Summary: The war is over, and Harry is overwhelmed by guilt and a final parting gift given to him by Voldemort. He wants to end it all, but someone is watching. Oneshot.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters or the premise, and I am not profiting in any way from this fic.
Warnings: This fic contains detailed sexual encounters between two male characters. If that is not your cup of tea, please leave now. Also, there is a brief dream sequence that contains a rape which did not really happen.
Watching. It was really all he had left, at least for now, until his full strength returned. Since Fawkes had come to him in the Shrieking Shack, somehow sent there by a dead man who shouldn't know how grievously wounded he'd been, crying the thick, pearly tears of healing and redemption. Since he'd dragged his weak and bloody body away from the scene of the sacrifice he'd made of himself, to the house deep within the Forest, a gift to him by the same dead man, who somehow had known that a sanctuary would be crucial at some point. Since the darkest of dark lords had been dispatched by a mere slip of a man-child using the most basic of spells. It was all that he had, because to reveal himself to the masses would lead to death, or imprisonment, or worse.
So he watched.
He had watched small groups foraging among the bodies on the grounds, apparently looking for survivors. A few, only a handful really, were gathered up and hurried back to the castle, but most of the bodies remained there, beyond assistance. He saw no one making their way to the scene of his own demise, which only reinforced for him just how little he would be missed.
And then he'd watched the gathering of the dead from the hallowed grounds of Hogwarts, corpses from both the dark and the light. Corpses of Death Eaters, still wearing their masks; corpses of witches and wizards who had come en masse for this last great battle; corpses of beasts attracted by the promises of a mad man; corpses of children. Corpses, equal now in death, regardless of their reasons for being here.
He had watched, though there had been little to see, the two or three days following the final battle, when the grounds were eerily silent, as though the sounds of battle had somehow overwhelmed the castle's senses, requiring a time of respectful silence to balance out the hours of horrific cries of grief and pain. There had been very little to see, very few wizards coming or going.
He had watched as, after that initial period of deep mourning, people began to venture outside again. The weather was sunny and unseasonably warm, and had there not been a battle to determine the balance of good and evil fought here very recently, had Hogwarts been allowed to exist as it always had near to the end of term, the grounds would be teeming with students enjoying the fresh air, noses buried in books in preparation for final examinations, holding hands, snogging in out-of-the-way corners, all the normal activities of teenagers which had been taken for granted until it had all been so savagely taken away from them over the last few months. But this wasn't typical Hogwarts, and those venturing out onto the grounds now seemed to be taking stock of the damage to her exterior, likely prioritizing the repairs that would be required to get her back to her former magnificence, or at least close enough so that students could begin to return in the fall.
He watched every day for the following week as funerals were held on the grounds, a long succession of funerals, a new cemetery established between the greenhouses and the forest where the bodies were interred. He who watched wondered: were they burying all of those who had died here in this hallowed spot, or only those who had given their lives in support of the Light?
And he was watching now, three weeks to the day after the Dark Lord had fallen, as thestral-drawn carriages were lining up before the castle, much fewer in number than on a normal leaving day, or even on the day the students had arrived here back in the fall. In groups of twos, threes, and fours, students began to trickle out and fill the waiting carriages. From his vantage point, he watched as two red-heads – one tall and male, one shorter and female – emerged, followed by a second female, whose formerly bushy brown hair was much more well-controlled now, and then, finally, by a second male, a form that he-who-watched would recognize anywhere.
He observed as three of the members of this intrepid band hugged the fourth and then climbed into the last waiting carriage. He wondered why the Savior was not going with his friends. Was he staying behind at Hogwarts to help with the cleanup and rebuilding? Had he nowhere else to go? Surely the Weasley brood would make space for him in their midst. This was curious. And he-who-watched was bored enough to appreciate anything out of the ordinary.
So when the lone remaining figure stood and waved goodbye to his friends as they pulled away, then appeared to blow them a kiss, an oddly touching and somehow vaguely disturbing gesture, the watching man continued his lonely vigil. And when Harry Potter turned, rucksack tossed carelessly over his shoulder, and walked away from the castle, rather than going back inside, and towards the Forbidden Forest, Severus Snape followed.
Potter walked deep into the forest, seemingly unconcerned about the hazards that could befall a lone individual in this beast-filled wood. Snape could not tell if he was wandering aimlessly or if he had a path in mind. Snape stayed far enough behind him so that Potter would not realize he was being followed, but close enough so that he could track the boy on his curious journey. He was attempting to be silent, but Potter was making no similar effort, and Snape doubted he'd be heard over Potter's own noisy traverse through the forest.
Finally, after what seemed a long and tiring time to Snape, Potter reached a clearing and stopped. He circled the large rock which lay in the center of the clearing, removed his rucksack and lay it on the ground, and withdrew his wand from the pocket of his robe. He stared for a time at the rock, then at his wand. His shoulders sagged a bit, briefly, as though he were sighing, then he placed his wand on the ground. He turned to stare again at the rock, and before their eyes, the rock lengthened and widened until completing its transformation into a platform or a pedestal or perhaps a table, Snape could not be sure. What he was sure of was that Potter had just performed a feat of magic that would have been amazing had he his wand in his hand. But his famous wand lay on the ground a good distance away. Snape was sure his eyes were widened in amazement and awe.
Potter seemed satisfied by his work, and he picked up his wand and lay it in one corner of the platform. He then bent down to his rucksack and began removing items from it, laying them next to his wand as he did so. Snape's sharp eyes saw a vial containing a potion, what appeared to be a book, another book, another square object which Snape could not identify, and a flask of some sort. It appeared that the rucksack was now empty, and Potter tossed it onto the platform, where it landed with a dull thud.
Potter next climbed up onto the platform himself, sitting cross-legged next to his rucksack. Snape had been wrong – the bag was not empty. Potter now drew from it what Snape recognized as his invisibility cloak. When he draped it over his lap, Potter's lower body disappeared from view, making a very strange picture indeed. Potter positioned his rucksack behind him, then drew the other items closer.
He drank from the flask, deeply, and Snape could almost see his Adam's apple bobbing up and down as he did. When he was finished, he recapped the flask and tossed it carelessly to the ground, where it immediately disappeared. Potter next picked up one of the books, and he spent many minutes paging through it, staring for long moments at each page. When he finished with it, he placed it reverently beside him on the stone platform. The other book he placed on top of the first, and on top of that he placed the other square object. Snape caught a glint of reflected sunlight, as though from glass, and thought perhaps the square object might be a framed photograph. His wand was placed beside this pile of treasure.
Snape was now intensely curious about what the boy was doing. He appeared to be conducting some kind of ritual. He'd chosen a deserted spot far from prying eyes, deep in a magical wood, he'd brought with him what appeared to be his most valued possessions. But what could be the purpose? Any wizard worth his salt knew that rituals must be conducted at night, in accordance with the phases of the moon, depending on what one wished to accomplish. Snape knew of no ritual that required broad daylight.
Potter now shifted so that his legs were extended out. He picked up the last item he'd removed from his sack: the vial. He stared at it for an unreasonable amount of time, at least according to the watching man, and finally, twitched the invisibility cloak so that he covered his legs completely. Closing his eyes, he uncorked the vial, put it to his mouth, and in one swift movement, tossed the entire contents into his mouth. He then lay back, drawing the cloak up over him and the items he'd placed beside him, as he did so, until he completely disappeared from view.
It suddenly struck Snape with startling clarity – this was no ritual. Potter was committing suicide, right here before him, in a place where he was unlikely to ever be discovered. Before he even realized it, he was moving with a speed borne of desperation toward the stupid, stupid boy.
Snape thanked Merlin that he always carried a bezoar on his person. He'd gotten to Potter in time to shove it into the boy's throat and stop the poison from working its intended goal. What was the boy thinking? What could have driven him to this extreme? Snape gathered all of Potter's things and stuffed them back into the rucksack. He threw the bag over his shoulder, levitated the unconscious nuisance, and began to trek once again through the forest.
He settled the boy in his own bed once he'd reached the cabin. Potter stirred as Snape pulled the covers up to the young man's chin. Green eyes fluttered open, and though he looked in Snape's direction, it didn't appear as though he was focused enough to register what he was seeing.
But apparently he did, because he said, "Snape?" his voice very low and weak. He tried to sit up, then gave it up and collapsed back onto the pillow. He sighed, a very disappointed sound. "I've gone to hell, then," he whispered, apparently convinced he was seeing a ghost. "I'd hoped . . . should have known better, I guess." He closed his eyes and his breathing evened out into sleep once again.
Snape settled another blanket over the sleeping form, then dumped the rucksack onto the bed next to him. He picked up the vial that Potter had drunk from and sniffed it carefully. He'd analyze the traces of potion left inside later and see just what the boy had imbibed. He set the vial aside carefully and picked up the photograph of James and Lily Potter. He stared at it for a moment, then placed his thumb over Potter's head so he could see only his Lily, smiling brightly for the camera. Once he'd looked his fill, he set the photo on the bedside table so that Potter the younger would see it when he woke.
Snape next opened the photo album and flipped through it. He wondered how Potter had come to have these photos. Surely no photographs had survived the destruction of the house in Godric's Hollow. The pages looked as though they'd been turned many times, and Snape imagined Potter had spent many an hour looking at these last remaining images of his long-last parents.
Potter's wand joined the photo album and the photo on the bedside table. Snape hung Potter's invisibility cloak on a peg by the door, then removed the last item from the rucksack.
He held in his hand a brown leather-covered journal. He opened it to the first and read, in Potter's familiar scratching:
"There is no refuge from confession but suicide; and suicide is confession."
– Daniel Webster
This is my confession.
A shiver crept up Snape's spine at these words. Just how long had Potter been planning this? he wondered as he turned the page. Potter had become a poet during his year on the run. The next two pages contained poetry, apparently Potter originals.
If I never ask you why you cry
Will you stop wanting to tell me?
Will you pull away when I try to dry your tears?
Will you no longer want me if you know what I truly am?
If I never tell you why I cry
Will you stop wanting to know?
Will you close your ears to the sound of my pain?
Will you help me figure out who I am, who I can be?
Or is it already too late?
Freedom is the absence of feeling, both good and bad
Freedom is the release of expectation, both reasonable and unreasonable
Freedom is the snitch I cannot catch no matter how fast I fly
or how far I stretch my fingers . . .
It eludes me.
Freedom is the one thing I seek and the one thing they will not let me have.
But I will have it, no matter the cost.
Snape was no poet himself, and he could not judge whether this was good or rubbish, but regardless of its quality, desperation was practically leaching from the words onto the paper.
And then, a page titled "Those To Whom I Owe My Life." Snape expected to find here a list of the people to whom Potter was grateful, a list of the people that had helped him in some way in his quest to end the Dark Lord. But what followed was a list, a very long list, of very different names. The first name on the list was "James Potter." The second was "Lily Potter." Snape flipped through to the end. The last name on the list was "Tom Riddle." Snape stared at that name for many moments. What was this? This was going to take some time. And some tea. Snape set the journal aside and got up to set some water to boiling.
The tea hadn't helped. When Snape figured out what he was looking at, the little he'd had seemed to curdle in his stomach. This was a list – a list of names, all of whom were dead. Put together with the rest of the things he'd found in the journal, he speculated that Potter had made a list of the people whose deaths he felt responsible for.
His parents were first on the list. Fifteen-month old Harry Potter, responsible for the deaths of two fully-grown, moderately powerful wizards. Trying to put himself inside the boy's head, to attempt to puzzle out how he could have concluded that these deaths were his fault, was not easy. A prophecy had been made about a baby, by Sibyll Trelawney. That prophecy had been overheard, by Severus Snape, and then delivered to a man who interpreted it in such a way that the death of said baby became his primary focus. The parents of the child were put into hiding, by Albus Dumbledore. The parents chose a secretkeeper who declined, Sirius Black, and one who betrayed them, Peter Pettigrew. The father let his guard down and didn't even have his wand on his person when evil came calling. The mother was offered an opportunity to live, but chose to sacrifice herself instead. Many people played a role in the deaths of James and Lily Potter, but little Harry Potter, no bigger than a kneazle at the time, was not one of them, and Snape was at a loss as to how the boy could have come to that conclusion.
Next on the list were twelve names that Snape didn't recognize, but they were grouped together in a bracket, with a notation at the side that said, "Muggles killed by Peter Pettigrew when Sirius attempted to apprehend him."
Now toddler Harry Potter, likely still in the ruins of his parents' home and too young to comprehend how his life had just changed, was supposed to have been responsible for the deaths of twelve people unfortunate enough to have been in the wrong place when a desperate man was making his escape?
Harry Potter's scrawny shoulders were not anywhere big enough to hold all of this weight, and Snape had only just begun this ridiculous list.
Before he could read any further, there was movement on the bed. Harry Potter was waking up.
Snape set the journal aside and went to stand beside the bed, bracing himself for the reaction he was sure to receive from Potter, who had not known that Snape was alive.
Harry stretched on the soft bed, and tried to open his eyes. He felt so very tired. He hadn't known that being dead would be so exhausting. He felt good, though, other than the tired thing. He stretched both legs, then his arms, and wriggled his butt against the sheets. No muscle aches, no aches of any kind. Finally, he forced his eyes to open, curious about what this new afterlife was going to be like and how he'd come to end up in a soft and comfortable bed.
Though he wasn't wearing his glasses, Harry would have recognized Severus Snape anywhere. Strange. His welcome to being dead was to be greeted by someone who hated him. Perhaps it was impossible to hate here, and Snape and he would be the best of friends. Harry snorted at the thought that Snape could feel any positive emotion toward him, even in the hereafter.
"You find something amusing, Mr. Potter?" Snape asked.
Harry sat up in the bed and looked around for his glasses. Snape pressed them into his hand, and Harry put them on, looking around him with interest. "This is nice," he said. "I expected . . . well, I'm not sure what I expected." He still wasn't entirely sure whether he'd ended up in Heaven or Hell. This looked much too nice to be Hell, so he was going with Heaven.
"Perhaps you could tell me what in the bloody hell you were thinking," Snape demanded.
Harry chuckled. Yup, dead or not, there was going to be animosity. Harry hoped that some time soon he'd be seeing some other people – he was really looking forward to seeing his parents and Sirius. And Remus and Tonks. And Dobby –
"Are there house-elves here?" Harry asked.
"No," Snape answered, confused by the question.
"Shoot. I was hoping to see Dobby. So who else is here?"
"There is no one else here, Potter. And I'm still waiting for an answer to my question."
"What? There's no one else? But – my parents. Sirius. I want to see them. They were supposed to be here."
"Potter, what are you babbling about? Your parents are dead. Black is dead. Why would you be seeing them?"
"I thought when I died that they would be here to welcome me. I'm not saying that you're not . . . I just thought they'd be here," Harry said miserably. "Is there no chance of seeing them then? Are they somewhere else? So are there like, different levels? People who've killed others, even unwillingly, or in self-defense, or indirectly, through some stupid mistake, get put one place, and the people who were really and truly good, and who never hurt anyone in their lives, get to go to an even nicer place?" Harry was a little embarrassed to discover there were tears in his eyes. But he'd so looked forward to seeing them, and now to find out that wasn't going to happen . . .
Snape sat on the bed beside Potter. He'd finally figured out what was going on here. "Potter. You are not dead."
"What? But you . . . I . . . How . . .?"
"I gave you a bezoar. And this is where you tell me what the bloody hell you were thinking."
Harry gave up and dissolved into tears. This was not the way this was supposed to have worked. He was supposed to be dead. He was supposed to be with his parents and the others that he'd lost.
"But you're dead," he choked out. "How is it that you're dead, but I'm not?"
"I am not dead, you imbecile."
Harry reached out and poked Snape in the arm to make sure he was solid. He didn't understand this at all. And the fatigue was creeping up on him again, overwhelming him. He slid down into the bed and rolled onto his side, away from Snape. "I'd like to sleep now," he said, his voice thick with tears.
"Fine. We will talk when you wake again."
Harry slept for several more hours, and when he woke, it was dark outside. And he really needed a loo. He sighed again, because he wasn't dead or surely he wouldn't still be ruled by bodily functions. He sat up, discovered that his glasses were still on his face, and swung his legs over the side of the bed. It was then that he discovered Snape, asleep in the chair beside his bed. He certainly looked alive – as severe and forbidding as ever. He had lots of questions for the man, not the least of which was How is it you're still alive? But those could wait – his bladder was starting to get really angry with him.
Harry stood, surprised to find his legs wobbly. He sat hurriedly back down before he fell. He hadn't made any noise doing this, but Snape's eyes snapped open, and the two stared at each other for a moment.
"Are you feeling better?" Snape asked.
"I . . . don't know. I have to use the loo. But my legs are shaky. What's wrong with me?"
"You are still recovering from ingestion of a lethal potion. You will be tired and weak for another day or so. When did you last eat?"
Harry ran a hand through his hair. "I don't know. What day is it?"
"I think I ate breakfast. It's not really clear."
"That is also a side effect of the potion. Do you require assistance to the loo?"
"Let's hope not," Harry said, and he gathered himself for another attempt to stand. He was still shaky, but at least now he was expecting it, and he took a wobbly step toward the door.
"That is a cupboard, Mr. Potter. The loo is in the hallway."
Harry moaned. He'd thought he could make it on his own if he only needed to take five steps. Trekking out into the hallway seemed beyond him at the moment. But it was either make it there or go in his trousers, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd done that, so he took another step. His legs folded, and he started to go down, but Snape caught him before he hit the floor. "Do not be such a stubborn fool," the older man said.
Giving up on his pride, Harry allowed Snape to haul him upright and half-carry, half-drag him out into the hallway and across to the loo. He drew the line at the door though and insisted the man wait for him outside. Harry had to sit down to relieve himself, a situation which made his cheeks burn with humiliation, but he felt so much better afterward, it was definitely worth it. He flushed, washed his hands, and opened the door. "All done."
"Are you hungry?"
"I could eat," Harry said, and he suddenly realized that he was, in fact, very hungry. "Where's the kitchen?"
"I think the bed is the best place for you. I will fix something and bring it into the bedroom. Come." Snape gestured to Harry to proceed, and Harry stumbled into his arms and was escorted back to the bed. He sank gratefully into the sheets, and Snape covered him up. "I will be right back. We will eat, and then we will talk."
"Yeah, all right. I've got some questions for you."
"We will talk about you before we talk about me," Snape threatened. He made to leave the room, then thought better of it. "Will you be all right here? Alone?"
"I promise you that I will not try to off myself before you get back," Harry said. He was making no promises any further than that. He still craved the peace he thought he could only have one way, but he'd spent a lot of his life hungry, and he had no intention of dying that way. The other could wait until he'd filled his belly.
"I appreciate that," Snape sincerely. "I will not be long."
Snape returned a short time later with a tray containing ham sandwiches and chicken soup. They didn't talk while they ate, but as soon as Snape had placed the dirty dishes on the tray and sent it out to the kitchen, he turned to Harry, his expression telling Harry that he would wait no longer for his answers. Harry collapsed back into the pillows, more than willing to use the excuse that he was tired to put this off again. Maybe indefinitely.
"You will now tell me why you have done this," Snape ordered.
"Done what?" Harry asked, somewhat miffed at himself. He couldn't even kill himself right. "Obviously, I failed at what I set out to do."
"But why?" Snape asked, at a loss as to how it could have come to this. "After all these years, and all the people who have worked so tirelessly to keep you alive, how could you repay them by doing this to yourself?"
"Well, that's part of the problem right there," Harry said. "No one ever asked me if I wanted the role I was handed when I was still in nappies. Even people who supposedly cared for me never protected me from the job I was expected to perform. And not only was I expected to just go along with it, and continue putting my life in danger and train to kill or be killed, I was supposed to be grateful to all of the people who contributed to the sacrifice of my parents and my childhood and my very life." Harry was getting more heated the longer he spoke. "Dumbledore knew how awful it was at the Dursleys. I refuse to believe he didn't know and that he was using it in some kind of twisted plot to make me stronger. And I refuse to believe that you all didn't sit around talking about it in the staff room and at Order meetings. Everyone knew, and no one lifted a finger to help me. And you all expect me to be grateful for that?"
Harry was on a roll now. "And another thing. People kept throwing it in my face that my parents died to protect me, that I should honor that sacrifice by doing whatever everyone told me was best for me. But you know what? I didn't ask my parents to get themselves killed. Don't you think I would have much rather grown up with my parents, in a home where I was loved, than with people who begrudged the fact that a little freak was fobbed onto them? Not only do I not appreciate them dying for me, I'm pretty pissed about it. They left me with those people. They knew they were being hunted, and they didn't even make provisions for me if something happened to them. So don't talk to me about gratitude, okay? Just don't."
"All right," Severus agreed. "I actually understand the point you are trying to make. But all of that doesn't explain why you took such a drastic step. Surely you have things to live for. Friends. A future now that the Dark Lord has been destroyed."
"Yeah, I've got friends," Harry agreed. "They'll miss me, sure, and they'll be sad when they hear, but Ron and Hermione have each other now. They'll move on just fine without me."
"But what about your family? By that I mean the Weasleys?"
Harry sighed. "They're grieving Fred. And I think they kind of blame me for his death. If I'd gone to Voldemort sooner, he might still be alive. So they've been a little . . . cool to me."
"But they will get beyond that. And were you not involved with Miss Weasley?"
"I was," Harry said, looking down at his hands as they straightened the duvet needlessly. "She . . . moved on, too. She just didn't wait until I . . . left to do it."
"I see," Snape murmured. The disloyal little chit had strayed while her beloved was off saving the world. "But she is not the only witch in the sea, surely. They will be lining up for a chance with you, I would think."
"Yeah, that sounds terrific. Meaningless relationships built on someone's idea of what they think they know about me. Sounds like the way I want to spend the next few years."
"So find a nice Muggle girl," Snape suggested. "Someone who doesn't know your history."
"And explain my life how? How can a relationship survive with so many secrets and outright lies? Besides, if I'm being totally honest here, and it seems like a good time to do that, I'm not even sure it's a nice girl that I want."
Snape stared at him for a moment. "Is this confusion about your orientation contributing to your desire to end it all? Because if it is, I can assure you . . ."
"No," Harry said, cutting him off. "The fact that I might be gay doesn't disturb me all that much. It doesn't make having a solid relationship with anyone any easier, but I don't find anything inherently evil in being gay. Not sure how it's possible I feel that way, given how my family felt about gay people, but there it is. No, that's the least of my problems."
Snape lifted Harry's journal and held it in his hand. "Is this the crux of your problems?"
"What are you doing with that? You didn't look in there, did you?"
"Of course I looked! You tried to kill yourself before my very eyes! If I hadn't been there, with a bezoar at the ready, you would be dead right now!"
"I know! That's what I wanted! Don't you see? When I went into the forest to meet Voldemort, I knew what I was going to have to do. And I was ready! I wanted to finish it. I wanted to die. When I saw my parents there in the forest, and Sirius, I was ready to go with them. And then I saw Dumbledore, and he guilted me into coming back and doing my duty. Again!"
"I don't understand ninety percent of what you just said," Snape confessed.
Harry sighed. "What difference does it make now?"
"I am . . . curious. What will it cost you to satisfy my curiosity? If you are determined to go through with this ill-conceived plan, there will be time later. Surely you have a few minutes to explain what happened that day?"
Harry stared at him, considering. "If I do, will you tell me what happened to you after I left you in the Shrieking Shack?"
Snape nodded. "That seems a fair deal."
"Fine," Harry conceded. He fully intended to complete what he'd started, so all of this would make no difference shortly. "I left your apparently not dead body in the Shrieking Shack when Voldemort announced that I had one hour to go to him, or he'd come in after me. But before I could do that, I needed to see your memories, yeah? So I went up to the Headmaster's office and used his pensieve. And I learned that it was my fate to die all along. That was pretty eye-opening, I gotta tell you."
Snape remembered how he'd felt when he'd learned that the boy was to be sacrificed. He could only imagine how the boy himself must have felt.
"It was really hard," Harry said in a strangled whisper. "To walk into the woods, knowing what I was going to face, that I couldn't even fight back. But Dumbledore had given me the resurrection stone, and I used it, and my parents came to me, and Sirius, and Remus. I sort of wondered at the time why you weren't there, too, but I guess I know why that is now. Anyway, it helped to have them there. A lot. They walked with me until I got to the clearing.
"Voldemort was there, of course. He knew all along that I'd go. I let him cast the killing curse at me. I watched him do it. I just stood there. I was so afraid, and I just wanted him to do it, you know, to get it over with, before I lost my nerve completely and fell on the ground bawling like a baby. I half thought he'd do his usual posturing and grandstanding for his Death Eaters, and I really don't know how long I could have stood there without disgracing myself. But apparently he'd learned his lesson from our prior encounters because he just looked at me for a moment, then he did it."
Harry stopped, unable to stop himself from remembering the way the green light had looked as it sped toward him. How it felt as though the spell took many, many minutes to reach him, when in reality it had taken more like two seconds. How it seemed as though he could count each thump of his heart as it beat its last. He didn't remember the curse actually hitting him, which he counted as a mercy.
"That was incredibly brave," Snape offered softly.
"Or stupid," Harry said.
"So how is it you managed to survive the curse once again?"
"It's confusing. I'm the master of the elder wand. Voldemort thought that he was, that he obtained that mastery by killing you."
"I was not the master of the Elder Wand?"
"No. Dumbledore wanted you to be, set it up so that you would be, but it didn't work out that way. On the tower, the night he died, Draco Malfoy disarmed him. That made Draco the master of the stupid wand. A couple of months ago, I disarmed Draco, so the mastery switched to me."
"At Malfoy Manor, when you escaped, taking all of Lucius' prisoners with you," Snape guessed.
"Yeah. So even though Voldemort broke into Dumbledore's tomb and stole his wand and killed you, he wasn't the master of it. I was, and the wand wouldn't work right. As I said – confusing."
"Wait a moment," Snape interrupted. Something had just occurred to him. "You are the master of the elder wand. You have the resurrection stone. Your invisibility cloak. You are the master of the Deathly Hallows."
"Was," Harry corrected. "I left the stone in the forest, and I put Dumbledore's wand back where it belonged."
"You are sickeningly noble," Snape noted. "There are few who would willingly give up such power. I find myself a bit disappointed that I was not the master of the elder wand, even for a brief moment."
"Tell you what," Harry proposed. "I'll go retrieve it. You can kill me. Then you can be its master for the rest of eternity. We'll both have what we want."
Snape stared at him. "That's not even the smallest bit humorous."
"I wasn't joking. That might actually be the best thing that could happen. No one knows you're alive, so no one would come gunning for you. If you die a natural death, then the wand's power dies with you."
"We will stop talking about this now."
Harry shrugged. "You brought it up," he pointed out. "Do I need to tell you about the final battle with Voldemort?"
"No. I have managed to pilfer the Daily Prophet on a regular basis. There were enough witnesses to that battle that it's been covered extensively, including your announcement to all and sundry that I was 'Dumbledore's Man.' There has been very little publicity about what happened prior to that, though."
"Very few people know," Harry stated simply. "I've told Ron and Hermione everything. Professor McGonagall knows some of it. The Headmaster, too. Your turn. How did you survive that snake bite?"
"It is very simple, and you could probably guess if you put your mind to it. After Arthur Weasley was attacked, I immediately began work on an antivenin. Although I could not be sure that it would work unless I actually tested it, I made sure to carry the antidote with me at all times. It did not take a large leap of the imagination to think that I might myself become a victim some day. So that antidote, and blood replenisher, and a salve I'd concocted to magically seal the wound itself, became my constant companions. After the . . . Voldemort," Snape forced himself to say, "set his snake upon me and left me there to die, you came along. I'd already injected the antivenin . . ."
"Hold on. Injected?"
"Yes, I made it injectible. The antivenin would work more quickly that way. Anyway, I was able to inject myself before that damn snake had even let go. I gave you my memories. You left. There was so much blood . . . I wasn't sure it would even matter, but I cleaned as much of the blood off as I could, applied the healing salve, and downed three vials of blood replenisher. I lay there for a time, not sure whether I would live or die, not sure whether I wanted to live or die, until finally I felt strength returning to my limbs. Once I was able, I staggered out of there and into the forest. Albus had given this place to me a few months prior to his death. I came here, and here I have remained."
Harry was back to smoothing the coverlet. "You're on my list," he said softly. "I thought you were dead. I left you there. I'm sorry."
"You have nothing to be sorry about. You had more important things on your mind. You had a job to do, a very important job, which you accomplished quite admirably, I might add."
"Still, I should have done something. I should have at least tried."
"You hated me at the time. You did not yet know the truth."
"That's no excuse."
"You will stop this . . . this shouldering of blame for things that are not your fault." He picked up Harry's journal and waved it at him. "This ridiculous list!"
"It's not ridiculous!" Harry nearly shouted back.
"It is," Snape disputed. "Let's look at this list." He flipped the journal open to page one of Harry's list. "Your parents, Potter. You were – what? Fifteen months old? Tell me exactly what you could have done at that age to prevent the deaths of your parents."
"Well, nothing," Harry admitted. "But they were killed because that prophecy was made about me. If I'd been some normal kid, they'd still be here. I'd have grown up with my parents, and maybe brothers and sisters – a family. People who loved me. But I wasn't, and they were in the way, and they died."
"Did your toddler self ask to have such a prophecy made?"
"Of course not," Harry said.
"Then how could it possibly be your fault?"
"It just is," Harry said stubbornly.
"You are the most obstinate . . . Can you not see reason?"
"I see what I need to see."
Snape sighed in frustration. "Let's go on. These people here – Pettigrew's victims. How did you even get their names?"
"I went to London a couple of weeks ago. Did some research at the library."
"Explain to me how, at the age of fifteen months, you should have been able to prevent the deaths of these people whom you had never met. Can you not understand how ludicrous this is?"
"They're just like my parents. If I hadn't been such a freak of nature, they never would have been put in the position they were. They'd still be alive today. Three of them were children, Professor! Two sisters and their brother. Their mother was also killed. Four people from the same family, just wiped off the face of the earth. One of the other women killed was pregnant. Five others had children, children who had to grow up without a parent. The misery just spreads out in waves. All because of that one child of prophecy. Me."
"Quirrell," Snape said.
"Do we have to do this? Are we going to go down through every name on that list?" Harry asked.
"If we have to. We will talk about them until you realize that none of these deaths are your fault!"
"You're just delaying the inevitable," Harry told him.
"Maybe," Snape conceded. "Now Quirrell. You were an eleven-year old wizard faced with pure evil. You did nothing but survive."
"Quirrell died because he touched me."
"No. Quirrell died because the Dark Lord possessed him, then left him when his body was no longer of any use. Voldemort killed Quirrell. Let us discuss Bertha Jorkins. She went on holiday in Albania and happened upon Peter Pettigrew, who led her to the Dark Lord. Explain to me how it is your fault that she is dead."
"I think he used her death to make a horcrux out of Nagini," Harry said.
"Your proof for this?"
"I don't have any. It's just . . . a feeling."
"Assume that it is true. I do not understand how that makes her death your responsibility."
"She knew about the Tri Wizard Tournament. Voldemort tortured her for information, information that he used to set up his elaborate plan to take me."
Snape shook his head at the boy's stubborn insistence that any evil Voldemort committed was somehow his fault. He seemed to be getting no where with his plan to logic the boy into realizing that all of these things were beyond his control, but he felt the need to continue to try. "Frank Bryce. I do not recognize that name."
"He was a Muggle. He was the caretaker at the estate where Voldemort's father and grandparents lived. Dumbledore believed Voldemort holed up there while he was planning the Tri Wizard thing. Bryce disappeared one night. Body was never found. Dumbledore is convinced Voldemort had everything to do with that."
"I'm sensing a pattern here. You are going to claim responsibility for anyone who was killed by dark forces from this point forward, aren't you? That's why this list is so long. It is not anywhere near complete, you realize, if that is your intention. Many, many more people were killed than you have here on this paltry list."
"Give me their names," Harry said hotly. "I'll add them. I'd like to make a full accounting of my crimes before I . . . go."
"What a very Muggle way of thinking," Snape sneered. "Is this some kind of 'eye-for-an-eye' religious doctrine that was inculcated in you when you were young?"
Harry snorted. "Hardly." The Dursleys would no sooner have taken him to church than they would have adopted him.
Snape looked down at the list again. "Bartemius Crouch . . ."
"Was killed by his son when he came to Hogwarts to warn Dumbledore about Voldemort's plot to abduct me. And Cedric is next, and don't you dare try and tell me that his death was not my fault! I could have taken that stupid cup myself, and he would have been left behind in the maze. But I had to go all Gryffindor and insist that we take it together. And Pettigrew just killed him, like he was nothing."
"Do you hear yourself? Pettigrew killed him. How is that on you?"
"Didn't you hear me? He wouldn't have been there if it hadn't been for me!"
"Had you been more selfish and less noble, you mean? You cannot help what you are, Potter. What did you think would happen when you took hold of that cup?"
"I . . . I thought it would all be over, that we'd both be declared the winner. Plenty of glory to go around, we'd split the winnings, and that would be that. I never thought . . ."
"Exactly!" Snape crowed. "You never thought! Dumbledore never thought! I never thought! Wizards years older and more experienced than you never suspected that there was anything wrong with that cup. How can you blame yourself for that?"
"How can I not?"
Snape threw his hands up in frustration. "You are so frustrating!"
"You're the one that insists on pursuing this. If you're finished, I'll just be on my way." Harry made to get up off the bed, but Snape pushed him forcefully back down.
"You will stay here!"
"For how long?" Harry shot back.
"Until I am convinced that you will not immediately attempt to end your existence the moment you leave!"
"Well, you'd better pull up a chair, then."
"Fine. I cannot keep you here forever. Eventually you are going to have to go back out there, but you're going to listen to me first. We're going to finish going through this list, and even if you refuse to believe what I have to say, you will listen to it." He consulted the journal. "Igor Karkaroff. Amelia – " Snape growled when Harry made to interrupt. "Yes, I skipped Black, on purpose. We will come back to him. Amelia Bones. Emmaline Vance. Florean Fortescue. Johannah Abbott. All of these people were killed by the Dark Lord or at his behest. You were nowhere near any of them when they died. Their deaths are not your fault simply because he used your blood in his resurrection ritual. Nor are the dozens of Muggles who were killed when the Brockdale Bridge was destroyed. Not. Your. Fault."
Harry crossed his arms in front of his chest and closed his eyes. He was not going to listen to this. He knew the truth. He knew what he'd done. He knew what he was. But the quicker they got done here, the quicker he could get out of there and get on with things. When Snape remained quiet, Harry made a rolling motion with his hand, wanting him to get on with it.
"Sirius Black," Snape said.
Harry's eyes flew open. "I notice you didn't put him on the list of people whose deaths I wasn't responsible for."
"That is because I believe you are, in part, responsible for the circumstances that led to Black's death."
Harry wasn't going to cry, he just wasn't. He'd cried enough, for Sirius and for all of them. He was done with crying. He was going to make amends, and he wouldn't need to cry any more. The burning in his eyes and the lump in his throat must be aftereffects of the potion.
But Snape wasn't done. "I, also, recognize that I played a role in Black's death, by taunting him about his forced inactivity. The Headmaster knew that Black was chafing at the bit to get out of that house. He could have found something more productive for Black to do. But the bottom line, Potter, is that when he learned you were in danger, Black stopped at nothing to come to your aid. As you did, when you thought he was in peril."
"But he wasn't," Harry whispered. "He wasn't in peril. And if I'd learned to occlude, Voldemort wouldn't have been able to send me that image. If I'd listened to Hermione when she tried to make me think about what I'd seen, and if I hadn't gone running off to the Ministry, he wouldn't have had to come to my rescue."
"If we're going to spread the blame completely, I will accept my own complicity in not teaching you Occlumency in such a way that you could actually learn it. I let my emotions get in the way. But, you have to know, Potter, that Bellatrix Lestrange cast the curse that ended Black's life. She killed him. Not you, and not me."
"Of all of them," Harry said with a sniff that was not a byproduct of tears, "he's the hardest. He and Cedric. And Dumbledore. Because I . . . I was there. I saw them. I saw them, and there was nothing I could do to stop it."
"Finally!" Snape said. "We are getting somewhere!"
"Just because I couldn't stop it doesn't mean I wasn't responsible for them being there."
"All right. It is a small step, but I will accept it as progress." Snape looked down at the journal again. "Do we need to discuss the Headmaster?"
"I haven't felt the need to discuss any of them," Harry pointed out.
"There is only one person responsible for the death of Albus Dumbledore. And you are looking at him."
"That is so far from the complete truth, and you know it!" Harry accused. "Sure, you may have cast the curse that finally ended it, but he was the one who put that damn ring on, and I was the one that made him drink that damn potion earlier that night. I was there on the tower that night, and I couldn't help him."
"Why is it that you can see the extenuating circumstances in the Headmaster's death, but not in all of these others?"
"That was different."
Harry shrugged. "It just was."
"It wasn't different. The next name on your list is Charity Burbage. Do you even know what happened to her?" Snape challenged.
Harry shook his head. "No. I just know that she disappeared and was presumed dead."
"I know what happened to her. I was there when the Dark Lord dangled her over a table surrounded by Death Eaters. It was me she recognized, me she begged to help her. It was I that watched the Dark Lord kill her and feed her to his snake. It was me, Potter!"
"But if you'd tried to help her, you would have been killed, too," Harry protested.
"Exactly. We were at war, Potter. Impossible situations face us in a time of war, situations that cannot even be imagined during peace time. Decisions between what is horrible and what is merely terrible are made with no time for thought, and the consequences are sometimes horrific and difficult to live with. Guilt can be suffocating. But with time, and distance, we learn to live with the choices we were forced to make. You must give yourself this time, and if you require distance, you can go away from here."
"That's not going to help," Harry said miserably.
"You are young, and it seems as though what you feel now is all that you will ever feel. But it is not, Harry. With time will come perspective. It has been three weeks since the Dark Lord was killed. That is not nearly enough time."
"You don't understand. Those people . . . all those people, I feel responsible for them, and I'd like to make amends for them, but they're not the only reason I need to end this."
"I would like to hear the other reasons."
"There's really only one," Harry said softly. "Actually, I think that I could live with the other stuff. I do understand that it's only been three weeks, and the way we've been living for the past year hasn't allowed any of us to process any of the things that have happened to us. We've just been carrying them around with us, like extra weight in our packs. We couldn't afford to take them out and deal with them, make some of the weight go away. You know what I mean?'
"I do," Snape said. "So tell me what it is that could be worse than guilt."
Harry closed his eyes. "It's raining," he said.
"No, it's not. The sun is shining brightly. The forecast calls for sunshine into the indefinite future."
Harry opened his eyes. "It's raining. Go look."
Snape stood up and went to the window. Sure enough, a steady rain was falling outside the window. He turned back to look at Harry. "I don't understand. What does a summer squall have to do with anything?"
Snape turned around. The sun was shining brightly once more. The damp grass was the only sign that the rain had ever been. While he stood staring in befuddlement out the window, the rain began again, lasted for ten seconds, then stopped again. His jaw gaping open, he turned around to look at Potter, who looked absolutely miserable. "Explain," he ordered.
"I think that when I killed Voldemort, I absorbed some of his power. Or maybe all of it. Or something. I really don't know what happened. All I know is that at the moment when he fell, I felt this . . . surge, like electricity zapping through me. I think my hair stood on end for a moment. I didn't understand what it was, but suddenly my magic was coming so much easier. I didn't even have to think about it – it was just there. And I found I didn't need my wand any more. And if I got upset or angry, things started happening that I couldn't control. When I found out that Lucius Malfoy was likely to get away with what he did without any sort of punishment, I cracked a wall in the castle. I think I would have brought the entire room down if I hadn't gotten myself under control. I'm just so afraid that I'm going to hurt someone. I can't be around anyone in this condition. I'm too dangerous."
Well that certainly explained the easy show of power he'd witnessed in the clearing earlier. And control of the weather – that was supposed to be impossible. "Have you spoken with anyone about this? Miss Granger? Minerva?"
"No," Harry admitted. "Everyone's been so busy. And I didn't want anyone to know. I was disgusted with myself. I get rid of the horcrux I'd been carrying around, and I end up with this evil power. I don't want it. I can't control it. So the best thing I can do for everyone is get rid of it."
"By getting rid of yourself?"
"What else was I supposed to do?"
Snape stared at the distraught young man for a moment. "What if I told you there was a way to rid yourself of this extra power?"
The sudden and intense look of hope that sprung onto Potter's face at this announcement caused a strange corresponding ache in Snape's chest. "You can do that?"
"There are ways," Snape confessed. "I have read about them. It is not something I have tried, for obvious reasons, but I think that with a little research, we should be able to find something that will work."
"Do you really think so? You're not just saying that so I won't try again?" Harry's eyes were saying, Please, please tell me it's true. Tell me you can help me.
Snape thought that honesty was important. If he gave the boy false hope, and then could not deliver . . . "I think that it is possible. I cannot, however, make any guarantees. It will take time, and it may not be easy, physically or mentally, but if you will allow me to, I will do my very best to find a solution for you."
Tears had started in Harry's eyes at this news that there might be some way for him to get back to normal, or what passed for normal for him, anyway.
"Can you give me some time?" Snape asked quietly. "Will you let me try to help you?"
Harry nodded, then scrubbed at his eyes with both palms.
Snape moved to sit on the side of the bed, close to Harry, so close that he startled the younger man. "You must promise me, Potter, that you will not do anything like what you tried to do today again. You must promise me this. I cannot do this, all the while wondering if the first time I turn my back on you, you will . . ."
Harry wanted to promise, he really did. But what if Snape couldn't make good on his promise? What if the man was only saying this to stop him from trying again? He was willing to give the man some time. He hoped with all his heart that Snape was able to find a solution, but if he couldn't . . .
"What if it doesn't work?" he asked, his voice small and anxious. "I can't commit to an open-ended period of time. If we never find this solution you think might be out there, I can't just go on like I'm not a danger to everyone within a one hundred kilometer radius. I just can't!"
"What do you feel is a reasonable period of time?"
"I don't know. You're the researcher. What do you think?"
"I think if we are going to find an answer, we should be able to do so within three months."
"All right then. I will promise you that for the next three months, I will let you do your thing, and I will not try to harm myself in any way."
"Thank you," Snape said, relieved. "I will have to access the Hogwarts library."
"Hold on. Does McGonagall know you're alive, or do you sneak in there?"
"The Headmistress is aware that I am here."
Harry was unable to hold back a yawn. "Why am I so tired?'
"Perhaps as a result of the potions you imbibed?" Snape asked snidely. "You did take a rather large dose of Draught of Living Death, and then an overdose of Felix Felicis."
Harry snuggled down into his pillow. "And then there you were with your bezoar." He yawned again.
"There I was," Snape agreed.
"I'm glad," Harry said, and he closed his eyes. Within moments, his breathing had evened out into the regular rhythm of sleep.
"As I am," Snape said softly.
Snape visited Hogwarts the following day. He'd elicited from Harry permission to tell the Headmistress that the Savior was not missing, that he in fact had stumbled upon Snape's lair in the forest and that the boy would be staying with him for a time. He described in vague terms Harry's acquisition of Voldemort's power and requested use of Hogwart's resources to find a solution to the problem. He did not tell Minerva that the boy had attempted to end his own life, but he did tell her that Potter wished for his whereabouts to remain unknown at the present time (yes, even to his Gryffindor cohorts). She agreed to his request and gave Severus access to whatever he needed.
Snape that day removed many books from the Hogwarts library, books that would likely not be missed during a time when everyone's efforts were focused on rebuilding the castle in time for school to resume at the earliest possible date. He brought them back to his cottage and there began to pour over the resources, looking for ways to leech a wizard's excess magic without leaving him a squib, or worse. All of the sources agreed that this was a dangerous procedure, one that was fraught with steps that could go wrong, which would lead to a suction of all of a wizard's power if the drain was not stopped in time, or worse could kill him if the magic refused to let go.
After a month, Snape was convinced that it could be done, theoretically. He could drain Potter of the excess power, leaving him at or near his previous level. The problem remained what to do with the power once it had been siphoned off. Power like that was nearly a tangible thing. It couldn't just dissipate into the air – it had to have a place to go. But this amount of power had to be contained in an object that was powerfully magical itself, or it would destroy its vessel. This required an entirely new direction for his research.
Potter was patient while Snape spent his time with the books. The boy seemed happy just to sit quietly in the sunshine, enjoying the warmth and the peace and the quiet and the reliable supply of food and the lack of threats against his life and health. Sometimes he read, sometimes he chatted with Snape, and sometimes he just sat alone. Snape found him a surprisingly tolerable companion.
A week after arriving in Snape's cottage, Potter had used his power to add a room onto the house. He'd done it in seconds, without raising a sweat, and Snape had been awed at the display. Potter hardly ever used his magic, afraid that it would get away from him. It was difficult for him to work small feats of magic, like a lumos or wingardium leviosa, because the power just flowed out of him without any effort. A lumos was brighter than the sun, and a wingardium leviosa could send a feather punching through the ceiling of the cottage. The larger the intended result, the easier it was for Potter to make the magic do what he wanted. He could add a room onto a house, or change the weather, or remodel a rock, but he couldn't light his way through a dark room.
Snape had set him some exercises aimed at gaining control over his power, but there was just too much of it. If they had years perhaps the boy could gain some measure of control over it, but it was likely that no one could completely control the amount of power that now coursed through Potter. And they didn't have years. Potter had committed to months only. And the clock ticked onward relentlessly.
It had been a month, and Harry was trying to take advantage of the quiet isolation that came with staying here with Snape in the middle of nowhere. The potions he'd taken and the way he'd been living his life for the past several months combined to make him very tired much of the time, and he slept a lot. He'd thought Snape might complain about his sloth-like ways, but the man was very busy with his own things: tending his garden, brewing potions, researching Harry's problem. The two men ate dinner together every day, but saw very little of each other otherwise.
As Harry got stronger, he began taking walks in the forest. Snape cautioned him not to go too far – they were in the middle of a highly dangerous magical forest after all. The downside of his starting to feel better was that Harry, less exhausted each night, began experiencing nightmares. He certainly had enough fodder for less than pleasant dreams, and many of his experiences came back to him in his sleep, twisted and warped and even more horrible than their reality had been.
Tonight's was one of the worst yet.
Harry and Hermione had drawn Dolores Umbridge into the forest. The evil woman was convinced that Dumbledore had hidden a weapon here, and she was clearly excited that she was going to get her hands on it. Suddenly, they were surrounded by centaurs, at least fifty of them, positioned at all points of the compass, cutting them off from escape. The centaurs were angry, aggressive, and that stupid, unaware Umbridge just couldn't keep her mouth shut. Arrows flew, then one of the centaurs was wrapped in thick ropes, and then the dream diverged sharply from reality. Instead of carrying Umbridge away through the trees, the centaur holding her threw her to the ground, stripped her of her clothing, and began to rape her. While Umbridge screamed and screamed in agony and horror, the other centaurs began lining up for their turn.
And then they noticed that there were two others humans here among them. They approached Hermione first. She was crying and pleading, but they paid her no mind and threw her to the ground as well. Harry tried to help her, but then they were on him, and he was being forced to the ground. He was surrounded by a circle of centaurs, all of them with incredibly large and hairy penises standing erect and pointing at him. As Hermione's screams joined those of their professor, the centaurs closed in. Harry felt himself being held down, felt his clothes being removed, and he didn't wait to start screaming.
Snape was awakened by the horrible screaming and pleading, and he bolted upright in his bed, his heart pounding. He jumped out of bed and made his way toward Potter's room, wand drawn and expecting to find the room filled with Death Eaters. What he found was Potter, tangled in his bedclothes, eyes closed and obviously in the midst of a nightmare.
"No! Please!" Harry shouted. "Stop!"
"Potter!" Snape tried, his voice loud and firm. "Wake up!"
"Leave her alone!" Harry cried, then, "Don't touch me! You can't – "
Harry was trapped by the blankets, and he was struggling to free himself. Snape thought that if perhaps the boy could move, he'd feel less afraid, so he moved to the bed intending to help Potter free himself. As soon as he touched the writhing body on the bed, Harry sat suddenly upright and screamed, "No!"
Potter hadn't raised a hand, and he wasn't holding his wand, but the magic burst forth from him in great rolling waves. Before Snape could ever register what was happening, he was being thrown back from the bed at great speed. He had enough presence of mind to throw up a cushioning charm before he hit the wall, but the impact was jarring, and he was unconscious before he slumped to the floor.
Snape returned to consciousness many hours later. He was lying in his own bed with no memory of how he'd gotten there. Memory was slow in returning, so he lay in the bed, staring up the ceiling, trying not to rush the process. Slowly, the events of last evening began to trickle back: Potter's cries waking him, rushing to the boy's bedside, the nightmare, trying to wake/comfort Potter, Potter's excess magic lashing out at him in his fear. He'd obviously been knocked out, how long he had no idea.
Now that he had a memory of the events, he began to test himself for injury. Slowly and carefully he began to move his limbs, first his feet and legs, then his hands and arms, finally his neck. This was a familiar process: he'd had to perform this very ritual many mornings after attending Death Eater meetings. He was heartened to realize that nothing hurt. That was strange, though. He had to have hit the wall at high speed – Potter's magic was nothing to trifle with. At the very least he would have expected a concussion.
Feeling no pain, he thought it was time to try sitting up. He had no idea where Potter was – he probably should find the young man. Who knew what he might have gotten up to while Snape lay incapacitated. He had no more than gotten up onto his elbows when his question was answered. Potter was sitting in the chair beside the bed, staring at him with large, sorrowful eyes. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Snape collapsed back to the bed. There was no longer any point in getting up. "It is no matter."
"No matter?" Potter repeated. "No matter?! I could have killed you."
"Obviously, you did not."
"You didn't see . . ." Potter started, then stopped.
Snape now sat up all the way. "What are you talking about?"
Harry hung his head, his hands clenched together between his knees, but didn't speak.
Snape swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood slowly.
"Where are you going?" Harry asked, standing as well, obviously anxious.
"I feel the need for tea."
"Let me get it for you," Harry insisted.
"I am quite capable of getting it for myself," Snape countered.
"No, you should lie down. Don't push yourself too fast."
"I feel fine," Snape insisted. "Not a thing wrong with me. I don't know what you think you did, but you should not worry."
"I broke your neck," Harry said. "Okay? This is what I am. I broke your neck. You hit the wall . . ." Harry drew in a breath that was more of a gasp, horrified by the memory, "really hard, and you just slumped there. I thought I'd killed you outright, but I'd only . . . your neck was broken."
"You must be mistaken," Snape argued. "How is it I am standing here if I sustained such a grievous injury?"
"I healed you," Harry confessed.
"You healed a broken neck?" Snape said incredulously.
"I did. I . . . I broke you, and then I fixed you."
Snape rubbed a hand over his face in exhaustion. He didn't want to believe what Potter was telling him, but he'd seen the amount of magic the young man was able to wield. It was entirely credible that he'd healed what could have been a life-threatening injury simply by wishing it so.
"So I am healed. No harm done, then."
"Don't you get it?" Harry asked, anguished. "I could have killed you! I'm a danger to everyone and everything around me. Do us all a favor, Snape, and just kill me now. Please, I'm begging you! Before I hurt you again, or worse. I couldn't bear it if . . . Please, you have to see now that there's no controlling what I am. I was asleep for Merlin's sake! Asleep, and I nearly killed you. What will happen if I get angry at you? Have you thought of that?"
"Just don't get angry at me," Snape suggested offhandedly.
"This isn't something to joke about!" Harry insisted. "You have to do it. Do it now. Before it's too late."
"Potter, I am not going to kill you. The very idea is ridiculous."
"Then release me from my promise, and I'll take care of it myself."
"No. You are a Gryffindor. You made a promise to me, and I expect you to keep your word."
"But you have to see how dangerous it is to be around me," Harry wheedled. "You never know when my magic might strike out again . . ."
"Potter . . ."
"No, Snape, hear me out. I can't control it. I can't. It will be better for all concerned if I just take care of the problem myself. I've hurt enough people already. I don't want to add to the total. Can't you see that it's the only way? I know you've been working hard to find a solution, but I really think if you were going to, you would have done so by now, don't you agree? I appreciate all you've done, I really do, but it's just time."
Was the irritating whelp ever going to shut up? Severus was tired of the sincere and apparently endless argument, which was giving him a headache. He needed it to stop, and only one solution presented itself. Without thinking, he leaned forward and kissed those flapping lips.
Which proved to be amazingly effective. The flapping stopped, there was a moment of stunned inaction, then the lips began to kiss back. It went on for perhaps thirty seconds when Harry pulled away only far enough so that he could speak.
"What was that?" he asked.
"Hmmm. I believe it was a kiss. I apologize if I overstepped any boundaries."
"Boundaries? I have no boundaries," Harry said, and he leaned in to kiss Snape again. It was even better this time, more passionate, more involved, more tongue, less breathing. Snape moved backward, toward the bed, pulling Potter with him. He managed to get them both reclined without Potter seeming to have noticed the change in position. Snape was harder than he'd been in a very long time. He hadn't realized he wanted Potter before this moment, but want him he did. He was sure, based on the answering hardness he felt against his stomach, that Potter felt the same.
The kissing seemed to go on for a long time. It was a slow build-up of a passion that very suddenly seemed explosive. Snape made a move to slip Harry's shirt off, and was surprised when the boy pulled away with a sharp, "No!"
"No?" Snape repeated. "Are you sure?" He reached over to rub the hardened ridge in Harry's pants.
"Stop!" Harry sobbed, pulling away and turning his back on Snape. "You can't. I can't!"
Snape waited for the boy to continue.
"I'm afraid," he finally said.
"Are you a virgin?" Snape guessed. "Is that it?"
"Yes," Harry confessed, "but that's not it. I'm afraid that I'll . . . at the moment . . . if I can't control my magic when I'm sleeping, what will happen when I . . .?"
"When you climax, you mean?"
"Yes!" Harry blurted out. "I haven't dared to touch myself since Voldemort died. I don't know what will happen, don't you see? I can't take a chance." He turned to face Snape now. "I want to! I really do! To do that with you would be, like, amazing! I'd like it if you were my first, if it could happen that way." Snape didn't doubt his sincerity, and he had to give the boy credit for wondering what might happen to his magic were he to lose all control of his body during an orgasm.
"Come here," Snape ordered softly.
When Harry looked reluctant, Snape coaxed, "Harry, come here. It's all right. I won't touch you in any way that causes you concern." Finally the boy unwound enough to join Snape in the bed again. Snape took him into his arms and pulled Harry closer so the messy dark head was pillowed on his chest.
"This is just one more reason to wait, Harry. We will find a way to rid you of this excess magic, and once we do, you and I are going to indulge every fantasy we've ever had, right here in this very bed."
Harry picked his head up and looked Severus full in the eyes. "Don't say that if it's not really possible. Please. I need you to tell me, right now, if there's any actual hope of that happening."
Snape stroked Harry's head before answering. "I believe that I am close. I have located a spell that might suffice. Minerva and I are searching for a safe repository for the magic that we bleed off. There will be risks – I will not lie to you about that. But we do not need to discuss those risks now. Now, I think, we are both tired, and we would both benefit from sleep more than anything else." He urged Harry's head back down. "Sleep now, Harry. We will talk more when we are rested."
"Okay," Harry agreed. "I don't think I'll have another nightmare, just in case you were worried."
"I was not," Snape assured him.
"I feel so safe here in your arms. Like nothing could ever hurt me again. I think I can sleep really good, knowing that you're here to protect me and look out for me. I haven't felt this way in – Merlin, I don't know how long."
"Harry," Snape said. "Shut up and sleep."
"Sorry," Harry said, but he smiled against Harry's chest, closed his eyes, and let sleep claim him.
"I need you to be clear on this, Harry," Snape said as they sat at the breakfast table the following morning. "The procedure for draining your magic will be a delicate balancing act. If I go too far, you may end up a squib."
"I trust you, Severus," Harry said sincerely.
"I don't want you to trust me," Snape countered. "I want you to understand and truly accept the fact that you may be left with no magic."
"It's all right . . ."
"No," Snape stopped him. "I will not accept an answer from you now. You will think about this. You will look inside yourself and imagine what life would be like for you if you were to suddenly have no magic. I will do my very best to ensure that that does not happen, but I can make no guarantees. We will not go into this unless you are prepared for all outcomes."
"All right," Harry said seriously. "Give me some time to think on it. How does it work?"
"It will likely be painful. That is something else that you will have to accept. Your magic is woven into your very DNA. I do not know if the magic you have absorbed will have done the same. I do not know if the spell will target your own or this borrowed magic. If it is your own inherent magic, your body will fight back when we try to remove it. If the Dark Lord's magic has likewise woven itself into the very fabric of who you are, it will likely be ten times worse."
"How much pain are we talking about here?" Harry asked nervously.
"Cruciatus-level pain," Snape said.
Harry winced. "For how long?"
"That is difficult to estimate. The harder the magic fights, the longer it will take. I will not be able to give you anything to assist with the pain, as pain relieving potions will only prolong the process or may even interfere with it."
Harry sighed. "So this won't be easy. Got it. I've lived with pain before, I can do it again. It will be worth it if I can get back to normal. Or, whatever passes for normal with me."
"But the other . . . that is something permanent, should it come to that. That I will not allow you to commit to until you have thought it through, from all angles."
"All right," Harry said. "But I don't want this to be prolonged any further than necessary. I want a decision made by tonight. If I decide to go through with it, can you be ready to do it tomorrow?"
"I will speak with Minerva this afternoon, see if she has made any progress with a receptacle for your magic. She said that she had several promising avenues to research. With any luck she has a solution to that problem. If she does, we can cast the spell at any time."
"All right. You go talk to Minerva, and I will spend some time . . . thinking."
Harry spent the next several hours thinking about his life as it was and his life as it could be, even if that meant without magic. He wondered how much of a factor Snape would be in that life, how much of a factor he wanted the other man to be. He could not deny that he felt a strong attraction to his former professor. They'd gotten on amazingly well since Snape had saved Harry (once again) in the forest, and last night's snogging had been incredibly arousing. He thought he might like to pursue that more, when and if he could do so without killing anyone subconsciously. But he wondered how Snape would feel about him if he had no magic, and the idea that he might be rejected weighed heavily on his mind.
When Snape returned finally, he looked beat. He sat at the table, before the meal which Harry had prepared, and rubbed his temples.
"Are you all right?" Harry asked quietly
"Yes," Snape said, sitting upright and squaring his shoulders. "I am fine."
"It was . . . long and tedious."
"Were you and the Headmistress able to come up with a plan for the excess magic?"
"Yes. If you don't mind, I should like to eat, and then we will discuss it."
"That's fine," Harry said.
They ate in relative silence, neither of them speaking, both burdened by the decisions that needed to be made and the likely effects of those decisions. Neither was overly hungry, and it wasn't long before they were pushing their plates away and sending them off to the kitchen. "A drink?" Snape suggested.
"No, thank you," Harry said, "but you should go ahead if you want one."
Snape felt as though he needed it badly, and he did not hesitate to pour himself a healthy measure of scotch as they adjourned to the chairs before the fire.
"You are aware that rebuilding of the castle continues?"
Harry shrugged. He didn't know this, as he hadn't been back to Hogwarts, nor had he been reading the paper that Snape brought back from his daily visits to the castle, but he assumed it to be true, and he said so. "I assumed so."
"There was a substantial amount of damage, as you might imagine," Snape continued. "There were also parts of the castle that were seldom used which had fallen into disrepair, and plans have been developed that encompass repair of all parts of the castle, no matter how they have come to need this repair. In addition, Minerva has discovered that the spells on some of the foundation stones of the castle have faded over time, and it has been decided that those spells should be renewed as part of the entire rebuilding process."
Harry listened politely, not sure what all of this had to do with him.
"That is where you come in," Snape explained. "The magic that we siphon off of you will be embedded into the stones that will become the foundation of the renovated Hogwarts castle. There is enough magic there to keep the castle strong for generations to come."
"Well, at least something good will come of it," Harry said.
"Have you made your decision, then?"
Harry looked up at Snape. "I don't see that I have any choice."
"And you understand the consequences? You understand that there will be pain, likely a great deal of it? And you understand and accept that you may end up a squib?"
"I understand those things," Harry said quietly. "But I wonder . . ."
"What, Harry? I will answer any question that I can."
"I wonder how you would feel about me then."
Snape looked at Harry, confusion obvious on his face. "I am not sure what you mean."
"If I was a . . . if I lost my magic, would you still . . . like me?"
"You know, would you . . . want to kiss me again? Would you want to be involved with me . . . that way?'
"Are you under the impression that my kissing you last night had something to do with your magic?"
"I kind of thought you kissed me to shut me up actually," Harry said with a blush.
"That is the way it started out," Snape agreed. "It sort of took on a life of its own after that."
"I liked it," Harry admitted shyly. "I was looking forward to doing it again. But I wasn't sure how you would feel about being involved with a . . . with someone who had no magic."
"If you cannot say the word, you have no business engaging in an activity which could make you into one."
"Squib, then," Harry said. "Could you . . . love someone who had no magic?"
"I think we are getting ahead of ourselves here – "
"I'm sorry," Harry said quickly. "I didn't mean to presume anything. I should have known that my being me is a bigger deterrent to you than the fact that I have someone else's magic."
"Must I kiss you again to get you to shut up?" Snape asked snidely.
Harry looked up hopefully. "I wouldn't mind."
"Potter, whether or not you have magic is irrelevant to me. If you wish to pursue whatever this could be between us, after you have had this procedure done, I am interested as well, no matter the outcome."
Harry's smile was genuine and large. "Good. I want to do it. I can't keep living like this, so if there's a chance that I can be better, then I will take it. When can we do it?"
"There is very little that needs readying in advance. We can do it tomorrow afternoon if you'd like."
Harry nodded, his stomach twisting nervously. By this time tomorrow night, he could be cured. Or he could be a squib.
"Before we do this," Harry said nervously at the breakfast table the following morning, "there's something I'd like to do. If you'll let me."
Snape stared at him, intrigued. "May I ask what?"
"Of course." Harry reached across the table and took Snape's left hand into his own. He turned the hand so that it was palm up, revealing Snape's Dark Mark. Harry traced it lightly with a single finger. "I want to remove this."
Snape started but didn't pull his hand away. "Do you think you can?"
Harry nodded. He was certain of it.
Snape considered Harry's offer. He'd hoped that when Voledmort was finally killed, the Dark Mark would have disappeared, or at least faded. But it hadn't. It remained as it was, dark as ever, taunting him with its permanence. He would have given anything if it could be removed, but he'd reconciled himself to the fact that it would be there when he died. Looking into Harry's eyes, Snape nodded, unable to speak.
"May I do it now?" Harry asked.
Again, Snape nodded.
Harry came to kneel beside Snape's chair and cradled the scarred left arm in his hands. Harry placed one of his own hands on top of the mark, completely covering it, and closed his eyes.
Snape expected to feel pain, but there was nothing. Moments later, Harry removed his hand to reveal unblemished pale skin.
Snape stared down at his arm, and tears sprung to his eyes. It was gone. The perpetual reminder of his incredibly faulty youthful judgment, the link he'd had to his evil master – gone. He looked up at Harry. "Thank you," he said, his voice no more than a whisper.
Harry kissed the spot where the mark used to be, then reached up to stroke Snape's cheek. "You are entirely welcome."
Harry lay his head on Snape's knee, and Snape stroked his hair softly. They stayed this way until Harry's knees began to ache, and he rose slowly to his feet.
Snape cleared his throat, dispelling the annoying emotion that had lodged there. "We will head up to the castle in an hour or so. You should rest for a bit. The remainder of the day is going to be . . . difficult."
The fact that Harry was getting worried about what was going to happen must have shown on his face, because Snape stood up and took the younger man into his arms and held onto him tightly. He didn't bother mouthing platitudes or meaningless words of comfort; he simply held Harry in his arms and tried to convey all he was feeling with this simple embrace.
"Mr. Potter," Minerva McGonagall said when Harry and Severus entered the head's office. She stood up from behind her desk and moved swiftly to approach him. She hadn't seen him since the day the rest of the students had left Hogwarts, since before Harry had tried to take his own life.
Harry was greatly surprised when his stern and stoic head of house enfolded him in her arms and pulled him tightly up against her. "I am so sorry," she said into his ear, " that you did not feel you could come to me with this. I feel that I have failed you, my boy, and I don't know whether I'll ever be able to forgive myself. If Severus hadn't found you when he did . . ."
As soon as Harry could, he pulled away and looked her in the eyes. "You have nothing to be sorry for," he said softly. "It was me. I felt like I was tainted before, you know? When all I had was a scar and a link to a madman? But when I realized that I had absorbed what made him evil . . . I didn't know what to do. I couldn't control it, and I thought it would be better to just . . . I didn't want to end up like him."
Minerva laid a gnarled hand alongside Harry's cheek. "There was no chance of that happening, Harry. It wasn't his power that made him evil. His very soul was damaged, long before he split it in pieces. Now are you sure you want to do this?" She patted his cheek affectionately, then let him go. "Severus has explained the procedure, how painful it will likely be?"
"Yes," Harry nodded.
"And you're absolutely certain this is the way to proceed? It is possible that we might be able to teach you to control this magic."
Harry didn't believe that was possible. If Snape hadn't found a way, then Harry believed that way did not exist. "No, ma'am. I think I'm doing the right thing."
"And I want to reassure myself that you understand that you might end up a squib, Harry. I will not let you do this if you haven't considered all of the possible outcomes."
Harry glanced at Snape. "Severus explained that to me. I understand. Obviously, I would prefer that that not happen, but I accept that as a possibility, and I'm willing to take the risk. And if I can help to make the castle stronger at the same time, I see that as a win-win."
"All right then," the headmistress said with a nod. "We must adjourn to the dungeons."
A bed had been set up in the deepest, most central part of the foundation of the castle, and it was here that Harry lay amid the smell of must and damp and mold. The bed was soft and clean, casting a strong contrast to its surroundings. Harry settled himself against the comfy pillows, clutching at the sheets tightly to keep his hands from shaking.
Severus sat beside him on the bed and took one of Harry's tensed hands into his own. "We are ready to begin," he said, rubbing the back of Harry's hand, over the old I must not tell lies scar.
Harry could tell that Severus wanted to ask him, one more time, if he was sure that he wanted to do this, and before he could, Harry released the sheet with his other hand and cupped Severus' in both of his. "I'm ready," he said. He lowered his voice, in deference to the fact that Minerva was with them. "I want to come to you when this is over. Just me. No more Voldemort inside of me. Only you."
Snape drew in a quick breath at the invitation. "I want that, too," he whispered back.
Reluctantly, Severus pulled his hand away and stepped back away from the bed. "Are you ready, Minerva?"
"I am," she assured him.
"Close your eyes, Harry," Severus said. Trusting him implicitly, Harry did so.
Harry heard them moving around. He sensed them standing near to the bed, and then they began to chant together in Latin. Almost immediately, Harry felt a buzzing sensation under his skin, as though a low-volt electrical current was running through his veins. At first, it was merely uncomfortable, but the sensation soon progressed to actual pain. The level of the pain increased gradually until Harry could remain stoic no longer, and he began to twitch and whimper. The chanting continued, and the pain got greater, until Harry couldn't help but moan, then sob. He could actually feel the magic in his body grabbing onto his very cells as the spell tried to rip it away.
He began to scream thirty minutes into the process, feeling as though he'd been under this torture for hours already. And still the chanting continued, monotonous and unwavering, heedless, it seemed to Harry, of the pain it was causing him. Severus hadn't told him how long this would take, not that Harry had any concept of time at this point. If he knew that he had, say twenty more minutes, or even another hour, to hold out, he'd have some end point to focus on, and this would be so much easier to bear. But he had no way of knowing, and the pain was all-encompassing, and after an hour, Harry began to beg them to stop.
They did not.
Some time shortly after, he lost the ability to form coherent words and was reduced to grunting out his displeasure at continuing. And a little while after that, he began to wish that they would just kill him and get it over with.
Then, a hundred and thirty-five minutes after it had started, it was over. The pain receded gradually, much as it had started, until Harry lay shaking, drenched in sweat, his teeth clenched so tightly that he could not speak.
Severus was beside the bed almost before he'd finished the final words of the spell. "Harry! Harry, are you all right?"
Harry's eyes were open wide, his body shaking uncontrollably. He tried to answer Severus' question, but his lockjaw made that impossible. Severus recognized this and gently rubbed Harry's cheek and chin and jaw until he could relax the muscles enough to open his mouth.
"Severus . . ." he gasped, looking down the length of his body.
Severus' eyes followed the path Harry's had traveled and immediately knew what was distressing the boy most. At some point during the magic-letting, his bladder had let go, and he was soaked in urine. As soon as Snape realized that, he became overwhelmed by Harry's smell: the urine, the sweat, the fear and the pain. With a quick flick of his wand, a thorough cleaning spell scoured Harry's body.
"Minerva, would you turn your back, please?" Severus requested.
As soon as she had, Severus banished Harry's clothing and the bedding beneath him. He replaced the sheet with a crisp, cool new one, then covered Harry with a thin blanket. "It's all right now, Minerva. Harry, are you cold?" The boy was obviously still trembling under the blanket.
"N-n-no," Harry said, "it's just – I still feel – "
Speaking seemed difficult for the young man, so Severus stepped in. "I understand, Harry." And he did. "Why don't you sleep now?"
Sleep sounded like heaven. Harry had thought that as soon as this was over, he and Severus would retire to the cottage and begin to explore whatever this was between them. Sex was the farthest thing from his mind now, though, and he closed his eyes and let himself drift away.
Harry woke in familiar surrounds: his bed in Snape's cottage. He'd awoken with very intact memories of what had happened yesterday, and he was hesitant to move, certain that it was going to hurt. And it did, but not anywhere near as much as he'd feared. He tentatively stretched his arms and legs, and while they felt stiff, as though he'd lain here for days, there was very little actual pain. He rolled enough to retrieve his glasses from the bedside table and put them on.
Now to see if he could stand. He sat up in the bed and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Nothing fell off, so he stood slowly. Good. This was good. He bent his knees a bit, bouncing in place. He seemed able to hold his own weight, so he crossed the room, shuffling a bit, searching for Severus.
He found him sitting on the sofa before the ashes of a fire, his long nose buried in a book. He stood for a moment, leaning against the door frame, studying the older man, until he became convinced that Severus wasn't actually reading: he never made any motion to turn the page, in all the time that Harry watched him. "Severus," he finally said. He was surprised that his voice came out with a quavering quality to it.
Severus looked up at the sound of his voice, set his book aside immediately, and stood up. "Harry," he said, then stopped, as though unsure what to say next.
Harry took two steps nearer, and Severus shook himself into action and hurried toward Harry. He put a solicitous hand on Harry's elbow and led him to the sofa. "How do you feel?" he asked as he helped Harry to sit.
"All right. Tired and a little achy, but all right. Sit," Harry invited a hovering Snape. He patted the cushion beside him.
Severus sat gingerly, as though afraid he would jostle Harry and cause him pain. His hands were in his lap, and he seemed to find them incredibly interesting.
"Is everything all right?" Harry asked softly.
"Yes, yes," Severus said with forced hardiness. "Everything is quite all right."
"Did the spell tax you?"
"No. Well, some," Severus conceded. "It was a very long and intense casting."
"Is Professor McGonagall all right?"
"She is fine. She returned to her rooms to rest."
They sat, side by side, without speaking, for a long time. Finally, Harry could hold it in no longer. "How's my magic?"
Severus finally looked at him. "We will not know until you try it."
"You should probably not try it until you have rested more."
"Do you really think that will make any difference?" Harry asked, suspecting he knew the answer.
"No," Severus admitted. "It's done. Resting will not change the outcome now."
Harry twiddled his thumbs a bit, gathering his courage. "Where's my wand?"
"Harry, I . . ."
"Where's my wand?" Harry repeated firmly.
Severus stood, walked to the fireplace, and removed Harry's wand from the mantle. He walked to Harry but didn't give him the wand right away. "I want to say, before you try, that if I have . . . if I was unsuccessful in ending the spell at the proper time, I – "
"No," Harry said. "Stop. Don't even . . . I would be dead if it weren't for you, Severus. I owe you everything. I will not blame you for anything."
Severus held the wand out, but did not let go when Harry tried to take it, using the grip to pull Harry to his feet. He kissed Harry tenderly on the forehead, let go of his wand, and stepped back.
Harry stood for a moment longer, because his courage just refused to be marshaled, until finally he just decided, "to hell with it." He pointed his wand at the fire and said, clearly and purposefully, "Incendio."
The ashes rose up a bit, as though a breeze had teased their surface.
Harry cleared his throat, took a step closer to the hearth, and said, louder this time, "Incendio!"
Again, the ashes fluttered.
Harry dropped his wand hand to his side. It was gone. His magic was gone. This was what he wanted, right? He didn't want Voldemort's level of power, and he'd told himself he was willing to do anything to rid himself of it. Hell, he'd been willing to kill himself because of it. So this was good. Right? So why did he feel like crying?
"Well," he said, his voice small and filled with cracks, "at least the castle's foundation has been strengthened."
He tried to be stoic in the face of this latest loss, but a sob erupted before he could get a hold of it. He felt himself being pulled into Severus' strong arms, and he buried his face in the man's chest and cried. He cried for those lost in the battle, and he cried for his parents, and he cried for his childhood, and he cried for Hedwig and Dobby, and yes, he cried for the loss of the magic that had made him special, the vehicle that had driven him out of his desperate childhood. He cried for a long time, from somewhere deep in his heart.
And Severus let him.
Severus cradled Harry against his chest, his heart breaking at the boy's desolation. He felt sympathetic tears in his own eyes as Harry cried out his pain into Severus's shirt. He didn't try to hush Harry's distress or try to soothe him with useless platitudes. There was nothing he could say that would ease what the young wizard was going through.
There was nothing he could say, but there was something he could do.
When Harry's crying finally subsided to wet sniffles, Severus took that beloved face between his hands and kissed those luscious lips. "Come with me, Harry," he invited.
The hopeful surprise that leapt into those wet green eyes told Severus that Harry had actually doubted whether he would still be wanted. And this was the one thing he could do to reassure the insecure whelp that not all had changed for the worse. "You still want to . . . even though I . . ."
"I did not want to make love to your magic," Severus purred into Harry's ear. He put his arms around the fragile-feeling body and pulled him close, rubbing his hands down Harry's back until he cupped his arse. "I want to make love to this firm young body. That has not changed. Will you let me?"
Harry felt himself begin to tremble with anticipation. "I want you to, but I'm afraid," he confessed.
"I will be as gentle as possible," Severus promised.
"I'm not afraid about that. Well, I'm a little nervous about that," Harry admitted shyly. "But I'm more afraid that if you . . . love me, that I won't be able to let you go. Ever. I already feel . . . if you make love to me, you'll have my heart, and my soul, and my body. I don't want to drive you away with my neediness, so I thought I should give you one last chance to back away, before you're stuck with me for the rest of your life."
Severus reached up to stroke Harry's hair away from his face. "Just try and leave."
Severus took Harry by the hand and led him back to the bedroom. When they were standing beside the bed, Severus began to gently and slowly undress the trembling young man. As he did, he spoke soothingly, in low tones, as one does to a skittish horse. When Harry's shirt had fallen to the floor, he stroked his hands over the boy's chest and arms and back. Though he trembled still, Harry leaned into the touch. His eyes, however, revealed something that looked very much like panic.
Before any further undressing, Snape leaned in and kissed that enticing mouth, hoping to replace the panic with something a little more enjoyable. Harry kissed the way he did everything else: passionately, a little sloppily, and without holding anything back. There seemed to be more than a little desperation, too, and Snape grabbed hold of Harry's chin and forced his head to be still. Once he couldn't move, Snape began to teach by demonstration. He moved his lips softly over the younger man's, drawing back when Harry's opening mouth turned the kiss into something slobbery. Eventually Harry learned that in order to keep in contact with the man's lips, he had to hold himself back just a little.
Once Snape had imparted that basic bit of wisdom, he added tongue, first swiping Harry's lower lip with his tongue, then thrusting it into the moist cavern that was Harry's mouth. Harry sucked on the tongue for a bit, then tentatively touched it with his own. When he did, Snape drew Harry's tongue into his mouth, sucking it in and letting it out, in and out, as though it were a small cock. Harry moaned deep in his throat and pressed the lower half of his body against Snape's. Severus smiled when he felt a hardness poking into his thigh.
Dropping his hand from Harry's head, Severus worked at the button holding Harry's jeans closed. Once he had it undone, the zip went down easily enough, and Severus worked the jeans down over Harry's slender hips. He slid them down to Harry's knees, then maneuvered the unprotesting man to the bed, where he pushed him gently into a sitting position.
Severus knelt on the floor between Harry's knees. His eyes nearly level with the green ones looking back at him, he captured Harry's gaze and held it while he slid the jeans down onto the floor. Another brief, tongueless kiss, and Severus' gaze dropped to the tent in Harry's boxers, marked by a wet spot at the apex.
"Are you hard, Harry?" Severus growled out.
"Yes!" Harry choked out. "I've never been this hard! What do I do?"
"You don't do anything," Severus said. "You just sit here and let me take care of you."
Severus rooted around in the placket of Harry's boxers until he found the straining flesh, and he carefully pulled it out through the opening. He looked up into the eyes, green now dulled by lust. He closed his hand around the hot flesh, and Harry's eyes closed, unable to process what he was seeing along with the overloading tactile experience of having someone else's hand wrapped around his cock.
Severus stroked him, firmly, slowly, but not for long. The hand he lowered to cup the other man's balls told him that Harry's testicles were already shrunken and tightened to the size of walnuts in anticipation. He wondered if Harry had every had anyone touch him like this before, male or female.
As though Harry had read his thoughts, the breathless young man said, "No one's ever . . . touched me there before."
Severus slowed the pace at which he was stripping the straining cock. "You've touched yourself, though, surely?"
"Yes," Harry admitted. "Done that loads of times. But this feels . . ." Harry groaned, a sound which came from deep in his belly.
Snape's own cock hardened unexpectedly at the admission that he was the first to have touched The Savior in this way. Though Potter hadn't set out to "save" himself for his former Potions professor, Severus couldn't help the wave of tenderness and longing that swept through him over the fact that he was going to introduce Potter to the wonders of pleasure at the hand of another. He was going to make this so good for his young lover.
"If you like that, Harry, just wait," he promised.
Harry watched, knowing that Snape was going to take his leaking cock into his mouth, but totally unprepared for the intensity of the feeling when he did so. Mortifyingly, Snape had no sooner closed his mouth around Harry's erection and sucked than Harry felt his orgasm slam through him with dizzying suddenness. With no time to prepare for it, Harry felt as though he was being pulled inside out into the older wizard's mouth. Harry curled himself around the head in his lap, lacking any control and trying to force his cock farther down Snape's throat with every spurt of semen he released. Severus took everything he had, being especially gifted at deep throating, all the while maintaining the suction on the pulsing shaft until Harry had no more to give. Spent in every way possible, Harry fell back onto the bed, releasing a small whimper when Severus gently pulled his mouth off of the overly-sensitized flesh.
When he could speak, Harry said, "I'm sorry."
"And what would you be apologizing for?" Severus asked as he got awkwardly to his feet.
Harry scooted further up onto the bed. "I was too quick. I wanted that to last forever. And I didn't warn you when I was about to . . . and I . . . I was a little rough, I think."
"I wanted you to lose control, Harry," Severus assured him. "I liked having your cock so deep in my throat. You taste divine. I'm going to kiss you now so that you can taste for yourself. Ready?"
Another whimper escaped from Harry's throat, and all he could do was nod as Severus removed his boxers and straddled him on the bed, his large red cock laying flat on Harry's stomach, his own spent penis nestled beneath Snape's bum, and leaned forward to kiss him again. Severus' tongue thrust into Harry's mouth, and Harry could – he could taste himself on the other man's tongue. He'd come on his own hands plenty of time, but he'd never thought to taste it. Before this moment, he would have thought that more than a little gross. Apparently he was gayer than he thought, because the taste of his own spend on another man's tongue was causing his little train to think that maybe he could, again.
Severus felt Harry's cock begin to twitch and lengthen between his arse cheeks, and he chuckled low in his throat. "I was counting on your youthful recovery time. Ready for round two, love?"
Harry was torn. One part of him wanted very much to engage in the carnal pleasures he'd been fantasizing about for the last couple of days. But another part of him was afraid. He'd never even thought about having sex with another man before coming here to live with Snape. He'd never felt that attraction. Despite that, he knew the logistics of what two men could do with each other, and as he looked at Snape's very large cock, red and twitching on his abdomen, he began to squirm in an exquisite combination of want and fear.
Snape saw the fear in the young man's eyes, and he reached a hand up to caress Harry's cheek. "You are afraid," he said softly.
"I've never . . . you can probably tell that I've never . . . never done this before." He looked quickly down at Snape's cock, then back up at the man. "I just don't – " Harry gulped audibly. "I just don't see how it's going to fit. Inside me."
"You misunderstand," Snape said, smoothly sliding off of Harry and sitting on the bed beside him. "This," he stroked his own distended member, "is not going to fit inside you. At least, not tonight. This, however," here he took Harry's fully erect cock into his other hand, "is going to fit inside me." He hefted Harry's cock in his palm, as though testing its weight and girth. "Very nicely, too, I should think."
Harry actually stopped breathing for the length of time it took for his overwhelmed brain to process the fact that Severus Snape. Was going to let. Harry Potter. Fuck him.
"Breathe," Severus urged.
Harry drew in a ragged breath. "You mean it?"
"I do. I understand the fear you are feeling. You cannot fathom how something like this," he stroked Harry's cock again, "can physically fit into such a small orifice. It is even more unbelievable to think that someone could experience pleasure with such an action. I want to demonstrate for you that there is a great deal of pleasure to be had with a proper buggering, if it is done carefully."
"You'll help me?" Harry asked shyly. "You'll tell me what to do."
"I will do better than that, Harry. I will show you. As with potions, and indeed with almost anything in life, preparation is the key. A first time is most often painful because proper care is not taken during the preparation stage. I will show you how to prepare me so that I am begging you to slide your thick cock into my tight hole," Snape felt Harry shudder underneath him. "And I think that once you see that I indeed derive a great deal of pleasure from the act, you will be less hesitant when it is your turn to bottom. But be assured of this, Harry – we will not take that next step until you are ready for it. I will not pressure you in any way. I am more than happy to have you top for as long as it takes for you to get comfortable."
"Thank you," Harry said sincerely. "So what do we do now?"
"Now we prepare. I am going to demonstrate on your body how one prepares a lover for penetration. You will then take those techniques and apply them to me. Once we both agree that I am sufficiently ready for you, you may begin."
"My first fuck," Harry said reverently.
"But not your last, I assure you. Up on your hands and knees, then, if you please."
Harry complied, positioning himself on all fours in the middle of the bed. He felt Severus moving around behind him, and he couldn't help but wriggle his hips in anticipation.
Severus ran an admiring hand over the right cheek. Harry's arse really was perfect – round and supple, not too large and not too bony.
"Preparation for penetration encompasses two things, Harry, relaxation and lubrication. The first involves allowing the anal sphincter to relax enough to stretch to accommodate a lover's girth. Lubrication may seem obvious, but proper lubrication is essential. Have you ever used saliva as a lubricant for masturbation?"
Harry whimpered a bit. Snape's vocabulary was clinical and somehow dirty at the same time. He nodded.
"And how long does the saliva continue to provide lubrication, assuming that it is not mixed with copious amounts of precome?"
"Not long," Harry said. "I have to keep spitting into my hand."
"Precisely. Saliva as a lubricant for anal penetration is not effective. It dries too quickly and can make the necessary slide painful. Semen is sometimes used as a lubricant, and though it's viscosity lasts a bit longer than saliva, it still is not ideal. Lubricant, specially made for sexual activity, is your very best option. A well-made lubricant retains its slipperiness throughout the act, and can be made to include a pleasurable sensation of heat, or pleasant odors, or even a spermicide if one is concerned about pregnancy."
"We're not concerned about that," Harry choked out.
"No, we are not concerned about that," Severus agreed.
"Do you know what rimming is, Harry?"
"Allow me to demonstrate." Harry felt Severus' hair trailing against the curve of his arse and shivered again at the sensation. Severus' large hands gently pulled Harry's buttocks apart, revealing the crinkled pink entrance to his hungry gaze. Without further speechifying, Severus cast a discrete wordless cleaning charm, then stuck his tongue out and poked at the little rosebud, prodding a groan from the young man beneath him.
And Severus proceeded to make love to Harry's arsehole with his tongue. He stroked his flattened tongue over it, from perineum to the top of Harry's crack, traced his stiffened tongue around the rim, and thrust his tongue as far into the boy's body as he could. It wasn't long before Harry was writhing under him, torn between thinking he should find this act absolutely, filthily, dirty and abandoning himself to the incredible lust surging through him at the fact that Severus Snape was doing this to him, Harry Potter. When he began pushing back against the tongue skewering him, Severus knew he was ready for more.
"You are doing so well, Harry," Severus praised. "Did you enjoy that?"
Harry whimpered, wanting desperately to drop to the bed beneath him and rub himself off on the sheets. "Yes!" he gasped. "That was . . . so naughty. I can't believe you put your tongue . . . there."
"You are delicious," Severus assured him.
"Will you want me to do that to you, some day?" Harry asked somewhat nervously.
"Only if you want to, Harry. I meant it when I said that we would only do what you felt comfortable with. I would certainly approve of your putting your tongue anywhere on my body that took your fancy. But now, we are going to move on to fingers. Here is where we will begin with the lubricant.
"I brew this myself," Severus purred. Harry heard the sound of a jar being unscrewed, then he felt a slimy finger where the tongue had been so recently. "Did you like it when I penetrated you with my tongue, Harry?"
Harry felt the tip of Snape's finger slide into him. It was no larger than the tongue, and it wasn't uncomfortable at all. Harry moaned as he felt the finger slide in as far as it could.
"Tell me how that feels," Snape instructed.
Snape began to pull the finger out and push it back in, slowly but steadily, over and over, loosening Harry up. When he'd done all he could with that lone finger, his hand went back to the lube, and he covered his first two fingers. "Ready for more?"
"Mm hmm," Harry agreed, pushing his arse back toward Severus.
"All right," Severus said, and he slid the two fingers in, slowly but insistently. He stopped when they could go no further and asked, "All right?"
"Yes," Harry said, "it's more . . . full feeling, but still good. Is that two fingers?"
"Try moving them."
Severus did, in and out again. Harry was adapting to the increased stretch admirably. "Do you like that?" Severus murmured.
Surprising to himself, Harry did. "Yeah. I like it a lot."
"Then you are going to love this." Severus pushed his fingers all the way in, then hooked them as he pulled them out, grazing the walnut nub of Harry's prostate.
"Sweet Jesus!" Harry yelped. "What did you do? Can you do that again?"
Severus did, and Harry began to babble incomprehensibly. Severus pleasured the boy in this way for a moment, until he felt that Harry was too close to the edge of orgasm, and he stilled his fingers inside the boy.
"Severus?" Harry said quietly, his voice muffled by his position on the bed.
"Remember when you said that you wouldn't fuck me until I was ready?"
"I'm ready," Harry stated.
"Are you sure?"
"I am! I want you in me so bad I don't think I can stand it another minute if you don't. Please! Now!"
"Hush, foolish boy," Severus said with an amused chuckle. "I will give you what you need. But we must finish with the preparation. I will not hurt you."
Snape thrust all four of his fingers into the lube, then inserted three of them back into Harry's passage. Harry thrust back into the pressure, and Severus placed a hand on his hip, soothing him with soft strokes. "Patience, love," he crooned.
"Fuck patience!" Harry snapped. "I don't know how I could be any more ready."
"All right. As long as you are sure."
"Please don't tease me, Severus," Harry begged.
Severus scooped a generous portion of lubricant out of the jar and spread it thoroughly over his own raging flesh. Tossing the jar aside, he placed his cock head at the entrance to Harry's channel and pressed gently, just until his head breached the guardian ring of muscle.
Harry swore beneath him, then suddenly thrust back. Alarmed, Severus tried to pull away, but his treacherous body wouldn't allow him to pull out of the tight heat. "Impetuous boy!" he growled. "You will hurt yourself."
Far from hurting, Harry's need to have Severus completely inside him was overriding all of his other senses, and despite the pressure that Snape was trying to exert to keep Harry from going too fast, Harry pushed back again, feeling the steady slide of Snape's thick cock into his body. It was so tight Harry thought he could feel every vein and bump.
When Severus was seated fully, he nearly collapsed onto Harry's back at the sensations warring inside him. He wanted to thrust, hard and fast, until he lost his mind in the miracle that was Harry Potter. But he couldn't – he couldn't hurt the boy, even though he seemed to be demanding that Severus do just that. Instead, he pulled himself slowly out, until he could see the head of his penis, then pushed himself back in slowly. He did this three times, all while Harry huffed his impatience below.
"Can you find that spot you hit before?" Harry asked.
"You find it," Severus challenged.
Harry changed his position slightly, and Severus pushed in and out again. That wasn't it, so Harry moved in the other direction. This time, when Severus slid in and out, stars exploded behind Harry's eyelids. There it was!
"There!" Harry shouted. "Just there! Please, Severus! I need it harder!"
Harry's begging was Severus' undoing, and he increased his pace, still retaining enough control not to slam helplessly into the virgin arse. After three strokes, Harry lost his fight with his orgasm, and he shouted as he spent himself onto the sheets without Severus having touched his cock at all. At that realization, Severus lost control of himself, and he slammed forcefully into Harry several more times before giving up the ghost.
Spent and sated, Severus came back to himself to the realization that he was draped over the smaller man's back, which had to be uncomfortable for the boy. Slowly and carefully, Severus straightened up and enjoyed the sight of his half-hard cock still embedded in Harry's arse before pulling himself out. Harry moaned at the feeling.
Snape cast a cleaning charm on himself, Harry, and the sheets, then collapsed on the bed beside Harry, whose eyes were screwed tightly shut.
"Are you all right?" Severus asked.
The lids flew up, and vibrant green eyes stared up at him with adoration. "I can sincerely say that I have never felt better."
"That was a success, then?"
"Completely and utterly. Can we have a cuddle now?"
They settled themselves together, Harry in the crook of Severus' arms and snuggled up tightly to his side, his cheek resting over Severus' still racing heart. "Will you still let me do that to you some time?" Harry asked, hoping he hadn't lost his one chance.
"Of course. How will you know which position you like better if you don't try them all?"
Harry's head popped up. "All?" he repeated, his eyes opening wide in wonder. "There are more?"
"Oh, Harry. My innocent little Harry. There is so much I want to show you."
Harry could only smile, resting his check back against Severus' chest, letting sleep claim him.
Harry blinked awake in a strangely scented bed. His eyes landed on his . . . lover? partner? boyfriend? He was immediately filled with a sense of happiness and awe. He was no longer a virgin. He'd had sex – really, really good sex – with Severus Snape of all people. A man. (That part still kind of staggered him if he thought about it.) He wondered how often people who were . . . involved . . . had sex. He hoped it was often. He couldn't wait to try doing to Severus what he'd had done to him last night.
Harry thought that maybe he'd make Severus breakfast, and he sat slowly and carefully up, trying not to wake the man so he could surprise him, looking around for his glasses. Blind as he was, he had no hope of finding them, and he raised his hand, about to perform a wandless accio, when the awful reality of the other significant event of yesterday hit him. He had no magic to perform something even as simple as an accio. He fell back to the bed, despair replacing the happiness he'd just been experiencing.
"Harry?" Severus asked, his voice still thick with sleep. A hairy arm crept across Harry's abdomen and pulled him closer to Severus' incredible heat.
"What am I going to do, Severus?" Harry whispered. "I'm useless now. What am I going to do with the rest of my life?"
Severus surrounded him in a comforting embrace. "Hush, Harry. You are not useless. There are plenty of things you can do with your life. We will figure that out, but we don't need to do it now. Give yourself some time to adjust to your new life."
"My life as a squib, you mean," Harry said miserably.
"Your life free of dark lords," Severus corrected.
"I'm afraid, Severus," Harry confessed. "All my life I've been pointing in one direction, aiming for one goal. And now that that goal has been accomplished, I don't know what to do. I had thought I wanted to be an auror, but even before . . . even before I killed Voldemort, I'd begun to rethink that. I was so tired of pursuing and being pursued by evil. I thought that might get better once I'd had some time away, and I would have been good at it, I think. But now being an auror isn't even an option."
Harry looked so young and lost Severus just wanted to scoop him up and hold him, keep him safe forever. The fact that Harry no longer had magic made his vulnerability that much more pronounced, not that Severus would ever say that to the already despairing boy.
"Harry, you have the entire rest of your life before you," he said solemnly, taking Harry's face between his palms. "You have time to figure this out. Please don't despair because you cannot see the path forward right now. It will become clear, I promise you."
Unable to speak, Harry buried his face into Severus' neck, trying not to sob.
Since Harry had cooked, Severus did the cleanup from breakfast. When he retired to the sitting room, wondering if he could entice Harry to help him in the lab, he found the young man standing in front of the fire, the familiar holly wand grasped loosely in his hand.
"What are you doing?"
Harry didn't answer for a long moment. "I'm . . . I can't have this around me any longer. It's . . . it's too painful."
"Harry," Severus said, trying to keep his voice even when what he really wanted to do was scream at the boy not to do this. "Please don't do anything hasty."
"If I ask you something, will you be honest with me?"
Severus wanted to lie, to tell the boy he would, but then tell him whatever he needed to hear to keep him from destroying this part of himself. But he couldn't. "Of course I will."
"Is there . . . any chance . . . that it will ever come back?" Severus didn't have to ask what "it" was. "If I wait, if I do exercises, if I pray . . . will it ever come back?" Tortured green eyes looked up at him.
"No one can know the future . . ." he began.
"Don't," Harry begged him. "Just tell me."
"No," Severus said. "If you have no magic now, it is because your magic . . . because I . . ." He couldn't finish.
"Thank you," said Harry sincerely. As painful as it was to hear, it was good to know what he faced. He drew in a deep breath, held it for a moment, then let it out. "Will you stoke the fire for me?"
"No, Harry. Don't do this. Even if you cannot . . . Your wand, Harry. It's your wand."
"Will you stoke the fire for me?"
"You could just keep it. We can put it away."
Harry sighed. "I can't keep it, Severus. I can't see it everyday, taunting me with what I can no longer have. What use is it to me now? Will you stoke the fire?"
"No. I will not help you do this."
Without speaking, Harry trudged out the cottage door. Concerned, Severus followed him. The forest was no place for someone with no magic. But Harry only went to the edge, collected loose sticks from the ground, and brought them back inside. He piled them in the fireplace, then looked around.
"Have you any matches, by chance?"
Of course he didn't have matches. He was a wizard – what need had he for matches? Obviously, some things were going to have to change around here if Harry stayed. "No."
Harry dropped to his knees before the hearth, his shoulders sagging. "Please help me, Severus."
How could he refuse that? Still disagreeing with what Harry intended, but unwilling to keep the young man from doing something he so clearly thought he needed, Severus waved his wand, causing Harry's fire to burst into bright flame.
Harry stayed on his knees. He held his wand reverentially in both hands, just staring at it. He remembered how he had felt when he'd held it the first time, that connection to something he'd never felt before. He remembered how it had saved his life in the graveyard and the night the Order had moved him from Privet Drive. It was like an old friend, a dependable constant companion. This felt an awful lot like the death of a friend, and Harry felt real grief at his wand's passing. But when one's friend died, one didn't hold onto him. One gave his friend the respect he deserved, and disposed of the remains in a way befitting him.
Harry brought his wand to his mouth and kissed it. Then he placed it carefully on top of the burning fire, and he watched until he could see it no more.
Harry had remained quiet for the remainder of the morning. Severus tried to draw him out, to make him talk about something, to get his mind off things that couldn't be changed, but Harry remained withdrawn. They'd just settled at the table for a light lunch when a knock sounded on the door.
The two men exchanged a surprised look, and Severus got up to see who'd come calling. Minerva McGonagall stood on the step.
"Minerva," Severus said, clearly surprised. "Has something happened?"
"No," she said reassuringly. "Nothing has happened. I've come to see Harry, actually."
"Come in," Severus invited. "We were just about to have lunch. Won't you join us?"
"Thank you, no, but a spot of tea would be appreciated."
"Of course. Sit," Severus invited.
She greeted Harry and sat at the table while Severus fetched an extra cup. When he returned, he poured her tea, and she turned to face Harry.
"Harry, your friends are here."
"Here?" Harry gulped.
"Well, not here. I have not left them in the front yard. They are in the castle. They arrived this morning, and they've been asking everyone they meet if they've seen you. They apparently are very worried about you. I would have met with them, but I am not sure what you would have me say." She looked to Harry for guidance.
"I . . . I hadn't thought about that. I guess I thought they'd be so wrapped up in each other that they'd hardly notice I wasn't around."
"Mr. Potter," Minerva said, softly scolding. "They have been your friends for years. You have faced death together. They love you. Did you honestly think they would just forget about you because they are now involved?"
"I don't know. I didn't think, I guess." Harry looked at Snape, expecting the man to make a sarcastic comment about how often Harry suffered from this condition, but he man remained silent.
"You cannot leave them hanging as to your situation, Mr. Potter," Minerva said. "If you wish, I will . . . I will tell them that you are dead, as I have been doing for Severus. They will be devastated, but they will at least stop wondering what has become of you, and they will be able to begin to grieve for you. But make no mistake about it, they will be devastated. I will do this if it is your wish, but I must ask you to sincerely consider whether you really want to put them through that."
Harry looked helplessly at Severus. He didn't know what to do. He'd thought he'd actually be dead by now, and he never expected to have to worry about this particular issue. He was very certain he didn't want to return to public life, not now and probably not ever. But was it fair to Ron and Hermione, who had stood by him for so long and given nearly as much as he had to destroy Voldemort, to let them think that he was dead. The fact that he didn't know what he would do with himself in the future seemed unimportant in the face of this decision: Should he return to the land of the living, or let himself be thought dead? And no matter what he decided, what would he do now? Would he stay here with Severus? Did Severus want that? Harry was pretty sure he himself did, but he really had no idea how the other man might feel about living with a squib. Should he tell Ron and Hermione everything – the stealing of Voldemort's magic, his attempt to kill himself, the loss of his own magic?
Harry sighed, overwhelmed and unable to think any further than the end of his own nose.
"Might I make a suggestion?" Severus asked quietly.
"You need some time to think about things, I think. Let Minerva return to the castle and agree to meet with your friends later, perhaps over dinner. You and I can talk everything through, make some decisions about our relationship, and where you want that to go." Severus ignored Minerva's raised eyebrow at that. "Once we figure out the basics of where you will be living in the foreseeable future, you can begin to decide what to tell your friends."
"That sounds good," Harry said, relieved he'd have some time and some guidance. He turned to Minerva. "Can I get a message to you later?"
"Of course, Harry. I will do whatever you want. Just let me know."
Lunch sat before them, but Harry couldn't convince himself to eat, his stomach a mass of writhing snakes.
"It's going to be all right, Harry," Severus said soothingly. "Let's start with what you want from this relationship we have apparently begun."
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"Were you looking for a one-off? Was this a young man's experimentation? Am I somewhere relatively safe to be while you recover from your recent experiences? Or are you perhaps looking for something more . . . involved, more permanent?"
"It's not a one-off," Harry said quietly, sure of that much. He'd enjoyed what he'd done with Severus last night, and he wanted to do it, and many other things, again. But it wasn't just the sex – he'd come to like this gentler, more patient, more giving Snape, and he wanted to get to know him even better. "And it's not just experimentation, although I look forward to doing a lot of that in future." Harry smiled shyly, and Snape hesitantly returned it. He was anxious, waiting for Harry's answer to his question. He knew what he wanted – but he wasn't sure how his young house guest felt, and he felt as though his entire world was hinging on Harry's next words.
"I've enjoyed getting to know you better, these last few weeks," Harry continued, "and I'd like to continue that. It feels like – I know I don't have a lot of experience, and maybe you'll laugh at me for saying this." Harry looked down at the table, unable to look at Severus any longer. "But I think that we could have something special."
Severus nearly slumped in relief. He reached across the table to cover one of Harry's hands with his own. "I agree. I feel that way, too."
Harry turned his hand over so that he could intertwine his fingers with Severus'. "But, Severus, I . . . you can't feel like you have to take care of me. We have to find a way to make this a fifty-fifty proposition. If you let me stay, if you want to try this, then I'll figure out some way to make a living now that I'm . . . like this."
"I understand your need for independence," Severus said, "but you have to understand that while we are here, in this forest, I will not be able to stop worrying about you and watching over you. There are too many things just outside that door that could hurt you, or even kill you. I won't just stand by and let that happen."
"I guess I get that," Harry said with a sigh. "But I'm gonna go mad if you're following me around constantly, always having to protect me."
"We could go away from here," Severus suggested. "Some place where the danger is less. Perhaps some place Muggle."
"You'd do that?" Harry asked. "You'd do that for me? You realize that if we leave here, the fact that you're still alive is very likely to come out?"
"I realize that," Severus said. "It is not important."
"You'd really do that for me?"
"Don't you understand? I'd do anything for you."
Harry squeezed Severus' hand tightly and drew in a huge breath. "It may come to that. I don't see how I can be productive in the wizarding world any longer. I will have find employment in the Muggle world. If I can ever figure out what I'm qualified to do. Even there I'm rather useless."
"Do not despair," Snape pleaded. "We will figure it out. And whatever it is, we will do it together. You and I."
"If all else fails, can I just be your well-kept lover?"
"It will not come to that," Severus promised. "But if it did, I think I could stand to be doomed to a life with you as my consort."
Harry smiled. He had no idea what he would be doing in a month, or six months, or a year, but he was sure that he'd have this man beside him, guiding him, protecting him, loving him. He could face his friends now, he could tell them everything, because after he was done with all the bad stuff, he could tell them how he'd found the love of life and that he was happy: finally, really, happy.