A/N: My first Harry Potter fic. I'm not that happy with it, but I'm also a harsh critic, so I'm posting it anyway. If you like it, great. If not...meh, whatever. This story is complete at 7 chapters. Story takes place after 'The Deathly Hallows' but ignores some things that don't suit my purposes (like the entire epilogue), so may be very slightly AU.
Warnings: SLASH. Snape x Harry. Don't like it? Don't read it. Simple, yeah? Rated M for adult themes (but nothing too graphic).
Standard Disclaimers Apply.
I. How's Your Neck, Professor?
It was hot. Well, no, actually, the dungeon classroom was quite cool, but knowing the heat wave outside was enough to make Harry feel lazy, like he'd rather be in the shade of a tree by the lake than trapped in the bowels of the castle taking summer lessons so that he didn't have to come back for an eighth year at Hogwarts. So why was he here? Well, there were two reasons, he supposed. The first one, he and Ron agreed, was to shut Hermoine up. The second? Well, the second was personal.
Harry hadn't told Ron and Hermoine what he saw in the pensieve, not really. He'd given them the basic facts, but kept the intimate details to himself. They were Severus Snape's secrets to share, not his. He knew if Snape had known at the time that he would survive Nagini's bite, he'd never have let Harry see so deeply into what Dumbledore once called "the best of" him.
They had lost so much to Voldemort, but the next day, the sun had still risen. It had driven home more surely than anything that he had a whole life to live now...and not the faintest idea what he really wanted to do with it. Sitting in the dungeon classroom, still no ideas really came to mind. An auror? He'd thought so once, but now that he knew what the ministry was really like he wasn't sure he could bear to go work for them. The past month had cost him all sense of direction. No idea what to do with his life, no idea where he fit in the world if he'd already done all the things he'd been 'chosen' for, secretly terrified of what it meant to be just...Harry, and nothing more than that. Most days all he did was help with the reconstruction of Hogwarts--even with magic there was more than enough work to go around, though the dungeon areas of the castle were mercifully unharmed--and try to block Severus Snape's memories from his already overburdened mind.
Snape--he'd woken up for the first time two days ago. Madam Pomfrey seemed to think he was going to pull through, but there hadn't been any news since. The student body was led to believe that he was still quite unwell and wouldn't be able to return to teaching any time soon. At least, that's what everyone was saying. How would Snape react to him once he'd made a full recovery? Harry couldn't help but wonder if it would be more brutal insults and random point deductions than ever, or the frosty silence he'd received after one too many disasters in Occlumency. And while on the subject, how was he going to deal with Snape? It couldn't be the same now that he knew so much.
As Harry was busy dwelling on what-ifs, the dungeon door opened.
"Blimey, he's back already," Ron groaned quietly. Sure, he knew Snape wasn't evil in the strictest sense, but he was still a bastard of a teacher. It wasn't like he wanted the guy dead, but most of the student body was sort of hoping he'd be out of commission for a while. Nothing too serious, just enough to keep him from teaching, really. Harry couldn't exactly say he didn't agree with them, but worry had overtaken reason and he found himself glad to see Snape up and walking around. He moved with the same solid gait he'd always had, but Harry thought he looked a little too pale, maybe even a bit sallow. There were dark patches under his eyes that Harry was sure had never been there before.
"Today," Snape said as he got to his desk, "we will be making a purifying draught." He pointed at the board and instructions scrolled across it as he continued to speak, but it was as if someone had cast mufflatio for all Harry heard of what he was saying. He found himself staring at this spot at the side of Snape's neck where crisp white bandages peeked just barely past the top of his black cloak. It was shocking, he realized, to think of Snape as being unwell. That might be why he was so edgy lately. He'd never thought well of the man in the seven years they'd known each other, teetered between thinking him evil and just plain mean, but above that he'd always thought of him as intelligent, capable, somehow impenetrable, like Dumbledore or Professor McGonagall. But all those illusions had been shattered as they all proved disappointingly human. The presumption that there would be some things that would always remain exactly as he remembered them was comforting, but childish. Now he knew that even Snape could be injured, unwell; that knowledge was jarring.
Harry only vaguely registered Snape saying, "begin," as he took a seat behind his desk, but even this couldn't completely snap Harry back to reality. He nearly tipped his cauldron over twice and had a feeling he'd added something pink and fuzzy that definitely didn't belong. And he was sure Snape was ignoring him because ten minutes into his disastrous attempt at a purifying draught he had a cauldron full of sludge and Snape hadn't vanished it and declared he would have zero points for the day yet, even though Harry already knew it's what he deserved in this particular case.
Finally, he blurted out, "...er, Professor? How's your neck?" It was such a ludicrous, clumsy thing to say out of nowhere that he'd probably have laughed at himself if he wasn't too busy feeling like the class idiot. Everyone else was pretty much laughing at him, and he felt his face heat up in spite of all efforts to prevent it.
Snape's brow rose fractionally, surprised, but Harry hoped not insulted.
"I would imagine, Potter, a fair deal better than your sleeve." He looked pointedly in the direction of Harry's right wrist. The sleeve of his robes had dipped into the flame heating his cauldron and was now on fire. He yelped in surprise and stumbled back, fell from his seat awkwardly and managed to put himself out to the sound of the class's raucous laughter.
An hour later, Harry flopped sullenly at Gryffindor's table in the Great Hall, not at all interested in lunch, but glad to be free of his traumatic potions experience.
"Cheer up mate," Ron told him, patting his shoulder. "Could have gone worse."
"How do you figure?" Harry snipped.
"Well, he didn't vanish your potion this time," Hermoine said, trying to see the bright side, even though that wasn't going to help much, considering instead of pale minty green, Harry had submitted something that looked like boiling tar at the end of class.
"I wish he had," he answered grumpily. "At least then the worst I could get is a zero and a detention for 'gross incompetence' I wouldn't put a negative grade past Snape."
"You know why you really got that detention," Hermoine said in her mom voice.
"I know, I know," Harry replied before she could really get her lecture going. "Next time I'm feeling any sympathetic leanings, I'll keep my big mouth shut."
Severus Snape dropped his shirt on the chair with his robes and cloak. I was cold in his office, as always. He'd grown accustomed to the temperature after so many years, but then again, he generally didn't spend much time standing around topless. He unwrapped the bandages around his neck and picked up a beaker of steaming pale green liquid. Pushing his hair out of the way, he poured a decent portion on the still open wound. It frothed, bubbled, and burned a path through the better part of his shoulder and arm before he could stop gritting his teeth. He put the beaker down and pat away the excess liquid. "Has to hurt if it's to heal," he muttered bitterly.
Severus had been so ready to die that night. He'd expected it, not that he was pleased by the prospect. But in death, he'd thought, maybe he would yet find some peace. Fate was not so kind. Now that he was alive, there was no sense in throwing himself away to negligence. He wasn't suicidal, just felt like he'd already lived out his usefulness.
He lifted his arms to apply fresh bandages with a wince. The draught always left a lingering ache in his bones, but anything was fine if it meant the end of Madam Pomfrey's nagging care and kept him out of St. Mungo's. Two days of her was more than he could stand.
Just as he was tucking away the last of the wrapping on his throat, the door opened. His shoulders tensed as he saw Harry Potter reflected in the glass jar full of floating toad bladders. He couldn't show weakness, especially not in front of Potter. There was no logical reason to feel that way, but it was too late to change now. James Potter's son could not be given even the slightest opening to follow in his father's footsteps, surely. He'd had more than enough humiliation for one lifetime. He reached for his shirt, appearing much calmer than he felt at being caught so exposed. "You're early, Potter," he snapped, making quick work of it before pulling his high collared robes and cloak over the top of it.
"Not that early," Harry defended himself, hoping he wouldn't end up with another detention for, of all things, being too punctual.
Snape gestured to a small table at the side of the room where a cauldron and ingredients lay already set up. "You will use this detention to redo that hideous excuse for a purifying draught you submitted this morning. If you make up for your dreadful performance in class, I may be inclined to give you half the grade you would have gotten if you were paying attention when you created this abomination."
Harry blinked as Snape deposited the bubbling purple tar he'd handed in earlier in front of him as a reminder.
"You're...going to let me redo it?" There had to be a catch. There was always a catch when Snape offered to let him out of a class with something greater than a zero if he could help it.
"I should think you would appreciate the opportunity to prove that you aren't completely incompetent. Or are potions beneath 'the boy who lived'?" Snape answered.
"That's not what I meant. Stop putting words into my mouth," Harry snipped thoughtlessly. He hated all that 'boy who lived' stuff. "I just meant it's unlike you."
"You know less about me than you think, Potter."
"And more than you'd care to accept, right?" As soon as the words passed his lips Harry wished he could swallow them. He searched for something to change the subject with. Something. Anything, before Snape decided that homicide would be a good punishment for his big mouth after all... "...er, that's a purifying draught on your desk, isn't it, Professor?"
Damnable boy. His powers of observation only seemed to function when it was most inconvenient. "Yes," Snape replied grudgingly. "As you can see, yours looks nothing like it."
Harry ignored the last comment. He knew Snape was just trying to get under his skin and he'd better not press his luck any further. A palpable silence fell as he rearranged his workspace, weighing his next words carefully. "Madam Pomfrey couldn't magically heal your wound, then," he said at last, hoping to get more out of Snape on how bad his condition really was. Worse than the potions master would care to let on, he was sure, but that didn't tell him much.
Snape was slow to reply. Harry went to work, figuring he was being ignored again.
"...Nagini's venom," the professor said after quite some time, having returned to sit at his desk, "...has made the healing process somewhat...tedious."
"...oh," Harry answered, letting his brain wrap around the new information. The snake venom wasn't letting the wound heal properly then, just like when it had bitten Arthur Weasley. So why the hell was Snape up and walking around? Just how bad was this venom? If it was still in his system, would moving around and getting agitated make things worse for Snape's condition? Madam Pomfrey wouldn't have released him if that was the case, right? "But, you'll recover, right?" he asked after a stretch.
"Is that concern, Potter?" Snape sounded smug.
"Of course it's concern! You nearly died because Professor Dumbledore told you to protect me!" Harry declared.
Snape scoffed. "My life and choices are my own. The deal I made with Dumbledore all those years ago was one of my own making, caused by my own actions and decisions, which have very little to do with you. Your potion is curdling. I'm only giving you one chance to make up for your mistake, so pay attention to what you are doing."
Harry turned and began stirring fervently. Snape watched, wondering why on earth he'd had to give the boy detention tonight, when he felt far too weak to endure sitting here for so long himself. Harry had always been, if nothing else, exhausting, and he didn't have the energy for many more of his presumptuous questions.
"So," Harry said one last time, having rescued his potion only barely in time thanks to Snape's snooty little warning. "...you'll recover, then." Snape hadn't really given him a straight answer.
Oh for pity's sake. It was the one last nudge that made Severus's patience snap. "For the very last time, yes, Harry, I will be fine. Now will you kindly shut up and finish your work!"
He clammed up as quickly as he'd exploded, catching his mistake. Harry caught it too, and his cheeks flushed. Severus Snape had never called him anything but 'Potter'. He suspected there were times Snape would have liked to use a few more colorful words, but he'd refrained. And he most certainly had never, ever called him 'Harry'. It was a kind of proof, he thought, that Snape could finally look at him and see him rather than a mere bi-product of a marriage between something he loved and something he loathed.
He didn't speak again for the rest of the detention. When he got up, putting his potion--which he thought looked like it came out pretty well--in a sample flask and resting it on the desk in front of the potions master, it seemed to take his professor a moment too long to realize it was there. "I'm finished, Professor," he said.
Snape deliberated a moment before replying. "I can see that, Potter," he answered slowly. "You may go." He didn't tell Harry if he'd managed to earn back any of the points he'd thrown away in class. Harry didn't bother to ask. He moved from the office quietly, peeking one last time over his shoulder to find Snape was peering analytically at the flask of liquid, seemingly deep in thought.
On his way back to Gryffindor Tower Harry thought about that analytical look. He wondered if his purifying draught would be good enough to help heal Snape's wounds. He decided if it was, grades and detentions didn't mean much by comparison.