Notes: Part of the FROM DUSK TIL DAWN HARRY POTTER // SEVERUS SNAPE
FUH-Q-FEST located at http:// www.kardasi.com/ HPSS/ storyindex.htm. The title, epigraphs, and some themes (at least in an ironic way) come from the following poems: Robert Browning, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" & Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.

Challenge: 10000wds (which was somehow more painful than 1000). Scenario 66: A risky potion is botched and - acting as an unstable portkey - transports Harry and Snape back in time to a seedy Wizarding village (before it became Hogsmeade) where they must assume a Master/slave relationship while they try to figure out how to escape.(Snaples)

Spoilers: Implies spoilers up to Book IV – no OotP whatsoever.

Beta: Go Seaward, with warm appreciation for her patience with my revisions and confusion at several points, and for her smart and attentive reading.

* * *

"it had been more agreeable, and certainly more easy,
to have drawn an amiable character"
(Lord Byron)

Harry didn't notice the light or the movement, but the sardonic voice at his shoulder startled him. "Mr Potter."

Harry dropped the crucible he'd been carefully placing on its stand, and it spilt across the beaker in front of him, sparking and fizzling.

"What a surprise." Professor Snape raised the light on his wand and moved to the bench. "Harry Potter in the senior laboratory, without permission. And using, evidently," he lifted his own jar of denuded mandrake slivers and tilted it into the light, "stolen ingredients."

Snape smirked through Harry's resigned groan. "The surprising part, however, is that you know how to desiccate mandrake at all, let alone that you can tell the difference between powdered asphodel and powdered lace-wing from unmarked jars."

"That one's lace-wing?" Harry asked anxiously, putting a hand to the open bottle as Snape snatched it away, scattering an arc of white powder.

"Fifty points for being here without permission," Snape growled, as the powder spluttered and smoked in the small burner. "Another thirty for the theft of ingredients and twenty more for being at least marginally more competent in potions than your marks suggest," he finished. "But a Quest potion, Potter – isn't your life ludicrously overwrought as it is?"

Harry gasped, but Snape had already seen the pale golden foam begin to rise over the rim of the beaker and instantly cast a freeze spell.

Harry had just enough time to say "Quest?" before the world exploded.

* * *

There was light and there was dark, followed by a bone-jarring ache and familiar nausea. Harry opened his eyes and discovered he was not in a potions laboratory. It was night, and he was clearly out of doors. There were trees, faintly filtered moonlight, very uncomfortable damp grassy earth, and moving torches off to his right. Carefully, Harry shifted back towards a spinney of trees.

The Portkey sickness began to fade. A flaring torch spurred him to crawl lower, peering through the thin trunks. Suddenly he saw Professor Snape lying on the ground a few feet away. His dark robes kept him hidden amidst the shadows, but reflected light illuminated his pale face. Harry groaned silently. Bad that he didn't know where he was. Better that, wherever it was, he wasn't alone. Dreadful that his company was Snape. Awkward that Snape was asleep and he was going to have to wake him and inevitably be blamed for them being wherever they were. Confusing that Snape's face floated like a pale flower in the darkness.

* * *

At dawn Harry and Snape walked into what should have been Hogsmeade, given the terrain, from what should have been Hogwarts. Of course that was impossible, Harry told himself again, and the village was very unfamiliar.

He glanced at Snape, unwilling to restart the argument. The gullies, ridges and standing stones more than resembled the way between the castle and the town. Even the towpath would have been familiar if it had been a smooth cleared way rather than an evasive muddy track, and he couldn't argue with Snape's comments about the stars, mainly because he never paid attention in Astronomy.

Since Harry'd woken him the Professor had gone from outright anger to a stalking scowl. Harry couldn't deny he might be more at fault – although if Snape had left him alone he could have made his highly inaccurate True Vision potion and gone to bed in frustration. But what was the point of having a powerful wizard around when you were transported somewhere unknown if he could only snarl and glare? Oh, and shove.

Snape had a hand over Harry's mouth, pulling him flush against a wooden building by the time the torches came near. They were less mysterious in the light; quite ordinary looking men, talking softly and laughing. Snape roughly pulled him back and mostly under his dark outer robe. The cordon of men passed close by and Harry anxiously observed their strange clothing – trousers bound about their legs and loose heavy shirts – and thickly unkempt hair.

Snape held him as the light grew, and Harry wished he could stay still. There was something deeply uncomfortable about his body moving beneath Snape's encircling arm and his hip shifting against Snape's thigh. Snape grasped his shoulder again and muttered, "Still."

As the morning grew, people began to make their way along the muddy streets. They were dressed like something from Binns' history texts. Perhaps they were just a long way from Hogwarts, but Harry had to concede that Snape was probably correct, and they'd in fact travelled in time rather than space.

* * *

It was a vicious spiral: the harder he grew, the more intensely he could feel Snape's presence behind and above him, and the more ashamed and excited he felt. He saw people passing, but all he could really pay attention to was the precise angle and plane of a man's body against his.

Snape dropped the arm pinning Harry against him, and whispered, "Stay here and don't speak." Harry remembered that he hadn't slept, a far more acceptable reason for the way he clutched at the wooden wall for support.

He watched Snape approach a woman a little distance away. She started, and fell into a low curtsey. Typical. Snape would inspire fear and obsequiousness even in total strangers from another world. Hah – obsequiousness – Hermione would be proud.

The woman twisted her hands nervously into her long skirt. She dipped towards the ground again and gestured with one hand. She must have said something because Snape turned back towards Harry, beckoning him over.

Harry went, dislodging his feet from – ohh, he really didn't need to know that. With a grimace, he tried to flick the dirt off the lower edges of his robe.

He felt Snape's shadow without looking up. "Mr Potter," the Professor said, quietly enough to be alarming. "Do nothing that I do not clearly indicate for you to do."

* * *

The village was wet and dirty. Stumbling down the street after Snape – who seemed to move effortlessly over the mud and. . . stuff – Harry saw maybe a dozen people in trousers or skirts and sometimes a tartan cloak. Finally there was one man, coming out of a door under a shingle sign Harry couldn't read, in a wizard's robe. He stared openly at Harry with an interest that made him rather nervous. Harry turned to look for Snape and, at the same moment, the Professor's arm swung around his shoulder, covering him from the view of the street and drawing him to an open door.

The rather grotty red-haired woman said something that sounded like English, but not quite, drawing out a fat pale man to answer. Snape seemed to understand, though, and pushed past her, dragging Harry with him.

Harry was really tired of Snape pushing him around. Perhaps it was mostly his fault they were in era-of-Merlin Hogsmeade. And maybe Snape had worked that out first and had some idea what they should do. But every time Harry tried to help, Snape dragged on his shoulder, pinched at his arm, or whispered harshly for him to be quiet.

Harry passed the woman, who smelled just terrible. Determined to show Snape he could do what was needed he gave her a friendly smile. She looked at him with disapproval, reminding him uncomfortably of Aunt Petunia. Harry looked at the fat man instead, who gave him a disgusted glare.

The innkeeper muttered something clearly dismissive. Snape nodded his agreement, and Harry opened a special place in his mind to store all the reasons-I-hate-Snape until he got somewhere he could take them out and enjoy them.

The man continued rapidly – Harry heard "room", and possibly "eat". Snape raised a clearly appraising eyebrow at the innkeeper, who took a step back.

"Laird," the innkeeper began, and then Harry lost track of the sentence, except for "boys" and "new". Snape lifted his chin and smiled a slight dark smile. The keeper looked around a little desperately and replied rapidly with an obvious apology.

Even Harry was relieved when Snape nodded, because he had no idea what would happen back on the street. He offered his own thanks, and the keeper stepped back in shock. Snape glared at him and Harry sighed in defeat.

"Laird," the keeper clearly said, "some o' the warlocks. . ."

He paused nervously and Snape said coldly, "Well, what is it?"

The innkeeper dithered about something that finished very recognisably, despite the accent, in a gesture and Harry and "them ways." After years of living with the Dursleys he knew what having 'ways' meant, however it was pronounced.

Snape merely said, "Show me the room."

* * *

"Who with the weight of years would wish to bend,
When Youth itself survives young Love and Joy?
Alas! when mingling souls forget to blend,
Death hath but little left him to destroy?
Ah! happy years! once more who would not be a boy?
"

(Lord Byron)

The first thing Harry noticed was the fireplace, promising warmth and dryness, and then the solitary bed. He'd probably be wishing for a cupboard soon enough.

As the door closed, Harry collapsed against the wall. When Snape drew his wand, he merely he closed his eyes. It's not like Snape would ever dare. . . Harry froze on the thought. There was absolutely no one here to know what Snape dared. That staggering train of thought was disrupted by the eruption of fire in the hearth.

"Where are we?" Harry said, before he knew he was going to.

"Perhaps early eighteenth century."

"How do you know?"

"By keeping my eyes open, Potter – architecture, clothes, furniture, even the glazing." Snape gestured up at the window without looking.

"I'm sorry," Harry said.

Snape looked up suddenly, as if he hadn't been paying attention. "What?"

"The potion. . . this place. I'm sorry."

Snape looked back at the fire as if Harry hadn't spoken. "At least our magic works. I was almost reluctant to try."

Harry let himself slide down the wall under a wave of tiredness. He was far more exhausted than he should be. He was also terribly thirsty.

"I'll torture you later, Potter," he heard Snape say. "Get some sleep while you can." He felt Snape lift him, and in the slightly rustling warmth of the bed the light slipped away.

* * *

Harry woke to a hand on his arm. Ron, he thought, but the hand shook him roughly and was accompanied by Snape's voice. "Up, Potter."

He rolled away from the sharp jab in his side, but the mouth at his ear said harshly, "Now, Potter," and he was unceremoniously tipped onto the wooden floor. Which hurt. He was working on a furious response when he saw what lay on the table.

It wasn't Hogwarts, but it was food. There was bread, something that was probably cheese, something squishy he didn't recognize, and meat that looked like ham. Harry reached for bread and Snape stopped him.

"Wait."

Harry watched nervously this time when Snape drew his wand. As it passed in a broad arc above the table, Harry recognised a spell he'd studied in Defence. "Purification?"

Snape gave an angled nod, which somehow managed to say 'I'm surprised you had a clue what I was doing.' "Eat sparingly," he said. "Magic is affected by many variables, and even minor spells may do something different here."

Snape suggested avoiding the persimmons, which was fine with Harry, they looked disgusting, and the water, at which he groaned. Snape passed the tall leather flask.

* * *

"How do you understand what they're saying? I can guess about every fourth word."

"It's not very different from modern Scots." When Harry clearly expected more, he added, "While Hogwarts students all speak Standard English."

"So you haven't been here before?"

Snape gave him a disgusted look. "The town contains both wizards and Muggles, although the wizards are clearly privileged. They also distinguish between wizards in the town and those in a castle nearby."

"Hogwarts?"

Snape shook his head. "Meithstane. I haven't heard of it."

Harry tipped the cup pointedly towards Snape, who hesitated briefly, but poured him another drink.

"They assume I am a castle wizard because I keep a boy as a personal servant. I recognise the tradition – the boys do no magic and completely obey a wizard master."

Finishing his drink, Snape shockingly shot a rather wicked smile at Harry. "Completely," he said again. "It's going to be quite torture for you, Potter."

"I can pretend to be obedient," Harry said, returning the smile and then looking away in horror at the realisation that, maybe, he was flirting with Snape. Which was just. . . disturbing. He drank some more; it burned sweetly, and was certainly better than the food.

"The Muggles may fear wizards," Snape continued, "but I doubt they trust us. Our friend downstairs would gladly turn us out into the street, if he dared."

"We just have to meet other wizards, don't we? I haven't slept through all of History of Magic." Snape snorted at that. "If you're right about the time, British wizards and Muggles are not absolutely separate yet. So we need to find our own kind."

"We're not in Britain, Potter, and being English may be anything but an advantage. And. . . 'our own kind'? What a charming little Death Eater you'd make."

"I didn't. . ."

"Yes, you did. It's that easy. Perhaps you should remember it next time you condemn children raised in pure-blood houses for not understanding how you see the world."

"I don't condemn them for that," Harry said, frowning at the dismissive wave of Snape's hand. "Anyway, I want to see the wizards."

"I can't see you have any choice other than to be a slave here, Potter. You wouldn't see them – you'd keep your eyes on the floor, or wherever else I told you to put them."

Harry laughed.

"And that is precisely why you'll stay in this room. You're incapable of following the most lenient of school rules indulgently applied – complete obedience would be utterly beyond you, let alone a convincing performance of sexual submission."

"It's just acting," Harry said, and then what Snape had said registered and he blushed and flicked his eyes around the room nervously.

"Indeed," the Professor smirked. "They assume you are my personal and sexual slave. And I have no more faith in your acting ability than in your skills of observation."

Harry felt his embarrassment wouldn't be lessened by debating his skills at submission. "Well," he said, focusing on the food, "can't we just explain, and ask for help?"

"Our knowledge of the future would be a valuable commodity – which is dangerous for us. And if they thought you were free to be taken I am sure you would be."

Snape's confident cynicism was irritating. "Why do you assume they won't help?"

Snape sat back in his chair, looking at him as if he were an interesting species of beetle. "Why do you assume they would?"

Harry set his cup on the table. "Have you ever liked anybody?"

"What?" Snape snapped. "Don't be idiotic, boy. We can't afford trusting naïveté."

"I'm not trusting – I don't trust you."

"Thank Merlin for that," Snape said, shooting to his feet. He strode to the door with an imperious "Stay here."

* * *

With each step the clamour grew louder. Harry felt the line of his wand against his thigh and wondered if he was even a wizard here, or just a wizard's boy.

He took a deep breath as he stepped onto the floor. No one was openly trying to kill him, so he'd been in worse situations. Be inconspicuous, he told himself, and a hand went to his scar. Covered.

An elderly man looked at him with interest. Harry ducked and moved on, listening for Snape's voice. He was torn between 'just act natural' and 'remember you're a slave'. How did a slave act without someone to tell them what to do? Maybe he should have stayed in the room.

But Snape couldn't really have expected him to sit up there all night, alone, not knowing what was happening. He blinked at the crystal image of Snape's expression as he said that, and immediately turned to go back. When a hand touched the back of his head, he knew right away it was Snape, and looked up at him reluctantly. The Professor's expression was appraising rather than furious, but there was a flicker in his eyes he wished he could pull away from. At the same time Harry's stomach clenched with something like gratitude.

"Follow," Snape said.

"So this is the boy, Severus," an almost English voice said. Harry darted a glance at the man accompanying Snape, small and fair, with watery blue eyes and curling hair. He wore a striking dark blue cloak and looked at Harry keenly. "I hope you will stay for our drink. There's a room you can bring the boy." Harry would have blushed at something in that tone, but Snape's hand was on his lower back, guiding him.

* * *

Eyes on the floor, Harry noticed the coverings first, thick dark rugs, and then the curious sideways look of a dark-haired boy as they passed where he sat, curled on sheepskin. Harry was desperate to look around, and he ventured a quick glance up, meeting a stranger's piercing gaze for just an instant as Snape's hand moved to tighten on his elbow. Wizards, not many perhaps, but the hum of conversation said at least five or six. And wizards' boys. He saw pale feet and ankles off to his left pushing into the pile of a fur beneath them. With the merest flicker of his eyes he saw a blond boy in a brown robe leant up against his master's leg, feet shuffling for warmth, eyes closed.

Something in Harry shivered.

* * *

Harry thought he'd done fairly well with the slave routine: partly because he was dreading Snape's anger and hyper-aware of the eyes on him; partly because of the warm brightness of the whiskey Snape occasionally offered him from his own cup; but mostly because of the way Snape was repeatedly touching his hair, and the heat of Snape's covered thigh under his cheek. And then Cenobis offered to buy him.

Without seeming to notice Harry's rigid attention, the London wizard continued. "I've not taken on a boy in years," he said. "Not really done in London these days – where did you say you were from, Severus?"

"Norfolk."

"400," Cenobis said.

One of the nearby wizards turned to look at Harry directly, and Harry turned his face further into Snape's leg, telling himself not to speak. "I think not," Snape replied. "I've only just begun to enjoy him."

"I guess he can't have much longer, anyway. Is he fifteen?" There was a pause in which presumably Snape agreed. Of course he was sixteen, as Snape would know, but Harry had always been small for his age. "Where did you say you found him?"

"I didn't."

"Ah, yes. I'd be going back too. He's quite beautiful and," he lowered his voice so Harry had to strain to hear, "English families all live in fear of reform these days. So few will give up their changeling children."

"Changeling?" Harry said.

There was an appalled lull in the conversation. Cenobis merely laughed – "I see what you mean," he said. He leaned almost gleefully into Harry's field of vision. "And not a mark on him – he must have other talents, eh?"

* * *

Harry couldn't decide whether to relax or not. Snape was standing just inside the door, head turned away, probably trying to talk himself out of murder.

He hadn't meant to say anything, but the silent sprawled boys unnerved him, and the air of unspoken threat made him tense, the talk of selling children shocked him, and then his curiosity just escaped.

Snape had manoeuvred through the conversations with silence, mild flattery and evasion. Harry's shock was apparently taken as anticipation of punishment, and when they'd left – with an arranged meeting for the morning – there had been enthusiastic suggestions about that punishment which Harry tried not to remember.

He shouldn't have attempted the potion. He should have stayed in the room. He wanted to apologise but, suddenly and ironically, his tongue wouldn't work. And then his legs wouldn't, and he was on the floor on the verge of crying. Everything was his fault, and he'd trapped Snape here trying to protect him – another person's life at risk for the boy-who-didn't-die. The shock of Snape's embrace wrenched a gasp bordering on a sob from Harry and he held on as Snape lifted him to the bed.

"It was my mistake," he heard Snape say, and the firm voice hurt Harry deep inside, and he turned his face into Snape's neck and tried to drag the breath back into his body. "I was curious, and you were so. . ." he trailed off and Harry could feel Snape's pulse beating in the neck under his mouth.

"It's me," Harry said hoarsely.

"It's always you," Snape said, almost with laughter.

Harry turned his face to him then, and Snape's eyes were dark, and he wanted to, and he saw how soft, this close, was Snape's mouth, and he wanted to, and he almost did when Snape took a shallow distinct breath. And was gone.

"You're exhausted, and probably rather drunk," he heard Snape say from across the room. "Go to sleep."

Harry rolled over to see him, standing at the fire again, his back to him and one arm on the mantel. There was a whispered sound, the candles went out, and Snape was an inky angle in the darkness.

* * *

"I am not now
That which I have been -- and my visions flit
Less palpably before me -- and the glow
Which, in my spirit dwelt is fluttering, faint, and low
."

(Lord Byron)

Harry scrunched further into the blanket around him, but he was still cold. His head ached. He opened his eyes and immediately turned to look for Snape, who was asleep in an armchair that definitely hadn't been there last night. Nor had other objects now scattered around the room. Either Snape went shopping in the middle of the night, or he'd been testing his magic.

He remembered whiskey, silent boys, and Snape's hand in his hair. He looked at Snape, folded in the chair with his face turned away, and pulled himself out of bed uncomfortably. He knew a cleaning charm or two, but maybe he shouldn't risk it – he wondered briefly why there weren't any house elves.

On the table was a cup against which leant a neat rectangle of parchment bearing, in Snape's all too recognisable hand, the words, drink this. He did, and then wondered if Snape would harangue him for being so incautious.

Snape's face was smooth in sleep, or at least not as sharply defined. He certainly wasn't attractive compared to someone like Oliver – and that was a disturbing comparison, which of course he'd only made because his head ached. Yet, Harry had to fight a desire to move the lock of hair that fell across Snape's cheek away from the corner of his mouth. Yeah, with his tongue, part of him said, and Harry looked away with a blush.

When he looked back, Snape's eyes were open.

"Are you quite finished, Mr Potter?"

* * *

Carts trundled through the mud under the weak sun. Snape said it was autumn, but it still seemed dismal. A woman walked by in a bright shawl trailing a small child, who tried to skip across the dirt and look around at the same time. Her green eyes caught Harry's.

Harry smiled. She grinned and dragged against her mother's momentum. When the woman looked back, Harry could see fear and disgust fall through her face in quick succession, and she picked up the child and moved away as fast as she could.

Harry kept his eyes lowered after that.

Eventually he heard Snape farewell the other wizards, coming back towards the inn's entrance where Harry waited. To one side of the door, but high enough to be almost out of the way, a sign hung at an angle. iThe Lion and the Serpent/i, the cracked board read, faded gold and green mouths clamped on worn twisted bodies. When Snape came close enough Harry tugged on the sleeve of his robe and looked up at the sign.

* * *

Meithstane occupied a low peak above the lake, and should have looked out over Hogwarts. Harry took a deep breath of the air rising off loch meith, as Maelbrigte called it. He tried to check that the dark-haired Scots wizard wasn't nearby before looking out to where Hogwarts should stand. Down there should be Hagrid's pens, over there the greenhouses. For the first time he seriously regretted teasing Hermione for reciting pieces of Hogwarts: A History from memory.

"Snape!" an angry voice behind him yelled, "yer boy's davered aff again!"

Harry gritted his teeth and thought slave, Hogwarts, library, home, and what the hell is "davered" anyway. He glanced over at Snape, who gestured for him to keep moving.

At the gate, Maelbrigte was narrating something in heavy dialect. They were silently observed as they entered and Harry was relieved to hear Cenobis' voice. "Severus, my friend, Isabel has arranged a room."

Harry glanced at the long windows with heavy metal grates; the young woman in red with incredibly white skin who didn't seem to register his presence; and the long racks of things he didn't recognise, except that they were mostly metal and generally pointy. At the ominous sound of the gate he turned back to watch the day being shut out. Maelbrigte said something in a scornful tone and Harry turned away and concentrated on the sweep of Snape's robe over the stones.

* * *

Cenobis had arranged new clothes, although Snape was vague about why. Harry was glad to be clean but still felt strange without his glasses. When the vision charm had faded on the way here, just as they'd started off in Maelbrigte's carriage, Harry had grasped at Snape with an alarmed noise. The men had scoffed at him being afraid but Snape bent an ear to his mouth and, when Harry explained in a whisper, recast the charm with a slight frown. He'd kept his hand on Snape's arm then, and he didn't object.

They'd silently agreed to change on opposite sides of the room. Snape was dressed, as expected, in black with a high white collar underneath and, more surprisingly, a black fur wrap of some kind hanging by an ornate chain. Harry met his serious expression with nervousness that increased as Snape pressed a heavy silver ring onto his left hand.

"What's this?" he said, but Snape hushed him, guiding him to the burnished wall mirror. In stunned silence Harry watched Snape lean forward and kiss the side of his face, saying, in a soft but distinct voice, "Harry." Which couldn't be happening. Snape would never – and to say his name, in that voice, Snape would never – unless he had to, unless they were being watched.

Harry met Snape's eyes in the glass and knew that was it. He absolutely was not disappointed, but he watched with fascination as Snape put his mouth to the curve of his jaw again and kissed. Arousal pushed up through his shock.

Someone was watching them, which meant Harry had to lean into the embrace and tip his head back as Snape's breath trailed across his skin, across places already heated and chilled by his kiss.

Snape moved around him, lifting his chin and arranging his hair. Softly he said, "You're doing well."

Harry let himself look openly into Snape's eyes, it would be right after all, for a wizard's boy to look like that and let himself touch Snape's hand where it lay on him. He said, "I thought when Maelbrigte hated me so much. . ."

"I suspect he hates the entire tradition rather than any boy specifically."

Because it would be very convincing, and only for that reason, Harry shifted a little closer into Snape's body, meeting his eyes now through his lashes in a look he thought a slave would give his master. A hot flare ran through him at the look he got in response, and Harry would have pulled away at the nervous quiver it left behind in the pit of his stomach, but Snape's arm and his serious gaze pinned him in place.

Harry ducked his head and said, "Should I stay here?"

"The Earl is expecting to see you. You have apparently been the topic of conversation."

"Because I'm badly behaved," Harry said resignedly.

"Among other things," Snape replied, guiding him to the door.

* * *

As he followed, Harry didn't have to watch Snape's robe to keep himself distracted. Snape's kiss had been soft, but not soft like a girl's kiss. And Snape's voice, the way he said his name, like no one had ever said his name, turned the quiver in his stomach into a spinning weight.

Harry stopped as Snape did. At least obedience meant he didn't have to decide what to do. It grated against everything Gryffindor, but in an odd way it was a relief.

They were entering a large hall. Things echoed: flagstones beneath his shoes, voices from shouts to whispers on all sides, the clatter of dishes, and the movement of people.

Harry heard Cenobis say, "My Lord, as I assayed earlier, here is the travelling wizard Severus Snape of Norfolk. Snape, this is Malfoy, Earl of Meithstane."

* * *

The Malfoys weren't their Malfoys, but the pale lean figures of father and son were similar enough to be frightening. Harry had been the subject of more 'conversation' after he'd looked up in alarm. He cringed inwardly; Snape hadn't looked at him since. Malfoy, however, had laughed that this must be the boy.

Snape was seated at the high table. Harry sat on furs at his feet. They smelled awful, but the flagstones were cold. Snape intermittently passed him food. Although the touch of Snape's fingers on his own, and once on his mouth, might in another place be exciting, Harry felt exposed and disgusted. Once or twice he even flinched at the demeaning contact. Worst of all, the wizard on Snape's right was Maelbrigte, who glowered at him and took up as much space as possible, leaving Harry crushed against Snape's chair. Cenobis on the other side was actually quite nice, and even passed him a cup of wine he didn't have to share with Snape. Harry gave Cenobis a surreptitious smile and the wizard winked at him.

As the meal was clearly drawing to a close a new group of servants came in. Harry saw them past the ends of the table, although Snape's hand on his head showed him he was being too clearly curious. He was brooding on the possibility of being stuck here for years when he heard Malfoy say Snape's name.

"The servants will take the boy and leave him in your room later," the Earl was saying.

Harry forced himself not to look up as Snape said "Thank you, my Lord."

A red-haired boy was summoned to lead him away. Harry fought back a rush of fear he hadn't felt since Voldemort. Harry glanced up once into Snape's calm face, and then he followed the boy out, along with the dirty plates, scraps, and other detritus of the meal.

* * *

Severus watched the boy leave without looking back, and turned to catch Cenobis' laughing eye.

"He moves beautifully, Master Snape," a voice said to his left. Jerome of Orkney, Severus recalled. "Shall we see him tonight, in honour of our new acquaintance?"

Gathering the obvious inferences, Severus replied, "Perhaps."

* * *

"My first thought was, he lied in every word

That hoary cripple, with malicious eye

Askance to watch the working of his lie

On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford

Suppression of the glee that pursed and scored

Its edge at one more victim gained thereby."
(Robert Browning)

The young servants walked quietly down the hall, and Harry followed the redhead. He wasn't at all sure how a 'boy' should act around servants, but maybe being a stranger would cover any mistakes. He looked at the heavy silver ring again, as if the quartered shield wrapped in furling vines and leaves would tell him something it hadn't told him before.

They entered what he thought was a drawing room. At least, noticing the walls painted in muted colours, paintings and tapestries and comfortable chairs and lounges saved him noticing that the room's occupants were all clean, dressed in fine robes, hair cut short, and young. Wizards' boys.

As a group they turned to look at him – four boys, one fair, one dark, and two with ginger-coloured hair and pale skin who sat closely together behind a large book. They exchanged glances, as if negotiating who should speak.

Standing first, the dark-haired boy said, "Hello," in a somewhat stilted way. His black robes were trimmed in fur, and he moved in them self-consciously.

"I'm Harry," Harry replied, putting out his hand. "From Norfolk," he added, remembering Snape's claim. "In England."

"Yes," the boy said, in his careful voice. "And I am Guy, prentice to Jerome of Orkney."

The fair boy, clearly tall for his age and wiry, moved from the hearth to a seat close by. "And what is your Master's name?" he asked in a strangely musical voice.

"Snape," Harry replied, wondering where exactly his 'master' was, "Severus Snape."

"The tall dark warlock with long hair, isn't it?" the blond asked, shifting to an even closer seat, just a few feet from Harry.

At that moment a door opened and another boy entered – broad, smiling and round faced. He approached Harry with a smile and took his hand. "Hallo," he said, "I am Gregory, prentice to William the Dreich." Harry must have looked surprised because Gregory added, "Oh, he's not sair dreadful, tho not as swank as yours. A right gentle man."

As Gregory and the blond – whose name was Tristus – began to bicker about 'talking like a local', Harry looked around and met the interested double gaze of the pale boys.

"Swank means wealthy, right?" Harry said eventually. He wasn't sure if Snape was meant to be wealthy here. He wasn't even sure if it was true – though he'd travelled, and most Slytherins. . .

"No," one of them replied, "handsome."

"Maybe tall, dark and handsome," the other chimed in, and they met each other's smiles.

Harry hadn't really paid them much attention, but now he noticed they were very alike, could even be brothers. He also noticed their entangled legs and joined hands. Harry felt his face heat and looked away.

"Disgusting, aren't they?" Tristus said confidentially, suddenly beside him again.

"Um," he looked at the entwined boys, who smiled back at him, "not really."

"You're out of luck, Guy," the blonde said loudly with a cruel smile, "a new handsome Ganymede. Malfoy will be smitten."

"So what is he like, then?" Tristus said, shifting still closer till he could place a hand on Harry's arm. "Is he evil?"

"Of course not." The boys exchanged expressive glances that expressed nothing very clearly to Harry. "What did he say about me?"

Gregory grinned. "Do you want to see, Harry?"

* * *

"Wait," Gregory said, running his sleeve over the mirror again.

"Is this allowed?" Harry whispered. "Will you get in trouble?"

"Why for?"

"Well, you might spy on their secret conversations." Harry was fairly certain he would.

Tristus snorted in laughter.

"Who would we tell?" Guy added quietly.

The mirror was one moment a cloudy sheen and the next a window looking into another room with a number of long low richly coloured lounges and walls hung about with dark swathes of fabric. Six wizards reclined there, and a dark-haired boy moved between the guests, refilling glasses and offering food. At the moment the sound of their conversation emerged from the mirror, Harry noticed the Earl run a long finger along the boy's jaw as he lent past him.

A rough voice said. . .

* * *

"An' does he play?"

"Quidditch?" Severus replied, turning to his left.

"Nay, Creaothceann," the bearded wizard laughed. "Course Quidditch – palie Soothron gemme," others joined in the laughter, "aught else is forbidden nou."

"Steady, Camus," Cenobis laughed, "there are Englishmen here."

"Aye an tis a ill wind brings ye," Camus finished, lifting his glass.

"Enough," Malfoy said crisply. "He is handsome," the Earl continued, signalling for the boy to refill the glasses, "but his manners, Snape. Must you let him run wild?"

"He has his talents," Snape smiled. "And he does play: seeker, quite brilliantly."

"And shall we see those other talents? You have us all curious."

"I am flattered by your interest, my lord. But the boy is not why I'm here."

"Of course. Who were the authors again?"

"Glover Hipworth and Robert Simson."

"Malfoy's library is superb, he has an original Bidloo's Anatomia humani corporis."

The Earl laughed drily – "A purely professional interest, you understand. I have as much contempt for Muggle science as the next reasonable wizard."

"I understand perfectly," Severus replied.

* * *

Harry watched Severus reclining against the deep red fabric, all planes and hollows of white skin, his loose hair falling into the dark shadow of his robes. He must have missed something, because Severus suddenly turned an arch look to his right. Harry felt himself smile at the expression.

There was a gasping noise and he looked where Snape looked. The thin wizard nearest to the Earl had one hand wrapped tightly around the gasping boy's throat, the other stroking his pale face.

* * *

Harry turned to watch Guy moving away.

"You're a libertine, Jerome," he heard Malfoy say in the mirror behind him.

"Guy's always jealous," Gregory whispered.

Harry looked to the mirror where the wizards were watching Jerome disrobe the boy, one hand always on his throat. "Who's the boy?" he asked.

"Campbell," Gregory replied quietly, one eye on Guy, who had taken down a book.

"He's also. . . with Jerome?"

"No. He's Malfoy's."

The boy was half naked now, only in breeches, and he was – god, he was. . . Harry looked away. From his seat, Guy met Harry's eyes and then dropped them.

"What did Snape say about me?" Harry said quietly, not turning back to the mirror. Behind him wet slippery sounds accompanied the echoing image of a dark boy kneeling to take the wizard's exposed cock into his mouth.

Out of the corner of his eye he watched Gregory observe the events in the mirror with almost professional interest. "That you were young," he said after a moment. "Innocent."

"Innocent," Harry repeated, trying hard to remember Snape helping him to bed, Snape saying he played brilliantly, and not Snape watching a boy. . .

"Aye," Gregory said with a smile, "that he told you the water in Hoggsmeathe wasna fit to drink an watched you git rairie on the whisky."

"Oh," Tristus said, grimacing at the mirror, "that will hurt."

Harry looked almost instinctively. The boy knelt mostly naked before his Master, his breeches dragged down around his hips, a long vicious cut slicing from his collarbone down to his groin. He was breathing hard and somewhat erratically, his mouth swollen and eyes wide. Malfoy turned the long knife in his fingers. Blood pooled around the boy's waist and ran onto the floor.

"What the. . . what the hell is that!" Harry exclaimed.

The other boys turned away. Gregory put a hand on Harry's shoulder – "He willna do him any real hurt."

A slight hand closed around his wrist – one of the unnamed brothers looked up at him with concern. "You should sit down," he said.

"It won't help," the other added. "You know how it is."

Harry was sharply, sickly aware that he probably did.

In the mirror behind him, as Harry found his way to a chair, he could vaguely hear a conversation about scarring. Malfoy laughed. When he stopped, Harry glanced back to catch the direct and very conscious gaze of someone who looked far too much like Lucius Malfoy for comfort.

"Let's have your boy here now, Severus. No," he added before Snape could say anything, "I insist. I'm sure it will be very enlightening."

* * *

"For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,

What with my search drawn out thro' years, my hope

Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope

With that obstreperous joy success would bring, -

I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring

My heart made, finding failure in its scope."
(Robert Browning)

Harry kept two steps behind Guy and, when he bowed, copied the movement as well as he could.

"Harry, my lord," Snape said.

"I don't care about his name, Snape," the Earl replied.

"Well, as you've summoned the boy, I presume there is some interest in him."

Malfoy laughed. "Cenobis is right, you are oddly protective. Come, Snape, surely you won't object to sharing. After all, you come begging a boon yourself."

"The point is moot – he is mine, and I enjoy him as I see fit. And if I may, my lord, I do not beg. I come rather to honour your collection with my scholarship."

"A trade, then. The boy for the books."

"The boy would be much harder to replace."

"For tonight, and I remind you I could easily take what I want."

Harry heard more than one murmur, but only one voice. "The Earl willna breech hospitality?"

Malfoy laughed shortly. "Which the Scots breech soon enough when it suits their ridiculous clan interests. Need I remind you, Maelbrigte, I have a Campbell callant." There was silence. "Very well, Snape, I am in a good mood."

"And have no idea what kind of wizard I am," Snape offered.

"So assure me of your goodwill."

Harry waited through the pause, through the sound of restless men and the scent of what might be the other boy's blood.

"Come here, Harry," he heard Snape say.

Looking up to meet Snape's eyes he felt the strangest hot thrill of fear. Snape looked at him the way he had looked at him in their bedchamber, after he had kissed his face, after Harry had. . . Snape extended a hand just as Harry came within reach and pulled the boy down onto his lap and onto his mouth.

Harry tried to give himself to the kiss as if he felt it every day. He tried to channel the shock of a man's mouth pressed to his into an urgent need to please. He let Snape slide his tongue right into his mouth and press against his own. The scrape of stubble against his face burned pleasurably. He didn't realise his hands were tightly grasping Snape's arms until he was pushed away.

He let go, what else could he do? His eyes drifted up to meet dark ones looking at him intensely, and Harry knew suddenly how dangerous this was. Only Snape's hands held him here. His cock hardened more quickly than it ever had, pulsing with his racing heart.

As Snape gave him no lead, Harry did the only thing he imagined might be the right kind of display and, holding Snape's eyes, began to unhook the tiny clasps that fastened his robe. He was unused to them, it would take forever. . .

"Accio knife," Snape said emphatically, and Harry rocked on his heels with the implication and with the subtle shift of wandless magic. Others noticed too; he heard the recognition move through the room.

Harry wasn't looking at the knife – he felt the tug and pull at the front of his robe and watched Snape's eyes hold his. He heard the slight repetitive tear and felt the cloth shift against his skin – he let Snape's eyes keep him from those of everyone else.

When he'd reached some point below the waist but still not reached the boy's tightly arching cock, Snape leant back against the cushions and said, "Disrobe." In his hand lay a short knife with a silver-inlaid black handle. Not that knife then, Harry thought gratefully, as he put his hands to the open planes of thick cloth. He kept only Snape in his sight.

I'm not here, Harry thought, I'm at Hogwarts – an after-detention fantasy from last year that he'd found particularly awkward suddenly rushed into his mind and he breathed hard to suppress a blush as he stepped back out of the fallen robe.

Snape's eyes ran over his shoulders, arms, chest, stomach, in an appreciative possessive way, and then clearly examined the close cloth breeches against which Harry's erection pressed. He very slightly inclined his head, and Harry peeled them away, dazed with the impossibly exciting thought that Snape was watching him undress.

Harry knew his body was too small to be handsome but he'd been told he was attractive. With Snape's gaze on him he realised that he only now believed it. Snape pulled him slowly forward, slowly enough that he felt the rasp of Snape's robe against his arm, his hip, his cock, and he tried not to shudder at the heightened sensation. A cold shape pressed against his left side and moved – Snape dragged the flat of the knife up his side as he drew him close, a soft mouth touching tasting just against the side of his neck.

"Me or the knife, Harry, here in front of everyone," Snape said clearly. The presence of the others came back in a crashing whirlwind of muted sounds and unsubtle scents, but Snape was holding him tightly between the knife and his hand and his mouth. His mind span but his erection was sure, he felt it leak and catch across the cloth of Snape's robe. The knife held him there and he thought for a moment he might come from the sight of Snape's mouth brushing his chest.

"Choose now," Snape said, pressing the knife against Harry's side till the sharp bite brought everything into focus right there, at a singing point of pain under Snape's hand.

"Both," Harry said, refusing to think about it, feeling the sting of the knife and the soft sticky press of Snape's lips on his skin. Both were gone the moment he spoke and Snape held his face in both hands. Harry blinked at the intense gaze.

The hands moved him away, then. "Get dressed, Harry."

Hot and confused, Harry did as he was told.

"We will retire," he heard Snape say.

"A mere hint of what he might do, Severus?" Cenobis said from far too close.

"I've not seen a sign of the library."

"Cenobis will take you as soon as you rise," the Earl said. "Escort them to the red room, Guy; and then go to my chamber and wait."

Guy bowed silently. With some effort, Harry bowed also, ignoring the exposure of his open robe. The pressure of Snape's hand on his back returned firmly.

* * *

As the door closed, Harry moved into the room. It was just acting – he was not Snape's boy. The kiss, Snape's eyes on him, the drag of wool against his cock, the voice and the knife against his skin. Harry's throbbing quickening pulse echoed through him. His heart pounded as he waited, centuries from home, for Snape to say something.

The blankets rustled and he looked around. Snape's unfastened robe slipped away, reveal a long white shirt, but Snape's eyes were shadowed by the candlelight behind his hair. Snape very obviously didn't look at Harry as he undressed, and Harry had no idea what Snape was thinking as he slid naked onto the bed.

Snape watched darkly as Harry entangled his fingers in the cloth lacings of his shirt and silently tipped his mouth up to be kissed. Snape kissed him. Harry tilted his head slightly to get more contact and felt the wet slide of Snape's tongue against his lip, his teeth, his tongue, and he pressed back with his mouth.

When the shirt was gone, Snape pushed Harry back to directly meet his eyes. Harry thought he'd never seen anything as sexy, and he savagely repressed the tiny recognition that this was the horrible Professor Snape. Watching him closely, Snape shifted to press his thigh hard against Harry's tightly swollen prick. A warm hand touched Harry's shoulder delicately, fingers sliding along the sensitive skin above his collar bone, and Harry wished it would just happen, whatever it was exactly, without all these spaces for thinking and waiting.

"I want you to," Harry said, hoping Snape wouldn't ask him to explain exactly what. When there was stillness, and Snape still didn't respond, Harry's stomach tightened on his rising embarrassment and he turned his face towards the bed.

"Stay there," Snape said, and a cool hand brushed across Harry's lower back. Almost automatically he turned to see what Snape was doing and the hand was back, in fact two hands were on his hips, turning him onto his knees. "Stay," Snape said.

Harry held himself still on his hands and knees, feeling the weight in his stomach peak in his groin. Every sound seemed magnified and Harry bit his lip when the bed depressed behind him. When a hand touched his inner thigh, pressing it outwards, he moved with it, his legs shaking slightly as he spread himself before Snape – and before whoever else was watching.

More light pressure, and Harry slid his leg out as far as he could and felt Snape move closer, breathing a hot line up one side of his spine as a hand moved to solidly cup his thigh, to stroke across the sensitive skin behind his cock, and even further back. Harry shivered and tensed.

"Unctio," Snape whispered, and Harry felt hot, loose, swollen and numb all at once where he'd felt nothing like it before. He might have pulled away, but Snape's arm slid around his waist, slipping across his stomach.

There was a heated breathless moment in which Snape stroked his side, hip, thigh. Harry was anything but relaxed though when a firm pressure met his arse and immediately became a stinging burning slide he felt right along his spine. His body felt too heavy and fought to push Snape out. In the rush of sensation, and Harry felt he could barely find the space to breathe amidst everything that couldn't be happening, he heard Snape hushing him even though they'd said almost nothing since this began.

Behind him, Snape shifted and there was another sharp stretch of pain, and then a gliding heat and fullness, and Harry was crying.

"Harry?"

He pushed back into the sharp ache and the tense gliding heat and let himself cry.

"Harry?"

"More," Harry said, when Snape clearly paused, and then there was more, sharp and slippery and moving. Harry's cock bounced heavily towards the bed and the swirl of heat pooled rapidly there, somehow insisting that he push back harder and faster.

Snape pulled him slightly up with his one arm and the change of angle made him gasp. Snape was moving more quickly too, and the hand not holding Harry glanced across his chest and stomach. Harry's eyes blurred and the red-gold coals swam into a bright haze with the heat of Snape's mouth on his neck saying his name, and biting at the skin there, and there was a sharp stinging line running from his neck to his groin. Harry grabbed his own cock and stroked it hard as he came.

He fell onto his forearms and there were tight twisting nails in the skin of his hips and Snape spiked into him and he felt the heat and the wet and Snape's lips and breath and they were sliding in the bed. Snape pulled out of him in a warm sticky rush and they were gasping together. Harry rolled into Snape's arms and Snape didn't push him away.

* * *

"And still the man hears all, and only craves
He may not shame such tender love and stay
."
(Robert Browning)

Harry opened his eyes to dim sunlight through the narrow windows high on the wall. He shifted in the cold bed, remembering where he was. Snape was gone. Dragging himself out of bed, and then rather wishing he hadn't, he winced as his arse stung and throbbed and the muscles in his limbs ached.

The hearth was almost cold, and Harry tried to revive it by hand. Clothes were probably a surer thing, but when he found his robe it was still cut down the centre and he had to hug it about him, unsure he should risk a mending charm.

He was hungry; it must be late.

Snape was probably at the library. Probably. With a flush Harry thought he might be grateful not to have had to talk to Snape this morning, but the absence of any sign implied maybe he couldn't leave one, which was worrying.

On the cabinet next to the hearth there were cut flowers in a vase – lavender, and something else – but they were slightly wilted, and twisted and brown nearest the fireplace. Still, looking at them meant that he didn't look at the bed, which was far more disconcerting. The sharp and dull reminders in his body were quite enough. Did he really do that, what did Snape think it meant, would he do it again? Where was Snape?

For long minutes Harry occupied himself trying to discern from which part of the room they might be being watched, and considered whether the ring might be used in a locating spell, which he thought he could remember from Charms last year – Hermione had. . .

There was a movement to his right, somewhere near the bed. When he turned his head there was nothing, but he crossed the room and looked carefully along the wall. If he could cast that revelation spell that he and Hermione had perfected. . . he had the distinct sense there was someone behind him.

* * *

When Snape came in Harry took his arm almost before he'd latched the door.

"Look," he exclaimed, trying not to shout despite his excitement, "over there, along that wall—oh, and you have to think about Hogwarts, something specific about it, someone who is there works best for me."

"What are you talking about?"

"Think about the headmaster and look along that wall, mostly in that corner," Harry said, indicating the corner beyond the bed.

Snape looked. "I see nothing."

"Okay, well, not the Headmaster," Harry said with evident frustration, "but I was thinking about Hermione and she was there, looking for me, along and sort of through that wall."

"That's not. . ." Snape began and then fell silent, eyes widening. "Minerva," he whispered.

Harry actually jumped with excitement. "You do mean Professor McGonagall, right, not some mythical. . ."

Snape said, "I see her," without any of the sarcasm Harry expected. He put a hand to his head as if it ached. "Hogwarts is invisible to everyone outside Hogwarts, as it is to Muggles in our time."

Harry caught the urgency in Snape's clipped tone. "Why?"

"A conflict over who rules the wizards, and partly over allowing witches to study magic. I vaguely remember the details but I think I have enough. . ."

"But why can we see them?" Harry asked, as a ghostly Hermione wandered with familiar impatience back along the wall of their room, her hair and arm floating through the stonework. He'd given up trying to talk to her.

"Well we are Hogwarts wizards, or will be," Snape said, "and they must have located us in this space and be searching here – are you sure it is always when you're thinking of them?" Harry nodded. "That must be the anchor, then. They're looking for us looking for them."

There was a knock at the door.

"Much faster than I thought," Snape said abruptly.

Before he could rise, Harry pressed a kiss awkwardly to the side of Snape's mouth. Snape gave him an almost startled look, but put a hand on his arm gently.

"Professor?" Harry said on a sudden rush of fear, "Severus?"

"Don't do that, Harry," Snape said. "I can rely on you not to be afraid" – letting an arm fall around him as he stood, he whispered through Harry's hair – "and, if necessary, to run. Find a broom, find the Hogwarts gates. Run if I tell you to."

There was a much louder knock at the door, and Snape opened it, using his wand and keeping some distance away. The boy Gregory was in the doorway.

"Sir," Gregory said, darting an eye at Harry. "I've been sent to bring you to the Earl."

"Alone?" Snape growled.

"Sir, yes," the boy said, as if by accident catching Harry's eye again. "I also wanted to return this." He uncurled his hand to show the short black knife with silver inlay. When Snape came closer, Harry behind him, he clicked the sheath into place and proffered the closed knife.

Snape nodded and they stepped into the hall after Gregory. With an unspoken agreement they were then following him down a staircase and through a door which Gregory had to open with a key. He fumbled with it twice, obviously nervous, and Snape took the key and did it for him. Beyond that door, already moving down another stair, Gregory said breathlessly as he almost ran, "You must hurry. I will say you overpowered me in the servants' halls as I tried to bring you the fastest way."

"Why would they send only you?" Snape said.

"Maelbrigte suggested a boy would not raise your suspicions – they are unsure how your Harry is working magic and are," he paused, "more cautious."

Snape looked at Harry, sharply.

"What? I used the ring to summon you – it was important!"

"Fool."

"It was – and it worked."

"Idiot," Snape growled. "Merlin knows what they thought you were doing. The ring merely stabilises the eyesight charm."

"Oh."

At a landing, fumbling with another key, Gregory said, "I don't know who you are, but they're sure you're from Hogg's Ward."

"The coven?" Snape said, as they launched down another stone stairway.

"The castle," Gregory said, shaking his head as they came to a halt. "Here."

Together they forced open a door at the base of the dusty stone stairs – it grated and screeched alarmingly, and Gregory was already stepping back up the stair. "At the end of this tunnel, you'll find a door, or you won't. It goes to the invisible castle, if you find it. It's the best we can do."

"Give Maelbrigte my highest regards, and I wish his cause good fortune."

The boy said, with a grim expression, "I hope you're worth the risk to his life."

"Gregory," Harry said after him, although Snape was already pulling him into a tunnel that smelt of damp earth and more unpleasant things, "what happened to your accent?"

"Come on Potter, we don't have time," Snape muttered, already in the darkness on the other side of the door.

"Just a joke, Harry, all the Longbottoms are from Surrey." He turned as if there was a sound above the stairs. "Now run," he whispered harshly and took off up the stairs.

Harry turned quickly into the tunnel and righted himself on the slippery surface. There was definitely a sound above them. Snape grasped his arm above the elbow, and they ran.

* * *

Harry kicked at the half-buried ruins of Meithstane as he looked out over Hogwarts.

"So, you think he's related to Neville?" Ron said.

Harry nodded. "I'm going to look it up, or try to, but I reckon so."

"Huh."

"Well I've never heard of Maelbrigte," Hermione said, "but it might be a title or a local name; we could probably find out what his cause was."

"Or ask Snape," Ron said, and then pulled a face. "Or not."

The three friends started cautiously down the slope.

"We're not exactly talking to each other," Harry said. "I think we've just agreed to pretend it never happened."

"Well," Hermione said in her stern prefect voice, "I hope at least that you've learned. . ." She caught their expressions and grinned. Throwing an arm around Harry's waist she said, "I'm glad you're home, Harry."

"Me too," he laughed, stopping where they'd left their broomsticks. "Race you!" he cried.

Harry and Ron tussled for their brooms while Hermione leapt into the air first and swept off through the cool autumn afternoon.

* * *

Severus drew the journal closer and corrected the quantity of lacewing. Potter couldn't have used more than an ounce, considering the potion he thought he was making and even allowing for as much ineptitude as his inattention in class indicated was possible. Which meant all of the remaining quantity was involved in the scatter. He would attempt that variation tomorrow.

Closing the book, his eyes fell on the sketch of William MacGregor, also know as William the Dreadful or Maelbrigte of the MacGregors and, above it, a black and silver knife. He was still working on an appropriate recompense. Severus Snape despised being in anyone's debt.

He turned the knife into his palm, flicked it open and snapped it closed.

In his head the boy whispered something – it sounded like "more."

"Nox," Snape said, tossing the knife onto the desk as he made his way to bed in the darkness.

*** the end ***