Remus' features. Harry was growing hungry, but not for food, and he wanted to stop thinking of Severus, if only just for a moment.

“Kiss me,” he whispered impulsively. It was not a request. Harry was feeling needy but not bashful.

Remus obeyed the command without hesitation, and Harry brought his hand to the back of his neck, making sure it was sweet but not as innocent as Remus clearly had intended. Harry wondered how much longer he could get away with ordering the man around. Remus liked to please but was not exactly submissive. Severus had always been the commanding one in their relationship, though, and Harry felt he liked flexing this particular muscle. He decided to flex it a bit more.

“Take off your clothes,” he said, just a bit more sternly.

Remus met Harry’s eye for a moment, perhaps wondering, too, how far he’d let Harry go before deciding he’d had enough. Still without objection, though, he reached up to unfasten the buttons of his shirt.

Harry halted him. “No. Stand up. Do it where I can see.” That was another new thing Harry was relishing: getting to watch.

Remus’ look turned a shade more excited. He slid from the bed without a word and stood beside it, removing his clothes much more slowly than was necessary with Harry following his every movement. Harry let him stand naked for a moment while he appreciated the bare expanse of Remus' skin, marbled throughout with pearly scars. The longer Harry looked, the more obviously, physically keen Remus became.

“Now, take off mine,” Harry said quietly.

Remus stripped the blankets from Harry with considerably more urgency than he’d disrobed himself, not pausing before curling his fingers beneath the band of Harry’s pants and tugging them off and away. He didn’t wait for another command, though, and slipped himself immediately between Harry’s legs, kissing delicately at the insides of the young man’s thighs.

Harry grudgingly conceded to himself that Remus was a more talented lover than Severus had been, no matter how generous or attentive the latter could sometimes be. And there was always this, this one thing Severus had never given him.

After using his mouth to ensure that Harry was thoroughly lubricated, Remus crawled up the young man and straddled him, easing himself down over Harry’s length as Harry stroked the man’s thighs. Harry threw his head back on his pillow with a groan, exposing his throat, and Remus bent to devour it while he rode him. It all lacked the tenderness of the day before but more than matched the previous experience in passion.

Remus removed one of Harry’s hands from his thigh and placed it on his erection instead, but he guided it, relieving the young man of any responsibility by essentially using Harry’s hand to bring himself off. Harry laid back and watched the man bring them both to climax, practically feeling like a prop. But he had zero complaints. It was gorgeous and erotic and new. The sight of Remus alone, as he worked them both relentlessly, would have been enough to finish Harry, and he ended up coming well before Remus who then sat clenching around Harry’s fading erection, using both his own hands to squeeze Harry’s fingers more tightly around his cock until he finally showered the young man’s chest with his release.

Remus’ expression when he looked down at Harry afterwards was fierce and, for one of the first times in a long while, Harry saw the wolf in him. Though, it was Harry who snarled then, pulling Remus down on top of him and savouring his weight. He kissed him thoroughly, drawing back only when he required breath.

“Okay,” he told Remus with a smile, his first since stepping through the hearth. “Now, I can eat.”

Chapter Text

 

 green

 

Part Two: The Green-Eyed Monster

Grayson was dead.

Harry had only just met him a few hours before but had liked him. He'd seemed a decent, honest bloke. Harry had praised his luck.

It was hard to process, but his new partner was bleeding on the ground, and Harry could tell by the hollow look in his eyes that he would never be getting back up. In the end, it hadn't mattered that the man had been a hardened and talented veteran Auror, because pulling a trigger is so much faster than casting a spell, and bullets are so much harder to deflect than magic.

Dark Wizards, by nature, did not play fair, but most were prejudiced enough not to sully themselves with Muggle weaponry. These, however, seemed to be above nothing if it gained them the upper-hand. Harry was bitter. Horribly, angrily bitter. After all he’d lived through, he was going to die like this: on his very first assignment from a bullet to his chest.

But maybe not. If they had wanted him dead, then he’d be dead already. Which meant they wanted him for something else. Judging from the crude Dark Mark knock-offs tattooed on their forearms, Harry guessed that that something was retribution, possibly of a slow and agonising nature. Harry took his chances and fired off a spell at the gunman while he dove for cover behind a stack of crates. As Harry had suspected, the man did not shoot. He barely managed to deflect Harry’s curse while juggling his gun. He was definitely more skilled with a wand and seemed to prefer it, opting to shoot left-handed. Perhaps Harry had a chance, after all.

“Someone take his bloody wand off him!” the man bellowed. Harry knew the bastard. He’d seen him at the Release Ceremony. He was the one who’d stomped off after glaring daggers at Harry. It was careless of the young man to have written him off then, but Harry had been preoccupied with Severus at the time.

Harry saw movement from the corner of his eye and sent a disarming spell at the Witch who ran at him before knocking her cold with a curse. He had no idea from which direction the next attack would come, though. The gang had ambushed them when they entered the abandoned factory to investigate reports of illicit potions trafficking, and the two Aurors had taken out four of those Wizards. It was only after his companions had fallen that the last man standing pulled out a gun. But the factory was large, and there were more of them hiding throughout it, and Harry had no way of knowing how many.

His attackers weren’t talented, but they didn’t underestimate him. Their strategy seemed to be simply to overwhelm him with numbers. And though Harry was in fine form, deflecting curses from all sides and taking out three more of the arseholes in quick succession, Harry no longer had anyone to watch his back. It was only a matter of time before they managed to seize him, pinning his arms and legs to the ground with a body apiece.

“Open his mouth,” their leader commanded, jogging over once the battle had been decided. His movements were frenzied and disjointed, and Harry suspected it was due to more than just adrenaline.

Harry resisted wildly, and none of his assailants could manage to find purchase on his face, though the bloody claw marks Harry accrued were testament to their sincere effort. Impatient, the man pressed the barrel of his gun to Harry’s head.

“Open your fucking mouth, you murdering cocksucker!”

Still, Harry refused, feeling certain that a bullet to the brain would be far preferable to whatever they wanted to force on him.

In the end, they used Harry’s own wand, painfully forcing the tip past his lips and between his back teeth to pry his jaw open just enough for their purposes. While his accomplices worked, the gang leader withdrew a phial of violently orange potion and unstoppered it, ready to pour it down Harry’s throat the instant the gap in Harry’s teeth would accommodate it.

It flowed from the phial and into Harry's mouth like quicksilver, and then the struggle became sealing Harry’s lips shut to prevent him from expelling it. Despite his best efforts, Harry felt it burn a path down his throat to fester in his stomach, incapacitating him almost immediately. His attackers released him and fled back several steps, but Harry was no longer able to take advantage of his sudden freedom.

They stood watching as he writhed, his throat too damaged for him to even cry out. Harry was almost convinced he’d swallowed acid, but whatever this was was far worse. He could feel the magical effects spreading instantly to all his muscles, though he had no idea what the effects were meant to be other than blinding pain. Clearly, something was supposed to be happening because his attackers became restless.

“Is it working?” 

“How the fuck should I know? Shut it,” was the reply. Harry couldn’t tell who spoke. He could no longer see. He could no longer do anything but burn.

“Fuck, we killed him!”

“So fucking what? Good riddance.”

“But he didn’t want us to kill him! He wanted-”

“Shut the fuck up!”

“I’m getting out of here. Fuck this.”

“Me, too.”

“...Sod it!”

There were receding footsteps, and then Harry was alone.

And then, blessedly, Harry was unconscious.

Chapter Text

Harry’s lucidity came and went. There was pain and oblivion, and in between there were dreams, but Harry had trouble telling any of it apart. Sometimes it seemed like nonsense. Sometimes he had brief flashbacks to the war. Few of the episodes that played unbidden in his mind were pleasant, though they were far preferable to the pain. It seemed he lay on the cold concrete floor of the factory for an eternity before help arrived, but it could not have been long at all. It only seemed so in Harry’s detached anguish. He hurt but, gratefully, he felt himself slipping away again.

Harry!

This must be a dream, because it sounded as if Severus had just cried out his name. There were rapid footsteps and commotion, hands touching him, sending him into new heights of agony.

Definitely not a dream, then.

‘He’s critical.’

Harry could not answer, could only lay as a blind, silent witness to what was happening around him.

‘Let me see him.’

Severus was there after all--somehow--and the panic in his voice was heartbreaking.

'Grayson is gone.'

Harry didn't know these other voices. Or rather, could not be bothered to place them. 

‘What in bloody hell is he doing here?'

'He was outside when the call came in. Followed us in.'

'And you let him?!'

'Sir, you’ll need to come with us.’

'Bloody fucking hell,' Severus muttered. 'Are you seriously trying to arrest me? For what? I was just outside, arguing with you idiots. You let this happen. How am I under suspicion?’

‘The runners eluded us, but we have good descriptions to circulate. Fucking Hell, is that-?’

‘We have to get him to Mungo’s. Now,’ stressed the concerned stranger inspecting his injuries. Harry heard little hope in the Witch’s voice.

‘Let me see him. Please. I can help...Listen to me, I am-’

‘We know who you are.’ The coldness in the stranger’s voice angered Harry even through the haze of his pain. ‘Now, I suggest you go home and stay there before I change my mind and decide to take you into custody anyway.’

‘Where he goes, I go.’ The stubborn, dangerous edge in Severus’ voice was familiar enough to be comforting.

‘Sir, we will restrain you if necessary.’

‘For fuck’s sake! I’ve broken no laws. And St. Mungo’s is a public institution. How, exactly, do you intend to prevent me-’

‘Don’t worry, Severus, you’re welcome to accompany Harry to Mungo’s. Braxton, leave him be.’

Harry was fading, unable to hold on to consciousness much longer. But he knew this newly arrived voice, trusted it. It was almost as if it were giving Harry permission to sink again.

‘But, Mr. Shacklebolt, Sir…’

‘I said leave him be.’

...

...Leave him be…

It reminded Harry of something as he drifted.

...Leave him be…


 

Harry is listening at the kitchen door. This is long before he repainted the walls a lighter beige, and the hallway is still dark and oppressive. The whole house is, but Harry hasn’t thought about redecorating yet.

“Severus,” Harry hears the Headmaster’s muffled voice through the wood that separates them, “I’ve tried to be tolerant. Harry has emotional needs that he feels you meet, and I’ve attempted to respect that. But he is also naive and confused. Remus, at least, had the decency to turn him away. I realise your history with him is more complicated, through no fault of yours, but taking Harry’s blood crosses one line too many. Surely you see this cannot continue. Harry cannot afford to be weakened in this way. And he is simply too young to engage in this type of relationship. With anyone, much less with you.”

Harry is ruffled by the fact they still discuss his sex life so openly. He’d thought that was a thing of the past. There is nothing left to preserve. What rankles most is that they continue to discuss it behind his back.

“But he’s old enough to fight a fucking war, Albus?” Severus hisses in response. Harry feels warmed by his umbrage on Harry’s behalf. “To be volunteered to take down the greatest Dark Wizard in history? I’ve been telling you for years that he’s just a boy, to goddamned treat him as one, but you only seem to care about his limitations when they don’t fit your designs!”

“It’s time you took your own advice, Severus,” Dumbledore says coolly. Harry knows the man has Harry’s best interest at heart, but it’s difficult not to be bitter. “If you will not be responsible, if he won’t, then I shall have to be so for you both. You’ve just said it yourself. He is a boy! He cannot take a lover twice his age. He should not be allowed to-”

Harry has heard enough. He abruptly opens the door to the kitchen, stepping through it with a fierce expression. He stands at Severus’ side, but his glare is only for the Headmaster. 

“Leave him be.” 

Dumbledore looks unsettled, clearly under the impression that the conversation had been more private. “Harry,” he begins cautiously. But Harry is not having this. He’s seventeen and has seen battle enough to age him far beyond his years. He will not be spoken to like a child.

“I may be young, but I am not a boy,” he says stubbornly. “I could die tomorrow, fighting your war, Headmaster.” Harry spits the address. “Severus could be discovered and killed by Voldemort at any time, for playing your game.” 

“Harry, I did not start this war.” 

“But you orchestrate it! As surely as Voldemort does. You pull our strings. I have a fucking target on my back, Professor. Any of us could die any day now. Like Bill did. Or Moody. But Severus and me? We’re the ones in the most danger. And you really mean to tell us we can’t be together? You mean for our lives to contain no joy at all before they’re sacrificed for the cause?”

Harry feels Severus’ hand descend lightly to his shoulder, but he is unsure if the man is offering support or cautioning his temper. Harry appreciates the touch but doesn’t turn to him.

“Harry,” Dumbledore says, exasperated, “Of course, I want for your happiness, but I’m concerned-”

Harry isn’t in the mood to hear the man’s excuses. He respects the Headmaster, but Harry is more than just a headstrong student now.

“I’m sorry, Headmaster. But the answer is no. You will not take this from me,” he says firmly, interrupting the man’s, no doubt, very solid and protective reasoning.

“Harry,” Dumbledore says more sternly, “you cannot see it now, but this is not healthy.”

"I don’t give a fuck what’s healthy! We’re dead men walking. And if I want to give myself to Severus then, by gods, no one--not even you--will tell me I cannot. And if I want to give him all of me, what exactly are you going to do to stop me?”

When the Headmaster does not answer, Harry strides over to the countertop and takes up the sharp knife Mrs. Weasley had been using to prepare dinner, bringing it down across his forearm in a quick and decisive motion. The pain is intense, but like Severus' small cuts when he feeds, it is also somehow cleansing, and his adrenaline keeps the worst of it at bay. Harry does not flinch or break eye contact with Dumbledore who seems frozen in confused horror. It is Severus who cries out as if the knife has wounded him instead and rushes to Harry’s side. He drops to his knees beside him, his expression pained and frantic as he cups his hands beneath the wound as though every drop of Harry’s blood is precious beyond words.

"This,” Harry says, displaying the wound and the blood that runs from it to the Headmaster, “is mine to spill. Not yours. I’ve given you plenty. I still give it. But it is mine to give, and I say Severus can have a share...while there’s still a share to be had.”

Severus, meantime, has abandoned the streams pouring off the sides of Harry’s arm to grasp at the wound itself. “For gods’ sake! What the hell is wrong with the two of you? Someone cast a healing charm!” he cries, unable to do it himself with his hands coated in slick red, attempting to staunch the flow manually. Severus looks to Harry with a wounded expression, and the boy can see the question in it: 'Why this display? Why this self-harm? Why for me?' And Harry answers back wordlessly with his own firm, determined expression: ‘Because I love you.’

It is Remus who rushes to cast the healing charm, eventually leaving nothing but a long, thin, sealed wound that will later scar. Harry hadn’t even realised the man was in the room. His actions, his anger, had been for Dumbledore, and Harry regrets the pain and worry he reads in Remus’ expression. But as soon his task is completed, Remus withdraws back to the shadows of the kitchen table.

Though Harry is practically as good as new, the experience has undone Severus. Harry is certain the man is not aware of the tears scattered across his face. Harry gives him a loving, apologetic look and reaches up to wipe them away, but he only manages to smear his own blood across the man’s cheek. They both ignore it as Harry leans in to kiss Severus gently in front of everyone present. And Severus returns it, just as sweetly, as if they are the only two people in the world. Harry tastes Severus’ confusion and gratitude, his worry and relief, in the kiss. And then, without a word, Harry takes Severus by the hand and leads the man away from their shocked and silent audience and to his bedroom, where Severus tenderly cleans Harry’s wound with tongue and lips and unvoiced wonder.

Chapter Text

Harry hears the front door slam shut and rushes to the landing to peer down the stairwell toward the anteroom. The entire house is tense. Severus is overdue, and Harry isn’t the only one who comes out to hear word on Voldemort’s latest plans. Remus, Molly, Sturgis, and Kingsley pour from the kitchen into the hall. Harry hears the creak of the door to the room where Rainey, Tonks, and Hermione have holed up, talking. Dumbledore takes to the landing below Harry, and they all wait for the Potions Master to appear.

When he does, Severus looks directly up to where Harry leans over the railing as if the man knows, instinctively, where he is.

“Severus,” Dumbledore says tightly, clearly requesting his report.

Severus glances at him but returns his eyes almost immediately to Harry, sweeping past the assembly in the hall to start up the stairs toward him. He does not even look at the Headmaster as he passes him on his way to his lover. Harry is just as focused on Severus and opens his arms to him when he approaches, but Severus’ embrace is brief for all its tenacity. He pulls Harry into their room without a word and waves his wand at the door, shutting and locking it behind the confused young man.

“Sever-”

Harry is not given the opportunity to finish his word, much less his question, as Severus crushes his lips to Harry’s, drawing him toward the bed while he kisses him. Harry does not question or object, he only returns Severus' passion, racing to remove his clothes while Severus tears at his own buttons beneath their locked mouths.  It seems only moments before they are chest to chest with Harry nested in Severus' lap, their fingers tangled in each other’s hair. Severus holds him so tightly, Harry barely has room to manoeuvre his hips, but he doesn’t need much. It’s just enough. It’s perfect.

Nothing breaks their kiss until Severus presses a hand to Harry’s shoulder and pulls away. Harry protests with a whine, but Severus reaches over to the bedside table, pulling Harry with him as if unwilling to be separated from him even for a moment, to retrieve the gleaming, razor-sharp knife he uses each week to open Harry’s veins. 

“Open your mouth,” he whispers between gasping breaths.

Harry is confused but does not hesitate. Severus’ tongue peeks from his mouth, showing Harry what he wants, and once Harry offers his, Severus draws the blade across the tip, resulting in an instantaneous fount which he quickly catches in a deep, ravenous kiss.

They have never done this before, but it is magic. Harry comes almost instantly with Severus following closely. The kiss continues, though, until the wound ceases to bleed and they are both drunk on Harry’s blood. Though Severus is flaccid within the young man, he makes no move to shift them. He pulls back only far enough to examine Harry, as if for the very last time.

“You have to mean it,” he says finally. Harry is still reeling and shakes his head, not comprehending. “The Unforgivables, especially, require intention. You cannot be ambivalent, Harry. You must have murderous intent.”

Harry nods and swallows nervously. “I know. I...I can do it,” he says, convincing neither of them. Severus looks at him sadly and caresses his cheek.

“Do not bother with Animus Secretum. When the way is clear, cast the Killing Curse. And, Harry...mean it.”

“I will,” Harry says, his voice small and tremulous.

Severus kisses him, softly and lingeringly, and his eyes fall to a close before he whispers: “I know you will.”


 

It had been one of the better visions, one Harry did not mind reliving. He mourned it even more when the pain returned. It wasn’t as intense as it had been, so Harry was unsure if he was really surfacing or if he would descend again into another dream. He was unsure if he was really hearing voices or was just imagining them.

‘I'm sorry, sir. Family-Only beyond this point.’

‘Don't pretend you don't know who the hell is lying in that bed. What other family do you suppose he has?’

Severus was still with him. Knowing he was close, Harry wanted to see him, but no matter how hard he willed it, he could not open his eyes.

‘His guardian-’

Guardian? ’ Severus demanded scathingly. ‘He's over twenty fucking years old! What makes you think he has a goddamned guardian?’

‘His former guardian. In these situations, we defer to-’

‘I have guarded that young man's life since he was a boy. I guarded it personally through years of war. And you're telling me I can't care for him now because I lack an expired piece of parchment? 

Harry was concerned. He knew Severus was aware that he would need to curtail his temper if he was going to make any progress with the nurse. But the Potions Master had a point of no return, and he seemed to have reached it.

‘We're very sorry, sir. Mr. Lupin has been notified and will be arriving shortly. He will have to approve all non-familial visits.’

Listen to me.’ Harry was uncomfortable hearing the pleading tone in the man’s voice. Severus never pleaded. ‘I'm his best chance.’

‘We have Potions Masters of our own, sir, if you would just let them do their job-’

‘For fuck's sake! I wouldn't trust a pet rock to you bungling fools! And I'll be damned if that young man survived battle with the most powerful Dark Wizard the world has ever known just to be taken down by some stupid, two-bit, black market potions dealer! If you do not let me try to determine what he ingested and provide an antidote, and as a result he-’

Pleading...and now choking on emotion? In front of strangers? Harry needed to wake up properly and soon. Severus was clearly at some sort of breaking point. Harry needed to show him he would be alright.

‘If he does not recover, then I shall consider you all accomplices in his murder, and the justice I seek will not come through the Wizengamot. Do you understand me?’

Harry wondered if the woman was aware of how dangerously serious Severus was being.

‘Sir, security is on their way,’ she replied coldly. So, she was aware. ‘You should leave now. Sir. Sir!’

The hand grasping Harry’s reawoke the fire that had been ebbing in his limbs, but Harry didn’t mind as much as he might have if it were a stranger's.

‘Harry. Listen to me, My Love.’

Harry was disappointed. After all the hope that had blossomed in him, this whole episode had turned out to be just another nonsensical feverdream. Severus had never called him ‘my love’. That name was reserved for another.

‘I'll be back for you,’ Dream-Severus vowed. ‘I will fix this. Don't leave me.’

 

Chapter Text

“You stand alone, Old Man,” Voldemort taunts.

Harry’s arms collapse from beneath him, sending him back to the ground as he struggles to recover from the curse he took to his side. Dumbledore is staving Voldemort off, giving Harry time to find his feet again, but Harry can tell the man is flagging. The Dark Wizard is so much stronger than they had imagined. Still, the villain is showing his own signs of wear. If only Voldemort would slow his relentless assault long enough for Harry to do anything at all except deflect. He’s had no opportunity yet to take an offensive, and they are running out of strength.

“Ah, Severus,” Voldemort greets as he shoots off another curse at the Headmaster. His tone is casual and unconcerned, but Harry hears the shortness of his breath.

Harry struggles to locate the Potions Master through the flashing chaos of the Master Wizards’ duel, more motivated than ever to rise to his feet. He had hoped Severus would stay far away from this final confrontation, but his presence now is a boon despite Harry’s fear for him.

“My Lord,” Severus replies coolly, having not yet entered the fray.

“Severus, my most trusted servant. Stand beside your Master now.”

Harry finally catches sight of Severus. His robe is torn, and he is blackened and bruised through the rents, but his expression is stony and determined. Without a word, he steps forward to take a stance beside the Headmaster.  Voldemort bellows with rage. He sends a string of curses toward Severus, and Harry cries out, desperate to reach him. He finds his knees but is not yet able to rise further.

Severus deflects the volley with difficulty but still manages better than Harry and the Headmaster have been, allowing Dumbledore to rest a moment before going on the assault. Now the battle is less one-sided, with Voldemort having to defend himself at least as often as he casts. Harry staggers to his feet, looking for an opening so he can finally end this madness. He hasn’t forgotten what Severus cautioned the night before, and he feels apprehensive. As much evil as Voldemort has done, Harry isn’t convinced he has it in him to be a murderer.

“Severus! You dare defy me?” Voldemort spits, his anger rising as he struggles, increasingly, to fend off their combined assault. “Do you really think this betrayal will be rewarded if I fall? They will never trust such a fickle allegiance.

“Fickle? I’ve been Dumbledore’s creature for almost two decades,” Severus replies, far more calmly than should be possible while he seamlessly casts and deflects. The man is a marvel of concentration, but then Harry knew this already. “My allegiance is clearly defined. I’ve been feeding the Order your secrets for years, My Lord,” he taunts. “ I am the reason they seem to baffle you at every turn. I am the reason The Boy Who Lived lives still.”

Voldemort almost forgets Harry and Dumbledore entirely as the depth of Severus’ betrayal becomes clear to him.  “I shall enjoy your death almost as much as I will savour the boy’s!”

He redoubles his assault on Severus who stumbles under the onslaught. Dumbledore attempts to distract the fiend, with Harry finally able to add his own firepower. He steels himself and utters the dreaded words.

But the Killing Curse does not kill, even though it strikes Voldemort squarely in the chest. He merely staggers, undoubtedly in pain but still very much alive. Harry’s intention was not strong enough, and Voldemort laughs when he realises.

“It appears your gamble was misplaced,” Voldemort sneers to Severus, drawing back to cast his own Killing Curse. But it is not aimed at Harry. 

When Severus responds, it is not to Voldemort but to Dumbledore.  “Look after him, Albus.”

Harry and the Headmaster realise at the same moment what is happening when Severus intentionally lowers his guard.  ‘I know,’ Severus had said when Harry had promised he would have murderous intent. He planned to sacrifice himself all along.

Harry screams in horror, but as he is swaying on his feet and still several paces behind the two, he may as well be miles away. He is too injured and it is much too far for him to prevent the tragedy unfolding in front of him.  Dumbledore, however, is merely a few steps from Severus. Without hesitation, the Headmaster takes those steps, throwing himself in front of the curse meant for the Potions Master.

He is dead before he even strikes the ground.

Severus can’t seem to comprehend what has just happened. He drops to his knees beside the old man. Harry stumbles toward them, conflicted. He is relieved Severus has been spared, but the Headmaster’s loss is more than he can bear.

Voldemort’s own surprise is short lived, and he cackles in triumph. Seeing Dumbledore’s eyes empty, their ageless sparkle snuffed forever, Harry’s rage crests. His hatred solidifies. He turns to a still-jubilant Voldemort and stares murder at him. He tastes the curse on the tip of his tongue. Apparently, Voldemort considers the real threat vanquished and has not yet raised his guard again. Harry is about to prove him a fool. 

“Avada Kedavra!” he screams. And this time, the spell does so much more than wound. Still, Harry stalks toward Voldemort’s now-prone form and casts again.

“AVADA KEDAVRA!”

Voldemort’s vacant, slightly surprised expression does not change as Harry fires the spell into his body again, but the young man draws back to cast it once more anyway. If he were holding a gun instead of a wand, Harry would empty the clip into the bastard. And then perhaps reload.

Before the spell can pass his tongue again, familiar arms wrap around him from behind, familiar lips press to the back of his neck, seeking to calm him.

“Harry! Stop. It is done. It is over,” Severus cries wearily, finally allowing himself to feel his exhaustion and his grief. Harry does not struggle in the man’s embrace, but he still looses a bellow, bleeding out his own sorrow through it. 

The prophecy is fulfilled, Harry. It is done.”


 

It was the worst vision yet. Surfacing now was a relief. Harry would rather burn than relive that moment ever again.

But Harry didn’t burn. There was pain, but it was duller: the aching weakness of a long, raging fever that has finally broken. The bed he was lying on seemed too comfortable to be clinical and his covers too soft. With monumental effort, he cracked his eyelids a fraction to find himself in his own bed in his room at Grimmauld Place. Though, he was still too weak to open his eyes properly, to turn his head or to speak.

Harry was unsure if it was just an effect of looking through his lashes, but everything had a strange aura. The colours were too vivid. The sunlight falling through the windows was too warm and too bright. And the sounds he heard were sharper. He could hear voices and knew they were coming from downstairs, though he should not have been able to hear them so clearly from where he was.

“The only reason they allowed me to bring him home is because they could do no more for him, but I was not comfortable removing him, Severus. He’s stable, but he is not well. When are you going to explain why it was so important to bring him here?”

“I did not want him here, I just did not want him there.”

The two men were climbing the stairs, and Harry could swear he could smell the both of them, their scents distinct despite the way they mingled on the air. Harry watched as Severus burst into the room first. He stopped abruptly when he caught sight of Harry, but he clearly could not tell the young man could see him as well. Harry’s heart ached to see the anguish on Severus’ face when he looked at him, but the vampire's troubled gaze did not linger long before he strode to the windows.

“For fuck’s sake. Douse that lamp!” he commanded Remus who was just stepping into the room behind him. Both men looked haggard, and Harry wondered when they had last slept.

“Severus, what in hell are you doing?” Remus asked wearily, nonetheless reaching to turn off the lamp on Harry’s bedstand.

“Drawing the curtains, what does it fucking look like?” he snarled. His exhaustion must have been making him even crankier than usual. Whatever his reasoning, Harry was thankful for the darkness. It was easier on his eyes and his skin. “He should be at home,” Severus said, turning back to scowl at Remus.

“This is his home,” Remus replied firmly. His voice was low and angry.

Severus reflected the man’s annoyance back at him. “Since when? How can I treat him here when my lab is at Hogwarts?” he demanded to know. “And who in hell do you think you are to make these decisions? He's been mine for years. You have him now on a legal technicality.”

“I'm someone who loves him enough not to speak of him as if he were a piece of property,” Remus growled. The wolf in his blood was showing strongly.

“Don't act as if you’re the only one who cares for him,” Severus sneered. “You had your chance before, Lupin, and you turned him away. Just because you’ve changed your mind does not make him yours.”

“You know why I did, Severus,” Remus countered, his voice taking on a dangerous edge. “Stop pretending there was another option.”

Severus gave him a withering look. “You didn't have to fuck him to claim him! He came to you and you broke him into pieces. I know,” he hissed through clenched teeth, “because I was the one who cleaned up the bloody mess you left behind.”

“He isn't some prize to be claimed, you complete arse!” said Remus, taking a small step in Severus’ direction. The two shouted at each other across Harry’s bed as if it were the only thing preventing them from tearing one another apart. Harry hated them fighting. It was exhausting and upsetting, especially since he couldn’t stop them or interject. Harry wished he could at least tell them to lower their voices. His head was splitting.

“I loved him enough to let him go, Severus. And I love him enough now not to. You may have given him something to cling to once, but now you only hold him back.”

“And what, pray tell, do you do for him?” said Severus, eyeing Remus’ aggressive stance with a dismissive sneer. “Besides let him bugger you?”

“I support him,” said Remus, so exasperated he could barely contain himself. “Gods, Severus. You're such a bloody fool!” he spat. “Harry loved you! And you drove him away. You never believed in his love, and that hurt him more than you know. You never believed, despite that he never gave you any reason to doubt-”

“No. No reason except fucking some mangy werewolf behind my back,” Severus muttered bitterly, glaring at the other man.

“And what of Rainey?” Remus challenged coldly. Harry waited anxiously for Severus’ reply, a vise around his heart, but the man offered none. Severus seemed suddenly unsettled, though, glancing away from Remus and to the floor.

“That is none of your business. Harry and I-”

“How can you possibly think it's not my business?” Remus scowled.

Severus clearly resented Remus’ indignation. “Oh, you're so fucking self-righteous, Lupin,” said Severus, his voice dripping with disgust, “but you don't understand the situation as well as you assume. You think, because the two of you talk, that you are close to him. But you cannot fathom the intimacy Harry and I have shared!”

“And apparently, you cannot fathom the intimacy that he and I have shared,” Remus interrupted, “considering you never let him top. Not once in four years. Merlin's Beard, Severus! How could you do such a thing to him? What were you thinking? You were in a sexual relationship with a gay man but could not bring yourself to have gay sex?” Now it was Remus’ turn to look disgusted. “Is it so you could still think of yourself as straight and Harry's cock as an occasional indulgence? As though he didn't count so long as you never let him near your arsehole?” Remus barked.

Harry was uncomfortable with the satisfaction he felt seeing the shame and regret in Severus’ posture in response. “Harry and I have an understanding,” Severus hedged, though Harry wasn’t sure what understanding that was. The comment did little to quiet Harry’s bitterness over Severus’ denial of himself. “Or we did before this confusion with Loraina. Which will be resolved as soon as you let me treat him.”

“Confusion?” said Remus, shaking his head. “He didn't leave you because of Rainey, Severus. He left you because you broke his fucking heart.”

Severus drew himself up, scraping what was left of his dignity together, and gave Remus a knowing look. “You can't understand what we have. You've always just wanted him for yourself, and it kills you that he chose me over you,” he said, snidely. “It kills you that he chose the cranky, greasy Slytherin over the noble Gryffindor. And if you think so little of me, what does that say, then, about you?”

Instead of the offence Severus intended to incite, Remus only looked saddened. “No, Severus. I know exactly what I'm talking about. It's you who doesn't seem to understand. He chose you,” said Remus as if not wanting to argue but, instead, to open the man’s eyes. “He tried to love you. Tried beyond all reason. He told himself he had no expectations, but it's not possible not to develop some after four fucking years. You let him suffer for your insecurity, for your fears and your doubts. How can you not see what you do to him? How can you not see how selflessly he pretends not to mind when it's slowly killing him inside? You're murdering his spirit!"

Every word seemed to strike Severus like a physical blow, but he weathered them like one well accustomed to abuse. 

"I give him what you refuse,” Remus went on, his expression hard. “And I'm not talking about the sex. I can look him in the eyes and tell him that I love him--without hesitation, without embarrassment--which is apparently more than you can bring yourself to do. He could have forgiven you Rainey. He cannot, should not, forgive you for the rest. He deserves so much more than you offer. And you don't deserve him because you have the power to give him what he wants, what he needs, but you cannot see past your own self-loathing,” he said, looking Severus up and down as if loathing the man himself, “and he suffers for it. If you want to blame someone for his infidelity, look in a fucking mirror, Severus, because you have no one to blame but yourself."

Remus had just said everything he’d always wanted Severus to hear, and Harry was moved beyond words by the sincere anger Remus felt on his behalf. At the same time, the defeat he saw in Severus’ eyes wounded Harry to the core. It was so uncharacteristic, the way he seemed to wilt, the way he sat heavily on the corner of Harry’s bed as if he had no fight left in him.

“You're wrong,” he said quietly after a long moment. Said meekly, and Harry hated seeing him reduced to it in front of Remus. He knew it was something Severus would never want to happen.

“About what?” Remus demanded. He was still angry but attempting to calm himself.

Severus was turned away from Remus, but Harry could see him. He could see the rare display of emotion on the man’s face that was not anger or disgust. He looked remorseful, reflective. He looked...humbled.

“I have always believed in his love,” he whispered, almost to himself, gently breaking Harry’s heart. “Never that I deserved it,” he added over his shoulder with a sad shake of his head, “but that he did, indeed, love me. Though, how could I acknowledge it?” he asked, his brow furrowed, looking helpless. “If I truly loved him, how could I bring myself to voice it?” His eyes fell closed as if he were pained.

“How is it you fucking dare?” Severus demanded quietly, turning back to scowl at Remus. “You don't have any more right to allow him to love you than I do. Of all the injustices he's been subject to, how can you, in good conscience, let him accept this one so willingly?” His expression turned desperate again, despairing. “You let him go before, Lupin. Why, in gods' name, did you have to welcome him back now? Now, when he was finally freeing himself of me? When I had finally found the courage to let him go?”

He lay his head in his hand, as close to tears as Harry had ever seen him. Harry wasn’t the only one moved by the display. Remus looked troubled. It was in his nature to comfort, but this was Severus. Still, he was clearly not deaf to the point the man was making, and he looked increasingly abashed about his recent venom, though it had seemed perfectly justified at the time.

“I’m well aware I’m to blame for his infidelity,” said Severus. “I wanted him to...”

He couldn’t voice the rest of that sentence truthfully. Of course he hadn’t wanted Harry to be with another. It was just that, as he had told Harry more than once, he didn’t consider what he wanted to be important.

“I never meant to survive the war, Lupin. He was supposed to move on, find someone else. Just not you,” he added bitterly. “You said it yourself. I drove him away,” Severus admitted. The memory seemed to make him ill. “Did you really think that was an accident?” He rose from the bed to face the other man. “Did you think I was so blind and stupid that I could not see what was happening? It tore me apart to watch him hurting,” he confessed, with such anguish in his voice, in his expression, that Harry might have wept if he’d had the strength. “But there was no other way. He would never have accepted that he was better off with someone else. Someone his own age. Someone with whom he could grow old and not watch wither while he was still robust. You know as well as I do that if I had tried to reason with him, if I had tried to break up with him,” he sneered as if he hated the expression, “he would only have clung to me that much more fiercely.”

They looked at each other, the one finally understanding the other, and they were mutually miserable. And as such, their hostility toward one another seemed to have cooled into a reluctant truce.

“We are old men, Lupin. And he was so new,” Severus sighed ruefully. “His life was just beginning. What we should have done is pushed him in the direction of that Golden Hufflefucker. Gods know Eric would have been receptive.” His distaste for the young man was clear, but the mood abated quickly. “That is what might have made Harry happy, might have been best for him in the end. But we didn't,” he said, leaning heavily against the bedpost, “because we are both sad, selfish, dirty old men. And now it is too late.”

Remus was quiet for a long moment, processing everything Severus had just said, and when he responded it was distractedly, as if misery had slowed his thinking. “Too late? Too late for what?”

Severus shook his head, seemed to be searching for the right words or else the courage to voice them. “Everything has changed.”

Remus gave him a puzzled, apprehensive look, and Severus hesitantly elaborated.

“I have seen these symptoms before,” he admitted, “and if I am correct, it is too late to remedy this tragedy. He will need us both, now more than ever.”

Remus stiffened, mirroring the dread Harry felt. “I think it's time you explained yourself, Severus,” he said coolly.

Severus raked his hands over his face as if steeling himself. “The Dark Lord was losing the war,” he began, though his reluctance was obvious. “He endeavoured to create a stronger army, one of expendable soldiers. Expendable in the sense that he would have slaughtered them all after the war was won because such abominations could not be allowed to live.”

Remus did not weather that ominous comment well and took a seat on the corner of Harry’s bed, his knees unable to carry the sudden weight of the conversation.

“The Dark Lord commissioned me, personally, to engineer these new monsters,” Severus went on with a shudder. “He was very specific in his request of a new potion. Well. Not so much a potion as an infectious cocktail. You see, he had vampires in his following and also werewolves, but what he wanted was a hybrid. A creature with the strengths of both but lacking the weaknesses of either.”

At this, Remus visibly paled, but he did not interrupt.

“Of course, such a thing is impossible, and I told him so. I explained that, while theoretically a hybrid might be realised, there was no way to remove the limitations of either creature, giving him a soldier that was doubly vulnerable. I had hoped to deter him,” Severus said bitterly, “but he seemed to find those terms acceptable, so long as his soldiers were doubly deadly in battle, as well.

“As you are well aware, Lupin, we are natural enemies. And of course, one of the reasons for that is because the infections that make us what we are cannot co-exist in the same host, making us toxic to one another. The Dark Lord charged me to find a way around that. I failed as long as I was able,” Severus averred, “but I had to show some kind of result or else my position--and my life--would have been in jeopardy,” he argued defensively, despite that Remus has said nothing. Indeed, he did not seem capable of speech at that moment. He seemed to be struggling not to accept the clear conclusion of Severus’ story.

“None of the test subjects survived. Though in all honesty, I may have done the world a favour. They were all violent, dull-witted, easily-led ideologues like the scum who attacked Harry in the factory. Addicts mostly. In truth, I worked out the solution fairly early on, but the serum was never successfully completed by me except in theory. Which means someone must have continued my work after the Dark Lord fell.” 

Finally, Remus could stave off the truth no longer.

“No,” he gasped, hand to his mouth, turning even paler than before. He looked down at Harry with an anguished, horrified expression. “He's not…”

“He is both,” Severus confirmed, equally devastated. It was a moment before he could fight through his own despair to speak further. “What happened in that factory was an act of vengeance. But this is beyond the cannon fodder who perpetrated the crime. Who orchestrated it, however, I cannot yet say.”

Remus rose to his feet and began pacing, looking as if he were about to be ill.

“Now you see why he had to be removed from St. Mungo’s. They may be incompetent, but even they would have figured out the truth given enough time and tests. And no one can know,” Severus said adamantly. “His legacy cannot be tarnished by this. I will not have him reviled. I will not have the world see him as anything less than the saviour he is. No doubt, that was the aim. Whoever did this, they could easily have killed him. They didn’t want him dead, they wanted him burdened and disgraced.”

Harry wasn’t sure how he felt about this revelation. He knew both men considered this the worst possible tragedy, but they each survived their own infections with some semblance of a normal life. Harry really felt he had no right to complain when he would be experiencing little more than what the two most important people in his world had dealt with for decades. That was not to say he wasn’t frightened. He saw the toll it took on them both.

“The other subjects never woke,” Severus went on, uncertain, “but none ever lived this long, either. I think...I think he should survive, but…”

Remus lost the battle with his stomach and lurched toward the desk in the corner where he was quietly ill in the wastepaper basket. Severus went on speaking as if it were not happening.

“I have not yet developed a potion to alleviate the symptoms because a hybrid has never existed before,” he said anxiously while Remus wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and drew back to the bed to stare down at Harry with tears in his eyes. “It isn't as simple as giving him both Wolfsbane and Substisanguinus. The elements of one are hostile to those meant to be treated with the other. I will have to start from scratch, and he is the only subject on which I might test-”

“He is not some guinea pig,” Remus interjected, giving Severus a reproving look. 

“And I am not some mad scientist,” Severus replied acidly. “I'm trying to help him, dammit!”

“I really think you've done enough, don't you?” Remus replied with a surprisingly dangerous edge to his voice. He glared at the vampire. “I think you should leave now.”

Severus’ temper flared back to life like a struck match. “You'll have to kill me first,” he hissed, pushing sharply away from the bedpost.

“I could, perhaps, arrange that,” Remus growled. There was a feral glint in his golden eyes.

Harry’s own eyes were now, finally, open. It was the most he had managed so far, and keeping them open was an exhausting effort. But no one was looking at him anymore. They were staring daggers at each other. Harry could feel the danger in the air, the impending violence, and he struggled to find his voice. He managed a weak whine, but the two men were so intent on one another they did not notice.

“You don't have it in you,” Severus sneered. “But you should watch what you say, mongrel, because I have always had it in me, and you know it.

Remus’ lips curled back in a threatening display as the wolf in him took over, and Severus took a step forward as if accepting his challenge. If Harry did not do something, and now, there would be blood. He mustered all his strength, all his willpower, and concentrated it on his lungs, his vocal chords.

“Stop it,” he whispered, so weakly he despaired of their hearing it. “Both of you,” he managed to say more firmly.

The result was instantaneous. Their hostility evaporated, replaced by cautious hope as they both turned to him...and gasped.

Chapter Text

They peered closely at his face, then Severus sighed and crumpled with relief, and Remus collapsed onto the bed beside Harry, seizing his hand and promptly breaking into silent tears.

Harry’s head swam, and he felt as if he were slipping back into unconsciousness. He made an effort to tighten his grip around Remus’ fingers and lift his unoccupied hand to Severus, though he failed on both counts. The situation should have been more uncomfortable than it was, but he needed them both, and he was grateful they were both there.

Harry’s eyelids began to drift shut despite his battle to keep them open. They did not close entirely, but the scant light from the cracks in the curtains seemed almost too much for him, and now he knew why. Severus noticed his struggle and recovered himself, reaching into his robes and pulling out their knife. It rang as he drew it, catching Remus’ attention. He looked up to see the Severus brandishing the blade with an intent scowl that was fixed on Harry.

“Good Lord, Severus,” he gasped, shooting to his feet as if ready to disarm him.

Severus thrust the knife in Remus' direction, handle-first, his eyes never leaving Harry’s face. “Cut yourself.”

“What?” Remus stammered, shaking his head as he reluctantly accepted the blade.

“Open a fucking vein! He’s dangerously weak. No doubt they’ve been attempting to force sustenance on him his body can no longer tolerate. While he would likely consider me tasty enough, he will find no nourishment in my blood.”

“Are you sure it’s safe?” Remus asked, undoubtedly worrying about his possible toxicity.

“Would I tell you to do it if I wasn’t?” Severus snipped. Remus did not immediately move to do as he was told. Instead, he considered the knife he held, and Severus came around the bed toward him. “Have some courage, man,” he growled. “He’s been opening himself for me for years! You claim to care so damned much for him, yet you can’t nick yourself to save him?” he demanded, reaching for the knife.

Remus pulled it out of his reach. “For Merlin’s sake! I’m not unwilling, I was surprised, is all,” he objected. “This isn’t as commonplace for me.” Severus stood impatiently to the side as Remus pointed the tip of the blade at his arm, then at his hand, looking confused. “How…? Where should I-?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Severus muttered, snatching the knife from him. He took hold of Remus’ hand and brought the blade across the tip of his index finger, cutting him deeply. Harry saw the shock on Remus’ face, then a beat later came the wince. Harry knew that knife could split hairs. The pain never came as soon as the blood. Severus thrust the bleeding digit toward Harry, yanking Remus along with it until the man elbowed Severus out of the way and bent to offer his wound to Harry himself. Severus withdrew to the other side of the bed again to watch anxiously.

Harry had smelled the blood the instant Remus’ flesh had parted, and its scent practically sent his eyes rolling back in his head. He’d never wanted anything more in his life, had never known a hunger so keen. Despite his weakness, he found himself reaching for it with his mouth, his tongue seeking to catch the drop that dangled from Remus’ proffered finger. Harry heard himself moan when he tasted it.

He never knew it was like this for Severus or else he would have bled himself for the man as often as would not have killed him. It was like liquid sex, a coppery wine made of hunger and orgasms, so that no matter how much he swallowed he wanted more. He felt it burn, rapturously, all the way to his stomach. But the tingle it incited did not stop there, and he was confused and discomfited by the stirring he felt even lower.

Harry could not lift his hand, but apparently, he could still lift his sheets. It was embarrassing, despite what he’d done before with each of these men. It was evidence that he was not in control of himself, and that was what scared him most. Had he not been so weak, he feared he might have latched onto Remus’ wrist and torn the wound he nursed even wider. He might have made new ones and drained the man dry. The impulse frightened Harry beyond words and, as he suckled, he threw a panicked look to Severus...because he felt himself strengthening. Remus’ blood was revitalising him. Not enough yet to carry out the threat of his limbs, but enough to be concerned by the possibility.

Severus reached out as if he might stroke Harry’s arm but stopped himself short, to Harry’s heartbreak. He wanted few things more at that moment than the comfort of Severus’ touch.

“It is normal, Harry,” he soothed, glancing to the tent in Harry’s blankets. “It still happens to me occasionally during the dark of the moon,” he admitted uncomfortably. “Your body will translate the bloodlust in a more…general way, for a time.”

Harry tried to communicate with his gaze that that was not his worry. He could tell by Remus’ gentle, concerned expression that the man was oblivious to both the danger Harry posed and to the young man’s arousal. A confused glance back at Severus in response to the other man’s comment revealed the one to him. Remus’ face flushed, and he turned his eyes resolutely to the floor, discreetly adjusting his position on the edge of the bed. Harry’s current state, coupled with the fact that he was presently sucking rather intently on Remus’ finger, had apparently put the man in the same uncomfortable position in which Harry found himself. Or at least by half.

It was the other half which terrified Harry. His hand seemed to have a life of its own, clawing its way toward Remus’ arm, and he whined in panic.

“Get away,” he warned in a pitiful whimper around the digit in his mouth. A desperate tear escaped the corner of his eye even as his fingers curled around Remus’ wrist. Remus look confused, and Severus stepped forward, unable any longer to prevent himself from touching the young man.

“It’s okay now,” he whispered, caressing the hair from Harry’s forehead, his expression soft though anguished. “You aren’t a danger to either of us yet.” The qualification did little to quiet Harry. “You’re far too weak. But later...we may have to restrain you.”

Harry nodded weakly, grateful for the reassurance. Then Severus touched his fingertips to Remus’ shoulder, signalling that the man should reclaim his hand; which he did with a troubled expression but with little effort, to Harry’s great relief. Severus handed Remus the small jar of healing balm that travelled at all times with the knife, leaving him to care for himself while Severus turned back to Harry. Thankfully, once the fount of Remus' blood had been sealed, Harry's thirst began to abate.

“Sleep now, if you can,” Severus told him.

Harry’s body thrummed with the vitality he’d just syphoned from Remus, though. His veins were singing. Severus seemed to understand and took a seat on the bed, stroking his thumb across Harry’s temple. It wasn’t until that moment that Harry realised he wore no glasses, and yet he could see the man leaning over him perfectly. Harry looked up at him in wonder, and Severus returned Harry’s meagre smile, studying each of Harry's eyes in turn.

“I never imagined they could be more beautiful than they were before,” he whispered. Harry was clearly confused, and so Severus pulled out the knife again, holding the flat of it up in front of Harry’s face in lieu of a mirror. Harry gasped at what he saw in the blade’s highly polished surface.

His eyes were changed. Drastically. They were still deeply green but only on the outsides. His pupils were ringed with bright gold which bled like starbursts into the outer green rims. They were striking. Harry turned them back to Severus.

“Close them now, though, Harry,” he urged, “you need to rest.”

Harry nodded faintly and allowed his eyelids to slide shut. And then, he drifted off into the sweetest sleep he’d experienced in days.

Chapter Text

The fire was not done with him. It still assaulted Harry in waves, leaving him washed out and weak. He suspected that feeding on Remus had triggered the fever. It didn’t make him want to do it again any less, just less able to beg for it. Which, he supposed, was a good thing, because it would have shamed him despite that he knew he’d experience no censure from his caretakers.

The ‘lust’ portion of the term bloodlust was more than applicable. Harry felt it all through his body. He ached with it even more keenly than that time Severus had tied him to the bed for two days and teased him mercilessly. This was far less enjoyable. There seemed to be no promise of eventual release. He had a feeling that more blood would only fan the flames that engulfed him.

It wasn’t just desire Harry felt in sweeping tides, either. His emotions were erratic, all-consuming, and completely uncontrollable. He experienced fits of rage and anguish, elation and fear, resentment and gratitude, all of which he was still too weak to express. He sweated them out through his pores instead, whimpering when he would have screamed and lying mute when he would have wept. Severus had told him once that new vampires were unpredictable, and now he understood why. Everything triggered a response in him. His senses were sensitive in the extreme. He never imagined he could smell so many things, or smell them so strongly. He rarely opened his eyes, when he could help it, but he could hear Remus’ and Severus’ heartbeats through walls. He could hear the rush of their blood through their veins when they were in the room, neither of which helped his bloodlust in the least.

Harry was aware they kept vigil, though he was too preoccupied with his inner battles to take much note of them. When he did, he merely observed, enjoying their presence even though it drove him mad. He liked the small sounds of them being near. They rarely spoke at first, and when they did, it was as if he wasn’t present; which in a way, he wasn’t. Their voices sounded different to him now. Each contained their own music, and Harry was usually too distracted listening to their melody to focus on their words. Sometimes, though, was blessed with pockets of lucidity. 

Over the spicy tang of Severus’ natural perfume that evening, Harry smelled tea and Remus on the stair, and he could think of no two scents more compatible. “How is he?” he asked anxiously from the doorway.

“The same,” Severus replied, his voice weary. “The fever comes and goes.”

“I can take over now,” Remus offered after a quiet moment. “You should get some rest, Severus.”

Harry glanced over at the men, but it went unnoticed in his general tossing and turning. Severus shook his head, and Remus sighed and took a seat opposite the man at the small table on which Harry and Ron used to play chess once upon a time. Harry’d moved it to his new room ages ago but had not used it once since Ron passed. Remus took a sip of the tea he'd carried in with him, glancing apologetically over to Severus. Their interactions were still stiff, but necessity had made them superficially cordial.

“I’d offer you some hospitality,” the man shrugged, “but…”

“No, even with Substisanguinus, I still cannot quite tolerate tea," Severus confirmed. "Or at least, I cannot enjoy it,” he said with a wave of his hand. “I believe I miss coffee more, though,” he admitted with a touch of nostalgia.

Remus nodded his understanding and the two men sat staring at Harry for a moment, apparently assuming his open eyes were unseeing still. Neither seemed comforted any longer by Harry’s momentary awakening the day before.

“People will come asking questions soon,” Remus whispered into his tea cup before taking another sip. Harry’s condition seemed to damper their voices, though they spoke plainly enough in other parts of the house.

“We'll just have to tell them he’s recuperating and cannot be disturbed,” Severus shrugged.

“That won’t hold them off forever, though,” said Remus. “Who have you told?”

“No one,” said Severus, shaking his head. “But it will have to be discussed with Minerva, at least, soon. He will have to be moved somehow if I am to treat him effectively.” Once Remus’ temper had cooled, he seemed to accept the wisdom of Severus’ ‘experimentation’. “They are my quarters, but they are in her school, and Harry is a danger. He never did learn to navigate the dungeons, though," he said with a wry smile, "so there is that safeguard.”

“You realise, the floo downstairs connects directly to your quarters,” Remus informed him.

Severus' eyes grew almost comically wide. “Since when?”

“Since Harry asked Minerva last week. He wanted to convince you that moving here would not inconvenience you. Apparently, he never got a chance to tell you.”

For a moment, Severus was too moved to speak. “Well, that does make things considerably simpler,” he finally murmured.

“Regardless,” Remus sighed, “you aren’t going to invent the potion he needs in the next three days. Especially since you refuse to leave his side,” he said quietly but with no condemnation. Remus would not have been parted from Harry, either, while the young man was in such a state.

“I am well aware,” Severus answered, equal parts tired and annoyed.

Three days?

The Full Moon.

So that was the nagging Harry felt in his bones. He couldn’t help but remember Remus’ boggart and wonder what that transformation would actually feel like. It had seemed so painful, yet nothing could be as painful as what he’d already endured, and Remus withstood the change month after month. Harry saw how weak it always left him, though. It was not an experience the young man looked forward to.

“We'll have need of the Shack,” Remus went on, “and probably the passage to it, in case of emergencies. He cannot be in London. He cannot be this near populated areas.”

Severus heaved his own sigh. “It will have to be cleared. Albus had all the secret passages collapsed before the Last Battle. That might be our first priority, Lupin.”

“The first Full is always the worst,” said Remus, his voice full of dread.

“And the first Dark, as well,” Severus agreed sadly. He pulled himself to his feet and stepped toward Harry’s bed. He did not touch him, though he clearly wanted to. “This will be his life for some time now, pulled constantly in opposite directions by the phases of the moon. How will he endure it, Lupin?” he asked softly, his expression pinched by sorrow while he knew Remus could not see it.

“With our help, Severus, of course.”

Severus glanced back at the man, seeming not wholly convinced. “His instincts will likely drive him to hate us both,” he warned bleakly.

“Or draw us closer. It may not be a matter of aversion. Werewolves are highly social.”

Severus sneered. “That may work well for you. Vampires are not, by any stretch of the imagination.”

“Try not to expect the worst,” Remus implored gently as if wearied by the man’s constant pessimism. Harry knew the feeling well.

“We must,” Severus said firmly, “or we will fail him. He needs us to be realistic.”

“He needs us to give him hope and support.” 

Severus smirked and looked back down on Harry. “Bloody Gryffindors,” he muttered, but the comment lacked venom, and Remus’ answering smile was genuine, though it faded quickly. "This will not be easy, Lupin. We don’t yet even know if his condition will lend him additional strength.”

“I believe I can handle him, regardless,” Remus said with more confidence in his voice than his expression would suggest he possessed. “Though in a worst case scenario, you may have to help me contain him. We will need to acquire some silver mesh,” he added reluctantly. “It is cruel but likely necessary if he breaks through. Incarcerous after that. And an Aconite solution might not be amiss.”

“You would have me spray him with a water bottle like some puppy who’s piddled on the rug?” Severus said witheringly, though he eventually nodded in grudging response to Remus’ stern look. “I will have to discuss it with Minerva, but I believe my laboratory would be the best place to hold him on the Dark. Be ready with Lumos. Maxima. His eyes will be especially sensitive. That and garlic should help you to subdue him if he escapes me. A solution of that would be useful, as well. And if he does get past me, Lupin, do not expect help to come from that quarter. I will most likely no longer be conscious, assuming I'm still alive."

Harry felt his veins freeze in realisation of the very real danger that he could kill one of these men in the frenzy of a first Full or Dark.

"You should have others with you, regardless.”

“None of our friends would refuse,” Remus replied confidently. “We all owe him our lives.”

“The fewer who know, the better. No one outside the Order. And then only those closest to him.”

“Hermione?”

“Do you really think he would want her to know?” Severus scowled.

“How could he possibly keep it from her?”

“He may prefer to sever ties,” Severus said sadly, “for her safety and his dignity, though it might break his heart to do it. We shouldn’t involve her unless we know his thoughts on the matter.”

Remus nodded, toying with the half-empty teacup he still held, his brow furrowed. "Are you going to tell Rainey?” he asked, clearly uncomfortable. “She may be able to help. I don’t know how Harry would feel about it, though. The situation is complicated.”

Severus snorted. “It isn’t especially,” he muttered wryly, earning a scowl from Remus. “But I don’t think this is something she needs to know yet,” he concluded.

Remus, however, did not seem ready to let the matter drop. “So, if I may ask," he said, sitting forward in his chair and resting is elbows on his knees, "what is going on between you and Rainey, Severus?” 

Severus was bemused by the werewolf's boldness. “Nothing,” he replied, “besides that she keeps trying to drag me to the Forest to hunt.” He sighed and returned to his chair opposite Remus, sitting heavily. “She thinks I make a pathetic vampire,” he shrugged. “I’ve been taking Substisanguinus for too long. She only takes enough to allow her to function around the children, but I’ve never wanted to be that kind of vampire,” he said thoughtfully, idly fingering the raised checkerboard pattern on the table between them. “I’ve gone hunting with her a handful of times while Harry was preoccupied with training. Somehow, I thought he would disapprove, so I hid it from him. Since we weren't likely to see each other as often once Harry started on the force, I had thought I might replace our weekly ritual with a weekly hunt instead. But it’s not for me. Besides, killing woodland creatures seems senseless when I have a willing fount at home. Well," he finished quietly, "I had.”

Remus seemed surprised, though he still regarded the man with scepticism, which Severus ignored. “Harry was rather convinced there was more to it,” Remus pressed. “He claimed he could...smell her on you.”

“Oh, please,” scoffed Severus, finally meeting the other man’s eye. “Is that was that was about? I never did make sense of that comment. For the love of Hermes," he muttered, "what does he know of such things?” His expression melted to one of regret. “He should know, though, shouldn’t he, Lupin?” he said then with a shake of his head. “I’ve been a selfish bastard.”

“So you and she never?” Remus asked again, curiously, as if for final confirmation. The condemnation was gone from his tone. Perhaps it was the self-deprecation that dripped from Severus’ last comment that had helped convince him.

Severus shook his head again, seemingly unoffended by Remus’ continued scrutiny. “No. Not for many years.”

Harry's volatile emotions shifted precipitously to a drowning guilt. He had broken their trust first. He had cheated, based on nothing more than fear and suspicion. But then his feelings veered sharply toward anger at Severus. It wasn't as if Harry's insecurities had been completely unfounded. They had, by his own admission, been encouraged by the Potions Master.

Remus sat back in his chair and scowled at the man, mirroring some of Harry's indignation. “So why let him believe it?” he asked. "Why not deny it when he confronted you?"

“It was convenient,” Severus sighed, looking shamefaced despite his apparent innocence. “He seemed so certain,” he said, clearly pained by Harry’s lack of faith in him, triggering an ache in Harry as well. “I thought, if it would help him leave…” He shrugged, at a loss, “I merely played along. Of course, I was almost certain, myself, that he was fucking that preening Hufflepuff.” 

Remus actually chuckled, drawing an odd look from Severus. “You know, according to him, Eric wouldn’t give him the time of day?”

Remus sipped his tea, eyebrows raised, and Severus chuckled as well then. The two shared an incredulous look. Harry was glad they seemed to be getting on so well, but perhaps it was his muddled mind that left him completely unable to follow this turn of the conversation.

“Do you really think it possible he doesn’t realise?” asked Severus. Remus sighed and they both regarded Harry. “Men aren’t even my cup of tea and I can scarcely keep my eyes off him. Gods, Lupin. He could have anyone he wanted. Even if he wasn’t Harry Fucking Potter," Severus smirked, "which he is. I was led to believe he read some of those trash magazines, and that seems to be all they bloody talk about. Eric Connors would bed him in a heartbeat and consider himself lucky.”

Remus gave Severus a look of agreement and shrugged. “He spent the majority of his life under a glamour, being convinced he was undesirable. It’s a miracle, really, he’s as confident as he is.”

“My poor, humble sex symbol,” Severus sighed, giving Harry a fond but baffled look.

Harry wasn’t sure how to feel about any of this. He'd accepted long ago that he wasn’t the troll the Dursley’s had led him to believe he was, but a sex symbol? Did the rest of the world really see him that way?

“And he consigned himself to me for so long. It’s a pity, Lupin, really it is,” Severus lamented, resting his head against the wall behind him. “All this time, he should have been dating actresses and rock stars. Models,” he smirked, no doubt thinking of the preening Hufflepuff again. “Perhaps one day, if I can work out a potion to mitigate his symptoms quickly enough, he still can do those things,” he said quietly. He did not look as though he was looking forward to it.

“He never will, you know. He isn’t like that. He only has eyes for you," Remus added sadly.

Severus scowled at the man. "Apparently, not only me," he sneered, eyeing Remus with mild bitterness.

The werewolf shook his head and polished off his tea. "No. I was just his first," he admitted grudgingly, eliciting an even dirtier look from Severus that seemed to threaten their newfound rapport. "The first man he took note of," Remus clarified. "And more recently, I was simply convenient.”

Harry knew that wasn’t strictly true, and he wondered, with a pang, if Remus truly believed that.

“It’s you he loves, Severus." 

Severus was mollified slightly but didn't seem to agree. "He feels sorry for me," he grumbled.

"Can’t he do both?" Remus asked in that way of his that seemed to hint at him calling one an idiot, but that was so tactfully done one didn't necessarily take offence.

"He’s merely concerned that I’ll be lonely if he leaves." 

"Won’t you?" Remus asked. Severus didn't respond and Remus gave the man a pitying look and seemed to steel himself. "Severus," he began hesitantly, "I don’t know how he’ll be during the Full. But if it looks like I may lose control of him...you know what I must do, don’t you."

Severus stared at Remus silently for a long moment, as if trying to retain mastery of himself. "You’ll do what you must," he said finally in a small, resigned voice. "As did I, once," he sighed, looking away. "And what comes of it, comes. So long as he is safe..."

Remus nodded. "Yes. So long as he is safe," he agreed softly, though Harry could have sworn he blushed as he said it.

"Does it work that way, though?" Severus asked after a reflective moment, having apparently made peace with whatever they were discussing. "You both being male?"

Remus hesitated though finally nodded. "It can, if the men are both so inclined, if they possess that instinct in human form. But it may not work out that way. I’ve never done it before, honestly," he admitted. "Sirius was different. Being an animagus, he wasn’t bound by the same rules. It was the devotion of the man that..." Remus seemed too overcome by old memories to finish the thought. "I simply don’t know, Severus," he huffed, raking a hand through his hair. "So. How often should he...be fed?" Remus asked, clearly wanting to change the subject.

Severus shook his head, jumping on the new line of questioning as eagerly as Remus offered it. "It’s hard to say. It isn’t that I don’t want him to recover, but you realise, until his blood settles, he will be stronger than either of us. If he is strengthened too much, too quickly-"

"You want to keep him weak." 

"Want? No. But we cannot afford to let him best us," said Severus, wringing his hands. "We don’t even know if his being a hybrid will make him inherently stronger, and we don’t need to discover the answer to that question through tragedy. While we do not want him to be so starved he drains you during the Full," Severus said, if not completely sincerely, "having him weakened to the safest degree will better allow you to control him, buying us time. By the Dark, he should be fully recovered, regardless," he sighed. "We’ll just have to wait and see. Draining me won’t make him stronger, but the bloodlust doesn't discriminate on that basis. If he does, and he escapes the dungeon, any lifeform he takes in will strengthen him. And that could lead to him being harmed. For his own safety, we have to keep him as weak as possible for as long as possible."

Both men's misery seemed to evolve into righteous anger at the same time. "Do you have any idea who did this, Severus?" Remus asked, looking distinctly as if he were spoiling for a fight.

"A few," Severus admitted quietly, sounding just as murderous.

"And?"

"And nothing," Severus said, almost inaudibly. Remus regarded the other man for a moment and nodded. The time had not yet come for that conversation, though both of them seemed more than ready for it when it did.

Chapter Text

Harry woke to the exquisite taste of blood filling his mouth. He was not yet cognizant enough to realise or care where it came from, just that it flowed and he must have more. He felt his hands seize the fount at his lips with much more strength than he’d had for days. His fingers didn’t tremble as they sought to close around bleeding object, they fastened like iron. It wasn’t until Harry heard Remus’ grunt of pain that he woke sufficiently to understand what was happening, but even then, he could not control his own limbs and their quest to secure his feast.

Harry’s eyes flew open to find Remus leaning over him, his arm to Harry’s mouth. This was not the teasing drip of before but a proper cut that flowed enough for Harry to actually drink. When it did not flow fast enough, Harry felt himself draw on the wound to make it spill faster. Harry could see Remus fighting to keep the grimace from his face, but he couldn’t quite manage it, and Harry was helpless to subdue the thirst that animated him. He whimpered, his panicked eyes seeking Severus.

Severus stood to the side of the bed, far enough away to communicate he was a spectator and not a participant. “I know, Harry. We’ll have to bind you now,” he said in soothing tones, withdrawing his wand slowly as though not to startle the young man.

Harry nodded, begging with his eyes for Severus to hurry. The spell was whispered, and Harry felt the ropey bonds circle his wrists, prying them in shudders of increasing force away from Remus’ arm and above Harry’s head to anchor him to the bedposts. For Harry, it was a painful relief. Remus couldn’t quite hide his own beneath his concerned expression. He held his arm steady at Harry’s lips, once again in control of the exchange.

But with Harry’s relief came the realisation that, though his arms were secured, the rest of his body was doing just as it pleased. He wasn’t the only one to notice the pleading twitch of his bedsheets.

“You should do something with that, Lupin,” Severus muttered, looking away. The suggestion cost him. Remus looked back at the problem and then to Severus, who seemed to be fleeing the scene.

Severus.” 

“It will make him more comfortable,” Severus spat, barely pausing on his way to the door.

“That’s not what I meant,” Remus said more gently. He blushed, looked long at Harry’s need and then pulled his eyes away with effort. “You should be the one to do it.”

“I don’t know what kind of kink you’re accustomed to, but there are entirely too many of us involved for my taste.” 

“Listen. You cannot feed him or I’d remove myself. Just…help him, Severus.” 

Harry watched the exchange, his heart divided. He had already accepted that he loved them both in different ways, but at the moment, the logistics and the aftermath meant little to him. He only wanted someone to touch him, in any way. Preferably urgently in a very concentrated area, as he was unable to do so himself, being bound to the bed. Even if he hadn't been, his hands would do little to alleviate his problem. He knew for a fact that if he were released, he’d rip open Remus’ wrist with tragic results.

Remus turned his eyes resolutely to the floor beside the bed, holding his arm in place for Harry behind him. Severus vacillated. Finally, he locked eyes with Harry who implored him with a look to do what only he knew how to do with glorious efficiency born of years of practice. Once his mind was made up, however, Severus wasted no time. His hesitancy fell from him with the robes he discarded so their voluminous folds would not impede his work. He pulled the bedclothes aside with one smart yank and fell on Harry, seemingly as ravenous as the young man felt himself. Severus had not fed for much longer than he was accustomed, and no doubt the scent of Remus’ blood was driving him mad. He’d often told Harry that his expulsions were almost as satisfying as blood. Harry wondered if he’d find them so still, or if they would be an empty delight for the same reason Severus did not feed Harry himself.

It didn’t matter to either of them. Severus seemed as intent on milking Harry as Harry was on nursing from Remus. It was overwhelming, the ecstasy of the blood travelling down his throat accompanied by Severus’ familiar ministrations. Harry moaned around the flesh at his mouth, wishing he was just a bit more swept away by the sensation so that he would not have to notice, even glancingly, the conflicted expression on Remus’ face.

Harry felt his back arch, his hips buck. He heard the messy, unintentional sounds Severus made as he worked, heard the bed frame groan as Harry’s magically strengthened but bound limbs tested its integrity. But it was all ancillary. All he could focus on was the pleasure, the two sources combining until he was crying out, both with his release, which disappeared quickly down Severus’ throat, and his despair at the loss of Remus’ wrist when the man reclaimed it.

Remus quickly sealed his wound with salve, depriving Harry of its intoxicating scent and thus quieting his thirst. It allowed the young man’s head to finally clear and then drove his face to burn with shame and embarrassment.

He wasn’t the only one. Severus wiped his mouth as he climbed from the bed, bending quickly to retrieve his robes. Remus was flushed and silent, using a spell to scour any remaining blood from his arm. It was clear none of them were comfortable with what had just occurred, but no one commented, as they all knew it to have been necessary.

They did not yet release Harry from his bonds, and he understood the wisdom of it. But without his hands, he could not reach for them. He didn’t trust his tongue. He wanted, though, to beckon to Severus, to demand the kiss he yearned for, the one that he had always yearned for afterwards. At the same time, he wanted to take hold of Remus’ hand and pull him close so that he might relieve the desire that was clearly pent within him. Harry could do neither, and his frustration was so great it actually made him writhe in his effort not to weep.

Both men were eager to be gone, it seemed; perhaps to wash away the embarrassment of the evening in private. But Harry could not be left alone, tied or not. It was Severus who won the race, unable even to meet Harry’s eye as he swept from the room. Harry couldn’t blame him but was desperate to understand why exactly. Was it from having done such an intimate thing in front of his rival? Or was it because he had been trying to let Harry go, and it was so difficult to do so if he was expected to continue doing such intimate things with him?

Remus was left in the room, looking as if he wasn’t sure what do with himself. He didn't seem to want to meet Harry’s eye, either, and it was too much for the young man. Time and fever had not quieted his hair-trigger emotions. Remus retrieved Harry’s blankets and replaced them, carefully covering him, and Harry did weep finally, drawing Remus’ gaze. His ever-present concern showed itself immediately, and he seated himself on the bed beside Harry to stroke his brow in lieu of holding his hand, which was tethered above the young man’s head.

“Harry, what is it? Is it the bonds? Are they too tight?” he asked, eyeing them with distaste. “I’m so sorry, Darling. We had to be sure they would secure you. If they don’t disappear soon, I’ll remove them.”

Harry shook his head. “I’m so sorry, Remus,” he sobbed. He could still taste the man’s blood in his mouth. “I’m sorry you have to do this, both of you. I’m sorry you-”

“None of that, now,” Remus chided, leaning forward to kiss both of Harry’s cheeks, erasing the tears there even as Harry replaced them with fresh ones. “You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for, do you understand me? Just like Severus and me, you did not choose to have this befall you.”

Harry nodded but still wept. “It’s not true, you know,” he sniffed.

“What isn’t, Darling?”

“You weren’t just convenient, Remus.”

The man seemed startled, clearly unaware Harry had overheard his and Severus’ conversation before.

“I know we were talking about it, but I wouldn’t have given myself to just anyone, Remus. You’re right. I’m not like that. I only did it because it was you,” Harry said tearfully.

Remus didn’t answer straight away. He seemed to be struggling with himself. Being unable to prevent it from forming, the man wiped his tear as it fell, his ache deepening Harry’s own.

“And now I’ve hurt you, haven’t I?” Harry said, crying harder. “I don’t want to hurt you, Remus, I just want you to know that it meant something. That it meant everything,” Harry whispered vehemently. And it had. Harry just had had no way of knowing until it had actually happened, could not have imagined how deeply his feelings for the man actually ran until they’d been unlocked by that monumental, whisky-fueled kiss and then been borne out in the aftermath of Severus’ false confession.

Remus lost the battle with his composure and turned away from Harry. The young man felt his bonds weaken, starting to dissolve just as Remus’ shoulders began to shudder. He felt them disappear entirely in time to draw the man to his breast where Remus began crying in earnest. This time it was Harry who petted Remus, raking his fingers through the soft, sandy waves of his hair while the werewolf clung to him.

“And that’s why I’m sorry, Remus. I can’t help being in love with Severus. But I love you, too. I always have. I just don’t know what to do about it,” he confessed, desperation thinning his voice.

Remus drew back, shaking his head, and looked into Harry’s eyes. “It’s enough, Darling,” he said as if absolving Harry for ripping his heart to shreds. “Just knowing that,” he swallowed and took a shaky breath, “it’s enough.”

“No. It isn’t,” Harry argued. He was still weak, and every moment that passed seemed to sap his strength further, but he managed to hold the man still, not letting him withdraw. “All you did tonight is give. It’s all you ever do. I know you never expect anything in return, but you deserve it, Remus.”

Remus was disconcerted. “Harry, I don’t understand what you-”

“Yes, you do,” Harry cut him off. “I know that you need.” Harry blushed, pushed Severus from his mind, and filled his thoughts with the man in his arms. “Take, Remus,” he said in a consenting whisper, searching for the man’s lips with his own.

Remus shied away. “Harry, I couldn’t possibly. You’re not well. And Severus...” he stammered, his gaze nonetheless sweeping Harry’s face, drinking in his eyes, his lips.

“I heard Severus floo out as soon as he cleared the stairs,” Harry said quickly, trying again to reach him.

“That wasn’t what I meant,” said Remus, pulling back entirely, and Harry’s returning weakness allowed it.

“I know what you meant, Remus,” Harry countered stubbornly.

Remus shook his head. “It’s the bloodlust, Harry. This is a residual effect of what just happened. Look at how weak you are already. I would be taking advantage-”

“No, it’s not, and you know it,” Harry insisted, rather more loudly than he'd intended. His volatile emotions were swinging again, and this time toward anger and frustration. “Damn it, Remus. You’re the most maddeningly noble bastard I’ve ever met! We clearly love each other, and I just invited you to fuck me. What in hell is wrong with you?”

Remus’ vulnerability melted in response to Harry’s outburst, and he gave him a surprisingly hard look.

“I’m not nearly so noble as you might think, Darling,” he confessed in a tone that unsettled Harry, instantly quieting the young man’s temper. The look in Remus’ eye hinted at the feral, sending a shiver up Harry’s spine. “As you might find on the Full,” he added. “Everything is different now, Harry,” he warned softly, bending, despite his previous objections, to kiss him. It was slow and possessive. It was out of character, but not so much so that Harry could not conceive of this side of the man. And the newness, the promise of there being more to Remus that Harry might discover, made Harry tingle with both apprehension and anticipation. "You’ll need us both for a long while to come. Complicated as it is, we’re a pack now, Darling. And contrary to what you might believe, I have never before settled for Beta.”

Harry swallowed uncomfortably, but then some of Remus’ typical tenderness crept back, and he stroked the hair from the young man’s brow and checked for fever.

“Sleep now, Harry,” he whispered. “Tomorrow will be a long night.”

Chapter Text

“I realise that you haven’t been lucid long enough for us to properly discuss anything, but do you understand what has happened to you, Harry?” Severus asked from the chair beside Harry’s bed. His tone was cautious and a little flinching.

Harry was not up and about yet, but he was dressed at least, in a soft and expendable t-shirt and sweatpants. It seemed like forever since he’d worn clothes. They made him feel more human, but they chafed. Harry broke off tugging at his collar to nod dejectedly at Severus. Things were awkward between them. With the exception of their one-sided exchanges while Harry was struggling with his feedings and fevers, they hadn’t talked since Harry had fled the Lab for Grimmauld Place. Now that Harry was feeling half-way normal, those other exchanges seemed as though they might never have happened, as though he might have dreamed them with the rest, and the lingering pain of their previous encounter was the only thing between them that was substantial.

“I heard you tell Remus I was attacked by former Death Eaters,” he admitted. “That the potion they gave me was a hybrid infection, and now I’m both vampire and werewolf.” He was trembling slightly. Saying it out loud made it seem more real and more terrifying than it had yet, despite the intensity of his first meals as this new creature. “And I know that tonight is the Full Moon," he gulped, "and that you’re taking me to the Shack, and that I’ll be transforming.”

Severus nodded but narrowed his eyes at the young man. “How much of that conversation did you hear?” A mild tone of suspicion overlaid his measured concern.

Harry gave him a long look, betraying nothing. He knew it was impossible for Severus to know how much Harry had overheard about their situation, about the lies Severus had told and why. What’s more, Harry hadn’t worked out exactly how he felt about it all. He still nursed a bitterness that the man would push him away after all Harry had done, after how very hard he’d tried to make them work. It seemed somehow worse to him that Severus had lied about having an affair than it would have been if he’d actually had one. Harry’s guilt over his own indiscretion was mingled into the resentment he felt toward Severus. He knew it was misdirected, but Harry’s feelings had become a being unto themselves, and he had no more control over them than he did over his own body any longer. Harry was drowning in so many shades of betrayal. He decided vagueness was the best course just at the moment.

“Bits and pieces,” he hedged. “Why?” Harry could tell Severus wasn’t quite buying his claims of ignorance, but he didn’t push the matter.

“As I’ve discussed with the others,” he went on instead, “though the potion was based on my work, it is not of my making, and so I can only guess at the possible effects.” Severus’ manner was clinical, impersonal, and it only increased Harry’s annoyance with him. “I suspect that the infections you carry cannot be transmitted. I also suspect that since they have been altered to co-exist within you, you should not be toxic to either Lupin or myself, but I cannot be certain. I thought you should know that a bite to either of us could be potentially damaging, if not fatal. Though, it’s impossible to say how much self-mastery you’ll retain once you transform. Typically, unless one has been taking the Wolfsbane potion, a werewolf transformation is totally mindless. The beast takes over entirely. The vampire in you may mitigate those effects, however, allowing you hold on to some measure of self-awareness. Unfortunately, there is simply no way of knowing for certain, Harry,” he said, a timid measure of tenderness infecting his tone for the first time. “There has never existed anything like you before. But then, The Boy Who Lived should be accustomed to that by now,” he added with a small, sad smile. Harry almost wished Severus had left his guard up. He hated recognising the loneliness in him. He hated wanting to reach for him.

What Severus said was true. Harry was used to being unique, though it had been a long while since he had raged over his own circumstances. It seemed to him, in a way, he had merely transferred that preoccupation to Severus. Frustrating as it ultimately had been, Harry was a better man for having been with him. Their relationship had taught Harry how to care about someone else’s trials more than his own, and in that way, it had freed him from his own, really. Loving someone else so dearly, and having that someone be so tragically beset by troubles, made one’s own troubles seem small in comparison. Despite his anger at him, Harry had not yet shed the habit of worrying over Severus above himself.

He was still mulling over his contrasting impulses when Severus reached into his robe pocket and presented Harry with an unexpected gift. “I retrieved them from the warehouse,” he explained.

Harry held out a hand to accept his glasses. They were cracked but had been cleaned. It was odd, seeing them in his hand. Or rather, it was odd being able to see them in his hand. Before, his eyesight had been so terrible that they would have been little more than a blurred suggestion of spectacles. Now he could see even the tiniest hairline fracture in the lenses with ease. Harry was unexpectedly moved by the gesture and set them carefully on the table beside his bed. He wondered if Severus had picked them up before accompanying him to St. Mungo’s. He wondered if Severus had thought, when he'd retrieved them, that they might prove to be a final souvenir of his potentially late lover.

“I certainly am not disappointed by the absence of their necessity," Severus said, seeming conflicted as he studied Harry’s new eyes, "but I admit, I do miss seeing them on your face.” 

Harry was a mess of contrary emotions himself. “Severus, how did you get these?” he asked quietly, drawing a puzzled look from the man. “I mean, why were you there?” It had been bothering Harry for some time, in the rare moments that he’d been able to focus on the question.

“I was following you,” Severus confessed, his eyes drifting sheepishly to the floor.

“To make sure no one fucked with me.” Despite himself, Harry smiled.

“And I seemed to have failed in that,” Severus replied miserably, almost apologetically. “I was not the only one following you. The Ministry, apparently, was equally concerned about your first assignment. They weren’t Aurors, merely agents tasked with surveillance, and I’m hardly the Ministry’s favourite person. When they caught me shadowing you outside the factory, they confronted me. I was arguing with them when we heard the gunshots,” Severus said distantly, haunted by the memory. “They wouldn’t allow me to leave to go to your aid. They insisted on calling for assistance first. And of course, by the time it arrived, the damage had been done.” Severus seemed to shrink then as if momentarily crushed by the weight his guilt, but he recovered himself before Harry could give in to the impulse to comfort him. “I’m sorry, Harry. I should not have allowed them to detain me. I should have hexed them halfway to their graves and gone to you anyway.”

Harry wanted to tell him it probably would not have mattered, that even he could not have defeated so many, could not have conquered bullets, would only have been killed himself. But Harry had seen the man single-handedly hold off Voldemort, at least for a time. His presence might have made all the difference. Regardless, Harry’s current plight was not Severus’ fault.

“You couldn’t have known, Severus. I’m sure whoever did this had been planning it since I entered the Academy.”

Severus did not seem convinced and did not acknowledge Harry’s pardon. “By the way, you are no longer an Auror,” he informed him offhandedly, struggling to reinstate his formal tone. “Regretfully, you had to resign. I forged your signature. It had to be done, but it won’t hold them off for long. They are, of course, investigating. Kingsley is keeping them at bay until you are...settled. But you’ll have to speak with someone eventually.”

Harry nodded. “Let’s just make it through the night first, okay?”

Severus returned his nod, drawing his wand to conjure a wheelchair which Harry gave a dirty look. “You may be too weak to walk to the Shack, but once the transformation begins, you’ll be magically strengthened. We have no way of knowing how much. Lupin seems convinced he can control you, but if he fails, Minerva and Kingsley and I will be ready-”

“With silver mesh and Aconite. I know,” Harry said, hoping it did not come to it, if only because it would mean he'd have wounded Remus to make it so far.

Harry allowed Severus to help him into the chair and then to levitate him in it down the stairs to the sitting room where Remus, McGonagall, and Kingsley were waiting for them. As in his bedroom, the lights were dimmed to protect Harry’s sensitive eyesight, but both the Auror and the Headmistress fought to stifle a gasp at their first glimpse of him. The mood was uncomfortably solemn.

“Potter,” McGonagall greeted, her lips pursed and her voice strained with emotion he knew she didn’t like to show. “Know that you have my full support,” she assured him firmly. “Hogwarts is at your disposal, within reason. But you’re hardly the most dangerous thing it’s harboured.”

“And don’t worry about the Ministry,” Kingsley added, giving him an encouraging nod. “Arthur and I will keep them off your back until we decide how we want to handle the situation.”

“The only thing you have to concern yourself with tonight, Harry, is yourself,” Remus said warmly, walking over to lay a hand on his shoulder. “Your friends are here to support you.”

Harry nodded his thanks. His mood swings were making him embarrassingly reactive, but he refused to cry so easily in front of everyone. With effort, he buried the impulse beneath a lifetime of ingrained British stoicism.

“Let’s get on with it, then,” he said, straightening with as much dignity as he could muster in a wheelchair and sweatpants. With no further discussion, they queued in front of the floo and made their way toward the site of Harry’s first true test as the world’s first bloodsucking werewolf.

Chapter Text

The Shrieking Shack hadn’t changed in all the years since Harry had last been inside it. He doubted it had changed since Remus had last used it for this same purpose while attending Hogwarts. Despite that it started as a lie to discourage the curious, the place was indeed haunted in a way. The pale spectres of past violence were not buried, but were instead outlined, by the chalky dust of decades. There were deep gouge marks on walls and in floors made by clawed hands. Black splatters of blood stood out against the faded print of the fabric that rotted to tatters on the moulding bed. Its mattress bled its own contents through rents in its casing. A large, splintered mirror in a broken frame multiplied the horror of the scene a dozen times over while the crisp night air howled like a banshee through the gaps in the window panes.

This is what confronted Harry like a prophecy revealed, waiting to be fulfilled. He saw exactly what he could look forward to on this night and on countless nights hereafter, and he shivered.

At least Remus was there. He had lived this horror, had made these very marks, and he had survived it. He had not only survived it, but he was also still such a man that Harry could hold love for him that rivalled his love for Severus. This curse had not destroyed Remus and, gods willing, it would not destroy Harry.

However, the Remus who had silently carried him to the top floor of this precarious structure was not quite the man with which Harry was familiar. This was a Remus whom Harry had not been given the opportunity to meet until now. His father had seen this version of him, though; and Sirius. The man who stood beside him now, as he swayed on unsteady legs waiting anxiously for the moon to rise, possessed a hard, solemn air of confidence born from familiarity with the darkness Harry felt rising inside him. Remus' mastery in the face of the ugly inevitable was a comfort.

“Will it hurt?” asked Harry softly, knowing the answer but asking anyway, his back turned as he still surveyed the room.

“Yes.”

The answer was plain, direct, with no qualifications or inadequate, unrealistic attempts at comfort. Harry nodded.

“We should take off our clothes and put them somewhere we aren’t likely to reach them until we change back. No sense in wasting them,” Remus reasoned, undoing his buttons. Harry required assistance with his, and after he’d undressed himself, Remus stepped forward to lift Harry’s t-shirt over his head.

It wasn’t a routine, impersonal exercise. The man was not shy. Remus made no effort to divert his gaze to preserve Harry’s modesty while he stripped the young man. When he had finished, Remus locked eyes with him, and there was as much hunger there as Harry had ever seen before--along with something keen, something wild. Harry’s responding shiver had nothing to do with the chill air on his now bare skin. He returned Remus’ bold stare with trepidation. The moon would rise soon, Harry could sense it. He could feel himself sliding already. The rational, ‘human’ part of him was fading, and he could feel himself becoming a creature of impulse and instinct, wild and ravenous for something he couldn’t identify. It felt a bit like mania, and he could see a reflection of it in Remus’ face. He recognised it in the way Remus’ hands skated over his naked body while Harry stood, unflinching, and allowed it.

“I’m going to finally be selfish, Harry,” Remus warned.

Harry was confused. The moon would rise any minute. They couldn’t. Not now. Though, despite his terror of the oncoming trial, Harry would have been willing. There was something exceptionally sensual in the way Remus was carrying himself. Everything about him screamed Wolf: the calculation in his intelligent but untamed expression, the resting potential in his muscles, which were taut despite the ease of his posture, as if he were ready to spring but knew how to avoid betraying the moment when he might.

“Remus,” Harry objected, shaking his head, “we can’t-”

“Don’t contradict me,” Remus said firmly, startling the young man. It was almost a bark but a restrained one, authoritative but confident enough not to be loud or overbearing. Something deep within Harry responded. He felt hackles he didn’t yet have rise. He felt himself subdued and was discontent with it.

“I know you love Severus,” Remus went on, “and I’ll allow you to go on loving him,” he assured, seeing the apprehension that crept into Harry’s expression, “I’m not heartless. But I am going to Claim you, Harry.” 

Harry scowled in confusion. “Remus, what are you talking about?” he whispered nervously, taking a small, unsteady step back from him even as he sensed the first sliver of the moon breach the horizon. It wouldn’t be long now, and Harry’s anxiety was cresting, not helped at all by Remus’ unfamiliar manner.

“Establishing myself as Alpha may not be enough to keep you in check,” Remus explained, eyeing Harry covetously. “I warned Severus this might be necessary in order to contain you, and it very well might be. It doesn’t matter. We’ll never know for certain. I’m going to do it anyway,” he said plainly. “Not because I have to, but because I want to. I’m going to Mate with you. And werewolves mate for life, my darling, so there’s the extent of my nobility,” Remus said, cocking an eyebrow and a smirk. “I’ll let you wander, I’m not that selfish. But after tonight, I intend for nothing to permanently rip you away from me ever again. You told me you love me but don’t know what to do about it. I’m taking the problem out of your hands. After this, you can claim truthfully, even to yourself, that you have no power over your actions with me. You will be faultless in your indiscretion. I can only hope you can trust me not to abuse my control over you, for I will control you, Darling. Though I promise to do so gently. Most of the time,” he added in a rugged purr, sweeping his eyes the length of Harry’s body.

Harry’s heart tripped and he trembled. So little of the man he knew was left in the beast he observed now stalking him, pacing back and forth with those lupine strides that were both lazy and energetic, eager but controlled. While a part of Harry rebelled against the idea of any surrender of his sovereignty of self, another part--a larger part, if he were honest--thrilled at the idea of belonging to this man. If he could still have Severus, if his leash was not too short, Harry could see himself tethered to Remus. Though, not without reservation. Not without some sort of fight. And surprisingly enough, Harry looked forward to the struggle.

So too, it seemed, did Remus.

Harry appreciated his honesty. Remus could easily have said nothing, could have claimed afterwards that there had been no choice and been found guiltless. But he didn’t. He owned the decision completely, and that choice, not the one Remus had just explained without contrition, was proof of the extent of Remus’ nobility. He had confessed his weakness, and the young man respected him all the more for it.

Harry felt himself strengthening along with the brightness of the moonglow behind the broken window panes. The two men circled one another, their expressions hard, determined. It was an odd courtship with odd stakes. Everything Harry felt now was visceral, not cerebral. His human self was falling away rapidly, but it was Remus who changed first. It wasn’t triggered by the moonlight. Remus initiated it intentionally, needing to be at the ready before confronting whatever unknown thing Harry would become. Harry heard Remus’ bones snap when they changed, breaking and reforming, and he refused to deafen himself to the clear anguish of Remus’ cries while they did so; cries which gradually turned to whimpers and howls as the transformation completed.

Harry could still see the man in the wolf standing aggressively in front of him. It had the same sandy-coloured hair Harry had stroked his fingers through just days before. The eyes were still the same amber and the same shape, though bigger than before. Harry had forgotten how large Remus was in wolf-form. He stood almost as tall as Harry. The power he must possess was undeniable, but so was his reason, his presence. The Wolfsbane allowed Remus to retain much of his inner-self, and he would need it in order to deal rationally with the irrational beast Harry would soon become.

When the moonlight finally fell through the window at his back, Harry felt it as if it were a physical force. It pushed at him like a current, as though he’d stepped into a gently flowing stream. Where it touched him, it penetrated, finding its way into his very cells and triggering a chain-reaction that rippled down the length of Harry's body. He collapsed to the floor when he felt the stabbing pain of bones suddenly growing and breaking, stretching him in places so quickly he felt certain his skin should have burst, but by some miracle, it did not. He felt his flesh tear deep within him, though. He felt his muscles ripped from their anchors to reattach to his changing skeleton in new ways. His skin crawled, itched unbearably, as he sprouted fur over every inch of him. He was half-mad with the need to claw at it, but he was helpless to do so. His body was no longer under his command. It was still changing in a hundred small ways while he continued to twitch on the floor, screaming in agony all the while. Remus whimpered in empathy but did not relax his ready stance. His posture grew even more assertive when Harry’s cries turned to throaty howls.

The pain did not stop when the transformation was finished. Harry had no idea how long it had taken him to change, but it felt far longer than it must have been. Even after the last muscle stitched into place, the last hair sprouted, and the last tooth tapered to a point, Harry ached as if he’d been beaten thoroughly. His first instinct, though, after regaining the ability to move of his own volition, was to rise to his feet as quickly as possible.

But he didn’t know how to use this new body. He heard a high-pitched, canine whine pour from his throat as he scrambled to make sense of his new shape, as he tried and failed to pick himself off the floor. It was confusing and upsetting, and the effort was completely overwhelming. He managed it though, eventually, and found himself, panting, standing upright on strange, unsteady feet.

Harry's brain was cloudy, and his thoughts were fragmented, but he could still think, after a fashion. He knew who he was and what had happened to him, but he felt drugged and unable to focus. He glanced around him for Remus, looking for reassurance, trying to shake off his shock and confusion, and was startled by his own reflection in the broken mirror hanging crooked on a nearby wall. His monstrosity was reflected back at him several times over, in each individual shard of the shattered glass, compounding the horror of it.

He looked nothing like Remus. The only things that really distinguished Remus from a real wolf were the length of his muzzle and his tufted tail. He was beautiful and graceful.

Harry was hideous, at least to his own eyes. He looked as if the transformation had been interrupted before it was completed. His face had lengthened, but his almost-snout was stunted, only half as long as Remus’, which was already shorter than a typical wolf's. He had the ears of a wolf, but they were too far down on his head to look properly lupine. His neck had thickened to at least the width of his head, but it sat on human shoulders. His arms were longer than they had been, and his hands were still hands. However, his fingers had thickened and were padded and clawed. He was only truly wolfish from his waist down, but his legs were far longer than his arms, so that he still stood upright on them, though he was hunched forward with the impulse to stand on all fours, and he suspected he would run using his hands if he had the opportunity and the space. 

All in all, Harry was monstrous. Harry staggered back from the mirror. He stumbled, finding it difficult to keep his balance on these unfamiliar limbs but desperate to escape his reflection. The cry that escaped him was an inhuman whine, and it was hard to accept it was made by him. He looked down at the coal-black fur that covered his body, and he tried to escape that as well but could not.

Harry hated it. He hated what he was, and he fell to the floor again and again as he tore about the room in a panic. He careened off walls, further splintering the rotten boards. He tumbled over broken furniture and scored the wooden floor with scrambling feet. He clawed at this new, unwelcome form with hands that seemed good for nothing but destruction, accruing the first of many new scars that would mirror his companion's.

In his frenzy, Harry had forgotten about Remus until he heard the low, challenging growl from behind him. Harry’s human mind short-circuited at the sound, and he felt the beast in him take control. His balance instinctively corrected itself as he spun to face the threat with a deep growl of his own. He felt his lips peel back from his sharp, lengthened fangs, and the hair down his spine stood on end.

The blond-furred animal that confronted him was aggressive, bold. Though the hybrid felt like lashing out at it, he intuited it would not be wise. He growled even louder than before and drew himself up on his hind legs, bowing his arms to make himself appear larger, trying to intimidate the other creature into backing off...when he was distracted.

The hybrid lifted his nose to sniff the breeze that tore through the broken window. He turned to approach it. The beast behind him yipped and growled in warning, but the hybrid merely glanced back at it, too preoccupied with the delicious scent he’d picked up to focus on the threat. Somewhere outside, there was human blood, human flesh. The hybrid drank in the smell. It whetted his hunger so keenly, he tipped back his head and howled longingly before falling forward on all fours to investigate the room, frantically trying to find a way out of it and down to the feast that awaited him.

The hybrid dug at the door with its massive claws, tearing chunks from the wood, but the sandy-haired creature nipped sharply at his flank, interrupting his progress. He turned to it, snarling, but still backed around the room looking for another exit.

His adversary would have none of it. It lunged at him, and the two met in a flurry of teeth and claws. The hybrid was strong but clumsy, unable to fend off the other creature’s snapping jaws. Finally, with a blind swipe of his paw, he knocked the blond beast away, sending it rolling across the floor to collide with the far wall. The hybrid roared after it to warn it to stay away, but despite the fearsome display, it didn’t stay down long. It quickly found its feet, shook off the attack, and pounced again. The hybrid had nowhere to retreat to, and the two collided savagely, chest to chest, each trying to reach the other’s throat with gaping mouths.

The hybrid’s muzzle was far too small to find purchase, though. They parted and clashed a couple of times more, their snarls and the scrape of their claws on the floorboards echoing clamorously off the walls, deafening even over the howling shriek of the wind. But eventually, the hybrid was subdued, wrestled to the floor with his neck held firmly in other animal’s jaw.

They both panted heavily, but when Harry relaxed in surrender, pulling his ears back and baring his stomach in a show of submission, Remus released him and carefully stepped back. Harry recognised him now. Remus had established himself as Alpha and the monster in Harry’s blood acknowledged him as such and was quieted, allowing Harry to regain some sense of himself, though he was still flooded with violent impulse.

Harry curled on the floor and shivered, licking at his wounds with a whimper. He was frustrated by his inability to speak but was slowly coming to terms with his situation. He could still smell Kingsley and McGonagall outside, and the scent beckoned to him, threatening Harry’s tenuous hold on reason and self-control. Remus padded over and laid next to him, filling Harry’s senses with something other than human blood.

Remus smelled wonderful in ways Harry would not understand in the least once he changed back. Now, though, the two investigated one another cautiously, and Harry found the nuances of Remus’ scent heady and addictive. The cocktail of pheromones he released was intoxicating. Harry surprised himself by licking the side of Remus’ face, and he found he tasted wonderful, too. Remus returned the favour, raking his tongue between Harry’s eyes and up his forehead, and Harry shivered to his toes. He was amazed that such a simple action could be so simultaneously soothing and exciting. Harry pawed gently at Remus’ chest, and they nuzzled each other’s necks, but Remus was the only one allowed to nip. As he moved closer, Remus’ nips became more aggressive, until he had thrown his front leg over Harry’s back, grasping Harry’s shoulder firmly in his teeth.

Harry realised, suddenly and too late, what was happening, and he panicked. He stiffened and attempted to rise, but Remus’ jaws were like iron. Harry growled, tried to turn his head to snap at Remus, but it was no use. Remus simply growled back, around Harry’s shoulder, as he mounted him.

Harry whimpered plaintively as he struggled to crawl from beneath him, but Remus was undeterred and escape was impossible. Their wolf-forms were different, disproportionate, and Remus really was too large for him. Though Harry realised, with a shiver of fear and dread, that nothing would stop this. It wasn't an unfamiliar pain, at least. Was not as bad as some he'd experienced willingly. Eagerly, even. Harry lay still while Remus hunched atop him, feeling the invisible bond between them strengthening despite it all.

Though started out as forced, it didn’t seem as much a violation as Harry expected it might. It wasn’t that he enjoyed or disliked it, it was simply what it was. This was not intended to be pleasurable, neither was it intended to harm. It was a ritual, and what might have been abhorrent to Harry in human form seemed perfectly acceptable to him in this one. Harry might technically be stronger, but he was ungainly and inexperienced. Remus was clearly his superior. Harry had been subdued before, but now he surrendered, willingly and completely, to the dominance of his Alpha.

To his Mate.

When the deed was finally done, Harry felt proud to have been bonded with Remus. Once he finished and released his grip, Remus tenderly licked the place where his fangs had pinched while he waited for the tie to dissolve and release their union. Harry lay still and content, allowing it. He was rather surprised to find the process had ultimately been profoundly calming. Though he still occasionally slipped back into the bestial, was still intermittently overcome with the impulse to fight his way from the Shack and seek out human flesh, Remus was always right there to rein him back, to remind him who he was, and Harry felt certain the effort would not have been nearly so effective if Remus hadn’t Claimed him first.

The moon set, and the two of them transformed at the same time. Harry found it just as painful as the first change. Perhaps more so, since he felt he hadn’t recovered yet from the last one. When it was over, though, they found themselves laying side-by-side, naked, on the cold wooden floor, and they reached for each other with weak, trembling arms.

“You did so well, my darling,” Remus praised, stroking Harry’s face and neck, his voice a ragged whisper as if his vocal chords were not yet accustomed to being functional again. Harry shivered. The pride he felt at Remus’ approval now was ridiculous, actually triggering tears.

The ordeal had been as exhausting emotionally as it had been physically. Harry felt himself grow steadily weaker while Remus seemed to recover ever so slowly. Finally, the man managed to stagger to his feet and retrieve their clothing. It took a short eternity, but Remus dressed Harry’s shivering form first, and the young man struggled, rather unsuccessfully, to assist. Remus then dressed himself and collapsed back onto the floor beside Harry, wand in hand, and from there cast a signal through the window alerting the others it was safe to come collect them both.

They held each other while they waited, and Harry didn’t need to feel the tenacious new possessiveness in Remus’ embrace to recognise the profound shift that had occurred in their relationship. He knew in his very bones that Remus now owned him, commanded him, and though he trusted the man, it was frightening. Harry still chafed at the concept, and the most stubborn parts of him were already determined to test his new boundaries. But not that morning. Harry was far too tired to rebel just yet.

Chapter Text

“Severus?” Harry called weakly, his eyes not yet even open. He felt an arm wrap around him, but it was too robust to belong to his estranged lover. Harry pried open his eyelids and turned his head to find Remus lying in bed beside him. He stiffened.

“Darling? Are you alright?” Remus croaked, clearly still recovering from the night before. His voice had regained its gentle kindness. His look and touch had softened. Somehow, that made Harry resent them more. It seemed tainted now.

It was difficult to hold onto the feeling, though. The night had been difficult for both of them. Remus was bruised and scraped. The tender flesh beneath one of his eyes was blacked. He wore bandages on the arm that draped across Harry. No doubt, if Harry were to peel back the sheets, he’d find more of them. He could feel that he wore a few himself. He was sore and weak, but not as weak as he might have expected. Harry was healing, in spite of the ordeal. Which made him increasingly dangerous, as Remus was surely aware. It evidenced a profound level of trust that he lay, so weakened himself, this close to Harry. Still, the young man gave him a hard look and turned away.

“You’re angry with me,” Remus sighed, reluctantly withdrawing his arm. Despite his bitterness, Harry mourned its loss.

“Where’s Severus?” Harry asked, in truth feeling more pouty than truly angry.

“He’s in the lab, working on your remedy,” said Remus. Now that the trial of the Full had been passed, there was time enough to devote to it. Harry wondered if Severus would use it as an excuse to stay away, and he suddenly missed him terribly. He was still angry with that man, as well, but the events of the previous night did not lessen his need for him, they merely complicated it.

“I need to talk to him,” Harry rasped. The impulse was so urgent, he would have risen and gone to him if he’d been able. “I need to tell him…”

Harry’s voice broke, became elusive. He needed to explain this thing that had happened, and that he hadn’t really consented, and that he still loved the man, regardless.

“He knows,” Remus said quietly.

Harry looked at him, wondering how much of what Harry’d just been thinking the man might be referring to. Probably all of it, knowing Remus. He knew Harry so well. Harry often suspected Remus knew him better than Harry knew himself. He returned the younger man’s terse gaze mildly, perhaps waiting for condemnation, though Harry still saw no apology in Remus. Harry’s scowl deepened even as he fought the impulse to reach for him. He wanted to be held by Remus, to be petted. He wanted to hear the sound of his voice. He wanted to please him and to be praised by him. Really, none of these impulses were new, but Harry couldn’t help doubting them, wondering if they were natural or if it was all simply the result of the magical fetters he now wore. In the end, he reached for him anyway, unable to fight the urge any longer, though his frown didn’t budge. Remus drew him close, kissed his temple, and sighed into his hair.

“Why would you do this, Remus?” Harry asked, though he squeezed him tighter. “Why would you want something you couldn’t be sure was genuine?”

“You’ll be able to tell the difference, eventually,” Remus assured him. “It’s hard at first, but you’ll learn to sift the impulse from the compulsion.” Harry drew back to look at him, verifying in Remus’ expression the sadness he’d heard in his voice. “It wasn’t entirely selfish, you know, Darling,” he whispered, stroking the young man’s hair. If Harry had been a cat, he would have purred. And then perhaps bitten him. “This thing you are is ferocious. Even after the Claiming, you were a challenge to contain,” Remus explained. “I’m not trying to justify it away. I admit I took liberties. I made decisions on your behalf and without your consent. And I do not deny that my biggest motivation for doing what I did was simply that I wished to. But...I know how much you love Severus,” Remus finished, and Harry thought that his love for another man was a strange explanation for Remus’ creating a lifelong bond with him.

Remus noted Harry’s confusion and sighed. “You are young and strong, Harry. And willful. My position as Alpha is not written in stone. It can change. Possibly, it will change as you master your new powers, and we don’t know if or when that might happen. Mating, however, is inviolable. You will hear my command as my Mate even if you do not respect it as Beta.”

“What does that have to do with Severus?”

“The Dark of the Moon is a dangerous time for new vampires,” said Remus, stroking Harry’s arm as he spoke as if unable to stop himself, drinking in the nearness of him. Harry was just as intoxicated with Remus, and it was difficult to really focus on his words. “Your blood has not yet settled. You’re still emotional and volatile. The bloodlust will peak on the Dark. Your strength will spike. It is a night of madness, as overwhelming as the Wolf on the Full. At least, it is in the very beginning. You will be locked alone in the dungeons with Severus at that time, and it is possible that my command alone will prevent you from killing him.”

Harry sobered. He shivered.

“That is assuming the bloodlust does not eclipse our bond. We aren’t certain yet how effective it might be. But I had to make a decision quickly, as last night would have been the only opportunity to add that safeguard before the Dark. The Claiming only really works when in wolf-form.”

Remus swept his gaze over the young man’s face. He brushed the stray hair from it with his fingertips. “I had many purposes for doing it, Harry, but it was never a question, really. I made up my mind as soon as the necessity occurred to me. Ultimately, I took you because I wanted you,” Remus said, tightening his grip on Harry’s upper arms. His usual, mild-mannered tone faded away, became a dusky whisper, more the Alpha from the night before. Harry trembled, melted against the man, and surrendered as Remus drifted closer and claimed Harry’s lips as his rightful property.

The reasons for it stopped mattering to Harry for a moment. He was overwhelmed with the simple need to submit. Harry opened himself, and Remus devoured him slowly and thoroughly. Harry felt a passing urge to sink his teeth into the tongue that filled his mouth, but he fought it. He was surprised at how much easier it was to resist the urge now. He was reluctant to cause any harm to this man for any reason, which was heartening. Not that he’d been eager to harm him before, he was just better able to control himself as one magical impulse negated the other.

Remus’ hunger seemed to trump his weariness, and he pushed Harry onto his back and slipped on top of him. Harry was set alight. His desire, not Remus’ weight, stole his breath.

“Shall we consummate it, Darling?” he purred, nipping at Harry’s neck. “Or are you still too sore?”

Harry was still bruised and torn from the night before, but he didn’t mind. He’d always preferred a certain amount of pain with his pleasure, which was probably why he and Severus had been so compatible in the bedroom. It wasn’t that Severus was abusive or sadistic, he simply wasn’t inclined to be gentle, and Harry could always persuade him to a certain measure of aggression that he suspected most others would shy from.

Thinking of Severus dampened his enthusiasm. Harry was still yielding but less eager. He knew Remus was asking out of courtesy. Harry could feel that, especially so soon after the Full, he could deny the man nothing.

Though, deep down, Harry knew that the Claiming would not have been necessary in the least for Remus to seduce him now. He had been wanting to get the man into his bed since he woke there after the attack, despite his lingering love for Severus, despite all he had learned about the Potions Master's motivations for pushing Harry away. As Remus had said the night before, Harry was already predisposed to this indiscretion. Remus had just given Harry an excuse to indulge it.

“Bind me,” Harry whispered. He had not yet reconciled himself with the fact that he did not merely accept the situation, he embraced it. He wanted a bit more theatre, a little more help with the illusion that he still fought this. Remus smiled down at him and kissed the end of his nose, reaching to the bedside table to retrieve his wand.

The Incarcerous spell bit into Harry’s wrists just enough as it bound them together and pulled them over his head, securing him to the headboard, setting his heart beating faster. This kind of thing required absolute trust in a partner, and Severus had bound him on several occasions, but Harry still liked the thrill of pretending that anything could happen now, and he would be powerless to stop it.

It seemed an odd thing for him to crave, considering his past. He’d read once that indulging in such a fantasy was empowering for those who had often been made to feel powerless. Something about rewiring the subconscious. Harry didn’t really care about the psychological justification, he just knew he liked to be tied up and fucked, and he could tell by the fierce look on Remus’ face that that was exactly what was about to happen. This wouldn’t be tender and gentle. One day, Harry might like to reverse their roles. In fact, the mental image of Remus, naked, bound and sweaty, made his mouth veritably water. But not today.

Remus balled up their sheets, tossed them to the floor, and then rose to his knees to survey his conquest. He gingerly tested a bruise on Harry’s side, then bent to kiss it when the young man winced. Remus chose the virgin skin next to it to bite--just hard enough to make Harry gasp--before licking away the hurt and admiring the new blemish he’d made. It felt unmistakably as though Remus were marking his territory as he continued to systematically nip and suck, coaxing new stains to the surface of Harry’s pale flesh which were distinct from the ones he’d accrued the night before. Harry writhed, his head pressed back into his pillow while  his neck arched, tugging against the magical ropes that held him but thankful they were there to prevent him from hindering the process.

When he reached it finally, Remus treated Harry’s cock with much more gentleness, and the contrast made Harry’s head swim. He was aching. Aching. And Remus soothed that ache with a talent that had gone unpracticed for too long. There was no doubt he was enjoying the exercise as much as Harry was. 

“Remus,” Harry panted. “May I? Please?”

“No,” Remus replied firmly. Harry whimpered but held off his orgasm, despite that Remus seemed determined to bring him off anyway. When Harry’s whine became truly pitiful, Remus chuckled and took mercy on him. He dipped lowered, applying himself elsewhere.

This was something else Severus had been unwilling to venture. Harry held his breath as Remus’ tongue first made contact with his still-sore opening. Each lap at it seemed an apology for the damage done there, and Harry’s every responding gasp was an acceptance of that apology. It was mindblowing, so different from anything Harry’d experienced before, wonderful and not enough. With wet, probing strokes, Remus stretched Harry gently. But it would never stretch him sufficiently, and Harry was too impatient for fingers.

“Take me, Remus,” Harry panted. “I’m going to tear, regardless. Just...I’m ready.”

“You’re certain?” came the eager response from between his legs. Harry couldn’t even look down at him any longer for fear the sight would finish him, and he’d been commanded not to come.

“For mercy’s sake, just fuck me, will you?” Harry barked.

Remus growled, so dangerously Harry did look at him, almost fearful. “You do not command me, Darling,” Remus said sternly, nonetheless rising to his hands and knees, bringing Harry’s legs up sharply to hook over his shoulders as he did. “Is that understood?”

Harry could not even respond. He just nodded his acquiescence while his heart hammered in his chest. Remus’ look softened even as he grasped Harry roughly by the hips and moved him into position.

Harry had been right. As gently as Remus pressed, Harry still felt himself tear. He smelled his own blood. Far from lessening his desire, the scent drove him to higher reaches of arousal. Thankfully, he was bound and Remus was too far from him to be in any danger, but for the first time, Harry was aware of his fangs lengthening as his appetite for blood was whetted.

Fangs. Gods. He had fangs now.

He was mercifully distracted from the realisation when Remus’ head breached fully, drawing a grimace from him.

Remus paused. “You’re hurting,” he said, concerned.

“Yes. No. Gods,” Harry stammered. “Please, Remus. Don’t stop.”

Remus grinned and continued to press inside. “I might have known,” he said, panting with the effort of controlling his plunge, “I just wasn't sure how far you liked to take it.” Harry whimpered, and Remus groaned when he sank true and held himself there, trembling. “Are you ready, then, Darling?”

Harry moaned in response, and Remus held back nothing.

There were no kisses. They were too dangerous right now, and this was not that kind of encounter. This was all grunting and moaning while Harry grasped at the ropes that held him as if for dear life. This was the steady slap of flesh on flesh as the pain transmuted into something sublime and overwhelming.

“Remus," Harry keened, gasping.

“No,” the man growled, answering the unvoiced question, “not yet.” He increased his assault, and Harry cried out in response. Despite the prohibition, Harry would not last much longer.

Somehow, over the complaints of the bed frame and his own throaty moans, Harry heard the whoosh of the floo downstairs. He attempted to quiet himself, biting his lip to stifle his moans to muted grunts and whimpers.

“Remus, stop,” he managed to whisper. “Severus...”

“Yes?” Remus replied, never slowing, obviously unconcerned.

“He...he’s here,” Harry gasped. The comment allowed a moan to escape unbidden. He could hear Severus on the stair now.

“I know,” said Remus, thrusting harder so that the resulting clap would have been unmistakable even to someone without vampiric hearing.

“Remus, please,” Harry begged, his face reddening even further with embarrassment.

“Perhaps he’ll join us,” Remus rasped, and Harry tried and failed to prevent the moan that rose at that suggestion.

“H-he...he’d never…” Harry muttered, near senseless as Remus continued to drill him relentlessly, knowing Severus was still there, that Severus was just outside the door, listening.

“You don’t think he could be persuaded? You know, I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate your attraction to Severus. It may be an acquired taste, but I understand it. He has a manner about him, doesn’t he?” Remus said, speaking almost conversationally despite his need to pause occasionally to gasp.

“Oh, gods,” was all Harry could manage, his head falling back on his pillow. He closed his eyes and imagined the other man. Harry had had to touch him to really see him, and he could still clearly remember the dark of the dungeon where Harry had first mapped the contours of Severus’ face with his fingertips. He’d mapped and memorised much, much more since. A part of him bristled at the idea of anyone else daring to touch his Severus. But things were different now. Remus was different. And the thought of his Mate caressing his Lover sent Harry over the edge.

“Fuck. Severus,” Harry shuddered, spilling over his own stomach. He gasped when he realised what he’d said, was almost afraid of what Remus’ reaction might be. But the man atop him, who still fucked him steadily, merely chuckled.

“Yes, I’m sure you will, Darling. But me first,” he growled, adjusting his position. He rose to his knees with Harry’s draped over the crooks of his arms. Harry heard Severus retreat down the stairs, but he could not concentrate on it.

Remus made short work of it, coming with a moan that Harry couldn’t help but answer with one of his own, despite being spent. Remus’ weariness caught up with him then, and he dropped Harry’s legs to dangle on either side of his waist when he straightened, pressing his hips forward and using Harry to prop himself upright. He threw his head back with a satisfied sigh, still deeply anchored in the young man.

Harry couldn’t pull his eyes from the sight of Remus’ long, exposed neck, the contour of the underside of his jaw, his heaving chest. He glistened, looked wanton and sated and gorgeous. His scars and wounds did not mar him but instead seemed to perfect him. Remus was so gloriously him, and unapologetically so. Harry shivered knowing he could have this man forever if he wanted him, and he couldn’t imagine ever not.

Remus picked his head up and tipped it forward, his sandy hair falling in haphazard, sweat-soaked pieces to frame his face, almost like a lion’s mane. He studied Harry through his fringe, all of the young man, and his gaze was sharp and his expression fierce. Harry loved that sex brought out this wildness in Remus. As endearing as his meek kindness was at other times, this look is what made a lover. It was addictive. Harry wanted Remus to look at him this way always.

“Magnificent,” Remus whispered with a sigh, cocking his head to the side. He made no move to withdraw himself as he reached down to stroke the skin of Harry’s stomach, fingering the marks he’d made with loving fingers. Harry was putty, was contentedly possessed...until he heard Severus stirring downstairs.

Harry blushed thinking about what the man had overheard, wondering what he thought of it. He was conflicted knowing Severus had heard Harry call out his name as another man had fucked him.

Remus read the discomfort on Harry’s face. He glanced to the door and heaved a sigh, carefully removing himself at last and lowering Harry gently back to the mattress, still bound. Harry knew he looked thoroughly debauched and Remus drank in the sight wistfully. Though they had technically finished, Remus surely felt Severus’ continued presence was an interruption. There was cuddling to be done, and now it would have to wait.

“He’s waiting for me,” Remus told Harry apologetically, climbing off the bed to find his pyjamas and dressing gown. He moved slowly and stiffly now that there was no lust to oil his aching joints. He did not, however, cover the young man or remove his bonds, which Harry secretly loved. Remus only bent to kiss him gently before turning to the door and stepping quietly through it.

He did not go to the sitting room, where Harry could hear Severus pacing. He went instead to the kitchen, and within minutes Harry could smell the familiar scent of tea steeping. It wasn’t long before Severus became impatient and met Remus there.

“I’d offer you a cup, but…” Remus said off-handedly. Their voices still carried easily through the walls to Harry’s now hyper-sensitive ears.

“You are a beast,” Severus answered scathingly.

“As you are so fond of reminding me,” Remus sighed.

“He could not possibly be recovered. You clearly took advantage of your sway over him.” Severus' voice was low and angry.

“I didn’t hear him complaining, did you? Since you were listening, that is.”

“Well, aren’t you smug? Tell me, was it even necessary? Or did you simply see your opportunity and seize it?”

“Can’t it be both?” Remus asked wearily. Harry heard a tea cup being set on the tabletop and the sound of a chair being pulled out. Remus had to be exhausted. It showed in his voice and the slow sounds of his movements. “Let me tell you, Severus,” he said sincerely, “it was more than necessary. It almost was not enough. But that doesn’t mean you’ll wring any remorse from me for what happened. A tragedy has occurred and this is the new truth of our situation, and the sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll make Harry.”

“Make Harry happy? As if you even care. I pushed him out of my arms and into those of a predator,” he muttered ruefully.

“Harry’s feelings for me are genuine,” Remus insisted, sounding angry now himself, “whether you like it or not. They existed before, and he won’t always be bound by the magic. He’s strong enough to resist it--eventually--and you are well aware. This hold I have over him is temporary. He may feel the pull all his life, but that by no means guarantees he’ll heed it.” Remus sounded almost bitter. “His feelings for you are genuine, as well, Severus. It doesn’t matter that you’ve decided they aren’t in his best interest. That is a bond he forged himself, of his own choosing. Your reticence hurts him. You cannot slink away to sulk over me being in his bed. Harry needs you. And even when he does no longer, you will never, ever be rid of him, Severus. He will never let you go. Even if you manage to subdue his symptoms, even if you give him a real chance at a different life, he won’t take it. He’ll forever come back to you. I’ve made peace with that. It’s time you attempted to, as well.”

“So, what? We’re meant to be One Big Happy now, are we?” Severus said sardonically.

“Would that really be so terrible?” Remus asked, plaintively. “Severus, have you ever truly examined why you hate me? Or have you let your condition make your mind up for you? I overcame my magical aversion to you long ago.”

“Even if I had no other reason before, you’ve given me plenty of new ones.”

“You know perfectly well that if Harry had not been attacked, this would never have happened. If there had been another way, I would never have considered it. If he were still healthy and unsullied, I’d ring that Conners bastard myself and arrange a date for the two of them tomorrow. But that is not the reality we live in any longer,” said Remus, his voice rising. It was a rare occurrence. “I did what I had to, and it just so happens that it was not a hardship for me. You might remind yourself that, in a couple of weeks' time, my actions may very well save your life.”

“I’d almost rather be drained on the Dark than to see the love of my life ‘mated’ to another,” Severus hissed, so quietly Harry almost could not catch it, despite his supernatural hearing.

The love of my life.

Harry allowed himself to savour the comment. He let it echo in his mind, memorising every nuance of inflexion. He had known, but hearing the words was healing. Still, they had not yet been spoken to Harry, and until they were, he could not forgive the man. But this would make it so much easier when the time came. If it came.

“You’d really curse him with that guilt?” Remus demanded, waking Harry from his meditation. “You would really rather let him kill you, force him to carry that weight for the rest of his life, just because you’re being made to share him at the moment? Now who’s being selfish, Severus?”

“Well, it seems you’ve potentially saved us all from that misery, then. Hail the conquering hero,” Severus spat. Harry heard the flap of his robes, could imagine the man spinning on his heel to sweep from the room as Harry had seen him do countless times before. Severus’ boots clicked to the sitting room where he flooed away. Harry was sad that the situation had to be left at that for the moment, but it could have been much worse, and Harry wasn’t yet ready to face him after all this.

Harry heard Remus sigh heavily, then a moment later, he heard the sound of an empty tea cup being set smartly on the table before Remus made his way back to him. He stood in Harry’s doorway appearing far less confident or content than when he’d left. He looked at Harry, still bound and cum-slicked, and the man looked almost sorry. Harry didn’t want him to be. He wouldn’t have taken it back for anything. Severus’ arrival had been unfortunate, but it didn’t entirely sully the experience for Harry.

Remus' frown persisted while he waved his wand, scouring the young man and removing his bonds with the same stroke, before retrieving their blankets. Gratifyingly, Remus still shed his pyjamas before climbing back into bed where Harry reached for him with hungry arms.

I forgive you, Remus,” he whispered when the man’s scowl did not fade.

“I know, my darling,” he said softly as Harry tucked his head beneath Remus’ chin. “I had thought I’d forgiven myself. But that might take more time, after all.”

Chapter Text

Harry sat up in bed--woken, ironically, by the quiet of his room. He looked to Remus’ side of the mattress and found it empty and cold. Harry was alone.

For some reason, it made him anxious. He hadn’t been left alone since before the attack. Harry listened but could hear nothing. Though, it was difficult to hear anything above the pounding of his heart. He realised he was dangerously close to hyperventilating and made an effort to quiet his breathing, beating down his strange and unexpected panic. He tested the air.

He smelled Remus. But then, Remus’ scent was everywhere, including on him and the sheets. That observation that made him feel even more lonely, but he kept questing. Harry thought he smelled tea, though not freshly made; and he did smell Remus, not the ghost of Remus’ presence, somewhere downstairs.

Then Harry heard it: the turning of a page, the quiet whisper of fingertips on parchment. There was also the barely detectable pulse of Remus’ heartbeat, and Harry heaved a sigh of relief. It called to him, as it did always now.

Harry felt an urgent need to get out of bed. He didn’t entirely trust his legs to carry him, but he swung them out over the edge of the mattress anyway. He reached for the desk in the corner, staggering like a newborn calf, to retrieve the dressing gown tossed carelessly across it. He’d have preferred real clothes, but he was not up for that challenge on his own yet.

Once on the landing, Harry noticed that the drapes had been drawn throughout the house and that all the lights were dimmed. It was sombre, almost as oppressively dark as before they had started redecorating. It was a relief to his sensitive eyes, though, and a clear indication that he was expected to move about the house. Harry considered the stairs for a long moment, daunted by the seemingly endless, twisting stretch of them, and he cursed that he’d chosen a bedroom on the third floor. He was tempted to return to bed, but Remus was downstairs, and Harry was alone, and he found it unbearable.

Each step was exhausting. Though Harry struggled down them largely without complaint, he heard Remus hear him. Harry heard him pause and set his book aside. This was clearly a test, and Harry was determined to pass it.

A short eternity later, he cleared the last step, winded and unable to let go of the bannister. He looked to the sitting room to find Remus reading and pretending not to notice Harry’s presence as he sipped his long-cold tea. The pretence annoyed Harry a bit, but he wasn’t sure what he wanted or had expected. That Remus would clap him on, telling him he was a good boy? Actually, that thought made him embarrassingly giddy, as though he wanted to wag a tail he didn’t presently have. The ease with which even such childish praise would please him annoyed Harry even more. It was better this way, with Remus pretending, else Harry would be forced to discover he had no dignity left at all.

Remus did not look up until Harry had shuffled all the way into the room to lean against the sofa on which he sat.

“Harry! You’re up and about,” he smiled, sounding so delighted it was almost as patronising as clapping would have been. Harry rolled his eyes but returned the smile despite himself, and Remus grinned more broadly, knowing he’d been seen through.

“Come sit down and rest, Darling. I’m impressed. Really. I expected you to call for me halfway down.”

He was spent but, instead of the sofa, Harry sank to the floor in front of Remus, working his way between the man’s feet to curl there and rest his head on Remus’ knee. He heard his Mate chuckle fondly, then he felt Remus’ hand stroking his hair. Harry hugged the man’s leg and sighed. He was content. The journey from the bedroom had been worth every step to find himself here now, being petted with Remus’ fresh scent all around him. They sat quietly like that for a long while. Remus idly raked his fingers through Harry’s hair while he continued to read, occasionally nursing his tea. Eventually, Remus set down his book and applied both hands to the task of lazily combing through Harry’s unruly locks.

Harry almost drifted off to sleep. He was so relaxed, he barely noticed the sound of the floo. It was Severus’ spicy scent that woke him. The man marinated in the combined smells of all the various potions ingredients he worked with. It was a cologne Harry knew well. It clung to Severus even after he bathed. Now, with Harry’s enhanced sense of smell, the scent was fascinating, as was the exercise of identifying and excluding each individual ingredient to try and pinpoint that one subtle, elusive scent that was Severus himself. Harry was distracted with doing just that, and with the continued, sedative sensation of Remus’ fingers at his scalp, when Severus stepped up behind the sofa and spluttered his indignation.

“For fuck’s sake. You knew I was coming,” he hissed. “On the bloody sofa? Have you no sense of decenc-”

Harry sat up and gave Severus a questioning look as the man angrily rounded the end of the couch and stopped cold. He looked flustered, a rare blush tinting his ashen cheeks. From the hearth, all Severus had been able to discern was that Harry’s head was in Remus’ lap, and Harry blushed when he realised what the man had assumed he had been doing.

“Severus,” Remus greeted mildly, ignoring the outburst, “you’re early.”

Despite the courtesy shown him, Severus gave Remus a nasty look. “What is he doing here?” he demanded, still flustered, pointing at Harry but not looking at him, which annoyed the young man.

Remus sighed and looked down at Harry and then back to Severus. “It appears he’s sitting on the floor, Severus.” It was just shy of deadpan.

“Don’t be obtuse,” Severus sneered. “Why is he out of bed?”

“I assume, because he felt like getting out of it,” Remus replied with just a touch of exasperation.

“You assume? Are you implying you had nothing to do with-”

“You two do realise I’m sitting right here,” Harry interjected, drawing their respective attentions. “And that I’m an adult, and not mute, and that I can speak for myself, right?”

Both of them had the decency to look slightly shamefaced. “I’m sorry, Darling,” Remus murmured.

Severus scowled at the pet name. “I am here to supervise your feeding, Harry,” he explained quietly. His tone was impersonal, and he had a hard time meeting the young man’s eye. Harry was saddened by the behaviour but nodded his understanding.

“Bedroom, then?”

Severus nodded as well, blushing again, and Harry sighed, not knowing what to do about this awkwardness that insisted on growing between them. Everything was so unbearably complicated.

“I’ll need help,” Harry admitted. “The stairs have spent me.”

Severus shot Remus a dirty look, apparently for having allowed the stairs to spend the young man, but Remus took no notice as he helped Harry to his feet. Once there, however, Harry politely shrugged off the werewolf and reached for the Potions Master instead.

“Severus?” he asked timidly, “May I?” Even as he said it, Harry felt his stomach sink, hating that he now felt the need to ask for permission before touching Severus. At least he didn’t feel the need to ask that permission from Remus, as he'd been half afraid he might, considering he was now tethered.

Severus looked surprised, but he shook it off quickly. His manner was somewhere between reverent and restive when he stepped forward to offer Harry his one arm to hold as he wrapped the other around the young man’s shoulder to gently guide him. Harry leaned into him. It seemed forever since Severus had really touched him, or since he had touched Severus. Harry sighed, allowing himself to savour the embrace for just a moment before setting his sights on the staircase. Harry did not look to see Remus’ reaction. He reminded himself it didn’t matter, that he was not actually owned by the man, though the bond was too fresh for him to quite believe it yet.

Severus had not treated Harry so delicately since their escape from the Malfoys’ dungeons, but he had held Harry in exactly this way then. At the time, he had been just as weak as Harry was now. They didn’t speak as Severus patiently helped him up each step, and Harry would have been unable to maintain a conversation, anyway. Remus hovered behind, anxious at their slow progress, clearly wanting to help in some way, but there was nothing for him to do. Harry could tell that Severus wanted to simply scoop him up and sweep him up the stair, but Harry was determined to make it back to his room on his own feet. Besides, at the end of their journey, there would be blood, and Harry was frightened by his eagerness for it. It would replenish him, but he wanted to wear himself out as thoroughly as he could before he took it, afraid of his growing strength and what it might mean for all three of them.

By the time they reached his bed, Harry was sweating--had vowed to himself never to leave the messy nest of sheets and blankets ever again. The atmosphere was tense, but he was almost too drained to care. Neither man spoke as Severus unsheathed the bloodletting knife. Remus rolled back his sleeve. Harry’s mouth watered in anticipation while he watched them.

Remus, more accustomed to the ritual now, took the knife from Severus with no hesitation. He did not even wince when he carefully opened his finger. The cut was tiny, barely a puncture, but Harry caught the scent and stretched his mouth toward the wound. Remus, however, made no move to approach him. He regarded Harry for a moment while the young man writhed, his hunger almost overwhelming. Then, Remus looked down at the knife he held and polished it on his trouser leg before holding it up for Harry the way Severus had done before.

“Were you aware they did that when you scent blood?” he asked Harry curiously. The young man glanced at his reflection in the knife blade and saw what Remus was referring to. Harry’s pupils were so dilated that his eyes were practically black. Severus’ did much the same thing when he fed, but his eyes were already so dark that the change was almost unnoticeable. Harry didn’t care about that, though. All he cared about was the red beading on the tip of the finger Remus still held close to his own body. Harry fixed his sight on it again and moaned.

Lupin,” Severus admonished, as confused as Harry was by the man’s toying.

“He must learn discipline,” Remus commented calmly over his shoulder. He licked away the blood on his finger himself, which almost brought Harry to tears, before sealing the cut with balm.

“It isn’t strictly a matter of self-control,” Severus argued mildly. His eyes, too, had dilated but were quickly returning to normal now that Remus’ wound was healed.

“In that case, you don’t have much hope on the Dark, now do you?” said Remus, turning to him. “We have to try to condition him as soon as possible, Severus.”

Severus looked uncomfortable but nodded, and Remus took a seat on the bed, giving Harry a stern but trusting look.

The young man was already exhausted by the ordeal. His head swam. He knew Remus was not teasing him out of cruelty, but that didn’t make it any less taxing. Finally, Remus took the knife and made a real, significant cut to his wrist and lowered it to Harry’s lips. His body responded immediately. The rapture was instantaneous. He tried to stop them, but his hands rose of their own volition. His lust consumed him, and all Harry could focus on was the blood. Severus pulled out his wand to cast Incarcerous.

“No,” Remus said quietly, shaking his head at the man. Severus lowered his wand, clearly apprehensive, and Remus turned back to Harry.

“Put your hands down,” he ordered the young man.

Harry whimpered, his chest heaving with the effort of obeying, or of attempting to. His hands hovered in the air inches from Remus’ arm, wanting to seize it.

“Harry, put your arms at your sides. Now,” Remus said more firmly. Harry felt the command in his very bones. Despite the liquid fire pouring down his throat, Harry’s head cleared by degrees. He forced his arms to his side, though they trembled.

“Such a good boy,” Remus whispered, his tone purely praising with no hint of condescension. Neither was there any in his touch when he stroked Harry’s head. It effected Harry practically like a drug. Finally, he relaxed. He nursed the wound calmly, feeling himself strengthening but no longer afraid if it. He didn’t allow himself to break eye contact with Remus the entire time he fed, drawing most of his willpower from the strength of the man’s gaze.

When Remus moved to reclaim his arm, Harry had a momentary lapse in control, but all it took was a sharp look from Remus to send Harry’s hands slowly back to his sides. Remus nodded approvingly. He sealed his cut, and finally, blessedly, the need for self-restraint evaporated. Even his arousal, which Harry had hardly noticed, faded with no need of further attention. Harry melted into his mattress, physically rejuvenated but spent entirely in every other way.

Remus turned to Severus with an expression that seemed to say, ‘You see now?’ And Severus did look impressed. His bitterness appeared to have dissolved.

“Well,” he said quietly, clearing his throat, “I’ll let you get some rest now, Harry.”

“Don’t go,” Harry begged as Severus made his way to the door.

He paused, looking stricken, and glanced uneasily at Remus. “Harry, I have to work on your serum. And I still have other responsibilities,” he explained apologetically. Harry understood the urgency of Severus’ work, but that didn’t make him any less disappointed. He wished he were well enough to follow him. It wouldn’t be the first time Harry’d lazed on Severus’ cot while the man worked, not needing to interact, just wanting to be near him.

“Will you come back?” Harry asked hopefully.

Severus’ expression softened into something like longing. “As soon as I can,” he promised. And then he was gone, and Harry’s heart went with him.

Harry felt tears well in his eyes. His emotions were still and increasingly unstable. He felt Remus take his hand. He was almost surprised to find the man was still there and blushed. But Remus’ look held no judgement or condemnation, only sympathy. Harry allowed Remus to stretch out beside him. His touch was comforting and in no way provocative.

“It won’t be like this forever, Harry,” Remus whispered. “We’ll work it all out. You’ll see.”

Harry nodded, letting his tears flow as they pleased. He pulled the man closer and, in moments, Harry fell asleep again, snug in Remus’ arms.

Chapter Text

Harry’s eyes shot open at the sound of the floo.

He knew instantly that Remus was gone again, downstairs. Harry could smell the evidence of supper--bangers and mash, Harry’s favourite. Or rather, his previous favourite. To his immense chagrin, the smell soured his stomach now. The meal seemed to have been finished for a while, though Harry listened as Severus’ weary step carried him to the kitchen where Remus apparently still lingered.

“How is he?” he asked, remarkably devoid of venom.

“Sleeping,” Remus replied, even-toned as well. “Have a seat, Severus,” he offered. It was more than polite, it was friendly. To Harry’s surprise, he heard Severus do just that, but he couldn’t tell if Severus was reluctant or merely tired. “Pity you don’t take Firewhisky,” Remus went on, accompanied by the clink of glass and the thunk of a bottle being set on the table, “You look like you could use one.”

Severus grunted in concession of that fact while Remus apparently poured a glass of it for himself. They were silent long enough for Remus to finish his drink and pour another. Then, when they did speak, somehow, they managed to speak at the same time. “I’m sorry, Severus,” Remus whispered, just as the other man muttered, “I’d like to apologise.”

Harry sat up in bed, straining his ear, unable yet to believe what he’d just heard. They had shocked one another back into silence, which was broken when Remus let slip a short, surprised chuckle a moment later.

“No, no,” he went on, a poorly repressed smile in his voice. “You first.” 

Mr. Manners, Harry thought, grinning to himself. He heard Severus grumble under his breath, but the man managed to screw up his resolve once more.

“I may have misjudged the necessity and the effectiveness of...what happened on the Full,” he murmured. Harry was amazed. Perhaps he should have given Severus more credit, but he really never thought he’d ever hear the man apologise to Remus Lupin for anything, much less this. Harry couldn’t prevent himself from rolling out of bed and creeping to the landing to listen more closely.

“It’s clear to me now that it is as much to Harry’s advantage as it is to yours or mine,” he went on, less grudgingly. “When Loraina and I were infected, nothing on Earth could have calmed our bloodlust that way in the first week, though such a thing was fervently prayed for at the time. So, for that, thank you,” he said softly.

Harry very nearly fell over the railing. Though it was undoubtedly galling, Severus had just thanked Remus for fucking Harry on the Full. But of course, it was much, much more than that. It was Severus valuing Harry’s well-being beyond his own peace of mind, his placing Harry’s comfort above Severus’ inclination for possessiveness, and the young man was terribly moved. He could hear his awe matched in Remus’ voice when the man responded, along with ample amounts of respect and sincerity.

“I’d like to apologise as well, Severus. I’ve been insensitive of your feelings. And of Harry’s. Our new situation is complicated in the extreme and requires more delicacy than I’ve treated it with thus far. And for that, I’m truly sorry. Though I won’t promise such a thing will never happen between Harry and me again,” he admitted, “I do promise more discretion on my part.”

Harry knew Severus couldn’t possibly be satisfied with the apology, but he seemed to accept it graciously enough. Truly, though, it was the circumstances that were unsatisfactory, and they could not now be changed. Harry imagined they were all three reflecting on what the future might hold.

“In lieu of a drink, how about a game of chess?” Remus proposed, perhaps hoping to build on their recent truce.

Severus scoffed. “Too messy.”

“Muggle chess?” Remus amended. “Much quieter, more relaxing.”

“Less juvenile?” Severus proposed wryly.

“Something like that,” Remus said with a soft laugh. Severus, however, apparently declined, as Harry heard no evidence of the board being set up. They were silent for so long that Harry was about to succumb to the tempting but equally intimidating urge to make his way downstairs to them. Before he could work up the gumption, Remus spoke, and so Harry seated himself on the landing and leaned back against the bannister to continue to eavesdrop.

“So, explain something to me. Harry can take my blood but not yours?”

“He could take it, but it would not abate his thirst. The same magic robs both our blood of vitality, making us crave it from others. There’s none in mine to sate his. Not that he wouldn’t enjoy the taste,” Severus added.

“Makes sense. Could you take his?”

“I don’t know,” Severus sighed, sounding decidedly dejected. Harry knew they would both miss the ritual and the intimacy it involved. “There are so many things we don’t yet know about his condition. There are several aspects to consider, however,” he said, settling into the voluntary-lecture voice Harry knew so well. The young man was, perhaps, the only one familiar with it. “We are not toxic to him because his infections have been engineered to bypass the reaction, but whether that works both ways is something we will only discover with experimentation,” he said, warming up to the subject.

Harry had learned years ago that the best way to get Severus to relax and actually conversate was to bring up his work. The man loved an excuse to elaborate on the intricacies of what he did. Harry wondered if Remus realised this and had brought it up purposefully for that reason, or if he really was interested in all the details. Quite possibly it was both. But Harry knew better than Severus that Remus was wilier than he seemed at first glance. If Severus suspected the subtle, well-meaning manipulation, he didn’t let on.

“It could be that the immunity is one-sided and he is toxic to us both. Or if he is not toxic to us, then the concern is whether he is contagious. If he bites you, will you contract vampirism? A modified version adapted to co-exist with your condition as it does with his? Or if he attacks me, will I contract lycanthropy? I didn’t treat you,” said Severus, sounding as if he shuddered at the thought, “but I gather that there is ample reason to suspect that he did, indeed, bite you during the Full.”

“Oh. He bit me, alright,” Remus confirmed. Though the man chuckled lightheartedly, Harry’s face burned with shame. “I’d show you the wound, but we aren’t that familiar yet.”

It was the ‘yet’ that broke through Harry’s guilt and forced him to stifle a laugh. It was just shy of flirtatious. He could tell Severus caught it as well because he sounded subtly flustered when he answered.

“Still, that’s no guarantee of immunity,” he went on, ignoring the insinuation. “Because, as you know, not every bite results in infection. It is encouraging, however. I strongly suspect he is not a danger to us beyond his physical strength and volatility. The problem is,” he sighed, “this was not my serum. My formula was infectious only to those who consumed the potion. The hybrid I designed would not be able to reproduce, not transmit their infections in any way. But I do not know what these monsters have engineered. I do not know exactly how it works or what methods were used. Pinpointing the particulars will take time and testing, though I have made progress.”

Remus didn’t respond straight away, apparently mulling over what Severus had just told him. He posed another question but seemed to have trouble gathering his thoughts.

“Severus, I’ve been thinking. Your original formula…”

“What?” Severus sounded impatient with Remus’ hesitation.

“Well, how did you manage to work it out so quickly? It sounds to me as if you were on the verge of something. Something far more important than making monsters. But research like this takes a lifetime.”

“I’d been working on it for years,” Severus confirmed.

“Not the hybrid potion,” Remus clarified.

“No. A vaccine.”

“For vampirism?”

“For both, really,” Severus admitted. “After I began brewing Wolfsbane for you when you were first appointed at Hogwarts, I saw similarities in the mechanisms of the infections and it illuminated my research into my own condition in some ways.”

“You had to have made real progress,” Remus pressed.

“It still eludes me,” Severus lamented. “I’m nowhere near a cure, and I highly doubt such a thing is even possible. But both the Wolfsbane and the Substisanguinus potions can be further perfected. Both provide clues to mitigating the expression of their respective infections, and I believe there might even be a way to inoculate the uninfected. More work needs to be done--is being done. Harry’s serum may help to unlock it. Or vise versa.”

“Think of the lives you could save, Severus,” Remus whispered, clearly impressed and sounding overwhelmed by the possibilities, “the lives you could change for the better.”

“It has occurred to me,” Severus muttered drolly, but Harry could hear the gratification in his voice. Severus was not modest about his talent, but praise for it was rare and hard won, simply because so few understood the skill involved. Most people thought Potions Making was merely a matter of following recipes, and that thinking up new ones was a triviality. Harry knew better, but it had taken years of watching the man work to appreciate it fully. Remus, however, grasped enough that his respect, too, could be valued by the Potions Master.

“You’d go down in history, Severus,” Remus went on.

“We already have,” Severus pointed out, his voice laced with dark humour. Remus sighed, almost as if the concept was beyond him.

“Bit weird, isn’t it?” he mused confidentially, “Knowing they’re printing your name in history books. Harry’s, no doubt, had time to get used to the idea. I still haven’t quite internalised it yet, though.”

“Well, unless I succeed in this breakthrough, I feel those books will treat you far more kindly than me.”

“The world will come around in time,” Remus assured him, quiet but confident. “The contribution you made to the war cannot go unsung forever, Severus. But for you, Harry would never have succeeded. Our resistance would not have managed to leave the ground. Deeds like that have a way of coming to light. It may still be too close for most to see objectively but, in time, people will come to appreciate the fullness of your valour.”

It was said offhandedly, as if it were unequivocal. Severus did not reply. Harry could imagine that his expression was likely as stunned as Harry’s own, and probably accompanied by a healthy blush. But it was true. Harry may have killed Voldemort, but Severus won the war. Which was why Harry had always been uncomfortable with the recognition he received and bitter at the criticism Severus endured. More than anyone could possibly know, if not for Severus, Harry would have failed, and the world would have fallen with him. Severus, however, had never sought any validation, had never cared to politely point out the importance of his contribution. Those whose opinion mattered to him already understood, and he had never bothered to set the record straight for anyone else. Which Remus gently brought to his attention.

“You could write a memoir, you know,” he suggested.

Severus dismissed the idea out-of-hand. “I think I’d rather be remembered for my contributions to science and medicine than for my skills in espionage,” he sighed. “Wouldn’t you?”

“You know, Severus,” Remus said thoughtfully after a pause, “I think I finally appreciate why Harry is in love with you.”

The comment was surprising, and surprisingly gratifying to Harry. And it was just like Remus to voice such a thing, as well. Plainly. Boldly. It was one of the traits that distinguished him as a Gryffindor, as deceptively unassuming as he seemed most of the time. Others might have thought it, reflected on it, but Remus simply spoke it, throwing it out to let others make of it what they would.

“I, uh, think I’ll just...go and check on him,” Severus murmured, discomfited and unsure how to respond to such a comment. Harry had no doubt Remus was highly amused.

Harry wasn’t prepared to admit his own bit of espionage. He preferred to hold the conversation he’d just overheard close, not wanting Severus to worry over Harry’s opinion of it in order to allow the man the opportunity to develop his own. And so, when Harry heard Severus push back his chair, he struggled to his feet, tiptoeing back to his bed while Severus climbed the stair. He was tucked back in, feigning sleep, when Severus stepped softly into the room. Harry heard his faint sigh, felt his presence at the side of the bed, and savoured Severus’ light touch when he brushed the hair from Harry’s forehead to lay a feathery kiss there. Severus lingered for only a moment to watch Harry breathe before slipping out again as quietly as he came.

Chapter Text

Harry sat at the small table in his room and laid his hands flat on its surface, feeling the raised pattern that decorated the top of it. He knew he hadn’t used it since Ron died, but when he stopped to consider it, he realised he hadn’t played chess at all in that time. He was never very good at it. He was impulsive and impatient, had a hard time playing the long game, was truly abysmal at foreseeing any consequence that was not immediate. But then, Ron had been equally terrible, and so the games were relatively even matched. If Harry were to ever challenge Severus or Remus, though, he knew he’d be out of his depth. He also knew this was a truth that extended beyond the chessboard.

It occurred to Harry that it was probably his exaggerated and tumultuous emotions that were to blame for this particular reflection, but he couldn’t fathom how he’d won such a deep and tenacious love from each of them. He felt unworthy of it.

How many times had Harry overheard Severus, unbeknownst to him, criticise Dumbledore for clinging to a belief in Harry’s dubious exceptionalism? How many times had the man enumerated examples of Harry’s ineptitude to his face before they became lovers? What did he see in Harry beyond a youthful body and willingness? And Remus...did the man really see more in him than his mother’s eyes, his father’s face, and their mutual loss? How was any of it enough for the two of them that they would go to such lengths for the boy?

And Harry felt like a boy: scared and selfish and unseasoned. He felt like he was finally old enough to recognise his youth, to recognise true maturity and know he did not possess it. Yet, here were these men, each remarkable in their own way, who fought over and sacrificed for him. Surely their devotion was better spent elsewhere? Perhaps, even, on each other. Harry knew they were far more compatible than they realised or wanted to admit. All Harry knew about dealing with Severus’ difficult moods he’d learned from Remus’ example. And who could better appreciate the burdens Severus carried than Remus? Who better to check Remus’ stoic pride with blunt realism than Severus?

Remus hadn’t shared Harry’s bed the night before, and waking up without him had been depressing, had undoubtedly triggered these insecurities, which his rising madness could not contain. Harry knew it was his irrational mood swings--the particularly self-deprecating frame of mind he’d woken up in--that made him wonder if they both wouldn’t be better off if Harry just disappeared. But knowing it was irrational and convincing his emotions of the fact were two very different things. His feelings didn’t care what his brain was telling him. They seemed determined to smother him, to drown him in their shifting tides.

Surely Severus and Remus would seek succour in each other, Harry reasoned, if he were suddenly absent. Their progress the night before was heartening. There had to be a way to bring them closer together. And then, if Harry didn’t make it through this after all, if he chose not to, they wouldn’t be alone after he’d gone.

“Darling, you’re up,” Remus said brightly from the doorway, waking Harry from his thoughts. He hadn’t even noticed the man’s approach, but now that he was present, Harry heard his heartbeat like a subliminal summons and, for the first time, he detected the faintest hint of his blood on the air despite that Remus' skin was unbroken. Harry’s hunger stirred. He wondered if his eyes had darkened. He wondered if his mild arousal was as evident in his expression as it was elsewhere, out of sight.

Harry didn’t answer him straight away. He regarded Remus, remarking to himself on the inexplicable sureness that infused his every movement in quiet, unobtrusive ways, the easy self-possession with which he carried himself. His eyes were gentle and kind, but if one looked closer, it was impossible not to see the fire behind them. Harry knew he loved Remus for reasons that had nothing to do with the Full. He knew he was tied to him in a fashion that didn’t involve magic, desired him in ways that went beyond the thirst which made his position in his chair suddenly uncomfortable.

“Darling, are you alright?” Remus asked, worried by Harry’s silence and his sad, serious stare. He took a seat at the table across from him and draped a hand over the one Harry had left laying on its surface, but Harry shied from his touch. Remus looked down at the reticent hand, and the crease in his brow deepened. Despite Harry’s reluctance, he took it up in both of his.

“Harry, you’re hurt,” he remarked with concern, examining the angry red stripe that coloured the top of Harry’s hand, highlighting the scar there that reminded him he mustn’t tell lies. It wasn’t the reason Harry had shied, but the young man allowed Remus to believe it anyway.

“There was a gap in the curtains,” Harry explained quietly. The soft sunlight of dawn had found its way through Harry’s window that morning and fallen on him while he slept, and he’d woken to a blistering pain, accompanied by a sense of futility. He felt so fragile to be such a fearsome thing.

Remus retrieved the balm that stayed now on Harry’s bedside table and applied it to the burn, gently massaging away the pain and redness. While Remus concentrated on his task, Harry concentrated on Remus.

“Severus was here last night,” Harry whispered, surprising the man into meeting his eye.

“Yes. He came to visit as he promised,” Remus assured him, perhaps assuming Harry’s melancholy was to do with Severus’ absence. He wasn’t entirely wrong. “But he didn’t want to disturb you. And he had more work to do, what with end of term and your serum. He’s very busy, but he promised to return again for our feeding, at the very latest.” Remus smiled at him encouragingly.

“You like him.” Harry’d said it plainly, with no jealousy or condemnation, no teasing or judgement.

Remus blushed and gave a short laugh, grinning self-consciously. “Despite myself,” he admitted.

“Despite him,” Harry corrected with a small smile of his own, and Remus laughed outright. Harry loved the sound.

“I think you bring out the best in him,” said Remus, still holding Harry’s hand.

The young man scoffed. “I bring out the worst in him for the best reasons,” he clarified.

“You make him a better man,” Remus whispered in agreement, smiling fondly at Harry, but Harry shook his head.

“He’s always been that man. I’m just the lens that allows you to see it.”

Remus gave him a thoughtful look, considering either Harry’s words or his philosophical mood, or both. “You seem to be feeling stronger. Would you like to go downstairs? I imagine you’re tired of this room.”

Harry shook his head again. “Come to bed with me,” he sighed, squeezing Remus’ hand. The werewolf's eyes dilated almost to match his companion's, and his breathing did not change but suddenly required careful control. “The thirst...” Harry began shakily, his eyes darting away, wanting to explain but not really knowing how and not wanting to offend the man.

Remus seemed to understand and was not bothered. He rose and drew Harry gently to his feet, leading him by the hand back to the bed.

He required some assistance, but Harry still enjoyed undressing Remus. He enjoyed being allowed to try. It was thrilling, like unwrapping a long-awaited gift. There was still a newness to the sight that was revealed when the fabric was peeled away. Werewolves healed quickly, and Remus’ bandages were gone, as were Harry’s, though the man's most recent scars were still pink, looking raw and sensitive. Harry kissed them each softly, apologising for their infliction, paying special attention to the particular one that Severus was not yet allowed to see.

Remus handled Harry gently as well, coaxing him to stretch out on top of him instead of dragging him there. For the longest while, they just kissed. It was deep but unhurried; they fit together so comfortably, and the day was young. Their only obligations for it were to each other, and so their kisses evolved slowly. Remus wrapped his legs around Harry one at a time, merely to draw him closer at first, but finally, he urged the young man to position himself. Harry had feared that their hierarchy would mean the man would refuse to bottom again, but this was not an act of dominance or control, only of love and desire.

Remus required no preparation. Harry applied no force. He just rested against Remus, and the weight of his body eventually pressed him inside as Remus relaxed to allow it. It was almost undetectable to Harry, and it was sweet until it was more and Harry slowly began rocking his hips. The thirst stirred and his fangs emerged, but he had no trouble resisting the urge to use them. Their movements quickened by degrees but not by much, and their climax was understated and unimportant in the scope of things. Harry’s lust was gently sated, and all that really mattered was this closeness.

Harry drew back and gazed down at Remus. “Severus could love you,” he told him, wondering how much it might bother him that the other man intruded so often on Harry’s thoughts when the two of them were together.

Remus seemed to have no complaints. He smiled, clearly humouring the young man. “You think so?” he asked with a quirk of his eyebrow.

Harry nodded. “I’ve conditioned him to dealing with Gryffindors,” he added with a slow grin.

Remus tilted his head and regarded Harry, brushing at his forehead in his seemly endless war with Harry’s unruly hair. “You’d like that?” he asked, searching Harry’s strange new eyes.

“Yeah,” he said honestly, “I would.”

Remus sighed and wrapped his arms around Harry, drawing him close. “I think I would, too, Darling,” he said softly, sincerely.

Harry smiled.

Chapter Text

As the days passed, Harry grew stronger. But while his physical hobbles shrank, his emotional ones multiplied. His moods no longer shifted so much as they overlapped, and his anger and sadness, his fear and frustration no longer politely took turns but instead attempted to show up all at once. It was only the darker emotions that bombarded him, too. The gentler, pleasant ones could no longer compete and eventually faded.

Underlying it all was the lust. It was insatiable despite feeding--mild at first but becoming more persistent, more ardent, with each passing day. Remus attempted to help alleviate it but could not keep up. Then, it became too torturous anyway. Harry's thirst made things dangerous enough that even sex would require supervision, like his feedings, and that was not going to happen. Harry attempted to quiet his arousal on his own to little avail. The bloodlust was relentless. All subtlety had left it, and Harry felt the slow, insidious creep of the approaching Dark as surely as he’d felt the coming of the Full, but in his blood this time instead of his bones.

Adding to this rising frenzy was the bond he and Remus shared. As the vampire in Harry stirred to wakefulness, so did his instinctive distaste for the werewolf. He craved and reviled Remus. He hungered for his scent, though it stung his nose. He thirsted for his blood but was sickened by it. They had finally resorted to contributions from Kingsley and the Headmistress, delivered in flasks, cold and stale, which only compounded Harry’s discontent. Even without the inherent turmoil of his first approaching Dark, Harry's confliction toward his Mate was almost enough to send him into complete madness all on its own.

It was little better with Severus. He was ever-present, but Harry rarely saw him. He knew to keep his distance. Vampires were not the social creatures that werewolves were, and the close proximity of another lone predator was galling to him. As much as he missed him, Harry resented Severus’ presence in his territory.

This was so much worse, in many ways, than the Full. As challenging and painful as it had been, the onset of that transition had been sudden and its passage quick, the condition itself temporary. This slow build, this gradual descent, was far more agonising. It was mental quicksand compared to the wolf’s sudden plunge. Harry hated feeling his rationality slip away, knowing he was powerless to prevent his grip from slowly weakening. He was assured, over and over by both of them, that once his blood settled, even as soon as the following week, this suffering would wane. He would master his thirst, and his emotions would quiet. But that was little comfort to Harry in the meantime.

He eventually requested that they bar his door, locking him inside, to ensure their safety when his disposition shifted to its more dangerous incarnations too abruptly for him to recognise and temper his impulses. For a while, they had taken up a vigil outside his room, but he finally begged them to clear away. He was too unnerved by their presence, even through the door. While the sun was high, Harry slept like the dead. At night he wore his rug thin pacing, occasionally shredding his sheets for no other reason than he felt destructive.

On the evening of the Dark, they came for him. Harry could feel the Peak coming, that moment when the moon would be completely obscured. When he smelled them on the landing, the Werewolf and the Rival, Harry rushed the door, striking it with clawed hands, having been unable to catch and deflect the impulse that sent him flying to engage his enemies.

“Harry, stand away.” Remus' voice was thick with authority. Harry felt the command and resented it. He roared his frustration but removed himself from the door. “Step back,” Remus commanded forcefully, and Harry’s bones responded, carrying him away to the centre of the room. After a short moment of silence, during which Harry seethed, the lock clicked over and the door swung open.

Remus and Severus stood in the doorway side-by-side, looking as if they were going into battle. Their wands were drawn but at their sides. Their expressions were intent and their posture poised for action.

“Stay,” Remus ordered him firmly, seeing in Harry’s eyes the impulse to pounce. There was no tenderness in his Mate’s expression, only dominance, which Harry reluctantly bowed to. The young man’s chest heaved, his fists opened and closed. His eyes washed black when he scented their blood through their skin like perfume wafting on the air. Harry lifted his nose, testing it further, and his eyes fluttered to a close with a moan.

“Harry,” Severus said quietly. Harry’s eyes snapped open and he cut them almost violently toward the man. There, he saw the tenderness Remus was lacking, but it had no effect on Harry’s mood. “Deflect it, if you can. Be here. Now. Concentrate on your other senses: the shift of the rug beneath your feet, the brush of the fabric of your clothes against your skin. Fix your eyes on something and see only that.”

Harry bared his teeth at him but tried to do as he was told. It helped. Not by much, but enough to give him back some semblance of control. Harry wondered if Severus wore such stiff, chafing clothes on purpose to help keep him grounded. Harry was not subdued, but he was less a danger than he was a moment before.

“We’re going to bind you, Harry,” Severus warned, cautiously raising his wand. Harry stiffened but gritted his teeth--his fangs--and allowed it. Feeling the ropes slither across his skin, however, snapped the tenuous control Harry had achieved. He dropped to the floor, snarling and struggling, and so Remus pulled out the garlic. Severus shied from it but not far. The rational part of Harry understood the measure, but the Madness in him bristled, rinsing the young man with feelings of betrayal and bitterness as nausea flushed him and he felt himself weaken. He stopped fighting his bonds.

“Good boy,” Remus soothed. Harry hung limp, panting, while they levitated him and guided him to the floo. Severus had to hold him close to transport them, and a sharp command from Remus prevented him from sampling the man’s neck. Despite Harry’s uncontrollable hostility, Severus held him gently.

“Minerva and Kingsley are waiting outside in the corridor,” Severus explained when they arrived in his sitting room. Apparently, they wanted to save Harry the indignity of their friends seeing him in such a state. Harry only hoped, as he was sure they all did, that they did not see it anyway under more dire circumstances.

Harry watched uneasily as Severus passed his wand to Remus. He was really going to lock himself in with Harry unprotected. No doubt, the idea was to keep the thing from Harry, but handing over one’s wand is no easy thing, and the seriousness of the situation began to sink in.

Remus turned to Harry then, his expression severe and unyielding. Even through the haze of his thirst, feeling far more vampire than werewolf, Harry still responded to it, shrinking from him slightly.

“Harry, I forbid you from killing this man, do you understand me? You will not bite him. You will not drain his blood.”

Harry felt the compulsion to obey and fought it merely out of reflex. He snarled at Remus.

“Acknowledge it, Harry. Acknowledge your Alpha,” Remus snarled back. “Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Harry hissed, “Alpha.” Though he sneered, inwardly, Harry sighed with relief.

Remus seemed satisfied with his response and motioned for Severus to continue on, though he caught the man’s arm as he passed to whisper in Severus’ ear. Harry wasn’t sure why he bothered lowering his voice. Harry could hear him perfectly, and Remus had to know that.

“The command will fade, Severus,” he warned. “I will reinforce it periodically, but I can give you no guarantees. He is too strong. Are you certain you wish to do this?”

Harry could hear in Remus’ voice his fear for the man and the subtle hope that Severus would change his mind. It made Harry panic, not only because Remus had so little confidence in his ability to control Harry, but also because Severus might actually change his mind and leave Harry to face the Dark alone. Severus heard Remus’ fear as well, and the unspoken request, and a curious expression came over his face, but his only answer was to direct Harry toward the stairwell.

The doorway to the lab was garlanded with garlic. Harry could tell Severus’ stomach turned when they approached it. To Harry, it was all but debilitating. Even after they had crossed the threshold and closed the door, which Harry heard being heavily locked and barred from the outside, Harry still felt the effects of so much of the stuff close at hand. It would surely be a sufficient deterrent to him should he seek to escape. But Harry had no way of knowing what he might do, really. He had no idea what he was capable of.

Severus secured the door from inside, and Harry trembled. If things went badly, if Harry harmed Severus, no one would be able to come to his rescue. At least, not easily by any stretch. The pressure was almost more than Harry could bear. He felt the urge to do Severus harm and hated it, could not control it, was terrified of it, and Severus was completely vulnerable now.

The lab was utterly dark, but that did not prevent Harry from seeing it. It was bare. All of Severus’ experiments had been removed, all his ingredients and equipment stripped. There were only the tables left and one cauldron in the corner. Though he could see the shape and edges of everything perfectly, this world of complete darkness was washed of all colour. The surfaces were all varying shades of grey.

Except for Severus.

In contrast, the man blazed with colour. Harry saw it even in the pale of his skin, which had always before seemed so white to him. Now it was a warm cream, laced with pinks and reds. His eyes and hair were clearly shot through with brown--so many variations of it. And his blood...Harry could practically see Severus’ veins through the man’s skin. They shone faintly, glowing brightest, through Severus' robes, at the place where his heart beat. It made him a beacon. This must be how vampires hunted in even the darkest of places. Morbid as it was, considering, it was beautiful, and the spectacle was somehow soothing.

“Is this really what you see, Severus?” Harry heard himself ask, his quiet awe a fleeting but refreshing change from the turmoil he’d been steeped in for days.

“My eyesight is no longer as keen as yours. In order to allow me to function in regular light, Substisanguinus lessens my sensitivity. Your eyesight, too, will fade some when your blood settles. But yes, Harry,” he concluded softly. “This is what I see.”

Harry studied the man again. This is how Severus had seen Harry when they were locked in the Malfoys’ dungeon, he realised. For days, Harry had been the single burst of colour in a relentlessly grey world. Severus had watched his heart beating, immersed in the scent of Harry’s virgin blood while his thirst raged, and yet he had never touched him. Harry knew, once this was over and his madness subsided enough to make room for it in him, he would respect the man all the more because of it, understanding fully, now, the strength of that temptation.

Severus guided him to the centre of the room and lowered him, still bound, to the floor. Then he withdrew and leaned against an empty table and waited. “Your bonds will dissolve soon,” Severus assured him.

“Why?” asked Harry, sounding far more belligerent than he intended. The question had been an honest one. Why not simply keep him tied?

“They will not hold you, in any case, once the Peak hits. And besides, I do not like to see you suffer.”

The comment sparked something ugly in Harry. This man had seen him suffer before. He had watched Harry's heart break. And even before that terrible evening, Severus had left Harry suffering for years. Harry beat back his bitterness with no little effort and attempted to calm himself, to focus on the bite of the ropes on his arms, the cool of the stone beneath his back. Though his bitterness faded marginally, it left an immense sadness in its wake. Harry’s emotions would not be still. Suppressing one merely gave rise to others. This particular one was less hostile, though it was almost crippling. It wouldn’t last forever, though. The wave was rising, and Harry knew it would overtake him soon.

After his bonds evaporated, Harry tried to just lie still but could not manage it. The need to move, to stalk, to hunt, was overwhelming. As Harry measured the length of the room, back and forth, over and over, he understood Severus’ incessant pacing in the Malfoys’ dungeons and how cruel it had been to tease him. Harry could not fathom how he’d survived the ordeal. Even though Severus was not a virgin, Harry was new, and Severus’ blood sang to him, fueling his hostility as he resisted his thirst.

“What will happen to me?” Harry whined, his emotions shifting again. They were exhaustingly erratic. Fear now reigned for the moment. He rubbed at the backs of his arms, fighting the urge to claw at them.

“Merely what is happening now,” said Severus, his tone even, betraying no fear. Was this how he spoke to Voldemort all those years? Cool and collected though inwardly terrified? And he must be. Severus was wise enough to know, better even than Harry, that the situation merited it. “Though, it will spike, will hit you in fits and starts and grow in severity. There will be moments of pure madness that rob you of your senses. You may not remember the episodes, only wake to the aftermath.”

Severus  was far too calm. It angered Harry, suddenly, that he was so while Harry fell to pieces in front of him. It reminded him of the last time they had been alone in this room together.

“Can you stop it? Can you soothe it?” Harry asked desperately. His skin crawled. It was almost as if his emotions were physical things that writhed just beneath his surface.

Severus shook his head, not necessarily in negation but more in something like helplessness.

Then why are you here? ” Harry bellowed.

“To ensure you do not harm yourself.”

“And how are you supposed to do that with no wand?” Harry spat, looking away in disgust to continue walking the room.

“By giving you somewhere else to focus it.” 

Harry stopped pacing and stared at the man. Severus was here to be a whipping boy. He was here to accept the brunt of Harry’s madness. He was here to be harmed.

Harry was horrified by the thought. He gasped and backed away from Severus until he hit the wall behind him. Even then, he practically tried to climb it, desperate to distance himself from the man. Panic overtook Harry entirely, and he sobbed, tearing at his hair.

Severus approached him swiftly, even though his advance sent Harry whimpering and scrambling to the corner. He took the young man by the arms and shook him, forcing him to meet his eyes. “Remember,” he told him firmly. “Remember who you are, Harry. Who I am. What we are to each other.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Harry’s panic turned instantly to a resentment so deep and sharp it almost doubled him over. He threw Severus off. Now he was the one who advanced with Severus retreating steadily.

“Oh, I remember, Severus,” Harry hissed, his lip curling in disgust, clearly displaying a fang. “I’m your plaything," he intoned, remembering the years of one-sided affection, of passion only on Severus’ terms and only at the man’s convenience. “I’m your possession,” he spat. “I’m your fucking pet.”

“You know better, Harry,” Severus admonished gently, unable to back any further, as his thighs collided with the table behind him. His voice trembled despite his effort keep it neutral. “This is the Madness talking. Fight the Dark, Harry!” 

But it wasn’t just Madness, the Madness only magnified it. Harry growled. It sounded inhuman even to his own ears. He had the impulse to strike Severus, to take him by the throat. The ache in his bones reminded Harry of Remus’ command, but this other pain was older. It ran deeper but was more keen for all of it.

“I have been fighting it, Severus! For years, I’ve fought the darkness that grew in me. Every time I told you I loved you and got silence in response; every time I tried to come anywhere near your arsehole, only to be rejected and flipped over and taken; every time you grunted at my hello; every night you chose some elixir over my company; every time I tried turning up the lights and looking at you just to have you snuff them...the darkness in me grew, and I fought it. I don’t have any fight left, Severus. Or rather, not the same kind,” he said, his voice a quiet rumble. He advanced on the man until they met and pressed his whole body against him, pinning him against the table. For the first time, Severus’ eyes betrayed a glimmer of fear.

This close, the scent of Severus’ blood was intoxicating. Overwhelmingly so. Harry breathed it in and his body responded. He knew his eyes must be pitch. He felt his arousal stab at Severus’ leg. Harry leaned closer, though his hands still hung at his sides as he struggled to obey Remus’ command. Harry's lips were almost touching Severus' neck, and he could feel the heat of Severus' blood buffeting their sensitive skin gently to the staccato beat of the man's hammering heart.

“Why did you never let me top you?” Harry asked in a dangerous whisper.

Severus swallowed and struggled to find his voice, his fingers gripping the edge of the table he was backed against. “I spent most of my life under the thumb of one madman or another,” he muttered without conviction. “I resent being compelled to submit.”

It was a poor excuse. So poor as to be insulting, and Harry felt his rage overpower Remus’ edict as he seized Severus by the arms, his fingers biting.

“In that case, Severus, my love,” Harry softly purred into the man’s ear in a mocking imitation of affection wholly incongruent to the aggression of his actions, “you're going to fucking hate this.”

Harry turned Severus roughly--surprised at how easy it was despite that the man resisted--and bent him over the table just like Severus had once done to Harry, pinning the man down with a single hand between the shoulder blades. Severus struggled but did not call out for help, though Harry waited for it. Surely his pride was worth only so much.

Harry embraced his bitterness. He succumbed to the vile impulse to abuse Severus, to return what he'd subjected the young man to and then some. The Madness in his blood animated him, and Harry had little choice in the matter, really; but he did not fight as hard as he knew he should have.

Having no wand, Harry simply tore Severus’ trousers from him, finding it surprisingly easy to shred them. He understood the rags Severus had made of Harry’s shirt the first time they were together. The band remained, but Harry made short work of the rest and divested the man of his pants next. Severus muttered curses but did not raise his voice. He struggled, but only to free himself and not to attack his attacker.

Harry felt dirty, ashamed, but it did not stop him from unfastening his own trousers, it only fueled his discontent. He did so while his hips pressed firmly against Severus’ bare arse, his hand shoved between them so there was no question what Harry was doing. Once freed, Harry slipped the length of his cock between Severus’ cheeks, biting his bottom lip as he slid it up and down the hot crevice. The man beneath him had fallen completely still.

“Giving up already?” Harry asked, still working himself against him. He was almost disappointed. “Surely there’s more spirit in you than that.” Harry yanked Severus’ head up by the hair in order to hiss in his ear, causing the man to finally cry out. “Now, you're my bitch. And I'm Remus’. How does that make you feel, my love?”

The comment reignited the fight in Severus. He growled deeply, reminding Harry he wasn’t the only Dark Creature in that room, and fought back. He turned, dislodging the hand on his back, and twisted to face the young man, tackling him to the floor where they grappled. Neither sought to harm, merely to control. Harry enjoyed the struggle far more than was decent. But then, Harry wasn’t Harry at that moment. Harry was an avatar of years of frustration. He had submitted to this man again and again. Willingly, granted, but not always happily.

Harry toyed with Severus like a cat plays with a mouse, letting him gain the upper hand only to snatch it away again. Finally, as Severus became more winded and his struggles more frantic than effective, Harry pinned the man’s wrists to the floor. He was breathing heavily, but it was nothing to the way Severus’ chest heaved. Harry knew it was from defiance and frustration and anger as much as from physical exertion. Harry gazed down at him, his expression hard and loveless, until Severus surprised him by wrapping his legs around Harry’s waist and yanking the young man’s hips to his own.

Harry was startled out of his blind rage. A shade of it still lingered, though, and his arousal was intense. “We always did like it rough, didn’t we, Severus?” he whispered. Harry didn’t think he was imagining the way Severus’ eyes darkened with desire. Harry ground his hips against the man and felt the unmistakable evidence of it.

He wasn’t ready to take him just yet, though. Harry opened his mouth, making sure Severus could see as Harry carefully and deliberately tore his own tongue across one of his fangs. It was dangerous to them both. Harry’s blood might be harmful to Severus, and the scent, even of his own blood, set Harry’s limbs trembling and threatened to give the Madness free rein. Harry cupped his tongue, letting his blood pool there, waiting for Severus’ permission.

Or rather, for his submission.

Severus’ eyelids fluttered, and he moaned. His pupils were huge, and he opened his mouth as if he were already able to taste Harry’s blood. Before stretching up to accept it, he sliced open his own tongue, causing Harry to shiver with anticipation.

Then they met. No, they collided. Their tongues delved into each other’s mouths and their bloods mingled. There was so much of it. They moaned into one another. Severus’ blood tasted so different from Remus’. It lacked the fire, but it was still transcendent. Remus was Firewhisky, but Severus was wine, the finest Harry had ever tasted.

Harry still pinned Severus’ wrists, but his craving for violence had dissolved. He melted against the man, and as their kiss became more fervent, as they literally devoured one another, Harry adjusted his hips and Severus helped, offering himself to Harry.

Harry was not gentle, but neither did he intentionally try to hurt his lover. He merely sank, as Severus had done countless times to him, steadily inside. He was surprised at the ease of it. Severus grimaced, whimpered, but did not break their kiss. Harry rested there, content for the moment to just feel Severus enveloping him. He had waited such a long time to know the sensation. It was the other man who began to move finally, writhing beneath Harry. He was clearly inexperienced but just as clearly willing. Enthusiastic, even. Harry smiled against Severus’ lips before rising away from them. Both their mouths were stained red, and Severus’ fangs shone white from inside his, which had fallen open as he struggled to find the right angle, the right motion. Harry wasn’t sure why the sight of Severus’ fangs seemed so erotic, but he growled and took control. As soon as Harry began to move, Severus ceased.

Harry pulled himself out of Severus slowly, far further than he should have with one so unaccustomed to this act, and drove himself home again, sending Severus arching off the floor. He tugged at Harry’s grip, but it was unyielding. Harry repeated the process, and this time Severus moaned. Harry grinned wickedly.

“Tell me you want it, Severus,” he whispered. Harry still felt aggressive, was still angry, but he was controlling it better than expected. He drove into Severus again, harder, but he still received no answer. It felt so good, though, that he decided he didn’t need one. He picked up his pace, fucking the man properly for the first time in their lives.

Harry found the way Severus writhed extremely gratifying. The cries he released served to arouse Harry further. Though they sounded it, it was clear, at least to Harry, that they were not cries of pain. Or if they were, they were equal parts pleasure, as well. They were exactly the same as the ones Severus had wrung from Harry for years.

Apparently, the sound was not as well understood by those guarding the stair. Remus’ voice sounded throughout the room suddenly with the unmistakable echo of a Sonorus spell.

“Harry! Step back!”

Harry, so close to climax, flinched. He roared up the stairs at the other man, desperately trying to ignore the command and maintain his rhythm. Severus growled in frustration at the stuttering interruption of the cadence of Harry’s trusts.

“Harry, stand away. Do not touch Severus!”

“For fuck’s sake!” Severus bellowed, practically apoplectic at the intrusion. “Mind your own bloody business!”

But Harry had already stopped, releasing the man to back on hands and knees to the wall and away from Severus, whining his own frustration all the way. Severus followed the young man, but Harry warded him off with a snarl. He’d been ordered and had heard, and now he obeyed, however reluctantly.

“You aren’t touching me,” Severus said urgently, chasing Harry’s flailing arms with searching hands as the young man attempted to escape him. “Listen. You aren’t touching me, Harry. I’m touching you,” he soothed.

Ah. A loophole. Harry’s lust had reached a fever pitch, and it was a relief that the logic seemed compatible with the dictate in his bones. No longer in any position of control, Harry allowed Severus to touch him. He allowed Severus to rip away Harry’s shirt even as he moved to straddle the young man, taking Harry fully inside himself once more. With a grateful moan, Harry let Severus ride him.

“Your robes,” Harry gasped. “Take them off!”

Severus’ hips never slowed as he raced to shed the rest of his clothes. He was beautiful, even more so to Harry’s new eyes, and it was torture that the young man could not touch what he saw: the sweat-sheened torso that undulated as Severus hunched, the fullness of his erection as it bounced off Harry’s stomach. Since Harry could not, Severus took himself in hand and pumped his cock furiously while Harry watched, moaning at the sight.

As soon as he felt the warm spill of Severus’ climax on his chest, Harry’s fingers found it and brought it to his lips. Severus was right. It was so sweet. Almost as sweet as blood, but better, because it cost the donor nothing. And abruptly, Harry was finished, pumping into the other man with a throaty cry.

Severus tumbled from atop Harry to lay, panting, on the floor. They were both undone. Harry found he was momentarily sated. He would savour the reprieve while he could. Both his thirst and his lust had quieted, but they were close. He reached down to touch himself, to close his eyes and relish the memory of Severus clenched around him. The scent that lingered on his fingers after was unexpectedly familiar.

“Balm?” Harry asked, confused, as he struggled to sit upright. He looked down at himself and noticed no blood stained him, though the man could not have helped but tear considering the manner in which Harry had breached him. He looked to Severus. “You knew,” he said in a mortified whisper. “Severus, you’re full of healing salve. You knew what I would do.” It was almost accusing, but Harry’s condemnation was for himself.

Severus did not answer. He merely closed his eyes, still fighting to catch his breath.

Harry shot to his feet. His emotions, if not his lust, were still at full roil. So many warred within him. It was shame that won in the end, shame and sadness that coated him like thick mud.

“Why even be here?” Harry asked, shaking his head. “Why not lock me in and go and stand guard with Remus? Severus, why!” he cried, his eyes filling with tears.

Severus rose to his feet as quickly as his condition would allow and reached for Harry, but it was not his Alpha’s command that sent the young man shying away. “I’ve been through what you are going through now, Harry,” Severus explained soothingly, his expression exuding nothing but forgiveness and understanding, “and I would not wish anyone to experience it alone. Least of all you.” He cautiously reached for Harry again, and this time Harry allowed it, though he cried even harder at the man’s gentle touch. “I had Loraina to help guide me through my Madness. She was so much stronger than I was. And now you have me,” Severus vowed.

Harry was not comforted. “But I’d rather you were safe!” he keened. “I’d rather-”

“Harry, if I was not here, you would have driven yourself mad by now, clawing at the walls, tearing your nails. And the scent of blood, even your own, with nothing here to appease your lust, would have carried you over the edge. Not all new vampires make their way back from that frenzy, and some even destroy themselves in their desperation to escape it. That is why there is nothing in this room except you, me, and a cauldron of healing salve.”

Harry glanced to the cauldron. So that was what it was. There to seal away his self-inflicted wounds, or the ones he might inflict on Severus, so that Harry’s bloodlust could remain manageable.

Harry calmed gradually as Severus stroked his arms, and once his racing thoughts slowed enough to allow measured reflection, something unspeakable occurred to him. Harry's shame was embellished with a lancing pain, a fathomless melancholy, as he studied his companion.

“There’s more to it, isn’t there, Severus?” he asked. The man looked patient but confused. “It’s not just a distaste for submission. You've…” Harry swallowed, forced himself to speak it though his voice trembled. “Someone hurt you once, didn’t they?”

Severus shrank slightly, and his eyes fell to the floor, but not before Harry saw the lingering pain there. He still stroked Harry’s arms, though, as he spoke. “It was a long time ago,” he admitted. His eyes closed momentarily as if warding off the memory. “I was a fool to let it hold me back, to let it hold us back. I had no right to expect you to do anything I was unwilling to do myself, Harry,” he added apologetically.

“I’m sorry, Severus,” Harry gasped, gutted that he could have forced himself on the man. “I’m so sorry,” he repeated, choking on his tears.

Severus shushed him. “It’s no matter now, Harry. This has nothing to do with that. I was willing. I was eager. What happened in the past is not your fault.”

“Why not just tell me?”

Severus had no answer besides a despairing look.

“We could have been happy, Severus,” Harry whispered tearfully, grievingly, as if the opportunity had come and gone, was irretrievable. “If you had just talked to me. If you had just let me love you...”

“Ah,” Severus sighed. The sadness in his expression was the same Harry had spied on Severus’ face that day Harry had flooed away from him, convinced of the man’s infidelity. “But at what cost, My Dearest Love?” he asked, bringing a hand to gently cup the young man’s cheek.

Harry was devastated by the address. His pain spiked, his anger stirred. He moved to shove the man from him, but Remus’ command prevented it, so he stumbled away from him, sick with disappointment and incredulity.

“Really, Severus?” he finally managed to choke out around his hurt. “You choose now?”

“I’m so sorry, Harry,” Severus whispered, respecting Harry’s unwillingness to be touched. He hugged himself instead. Harry had never seen him so vulnerable, standing naked while the tears in his eyes built and spilled. “It's not soon enough, I know. Perhaps, even, it is far too late. But I love you, Harry,” the man vowed, with such sincerity and conviction it broke Harry’s heart afresh. “And I regret not saying it all the many times that I could have. I regret not voicing it each and every of the countless times I thought it. It has been ever-present on the tip of my tongue all this time,” he confessed, “but I thought...I thought I was shielding you from something. I thought I was giving you a way out, making it easier for you to leave me behind.” Severus wept freely now, something Harry had never seen him do, could never have imagined him succumbing to, and it was almost frightening. “And now, as it turns out, all that pain I caused the both of us was for nothing. And I am sorry, Dearest. I am so sorry. And I love you. A thousand times, Harry, I love you.”

Harry’s knees failed him, and he sank to the floor. He had expected to feel relief when those words finally came, and there was some, but mostly, it was sorrow that washed over him. Cautiously, Severus approached and settled to his knees beside the young man, giving Harry every opportunity to move away. Harry collapsed against him instead, yielding when Severus sighed gratefully and wrapped him in an embrace, rocking him gently while they both wept.

“Severus, I want us,” Harry told him, “but...I can’t. Remus and I, now we’re..." Gods, how to articulate the mess that teemed inside him? "I feel for him, Severus. I want you both. I need you both but…gods, it’s so complicated!”

“He has Claimed you, Harry,” Severus whispered, stroking the young man’s hair, “and I concede it was necessary. And...I would give you to him,” Severus said, hesitantly, “if you did not need me now. I may still when you need me no longer.”

“Good gods, Severus,” said Harry, pulling away to give him an angry look. “That was always part of the problem with us, don’t you understand? Can’t you see that you can’t give me away like a trinket? That you don’t own me?”

Severus smiled softly but not mockingly. “But don’t I?” he asked with a quirk of his eyebrow. “At least, I did,” he added mournfully.

It was true. Harry belonged to Severus. He had told him so that night when he had forced himself into the man’s possession. Severus owned Harry, heart and soul--at least fully half of them, at any rate. Harry’s heart was torn, but his body belonged now to another. His will was subject to Remus’. He felt it in the very deepest parts of himself, and with a pang, he realised that, if Remus commanded him to never speak to Severus again, Harry would obey. He'd have no choice.

Remus wouldn’t, surely. Not unless he felt it was for Harry’s own good. There was little Remus would not do for Harry’s good. He would accept Harry’s hatred and resentment and bear them without complaint all the rest of their lives if it meant Harry was kept safe.

Harry also knew Remus wanted them to all find a way to co-exist. To cohabitate. But what if Severus was unwilling? Unable?

Harry clung to Severus as if it were their last night together, his frustration cresting unbearably. “Why won’t you ever fight for me? You act possessive, but when it comes to doing something about it, you’d just give me away. You push me away, Severus! Hold on to me," Harry begged. “I want you to try. I want you to try to keep me. I want you to hold on.”

Severus touched Harry’s face tentatively, gazing at his imploring expression as if trying to resist it. Then he snatched the young man to him, squeezing him almost too tightly.

“Alright, Dearest,” he whispered into Harry’s hair. “I promise. I won't let go.”

Chapter Text

The rest of the night was a blur. It was so much worse than Harry could have imagined. He had disjointed memories of weeping and aggression, of shouting and pleading. He remembered, clearly, begging Severus to kill him at one point, which had earned him a sharp backhand before the man regained possession of himself. It was easy to forget that the Dark effected Severus, as well.

Harry recalled splintered wood and flashes of blood and teeth. He remembered beating on the door and tearing many of the locks from their anchors despite the roil of garlic-sickness before Remus ordered him back and Severus wrapped a bleeding arm around him from behind. But he also recalled Severus’ infinite patience while he talked Harry through the Madness, cradling him, both of them slathered with healing salve tinged pink with blood.

And there was sex...so many fragmented memories of sex when the lust overwhelmed him again and again. Memories of him in Severus, and Severus in him, and both of them in mouths and hands. There were more blood-kisses, as well. And even though it was not without incident, they both managed to survive the ordeal somehow. By morning Harry was spent. He did not recall how he made it back to his room and did not particularly care. He was grateful, ultimately, that he remembered so little. It made it easier to bear the guilt of knowing he had hurt Severus, intentionally or not.

It took four days more for his blood to settle. Four days locked in his room as if the Dark had never ended, had just diminished and cemented.

Then on the fifth day, though his drapes were tightly drawn, Harry felt the sun dip below the horizon, and he woke instinctively, feeling surprisingly level-headed. There was a lingering melancholy, a deep one, but he determined it was not bloodborn. His emotions were no longer restless and shifting, he was merely unbearably lonely.

He called for Remus, and the response was immediate. The man raced up the stairs, speaking to him through the door. “Harry? Are you alright? Do you need something?” he asked, sounding worried and a little winded. For the first time in several days, the sound of Remus’ voice was welcome, comforting.

“Will you sit with me?” 

“Oh, Harry,” Remus sighed with relief. He threw back the lock and opened the door to peek through it as though he couldn’t quite believe what he’d just heard. Harry still felt a mild aversion to his Mate, but his longing was far stronger now. He still couldn’t understand how two such dichotomous impulses could exist in him at the same time. Harry beckoned to him, and Remus approached the bed cautiously, searching Harry’s face to assure himself there was no lingering volatility. He seated himself carefully on Harry’s bed and took up the hand offered to him, giving it a grateful squeeze.

“How are you feeling?” he ventured.

“Where’s Severus? How is he?” Harry asked instead, gripping Remus’ fingers, almost afraid to hear the answer.

Remus grinned and shook his head at the young man and his one-track mind. “Severus is fine, Darling,” Remus assured him. “Rainey took him hunting immediately after, brought him down some large prey. He’s gone out nightly since. He’s good as new.”

Harry’s stomach soured knowing he’d left Severus in any state that needed to be recovered from, but he was glad to know there was no lasting harm. He wasn’t certain how he felt about Cobbleshot knowing his secret. It really had only been a matter of time, he supposed. Besides, he knew she cared enough for Severus to tend to him closely, and that she was, perhaps, the only one who could do so properly.

“If you have indeed settled, I’m sure he’ll take you hunting soon, as well,” Remus added brightly.

Harry baulked. He detested the thought of harming another living thing in order to sustain himself. But, he reflected sadly, that was his reality now, wasn’t it? Without Substisanguinus, Remus alone could not support him as Harry had done Severus, even with contributions from their friends.

“It’s not as if it’s for sport, Harry,” Remus pointed out, reading the distaste in Harry’s expression, “and it isn’t as if you were a vegetarian before,” he added with half a smile. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Harry nodded and tried to accept it. Remus gave him an encouraging smile and reached up to brush Harry’s hair from his face, looking grateful that such a small, familiar gesture was finally possible again.

“I really think the storm has passed,” Remus whispered. “Now we can get back to living, eh?”

Harry returned his smile weakly but was not as optimistic. The worst was supposed to be over, but he hadn’t yet allowed himself to consider life in general yet, day-to-day living. His nightmare had been long, and he felt as if he had finally woken from it, but he knew too well that sometimes waking life was just as bad in its own ways.

“Would you like to try feeding?” Remus offered, bothered by Harry’s quiet, persistent melancholy. “Just us? I believe you’re strong enough not to be a danger anymore. Besides, Severus won’t be able to oversee them all.”

Harry wrinkled his nose and declined with a shake of his head. The Dark was still too close for Remus’ blood to be palatable.

“Alright,” Remus said, unoffended. “You’ll need something soon, though. We’ll arrange it.”

Harry nodded gratefully. “Where is Severus? Can I see him? I’d like to come down now, if I may.”

“Of course, you may, Harry,” Remus said, pleased. “How about we get you dressed?”

“I can do it myself,” Harry told him, relieved that it was finally true. At the very least, Harry was no longer that dependent.

“I’ll be downstairs, then.”

After Remus had gone, Harry climbed out of bed. His body felt strong and steady, and dressing himself was surprisingly gratifying. He put on Severus’ favourite shirt--the one the man had once mentioned, off-handedly, brought out the colour of Harry’s eyes. He hoped it did still.

Harry drifted toward the mirror to look at them properly for the first time. They were beautiful, but they were unsettling, staring at him from otherwise familiar features. They were clearly unnatural and made him look wild, inhuman, which he supposed he was now. Harry studied the rest of him. He was exceptionally pale. Not as pale as Severus yet but unhealthily so. He knew it was the result of long illness as much as a lack of sunlight, and he realised it would be quite some time still before he could tolerate the sun at all. If ever. With a sigh, Harry bid a silent farewell to afternoon Quidditch matches.

That was assuming he could go out in public again, period. He was far from unrecognisable, and the changes in him would cause alarm. Maybe he could blame them on a drug habit and contact lenses, he thought cynically. Doesn’t every childhood celebrity hit a rebellious stage?

Some things, however, might not be so easily explained. Harry peeled back his lip but his fangs were resting. He wondered if they only showed themselves when he thirsted or if he could call them forth. If he could call them forth, surely he could force them back. He concentrated on their reflection, willing them to lengthen, but he had no success.

Harry knew some werewolves called forth their wolf forms on command, and while that was more intriguing, it seemed so daunting to go through the pain of the transformation willingly and unnecessarily...though, the necessity might be determined by the situation. It undoubtedly required a strong will. Remus, he knew, never transformed except on the Full, and he suspected it had nothing to do with the pain and certainly not with his resolve. Harry thought he might at least like to know how it was done, just in case. He would have to discuss these things with Remus later.

Harry grew bored of his reflection and remembered why he’d been so eager to get out of bed. He padded lightly down the stairs, comforted by his newfound strength and energy. It was still precarious. He would need blood, and soon, but not right now.

Remus waited for him in the sitting room, standing in front of the hearth with the jar of floo powder already in hand. He knew where Harry was heading. The young man smiled sheepishly and took a handful of the stuff, leaning over as he did to peck Remus softly on the cheek.

“I’ll just be a minute.” 

“Take your time. He doesn’t know you’re up. I thought it might make for a nice surprise.”

Harry flooed into the sitting room--the other sitting room--and looked affectionately at the matching chairs facing the hearth. They were arranged just close enough that two could hold hands across the gap if they reached, though he and Severus never had. Perhaps they would now, Harry thought hopefully. He felt nostalgic, even though he’d only really left this place a few weeks ago.

Or was it month? It seemed a lifetime. Everything was so different now.

He could smell the lab from where he stood. He often could before, but the scent was stronger and more complex. Though it had never been a pleasant smell, it was comforting. It smelled like home. Harry descended the spiral stairs, his hands trailing across the time-smoothed stones as he went, absorbing the familiar through the filter of his new senses.

And then there was Severus. He did indeed look whole, though he was thinner than he should be. Harry’s heart swelled in his chest watching him, bent over a cauldron and concentrating hard, obviously counting his strokes as he stirred the concoction first one direction and then the other. Harry stood and observed him for a moment, as he had on countless occasions. He loved the man’s skill and focus, that particular posture and expression he adopted only while at work. Once he set aside his stirrer, however, Severus stiffened, finally sensing Harry’s presence, and he looked to the stairs.

He seemed surprised but pleasantly so. Harry wanted to say something--maybe apologise, maybe pour out his profound gratitude, maybe profess his love in some way that he hadn’t yet a thousand times before. After struggling for words himself for a moment, Severus merely opened his arms, and Harry rushed into them.

Severus returned the younger man’s fierce embrace. “Is it truly over?” he whispered, as if not daring to believe it.

Over. It seemed it was just beginning. While it should have been a relief to finally be able to resume living, as Remus had said, to Harry, it just felt like the start of a host of new trials. He didn’t want to think of that now, though.

He drew back to look at Severus. Harry had been too preoccupied with illness and mania to truly appreciate his new eyesight, but he gloried in it now. He’d never seen Severus so clearly before. Harry saw every care line and hollow, every variation in the black-brown of his irises. He saw the exact border where his lips changed hue and texture, and the silky thinness of the skin beneath his eyes which always looked slightly bruised. Severus looked older than Harry ever remembered him being, but there was nothing about him that was not beautiful. Harry cherished these new details, as well as the music he now heard in the man’s voice when he spoke and the spiky scent of his skin. It was almost as if he were learning the man all over, and who is ever fortunate enough to have the opportunity to rediscover a lover in this way after four years of careful attention? Harry could not keep his eyes and hands off him.

“Lupin did not mention you were…” Severus began distractedly, almost as engrossed with Harry as the younger man was with him. Did not mention Harry was what? Not crazy anymore? Harry smiled softly at him. He wondered what changes Severus’ vampire eyes saw in Harry and how he felt about them.

“Remus,” Harry corrected. “His name is Remus, Severus. Just call him by his name. He calls you by yours,” he pointed out.

Severus didn’t seem very comfortable with the request but perhaps did not want to spoil their reunion by arguing and so simply drew the young man closer without comment.

“Is that...?” Harry scowled, spying a ghostly vein of raised skin peeking from behind the neck of Severus’ shirt. He did not stop Harry when he reached up to push aside the tall, stiff collar, revealing a row of three long but neatly healed scratch marks that disappeared further down Severus’ chest. Harry sighed dejectedly. At least they weren’t teeth marks.

Severus’ hand rose to gently capture Harry’s fingers and bring them to his lips so he could lightly kiss the palm of Harry’s hand. “It’s only a scar, Harry. We all have them,” he shrugged, “inside and out.” 

Harry looked into the man’s eyes, and Severus had never seemed so open, so honest and unencumbered. “I love you,” Harry whispered. It was meant to be ‘I’m sorry’, but it didn’t matter, really. They were both true.

“And I love you, Dearest,” Severus returned with no hesitation.

Harry wasn’t accustomed to hearing those words from those lips, and he shivered. He leaned forward to kiss Severus and was kissed back tenderly. All the world fell away. Harry forgot his depression, his anxiety about the future, his heartache for all he had lost and endured. Nothing else mattered but this: his Severus, just as he’d always hoped to have him, completely and unapologetically. A Severus who loved him with no barriers or hesitations, no limitations or conditions. He was no longer shackled by the past or aspirations for Harry’s future. Severus was finally--finally--Harry's as much as Harry was Severus’, and Harry never wanted the moment to end. He realised it wouldn’t. They were forever changed. Harry rested his forehead against Severus’ with a contented sigh.

“Dusk has well and truly fallen,” Severus said softly, and Harry gave the man a questioning look. “You need blood, Harry,” he explained. “You may not feel it yet, but then, you should never allow yourself to become hungry. When you are hungry, you could be dangerous. We’ll hunt tonight, together.” \

Harry was not eager, but he nodded, trusting him.

“Just let me finish with this potion and we’ll go out,” said Severus, releasing him. “Though, you may want to change your shirt,” he added, giving it a concerned glance.

Harry grinned, glad he'd worn it even if it was just to take it off again. He bounded back up the steps to put on something more appropriate.

Harry was nearing the top of the stair when he felt the hairs on his arms and neck stand on end. He slowed and stepped cautiously from the stairwell to find Professor Cobbleshot leaning against the hearth with her arms crossed, a sly half-smile on her lips. She looked for all the world as if she had been waiting for him. Harry was wary of her, but it went beyond his usual reaction. He’d felt this before, when his blood was unsettled still, whenever Severus was in the house. He hadn’t consciously noticed her presence, but his body had sensed it and had reacted. He filed this away for future reference. Perhaps he was too comfortable with and trusting of Severus to react this way to him now. Not that he really distrusted Loraina, he just apparently, instinctively, recognised his own kind.

His own kind. The concept was still alien to him--having a ‘kind’, kindred, belonging to a group of ‘others’. He wondered if he would be as sensitive to other werewolves, as well. If he was sensitive to both of these creatures, then surely they were to him, too, and that was worrisome.

Cobbleshot allowed him to process all this. She also allowed him to pad lightly into the room, observing her from a safe distance and finally coming to a stop behind Severus’ rarely used wingback chair. The encounter had the distinct feel of two creatures meeting for the first time rather than the reunion two old, human acquaintances. Harry felt his ‘otherness’, his slightly animalistic mannerisms when faced with this other vampire. She was just the same as always, but Harry now had a context for her strange behaviour, could feel the impulse to move as she had always moved, to stare as she had always stared. Clearly, they were natural impulses Severus fought and she did not. Harry understood them both, her and Severus, so much better now.

“So, you’ve settled, have you, Harry?” she said in that way of hers that made it impossible to know her feelings on the matter.

“So it would seem,” Harry answered, equally noncommittal.

She slipped into a grin, and her eyes glinted with either madness or delight, or some combination of the two. “And so our coven has grown.”

She pushed off the wall and circled him, looking him up and down with obvious curiosity. “What a wondrous thing you are, Harry,” she said, settling her gaze on his eyes and examining them extra closely. There was no longer any ‘Our’ or ‘Little’ attached to her addresses, and Harry thought he sensed a subtle new respect from the woman. “You never do anything by halves, for certain.”

I didn’t do this.” 

“No,” she agreed, “but what a spectacular victim of circumstance you always make.” She drifted closer, closer than Harry was comfortable with, and smelled him subtly. Her nose crimped in mild disgust. “You do smell a bit of dog, though,” she sighed, disappointed.

Harry couldn’t resist the urge to return the gesture, stretching his neck and sampling her scent as well, an action which seemed to please her. He cocked his head, analysing what he found. She smelled of nothing, really. Must and cold stone, old leather and faintly of stale leaflitter.

“So, Severus is going to try to teach you how to be a vampire tonight?” she asked with a hint of cynicism.

“We’re hunting, if that’s what you mean,” he answered warily.

She smirked. “You should let me take you out soon, Harry, if you’d like to be taught properly. You could be such a marvellous vampire.”

Harry was annoyed by her seemingly constant small digs toward Severus. “But I’m not a vampire,” he pointed out, to which she broke into silent glee.

“No, you’re so much more. But they won’t let you be what you are, Harry. You realise that, don’t you? They’ll try to keep you human. They want so desperately to be human themselves. What a pitiful waste of potential,” she sighed.

“We are human,” Harry argued, not quite believing it, even as he said it.

She smirked, clearly saw through him, and he couldn’t deny that he was intrigued by what she was saying. Then she took her thumbnail, which was long and sharpish, and sliced it quickly across the tip of her index finger, drawing the faintest amount of blood. Harry felt his eyes change in response, felt his mouth water as he struggled to pull his eyes away from the tiny wound. She laughed at him softly.

“And just how human do you feel right now, Harry?” she purred, licking her injured fingertip in a highly suggestive manner. “Let me show you how to be what you could be, what you were meant to be.”

“And why would I want that?” he asked her. Severus had told Remus he didn’t want to be ‘that kind of vampire'. Remus disdained werewolves like Greyback who revelled in their condition. Why should Harry embrace what they two actively avoided?

“Because,” she whispered, backing toward the door, “you’re owed some debts, lovely. And just how else do you expect to extract payment, hm?”

Harry didn’t answer, he merely watched as she opened the door and threw an almost flirtatious glance back over her shoulder at him before disappearing into the Castle dungeons.

 

Chapter Text

Harry stared at the door long after it clicked to a close behind the woman, all of his enthusiasm having gone with her.

He had been so focused on making it through, on surviving until his blood settled, he hadn’t given much thought to what came after, but Cobbleshot was right. What had been done to him--what had been done to them--could not go unanswered. Harry had thought he was done with vengeance when he’d killed Voldemort. But something even more insidious had been done to him since than anything Voldemort ever conceived, something more personal and premeditated in the extreme that had ripped away everything Harry had worked so hard to attain, that had rendered his many sacrifices meaningless. The villains who had visited this fate on him were indeed owed a response, one just as well-formed and bloody.

But they weren’t the only ones Harry owed, he realised.

“You haven’t changed yet,” he heard Severus say from behind him.

“Oh. No. I got distracted,” Harry stammered, turning just in time to be enveloped in Severus' arms. His mind was still whirring and the embrace made Harry uncomfortable. He returned it loosely. Once again, he studied the man who held him and the kind question in his tired eyes. Harry couldn’t help but wonder how many of the carelines he’d noted just before had simply gone unnoticed by him over the years and how many might be new. How many were the result of this past month’s ordeal?

Harry eyed Severus’ fresh scar again. He had hurt this man, and also the one waiting for him back at Grimmauld Place. The both of them had endured sleepless nights and bloody battles for him. And again, Harry had a hard time understanding why. He didn’t feel worthy of their sacrifice or their devotion. He felt selfish and wrong to have burdened them, to continue burdening them.

“Is something wrong, Dearest?” Severus asked, his brow delicately furrowed. He brought a hand to Harry’s face.

Harry sighed, overwhelmed by the ease with which the pet name fell from Severus' lips. It was as if he had always said it, as if he had always wanted to voice it and had only been waiting for permission. It soothed and cut at the same time. The sudden insecurities that assailed him made Harry wonder if perhaps his blood hadn’t settled after all, and he found he couldn’t reply.

So much was wrong, and would always be wrong, and there was no way to articulate it to Severus right now. Severus studied Harry’s conflicted expression but didn’t press. He released the young man hesitantly and disappeared into the bedroom, returning a short time later bearing an armful of clothes.

“You have some things here, still,” he said, holding them as if they were precious. “You took nothing with you when…”

He left the thought unfinished. It was too painful to speak aloud. Harry’s anguish was stoked and shared as they both recalled that terrible night when Harry had fled in tears with only the clothes on his back. It was the night Harry had broken them with his infidelity, an act that was selfish and unearned and driven by unfounded suspicion. Harry reached out and took the shirt offered to him without a word, his movements almost apologetic, but he made no move to put it on.

“You will feel better after we’ve hunted,” Severus assured him, laying a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “It isn’t as terrible as you might imagine. I’ll guide you,” he said, apparently thinking Harry’s reticence was in response to what they were about to go do. “The blood does not quiet completely or all at once. Give it time. These moods will pass.”

Harry nodded and moved to change into the t-shirt he held, but he wasn’t convinced this melancholy was bloodborn. He couldn’t shake the feeling that Cobbleshot was right. Harry would have to answer this wrong done to them, and it would take her guidance to accomplish it. Severus and Remus would not understand. They would not want him doing anything dangerous and would not help him hone the gifts given to him for the purpose. And so once honed, Harry would have to leave them, and there was no guarantee he’d be coming back. In his heart, he felt it would be unkind to do so. Untamed by potion, his condition would only be a drain on them all.

As he slipped the old t-shirt over his head, Harry knew he’d made a decision, one that broke his heart but that he felt he’d made the instant Cobbleshot had shown herself out. He would let the woman show him what he needed, and in the meantime, he’d find a way to bring his two lovers together. There was no better consolation he could imagine than that which they two provided. They could provide it to each other after he’d gone.

“And also, perhaps, this,” Severus said, pulling Harry from his thoughts. He held up one of his own robes in offering. “It will help you blend with the darkness.”

Despite himself, Harry smiled at him as he accepted it. "So, you’re saying I should dress the part?”

“I like your clothes. They suit you,” said Severus, giving Harry a sweeping, appreciative look. “Though, I admit to often wondering how you’d look in something more traditional,” he added with a contemplative lift of his eyebrow.

Harry slipped on the robe and ran his hands down the crisp linen. He realised, with satisfaction, it wasn’t too long for him anymore. Severus didn’t know--perhaps not even Remus knew--that Harry had a robe exactly like this one stored away in the top of his closet at Grimmauld Place. It was the robe Severus had wrapped him in before they’d escaped the Malfoys’ dungeon. To this day it was still covered in dirt and blood and cum. It was a bit gross if Harry stopped to think about it, so he just didn’t. Harry pulled the fabric he now wore to his face and breathed it in. It was satisfyingly steeped in Severus’ scent.

Even after he’d managed to win the man, Harry never had been brave enough to wear his robe around Hogwarts, though he’d had every intention the first time he put it on. Harry took it out and looked at it occasionally. The memory should have been traumatic, but all the pain and the hunger had been worth it in the end. Even though Harry realised, after the fact, that he’d started to develop feelings for the Potions Master long before their captivity, if it hadn’t actually occurred, they would never, ever have been together. And then how very different Harry’s world, and the world in general, might look now.

Harry decided he would wear this one. Severus wasn’t getting it back. He grinned at the man and could tell Severus was pleased as he stepped forward to fasten it. When he was done, Harry shuffled back and modelled it for him.

“What do you think?”

“Promising. Of course, you don’t pull it off as well as I do,” Severus said dismissively but with a playful twist of his lips, “but that will come with practice. Are you ready, then?” he asked, and Harry could have sworn he caught a sparkle in the man’s eye. As much as Severus hated his condition, he could now share things with Harry he never could before. He could introduce the young man to his world which they now shared.

Harry was ready. He was heartened. The time would come that he would leave this man behind, but not yet. Severus loved him, the night was young, and it awaited them.     

They flooed to Severus’ offices and from there walked out of the Castle and to the Forest, their hands drifting toward one another to brush fingers as they went. Harry hadn’t been properly outside in weeks, and his first steps into the wide world were a shock to his senses. The wealth of information carried on the wind was overwhelming. He smelled everything: the soil disturbed by his shoe and the green gasp of the grass as it broke beneath his heel. Harry smelled the bark of nearby trees and the deep mouldy bite of their droppings, the scent being stirred to the wind by the creatures who burrowed beneath it. There were smells Harry could not identify but knew he would come to; animal smells, sharp and bitter and warm. Harry smelled the sweet of the last of the spring flowers and the deep woody musk of flowing sap. He breathed in the perfume of so many living things. The world teemed with smell.

And that was only one of his senses. 

The scenery was not grey as it had been in the lab. The world was silver, shimmering with the barely detectable moonlight that spilled from behind the clouds from the sickle hanging high overhead. Harry turned an awestruck look to Severus who grinned back at him, delighting in Harry’s delight. The man did so so seldomly, and the sight of it filled Harry’s already burgeoning heart almost to capacity. He took Severus’ hand properly in his own and laughed. He felt like flying. 

He settled for running.

Severus ran with him, their hands still tangled. Harry loved it. He had not thought the man would even keep pace but he did, in fact, appear to be racing him. Severus had always seemed so reserved, but this was not Hogwarts Castle and he was not, at this moment, its Potions Master. They were two vampires, swift and strong and sure-footed and free. The uneven terrain was no obstacle. They leapt fallen trunks easily, darted through the trees as if dancing with them. Harry was given goosebumps by the way his laughter echoed off them as he passed, making a kind of music. It was better than being on his broomstick, and Harry never thought anything could top that.       

Scattered throughout the shining, silvered landscape were hearts, glowing bright and vibrant against the monochrome of their surroundings, like warm jewels twinkling from cold stone. Harry saw birds and squirrels dotting the trees, and owls sitting sentry. Even lizards and snakes peeked from rotted boles. The ground was no less overrun. Harry slowed as he spotted a field mouse close at hand and snatched it up with only half a thought.

He stopped dead with it held in his hand. He wasn’t even winded. Harry stared at it, loving the creature’s soft rainbow glow and the warmth it radiated, the fluttering beacon of its fear-fueled heartbeat. It wasn’t until the thing was halfway to his mouth that Harry realised what he was doing, noticed his fangs were extended. The realisation startled him. He had been moments away from consuming the poor thing. Bewildered, he turned his questioning look to Severus.

But the sight of Severus startled him further. The man looked wilder than Harry had ever seen him. He was once again luminous. His brown hair was ravaged by wind, his eyes were wide and his pupils large. His gaze held a flash of something Harry had never seen before in him, something Severus repressed, though Harry had often spied the same savage glint resting somewhere close in Cobbleshot’s expression. Even Severus' fangs peeked from between his lips which were parted slightly as in readiness. The man had never looked less human. Harry could only imagine the picture he made himself at the moment.

Severus’ voice, however, was as steady and reasoned as ever. “Well done,” he praised. “But you realise it is too small to sate you.”

Harry looked down at the struggling creature he held, still fascinated but now slightly sickened. When he’d snagged it, he’d had no other thought than it was close and beautiful and he had wanted it. His body, however, had had other motivations. Severus seemed to understand his confusion.

“Your instinct is to hunt, Harry. Those instincts, without discipline, seek out anything which pumps the vitality your body craves. This creature will indeed nourish you, but not enough. This is the question you’re faced with, Dearest. You could collect more, but that means more killing. Or you could decide to bring down one larger thing. Something larger, perhaps, than we need, but which results in only a single death. The question is, Harry, how do you prioritise a life? Is this field mouse somehow worth less than that stag?” he asked, nodding toward a copse of trees nearby and the gorgeous, gleaming buck that peeked, unafraid, between the trunks at them. “How many hearts are you willing to stop to quench your thirst?”

Harry looked at him thoughtfully, then back down at the mouse squirming in his fingers. His recent joy was extinguished as he recalled the purpose of their outing, which had been driven momentarily from mind by wind and moonlight.

“Which do you prefer?” he asked Severus, finding it surprisingly difficult to speak around his fangs.

Severus shook his head. “This is not a question I can answer for you, Harry. Tonight, you determine what constitutes a monster. Or rather, you determine what kind of monster you prefer to be.”

Harry considered it. He considered killing and was repulsed by it. How many of these beautiful little animals would it take to slake his thirst? How many was he willing to dispatch? Harry had a feeling it was a thing he could only do once, if at all. After another moment’s deliberation, he carefully set the field mouse back on the forest floor and watched it scamper away before straightening to look at Severus, giving him his answer. The man looked pleased. He placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“The kitchens always appreciate the venison, anyway,” Severus confided. That was good, Harry thought. Nothing gone to waste. “Though, I think not the stag,” Severus added. The thing had wandered off regardless. “A doe, or a smaller buck, perhaps?” he proposed. Harry nodded his agreement.

Then the actual hunting began. Severus had him test the air where the stag had been, urging him to seek something similar, directing his sight to disturbances in the mud and leaf litter, to evidence of grazing along slender paths. It was a consuming exercise and strangely stimulating. Still, as he searched he caught, from the corner of his eye, a familiar shape shadowing them at a distance.

“Loraina is following us,” Harry whispered.  

“I know,” Severus sighed, more exasperated than truly annoyed. “She has no confidence in my teaching abilities on this particular subject,” he smirked. “Ignore her.”

Harry looked back at her one last time. She was close enough that he could not fail to catch her wink. Then he did as he was told and devoted all his attention to locating their quarry.

It wasn’t long before they crept up on a young buck. It was much smaller than the princely stag they spied earlier though was still large. Harry was at a loss. He knew he could catch the thing, but what then? He recoiled imagining the violence necessary to bring down such a big animal.

Severus removed the concern by drawing his wand and whispering a sleep spell at the creature, causing it to drift to the ground in deep slumber. Somewhere nearby Harry heard the unseen Cobbleshot scoff. Severus rolled his eyes as he stowed his wand.

“Loraina finds it laughable that I use magic to subdue my prey,” Severus explained as they strolled over to the sleeping deer. “But we are Wizards, Harry. Only Muggle vampires are resigned to violence. I find this much more humane. Don’t let her convince you the only way to bring down a beast is to rip out its throat. Some Muggle vampires will indeed use guns or arrows to down prey, but magic also allows us to take advantage of a beating heart, which will always provide you with more nourishment than a still one,” Severus advised as they reached the animal and knelt beside it.

Harry had no problems imaging Cobbleshot leaping at the beast as it fled, fingers like claws and fangs bared seeking its throat. Harry shivered. It may be a lesson he would need to learn from the woman, but it was not one he’d enjoy. He understood entirely when Severus said he didn’t want to be that kind of vampire.

“You see the vein where it shines brightest here in the neck?”

Harry took a shaking breath and nodded. He saw it, glowing faintly beneath the riot of browns and tans and reds of the creature’s fur. He lay a hand over it, feeling the pulse, and followed the shining trail with his eyes to where it met the glowing heart, large and slowly beating in sleep. Harry lay his other hand there and felt the gentle rise and fall of the buck’s chest. It was such a majestic creature, so beautiful and so personal to Harry.

He wondered if his Patronus would remain a stag. Severus’ had changed, he’d said. Had Harry’s, as well? And if it had, was this act symbolic of something? Was he letting that life go by taking this one?

“He sleeps deeply,” Severus comforted, “and the knife is sharp. He will never feel his death, Harry. This is not something you do with malice or even indifference. He dies so that you may live. It is the most natural thing in the world.”

Harry nodded and reluctantly accepted the knife from Severus. He’d held the thing many times before, but it was always his own veins he’d opened, and his hand trembled using it for this new purpose. Waiting would not make it easier, though. At a gesture from Severus, Harry took a deep breath to steel himself and then applied the razor edge of the blade to the bright vein in the buck’s neck.

It was easy after that. Once his body scented the blood that sprang from the cut, it moved itself. Harry latched his mouth to the wound, catching the fount. He tasted the dust and oil and musk of the buck’s fur, but mostly and most importantly, Harry tasted its blood. It was different than human blood, more savoury than sweet, but it burned just the same. Harry was vaguely aware of Severus taking the knife from him and making his own cut, bending to feed as well. Harry felt the deer’s heart weaken so that the blood was no longer pushed into his mouth and had to be drawn. Eventually the heart stopped altogether and Harry felt Severus’ fingers on his shoulder, gently drawing him back.

Harry was not reluctant to do so. He’d never consumed so much blood at once and was a little sick with it. His whole body seemed to thrum with vitality. The swoon reminded Harry of drunkenness, and he fell back to lay on the forest floor, waiting for the world to be still. Harry looked over at the buck, but it was as silver as the trees and bushes that surrounded it. All its light had been transferred to Harry and Severus.

Severus.

Harry gasped softly at the sight of him. His light almost hurt Harry’s eyes. He looked ruddy and robust, sated and slightly ecstatic. He looked wanton and gorgeous. Harry reached for him and the man’s black eyes found Harry’s green ones, perhaps seeing in the young man the same erotic glow. No wonder Severus always wanted to have sex in the dark. Who wouldn’t rather make love to this spectacle? Dark Creature seemed a very poor descriptor for what they were.

Severus fell on him, his red-slicked lips seeking Harry’s, and they spent long moments tangled on the forest floor carefully cleaning the blood from each other’s mouths. It was glorious; more personal, more intimate by far than sex. And Harry realised this was theirs and theirs alone for as long as he wanted it.

“My gods, how I love you,” Severus whispered, beating Harry to the confession by a fraction of a second. Harry answered by kissing him again, clinging to him with a moan.

Mine, he thought. This man is mine, and I am his. Harry had never felt more satiated in his life. The moment seemed eternal, and the future and whatever it contained seemed distant and wholly unimportant.    

Chapter Text

Harry didn’t recall much of the journey back to the dungeons. All he could focus on was Severus--his shine from the corner of Harry’s eye; his constant touch on Harry’s arms, neck, and back as they drifted; his frequent, spontaneous kisses that found Harry pinned against various tree trunks, easily ignoring the bite of bark on his back. Each was a promise, and Harry couldn’t wait to get back to their rooms to call them all in.

They were barely through the hearth when Harry found himself tugged sharply into Severus’ arms, his collar ripped to the side so that Severus might taste his shoulder, his neck. Harry gave himself over to it. Tonight, the bloodlust hadn’t been the intense, painfully arousing experience Harry had known it to be before. It had merely been an aphrodisiac. They were both drunk on it and each other, so much so that Harry barely heard the clearing of a throat close behind them; and though he caught it, he was incapable of paying it any mind. He had no concentration to spare for anything beyond Severus’ tongue in his mouth and his skin beneath Harry’s hand.

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, Severus. I know you see me,” came a perturbed voice echoing from the fireplace. Finally, Harry snapped out of his lustful haze and tried to extricate himself, with cheeks burning, from Severus’ arms. Severus, however, seemed disinclined to allow it. “You know how I hate crouching in the damned hearth! It’s murder on my back,” McGonagall groused further.

“I’ll send you a tonic,” Severus tossed over Harry’s shoulder before pressing his lips to it again. Harry was surprised, and surprisingly aroused despite their audience. Severus was intensely private. That the Headmistress’ presence did not send him hurriedly dropping the young man and coolly straightening his robes was a testament to the extent of his present passion. “Did you need something, Minerva? And before you ask: yes, you are interrupting,” Severus said before continuing his assault on the juncture where Harry’s neck and shoulder met, knowing full well how the spot made Harry writhe.

“Severus Tobias Snape, do not make me step through this floo,” she warned sternly.

Severus sighed, shot the hearth a dirty look, and finally released Harry. The young man stumbled back, breathless and blushing painfully, finding it very difficult to face the Headmistress. He turned his back instead and fumbled to unfasten his dirty, torn robes.

“Potter,” McGonagall said kindly, forgivingly, refusing to be ignored. That, or she was intent on killing the young man with embarrassment. “It’s so nice to see you looking more yourself.”

“Er. Thank you, Professor,” Harry mumbled, clearing his throat. He turned in her direction but was unable to meet her eye.

“Kingsley is in my office, Potter. Now that you are feeling better, perhaps we should all talk?”

“I’ve just taken Harry to the Forest for the first time,” Severus explained, heaving an exasperated sigh, “Mightn’t we have a moment?”

“That’s a euphemism I haven’t heard before,” the Headmistress muttered under her breath. Harry felt a sudden urge to disappear. He settled for further blushing and staring holes in the upholstery of his armchair. “Kingsley is here on borrowed time, Severus. He’s meant to be at the Ministry as we speak. So no, you mightn’t have a moment. Kindly find yourselves in my office as soon as possible.” And with that, she was gone, and Harry’s impulse to hide beneath the coffee table subsided slightly. Severus seemed resigned but still in no hurry. He took Harry’s chin between his fingers and tilted his head back for one final kiss, reaching for the hem of Harry’s shirt while he did so.

“Blood on it,” he mumbled in explanation against Harry’s lips before peeling the thing over the young man’s head. Harry tried to put back on the shirt he’d donned on waking, but Severus made the task most difficult by refusing to remove his palms from Harry’s bare torso. Harry would have liked nothing more than to say bugger Kingsley and the meeting with the Headmistress and drag Severus to the bedroom. But it would have been disrespectful of their efforts for him these past weeks. Besides, he was rather keen to hear what Kingsley had to say.

Severus seemed to be thinking the same and eventually pulled away with a sigh, planting a petite kiss on the tip of Harry’s nose before reaching grudgingly for the floo powder.

“Later,” he promised firmly. Harry took a calming breath and prepared himself to meet the others, but he was still tingling with anticipation when he stepped through the hearth behind the man.

Severus swept over to claim one of the two armchairs in front of McGonagall's desk, but Harry was met almost immediately by Kingsley and found himself shaking hands with him before he really realised what was happening.

“Good to see you, Harry,” Kingsley said warmly, patting their linked hands with his unoccupied one. “Gor, she wasn’t kidding. They really are noticeable,” he added. Harry blushed crimson and would have reached up to hide his neck--which no doubt sported a number of fresh love bites--if both his hands were not captured in Kingsley’s. Then Harry realised the man was studying his eyes. “Room was a bit dim the last time I saw you. No matter. We’ll simply have to find a way to hide them. Anyway. Good to see you up and about. Have a seat,” he urged, finally releasing Harry and directing him to the empty chair beside Severus.

Harry looked over at the Potions Master and could see his impatience reflected in the man’s expression. They shared a glance of mutual frustration, then turned their attention to the Headmistress.

“Thank you, Kingsley,” Harry rushed to say, sincerely, once they were settled. “Thanks to both of you, for...your help.” Yes, that sounded much less awkward than ‘your blood’.

“Little for us to do, really,” McGonagall sniffed archly. “Your guardians are quite efficient. And rather secretive, if I may say so.”

“‘Cautious’ may be the word you’re looking for, Minerva,” Remus offered with a friendly smile as he stepped from the fireplace. “Or ‘experienced’.”

“Remus, good. You’re here,” McGonagall said by way of greeting. “Kingsley?”

The Auror wasted no time getting down to business while Remus stationed himself behind Harry’s chair. “The media are having a field day,” he informed them ruefully. “Have either of you been watching the papers?”

“We were a bit preoccupied,” Severus pointed out.

In response, Kingsley dropped a stack of Daily Prophets on McGonagall’s desk and fanned them out so that their headlines were visible. Potter Poisoned! one read. The Boy Who Died? Possible Ministry Cover-Up and What’s Happened to Harry? Boy Hero Disappears From St. Mungo’s queried others. Harry sighed and leaned back in his chair. He was already weary, and they hadn’t even really begun.

“It wasn't possible that the incident would go unnoticed, but it was noticed a bit more quickly than anticipated and in more detail than it should have been. Someone in the department leaked the story to the Prophet,” Kingsley insisted, tapping the array of papers for emphasis. “There’s no other explanation. Possibly, but not necessarily, it was the same someone who tipped off your attackers about the location of your first assignment. I’m doing all I can to determine the culprit, but it’s been difficult with the frenzy surrounding your disappearance. The Ministry has been in constant damage control. Statements have been released saying you are recuperating in private. However, no one in the Ministry besides myself, Arthur, and the Minister herself know where you are, and I’m the only one who knows the details about what has happened. Despite assurances, though, the public is convinced you’re dead. And so it is imperative you make an appearance soon.”

“Why in bloody hell do we give a damn what the public thinks?” Severus asked irritably, “They don’t own him.” Harry could see the unvoiced ‘I do’ spoken in the furrow of his brow and smiled to himself.

“Severus,” McGonagall huffed, “he may simply be Harry to all of us, but this young man is--and will remain--one of the most important figures in Wizarding history. Like it or not, the public is owed, if not an explanation, at least proof that he still lives. To ignore that will only lead to trouble, namely constant scrutiny. Public curiosity will continue to grow, and if we do not give them something, they will come find it for themselves. If we take the initiative, then we control what the public learns. If we leave the snoops to dig, they may discover far more than we can allow. Or do you want the world to figure out exactly why you ripped Potter from his hospital bed? Because it will come out if we do not act wisely.”

Harry sighed, rubbing the heels of his hands against his eyes while they bickered. He felt Remus’ hand settle on his shoulder and reached one of his own to give it a grateful squeeze. Harry saw Severus notice, but despite their recent exchange, Harry refused to hide his affection for Remus. The two were Mated for life. It was something the Potions Master would just have to learn to accept, and to come to understand that it did not in any way lessen Harry’s feeling for Severus.

“He does need a wand,” came a low, rough voice from behind them.

Harry twisted in his seat to find that Cobbleshot had joined them. No one besides Severus seemed unaffected by her presence, but she did have a place here, and she took it now, strolling up leisurely but confidently to stand between Harry and Severus’ chairs.

“I took the liberty of cleaning up your mess, boys,” she whispered, bending down to their level with a hand on each of their armrests. “I noticed you seemed preoccupied,” she added, looking up at Remus with a wink. The werewolf gave her an unconcerned glance, but his fingers subtly tightened on Harry’s shoulder. “The kitchen sends its thanks,” she finished, straightening and crossing her arms, ready to be included in the meeting.

Harry had completely forgotten about their buck, had indeed been thoroughly distracted. He had also completely forgotten about his wand and the fact that he’d been without one for almost a month.

“Where is my wand?” he asked, but not hopefully. McGonagall sighed, clearly reluctant to produce it. Nonetheless, she pulled it from her desk drawer and laid it in front of Harry. It was ruined, snapped and splintered, bearing unmistakable teeth marks. The phoenix feather at its core peeked, shredded, from several cracks in the shaft. Harry had to bite back the impulse to weep.

“It may be repairable,” Remus said softly at his shoulder, “but we would have to consult Ollivander to be sure. Though, you know, Harry. You’ve changed considerably since you last held it. Perhaps a new wand would be more appropriate?”

Harry stared at the mess of wood and feather in front of him as Remus spoke. His wand, likely his Patronus, even his very cells were changed. He wondered how much of him was left. How much had his attackers left him and how much more would he find they’d ripped away?

“Either way, a trip to Diagon Alley would not be amiss,” McGonagall agreed.

“And not alone,” Kingsley said, nodding. “But not with bodyguards, either. Or the two of you,” he added, heading Remus and Severus off before they could volunteer. “It should be something casual that calms the public.”

“Miss Granger?” McGonagall proposed, giving Harry a sympathetic look. “I understand your reluctance to tell her, Harry. But don’t you think she deserves to know?” she ventured.

“No one deserves to know, for gods’ sake,” Severus grumped. “Why can’t our business simply be our own?” He was clearly not keen on the idea of Harry going anywhere without him. “In as high a regard as I hold Miss Granger, do you really think she is sufficient safeguard against the unique circumstances that might arise from Harry’s condition?”

“Unique circumstances?” McGonagall asked, eyebrow arched.

“Do you really think she can control him?” Severus clarified irritably.

“Do you really think he still requires control,” the Headmistress challenged, “or are you merely anxious at the thought of being separated from him? Harry seems to be in perfect possession of himself at the moment. I think you disrespect him by insinuating he cannot look after himself for an hour in Diagon Alley." She was ruffled and scowling. “He is no longer a child, Severus. In fact, I sometimes wonder if he ever was one,” she snipped, surprising Harry with her vehemence.

“They would not be alone,” Kingsley interjected in a conciliatory tone, trying to diffuse the sudden tension, as the Headmistress and the Potions Master seemed to be glaring murder at one another. “Of course, they would be shadowed by agents. You and Remus, however, carry a much higher profile and a less than savoury reputation. Your presence would only fuel rumours, not quiet them.”

Severus looked demandingly at Remus as if wondering why he wasn’t jumping to his defence, but the werewolf shrugged apologetically.

“I think it would be alright. It’s a short trip. The Full is weeks away and Harry has settled. We don’t have much choice, Severus.”

The Potions Master looked betrayed and disappointed. He turned his hard look on each of them in turn but was clearly on his own in his objections.

“Well,” he said, abruptly rising to his feet, “I really don’t know why I was invited to this little meeting if my advice was to be so disregarded. Since I’m obviously not needed, I have other things to attend to. If you will excuse me.”

“Severus,” Remus admonished when he swept past but was ignored. After half a moment’s deliberation, Remus cursed softly under his breath and started after the fleeing Potions Master. He threw the gathering an apologetic look but nonetheless turned to disappear through the hearth moments after Severus. Harry watched them go with a sigh, not looking forward the scene he’d be flooing into when the meeting was over. He turned back to Kingsley and McGonagall.

“Yeah. Hermione," he agreed unenthusiastically. It wasn’t that he hadn’t intended to tell her, it was that he dreaded it. And really, this was the first chance since his infection that he’d had time to consider it. “That’s fine.”

Kingsley nodded. “We’ll have to do something about your skin and eyes,” he said, “but that’s easily done. I’ll make the arrangements. There’s more to discuss, Harry, but it will have to wait until next time.” And with that he excused himself with a parting clap to Harry’s shoulder, obviously having been late to something before they’d even begun.

“Rainey, did you have anything to add?” McGonagall asked, looking as though she didn’t care to hear it if she did.

“Only that I wish to be of more assistance,” Loraina said with a shrug. Harry hadn’t had much of an opportunity to witness it before, but apparently the woman was capable of dialing down her oddity when necessary. Her posture was respectful and her tone polite. “Severus cannot always be taking Harry hunting, not if he’s to work out Harry’s reprieve. If I were to accompany him, however, Severus would have more time in the lab.”

“Harry? What say you?” McGonagall asked, far more open to the suggestion than Harry might have imagined.

“That’d be brilliant, actually,” he agreed haltingly, sharing a conspiratorial glance with Cobbleshot who gave him a subtle smile.

“Feel free to work it out amongst yourselves, then,” McGonagall said with a wave of her hand, dismissing them. Cobbleshot turned and drifted off without another word as Harry rose from his seat. Before he could disappear as well, McGonagall rose, too, and came around her desk to meet him.

“It really is good to see you looking so well, Harry,” she said with a surprising amount of feeling, reaching down to take his hand and pat it. Harry was taken aback but touched. The two had been as close as anyone could be with the stern professor. Harry knew her fondness stretched to something almost maternal, and Harry had always appreciated the steady, reliable presence she’d provided. He surprised them both by releasing her hand and wrapping her, instead, in a brief hug. She seemed flustered by the unexpected show of affection but was undoubtedly pleased.

“Thank you, Professor,” Harry said adamantly, “for everything.” Then he smiled one last time and turned toward the hearth, steeling himself to face Severus’ undoubtedly thunderous mood on the other side.

Chapter Text

“Why do you keep following me?” Harry heard Severus snip irritably from the kitchen. Harry had searched the lab and found no sign of the two and so had flooed to Grimmauld Place where the first thing he heard was a flurry of steps and disturbed chairs scraping against the hardwood floor.

“Because you are clearly upset, Severus, and it’s a matter that concerns us all,” Remus said evenly. “I thought it would be more productive for us to talk about it than for you to run away and sulk.”

Harry cringed. He’d never had the courage to be quite so forthright with Severus about his moodiness. Remus was rarely so forthright with Harry about his, either, and he was rather surprised by the man’s boldness. Harry crept closer to the closed kitchen door and waited for the fallout.

“Oh, yes. Let’s talk about our feelings,” Severus said mockingly. “I’m well aware that you and Harry do a considerable amount of that, but I am not Harry.” 

“It’s what adults do.” 

“You are intentionally provoking me,” Severus said in a low, dangerous voice. “You would do well to stop. Immediately.”

Remus sighed. “I’m not trying to make you angry, Severus. I simply thought we could communicate more. You always try to shoulder things on your own. I wanted you to understand you don’t have to. We don’t always have to be at odds, you and I.”

“I am civil,” Severus spat, not sounding very civil at all. “What more do you want from me?”

“Life has tossed us together for the foreseeable future, Severus,” said Remus, his cool slipping even further, “and it seems like this could be a very long and arduous ordeal if we aren’t, at the very least, friends.”

“Friends?” Severus scoffed. “At the very least? As if we might ever be more,” he sneered. “Besides, why in hell would I want to be friends with you?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Severus,” Remus said wearily. Harry heard a chair being pulled out before Remus took a heavy seat. Noticing a gap between the door and its frame, Harry peeked through the crack. He saw Remus rake a hand over his face, looking surprisingly bitter. “I’m told I’m a fairly likeable guy,” he shrugged. “Why the hell not? ”

Why not? ” Severus scowled, and indignation washed over him, causing him to shrink subtly from the man sitting in front of him. “Since you want to talk about feelings so badly, I’ll tell you why not,” he hissed. He lay a hand on the table to loom over Remus who sighed and sat back to look up at the man bemusedly. “Perhaps it’s because you regularly sat by and did nothing while your fellow bullies publically humiliated me--admittedly--for no other reason than I existed,” Severus growled. Decades of unresolved bitterness twisted his features. “Or do you even remember that?” he demanded with a sneer. “Was I just one, forgettable detail in a series of reprehensible acts perpetrated by you and your little gang of thugs?”

Remus' cheeks coloured slightly. He hung his head and took a steadying breath. 

“I assure you, I certainly have never forgotten,” Severus went on sourly, turning away from Remus as if to avoid seeing his contrition. “You may not have been the one holding the wand, Lupin,” he spat over his shoulder, “but you did absolutely nothing to come to my defence. Almost worse, you ignored it. You always sat reading, as if my suffering did not even warrant your attention. The rancour I still nurse for you is far older and harder to suppress than magical aversion. And you dared to hold up this shining example of Harry’s father for him,” Severus muttered acidly. “You allowed your mutt boyfriend to play role model, all the while knowing they both had just as much hate and prejudice in their hearts as I did when I took my Mark. What, exactly, do you think drove me to seek it in the first place?!” he demanded, his anger causing Remus to flinch.

“Look,” said Remus after a tense, silent moment, during which Severus seemed to be trying, and failing, to calm himself. “I am sorry, Severus,” he whispered, turning a doleful look in the man’s direction. “I know those words are insufficient, but I am truly sorry. I do remember, and I regret it. Not my friendship with Sirius or Harry’s father,” he clarified, “but that I did not do what I knew to be right. That I did not stop what I knew to be wrong.”

“Of course, you do now,” Severus said disdainfully, “now that you’ve been called on it.”

“No, Severus,” Remus insisted, rising from his seat. “I regretted it then. I’ve thought of it often since and with shame. But try to understand, Severus,” he pleaded, attempting to make the man meet his eye. “James, Sirius, Peter...they were all I had. They were only ones who knew, the only ones who made my condition bearable. And while I was admittedly disgusted by what they did to you, I was a coward. I was afraid...” Remus grimaced, searching for words. “I was afraid if I pushed too hard I’d push them away, and then it would just be me and the moon in a cold and lonely shack again,” he confessed, clearly remembering a time before Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs.

“Of course, it’s not an excuse,” he said, shaking his head at himself. “And I’ve endured enough lonely moons since to know that my integrity and your dignity merited the risk, that I should have said something even if it drove them from me. I know now that it was foolish to have had so little faith in their friendship that I could believe such a thing were even possible. But I didn’t know it then, Severus,” said Remus, desperately willing the man he’d wronged to understand.

Severus was stubborn but softening. Glancing back at Remus, his expression was no longer quite so harsh.

“Then, I was a scared, insecure young werewolf terrified of losing the only friends I’d ever known. And I was wrong, Severus. I admit it. I accept your bitterness, I earned it. But I also ask your forgiveness. I ask it knowing I may never receive it, that perhaps I do not deserve it. But, for Harry’s sake-” he went on haltingly.

“Don’t you dare to bring Harry into this,” Severus cut him off with a fierce whisper, all of his severity returning in an instant. “Of all the insults I’ve endured at your hands, that was the greatest by far. I am well aware that he has some hope that we will all live together Happily Ever After, and I have tried, for his sake, to overcome my distaste for you. But I don’t think either of you quite know how much you’re asking of me by expecting me to absolve you completely, to accept you as anything other than the bastard who stole my innocence and then my lover.”

Remus hardened slightly, was clearly not ready to abandon his effort to get through to the man.

“Severus, neither of us are the naive children we were then,” he said tersely. “We’re adults. We better understand the world and each other. My gods, Severus,” he added with a frustrated huff, “we have shared experiences no others have shared, known burdens others couldn’t even imagine. We’ve gone to war together, for fuck’s sake! And you begrudge me my old mates?” he scowled, becoming properly angry himself. “Severus, the ‘lord’ you swore fealty to ripped away everything in this world that was ever precious to me,” he hissed accusingly through teeth clenched against the pain of the memory. 

Severus’ scowl dissolved into instant embarrassment, though his jaw tightened stubbornly.

“He condemned me to twelve years of grief and poverty and utter isolation. And still, I forgive you. Hell, I embrace you,” Remus said with a helpless, reaching look which Severus would not meet. “Yet you cannot forgive me a single lapse in judgement over twenty years old because James showed your arse to a bunch of school children you likely don’t even remember?” he demanded. “You are better than this, Severus,” Remus insisted, stepping in front of the man, refusing to be avoided any longer. 

Severus sighed, could no longer hold onto his bitterness in the face of Remus’ pained, hopeful expression.

“It may have taken Harry to allow me to appreciate it so fully, but I saw through your surly facade a long time ago,” Remus confessed, gratified by Severus' attention, however reluctant. “You try so hard to hide it,” he said, shaking his head almost fondly at the man’s irrationality. “But I see your integrity and your conscience, Severus. I recognise my own struggle in yours. I acknowledge to myself that I do not possess half the strength and bravery you refuse to admit to. And I accept that I admire it,” he all but whispered, overcome. “The only thing you lack is grace, and even that I could overlook if-”

Remus bit off the thought with a wince as if realising he’d gone too far, said too much. His gaze drifted from Severus’ and he looked suddenly defeated.

Severus eyed him with gentle suspicion, surprised and slightly bewildered. “What are you saying to me?” he asked, shaking his head as if to deny the revelation. “That you have feelings for-?”

“I don’t know what I’m saying, Severus,” said Remus, turning his back to hide the sadness he could not seem to banish from his expression. He seemed angry, but not with Severus. “Let’s just leave it there, shall we?” he sighed.

Severus seemed unsure what to do. He looked as if he wanted to comfort the man somehow but was still trying to come to terms with the situation himself. “Lupin,” he began, not unkindly, “you understand that I'm not exactly...”

Remus shook his head and chuckled wryly as Severus spoke, angered by the lie and refusing to hear it finished. “Oh, come off it, Severus!” he blurted, rounding on the man and startling him. “You’ve been sticking your willy in a boy for four years, and you suck cock like a goddamned champion. Get over this hang up you have with semantics and just accept that you are, if nothing else, not fucking straight.”

Severus was taken aback, his mouth was open as if to reply but no words would come. Remus watched him struggle for a moment, scowling expectantly, but when it was clear no response was forthcoming, he apparently decided he’d had enough of the conversation.

“Sod it,” he muttered under his breath, shoving his chair roughly out of the way as he made for the door. Harry scrambled back away from it to avoid being struck.

Remus stopped just short of colliding with the young man. His expression was shocked, then embarrassed upon realising they’d had an audience. Harry felt the impulse to explain, to apologise for eavesdropping, but he too was too overwhelmed by what he’d heard to utter an acceptable response. In the end, Remus’s anger returned and he stepped past Harry, stomping up the stairs with both Harry and Severus looking after him, anguished and abashed.

Chapter Text

Harry turned back to Severus, who still appeared confused, and gave him an apologetic look. Though Harry felt his lingering need like a dull ache, what they’d started would have to wait. Severus seemed too preoccupied now to pursue it, besides. Harry knew the man would not tolerate any discussion of what had just happened, and he sensed his Mate might be in need of comfort. Still, he asked silent permission of Severus before turning to follow Remus, which Severus gave by way of bowing his head and sweeping past Harry and to the floo.

Harry sighed and stared after him for a moment. At least this might distract Severus from his discontent at the meeting’s outcome. Harry hadn’t been ready to wrestle with that issue yet, anyway. He looked up the stairwell toward Remus’ room. The man was silent. Harry did not even hear the groan of his weight on the floorboards. He trudged his way toward the werewolf, announcing his approach with a heavy step.

“Not now, Harry,” Remus called wearily when the young man tapped on his door. The command made Harry pause but was half-hearted and easy enough to ignore after a moment, though Harry's bones were still reluctant. He opened the door and peeked in. Remus was lying on his bed, knuckles to his lips in a deeply pensive position. Harry let himself in and quietly shut the door behind him.

Remus still stayed in Sirius’ old room, though it had changed drastically since the time when they two had shared it. More shelves lined its borders, filled with a haphazard collection of well-read books. Many of Remus’ sketches adorned the walls in plain but tasteful frames, and loose ones lay scattered on various surfaces with nubs of charcoal and the random bits of nature Remus seemed to enjoy collecting. In sharp contrast to Severus’ quarters, the room possessed an air of disarray. It was homey, comfortable, slightly dishevelled but almost artfully so. In absolute resemblance to Severus’ quarters, the room was a perfect reflection of the man who inhabited it.

The one thing that hadn’t changed in the last four years was Kreacher. The House Elf’s mangled visage still hung over the cluttered writing desk. It was this that Remus stared at while he brooded. It was this that Harry couldn’t pull his eyes from himself. He hated seeing it there. He hated knowing its origin and function. Surely its purpose had been served, the promise Remus made duly fulfilled. Harry saw no reason for the man to continue his penance of being constantly faced with the thing.

“Molly isn’t in charge of the place anymore,” Harry pointed out quietly. “We could move him. Not remove him, just place him somewhere else.”

“No,” Remus replied softly, still staring at it. “He reminds me--of who I don’t wish to be, of the mistakes I’ve made and must accept responsibility for. Apparently, I still need reminding. I seem to keep making them.”

Harry regarded the man thoughtfully for a moment before walking over and crawling onto Remus’ bed with him. Without a word, Remus reached out an arm for Harry to tuck himself under, but his attention didn’t stray from the morbid physical representation of his tortured conscience. 

“Are you alright?” Harry whispered, toying with the buttons of Remus’ shirt.

The man chuckled mirthlessly. “You mean, considering I just made a fool of myself?” he asked with a wry twist of his lips.

“You didn’t,” Harry assured him. “You’re smitten, is all. There’s no shame in that. And I really can’t blame you,” he shrugged with a small smile, “So am I.”

Remus sighed and squeezed Harry closer. “I thought I’d outgrown this kind of thing ages ago,” he said with an embarrassed smile, finally allowing his eyes to drift from Kreacher but still not pulling them to Harry, “butterflies and longing and awkward exchanges. It’s harder to accept when you can’t blame it on loneliness or grief. Or hormones. It’s easy to forget how helpless it makes you feel. You think, when you reach a certain age, you’re impervious to such irrational behaviour, such inexplicable emotion. But I feel just like a goddamned teenager again,” he admitted with a groan. 

Harry chuckled. “It’s endearing,” he told Remus, laying his head on his chest and listening to his heart, which still thumped a little faster than usual.

“It’s obnoxious,” Remus replied emphatically, looking miserable.

“It will work out,” Harry said, equally emphatic. “Give him some time to think about it. About you, about the three of us. He’ll come around. He’s only half as stubborn as he seems. Well,” he amended with a smile, "maybe three-quarters."

“I’m not so sure,” Remus sighed, glancing back up at Kreacher. “The damage might already be too great.”

“You mean letting on that you have a crush? No harm in that, really,” said Harry, snuggling closer. “It could have been worse. You’ve certainly handled it more gracefully than I ever have. Now, if you’d showed up to his rooms practically naked in the middle of the night, then there might have been damage,” he joked. “That only works about half the time, by the way.”

Remus’ mood wasn’t lifted. “I was referring to what Sirius and your father did at Hogwarts,” he said somberly.

Harry shifted uncomfortably, his cheeks burning as he recalled the abuse revealed by his voyeurism in the Pensieve all those years ago.

You didn’t do those things,” Harry insisted.

“I might as well have, Darling. I did absolutely nothing to stop them. I didn’t even complain to the boys after. Though, I did refuse to speak to them for a day or so,” he reflected. Remus sighed, regret etched in his expression. “Severus is right to hold a grudge, Harry. What was done to him was excessive and cruel. Remembering it still turns my stomach. Well besides that, I flaunted my relationship with you in front of him,” he added with a wince, “which was almost equally cruel. And I can’t say why, exactly, I did it. It was spiteful. I suppose I just didn’t recognise, then, where my spite came from.”

Harry propped himself on his elbow and studied the man. “But you recognise it now?” 

Remus shrugged, seemed unsure. “I suppose it was from wanting him and being unable to have him,” he proposed, as if to himself. “Being enamoured and knowing he hated me still and wanting to return a little of that hurt.”

Despite himself, Harry scowled at the man, tucking his head when he was unable to hide the hurt in his expression. 

“Oh, Darling,” Remus whispered, finally giving Harry his full attention. He reached to gently turn the young man’s face toward his own. “Please, don’t look so wounded. What we did--what we do--is not misplaced affection. My feelings for you are true,” he vowed, stroking his thumb across Harry’s cheek. “But you should know as well as anyone that you can care for more than one person at the same time.”

Harry’s umbrage melted under Remus’ warm look and gentle touch. He melted against the man again.

“I know,” Harry admitted with a sigh, wrapping an arm around Remus’ chest, which the man stroked idly. “I think perhaps I’m just surprised. I’d supposed you were thinking of me when you suggested Severus join us. I didn’t realise you’d really wanted it, too.”

Remus shook his head. “Oh, no. I’ve been contemplating Severus Snape for a long while,” he confessed with a lopsided smile and a small, self-deprecating laugh.

“Well, I promise he’s contemplating you now, too.”

Remus twisted to throw a curious look down at the young man tucked against his chest. “You think so?”

Harry nodded. “And a good many other things besides. Granted, I don’t know what conclusions he’ll arrive at, but you certainly got his attention,” he said with a cheeky grin.

“Well, there is that, at least,” Remus said, looking resigned but a shade more hopeful. “By the way, weren’t the two of you...preoccupied before Minerva dragged you away? Perhaps you should be with him now.”

Harry shook his head. “I think I’ll give him some time to mull things over.”

Remus nodded slowly, mulling himself. “And you’re sure I didn’t make an arse of myself?” he asked finally, nervously. Harry smiled and gave him the reassurance he was seeking.

“Positive,” he told him as if the matter were settled and Remus should be too. But Harry had something on his own mind that would not stop nagging. “So,” he ventured, “how long?”

“How long?” Remus asked, still distracted.

“For how long have you been contemplating Severus Snape?” Harry clarified with mock severity.

Remus looked suddenly sheepish, as though this was not something he should be discussing with Harry. It had to be daunting to explain to a person for how long and in what way one had been eyeing their lover.

“Well, it helped my opinion of him immensely when he started brewing me Wolfsbane,” Remus said with a small laugh. “And he undoubtedly earned my respect when I discovered what he was doing for the Order,” he added more seriously. “But I have to admit, the expression on your face while you looked at him when I found you in the dungeon that night, as you helped him to his feet…” Remus sighed and shook his head. “I spent plenty of sleepless nights afterward wondering what about him could elicit it from you, wondering what stole that shine in your eyes when you looked at me and granted it to him. It wasn’t really that I felt I had a right to it,” he rushed to explain, “just that I knew it was something special, something you didn’t bestow lightly.” Remus paused, staring hard at Kreacher and then down at Harry. “I assumed you had to have seen something extraordinary in him in those few days that I had somehow missed in all the many years I’d known him, and I felt rather dense for not having seen it myself. And so I started paying more attention,” he shrugged.

“And you liked what you saw?” Harry prodded.

Remus gave a barely perceptible nod. “Very much so,” he sighed. “There is something about him when he’s with you,” Remus explained, struggling to find the words. “You break down his facade. You force him to betray his humanity. It’s hard not to be jealous of the ferocity with which he loves you,” Remus admitted softly, “and to not wonder what it would be like to be the object of it.”

Harry could understand Remus’ longing. Being the object of Severus’ intensity was heady. Exhausting but glorious. Harry recalled the man’s wanton expression in the Forest, the urgency and insistence of his touch afterwards, and he blushed. Ardent as Remus often was, there was something so single-minded about Severus’ passion. It was all-consuming, and it was definitely something to envy.

While Harry mused, Remus sighed again. The man was full of sighs, it seemed. Though, Harry supposed infatuation could do that to a person.

“I don’t delude myself with thinking the full force of Severus’ attentions might ever actually be directed at me,” Remus said, resigned. “That is yours and yours alone. As well it should be,” he added unequivocally. “Knowing that doesn’t make one want it any less, though. And these last few weeks, with their certain amount of forced intimacy, have admittedly been a little torturous.” 

Remus was pained, and Harry ached with him, for him. Harry ached that he alone couldn’t be enough for Remus. But then, how could he be when so much of him belonged to the man who enamoured them both? Harry held Remus tighter and felt Remus’ hand descend on his head to idly pet him, an exercise that soothed them both.

“Anyway. Enough of this melancholic nonsense,” Remus muttered, laying it to rest. “What did you all work out? Are you going to Diagon Alley with Hermione?”

Harry had almost forgotten. He nodded, chagrined. “It seems so. You know,” he brooded, “I was a little surprised that Hermione hadn’t shown up before now. I’d have thought, as soon as she saw the first headline, she’d be beating down our door.”

Remus shrugged. “Well, she is busy with school,” he said as if that explained it all. Which really, Harry realised, it did. “I imagine she’s simply buried herself in books. You saw how she was when she came back to finish at Hogwarts. Once there were no more crises to worry about or imminent attempts on your life, she let herself get lost in her studies. We wouldn’t hear from her for weeks sometimes. Now that she’s at University, it’s got to be even worse.”

“I suppose,” Harry conceded, still bothered.

“You’re worried about telling her.” 

“Wouldn’t you be?” Harry asked, unwinding himself from Remus and sitting upright. “How does one even go about it? ‘Hey, Hermione. Long time no see. By the way, I’m a freak of nature now. An entirely different kind from before. It’s totally okay, though. I’m fairly sure I won’t kill you.’”

Remus chuckled and reached for him, pulling Harry down on top of him and reaching up to tuck Harry’s dangling fringe behind one of the young man’s ears. “That’s not what worries you.”

“It isn’t?” Harry asked sceptically.

Remus shook his head. “You’re afraid she’ll obsess, want to analyse you. She will, you know,” he shrugged. “Probably open a brand new area of study, be the world’s first expert in Harry Hybridism.” He grinned and Harry returned it. “You’re the ultimate minority. She’ll be raising support for your legal rights before they even have a chance to be infringed.”

Harry laughed outright. “Society for the Promotion of Hybrid Welfare?”

“Oh, I’m sure she’s able to manage something more catchy than that by now,” Remus argued once his own chuckle subsided. “Lobby for Bloodwolf Benefits?”

Harry settled against Remus, laying his head on his chest again. “I like that term. Bloodwolf,” he repeated, enjoying the taste of the word on his tongue. “I was wondering what I could be called, you know. A hybrid could be almost anything. Let’s hope Bloodwolves don’t need lobbyists,” he said. “Let’s hope that I’m the only one ever. I can drop out of society easily enough, and I’ll just take you and Severus with me.”

“And what, move to Romania?” Remus proposed, his sigh now more content than the ones before it.

“You’d never survive Romania,” Harry said flatly, thinking of the unavoidable, instinctual enmity of the vampire population there toward werewolves. There was no guarantee Harry himself would be spared it. Cobbleshot said he smelled of dog. “Let’s go somewhere tropical,” Harry suggested. “How much do you suppose I’m worth? Maybe we could buy an island.”

“So you could soak up some sun?” Remus needled.

“You have a point.” Harry gave a small laugh, but the subject was still sore for him. As magical as the moon could be, as enchanting as the night was, he missed the sun. And unless Severus could unlock his remedy, Harry might very well never see it again. Not without cost.

Remus detected Harry’s sudden change of mood and held him tighter. “You’ll be alright, you know,” he said more seriously. “Severus and I will be with you every step of the way, no matter where we are. We’ll get through this together. You’ll see.”

Harry wasn’t nearly so certain, but he didn’t want to think about it just then. Those thoughts in him were far darker than Remus realised. Harry’d just escaped the Madness, he wasn’t ready to slip into another of his own making. He needed a distraction.

“You know, I started something earlier,” he said, lifting himself to look Remus in the eye, to show him his intention. They were both suddenly aware, it seemed, of how much contact their bodies were achieving. “Want to help me finish it?” he whispered, stretching toward Remus’ lips.

The man did not answer in words. Harry would have to make it up to Severus later, but he didn’t think that would necessarily be a hardship.

Chapter Text

Harry made his way back to the lab with a slight spring in his step, feeling more hopeful than ever about his situation. He really did want what he’d mentioned to Remus, to just disappear somewhere with the two of them and leave all this mess behind them. Though the injustice of his predicament chafed, Harry had never really been one for revenge. At least, not for wrongs done to him. When he’d fought, he’d done so for others. Severus would likely be reluctant to leave the resources and convenience of Hogwarts, but Remus was untethered, as was Harry, and surely they could work something out. How expensive could their potions be that Harry could not set Severus up in a new lab somewhere else?

In the existing one, Harry found the man carefully combining the contents of two phials. While it might not have been evident to others, Harry could tell Severus was troubled. His pour was more hurried than usual, his movements just a shade less measured. The Potions Master’s mind was not on what he was doing. Which meant he must have been agitated in the extreme, because no one could practice mindfulness like Severus Snape, especially when potions were involved. Harry’s unencumbered mood turned slightly heavier, and he approached the man cautiously, slipping his arms around Severus’ waist from behind and laying his cheek against his back. Severus’ attention seemed never to stray from his work.

“Well,” he said tightly after a long moment, still eyeing the colouring of the liquid in the phial he held to the torchlight, “was that therapeutic? 

His tone was caustic. Harry sighed inwardly and disentangled himself to step back and fold his arms across his chest. He hadn’t wanted this to be an argument, but there seemed no avoiding it. Instead of taking the time alone to calm and reflect, Severus had used it to brood, as Harry really should have predicted he would. The young man knew better than to answer him.

“I assume, then, you aren’t interested in continuing what we started earlier?” Severus went on, glaring at the phial now. Harry doubted he saw the thing at all.

“We can,” Harry answered. “I’d like to.”

“Oh, so you did save some scraps for me?” said Severus, turning finally to scowl at the young man. The glass tube dangled, near-forgotten, from his fingers. He sneered, “How very considerate of the two of you.” 

Harry scowled back at Severus, trying not to rise to his bait. “I didn’t come down here to fight with you, Severus. Besides, we both know you’re just upset because of what happened earlier.”

“Oh, go prance about Diagon Alley all you bloody want if you think you can handle it,” Severus muttered with a dismissive wave of his hand, “What do I care?" He turned his back on Harry to return the phial to its stand. "Bear in mind, though, you’ve only been freed from your cell this evening. But then what do I know of vampirism and bloodlust?” 

Harry knew that conversation would have to be continued later, as well, but another was more pressing. He sighed and toed the ground, his arms still locked across his chest. Severus would not want to talk about it, but if the man’s mood was any indication, it was something they needed to address as soon as possible so they could move on, regardless of Severus’ decision on the matter.

“I was talking about what happened in the kitchen, Severus,” he clarified.

“Oh, were you?” Severus drawled, turning a withering look to his young lover. “So glad you were there for that, by the way,” he deadpanned. “But which part were you referring to exactly? My enumerating your boyfriend’s many crimes against humanity?” he asked, voice rising. “Or his throwing a bloody tantrum over it?”

“You know what I’m talking about, Severus,” said Harry, his voice rising as well despite his resolution to remain calm. “And I suspect you’ve started having thoughts you’d rather not entertain, and you’re taking it out on me. I think you’re just upset now because maybe you’re realising Remus’ affection might not be one-sided after all, and it bothers you to even consider it.” Severus might deny it, even to himself, but Harry had heard their bedside conversations, he’d heard Severus’ grudging respect, at the very least. Harry and Severus’ start had been even more contentious. Surely Severus and Remus could bridge their divide, as well.

“One-sided?” said Severus, incredulous. “Oh, no,” he shook his head, “No, Lupin’s love life is multi-bloody-faceted. Am I correct in assuming he fucked you on the same mattress on which he used to sodomise your late godfather?” he demanded, his scowl deepening. It was a low blow, and Harry almost gasped at the man’s audacity. “Tell me, does he have any male acquaintances he doesn’t want to bed?”

Harry was shaking already. As irascible as Severus could often be, he was rarely so personally and intentionally offensive.

“Severus, you’re being an arsehole,” Harry warned quietly. He was determined not to be the one to start shouting. The two glared at each other for a long, tense moment. But instead of him spitting back more abuse, as Harry had expected, Severus’ expression seemed to crumple, and Harry was thrown off guard by the sudden shift.

“How could you do this to me?” he asked. There was a quiet desperation in the question. “After everything I’ve endured--for you--this is how you repay me?”

It was a rare, honest display. Severus made no attempt to mask his sorrow, and Harry’s heart broke and his face burned with shame even without his understanding yet why it should. “What are you even talking about?” he stammered, trying and failing to hold on to his hard feelings. He had the urge to reach for Severus but was too confused to act on it. Harry hugged himself instead.

Severus’ pain shifted to indignation. “You come here, still smelling of him, and you have to ask? I knew,” he muttered sadly, “when I saw your face after, that you would not side with me. That would not choose me. Am I just too prickly to love? Is my temper too inconvenient? What is it that wins your sympathy for him? His soft-spoken manner? Is that all it takes to claim your fickle affection?”

Harry shook his head, at a loss, and his crossed arms dropped to his sides. “Severus, you know that Remus and I…” he began haltingly, but he couldn’t articulate the thought, not when facing the man’s fierce, wounded expression. Harry wondered suddenly if Severus didn’t know, didn’t understand or accept the situation as Harry had thought he had, but Harry wasn’t sure what he was meant to do about it. There was no breaking the bond at this point. Harry was uncomfortable, knowing he’d had no say in the matter but also that he hadn’t really objected.

Almost without thinking, Harry tried to deflect this sudden insecurity, to turn his offense back on Severus. “Even if it wasn't too late to change that, you tried to throw me away! Now you want to have a say?” 

“I had only your best interest in mind,” Severus said tightly, his outrage rising in response to Harry’s. “I have always only had your best interest in mind. I thought you’d run off with some empty-headed nymph. How was I to know you’d betray me with that mongrel?”

Harry didn’t have to force his anger any longer. “Remus is a good man, Severus,” he insisted, his voice shaking, his hands clenched in fists at his sides. “Why is that so hard for you to accept?”

“Good? How can you be so blind, Harry. Nobility has never ruled his kind.”

“His kind?” Harry took a small step toward Severus, the threat of anguished tears replaced now with the threat of furious ones. “Do you mean werewolves? Because I’m one of those now, too, remember?”

“As if that wasn’t enough,” Severus shot back, his lip curled in disgust. “But no, I meant bloody Gryffindors. Or at least the ones I’ve known. They prattle on about bravery and honour, but it is almost always just a justification for their selfishness and spite.”

“Really, Severus? Because I’m one of those, too,” Harry said, his voice dipping instead of rising, a sure sign that his anger had reached a new level of intensity. He could feel a prickling on his skin and a peculiar ache in his bones but paid them no mind. He couldn’t recall ever being so purely angry with the man before. But then, Harry’s emotions were still raw. “And that, at least, is not a new fucking development.” 

Severus noted the change but was undeterred by the dangerous tone. “And yet the description is still rather fair, is it not?” he shouted back, returning Harry’s glare but redoubling it. “But you aren’t really one of them,” he muttered dismissively, letting his rancour slip. “You told me yourself the Sorting Hat wanted to put you in Slytherin. You chose the lions’ den out of naivety, and I honestly think you chose poorly.”

“Oh, really? You think I should have been in the ‘honorable’ House of Slytherin? With Draco? Like Lucius and Tom Riddle before him?”

The comment further curdled Severus’ already sour expression. “At least we Slytherins don’t try to camouflage our ambition or our vengeance. We’re honest in our contempt. But it doesn’t matter, really,” he murmured, more to himself than to Harry. Morosity seemed to bleed into his expression, dousing the animosity there. He turned away from the young man, suddenly dispirited. “You could have cheated on me with the Dark Lord himself and the betrayal would have been no more callous.” Then he turned his back on Harry’s scowl completely and rested his hands on the workbench, his head hung between his shoulders, the very picture of defeat.

Harry was unsettled. He was still too angry to comfort Severus but concerned enough that he had to actively fight the urge to do so. The tingling he experienced earlier ceased as uncertainty cooled his temper. The Dark was too close for Harry to trust the whiplash shift in his emotions, or in Severus’.

“Do you know how many hours I’ve spent in this room since Exams ended,” Severus said then wearily, casting a lazy gesture at the assembled equipment surrounding him, “trying to force a breakthrough that should take years into a few weeks? Trying to make some progress before the hellions come back from holiday, just so that you might walk in the sodding sunlight again? All the while longing to be at your side instead but knowing I’m your only hope of relief. Can you imagine how it felt being forced to allow him to ‘administer your care’,” he termed sardonically, his temper quickly returning, “so that I could be here, trying to give you back your life? 

Severus turned back to him, hurt and accusation playing in equal measure over his face, both so potent they caused Harry to step back. The young man was already disconcerted by Severus’ words and now, confronted with the intensity of the man’s discontent, Harry’s anger failed him entirely and he felt suddenly small and chastised.

“Do you not understand the danger I placed myself in to further the Order’s cause?” Severus went on severely, unrelenting despite the helpless apology in Harry’s eyes; or perhaps all the more harsh in response to it. “Do you not realize that there was a point I’d have said ‘sod it all’ and simply left the Death Eaters for the relative safety of Grimmauld Place? But I stayed. By Voldemort’s side. At my mortal peril. For you,” he intoned, his voice dripping with scorn. “In order to keep you safe, to be in a position to know what threats might seek you so that I might protect you from them!”

Harry was silent as Severus attempted to swallow his anger, though the effort appeared to make the man feel ill. He shook his head, still stewing, and sagged back against the table behind him.

“I should have known--did know--that you would be my undoing,” he muttered ruefully. “When you forced your way into my quarters that night I should have booted you straight through the bloody hearth." The bitter anger he could not seem to banish was swelling in him again, evidenced by his stirring posture. “You have ruined me!” he burst when it finally crested, startling Harry into backing further from him. Because it wasn’t just anger Harry saw in him. There was a desolation in his eyes that would haunt Harry, perhaps for the rest of his life.

“I am ruined,” Severus moaned, each word struggling separately to fight its way past the man’s choking emotion. “You rule my every thought, my every impulse.” He grimaced as if he loathed the condition, was pained by it. “I was content to be the cold, lonely, miserable bastard holed up in his potions lab, until you came along and forced me to accept your love. And for what?” he demanded. “So you could withhold it now? Dangle it in front of me? So you could feed it to me piecemeal,” he spat, “while doling it out to others in spades? And all this after forcing me to declare my own love, even though I’d held that secret inside me for so long.” Severus seethed. “Damn you!” he bellowed, rising to his feet, his savage expression driving Harry against the wall behind him. “Damn you for following me into that bloody forest! Damn you for being a fool who got us locked away where I could not deny my desires any longer. Damn you for making me love you!” he shouted, causing Harry to flinch. “I am consumed with you.” He gave Harry a look as if imploring him to understand the cost of his affection, then seemed to despair that Harry could not. Severus’s legs seemed to fail him then, and Harry watched, speechless, as the man sank to his knees.

Harry was beyond shaken. He had never before witnessed this level of emotion from Severus. At least, not outside the extreme circumstances of that First Dark, which Harry felt didn’t really count somehow. That night did not seem part of the real world. It sat outside of regular time and reality and belonged exclusively to the nightmare of his unsettled blood.

And perhaps that was the barrier to his understanding. Because Severus’ blood had been settled, and everything he’d said and done then had been genuine, given at cost and not stripped bare involuntarily by a merciless moon. Harry had known Severus was capable of this depth of feeling but never suspected him capable of expressing it, and certainly not in the presence of others. Their time on the Dark seemed to have opened Pandora’s box, and Severus could not now slam back closed that door to his deepest self. Harry felt lost, not knowing how to handle the display, not knowing how to feel about what he was hearing. He only knew he had to stave off the heartbreak that waited, just behind his shock, to fell him.

“And you’d rather pretend House with your damned pet lap dog,” Severus went on. He seemed exhausted and defeated but unable to stem the flood now that the dam had finally broken. Real tears spilled in turns down his cheeks. “And it’s me who’s the arsehole because I don’t feel like joining in your little game.”

Severus bowed his head, his shoulders shaking in such a way that Harry could not determine if the man was laughing or weeping.

“You should have let the Dark Lord dispose of me,” he muttered finally with a dark, humourless chuckle that died in a sob. “No torture he could have devised could have matched this. Nothing compares to the pain of being in love with The Chosen One. Of loving a Claimed lover. Of bloody worshipping a damned selfish brat like yourself,” he finished disconsolately, not even looking at the young man as he cursed him.

Wide-eyed, Harry watched Severus slump forward to give over to silent weeping. Harry felt ill, afflicted by Severus’ rancour. He was horrified. He’d had no idea the man felt this way. He would never have wanted to cause him this kind of anguish. Harry would have, in that moment, sacrificed any part of himself to erase that pain in Severus. He would have given anything to erase the sight of it from his memory. He grieved that he could not, that no knife could carve their hurt from him, no matter how he longed for the cut. Harry would have shed limbs. He would have dug out his own heart and served it to the man on a platter as he prostrated himself before him.

The world seemed to swim, confusing him slightly before Harry realised he was crying. Crying but not breathing because he was unable to do so through the ache that had seized his chest.

Severus loved him but hated it. Harry had forced himself on the man, just as he was trying to force Remus on him now, and the effort was resented. Severus regretted him.

It was this that played over and over in Harry’s head as he stared at the man weeping in front of him. It was this thought that prevented him from rushing to Severus’ side to comfort him, this thought that robbed Harry of breath: Severus regretted him.

It was his eventual, involuntary gasp to replenish his starving lungs that drew Severus’ attention. And it was the next that seemed to snap the man out of his own anguish and awaken him to Harry’s. In fact, Harry could not stop gasping. Each one renewed the pain that had blossomed around his heart. It was self-perpetuating, and Harry thought he might die of it.

Severus spared half a moment to take in the sight of him and then swept to his feet. All thought of his own hurt was turned to concern over Harry’s, and he seemed unconscious now of the tears that still dripped from his chin as Harry’s eyes welled with them to the point they finally, tremblingly spilled. Harry could not hide the extremity of the hurt Severus’ words had caused him, and Severus seemed horrified, looking back down at the spot on the floor where he had collapsed as if he could not believe it had actually happened. 

“Harry,” he gasped, reaching for the young man, but Harry flinched at the gesture, despite that Severus was much too far away to touch him, “Dearest, I didn’t mean…” Severus appeared helpless and lost. They both knew he’d meant every frothing syllable. He hadn’t meant to voice them is what he meant. But he had, had had every right to, and Harry could never unhear them.

Harry had known his condition would be a burden to them, but he hadn’t realised he’d been a poison all along, that he had been eating away at Severus long before being accosted in that warehouse and turned into what he was now. Realising it, he felt he had to leave, even if it wasn’t forever yet. Harry felt toxic, corrosive, as if he couldn’t allow Severus to touch him, though the man approached him now with his hand outstretched. Besides, Harry felt he had to breathe open air. The weight of his blame in Severus’ suffering was suffocating him.

Harry scrambled for the stair, but the floor seemed to roll beneath his feet. He was lightheaded, hyperventilating, and Severus caught him by the wrist before he reached it.

“Harry, please,” Severus whispered urgently, desperately, reaching to gather the young man to him.

Harry twisted in his grasp. “Sorry,” he gasped. He did not have the breath for anything more elaborate. “So sorry, Severus,” he sobbed, prying the man’s stubborn fingers from his wrist, wrenching his eyes from Severus’ wretched, imploring expression. “I’m so, so...” But then he was free, and he was gone, with Severus cursing and calling his name after him up the stairwell. Even after he left the man behind him and had thrown himself through the floo, Harry continued to utter it, unable to stop: “Sorry, Severus. So sorry.”

Harry didn’t want to go to Grimmauld Place. He didn’t have it in him to explain himself to Remus. Harry needed to breathe, and he needed to run, as far away from this as he could.

He was halfway to the Forest before his sobs truly found their voice, before they stopped choking him with their impotent struggles to burst, clawing, from his throat as he stumbled blindly for the cover of the trees.

Harry mourned that the world was no longer dark, that he would never again know the solace of shadow under the cloak of night. He felt exposed. He knew it wasn’t true. He knew it was the world that was naked to him and not the other way around, but Harry couldn’t internalise it, not when he could see the world--all of it--in such sharp and shimmering detail while he staggered, grasping, through it.

Harry did not recognise the place where he finally collapsed. He didn’t make a conscious decision to stop, he merely ceased getting back up at some point after stumbling to the forest floor for perhaps the dozenth time. All he knew for certain was that he was deeper in the forest than he ever remembered being.

And also that he wasn’t alone.

Harry didn’t care what Cobbleshot saw or what she thought. He hadn’t asked her to follow him. He would not apologise for the state she saw him in now. He wept because he had no choice in the matter. And he wept pitifully because he fucking felt like it, audience or no. He hoped she did not try to comfort him. He remembered her taking Hermione’s hand on the Hogwarts Express and the dislike that had woken in him for the woman then. They both knew she wasn’t moved by the same emotions that ruled mere mortals, neither was she able to imitate them.

She did not, however, leave him alone. She approached him and crouched some feet away, watching him blankly while he sobbed into his arms, despite that he took up a handful of moulding leaves and threw them at her, too shattered even to shout obscenities. She paid them no mind. She didn’t even flinch. She just let the dead bits settle on her hair and clothes like flakes of rotting black snow.

Harry ignored her. His pain had blunted and blossomed, had broken off its sharp edges in his psyche, which seeped cold despair now like pooling blood, and Harry struggled not to drown in it.

His choice was clear, having been revealed not to be a choice at all. He felt foolish and naive, wallowing as he had in self-pity over the decision to leave. Now that the course was unavoidable, Harry was forced to admit to himself he’d never really intended to go. Seeing now that he must was breaking him. Harry had faced certain death with less dread and regret than he felt at the prospect of living without Severus. It was like the day before the release ceremony all over again, but worse. 

He was surprised at how shallow his feelings toward Remus seemed in comparison. There was pain there, deep and keen, but it was nothing compared to the soul-swallowing desperation evoked by the possible loss of his Potions Master. Harry felt physically ill, each sob threatening to turn him inside out. With the last of his strength he rolled his his back, too devastated even to cry any longer. He merely lay looking up through the tangle of tree limbs above him to the distant wink of stars overhead and waited, it seemed, to simply expire. Surely a heart could not contain so much pain and continue to beat for much longer.

“Are you done?” Cobbleshot asked after a moment. It wasn't snide, she honestly wanted to know.

Harry cut her a sideward glance. He had almost forgotten the vile woman was still present. He resented her even more now for distracting him from his attempt to will himself dead. "Fuck you," he muttered.

“It’s such a pity that you hate me," she sighed with a shrug. "I’m so very fond of you.”

“What do you want?” Harry whined. He knew he wouldn't be rid of her until their odd bit of theatre was concluded, and that he may as well go ahead and play his part.

“To help you."

She sounded so sincere that Harry couldn't help but laugh, hollow and tired though it was. Why couldn't she just go away and let him be miserable? "Why? How could you possibly help me?”

“I spent over a decade eeking out a living in the wilds of Eastern Europe. Do you think Animus Secretum was the only thing I learned?" she chided softly, giving him a sly, scolding look. "I can help you with what you want.” 

“What in hell makes you think you know what I want?” Harry was becoming annoyed, not least because he was also becoming intrigued. And he didn't want to be intrigued, he wanted to be depressed. He wasn't finished with his pain yet. It was like an itch not properly scratched.

“Well, perhaps not with what you want but with what you intend to do, at any rate," Cobbleshot conceded. "You can’t leave yet, though, Lovely," she said, rising to her feet and reaching down a hand to help him to his. Harry ignored it. "You aren’t ready. You’re too new. But you have potential. Let’s explore it, you and me. To fight the monsters who’ve done this, you must become a proper monster yourself.”

She continued to hold out her hand, not out of patience but more as a refusal to be denied. Harry eyed both her and it with reluctant interest.

“And you know how to make me this monster?” he asked cynically, cocking his head to look at her properly.

Her bland expression cracked into a slow Cheshire grin. “I have some ideas.”

Harry stared at the woman for a long while, taking in the mad glint in her eye and contemplating the stubborn, unmoving hand. Finally, and not without trepidation, Harry reached up and accepted it.

Chapter Text

spartan 

 

Part Three: O Spartan Dog

Harry let Cobbleshot haul him to his feet, releasing her hand as soon as his legs were under him. He lifted his face to offer a reluctant acknowledgement of her assistance, but before he could manage the words, her fist connected firmly with his jaw.

Harry staggered back, tasting blood, but he was too startled to respond straight away. He still felt heartbroken and sluggish, and he held his face and scowled at Cobbleshot. What kind of person hits someone in obvious emotional ruin?

“Did that make you angry?” she asked almost cheerfully, and Harry’s confusion shifted to affront. Her demeanour was almost as infuriating to him as unexpectedly being punched in the face. He gritted his teeth, sending fresh shards of pain shooting through his bruised and rapidly swelling jaw. It was clear she’d held back. He knew she likely could have broken it. That didn’t make him any less aggravated.

“For fuck’s sake!” he spluttered, sucking on his cut cheek, the blood thrilling him even though it was his own. “Of course, it made me bloody ang-”

“Good,” she interrupted, spinning with preternatural swiftness to knock his legs from under him with a sweeping, outstretched leg. Harry, still dazed by the first assault, did nothing despite that he saw the move coming. He landed painfully hard, backside first, on the rocky, twig-strewn ground.

“And now?” she asked as she straightened.

“Goddamnit, Loraina!” he spat, red-faced. He started to rise. She reached out a toe and effortlessly sent him back to the forest floor where he sprawled, cutting his hand.

“Angrier?” she chirped.

Harry was angry alright. It flared in him, and his shock and confusion scrambled to make way for it as a flood of adrenaline swept away all his questions, along with all his aches and pains. He was on his feet again so quickly, he did not mark actually picking himself up from the ground. Harry felt his lips peel back and his hands curl to claws, a definitely inhuman rumble coming from deep in his throat. He managed to hold himself back, but his skin prickled with the urge to strike. Harry felt the Madness he’d just laid to bed that evening start to stir, and though somewhere in the back of his mind a silent alarm sounded the danger, Harry did little to quiet it or his outrage.

“What game are you playing at, Cobs?” he growled, his teeth clenched in an effort to subdue the impulse to rip out her throat.

“My favourite kind,” she said, unconcerned. She looked almost giddy, and Harry could swear he saw the tip of her tongue peek from between her teeth when she grinned at him. “Werewolf-baiting.” 

Harry reminded himself that the woman was mad and took a calming breath, attempting to rein in his temper.

Cobbleshot scowled at him. “What are you doing?” she demanded, slapping him smartly across his uninjured cheek.

Harry’s restraint snapped, and he lunged at her, pinning her to a nearby tree with his fingers around her throat. He was not interested in dealing with this woman’s insanity at the moment. He was still trying to come to terms with the situation with Severus and Remus and what it meant, what he had to do to ensure he didn’t continue to make them all suffer. The implications left him grieving and heartsore, reawakening the turmoil he’d only just seemed to escape. It made him dangerous, and if Harry recognized this, he knew Cobbleshot must, as well. So why on earth was she provoking him? A frustrated growl bubbled from his throat, and Harry felt his fingers tighten almost involuntarily.

Loraina merely laughed at him. Harry could feel the rattle of it beneath his palm. “Not long now, Lovely,” she said in a strangled purr. Her tone was so incongruous to the situation, Harry was thrown off guard, and she easily escaped him with a solid blow to his chest that sent him staggering.

Harry howled in anger--literally--and his bones began to ache. The itch of his skin intensified. Harry suddenly recognized the familiarity of these sensations and, livid as he was, he panicked.

Cobbleshot seemed to note it and swiftly came within arm’s reach but did not touch him, though she crouched to catch his eye.

“We can’t practice putting you back until we manage to bring you out,” she told him, her giddiness now turned almost manic. Harry understood, belatedly, what she was saying, what she was doing, but he was frightened. “The Full is a long way off. If we are to do this exercise, we should do it now. The sooner the better. Closer to the Full, we may not can bring you back so easily. But all the children are gone home now. You are settled. Dawn isn’t for hours, and the Dark was only days ago. Do you really want to leave?” she demanded sternly when he whimpered his reluctance, scratching at his arm where he already felt the promising prickle of fur. “Or do you only want an excuse to weep in the dirt?” she sneered. “An excuse to have your boyfriend pace and your lover to pet you later? Hm?”

Her words pissed him off, not least because she seemed more perceptive than he was about his motivations. But Harry thought she was properly angry now herself. She shoved him hard on the chest again, knocking him back several steps.

“Well!? Are you going to go home now and toy with people’s hearts like a little girl playing dollies? Or are you going to grow up and follow through?” she spat. “Are you going to be a man and stand up for yourself? Or are you going to let some invisible stranger get away with ruining all of our lives?”

As she shouted at him, Harry’s anger grew, as did his resolve. Because it was not only Cobbleshot he was angry with. He was also angry with the bastard who had orchestrated their plight. And he was angry with himself, too, more and more with each passing moment.

She was right. He’d recognized it before but had not allowed himself to think on it, claiming to himself that his condition excused his behaviour somehow. But even if she’d let him, which she seemed intent not to, he could no longer deny the truth. He hadn’t behaved so selfishly and immaturely since he was sixteen as he had since he first suspected Severus of infidelity. He had succeeded, in that time, in thoroughly complicating--thoroughly spoiling--every good thing in his life. Though he was recently helped in that undertaking by the bastards who had forced this infection on him, he couldn’t blame it all on his ordeal. It had merely magnified the results of his poor decisions several fold.

Harry didn’t force it, but he allowed the change to come over him. The pain of the transformation was staggering, but the sense that it was intentional made it easier to bear than it had been before, like opening his veins for Severus had been easier than being cut by others.

Cobbleshot’s chest heaved, whether from anger or excitement Harry couldn’t tell, but she stepped slowly back away from him. Her gaze was intense and impossible to decipher, but she watched his change closely. It was slower this time, and Harry wasn’t sure if that made it better or worse. It seemed he felt each individual hair sprout, each bone snap, each muscle tear in a process that seemed never ending.

Just as slowly came the change over his mind. Without the milky light of the moon to inundate his senses, he felt much more in control this time, but he still felt a sudden and instinctive distaste for the Dark Creature in front of him. His hatred of the woman was now almost completely visceral. The scent of her infection was acidic. It burned his nose, and he tasted it like metal on his tongue. His bones moaned violence to him. He was so distracted by it, he almost did not notice when the change completed, marking it only because he was mildly surprised to still be standing. The form was less alien to him now and it screamed, from the tips of his long, pointed ears to the bottoms of his padded toes, for Cobbleshot’s blood. Not for him to devour it, merely to spill it.

Cobbleshot’s mirth had evaporated, and her concentration never wavered when she began to circle the tense, panting creature he had become. Her nose scrunched as if scenting something foul, but her eyes still shone with excitement as they caught their first glimpse of this unique monster. Her movements were unsettling to Harry, triggering his animalistic instincts. He followed her progress, but when his neck could twist no further and she moved to his peripheral, his hold on human reason turned dangerously tenuous.

The next few minutes were a blur. Harry seemed to sense the shift within him settle firmly into place, but after that, all he could recall was the satisfying spring of his muscles as he launched himself in the direction of his mortal enemy and a fleeting sense of confusion when she easily evaded the advance. He recalled snarls and hisses, and then a burning sensation and the smell of singed fur.

It was the pain that helped pull him back to partial reason. He woke from the episode to find himself whimpering and licking at his blistered arm. He did not cower, but he did not advance on the blonde Witch who held an open and half-empty phial of liquid defensively at arm’s length in front of her.

“Do what Dear Severus taught you,” she said in an even, soothing tone, despite that she was bleeding and near breathless. “Don’t slip away on me again, Lovely. It’s been marvellous fun, but now it’s time for you to come back to us, yes?”

The bloodwolf snarled, then he whimpered again, struggling to remember this Severus she mentioned. He was having difficulty but knew somehow that such a thing should be unthinkable. The Witch relaxed her guard and held her palms up to him.

“Harry Potter,” she said. Her deliberate tone and the address triggered memories, helped to lift his foggy thinking, and he remembered that the name belonged to him. “Focus. Do you feel that pain? Hold on to it. Follow it back to yourself. That’s it, Harry. Oh, that’s right, My Beauty!” she beamed at him when Harry loosed the first in a series of pained yelps.

He felt his emotions cool and settle, causing his body to respond by recompressing itself into his human form. He did not manage to keep his feet this time, and Cobbleshot dropped to his side and pulled his head into her lap to pet and comfort him while the last of his bones snapped and reformed. She was almost like a mother with a cholicy babe, tutting and shushing the last of his now very human whimpers with gentle strokes to his hair. Harry looked up at her through his lashes, through his lingering pain, and thought that, indeed, no mother could have looked prouder.

“You always carry an Aconite solution?” he croaked, his eyes scrunched shut against the waves of cramps that assailed his abused muscles. They caused him to writhe against her in a way that felt far too intimate, but he was really beyond caring at that point.

She barked out a laugh, “Doesn’t everyone?” Then she ran her hands across him in a way he was very much able to object to, despite his pain, but that he was was too weak to prevent. “I wonder what your blood tastes like,” she mused aloud, skimming a fingertip languidly down the pulsing vein in his neck that was exposed by the way his head was thrown helplessly back across her thigh. The excitement she’d stifled while he was in wolf-form returned twofold. “Does the Wolf make it bitter, I wonder?” she said with a small, crazed titter. “Does it change flavour with the phase of the moon? Oh, let me taste you, Harry.” It was practically a moan, and her busy hand swept down across his chest, sending an unwelcome shiver through him. “I’ll let you taste me,” she offered, her tone dripping with insinuation. “I’d let you taste me wherever you liked. Have you ever tasted a woman, Harry?” she asked. Her head was tilted and dipping slowly toward him as though she were about to either kiss him or else sink her teeth into his throat. “We’re sweeter than men,” she purred, close enough now that Harry could feel her odourless breath on his skin. “Smoother,” she added, pouting her lips in a mimed kiss. “We could taste each other. The boys never have to know.”

That was more than Harry could tolerate, and he finally, clumsily, extricated himself from her. She made no move to stop him, only cocked a wily half-smile while he scrambled a short distance away and laboriously propped himself against a nearby tree. “You’re completely mad,” he panted, spent from the effort of escape.

“Ha! Not completely, or they’d never have let me near the children,” she smirked, draping her arm over one knee. She looked keen still but unapologetic. “But I don’t deny it. Some of us, Lovely, the First Dark never releases entirely,” she conceded with a shrug. “This, however,” she said, her eyes thoroughly brushing the length of his form with the tickling gaze he remembered so well from the first time he ever laid sight on the woman. “This is not madness. This is merely enthusiasm. You do inspire it, you know. You’re quite the specimen.”

Harry wasn’t sure what to think. The woman unnerved him, and he disliked her touch, but he wasn’t entirely certain he could say he disliked her or the challenge she represented. His lingering pain, though, snuffed the thrill he felt at the success of their experiment. Harry suddenly felt grounded, as if he’d been suffering some strange fit he was now waking from to find himself tremblingly weak and aching while being ogled by one of the oddest persons he’d ever met. He shivered. The entire situation seemed absurdly bizarre.

“We cannot continue this,” he told her with a shake of his head. “They’ll know. I cannot hide this, Cobs.” He glanced down at his ripped clothing. He had no idea how he was going to explain the aftermath of the night’s clandestine activities, much less continue them without raising suspicion.

“Nonsense,” she said, waving off the comment as she rose to her feet. Harry wondered, vaguely, if it was vampirism or practised athleticism that made the motion seem so graceful. “Werewolves heal remarkably quickly. A process you can expedite further by drinking blood. Fresh vitality heals a vampire almost as quickly as a wolf’s metabolism, and when you combine the two, well...you might not be indestructible, Lovely,” she said in a low, sultry voice, sauntering closer to him with swinging arms and swaying hips, “but you are remarkably resilient.”

She crouched down to his level but did not attempt to touch him, as if knowing that game was concluded for the moment.

“If you can handle the pain,” she said more seriously, more sanely, “there isn’t much else for you to fear, Harry.”

They locked eyes, and hers seemed to persuade him to accept what they both knew. He could handle it. In fact, some small, abused part of him actually enjoyed it in a twisted way.

“Wait here.”

She moved so quickly that Harry had difficulty following it when she streaked past him and into the forest. She was so silent, even in the leaf litter, that it was almost as if she had vanished. Harry took the opportunity to breathe. He groaned and melted back into the tree behind him, which was almost comfortable in his state of exhaustion.

What in hell was he doing? He’d been a Bloodwolf for less than a month, had had control of all of his own facilities for a matter of mere hours, and he was already considering allowing this madwoman to shape him into some sort of weapon? He had other things to be worried about. He needed to visit Diagon Alley and replace his wand and calm the public. He had to do so with Hermione, whom he had yet to acquaint with this new version of himself. He had to go home soon and throw himself at Severus’ feet and beg his mercy and forgiveness for being an insufferable, insensitive bloody prat. He needed to try and break to Remus that the complexity of their situation would never allow their mutual hope to be fulfilled.

And yet...Harry had just succeeded in calling forth his wolf-form outside of the Full, and in driving it back again with comparative ease, which he could not deny was exciting. Part of him found it far less painful to contemplate this insane and reckless plan, almost certain to end in death and carnage, than to face the mess of reality in the castle just outside these trees. It was true that Harry wanted to lay waste to every soul who had had a hand in his downfall. He was actually surprised at his eagerness to visit such devastation on complete strangers, considering his difficulty in casting the Killing Curse on perhaps the most despicable fiend to ever walk the Earth. Maybe there was something intrinsically violent about his condition, something doubled in strength along with his doubled abilities. Cobbleshot’s proposal was seductive. Not least because he was beginning to feel he’d damaged what was left of his life beyond repair and the only real choice he had was to cut his losses and do his damnedest to avenge the happiness that might have been.

Harry was startled from these thoughts when something warm, bright, and furry dropped, wriggling, into his lap. He was too surprised to even consider preventing its escape, and Cobbleshot strode swiftly to recapture the thing with a shake of her head.

“We’ve clearly got a long road ahead, despite your wondrous potential,” she tsked, paying no mind to the weasel writhing frantically but helplessly in her hand. Harry curled his lip at it in disgust even as the breeze carried the scent of its blood to his nostrils, making his mouth water. “Don’t turn up your nose, Lovely. This is your life now,” she chided, tossing it back in his direction. He managed to keep hold of it this time, but he held it away from him.

“Close enough, isn’t it?” she asked. Harry gave her an annoyed, quizzical look. “Here, might this make it easier?” She waved her wand, and the colour in the small animal’s fur slowly faded, leaving it white as snow. “Like I said, close enough. Weasel, ferret. Essentially the same,” she shrugged.

Harry shook his head at her in appall, pointedly not looking at his intended snack once he understood her insinuation.

“Come now,” she cajoled, dropping to a crouch where she stood. “It will make you feel better. And it might also make you feel better, if you know what I mean. Who do you really think might have engineered this? Hm? Who could hold such a deep and abiding grudge against The Boy Who Lived?”

Harry stared at her, almost forgetting the pitiful little creature he held. It wasn’t as if it hadn’t occurred to him, but he’d not been able to really contemplate it, had not allowed himself to. So long as the villain in their tale remained a mystery, it could remain a tale. One cannot exact retribution from an intangible. The question was unwelcome but unavoidable, and it started to cement his resolve.

“You know something Severus does not?” he asked her.

She shook her head and shrugged. “Only conjecture,” she admitted. “Just eat the damned weasel, Harry. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to explain away the state of you, and dawn is coming fast. Unless you’d like to dig yourself a hole? But good luck with that, weak as you are. I’m not doing it for you.”

With that, she rose and walked away without so much as a parting glance, making her way back to Hogwarts.

Harry stared at the space in the trees through which she had disappeared for a long while. He wasn’t debating, he was merely making peace. Harry looked down at the weasel he still held. Its natural colouring had returned, and it seemed to the young man that it had made peace with its own fate, as it was lying exhausted and docile in his grasp.

Harry endeavoured serial murder but baulked at killing a weasel to heal himself?

But then, he found he didn’t anymore. With almost no compunction whatsoever, Harry brought the flaccid thing to his mouth, feeling his fangs extend automatically, ready by the time they were needed. He sank them into the ribbon of vitality glowing beneath the creature’s black-brown fur.

His damnation tasted refreshingly savoury.

Chapter Text

Harry shuffled through the floo at Grimmauld Place. His clothes were torn nearly to rags from his transformation and flight through the forest, and they were still covered in dirt and leaves, but he was largely unconscious of it. He looked forlornly to the kitchen where he could hear subdued voices.

He could still understand them if he focused, but it was not effortless. It seemed that with the settling of his blood, Harry's hearing and eyesight, while still several times stronger than before his infection, were dulling. He didn’t have the heart to eavesdrop, anyway. Before long, their business would no longer be his, and it was time he started growing accustomed to that reality.

Harry took his pain and dread at that thought and tucked it away in a newly created compartment in his soul reserved for fueling his vengeance. He kept it now like a creature in a cage, starved of gentler fare and fed only on the worst cuttings of his thoughts and feelings to toughen it, to turn it into the crazed and ravenous beast he would need to eventually turn loose on their enemies...that he would need to eventually become himself.

He knew they had to have heard him floo in, but they continued to chat as Harry trudged resignedly to the threshold of the open kitchen door. Remus was on his feet, refilling his tea cup from the pot on the stove, though Harry detected the lingering scent of Firewhisky in the air. Severus sat with his fingers twined together on the table in front of him. They both paused to take in the sorry sight of him, and Severus, looking concerned, made a move to rise. Remus gave Harry a cautious, considerate appraisal before laying a hand lightly on the other man’s shoulder to halt him, and Severus collected himself and settled back into his seat.

Harry was confused by the exchange and by the ease of the contact. He didn’t think he was imagining the disappointment he saw in Remus’ expression, neither did he blame him. It reflected Harry’s disappointment in himself. He regretted that he would have to disappoint them both further. 

He pulled his eyes from the werewolf and turned them to Severus, though Harry could not, for the life of him, interpret the man’s expression. Harry wondered for a moment on what had passed between the two of them while he had been gone, on how unlikely it was to find them together and so civil, but he didn’t dwell on it. All he had the right or capacity to consider at the moment was Severus.

Not for the first time that night, Harry was lost in looking. He cared deeply for Remus, it was true, but this was love. He felt it even for the individual lines and contours of Severus’ face, for everything inside and about the man that Harry, perhaps alone, could see expressed in subtle ways in his expression. Harry owed him an apology, and so much more besides, especially considering the pain Harry’s exodus would eventually cause.

But mending that bridge just to burn it later seemed wrong to Harry. This was the moment of truth, he realised. It had come much sooner than he'd expected. He could do as he’d considered in the forest while waiting for Cobbleshot’s return and make amends, causing his inevitable departure to be that much more painful, or he could turn around now and walk away, lessening the coming betrayal, if only by some small measure.

Perhaps tonight’s blunder had been for the best. Perhaps Harry should leave things as they were, though it killed him to do it. Severus’ tears had dried, but the redness and puffiness around his eyes spoke of their recent presence. He sat straight in his chair, appeared to be trying to cling to his dignity, but Harry spied an unsettling frailty in the man, and it broke Harry’s heart knowing he was the cause of it. Severus had always exuded fortitude, unbending will, had been the very picture of the Immovable. Harry had once thrilled in knowing that he inspired the man to reveal his passions, a peculiar weakness for Harry alone. Now, that only made Harry feel wretched. Severus had waited their entire relationship for Harry to be his undoing, and it seemed his prediction had finally come true.

Harry gave the man an apologetic look, which Severus refused to meet. He turned it to Remus as he slowly backed away from the kitchen. Remus seemed shocked by Harry’s withdrawal, then openly critical, but it didn’t sway the young man. Harry turned his back on them both. He turned his back on Severus’ last second, disappointed glance and Remus’ affronted incredulity and made his way heavily up the stairs to his room.

Harry.

“No,” Harry heard Severus tell Remus softly, “Leave him.”

The defeat in Severus’ voice hit Harry like a blow to the stomach. Clearly, Severus felt that this was his fault, that he had lost his temper, had misspoken, and driven Harry away. It was cruel to allow the belief to endure, but it was the lesser of evils. Harry knew it seemed like he was merely being a petulant child not finished with his tantrum. It had to appear to them that he had come home looking for an apology from Severus, which Remus seemed determined the man not offer, and now Harry was leaving to sulk. Harry hated the knowledge that they were disappointed in him, but still he climbed, one step at a time, forcing his feet to keep moving upward and not carry him, flying, into Severus’ arms instead.

“Severus,” Harry whispered to himself because he could not stop the words from spilling--along with the tears already forming in his eyes--though he did not want them overheard, “I am so sorry. For so many things.”

He concentrated hard. One foot in front of the other, his voice low so they would not hear.

“For so long, I wanted you to show me more of yourself, to open up. I asked you to fight for me. But then, when you did everything I asked, I took it for granted. And...I ran away.”

The confession would not be contained. Severus deserved to hear it but must not. Let him think Harry was this selfish, this immature. Let him hate Harry. Harry would endure it. He would endure any pain in order to lessen Severus’. If only the man knew.

“I don’t deserve you,” he whispered tearfully, determined not to give over to sobbing. Not until he’d reached his room, at any rate. “Perhaps I’ve said it so often it’s lost some of its meaning, but I do truly love you, Severus. And that is why...that is why...”

Harry managed his room only just in time, locking the door behind him and stumbling to his bed to bury his face in his pillow to muffle his anguish. He curled in on himself, still fighting the almost unbearable urge to race back downstairs, to pull them both into an embrace and tell them all that was in his heart and on his mind.

But he couldn't. They would caution him. Forbid him. Worse, Remus might shackle him with a command.

And what if they decided to face this enemy in his stead? He’d heard the murder in their voices while they had chatted at his bedside. If they attempted it, he’d lose them both then, anyway. That they might come to harm was unacceptable, but he could not stay. Harry’s relationship with Remus was killing Severus and would continue to. No matter how much progress they made or how Severus denied it, Harry knew Severus would never make peace with the arrangement. Harry could not bear to be near either of them for long without being with them. He could not forfeit one for the other. It had to be both or nothing.

And it could not be both.

Harry tossed this sorrow into the pit of vitriol he was cultivating within him. It was surprisingly mature to be so newborn. Harry had so much to feed it. His vengeance would not be a starved and desperate thing. It would be robust, swollen and heavy-footed. Harry wondered if his enemies realised what they had done. Did they know him at all? Did they really think such a thing would destroy him? Did they have so little understanding of how and why this Boy still Lived?

Harry went cold. The beast within him seemed suddenly thirsty, had swallowed his tears so that he had none left to spill. The hardest decision had undoubtedly been made already and all Harry had to do now was stay the course. He wouldn’t have to feign offence. He would just let Severus and Remus continue to misunderstand its origin. He would interact with them only as was necessary, and only as warmly or as coldly as he could get away with without causing complication.

The house seemed to quiet. Remus knocked on his door. He even tried the handle, but when Harry gave no answer, the man continued on to his own room. When he knew Remus to be sleeping, Harry crept to the bathroom. He still had no wand and had to go about tidying himself manually with a bath, but it was not nearly as comforting as he might have hoped.

His bedclothes were now covered in the remains of his excursion and had to be removed, though Harry did not trouble with replacing them. It didn’t bother him. Dawn had practically arrived and Harry felt his vitality waning in proportion to the waxing light outside his window. He would have liked to have understood that, how the force that gave life to every other being on Earth could so drain his. No doubt Severus knew, but Harry could not ask. The young man merely accepted the fact and let sleep overtake him as he lay on his bare mattress, stripped in every sense.         

Chapter Text

Harry heard the front door slam downstairs and drifted from his room to see what the commotion was about. Remus was in the house already, Harry had heard him moving about the kitchen, and Severus almost never came by any way but by floo. The front door, however, was rarely locked. After Dumbledore fell, Remus had been made Secretkeeper, and anyone who had knowledge of or who could access the door was generally welcome to just come in. There were precious few left to whom Remus had given the address.

Harry. James. Potter! 

Harry scowled down the stairwell. Hermione’s chestnut curls bounced into view from the anteroom even as her voice still bounced off the walls. She glanced at the kitchen, but when there was no response from there, she turned her sights above her, storming over and squaring her feet at the bottom of the steps with both fists planted on her hips to glare up at Harry demandingly. 

Harry was disconcerted. This was not how he’d envisioned this encounter. His scowl deepened. “Hermione Jean Granger,” he returned irritably, though he was somehow relieved to be bickering. Of course, they were bickering. They hadn’t spoken in weeks. Her tone was both grating and comforting in its familiarity; it quieted most of Harry’s nervousness. Her expression was fierce but not frightened, despite that he had no doubt he looked frightening, even in the dim light, even to such a dear old friend. Perhaps especially.

Kingsley contacted me and said you needed me to accompany you to Diagon Alley,” she said, huffing when Harry didn’t respond to the declaration with anything but a slightly baffled look. “To get a new wand? Because yours had been destroyed? When you were attacked? 

Still, Harry supplied nothing. He knew she knew this was not new information for him.

“And the public needed to know you were still alive? ” she finished with a small stamp of her foot.

Yeah? ” he shouted back with a shrug, matching her tone. Her anger left him off kilter, but he was disoriented, as well, by how casual the exchange seemed, even if it was confusing and irksome. It was as if he were still waiting for her to snap out of her tirade and realise she was speaking to a monster.

“Well?” she said with another tap of her foot when no reply was forthcoming, “You could have owled!” 

So that was it. She wasn’t just angry, there was something like panic in her expression, worry. It still didn’t excuse her yelling at him. Harry’s scowl faded momentarily with understanding, then reemerged as he returned her indignation. “I was a bit preoccupied trying not to die. It’s been on the front page of every newspaper and magazine for weeks, Hermione. Where the bloody hell have you been?”

Finally, her temper faltered and she blushed. Her fists unfurled as her arms fell sheepishly to her sides. “I’ve been on holiday since Exams,” she admitted. The explanation that followed came in a desperate rapid-fire, as if she needed Harry to understand, as quickly as possible, why she had not already rushed to his side in his time of need. “On a Muggle holiday. Katie wouldn’t allow me to have the Prophet delivered. She said I needed a break from everything. Some of the new legislation passing through the Ministry was upsetting me, and the Prophet was covering it and so-”

“Katie?” Harry interrupted. He hadn’t heard much after that part and couldn’t seem to prevent the question from falling from his thoughts and out his mouth.

The depth of Hermione’s blush was impressive. “She’s…it’s not important,” she hedged, shaking her head, “I’m sorry, Harry.” She sounded sincerely apologetic but undoubtedly was changing the subject. “I shouldn’t have shouted at you. The news just made me a bit frantic, is all.” 

Harry gave her a lopsided smile, his annoyance proving no match for his affection. Sometimes he forgot how much he missed her. “I’m sorry, too, Hermione. Someone should have contacted you... Why don’t we start again?”

When she nodded, Harry began to descend the stair, but Remus took that moment to emerge from the kitchen.

There she is,” Remus said as if only just realizing Hermione had arrived, though Harry had been aware of his attentive presence at the periphery since she walked in. Remus seemed to have been waiting for an opportunity to safely interject himself. He glanced up at Harry as he approached her, and there was a lingering disappointment in his expression before he transformed it into a beaming smile for their company. “Good to see you, Hermione.”

“Remus,” she greeted warmly. Her cheeks coloured knowing he had overheard her, but she reached to hug him nonetheless. It was long and solid, and it was difficult for Harry to watch. He wanted nothing more than to embrace the man himself. Nothing more except, perhaps, to embrace Severus.

“My fault, I’m afraid,” he told her, pulling back with a repentant expression. “You’re right. I should have owled. Things here were just so hectic."

Of course, it wasn’t true. Severus and Remus had made a decision not to include Hermione. It never failed to amaze Harry how smoothly the man could lie when he felt it was justified.

“Oh, no,” she said, waving off his apology. “Of course. It doesn’t matter. I’m here now,” she said with a forgiving smile.

“And looking well,” he said, stepping back to give her a once over. “You’re brown as a nut. I didn’t realise libraries got so much sun.” 

“Majorca,” she supplied. “Katie’s family always summers there.”

“Well, you’ll have to tell us all about it once you’ve settled,” he said. “I warn you, some of the rooms are more habitable than others, as restoration was...interrupted. But you’re welcome to take your pick, dear.”

Hermione nodded her gratitude, pulling off her travelling scarf and turning back to retrieve her things from the doorstep where she’d abandoned them in her rush to shout at Harry.

“And Severus? Where’s he hiding? In the lab, I expect,” she said conversationally as she shrugged off Remus’ offer of assistance. Remus gave her an indulgent smile and stepped back so she could make her way up the stair; to Harry’s relief, as he’d prefer the man stay downstairs. When Hermione had made sufficient progress, however, Harry slipped down to take her bags from her whether she liked it or not, hoping to expedite things.

“I think he might actually have made an outing for potions ingredients,” Remus answered up at the retreating Witch, though he looked at Harry while he spoke. It was not lost on Hermione, and Harry could see the questions were already brewing. “Merlin knows why he waited until Midday, but then who really understands the man?” Remus shrugged.

Harry felt certain he understood, and that Remus did as well and was trying to guilt him.

Severus left when he did because, without Substisanguinus, this close to the Dark, Harry was still largely nocturnal. Leaving at Midday was the best way to avoid seeing him at the moment. Harry and Remus regarded each other with subtle tension until Harry turned his back. He was ready to have Hermione behind closed doors and away from the sting of Remus’ presence. He breathed through his ache, grasped for his resolve, but he was visibly struggling when he showed Hermione into his room.

“Are you going to explain that?” she asked as he moved to quickly but gently push the door closed behind them.

“Which part?” he sighed, weary already.

“The bit with Remus just now,” she clarified, giving him one of those mild, analytical looks Remus was so fond of. Hermione, however, bothered less with disguising hers.

“I expect I will eventually, but first,” he said, turning to her with a smile that was only slightly forced, “it’s really good to see you, Hermione.” He wanted to hug her but kept his arms at his sides and allowed her to be the one to step forward and initiate it. Once he had permission, though, he crushed her to him, and he felt the same level of tenacity in her grip.

He’d smelled her when she walked in, but now, with his nose buried in her hair, he inhaled her scent hungrily. Despite weeks of wind and sun in tropical climes, she obviously had recently found a library to steep in. He was not disappointed to find she smelled of aging parchment, old binding glue, and flaking leather, with a whiff of the metallic bite of surely fading ink. She smelled as Hermione should smell.

Harry also caught the warm, unsullied scent of her blood. No infection marred its perfume. It pumped thick and strong just inches from his nose, his lips.

It seemed they both stiffened. “What is it?” he asked almost guiltily when they pulled apart, still trying not to contemplate the taste of her. He was afraid it had finally happened: she had felt his hunger, recognised his otherness, and decided she wasn’t comfortable with it.

“Nothing,” she answered distractedly, giving him a close look and, to his surprise, lifting a hand to touch his face with her fingertips. “I just expected…” Harry gave her a questioning look that Hermione seemed to momentarily get lost in. “Well, Remus is always so warm. To the touch,” she explained. “Werewolves have high metabolisms and tend to run hot, but your skin is cool,” she said, considering it with her gaze again, “and I know vampires are often icy.”

“They are,” Harry confirmed, thinking wistfully of the sometimes cold bite of Severus’ touch. “It’s closer to the Dark than the Full. I suppose my skin might change in a couple of weeks’ time.”

“Fascinating,” she whispered as if to herself, wide-eyed. She studied him now as he had known she would, her mind whirring, her analysis scientific. “Sorry,” she said with a small shrug, not really sounding it, “but you are, you realize.”

Harry rolled his eyes but was relieved. “I know you, Hermione. I knew what to expect,” he said, looking at her askance. Not because she was curious but because she seemed completely unbothered by the changes in him. Finally, he allowed himself to accept that she accepted him, and he began to relax. He smiled teasingly at her. “I assume now you’ll want blood samples and hair samples and stool samples-”

“Oh, you!” she interrupted, scandalized but grinning. Then, “Do you?” she ventured after a short silence, as though unable to help herself. Harry gave her a confused look and she elaborated, though she blushed furiously as she did so. “Can you provide those...types of samples? The last one you mentioned.”

“Hermione, did you just ask me if I still shit?” he asked, equal parts critical and amused.

“Well...” she spluttered.

“I’m only teasing,” he chuckled, feeling more and more at ease. He turned and dropped into a chair and gestured an invitation for her to take the other. “I don’t, actually. Liquid diet. I do piss like a racehorse after feeding, though,” he reflected. They both seemed to then contemplate the fact that he now ‘fed’. “That look in your eye,” Harry said with a sigh and a shake of his head. “I’m sure you’ll see all you could want of my condition and more if you stick around.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” she said adamantly, as if there might have been some doubt. The last of the tension in the room dissolved, and they smiled at each other.

“So, who’s Katie?” Harry asked, settling back into a more comfortable position.

It was Hermione’s turn to shake her head at him. “We haven’t spoken in over two months, during which time you became an Auror, were attacked by terrorists, almost died, and then contracted a one-of-a-kind hybridized infection, but the first thing you want to discuss is my love life?” she said with a raised eyebrow. Harry just grinned at her until finally, lips pursed in a half smile, she dug through her purse until she could produce a photograph.

Harry took it from her, eager to see this Katie person. The photo showed Hermione with a pretty, round-faced girl wearing fetching cat-eye glasses and an excess of lip gloss. Both young women smiled self-consciously at him from the picture, drifting shy, smitten looks at each other between blushes. It did his heart good to see the unmistakable look of fresh love in their expressions. Harry grinned at them, then up at Hermione as he returned the photo to her.

“So, you started playing for the other team, after all.” He wasn’t teasing, he was just happy for her having found someone who suited her, regardless of who it was.

“I simply don’t believe in teams anymore,” she said matter-of-factly, tucking the photo carefully back into her bag. “If I’ve learned anything from being friends with you, it’s that no one really has a choice in matters of love,” she said in a way that clearly implied that if the Boy Who Lived could fall for the dreaded Potions Master, anything was possible. The L-word seemed to make her blush slightly, but she quickly shrugged it off. “I dated a boy, Eoin, at the beginning of term,” she went on. “I liked him, but I was always busy, and we rarely saw each other. Katie was in so many of my classes. We started working on projects together and...you know, these things just happen.”

“I do know,” he said softly. “So, does that mean you've you finally forgiven me for dating older men who used to be my professors?” he asked, grinning incorrigibly.

“You, I forgave a long time ago,” she said with a small twitch of her eyebrow. “Him, not so much.”

“Them,” Harry corrected. 

“Remus did the right thing in the end, though,” she said dismissively, settling back in her chair and brushing some lint from her skirt. Harry chewed the inside of his lip and simply stared at her for so long that she finally turned a puzzled, apprehensive look at him.

“We really haven’t talked in a long while, Hermione,” he said with a small, apologetic wince.

Hermione gasped. “What? You and Remus?” she whispered, leaning forward. “But what of Severus?” she asked, suddenly concerned. “Did you two…?”

Harry’s good humour failed him and he sighed heavily. He might have known Hermione’s happiness couldn’t stave off his own misery forever. “Yes and no. It’s complicated.” He gave her an anguished look. “I had probably better start from the beginning.”

Hermione, suddenly sympathetic, reached over and squeezed his hand. Whether it was to reassure him or herself, Harry wasn’t sure, but the gesture was nonetheless appreciated. He turned his hand in hers to twine their fingers together, gathering the strength he would need to force his painful tale into words.

It was a cleansing experience. He made no equivocations about the extent of his responsibility for what had happened. Neither did he bother to check his occasional tears. He admitted his weaknesses and his folly. He poured out all his thoughts and feelings about both men, his confliction and his fondness. He was utterly and completely honest in his recounting of the past month’s events...until it came to Cobbleshot and their intentions. He realized it was a rather large omission, but Hermione would have reacted no differently than Severus or Remus. She would never agree to secrecy and would more than likely walk immediately out the door to demand the men reason with Harry. And so, he left off his narrative after recounting his flight to the Forest and mentioned only that there was tension now in the house between all of them.

“And don’t tell me what I should do now,” he cut her off, seeing her sympathetic but critical scowl, “I know. I just can’t yet,” he said, keeping the reason to himself. “I need some space.”

It was an outright lie. His bones ached for the closeness of his Mate, and his heart ached for his estranged lover. He felt he could veritably crawl inside one or the both of them, not content to merely touch them, wanting to be carried within them, never to be parted. The outward expression of the strain of bearing this longing was easily and conveniently misunderstood, and Harry allowed Hermione to believe he was just soul-weary after his long ordeal.

She sighed and sat back to mull over the unexpected confessional. “You’re all three fools, you know,” she said offhandedly, still chewing on the tale. “I’ve half a mind to smack you all soundly with a broomstick until you come to your senses and play nice.”

Harry grinned despite himself.

“I’ll need to go down later and have a word so as not to seem rude,” she sighed, “but then you and I could hole up here as often or for as long as you like, until you’re ready to resolve things. Though, it is a sticky situation. And tomorrow, of course, we’ll be going to Diagon Alley. Unless you’d rather be clear of me, as well?” she added understandingly.

Harry quickly shook his head. “No. Actually you’d be saving my sanity, Hermione. Thank you,” he smiled weakly. “But I will be leaving in the evenings to hunt with Loraina.” It still felt strange speaking it aloud, just casually mentioning in polite conversation that he would be stalking through the trees to suck a living heart dry.

Hermione, however, didn’t bat an eyelash at the mention of hunting. “Cobbleshot?” she said, her nose wrinkled in distaste. The two had come to an uneasy truce during the war, but Loraina was no one’s favourite person.

Harry shrugged. “Well, quite besides our current difficulties, Severus seems to still be busy working on my potion,” he pointed out. “I’m not yet ready to go on my own, and there isn’t exactly a large selection of available vampires.”

Hermione was immediately interested. Not in vampires but in the mention of Harry’s potion. Despite her lingering disapproval of his romantic proclivities, Severus and Hermione shared a passion for research that few others could match or fathom. 

“Do you suppose I might be of some assistance?”

Harry grinned. “In helping me hunt?” he teased, but Hermione wasn’t having it, and Harry no longer felt as jovial as might have liked. “I have absolutely no doubt you’d be a godsend, Hermione,” he said seriously. “Whether he wants to admit it or not, Severus could use your help. Just try to avoid the subject of...me,” he requested, unsure of how else to put it. “He’d very likely throw you out, and I know he needs an extra hand right now. If you could just help keep his mind off things...”

“No, no. I understand. Though, I didn’t rush here from the Mediterranean to be Snape’s distraction,” she clarified. “I suppose working out this riddle will occupy us both sufficiently by default.”

Harry could see by her small, restless gestures that she was itching already to try her hand at it. It was endearing. He was so glad she was here. “Why don’t you go on down and see if he’s made it back, if you like?” Harry proposed. “I’m expected to be in bed at the moment, anyway.”

Hermione, though clearly eager to do just that, hesitated. “Actually, Kingsley briefed me on some things I was meant to share when I arrived. I had expected to sit down with all three of you, but since that doesn’t seem to be an option…”

“What is it?” 

“It seems they apprehended a couple of the men who attacked you,” she explained, looking livid again that such a thing dared to occur, especially in her absence. “Though apparently, they didn’t have much to tell. They were Mut addicts, and made about as much sense as you’d expect, considering.”

“Mut?” Harry asked. He was unfamiliar but vaguely recalled Severus’ mention of using junkies as guinea pigs. He’d not had an opportunity to reflect on that, and it unsettled him to remember it now. Hermione, not usually one to hesitate when offered an opportunity to demonstrate her vast knowledge, paused and gave Harry a cautious look.

“Harry, did Severus never discuss any of his activities as a Death Eater with you?” she asked as if she wasn’t keen to be the one to break bad news. Harry’s stomach did a small somersault. He knew she wasn’t referring to Severus’ hybrid experiments, but he still dreaded the topic.

“He…” Harry began, but his voice proved fickle. He cleared his throat. “No, not really. He felt it was his cross to bear, not mine.”

“And perhaps he was afraid he’d drive you away if you knew what he was capable of,” Hermione muttered quietly, as if to herself, angering Harry.

“I didn’t want to know anyway, alright, Hermione?” He hated that this was happening already, that they were finding themselves at odds. Hermione’s attitude toward Severus had long been a source of tension between them, making their friendship often uneasy. Harry wanted things to be easy now. “I knew he didn’t have a choice,” he said, trying to calm himself but refusing to back down from this attack on Severus’ character. “It didn’t change who he was when he took off that mask, when he came home to me.”

In fact, Harry had purposely never considered anything Severus might be doing while he was away. It was too difficult to even contemplate, was too easy to imagine what could go wrong. That he did, in fact, come home was all Harry had ever concerned himself with.

“You knew he didn’t have a choice, too. Not if we wanted enough inside intelligence to win the war. He did what was necessary to keep Voldemort’s trust, and no more.” Hermione didn’t even really know about Severus’ experiments. She hadn’t see his guilt as he confessed them to Remus, how the lesser evil still pained him.

“He committed war crimes, Harry,” she persisted, but not angrily. She seemed to almost pity him.

“At Dumbledore’s behest!” Harry snapped back. Perhaps she didn’t understand how volatile he still was so close to the Dark. But even before his infection, Harry’s threshold on this subject was almost concerningly low, and that she knew. He took a few deep breaths, and she remained silent, allowing him to collect himself.

Harry resented her moral condescension. Hermione didn’t understand. She thought she did, but she couldn’t. She had spent so much of the war away from the fighting, in the strategy room where her cleverness was most effective. She didn’t see Bill, hit by a spell like clinging lava, die slowly by her side while she was unable to help, while she was still casting frantically to save her own life. Hermione never heard his tapering screams. They didn’t still haunt her nightmares. Her ideas of the horrors of war, and of the line between right and wrong, were more abstract and absolute. She wanted to convince him that Severus was some kind of singular monster, as if war hadn’t made monsters of the best of them. Perhaps it was fitting that he was what he was now, Harry thought. Perhaps his attackers had only made outwardly manifest the savagery that had already been cultivated within him. Perhaps his bloodlust was not born of infection.

Her light touch on the back of his hand startled him but was not unwelcome. Harry hated getting lost in those kinds of memories, and he appreciated anything that anchored him in the here and now.

“There’s nothing you could tell me about Severus that would turn me against him, Hermione, so you might as well just say what you need to,” he said, calm but still defiant. Hermione sighed but was careful not to let her own frustration show.

“Severus was Voldemort’s Potions Master,” she began, “and as such, he oversaw the large-scale production of a potion called Audentia. It’s long been outlawed in most of the world. The name literally means liquid courage. Death Eaters, those personally marked by Voldemort, took it as they chose before battle, but it was provided daily to Voldemort’s lesser troops. It made them more aggressive, enhanced their strength, made them tireless and cruel and overrode whatever conscience they might have had left. Voldemort’s foot soldiers and supporters, his street-level agitators and propagandists--Snatchers and the like--became quickly addicted to it. But most of them were too poor to sustain their habit once the war was over. Voldemort preyed on penniless purebloods, or those who at least believed themselves to be pureblood, to build his base of support. It was a simple thing to turn their economic frustration into unquestioning allegiance by convincing them that their circumstances were there result of Muggle oppression, that they were suffering at the hands of Muggles despite that Wizards were ‘biologically superior’.”

Hermione paused. She could tell Harry was wearying. He already understood the dynamics of Voldemort’s ideological faux-crusade.

“The point is, he made sure the worst of our world were hooked on an expensive and illegal potion, and once it was unavailable, they turned to a cheaper, equally illegal alternative. It’s called Mut, a muddied Nordic translation of Courage, based on where it originated, and it’s even worse than Audentia. It’s truly awful, with several toxic but easily obtainable ingredients. And it’s used almost exclusively by former Voldemort supporters.”

“So, we follow the drugs, we find our enemies,” Harry distilled. As Hermione had spoken he’d become more and more galvanised in purpose. His anger was stirred, along with his thirst for blood. He wasn’t sure how these cretins were connected to Draco, (or even that Draco was really involved) but it was an excellent place to start. Most of them, like the ones the Ministry had apprehended obviously, were likely too low on the food chain to know anything of use.

But Harry knew who might.

The bastard who’d attended his release ceremony would know enough to be getting on with, for one. Harry just needed to find him. And before the Ministry did. He’d discuss it with Loraina. She had more freedom to move about than he did.

“Did you realise you do that?”

Harry had almost forgotten Hermione was there and started at the sound of her voice. “Do what?” he answered distractedly.

“Go all still,” she said softly, her analytical look returning. “Absolutely still. And when you do move, it’s precise and efficient. You don’t blink much anymore, either. It’s almost unsettling.”

“Sorry,” Harry said sincerely, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.

“Wasn’t being critical, just observant,” she assured him. “What does it mean when your eyes go dark like that?”

Harry realised, in imagining what he’d do to the bastards once he got his hands on them, the bloodiness of his daydreams had been helped by the warm, close scent of Hermione’s blood rushing through her veins just across the table. He looked at her with a mildly horrified expression, for a moment truly fearful for her safety.

“Nothing good,” he said shakily. He recognised the strength of his thirst almost dangerously late. “Actually, I’m not sure you should be here, Hermione,” he warned. He stood and put some distance between them.

“Alright,” she said calmly. Harry wasn’t sure whether she wasn’t afraid, wasn’t fully aware of the threat he posed, or was simply trying not to escalate the situation. She rose from her chair and regarded him for a moment. “I’ll go down now and see if Severus has returned.”

Harry sneered, his back turned to her. The promise of scientific discovery was enough for her to set aside her scruples over Severus’ supposed war crimes, but true love shouldn’t be enough for Harry to set aside his own? He didn’t bother answering her. He didn’t trust himself to. She exited quietly, leaving Harry alone and as wretched as before she’d arrived.

Chapter Text

Harry was able to keep the worst of his anguish contained, whittled to a manageable size by carving off bits of it throughout the afternoon and feeding the scraps to the pet abomination within him. It felt as if pieces of his soul inadvertently went with some of them, but Harry found this collateral damage acceptable. The less of it he retained, the easier it would be to do what he had to do. He had not named the beast, but he visualised it. His revenge looked much as he remembered himself from the mirror in the Shack but somehow more monstrous.

Hermione did not return. He wondered if he had frightened her or if she was just distracted by her new puzzle and had forgotten about him. More than likely, it was the latter. It made Harry sad. It wasn't that she had neglected him, it was that he found he didn’t really mind that she had. Of course, it was equally possible she expected him to be sleeping and then to hunt and would find him later.

He managed to floo to Severus’ quarters that evening without encountering Remus on his way downstairs. This wasn’t an accident, but Harry was relieved nonetheless. He hadn’t meant to linger in the rooms he’d shared with Severus for the past few years, either, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. The newly familiar scents clouded his senses and invoked a heady rush of memories. His longing to descend the spiral steps to the lab was almost a physical thing. It tugged at his feet like a stiff current, urging him toward the man whose perfume clung to every surface in the room.

Harry resisted, though he still paused for a moment to listen to the muted sounds of earnest conversation stumbling up the stairwell as Severus and Hermione discussed the project at hand. Harry closed his eyes. He was not searching for the words, he merely enjoyed hearing them spoken. The tone Severus adopted when he explained his craft to those he considered peers was almost musical. There was a sober enthusiasm in it that seemed to stroke the listener, arousing a similar passion whether they truly understood the subject matter or not. He was in no way pedantic when he did this, merely knowledgeable and in his element. If only he could learn to adopt that same tone when speaking to his students, he might find them more receptive. No doubt he found an apt pupil in Hermione who seemed to be posing an intelligent and insightful question even then.

The conversation paused. Harry suspected Severus had sensed his presence in the sitting room. Quickly but reluctantly, Harry seized the floo powder and continued on to Severus’ office, and from there, he made his way out to the forest.

Troubled though he was, Harry found he was still in love with the outdoors. He allowed it to soothe him, concentrating on ‘here’ and ‘now’ by separating and cataloguing each scent and sound. He had not penetrated very far into the trees, was still working on his mental tally, when Cobbleshot appeared as if from thin air and fell into step beside him. It was a long while, filled only with the carefully noted crunch of leaves and snap of twigs, before either of them spoke.

“Do you live here?” Harry asked finally, his eyes closed, half preoccupied with determining the direction from which he scented a nearby, as of yet unidentified animal.

Cobbleshot gave a short laugh. “I hear there is still trouble in paradise,” she said instead of answering.

Harry stopped walking. He gave up on locating the mystery creature, opened his eyes, and stared stone-faced at Cobbleshot, wondering just how much she knew and how she came to know it. Her expression, though, was equally difficult to read.

“Better you’re here with me, anyway, Lovely,” she said, once again striding forward with Harry following hesitantly. “You won’t be singing lullabies to our enemies,” she sneered. “It’s time someone showed you how real vampires hunt.”

Harry didn’t answer straight away. He regarded her quietly. She seemed so offended by Severus’ methods, and he couldn’t imagine why it mattered one way or the other. “Why are you always so critical of Severus?” His tone was mild, but she didn’t slow or turn to him, making it even harder for Harry to interpret her answer.

“Severus is formidable in his own right, when he wishes to be,” she admitted. “He held his own against you on the Dark. That was no small feat. You are far stronger than any mere vampire, Harry,” she said, pausing long enough to give him a brief, appraising look. “Or any werewolf, for that matter,” she added in the casual tone of someone too familiar with such things. “He should have allowed me to help then, but no doubt he did not want to share the intimacy, even if it would have meant sharing the scars, as well. Not that I blame him, really,” she said, looking at Harry lingeringly from the corner of her eye. He was growing used to her innuendo and ignored it. “Have you told them yet?” she asked as if intrigued by his lack of response. “What it is you plan?”

Harry didn’t answer. She knew he hadn’t. Wouldn’t. She stopped and turned to him, blocking his path. “Then what else will you have when you go to do the bloody deed, hm? We should make ourselves more...familiar,” she said with a slow half-smile.

Harry’s non-expression didn’t change. She couldn’t be serious. It was just more compulsive flirting. Still, he looked at her closely.

The years had not been kind to the woman, but traces of the beauty Severus had fallen in love with were still evident. Harry could see lingering hints of gold in the dull straw-yellow of her hair, and though her papery skin was contoured in hair-fine wrinkles, there was an undeniable grace to the bone structure beneath. The deep creases carved at the corners of her eyes made even her most benign expression disquieting, but those eyes were still finely shaped and were the muted beryl-blue of a stormy sea, just as Severus had described. Though her charm was soured, turned sinister by acrimony like vinegar in cream, Harry saw glimpses of the wit and vivacity that had drawn Severus to her a lifetime ago, and he understood how the contrast would certainly have driven Severus to defy his sworn lord.

Harry thought he saw, too, that her madness was merely a veneer, like Severus’ stony cynicism--sincere but superficial. Unlike Severus’ sardonics, though, which veiled a reluctant stoicism, her derangement masked a restless discontent, an aggressive disregard. Her whims were only mad on the surface, and Harry was coming to realise that her impulses were far less arbitrary than meets the eye. Loraina thirsted for more than just blood, though what that other thing was, he wasn’t yet sure.

What a fine tragedy she was. What an immaculate disaster. She was too unnerving to embrace but too fascinating to ignore, like a flower whose fragrance was so heady it had to be appreciated from a distance or else one would be sickened by it.

This is what he’d thrown himself in with, he reflected with a turn of his stomach. He was forsaking the unlikely but sublime and undeniable love of two extraordinary men to chase the base impulse for vengeance with this ruin of a woman.

But this woman...

She made the choice seem not mad but obvious, inevitable. She possessed an aura of persuasion so potent it was practically seduction. Harry identified his own terminal discontent in her crooked smile and in the crazed gleam of her eye. She somehow managed to make damnation tempting, to make savagery a siren song. They were the same virtues which had perfected this creature that she was; this thing that, despite himself, Harry could neither hate nor dismiss.

He saw then, as well, that her flirtations were not hollow. She threw them at him carelessly not because they were insincere, but because they were inexhaustible and her patience was deep. For the first time that night, her unabashed gaze made him uncomfortable. 

“What about your feelings for Severus?” Harry asked, judgment gently creasing his brow.

Her expression soured but recovered so quickly Harry might have missed it entirely if he hadn’t been so actively observant at the time. “My feelings for Severus?” she asked as if baffled by the insinuation. 

Harry smirked. Now she was just being obvious. “You were close before. Have been ever since you came out of hiding. I can tell you care about him still.”

She met the accusation with a slightly incredulous look but also with discomfort.

“You seem awfully fickle,” he pressed, “pursuing him one day and then tossing him aside the next, whenever and as often as it suits you.” 

“Fickle?” she scoffed, bitterly amused. “Me? What has he been telling you?” she muttered with a shake of her head, turning and continuing on into the trees.

“You ran off,” said Harry, jogging to keep up, “You left him behind.” Much as Harry was doing now. His hypocrisy burned like swallowed acid. He still felt critical of them, but perhaps if she could explain her actions, it would help Harry to forgive his own.

“I tried to kill the Dark Lord, Harry,” she said, sounding bored, “tried to tear out his jugular with my teeth. What choice do you suppose I had in leaving? Severus would not come with me.” Her voice was still dismissive, but her expression was sad. “One can hardly blame him,” she shrugged as if trying to convince herself, as much as Harry, that she was not bothered by it. “But no. It was not me who stopped loving him,” she said, her voice flat, “it was him who stopped loving me."

She stopped walking and stared down at the skeletal leaves at her feet without seeing them. It was as if all emotion had momentarily vanished from her.

"When the China Doll broke,” she said, looking back up at Harry with an expression of mild but well-matured cynicism, “he prefered to mourn its lost loveliness rather than try to piece it back together. He grieved for us instead. Our love was cold long before we managed to stumble our way back to the Dark Lord--murdered and wept for, all for a madman’s ambition. And not even a serious ambition, at that. Did you think I tried to kill the bastard merely because my diet and sleeping habits changed?” she said with a small mirthless chuckle. “You might have noticed, I don’t lament what I am, unlike your eternally tortured bedfellows.”

Harry wasn’t sure what to say to that revelation. He wasn’t sure, even, how he felt about it, and so he remained silent. Loraina was still for a long while, clearly lost in memories, and Harry didn’t dare disturb them.

“Severus was the gentler, you understand,” she said. Her voice was soft, almost anxious. “Had always been, though most could never see it. Most never bothered to look. When they turned us loose in the woods after the deed was done, we had only ourselves to see us through the Madness. But...it almost defeated Severus. I spent so much of myself in helping him fight, I did not save enough of me to quite win my own battle. Apparently, whatever Severus loved most about me was lost to it.

"I admit I am broken, Harry. We all are, really,” she said after a quiet moment. "But you’re different." She gave Harry a gently scrutinising look, as if the reason for it might be tattooed somewhere on his person. “The Madness damaged but didn’t shatter you.”

Harry couldn’t help wondering what she saw, and if she resented him for possessing whatever had allowed him to emerge more intact. She had a will to match his and more. But Harry knew, as he suspected she did too, that he commanded no special strength. It had been Severus who had saved him; and failed her, though she seemed to have no intention of acknowledging it.

“Could be that you’re just too simple to shatter,” she concluded with a shrug. “Oh, don’t give me that look.” Her melancholy fell away to be replaced by deranged irreverence once again, and she continued walking as if to leave her pain on the forest floor behind her. “Lucky for you to be so sturdy. Fewer intricacies, fewer things there are to snap. Besides, there’s a beauty in simple things, and only the beautiful can get away with being damaged, Harry. Even then, only if the cracks are superficial, otherwise you stop being beautiful.” She smiled in a wry, darkly musing way. “You know, it’s always been funny to me how so many can laud the poem that extols the aesthetic of a person’s jagged edges, yet so few are willing to risk cutting themselves on the actual pieces of another. People want to read about broken individuals, Harry,” she confided with a smirk, “they don’t really want to know any.”

Harry was slightly shaken. She’d never spoken to him so intelligibly or for so long in all the time he’d known her. She was still odd, still off-putting, but he was coming to understand the origins of it. Her fractured coherence was becoming more comprehensible.

“That isn’t true,” he argued still, but gently. “I fell in love with Severus because he was broken.”

“Like I said, you're simple,” she shrugged. “Oh, I’m only teasing,” she added in response to his scowl, though it wasn’t the gibe that galled him. “But look at how long that lasted, Lovely. Only four years and you’re already running off into the arms of someone more whole. Don’t feel bad. It isn’t easy to love something so damaged. You were cut,” she said understandingly, “and it bled you slowly. Your cracks widen daily, soon you’ll be the one doing the cutting. But then,” she said, stopping to regard him, “you know that already. That’s why you’re leaving. That’s why we chase your vengeance instead of setting up house, despite how it will hurt him."

Harry winced but could say nothing in his defense. 

"It would never have worked anyway, you know,” said Cobs, waving away the notion like a pesky gnat. “Your bond with the wolf eats at Severus. Best to leave him to figure out why you forged it and let him forge one of his own. They will be good for one another,” she reasoned, nodding to herself. “It is as it should be.”

“And you suppose you’re good for me?” 

“Oh heavens, no! I’m going to get you killed. But we both know that’s what you really want anyway, Lovely. Before it’s managed, though, we’ll send some of the bastards to Hell ahead of us. It will be glorious,” she finished with disturbing relish. She turned and carried on walking, but Harry did not move to follow. If she noticed, she didn’t seem to care.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked. It occurred to him that Voldemort might not be the only one she blamed for her heartache. Perhaps this was her revenge on Severus: dragging his lover off on a suicide mission disguised as a quest for retribution.

She paused and turned back to him, seeming weary of his continued objections, but Harry did not relent.

“Why help me? Why come with me? This was done to me, not to you. Your demon is dead,” Harry said, his voice tinted with suspicion. 

She was quiet for a long while, a number of emotions clearly fighting for supremacy within her. “That is why.” There was flint in her answer. “What else do you suppose sustained me? Let me carve out a living in the wilderness at the edges of the Coven? Life here is easier,” Loraina conceded, “but you extinguished my fire, Harry.” She let slip a mournful sigh. “Don’t get me wrong, I thank you for it,” she rushed to add, “but I lived only to see the fiend die, and now that he has, I don’t see much point to me any longer. I don’t intend to simply fade away, though,” she said, almost combatively, as though Harry has suggested otherwise. “After a lifetime thirsting for revenge, I’d rather taste some worthy of my sacrifice before I go. I prefer to go out fighting. And yet again, you’ve offered me my salvation, My Lovely,” she said more softly, turning to him with a lascivious smile, her interest rekindled. That interest appeared to be predicated on this opportunity he presented--a concept Harry found he understood more clearly with each passing moment.

This is a fight worth dying for.” She sidled closer but did not reach out with anything more than her bright, hungry gaze. “This is a challenge worth accepting. I happen to think they perfected you,” she said, giving him a long, approving look, “but I’m more than familiar with the betrayal you must feel. You were robbed of life hard-won and well-deserved, and for that,” she said, her seduction hardening to something more sinister but equally ardent, “we’ll make the bastards pay.”

The intensity in her look forced Harry back a step, but it didn’t abate no matter how far away he moved.

“Now. Do you remember how to call the beast, Lovely? Or do I have to punch you again?”

Harry didn’t answer. He accepted her explanation, but he was still overwhelmed by it and by the sudden realness of the situation, by the settling in his mind of the realisation that this was actually happening. He was learning, practising, with a purpose--a bloody, immoral, despicable purpose he now saw he had every intention of pursuing, regardless of her motivations.

She seemed to grow impatient with his lack of response and stepped toward him, her hand already fisted at her side. Harry threw a hand up to halt her. “No. I think I can do it. Just give me a moment.” 

She nodded but didn’t relax, making herself ready for his transformation. Her hand went to her belt and the Aconite solution tucked there.

Harry closed his eyes. He easily found the beast within him, but then, he’d been concentrating on it all day and hadn’t yet spontaneously sprouted fur. He imagined the way that felt, remembered as clearly as possible the itch and tingle. With slightly more reluctance, he brought to mind the pain of breaking bones and tearing flesh, but still, nothing actually shifted in him.

“Remember our secret, Harry?” she asked, noticing his struggle. “Invite it to come, just like Animus Secretum. Give it permission. Or why not simply try the spell? What is your inner self now but the slavering thirst for vengeance?”

Harry cracked an eye to check that she was not mocking him. It was difficult to tell with Loraina. She seemed to be suggesting it in earnest, however. Harry had not cast Animus Secretum since his scar fell dormant. She had taught them that the spell changed over time as they changed within, and Harry hadn’t wanted to confront who he might be deep down after the war.

He was familiar with the method still, though. He’d only ever cast it once with his wand. He knew better than most how to channel without one. Harry took a deep breath, closed his eyes again, and reached.

As she had said, instead of the shadow-wreathed sun he knew, Harry found a creature--dark and ravenous. It seemed he met it on some mental plane floating freely in the void inside him, as when he had spoken to Voldemort before. He and the beast regarded one another. Cautiously, Harry reached for the thing’s collar. It bared its teeth at him, causing Harry to hesitate, but he realised after a moment that it had not been a threat. The creature was eager for release. Discarding his fear, Harry reached again and unfastened the tether.

He was instantly flooded with blinding pain, but he had been ready for it. He’d felt it often enough before that it afforded a hardened familiarity instead of dread, the same kind he’d seen in Remus’ expression on the Full. He had done it intentionally once already and so knew to welcome it instead of fighting it, expediting the process severalfold. He did not concentrate on any one part of it, he just allowed it to happen, all at once and as quickly as possible.

Harry was actually surprised at the ease of it and by the self-possession he felt after he emerged. He and the Beast were working in accord, by permission, and Harry only felt a change in the shape of the shell that carried his consciousness, in the understanding of how much savagery he was now capable of. He felt strong. Feral. Not entirely clear-headed but enough.

Harry regarded Cobbleshot. He was relieved to find he knew her this time. Her scent offended him, but then, her person offended him in human form, so the transference and management of the aversion was not beyond him. She peered into his eyes for a long moment, smiling when she recognised the man in the wolf.

“Well done.”

She took a careful step to the side, like she had done before, and then another. Harry watched her closely, but she did not circle him this time. She came to a stop at his side, several feet away. Unlike before, the movement did not unnerve him. This thing within him understood that they were allied, that she was the one helping them sate their bloodlust.

“Are you ready to hunt, then, Lovely?” she asked with familiar, manic anticipation.

Harry fell forward onto his hands--his paws--and curled back his lips with a low growl. Cobbleshot’s grin split even wider and, eyes dancing with crazed delight, she leapt forward, taking off at a sprint.

Harry tore after her, quickly adjusting to his awkward, loping, uneven gait until he was streaking through the trees at her side. He found a strange satisfaction in the way the pads of his fingers and toes spread when they struck the ground, muting the drum of his steps. Harry liked the way the wind slicked his fur while he ran, the way his claws clutched the dirt and helped propel him forward. It was as exhilarating as his race with Severus had been but in a much different way. It lacked joy, but it more than made up for it in sheer adrenaline.

They caught scent of their prey at the same time and pivoted in tandem to follow the trail of its musk. The fragrance seemed to unlock instincts in Harry he could not have previously imagined. He somehow just knew how to follow the scent. He anticipated where it might turn to one side or the other. Harry did so without the necessity of thought, so that his focus was free to sweep the wood in front of him, searching for the mighty heart that had marked this path. As vivid as smells had been to him before, now they were so distinct he could practically see them. They shone to his sense of smell like blood glowed to his night-vision.

The great stag sensed them surprisingly early, but then, they were not relying on stealth at the moment, though Harry could feel himself capable of it. It bolted through the trees, changing direction several times in a truly impressive display of agility for a creature so large. Still, it was no match for the both of them. Its heart pumped all the harder in its attempted escape, stoking the beacon they followed effortlessly through the dark. They peeled off to either side of the animal in unspoken synchronicity, but Cobbleshot allowed Harry to make the final bound.

He cut across the forest prince, turning his head as he passed to catch its throat in his maw, coming away with a mouthful of flesh. The part within him that was still human cringed, but that part was not in control now. The stag crashed to the ground and, in an instant, Harry had turned back to clamp his muzzle like a vise over the rent in its neck, holding the struggling stag in place while he swallowed the gushing fount of its blood.

He growled an instinctual warning to Cobbleshot when she descended on the feast soon after, but he quickly recovered himself. The woman did not flinch. She looked at him almost lovingly as she bent to the dying animal as well, avoiding its still kicking legs, to attach herself to a bright vein.

Though violent, the stag’s death was relatively swift, and Harry lost himself in the glutting of blood until he fell away from the newly silvered carcass, still panting from the hunt. At some point, as he fed, he had shifted back to human form, and he hadn’t even noticed. It seemed the blood had masked the pain of it as it had flooded him with vitality, healing his muscles even as they tore.

Cobbleshot pulled herself from the dead animal and threw back her head, sated and grinning. Harry saw in her the same wanton fire he had seen in Severus the night before. She didn’t touch him, though he could tell she sorely wanted to, and he was relieved because he was so aroused by blood himself, he might not have pushed her away.

“You may not be clever, My Lovely,” she sighed happily, “but you are undoubtedly talented. I wonder how far that extends,” she said, narrowing her eyes and staring pointedly where she should not be.

Harry felt his face burn. “I knew who I was,” he muttered as he pushed himself upright, mostly attempting to redirect her train of thought. “And I could think, after a fashion. It’s never been like that before.” 

Cobbleshot nodded, seeming unsurprised, and rose to her feet. “Vampires become hyper-aware when they hunt. Laser-focused. Which is something you had yet to experience, as Severus merely strolls through the woods until he runs across something to put to sleep,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I suspect that grounds the wolf. They may be enemies, but vampires and werewolves compliment each other quite well. I wonder if the Dark Lord realised the genius of combining the two when he commissioned Severus to make a hybrid, or if he merely thought it sounded novel and enjoyed testing his Potions Master.” 

The comment dripped with bitterness. Harry understood her offence. Voldemort had been arbitrary and cruel, and his mistreatment of their mutual estranged lover was not easily forgiven, even with the bastard’s death.

Harry staggered to his feet and looked down at himself with dismay to realise he was practically naked and covered in blood. Transforming was not friendly to clothing. He made a mental note to remove it next time. Then, he realised what that would mean, and his cheeks coloured as he threw a glance to Cobbleshot.

She noticed him notice the state of himself and gave him a taunting smile as if she’d been wondering when he’d get around to it. She was not shy in her appreciation, but there was nothing really to be done about it, and so Harry decided against becoming painfully self-conscious. He met her gaze, pretending to be unconcerned.

Apparently inspired by his confidence, she moved closer. “I like you like this,” she purred. “Have you given any more thought to what I suggested earlier?” she asked coquettishly.

Harry was frustrated by the constant battle against her advances. He gave her a fierce look, warning her to keep her distance. “I haven’t left them yet,” he said firmly, clarifying his scowl.

“But you will,” she whispered, drawing closer despite it. He made no move to stop her. He didn’t trust himself to. They could both clearly see he was still affected by bloodlust. “No matter,” she told him breathily, staring at his lips while she spoke. “I’ve waited for you long enough already. A while longer won’t make a difference.”

“This thing we're doing is about justice, Loraina,” he hissed. Harry was angered both by her boldness and his own inability any longer to completely ignore her wiles.

She scoffed at the term. They both knew this was nothing so righteous as justice, but that didn't mean it had anything to do with their relationship, either.

“It’s not about you and me. I never implied-”

“Not with your words, no, My Lovely,” she interrupted, closing the distance between them, “but your eyes speak volumes. When you leave the spring behind, we’ll slake each other’s thirst, you and I,” she said with the authority of an Oracle. “When you’ve outgrown sweeties and crave something more bracing, when there is nothing more delicate to sustain you, I’ll put the fire in your belly.” She reached out then and laid a palm on his bare stomach, spreading her fingers across it possessively without breaking eye contact. “You’ll need it once your blood turns cold.” Her voice was low and dark. “Trust me. I’ve been where you’re going.”

Her gaze was mesmeric. Harry wasn’t certain if it was a vampiric trait or something unique to the woman, but he finally managed to break the spell and snatch her wrist, peeling her hand from his skin and thrusting it away from him. She still didn’t back down.

“Loraina, listen to me. I’m not interested. And it’s not just because I don’t tend to prefer your particular bits. We are never going to be whatever it is you are trying to make us. If that means you won’t help me anymore, so be it. I’m not going to whore myself to you for a little training and a helping hand, are we clear?”

She smirked at him but eventually seemed to decide this was not the time for this battle and backed away. “Well. Seems Little Harry has finally grown his own ‘bits’,” she sneered. “We shall see, Lovely,” she said with a shrug, confident in her eventual victory. “We shall see.”

Chapter Text

It didn’t occur to him until after he’d already driven her off that Harry needed Cobbleshot to cast a scouring spell for him. Blood coated his chin and neck and had spilled liberally down his chest. It was starting to dry, becoming sticky and unpleasant. Drying made it smell different. It was much more metallic, less like blood and more like rust. If he hadn’t still been sated almost to sickness, the smell would have driven him half-mad, regardless.

The need to wash up became urgent. He discarded what was left of his clothing, as the shreds were serving no purpose. Something about his infection made him less modest, as if that were a human condition he no longer suffered from. Despite Remus’ adamant objections to the contrary, Harry knew he was no longer human. Not really. And like Cobbleshot, Harry saw less and less reason to deny that fact. Embracing his nature was freeing, though he was still human enough to want a bath.  

Now that he was up and about, he was reminded more and more often, not only that he lacked a wand, but also that he missed having one. Beyond the inconvenience, however, the loss of his caused him less melancholy than it might have. The same could be said of the stag. Harry looked down at it, expecting to feel sorrow, but this creature and its significance, as well as that of his old wand, belonged to another life. Another Harry.

He would not be taking it to the kitchens, naked and blood-splattered as he was, but he resolved to carry it at least to the Castle. The dirt-seeded, short, stiff fur chafed the back of his neck. It felt strange, carrying the massive and rapidly cooling thing across his shoulders. It felt strange being able to do so. He had no doubt he made quite a savage picture. Still, he didn’t feel savage, especially now that he’d shed his wolf form. He simply felt different. Indifferent.

Harry left the stag just beyond the same arch through which Hagrid had been discovered and then made his way quickly to Severus' office and through the floo. He was in their dungeon quarters long enough to discern that Severus still toiled in the lab, but he dared not linger lest the overwhelming scent of blood brought the man upstairs. As he tossed in another handful of floo powder, he reflected that he would have been unable to even begin to explain the state of him. He was still thinking on this when he stepped out the hearth at Grimmauld Place and looked up to find himself face to face with Remus, who appeared to have been waiting on him.

Surprise rendered Harry mute. Even if he’d had an idea of what to say to the man, he could not have managed it. Remus was shocked by the sight of him, then understandably horrified. Before the man’s expression could decide whether to settle on concern or anger or some combination of the two, Harry ducked his head and moved to leave, tracking still-moist dirt on the rug on his way to the stair.

“What have you been doing?” 

Harry heard confusion, criticism, and a touch of desperation in Remus' voice. Harry’s bones gave a splintering ache. Though it slowed him, he ignored it and kept walking. He knew it wasn’t the blood, necessarily, but his nakedness that caused the most alarm. Remus no doubt had his suspicions as to the reason for it.

“You came home yesterday with your clothes filthy and shredded,” Remus persisted, following him, “and now you turn up with none at all? This isn’t merely hunting, Harry. Not the way it should be. There is no reason for you to let yourself go that deeply. This is not what Severus taught you. Harry,” Remus implored, standing at the bottom of the steps as Harry proceeded to climb them, becoming more and more frantic at the younger man’s refusal to respond, “what is going on with you? Is it the situation with Severus?”

It was as hard on Harry as it was on Remus. He’d spent all his time since making the decision to leave trying to numb himself to both men, but he hadn’t been at it long enough to not feel the pull of Remus’ presence. He could not respond, though, without baring his soul, so he bit his lips and trudged on.      

“Damn it, Harry,” Remus shouted finally. “Stop and talk to me!”

Harry froze. The direct, forceful command from his Mate locked his limbs in mid-step. His tongue threatened to confess despite him, but Harry resisted. It was difficult enough that, when he answered, he sounded angrier than he was.

“Is that an order…Alpha? ” he asked, turning his head just enough to look down at Remus from the corner of his eye.

Remus seemed shocked by the question. The control had been accidental, but they both knew Remus could force an explanation from him now. Remus hadn’t wanted their bond to work that way. He hadn’t wanted it to but seemed to be thinking Harry’s behaviour was worrying enough to cross that line. Harry waited quietly while Remus warred with himself, until finally, the man stomped off to the kitchen, hurt and fuming.

Released from his command, Harry found he could move again. He heaved a sigh of relief and attempted to slow the pounding of his heart, but glancing above him, he realised there was another battle awaiting him.

Harry bypassed his room and went to the bathroom instead. Hermione would just have to wait until he was done. She would thank him for it. He found himself still naked after his quick wash, and with no wand, no clothes could be summoned. Harry decided it didn’t particularly matter and, ignoring Hermione’s surprised gasp, he stepped inside his room and walked casually to his wardrobe. Hermione didn’t look away while he dressed, though she didn’t ogle him as Cobbleshot might have. Mostly, she sat and gave him an unfading, scolding look as he struggled to force his wet skin into his clothing. He carried his t-shirt with him, waiting until he’d plunked down on his bed across from her before wrestling it over his dripping hair.

“Hermione,” he greeted finally.

She didn’t speak for a long while. She only stared at him as if wondering how much she dared say. Harry sighed and shrugged, and then he stretched out on his bed with his hands behind his head, waiting for her to chide him about the way he was treating Remus. And likely Severus, too, if the two did any real talking, which Harry couldn’t really imagine having happened, but Hermione was clever and no doubt read between the lines.  

“But why are you leaving?” she asked him, her voice small and angry.

Harry’s eyes flew open and he stared at her. She was clever. Too clever.

“What makes you think I’m going anywhere?” 

“Please, Harry, don’t insult me,” she said with a sharp shake of her head. “You know how many times I was with you when you decided to tear off to do something daft. If I don’t know what that looks like, no one does.”

Harry swung his feet over the side of the bed and sat up again. “Hermione,” he began cautiously.

“Harry, there are other ways,” she pleaded, anticipating his excuses and refusing any part of them. So be it. If the jig was up, Harry wouldn’t bother pretending.

“What ways, Hermione?” he asked, exasperated. “To leave them be? Let them get away with it?” He stood to pace the floor.

“Well. No,” she said, her temper slipping, “but-”

“Because we can’t leave it to the Ministry,” he went on. “If we do, then it will come out what I am, and as I’ve been told all my life, I am more than myself.” He levelled a sober look at her. “Everything we fought for will be tarnished, Hermione.” Surely that was something she could understand. They had both sacrificed. And not just them. “History will be less kind. That’s exactly what they wanted, to derail the narrative, to sully my ‘legend’. And while I couldn’t give less of a damn, I’m not giving them what they want, Hermione. I am not letting them win.”  

“Of course,” she said more softly, trying for conciliation as he continued to pace, becoming more and more agitated. “I’m not saying this shouldn’t be answered, but, let Remus and Severus help.”

"No!” He rounded on her. The thought was inconceivable. It had panicked him. He refused to even hear it spoken.

His outburst cowered her, but she made no attempt to escape him. Harry glanced to the door, certain Remus had heard, and reined himself in by taking a deep breath. Hermione recovered herself, as well, but Harry could see she was frightened of him finally. As well she should be, if they were honest.

“You will not breathe a word to them,” he said, his threatening tone not wholly accidental. “Do you understand me, Hermione? Not. One. Word. I don’t even know what it is I’ve decided to do. I’m just making myself ready. In case. It’s complicated, and I know you’re clever, and I know you’re worried, but you don’t understand what’s going on. Not really. You have no right to interfere-”

“Alright,” she said, holding her hands up to beg peace. “You’re right, it’s not my place to meddle. But Harry, if you’re asking me to trust you, please assure me you aren’t just barreling into this. Promise me you’re not being hasty and impulsive.”

“We both know I can’t say that,” he said, blasting out a sigh as he dropped back to a seat on the bed.

Hermione’s brow furrowed and they sat for a while in mulish silence. Not that he would have allowed it, but he noted she did not volunteer to come with him. The fate of the world no longer hung in the balance. She loved him enough to come sit at his bedside and escort him to Ollivander’s, but she had retired from deadly adventure. She had a life to look forward to, perhaps with Katie. Harry had looked forward to a life with Severus. And then, when that seemed impossible, perhaps with Remus. Now he had both men but no life to speak of. The thought hardened his heart that much more, and he felt the Beast stir restlessly.     

“I need a wand, Hermione,” Harry said finally, weary before his ordeal had even begun. “How are we doing that?”

For a moment he thought she might not answer until she’d wrung the promises she craved from him.

“Tomorrow is expected to be overcast,” she relented, “especially so, and Diagon Alley will have some help in it from the Ministry. I think they intend to make it rain a bit to justify an umbrella for you. It will still be painful, Harry,” she warned anxiously. “The plan is to go in the late afternoon, just before Ollivander’s closes. They’ll make sure it’s empty when you arrive. By the time we come out, if not before we go in, there is likely to be a swarm of cameras, which is as much the point of going as to fetch you a wand. It should be dark enough then for you to linger. If pressed, you simply say you are recovering well, the investigation is ongoing, etc. and we leave as quickly as possible without seeming suspicious.”

“Are you certain you still want to do this, Hermione?” he asked, growing more contrite as his temper cooled. “After all, I’ve not been very kind.”

“You’re dealing with a lot,” she shrugged. “Doesn’t mean we aren’t still friends. I know you, Harry,” she teased mildly, echoing his words from earlier, “I knew what to expect.”  

He turned and looked at her for a long moment, and she smiled back at him. “I think you might be a better friend than I am, Hermione. A better person.”

She shook her head. “I’m just better at filtering my thoughts. Doesn’t mean I don’t still have ugly ones.”

He grinned, wondering what ugly thoughts she’d left unvoiced just a moment ago. “Thank you, Hermione,” he said, falling back on his bed so she wouldn’t see his embarrassment.

“You’re welcome, Harry.” It was impossible to miss the fondness in her voice.

Chapter Text

“Don’t rub at them,” Hermione scolded as they stepped over the threshold into Ollivander’s, setting off the bell above the door.

“Have you ever worn them?” Harry groused, still working at his eye with the heel of his hand. “They itch. My eyes are going to be so red by the time we leave, they’ll be more frightening than if I’d left the damned things out.”

“Because you keep rubbing at them!” she hissed in a whisper, collapsing their damp umbrella while the door clicked to a close behind them, blocking out the excited noise of the crowd that had begun to gather as they strolled down Diagon Alley. Hermione turned quickly to lock it. In contrast, the shop was eerily quiet.

“Remind me again why I’m wearing these tiny glass discs from Hell?” he said, blinking rapidly behind his glasses in an effort not to rub. Even though neither were prescription, looking through a double layer of glass was bothersome to his sensitive eyesight.  

“You know already,” she tsked, peering over the counter to see if she could spot the shop’s owner. But Hermione was never one to pass up an opportunity to explain a thing, even when it was known. “If their aim really was to alienate you from the public, once whoever did this knows you’re here, they’ll likely try to out you somehow while all the cameras are on you. Enchantments are too easily undone. Besides, they’d expect magic. Not as much they can do about makeup and contact lenses.”

“Wrong,” Harry said peevishly. “The correct answer to my question is: because you bloody suggested them, Hermione. They hadn’t even occurred to Kingsley.”

“Then it’s a good thing I was on hand to make the suggestion,” she snipped back. “Which must have been a good one, as Kingsley took it. Oh, where is Ollivander?” she bemoaned.

Harry wasn’t sure why she was in such a hurry. They had time to kill. Even with an overcast sky, fully covered and shaded with an umbrella, Harry still felt half-cooked. The heavily shaded windows of the shop were a welcome relief, and he resolved not to step foot back outside until the sun had well and properly fucked off. Perhaps Hermione’d just already had enough of him that afternoon. If so, Harry really couldn’t blame her.

He was irritable. The ‘early’ hour, the discomfort of the sun, Remus’ uneasy presence and Severus’ absence before they left Grimmauld Place, the scrutiny of the agents that shadowed them...it had all served to put Harry in a foul mood. It didn’t help that he’d gotten his first whiff of virgin blood on the way there, no doubt belonging to some child in the thinning traffic on the Alley. His green contact lenses had hidden the sudden dilation of his pupils, but his fangs sprouted almost as if spring-loaded, and his mouth had watered despite that Hermione herself had sacrificed a tumbler full of blood before they left to help ease his cravings.

“Mr. Potter. Miss Granger. Welcome,” Ollivander smiled, stepping from the backroom with an armful of wand boxes as if he hadn’t been expecting them.

“Mr. Ollivander,” Hermione greeted politely.

Harry simply nodded and, without prompting, produced a handkerchief from his cloak containing the remains of his wand. He laid it carefully on the counter and peeled the fabric back to reveal the carnage. Ollivander seemed to take it much harder than Harry had.

“Ah! Such a special, such an historic, wand,” he lamented, “and how honoured I was to have been the one to craft it. Most regretfully, Mr. Potter, it is beyond repair,” he told him.

Harry had suspected as much. “In that case, it looks like I’m in the market for a new one, sir,” he said, trying to sound appropriately downtrodden, though secretly he was excited by the prospect of a new wand.

“I took the liberty of pulling a few that might be interested in you,” Ollivander said, depositing the boxes he still held at the end of the counter. Once the remains of Harry’s old wand were reverently cleared by the old man, he seemed almost as giddy as Harry was about the whole enterprise. Harry stepped up eagerly to examine the contents of the box Ollivander opened for him with a flourish, but he felt no stirring at the sight of it. It was a handsome wand, though.

“Is that Silver Lime?” Harry asked. Ollivander nodded, more knowingly than Harry was comfortable with. “Severus’ wand is Silver Lime,” Harry explained to Hermione in response to her questioning expression. “He’ll be showing me Cypress next, you watch,” Harry whispered from the corner of his mouth, causing Hermione’s lips to twitch in a suppressed smile while she lightly stepped on his toe in warning.

“Cypress? For you? Let us hope not. All too often the owners of Cypress wands die heroic deaths, and with luck, you’re done with heroics and will die a plain, long-delayed one, Mr. Potter,” Ollivander replied, clearly fond of the young man. Harry and Hermione exchanged an uncomfortable glance, though what unsettled Harry most about the comment was thoughts of Remus. Harry hoped he would play no part in the man’s possibly untimely but valiant end. Thankfully, he was distracted from this worry when their host presented him with a different wand.

“Aspen and Dragon Heartstring, prized by duelist. Eleven inches,” he explained as Harry lifted the wand from its silken bed. Before Harry could even shake his head, Ollivander was presenting him with yet another prospect. “Rowen. Excellent for defensive charms. Prefers pure-hearted bearers. Phoenix feather, nine and a half inches,” he described as if confident this was the one. Harry knew before he’d finished it would not be. His heart was anything but pure these days.

And so it went, one wand after another presented and passed on, until all the enthusiasm left both the shopkeeper and his customers. Hermione took a seat by the door while the pile of rejected wands grew higher and more unstable. Harry, already unaccustomed to wearing glasses, reached beneath them to rub his weary eyes.

The world went green for a moment and, realising what had happened, Harry blinked furiously to work his contact lens back into place. But not soon enough.

Harry glanced up to find Ollivander staring at him with a curious expression. Harry returned it as neutrally as he could, but he knew in his heart he’d been caught. Rather than comment, Ollivander narrowed his eyes at Harry. His expression was momentarily excited, then doubtful, finally settling on thoughtful. He turned and disappeared to the back of the store for some time, and when he returned, he was not bearing more individual cardboard wand boxes. Instead, he held a large, long but shallow wooden case with a brass fitting. Hermione was drawn by curiosity back to the counter as Ollivander carefully unclasped and turned the case, opening it slowly to reveal the contents to his guests.

“What are they?” Hermione asked, a little nervously, before Harry could manage the question himself. He didn’t know what was so special about these wands. They all seemed different from each other but not especially so from the dozens he’d held already. He knew one of them was destined for him, though. He could feel it sing to him, and his wand hand tingled.

“These,” the old man intoned in a way that indicated they were meant to be impressed, “are Thestral hair wands.”

Harry felt a shiver. He’d never heard of Thestral hair being used as a magical core, but then he was not versed in wandlore. Fleur’s wand contained one of her grandmother’s hairs, and if a wand could contain Veela hair, it stood to reason it could contain the hair from any number of magical creatures.

“I have created precious few in my career,” Ollivander explained ruefully as they drew closer to examine them. “Very powerful magical core, Thestral hair. But dangerous.” He shuddered, causing Harry to look back down at the wands with trepidation but also a thrill of excitement. “It is temperamental. Highly unstable. I have more than one scar I can attribute to its handling. I have, however, managed these seven. They were created more as an exercise of craft. I hadn’t thought of selling any before as I had not found anyone I felt worthy of possessing them,” he said, looking steadily at Harry. “These are no ordinary wands, Mr. Potter,” he warned softly, “but then, you are no ordinary Wizard.”

It seemed they all held their breath when Harry raised a hand to hover over the array. He closed his eyes, sweeping his palm back and forth until he could determine which called to him most strongly. His fingers brushed across one, went to pluck it, but then stopped and, with more certainty, wrapped around its neighbour instead.

Harry backed away from the counter with the thing rested in his palm. It was plain, almost utterly, with the exception of quite a few raised knots that looked as though they actively defied the modest, elegant design. It felt heavy but eager, and Harry supposed the wood must have been exceptionally dense. He raised the thing and brought it down with a small, efficient flourish. Instead of sparks, it emitted a beam of warm, ruddy light that seemed to sink, dripping, from the air rather than immediately dissolving into it. It was a strange reaction, but Harry still called it a success. The bond he felt was unquestionable.

Despite Harry’s delight, Ollivander seemed grave as he watched him. “That is not the one I might have predicted.” He approached with an expression of cautious scrutiny. Harry felt stricken when the man took the wand from his hand, but it seemed Ollivander was not denying it, he was merely examining it for himself.

“Hornbeam. Only eight inches,” the man muttered, turning his study to Harry next. “Hornbeam produces a particularly fine-tuned and sentient wand, and selects for its life mate the talented Witch or Wizard with a single, pure passion. Obsession, some might call it.” His tone was weighty. “Or, more kindly--vision. My own wand is made from Hornbeam,” he revealed, but in an offhand way. “They are hard, nigh unbreakable, unimpressionable. And when crossed with Thestral hair? This is a very dangerous wand, Mr. Potter,” he whispered ominously, “but then, you are now a very dangerous man, are you not?”

His look held so much understanding, Harry was afraid he would not return his wand to him. But return it he did, though almost reluctantly.

“Whatever it is you are obsessed with, let us hope it is a worthwhile endeavour.”  

Chapter Text

“I just don’t understand how you can draw a crowd this size so quickly,” said Hermione, peeking through a gap in the shade. “I mean--and don’t take this the wrong way, Harry--but you aren’t all that special.”

“It’s a good thing you’re around to remind me how mediocre I am, then,” Harry joked, milling restlessly while they waited for the all-clear, “Severus stopped telling me years ago.”

“Maybe he doesn’t find you mediocre anymore,” she said with a shrug, still studying the gathering outside.

“Well, I really think his opinion of me depends on which skills I’m practising at a given moment.”

Hermione glanced back to roll her eyes at his innuendo and Harry grinned cheekily, but it was insincere. He’d have given anything for a bit of Severus’ criticism just then. The man had been conspicuously absent since Harry had turned his back on them that night in the kitchen, which had made things both easier and harder on Harry. As dangerous as his reaction was to Remus, Harry’s greatest weakness was Severus. He knew he had no defences against the man and that it was best they didn't speak, but he missed him terribly all the same. Harry broke off this ache and fed it to the Beast. The exercise was almost automatic now, and his wand was warm in his hand. He hadn’t relaxed his grip on it since Ollivander had returned it to him, almost afraid the man might demand it back.

“Alright. The Ministry agents are in place,” Hermione informed as she straightened to face him. She tutted. “You’ve made an absolute mess of your makeup,” she scolded, reaching into her purse to pull out a compact, “You look like a racoon in negative.” She didn’t move to apply more, though. Instead, she looked nervously in the direction of the still-present Ollivander.  

“He knows, Hermione,” Harry told her, not bothering to lower his voice.  

“You’re sure?” 

“Positive," he sighed. "Just do whatever it was you did before that made me not look like a corpse and let’s get this over with.” They’d accomplished what they came to do. Harry was ready to be done with this expedition.

“Okay,” Hermione coached, dabbing new foundation around his eyes and blending it with the rest, “remember: You’re recovering well. The investigation is ongoing. No comment on your Auror position. Thank you for your concern,” she recited in sing-song, refreshing him on his lines as he tried to keep still under her ministrations, though they tickled. “Be mindful of your fangs,” she added, putting on the finishing touches, “and don’t forget to blink.”

While she fussed, Harry just looked at her, amazed still at her instant and complete acceptance of the fact that he now had fangs and never blinked, amazed that she had made no comment on the additional fact that he’d downed half a pint of her blood earlier that afternoon. She acted as though he were the same Harry she’d always known. Perhaps she even believed it, and that made him feel guilty because he knew better.

He took the compact from her hands despite her objections and wrapped her in a hug. She returned it, though she seemed confused by the sudden affection, and after a moment she attempted to release him, patting him awkwardly on the back when he didn’t take the hint. He only held her tighter.

“Thank you, Hermione.”

She sighed in surrender, wrapping her arms around him again and settling into the embrace. “Whatever for?” 

“For being you. For treating me like me.”

“How else would I treat you?” she asked with a small laugh when they finally parted.

“Like a monster.”

She shook her head at him. “A person’s actions make them a monster, Harry, not their physical condition,” she said confidently. He wished he could believe her, though he didn’t disagree, exactly. If Harry was a monster, it was not because he was a Bloodwolf, it was the result of the way he came to be one. “Now, are you ready?” she asked, setting a hand on the door handle.

He nodded and, with a steadying breath and a practised smile, they opened the door to an excited explosion of voices and flashbulbs that quickly settled into an earsplitting, unintelligible chatter. The cameras fairly blinded Harry. They would have before his infection, but now they burned that much brighter. The frenzy just did not seem to stop. People shouted his name, trying to draw his attention. Hermione’s name was peppered in, as well. Some merely waved, giddy at seeing him alive and in the flesh, but the vanguard all held quills and parchment, ready to record his every word and gesture. Questions came at him from all sides, and he had a hard time picking one from the other. His sensitive hearing was being overwhelmed by the crack of the still bursting lights, the jostle of bodies, and the shuffle of so many feet. He tried to smile and appear calm, but the ceaseless commotion was pushing him quickly toward sensory overload.

“Yes, alright!” Hermione attempted to shout above the noise, “One at a time, if you please.”

Gradually, the questions staggered themselves, but not enough to allow him time to answer. Harry held up his hands to beg for quiet and, miraculously, he got it. For the most part, though flashbulbs still popped in intermittent hiccups of distraction.

“Listen. I appreciate your concern,” he loudly told the assembly in general, “but I’m doing fine. Still recovering but doing well, thanks. No, I’ll not go into what happened. I’m not well acquainted with the Ministry’s investigation, though I can say there is one. No, I’m no longer an Auror. No, I have no idea what I’ll be doing…”

Harry’s announcement trailed off as he was sidetracked by the strong scent of virgin blood nearby. He felt his fangs extend and sealed his lips at once, though he couldn’t help compulsively searching the crowd. Harry had smelled this same scent earlier. He’d sampled enough blood from enough different people to appreciate its nuance, or to at least recognise this blood as the same as before. But he saw no children. The assembly began to murmur when his attention continued to stray.

“Harry. Do they have any leads on the possible identity of the mastermind behind your attack?” an impatient reporter asked, quickly followed by a chorus of similar questions from his colleagues and competitors.

“No,” Harry started, still distracted. “Um...they…”

“Harry, what’s wrong,” Hermione asked in a concerned, anxious whisper, turning her back to the crowd and stepping closer to shield their conversation from the others.

Harry didn’t answer. The blood sang to him, overpowering his reason. He closed his eyes and sifted and catalogued every scent he could, trying to determine the location of his quarry. It seemed important, though he wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t as if it really mattered. What was he going to do? Snatch the virgin up and drink their blood in front of the entire Wizarding world?

But something was wrong. Something was different. The scent was too strong, but it cold, as if the blood he smelled was not encased in veins at all, and it was puzzling.

“Harry, we need to go. We need to get you out of here. Now.” Both she and the crowd were becoming increasingly resistive.

Harry shook his head to dispel his persistent thirst. “You’re right, Hermione,” he murmured, lifting his head to address everyone again, to bring things to a close. And that’s when he found the source of his distraction.

The overpowering scent of virgin blood wasn’t coming from a person. Not exactly. It was coming from a phial, made visible by a momentary gap in the shifting crowd, held at waist-height by a scruffy looking vagrant with haunted, bloodshot eyes. Harry could see panic ignite in those eyes when their owner realised Harry had caught him, and Harry, incensed by the trick, communicated as clearly as he could with only a look that the villain was right to be frightened. The man immediately capped the phial and tried to discreetly remove himself from the small sea of bodies surrounding him. Harry resolved he would not get far.

He felt his senses shift into a predatory mode and, despite his effort to contain it, a soft growl burbled from his throat, though no one but Hermione seemed to be close enough to hear it. While Harry watched, a helpless captive of the crowd and cameras, the man succeeded in escaping the throng, dropping the phial behind him as he hurriedly shuffled down the street and into an alley. The Ministry agents hadn't even noted him or, if they did, they didn't seem to find him of any threat or interest. Harry wasn't sure what the damned point of them even was. 

He had the man's scent but had to act fast. Without warning or explanation, Harry grasped Hermione’s wrist and Disapparated. From the shadowed doorway of a shop one street over, they heard the sudden outcry their disappearance had caused.

Hermione wrenched herself free from his grip and stepped back away from him. “What on Earth! We’re meant to calm people, not start more rumours,” she scolded fiercely but quietly. “Harry, what have you-”

“Shut up, Hermione, and just listen,” he snapped, still sharpened for the hunt. He was not even looking at her. He was staring intently toward the nearby alley. “It’s them. One of them, anyway. I’m going after him,” he said, peeling off his glasses and shoving them into Hermione’s reluctant hand.  

“Harry, no,” she said firmly. But she was not Remus and it was effortlessly ignored. “Harry, just look at me for a moment,” she begged, frantic, unsure if he was even hearing her. “The agents will be here soon. We’re not far from where we were. Surely they heard us Apparate. Just tell them what you saw and let them-”

“No. We’ve talked about this, Hermione.”

“But what am I to tell the others?” she asked, at a loss and increasingly undone by his stubbornness.

“Don’t care,” said Harry, fishing the colored contacts from his eyes and tossing them to the ground.

And then he was gone. Hermione abandoned all effort to remain inconspicuous and shouted after him, but Harry moved so quickly, he may as well have Apparated again. He was so inundated by instinct at that point, Hermione might as well not even have still existed.

Harry’s first impulse was to fall to all fours as he tracked his prey, but he had not transformed, and he must not, though the urge was strong. Instead, he hunted as a vampire hunts, and he now understood what Cobbleshot had meant about becoming hyper-aware. Time seemed to slow, and the world and his intention seemed to crystallise. It was as if he’d stumbled through a haze his entire life and it was only now being lifted. Every movement was efficient, purposeful. He felt sharp and receptive but no longer overwhelmed, despite that he seemed to be taking in and processing far more information than usual, and he seemed to be doing so instantaneously.

His hunt was helped, unwittingly so, by his victim’s naive plunge down the shadowy lane. The darker the better for Harry, who seemed to see better now in pitch, especially in this heightened state. If he hadn’t been so intensely focused, Harry might have laughed at the fool. Surely he must have known what Harry was. Why else did he think they had him waving blood around if not to trigger Harry into giving away his vampirism? But fear and panic make for poor decisions, and Harry found the job of tracking him almost too easy.

Harry could literally smell the man’s fear. The fight or flight processes in his body had produced a distinct chemical cocktail that Harry followed as easily as the stag’s musk in the forest. It led, winding from one shadow to another, deep into the alley. It wasn’t long before Harry saw the blinking glow of a pounding heart when its owner peeked fearfully around a corner. The vagrant had tucked into a nook in the side of a building, occasionally glancing back the way they had come. He watched the mouth of the alley intently even while Harry passed him and re-approached from behind.

Harry stood silently at the man’s shoulder for a moment. The vagrant exuded the pungent perfume of his fear through his pores with his panicked sweat. He blasted it from his lungs with each shallow breath. The scent was intoxicating, addictive, and this close, it affected Harry like a drug. He could have taken the man at any time, but Harry almost wanted him to run. He wanted the man to realise how easy it was for Harry to capture him and snatch him back. He wanted to see the hope drain from the man's bloodshot eyes. Harry knew it would make the delicious fear waft even stronger, and recognising the cruelty of it did not make him want to do it any less.

But Harry was also impatient. He still waited, but only until the man, slowly becoming aware of a presence behind him, turned almost reluctantly to look into Harry’s face and become startled to find it hovering only inches from his own. He opened his mouth to scream, but no one in London heard it. Harry seized him and Apparated to the Shrieking Shack before the man’s lungs had even finished filling, and the scream now echoed off splintered panelling instead of bricks and cobblestones.

After exhausting the first, the man gasped to scream again, tugging fruitlessly at Harry’s unyielding grip on his wrist. Harry stared at him almost impassively. Once upon a time, the man’s terror might have touched Harry. It might have disturbed him to the point he’d have snapped out of his cold rage and released him. No longer. Seeing the pathetic state of his enemy evoked no sympathy in Harry. It was insulting, actually, that such a creature and his companions had managed to inflict such a terrible blow, that these filthy, Mut-addled junkies had succeeded in a way Voldemort never had. Harry felt his heart harden. He felt the hackles rise eagerly on the Beast within him. If he’d ever had any doubt he was capable of the atrocities he and Cobbleshot planned, that doubt was now gone.     

Harry backhanded the man to silence him, checking himself at the last moment to soften the blow. Harry’s full strength would have killed him and, to Harry's annoyance, the force still almost knocked the man unconscious. He would have to be more careful. The vagrant now hung dazed and quiet in Harry’s grasp, and Harry had to shake him quite a bit before he was once again responsive. Then, Harry propped the man up in a rickety chair, but he kept a grip on him lest he try to Apparate.

Harry studied him more closely now that he was no longer flailing about. He couldn’t be much older than Harry, but life as an addict had taken its toll, and he looked at least another decade older. His cheek was already swelling from the blow to his face, and Harry guessed his eye would black soon.

“What is your name?”

“Ti-Timothy,” the man squeaked, trembling and snivelling already.

“You know what I am, don’t you, Tim?” Harry said, purposely punctuating the question with a rumbling growl. His expression was devoid of kindness, even as the scent of urine drifted to his nostrils.

Timothy nodded with a whimper. Harry looked down at the arm he clasped and pushed back the dirty, sweat-stained fabric to reveal a badly executed Dark Mark knock-off. It wasn’t even drawn correctly. The snake twisted the wrong direction and the skull’s eye sockets were incorrectly shaped. Harry should know. He’d traced Severus’ Mark with the tip of his tongue more times than he could count. It seemed these buffoons didn’t even have a proper Mark to copy from. 

“Then you know why you’re here?”

“I don’t know nothing!” Timothy averred. “Honest. I just do what they tell me.”

Harry squinted at him. “Were you in the factory?”

“No!” he said, shaking his head adamantly. “I swear. I never was in no factory. Honest!” he added shrilly, as though, if he kept saying the word, perhaps one of them might believe it of him.

Harry remained calm despite Timothy’s returning panic. “Do you know who was in the factory?”

Timothy shook his head again, “Nobody does. Them that done it weren’t allowed to talk about it. And word is they’re scared, ‘cause it didn’t go like expected. Don’t know if...if they’re scared of you,” he said with a gulp. Harry thought Timothy seemed plenty scared for the lot of them, “or if they’re scared of the Boss.”

“The Boss?” Harry demanded, eyes narrowing to angry slits. “Who is it?”

Timothy grimaced, and Harry realised belatedly that he’d tightened his grip on the man’s wrist until the bones ground together beneath his fingers. Harry loosened his grip again and repeated his question. Timothy, though, seemed too afraid to answer.

“Don’t know that, either,” he finally confessed in a small voice. “There’s not many as do, and I don’t know which they are, anyway.”

Harry took a deep, calming breath. “Okay. Let’s try something else.” The granite steadiness in his voice was unnerving even to him. He pulled out his new wand, and Timothy began to scream again at the sight of it, twisting in Harry’s grasp.

“Don’t kill me,” he begged, breaking into tears. “Don’t Crucio me! Please. I swear, I swear!”

“Shut up!” Harry barked. His skin tingled and his bones ached. Though he was capable of this exercise in cruelty, he wasn’t enjoying it, and the tedium of attempting to get useful information from his captive was wearing his patience thin. “I’m not going to kill you,” he assured.

Timothy stopped struggling and gave Harry a wary look. “Promise?” he asked, seemingly unaware of the snot making its way toward his trembling lips.

“I promise I’ll do no more to you than your friends did to me,” Harry answered coldly. That, however, did not serve to calm the man. Though really, Harry hadn’t actually intended to. “I’m looking for a man,” Harry explained, “and rather than describe him, I’m just going to show him to you. Then you can tell me who he is and where to find him, if you know.”

Timothy seemed confused, but he had enough sense still to dread what was about to happen. His eyes widened almost comically when Harry placed the tip of his wand to his own temple. “‘Ere. What you gonna do with that, now?” he asked nervously, squirming as the memory dangling from the tip of Harry’s wand drifted closer to him.

“I told you. I’m showing you someone, and then you are going to answer some questions.”

Timothy tried to avoid the shimmering strand but buckled into stillness when Harry increased the pressure around his injured wrist. Harry allowed the tail of his memory to sink into the man’s temple, and Timothy went rigid, his eyes glazing over as he mentally lived a piece of Harry’s past.

Harry waited calmly for the scene to play itself out, carefully following the man’s jerky movements in reaction to the events with his wand so that it would not slip out of his mind before it was finished. He watched, almost bored, as Timothy began to grind his teeth, guessing that it was at this point in the memory that Harry’s wand had been ruined in prizing his jaw apart. Harry liked his new one better, anyway, he reflected. He suspected that a few of the man’s teeth would end up broken before they were finished, but the yellow things were in such terrible condition already, Harry wasn’t sure he’d notice.

Harry knew that what he had wanted to accomplish, showing Timothy the identity of the man from the Release Ceremony, had been achieved at that point, but he made no move to end the man’s suffering, and he didn’t bat an eye when Timothy began screaming. They were the shrill, piercing screams of agonising pain, so unlike the terrified shouts of earlier.

Having been removed, the memory was cloudy in Harry’s own mind now, but he still remembered the anguish Timothy was feeling at the moment. Nothing would ever be able to really dull its echo. Harry also recalled that he hadn’t been able to scream at the time himself, his throat having been too damaged by the potion he’d been fed. Tim would never realise how lucky he was to be able to voice that suffering. And though this man had not personally forced that experience on him, Harry was not bothered in the least by forcing the experience on Timothy now. Harry had little doubt that if the Boss had requested it of him, Tim would have eagerly accepted the job of ruining Harry’s life.

Satisfied that he’d seen enough, Harry reclaimed the memory, carefully slipping it back into his own head while Timothy slumped senselessly in his chair. At once, the experience resolidified in Harry’s mind, but he did not begrudge it. Harry needed to remember what he’d been through. He needed to know, fully, why he was doing this.

Timothy seemed exhausted, completely undone and almost falling out of his seat. Still grasping his wrist, Harry crouched to bring his face level to the other man’s, drawing close enough for his whisper to be heard.

“You know now what I’ve lived through. Can you imagine, then, what I’m capable of?”

Timothy did not answer, seemed unable at the moment, but his eyes held a terror born of understanding.

“Now,” Harry said quietly, “do you know that man? The one with the potion. The one who shot my partner.”

He waited patiently for an answer, never easing his unblinking stare as a single tear preceded Timothy’s barely perceptible nod.

“That’s good, Tim,” he said encouragingly. “We’re making progress. Do you know his name?”

Again, the man nodded. Harry smiled at him to indicate he should try to answer.

“Willy,” the man croaked softly, his voice still ravaged from his screams. “Willy Royal. They calls him Prince William. Or His Highness. They’re takin' the piss, but he thinks it’s a sign of respect, 'cause he runs an ickle gang o’ pushers. Tosser,” Tim snorted, “Right poofter if you ask me.” Then he gasped and gave Harry a frightened, apologetic look. “Sorry.”

Harry smirked. Apparently, he’d left the memory playing at least until Severus arrived. But Harry had taken no offence. “Don’t worry about it, Tim. Where does one find His Highness Prince William?”

“Has some mates on Tooly,” Tim rasped, “but one finds him pretty regular on Knockturn outside Moribund’s.”

Harry nodded, finally releasing the man's bruised wrist. He doubted Timothy had the strength left to Apparate, anyway.

“I don’t want to die,” Tim whispered, crying gently again.

“I told you I wasn’t going to kill you,” said Harry, not kindly but sounding more believable now that he’d gotten what he wanted and was feeling less frustrated.

They will,” Timothy whined, his face screwing up with proper tears now.

Harry sighed. “Let’s ask our friend about it, shall we?” 

“Our friend?” 

Harry turned to Loraina who was leaning against the broken door frame with her arms crossed. Harry’d sensed her earlier, but since it was only her, and he had been busy at the time, he'd ignored the intrusion. Timothy didn’t seem to like the look of her, but then, who did? She pushed away from the doorway and sauntered over, planting her hands on her hips to consider the scene.

“Well done, Lovely,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Do we send him with a message and watch them scramble?” Harry asked, though he was fairly certain Tim would be at least attempting to leave the country after this, “or do we take them by surprise?”

She considered for a moment. “Surprise is always an advantage,” she shrugged.

Harry agreed. He lifted his wand, alarming both Tim and Loraina.

“Harry!” Cobbleshot cried, throwing up a hand to caution him, but Harry was already sweeping his wand in Timothy’s direction.

Obliviate,” he recited calmly. Timothy’s eyes clouded over and he went still. Cobbleshot lowered her hand and slowly nodded.

Harry narrowed his eyes at her. “You thought I was going to kill him, didn't you?” he asked, slightly insulted.

The woman stared at him a moment, and as always, it was impossible to discern what might be passing through her thoughts. She shrugged, “It occurred to me you might.”

“I told him I wouldn’t.”

“And he and I are Slytherins,” she said. “We are well aware how little an enemy’s word is worth.”

“But I’m Gryffindor,” Harry objected.

She smirked as if she wasn’t so sure anymore. “Perhaps. But all that means, really, is when you break your word, you actually think it’s justified.”

It was beside the point, really, and Harry didn’t care one way or the other what she thought of him. He checked on Tim and saw he was still vacant and unresponsive, and so he put away his wand and turned to Cobbleshot. “They’ll still know,” he said ruefully. “He was likely meant to report to someone by now.”

“It had to be done,” Loraina assured him. “They won’t know what he told us, at any rate. They might suspect what you’re looking for, but they won’t be sure of that, either. They'll likely think he was simply sloppy and was caught. Which is what happened. It will be fine.”

“So," Harry asked, dreading her answer but knowing it was time he was getting back, "where is everyone?”

“They were in the Headmistress’ office," she reported, drifting over to examine their captive. She seemed vaguely amused by the state of him. She prodded him gently, but Timothy didn't respond in any way, and Loraina seemed disappointed. "But they’ve gone home," she said, turning back to Harry, suddenly bored, "suspecting that’d be where you turn up.”

“How bad is it?” 

Loraina chuckled. “Well, no one is especially pleased, but they haven’t filed a Missing Persons just yet.” She gave Harry a sly, appraising look. “I was surprised you’d told the Granger girl.”

“She didn’t leave me much choice,” Harry confessed. “I suppose she told everyone I’d gone arsehole hunting?”

“No, actually,” she said as if she’d been pleasantly surprised by it. “That’s how I knew what you might really be up to. You can tell she isn’t comfortable with lying, but the others trust her more than I do and didn’t seem to question her that you’d simply panicked and disappeared. But then, they don’t know about our little project, either," she added with a wink. "They likely think you ran somewhere secluded to grieve over your condition. How refreshing to find them wrong.” Loraina stepped closer, giving Harry a look he felt he’d have to wash off later. “I suspected you’d want privacy, whatever you were doing, and I eventually found you here.”

“I suppose I’d better go deal with all of that, then,” Harry said resignedly. He was exhausted now that his temper had cooled. He’d hunted, and a few things besides, but he hadn’t fed. Without that payoff, the chase came at a high physical price.

“I’ll take care of our friend here,” Loraina offered, casually picking Tim up and tossing him over her shoulder. “You go calm Mother,” she smirked. “We’ll talk later, Lovely.”

 

Chapter Text

Harry quickly hunted in the woods outside the Shack before Apparating to London and the street outside his house. He stepped inside as quietly as he could and heard voices in the sitting room and in the kitchen. Through the open kitchen door, Harry could see Hermione. She looked terrible, her conscience was clearly eating at her. She had been loyal to him but wasn’t sure of the cost. No doubt she had been wondering if Harry had found his quarry, and what Harry must have done with him if he had, and if she might now have blood on her hands as a result. Harry should never have told her what he planned. He should have denied it when she’d confronted him, but there wasn’t much he could do about it now. 

She’d looked up when she heard the front door and was the first to spot him, though the others weren’t far behind. Before they spilled through the doorways, blocking her from sight, Harry tried to apologise to her with his eyes.

Cobbleshot was right. Everyone was there...except for Severus. Harry could not pretend that that did not hurt. Even though it might have been disastrous, Harry was almost angry at the man for his absence. Kingsley was present, and even Arthur, in the kitchen with Hermione. Remus and McGonagall had been in the sitting room. Everyone else rushed to the threshold of their respective rooms and stopped. But not Remus.

“Oh, gods. Harry,” he cried, relieved, and rushed down the hall to embrace him.

Harry found himself suddenly enveloped by the man. Not just by his arms, but also by his scent and his presence, by the love he felt for Harry that at times seemed like a physical force that wrapped around the young man like the warmest of blankets. 

Harry surrendered to his longing for a moment and allowed himself to listen to Remus’ heart, tripping loudly from the rush of Harry’s arrival. He allowed himself to breathe in, beneath the call of Remus’ blood, Remus' personal perfume of dust and wool and tea and soap. But though he yearned for it, could taste it, Harry refused the kiss Remus dipped his head to claim. He placed a hand firmly on Remus’ chest and parted them, though the effort required drove a crack through Harry’s stony heart.

“I’m tired,” was all he said, refusing to look up and see the pain in Remus’ expression as he stepped past him.

The others, it seemed, had no intentions of being so easily brushed off. They moved into the narrow hallway, barring his escape. With them before and Remus behind, Harry found himself trapped, and he instantly resented it. There was no questioning their relief or their concern, but even stronger in their expressions was their disapproval and exasperation. Harry glared at them almost challengingly, and it seemed they accepted that challenge.

“You cannot go off on your own without someone knowing where you are,” Remus scolded. Though Harry heard his lingering panic, the man’s voice carried too much command. It spoke to Harry’s bones, and Harry was glad Remus was behind him and could not see the bitter scowl the comment produced.  

“So, I’m a prisoner, is that it?” Harry asked the gathering, not caring how combative he sounded.

“No, Harry,” McGonagall assured him, “but-”

“If I’m not free to come and go, that sounds an awful lot like captivity.” Harry was certain he’d never spoken over the woman before, and the disrespect seemed to wound her. Harry disliked it, but he didn’t dwell on it. He tossed it to the Beast.

“You are new and unpredictable, Harry,” Remus reasoned in a measured voice, clearly seeking to diffuse Harry’s hostility.   

“We aren’t familiar with your triggers or weaknesses,” Arthur added, equally as careful with his tone.

“What if you pose a danger to the public?” Kingsley pointed out.

Harry scowled at each of them in turn. Only Hermione stood silently to the side and said nothing.  

“Isn’t that exactly what Severus said before, and you shouted him down?” said Harry, refusing to be placated. “But now you’re all losing your minds because I needed a goddamned breather?” Harry and Hermione exchanged a glance, and he hoped she could see the thanks in it. “Why don’t you all just admit you’re afraid of me?” Some of them shook their heads, but their expressions were as good as confessions. “Do you even hear yourselves? Do you know how hypocritical you sound? All that liberal tripe about creatures’ rights and fairness and equality, but you’re just trying to regulate me like all those other part-humans,” he said with a shake of his head. “Are you already drafting legislation to bring me to heel? Oh, ‘You’re human, Harry’,” he sneered. “‘Your self-possession is unquestionable. No, you’re not chained like a dangerous animal; you just have to have a handler, is all. All the time. For the rest of your life.’” 

“Harry,” Remus said cautiously, coming close behind him and laying a hand on his shoulder, “no one is implying-”

“Yes, you are,” Harry shouted, rounding on him. He was unable to tolerate Remus’ touch. Harry’s desire to return the contact made Remus’ burn. “And I’m tired of listening to it,” he muttered, “I’m going to bed.” And with that, he turned and shouldered his way between Kingsley and Hermione to mount the stairs.

“Harry,” Remus chided, sounding far too much as if he were speaking to a disobedient child for Harry’s liking, “we aren’t finished discussing this.”

“I am,” said Harry, not looking back at any of them, still climbing.

“Harry,” Remus repeated firmly, frustrated, “come back here.”

Harry’s step stuttered, though he fought through it. But the next threatened to falter completely, and Harry’s resentment of Remus’ control reached its peak. He was angry and tired of this constant challenge to his self-sovereignty. Harry growled, alarming those who’d never heard it, and turned to bellow down at the man.

Who do you think you are to command me? 

It had been so fierce, Remus stumbled back a step.

“Halt my step one more time, Remus,” Harry hissed, shaking his head, “and I swear to all the gods…”

Harry left the threat unfinished, but the seriousness of it was clearly conveyed by his glare, and Harry had never seen Remus so startled or so hurt. It took the man’s breath away, and Hermione rushed to his side; but rather than carving out and serving up his own pain at the sight of it, Harry simply didn’t allow himself to feel it in the first place. The hallway was silent as he turned and made his way up the rest of the stairs. No doubt there would now be some lengthy, whispered council on ‘What to do about Harry’. It wouldn’t be the first, though Harry thought it might be one of the last.

He was so aggravated that he had stormed into his room and slammed and locked the door firmly behind him before he realised he was not alone there. Harry turned to find that Severus sat in the same chair he’d occupied the whole while Harry had been ill. His was expression severe. Harry stared at the man, his anger having been snuffed by the magnitude of his surprise, and he was grateful even in his sudden panic. The man was breathtaking in his anger. He didn’t have to loom or shout to be threatening. His presence filled the room, backing Harry against the door and quickening his breath.

Harry almost wished he possessed the powers displayed by vampires in old Muggle movies. He wished he could pass through the solid wood at his back or trickle like smoke through the keyhole. He had always been drawn to the danger Severus represented, addicted to his ever-present, subtle threat, and his desire to reach out and touch the man scowling at him was so great, Harry had to actively, physically push against it, further flattening himself against the door behind him. It had only been a few days, but it seemed like an eternity since Harry had last seen Severus, and he was almost giddy knowing he was about to hear his voice, regardless of how painful what he had to say might be.

Severus stood without saying anything, though, and he approached Harry with a slowness that spoke of inner battle--self-restraint at war with fury. Severus’ hand rose at his side as he came so that, by the time he reached him, it slid perfectly into place around Harry’s neck. 

Harry had rarely been so genuinely frightened of the man. It wasn’t just his fear of the weakness he felt around him. It was the hard, unyielding expression on Severus’ face, the frozen snarl, and the suppressed rage that made his long, rigid fingers tremble against Harry’s throat. He didn’t exactly strangle the young man, but his grip was tight enough to be uncomfortable, especially when Harry attempted to swallow his apprehension. There would be bruising. Still, Harry had to fight not to press into the touch.

“You will never do this again. Is that understood, Dearest?” Severus said, teeth clenched and peeking from between his subtle snarl. His voice was an almost inaudible rumble so incredibly erotic, it made Harry’s eyelids flutter and his knees weak. “You will never disappear on me again.” As he spoke, Severus’ face moved almost imperceptibly closer, which Harry found torturous, being unable to decide if he wanted him to continue or withdraw. “I can bear the pain of being parted from you only if I am secure in the knowledge that you are safe,” said Severus, his expression betraying a fleeting glimpse of anguish. “If I thought you were lost somewhere, hurting and alone, wounded and stumbling…”

They both trembled now, only inches apart, sharing the same intoxicating breath. Harry had so missed this. He hadn’t seen this kind of passion from Severus since the war ended. It was not intended to be sexual, but it was so reminiscent of what had caused Harry to fall in love with him in the first place that it could not help but be. Severus was commanding, unquestionable, and Harry could not understand why he so resented Remus’ gentle, accidental control when he was so contentedly collared by the man who now pinned him.

“There is no length I would not go to to find you,” Severus vowed. “No limit on how far I would travel. There is no danger I would not face to bring you home, even if that danger were you. Do you understand?” he asked, desperation tinting the harshness in his voice. “Do you?” he repeated, his fingers tightening ever so slightly.

Harry did not answer. He could not. Even if Severus hadn’t been pinching off his voice, Harry’s desire and Severus’ proximity after everything that had happened between them rendered him incapable of speech, incapable of thought. There was nothing left of Harry at the moment; no will beyond the will to submit, no desire other than to obey, to be touched, to be taken.  

“This. Is. Mine,” Severus growled, causing Harry’s breath to hitch and his head to swim when Severus’ hand slid from Harry’s throat to grasp his face, slightly contorting his features as Severus’ fingertips gently bit his flesh. His other hand found Harry’s chest, tangling itself in his shirt with a clawed grip. “Mine,” he repeated firmly. “Will always be mine, even if you give it to someone else. Even if you deny me of it, it is still mine. And I will always come for what belongs to me.”

Only a hair’s breadth separated them, and Harry clawed at the door behind him, adding still more scores to its surface in his effort to resist the urge to reach up and embrace Severus. His self-control had never faced such a test. 

Still, though Harry had determined not to encourage him, he felt the schism in his heart gape wider when Severus’ grip relaxed and his hands fell away. He stepped back, and the fire in his eyes subsided as he allowed them to slide from Harry’s and to the floor.

Harry was stricken. Everything vital about the man seemed to dwindle, and he reached for the handle of Harry’s door like one asleep. Severus turned it resolutely but could not open the door with Harry still plastered to it. He waited silently for the young man to move aside, fixing his limp gaze on a point on the wainscoting, and Harry’s self-control dissolved completely.

He could not do this anymore. He would not allow Severus to drift out of this room like a ghost of himself, back to his lab to toil over a potion Harry would never use. And even though he knew it was wrong--that nothing, not even this, would stop Harry’s going in the end--he pressed himself more firmly against the door. Harry’s eyes fell to Severus’ waistcoat while his hand crept across the grain of the wood, up the brass of the handle, and over Severus’ fingers. The contact made Severus’ eyes slide to a close, and he took a stuttering breath.

Harry left it to him. He closed his eyes and waited. He had given his permission, and it was up to Severus whether he accepted it or not.

Blindly, they drifted together again. Their lips knew intuitively how to find each other, as if being apart was not their natural state and the ones could only know completion in being pressed to the others. The kiss was tentative at first, almost skittish, but all at once Severus’ fire seemed to rekindle. 

It ignited Harry’s own, turning his stony heart molten and so stitching it back together. Severus opened his mouth, forcing Harry’s to open as well so that he might devour the young man. His hands quickly found purchase in Harry’s hair and on the back of his neck. They cradled his jaw in a kiss so deep Harry swore the man’s tongue lapped at his very soul.

He could feel Severus’ anger in it, though, and Harry hoped Severus could taste his apology in its return. 

Severus' offence was not easily soothed, and the kiss soon became almost violent. Their teeth clashed as Severus tore at his lips. Harry tasted blood, but it only pushed him to new heights of desire and his hands buried themselves in the folds of Severus’ clothes, quickly turning them into rags as Harry tried desperately to pull the man closer.

Severus then returned the favour, and when no fabric remained to tear, their nails raked each other’s skin. Harry’s easily received the rougher treatment. He gasped into Severus’ open mouth when he felt his flesh open. The smell of blood inundated them both, encouraging still more damage on both their parts until Severus could stand the temptation no longer and abruptly turned the young man to taste the stuff trickling in rivulets down Harry’s back.

The cool of the wood against his cheek and chest was a delicious contrast to the trail of heat Severus marked across Harry’s back with his tongue, connecting each of Harry’s burning lacerations. The abused door sustained even more damage as Harry clawed at it. His poorly stifled moans echoed off of the surface, ringing in his own ears, though he doubted they were loud enough for even Severus to take real note of.

Harry slipped into a grateful, raptured paralysis when he finally felt Severus’ hands slide down and around his hips. He deftly divested Harry of his trousers, leaving him naked and panting, his face and palms still pressed against the door.

That Harry wasn’t to move while Severus stepped away to strip his own clothes did not need to be voiced. He made Harry wait, though. The span was an infinitesimal fraction of Severus’ own lonely stay while Harry had distanced himself, but the young man wasn’t sure it was any less torturous. Which, of course, was the point entirely. Harry could practically feel Severus’ eyes on him, his gaze cutting through the cold air that separated them to warm Harry’s bare skin. Harry’s cheeks flamed as he pictured what he must look like, and his self-consciousness at his vulnerable and awkward position was the only thing holding him still beyond an uncontrollable tremor of anticipation.

Finally, Severus pressed himself firmly against the length of Harry’s body, not being gentle as he burrowed his hands between Harry and the door to run his palms up the young man’s torso, coaxing a prolonged sigh from him that built to a strangled moan when one of those hands once again stationed itself possessively around Harry’s throat. It was as close to perfection as Harry dared to imagine such a thing could be.

Severus’ arousal nestled itself in Harry’s cleft but shied away when the young man attempted to press back against it until Harry’s hips held themselves tremblingly but obediently still. Harry pressed his own erection into the hardness of the door instead, actually appreciating its rough texture as Severus stroked Harry’s opening with the underside of his cock. 

Despite how Harry whimpered, Severus refused to alter the speed or angle of his strokes, which were slow but adamant, until Harry, driven nearly mad, tipped his hips defiantly at just the right moment to take the man in. Severus’ free hand dropped to Harry’s waist. His fingers bit deep to prevent further movement, but the head of Severus’ cock planted itself firmly before the man was able to halt his thrust. Though he spilled a low groan to accompany Harry’s grateful gasp, the young man’s punishment seemed to be that Severus ceased moving his hips altogether.

Instead, his mouth fell to the back of Harry’s neck. Harry felt himself bruise beneath Severus’ lips, felt the man mark the expanse with slow, meticulous care until Severus reached The Spot, the one they knew so well that buckled Harry’s knees. Rather than merely showing it careful attention, the suction turned piercing when Severus sank his fangs there.

Harry saw stars, very nearly came then and there. They’d exchanged blood before, but neither had ever bitten the other, and it was unspeakably fantastic. Harry was no longer able to keep still. He writhed, one hand wrapping around the wrist of the hand clamped around his throat, the other reaching back to claw at Severus’ hip, begging it to move. Severus released his waist to wind his arm around Harry’s chest, restraining him while the fingers round Harry's neck tugged him toward Severus’ mouth, bending his back as the man still swallowed long draughts of Harry’s blood. At the height of the feeding swoon, Severus moaned, throwing them both forward into the door again to finish embedding himself in Harry with a single, swift thrust.

Harry’s moan caught in his throat, gurgled from him as he wilted in absolute surrender. It usually took a significant amount of coaxing to entice Severus to this level of aggression. But this was not a gift to Harry, it was recompense for Severus, and Harry gave himself over to the man willingly and completely so that he might claim his pound of flesh.

Severus released Harry, peeling back his torso to instead claim Harry’s wrists and pin them. Harry allowed his forehead to fall forward to rest against the door.

“Tell me,” Severus panted, his voice harder than usual. “Tell me you want it, Harry.” He pulled back, then returned. His thrust was not rough, merely deliberate. They both knew Harry was well beyond answering. 

Harry felt Severus’ forehead press against his kiss-bruised neck while Severus fucked him with a cadence so steady and transcendent, Harry could only voice his pleasure in quiet, helpless sobs. It felt as if Harry would die, as if nothing that felt so miraculous could be survived for long; and yet at the same time, it felt it could last comfortably forever, and that it would, and that this must surely be what Heaven was like. 

Eventually, Severus added his own throaty sighs to Harry’s wept refrain. His tempo increased, as well as the force of his thrusts, until Harry tasted blood again from biting his own lips to contain his ravished shouts.

Severus abandoned Harry’s wrists in order to better brace himself and they fell limply to the young man’s sides. One of Severus’ hands grasped Harry's shoulder, pulling him down into the thrusts, while his other found its way into Harry's hair, lifting his head from the door to rasp in his ear.

“Cry out, Harry. Let them hear you. Tell them who you belong to.”

And Harry did. Or he tried. He could not wrestle the strangled sounds into actual words, but he did let his cries flow freely from his battered lips in increasing volume, not caring who was still downstairs to hear them or what they thought of them. 

When Severus, usually so reserved, responded with his own shouted moans, Harry felt his pleasure flower into a shuddering, gasping release. Severus’ answered soon after, and Harry loved the sensation of Severus' cock pumping out the warmth spreading inside him, loved the knowledge that this thick gift was reserved for him alone.

Once his tremors subsided, Severus wrapped his arms quickly around Harry before the young man could sink to the floor. He carried him over to pour him gently onto the bed. They were both smeared liberally with blood, and Harry knew his back must be currently ruining his bedsheets. He hoped the stain would never come out. Severus lay down beside him, but Harry was so blissfully shattered by the experience, he could not hold him. In fact, he felt he might never move again and could barely return Severus’ almost worshipful post-coital kiss.

Severus seemed to understand and was gratified. He went about removing the blood from Harry’s skin with his tongue while Harry lay still and serene. It was not rushed, neither was it overtly sexual. It was merely loving. 

He went on to tenderly treat each scratch and puncture with healing salve retrieved from the bedside table. But when he moved on to the bruises, Harry whined, requesting with his eyes that Severus leave them untouched. The wish was granted, accompanied by an indulgent, approving smile. Severus sported his own wounds, but he ignored them to crawl back up and hold Harry delicately but close. 

Gazing into each other’s eyes was not something they did often, and Harry managed the weakest but most contented of smiles. For Severus’ part, his face was almost beatific.

“I love you, Harry,” he whispered, caressing the young man’s cheek with his thumb. One could see it in his expression, could feel it in his touch, but the man had refused to voice it for so long that the statement, so softly and simply uttered, was indescribably appreciated, especially after what they’d just shared. Harry was so overcome he could not immediately reply.

“I love you, too, Severus,” he whimpered, his voice thick with emotion. 

And he did. He had loved the man so fiercely for so long, he could no longer lie to himself and pretend it was something he could ignore--much less something he could actually abandon.

Severus smiled down at him and brushed away his tears. “Well, that’s settled, then. No more of this foolishness, alright?”

Wordlessly, Harry nodded.

Chapter Text

When he woke, Severus was gone. Harry was disappointed. For a moment he wondered if he’d dreamed the whole thing.

Then he moved. The breaks in his skin might have been sealed, but they had left their sweet soreness. Harry sighed and smiled to himself. When he rolled over, he saw the dried red stains like a minimalist watercolour on the sheets he lay on, and his smile widened. Harry considered framing them.

Guilt threatened, but he could still smell blood and Severus and himself, and before the memory could be tainted forever, Harry decided to make peace with the situation. He was still leaving, but he figured he could make them all miserable until then, or he could create a handful more happy memories to leave them with after he’d gone. Harry decided that perhaps the Beast had had enough pain to be getting on with. Harry’d proved to himself he had what it took to see this through when he’d abducted Timothy. The rest might be bittersweet, and his exit devastating, but Harry could not continue to actively cause Severus pain.

Or Remus.  

Harry recalled his Mate’s expression in response to Harry’s outburst with shame. He knew Remus only wanted what was best for him. He’d worried the man sick and then shouted at him when he’d shown that he cared.

Harry decided it was time he went downstairs and made amends. Getting out of bed, he noticed his floor was littered with scraps of fabric and flaked paint and wood shavings. Harry’s cheeks warmed again and he was caught for a moment in memories of the night before, but he shook them off and dressed quickly, fetching his wand from the textile carnage and casting a quick scouring spell; mostly just because he now could, but also because he'd learned from experience that it was not wise to seek out one lover while still smelling of the other. Checking himself in his mirror, though, Harry noticed the t-shirt he’d put on did nothing to hide the evidence of his and Severus’ reunion.

Harry admired his bruises in the mirror--the five distinct grey dots on his throat like a brand, the purple blossom peeking from the back of his neck, the ring of yellow around each of his wrists--and he smiled, remembering how each was made. He ached all over in the most wonderful way. It was almost as if Severus still held him. He had to stop this, though. He couldn’t keep getting lost in it or he’d never make it downstairs. And he knew he must, and that it wouldn’t be fitting to bounce happily into wherever Remus was keeping himself, grinning like an idiot. Harry sobered himself and went to go search, but he realised where Remus must be as soon as he passed through his bedroom door.

If Harry was sober, Remus certainly was not. Harry shuffled cautiously into the kitchen, hands in his pockets, just as Remus was refilling his glass with Firewhisky. The man finished his pour and set the bottle carefully back down on the table before taking a deep breath and looking up to acknowledge Harry’s presence. Harry knew, if no one else, Remus at least had heard him cry out the night before, but he had absolutely no idea how the man might feel about it. Remus was not the jealous type, but to hear such a thing so soon after Harry had nearly taken his head off in front of a roomful of their friends? Harry decided to let Remus speak first, to allow him the opportunity to throw any condemnation at him he wanted.

Remus was silent for a moment, taking in each stain on Harry’s skin. He smirked.

“I assume, then, the two of you made up,” he said, eyeing his drink before finishing it in one draw.

Harry didn’t reply except to sigh apologetically. Remus didn’t pay him much mind, though. His considering gaze went back to the bottle of Firewhisky. Harry shuffled over and silently took the bottle by the neck, removing it from Remus’ reach before walking over to lean back against the counter. Remus raised his eyebrow but did not argue, he only stuck his tongue out and tipped his glass over it to claim the last drop left in his empty tumbler before setting it back on the table with a soft bang and shoving it away from him.  

“I’m sorry, Remus,” Harry said when it was clear the man had no intention of speaking further. “I’ve handled things poorly." Remus looked over at him with a humourless chuckle. He was concerningly drunk. Harry’s brow knit with worry, but he went on, “I was overwhelmed. There was quite a lot to take in. I’m better now.”

Remus stared at him as if trying to gauge his sincerity. “And all it took was a little discipline," he said, looking pointedly at Harry's wrists, "and an epic shag. Wish I’d known that days ago,” he muttered.

They both knew Remus was not capable of what Severus had done the night before, nor would either of them have wanted him to be. Remus liked to flirt with domination, but his heart was not in it. He was entirely too gentle a soul. Finally, Remus shrugged, looking much less offended than before.

“Well, if nothing else, you ignoring the both of us seems to have done wonders for mine and Severus’ relationship,” he said, cocking an eyebrow almost playfully.

“You’re getting on, then?” 

“If by getting on you mean he calls me by my first name now,” said Remus, leaning back in his chair and nodding, “then yes. He doesn’t even sneer or roll his eyes when he does it anymore, either.”

They shared a look and, slowly, Harry grinned. It was contagious, and eventually, they shared a quiet chuckle as well.

“No really,” Remus added, his typical good humour somewhat restored, “we’re getting on rather well. We’re not coordinating outfits or sharing grammar school stories, but it’s been alright. So, thank you for being a brat, I suppose.”

Harry reached out for Remus’ hand. Remus offered it readily but, instead of merely holding it, Harry gently tugged Remus from his chair. The man was a little unsteady but, once he was standing, Harry wrapped his arms around his neck and Remus’ hands came automatically to Harry’s waist. His touch was familiar, warm, comfortable. Harry wondered how much he could thank the Firewhisky for Remus’ increasingly agreeable mood. Either way, it was nice. His hands explored the contour of Harry’s waist and lower back as if they had a mind of their own, and Harry hadn’t quite realised how badly his body had ached for Remus until the man’s touch soothed it. He smiled softly as he leaned forward to give Remus a light but lingering kiss, tasting the sweet bite of alcohol on his lips and breath.

“I take it this means we’re making up, as well?” Remus asked hopefully, wrapping his arms further around the young man. Harry grinned and nodded.

“If you’d like.”

“Oh, I’d like,” Remus sighed, holding him tighter.

“I love you, Remus,” Harry confessed. “I love you both in different ways and for different reasons, but I still love you both. And for as long as I live.”

“I have no doubt whatsoever that the feeling is mutual, my darling,” Remus whispered, resting his forehead against Harry’s. “And I’m sorry,” he said sincerely, “for the commands. I forget sometimes how strongly even casual ones can affect you.”

“Thank you." It was nice that Remus understood. “But I don’t always resent it,” Harry whispered, his lips hovering close to Remus’. “In fact,” he added breathily, “my bones have rather missed your voice.” He smiled, teasing the man with his nearness but not allowing Remus to close the distance. “Are you certain you don’t have any commands for me right now? My Alpha?”  

Remus shivered and pulled back to look at him, his expression keen as lust cut through the haze of alcohol. “Is this what I think it is?”

“That depends,” Harry grinned. “What do you think it is?”

Remus’ embrace tightened enthusiastically, palms pressing more firmly to Harry’s back. “What I think is,” he said, releasing Harry to take his hands and pull him toward the door, “we should take this someplace more private.”

“Yours,” Harry said. “Mine is still a bit...damaged.” His cheeks coloured, but not from embarrassment. Remus shook his head but didn’t comment as he turned and led Harry to his room.

Once the door was shut behind them, Remus cast a sound dampening charm. Harry wondered if it was for discretion or if he intended them to make a considerable amount of noise. Remus reached for him, combing his fingers through Harry’s hair as his eyes ran over Harry’s face.

“I have a confession,” said Remus.

He was still drunk but seemed to be sobering. Werewolf metabolisms made it difficult to stay inebriated for long, which was likely why he imbibed so very much. Harry hooked his fingers through the belt loops on Remus’ trousers, pulling the man’s hips to his, and waited.

“I’ve wanted you since your sixteenth birthday,” Remus said as if this was a previously unknown piece of information. Harry smiled and shook his head at him fondly. “No. You don’t understand,” Remus went on. “I’d loved you since I first saw you. I was there the day you were born, Harry. I loved you like a nephew. And then, when I came to Hogwarts and after, I loved you like a son. But when you appeared in the anteroom downstairs on your sixteenth birthday...my gods, Harry,” he said, inhaling sharply, his hands running across Harry’s body, making the young man light-headed. “I could have taken you just there, just then. And it was wrong. So wrong,” he said, sounding anguished.

“Just forget all of that,” Harry told him softly, hooking a hand around the back of Remus’ neck. “Doesn’t matter any longer.”

“But it does. Harry, it should,” Remus said, clearly upset. “Besides being just empirically immoral, I promised Sirius to look after you. And I still feel-”

“Remus,” Harry interrupted, pressing his hips forward again and making the man shudder. “I am not a child. You are not my father,” he said, forcing Remus to look him in the eye. “You are not my Godfather. You aren’t even my guardian. You are my Mate--and my Alpha--and that’s all that matters now.”

Remus’ eyes narrowed hungrily.

“Command me, Remus,” Harry whispered, pressing his lips to the side of Remus’ neck, making him sigh. “Make me do what you want me to.”

Remus’ grip tightened with internal conflict, but then it relaxed in eventual surrender. “Take off your clothes,” he said, his lips close to Harry's ear, tickling it with his breath. His voice was soft and rich, but the authority in his words was unmistakable.

Now that their wills no longer clashed, the compulsion Harry felt thrilled him. There was something fulfilling in obeying his Alpha that was wholly different from his submission to Severus. Harry stepped back, willing the wolf to show in his eyes as he locked them to Remus’. Harry knew he’d succeeded when he saw Remus’ lip twitch back in a micro-snarl. It wasn’t a striptease, but Harry took his time, pulling his shirt over his head in a way that displayed his muscles well. He’d spent a lot of time in bed, but he’d been plenty active since, and werewolves were naturally fit.

It was a fact that tugged Harry’s lips into a smile as he tossed his shirt aside, knowing he would soon be seeing the proof of that in Remus. When his hands fell to his trouser front, Remus began to circle him, allowing himself to slip into instinct while his eyes surveyed his Mate. Harry wasn’t sure why it so excited him when Remus seemed less than human during sexual encounters. It wasn’t just the wolf in Harry, he’d loved it before he was infected. It was simply sexy.

Harry stepped out of his pants just as Remus completed his circuit, still fully dressed, his mild-mannered clothing at odds with his movements and his sharp wolven gaze. The contrast was entertaining, but Harry couldn’t wait for the paradox to correct itself. Thankfully, Remus’ hands went to his buttons while he appreciated Harry’s nakedness.

“Turn around. Slowly.”

Harry did as he was told, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as Remus made several gratifying sounds behind him. By the time Harry came to face him again, they were both naked and hard.     

“Lie down.” Remus' voice was dusky, and he idly stroked himself.

Harry backed to the bed and hoisted himself to its centre, writhing just a little as he lay there because it aroused Remus further, and arousing Remus aroused Harry. Remus crawled onto the bed and over Harry, swiping his tongue along every inch of the underside of Harry’s cock as he climbed. He did not linger, much to Harry’s chagrin, though he did lick his lips as he hovered over the young man, apparently savouring his brief taste of him. Harry wanted to feel Remus' weight pinning him to the mattress, but Remus settled to his side and propped his head on his hand.

“Roll over, Harry.”

Harry turned dutifully onto his stomach, and Remus’ hand went to Harry's back, fingering the marks there. “These will scar,” he said absently, tracing their length. Harry tried to hide his grin in the coverlet but did not hide it well. Remus gave him a curious look. “Why didn’t he heal these?” he asked, gingerly pressing on the deep purple bruise left by Severus’ feeding until Harry winced.

“I asked him not to.” 

Remus clearly was having difficulty understanding the request, but he seemed to be trying. He considered the marks again and, brow furrowed, he sat up to inspect them more closely. Remus bent to kiss them and then to prod each one with his tongue until Harry reacted. Harry hadn’t realised he had so many until Remus tested them all. It made the young man ache in places not bruised, and Harry was dying to reach down and touch himself, but he hadn’t been given permission, and he wasn’t sure what Remus had in mind.

Though, he could tell the man definitely did have something in mind. Harry turned to allow Remus’ tongue access to the bruises that wrapped around his waist where Severus had held him still after his small rebellion. He had marks on his ribs, as well, from Severus forcing his hands between Harry and the door.  

“And you like this?” Remus asked, still baffled as he fondled the dots on Harry’s neck, lining his own fingertips with them. Harry was breathing too hard to speak, so he merely nodded.

Harry couldn’t bear keeping still any longer, though. He had to do something, so he reached up to pull Remus’ lips to his own. Remus returned his enthusiasm, though Harry could tell he was placating him. After a moment, Remus broke off, stroking the arm wrapped around his neck, giving Harry a piercing, calculating look. His manner was not nearly as hurried as Harry might have liked.

“What do you want, Remus?” he asked, hoping to move things along. “Anything you want to do to me, just order it. Tell me what to do,” he begged.

“Oh, there are so many things I want to do to you,” Remus said with a soft growl that made it sound as if he were purring, “but not now.” He paused for just a moment as if making up his mind. “Now, I want you to fuck me, Harry,” he said, his decision appealing to him more and more, it seemed, in speaking it aloud. “I want you to fuck me the way Severus fucked you last night.”

Harry was surprised out of the greater part of his lust momentarily as the statement slowly sank in, but once it had, it returned with force and Harry moaned softly. “Are you certain?” he asked, shaking his head as if perhaps he’d heard the man incorrectly. Remus smiled and nodded.

Harry considered him for a moment, both excited and apprehensive. “It will hurt,” he warned.

Remus smirked. “I’m aware.”

“If you’re sure...” Harry said, confident the man didn’t really know what he was asking.

“Harry,” Remus said firmly. “Fuck me.”

The command was unquestionable. Not that Harry really was interested in questioning it. He immediately rose, pulling on Remus’ shoulder to press him stomach-down to the mattress so he could slip on top of him. Remus seemed surprised by the abruptness but was docile in Harry’s hands. Harry had manoeuvred him almost too easily. Remus was larger than Harry, but Harry was stronger than he had been, and he realised he would need to keep that in mind if he was going to attempt to do as Remus asked.

Harry was more than a little nervous. Severus had never--not ever--been submissive. But Remus allowed Harry to remember he hadn’t always been, either. Though Harry had relied on Eric’s expertise, Eric had been the one who had yielded in the Alcove, not the other way around, and both boys had enjoyed it. Harry tried to reconnect with that instinct as he straddled Remus’ thighs and applied his nails to Remus’ shoulder blades. Harry could hardly breathe and hoped the tremor in his hands did not injure Remus’ confidence in him.

“Like Severus fucked me last night, yes?” he confirmed one last time.

“Yes, Harry. Do it.” 

Harry could tell by the sound of his voice that Remus was bracing himself, and so Harry stopped hesitating and pulled his fingernails down the man’s skin, scoring it. The scratches were not as deep as the ones Harry sported, though they did bead with blood, arousing Harry’s bloodlust and helping his aggression immensely.  

Remus groaned loudly when Harry marked him, panting when he was done, hissing as Harry dipped his head to lap at the newly created wounds. He pressed his hips rhythmically into the mattress while Harry traced the angry welts with his tongue. Harry hadn’t enjoyed hurting Remus, but he enjoyed that Remus might enjoy it. He knew he certainly had when Severus had done the same to him. There were so many sensations Harry was excited to share with the man between his thighs, but he had to remember to take his time, even though he wanted to do all of it at once and as quickly as possible.

Harry pressed his chest to Remus’ back, noting how much warmer the man’s skin was than either his or Severus’, and how it burned particularly hot where it was damaged. He plunged his hands under Remus’ chest, not a gentle affair but much less damaging on the bed than against the hard surface of the door. He felt his fingers snag the man’s taut nipple, tearing across it without slowing as they sought Remus’ neck.

They were not long enough. Remus’ neck was too wonderfully thick to grasp it properly. But Harry did his best, loving the way it arched back, stretched to accommodate the width of Harry’s hand. He could feel Remus' ragged breath against his palm and the soft vibration of the moan that staggered out of him when Harry snugged his erection flush with Remus’ pucker. The heat there was so intense, Harry’s fingers tightened unconsciously around Remus’ throat, but the man did not object. In fact, it was just the opposite, especially when Harry began working himself up and down against him, grasping his hip roughly to stop him rutting against the coverlet.

“Do you like it, Remus?” he asked breathily in his ear, drifting his lips to Remus' shoulder to let his teeth graze but not puncture the skin there. Remus had requested Severus’ performance from before, and the feeding had been a spectacular part of that blocking, but Harry was reluctant to feed, even though his mouth watered at the thought of it. Feeding would heal all of Harry’s lovely bruises, and he wasn’t ready to be parted from them yet.

“I haven’t decided,” Remus confessed once Harry relaxed his grip enough to allow it. He was undoubtedly stimulated, unquestionably aroused, but Harry understood how distracting the pain could be before one learned to embrace it. “How often does Severus do this?” Remus asked, perhaps thinking Harry could not possibly endure this on a regular basis.

All at once, Harry understood. Perhaps part of this was Remus wishing to understand Harry and Severus’ dynamic, and wanting, as well, to experiment with new experiences. But Harry suspected that, more than anything, Remus was wanting to know what to expect from Severus...eventually. Harry smiled into the space between Remus’ shoulder blades.

It was good. Harry was determined to get the two of them in bed together, as well.

“Not nearly as often as I’d like,” Harry said with a sigh, easing his ministrations and rising back up to sit on the backs of Remus’ legs.

Remus seemed grateful for the reprieve, and so Harry changed tact, abandoning the more blatant abuse to merely tease instead. He continued rocking his hips, watching his cock slide between Remus’ cheeks, brushing his opening instead of grinding against it, while he instructed Remus in the proper seduction of Severus Snape.

“You have to either ask him nicely, or else really piss him off,” Harry explained as Remus sighed and attempted to press back into him. “Though, I don’t recommend the latter. You should probably start off by just asking for a spanking,” he said, punctuating the suggestion with a sharp slap to Remus’ arse that made the man hiss, “if he’s moody at you, that is. Which he often will be. Or you could request Incarcerous, he’s fond of that one. Perhaps we should just tie you up and invite him over. Do you think you’d like that?” Harry asked. Remus answered with a soft moan. “I would,” Harry said emphatically. “Would you like me to tie you up now?”

“Do it,” Remus commanded, dislodging Harry to turn onto his back and look him in the eye as if worried the authority in his voice would not be enough to force the young man to act.

Harry needed no compulsion. He grinned at Remus and fell off him to go retrieve his wand from their discarded clothing.

“You can’t order him around like that, though,” Harry cautioned as the magical ropes slithered from his wand. “Unless, of course, you want him to do exactly the opposite of what you demanded.”

He climbed back onto the bed and remounted while the ropes cinched Remus’ wrists together over his head. He was beyond beautiful, stretched out and vulnerable and so very in need. Harry was almost too distracted to finish his lesson.

“He’s stubborn as hell, and his patience is deep,” said Harry, tracing the muscles of Remus’ chest with the tip of his wand, “but if you can be good, he’ll reward you. Would you like me to show you how?” Harry locked eyes with Remus, his own smouldering while Remus’ nearly fluttered shut. “Do you want me to tell you about all the things he does to me?” said Harry, falling forward onto his hands to hover over Remus’ face so that his whisper could be more easily heard. “Would you like to hear about how he touches me? Hm?” he asked, stroking the man’s neck, “How he holds me down?” he added, abandoning his wand to place both palms on Remus' shoulders and pin him in place when Remus’ back arched as if willing their bodies to come together.

“Do you want me to tell you, Remus,” Harry purred, dipping his head to dangle his mouth just out of Remus’ reach, “how he fucks me?”

Holy Hell.”

Remus shuddered, and his head fell back onto the bed. Harry grinned at him and re-positioned himself to slide between Remus’ legs and massage Remus’ perineum with the tip of his cock. He occasionally let it slip to rake across his arsehole but took care not to penetrate.

“Mm. This is his favourite,” Harry groaned. “It drives me mad.” Apparently, it had much the same effect on Remus, who was now gasping. “But sometimes…”

Harry dropped to let his body lie flush with Remus’ before sliding down it to nip at the hollow of Remus’ hip with his teeth. He let his breath fall warm against the head of Remus’ cock while he fondled the tight ring of muscle beneath it, pressing the tip of a single finger past the barrier but only to the first knuckle.

Remus moaned, whimpered, but no matter how he writhed and pulled at his bonds, Harry moved with him to prevent Remus from claiming any more than what Harry’d already given him, all while his lips fell to lay feathery kisses along Remus’ shaft.

“Can you picture it, Remus?” Harry murmured against the man’s cum-beaded slit. He claimed the small gift there with a quick swipe of his tongue. “Can you picture Severus tugging my bollocks while he fingers my arse?”

Remus gurgled a moaned response and Harry continued to work him with shallow thrusts and well-calculated licks. It was not enough and too much all at the same time.

“Harry. I think I’m going to-”

Harry sat up, ceasing his attentions entirely, and Remus almost choked on his sob. “You won’t be allowed,” Harry tsked, but his own need had become urgent, and he climbed back up Remus, sharing a brief kiss before pulling himself even further up by use of the headboard.

“Picture it, Remus: Severus, straddling my chest, raking his cock across my cheek,” Harry panted, enjoying the sight of his own caressing Remus’ face and the way the man chased it with hungry lips. “Taking me by the hair to pull my mouth over him, just...like...this.”

Remus moaned loudly around him, threatening Harry’s grip in Remus’ sandy waves. “Oh gods, Remus, that’s fantastic,” Harry groaned. “I like it when he fucks my mouth,” he confessed, his teeth clenched, holding Remus’ head still to press himself momentarily into the back of his throat. “Can you imagine Severus fucking my mouth, Remus?” Harry asked. He tried to be careful not to gag him, but it was difficult because he absolutely loved the way Remus’ tongue rose up in the back to prevent it.

Harry was close, but he was not done. With a whine, he forced himself to stop. Harry fell back onto the bed with his leg still draped across Remus’ chest. They both gasped for breath.

“But you wanted me to fuck you, didn’t you?” Harry asked, dragging himself toward Remus' crotch and stroking his hand up the inside of Remus’ thigh.   

“Oh, gods. Please, Harry,” Remus whined. 

Harry grinned as he crawled into position. He rose to his knees, hooking his hands beneath Remus’ legs. “That’s good. Severus likes it when you beg. You should practice now. Beg for it, Remus,” he growled, lifting the man’s hips and pressing himself against him, “Tell me you want it.”

“Yes!” Remus gasped.

Harry pushed forward, breaching him, but stopped, and Remus tossed his head back in frustration. “You have to tell me,” said Harry, circling his hips to stimulate Remus without impaling him further. “Tell me what you want, Remus.”

Remus groaned. “I want you to fuck me, Harry,” he said urgently. "Please."  

“Good boy,” Harry whispered. He sank finally, forcing the man to accept his length steadily and uninterrupted until, with a final shove, Harry’s cock was completely sheathed by a grimacing, writhing werewolf. Remus still seemed to be wrestling with the combination of pain and pleasure, still struggling to come to terms with the fact that something could hurt so deliciously.

Or perhaps he just disliked it. It wasn’t for everyone.

“Do you want to stop?” Harry asked, holding himself still while Remus clenched around him with a stuttering grip as he fought to relax into the pain. There was no answer for a while and Harry was frightened he’d actually hurt him. He started to withdraw, but Remus stopped him.

“No,” he said. There was sweat beading on his brow but also authority in his voice. “Fuck me, Harry. I want it. Like Severus fucks you.”  

Harry had no choice but to do as he was told, though it was sinfully glorious, almost painful, the way Remus still squeezed him. Harry pulled back slowly to plunge roughly back in, just as Severus might. But Harry was not Severus. He did not have the man’s self-discipline, and he wasn’t sure he could hold off his own orgasm until assuring Remus of his. He tried anyway. The slow pace of his thrusts was as much to prevent his climax as it was to allow Remus to acclimate, something the man seemed to be having trouble with if his now bite-swollen lip was any indication.

“You have to give in to it,” Harry explained, stroking Remus’ thigh soothingly as he continued to pump him. “Remus, you have to surrender. You have to let it hurt. And then it won’t. And then it will be bloody brilliant.”

Remus nodded. He timed his breaths with Harry’s thrusts, and finally, Harry felt him relax to accommodate him. Harry kept his rhythm steady, and Remus’ muscles loosened further. His grimace evaporated, and before long, a breathy moan escaped him. Harry smiled down at him.

“That’s it. Just take it, Remus,” he said, moaning himself, picking up the pace. Remus’ moans became throatier, more frequent, and Harry stopped holding back. He fucked the man in earnest, driving into him with more force than he’d ever dared before, surprised by the continued encouragement to plunge harder still by Remus’ now bucking hips and by his shouted cries. It was one of the most intense rushes Harry’d ever experienced, being the cause of such obvious pleasure, the source of this unending chorus of satisfaction that poured from Remus' lips in response to Harry’s actions. But though he sincerely would have liked to, Harry could not test to see how long he could stretch it. He was going to come, and soon. Which meant Remus needed to, and now.

Harry hoisted Remus’ leg to drape over his shoulder and used his newly freed hand to wrap around Remus’ cock. The man shuddered, his moans interrupted by gasping, and after only a dozen rough pumps, Remus came hard over Harry’s fingers and down his own stomach and chest. The sight of it, and of the slack, debauched expression on Remus’ face as he wilted, drove Harry over the edge. With a final, reaching thrust, he allowed himself to empty into Remus, barely managing to hold himself inside long enough to finish before collapsing onto the bed.

They were both worthless after that and spent a long moment in a tangle of sweaty, exhausted limbs as they attempted to catch their breath. Harry felt boneless, utterly spent, and had to claw his hand across the mattress to retrieve his wand to vanish Remus’ bonds.

Remus let his arms fall limply, leaving them where they landed. He looked gorgeous but overwhelmed, and Harry knew it was his job to force himself up to go and pet him. Harry scrambled to Remus’ side and lifted himself to kiss the man. Remus returned it weakly but enthusiastically.

“What did you think?” Harry asked, snuggling close and pulling Remus’ arms around his neck. “Do you like the way Severus fucks me?”

Remus shook his head and laughed breathlessly. “No wonder you’re in love,” he murmured, cupping Harry’s cheek in his hand. Harry kissed him again; a long, slow, thorough kiss that seemed to revive them. 

“That was…”

Remus looked to the ceiling as if the words to describe what he felt might be written there. Harry chuckled at him. He knew exactly what Remus meant, even if Remus still didn’t quite understand it. “Just wait until you’ve been had by the man himself.” 

“I may not survive it,” Remus laughed, unable to stop grinning. He rubbed the still damp skin of Harry’s back as he contemplated it.

“Don’t worry,” Harry whispered. “I’ll be there to protect you.”

Remus’ eyes lit and, miraculously, his hunger seemed to return. He attacked Harry’s mouth with is own, rolling him to his back and slipping on top of him. “You promise?” he asked, nibbling at Harry’s neck.

“I promise,” Harry gasped, savouring Remus' weight. “We’ll all be together soon.”

And then, Harry thought, I can leave you both.

  

Chapter Text

Stepping out of the bath after, Harry was sad to note that his bruises were already beginning to fade, and his soreness was gone almost entirely. Still, it seemed the only downside to his new metabolism, and he had a feeling his healing powers were going to be seriously tested soon.

He didn’t want to think about that yet. His heart pulled him to the lab. Harry felt starved for Severus’ attention, despite their recent reunion. He almost felt bad for having been with Remus, but it had seemed necessary. It had seemed right. Remus had as much a place in his heart and his bed as Severus did now. They would simply have to be careful not to be indiscreet, to be respectful of Severus and his claim on Harry.

Regrettably, Severus’ favourite shirt had not been salvageable after Harry’s experiment with Cobbleshot, but he dressed sharply otherwise, carefully combing his hair in the hopes his work would be undone soon. In lieu of cologne, Harry took their feeding knife from the bedside and pricked his finger, adding a dab of blood behind each of his ears to be hidden by his increasingly shaggy hair. He was growing more accustomed to the eyes that stared back at him from the mirror, and he was glad there were no longer any glasses to obscure them.

Even his scar was fading, it seemed. For all the trouble it had caused him, Harry felt sad to see it going. It was so much a part of his identity. It was just as well, though. Harry wasn’t that person any longer. He put it from his mind, straightened his clothes, and stopped into Remus’ room on his way to the floo.

“Look at you,” Remus said approvingly, reaching for him. He was still slightly tipsy, but nothing like when Harry had found him. Remus pulled the young man down to a seat on the mattress beside him.

“I’ve drawn a hot bath for you,” Harry told him, smiling down at the man who was still contentedly naked. “I’m going to go down and talk to Severus.”

Remus smiled knowingly as he reached up to brush Harry’s hair back from one of his ears, his lupine senses having guessed what he’d find there. “Talk. Is that what you’re calling it?” he teased.

Harry returned his grin. “Just making up for lost time,” he shrugged.

And time not yet lost, he thought sadly to himself. He reached on impulse to run his hand over Remus’ skin, knowing he would never be able to fit enough contact with either of them into the time they had left.

“Is that a new Bloodwolf superpower you’re testing,” Remus asked, sighing under Harry’s touch, “or just a trait of youth? Because I may be spent still if you come knocking on my door again later tonight. Though, my stamina might be encouraged if you skipped the bath after your trip downstairs,” he said in a hungry purr. His stamina seemed to be recovering nicely by itself, Harry thought, taking in the look in Remus' eye.

“Not even a scouring spell?” Harry smiled, leaning in closer.

“Forbidden,” Remus whispered, reaching up into the kiss. “That’s an order. I want to taste him on you.”

Harry shivered but kept the kiss sweet. “Yes, Alpha,” he answered breathily, then winked and slid off the bed. Remus watched him go with a smile, looking uninclined to move for a while still, hot bath waiting or not.   

Harry wasted no more time. He practically jogged down the steps to the lab, though as always, the sight of Severus at work brought him up short. Harry stopped at the foot of the stair and watched as the man checked his equipment, knowing part of Severus' mind was on the self-stirring cauldron in the corner and part on the viscosity of the green liquid traveling through the tubes he was squinting at; and somehow still more would be contemplating brew times and prioritizing a dozen other tasks. The man was a marvel, never so alive than when at work...except, perhaps, when making love to Harry, which the young man hoped would be happening soon. However, Harry noted with concern that Severus looked a bit ragged. He could tell, by how the circles beneath his eyes were subtly darker, that Severus hadn’t slept since leaving the younger man.

Harry slipped up behind Severus and wrapped his arms around him, splaying his hands over his chest and laying his cheek against his back. Harry clearly remembered the last time he’d done this, and he dearly hoped this encounter ended on much better terms.

It started more promisingly. Severus still monitored his potion but brought a hand to one of Harry’s, working his fingers between the younger man’s to hold him more tightly to him while his other hand deftly adjusted a nozzle.

After a few more tweaks Severus finally turned. His eyes were tired but bright, and he greeted Harry with a kiss. Not just a peck. A full, luscious kiss that took Harry’s breath and made his head swim. Harry loved it, he loved Severus’ renewed passion. There was a time when he never kissed Harry in any other way, and Harry hoped this was a sign of things to come.

Severus drew back to smile at him, fondly admiring the lingering ghosts of the bruises on Harry’s neck. “We’ve made a breakthrough, Dearest,” he whispered excitedly.

“We?” Harry asked, confused.

He finally surveyed the rest of the room. He must have been intoxicated by Severus in the extreme to have failed to catch the perfume of Hermione’s blood drifting from the cot in the corner where she sat cross-legged with a large book on her lap and several more arranged at her sides.

“Hello, Harry,” she greeted him tiredly.

Harry looked back at Severus, who still held him tightly. How tired must the man be to be so openly affectionate in front of company? Even after Harry stepped back out of courtesy to their guest, Severus still did not relinquish Harry’s hands, and his enthusiasm for his presence never flagged. For her part, Hermione did an impressive job of tactfully not noticing, though he thought he caught the hint of an endeared smile.

“How is Remus?” Severus asked, surprising both Gryffindors. Harry carefully extricated his hands from Severus’, feeling suddenly ashamed to have allowed the man to so fondle them considering what Harry had recently been doing with them. One would have had to be blind to miss the blush that rose to Harry’s pale skin.

“He’s...he’s better,” Harry stammered softly. 

Severus gave him a considering look, glancing back to Hermione before drawing Harry back to the foot of the stair and out of her line of sight. 

“You’ve talked?” Severus asked. There was a note of suspicion and sadness in his voice, but not of condemnation. Harry had a hard time holding his insistent eye contact. “More than talked, then, I assume,” Severus asked with a slight, wry smile.

“Severus, I’m sorry,” Harry said sincerely in a rushed whisper. The confidence of his earlier reasoning left him entirely. “You know I love you more than life, but I can’t control-”

Severus shushed him by running his palms down the young man's arms to reclaim Harry’s hands, though his touch was slightly stiffer than before. “I understand, Harry,” he said softly, if not happily. Harry met his eye with a confused but cautious hope. “We don’t have to hurt for one another, Dearest,” Severus explained, bringing his hand again to Harry’s neck to lightly touch Harry’s bruises, lining the pads of his fingers with them in a feathery caress and causing Harry to sigh contentedly. “We all know who you belong to,” he whispered, “and in what share.” Harry melted against him as Severus' hand moved to the back of Harry’s neck to gently pull the young man closer. He reached his tongue behind Harry’s ear to claim the small gift left there, but then Severus pulled back and took Harry’s face in his hands, giving him a melancholy but stoic look. “You are right that Remus is no monster,” he said.

Harry stared at him, wondering if there might not be something worryingly wrong with the man.

Severus seemed to understand Harry’s incredulous expression and sighed, releasing his face to rest his hands on Harry's shoulders. “I’ve let bitterness poison my judgement, but how could I truly hate anyone who loves you so dearly? I’ve missed you, but we both know I cannot keep up with you. Perhaps it is a good thing that your attentions are divided,” he went on, absently tucking a rebellious strand of hair behind Harry’s ear. “That way you do not feel neglected and I am not exhausted. My feelings were hurt that you gave away what I’d earned the other night,” he explained, fleetingly pained, “but it will take more than me to get you through this. I understand that. I am, and will be, preoccupied. And Remus is lonely, besides,” he added with a sigh. “Who do we Dark Creatures have if not each other? I will make peace with it,” he assured him.  

Harry noted he had not said ‘I have made peace’ but ‘I will’. Still, it was far more progress than Harry might have dared to hope for upon waking that evening. He was relieved, and he nodded gratefully, stepping closer to Severus to express it with an embrace. They held each other until Severus intuited his project required attention and he unwound himself, though his light touch on the back of Harry’s hand as he moved away indicated the young man should follow.

“So, you said you’d made a breakthrough?” Harry asked, still swept up in their recent exchange and finding it difficult to concentrate on the news.

“We believe so. Miss Granger really has been invaluable,” he said in a rare bit of praise, nodding to the young woman.

Hermione smiled at the acknowledgement. She held up the book in her lap to display its title to Harry. It looked ancient but well-kept, and it was in Spanish, but Harry thought it said something about Catalan folklore.

“I thought you were familiar with all the books in the library at Grimmauld Place,” Harry scowled, confused. “And the school library.”

“And those of a number of others scattered across our world,” Severus agreed, “but this didn’t come from our world.”

“I brought these with me,” Hermione explained. “What?” she said in response to Harry’s shaking head, “When Kingsley told me what had happened, you didn’t think I would come empty-handed, did you?”

Harry grinned fondly at her, but she merely rolled her eyes and continued.

“Katie’s family collects, you know. Ever since she received her letter from Ilvermorny and they realised magic was real, they’ve been fascinated by references to witchcraft in Muggle print. Sometimes Wizards forget that wisdom can be found in the Muggle World, as well. Or at least knowledge. You may be the only Bloodwolf currently in the world, Harry, but apparently you weren’t the first to ever exist,” she said, turning the book to show Harry the illustration she had opened to.

It was of a vaguely humanoid canine, but the medieval art was so stylised and unnatural-looking, it was impossible for Harry to tell if there was any real resemblance.

“There is an obscure Spanish legend here that references a blood-drinking dog. It once plagued a village near the residence of a well-known alchemist. The local villagers suspected that the alchemist’s ‘unholy’ experiments were summoning demons, or at least attracting evil. They burned the alchemist at the stake and the dog sightings stopped, which seemed to confirm the villagers’ suspicions, but-”  

“But, you don’t think he was summoning anything. You think that he was the dog,” Harry finished excitedly, looking to Severus for confirmation. The man nodded.

“I happen to be familiar with the work of the referenced alchemist--or who we were eventually able to determine was the alchemist. He was notoriously reclusive, and his village was remote. Apparently, he did not share knowledge of his affliction with anyone in the Wizarding world, and rumours and superstitions in rural parts were so rampant at the time that, if they heard the story, most Wizards wouldn't have batted an eye. It was likely suspected that naive Muggles had mistaken an encounter with either a Werewolf or Vampire, but as both in one person was thought impossible, it would have been dismissed. The alchemist in question was brilliant but mad, and he left behind a number of unannotated formulas. Potioners have been arguing over what their purpose might be for, frankly, centuries.”

Harry's heart was racing. He was almost certain he knew where this story was going, but he hesitated to allow himself hope until Severus smiled at him and took his hand, squeezing it tightly as he continued.  

“I reexamined those formulas, Dearest, and knowing what to look for, I recognised their possible applications. There is no doubt he was searching for a cure for his condition. I imagine he was also responsible for it in the first place, using himself as a guinea pig in the experiment but destroying the formula afterward lest it fall into the wrong hands. But as to its remedy," Severus said, his weary eyes sparkling in anticipation of Harry’s response, "thanks to subsequent advances in the field and my own many years of research on the subject, I was able to see where his calculations had gone wrong. The implications, Harry,” he said, breathless, “You have no idea what I might be able to do with this development.”

But Harry did have an idea, and his pride in the man he loved had never been more profound. “You’re brilliant,” he whispered. "Both of you," he added with a grateful smile to Hermione. "Does that mean you’ve solved it? You’ve found a treatment?” Harry finally understood the excitement that might have moved Severus to kiss him in front of their guest, and even to forgive and condone Harry’s transgressions with Remus. This was the culmination of a lifetime of work for the Potions Master, and Harry couldn’t imagine anything that might shake him from that high.

Even as Harry thought that, however, Severus became hesitant. “We’ve made a breakthrough, but…you’d have to test it, Harry. No one else can. And I’m not certain I’m comfortable with putting you at that much risk.” 

“Of course, I will,” Harry agreed immediately, adamantly. Whether he planned on staying to utilise the potion or not, he would not dream of depriving Severus of this singular opportunity to validate his research, to possibly improve the lives of thousands. This was about more than Harry walking in the sun. Severus had told Remus at Harry’s bedside that understanding the mechanisms of this potion might unlock the possibility for a cure or vaccination for one or both of their conditions.

Severus shook his head, inner conflict pinched his expression. “You don’t understand, Harry. The ingredients involved could be highly toxic to you. If I’ve made even the slightest miscalculation-”

“You haven’t,” Harry said confidently. “You don’t. Severus, you don’t miscalculate.” But the anguish did not leave Severus’ eyes, and he brought his hand to Harry’s face.

“I wish that were true, but I think we both know it isn’t...Dearest,” he added sadly, meaningfully.

Harry felt a pang recalling the first time Severus had called him that, but he brought his hand to the one Severus used to cradle Harry’s cheek. “That was different. In this, you don’t make mistakes, Severus. There is nothing you are better at than potions, and no one is better at them than you.”

Harry’s faith in him seemed to restore Severus' confidence and his good humour. “Nothing?” he asked, almost inaudibly, leaning closer to Harry with a playful twist of his lips. Harry blushed at the blatant flirtation and cast a self-conscious glance in Hermione's direction. It seemed the world had been turned on its head. Despite himself, Harry laughed.

“Well,” he whispered, “maybe you’ve mastered a few other things besides.”

They lost themselves in each other’s smile and were seconds away from another kiss when they heard the closing of a book. Harry looked over to see Hermione blushing furiously and seeming very interested in the organisation of Severus’ shelves. Harry grinned at Severus and gave him a quick, chaste kiss before stepping back.

“You look tired,” he said. “Why don’t you go and rest?”

Severus’ playfulness evaporated and he shook his head. “No, my love. The potion must be watched.”

“Let me watch it.” Harry had helped the man so often over the years, he was confident in his ability to babysit a potion while Severus napped. He felt guilty that Severus toiled so long for his benefit while Harry was at his leisure upstairs.   

“This is not something I can leave with anyone else,” said Severus, allowing for no further discussion on the matter. “But, Hermione,” he said, turning to her, “Dear, you’ve been up for quite some time, as well. Why don’t you go upstairs with Harry and leave this to me?”

She nodded gratefully.

“You’re kicking me out?” Harry protested. He felt the least he could do was stay at Severus’ side and assist.

“I wish I didn’t have to, but you are far too potent a distraction, my Dearest.”

Hermione stood, stiff from sitting so long, and gathered up a few of the books on the cot. She tugged at Harry’s sleeve as she passed, but Harry hesitated to follow.

“Promise me you will rest when you can,” he begged. “I’m going hunting soon, would you like me to bring you something?”

Severus seemed to debate for a moment but eventually relented. “That might actually be very helpful. Thank you, my love.”

Harry nodded. He was not quite satisfied, but he finally allowed Hermione to lead him away, regardless. “He must be tired,” he commented as they climbed the stair. “He’s never addressed me with so many pet names in one conversation before in our lives. In fact, I don’t think he’s addressed me with so many before even if you were to total them all together.”

Hermione turned to smile back at him when they reached the sitting room. She looked almost as exhausted as the man downstairs. “He’s just relieved to finally be able to help you. He cares for you a great deal, Harry.”

The young man did not need telling. He knew Severus cared for him far more than he deserved, especially in light of what Harry planned. The inner conflict he thought he’d laid to rest already was again rekindled, and his vengeance was disturbingly silent.

“Harry, I’m sorry about what I said before,” Hermione said softly, waking him from his troubled reflection. “I see it now. It’s…” She shook her head as if to sort her thoughts. “I don’t think it’s wrong anymore, the two of you. And I don’t really think Severus is a criminal," she added, though Harry could tell she was still struggling to internalise this new opinion. “He wants to help people, Harry. He wants to do big things. Good things. He’s just very good at hiding it,” Hermione observed with a small laugh. Harry supposed he couldn’t really blame people for being surprised by the revelation that Severus was a good man when Severus tried so hard to seem otherwise. He was relieved to not have to defend him to her anymore, at least. 

They shared a smile, but Harry couldn't help but suspect her change of heart had had something to do with Severus' recent, affectionate display, and that put Harry in mind of something else.

Harry hung his head and toed the ground. “So, by the way,” he ventured, “just how long were you in Grimmauld Place last night after I went upstairs?” He glanced up at her with a preemptive wince. 

Hermione rolled her eyes and turned toward the floo. “I could have lived without that experience,” she replied over her shoulder. Harry grinned. He couldn't really find it in him to be as embarrassed as he knew he should be. “Everyone else had left. That’s what you’re asking, isn’t it?”

“Partly. Sorry,” he said, almost sincerely.

Hermione shrugged. “Don’t be. I don’t know that it sounded like fun, exactly,” she said, scrunching her nose, “but it was obviously very intense. Remus had to persuade me you weren’t really being murdered. I’m not sure how he felt about it, though,” she added more somberly, “especially after the way you shouted at him.”

Harry could hear the disapproval in her voice and acknowledged it with a repentant expression. “I’ve sorted things with Remus,” he assured her. He wondered if they knew how much Remus had had to drink, or how long he’d been at it. 

“Sorted things?” she asked with a lift of her eyebrow.

Harry sighed. “I’ve just shagged the hell out of him. How much detail do you want, Hermione?”

“That’s plenty, thanks,” she said, holding up a hand for emphasis. “I’m sure I don’t know how any of you navigate this labyrinth of a relationship,” she muttered. “So, they just...what? They share you," she scowled, "and don’t have anything to do with each other?”

“Not yet,” Harry said with a determined expression, and he could tell Hermione wished she hadn’t asked. Ruffling her feathers was so easy and so entertaining. Harry wasn’t certain he would ever outgrow it.  

“Are you really going to hunt?” she asked, exasperated and changing the subject.    

“Yes. I need to,” said Harry, deciding to lay off. “Without Substisanguinus I have to go nightly to make sure I’m not a danger to any of you.”

Hermione nodded, “I think I’m going to bed, then.” She hesitated to reach for the floo powder, though, and she seemed to brace herself. “Harry, what really happened last night? Before you came home?”

Harry’s humour left him. The evening had been so eventful already, he almost didn’t feel like the same person who had hunted down a man just the night before and tortured him. He couldn’t bring himself to regret it, but he certainly wasn’t going to talk to Hermione about it. She would only beat herself up if she knew.

“I didn’t kill him,” he said, straight-faced, but left it at that.

Hermione looked as if she wasn’t sure if she was relieved or not. She was restless. “It’s just...things seem to be mending, don’t you think? Settling. And Severus might have found a solution to the problem of your potion.” She fixed him with an entreating look. “Is it really worth throwing all of that away? And all of us?”

Harry shuffled uncomfortably, trying to stave off his guilt but finding it difficult when faced with her puppy dog expression. He wondered if she realised how well she was reinforcing his own re-emerging doubts. “I’ll think about it,” he promised finally, though he suspected he'd already decided. She was right. Severus' breakthrough changed everything.

Hermione nodded, somewhat placated, and seemed to remember how tired she was. “Goodnight, Harry,” she smiled, taking up her floo powder.

“Goodnight, Hermione,” he replied, but his thoughts had already turned to the forest and the vampire waiting for him there. 

   

Chapter Text

“Those must have been impressive to still be showing,” Loraina remarked. As always, she fell into step beside him as they moved deeper into the trees. “I suspect Severus, but the werewolf may be as savage, as well.”

Harry did not answer. He was still thinking of Severus and Remus and all the reasons he had convinced himself he had to leave them.

“I thought you were going to stop toying with them,” she persisted.

“I’m not toying,” he objected, but without much conviction.

“But you are leaving,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him. Again, Harry declined to answer, and it did not seem to bode well with her. “So, you are toying,” she concluded. “You should not encourage their affection if you plan on forsaking it.” 

“It really isn’t your business,” Harry muttered.

“If our roles were reversed, would you still think so?”

Harry glanced at her uneasily. Even if he had not allowed it to be her business, Harry suspected he would indeed still try to safeguard Severus’ heart from a distance, as she was. At least, that’s what he thought she was doing. She was such an oddity, he found it hard to imagine himself in her shoes. Perhaps that wasn’t what she had meant at all. Perhaps she simply still thought they would be together once Harry was away.

“Are you certain you aren’t just jealous?”

Loraina snickered. “Of whom? And I’m not certain yet,” she added after a moment, contemplating him. “You could show me what I have to be jealous of,” she proposed in a sultry purr, but it was recognisably banter this time.

Despite himself, Harry cracked a smile. “Back off, Loraina,” he warned lightheartedly. She smirked.

“Tetchy brat,” Loraina tsked, “and after all I’ve done for you.” 

“What have you done lately?” It wasn't meant to be cheek.

“I’ve found our wayward prince,” she reported. “I did some reconnaissance while you were off having fun,” she grumbled, eyeing his bruises, “though he seems about as fond of sunlight as we are.”

Though he'd all but decided against that course of action, Harry thrilled at the news. It was somehow comforting. Even if Harry didn’t follow the chain all the way to the top, he’d seriously enjoy having a ‘chat’ with the bastard who had actually held the phial. His vengeance stirred in its sleep, not yet roused but surfacing.

“And Timothy?”

“Taken care of,” she shrugged. Loraina volunteered no details, and Harry decided he didn’t want them, anyway. He didn’t particularly care. The man had been nothing to Harry but a means to an end. An end he wasn't certain he was invested in any longer. In spite of his sharpening bloodlust, Harry’s thoughts were still on Severus. Even the nearness of his much-deserved retribution could not touch him as dearly as the excitement he’d seen on the man’s face tonight and the ease and ardence of his touch.

Cobbleshot allowed Harry to brood. They were fairly deep in the forest before Harry worked up the nerve to ask a favour of her.

“Loraina, would you tell me about Severus?”

“What about him? I’d have thought you were well acquainted by now.”

“You know he doesn’t talk about the past,” Harry said glumly. “Not even our past.” With the exception of what the man had told him during their time in the dungeon when he thought they were going to die--most of which had been devoted to discussions of Cobbleshot--Harry’s knowledge of Severus’ life before him was largely conjecture. Harry was tired of wondering what Severus must have been like. He wanted to know. “Besides, I want a different perspective,” Harry explained. Loraina’s reference to Severus’ gentleness was something he’d never heard before from anyone. Hermione’s recent struggle to acknowledge the goodness Harry had seen for years reminded him how few people understood the man. Loraina was one of them, though. She understood him better than Harry did, he suspected, and Harry wanted to appreciate Severus more fully.    

Loraina smiled in a way that made Harry nervous. “Tell you what, Lovely,” she said, stopping him so they could talk. “We’ll trade.”

Harry looked at her apprehensively. “Trade what?”

“Memories.”

Relieved, Harry scoffed. “I’m not much of a storyteller,” he admitted, “and you’ve been around for as long as Severus and I have been together.”

“You miss my meaning,” Loraina said, her voice and look once again slick and unsettling. “That was an interesting trick you used with Little Timmy. I wasn’t aware a memory could be viewed without a Pensieve.”

So, that was what she’d meant. Harry’s relief was snuffed. He’d forgotten it wasn’t common knowledge. Harry shuffled uncomfortably, certain he would regret initiating this line of conversation.

“I found out by accident. Severus’, not mine. But he says it’s dangerous,” Harry cautioned, “can make a person go mad, which was why the Pensieve was created.”

“I like a little danger,” she shrugged. “Besides, I don’t have much sanity left to preserve.” Harry, however, wasn’t sure he was prepared to risk his own. “Don’t tell me your famous Gryffindor courage has failed you,” Loraina taunted, stepping closer. “Come on, Lovely. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” she grinned, walking her fingers up the centre of his chest until he brushed them away with an exasperated sigh.  

Harry wouldn’t say he wasn’t tempted. What he’d glimpsed in the Pensieve before had been thrilling, even if it was upsetting. It had that forbidden quality that Harry found so hard to resist. Besides, Severus owned absolutely no pictures of himself, and Harry had always wanted to see more of him as he was before the world wore him down.

“What do you want to see?” he asked cautiously.

Cobbleshot didn’t miss a beat. She’d obviously been considering it. “I want to see what happened in the Malfoys’ dungeon, of course.”

Harry scowled at her in disgust and turned to continue walking, shaking his head as he went. She followed along beside him for a few steps with bouncing, sideways strides, as tickled as he was irritated. When it was clear he would not stop again, she turned to walk backwards so she could look him in the face as she spoke.

“What? Did you think I wanted the two of you making Bubotuber extract? No, I’m curious. Severus hated the very idea of homosexuality...and I know why,” she added meaningfully, causing Harry to stop walking after all. She wasn’t smiling anymore. “I want to know how you overrode that. I want to know what you did to make him-”

“Defy his nature?” Harry cut her off waspishly. It was a sensitive subject for him.

She looked slightly shocked. “Oh, no. No, Severus fancied boys in school.”

It was Harry’s turn for surprise, and he scowled doubtfully at her.

“Oh, he didn’t realise it, of course,” she went on, “or would not allow himself to acknowledge it because of what happened.” She sighed and seemed to slip into sombre reflection.

“What did happen?” Harry ventured.

She looked back up at him as if she’d momentarily forgotten he was there, but she hesitated to answer. “I don’t think that is my story to tell.”

“But my losing my virginity in captivity to your homophobic ex-boyfriend is fair game?” Harry sneered. Not that he didn’t respect her for respecting Severus in that way, but it did strike him as a little unfair.

Her oily grin returned. “Oh, but he’s very open about that now, isn’t he? He didn’t seem to mind who heard him ravage you last night.”

“You were there?” Harry asked.

She chuckled at his discomfort. “No, but I heard stories.”

“From whom?” he demanded. Hermione had told him everyone had left except her and-

“Lupin,” Loraina shrugged, “when I went to get him more Firewhisky. He’d run out. Too drunk to get his own. I wanted to talk to you but was advised to wait. He said you and Severus had had a rather enthusiastic reconciliation. I wouldn’t mind that memory, too,” she said, “if you don’t mind.”

Harry gaped at her. There was so much wrong with what she’d just said. She admitted to giving Firewhisky to a person too intoxicated to procure his own, and she had the audacity to ask to see what drove that person to drink. 

“Of course, I mind, Loraina!” he spluttered, as disconcerted by the request as he was to realise how badly he’d upset Remus the night before.

Cobbleshot, however, seemed finished with playful banter. She glared at him, then lunged. Harry was caught off guard and offered no resistance when she took him by the shirtfront and pushed him back into the trunk of a nearby tree.

“Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve known a friendly touch, you little shit?” she hissed. “And how much I’d prefer it was Severus’? Can you imagine how long I’ve lamented that such a thing was impossible? It doesn’t cost you anything. You don’t lose it. You don’t even have to touch me,” she spat, releasing him. “I’d say we both win.”

Harry stared at her, shaken by her aggression but wondering how long, in fact, she’d gone without 'knowing a friendly touch’, as she put it. It wasn’t that he was unsympathetic. It was just so...weird.

“It’s private,” he hedged.

“I certainly hope so,” she said, stepping back. “But so is what you ask. Come now, Harry. Haven’t you ever wondered what it felt like to have tits?” she asked, caressing her own.  “And a twat?” she added, slapping her crotch. Harry sneered at her vulgarity. “I’ve certainly always wanted a cock,” she shrugged. “Let’s not be selfish, now.”

“What will you show me?” he asked, eyes narrowed.

“What do you want to see?”

Harry contemplated. He already knew what he wanted to see. He was wondering if he really wanted to do this, to open a window into their most personal moments for her in order to satisfy his craving for insight into the man he loved.

“I want to see how Severus was in school,” he said finally, “before-”

“Before your father ruined him and turned him onto the road to damnation?” she offered with theatrical innocence. Harry glared at her for mocking him. “Don’t shoot the messenger, Lovely,” she said, throwing up her hands. 

“I think you know what I want,” he said, accepting that he was committing to this. “Surprise me,” he smirked.

She broke into a triumphant smile. “And I know you know what I want, so pick some juicy ones, Lovely,” Loraina said, dropping to a sitting position where she was.

Harry sighed. Why did she have to be so strange and oblivious? He’d have much preferred to settle in someplace more comfortable, like the moss bed a few steps away, but Harry felt it would be more trouble than it was worth to suggest it. He stepped away from the tree to sit cross-legged beside her.

“This feels wrong,” Harry said anxiously.

“It is,” she confirmed. “Shall we begin? I’ll even let you go first. I think,” she said, her eyes dancing with excitement, “I’ll show you the first time I saw Severus.” She grinned remembering, but then her gaiety faltered and she looked uncertain.

“What?” Harry asked to her lost expression.

“Nothing,” she said after a moment more, seeming confused by her own sentimentality. She shrugged it off. “I simply hope you understand what a gift this is,” she told him, uncharacteristically mild as she placed the tip of her wand to her temple and withdrew a slender, obviously-prized memory.

“I have a feeling I will after I’ve seen it,” Harry said quietly.

“You should probably lie down,” she suggested. Harry stretched out beside her, watching the silvery tail dance closer with nervous anticipation. The last thing Harry glimpsed before it took him was Cobbleshot, looking down on him with a tender expression as if she were some ragged, dark saint bestowing a blessing on him.

 

Harry found himself walking across the grounds of Hogwarts with his arms full of books. But Harry was not Harry. Harry is Loraina, and Loraina has never heard the name Harry Potter.

She has heard the name Severus Snape, but she has not spoken to the boy yet nor really seen him. She knows his face well enough to recognise it belongs to his name, but that is all. That afternoon, however, Loraina spies the boy sitting beneath a tree near the lake, and for the first time, Loraina looks.

She slows to a stop, abruptly handing over her books to her friend and telling her to go on and that Loraina will catch up later. Farrah doesn’t even comment, she just rolls her eyes and trudges off with their combined texts, leaving Loraina to her weird habit.

Because Loraina is always doing this: getting distracted by something and fixating on it, chasing after it and playing with it until she’s had her fill.

Sometimes it is a butterfly that lights on her hand for a moment before flitting away; and she has to flit after it, giggling at its drunken progress across the open field until she finally catches it and crushes its wings between her fingertips to see its colors paint them, delighting in the way it makes them sparkle in the sunlight.

Other times, it is that snotty Hufflepuff with the ridiculously yellow hair--the one who all the boys hang on, and who looked at Loraina rudely in the Great Hall once--tiptoeing around the corner like she is up to something; and Loraina just has to shadow her all the way to the Astronomy Tower to catch her with her hand up the skirt of a homely Gryffindor girl Loraina doesn’t know, exposing the couple to the ridicule of the Courtyard the next day...not because she disapproves, merely because the saffron bitch annoys her and Loraina finds her disgrace entertaining.

Today, though, it is Severus Snape.

He is an ugly boy. Not that that means she doesn’t enjoy looking at him, she often spends long, contented moments admiring ugly things. Loraina does dislike his nose, though. There is entirely too much of it. His eyes are too small, as well, but...there is something about them. They seem so dark. She wonders if, up close, they are deeply brown or if they really are as pitch black as they seem from this distance.

And the sharpness with which they focus on the fallen leaf the boy holds in his long, slender fingers…It's all simply irresistible.

Loraina slips up beside him quietly from behind until she can see his profile. She wonders if she will be able to see what so fascinates him about the leaf, but really, what most fascinates Loraina is his fascination. She watches his eyes dart as they study the mottled green surface, perhaps following a fork of the leaf’s veins. Loraina watches Severus’ veins. The one in his neck twitches with his heartbeat and shows faintly blue beneath the boy’s unhealthily sallow skin. The contrast of colours in his complexion is satisfying somehow.

A long moment passes before he notices Loraina's presence, but when he does, he starts and tosses the leaf aside as if trying to pretend he hasn’t been staring at it. Neither of them speak. The look in his eyes is wary, suspicious. Loraina knows that the slowest and meanest of the trolls on the Slytherin Quidditch team bully him sometimes, but she’s never seen it happen. Clearly, he expects some kind of ridicule from her, but Loraina only wants to look at his eyes. She leans forward, squinting.

They are brown, after all. A warm, rich brown, but only where the sunlight falling through the branches of the tree overhead spears his iris.

She likes them. They remind her of dark chocolate, and she enjoys bitter things. But even after having satisfied her curiosity, Loraina sits down beside Severus, drawing her knees up to hug them as they continue to stare at each other. Severus seems confused and uncomfortable as the silence stretches, but eventually, she sees his own curiosity kindle. His caution doesn’t just disappear, he becomes bold. He shifts to face her and studies her as he studied his leaf, as she studied him.

Loraina has never been looked at this closely or in this way, and it makes her tingle slightly. She wonders if this is what other people feel as she watches them intently in class or in the Great Hall, staring openly even after they notice her piercing attention. She is used to being looked at, but not like this: like Severus wants nothing from her except to look, to see, to puzzle out how she works.

Loraina doesn’t really understand what she is feeling. She’s been attracted to boys before, obviously, though it isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for playing with them. And the boys are certainly attracted to her. She knows she is pretty. Uncommonly so. She also knows that what makes her most attractive has nothing to do with her features, they merely enhance the effect. She isn’t malicious, but she certainly isn’t kind. She isn’t particularly talented in any traditional sense others might admire. Something else which Loraina has no words for is responsible for the attention she draws. And now she is wondering if maybe this boy possesses that quality, as well, so that, even though he is not handsome, she finds him attractive. Maybe they are both magnets of sorts and that was why she is drawn to him so strongly now that she has finally come close.

Severus’ lips look sharp. Loraina wonders if they would cut her if she pressed hers to them. She decides to test it, rising to her hands and knees and crawling closer. Severus doesn’t realise what she is doing until it is too late to escape her; though he tries a bit, leaning away until he falls back onto his hands as she reaches for his collar and pulls his face to hers.

His lips don’t cut her, but once they get over their shock, they do move nicely over hers. They aren’t very familiar with this sport, she can tell. But some boys have an instinct for it that cannot be taught, and what she tastes on them, beyond lunch’s pumpkin juice, is...potential.

Chapter Text

The experience ended painfully, but it was not a pain Harry could describe. The memory had been an alien entity and had had to carve room for itself inside him. Having it removed left him raw and gaping. Harry sat up shakily, trying to orient himself in...himself. He struggled to remember that he wasn’t a fifteen-year-old girl, even though he could still feel echoes of the tightness of his blouse across his front and the breeze in his skirt. His own parts seemed not to belong to him and felt awkward being suddenly there when he shifted to face Loraina.

Harry couldn’t do much other than stare at her for a moment. He’d had a taste of her mind, and even though it had been from before it had been shattered, it was still overwhelming. The experience was addictive. He wanted to fly to Severus right then and share the same intimacy with him. He might have done if he didn’t already know the man would refuse and then lecture him on the danger and irresponsibility of his actions.   

Loraina seemed unsurprised by his response, and Harry wondered if perhaps it was this, as much as the other part of their bargain, that she had wanted. He thought perhaps she had also wanted to be understood. Harry realised it was a memory that could only have been lived. If he’d carried it to the Pensieve, all he’d have seen was a girl walk up and stare at a boy, who then stared back until the girl kissed him. It might have made a strange kind of sense, but Harry would not have comprehended it properly. Living it, he recognised it as the moment this irreverent and suspectedly sociopathic girl fell in love for the first (and perhaps only) time. And he was allowed to understand why she did.

He also understood why Severus had reciprocated. Loraina had been so wild, even then. Or at least untamed. Harry had thought he was impulsive, but he was a master of self-control compared to Loraina. And Severus, so driven by the need to understand things, could not have resisted the challenge the arbitrary young woman presented. Harry was mildly envious of the two. It had been so easy with them, almost instantaneous, nothing like the battle Harry and Severus had fought with themselves.

“I get why they say it can make you go mad,” Harry said quietly, still unsettled. “Are you sure you want…?”

The look on her face withered the rest of the question before it could pass his lips. She was not leaving this exchange empty-handed. “Are you saying you don’t want to see more?” she challenged.

Harry very much did, would have liked to just then, but he had to get back to Severus with something to sustain him. Luckily, the memory she’d requested was relatively short.

“Lie down,” he told her.

The memory was easy to gather. It was one of his fondest. Harry hoped as much context translated as had with hers. He decided he would give her more than just the act. He would include the conversation that led to it. Having lived a moment of her life, and such a profound one, sharing this no longer seemed as uncomfortable, and Harry was already contemplating what other things he might show her later.

He didn’t ask if she was ready, he could tell she was, and he lowered the strand deep into her temple. Loraina was not as outwardly reactive as Timothy had been, and Harry sat wondering when he should release her. He didn't want to cut it short, but memories were tricky things. The empty moments were skipped in remembering, he figured, so surely it would not replay every step as Severus had paced, just a sense of it having happened.

But Harry couldn’t be certain. He decided to err on the side of caution, allowing more than enough time for the scene to play out before gently lifting it out and away.

Loraina trembled. She looked at Harry in confusion and lifted a hand to her breast, patting herself up and down as if to reacquaint herself with being her. Then she sat up, and Harry saw her eyes clear. He knew he had looked just as shaken.

“So,” she said softly, “that is how you knew.”

“Knew?”

“This trick,” she clarified. “Severus did this with the werewolf. No wonder he could see you in that way after.”

Harry disliked her putting it that way, as if Severus’ feelings for him were merely borrowed from Remus, but he was just being insecure. Maybe they had started that way, but there was no doubt that Severus’ feelings for him were now his own.

“Was it what you wanted?” Harry asked.

She shrugged, unusually quiet. “Yes, thank you. Though we may need more practice. I’m certain I saw more than intended.”

“More?”

“He really was that concerned for me when you emerged?” she asked timidly, hugging her legs to her chest.

Harry must have let the memory play much, much longer than anticipated. She had to have been referring to the way Severus had rushed to her side as she lay unconscious on the grass in the cemetery. He hadn't even been aware he'd extracted that much, though the whole ordeal was all tangled together in his mind, really.

“He cares for you,” Harry assured her. Then he had a thought. “Lie down again. Just for a moment.”

Harry plucked another memory, trying to cut it neatly out of its surroundings to avoid the trouble they’d just encountered, and eased it into her mind. It was small, but he knew she’d appreciate it.

She recovered much more quickly this time, but she did not sit up straight away.

“Like the sea,” she said dreamily. But there was a profound sadness in her eyes as they stared at the starry sky overhead, and Harry wondered if he’d been wise to share the conversation, after all.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, “if it upset you. I thought-”

“Oh, no. Thank you, Harry,” she said, her eyes falling closed to release a delicate tear. “That was perfection. I gave you a gift, and you gave one to me.” She looked up at him, and Harry could see the genuine gratitude in her eyes.

Harry nodded his to her as well. “Now, I have to find something to take back to Severus,” he said as they rose unsteadily to their feet. The experience had undone them both and they shuffled a bit, slightly lost.

“Why does he not come hunt for himself?” She seemed exasperated by Severus' reluctance to be what he was.

“Oh, he can’t leave the potion. Apparently, it’s sensitive. I’m meant to bring him something for stamina.”

“Which potion?”

Harry realised he had been so distracted by his newfound doubts that he had failed to report the development. “Mine,” he explained with a smile, the news surprising him again as he relayed it. It still hadn’t quite sunk in. “It seems he and Hermione did some detective work after he left me last night, and they may have unlocked a treatment for me.”

Loraina did not share his enthusiasm. In fact, she looked slightly horrified. “They’re fixing you?” 

“Perhaps,” he said, disconcerted by her reaction.

She sneered and turned without a word to stalk off. After a stunned moment, Harry moved to follow.

“Loraina? What? Why are you so upset?”

“If they fix you, you won’t leave,” she explained shrilly, still stomping away from him. “If you don’t leave, they won’t die and neither will we. We’ll all just go on and on. Endlessly, and nothing will be righted and nothing will change. We’ll just steep in our injustices and grow older and sourer. Or I will. And I’m bitter as it is.”

Harry caught her by the arm and forced her to face him, but her glare was so caustic he almost instantly regretted having done so. “Why do you want so badly to die, Rainey?” he asked, feeling the way Hermione had looked when she had asked him if his vengeance would really be worthwhile.

Loraina shook her head at him. “If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand if I told you,” she sneered, jerking her arm from his grasp.

Harry let her go. It troubled him, but he didn’t have time to chase after her.

He didn’t know what he’d say to her if he did. 

Chapter Text

Harry found Severus lying on the cot when he returned with the man’s meal. He was reluctant to disturb him, but he knew Severus wasn’t really sleeping, just resting, and that he could use the vitality Harry carried with him, regardless. He sat carefully on the edge of the thin mattress, and Severus reached for him without opening his eyes, pulling Harry down to stretch out beside him. Harry lay his satchel with its sleeping hare on the floor and tucked himself close.

“I’ll sleep properly once this phase is complete,” he promised Harry, though the young man had not yet commented, “Will you join me?” 

“Of course, I will." As if Harry might decline. "I won’t even try to violate you in your sleep,” he promised cheekily. “Unless you’d like me to, that is.”

Severus actually chuckled drowsily, drawing a happy sigh from Harry. Severus was unguarded, and it coaxed a certain contentment from the bloodwolf.

“We should arrange a bedroom for you at Grimmauld Place,” said Harry, fondling Severus' shirt buttons. He loved it when Severus shed his robes and waistcoat and rolled up his sleeves. Harry had never understood why Severus insisted on such a complicated wardrobe to begin with. “You’re there often enough these days. It goes without saying you’re always welcome in mine, but it seems like it would be nice to set you up with a space of your own. I get the idea you feel unwelcome, like you’re a visitor or something, which you’re not,” Harry emphasised. “You don’t even have to have a bed in it if you don’t want. We could get you couches and bookshelves and things instead. Hell, a miniature lab, if you like. Or you could set up in the basement. I know you are always frustrated by the limited space here. We could move your side projects home, maybe the ones I can help with, and keep the important jobs here.”  

“We could,” Severus said far more agreeably than Harry expected. “If I do work out this remedy for you, I may have to train you thoroughly in at least one of our potions. It was taxing enough providing for a werewolf and two vampires. Adding a bloodwolf to the equation may be more than I can handle without assistance.”

“You know I’m always willing to help in any way I can. You’re the one who doesn’t like anyone fiddling with his potions,” Harry pointed out, to which Severus merely shrugged.

They lay quietly for a while. Severus glanced over occasionally to make sure everything was progressing smoothly on the workbench, but for the most part, they just enjoyed each other’s nearness. There was a time, not long ago, when Harry couldn’t have imagined this ever happening again. Severus had grown so distant and cool, Harry could scarcely tease a goodnight kiss from him. Harry’s vengeance slumbered peacefully. He felt no wrong done to him could justify forsaking this intimacy. If becoming a bloodwolf was the price he had had to pay for it, then so be it.

He did feel bad for Loraina, though. It seemed cruel to have teased her. Though really, it was she who all but forced the idea on Harry. He hated to take advantage of Severus’ openness at the moment, but he knew that once the man was more well-rested, and the thrill of discovery faded, he would become taciturn once again.       

“Severus. What happened with you and Loraina?”

Severus grunted and momentarily prized open a single eyelid to look down at the young man. “She tried to kill the Dark Lord and ran away,” he shrugged. “I was not willing to scratch out a living in the forest with her.”

“Why not?” Harry asked softly. Their feelings for one another must have been profound for them to echo still, in both of them, twenty years later, and Harry wondered, insecurely, if perhaps there was anything that he might do that would cause Severus to abandon him. He had told Harry there was no length he would not go to for him, but had he not once felt the same about Cobs?

“Why are you asking?” 

“I’m just curious. She mentioned… Actually, it's nothing,” said Harry, holding him tighter. “Nevermind.” It didn’t matter. Severus always had his reasons, and they were never arbitrary. If he ever did abandon the young man, it will have been well-deserved.

“No,” said Severus, rising to his elbow with a gentle scowl. “What did she mention?”

Harry cursed himself for disturbing their quiet moment and reluctantly propped himself up, as well. “Why she wanted Voldemort dead,” Harry shrugged. “That it wasn’t because she's a vampire now. It was because becoming a vampire made you stop loving her.”    

Severus shook his head, shooing Harry out of the way so he could swing his legs over the edge of the cot and sit up. He scrubbed his hands over his face with a heavy sigh. “She oversimplifies things,” he muttered, his weariness returning to him. “She doesn’t see her own actions. Not really.”

Harry nodded, willing to lay the matter to rest, but Severus brooded on it, looking as though he wanted to speak further but was unaccustomed to this kind of sharing. Harry had always unburdened himself to Remus. He understood the importance of it, and he wanted to help Severus do the same.

“What is it?” he gently prompted.

Severus looked at him, clearly uncomfortable but just as clearly wanting to be understood. He did not love often. Being accused of doing it lightly seemed to bother him. Harry pulled his leg up onto the cot and made himself comfortable, trying to convey he was willing to listen.

“Loraina,” Severus began, shaking his head again with a mild grimace as if the woman defied explanation, “she had always been different.” He scowled at the inadequacy of the word but could seem to find nothing better. “Vampirism simply made the way in which she was different unacceptable. It wasn’t that I stopped loving her. Truthfully,” he admitted, looking closely at Harry to gauge his reaction, “I haven't.”

This was not news to the young man, and all that mattered to Harry was how much Severus loved him. When he saw no offence in Harry, no judgement at all to speak of, Severus continued, and much more easily than before.

“There were many wonderful things about her, Harry,” he told him wistfully, sounding much as he had in the dungeon when he had first described her, “but many unsettling things, as well.”

“Such as?” Harry asked. He loved that Severus was talking, and he wanted him to continue, even if it was about Cobbleshot.

Severus reflected for a moment, looking over at the self-stirring cauldron but not seeing it. Perhaps he felt it inappropriate to remember a past lover so tenderly while looking at his current one.

“Everything she did, she did it completely and with her whole self,” he said finally. “She could see the extraordinary in the mundane, and she made the mundane extraordinary for me. She appreciated the details that everyone else overlooked. But…” He looked at Harry, almost helplessly. The subject of this woman was one of the few that had ever left him at a loss or elicited such a sadness in him. Harry reached over and took hold of his hand, and Severus squeezed Harry's fingers gratefully.

“Hurting other people never bothered Loraina,” Severus continued, toying absently with Harry’s knuckle. “I was, perhaps, the only exception. She could be ruthless when she thought it necessary, but before we went to Romania, she had never been cruel. Not for the sake of it. Though, I often had to step in to stop her taking things too far, to explain that something was inappropriate or point out consequences that simply did not occur to her.” He released Harry’s hand with a sigh to wring his own.

“When we first joined the Death Eaters, one of the more senior members insulted me. It was not a major slight,” Severus shrugged, “it’s merely what happens in those situations. We were the greenhorns, and the hierarchy was asserting itself. It was mostly talk and posturing, though he finally shoved me. He made a rude comment about my nose, and so Loraina broke his.”

Harry recognised this was not meant to be an entertaining story, but he had to fight a grin. He could see Cobs doing just such a thing and with no hesitation whatsoever. Severus saw Harry’s amusement but clearly did not share it, and his solemn expression sobered Harry quickly.

“He underestimated her,” Severus went on. “They always underestimated her,” he said, shaking his head. “He fought back, he shouldn’t have. I honestly think she might have killed him if I hadn’t stopped her.”

Harry shifted uncomfortably. He could just picture that, as well.

“I didn’t drag her off,” Severus told him, “I simply had to touch her shoulder and say ‘enough’. That’s how it always was. If they didn’t respect us after that, they at least feared us.” He gave Harry a meaningful look. “And with good reason.”

Harry considered this for a moment. He’d broken Draco’s nose, and the boy hadn’t even been being rude to Hermione at the time. He had almost killed the bastard, too, but that wasn’t for insulting Hermione, it was because he was a serious threat to them all. Harry understood the impulse, but Cobbleshot, it seemed, had no qualms about acting out what others only entertained.

“But didn’t it bother you at the time?” Harry asked.

“I certainly didn’t delight it in,” Severus sighed, “I just accepted it as part of who she was. I understood Loraina, Harry, and I loved her anyway. Mostly, simply because she loved me, and no one ever had before,” he said, making Harry ache for him. “We complimented each other. Still, it wasn’t a burning fury she had then,” Severus stressed, “just a lack of conscience and awareness. It was almost innocent, if that makes sense. The Madness, though,” he said sadly, “it unlocked something sinister in her. It gave colour to her impulses, added emotion where before there was none. And it was the wrong kind of emotion.”

Harry recalled the hostility the Madness had inspired in him, and Loraina had admitted the First Dark had never released her entirely. “You didn’t want her coming here, did you? In the beginning?” Harry asked. Though he had never confessed to Severus his presence during the man’s late-night meeting with Dumbledore, he remembered Severus’ anxiety then.

Severus shook his head. “When she first came, I had worried about how she would be with the children but, mad as she is, at least she now understands consequences. She’d learned how to pretend when it was necessary and to recognise when that was. But when I had last seen her, that had not been the case. She blamed the Dark Lord for our struggles, but she took her anger out indiscriminately on anyone or anything that displeased her. She got better at managing it by the time we reached Britain, but I couldn’t control her any longer,” he confessed, sounding almost ashamed, as if her transgressions were somehow his fault, “and I could not stomach her new sadistic tendencies.

"She was frequently unkind to me, as well,” he added quietly. “Not physically violent, but she had never even raised her voice to me before. Nor I to her, at least not in anger. It may seem like a small thing in the larger picture,” Severus shrugged, “but it still felt like a betrayal. She would become frustrated by what she considered my weakness, my reticence for violence, especially when we hunted, and she would lash out at me. It was fleeting but was often unpredictable, and it was wearying.”

Harry nodded his understanding. He was familiar with the wearying mood swings of others. He wondered if Severus was aware he’d subjected Harry to a milder version of his ordeal for years. He wouldn’t bring it up, though, especially since it seemed so removed from Severus’ present mood, and Loraina sounded worse by far.

Harry couldn’t help remembering what Loraina had said in the forest, though. How she had sacrificed the better parts of herself in order to help Severus, and how she had longed for Severus to help her in turn, and Harry couldn’t find it in him to blame either of them.

“I think she’s still in love with you. I think she thinks she failed you. Or else you failed her. I don’t know,” Harry shrugged, picking at a thread on the cuff of his jeans.  

“We failed each other, Dearest,” Severus sighed, leaning back against the stone wall. “But why were the two of you discussing this, anyway?”

Harry didn’t think it would be prudent to explain how intensely she’s been pursuing him, and certainly not to mention any of the other things they’d been up to. “It just came up,” he hedged, “and I only thought it sad. I think I like her,” Harry confessed, though he was still unsure and sounded it. “I don’t particularly want to, but I think do. I feel bad for her.”

Severus reached over to pull Harry to him and hug him against his chest. “So do I, Dearest,” he whispered. “I don’t know what she’s telling you, Harry, or why. But you must understand that her mind does not work like yours or mine, and it never has. She’s clever. Devilishly so. And she can be alluring, even still. But she’s defective. And none of us, not even I, can mend her.”

“I think she knows that,” Harry said softly. As much as she craved Harry’s memories of Severus, and as familiar as she still acted toward the man, Harry didn’t think she’d made any serious attempt to rekindle their love affair.

“You should be wary of her,” Severus cautioned. “A wounded animal is always the most dangerous.”

“You think she’s an animal?”

“She always was a wild thing, Harry. Loving something does not tame it. It merely allows you to forgive the scars.”  

   

Chapter Text

Remus flooed into the sitting room just as Harry and Severus emerged from the lab, hand in hand. Severus wrapped an arm possessively around Harry’s waist when they paused to greet him. Harry sighed inwardly. Remus smiled. He looked much more clear headed than earlier, but the whisky had not left him unscathed.

“I was hoping you hadn’t gone to bed yet,” he said, addressing Severus. “Do you think you could manage a meeting in Minerva’s office? Kingsley and Arthur are there now. If not, I’ll tell them you couldn’t come. Hermione’s rested a bit and will be there. It’s up to you.”

"He’s exhausted,” Harry objected, speaking for the Potions Master. Which caused Severus’ eyebrow to twitch, though he made no comment and only squeezed Harry tighter. “I’m putting him to bed,” he said flatly, “we can manage without him.”  

Severus smiled at Harry and shook his head, drifting in for a small kiss. Harry returned it, but his expression turned motherly while he turned the man and urged him toward the bedroom. Severus and Remus shrugged to each other as he was marched away.

“I should really be there,” Severus protested when the door closed behind them, but not seriously, as he was already undoing his buttons and shrugging out of his clothes.

“You need to rest,” Harry said firmly, turning down the sheets. “Unless losing sleep is worth it to you to see me scolded within an inch of my life.” He was not looking forward to this gathering.  

“It will be fine. They aren’t allowed to punish you,” Severus said groggily, “I’ve done that already.”

“If that was punishment,” Harry said, tucking him in, “remind me to misbehave more often.”

“Brat,” Severus mumbled, already slipping into sleep. Harry leaned down to kiss his forehead before quietly removing himself and returning to the sitting room.

There, Remus reached for him with a smile and Harry padded over to take his hand. “I’m glad the two of you are getting on again,” Remus said, his fingers, as always, combing through Harry’s hair.

“The two of you seem to be doing nicely, as well,” said Harry, draping his arms around the man. “Now, if we could just learn to all do nicely together, maybe we could get on with that living you mentioned.”

Remus sighed, but it was contented. “Do you really think that’s going to happen?”

“I’ve seen stranger things.”

“Such as?”  

Harry grinned. “It will work out. I know it will. If I survive this meeting, that is.”

Remus chuckled. “I have no doubt Hermione’s report will put us in better spirits and we’ll all but forget last night. It seems I missed quite a lot, being stuck at the bottom of a bottle.”

“Speaking of," Harry scowled, "you shouldn’t talk to Loraina. She’s not good for you.”

Remus looked slightly taken aback. “Says the man who traipses around with her nightly.” 

“So I know what I’m talking about,” Harry pressed. “She’s not right.”

“I’ve known Rainey far longer than you have, Harry,” Remus pointed out. “I know what she is.”

“Yes. A bad influence. If I ever hear again that she’s plied you with Firewhisky, I’ll throttle the both of you,” Harry said sternly. “In fact, new rule for Grimmauld Place: No alcohol.”

Remus looked mildly incredulous. “You’d rather I did my drinking at the pub?”

“I’d rather you not drink. I’ll try to avoid driving you to it.”

“And you think you’re the reason I drink?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “One of them. But happy men don’t get drunk. So, I’ll just have to keep you happy,” he said, leaning in to kiss him.

Remus smiled against Harry’s lips. “Deal,” he said, drawing back. “Are you ready to meet the others? They’re waiting on us.”

Harry sighed, releasing the man reluctantly and following him through the floo even more so. There were no enthusiastic handshakes awaiting him this time, though the expressions he met were not as hostile as he might have expected. He felt like he should apologise. Trouble was, he still wasn’t feeling all that repentant.

Cobbleshot lurked in the shadows by the bookshelf with her arms folded across her chest. She seemed far more cross with him than anyone. McGonagall sat behind her desk with Arthur and Kingsley flanking her like an Inquisitor’s squad. They were polite enough, though, when Harry nodded to them. He shared a smile with Hermione, who clearly had not had enough sleep but who seemed alert, nonetheless. Harry let Remus have the other chair and perched on the armrest, steeling himself to face the music.

“So,” Kingsley began, clasping his hands behind his back, but he seemed at a loss, so Arthur took the baton.

“Yesterday was not ideal,” he said haltingly, “but it wasn’t as bad as it might have been.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry interjected, still not feeling it but knowing it was expected of him and that he might as well get it out of the way. “There was just so much,” he shrugged. He saw Hermione raise her eyebrow from the corner of his eye. “The people. The lights. The questions,” he went on, ignoring her, “and...I’d not encountered virgin blood before, either,” he added, giving them a meaningful look.

Their irritation softened in light of this new information. “I’m sorry, Harry. We hadn’t considered that complication,” Arthur admitted with a glance to Kingsley.

“Well, whatever the reason, if you felt you could not safely remain, I’m glad you had the control and forethought to leave before real harm could occur,” Kingsley said, nodding to himself. “The crowd was surprised, but at least we established that you are alive and the fact was well documented. We can deal with whatever else arises. However, I was given reason to believe future outings might be more successful soon?” he said hopefully, looking to Hermione.

She nodded, and her smile was reassuring. “Severus and I have been working on a promising lead ever since I arrived,” she informed the gathering, “and last night, we made some important discoveries which Severus is putting to practical use as we speak.” Hermione went on to explain to them what Harry had learned earlier, though going into more technical detail, which Harry wasn’t especially interested in. He turned his attention to the assembly instead. The news was enthusiastically welcomed by all but one.

Harry didn’t particularly like the way Loraina stared at Hermione as she spoke. It looked bland, but Harry knew her better now, could see the discontent in her lack of expression. She didn’t even stay for the whole story. She locked eyes with Harry briefly before drifting silently out the door, and it did not bode well with the young man.

“We may have some promising developments on our end, as well,” Harry heard Arthur say, waking him to the conversation again. “Those we apprehended, though not knowledgeable themselves, have some well-known acquaintances. One they all seem to have in common is a certain criminal by the name of Alfred Jixy, aka ‘Jinx’. He is a member of an illegal potions syndicate that is run out of Knockturn, we believe near Moribund’s.”

Harry’s blood chilled. The Ministry was getting closer, and Harry had not yet made up his mind whether he wanted to let them. The others seemed excited by the news, but Harry brooded, which Remus noticed.

“What is it, Darling?” he asked, wrapping an arm around Harry's waist. “Don’t you want to know who did this?”

Harry couldn’t exactly admit he had a better idea than they did already. He scowled and addressed Arthur and Kingsley, “Are you sure this is wise?” They seemed confused. “I mean, what happens when we find these people?”

“They’ll be arrested, of course,” Kingsley assured him.

“And placed on trial?” Harry asked.

Kingsley shifted uncomfortably. “Well, naturally. That is how these things work.”

“But they can’t be,” Harry insisted. “If there is a trial, then the whole Wizarding World will know what’s happened, and I thought we all agreed that was out of the question.”

“Are you saying we should drop our investigation?” Kingsley asked, slightly affronted.

“Look. We both know that won’t happen,” Harry sighed, “but, I don’t know...hit a dead end.”

“Harry, these people may not stop at infecting you,” Remus argued. “As long as they are out there, they are a possible threat to you. We cannot allow them to remain at large.”

Harry knew this only too well but did not want to give too much away, did not want to alarm his annoyingly perceptive Mate. “What do you think Severus would have to say?” Harry asked him quietly.

Remus’ face fell. Severus very nearly was arrested for public disturbance, was on the verge of kidnapping Harry, all to avoid the truth being revealed.

“Remus. The world cannot know. I don’t know how and I don’t care, but this has to be handled quietly.” He looked to Arthur and Kingsley, “You’re the Ministry. I’m Harry Fucking Potter. Bend some rules. Find a way. These arseholes cannot stand trial.”

Kingsley sighed. “Minerva, what do you think?”

The Headmistress had been unusually quiet, and now she fixed Harry with a pensive look. “I think Potter has a point. I know it’s what Severus would advise if he were here, and the incident in Diagon Alley proves we should have been more mindful of his advice last time. I, personally, do not care to see Harry face the repercussions of a public outing of his condition.”

“It will have to be discussed with the Minister,” Kingsley grunted, but he nodded nonetheless.

“Perhaps it would not be so terrible for it to become public knowledge,” Hermione proposed quietly. All eyes swung to her. She had not contributed to the discussion since giving her report. Harry scowled at her and she shrugged at him apologetically but continued all the same. “Harry is a beloved public figure. For him to come forward and admit to his condition...well, it might help improve public opinion, might boost the image of all Dark Creatures.”

“Or it could instigate ugly rhetoric that results in violence against Dark Creatures,” Remus pointed out calmly but critically. “Is it wise to stir this cauldron? Do you really think the public ready?”

“Change in society never happens peacefully,” Hermione countered rationally. “Every advancement in civil rights requires a catalyst.”

“That’s all fine in theory, Hermione,” Remus answered, becoming more heated, “but people could be hurt. Real werewolves and vampires, who are disadvantaged enough as it is, could see hostilities towards them rise. There might be much-needed discourse, granted. But this conversation is never one-sided. There will be persecution. There will be violence. We’ve seen it before, and the prejudice still exists, it’s just been quiet lately because it hasn't recently been provoked.”

“This is different. This isn’t Dogtown, and he is not Charles Blackfur. This is Harry Potter. If the masses could forgive it in anyone, could find acceptance for it in anyone, it would be him. Yes, it’s come up before and there were casualties,” she shrugged, “but there was also progress. And this time, we can have the most respected public figure in modern history at the centre of it.”

“‘And there were casualties’?” Remus repeated, shaking his head at her casual mention of Remus’ fallen brothers and sisters. “Do you hear yourself, Hermione? You did this same thing during the war,” he went on, growing properly angry. “You spoke of strategy without understanding the reality of those decisions, without appreciating the costs, because you were never in the battles you helped plan.”  

“So you’re happy with the status quo?” 

“Of course, I’m not! But it isn’t a matter to take lightly. Bringing the issue to the forefront will cause conflict.”

“You have to break a few eggs sometimes,” Hermione argued coldly.

“Voldemort said that to me once,” Harry interjected quietly, killing the angry retort on Remus’ tongue.

The room fell silent and all eyes turned to him, but Harry's eyes were turned to the floor, remembering.

“Before I mastered the link, we had a few conversations, he and I. Once...he offered me my freedom. He offered to spare the lives of those I loved. Your lives,” Harry said, giving them each a meaningful look, one that seemed to subdue Hermione.

Harry's eyes lingered on her stricken expression. If only she knew what Voldemort had shown him before his offer to make Harry more inclined to accept it. Perhaps, one day, he might borrow the Headmistress’ Pensieve and show her.

“He said he’d send no Dark Marks over our houses if only I would step aside and allow him to carry out his plans. And it was tempting,” Harry confessed, “Really tempting. But then I asked him, 'Others? You’ll kill others?' And he told me, ‘You must break eggs, my dear boy, as the saying goes.’”

Harry was lost in the memory for a moment. He heard the fiend’s voice in his head as if it were yesterday, and a shiver ran up his spine.

“Harry, this situation is not the same,” Hermione said, but much more meekly than she argued before.

“No, it’s not. I agree, Hermione. And I understand what you are saying, and it’s something to think about. I just wanted to caution you against having no more care for human life than Voldemort. I was in those battles you helped plan, Hermione. Not all losses can be justified with good intentions. And the people who will be most affected won’t even be able to provide their opinions on the matter. At least we all signed up to fight during the war. These people who will be targeted, they aren’t soldiers. Or they wouldn’t necessarily be if we didn’t force their hand. All I'm saying is we have to weigh our idealism with compassion.”

“Well. Look who’s a philosopher.”

Harry twisted in his seat toward the voice. He hadn’t noticed Cobbleshot’s return. The rest of the room seemed to never have noticed she left in the first place.

“I think we’ve all had more than enough to consider for one night,” McGonagall said, tactfully inviting the gathering to disperse. “Arthur. Kingsley. Thank you so much for taking the time to come all the way here and keep us updated.”

They nodded, stepping out from behind her desk in tandem.

“I’ll see if I can slow things at the Department to give us time to decide our course. Perhaps it’s best if we did not mention this conversation to the Minister just yet,” Kingsley said to Arthur who nodded his agreement.

Hermione looked chastised, and Harry slipped from his seat to pull her to her feet and into a hug. “I understand what you want, Hermione,” he whispered into her ear as she squeezed him gratefully. “I want it, too. Let’s just be careful, alright?”

She nodded. Once Harry released her, Remus stepped over to make amends as well. “I know you mean well, Dear,” he said with his own embrace, “and I know you’d defend us until your dying breath, and don’t think I don’t appreciate it,” he said as he pulled back. “Allies like you are important. I’ve simply lost enough friends to prejudice to appreciate caution. Bold moves are sometimes necessary, and I’m not afraid to make them. Let’s talk about it more tomorrow, alright? When we’ve both had more rest.”

They smiled at each other and Harry watched as they made their way to the floo together, waiting for Kingsley and Arthur to vacate it.

“Seems to me we’re running out of time, Lovely,” came a breathy voice in Harry’s ear. He started. Harry disliked the way it tickled, and also that she had managed to come so close without his noticing. “Well done stalling them. You’ve bought us some time to take care of the bastards ourselves.”

Harry turned to stare at Loraina, but he did not want to have this conversation in the Headmistress’ office with McGonagall giving them a pointed ‘Why are you still here?’ stare. Cobbleshot didn’t intend for them to have a discussion on the matter, anyway. She nodded to McGonagall and took her leave.

“I’m getting too old to be staying up this late,” the Headmistress grumbled good-humoredly to Harry as she walked him to the hearth.

“I’m sorry, Professor,” said Harry, strolling along beside her shuffling steps. He hated seeing her age. He’d always felt, somehow, that she should be immortal, but then he’d thought the same of Dumbledore. Sometimes the hardest part of growing up was realising your heroes were merely human. Though, the realisation at least made one appreciate them all the more.

“Oh, don’t apologise. I just feel rude for kicking you out, though I simply must.” But having said that, she stood in the way of the jar of floo powder as she regarded Harry thoughtfully. “I wanted to tell you, Potter, that I’m proud of the man you’ve become.”

Harry blushed. Especially after his whispered exchange with Cobbleshot just moments before, he felt he did not deserve the admiration he saw in the Headmistress’ expression.

“You’ve always been courageous, and more than modest, but now you possess wisdom, as well. Far more than one typically finds in one of your age. I am sorry for what you had to experience in order to gain it, Harry,” she said sadly, “but I am thankful you have. Men of lesser character would have found themselves on this side of a life like yours hardened and bitter. I am grateful you’ve become a man worthy of your laurels, Potter. Nothing in life is more jading than witnessing unmerited acclaim, and few things are more heartening than seeing the deserving rise to their due.”

Harry was speechless. All he could think of was Timothy and the echo of his screams inside the Shrieking Shack. He wanted to be the person she thought him to be. He wanted to be worthy of her pride in him, but he knew he wasn’t, and he was at a complete loss as to how to respond. He felt guilty, wanted to confess his failings, but he did not dare spoil such a thing for her.

He was saved from answering by McGonagall’s sudden self-consciousness. “I’m growing embarrassingly maudlin in my dotage,” she said, huffing her irritation at the wetness she dabbed from the corners of her eyes. “You go on now, Potter, and a leave an old woman to her rest,” she said, shooing him through the grate, but not before he worked in one brief, grateful hug on his way out.   

 

Chapter Text

“The Full is less than a week away,” Severus explained as he carefully poured a small amount of thick gold liquid into a glass tube. “You’ll need to take it again then for it to be effective, but if this works as I think it should, that will be a much calmer experience for you; though no less painful, I'm afraid. We want to test it now, however, so we do not have to deal with unexpected side-effects at the same time as your transformation. It should help immediately with the bloodlust, and the volume of blood you require should lessen with use. We might not know right away how effective it is in regards to your tolerance of sunlight, however, as the effect will likely build slowly over time like with Substisanguinus.”

It was all important information, Harry supposed, but it seemed to him as if Severus was stalling. He made no move to pass the phial to Harry. The man looked tired and apprehensive. Five days had passed since their breakthrough, and Severus had been working on the concoction almost non-stop since then, juggling the preparation of several different elements at the same time in order to produce the small offering they were about to test.

But Severus seemed to only now be contemplating this next step--after the frenzy of discovery and accomplishment--and debating his willingness to take it.

Remus and Hermione were present in the lab, as well. They were anxious, perhaps even more so than Harry. It was in their natures to fret, but while they tended to overthink, Harry almost made a point not to do so at all. There was no question of not testing the potion, so what use was there, then, in imagining all the things that could go wrong?

Not that he wasn’t nervous at all. He had not gone out since their meeting in the Headmistress’ office because of his conflicted feelings toward Cobbleshot and what she wanted them to do. He had relied on contributions from his friends instead, but it hadn’t really been enough, and they could not continue the practice nightly. Harry had not fed at all for quite some time in order to better mark the effectiveness of Severus’ potion, and his thirst was keen. While he was ready for something to slake it, he wasn’t looking forward to this experiment.

Severus was not, either. Harry waited for him to pass over the phial, but he seemed to have no intention of it. “Harry, perhaps we do not need to do this. I might be able to draw some of your blood,” Severus vacillated, “and study its reactions to various elements of the potion.”

“Would that prove that it’s safe?” Harry asked. He didn't really wanting to wait, despite that he wasn’t sure he was ready.

Severus shuffled restlessly, seemed wholly unconfident in his own suggestion. “It might give us insight,” he said shakily. “The nature of our affliction, though, is not purely biological. It interacts with you on a different level, with the wholeness of your person. Testing your blood would only tell us so much. But, Harry-”

“Just let me try it, Severus,” Harry interrupted, hearing the desperation in Severus’ voice. He held out his hand for it, but Severus pulled the phial closer to him, shaking his head; not in refusal necessarily, just uncertainty. “Look, is it going to kill me?” Harry asked with a shrug, trying to put things in perspective.

Severus’ face crumpled, momentarily stricken, and Harry realised that’s exactly what Severus was afraid of. Harry was slightly shocked. He had expected the worst side-effect to be another agonising stint in bed, but the seriousness of the situation finally settled in, and he sobered.

“Oh.” 

“Harry, I do not think I want you to do this, after all,” said Severus, his fingers tightening on the phial. He seemed to be battling the impulse to pour the potion down the sink, as his eyes darted to it.

Harry knew how important this was to him, how vital to his research, how hard he’d worked these past few days alone to produce this possibly world-changing but potentially deadly shot of liquid.

“There’s really no other way to test it, is there?” Harry asked quietly. Severus shook his head. When he finally met Harry’s eyes, his were apologetic. “Then I suppose that settles it,” Harry said, holding his hand out for it again, as Cobbleshot had offered hers in the forest, refusing to be denied.

Severus’ hand shook when he finally passed Harry the phial. Remus approached cautiously to lay a hand on the other man’s shoulder in support.

“You’re brilliant, Severus,” he whispered adamantly in his ear, despite that his expression showed the same strain. Perhaps it was not only Severus he was trying to convince. “It will be perfect. And then you’ll have your key, and great things will happen. It will be fine. We believe in you. Harry believes in you,” he assured him, glancing to Harry who added his own reassurance with a firm nod even though his stomach was turning somersaults. Remus managed a smile and reached over to clasp Harry’s shoulder with his other hand, though Harry could feel its subtle tremor.

Severus looked from one to the other of them and his confidence slowly returned. He nodded but reached with shy fingertips to Harry’s cheek. “It’s up to you, Dearest.” 

Harry took a steadying breath and looked down at the phial in his hand, wondering if the dark yellow syrup would prove his bane or his salvation. From the corner of his eye, he saw Hermione shuffling restlessly, and he turned to acknowledge her. She kept her distance but nodded to him encouragingly. Harry could see the anxiety in her eyes, and he sought to calm it with a confident smile.

Waiting would not make the endeavour safer, and if he didn’t get on with it, it seemed the anticipation might trigger some sort of breakdown in one of them. Harry straightened his shoulders and raised the phial as if toasting them.

“For Narnia,” he said with a crooked smile. Then he brought the thing to his lips before he could change his mind and tossed down its contents.

It was far from the racing quicksilver of the hybrid potion. It trickled through him, clinging to the walls of his throat, coating what it touched with thick, oily bitterness. He couldn’t prevent his grimace.

Gah,” he shuddered, sticking out his tongue. “Tastes like curdled piss,” he said with a small laugh. No one seemed all that swayed by his attempts at levity, though, and they all watched him carefully. Neither of the other men seemed to even notice when Remus’ hand moved to Severus’ far shoulder, holding them both upright while they collectively waited for some reaction in Harry.

But Harry didn’t feel very different. “Is it supposed to do something?”

“Not kill you is enough for now,” said Severus, eyeing him closely, still tense.

“Then I think it was a success,” Harry said with a nervous chuckle, still unsure. His stomach was not thrilled with its new contents, but nothing serious seemed to be occurring. Harry just felt tingly and mildly ill. After a few more moments, the oxygen seemed to return to the room, and everyone relaxed. Remus released Severus to pull Harry into a relieved hug.

“We knew he was brilliant, didn’t we?” he asked, beaming, before laying a brief but proper kiss on Harry’s lips. Then he released Harry and turned around to embrace Severus as well, surprising everyone. Including, it seemed, himself.

Severus endured it gracefully enough, even if it lasted just a shade longer than was comfortable before Remus drew back with a blush. The fact that Harry continued to breathe seemed to put Severus in a forgiving mood, and he patted Remus on the shoulder with a nod before putting some distance between them and taking Harry’s hand.

“What are you feeling?” he asked.

“Relief?”

“Of course, but are there any symptoms?” Severus clarified anxiously.

Harry shook his head. “I’ve felt better. But I’m not on fire, so that’s an improvement on the last potion I swallowed. And...I’m not fantasising about sucking Hermione dry anymore,” he observed agreeably. He shrugged apologetically at her but she waved him off.

“Could there be a delayed reaction?” she asked, still fretting.

“I don’t believe so. Nothing serious, at any rate. But I think I will take a sample of your blood, Dearest,” Severus said, seemingly reinvigorated by the success of their test.

“Of course. Anything you need.”

“And then you should go feed. It may have taken the edge from it, but you still need blood,” said Severus firmly, bustling about to collect the things he would need to draw Harry’s sample.

Harry’s mind raced. Going to the forest was the last thing he wanted to do. He allowed the man to bleed him without comment but quickly spoke up when the task was through. “Come with me,” Harry urged.

Severus shook his head, eyeing the red of the freshly filled phial he held before turning with it to his workbench. “I have too much to do,” he said distractedly.

Harry placed a hand on his arm, stilling him. “Severus. You’re running yourself ragged,” he whispered, gently removing the tools from his hands and setting them aside. “There is no rush. You need to get out of this room,” he pleaded, and not only because of his wish for Severus to accompany him. The man was understandably obsessed with the work, but it was starting to take its toll and Harry was worried.

“Harry’s right, Severus,” Remus agreed. “Even if you do not go out with him, you should at least rest.”

Harry cursed inwardly. Of course, he wanted the man to rest, but he also wanted a chaperone to the forest.

Severus sighed but eventually buckled under their combined pressure. “I suppose I could use a nap,” he conceded, appearing to become aware of his exhaustion all at once.

“But shouldn’t someone be with Harry? Just in case there are still side-effects?” Hermione continued to worry. “Perhaps I should go as well.”

Much as Harry appreciated the suggestion, he knew it was out of the question, and Remus quickly explained to her why.

“You’d never manage to keep up, dear,” he said, shaking his head. “Besides, it’s never wise for the uninfected to be present when a vampire hunts, particularly one as young as Harry. Your blood would sing to him far more strongly than anything in the forest, especially once he’s given himself over to the instinct. He won’t be alone, though. Loraina is more than equipped to care for him, and strong enough to carry him back, if need be.”

Hermione nodded reluctantly. 

“Harry, Hermione and I will see to it Severus doesn’t sneak back down here,” said Remus, already urging the man toward the stairs. “Why don’t you go ahead?”

Harry was surprised that Severus was allowing the werewolf to shepherd him, but it was heartening. Remus was physical in his expression, but Severus was decidedly not and generally disliked casual contact, even from Harry much of the time. And yet he made no comment or move to brush away Remus’ light touch at his shoulder and the small of his back. Harry wanted company to hunt but not as much as he wanted to avoid interfering with whatever was developing between the two of them. In the end, Harry gave up and did as he was told, passing out affection to them all before trudging his way to the floo. 

He took his time as he locked Severus’ office door behind him and made his way to the grounds, approaching the treeline with trepidation. Loraina was like a ghost. A seemingly clairvoyant one. There would be no chance of hunting alone and undetected, so he braced himself and plunged into the forest at his usual stroll. It wasn’t long at all before she appeared at his side, seeming much more excitable than usual.

“I’d almost thought you’d forgotten about me, Lovely,” she said, her strides matching his but containing far more spring.  

“I’ve been busy,” he hedged. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but he wasn’t sure how to handle the situation. She had expectations of him he no longer had any intentions of meeting.

“Busy avoiding me, you mean,” she said wryly. Harry didn’t trust himself to lie convincingly and struggled with a response, but she shrugged and nudged his shoulder with hers. “It’s alright, Lovely. I understand. I have to be rationed. But you’ve been away long enough now to miss me, I’m certain,” she said coquettishly. She was almost like an eager young schoolgirl, tugging at her pinafore in front of her crush. Harry sighed. He couldn’t let it continue.  

“Loraina,” he began, but she cut him off.

“Tell me you’ve missed me and I’ll give you a present.”

Harry winced, feeling sure that accepting said present would be decidedly unwise. Besides, he was almost certain whatever she had in mind would be inappropriate regardless of his decision about their project.    

“We should talk,” he said hesitantly. “I really don’t think-”

“No, not that kind of present. Though, that offer always stands,” she said with a quirk of her eyebrows. “No, this present you’ll accept, trust me. Go on. Admit you’ve missed me,” she insisted stubbornly. When he failed to respond, she muttered, “Fine, I’ll give it to you anyway,” openly pouting. “And I’ve got a memory lined up for you, too,” she added, brightening again, “It’s special.”

Harry stopped walking and looked at her, feeling unbearably awkward. He could tell her enthusiasm was frail, unsuccessfully masking her insecurity. Her eyes glistened with a fragile hope, and he could practically see her willing him to play along. Not only did he want to avoid disappointing her, he had absolutely no idea what she might do if he did, and Harry realised he was more than a little frightened of Loraina, despite his newfound fondness.

“A present?” he asked carefully.

Her smile was relieved, and not a little manic. “Come see, Lovely,” she whispered before turning and setting off with no further explanation.

Harry sighed, hesitating only for a moment before following her at a sprint. She seemed to run forever, at full tilt, to an area of the forest he was unfamiliar with, and so Harry almost stumbled over her when she stopped abruptly just outside of a clearing. She was so excited when she turned to him that, for a moment, she couldn’t seem to form words. Her mood was infectious. Harry had no idea what was in the clearing, but his anticipation made him tingle.

“The wards end not far from here,” she told him when she had collected herself. “Only so much of the forest is in Hogwarts keeping. It’s vast. Once you pass the boundary, you can Apparate, did you know that?”

Harry wasn’t sure what she was driving at, but he shook his head and waited.

“I didn’t drag him very far in,” she went on, “just enough that he couldn’t easily get away. I made this space my own a while ago. The Centaurs steer clear. There’s a hag nearby, but she knows better than to cross me.” Harry watched with trepidation as her manner changed from giddiness to something he could only describe as arousal. “What I’m saying, Lovely,” she said, sidling closer, “is we have complete privacy here.”

“For what, exactly?” he asked uncomfortably, taking a step back.

“For whatever you want to do to him,” she whispered, flashing him a tantalising look.

Harry’s pulse quickened as he began to suspect her meaning. He looked to the clearing again, stepping around her to drift closer to it. “To who?” he asked absently, even as the Beast stirred with recognition.

She didn’t answer, she only grinned as she followed Harry who was drawn toward the treeless, moon-flushed space with gradually increasing speed and determination.

In the clearing was a simple but well-made structure. Even through its walls, Harry could smell the rich, warm waft of human blood. It was intoxicating, and Harry approached the door as if in a dream, pushing it slowly open on its rope hinges to reveal his gift within.

His Highness Prince William hung by ropes from the ceiling, his arms outstretched in a mockery of crucifixion. He had been here for a while, if his stench was any indication, though the pulsing glow of his heart still seemed strong enough. 

Seeing the man who still haunted his nightmares was overwhelming, triggering flashbacks of the factory: The impossibly loud crack of gunshots and the smell of powder. The unending blur of vicious, Mut-frenzied faces as they came at him relentlessly, two emerging from the shadows for every one Harry cut down. The bite of nails on his face as they attempted to claw his mouth open. And, most keenly, Harry remembered that first burn when the potion snaked its way down his throat and through his body.

And through the haze of that initial pain, Harry saw this man’s face, sweaty and hate-filled, glaring down at him as Harry finally succumbed to the fire.

A cold hate gripped him. Every vile impulse Harry had ever felt combined could not match the urge for slow violence that now made Harry’s fingers twitch at his sides. The Beast did not just awaken, Harry felt himself become the Beast. He did not need to transform, though, to embody its hunger. Not yet.

Cobbleshot strode up next to Harry, all playful girlishness gone. These games were more serious, and her prowess at them was practically Olympian.

“Do you like my gift, Harry?” she asked, snaking an arm around his waist. Harry was so overcome at the moment that he allowed it. “I got him for you before the Ministry could rob you of him. I know how important this is to you. Just as well you kept your distance. The Mut’s only just run its course. He should be clear-headed by now. Not so impervious to pain,” she intoned with clear insinuation. “He’s stubborn, too. This will be fun,” she said, a smile in her low, darkly anticipating voice.

Harry looked down at her. He did like this gift. So much so that he found himself very nearly failing to check the impulse he had to express his approval by pressing his mouth to the one she raised to him with wantonly parted lips. He had not fed and his lust was urgent, despite the potion. Added to the lust for blood and sex was now the lust for violence. How the three complimented each other, and how perfectly they mixed in this fey woman.

Harry forced himself to look away and back to their captive. He was not conscious, and Harry pulled away from her to circle him slowly, looking him over.

“You’ve fed from him?” Harry asked curiously, observing several angry punctures on the man’s neck.  

“Oh, just a bit. I thought we would be disposing of him later anyway, so why not?”

Harry noted how casually she spoke of murder, but also how little it bothered him.

“He’s only just starting to sweat. Pity he’ll never know the Madness,” she sighed. “I’d have liked to have watched it destroy him.”

“Oh, he’ll know madness,” Harry promised her quietly.

Loraina shivered with anticipation when she met his hard gaze, breaking into a slow, almost indecent grin.

Chapter Text

“Wake him.”

Harry barely heard the Rennervate she cast, but their captive stirred and then woke with a start, struggling weakly to find his feet and take his weight off his wrists. Harry noticed his hands looked purple. It was a good thing the man wouldn’t be needing them anymore. Standing didn’t give him much slack, though, and he was still so unsteady he ended up dangling anyway, his weight thrown forward as he turned his attention to his surroundings instead of his balance.

It was dark in the hut, but the quarter moon outside provided enough light for the man to determine he had company; though not enough, perhaps, to recognise it. His expression was surprisingly sharp to be so exhausted, and his scowl was quick. He struggled to focus on Harry’s face. He was angry and apprehensive, but he wasn’t afraid. No doubt he’d already realised he wasn’t leaving the forest alive. There was no hope in him, only hate.

All the better, really.

Harry whispered a Lumos, and his wand began to glow, held loosely in the hand Harry rested on his bare thigh as he sat cross-legged on a stool in front of their prisoner. The first thing illuminated was his crotch. His Highness’ scowl deepened at its nakedness before he lifted his bloodshot eyes to Harry’s face. The man scoffed.

“I’d heard whispers that you were a deviant,” he sneered, his voice rough and weary, “with that dour as shite Cocktail Mixer. But I didn’t think it could be true. ‘Specially not of that old fuck. Guess I was wrong,” he muttered before coughing and spitting on the dirt floor. “Wot you gonna do, then? Stab me with your meat wand, you filthy poofter? Lucky for me the thing’s so fuckin’ small.”

Harry didn’t answer. He stood, laying his wand on the stool to continue lighting the space while he circled the bastard to take in the sorry state of him again. Harry didn’t need the light, but he wanted to make sure Willy could see what he had created. When he made his way back to it, Harry bent to look the man in the face, leaning close enough that his rancid breath seared Harry’s nostrils. The man smelled of sweat and urine and dirt.

And Hate. Harry realised that was something he could smell now. And old fear, likely from when he was first brought here and still held out hope of survival. That was gone now. The man’s eyes held nothing but low-burning anger and challenge. Harry’s own expression betrayed nothing. 

“Would you like me to show you why I’m naked?”

William’s lip curled in disgust. “Not especially. Reckon you’re just a fuckin’ pervert,” he drawled.

“Just didn’t want to ruin my clothes again, actually,” Harry shrugged.

“Wot, ‘with my blood’?” William asked flippantly.

Harry shook his head. “I can spell out stains,” he explained calmly, “It's harder to fix rags.” 

William looked at him apprehensively and Harry gave him a slow smile, not bothering to step back before reaching within and untethering the Beast.

The man showed his first hint of fear at the sound of Harry’s snapping bones and the audible rip of his tearing muscles. Harry was not exactly old hat at this, but he’d done it often enough--and his loathing for this man burned hotly enough--that he managed the transformation without crying out or losing his footing. He embraced the pain, using it to fuel his stubbornness as his body swoll and sprouted. William yelped when Harry’s face, so close to his own, contorted; turned his to avoid Harry’s lengthening muzzle. Harry’s lungs pumped against the residual ache, and the transformation ended with Harry’s leathery snout tapping William’s cheek with each throbbing pant, blasting hot breath in the man’s face that lifted his greasy hair while William grimaced as though already in pain himself.

Harry enjoyed the way he trembled. He could sense it in his whiskers and the sensitive pad of his nose. He growled quietly, causing the man to whimper when Harry opened his maw and licked the trickling sweat from William’s face with a long, slow swipe of his flat tongue.

He tasted like fear. Harry liked the flavor and wanted more of it. He roared in the man’s ear. William’s cry was lost in the sound, which was neither wolfish nor vampiric, merely inhuman. Despite a clear effort to suppress them, the man released a trickle of tears that Harry licked away as well, more delicately than the sweat before. William shuddered. Finally, Harry stepped back with a satisfied purr.

“Wot in merciful hell are you?" William stammered, finally daring to look up at him. Harry further cowered the man by pushing off his hands to rise to his full height, wheezing through his fangs in a close resemblance to laughter.

Loraina laughed properly in Harry’s stead. “And just what did you think you were feeding him that day?” she asked. This was Harry’s show, but she stepped from the shadows to stroke his jet black fur lovingly. “You should ask more questions before agreeing to meddle with legends.”  

William fought to collect himself. He was clearly well acquainted with Loraina, and the comment reminded him of his hate and his defiance. He couldn’t completely quiet his tremble, but his glower returned. “Well, get on with it then,” he spat. “Reckon you’re about to do to me wot you done to Timmy. Fuck it. And fuck you,” he hissed.

Harry looked down at Cobbleshot, but she was staring at William with a smug smile. He’d have to remember later to ask exactly what she’d done to Timmy, if he could hold on to it. The moon was fuller than the last time he’d changed and his hold on such things was more tenuous.

He turned back to William and fell to all fours again, snuffling at him as he moved behind him. There was no doubt the bastard was tough, but his bravado failed him when Harry rose and placed a paw on each of his shoulders. He cried out in pain as Harry let his weight rest there, pulling on the bonds around the man’s already tender and aching wrists. He didn’t scream properly, though, until Harry placed his jaws around William’s neck.

He likely expected Harry to rend his head from his shoulders, and Harry was tempted to do just that, but he wasn’t finished playing yet. His wolf fangs were not as sharp as his vampire ones, though they were sharper and more slender than Remus’. Harry tightened his jaws carefully, letting them sink into the dirt-caked flesh beneath them until he tasted the hot liquor of the man’s blood. He’d yet to feed directly from an uninfected human heart, and it was unexpectedly glorious. He let the rapture of it carry him back through the change.

“Loraina, heal these,” he panted as he fell away from the man, once again human and naked. The punctures were not as neat as the ones Cobbleshot had left and he was afraid the man might bleed to death before he was done with him. “No wonder you snacked,” Harry murmured, still high on the swoon, coming back to the woman while she cast the requested spell.

“It is a rare delicacy if one does not fancy Azkaban,” she agreed with a smile, running a finger through the blood that stained his face before bringing it to her lips and licking it clean. She shivered, then boldly rose on tiptoe to lick the rest directly from the corner of Harry’s mouth.

It was Harry’s turn to shiver. His hands found her waist to steady her while she finished the job. He was still intoxicated. He’d only drank enough to whet his lust, and he realised all at once that he was naked and that he enjoyed the sensation of her pressed to his bare skin.

She was so tiny. It was an easy thing to forget. Her personality made her loom more large in one’s perception. She filled one’s awareness, but touching her now, he found she seemed barely to fill his hands. Something about that was arousing. He was used to being roughly treated by larger men. He loved their size and their weight and the way they filled his arms, the way they filled all his senses with their physicality. But her smallness made him want to touch her in the same way delicate things often beg to be fondled.

His resistance was at an all-time low, and he waited, almost hopefully, for her to take advantage of that fact. If she moved her lips an inch to her left to find his, nothing would prevent him from devouring her.

But she didn’t. She placed her hand gently on his cheek and drew back, and her absence allowed him to wake to himself. He looked down at her, and he could tell she could see his gratitude and his confusion. She smiled at him knowingly and stepped clear of him, withdrawing again to the shadows, leaving him shaken and still obviously aroused.

“Not a complete faggot, then.”

Harry had practically forgotten about their guest. The comment lacked bite, though. Billy seemed surprised to still be alive, though far from grateful, and Harry was beginning to tire of their game. He found his clothes and worked his way back into them as he spoke.  

“Who hired you to attack me?” he asked calmly, closing his trousers over his lingering erection.

“Fuck you,” William mumbled wearily.

“You realise I’m going to torture you,” said Harry, moving to his shirt buttons.

“You think I’m afraid of pain? I was in the war, you little shit,” he sneered. “Watched you cut down me best mate with some spell I’d never even seen before. From your fuckin’ forehead. Fuckin’ freak,” he spat, his voice thick with loathing. “Besides, do you have any idea how long I’ve been takin’ bloody Mut? Might not have any in me right now, but after a while it don’t matter. The withdrawals hurt more than anything you could do to me. You couldn’t cause me enough pain to make me tell you fuck all.”

Now dressed, Harry walked over to the stool and reclaimed his wand before taking a seat. “I don’t need to make you feel pain. I just need to make you remember it.”

William mimed gagging at Harry’s crypticism, and Harry sighed, waving his wand to sever the man’s ropes and send him crashing to the ground, too weak to stand. William writhed on the dirt floor, trying to roll to his back as he cradled his worthless hands to his chest. Harry walked over and crouched at his side.

“I tested this on our friend Tim,” he explained conversationally. “He wasn’t as tough as you, but somehow I think it will still be effective. You know, I had thought about setting you loose in the forest and letting you run for a while before I went wolf and hunted you down,” Harry mused. “Maybe ripping open your gut with the handy new claws you gave me and eating you alive slowly while you screamed for death.”

William sneered, not half as frightened by the suggestion is he was disturbed by it. He eyed Harry in disgust. Harry had disturbed himself a bit when considering it. It still appealed to him, though.

“But that’s nothing to what you did to me, honestly,” he went on, sitting on the floor and resting his arms on his knees, “as you are about to find out. Besides, after I’m through, I don’t think you’ll be able to run,” he said, considering the man beside him. “I’m afraid your mind just might turn to mush. Of course, the humane thing to do then would be to put you out of your misery, but I haven’t decided, yet, if I’ll feel merciful at that point. Depends on how much you can tell me, I suppose.”

William answered by spitting in Harry’s face. Harry calmly wiped the stuff from his eye, then punched the man solidly, dislodging one of his few remaining teeth. William didn’t make a peep. He merely took a moment to recover and then fished for the tooth with his tongue in order to spit that bloody thing at Harry, as well. Though it fell well short, he glared up at Harry in challenge, and the next blow went to the man’s stomach. This time William groaned and curled in on himself.

“That one got away from me,” said Harry, almost apologetic. “I haven’t learned to gauge this new strength, to be honest,” he sighed. “I would imagine you’ve got some internal bleeding now, though, so that’s good. You should die whether I feel merciful or not. Eventually. That should cheer you up a bit.”

William was not capable of reply at that point, so Harry got on with it, pulling the memory from his temple. He was better at editing them, now. The fury and bitterness and panic he’d felt before swallowing the potion was all nice and good, but Harry opted for pure pain, starting the memory at the moment the potion touched his tongue. William’s screams were instantaneous. It wasn’t exactly music to Harry’s ears, but he was disturbingly undisturbed by their unending chorus.

Cobbleshot seemed to think it prime entertainment and took a seat beside Harry with a contented expression. She gave the young man a tender look before serenely watching their captive’s face turn red and his veins bulge in his neck from the force of his cries.

Harry, however, was almost bored. He watched Loraina instead, still trying to banish the phantom sensation of his hands on her waist and the almost-forgotten feeling of being attracted to femininity. She was only occasionally so, though, as if it were a by-product of her arousal. The rest of the time, she was almost mannish, guileless and straightforward. Sometimes, she even struck him as more masculine than Severus, whose movements were so practised and controlled. Graceful. It lent him a vague air of androgyny. Remus, however, contained no ambiguity, Harry reflected.    

“You shouldn’t talk to Remus,” he told her, remembering he’d meant to bring it up. He practically shouted it, but only to be heard above their guest. He wasn’t nearly so cross with her over it anymore. “Or at the very least, don’t give him whisky, for Merlin’s sake. I actually think he might be developing a problem.”

She smirked. “You are not Lord of my manor, Lovely. You cannot rule me.”

Harry wasn’t sure if she meant it or was being playful. “But I am lord of mine,” he pointed out, “and of Remus.”

She raised an eyebrow. “I thought it was the other way around.” 

“Please,” said Harry with a roll of his eyes. Remus may be able to command his bones, but Harry as good as owned both men, and everyone involved knew it. Loraina seemed to, as well, and gave him a conceding nod.   

“Because I like you, I’ll consider it,” she said. “Or I may not,” she shrugged with a dismissive sniff.

Harry shook his head at her. “Crazy bitch,” he muttered fondly.

She gave him a delighted, decidedly unhinged smile. “Tetchy brat,” she returned.

It was an odd flirtation, occurring at an odd time and place, but Harry had to admit he was enjoying himself. He winked at her and then turned his attention back to William, gently lifting the memory from the man’s mind but not yet returning it to his own. He waited patiently for the man’s eyes to clear, for him to recover himself. It took a long while, and he was unusually still when he finally regained the power of speech.

“Merlin’s Dickbeard,” he rasped with a shudder, looking up at Harry in something almost like admiration. “How in hell did you survive that?”

Harry smirked. “It’s what I do. Boy Who Lived, remember? But enough about me. Have you decided you want to answer my questions?”

William’s defiance was a little harder to rally this time, but rally it he did. “Fuck you,” he whispered shakily, his eyes falling closed, knowing what was about to happen. Harry shrugged and lowered the memory back into the man’s temple. His screams were weaker this time but still unending.

“Remus and Severus are getting on really well,” Harry mentioned to Cobbleshot, ignoring the noise. “I think it mostly has to do with how frazzled Severus is, but I’m still impressed.”

“You know, I had some doubts at first, but I think I like your werewolf,” Loraina said agreeably, shifting closer to him to speak more easily over their friend’s shouts. “He’s far more cunning than he lets on. That threadbare uniform of his is misleading. He’s ruthless in his own way,” she reflected with a small smile. “His Claiming you on the Full? Wasn’t necessary. Helpful perhaps. Unscrupulous, undoubtedly. And I suspect fun, as well. Very Slytherin,” she summarised approvingly.

“The world isn’t divided into Houses, Loraina,” Harry pointed out. He didn’t disagree with her assessment, but she saw everything so simplistically. “I suppose we all have a bit of each of them in us.”  

She looked at him as if she thought him naive but didn’t comment on it. “I simply mean he’s devious enough to appreciate Our Severus,” Loraina explained. “And Our Severus,” she sighed, “is a lion in snake’s clothing, we know that already. Not that he isn’t excellent at playing the part. I’m almost surprised the two of them haven’t been to bed already. Remus is determined, I could tell that much from talking to him. It was one of the reasons I brought him more drink,” she chuckled as if she had sympathised. “He seemed at least as upset that you were with Severus as the other way around. He didn’t say so, but I could tell. He was so angry at you for mistreating Severus, and I know he thinks you hung the bloody moon, so he must be fond of Severus in the extreme to see any fault in you. He’s nurturing,” she reflected with a nod, “He’ll be good for Severus. Severus has always needed to be cared for, he’s just never accepted it.”

Harry had mixed feelings about her examination. He agreed with her for the most part, and it gave him hope, but he knew she was saying these things because she was trying to soothe Harry’s fear of leaving the two alone, not to encourage his attempts to join the three of them together.

“But can they be together?” he asked. He’d been wondering. What Harry wanted them to do involved the sharing of plenty of bodily fluids. “Aren’t they toxic to one another?”

Loraina shrugged. “These aren’t mundane Muggle afflictions, Harry. They are magical. Their effect and transmission depend as much on the animus of the bearer as anything else. Both lycanthropy and vampirism can only be fully transmitted through a bite,” she explained, “a purposeful one. Like most things magical, it requires intent. We are toxic to one another in battle because we both fight by biting, and a bite is an intentional act of aggression. I suspect that is why they worried about you on the Full and the Dark,” she told him, “before they had established you were not infectious. It was because you would be aggressive. The wounds you inflicted were intentional, whether you were in your right mind or not.”

Harry mulled this over, regretting, again, the harm he’d caused then. But if the potion he’d tested that night indeed worked, he wouldn’t have to worry in future.

“As for the boys being together,” she went on with less certainty, “the prejudice is deep and the instinctual aversion is strong. I don’t think there have ever been a werewolf and a vampire in this situation where they might interact physically in a non-hostile way,” she mused. “So you are not the only one who is unique, Lovely. The sharing of blood, and...similar substances,” she said with a lift of her eyebrows, “might sicken, but without the intent to harm it should not be life-threatening,” she reasoned. “At least, that is my opinion. I could be wrong. Severus is the scientist. I kill werewolves, I’ve never been compelled to kiss one. Don’t look so shocked. I’ve killed my share of vampires, as well.”

Harry scowled at how casually she spoke of such things. “What? For sport?” he asked uncomfortably.

She shook her head and gave a small, joyless laugh. “In Romania,” she explained, her voice suddenly low as if her time there shouldn’t really be spoken of aloud, “the skirmishes over territory between the Vampires and the Lycanthropes is never ending. And I lived in the in between,” she told him with a far-away look in her eye, “rejected by the Coven but tolerated at their borders, no doubt because I helped with disposing of or scaring away a good number of their rivals. I was a nomadic ‘other’; no allegiances, no allies, only enemies.”

She lost herself in memories for a moment. They were clearly not pleasant, but Harry liked when she talked about her past. She seemed saner when looking back. Discussing the roots of her madness, ironically, seemed to quiet it.

“Well, no official allies,” she amended, waking to herself again. “There were other outcasts from both sides that shared that limbo. I only ever befriended the vampires, though. If friends are what we could call ourselves. We learned from each other sometimes, of necessity, and we fought each other rarely because we knew each other’s secrets. I learned Animus Secretum, for example. I taught it to others as I taught it to you, though not as easily,” she said, her eyes going fondly to his still-fading scar.

“What else did you learn?” he prompted when she stopped sharing.

“Few magical things,” she shrugged, hugging her knees. “Mostly practical ones, like how to live in the forest. How to ambush. How to confuse my scent. How to use knives,” she said, producing one from behind her back almost as if by magic. Harry’d not noticed it before when he’d held her. He wondered where else and how many she might have hidden on her. “I learned how to use them in close quarters and at a distance,” she continued, twirling the point of the blade she held on her fingertip. “I enjoy knives. They are so versatile. I would teach you, but your knives are at the ends of your fingers and your skill is provided by instinct,” she said as if she admired it.

“It sounds as if it was just as dangerous fleeing to Romania as staying here to hide from Voldemort would have been,” Harry pointed out. “More dangerous even.”

“Perhaps,” she admitted, suddenly melancholy, returning the knife to it invisible sheath, “but I couldn’t be here. Not for a long while. Severus was here. It was easier to live there than to fight the temptation of his nearness.”

Harry’s heart broke gently on her behalf. She seemed both frail and indestructible, and her inherent dichotomy was exhausting. “Was there no one else, Loraina?” he asked helplessly. “Could there have been no one else? People break up all the time. They move on. They find other lovers.”

“Of course. The prospects rounded the block,” she smirked. “I am not lovable, Harry, and I do not love easily. All you bleeding hearts,” she muttered as if cursing. “You treat it so loosely. You declare it so easily. I don’t know what it is you people label love, but it is not love as I understand it. Severus is like me, though,” she said, her expression softening. “When he says those words to you, he means them, and it is precious.” She fixed Harry with a stern look. “You should appreciate it.”

“I do,” he said defensively.

“And yet you lay with the Wolf,” she sneered.

“It’s complicated,” Harry muttered, scowling at her sudden criticism.

“Is it? Or do you just like to use that as an excuse? You cheapen the rarity of his affection by sharing yours with another.”

Harry was growing angry and tired of her hypocrisy. “You’ve been trying to get me to share it with you, as well.”

“Oh, I’m not asking you to share,” she clarified. “I’m asking for all of you. Leave the others to each other,” she said, leaning closer and looking up at him through her lashes. “I’m not in love with you, Harry, but I am exceedingly taken. We could be beautiful together. I could make you happy. Or well, I could at least keep you from being lonely. Or bored,” she added with a quirky smile. “If neither of us can have what we want, we can at least have each other.”

Her desperation was peeking again. Harry felt for her. In different circumstances, he might have accepted her offer, though there was no telling how long he would be able to bear the arrangement.

He was fairly certain she knew as well as he did that he could have exactly what he wanted, though. That he had it already. He did not need her as she apparently needed him, no matter how hard she was working to convince him otherwise. Harry avoided answering her hopeful expression by turning his attention back to their prisoner. He’d practically forgotten what they were doing there. William’s screams had almost spent themselves and at some point, Harry had ceased to notice them anyway. He lifted the memory once again.

“Just answer my questions,” Harry sighed when the man finally surfaced.

William trembled, no longer quite so hateful. “What does it matter?” he croaked, his voice almost entirely shot. When he coughed, it was flecked with blood. “They’ll see you coming. You ain’t getting to them. Not without me,” he added. Harry could tell he wasn’t seriously expecting them to broker a deal, the man just wasn’t ready to yield.    

“We won’t be without you,” Loraina said mysteriously with a small titter. Harry had no idea what she was talking about but was too distracted at the moment to ask for clarification.  

“Tell me why that is, and maybe we can talk," Harry told him, but they both knew Harry had no intentions of sparing him. This game was merely delaying the man’s agony.

“Listen,” William said with a touch of desperation. “She’s as mad as you are and twice as cunning. Maybe even as cruel.”

She? ” Harry asked, eyebrows rising. He and Loraina shared an intrigued look.

William sneered weakly, momentarily enjoying his advantage. “Aye. She,” he confirmed. The effort of communicating caused him to break into a sweat but didn’t deter him. “Would like to mount your Mixer’s swizzle stick on her fuckin’ wall, she would. This ain’t about you, mate. It never was. Well, was for me. And her backer might feel differently. But for the Boss, it was all about forcing him to watch you suffer.”

He had to rest and catch his breath before continuing. Harry had questions, but he didn’t want to interrupt while the man felt so inclined to volunteer.

“Personally, I thought it was daft to think that creepy old arsehole cared about anyone enough to make the whole thing worth it, least of all about you,” he sneered. “One of my boys was at Hogwarts with you ‘fore he dropped out, said you and the slimy git right detested each other. I didn’t care, really. I just wanted to fuck you up,” he said carefully, glaring at Harry. “Didn’t give a shite why. Looks like I managed it, too,” he smirked.

“How long did you burn for, you little prick?” William asked, giving Harry a smug look.

Harry forgot most of his questions as hatred gripped him once again.

“You’re about to find out,” he growled in a low, dark voice. He saw the panic ignite in William’s eyes when the memory drifted toward him once again. Maybe he thought he’d incite Harry to kill him but, if so, he miscalculated. “Loraina, petrify him, I’m tired of hearing him scream.” 

“No, wait!” William gasped, but then he was frozen. Harry lowered the string again, pulling the stool over and using it to prop his wand in place, freeing him to move about while letting the memory play indefinitely.

Harry fell back onto the dirt floor then, exhausted. Loraina stretched out beside him and lay a hand on his chest. Harry ignored it. She’d earned the small contact. Besides, they’d reached a level of intimacy that could not be erased or disregarded; through scenes like this one that no one else would understand or condone; through the sharing of memories; through exercises in savagery that no longer seemed taboo to him, just primal and essential. She’d faced down his darkness with him and hadn’t flinched. Whatever they were, they were no longer superficial.

She fondled the wrinkles of his shirt but looked troubled, glancing anxiously to William and then to Harry, though she did not voice her concerns. “I think I know something that might refresh us,” she proposed. “I told you I had a memory for you.”

Harry didn’t answer. He wasn’t sure he was in the mood. He was preoccupied, replaying in his head what William had told them. Harry had been used-- again--and for the worst purpose he could imagine. He should talk to the man more, find out who was this mystery woman with a grudge against Severus. No doubt that was the source of Loraina’s disquiet, as well.

But Harry suddenly felt it didn’t matter, really. It had been a cruel plan, but look what had come of it. A month and a half of worry and suffering were surely worth the resulting culmination of Severus’ lifework. He and Severus were closer than ever, and now they had Remus. Harry’s vengeance would be spent with this adventure. Whatever else happened didn’t concern him.        

“What did you do with Timothy?” he asked absently, not realising until that moment that he’d been idly playing with the fingers she rested on his chest. He saw no reason to stop at that point, though.

“I think you know what I did with Timothy.”

Harry furrowed his brow at her. “Why did you try to stop me when you thought I was about to kill him, then?”

“I thought you weren’t ready,” Loraina sighed. “I thought it would sit on your conscience and make you question yourself. I thought it might turn you from our path. Besides, you were tortured enough, Lovely. Better the deed fell to me."

“And now?”

She gave him a slippery smile. “Now I think you are ready for anything,” she said breathily, catching his nipple through the fabric of his shirt with her fingernail. Harry sighed and removed his hand from hers.

“You said you had a memory?” he asked, trying to distract her. 

She grinned and sat up. “Do you want it?” she asked, suddenly excited.

Harry hesitated. “What is it?”

“You showed me the loss of your virginity, and after seeing it, I understood what it cost you to do so. I had thought of returning the favour, but that event was wholly unremarkable, to be quite honest. Not a proper reciprocation. Then it occurred to me you might like to see Severus lose his.”

Of course, she took his virginity. Harry wanted to see but didn’t at the same time. He felt this was something he should have Severus’ permission for. Still, the memory was as much Loraina’s as it was Severus’.

At least, that’s what he decided to tell himself.

Loraina saw his decision in his expression and smiled. “Leave it to me, Lovely,” she purred, lifting her wand. “This is one of my very favourites.”

     

Chapter Text

“Everyone else goes to the Astronomy Tower,” Severus points out. He sounds excited but uncertain.

“Exactly. Everyone goes to the Astronomy Tower. I want more privacy than that,” Loraina says, towing him by the hand along behind her through the arches and out onto the grounds.

“But...outside the Castle?” he whispers anxiously.

“What? Don’t you like Quidditch?” she giggles, turning to skip backwards across the grass and pulling him with two hands now so she can watch his face at she teases him. She likes the way his eyes light up when he looks at her, the way their black twinkles when he smiles. No ones else looks at her like that. In fact, no one else smiles at her. But Severus is not afraid of her. Though she sometimes unsettles him, he is patient. Kind.

Loraina was not overly familiar with the concept until they met, b ut Severus has been teaching her. He’s taught her so many things, things she never knew she wanted to learn, including how nice it is to make another person smile. Now it is her turn to teach Severus, she thinks giddily. He’s proven a quick learner so far. Thorough. Intuitive. And that is just kissing. She’s never met anyone who can kiss her the way Severus does, who can make the world disappear and time stand still. She’d never realised you could stop at kissing and it be enough. He makes her want to take things slowly. Severus never rushes. He wants to savour everything, he wants to master it before moving on. Each new thing they try, he treats like its own miracle, and he’s shown her new delights in acts she thought bored her. It feels almost as if he is leading her through her first everything and not the other way around.   

It is time, though, to carry it further. She wants to show him what sex can really be, and she wants them to be completely alone when she does; so far away from others that no one will be able to hear all the sounds she intends to draw from him, or that she intends to make herself.

It is dark beneath the stands of the Quidditch pitch, but enough moonlight falls through the airy structure to light their way through it. There will be more than enough for her to see his face as they make love, and that is all that really matters. There is a halfway secluded spot beside the Slytherin changing rooms and she stops there and strips her robes, laying them neatly on the ground in lieu of a blanket. It won’t stop the blades of grass from poking them, but it should keep them from being covered in dead bits and dirt. Loraina has learned that sweat and dirt and nakedness do not mix well together.

She kicks off her shoes. They smile at each other as Severus follows suit. They are both small and there is plenty of room for them to sit on the patch of fabric. Loraina likes this about Severus. She didn’t realise it until they first embraced. He is so thin. But then Loraina’s never before been able to wrap her arms around a boy the way she can Severus. They fit, the two of them, like a matching set. He is dark and she is fair, but they are both pale and lithe. They tangle well.

Loraina does not rush it, though she wants to. She wants him naked and pressed to her, but she takes them through what they know first. Severus’ kiss is slow and deep, meticulous. It’s delicious. But Loraina warms it, adds passion, adds hands and arms, and Severus responds in kind until they are clutching and squeezing and rubbing. She loves his little, pleased hum when she surprises him and the feeling of him smiling against her lips. She moves her hands to the buttons of his shirt and, as predicted, he becomes shy.

“Would you like me to go first?” she whispers.

She doesn’t wait for his answer, popping open the straining buttons of her blouse even as she asks. Her breasts are not large but they are full and her shirt is, honestly, just a smidge too small. She hasn’t worn a bra in weeks. She doesn’t really need to. Severus has seen her breasts before, but each time he looks at them is like the first time. His hand, as always, rises with no shyness whatsoever to fondle them reverently, drawing a sigh from her as she shrugs out of her sleeves and tosses her shirt aside.  She allows him to suckle them, cradling his head in her arms. He is carefully rough with her, not like the other boys who attack them with a clumsy hunger. Severus’ aggression is calculated, bold and perfectly executed. She wants to lie down and let him have his way with them. He’s made her come before with just this: just his lips and tongue and teeth on her nipples, his long slender fingers massaging their swell.

But she wants more this time. She wants to give him more. Loraina gently but firmly lifts his face, enjoying the sight of her nipple falling from his now swollen lips, and reclaims his mouth. She distracts him with an ardent tongue against his while she opens his shirt and sweeps her hands firmly across his thin chest, snagging his taut nipple with her palm. His small moan tastes good.

She rakes his shirt off and away, straddling his hips to press their bare skin together. His hands sweep up and down her back as they kiss, as her breasts brush his chest and their nipples catch across each other. This, too, is nice, but she wants more still. His measured action is almost teasing. He is not reticent, merely patient, practically methodical. It’s brilliant mostly, but she has never been patient. She’s been practising it lately, but now is not the time for it. Her kiss is hungry. She devours him as she reaches between them and presses the heel of her hand down the length of his erection through his trousers. His gasp is addictive. She repeats the gesture, pulling a moan from him. His eyes fall closed and he begins to pant.

She is already damp anticipating the feel of him inside her. She’s waited a while for it because she wanted his first time--their first time--to be special, to not feel cheap and forgettable.

She slips from his lap and quickly peels off her skirt, and she can see how badly he wants to touch her nakedness. The look in his eyes is almost worshipful. It is so very endearing. But she doesn’t let him. She crawls over and brings her mouth close to his, not kissing, just brushing his lips with hers, sharing his shuddering breath as she opens his trousers and urges them off.

He’s never been naked in front of her before. Not completely. She knows he’s self-conscious, especially since that incident with her turncoat cousin and his loathsome friend. She tells him, with adoring eyes and loving touches, that he is beautiful and perfect, coaxing him to wriggle out of the fabric until it is to a place where she can grasp it and strip it away.

The sight of him steals her breath. He is luminous in the moonlight--as if he is made from it and not lit by it. She sees him tremble, but he trusts her, and that look is the most erotic thing she can imagine. She crawls toward him again, between his legs, placing a hand on his shoulder to lay him down as their lips meet.

For the first time ever, they are completely bare and completely touching. And his skin is like silk. And so is his hair which she combs through with her fingers. It’s almost as long as hers. She knows he grows it out in order to hide behind it, but she still thinks it is beautiful. Let him hide from the rest of the world. He is hers. All the better that no one else sees him well enough to want to take him from her.  

She can feel the thump of his heart against her ribs and the subtle tremor in his hands, but she still enjoys the sensation of them on her waist, balancing her on top of him while they kiss before his legs open to tangle in hers and his hands slide further down to cup her arse. His erection is tucked into the hollow of her hip and he makes no move to adjust it. Sometimes she is frustrated by how gentlemanly he can be.

She rises and draws up her knees to straddle him. He fits so neatly in the cleft between her legs. She feels him twitch, she can tell his head is swimming by the intoxicated expression on his face and the way his head lolls to the side as he looks up at her, fighting for breath. It feels as if they are melded together with pure fire. How can something be so hot and not blister?

“This is for you, Severus,” she whispers, stroking his chest. “Don’t worry about pleasing me. There is no way I could not enjoy this. I only want you to concentrate on how you feel. Let me give you this gift, Severus,” she asks, a bit pleadingly.

He nods slowly, reaching to caress her face, and she catches his thumb in her mouth, making him gasp and buck gently up against her. Then she bends to kiss him at the same time she begins working her hips, wet enough already that the glide is effortless. He forgets the kiss, letting his head fall back with a sigh as she rubs the sensitive line below the head of the underside of his cock with her pulsing clit. She sighs, too, at how delicious it feels, running herself up and down his length with the long, smooth rock of her hips. She touches him: his long, thin neck, his chest, his sides. She leans back and reaches behind her to lightly run her fingernails up his thigh, speeding the stroke of her hips, sliding further up to tease them both with the threat of penetration before pressing down and back again.

She doesn’t want him coming early, though, so she lightens her ministrations, brings the tip of his cock back to her opening slowly so there will be no surprises, and lifts enough to prepare the angle.

“Are you ready, Severus?” she asks sweetly.

His eyes flutter open and he takes a deep breath, searching for her hands with his to weave their fingers and press their palms together before he nods his consent.

She smiles and eases herself over him, loving the sight of his mouth falling open and his neck arching back as she sheathes him.

He feels just as good inside of her as she suspected he would, and she takes a moment for herself to savour her fullness, to enjoy the way he jumps inside her without moving his hips, to respond by squeezing herself more firmly around him. He shudders a bit, and she bends down to give him the kiss his reaching lips beg her for. They are hungrier than she’s ever known them.

She returns his enthusiasm, placing one of his hands encouraging on her breast as she finally begins to move again; not drawing off him so much as grinding against him, wanting to feel him deeper. He moans loudly into her mouth and she rides him properly, placing her hands flat on the ground on either side of his head to get the leverage she wants to stroke his entire length with herself. He bucks up into her but seems almost apologetic about it.

“Do what feels good,” she pants.

He takes her permission and lifts into her immediately. She feels the fever in her cheeks, the rising pressure behind her eyes that clouds her vision and makes her drunk, as if her brain is being flooded with pleasure like a drug. His rhythm is choppy, his thrusts seem almost involuntary, but it’s still gorgeous because she knows he’s overwhelmed with the newness of it. She lets him do what he will for a long while, pressing her forehead to his as he scrunches his eyes closed with concentration. But then his strokes even out, become longer, fuller, until finally, he’s driving into her properly. It’s then that she adds her own movement--speeding his thrusts, driving them home with more force, ensuring they stick for the briefest of pauses before allowing him to pull out of her once more.

She hadn’t meant to be the one to start moaning. She doesn’t want to precipitate his finish. But she can’t help herself. She is trembling and lightheaded. Her arms grow weaker as her threatening orgasm possesses all her limbs and turns them to jelly.

Severus reaches up and draws her down to him, hugging her against his chest as her gasps continue to hiccup from her with his thrusts. They are both sweat-slicked and burning and she clings to him, tugging at his shoulder to urge him to roll her over and take full control; though even after, she wraps her legs tightly around him, trying to pull him more deeply inside her.

He doesn’t hesitate, and he doesn’t slow. He is still a novice and it shows, but he has the same instinct she tasted in their first kiss, and the promise of what he would eventually be capable of is almost enough in itself to drive her over the edge. He doesn’t rise up. He holds her close to his chest with his arms under her shoulders, only moving his hips. She’ll have to show him later how to find the right leverage, when to thrust to increase his momentum. She will teach him how to fuck her harder and deeper and faster. But not this time. This time is for Severus.

His stamina is pleasantly surprising, but now he matches her moans with his own. His expression is raptured and amazed. She looks deep into his wide eyes as he releases a surprised shout, shudders the entire length of his body, and empties, gasping, deep inside of her.

She would never be able to express in words the satisfaction she feels at that sensation, how comfortable his weight is on top of her and his presence is within her.  

“I’m so sorry,” he whispers shakily when he’s finally able.

She grins at him, sated, and reaches up to lift the sweat-soaked strands from his face.  “Whatever for?” she asks breathlessly, endeared.

“I should not have...inside of you,” he mumbles, embarrassed.

“Oh, I have all I need to take care of that, My Love. Feels better this way besides,” she says, shrugging off his concern.

He looks at her oddly.  You love me?” he asks, gazing down at her with both hope and scepticism. 

Her heart skips a beat, but she smiles at him again, studying his face, considering his lips with her fingertips.

“I do,” she says, surprised at the taste of truth on her tongue. She meets his eyes again, delighted at this new discovery. “I love you, Severus.” Her grin widens. “Do you love me?” she whispers coquettishly. 

Severus does not hesitate in his answer.  “Of course, I love you.”

She is surprised by the quickness and the sureness of his declaration. She feels humbled by his sincerity, but mostly she is thrilled. They kiss again and something about it is different. Then Loraina realises it is not the kiss that is different, it is her. She’s only now recognising in it what he’s just confessed and realising that it has been there for a long while and she had not noticed it.

No. She’d noticed it but had not known what it was. She savours it now, though. And him.

They separate but not by much and lie side by side on their makeshift bed, arms draped limply across one another, finally noticing the stab of the yellowed grass beneath them and the hardness of the ground but still not caring.  Loraina is blissful. She cannot remember feeling a contentment like this ever in her life. She is happy to drift in it...until she hears a rustle behind her.

She sees Severus’ eyes dart to where it came from as he reaches to shield her, though his thin arms do so little.

“Well, what have we here?”

Panic seizes her. She recognises this voice.

They have to leave. They have to escape. She turns to reach for her discarded clothing and the wand stowed there, but before she can claw her way to them, a shoe presses painfully over her wrist to prevent its progress.

The memory was ripped away with a feeling as if Harry’s brain were gasping, and he struggled to orient himself in time and space and self. Gone were the stabbing blades of grass, but the ground was still hard. He felt aroused but drugged and still gripped by panic.  

Why was his blouse open and whose hand was that on his breast?

No. Loraina’s breast. He was Harry. Harry didn’t have breasts. That’s how he was able to see them from this angle. He tried to shake off his lingering cobwebs while at the same time grapple with the realisation that someone with Loraina’s tits straddled him, the place where they met inexplicably but intensely warm. The harder he tried to wake properly, the more confused he seemed to become, like a drowning man fighting to surface but diving deeper instead.

“Loraina!” he gasped, weakly pushing at her thighs as if he might brush them off.

“I saw your reaction to our memory. It seems a shame to waste it, Lovely,” he heard her say as he felt his shirt being undone.

Harry circled her wrists with his fingers but found he couldn’t bring himself to peel her away from him as her palms devoured his chest and stomach. He opened his mouth to demand to know what she thought she was doing, but all that escaped his lips was a moan.

“Don’t fight it, Harry,” she whispered, bringing her mouth close to his.

He wanted to taste her lips but, at the same time, he knew he didn’t. He somehow resisted, though it was only by forcing himself to turn his head away, his eyes squeezed shut. She chuckled at him. It was amused and only slightly condescending. There was hunger in her voice.

“Oh Harry, why this resistance? You have to let the beast out in order to tame it, remember?”

One of her hands, still tightly ringed with Harry’s own, travelled its way down his stomach. He tried to prevent it from drifting further but failed, groaning when she cupped him through his trousers. When had he become so achingly hard? He looked up at her, angry and bewildered and completely not in control of the situation.

“You know where this ends, Harry. You know where our adventure takes us. Say your goodbyes. Let me fill the void. Trust me,” she intoned, low and sultry, “I can fill it and more.”

Her other hand moved to his hair and he released it in order to lay a hand on her chest to prevent her from pressing herself to him. She simply took that hand and shifted it so that it cradled one of her breasts. He was awake enough now to appreciate the feel of it in his hand, and that he’d never really felt one before, and that he enjoyed the shape and texture and weight of it. How neatly it fit in his palm. Squeezing it was pleasant, and its erect pink centre called to his lips.

“Loraina, enough!” Harry barked, pulling his hand away with effort. He ignored the heat pressed across his straining erection with more effort still.

The memory still gripped him, which was exactly what she had counted on, but he wanted to know--more than he wanted to know the taste of her breast or the grip of the slick oven of her sex--what had happened next.

“Thought you might like to get used to it, since it will be all you have after-”

What happened? ” he asked, finally gaining proper control of her wrists and holding her hands away from him. She stopped trying to force herself on him and gave him an apprehensive look. “Someone stepped on my hand,” Harry rushed to explain, then he shook his head in frustration and corrected himself. “I mean, on your hand. Someone you feared.”

Loraina froze and stared at him for a moment. She jerked herself from his grasp and fell away, scrambling backwards until she upset the stool, sending Harry’s wand with its tethered memory rolling to the floor. “You weren’t meant to see that,” she said in a fierce whisper, drawing her knees to her chest. She looked stricken and distracted.

Harry rolled to his knees and reached for her cautiously, as one might approach a scared and wounded animal. His offence at her attempted assault was overshadowed by his sympathy, his suspicion of what the rest of her memory showed.

“You were frightened,” he said carefully, soothingly. “Loraina, why were you frightened?” He wasn't sure he wanted to know but felt he must. “What happened next?” he whispered.

She looked at him as if she didn’t really see him, as if she were seeing, instead, the experience she’d just ripped from him. Slowly, she woke and looked up at him timidly. “The Worst Thing,” she whispered, the way a child whispers a terrible secret, but she offered nothing more.

Harry took a deep breath, allowing himself a moment to take in their surroundings now that he was himself again. William lay on the floor beside her, as silver as the ground beneath him. Harry’d have to deal with the body later. He crawled over and reclaimed his wand and his memory, returning it where it belonged. Then he seated himself carefully beside his friend who was still hugging her knees, her face hidden between them so only her wild eyes peeked over the tops.

“May I see it?” 

Her expression was unreadable. After a long moment, she shuddered.

“You don’t want to, Lovely,” she assured him. “I wish I could scrub it from my memory, why would you want it in yours?” She shook her head. “Truthfully, if giving it to you took it from me, I would. But it doesn’t work that way,” she said softly, as if with regret.

“Please?”

“Why are you so eager to see our pain? Our disgrace?” she hissed, scowling at him in accusation.

Harry went to lay a hand on her arm but she shifted away from his touch. “I only want to understand,” he whispered. “Both of you.”

Loraina regarded him distrustfully, but then she softened under his persistently sympathetic gaze. She narrowed her eyes at him. “It was the end, you know,” she said. “So soon after we truly began, that was the end. The start of it. It planted in us the things that ultimately defeated us.”

She looked at him again, for so long that Harry thought she might be finished, that she was refusing him. But she turned to him finally, neither of them paying any mind to her still-bare chest, and lay a hand on his cheek.

“It is one thing to know such horrors occurred, but you won’t understand without living it, Lovely. You won’t understand him. Or me. And if you don’t understand, perhaps you cannot appreciate us and what needs to be done or why.”

“Then enlighten me,” he said softly.

Harry had no doubt that what he was about to see would be the most painful thing he’d ever witness in his life; more than watching his friends die, more than seeing Dumbledore fall or Ron soulless in Hermione’s arms. Because no one was or had ever been dearer to his heart than Severus, and he knew this was the most painful thing Severus had ever experienced. So painful he had refused himself to Harry for all these years despite how deeply Harry knew Severus loved him, despite how intensely Severus knew Harry loved him back.

But Harry also knew Severus would never, ever speak of the incident. And it was such a vital component of who the man was, Harry felt he would never truly know Severus otherwise.

“You would inflict this wound on yourself willingly and intentionally?” she asked him.

Harry wavered but only for a moment. He swallowed nervously, then looked back up at her and nodded.

“Very well,” she said.

Harry stretched back out on the floor and prepared himself, or he tried to. She did not give him the memory straight away, though. She gently stroked his hair back from his temple as if petting him, then bent to lay a kiss where the memory would go as if tempering the spot, apologising to it for the coming trauma.

Then suddenly, Harry was once again naked and terrified under the stands of the Quidditch pitch.

The pressure of the shoe on her wrist increases until she cries out and, reluctantly, Loraina looks up to see Stanley Perkins grinning smugly down at her. A broomstick is perched across his shoulder. He is mirrored, as always, by Bobby and Boris Evanslie, standing just behind. She hears Severus scramble to his feet to come to her defence, but Stanley doesn’t even spare him a glance.  

“Get him,” he says, and his two sycophants move without question or hesitation to seize Severus and haul him roughly to a safe distance, sniggering all the while at his futile struggle against it.

Loraina glares her hatred at them all but blasts it most hotly at Stanley. The bastard has been harassing her for weeks. Winning the last match against Ravenclaw seemed to make him believe that, as captain, the victory entitled him to his pick of the Slytherin girls, and for some reason, he chose Loraina, but she has rebuffed him at every turn. His interest now is almost purely spiteful, and ever since he groped her in the halls outside Potions and was soundly slapped in response, she knew there would eventually be trouble.     

“Thought we’d get some practice in after hours since that Potter cunt booked the pitch all weekend. Too dark to practice properly, though. Was disappointed, till we heard some interesting noises outside the changing rooms. Looks like the trip will be worth it, after all.”

“Leave us alone,” Loraina hisses, yanking to dislodge her hand from his boot. He removes it, but only to bend and pull her to her feet by her hair. She bites her tongue to keep from crying out, but Severus is still beside himself, tugging frantically against the hands that hold him back until he is subdued with a cruel punch to the stomach and a derisive chuckle.    

“Look at this,” Stan sneers at Severus, abandoning his broom to twist one of Loraina’s arms behind her to secure her further. “This is why you turned me down? For this? This pasty, scrawny sack of bones? Is that supposed to be a dick?” he asks, squinting at Severus’ nakedness.

Severus is already hiding behind his black curtain of hair but tries to turn to block the rest of himself from Stan’s scrutiny.

“Looks more like...like a…”

Stanley is cruel but not clever, and a comparison does not come immediately to mind.

“A flobberworm,” Boris supplies.

“Flobberworms are big, ya fucking tosser,” Bobby says, smacking Boris upside the head with the hand he isn’t using to bruise Severus’ upper arm.

“A baby one then,” Boris shrugs. “Look,” he coos, bending to poke at Severus’ flaccid genitalia with the tip of his wand as Severus’s face burns red and he strains to shield himself without the aid of his arms. “Look at the baby flobberworm.”

Loraina’s fury overpowers her sense of caution and she struggles against her captor like a feral animal, snarling, ignoring the pain in her shoulder as Stan tries to wrestle her back into submission. She frees herself but only makes it a few steps towards Severus’ aid before she is brought up short, yanked back into Stanley’s arms by her hair again.    

“Leave her alone!” Severus shouts, putting up an impressive fight of his own. But there are two holding him back, each bigger than he is, and he doesn’t stand a chance of escape. “Don’t you touch her!” he growls, shaking with impotent rage.

“Or what?” Stan smirks, his forearm clamped across Loraina’s throat like a steel vise. She claws at it but to no avail and finally gives up on damaging him to tug at the arm instead, desperately trying to relieve the pressure enough to draw sufficient breath. His other hand free, Stan molests her demonstratively. Severus is so livid, he is almost in tears watching the bastard take Loraina’s breast roughly in hand.  What are you going to do about it, you bony little faggot?”  

“That’s right,” Bobby chimes in, “Didn’t think you even liked pussy. Didn’t we beat the snot out of him last semester for sneaking a peek at my broomstick in the pisser?” he asks Boris over Severus’ head.

“Yeah. We did,” Boris confirms. “Was fun, too. Leave the lady to us,” he tells Severus, bending to retrieve his broom from the ground at their feet. “I’ve got something more to your fancy right here, Snivellus,” he says, waving it in his face.

“‘Ere, don’t call him that,” Bobby groans, disgusted. “Those Gryffindor twats call him that.”

“Wot? It's a good name. Besides, what kind of Slytherin lets a bunch of Gryffinwhores get over on him?” he sneers, shaking Severus in condemnation. “Worthless half-blood,” he says, spitting. “Remember the look on his face when they took his trousers?” he grinned to Bobby. “Not a bad move, that. Looked about like this, he did, all red and...and snivelly!” he says triumphantly, only just connecting the dots. “Thought he was gonna cry. You gonna cry now, Snivellus?

“Hey, Snivellus,” Bob joins in taunting, taking the broom from Boris. “Say hello to your new girlfriend.”

“No, no. Boyfriend,” Stan says, shaking his head at their idiocy. His hand is still busy marking Loraina in ways he has no right. “That’s the whole point, you fuckin’ git. Make him kiss it,” he adds, forcing Loraina’s cheek to his thick, wet lips.

“I’ll make him do more than that,” Bobby mutters. There's something new and ugly in his expression. “Like looking at my pecker, do you, you fuckin’ pervert?” he hisses hatefully in Severus’ ear. “We’ll give you something nearly as good. Help me hold him down,” he commands Boris.

Loraina sees what is about to happen, sees the terrified look on Severus’ face as their eyes meet, and she is absolutely frantic in her helplessness.

“No,” she sobs. “No, no! I’ll do it,” she promises, suddenly pliant, removing her nails from Stan’s flesh and patting it gently instead, “I will. I’ll fuck you,” she insists agreeably. “I’ll suck you all you off. I don’t care. Whatever. Just...just leave him alone,” she pleads desperately. “Just don’t hurt him. Please, don’t hurt him.”

“You’ll do all that anyway,” Stan hisses in her ear, then nods to the others to proceed.

Loraina hears Severus grapple with them, but he doesn’t beg. He knows it will do no good, and he is too proud. But Loraina is sobbing, her eyes scrunched shut. She can’t bear to see it. If only she’d not rejected Stanley, maybe this wouldn’t be happening. If only she’d fucked him to shut him up. What was it to her? It wasn’t the same as being with Severus. It wouldn’t have counted. But she hadn’t, and now they were going to hurt her Severus. Out of spite. Because of her.

“Watch it, Loraina,” Stanley growls, wrenching her head up by her hair to force her face in Severus’ direction. “Still like him better than me, you stuck up little cunt?”

Loraina refuses to open her eyes...until she hears Severus cry out, and then she cannot help but look.

Boris has him pinned to the ground on his stomach as Bobby wields the broomstick, trying to push its end inside of Severus.  “I don’t think it will fit,” Bobby mutters over Severus’ sobs, pressing firmly as Severus frantically scores the dirt with clawing hands, trying to escape.  

Make it fit, you tosser,” Boris smirks, holding Severus in place almost effortlessly despite how desperately he fights to free himself.  

Severus’ screams change sharply in pitch and volume and Loraina cannot bear the sound. She tries to drown them out with her own. Hers are shrill and unending but, this far from the Castle, no one can hear them. Stanley clamps a hand over her mouth, but still, she screams, no matter how hard he squeezes and shakes and tells her to shut the fuck up.

Loraina can’t stop screaming. She feels like her soul will scream forever.

Finally Severus’ own hoarse cries quiet to sobs and the two boys abusing him release him and step away, but not before the one spits on him and the other kicks him in the ribs. They leave the broom. Severus’ face is turned away from her, buried in his thin, bruised arms.

Loraina stops screaming. She’s gone cold. She thought hate was supposed to be hot, was supposed to burn, but Loraina is ice. She is almost numb with hate. Now that she’s quieted, Stanley releases her face.

“Just look at that pathetic piece of half-blood shit,” he says in her ear, but his tone is almost seductive. She feels his arousal stabbing her back. His hands are busy on her skin, reaching boldly between her legs, and she offers no resistance. She feels like something vital in her has died and he’s merely molesting her corpse. “That’s not a real man, Loraina. I’m about to show you what a real man is.”

“I’m going to kill you,” she says flatly.

“Kill me?” Stan scoffs, turning her to face him. “You can’t even stop me. Won’t want to after I get started, anyway,” he mumbles against her neck.

“I’m going to kill you,” she repeats, and this time Stanley stiffens, draws back and glares at her audacity. “All of you,” she clarifies, “I’m going to kill all of you. I’ll enjoy it,” she nods, her voice still toneless, angering him further. “I’ll enjoy hearing you scream as you die.” His hands tighten painfully on her arms, but she just smiles at him, anticipating his demise.

“Shut it, you crazy bint,” he snarls. Then he throws her violently to the ground and immediately falls on top of her.

The hollow the memory left in his mind this time was almost unnoticeable in comparison to the gape in Harry’s chest where his heart was meant to be. He could still feel the tears cooling on his face but was confused by the sudden absence of a man on top of him, forcing his knees apart. Instead, gentle hands caressed his face and rubbed his arms as if to warm him.

The fog lifted particularly slowly this time. The memory had so shattered him, he could find no will to actively shake it off. When it did finally leave him, Harry gasped, replenishing the tears on his cheeks Loraina had just smoothed away. He looked up at her, unable to voice his regret for what had happened to her. No words could ever be sufficient. Her eyes apologised to him, as well, and he reached up and drew her down into his arms, cradling her gently as if to comfort her, even though he was the one who sobbed.

She petted him until his tears dried, but he still lay speechless. “They’ll be looking for you, Lovely,” she said softly. She seemed to not want to rush him, but they both knew no one could discover what they’d done there that night, which was a danger if they came searching for him. 

Harry nodded and sat up. He was still lethargic but tried to collect himself. “What did you do to them?” he whispered finally.

“I think you know that I did to them,” she answered, just as softly. “One day, I might show you.”

“Did Severus know?”

“He had to have, but we didn’t speak of it,” she admitted. “They simply disappeared one at a time and we never acknowledged it. There was no point. He could not have stopped me. Talking would not have changed their fate. Perhaps he didn’t even want to. Discussing it would have forced him to admit that to himself, and he wasn’t ready to accept he could want such a thing. But I think he realised, then, what I would do for him, what I would do to those who hurt him, how far I would go. There is no length I would not go to to punish those who would harm him,” she told Harry, her expression hard but casually so. “Which is why we must find this bitch they call The Boss,” she went on, her malice more active in her expression, “why we must make her pay for what she has done.”

Harry stared at her. He understood the impulse, but he didn’t feel compelled to bloodshed. He felt like flying to Severus’ arms and holding him forever, spending the rest of their lives trying to soothe the damage that had been done to him.

“I can’t,” Harry told her, knowing the argument he was about to incite. But he could not leave Severus. He could not hurt him that way.   

“What do you mean, you can’t? ” 

“I’m not leaving, Loraina,” he said apologetically. “Especially now. Don’t you see?” he said, willing her to understand. “They didn’t win. It’s worked out. I have to take care of Severus now. I have to-”

“The ones who orchestrated this are out there still,” she spat, rising angrily to her feet, “threatening to expose you, threatening your life and the lives of those you love. Threatening Severus through you! Don’t you want revenge?” 

“I’ve gotten all the revenge I care about,” he said, shaking his head. He looked over at the remains of his vengeance which still needed to be dealt with. He felt no remorse, though he didn’t particularly feel sated, either. He merely no longer had an appetite for violence. “I can take care of myself now,” Harry explained. “The ones I love can take care of themselves. Severus needs me. It’s over, Loraina,” he told her sadly. “Thank you,” he added sincerely, “for what you’ve given me, but...it’s over.”

Chapter Text

They were looking for him. Harry could sense their worry, he could smell their panic; not as pungent as fear but echoing the same notes in its perfume.

Loraina was no longer speaking to him, and Harry had had to dispose of his rubbish on his own before coming home. He decided it was most efficient to dig the hole while in wolf form. He’d fed from the fiend before covering him over, as it seemed a shame to waste so much unsullied human blood, but he had been paranoid that the scent might cling. Harry wasn’t certain how sharp Severus’ and Remus’ senses were. Even after half a dozen scourings, with his skin feeling decidedly too raw for another, Harry still swore he caught the scent himself and had hunted a few woodland creatures on his way back to the castle, feeding sloppily to mask whatever scents might remain and to heal the last of the ache of a second transformation.

It was Severus he approached when he returned to find them looking, and Harry watched him for a moment from afar. The memory Loraina had shared with him had been painful, but it put so much of the man into perspective. Harry felt sharp, fresh guilt wash over him remembering the way he had treated Severus on the Dark. It made him feel ill, dirty, and his cheeks burned with shame. Harry now understood and no longer begrudged Severus his every rebuff over the years. If he could go back, Harry would never have placed the man in the position to have to refuse him.

Of course, all it would have taken was an explanation. Harry had just assumed that Severus grappled with his sexuality, that he felt those impulses were shameful and denied that he felt them. It had caused something of a crisis in Harry, making him wonder if the man thought less of him for being so eager to perform acts Severus seemed to consider unfit to do himself.

Harry understood, though, that some things just cannot be spoken aloud, no matter to whom or for what purpose. What else was Severus to do but gently deflect Harry’s attempts as they occurred? It had seemed unfair to Harry at the time that he was expected to forgo that activity for the rest of their lives. No doubt Severus felt it unfair, as well. Perhaps that was even why he had tried to push him away.

Harry felt fresh conflict over his continuing affair with Remus. Though he loved him dearly, Harry realised he no longer actually needed the man. If Harry had mastered the change, and if Severus’ potion worked, Remus’ role as his mentor in lycanthropy was merely an excuse for his nearness.

They weren’t to know Harry’d mastered it, though, and he and Remus were Mated. Despite what Loraina believed, Harry knew it to have been necessary. What effect would ignoring that bond have on them both? If Harry ended their relationship, where would Remus go? Did Harry’s devotion to Severus mean Remus would have to be turned away? Could he tolerate the man’s presence, otherwise?

Tortured, Harry looked at Severus again, at how anxious he was in his search. His senses were dulled by time and Substisanguinus, which is why he hadn’t detected Harry’s presence yet, standing perfectly still downwind, but his concentration was intense. Harry knew he’d comb the entire forest for him. He’d overturn every leaf. Severus would do absolutely anything for him, whether Harry deserved the effort or not.

Perhaps it was time Harry tried to be worthy of the man, to make an equal commitment to Severus. Perhaps it really was time Harry relinquished his other lover.

The decision made his stomach turn and his bones ache as if they mourned the sound of Remus’ voice already. He was too busy battling with his choice to reveal himself. He allowed himself be discovered instead.

Harry saw Severus swallow his relief when he saw him, trying not to let on how worried he’d been, but his voice was still unsteady when he spoke, “Alright, Dearest?” He asked softly, as though sensing Harry’s turmoil.

Now that he was close enough, Harry wanted to snatch Severus to him and weep. He wanted to stroke him and apologise and profess his eternal love. He wanted to fall to his knees and beg forgiveness. But he couldn’t. Not here. Not now. Harry would not have been able to explain the action without confessing his recent sin and admitting he’d betrayed Severus’ trust by knowingly spying into matters he knew Severus would never be comfortable with Harry knowing. He tempered his response to merely clutching Severus quietly but fiercely when the man reached for him.

“You were gone so long,” Severus began, his voice as tight as his embrace, “Loraina? Where is she?”

“In the forest,” Harry said, his voice muffled by Severus’ robes as he clung to him. Beyond that, Harry had no idea. He didn’t have the capacity to consider the woman at the moment. That situation was so overwhelmingly convoluted. Harry could only handle one crisis at a time.  

“And is she...?”

Harry drew back, confused by the dread in Severus’ voice. He saw apprehension in the man’s eyes. “She’s fine,” Harry assured him. “Not happy with me at the moment. We...had a falling out. She’s gone off to fume.”

Severus sighed with relief.

“You thought I might have hurt her,” Harry intuited.

“When you didn’t return, we didn’t know whether you’d had an unexpected reaction,” said Severus, “one Loraina could not have easily handled alone.”  

“No. We just took our time with the hunt,” Harry lied soothingly, stroking the front of the man's robes to smooth where his embrace had bunched them. “The potion unsettled my stomach,” he said, which was not untrue. “I caught a few smaller things.” Closer to the truth, still.

Severus seemed satisfied with the explanation, and he sent a flare up to alert the others Harry had been found safe. “And how are you feeling now?” he asked, his mood vastly improved, linking his arm in Harry’s to escort him. The man could not possibly know how complicated a question that was.

“I’m sorry to have worried you all,” Harry deflected. “I'm ready to be home.”

Severus noted his melancholy and kissed him sweetly on the forehead. “The potion might have stirred your blood, is all. We’ll watch it carefully. Perhaps a small price to pay, though, to see the sun again?” he said with an encouraging smile. Harry returned it weakly and leaned in closer to him as they walked.

Remus met them not far from the forest’s edge, coming up quietly and placing a hand on both their shoulders. Severus seemed far more comfortable with the contact than Harry, and Remus gave the younger man a concerned look.

“I assume everything is okay?” he asked hopefully, looking to Severus when Harry would not meet his eye. Severus nodded, though he threw a concerned glance at Harry. They continued across the grounds together with Remus’ hand stroking Harry’s back, aware that something was not right but being respectful of the young man's unwillingness to discuss it yet. Harry wished he was not quite so kind.

“Where is Hermione?” asked Severus.

“In the forest. She seemed excited by the discovery of some plant or another. After your signal that all was well, she decided to stay and have a further look around. I cautioned her not to wander too far in.”

“She should not be there alone at night,” Severus muttered worriedly. Remus gave him a wry smile.

“Which is something I mentioned and was tactfully but soundly told off,” he chuckled. “She thinks she can take care of herself, and I’m inclined to believe her. Hell, if she’s accosted by anything, I almost feel certain she could scold her way to safety.”

He and Severus shared a smile, but Harry’s mood was impenetrable, and they hurried him home, concerned by his silence. “The night is rather young, but perhaps you should lie down, Dearest,” Severus fretted as they stepped through the hearth. Harry just nodded and allowed Severus to lead him upstairs.

“I’ll just put on some tea,” Remus said quietly behind them, watching them go. Harry did not answer. He could tell Remus would like to follow, but he didn’t want to encourage it. Harry’s mind was made up. He had to speak to Severus first, though, before he could even begin to consider how to break the news to his Mate. 

Once in Harry’s room, Severus moved to turn down the bed, but Harry stopped him and urged him to take a seat. His seat. The one Severus had claimed as his own during his long vigil at Harry’s sickbed. Thinking back, Severus had always been looking out for him, even in the earliest parts of their acquaintance. Severus had spent Harry’s whole life protecting him, often at cost to himself.

After all the damage he'd inflicted, it was Harry’s turn to sacrifice for Severus. Loraina had tried to warn him, had tried to temper Harry’s impulsiveness. She’d known that the three of them could never be together, that the two men could not even share Harry between them without ultimately ruining Severus. Harry hadn’t listened. If he had, this inevitable butchering of his soul and Remus’ heart might have been less painful for all of them. Harry shouldn’t delay it any longer, lest it become impossible.

Severus seemed cooperative but uncertain as he took a seat, and he became properly concerned when Harry dropped to his knees in front of him and took the man’s hands in his own.

“Severus,” Harry whispered, “I am so sorry. I’m sorry for everything these past few weeks. These past few months.”

Severus was clearly confused. He looked as if he were about to brush off Harry’s apology, as if there was nothing to forgive, but something made him pause. He closed his mouth again and waited for Harry to continue. Perhaps he felt it was for Harry and not for himself that he did so. He could tell the young man had something on his heart he needed to get out.

“I’ve taken you for granted,” Harry admitted. His tears were trickling at this point, but he struggled to keep his voice even, to let his apology flow as easily as the salt water down his cheeks. “What happened on the Dark,” Harry began, but his voice faltered and he shuddered. “That night seems so distant to me now that I’ve Settled. I don’t remember much, but what I do remember…”

Harry’s eyes drifted to the tips of the fresh scar peeking from over Severus' collar. Had he made it while taking the man? Had it been against Severus’ will? Had Harry scarred him outwardly at the same time he scarred him inwardly?

Gods, Severus. What you did for me, what you continue to do for me,” he said, shaking his head. “You’ve always given me absolutely everything you could possibly give, but I’ve only repaid your sacrifice with selfishness, your loyalty with betrayal. I don’t deserve you,” said Harry, relieved to be speaking it to Severus’ face finally instead of whispering it to himself as he walked away from the man. “I’ve been greedy and stupid, but I love you, Severus. A thousand thousand times, I love you."

Severus looked overwhelmed by the sudden confession, and Harry paused, struggling for words he could safely voice. He refused to try and justify himself, to explain away his wrongness. He needed to accept responsibility for his mistakes. Harry looked up at Severus and held his shocked gaze with a tearfully determined one.

“If you want, I’ll not touch Remus again,” he promised, and not without difficulty. In fact, speaking those words was one of the hardest things he’d ever done. “I don’t think he’d force me,” Harry said quietly, willing away the acid gnawing at his stomach. “If it would make you happy,” he rushed to continue, “I would not willingly be with him again.”

Harry closed his eyes and swallowed his sorrow, but he’d meant it. The three of them existing in a relationship together was what Harry wanted, and he wanted it dearly. It was what Remus wanted. But it was not what Severus wanted. It was a concession the man was making, and he’d made so many already.

Severus regarded Harry, clearly disquieted. “You have feelings for him,” he said softly after a moment, “It’s not just the Bond, Harry. You genuinely care for him.”

Harry blushed and looked away, trying to breathe through the stabbing pain in his heart in a way that was not obvious. He did indeed have feelings for Remus. They were deep, they were true, and they had nothing to do with the Claiming. But he shouldn’t. He should never have betrayed Severus by allowing them to develop, or by acknowledging them either way. The Claiming was really no excuse. It was what Remus had given him to serve as one. Though Remus would have accepted Harry’s refusal in favour of Severus, he knew Harry’s heart and its conflict. Claiming him had allowed Harry to pretend he had no choice, but they all knew Harry was with Remus only because he wanted to be and had wanted to long before the Full. 

When Harry didn’t answer, Severus took Harry’s chin between his fingers and gently forced the young man to look up at him again.

“I have feelings for him,” Harry confessed, helpless under Severus’ probing gaze, “but for you, I’d forsake them,” he vowed. “For you, Severus, I’d do anything.”

Instead of gratitude or relief, Severus’ expression turned sad. “It would pain you to lose him,” he said with a gentle scowl. Harry didn’t understand his persistence in this except that perhaps the man was mining for the same level of soul-bearing he’d displayed to Harry before in the lab.

If Severus wanted him flayed and tacked, Harry would endeavour to oblige. “My body will respond to him in ways I cannot control,” Harry admitted shakily, “but I won’t act on them. And my heart-”

His voice broke as if in protest of this blood-letting of his soul, but Harry eventually forced its compliance. “Letting go of Remus will hurt. And I apologise for that, Severus,” he said with desperate sincerity, “but I'll do it, because it would not pain me as much as it would to continue hurting you, to risk losing you,” Harry said adamantly, leaning forward against the man’s knees, wanting suddenly to hold him. He clutched Severus’ hands with more tenacity instead, remembering the moment in the forest when he had finally allowed himself to envision living without the man.

“Severus,” he gasped. To his annoyance, he felt a familiar panic starve him of breath. He hadn’t wanted to do this. He didn’t want to feel like he was manipulating Severus’ concern, and he hated that he could not stop it. “You are the most important...”

He found it difficult to speak. He was panting now, his mind warring with his lungs.

“I can’t.” Gasp. “I can’t lose you. I have no right to expect your forgiveness for what I’ve put us through, but I swear I will do whatever it takes-”

“Shh,” Severus soothed, stroking Harry’s hair as the young man’s breathing continued to stutter, his words growing more forced and faint. “You don’t have to give up either of us,” he said with a shake of his head. “Hadn’t I said that already?”

“I know you said that before, Severus,” Harry said, still breathless, “but I’m not sure you meant it. I know this is not what you want.”

“Harry,” Severus whispered, his expression reflecting Harry’s anguish. “I could not claim to love you if I forced you into an ultimatum that made you so unhappy.”

“But, you shouldn’t have to accept unhappiness, either,” Harry said, his conviction almost belying the fact that Harry was, and so often had been, the source of it.

“Though, you would force that pain on Remus?” Severus asked, almost critically, and Harry was at a loss. He felt almost as if he was being put to some kind of test, one he clearly hadn’t prepared for.

“Severus. I don’t know what you want me to say. There is no right answer. I just know that I cannot live without you, and I would endure any pain to prevent yours.”

“Who says I’m not happy, My Dearest Love?” Severus stood and pulled Harry to his feet, wrapping him in an embrace. Harry melted into it with silent thanks. He breathed in Severus’ scent and his grip became more tenacious. No matter where he stored his things, no matter where he laid his head, this, here in Severus’ arms, would always be Harry’s Home.

“You know he is here, don’t you?” Severus whispered into Harry’s ear, “He’s listening, and you are breaking his heart, Dearest.”

Harry stiffened in Severus’ arms. He’d been so lost in the man and what he needed to say to him, he hadn’t noticed the pulsing presence outside the door. But it was there: the gentle perfume of tea and dust the man wore; his blood, sweeter now this close to the Full; and running beneath was the scent of anguish, of tears and staggered breath.

Harry pulled away from Severus, horrified. He hadn’t wanted Remus to find out this way. He hadn’t yet prepared himself to face Remus’ pain or his own.

Severus saw all of this pass Harry’s mind through his expression and gave him a sympathetic look, stroking a hand down his arm to calm him as he turned toward the slightly cracked door and the grief-stricken man just outside it. Remus must have heard Severus moving toward him and tried to flee down the stairs, but Severus pulled the door open swiftly and stepped out onto the landing, catching him by the arm before he could escape.

“Remus. Don’t leave,” he said kindly. Harry could see them through the doorway, could see the way Remus leaned away from Severus’ grasp with his head hung, warring with himself. “Perhaps it is time we all spoke together,” said Severus, gesturing to invite the man inside.

Remus finally turned to him, full of uncertainty. He glanced back at Harry but couldn't hold his gaze. He dropped his eyes to the floor before Harry could even begin to convey his regret. He relented, though, and followed Severus back through the door. Harry started to reach for Remus as he shuffled past but drew back before he touched him, knowing he had no right.

Remus took a moment to collect himself before lowering into the seat opposite Severus at the chess table, but he still would not face either of them. “Perhaps Harry is right, Severus,” he said to the rug with far more surety and nonchalance than he could possibly have felt. “I’ve been in the wrong. I had had plans to move out, anyway, before Harry’s incident. I’ll just follow through with them.”

“Oh, shut up, Remus,” Severus muttered, though his scowl was sympathetic. “You aren’t going anywhere.”

The comment shocked Remus out of some of his pain, and both he and Harry turned confused looks to the man. Severus returned them with mild annoyance.

“This is ridiculous,” he groused. “We’re all grown men. It’s time we behaved as such. For gods’ sake, Harry. Sit down, would you, and let’s all speak like fucking adults.”

Harry immediately dropped to a seat on the bed opposite them, though he could not quite manage to stop gawping at Severus, much less form any coherent thoughts that might be translated to spoken words. 

Remus looked at Severus with cautious hope, though he still found it hard to hold Harry’s gaze. And understandably. The young man had just attempted to toss him away. Though he undoubtedly understood the reasoning, it still had to hurt.

Severus read the tension between them and huffed his frustration. “Our situation is not a simple one, and there are no simple solutions. We have all been in the wrong,” he sighed. “Pretending there is no love between you will not negate its existence. Just as pretending I am not bothered by it has not magically taken the discomfort from me,” said Severus, wringing his hands. “Harry, I admit I begrudge your fondness for another man. But I have little right to complain, as I also admit to driving you from me. That this was not the result I intended in doing so does not change our current reality.

"And Remus,” he said, turning to the man with both reluctance and resolve, “I confess I resent your hold on Harry. I resent that you shared his bed before he’d properly left mine,” he muttered bitterly, “but much of that blame lies with me, as well. And I have come,” he added grudgingly, “to appreciate that situation more fully of late. Where else would he go? Shamefully, I seem to have caused Harry an unforgivable amount of pain for some time, and you were the one who soothed it. And you did so for years with no impropriety. So I really suppose I must thank you, all things considered; or at least hold you no ill will."    

“My dear Severus,” Remus whispered, overcome. He lay a grateful hand over the one Severus had left on the tabletop between them, smiling at the dirty look Severus cast it. “I’ve already confessed my misjudgement of your character all those years ago, but allow me to add to that my present admiration of it. Your integrity is inspiring,” Remus said softly.

Severus regarded him warily as if he suspected the man of taking the piss, but Remus held his gaze with openness and sincerity until Severus softened.

Remus’ confidence wavered, though, and he withdrew his hand. “I cannot claim to possess anything approaching it. I acted on the Full entirely aware of the pain my actions would cause you, and I did it for no selfless reasons. Please know that I’ve come to regret the decision,” he said, looking back up at the man, his expression pleading forgiveness. “Well, perhaps not the decision itself, as I suspect it saved your life and possibly Harry’s sanity, but certainly my motivations in making it. I also regret the carelessness of my behaviour in the days following. You deserved better, my friend, and I am sorry.”

They all mulled over Remus’ comments for a while before the two men looked expectantly to Harry. He felt the weight of their gaze, but he was too wretched for a moment to speak.

“What can I say?” he muttered, shaking his head at himself. “You are both remarkable. And I’ve not shown either of you the respect you deserve.” He looked to each of them contritely in turn. “I should have recognised my good fortune and taken more care to appreciate it and the both of you. But I suppose I’m just a fuck up,” he said with a small rueful laugh, his disappointment in himself dragging his eyes to the floorboards.

“Oh, Harry,” Remus said, wincing at the self-criticism. He reached for the young man, taking his hand as he moved to sit beside him on the bed. “Darling,” he whispered, stroking the back of Harry’s hand with his thumb, “you are a bit,” he conceded with a gentle smile, surprising a bashful chuckle from Harry. “But it’s part of your charm,” he assured him, tucking the stray hair from Harry’s forehead behind his ear.  

Harry looked up at the man, wondering on Remus’ infallible good humor in light of the pain Harry had so recently caused him. “I’m so sorry, Remus. I'm sorry for thinking of...discarding you as if you meant no more to me than yesterday’s newspaper. You have to know nothing is further from the truth.” Harry glanced self-consciously to Severus, but there were things he needed to say to this other man as well, even though they might chafe the Potions Master. “I’ve been unfair to you,” he said, turning back to the werewolf, “unburdening myself to you all this time about my troubles with Severus while knowing your feelings for me. You shouldn’t have entertained me. And you shouldn’t put up with my foul moods, especially when it’s nothing to do with you. You’ve always been so gracious, and I’ve never had any right to impose on you as I do.” He looked sheepishly between the two men. “I do love you, Remus. But, if there has to be a choice…”  

Harry's ache returned, and he gave Remus a helpless look which Remus returned with sad understanding, bringing a hand to the young man's cheek as if to convey his forgiveness.

“There need be no choice, Dearest,” Severus assured him quietly.

“But you are still upset by it,” Harry objected, not because he wanted to choose but because he couldn’t bear the conflict caused by the status quo. Severus did not deny it. Harry could see Severus’ discomfort even now as he watched the two of them.

Remus lay a hand on Harry’s shoulder to reassure him, but his eyes went to Severus, giving him a long, considering look. “Perhaps,” he ventured carefully, “you would not be quite so bothered by it if you were included in it.”

Harry had to swallow his gasp at Remus’ boldness, but he shared the hope he saw in the man’s eyes as they held Severus’. 

Remus did not flinch in the face of the sudden aversion in the vampire’s expression. For his part, Severus seemed to struggle to hold his tongue. Harry could see his reflexive denial, the stiffening of his posture and his momentary grimace. Somehow, Severus managed not to immediately voice his refusal. His scowl fell to his hands, instead, as he nervously examined the stitching in the cuff of his robe sleeve.

Harry knew that if he and Remus were ever going to succeed in this, it would have to be now. He pulled Remus’ hand from his shoulder and held it tightly for support as he gave Severus a beseeching look. “Have you considered it, Severus?" 

The Potions Master broke off his examination of his hem for only a moment to throw Harry an exasperated look. Harry left Remus behind to slip quietly from the bed and kneel in front of Severus to more easily catch the man's eye. He had to actually lay his hand over the scrutinised fabric, though, before Severus relented and gave Harry his attention. Harry squeezed Severus' hand. "Try it?" he whispered imploringly. "Only once. And if it isn't to your taste, I'll never mention it again, I swear."

Severus' patience was nearly spent. "Harry, you know it isn't to my-" he snipped, but he bit off his temper to fume quietly. At least he hadn't stormed from the room, and that was something Harry thought he could work with.

It was Remus, though, coming quietly behind Harry and placing his hand on his shoulder in solidarity, who took the baton. "Perhaps if you merely watched?" he suggested.

His hand was not still as he proposed it. It slid to the back of Harry's neck in a demonstrative caress. Harry shivered to his toes, the very idea making his head swim. He felt certain Severus could feel the tremor in the fingers Harry still rested on his wrist. Harry saw the colour rise to Severus' cheeks as he envisioned it, and the glare he shot at Remus was only mildly hostile.

Remus smiled almost imperceptibly. Severus was tempted. He was not happy about said temptation, but Remus did not give him an opportunity to resist it. He sank to Harry's side, giving the young man a look that Harry could feel in his groin before pressing his fingers to the side of Harry's chin to turn his head. Harry felt Severus go rigid beneath his fingers as Remus' mouth found his, but he also heard the man's slow release of breath like a carefully controlled sigh as Remus massaged the surprise from Harry's lips, wetting them before persuading Harry's tongue into his mouth.

The kiss was slow but not necessarily sweet. It was a performance. Harry did not play a part so much as act as a prop in Remus’ production, and the man knew how to use him to effect. He was every bit as adept as Severus was in coaxing Harry's sigh, in robbing him of breath so that Harry had no choice but to open to him lest he be smothered by desire. Knowing that Severus watched paralysed Harry's will, causing him enough ambivalence that he could neither consciously consent nor refuse. His hand fell away from Severus and moved almost involuntarily to the back of Remus’ neck. He whimpered his uncertainty into Remus' mouth, hoping Severus did not leave but unable to stop himself.

Severus stayed. In fact, he seemed quite incapable of motion. He watched silently as Remus urged Harry to stand, as his hands rose to Harry’s buttons, keeping him pliant and unresisting with a talented mouth while he unwrapped Harry like a gift to the other man. Harry saw Remus’ eyes watch Severus as he did so, but when Harry started to turn his head in that direction, Remus prevented it.

“Pretend it’s just us, Darling,” he whispered, his lips moving to Harry’s neck. He’d spoken softly, but the command rang as strongly in Harry’s bones as if he’d shouted.

Harry had no choice but to obey. He gave a tiny moan and his hands went to Remus’ neck, encircling it gently to pull Remus to his lips again so he could drink him in, kissing him back properly at last. Just as he would have if they had been alone, Harry let those hands fall to the man’s collar soon after to open his shirt. A button or two was lost to urgency and fell tinkling to the floor where it was ignored as Harry wound his arms inside the loose fabric and around his Mate, his hands finding their way into the back of his waistband to fill themselves with the downy swell beneath it.

Remus’ back arched when Harry’s nails found his skin, presenting his chest to the young man. Harry took the unintentional invitation to attach his teeth to one of Remus’ nipples, drawing a pleased groan from him, but Remus peeled him away, grasping his upper arms to turn him and back him toward the bed.

They scaled it together, their lips close but not quite touching as Harry crawled backwards and Remus shed the shirt still dangling from his wrists by its cuffs. Remus denied the kiss the young man reached for, urging Harry onto his stomach instead. He positioned him so that Harry could not easily see their voyeur; not without looking, which his Alpha was forbidding him from doing.

Remus, however, could and did look at Severus often, as if to ensure he still watched. It seemed almost like an audition, or a challenge, or both. How long could Severus watch Remus taking liberties with his Dearest Love before he came to claim him?

Remus seemed to want to be sure Severus could clearly see how he could make Harry writhe and gasp as he kneaded the muscles of the young man’s back with firm lips. How he could cause Harry to bury his face in the coverlet to stifle his moan as Remus’ hands reached under him, sweeping his soft stomach hungrily en route to undo his trousers. He wanted Severus to watch his tongue chase the fabric he tugged down so he could lap at the curve of Harry’s arse.

He was usually far more patient, almost teasingly thorough. Not that there wasn't finesse involved still, but it almost seemed Remus was afraid Severus’ attention might wane if he took things too slowly. Harry couldn’t say that he minded. The speed prevented him from thinking too hard about what they were doing and grow embarrassed. As it was, Harry was swept along, the sensations coming so quickly behind one another he could do nothing except hold on and ride them through.

The barrage did not slow until they were both naked, until it was time for something more delicate that could not be rushed. Harry was almost exhausted already, but he shuddered with grateful anticipation when he felt Remus settle himself between Harry’s legs and carefully part his cheeks with his thumbs. Just Remus' hot breath warming the cool air around Harry's now exposed pucker was enough to make Harry toss his head back, his teeth snagging his bottom lip to stifle his pleading whimper. This was still new enough to Harry to blow his mind. It was the single most decadent thing he’d ever experienced, and Harry sorely wished Severus would allow him to show him its delights.

That possibility was too remote to consider at the moment. And then Harry didn’t have the capacity to consider anything at all when he finally felt the flat of Remus’ tongue rake across him.        

Harry had always been vocal, but something about the way Remus massaged him inspired more noise than usual. These were not the usual high, quick, barked sounds he usually expelled as much through impact as intention. These moans were pulled low and deep and slow from his throat, from his chest. They poured, were breathed from him in flowing streams that made his whole body thrum with their vibration.

Remus worked him with almost sadistic slowness, and when Harry finally felt the rough-slick muscle probe deeper, it sent Harry’s hips delving into the mattress beneath him. Remus followed, allowing no escape, until Harry’s motions became so fevered Remus stopped to command his stillness. Harry applied that command only to the bottom half of his body. He had no choice, really. The rest of him peeled off the bed as his back arched with the forbidden desire to thrust, his elbows hugged close to him as his hands each took up fistfuls of his bedclothes. He almost choked on his moans. It was not until he was almost insensible, his body trembling and his head dangling between his shoulders, that Remus rose away and flipped Harry to his back.

The man looked down at him and his eyes smouldered. The fire in them was stoked by knowledge of the power he wielded over the young man that had nothing to do with the beast in their blood. Remus bent to give Harry the ‘more’ he’d barely been aware he’d been begging for. It was not what Harry wanted, not what he craved, but it was more than the tongue he’d had. Two of Remus’ fingers pressed insistently inside of him, meeting almost no resistance and showing no hesitation. Remus was careful not to touch the organ that begged, with its almost angry fullness, for attention; and it was understood that Harry was not allowed to touch it himself.

Remus glanced at Severus as he worked Harry, chasing the hips Harry could no longer keep still. And finally...finally he gave the young man permission to do the same.

“Invite him to join us,” Remus whispered, twisting his fingers inside of Harry so that he almost could not obey the command for moaning.  

Harry tossed his head in Severus’ direction, disconcerted by the distance of his lover. Harry was in the throes of intense sexual stimulation, the kind usually visited on him by the man who sat out of reach in a chair against the wall. The look on his face was consistent, at least. Severus’ sallow cheeks were painted scarlet, and his eyes were black. His fangs even peeked from between his slack and thirsting lips. 

Severus’ expression was fierce and intent, but he was motionless except for the rise and fall of his chest, and Harry could tell he was trying to still that as well. He was rigid, as if he were afraid he might shatter if he dared to move, though he clearly wanted to, and his skin was sheened with sweat from the effort of fighting the urge.

But he must move. Harry needed him. He threw an arm in the man's direction and keened his name. Severus’ eyes quickened, but he did not otherwise shift, and Harry was almost frantic.

“Severus. Please.” It was a hiccupped whine, a shameless plea. Harry needed to kiss Severus, to touch him. And he needed desperately to be touched by him, as Remus refused. The only additional contact he’d made with the young man was to add yet another finger to the ones already reaching inside him. It was Severus who must ease the ache they inspired.

Reluctantly, Severus stood. Harry saw his glance flicker to Remus and thought he might take that opportunity to finally flee. But then his eyes returned to Harry’s and the young man saw him shiver. Severus made his way forward slowly as if dragging his obvious arousal behind him like a ball and chain. He looked nowhere but at Harry’s face which Harry knew was flushed, his expression wanton. It apparently provided the inspiration Severus needed to close the distance and kneel beside the bed. 

“Severus,” Harry shuddered. “Join me.”

“Harry. I cannot do this,” Severus objected, though with difficulty.

“Try. For me. I want this, Severus,” Harry said, his trembling fingertips clumsily tracing the side of Severus' face. Gods, how he loved it. “I want it more than you know. You don’t have to do anything. Just be here. Let me make you feel good,” Harry begged.

Remus had stopped his ministrations and sat back on his heels, allowing whatever was about to happen to transpire. Severus never looked at Remus, his eyes were locked on Harry as the young man rolled to his stomach and grasped Severus by the back of the neck, implored him with his eyes to waver, to yield.

Severus did not respond with words, but his hands came hesitantly to the clasp on his robes, and Harry sighed his relief. Severus shrugged them off, with Harry reaching to help, before moving his shaking hands to his buttons.  

Harry knew this might be their biggest obstacle. Severus deplored being naked, even in front of Harry. But now Remus was here as well, naked already and naturally more robust than the vampire. It seemed Severus’ weakness for Harry’s will was enough to override his shyness, and when the man finally peeled back his shirt, Harry’s palms instantly pressed themselves to the milky smooth skin that was revealed, welcoming the familiar sight with open worship.

“I love you, Severus,” Harry promised, rising to his knees to tentatively tug at the man. He was torn between wanting to claim Severus' lips and wanting to finish stripping him, as the one seemed it might hinder the other. He decided to attempt both at the same time, and his mouth found its way to Severus’, his tongue returning home in the man’s mouth while his hands pulled Severus fully onto the bed and urged him to lie down before reaching for the buttons of his trousers.

Severus was reluctant to allow it, but he did not have the willpower to resist Harry’s plaintive passion. Harry returned to him as quickly as possible once his task was completed, and Severus' hands hesitated only a moment before moving to savour the planes of Harry’s back and arms, his face and chest. He did not hesitate at all to claim Harry's eager lips. 

They moved intuitively in ways that only those truly in love know how. Their palms found each other with no fumbling despite that both their eyes were closed to concentrate on the sensation of their bodies aligning. One did not move without the other mirroring it, as if knowing already what the other would do. The urgency Remus had inspired mellowed and their movements slowed, flowing smoothly into one another almost as though the two were dancing.    

Remus did not interrupt the homecoming, for that was clearly what it was. He watched from the side as Severus lost himself completely, as Harry melted against the man, dissolving and reforming in new places to coax the first of many involuntary moans from the typically stone-tempered Potions Master. Harry devoured the skin of the man’s torso with relish, came to his cock finally and fell on it like one starving. 

The decisive moment had been met and passed, and Remus seemed to deem it safe to cautiously cross the bed and kneel behind Harry once again. He ran his tongue across the young man's entrance, causing Harry to moan around his lover’s cock, which sent Severus’ head falling back to the headboard with a barely restrained cry.

It felt to Harry as if they continued like that forever, with Severus’ mouth alone free to sigh and moan for the three of them. But Harry was becoming increasingly distracted by the man behind him, and finally, he rose to look back at him. Remus rose as well to meet him. One of Harry’s hands was still wrapped around Severus’ cock, but his other reached for Remus’ for the first time that night when Remus bent to kiss Harry’s swollen lips.

Harry soon found he did not possess the concentration needed to stroke both men at once with any finesse, particularly while Remus kissed him so luxuriously. Severus seemed to sense his distress and granted him permission to focus on Remus alone by bringing his own hand to take himself over. Harry glanced at him, but Severus rested his head on the pillow beneath it, his eyes flickering freely between the two of them. Apparently, he actually enjoyed watching and did not seem to mind doing it again.

Harry did not question it, especially since Remus was different now. He was no longer commanding and forceful. He yielded to Harry, falling back to sit on his feet as Harry rose fully to his knees and shuffled to face him. Harry towered over Remus, and the young man saw his submission in the softening of his gaze. Harry took it but used it gently, pressing down on Remus' shoulder to indicate he should lay down. His hands barely had to suggest, with a touch to his inner thighs, that Remus’ legs should rise, and they did. Harry grasped Remus behind his knees and pressed them gently toward his chest. No longer forbidden from the contact, Harry lowered himself to rub his erection against the length of Remus’. The man moaned, and his hand rose to stroke them both. It was lovely, but it was not what Harry wanted.

Remus offered no resistance when Harry pulled himself from Remus' fingers and rested himself, instead, against Remus' opening. Unlike Harry who had been thoroughly prepared, Remus was unready, though he was definitely willing. Remus gathered his own spit with his fingers and reached down to apply it to himself before nodding for Harry to continue.

Harry heard Severus’ muttered sigh but had no attention to spare for it as he pressed himself carefully inside the other man. Remus groaned and pressed his head back into the mattress while he simultaneously reached for Harry, urging the young man deeper with wistful fingers at Harry’s sides. As his cock sank, so did Harry, abandoning Remus’ legs and lowering himself to meet the man’s lips at the same time their bodies met below. They kissed for a long while, allowing Remus time to adjust.

It was Severus who moaned when Harry began to move again. It was Severus’ hand Harry felt stroke down his back after he rose to his hands to pump Remus properly. It was Severus’ fingers Harry felt slip carefully inside of him as Harry’s cock slid more and more feverishly in and out of the man beneath him. Harry was in raptures, not knowing where or on whom to concentrate.

Oh, Holy Hell.”

Harry opened his eyes to see Remus’ glued to Severus. He had finally noticed what the other man was doing, and he writhed, rolling his hips up toward Harry in time with the motion of Severus’ arm. Harry was paralysed with pleasure, unable to do anything but hold himself still and allow the two of them to manipulate him how they would.

Severus, however, no longer seemed content with the arrangement. He moved behind Harry and grasped his hips to yank him backwards, out of Remus and toward his own need. As always, Harry was at his mercy, but he didn’t have long to mourn Remus. Severus bent to wrap his arms around Harry where he knelt, running his hands over his torso and up his chest and neck. His splayed and hungry fingers urged Harry’s face to twist back to bring their lips together at the same time Severus eased himself inside of the young man. Harry moaned gratefully and pressed into it. Severus held Harry tightly as he rode him, his arms wrapped around his waist from behind, and he covered the young man’s upper back with devouring kisses.

They simply weren't close enough, though, and Harry rose and reached behind him to touch Severus. He sat back and leaned into Severus' embrace. His neck arched, draping his head back across Severus’ shoulder even as Severus hooked his chin forward over Harry’s.

It was gorgeous. Every inch of them touched. The whiteness of Severus’ skin made Harry’s pale body look ruddier by contrast, but not by much. They were both lithe and slender, undulating as one as Severus continued to fuck Harry slowly but steadily. Their black hair mingled, became a single mass of sweaty strands that clung to cheeks and necks in rivulets.

Remus seemed to want to sample the tableau that writhed between his splayed legs. He sat up and reached for Harry’s mouth which hung slack and inviting. When he reached to cup the back of Harry’s head, he brushed Severus’ shoulder, and the man’s eyes shot open. Severus watched but not hinder Remus as he tipped Harry to his lips and kissed him deeply.

It seemed they all moaned then. The motion of hips was forgotten for a moment as the kiss stretched, tapered, and then Remus broke off from Harry and released him to turn his heavily-lidded eyes to Severus.

The two men had barely touched, and not intentionally at all. Harry would have held his breath if he could stop his panting. He leaned forward slightly, bringing Severus with him, closer to Remus who eyed Severus’ mouth with clear longing. Harry didn’t think it would actually happen, but he wanted it to; so desperately he would have begged, pitifully, if he wasn’t afraid it would shatter the moment.

Severus was apprehensive but clearly as swept away as the others. He would never initiate it, never stretch for it, but he did stay immobile as Remus ventured slowly, cautiously, ever closer. When Remus was a breath away, the two broke off their examination of each other’s lips and their eyes met, locked, as Remus finally dared to close the distance.

It was shy at first, uncertain, but then Severus’ eyes drifted to a close. Remus teased the man’s lips apart with an eager tongue and, almost involuntarily, Severus opened himself with a sigh. Harry shuddered at the sight of his two lovers meeting properly for the first time, moaned out loud when he glimpsed tongues finding their way into mouths before the sight was sealed away by hungry lips. Remus brought a hand to the back of Severus’ neck and the man allowed it.

Unable to hold himself still any longer, Harry sought Remus, tugging him up into position and anchoring himself inside him again. He rocked his hips, working both men, unable to pull his eyes from their kiss at his shoulder which was becoming increasingly feverish.

It was Severus who pitched them to the bed, causing Harry to press Remus to the mattress as Severus chased the other man’s lips there. And then it was Severus, as well, who took over the motion of their hips, his firm strokes driving Harry deeper into the man beneath them. Harry surrendered himself completely to the tangle of lust they had become. The two petted him and each other around him. Harry reached back to grasp at Severus’ thigh, encouraging him to thrust harder while Harry's mouth fell forward to attach itself to Remus’ throat.

It was more than Harry ever imagined it could be, cramped and a little clumsy but beautiful and intense and overwhelming. Harry found Remus’ mouth and savoured it as Severus marked the back of Harry’s neck. But then the two men found each other again. Over and over. And it was glorious the way they seemed surprised each time at how the other tasted and that they found they craved it.

Harry felt himself closing in on his orgasm while they seemed just to be warming up because he was able to watch it. He wanted to see it better, to give them better access to each other, and so he attempted to slide his upper body from between the two as much as possible without bothering the harmony below. The other men seemed hardly to notice his absence, or at least not to be troubled by it, as they both still reached to stroke him. But their focus was no longer on Harry. In fact, he felt he was in the way.

He’d always known, if he could simply get them to connect, that the encounter would take off like wildfire, and he was gratified to see he was right. Watching them learn one another was one of the most intoxicating things Harry had ever witnessed. Seeing Severus’ hand on Remus, fondling the scars of his chest while he sampled his neck, then watching Remus urge Severus toward his collarbone and the particular spot there that curled Remus’ toes, was so wildly erotic to Harry that it finished him.

He’d been quiet about it, but Severus felt Harry’s climax and slowed to a stop, letting him extricate himself from between the two of them. Harry had hoped he could slip away and allow them to continue their exploration, but his exodus had disturbed their focus. Or else it had improved it, allowed the haze to clear and for them to realise, properly, what was happening and who it was happening with. Before, it had been a jumble of limbs and bodies, with no one entirely certain who they were touching at any given moment. Despite the frequency with which he’d snogged the man, the ambiguity seemed to have allowed Severus, at least, to pretend he wasn’t really with the werewolf. He was with Harry, and Harry also happened to be with Remus at the time.

They seemed not to know what to do now that it was just them, and they looked hesitantly between Harry and each other as though they both wanted to continue but did not want to admit to it. Well, Severus didn’t want to admit to it. Remus, no doubt, did not want to scare Severus away by reaching for him. The vampire held himself away from Remus, and Remus seemed heartbroken, perhaps thinking things would now come to an end.

It frustrated Harry, and he wanted to shout at them to just fuck already. He was sated and wanted to watch his lovers make love. He knelt beside them instead, bending to kiss Severus while he ran his hand over Remus, trying to reignite the passion that had so recently consumed them all. Gently, he persuaded Severus to lower himself by making him chase Harry’s lips as Harry moved them steadily toward Remus’. For a moment, the three of them met, a confusing tangle of lips and tongues and teeth, and their hunger definitely stirred again. While their mouths fought to all make contact with one another, Harry took a risk, reaching between the two to gather Severus’ hardness and carefully position it against Remus.

And abruptly, Harry was forgotten.

Remus held his breath and looked longingly up at Severus, his hands rising to the man’s sides to gently reinforce the request of his eyes. Severus seemed to fall into his golden gaze, undeniably tempted. Hesitantly, still unsure, he allowed himself to close the distance between them, bringing their bodies together and slipping effortlessly into the man beneath him. Severus weight pressed a grateful sigh from Remus as he settled on top of him.

It was such a small movement, but it seemed almost miraculously momentous, and Harry shivered, as undone by the simple act as they apparently were. Severus rested where he was, looking as though he was trying to come to terms with that he’d just done, with what he was doing. But the only real hurdle had been cleared, and Remus took off running, bringing a hand to the back of Severus’ neck to pull him back to his mouth. He did not wait for Severus to decide to continue, he wrapped his legs around the man’s hips and drew him further into himself. Severus moaned into the mouth locked determinedly to his. His fever returned.

Harry sighed with relief and settled back to watch.

They seemed to meet their match in one another, and Harry was fascinated by their dynamic. Remus was not the true submissive Harry was, and Severus was thrown off balance enough at the unaccustomed challenge to his will that he yielded some small degree to the man. Far from the graceful synchronicity Harry and Severus shared, or the gentle dominance Remus practised with the young man, this was a contest. A fairly evenly matched one. They almost seemed to wrestle. When one pushed, the other pushed back. When one found an advantage, the other turned it on him. They rolled each other more than once, but neither was content to be passive, and their competitiveness drove their boldness to new heights, added kindling to the blaze of their lust. It was magnificent and rowdy, and Harry had to vacate the bed entirely, along with most of the bedclothes, to facilitate its range. He moved to Severus’ chair to watch from a safe distance. If this was how they made love, Harry would hate to see them fight.

Severus tried and failed to secure Remus’ wrists, though he seemed adamant about maintaining his position on top, regardless. But Harry could see he was still too timid for Remus’ liking. After several frustrating attempts to lift himself into the man but not achieving the desired force, instead of asking--begging as Harry had instructed him--Remus placed his hands on Severus’ chest and forced him up and away.

Severus seemed taken aback by Remus' audacity and his strength and needed a moment to recover from it...which Remus used to attack, forcing Severus to take him into his lap so Remus could mount him again and grind into him as he wanted.

Now neither of them lorded over the other. For a while, the position seemed to suit them both well enough. Severus could now reach to grasp at the satisfying curve of Remus’ arse and the generous swell of his muscular thighs. Harry loved Remus’ thighs, but he couldn’t help but wonder what Severus thought of them. They were so utterly different than he was used to. Harry was slightly athletic, but his build was small and thin and his legs hairless. He was far more womanly than Remus. Remus’ naked form was the essence of masculinity. He was not bulky, but he was substantial, strong, and lightly furred right up to his arse cheeks.

Severus did not seem to mind the difference. He appeared to enjoy it, but also to be surprised that he did. It seemed to take him a moment to make peace with the fact that he had a man, larger than he was, in his lap, and that he liked him being there. Liked Remus' arms around his shoulders, his firm biceps close enough to taste, liked the broadness of the other man’s back beneath his nails.

Once he had wrapped his mind around it, Severus became more assertive, as if determined not to let the difference in their size prevent him from leading the encounter. But Remus was bigger, and their position was awkward, allowing for Remus’ manoeuvrability but not Severus'. Severus appeared to chafe at his inability to thrust into the other man the way he’d prefer.

The timidity Remus had grown frustrated with before disappeared entirely. If Remus wanted to be fucked, and clearly he did, then Severus seemed resolved to fuck him.

He rose to his knees, wresting back control as he lifted Remus with him by the hips so that Remus had to cling to Severus with arms and legs to stop himself from falling to the bed. It surprised the werewolf. Severus’ thin frame belied his vampiric strength. Remus seemed impressed by the display, which Severus noticed with almost smug satisfaction. Harry knew the look well. It was Severus’ ‘just wait’ look. The young man shivered, envying Remus. The man had no idea, but he was about to.

Severus anchored Remus in place with a firm arm around his waist and reached back to the headboard for support as he thrust up into him. Remus threw his head back to loudly voice his approval, but the sound was interrupted by steady impact. Severus used gravity and Remus’ not-insignificant weight to impressive effect. Remus grinned down at the man, his moans still flowing from his smiling lips. No doubt he’d not yet met anyone strong enough to fuck him quite like this. He let himself get lost in it, wilting around Severus, his moans turning to encouraging hums when he buried his face in Severus’ neck.  

Severus’ one-upmanship seemed to inspire Remus’ own. As much as he obviously enjoyed what they were doing, his limbs were occupied with keeping him aloft, and Remus liked to touch and grab and stroke and squeeze, and he simply could not. Harry saw him try to fondle the delicious contours of the taut shoulder beneath his hand, but he could do little more than cling, which was unacceptable. He abandoned his grip, relying on the other man to support him if he so chose, and let his hand find its way into Severus’ hair instead.

Harry gasped. Severus almost never allowed him to pull his hair. It was Harry whom Severus guided with a firm grip in black locks.

Severus snarled his objection, but Harry could see his eyes flair with unexpected thrill. Remus returned the snarl with a smile. The Dark Creature in each of them showed strongly. Teeth bared, the werewolf accepted the challenge presented. He tipped back Severus’ head while his other hand found the headboard and pulled until Severus, his own fangs peeking, had no choice but to fall to a seat with Remus astride him. Severus’ resentment, though, had no effect on his lust except, perhaps, to sharpen it.

Remus did not gloat, but he was unapologetically pleased with his victory. He pressed his advantage further. Using his weight, settled against Severus’ shoulders under Remus’ covetous hands, he forced Severus to lay down entirely. Remus could tell Severus was displeased, but he distracted him from it by seating himself forcefully over the man’s cock again. Remus curled down to kiss him, almost angrily, while he rode the vampire's entire length properly, his hands now free to explore.

Harry had actually been afraid the furniture would not survive the ordeal, but they seemed to have compromised finally. Refusing to be an inactive participant, but too pleased by the current arrangement to alter it, Severus reached between them to grasp Remus’ erection. He was undoubtedly rougher than Remus was accustomed, but that didn’t prevent Severus from wringing a series of cries from him that interrupted their kiss, and Remus’ cadence, until they crescendoed with the wolf’s back arching suddenly.

Remus’ orgasm was breathtaking in its intensity, and it rendered him completely useless. He seemed more than willing to continue their exercise, only physically unable to force his limbs to obey him with any precision. Severus did not appear disappointed, however. Just the opposite. Harry could see the satisfaction on his face as he tossed Remus to the mattress. Severus brought himself off quickly with a strangled groan by taking Remus from behind while the man still moaned happily but rather pitifully beneath him.

Finally, the spectacle seemed to be over. Severus crawled off of Remus and fell to the side, utterly spent. They both continued to writhe, though, as if their passion refused to relinquish them, as if it hadn’t yet realised the match was finished. Even once they managed to quiet their restless muscles, they fought in vain to catch their breath, to make sense of the world around them and recall that it contained something besides each other.

Harry was speechless. He had been so engrossed, he failed to realise until just then that he was hard again. He knew they were both worthless, likely for the rest of the night, so he allowed his arousal to dissipate.

They all needed a moment to recover. Harry didn’t wait long before drawing close to them, though. Before, it had seemed too dangerous to attempt. Now that he could, he wanted nothing more than to touch them, to be with them, to share in the aftermath. In fact, he was giddy with it and with the slow realisation of what had just happened.

His two lovers had made lovers of each other.

Harry crouched at the side of the bed and peeked over its edge until they both noticed him and blushed, even Remus who was not so prone to self-consciousness. Harry couldn’t suppress his grin as he threw himself happily onto the bed with them like a little boy at Christmas. It certainly had been a gift.

They were close enough to each other that when he wriggled his way between them they were both comfortably pressed to him, and he savoured the sensation. Their skin was hot and sticky, but Harry ran his hands over it anyway. The room reeked of sex: of arse and sweat and semen and faintly of blood. It was delicious. He stretched to kiss one and then the other. He could taste their exhaustion but also their satisfaction.

They eventually found the energy to return his attention but only an echo of it. Now that their lust was sated they seemed vaguely uncomfortable. They sheepishly made eye contact across Harry’s chest. Remus hesitated, but after screwing up his courage, he reached to stroke his fingertips lightly down the arm Severus had draped across Harry between them. Severus’ still red cheeks coloured further. He did not return the affection, but he allowed it, and they all knew that was just as meaningful. Harry willed the contact to repeat, for it to evolve into something more substantial, but it did not, and Harry refused to allow them to become awkward.

“Well,” Harry asked cheekily, “who else thinks this was a fantastic idea?”

Remus groaned but broke into an irrepressible grin. He reached to nuzzle the young man’s neck, making Harry squirm.

“You’re far too young,” Severus muttered as he rolled away onto his back, too hot to cuddle and too tired to tolerate Harry’s increasing enthusiasm. Harry had heard the contented smile in his voice, though, and reached over to squeeze his hand.

“I’m going to run us a bath,” Harry declared, too delighted by the turn of events to be disappointed by their neglect.

"A bath? For all of us?" Remus mumbled into the crook of his arm with amused incredulity. "Are you going to cast Engorgio on the tub?"

"We'll work it out," Harry shrugged, scooting off the bed and annoying them both with his energy.

Harry veritably bounced across the room. After rounding the doorframe, however, he stopped to peek back through it. Harry wanted to see how they would act in his absence.  He so wanted this to be the deciding moment, hoping against hope that the two had actually connected and the night would not be a one-off but rather the first in a long and pleasant series.

Neither of them moved or spoke for a while, and it made Harry increasingly anxious. They both still seemed to be processing the night’s events. Eventually, Harry saw Remus venture to reach a hand across the empty space Harry had left between them, leaving close to but not quite touching the Potions Master’s.

After a tense moment, Severus glanced over at the other man and then back to the ceiling. He also, however, turned his hand and drew Remus’ fingers into his own to hold them loosely.

Harry shivered happily. He took a moment to commit the sight to memory and then crept away to continue his self-appointed errand.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Harry was buoyant as he went to start the bath water. It seemed a shame to wash away the sticky perfume so soon, but it made for a good excuse to leave the two alone together. They needed time to reinforce the bond they’d just forged without Harry’s presence complicating things. He left the tub to fill while he went downstairs to grab some clean towels from the laundry and discovered the teapot neglected on the stove. It had boiled dry while Remus had been...otherwise engaged. Harry smiled again to himself as he carried it to the sink.

It was a slow process because of the open tap upstairs, but Harry was in no hurry. He rinsed the pot and then daydreamed as it gradually refilled.

He wondered if Remus and Severus would seek each other’s intimate company when Harry was not around. And he wondered when he might watch again. He certainly could see himself content with just that. But mostly, Harry wondered when they might all three find themselves tangled in the bed sheets again, and what they could all do to one another and in how many different combinations. The sheer number of possibilities made him shiver with anticipation.

Harry was startled out of this happy reflection by a sudden knock on the window over the sink. Harry scowled at the darkened panes. The place was SecretKept, so it couldn’t be anything too amiss, surely. No one they didn’t trust was supposed to be able to get this close to Grimmauld Place, but why on Earth hadn’t they just come through the front door instead of knocking at the kitchen window? 

Harry set the pot aside and peered through the glass but saw nothing beyond it but their meagre back garden, looking shabbier in silver than it did in its usual withered green. He was so focused, he nearly stumbled backwards in surprise when the annoyed tap-tap-tap occurred again, accompanied by a flurry of feathers as the owl demanding entrance lifted back off to make another circle of it.

Harry hurriedly unlatched the window and threw it wide. Before long, a nondescript brown owl flapped inside. Harry did not recognise it. Archimedes was upstairs for all he knew. He’d given the bird run of the fourth floor where Buckbeak once stayed, but he was more a tenant than a pet. Harry rarely had need of him. This unfamiliar owl was not inclined to be examined, though. It practically threw the small parcel it carried at Harry before immediately disappearing back out the window.      

It was a strange episode, and Harry had an ominous feeling about it; not least because, once he’d shaken off his shock and confusion and turned to look for the delivery, he realised he could locate the fallen package by scent.

The smell of human blood drew Harry apprehensively to his knees and under the table, but he did not reach for the parcel right away. It was as plain as the owl who had delivered it and much too small to contain anything too frightening. At least, that's what Harry told himself in an attempt to stave off his panic, but it could be nothing good. Happy surprises did not smell of bodily fluids. He glared at the thing while he considered the situation.

Harry entertained the idea of going and fetching Remus and Severus before opening it but ultimately decided against it. It might contain something difficult for Harry to explain without confessing his and Loraina’s recent activities. He’d have a look inside first and then consult them if necessary.

It was hard to convince his limbs to carry out his decision. With a trembling hand, Harry retrieved the package and stood, setting it carefully on the table where he stared at it for a moment longer before peeling back the brown wrapping far enough to pry open the lid of the paper box beneath it. The scent of blood that burst from the container when he did so almost bowled Harry over. If he’d been holding the thing he might have thrown it. If he'd had his wand, he'd have cursed it.

It wasn’t just that the scent was strong, it was that Harry recognised it.

His already pounding heart thumped harder and Harry reminded himself to breathe, though his lungs ignored the advice. He could barely force air into them as he reached reluctantly inside the box and gingerly plucked out its contents.

Its true colour was dyed through with the tacky red tint of drying blood, but Harry didn’t need to see the rich chestnut hue of the frizzy shorn curl to know who it belonged to. 

The implication was clear, but Harry was paralysed with uncertainty about what he was meant to do about it. He glanced nervously toward the stair. His wand lay on the floor of his room where Remus and Severus still lazed. His Map was there, as well. Harry’d have preferred to check her quarters first, but he didn’t have time to comb the forest anyway. If Loraina was not in her room, he’d have to think of something else, regardless.

Harry went back to the laundry and found a t-shirt and jeans, pulling them on so frantically he almost ripped them. He stuffed his feet in the trainers by the back door, snatched the parcel and its contents from the kitchen table, and then quickly flooed to Severus’ rooms and to Loraina’s from there.

The Witch was standing in her sitting room when he arrived, and to say she seemed less than pleased to see him step from her fireplace was an understatement. "What’s the meaning of this?” 

Loraina,” Harry began urgently, but she wasn’t finished.

“Being accomplices does not give you the right to invade my privacy on a whim, you entitled brat! What is it you want now?” she demanded, growing angrier still. “Another sliver of my soul? Another taste of my despair with nothing to offer in return?” She paced the floor in front of him as she scolded. Harry didn’t begrudge her her offence, and he would have been willing to stand and accept her criticism, but matters were pressing.

“Loraina, please, listen to me-”

“So you like pain, is that it? Oh, I know. Let me show you the brutality of a forced infection. That might give you a kick. Or maybe you’d rather see the us at height of the Madness when Severus nearly drained me dry while shagging me into the dirt while I pleaded with him to look into my eyes and remember who he was!”

Harry winced. He was taken aback by her venom, but he understood it. She had shared something intensely personal with him with the intention of solidifying his resolve, and it had backfired.

“No, no. Even better,” she went on, her anger curdling to despair, “let me show the moment when I realized Severus was done with me. Let me let you gawk at the sad, dead look in his eye when I almost struck him for not ripping the throats from the brigands who would have left us with our own throats slit for nothing but our wands and shoes,” she said, near to actual tears for the first time that Harry had ever seen.

“Or would you rather I just bottled these up for you to sip on?” she asked, seeing him notice them, her voice so pitiful at this point he couldn’t interrupt her despite the urgency of the situation. Harry shook his head in sad apology.

“Here I was, thinking you were a masochist,” she hiccuped, her whimpers making her sound more like a heartbroken little girl than the bloodsucking killer he knew her to be, “with all those bruises Severus left on you. But you’re not. You’re a sadist. The worst kind. The kind that pretends they aren’t. Fucking Gryffindor,” she muttered as she turned her back on him to repair the lapse in her facade, swiping angrily at her cheeks. 

“Loraina, I’m sorry,” Harry told her with aching sincerity. He wished they had the luxury of having the conversation they obviously needed to have, but there was no time to go about it properly. “I know you’re angry with me, and I don’t blame you. I’m apologize if you feel like I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain, but I never actually agreed-”

“Loopholes,” she spat disdainfully. “Loopholes!” she spun around to shout at him, reminding him how unbalanced she was. “You are so fond of your excuses.” She waved dismissively in his vague direction and turned to continue pacing.

“Look,” he began, sympathetic but growing frustrated, “it’s not my fault that you needed me more than I needed you. But now you have to listen to me, becau-”

“Need you?” she interrupted, seemingly appalled at his audacity. “Need you?” she repeated, her face a disgusted grimace. “I don’t need you, you vain little shit,” she spat, livid. “Who in hell do you think you are? Who in hell do you think I am? I wanted purpose and direction. I wanted distraction. All of which you conveniently offered. I need nothing and no one, and I don’t have to listen to fuck all,” she added to his assertion. “If you want to have a confessional, run to your pet mongrel., he is so fond of his heart-to-hearts,” she sneered. “Or else go and find your damned bleeding heart Mudblood.”

“Goddamnit, Loraina,” Harry shouted finally, at his wit's end and reminded of his errand, “they have the damned bleeding heart Mudblood! That’s why I’m here!”

Loraina stopped pacing. Anger and anguish faded from her as she turned to him, replaced by incredulity and curiosity in equal measure. She cocked her head at him, waiting for him to elaborate.

Harry took half a second to calm himself before extending his still shaking hand to offer her the box. She snatched it from him and fished the lock of hair from inside, rolling it between her fingers as she held it up to examine it.

Loraina sneered. “The ones you love can take care of themselves can they?” she taunted him nastily, returning the hair to the box and then tossing the thing back to him. She licked her fingers clean and crossed her arms, leering at him with a ‘told you so’ expression.

Harry’s sympathy evaporated. This might not even be happening if she hadn’t abducted William. But Harry was just as pissed off at himself, knowing that he had no criticism of the deed beyond its present consequence. He returned her hard stare.

“Why come to me?” she asked with narrowed eyes, but then she smirked as she divined the answer. “Because you know. If you tell them, they will stop you. You’ve always known that.”

The more frustrated Harry became, the more gloatingly she sneered.

“They will not come with you. They will alert the Ministry instead. But the Aurors are bunglers. How challenging was your final exam?” she goaded.

He threw her an acrid scowl but could not answer, because they both knew she was right.

“They’ll push papers and follow dead ends,” she continued to prod, circling him as she spoke, “and all the while your Hermione will be in the hands of murderers and drug-addled mad men.” She drew close to Harry to whisper in his ear, “I wonder what they'll do to her when she runs her mouth,” before skipping back away from the suddenly murderous expression the comment evoked, seeming tickled by it. “Or when they get bored,” she added with a shrug. “She is a pretty little thing under all that frizzy mess.”

Harry was trembling with anger. Anger at the bastards who had his best friend, and anger at this bitch who gleefully pointed out all the reasons he was justified in his worry and his fury. But he needed Loraina, so he held his tongue...with effort.

“I do wonder what they’ll do,” she went on musingly. “And to think she was so happily free of you and your rubbish just days ago. Now she may never get back to her shiny new lover on their sparkling private beach, and it will be all...your...fault.” She leaned in as she spoke, lingering only inches from his increasingly violent expression.

That was the final straw for Harry. She had been trying to provoke him and had succeeded. He snarled and snatched her by her shirt front to slam her against the sitting room wall, though he tried to resist the urge to strangle her.

She was unfazed. In fact, she seemed to find his reaction hilarious and began giggling so uncontrollably, she couldn’t even attempt to free herself from his grasp. Harry’s aggression withered in the face of her obvious insanity, and he released her with a sneer to let her slip down the wall and onto the floor. 

“Are you going to help me or not?” He needed to know--now--whether he should make a different plan of action.

Her giggles quickly spent themselves, and she looked up at him with a grin, her head lolling against the stones behind it. “Well, of course I will, Lovely,” she shrugged agreeably. “I’m ready when you are.”

Now it was Harry’s turn to pace. He hadn’t expected to be flying off on a rescue mission that night and was completely unprepared. He didn’t even know where to start.

“I’ve left my wand at home,” he confessed. “It’s in the pocket of my trousers on the floor of my room and I didn’t want to disturb the both…”

He blushed as he glanced to her, but he broke off his explanation too late. Loraina pulled herself from the floor, looking as if she were about to be ill. “Now why would it be in a different pair of trousers on the floor of your room where you might ‘disturb’ both of the boys?” She sniffed at him, her nose scrunched. “I could tell you’d just been with one of them. Lucky Ducky, though, seems to have finally managed them both.”

She sneered at him, but Harry refused to feel bad about what had happened, and she could see the aggressive lack of apology in his expression.

“Doesn’t matter,” she said, eyeing him with disappointment, “you don’t need a wand.”

It might have been true, but it still made Harry uncomfortable. He felt naked without one. Harry tried to make peace with the situation, but it seemed she was merely being petty by making him squirm, as Cobbleshot sauntered over then to pull something from the drawer of her writing desk. When she returned, she presented him with a wand he’d never seen before.

“Willy’s,” she explained with a shrug.

He took it reluctantly. The thought of using the thing made him feel dirty somehow. Besides, it was cheap, obviously not an Ollivander. Harry gave it a swish and it responded, but he was vaguely surprised it was capable of magic at all. “We don’t know any more about where to find her than the Ministry does,” Harry pointed out, growing less confident about the endeavour with each passing moment.

“Don’t we? I’ve been spending a lot of time on Knockturn.”

Harry stared at her, still weighing their odds. “We won’t get in. If we go in with our fangs bared, the real bad guys will see us coming and scarper.”

“So we won’t go in with our fangs bared,” she shrugged.

Harry waited impatiently for her to elaborate, but she seemed to enjoy toying with him, as if this was her little revenge for his abandonment earlier that night. Eventually, she returned to the desk drawer and took more things out of it.

“Polyjuice,” she explained, waggling a flask illustratively in his direction. “And...bits of Willy,” she added, several strands of hair pinched between her fingertips. “Don’t look so surprised, Lovely. We both know you’re rubbish at foresight, and I never go into anything unprepared.”    

“You just happen to have Polyjuice?” Harry asked suspiciously.

“One of Severus’ N.E.W.T.s made it for her final assessment. I helpfully offered to ‘dispose’ of it for him. Poor dear was so busy with other things at the time,” she explained with an accusing scowl.

Harry took the flask she offered with a pang. It reminded him of Hermione. He often forgot it was such an advanced potion, considering she had brewed it in a bloody bathroom when they were twelve. She was so clever. And that gave him hope. He was still worried, but he tried to have faith that she was at least clever enough to keep herself alive and unharmed until he could save her.

Not that it would be easy. Harry glanced at the floo, sick to be leaving Remus and Severus like this, especially now that their future together seemed to finally have sorted itself. They would be so worried, so hurt.

“You can go to them, Harry,” Cobbleshot said at his ear, startling him. He hated when she did that and gave her a nasty look to make sure she knew it. “But if you do, Hermione won’t be coming back alive. It’s up to you,” she shrugged, stepping back.

Harry threw Loraina a resentful look, but she was right. His grip tightened around the flask in his one hand and the unfamiliar wand in his other as he cemented his resolve. He couldn’t possibly leave Remus and Severus without giving them some indication of where he’d gone, however. If he never came back, he knew the pain of not knowing would weigh on them forever.

“I’ll be right back,” said Harry, already moving toward the floo.

“Why? Saying goodbye? It will only make it harder, Harry.” Loraina was disquieted as she watched him scoop out a handful of floo powder but was trying unsuccessfully to hide it. “Come, Lovely,” she urged, her voice full of tragic understanding. “Let us simply go.”

“It’s not that. Just wait for me. I promise I‘ll be back.”

He didn’t give her an opportunity to argue, he was already stepping into Severus’ quarters. Harry flew down the steps to the lab, quickly scanning its many tables until he found what he was looking for.

Four thin tubes filled with pale yellow liquid rested in a stand by the sink. Harry searched the room, frantically surveying his options, and finally snatched up a large pouch from the ingredients shelf. He dumped its contents of cheap, bulk chamomile onto a workbench, then he carefully collected the phials and stowed them in the now-empty sack, adding the flask of Polyjuice to it before tying it off.

He wasn’t done, though, and he had to work quickly. Harry didn’t like to think about it, but in case he didn’t make it back, the least he could do was leave part of himself behind for Severus to work with in his research. His years of bloodletting came in handy as he filled a flask with as much of the stuff as he felt he could spare without making himself ill. He healed the cut with a smear of the ever-present balm from a cauldron in the corner and took up a new flask.

He knew Cobbleshot would be anxious by now, but this was all he could think of. A note with all the necessary information would take far too long to write. Instead, Harry used the dead man’s wand to extract a series of memories. He plucked out all his time with Cobbleshot alone in the woods--everything, no matter how shamed he was by most of it--and deposited the memories into the flask, capping it tightly. He hoped it would be enough and that they would forgive him his secrecy and his folly, but it was not just vengeance that compelled him, now. Surely they'd understand. 

Having done as much as he felt he could do in the time he had, Harry took up his pouch of potions; but before he flooed back to Cobbleshot’s sitting room, he ducked into the bedroom closet. His clothes were conspicuous. He needed something more traditional, something that helped him blend with the darkness. Besides, it smelled of Severus, and that was something Harry felt he would need to carry him through.

Loraina was visibly relieved when Harry stepped back through her hearth wearing one of Severus’ robes.

“So, Lovely,” she said, looking to the cloth sack he held approvingly, guessing its contents, “are you ready now?”

Harry took a deep, shaky breath. He wasn’t. He’d felt, not long ago, that he could not wait to fly off into the unknown and exact his bloody revenge. He’d hungered for the opportunity. But so many things had changed. He had changed. He didn’t see an alternative, though. Harry decided to just be grateful he’d been foolish enough to prepare for the event as well as he had so far.

He thought again of Severus and Remus, probably still in his bed happily basking in the aftermath of their time together, and Harry’s heart ached unbearably. He determined to simply leave the broken thing behind. Harry suspected a heart had no business where he was going, anyway.

His resolve properly set, Harry looked up at Cobbleshot finally and nodded. Her responding smile was slow but almost inhumanly wide, and her eyes smouldered with madness and enthusiasm.

“In that case, Lovely...let us hunt.”  

 

To Be Continued...

  

Chapter Text

The Dark Creature trilogy is continued in A Crimson River.

(Another random extra chapter I used for elaborate author's notes that no longer apply. I'll learn my lesson eventually.)