The bottle was composed of black, faceted crystal which caught and absorbed all light, trapping it within its matrix to warm the contents it contained. Fire Bright Elixir had to be kept hot, or it would degrade rapidly. The illegal potion was used by professional Quidditch players to enhance their performance; one drop caused a player's eyes to glow with a reddish sheen, an indication that his metabolism had sped up to feed the increased demands of his body. Fire Bright made its user faster, more dextrous, and better able to bear the pain of over-exertion.
And such an advantage has become indispensable to the Aurors fighting on the front lines as their numbers continue to decrease, Severus thought, glaring at the bottle in his hands.
At Hogwarts, the soldiers who abused the elixir were easily discerned; their eyes gleamed out of twisted faces, their muscles spasmed without control, and they did not sleep. The Potions master had begun to feel like a drug dealer as the battle to take the castle wore on, and the stream of addicted Aurors visited him in his dungeons to importune him to make more of the hateful draught.
"No, Glenwilliams. You've been taking too much. Go see Madame Pomfrey for relief."
"Damn it, man! I've got to get back out there. I need it!"
"No," Severus said again.
The Auror growled at him and stormed out of the laboratory.
But the wizard knew that when the man returned, if he returned, he would provide him another dose.
That night, the Astronomy Tower fell under a volley of flaming boulders flung at it by cave trolls under the control of the Death Eaters that had kept Hogwarts under siege for weeks. Three Aurors overdosed on Fire Bright Elixir in their attempt to prevent the destruction; they had been on their broomsticks guarding the tower for over ten hours before the attack, and had absorbed too many hexes, hexes they had not felt due to the effects of Fire Bright running through their veins.
"The fools had no business staying out so long!" raged Severus, as he stood in the rubble of the tower, staring at the bodies.
They were too hot to touch.
"Professor," Zacharias Smith, one of the Seventh Year students who had been given the responsibility of burying the dead, said, "we need to . . . deal with them. We can't just leave them lying there."
"No, we cannot," the Potions master agreed, casting an incendiary charm at the bodies.
Zacharias and the other students in the Burial Corps gasped in shock at the manner in which Snape had elected to provide a measure of dignity to the Aurors in death.
"We could not have buried them in any case, Mr. Smith," the wizard said before returning to his lab.
There were other potions in need of preparation, and the wizard immersed himself in the task of brewing them so that he would not have to think about the destruction that surrounded him. Matters were desperate, and soon, soon he knew that Potter would act. But Severus could not contemplate that and function; his feelings for the boy were too strong.
Remus Lupin came to see him later that night.
"No more burials?" he asked.
"No," Severus replied. "This is the last of the Wolfsbane, Lupin," he told the other man, handing him a steaming goblet. "I am out of silver and hensbane."
"Perhaps I should leave it. Perhaps I should just—"
"What?" asked Severus sharply. "Walk out after your transformation and take down as many trolls as you can before you are slaughtered? Don't be a fool!"
"I'd prefer that to waiting for the moment our own people have to destroy me," Remus whispered.
"Such sacrifice is not noble, Lupin. You don't know what might happen in a month. Drink the damn potion."
Remus did so, and handed Severus the goblet. "It doesn't taste half bad today."
"Severus . . . ."
"The headmaster has asked to see you."
"Is it time?"
"Not quite. Harry has an idea."
No! No, Harry, the man screamed in his head, but he did not allow his distress to reach his features. "More Gryffindor idiocy? Excellent," the man said, walking to the door. "Well?" he asked Lupin, who had not moved.
"I think you should persuade Harry to take the Fire Bright Elixir. He's exhausted, and any advant—"
"No, Lupin. I will not dissuade Potter from behaving responsibly. For once, the boy is showing more sense than with which I would have ever credited him. The potion is dangerous, and Potter needs his wits about him."
The two men began walking toward Dumbledore's office.
"I know it's dangerous, but Harry's been fighting shift after shift—he doesn't rest—he needs—"
Saving, Severus thought, feeling his inability to do that keenly. "An army."
"We don't have an army."
"Of this, I am well aware. What is the boy planning?"
Thus far, Potter, working with the Aurors, had managed to destroy several of Voldemort's battle groups. But the trolls just kept coming. There were fewer of them, thanks to Hagrid's efforts with his giants, but their numbers were also decreasing. Since the groundskeeper cum soldier's last report, more of the Dark Lord's troops had arrived to reinforce the enemy at their gates, and it seemed increasingly likely that Hogwarts would fall. Of the Aurors who had been defending the Ministry, there had been no word, and Severus knew that this probably meant that they were all dead.
"Voldemort will be coming soon."
"That is likely."
"And Harry wants to face him."
"Of course he does," Severus replied sourly, stopping in front of the Gryphon that guarded Albus' office. "Cranberry Crunch," he said, trying to quell the sensation of dread that was growing in his breast. Get a hold of yourself, man!
Remus followed Severus onto the spiral staircase and said nothing as it wound upwards. They heard the shouting before they had reached the top.
"No! That's insane!" Kingsley Shacklebolt was yelling.
"What is?" Severus asked.
"Snape! Tell Potter it's a suicide mission to face Voldemort alone!"
Severus glanced at the Auror before gazing stoically at the boy and saying, "Potter, it's a suicide mission to face Voldemort alone." Don't do it, Harry. Please, stay safe, stay here, stay with me.
Harry, his face flushed with anger, almost smiled at the wizard's sarcastic repetition of the Auror's words. Instead, he turned his attention to Dumbledore, who had cleared his throat expectantly.
"Kingsley, calm yourself. Harry knows what he has to do. It is our job to support his efforts now."
"What do you propose, Potter?" Severus asked, pleased that his voice remained steady.
"I want to clear the trolls and force the Death Eaters inside of the gates. We can concentrate our forces on that fight while I seek Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest."
"How do you know the Dark Lord will position himself there?"
Harry tapped his scar.
"Ah," Severus said, "you're going to allow him to draw you into a trap. That does seem wise."
"Look, I have to do this. If I can kill him, his troops will scatter."
"And how will you destroy the Dark Lord, Potter?"
"I . . . I'm not clear on that, yet, but—"
"But you'll allow us to remove our defenses while you try. Potter, you're more of an idiot—"
"Severus!" Albus thundered, clearly strained. "Enough. We won't last long in any case. Harry must face Voldemort now before he is too weak."
The Potions master noted that the headmaster appeared rather weak, himself. "If the boy fails, we will be slaughtered that much sooner. We should wait for—"
"They aren't coming," Shacklebolt said heavily. "Tonks got through. She told us that . . . that—" he attempted to say, but could not complete his thought.
Remus did so for him. "Tonks reports that the Dementors have caused our people to run mad at the Ministry. They aren't coming, Severus. They're most likely dead by now."
"I see." And now you're prepared to sacrifice the Boy Who Lived in a last effort to win a war we have no hope of surviving.
"This is the trap," Harry said calmly. "Voldemort wants me."
"Yes, he does. Why are you so eager to provide him with yourself? You don't even have a plan to destroy him," Severus replied, forcing himself not to think of what the Dark Lord would do to Harry if he captured him.
"Professor, I know you have your doubts about the prophesy, but I've got to do this, and now."
"What do you want from me?"
"Permission," the young man said, paling visibly.
"Leave us," Albus told the others, and waited for Shacklebolt and Lupin to obey him before he spoke again. "Severus, it's not true that Harry is without a plan. It will, however, mean—"
"Your death. Maybe."
Severus looked at Harry in astonishment. The boy—no, the man—appeared almost sick at the thought he was about to express. "What are you talking about?"
"I can kill Voldemort. Hermione and Albus worked out a binding spell, something to allow me to . . . join with the Dark Lord's consciousness and possess him. But if I do that, if I can make him kill himself—"
"You will be killed." No, no, no . . . .
"Most likely, but so will you—so will anyone bound to Voldemort."
"I'm surprised your lover would permit you to attempt such an idiotic stunt." That is not like Granger at all.
Harry did not react to Severus' assumption. Instead, he squared his shoulders and said, "Professor Snape, you hold . . . there's a life debt between us. I can't—"
"Willingly destroy me because of it. I see. You want me to release you from the bond between us, so that your spell will work," the wizard said bitterly.
For the life debt Harry owed him was all he had to connect himself to the boy.
"Yes," Harry whispered.
"That isn't as simple as—"
"Harry knows that, Severus. But there is a way for him to pay the life debt he owes you, if you would be willing to accept it," Albus said.
The Potions master reviewed what he knew of life debts quickly, but he could not fathom what the headmaster had in mind. The only way to break such a bond is if the one who owes it saves the life of the one to whom it is owed, he thought, that, or if the two parties involved become—"No!" he exclaimed, as he realized what Harry had in mind. "That is ridiculous, boy!" And far too much to hope.
"I'll leave you two alone," Albus said, making a hasty exit from his office.
"Why?" Harry demanded.
"Why, Potter? Because you are not a witch. You are not a poof. You do not desire me. We cannot knit our lives together by bond of marriage, that is why." And I would not have you that way, sacrificing yourself to bed me when you do not lo—
"It's not actually a question of marriage," Harry said quietly. "Albus did it—with Grindelwald—he says all we have to do is have—"
"Sex, Potter. Yes, I know. But again, you do not desire—"
"Please don't presume to tell me what I desire, Severus."
What? "Granger surely did not—"
"Hermione knows how I feel about you. That's why she suggested it."
"Potter, what are you implying?" the man asked, his every nerve suddenly aflame.
"I . . . I'm in love with you, Severus. I have been for over a year," Harry replied, blushing and looking miserable. "I know that you won't believe me, but, but I can prove it," the boy said, as if realizing something. "Here," he said, picking up the Pensieve on Albus' desk and drawing his wand. "Here," he said again after tapping his head with his wand and adding a thought to the device. "Look."
Almost too eagerly, for he knew that Potter way lying to him—Attempting to seduce me for the cause, he thought—Severus looked. He peered into the Pensieve and allowed himself to fall into Potter's memory. The scene was the Gryffindor common room, and Potter was sitting in a chair by the hearth watching as Hermione Granger walked toward him.
"What is it, Harry?" the girl asked, concern evident in her expression.
"Nothing. I don't want to talk about it."
"Harry, you've been crying."
That was true, and the Potions master felt himself wanting to comfort the boy. He had never seen Harry cry before.
"Go away, Hermione."
The infuriating girl did not go, but sat down next to Harry and took his hand. "It's Blaise, isn't it? You and Blaise . . . ."
"We broke up."
Potter and Zabini were a couple? Severus thought, surprised. But . . . .
"But, why? I thought that you said it was time, that—"
"Oh, we did, Hermione, but I . . . I ruined everything."
Severus felt a stab of irrational jealousy at the thought of anyone touching Harry.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Well, you are talking about it, aren't you? What happened?"
The young man's featured crumpled up in pain, as he whispered, "I called his name."
Whose name? "But why would—oh! Oh, Harry, I . . . I don't know what to say."
That would be a first, Severus thought harshly. Let him tell you!
"I do like Blaise, but . . . but when he was . . . when we . . . I, damn it, Hermione! I couldn't help myself! Why do I feel this way? He hates me! Why did I have to hurt Blaise like that?"
"Because you're in love with Professor Snape, aren't you, Harry?"
Are you? Are you truly?
"And you called his name when . . . while you and Blaise were making love, is that right?"
"Ye—yes," Potter said, beginning to cry harder.
Hermione enveloped the boy in her arms and allowed him to sob.
"Shh," she soothed him. "Shh. It will be all right, Harry."
Stunned, Severus pulled himself out of the Pensieve and Potter's proof. The younger wizard was staring at him with wide, wet, green eyes. "Do you believe me, now?" he asked hoarsely.
"When . . . when was that?" Severus ground out between clenched teeth.
"Last year, just before Christmas. Blaise never forgave me."
Blaise Zabini had been one of the first students to volunteer to fight. He had died during the initial siege of the castle. And Harry must blame himself for that, as he blames himself for making a proposal that could kill me. But it was still too new, the revelation that the other wizard could love him, so he said, "And that is why you wish to sacrifice yourself so heroically, Potter?"
"No, damn you! I have to do this! But, but I don't . . . ."
"You don't, what?" the older wizard asked, his heart beating faster. It's anger, he lied to himself, watching Potter's perfect mouth work as he tried to form his response.
"I don't want you to die, Severus, but there . . . there's no other way. I know that you don't feel anything for me, but surely, surely you could—"
"Shut up, boy," the man said, closing the distance between them and roughly pulling Potter against his body to claim his mouth.
The heat between them owed nothing to Fire Bright Elixir.
"OH," Harry groaned, breaking their kiss. "You, you do want me."
"Alive, boy, I want you to live," Severus said fiercely, grinding his erection into the boy's belly.
"Oh, GODS! Oh, Severus, please," Harry begged, thrusting back.
"You don't know what you're asking," the wizard told him, squeezing Harry's arse.
"Yes, I do. Please, Severus. This is all we have. Please," Harry said, struggling to free himself from the embrace so that he could undress the man.
"I will not bed you here," Severus said, releasing Harry. "Come with me."
They did not make it back to the dungeons. An explosion in the corridor outside of Albus' office forced them into an empty classroom, and Severus spelled the door locked quickly before turning to find that Harry had begun frantically undressing.
"Let me do that," he ordered, knocking the boy's hands away from the buttons of his shirt.
When they were naked, they stilled long enough to allow their eyes to hungrily take in each other's charms before the sounds of cracking masonry reminded them that time was short.
Harry transfigured several desks into a large bed, and they fell upon it, Severus covering Harry's body with his own. The wizard kissed his way down Potter's chest to the trail of hair on his belly that led to his straining, leaking prick, and breathed hotly on the engorged head before sucking the organ to the root.
With deliberate steadiness, Severus sucked hard up and down the thick shaft, tonguing the vein that ran up the underside of Harry's cock and holding the boy's hips firmly down on the mattress.
"Nnn! OH, please, yes! MORE!" Harry cried, his hands threading Severus' hair.
The wizard released one hipbone to snake his hand between Harry's thighs and tease his spasming hole, reveling in the way the simple action of thrusting a finger inside of the boy caused his lover to scream incoherently.
"Do you want me?"
"Yes, Severus! I want you. Fuck me, please!" Harry begged, attempting to turn over.
"No! I want to see your face," Severus told him before murmuring a lubrication spell and repositioning himself above Harry's heaving frame.
Slowly, he nudged his impatient prick between the boy's thighs and pressed his head against the pucker of Harry's arse, pushing in just enough for it to be enveloped by the teasing heat, and gasped as he felt the boy's muscles undulate in attempt to grasp his shaft and draw it inside of himself.
"Fuck! I want the rest of you!"
"And you'll have it," Severus promised, burying himself in Harry's body with one slick thrust.
The bed rocked with the reverberations of another explosion, but the lovers ignored the attack, focusing instead on the rhythm of their bodies. Severus pulled back and twisted his hips before plunging back inside of the boy, learning quickly that Harry loved to be fucked hard. He felt his orgasm hovering close.
Too soon! he thought, slowing his strokes and concentrating on hitting a particular spot with every thrust. I have to make this count.
"Wha—what's that?" his lover gasped, bucking hard.
"Your prostate, Harry," he breathed heavily against his neck before biting it.
He was inordinately pleased to discover that it was he who was giving Harry this first pleasure, something that he had dreamed of doing for years. Blaise's apparent incompetence as a lover made up for his having deflowered Harry.
"Se-Se-Severus, I'm . . . oh! I'm com—coming!" Harry cried, shuddering beneath him.
That was all the man needed to hear. Having pleasured the boy, he began pounding into him as hard as he could. His own orgasm shaking him even as Harry came again.
Spent, and shaking from both their efforts and the continuing attack on the castle, the two wizards clung to each other while the aftershocks of their passion subsided.
"Harry," the man whispered when he could speak again. "Harry, I don't want you to go."
The boy shifted so that he made Severus rolled off of him, and settled himself on top of his lover.
"I don't want to go," he said, his eyes shining wetly as he looked at the older man. "I want to stay in this room forever, but . . . ."
"But you have to go."
A look of pain crossed Harry's face. "I don't know what will happen. I don't know if I can . . . ."
"You can do it, Harry. I know that you can."
"But you, I could, it will kill . . . ."
Severus reached up to cup Harry's face in his hands and drew the boy down for a kiss. Opening his mind to him, he thought, I love you, Harry.
"You . . . you do?" the boy whispered as he broke the kiss. "You really do?"
"And I'll be waiting for you," Severus lied quietly, gently releasing Harry and rising from the bed.
Harry rose, as well, and said nothing as the two of them dressed. The explosions seemed to have stopped.
"Don't die," Severus told Harry, forcing himself to remain impassive. He needs me to be strong.
"No, I just need you," the younger wizard told him, walking out the door.
The Potions master did not follow the Boy He Loved. Instead, he returned to the dungeons to supervise the administration of the Fire Bright Elixir to the Aurors he knew would be waiting for him.
He burned with concern for Harry, but he had work to do. And if I am going to die, I had best prepare Granger to take over as best she can in my stead.
The witch was already there, handing out phials of Fire Bright to agitated Aurors.
"Professor, I'm sorry. I thought—"
"It's all right, Miss Granger. I'm pleased that you are behaving so capably," the man said, his post-coital lassitude and resignation making him gracious. "Was that the last of them?" he asked, indicating the soldiers who had just left.
"Yes, Sir. They came when the attack began. Is Harry?"
"Oh," she said, beginning to tidy up the area.
"Thank you," Severus said simply, hoping that she would understand all that he could not say.
"There's a chance that—"
"No, there isn't, Miss Granger," Severus replied, aware that the witch had been about to offer him a measure of comfort about his chance of surviving Harry's plan. "I would like you to do something for me."
"Do not allow Harry to mourn me to the point he forgets he is alive."
"Oh, Professor Snape, I . . . I don't know what to say. If Harry survives, he'll . . . ."
"He'll brood. But you must not allow it. He deserves a measure of happiness, of peace."
"We all do, Sir."
"Perhaps. But I have had . . . ." I have had Harry, and that is more than I could have wished for. "There will be no peace for me, Miss Granger. My only happiness will be the brief knowledge that you have promised to look out for Harry."
"I promise, Professor Snape," the witch said, gazing at him through dry and solemn eyes.
"Good," the wizard replied.
He left the girl to her task and went to find Albus, who he knew would be supervising the battle from whatever tower was left standing.
"Severus," Albus said, leaning on a cane that the Potions master had never before seen.
He stepped under the cracked lintel of the door to the Bell Tower, and approached his friend, noting that the bell had been damaged. He said nothing as he gazed out over the ruined portion of Hogwarts to the battle raging below.
"The trolls are inside of the wall."
"So I see."
"The Aurors seem to be doing well."
"I cannot see the Forbidden Forest from here, but I know that Harry . . . ."
"Do not speak to me of Harry, please."
"As you wish."
"It is your magic that is protecting the castle, is it not?"
"Perhaps you would do better to focus it on the attack."
"And leave the inhabitants of Hogsmeade and our students undefended?"
There had been barely enough time to evacuate the town to the school, and nowhere for anyone to go once the battle had begun.
"This is the end, Albus. If Harry fails, then . . . ."
"All hope will be lost. Perhaps you are right, old friend. I should be out there."
"No, I should be out there, Albus. Give it to me," the man asked, steeling himself for his friend's refusal.
"Are you certain, Severus?"
They had discussed Albus releasing his power as a way of defending themselves, but that tactic had been abandoned. Severus could not remember why. But he knew now that it was for the best.
Albus will not last much longer, so much is clear. "I do not wish to wait for death to come to me."
"Going out in a blaze of glory is more a Gryffindor tactic, I should think," Albus replied, removing his wand from his robes.
"Well, then, if you're certain, we'll share."
"What do you mean?"
"When I remove my protection from Hogwarts, the surge of magic will be too great for one wizard to wield alone. Half I shall give to you, so that you may fight. Half, I shall retain, so that I may defend."
"Agreed," Severus said, preparing himself.
Albus murmured an incantation that the Potions master did not understand, but he felt its effect almost at once. His sense of his own magic grew as he became filled with the headmaster's power, and he felt hot. "You're glowing," he told the other wizard.
"So are you. Now, go. Use the magic I've given you before it burns its way through you. You haven't much time."
There was to be no other goodbye than this, and that suited both men fine, for they had in common a sense of pragmatism that others might have called fatalism.
He ran down the stairs of the Bell Tower and then through the corridors of the school to the front door. He ran into the thick of the fighting, pointing his wand at trolls and other enemy combatants and destroying them, easily deflecting the hexes cast at him by the Death Eaters who had begun to stream into the battle as their troll soldiers fell under the onslaught of the Aurors. He ran toward the groups of evil wizards and witches who were casting combined spells and set them aflame. He ran past charred bodies and piles of boulders to the edge of the Forbidden Forest where hags had congregated to prevent the Aurors' access to where he knew Voldemort was waiting for Potter.
These creatures he froze with a thought before casting a disintegration charm on their bodies and rushing into the woods toward the trap the Dark Lord had set for his lover. He could hear the screaming before him. Behind him, the Aurors who had survived the fighting began to follow him toward the real battle.
Breaking into the clearing in which Voldemort stood before Harry surrounded by a circle of hooded figures, Severus began casting Avada Kedavra at every Death Eater he saw. The Aurors followed his lead. Several of the witches and wizards fell then as a destructive ward surged up between the Dark Lord and his prey, and Harry's would-be defenders. Severus was thrown to the ground. A tendril of magic struck out at him from the barrier, striking him like a flaming whip.
"NOO!" he heard Harry yell. "LEAVE HIM ALONE!"
The magical barrier shimmered, turning from a bloodied orange color into something closer to viridescence, but whatever the hue, it was sufficient to obscure Harry from Severus' sight. The pain he had been feeling ceased abruptly. Severus struggled to his feet as he heard his master taunt his lover.
"You cannot defeat me, boy," the Dark Lord spat. "You are alone. Your power is my power, and I have come to claim it."
"AHH!" Harry screamed, obviously in pain.
"Fight him, Harry! Fight him!" Severus yelled, preparing himself to batter the wall of magic with the power he yet held within him.
"Fight me, old friend," ordered a voice behind the Potions master.
"Lucius!" Severus growled, turning in time to deflect the death curse the other wizard had cast.
Malfoy laughed. "How like you to use another's magic to do your work, potion-brewer," the man spat, aiming his wand at Severus. "You're too cowardly to fight alone."
"I am not alone, Lucius," the Potions master replied, imagining the other wizard as a pile of ash scattering at his feet.
Malfoy did not even have time to scream before Severus' thought-spell destroyed him.
But Harry was still screaming, and the magical barrier in his control was shifting toward red again.
"Harry! Harry!" he cried, focusing all his energy at dissolving the impediment between himself and his lover.
He did not notice that the Aurors had joined him in his efforts. Remus Lupin stood with Kingsley Shacklebolt and Nymphadora Tonks watching in horror as the sheen of magic surrounding Harry and Voldemort began to waver and diminish. Soon, the Boy Who Lived's writhing body could be seen at the Dark Lord's feet. The evil wizard was laughing.
"You see, boy? I told you. You are nothing. Nothing. And so alone, aren't you? Come, end this. Give me back my magic and I will release your useless life."
"Cold," Harry whispered. "So cold."
"Stop!" Remus ordered the Aurors suddenly. "Stop trying to weaken the ward—it's hurting Harry! Severus—stop!" Remus ordered the man, shaking the Potions master back to awareness.
"No! What are you doing, Lupin? It's leaving me—I have to—"
"No, Severus. You can't. That's Harry's power, not Voldemort's. You have to stop!"
Sweat pouring from his body, Severus relented, releasing the remaining magical energy that Albus had given him in a swirl of powerful sparks. Aurors jumped back from the stream of unstable, unfocused magic, and Severus fell to his knees. He would have fallen completely had not Lupin grasped him and pulled him back to his feet.
"Let Harry do it. He knows what to do," Remus urged.
And Severus did so because there was now nothing else he could do.
"Harry," he said helplessly.
The young wizard rolled away from Voldemort then, and staggered to his feet, dropping his wand.
"Co—come and take it," he said, apparently helpless, as well.
"No!" Severus yelled.
Voldemort smiled, his blood-red eyes shimmering with malice as he approached Harry. Aiming his wand at the boy, he began to chant a draining spell.
It did not work.
"What are you doing, boy?"
Harry grimaced. "You want your magic back?"
Voldemort shook his uncooperative wand to no avail. "I will have you, boy!"
"Then come and take me, Tom," Harry replied, breathing heavily.
"What is he doing?" Severus whispered.
"Wait, just wait," Remus replied, quivering with tension.
The Dark Lord screamed in frustration and threw himself at Harry, placing his clawed hands around the boy's neck and squeezing. But Harry did not move.
"What are you doing?" Severus yelled, attempting to break free of Lupin's restrictive hold and go to the boy.
"No. No. No! NO!" Voldemort shrieked then, his voice rising in terror as his arms went rigid, and his body began to crust. "What are you doing to me?"
"Feeding you my power," Harry replied, his voice vibrating with magic.
It sounded almost as though he were speaking with many voices.
"Not . . . not all of them . . . us . . . are dead," Severus said, feeling his Dark Mark throb with a sudden, stabbing pain.
He felt as though he were drowning—in himself. Strange, incoherent, terrified screams were heard then, but Severus was deaf to the noise, for his own voice had been raised in the din.
"Release us," Harry said in that awful voice that his lover could no longer hear, but could still feel. "Release us to me."
A blinding flash of light, of lightning or magic, Severus could not say, rushed out of Voldemort's discorporating flesh and into Harry with a sulfurous "crack!" and the boy began to glow with a bright green cast.
It was the last thing that Severus saw before he lost consciousness.
Everything was dark, dark and cold, as the Potions master lay locked in a cocoon of silence. He could not feel his body. He could not hear a sound. He could not see. And then he felt them, the eyes. They were familiar. They were green.
Harry's eyes, he thought.
Severus? his lover thought back. Severus, are you in there?
"Where, Harry? Where am I?" he suddenly heard his hoarse voice grind out of the throat that he was beginning to feel was raw. "It burns."
"Good. That's good, Severus," Harry told him. "The warmth tells you that you are alive."
When the Potions master opened his eyes, he saw a pair of shining green eyes floating above him in the blurred features of the face he knew better than his own. "I . . . I watched you. I saw . . . ."
"Shh," Harry urged. "Don't try to speak. Your throat hasn't yet healed. I'll stay with you. Just rest, love, rest."
Severus slept. When he woke again, he felt his flesh tingling with a familiar warmth, a warmth that owed nothing to the heat of the body that lay curled against his in the dim light of the Infirmary.
"Fire Bright Elixir. Who in blazes gave me that?" he rasped.
"Oh, good. You're awake, dear boy," the spectral image of Albus Dumbledore said, floating through the bed to peer down at the man. "That was Poppy's doing, I'm afraid. You were very weak, and her stores diminished. She hoped to invigorate you with the elixir."
"The woman is incompetent!"
"No, she's not, Severus. You're awake, aren't you? Not cold any longer?"
"If it is your intention to haunt me, Headmaster, kindly do so from the side of the bed. It's . . . disturbing to find you in the area of my . . . midsection."
Albus chuckled, and moved through the prone bodies in which he stood to the side of the bed. "Of course, dear boy. Do forgive me. I'm new at this, I'm afraid."
"Why couldn't you have just had a portrait painted and gone behind the Veil the way any thinking man would?"
"And when did I have time to sit for my portrait, Severus?" the ghost admonished him. "It's good to see you feeling more like yourself. But let's not wake Harry. He's had a . . . trying day," Albus said before fading from the room.
Severus sighed and stretched before wrapping himself more tightly against his lover. "Harry."
"Mmm?" the boy murmured.
"Harry, are you . . . ."
The boy raised his head and stared up into Severus' eyes from his position tucked under the man's shoulder. "Yeah, it's just me again."
"Was I . . . inside of you?"
Harry snorted. "Only the once."
"No, Severus," Harry said, his face becoming serious. "No, I wouldn't . . . I didn't bring you in all the way. That's how I saved you."
The two lovers suddenly seized each other in a desperate embrace.
"I thought you were dying," Severus whispered.
"I thought you were dying. I saw you—glowing! I thought someone had hexed you!"
"No, it wasn't a hex."
"It was Albus, wasn't it?"
"I . . . I miss him already."
Severus did not mention that the headmaster had only moments before been floating amidst their privates. Instead, he said, "I think you'll be able to speak with Albus soon enough. He never did have his portrait made, you know, and the man always has to have the last word."
"Really? Brilliant!" Harry said, snuggling closer to Severus, and then falling fast asleep.
Warmed in more ways than one, the Potions master stroked the sleeping hero's hair and luxuriated in the peace of the moment, one he could never have foreseen for himself. "What now?" he wondered.
"You might begin," Albus' disembodied voice told him, "with setting Miss Granger to work on an antidote to ease the symptoms of Fire Bright withdrawal—that, or you'll have to spend time brewing the elixir rather than . . . keeping company with your Harry."
"My Harry," Severus murmured, unconcerned by thoughts of the young Gryffindor witch loose in his laboratory. "She can have right at it. I'm done with potion-brewing."
"So you say."
"Albus, please. I'm attempting to sleep here."
"You did say that I always have to have the last word."
"So I did, but be good enough to have it someplace else."
"Now, that's gratitude, isn't it?" the headmaster groused, his ghostly form beginning to flicker into visibility.
"Thank you, Albus," Severus replied in ill-disguised irritation.
Looking considerably cheered, Albus dissipated with a final, "You're welcome, dear boy."
That was four words, the Potions master thought, lest he compel Albus to speak again.
And here are three, Harry thought back. I love you.
Oh, Harry, I love you as well—more than you could possibly know.
Show me, then, the young man urged silently, as, unseen, Albus closed the curtain around their cot and whispered, "Good night, dear boys, and many pleasant tomorrows" before gliding through the intact stone of the Infirmary in search of Peeves, for he had a task for the poltergeist which involved the smashing of an unnecessary store of black crystal bottles in the dungeons.
"For now we must all learn to make our own warmth in order to feel alive."