Part 2: Harry
Where am I? What happened? Everything's small and strange and cold and wrong wrong wrong! Even my scream. My throat feels odd and this awful, deep roar keeps coming out. I'm shaking, weak and awkward and dizzy. I'm naked, like I've been plucked all over. I've got no feathers left at all, but I'm so heavy and slow. Once I saw a baby bird without feathers. It fell out of its nest and couldn't fly back, despite its parents' panicked attempts to help. Featherless and flightless and helpless! Help me!
A rustle. Something touched him, held him down. He curled up, twitching, trying to shut out the cold and terror. I want to go home! I want to be ME!
The touch lightened but didn't disappear. Something rubbed his back, and it felt so bare and intense without feathers, but then something as soft and weightless as feathers covered him up to his wings.
"It's all right. You're back, Harry. Do you understand?"
He blinked. He couldn't see much, his gaze darting from one blurry object to another. He gasped, and that sounded vaguely familiar. The hands holding him were familiar too, only different: so small.
"You know these hands. Yes. It's all right. They're still here. I'm still here. You're still you. Remember me? Remember, Harry."
"Harry," the sound came again. That means something, I think. But what? The hands were one familiar thing in an alien world: warm, friendly hands, sliding, stroking, petting. I know this. Featherless the Giant. But he's not a Giant, he's my size! I used to fit inside his hand easily, and now I can barely hide my face in it.And still, all the colours and the light kept seeping through between the fingers. He pushed against the reassuring warmth, wanting to be cradled in the comfortable cup of that palm.
"That's it, Harry." A pair of hard and round and cold things was pushed over his beak. "Here. You remember these. Your glasses."
Yes, I know. The icy things that Featherless put on the wooden plain, near the long feather. Featherless got mad when the long feather tipped over, 'cause then it bled dark, watery mud. The long feather was important to him. The icy things were important too.
I used to perch on a short branch between the two icy blobs. The ice was strange. It made the whole world swim like water when I looked through it, but the ice was never wet, even though it was warm. Is that what's sitting on my beak right now? It's so much smaller.
'Harry'. There's that sound again. What's 'Harry'? Featherless keeps repeating it. Only he wouldn't call himself Featherless. 'Cause I'm featherless too, now. He'd call himself... human. With human words. And 'glasses'. Harry's glasses.
Am I Harry?
Harry curled up in Snape's bed, the blankets and pillows arranged all around him like a nest.
He reached out of his cocoon only once, toward the carving on the headboard where the Snidget used to spend his nights. He traced all around it with his fingertip and then looked at his hand as if he'd just seen it for the first time. A goose feather, the same one the Snidget had used for a pillow, was stuck to the side of his thumb. Harry winced and dropped his hands. He didn't move again.
Snape sat on the edge of the bed, softly humming the five-note tune the Snidget had sung, until Harry was lulled to sleep. As Snape rose from the bed and gazed down at Harry's huddled form, he thought with a pang, What the hell can I do to help you? I'm no mediwizard! ...Perhaps if I brew some Memorestore... He turned and strode into the lab. I just hope it works.
He brewed all morning, lost in thought. He knew from personal experience that extreme circumstances could sometimes push witches and wizards beyond their strength. The duel, the blast, could have been enough to force Harry into a latent Animagus form. In the immediate wake of a blinding explosion, it would have been possible, even for Snape, to miss something as tiny as a Snidget, fleeing with the speed of mortal terror.
Snape's lab was awfully quiet without the soft chirping and the familiar light weight of the quick, nimble feet holding onto his hairline.
I must be Harry... I don't know.
Maybe if I could remember how it was before, I'd be OK again.
It was late at night. Featherless was here. He collected things - all those leathery leaves and dried flowers and nutty seeds and bitter bugs - and stashed them all away like a squirrel. But then he came back and took them out of where he hid them again. He leaned over them for ages with the long feather in his hand. He sorted them out, and then mixed them together again in different ways, and they smelled funny and made smoke and sparks, but even after all that effort he still didn't eat or drink them. He wouldn't let me drink them either.
But I was hungry. So I hovered by his ear, called him and asked for food. He had enough nectar for me to bathe in, even if I flew over whole fields of flowers I wouldn't find that much. It was sweeter than anything I'd ever found, and filling. He never drank it. Maybe he didn't like it. But I knew I did. So I thought he should share. I'd put it to good use, I promised him. Every drop.
All right, Featherless said, Drink up.
"Drink this, Harry."
Wait, he didn't say that! I must be remembering wrong.
Liquid touches my mouth and I sip. It doesn't taste the way I remember the nectar tasted, but when I go to spit it out, Featherless murmurs, in a voice that makes me feel as warm as if I still had my feathers, "It's good for you. Drink it. There."
So I do.
Memories... all those memories, swirling like cloud, clearing...
Silver swirled in Snape's Pensieve. He left it there. Served him right. I stepped closer, lowered my face into it. Then I was falling into his memories...
The bowl was wide, but nice and shallow, and filled with clear water. No matter how high I started my dive, the water always pushed me back up, and I floated like a leaf. So I just turned every which way to get one wing under, then the other, then my feet and tail, fluttering my wings all the while, until all my feathers were wet and clean. Featherless would grumble like distant thunder about water going everywhere, but he never had feathers to keep clean! Anyway, he always kept my bathing bowl clean and filled, so he probably didn't mind.
I saw Featherless once as he came back from his own bathing bowl. He looked as ruffled as before, and scared. Hunted, like a yellow-beaked sparrow fledgling stalked by a snake. But he must've just not liked water. What snake could find him all the way down here?
Featherless held a sharp stick. He pointed it at me and said Animagum restituo. I felt strange, like my body was going to change. I didn't want it to, it felt scary. So where my body was being pushed, I pushed back. I wasn't going to change. Not 'til I wanted to. Not 'til I was sure it was safe.
We were at the tower. I couldn't move. Snape drew his wand and aimed it at Dumbledore. Avada Kedavra. NO!
It was all over. Everything was dark, and I was flying fast, fighting something that caught me, something dark and heavy. I pushed against it, pushed through it and flew: faster, higher, away from the noise and the burning and the fear. I darted out of the wooden trap, so fast my wings were a blur, and hid in the Forest, where at least the wood was alive.
It was storming, I kept soaring past the clouds, where was the Snitch? It was dark, Cedric was catching up, I couldn't let him - no - faster, dammit! He was behind me, he was right there - lightning, fuck - couldn't see through the rain, where was he, where was - dementors! They were right behind me oh shit...
Featherless was chanting Li-be-ra-corp-us. It was music, but not like my song. It was so much deeper, like the darkness might sound, if it could sing. Dragon bones came crashing down, like ivory icicles.
Snape stepped out of the wardrobe in the Defence classroom, a stuffed vulture on his hat. Its feathers were ragged and dusty. He looked better featherless.
First day at school. First Potions lesson. I wrote it all down 'cause innit what you're supposed to do in class? But he was picking on me, like he hated me. Why? We'd just met! I was just taking notes! He was talking about things that sounded important - brewing glory, bottling fame, putting a stopper in death - and I didn't want to forget them.
You didn't forget.
It's Snape, though he doesn't look like I remember either, not with his temples all silver strands, like Pensieve memories. Not with that lopsided smile.
Welcome back, Mr. Potter.
I'm Harry! You said so yourself.
"So I did," he says, and this time I can hear it with my ears as well as my mind. His voice is just like I remember. Dark as his stare, warm as sleeping on his chest."Welcome back, Harry."
Wait. Wait a minute. This really is Snape! Snape! I've been living with Snape all this time! Now he knows who I am, he'll kill me! Like he murdered Dumbledore!
That wasn't murder.
Liar! I was there, I saw it all. You hit him with the Killing Curse and he fell off the tower, dead! What do you call that, huh?
I call it mercy, the dark mental voice replied, on his own orders. Then, instead of the presence shadowing Harry's mind, there was the sense of a portal being opened, a door into the dark... Well? The familiar twang of mockery was there, for the first time. Coming? Or are you afraid of the truth?
You wish! Harry plunged deep into the portal, as if it was a Pensieve, and was met with a barrage of memories. A redheaded girl, next to a boy in a ragged woman's blouse and baggy trousers. The boy rolled up the sleeves and tucked the frilly collar in, and slicked down his hair to try and look better. The long ratty strands still fell over his face, covering it like a curtain. The girl didn't seem to mind, she just nodded and pointed at the swing. Wait, is that girl...Mum? Yes, it's Mum, and Snape, so young, and then older, and he's explaining at last. What made him do it, what led him to a life of spying.
More memories: Dumbledore, dying, forcing Snape to kill him, so Dumbledore could be spared greater torment, and so Snape could keep his place at the Dark Lord's side. Finally, Harry saw his own duel with Voldemort, then Snape, kneeling over the charred remains of Harry's robe. Gone, he's gone, he must be dead!Despair poured from the memory, fell on Harry like a wave, cold and crushing and full of bitter salt. He cared about me. He grieved.
Harry surfaced from Snape's mind. He cares. He'll help me.
Harry sat up in bed, nearly cocooned in one of Snape's grey sheets, all except for the irrepressible mop of his hair. As Snape had shared his memories, the cornered-animal tension had slowly faded from Harry's expression, replaced first by confusion, then by an echo of Snape's own anguish, and finally by realisation. When the contact broke, Harry met his gaze with a level, alert look. A hand poked out of the grey cocoon and reached for Snape, tweaking a strand of his hair.
Snape went still. The Snidget used to do that. Turned my hair into a bird's nest. But Harry's not a bird anymore, not in body or in mind. Though perhaps his instincts are slower to adjust. I wish McGonagall was here. She'd know what to do far better than I.
Harry blinked and stopped, looking shocked by his own action. The shock changed to wariness and he began to pull back.
Or perhaps not, given what they say about cats and canaries. Either way, I'm on my own in this, as always. Only not quite... This time we are on our own. So simple that thought was, almost habitual.
Snape reached up and cupped a hand around Harry's, like he used to hold the Snidget up, to stop him from slipping. Once more, he murmured aloud, "Welcome back."
Harry's lips moved. "Hyooo..." His trill, hoarse and squeaky, sounded almost like speech.
"What?" Snape frowned in mingled bewilderment and concern.
Harry coughed and tried again. This time words came out. "You... look different."
Snape arched his eyebrow. "So do you, when you're featherless."
"You're older." Harry fingered a strand at Snape's temple that had gone grey a year ago.
Snape didn't reply, pulling away from the touch. "Hungry?" he asked, just to change the topic.
Harry shook his head. His face was pale and his hands were shaking.
"Yeah. Fine." He floundered, struggling his way out of the sheets. "S'just... I'm so heavy. Can't fly."
Snape couldn't help noticing that that didn't stop the stubborn sod from standing, even though he was as unsteady on his feet as a newborn colt. "Hm, perhaps walking's not such a good idea..."
Harry pushed Snape's hand away and hopped, an odd jerky movement of both feet that ended in a stumble. "Fuck!"
"Let's get you back to bed."
"No! Why can't I walk?"
"Everything's so small. Breakable. See that quill? I used to climb it like a tree. Now I could snap it in my fingers." Harry peered. "You're my size. Before, even your nose was bigger than me."
Snape let Harry ramble uninterrupted, using the distraction to half-carry him back to bed. Only when Harry was settled, did he reply, "I hear this physical disorientation's usual."
"Usual? What curse is it usual for?" Harry gave him a worried stare.
"No curses. Merely a first time Animagus transformation."
"Oh... Yeah!" Harry's eyes lit up. "I'm like Dad or Sirius or McGonagall." The smile left his face as abruptly as it'd arrived. He turned a pleading look Snape's way. "I want to turn back."
What if I help him turn back, and he wants to stay that way forever?
"It's all so weird," Harry continued. "Your hands. They were so different. They used to wrap all around me like a nest, a really warm one. They're still hands, I reckon, but now they're human - no, I'm human - and they're yours and you're Snape and now names matter again and..." Harry gulped, "I just want to go home!"
"What... where's 'home'?"
Harry closed his eyes and sat on the bed, curling himself into a ball. He leaned forward, nose pressing Snape's knuckles, and sighed. "Nowhere now. I keep forgetting. It's just... hard. Not to remember."
Snape shifted closer, settling onto the bed beside Harry. "Here was home, wasn't it?" Or I was. "Well, you're still here." I'm still here.
"But I'm not..." Harry glanced up. "You're my size." Harry wavered. "I mean... Your hands don't surround me anymore, and your face isn't all the way up in the sky and you rumble but not like thunder. You're you now and you're not all around me, you're just here. It's all so different... and so bloody hard."
"Different isn't always bad, though. Is it?"
"Maybe not." Harry grabbed Snape's hand and nuzzled against his fingers, like a bird thoroughly cleaning his beak and his head. It seemed to wipe the worst of the worry off his features. His hair brushed against Snape's palm, like feathers.
Snape tried not to worry in turn about how odd the gesture seemed on a human Harry. Instead, he murmured, "Some things don't change." A tiny, reminiscent smile quirked one corner of thin lips. "You still tickle."
Harry glanced up, and only then did his instincts take a back seat to human common sense. "Oh. I'm a complete nutter. I'm... I didn't think."
"It's all right." Fingertips sifted gently through Harry's hair. "There's a time and a place for everything."
"Even here and now?"
"Especially here and now." One hand slipped down Harry's back, rubbing long, slow strokes.
"Oh!" Harry blinked and held absolutely still for a moment, then his posture sagged as tension eased out of him.
"You're home, Featherbrain. Relax. Rest."
Harry gave a quiet hum of content. "Thank you." He inched closer to Snape, taking over any space still left between them, before sighing happily. "Yeah. S'good."
Snape ran his hand through Harry's hair, soft as feathers, and gave a small sigh. In that moment he was as content, in his own quiet way, as he had been for the past dark decade.
Harry mumbled into Snape's un-Marked forearm, "Stay. S'nice."
"I'm not going anywhere." Apparently Harry hadn't remembered yet that he'd taken over Snape's bed.
With Harry's head tucked under his chin, Snape's face was hidden from view. That was what allowed him to let some of the joy he was feeling onto his face. It was almost too incredible to imagine, but it was true.
This changes everything! Perhaps there's hope now of another way to win, another fate for me, besides a suicidal attempt at assasination. Perhaps I might not end up a failure, murdered like Longbottom. At the very least, it's worth a few days' wait, to think it through.
It's been so long that I'd forgotten: surprises aren't always unpleasant. Sometimes, rarely, they can be wonderful. Even for me.
It was a while before Harry shifted from that comfortable huddle, but eventually his restless energy returned. He lifted his head and leaned back to meet Snape's eyes, and his expression was sombre.
"I saw what happened, in your memories. That duel. He... I didn't kill him, did I? Not for good."
Snape shook his head mutely. The words stuck in his throat, a painful lump.
"He came back, didn't he? He won." Harry fixed Snape with a Killing Curse stare. "How bad is it?" he gritted out. "Tell me!"
Snape swallowed. "He fused with the last Horcrux, Nagini, became a monstrous... hybrid." His voice was toneless as he strove for detachment from the horrors that made up his life beyond these rooms. "The defenders who weren't routed by the mere sight of him, fled after Longbottom attacked him with the Sword of Gryffindor, and he killed the boy before he could land a single blow." He hastened to add, "In a way, it was fortunate they fled; it meant they weren't massacred in open battle. They've done a good job of going into hiding; there hasn't been solid news of any of the Order members since then. I can only guess they've changed tactics to guerrilla warfare. In their position, it's what I'd do."
"But you don't know."
"I can't. There's no way left for me to contact them. They'd never trust my Patronus again."
Harry nodded, lowering his head. Dejection filled every line of his body.
There was something so wrong with the sight of that stubborn young man in despair that it prompted Snape to add, "But now that you're back to yourself again, we've finally got a hope."
Instead of the consolation Snape had intended, those words were like sparks to a fuse. Harry's head whipped up and he stared at Snape. His eyes were so wide, his expression so naked. "Hope," he breathed, soft, shocked. Snape didn't need Legilimency to see the memories, the terror, come crashing back in on Harry. "How can you SAY that?" Harry cried abruptly, his voice raw with outrage. "You and your talk and your hands and your bloody hope! What the hell does it matter if I'm human again, when I lost!" Harry clutched at Snape's shoulders. "He survived and he won and it's all gone to hell and how" - his breath caught harshly, half pant, half sob - "the fuck" - hard hands shook Snape - "can you stand to talk about HOPE?" - another shake, so hard the back of Snape's skull hit the wall - "Tell me!"
Snape wrapped his hands around Harry's wrists, arresting his hands mid-shake. "The Horcruxes are destroyed," he said in a quiet, biting voice, as he lifted a hand, brushed his fingertips across the now-faded scar on Harry's brow. "Your last duel destroyed not only Nagini, but also the one in you." Snape leaned down a little, just enough that they were nose-to-nose. "And you too survived." He paused, his stare never wavering. "Despair's easy," he concluded flatly, "easy and useless."
Harry glared at him. His eyes were bloodshot, just as bad as Snape knew his own were. That glare didn't waver, even through the deep, weary sigh that followed. "Don't you ever get sick of being useful?" Harry asked just as flatly. "Of being used?" He drew an unsteady breath, shaking his head, or perhaps it was a full-body shiver.
"Every day. Since before you were born." Snape replied in tones as dry as dust. "But what the hell do my feelings matter," he sneered, "when our world hangs in the balance?"
Harry stared right through Snape. His unfocused eyes made him look lost, adrift. At last, his gaze returned to Snape's face, and he gave a single, slow nod of acknowledgement as his fists finally unclenched from Snape's shoulders. "Didn't mean to come at you like that. Didn't want to hurt you," He gave a snort, too sarcastic for a sob, and muttered to himself, "Dunno what I want anymore." He bowed his head and leaned in, and the last words were a whisper against Snape's chest. "Dunno what to do."
"Live," Snape breathed, so low that if they hadn't been standing face to face, Harry never would've heard it. "Do that," he put all the considerable intensity of which he was capable into the words, "want it," his fingers tightened in a momentary squeeze around Harry's warm wrists, "and other wants will follow."
Harry was silent, and in the quiet, broken only by their breathing, Snape saw how very telling Harry's eyes could be, even without a word or a spell passing between them.
Harry sneaked into Snape's shadowed study, lit only by one midnight-oil lamp. He fumbled with the door in the dark, narrowly avoiding a collision with a shelf full of dried amphibian parts. For a while he watched from the shadows as Snape wrote at the desk, before he worked himself up to speak. "Um... m'sorry." He shuffled closer. "It's not your fault it's all gone to hell. It's not anyone's, 'cept that bastard's."
Snape lifted his head when Harry spoke. The lamplight picked out the scattered threads of grey in his hair. The soft glow gilded his skin, while mercilessly emphasising the shadowed hollows at eye and cheek. When Harry fell silent, Snape let the hush stay undisturbed for a long moment, before bowing his head, this time in a stately gesture of acknowledgement. "Thank you, Harry," he husked. The sudden creak of the other chair was startlingly loud as it slid across the floor away from the desk, turning itself toward Harry. "Tea?" Snape murmured, picking up a quill, ostensibly going back to his writing.
It was an unexpected question, and Harry's face reflected the fact, as if Snape had asked about the properties of mercury under a full moon. Then, after a moment thinking it over, Harry nodded and climbed onto the chair, perching on its seat with his feet on the edge and his knees drawn up. It was an odd pose for a man, but not so odd for a bird. He picked up the cup closest to him, looked inside it, contemplating something, and snorted abruptly. Only then did he glance up from the cup. "I'm sure I've nested inside this one. Twice at least." He picked a single scrap of fluff from the rim, then smiled, moving his cup forward. "Yeah, tea. Why not?"
Snape hmphed: the dryly amused sound blew the feather off Harry's fingertip. "Now that you're back to your old self - more or less -" he added with a pointed stare at Harry's odd posture, "a simple Scourgify shouldn't be beyond you." He pulled his own wand out of his sleeve, tapped an empty cauldron sitting on the desk, and cast Aguamenti-Relashio-Accio-tealeaves with the rapidity of decades of practice.
Harry wiggled, settling in. "Your cups are loads more comfortable than your chairs."
Snape gave him the Eyebrow.
"Don't look at me like that! You leave toad spit and shrivelfigs in your cups. I just sat in one for a while." Harry scritch-scratched the top of his own head as if expecting to ruffle feathers, and added like the petulant brat he was, "Didn't even moult... Much."
"I suppose I should be thankful you didn't turn into a hen," Snape smirked as he poured tea, first into Harry's cup then his own. "My morning cuppa wouldn't've been improved by adding eggs."
Harry shuddered at that idea, and hugged the cup in front of him, as if it were a shield. "When I first heard about them, I thought Snidgets hatched out of Snitches." He gave a sheepish grin, and added, "Well, it made about as much sense as most of the Wizarding world did at the time."
"So that's what that Snitch was for, you were trying to test that ridiculous theory?" Snape held out his hand and murmured, "Accio Snitch," and a drawer full of odds and ends opened, releasing a metallic blur that slapped into Snape's palm. He held it out to Harry: a battered old Snitch, the walnut-sized ball cracked open, like an empty eggshell.
Harry reached for it, setting his tea aside, and held the broken Snitch to his lips, as if trying to warm it with his breath. "I open at the close," he murmured softly against it. He glanced up at Snape. "Dumbledore wrote that. He left it to me. And now it's open." He traced the cracked edges of the half-shells. "Was there anything inside?"
Snape looked startled at the news of Dumbledore's message. "Not that I ever saw," he replied in uncertain tones, "but when I found it - in your robe ...afterwards," he added quietly, "it had already opened."
"Maybe that's why I survived. Maybe it held something that helped me. When I had nothing else left. A second chance. Anyway, we'll never know now."
"Perhaps." Snape studied the cracked open shell of the Snitch. "It's a pity Dumbledore never gave me a gift like that. I need all the help I can get."
"Well, you've got me," Harry grinned, but above the smile his eyes were serious. "Reckon I've gotta be good for something."
The corner of Snape's lip quirked, despite himself. "You mean, besides drinking my nectar?"
Harry nodded, and his grin brightened at the teasing. "That, and your tea." He raised his cup in toast, and Snape ceremonially clinked his own cup against it.
Renewed hope kept Snape in the lab the entire following day, formulating the poison with twice the effort, twice the dedication. He'd been brewing solidly for hours when at last his attention was dragged away from his work by the sound of the brat singing "Li-be-ra..."
"Don't. Even. Think about it," Snape interrupted in a snarl, "or you can damn well clean up the mess yourself this time, and re-Levicorpus every bloody bone!"
Harry's grin was quite undimmed. "M'starved," he informed Snape breezily. "What's for dinner?"
Snape replied with an evil smirk and a nod at the flask he'd taken to leaving out on his workbench.
Harry glanced at the flask and laughed, recognising the nectar. "I'd still drink that. Got a pint or two of it?"
"I can just imagine you bouncing about, high on sugar." Snape shuddered at the thought. Speaking of the nectar reminded Snape, and he added, "By the way, how did that stuff taste?"
"Brilliant." Harry licked his lips. "Sunny."
"'Sunny'?" Snape quoted, in tones tart with disbelief.
The brat beamed and shrugged. "All yellow and warm. Like dandelions, I reckon."
"I knew it!" Snape scowled as he pulled on his cloak, preparing to go to the kitchen in person, rather than allowing a house-elf in his rooms, now that Harry was here. "Sodding apothecary swore blind that was rose nectar. And charged me for it! Thieving bugger'll be lucky to be the same phylum when I'm through with him."
Snape peered at Harry over the upper edge of the book in his hand. "Had you left Hogwarts with the ability to read, you'd see it's Care, Feeding, and Breeding of Golden Snidgets." It was really an obscure Latin reference work on toxicology, but far be it from Snape to let the truth get in the way of a quick dig.
The little sod grinned, but didn't take the book off Snape, just plopped down at his feet and looked up. "Mmm, go on, since you started reading it already."
Snape set the book down on his lap this time instead of holding it up as a screen, idly turning pages. He draped his other hand over the armrest of the chair, thin fingers stroking delicately at Harry's hair: first trying vainly to smooth it down, then ruffling it up. "Did you know," he murmured, "this mop of yours would provide the ideal nest. Shame on you, depriving some poor bird of a happy home."
Harry rested his forehead against Snape's knee and nudged his hand every time Snape slowed down. "Mmm. S'all part of the plan. If I kept it this way, there was more chance of someone mistaking it for the tail end of a broom on the pitch." He sighed happily as Snape kept stroking. "Less chance of Bludgers coming my way."
That surprised a chuckle from Snape, a close-mouthed beat of sound, deep in his chest. He pushed the full length of his fingers into the thickest tufts, his palm cupping the curve of Harry's skull. "Bludger camouflage." He shook his head, snorting with amusement. "Only you would think of such a thing. At least now I know the deep dark secret behind all those match wins of yours."
Snape slipped his hand lower, fingertips kneading and pressing lightly, idly, at the cords of muscle running down into Harry's nape until those bright eyes grew heavy-lidded and peaceful. The brat draped his upper half of the body, boneless, against Snape's knees, and gave a hum of drowsy delight.
Snape leaned forward, sliding his hand down Harry's shoulder. "You sound like you're about to sleep where you sit. I assure you, beds are better than carpets."
Harry's eyes flew open. "M'awake. And here's good. Anywhere's good, s'long as you keep doing that."
"Anywhere, hm?" Snape set his book aside and tugged at the brat, guiding him to lean his back against the front edge of the armchair, so that his shoulders pushed Snape's knees apart. From the improved vantage, Snape brought both hands to bear, fingertips stroking and kneading the fan of sinews joining Harry's neck and shoulders. "Deceptive little devil, aren't you?" he murmured approvingly. "You manage to hide quite a bit of muscle behind that mop-topped boy facade of yours. How the hell did you develop trapezoids like these," a firmer squeeze of his fingers, "by flailing about on a broom?"
"Not flailing, flying! And not just on a broom." Harry flapped his arms as if they were wings, then draped his arms over Snape's knees in his own version of an armchair. At a particularly firm squeeze, he groaned and arched his back. "Ohyeah." His eyes eased closed, and every incoherent moan communicated bliss.
Snape contemplated the untameable mop of hair before him. A curl poked out of the very top. He twisted it round his finger. "If I could bottle what keeps this sticking up, I'd outsell Sleekeazy with my first batch."
Harry didn't reply, unless you counted that huff of a chuckle. Instead his shoulder twitched and he nudged Snape's hand for more attention.
Demanding sod. Better not encourage that. Snape lifted his hands from Harry's shoulders and opened his book again. "Buggered if I'm going to keep stretching my arms out, just to get the knots out of your back." I bet your back pain at its worst isn't a patch on mine.
Harry twisted round. "Oh, OK then. Want me closer then?"
Snape considered. "Depends..."
"Oh? On what?"
"How close do you want to get?" Snape parried with his best 'keep your distance or I'll bite your head off' sneer.
But Harry just beamed. "How close do you want me?"
'Closer,' Snape almost said, 'I want you as close as you can come.' But he held his tongue. The last thing Harry needs are hormones overriding what little reasoning power he has. He pretended to return to his reading, hoping to pass off as pure absentmindedness the way his hand stayed resting on Harry's head. But he dared not check Harry's mind, or even his expression, to see how well - or even whether - his ruse had succeeded.
That night, when Snape headed for bed, Harry automatically followed. When he finally realised where they were going, he froze in the bedroom doorway. "Er," he said, then, "um," and finally managed to state the obvious about the bed he'd occupied for a good twenty-four hours already. "That's your bed."
Snape arched his eyebrow. "So?" Here's where the brat makes his excuses. Did I really expect him to keep following?
Harry adjusted his glasses, ran his hand through his hair. "So... WheredoIsleepnow?"
Snape kept his face carefully blank, not showing the disappointment he told himself he wasn't feeling. "You won't be sleeping anywhere," he declared crisply. "I'd rather not be discovered with a Boy Who Lived in my quarters, if the Dark Lord decides to slither in for a chat in the middle of the night. However," he spoke the word loudly to forestall Harry's protests, "should your slightly more featherbrained form wish to spend the night, my headboard is still there, as always."
Harry grinned and forced his voice into a low-pitched parody of Snape's deep tones, "Paranoid git."
Snape didn't dignify that with a response. He simply turned on his heel and headed for the bathroom. When he emerged, wearing his usual nightshirt, Harry was still standing there. Snape stared at him in disbelief.
"Stop watching me!" Harry cried. "I can't do it with you glaring."
Snape hmphed and stared pointedly at the wall.
"You're still watching!"
"I am not."
"Yes you are!"
"Oh, for Salazar's sake-"
"Just tell me!" Harry's whole body was tense and he was frowning with the most comically determined look on his face, as if he was about to do something completely mad, like lay an egg. "How do I turn back?"
Snape took a deep breath. "Here's the hard part. You concentrate."
Harry rolled up his sleeves. Snape's robe was too large on him; the hem reached almost to the ground. "When I first changed back, nothing felt right. Bloody frustrating, it was," Harry admitted. "'Til your hands helped me remember the rest."
Snape laid his hands on Harry's shoulders, gripping them firmly. "Harry," he growled as he leaned in, sliding his fingertips up into Harry's unruly, dark mane. "I think my hands can help you again."
Harry's gaze snapped up to meet his. He gulped. "Really?" The word emerged as a squeak.
"Really," Snape purred. "My hands," he explained in a crescendo, "are going to give you such a clip in the ear if you don't stop talking and start transforming!"
"I'm trying!" Harry cried. "S'not working!" After another thirty seconds of earnestly attempting to get in touch with his inner animal Harry gave a rather primal growl. "Told you it wouldn't work. There's got to be something else. A spell or a potion, or anything!"
Snape eyed Harry critically. "Take that robe of mine off."
"It won't help you any, unless you're planning on turning into a vulture this time." When Harry hesitated, Snape added impatiently, "It's alien to you. Distracting." He pointedly eyed Harry up and down. "Unless you're shy, then just think of it as incentive to clothe yourself in feathers."
Harry's mouth snapped closed. The shock dissolved into grumpiness. He shrugged out of the robe, movements jerky with annoyance, and dropped it in a heap of black fabric. "Is that the best you can come up with?" he grumbled, trying futilely to brush dirt out of his jeans. "I don't see how it'll help me turn back." He folded his arms defensively over his singed, torn T-shirt, as one dark eyebrow rose in a passable imitation of Snape's own expression. "What'm I s'posed to do now? Chirp?"
Snape allowed himself the luxury of a dramatic eyeroll-and-sigh, before replying. "If necessary, though first you might want to put yourself in the frame of mind of a Snidget. Think back. Remember how it felt, to be so small." He extended one hand in an elegant sweeping gesture. "I recall you had no qualms whatsoever about treating my palm as your nest."
Harry hmphed. "It was not! It was a perch!" He glanced at Snape's hand, mumbling, "I think it was, anyway." With that he started pacing back and forth, with an added bounce to his step. "'Think like a Snidget'... Easy for you to say! Normal people catch a Snitch, they don't have to become one, and this is still not working!"
"Not a Snitch, dammit, a Snidget! No wonder you're having problems! There's all the difference in the world between an enchanted ball of gold, and a living - andmaybe even thinking - being."
Harry spun around, hands clenched into fists. "Well, I know more about a Snitch than a Snidget. How'm I supposed to pretend to be one if I don't even know what I looked like?"
It was just Snape's luck that the quickest, most complete way to answer that question was also the most ...discomfiting. Unfortunately, it really was the most efficient solution, so with a sigh and an air of vast and tragic put-upon-ness, he leaned down, meeting Harry's gaze directly, and muttered, "Come and see."
Harry blinked but stepped closer. "Come where?"
Snape carefully lowered his mental shields and allowed himself to look through the round lenses. On the other side of those glasses, green eyes blinked, now real and alive, no longer merely remembered or mourned. "Come here," Snape invited, drawing Harry's startled stare in, letting his memories rise to the surface of his mind, swirling like a Pensieve. Offering them up, as he had done to explain his allegiance, when Harry had just transformed.
Harry finally understood what Snape had invited him to do, and dove in. Curiosity gave his Legilimency an edge his Occlumency sorely lacked, but at least he took much more care with Snape's mind than he had with Snape's Pensieve. Out of the darkness, Snape picked out the brightest memories, and unfurled them one by one. A bundle of fluff and impudence, raiding Snape's pillow for feathers to line a nest. Chirpy comments as Snape worked, falling ceaseless as rain from the perch at the crown of his head. A trill of scolding when Snape sliced his thumb, followed at once by a song that erased the wound. A ball of warmth and downy fluff, trusting Snape enough to settle down in the middle of his chest, and sleep.
"Whoa." Harry stumbled backward as the mental contact broke, and a silly grin spread across his face. "Can'tbelieveIdidthat." He shook his head, his hair as ruffled as the Snidget's feathers had been, his eyes bright. "Can't believe you let me."
Moving on sheer instinct, Snape lifted his hand. His fingers slipped into Harry's hair and his palm curved to cup Harry skull, with all the delicacy that same hand had once used to cradle a tiny, fragile bird. "Believe it," he murmured, low and intense. "When have I ever lied to you?"
Harry closed his eyes and leaned back into Snape's hand. Imagining, no, remembering it: warm and welcoming and protective, just like this. Soon enough, only that one contact mattered, only that touch existed, cradling and supporting Harry's entire self... the hand rocked gently and the feeling was strange but still familiar and Snape's breath came much stronger now, warm gusts of air and Harry wanted to ask what was so exciting that made Snape's breath hitch, but then he opened his eyes and all that came out was a squeak.
It took all the sang-froid that came from a lifetime of spying to witness all of this, and go with it, react to it, instead of just being lost in the sight. Harry, closing his eyes in a moment of perfect trust. The small smile blooming on his lips as he leaned back into the caress of Snape's hand. The golden glow that radiated suddenly from him, as if that trust had transformed into a visible thing. And then, the gold brightening, the head cupped in his hand dwindling along with the body, as hair became feathers, and the rapid beat of Snape's heart was echoed back at a doubled speed, by the tiny bird nestling in his palm, as green-gleaming eyes blinked and the little beak opened in a surprised "Eep!"
"You did it!" Snape breathed, carrying the Snidget into the bathroom, standing with him before the mirror. "You did it! Look."
The Snidget ruffled his feathers, cheekily pecking his reflection, as if to say, 'This dungeon ain't big enough for the both of us!'
This time the Animagum restituo worked right away. The Snidget's shape expanded, lit with a golden glow, and then a human Harry stood before him. He shrugged and picked a single yellow feather off his shoulder.
"Featherbrain," Snape hmphed.
Harry grinned and blew it against Snape's face.
Snape scooped it out of midair, twirled it in his fingers before reaching out to tuck it in Harry's fringe. "I believe you've lost your mind," he smirked. "Have some back."
Harry shook his head, ruffling hair instead of feathers for once, and chuckled. He leaned forward to nudge Snape's hand with his forehead, like a stubborn bird wanting a warm palm to nest in. "I'll remember that next time I moult." From under his tousled fringe, Harry threw a wicked glance at the bed. "You'll find more feathers round here than inside your pillowcases."
"Some things never change," Snape smirked. "Whatever your species, you're always a brat."
Harry snorted. "Oi, just for that I won't wait. I can always peck apart your pillowcases while you sleep."
Snape climbed into bed. "I'd like to see you try." He stretched out in an elaborate display of unconcern, waving one arm at the headboard, and the feather-lined curl of the carved snake.
Harry closed his eyes and scrunched up his face in concentration. After a moment he opened one eye a slit. "You're looking."
Snape heaved the sort of sigh that was a comment in itself, and rolled over, putting his back to Harry.
Glasses clattered to the floor and a golden blur flew past Snape and to the carving lined with goose feathers. The Snidget puffed out his feathers and snuggled down, getting comfortable.
"About time," Snape drawled. "Good night."
The Snidget didn't respond. Perhaps time travelled faster for something as hyperactive as a Snidget, maybe even enough time that he'd already fallen asleep.Lucky sod.
It took Snape much longer to fall asleep. He kept glancing up at the headboard. Harry's inside that tiny ball of fluff. A young man with Lily's eyes, and a mind as unruly as his hair. Harry, who trusts me to watch over him as he sleeps... Who might even watch over me as I sleep. Snape frowned a bit, Though how could I know if he did? Bloody disconcerting idea, anyway.
Later that night, Snape jerked awake at the sound of movement, his hand already on his wand. But the invader turned out to be Harry, sitting on the side of the bed, looking rather lost.
Snape was about to ask him what he was doing, about to invite him to do something beyond any sense or reason, but Harry just gazed sadly at him and reached out, resting his palm on Snape's shoulder, soft and light.
"Night," he said. And then he was a bird once more.
But instead of darting back to his featherlined nest, the Snidget landed on the pillow by Snape's head, as close as he could come. He settled down, pecked at the pillowcase in hopes of stealing a feather. From there he hopped onto Snape's shoulder and from there to the slight hollow in the middle of his chest. He peered up, bright-eyed, at Snape, then bounced in place a few times, as if testing whether Snape's chest passed muster as a mattress, before puffing out his feathers and settling in for the night.
The quiet chuckle in Snape's chest might have been a bit like an earthquake to him. Or perhaps it just rocked him to sleep. Snape's eyes grew heavy-lidded as rare relaxation blanketed his body. "Get some sleep, imp," he murmured drowsily. Then there was silence, except for the slow sea-swell of his breathing, and beneath it, the steady drum of his heart.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
What the hell? Has the dungeon ceiling started to seep?
"Argh, soddingmpht..." Snape cracked one eyelid almost audibly open. Bright green eyes stared.
Snape stuck his head under the pillow. Foof! Feathers spouted from the punctured pillowcase. "Gerroffoutofit. Lemmesleeepyabarstid."
The sense of deja vu was overwhelming, until a hand plucked a goose feather from his hair. That was new.
Snape jerked the half-empty pillowcase off his head with an even bigger FOOF and peered up, bleary-eyed, at Harry.
Harry was leaning over him - hair dripping wet from the shower, and with Snape's towel around his waist - and grinning like a Cornish pixie. "Morning!"
"Clothes, Potter?" Snape rasped. "Ever heard of them?"
The imp just laughed and bounced off the bed before bending down to pick up his shirt off the floor.
Snape couldn't tear his eyes away from the sight. He let his head fall back with a thump and a new burst of feathers from the ex-pillow. Any more of this and the brat will kill me!
Snape covered for the awkward moment by clambering stiffly - in more senses than one - out of bed and making for the bathroom himself. Better that than to stay and ogle the tease while he dresses! He ran a bath, as hot as he could stand it, and stretched out to soak, staring absently up at the ventilation duct, now thoroughly sealed and warded against any further intrusions. Of course, my wards won't hold for more than a few minutes against an all-out assault by the Dark Lord, but they can't be broken without alerting me. At least they're an effective early warning system, and if everything goes to shit, they'll buy me enough time to get Harry to transform and get him out of here.
Snape closed his eyes and tried not to think about all the ways his plan could go wrong. He stretched out in the bath and tried to relax. Instead, he heard the bathroom door creak open. "Are my glasses in here? ...Oops!"
Snape shot up to sit, crouching forward onto himself, folding his hands over his lap in reflex. "Don't you ever knock?"
Snape swore inwardly. His instinctive fit of modesty had only bared something even more personal to Potter's no-doubt pruriently fascinated stare.
Sure enough, the brat yelped, "What the fuck is that?"
"Nothing!" He tried to turn his back away from Harry's gaze, but a hand slid onto his shoulder and stayed there, warm against the hard, raised line under the skin of his back. He could hear Harry's breath hiss softly through his teeth, could feel his fingers following the lines of it with a featherlight touch, tracing the hilt in his neck, the guards across his shoulders. The tender touch paused at his waist, and just as well: Snape wouldn't have put up with Harry following the sword blade all the way down his spine.
"Holy fucking hell," Harry breathed, soft with shock.
"You've heard of human shields?" Snape inquired bitterly. "Well I'm a human sheath."
Fingertips brushed the water-heavy hair aside from his nape, circled the lump of the pommel at the base of his skull. "It's... it's the Sword of Gryffindor, isn't it?"
"Not anymore," Snape replied sharply, fighting the discomfort of being under someone else's scrutiny, or worse yet, pity. "Now it's the Dark Lord's favourite trophy. Given into his most trusted lieutenant's personal care." He hacked out a harsh laugh. "I think he actually intended it as a reward. A sign of his regard."
Harry was silent for a long time, but Snape didn't glance over his shoulder. If there was revulsion or horror in Harry's expression, Snape didn't want to know it; he especially didn't want to know if it was directed at him. Whatever Harry felt, at least his hands never moved away. As Snape spoke, they began rubbing: not tracing the shape anymore, but simple, gentle touching. Warmth spread from the contact, counteracting the constant alien, metallic chill. It was almost a backrub. Perhaps it was repayment for his idle petting of Harry the other day. Whatever Harry's reasons, it didn't feel like pity. Snape didn't know how to react to it.
"Does it hurt?"
"What do you think?" Snape snapped back.
"Oh." The touch lifted away. "Sorry!"
"Don't be absurd," Snape grumbled, "If you were hurting me, I'd've hexed you before now."
At last Harry's touch returned, gentler. "Still, I reckon it can't be too comfortable."
Snape shrugged, twitching his guarded shoulders in a guarded gesture. "Let's just call it an incitement to good posture."
Harry sucked in air. "Fucking bastard! No wait, I didn't mean you! Lemme..." He kneaded Snape's shoulders. It felt far too good.
"Sometimes it's even useful. Like now. If I didn't have that 'incitement', I'd be relaxed enough to be a complete slob."
"Yeah right. M'having a hard time picturing you relaxed."
Snape hmphed. "Sarcasm's a closed book to you, isn't it? Just like the dictionary."
"Oi, I've got loads of sarcasm," Harry drawled in a poor attempt at Snape's lecture voice, "entire grimoires!"
Snape replied only with an eyeroll, and the sort of sigh that was dredged up from one's boots. "Stop slacking off," he rolled his shoulders in an entirely unsubtle hint, "I didn't tell you to stop."
Harry didn't even hmph too loudly in protest, as his fingers dug right into a coiled knot of muscle in Snape's shoulder. "Got it!"
Snape hissed, not quite sure if in relief or agony. "Easy! You're not chasing a Snitch up and down my back..."
"Ha. Not quite." Harry chuckled.
"Am I so amusing?"
"Hmm, no. Not at all."
"Potter..." Snape growled.
"M'not chasing a Snitch. I'm chasing you!"
Apparently he wasn't planning on letting Snape get away either, because he pounced and dove right into the bath, without even pausing to get rid of his borrowed robe.
Bathwater sloshed over the edge; Snape was pushed off balance. "What the bloody hell d'you think you're doing, you daft little sod?" He spluttered and slithered in the soap-slippery water, scrabbling for purchase on the slick sides of the tub. And then Harry confirmed exactly what the bloody hell he thought he was doing, by the most direct and unsubtle and thoroughly Gryffindor manner: he lunged, reaching for Snape, holding on tight. Snape's hands closed on fistfuls of wet fabric, just to stop himself from sliding under. It was his own fault for getting such a large tub, and it was pure accident the wet robe slid off Harry's body. But it was much less of a nuisance to get that lot out; it wasn't as though the bath was so big it could take the two of them and a pile of wet robes. And anyway, what the hell was the point of wearing clothes in the bath? You were supposed to be naked in a bath anyway, it was only proper...
Only this was anything but proper. Harry, the impetuous brat, leaned over him, straddling him, and the stare Harry gave him was an impossibility in itself: incredibly tender. Harry's eager touch warmed Snape more than any bathwater could. Heat seeped down to his bones, to the sword at his back, and at last the metal hardness at his spine was secondary to the hardness and heat that gathered at his groin, and the answering heat of Harry. He needed that heat like breathing. It was proof that Harry was alive, that Snape was alive: not a scarecrow, not a crucifix. Not dead yet. He ran his hands from Harry's shoulders down his back. Over and over, kneading the muscles, stroking skin untouched by eerie, metallic hardness, undisfigured by unnatural shapes submerged skin-deep.
Harry leaned in. His lips were wet, warm. Snape's hands slid on naked skin - hot, everything was so hot - yet he shivered in anticipation of Harry's touch.
"Yes?" Harry breathed. A question, or perhaps an answer to every question. How could Snape not agree?
Snape was just leaning in to give Harry an unmistakable, unspoken 'Yes' in reply, when he felt his spine crawl, as an icy prickle spilled down the blade buried in his flesh.
The Dark Lord. Not trying to break through the wards, not even close enough to have sensed them. Somewhere out there, in the pipes. In the dark.
Snape froze, staring up at the sealed-off ventilation duct for one horrible, endless moment, and the next moment he was out of the bath, pulling Harry out of the tub after him, clapping a hand on his mouth when he started to ask "Wha...", and bodily dragging him from the room.
In his bedroom - which lacked pipes or ducts of any kind - he stuck his face in the cooling mop of Harry's wet hair, and whispered to him, of serpentine monsters slithering through the pipes. He felt Harry's answering shiver, and knew it wasn't due to the chill air on his wet skin.
"Transform!" Snape whispered when he was sure Harry understood the danger. "It's the best way to hide."
Harry darted in for a brief, pecking kiss, then in a blur of gold he shrank to a tiny ball of fluff, which darted under the covers, hiding inside the hole in Snape's pillowcase.
Snape dried himself and dressed. He couldn't bring himself to leave the bedroom. Instead he sat on the edge of the bed, listening for non-existent sounds in the walls. Turning possibilities over in his mind. But he knew there was no choice. I have to get Harry out of here. Today. For his own safety. Soon it'll be breakfast time, and the Dark Lord sleeps after that. That'll be our best chance. Harry can leave the castle grounds through the Forest; the wards there aren't built to keep animals in. He can get out that way. He'll be free.
That last thought was all Snape could focus on. He repeated it in his head, like a mantra. Like an Unbreakable Vow.
Time to get it all over with. All over. It's all over. The thought echoed in Snape's mind, monotonous as the near-noiseless tread of his boots in the sodden leaf-litter of the Forest floor. In recent weeks, he'd made countless forays into the Forest just like this, searching for potion ingredients; he knew one more trip would attract no notice. Even the sharpest eye would hardly notice a walnut-sized ball of fluff, tucked between his collar and the thick fall of his hair, and Disillusioned besides.
For the first time, Snape was thankful Harry wasn't exceptionally gifted at potions. If he'd realised what I'm brewing, if he found out about my plan, I'd never be able to get him to safety. His hero complex would make him insist on staying, and throwing his life away. No, he's tried to kill the Dark Lord once already. At least Harry managed to use up the last Horcruxes, but now it's time for a more subtle approach. And my life's a damn small price to pay.
At last, he paused in a clearing on the very edge of Hogwarts' wards. As its Headmaster, he was uniquely sensitive to their strengths and weaknesses; the wards were thin here. They would present no barrier to the Forest's creatures, especially not to one as tiny as a Snidget. He leaned against an ivy-shrouded old oak, using the mass of greenery and the drape of his cloak to conceal the shimmer and blur of movement. The next moment, the bird on his shoulder had been replaced by someone all too human, leaning his head on Snape's shoulder.
Snape was weak enough to allow it for a few aching moments, then he turned to face Harry, gazing intently into his eyes, gauging his resolve. "You have to leave," Snape told him, low and level.
As Snape began to move, Harry sighed and held on tightly for a long painful second. Then he allowed Snape to back away just far enough to make eye contact, and nodded.
Snape made sure the glasses were balanced on Harry's nose. Brushed at his hair, in a futile attempt to bring some order to that irrepressible mop.
"Yes," Snape managed to choke out. How hard it was to say one simple word.
"But I don't want to lea-"
"It's vital that you get away," Snape interrupted. "Not just for your own safety," he added over Harry's instant objections. "You're my only hope of getting word out. I need you to find the Resistance. If they exist." Snape winced. "Tell them about Dumbledore. Tell them I'm on their side, that I'll do whatever I can against the Dark Lord."
"'Course they exist," Harry said firmly. "As long as anyone from the Order's alive. Hell, them or anyone who misses life without that snake-arsed bastard." Harry bared his teeth in an insolent grimace at the thought of Voldemort, but soon enough his attention returned to Snape, and his expression changed to a cheeky grin. "I'll tell 'em you're with us, count on it. If I have to, I'll Immobulus the lot of 'em, 'til they finally see reason." He clapped Snape on the shoulder. "See you soon."
Snape froze. "Wait!"
Harry turned around. "Hmm?"
Snape stepped forward, unsure of what this strange breed of heroic, Gryffindor creatures expected before being sent to face an uncertain future. He reached out, ever so carefully, and rested his hands on Harry's shoulders. "Good luck," he said.
Harry smiled, pulling Snape down into a strong hug. "Thank you. For everything."
Snape blinked; but the next moment his stare sharpened. That's it: he's saying his fond farewells. We'll see about that! "Oh, stop that this instant," Snape replied briskly. "You sound like you're ghostwriting your own obituary, which coming from someone your age is positively ludicrous. I assure you, Mister Potter," he declared in his best classroom voice, "you'll have many long decades yet to look back on this moment and be heartily embarrassed at yourself."
Already Harry's grin looked more than a bit sheepish.
Harry nodded, then his smile faded altogether. "D'you remember what you told me once, to live?" Harry's gaze was sombre. "Well, I want to. I plan to."
Once, years ago, Snape had seen Harry as a petulant child, and then he had seen Harry as an eager if dangerously hopeless pupil, but he'd never seen Harry like this before: serious, yet awkwardly tense. He regarded Harry levelly and replied, one man to another, "Good. See that you do."
Harry nodded. "So. After this is all over, I, er. I want to ask you something."
Snape tilted his head and let the familiar mocking smirk return to his lips. "Really?" he drawled in his driest voice. "What question could possibly be so terrible that it overcomes that legendary Gryffindor courage?"
Harry ran a hand through his mop of hair. "S'not terrible, or scary. It's just something..." a brief flash of a smile "...something I'm really looking forward to. So when I do ask it, promise you'll listen, and at least try not to laugh at me."
Snape laced bony fingers in front of him. His expression was so much the picture of concerned attention that, on him, it smacked ever so subtly of parody. "I shall listen," he declared deadpan, "every bit as intently as I always do."
Harry gaped. A flush crept up his neck; even his hair bristled. "That's... you... Argh! I give up!" He threw his hands up in the air, and gave a tense burst of laughter. "Y'know, Voldemort's a picnic compared to this!"
"In that case," Snape spread his hands in a 'ta-da' gesture, "my work is done." He'd hoped that the familiar repartee would bring the brat out of his shell once more.
Harry grinned at the teasing. His hand froze mid-reach and then, after a pause, patted Snape on the shoulder, every bit as awkward as if reaching for a venomous snake. "I'll, um. See you later then." He squeezed lightly.
Snape nodded gravely, sending lank hair forward to curtain his face. "Yes." There was the warmth of unspoken longing in his voice, though his face was as impassive as ever. One bony hand lifted, barely resting atop Harry's, just for a moment.
Harry's fingertips stroked Snape's shoulder as he came closer, until they were standing face to face, close enough that Snape could feel the warmth of Harry's body, the humid brush of Harry's breath on his face. And then the last distance between them was gone as Harry leaned up and kissed him, slow and searching.
Snape drew a ragged, shuddering breath through his nose, and his hands came up to cradle Harry's head, fingertips sifting tenderly through that impossible mop of hair. The kiss seemed timeless, a memory Snape knew would help keep him sane in the loneliness to come.
But far from being timeless, it was over all too soon. Harry drew back slowly, and Snape needed no Legilimency to see the promises in his eyes.
Harry gave him one last smile. Then, in a blur of gold and a whirr of wings, he was gone.
Leaving Snape alone, with only his suicidal plan for company. At least, he consoled himself, with Harry safely out of the way I can concentrate completely on the potion, instead of constantly looking over my shoulder and worrying about keeping him undiscovered and unpoisoned.
On the long trek back to the castle, Snape was wrapped up in his thoughts, but not so much so that he missed a stand of Death Cap toadstools. He picked every last one. The perfect finishing touch to the poison. If all goes well, he'll finally eat Death.
With Harry gone, Snape threw himself into his work with an obsessive singlemindedness that verged on monomania, falling into bed only when he was too tired to see straight, rising after only a few hours' unconsciousness, shambling Inferius-like back to the lab without bothering to wash or change. Even a lifelong researcher such as he could not maintain that frenetic pace forever, but he knew his own physical and mental limits intimately, having pushed himself to those limits many times in the past. Thus, only the slightest possible tremor betrayed the intensity of his weariness as he decanted the potion - final in all senses of the word - into his most beautiful phial, a cut-crystal artwork, fit for presentation to the Dark Lord. So far underground, there was no telling night or day, but according to his clock it was almost dinnertime. No time like the present. I'll talk to him over dinner, ask to see him privately afterwards, give it to him then. He wanted the nature of the potion kept secret, and that secretiveness will work in my favour. At least it will mean there are no witnesses.
He bathed and washed his hair, put on his dress robes, with all the deliberation of a warrior armouring himself for battle. Or of a man facing the firing squad.
As usual, the Dark Lord was the last to arrive to dinner. He had barely slithered into his place at the centre of the table, and Snape had just murmured, "My Lord," when Macnair interrupted him. The Scot's brogue rang in the Hall as he Leviosaed a covered serving platter to land on the table before Voldemort. "Some delicate little morsels, my Lord. Freshly Stunned. I just caught them in the Forest. Bon appetit!"
Voldemort lifted the cover off the platter. Arranged on it was a circle of Stunned sparrows, and in the middle was... Snape's heart seemed to stop beating. A Snidget! Harry! His mind raced frantically. Or is it another Snidget? They're rare, so it's probably him. But I told him to find the Resistance, so it's probably not. I can't tell! I can't see his eye colour while he's Stunned...
No time for second thoughts. No time to even draw his wand. With a wandless, wordless Finite Incantatem, Snape broke Macnair's Stunner, and the platter came to life. Sparrows exploded into flight, filling the Hall with the flutter of brown wings and a clamour of terrified squeaks. The Snidget outpaced them all, taking off in a blur. Macnair bolted to his feet and gave an incoherent yell of protest. Snape also stood, drawing his wand and heading for for the clearer space in front of the table, eyes fixed on Macnair the whole time, in case he made a duel of it. Macnair's shouts almost drowned out Voldemort's low, deadly hiss, "What is the meaning of this, Severus?"
"Macnair was offering you an insult, my Lord," Snape seethed, "fobbing off stolen goods on you! That filthy thief stole my familiar!"
"Fascinating," Voldemort hissed slowly. "I don't recall you having a familiar."
Snape drew breath to explain, knowing it would probably sound like the excuse it was: unconvincing to a paranoid like the Dark Lord, perhaps fatally so. But he didn't have to explain after all. He heard a hum of wings at his ear, then felt the familiar grip of near-weightless feet as the Snidget landed on his shoulder, as tame as any familiar. He couldn't look away from the Dark Lord, didn't dare to spare the Snidget a single glance, but the fact that it had returned to corroborate his story proved to Snape that this was no mere bird.
"As you can see, it is my..."
But Voldemort ignored Snape completely. "How very convenient. Accio bird." He caught the Snidget as deftly as any Seeker ever caught a Snitch.
"But my Lord, please..."
"Why is one pest so important to you?" Voldemort mused deliberately, stroking his chin with the hand that wasn't holding the Snidget. "Have you forgotten who your master is?" Languidly Voldemort took his hand from his chin and drew the Elder Wand from his robes. A flick of the wand froze Snape where he stood, and another forced him to his knees, there in the open space before the High Table, in full view of all the Death Eaters. "What is this?" Voldemort held the Snidget upside down by one leg. He stared narrowly as the tiny bird struggled, beak open in a terrified gasp. "...A canary?"
Snape found that, with an intense mental and physical effort, he could just move his mouth and jaws. He choked out, "It's a Snidget, my Lord. Very rare."
Voldemort's spindly shoulders moved in a shrug, "At least it's not a Puffskein."
A ripple of malicious, mocking laughter ran round the Great Hall.
"Well, if it's a Snidget, then in that case, a hundred and fifty points and the match to Slytherin, wouldn't you say?" Voldemort turned to speak to Macnair, waving dismissively at Snape. "It appears Severus has lost sight of his priorities. Take him away, feed him to your beasts for all I care. Anton can continue his research, and I daresay he'll do a better job."
"No, wait, my Lord, I've finished the potion!" Snape cried. "I have it with me, I was about to present it to you!"
For the first time that evening, Snape was the focus of the Dark Lord's absolute, undivided attention. Greed lit those slit-pupilled eyes to a hellish glow, and he aimed the Elder Wand at Snape and cast, "Accio potion!"
Voldemort's avid stare, and those of all the Death Eaters in the Hall, was fixed on a phial of cut crystal as it emerged from Snape's robes and floated toward him.
It was just distraction enough. The Snidget plunged a needle-sharp beak deep into Voldemort's scaly hand, and his grip loosened in an instant of pure reflex, just enough to free the tiny bird. In a whirring gale of speed the bird flew straight for Snape, where he was still frozen, still trapped in a spell that might as well have turned his body to stone. Voldemort snarled at the injury, but his greed delayed his vengeance, kept him reaching to snatch the fragile phial from midair before he took any other action. In that instant the Snidget disappeared in a pulse of golden light, and in his place Harry Potter stood, shielding Snape from Voldemort.
Pandemonium reigned. The Death Eaters were in an uproar, but their attacks were paralysed by Voldemort's scream of, "HE'S MINE! STAY BACK! I'LL KILL HIM MYSELF!" He was in such a towering fury that he didn't even bother to circle the table to get to them; instead he reared up and lunged, the weight of his serpentine lower half splintering the High Table under him. Onward he came, the Elder Wand spitting Avada-green sparks, his fangs dripping venom, jaws agape for blood.
Against this murderous monster, there were only two: Snape, sunken on his knees, as motionless as a man carven from stone. And Harry, in scorched, torn Muggle clothes, without even a wand in his hand. As the towering monstrosity reared over them like a tsunami poised to fall, Harry's hand slid gently up Snape's shoulder and cupped the back of his neck. The head-bowed posture Voldemort had forced on Snape had parted the heavy skeins of hair, baring the thin skin at his nape. The alien shape of the sword handle beneath stood out with cruel clarity.
As Harry's fingertips stroked it with strange tenderness, that vulnerable skin parted, cleanly and without pain. Harry drew the Sword of Gryffindor forth from Snape's flesh in one soaring, silver arc: a movement fluid and beautiful as water leaping in a fountain. The rubies on the hilt flashed like blood, like Voldemort's shocked eyes, as that shining, sweeping arc came to a sudden and very final end, with the sword buried deep in what was left of Voldemort's heart.
The Elder Wand, recognising its new master, slid from Voldemort's nerveless fingers and fell clattering to the floor. In the sudden, absolute silence that filled the Hall, the wand could clearly be heard, rolling along the flagstones until it stopped at Harry's feet.
Voldemort toppled, crashing backward with the majestic inevitability of a falling tower. He lay in the ruins of the High Table, and his scaly tail - the last remnants of his last Horcrux - twitched in mindless reflex, and was finally still.
His fall was echoed, multiplied all over the Hall as the Death Eaters collapsed, struck down by their Lord's death, echoing through their Marks. Bellatrix landed as stiffly as if rigor mortis had already set in: her eyes were staring, sightless, and blood leaked from her ears and nose, oozing from between her clenched teeth. The Malfoys, by contrast, were without visible injury: they simply folded up together with a certain artistic grace, fainting in an aesthetic tumble of white-blond hair and rich brocades glinting from partings in the inevitable black robes. Around them, the rest of the Inner Circle fell into insensibility: the Carrows, the Lestrange brothers, Dolohov, Macnair: all the Death Eaters, like dominoes. Silence settled like nightfall, over a Hall filled with sprawled, stunned bodies.
All Snape could think was, It's over.
He sagged against Harry's shins, released from the Body-Bind by Voldemort's death, but otherwise entirely unaffected. Harry helped him up, and for an endless moment they gazed at each other. "Your scar," Snape breathed in tones soft with awe, "it's gone!" Stained fingertips brushed the fringe gently back from Harry's brow and stroked flawless skin with slow tenderness.
Harry swallowed, drew a long, uneven breath, and reached for Snape's arm, pushing up his sleeve. Snape stared down at that familiar flesh with the blankness of shock, seeing it as he never thought he'd see it again: innocent of the Dark Mark.
CRASH! The door to the Entrance Hall was flung open and a battalion stormed in, their wands drawn and poised, the air around them rippling with Shield Charms. The Order of the Phoenix, or at least all the surviving members: McGonagall, Lupin, Tonks, Shacklebolt, the Weasleys, Granger, the Lovegoods and many more besides. Their charge halted as they took in the chaos: Voldemort's monstrous carcass, the huddled bodies of the Death Eaters scattered throughout the Hall like discarded bundles of black cloth. The Order members' Shield Charms winked out as they realised they were in no danger. As they hurried closer, a confused chorus of voices broke out: "Harry!" "Thank Merlin you're safe!" "Is he dead?" "Are they all dead?" "What happened?" "How'd you do it?"
Harry was beaming at them all, but beside him Snape tensed, waiting for their wands to lift once more and point at him, waiting for that babble of voices to resolve itself into a barrage of curses aimed his way. Harry stepped forward, between Snape and the oncoming Order members. Harry's hand rested casually on Snape's shoulder, as he said to him, loud enough to be heard over all their questions, "See, I found the Resistance for you!" He turned to them and called out, "Told you he was on our side!" Over some mutters of dissent from the back of the crowd, he shouted, "Oi! Don't you reckon he's just a bit too awake to be a Death Eater?" He waved at the crumpled piles of black cloth scattered around the Hall. Snape backed him up by brandishing his naked left arm at them all, in a gesture that felt wonderfully like giving the suspicious sods an enormous finger.
The mutterers subsided at once, and Snape was astonished to note that there were actually some sheepish looks scattered among the group. Then Ron yelled, "HARRY DID IT! WE WON!" and the whole Order erupted into wild cheers, descending on Harry in a single hugging, backslapping, laughing, crying, cheering mess.
Astonishingly enough, there were even some stray nods and smiles aimed Snape's way. Even more astonishingly, they didn't seem insincere. Slowly, Snape felt the last echoes of cold, metallic tension ease out of his spine. When Ron Weasley worked up the nerve to slap him on his now-swordfree back, he didn't hex the Gryffindor git in return. He didn't even snarl. After all, Harry had left his back unwounded, as well as his arm unmarked. Perhaps, he thought as Harry slipped an arm around his waist as naturally as if he did it every day, drew him into the centre of the charmed circle of congratulations, I can afford to be generous to Harry's friends. ...To his other friends, he amended, as an entirely unfamiliar smile crept onto his face.
Much later, when the first rush of celebration had finally wound down and the Order members had headed to the dorms in search of some much-needed rest, Harry followed Severus to his rooms. When the bedroom door was safely closed behind them and they were alone at last, Severus stroked the hair softly back from Harry's healed brow and murmured, "What were you going to ask me, in the forest?"
"Oh, that," Harry looked down, then scuffed the rug with his toe. "Er, y'see..." He cleared his throat. "I didn't want to leave. So..." He looked up, fixing Severus with an earnest green gaze. "Can I stay?"
"It's a bit late to ask, isn't it?"
"Um, well..." Harry waved around him, "I still don't want to leave. Actually, I never want to. So, can I stay here - with you?"
"As I said, you're late with that question." Severus gave a slow, lopsided smile. "You're already staying here, aren't you?"
Harry beamed and launched himself at Severus, in a full-body hug that tackled him clean off his feet.
Just as well their bed was there, to catch their fall.
Severus poked his head out of the lab; it was followed closely by billows of multicoloured smoke. "No flying in," he warned Harry. "This stuff will melt your feathers off. And what the hell happened to those empty phials I left out?"
Harry, human and mostly featherless, but with hair as wild as the nest of wire in his hands, grinned and pointed at the window. There, lit by the rays of sunset, hung a strange contraption of wire and glass phials filled with clear liquid. Crowning it was the broken Snitch out of Severus' drawer, the two halves of its shell open to catch the breezes. Its silver wings fluttered on the wind, as if it was flying once more. As Severus watched, a pair of Snidgets darted up and sipped daintily from the phials, explaining their purpose before he could ask.
"Oh. You happened to them." Severus sighed and Accioed a spare set, sending them into the lab.
"Uh-huh. Had to have something to put the nectar in. Don't you feed your guests?"
"Hmph. If I had any guests, I'd be more likely to feed them to something."
Harry chuckled and mock-growled. Rather than returning immediately to work, Severus caught the silly sod by the waist, and stood with him by the window. They watched the sun slip below the horizon, and saw the clouds glow, orange fading to a soft pink. The halves of the Snitch shone as if their tiny golden cups were filled to the brim with the sunset light, and the phials shimmered like prisms, edged with rainbow gleams. Severus left his arm around Harry as the brat leaned into him.
"Wanna go flying tomorrow?"
Tomorrow's Saturday, we could fly as long as we want. Severus found himself looking forward to the prospect. Especially now since neither of them needed a broom, not he with the charm he'd invented, not Harry with his other form: a bouncy ball of feathers that darted around Severus like lightning round a thundercloud.
They usually took off together on early mornings or late at night, leaving the ground and its worries far below for a while. It didn't matter if Harry had feathers and was smaller than his hand. Those bright bird eyes saw the same sky and earth that Severus saw, he breathed the same thin, crisp air and felt the same wild winds, heard the same thunder and felt the cool splash of the rain: or in Harry's case, zigzagged between the biggest drops. Yes, flying sounds wonderful... Oh bugger it!His small smile shifted to an irritated look. "Weren't you supposed to be interviewed by the Prophet tomorrow?"
"Oh yeah." Harry rolled his eyes in a decidedly Snapely manner; Severus felt an absurd burst of pride at Harry's attempts at sarcasm. "The Potter special. I can just see it: 'Faster than a speeding Snitch, more powerful than an AK, defeated the Dark Lord with a single chirp ...Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a broom! It's the Snidget Who Lived! Fighting for Truth, Justice, and the Wizarding Way!'" Harry parodied in a singsong voice.
Severus tensed his lips, fighting back a smile. "Why the monologue?"
Harry shrugged. "Why not?"
Severus slid his hands over Harry's shoulders and squeezed gently. "Did the Snitch outfly you during practice?"
The brat pouted. "I had better moves. And anyway, even old Moldiewart had monologues, why can't I?"
Severus rolled his eyes. "His had style."
"More thpitting than thtyle! I thuppothe that forked tongue of hith mutht have thupplied you and all the retht of the Death Eaterth with compulthory thowerth, every time the thtupid thod thpoke."
"Well, his tongue was forked, what excuse do you have for yours?"
The brat gave a cheeky grin. "My tongue doesn't need excuses. It needs a fan club, it's that good. Incredible even." He stuck said tongue out, his eyes gleaming.
"Incredible?" Severus arched an eyebrow. "I wouldn't go that far." He reached out to tweak the curl at the crown of Harry's head. "Daring, yes. Absolutely infuriating, always. Even, perhaps, moderately skilled, but incredible? I have yet to find that out..." He glanced fondly at Harry's scruffier-than-usual appearance and added softly, "...today."
"Right then, if it's only moderately skilled, reckon I'm going to have to give it loads of practice!" Harry stretched up on tiptoes and wiggled the tip of his tongue, curling it into shapes that shouldn't have been humanly possible without serious Transfiguration. "Got time?"
Severus had all the time in the world. That was just one of the thousand things that were different in his life. The whole Wizarding world had changed, now that Tom Riddle was just one of Binns' most unpleasant lessons.
But the greatest difference of all was hope. Severus had something to live for. Just like Harry.
"How long 'til that potion's done?"
"Hmm. A few days."
Days? "Oh," Harry said in a small voice.
Severus gave him a knowing look, and added, "But I'm finished for today."
"Brilliant!" Harry grabbed Severus' arm and towed him into their bathroom. He waved the bathtub full of hot suds and Banished their clothes to Merlin-knew-where, in one of his enthusiastic magical outbursts. "C'mon, let's get all that squid slime and beetle juice off you," he chirped, before nudging Severus into the huge tub and following him in. Harry's lithe body didn't get any easier to hang onto when it was covered in bubbles, but Harry didn't seem to have any problems finding all the most interesting bits of Severus' anatomy, despite the thick layer of foam.
Severus couldn't help teasing, "I know I didn't get squid slime there!" He also couldn't help an appreciative moan, or an arch of his spine that pushed his groin into Harry's groping hands. "But if you insist on checking for stray drops, I suppose I can't object."
Harry's hand closed on Severus' cock with all the practised assurance of pro broom riders or horny teenagers alike. His other hand slid round the back of Severus' neck and pulled him into an enthusiastic kiss. He rolled on top of Severus, as if he were riding a stubborn broom, then wriggled his arse in the water with all the energy of a bird with tailfeathers to bathe. It was as if he'd only now discovered that diving existed outside of Quidditch, wasn't only for the Snitch.
No one had ever been so enthusiastic about anything to do with Severus. But then, right now Severus was finding it hard to think at all. He needed more of everything: of wet heat and warm limbs and slick, silken pressure. He needed more of Harry, more of this. Of rocking together amid washes of water and joy, of warm hands pushing and pulling and stroking, and pleasure gasped in shocked, half-choked cries, and sweet surges of white heat.
In the seesaw rocking of the water, Harry purred and arched into Severus' hands and tried to get even closer, wrap around Severus like a warm and wriggling vine.
Another Gryffindor, getting under my skin. Severus buried his nose in a damp birdsnest of hair, hiding his smile. Some intrusions are good. When they're flesh and blood instead of a blade. Water and warmth instead of harm.
At last they sprawled together, limbs floating in water starting to go cool. Severus gathered his scattered concentration and reheated the water with a wandless charm. Harry murmured quietly into his shoulder, "Brilliant. Best ever. Loads better'n wanking."
Severus smirked. "I should bloody well hope so!" I've got more practice.
"Oi, wanking was the only thing that kept me sane last year. Well, you know how it is." He poked Severus, only not in the ribs, and not with his finger. "Don't you ever wank?"
A chuckle rumbled in the chest beneath Harry's body, and gentle fingers sifted through his hair, even as Severus' other hand slipped down to appreciatively cup the curve of Harry's arse. "All the time," he assured Harry in an afterglow-languid drawl, "in places and circumstances you'd never believe."
Harry sighed happily and stretched against Severus, before relaxing back into an almost-boneless sprawl. "Try me!"
"Well, once I was staying at Riddle House." It was Severus' turn to stretch, basking in the warmth of Harry's body and the touch of wet skin. "Right under the absence-of-nose of the scaly-arsed sadist himself."
This confession prompted a wide, admiring grin. "Wow! Wicked!" Harry twined around Severus' longer body and purred, rubbing his nose against the pale, narrow chest. "What did you do, hmm?"
"Something like this..." Severus demonstrated by slipping his hand around Harry's hip, and curling a possessive grip around his cock, before moving in a teasingly slow stroke.
"That's... ohh yeahhh..." The words trailed away into a gasp, then a more insistent writhe. Harry's mouth found Severus' jaw, then his lips, and then Harry tried to convey just how good it was, by the sheer insistence of his tongue trying to slip into Severus' mouth, just as thoroughly as Harry had already filled Severus' life.
Severus' phials were easily rinsed clean of nectar and feathers and freed from their metal contraption. It only took a Reparo to mend the cracked pieces of the rescued Snitch. But it took more than the Reparo, and more than the light and warmth of the sun that had filled the Snitch, to make it fly.
It took Harry.
This time Harry the Snidget poked the Snitch with his beak, just as he'd poked it many times before with a curious finger. The exploration didn't stop there. He hopped closer and fluttered against the Snitch, pushing the golden sphere with his beak and his body, making the stubborn contraption move. The wind from Harry's wings lifted the Snitch's immobile ones and made them tremble. The hum of Harry's wingbeats intensified and he pushed again, herding the Snitch closer to the edge of the shelf. They reached the edge together and toppled off, plummeting with heartstopping speed toward the floor. Then Harry pulled out of it, turning the fall into a Wronski Feint with a looping twist-and-trill, and the Snitch followed in a soaring arc, even if it had needed to bounce once on the floor to jumpstart its vibrating wings.
"Hm," Severus muttered to himself, "who knew?" Who knew that all the old Snitch needed to fly again would be a week of basking in the open air and sun and the company of birds, topped off by a challenge from a feathered hurricane capable of waking the dead with his bounce-and-chirp.
That night they both, Snidget and Snitch, ended up on Severus' pillow.
Harry stole a stray hair off Severus' shoulder and wound it around his new follower, which was already crowned with three white goose feathers newly nicked out of Severus' pillow.
Severus hmphed as he put down his book on the bedside table. "New toy. Should I be jealous?"
The golden pair folded their wings over each other.
"Oh, fine. Be like that. Just don't invite me to the wedding."
Harry groomed a Snitch wing lovingly and nudged its side until they both rested in the groove of a pillow just next to Severus' shoulder. Only then, after Severus managed a deliberately long yawn, the feathered brat reverted back to the human hurricane.
"Daft git," Harry grinned, elbowing Severus in the side, "you'd be more than invited, you'd be involved!"
"I should bloody well hope so!"
"Oh, you want a wedding, do you? Do you?" Harry rolled over and straddled Severus, but instead of elbowing Severus' ribs again, he did something much worse. He tickled them.
"Get off!" Severus heaved under him like a landed fish.
Harry rode out the thrashing by grinding his arse against Severus' cock. "OK!"
"I meant-" you utter tease "-get off me!" Now! Or possibly never...
"Liar!" Harry smirked and spread out his arms, sprawling like a cat and grinding some more. "You didn't mean that. Ahh... at all."
Their movements shifted to a more purposeful undulation. "Mmmaybe."
War makes for strange bedfellows indeed, Severus mused the following morning. I'm just lucky peace hasn't returned me to sleeping alone.
On weekdays, when they couldn't lie in late, they got up at the same time. Severus went to his office and Harry to his classes. Apart from the work that was an inevitable part of the Headmaster position, Severus' other pursuits were more agreeable: reading, researching, writing journal articles or delightfully scathing letters to editors. But no matter how pleasant his working day, he always looked forward to returning to 'the nest'.
Severus had called it 'your nest' aloud once, teasingly. He was completely unprepared for Harry's laughter. "My nest? Oi! Don't you mean your nest? Nests! Our rooms, half the dungeons..." "Nonsense! I do not 'nest'. As you of all Animagi should know, nesting is a habit peculiar to birds." "Talk about peculiar habits! What about the way piles of your books keep popping up everywhere like mushrooms? What about your Leaning Tower Of Cauldrons, huh? And the ingredients! Boxes, jars, and bottles of 'em! And hey, did I mention flasks, canisters, and sacks? Shelves and closets and floors full? You do enough nesting for both of us!" Severus didn't approve of that theory. After all, as he'd pointed out, between the red-and-gold pile of Quidditch socks on one side of the bed, and the scruffy, snoring Harry-pile on the bed itself, only one of those piles belonged to Severus. And if Harry had the energy to flap about and play the Snitch instead of teaching the brats Quidditch properly, Harry certainly had the energy for cleaning up.
On weekends, Severus enjoyed a lovely long lie-in of a morning. This particular Saturday, he found it especially easy to lie back and luxuriate in Harry, a human Harry, sprawled on top of him, peacefully asleep. He looked down at Harry's tousled head in quiet wonder. For the life of him he couldn't stop his hand from drifting up, to let that irrepressible curl right at the crown of Harry's head twist around his fingertip. He couldn't help his fond smile either. I never in a million years would've believed it could be so wonderful to be drooled on.
Harry sighed, "Sev," and turned in his sleep, throwing his arm over Severus' abdomen. He snored, his messy mop tickling Severus' chin. In retaliation, Severus buried his nose in the wealth of fluffy hair and hid his smile in feather-softness. He inhaled until he felt light-headed, filling himself with the scent of sleep-warmed body, then gave a slow sigh. His eyes eased closed and he allowed himself the rare indulgence of drowsy peace.
One hand sifted sensitive fingertips gently through a world class case of bedhead, as the other hand eased itself over the curve of a broad shoulder. The texture of Harry's body, smooth skin under the roughness of body hair, made Severus' palm and the pads of his fingers tingle. He stretched without dislodging Harry's comfortable weight from his chest. It was one more quiet delight, feeling his spine arch without the alien intrusion of the sword. A lazy smile curved Severus' lips as he remembered a far more welcome intrusion, just the night before.
The morning was a dream, a languid and peaceful one. But Harry was solid. Real. He moved, burying his head against Severus' shoulder, then his lips brushed naked skin in a slow caress: silken-wet, wonderful, wanted.
"Wanted this," Harry murmured, "so much."
Those words, blurred with sleep, were too good to be true. Too unpremeditated to be anything but the truth. Oh. Severus' throat was too tight to speak, so he nuzzled, hid his mute confusion against Harry's ear, concealed a kiss in Harry's hair.
Harry lifted his head. His eyes were a brilliant green under heavy lashes, his skin was hot, his lips soft and searching. "Sev'rus."
Severus stilled, waiting, watching. His own name was never the one to follow such an admission.
"Severus," Harry said again, clearer. It was a declaration. A plea.
Severus answered it at last, with a declaration of his own. "Harry." They sank together into deep, drugging kisses.
Morning came long and slow that day, and so did they.
The Prophet never did get its Saturday interview. Hogwarts' Headmaster and its famous Quidditch Coach were otherwise occupied with an aerial tour of the farthest, most secluded corners of the grounds. Or, as explained in Harry's hastily scrawled note, "Something came up - Gone flying!"
Snape opened the door to the corridor, and immediately bowed low. "To what do I owe the honour of this visit, my Lord?" It certainly wasn't the first time the Dark Lord had personally inspected Snape's projects in Potions and the Dark Arts, but this particular visit was the first one since the arrival of Snape's feathered guest. Snape winced inwardly at the sound of the war chirp in his bedroom. From the sound of things, quite possibly a birdlet assassin was determined to end the Dark Lord's reign with a well aimed Beak to the Eye manoeuvre.
Snape hurried to shut the bedroom door before it gained a Snidget-beak doornail. How could I even doubt it! he thought under the careful mask of Occlumency.Nobody else on earth is that bloody foolhardy! Believe me, Harry, this is not what Muggles mean when they talk about 'flipping the bird'! "Deepest apologies, my Lord," he muttered. "Just testing a prototype Berserker Beverage, to make your Inferi armies invincible."
"That cad wait, Sdape!" The Dark Lord paused, red eyes watering. He drew a long, ominous breath, held it for a silent, suspenseful pause, before whipping out a tartan handkerchief and sneezing into it with a disappointingly tiny cheeping noise. "I wadt the cure id ad hour!"
"Certainly, my Lord."
Snape waited carefully until his visitor was well and truly gone, and even then he shut himself in his lab before he let out the put-upon sigh that had been building ever since he'd found out about his latest Vitally Important Mission. He Summoned a cauldron and a standard Pepper-Up base, and started adding ingredients most likely to suppress the symptoms of a common cold. All the other things wrong with the bastard, like pompous narcissism, rampant psychopathy or raving megalomania, were beyond even Snape's Mad Brewing Skillz.
Serves him right for nicking things from Minerva's drawers anyway. An especially stupid thing to do when he's allergic to cat. Snape smirked. Pussy.
Behind him, the bedroom door had valiantly resisted the sharp-beaked onslaught. Now it surrendered with one last squeak of hinges and a teeth-rattling crash, falling before the Wrath Of Snidget. Having won the duel with the bedroom door, the Snidget zoomed out with a 'lemme at him' "CHIRP!"
"He's gone, Featherbrain," Snape smirked at the Snidget as he stirred additives into the Pepper-Up.
The tiny bird turned his back to the door through which Voldemort had left, lifted his tail, and expressed his opinion of the Dork Lard.
"I couldn't agree with you more," replied Snape as he Banished the bird's critique from the floor.
This story is dedicated to Acid's Sir Snidgimus Maximus, a fuzzbrat who thinks he can fly, and to the Anna's Hummingbirds that Sinick feeds year-round. The "Animagum restituo" spell is by Resonant, from her Snarry classic "The Familiar". For proof that Harry, er, Dan Radcliffe, can do truly amazing things with his tongue, look no further than the certain YouTube footage starting at 4:30. This story is a submission to the Snarry Games (Team Snitch) under the prompts of Skin Deep and Last Hope. Thanks VERY much, to Naatz and to our Fearless Leader Joanwilder, for sterling beta work under tight deadlines. As well as the illustrations in the story itself, two of Acid's previous artworks can be thought of as illustrations of this story: The Snidget and Promises To Keep. ArchiveOfOurOwn contains the illustrations embedded within the text, if you want to check out the story there.