Title: The Only One

Author: Becka
Chapter 04: Four Little Words

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"Shall we play a little game, Professor?"

Harry is leaning against the stone wall, arms raised, wrists trapped above him in a pair of heavy, conjured manacles. His scarred back is exposed to Severus, who examines the damage of the evening.

"What are you blathering about, Potter?" Severus asks, voice betraying none of the trepidation that has risen in his gut. Two weeks of this torturous routine have passed since his last conversation with Albus, and Severus is well aware of the hidden layers of Harry Potter. Any game the boy might suggest is suspect on principle.

Boy. Ha. It is with a great sense of perversion that he continues to refer to Harry as such in his head. And yet, he cannot pinpoint the exact moment of the other transition that has taken place – the moment he began to think of the youth as Harry, rather than Potter, the distinction that he is not his father's son only obvious in light of their mutual activities.

"It's a Muggle game. Quite simple, really. Psychologists call it 'word association.'" Though Severus cannot see them, by the tone of voice, he is sure that Harry's eyes are bright with anticipation. "I'll say something, and you say the first word that comes to mind."

Innocent enough, the potion's master thinks. He applies a specially made salve to the lacerations, his acquiescence found in silence.

"Where to start? Hm."

The boy pauses, considering. After a moment, he adds, "And please, don't think about it too deeply, sir. Naming the first word that comes to mind is the whole point of this exercise."

"On with it, Potter." Severus finds his hands lingering on Harry's bare skin as he works the salve in, and his concentration slips as he traces a finger along one of the cuts. It should not be arousing, he thinks blankly, to touch an open wound, and certainly not one which he is responsible for putting there in the first place. There is nothing attractive about blood – not even the blood of the world's savior – and it should not be arousing to trace a finger along the sticky raw edges of flesh and muscle.

"Whisper."

"Gooseflesh."

Severus is surprised at the response. Harry's voice had startled him out of his musings, and he'd replied before he'd taken a moment to collect his thoughts. He thinks about the word, his finger still idly tracing the boy's wounds and he realizes –

a whisper of breath, his own breath, across Harry's skin, young and solid with toned muscle, watching the fine hairs static up, little puckered dots of –

"Mother."

"Cage."

The shift in direction is so sudden that Severus can only reply honestly. How strange, he thinks. He remembers his mother fondly, though he can't quite envision the woman's face, obscured by jet-black hair, but he remembers the pearls. He remembers fingering the small, luminous beads and her voice, like the sun on his face, whispering to him, "They glow because my father gave them to me. He stole the stars from the sky because he couldn't give me the moon."

Lilacs. Fresh and soft, and he remembers her lips ghosting over his forehead.

Cage, he wonders. Why would I

she was a dove, a precious and beautiful creature, fragile and helpless, and she did not love the man she'd married, but she stayed with him because he'd clipped her wings –

"Master."

"Dual."

Wait, he thinks helplessly. Harry is going too fast. He needs a moment to think, to analyze. Dual, meaning two. Two masters.

Perhaps he doesn't need a moment to collect this particular thought. Though the Dark Lord is dead, he cannot help but think of him as master, though it sickens him. He has always been a small and unimportant pawn, trapped between two icons of greatness.

limbs still twitching from the Dark Lord's displeasure, Cruciatus, he stumbles through the halls, the Headmaster's office a goal he is unsure if he can reach, the old man will sit him down and offer him tea and ask him to relive the horror once again, and this must be the right thing, he must be doing the right thing, why else would it hurts so much –

"Harry."

"Stop."

Harry turns his head to look at his former professor, the smile on his lips similar to that of a child on Christmas day.

Jaw clenched, choking off the emotion, Severus repeats, "Stop."

"If you'd like, sir," comes the youth's quiet reply as he turns away and they sit for a moment in silence as the potion's master brings himself back under control.

Harry's back is nearly healed, but Severus scoops a generous portion of salve onto his first and middle fingers. He is careful, so very careful to cause no pain as he applies the medicine to shallow wounds, fingers dragging lightly against skin.

Finally he asks, "Is this 'game' a two-way street, Potter?"

Harry's shoulders twitch imperceptibly beneath Severus' hands. Not with pain, he realizes, but with barely concealed amusement. "I wouldn't dream of denying you, sir."

A moment's contemplation leads Severus to thinking how strange it is that the boy seems to know him, almost better than he knows himself. In turn, he finds himself _wanting_ to repay the boy in kind, his words a subtle twist, a phantom knife, right about where Harry's heart should be.

Severus closes his eyes and dispels this image, if for no other reason than he is coming to believe that the boy doesn't have one.

At last he says, "Potter."

Harry laughs, "Liar."

Severus mulls that over for a moment, tucking it away for later analysis.

He frowns, "Blood."

He is sure the boy is grinning as he replies, "Secret."

Frustrated, he says, "Mirror."

"Monster," comes the lightning quick reply.

In a flash of inspiration, Severus grips Harry's shoulder, spinning him around. All it takes is a whispered spell and the manacles that bind the boy's hands fall away. Severus leans forward, towering over the small, bruised body. He whispers his own name.

Harry recoils with a soft hiss, the mirth fleeing his eyes. He tilts his head to the side as if contemplating whether or not to answer and finally, after a stretch of unbearable silence, replies, "Pain."

Before the potion's master can do anything, Harry glances at the clock, a curious slump to his shoulders. "I don't think I want to play anymore, Professor. Time's up." He is dressed so quickly Severus is unsure if magic is involved and then Harry is out the bedroom door. A moment later there is another click as the door to Severus' chambers is opened and closed as well.

Severus stares at the door long after Harry has fled. He plays the words over in his head, pain severus pain severus pain severus, and he glances over at one of the newspapers that litter his table; the headline catches his eyes: Boy-Who-Lived in Love?

Insight strikes him with a clenched fist. He doubles over, and the words he thought just over two weeks ago come back to haunt him: Potter's only love is pain.

Harry loves pain.

pain severus pain severus

Harry loves Serverus.

potter liar potter liar

Severus hates Potter.

monster mirror monster mirror

Severus loves Harry.

pain liar severus potter

Severus stumbles to the bathroom, where he is promptly sick.

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