There is a fairly graphic depiction of injuries from physical (child) abuse in this chapter. It's in the second scene. I'll be including a TLDR at the end of the chapter for those who can't read it, so that you won't feel like you're missing out on anything major. Love you guys, take care of yourselves, don't read it if it's triggering to you.

ooooo

When Harry opened his eyes, it was to find he was no longer where he'd been when he last closed them.

His glasses were missing, and he was lying on a couch so cracked and worn he could feel the leather upholstery peeling beneath his fingerprints, as fine and tangled as rivers on a map. But though it was old, it was comfortable, and he had to fight to keep from succumbing to the sleep tugging at his eyelids. His shoulder throbbed when he moved and there was a blanket draped over him, thick and heavy, scratchy like wool. His fingers felt clumsy and swollen when he nudged it away from the irritated skin of his throat. It was cold—very cold. As itchy as it was, the blanket was a welcome reprieve from the frigidity in the air that he knew only too well from his years taking lessons in the dungeons. The pillow beneath his head felt cool to the touch when he reached back to rub his aching neck. A new wave of exhaustion rolled through him, dragging him back under like an anchor to a boat, but Harry shook it off and blinked his vision as clear as he could get it. The ceiling above his head was dark and dusty, washed aglow by some unseen source of light. When he turned his head, his skull throbbed like he'd been smacked by a Bludger.

"You understand, I hope," came Snape's voice somewhere off to his right, "that this is entirely inappropriate, and I should have you expelled for it."

Harry sighed, long and slow, before looking around for him. It took a few seconds, because Snape was so enshrouded in gloom that at first his eyes passed over him entirely, until he caught on a patch of skin and then the sharp line of his jaw, and suddenly the rest of him came into view. Snape was seated in an armchair reminiscent of the one at Spinner's End, cross-legged so that he could balance a book over one knee. And though Harry distinctly remembered him taking it off before he found himself petrified, Snape was once again in his teaching robes. They were so dark they seemed to swallow the warmth of that distant light.

"You can't get angry," he mumbled, and tried to sit up, but the blanket was wrapped too tightly around him. "I had to talk to you. S'bloody cold."

"It's the dungeons," Snape ground out, and stood. "And you are a blasted fool. Do you have any idea how badly you have jeopardized my—our—positions tonight? Do you know what would happen if that woman had noticed you were missing, or had keyed the faculty's wards to alert her of an entry from anyone besides the one living here? She is already monitoring the Floo network—yes, Potter, that is legal, albeit dubiously—and intercepting mail."

"Intercepting mail? But that's—"

"Breaking laws you likely don't even know the names of? Yes. You will come to find, Potter, that there is not much Dolores Umbridge would consider to be beyond her. You need only ask Remus Lupin for evidence of that."

"I know she's evil, but I had to come here," Harry protested, and this time when he tried to sit up, he succeeded. He found his glasses on a side table, teetering dangerously atop a stack of books, and the room came into sharp relief before him.

A coffee table lay between them, though at first it was hard to tell; there were books and scrolls piled across every spare inch, leaning against one another, tipping rather precariously at the edges. Some of them were all over dust, but many looked new and recently used. In the dim lighting, it was hard to tell, but Harry caught a glimpse of what he thought might have been a drawing of a tree, so finely inked it looked near professional. It was a wonder anyone could even think to use the table for its intended purpose. And perhaps Snape didn't, because Harry knew all too well his skills in the kitchen, and he'd always seemed to take the majority of his meals in the Great Hall anyway.

"I couldn't exactly send an owl," Harry went on, "and I hadn't wanted to stay over or come during office hours, just in case it somehow violated that new decree Umbridge put up."

"It very well might have. And that is precisely why you need to exert some level of caution now. Caution you most certainly did not exert tonight." He clicked on a second light next to the armchair, a tall, heavy-bottomed lamp Harry hadn't noticed before.

Snape's private quarters weren't as gloomy as he'd expected, but the dungeons and the impoverishment of Spinner's End left their mark here, too. The furniture, though comfortable, was old and worn, and the rug on the floor was faded. The entire sitting room had the distinct feeling of a place left unattended for too long. The top of the hearth was as dusty as the scrolls on the coffee table, and like his house in Cokeworth, Snape had left his walls unadorned and barren of any personal effect. The one and only sign that someone lived here at all (besides the teaching robes left on the floor by the door) was a single painting hung over the fireplace, displaying a cottage nestled in a bright meadow. It wasn't something Harry had expected to see hanging in Snape's rooms, of all places, and for a moment he couldn't tear his eyes away.

"I had my cloak," he said after he'd had his fill of the painting, "and the map."

"Two items that could very easily fall into the wrong hands," Snape snapped back, now picking up the robes on the floor and shaking them out, like he knew Harry had been thinking about them. "You should not rely on them so much that you forgo learning to use your own wits instead."

Harry sighed and said nothing, gaze trailing back to the painting.

"Is that all?" Snape demanded. "You have nothing more to say? You might have written this into an essay for me to see, rather than risking life and limb to break into my private quarters."

Looking away from the painting again to stare instead at his lap, Harry tried not to let Snape see just how embarrassed he felt. He'd never thought about putting messages into his essays; though of course, he didn't like to write Snape's essays, let alone think about them on days he didn't have one to think about. "I hadn't thought of that," he admitted to his hands.

But he had thought of leaving a note some other way, only to throw the entire idea aside, because in the end what Harry had really wanted was a chance to speak to Snape face-to-face. Not only to ease the anxiety that had risen in him from the moment he'd read the new decree, the question of what was to happen next, but also to see for himself that Snape truly had healed from whatever injury he'd had. (And because Snape would never have allowed him in here otherwise.)

A week had gone by since he'd had so much as a minute to speak to Snape alone, shields and fronts down, and he'd begun to feel—twitchy, for lack of a better word. It was like Dumbledore's steadfast avoidance of him, but maybe worse. No, it was definitely worse, because since when had he—or anybody in their right mind—started to enjoy the company of Severus Snape enough to feel irritated by its absence?

"But that isn't all, no," Harry said after a pause, because Snape was growing visibly more agitated by the second. "I'm dreaming about that—that corridor again. You know the one. You saw it during Occlumency."

Snape stilled, and with his back turned, Harry didn't know what kind of expression might have been on his face. He waited anxiously. "Have you been practicing before you sleep?"

"I have." It was the truth; he'd practiced nearly every night for the last week, even though he knew it wouldn't be enough to keep Voldemort out. Not when their connection was so strong. "But it isn't working. It's not…enough."

Snape turned around and stood there for a moment, tracing his bottom lip with his thumb. He didn't speak for a beat, and then: "I will speak with the headmaster about this."

"There's just something about it, you know? It all seems so familiar somehow," he went on, grabbing the blanket in his clenched fists. "I don't know where or when, but I know I've seen that corridor somewhere. I just don't know where."

"Have you perhaps hazarded a guess that it might seem familiar because you dream of it every night?" said Snape, sounding entirely well and finished with the conversation.

It was the most reasonable explanation, but Harry knew it was different from that. He hadn't felt that familiarity until quite recently, after…when? What had changed? Did it have something to do with Voldemort, or had Harry himself somehow seen it somewhere outside of his dream? What was the connection? "I don't think so," he said quietly, frowning at his hands. "There's just something about it…like I've been there before."

"I'll speak with the headmaster tomorrow morning, then," Snape muttered around the thumbnail he was gnawing on. "We can't allow this to continue. We need to resume Occlumency lessons at the earliest opportunity."

It was what Harry had been afraid of, but even as he resigned himself to the impending doom, his heart leapt in his chest at Snape's casual usage of "we." The sensation lasted just long enough for a realization to drop onto him like a sack of bricks. "We can't," he said, drawing Snape's attention back to him. "The decree. If Umbridge finds out—"

"I have spent the last four years shepherding you back into bed at all hours of the night, and out of Hogsmeade when not one part of you had been given permission to be there. Do not play at innocence. You have stolen from my private stores—"

"That wasn't me," Harry said hotly, but Snape cut him off.

"Do not interrupt me. You have stolen from me, you have set off fireworks in my classroom with no regard for danger or injury, and you have only just broken into my private quarters. And now you mean to tell me, Potter, that you have been struck by the sudden desire to follow the rules?" Snape leaned against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest, face hard as stone. "Do you mean to tell me sneaking about has lost its luster? Could this not have happened, perhaps, in your first year?"

Harry glared at him, unwilling to back down. "It never really mattered before, if I got into trouble," he shot back. "Hermione and Ron, maybe, but the Dursleys wouldn't have given a damn if they sent an owl home. Uncle Vernon would chase it out of the house before it could even give them the letter."

"And it matters now?"

"Yeah," Harry snapped, "because now you'd get in trouble, and maybe I actually give a damn about that, Snape."

He managed to look somehow more frustrated than he had before. "You shouldn't be concerning yourself with me. That is not your job."

"Whose job is it, then?" he shot back. "Why can't I concern myself with you?"

"There are a multitude of reasons why you shouldn't like me, let alone want to even be near me," Snape said, breathing hard. He turned away again and gripped the neck of the lamp hard, like he was fighting the urge to knock it to the floor. "None of which your brain would be able to properly compre—"

"Then throw me out!" Harry ground out through clenched teeth, feeling infinitely more tired than he ought to have. "Throw me out now, and don't speak to me again outside of lessons."

For a moment, Harry was terrified Snape would call his bluff—that he would be shown out and left in the corridor without a second glance. He forced himself to keep eye contact, palms sweating against the blanket he still held in his fists, back tense—and then Snape looked away, shoulders slumping like he was feeling that same endless exhaustion.

"Why do we keep arguing like this?" Harry asked, trying not to sound as anguished as he felt. "We weren't this bad during the summer, at least near the end, but now it's like…I dunno. I'm just so angry all the time, and I don't know why. I don't mean to take it out on you, Professor. I guess I'm just…worried. About everything."

"It's past curfew," Snape said after a long period of silence, all fire gone out of him. "Your friends will be wondering where you are. Did you think to tell them what you would be doing, or are they upstairs frothing at the mouths thinking I've thrown you into a dungeon chasm?"

"They wouldn't—" Harry began, and then thought better of it, because it hadn't taken much for Hermione to willingly set Snape on fire back in their first year, and she knew many more spells (and methods) than that nowadays. "Well, all right. They would. I told them I'd be late, but I didn't tell them where I'd be."

Snape fixed him with a glare but said nothing. "Upstairs, then. I'll escort you…I'm due to begin my rounds anyway, and I've a history of wandering about the school at night, so if that woman comes calling it won't be seen as uncharacteristic of me. Up, Potter."

Casting the blanket aside, Harry stood on trembling legs, testing their strength before fully committing. They'd fallen asleep somewhere between the time he'd been petrified and woken, and he hadn't had a proper chance to rub the feeling back into them. "Bit shaky," he said to Snape, who was watching him like a hawk. "Just a moment, I'll be fine."

He cast about the sitting room in search of his belongings and found them bundled neatly together on a small wooden dining table that looked, impossibly, more neglected than everything else in the room, like it was used only on special occasions, and even then only sparingly. The invisibility cloak fell over him in a silken wave when he pulled it on, as soundless as smoke. He tucked the Marauder's Map into his pocket, patting it down to ensure it sat securely, and turned around to find that Snape was still watching him intently. His face was inscrutable.

Harry met his gaze without flinching. "I'm ready," he said, and drew the cloak over his head.

As they walked, Harry tried to memorize the path to Snape's quarters, but it was such a twisty walk that by the time they reached his office, he had to admit defeat. The air grew warmer on their way out into the castle main; at the stairs leading out to the Great Hall, Harry drew the map from his pocket and gave it a cursory glance. Professor Sprout was close by, but far enough that conversation wouldn't reach her.

"Professor," he whispered, only just loudly enough to be heard past the resounding drum of the bell chiming the hour, rattling through his bones. How late was it? "How are we supposed to get permission for Occlumency lessons?"

"Remedial potions, perhaps," Snape muttered out of the corner of his mouth. He stared straight ahead, appearing entirely unconcerned, but there as they passed under a ring of torchlight, Harry could see he was smirking. "No one could ever claim you to be a Potions prodigy."

Thanks, Harry thought sourly, but wisely kept the thought to himself.

They halted at the base of the grand staircase when there came a soft shuffling from out in the Hall, but it was only Mrs. Norris, who stared directly at Harry with lamp-like yellow eyes. "I think she can see through cloaks," he said. "I've noticed it before."

"Then get moving, before we're delayed by Filch," Snape hissed. They ascended the stairs, leaving Mrs. Norris far behind them.

It was odd in more than a few ways, to walk alongside someone he'd hated for years yet now found himself putting more faith in than he ever had with an adult before. It wasn't that Harry didn't trust the adults in his life—quite the opposite, in many cases—but not many of them had taken direct action for him in the way Snape had. He'd been one of the very few to speak out against the Dursleys, even as he adamantly denied any such thing; and he had freed Harry from his detentions with Umbridge in a way that had also allowed him the chance to catch up with his schoolwork in her absence. He hadn't even let Harry cook for him every night. At the time, he'd resented Snape for it, because it had felt like a punishment. But as the days went on…it had felt less like discipline, and more like an acknowledgement of something far greater than Harry could so far understand.

Snape did a lot of things, in his own furtive, prickly way, that felt a lot like small acknowledgements. He was bitter and angry and held everyone at such a distance it was a wonder he had any semblance of a social life at all. But he was also the man who had taken the time to teach him Occlumency. He'd taken time to help him with his summer homework and give him personal lectures, and had brought an old telly downstairs so that he would have something to occupy him on the days that seemed to drag on forever. Snape had loved his mother in some shape or form, and had become Harry's fiercest protector from the moment he had arrived at Hogwarts. He was cynical and cut everyone down without seeming to even think about it—yet Harry had never felt truly seen by any adult in such a way. It was the knowledge that Snape knew where he came from, what he came from, and accepted him anyway—because he had known the same life Harry did. Maybe it was wrong, to feel comradery for such a terrible reason, but the comfort it brought him outweighed anything else.

And maybe, in the end, Harry thought as he climbed through the Fat Lady's portrait and left Snape standing in the corridor outside with the mere breath of a "goodnight," that was all that really mattered.

On Thursday, Severus received his first—but not final—visit from a student needing treatment for a wound that had been left to its own devices for far too long.

The boy came in the night to knock on his office door, which had been keyed years ago to ring an alarm in his quarters for this exact purpose. Severus dragged himself out of bed and into a dressing gown, and shoved his shoes half-blindly onto his feet before he Floo'd directly into his office to answer the call. The face that greeted him from the doorway was flushed deeply. Aedan Locket was a student Severus had been observing since the moment he'd arrived at Hogwarts, and he'd been waiting for this day to come for three years since. He'd been rail thin then, even for an eleven-year-old, with shadows dark as coal under his eyes and hair a little too oily to have simply come from a child not yet concerned with their physical appearance. Now he leaned heavily on the doorframe, eyes fever-bright and glazed like he was barely lucid, barely able to stand.

"Professor," he said, though it came out more like a slur. "I need help."

Severus took him in without a word, settling him in the chair behind his desk and took the hard-backed wooden one he kept before it for himself. Casting a quick Muffliato at the office door, he asked without preamble, "Where?"

"My back," Locket whispered, either too delirious to question how Severus had so easily guessed, or simply beyond caring. "I think they've gotten worse. I thought they were healed, but…"

Conjuring a pair of Muggle rubber gloves, Severus pulled his chair round the side of the desk so that they were only a foot apart. He pulled on the gloves. "Robe off. Turn round."

Locket's back was a map of scars new and old, but the most glaring of them all were four long lashes, like whip lines embedded into his skin. It was hard at first to tell with the boy's dark skin and the dim lighting, but the edges of the scores were deep red, and two were oozing pus. It was not a wound made by physical means, but ones made by spells could often be infinitely worse. He would need to tread carefully.

He never condemned any of the children who came to him, even when it was clear they had waited far too long before seeking help. Severus knew full-well laying judgement would only ensure they kept to themselves the next time; and that next time might be the last time. Of all the things Severus Snape was, a murderer was not one of them. He might look the other way when he saw the signs. He might not tell his colleagues unless absolutely necessary, or breathe a word of what he knew to Albus—but nights like this had always been different. Never had a child died under his watch, and if he had any say about it, no child ever would.

Against his better judgement, because he knew from experience that all it ever really did was give you a dull headache, Severus Conjured a handkerchief and bundled it together in a wad. "Put this in your mouth," he said, "and bite down. This is going to hurt—badly."

"W-What are you going to do?" Locket asked, and his voice was a little too shrill.

"I have to lance the wound and drain it. I will be cutting it back open. It won't feel pleasant."

He was glad he'd cast Muffliato from the start, because by the time Severus had opened the first of the scores lining the boy's back, Locket was already screaming through the gag. It was hard to be gentle when he knew he had to move quickly, but he tried his best, even when the stench of infection had his eyes stinging, and the blood coating the boy's back made his fingers slip on his skin. He had to pause near the end when it became too much. They both sat breathing hard for a few long moments. Severus composed himself, managed a quiet, "Last one," and dove back into the work.

At these times, it was impossible to detach himself entirely. The memories were too close, the nausea in the pit of his stomach too heavy. He'd thought, back when he first began teaching and the very first of these children had come calling in the dead of night, that it would get easier over time; that he could perhaps learn to desensitize himself to their pain. It had never happened. And perhaps that was for the best. He'd never known why the students came to him. Him, of all the other professors. Their greasy, bitter House head, who'd made students cry regularly before he learned to restrain himself just enough that his remarks were ego-reducing rather than hysteria-inducing. There were others more sensitive, more compassionate, that taught here. But in the end, Severus knew deep down it was because these children had seen something in him that was hauntingly familiar. It was the same with Potter. That horrible sense of knowing.

Because really, hadn't Severus always known Harry Potter had been abused? Hadn't the knowledge always been there, lingering in the corners of his mind, where he wouldn't consciously allow himself to recognize it? The summer had changed it. Severus had ignored the truth as long as he could, too blinded by the decades of hatred that had rooted itself into his very soul—and that truth would keep him awake at night for as long as he lived.

Though he felt like he should be shaking, Severus's hands were steady as he packed in the wounds and fastened bandages round Locket's back. There were tears streaming down the boy's ruddy face and snot crusting his nose, and the handkerchief clenched between his teeth was soaked through. "You can take that out now," Severus said quietly. Locket didn't move, so Severus removed it for him, and Banished it. "Stay seated. I'm calling for tea. Dobby?"

Lucius's old house elf appeared with a crack that had Locket flinching in his seat, even with the warning. "What is Master Severus wanting of Dobby?"

"Hot chocolate and toast," Severus said. He hated calling for elves, hated the simpering, but it was late and he wasn't about to leave the boy alone after such an ordeal.

Tea was delivered moments later, and before Locket could reach for his chocolate, Severus pulled out the brandy he kept for precisely these moments. "The one who gave you these," he said before unstoppering the bottle. "Does he get drunk before he hits you?"

"N-No," Locket stuttered, looking vaguely bewildered.

He knew Albus would skin him alive if he ever found out the methods he used to keep these children from becoming shell-shocked by the experience, and that Minerva would be glad to take a turn right after, but Severus added a dash of brandy to the chocolate anyway before sliding it over to the boy. "Drink. And if you can stomach it, eat."

It was odd for a man to not keep alcohol in some capacity, but Severus never drank anything stronger than coffee. He'd tried, once, back in his sixth year. Slytherin had won the House Cup and a few of the older students had smuggled fire whiskey into the resulting celebration. It had taken all of ten seconds for Severus to decide it could never be. The smell had been all-consuming. So he'd never drank any of the brandy himself, half-empty though it was. He'd never allowed himself a single sip. He avoided bars when he could and the staff parties whenever possible. Never once had he stayed for dinner after an Order meeting; not only because of Black and Moody, but because he knew the mutt would be popping corks the moment dinner was served.

Locket finished his chocolate and ate a slice of toast before pushing the rest of the plate away. His hands were shaking badly, so Severus helped him back into the robes he'd thrown haphazardly over his pyjama trousers. And then the room was quiet as Severus cleared the last of the food away and returned the brandy to the bottom drawer of his desk.

"Are you going to tell anyone?" Locket whispered, staring at his fists clenched together in his lap. Even through his robes, his spine was so prominent it hurt to even see it. Severus had to focus his gaze elsewhere, breathing slowly and steadily.

"Yes," he said, because there was no use in lying about it. "I will be telling somebody."

Locket didn't speak for a beat too long, and then he nodded jerkily. "Right. Yeah, okay. I thought you might, but I didn't—I couldn't…It was too much, this time."

Gaze fixed firmly on a jar of rat spleens on the shelf behind his desk, Severus said, "You need to see Madame Pomfrey in the Hospital Wing. If not tonight, then first thing tomorrow. I've lanced the infection but I don't have, at this time, the means to cure it."

"But you're a Potions Master," Locket said, lifting his head at last.

"And who do you think has spent every bit of his free time replenishing the potions stores in the Hospital Wing for the past two weeks?" Severus said pointedly. "My own stocks are depleted. Now, on your feet. If you can walk confidently out of my office, you can see her come morning. If not, I'll escort you upstairs."

After a tentative few steps on wobbling legs, Locket managed to make his way round the office twice before Severus cleared him to leave. "Tomorrow then, Professor," the boy said on a sigh. "Thank you."

"I'll be in my office. Come here before breakfast. Do not make me drag you there by force, or you'll live to regret it," he warned, shepherding him out into the corridor. The door clicked shut behind him, and for a moment Severus stood in the silence he'd left behind, before at last he drew a sheet of parchment from his desk drawer and wrote the first name on the list he'd promised Lupin all those weeks ago.

One day he was going to have to tell Potter the truth of what—who—had caused the death of his parents, and that would be the end of the truce they'd built over the past month. Severus knew this above all else. The knowledge was with him at every moment of every day, from the moment he woke up to the moment he went to sleep. He'd spent the last fourteen years of the boy's life dreading that day, that finality. And as the years went by, Severus could feel it looming ever closer, like the ticking of a bomb.

He should have been pushing the boy away. Keeping him at arm's length, speaking only when absolutely necessary, in hopes that it would sting less for both of them when the time finally came. But he knew he wouldn't do it. Because really, in the end, Severus had never been anything more than a selfish bastard. And if Wednesday night was any indication, Potter would be certain to take more drastic measures than breaking into his quarters if he ever tried to shut him out for good.

So he would enjoy the peace while it lasted, and hold the crushing guilt at bay just as he always had.

Though it had been a cool, mild day, the kitchen of Number 12 Grimmauld Place was swelteringly hot. From the moment he'd descended the stairs he'd begun to sweat and by the time he reached the bottom, strands of hair had already plastered themselves to his temples and his shirt was clinging to his back beneath his robes. The rest of the Order was faring no better. Most stood apart from each other, fanning themselves with their hands or robe sleeves or even a piece of parchment. Cooling charms were petering out as fast as they could spell them; the great fire roaring at the far end of the room ensured that.

He side-stepped Molly Weasley, who was mopping at her forehead as she bustled about situating chairs round the table. Her hair had gone scraggly and wild in the humidity and her eyes were red-rimmed like she'd been weeping recently. Arthur was seated at the table in the chair nearest the door, and when Severus entered the kitchen he looked round to meet his gaze. The moment lasted only a moment, but Severus felt vaguely shaken by it all the same. He hadn't truly spoken to Arthur since the day he and the other two dunderheads had stormed his house under the delusions that there had been an attack. He hadn't wanted to speak to Arthur since.

And worse than that, Severus thought as Remus Lupin noticed his presence and made his slow, steady way across the room towards him, he hadn't so much as sent a letter to the werewolf since that night in Hogsmeade, already half a month ago.

"Stifling in here," Lupin said lamely, stopping just close enough to him that they could speak without being overheard—though whether it was out of respect, or because the very idea of being near someone was out of the question in such heat, Severus didn't know. Nor did he really care. "How have you been?"

"Spare me the pleasantries," Severus said, and then paused to add, quieter, "Fine."

Then he Occluded a tad harder, because though Lupin was no more an Occlumens than Potter was a Potions prodigy, that was most certainly not true whatsoever, and he didn't want any trace of it to show on his face.

"Pleased to hear that," Lupin said, mild as ever, and Severus knew then that the wolf was aware he was lying.

The meeting began before he could say something undoubtedly nasty or—even more unthinkably—apologize for leaving him in Hogsmeade without so much as a goodbye. Dumbledore swept into the room in robes of brilliant yellow, which shimmered orange as a sunset when the light of the fire glinted off of them. There was an eruption of noise as the Order settled in at the table; chair legs grated on the stone floor, Cooling charms were recast in vain, corks were popped from bottles, and in the background of it all was the ever-present crackle of the flames in the hearth. Already his headache was worsening. He'd gotten a terrible night's sleep once Locket left and should have had the foresight to bring a headache draught with him. And yet, here he was…

He secured himself a place at Albus's side, feeling relief in the relative safety of the Headmaster's close proximity, but that relief turned instantly to irritation when Lupin took the seat to his left and pulled his chair in a little too close. "Needing someone to hold your hand through the proceedings, Lupin?" he sneered, tucking his arms in close so that no part of him made any move, conscious or unconscious, to drift too close to the wolf.

"Are you offering?" Lupin shot back, straight-faced. Albus shifted slightly in the cushy, overstuffed monstrosity of an armchair he'd conjured up, but didn't speak. Severus willed himself to believe he hadn't heard any of what Lupin had said, or the reason for it.

"Fuck you," Severus breathed, eyeing the Headmaster out of the corner of his peripheral vision.

"Too hot for that," came the whispered response, and all at once Severus was grateful for the heat, because what was one more flushed face in a room full of them? He lifted his arms a tad in an admittedly useless attempt to get air flowing, cleared his throat—and then had to disguise a bad start as a sudden sneeze when Lupin's knee grazed his own beneath the table.

"Gesundheit," the Headmaster said from his right, in a tone so serene it had to be fake—and when Severus managed to glance at him through the mortification prickling up his spine, he found Albus's expression as inscrutable as the patterns of the pockmarks in the wood of the table. Severus looked away, cleared his throat again, and didn't respond.

I will kill you, he promised silently when Lupin's knee touched his own again. He felt like a foolish schoolboy exchanging notes beneath a desk. Painfully, slowly, I will—

"Severus," Albus said suddenly, and for one heart-stopping instant he thought the Headmaster might have decided to call them out after all, until he continued: "Your report, if you would."

He was sweating worse than before as he stood to give his report, and had to force himself to focus on absolutely anything but the heat before he felt collected enough to speak in full sentences, let alone give a speech.

"The Dark Lord has sent Death Eaters to act as delegates to the giants," he began. "I believe they may be attempting to sway influence away from Hagrid and towards the Dark Lord's cause."

The rest of his report was sparse, but it couldn't be helped. The Dark Lord had still not made a move, or at least none so large it had been noticeable to the public. The Ministry had their heads buried in the sand and their wands up their arses, the Wizarding community at large was too frightened to so much as consider the possibility of another war, and all the while behind the scenes Tom Riddle played puppet master. Building his ranks. Fostering alliances with all manner of Dark or powerful creatures.

"Is that all?" Moody growled when Severus came to an end. Even he looked overwhelmed by the roaring of the flames, with his thinning hair damp against his forehead and his cavernous face shining wet in the light.

"I have nothing more to report," Severus said shortly, and sat.

"I feel we should have more information by this point," Arthur chimed in, leaning forward. Severus felt himself frown, just a little, and Arthur seemed to notice. "It's not a slight against you, Severus. I simply feel that something big is coming. Something he's working his way up towards. Do you have any idea of what it might be, Albus?"

"Some," the Headmaster said, with the barest hint of a nod. "Each less likely than the last. I believe he may look to bring more than just giants into his ranks as he grows more powerful. The Dementors have already proven themselves to be easily turned to more nefarious deeds than guarding a prison. It will be only a matter of time before he stages a mass release of the prisoners."

Across the table, Black had gone quite still. "I've already shown it can be done," he said hoarsely. "That's all he needs."

A few members of the Order traded uneasy glances. Severus couldn't blame them. The day Bellatrix Lestrange broke free of her cell would be a turning point in the coming war, one that he dearly hoped would come later rather than sooner. But he knew better than to wish too hard for that. Azkaban was not the impenetrable fortress he had once thought it was, as a child. It was a dank, crumbling ruin guarded by Dark creatures who were easily swayed to a different side if the price was right. Bellatrix Lestrange and many others would walk free once more. It was only a matter of time.

The second the meeting was adjourned, the room became quite empty. Without the warmth of so many bodies the air cooled, but Severus could still feel sweat rolling down the back of his neck as he unloaded the potions he'd brought for the Order onto a spare bit of counter space. It didn't take long for Lupin to join him.

"You returned Harry's map, didn't you?" were the first words he said.

"No, Lupin," he sighed, "I tossed it into the first rubbish bin that happened to catch my eye. Yes, I returned his map, you utter buffoon, and in the same condition as it had been when I found it."

"You mean when you stole it," Lupin said pleasantly.

Severus glared at him and disguised an attempt to cool down with a good shake of his robes, which billowed outward in a brief burst of relief before settling back down to stifle him. "Are you needing something?" he asked. "Or have you come over with the sole purpose of harassing me out of Black's house?"

The wolf managed to keep his composure for all of five seconds before his shell of pleasantness cracked away and the man beneath came out. "That night at the pub," he said quietly, "you told me to let Sirius know you had the Map."

"And?" Severus said, wholly unconcerned. "Did you?"

"Are you mad?" came the immediate response. "Sirius would have an aneurism if he knew what you had done. I won't be telling him anything, Severus, and now that I know you've returned Harry's property to him, I'd like for us to not speak of this again. Or have a repeat. This will stay between us."

"There seems to be a great deal of things that are staying between us lately." Severus busied himself with sorting the potions on the counter, though he knew there was no need for it. You are behaving like a fool, he told himself yet again.

"Have you had supper?" Lupin asked, looking him up and down.

"I'm not dining with the mutt, if that's what you're working towards," Severus sneered, turning to leave. He had essays to grade before the weekend was through, and for once in his teaching career he wanted to make decent headway on them instead of engaging in his usual Sunday night panic. "Have a wonderful evening nursing the drunken dog."

Before he could enter the stairwell, Lupin stepped round to block his path. "I don't mean here," he said quickly, before Severus could push him aside. "I mean we could go somewhere else."

Sighing, Severus grudgingly allowed himself to be nudged back into the kitchen. They were the only occupants now, the rest having fled to cooler parts of the house. "Where?" he asked once the desire for food won over his internal struggle. His stack of essays could wait. After all, he had all weekend to grade them. It was Friday, he hadn't eaten since the pot pie he'd had for lunch, and—damn his weakness—perhaps he had been wondering after Lupin all throughout their days of silence. He hadn't so much as received a letter since that night.

"There's always the Three Broomsticks," the wolf said, leaning against the counter. He, out of everyone who had been forced to spend time in this sweltering hellhole, seemed the most affected of them all. His face was as red as a cherry, so bright it made the scars on his cheek stand out as starkly as if they'd been painted on, and his hair was wet at the fringe and greying temples. Severus was suddenly, vividly reminded of how warm Lupin's skin normally felt, even outside of this room.

"You must be boiling in your own skin by now," he said softly, "or near to it."

"I'm fine," Lupin said, ever the liar.

"You're either in the midst of succumbing to heat stroke or working your way steadily towards it. Upstairs, wolf. Get somewhere cool." Severus once again made a move towards the stairs, and this time Lupin didn't try to stop him.

"No dinner, then?" came a tentative call from behind him.

Turning back round to fix him with a glare, Severus snapped, "You are awfully bold for a man who was left alone at a pub after being turned down for a proposition."

Lupin had been close behind him, but he stopped in his tracks then. He was grinning, Severus realized with a swoop of his stomach. "Pardon me?" he said incredulously, laughter laced through the words. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I do believe it was you who propositioned me—as a way to brag about stealing a family heirloom, no less."

"A family heirloom," Severus scoffed, and then cut a glance towards the top of the stairs as a door closed somewhere above them. Footsteps thundered overhead and the banister creaked as someone began up the trek up to the second floor of the house. "Someone is due to come looking for us, wolf."

"Then we'd best leave now," Lupin said, placing a hand gingerly on Severus's shoulder, where it felt like fireworks had abruptly burst beneath his skin. "I hear Rosmerta serves fish and chips on Fridays."

oooo

TLDR from the second scene of this chapter: a student (whose name I used a HP name generator to make up lmao) comes to Severus in the middle of the night needing aid to treat infected injuries he received over the summer. Severus writes down the first name on the list of students he promised to give Lupin back in TAB.