So. This has been on my hard drive for long enough now. I think I forgot about it, to be honest. But then, computer failures and crashes and other unpleasantness like that will do that to you. This is AU after HPB, maybe even a bit before that, too. This was an experiment, like most of my writings, but that's what works for me.
It has been pointed out that I should mention that this story has a pairing, even though I don't truly see it that way. Snape and Harry will develop a deep, strong friendship.
Warnings: Mentions of rape.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter (or Dr Hill).
Birdsong. The sun is setting – cool and pleasant.
Wind. Wind, soft and gentle. It ruffles Harry's hair. The smell of freshly mowed grass makes him happy.
It is refreshing. It makes him forget that he is a killer. He appreciates the simplicity of being alive to experience the fresh smell of newly mowed grass, cool sunlight and wind that is soft and gentle.
The birds only further tell him that summer is here. Summer – this summer – is respite from a Wizarding world in chaos.
Voldemort is dead.
Harry shakes his head and pushes everything magical and supernatural to the darkest recess of his mind. A butterfly crosses the path in front of him, its flying erratic and happy. Harry smiles and wishes he were six, almost seven, instead of sixteen, almost seventeen, so that he could chase after it.
Moments gone and lost never come again. Harry knows this.
A dog trots happily towards him. Harry's smile widens. "Hey, doggy," he says and crouches to scratch behind its ears. The dog yips softly and raises its head to lick at Harry's other hand. "Taste nice, do I?" he asks as the dog's tail wag furiously.
"Buster!" The dog looks over its shoulder for less than a second before returning its attention to Harry. "Buster…" the soft male voice is reproving. Reproving, tired and a little amused. "I'm terribly sorry," the man says and Harry looks up.
He hadn't heard the owner approach, only heard the calls. The owner is tall and lean and plain. Harry thinks he's kind of handsome in a nondescript way that likely allows him to disappear easily in large crowds. It's how Harry wishes he would look.
"I keep telling myself to buy a new leash—" the man holds up one that is torn and old, "—but I never get around to it. I always think 'next time', you know?"
Harry nods. "Yeah, I know. Sort of like homework, I guess. You never get around to finishing it in time."
The man laughs. Harry smiles and scratches the scruff of the dog's neck. Crouching as well, the owner fastens the leash to the collar. When he looks at Harry his gaze is strangely serious and hard, and the set of his shoulders make Harry wary.
He has seen far too many Death Eaters in disguise, been the victim of far too many attacks.
"You're really pretty, boy," the man murmurs mere seconds before a cloth is held over his mouth and nose from behind and Harry belatedly realises that he has been caught in a trap. Harry panics as, for every breath he tries to take, his head swims and his vision grows darker. He struggles and kicks and claws at the arms holding him.
When Harry wakes up, he is in a dark room illuminated only by a few candles. His body hurts, aches and he is sore. His moth is stuffy and throat scratchy.
He is naked.
He cannot move.
There is someone on top of him.
Harry screams and laughter fills the air.
The next time Harry wakes up it is in a jostling ambulance. Dudley is sitting next to him and a paramedic is moving over him, inserting needles and making sure his blood pressure doesn't drop.
The third time Harry wakes up he is in a hospital bed and an Inspector is sitting on a chair next to his bed. By the door, a Constable stands guard.
Harry wants to die.
He is not the first victim, they tell him. He will likely not be the last. He should be lucky that he is alive because so far, there have been no other survivors. Drug overdose, the Inspector explains.
Drug overdose, Harry hears, and knows that his magic has, once again, rescued him. For a moment he wishes it hadn't.
Harry sat quietly on his chair and stared out the window. Around him, his relatives tried to go on as if nothing had happened, as if the freak of the family hadn't been assaulted the same way countless of other normal boys had been sporadically over the past six months. Today, just like the past week, Harry ignored the food his Aunt had prepared for him.
It wasn't that he wasn't hungry, because he was. It was just that the moment something entered his system, he threw it right back up again almost immediately. Stress, the doctors had told him, or maybe it had been his Aunt, he wasn't sure.
Harry slowly turned to look at his Aunt. He didn't say anything. Besides his statement to the police, which had been mostly written, he hadn't been able to speak.
It wasn't that he didn't want to; it's that the words wouldn't come. Part of him was terrified of what he'd say.
"Aren't you hungry?"
Harry nodded. Then he looked at his food and immediately his stomach turned. Seconds later, he was retching and dry heaving over the toilet. When he was done, he turned around and started. His Aunt stood in the doorway, frowning disapprovingly at him.
"I'm taking you to a specialist tomorrow," she snapped. "God knows what those freaks will do to me if I let you waste yourself away," Aunt Petunia muttered under her breath as she turned to leave.
Harry pretended not to hear her.
The next morning, he managed to eat two small bites of plain, unbuttered toast. It was probably the first time his Aunt had ever looked remotely close to being proud of him.
Harry didn't dare go outside any more. Yesterday, he had turned seventeen and thus gained the right to perform magic outside of Hogwarts. He knew enough spells, hexes and curses to warrant a few months in Azkaban but he still didn't dare to go outside when twilight set in.
During the day in full sunshine in the Dursleys garden, no problem, but at the first sign of nightfall he hurried inside.
The psychiatrist Aunt Petunia made him see three times a week told him that it was absolutely normal. They talked a lot, and not only of the…assault, but of other subjects as well. Weather, books, food. Dreams. Illusions and thoughts.
Exercises. Dr Hill had him perform exercises, had him listen to music, had him close his eyes and tell of what he saw in the darkness. Mostly he panicked. Dr Hill would have him talk, then, and they wouldn't try again until the next session.
Sometimes they danced together.
Sometimes they played Scrabble, and Harry had to tell Dr Hill what his thoughts were of every word he wrote. Dr Hill countered with his own opinions.
Harry learned to smile again.
When September first rolled around Harry was almost sad to leave.
"You quit Quidditch?" Ron exclaimed loudly in outrage.
"Yes," Harry said quietly without looking up from the book he was reading. Charms. Flitwick had already assigned their first essay.
Ron sputtered. "But…but why? You love Quidditch and with you on the team, we're guaranteed to win, Harry! You can't—"
"I already have, Ron." Harry looked up. His narrow face was tired and drawn. "I don't want to any more."
Naturally, by lunch the next day, Malfoy was gloating.
Harry looked blankly at him as they entered the potions classroom. When Malfoy sniggered, Harry walked past him and sat down at the desk at the front no one normally used because it was way too close to Snape. Curiously enough, the man took one look at him and said nothing of it.
A month into the school year, Harry Potter sat on one of the highest towers in the east side of the school. He reckoned it was almost lunch, but since he wasn't hungry it didn't matter. Harry stared out across the grounds. Not that much did matter these days.
Occupying his mind to the fullest. Stray thoughts were not welcome. Nor was remembering. In fact, Harry made sure that all he used his mind for was studying. He felt a small pang of guilt that he was skipping classes today, but he couldn't convince himself to move. It was as if the mask he had been wearing since September had suddenly become too heavy and was chafing. Sometimes he really missed Dr Hill. He had, of course, followed the psychiatrist's advice about keeping a journal, but it just wasn't the same…
Snape would kill him for not showing up in class. Flitwick, he wasn't sure about and Hagrid…well, Hagrid would probably be more sad than angry that he had skipped. It wasn't like it mattered much anyway if he missed one day out of thirty.
The sun was low on the sky, red and orange and pink bleeding into the darkening blue of the night sky when the door behind Harry opened. Harry stiffened. For a moment his heart thudded madly in his chest and Harry was absolutely terrified.
A heavy hand landed on his shoulder.
Harry shot off, towards the low wall lining the balcony. He pressed his back against the stone. Eyes, wild and green, stared with terror at the—
"Professor Snape," Harry whispered as his heart slowly calmed.
In the gloom, it was impossible to see the expression on Snape's face. Harry found it disconcerting that he couldn't even properly see the man's eyes – windows of the soul, and all that. Useless with a man such as Snape, Harry knew that, but still. The man's heavy robe rustled faintly in the breeze.
"Potter." Harry swallowed. Snape's gaze raked over him. "Come," he ordered. Harry did.
In the potions classroom, a cauldron was set up. Harry blinked, then slowly turned to look at Snape. Snape's eyes were already fixed on him and he flinched.
"Sit," Snape ordered. Harry did, walking across the room as if in a dream. He just couldn't focus, couldn't anchor himself. Everything felt surreal. Reaching the chair and the desk, Harry sat down. He turned to look at Snape again, as if awaiting the next order. "Instructions are on the board. Begin." Harry started again.
Begin? Oh… Harry smiled to himself – it was an empty smile devoid of happiness – and took his time reading through the instructions. The ingredients were already laid out as well, and so Harry got to it.
It felt nice to occupy his mind again.
Of course, the result was hardly perfect – it rarely was – but Harry still felt…pleased.
Halfway through October, Harry began to…like Snape.
Snape didn't ask how he was.
Snape didn't ask what was wrong.
Snape didn't presume to know him
Snape didn't tell him what he should be or how he should behave.
Snape treated him with cold indifference. Harry thrived in it: in the blissful existence of not having to shoulder the entire world's expectations. Snape gave him assignments and detentions just like he always had before. He took points and snapped at him; with Snape, nothing had changed.
Except, maybe, that Harry's presence in the dungeons was tolerated.
Harry had spent the day in a haze of fear and terror. The letter – the Muggle letter – was still clenched in his left fist.
His right hand was clutching his shirt, just above his heart. He hadn't gone to class again. The room he was in was warm and gloomy; the only light came from the fire burning in the hearth. Not that Harry was aware of his surroundings. Glassy eyes stared emptily ahead. His knees were raised and hugged to his body – Harry hadn't moved an inch the entire day. Logically, Harry should be stiff and sore from sitting like that on cold stone. He should be hungry, thirsty and need to use the loo.
When the door opened, Harry was too far inside his mind to notice. The figure in the doorway halted. A piercing gaze was directed straight at Harry curled up in his little corner. "Potter."
"Potter," the man hissed, then he stalked across the room. Harry stared glassily straight through Snape. Snape sighed and mumbled something irritably under his breath.
"…Potter," Harry emptily repeated, voice barely louder than a scratchy rasp of breath.
"Accio Potter's wand."
Again, Harry's ghostly echo, "…Accio Potter's wand…"
The narrow piece of wood clattered across the floor into Snape's waiting hand. There was really no need for him to get cursed while attempting to rouse the boy, now was there? But at the same time, he knew that against flailing panic, it was best to take precautions and be prepared.
"Because, sir, you won't pity me," Harry said quietly. His throat felt scratchy and raw and his face was still itchy, eyes red and swollen. There was a distinct bitter aftertaste of the potion Snape had made him drink, but at least he wasn't flaying with panic and terror any more. Were it not for the apprehensive tone in his voice, and the way his shoulders appeared more tense than usual, one might have described his tone of voice as nonchalant. As it was, Harry refused to look up and meet the Professor's gaze. Most of his attention remained focused on the torn piece of parchment in his hands that he was folding over and over in various ways. He cursed his hands for trembling.
Snape's quill came to a halt on his own parchment – not exactly his own, as it was yet another request from the Headmaster to be filled out. "Pity you?" he murmured.
Harry shrugged. Carefully, symmetrically, he folded the parchment in half.
Harry's fingers shook. Angry, he glared at them for betraying him, and when they wouldn't stop, he threw the once-a-sheet away. He crossed his arms over his chest and clenched his hands in tight fists.
"Potter," Snape growled.
Harry merely shook his head, face caught in an angry scowl. "It…it's a Muggle enquiry," he mumbled at length, when the silence that stretched out between them grew uncomfortable. "With the police. They…" His voice trembled. Harry cursed himself, he was stronger than this, dammit! "…they need— the victim to step forward," he finally managed to force out. His throat felt like it was constricting on itself and his head pounded. He was sure the pounding was the reason for the way his vision swam uncomfortably.
For the longest of whiles, Snape didn't say anything. Not wanting to create more worst-case-scenarios, Harry brought his legs up on the chair and hugged them to himself.
Harry shrugged and rested his chin on his knobbly knees.
Snape glared and stood up. With seven swift strides he was standing in front of Harry. "Is it, in fact, your wish, Mr Potter, that I divulge the information pertaining your peculiar behaviour this past term? Shall I elucidate what kind of victim," he sneered, "you are?"
Harry snapped his head up so fast that a low crack was almost audible in the warm room deep in the dungeons of Hogwarts. His mouth opened and closed silently. His eyes, which had been dull for so long that Snape had almost – almost – forgotten that they used to be shades lighter, flashed with panic and for a short moment they resembled the emerald green which had made them so famous. "No…" Harry moaned, voice scratchy and hoarse but full with desperation and denial. "I…I have to—" he mumbled as he tried to stand while at the same time also avoid Snape.
Snape refused to yield to Harry's will, and moved to stand in front of him when Harry finally stood straight, limbs and breathing under control. More or less, any way, Snape considered, seeing as the thin – too thin and too pale – body still trembled faintly and the gasping breaths could be heard clearly and irregularly. Snape raised a hand. Harry scuffled back.
"Don't touch—!" His back hit the wall. Harry stiffened. "N-no—"
"Potter," Snape murmured, walking closer. He stopped directly in front of Harry. "Surely by now past circumstances would have made it abundantly clear that my intentions have never brought you harm?" Harry shakily nodded, but he didn't relax. "Calming Draught?"
"Hello, Harry." Dr Hill smiled. "How have you been?"
Harry shrugged. He fiddled with his sleeves as he tried to…think. "I…don't like to think," he ended up saying.
Dr Hill turned to look at him. "Does that mean good? Bad?"
Harry bit his lip. "My…one of my teachers says it's bad."
"Why would your teacher say that, Harry?"
"…I've been having trouble eating again. I can't sleep. I keep busy. He says that I've lost weight and that my eyes are darker than they should…"
"Are they, Harry?"
Harry froze. "I…I wouldn't know."
Dr Hill smiled again. "What are you afraid a mirror will show, Harry? Your reflection? Changes because of the rape? A monster? Someone not you? That you won't recognise yourself?" Dr Hill crossed his legs and leaned closer. "Is it yourself you're afraid you will see or are you afraid the rapists were right about what they told you? What they said you were?"
Harry clenched the mug in his hands tightly. The warmth gave him comfort as well as stability. He was here, he was sitting on a chair, in a police interrogation room. "I guess…I guess it's that I don't want to see what I feel, Dr Hill."
"And how do you feel, Harry? Unsafe? Ugly?"
"Yes. Ugly. Dirty. Ashamed. Weak." Harry took a sip of the tea and Dr Hill patiently waited for him. "Sometimes. Not all the time. I survived. I'm stronger than they are. Better."
"It fluctuates, then? What you feel?"
Harry nodded. "I try to think about what you told me to do. About writing. Meditating, thinking."
"And it helps?"
"Good, good." Dr Hill nodded. "How are you feeling about this?"
Harry brought the mug back to his lips and drank several mouthfuls. The tea wasn't scalding hot – it was just warm. The warmness made him feel good; it made him feel more alive. "I don't want to see them ever again," Harry said vehemently. Quietly, but vehemently.
"Understandable," Dr Hill agreed. "Does it make you angry that you have to?"
Harry shook his head. "Numb. Empty. Bitter." He paused, then added, "resigned."
Harry woke up sobbing and gasping for air. He's naked, he can't move; there is someone on top of him. He screams and laughter fills the air. He lurched into a sitting position. The bed jerked as his bed mate woke as well, started by Harry's abrupt movement. They were in a hotel in Muggle London – Snape had fixed it all, he knew, for the trial. No need for panic, he knew that. But he wasn't used to sharing a bed with anyone, had only been forced to that one time. But asleep and dreaming…it was so easy for his subconscious to drag him straight back to that hell.
"Potter?" Snape grunted, voice rough. Harry shook his head as he grabbed a pillow and then held it against his chest. He still gasped, gulping down mouthfuls of air. His eyes burned and there was a strange, heavy feeling in his throat, as if he were about to cry.
No tears came.
"I can't do this, Snape!" he moaned. "How the hell am I supposed to go up there and answer their stupid questions when I can't even sleep through the night?" Harry began rocking, back and forth, back and forth, pillow still held to his chest as if it were a lifeline. "…with Voldemort, I always knew what to expect. I was prepared. Could prepare myself. Magic can be undone, reversed…" Harry trailed off.
"Rape cannot," Snape murmured. Harry shook his head.
"No," Harry whispered. "And you know? Everyone thinks I'm behaving like a wreck because I have Survivor's Guilt." Harry raised his head and turned to look at Snape. Snape was a dark shape that seemed to hover over the bed. The light from outside outlined him somewhat, and it would seem that after a few hours of sleep, Snape's hair was just as tousled as Harry's was on a good day. "I think that's the worst part, you know? Everyone's afraid of upsetting me. They walk on eggshells. Have you noticed that, Snape?"
"I have," Snape acknowledged. Then, "Would you like Dreamless Sleep?"
Harry sobbed a laugh, just barely on the right side of hysteria. "Do you always try to solve everything with potions?"
He wasn't sure what to make of Snape's silence, but he didn't protest when the bottle was held against his lips, and he was urged to swallow. The potion dragged him under, just like it always did, so he wasn't sure if he heard Snape murmur something about reliability and effectiveness.
Harry nodded. He didn't quite trust his voice enough to dare speaking.
"Are you a homosexual?"
Harry blinked and his mouth fell open. "What?"
The question was repeated. "Mr Potter, it is a fairly simple question, don't you think?"
"Uh, no, I don't. I'm seventeen: of course it's not a simple question."
In the audience, next to Snape, he could see Dr Hill smile. "I've always been too busy to see what I like, to be honest," he added when the defence lawyer representing the men who had assaulted him frowned. "If anything, I'm asexual."
The defence lawyer, Lohan, laughed. "There's no such thing, Mr Potter!"
Harry blinked and decided to say no more.
Deep in thought, Harry sat down on the edge of the bed, next to Snape. They were still in London. It was begin tear on Harry. He couldn't remember the last time his hands were steady or the last time he slept the whole night through. He wanted to go home.
At times, he even wanted to kill the filthy, dirty things that had raped him. At others, he was so terrified and desperate he almost found himself begging Snape to do it. But he never did, and he knew, somewhere deep inside, that he probably never would. Harry was almost certain Snape knew it, too. It was mostly in the middle of the night when he woke, screaming and sobbing, and Snape was there. There was no way a master Legilimens like Snape could miss seeing what Harry was thinking right then.
"Sir?" Harry whispered.
Snape didn't so much as look up from his book, but he nodded, just a little, and Harry wet his lips.
"…did Lohan want to know if I were gay so that he could say I invited it?" he ventured, heart pounding, as he asked a question that had been waiting to be let out for days now.
Snape hadn't moved when Harry sat down, lightly skimming through the book that had been in the bedside table. Almost as if he could sense Harry's apprehension or fear or – Harry wasn't quite sure what it was that he was feeling right then – nervousness, Snape looked up. "Perhaps."
The answer wasn't the one Harry had been looking for, but Snape had never been one to hide ugly truths. "Aunt Petunia used to say that most women who reported rapists never won their cases…" Harry trailed off. He frowned at Snape's book. "Why're you reading the bible?" he asked, not sure if he wanted to know why Lohan had asked what he had anymore.
Snape smirked. "I find it highly amusing." Harry rolled his eyes. "Why did they not win?"
"Hmm? Oh. Right." Harry shrugged and ran a trembling hand through his hair. "Something about their clothes and attitudes. That they invited the men to rape them or something."
"Did you?" Snape asked softly, dark eyes curiously intense and blank.
Harry looked away. "I petted their dog," he admitted. "It ran up to me." He continued quietly, "I hate dogs now."
"The victim is never at fault, Potter. You are not guilty of anything. You would do well to remember that."
Harry felt that maybe he could.
"You told the defence lawyer you were asexual, Harry." Dr Hill looked nonplussed and intrigued, his forehead heavily furrowed. "What makes you feel that way?"
What makes you feel that way? Not: why would you come up with something like that? Why trick them into believing something that isn't true? Doesn't exist? Harry stood up and walked away from Dr Hill. This time they were meeting in the man's office at the University where he taught, and Harry was more than well acquainted with the electrical teapot standing on a counter in a corner of the room. Harry fumbled for two mismatched cups and placed them on the counter before pouring the steaming water in them. "I don't like girls," he muttered as he tried to open the sealed box that contained the teabags. The lid was stuck shut and Harry had to use a spoon to bend it open. The lid fell out with a loud pop.
Chamomile. The scent was at once familiar and nauseating; too much of it in one place, so Harry quickly grabbed two bags, then slammed the lid back on. He knew that he'd be wrestling to open it the next time he was here anyway – might as well make a challenge of it.
"Are you homosexual then, Harry?" Dr Hill asked as Harry sat back down on the soft chair in front of the desk. "Thank you," he said as Harry slid a cup over.
Harry shrugged. "I don't like girls. I never really have, even as a kid I never saw the big deal." Quieter, he added, "not that I ever really liked blokes, either, I just don't like girls."
"And you are sure you don't like them?"
Dr Hill smiled, eyebrows lifting and forehead crinkling. Harry supposed the eccentric man was rather like an adorable…cub at times. "Good, good. If we can focus on what you don't like, finding what you do like should be rather easy, shouldn't it?"
"I suppose." Harry raised his cup and took a cautious sip. It was almost still too hot. He blew on it.
"Do you like to look at men, Harry?" Harry looked up and stared at Dr Hill from over the brim of his cup. "Do you like to watch men do things? Write letters? Zip their jackets up? Facial expressions? Do you take note of what the men around you do? How they do it?"
The next sip of his tea was barely tolerable. It scalded his tongue and burned his throat, but Harry forced himself to swallow. "Am I abnormal for doing that?"
"Not at all, Harry; it just proves that you appreciate masculinity. Perhaps you find men attractive?"
Severus Snape flashed unbidden through his mind: dark, glaring, pale and furious. Harry choked on his tea. "I…I like to watch blokes around me and compare them with myself. I think it's because I always wanted to be normal and like everyone else." He paused slightly. "I still don't want to have sex with them."
Harry shook his head. "No…not then, not now."
Harry was sick three times the night before they were to hear whether the court found the assaulters guilty. He woke up more times than he cared to count and was coaxed back to sleep by an equally sleep-deprived Snape just as many times. He was too exhausted to feel guilty.
He was sick twice the next morning: one just before breakfast, the other just after he had managed those three slices of dry toast.
"Here," Snape said, holding out three bottles.
"Calming Draught, Stomach Soother." Snape paused. "And also a mild version of a potion I am developing to ease anxiety and attacks caused by it."
"Panic attacks?" Harry whispered. Snape nodded. "For me?"
"You are in need of one, are you not?"
Harry could have kissed him. He didn't, of course, but the fact that Snape had done something like develop a potion because Harry needed it, meant more than he could say. So he said, "Thank you," and hoped Snape knew just how much it meant to him. Snape didn't strike him as the kind of man who would welcome or appreciate soppy declarations or sentimental gestures of gratitude.
Maybe he'd buy him a new, shiny set of potions vials. Functional, practical and elegant. Rather like Snape himself, he thought.
Harry was sick one more time in the bathroom at the courthouse, just after the verdict had been read and they had all been free to go. He figured his relief was greater in strength than even Snape's potions.
Snape's voice was dark, silky smooth and it lulled Harry almost as much as the hand petting his hair did. He was so relieved that they were finally back at Hogwarts. Back on Snape's comfortable couch in his comfortable quarters. The words flowed through him, passed over his head, and sometimes he could only hear the voice, but not the words.
"Sir?" he asked, voice scratchy from not having been used for a while. That combined with the feeling of Snape's hand in his hair had made him incredibly lethargic and hazy. The warmth of Snape's thigh under Harry's head made Harry incapable of focusing, too, so it was really a wonder he could produce even the simplest of words.
"I think Adam had a Philosopher's Stone. There's no way he could've been nine hundred years old."
Snape tugged on Harry's hair briefly, then murmured, "the age was not the message of the excerpt I just read."
"It's not realistic," Harry protested drowsily.
Snape snorted. "It is a fictitious religious text, Potter. Its purpose was to create belief, not be used as a basis for discussion concerning matters of age." Harry smiled, then closed his eyes. Snape continued to run his hand through Harry's hair, but he didn't pick up the book again. The silence was only broken by the ticking from the clock hanging above Snape's mantelpiece and by the crackling fire.
Harry was almost asleep when Snape murmured, "the Headmaster would rather you not know, Potter. No doubt he intends to spring the surprise on you when a girl of the appropriate age and status has been found—"
Harry had tensed as the words registered, and he opened his eyes and started at the fire. "I was honest, Snape. At the enquiry."
"That is of little consequence, Potter," Snape snapped. "The Ministry has approved of a new legislation. Every wizard or witch of age has one year, two if they are lucky, to find a suitable spouse, or, in your case, the Ministry will pick one for you. As it is…" Snape trailed off, but Harry picked up the thread,
"As it is, I've got six months to get married, or I'll get paired with who knows what. Fuck," Harry cursed. He rolled to lie on his back and glared up at Snape. "Who—?"
"I believe he is considering Miss Weasley."
Harry exhaled noisily. "If it has to be a Weasley, then I'd pick Charlie. At least he'd be too busy with his dragons to force me to do all that romantic shit…" Harry narrowed his eyes; speaking of Charlie… "What would happen if I went abroad?"
Snape smirked. "That would depend on the Ministry of the country to which you have eloped, Potter, wouldn't it?"
Harry blinked, then grinned. After a while, he said, "thanks for not telling me until the trial was over."
"Additional stress was not advisable, but neither is it to keep it from you," he said.
Two months later, Harry made his decision.
"Say…" Harry bit his lip. Snape raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. Harry allowed his eyes to take in all of Snape without stopping himself. Severus Snape was a tall, thin man, with shoulders only marginally wider than his narrow hips. His hair was stringy and greasy, but rather thick. The eyes, that were currently holding a faint spark of amusement, were black and drew Harry in. Above them, nicely shaped eyebrows – not too thin, not too bushy – one of which was raised. High cheekbones, strong jaw, thin lips, that large, hooked nose that Harry couldn't stop thinking about; when had it become characteristic instead of ugly?
"Yes, Potter?" Snape drawled at length and Harry grinned. Then there was The Voice.
"Would you marry me, sir?"
At once, Snape's eyes narrowed into a suspicious glare. "Potter," he growled, but Harry waved him off.
"No, sir, seriously. I've been thinking about it for a while. I like what we have, and since Ginny wouldn't…she is a Weasley, I don't think she'd be happy with me not wanting sex or flinching away every time she touches me. And I don't like girls. You've never shown any indication that you'd want to…do that with me, so…so I thought maybe—"
"I would be obliged?"
Harry nodded. "Yes. I don't think you realise how much you've helped." Snape merely raised an eyebrow and Harry regarded him thoughtfully. "Or maybe you do, and I'm just too dim-witted to notice."
Snape snorted and stretched an arm out, a long finger pointing at the couch pushed up in a corner between bookshelves. It was almost hidden behind the mountain of books, scrolls and parchments dominating the coffee table standing in front of it. "Sit," he ordered silkily, before sweeping from the room.
The black robe billowed as the man turned, and Harry couldn't help but stare. Then, as the door – thick curtains of linen, really, disguised as a door – to the kitchenette fell closed, Harry turned and carefully navigated his way around the coffee table. The couch was deliriously comfortable, which Harry guessed was why so many of Snape's books were here, and not by the newer couch that stood in front of the fireplace. It could also have something to do with overly bright, cheerful and curious headmasters who Flooed in unannounced. Knowing better than to try and clear an area that a tray could be placed on, Harry simply leaned back.
When Snape stalked back into the room, he had shed his voluminous robe. Snape had long legs. Really long legs, something the robe didn't quite show. A tray floated behind him, holding a teapot and two cups, but Harry's attention remained fixed on the man he was beginning to suspect he was rather too much attached to. The white shirt had a few buttons undone and revealed a sliver of pale skin and the dip above the breastbone. It was currently not tucked in, which Harry guessed wasn't normally the case, and hung over black trousers.
"I must say," Snape smoothly began as he sat down on the couch, the tray hovering in the air between them, "This proposal of yours is truly laughable." Harry froze, stomach clenching. He looked away. "Potter."
"Yes?" he answered roughly.
"Only you would remember to pay respect to my higher status while putting forth a proposal that would, in effect, bind us together for life." Snape sounded highly amused.
Harry bit his lip.
"Besides, a Wizarding proposal would not be phrased quite like that."
The couch dipped as Snape shifted, but Harry didn't turn around to see what he was doing. "It would bring me immeasurable gratification if you would grant me the honour of assenting to between us enter the ceremony Bond of Life."
Harry frowned, then slowly turned around. Snape was regarding him with a frank expression on his face. "What?"
Snape shifted again, elegantly throwing a leg over his other. "That is the phrase you should use if it is your wish for us to court and bond. If this is your inclination, then I must insist you refer to me by my given name."
Harry blinked several times, then wet his lips. Snape – Severus – stared back at him, his eyes betraying both patience and humour. "I… That is— Severus."
"I'd be much…obliged if. I… Please, marry me, Severus?" he exclaimed, frustrated. "You know I won't remember all those words in one go, you bastard!"
Snape merely smirked. "I shall repeat myself, if only for my own personal indulgence: This proposal of yours is truly laughable." Harry scowled, and slowly Snape's amusement was replaced by a sneer and a glare. "I shall have your answer in a week's time, as is customary. I suggest you use that time to the best of your abilities and properly research what you have asked me to do."
Okay, so the greasy bastard had had a point; Harry knew next to nothing about Wizarding customs and traditions. How was he to know that a bonding was so much more than a marriage? Hermione and Ron had looked both contrite and embarrassed when Harry began hauling books about Bonds of Life, traditions and honour to their table in the library.
"Told you not to tell me, did he?" Harry murmured softly as he began perusing the first of his books.
"More like demanded we didn't," Ron muttered. "Who's he having you—"
"I took matters into my own hands," Harry interrupted, eyes firmly on the text. "Ginny and I would never have worked out."
"Why? What's wrong with her?" Ron instantly demanded, and this time, Harry looked up. He glanced quietly at his friend over the brim of his glasses for several minutes. "Mate?"
"I thought you liked Ginny, Harry?" Hermione asked.
The book came up as a barrier between them and Harry nervously raked his eyes over the open pages in front of him. Back in September, October, November….longer? Maybe. Harry wasn't sure. Back then, they had been worried about him – he was different, changed. In the end, Hermione pinned it down to Survivor's Guilt. Harry wasn't sure he knew what that was, but it suited him better than having to tell what had really happened. As far as he knew, Snape was the only one in the Wizarding world who was aware of what had happened.
He'd never told them of the…of the assault (Dr Hill was constantly reminding Harry that he had to be able to say it, if only to himself in his mind where no one could hear: but he had to say it. Acknowledge it).
"I do," he admitted quietly. "I just don't much like girls any more."
The book remained raised as a barrier. Harry forced himself to focus on the text and shut Hermione's and Ron's voices out.
The week was over far too quickly. There was so much he had to do, so much he should've done before springing a proposal on Snape – and himself. Arrangements and contracts, bracelets and charms – the book did say, though, that most witches and wizards had been in possession of their 'Bonding Bracelets' since early childhood. Happy that the Hogsmeade weekend had fallen inside the space of the very customary week – to ignore it was considered a heavy enough offence that one could be fined for it – because Harry was not in possession of a 'Bonding Bracelet'. Males generally went with white gold or silver, so that was what Harry did.
"Might one enquire for the lucky witch's identity?"
Harry had gazed lethargically at the jeweller, a thin old man with a shock of white hair. "No," he murmured. "I need two charms as well. Potter family crest. I…" Harry frowned. "They're both to be in white gold, right?"
A thin small appeared on the man's face. "Or silver, yes, because you are both male and a Potter. Hers will be gold, if I'm not mistaken."
Harry decided not to comment on that, knowing that if Snape accepted, the other family crest dangling from his bracelet would be made of same material as his own. "I need two charms then, of white gold."
"Of course, of course, Mr Potter, I shall have it sent to you by Tuesday, no later than Wednesday. Acceptable?"
Harry nodded. "That's fine." Looking up, he cocked his to the side. "Where would I go if I wanted my ears pierced?"
The jeweller's blue eyes widened comically. "Are you of…such inclinations, Mr Potter?"
Harry smiled faintly, and then shook his head. "I do have female friends, you know." He tapped the glass casing of the display he had been looking at earlier. "I liked the ones with the emeralds and sapphires…"
The old man wobbled over, a small smile on his face. "Yes, Mr Potter. Truly magnificent, they are."
Two pairs of earrings, both made of silver. One had three drops of sapphire stones, small and delicate, and they reminded Harry of rain falling. The other was a pair of emerald studs, encased in silver. "For the wedding, I might suggest gold, but as an everyday—" Harry raised an eyebrow; they weren't exactly cheap, and the man corrected himself, "Social outings, they are absolutely perfect. Might I suggest a pair of simple hoops for the initial piercing?"
"Really small ones?" The jeweller nodded. "Okay, then. Silver," he added as the man went for gold. "Gold disappears in blonde hair." The calculating gleam disappeared from the old man's eyes; apparently Harry's explanation was to his satisfaction.
That had been lesson two from the book: Women wore golden jewellery, especially at weddings. Witches with Muggle descent might be excused as ignorant. Men, on the other hand, wore silver. Wizards whose proclivities lay with other Wizards often wore earrings. Silver earrings. The fact that the old man never told him where he could have it done didn't go unnoticed by Harry.
"Severus, the honour and joy a Bond of Life with you would give me is indescribable and irrefutable. For allowing me this honour, I would be indebted to you for life."
In front of him, Severus' back was straight and stiff. Harry allowed a small smile to creep up on his face. The feeling he'd had the past week: that Snape wouldn't really think he'd do it – look up on the traditions that governed bondings – had proven true, it seemed. But, to complete the offering:
"You may call me Harry, should you so wish."
Severus cleared his throat, and this time it was Harry who tensed.
"It would bring me immeasurable gratification if you would grant me the honour of assenting to between us enter the ceremony Bond of Life, Harry," he murmured, voice thick and dark and just as wonderfully silky as Harry had always known it to be.
"I…" Harry croaked. He cleared his throat and tried again: "I concur."
"As do I."
Harry momentarily froze when Severus turned around. Something about the look of his face, his eyes, told Harry he was waiting for something. Waiting, waiting… Don't screw this up, Potter! he ordered himself mentally. Step one was successfully completed, step two…two, two, two…oh! Harry jerked to life and began fumbling through the pockets of his robe. A gentle smirk curved Severus' lips as he waited.
Triumphantly, with a large grin lighting up his face, Harry withdrew a small velvet pouch from his pocket. Severus held out his hand, palm up and Harry reached over with the pouch. "I offer thee this crest of Potter." He dropped the pouch.
Long fingers curled around it. "I accept." Harry never saw Snape retrieve a pouch of his own, but there was one suddenly in his hand and Harry hurriedly offered his own. "I offer thee this crest of Prince," Severus murmured.
A flash of light and warmth pulsed through Harry's hand as the charm landed. "I accept," he echoed Severus. Harry reached for the pouch, but then hesitated. Snape nodded, though, so Harry grinned shyly and opened it.
"Iugo," Severus murmured and tapped the charm. It glowed, then floated beneath Harry's sleeve. The fact that Harry was wearing the bracelet seemed to make Severus even prouder. Harry couldn't have stopped his smile from growing even if he'd tried.
Harry brandished his own wand. Severus smirked, then upended the pouch. "Iugo." The charm repeated the movements Harry's had made, and disappeared under Severus' sleeve.
Then they simply stood, face to face, and basked in the glow and warmth of their magic intermingling and familiarising with each other. Harry knew that, traditionally, there was a kiss or two involved, but Harry didn't feel like it and Severus didn't seem to think it was important enough to initiate one.
"Didn't think I could do it, did you?"
Severus snorted. "It was one of the more…pleasant surprises I have been forced to endure."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Git." Then, "do you think we should charm them? The…charms, I mean." Harry pulled back the sleeve of his robe and held up his arm. The bracelet hung loosely on his thin wrist, the two lone charms dangling from it. His own and Severus'.
"Other than a few spells to make sure they do not come off, are stolen or some other such occurrence, it is generally considered best to leave them alone." Harry nodded. He turned around and faced Severus who was sitting back comfortably on the couch in front of the fire.
"Severus…" Harry wet his lips, then walked away from the fire and sat down next to Severus. "Would you pierce my ears?"
Severus merely raised an eyebrow, and none of the disapproval that had been present in the jeweller's wrinkled face made an appearance. "Both of them?" he asked instead as he withdrew his wand.
"You think so?"
A wry smirk, sort of smile, curled Severus' lips. "I do. Anything else would be—"
"Yes." Severus tapped both of Harry's ears and murmured a spell. Harry didn't feel any different, though, until he tried to touch his ears. Although his fingers clearly encountered fleshy earlobes, he could only feel them with his fingers. His ears didn't register the contact at all. "If Poppy threatens to disembowel me, I must insist you—"
"—take full responsibility?" Harry said cheekily. "Only if I like it."
Severus snorted. "Earrings?" he demanded. Harry placed a small container in Severus' hand.
"Told the jeweller they were for a blonde," he explained as Severus opened it and withdrew the small hoops. Harry shrugged. "He looked horrified at the implication I might be gay."
As Severus tucked Harry's hair behind his ears, he murmured, "Your hair should be sufficiently long to cover them, should you so wish."
To that, Harry had nothing to say. Instead, he asked, "have you done this before?"
"Only to Lily."
"Mum?" Severus' wand flashed, and then the man fumbled briefly with something next to his cheek. His ear, Harry guessed, since he couldn't actually feel anything. The procedure was repeated one more time on his other ear, and then Severus leaned back.
"Yes," he answered belatedly, "your mother. Golden acorns, if I remember correctly. For a masquerade she had decided to attend as Artemis. She was very beautiful, your mother," Severus said quietly.
"… Would you tell me about her sometime?"
Severus looked away. The flames from the fire played in his dark eyes. "Perhaps," he whispered.
One morning, as he sat next to Ron in the Great Hall, Ron grabbed his wrist as he reached for another toast. Harry wrenched his hand away and would have scooted away as well if Neville hadn't been sitting next to him. "Ron?" he asked.
"What's that on your wrist, Harry?" Ron asked tightly. Harry frowned and raised the arm Ron indicated, his left arm, and then froze.
Harry shoved the toast he'd been reaching for inside Ron's mouth. Ron glared angrily at him as he chewed, but Harry ignored him. "Listen," he hissed, to avoid being overheard, "we're still arguing about how to phrase those bloody Letters of Truth, all right? You don't honestly think I'm suicidal, do you? Because I'd have to be if I went behind your mum's back!"
Looking more or less as if he believed Harry, Ron asked, just a touch too snidely, "Why would you argue about that?"
"Have to argue about something," Harry muttered. "We'll probably hand them out by Friday. And, yes, I know you're only supposed to give them to your family, but since I haven't got one—" Ron whacked him over the head. "Hey!"
"Thought you said you weren't suicidal?"
"When did you have your ears pierced, Harry?"
Harry froze, mouth half-open as he had been about to say something. Something about why his ears were pierced. "Um."
Beside him, Ron let his head fall down on the table with a 'thunk'. Luckily, they were alone in the Common Room, so no one would think their behaviour strange.
Hermione's eyes narrowed. "What?"
"Merlin," Ron moaned, "what was wrong with my sister, Harry?"
Harry pursed his lips. "Her breasts, mainly." And her sex drive, he added quietly to himself. "Hand me my bag, would you? I've got something for you…"
"What's going on? You know something, don't you? Something you haven't told me?" Hermione said, hurt. Ron flushed slightly at her accusations, and Harry felt almost guilty.
If he was completely honest with himself, though, he was only feeling guilty because Hermione would've wanted him to. The past three weeks had been full of planning and Severus, about doing everything right, down to every last detail. When it came to the Bonding of Life, you told no one. Family was told trough Letters of Truth – they were scrolls, actually, and Harry and Severus had settled on purple bindings for them. Purple was the colour of life, and all that. After the families of the two persons involved had been told, the finer details and planning of the ceremony itself was pieced together. Harry winced at the thought of him, Severus, Dumbledore and Mr and Mrs Weasley sitting down and agreeing to anything.
"—you're not supposed to tell anyone, love," he heard Ron explain, exasperated, "It's tradition and no, I won't say anything about what it is until Harry's given us—"
"—these," Harry interrupted, two scrolls in his hand. Hermione reached for one, but Harry pulled away by standing up.
"'Mione," Ron growled as she rose to stand as well. "Sit down and listen and don't interrupt. This is important." He glanced at Harry, surprised. "Though how you know about it—"
"Books, mate. Plenty of them. Now then…" Harry cleared his throat and ran a hand through his hair in a nervous gesture that exposed his ears. Ron shifted, but made no move to either stand or speak. Hermione bit her lips together to avoid speaking, even by accident. "In absence of family, I offer you these, one for each." Harry handed them a scroll each. Ron inclined his head and let it simply rest on the palms of his hands. After a short moment of confusion and curiosity, Hermione did the same. Harry continued, "I cannot describe in words the honour your acceptance of me, the Letter of Truth and the commitment of mine that is imminent. In these Letters of Truth—" Hermione sneaked a glance down at the scroll, "— you shall find the truth revealed that will be a fact until the day I shall face my demise. I enter this Bond of Life willingly and with great happiness. Know that no force, from this world or beyond, could have imparted this decision on me were it not my will.
The Bond of Life is entered without hesitation, but with great trepidation and hope for the future. May you bless me with your love and acceptance."
To remain standing in front of them, as if in a pseudo trial, was one of the hardest actions Harry had ever forced himself to perform in his life. He wasn't allowed to look up until they had both blessed him. One scroll was unrolled, then the other. Harry guessed Ron had opened his first. Of course, there was not anything physically preventing Harry from looking up, but tradition demanded that he did not. In a way, he almost wished he had been allowed to tell Ron about it in advance, because he knew— Ron stifled a gasp and cursed under his breath. Harry tensed and clenched his eyes shut. He knew Ron hated Severus: greasy git, ugly git, demon bat, bat of the dungeons, Death Eater, scum… The list was long and seemingly endless.
Then Ron stood up, and Harry forced himself to look up. You want this? Ron's eyes asked, pleading with him. Harry's nod was almost imperceptible. "The blessing you seek that is mine to give, you have," Ron said gruffly and Harry relaxed a little bit.
"For this blessing that is yours to give, I gratefully accept."
Then Hermione stood up as well and, after a glance at Ron, repeated his words, to the letter, and Harry thanked her, just as he had Ron.
Harry bypassed her and sank down on the couch before his knees could make good on their threat to give out on him. "If you ever plan on marrying Ron, I suggest you start reading up on it," Harry mumbled. "He can't ask until you let him, you know, and his—"
"You're gonna tell my parents?" Ron asked loudly. It took Harry a moment or two to make sense of first the interruption and then the question, but once he did he just played along.
Of course he couldn't sit here and talk to Hermione about why Ron wasn't asking her out. With Ron right there next to them.
Harry nodded. "We were planning on Flooing there next. Why?"
"I can't picture the look on Mum's face, is all."
Harry paled. "Oh, God, she'll kill me."
"Sure I can't come?" Ron teased, looking as mischievous as only a Weasley could. It had something to do with the freckles, Harry was sure.
Hermione swatted Ron over the head, but even she couldn't hide the twinkle in her eyes. "I'm sure it will be fine, Harry."
"Right," he muttered, but he managed a smile.
The smile grew, even if the realisation that Professor Snape was standing in the Gryffindor common room made both Ron and Hermione pale. Harry turned around. Severus stood, just barely inside the portrait. He crooked a finger at Harry, and Harry, as if pulled by invisible strings, walked over. "Severus?"
"The Headmaster…" Severus looked troubled, lips twisted in something resembling both disgust and disbelief. "He wishes we name our firstborn after him."
Harry's eyes widened, horrified. "I'm not having—"
Severus rolled his eyes. "Magic can only do so much, Harry. We must leave if you wish to inform the Weasleys and the werewolf tonight," Severus said, abruptly changing both the subject and his tone of voice. It didn't bother Harry too much, though, because he had bigger problems.
"Mrs Weasley's going to kill me, Severus," he whispered.
"I think not," Severus snapped, but Harry was almost certain the professor was a bit paler than usual.
"What did you mean, Harry?" Hermione was buttering her toast, and it took a few moments to make out what she was meaning; for all intents and purposes she did not look as if she had just spoken.
"About Ron not…?"
Hermione looked up, brown eyes serious. "I thought he wasn't ready."
Harry chuckled softly. "If anyone, 'Mione, you aren't ready. I reckon the both of us are too 'Muggle' to really be comfortable with signing our lives away before we've had a chance to live them."
With a sigh and a nod, Hermione seemed to deflate, shoulders slumping. She scooted closer to Harry and rested her head on his shoulder. Harry tensed, but made no move to either welcome her closeness or push her away. "It just doesn't seem fair."
"Maybe when we're old enough, we can influence the Ministry enough to revert a little. From what Severus tells me, it wasn't like this when he was our age. To quote him: 'he was too old and unwanted' by the time the new legislations came through. Who'd want to marry off their children to a former Death Eater?" Harry trailed off. He fiddled with the toast on his plate that he suddenly didn't feel like eating any more. Quietly, he continued, "Of course…all you really have to do to avoid it is to go to another country. Like Bill and Charlie did. If not for Severus, I think I would've owled Charlie and asked to stay with him for a while."
Hermione sighed again, a bit longer and deeper this time. "Ron wants to be an Auror."
"Yeah… Look, I'll help you. If you're betrothed, then the Ministry can't push you to marry for three or four months, I think. Courting is very important, and is expected once you've made your proposals. Not even the Ministry can deny traditions as important as those…" unless you were Harry Potter, of course. But he didn't say that. "What do you want your family crest to look like?"
Hermione sat up and frowned at Harry. "I don't have one, Harry."
Harry smiled. "Then we'll create one, like the purebloods once did, all those years ago. I hardly think they were born with them, after all. Someone must've created them… Besides," Harry fiddled with his own bracelet and the two charms now hanging off it, "It's mostly so you have something to offer Ron in return."
It didn't take long to teach Hermione everything she needed to know. Sneaking off to Hogsmeade was child's play, and once there, the same jeweller that had helped Harry, easily fixed what Hermione needed.
Harry began to spend most evenings in Severus' quarters. Mostly, they spent the time together quietly: reading, playing the occasional game of chess, and Harry often also brought his homework. One evening, after Severus had let him in and then left to see the Headmaster, Harry's sense of claustrophobia increased.
It had started that morning, when he woke before the sun had fully peaked out. Someone had drawn the drapes around his bed closed. It had been dark. Dark and stuffy. He couldn't breathe. He had fallen out of bed and landed with a painful thud on the floor, wand in hand and glowing with a bright, white light. All day, he had looked over his shoulder, jumped at the smallest sounds or motions, flinched and been overly tense. Harry wouldn't be entirely surprised if his eyes were too wide and panicked.
Quickly shedding his robe, and then sitting down on the rug in front of the fireplace, Harry pulled off his shoes and socks. He sat cross-legged and focused on his breathing while conjuring one block candle after the other, lightning them in the process. They hovered in the air around him, filled the spaces on the mantelpiece, the empty fire place, the floor around him until Harry felt safe, cocooned in the light. Felt the comforting scent of burning wax and the gentle heat they gave off.
Harry removed his tie and unbuttoned a few of the topmost buttons on his shirt, and then he closed his eyes.
He was in a clearing. It was spring and the moss was soft under his bare feet. The moss. Soft moss. Dark green moss. Harry focused on the moss. There was sunlight on the top of his head and across his back, the gentle breeze stroked him and ruffled his hair, but to Harry, all that existed was the moss beneath his bare feet. He wriggled his toes in it. It felt nice. Soft.
The sense of freedom was unfathomable. Here, no one wanted to kill him. Here, he was safe from assaulters and rapists. He was safe from dogs that deceived and the pain of being used in such a cruel manner. Here, in the wonderful clearing of his mind, he was safe from everyone. No one would hurt him here; no one could hurt him. In this wonderful place that existed solely in his mind, Harry felt perfectly at ease. Around him, the wind began to whisper, but Harry paid it no heed.
Then he suddenly wasn't alone.
Harry jerked his head up. His eyes widened, and he dug his toes more firmly down in the moss.
Severus stared back at him. A strange, quirky smile curled his thin lips.
"Severus… You can't come here!" Harry said, desperately. "This is my—"
Severus interrupted, "You have finally cleared your mind, Harry. This room, this clearing…" Severus trailed off. "It is truly remarkable."
"But you can't come here!" Harry protested, heart pounding.
"You accepted me. Otherwise, I would not be here, but in my own room. A perfectly occluded mind is impenetrable. This is a perfectly occluded mind," Severus said softly. "I would like to…that is…" Severus reached out and placed his hand on Harry's cheek. Harry was too shocked to flinch, and before he could register the change, they were somewhere else.
Harsh wind whipped their clothes and hair. There was sand beneath his bare feet. It didn't feel nearly as good as the moss, but it was acceptable. Beyond them, the ocean stretched across the horizon, waves huge and blue. The sun was much more intense here than in Harry's clearing.
"Lily and I used to come here during the summers," Severus said. His dark eyes were firmly fixed on the boiling ocean. "Sometimes we paddled. The currents were too strong to swim without her parents here as well. Every summer, someone would drown, but we always came back here almost every day."
Harry slowly walked closer to Severus. He stood next to him and gazed out at the sea as well. "You loved my mother."
"Yes," Severus agreed harshly, quietly. "She was my only friend. Then I pushed her away."
Harry wet his lips and sneaked a quick glance at Severus. His attention was still on the storming sea. He knew all about that, of course, after the disaster with the Pensive. Then, in the aftermath of the battle where everyone thought Severus killed the Headmaster on the tower, Severus had given Harry a Pensive. Not given, exactly, since he had only found it as he readied for bed and it had been right there, on his pillow.
And there they were: memories of his mum and Severus, playing as children and then as students and best friends at Hogwarts. There were memories of fellow Slytherins, all snide words, sneers and disgusting insinuations about what, exactly, his mum was to Severus. Then Dumbledore appeared, and Harry learned of plans about Draught of the Living Death and suddenly…suddenly everything made sense.
"…if Mum really was as fiery a redhead as everyone says, then she'd be right furious with you for trying to protect her, you know," Harry murmured. "She'd probably whack you over the head, but I think she'd have forgiven you if given the chance."
Severus snorted, his lips curled in the faintest smile. "You are probably correct in that assumption."
Hesitantly, prepared to bolt out of Severus' mind at the slightest hint the action might end up unfavourably for him, Harry shakily reached out and grasped Severus' hand. It took several moments for Harry to calm, and by then, Severus had wrapped his fingers tightly around Harry's. "What would my parents… do you think…"
"They loved you. They would have supported you on every step of the way. No doubt they would have joined you in therapy—"
"I meant us," Harry interrupted. "How would they have…I mean…"
Severus turned his head and stared at Harry. Harry averted his eyes. "I would rather not speculate. However. They did love you."
Harry averted his gaze – this time from the shoreline, and met Severus' gaze. "I like that about you." Severus raised an eyebrow. "That you don't give empty promises. I think that's why I trust you, to be honest: you never lied to me. Never."
As Severus opened his mouth to answer, he suddenly scowled.
"Blasted old coot," Severus muttered. "We must exit, Harry. Make sure you do not release my hand; I would so dislike it if you ended up stranded in my mind."
It felt like swimming. Floating on your back underneath the water in the summer and looking up through the water at the blue sky and the glaring sun. there was an elated, tiny smile on Harry's lips when he opened his eyes. Severus sat opposite to him, cross-legged as well. "That was…nice."
"Ah, my boys!" Albus Dumbledore exclaimed and Harry twisted around, breaking eye contact with Severus. Albus sat on the couch, smiling peacefully and his eyes twinkled. "I trust the experience was pleasant?"
Harry blinked. "Er…yes, sir."
"What do you want, Albus?"
Albus' smile, if anything, widened. "I would like for you to conduct your bonding ceremony—"
"You know such matters must be discussed with the Weasleys present," Severus snapped. "We have a meeting scheduled this Saturday. We will discuss it then. Harry."
Harry, who had stood up while the men talked, and was well on his way out of the room, stopped. "Severus?" he questioned quietly without turning around.
"Where are you going?"
Harry shrugged and rubbed his arms. "I… Could I use your shower, Severus?"
Severus narrowed his eyes. "You may borrow clothing, should you wish it," Severus said slowly. Harry nodded gratefully, and then proceeded to walk out of the room.
"Severus," Albus said gravely once Harry was out of the room. "You must have noticed by now that Harry is not…who he was."
Severus nodded. "Yes, I did notice."
After all, how could he, Severus Snape, Potions Master of Hogwarts, former spy and betrothed to Harry Potter, not have noticed that the man was no longer the boy of times past? Unlike the Headmaster though, he knew how and why that was.
Soft laughter filtered into the room where Severus and Albus were still talking, although it was now over a game of chess, and the nature of their subject was not very serious at all, before Harry emerged from the hallway.
Harry glided into the room, a daft smile on his face. He spread his arms wide and Albus chuckled merrily. "Oh, my dear boy…"
"Would this be the future Mrs Potions Master?" Harry raised his hands high in the air to free them from the billowing sleeves that had swallowed them entirely, then he hurriedly reached down and bunched the robe up so he could walk without tripping. Harry sat down on the couch next to Severus. "Honestly, you don't look this much bigger… How tall are you, anyway?"
Severus' mouth twitched. "Tall," he said dryly.
"Oh, I can see that," Harry muttered and began rolling up the sleeves again. He had already done it once, but they had unrolled on his short trek to the room. When Severus merely drew his wand, though, and muttered an incantation under his breath…
"Why do I always forget that I'm a wizard?"
It was a Wednesday and it had been a week since Harry and Severus had 'met' inside Harry's head. Harry found himself back in Hogsmeade, trotting after Severus to keep up with the man's longer, swifter stride. He'd muttered something about traditions and expectations. Not sure what it was all about, Harry was satisfied with simply following. For now.
"Severus!" Harry hissed as Severus slowed down outside the jewellers shop. Severus turned, face blank. "That old man in there has a serious problem with homosexuals! I'm not going in there with you."
"Master Halling?" Severus raised an eyebrow.
Harry ran a hand through his hair, briefly exposing glittering sliver hanging from his earlobes. "He was really worried about all the silver accessories I bought," he muttered. "Then, when I came with Hermione, I'd forgotten to tell her about the significance about the metal, and…well. He wondered again about my girlfriend. That I don't have."
"It is customary to buy mementos together," and Severus sounded all disapproving again. Harry bit his lip. "But of course," Severus sneered, "if the precious Boy Who Lived—"
"Don't," Harry pleaded quietly. "I hate that. I hate that I can't go in there and buy charms in white gold without it getting plastered all over the Prophet, or that I can't really—"
"Potter," Severus snapped. Startled, Harry looked up. He hadn't been called Potter in so long… Severus glared at him, his dark eyes hard and unforgiving. "Get over yourself. You proposed. You insisted we do this. You were the one who came up with this idea. You were the one to figure out your inclinations. Deal. With. It!" all of it was hissed in a low, menacing voice that made Harry shiver.
"I'm not gay," Harry protested.
"I never said you were," Severus snapped back.
Harry let out a frustrated breath and tugged at his scarf. Seconds later, Severus' hand was wrapped around his wrist and Harry found himself tugged inside the shop.
"Ah, Professor!" the old man – Master Halling – exclaimed as they came inside.
"Master Halling," Severus' greeting was curt. "I require a set of charms."
Master Halling clapped his hands together. "Congratulations, Professor! Come, come," he waved them over to a case. Either he hadn't noticed Harry yet, or he was ignoring him and the way Harry more or less perfected the act of being Severus' shadow. Harry personally thought he was pretty good at it. "Only this morning I received several new charms."
"Hmmm," Severus said noncommittally. "Harry?"
Harry bit his lip and stepped up to stand beside Severus. Master Halling shot him a surprised look. Harry could feel the old man's eyes remain trained on him. He tried his best to act as if he didn't, but he wasn't altogether too sure how well he succeeded. "You know I have no idea what's 'customary', right?" Severus hand fell like a warm weight of reassurance to rest lightly on the small of Harry's back.
"We are looking for what the situations had in common."
"…wind?" Harry leaned over the case and tapped the glass. "There's one of waves here."
"Or a sun."
"The symbol of Ra? That eye, you know?"
"It would also indicate a journey to Egypt—"
"Professor?" Master Halling casually inquired. Severus looked up, eyebrow raised. "Mr Potter is your…intended?"
Severus nodded. Harry shifted. "Is there a problem?"
"—and so he kicked us out," Harry surmised to his – curious – Head of House.
McGonagall frowned as she muttered something about, "never liking that deplorable man." Then she straightened her glasses and fixed Harry with a frank stare. "But Severus?" she asked sceptically. "What made you come to that conclusion, Potter?"
Harry shrugged and fiddled with his bracelet. "I guess because he understood? Understands. Even now."
"Potter, he is not the only one to have fought against Voldemort—"
"It's not that," Harry quietly interrupted her. McGonagall's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "I know that's what everyone thinks," Harry continued, "and I don't mind that." He twisted the bracelet. "But it's not that, and—" Harry hesitated slightly; does one refer to a Professor-gone-friend-gone-Intended by their first name, before ploughing on, "—and Severus understands that."
Because he is Slytherin.
Because he was a spy.
Because he is quite apt at reading between the lines and uncovering the ugly truths Harry'd rather keep hidden.
"Have you spoken with the Headmaster about this, Potter?" his Professor inquired after a while. Their tea had cooled quite enough to be drinkable but still hot by then, and Harry leisurely sipped his.
"He is under the impression that—"
"Survivor's Guilt, was it?" Harry queried drily, mouth hidden by a porcelain cup.
"Don't think I have it." Harry lowered his cup and thoughtfully thumbed the paw prints decorating the dark cobalt blue china. Then he changed the subject quite drastically by saying, "I don't think I want to be an Auror any more." Quieter, he added, "I, uh, dropped Defence."
He had tried, hard and valiantly, for three or four weeks to work up the same passion and love he had always held for the subject. But in the end it hadn't been nowhere near enough.
The new professor looked not quite unlike the man with the dog who had lured him in the park all those months ago. The terror induced throwing up that had caused had not done his already failing metabolism any good at all.
"Potter!" McGonagall all but exclaimed. "Why haven't I heard of this before now?"
Harry shrugged. "Hermione and Ron'd hand in my assignments for a couple of weeks after that. I just haven't been able to— haven't gone to class since September."
"It's February, Potter!"
Harry tensed. His shoulders trembled faintly. "I know." He wet his lips. "Severus began tutoring me halfway through November. He—"
"Understands?" McGonagall interrupted. Her left eyebrow was raised in an uncanny imitation of the man. Harry simply nodded; it felt easier to just agree. "You will sit your N.E.W.T?"
"I hope so."
"And where were you when Severus took you for a 'series of appointments with various inane Muggle doctors'? His words," she added at Harry's gaping mouth. "I assure you. You were gone for five days, I believe, not counting the weekend."
Harry took a deep breath. He laced his fingers together to stop the trembling. Then he said, "I…I was attacked. By Muggles. Last summer. It was…I… It was the hearing. In court. Severus took me." Harry's gaze was firmly fastened on his fingers clenched so tight they were white. "And, yeah, I think Severus told the Headmaster where we were going. I just…I didn't want anyone to know." He took a deep breath. "And Severus understands that."
"Is there something that man doesn't understand?" McGonagall muttered under her breath. Harry almost smiled at the quip.
Harry just shrugged. "Dunno. Maybe I'm just gullible enough not to notice."
You can find thoughts of mine on this fic on my LJ (link on my profile). The entry is titled (A (ranting) review response. Sort of. Because I can and like it ^^) and tagged (review response) if you are curious.