I wrote this for the Back-to-Hogwarts fest over at snape_potter last month. It was the first time that I participated in a fest, and just having my silly little story posted alongside such great stuff gave me the jitters. If you hadn't read it there already, it's new to you! Please enjoy.
Warnings: Time travel, alternate universes, implied sex, and angst.
Betas: Crimson Vipera and Shoebox
Inspiration: "Harry pops out of nowhere, naked, and sexually molests Snape."
Where He Belongs
He drank his rum neat.
Tonight, 'neat' meant he poured it out into a goblet instead of drinking it straight out of the bottle. His only company tonight was the liquor and the fire dying in the hearth, and neither was enough to keep the chill away. He had finished off the Firewhiskey earlier, straight from the bottle, and nearly burned the back of his throat in the process. All he had left was the Moonwater rum he had bought two years ago. Just as well: it was a special occasion, and Severus intended to 'celebrate' it inebriated to the gills.
The rum shone as he poured some more into his tin goblet. The dark, damp shadows in his sitting room huddled away from the cold, white light. The little old rabbit imprinted on the goblet's surface was hopping up and down on her stump in disapproval. Watching her move about hurt his eyes. He squeezed them shut and drank some more of the glowing white rum.
Moonwater rum was not the best on its own; it was cold and dry, with the aftertaste of a whey-faced virgin. It was, however, rather pretty to look at, especially after drinking half a bottle of Firewhiskey. The bottle sat on the table by his chair, barely an arm's length away, entertaining him with its milky-white luminescence. An occasional dark shadow floated across the clear glass, dimming the glow of the rum as it passed by. He poured himself a bit more and drank it slowly, watching the surface for any errant clouds.
The liquor would not last, of course. However slowly he drank it, he would still have to attend tomorrow's feast. Well, better to have a bit of alcohol running through his veins than to face another school year sober.
This year was looking positively wretched, and he poured a bit more rum for himself. The very thought of having to deal with both Potter's offspring and Remus Lupin made the liquid in his stomach churn. He drank a bit to calm himself and tried to turn his thoughts to other, more pleasant things. He glanced at the clock, but the numbers were indistinct and indecipherable. He knocked back what was left in the goblet, groaning as the coldness hurt his brain. He rubbed his temple and waited for the pain to subside before pouring himself some more.
He stared at the bottle of rum, watching the clouds float by, and drank the cold, glowing liquor in silence. A fleck of green peeked out at him from within the bottle's clear depths before disappearing behind a cloud. He reached out for a bit more, his fingers ghosting against the smooth surface, as the bottle swayed away from his reach and fell onto the carpeted floor.
It crashed brilliantly. The rum splashed upwards and out in a flash of white. Severus stared at the spot where the bottle had just been, his arm still outstretched, slow to understand just why the bottle was not there anymore. He lowered his hand and rose up from his seat, wobbling a bit as he stood. He held his goblet up high and, with a steadying hand on the table, peered down at what had been a perfectly good bottle of Moonwater rum.
The carpet was soaked and faintly glowing with spilled rum. The bottle was sliced neatly in two, the halves scattered to opposite sides of Severus' sitting room. In the puddle of rum was a man, naked and soaked from head to toe in glowing liquor. Severus blinked slowly. His forehead ached a bit from the effort.
The man was young, with black hair and white, scrawny limbs. He was sprawled on Severus' carpet, trembling and gasping for air. Severus' stare roamed from the odd little burns on the man's fingers to the red scar just above the man's hip and the taut muscles of his white thighs. The man, rousing under Severus' scrutiny, groaned and sat up.
He sat with one leg folded at the knee, his right arm propping him up, and looked up at Severus. His eyes were an eerie green; it reminded Severus of new grass and absinthe fairies. Was there such a thing as Moonwater fairies? Perhaps he was a Moonwater nymph... Severus thoughtfully rested the rim of his goblet against his lips as the man pushed his black hair off his brow. Drops of Moonwater rum clung to his body hair, decorating the man with dying stars. Severus sipped on what little rum he had left, admiring the view.
"Knew you were alive," the nymph finally said. There was a rueful look on his face before grimacing. He winced and pressed his left fist against his back, massaging some ache there. His nose crinkled. "Have you been drinking?"
"What else is there to do on a Tuesday night?" Severus said, trying to sound glib in spite of the slurring. There wasn't much hair on the young man's chest, but what there was looked positively tempting. It decorated the chest and led straight down to the thick bush of wiry black curls between his thighs. His cock looked so soft and timid, surrounded by the glittering drops of rum.
"Snape," he said, trying to get Severus' eyes up to his face. There were two spots of colour on his cheeks. "I'm naked, wet, and I feel like I've been hit by a freight train. So could you... help me up, please?"
Severus shrugged and thrust out his free hand. His hand felt real, and not nearly as cold as Severus imagined a Moonwater nymph would feel. It was hot and sticky with rum. "Are you here to give me more liquor?" Severus said as he helped the obviously real man to his feet. They wobbled together. Severus' grip tightened as he tried to keep himself upright.
The young man shook his head and squeezed Severus' hand in return. "No," he said. "I came to find you."
"And?" Severus said as he sat ungracefully back into his chair. The rum still in his goblet sloshed a bit over the rim and onto his fingers.
"And?" the man repeated.
"What were you going to do once you found me?" Severus said, licking at his wet fingers.
The young man's eyes were focused on his tongue, and the attention filled him with a low heat. "To, uh... to bring you back," he stammered, the colour in his cheeks spreading up to his ears. Severus glanced down, amused by the interest showing there, before looking back up at those enchanting green eyes.
"What if I don't want to 'go back'?" Severus said, his voice low and oddly raspy. He reached out and touched the other man's wrist with his free hand. "What will you do to try to 'convince' me?"
He caught Severus' wandering hand and entwined their fingers. "What-" His Adam's apple bobbed and he took a step towards him. "Whatever it takes to convince you."
Severus licked the rum still glowing on the man's arm hair. "Is that so?" He drank the last of the rum in his goblet and set it aside. "Show me."
Severus felt awful.
Something, perhaps his dignity, had died in his mouth, leaving a foul, rotten coating on his tongue and teeth. There were Moonwater nymphs in his head, batting their pretty black lashes and scraping diligently at his skull. The sunshine from the magical windows was burning through his eyelids, and his arse hadn't hurt this badly in years. He could only recall two other occasions he had felt more miserable, and he was having trouble remembering what happened this time around.
He turned onto his stomach, wincing at the pain in his back and backside, and nearly fell off the bed for his efforts. "Snape," he heard, coming from the other side of the bed. He grabbed hold of the bedclothes and reluctantly opened his eyes.
A young man with black hair sat on the edge of the bed. One of Severus' towels was wrapped around his hips. He was squinting at him. "How do you feel?" he asked.
Severus practically jumped out of the bed in surprise, tripping over a pair of pants left on the floor. The man rushed to his side of the bed, the edges of the towel flapping to reveal lean, white thighs. Severus closed his eyes for a breath, reprimanding himself for even looking. He shoved his hands away and scrambled backwards towards the crumpled robe by the door.
"Calm down," the man said as Severus rifled through the robes for his wand, his eyes never leaving the intruder's face. "I can explain."
"Calm down?" Severus yelled, finding his wand and tugging it out. "I find a strange man in my bed and you want me to CALM DOWN!" He pointed it at the intruder's covered privates and shot out a nasty, blue-tinted hex.
He barely dodged the hex, nearly falling onto the bed. "Strange man? You're the strange one!"
Severus responded with another hex. The man rolled away from it and dove behind the bed. "For Merlin's sake," he protested, his head just visible from behind the bed, "would you please stop and listen?"
Severus shot another hex at the stranger, who ducked out of the way, swearing. Severus got to his feet slowly, his insides churning and his head throbbing. He stalked around the bed, eager for an opportunity to actually land a hex on the intruder. "Oh, I'm listening," he said, spotting bare feet as the man scrambled to hide underneath the bed. He shot a hex that scorched the spot where the white feet had been.
Severus stooped to glare at the infuriating man and shot another hex at him even as he reached the other side and crawled out. He aimed for the feet again, but the obstinate fuck gamely avoided it.
Severus rose from the crouch, just in time to see the man take a flying leap off the bed towards him. He crashed into Severus shoulder-first, knocking him off his feet. Severus dragged the other man down with him, digging his nails into a bicep and trying to knee his groin.
They rolled on the floor, the man desperate to wrestle the wand out of Severus' hand, and Severus just as desperate to fight him off. Severus bit and kicked, but it wasn't a fair fight; the intruder was younger and not nearly as hung-over.
He pinned Severus face-down on the floor, his wand hand trapped between them. The stranger took hold of the wand and threw it aside before pressing all of his body weight against Severus' back. He smelled of clean soap and washed linens. "Stop this, Snape. I didn't come to turn you in," he said, his breath hot against Severus' neck.
"Turn me in?" Severus struggled against the man's grip, but it was firm. The towel trapped between them scratched against his sore bottom. "What are you talking about?"
"I just wanted to find you," he said in a low voice, the sort of voice one used with a child, or a dangerous beast. "I wanted to know that you were all right, that you were alive. That you survived..." He pressed his open mouth against Severus' throat. His lips were dry and gentle, like a summer breeze. "There's not even a scar," he murmured against his skin.
Before Severus could respond, a discreet little pop interrupted them. A house-elf, its Hogwarts tea-towel tied over its shoulder, appeared two feet away, caught one look of the two of them and quickly turned its head, scandalised by the sight. The man rose slightly off Severus. From the corner of his eye, Severus saw he was dumbfounded.
The house-elf thrust a letter towards them. "A message from the Headmaster, Professor," it quavered, the letter shaking in its grip. After what felt like an eternity, the young man took the letter from the traumatised elf, which popped out of sight as soon as the letter was out of its hand.
He sat up, straddling Severus' waist, and stared at the wax seal. "This is Dumbledore's seal," he said softly.
"Of course it is," Severus growled, attempting to claw and squirm out from between the other man's thighs. "Now, do you mind getting off me?"
"So that you can try to hex me again?" the man replied, clenching his thighs around Severus as if he was his broom. He broke the seal and took out the letter. "'Severus'," he read,
We missed you at breakfast. Minerva was gracious enough to go to King's Cross in your stead, though she might request something from you in return. Be warned: she has developed a fondness for the theatre this summer.
If you're not too busy this morning, I would like you to stop by my office. There are some things we must discuss before the students arrive. As an incentive, I have taken the liberty of saving some of this morning's scones for you. They're quite excellent, and it would be a shame if you did not try them while they're still fresh.
P.S. Be sure to bring your companion along. He must be hungry from his trip.
His voice died away in disbelief. "Is this the right date? The first of September, 1993?" he asked, holding the letter out for Severus to see.
"Of course it is," Severus said, kicking at the idiot to move. Visibly shaken, he did not resist as he was pushed off and onto the floor. Severus snatched the letter away and slowly got to his feet. "What day did you think it was?"
The man looked up at him from his place on the floor, only to look away. "I'm not sure," he said, gnawing at the inside of his cheek. Severus watched as he wiped his brow. There was a faint scar in the shape of a lightning bolt barely visible under the fringe. "I guess I lost a couple of days, here or there," he added weakly.
Severus didn't believe that, but he was far too hung-over and too exhausted from their little fight to question him further. He retrieved his wand and summoned last night's robes. They stank of alcohol. He banished them to the laundry pile. He glanced at the man, who was doing a fair impression of a mentally challenged turnip. "What are you doing still sitting there?" he snapped.
"Wha-" He blinked at Severus, confused.
"Get up and get dressed," Severus said as he sniffed his arm, recoiling instantly from the stench of sex and liquor he had apparently bathed in. He cast a discreet charm on himself. "We can't have the Headmaster waiting."
"I, uh," the other man stammered, scratching the underside of his jaw. "I don't have any clothes to wear."
"What?" Severus asked, staring at him in disbelief.
He looked away under the scrutiny. "I don't have any clothes to wear," he repeated, biting the inside of his cheek again.
Severus frowned at the answer. "Do you mean to tell me that you somehow entered the castle and came into my rooms completely nude?"
He stared at Severus. "You really don't remember what happened last night, do you?"
"I remember enough," retorted Severus, his nose in the air as if daring him to question his answer. The man only squinted at him, disbelief plain on his face. "And I'm certain that you don't belong here."
The corner of the stranger's mouth twitched as he turned his attention to the far wall. "Don't I know it," he said quietly.
Severus went to the dresser, keeping his wand on the man. After a bit of one-handed rifling, he found his least-favourite robes and threw them at him. "Put these on," he said as the intruder just managed to catch them. "Can't have you roaming the halls in a towel, can we?"
The young man smiled at him. It made his plain features almost endearing, and the green of his eyes warm and pleasant. "No, I guess not," he said. He took a good look at the robes in his hands. "Are these purple?"
"They're plum-coloured," Severus corrected, tugging on a plain black robe while keeping his wand aimed at the stranger. "Is that a problem?"
"No, no problem," the man answered, finally getting to his feet. "Never thought you'd wear anything but black, is all," he muttered to himself. He got dressed quickly, his back half-turned towards Severus, suddenly bashful.
Severus watched as the white skin was covered up in stiff plum broadcloth. He almost felt dirty doing so, but the ache in his backside reminded him that he had probably done worse. He dressed quickly, pushing the thoughts aside to examine more closely later.
He forced the man to lead the way up to Albus' office. He tried not to look at how the robes bunched underneath the young man's buttocks, or how the fabric clung oddly to the straight, narrow lines of his body. Those wretched robes looked as if they were made for the other wizard, instead of being tailor-made for himself. It irritated Severus more than he cared to admit.
He even had the audacity to sway his hips as he walked, making the stiff fabric move like whispering seductions around his bare ankles. Severus stared at the feet, at the bony ankle and the little bit of hairy calf that peeked out from underneath. He stared at the impertinent hips and the hard silhouette of his body.
The man glanced over his shoulder at Severus, as if to ask a question. Severus answered with a jerk of his wand. "I don't want to levitate you the entire way," he said. "But I will if I must."
"We're already here, Snape," the other man said, gesturing to the gargoyle up ahead.
Severus gave him an incredulous look. He didn't even remember giving any directions. He had been so busy mentally reprimanding the man for looking so obscene in his robes, he forgot just where they were heading. "How did you know the way?"
"I used to be a student," the young man said, not looking at Severus as he did so.
"When?" His eyes jerked up to Severus' face. "When were you a student?"
The stranger looked down as his bare feet. "You... really don't recognise me, do you?" he said, sounding quite miserable at the thought. Severus nearly laughed at the idea. Most of his students preferred to hide behind their cauldrons than to have their greasy bat of a professor remember their faces.
For his part, Severus doubted greatly that he would have ever forgotten this one. The green eyes alone would have got his attention from the first moment they looked up at him from across the classroom.
"I've taught hundreds," he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Faces blur together after this long, so instead of assuming, why don't you just tell me who you are."
"I-" the young man stalled, turning his head towards the gargoyle. The stone guardian only gave him a flat look in return. "I think we should go up and meet with Professor Dumbledore first."
"You refuse to answer my question?"
"I'm just delaying the inevitable," the man said. "What's the password?"
"Caramel Carps." The gargoyle gave them a firm look before stepping aside, revealing the spiral staircase. The other man closed his eyes and took a deep breath before stepping on the moving staircase. Severus followed close behind, careful not to look too long at the way the younger wizard's black hair curled around his ear.
At the door, the man hesitated for a breath. Severus nudged him onward with the tip of his wand.
He opened the door wide, and stepped into the Headmaster's office. Morning light filled the room, reflecting off Albus' silvery, spindly toys and aggravating Severus' headache. He discreetly rubbed at the wetness that had sprung to his eyes and closed the door behind him.
The young man moved to stand by one of the visitor chairs. He was staring at the wizened old headmaster rising to meet them. His face was devoid of any colour. His eyes squinted and widened in painfully rapid succession. "Professor Dumbledore," he said softly.
"Ah," Albus said, moving from behind his desk to take the young man's hands. "You must be Severus' guest. Although you have me at a disadvantage, and in more ways than one, I am sure."
"I, uh, I'm Harry Potter," he said, trying to meet the Headmaster's eyes even as he glanced about nervously. "James and Lily's son?"
Severus must be more hung-over than he thought. "The Potters don't have a son."
"No, they don't," Albus agreed. His eyes were diamond-hard. He stared into the younger man's eyes over the rim of his glasses, searching for the truth behind the nonsense the idiot had just spouted. The other man met the stare bravely, even as his expression crumpled in on itself in disbelief. "Their son died years ago."
'Potter' was blinking rapidly. "How?"
"I believe it was an infection of the lungs," Albus said, his gaze fixed on the young man's face. "He died some time after his first birthday."
"The thirty-first of October?" 'Potter' asked.
"Sometime around Halloween, yes. The details escape me."
The man stared at the floor. "Is that why neither of you remember me?" he asked. "Because I don't exist?"
Albus' expression softened, leaving only a twinkling kindness. "Well, you obviously exist now," he reassured, patting the younger wizard on the arm. "And I'm certain you're starving, so take a seat. I'll have one of the elves send up some tea to go with these fabulous scones."
"Headmaster," Severus said, sidling his way to Albus' side. "You don't seriously believe that this man is who he says he is. Even if he was the Potters' son, he would be, what, ten, twelve years old?"
"Thirteen," the young man interjected as he sat down on the offered chair. Severus shot him a glare. He meekly ducked his head. "Actually," he added quietly.
"Severus," Albus said, "the boy is a spitting image of James Potter, except for his eyes, of course."
"He looks nothing like Potter," Severus objected.
"Harry," Albus said, glancing over Severus' shoulder at the man. "Did you forget your glasses when you came here?"
"I, uh," he mumbled, "I might have left... everything when I came here."
Albus took out one of the bells in his beard and transfigured it into a pair of black frames. "Now, I know a few things," he said cheerily, "but Oculamedimancy is not one of them. For the moment, though, would you indulge me and put these on?"
Albus handed the man the lens-less frames, which he cautiously took. He glanced up at Severus, his green eyes not squinting for once, and put them on. Severus nearly choked on his scream of shock at the sudden change.
"Potter!" he wheezed, taking a startled step back. Once the glasses were on the man's face, the resemblance was uncanny. So uncanny, in fact, it was downright ridiculous. He felt incredibly stupid for not noticing it earlier, and his face burned.
Potter merely stared up at him with those ridiculously green eyes. Albus let out a little chuckle. "Sit down, Severus. The tea will be here... now." A simple tea set appeared on Albus' desk, covering the pile of unread correspondence. Beside it appeared a plate of scones and a jar of gooseberry jam. "How do you like your tea, Harry?" he asked as he began to pour out the tea.
"But, if you're Harry Potter," Severus said before the man was able to answer. "If you're him, then how are you here?"
Albus paused from fishing out a cube of sugar. The man glanced first at Albus before returning his attention to Severus. "I, uh, might have made a mistake with a spell."
Somehow, he was not surprised. "Well, that certainly confirms that you're a Potter," he said with a sneer. The man gave him a foul look.
"A spell, you say?" Albus said as a cup of tea floated towards Severus and nudged him gently on the arm. He took the cup out of habit and took a sip. It was so sweet, he could barely taste the tea. "Can you tell us what it was?"
The man paled at the request. "Not... necessarily," he said.
"Try," Albus insisted.
Potter closed his eyes, swallowed nervously and opened his mouth to do as he was asked. He barely managed a modest 'ts' sound before coughing violently. He covered his mouth with his hand and curled in on himself, his entire body shaking from the force of his wet hacking.
"It's all right, Harry," Albus said over the coughs. "Don't force it."
The coughs subsided almost as quickly as they came. Potter was slow to recover as he wiped his mouth with a shaky hand. "I'm sorry," he said weakly. Albus handed him a cup of tea, which he drank greedily. "I know what it is, but every time I tried to say its name, I get choked up like that."
"Have you ever tried writing it?" Albus said.
"Once," Potter said. "I splattered the room with ink before getting a single letter on parchment."
Severus crossed his arms, his teacup held out away from his body. "If you are to be believed, Mr. 'Potter', and this spell is unnameable, then you are thicker than your supposed father. He wouldn't have tried using such an obviously Dark spell."
Potter scowled at him. "He's not my supposed father, and it's not a Dark spell," he said.
"Harry," Albus interrupted, "the very fact that you cannot name this spell is highly suspect. What exactly was this spell supposed to do?"
"It said it was a translocation spell," the young man said. "It was supposed to take me to a specific person, so long as that person was near a liquid of some kind, like water."
"A spell that lets you travel via water...?" The very idea was making his headache worse. "I've never heard of such a thing," he dismissed outright.
"I have," Albus said, sitting back in his chair, his hand on his beard. "Only in theory, but if that was what brought Harry here, then it's obviously not just some idle musing." He started to absentmindedly braid some strands together. "Where did you find this spell, Harry?"
"In a grimoire at number 12 Grimmauld Place," Harry said after much reluctance.
"The Blacks' residence?" Severus said. "How would a Potter have access to anything there?"
"Sirius Black was my godfather," the man explained. "When he died, he left everything to me."
"And not to his younger brother?" Severus scoffed. "Who is the rightful heir?"
"Regulus died," said Harry, his voice rising. "Sirius was the only one left, aside from his cousins, and there's no way Bellatrix or any of them should get to profit from his death!"
"Harry, calm down," Albus said. "Severus, I want you to go down to London and see if you can find this grimoire. With it, we might be able to get Harry back to wherever he belongs."
"Albus," Severus said, "I have doubts. And they are considerable."
"I understand," Albus said, "but I believe that young Harry is telling the truth, both about himself and the spell that brought him here."
"A spell he cannot name."
"A spell that, if it really does exist, could be quite dangerous in the wrong hands," Albus corrected. "Do you remember the grimoire you found this spell in, Harry?"
"Yes. It had no title, but the cover was a, uh, bluish salmon..." His voice started to peter out at the last syllable of 'bluish'.
"'Bluish salmon'," Severus repeated.
"More like a maroon mint, actually... Now that I think about it," Harry muttered weakly.
"How about its size?" Albus prompted. Harry's response was a horrible amount of twitchy hand motions.
"Enough, enough," Severus said, his headache returning in full force. "I can't take any more of this foolishness."
"I guess the only recourse we have," Albus said, rising from his seat, "is for Harry to accompany you to London."
"What? No," Severus objected. "We know next to nothing about this man, and you want to give him the chance to escape?"
"He's not our prisoner, Severus," Albus said as he walked to his cabinet.
"He's not an ally, either," Severus returned, watching as Albus took out what looked like a silver pin and a thin iron chain.
"Then you'll just have to trust my instincts," Albus said, holding out the thin chain. "Harry, do you want to return to where you belong?" The young man rose to his feet, nodding his head. "Good. Then there is something you must do to, at the very least, calm Severus' mind."
Potter glanced over at Severus before nodding again. "What is it?"
"I want you to wear this chain," Albus said. The younger wizard tugged at the neckline of his robes, exposing part of his collarbone. Albus shook his head. "Oh, no, the wrist would do just fine." He paused. "You do understand what this chain means, yes?"
"It's to make sure you know where I am," the man said. "The pin is a lodestone, right?"
"Yes it is," Albus said, draping the thin chain over Harry's bony wrist. "You also know that the chain can be removed with a bit of magic, don't you? Well, for the sake of Severus' piece of mind, let's pretend that's not true." Severus scowled even as Albus gave Harry an indulgent smile that was shyly returned.
"Last chance to object," Albus warned.
Harry shook his head. "It's fine," he said. His mouth formed a resolute line.
"Relax, Harry," Albus said. "This won't hurt a bit." He held the pin against the ends of the chain, the lodestone's magnetism pulling the two ends together. With a touch of his wand, the ends came together, forming a tight, unbreakable loop around the younger wizard's wrist.
He handed Severus the lodestone pin. "Is this a satisfactory precaution, Severus?"
Severus harrumphed as he pocketed the pin. "It'll do for now."
"Then the two of you should get a move on," Albus said. "You'll need to be back to the castle before the children arrive. And do try to keep a low profile." He shot Harry a look. "Especially you, Harry. Nothing is more interesting, or more suspicious, than a man who shouldn't exist."
They Apparated to London, nearly splinching themselves in the process. Harry, wandless and half-blind, couldn't Apparate on his own. He held onto Severus' arm, practically pressing his entire body against Severus' side, for the journey. Severus, flustered at the heavy touch, nearly forgot their destination.
It was warmer in London. The skies were clear of clouds. Grimmauld Place was empty, exposed to the scorching noon sun as debris tumbled sadly by. The door to number 12, squeezed in between numbers 11 and 13, was visible from their Apparation point in the alley. The snake door-knocker caught the sunlight, reflecting it in Severus' eyes.
Harry pulled away, swaying on his feet for a moment. "Sorry," he said, regaining his bearings. "I think I wasn't ready."
Severus waved the excuse away. There were more pressing matters at hand. "Do you know what to do?" he asked.
"I should, after all the drilling you've put me through before coming here," the idiot said cheekily. Severus gave him a stern look. "Don't worry. I came up with the plan, remember?"
"And that is supposed to reassure me?" Severus scoffed. Harry muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'trained Auror', which Severus promptly tuned out. "Let's just hope this grimoire of yours is here." He stomped towards the door, Harry half-jogging beside him, trying to keep up. His arm brushed against Severus with each step. He ignored the hot touches and focused on what they came to London to do.
They climbed the worn front steps side by side and Severus rang the bell. They could hear the long, clanging bell echo throughout the house. Harry stared at the cracks on the door, admiring the battered facade. "It's almost like coming home," he said under his breath, his hand reaching up to adjust the glasses that were no longer on his face. He rubbed the bridge of his nose instead.
The door opened quietly and the Blacks' old house-elf peered out through the narrow gap. "Who's there?" the elf croaked, its large eyes darting up to their faces with suspicion.
"We're here to see your master," Severus said to the elf, stuffing all the dignity and authority he had into his voice. The elf looked utterly unimpressed. "Is he in?"
The house-elf glared up at him, the folds of skin on his face forming a particularly vicious expression. "Master Regulus is in the study," he croaked, opening the door wide for Severus to enter. He dipped low in a sardonic manner and motioned down towards the hall. "This way," he said, his eyes flickering to Harry's face. Severus followed the old elf, Harry following close behind.
The windows of the study were thrown open and a fragrant breeze was blowing in from some unseen garden. Regulus was draped on a lemon-yellow divan, his head resting on one end and his legs dangling carelessly over the other. Across his stomach was this morning's Prophet, left open to the sports section. He was asleep, his mouth open and wet with drool.
"Should we wake him?" Harry whispered to him.
Severus glanced at the old house-elf, who looked about two flat-footed steps away from brandishing his viciously pointed nose against them if they tried any of their cunning, devious tricks on his master. "It would be rude of us if we didn't," he said, more for the elf's sake than for Harry's, and shook the Black heir awake.
Regulus was slow to shake off sleep. He yawned, smacking his lips loudly, and stretched in a disgustingly dramatic fashion. The Prophet fell to the floor. "What's going on?" he asked, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "Severus? Shouldn't you be at work?"
"I should be," Severus agreed as Regulus rose to a more dignified sitting position. "But I've been press-ganged into helping a former student."
"And who is your friend?" Regulus said, ignoring Severus for the young man standing at his elbow. He stood up from the divan and gave Harry an appraising look.
"This is Harry Bowman," Severus said as Harry shook Regulus' hand.
"Bowman, eh?" Regulus said, a quick, almost luring smile on his face. "Don't think I've heard the name. I'm Regulus Black."
"It's an honour to meet you," Harry said, sounding a bit too eager for Severus' tastes.
"Bowman is doing some work on... selective transfiguration, was it?" Severus said, sounding off-handed and annoyed.
"I'm trying to figure out a way in which we can transfigure objects without losing its distinctiveness in the progress," Harry said, sounding as excited about the idea as Severus was bored with it. "Like a teacup as poisonous as the frog it was transfigured from, or a handkerchief as sharp as a knife."
Regulus laughed at his eagerness. "Seems as if there's no end to the evil this 'selective transfiguration' of yours can do."
"Oh, there's good things, too," Harry said eagerly. "Lots and lots of good things." He was biting the inside of his cheek. "Just the other day, Professor Dumbledore and I theorised -"
Severus let out a long-suffering sigh, cutting off Harry's forced ad-libbing. "We're here," he said, "because Bowman seemed to have exhausted the resources at the school and had heard that your family's collection might have what he needs to further his theories."
"Well," Regulus said with a shrug, "it's not as extensive as the stacks at Hogwarts, but there's plenty here. I'm just not sure that there's anything useful." He gave Harry a conspiratorial wink. "We Blacks are not researchers, as a rule."
"Is it all right if I take a look, anyway?" Harry said, his green eyes wide and pleading.
"Be my guest," Regulus said with that quick smile. "Kreacher, please show Mister Bowman to the library. Severus and I will join him shortly."
"Shall I serve lunch there, Master Regulus?" Kreacher asked.
"Lunch? Oh, yes, that would be best, I think," Regulus answered. "Go on with Kreacher, Harry. I just want to speak with Severus for a moment."
Harry looked at Severus, unsure. Severus gave him a terse nod to go ahead. As Harry's steps echoed away, Regulus turned towards him with a frown.
"You know whom he reminds me of, Severus?" Regulus said absentmindedly, running a hand through his hair.
"Whom?" asked Severus, turning towards the open window.
"James Potter," Regulus said, shrugging. Severus gave him a disdainful look. "It's the chin," Regulus said in an infuriatingly off-handed manner.
Severus glared up at the cloudless sky, his lips curling in a disgusted sneer. "As if I would lower myself to help a Potter." Severus drawled to cover his embarrassment and discomfort.
Regulus sighed and stooped to pick up his newspaper. He carefully folded it in half, and then in half once more. "I thought we were friends, Severus," he said flatly over the rustling of the newsprint.
Severus was taken aback by the sudden accusation. His discomfort turned into a cold lump in his stomach. "I have never indicated otherwise," Severus said.
"Then why all this subterfuge?" Regulus asked, clearly upset. He dropped the newspaper on the divan.
"I have no idea as to what you're talking about."
"You're not the sort to drop in without sending an owl a week in advance," Regulus said. "And you don't associate with anyone younger than yourself, yet here you are, in the middle of the day, with a strange boy wearing those hideous purple robes your mother bought you."
"They're plum," Severus corrected. "And, last time I checked, you're younger than I am."
"Don't change the subject," pouted Regulus. "Who is he?"
"I can't tell you."
Regulus' face was dark with suspicious anger. "Is he one of Dumbledore's secrets?"
Severus shook his head. "This is about as much Dumbledore's secret as it is yours."
"Then tell me," Regulus said, taking a step forward. His hands reached out, nearly grasping Severus' arms before spreading out in a plaintive manner. "Let me in on it. That man wants access to my library; I want to know why. Don't you think I deserve that much?"
Severus' face was blank. "Do you trust me, Regulus?"
Regulus took a step back. "That was a low blow," he said, obviously hurt.
"It's a simple question, Regulus." Severus crossed his arms. "The best thing for you is to not know what is going on."
"Ignorance is bliss?" the younger man jeered.
"In this case, yes."
Regulus shook his head in disgust and tried to storm out of the study. Severus grabbed his arm, stalling him. "You have to trust me in this," he hissed. "You know I don't ask much from you, so please, don't deny me this one request."
Regulus turned his head, his eyes on Severus' hand. "And what's that?"
"A book," Severus said. "And your silence. That's all."
Regulus' eyes rose to Severus' shoulder. "And what are you going to give me in return for..." His eyes darted up. "My silence?"
Severus kept his composure even as a smirk twisted his lips. "Name your price."
Regulus stared at Severus' mouth. "The Douleur."
Severus' smirk disappeared immediately. "No." That only made Regulus grin nastily. "No, no, no," Severus repeated, letting go of the other man and taking several steps back. "That's not even mine. I can't possibly let you have it."
"Only until you return whatever book your strange associate is currently pocketing from my library," Regulus said with a rakish flourish of his hand. "And by tonight, mind, or I'll make it my life's goal to find out what this is all about."
"Oh, yes," Severus scoffed, frowning, "who am I to distract you from your life of genteel idleness with a bit of intrigue."
"Intrigue that you deny me," Regulus said.
"How is life in the Ministry, then?" Severus asked.
Regulus groaned at the question. "Don't distract me with miserable things, Severus," he answered with a whine. He led the way up to the library. "Every day, there seems to be nothing left there but pomp and circumstance. No substance at all." The decapitated heads of former servants clacked their teeth at Severus. "The Minister seems more interested in ritual than progress. And he used to be so good at progress."
"If that's what it's called," Severus said quietly.
"Are you still bitter?" Regulus said, opening the double doors to the house's modest library. All the gaslights were on, flooding the naturally dim, dusty room with light. Harry was standing by one of the shelves, one book in his hand while skimming through another.
He looked up and gave Severus the most unnerving smile. The smile collapsed when he saw the look on Severus' face. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"Did you find the book?" Severus asked in return, ignoring the looks Regulus was giving them as he tried to sniff out more clues.
"Um, well," he said, still trying to keep up the appearance of a young researcher. "I found some interesting ones."
"It's all right," interjected Regulus, that quick smile on his face again. Severus wanted to slap him. "Severus and I have already come to an agreement." Harry frowned, confused. "I know you're here looking for something, and I'm pretty sure it has nothing to do with 'selective transfiguration'."
Harry looked at Severus, who nodded. "The book?" Severus prompted.
Harry guiltily pulled out a decent-sized grimoire from somewhere inside his robes. Seeing the book now, Severus could understand why Harry had trouble describing it earlier. He couldn't say how big the book was, or even what colour it was. It certainly wasn't larger than most books - possibly - but he couldn't give any exact measurements. The colour was just as elusive, mixing and changing before Severus could identify it. It was making his headache return.
"See?" Regulus said, amused, "I knew he was pocketing it as we spoke. Kreacher would have beaten you with the cutlery if you had tried to leave with it in your robes." He reached out to take the grimoire from Harry, who instinctively jerked it out of his reach. "Do I not get to touch my own book?" he asked, admonishing slightly.
"I, uh..." Harry hesitated.
"You'll get your chance to ponder that mystery after we return the book to you," Severus said, taking a step to stand between the two men. "Now, if you don't mind, we have to return to the castle."
"What about lunch?" Regulus protested.
"It'll just have to wait for another time," Severus said, taking the unnecessary books Harry had been holding and dropping them in Regulus' hands. "Come along, Harry."
Harry tucked the unnamed grimoire under his arm and rushed to fall in step behind Severus. "What's the arrangement?" he asked soto voce. Severus made an impatient motion with his hand and led the way to the front door. The portrait of the late Black matriarch watched them leave, distrust in her painted eyes. "Worthless half-bloods," she muttered at their backs as they walked past.
"At least that's still the same," Harry said softly to himself. Severus ushered him out the door and back into the bright noon sun.
The sitting room still smelled of spilled alcohol. Severus waved Harry to the desk by the door. "Write down any changes you made to that spell of yours while I settle our debt to Regulus," he said, searching his shelves for the Douleur.
"What did he ask for?" Harry asked, dropping the indescribable grimoire on the desk.
"A trifle," Severus said, finding the primer on mood charms by Zeresh Douleur. "The Headmaster would be most disappointed with me if he knew, but needs must." He could only hope that Regulus wouldn't use it for nefarious purposes, or pass it on to those with more ambition.
"Do you need to send it out right now?" asked Harry. "We could just copy out the spell and send the book we borrowed back tonight."
"I highly doubt a spell that refuses to be named would allow itself to be 'copied out'," Severus said. "Also, I don't want to chance Regulus knowing what we were after until you're well on your way home."
"If I ever get back home at all," Harry said, dropping himself into the chair. He searched through the desk for parchment and took out a quill. "Everything I changed?" he asked.
"And whatever else comes to mind," Severus answered. Harry flipped through the indescribable grimoire and started writing.
Severus left him to his task and headed for the Owlery. When he returned, Harry was perusing the titles of the books on his shelves. His nose was nearly scraping against the bindings. His index finger ghosted underneath the words, mouth moving silently as he read each one.
Severus cleared his throat, darkly amused by the way he nearly jumped in surprise. "That's quite rude of you," Severus said in a stern voice.
"I'm sorry," Harry said. "I finished just now and... Well, I've always been curious." He tugged at his robes a bit. "There aren't nearly as many Dark Arts manuals as I imagined," he admitted.
"Nice to see that even my alternate self has such a terrible reputation," Severus said, glancing through the man's writing before picking up the grimoire, still opened to what Severus assumed was the spell. He grimaced. "The spell's name is 'Slip, Slide, Find'?"
"Yeah," Harry said, sounding ashamed by the fact. And well he should, Severus thought as the young wizard scratched his head. "That's what caught my eye the first time I read it. Wait! How come you can say it out loud?"
"Perhaps because you already know what the title is," Severus said softly, reading through the instructions. The outlandish name, however, was completely at odds with the complex spell described. "This isn't even a spell at all," he said, turning the pages. "It's a bloody ritual!"
"Technically, it's a spell," the man asserted.
"Technically, you're a bloody idiot for even attempting this," Severus countered. He read through the man's notes. The handwriting was nigh-unreadable. "This asks for bamboo from a virgin field, carved into the shape of an oar, and lotus flowers from a Kappa's garden. You, on the other hand, got your bamboo and lotus from a shop in Muggle London. Are you illiterate or simply stupid? Because if this is the way you approach magic, it's a wonder you're still alive."
Harry flushed, his fists clenched at his sides. "I was in a rush, Snape."
"Rushing is never an excuse for sloppy spellwork," Severus said coolly. "And look where your laziness has brought you."
Harry's face was red with anger. "You don't understand how desperate I was to find you."
"But you didn't find me," Severus returned. "Or, rather, you didn't find the right Severus Snape, did you?" He was disgusted with the idiot. "Reckless, careless..."
"Stop," Harry protested. "I get it, okay? I made a stupid, huge, horrible, dumb mistake." His green eyes were bright. "Can you fix it?"
"Can I help you get back, you mean," Severus said. "Perhaps. I can't say. If the root of your problem lies in your... unfortunate alterations, then a properly executed spell could very likely take you to where you truly belong. This, however, is something we must discuss with the Headmaster." He tucked the parchment into the book and glanced at the clock. It was already a few minutes past two in the afternoon. "You will wait here while I go see the Headmaster. I'll have the elves send something up."
"Wait," Harry called out, taking a few steps towards him. "Why can't I go with you?"
"Because you're not supposed to be here," Severus said. "It was risky enough taking you to London. We're lucky that only Regulus and that decrepit house-elf of his were home. We don't need other people knowing about you."
"But it's only two," Harry protested. "The students aren't going to be here for at least a few more hours."
"There's still the teachers and the caretaker to contend with," Severus snapped back. Harry opened his mouth to protest more, but Severus covered that useless mouth with his hand. "Don't argue with me on this. I've already run into Argus on the way back from the Owlery. I know what I'm talking about."
He grabbed Severus' wrist and gently moved the hand covering his mouth. "So I'm just supposed to stay here and sit by the fire like a good little boy?" grumbled Harry.
"Exactly," he said, pulling away. The pout on Harry's face was terribly unbecoming. "I suggest you don't touch anything while I'm out." He was nearly out the door, ready to stalk up to the Headmaster's office with the indescribable grimoire under his arm, only to spot the Headmaster ambling down the hall towards his door.
"Ah, Severus," Albus called out as he approached. "You're back. I hope your trip was successful."
"You could say that," Severus said. "I was just on my way to see you."
"Then you won't mind if I drop in for a moment?" Albus asked as he reached the door.
"Of course not," Severus replied, stepping aside to let the old man in. The words were sour on his tongue. "Make yourself at home."
Harry stared at the Headmaster for a moment. "Professor," he said in greeting.
"Hello, Harry," Albus returned. "How was London?
"Fine." He sounded unsure. "It was pretty much the same as it is now. Then."
Albus gave him an indulgent smile. "And the house?" he said. "You lived there, yes?" Harry nodded as Albus sat down on Severus' best chair. Severus frowned as he sat down opposite him. A couple of plates piled high with sandwiches and a pot of tea appeared on the small side table. "I took the liberty of having the elves send up some food. The two of you have already missed breakfast. I'd hate to see you miss lunch as well."
As Harry busied himself with pouring out the tea, Severus handed the indescribable grimoire to the Headmaster. Albus chuckled as he opened the book and casually flipped through the pages. In his bright blue robes, he looked like a tropical bird, completely out of place in Severus' dark, sombre sitting room. "Fascinating," he said as he turned the grimoire on its side for a moment. "And this was in the Blacks' possession all this time?" He accepted a cup from Harry and, after a sip, rested it on his knee.
"It's possible that they did not realise it was there," Severus said, quelling the urge to reach out for a sandwich. His mouth was watering from the sight of them.
"It's possible," Albus conceded, "but rather unlikely."
"I disagree," Severus said. "Neither of the Black brothers were readers, per se, and their parents were just as disinclined, I think." Harry nudged him with his elbow, a teacup in one hand and one of the plates in the other. Severus took the offered tea and sandwiches with an irritated nod.
"That is somewhat true, but Regulus Black was quite talented at Charms," Albus said. "This book should have caught his eye."
Harry dragged the desk chair to Severus' side and sat down. "Well, fortunate for us that it didn't," said Severus, ignoring the way Harry slurped his tea and how his knee was currently touching Severus' leg. "He would not have given it up as freely as he did if he knew what it contained."
Albus' eyes were twinkling and his mouth was curling in on itself with amusement. Severus did his best to ignore that as well and took a bite out of one of the sandwiches. The elves had used a tangy spread today. It made the dry chicken almost palatable.
Harry leaned forward towards Albus. "Sna- Professor Snape," he caught himself, "said that you might be able to send me home if we did the spell right."
"I said that we might be able to send you to where you belong," Severus corrected, washing down the sandwich with tea.
"Isn't that the same thing?" protested Harry.
"It's possible," Albus said, smiling even as he tapped the book in thought. "You're not of this world, and the spell could take that into account." He frowned slightly. "On the other hand, it might not be all that intuitive and, instead of taking you back to your world, you might still end up here in ours."
Harry was gnawing at the inside of his cheek. "What happens if I can't get back?"
Dumbledore patted Harry's knee reassuringly. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. In the meantime, you'll be staying here in Severus' rooms - there's no other choice," he said, curtailing the protest on Severus' lips. Harry, too, looked ready to argue with the Headmaster on the issue. Albus raised his hands. "No one must know you're here, and I don't want you to feel like a prisoner-"
"But you want to keep me locked up till I'm gone, right?" Harry said, his eyes dark with anger. He slumped in his chair, playing the part of a sullen teenager remarkably well. "Just like old times," he muttered to himself as he waved his hand, frustrated and resigned to the situation.
"I'm glad you're being so agreeable," beamed Albus.
"I, on the other hand, refuse to have my quarters used as a holding cell," Severus said. "Surely there are countless empty rooms he can use." Harry gave him a dark look.
"Of course," Albus said, "but he came to find you, remember?" Albus searched the inside of his robes, revealing a lurid pink plaid lining, and fished out a tin of lemon drops. He shook it before opening it. "Besides," he said as he offered one to Harry, who politely declined. "Who am I to deny Harry the pleasure of your company?" He popped one of the sweets in his mouth.
Severus' lips pinched together. Harry only grinned into his tea.
"I'll contact the usual suppliers," Albus said, the lemon drop tucked inside his cheek. "Hopefully, it will not take too long to gather all the things we'll need. In the meantime, I hope you'll enjoy your stay here, Harry."
Harry glanced over at Severus. "I will," he said with a smile.
"Bit strange, being back," Lupin said, attempting a bit of small talk as Minerva led the cluster of new students into the Hall. "It's almost as if I've never been gone at all."
Severus took a sip of his water to avoid answering him. His thoughts were already filled to the brim with green-eyed men and complex spells with asinine names. He didn't need to add 'chatty werewolves' to his troubles, nor did he wish to do so.
"But I'm glad that I'm here," Lupin prattled on as a little girl with red hair waved discreetly in their direction. "I'll get to see Marisol every day."
"You do know that the Board of Governors frowns against out-and-out favouritism, yes?" Severus said, looking at Marisol Potter for the first time. He had heard that she looked like her mother, but he did not think the similarities were so strong. Only her eyes were like her father's, hazel and sly. He thought of the man locked in his rooms, the stranger with James Potter's face and Lily Evans' eyes.
"Says the man that favours his Slytherins above all others," countered Lupin, his upper lip twitching with humour.
"No more than other Heads of House favour their own," Severus said defensively. Minerva must have heard him and shot him a particularly sharp look as the Sorting Hat began to sing. Severus let the words wash over him, ignoring his growing irritation.
He wondered if there were any wines in the school stores. He needed something to wash the irritation out of his mouth later.
"Well, I'm going to do my best to be fair to all my students," Lupin said. "Including my goddaughter." There was a small smile on his face as he said this. "She's been looking forward to this day for months. According to James, she didn't get any sleep last night from all the excitement."
Severus could not care less about what James Potter might or might not have said. He considered telling Lupin so.
"Lily, of course, was distraught," continued Lupin. "She's very protective of Marisol, which is completely reasonable since she is their only child."
"Not their only child," Severus muttered into his water goblet.
Lupin gave him a very odd look. "That's true," he said. "There was little Harry, but he's gone now." His easy, innocuous smile returned. "I'm surprised, Severus. I didn't think you would remember that."
"I was reminded of it recently," grumbled Severus as Minerva adjusted her glasses and unrolled her scroll.
"Well, I think Lily was reminded of it recently, too," Lupin said as the first child ("Alderton, Michael!") squirmed underneath the Sorting Hat. "James said that she hadn't slept much last night, either. Something about bad dreams, but..."
Severus clapped politely as the little boy rushed down to sit with his new house, studiously ignoring Lupin's pointed looks as the students were sorted one by one. There would be time after to wonder as to whether Lily Evans had somehow sensed that her son was here, or if she was simply anxious about being separated from her remaining child. He had enough troubles dealing with the man locked in his rooms, thank you.
A man that, as the Sorting dragged on, Severus was more and more anxious to check up on. He hated that his only option was leaving him in his private rooms, alone and unattended.
He should have locked him in the bathroom. There were fewer things to rifle through and destroy in there.
The red-haired girl stepped confidently up to the stool and plopped down, eager to be sorted. Severus' heart actually ached at the sight. She looked so much like her mother did at that age, full of life and vigour. For a moment, he almost believed she was Lily, new to the Wizarding World and eager to learn.
Minerva lowered the Hat on the girl's head. It barely touched her before it screamed out, "GRYFFINDOR!" Severus politely clapped as the girl skipped off the stool and quickly joined her cheering housemates. The smile Lupin gave her as she settled into her seat at her House table was so incredibly saccharine, it made Severus' teeth ache.
When he returned to his quarters, he found the sitting room cold and dimly lit. A tray sat on the side table, the food on it half-eaten. A light shone from underneath the bedroom door, summoning him closer with its thin, white fingers. He opened it and nearly fainted from the rush of blood heading straight to his groin.
Harry was on his bed, completely nude and exposed to the cold dungeon air but for the towel covering his bottom. He was on his stomach, propped up on his elbows and his head in his hands as he read a book. His feet kicked lazily in the air, the calloused heels brushing lightly against the cotton fleece over his soft, flat buttocks. He was a stretch of white flesh and black hair, laid out on the dark comforter like a sudden, special treat. Severus reacted the only way he knew how.
"What are you doing?" he shouted, his voice cracking shamefully.
"Reading a book," Harry replied. His green eyes were sly. It was disconcerting to see the two supposed siblings shared more than a last name. "Hurts, doing it without my glasses, but there's not much else to do here, is there?"
"I meant," Severus said, clearing his throat, "what are you doing naked and on my bed?"
"I'm wearing a towel," protested Harry. "I took a bath, and when I came out, the robes were already gone." He turned on his side. Severus studiously avoided looking at anything other than the younger man's face. "And since I don't have any nightclothes, I figured I should wait till you came back before borrowing anything."
"And you had to wait on my bed?"
"Well, it was freezing in the sitting room," he said. "And what if someone came in for a visit? It's not like I'm supposed to be here, remember?" He shrugged. "Besides, I half thought that, when you came back, and if you were in the mood for it, we could... you know."
Severus felt both hot and cold at the same time. "No, I don't know," he managed to say.
"You know," Harry repeated. "Sex?" From the corner of his eye, Severus could make out the languorous curve of his spine. "I'm not really an expert, but I thought last night was really good. Don't you think so, too?"
"No, I don't," answered Severus. "I was too drunk to remember."
Harry's feet smacked on the floor as he moved to stand behind him. Severus felt his heat against his back even as the younger man's fingers touched his elbow. "Do you want me to tell you what happened last night?"
The words stuck in Severus' throat. Harry took it as acquiescence and drew closer. "Well," he said as his hand stroked its way up Severus' arm. "First, you licked the rum off my body." His fingers played with the collar of Severus' robes. "Every single drop of it. First, my arm." He pressed a light kiss on Severus' shoulder. "Then, my neck." He kissed him on the neck, just above the collar. "Then, you started going south." His hand slid down Severus' front, stopping just above his belt. The iron chain around his wrist clicked softly against the buckle.
"Why didn't you stop me?" Severus asked, his breath hitching slightly as Harry's chin rested against his upper arm. His green eyes, half-hidden by black lashes, were focused on his face, watching for a sign.
"I wanted you to come back with me," Harry said, his cheek against Severus' arm. "You said that you wanted compensation before going back. I thought you were being cruel, that you knew how I felt about you and wanted to punish me for even coming." His hand toyed with the belt buckle. "Then, I realised that you were drunk, and maybe you didn't think I was real." The belt, loosened, slid off Severus' waist and landed on the floor with a clank. "Only in the morning, did I really understand what was going on, but that doesn't matter anymore." His hands rested on Severus' waist, waiting. "Does it?"
Severus covered Harry's hands with his own. "I'm not who you want," he said, his voice oddly quiet to his own ears. "I might be the same man, but I'm not the one you're looking for. And if the spell does send you to where you belong-"
"Then, I'll be gone," said Harry, sounding disappointed. "And I know that you're not the Severus Snape I am looking for. I don't even know if the Snape I'm looking for is alive, and I can't help but want to be with you because... I don't know if I'll ever get another chance like this."
He pressed his forehead against Severus' back, torn. "But if you don't want to because I'm not staying, then I won't ask again." He pulled away, taking his hands and heat with him. "I'll just... Yeah," he added weakly, retreating to the sitting room. Severus watched him leave, his hands keeping his robes closed at the waist.
Severus closed his eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath. It did not take the edge of his arousal away. He went to the bathroom, still steaming from Harry's bath. The air was thick with the scent of soap and spice. There were streaks on the mirror, Harry's hand-print visible on the glass. Severus wiped it off with a flannel.
"That is one pretty piece of porcelain you found yourself, dear, if you know what I mean," the mirror giggled as Severus prepared his bath. The water poured slowly, as if reluctant to fill yet another bathtub tonight. "Keeping him around for a bit?"
Severus exhaled loudly and sat down on the toilet, watching the water flow. He felt like an imbecile back there, wanting him and at the same time too afraid to take him. So he wasn't what Harry truly wanted. He must be a good enough facsimile, if he continued to be interested despite knowing the truth.
Harry was right there. He was warm and more than pleasing to the eye, so why not give him what he wanted? Why not submit to him again, this time sober? It was not a lifetime, only a short while, and heavens know he could stand a few nights of sex.
He rubbed his face with his hands, suddenly very tired.
"You know who he reminds me of?" the mirror gushed.
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. "Whom? James Potter?"
"You, silly," the mirror trilled. "Only shorter, of course. And friendlier." The tub was barely a quarter-full. "He's willing to look at me when we talk."
He ignored the mirror's yammering and stepped back out into his bedroom. He was still unsure if this was a good idea, allowing himself to become involved with a man that was, to him, no more than a dream, a transient thing that overstayed its welcome. Eventually, he would have to go back to wherever he had come from, and the whole affair would be no more than a queer little footnote.
On the other hand, who was he to let this opportunity to pass him by? He went to his dresser and took out a nightshirt. It was one of his better ones - blueish-grey and soft against the skin. This would be his peace offering. He would give this to Harry, allude to allowing him to sleep in the bed with him, and perhaps that would be enough.
He opened the door to the sitting room. It was well lit now, with a fire burning cheerfully in the hearth. The furniture had been pushed aside to make room for a small cot covered in red sheets. Harry was standing by it, yanking on a set of striped, school-issue pyjamas.
Severus threw the nightshirt in his hand at Potter, feeling darkly satisfied when it hit him square in the face. He stormed back to the bathroom, ignoring the look of shock on Harry's face as he slammed the door.
The morning was a tense, quiet affair. Harry was already awake when Severus emerged from the bedroom, fully dressed and ready for the first day of classes. The cot was gone, and the table and chairs were back to their usual places in front of the fire. All that was left of the night before was the grey nightshirt, folded and laid out on the armrest.
Harry looked up from the periodical he was flipping through and gave Severus a wary half-smile. "Good morning," he said. "Did you sleep well?"
Severus had spent the night staring at the canopy of his bed, searching for an answer in the dark cloth. He listened to the sounds coming from the sitting room, though he could not tell which were genuine and which were born from his imagination. He waited for a sign, but it never came.
What little sleep he did manage to get was restless and insignificant. He woke up too early and dressed much too slowly, just so that he could avoid the young man currently trapped in his quarters. Harry, in contrast, looked both well-rested and at ease with what Severus felt was an extremely uncomfortable situation, that wary half-smile aside.
Severus grimaced and gathered the timetables for his Slytherins from his desk. "I assume the house-elves have fed you?" he asked.
"Not yet," Harry said, looking relieved for some reason. He looked down at his knuckles before raising his head again. "Thank you for the nightshirt. I would have worn it, but..."
"I do not care what you wear," interrupted Severus, "so long as what you wear consists of something more than a towel." He gave Harry a hard look. "If you damage any of my belongings while I'm away, you will have something much harder and heavier than a nightshirt thrown at your head."
His smile had the audacity to widen at the threat. "I'll treat your things just like I'd treat my own."
That did not comfort Severus in the least. "Treat them as you would treat the Headmaster's."
"I don't know," Harry said with a wicked smile. "I destroyed the Headmaster's office one year. I don't think you would like that very much."
"That settles it," Severus said, drawing his wand. "I'm stunning you."
The younger man bolted out of his seat. "Don't," he cried out, his hands out in front of him. "Don't," he repeated when Severus' wand did not lower. "I swear, I won't do anything."
"Anything?" asked Severus, his eyebrow arched high.
"Well, nothing that would damage your things," he amended. "Listen, I know that you hate this. You hate that I'm here, and that you have to keep me in your rooms, but you can trust me. Really." Severus lowered his wand to his side. Harry visibly relaxed. "Don't worry."
Severus harrumphed, though he did not put his wand away. He said that he could be trusted, that Severus should not worry. As he left Harry in his quarters and the door locked behind him, Severus did not feel that he could do either.
And he felt like a fool to even start.
Severus checked on Harry before lunch, only staying long enough to make sure his rooms had not been destroyed in any fashion. He went down to his quarters again during his free period in the afternoon. The house-elves had been kind enough to serve Harry afternoon tea and currant cakes. The sweet, yeasty scent of the freshly baked cakes drew Severus in. The way Harry looked up from the journal he was reading and gave him a smile kept Severus from leaving.
"Join me for tea?" he said cheerfully, gesturing to the empty chair opposite him. On the vacant chair was a copy of the Prophet. There was a tear two-thirds of the way down the centre of the front page, bisecting the smiling, handsome face of the Minister.
"Upset by the latest scandal?" Severus said as he tossed the paper onto the desk and sat down.
"What? Oh, no," Harry said as he served Severus tea. The light tone of his voice sounded forced. "Just surprised by how different everything is. How are the classes today?"
The sudden change of topic made Severus' neck hurt. "Are you really curious," he asked, "or are you just that anxious to change the subject?"
Harry's cheeks reddened. "Both?" he shrugged.
Severus sipped the tea. It was horribly over-brewed. He swallowed his mouthful with a calm expression on his face. "It's too early to say anything yet," Severus said, putting his cup back on the tray and helping himself to a cake. "The fourth-year Ravenclaws were miserably prepared, though that's to be expected of them. As least Slytherins know the meaning of restraint." The cake was so moist and buttery, it completely cancelled out his disappointment with the tea. "The first years, on the other hand showed about as much promise as a bag of doxies, though that's not surprising. They are Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs after all. Although, if your sister inherited some of your mother's talent-"
Harry rose from his seat, spilling tea onto his knees. "My sister!" he cried out. "I have a sister?"
Severus glowered. "Technically, she's not your sister," he said.
"But she is, isn't she?" Harry insisted. "Why didn't you tell me?" His eyes narrowed. The very air was crackling with barely contained magic. Severus suppressed the urge to shift uncomfortably in his seat, suddenly thankful the younger wizard had no wand to wield against him.
"There was no need for you to know that," Severus said flatly.
"Just like there's no need to tell me that the Minister of Magic is Tom Riddle!" raged Harry, flailing his arms wildly.
"Why should any of these things mean anything to you?" Severus said, growing angry himself. "You're not from this place. You're not from this time. As soon as the preparations are finished, you'll be gone!"
Harry stared at him, wide-eyed with shock, before his expression collapsed into a look of defeat. He sank back into his chair, slumping forward and staring blankly at the cakes on the tray. The magic in the air dissipated, leaving a sad, broken quiet behind.
Severus sighed through his nose. He finished his cake in the resulting silence, debating with himself whether he should apologise.
Harry spoke first. "You're right," he said, the words sounding like sand and sawdust to Severus. "I don't belong here." He looked down at his hands as they came together in a clumsy, miserable clasp. Severus drank the rest of the tea in his cup and rose to leave.
Harry did not look up to see him go.
"Good news, Severus," Albus said at dinner, his knife and fork poised over the fish. "Ms. Estleman owled me earlier today about the materials we need."
Severus poked and scraped at his own dinner. "And?" he prompted without looking up from his plate.
"We'll have everything we need tomorrow," Albus responded. "And by Saturday, you'll have your free time all to yourself again."
"Oh, you'll have some free time this weekend?" Minerva hummed from her seat on Albus' right. "Then you'll have no problem with helping me."
Severus was immediately wary. He gave the witch a blank, almost disinterested look. "Is there any reason why I should?" he asked mildly.
"Considering that you owe me a favour for going to King's Cross when it was most certainly your turn," Minerva said smoothly, "I don't see how you could refuse."
"She's got you there, Severus," Albus said, smiling wryly as he raised his goblet to his lips.
"I doubt you had any trouble with the protesters," Severus said with a dismissive sneer. "What did they do this year? Block the entrances to the platform? Show offensive anti-Muggle signs?"
"They nearly incited a riot with their mock-Dementor," Minerva chastised. "It took us forever to calm everyone down."
Severus stared at her, before sighing. "What do you need me to do?" Severus asked.
There was a little smirk on her face as she silently celebrated her victory. "I'm participating in a production of Babbitty Rabbitty, as a favour to a friend," she explained, her fork poised over her vegetables, "and I need someone to read lines with me."
"You're going to be in a play?" Lupin said, overhearing their conversation.
"Only as part of the backstage crew," Minerva corrected. "Someone needs to turn Babbitty into a rabbit, apparently, and I need to practice my cues."
"And I'm to be your practice partner?" Severus repressed the urge to shudder. "Fine," Severus agreed reluctantly, picking at his meal. The white meat was moist and tasteless and the peas were no better.
The students were chatting and eating much too loudly. Severus' gaze fell on the Potter girl, her hair a bright flame in the sea of black robes.
"Well, I think that's wonderful," Albus praised. "I'm certain the children will love your friend's play."
"Unfortunately, this play is not for children, Albus," Minerva said. Albus made a small, puzzled sound. "It's based on Luxuria Bosch's adaptation."
"Isn't that the one with-" Lupin said, stopping as Minerva gave him a nod.
Severus laid his fork aside, suddenly feeling very queasy. He pushed his plate away. "If you'll excuse me," he said as he rose. "I have a potion that requires my attention."
Albus' eyes twinkled knowingly, but Severus ignored it. He stalked around the staff table and out of the Great Hall. After the din of the Hall, the silence of the corridors was refreshing and soothing. The portraits murmured among themselves as he walked by. The chill of the dungeons was sharp and inviting, like diving into a cold pool. His robes whispered over the stones with each step.
As he reached his rooms, Severus realised something was wrong. The air smelled of oranges and ozone. The door to his room was closed, and his wards were unbroken, but the magic was tainted. The torn threads of someone's magic still clung to the stone.
Severus opened the door, afraid of what he would find. The sitting room was as he had left it that afternoon. Harry's dinner was still on the side table, half-eaten and cold, but he was not in the chair. Severus rushed to the bedroom, his heart in his throat, but Harry was not there either. He checked the bathroom, the toilet, and underneath the bed, but Potter was gone.
He went back to the sitting room and grabbed the goblet on the side table, tossing the pumpkin juice still inside out into the fire. "Aquamenti," he cast, filling the goblet with water, and took out the lodestone pin. "Lead me," he said to the lodestone as he dropped the pin into the water.
The pin floated on the water, slowly spinning before starting to bob anxiously, nearly jumping out of the water in its enthusiasm. "Up," Severus said, leaving his rooms in search of Potter.
The lodestone bobbed and twirled, leading him outside towards the Forest. In the distance, Severus could barely make out the dark silhouette of a man walking along the edge of the Lake, tossing stones into the water. The ground was uneven and treacherous in the darkness. Severus resisted the urge to hex him then and there.
Harry turned and stilled as he watched Severus approached. "You were supposed to be in my rooms," Severus said, the anger he was feeling making his Lumos spark erratically.
"I couldn't stand being inside any longer," Harry said in a low voice. He took a cautious step towards Severus, barely inside the circle of light from his spell. He was in Severus' plum robes again. The bottom hem was tucked into his belt and the sleeves were rolled up to the shoulders, baring his white, hairy limbs to the air. Never had the younger man looked so much like James Potter, and that thought irritated Severus like a fresh bug bite. "I thought that since everyone was going to be in the Great Hall-"
"That you would be able to wander about without being seen?" Severus interjected, stepping closer. "How are we supposed to keep your existence a secret if you refuse to stay where you're put?"
"What danger am I in?" bristled Harry. "You say that I'm supposed to be hidden, but why? Why are you hiding me? Why can't I go outside? Why can't I..."
"Why can't you what?" Severus yelled. "See your parents? See your sister? Wander through Diagon Alley with nothing more than my old robes on?" Harry's face was a study of misery. "Because this isn't your world! How many times must we tell you this? Harry Potter is dead."
"I know that," he said through his teeth, turning away to look out at the black waters. He took a deep breath. "But what if the spell doesn't work? What if I'm stuck here? You can't keep me locked away forever."
"The spell will work," Severus said, though he could not say for sure until they tried.
Harry sighed and his shoulders slumped slightly. "But if it doesn't?"
"It will," Severus insisted, trying to sound convincing. It must have worked, for Harry looked at him with trust in his eyes. "Now, let's get back inside before people begin leaving the Hall." He grabbed Harry's bare arm and pulled him towards the front doors.
Harry resisted, refusing to move. "Severus," he said quietly, stopping him. His expression was solemn, and the green of his eyes was the colour of clover. He was too close, and Severus could smell the pumpkin juice on his breath as he leaned up to kiss him.
A cool, wet wind blew off the water. Severus wrapped his arms around Harry for warmth. He was like the sun, like fire, and his mouth tasted like pumpkin juice and need and a thousand small things Severus could not identify. His hands found purchase, nearly tearing holes into the plum robes.
Harry's hands were in his hair, refusing to let him go, and, for the moment, Severus could not think of a reason to pull away.
Severus played with Harry's hair as they lay in his bed, their limbs shamelessly tangled in the sheets and their skin grimy with dried sweat. Harry slept with his face tucked into Severus' neck, as if seeking shelter from the approaching daylight.
Severus rested his cheek on the man's head, burying his nose into his hair. Was it folly, letting Potter have his way? For the moment, he could not decide. Only time would tell if this had been a mistake, even if, at this moment, his heart was warm with feeling.
Harry's lips moved against his neck. Was he dreaming? Was he casting a spell? He spoke of love during the act, but Severus knew those words weren't for him. They were for another Severus Snape, a Severus Snape that might be alive, waiting for Harry to find him. He wondered if that Severus Snape was once as smitten with Harry as Severus was right now. He did not know how that Severus could not be attracted to him, his resemblance to James Potter notwithstanding, but Severus knew himself. And the resulting conclusion was depressing.
He pushed those thoughts aside, finding them too bitter. He focused instead on the imperfections on Harry's skin as the room slowly filled with the greyish morning light.
"Severus," whispered Harry, his lashes brushing against Severus' jaw. "Are you awake?"
Severus snorted at the question.
Harry took that as a 'yes'. "If I stayed," he started to say, but Severus hushed him. He didn't want to hear the rest of that sentence, and Harry seemed too nervous to finish it. This moment was the only thing that mattered, and they shouldn't sully it with 'what ifs' and 'maybes'.
The sunlight grew brighter as Severus brought Harry's hand to his lips and kissed his knuckles and tried not to think about tomorrow.
The materials from Ms. Estleman came with the morning owl. It was in the staff room, patiently waiting for someone to claim it, when Severus stopped by. The room was far from empty - Minerva was already there, chatting with Lupin by the windows. He nodded once at her as he checked the box.
The package, addressed to the Headmaster, was charmed against damage and tampering. He could feel the magic nibble at his skin as he picked it up. It felt like the Headmaster's magic: playful but firm.
"Looking forward to tomorrow, Severus?" Minerva asked as he held the box against his chest. Lupin smiled insipidly.
"Oh yes," Severus drawled. "I've always wanted to know what it was like being a mangy, old rabbit." He left the staff room, careful not to put too much pressure on the box, lest it decide to do more than nibble.
The walk down to his rooms was quicker than he thought it should have been. His door opened for him and Harry stared first at the box and then at Severus.
"Is that...?" he asked as he rose from his seat by the fire. The book in his hands fell to the floor.
Severus placed the box on his desk and went to work on removing all the protective spells. Harry moved to stand beside him, silently watching as the last spell fell away. They opened the box slowly, revealing a harmless assortment of flowers and herbs.
The colour drained from Harry's face. "Should we do this now?" he asked, his voice a nervous shadow of sound.
"We need to inform the Headmaster," Severus said. "He would want to observe."
Harry bit the inside of his cheek. "Would you want to observe, too?" he asked.
"Yes," Severus said, though that was perhaps a lie. "Is that a problem?"
Harry shook his head. "No," he said. "Probably not." The downcast eyes said something else entirely. It filled Severus with the urge to kiss him.
But, in the daylight, Severus did not dare.
He glanced at the clock, which read, 'Two minutes before class'. "I'll speak to the Headmaster," he said. "He already knows that the materials have arrived. Now, it's only a question of when and where."
"I can probably get everything ready by lunch," Harry volunteered.
"Don't," Severus said. "Everything needs to be perfect."
"You think I can't prepare for this spell?" said Harry, offended.
"You failed at it once already," Severus said with more bite than he intended. He placed his hands on Harry's shoulders. "Wait, and we'll prepare together." Harry looked up at him, his eyes bright. His lips were red, and he knew that they were rough, but did they still taste of breakfast? Or did they taste of Harry?
"All right," he said, drawing away. He glanced at the clock. "You're going to be late," he said, trying to sound a bit more cheerful.
Severus resisted the urge to stay.
The furniture in Severus' sitting room was pushed up to the ceiling, leaving more than enough room on the floor for the large, ornate tub currently in front of the fire. Albus hummed the purification spell recommended in the grimoire as he stirred the water, the tiny, carved bamboo paddle held delicately between his thumb and forefinger.
Harry stood by the tub, waiting quietly as the Headmaster purified the water. Severus stood at his elbow, letting the smell of the younger man fill his nostrils for the last time. The lotus petals and roughly chopped cedar needles floated on the surface, twisting and turning with each stir of the paddle.
Suddenly, the Headmaster stopped, taking the paddle out of the water. The petals and needles sank to the bottom, leaving the surface clear and smooth.
Harry took a deep breath and stepped into the tub. The plum robes flared out around him, the cloth darkening as he stood in the knee-deep water. He turned and stared at Severus, his uncertainty visible on his face. Severus tried to reassure him with a smile, but he could feel his mouth twist the wrong way.
Dumbledore rose to his feet with a groan and brandished his wand. "Have the place set in your mind, Harry?" he asked.
Harry glanced at Severus one last time before nodding. "I'm ready," he said, his voice firm.
Dumbledore raised his wand and said a few lyrical syllables. The spell barely left his lips before Harry was suddenly tugged into the water.
Severus rushed to the tub's side, his heart in his throat, but Harry was already gone, leaving the plum robes to float on the surface. He grabbed the empty robes, dragging them up from the water. The iron chain, unbroken and abandoned, fell out of the folds and sank to the bottom of the tub.
Severus fished it out, curling his fist around the cold chain, and pressed it against his chest. The robes were heavy in his arms.
The water drained out of the tub slowly, taking with it the lotus petals and the cedar needles. Albus moved to stand by Severus. He placed his bony hand on Severus' shoulder, and together they watched it drain away.
"He's where he belongs," Albus said, trying to reassure him.
"Yes," Severus said, trying not to think about how much that hurt to say.
He drank his rum neat.
But there was no rum in his goblet, and no Firewhiskey, either. Albus was kind enough to send down an apple liqueur, but it was too sweet for the moment. He spent more time looking at the pale green liquid than drinking it.
It was three weeks since Harry was sent back. Three weeks of classes and meetings, of House disputes and quiet mornings, and still he thought of him. Was it because of the nature of his job? He spent almost every waking hour in the castle, forced to interact with the same people day after day. Harry had been with him for only three days, a mere 72 hours, but he was strange and new and, interestingly enough, more than willing to sleep with him.
It was no wonder that Severus was still smitten.
Sometimes, he would see shadows in his drinks. They would lurk just underneath the surface, disappearing even as they form. Tonight, too, a shadow lurked inside his cup. He wondered if he had seen that flash of green in the darkness, or if it was a trick of the light and his mind.
Did Harry think of him? He must be happy, for Severus would not allow himself to think otherwise. He must be safe, where he belonged, ensnaring that other Severus Snape with those eyes. He must; otherwise, this ache in his chest would be unbearable.
Sometimes, he would hold his plum robes to his chest, pretending they still held some of Harry's warmth. In the darkness, just before he fell asleep, he would press his nose into the sheets, seeking his scent still clinging there.
Even though he knew that scent was long since gone.