Two Foot Palace
Verse VIII of the J. Alfred Prufrock Arc
- Vain

Standard Disclaimer: I own nothing except the plot. Harry Potter and all the elements therein are the intellectual property / registered trademarks of JK Rowling, Scholastic Books, and Warner Brothers. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was written by T.S. Elliot. I am not profiting from this.

A thousand laurels to ladydeathfarie for her incredible beta-ing. This woman makes me lucid, people. Thanks, hon! 3

Warnings: SS/HP slash and CONTAINS S.P.O.I.L.E.R.S. for Book 5.

This story was originally launched under my secondary pen name, "Hanakai." For convenience's sake, I have decided to streamline my fics under my original pen name, Vain. SAME AUTHOR. SAME STORY. DIFFERENT NAME. As a fic is re-uploaded under my Vain pen name, I will delete it from my Hanakai profile. Eventually, Hanakai will be deleted entirely, so please update your faves and bookmarks to reflect this.

Thank you for all your previous reviews—I saved them all—and I hope you all review again. I'm greedy.

For progress notes on the pen name transition or if you have any questions, please see my Livejournal (linked both my profiles). I hope this doesn't inconvenience anyone & thank you for your patience.
Do not steal from me.

Please Review.

"I'm taking a ride off to one side; It is a personal thing.
When I can't stand Up in this cage . . . I'm not regretting.
I don't need a better thing—I'd settle for less.
It's another thing for me:
I just have to wander through this world
Stop before you fall Into the hole that I have dug here;
Rest even as you Are starting to feel the way I used to.
I don't need a better thing (Just to sound confused).
Don't talk about everyone . . .
I am not amused by you.
Cause I'm gonna lose you. Yes, I'm gonna lose you.
If I'm gonna lose you, I'll lose you now for good.
- Pete Yorn
Lose You
- Pete Yorn

It starts.

Harry shifted uncomfortably on the bench as the new First Years were being Sorted and tried to pretend he didn't feel Snape's eyes burning a hole through his back. Ron bounced up and down in expectation for the Feast, oblivious to their Potions Master's scrutiny. Hermione, her head buried in a book that seemed almost as large as she was, peered over the leather bound monstrosity and frowned at the preoccupied look on her friend's face. How she had managed to smuggle that book in was anybody's guess. Green eyes locked with Hermione's hazel ones until the girl flushed and returned to her reading. Further up the bench, Collin Creevey suddenly leaned over the table and started pointing frantically at a small girl with long, unremarkable black hair who was shuffling forward in the line of First Years.

McGonnegall's small reading glasses flashed as she looked at the scroll, Sorting Hat held almost carelessly in her free hand. "Creevey, Mary!"

The little girl shuffled forward, looking terribly awkward, and Collin beamed at Harry. "That's our little sister!"

Harry smiled weakly, attempting to look happy, but only coming off as slightly nauseous and Seamus snickered behind his hand. Ron, who had somehow managed to miss the entire exchange, looked over the Irish boy curiously.

Seamus's blue eyes flashed mischievously. "Looks like our boy Harry may be acquirin' a new admirer." He winked at Ron, managing through his own unique talent to make it look obscene. "If you know what I mean."

The redhead twisted in his seat just in time to hear the Hat yell out "GRYFFINDOR!" in its overly exuberant voice. The table erupted in applause, conveniently drowning out Harry's groan as the newest Creevey bounced over to the table to plop down next to her brothers.

Hermione looked up again and pursed her lips unhappily. "You're quite sure you're alright?"

Harry smiled, a pained expression. "Fine." The bushy-haired girl scowled sternly and Harry shifted uncomfortably, torn between desperately wishing that Snape would look away and desperately hoping that Snape wouldn't. "Really. I'm alright."

Ron's face suddenly appeared in Harry's line of vision, forcing the smaller teen to lean back with a surprised grimace. "You look like shite, mate."

"Thanks so much," the black-haired boy snapped before he could restrain himself.
Ron blinked owlishly and then flushed, turning even redder than normal. He sat back with a hastily mutter "M'sorry," and turned his attention back to the Sorting, severely cowed. Hermione's frown deepened and Harry almost held his breath in expectation of those five fateful words, What happened at the Durselys'?; but a sudden bell-like noise interrupted them as Dumbledore rose, still tapping his fork against the lip of his glass.

Harry slouched in his seat, grateful for the distraction. The Headmaster beamed at the student body and began his speech, but even the usual warnings about shifting stairs, throwing curses in the halls, and why the Forbidden Forest is the Forbidden Forest could not distract the young man from the scalding sensation of the First Years' eyes seeking him out and stripping him of the comfortable anonymity of the Gryffindor. He heard whispers, both real and imagined, as he was pointed out, gawked at, and held up for an inspection that he didn't think he could pass.

His mind suddenly flashed to the boa constrictor he'd released from that Muggle zoo First Year: Bred in captivity. Harry shifted once more as Mary Creevey literally squealed in delight and pointed at him. He'd done a good thing, releasing that snake. The realization was sudden and made him feel lightheaded. It was probably the best thing he'd ever done.

He turned suddenly and his eyes locked with an obsidian gaze—the only gaze he would acknowledge was on him. The only gaze he wanted on him. For an instant he and Snape stared at one another from across the massive Hall, only vaguely aware that Filch had added 120 new items to the list of contraband and that Mary was desperately trying to get her brothers' idol to look at her.

Harry looked away first, feeling oddly exposed and very, very warm all over. He didn't look back for the rest of the Feast.

Light footsteps sounded against the cool stones of the dungeon outside the door, source-less sounds without a meaningful context. For a moment they hesitated, and then they retreated once more. Hidden beneath his father's invisibility cloak, Harry chewed anxiously on his lower as he watched a shadow pass back on forth on the other side of the door. Remus had given Harry the Marauder's Map right before he left Headquarters, though how the werewolf had obtained it was a mystery. With the map's help, navigating the labyrinth-like dungeons was a good deal easier, especially since he was only down there for one reason.

It was 12:39. And Snape was on the other side of that door.

There had been no communication between the two of them since Harry's unintentional letter and Snape's hurried reply. Harry found that he was at a total loss of things to say and Snape . . . was Snape. The man had fewer kind bones in his body than a Cornish Pixie had ounces of common sense. It also didn't help that Remus had asked Harry why he'd owled Hogwarts the very next morning. Harry wasn't sure what Remus would do if he suspected that . . . something . . . had happen between his de facto godson and "Snivellus," but he wasn't eager to find out either.

Yet Harry had wanted to see Snape. Severus. He wanted to see Severus. He wanted to see that interesting, depthless man who draped his cloak over his shoulders by the lake, and held him when he broke down, and made him tea, and wished him a happy birthday, and kissed him so perfectly . . . Even though it was the same man who mocked, belittled, and humiliated him at every turn. The same man who almost physically threw him out of his office the previous year. The same man who was supposed to loathe him more than even Voldemort.

Because . . . Well, just because. Because there was the potential for something more there. Something that made Harry feel more than weak in the knees, more than love, hate, or lust—more than anything else. Something that made Harry feel good at a time when nothing made Harry feel good. He wanted to throw himself into the Potions Master's arms and simply be, without any prerequisites, requirements, or expectations. And he knew somehow that that was alright with Snape. With Severus.

No justifications, explanations, or needs for absolution. Simply them.

Harry tugged back the hood of his cloak, ready to drop it in a moment's notice. He approached the door and hesitated, his right hand raised in preparation to knock.

"Merlin's blood! Whoever is nancing about out there, either come in or leave! I am busy!"

The young man jumped, startled, and then pushed the door open carefully, just enough to slip in. It closed behind him with a menacing thump.

The room was surprisingly large. It may have once been a classroom, but someone had long ago converted it into a private lab. A brilliant fire crackled merrily in the oven-sized hearth to the teen's right and directly in front of him shelves rose to the ceiling, crammed to bursting with books and some rather shady-looking jars. The mantle above the fireplace was lined with scrolls, old photographs, and various odds and ends that seemed to have no other purposed beyond looking shiny and functionless. Snape was to his left, hidden behind a long, heavy table that took up nearly half the room leaving only a foot or so of space on either end, and hunched over an enormous black cauldron, looking so closely at the bottom that he was actually leaning into the cauldron. Various ingredients of questionable origin littered the table and three large books were lying open to the man's right. A thick curtain of inky black hair fell over Snape's face, hiding it from view as those long, skilled fingers pressed in on the cauldron's sides as though trying to push them inward.

Snape did not look up. "What do you want?"

For a moment, Harry stood, strangely stunned by his sudden proximity to the man who had haunted him, for better or worse, since his very first day at Hogwarts. There was a sudden, inexplicable intimacy to being alone with Snape—Severus—now that hadn't existed before.

His musings were cut short, as Snape suddenly stood upright so abruptly that he was amazed that the man's spine hadn't snapped like a rubber band. Pure black eyes speared Harry and his breath caught somewhere just below his breastbone. He was both terrified and exhilarated. A log cracked in the fire and he jumped, the hood of his invisibility cloak finally slipping off to reveal his disembodied head.

Snape stared, looking oddly consternated for a moment before he seemed to come to himself. "Take that damn thing off," he hissed, his eyes darting to closed door.

Harry flushed in shame and undid the throat clasp, allowing the delicate fabric to pool at his ankles. He stepped out of it, suddenly grateful that he'd never changed out of his robes after dinner, despite the odd looks Ron had given him when he'd crawled into bed fully clothed. Snape wasn't simply watching him, he was devouring him with his eyes. Harry met that hungry gaze with unabashed curiosity and the other man looked away, hunching over his cauldron once more.

"Is there something you need, Mr. Potter?" His voice echoed oddly in the cauldron, muffled by the thick iron.

Harry frowned; this wasn't how he'd pictured this meeting going. "I . . ."

"Get on with it or get out, Potter. I have more important things to attend to."

The younger man bristled, suddenly angry and feeling more than just a bit dejected. He glared at the cauldron, green eyes attempting bore through the metal and shame the hidden man into facing him. Snape ignored him, choosing instead to tilt the cauldron back a bit so that only two legs were resting on the table and his head was literally inside the thing.

A long silence passed between the two, an almost ridiculous amount of time, as Snape continued his unnecessarily thorough inspection of the apparently satisfactory bottom and Harry frown at his teacher, unable to puzzle out his behavior. He hadn't been expecting Snape to throw him up against a wall and . . . No. He hadn't been expecting anything like that. But he had expected to be received a bit more . . . kindly? No. Snape would probably curl up and die before he did kindly. Humanely? He wasn't sure. But something had happened this summer and he deserved a bit more than 'quit nancing about the hallway,' or 'I have more important things to do.'

Unconsciously, the teen's hand brushed against his pocket, pressing the small reassuring lump of paper as it passed. Call me Severus.

Harry scowled and marched forward. A small, surprisingly strong hand grabbed one of the legs of the cauldron and yanked it down, forcing Snape to either retract his head or risk having his neck broken. 'I have more important things to do' wasn't going to cut it tonight. Not after he'd spent all summer agonizing over this . . . this . . . utter bastard of a man.

Snape jerked out of the cauldron just in time to avoid having his jaw broken. The man glared and pulled himself upright to tower over the boy.

Harry glared back and let the cauldron drop to the table with a resounding boom. "I'm not going to go away just because you ignore me."

If possible, Snape seemed to make himself even taller in response, looming over the 5'7" Potter heir. "Of course not." The man's sneer burned like acid. "Never could bring yourself to do something so convenient, could you, boy?"

Harry flinched despite himself. "Well, I'd hate to prove you right, Professor."

This time, Snape flinched. Harry couldn't help the smirk that quirked at the edges of his mouth, even as his mind was shrieking at him to stop. This wasn't what he'd come here for. Hard green eyes softened suddenly, something like guilt washing away whatever triumph he may have felt. He turned away and crossed his arms tightly over his chest, staring at the fire. Watching Snape would only make him say something stupid again.

He could hear Snape taking a deep breath, no doubt ready to tear him down from the Potter Pedestal again. Harry spoke before he could get the words out.

"I missed you."


He'd said it.

A choked noise, like a barely suppressed gasp left the man behind him and the fire popped loudly. For an instant nothing seemed to move but the dancing flames reflecting off Harry's glasses, then there was an odd scuffling noise that made the boy's hair stand on end. He turned, dropping his arms in preparation for whatever Snape was going to do to him.

Only . . .

Snape was now standing with his back to him, facing the wall. His fists were pressed against the cool stones and his head was lowered. The teen stepped forward in alarm. "S—"

"Get out, Potter." The man's voice sounded raspy.

He hesitated for an instant, suddenly wanting more than anything to obey that order, that unequivocal command . . . But there was something else too: something . . . that part of him, that core of reason and control that resisted Imperius and got him out of the trouble his impulsiveness got him into, forced him to stay rooted to the spot.

"I told you to leave!"

No. "No."

And then he felt it: a soft pressure against his mind, not truly intrusive, but foreign all the same. Legilimens, he realized. He's trying to manipulate me.

Harry braced his feet on the floor, shoulder width apart. Focus, now . . . He could feel the intrusion, something warm, dark, and though not quite malevolent, not at all what he wanted to do. Let go of all emotion. He touched the intrusion, (Focus, now . . .) grabbed it, (Let go of all emotion.), and pushed.

You let me get in too far.

Snape made no sound, but the intrusion seemed to shudder, then resist, and then at last vanish. Harry released a sigh before he could contain himself. He watched Snape shake his head and scowled at the older man once more. "How often do you do that to your students? Sir?"

"As often as need be." But there was no bite to the words. He merely sounded . . . defeated. "Leave, Mr. Potter."

You lost control.

"Why?" Harry moved towards the man again, careful not to let his hip bump the table as he walked around it, lest something should fall. "Turn around and look at me."

"Because you should not be here." No. Not defeated. Desperate. Scared. Angry.


Harry narrowed his eyes and stopped a foot or so from his goal. "Well, I think I should. I want to be here. And don't call me Potter." He tried, unsuccessfully, to peer through Snape's hair and get a look at the man's face to see what he was thinking. Bred in captivity. "Why won't you look at me?"

A strange noise left Snape, a choked barking kind of laugh. "I cannot be trusted to do otherwise."

"I trust you."

Everything seemed to freeze for an instant. Harry blinked, stunned by his own words.

Snape shuddered violently. "Harry, get out."

Without thought to the consequences, the younger man reached out and gently pressed his hand against Snape's shoulder. Whether he meant to apologize or was attempting to soothe the pain he heard in the other's voice he never knew, because Snape instantly whirled around and pushed himself off the wall to loom over him. The boy gasped in sudden fear at his professor's proximity and the terribly expression in his eyes. Snape opened his mouth and looked for a moment as though he was going to scream, but then he seemed to stop, frozen in place.

Dark eyes stared hard at the boy, unblinking, as though they could see through him. He seemed to be struggling with something, emotions flickering in his eyes like flames behind a veil. Harry trembled beneath the weight of the gaze and his breath caught in the back of his throat. Snape advanced on him, closing the miniscule distance with steps so slow and graceful that Harry wasn't sure if he was walking or levitating.

A trembling hand rose and its palm gently caressed Harry's left cheek, long potion-stained finger gently curving over the slope of the teen's skin. Harry shivered beneath that touch and leaned forward into his professor's dark robes, sagging heavily against the older man, as his legs seemed to shake violently. The hand petting his cheek gently ghosted upward, the ring finger tentatively brushing over the fragile shell of the boy's ear, making him gasp, and then continuing back to card through short messy hair with infinite gentleness.

Harry's mind was racing faster than his heart, a hundred thoughts flying through before he could register them. He was acutely aware of a slow throbbing pooling between his legs and whimpered when Snape took another step forward and a strong thigh suddenly brushed against his gradually hardening penis. Harry shuddered and pressed himself hard against that leg, aching and shaking and utterly helpless beneath the fire in Snape's hard, black eyes. Eyes that were now anything but cold. How could he have ever seen them any differently?

"Severus," he murmured, as those eyes suddenly drew closer. The name was more of a decision than anything else and he thrilled somehow to say such a potent, private word as "Severus."

Snape made an odd, almost strangled noise in his throat as though he were trying to say something and couldn't find the words he wanted and then suddenly Harry was being kissed.

It was not at all romantic bliss or impassioned chastity, but hungry and desperate. Needy. It was lips and tongues and the barest clatter of teeth, and a hand cupping the back of his head to raise him up a bit while another slid down to grip his bum hard, coaxing his suddenly uncontrollable hips to rub just a bit harder and a bit faster against the sturdy, immovable reality of that leg between his. Harry gasped, opening his mouth just a bit more, and whimpered at the faint taste of something sweet and tangy that lingered on Snape's tongue. Some irrational part of him wondered if he tasted like butterscotch. He'd had butterscotch before curfew. Did Snape like butterscotch?

But then Snape moaned and Harry found himself being pushed backwards and he wanted to wail when that leg disentangled itself from his own. Severus. It was oddly sweet, the desperation with which Snape held him. It was comforting. And the man was gripping him too hard, and he wanted out, and he'd have bruises come morning, but it felt good, despite the sudden rush of fear that laced through him. It felt good and occasionally a distinctive hardness pressed up against him as Snape half carried, half pushed the boy backwards, his tongue sliding wetly against Harry's and its tip flickered lightly at the roof of his captive's mouth.

The breath left Harry in a rush as his back suddenly impacted with a cold stone wall. That blessed leg slid back in between his and the boy's hips bucked violently against the older man's leather pants, thankful for the contact. Snape groaned into his mouth, a sound that Harry immediately echoed, and tore his lips free, gasping for air. Harry allowed his head to fall back against the wall harder than was comfortable, but that didn't matter either because Snape was then kissing his throat and pressing him so hard against that wall and the hand on his bum had somehow worked its way underneath his robes and to his waistband and was tugging his shirt out of his pants and—

Harry arched against the man pinning him to the wall as Snape's hand worked its way down the back of his y-fronts, touching him. That was . . . That was . . .

The boy's hands gripped the man's head, getting hopelessly tangled up in long black hair. But it was soft and thick and, yes, greasy, and smelled faintly of ginger and peppermint. Which was odd, because Snape himself never smelled like ginger and peppermint and that hand was moving and touching and Harry was moving and gasping and hovering on the edge of something so beautiful and—

A choked scream tore out of Harry's throat before he was even aware that he had made the sound and he shoved Snape off of him hard, knocking the Potions Master to the ground.

For an instant the two of them stared at one another, looking stunned. Snape's cheeks were flushed and his eyes were wide. He looked strangely unnerved as he sat sprawled on the floor. Harry made a pained, panicked noise in the back of his throat and pressed himself back against the wall as though attempting to sink into the stones.

Severus Snape—Bred in captivity.

Snape licked his lips, his eyes darting about the room as the briefest traces of something like terror played over his expression. His mouth worked soundlessly for a moment, trying to force out words that weren't there. "Ha—Po—"

"I can't." Harry wanted to scream when the words left his mouth, but he couldn't seem to focus on anything beyond the trembling in his limbs and the awful, awful fact of Severus's wide, frightened eyes. He averted his eyes and pushed himself away from the wall. "I can't."


But even as he rebuked himself, all he could think of was escape. Because there it was, Severus Snape, in all his ignominious glory. A man who was neither legend nor monster, sinner nor saint, savior nor devil, evil nor good. A man who was nothing. A man who was everything. A man whom Harry Potter saw—saw— in the way that one sees and recognizes the truths of the Mirror of Erised—and knew he both had and wanted. And suddenly didn't want at all.

How could one want something and be so frightened of it at the same time? Yet there he sat, thrown down, plain, less than comely, and more than a little bit afraid. Harry saw that he was human for the first time since he'd known the man. And that terrified him.

Severus swallowed and began to himself upright. "Harry—"

So Harry ran.

Past Snape, past the table, past the too-large fire and too-full shelves, out of the room. Out of the dungeon. Out of the lower South Tower and all the way up to the staircase to the North Tower where he collapsed with a muffled cry. He ran into someone during his flight, knocking them down, but he didn't care. Why should he care? He had run away from it. He needed it, wanted it, and had had it all, right there in his hands . . . But he had run away. Away from Severus.

And, first and foremost, away from all that wonder and banality that he needed so very desperately.

Bred in captivity.

Oh, God . . .

A noise that sounded suspiciously like a whimper struggled to crawl out of his throat so he clapped his hands over his mouth to force down the sound.


And what would Sirius say?


Sirius was dead.

And he couldn't stop shaking, trembling until his teeth chattered and he was forced to drag in deep, unsatisfying breathes through his nose because he didn't dare move his hands. He'd scream. He knew he would.

So he simply sat very, very still, hands clasped over his mouth, breathing like he'd run to Athens from Marathon.

What had he done? What had he done?

Severus would never talk to him again. He'd hate him now for sure. He'd never—he'd never look at him like that . . . Like Harry was everything. Never. Not now. Not after tonight.

The swallowed whimper turned into a sob that he could barely keep down.

And then there was Sirius.

What had he done?

He desperately wanted Snape to come up and find him. To come and stand behind him in that oddly comforting silence and simply be there for as long as Harry needed. Hell, he'd be happy if Severus would come just to yell at him, get him expelled. Something. Anything.

But he never came.

Dawn found Harry Potter curled up at the base of the stairs, shivering with cold, two hands pressed so tightly against his mouth that his lips were bluish and swollen.

And he never came.

Wishful thinking I might be yours,
Drifting on every step;
I'm always drawn to the dark horse.
Sweet, sweet, oh nothing's said . . .

And every dream, every, is just a dream, after all,
And everything stands so still when you dance.
Everything spins so fast,
And the night's in a paper cup
When you want it to last.

Wishful thinking you might be mine . . .
Every shiver sends
One breath under the bridge of sighs,
Bending where the river bends.

And every dream, every, is just a dream, after all.

Heather Nova
Paper Cup

Continued in:
Where the Heart Moves the Stone
Verse IX of the J. Alfred Prufrock Arc