Lachrymose Part One:

Cuts That Never Heal

AN: This fic assumes that Christianity, namely Catholicism, is not exclusive to the Muggle world and that it is practiced by some wizards and witches, the same way some Muggles practice Wicca, I suppose. It doesn't fact too heavily in this installment, but will become more prevalent later in the story.

I.

It's the same dream I have every night. I'm in my seventh year, and it's two weeks before Voldemort falls, and I'm going down to the dungeons to serve detention for overturning my cauldron. Snape tells me he wants all the ingredients ordered alphabetically by Latin name. I have two hours and no chance of leaving early.

Snape's just started acting strange the past couple days. In my dream he's on edge, like he thinks someone is watching him from behind, his eyes jerk nervously away from my face as he speaks. Alphabetically by Latin name. Two hours. Don't mess up.

I drop the twenty-seventh jar. A deep blue liquid is pooling on the stones near my feet and, as I watch, horrified, something inside of it is moving towards me, crawling with a grinding noise like bone on metal until five tiny grey fingers are reaching for the toes of my shoes from out of the blue sludge.

*          *          *

The alarm clock goes off as soon as I start to scream. It's like the two are connected. I blink in confusion for a few minutes. The alarm is hooked up to the radio, so there's music playing. Muggle music. It's not a bad song, but I'm too tired to bother with it. I flick the radio off and stumble into the bathroom.

These are my morning routines. At six thirty the radio alarm wakes me up. I lay in bed for another three minutes pretending that I'm dead and trying to not to make a list of reasons to stay in bed. I give myself five reasons to get up and slide out of bed. I brush my teeth and take a shower, and I make some coffee while I get dressed. Muggle clothing. Slacks and a button up white cotton shirt. I down two cups of tastelessly burnt coffee and make my way out of my flat and down to the bakery on the corner for a cinnamon roll and an espresso, wondering about things like caffeine poisoning and words that describe the exact colour of the sky.

From there to the office building, so plain looking on the outside, and down to my basement office. I was offered a partner a few years ago. It's supposed to be safer working with another person. I could never trust anyone enough for that though, so I still work alone. Auror extraordinaire, Harry Potter, the Boy Who Pretends He's Not Living. I grab a cup of coffee from the office coffee maker and add three cubes of sugar and an obscene amount of milk. It tastes like crap, scalding the sugary taste of the pastry out of my mouth.

And on to the paperwork! Stacks and files and letters and paperwork that will never end. I don't mind it so much though, since the alternative is being out on the streets chasing demons. I've had more than enough of that.

There's a muggle show I watch sometimes, called the X-Files. It's about these two American FBI agents who investigate the paranormal, things like aliens and monsters and vampires. Everyone else in their agency investigates murderers and terrorists and things like that, so the two agents are the laughing stock of their peers.

We're sort of the opposite. Everyone upstairs is busy keeping track of different magical anomalies. During the war the whole agency was focused on Voldemort. I wasn't an Auror then, but that's what I've heard. I joined when I was eighteen, and I'm twenty-two now. My first year and a half was spent in reconstruction following the war, fixing things and putting things back in order. There were also a lot of press photos and interviews.

Now it's different. I asked to be assigned to something less flashy, to the complete bafflement of everyone in the agency. They finally stuck me down here, underground, investigating homicides. There are more than enough of those, and I've gotten quite good at solving mysteries.

The other people down here are always talking about working their way up to something like Vampire Management, or Dark Magic Control. They ask me what it was like working on the upper levels and I tell the truth: Hell.

In that light the paperwork isn't so bad. It beats a poke in the eye with a sharp object anyway, and there's all the free crappy coffee I can drink, which has proven to be a daunting amount. I get right to work, because there's nothing else to do. The funniest thing about my job is that I can spend hours a day on nothing but paperwork without ever knowing what it is the papers have to do with. It's like machinery. Write in my name; write a brief description of an event, my opinions of such and such, my feelings on so and so. On and on, all day long, until I have slanted cursive writing transposed onto the insides of my retinas.

At noon I leave the office and walk to the cafeteria. Ron and Seamus are there, waiting for me at our usual table, with Alarbus, Ron's partner. Seamus' partner is an uptight lady who eats at a deli two blocks away. We make a quartet, eating sandwiches for four knuts each. I spend an additional two knuts on café au lait and Ron smiles and tells me my eyes look bloodshot. Seamus turns the drink into whiskey and I have to threaten him twice before he changes it back. Alarbus shakes his head and grins and says nothing.

After lunch I'm making my way back to my office for another paper cup of coffee and an evening of paperwork, when Assistant Director Kenneth Abernathy catches me in the hallway and asks me to come to his office for a brief chat. That always means one thing; he wants me to track someone down.

I'm practically a bounty hunter. One with a permanent income though.

Abernathy surprises me today. When I'm seated and scowling he tosses me a thick file with the name "Severus Snape" written in red ink across the front.

"I assume you've heard about the Snape murders?"

I glance up at him as my fingers trail over the coarse material of the file. "Fifteen people in the last two days of the second war," I murmur. "Five in the previous war."

"And a steady stream of deaths since the end of the war," Abernathy adds. "Two or three a year, usually. Muggles and wizards alike. No one's been able to catch him since he went missing five years ago."

"I was given to understand that there were very few attempts to bring him in." This is surreal. I flip through the pages of glossy photos and coroner's reports, tracing my fingers over the smooth surface of a photograph of Snape's familiar scowl. "I was told no one really bothered looking."

"That's partly true," Abernathy concedes. "Albus Dumbledore was under the impression that, given time, Snape would return to us on his own. He stood in the way of a thorough investigation until it was too late to hope for much chance of finding Snape. He's a tricky bastard," Abernathy runs his nervous fingers back through his hair.

"He certainly is," I say, trapped in the gaze of a five-year-old photograph.

"We've got new leads though," he rattles on. "New clues. And we can't afford to balls this one up. It'll be great for PR, and it'll be a nice close to a messy episode. All the other Death Eaters have been caught and terminated."

I shiver at the statement. Abernathy never personally knew a Death Eater. He doesn't have the image of Draco Malfoy's familiar face incinerating, or the melting skin of Neville Longbottom. Love thy enemy, perhaps the cruelest advice anyone has ever been given.

"You're the best man we've got, Harry. The best Auror I've seen in a long time, and we're privileged to have you working down here in homicides. How would you feel about going after him? It'd give you a chance to settle old scores. I know you must be aching to hit the bastard hard after what he did to…well. I'll have the necessary documents sent to your flat  and you may keep the file. I'll need you to go to Belfast, Ireland. Snape was seen there half a week ago, living quite opulently among the muggles. I'll send you the details and you can apparate tonight and get a hotel. We'll cover all costs, just don't go wild, okay?"

I nod. "Thank you sir."

"Ken, call me Ken. You've been here almost three years. Only rookies call me sir." He smiles. "Good luck Harry."

"Thank you…Ken." I cringe inwardly. I hate him calling me 'Harry'. Why can't he just say 'Potter'? He calls everyone else by their last name, and I know for a fact that not everyone calls him Ken. In fact, no one calls him Ken.

'Ken' and I shake hands and I make my way to the coffee machine before leaving. The owl is waiting for me at home with a thick envelope. I send the bird back without so much as a note. I should look through the file and the envelope before I pack, but first, coffee.

Curled up on my sofa with the papers in one hand and a mug of thick black coffee in the other I am ready to tackle the world.

I am, however, wholly unprepared for the photographs in the case file. The first five victims were long before my time, bloodied remains of muggles with horror written across their faces. I wonder what they must have seen to make them so afraid, and a few quick glances through the reports on their death leaves me cold with the knowledge of the hurt one wizard can cause.

I review old knowledge. In the last few weeks before the end of the war Snape began caving in to stress of some sort, appearing agitated and out of sorts, almost afraid. The day before the Dark Lord fell Snape snapped. He took out fifteen people all together, six muggles, four dark wizards, and five wizards working for the Order of the Phoenix. Those photos are almost too much for me.

It wouldn't be so bad if it were just the killing curse. I've seen that enough times to get used to it. I can recognize it at once. This is different. Snape used something different for this. The coroner's report claims he killed the muggles with his bare hands, ripping tendons and breaking necks, and bite marks were found on the body of one young victim.

The dark wizards are mostly unfamiliar, but I do recognize one. Blond haired Lucius Malfoy, missing his pretty grey eyes.

And those lost warriors of the light. My fallen comrades. It tears a sob from my throat, and I wasn't expecting this at all, fool that I am. Hermione, Dean, Arabella Figg, Cho…I don't know the fifth victim. She was young though; a few years younger than me and newly signed on. I've never hated Dumbledore for enlisting children more than I do right now. Why did he have to make this a children's crusade? Why did he put so many students in danger? Just because he couldn't get enough soldiers?

And why did he put us in harm's way? Why lead us to believe in our safety when all the time monsters like Snape lurked in the shadows? Hidden demons, a million times worse than those things the Aurors are battling with. All the photos fall to the floor, and I take a long gulp of my coffee.

There've been a steady string of deaths since Snape's disappearance. In total he's murdered thirty-two people to date; twelve wizards, twenty muggles. His glossy photographed eyes stare hollowly up at me from the floor, like they're seeking me out. Well Snape, I think, I'm seeking you out too. For Hermione and for Cho and for everyone you hurt…and for me, most of all for me. For confusing me. For betraying my trust. We'll just see who ends up on top.

The photograph winks.

II.

Belfast. It's late when I arrive at the inn. My nerves crackle with the knowledge that Snape is somewhere in this city. I can almost feel him next to me as I check in and lug my bags up a flight of stares and into a dingy little room with no view. I set my alarm for seven, figuring I can use an extra thirty minutes of sleep. It'll be twelve, at the earliest, before I fall asleep. I've enough caffeine in my system to keep me up for ages.

The TV proves to be my saviour. Late night shows, reruns of old comedies, music videos, the Christian channel…I flick it off after an hour and a half, falling into a troubled sleep.

*          *          *

The thing is reaching up to grab onto my shoe, and I know without being told that I'll die if it so much as touches me, yet I can't move away. The thing is growing, getting larger, taking shape before my eyes, and all I can think is 'what in hell is this thing?'

And suddenly I'm pulled backwards, nearly toppling over as Snape's arms drag me out of harm's way, out of the creature's reach. I let myself rely on his strength, only to find that he's moved away and I'm falling, crashing backwards so that I land on the hard stones, legs splayed and head spinning, my back against his desk.

I can just see his back as he hunches over the thing, so I don't know what he's doing. The scent of mold and human waste is enough to make me gag, and then there's a sick, squelching kind of noise, and a high-pitched squeal. When Snape stands up again there's nothing on the floor, and the scent is already fading.

He makes his way to my side, expression taut and worried. He looks so old as he crouches beside me. "Are you hurt?"

*          *          *

The radio sounds far too early for my liking. It's something with violins, and I pull the covers up to my forehead and pray for a coma that never comes. I listen intently to the morning music and for a few minutes I forget that I have to get up at all. I know the longer I stay, the harder it will be to get up, the guiltier I will feel at the wasted time. Still, I wait out the song, driven from my bed only when the radio personality's obnoxious voice cuts through the webbing of blankets I've created around myself.

Shower, brush teeth, comb hair. The coffee machine and provided instant coffee make a meager breakfast, and I drink three cups. I glance at the clock, and the red numbers tell me it is already seven forty five. Time to get to work. I fold the most recent photo of Snape in half and put it in my pocket. Then, on a whim, I pick up the photo of a twenty something Snape and put it in my pocket as well. I make sure to charm them both first, of course. No miraculous moving pictures today.

I'm not exactly sure where I'm going. I just walk along streets, glancing about now and then at the people rushing past me. This is how I work. Good old 'Ken' would call it a gift, but it's really more of a talent. After about four or five blocks I stop outside a used bookstore. It's a very old building, with cracked windows and bad lighting. As I push the door open the scent of musty paperbacked books nearly knocks me off my feet.

Yet, as I stand in the doorway, my eyes adjusting to the dim light, I begin to find the smell comforting. It's almost luxurious. I walk to an aisle, run my fingers along the cracking spines of a hundred novels with yellowing pages. I pull one down, read the title. The Island of Dr. Moreau. My fingers caress the title gently, and I feel almost like I'm communicating with the book. It feels like the pages are speaking to me, calling out to me. I recognize a charm at once, and know that it's not luck that I pulled this one book down.

Without considering the danger inherent in my actions, I flip the book open and let the pages slide back and forth between my pages like a flipbook. There's a small envelope stuck in near the end of the book, my name clearly printed on it in gold ink. I snap the book shut and make my way to the cash register.

As the storekeeper rings up my purchase I sort through my pocket for the correct amount, and my fingers brush the photographs. I pull them both out, indicating the recent one. "Have you seen this man around? Maybe buying or selling some old books?"

The man scratches his chin thoughtfully. "Can't say I have," he's says with a thick accent. "Though he do look familiar. Who's the other one? I wager I've seen him in here a few times."

"This man?" I hold the photo of young Snape incredulously. "You've seen this man in this store recently?"

"Oh sure," he says. "I remember now. He's in here all the time. Buying and selling all manner of things, some books I've never even heard of. He sold us this one. You want to see some of the others?"

"That's not necessary," I answer, picking up my change, the book, and both photographs. "Thank you for your help."

"I'll let him know you were looking for him," the man calls as I turn to leave.

"No need," I tell him. "He'll know anyway."

I wait until I'm in a café down the street, sipping my latte, to open the book and seek out the envelope. The thick paper opens as I run my finger under the flap, and I extract a sheet of creamy parchment folded over three times. I smooth it out on the table. Red ink matches the gold of my name, and it'd almost be funny if I weren't so scared.

"Dear Mister Potter," I read silently. "I had wondered how long it would be before our paths crossed once more. I cannot express to you how often my thoughts have bent towards you, and, in the depth of night, I often feel that you are thinking of me. I wonder how you must have reacted to my so-called crimes. Of course I've read your official statements, that I am a troubled soul, that the strain was too much for me, that you were completely shocked at my actions. But what do you really think? What did you feel, the night Dumbledore called you into his office and told you in plain language that Granger was dead? Did you cry? Did you cry harder for Cho? Or for Dean, perhaps? We both know which direction your affections lie."

I can hear Snape's low, dark voice speaking the words I'm reading. My fingers are clenching so tightly that I'm forced to put the latte down before my nails puncture holes in the cardboard of the cup. I read on.

"So it comes as no surprise that you are here now. Do you consider this revenge, or just your duty? I have to admit, I was surprised to read about your decision to join the homicide division of the Aurors. Did you do it to avenge your poor sweet friends, continue a fight to bring all Death Eaters to justice? I am, I realise, the last of the living Death Eaters. Your agency is incredibly adept at capturing fools, I give you that. Do you imagine me so easy to trap?

"I would warn you to stay out of this, but I know you've always been too brave for your own good. So I'll just say I'm looking forward to this chase. It is, if nothing else, an excellent opportunity to see you again. It's really been too long."

I choke down a mouthful of latte. "Love, Severus," I read aloud, biting out the ironic cursive with a grimace. The slanted crimson words burn up at me accusingly from the page, and I sigh heavily, digging the heels of my palms into my eyes until I see a flash of light. The letter goes back in the envelope goes back in the novel goes back in the bag and I go out the door, heading to my room at the inn to owl Abernathy and make another pot of coffee.

Abernathy's head pops up in the fireplace a few minutes after I arrive. I glance at him and turn back to making coffee. "Hey, Ken," I greet him, sneering though he doesn't see.

"Hullo Harry! How's work coming?"

"Just lovely," I tell him, sitting down on the sofa with my mug. "I've got a letter here from Snape. He left it in a book for me to find."

"Very clever, very, very clever," Abernathy muses like an idiot. "Any sign of him so far?"

"One. The bookstore owner claims to have Snape, but identifies him as far younger than he is." I sip the coffee, savoring the scalding feeling that scars my mouth. "I'm going to go back to the store later and ask a few more questions."

"Good, good. Don't work too hard Harry," Abernathy blathers on. "You look like death warmed over my boy! And…gracious! How much coffee do you drink? Do you get any sleep at all? Relax a little. I'm sure you'll do fine."

"Thanks, I think." I hide my grimace behind the coffee mug as I take another burning drink.

"Lots of pretty girls around, I'm sure." He winks at me. He actually winks at me. I bristle at him. "Well, I won't take up anymore of your time. Contact me when you've got anything substantial." He vanishes as suddenly as he came.

I don't bother arguing that the letter is, in itself rather substantial, as is the fact that Snape knew I was coming and has apparently cast some sort of glamour on himself. I'm actually rather relieved that Abernathy doesn't dwell on the letter, because I'm not sure I want to share it. It feels heavy, important, and a little bit incriminating. I know that nothing would be given away in it that I couldn't repair. So what if Abernathy knew my sexual preferences? It might shut him up about 'pretty girls' and the like.

But on the other hand, the overall tone of the letter is questionable. Snape must have relied upon this, the fear of discovery of what happened so long ago, to keep me quiet. Clever is an adequate description for the man, certainly.

The clock reads eleven fifteen. I must have spent more time wandering than I thought. My stomach rumbles, and I decide that lunch would be a welcome event. The inn has a restaurant downstairs, so I catch an elevator and go down. I order pancakes, and the waitress, if she finds this odd, makes no comment and brings me a delicious stack of them. I eat them with butter, no syrup, and drink four cups of coffee and leave a generous tip. If anything, my stomach feels worse now than it did when I was hungry.

I retrace my earlier steps back to the bookstore and find the storekeeper right where I left him. He smiles as he recognizes me. "Back so soon?" 

"I'd like to ask you a few questions," I inform him. "About the man you mentioned earlier."

"Certainly. Anything you'd like to know. He's one of my best customers."

"How much do you know about him?"

"Not a great deal. He's British, moved here early last winter. He told me once that he was living in a house his grandfather had left him, and that the books he brings were found in the attic."

"Did he tell you where exactly this house is?" I'm so close I can taste it, but there's something very dangerous about how easily this is coming.

"Sure. Once or twice I've had to send a man over to haul large amounts of books. He lives just out of the city. I can give you the address if you want, hold on just a moment…" He turns to rifle through a small pile of papers and I drum fingers anxiously, glancing towards the door as if Snape is about to walk in. "Here it is!" He waves a small yellow note triumphantly. "Let me just copy is out for you…here we go."

I leave the store in a grim mood. I know I should tell Abernathy about this, but he'd just bungle things miserably. And I have to do this alone. I feel like I have to see him again, have to confirm the letter in my pocket, the sorrow in my head. I have to see him. So maybe he was right, and I've only agreed to take this case out of a morbid wish for revenge.

But not for the reasons he gave.

III.

"I think I'm…" I gasp as the world spins around me. "I'm…"

Snape's face is grave as he peers at me. "You're eyes are dilated. Breathing irregular. Do you think you can walk?" I nod, unable to manage the words needed to express the affirmative. "Good. Follow me."

I find my knees watery and weak, and I wobble after him, hardly aware of where he's leading me. I'm mesmerized by the swish of his robes, the long strides he takes and the smell of cologne, so faint but still noticeable, lingering in his wake.

There's a lapse, the way some things are just omitted when you're dreaming, and you don't really miss them. I'm in what I know is Snape's living room, sitting on what I know is his couch. I know the way you just know, when you're dreaming. Snape is standing over me, looking worried and upset, holding a goblet of something thick and golden coloured.

"Drink this." It tastes like almonds and honey, and I have no problems complying with Snape's commands that I drain the whole cup. It's gone in an instant, and I lick the last traces of it from my lips nervously, feeling amazingly better already as I mumble my thanks. He sneers.

"What was that thing?" I ask, because really, I'm dying to know.

"A particularly unpleasant piece of dark magic flotsam that I should have thrown out years ago," he answers, sitting down next to me and taking hold of my chin. "Just relax, will you, I have to make sure you aren't infected."

I almost ask "infected with what" but decide I'm better off not knowing. I tilt my face according to the pressure of his hands, opening my eyes wider upon his command, opening my mouth so he can peer inside like an oral spelunker. I can feel the room start spinning again, but I don't think it's the dark magic this time…

I jerk awake fifteen minutes before my alarm is set to go off. I'm covered in sweat and, I realise, still too exhausted to bother getting out of bed. Instead I lay back and stare at the ceiling, concentrating on the sound of my breathing, as I will my heart to beat at a measured and regular pace. I don't think about Snape, and how, before very long, I'll be seeing him again. I don't think about how I'm going to hire a car to drive me out to his home today, or how I don't know what on earth I plan on doing once I get there. I don't think about my dream. I don't.

I don't think for the whole fifteen minutes, and the radio turns itself on with a barely audible click, launching into the middle of a song I've never heard before. I'm awake enough now to appreciate the lyrics, still too tired to fool myself I'll remember it later. It's got a delicate sort of melody to it, and I don't move.

Eventually, of course, I have to get up and switch off the radio. By the time I'm out of the shower I can no longer remember what it was that so delighted me in the song, and all those thoughts I wasn't thinking before have found their way into my mind. No matter, I've work to do.

There's a car rental agency a few blocks from the inn, and I get a nice little silvery number, all leather interior and new car smell, CD player and the impersonal feel of something that's not really mine. I switch on the radio and pull out the directions the man at the bookstore gave me. It'll take me about an hour to get to Snape's house. It'll take me about fifteen minutes to have a troop of Aurors apparate in with me and arrest him. I'm being a complete idiot, risking my job, and my life.

Shaking my head, I put the key in the ignition and start on my way.

*          *          *         

"Twenty, twenty, twenty-four hours ago!" I flick the radio off. I'm parked outside Snape's house, a few houses away. It's nothing fancy. There's a fair sized front yard with immaculately trimmed grass, though I can't for the life of me envision Snape gardening. It looks like there's a large back yard, and I picture it with gardens of herbs, things you can't just go out and buy any old place in Muggle Belfast.

The house is nondescript, pale yellow, nothing important. I close my eyes and try to picture what life would be like, if I were to go up and ring the doorbell, like the idiot I'm becoming. In my mind's eye I see Snape opening the door, wearing grey trousers and a sweater, just the way I remember him with those stern lines etched into his face, his hair lank and dark falling to his shoulders. Would it feel the same if I reached out and touched it? In my imagination it does, the same greasy thickness to it. I remember Hermione's short-lived crush on Snape, her insistence that his hair was actually very soft and only looked greasy. I tried to explain to her then that greasy and soft do not look the same and, sometimes, things are exactly what they look like. I won the argument, but I wish I hadn't.  

I grab my wand, shove it into my pocket, and exit the car. My keys go in the other pocket, and I creep into the backyard of a house next to Snape's. My plan: swing myself over the fence into Snape's yard, pray he's not home, break in and…and wait, I suppose.

I wish I had my invisibility cloak, even if he could still sniff me out somehow.

Snape is, thank Merlin, nowhere in sight when I jump into his yard. Maybe he's out buying books and leaving cryptic messages for me to find later. I don't care. The garden isn't quite what I'd thought it would be. There are a few unusual plants, but nothing obviously magic. There's a tree, oak, I think, and a lawn chair in the sunshine. This could be anyone's house. This could be anyone's life. But it's not; it's his, and it's what I could have, should have had.

I walk to the back door and press my wand against the handle. I've been feeling for wards since I drove up, but there are none, and the door unlocks under the pressure of my magic. I proceed with caution, but if I were really playing it safe I'd get out of here now. It doesn't make sense, this lack of wards. Snape was always paranoid in the past, and he knows I'm after him now, so why isn't he protecting himself?

The answer is painfully obvious once I'm inside. A quick search of what I take to be his bedroom reveals that most of his clothes is missing, apparently packed in great haste. I do a brief investigation of the rest of the house, ending in the kitchen. He's got the most normal house in all of the world. Television, sound system, couch, novels, a fridge with a few pictures held on with those poetry magnet things. The words are placed in what, at first glance, is no particular order. "Hold Apart Run Red You." Harry. Very clever.

The pictures are a little less expected. One is of a Snape that looks so young I'm almost convinced he cut it from a yearbook. It's a muggle photo though, probably taken from a disposable camera, judging by the quality. The young Snape in the picture is wearing a tuxedo and holding a glass of champagne, giving a sour half smile to the camera. He's got a girl at his side, probably in her late twenties, flashing a pearly smile. I take the picture and read the back. "Arrienette and I, June, 2002."  

There are a few more photographs, some of Snape alone, some in a crowd. There's only one other picture of Arrienette, and Snape isn't in it. She's wearing jeans and a battered blue sweater, and she's sitting on some rocks looking out at the ocean, her brown hair pulled back and her legs drawn to her chest. The back says, "Camping in America, 2002."

The last thing on the fridge is an envelope. I take it down, opening it carefully so as not to tear the letter inside. I slide the paper out and unfold it, reading the familiar handwriting for the second time in two days.

"My Dear Harry," it begins, and I choke. "I may surmise, I take it, that finding my home provided you with little difficulty? I am not so well hidden as I once was, but, as you have realised by now, still evasive. If you hoped to wrap up your case so quickly I do hate to disappoint you. I wonder; are you alone? I could still be in the house, you know. This could be a ploy, a trap. You've always rushed into things headfirst, despite my best attempts to rid you of the dangerous habit. Well, no matter; you're in no danger at the moment.

"I have, as you have seen, fled. You have my complete permission to search the house though, knowing you, that's already been done. Get your ministry friends in here if you like, but watch out for the top step to the cellar; it can be a bit tricky. Help yourself to anything in the refrigerator. I'll ask only that you feed Galatea for me. Love, S.S."

The letter ends in his flourishing black initials. What the hell is a Galatea? I'm suddenly less sure than I was. Snape said in his letter I'm in no danger at the moment, but he's not the world's most honest homicidal maniac, and it's entirely possible he's set loose some sort of creature in his house as a trap for me.

I'm about ready to flee when I hear a soft meowing and glance down. A black fluff of a kitten is sitting at my feet, its large eyes quizzical. I lean down and offer it my hand to sniff, and it butts against my fist. So I lift the cat and cradle her against me, maneuvering her collar so I can get a look at the name on her tag. "Galatea; Severus Snape" and then the address. Of course.

There's one thing that still bothers me. Holding the cat, I head for the unexplored area of the house; the cellar. The first step feels soft under my foot and I skip it, moving down into the darkness of the basement. It's colder down here, and I shiver. I cast a quick Lumos spell and continue downwards.

When I reach the bottom it's still too dim to see much more than my feet. Something smells rancid, and I almost don't want to see what's around me. But I've made a commitment, and I don't think I could back out now, no matter how badly I want to. I whisper the words to brighten the room, take one look, and scream.

IV.

"Merlin, Harry!" Ron waves his hand in front of my glassy eyes. "Are you in there?"

We're in Snape's kitchen. The Aurors showed up five minutes after I contacted them, and are currently swarming all over the house looking for clues. Snape's letter is in my pocket. "Mm," I make a noise intended to reassure him. Someone hands me a cup of coffee. It tastes like liquid heaven. "I want off this case, and I'm not above begging."

"I would too, but you're the only one who can track Snape. You're the most talented Auror in your division. If you brought down the Dark Lord you can bring down Snape." Ron rubs my shoulder reassuringly. "You'll get that bastard."

I shake my head. "He's not like Voldemort." Ron flinches. "Voldemort had…motives. He had his pride, and it blinded him. Snape…I don't even know why he does the things he does. I can't figure him out." Galatea winds herself around my feet and I bend over and pick her up, afraid someone will step on her. "He's willing to sink to the depths of hell if it'll keep him safe. He can drag his belly through the dirt without fear of disgrace. A true serpent, unlike You Know Who."

Ron is giving me a curious look. "What's that?"

I glance at the cat. "Snape's cat. He wants me to feed it." Galatea purrs and I stroke her methodically. Ron is giving me that look again. "What?"

"You realise you're taking orders from the enemy?" Ron asks. "The man has a skinless corpse in his basement and you're feeding his cat."

"It's not her fault," I mutter. Galatea meows her agreement.

"Harry! Thank Merlin you're alright!" Abernathy is elbowing his way through the crowd towards me. I smile sourly at him. "I want you to know that I am incredibly displeased in you for not contacting me before you headed in."

I open my mouth to reply, but he holds up hand. "However," he continues. "I understand that this is your style, and that I should not interfere with your techniques. We mere mortals cannot hope to understand, eh Harry?" He winks at me. I want to gag. In my head, a voice sounding suspiciously like Snape's says, "What techniques? What style? All I do is rush in headfirst and try not to get killed!"

Abernathy is blathering on about something or other, and I can tell he's not going to let me off the case. Even if I beg.

*          *          *         

It's the same dream I have every night. Snape's hands feel like silk as they slide over my face, and you really must have seen this coming. I close my eyes and open my mouth, and I wrap my arms around his broad shoulders and surrender to his kiss. Somehow, in the midst of a war, at the end of the days, we've become entangled. His tongue is in my mouth, my hands are in his hair, and I can hardly tell where one of us ends and the other begins.

My back is pressed firmly against the armrest of Snape's couch as he pushes against me, and I guess I'm not infected after all. In the dream this feels good, but in real life it felt so much better. Snape's hand trails down my neck, brushing my chest and then tugging my robes open. I shiver at the feel of his hand on my bare skin as he slides his fingers under my shirt to stroke my stomach.

I feel his lips slide wetly along my neck, and I feel my robe being pushed off my shoulders and tugged away from me, thrown onto the floor. Snape's fingers dance under my shirt, playing over my hardening nipples as I groan and gasp and press myself against him. My whole world is catching on fire. Starting in the pit of my stomach and shooting out into the tips of my fingers, the roots of my hair, the soles of my feet, I feel uncontrollable pleasure. I'm coming undone in his arms, writhing and moaning before he's even gotten me fully undressed.

Everywhere he touches feels like it's been sewn to him with magical threads. He blows a cold breath against my neck and pulls off my shirt in one smooth motion. "Wouldn't you prefer the bedroom?"

The dream lapse leaves me spinning in the darkness and silence of sleep without vision, and then I can feel the softness of his bed beneath my back. It feels so good I want to sink into it almost more than I want what his mouth is doing to my neck. I gasp and close my eyes, my heart racing as we try to express without words just what it is we're feeling. The swipe of his tongue is "I love you", the push of my hips, "That feels good." And so we carry on, translating our emotions into words, our words into actions, our actions back into sensation, and it's not long before the semi-silence is broken by our gasps for air, my ragged screams.

The arch of my back is "More" and he answers with the slide of his fingers inside me. Translating our thoughts we join and rejoin; lips part and reclaim one another. He's heavy and hot and oh Merlin! Absolutely perfect. And I twist underneath him, so unexpectedly impaled and shattered. And the grip of his fingers around my cock is the chatter of "yesyesyes" inside my brain. 

And the silence that comes afterwards, when he's curled around me like my guardian panther, is the most absolute sound in the world.