Disclaimer: I do not own the characters depicted in this fic.
Chapter 1: Christmas 2001- An Unwelcome Visitor.
Harry held his hand out before the door for what felt like an eternity, all the while aware that his fingers were starting to numb and the snow was melting through his shoes and soaking his socks.
It was the piercing cold which finally made him swallow his pride and knock, tapping his foot nervously against the doorstep and tugging at his shabby sleeve. The noise sounded deafening in the still night air, making him wince slightly.
A few moments later he heard muffled footsteps on wooden floorboards and felt the uncomfortable stirrings of panic. He was considering abandoning his pursuit and running away when the door was flung open and he was stood face to face with a man he hadn't seen for more than three years.
Severus tried to hide his shock at seeing Harry there, his jaw twitching once in an effort to contain a sneer.
Harry found himself trapped beneath the glower of his ebony eyes, feeling exposed in the harsh glow of the porch light. He felt his heart skip a beat as they stood looking at one another, the minutes of silence dragging out and fraying Harry's nerves further.
Not long ago, Harry had revelled in this look, striving for years not to admit to himself how sexy he found it, and when he was finally allowed to confess to it, taking every opportunity to annoy Severus solely to see the superior, cold expression on his face. But now, in the chill winter evening, he felt only scared and awkward
Severus cleared his throat and looked Harry up and down with a mixture of disdain and masked concern, breaking his gaze at last. "Harry."
"Severus." His voice came out as a whisper as he glared furiously at his feet, too ashamed to look Severus in the eye. After uttering his name, he couldn't say anything else.
"As fun as this is, I don't have all night to watch you watch your shoes, so if you could just get to the point of your visit and leave I'd be grateful." Harry forced himself to look up, straightening his back in an attempt to draw himself to the same height as Severus. He knew it was a useless endeavour, Severus being almost seven inches taller than him, but he needed all the dignity he could muster.
"I'm sorry, Severus, I hate to ask this but…would it be okay if…I stayed here tonight?" Severus raised one eyebrow, a look of anger flashing across his face.
"I don't really think that's appropriate, under the circumstances. Do you?" Harry lost his nerve and averted his eyes again. He felt more humiliated than he had since leaving school and his throat burned with the force of holding back tears. "Goodbye, Harry." Severus started to close the door and Harry reached out a hand to block it. Severus seemed affronted by the sight of Harry's hand on his door, secretly thinking that he had no business being anywhere near his home.
"Please Severus." He blinked furiously, refusing to cry on the doorstep of the formidable man he had once loved more than anyone. He brushed scraggly hair away from his forehead as he choked out the last and greatest indignity. "I've got nowhere else to go." Severus cringed minutely before looking Harry over again. For a moment Severus' features softened and Harry saw the indecision and sympathy in his eyes, before they once more became indecipherable. He moved back from the door, silently signalling for Harry to step inside. As he tried to walk into the living room, Severus stopped him with an extended arm, making Harry look at him before continuing forward.
"One night. Then I want you gone."
Harry stood uneasily between the settee and the doorway to the kitchen, looking at the darkness glaring at him from the staircase. The house had hardly changed since last he'd stood there, apart from the sentimental array of ornaments and photos which used to be scattered on the fireplace and windowsill. It was tidier too, almost clinically so.
"Tea?" Harry jumped, snapped out of his reverie by Severus' guarded voice.
"Coffee, if you have any." Severus sneered in disgust but nevertheless returned with a mug of highly sweetened coffee a few minutes later. He surveyed Harry over the rim of his own cup. His hair was longer and more unruly than ever, falling in his eyes and curling at the nape of his neck. He was unshaven and looked as though he hadn't washed in a while. He wore several layers of threadbare clothes, his glasses were nowhere in sight and he carried a rucksack over one shoulder. Worst of all, his eyes seemed dulled somehow, lacking the vibrancy and energy he was used to.
"You look like shit Harry." Harry laughed in surprise, spluttering as he choked on his coffee.
"And you're just as charming as ever." Severus frowned.
"What the hell happened?" Harry bit his bottom lip and shrugged.
"It's been a long time, Severus. A lot has happened." Harry didn't expect to get away with this evasion, but was surprised when Severus just scowled and nodded stiffly. This indifference hurt Harry more than he would have thought it would, and more than he could account for. He found himself trying to quell tears again.
"Sit down. I'll get you something to eat."
"Oh, don't trouble yourself, I'm fine." Severus snorted and took Harry's half-full cup from him.
"Don't be ridiculous, of course you're hungry. You forget that not everybody considers you to be invincible." Harry felt a sudden rush of warmth towards him for still knowing him so well, and for once again adopting the role of a guardian. Severus swept into the kitchen and left Harry to become reacquainted with the living room.
Harry was curled up in a corner of the burnt out house he and two dozen others had chosen as a home for the night. The ground was hard, he was too uncomfortable to sleep and even the layers of clothes and the bodies pressed closely to him couldn't make up for how bitterly he felt the cold .
To his right a young woman cooed and sang to her young child, rocking him back and forth in an attempt to sooth him. The boy continued to cry as he clung desperately to his mother, needing her to make everything better and not understanding why she couldn't.
Harry lurched to his feet and stumbled blindly towards the door, seeing nothing in the darkness but the vague shadows of people shivering amongst their only belongings. Outside, he turned his back to the wall and slid to his knees, covering his face with his hands. He needed somewhere to go. Anywhere. He looked up at the sky, brushing tears from his cheeks, and realised that there was nowhere he could go. He laughed out loud, struck by the irony of the revered Boy Who Lived being so utterly alone.
It took all of Harry's self control not to wolf his meal down in a matter of minutes. He was eating at the dining room table, another indication that Severus still hadn't forgiven him, that he considered them almost strangers. Severus had always been very proud of his home, and had certain rules regarding how people were to be treated in it. To him, an informal meal in front of the television was too personal to be allowed to anyone other than his closest companions.
Harry found himself pondering these standards when Severus brought a blanket and pillow down for him to sleep on the settee, rather than in the spare room. He smirked and Severus raised a quizzical eyebrow. He was standing on the last stair, leaning casually against the banister, and Harry looked at him over his shoulder.
"You haven't changed at all, have you?" Severus frowned.
"I wouldn't say that. You never know, I might surprise you." Harry smiled at him, and he looked away, tapping his nails against the wall. "Sweet dreams, Harry." This small reminder of how sweet Severus could be, and the first kind words he'd heard in a while, were all it took for the tears which had been threatening to fall since he'd gotten there to finally tumble down his cheeks. Severus shifted uncomfortably. Harry wiped his face with the back of his hand.
"Sorry, Severus. And thanks, again." Severus turned to go upstairs and reached for the light switch. "Could you leave the light on please?" His brow furrowed, concerned at this new fear of Harry's, but just nodded and retreated to his bedroom.
"Pass my car keys please." Harry groaned and rolled over, burying his head under his pillow.
"Yes, they're used to open the car doors and start the engine, that sort of thing."
"I know what they are! I just don't know why you need a car."
"You know I hate wizard methods of travel. I'm going to be late. The keys are just on that table." Harry picked up the keys and tossed them to him, and Severus caught them with hands clad in driving gloves. Harry laughed lightly, thinking that Severus had probably never been late for anything in his life. "Thank you. I want you gone by the time I get home."
"Of course. Bye, Severus." Severus nodded once and left.
That evening, Severus expected to return to an empty home and bedding littering his living room, but was surprised to find the blanket and pillows in the linen closet and Harry in the kitchen. He'd shaved and was wearing clean clothes. His glasses were once more perched on his nose and his recently washed hair was tied back.
"I told you to leave." Severus crossed his arms across his chest and stood imposingly in the doorway.
"I bloody tried! Your house wouldn't let me! How excessive is your security?" Severus glanced away, slightly embarrassed.
"I forgot I'd installed that. Intruders never actually manage to get in, so I never have to use it." Harry rolled his eyes.
"Well, I'll go now. I made you dinner to thank you for last night. It's in the oven." He brushed past Severus, stooping to pick up his rucksack and worn coat from behind the settee. Severus watched him walk to the door with mixed feelings of relief and guilt.
"Why don't you stay for dinner? You made it, after all."
"I shouldn't. It's getting quite late. I don't want to be wandering around looking for somewhere to sleep at eleven tonight." The reality of Harry's situation, given not out of malice or as emotional blackmail, just his abiding instinct to be truthful, struck Severus like a slap across the face, and he had to fight to contain the horror it caused him to feel. Worse was that it probably hadn't even crossed Harry's mind that he could use it to hurt him, something Severus was not sure he would have done had their positions been reversed.
"You can stay here, if it gets too late." Severus backed into the kitchen, not wanting to see gratitude for luxuries he'd always seen to be rights.
A week later Harry still hadn't left.
It was Christmas Eve and Severus had been at work until six, needing to be at Hogwarts to keep the students who hadn't gone home for the holidays in line, even though he wasn't required to teach. When he got home, Harry had decorated the living room and started dinner. There was a white tree in the corner, covered in small blue stars and snowflakes, and a garland was draped across the mantelpiece. He was relieved to see that Harry hadn't hung mistletoe, a tradition he had always insisted on upholding.
"How was work?" Severus pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, taking the cup of tea from Harry with his other hand.
"Terrible. Sometimes I think I should just quit."
"Then why don't you?" Severus shrugged, sighing as he sank into an armchair. "You know, I don't understand you. If something's making you unhappy then do something about it." Harry went to check on the dinner, leaving Severus to think that not everything was that easy.
"Really?" Harry twisted around awkwardly from his cross-legged position on the floor, trying to look at Severus, who was half-lying on the settee with his back against the armrest. He groped blindly for the bottle of wine on the floor only to find that it was empty.
"Hey, don't sound so surprised!" He slapped Harry lightly on the shoulder.
"You've screwed Lucius Malfoy?"
"Yes!" Harry tutted.
"I don't believe you. I mean, Lucius Malfoy! He's…he's so…well, you've seen him!" Severus snorted laughter.
"Lucky bastard." The fire crackled, engulfing logs and sending sparks fluttering onto the carpet, where they were smothered and fizzled out. Rain pattered gently on the windows, making Harry grateful to be indoors.
"Harry?" Harry murmured in response, his eyes closed and his head rolled back onto the settee, inches from Severus' leg. "Why don't you have anywhere to stay?" Harry sighed.
"About this time last year, I lost my job, and then I got evicted from my flat when I couldn't pay the rent. Before I knew what was happening I was sleeping on the street. I'm doing okay though; there are people a lot worse off than me."
"You should have let me know. I had no idea you were in such trouble."
"I couldn't come crawling back here, not after what I did to you. Don't blame yourself for my mistakes, please."
"Couldn't you have gone to the Weasleys?" A furrow appeared on Harry's forehead as he grimaced.
"After what happened to Ron, I can barely look them in the face. It's not fair of me to ask so much of them after I've hurt them so much."
"It wasn't your fault, Harry. You know that, right?" Harry rubbed a hand across his face, staying silent. "What about Miss Granger?" Harry smiled at him serenely.
"Sev, we were childhood friends. I doubt she'd be too pleased to be burdened with me, especially since I haven't spoken to her in almost four years." Harry turned around, resting his chin on the seat, and grinned fondly. "Besides, there's nobody I'd rather spend Christmas with than you." He lowered his voice, placing his hand on Severus' knee. "Don't worry about me. I'll be alright."
The Weasleys looked strange in mourning clothes, the severity of black suits drawing even more attention to their red hair. They huddled around the coffin, Arthur with his arm around Molly and Ginny clinging to her other arm. Charlie squeezed his father's shoulder and Arthur covered his fingers with his own. Bill held Fleur tightly, as though scared that he would lose her too. Fred and George stood side by side, heads bowed, identical tears trickling down identical faces. Percy remained on the outside, moving into the group only to comfort his mother when she broke down in noisy sobs.
Hermione held Harry's hand tightly throughout the service, a painfully dignified expression on her haggard face. When Harry wept she offered him a handkerchief and a strained, sorrowful smile. Afterwards, they returned to her parents' home and she cried herself to sleep in his arms.
Severus waited for the light in the spare bedroom to go out, watching the gap under the door, but when it still hadn't after almost fifteen minutes he realised that Harry was going to sleep with it on. He retired to his own room across the hall and, after a moment's deliberation and for a reason he didn't want to consider, left the door slightly ajar.
Harry lay awake for a long time and thought about the Severus he used to know. He thought about how protective he was; possessive, but in a flattering way, most of the time. He thought about his clumsy, endearing attempts at affection. He thought about his sometimes startling intelligence and perceptiveness. He thought about how good he was in bed, and how closely he held him afterwards. He thought about his patience and precision when brewing potions or researching for one of his several dissertations on the Dark Arts.
He didn't think about how sullen he was, how he could sulk for days after even the smallest of arguments. He didn't think about how irritable he was, how easy to anger. He didn't think about his inability to say 'I love you'. He didn't think about how condescending he was. He didn't think about the spiteful comments he rarely apologised for, or maybe didn't even realise were hurtful. He didn't think about the smothered feeling which continued to grow until the night he left, when he couldn't take it anymore. He didn't think about the cold feeling of waking up in an empty bed every morning because he had dashed off to some more important endeavour.
He slipped quietly out of bed and crept across the hall.
Severus woke when he heard the door opened a fraction, creaking quietly, and a thin beam of light fell across the floor. He turned onto his side to face the door, listening to slow breathing and the scuffing of bare feet on carpet.
"Hey." He opened the door a little more and stepped into the room.
"Is everything okay?" He sat up, slightly alarmed.
"Yeah, sure." He moved further into the room.
"Oh." Reassured but still confused, he covered his bare chest with the sheet which had slipped when he'd stirred. He could feel Harry's eyes on him and felt surprisingly self-conscious.
"Well, no. Not really."
"What is it?" Harry shifted awkwardly.
"I was just thinking, me staying here doesn't have to be such an inconvenience. I could make it worth your while, if you let me." Severus stayed quiet. Harry moved closer, sitting on the edge of the bed. He folded the sheet Severus had rearranged back down and ran his chilled fingers across the exposed skin, causing Severus to gasp before brushing Harry's hand off him.
"Don't, Harry." Harry bit his lower lip nervously.
"Don't cheapen yourself like this." Harry flushed with indignation and embarrassment.
"I'm not! Why must you think of sex as such an indignity? Why is it bad to let yourself be vulnerable once in a while?"
"I don't, and it isn't, but it is cheap to offer yourself as a common whore in return for a few warm meals." Harry sprung to his feet, taking a step backwards.
"You really think that's what's going on here? You really think I want to sleep with you to repay you?" He laughed bitterly, pacing at the foot of the bed. "For someone so damned clever you can be incredibly dense."
"No, I think you feel guilty because you think you're being a hindrance, and because you only came back to me when you needed something." Harry jolted to a stop, stung by Severus' bluntness. They were silent for a moment, the tension growing as both of their anger of the past six years came bubbling dangerously close to the surface.
"You consider yourself so superior to me, don't you? You're never going to find anyone to love you if you treat everyone like they're something you've trodden in." Severus' jaw clenched painfully.
"It may surprise you to learn that it isn't just the gracious, selfless Harry Potter who can find it in his heart to show a lonely old Deatheater some affection." Harry glared at Severus, encouraged by the defiance he would never have shown him when he was seventeen.
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Just that I am in no need of a sympathy fuck!" Harry flinched away from the venom in his tone. "Believe it or not, there is life after you, so you can stop it with the martyr act." Harry finally lost his temper and shouted, knowing that Severus would keep his voice lowered to a threatening hiss, and hating him all the more for it.
"I would tell you to stop the pig-headed, miserable arsehole act, but it isn't an act with you, is it? You spend your entire life complaining that you're unhappy and yet refuse to do anything about it when you get the opportunity! Some people don't have that luxury!"
"Arrogant brat. You cannot make me happy. You never could." Harry swallowed, his chin trembling and his breath hitching.
"Liar." Harry whispered harshly, before rushing from the room, slamming the door behind him. He threw himself down on the bed in the spare room and cried until his voice was hoarse.
By the morning, Severus regretted having upset Harry. While he dressed, he worked on swallowing his pride, intent on apologising.
He went downstairs, expecting Harry, who had always been an early riser, to be making coffee in the kitchen. When he found the downstairs rooms empty, he went back upstairs, calling Harry's name anxiously.
The door to the spare bedroom swung quietly open onto a neat, cold room. The bed was made, and Harry's clothes and bags were gone. Severus propped himself against the doorframe, staring gloomily into the vacant space.
He sighed heavily and walked to the open window, before lighting a cigarette and leaning out of it, blowing smoke into the thin mist of drizzle lingering there. He glanced down, noticing the footprints in the snow. He stubbed the cigarette out on the window ledge and got ready to go to work.