A Strange and Beautiful Heaven
A/N: Okay, so, where did I come up with this? Honestly, I have no idea. At first, I just had this image of Harry waking up to find his whole life a dream, rolling over in bed to assure himself that his lover Severus was still there, and going back to sleep. I thought it was funny, but I had no intention of writing it. I am not much of a S/H shipper, mostly I'm amused by Snarry stuff. But it wouldn't go away, and I kept thinking of all the things that such a dream might have to say about the person who dreamed it. Not only that, but what waste would the dream be if you didn't take anything from it? So, despite the fact that this is absolutely nothing like what I usually write, and the fact that I might grow ashamed of myself and remove it someday, I couldn't help putting it up. Just to get a reaction, if I'm being honest. I'm sort of expecting the reaction to be "WTF, Faren?" So fire away!
What if you slept, and what if in your sleep you dreamed, and what if in your dream you went to heaven and there you picked a strange and beautiful flower, and what if when you awoke you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then?
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge~
It was there, crouched on the floor of the Shrieking Shack, Harry felt something inside himself beginning to splinter. Snape's face, still and cold and dead, right beneath him . . . It couldn't be, it couldn't be that he was dead . . . Each pounding pulse of his blood seemed to fracture him further. These memories spilling onto the floor, what good were they, when the man who remembered these things was dead. Dead for what? Did it matter, when those piercing black eyes would never see anything again? He'd always known, hadn't he, that there was something so wrong with this mad world he lived in, and this was the thing that was tipping him over the edge—the thing so wrong, so impossible to grasp that his mind was simply refusing to do it.
He couldn't breathe. He was suffocating. Suddenly he felt his head grow impossibly heavy, his eyes impossible to hold open. He was sinking down onto the floor now . . . Still his mind was splintering apart, even as he closed his eyes and felt one of his hands against the cold body of the man beside him . . .
The black-haired teenager was laying on the crisp, impersonal white bed of the infirmary, his eyes closed, just as he had been for the past three weeks. The coma he was in had made his lean frame look frail. Bandages were still covering half-healed wounds on his face, wounds that should have been only scars a week since.
But something was different, now. Sitting in the chair beside the bed, just as he'd been doing for three weeks, the dark man fixed his dark eyes on the younger man who lay there. His eyes were moving beneath his eyelids, and there was an expression on his face. It was impossible to define, but its mere presence caused sudden hope to spring up in the man who watched over him. After three weeks of unconsciousness, could he be . . .?
The teenager abruptly sat bolt upright, thrashing his arms to free them of the sheets, his eyes wide and rolling with panic.
He immediately grabbed at his temples and groaned with pain, squeezing his eyes shut again. He was breathing like he'd run a marathon, and he was quivering with panic. A careful arm behind his back helped him to lie back down on the bed.
"Slowly, slowly," the baritone voice warned him. "You'll have to go easy, for a bit."
"Severus?" the teenager whispered in a tiny, trembling voice, his eyes still squeezed shut.
"Yes. I'm here. It's all right."
His eyes finally opened again, and the man never been more pleased to see that clear green gaze. What shocked him was the sheen of tears that brightened them, and the look of terror of the young man's face.
"Severus, I— I think I was dreaming— it was so strange, and it felt so real, and . . . And you were dead," he whispered, and then he covered his eyes with a trembling hand.
"I am not dead," the man murmured, and ran his work-roughened knuckles over the teenager's cheek. "And, thank Merlin, neither are you. You don't know what a near thing it was, Harry."
The slender hand with its clever fingers caught his hand as he traced it over Harry's cheek again. It stayed there.
"I don't really remember everything. I remember Lupin attacking me . . . Was I bitten?" he asked anxiously, squeezing the hand he still held.
The grief on Severus' face spoke for itself.
Harry turned his head and flung his hand away. "I see."
"Harry, it will work out. You know that I can brew the potion—"
"Oh, good. I'll need some. Let me know your going rate, yeah?"
"You know that I will make it for you, there is no need to talk of payment," Severus said sharply.
"Look," Harry snapped, finally turning his head back. "This has only ever been about pissing my dad off. We've been having sex, not making declarations of undying love. So don't act like you're going to be there for me and still care for me when I'm a werewolf, or whatever sentimental crap you might be about to spew. We never did care for each other, and I can't think why we'd start now."
Severus raised his eyebrow and went 'professor' for a moment. "Which would explain why you cried at the thought of my death."
Harry's eyes went far away. "That was the weirdest dream I've ever had. I lived a whole life while I was asleep. I think my dream started when I was about ten, and I was seventeen just then, when I woke up. And you were dead, because Undersecretary Riddle murdered you . . ."
Severus couldn't help but chuckle for a moment at that. "How ignominious. I'd have hoped to rate a murder direct from the hands of Minister Dumbledore."
"Don't laugh," Harry said in a brittle voice. "It was fucking traumatic to watch, okay?"
"You were watching?"
"I couldn't exactly stop him. He was trying to kill me, too."
"Why would— No, I won't ask," Severus decided. "As you can see, he succeeded in killing neither of us. Now, please, calm yourself. Putting your body through any kind of strain is not a good idea, right now. You have been in a coma for three weeks, and you need all the rest you can get, because you will be experiencing your first lycanthropic transformation in a matter of days."
Harry shuddered. "Where is Lupin?"
Severus clenched his hands into fists in a remembered rage. "He was long gone before we even found you. The Aurors have a manhunt on, but they're not hopeful about it."
"Remind me again why you thought it was a good idea to let him inside Hogwarts, Headmaster?"
Severus smiled bleakly. "He and I were friends, once, long ago. Until I saw him allow his disease to make him into an animal. I allowed him to come here because he convinced me that he was reformed."
Harry snorted, and his hand crept up to cover the thick bandage on his neck. "Re-formed me pretty good, anyway. Merlin, these scars are going to be horrific."
"We've been doing what we can Harry. I've been doing what I can. I'm sorry if it leaves you with scars, but you should focus on being grateful about being alive."
"I'm a werewolf. My father will disown me."
"You ought to like that," Severus replied. "You've been trying to achieve that for quite some time. But it doesn't matter if he does. I'm not going anywhere."
Harry fixed him with a scathing look. "Severus. Please. Angry revenge fucking isn't exactly the kind of bond that bears up in stormy weather. You don't have to do this."
"Perhaps not," the older man said quietly. "But I want to."
"That's what I thought, so— what did you say?"
"Harry. Try to understand. You were attacked by a man I allowed into this place. You've been in a coma. It was touch-and-go, that first week. I've hardly left this room since then. Which has made it rather difficult to maintain authority over the teachers, I assure you. I'm not certain why, but I believe I am coming to terms with the idea of having feelings for you. Beyond," he added, when he saw Harry's mouth open to retort, "feelings of sexual attraction and jealousy and et cetera. As devastated as you appear to be about the death you dreamed, you must believe that I would be just as upset, if not more so, should you depart this life. Which surprises me as much as it does you, I might add."
Harry gaped at him for a moment, then flung his arm across his eyes. "Heavens forfend that I've spent the last three weeks wrestling with my repressed subconscious. Maybe you died in my dream because I was afraid of losing you here."
"Is that what you think?"
"Hell if I know," Harry snapped, his voice partially muffled by his arm. "I told you it was weird. I was living this other life, and I thought it was real. Malfoy and I were still bitterest of enemies, but . . . I was a good guy," (here Severus made a strangled noise of disbelief) "and he opted to imitate his father instead of rebel against him."
"And your situation with your own father?"
Harry snorted. "He was dead. Riddle murdered him and my mum when I was only a baby."
Severus raised an amused eyebrow. "I think your subconsciousness shares your opinion on your parents, although your political opinions are apparently quite a bit more violent than I would have expected."
"And you hated me," Harry muttered.
"Well, I suppose that does mirror the reality of our past. Why did I hate you?"
"Because you hated my dad."
"Some things never change."
"No, it was weird. You didn't hate him because he was a tease when you were younger, in my dream he and his friends were just mean to you. I think you loved my mother."
Now Severus just gaped at him.
"I know." Harry finally took his arm away from his face. "And in my dream, I never got the brilliant idea of seducing you to get past all the anger issues, either. I just threw temper tantrums about how mean you were whenever you weren't around."
"As I said, some things never change. Some of your fits in the Gryffindor common room are legendary."
"I haven't thrown any lately."
"If you were throwing tantrums about how I treat you now, I sincerely doubt I should still be Headmaster over this school."
Harry suddenly grinned at that. "I do have a very un-Gryffindor-like ability to keep secrets, don't I?" Then he frowned again. "In my dream, when I went through my Sorting, the Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin. So apparently my subconscious is also afraid that being brash, obnoxious, confrontational, and generally fearless is not enough to qualify me for my chosen house."
Severus had heard quite enough about this dream. "Perhaps it would help if you focused on something else for a while," he said in the most soothing voice he could—all in all, not soothing at all, really. But Harry was familiar enough with him to understand.
"You have a veritable mountain of neglected schoolwork you could begin on," he said, only half-teasing.
Harry pushed himself up, very suddenly, and caught Severus in a rough kiss. It was always rough, with them, not that either of them complained about it. Made it easier to pretend it was still just about being vengeful and rebellious.
"This is the hospital wing!" Severus hissed, pulling back.
Harry looked around in that languid, tired way he had perfected. "I'm a werewolf and I won't be allowed to finish out the school year. If I'm not a student, you can't get in trouble. Assuming anyone is awake and watching, which they're not. And fuck, but it was tearing me apart to watch you die."
He lunged forward for another kiss, but Severus put his hand out and kept Harry away with pressure against his chest.
"No one knows that you're a werewolf."
"What? Oh, good."
Severus had to push harder. "You're bloody single-minded, aren't you? Harry, no one knows. They don't even know how you were injured. So you are still a student. You see?"
Harry subsided, his eyes suspicious. "Why?"
"You've kept my condition from the school. Why?"
Severus sighed, dropping his head into his hands. "I was resigned to losing you at the end of the year. I am not at all resigned to losing you now."
"One would almost think you cared," Harry said in a dry voice.
Severus abruptly stood up and leaned over Harry, planting his hands beside Harry's shoulders and pressing their faces in close. "You haven't been listening, have you? This incident has forced me to confront the idea that I care far more than I should."
"I have the urge to say, 'I guess it's mutual,' but I'm not feeling exactly like my flippant self," Harry sighed, and their faces were so close that his breath gusted over Severus, smelling stale but not causing the Headmaster to pull away. He was beginning to fade, badly. "I think I might be falling asleep again, by the way. But I want to say something first. Severus, I think I—"
"Harry?" cried a strangled, female voice. "You're awake!"
The witch who ran forward had a youthful figure and posture, but her red hair, pulled up into a severe-looking knot, had threads of buttery silver through it.
"What are you doing, Snape?" demanded the man who came in behind her. He, too, carried himself like a young man but his dark mane of hair sported a bit of gray at the temples.
"Checking the dilation of his pupils," Severus replied in a smooth, unconcerned tone, giving Harry's face a discerning frown before standing upright again. "They appear quite regular. But I must warn you, Mr. and Mrs. Black, I don't think he'll be awake for long."
Ignoring this, the red-haired woman sat down on the edge of the bed and began smoothing Harry's unruly hair away from his face.
"Oh, love, you're awake. I've been so worried, you've no idea—" she babbled.
"Hi, Mum," he mumbled, his throat feeling scratchy and aggravated by all the talking he'd just been doing. "Nice to see you," he managed to say. And it really was nice. He and Mum didn't get along, so much, but he hadn't liked the feeling of never knowing her at all. Her mile-a-minute speech and constant disgust with her ex-husband notwithstanding, she was his mother.
"How are you feeling, Harry?"
"Oh, hello, Sirius. M'okay, just tired." Harry did not feel the least inclination to inform his stepfather of his fate in Harry's dream. Sirius was a nice enough bloke, there was no reason his subconscious should wish for his imprisonment, torture, and death. Except Mum had been revolting ever since they'd gotten married, trying to be a perfect wife for the pureblood Black family. Maybe he felt resentful about that or something, though he didn't know why. He and Mum tended to stay out of one another's business.
"You're really all right, love?" Mum asked anxiously, her hands leaving his hair to ghost over the bandaged wounds left by Lupin's attack. "Are you in pain?"
He had sort of hoped she'd wait and bring that up later. Really, this hadn't been so bad when it was just Severus in here, but now the idea of being a werewolf was getting more horrible by the second. He couldn't deal with Mum right now.
"I'd better call your father," she grimaced. "Tell him you woke up."
And facing Dad right now was just more than he could think about. Luckily, he had an easy out, and he knew Severus would cover for him. He closed his eyes.
"Sorry," he whispered. "So tired . . ."
"We'd better let him rest as much as possible," Severus said in a diplomatic voice. He was probably leading Mum by the arm, just waiting for Sirius to step in and take her, and he likely looked like he was in pain about it because he'd be thinking about what Harry had just told him about being in love with Lily. Harry would have liked to see it, because it was probably hilarious, but his easy out was becoming reality. He couldn't open his eyes.
"G'night," he murmured. He wasn't sure to whom.
His features were too sharp to be handsome, but the soft fall of blond hair and the warmth in his eyes took away some of the severity and made him seem approachable. He had his arm around the waist of a girl with sleek and stylish brown hair, both of them with their noses buried in a pile of lecture notes and both with the silver badges of a prefect on their robes. A small group of younger students was spread out around them, eagerly discussing some topic of common wizardry.
It was a common sight in the Hogwarts library, the study group that the perfect little Saint Malfoy and the charming Princess Granger had started for Muggleborn students to get them acclimated to wizarding life. That Malfoy was a Hufflepuff and Granger a Ravenclaw hadn't stopped the two from being attached at the hip since third year. Harry supposed the sight of them and their cute little posse of firsties ought to be a heart-warming sight. Inter-house cooperation in the name of equal rights.
Except Malfoy made him sick. At least his dream hadn't made them best mates or something terrifying like that, even if it had made him mates with Granger. And yet Harry needed to talk to him. Alone. It wasn't going to be easy, either. The entire school loved Malfoy, who had chosen to escape his father's influence by being his direct opposite in everything possible, so they weren't likely to stand for Harry doing anything untoward.
Well . . . most of the school loved Malfoy. Harry caught sight of Ron Weasley at another table, a sneer on his face as he, too, watched the study group. Ron's boyfriend managed to catch his attention with a soft nip on his neck, and he returned his attention to Longbottonm and to revising for his NEWTs, after one last dirty glare at Malfoy's table. He and Longbottom were pure Slytherin, cold-blooded through and through, and they sort of made it a point to hate Malfoy and Granger on principle. Harry would have liked the two of them for that alone, although he also liked them for letting him borrow Ron for the night once. He just had to know if gingers were as good as the rumours said, and Ron's sister was a little too doe-eyed for Harry's tastes.
Maybe he could get Ron and Neville to help him corner Malfoy.
No, that was stupid. No one was supposed to know the truth about Harry's injuries, which meant he couldn't involve anyone else in this confrontation. Just him and Malfoy. So Harry continued to brood in the corner and wait for the study session to finish. As soon as the younger children started to disperse, Harry walked over to the table.
"Afternoon," he said in his most pleasant tone.
Malfoy and Granger ceased their gentle, giggly, absolutely nauseating cuddling to look at him. Harry supposed he couldn't blame Granger for the grimace she got when she saw him. He was the only student in Gryffindor who was even contending with her for marks, and he didn't bother doing his homework very often. Still, was it too much to ask for her to be a little happy about his finally being released from the hospital wing?
"Hello, Potter," Malfoy said, his usual cheerfulness dampened by a hint of dislike. Just a hint. He was too much a diplomat to show it in public.
"I'd like to talk to you for a minute, if I may," Harry said, still forcing himself to sound extremely pleasant. It just made Granger more suspicious, and she stood up with her boyfriend. "Just Malfoy, actually," he said, stopping her in the process of gathering up her things.
Now it was Malfoy who was the recipient of her look. He shrugged, giving her a puzzled expression. He was a good actor, Harry had to admire him for that. He knew exactly what this was about, but Granger clearly wasn't supposed to. That was good, it made Harry hate her a little less to think that she hadn't known about what her boyfriend was doing. In fact, now that he thought about it, he knew she wouldn't have been involved in the slightest. She was too sensible. She'd have stopped him. His dream was right about her, even if in reality she was too concerned about her looks and was dating Saint Malfoy.
"Let's take a walk," Harry said, giving Malfoy a hearty slap on the shoulder. It made Malfoy wince, just a bit, and that made Harry grin. He might not be an international Quidditch star like James Potter, but he had inherited his dad's strength.
Harry took them outside. Without saying a word, just enjoying the way Malfoy got more and more nervous, he led them to the Whomping Willow. There he stopped, still not saying a word, just grinning to himself at the beads of sweat he saw at Malfoy's hairline.
"Why . . . Why are we here, Potter?"
"I was thinking we should go down into the passage. So you could see what it was like in there."
Malfoy looked at the opening to the tunnel, barely visible through the swishing branches, and shuddered. "No, no, let's not risk our lives so you can prove a point."
"I already did that for you," Harry pointed out.
Malfoy was starting to look sick. As well he should. It was his note, that intriguing and promising little note, that had brought Harry here, nearly a month ago. Harry, wondering what had gotten into Malfoy but nevertheless incredibly curious to know what he was after, had followed the note. It wasn't every day that someone you hated sent you a note, professing to be bored with his girlfriend, curious about you, and interested in a private meeting where no one could see you. He hadn't been particularly interested in Malfoy, but had assumed that Malfoy was too much of a saint to come up with anything clever and had been telling the truth. Oh, sure, he'd kept his wand handy, but he'd come through the tunnel expecting to wrangle an explanation out of the other student.
Only it wasn't Malfoy at the other end of the passage. Instead . . .
Harry finger traced the barely-closed wounds on his face. Werewolf marks were notoriously hard to heal, and the scars couldn't be gotten rid of. Malfoy watched him.
"Merlin, I'm sorry," he blurted out. "Okay? I'm really sorry. I thought you'd see Lupin in there and run for it. I thought he was taking that potion that kept him from going crazy. I was just trying to scare you. I honestly didn't think he'd get the chance to scratch you."
Maybe it was Harry's disbelieving expression that made Malfoy stop his little rambling apology.
"Scratch me?" Harry repeated in a dangerous voice. A younger kid might have wet himself, seeing the tough, wiry teenager with the huge stripes down his face start fuming at him. Malfoy just snapped.
"Sorry your pretty face got messed up, Potter! Okay? It was just supposed to be a joke, and I do feel regret that you were injured. I didn't know that Lupin was such a monster, that he'd attack someone even when he was taking the Wolfsbane potion. But you got away, didn't you?"
He didn't even know. Saint Malfoy was such an innocent, he didn't even know. And suddenly Harry found himself laughing. It was a wild, hysterical laugh, but it was the first time he'd laughed at all since he'd woken up and he thought he could be forgiven for not being able to come up with anything better.
"You stupid bastard," Harry whispered.
"I didn't get away."
"What do you mean?" Malfoy stammered, even though his face was going white and it was clear that the truth was beginning to dawn on him. "You're alive, aren't you?"
"Lupin bit me, you pathetic little moron. He bit me."
Malfoy stopped trying to talk, and just gaped.
"That's right. He turned me. So now I get to be universally reviled, and I'll probably have to rely on my father's money for the rest of my life—because even though he'll never speak to me again, he'll feel guilty if he doesn't give me something—and it's entirely your fault. Yours, Malfoy."
Malfoy . . . Oh, for Merlin's sake, the little idiot had started crying.
"I'm so sorry," the boy was babbling. "I didn't know, I'm sorry, I never meant for anything to happen, I—"
"Shut the fuck up, Malfoy," Harry said, feeling drained. It hadn't been worth it, just to see the wimp turn on the waterworks like a little girl. He wished he hadn't even tried. The apology just didn't have any meaning. Of course he was sorry. He was a good kid, even if he'd pulled this pathetically stupid stunt. Of course he hadn't actually wanted Harry to be harmed. And now Harry had to watch this shit, because he'd thought he'd feel better if he heard the words. "Just shut up."
Harry turned around wearily, to go back inside. Maybe he could get Severus alone. But sex with the headmaster wasn't really going to pack the same punch with his dad, now that he was a werewolf. That was going to be the thing James focused on. He hated werewolves. So what was Severus, compared to that? But still, being alone with the man sounded good. They didn't have to fuck, they could just sit there and be away from all this noise and all the whispers about his face.
Then Harry spun around.
"Why, Malfoy? Why did you do it?"
Malfoy suddenly regained just a little of that sense of self-righteousness he usually wore like an extra set of robes. He stood up a little straighter.
"You just wanted to scare me? Why? We've hated each other in perfect peace for seven years, and you pull a stunt like this, just months from graduation?"
Malfoy was starting to look down his nose. It made Harry feel better, to have things back to normal.
"Because I know about you and the headmaster," he said quietly, eyes darting around to make sure they were truly alone. "I was doing prefect rounds one night, and I saw you, the two of you, I mean, with your hands . . . urgh."
Harry felt his stomach lurch, but he kept a calm front. "So what? What's that got to do with you?"
"Nothing, really," Malfoy said. "But I know that you're a manipulative man-whore. Everybody knows he and your dad hate each other, and I know that you took advantage of that to use him. He's a good person, he doesn't deserve that. And he's good for this school. I was hoping that if I scared you enough, Hogwarts would still have a headmaster instead of what you might leave behind."
"Merlin, Malfoy," Harry said in disgust. "And here I thought you might actually have a good reason."
"That is a good—"
Harry's hands were suddenly gripping the front of Malfoy's robes, and the boy shut up. He looked scared. Finally.
"What happens between two people is none of your business, Malfoy. None. Maybe I'd understand this, if it was your girlfriend I'd fucked—not likely, by the way—but this? You're too stupid to live, Malfoy. I'm going to kill you."
Malfoy's eyes went to the sky, for some reason. Harry frowned, and followed his gaze. It was getting dark out, night was falling.
Harry threw Malfoy away from him as if the robes burned his hands. "Seriously? The full moon isn't until tomorrow."
But sickness churned in his gut. Malfoy wasn't afraid of him, per se. He was afraid of the wolf. From now on, people were going to be afraid of him, hate him, especially around the time of the full moon. He couldn't just be himself, anymore, now he had to be this thing. Every month, he had to be this beast, like Lupin, who'd hurt people just because. He'd be an animal . . . people would be right to be afraid of him.
No. No. He wouldn't be like that. His dream had shown him this. Had shown him the way out. He'd dreamed of Lupin as a good man, as a kind and dignified man. Harry had to be something else, had to be the kind of werewolf that nobody would be afraid of. Lupin had been persecuted in his dream, sure, but he'd been loved, by friends, and even a wife and child. Harry could have that. He could find a way around this curse, and he could have that. His dream had shown him all kinds of things about the people in his life, why couldn't it show him something about himself?
He hadn't known he didn't have any friends until they all went away.
Becoming a different person wasn't something that could happen overnight, or at all, really. But becoming a better person . . . Well, Malfoy had the right of it, back in fifth year, when he'd gotten disgusted with Harry and said, "You're the only sex toy I've ever heard of that chooses who it pleasures." It had been revelatory. Harry's rebellion against James had somehow led to him becoming James. School was there, and it was even occasionally interesting, but life was more generally about the persona he'd made for himself. Playing games with people, only sometimes with motivation. It was entertaining, to dangle them on a string. For a while. When Harry had it pointed out to him that his attention-seeking state of rebellion had led him straight down his father's path, he'd started to get bored with it. James had already done all this, so what was the point?
Something had changed in sixth year. Walking into the headmaster's office after a completely irritating Christmas with his father, silently slipping up behind the man, and interspersing kisses with suggestions against his ear—that had been part of the persona. But the actual sex had been so angry and real that Harry considered their original revenge fuck to be his first entirely honest act. It had always been honest. No games. They knew why they were there. It was liberating.
So Harry's natural inclination, after his realisation, was to spend more time with the only man he knew how to be honest around. Severus was, after all, probably the person best qualified to help him find the differences between himself and his father, and that was Harry's first goal. Getting to the place his dream had shown him was a bit beyond his means, but he'd settle for not being James, for now.
He'd decided to stop lying, which basically meant he had to stop talking, until he figured out how to do it without lying. He thought he'd better lay off the promiscuous sex, which must have been the only reason people had hung around him, as they disappeared when he stopped dragging them off the greenhouses or the Astronomy tower or the room with the invisible door on the sixth floor. He started paying attention to his schoolwork, somewhat. He wasn't going to be able to charm his way through NEWTs with a smile like he'd done with his OWLs, and since he suddenly gave a shit about his future . . .
"I had no idea that my life was so boring," Harry mumbled, his palms pressed against his eyes to give them a break from the translation he was studying. "I only just figured out that I don't like anyone, and they don't like me, either. I don't do anything except study anymore."
"You could always take up Quidditch."
Harry shot Severus a glare, but he just chuckled and went back to the letter he was writing, to someone very important, no doubt. Severus was well-connected, friends with the Minister and everything. He even played nice with Riddle, which was something Harry couldn't fathom. The Undersecretary had always been foul, but suddenly the anti-werewolf legislation and limiting of civil rights for mixed-species folk affected Harry personally. Harry hoped the letter Severus was writing was a passionate defense of the underrepresented, although he rather doubted it. Severus didn't tend to make waves.
"Who are you writing to?"
"An old friend of mine," Severus answered without looking up. He was paying attention, but only marginally. He'd gotten used to Harry slipping out of the dorms at curfew and sneaking into his office to do his homework. Neither of them needed much sleep, and Harry couldn't seem to get his work done in the library during normal study hours, anymore. People stared at him and wondered what the hell was wrong with him, and it made his back of his neck itch. It was very distracting.
"Please tell me you don't call Dumbledore an old friend of yours, now."
"I call Minister Dumbledore an interfering fool whenever possible. The letter is to a person whom I studied for Potions Mastery with, back when I was your age."
"You say that like it was so long ago," Harry muttered, but too quietly for Severus to hear him. It kind of was so long ago. "Why don't you work with Potions, anyway?"
Severus very deliberately set his quill down and gave Harry a calm look. "If you have finished studying, you may tell me so."
Harry frowned at his work, then began massaging his neck, letting his head drop to the desk. "I'm taking a break. So? Why not?"
"You are aware of the situation I was put in—"
The rivalry with James had gone too far, Severus found himself in legal trouble, and the Minister had done something wily that led to an expunged record and Severus on the fast track for Headmastership of Hogwarts.
"Yes, I know that. But it was, what, seventeen or eighteen years ago. I know that you don't enjoy this job. You could quit."
Severus shrugged. "I suppose I lack motivation. Doing what's always been done is much easier than attempting to imagine another life."
Harry grunted in amusement. Severus had summed up both their lives pretty neatly.
"If that laughter was your way of telling me that I ought to use you for inspiration . . . I'll believe it when I see it."
"I'm working on it," Harry said, his voice sharp with hurt. "Merlin, there had to be something you saw in me besides my dad, right?"
Severus just raised an eyebrow. "You are intelligent and confidant and physically mature well beyond your years, it's true. Emotionally, you're a spoiled child. Right now, you're doing the same thing you did when you arrived here at age eleven: acting out in any way that will prove opposite of people's expectations."
"But I am trying."
"You're grasping at it, but I haven't yet seen any real sense of personal responsibility on your part. Not counting your desire to acquire NEWTs, what have you done? You've stepped away from the person you were, but you haven't made a single step toward the person you'd like to be. You have no one in your life, no accomplishments but notches on your bedpost . . . Harry, there are many things I appreciate about you, truly. But the person you are trying to become is something called 'adult,' and you haven't even acknowledged that yet."
"Thanks, Headmaster," Harry snarled. "If I'm such a child, why don't you send me to bed?"
Severus got a smirk on his face that he tried to hide by bending to his letter, but Harry saw it, and he started smirking, as well. He hadn't been having sex with Severus, either. He'd been on a strict no-sex plan for a few months now, and he'd been coping with it surprisingly well. But now that he'd said that, he couldn't stop thinking about it. They were all alone here, in the headmaster's office, curfew gone an hour since . . .
If he was going to become an adult, he couldn't play childish games with this man anymore. Harry groaned and rested his forehead on the desk, closing his eyes. This whole thing was exhausting, and it didn't make it any easier that the full moon was closing in on him again. He despaired, not understanding how someone was supposed to deal with this shit, month after month, forever. He was gaining a strange sympathy for Lupin's plight, despite his hatred of the man's animalistic tendencies, and he was beginning to understand more and more why his dream had chosen to portray werewolves as so human. If he couldn't believe that, he'd have thrown himself out his dormitory window by now.
A pair of cool, calloused hands slipped under the edge of his collar and began massaging the knots of tension in his shoulders and neck. Harry let out a little hum of pleasure and decided he wouldn't ask the question burning in his mind. "Since when do we have generous moments of affection?"
"I'm so sorry," Severus said in the quiet voice Harry almost never heard, definitely not out of bed. "This is my fault . . . I should never have allowed him to come, to let myself believe he was still the boy I'd known . . ."
"It isn't your fault. If it's anyone's fault, it's—"
"Whose?" Severus asked sharply, his hands pausing and clamping down on his shoulders. He'd suspected that Harry hadn't been telling the truth, telling him that Lupin had simply been running around the grounds of the school, but Harry had never given him a hint that anything else had occurred.
"Mine," Harry ground out. "For being idiot enough to approach him."
Cursing himself for his slip, he waited.
"I don't believe you," Severus said, still quiet. "There's more to the story."
"Believe what you like," Harry answered. "But that's all there is."
Severus was silent a moment, then seemed to let it to, and resumed massaging Harry's neck. Harry allowed himself to relax, after that. He didn't think he would be probed again. Severus trusted him, or at least trusted his supposed immaturity. If there was another person behind the attack, the Harry of the past would be screaming for their blood. But Harry was changing. He genuinely believed that Malfoy's only guilt lay in his naivete, and genuinely believed it would be a waste to publicly out Malfoy for the incident. He might be an idiot, but he did a lot of good, and was beginning to be important to the pure-blooded families in their world. Harry's stepfather wasn't a bad guy, but he didn't have the leadership potential Malfoy did, and they desperately needed someone advocating tolerance among the clannish purebloods.
Severus' strong hands took him straight past relaxation into sleep. Harry would have been horrified to be in this position, had he been conscious. He'd been the stronger of the two in all their personal meetings, a near-unstoppable force of personality. To rest his head on the desk and let the worries of the past few months overcome him was bad enough, but to be guided into this trusting sleep was even worse. There was a time when exposing a vulnerability, either of them, was unthinkable. But now Severus simply brushed the ever-more-shaggy black hair away from the careworn face, and let his fingers trace the furrows carved from Harry's forehead nearly to his jaw.
He was lucky he'd kept his eye, Severus thought, allowing his finger to skim the closed eyelid where the claw marks had come so close to gouging it out. A whole half of that confidant, handsome, always expressive face was marred, and Severus could not believe he was not at least partially to blame. He knew better than to believe the best of people, but he and Remus had been friends once, bonded together by the cruel manipulations of that over-sexed braggart that Harry was forced to call "father." He'd professed hatred for Harry from the beginning, but in all honesty had more often felt sympathy for him. It had always been clear to him that Harry detested his father, and he'd watched the boy struggle to understand enough of the world to become different from James.
Of course, it had taken the boy far too long. Severus had despaired it could happen at all. And then the boy, that damnable night halfway through his sixth year, had lured Severus into a trap that he'd found himself powerless to escape from. His years of experience and bitterness had suddenly counted for nothing when that body and that voice, so like the man he'd once been so infatuated with, had wound around him and promised him everything he'd ever wanted. A chance to fulfill that teenaged crush and a chance at revenge, all in one. Promised by someone impossibly jaded and beyond his years. Harry had been a tool for him, just as he'd been Harry's best chance at destroying James.
"Hate the dorms . . . ." Harry sighed in his sleep. "I won't touch the books. Just let me study here tonight, Madam Pince."
Severus again smoothed his hair, and grimaced. Things had changed. More than a tool, to him. And he was apparently much more than an act of rebellion for Harry. Apparently, he was now becoming some kind of refuge . . . His snappishness earlier made sense to him, now. He needed Harry to skip the last phase of transition and simply be an adult, else Severus couldn't countenance allowing this to continue a moment longer. Funny, how his concern was only for public opinion when it had been about nothing more than his own anger. Now that it was something else, public condemnation was becoming personal. If he took advantage of a student, he'd be despicable, feel the shame they'd heap on him. It wasn't just some mutually beneficial arrangement anymore. Harry was seventeen, of consenting age, certainly, but that wasn't enough.
Harry's shoulders jerked, then his whole body spasmed. He pushed himself upright, his wide eyes locked on Severus, and he threw himself at the older man.
"Urgh," he shuddered. "I can't stop— Can't stop seeing the end of that dream. Bleeding to death in front of me, nothing I could do to stop it . . ."
"Hush," Severus said gruffly, not sure whether to wrap his arms around Harry or shove him away. "It's only a dream." Unbidden, his arms crept around the haunted boy.
"It's not only anything," Harry muttered, and pushed his face into Severus' shoulder, and soaked in the comfort of his embrace.
It was done, Harry thought with a weary finality. He had his NEWTs, but more importantly, he had a future. He'd judged his father correctly, as only he could. His mother had been full of useless platitudes that James would still love him, but if she could judge the man at all, she wouldn't have married him to begin with. Harry had been intelligent enough to see what would happen, and to work it in his favour. The former Quidditch star and current Quidditch coach, the infamous playboy James Potter, wouldn't want to be associated with a werewolf, whether it was publicly known or not. But as Harry was his son, and as James had contrived by any means necessary to keep custody of him all this time, he couldn't just abandon him entirely without resources, either.
James liked honesty. He'd always been so candid about who he was that the public couldn't help but love him for his reckless lifestyle, and boldness was what had brought so many people to his bed. So Harry had gritted his teeth and been clear: he was fine with being diassociated, so long as James gave him something to live on. Which meant Harry was, this very day, the proud owner of a small shop down on the end of Diagon Alley, with a flat on top to live in. He'd told his father absolutely nothing of his plans, and James was too eager to begin creating distance between them to ask.
So Harry waited in line with the other graduates of Hogwarts, to shake hands with Headmaster Snape and receive one of Minister Dumbledore's beaming smiles from the front row of the audience. He was thinking only of moving the rest of his stuff into the flat. Most of it was there already, it was just odds and ends still floating about the dorms.
There was quite a turnout for today's ceremony. It was the last official act the headmaster would carry out before stepping down. Snape had submitted his resignation to the board a month ago, and his crimes had been so long ago that there was nothing Dumbledore could do but bluster. He had declined to share his plans for the future, simply stated that he did not find the job agreed with him any longer.
"Miss Parvati Patil. Congratulations, and good luck on your future endeavours."
Oh, crap, he was up.
"Mister Harry Potter."
He stepped forward, shook Severus' hand.
"Congratulations. You are no longer a student, you are an adult."
That comment, which would sound so innocent, made Harry grin, and he got an idea. They hadn't discussed this, hadn't planned anything like this. But Harry saw his father watching from the audience, and his sudden burning rage at the man took over for him. He stepped closer to Severus, who frowned at him. In a quick move, he slid one arm behind the man's neck, and casually planted the other on his arse, drawing him in for a passionate kiss. Severus was resisting, so Harry allowed him to pull away.
There were a few disbelieving laughs, a few gasps of horror. The buzz going around the room seemed to be saying, "That Potter boy is just like his father. Incorrible. What a joker."
The Quaffle had been passed to Severus, now. Was he going to let Harry leave here, branded as his father all over again?
Severus' dark eyes flashed with either anger or amusement, it was hard to tell with him. But he reached out and laid his hand on Harry's scarred cheek. "I'm so proud of you," he said, just loud enough for the first row to hear him, maybe the second. Cupping Harry's face, he planted a lingering kiss on him, which Harry returned only too happily. It was all too good to be true, this whole thing. The things he'd seen in the coma had seemed more real to him than his own life since awakening, especially the most recent events. A place to live, and a place for Severus to work . . . But this very, very public acknowledgement seemed to solidify it. It was real, and it was his own hard work that had gotten it for him.
There were a couple of cheers and catcalls, but mostly stunned silence.
"I see no reason to keep it a secret," Severus suddenly said. "After all, Harry is not a student, and I am not a headmaster. You will find us at Number Fifty Two, Diagon Alley in London, should you wish to send a congratulatory note on our opening of our apothecary shoppe."
Harry could see Malfoy's face, where he stood in line among the graduates who had already crossed the stage, stunned into disbelief. He must be feeling even more terrible about what he'd done, but Harry had decided that if his being a werewolf didn't bother Severus, he didn't care about Malfoy anyway. He caught the other boy's eyes and winked at him. It was a little harder to turn his gaze to his father, but he did. James was sitting there with his face fixed in utter fury, gone purple with it, his entire body stiff in his chair. He wasn't looking at Harry, but at Severus. Harry turned his gaze to the man beside him, and saw the most astonishing thing he had ever seen, awake or asleep.
Severus blew James a kiss, clearly dismissing him from his life at last.
Then he took Harry by the elbow and pulled Harry past him, toward the stairs that led to the students who had gone through the line. He turned and smiled.
"Mister Dean Thomas."
Startled, the tall boy jerked and began walking automatically forward.
"Congratulations," Severus said, shaking his limp and unresponsive hand. "Welcome to the rest of your life."
"Th-thank you," he muttered, and followed Harry off stage.
"Miss Lisa Turpin. Miss Turpin?"
The girl dashed forward, shook his hand perfunctorily, and quit the stage before any type of applause could be mounted. Before Severus could call Ron Weasley, the Great Hall rang out with a pealing bell of laughter. Everyone turned to catch the source of it. It was easy for Harry to spot, standing right beside the stage. It was Minister Dumbledore. He was laughing his head off, and he was applauding, as well.
"Haven't seen a graduation this exciting since my own," he laughed. "I set the stage on fire." Severus just looked at him, unreadable again. Dumbledore tried to stop. "Congratulations to you all," he wheezed. "Very sorry for the interruption." He wiped his eyes. "Good heavens, I shall have to visit you young people's shoppe for a Calming Draught . . ." He waved his hand. "Carry on."
Suddenly, everyone seemed to relax. The minister thought it was funny, so it was okay for everyone else to laugh a bit now. Even while Severus was shaking Ron's hand (and the lanky boy was the only one who didn't seem that surprised by the whole thing, honestly), there were intermittent giggles echoing off the walls. It was almost a relief for Blaise Zabini to join them so they could march back on, take their bow, and disperse to the applause. Harry couldn't stand one more minute of people thinking this was some kind of joke. He made a beeline for Severus, took his hand, and looked around at the mingling people, trying to generally radiated the aura of a happy couple. Minister Dumbledore came over and shook both their hands, still laughing.
James had looked at them, spun around on his heel, and left. Harry knew he and Severus weren't likely to be given any tickets to the next game, but he thought the minister might have just made an enemy out of his father. By Dumbledore's expression, the thought had either not occurred to him or he didn't give a shit. And really, why would he? James was no one important, after all. Just a pretty face on the magazines.
Harry wondered if he'd ever see that face again, not counting the magazines. Likely not. And he didn't think he cared. He had what he wanted. Everything of importance that he'd found in his coma had ceased to be a dream. He now truly held it in his hands, and he wasn't about to let it go.