Warnings: This chapter is vaguely naughty, but not really.
Responses: Can be found if you check my profile for the location.
22 : Fast Forward
Clarissa had just filled her plate and begun to eat when movement by the doors caught her attention, causing her to stop and stare. A young man she didn't recognize had stepped through and was making his way toward the head table, striding easily and seemingly unaware of the mild chaos that ensued at his arrival. His longish hair was in disarray, as though he had been subjected to a strong breeze, and his skin glowed with a healthy tan. He waved, and she turned to look briefly at the head table, noticing as she did that many of the staff looked delighted.
She didn't really understand what made the man so compelling to look at, but he seemed to exude joy and a love of life, so much so that it spread like a mist across the hall, turning previously unaware heads in his direction. When he reached the foot of the dais he turned and strode over to and took the short flight of steps off to the side.
As he walked the length of the table, he paused at each chair to say something to the professor seated there, and often laid a hand on their shoulder briefly. When he stopped at the headmaster's chair, he leaned down and exchanged several sentences with Professor Dumbledore, nodded, then gave the older man an exuberant hug. Before letting go he pressed a kiss to the headmaster's cheek, then spoke to the remainder of the staff as he passed them, finally sliding into a seat next to the Potions Master.
After watching him for a moment or two longer, Clarissa found her meal was much more pressing, and resumed eating.
Harry slipped into the empty seat next to Severus, thinking for a brief moment that it was odd it remained unused, but grateful nonetheless. Very much aware that a stranger was sitting to his other side, he twisted and said, "I'll be one of your seat mates for a few days at least. I'm Harry Potter. Pleased to meet you."
The gentleman smiled and introduced himself as that year's Defense professor, and said his name was David. After an awkward shaking of hands, Harry smiled and faced forward again, tilting his head to the right to say to Severus, "Good afternoon, sir." He filled his plate with a selection of his favorites from what was offered and began to eat.
However, he carefully dropped his right hand under the table and brought it to a rest on Severus's thigh and squeezed gently, feeling the sudden tension and relaxation that his action had caused. A second later, a hand covered his in a momentary caress.
"I see you have returned," stated Severus in a low voice.
Harry nodded because his mouth was full.
"And are you staying?"
"For at least a few days," Harry replied, then angled his head again toward Severus. "It depends."
"Professor Dumbledore says my rooms are still there for me if I want them," Harry said. "Though, I don't know what I'd do here." He shrugged and shoved a piece of potato into his mouth. Now, Severus was not a stupid man. Harry assumed that when he sidestepped the question, Severus would understand it was something he considered best touched on in private.
Severus gave a light snort. "It is true that normally only staff and students live within the castle, and then normally only during the school year itself."
"Mm. It isn't as though the Potions position is open," Harry said teasingly.
Severus ignored that and said, "Of course, Albus does is rather fond of you, so he might manage an exception in your case."
Harry shrugged and said, "He did ask me to come see him directly lunch is over. Who knows? If not, I'll just have to find myself a nice little place somewhere with room enough for a lab."
"Dare I ask what you have been up to over the past year?"
Harry flashed Severus a smile and said, "What else? Filling in the gaps in that book. Well, among other things. I know you noticed I'm a bit taller."
"Among other things, yes."
Harry was silent for a minute, finishing the last of the food on his plate. Then he reached for a sandwich and served himself a bowl of soup. "Nothing gets past your keen eye, sir," he said archly.
As lunch was ending Harry asked Severus if it was all right for him to stop by when classes were over for the afternoon, then went to meet with Albus in his office. He gave Fawkes a fond greeting, then sat down to see what the headmaster had to say.
"It is very good to see you again, Harry. And you look quite well."
"Thank you, sir. It's been great seeing everyone again."
"Ah, Harry. I think that by now you ought to be calling me Albus."
"Now, how long are you staying?"
"I have no idea. It's lovely that I can use my rooms, though. But what would I do? I considered finding a house somewhere, but I hadn't yet decided whether I wanted the anonymity of a muggle area, or someplace like Hogsmeade where I might be more comfortable, even though everybody knows exactly who I am."
"I see. And what have you been up to while you've been gone?"
"As I told Professor Snape, filling in the gaps. There are a lot of things magic can't do yet, and I've been trying to create potions for some of them. Those that make sense, anyway. A bit of travel as well."
Albus peered at him over the rims of his spectacles, eyes twinkling. "Harry, I've been quite curious about something for a while now. Just over a year, in fact. Were you responsible for the removal of Severus's Dark Mark?"
The barest smile touched the corner of Harry's mouth. "Albus, you and I both know I could not have done that without Professor Snape being aware of it."
"Yes, of course," replied Albus, the twinkle in his eyes not diminishing in the least. "Quite so, dear boy. But, on to other business. Harry, there are a few options open to you if you wished to stay here at Hogwarts."
Harry raised his brows in question.
"Granted, you could find or build yourself a home in Hogsmeade and still be nearby, but there are things you could do here. For instance, you could become the administrator for the various clubs the students have, rather than them being divided up among the professors. Or, you could become a dueling instructor. And, Filius has been thinking of retiring—says he's getting old." Albus went so far as to roll his eyes slightly.
"We would need a replacement for him, and I know that despite your preferences, you excelled at Charms as much as anything else. The first two would leave you more time for your own personal agenda, of course."
Harry furrowed his brow in thought, his eyes dropping to gaze at the surface of Albus's desk.
"For the time being, I would be delighted if you were to avail yourself of your old rooms and continue to eat with us up at the head table."
Harry blinked his gaze up and smiled. "I'd like that. Thanks."
"Why don't you go get settled in, then, and we'll discuss this again later when you've had a chance to think things through."
Harry spent the next several hours packing, moving and unpacking. He had been putting his clothes away in the closet, going in and out with piles of shirts and robes, when he was brought up short by the fact that Severus was in the room, casually leaning against the wall.
"For someone who might only be staying a few days, you certainly need quite a wardrobe," remarked Severus. "Did you join the Gilderoy Lockhart Fashion of the Week Club while you away?"
Harry smirked. "Ha, bloody, ha."
"If I neglected to say so earlier, there's no need for you to be calling me 'sir' any longer in public."
Harry wrinkled his brow, then said, "How about Sev?"
Severus straightened and said, "Do, and I shall use your liver for my next class."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Fine, Severus."
"Are you quite done for the moment?" He nodded at the clothes Harry was still holding.
"Oh." Harry dropped the pile back on the bed. "Of course I am, but I think standing around holding a bunch of shirts is loads of fun. You should try it sometime."
"Spare me your pathetic attempt at humor. Instead, let us discuss how long you'll be here."
"Not here, then. I won't be able to think if everything is still laying about in front of me and I can't take care of it." Harry turned and exited the room, heading out to flop onto his couch.
Severus joined him a moment later, taking the chair. "Now, what did you mean, 'it depends.'"
"Just what I said. It depends. Albus has given me several options if I wanted to stay at Hogwarts. Otherwise I would probably find a place in Hogsmeade. And of course, it depends on a few other things."
Harry briefly explained his meeting with Albus, then said, "I'm not sure yet what to think. I mean, can you imagine me as the Charms professor?"
"I think you can do whatever you set out to do, Harry. What are these few other things you referred to?"
"Those have to do with you and me. I have a few confessions to make, Severus."
"First, I'd like to say I missed you a great deal. Things just aren't the same without you around."
Severus arched a brow. "You were missed as well."
Harry smiled briefly, then bit his lip. "My second confession is a bit more complex. I hope you'll forgive me." He took a deep breath and said, "Severus, the Archbishop of Canterbury likes to wear lace underpants."
"I'm sorry, what?" Severus asked, shaking his head as though he'd not heard correctly. Harry bit his lip again and waited, watching as Severus's expression slowly morphed from vaguely confused to downright angry.
"You obnoxious little brat. How dare you!?" Severus wrenched his sleeve up and thrust out his arm. "And this—this was you!? You lied to me. You used me! You sodding little—" Severus raged on for a good ten minutes, using his extensive vocabulary to verbally rip Harry to shreds, finally winding down to a seething silence.
Harry cleared his throat, catching the older man's attention, and calmly said, "May I address one of your questions now? Splendid. I dared to do that to you, Severus, because you did it first, and it was nothing more than what you did to me. In fact, it was much, much less."
"You—" Severus snapped his mouth shut. "No," he said, shaking his head.
Severus slumped in the chair, his face betraying his growing horror and guilt. "You. . .knew. Everything?"
"I did, and I do."
"When? How?" Severus asked, keeping his eyes averted.
"I knew the first time you put me under after I returned from my convalescence at the Dursleys. You remember those books you had Remus deliver? And how I told you he included others? You see, I had told Remus early that summer that I was afraid. Afraid of portkeys and afraid of making a fool out of myself. I knew it was possible that at some point I would be forced to use one again, and it might be urgent. So he gave me a solution. Self-hypnosis."
"So I tried it, but one thing really bothered me. I wasn't remembering what happened, and I couldn't help but think of when Ginny had been taken in by Riddle's diary and kept experiencing time gaps, not having any idea what she'd been doing. Of course, I knew who was fiddling with my head, so I wasn't worried about that part of it, but I did want to remember all of it."
Severus nodded again, his hands clenched against the arms of the chair.
"I can only assume that since I told myself to remember, it clashed with, and won over, what you'd put in place. You put me under, and I realized what you had done. When I left that day, I wanted to be so angry with you, so hurt. Sure, you were doing a lot of good things for me with hypnosis, but we both know that wasn't everything. I wanted to go back to your rooms and tear you apart, hurt you the way you'd hurt me. But I couldn't."
Severus flicked his eyes up for a moment.
"I came back here and thought about it. Then I devised a new session for myself to get some answers. I wanted to know exactly what you'd done to me, what I should change, and how I honestly felt about it without my emotions clouding over my reason. And I did remove several of the directives you put in place. I was able to lie to you from that point on, Severus. And I didn't feel compelled to please you any longer. You just thought I did. I think I was a bit too sneaky for you on that score."
"Indeed," said Severus in a faint voice.
"And do you know what I found out, Severus?"
He gave a tiny shake of the head.
"I found out something interesting. I felt the way I did about you, not because you made me, or forced me to—I simply did. I liked you for you. I admired you, looked up to you, and was very attracted to you."
"I don't understand."
"Don't understand what?"
"All of this. You knew I was using you, but you let it continue. Then you did the same to me, but for different reasons. And yet, you're here. Why?"
"I wanted to know why, Severus. I wanted to know just how far you might go. And believe me, once I understood what you'd done, I made very sure I could undo anything you attempted. You scared me that day. I was horrified at what was happening. But I needed to know the truth—would you stop yourself, or would you really go ahead with your revenge. I needed a little time afterward to figure out how I felt, but I forgave you. I think, if you remember back, that I just didn't say it in words."
Severus made a vaguely agreeable noise.
"As for why I turned the tables on you—well, that would be my next confession."
"Yeah. I didn't do much to you, Severus. I asked questions I thought you'd never answer, but that I wanted the answers for. I couldn't ask you normally, because then you'd be suspicious of what I was up to."
"A wise assessment, I'm sure."
Harry grinned, even though Severus still wasn't looking at him. "You gave me the idea, Severus. I built on what you started. I found a way to use the link I had with Voldemort against him, and to use your ideas for my mental defenses against him even more. I used it to find out how to place a Dark Mark, and once I realized that I could influence his thoughts, used it to get him to remove a Dark Mark. He killed Peter because of me, but I'm afraid I don't feel very guilty about it. You're free and alive, Voldemort is dead, and his people are in prison."
"The reports say he went through the veil. Why?"
"He did. I was in his mind the whole time, right up until the last second. It was the night I removed the last of your Dark Mark. He was so confused by then, so malleable, that I planted the idea in his mind that he should try and influence me through dreams to seek out that room of Power at the Department of Mysteries so I could learn how to defeat him. Naturally, he thought it would be a trap for me. He just couldn't understand that the trap was for him. Once he managed to get to the veil room—he thought I was there in person—he saw what I wanted him to see. In his eyes, we dueled, and I tried to escape through one of the doors. He chased after me and killed himself when he stepped through."
Silence reigned for a time. Harry sat back, as he had leaned forward during his oration, and waited for Severus to respond. And eventually, he did. "Why did you even reveal to me what you'd done? You could have gone on without doing so and I never would have been the wiser."
"Isn't it obvious? I wanted—want—to be honest. Because I can be, not because I must. I couldn't come back here and pretend everything was all right, Severus. You knew what you'd done, and almost did do, and I thought. . .if I wasn't honest, it would be a lie. You'd always worry why I came back. Was it because of something you did when you were mucking around in my head? Or was it because I actually wanted to. I already know your reasons, now you know mine. We're even."
Severus finally looked up at him and met his eyes.
Harry smiled and said, "Besides, it depends how long I stay because I think I may be in love with you. It depends on if you even still want me here, knowing all this. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?"
Severus could, and did, pushing out of his chair to join Harry on the couch. "You came back because you wanted to, with full knowledge."
"Yes," Harry said with a nod.
"I cannot argue with that, Haze."
The couch made a lovely substitute for a bed, but the floor was even better as they quickly found out, so long as you didn't mind its unyielding nature. Some time later, Severus finally remembered what they'd discussed earlier.
"Charms, dueling or Club Administrator?"
"I don't think the latter. It sounded like Albus was dreaming things up in order to give me a reason to stay."
"Mm. I agree. So, which?"
"I take it that means you could stand to have me around underfoot all the time."
"Yes, I could. And if you upset me in any way, I'll have you preparing ingredients every night for a month."
"Brilliant. I'll go tell Albus tomorrow."
— The End —
Ending Author's Note: I'd like to thank everyone who stayed with me on this, and everyone who joined in along the way. The feedback was fantastic and I'm quite grateful that so many people took the time to leave a review. I did have that dry spell, but then—boom—there I went again, galloping along to the conclusion.
I've been reading over the reviews again and can see where several of the speculations that came up were answered, eventually. Part of that was, perhaps, comments percolating in my head for a while, but the majority of the story/plot was already worked out prior to even starting. For example—chapter 21 was planned from the beginning, about two seconds after the initial idea of hypnotic manipulation hit me. It was things like chapter 20 that came to me only recently—heh, I think I'm super glad I put in the bit about the Confundus Defense.
Hopefully, I really did keep most of you in suspense much of the time, or at least threw you off balance with red herrings. As I've said (somewhere), being subtle is not my strong point. I'm generally pretty damn blunt, so I've been trying to learn as I go.
And now, I suppose I shall go continue to work on the other three WIP stories I have, and consider getting somewhere with the two planned stories I have waiting.