Schadenfreude

Part One: Xanadu

AN: I hadn't intended there to be a third part to the Lachrymose/Gloaming story-line, but after I finished with Gloaming I got reviews requesting a third installation. I hope you enjoy it; it should be pretty straightforward. I'm sorry if chapters take longer; both my beta (the amazing Miss Morghaine) and I are extremely busy lately. Also the "ghost of your lies" line is lifted from Bright Eyes.

"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree

Where Alph the sacred river ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea."

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I.

Once upon a time there was a boy who got everything he wanted.

Taken away.

And this boy, we'll call him Harry, had to fight his way through mud and blood and pain you can't imagine. Luckily, he couldn't either, and he arrived on the other side of this battle unscathed, only to realise that what he'd wanted all along had been the losses, the anguish, the fight. What he'd wanted all along had never been lost, but losing.

Am I making sense to you? Are you understanding what I say? It's four o'clock in the morning and I'm standing outside in the rain. I've got a suitcase of clothes and a cat at my feet, and I'm homeless for the second time now. The light in the window I've been watching goes out for the last time and I can't help but feel that things are easier this way.

So this boy Harry, he grew up to be a man, and he kept on trying to take back all the things he'd lost. And the more he looked backwards, and the harder he fought, and the tighter he grasped at the things he still had, the more he felt slipping further away. Until he woke up one morning living with a stranger and realised he'd lost himself.

The light goes out for the last time and I turn and walk away.

It had been the world's worst fight, and that's no exaggeration. It happened over dinner (potatoes and chicken; he cooked, I came home late). All the worst fights happen over meals.

He said: "Why don't you just tell me where you've been?"

I replied: "I told you. Out."

He said: "I can't believe you'd treat me like this."

I replied: "So what else is new?"

Half way through the argument, conducted in rational voices and without much emotion, he picked up a plate of potatoes and threw it at the wall behind my head. I spared a few seconds to watch the white food slide gracelessly down the wallpaper into shards of broken china.

He said: "I'm sorry."

I replied: "I don't care."

He says and I reply. He says and I reply. He says "I love you" and I reply "I love you too" and we hold hands and kiss on the train. He says "Are you too busy" and I reply "Not for you" and we sneak away for a few hours and make love and kiss on the mouth. He says "Maybe you should leave" and I reply with nothing. Three years of ask and receive and we've broken down to smashed plates and stained walls before my very eyes.

I've had few relationships. Correction: I've had two relationships. I've had Snape and I've had Al, and sometimes I don't know which was worse. At least with Snape I knew where I was coming from. I was fighting something then and he was fighting me back, and he was winning. With Al it felt like hurting a kitten again and again. It felt like I was always sliding out of his idea of who I was.

We were friends before we started, but maybe we should have been enemies. Maybe then our handful of flings would have amounted to something fantastic instead of this domestic nightmare.

Galatea meows and wraps herself around my legs, trying to attract my attention. I look down at her and smile. "Well," I say, "it's just you and me again girl." Yeah, I'm becoming one of those lonely sods who talk to their cats. Galatea blinks up at me without comprehension and claws at my trouser leg. "Come on," I sigh. "We'll get a hotel room or something."

The "or something" ends up being a suite in the most expensive hotel I can find. It's not like I'm strapped for cash and if I must sulk, I'd like to do so in style. And drunk. Very, very drunk, actually. The hotel concierge assures me this is no problem and has an assortment of beverages sent up to my room. I'm mourning three years of my life, so I spare no expense.

Around one in the morning, eyes shot with what's probably more alcohol than blood, I stagger to the bathroom and eye myself in the mirror. There's a razor in my suitcase and I fish it out, holding it in my hand loosely, unable to grasp the metal tightly enough. Galatea, purring softly near the air-conditioning vent, glares up at me through her slit pupils. I remember reading somewhere that a dying cat will purr from constancy, not from pleasure.

A helpful little voice in my head starts chanting, "slit up the vein; not across!" I shiver. It would be so easy, flesh surrendering to cool metal with little resistance, I'm sure. I close my eyes and try to imagine that this isn't one of those permanent ends to temporary situations, one of those stupid things I've always been famous for, one of those things I'd regret if I did. I try to think of one person who would actually care, if I just sunk the razor into my arm and pulled it clean through to my armpit.

And my mind goes blank.

I've lost contact with everyone. I've lost ties with everyone. I've pulled further and further away, retreating a little more into myself and my secrets all the time. And now…now…

I can imagine Ron and Seamus and Alarbus eyeing one another uncomfortably at my funeral, saying things like, "he always rushed in" or "never thought about the consequences" or "no, it's not really your fault - it's no one's fault but his own…"

When did this happen to me? When did I start doing this to myself? I can feel the tears welling up behind my eyes, and I hate it that I always cry. When did I lose control of my life? My mind races from this moment backwards, from my birth forwards, and meets at a spot somewhere between.

Snape.

Not Snape three years ago, when he walked away from me forever. Not Snape the spring before that, when we betrayed each other and he slid out of my flat without a word and I let him go without protest. Not even Snape the day he went mad and saved my life.

The night before all that. I lost control of myself when I first let him touch me. And I've needed him ever since.

That's no good, I sigh. Who cares how this started? The thing is that it's happening, and I'm living it, and if I can't think of a really good reason not to sink the metal into my arm I won't be living it much longer. The white walls, white towels, clean tiles, cool sink…this is someplace I could kill myself. There's nothing holding me together at this moment, nothing holding me in place. I give a sharp, pained hiss as I feel the tip of the blade sink into my wrist, tears welling in my eyes again. There's nothing keeping me in place anymore and I can't breathe and I can't think and I can hear the razor hit the ground and someone screaming at me, strong arms around me and then dark black eyes and my world abruptly shuts off.

"Harry?" Al taps on the door gently with his knuckles, even as he's stepping inside. "I saw you leave and I thought maybe-"

"I'm okay," I lie, offering a brittle smile. "I just needed…" something "to get away for a moment. You can go back."

He looks wounded for a moment that I'd even suggest it. Then he smiles back, clearly moving on. "That's alright; it was getting a bit tedious, wasn't it?" He sits down next to me on the couch, snuggling up to me and pulling my arm over his shoulders. "I'd much rather be here anyway."

I'm no good at this sort of thing. "Alar…" I begin, but he smiles, and puts a finger to my lips with a shake of his head.

"We'll just sit here," he says, cuddling closer to me again. "We'll just stay and be quiet, and you'll hold me and I'll keep you for a little bit longer."

I'll keep you for a little bit longer…

I'm dreaming, because this has to be a dream. I open my eyes and I'm lying in bed. My limbs feel too heavy and my wrist hurts where I started to slice it open. When I shift I can feel thick bandages wrapped around said wrist. "What-" I start to ask, but then I raise my eyes and see HIM. In bed. With me.

He reaches out one graceful hand, running the tips of two fingers down my cheek, a small smirk playing at the edges of his lips. "I was wondering when you'd wake up," he whispers, leaning in until I can smell him (citrus, smoke, spice, Snape) and feel his warm breath misting on my skin. And then closer, and he's kissing me, mouth sinfully soft and tender. I gasp, and his tongue slides into my mouth briefly, flickering over my teeth before as he pulls away, his dark eyes burning into mine…

I'm dreaming, because when I blink I find myself crumpled on the bathroom floor, my wrist scabbed over and sore and a small spot of red caked into the once pristine tiles. Galatea meows, stepping over my legs haughtily and leaping soundlessly onto the counter where she proceeds to wash one delicate paw. I'm not sure I'll ever get up again.

The world has stopped spinning by the time I make it to the bed. The sky outside is an angry red sunrise and I pull the curtains across the view and crawl under the covers and flick on the television. There's some music video station featuring a biography on Britney Spears. (Spear Britney, my mind offers tritely.) They've just gotten to the part about her drunken suicide attempt back in '06 (irony, anyone?), when I become distinctly aware of a tingling feeling starting in my wounded left arm and spreading rapidly throughout my torso.

"Hey!" I protest, alarmed to feel the sensation spreading down through my legs and feet. It doesn't hurt, exactly, but it doesn't really feel like something I would volunteer to have done unto me. It feels a little like apparating, I realise, but decidedly more creepy. Actually it feels a lot like apparating, especially when the room around me starts to blur at the corners and I start to panic.

"What the fuck?" I try to say, but although my mouth forms dutifully around the syllables no sound comes out. I try for one more silent scream as the room vanishes, or I vanish from the room, and a new one takes its place.

I blink, looking around at the new scenery in a daze. It's mostly white marble, pillars, stairs, elegance. There's a lush green lawn in front of me, blue skies and easy sunlight spilling over it with a blazing heat. I am so not in England. The slightly warm stone against my bare feet is a clear indication of that, and there's something dreamlike and familiar about the whole place.

"Excellent," says a low voice to my left, and I whip my head round to see him. Black eyes and dark hair and he still looks young, but in a different way. I must be staring with a very curious expression, because he smiles slightly and raises a hand to brush a lock of hair from his face. "I took the glamour off," he explains. "There didn't seem to be much point anymore."

I nod, open-mouthed. He looks like this? He really looks like this? He's lost the insolent beauty of youth, but what he's gained is…infinitely more appealing. The kind of charm that only comes with aging very, very well. His eyes sparkle as he steps closer to me. "You don't…mind, do you?" He raises a dark eyebrow.

I shake my head, mouth dry. "You look good," I manage to croak. Really, really good. "I never realised you were…" beautiful. I cough. "Um…should I be wondering why I'm here?" Or where here is. It occurs to me to think that maybe I'm dead. Maybe I did manage to off myself and this is Valhalla. Bung-o.

He's smirking pleasantly down at me. "What do you think of what I've done with the place?"

"Huh?" I reply, ever articulate. I glance around.

He chuckles. "Don't tell me you don't recognize it. I haven't done that good of a job. Not yet, anyway. But, I don't know," he continues, stepping away and running a finger over one marble column. "It used to be grand. It could be grand again. I could…fix it…" he trails off, burning eyes fixed upon me again. His gaze drops, suddenly, and he carries on talking as if nothing had stopped him. "I'm especially fond of all the marble. It's so regal, don't you think? It conveys such opulence while, at the same time, remaining classical and austere. I never had things like this, growing up. I had my name, and my blood, but it didn't equate to…this."

He turns to me again, a slight smile playing on his lips. "Oh come on, Harry. Don't you recognize Malfoy Manor?"

II

It figured. Of course that's where I am. Snape explains it all with a smile playing around his mouth as he takes me on a tour of the renovated grounds. "The Malfoy line ended with Draco," he says without much feeling. "Most of the wizards they associated with have been similarly terminated." A wry smirk. "Narcissa was virtually friendless, a lonely anchoress encased in her decaying splendor."

He gives a dramatic sigh and leads me into the kitchen where a few frightened looking house elves dart out of our way and hurry about business. "After the business with you and Mexico and saving the world from total annihilation," I wonder how he can dismiss saving the world so easily, not to mention our affair, "Arienette and I parted ways." His eyes darken for a moment, and I can't help feeling sort of delighted, an uncomfortable warmth spreading through my stomach. "I decided to come pay a visit to Narcissa and, uh, thank her for all she'd done.

"I must say, I honestly expected her to throw me out, if she ever bothered letting me in. But she just went about mooning, floating in and out of the courtyard and lingering on the staircase and being generally asinine." He rolls his eyes. "You know how she could be. Ever dramatic, that girl. Not that I can blame her; she grew up with the Malfoys for Christ's sake."

He breaks off abruptly, almost as if he's given away too much, and I turn to see what's stopped him. If this is going to be another round of Snape's Secrets I think I'll pass. But he's pulling a cigarette out of a silver case and lighting it, taking a shaky inhalation before continuing. "Well, it didn't take long to figure out that she just wanted a little…company." His eyes sparkle menacingly. "I figured, what the hell? Why not stick around? I had nowhere to go so I stayed. After awhile I started going out more, traveling again, and returning every month or so to touch basis and make sure she was as I'd left her.

"Last year I came back and found she'd drawn up a will, stating that I would receive everything if she were to die. Of course, that was ridiculous. What would I do with it? I couldn't possibly access it. But she'd set up enough wards and guards on the documents that no legal actions would be necessary. It would all just pass from her to me. And…then she died."

"What?" I interrupt. "How?"

"Well," he says, thoughtfully tapping his ash into a convenient urn. "I'm not entirely sure. She just wasted away."

"People don't just die," I point out bitterly.

"Some do," he says. "Some do just that. Narcissa did. She made her will and then she went out into the garden." He raises a dark eyebrow. "I suppose it all became too much for her to deal with."

"Then she killed herself."

"No," he says thoughtfully. "More like she just decided not to live."

I make a displeased, unbelieving noise, but drop the subject. I can tell it'll get us nowhere. "Okay," I say. "So Narcissa died and you and Arienette broke up and you've just been living here and redecorating for the past twelve months?"

"Thirteen," he says, taking a relaxed drag and blowing the smoke toward my face. I grimace. "And yes. It's safer here. No one comes looking."

That's for sure, I think. The Ministry declared Snape a lost cause after the last round. He's on the Most Wanted Wizards List, in the spot formerly occupied by my godfather, but he's as good as free.

"Of course," he continues. "I can't imagine it'll remain safe here forever. People stumble in, now and then. The wards are difficult to keep up on a place this big. And I imagine someone will come looking for you. After all, the last time you mysteriously vanished it was my doing; they'll expect it again. Now that you're here you can help me strengthen the wards. Our combined magic ought to-"

"Hold up," I interrupt. "You're talking as if you expect me to stay here. I have a life outside of you, Snape. I was getting on just fine without you. Why would I stay here and help you choose curtains and wallpaper for the rest of my life?"

"Getting on just fine, were you?" He frowns and opens the door to the courtyard garden, motioning me to go on with the tour. "Suicide has never been a sign of staggering happiness, Harry."

I open my mouth to retort that I was drunk, but the sight of the garden steals my breath. It's beautiful. I remember being here last time, in this eternal summer, with the fountain and statues and overgrown vines…all in disrepair. Now…. It looks like paradise. Everything is brighter than the normal world, colours leaping out of flowers and the green of leaves and grasses a cool, luxurious verdant. I want to lay down on it, spread out my arms and stare at the sky. The fountain is running, soft sprays of crystalline water arching into the basin. I run my fingers over a cleaned Grecian statue and breathe deeply, for what seems like the first time in months.

"Why would you leave?" he purrs in my ear.

Things are different between us now. In the past it had always been an uncomfortable alliance. He was always pressing for familiarity, for farce, for devotion and God knows what else but he was asking too much. Now it just feels like he's offering. I take his hand and he leads me through the house, shows me the grounds, talking in a subdued tone of his plans and his stories. I don't feel like turning him away anymore.

He ends the tour outside the door to my new room. "I'm just down the hall," he motions vaguely with his head. I'm starting to wonder if maybe the show he put up last time and the declarations of love weren't all part of his elaborate mind fuck. He's been friendly, but nothing I would call outright seductive. "There are some clothes in your room; you can see which ones fit and which don't. If you like you can transfigure some; it shouldn't be beyond you illustrious skill," he smirks, and the trace of sarcasm is almost comforting.

"See you at dinner," he says, and brushes a quick kiss over my cheek before vanishing down the hall.

The clothes are quite the way I remember them; elaborate, elegant, old fashioned and fading. I fix up a few patches with a bit of magic and brush off the dust and find a plain black suit. It looks muggle, but the sort of muggle that only a wizard would wear, probably under robes. But Snape's been showing me around in black trousers and a red dress shirt, so I guess muggle is the style he's going for. I'm certainly used to it by this point, and I pull on the suit without much thought. There are snakes on each of the silver buttons, carefully engraved and moving in sinuous, unceasing patterns. Death Eater finery, I smirk, is something a boy could get used to.

I'm examining my reflection in the mirror and wondering if maybe this is a bit overdone for the warmth of spring, when a sharp hiss at my feet startles me. I take a quick step backwards before I see Galatea glaring up at me accusingly. "Oh," I breathe. Snape must have brought her here. "Hey," I crouch down and offer her my hand, petting her sleek black fur until her eyes slit with pleasure and she begins to vibrate. "Good to see you too," I smile.

I glance at the pocket watch I found in the pocket of the suit (similarly inlaid with a pair of moving snakes). It's already six-ten, and my stomach growls angrily at me. I remember with a pang that my last meal (not counting the drinking binge) was a ruined plate of potatoes. Dinner sounds very appealing all of a sudden, and I feel surprisingly comfortable in my clothes and surroundings as I head down the stairs toward the dining room.

The house may be dramatically refurbished, but it's still the same place, and it brings back a clawing familiarity to walk around in it. I run my fingers over the stair rail and try to think about the last time I was here. Had I been happy? Happier than I had been with Alarbus? The memories taste like cold ashes and stale bread. I can admit, grudgingly, that I wasn't miserable, but the fact of it still feels like filth.

The buttons on my suit are hissing softly, but I can't tell what they're saying. I catch little bits of phrases, mostly remarking on their new wearer (me) and the decorations (nice) and how nice it is to be out of the closet (ha). It's almost comforting, and I think about hissing back, but they might stop being so frank, and it's nice to hear the things they don't think I can understand. Besides, how crazy would I look standing here conversing with my buttons?

"Harry," Snape's voice is meltingly warm and achingly close. I turn to see him standing by the living room door. He swallows notably and then clear his throat. "Please, have a seat." He flashes me that alarming smile, pulling out my chair with chivalric intents.

"You look good," he says, as a house elf scurries out with a plate full of food. "The suit…it's a nice fit." He takes a long moment to pour himself a glass of wine. "I trust your room meets your needs?

"And then some," I say, picking up a roll of bread. God, the food smells exquisite. "But I can't help wondering what your plans are."

He looks hurt. "Plans? Why, Harry, I thought you'd appreciate a change of scenery. You can always go home, if you like."

"Can I?" I snort. "I haven't got a home."

He arches an eyebrow and passes the pepper. "This is your home," he says simply, and I'm struck with the fact that it's true. "Would you pass the butter?"

Dinner ends and we sit, in comfortable silence, on the front lawn. He's drinking red wine and I'm watching the stars and enjoying the coolness of the grass making imprints on my arm. It's been nearly ten minutes before he says, "Do you want anything? I could summon you some," he grits his teeth, "coffee, if you like."

I can't help smiling. "Don't bother," I say lightly. "I've cut back to a cup a day." Alarbus had really been quite horrified when he'd found out I drank so much of the stuff, and rather insistent that I either quit on my own or seek help. I roll my eyes at the memory, and I'm surprised it doesn't hurt to think of him. It feels like such a long time ago already. "Maybe in the morning," I add, breaking the long pause.

"Mmm," he finishes the wine in a final drink and sets the glass on the ground to his right. "That's good," he remarks. "I was worried about you, last time."

"I know," I reply bitterly. "Didn't Arienette manage to assuage your doubts after you left me?"

If he catches the anger in my voice, which I suspect he does, he doesn't say anything about it. Instead, "I had her stop watching you," he quietly rejoins. "I said I was leaving and I meant it completely. I wasn't going to come rushing back to you because you drank to much coffee."

"Then why did you come back?" I can't help blurting it out. I don't really want to know; his reasons have never made sense, but I have to continue now. "I mean, why did you…why did you bring me here? And…that night…how did you know? You said…"

"I know what I said," he snaps. "It's not important." He stops talking, clearly finished with the topic, and I'm not sure if I'm relieved or not. I don't think I could take anymore secrets right now. Anymore nasty surprises. He's always known when I was in trouble, ever since I was in school. Saving you is my addiction. Hadn't he said something like that once? I shake the thought from my head.

I'm still trying to force my thoughts into silence when he leans over, brushing my jaw with the back of his hand, and kisses me. For a moment I can't move. It's been so long since anyone kissed me like this, like I'm the only important thing in their life, like I'm not an inconvenience, like they need me more than anything. And then I'm kissing him back exactly the same, my hands tangling blindly in his hair as he pushes me back into the grass.

I capture his tongue, groaning, and bite lightly. It's so much - almost too much - but it's not nearly enough. His lips are soft but demanding against mine, tongue sandpaper and spit as he attempts to lick the back of my throat. It feels like he's got that tongue in my brain, and I moan again, arching against him blindly and forcing my tongue into his mouth.

And then he's gone. I'm holding nothing, he's standing beside me, and the bruised feeling in my lips is nothing compared to the bruises in my heart. "What-" I start to ask.

"Good night Harry," he says, breathing a little raggedly. "I'll see you."

Exit the Snape.

III

I wake up the next morning feeling well rested and relaxed. The sunlight is spilling in through the window, turning everything a buttery yellow colour that is somehow not nauseating. Snape, I think with a sigh, what were you doing in potions? You should have been an interior decorator.

The thought makes me snicker, but then I remember the night before and the kiss on the lawn. What kind of game is he playing at anyway? He wants me, I know he does, he always has before. He has to. Why else would he have brought me here? He wouldn't just string me along, I know, it's not his style.

Then again, his style has dramatically changed since I knew him back in school, and a few weeks saving the world doesn't really afford a chance to get to know a person. He confuses me. It seems like there are always more and more questions. Back when I was young it was, "Why did you join the Death Eaters; why did you leave; why are you such a bastard; was your family rich; why do you teach" and similar inquiries that now seem to have lost all their importance. Then in the summer of 2003 it was all, "Where have you been; where are you going; who is Arienette; why did you kill them; what's happened to you; why did you do it to me?" A tad more relevant but equally unanswered.

And the last time we saw each other…the last time it felt like I was getting some answers, if not from him than from the women keeping us company. I knew secrets, things I never told to anyone. It wasn't enough. He was blocking out the more important questions I'd had with answers to the smaller ones, playing a game of chess where he sacrificed his pawns to detain my higher pieces.

I take a deep breath. Maybe, I think, life would be easier without those questions. Maybe the truth will be revealed in time. Maybe, as I once surmised, there is no truth at all to him, only the latest lie. Either way, his life is beautiful, and I want to be a part of it. I can't deny that any more than I can deny how miserable I am without him.

He wants me, I tell myself as I slide into a cream coloured shirt and white trousers, trying not to think of their former owners. He wants me, and eventually he'll make his move and we'll be back to normal.

It's a week since I first woke up in Malfoy Manor, and he still hasn't laid a finger on me, beyond soft, almost accidental caresses. There's something perverse about the way he touches me, like it's all innocence to him but to me…I shiver. Only Snape, I muse, only Snape could kidnap me, kiss me, and make me feel like the perverted one.

He doesn't even kiss me anymore, I think bitterly. Is he purposely sending mixed signals to drive me insane, or is he really not interested? I remember Arienette saying they weren't lovers, although he treated her like they were and kissed her with tongue in our motel room. Does he think I'll resign myself to being his latest oddity? That I'll follow him about until he chooses to discard me?

My skin feels too hot, just thinking about it, and he smiles at me over the chessboard we're sitting at. "Check mate," he says, moving his queen, the last remaining piece besides his king.

I stare in amazement as he stands, chuckling lightly. "How did you…you've only got two pieces!"

"Really Harry," he says with a smile, "it's necessary to make sacrifices. The game isn't decided by the amount of pieces a player holds."

I hate playing chess with Snape. He plays like a madman, making frantic, apparently careless moves that lose him most of his important pieces in moments. And just when it looks like it'll be an easy thing to move in and capture his king he changes in some indescribable way and his moves, still unrefined and effortless, take on a trickery that prevents his defeat. I can beat him at checkers though, so it's not a total loss.

That's how our time is spent, you see, playing board games. Breakfast, coffee, a walk in the gardens, a book by the window, the hours dwindling into darkness until we're sitting by the fire after supper playing games and conversing. By midnight he's always ready to turn in, finishing his glass of wine or scotch or whatever, and offering a hand to help me to my feet.

This is how we sleep: I, with my head on his chest, he, with his arm around my shoulders and his other hand clasped in mine resting over my heart, and my free hand twisted lazily in his dark curls. We sleep close, so that we share the same air, the same warmth, the same dreams.

This is a dream.

He will not be here when I open my eyes, and he will not be here when I go down to breakfast, and he will not be here no matter what I do. He is gone. These are facts. I am unaffected.

This is how we kiss: His hands frame my face gently and his mouth opens to suck me inside, my hands on his hips, his scent in my brain. We kiss like lovers because we are lovers - we are easily defined. He smiles against my mouth before he pulls back, his hands sliding to my shoulders as he sighs contentedly. We kiss the way we love; tentatively, desperately, with the pretense of perfection.

I am holding onto this dream with both hands and my teeth, because when I open my eyes nothing will be so sure as that again. Nothing will be so comforting as his hand on my chest and his teeth in my brain. Nothing will be simple again, when I wake up and find that I've lost him forever. I keep losing him, every night, dreaming of the things I can never get back.

Before I open my eyes he smiles and says, "I think I love you."

I reply, "I know."

He's learned to make my coffee the way I like it, tell the house elves I want cinnamon rolls for breakfast even though they're too sweet for him. He knows the time of day when I most like to walk through the garden, and all my favourite places in the house. He's discovered all the words that will make me turn away or flinch. And he's stopped saying them.

It's not trust or love, but I'm starting to notice things about him that leave me perplexed. He walks through the house silent, bare-footed; his tan cotton pants swishing slightly round his ankles. He wears colours. He wears white. He looks really damn good.

And he never lays a finger on me, almost as if he's afraid of breaking some rule. As if there are any rules left to break. I catch him staring, a couple times, passion burning his eyes to black cinders as he examines me. And then…nothing. No matter what I do.

"Touch me," I breathe to the walls, half hoping he'll hear me somehow. "Or I'll go mad."

"Tell me the truth!" I demand of him one day. He's sitting on the sunny lawn, a pair of Muggle headphones draped ridiculously over his hair as he pours over a leather bound book. He looks up without animosity, dark eyes easy and careless. I feel like I'm breathing mercury, and my mouth feels too dry as I lick my lips. "Please," I whisper, "Tell me the truth."

"My kind of truth is just the ghost of my lies," he says, and smiles disarmingly up at me.

That's something he does a lot of lately; smiles. For no reason at all sometimes, he'll just turn to me with the frankest of smiles. I guess he's happy, but I can't see why or how. He's never been the happy sort, and now he's flashing that slow, graceful smile like he can't help himself. It puts an end to every argument, to see him look at me like that. "How are you doing this?" I ask him, because there's no point in asking him Why.

"Magic," he sighs, and rolls onto his back, gazing up at me with that peaceful expression. Sometimes I have to look twice, just to make sure he's not using glamour; he looks so young.

And more and more, I'm coming to believe that the man is magic. He's not magical, the way I am; he is pure magic. And he's utterly mad. And I'm in love with him, and there's nothing to be done, one way or the other, as I climb the stairs alone after a game of chess he won and retreat to my bedroom and fall asleep confused and content.

The clock in the corner of the room ticks the careful minutes away, and I can just read the numbers by the moonlight streaming through my open window. One o'clock. I can't sleep and I feel like the old days, when I drank so much caffeine and could never sleep more than three hours. I ache for a Muggle television to soothe the twitch beneath my skin.

Silently, shaking off the covers, I stand and slip to the door, resting my head against the cool wood. There's a whole world out there for me, and I'm locked away in here, pretending I know what's going on. Pretending I don't care. I open the door and take a few uncertain steps in the direction of his bedroom. I try to keep my footsteps as silent as his, the sound sinking into the carpet. His door slides open without magic, and I slide slip inside, quietly shutting it behind me.

He looks like he's asleep and I step carefully toward him, breath held in the silence of the night. He doesn't move, except for the steady rise and fall of his chest. The corner of his duvet is flicked back, careless, as though he expects me. I wonder if it's like that every night. I move like I'm in a dream, to the edge of his bed, slipping under the covers to snuggle against him, pressing kisses onto his bare shoulder.

He stirs. "Harry?" he asks, voice muffled by the bedclothes and pillows.

"Just pretend it's a dream," I tell him, and he rolls onto his back, scrutinizing me with eyes that betray his alertness. He was never asleep. I gasp, drawing back for a moment, but he's got my wrists caught and he pulls me back to him, his mouth covering mine.

And dear God, it takes every ounce of my will power not to break down right then, give way in a trembling, twitching mass of desire. He undoes me, completely. There is something to be said for bedroom decorum, however, and I make the necessary effort and manage to kiss him back with only a hint of a whimper against his incessant tongue.

He tears away, breathing raggedly and staring into my face. "Tell me this is what you want," he demands, and I can only nod. That must be enough for him though, because his mouth is rapidly resuming its former position and his tongue is laving against the roof of my mouth like he's trying to lick into my brain. His hand traces a heavy line down the side of my body to my hip, pulling me closer until I'm flush against him, rubbing and crying out against his mouth in desperation.

He sighs, moving to my neck languidly. "Tell me what you want, Harry," he breathes, and I groan at the sound of my name - my name - on those lips, in that voice. "Tell me and I'll give you anything you can possibly say."

"Oh fuck," I gasp, his teeth scraping over my left nipple. "God, please…"

He chuckles, and I can feel the vibrations in my sternum. "Not very articulate, are you?"

And I'm about to get less so.

He kisses my shoulder, afterwards, lazy sweat slicked and gorgeous as he stretches out beside me. His yawn is the wide mouthed gape of a jungle cat's, relaxed but inherently dangerous, like the muscles sliding under his ivory-white skin. The slink of those tight muscles when I run my fingers up his spine. I sigh and make the effort needed to let my shoulders drop in repose.

Those bright eyes are turned on me, suddenly, and it occurs to me to wonder how anything so black could possibly be bright. But they are. Shining like stones in shallow water. He brushes his hand across my jaw, looking at me critically, calmly, calculating. "Do you still cry?" he asks, presently.

"Mm, what?" I manage.

"Cry. You used to cry."

I almost deny it, but he doesn't sound insulting. So I shrug. "Dunno," I say. "I didn't cry when Al threw the supper at my head."

"No," Snape agrees, eyes still boring into mine. "But then, you never really cared about him."

"Whatever," I reply, threading my hands into his hair and pulling him up for a kiss. Oddly enough, he doesn't press the matter, just kisses me back.

"I don't like it when you cry," he says, when he pulls back. "I used to. But I don't anymore."

"Oh," I say, and then think because there ought to be something else to say to that. "Oh," I say again, because there isn't.

"I want you to be happy," he confides, voice low and velvety as his tongue snakes over my glistening skin. He traces wet patterns over my clavicle. "I want you to be happy with me."

"I am," I reply, petting his hair distractedly. "Or I will be. I love you," I say.

"You're surrendering before the fight, Potter," he mumbles against my neck, and I smile.

"You love me too," I remark, and he kisses me until I stop talking.