This was the question that he'd turned over incessantly in his mind since his desperate flight from the abbey. He'd rehearsed it to himself again and again, using all his tones of voice—begging, inviting, pathetic, disinterested—wondering which could convince Severus to accept. His proposition was pure madness. Any sane person would refuse him. Harry had put himself in an impossible situation—who could envy his position? What fool would leave the Order if he didn't have to?
Harry waited, painfully aware of each and every beat of his heart; he still saw no reaction from his former Master, who'd narrowed his eyes as if he were trying to read Harry's thoughts.
"I'd like to know precisely what you have in mind, Harry. If you're afraid of the outside world, if you're looking for a someone to attach yourself to like a dead weight, if you're overflowing with foolish gratitude…."
The more he spoke, the more his bitterness increased. If Harry didn't stop him, he'd end up in an angry tirade, and blithely let loose the most unjust of reproaches. The young man was accustomed to his difficult behavior. He understood that Severus wanted neither gratitude, nor indebtedness, nor pity. His easily offended pride and his past suffering made him terribly mistrustful. Far from feeling as if he'd been rejected, Harry felt himself overwhelmed with tenderness.
"I told you I loved you."
"Statements made by those at death's door must not be taken too seriously."
Rash and reckless, Harry came closer to peer into the black eyes glittering suspiciously, and wasn't refused when he placed a hand to the man's cheek. He read incredulity in Severus' face, but also a hesitation, something that looked vaguely like hope.
"I finally said it because I thought I'd never have the chance again. I didn't want to disappear with that secret. That would've meant my feelings had never existed. I love you. I love you."
"Stop. You're like a child enchanted with the sound of his own voice, babbling on in solitude. Consider well, Harry. Now that you're free, you're going to discover wonderful things that you can't imagine. You can get married, and have children."
"No, I know that's not for me."
"How could an immature child like yourself know such a thing?"
"Severus, you haven't forgotten what it's like to be a novice, have you? Forbidden books, secret conversations, dreams. I had all that. I can promise, unlike the others, that I've never dreamed about women. The Mahometans' erotic passages never appealed to me. I know what I want out of my life, and with all of my heart, I want you to be in it."
Harry was now watching Severus anxiously. He'd used all of his arguments, laid all his cards on the table. He didn't know what further could be said to convince him of his sincerity. He lacked experience, as well as audacity. It didn't occur to him, for example, to use his own body to secure his victory.
Perhaps Severus had been touched by his candor. Perhaps he scarcely believed him. Whichever it was, he pulled the young, earnest face toward him and brushed his brown hair to the side.
"I must be mad. You've become dearer to me than all my beliefs."
Severus was surprised by the passion with which Harry threw himself into his arms. Awkwardly, Severus returned the embrace, feeling very self-conscious as he held the boy. The moment lengthened, then Harry regretfully pulled away.
"Ron's here," he whispered.
"Yes, Ron's here. If you knew how much your friend exasperates me sometimes…."
Harry couldn't help but smile.
Severus didn't want to abandon the lepers; he decided to await Remus' arrival the next day, and then definitively turn his back on the abbey and the Benedictines.
Harry accepted this plan readily, since he wanted to say his farewells to the infirmary brother who'd been so kind to him. He spent the day helping Severus and Ron care for the sick, who became used to Harry's presence and so stopped wearing their masks.
But Harry no longer shuddered at their blemished faces and mutilated hands. It seemed to him that he was protected from all of that, just as he'd been protected from Lucius and the long, soul-destroying years in the monastery. Harry radiated happiness.
Ron couldn't help but notice, and was burning with curiosity, dying to bombard Harry with questions. With Severus there, he didn't dare.
Severus and Harry were now staying together, working and preparing supper side by side, talking softly as they did so. Ron felt his suspicions grow, but the idea was so absurd! So insane! He was longing to talk to Harry.
When evening came, the lepers settled down in the huts to sleep, leaving one for the monks. Severus, Ron and Harry sat beside each other on a pile of straw. Ron glanced furtively at his neighbor, opening and closing his mouth without daring to speak. By way of an amused smile, Severus gave Harry permission to tell Ron.
"We're leaving tomorrow," Harry began, his eyes sparkling.
"Leaving?" Ron repeated. "To where? Back to the abbey?"
"No, going far away and never coming back. Severus and I are leaving the Order."
"But…but…you can't just leave the Order like that! You have to ask for a dispensation from the Holy See. And what will the bishop say? And the Prior? And the Count?"
"Ron," Harry said casually, laughing, "we couldn't care less about all of that! We're going to be free, far away from our pasts. No on will know, and we'll have a new life…together."
That was a great deal of information all at once for Ron. His eyes widened as much as they had in their theology class when he'd first heard the Gospel according to St. John. Severus and Harry turned to him with the same amused expressions, the same joy and hope shining in their eyes. It was this obvious complicity that convinced Ron.
He muttered hesitantly, "Oh well…I guess all I can do is wish you good luck."
The redhead became lost in his thoughts, not even paying attention to his two companions' conversation. Just beside him, he saw an example of liberty and choice, and mutual love. A curious sort of love that the Church condemned, that society viewed with horror, but love all the same. But then, Ron was in a position to know that his love for Hermione was also condemned by the world, that a monk and a young woman had less of a right than others to consummate their feelings, to join in the flesh for the sake of pleasure.
Tomorrow, Severus and Harry would make their way out into that hostile world, but they'd be together. Tomorrow, Ron would return to the abbey under the thumb of the new Prior. Lucius would preside over the ceremony where Ron would take his permanent vows. Never again would he leave the abbey. Hermione would end up forgetting him; she'd marry one of her acquaintances and bear his children, then grow old, far away from Ron.
Severus and Harry fell asleep, next to one another, their hands close enough to brush against each other. Ron was still torturing himself, but inevitably, the decision he would make became clearer and clearer.
Severus had shed his Benedictine habit. Clothing himself like a lay person, he'd turned the page. He was doing more than changing clothes, though; he was changing his life. Harry knew that the cloister was all Severus had ever known: he was aware of the shock this represented for a man of his age. He was also aware of the sacrifice that Severus was making for him.
The two men walked for hours. They'd already changed counties, so Lucius was far behind them now—the abbey as well. Even the daily church bells didn't threaten them. The Church was omnipresent in this country, so it was with them everywhere they went. But they were no longer a part of it; they could continue to speak to God without saying the seven daily Offices, without being shut away behind walls.
The lush green countryside, as far as the eye could see, was an extraordinary sight for them. The landscape was so different from the limited view that had been their experience for so many years. They stopped near a river, then climbed over the hedges to get to the fresh water and quench their thirst. Harry fell back into the grass with a satisfied sigh. He felt so good, that it was surely a sin.
He thought of Ron again, who'd also decided to leave the abbey. Harry knew that his example had had a great deal to do with it. He hoped Ron would again find Hermione, for whom he was giving up everything, and that she'd consent to follow him in his folly. If she were anything like Ron described her, she wouldn't hesitate. All that Harry hoped was that Ron didn't end up deceived and with his heart broken.
It'd been necessary to tell Remus the entire truth. He'd sat silently for a long while, before wishing them luck. He'd added that he'd pray for them both, but Harry'd sensed that Remus disapproved of their mad escape, at the same time being relieved that Harry had eluded that demon Lucius. In all likelihood, Brother Remus, as loyal as he was, didn't understand how Severus could deny his vows to live in sin with another man. But, he needn't understand it….
Harry sighed as he stretched his arms out above his head. He felt Severus watching him. He opened his eyes to make sure he wasn't mistaken. Severus was staring at him so intensely that it made Harry shiver.
"You're very beautiful, Harry."
Harry smiled, happy to hear it. Everything made him happy on this glorious day, which he hoped to be the anniversary of his future: his first day of freedom.
Severus leant abruptly toward him, took him in his arms and kissed him passionately. Harry opened his eyes and let him invade his mouth, then responded, discovering Severus' in return. His blood was pounding in his veins, and how he loved this new feeling. Quickly he forgot the mouth biting at him in favor of the hands moving insistently over his body, pushing his clothes aside, covering him with caresses.
Harry half-sat up to work at the layman's clothing that hid Severus. Full of ardor and willingness, he undid the shirt and trousers, letting them fall around Severus' ankles.
Severus was breathing erratically as Harry stroked his body with delight and curiosity, letting his fingers brush over the man's rigid cock. Severus made a hoarse sound, one that Harry wanted to hear again. Shyly, but not overly so, he began to stroke it, learning it, getting used to it. When Severus seemed on the verge of exploding, he impatiently pushed Harry's hands away; he, too, wanted to explore his lover's body. Harry wanted to protest, but Severus was too strong; he was rolled over on the ground, and moaned as he submitted himself to the delicious torture that Severus inflicted.
Harry threw back his head, abandoning himself to the sheer intensity of physical pleasure. Severus licked his salty skin, and trembled, overcome by the youthful perfection of his lover.
Severus murmured breathlessly, "I want you. I have for a long time."
Harry moaned in reply, a sound almost like a sob. His body was taut with pleasure and desire and the urgent need to relieve this unbearable tension he felt. Severus moved to lie on top of him, taking great care to keep his weight on his forearms, then pressed his groin against Harry's. Their hips ground together, rubbing each other. Harry and Severus moved as one, groaning without holding back, as ecstasy overtook them.
Afterwards, they lay in each other's arms, quietly savoring the passion they'd shared, noticing only the river's murmur and the beating of their hearts.
Later, when they were once again presentable, Severus threw a worried glance at his young companion. "I was wondering…."
"I was wondering if I was right to drag you away…." He didn't finish; he simply made a broad gesture between the two of them and toward the countryside. Harry understood perfectly.
"You're not the one who dragged me away. It was more the circumstances, Lucius and myself. I don't regret a thing."
"Now you don't, but later?"
"Later will be just like today," Harry said with an unshakeable confidence. "I'm happy because I've found my place. I'm here where God wants me."
Severus seemed about to say something sarcastically, but didn't. He only replied, "Myself as well."
Then he leant toward Harry for another kiss full of passion. Harry closed his eyes and felt suddenly dizzy. He lurched, wanting to hold onto Severus to keep from falling, but his arms closed on empty air. He fell, and his fall seemed endless.
"Harry? Harry, can you hear me?"
Harry, his tongue furred, feeling completely incapable of answering, simply nodded. He opened his eyes with difficulty. Despite the dim light, they burned, so he closed them again with a sorrowful sigh.
"Leave me alone, Ron."
He was sure it was Ron. He recognized his voice perfectly, so he forced himself to look at him. He was surprised by his appearance, though. He blinked several times, but the picture didn't change. Ron had rather long hair to the nape of his neck, and was wearing garishly colored clothing, along with a lion on the coat of arms of his habit. Something wasn't right….
"You're awake! I'm going to get Madam Pomfrey!"
Harry sat up, looking around him. He was full of confusion. He recognized the place, though; the gentle face leaning in over him was familiar as well, but seemed from far away, as if lost in an old childhood memory.
"Harry…. Finally awake. How do you feel?"
"Not too bad."
Madam Pomfrey peered into Harry's eyes, then placed a cool hand on his forehead. The boy looked at her with an astonished expression. He remembered her and the infirmary dormitory. But he also remembered other things, other places full of stones and fire, that seemed to come from far off. Images flashed before his eyes, one after the other, muddled together—Uncle Vernon, a church, Hagrid, the Host as it came toward his mouth, Voldemort's red eyes in the cemetery, a gathering of monks seated in the chapter, looking at him in terror because he might have the devil inside him.
Harry jumped, startled. Madam Pomfrey bent over him, murmuring half-aloud, "More nightmares?"
Harry passed a hand in front of his eyes. It seemed that the nightmare was indeed still there, so real, so vivid that it was mixed with reality.
"You Know Who?"
No, he didn't really know. Perhaps Father Albus would know. My God, it was true that he was dead, that he couldn't him anymore.
But no! Albus Dumbledore was alive!
"I have a headache."
The mediwitch let out a long irritated sigh. "That doesn't surprise me, coming from Divination. I continually tell Sybill that those fumes are harmful. You fainted in her class and no one could revive you."
Harry felt his heart begin to beat faster. He suddenly remembered it all, as if the dense curtain over his memories had just been pushed aside. The nonsense about past lives…and then, he'd lived something, in another place, in another time, that he was completely unable to pinpoint…and the reel of images was abruptly interrupted, but not without leaving him one last memory that burned him more than any of the others.
How long had he stayed in that other life? How much time had that other Harry, the little pathetic monk, stolen from him?
He didn't dare ask the question. He'd find out later, when he'd catch a glimpse of a calendar. Perhaps even just a simple hour had gone by? Another time, different values, a different sense of time passing….
Madam Pomfrey agreed to let him leave for supper in the Great Hall. Ron was happy about that—staying at his friend's side, he was afraid he'd miss supper. Harry was happy to be able to leave as well. He was entirely numb, in body and spirit, as if he'd taken a long trip. In a way, that was exactly what he'd done.
As they all walked along the corridors, Harry thought again of the other Harry. Had it just been a dream, or was it really a past life? If it had been, what had become of his other self? He truly suspected that the context of the era didn't lend itself to a fairy tale ending. They got married and had lots of children wouldn't have been for Harry and Severus.
Severus…oh my God….
Professor Snape was also walking in the corridor, straight ahead, as if he were coming to meet him. Harry stopped, shaking from head to toe. Surprised, Ron bumped into Harry.
Severus Snape was walking toward him. Harry watched as if he were seeing him for the very first time: his large forehead, furrowed in serious thought; the lines at the corners of his mouth aging him…the slender white hands.
Ron nudged him with an elbow. Harry was barely aware of it. He saw his professor, and he saw again the man who'd saved him, who'd confessed his love for him, who'd taught him pleasure.
Snape shot him a dark look along his way, seeming mildly surprised. A glimmer of interest sparked in his eyes, then was gone just as quickly. He passed Harry without stopping.
Harry closed his eyes for a moment. He had to remember that he was at Hogwarts, that Severus was only his professor, that they were adversaries, nothing more.
So, he continued on to the dining hall. He was retuning to the normal course of his life, to the things that concerned him: History of Magic homework, the next date with Cho, and oh yes, not to be forgotten—Voldemort!
On that cynical thought, he focused his mind and girded himself with good resolutions. He had to forget all about his so-called former lives, and hope that Trelawney would find herself a new obsession that was less destructive. He had to face Snape in his next class as if it were nothing. He'd be the rebellious and mediocre student; Snape would be the unfair and despised professor. If Harry started to miss his affection and protectiveness, he'd go mad….
He walled off his passionate memories, deep in his heart, from whence they'd never again make an appearance.
A/N: There you have it—the end of the story. Thanks for reading through to the end, for having entered my strange world and accepted it. I hope you didn't find the ending too disappointing~~Sioban Parker.