The explosion of the lab had set their research to a standstill for weeks. In the meantime, Harry had been forced to step up in Severus' classroom. The Potions Master had lied when he'd told Harry he was fine, and had actually had a small shard of the cauldron lodged shallowly in his back. Thanks to the potion residue, and the way their experiment had enhanced said potion, the wound had healed around the shard. Poppy had spent several hours having to dig the piece out manually, but because of the way they'd manipulated the metal it had dissolved into his system and he'd been put on four days bed rest while different potions worked the particles out of his system. Lucius had been kind enough to volunteer to teach Severus' 5th through 7th year classes until he'd recovered, but that had left Harry to take over the classes that he had only been student-teaching for a little over a month. He was pretty sure he'd have wound up killing one of the kids if Severus hadn't let him stay in his quarters for the few days of forced vacation. The reprieve from the student population, plus their talks and laughter, were a gift at the end of the day.
Harry studied the long scar along the pale shoulder blade, running his fingers gently over the marred skin. "I really am sorry, Severus," He murmured. "If I hadn't insisted on pushing forward with the experiment…"
"You say that every night, Harry, every time I ask you to check it," Snape chuckled, leaning back as he pulled his shirt back over his shoulder. He left it unbuttoned as he relaxed into his armchair, and Harry moved to his own seat. "It's just another scar, Potter, one of many."
The younger wizard sighed, leaning forward in his seat. "I know, I just feel bad. Are you looking forward to returning to your classes tomorrow?" Snape raised an eyebrow at him as if he were insane, making Harry chuckle. "Alright, I get it, but are you at least looking forward to getting out of your rooms? I can't imagine it's been fun, being stuck in here with only me for company."
Severus smirked. "Whilst I will certainly not miss Poppy's visits, I must admit: I will miss your company immensely.
Harry blushed at the pointed look, though the meaning behind it was cloudy. "I'm sure you'll be glad to have your solitude back," He demurred lightly.
"No, Harry, do not underestimate what your presence has meant to me these last few days. You have been like a light in these normally dark dungeon rooms," The Potions Master insisted.
Harry's blush deepened. "Er…Thanks, I guess. Do you want to play chess? We haven't played since the accident." He stood without waiting for an answer, going to the shelf where Severus kept his board.
"No, Harry, wait-"
Harry pulled the board off of the shelf. "Severus…what?" He reached back onto the shelf and withdrew his hand, turning to see the Potions Master smiling shyly right behind him. "Where did you find it? You said it was destroyed."
"It was," Snape murmured, taking the crystal from Harry's hand. "I reconstructed it. I had to do something constructive with my time trapped in my rooms, and I had wanted to surprise you when we started back on our research in a few days."
"Severus…" Harry looked up into the black eyes in awe. "You're incredible. This must've taken hours, piecing together not only the crystal, but the images within. Did you look at it? Did you see the problem?"
Severus smirked and led the younger wizard back to the fire. "I did." They retook their seats and the Slytherin held up the crystal orb. "Would you like to see?" Harry nodded enthusiastically, and Snape activated the spell. Between them, a ghostly image began to develop, and soon they saw the clear picture of the specialty cauldron just as the potion was being poured in.
Harry scooted to the edge of his seat. "I think the problem started here," he muttered, pointing towards a rune near the lip of the cauldron. "It's not glowing the way it's supposed to."
"I checked our notes again, that rune is for the activation of the potion," Snape replied evenly. "It's one of your fail-safes."
Harry frowned. "Yeah, that one is meant to work with the active ingredients of the potion. What if the issue is in the brewing process as well? The only reason this rune wouldn't be working right is if the active ingredients are buried."
The recorded image continued, the misty cloud rising. Harry narrowed his eyes, waiting for the pivotal moment, and gasped at what he saw just as the potion began disappearing from the cauldron. "It isn't the potion," He whispered frustratedly. "My failsafe is preventing the proper ingredients from being activated, and then activating them all at once. Damn it!" He threw himself back into his armchair, frowning as the recording moved on to show the explosion. "I spent weeks researching and creating those runes, and now I have to start over!"
"No, Harry, you're missing the obvious," Snape told him calmly, setting the orb on the table as the recording became too fuzzy to see, thanks to the chipping and shattering from it being knocked to the ground. "It's the development of the potion, as you first said. We don't have to start over, we just need to come up with a new means of brewing that keeps the ingredients active, but stable."
"So we're still going back to alchemy, but we've got a good foundation?" The younger wizard said hopefully. Severus nodded, and Harry smiled just as the image between them cleared suddenly. It showed a slightly out-of-focus, cock-eyed likeness of the two when they'd been trapped under the shield. The real Harry leant forward on his seat again, watching as picture-Snape ran a thumb over Harry's cheek, his mouth moving wordlessly, an indescribable look in his eyes. Without warning, the visage vanished. Harry looked up to see Snape taking the orb away, having cut off the recording, and placed it on the mantel.
"If you want to start on the research, I'm meeting with Lucius to discuss getting the necessary materials moved here for the time being, as Poppy says I won't be cleared to experiment further for a few more weeks. I have been given permission," The word was sneered, making Harry smile. "To do anything not involving the actual experiment."
Harry chuckled. "Well, we won't be ready for another try for a few weeks, probably months, anyway, so I guess that works out. At worst, I'll have to develop the secondary cauldron for brewing on my own, under your supervision, but there's no saying whether we'll even reach that point for another several weeks."
The Gryffindor caught the indulgent smirk Snape sent him, and blushed, realizing he was getting overexcited. Snape retook his seat, placing his chess set on the table between them. "Now, Mister Potter, I believe at last count the score was thirty-seven wins to your two?"
Harry stuck his tongue out at the Potions Master. "Which I'm sure you handed to me," He teased. "But I'm getting better. Maybe I can beat you on my own this time."
"We shall see," Snape growled playfully. The two wizards shared a smile, and then began setting their pieces on the board.
It was indeed several months before they could begin attempting to test their experiments again, their research together cut shorter and shorter as the school year advanced and Harry became more focused on his remaining classes. The first two behaved similarly to their original test, but had led to the ground-breaking discovery that if they recreated the potion entirely by brewing the base in the runic cauldron and adding the active ingredients in the proper order that kept them active, theoretically, the ingredients would remain useful for the duration of the process. There were only two weeks left in the term when they decided test it again, having refined the process to an incredibly small dose for the purposes of the experiment. The hope was that minimizing the potion might minimize the hellish aftermath if they failed again. In the end, the extra precautions proved necessary. While the cauldron failed to explode again, the plume of smoke didn't disperse as harmlessly as it should have, spreading to the point that it consumed the entire interior of the shield they had cast.
"Dammit!" Harry yelled, kicking the shield for all he was worth. It rebounded as though he'd hit rubber, the surface of the bubble rippling innocently. He stood for a moment simply glaring at the swirling purple fog as though that alone might change the outcome. When the mist continued to move slowly on the inside, he kicked the shield again for good measure and then stormed out, grabbing the bag of record crystals on his way out. He feigned ignorance when Severus tried to call him back.
For the next few hours, he holed himself up in his room at the manor, ignoring the pleas of the three men at his door, going over every second of footage, trying to find what had gone wrong. When he was no closer on the seventh run through of their first disastrous attempt, he slumped to the ground in his sitting area. The recording continued to play soundlessly as he buried his head in his hands. He heard the door to his suite open and turned to glare at the intruder.
"I'm not in the mood, Severus, there's a reason I put so many damn wards on the door," He snarled, curling into a ball against the front of his couch. Snape was not deterred and quietly sat beside him on the cold floor. "We're never going to get this right."
Still, Snape didn't speak, simply laying his hand on a stiff shoulder. "We'll figure it out, Harry. I thought Gryffindor's were more stubborn?"
"Fuck being a Gryffindor," Harry muttered darkly, staring at the projected explosion from the crystal. He waved his wand and sped through the hazy part, and the moments when they'd been pinned under the wreckage, hoping that something in the aftermath would be a clue to what they were missing. It was a pointless endeavor he'd never bothered with before, knowing the rest of the video was barely visible. He stared with narrowed eyes as a grainy image of Severus backing away from Lupin appeared, and slowed the recording to play normally. "What the hell?" He watched uncertainly as Remus yelled soundlessly at the Potions Master.
Snape drew his attention. "It was nothing, Harry. Remus was simply demanding to know what had happened, and why we'd wound up pinned."
Harry glared at the lie. Remus wouldn't have been yelling, not allowing the Potions Master to speak, if he'd been trying to glean information about the accident. He watched the gritty image of the Potions Master speak, and suddenly, there was sound, broken though it was.
"-Can't control him, Remus!"
"I don't want to control him, I want to protect him from greasy, jaded bastards who would take advantage of him! You're his teacher, Snape!"
Harry leaned forward curiously.
"I'm his friend! There's nothing going on between us!"
"But you want there to be, Sni-"
The grainy footage and sound cut off rapidly, and Harry turned to see Snape, wand in hand, glaring bitterly at the crystal. "Stupid wolf," He muttered savagely, re-holstering his wand. He looked away, refusing to meet Harry's eye.
Harry frowned and stood angrily. "That son of a bitch! He lied to me, and accused you behind my back!" He made to go stomping out of the room, but a hand on his wrist stopped him short. "Let me go, Severus."
The Gryffindor turned and what he saw stopped his struggling before it began. Snape looked…ashamed. "Why?"
"Because Remus was only trying to protect you from me," The Potions Master said gruffly.
Harry turned to face the man more fully. "But he was wrong!" The Slytherin flinched, but stayed silent. The teaching assistant looked at his friend more closely, narrowing his eyes. "Tell me he was wrong, Severus."
The black eyes seemed to burn internally as they swung up to meet pleading green. Silence reined in the tension-filled air. Harry slid his hand out from the grip that held it.
"Say he was wrong, Severus…Tell me that Remus was lying when he said that. Tell me that you don't really want more between us," Harry pleaded again, taking a step forward.
Again the Potions Master flinched, and his eyes were definitely burning now. "No." For a split second that seemed to stretch into an eternity, neither man dared to move or even breathe.
Harry gasped as hands flew up to grip his head, drawing him forward into a desperate kiss. He dug his fingers into the fabric covering the other man's forearms, shutting his eyes against a swell of emotion even as he started to return the kiss. His back met the wall he hadn't even noticed they'd been moving towards, and he clawed at the older wizards shoulders. He pushed Severus away when he felt a tongue swipe at the crease of his lips.
"Please, Severus, stop," He whispered, turning his head to the side. "We can't…"
"We're not doing anything wrong, Harry." The words were as desperate as the kiss had been. He leaned in for another kiss, but Harry put his hands on the thin chest, stopping him.
"Severus, I can't…" The Gryffindor choked back a sob. "I can't do this, I'm sorry."
A hand slammed into the wall by his head. It wasn't a threat, or done out of anger, it was an act of frustration, but Harry flinched all the same. "Why the hell not? The way you look at me, the fact that you kissed back; I know that you feel the same way." The words were whispered harshly.
Harry whimpered, trying desperately the words, any words, to explain. He opened his mouth to speak, but could only shake his head, squeezing his eyes shut against the pleading back pools in front of him. "I can't," He whispered, his voice barely there. The hand smacked the wall again, and then the weight leaning against Harry's hands was gone, the clack of heels on marble disappearing. The wizarding savior trembled on shaky legs as the door to his suite slammed shut behind Severus, and he slid down the wall, digging his knuckles into his eyes angrily, trying to fight back his tears.
Harry sighed as he knocked on the door. The last two weeks had been one disaster after another. Following that weekend, where the tension between them had been revealed for what it was, Severus had barely spoken to him, and always with a face that betrayed no emotion. The voice that had carried so much weight once was now a river of ice down Harry's spine, and the Wizarding Savior had wept almost nightly for the friendship he missed.
It was his own fault, leaving behind childish friends to act like the adult he had thought he'd become, pulling away from them as they had from him. The support and guidance Severus had offered had been a light for him in the difficult transition, and now he could get nothing from the Potions Master besides glares, burning with hurt, betrayal, and anger, and terse communication that equated to little more than chipped ice. The 17 year old felt felt a lump form in his throat as he thought of the hurt he was causing them both.
He knocked again at the door and waited, but received only silence once more. He sighed again. "Please, Severus, I know you're in there. You can't…you can't just pretend like I don't exist outside of the classroom. The students…I have to leave tomorrow on the train. We have to talk, please." There was silence for a few more moments before the door opened slowly.
Harry stepped inside, the door closing behind him, and turned nervously, only to have Snape stalk past him to his sitting area. "I am in no mood for your games or your excuses, Mister Potter."
The teacher's assistant bit his tongue to keep from questioning why the man had let him in, then. That would get him thrown bodily from the room, he was sure. "Severus, please listen." He murmured softly, approaching the man's armchair with crawling steps. "I know you're angry, and confused, but why does this have to ruin us? Why can't we be like we were?"
"Perhaps the werewolf was correct and I was using your friendship to get myself into your bed," The man sneered bitterly.
Harry frowned. "Don't be an ass, Severus…it's because it hurts so much to see me, to know that you can't have me, isn't it?"
The man stood angrily, rounding on him. "You dare to come here, insult me, and try to tell me how I feel, Potter? How would you know what I've gone through these last two weeks?"
Harry looked away from the questioning eyes, feeling utterly exposed and vulnerable. "Because I have felt it every second of every day since we kissed, more deeply than you can imagine," He murmured, his tone somehow apologetic. The Wizarding savior flinched as a gentle hand glided warmly against the back of his neck, the other guiding him back to stare into the black depths of the Potions Master.
"Then why, Harry, why will you not let me love you?"
The younger wizard gave a dry sob, clenching his fists together tightly over his sternum to keep from grabbing the other man and never letting go. "I'm scared. After everything with Drake, I don't trust my own feelings, especially where you're concerned. I'm so afraid they aren't real, like they weren't with him, and I…" He trailed off, lowering his eyes even as firm fingers lifted his chin slightly.
"What, Harry?" Severus prodded gently.
He looked back into the dark eyes. "I want them to be." He whispered sadly.
"Then they are," Severus murmured, running a calloused thumb over the younger wizard's smooth jawline.
"How do I know that? They seemed real enough when I was lusting after Drake, no matter how much I didn't want to be attracted to him," Harry murmured. He knew he was probably asking the impossible, but he wanted Severus to convince him that what he felt was more than just adolescent infatuation.
The cool hand moved from his neck to run through to back of his hair. "Tell me, Harry, if I were to force you from my quarters and banish you from my life forever, would you run to the Astronomy Tower and throw yourself off?"
His full bottom lip quivered with his voice as the younger wizard answered. "No…I'd be angry, and devastated, but I'd understand. I hurt you, and I can't expect you to forgive that on the off chance that my feelings are real."
"And if I told you now that I don't want a relationship with you, that I just want to take your virginity and have you at my beck and call whenever I desire your presence in my bed, what then?"
Harry scowled, not sure he liked this line of questioning. Was this what Severus had felt, simple lust? "I'd do it, most likely, for a few months at least. But I'd hate us both, you for asking it of me, and me for going along with it."
The Potion Master lowered his head slightly, so that every breath ghosted over the shell of Harry's ear. "And if I asked you to stay with me, to love me and obey me, and to let me be slave to your whims and desires in return, would you give me that power?"
The shorter wizard swallowed thickly, a single tear ghosting over his cheek. "Yes, Severus, I would give you that and more."
"Then trust me when I tell you that your feelings are no less real than mine," Snape whispered.
Harry squeezed his eyes shut and started to shake his head, but when cool lips touched his, the last of his resolve broke. He reached out with fingers stiff from being locked together and grasped the front of the black robe, drawing the man closer as he deepened the kiss. This was what he wanted, damn it. If they never had sex, if they fought almost every second of every day (though the young savior hoped desperately that neither would occur), then moments like this, wrapped in the warm embrace of his savior as they demonstrated the love and passion that neither could fit into words, would be all he ever needed. He was still frightened, still worried that in time his feelings would disappear and that his happiness would go with them, but he knew he had to give it just that: time. And trust; no matter how hard, no matter the cost to his self-preservation, he had to trust in Severus, and in their love.