A/N: Here it is
A/N: Here it is. The end. I'm feeling a tiny bit numb right now, so I can't say if I'm happy or sad that it's over, but I want to once again thank each and every one of you who read, reviewed, added the story (or the author) to your alerts/favourites and recommended it to others. I realise that I have neglected my readers and often didn't find the time to respond to their questions and feedback, but I've read every single review and can't express in a few lines just how much they mean to me. How about I write another story for you instead (if RL allows…)? It's been a long ride and both Harry and Severus deserve some rest finally.
I hope you'll enjoy this chapter as much as you've enjoyed the previous ones, that you keep something of the story with yourself and that, if you are curious about how it ends, you go and check out And yet… Please, keep in mind that And yet… had been written months before the idea of Pantogogue even occurred to me.
This chapter was edited by the marvelous cckeimig, so one big applause for her, please.
Thanks, everybody. Signing out… Brynn.
The Demon and the Sinner
I stand on the ramparts, hidden under a Disillusionment Charm, and look for Harry's return. I refuse to even contemplate any other possibility, preferring to occupy my mind with berating myself for falling into patterns both pathetic and fatuous.
When he finally appears, it feels as though a weight was lifted off me. I can breathe easier and January is not quite as frigid. I need to suppress something wild and bright inside me to stop myself from either laughing of crying with relief. I was a fool to think I could escape him.
When he approaches the steps, I recognise the shape he is levitating – it is Pettigrew's body. The small surge of vindication is mostly on Harry's behalf, but I am glad to see that man dead for many reasons.
I go back my quarters, requesting a tea set on the way there, and take my place in the armchair by the fire. It is likely going to be long yet until the Headmaster and the called Aurors release Harry. Chances are that he is going to wait for Black's exoneration… I have the entire rest of my life, though. The decision has been made and the knowledge that he has returned relatively unharmed is enough to quell my worst fears.
The door opens much sooner than I anticipated. There is still tea left for him. Dumbledore would have offered him some, but he might not have taken it for the same reason why I did not earlier in the day.
"They're calling a session of the Wizengamot tomorrow," he explains, skipping over a lot of details straight to the conclusion. He has probably figured out that I knew of his return and spent the time until now thinking of the possible consequences. It is refreshing to speak to someone capable of estimating my thought process… although slightly disturbing.
I gesture him to come to me. He takes off his cloak and outer robe on the way and I realise that he has been wounded and the Headmaster has not bothered to call Pomfrey to look at him.
I help him take off his shirt, even though he does not ask for assistance, and inspect the damage. It looks like several uncoordinated swipes of a four-nailed paw. I give him a questioning look.
"Pettigrew had a silver hand – a gift from Voldemort." I am aware of that, naturally. All Death Eaters, past or present, are. "Most of these-" Harry gestures at his chest, "-were made when he was convulsing. Not my direct fault," he adds, although I would not have accused him of such.
"They must be disinfected," I inform him. "It will hurt."
He scoffs, which I interpret as his acquiesce to have the potion applied. He clenches his jaw, which is the only indication of pain I can see apart from the involuntary tensing of muscles. I belatedly realise that he is standing half-naked in the middle of my quarters.
Deciding not to broach that particular topic just yet, I finish closing the cuts in silence. He looks very tired by the time I am done and lets me lead him into the bedroom without protest. It is still far too early for me to go to sleep and the sofa is not… well, I will be using that room in the meantime. It does not make sense to wake him up every time I pass by.
I lend him one of my shirts, which is rather big on him, though not nearly as big as the clothes he used to get from his relatives. He casts a Cleaning Charm on himself, solving that issue without me having to offer him the use of the bathroom. He sits on the side of the bed and looks at me, as if he wanted me to tell him what to do. I shamelessly take advantage of the situation.
"Why do you think you want me?" I ask him. It is not a bad opening – to the point and yet in his exhaustion it might take him a while to realise that there is a major change happening.
He stares at me in mild confusion.
"Why do you sometimes want scotch? Why do you get hungry?" He shrugs. I cannot see the comparison. "It's just… chemistry."
"This…" I gesture between us, but from his expression it is apparent that I have to be more particular, "my being your anchor…" He nods to indicate that he has caught on. "It is not one-sided. If you misstep-"
"I die?" he inserts. Not necessarily, but I will not be a puppet on his strings. I would cut those strings and with them would go my life, his sanity… and Merlin knows what else. "That is upping the stakes a bit much, isn't it?" He smiles, happier than I have seen him in a long time, though I ascribe that to the exhaustion. "But I'll take that bet."
"Do not make fun of it," I warn him. This is no light matter and I must be sure that he knows what he is doing. I have not allowed anyone into my personal space for longer than he has been alive and I will not do so if he might just move onto another conquest in a few weeks. I believe that he would not… but I must be absolutely certain. "If there is to be a relationship between us, it will be the second most serious thing in your life, Potter, right behind killing the Dark Lord."
Not even the use of his surname seems to sober him. He looks disgustingly giddy. The exhaustion has caught up with him; it would be better just to let him sleep.
"You're basically saying that if I get you, I'll have to keep you?" he lies down and pulls the covers up to his chin. His voice becomes muffled. "Well, that works for me. I want to keep you for as long as I've got left."
Shortly after midnight Harry emerges, looking young and indecent, dressed only in underwear and my shirt, displaying a pair of knobbly knees.
"What changed your mind?" he asks. Looking at him now, I wonder – for about five seconds. His appearance never played a role, and for a good reason. Slim might be considered attractive, but he has only a few pounds on a skeleton. His eyes are all the more vivid, though, even shadowed with his internal Darkness as they are. Deep and ensnaring.
"Dumbledore," I tell him truthfully.
I smirk, realising that I have managed to predict one of his reactions correctly. He laughs incredulously.
"He gave me his blessing," I reply nonchalantly, stand up, take his hand and lead him back. He has not slept nearly enough and I will not allow him to nurture insomnia due to nightmares.
"Aha," he exclaims, perceptive now that his brain has had a meagre few hours of rest. "You told him that there was something that could improve the 'Light's' chances for victory but went against the school rules and he was all for it." How does he do that? "No, really." He tugs on my sleeve, sitting down on the messed-up bed. I comply and sit next to him. "What changed your mind?"
There is no 'real' answer to that question. Maybe I just needed to be reminded of something, or maybe I have been annoyed by the 'Light' for so long that my patience with their antics has finally run out. It is far more likely that as long as it took me to acknowledge that I had any feelings for him, it also took me to acknowledge that I do want him in my bed.
"I've never done this before," he states with a smile. I look at him with surprise – he cannot think that I would sleep with him now?
He chuckles. "I mean, I have never been in a relationship."
For a boy that is supposed to have the entire world at his feet, that is a dismal statistic.
"What did you do with all that fame?"
"Tried to avoid it?" he suggests. I suspect that the tragic reality is that he has had no time for romance – between saving the world, trying to stay alive and dodging rotten vegetables… Not to mention actually finding someone he could trust.
"That is the worst wasted fame I have ever heard of." He was never meant to be famous. He should have been the son of a clever mother and a proud father and the older brother of several siblings; average, unnoticed. Instead…
"I couldn't deal with that." He shakes his head. The smile is lost, but I do not really regret that loss. I like him more as he is now – serene, fatigued, real. "Dumbledore took a child who believed himself a freak and made him into a freak. I was like an exhibit in a Zoo. After a while I just resigned myself to it and concentrated on keeping everyone alive…"
"You are not a freak. You are… special." He mirrors my grimace at the word.
"Hermione is special. Tonks is special. I'm just… They should have chosen someone better to be the Boy Who Lived."
I have to object to that. He should feel a disassociation from the personage created by media.
"The 'Boy Who Lived' is not someone; it is something."
"I had hoped not to be degraded that far." He is so incredibly difficult to hold a conversation with. Challenging, though. Somewhat like me, perhaps, but where my remarks are cutting towards everyone else, his are directed at himself. He is more intelligent than most people suspect, but all that wit, with an addition of twisted black virulence, is spent on disparaging himself.
I want him to stop doing it – or, at the very least, stop believing what he says.
"You are Harry Potter. A person. Not a thing. Not a freak. Not any number of other insulting epithets." Except stupid child, idiot, moron, dunderhead, brat and Gryffindor. He will probably not escape those if we are to proceed with this. There must be a rift between us staged for the public. When people observe our interaction, a sexual relationship must be the last thing on their mind.
He rises and stands in front of me, effectively recapturing my attention. Planning can be left for later.
"Truth is a matter of perception, Severus. While you may see me like that, virtually no one else does."
"I do not care about everyone else." Which, I dare say, is obvious. I care about him, and for him I am willing to voice all sorts of absurd sentiments. "I want you to see and treat yourself with respect. If I can do it, you can do it, too." He cracks a little, shy smile, and leans down to place a kiss on my temple. It feels the tiniest bit like patronising, but I allow it, since the next one is initiated by me, directly on his mouth, and grows into full-on osculation. His previous experience is noticeable; he moves with the self-confidence of someone who simply knows that he can do whatever he chooses to do.
When we part, his eyes are somewhat lighter, as if few of the shadows fled from them for a moment, giving him back a bit of his innocence… it is an illusion, but a mesmerising one. I know that behind those jade eyes is a jaded mind, otherwise I could never touch him like this. Even if I did not realise it very well, his next statement would have reminded me.
"I don't want to disappoint you." Why must he be so self-conscious? Why does it make me want to protect him? It looks so deplorable, but he is anything but. How could he disappoint me?
"You do not owe me anything."
"Don't I?" he asks sadly. It was not supposed to make him sad. It was supposed to make him feel better about not being perfect; to ease his guilt or whatever is plaguing him now. He brushes my cheek with his knuckles, a gesture too mature for someone of his years, walks around me and sits on his haunches on the bed, just behind me. Were he anyone else, I would feel threatened right now, but Harry… Harry would sooner die than hurt me; I know that, even though I do not and never will fully deserve it.
"But I… If I don't owe you anything, then it means that you don't owe me anything either."
Merlin knows I do not want to owe him anything. This is all a mistake, but the greatest and sweetest and most wonderful mistake I have ever made. I am so ashamed of myself for giving in to him, but I could not – nobody could – resist him.
"That would mean there is no us, nothing… But there is a bond between us…" he whispers, resting his forehead against the back of my neck. The tip of his nose touches my vertebra prominens. "It's not clearly defined, but you… Severus, don't tell me I don't owe you anything. I owe you too much to say in words."
His warm palms cup my shoulders, thumbs gently stroking the flesh over my shoulder blades. I have not been this close to anyone since Regulus' death… and I do not think I ever felt this close to anyone.
I have slept in the same bed with another person for the first time in more than seventeen years. It was not due to any necessity – it happened simply because we both wished it. The fact that nothing of carnal nature transpired does not make it any less a reason for me to consider Harry and I lovers.
I woke up way too early because he thought it prudent to push his ice-cold feet against me, but I did away with that problem with a Warming Charm and decided that there are just some things that will make me exercise more patience than what I am used to.
The week drags on and I ignore Harry in Potions classes and when I happen upon him in corridors, but it is a mere precursor of the increasingly worsening antagonism to come gradually over the span of the next few weeks. He takes to it with Slytherin-like ease, giving me a cold shoulder and even letting out a disparaging remark about me once I am supposedly out of earshot. Granger attempts to chastise him, but her words fall on seemingly deaf ears. It is going to be worse. By March, we will easily be back to our routine from the former years.
Behind closed doors of my quarters he initiates physical contact, although he is, thankfully, far from clingy. I have the feeling that he does not know what I expect from him and does not want to push me past my limit of endurance.
When on Friday evening he does not mention his plans for the weekend, I feel it prudent to ask.
"Are you going out tomorrow?"
"Yes." He does not try to hide it from me, although it is obvious that, just like the last time, he wishes me to stay behind and wait for his return, no matter that the fear is crushing me.
"I want to-"
"Not this time."
It is once again a definitive answer, disallowing arguments. I understand all the reasons, but it does not make it one fucking bit easier. I surmise that he has his information from the Malfoy house elves, but it still does not give me any idea as to where he is going and what he might face there.
"Will the Dark Lord be present?"
Harry sneers viciously. He looks rather ugly like this – it is like a visible warning that these dark, dangerous emotions are capable of twisting him inside.
"I sure hope so."
The hatred disperses quickly and within seconds we are simply staring at each other, eyes locked in silent conversation that conveys nothing. I remember what Garton said to me: 'If you want your fuck to remember him by, you should move fast.' It sounded crass then and it does now, as well, like a forceful attempt to denigrate the admittedly illicit affair we are starting here, but it still sounds better to me than sugary professions of love.
"Come with me," I practically order him. He barely hesitates before climbing to his feet and following me to the bedroom. I push him onto the bed and lean over him. Our mouths join and, after the initial surprise, he does all he can to keep me closer, reach more of me, retain more of me.
He becomes aroused quickly, but does not succumb to the desire, rather pulls slightly away, as much as the mattress under his back allows him to.
"Off," he states simply. My confusion and inclination to hurtful anger at the brush-off must become apparent quickly, because he kisses me lightly to stop me from speaking and adds: "We're not doing this half-way."
I derive perverse amusement from this – not many of my students have personalities strong enough to go against my wishes in anything, much less try to order me around. I have known for a long time that Harry had it in himself and, admittedly, I find him more attractive like this than if he simply submitted to me.
I give him the freedom of movement he has requested and he sits up and calmly sets to untying his shoes. I take off my outer robe and for a while watch him.
Harry Potter taking off his shirt is the second most suave thing I have ever seen. The first one is the Dark Lord killing – he slightly leans forward and draws, the movement coming from his shoulder rather than elbow, fingers gently yet unyieldingly enveloping the wooden shaft of his wand as it ascribes an arch, coming to a split-second halt when aimed precisely at the target before glowing green. The Dark Lord's grace has always been unearthly, terror-inducing. Harry is only marginally less frightening to those who see beyond the façade, though his danger is more human, more real. Tangible, in a way.
At the moment he looks like he was made for pulling off his shirt; the movement comes from his shoulder and the cotton slides over scarred skin, caressing the hard triceps I find myself staring at. Harry is still not particularly beautiful to me, but he is the most precious thing in the world.
The rest of the process of undressing holds no other such surprises, but I cannot find it in myself to be disappointed, since the single moment of the shirt-sleeve slithering down that upper arm replays over and over in front of my eyes.
The chill of the dungeon air on my stomach forces me to return to present. Harry stands about four steps away from me, naked but for a pair of boxers, looking at me quizzically. I feel nervous, although I am long past the stage of worrying that someone would find my body inadequate. He, it seems, feels similarly – there is a certain abashedness about him, yet he does not shy away or attempt to cover himself. I have seen his scars before, but it strikes me that I never quite appreciated them as being a mark of, apart from an abused child, a warrior.
His eyes are drawn to the inside of my right arm (not to the left one, to the much more prominent, starkly contrasting Dark Mark), where a set of parallel scars is the remainder of my recurring short cutting stints. He does not have such markings, to my slight surprise. From my elbow his gaze slides over my rather pronounced ribcage to the skewed cross drawn into the skin of my stomach with my father's shaving razor what feels like millennia ago, and then to my navel.
There I stop observing him in favour of divesting myself of my pants. I peripherally notice that he seems slightly startled to find that I take them off together with my underwear, not bothering to prolong the process due to some misplaced delusion of modesty. I suppose it might be a valid concern to wonder whether his physical appearance might disillusion me to the point of refusing him in the end, but it is far from rational – I have seen him in various stages of undress before and have yet to run away screaming. The situation is more likely to occur the other way around, but as far as I can see he is perfectly content with me being as I am.
A strange, strange man.
I do not bother waiting for him. He has already made up his mind. I take the remaining piece of cloth – which is inherited after someone with a longer waistline, but everybody has a waistline longer than Harry – off of him and make to push him on the bed again, but he moves by himself and a few moments later we are tangled together and he uses his mouth and tongue to tease my nape and chest, leaving a trail of saliva behind.
I have almost forgotten what this was like. Not the mechanics, of course, I remember those well. I push Harry's knees apart and, not so suddenly, I am too close to him to notice all those irrelevant things, like that he is thin like a rake and looks frailer than a wraith and that those knees are way too knobbly… it is all just skin and body heat and the wet touch of his tongue where he licks my throat.
He endures the preparation in silence marked only by increased frequency of breathing, but when I finally enter him he whines – just a tiny noise of pain – and I feel privileged to hear it, because he never lets on what he is feeling. This small miracle of a human trusts me more than he trusts anyone or anything else. He has allegedly borne Cruciatus without making a sound and here he is, allowing mere discomfort to pull such a reaction from him.
We are, to neither's surprise, both silent lovers. There are no words, no moans, not to mention screaming. When I hit his prostate he clutches at the blankets and lets his head fall back, mouth open, shaken with the intensity of the sensation, but it is his body I have to listen to for further instructions, not his voice.
He orgasms before me but does not just fall slack and wait for me to finish. He continues to push and kiss and scrape… I cum with a groan and he closes his arms around me, pulling me closer and giving me one last, grateful kiss before I start falling asleep.
For a man so young he is a startlingly accomplished lover.
It is early morning, about an hour before I had estimated he would wake up, but the nightmares plague him regardless of my presence. He raises his head slightly, so that he does not smother with his nose buried in the pillow, and sighs very quietly, unwilling to disturb me, not realising that I have been awake for a long while.
The tips of my fingers skim over the heart-shaped burn scar on his back, which I consider the ultimate oxymoron.
"How did you sustain this?" I whisper. My thumb traces the outline of the unnaturally symmetrical design. Harry shifts to his right side and lifts himself up on his elbow. The scar is gone from my sight, but I can feel the tissue under my palm, as I keep my arm around his chest.
"A cooking accident?" he asks, rather than replies. I choose to take it as a suggestion, but refuse to accept it as a truthful answer. The pair of aggravatingly piercing green eyes seems to implore me to let it go, but I have promised myself that I will not be blind to anything simply because it is inconvenient for me to see. His reluctance to speak of it proves that it is a problem and therefore needs a solution.
He sighs and leans forward; his forehead rests against my chest. His voice is muffled as he speaks again.
"Might as well have been." He looks up apprehensively. "Does it bother you?"
Does it? Not as such – he has a number of scars and most of them are more disfiguring than that one. But there is something behind it and that is what worries me. There was no curse on the wound – I am inclined to believe that the 'accident' happened while he was in the 'care' of his relatives – and I do not understand why Poppy did not heal it. With the right potion, I could still mend the skin.
"On some deeper level," I answer eventually.
"Then get rid of it," he replies decisively. Perhaps he was just waiting for someone to ask – for someone to take it off of his hands, to make it their responsibility? "I don't need it anymore. What it symbolised to me is dead – the threat is gone and the reminder unnecessary."
So I was right… This is one of the skeletons in his closet… I run my hand through his hair, smirking slightly when I notice that no matter what he has done with or to it, it remains always the same. Even in bed he retains his just-out-of-bed look.
"I will," I promise him. He smiles, no longer dazzlingly as he would have in the past years, but calmly, with appreciation greater than any radiance of beaming could ever convey. I think… perhaps…
I can spend the rest of my life with this Harry.