HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!
I've always been kind of fascinated by the sound of heartbeat and Cloud Atlas gave me the last push to write this. It didn't turn into the fluffy thing I intended to write for Valentine's Day. It's rather a bit... sad, actually. But the happy ending, as always, is ensured :) We're just after the war, the story is canon, but ignores the epilogue.
Rach, I really wanted to surprise you with something :) You are simply an amazing friend and I'm ever so grateful for your help on the stories! You deserve a litany and I promise I get to that too one day, but for now, this is all I have. I do hope you will like it!
Sheankelor helped me with the editing, so that I can sneak behind Rach's back and still post this without my awful mistakes. Thank you, darling!
PS: Rach went through it as well now! Thanks sweetie :)
Any remaining mistakes are mine!
"He's alive?" Harry cries storming into the room. It's white. Too white. Too bright. Too clean considering the world outside.
"Barely," answers an old woman, wrinkly but tall, with long braided white hair.
Harry looks at the man on the bed, but he doesn't see much. Three Healers conceal him from sight, cleaning wounds, undressing him, murmuring spells, poking him with wands. There's a heavy, sweet smell in the air which Harry doesn't recognize for a second, but when one of the Healers moves, he can see, see it all. He understands the smell then.
Blood. So much blood. Coming out from the deep cuts on the neck in pulses, spurting out, red and thick, shiny. The smell is suddenly sickening and Harry retches but nothing comes up.
"Please, Mister Potter, leave us now," says the old woman.
"No," Harry groans, staggering against the clean, white wall.
"Yes," she insists, pushing him out. "You shouldn't see this."
Harry is terrified. He can't leave him. Not now. What if he... "No," he says again but his voice is thin and the smell of blood makes his stomach lurch again.
Someone grabs him from behind and pulls him out of the room. It's all so hazy.
"The only thing you can do is pray," says the woman. She's stern; her voice is cutting into Harry. "Pray to Merlin that he gets through the night. If his heart is still beating in the morning, he might have a chance." The door closes. It's white and clean too.
He is holding a cup of tea. It's warm and tastes disgusting; he takes a sip anyway and shudders again. He doesn't even know who gave him the tea. Hermione probably. But she isn't here now. He is all alone in the clean corridor that is lit by old candles. It seems sickly yellow, almost like parchment. It reminds Harry of his face. He stares at the door and wonders whether the next time he sees that face, it will still be yellow or dead white. Or blue maybe and cold.
He takes another sip and almost spits it out. The tea is bitter and yet still tasteless. At least it's warm. He holds it firmly in his hands, hoping, praying that he stays warm too. That his skin won't turn cold, that he can once more feel that ice cold stare on himself.
"Look at me..."
The cup falls to the ground and the tea spills.
Harry stares down at the brown liquid seeping slowly towards the door, sneaking like a pale snake, slow but determined. He kicks at it, but it's pointless. The snake detours and slithers onward bravely, thinner now but still resolute. Harry stands and kicks at it again, kicks until the pale brown snake turns into millions of worms instead. It's still not enough; he stamps at them, jumps and smears them until there's nothing left just the wet mud from his shoes. It covers the ground in front of the door, sullies the cleanliness of the whole corridor, the whole place in fact.
The disorder pleases Harry. The mess makes him calmer. He falls back onto his chair and only then hears the thudding in his head. Fast like drums of war, desperate and wild.
The door opens and the drums stop. The world stops.
"You can come in now if you want," says the old woman and Harry is already on his feet. "What happened here?" She asks outraged as she surveys the messy, muddy brown ground.
"There was a snake..." Harry answers quietly, slipping past her.
The face that welcomes him is pale white, almost ghostly. Harry trembles fiercely.
"He's not dead... yet," says a man, coldly. "I think you should say your goodbyes now."
Harry looks at the man slowly, the words not quite coming through in his head. The drums of war are beating furiously, madly as the meaning of the sentence gets through word by word, every syllable another heavy hit on his chest. "What do you mean goodbyes?" He hears himself ask, though deep inside he knows the answer. But it can't be.
"I doubt he'll make it through the night."
Oh the bluntness of the words tears into Harry like a serrated blade, ripping his soul mercilessly.
"He..." He can't even bring himself to say it. His eyes drift back on the pale face and he moves closer very slowly as if afraid any movement would scare away that tiny sparkle of life still holding on inside the man.
"Yeah... the blood loss, the poison, the malnutrition. It would be a miracle if he got out of it."
His voice is so cold, his tone so careless, it hurts Harry's ears. "Get out."
"Excuse me?" The man says crossly.
"He will wake up. He will get better," Harry snaps. His long journey stops finally. He's at the bed, looking straight down on the pale face. Oh so pale...
"Now, Mister Potter, hope is a good thing but don't you think it's better to accept one's fate and-"
"I won't accept anything Healer-" he doesn't even know the man's name Harry realizes, but he hardly cares. "Just total recovery."
"Let go of him, Mister Potter. He's as good as dead," the man grunts. "Even he stopped fighting. Feel his heartbeat. It's all but nonexistent."
"Get out." Harry repeats, glacial. The wave of coldness that bursts out of him is unintentional but not unwelcomed. He hears a sniff, then the door closes.
They are finally alone.
"Look at me..." He begs, voice thick with emotions. How much he wants to see the endless cold eyes again, to see the hatred in them, the contempt, the detestation even. But the eyes stay closed. "He will fight," he says then to the empty room. "You don't know him."
"Neither do you," points out a voice in his head.
It's not sleeping, more like hallucinating, caused by the extreme fatigue and the fact that he refuses to fall asleep. The pictures are part fantasy and part memories, his and not his own too. Having another man's memories in his mind is confusing. With the memories came the emotions too. Everything is confusing. The whole world is dark and bitter and futile. There's only death in the end. Eternal darkness. Eternal misery. Eternal suffering. That's life and that will be death too. There's nothing else, anymore. Everything was taken, the kindness in the world is dead. There's only suffering and pain. So much pain.
And a bright green flash of horrible light.
There's a warm blanket on him, he once again doesn't know where it came from. The chair he's sitting in is uncomfortable to a point that his whole body aches and cramps. The moment he moves pins and needles slash into his legs. His shirt is cold against his skin and wet with sweat.
There are no lit candles and the darkness is terrifying, even more so than the hallucinations. Those were just visions but this is reality.
And in reality everything is darker. Hope is faint and illusory. An uncertain sensation leading him into deeper darkness. Will there be a way out?
"Don't give up," he whispers, not sure that the reassuring is for himself or for the body next to him.
Shadows are seeping into his mind and he sees less and less. Tiredness claims his body but he can't fall asleep. What if... No. Hope, he instructs himself. Misleading it might be, it's still easier for now than the other option. A candle flares up like a guiding light, but where it leads his gaze is nothing good, nothing hopeful.
Drums of war are beating again and he jumps from the chair. Something invisible is trying to clamp his heart, his chest, his insides. He is unable to breath, to swallow. He just staggers towards the bed, eyes nailed to the lifeless body. Pale and ghost like. Unmoving.
He makes a choking sound, his own body still fighting for life, for air. His hands are shaking the slump shoulders. He barely notices that the flesh beneath his grasp, beneath the white gown is almost just bones covered by thin skin and nothing else. He shakes it, there's some noise coming out of his own mouth, maybe a name, maybe a prayer, maybe inarticulate choking sounds, maybe just a two letter denial, repetitive, pleading.
Nothing happens, the eyes don't open, the skin doesn't colours, the body doesn't move on its own. It's terrifying to see the face turn as Harry shakes the man with panic making his moves more forceful, more firm. He all but lifts the body, the head lolling back.
"Don't! Snape! Please don't!" He doesn't know how the words get through his tightly closed throat but they do, it's almost like a miracle and for a tiny fraction of the next second he believes that his words, his begging will make the eyes snap open.
They do. He feels unnaturally happy and laughs for two whole seconds. Two seconds of utmost brightness in the dark, then he realizes there is something wrong.
The black eyes are lifeless. Dead.
He lets go of the shoulders and panics even more. The laughter turns hysterical. He falls on the man's chest, fingers clutching on the thin nightgown, forehead pressed to frail looking ribcage. Tears and snot wet the clothing as he cries desperately, not daring to look up at the judging, dead eyes. His sobs are like a child's, breathless, frenzied, uncontrolled, the air doesn't flow into his lungs – he hiccups and howls at the same time and his mouth hurts, the lump in his throat is too thick, he can't breathe, he can't, he-
He doesn't know which gets to him first, the tiny pulsation or the sound of it. He still snivels as he looks up, but the eyes are still dead. He lays his head back on the chest, this time however on the side.
The thudding is louder.
He moves upwards a few inches, the nightshirt gets crumpled and wet under his cheeks. Even over the sound his own ferociously beating heart, he can hear the other one.
Weak fluttering, almost an eternity passing between two thumps but it is there, fighting its way through the thick darkness beat by beat. Harry closes the eyes with a shaking hand, not daring to look up or even to open his eyes. He would panic again if he looked into those lifeless eyes once more but the beating heart keeps him from the nightmarish thoughts. As long as he hears that quiet, resolute thudding, everything will be all right.
He was up all night, listening to the drumming. His heartbeat is faster than the other one, not twice but almost. He doesn't even notice the gray morning light. His eyes have been kept tightly closed. As long as he doesn't see the pale features, the motionless, limp body, it is easy to accept that the man is alive. The moment though, when he has to look up, has to see his professor is drawing closer.
The door bangs open. The sudden noise startles Harry and he jumps up. He can't hear the heartbeat any longer. He panics right away. His mind, his eardrums, his soul have gotten so accustomed to the gentle sound that the moment it stops the world tilts, and everything becomes unstable.
What he can't hear, might not even exist anymore.
He grasps the man's wrist, his fingers frantically feeling for the light pulse. The more he looks, the less he feels it. He forces himself to calm down and slows his motions, closes his eyes and tries to sense where the tiny vibration is the strongest.
He can't stop the relieved sigh when he finally feels it. He has to press his fingers into the skin rather firmly, and a part of him is afraid that prolonged pressure might leave a mark, but he doesn't move. He sits back down and keeps his first two fingers over the steady rhythm.
"Oh... he did survive," coldly says the Healer from yesterday.
Harry lets go only as long as he pulls his wand, points it at the man, and demands another Healer.
A week goes by like this. The old woman is nicer, though not much. She comes in twice a day, once in the morning and once just after twilight. She brings food for Harry and potions for Snape. The potions disappear, the food rarely. She takes the tray away and tries again in the evening, with the same result. Hermione comes too, sometimes. Harry only knows because there are newspapers on the nightstand, fresh water in a glass, a new blanket, a pillow, a shirt or a toothbrush too.
Day after day it seems the light is brighter and brighter. It's always bright inside, but outside, through the windows, it is still gloomy. The Dementors are still prowling the streets, but there are less and less of them. No one says so, but Harry can feel the air getting lighter, the sun shining brighter, the future looking less miserable.
While the sun is up, Harry feels the pulse. Sometimes, when he needs to shift he loses the spot, and he panics, all the time. In those moments, he all but sees the Dementors in the window, a flowing, waving darkness, feeding on him, on his biggest fear. But then he finds the rhythmic beating again and he inhales, relieved. The Dementors are gone, and the sun is bright again.
When the moon takes over on the sky, and everything becomes even quieter and immensely darker, Harry lays his head on the frail ribcage again and just listens to the stable heartbeat. In these moments he can pretend that the man is only sleeping, and not fighting a battle against eternal darkness all by himself. In these moments he himself feels calm because the song of the heartbeat never stops; it's always there no matter how he shifts; it's there playing even through his dreams, nightmares, and vivid hallucinations. In these moments, the whole world is peaceful once again, the Dementors are gone, the evil is gone, and there's nothing else just Harry and Snape's peaceful heartbeat.
He likes these moments. He likes the two different rhythms, he likes how they sometimes overlap for a beat. Sometimes, he drums the pulse on the bed, on his leg, or on Snape chest. Sometimes, his fingers are just buried in the long hair. Then sometimes, he caresses the face, the tip of his finger trails the sharp features.
He likes the peace, the quietness, he likes even the darkness which drapes a veil on the ugly past. In these moments there's no past or future, just solid, rhythmic drumming of two hearts.
The sound is almost hypnotic. He falls asleep to it every night.
It's the ninth morning. He wakes not knowing what changed during the night, but he feels that something is off. The change should frighten him, but even though he can't place it yet, it doesn't. It's reassuring for some reason, just like the heartbeat.
It's stronger and faster, keeping pace with Harry's before that one turns furious once again, this time with happiness. He fell asleep last night listening and feeling the heartbeat. Now he immediately presses down his fingertips, eyes closed, his brows furrowing in concentration. He searches and searches, stroking the smooth skin until he finally finds the matching pumps to the heartbeat.
It's not just steady and more rapid than before, but it's picking up, getting faster and faster with every passing second. Harry leans even more onto the chest, pressing his ear against the ribcage right over the heart, the top of his head nudges against chin but he doesn't care, he's eager to hear the strong and fast heartbeat that is almost as fast as his own now. He's smiling, almost laughing as his fingers run through thick tresses.
Then he realizes what the other wildly drumming heartbeat means. He looks up.
Eyes, wide, and unguarded look down on him. Black, endless, and alive. And very panicked.
His days are riddled with panic attacks. In the daytime it's barely manageable, but with news from Hermione almost every hour, he can hold on. The nights are the worst. The nightmares are once again terrifying to the point of being paralyzing. The fear never leaves Harry alone. There's only one frantically beating heart and that's his. The shadows are darker than ever, the Dementors feed on him, suck his soul bit by bit until the morning comes and Hermione pushes through the door with coffee, newspaper, clean clothes and a smile.
"He's alive," she says and finally Harry falls asleep.
Three days go by until he's allowed back in.
Apparently, just the sight of him made Snape want to scream, shout, cry, or make any other noise, which he wasn't allowed to. His wounds came close to opening again, some even started bleeding slightly.
"That won't happen now", the old woman with the braided, long, white hair keeps telling him. He doesn't believe her but agrees to visit, begs for it in fact, because he can't sleep, he can't stay awake, he can't function if he can't listen to the heartbeat. He needs to hear the heartbeat again. Just once more. Just to make sure it's there, steady, and rhythmic and thudding.
He knocks on the door, too late to realize that there won't be any shout for him to enter. He does nonetheless, and once inside, he looks around sheepishly. The black eyes on him are stern, the face expressionless and the beat of his heart is once again the drums of war.
There are so many things Harry wants to say. Apologies, explanations, thanks, desires, hopes, he wants to blurt them out all at once, but they get stuck in his throat in one big lump. He can barely breathe as he slowly moves closer to the bed.
There's a notepad on Snape's lap, and he's writing something with a simple black quill. His black hair falls forward, a curtain, a waterfall of ink black water, and masks the face Harry had gotten so used to seeing.
The face is different, Harry realizes when the pad is held out for him to take. The lips are thinner, the skin is more furrowed, and the eyes are open and alive. He can't decide which was better. The peaceful expression, or the one now, frowning more and more as Harry just keeps staring at him and doesn't take the notepad. But the black eyes flash and even if it's hatred he sees in them, just the fact that there is something in there and not just dead shadows makes him sure that yes, this one is so much better. Even if he never hears the heartbeat again, the eyes are there, filled with hatred, filled with panic, filled with anything but shadows and darkness and death.
He takes the notepad finally.
There's only one sentence there and whatever Harry wanted to say before is gone as he reads it.
What where you doing in here when I woke up?
He almost takes the quill and pens down the answer, but then realizes Snape can hear him. He gives back the paper. "Listening to your heartbeat," he says quietly.
He expects a litany; questions, insults, whatever but when the notebook is handed back to him, there's only one word: Why?
All the things he wants to confess are once again stuck on his throat and it takes a great effort to press out three little words. "Because I could."
Snape watches him for seconds, maybe even a full minute. He doesn't stare, his gaze is not intense, he's not frowning, there's no sneer, he doesn't reach out for the notepad to ask further questions, he doesn't even move, not even his eyes; he just watches Harry.
Then he holds out his hand, the one closer to Harry. It's his left. His veins are blue and thin, the Dark Mark fading black with a hint of redness, not that Harry cares about it. He clutches the hand in his, like a drowning man gasps after the rope. He holds it firmly, his fingertips already searching for the familiar drumming.
This time, it's easy to find it. It's quick and heavy, not fluttering anymore. It's thick with life, the veins it's filling up are full of blood once again. The pulsing slows as minutes tick by and Harry is suddenly surprised to feel that fingertips are moving on his skin too. Searching for something. Can it be? He angles his hand so it's easier for Snape to find his pulse point. He watches the black eyes as they slowly close, when a finger finds that spot. The man relaxes finally, feeling the slow thudding that matches his own.
Harry comes back the next day and the day after that and the day after that and the day after that. It's always the same. They don't speak. There is no need for words, their heartbeats talk for them. Powerful, slow, resolute thudding, saying everything that needs to be said.
It's once again peaceful and Harry likes it, even if he's not allowed to listen to the heartbeat. He can feel it and that's enough. Sometimes Snape falls asleep and the drumming slows then. Sometimes it quickens during a dream. Harry knows it's a nightmare, and he wakes the man with gentle nudges. Snape seems almost grateful then. But never grateful enough to let Harry listen to the sound his heart.
It takes almost another week for that to change.
It's almost midnight. They both have fallen asleep sometime in the evening, and no one had woken Harry when the visiting time had ended. He wakes now with a start, not sure what makes him distressed. Something is missing.
There's no heartbeat. The body in front of him isn't moving. He panics once again. He almost forgot how bad these were, how cold the Demetors felt, how scary the shadows were, and now when they come again, he is even more terrified.
It only takes a moment and a candle is lit on the nightstand.
Snape's not dead. He's dreaming. Harry can see the eyes move wildly behind the thin eyelids. The man is breathing, almost panting. Harry just lost the pulse point. His face is wet and shiny and first Harry thinks he might have a fever or something, but the sweaty forehead is cold to the touch. He shakes the man awake, hoping that he arrived just in time before he would be so lost in the nightmare that even awake the visions would still haunt him.
The black eyes snap open and focus on Harry. A shaking hand, sweaty and cold stretches up. Harry doesn't pull away, he only leans closer when long fingers go around his throat. Tips of two fingers dig into his soft flesh, finding his main artery with urgent precision. Whatever the dream was about, Harry's heartbeat guides Snape out of its dark halls. A minute later, he sits up on the bed and buries his face in his hands. It takes him a few moments to collect himself, and Harry leaves him be. He knows too that it takes some time for the coldness of the Dementors to go away and warmness to take its place.
He can't change the sheets but he summons a towel, clean and warm as if it was lying out in the sunshine. When he sees how wet the sheets and Snape's nightshirt are, he conjures another one, just to be sure. He covers the sweaty spot and is only slightly aware that Snape fidgets on the bed for some reason. Then the wet nightgown is dropped onto the ground.
He acts without thinking because if he lets his mind lose now, there is more he can lose than just the feeling of someone's pulse. He summons another towel, slightly wet but warm and smelling faintly of lavender. First, he cleans the back, not letting himself be discouraged by the continuous tensing of the muscles. He lifts the long hair and wipes the shoulders, the arms, the armpits even. Snape leans back and Harry cleans the chest and the neck. He's not bothered by the scars but he doesn't like that the ribs are poking out. He makes a mental note to tell the Healer that Snape needs more nutrition.
When he's done, he places the wet cloth on the nightstand, covers the man with the blanket then sits back. The fact that Snape's naked, utterly naked, and in bed right in front of him registers. Suddenly he doesn't know what to do. He leans back on the chair and keeps his eyes on the end of the bed. He's too afraid to reach out in any way, though now that the nightmare is only a faint shadow, that the darkness has been chased away, he desperately needs to feel the heartbeat again.
The movement registers first. The sheer subtlety of it. The way five fingers slowly grasp into the white blanket and push it down. The way the white blanket slides on cream coloured skin. The way the black eyes close, yet the expression still stays stubborn.
Snape doesn't open his eyes, he even turns his head away. Harry's not sure. He extends his hand first and slowly shifts his palm in the air until it is right over the heart. His touch is so tame, so gentle, so soft yet he still feels the heart beneath his hand jump. The rhythm picks up. But Snape doesn't flinch away.
He gives only a moment for Snape as he leans over the chest once more, just one moment, to pull away or sign even just with a flash of his endless black eyes that what Harry is about to do is stepping over a line. But nothing as sort happens. Eyes stay closed, body doesn't jerk away, and Harry lays down his ear.
He can hear the heartbeat again. Drums of war thud against his ear, shaking their bone cage. The sound of life fills him up and he closes his eyes as he presses down even more. Fast and wild and alive and thumping, the familiar noise makes him smile. It's like returning to home. The world isn't tilting anymore, everything is back in order and the perfectness of it is almost dizzying.
The slowly calming rhythm makes him sleepy. Every beat pushes him further from reality. The deep sounds, its resonance; he wonders how he managed to fall asleep without this all his life.
He's just on the borderline, one leg already on the land of dreams when he realizes the hand that slithered on his neck some time earlier, is nowhere near his pulse point but on his nape, fingertips caressing his hair.
He likes the warm skin beneath him. He nuzzles it, wanting to feel more of it. Its scent is musky and manly but there's a pinch of lavender too. He smiles and takes another lazy breath, deep and unhurried, letting the air fill out his lungs. Where his lips touch the skin, it seems even warmer. Where his wet breath ghosts on it, it causes goose bumps. First he licks only his own lips, wetting them but when he tastes salt, he turns directly to the source and licks the warm skin.
His eyes snap open as he realizes what he's doing but at the same time, it also dawns on him that the hand is still there on his neck, fisted partly in his hair. And not pushing him away. He looks up once again finding himself in the crossfire of panicked black eyes.
He doesn't look away, his gaze clings to the endless black eyes as he slowly inches his mouth towards the side. Clearly, he's not thinking. Clearly, he doesn't care. He finds the hard nipple and licks at it. The eyes roll back, then close and the thin, dry lips open slightly.
There's nothing under the soft covers just bare, warm skin. Harry runs his hand over and over it, his fingertips finding and following bigger veins. He knows where he's heading and yet, he's still shocked to feel the hardness that suddenly nudges against his hand. Maybe, he wasn't expecting to find it hard, maybe it was the sheer size of it that was shocking, maybe he wasn't aware that stroking another man's cock would make him this excited. But he's excited and he's stroking another man's cock and the manhood between his fingers is thick and warm and wet. And Snape's. And he likes the sensation. He likes that the eyes are fluttering, trying to stay open and watch Harry, but they keep closing when Harry brushes his thumb across the wet head. He likes that the thin lips need to be continuously wetted by that little, pink tongue. He loves the furious heartbeat that he can still hear even if his ear isn't right over the heart.
As his hand twists and runs up and down, holding the manhood in a firm grip, he notices the small, but quick pulsing. His fingers are so used to the sensation that he immediately recognizes where it's coming from and moves before he can be stopped. The hand slips from his hair and Harry lift the blanket and takes the heavy cock in his mouth, sliding it deeper inside until he feels the pulsing with his tongue.
It's the best sensation so far. Snape's moaning but he barely hears it over the drumming of his own heart. His tongue slides on the underside, eliciting an even more fervent rhythm; he sucks, grips and caresses. Snape grasps into his pillow over his head with both hands and his back arches from the bed, trying his best not to thrust into Harry's mouth.
But Harry grips his hips and guides him, letting him thrust just enough so that Harry doesn't start gagging and he keeps licking the head, the underside, and presses his tongue to the pulse point until he feels the rhythm go mad and turn into a continuous thumping with not even a fraction of break between them. He remembers the long pauses at the beginning, the eternity between two beats and he sucks even harder, even more desperate because he loves the sensation of life flowing through Snape's body and into him, coursing through his own veins in the form of burning desire.
As if sensing that something important is about to happen, the pressure lifts from his ears, and he hears the moans. He looks up and Snape opens his mouth as if he has been waiting for this all along and says the first thing in weeks, "Harry..." His tone is broken and filled with lust, husky, and barely understandable, but Harry hears him loud and clear as if his name was shouted not whispered. "Harry," he repeats, stronger and coming, his whole body tensing, spurts of hot spunk filling up Harry's mouth and he just swallows, licks, and takes everything that's offered.
He covers Snape again, who lies boneless, but Harry isn't scared because he doesn't look dead in the slightest. His chest is heaving, his skin is shiny with sweat, his cheeks are pink, strands of black hair are stuck to his wet face and as he inhales they flutter too, just as Harry's heart as he watches the content expression.
He leans over the chest and listens to the quieting heartbeat for one more second then leaves.
When he comes back sometime during the afternoon, carrying a tray full of delicious soups, wondering which one was Snape's favourite, or at least, which one would he tolerate, he doesn't even notice the weird glances at first. He's so deep in his own thoughts that he doesn't hear the shouts until it's too late.
He opens the door but the ward is empty. The bed is done and white and clean and so Snape-less, it hurts.
"He checked out this morning," says the witch with the white braided hair. "He told us that he's fine and whatever cheap poison we were pouring into him, is hardly worthy of the title potion, therefore, from now on, he wishes to take his own potions, at his own home. There was no stopping him, Mister Potter. We threatened to stun him, but he just disarmed us." She finished looking lightly sheepish.
The tray and the soups landed on the floor with loud clattering.
Another week goes by. The summer rages on like some fiery monster. The Dementors, the real ones are gone, the streets of England are cleansed. Harry is sitting behind some bushes at the Burrow, his current home. He is hiding but from whom, he isn't certain. Himself, most likely.
A gnome marches in front of him, even tries to take his shoes, but when it sees that Harry's not effected, it grumbles something and stalks away looking for someone else to bother.
"Oy, mate. This is getting out of hand. My ghoul is more productive than you are."
It almost makes Harry smile. But just almost. He doesn't say a word but scoots over. Not that there's not enough space, but it's an invitation of some sort.
Ron sits down next to him and tears off a single blade of grass. He plays with it, tearing it apart, then picks a daisy, pulls out the petals, and it suddenly dawns on Harry just how young they are despite all the things they have been through. Adults would address the issue straight on: Molly would sit him down at the table, Albus would stare at him over his half-moon glasses, Minerva would press her lips and wait, Snape would just ask. They would all know what to say, what to ask, what to do. He and Ron and Hermione just sat silently, poking at the problem with a nonexistent stick.
But sometimes, the silent company is better than any talk, and this is one of those times. As Ron is sitting next to him, Harry slowly opens his mouth.
"He's gone," he says the obvious, just as the bushes rustle behind him.
Hermione climbs through and sits on his other side, without a word. She just sits there like Ron, playing with the grass, listening. Harry is ever so grateful.
"I don't know what to do. I want to find him." Two hands touch his knees on both sides. "His house is burnt down, there's no trace of him. No one knows anything. He can be dead, for all I know."
"He's not dead," Hermione states. "You know he's not. He's hiding somewhere."
"Yeah, but why run away? He's cleared."
Harry forces himself to swallow, even if the thick lump in his throat makes it hard. "Because of me."
"What happened in St. Mungo's, Harry?" Hermione asks gently.
Harry bends forward and leans on his thighs and runs his fingers through his thick hair. What did happen there? "A lot of things. And nothing, really."
"Harry, I might be blind when it comes to seeing the obvious, but I'm not that blind." Ron snorts. "C'mon, mate, what happened really?"
Harry sighs, "I just listened to his heartbeat."
There is silence and he knows it's filled with questions and implications too. Bees are buzzing somewhere nearby. Leaves rustle in the soft wind. He can still hear that heartbeat like a phantom itch in his mind.
Ron pats his shoulder, while Hermione hugs him clumsily from the side, then they both stand. Harry looks up on them, not sure what expression he expects, but he's sure it's not the reassurance he sees in his friends' face.
Ron starts fishing in his pockets while he speaks. "If you find him, and he kills you, know that I will summon the whole family, the whole Dumbledore's Army if necessary and we will kick his ass. You can tell him that." Hermione nudges him, but he goes on unbothered. "But... if by any miracle, he doesn't kill you and doesn't even kick you out," he pulls something out of the pocket that glints in the sunshine and drops it in Harry's lap, "if he lets you stay, we still expect you for lunch on Sundays. Both of you. Make sure he understands it."
Harry isn't sure he understands it himself.
"We're more than friends, Harry, we're a family now," Hermione says, smiling softly. "And we welcome him, if he wants to be a part of it."
Comprehension dawns on Harry slowly and he watches his best friends – no his family. His eyes slowly turn onto the silver object in his hand as Ron and Hermione starts to walk away.
When he recognizes the Deluminator, he stands up quickly.
"What am I to do with this?" He shouts after the others. They turn back, hand in hand.
Ron shrugs. "Listen to the heartbeat and click."
He does just that. He closes his eyes and concentrates on the memory of the light thudding he used to fall asleep to in the past weeks. Beat after beat he recalls the humming as it resonated inside him, he remembers the deep rumbles, wild drums of war, and even the slow fluttering. He almost hears the hoarse voice saying his name.
He clicks and hears a light buzzing.
He opens his eyes and is all but blinded by the bright ball of light in front of him. It swims towards him and he doesn't pull away, lets it touch his chest then seep inside, right into his heart. It became one with the echo of the beating and magnifies it. It almost thunders inside Harry's mind and he knows he can Apparate now. The light will take him to the other heartbeat.
He turns on his heels.
Wind tears at his hair and clothes.
He can hear the heartbeat calling him.
He opens his eyes. There's a cottage in front of him, stone but modern and big. Ivy runs up on its walls, covering the front completely already and reaching to take the sides as well. There are many windows on both stories, but not one signals any life in the house. He walks closer. The door is dark brown like the windows, and the trees nearby. It's also slightly ajar.
He almost forgets to knock. The door might be open, but one never knows with Snape. There's no answer, he still walks in with a sense of déjà vu. He's in a small hallway. There are doors, closed and a stairway upstairs, but he keeps going ahead. He sees a table and chairs and a glass backdoor and he knows he's heading towards the kitchen.
The heartbeat is even stronger. His own, yes, but the echo as well. Somehow, it's calling for him.
Snape's leaning against the kitchen counter, not in the least surprised to see him. His hands are folded on his chest, his legs crossed. He's wearing black as always, but his skin looks better. Not as good as when Harry last saw him, but then again, he suspects that was a special colour, not something he can see every day.
"How did you know I was coming?" It's not the most important question, but it's the first that gets through the lump.
Long, bony fingers slide on the black clad chest until they rest over the heart. "I could hear you." For some reason, Harry is sure Snape doesn't mean the pop of Apparition.
"Where are we?" Is the next one, still not the most pressing issue, but it seems the more important the question the more it has to fight to press through.
"Scotland." Before Harry can ask his next trivial inquiry, Snape speaks again. His voice is still rough, but Harry likes it this way too. "Why are you here?"
Harry is almost relieved that he's not the one who needs to ask it, but then realizes that he doesn't really have a proper answer planned. Therefore, he says the truth, the only one that seems to fight through the lump in his throat anyway. "I need to hear your heartbeat."
Not a request, or a wish, this is a demand alright. He doesn't care, not really.
"Well," Snape says, arching an eyebrow, his hands grasping the edge of the counter behind him. "Can you hear it from over there?"
It doesn't hurt. Not anymore, not when he's so close. He shakes his head and steps closer. It's a really tiny step and so hesitant, he almost staggers back. He watches the face, but there are no emotions, just a second brow joins the first up high.
"Then why are you not coming closer?"
Immediately, Harry breaks into running and all but crashes against the man, fisting the black shirt, pressing his head against the wildly beating heart.
To hear it again is sheer pleasure. Music to his heart and soul; an ancient melody, which is the same in every man, sometimes slower, sometimes like now, pulsing, screaming, drumming hard and fast.
He tears at the shirt, desperate for a clearer sound. "Why did you leave?" He breathes, pleading. Instead of his ears however, he presses his mouth against the warm skin, feeling the rhythmic beat with his tongue. Snape's heartbeat is even faster all of a sudden.
Is it guilt? Is it desire? Is it both?
"The sound of your heartbeat was too overwhelming. It whispered promises, you could never hold to."
His head is lifted and lips press against his neck, sucking on his pulse point, making Harry shudder. "What did it tell you?"
"That you would stay here forever," whispers Snape against Harry's lips before he kisses him. It is wild and desperate like their heartbeats, a never-ending, sweet sensation. Harry is pressed against the counter and lifted as a body pushes between his legs, hands grasp into his shirt, hair, skin, hip shoulders, hands are everywhere, but all he feels is the steadily drumming hearts, beating the exact same rhythm.
"Not forever," Harry answers minutes later, panting but smiling. He looks into the black eyes, so full of desire, need, love, so alive, it makes his chest all but burst with happiness. "Just as long as I can listen to your heartbeat."