The Red Reign Challenge: This Christmastime
The Twelfth Night : A Faerie Tale
by I Got Tired of Waiting

January 6 : Epiphany

He woke alone.

Searching, even under the bed, revealed only the thought that perhaps Ossie was gone as he suspected the cat's purpose was now served with the return of his magic. And as happy as that made him, he deeply regretted the cat's absence.

However, hoping to be wrong, he moved into the sitting room... and stopped stock still, gazing in awe at the tree which was lit by hundreds of faerie lights. By their cheery glow, he spied Ossie curled into a sleeping ball under the tree, his head almost upside down, his nose hidden by his tail. He smiled, questioning anew how any creature could be comfortable so. Almost as if called, the cat woke and stretch-walked out into the light but, to his surprise, moved no closer. Sitting primly, his tail wrapped around his haunches, Ossie merely blinked. And waited.

Maybe it was his name whispered by the soft susurration of snow against the window, or maybe it was a different, yet achingly familiar warmth on his hand from the fire, or maybe it was the clear understanding in the golden eyes regarding him so serenely that made him wonder, made him raise his new wand, made him utter, "Finite Incantatum."

Slowly, like a man waking from a drugged dream, the rich thick fur morphed into tattered robes. Reluctantly a battered cat became a man injured on the battlefield. With sweating effort, tawny turned to black. As pain slid into triumph, golden changed to emerald green. Harry? Had the return of his magic addled his wits? Was this the edge of madness? Who was this man, touching himself as though he couldn't believe his transformation either? "Harry?" Had he said it aloud?

"Severus?" croaked hoarsely out of a throat long unused to speaking.

Severus. I'd almost forgot; my name is Severus.

Tired green eyes held him captive. Hands covered in dried blood reached for him as he swayed. His knees gave way. Strong hands grasped his upper arms, supporting him even as the other body followed him down. Hesitantly, reverently, he raised his hands to the beloved face, twisted now almost beyond recognition by the war's hate. Touching, stroking, feeling, his fingertips rediscovered the curves and planes his awakening heart had hidden. Hands found his face, and his skin remembered love's touch and faith's reward.

"I thought you dead," he whispered.

So real, a warm hand cupped his cheek. "I almost was."

"How...?" He couldn't finish, not when he was so close. Once, then twice, his lips were touched, theirs were touching, were talking, were laughing, were crying. Reality was in the warm mouth beneath his, life was in his lover's arms wrapped tight about him, love was in the murmurs and gasps they both were helpless to stop. How long they held each other, he would never be able to say; forever would not be sufficient.

He suddenly found himself with a mouthful of messy black hair, crusted with what he cared not, as the face beneath it tucked into his neck. The precious body beneath his hands shifted, shook violently, and he tightened his hold lest it prove a waking dream. The breath ghosting his throat grew as hot and moist as the lips pressed against his exposed skin, and still he didn't let go, uncertain he could even if he tried.

Harry's head snuggled into his shoulder, finding with apparent ease that certain spot where it had so often resided. "Gods, you feel so good." Hands desperately gripped his robes.

He spoke his shame. "I wasn't there for you."

And received Harry's absolution. "I went berserk when Voldemort killed Albus. You couldn't have followed me."

"I saw you disappear with him."

"I fell when a Death Eater hit me with a curse as I killed... him. Minerva was nearby. She turned me into a cat, said it was easier to carry me."

"But... she..."

"Was with me..." Harry shuddered. "Then not. McNair killed her. She fell on me and he moved on. I crawled away to the trees."

Only a few feet had parted them. He tightened his hold.

"It's all right, Severus. How were you to know? I was unconscious; when I woke she was gone."

"We never found your body. I should have looked, should have..."

"From where? Azkaban?" Harry asked sharply. "Or did you mean to add you should have 'followed' me to where you'd thought I'd gone?" he asked, the fierceness in his eyes making Severus catch his breath. "I'm grateful you didn't, though," he finished softly. Inhaling sharply, he wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Fah, I stink."

"You smell alive," Severus corrected gently, kissing his forehead, "but perhaps a bath might make you feel better."

Harry smiled shyly. "Ever the diplomat, Severus?" he asked wryly. "Cats aren't as averse to water as you'd think, but I've made do with spit baths. It has been a while..."

"Over two years, if I recall," he replied with a smile. "Well, a bath it is, then. At least this house has unlimited hot water."

"About all it has," Harry muttered.

Severus placed his hand on his shoulder, unwilling to let him go even for an instant. Perhaps later he could do so, but for now... "What? You've complaints about the luxurious accommodations?"

Harry looked away but not before Severus had seen a thoughtful frown. "Harry?"

Taking the hand on his shoulder in his own, Harry kissed the palm. "I'm sorry," he whispered, his eyes roaming over the room. "I wish I could have been here sooner. I'm so sorry you had to go through all this..."

Severus cupped his cheek and pulled his face around until their eyes met and held. "I'm not. Sometimes one has to lose something to fully appreciate its return." His thumb caressed Harry's scarred cheek. "Now, weren't you about to bathe?"

"Join me?"


After casting an Ever-Clear and Warm charm, he ran the water hot and deep while helping Harry peel the crusted robes from his too-thin body. Harry ducked his head, refusing to meet his eyes as each layer revealed what he'd feared; the scars his lover had borne as a cat were manifest over the rest of his human self as well, but... he was alive. When Harry's eyes tracked over the burnt skin visible to him, he folded on himself trying to hide with his body the detritus of a Death Eater's revenge. Severus held him, murmuring soothingly as he coaxed him into the tub.

He'd not originally intended anything more than keeping Harry company as he bathed, but with the blind trust just bestowed upon him, his own robes soon followed and he stiffly stepped into the tub, settling Harry in front of him, his back to his chest. An old flannel in one hand and soap in the other, Severus concentrated on simply bathing his lover, gentling with steady hands the trembling flesh, his own needs set aside for the moment.

Harry was silent, too silent, and as he ran soothing hands over the now-clean back, he succumbed to temptation and kissed the nape of his neck, rewarded by a shiver that had nothing to do with fear. Leaning back in the tub, he pulled Harry with him, his arms loosely held about the slender waist. "Tell me of your journey."

Settling comfortably against Severus' chest, Harry pulled his lover's arms tight around him. At first Severus didn't think he was going to answer him until he began, "Hagrid found me and nursed me back to health, but he never recognized me. Months later, I left and made my way to Diagon Alley, hoping to reach London for your trial. But I got there too late; you'd already been sentenced by the time I arrived. The papers never did say where you'd been sent, so I hung around the alleys, thinking I could catch a bit of news."

He wanted to ask him why he'd not sought out the Weasleys, but given their attitude the last time Harry had seen them, when he'd told them of their relationship... Well, perhaps not.

"Ollivander caught me raiding his dustbin and took me in; he fed me and let me sleep in an old wooden box in his kitchen by the stove. Strange though, he knew who I was; he always called me Harry but never changed me back."

"I assume you couldn't do so yourself?"

"Not without help. As a cat, it really tired me to use magic, so I had to limit myself to small things. I'm sorry it took me so long to get everything ready for you, but without wand or voice..." Harry shifted against him. "I still don't understand why he didn't end the spell himself."

Given Harry's injuries, his inherent insecurities, and the Wizarding world's tolerance, Severus had a good idea why Ollivander had gone the route he had. However... "So instead Ollivander sent you with supplies to make me a wand?"

Harry nodded. "He's an odd duck and kept mumbling about how 'the wand always knows'... he was very unhappy with what happened to you. About three months ago, he assembled and shrank your gifts and, after giving me clear instructions, he hung the lot around my neck with the ribbon and told me where to find you. He took me as far as the outskirts of London; I arrived in the village the day before you found me in the woodpile."

"Ah, so you were the thief of herring."

Harry chuckled. "You were there?" He shook his head. "Nasty old man. Almost broke my tail with that broom of his."

Three months it had taken Harry to travel from London to this backwater, highland village. Thirty months of... "How was it as a cat?"

Harry relaxed a bit and sighed. "It was all right. Bit lonely, though. As a wild cat, folks gave me a wide berth." He sniffed. "Except you. You're the only one who got close..." Harry laid his head back on his shoulder, studying his face. "You were the only one who touched me..." Harry's eyes begged him. "It's been far too long..." he choked. "I missed..." Harry's silent tears mixed with the bathwater.

Severus wrapped an arm across Harry's chest, his other hand threading through the wet hair to bring their mouths together with the unspoken promise that he would never stop touching him, would never stop loving him, would never let him go, a promise Harry accepted and reciprocated with ardour.

When they left the bath, he deftly steered Harry away from the fogged mirror over the sink, thankfully the only one in the cottage, deciding he would deal with his traumas one at a time. Once in his bedchamber, he moved to his dresser and rummaged around the top drawer, the familiar feel of Harry's eyes watching him hot on his back. Turning around to face him, he held up a pair of nightshirts and handed him one.

"Are you hungry?" When Harry raised his brows, his eyes glinting, Severus rolled his own. "Idiot. As in food. It's past dinner."

"Famished," he replied with a wicked chuckle, pulling the nightshirt on before dropping the towel around his waist.

Transfiguring his cloak into a second chair, Severus served them tea with thick slices of bread and butter. "Sorry. Need to go shopping tomorrow," he mumbled around a mouth half full.

Harry bit into it and moaned. "Oh no, this is wonderful. Warm, fresh bread. Merlin, I missed it; you drove me mad every time you brought a loaf home. And tea," he said, relishing a sweetened sip. "Milk is fine, but..." He grinned. "I'm so desperate for human food, I think I can tolerate even your cooking for a while."

Raising a brow, Severus intoned haughtily, "Complaints about the service--"

"Yeah, yeah, I know where to leave them. You should be thankful you won't have to clean it anymore."

"Especially after mouse days." Severus wrinkled his nose. "And we won't discuss your furr-balls."

"Which ones?"

Severus blinked, then chuckled. "The ones you expectorated on the kitchen floor. The ones I stepped in."

Harry grimaced. "Oh, sorry. Grooming does that, you know."

"Well, the oil I added to your food fixed that inconvenience."

"And a culinary delight it was, too." Harry laughed and they finished their simple repast quickly, Harry making Severus sit back while he cleaned their dishes.

As they entered the sitting room, Severus shook his head with regret. "I admit I'll miss your contortions." Suddenly, he had to know. "Tell me, was it really comfortable the way you slept?"

Grinning, Harry replied, "While there were days I would have killed for even one hand, the cat's body was simply amazing. It was so strong and fast. And limber. My favourite was when I'd lay on my back next to you, dangling my head over the front. You'd always sink your fingers in my fur, and though it tickled a bit, I could almost imagine I wasn't a cat and you were..." He took Severus' hand and laid it flat on his stomach. "And you were petting my stomach like you used to before you fell asleep." He looked away, "Severus, I..." His voice trailed off, his uncertainty as plain as if he'd expressed it aloud. "I know what the curse did to me, and I--"

"And I don't care," Severus whispered, the hand on Harry's stomach sliding to encompass his waist. Standing close he whispered, "I'm not going anywhere." He pulled him close. "Come to bed with me?"


In the darkened chamber, Harry hesitantly pulled the nightshirt over his head and climbed into the high bed, holding the covers up so Severus could join him. Soon the years apart were bridged by lips and tongues dancing a reunion while hands and limbs reacquainted themselves with the closeness of sliding skin. Aching with a need greater than flesh, two hearts, numbed by survival and a loss of more than just magic, joined in joyous communion.

"Want you."

As dextrous fingers found and stretched him, Harry mewled, the vibrations tickling Severus' tongue as it traced the 'v' at the base of his throat. He kissed away the soft growls and hisses of painful pleasure voiced as he inched into his lover, the heat building slowly between them. Not an inferno for them this time, but more the soft sparks of a banked fire primed to ignite into life-giving heat and comfort. The warmth seeping into their souls had nothing to do with frenzied desire. No, this warmth, born in perseverance and sacrifice, redefined them, once again making them one in more than just body.

"Need you."

Strong hands gripped his arms, the nails digging crescents into his skin as the beloved body below used him for leverage. They quickly found the ancient rhythms, giving and taking, bestowing and receiving. Fire danced along his skin as passion's demands overrode thought and together they tipped into delight, their cries of mutual pleasure echoing quietly across the small room. Sated, Severus leant his forehead on the pillow, trying to catch his breath while hands tenderly caressed his back and arms, smoothing the exertion from his flesh.

"Love you."

He winced at Harry's growl as his body left that of his lover's. He hushed the soft sound of protest as he rolled out of the bed, leaving an ardent promise of his return to willing lips, before making his shivering way to the bathroom.

The flannel was as warm and intimate as the chuckle heard when Harry reminded him, "You could have used magic, you know."

"Maybe next time," he murmured, marvelling at how long the body next to him could lithely stretch before curling around him, their legs and arms tangling.

Soft breath wafted across his chest as Harry's fingers carded through the soft, thick hair there. Severus smiled; some things never changed and Harry playing with his chest hair meant he had something on his mind. And he thought he knew what it was since it weighed heavily in his own thoughts as well.

"I won't miss this cottage."

The soft sigh told him his comment had hit the mark. "Rotten village, too."

He shivered as Harry's hand trailed to his waist. "Someplace warm."

Harry shifted. "Mmm-hmm. Sun spots for two."

"Hmm. France?"

Messy hair tickled his chin as Harry shook his head. "Mm-mm... warmer... wi' catnip."

Severus chuckled, laying his cheek on top of Harry's head, his hand absently caressing the warm belly. "Catnip?"

"Yes," came the slurred, sleepy reply. "Lovely stuff." The hand on his waist tightened. "Together?"

Severus kissed Harry's forehead and contemplated his future. Their future.

"Always, love."