Still in the haze of sleep, Harry could not at once remember where he was upon waking early the next morning. So, when he made to stretch and felt that he was not alone in the bed, it rather surprised him. And when he opened his eyes, what he saw did little to ease that initial shock: The dark mark, stark and staring, filling his vision, standing out even in the dim light of what must have been predawn. Heart racing, he nearly leapt from the bed but – Oh. Of course. He was in the dungeons, and the light was the magically-reproduced glow of the morning breaking high above them. All these thoughts ran through his mind in the few seconds it took for his wits to return, and, once fully awake, he recognized the canvas beneath the mark for what it was: pale, translucent skin. Snape's skin.
Severus' breath rippled the hair at the back of his neck at regular, slow intervals, and it was Severus' marked arm that was wrapped around him, resting the vulnerable, naked wrist right in Harry's field of vision. The Morsmordre seemed to almost pulse with malevolence as he looked, and Harry instinctively reached out to cover it – wishing to somehow make it disappear. Yet he stopped just short of touching the face, realizing that, as he had never touched one before, he didn't really know what would happen if he did. The mark was so loaded with significance in the wizarding community; it would not be unthinkable for the Morsmordre to somehow react to him. It was not something that wizards talked about.
He hesitated a moment longer before carefully, gently, touching one finger to it. Then two. Three. Severus exhaled against his neck. The mark felt just like the rest of the Potions Master's skin – cool and smooth, if not terribly soft. There was no sudden flare of pain, no jolt of electricity, no crack of magic. Nothing. Delicately, Harry scratched his fingernails over the mark. There was a sharp hitch of breath from behind him, and Severus' hand twitched.
"Don't," came a sleep-roughened, murmured word. The warm body shifted behind him. "Don't do that." Severus' leg hooked between his, as if to hold him still, but the man's breath was steady again – still sleeping. And so Harry didn't listen – letting his curiosity get the better of him. He scratched the Morsmordre again, a little harder.
"G-god." The breath shuddered out of the body behind him in a broken moan – an unexpectedly vulnerable sound – and Severus floundered in sleep only a moment longer before pulling free of Harry's grasp. At once Harry found himself pinned on his back. "I said, don't," Severus repeated, voice back to a more familiar timbre. "Never." Then, as if it were only just occurring to him, Severus' eyes narrowed. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
Harry swallowed, flexed his arms a little where they were trapped.
"You – ah – you fainted," he said.
"Last night after you… um, came back…"
Severs groaned and rolled to lie on his back, pushing his palms against his eyes in a gesture of utmost fatigue.
"Merlin's beard, boy," he growled, "what possessed you to stay the night?" Harry turned on his side and propped himself up on one elbow to look at the Potions Master. Severus' shoulders and clavicle looked like porcelain against the bedspread– like they might break. His arms and hands, pale and exposed above the sheets, were sinewy.
"I couldn't just leave you here," Harry said, and Severus glanced at him from behind his hands.
"It didn't cross your mind that I've dealt with this before?" he asked.
"You were hurt. I didn't want to leave you alone."
"How very noble of you," Severus lowered his hands from his face, but his eyes were closed. "Well make yourself useful then. Get me a glass of water."
The stone floor was freezing against his bare feet, and Harry scurried more than walked out into the parlor for a tumbler.
When he returned, he saw Severus propped up against the headboard, blankets pooled around his waist and over his legs. Harry couldn't help but falter in his steps at the sight of the scars. What he hadn't noticed the night before was now, in the growing light of morning, painfully obvious – the man's chest and stomach were peppered with small, large, pink and white marks – puckered and smooth, some clearly magical, others more mysterious. There was an old, silvery gash over his navel, a series of rose-colored starbursts strewn over his shoulder, a terrible mark dashed across his ribs like a signature. Severus looked up at Harry's face, then down at himself.
"Accio nightshirt," he said quietly, pointing his wand at the bureau. He caught the garment by the sleeve as it flew to him. "Not what you expected, Mr. Potter?" he asked.
"I don't know what I expected," Harry replied, setting the water down on the bedside table. He took hold of the shirt before Snape could shrug into it. "But you don't have to hide it from me."
"Wouldn't want to damage your delicate constitution." Harry just rolled his eyes and set the shirt aside.
"Yes, you are indeed the guardian of my innocence," he said, ignoring it when Severus glared. He climbed back on the bed and tucked his legs underneath himself.
Severus drained the glass, sighing as the conjured water soothed his raw, parched throat, before resting his hands in his lap. He looked stolidly at the Gryffindor perched beside him.
"What are you staring at, Potter?" he asked. Harry's eyes flicked up for a moment, then back down. Potter touched his wrist – traced the sprawling web of scar tissue spread over the back of it, twisting up towards his elbow. He didn't say anything at once, just touched the old wound with the lightest possible pressure. The silence lengthened.
"There is a reason I only take Outstanding students in my NEWT course," Severus said, but didn't take his hand away. "Potions is a dangerous field in which to specialize." Harry nodded, but still said nothing, not wanting to break the strange calm that seemed to have fallen over the prickly Potions Master. He touched one of the starbursts then, as if to ask, 'and this?'
"I am apparently drawn to dangerous fields."
Harry nodded again.
Severus did not elaborate. Telling Harry Potter of how he'd suffered - what he'd had to do to convince the dark Lord (and Dumbledore, for that matter) of his loyalty –would serve no purpose. The way the lash bit into the flesh of his back – the acute agony of his sacrifices – it was all in the past. Or, at least, that which was in the past, was in the past. He could not say what he had yet to face.
Potter's fingers carded gently through his lank and matted hair. He hadn't had the time or the energy to wash it, injured as he was, and it was surely still soiled with blood and sweat and grime.
"Scourgify," Harry whispered, before pushing a lock of the dark hair behind Severus' ear, and suddenly, Severus felt very, very, tired. Tired to the marrow of his bones.
"Go back to your dormitory, Potter," he sighed, shaking his head. "Celebrate the new year."
"Why?" Harry asked in return, "What have I got back there?"
"What have you here? Leave me in peace before the castle wakes to find its mascot missing."
Harry didn't answer. Didn't move from where he sat. He couldn't help but find it incredible that this was the same man who, not twelve hours before, had wrung from him a declaration of ownership: "You. All for you," Harry'd said, with hardly a second thought. And now, he could see that Severus Snape could be – and was – hurt. Scarred. Used.
'Let me stay,' he tried to say, but all that came out was an inarticulate sound of protest. Severus pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing, but pulled Harry forward into a kiss before the Gryffindor could turn away from the refusal. Not a refusal after all, then. Harry caught himself against Severus' chest, but the Potions Master seemed to recoil in pain at the impact of his hands. His ribs – Harry had forgotten. Severus pushed him away with a slow, deliberate inhalation.
"All is not put back together, Potter," Severus said. "Leave me to tend to it."
Harry's eyes were searching, clear green windows of childish concern that grated on Severus with their honesty. What a fool, to leave his eyes so transparent – anyone could see what lay behind them. Anyone could see who he was, what he felt, what he wanted.
"Can't I…" Harry moved his hands to brace against the headboard, breath warm across Severus' lips – a little fast.
"Can't you what?" Severus repeated back. Space for one more breath – and Harry's lips were back over his, apologetic and needy both at once, just as his eyes had been. And Severus just didn't have the energy to insist otherwise. Didn't have the energy to do anything about it as Harry lifted himself up and onto Severus' lap, straddling him over the blankets.
"Potter – " he said, but Harry cut him off.
"Don't – don't send me away. Not when you've just – when you're – "
"If you are to speak, please do so in complete sentences."
Harry sighed, rested his forehead against Severus' bare shoulder, and shook his head a little from side to side.
"Let me thank you for suffering for me," he murmured, blushing even as he said the words. "Don't send me away."
Severus pushed gently at Harry's shoulders, until he could look at the boy's face.
"Potter, you haven't the slightest idea what you are playing with," he said, trying to sound stern – dismissive – something. The Gryffindor dropped his eyes, and Severus had the distinct feeling that they were traveling once again over his scars, finding who knew what meaning in them. He put one hand over Severus' heart, where there were no scars to speak of – nothing had yet pierced him there – and said,
"I'm not playing."
"No idea at all," Severus said again. But, when Harry's fingers wandered across the light dusting of dark hairs on his chest and onto the bony ridge of his clavicle, he let them. And he let them trace the starbursts down onto his arm, let them slide over and around his most terrible scar, the Morsemordre, which never would fade to white as long as he lived. And he let Harry's lips follow the path his hands had gone, until, at last, they too reached the dark mark.
Harry could hardly believe that he was being so daring. The Potions master's skin, so forbidden, passed under his hands without punishment. He felt like he was in a dream, the unreality of the moment was so absolute. Here he was, sitting astride Snape's lap, tracing the past on his skin, and nothing had happened to him. Severus was just watching him in silence, his eyebrows drawn together in consternation, or pain, or confusion, or something else entirely that Harry had never encountered before. No hand clamped around his wrist to pull him away. No force toppled him from the bed.
Yes, it must be a dream, Harry thought, as he pressed his lips to Severus' chest, his throat, his shoulder, repeating the path of his fingers. He pulled Severus' forearm up to his lips last of all, kissing the skeletal sneer that rested there, snake protruding grotesquely from the mouth. Slowly, Harry let Severus' arm fall, and looked down at the slender, pale body beneath him. So fragile, when it was exposed like this. And yet, frightening, too.
"Potter," Severus said again, and Harry looked up with automatic obedience. "Come here."