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Moving Through a Mirror Clear
An Interlude in the J. Alfred Prufrock Arc
- Vain
10.01.2004 - 01.09.2005

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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.

Warnings: SS/HP slash (Harry is 16 and Severus is 38), & language.

Continuity: This is the sequel to Where the Heart Moves the Stone and is and Interlude story in the The J. Alfred Prufrock Arc. Consider this the Prologue to Part II of the Arc.

Notes: PLEASE read the Part I (Verses 1-8) of this Arc and Where the Heart Moves the Stone (Verse 9), found at my profile, or else you WILL be confused. This story contains spoilers for ALL of Part I of the Arcand books 1 through 5.

The first quote is Severus's and the quote at the end is Harry's (coughforeshadowingcough).

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.

A thousand laurels to my beta ladydeathfarieBest Beta Ever. XD I love this woman; she makes me lucid!

Special Thanks for all your patience in waiting during my hiatus from the Arc. I can only hope that the story is worth the wait.

Please review & Enjoy!

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"You are what they call the human season.
You are all the alphabet in one.
You are every colour of confusion;
You are all the silence I've become.
Love me for Stupid reasons—
I like those most.
Wide-eyed, but Worth believing—
God knows . . .

Damn the angry voice that keeps us quiet,
The editor whose work is never done
Keeping pretty words between my teeth and
Sweet confessions underneath my tongue.
Drowsy contemplation: Do I let you in?
This is my invitation,
But how do I begin?"

- Sara Slean
My Invitation

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He was sitting on the table, legs swinging idly as his elbows rested on his knees. His chin was propped up on his fists and he watched his companion with strangely serious eyes. "I think you should let me do it."

The older man paused and looked up from the heavy tome he'd been reading to give the other a withering look. "It is a fool's pursuit, and you would do well not to concern yourself with such things."

Harry frowned irritably at the man. "I've had loads of practice. Not even that old bat Trelawney could—"

"Professor Trelawney," Severus corrected him sharply. He bent over his book again. "Shouldn't you be in bed? I have work to do."

The Gryffindor stopped swinging his feet and gave Severus a curious look, cocking his head to the side ever so slightly. "Am I bothering you?"

"Yes."

For a moment, Harry simply looked at him, still frozen in place. Then, without a word, the boy hopped lightly off the table and walked towards the chair where he'd draped his invisibility cloak.

Severus did not look up.

The younger man wrapped the silvery material over his shoulders and latched the throat clasp in silence. He wasn't annoyed . . . not really. After all, Severus was Severus and—if one thing had become apparent over the past two weeks—he was not going to change that just to suit Harry. Still, it would have been nice if . . . if things didn't always feel so bloody awkward whenever they were alone. It would have been nice if Severus would kiss him . . . just once . . . like he did that day by Draco's stone.

But that was stupid. Severus Snape didn't do things like that, not even for the Famous Harry Potter. Especially not for the Famous Harry Potter. He scowled, irritated by his own self-pitying thoughts, and moved to pull on his hood when a hand wrapped round his wrist and stopped him. The youth started and his head jerked around to find that Severus was standing right beside him.

The Potions Master was frowning darkly. "You needn't get so upset about it."

For a moment, Harry considered jerking his wrist away, but he was in no mood for a fight, so he simply leaned against the older man. His green eyes closed wearily when he felt his professor tense significantly at the contact, but the teen ignored it and rested his head against the older man's chest. He pulled his wrist out of the Slytherin Head's grip and wrapped his arms loosely around the man's waist.

"It was only a thought," he murmured into the dark robes. He nuzzled the fabric softly, inhaling the bittersweetsourbloodrosesteapotions scent of Severus.

For a long instant, Severus remained still, as though unsure what to do about the body pressed against his. Then he gingerly embraced Harry, as though worried the boy might shatter if handled less carefully. Instead the Gryffindor let out soft puff of breath that might have been a sigh and relaxed a bit more.

Against his will, one of Severus's hands rose to card gently through Harry wild black hair. He watched the smooth, unevenly cut strands slide between his long, stained fingers in fascination. "I do not put stock in such things." Despite his relaxed position, his tone was still stiff and distant. "Nor should you. Such codswallop has brought many strong and steady men to their knees."

"Well, I've been doing it all term, and nothing's happened to me because of it," Harry countered stubbornly. His hands tightened behind Severus's back. "Anyway, it's not the gloom and doom everyone seems to think it is—at least not when it's done properly. And it's not as though the outcomes are hard to change. All it does is tell you about the Path that you're on. Things like that."

"Things that I do not have any desire to know about," Severus replied in a sharp tone. He moved to pull away, but Harry gripped him tightly.

"Harry—"

The young man stood straight up and, still holding Severus about the waist, looked up into the other's dark eyes with that same strangely pensive expression. "Why won't you kiss me again? You don't treat me like you should—like a—" he seemed to flounder for a moment—"like I'm important to you."

Like a lover.

Severus watched him expressionlessly for a moment before gently gripping the boy by the shoulders and pushing him away. He turned and went back towards his table to continue with his brewing. "Go to bed, Harry."

Harry frowned at the man's back, irritation warring with hurt and confusion in his eyes. "Don't you find me attractive? I thought that you said—"

Severus stopped and stared at the wall in front of him. "What would you have me do, Mr. Potter? Throw you down and deflower you on my dungeon floor?"

"Stop being stupid," Harry snapped in obvious frustration. "Is it so hard for you to just fucking touch me? Why can't you make anything easy?"

At his sides, Severus's hands balled into fists, but he did not move otherwise. "Because nothing is easy, Mr. Potter."

A gentle touch at the small of his back startled the man and he stiffened once more at the feel of Harry gently resting his head on his back, just between his shoulder blades.

The teen's voice was barely audible: "Then stop making it all so difficult. What will you do if I die and you have regrets?"

A violent shiver went through the man. "Go to bed, Harry." His voice was coarse and choked with emotion.

There was sound like a quiet sigh and then a sudden coldness as Harry pulled away. He had barely even taken a step when Severus turned and grabbed his forearm, pulling him back towards him.

Harry went without protest and allowed the man to pull him close.

"You must stop asking me such stupid questions," he whispered roughly before pressing his lips to the boy's.

Harry parted his lips in anticipation and gasped slightly as the rough feeling of Severus forcing his way into his mouth. He tried to lean up and deepen the kiss, but the older man was stronger and held him fast by the forearms with enough force to bruise. Abruptly, he pulled up before Harry could even get a good sensation of the kiss, and he closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against his companion's.

His breath smelt like peppermints as it washed over Harry's face and it took the boy an instant to recognize the candies' lingering aftertaste in his mouth.

"Now will you go to bed?" he asked in the same hoarse whisper.

Harry dropped his head wearily and swallowed around an inexplicable lump in his throat. Somehow, he wished he were elsewhere. Or better yet, he wished that he wanted someone other than Severus Snape to kiss him.

I chose this, he reminded himself fiercely. He threw his arms around Severus's neck and buried his face in the man's robes again in a desperate sort of hug. I chose this.

Severus accepted the embrace in silence, bowing his head into Harry's hair and permitting the intimacy for far too short a time. Before he could draw away, Harry pulled back and wrapped the cloak all the way 'round himself again before pulling the hood roughly over his head to hide his face. An instant after he vanished, the door to the workroom opened and then swiftly closed shut again as he left Severus behind him.

The hallway was dark and shadowed, but he knew the way by now. How long had they been doing this . . .? Not even two weeks, and yet it was always the same: Harry snuck down to the workroom after curfew, sat down on a table, and pestered Snape until the man threw him out. Always the same.

It seemed like an eternity since he and Severus had sat by Draco's stone and talked. Harry had had hopes then. Plans. He had wanted—

"Want? Want! Always on about what you want! You don't know what you want, Mr. Potter! You. Are. A. Child.

Abruptly he stopped, squeezing his eyes tightly shut to block out the memory. The feel of Severus's hand wrapped tight around his neck, lifting him—choking him . . . The scent of his breath overwhelming and hot against his cheek . . . The feel of Severus's hand in his pants, gripping him so hard—

A gasp broke free of Harry's lips, startling him out of his reverie.

This was stupid. He was being stupid. He had what he wanted, right? Severus. Severus touched him now, talked to him, was with him as much as he could be given their precarious situation. He really didn't have the right to demand more, did he?

. . . Did he?

Sometimes he watched Ron and Hermione. Though the two had been a lot more conscientious about making him feel included, they still had a tendency to get lost in their own world. He didn't mind so much now, though: he knew that it had nothing to do with him. Still, he couldn't help but look at the way they treated each other and the way he and Severus interacted and see some major discrepancies. He felt like he was at Severus's beck and call. Even if they were involved in some sort of relationship, Severus was still his professor. It didn't seem quite fair that there was always a sense of obligation between the two of them.

The incident at the end of October (if not their entire track record from First Year on up) was more than enough proof that, push come to shove, Severus both would and could abuse his power as a professor. It was in his nature to use every possible advantage and the rules of spying seemed to apply to every facet of the Potions Master's life—including his love life.

. . . And how odd was that? Harry Potter was now a part of The Greasy Git's love life. If the whole thing wasn't so sad, he'd find it hysterical.

Sometimes it was enough to make the Potter heir want to scream. There was always a line that he wasn't sure if he could or should cross. It felt too much like he constantly had to be on his guard. Ron and Hermione were nothing like that. Really, it all boiled down to one thing: he was jealous of them. It didn't help that he had no one to talk to about it, either. Though he was sure Ron and Hermione knew something about his involvement with Snape, if not all the gritty details, their silent-but-obvious disapproval loomed heavily in his mind whenever he even considered broaching the issue with them. And—if he was being honest with himself—he was still on somewhat shaky ground with the other two Gryffindors and had no desire to rock the boat.

With a heavy sigh, Harry stopped in the middle of the hallway and leaned against the wall. Hidden beneath his cloak, he squeezed his eyes shut tiredly and rubbed at them awkwardly behind his glasses. He stood still for a long moment and drew in several slow, calming breathes.

"No more rushing into things, Potter," the teen muttered to himself. Frustration made his voice sound thick and tired. "No more stupid chances or foolish risks."

Unbidden, the shockingly vivid image of Draco Malfoy's pale, dirt-streaked face flashed in front of his eyes and Harry gasped as a sharp pain when through his chest. He shook his head hard, almost dislodging the hood of the cloak with the motion, but the image remained burned across the backs of his eyelids for several second, leaving a foul, metallic taste in the back of his throat.

No more stupid chances.

He owed far too many people far too much to continue doing this to himself.

Draco. Sirius. Cedric. Mum. Dad. Bertha Jenkins. The old groundskeeper. Dumbledore. Severus. Ron and Hermione. Professor Lupin. The Weasleys. Mrs. Malfoy. The Order . . .

The list just kept on getting longer and longer and he just kept on getting more and more tired. The teen shook his head a final time and pushed himself off the wall. He squared his shoulders with far more determination than he felt and resumed his course. There was no time for this. No time for self-pity and whining. No time for any of it.

He climbed up a tiny, hidden stairwell that led directly from the upper dungeons to the second floor of the main stairwell, being sure to skip an eternally loose stone on the seventeenth step. Just as he passed the landing that let off into the hallway of the second floor, he heard sniffling somewhere nearby.

Harry paused and cocked his head slightly to the side. He did not have his wand lit (that would have rather defeated the purpose of invisibility), but he was more than experienced enough with roaming around the castle to know where he was going for the most part. In this instance, however, the darkness that helped conceal him from Filch and his furball also hid the person who was crying. The main stair hall was just a few steps away . . . if he needed to beat a hasty retreat back to the dorms, it wouldn't be that difficult. Curious, the boy wavered for a moment before turning back into the winding stairwell. He pulled his wand out of his pocket and gripped it tightly as he went.

It was probably Peeves playing a prank anyway. Still, he really wished he'd though to bring the Marauders Map with him tonight. The Gryffindor went down several steps, breathing deeply in an effort to still his thundering heart, and then stepped carefully into the second floor hallway. The sniffling had gotten distinctly louder, now evolving into piteous, halfhearted weeping. Harry cast an uneasy eye about and followed the noise towards its source. Somehow, he was almost surprised to find himself at the entrance to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.

The weeping had now become wailing sobs and, for just an instant, Harry was tempted to turn his back and go back to bed. Moaning Myrtle was always whining about something—it wasn't really his problem. Somehow, though, her cries seemed different tonight . . . more heartbroken. With a sigh of resignation, the Potter heir pushed open the door. It was only a little past midnight, and just how long could this actually take?

The floor was surprisingly dry as he entered the room, but the echoes of Myrtle's sobs were almost enough to set him back apace. The torches were lit along the walls, casting the lavatory in a familiar orange-ish light that made the shadows loom tall and deep. No one was visible and all of the stall doors were shut. Hesitantly, the boy undid the throat clasp of his invisibility cloak and carefully laid the delicate fabric over the edge of the broken sink where it would be safe from one of the ghost's inevitable tantrums.

He blinked owlishly as his eyes adjusted to the light and shifted uncomfortably. "Myrtle?"

The weeping abruptly ended and for a moment all that he heard was the tinny echo of his own soft voice.

"Myrtle?"

With a slow, eerie creak, the door to one of the stalls on his right screeched open and the ghostly head of the dead Hufflepuff peered warily out of the toilet. The girl was pale, even by ghostly standards, and glowing tears tracks traced their way down rounded cheeks that would never lose their baby fat. Her eyes looked unusually large and luminescent, magnified by her thick glasses and phantom tears. The spirit sniffled piteously and frowned slightly at him. "What do you want?" Even her voice seemed to be a lesser shade of itself.

Harry blinked at her and suddenly wondered why he had come here. Shifting his weight slightly forward, he offered her a gentle smile, hoping to calm her apparent distress. "I heard you crying and I came to make sure you were alright." He paused when she offered no reaction and shifted uneasily again. "You are, aren't you? Alright, I mean . . ."

Tears resurfaced and the ghost withdrew into her stall again, hiding from him. "What do you care?" The flimsy walls of the stall muffled her voice ever so slightly. "It's only Moaning Myrtle moaning again, right?" Her voice thickened with tears and it was obvious that she was crying once more. "Get out and leave me alone; this is my toilet and I don't want you here."

"What?" Harry blinked, slightly stunned by the abrupt rebuff and just a bit irritated. Myrtle thrived on the attention her antics got her. Kicking someone out of her bathroom with so few fireworks was simply . . . un-Myrtle-like.

The teen leveled a faint scowl at the stall in which the dead girl was hidden. "If I didn't care, I wouldn't be here."

When he only heard faint sniffles in reply, Harry cautiously approached the stall. He really had no desire to get toilet water thrown on him, but he also couldn't just leave her alone in the bathroom when she was so obviously and genuinely miserable. He tapped gently on the door before pushing it open. Myrtle was huddled in the corner of the stall, her face hidden as she wept against the wall.

The Gryffindor Seeker reached out for a moment to comfort the girl, but paused when he remembered that his hand would only pass right through her. He pressed his lips together in a firm line. "Myrtle—"

The ghost sniffled piteously. "I don't want to share my toilet with you anymore."

Harry blinked. "What did I do?"

"Everyone is mad at me!" the girl wailed, pulling slightly away from the wall.

"Deputy Headmistress McGonagall yelled at me and confined me to the castle! I'm not allowed to go out into the lake anymore and Peeves taunts me all the time!"

She whirled on him, anger twisting her face, and he took a step back until he ran into the wall.

"This is all your fault!" Harry flinched as the ghost floated up to loom over him. "Everyone's cross with me because of you!" Translucent hands balled into fists at her side and she took an angry step towards him, forcing him out of the door and back into the greater bathroom. Her voice became rougher and coarser as she grew angrier and angrier. "I don't want to be locked in the castle!" She darted out of the stall in a quick motion, forcing the boy back another few steps. "It's not fair! Why should I have to suffer because of you!"

Abruptly Harry stopped his retreat and leaned forward slightly, eyes shining angrily. "What are you talking about? I haven't done anything to you! Don't blame me for something I had nothing to do with."

Myrtle looked down on him, face twisted in anger. Then the expression suddenly crumbled into a fresh wave of tears. The girl buried her face in her hands are resumed weeping, stuttering through her quiet sobs: "Don't y—y—yell at me!"

The boy stared, unsure what to do. Why had he come here again? He was crap with girls—especially when they cried. Unable to resist the impulse, he stepped towards her and reached out again to pat her on the shoulder. A violent chill went through him as his hand passed through the Hufflepuff, and he jerked back, but then stopped when he caught an expression close to amazement shining from Myrtle's eyes. A ghostly hand rose and reached out towards him, but then suddenly retracted. For a moment, the girl looked at him hard, a strange expression on her face, then she whirled around, her back to him and her hands balled into loose fists at her side.

Harry stared at her translucent back, unsure what to do. The thought of leaving in disgust flashed quickly through his mind, but the memory of the look in the ghost's eyes made him pause. He turned his head slightly to the side and frowned slightly, unsure what he should do. "Why are you crying, Myrtle?"

The girl turned and looked at him over her shoulder. The tears in her eyes did not fall. She sniffled rather sadly and watched him closely. "I'm lonely. I can't see the merfolk anymore and no one here will talk to me."

"Well, I'm talking to you," Harry replied, more than a bit confused.

Myrtle slowly floated around to face him again and gave him another of those strange looks. "You're a very odd boy." She frowned at him. "And I still don't want to share my toilet with you."

Exasperated, Harry released a hissing sigh and turned, ready to leave. He was too tired to deal with this. Tomorrow would be Tuesday; perhaps he could coax Ron and Hermione down here after Quidditch practice. Hermione was great at getting people to talk.

"I don't want you to share my toilet with me, but I'd like it if you came to visit me."

Harry stopped a foot or so from his cloak, something in her voice holding him back.

"I'll tell you a secret if you come," the ghost all but whispered.

The Gryffindor turned. "A secret?"

Myrtle nodded. "Something happened about a month ago. Something's different—" she pointed at the sink where his cloak was draped—"down there."

Harry turned slowly and looked to where she was pointing. The Chamber of Secrets.

He turned back to Myrtle, his voice uncharacteristically unsteady. "A month ago . . .?"

The ghost watched him with unreadable eyes. "A little bit more maybe."

A month ago was the 9th of December. He had been in the infirmary. On the 5th however, Draco had died.

When Harry said nothing for a long moment, Myrtle slowly began to float towards the sink. "Something's different now, but I don't know what." Luminous eyes turned towards him. "Do you know?"

The boy shook his head, eyes flickering back to the sink where his cloak was draped.

Myrtle sniffed, apparently done with him. "Well, if you come back later, I'll tell you."

Harry looked at her. Already her eyes were clear and she looked much more like herself. Harry sighed quietly and sat down on the dais of the sink.

Myrtle frowned at him in confusion. "Aren't you leaving now? I'm not going to tell you tonight; you have to come back later."

The boy smiled easily at her defensiveness and pulled his legs in to sit Indian-style on the dais. "It occurred to me that I don't have anywhere else to be at the moment. Anyway, I thought you said you were lonely."

The ghost watched him suspiciously for a moment before looking away to smooth down her skirt. The two remained in silence for moment. Eventually Myrtle fidgeted uncomfortably for a moment and then looked up at him. She blushed uncomfortably and looked down at her hands. "I don't have anything to talk about . . ."

Harry pushed his glasses up his nose and smiled again. "You've been around for a really long time, right?"

The girl cast him another wary look, but nodded.

Harry placed his elbows on his knees, folded his hands together, and propped his chin up on his interlaced fingers. "Maybe you could tell me some stuff about that then—about the way Hogwarts used to be."

Myrtle floated closer, blushing once again. She sat down next to him, folding her legs beneath her. Her eyes seemed to glow. "You really want to hear a story?"

He nodded. "As long as you only tell the truth."

Myrtle smiled then, and the sight was unexpectedly stunning, changing her entire face.

Harry stared for a moment before giving her his own blinding smile in response. The girl shifted closer to him and looked up expectantly and the Gryffindor racked his brains for a moment. Then his eyes lit up and he shifted slightly until he was more comfortable. "Tell me everything you know about Tom Riddle."

For once, Moaning Myrtle didn't need to be asked twice.

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Severus stared down into his cauldron without really seeing it. He could still taste him in his mouth, smell him in the air, and feel the distinctive silk of his hair between his fingers.

The potion bubbled ominously, but he did not notice.

"So can I do you?"

". . . I beg your pardon?"

Harry laughed at the look on his face and held up the Tarot cards he'd been thumbing through. "A spread. Can I do one for you?"

Severus sighed and closed his eyes. Stupid boy. What had possessed him to take Divination anyway?

With a determined shake of his head, the man straightened and turned back to his work bench, hunting for a vial of distilled water. The boy occupied too much of his thoughts anyway; he would not tolerate it interfering with his work. Still, the knowledge that Harry—Potter—whatever—had left upset did not sit well with the Potions Master. A lot of things concerning the Potter boy did not sit well with Severus.

Their first Occlumency lesson had been an utter disaster. The only time he been able to bring himself to cause the boy pain was when the little brat had made him angry, and then he'd attacked the Gryffindor so violently that the teen had passed out from the effort of expelling Severus. The situation was not helped by the fact that when he went over to make sure Harry wasn't hurt, he'd found the soft, sweet-looking skin about the boy's collarbone much more interesting than reviving him. He didn't know what was going to happen once he resumed teaching classes. When he wasn't two second from throttling the boy, it was taking all his restraint not bend the little sod over the nearest table and fuck him senseless.

Finding the vial, Severus paused a moment to check his potion's book before turning back to the cauldron. Though still experimental, there was no small amount of promise in this brew and he was anxious to get it completed. It was not a priority, but somehow making healing potions was gratifying in a way that almost no other brew was. That, and he was willing to do almost anything to avoid his thoughts. They only seemed to run about in circles, gyrating wildly between Harry, Draco's death, Albus's scheming, and—oddly enough—the Potions Master's own parents.

The truth of the matter was simply that Severus was in completely over his head. Death was nothing new to him, but just the remembrance of Draco's pale, limp body laying in false repose before the funeral was enough to make him feel barren and unstable inside. The Slytherins came to him for guidance, but he did not know what to say to them. Anytime he let himself think on it, his hands trembled and he had to sink into the nearest seat. A part of him wanted to weep, to shriek and break things and rage against the inequity of the situation. The rest of him remained stunned—numbed by the knowledge. It was too much to be believed. He'd known the boy since he was little more than a swell in Narcissa's stomach . . .

And now he was dead.

How had this happened?

He had only been a boy. A BOY!

Another sacrifice on the Altar of Albus, no doubt.

Hot and familiar, sickening angry coils of rage twisted inside Severus, gnawing at him and he squeezed his eyes tightly shut and forced the sensation down. It wasn't Albus's fault; not really. He knew that—really he did. But still, he had entrusted the boy to Albus and now he was dead.

With a growl of frustration, Severus turned back to his cauldron and, using his free hand, stirred the viscous fluid roughly. He held the vial of water over the concoction, poised to add it in the moment the red mixture turned blue. Normally, making a potion would clear his mind, but lately his thoughts had felt . . . congested—like a wound inside his mind that he could not help but pick at. His own impotence was almost enough to make him physically ill. Especially in the face of Albus and the Dark Lord's seeming omnipotence. And now Potter was thrown into the mix. How was he to deal with that?

He'd been relatively solitary for well over a decade and now the needy, clingy, absolutely ravishing young man—boy—whatever—was standing before him, sashaying his little hips and pouting and having the audacity to pass out on the floor of his office like an red and gold wrapped Christmas gift. An intoxicating, utterly fuck-able red and gold wrapped Christmas gift.

God, but the boy was turning him into a monster.

He wanted . . . He wanted . . . craved . . . NEEDED . . . Every time the boy was near him, it was all he could do to not grab him and quite literally sink his teeth into him and—

The vial slipped from his hand and fell into the cauldron, causing the potion to immediately turn to a black cloud of vapor and Severus recoiled, twisting to cover his mouth and nose with the sleeve of his robes lest he inhale the fumes. The steam felt hot as it spread through the room and stung at his eyes. The Potions Master staggered back a few steps and waved his hand in a flicking motion at the spitting cauldron.

"Expuli expulsum!"

Instantly, the smoke vanished and Severus doubled over, coughing painfully to clear his lungs. He had only inhaled a whiff of the smoke, but even that little bit was enough to send painful spasms through his chest. He grabbed the edge of his work table to keep his balance and took deep, painful gulps of air between coughs.

A telltale pop sounded in his ear, and a small, familiar hand was instantly pressed against the small of his back. The Potion's Master opened blurry, watery eyes to see Winky's miniature face twisted in concern.

"Master?"

He waved the House Elf away tiredly and forced himself to stand upright, swallowing the final bout of coughs. Strangely enough, it was the Elf who had become the constant in his life. She alone asked nothing of him, except that he allow her to serve him. And he had to admit that she served him very well indeed. His father hadn't allowed any of their House Elves to survive after his mother died, so he had little memory of them, but he did not think that any of them would have been as loyal to him as this small creature. That, and she had relatively no compunction about spying on Potter and then reporting back to him. Though he didn't actively approve of the habit and it was something she had begun of her own recognizance, he couldn't quite bring himself to tell her to stop. He knew that there was something twisted about that, but the entire situation was twisted, so who was he to blow against the wind?

Besides, he had sacrificed everything to protect the boy up until this point. Really, Harry was the only thing he had left to salvage by now.

"There is no turning back now, Severus—no more running away, or hiding behind those who could protect you. Not in this. His life is now yours, dear boy. You must bear that burden alone. . . . I have deceived and mislead you, Severus, but I have never lied to you."

"You have broken me."

"Physician, heal thyself."

The man let out a long, shuddering breath.

"Master? Is Master well?" Winky squeaked, still watching him in obvious concern.

Severus cleared his throat and flexed his shoulders, trying to ease the tightness he felt there.

"What will you do if I die and you have regrets?"

He wanted out of this. Out of all of this.

"I am well enough," the human replied, avoiding the Elf's eyes. He stared into the cauldron at the ruined potion. All that appeared to be left was an odd, blackish silt-like substance, which was almost inexplicable. There wasn't a single thing in the cauldron that he could think of that should have caused that result. True, he had added the water far too soon, and the glass no doubt contributed to the odd reaction, but that still should not have happened . . .

Suddenly, the weight of his failures seemed to drag the man down and Severus turned abruptly, feeling old and restless. He cast an agitated eye about the room for anything he wanted to take with him before grabbing a few books from the table and heading towards the door. Winky let out a quiet squeak as he nearly ran her down, but he still did not look at her. "See to the room, and do not touch the cauldron. I want to try to figure out exactly why that happened."

The little servant squeaked out an affirmation that he closed the door halfway through. He knew that she would lock up when she left. Robes billowing behind him, the dour Potions Master stormed down the hallways to his chamber, the expression on his face so fearsome that Mrs. Norris fled from his path with a hiss. As though sensing his mood, the Dark Mark on his arm throbbed slightly, sending warm, almost pleasant, tingles down his back and Severus growled audibly.

Potter's touch.

It was so much different than the Dark Lord's.

He wondered if he should tell the boy about the Mark—let the child know that he'd been pulling at Snape through the brand off and on ever since the night Draco died . . . But Harry already had far too much power over him and the concept of giving him anymore continually made Severus balk. He doubted that the boy would abuse that power, but he simply could not bring himself to talk to him about it.

Something would have to be done about it, though, and soon. What would happen if they both tried to Summon him at the same time? Would they sense one another? Would Harry finally realize what he was doing? Would the force of a dual Summons tear Severus apart?

Both Potter and the Dark Lord were wizards of significant power . . . Far more power than Severus's own. It would not be difficult for the two of them to tear him in two should he ever become a battleground.

Abruptly, the man stopped and gripped the Mark through his sleeve, squeezing painfully at his left arm as though the act could calm the brand. Their connection was getting stronger. Potter was getting stronger. The Potions Master stared down at the white knuckled grip on his sleeve for a long moment, unable to stop squeezing it.

They were going to rip him in twain between them. He knew it. Potter, the Dark Lord, Albus. They were going to tear him apart by the end of this.

A part of him could not help but be grateful to them for that. Better to die than continue like this. Something had to change and soon. The way things were now, they were all only festering like this. Severus longed for the coming battle—anything to escape this endless, empty cycle.

Anything to escape those damnable green eyes and small, callused hands.

The Mark throbbed in warm defiance, and the Potions Master dropped both his head and his arms in weary, frustrated surrender.

Kyrie eleison

Lord have mercy . . .

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Harry slipped into his bed sometime just after three in the morning. He lay still on his back, listening to his own wispy breathing and staring at the red blackness of his canopy. He could feel Severus's cloak beneath him, impossibly warm, and around him the sounds of the other boys seemed too loud and jarring.

He blinked blindly at the velvet and tried recall everything he'd just learned to memory, but it slipped through his mind with the ease of a fever dream. None of it stood out as being critically important, but somewhere the key to Voldemort's destruction had to be hidden somewhere out there. He just needed to turn over every possible stone. Despite his efforts to concentrate on Myrtle's stories however, his mind was continuously drawn back to Myrtle's promise to tell him more about whatever she sensed in the Chamber. As sleep finally overtook him, the last thing he thought was that he really had to see what was in the Chamber for himself, just to be sure the dead Hufflepuff wasn't pulling his leg.

Just one time before he told the Headmaster what he'd found.

Just once.

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"Somehow I need to love you
More than I need to breathe.
I can feel you leaving the ground—
I will follow down;
You and I will drown.

Don't save me.
Don't lose me.
Don't wake me now.
You left me.
You release me.
Let me drown;
Take me down.

Take me down.
Let me drown.
"

- The October Project
Deep as You Go

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To be continued in:
Verse X: Honest Opinions About the Stars

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