(Variation II on a Dance Theme)
by Cayce Morris
"Your question was: do I abhor the widespread use of music as background noise in our modern culture? And my answer, ladies and gentlemen, is that most assuredly I do not. For as long as music enhances our lives, heightens our senses, and helps us crystallize our thoughts and feelings, why should we be overly sensitive as to where and in what form it does so? Next question, please!"
(excerpted from a fourth-year student's Mag-i-Corder transcription of a lecture by Herr Wolfgang Lehrer, Visiting Professor of Music in the newly created Department of Muggle Integrative Studies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, 2008)
Track 1: Main theme, bass solo
Severus Snape sits at a table for two in the back corner of a London coffeehouse, by a window overlooking a dreary park that is, sadly, representative of the entire muggle neighbourhood surrounding it. Severus happens to live in this neighbourhood, and he doesn't care about the park, the view from this window, or the dreary state of either.
There is a bustling weekend crowd in the coffeehouse this cold February morning, and they are making a great deal of chattering racket. Adding to the noise is the music perpetually blaring from the wall-mounted speakers, which are turned up far too loud, as usual. The song playing at the moment has words sung in French, which means that Severus, with his schoolboy knowledge of the language, has at least a chance of understanding some of it. The songs in Portuguese give him considerably more trouble, though he has grown to like them anyway. He is not attempting to translate today, however. He is not particularly paying attention to this song or any other. His mind is on other things.
Though his thoughts are intensely occupied, perhaps even to the point of obsessiveness, Severus is certainly not anxious. He is quite sure that the fluttering in his stomach is simply from hunger, and the very slight trembling of his fingers only means he is in need of his morning caffeine. There is, after all, nothing to be anxious about.
He has just arrived at this coffeehouse that was once his regular morning haunt. He is alone, but this does not trouble him unduly. He reminds himself that there is nothing wrong with eating breakfast alone. Just weeks ago he did so nearly every day, in this very spot.
This is a perfectly ordinary morning, he tells himself for perhaps the fourth time in an attempt to settle his stomach and slow his racing pulse. It began in typical form when he rose from his bed at his usual early hour with no difficulty. He has required no morning alarm other than delicious anticipation for the last several weeks, and as he thinks of this the fluttering blessedly subsides for a moment, and he smiles, a private, satisfied smile.
He came here this morning on foot from his nearby flat, after performing his usual morning cleaning rituals. These consist of a hot shower, careful combing of his clean, wet hair, very thorough tooth brushing, and meticulous shaving. This morning he rubbed his chin with his fingers as he peered in the mirror, wondering if another shave would be necessary later in the day, and decided it would be wise to inspect himself in the afternoon just in case. He dressed in the dark grey trousers and white buttoned shirt that are his usual working clothes, but before leaving he also took from his closet the spotlessly clean and thoroughly pressed black clothing into which he will change this evening—a fine wool suit, a black shirt with a band collar, to be worn buttoned up of course, and elegant, polished black dress shoes. These are modern clothes, not the old-fashioned blacks he wore as a teacher. He hung the outfit on the door to his bedroom and put the shoes beside it, to wait until he is ready to change after dinner.
Upon arriving in the coffeehouse Severus immediately ordered, and is now attempting to eat—while reading his usual muggle newspaper—his usual breakfast of a prune Danish pastry and a very large, very hot, very black coffee. His stomach, which is not nervous, nevertheless refuses to cooperate and he is unable to eat more than a few bites. He gives up on food and concentrates on sipping his coffee, certain now that it must be caffeine that is making his fingers continue to tremble. He manages to finish the coffee and feels a little better, though still somewhat unsteady, which he decides is no doubt from simple fatigue. He has been sleeping less than usual, after all.
His stomach still queasy, Severus decides he is done with his breakfast. He stands up from the table and disposes of his rubbish, and then deviates from his routine by stepping to the counter one more time. The surprised young barista, a serious-looking girl to whom he has never spoken more once per morning, and never more than the six words necessary to place his usual order ("Prune Danish, extra-large coffee."—a pause—"Please."), says to him, "May I help you, sir?"
"These…things…contain music, do they not?" Severus replies, waving his hand at the display of flat, square packages on the counter.
"Ah, yes, sir, they do," says the now puzzled-looking girl. "They're, er, compact discs."
"Yes, of course," Severus says, nodding. "I wish to purchase one, then. Which contains music most representative of what plays incessantly here in this shop?"
"Well," she says thoughtfully, "you used to come here always about this time in the morning, didn't you? From six to eleven we've been playing these three"—and she indicates one side of the rack—"for months now. You didn't hear enough of them, I suppose, when you were in here every day?" The barista seems to try for a cheerful, salesman-like smile, but Severus thinks it looks a bit forced, and supposes she might have heard quite enough of them herself.
"As a matter of fact, I did," Severus replies drily, "but evidently not everyone feels the same way. I will take that one, then," he continues, pointing to the package with the most ridiculously cheerful cover art. He hands over the appropriate muggle bills and takes his small parcel from the barista. "And if I might ask, where would one go to purchase a device on which to play this…disc?"
The girl raises her eyebrows. "Where do you want to play it, and how much money do you want to spend?" she asked.
"I will spend as much as is required, of course," he answers quickly, then realizes that she surely meant no offense by the question, "and I would like to…that is, I would like for a friend to be able to play it…at home," Severus says, wondering how many other places one could possibly want to play such music.
"So, nothing portable, then? You don't…I mean, your friend won't want to carry it around?"
"Carry it around?" Potter is injury-prone enough as it is; Severus can't imagine him walking around listening to highly distracting music. "No, just at home, I believe."
"Then I'd best send you to…"and she gives him the name of a store he recognizes, one just a few blocks away. "They'll have some nice things to choose from, systems of different sizes. For wherever…your friend wants to put it." She smiles at him. "Is this for the young fellow you used to breakfast with sometimes? I know he likes the music we play quite a lot. He's always humming when he comes by in the morning these days."
Startled, Severus almost denies any connection reflexively, but decides there is really no longer any point. "In fact, it is for him. And yes, he is quiet enamored of it. For some reason." He gives a wry little shake of his head to indicate that he himself is in no way enamored, but the girl just laughs, a musical sound in itself.
"Well, tell him I hope he enjoys it."
"I will, or you may tell him yourself. I expect you will see him again in a day or so." He nods his head to her, almost a small formal bow. "Thank you for your assistance."
"No problem, sir. You have a nice day."
Such an inane sentiment, Severus thinks. But today, or at least by the end of this evening, he hopes for much more than that.
X X X X X
An hour later, Severus walks out of a store called "Woofer and Tweeter," wondering what in the world could have possessed someone to give a business establishment such a ridiculous name. He has a small but awkward cube-shaped package under his arm, in addition to the compact disc resting in his jacket pocket. His ears are ringing from the volume of the audio demonstration the salesman has given him. He can't imagine anyone actually using even half of the sound-making capacity of the sleek and highly non-magical-looking piece of equipment he has bought, but he supposes one never knew with young people these days.
That last thought echoes around in his head once or twice before he realizes he would be wise to banish it and attempt never to think such a thing again, never to imagine that young people were somehow different from everyone else, and therefore incomprehensible. He knows he'll only defeat himself with such an attitude. His nerve, though he is fairly sure it appears ironclad from the outside, is not an invincible thing, and there is no reason to work against himself from the inside.
He walks the few blocks back to his flat, thinking over the details of his plans for the evening and not much noticing anything else.
X X X X X
Back in his flat, Severus sets about gift-wrapping his purchases. He carefully unfolds two sheets of the newspaper he's brought home from breakfast and lays them on his kitchen table. He studies them for a moment, considering, and then with a word and a wave, transfigures them into bright red wrapping paper—but is startled to see pale pink hearts evenly spaced over the red background. Thinking that would definitely be too much, he gives another tiny wave of his wand and the hearts disappear. Satisfied, he wraps the packages neatly and ties them with red ribbon transfigured from a piece of kitchen string.
He steps back and looks at the packages, sitting next to each other on the table, and suddenly realizes he's forgotten to get a card to go with them. In spite of his lack of experience with such things, he's fairly certain tradition would encourage the giving of a card on such occasions as this. He frowns, but then feels himself overcome by common sense and decides there is no need to go all to mush over things. A card would simply be over the top. Too much sentiment. Not appropriate for the situation at all, really. And so he places the two bright red gifts on the small table next to his front door and walks toward his study to do his day's work, editing articles for the journal International Potions Monthly.
On the way to his study, he steps into his bedroom to look into the mirror, just for a moment. He rubs his chin and smoothes his hair, and takes a quick look at the clothing hanging from his door. Only when he is satisfied that everything is still in order is he able to get to work.
X X X X X
By seven o'clock, Severus has completed the work he has planned for the day. There is no end to the editing one might do to the pitiful manuscripts he generally receives, but he usually tries to stop short of completely rewriting them. Most of the time the thought and brewing achievements behind the articles are not interesting enough for him to have any desire to place his own recognizable writerly stamp on them, anyway. More often he shovels away the most pungent verbal manure, trims the remaining sentences with the equivalent of power shears, and leaves the authors' own style, such as it is, still visible. That way the writers of critical comment letters—and there are always plenty of those—can still take aim at the correct targets. Only the "Letters to the Editor" have Severus specifically in their sights, and he seldom has trouble dispatching those with a few scathing lines of rebuttal. He does rather like seeing those vitriolic exchanges in print, actually. It is a kind of substitute for the guilty pleasure he took in grading student papers for all those years, with red ink so scaldingly critical it nearly burned holes through the pages. One must take one's small satisfactions where one can, he tells himself. And really, his entire job, as editor, is perfectly suited to a reclusive, fastidious potions expert with a scholarly bent. He can work alone, from wherever he wants—though London had seemed a logical place to settle when he'd taken the job nearly three years ago—and is required to keep more company with books than with other wizards, which with one great, still surprising exception is exactly what he wants. He is ever grateful that he'd found this job so soon after the war.
Once his study is tidied for the evening, he goes to his small kitchen and prepares a light, cold supper. He doesn't want too much food in his stomach, later in the evening. There is no need to accentuate any last-minute attack of nerves. Not that he is expecting any, but still, one never knew.
He tries to eat his meal, but as he eats the fluttering in his stomach that has been toying with him all day suddenly becomes more acute. He grimaces and pushes his plate aside, breathes deeply and looks around for something with which to distract himself. When nothing appears, he takes another deep, if shaky, breath and goes to sit in the old, worn overstuffed chair in his sitting room. It is the one piece of furniture he has kept from his parents' house, and is a bedraggled-looking thing that is nevertheless the most comforting and comfortable place to relax, or read, or just think, that he has ever known. He sinks down into it, feeling the soft velvet upholstery, now shiny with age, and tries to calm himself. There is no reason to be tense about this evening, he thinks. No reason at all. The conversation he wishes to have with the boy is a perfectly natural extension of their contact over the last several months. It will not shock him, Severus is reasonably sure. At least, it will not shock him too much.
And furthermore, Severus thinks, he was invited to this ridiculous event, for Merlin's sake. He owes no explanations or excuses to anyone.
He sits very still in his chair for an uneasy half hour, breathing deeply and willing himself to relax.
X X X X X
At a quarter to eight, Severus decides it is time to dress for the evening. Ignoring the rest of his supper, he goes to his bedroom to put on the elegant black attire he set out this morning. He dons the clothing carefully, and then scrutinizes himself in his tall bedroom mirror to make sure everything is in order. His trouser creases are sharp, and the smooth planes of his shirtfront are unwrinkled. He is pleased. He is not a lovely man, he knows, but at least he is respectably dressed.
Finally the hour of eight arrives. Severus has chosen this as the best time to depart from his flat, after much careful thought. Too early and he would look appallingly eager, which will never do; too late, and his decision to attend might look like an afterthought, which it decidedly is not. And, who knew, a bit later in the evening, Potter might even have gotten tired and gone to bed. It seems unlikely, but Severus thinks he shouldn't assume anything.
He has not put actual words to the thought that by late in the evening, someone else might have stepped in before him and secured himself—perhaps even herself?—in the place Severus wishes to take. During the time they've spent together these past few weeks, the boy has seemed firmly uninterested in any such thing, but this is Harry Potter, after all. Anything might happen to him, and probably will. And he is such a young man. So very young, and so very beautiful. It will not do for Severus to be any later than he has planned.
With this not-quite-thought on his mind, he looks at the clock on his bureau and realizes that it is getting late, and he is not yet quite ready. He hurriedly finishes tidying up, dumping his abandoned supper dishes in the sink with uncharacteristic haste and rushing to the loo to make one last appraisal of his appearance. He rubs his chin again and is dismayed to feel more stubble than usual for this hour. Deciding speed is more important than gentlemanly technique at this point, he uses a quick depilation charm—of the type more often used by women, he knows—to take the rough edges off his face. He runs a comb through his hair, which fortunately still looks clean enough. He sighs. It is getting late. This will have to do.
He goes to the front closet and carefully takes from it a new and elegant winter cloak. It is black, of course, but has a narrow band of velvet trim around the edges that is designed to be spelled to whatever color the wearer wishes for a particular occasion. Severus has never worn the cloak before, so the trim is still black, but a quickly spoken spell turns it to a dark garnet-red, appropriate for this holiday, he thinks. He tosses the cloak around his shoulders and draws it close in front of him, and then apparates away, feeling glad he hasn't eaten anything more.
A moment later, cursing under his breath, he is back. He steps to the small table by the door and mutters a spell in an irritated voice, shrinking the two packages to sugar-cube size. He holds them in his palm for a moment, uneasy again about the fact that they are not accompanied by the traditional card. Then a better idea occurs to him, and he smiles. He drops the tiny packages in the pocket of his jacket, turns, and this time leaves the room on foot, through the door, on his way to make one last purchase before apparating away again.
X X X X X
Severus reappears on the grounds of Hogwarts with a characteristic crack of the air around him. He stands directly in front of the castle, glancing around and remembering somewhat painfully the short time he spent here just a few weeks ago, early on Christmas morning. The weather here is distinctly colder than it was in London, and the ground is covered by a thick layer of snow, but the sky is breathtakingly clear and full of stars. He gazes up at them in silence for a moment, hoping they are a good omen, and then chides himself for even thinking about omens. No omens, portents or prophecies should be necessary. He knows what he's doing.
As he stands there, a cold wind whips up around him and whirls a sprinkling of soft snow from the ground into his hair, onto his cloak, and over the single red rose he carries. The rose was purchased in a shop near his flat and has been carefully wrapped in shiny glassine paper. What with the blowing snow, it seems wise to get inside as quickly as possible, so he heads for the door. He knows there is a small possibility that wards against him will be in place here, but there was no discreet way to discover if this was true ahead of time, so he cautiously starts up the stairs toward the huge wooden door, trying not to hold his breath in anticipation of being bounced away or worse. Thankfully, nothing stops him as he approaches the door, and with a small sigh of relief, he pulls it open by the enormous iron handle—Merlin, has it gotten even heavier?—and enters.
Inside, his eyes scan the entryway quickly, but find it deserted. The reason is obvious. To one side of the entry, the double doors to the Great Hall are propped open, letting light and the sounds of very loud music and dozens of voices stream out. Clearly, he has arrived at the right place. He steps close to the doorway, keeping himself mostly hidden behind it, to peer around and assess the situation. The Great Hall is indeed full of people; surely nearly every student and staff member is in attendance at this Valentine's Ball, the first such major festive event held at Hogwarts since the war ended more than two years ago. Harry has told him that the school faculty are determined to brighten spirits and unify the still deeply-divided houses with this ridiculously sentimental gala, even going so far as to offer special prizes to "mixed-house" couples who enter some sort of dancing contest.
He gives a muted snort of laughter at the thought. Mixed-house couples, indeed. They have no idea. He shakes his head and looks more carefully around the room.
It is arranged more informally than on previous similar occasions. Instead of the usual long staff table at one end of the hall, staff are seated casually with students at round tables placed along the sides and in the corners of the huge room. The room's center has been transformed into a dance floor—the long dining tables having been removed—and a large mass of students crowds it now, bouncing rather gracelessly, Severus thinks, more or less in time to some very loud, raucous music coming from a band playing on a small bandstand set up in a far corner.
He spots Minerva McGonagall seated at one of the round tables at the other end of the room. And then he sees Harry. The young man is apparently coming from the dance floor, and is walking toward Minerva's table—arm in arm with Hermione Granger. The two of them look sweaty and happy, and are laughing at something apparently quite hilarious. Severus has just begun to feel his entire body seizing up in panic at the sight of them, so obviously together, when Minerva looks up and sees him. He can see her eyes widen and her mouth freeze open in a perfect 'o' of astonishment. Harry apparently sees her expression as well, and turns to see what she is looking at, and the shocked look on his face confirms for Severus everything he needs but does not want to know.
Severus' first mistake, which he sees clearly now, was in refusing the boy's initial invitation. And now he has made a second one, by coming here at all. He is too late to make amends. Perhaps he has been too late for a long time. The seat next to Harry, apparently, is taken.
Severus would have turned and bolted from the room, but now they have seen him and he knows he cannot. He has unwittingly forced Harry's hand, and it will all have to end badly and with unpleasant explanations and excuses, and if he leaves he will simply appear to be too cowardly to face them. Harry, Minerva and Hermione have begun walking toward him, and he sees no choice but to fully enter the room, making himself visible to all inside.
Once in the door he stops for a moment, trying to gather up all the dignity that remains to him before taking the short walk across the Hall—a walk that will lead him straight to the Savior of the Wizarding World, a man of half his age and twice his beauty. He wonders how he could ever have imagined this might turn out well.
Severus squares his shoulders and tamps down the fearsome sense of pride and privacy that screams at him from somewhere deep inside. He is here. He made the decision to come here tonight, and he will have to deal with its consequences. He shrugs the cloak off his shoulders and tosses it over one arm, behind the hand that holds the single rose, trying to make his motions look fluid and nonchalant. He stands up straight and shakes his head, tossing his hair back over his shoulders. Then he strides across the room, eyes straight ahead—on Harry.
Track 2: Main theme modulations, tenor solo
With one final lurch, Harry Potter heaved the stone Pensieve onto the great dark wooden desk. Breathing hard from his run up the staircase to the Headmistress' office, he sat in the straight chair in front of the desk and rested for a moment. As he sat catching his breath, he realized, a little sadly, that he'd been thinking of the Pensieve as still belonging to Albus Dumbledore. He supposed now Headmistress McGonagall was its owner, but he wasn't sure. Perhaps it just came with the office.
There were other things he might have been doing right now, just days after the Battle of Hogwarts. Friends were no doubt looking for him, admirers were certain to be clamoring for him somewhere, reporters had their quills ready to record every word he might deign to speak. There were wounded comrades to visit, enormous messes to clean up everywhere one looked, damage to the castle that he could assist in repairing, eventually. Right now, though, there was only one thought on Harry's mind. He wanted to see his mother.
With eager, nervous fingers he pulled the small glass vial from his robe pocket and studied it. These memories, these precious fragments of connection to his mother, had come to him from Severus Snape. He'd never been so surprised to learn anything about anyone in his life as he had to discover that Severus Snape had once loved his mother. Merlin, he'd been astonished to learn that the man could ever have loved anyone. But it was indisputable. He'd seen the memories, and felt the emotional currents flowing through them, and there was no doubt that Snape had loved his mother with a depth and ferocity that made Harry reconsider everything he thought he knew about the man. Anyone who could love like that deserved a second chance to explain himself. But Snape would not get that second chance; his time was past. So Harry set aside in a corner of his brain the puzzle of deciphering a clearer picture of the real Severus Snape. There was no hurry, now. He would get to it in time.
At this moment Harry was rushing only to get to his mother again. Realizing he could revisit the memories Snape had given him as often as he wanted, and could spend as much time as he needed memorizing everything about Lily Evans, had made him nearly giddy. It was a welcome distraction from the death and damage that surrounded him. Headmistress McGonagall had seemed to understand this when he'd asked to use her office again, and she had quickly granted him permission.
Hands trembling a bit, he uncorked the little bottle and carefully poured its contents into the Pensieve. The memories were soft grey tendrils, smoky and insubstantial, yet with sufficient weight that they flowed smoothly down to the bottom of the stone basin. He held the bottle upside down as the last wispy strands trailed out; then to his surprise, something else he hadn't seen before dropped out after them. It didn't look quite like the other memories, and yet, it wasn't so different, either. It was mossy green in color rather than grey, still soft looking, but a bit more defined than the other memories had been. It fell from the bottle in a smooth stream and joined the shallow pool already in the bowl, making it foggy and muddled looking. Harry turned the bottle and peered into it to see if there might be anything more, but there didn't seem to be. He'd been in rather a hurry the first time he poured these memories out, and it hadn't occurred to him to inspect the bottle so carefully then. He suddenly felt sick, wondering if there might be some other important information in this little green bit of nothingness, some information he was supposed to have had before facing Lord Voldemort. Might he have saved other lives, ended things more quickly, avoided some damage?
There was no way to know but to dive in again, he decided. And at least things had ended in favor of the side of the Light, he told himself. He couldn't imagine what he might have known that would have helped a great deal more. Voldemort was dead; he, Harry, was still alive. Beyond that he had done the best he could.
And now his mother was waiting. He would check out this odd-looking extra memory and see if he could learn anything useful from it, but regardless of what it contained, what he was eager for was the sight of Lily Potter, to let it fill his eyes, warm his heart, remind him that he had indeed been loved all along.
He took a deep breath and lowered his face into the stone bowl.
X X X X X
Harry fell through the mists of the Pensieve into the playground of his mother's childhood. He watched again as she played on the swings with her sister, and chuckled, this time, at her first meeting with Severus Snape. It made more sense now. He could relax and watch his mother's every move, memorize her features, soak up her voice. It was lovely.
He waded through the whole series of memories he'd seen before. Of course, several of them were less than pleasant, particularly seeing things from Snape's point of view. He felt more sympathetic toward Snape than he'd ever expected to, knowing now how everything would turn out. Each scene reaffirmed his determination to understand Snape better, someday. Harry owed the man that. He owed the man his life, several times over.
But mostly, he watched his mother.
X X X X X
Finally Harry had revisited all the memories he'd seen before. He watched Snape leave Dumbledore's office at the end, just as he had the last time this scene played out in the Pensieve. He'd not seen anything new so far, so he supposed the strange little extra memory that had spilled out of the bottle was next in the queue. The stone bowl didn't seem to be spitting him out as it usually did when it was finished with him, confirming his guess that there was more to see. He sat waiting, curious and a little nervous.
Suddenly he felt his mood change—or was it the mood of the Pensieve itself? He couldn't tell, but something was definitely different. All around him, some sort of presence tingled with…happiness? Excitement? Harry was thoroughly puzzled, but decided he liked the happy feeling, whatever was causing it.
Then the setting changed, and he was in a room he didn't think he'd ever seen before. It was some kind of a sitting room, perhaps. There was a long leather sofa in the middle of the room, a couple of big stuffed chairs nearby, and a fireplace with a rug in front of it. Where in the world was this, he wondered? His vantage point was from a door on the far wall from the fireplace, and as he walked across the room from that door, he realized there was someone lying on the sofa, reading a book. He hadn't seen the person from the door as the back of the sofa blocked his view. He looked more closely at the person, and realized with a start that it was himself lying there. How was that possible, if he didn't even recognize this place and surely had never been here?
There was a loud squeak of hinges and a breath of air across the room as the heavy wooden door opened behind him. He turned to look, and his surprise at the whole situation was magnified when he saw Severus Snape march into the room. He appeared as he had when Harry last saw him at Hogwarts—that is, he was glowering, and making great haughty sweeping motions with his robe, and generally looking as if he dared anyone to get in his way, though there seemed to be no one else in the room besides the memory version of Harry lying on the sofa. This Snape was not as exhausted-looking or disheveled as he'd seemed to Harry in the Shrieking Shack. His presence made no sense, however, in this room, whatever it was, where Harry had found himself evidently relaxing with a book. What was going on, he wondered? He waited, watching closely.
Memory-Harry popped his head over the back of the sofa and said cheerfully, "Severus! How was your day?" Snape responded with only a growl, which for some reason made memory-Harry laugh. Snape stalked around to the front of the sofa and stood with his arms crossed, glaring down at memory-Harry, who asked, "Ready for dinner?" and laughed again.
Harry began to worry that a violent confrontation was about to ensue. Why was this idiotic version of himself taunting Snape over nothing? Did he want to get himself killed? Suddenly Snape, with another growl, reached down and took one of memory-Harry's hands—which he seemed, oddly enough, to have reached up foolishly toward the man—and pulled him roughly to his feet. Then, as Harry nearly fainted from shock, Snape kissed his doppelgänger—in fact kissed him soundly, noisily, and at some length.
Harry leaned his back against the wall and breathed deeply. I did not just see that, he told himself sternly. But it was no use, and even as he was denying the obvious, things got worse; right in front of his eyes, Snape lifted memory-Harry off the ground, grasping him firmly with large and evidently practiced hands, holding his arse just at the level of his…
Harry gasped and tried to tear his eyes away, but couldn't. He needed to know how awful it could get. He watched memory-Harry wrap his legs around Snape's waist, holding them together while he kissed the man back, again quite noisily. Harry watched and listened more and more miserably, as he heard distinct moaning in his own voice and watched himself do things with his tongue that he'd never in his real life thought to do to anyone, and certainly not to Severus Snape.
Then Snape was talking, softly, and Harry strained to catch what he was saying. "…something else I need before dinner," he thought he heard, and he was sure he saw Snape actually bite memory-Harry's ear after he spoke.
He heard his own less rumbly voice, saying more clearly, "And just what is it you need?" Snape seemed to reply, but Harry couldn't make out the words, as they were purred or growled or maybe just vibrated directly into memory-Harry's ear. He was sure he was going to be ill.
Then the pair of them, memory-Harry still wrapped around Snape, moved across the room—surprisingly smoothly given their awkward configuration—toward another door that Harry hadn't noticed before. He watched with dread at they went through the door, guessing that he knew what lay on the other side. He considered not following them, but given that the purpose of the Pensieve was to show him whatever memories it contained, that didn't seem to be an option. So he went after them, and found himself—just as he'd feared—in a darkened bedroom. There was a very large bed with an ornate headboard of dark wood against one wall, and another fireplace, and two large wardrobe cabinets next to each other on the far side of the room.
Snape had dropped memory-Harry on the bed and was, horrifyingly, beginning to undress him, and even more horrifyingly, memory-Harry was helping. His robe came off first, then his glasses, then his t-shirt, and Snape was working on his belt buckle…and then came the most horrifying moment of all. Memory-Harry interrupted Snape at his task, reached up from his seat on the bed, and with a smile that Harry found nauseating—in part because he could imagine himself, in other situations, with just such an expression—undid the buttons on Snape's robe. With one smooth motion, he pushed the robe off the taller man's shoulders, revealing—ah, Gods, real Harry thought frantically, this can't be happening—that underneath the robe Snape was wearing black dress shoes, long black socks…and nothing else.
Memory-Harry seemed to find this incredibly wonderful. "Damn, Severus, have you been walking around like that all day?" he asked, with a voice that sounded like he wanted the answer to be 'yes.' The answer, however, was lost again in a brief rumble between Snape's mouth and memory-Harry's ear, as Snape appeared to be biting the ear again. Stop with the biting, already, real Harry thought wildly, trying not to look at the long, pale, and—he gulped—surprisingly well-muscled body of his former teacher. And definitely trying not to look at the extremely private bodily response that told Harry all too clearly just what it was Snape wanted before dinner. He heard his double speaking words, but couldn't make them out through the ringing that was beginning to sound in his own ears. He reminded himself to keep breathing, and wondered if the Pensieve could be persuaded to let him out before this was over. Then he wondered just what the fuck this even was. Finally he lost all thought of breathing or anything else, as Snape pushed memory-Harry's jeans down to his ankles, revealing what Harry was mortified to admit was his double's very enthusiastic response to Snape.
Just let me die now, he thought, guessing what was to come. I'm about to see myself buggered by another man. I must be trapped in some kind of a nightmare. He drew back to the wall of the bedroom, hoping it wouldn't be so bad if he wasn't too close. Memory-Harry, strangely, didn't seem upset at all. Harry wondered how the hell this memory had ever gotten into the bottle, since for bloody well certain nothing like this had ever happened to him.
Then there was no time to think of questions anymore. The pair, now both naked, had moved fully onto the bed, under the covers, and were moving and rubbing together in the most disturbingly intimate ways. They looked like they were having a lovely time, moaning and rolling around and…
Suddenly memory-Harry's head and shoulders popped up from under the blankets with a giggle, and it was clear from his position that he was lying full-length on top of Snape. He gave Snape a kiss, and then began a more serious erotic assault on his erstwhile professor, working his way down the long pale throat and onto the dark-haired chest with tiny licks and nips that made Snape groan, his eyes closed. Harry tried to ignore the little twists of tension that were pinching his belly as he watched. He was not turned on by this. It was ridiculous. He was watching himself in bed with a teacher. He was about to see himself fucked, for Merlin's sake, there was nothing exciting about this. It was appalling. He pressed himself against the wall and willed himself to stand there and take it, to watch whatever the Pensieve wanted him to see, and to get through this. It's not real, he told himself. I don't know what it is, but this has never happened. He opened his eyes wide and really looked…
…until just a few moments later, when he fainted, and dropped like a stone to the floor of the bedroom.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed when he came to himself slumped in the hard chair in front of the Headmistress' desk. He shook his head to clear it, then held it in his hands to try to contain the pounding that resulted.
Groggy and aching, he looked around for a drink of something. A silver pitcher and some glasses sat on a small rolling cart next to the desk. Hoping the pitcher contained just water, he poured himself a glass and gulped it. Then he sat back down for a moment, feeling the vise that gripped his head loosen a bit.
When he thought he could make it back to Gryffindor tower, he stood—still a bit shakily—and started for the door. Then he remembered the bottle. He almost decided to leave it, hoping the memories would decay or float away or otherwise disappear if he just left them in the basin. But the realization that someone else might come along and see them put a stop to that line of thought. He brought out the bottle and carefully scooped the misty memories back into it, unable to distinguish the little green horror from the fog around it as they all flowed back in. He stoppered the bottle carefully and placed it in his robe pocket, then started down the stairs slowly, still a bit cautious of his aching head and resolutely determined that he would not think about what he'd seen. He would not give in to the temptation, the awful urge, to pull out the memory and pick at it, turn it around, study it, try to figure it out, try to come to grips with the shock of it all. There was no coming to grips with this. It was all too incredibly horrifying to contemplate.
It had been bad enough when he realized—or assumed—that he was about to watch himself be buggered.
And then he'd felt himself go completely over the edge, because in those last few moments before he'd fainted, that wasn't what he'd seen at all.
He'd seen himself bugger another man. And that man was Severus Snape.
Track 3: Twelve-bar blues, tenor solo
Harry walked through the rest of the day in a fog. He tried to help with some of the many tasks that needed doing around the castle. He visited injured students in the infirmary and tried to find reassuring words to say to them, though he didn't seem able to put together very many words at one time. He cleared away bricks and rubble from one damaged hallway, finding that moving things physically cleared his head a bit and was preferable to hauling them away with magical lifting spells. After he'd accidentally dropped a load of bricks down a staircase, and put a new hole in a wall when a spell went astray, however, he thought he'd better move on to something else.
He next wandered down to Hagrid's hut to see if he could be of some help there. Hagrid took a good look at him and sat him right down for tea, which was fine, and some ginger cookies, which tasted distinctly like floor cleaner. The first bite made his stomach turn, and he choked out an apology and dashed from the hut before being sick, which he was soon after, as he tried to run up the grassy hill to the castle. He wondered what was wrong with him as he sat on his knees, trying to gather his strength to stand up again. He'd only eaten a bite of the cookie, after all. Hagrid's cooking was never very good, but it generally wasn't dangerous. He just didn't feel right at all.
When his stomach had settled a bit, he finished the walk up to the castle, and felt quite winded by the time he arrived. He shook himself, trying to brush off the strangeness he was feeling. Just don't think about it, he warned himself. You'll only get sicker.
He wandered the castle for the rest of the afternoon, unable to focus on a task. When the faculty and students remaining gathered in the Great Hall for dinner that evening, he was there, but could only manage a sip of tea and a spoonful of soup before excusing himself once again and leaving the Hall in a rush. This time he made it to the boys' loo, and his stomach heaved again, though he didn't think there could be much left in it. He leaned against the wall for a few dizzy moments, then splashed water on his face and went to his dormitory. This day had been long enough, he decided.
In his bed early with the curtains drawn, he lay awake, staring at nothing. Eventually he watched the room dim as the sun went down. He was exhausted, but sleep seemed to want nothing to do with him. Don't think about it, he ordered again. Don't, don't… But it was no use. As he slowly drifted closer to sleep, his control slipped, and his mind stealthily pulled out the memory of what he'd seen that morning and slipped it in front of his eyes. No, no... He tried to resist, but he was too close to sleep to manage his thoughts, and they went where they wanted, which evidently was straight back to the room with the long sofa and the fireplace, where Severus Snape had pulled him—no, it wasn't me, it was the other Harry—to his feet and kissed him, kissed him as if it was something he did all the time. And the other Harry had kissed him back, like it was the most natural thing for him to do, instead of the most impossible, ridiculous thing Harry had ever seen.
Harry slid deeper into the waters of sleep until they covered over him completely and he relaxed into their flow. They bubbled the scene through his head again, over and over, making him walk around the room and try to see the lovers from other angles—which it had not occurred to him to do while he was actually watching, as he'd been trying not to see any more than necessary—and to hear more of what they were saying. Harry realized they had said quite a few things he hadn't really heard, and had done things he'd been too nauseated to watch closely, all things that might help him understand what was going on.
He'd thought, directly upon waking up outside the Pensieve again, that the whole scene was burned into his brain in such horrifying detail that he'd never be able to forget a bit of it, but now he realized that was not the case; there were holes and gaps and loose threads all through his memory of the scene. And what had happened there at the end? He was sure he'd missed some portion of the memory when he fainted. He'd never come to from unconsciousness outside the Pensieve before, never felt as though he'd lost awareness while inside. There was no telling what might have happened after he blacked out.
What exactly had the Harry and Snape in that memory been doing? What were all the words they had said? He needed to know. He needed to understand what was going on here. How was this memory possible, if it had never really happened? How did it get in the bottle? What the hell did it mean?
He woke in the middle of the night, sweating, but with a clearer head and a calmer stomach than he'd had the evening before. And he knew one thing for sure. He had to go back.
He had to see it again.
X X X X X
Minerva McGonagall readily agreed to let Harry use the Pensieve in her office once more, late the following afternoon. She raised an eyebrow when he asked, but made no comment, and simply nodded her head.
She knew the boy had been given a vial of memories by Severus Snape just before the potions master had so inconveniently died a few days earlier. She knew the memories had helped Harry understand what he must do in order to win the Battle of Hogwarts and thus, the war. He'd said something yesterday about wanting to see his mother again in the Pensieve, but had not mentioned that today. Indeed, today he looked agitated and tired, as though he hadn't slept well and had a great deal on his mind.
She did not know exactly what memories Snape had given Harry. Merlin only knew, given Snape's past and his relationships with both Voldemort and Albus Dumbledore, that they might have included all sorts of things that no one else in the world could have shared with the boy. Of course, Snape's youthful attachment to Harry's mother—about which Minerva was fairly certain no one had ever told Harry—opened up another set of possibilities, most of which she thought the young man would find appalling, though if they'd appeared in that vial they were apparently not so appalling that he hadn't wanted to see them again. And Snape's very personality, at once starchy and reclusive, faithful and devoted, scholarly, experienced as a teacher, and yet still almost childishly petulant at times…all in all made him a mystery and a sort of dangerous wild card. He might have shown the boy anything, anything at all. He'd always seemed to resent and dislike Harry, and yet…he'd saved Harry's life more times than she could count. He'd worked behind the scenes to help the boy in ways Harry had never known.
She knew Harry thought Snape had hated him. She wondered if the deathbed gift of memories had confirmed or contradicted that belief.
X X X X X
"Thanks, Headmistress," Harry said gratefully. He walked quickly back down the battle-wrecked corridor from the spot where he'd found her, consulting on the clean-up of some particularly nasty burn marks. He'd slept through most of the cleaning and repair work of the day, but he didn't care. He had more urgent concerns.
Back in her office, which was only a bit less cluttered and dusty than it had been in Albus Dumbledore's time, Harry found the Pensieve where he'd left it the previous day. He'd been too tired and ill then to even remember to put it back in its place on a nearby shelf. He was glad that in his highly distracted state he'd at least thought to remove the memories from the bowl before leaving the office. It certainly wouldn't do to have anyone else see them. Indeed he'd waited until late in the day to return to the Pensieve to reduce the chances of anyone disturbing him and getting any hint of what the memories contained.
It occurred to Harry that perhaps even he hadn't been meant to see some of the memories Snape had given him, though if that was true he couldn't imagine why the man had put them into the vial. He sighed. He was no expert on Pensieves, and he'd certainly never understood Snape, and now that Snape was both dead and tangled up somehow in the Pensieve everything was only becoming more perplexing.
Determined to unknot some of the confusion, Harry prepared the Pensieve once more. He carefully poured the contents of the tiny vial—which he'd carried in the most hidden inner pocket of his robe since the previous day—into the stone bowl. Just as it had yesterday, the vial contained mostly grey, wispy filaments that settled airily into the bowl, making a fine misty pool about the bottom. And just as before, the last object to fall from the vial was different; it made a smoothly-flowing little stream, looking slightly gelatinous as it hit the bottom of the bowl. It wobbled a bit but appeared to be more solid than the vial's other contents and was a soft greenish color. And this time it lay in the bottom of the Pensieve in the misty grey-blue pool, not blending in as it had the day before. Harry frowned. Wasn't the extra memory working anymore? Would he not be able to see it again? That was a disturbing thought, for though he was revolted by the memory he also felt compelled to revisit it, if only so that he could understand it. All he knew of Pensieves, however, had come from simply using this one a few times. He couldn't guess what might be wrong with this memory. There was nothing for it but to drop back in and see what was there. And so he did, his heart beating faster and hands gripping the edge of the desk as he lowered his face into the bowl.
What he saw there surprised him. Instead of finding himself inside the first in a chronological series of memories, as had always happened in the Pensieve before, he seemed to be in a small, empty space—not a room, exactly, but a vaguely defined area that opened up into several other spaces through…not exactly doors, but portals, perhaps. He could see through the portals, and though what he saw was dim and distant, it was enough to allow him to understand where the portals led. One clearly opened onto the playground where he'd seen Snape and his mother playing as children. One appeared to lead into the Hogwarts Great Hall, and another seemed to open into the Headmaster's office, the very room in which Harry sat. Through a fourth doorway Harry could see a dark and windblown outdoor scene, with rocky ground and a grey cloud-filled sky. And the fifth, which made Harry's stomach twitch nervously as he studied and then recognized it, showed the room in which memory-Harry had encountered the bizarre, realistic-but-impossible likeness of Severus Snape, the Snape who had kissed him and held him in ways that Harry was absolutely certain had never actually happened.
Harry floated, dreamlike, in the empty space, turning and examining the not-quite-doorways in the not-exactly-walls around him. And then he understood—he could make a choice. Now that he'd been through all these scenes before, the Pensieve was giving him a selection of memories to revisit. He would not need to wade through all the other memories again in order to more closely examine the erotically charged one he'd seen at the end of his time in the Pensieve the day before. Was this good or bad? He wasn't sure. After all, it was to see memories of his mother again that he'd returned to the Pensieve in the first place; to rush past them without stopping this time seemed inappropriate, even neglectful. But right now, he decided, he had to understand what was going on in that last memory. He'd come back to see his mother again later.
So he half-walked, half-floated through the portal into the strange room with the long sofa and the fireplace. It looked just as it had before, spare but comfortable, and the fire was crackling. Memory-Harry was lying on the sofa reading. The real Harry circled around the sofa to watch from another angle this time; he positioned himself next to the fireplace, where he could see the sofa that faced it. The door through which he knew Snape would come was across the room. Harry locked his eyes on the heavy wooden door and waited…
…and his recollection of how things had happened the day before was confirmed a moment later, when Severus Snape charged in. Though Harry had been expecting him, and had known Snape would be as stormy and dangerous-looking as ever, he still jumped when the door burst open. Snape marched across the room, robes flapping. At first Harry shrank back against the wall, but then he looked more closely. He was seeing Snape head-on this time, and couldn't miss the expression on his face, which wasn't the least bit threatening. Surprised, Harry moved quickly to get a closer view, and stood by the end of the sofa as Snape came closer. When Snape stood in front of memory-Harry, he could see both their faces clearly.
"Severus! How was your day?" asked memory-Harry cheerfully. And Snape growled, making memory-Harry laugh. But this time real Harry could hear Snape's growl better, and realized it was almost—and this was surely impossible—more playful-sounding than frightening. Snape? Playful? Harry shook his head in disbelief, as Snape stalked around to the front of the sofa and stood with his arms crossed, glaring down at memory-Harry—but no, although he definitely had been stalking, he wasn't glaring at all, Harry realized. He was almost smiling, or perhaps attempting to hide a smile. It was one of the most astonishing things Harry had ever seen. Was Snape playing some sort of game? With him?
Before he could begin to answer this question, the daring memory-Harry asked, "Ready for dinner?" and laughed out loud at Snape before he could answer. Harry knew what was coming, and prepared to flinch as Snape yanked his memory-doppelgänger from the sofa. But again things looked different from his new position. He could see clearly that Snape did nothing rough at all—in fact, as memory-Harry reached up deliberately to clasp the taller man's hand, he was helped up from the sofa. It was bizarre, and only became more so as Harry watched, for from his better vantage point it was obvious that Harry went willingly right into Snape's arms. He was not pulled, and actually looked eager to press up against this man he should have been fighting with, or running from. He saw the looks on their faces just before they kissed, gentle almost-smiles on both, looks of affection mixed with a little bit of longing, and when their mouths met both leaned into the kiss and seemed to give themselves up to it, all intensity, focused just on what was between them for that moment.
Harry had never before seen anyone kiss like that right in front of him. It felt unbelievably embarrassing to be intruding on…his own privacy? It made no sense. One thing was clear, however: there was no violence in this embrace, no roughness, no reluctance on either side. And though he still thought memory-Harry insane, to be here in this strange room kissing Snape, of all people—for Merlin's sake, Snape?—Harry had to admit that it didn't at the moment look like such a horrible, violent thing as he'd thought the day before. Well, it was still Snape, of course. Just not quite so horrible.
But the scene was only beginning, and Harry gulped as he remembered what was to come next. Before Harry had really caught his breath from watching the first kiss, Snape was lifting memory-Harry off the ground again, and his hands…those hands, Harry thought suddenly, looking closer, he has such long fingers, so strong and elegant-looking…looked to be supporting memory-Harry and caressing him, too, with little rubbing motions of Snape's fingers along his thighs that Harry was sure he'd not seen before. Snape was saying something directly into memory-Harry's ear, and Harry leaned in close to catch it. "You'd better hang on tight, love, I may drop you. I fear I'm getting too old to carry on like this," was what he heard, in a soft near-whisper of Snape's dark velvet voice.
But memory-Harry just laughed as he wrapped his legs around Snape, and Harry heard him also whisper, before kissing Snape again, "Don't be silly, Sev. You're not old, you're exactly perfect. You're just what I need." And then off they went again with the noisy kissing, and moaning, and considerably more carrying on that Snape apparently did not consider himself too old for.
When Snape spoke again, still in a syrupy murmur, Harry heard the words more clearly, and with a different nuance of inflection, than he had the first time. "There's something else I need before dinner," Snape said, and Harry waited for the bite on the ear, which he wasn't surprised to see was actually rather a nibble, much more lips than teeth. Memory-Harry's reply, a higher-pitched, "And just what do you need?" accompanied by another giggle, didn't seem so strange this time. They were playing a game together, Harry realized. And when Snape growled into the memory-boy's ear, Harry could hear the deep chuckle—had he ever heard the real Snape chuckle like that?—under the growl.
Harry had just a moment to contemplate the idea that he and Snape might ever, in any version of reality, play together at any sort of game involving kissing, before he had to follow along with the memory as the thoroughly entwined pair made their way into the bedroom again. He looked around the room, trying to see more details, hoping to learn something that would help him understand this strange game he was watching. The room was inviting and comfortable-looking, he realized, the bed large and well-supplied with pillows, the two wardrobes—two?—quite roomy and decorated with inlaid wood patterns. There were bookshelves against the wall on either side of the pair of wardrobes; he hadn't noticed them before, but now saw that one appeared to be filled with old, dark, leathery books and one with smaller, more colorful ones. He turned back from his observations of the room to the two men now reaching the bed, and saw memory-Harry reach to turn down the bed's black-and-gold coverings as he was dropped gently into them. Harry walked up next to his memory-self—there didn't seem to be anything keeping him from being in the middle of the action—and realized that the sheets on the bed were shiny black, and appeared to be satin. He reached out a hand to touch them and make sure, but his hand went right through. A pity, he thought, wishing he could feel the glossy fabric. Then he realized what it all meant, and shuddered. Dear Gods. Snape has black satin sheets. And then he shuddered again, thinking, Holy Mother of Merlin, I'm about to get into Snape's bed with him. And his black satin sheets. He wondered, in passing, why he hadn't even noticed the black satin the day before.
Then there was no more time to think, as he was too busy watching, at very close range, the mutual undressing of his memory-self and his most hated—or so he'd thought—professor. It was an impressively quick job again, due in part to the simple, straightforward teenage-boy clothing on memory-Harry, and the utter lack of clothing, other than his robe, on Snape. Knowing what to expect this time made the robe-dropping somewhat less startling to Harry, but he didn't think anything could lessen the shock of getting another really good look at all of Severus Snape.
"Damn, Severus, have you been walking around like that all day?" his memory-double asked, just as he had before, when the robe slid off and Snape was left standing there nearly in the altogether. Harry heard the rumbling chuckle Snape made in response a bit better this time, but still couldn't make out any words, and he found he was not quite comfortable moving in close enough to the now-naked man to hear better. Memory-Harry, however, laughed his delighted laugh again and clearly said, "Well, it's no wonder you're in such a state. You should have told me this morning. I'd have liked thinking about this all day."
Real Harry had a moment to consider how it might feel to be thinking about such a thing all day, and then realized that in fact he had been thinking about just this thing all day, and the nausea of yesterday's Pensieve session began to creep back into his belly again. He fought it, determined to keep his cool and his focus so he could bloody well figure out what was going on here. That was the point of this whole exercise, he reminded himself. He had to figure this out. He had to figure Snape out. He had no idea how he was going to accomplish this task, other than knowing he had to start here, in this strangest of all the encounters he'd ever had—or never had, in this case—with Snape. There were answers in here somewhere, and he would find them, somehow. No matter what it took.
So he gritted his teeth and watched, trying to ignore the nausea, as Snape finished undressing memory-Harry. It was a surprisingly gentle process, he saw clearly this time, as everything else had been. He'd never thought of Snape as a gentle man, though on reflection, it wasn't because he'd actually seen the man act violently, but rather because Snape often appeared to be seething just under the surface, barely able to restrain himself from violence. But he was careful and precise with his hands, Harry had to admit, especially when brewing potions. Perhaps he was only that way with things that he valued, or things that he loved…but that was too ridiculous to imagine, and Harry snorted a laugh. Yet there Snape was on his knees, gazing soulfully at a boy he'd always appeared to hate. Snape was looking at him as though he was all there was in the world, or at least all there was in his world. As he gazed he continued undressing them, first tenderly removing the boy's socks and shoes and jeans, then precisely untying his own shoes and neatly peeling down his own long socks, and folding them in a tidy pile next to the bed before he…
Harry gulped again, watching. Snape was crawling onto the bed, sliding over the satin sheets to settle next to memory-Harry, who drew down the covers in welcome, and then pulled them up close around both of them as he ducked into Snape's arms. Harry realized guiltily that on this viewing, he'd been so focused on the glide of limbs and torsos over the sleek black surface of the bed that he'd not even bothered take any special notice of Snape's obvious…er…enthusiasm about the situation, nor of memory-Harry's. Not that he wanted to notice, he reminded himself; it had simply seemed inescapable, the first time. But now the obvious arousal of both men just seemed to be of a piece with everything else. They were playing a game. An affectionate, physical, sexy game. Between two men. Who hated each other.
And then there was that look in Snape's eyes again, and Harry was sure no one in the real world had ever looked at him like that. It was unsettling, having Snape's dark, deep-set eyes focused so intently on him, from behind their heavy lids. And it was…not nice, precisely, as it was rather too overwhelming to be called that, but Harry thought it was the kind of attention one might grow used to. Even if it was Snape. And even, of course, if it wasn't at all real.
Harry shook his head and rubbed his eyes. Somehow things were not getting sorted out as he'd hoped; he felt more confused than ever. Have to keep watching, he told himself, and turned back to the bed…
…where both Snape and memory-Harry had disappeared, but not permanently. Harry could see the lumpy, bumpy shapes of them under the black-and-gold spread, which looked to be made of some velvety material. There was a great deal of wiggling going on under there, and Harry was sure he heard giggles pitched both tenor and bass. It looked and sounded like they were tickling each other. How utterly unbelievable. Then there was a great flurry of movement, and two heads—accompanied by shoulders and an assortment of arms—popped out with flushed faces and a mutual laugh. Memory-Harry was on top, and was attempting to prop himself up with his hands on the bed, while Snape was spreading his fingers wide around the boy's waist, stroking his sides and saying, "Ah, yes, that's where I want you. Just there. Oh…" And he groaned, quite convincingly, Harry thought, but then he saw the gentle undulations memory-Harry was making with his lower body and understood just where the other Harry was, and he felt himself blush furiously.
Then there was more kissing, and a bit of a tussle in which Snape ended up on top for a moment, after which they flipped rather athletically again and memory-Harry began a little lick-and-suck routine, starting with Snape's throat and working down to his collarbone, then the center of his breastbone, then to each nipple in turn…
Harry had to fight down the nausea again…except that it wasn't quite nausea anymore, not really. It was still centered in his belly, yes, and there was no denying the intensity of it and the way it made him feel dizzy and overwhelmed, but he realized with a jolt that it was definitely arousal he was feeling. There's nothing wrong with me, he thought frantically. I'm watching two people have sex, I'm an eighteen-year-old male, of course I'm going to be aroused…it doesn't matter who the people are, or exactly what they're doing. There's nothing wrong here. Really. But he found himself wishing he could just have the nausea back. It was a lot simpler.
Then Snape was talking again, softly, and Harry moved closer to hear. It didn't seemed to disturb the memory for him to be essentially melting into the objects he saw, so he leaned through the bed until he could hear Snape's words. "Not fair," Snape was saying, from his position underneath memory-Harry. "You're just…oh, oh, yes...teasing me." He leaned up and kissed memory-Harry firmly, then sank back onto the midnight sheets. "Take care of me, Harry," he said in a raspy voice. "I've been waiting all day for you." Then he threw back his head, as if yielding to whatever memory-Harry might do to him. And the young man atop him reached down and licked his throat, and said in a hoarse whisper, "I'll take care of you now. I will. I know exactly what you want."
And Harry knelt down by the bed and watched, feeling his world blow apart again, as this impossible copy of himself began to make love with exquisite care to a man he should have hated. He saw himself reach under a pillow and remove a small silvery jar, from which he scooped a good dollop of shiny white slipperiness, and he heard Snape moan softly at the sight of it. Then while keeping himself propped on one elbow, and with his tongue tracing circles around Snape's nipple, memory-Harry pushed his slicked hand under the covers. Real Harry was about to angle himself around to see under the covers when memory-Harry pushed himself up a bit so the covers—satin-smooth as they were—slid off his back, leaving both men and the fullness of their arousal in open view. Harry closed his eyes tight for an instant, thinking, this is not real, this is not real…and then opened them again to finish the job. Let them do whatever they're going to do, he thought stubbornly. I'm going to understand this or die trying.
So when memory-Harry began pushing his fingers into Snape's arse, making Snape groan and thrust eagerly against the boy's hand, real Harry did not blink. When Snape made the most incredible sound of pleasure Harry had ever heard, a long, low, "Uhhh…" that memory-Harry seemed to be prolonging by making some small and subtle repeated hand motions, real Harry didn't even squint. And when the memory-boy rubbed a still-lubed hand over his own cock and declared, "Now, Sev, I need you now!" and was answered by a choking, "Yes!" from Snape, Harry wasn't even shocked, not really, when he saw the boy's cock dive headfirst into Snape and then start pumping, slowly at first but soon faster, as both men clearly craved, in this act, the roughness that had been missing from all their pre-coital play. Snape propped himself on his elbows and wrapped his legs above Harry's hipbones, while Harry sat up straighter and thrust wildly, his hands no longer anchored on the bed. Their hips worked back and forth against each other, finding a crude rhythm, and when memory-Harry took Snape's cock in both his slippery hands and brought it into the dance with them it was only seconds before Snape swore and Harry shouted Snape's name and the sweat on their bodies was mixed with the sweet sticky hotness spurting from Snape.
Harry stayed frozen where he was, nearly on the bed with the two naked men, watching their every move as they throbbed together for a few seconds and then dropped as one into the blackness of the sheets. Memory-Harry was still on top, eyes closed and breathing hard, resting his cheek against Snape's chest. Snape's arms were spread wide, and he seemed in no hurry to move his young lover from atop him. In a moment he reached one long arm up to drape across the boy's back, while its hand stroked slowly through his thoroughly mussed hair.
"Quite lovely, that," the man whispered to the boy on his chest, after some moments had passed with only the sounds of breathing between them.
"Oh, yeah," came the equally soft reply. Memory-Harry's hand moved slowly to tangle its fingers with Snape's free one. Then the boy raised his head to look at Snape with a gentle smile, and said, "You are the best, Severus Snape."
The man made a scoffing noise and said, "You've hardly any grounds for comparison," which Harry thought was meant to be some kind of criticism, though Snape's voice sounded more pleased than critical.
But then memory-Harry was scoffing back. "Don't need any. It couldn't get any better than that." He had both arms on Snape's chest now, and propped his chin upon them. Harry didn't think it could possibly be very comfortable for Snape, what with the boy's chin and elbows and all poking into him, but Snape didn't seem to mind.
They lay quietly that way, pressed together from their chests to their knees, fingers playing gently with each other, for several moments. It gave Harry some time to think, and he realized he'd entirely missed most of the details and all the emotion of these last twenty minutes or so the first time he'd seen them. How could that have happened? Had he been so shocked by the kissing and disrobing and whatnot that he'd simply blanked out and not really seen what came next? He'd never experienced anything like that in the Pensieve before, but then, obviously he'd never seen anything like this in the Pensieve before, either.
Harry looked the two men on the bed thoroughly up and down again. They were relaxed and content-looking. Sated, he thought. He'd always wanted to try out that word. Snape would be proud, he thought, listen to me, improving my vocabulary. And then a little shock of sadness he hadn't been expecting burst through him as he remembered that Snape was dead. He wouldn't be lecturing Harry again on potions, or manners, or his vocabulary, or anything.
Harry wished he could lean his head on the bed and soak up some of the peacefulness of the resting pair. The bed looked so soft, too, especially that velvet spread…so very nice. He'd certainly never slept in any such luxurious bedding, nor had the taste or inclination to even think of buying such stuff. He wondered if Snape actually had this kind of linens on his bed. Used to have, he corrected himself. When he was still alive. Then he thought of Snape still alive and sleeping in this sumptuous bed, and it made him smile and feel terribly sad again, all at once. Who would ever have imagined Snape sleeping on satin and velvet? Of course, that was only the beginning, because who would ever have imagined Snape kissing Harry Potter? Then he caught his breath and wondered who would ever have imagined Harry Potter fucking Snape? And yet here in this strange world, whatever and wherever it was, that's what happened. Every day, apparently. Or at least, every time Harry went into the Pensieve.
Memory-Harry was moving. He gave Snape a long kiss—extremely long, Harry thought, for two men who had just finished having sex—and climbed off of the larger man's body, with evident care not to prod too hard at any sensitive bits. "I'll just get us something to clean up with, eh?" he said.
"Hmm. Yes, thanks." Snape's eyes were closed again, but he pulled the covers up around himself. His face remained visible, and real Harry leaned in closer than he'd ever have dared if there was a chance the man might see him. He studied Snape thoughtfully, a bit surprised at how he looked up close. It was clearly Snape, of course, but the expression on his face was so different from the sour, irritated, put-upon one Harry had usually seen there that he thought the man could almost have passed for someone else. This Snape's face was softer, the lines in it not drawn so hard, though even with the eyes closed there was a sort of wounded look to it, as though Snape had been hurt in some way from which he would never fully recover. Harry frowned, wondering who or what had hurt him, and was struck with the thought that the better question might be to ask who had not hurt him, or tried to. Even Harry himself would have shouted vile and hateful things in Snape's face if he'd thought he could get away with it. It made him feel ashamed to think such things now.
At that moment, Harry wished desperately that he could reach out and stroke the fine black strands of hair that lay on Snape's pillow. They looked shiny and tousled and touchable. To touch them seemed suddenly very important, though he had no idea why. The skin, too—was that a bit of stubble on Snape's chin? Harry had never before thought about such an intimate physical feature of a teacher. Crouched down here so close, however, he could scarcely ignore it. Snape's stubble looked a bit grey, too. Was Snape even old enough for that? Who knew? How old did one have to be, to have grey hair? Harry wasn't at all sure.
He ran his eyes along Snape's neck and shoulder, drinking in the smooth paleness of the skin. One of Snape's arms was on top of the covers, and Harry followed it down to the elegant hand and its long, slender fingers. The hand looked well cared for, and Snape's forearms were just moderately endowed with black, straight hair. Harry traced the inside of Snape's arm with his eyes, following a well-defined, though not large, bicep muscle to the underarm and chest. There again, the muscles—as far as Harry could see them—were clearly visible but didn't look like those of a gym rat. More like a dungeon rat, Harry thought, smiling. Then his eye was caught by a few black hairs peeking over the covers from Snape's bare chest, and he stared at them for a moment, the urge to reach out and touch returning even stronger.
He shook his head to clear it as memory-Harry returned, apparently from the loo, with two wet flannels that looked to be pleasantly hot, judging by the steam rising off of them. Snape pulled down the covers to allow Harry back into the bed, then sat up next to him. "Here, I'll do you first," he said, a bit gruffly, and taking a flannel, proceeded to rub gently but thoroughly all over memory-Harry's stomach, and then his genitals, and then down the insides of his thighs. It was a simple process, but Snape performed it so carefully and with such a look of loving concentration that Harry found he couldn't look away. He noticed, seeing his double's nude body clearly now, that the double looked somehow just a bit younger than Harry himself really did, or maybe just…smoother. The double had less body hair, Harry realized. What the hell does that mean? he wondered. He was distracted from this thought when memory-Harry took the other flannel and returned the favor, and it was equally affecting—Snape leaned back against the bed's headboard and closed his eyes again, and even gave a little murmur of satisfaction as Harry wiped him down, looking as though he was relishing the treatment.
Harry had never seen such attentions exchanged between two people. The simple motions had the look of a ritual ablution one might offer to another, a small show of tenderness in the care of a lover's body. And when the gentle cleansing was complete, Snape astonished Harry yet again, by first tossing the flannels carelessly to the floor—as if to say, further tidying can wait; my lover here in the bed is more important—and then taking memory-Harry into his arms again and pushing him down to the bed with another deep kiss. Damn, real Harry thought. Don't they ever give it a rest? But in truth, he found the whole thing touching, not to mention sexy as hell. What world IS this, he wondered, in which Severus Snape and I could be like this for each other? Where did this all come from, and how in the hell did it get into those memories?
No answers to those questions presented themselves, and Harry was distracted from them by more movement of the pair on the bed. They were settling down, with memory-Harry nestled close against the larger man, his back to Snape's belly. Snape raised his hand and waved the fire down a few notches, darkening the room, and then dropped his arm over Harry, his fingers rubbing gently along Harry's collarbone. Harry gave a sly grin that Snape couldn't see, picked up the hand, and began sucking on one of Snape's fingertips…making real Harry feel slightly dizzy again. "That's enough of that, you," Snape scolded, pulling the suckled fingertip away and then tapping in mock correction on memory-Harry's lips with it. But the gentle admonishment crumbled as Snape began laying a rather loud and slurpy kiss on the back of Harry's neck, not stopping when Harry giggled, not even when the giggle became a near-squeal of ticklish glee. At last Snape removed the offending lips and wrapped both arms firmly around Harry. They lay quietly that way for a bit, and real Harry wondered how much longer the scene might play out, and why he'd so annoyingly had to faint before this part the day before.
A moment passed. "Sev?" memory-Harry asked very quietly. "Severus?"
"Hmmm?" came the slow reply from somewhere behind him. The room had grown dark, and the fire made only the softest of crackling sounds.
"Are we going to nap now?"
"It appears that we are. Is that acceptable?"
"Mmm. Yes. I was just thinking I was more tired than hungry anyway."
"My, my, have we finally exhausted the boy? This is a day to remember."
There was a muffled "ugh…" sound as memory-Harry apparently elbowed Snape in the ribs. Then the boy said petulantly, "Don't you get too confident, there. I'm sure I'll be hungry later—and not just for supper, so you'd better be ready."
"I shall pencil you in. Do get some rest first; I'd hate to wear you out again." There was a thump, and a louder unintelligible exclamation from Snape, who then said, in a slightly strangled voice, "Might I propose a truce? If we don't get some rest we'll neither of us be of any use later."
"Speak for yourself," Harry retorted, but then he giggled. "They'll notice we're both missing at dinner, you know."
"Let them. I have no problem with them assuming you are dallying with me." Snape sounded pleased, smug even, at this idea.
"What are you on about? They'll assume you are…um, dallying, or whatever, with me." The real Harry nearly laughed out loud.
Eventually they settled again. "We can send for dinner from the house elves later, don't you think?" Harry said, after a long silence. "Maybe get some of those tiny little sandwiches you like?"
"Of course." There was a pause. "Are you sure you're not too hungry to sleep now? We can go to dinner if you like."
"No, no. This is better."
They settled down yet again, and lay still together. Harry watched, not wanting to move and break the peaceful mood.
Then memory-Harry whispered, almost too quietly to hear, "Love, Sev."
And Severus replied, equally softly, "Love, Harry. Rest well."
Harry could feel the atmosphere of the room all around him, dark and close and den-like, and smelling of warm bodies and the faint smokiness of the fireplace. Suddenly it began dissolving in front of his eyes. He blinked, and found himself back in the central not-quite-a-room space through which he'd entered the memory.
He sat down hard on the floor—at least as hard as one can sit on a floor that isn't really there. Harry knew he'd seen many strange things in his life; a wizard seemed to run into so many more of them than the average muggle. But this—this miniature drama, this love story in the span of an hour, this lusty but oh-so-sweetly tender encounter between these two most unlikely of lovers—this had to be the strangest of all. Stranger than flying broomsticks. Stranger than thestrals. Stranger than magic itself. Stranger than anything Harry had ever seen—stranger, even, than the other amazing fact he had only recently learned, namely, that Snape had once loved his mother. He'd thought that too bizarre to believe. But compared with this…
He and Snape. In love, apparently. Having sex, obviously. And it was undeniably hot sex—Harry had to admit it, unable to ignore the tight little twitches deep in his belly that told him all this was not nearly so horrifying as he'd thought. What the bloody hell was going on? Harry sat cross-legged on the floor and put his head in his hands. And he'd thought, just a few days ago, that Snape's relationship with his mother was a mystery. That old news was nearly forgotten now, pushed aside for more urgent concerns. How could he ever make sense of his own relationship with Snape? How in the world was he going to solve this puzzle? How could he ever make sense of life again, if he didn't understand this memory, this vision, this torture? How could he ever make sense of life again, if he didn't understand Snape?
Snape. Gods, Snape, of all people. Harry wasn't totally naive. He'd heard of teacher-student affairs before. But he'd always assumed—and the talk among the boys had always taken for granted—that in such cases, the teacher would be, well, fucking the student. That's what it was all about, wasn't it? The teacher was older, often larger, and above all more powerful, and was using his power over a boy who probably didn't have a say in what went on between them. This relationship, though, as depicted in the memory Harry was fast getting to know, wasn't like that; it was affectionate, gentle, and clearly mutual. And Snape had wanted memory-Harry to bugger him. He'd asked, no, he'd begged for Harry to, "…take care of me." Take care, indeed, Harry thought, hearing the words in his head in Snape's voice, which he suddenly realized was possibly the sexiest voice in the entire world. He felt dizzy all over again just thinking about it.
Harry puzzled over the actual buggering part of the scene again. Snape had looked, and sounded, like the whole thing felt incredibly good to him. Harry had never before given serious thought to what might go on between men in bed, and he wondered if sex with a man would feel anything at all like sex with a woman. He didn't have any actual experience with women to draw on as he tried to figure this out, but he did have an imagination, and it was telling him that perhaps fucking would be fucking, regardless of the gender of the partner being fucked. But Snape's side of the action—that is, to be the one being fucked, which was what Snape apparently wanted—seemed like an entirely different story. Why did Snape want it? And possibly an even more important question: who the hell was the Snape in this memory? Did he have any connection at all to the real Severus Snape Harry had known? Could the real Snape possibly have wanted these things?
And what would it feel like, Harry wondered at last, to be the one being buggered? He tried to imagine himself in that position, with Snape doing the buggering. But every time he drew in his mind an image of Snape mounting him, fucking him, pushing that great dark cock insistently at him, he felt his head spin and his belly tighten, and he couldn't get anywhere.
He sat like that, thinking, remembering, imagining, twitching, for a long time. Finally he raised his head and looked around the space in which he sat. He saw the five portals arrayed around him. The one leading to Snape's bed was the farthest to his right, and he looked through that portal hard for a moment, wishing some answer or clue would make itself apparent; alas, none did. Then he made his decision. It's only in that memory, he thought to himself with great certainty, that I can find what I need to know.
Harry stood, and stretched, and took a few deep breaths. Then he stepped back through the fifth portal, into the room with the long sofa and the crackling fireplace, determined to meet Severus Snape there again and to search once more for the answers to his questions.
It was obvious that there was nowhere else for him to go.
X X X X X
The sun was rising when Harry dragged himself, hours later, back to his bed in the Gryffindor dormitory. It made little impression on him, and not just because it was obscured by the usual fog and clouds of a Scottish spring morning. Harry had no eyes or attention to spare for the outside world as he climbed the tower stairs; he was turned inward, his mind churning over and over the amazing visions he'd seen—repeatedly—the night before. They'd overwhelmed and confused him the first time. They had fit together much better and made a more consistent story the second time, though for all that they'd made no more actual sense. But now, having played through the scenes in the Pensieve another dozen times, sitting in a dark, drafty room with his face stuck in a cold stone bowl all night long, he thought he understood. Not completely, no, but at least what he saw had begun to ring recognizable bells in his head, and he was sure he knew what it was he'd been watching.
It was a love letter, of sorts, from Severus Snape. To Harry Potter.
The real Snape, just like the Snape in the memory, must have been in love with Harry. It had to be, because the memories in the vial had, after all, come directly from the real Snape's head. Harry didn't know how he'd managed to include in the batch of them a false memory, a sort of fantasy of things that had never really happened, but obviously Snape had known how to do it. And Harry had wondered at first if the false memory of the two of them together might have been a joke, or a deliberate insult of some sort, but in the end it was the tenderness of the whole scene that convinced him that was impossible. Snape could not have envisioned such gentleness, such obvious affection between them, as a joke. Snape wasn't much of a joker or a tease in any case, Harry thought; he was usually the one being made fun of rather than the other way around. He couldn't imagine Snape making up such an elaborate fantasy just to hurt Harry, and if he had, why would it have shown such obvious affection, even love, between them? No, there was only one logical explanation.
Snape had been in love with him when he died. He'd given Harry this fantasy, showing how he wished things could have been. It was the only way he had to communicate his feelings.
Realizing how Snape had felt had been bad enough. Far worse, however, was realizing how Harry himself felt. For by perhaps the fourth time he'd watched the fantasy, Harry had realized that while he might have hated the Snape he'd known, he could easily have loved this Snape, the one who kissed him and held him and whispered, "Love, Harry," to him as they went to sleep cuddled together.
And then he kept watching, over and over, gaining a little more insight each time.
By his fifth time through the fantasy, Harry had decided that not only was Snape obviously a homosexual, he himself must be one too. No matter how unlikely that fact might have seemed before, if he could love this strange and tender man then surely, he must be a gay man himself. He was surprised at how little this bothered him, as he headed back into the fantasy again.
By the eighth or ninth time through, Harry had fully connected the fact of Snape's death with the man in the fantasy, and not just with the prickly, difficult teacher he'd actually known and had seen dying. It was this time through that he'd cried for the first time, while sitting in the dark at the end of the fantasy listening to the lovers whispering.
When Harry finally emerged sore and exhausted from the twelfth time through, the tight feeling in his chest made him wonder if his heart was in fact physically broken, and he could stand no more time in the Pensieve that night. He'd felt a dark cloak of despair fall over him as he followed the lovers through their routine one last time, and had put together the pieces of the tragic puzzle of Snape's life and loves.
Snape had loved him, but never revealed his feelings. Harry might have, no, would have loved the Snape who loved him, if only he'd ever seen the man lit up by the affection and warmth he'd shown in his fantasy. But none of it could ever be, because Snape had died, and Harry hadn't even tried to save him. Saving him hadn't seemed remotely possible at the time. But if only he'd known…
Harry fell into his bed just after dawn that morning, and did not hear the sounds of the few boys around him, those still remaining at school to help with the cleanup, as they awoke a short time later. He was not asleep, however. He was wrapped in a two-way silencing charm. He did not want to hear the world outside his private zone of misery.
Even more, he did not want the world to hear him sobbing, as he cried for the man he'd thought he hated, the man he could have loved, the baffling and beautiful, dark and lonely man he'd come to know through a Pensieve fantasy but now would never really know in life. He cried until his last strength was gone, and then he fell into a stuporous sleep inside the silence still drawn tight around him.
He had one last thought, however, just as he drifted away from consciousness. He realized that there was, after all, one way he could still be with Snape, even though the man was dead.
He could go back into the Pensieve and see the fantasy again.
Track 4: Free improv
Minerva McGonagall thought, much later, that she should have seen the signs much earlier.
Harry had been acting strangely for some time, she realized. It was only out of a sincere desire to help the boy, to give him time and space in which to recover from his injuries, both physical and emotional, that she had left him so much alone for so long.
The first year, after all, things hadn't even seemed so far from normal.
Harry had remained at Hogwarts, as seemed natural. He'd missed his seventh year, so it was assumed he might want to stay and finish out what the school had to offer. Not that it was quite the same as before, of course; with Ron Weasley joining his brother's business, and Hermione Granger going on to University—after having managed to pass specially-arranged N.E.W.T.s even without taking seventh-year classes—he'd been without his most important psychological support. He'd not really gotten close again with the Weasley girl, either; Minerva had thought that little romance might bloom afresh now that they were in classes together, but it never happened. And though she wasn't sure, she imagined the deterioration of their relationship might have caused a bit of a rift with the entire Weasley clan, with whom Harry spent very little time anymore. It made Minerva sad to see, but she didn't think it polite to question Harry about such things. It was his own private business, after all.
Without his closest friends or even his other year-mates around anymore, Harry was a bit of an odd man out. He hadn't seemed to mind that so much, though. He appeared to keep himself busy, though she'd never been entirely sure with what. It hadn't seemed polite to pry, to ask pointed questions about his emotional state. She saw eventually, though belatedly, that her reluctance to intrude had been a foolish mistake.
He'd begun early on the habit of coming to her office every evening. At first she'd assumed that he was simply lonely, and felt more at home chatting with her than with younger students who didn't have much in common with him, after all he'd been through. She'd always thought him a charming and intelligent boy, and was perfectly happy to visit with him. They would talk, usually about inconsequential things, and sometimes eat biscuits and drink tea. He'd always come round near the time she finished up her administrative duties and was ready to retire for the night, so after a bit of conversation and a bite to eat, she would excuse herself, and he would ask—always very casually, as if it wasn't important—if he might linger in her office for a few moments to use the Pensieve. Just if it didn't inconvenience her, of course, he'd always add. And of course it didn't, so she always said yes. Why shouldn't she? He wasn't doing any harm.
Minerva had known by then for sure, because he'd told her as much, that there were memories of his mother in the little vial he seemed to always carry with him now. Poor dear, she'd thought; he's won the war for us but still has lost so much. It's going to take him a little time to find his way forward in life from here. If it helps him to reconnect with his mother every day, surely there's no reason he shouldn't.
Perhaps, she even thought, just a little bitterly, Severus should have given him those memories a long time ago, though she knew Severus must have had reasons for not doing so. That man and his pride, and his stubbornness, and his inviolable privacy, she thought to herself, shaking her head. Still, Severus had made his own sacrifices as well; perhaps it was as much as anyone could have asked of him, that he'd given these precious bits of thought to Harry at all.
At the end of that year, Minerva had been shocked when Harry failed to pass any of his N.E.W.T. exams. He'd sat several, and hadn't seemed particularly worried about them, but the results were consistently below the mark. She tried to talk to him one evening over tea about this disappointing showing, but he had little to say about it; indeed he seemed unconcerned. She'd asked him what his plans were for the future, and his response had been surprisingly vague.
"The future? Um…not quite got that figured out yet, I guess. I was wondering…do you think, Headmistress, could I maybe…stay on here, for a bit? I could help Hagrid, or do a little Quidditch coaching, maybe? Whatever you'd like, really. I just think I'd like to…stay here, is all. If you thought it was all right."
She'd looked at him sharply, to see if he was serious. Seventh-year students generally were in a hurry to get away from Hogwarts as fast as possible; they never asked to stay on, even if they hadn't passed exams. But he'd lost so much even in victory, she reminded herself. Perhaps it was going to take a little more time for him to work things out. Perhaps remaining a little longer in the familiar environment of Hogwarts would help him to do that.
She'd taken a long close look at Harry then, as she considered his request, wondering how she'd missed adding up all the physical changes in him over the year. He was a bit taller now, and so slender, so fragile and haunted-looking. And the hair was startling, of course; it had greyed quite suddenly, just a few weeks after the war. It hadn't seemed polite to ask about it at the time, and she was sure the change must have been simply a response to stress. But the hair was longer now as well, and quite striking. It was not girlish, but it was definitely…different. This was not Harry Potter the cocky, sturdy little Gryffindor, everyone's hero, who had defeated the Dark Lord. This was a changing and vulnerable Harry, it appeared, who still needed her protection, at least for a while.
So she'd said yes, and they'd worked out an arrangement whereby he could live in some long-unused rooms at the top of Gryffindor tower. He could have privacy there, and a quiet place to think when he wanted it. She assigned him duties with Hagrid, and assistant Quidditch coaching chores, as he'd asked, and Hagrid especially was delighted to find Harry would be staying around.
Then he'd asked again, as he did nearly every evening, if he might use the Pensieve. Later she'd chastised herself for not catching on to what was happening then and there. She'd felt a twinge of concern, of course, and asked a few questions, but she'd not pushed nearly far enough. She was appeased by Harry's blushing, nervous answer when she asked him whether he thought it was healthy for him to spend so much time looking at someone else's memories.
"I've never really thought about that, Headmistress," he said, looking wide-eyed and pure as a spring rain. "It's just…well, it's the only way I've ever been able to really get a good look at my mum, is all. It's like having a film of her, you know? Except it seems so real…it feels almost like being with her. And it's, I don't know, comforting, I guess, to see her every day." And then he'd given Minerva such a lovely, embarrassed smile that she'd been ashamed of herself for questioning him too hard. The lad was just seeking a bit of comfort, that was all. And from the mother he'd never known, for pity's sake. Who was she to make that more difficult for him?
So she said, "You know, Harry, I'll be away over summer hols for a bit; you won't be able to get into my office easily then. Perhaps we ought to move the Pensieve to some spot where you could use it without having to check in with me every time. What do you think?" She'd honestly believed she was helping. She remembered thinking so, even though later it became clear how wrong she'd been.
Harry had looked delighted at her suggestion, naturally. "That would be brilliant, Headmistress. Where would you suggest putting it?" As he asked the question he'd looked thoughtful, as if he was considering the possibilities quite innocently and studiously, she remembered later.
"Well," she'd said, "there's enough space in your rooms for it, isn't there? We might have to occasionally make use of it for school business, but it's nothing more than a very large paperweight most of the time. Albus only used it occasionally, and I don't like the thing, myself. Would that do?"
Harry was beaming by then. "That'd be great. I really appreciate it, Headmistress." He'd been nearly bouncing up and down. Why hadn't she thought this reaction a bit excessive at the time?
"Well. I'll have the house elves move it for you, then. And Harry…" She'd paused, trying to decide how best to offer her help to him. "If you have questions…about how to make plans for your future, what sorts of work you might consider doing, please come talk to me, won't you? I know you've had to cope with…many unusual challenges. But we're all here to help. You do realize that, don't you?"
"I do," he'd said, more calmly. "Thank you. And I think staying here is the right thing for me, I really do." He'd smiled again, reassuring her that all would indeed be fine and that underneath all his changes and vulnerability and odd behavior, he was just a normal teenage boy, dealing with normal teenage concerns.
A bit more than a year later, she looked back and shook her head ruefully, thinking what a fool she'd been.
X X X X X
Harry marked the day they moved the Pensieve to his room as a turning point. Before, he had felt that it was controlling him—to keep his access to it he was required to sneak around, and make nice with the Headmistress, and pretend to be an earnest student, and all that rot. Afterward…he began to control it. It was at his private command. No one else could tell him when he could and couldn't use it. He had nearly endless hours of freedom afforded by his privileged status as part-time assistant-to-everyone but actually-responsible-for-nothing, and he had the most isolated living quarters in the entire castle in which to spend them.
So, naturally, he began spending most of them of them closeted in his rooms, exploring the possibilities of the Pensive, and for many months no one was the wiser. It was brilliant, he'd said, and in truth, it was.
It took him a while to open his eyes to all those possibilities. At first he just played, for hours at a time, in the self-contained world of the one vial of memories Snape had given him. His experience of the fantasy became richer the more time he spent in it, for once he knew the fantasy well, the Pensieve appeared willing to let him tailor his time in it as he wished, and he could replay or skip events, and even slow or speed their pace. He spent more than one afternoon replaying snippets of Snape speaking over and over again, positioning himself so close that it felt as if the man's deep, warm voice was flowing directly into his ear.
Hours were filled with close-up visual inspection of Snape's body, sometimes with the fantasy frozen so Harry could examine a particular position as long as he wished. The first time he stopped Snape in mid-motion and crawled around him, looking from every angle, Harry had felt embarrassed and voyeuristic. But he quickly discovered how to justify satisfying his curiosity in this way, telling himself that since this was all he had, he must make the most of it. He would never get the chance to look his fill at the living Snape's severe but striking face—and he cursed himself for all the times in class he might have done so but hadn't—or get to know the details of his warm, changing body as a lover would. And he couldn't touch, ever. He would never know if Snape's hands were cold or warm, if his hair was really as soft as it appeared, or how comforting his body would feel when it was curled around Harry's in bed. All he could do was freeze the fantasy version of Snape, and look…and look…and look…
He did visit his mother in the memories fairly often at first, and he always brought that fact defensively to mind when discussing anything about the Pensieve with the Headmistress. Mostly, however, he didn't discuss anything with anyone, and just immersed himself in the memory that took place in what he'd come to know had been Snape's rooms. He'd even asked the Headmistress once if he might visit the man's old rooms, deciding it was safe to let on that he wanted to see if they were the same as the rooms in his memories. She still knew nothing of the actual content of the memories, after all, so there was no harm in revealing that some of the memories might have taken place in those rooms. He'd made up a story about looking for a book he'd seen Snape reading in the memories, one he thought might have belonged to his mother, and she'd accepted it without question.
Minerva McGonagall had taken him down to the dungeons herself, as no one else was occupying the rooms yet—they were considered rather too dismal by the current potions master, a not particularly masterful young woman who had at least studied under Snape but who Harry thought was surely as unlike him as a human being could possibly be. She was friendly and pretty and clearly intelligent, but struck so little terror into the hearts of her students that Harry frankly couldn't see how they took her seriously.
Snape's rooms did turn out to be, more or less, the setting for the memory in which Harry was spending so much of his time. The sitting room was nearly exactly like the one in the memory, with the long sofa and large fireplace, though the real fireplace was cold and dirty and didn't look like it had held a crackling fire in a long time. The bedroom, though, was a disappointment. The bed was large, true, but it was stripped of all its linens now, however luxurious they might have been. Harry glanced around, trying to spy inconspicuously, but didn't see where any fancy bedding might be stored. He told himself that it would be worth trying to sneak down here alone sometime, if he could find a way in, to poke into drawers and corners and such, or perhaps even to lie in the bed and imagine Snape was there with him. He chuckled to think how horrified the Headmistress would have been if she'd known what he was considering.
There was only one wardrobe, and it was not as beautifully made as the ones in the memory. There were many more bookshelves, however, and they were filled with a huge variety of volumes, some dark and leathery, some bright and colorful, and everything in between. He made a good show of searching the bookshelves, telling the Headmistress he was looking for a particular small, black volume—of which, naturally, there were quite a few—but rejecting every one either of them pulled off the shelf. "I think it was about, um, charms," he told her helpfully. "Yeah, charms. And pets. Cats, maybe. Something about charms and pets. Some connection to my mum, I think. Looked very interesting." And he smiled at her, as he continued to pretend to search, and wondered what he would do if Snape happened to actually have a book of pet charms. It seemed less than likely. He ended up leaving the dungeons empty-handed, but with his senses full of faint hints of Snape's long-ago presence, and his heart heavy at the thought that he couldn't stay longer.
It was soon after this visit to Snape's rooms, and while unsuccessfully trying to figure out a way to get back into them alone, that Harry had a new idea about where to take his explorations. Maybe, he thought, it was time to begin learning more about the Pensieve itself.
The thought occurred to him when he was wandering Snape's rooms in the Pensieve one afternoon, imagining how nice it would have been if Snape had left him more than one erotic fantasy. Not that this one didn't have plenty of savoury details, but still it would have been nice to have, well, more. Then he began to wonder just how Snape had managed to put this fantasy, this false memory, in with the other apparently real ones, and then to wonder if he might be able to learn to do it as well…and that was all it took to set him off on a quest to become a Pensieve expert.
He spent some weeks' worth of summer afternoons in the library after that, searching for every bit of information on Pensieves he could glean from the old books there. He found himself wishing again and again for Hermione's help in this project, which he realized was rather beyond his minimal research skills. He'd been in touch with her over the year at regular intervals, but only by owl, as she was fully occupied with her studies at Oxford. She'd been so excited about university, and he'd had no idea how to even begin to tell her about his own activities over the year, and so neither the Pensieve nor Snape had ever been mentioned between them. He suspected she'd not have considered the amount of time he was spending in the Pensieve to be healthy, as well, and he didn't feel up to defending himself to her. So he struggled on alone with his research, deciding eventually that it was lucky he had no close mates right now to be asking nosy questions about what he was doing.
Eventually, he concluded he'd learned all he could, or at least all he needed. It was clear, above all, that he was exceedingly lucky to have had a Pensieve near to hand when Snape gave him the vial of memories. The best sources he could find agreed that there were no more than a dozen or so Pensieves in the world, and as a result they were impossibly costly. Even if he'd ever been able to find one for sale, Harry knew that in spite of his relative financial independence, he would never be able to afford to buy one for himself, for his own private use. That knowledge was a relief, in a way, for it freed him from any idea of searching for one to purchase. On the other hand, it meant that if he wished to keep seeing Snape, he would have to stay at Hogwarts. There was no other way, for inside Snape's memories was the only place Harry could see the man. Outside the Pensieve the memories were just so much swirling smoke.
So, facing the realization that he'd be staying at Hogwarts for the foreseeable future, Harry set about learning to make more use of the Pensieve he had there. He found an exhaustive list of spells for memory management in the book Memory Magic: Pensieves, Potions and Other Tricks for Those with Too Many Thoughts in Their Heads.Its author seemed to have had a great deal in his own head, and to have spilled nearly all of it into this book in a rather unorganized fashion; still, Harry found it helpful, after he'd waded laboriously through it twice. The book contained memory-enhancement charms, spells to make you deliberately forget things, spells to make other people forget things so they wouldn't bother you about them, and potions to make you stop worrying about everything you'd forgotten. Harry only cared about the Pensieve chapters, which described in detail the spells for storing memories, for recovering lost memories, and—at last—for storing imaginary memories as if they were real ones. It was not so difficult as he'd expected, at least in principle. If a fantasy was well established and worked out in every detail, the magic required to turn it into a stored memory was rudimentary.
He discovered also that it was not necessary to give up a memory in order to store it, though he'd always assumed that to be true, and in fact to be the reason for the existence of the Pensieve in the first place. He soon learned how to keep a sort of copy of a real or imagined memory in his head, much as he'd been able to remember Snape's memories even when he wasn't in the middle of them. He wondered if Snape had done this, had stored any of his memories even while keeping them. Had the erotic memory he'd given Harry ever been stored away in a little vial of Snape's before? Had it ever been kept bottled up, with no copies left behind, so it couldn't trouble its owner?
These questions had no answers, so he tried not to dwell on them. It was more interesting to work on the creative process of trying to make vivid memories. The difficulty, he soon discovered, was in the very details that made a memory interesting. If you hadn't imagined a detail, it wouldn't end up in the stored memory you created. There were many details that didn't matter, such as the insides of cabinets you didn't open, or what was on the other side of doors you didn't go through. But anything that would get specific attention in the Pensieve needed to be imagined first, and carefully placed into the memory when it was stored. He discovered that the more detail he had imagined for a fantasy, and the more well-practiced were his steps through it, the more life-like the stored memory of it would be.
Some of his early experiments with the fantasy-storing procedure were entertaining, if not entirely successful. He created several practice fantasies with shortcomings that, at least later, seemed funny: missing or sketchily filled-in body parts he'd never thought to look at closely, empty rooms when he'd forgotten to think about furniture, clothing that had no fastenings when he went to remove it, and so on. Later he began to notice details that improved his fantasies in subtle ways, such as the inclusion of scents. He hadn't realized before that the scents he'd taken for granted in Snape's fantasy must have been put there only with considerable thought by the man himself. He'd included such things as the scents of the potions lab on his own hands and clothing, of tea and also some sort of mint on his breath, and of aftershave—Harry had never even considered that Snape might use something so conventional as aftershave—on his face.
Once he had accumulated sufficient practice, it was fairly easy for Harry to begin creating a collection of his own fantasies for use in the Pensieve. He'd been developing fantasies in his own mind all along, of course, in the hours when he wasn't inside the Pensieve; now he went over and over them, filling in details and making them feel as real, in his mind, as he possibly could. He began to store them in small vials he collected from the hospital wing rubbish bins, so as not to arouse suspicions by purchasing new ones or filching them from someone's storeroom. He created story after story, all about himself and Snape in every conceivable situation—from simple erotic interludes, to schoolboy fantasies of flirting in the classroom, to longer tales involving travel and romantic adventures. Before long he had a veritable library of fantasy-memories in which he could lose himself whenever he wanted. He had no chance for a real relationship with Snape, it was true, but he was determined to make as much of this fantasy relationship as he could.
He even focused for a brief, hopelessly optimistic period on fantasies of Snape returning from the dead. Some of these fantasies involved Snape saving himself with his own magical powers; some called for him to be rescued, usually with great gallantry, by Harry. In a few, he simply wandered back from some place where he'd been lost. All of them shared, however, the ecstatic moment of reunion between the two would-be lovers. They would look at each other with dark, smoldering gazes, Harry dreamed, with Snape knowing that for the first time, Harry was fully aware of his passion; then they would be in each other's arms, kissing and clutching and making up for the time they'd been cheated of by Voldemort. These fantasies were for a while so delightful that they consumed Harry, filling him with impossible hopes, until he woke up sick and aching after too many hours in the Pensieve and was brutally reminded that Snape could not and would not ever be coming back.
Harry cried then, mourning again in a way he'd thought he was done with. He decided straightaway that this particular type of fantasy was too dangerous to get lost in, and he resolved to stick to ones in which he didn't have to be reminded of Snape's death at all. He threw himself back into those safer fantasies with a new seriousness, until he had rebuilt in his mind a world in which he could live comfortably, with Snape close at hand and none of reality's sharp spines intruding too far.
This world was all Harry had. His close friends were elsewhere, and were no longer even all that close. The public that thought it loved him didn't even know him. His remaining teachers were tip-toeing around him, alarmed that he wasn't getting on with his life, but not wishing to intrude on his privacy or upset him. And Snape, who against all logic had loved him, was dead.
Week after week, month after month, another year passed as Harry immersed himself more deeply into his fantasy life in the Pensieve. He worked with Hagrid less and less, and spoke to his old friend so little that even the unsuspicious Hagrid began to worry that Harry was not himself. He flew with the Quidditch teams lackadaisically. He began to neglect his own physical well-being; he even ate fewer meals, often forgetting about them when he was inside a fantasy. He slept occasionally, but not well. Over time, quietly and gradually, he simply severed most of his connections with the real life of the castle. There were no hard decisions made, and no confrontations; he simply drifted sideways, retreating invisibly into his solitary quarters high up in Gryffindor tower. Real-life people and events, for the most part, ceased to matter to Harry Potter.
All that mattered to him was being with Severus Snape.
Track 5: Trio for treble voices and tenor
Another year passed, a year that for Harry was spent mostly inside the Pensieve. It was high season in his third summer at Hogwarts when his life began to unravel. Quite some time would pass before he could look back and see the day the unraveling began as, perhaps, the luckiest day of his life.
It had been a lovely, quiet summer in the castle. Thankfully there were no more repair projects needing attention, and the mood of students and faculty at year's end had been energized and optimistic. Things felt finally back to normal.
For Harry, normal these days meant mostly isolation in his distant rooms at the top of Gryffindor tower. He ventured out to make an occasional appearance at a meal with the small group of faculty and staff eating in the Great Hall over the summer, or to stroll down to Hagrid's hut for a brief visit. He was seen, every so often, lying on his back in the meadow below the castle, apparently staring at the clouds or perhaps sleeping; the latter was more likely, as he didn't sleep well at night anymore. The Headmistress looked him over a bit anxiously whenever he appeared, asking herself if he really did look thinner than when she'd last seen him; and did he seem sad or preoccupied, as well? It was so hard to tell, from the distance at which he usually kept himself, and he didn't talk much to anyone anymore. Still, she was loathe to intrude on his privacy. He wasn't hurting anyone, after all; he was just keeping to himself so he could think things over, and perhaps that was natural, for a while at least, after all he'd been through.
He was indeed keeping to himself. That is, to himself, and his fantasy image of Severus Snape. Hours every day were spent in the Pensieve indulging in one or another of the Snape fantasies he had painstakingly created and stored in a made-up memory, or when he felt especially needy, in the ur-fantasy given to Harry by Snape himself. This one he now reserved for special occasions, when only the most realistic simulacrum of Snape would do to comfort or stimulate him. He managed, most of the time, to stay comforted to the point that he wasn't actively in mourning for the dead man he could have loved. He succeeded, most days and some nights, at fending off the tears that threatened to gather when he thought about the fact that fantasies of Snape were all he would ever have, for the real Snape was still dead, and would never be coming round to comfort Harry himself.
He succeeded, mostly, at fending off those tears. He did not, unfortunately, succeed at much else during those months of isolation. No one realized how far gone he was, however, until Hermione Granger came to visit.
It was mid-morning on that early August day. Harry was lying, not quite asleep, on the floor in the side room where he kept the Pensieve, wearing only a dirty black t-shirt and boxer shorts, when she knocked on the door. "Harry?" he heard her call out. "Harry? Are you in there? It's me, Hermione!" Harry opened his eyes just to slits, and moaned through the fog of a dreadful headache—which he'd found, unfortunately, was sometimes a side effect of heavy use of the Pensieve—when he heard the knock and its accompanying voice. He intended the moan to frighten her away, but it did not. Instead she tried the door latch, and when it gave—and Harry cursed himself silently for his carelessness in not locking it, but then again no one but him had ventured up here in months—she pushed the door slowly open and came inside, and gasped. Harry closed his eyes again, knowing all too well what she was seeing.
The rooms were a mess. Clothes, none clean, were strewn everywhere. Dirty dishes were stacked awkwardly in corners. There weren't many books, but those there were had been left open and upside-down, on top of various other dirty objects. Hermione couldn't see the bed from the entrance doorway, but Harry knew she'd get to it sooner or later, and when she did she'd find embarrassingly soiled, tangled bed linens on it, which he'd decided didn't really matter since he hardly ever slept in the bed anyway. Mostly, except for the occasional nap in the sunny meadow, he slept while in the Pensieve and therefore sitting in front of it, or at least curled up on the floor next to it—that is, when he managed to sleep at all.
Harry dragged himself to a sitting position and rubbed hard at his eyes to clear away the haze in front of them. He pushed long hair out of his face, and looked down to confirm his lack of clothing. "Ungh," he began, but didn't know how to finish, so he stopped. He looked around the room and saw a pair of ragged shorts lying on the floor not too far away, so he stretched out to grab them, and quickly shimmied them up his legs and over his thinly-clad arse. Marginally presentable, he stood up shakily and tried to smile at her.
"Hermione!" he said in a croaking voice. "I didn't know—I mean, I wasn't—um, yeah. How are you?"
"Oh, Harry," she said softly. "I'm fine. But what's happened to you?" She looked at him with affection, which he didn't mind, but also with pity, which he did.
"Nothing's happened. I'm good. Just didn't…have a chance to clean up, is all. Didn't know you were coming." He tried to sound accusing. He wasn't the one who'd turned up with no warning, after all.
"Yes, I'm so sorry. I just had a little bit of a break come up by surprise, you see, my tutor's gone out of town, and I thought, it's been so long...I've been wanting to see you, you know I have, but it's been so busy, and you seemed to just want privacy for such a long time..." Her flurry of words faded away, and she studied him very seriously for a moment. "But honestly, Harry, I never…if I'd known…" Her eyes were so full of sadness and worry that Harry couldn't stand to look at them.
"Everything's good, I told you. I've been busy, too. Just haven't…haven't had time to keep up with everything. You know how it goes." He tried to stand up straighter but found his back was rather sore.
"Of course, I know you've been busy," she said, too brightly. "Tell me what you've been up to, all right?" She was looking around the room, eyeing the cluttered corners as though expecting dragons to fly out of them.
"Um, yeah. Sure." Harry looked around, too, and wondered where they could sit to have this little catching-up chat. The sofa was covered with dirty clothes and worse, but seemed to be the most accessible place to put her. With one arm he swept off the debris and turned to motion for her to sit. "Can I make you a cup of tea? Or something?" Personally he wanted something a little stronger than tea, but he didn't suppose she'd be keen on that, this early in the morning.
"Tea would be lovely, thanks," she said. He noticed her watching closely as he put the kettle on to boil, then fished two teacups out of the sink and washed them quickly. While waiting for the water to heat, he sat next to her on the sofa and tried to give her a confident smile.
"So," he said, plunging into the explanation he could see she was expecting. "Been a lot of work around here fixing up the castle, of course, last two years or so. Got it all sorted out now, we think. And Hagrid. Been helping him, lots. Teaching some stuff, you know, and…and feeding his pets, and things." He smiled again, trying to make this seem funny. "Working with the Quidditch teams, too. Always need help. And, and…you know I finished up my seventh year, right? Last June." He decided it best not to mention the failed exams. "Just sticking around here until I figure out what I want to do next, is all." He heard the kettle whistle, and bolted from the sofa to tend to it.
"That's good, Harry," Hermione said quietly from behind him. She sat in silence, watching him with a gentle, worried look as he brought the teacups out and placed them on the small coffee table, after shoving more clothing out of the way. He sat back down beside her, and she looked around the room again, taking it all in. "Is that Professor Dumbledore's Pensieve?" she asked suddenly, peering into the small side room where it sat on a table.
"Um. Yeah," he answered, warily. He realized that the space around the Pensieve was the only relatively uncluttered area she could see.
"What's it doing in here?" she asked.
"Oh. Been using it a bit, that's all."
"I see," she said, sounding pointedly unconcerned. "That's nice, then." She smiled, and tried a sip of tea. It was still too hot, and she made a face. They sat in awkward silence for a moment, each holding a teacup not yet ready for drinking.
"The Headmistress is rather concerned about you, you know," Hermione finally said.
"You've seen her, then?"
"Yes, I stopped by her office when I arrived this morning. She had to tell me how to find your rooms. You're rather off the beaten path, aren't you?"
He smiled. "Definitely." The smile faded quickly. "I didn't realize she was concerned. Sorry, I'm not trying to worry anybody."
"I know you're not, Harry," she said very gently. "It's just that—well, they don't know what to expect from you. You're kind of a special case, after all. Nobody knows just what to do with a boy who kills dark lords." She smiled at him.
"Yeah. Well." He looked away and tried his tea again. Blasted tea, he thought. Blasted Voldemort. If he just hadn't killed… He frowned at his tea, hoping the tension he felt around his eyes didn't show. The tea was still too hot, but he sipped it determinedly anyway.
"I'm serious, Harry." Hermione, too, sipped her still-scalding tea. "She thinks you need to find some…direction. Anything, really." She looked around the room again. "She isn't sure it's good for you to still be living here, not doing much beyond what you did as a student."
Harry felt a cold wave of panic in his chest. The Pensieve is here, he thought. Snape is here, and only here. I can't possibly leave him. But he tried to put on a casual face, and said, "Is that so? I had no idea. I thought I was making myself useful enough."
"Oh, you are, I'm sure," she said quickly, "but it's not about your being useful to the school. It's about what's best for you."
Snape would be best for me, Harry thought. But he up and bloody died on me, didn't he? "Everything's honestly all right, Hermione. I'm doing a lot of…thinking. I'm working on plans, really I am. I just haven't, um, talked to the Headmistress about them."
"Oh! Well, that's good, then." Hermione sipped her tea again, not looking at him. Harry tried to think fast, wondering if she would press him further on what his plans were, and what plans he could possibly come up that would make her happy and also not require leaving this room. The possibilities seemed limited.
"Harry," she said then, carefully. "Have you spent quite a lot of time using the Pensieve, lately?"
"Some," he said, trying not to sound defensive. "Why do you ask?"
"Just wondering, is all. It looked like you were sleeping next to it before I came in. And it's…kind of an unusual thing to have in your private rooms, is all."
"Oh, maybe not so unusual," he said. "You can learn a lot from a Pensieve, you know." That was certainly true, though he hoped after he'd said it that she wouldn't ask for details.
"That's fascinating. What memories are you looking at?"
"Oh, lots," he said, thinking that was also true these days, what with his ever-expanding library of fantasies. "Some with my Mum in them, is all. Mostly." He looked at his teacup.
"How nice," she said. "That must be wonderful. Where on earth did you find memories of your Mum? Were they from Dumbledore?"
"No." He hesitated. "They're from Snape."
"Snape…" She was obviously startled, but then understanding lit up her face. "From the Shrieking Shack. Of course." She frowned. "Are they…nice memories?"
"Yeah." He swallowed hard. "Really nice." He was horrified to suddenly feel all kinds of emotions gathering in his head, behind his eyes, threatening to turn into a storm of tears or worse if he didn't change the subject fast. He got up and rushed to his tiny kitchen and began rummaging in cabinets. "Do you want some biscuits? I thought there were some around here…somewhere…" He kept his back turned to Hermione and blinked hard, trying to hold back the grief that was about to overflow and ruin everything.
Then she was standing behind him, and he felt her arms going around his waist, and he dropped his head. It was no use. She leaned her cheek against his back, and he let the tears flow, glad that at least she wasn't staring at them. "It's all right, Harry," she said softly. "We'll get it sorted out. I promise." He clutched her hands and sobbed, hating himself, terrified that now he had ruined everything, and furious that he couldn't control the sadness that overpowered him.
Ten minutes later, he'd cried enough to get through the storm, and they were sitting side by side on the sofa again. She was holding his hand, trying to be comforting, but after a few moments all Harry could think about was that it was Snape's hand he wanted to hold; if only Snape were still alive they could be together, and there would be no need for all this bother, and everything would be fine. He nearly started crying again at that thought, but managed this time to steel himself against it. "I'm all right now, really," he told her, hoping it was true.
But she wasn't convinced. "Harry," she said seriously. "I think…have you thought about perhaps…getting some help?"
"Help? What kind of help?" He did not want help. He wanted to be left alone so he could go see Snape again, but he couldn't tell her that.
"I don't know, exactly. Medical. Psychological, maybe. I'm sure the Headmistress, or Madame Pomfrey anyway, could find you the help you need."
Would they want to send him away? He froze in panic at the thought. "I can't leave here, Hermione," he said in a small voice.
"You can't…" she said, looking puzzled, and then he could tell she'd caught him glancing at the Pensieve. "Oh," she said quickly. "I understand, Harry. You don't want to leave your mother, do you?"
She looked so sad and sympathetic, and he stared at her to be sure…no, he was certain, she really believed that's all it was. Maybe he had not ruined everything with his tears, after all. "No. I can't leave," he said simply. It was true. He knew he would die if he couldn't see Snape again.
"Well. I'm sure no one is going to make you leave until you're ready, Harry." She rubbed his hand gently. "The Headmistress just wants what's best for you. You know that, don't you?"
"Yeah. I guess." But she can't give me what I really need, he thought. She can't. No one can. He sniffled, determined not to cry again.
"You need to go talk to her, Harry." She was patting his hand. "She'll help you figure things out. Promise me you will?"
"Yeah, I…I will." He hunched over on the sofa unhappily, wondering what the Headmistress would decide to do with him. He wanted Snape, right now. He needed to go to Snape. "I'm…I'm awfully tired, Hermione. I'm sorry, but I…" and he looked at her, trying to act exhausted.
"That's okay, Harry." She stood up, still holding his hand. "I'll, er, be stopping by her office on the way out. Can I tell her you'll come see her later today? Or…" she looked around the room with uncertainty, "do you want her to come here to talk to you?"
"No, no, I'll go see her. I promise." Harry stood and leaned in the direction of the door. "Thanks." He let her hug him. "I guess I'm a mess, aren't I?"
"Don't worry about it. You've been through a lot, that's all. But there's help out there, I know there is. Just do what the Headmistress suggests, all right?"
"I will." He hugged her quickly at the door, and it felt so natural that for a moment he remembered how things had been, just two years ago, when they were still in school and were constant companions. He looked closely at her face, and saw that her eyes looked drawn and tired. She must be exhausted, and he had not even noticed before. "Are you in touch with—with Ron, at all?"
"Not for the last eight months," she answered too brightly. "I assume he's fine. George would let me know if he wasn't." She smiled and blinked at him, and her eyes looked better. "It's nothing for you to worry about."
"All right." He let go of her and stepped back, still watching her face, but the exhaustion was covered by a veil of cheerfulness now. "I'll see you around, Hermione."
"You will. I'll stay in better touch than I have. And Harry, there's some plans I'm working on…I can't say yet, but maybe…" She hesitated, squeezing his hand and looking uncertain. "Well, I'd better not say until I'm sure. But I might be able to see more of you soon. I'll let you know." She patted his arm and went out the door, saying, "Take care, Harry." He watched her descend the first round of the long spiral staircase down to the more populous lower part of the tower, then went back into his rooms and closed the door.
Ten minutes later, inside the Pensieve, he sat curled up in front of a bright, warm fireplace. From this position he could watch himself sleeping peacefully on a long leather sofa, leaning against Severus Snape's chest. He saw Snape's arms go around his fantasy-Harry, saw Snape's eyes close as he, too, fell asleep, and then outside the Pensieve, the real Harry Potter fell, at last, into an exhausted sleep himself.
X X X X X
Minerva McGonagall was pleased when Harry turned up at her office late that afternoon. Given the path the boy seemed to be on she'd been afraid he might simply stay holed up in his rooms until she went up to roust him out personally. It would have been a most unappealing task. Heroes were not supposed to require rousting.
He looked well-kept enough, she thought at first, but on closer examination realized that had been a mistaken impression, perhaps colored by her having mostly seen him from a distance recently. His clothes were rumpled and definitely spotted with food and who knew what else, and the behavior of his long hair, though it was damp and apparently just washed, was beyond fearsome and well on its way toward riotous. And he was so thin…he was definitely taller than the last time he'd been in her office, and his weight had still not caught up to his height. That wasn't unheard of in a boy of twenty, she knew. But it was the expression in his eyes, like that of a wary wild animal, that unnerved her. He looked lost, and lonely, and sad, and as if he might be wasting away. If she hadn't known that Ron Weasley was alive and well and working in his brother's store in London, she would have said Harry looked as though he'd lost his best friend. Or perhaps, she considered, he simply looked like a boy who had lost and was mourning his mother. Minerva suspected she knew what was causing his troubles, though helping him solve them might take more than simply understanding.
She smiled at him, trying to look gentle, and said, "Harry. I'm so glad you've come to talk to me."
"I…me, too, Headmistress," he answered, looking at his shoes.
"I have spoken with Miss Granger," she began. "And before we say anything else, may I assure you that our first concern is your well-being? Madame Pomfrey and I, and all the faculty, want only for you to be healthy and happy and engaged in a fulfilling occupation. We want only what's best for you, Harry. Do you trust me in that?"
"Uh. Yes, Headmistress, I do." His words were mumbled and he hung his head, a sad puppy who had misbehaved. "And I appreciate your help."
"Of course. And I know we will work through this problem successfully. I have no doubts." She smiled at him, and he gave a thin smile back. "Now. I understand from Miss Granger—and she is most concerned about you, too, you know—that you perhaps have been spending a great deal of time reviewing Professor Snape's memories of your mother. Is that correct?"
"It is." The wariness increased.
"Yes. Well." This was the uncomfortable part; it always was. Getting the student to talk about a psychological problem was never easy; for Minerva, talking about it herself was even harder. "It appears that you may be having difficulties…maintaining a healthy detachment from those memories. Do you think that might be true?"
He looked back at her, definitely sullen and unhappy now. "I…I don't know, Headmistress. I hadn't thought of it that way."
"Don't misunderstand, Harry. I mean no criticism of you. It's just that you have been very withdrawn recently, and you don't look yourself."
"I'm sorry, Headmistress. I didn't mean to worry anyone."
"Of course not. But we are concerned about you, nevertheless." She cleared her throat before continuing. "I am especially mindful of the fact that some of the memories you received from Professor Snape might have allowed you…shall we say, a different view of your mother from anything you had previously seen." She tilted her head to peer at him closely; he was looking at his shoes again. "Might that be true, Harry?"
"I suppose so."
And now to push the real hot button. "I am also aware," she said carefully, "that Professor Snape may have shown you memories of himself with your mother, since they were close as children. I do not wish to pry into your private memories, Harry, or those of Professor Snape, but I must ask you if such images were part of what he gave you, and if so, whether they were…disturbing to you."
"There were memories of the two of them. And, yes," Harry answered slowly, "I did find them disturbing."
Minerva shook her head. "That Severus Snape. I can't imagine what he was thinking. I know there was information in those memories that aided you in the final battle against the Dark Lord, and I am grateful to him for giving you that aid. But I wish to Merlin he'd used better judgment in choosing exactly what to give you. What was he thinking, showing you such things when he had no chance to explain them to you?"
And suddenly, surprisingly, Harry snapped. "Don't criticize Snape, Headmistress." He looked startled himself at the anger in his voice. "He did his best. Always. And he showed me what I needed to know." His voice dropped to a whisper. "He showed me exactly what I needed to know." Harry put his head in his hands.
For a moment Minerva did not know what to say. She sat in silence, astonished by the boy's outburst. Then she realized that perhaps his defense of Snape made sense, after all, She nodded her head, slowly and sadly. "Of course. I understand. The Professor gave you memories that have become precious to you. You can hardly be expected to speak against him for that."
"Um. Yeah." Harry's anger had drained away, nearly as fast as it had arisen, and he stared at her, looking even more lost than before.
Minerva stood up from her chair and walked to gaze out an office window, carefully considering her next words. The scope of Harry's problems was becoming clearer. That damned Severus. He might have shown the boy anything, really. It was hard to guess what he might have seen, and she had no stomach for interrogating him in detail about it. He had become more sympathetic to Snape, that much was obvious. She would have to be careful in what she said about the man, or risk alienating Harry further.
Damn that man, she thought again. She sighed, thinking of him, her long-ago student and long-time colleague, former Death Eater, recently-anointed hero after more details of his role in the war had been revealed, and, she liked to think, her sometime friend. What a load of trouble he'd caused. She'd have to give him a piece of her mind about it, if she ever had the opportunity to speak with him again. Not that Harry could ever know about that, of course. She'd promised Severus more than two years ago that she'd protect his privacy. If he wished to remain effectively dead, that was his choice. She thought it a foolish choice, but it was the one he'd made, and she'd promised to honour it.
At last she spoke again. "So, Mister Potter. Perhaps it would be more constructive to look forward for solutions to our current problems, rather than looking backward to lay blame. What do you say?"
"That sounds good to me, Headmistress." He managed an uncertain smile.
"Very good. Now, what I need for you to do, Harry, is to draw up some sort of plan for your future. You need to decide if you wish to undertake further schooling, or become an apprentice, or perhaps work for the Ministry. Or frankly, choose any other path that sounds interesting to you. And then you need to begin making arrangements to follow your plan, wherever it might take you. A school like Hogwarts is no place for a young man such as yourself to be living, as I'm sure you know by now. You need company your own age, opportunities to…"
"I like it here. I don't want to leave." The wariness was back, and multiplied, and laced with stubbornness.
"But surely, there are other places where you could have a more fulfilling life, places where you could…"
"No, Headmistress. I mean, I can't leave. I can't leave…her," he choked out, looking sideways at Minerva. "I won't. You…you don't understand."
She frowned, thinking that she did understand. "Ah, yes. There is the matter of the Pensieve, I know. You have grown…accustomed to spending time with your mother there. I believe I understand, Harry, really I do, but…"
"You do not." His voice was choked and hard.
She waited a moment before speaking. "That is not a healthy attitude, Harry." Harry sat staring at her, silent and frowning, but she pushed on. "I believe we have reached a point…at which you are in need of help in coming to grips with it."
"What kind of help?"
"I think you should see a specialist."
"A specialist? A specialist in what?"
"In…in psychology, Harry."
He laughed coldly. "What, you mean a shrink?"
She gave him a stern look. "Psychology is a muggle profession, Mister Potter. Its practitioners are a bit like Healers. A psychologist could talk to you about your mother, and about any other things that are bothering you, and help you make sense of them. It would be someone who could help you decide what you want to do with your life, and help you figure out how to…regain control of things. Help you get back to being the happy young man you used to be."
Harry gave her a look that seemed to say he'd never actually been a happy young man at all. "Why don't you just send me to a Healer?" he asked.
"I have spoken at length with Madame Pomfrey about your situation, Harry, and she feels that the muggle practice of psychology is better suited to your situation than anything our Healers could offer. This is not a problem that will be served by a quick, cast-a-spell or drink-a-potion sort of solution. We magical folk can have the same sorts of psychological problems as muggles, and Poppy often refers such cases to muggle professionals."
"Oh. I didn't know that."
"I wouldn't expect you to. It's a subject that's not often talked about in the wizarding world, though perhaps it should be." She paused and looked at him seriously. "Madame Pomfrey is confident that a psychologist can help you. But you must be committed to working with her."
"Yes, her. She has recommended someone she knows, with whom she has worked before. This woman is a muggle, but is knowledgeable about wizarding society as well. Poppy speaks very highly of her, and took some schooling with her, I think."
Harry looked skeptical. "So, what do I have to do?"
"Simply meet with her to talk, as often as she suggests, for as long as she feels necessary. Most likely you will see her once a week, but it might be more, or less. And this might continue for just a matter of weeks, or for months, or a year or more."
"And then what?"
"Well," she said, thinking the answer should be obvious, "then it's likely you'll have a much better idea where you would like to go from here."
"But…I can stay at Hogwarts while I'm meeting with her?"
She nodded her head slowly and thoughtfully, wondering if allowing him to stay was a kindness or would just allow the perpetuation of his problems. But she could not toss him out. He was Harry Potter, for Merlin's sake. He had lost so much; she could not take away the only real home he'd ever known. "I think, yes, you may remain here, for as long as you are working with her." She tried to look stern again. "I would expect as well, Harry, that you will give indications that you are attempting to take better care of yourself and stay engaged with the rest of the world. I know that is sometimes difficult. I would only ask you to do the best you can."
"I will…I will try, Headmistress." He looked relieved.
Minerva took up a small slip of parchment with a name, address and numbers on it and handed it over her desk to Harry. "This is the psychologist Poppy recommends, Harry. You can contact her to make an appointment, and apparate or floo into London to see her. Would you be comfortable doing that?"
"Um, sure, Headmistress, but…" he said, studying the slip of paper. "How should I contact her? Can I send her an owl?"
"Oh, yes, I almost forgot." She rolled her chair back a few inches and reached into a massive drawer on the left side of the desk. From it she pulled a small, silver rectangular object. "This is for you."
"What in the…" He looked at the silver thing. "Is that a mobile phone?"
"It is indeed. I've recently begun keeping one or two around for just this kind of situation. You are familiar with the operation of a telephone, I assume, from your childhood?"
"Well, yeah. Sure." Harry picked up the phone and ran his fingers around its sleek silver form. "This is really for me?"
"It is. You'll need some way to stay in contact with this woman, and she's not going to be too comfortable getting owls, I expect." She smiled at the thought of owls congregating around a London medical office building, looking for open windows or chimneys.
"Is it…uh, magical?"
"In part. It is a muggle-built device, of course, but it has been modified, just a bit, for our purposes."
"And I can call London…from here?"
"You can. I understand that without our magical enhancements it might be difficult, what with the…remoteness, shall we say, of our location here, but this telephone uses a certain amount of magic to connect with the muggle mobile networks. And also to…maintain its power, and so forth." She allowed herself a smug little smile. It was rather a clever adaptation of a muggle invention, she had to admit.
"Mister Weasley would love this," Harry said with a wistful smile, suddenly looking more like the old Harry than he had in a long time.
"Arthur Weasley has been instrumental in obtaining telephones for me."
"Ah. I guess I'm not surprised." He was still petting the phone. "I don't know what to say, Headmistress. But thanks, for all of this."
"I'm glad to help, Harry. And I'll expect you to let me know, if you would, when you set up your first appointment?"
"Sure, I will. Um, is there anything else?" Harry stood up, looking eager to conclude the conversation. She wondered if he was planning to go make a telephone call. At least, she thought optimistically, it would involve making a connection with the outside world
"No, you may go. I'm glad we could have this little talk." She smiled at him, trying to look encouraging, and watched him as he gave her a last nod and left the office, striding through the door, new telephone in hand, and with a more confident look than he'd had when he entered.
Alone in her office once more, Minerva sighed. Then a thought occurred to her, and she frowned, groping for an uncertain connection in her mind. She looked at the note on her desk in Poppy Pomfrey's hand, from which she'd copied the contact information for Harry Potter's psychologist. She studied the address, and tried to remember what she'd once known of London streets and boroughs. Wasn't this street somewhat close to where Severus was now living? How awkward. She wondered briefly what might happen if Harry and Severus chanced to run into each other, and shuddered. What were the odds?
But that was ridiculous, she decided. London was a huge city, and perhaps she was wrong about this address. They would never meet, and if they did, it would be strictly by accident. It most certainly would not be her fault, or Poppy's. The two of them were simply trying to help Harry.
But if it should happen…she chuckled softly, and thought it perhaps would serve Severus right. She shook her head. Ah, Severus, she thought. The trouble you'd be in for.
Track 6: Trading fours with a Latin feeling
Severus Snape sat at his usual table in a back corner of his usual London coffeehouse, and as usual, he wasn't looking out the window. He didn't care about the shabby park outside, or the late summer sun that was trying to make the view a bit less dismal on this September morning in the great, grey city.
He also didn't care about the distinctly non-English, vaguely jazzy music playing in the background; such music was always on offer in this shop whether you particularly wanted a musical accompaniment to your life or not. The music always reflected the season if there was one, or, he assumed, reflected the latest corporate theories on atmospheric brainwashing if there wasn't. Severus didn't give a damn, either way. He came here every morning simply because he did not, in fact, wish to become a complete hermit. He always sat by himself, though, reading in silence.
As was his habit, he was sipping a very large, very hot, very black coffee and forgetting to eat the prune Danish that lay on a plate in front of him, and he was engrossed in his thick muggle newspaper. Therefore it was not surprising that he failed at first to notice the young man with long, unruly black hair, prematurely salted with a good dash of white, who spotted him from the checkout queue and came to stand in front of him without making a sound. When at last he did look up, he felt his heart pound twice, perhaps three times, very hard, but managed not to flinch. "Well. If it isn't the Boy Who Lived," he forced out in a satisfyingly unconcerned tone.
"Professor Snape." The boy sounded like he might choke on the name, and couldn't decide whether to flee, attack, or cry. In lieu of deciding, he just stood there, looking totally at sea.
"I am no longer anyone's professor, Mister Potter," Severus said with a curt nod. When the boy made no reply but simply stood there, staring at him, he added, "Did you want something?"
"I—I had no idea," Harry stammered, making it clear that crying was still a distinct possibility. Severus tried to peer up at him from under stern frowning eyebrows, to get a better look without being obvious about it. He could scarcely believe the changes in Harry's appearance. Over the last two years he'd gotten a bit taller and considerably thinner, and in addition had grown this long and remarkable head of hair. He seemed also to have progressed from a teenager's careless untidiness to a young adult's deliberate adoption of grunge. But it was his expression that had changed the most from his days as an innocent schoolboy—albeit one with the heavy responsibility of saving the world on his shoulders. Severus saw that Harry's eyes—and indeed his face and hair and everything about him—looked faintly wild, as if he were an instant away from bolting. Or breaking into bits, perhaps. It was a compelling and disconcerting look.
"Excuse me?" he finally said, trying for scornful but not hearing much bite in the words when they came out.
"I can't believe…I didn't know, that you were even alive."
"That was my intention."
"But…I mean…" The boy had the nerve to glare at him, as if challenging his very existence. "How? I mean, why?" The glare weakened. "Snape, I had no idea. None at all. If only I'd known…"
"As I said, you were not meant to know." Harry stared at him, green eyes bright and looking dangerously close to filling with tears. That would not be good, Snape thought. "Is there a purpose to your standing there, obstructing the aisle, or were you just leaving?" he snapped, seeing the coffee cup in Potter's hand, and deciding that an offensive position was the safest one to take until he knew just what Harry Potter's intentions were.
"I…no, I mean, I just came in for some coffee. I have an, ah, an appointment down the street in a few minutes." He waved his arm in the general direction of the street, then looked nervously at the muggle wristwatch on that arm.
"I see. How interesting. I wouldn't want to make you late, then. So if you'd be so good as to just move along, I'll finish my breakfast here and mind my own business, hmm?" He raised his eyebrows at the boy and pointed his chin as if to use it to shoo him away toward the door; at the same time he was thinking, damn it all, I'll have to move, if he's hanging around this part of London. What bloody business could he have here, of all places?
"No!" Harry said quickly, sounding panicked. Snape frowned at him. "I mean, no, sir!" Snape held back a laugh; the boy really was struggling. He wished he'd been in a position to enjoy the entertainment value of it, rather than feeling his heart squeeze at Harry's every word. "I mean…bloody hell, Snape, you're here and I didn't even know you were alive and I can't…how can you just…shove me away?"
"It's effortless, I assure you."
Shock and confusion began to turn to anger. "Bloody hell, Snape," he repeated. "Why didn't you let anyone know?"
Watch your step, Severus, he thought. "Minerva McGonagall knows."
"Then why didn't she tell me?"
"Because I gave her explicit instructions not to."
"And why in the world did you do that?"
"Because I didn't wish for you to know, perhaps?"
"But…why not? After…I mean, after everything…"
Severus felt his insides twisting, and decided he probably couldn't take much more of this. He should stop it now, before Potter got over his shock and organized the attack that was inevitable. "There was no 'everything,' Potter," he said firmly. "I died. You lived, and saved the world. All was is it should be."
"But you didn't die! I mean, obviously, there you sit!"
"My later revival was a complete accident and a surprise to all concerned. It is of no consequence to you."
"But how can you say that, when you…" The boy stopped short, looking as though he'd run into a brick wall in his head, and then tried again. "I just assumed you'd want…I mean, how could you not…" He blinked, and Severus could see him swallowing. It appeared that he couldn't, or wouldn't, say what he was thinking, which was fine with Snape, for as long as it lasted. Snape was afraid he knew very well what Harry had to be thinking, and it wasn't good. He was a bit surprised but relieved when Harry looked at his watch again and frowned.
Severus saw his opportunity to give the boy another verbal push, and took it. "I wouldn't want to make you late for your appointment, Potter," he said smoothly. Harry looked at him, very anxious now. "Run along now and have a pleasant life, will you?" The sudden look of misery on the young man's face was more response than he had expected.
"But I can't. You're alive…"
"Yes, and I have an appointment myself, to meet someone here any moment now," Severus lied. "If you'd be so good as to leave I'll get on with my own appointment and you can do the same."
Harry looked quickly from Severus' small table to the door. "You're sitting at a table with only one chair," he pointed out.
"We'll find another chair somewhere, I'm sure," Severus growled. "Now if you please, Potter…" and he set his gaze on glare and pointed it directly at the boy.
Harry raised his hands. "All right, all right." He backed away, but just a step. "But we really need to…if you'd just give me…" He ran a hand roughly through his long, strikingly silvered hair. "Damn it, Snape. You're alive. I know you're trying to get rid of me, I can see that. But I can't just…" He reached to the table and grabbed a paper napkin, then pulled a pen from his pocket—a muggle pen—and scribbled on it. He pushed the napkin at Snape, saying, "Take this, would you? It's my mobile number. In case you ever…um…needed to get in touch with me for…anything."
Severus raised an eyebrow, but said nothing as he folded the napkin up and put it in a pocket of his dark grey trousers. He wore muggle clothing frequently now, living so close among them as he did. He did not miss seeing Potter's eyes track his hand as he put the napkin in his pocket. This is quite enough, he thought. "Good day, Mister Potter," he said sharply, and dragging his eyes away from the boy, he looked at his newspaper and deliberately picked up his coffee again. For perhaps the longest two minutes of his life, he did not allow himself to raise his eyes.
When he did look up again, Harry was gone. Severus sighed and rubbed his forehead hard with his fingertips, just at the spot where a nerve crossed the hairline. He could feel a headache coming on.
X X X X X
Severus Snape did not breakfast in that coffeehouse again for two weeks.
He told himself he was staying away purely as a precaution. There was really no reason he had to avoid the place.
He had no reason to imagine that Potter would return, and certainly no reason to think that Potter might seek him out there. There was no way Potter could know that visiting this establishment was his regular habit. Surely, having seen that Severus was alive, the boy would stay as far away as possible and simply hate him from a distance now, but hate him, for sure, as he always had. And the fact that Harry had truly appalling reasons to hate him now, far worse than when he'd been in school, only argued more strongly for this theory; surely after seeing all the memories Severus had given him, looking deliberately for his old teacher again was the last thing Harry Potter would do—unless it was for the purpose of blasting mortal curses at said teacher, in which case, Severus thought reasonably, at least it would all be over soon.
And Severus really did not want to have to move just to avoid Potter. He couldn't exactly say he liked living in this neighbourhood, but it suited his purposes well enough. It was thoroughly nondescript, full of identical flatblocks and anonymous office buildings, and it was—or at least he'd thought it was—about as far away from magical society, and magical folk who might recognize him, as he could get. He'd begun to imagine feeling somewhat settled here. Alone, of course; not happy, no; but at least somewhat settled.
Still, for two weeks he avoided the coffeehouse, trying to convince himself that a change of routine would do him good, that there was nothing tying him to the shop where Potter had suddenly appeared in front of him again.
But there was something tying him there, of course. Seeing Potter—no, Harry—again had reawakened in him all the awful feelings that Severus thought had died when he himself nearly had. He'd thought they would stay dead, and that he would no longer feel the dizzying, horribly wrong yearning for this particular young man, possibly the most inappropriate man in the world he could have chosen to fall in love with. This yearning had started to torment him when the boy was only fifteen, making Severus fear himself a monster, and it had only grown stronger right up until the day Harry had seen him die.
Long before that, Severus had concluded that his romantic love for the boy's mother had been merely a youthful fancy, though their friendship had been real enough, and deep. That his adult sexual tastes ran more to men than to women eventually lessened his confusion about Lily, but unfortunately made it no less difficult to ease his loneliness. He'd accepted the sad thought that he was destined to be a solitary.
And then Harry Potter had begun to mature from a cheeky little boy into a beautiful young man right before his eyes, and he'd understood with awful certainty what Harry's mother had actually been preparing him for, twenty years earlier. He'd said a silent prayer of apology to her memory then, when he stared open-mouthed across the Great Hall at her son, on the day young Potter had smiled and joked and laughed a man's deep laugh, loud and clear, for the first time. On that day he was a child no more, and Severus found himself tormented by desire for the man he'd become. On that day the die had been cast, for good or ill, and his desire for Harry became an all-consuming force, entirely out of Severus' control.
Why this boy among all others? To ask the age-old and world-wide question, how does it happen that a man falls in love with a particular boy…or man, or girl, or woman? It was because, Severus decided in the many midnight hours he spent brooding over the question, Harry was good and beautiful and brave and intelligent, and had suffered and been tempted by evil and had been so lonely for years, and still he remained an innocent. Not just good, but innocent. His very Gryffindor-ish nature, the affectation of which so appalled Severus in others, was in Harry the real thing, and it made him the most entrancing, the most vulnerable-yet-strong young man Severus had ever seen.
Severus also pondered regularly, in his sleepless hours, the possibility that Harry's personality completed his own in some irritatingly karmic way. Perhaps they fit together, somehow, in spite of or even because of the differences between them. He'd heard of theories that desire between a man and a woman could be explained by the unconscious recognition of a person with whom one might have healthy, perfect children. It was obviously a rather pointless theoretical exercise to consider this possibility between two men, but as Severus lay cold and lonely in his bed at night, the idea sometimes seemed to have merit.
There was undeniably something of his mother in Harry, as well, and yet he was plainly a man. He was masculine but fairly small, muscular but in a trim, lithe way, and cleanly athletic-looking, which Severus had never been. He also had been made, apparently, to fit perfectly just under Severus' arms. All of these attributes served to enhance his desirability, and to increase Severus' misery when they'd been forced to occupy space near each other—in the classroom, for instance, or while passing in a corridor. He'd tried to compensate for his own discomfort by inflicting a bit of it on Potter, which was easy enough to do with a glancing snarl or sneer at the boy, to which Harry usually responded with an indignant—and rather hurt—look. By these means Severus had maintained a precarious status quo for as long as he remained at Hogwarts.
But then came the war, and the snake had bitten, and Severus had died…and inexplicably been reborn. After all that, he'd thought his terrible desire for Harry was dead and gone and would no longer trouble him. Surely his near-death experience had been dramatic enough to bring some sort of new perspective on it all, hadn't it?
He was wrong, and he realized soon enough that he would have to go back to the coffeehouse.
He had to see Harry again.
He reminded himself sternly, as he contemplated returning, that he had no reason to imagine that Potter himself would visit that coffeehouse again. He remembered only much later that Potter had given him a telephone number; it had seemed like a bizarrely incongruous thing for the boy to do at the time.
And he chose to return—though he would have said it was not a deliberate choice—on another Wednesday morning, two weeks to the day after he'd seen Harry the first time. It was an unseasonably chilly, rainy, iron-grey day—more like Scotland in September than London, really, Severus thought, and then he realized he was remembering beastly weather at Quidditch matches, and put the thought out of his mind with irritation.
"May I…um…join you, Professor? I mean, Snape, er, sir?" Severus heard shoes shuffling for a few seconds. Then more anxious words: "I was hoping you'd come back. If you like, I won't say another word. May I sit, please?"
Severus refrained from looking up for as long as he could manage, keeping a tight grip on the relief and anticipation that filled him. When he finally did raise his head, he saw an extremely nervous-looking Harry Potter standing in front of him, carrying a tray with a small coffee and a very large cinnamon bun on it. Severus sighed loudly and then glared at the boy, keeping his eyes narrowed for two beats, then three…and then he allowed himself to relent. "Sit if you must, Potter. I intend to read my newspaper."
"Thanks, sir. I promise, I won't bother you a bit." Looking pleased but still very nervous, the boy set down his tray, which made a great clattering noise and jostled the small table. Napkins blew off onto the floor and Severus' coffee cup rattled in its saucer as Potter heaved his long black coat onto the back of his chair and finally sat down with a whoosh. Severus just watched him, frowning, from behind his newspaper.
Harry looked up at him and smiled. The smile was so genuine, and it made him look so very beautiful, that Severus thought his heart might be thudding loud enough for the boy to hear. He gave a little, "Hmph," to cover it up and turned back to his paper, leaving Potter to his breakfast and whatever other entertainment he could find for himself. There are newspapers aplenty around the shop, Severus thought, it will do him good to read and learn something while he eats…eats that ridiculous huge sweet thing on his plate. Good lord, what an appetite. Teenage boys, what creatures they are… Except he's not a teenager any longer. He must be twenty. Merlin help me, he's twenty years old. Then out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Potter picked up a section of Severus' own newspaper, and began to read it while he nibbled his giant bun in studious silence. Severus sighed again, but said nothing.
They said not another word to each other that morning, until Harry looked at his watch half an hour later and said, "Well, I have to run. Got an appointment." He flashed another hesitant, lovely smile that made Severus glad he was sitting down, and continued, "Thanks for…um, letting me sit with you. I'll see you around." The smile brightened in intensity briefly, the table jostled and napkins fluttered again as Harry stood up, and then he was gone.
Severus sat in silence at the table for a few more moments, sipping the last of his cold coffee and deliberately not listening to the bloody interminable music, which was in a minor key and full of sadness and longing. He noticed suddenly that it seemed rather dark in the shop today; perhaps they'd changed out the light bulbs for dimmer ones. It was a penny-wise folly, he decided; the gloomy atmosphere would probably not be good for business. It definitely was not making him want to linger. So with that he got up, disposed of his rubbish and the extra napkins and sugar packets and soda straw wrappers Harry had left—what in blazes was he doing with soda straws?—and walked the two blocks back to his flat alone through the cold drizzling rain.
X X X X X
"It's good to see you this morning, sir. And don't worry, that's all I'm going to say." And with that, and no other by-your-leave, Harry Potter sat down at Severus' small table again, making things rattle and shake and flutter as they had the previous week. This week, however, he had a small coffee, a glass of orange juice, a cinnamon bun and a bowl of oatmeal on his tray.
"Good Lord, Potter, are you provisioning an army?" Severus managed to ask, with a sneer that he hoped was hiding the hunger in his own eyes. Gods, what a sight the boy is, he thought, drinking it in. Harry's cheeks were still pink and his hair windblown from being outdoors. It was a much sunnier day than the previous Wednesday, but the cold had lingered through the week. Severus, however, felt unaccountably warm as he looked at Harry sitting across from him. He folded and refolded his newspaper to distract himself.
"No, sir, I just have a bit more of an appetite than last week." He smiled, looking painfully self-conscious. "Oops, I promised I wouldn't talk. Sorry."
Severus shook his head and turned back to his paper. They said nothing for some time. Severus did not read his paper, though; he alternated between glancing around or over the paper to gaze at Harry as he ate, and staring at a fixed spot on the page in front of him imagining Harry's beautiful mouth pressed around his oatmeal spoon, or chewing thoughtfully on his sweet roll, or testing the temperature of his coffee with a tentative poke of the tongue. At one point he watched in fascination as Harry swallowed orange juice, the muscles in his throat moving smoothly and rhythmically to carry it down. As he put his glass down, Harry looked at Severus and caught him staring; the boy smiled and blushed profusely, and Severus was mortified to feel his own face heat as well, as he jerked his eyes away with a frown.
Harry said nothing, but ran a hand through his long hair as if to tidy it before it came under closer scrutiny. The hair was worth a comment, Severus decided, and a little verbal scorn might allow him to break the silent tension and re-establish his control of the situation. "Potter," he said, trying to growl, "that hair. Are there no barbers left in Diagon Alley, to say nothing of the entire city of London?" The boy's hair was in fact gorgeous, Severus thought; it fell to his shoulders now, thick and shiny and bouncy, all the things that Severus' hair was not. It was also, however, shot with silver enough to belong to a forty-year-old. It was as grey-streaked as Severus' own hair, which itself had turned dramatically more mature-looking after Nagini's bite.
Harry looked up from the piece of Severus' newspaper he'd been reading. "Huh? Sorry, barber? Oh, no. I just…decided to grow it out, is all. I thought it might look better this way." The smile that followed this answer nearly blinded Severus, and he was forced to look away.
"It looks…well, very long, is how it looks," Severus said sharply, unable at the last minute to spit out the nasty comment he'd planned. "And the grey, Potter. What the hell happened? You look…" like a male model, like a Greek god, like a sight for sore eyes, good enough to eat, "…like a middle-aged man." Now there's an insult, he thought. I've told him he looks as old as me. He sighed, feeling truly pathetic.
But Harry didn't seem bothered; in fact he laughed, leaving Severus feeling even less in control than before. "That's not so bad, then, is it?" Harry said. "It's been this way since…well, since the war. Happened overnight, about a month after it was all over. Took me by surprise, you can imagine, but it's not been a problem. People even take me a little more seriously now, I think."
"People take you seriously because you won the bloody war for them, Potter."
"You know that's not how it was," Harry said. "I was just one part of it. You of all people should know that."
"Yes, well, you're still Harry Potter, the savior of the wizarding world. A little grey at your temples can't change that."
Harry's scowl evaporated, and he chuckled and shook his head. "Maybe not, but I'm not recognized on the street now as much as you'd expect. That's another reason I've grown it. Surely you can understand, can't you? I just didn't want to be, you know…noticed so much."
Severus made a little "hmmm" noise and turned back to his paper, trying to hide the agitation that was building in him. He decided it had been a mistake, allowing himself to steal looks at the boy as he'd been doing. You will always be noticed by me, whether you like it or not, he thought savagely. Damn you. Can't you do something to make yourself less beautiful, for a change? He stared at the spot in his paper again for a few moments, trying to calm himself, but was unable to resist a few surreptitious glances over the top of the paper at Harry, who had gone back to eating and reading. Damn you again, Severus thought. How can you just sit there, how can you engage in this meaningless chatter with me? I know what you've seen, and that you know what I am. Why are you here? Why haven't you raged at me yet? What's wrong with you? Severus could feel a frenzy working itself up inside him. He knew he could not go on this way for long. He'd have to strike out at the boy, or kiss him, or something, to relieve the tension.
And then Harry was looking at his watch, and saying, "Ah, there's the time. Got to run." He flashed the smile again, making Severus' head swim for a second, and then with a quick, "Thanks! See you next week, sir!" the boy was gone.
Severus sat for nearly half an hour before moving from the table. It took nearly that long to get his body to relax and his mind to loosen its grip on images of Harry as he'd sat across the table…Harry smiling, chewing his roll, slurping his coffee, licking his spoon… When Severus finally felt his heartbeat and breathing return to normal, he left the coffeehouse and walked home, feeling exhausted and numb, through the cold sunny morning.
X X X X X
The following Wednesday, Severus' presence was required by his publisher at an all-morning staff meeting. He argued against attending, complained bitterly that he had no time for such faux-collaborative nonsense, and pointed out to the publisher that the other editors were all afraid of him and that therefore his presence might actually detract from the meeting's productivity, but in the end there was no choice but to go, glamour firmly in place.
His breakfast that day was a most unappetizing styrofoam cup of coffee and a roll in a cellophane bag. As a result he felt hungry and unsatisfied all morning, and snarled with extra intensity every time he was required to speak to his co-workers. They soon decided it was safest to leave him alone, and he spent the last hour of the meeting in grim, miserable silence, nursing the beginnings of a nasty headache.
X X X X X
"You're back!" The boy grinned, blushed, and ducked his head, looking embarrassed, as he sat down. He appeared nervous and relieved and happy and miserable all at once, and Severus felt dizzy just looking at him. "I, um. I really missed seeing you. Last week," Harry said, blushing harder. "Yeah, I know it's stupid. I did, though."
It was a warm sunny day, for autumn in London. Severus quietly watched Harry in the bright morning light that filled the coffeehouse, as he settled himself before beginning to eat. The silver in his hair seemed to sparkle in the light, and his cheeks and lips were an almost luminous pink against the fair skin of his face. After shedding his coat and sitting down, Harry unbuttoned and rolled up the sleeves of the rumpled white school-uniform shirt he was wearing. As Severus continued to watch the boy, intently following his small, familiar motions, he was startled by the sight of the slender wrists that the rolled-up cuffs revealed. Entranced, he found he could not look away. How had he never noticed those lovely wrists before, he wondered? Had Harry never…by the Gods, he thought, still staring at them, will I be completely undone, after all this, by his damned wristbones? The wrists were pale and almost delicate. The hands below them were also fine-boned, but still broad and flat and clearly those of a man. Severus nearly lost himself staring at those fine, elegant hands and wrists, wishing he could reach across the table to grab them and press them to his lips, wanting to feel the strong slender fingers touch his face, to imagine them touching him everywhere, first affectionately, then firmly, passionately... For an instant they embodied everything he wanted in the world, and everything he desired in Harry.
He blinked. Harry was looking at him with concern. "Something wrong?" he asked innocently.
Severus cleared his throat. "Of course not, Potter. Eat your breakfast."
For the rest of the meal, Severus did not allow himself to steal looks at the boy across the table. They ate in silence except for the rustling of the newspaper and an occasional tiny slurping sound, which Severus did his best to ignore. Only after Potter had excused himself and swept out, leaving his usual breakfast debris in his wake, did Severus briefly stare at his departing back, reassuring himself that the lovely wrists were safely covered again by Harry's coat.
X X X X X
The weather had turned much colder by the next Wednesday. Harry was bundled up in heavier clothing when he arrived at his usual time, and no elegant wristbones were on offer, even after the boy removed his coat. Severus found that he was ridiculously upset by this lack, and was irritated with himself for it; as a result, he was more than normally curt with Harry, too. Harry took his unpleasantness personally and looked more anxious than ever as he left the coffeehouse, causing Severus to curse himself under his breath all the way home.
X X X X X
"So. Do you even want to know why I'm here every Wednesday morning?" Potter was looking at him over his bowl of oatmeal with an I-dare-you-to-ask expression. He'd arrived in a foul mood this morning, and so far food had not improved things.
"I assume you're about to tell me, whether I want to know or not."
"Ha. Yeah. Well, I'm seeing a shrink. A psychologist." He took another bite of oatmeal. "Muggle, too. I know, it's crazy…" He laughed, and nearly choked on the oatmeal; then he paused to finish chewing before speaking again. "Well, it is. Headmistress McGonagall sent me to her. She's to help me deal with…the war, you know, and everything."
Harry's expression was defiant, challenging Severus to argue with him, but Severus said nothing. "Anyway, the Headmistress thinks I have a problem, I guess." He looked at Severus as if he wondered whether Severus would agree. "And she believes the problem is all a result of the war. Seeing people die, that sort of thing." He snorted, as if it should be obvious that this was ridiculous. "I mean, really." Harry shook his head.
"Many people experience psychological problems during and after wartime, Potter. Seeing death and suffering can be traumatic." Merlin, what is wrong with the boy? What kind of problem could he be having, that Minerva thinks she has to send him to a muggle for help?
Harry looked up at him with a confused and irritated frown. "Yeah, so? I mean, I'd seen death before, Snape. You know that." The frown grew more puzzled and angry. "There's things that might be more traumatic than war, you know." He stared at Severus, who stared back for as long as he could stand it, then turned abruptly back to his paper.
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," he said, not looking at the boy, and hoping his pounding heart couldn't be overheard over the blasted incessant music, for which, just this once, he was grateful.
"Yeah. Well, thanks for your concern." Surprised by the cold tone of Harry's voice, Severus looked back over the newspaper at him. Harry was frowning at his own section of the paper, but it was an intensely upset frown, not an angry one. Severus took note but said nothing, having no idea at all what to say, and the rest of their breakfast passed in strained silence.
Only after Harry had left him, stomping out with a curt, "Later, Snape," and only after Severus had left the coffeehouse and was walking down the cold street toward home, did it occur to him to question why Minerva had sent the boy to a psychologist in this neighbourhood, of all places.
The morning air felt very cold indeed as Severus walked the rest of the way to his flat, pondering what might be wrong with Harry, and what he was going to have to do to find out.
X X X X X
"Yes. My counseling sessions are going just fine. The doc says things are supposed to get worse before they get better, did you know that?" Harry laughed harshly. "If it's true then everything's going just perfectly, thank you very much." He gritted his teeth as he shredded a paper napkin into tiny pieces on the table in front of him, then looked up at Snape with an angry, expectant glare.
Severus quickly handed the boy another napkin, thinking that this Wednesday morning was starting out badly. "Here, Potter. I only asked the question to feign polite interest, you know. I did not intend to aggravate you into some sort of crisis."
Harry looked up sharply, eyes wide, as if he'd just realized what he was doing. "Sorry." He dropped the tiny fragments of napkin in front of him and glared at them. "Bloody hell. I'm sure you think I'm completely…"
"Never mind." And before he could think better of it, Severus reached over and swept the tiny bits out of the way, into a pile at the side of the table. He straightened up and pulled his hands away, and saw Harry looking at him oddly, suddenly meek.
"Would you mind, Professor…um, Snape…could you do me just one little favor?" Harry asked quietly. Severus frowned, ready to refuse on principle, but Harry pushed on. "Could you just put your hand back on the table there, right where it was? Yes, just there," he said, as Snape gave in and warily reached across the table again. Harry picked up his newspaper and spread it out as if to read it, at the same time carefully arranging it so that Snape's hand was concealed underneath. Then holding the newspaper in only his left hand, he slipped his right under the paper and, to Snape's astonishment, took Snape's hand in his. Harry closed his eyes as if in great concentration and squeezed the hand lightly, then rubbed his thumb over it gently. Finally he gave a tiny, sad smile. "Warm," he said softly. "I thought so." He opened his eyes and looked directly at Snape as he released the hand.
But your hand is cold, Severus thought, wishing he could warm it, wishing he could just drag the boy across the table and cradle him on his lap, wrap a cloak around them both, and kiss him until he was thoroughly warmed all over. Instead he snatched his hand away under cover of the newspaper, fearing what it might do if he left it too close to Harry. Best change the subject, he thought. So he tried his earlier question again, phrasing it a little more gently this time. "I was merely asking, Potter, if you felt you and your muggle healer were making progress toward solving your…problems."
"Solving my problems?" Harry gave a sharp, nasty laugh, and Snape realized he had misjudged the direction in which safe conversation lay. All the tenderness of the hand rubbing was gone. "She knows nothing about my problems, Snape."
"I see," Snape said, though he manifestly did not. "Isn't that part of the process, to figure out what the problems are?"
"Yeah, well, it would be, if I thought the shrink could really help me. But she can't, so there's no point."
Severus nodded, confused. "Potter, make no mistake here, I have no interest in your personal life…" Severus, you lying bastard, he thought to himself, "…but neither do I wish you particular ill, and it concerns me that you seem openly hostile to the efforts others are making to help you."
Harry stared at him. "All right," he said slowly. "Do you want to know what they think is wrong with me?"
Severus raised a hand defensively. "Don't misunderstand. I do not mean to be intrusive, no, you needn't tell me details…"
"Oh, I think I do need to tell you. Since you obviously are on their side."
Where did this come from? "That's ridiculous, I am on no side at all…"
But the boy was rushing ahead, leaning over the table onto his elbows—there are those lovely wrists again, Severus thought, despairing that he could not touch them—and speaking in a low but intense voice. "They think I'm 'disconnected from the real world.' I'm 'not engaging in appropriate social interactions,' they say. 'Excessive isolation.' And 'loss of interest in normal activities.' As if their precious 'real world' was worth connecting with!"
"Do you disagree with their assessment?" Snape asked carefully.
Harry looked startled. "Disagree? Of course not. That's not the point. The problem is, it's the rest of the bloody real world, the magical world, and that fucking Voldemort, that's gone and ruined everything, not me. All I did was watch your stupid…" and then he seemed to catch himself, and stared at Snape, and stood up from the table abruptly. "Fuck," he exclaimed, as if the use of the word was bracing. "I've got to go." And with that he scooped up his coat and stomped out, followed by curious, uncomfortable looks from diners at nearby tables.
Severus took out his own pocket watch and checked the time. It was ten minutes earlier than the boy usually left, and his breakfast sat across the table unfinished.
He tried to finish his own meal, but found his appetite had departed with Harry. After an uneasy half hour and several more sly looks from nearby patrons who'd apparently overheard more than they bargained for, he headed home.
What was wrong with Harry? Was his disturbance, whatever its nature, somehow connected with Severus? He'd expected the boy to be repulsed, angry, furious even, about the fantasy he'd accidentally been given, but "disconnected from the real world"? That seemed…bizarre. And if Harry was repulsed, as he should be, why did he keep coming back to the coffeehouse?
He wondered why they'd not had it out already. Why had Harry not yet shouted at him, pointed an accusing finger at him, publicly declared him a pervert? It made no sense, his continuing to come here and socialize with the man he surely now despised, after all he'd seen-even if the boy hadn't despised him before, which Severus was sure he had.
Perhaps, Severus thought, he simply shouldn't permit this socializing anymore. He didn't have to come to this coffeehouse, as he'd proved to himself for two weeks in September. But he'd been weak, and unable to resist coming back just to see Harry, even though he knew the boy might destroy him at any moment, and that he'd deserve it. He couldn't help it; his desire was too strong. But might he have contributed to Harry's problems?
The walk home was very cold, and Severus hugged his arms to his chest, trying in vain to warm himself, as he worried more and more.
X X X X X
A week later London was dull, grey, wet and wintry outside, but inside the coffeehouse the air was warm and fragrant, and the windows were masked with steam. All the lights were on, the music sounded louder than usual, and even Severus had to admit it was considerably more cheerful inside than outside.
Potter was tense and unhappy-looking again today, but at least looked no more dangerous than he had the week before, so Severus counted himself lucky. He decided to ask no questions so as not to provoke another outburst, and they ate in relatively peaceful silence.
As he was not occupied with conversation, Severus soon found that he'd drunk his very large coffee a bit too fast. He excused himself to go to the loo, after quietly looking Harry over to making sure he didn't look likely to implode if left alone for a few moments. When he returned with an empty bladder and a second cup of coffee, however, he was surprised to see Harry leaning back in his chair, looking genuinely peaceful, with his eyes closed and a smile on his face.
Severus settled himself back in his chair as quietly as he could, trying not to jostle the table or do anything else that might disturb Harry's peace. After all, he thought, while his eyes are closed there's nothing to keep me from looking at him, is there? And so he did, lapping up the sight of the lovely young face at ease, the neck lengthened slightly as Harry's head was tilted back, the lips just curved in a smile… So beautiful, he thought, eyes grazing over the lean chest and shoulders, imagining the slender wristbones hidden safely under the heavy woolen jumper, trying to see what he could of the boy's flat belly, concealed by that bloody thick jumper and partly by the edge of the table… Then Harry opened his eyes slowly, and smiled at Severus, and Severus wondered what it would be like to see that smile in his own bed in the morning. The thought and the smile so unsettled him that he had to close his own eyes against their onslaught.
"Sorry. Did you think I'd gone to sleep on you?"
"I…no, of course not." Severus swallowed, trying to get past the thought of Harry smiling at him from bed. "You looked peaceful, and it seemed a shame to disturb you."
"Thanks. I was just listening to the music."
"The music?" It had not occurred to Severus that anyone might deliberately listen to the music here.
"Yeah. It's always so nice. Makes me feel better." He made a rueful face. "Well, sometimes it's not enough to really make me feel good, but it helps. It always seems so happy, you know?"
"Potter." Severus rolled his eyes and sighed, with as much drama as he could muster. "The song we are listening to at this moment is in a minor key, and is sung in Portuguese. It's very sad, if not downright tragic, and though I can't imagine you even understand a word of it, I don't see how it could possibly make you happy."
"How did you… Do you speak Portuguese?" He looked both shocked and impressed.
"No, I do not speak Portuguese," Severus said, relishing the success of his comment, "but I can recognize the language, and I can hear the mood of the music easily enough." And there is a large poster on the wall near the barista's counter explaining the "fado" genre, which you obviously have not bothered to examine, Severus thought, but he kept that to himself.
"Oh." Harry shook his head. "Well, I guess I don't understand the songs, then, but I still like them. They make me feel good. Even if they're sad." He smiled. "Does that make me even crazier than you already thought?"
Severus snorted. "Probably." He looked at Harry for a moment, and Harry continued to smile, and it made Severus feel so warm he decided to be generous. "Don't let me stop you, if you want to close your eyes and listen again."
"Okay," Harry said willingly. He leaned back again, wiggling into a comfortable position—and making Severus quite uncomfortable as he watched—closed his eyes, and sighed.
They sat like that, Harry with his eyes closed, Severus with his eyes on Harry, until Severus noted that Harry's usual departure time had arrived. The mood was so calm that he thought surely he'd be safe in reaching over the table to gently squeeze the boy's arm to rouse him, so he did. He was rewarded with another just-imagine-me-in-your-bed smile, which would have been enough, but then Harry raised his other hand and wrapped it around Severus' wrist, just for a second. "Thanks," he said. "I'd better be going, I guess."
He stood, stretched a bit, and put on his coat, but then hesitated. "Snape," he said quietly. "You were asking, last week…we are making progress, I guess. The muggle doc and me, I mean. Er, the doc and I…whatever." He looked at the floor. "And you were right. I, um, it did help to tell her...what my problems really are."
He kept looking down, avoiding Severus' eyes, and for a moment he leaned against his chair as if he didn't want to leave. "It's just, sometimes…I guess I don't like the things we're figuring out." Finally he looked up and caught Severus staring at him. "I'm sorry I've been so difficult," he said, "the past couple of weeks."
"Forget about it, Potter. I haven't taken offense."
Harry's face was up and alight again quickly, as if a ray of sunshine had broken through the clouds of his bad mood. "Thanks, sir, that's good. Because I didn't want...um, to disturb this. I enjoy seeing you, these mornings, and I wouldn't want it to become…" he gave a short, ironic sort of laugh, "too unpleasant for you."
"As I said, no offense taken," Severus repeated smoothly.
The boy was out the door a moment later. After he'd gone Severus sat with his own eyes closed for a bit, trying to recapture the feeling of Harry's arm and hand touching his own, and wondering, far too anxiously, what Harry was learning about himself that was so upsetting to him. He sat there, very still, until he suddenly realized that he must look ridiculous. He abruptly stood up, grabbed his coat, and stalked out without a backward glance.
X X X X X
The next Wednesday was a cold, clear, late November day, and breakfast that morning was surprisingly peaceful and free of drama. Severus noted that Harry looked less outburst-prone than usual when he arrived, and he'd even brought his own reading material for a change.
"What's that you've got, Potter?" he asked.
Harry grinned at him as he flashed the cover of the book. It was gaudy and gold-colored, and had pictures of crowns and swords and dragons on it. "Muggle fantasy. Hottest item in the bookshop, the girl there said." He seemed proud to be reading such a popular thing.
"Fantasy, you say?"
"Yeah, it has castles and dragons and potions and magic and everything. Or, the girl said, it will have—it's kind of a long story. This is just the first book in the series, and she said there's more magic as you go along. And dragons," he added, as if to emphasize this most exciting point.
"Again, I'll ask: fantasy, you say?"
Harry laughed. "Oh, got it, not really, yeah. Well, it was written by a muggle. Can't hold it against him, you know, that he didn't realize he was onto something."
"And what brought on this bout of reading, if I may ask?"
"Oh. The doc, actually. She said it might be a good thing for me. Kind of a substitute for…other, um, habits, you know, that aren't so healthy."
"I see," Severus said, frowning, as he really didn't see. What other unhealthy habits could Potter be talking about? But even as he sat there frowning at Harry, the boy began to look slightly more his usual tense and unhappy self, and Severus thought that was definitely a turn in the wrong direction, so he said, "Well. No doubt a little reading will do you good." He tried to look approving, in a dignified, disinterested sort of way, as he turned back to his paper and tried to imagine what unhealthy activities Potter had been told to replace with reading about dragons.
They ate in a blissful silence, except for the ever-present music. Harry was engrossed in his book and hardly looked up, which allowed Severus plenty of opportunities to stare around his newspaper at him unobserved. The boy even held the book up in front of his face for a few moments—for though it was a thick paperback, it was still smaller than the newspaper he usually read at breakfast—and Severus got a splendid look at those lovely, slender hands and wrists again. He sighed out loud while gazing at them, then had to turn back to his paper quickly when Harry looked around the book at him with a curious smile.
When Harry's usual departure time arrived, he closed his book firmly and rose to go. "Thanks," he said, "I'll see you next week." He started for the door, passing Severus on the way…and as he passed, he did not pause, but for just a fleeting second his hand was on Severus' shoulder, giving it a tiny squeeze. He didn't look down, didn't say anything, but there was no doubt—it had been an affectionate touch. Severus sat dumbstruck for a moment, unable to say or do anything until it was too late and Harry was out the door. Did the psychologist tell him to do that, too? he wondered.
The rest of the day, from his walk home until he lay in bed that night, he could feel Potter's fingers on his shoulder. He had no idea what to think about it, but still, he was unable to stop thinking about it.
He wondered how he would make it through the week. Then he wondered what might happen when he saw Potter again.
It took him hours to fall asleep.
X X X X X
There were no crises or altercations in the coffeehouse on the bitter cold Wednesday morning of the following week. The dark grey sky was angrily dropping sleet outside, and most of the patrons seemed grateful for the welcoming warmth and shelter inside.
Harry and Severus sat at their usual table, eating their usual breakfasts and reading quietly. Severus had made encouraging noises about how much the young man had read over the past week, as he had progressed to the second thick book in his fantasy series. Harry had told his former teacher tales from the book, about the dragons and knights and castles—"And wolves, there's loads of really big wolves!"—with great enthusiasm.
Severus had been frustrated, however, in his attempts to surreptitiously gaze at Harry while he read this week, for every time he let his eyes sidle around his newspaper to land on Harry, he found Harry surreptitiously gazing at him. It was most disconcerting. Harry would blush and look away quickly whenever he was caught staring, which only made things worse, as Severus was torn between looking away himself—as he knew he ought to do—and staring at the gloriously flushed cheeks of the embarrassed boy. He found himself imagining all sorts of other ways he might make those cheeks flush…which of course made things still worse. Eventually he had to withdraw behind his paper and close his eyes for a moment, fearing truly mortifying physical consequences if he didn't.
As he sat there hiding, with his eyes closed, he made a terrible discovery.
He found himself listening to the music. And worse, he realized he was actually enjoying it, even practically tapping his foot in time with it. The realization made him feel nauseated.
He was rescued from this distressing self-awareness only when Potter looked at his watch and announced, with evident reluctance, that it was time for him to leave. He looked at Severus with a nervous smile as he got up from his chair and donned his coat, and then stood by the table, hesitating.
"Well?" Severus finally asked, after Harry had shifted from one foot to the other several times. "Was there something else? I fear you're going to be late."
"Yes, I mean, no, that is…I think I can still make it in time." But he didn't move.
Severus looked at him. "Well?" he said again, puzzled.
"I…never mind." Harry looked unhappy, but took a step toward the door, and then stopped again. "Wait. I just wanted…" He took one more stride so that he stood next to Severus' shoulder, and his hand came up and rested on that shoulder, as it had the previous week, but this time it stayed there for several long seconds. What was more, Severus was horrified to see his own hand move, slowly and apparently of its own accord, to rest on top of Harry's. Harry looked down at him wide-eyed, and Severus jerked his hand away.
"Go, Potter," he tried to snarl. "You will be late."
"Yes, sir," came the whispered reply, and Harry was gone.
X X X X X
The following week, Severus told himself that he was seriously considering staying away from the coffeehouse on Wednesday. I may be doing the boy harm by continuing to see him, he thought. He is disturbed, and is behaving irrationally; if my self-control should slip... It seemed to Severus a safe assumption that being significantly touched, or kissed, or pressed fiercely up against a wall by his repulsive former teacher would do Harry irreparable damage. Obviously, he thought. Then he realized that in staying away he was trying to protect the boy, which meant admitting that he truly cared for him, which was so unsettling a thought that he had to shake his head and start over.
In the end, he gave up and followed his usual routine, telling himself over and over again as he walked to the coffeehouse that he would stay on his guard, that he would not let himself slip, no matter what Harry did. He tried not to imagine all the things Harry might do that would make it difficult for him to maintain his resolve.
When he arrived Potter was already there, sitting at their table, sipping his coffee but waiting to eat his enormous sweet roll and read his book—yet another new one—until Severus had sat down with him. "Good morning, sir," he said, looking and sounding more chipper than usual.
"Potter," Severus replied gruffly. He did not want to encourage too much cheer; that might lead to untoward actions.
Harry let Severus eat in silence for several moments, but then asked a question, in a way that made Severus think he'd been waiting for just the right moment to spring it. "So, um, Snape. Are you working, these days? Anywhere?"
Severus leveled a low-intensity glare at him. "I am." He offered no further information.
"Um. Yeah. What would you be doing, then?"
Severus sighed loudly. "I am an editor at a scholarly potions journal, Potter. It's not a publication I'd expect you to be familiar with."
But the boy only smiled. "No, I guess not. Do you…do you like the work?"
"It pays the rent."
"Oh." Harry looked startled.
What did he expect? Severus wondered. "Not what you thought you'd hear from me? Welcome to reality, Potter. Some of us have bills to pay and groceries to buy, and not all of us come from moneyed families."
He hadn't intended to really wound Harry with that, but from the stricken look on the boy's face it appeared he might have. Damn, he thought. So he tried to soften it a bit, by continuing to talk. "The work is…tolerable, I suppose. The glamour I wear when I interact with other employees is less so."
Harry frowned. "You have to wear a glamour?"
"Yes. They do not know, or do not know exactly, who I am. Does that surprise you?"
"Well, yes. I mean, you're a known expert on potions. Why wouldn't you want them to know who you are?"
"Today, it might not be a problem. Two years ago, when I first took the job, my reputation was, shall we say, less than impeccable?"
"But your name was cleared, after the war…"
"Yes. But I needed a job before that little task had been completed, so I disguised myself. My employers are experts in potions, not in charms such as glamours; they were not terribly difficult to fool."
"But now, couldn't you tell them the truth?"
Severus sighed. "It's simpler to keep things the way they are. Besides," he said, thinking Harry could stand to be reminded of this fact, "most people still assume me to be dead."
"Oh. Yeah, that." He thought for a moment. "You said the glamour is intolerable?"
"It gives me a severe headache to wear one for several hours." A particularly miserable, tedious headache not susceptible to healing potions, he thought, deciding this was not a fact the boy needed to know.
"That's too bad." Harry looked concerned. "I get those myself sometimes. They're no fun, are they?"
"No, indeed they are not."
Harry seemed to have spent himself in questioning, and they sat sipping coffee in silence for a few moments. Just when Severus had relaxed a bit, however, the boy asked quietly, "Do you ever wish you were still teaching?"
"If you're asking whether I miss playing nanny to you and your moronic little friends, the answer is no."
Harry raised his hands. "Okay, take it easy. Really, I just wondered if you were…happy, doing what you're doing, is all."
"Happy." Severus tried to affect a contemplative look, as if he were seriously considering this ridiculous question. "That's a lot to ask, don't you think?"
"I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to get too personal."
"I don't mean the question is asking too much of me. I meant, expecting happiness is asking too much of life."
"Oh." Harry looked disappointed. "Do you really think happiness is too much to ask?"
"You may ask life for whatever you wish, Potter. I myself ask for more reasonable things than happiness."
Harry gave him such a forlorn look then that Severus wondered if he'd taken his stern resolve a bit too far again. Still, he didn't want a repeat of the boy's extremely dangerous little stunt from last week. He allowed the rest of their meal to pass without words, and read his newspaper diligently until Potter stood up to go.
"Well. Um. I'll see you next week, then," Harry began, his voice lilting upward in anticipation, as if he hadn't concluded his thought yet. He gave every impression of preparing himself for another close encounter as he walked by.
Severus was ready, however. He fixed the boy with a forbidding look, and refused to break eye contact. I dare you to touch me while I'm staring at you like this, he thought. And it worked. Harry swallowed visibly, and walked toward Severus, and then past him, with his hands down. Severus let out his breath in relief, and looked around to make sure Harry was still heading for the door. He was, but now his head was down as well, his hands were dug deep into the pockets of his jeans, and he looked like a boy who'd lost his last shred of hope.
Bugger, Severus thought helplessly. I can't send him off looking like that to his psychologist. She'll blame me for... The appalling thought struck him, just at that moment, that perhaps she already did. "Potter, wait," he said, trying to speak just loud enough for the boy to hear. Harry turned back toward him, his expression miserable, as if he expected to be chastised for something. Severus couldn't bear to have his private words heard by all the idiotic customers around them, so he motioned for Harry to come back toward him, and Harry came. "Have a good appointment," he said in a low voice, and the words, when they came out, felt like sand grinding between rocks. But he'd said it—he'd fixed it. He hoped.
And the effect of his words was gratifying. Harry still looked a tragic figure, with his dramatic long hair and sad eyes, but the smile he flashed at Severus softened his face immediately. "Thanks, I will," he said quietly, and then turned and was out the door before Severus could drag his eyes away again.
Severus saw those sad eyes and hope-filled smile again that night, when he closed his own eyes and went quickly to sleep. He woke sometime in the darkest hours, sweaty and sticky even though he kept his flat chilly at night. Disgusted, he wrenched himself out of bed and took a ferociously cold shower, then changed his bedding and crawled back into it. He scowled into his pillow as he dozed in fitful fragments of sleep, until the morning's dim light awakened him.
X X X X X
Severus angrily slammed down the window in his flat and watched the small, grey, terrified-looking owl fly away. He knew but did not care that the forcefulness of his response would not change the irritating message he'd just received. The editorial meeting to which he'd been summoned this morning couldn't be helped, and couldn't have been foreseen, but there was nothing to be done about it. He knew it was best to simply toss up his hands, attend the meeting, and forget about the orderly schedule he had planned to keep the rest of the day. He found, however, that he could not forget about Potter.
Once in September he had missed their weekly breakfast and Potter had evidently been distraught. He'd thought it absurd at the time, but now… Severus had to admit he himself was distraught. This was a very bad way to start off the month of December, he thought gloomily, which was already sure to be cold and miserable, and full of odd disruptions and too much noise.
Of course, he knew Potter still hated him. Do not forget that, he told himself sternly. Potter also, inexplicably, kept coming back week after week to share coffee and—mostly—trivial conversation with him. But surely, the boy must still despise him—surely, Severus thought. In spite of his occasionally odd and intimate little gestures, nothing else made sense.
Severus found he didn't care. He wanted to see Harry, to look at him, to hear his voice, to refill his eyes and ears with details about Harry. He knew he'd need that supply of details to sustain him in the coming years, after Harry grew tired of him or angry with him, or at the very least finished with his counseling appointments, and stopped spending Wednesday mornings with a bad-tempered old man who secretly stared at him from behind his newspaper.
Feeling still more bad-tempered with every passing moment, Severus rubbed his chin as he stared at his glamour-modified face in his bedroom mirror. The false face still wasn't very glamorous, he knew, and every moment wearing it would take a toll on him later in the day. He could feel the tension beginning to build in his temples already, and knew that continuing to worry about Harry would only make it worse. But he couldn't stop worrying, and even worse, he was worried about Harry worrying.
If only he could let Harry know where he was, so the boy wouldn't worry…that would at least take care of one concern. But there was no time to send an owl; the castle was several hours away as the owl flew. He supposed he could always apparate there, find Potter and inform him that he would miss their breakfast, and then apparate directly to his meeting. The thought of presenting himself at Hogwarts was more than he could stomach, however. And it would take too long, in any event. No, he thought with resignation, Potter would simply have to deal with it, just as Severus himself would.
And then his eyes fell on the telephone.
It was strictly a muggle device, of course. It had simply come with the apartment, which was not surprising, as he lived in a muggle neighbourhood. He'd never used it, never even bothered to pick it up, but as it was connected rather permanently to the wall he'd not tried to remove it, either. And now, perhaps…
He went to his bedroom and fished through the box of random small pocket fodder that he kept in a bureau drawer. He was sure he hadn't thrown out the napkin Potter had given him, if only because it was Potter who had given it to him, and he was sure Potter had told him he'd written a telephone number on it. He wasn't sure why Potter even had a telephone, and was even less sure that one could call that telephone with this telephone, but it was worth a try.
At last he located the wrinkled napkin and carried it out to the sitting room. He studied the number on the napkin, then studied the telephone. He'd grown up in a half-muggle household, so he'd seen a telephone before. But his family's phone hadn't rung often, and he'd been forbidden to touch it, so he'd never actually used one himself. Surely it couldn't be too difficult, though, if muggles used them all the time.
He tried to remember how the blasted things were supposed to be used. After some fumbling, he got the smaller piece turned right-side up and held it to his ear as he'd seen muggles do. He looked at Harry's number again, and hesitantly punched the numbered buttons on the base of the telephone in the order Harry had written down. It seemed like a ridiculously complicated way to send a message, but if it worked, what did it matter?
He pushed the last button, and waited, wondering what would happen next.
"Um. Hullo?" He heard Harry's voice, its tone a mix of surprise and suspicion.
"Is that you, Potter?"
"Snape!" He sounded astonished. "Bloody hell, is that really you? You…you called me? I can't believe it!"
Severus gave the telephone a withering look, and then realized that Potter could not see it. "Fortunately I'm not taking points for language today, so you may relax, Mister Potter. And yes, it should be obvious that I have called you, though I'm beginning to regret doing so."
"No, wait! I'm glad you called! I mean, I think I am—is anything wrong?"
A satisfyingly concerned response, Severus thought, and it warmed him a bit before he realized it was alarming to confirm that Potter was so quick to worry about him. "No, nothing is wrong. I simply wanted to notify you that I cannot attend our usual…ah, breakfast this week. I have been summoned to an editorial meeting half an hour from now and will be there for the rest of the morning, at least."
"Oh." There was a pause. "That's too bad."
He does sound disappointed, Severus thought. "Yes, well, it can't be helped."
"I suppose not. Um, will I see you next week, then?"
"I assume so," Severus replied, wishing he wasn't already looking forward to next week. "And now I'm afraid I must be going. I merely wanted to let you know."
"Yeah. I understand." There was a long pause on Potter's side of the conversation, and Severus wondered how one knew when a telephone call was over, but then the boy spoke again. "Thank you for calling. I…I really appreciate it." There was a shorter pause. "I'm glad you kept my number."
"Yes. Well. One never knows when such information might prove useful." Damn it all. One never knows in how many ways one might give oneself away.
"Right," Potter agreed. "Well, thanks anyway. I'll, um, see you next Wednesday."
"Indeed. Have a good appointment this morning, Harry."
There was another long pause, but Severus didn't dare hang up. Then he heard a soft, "Thanks, sir. Good-bye," and there was a click.
"Good-bye," Severus said, equally softly. He stared at the telephone for a moment, and then placed the smaller part back on the base as he'd found it.
It was only as he was in mid-apparation, on the way to his meeting, that his mind's ear replayed the words he'd said: Have a good appointment this morning, Harry.
I am such a fool, he thought.
As he sat through the meeting, however, he was pleased to find that he could still hear Harry's voice in his head. It helped considerably, as he tried to distract himself from the painful knots tying themselves behind his forehead, and the morning wore on and on.
X X X X X
By the following Wednesday, Severus was sorely irritated with himself. He was out of control, and he knew it, and did not like what was happening to him. Allowing himself to behave in this way could only lead to disaster, he knew very well.
He was missing Harry.
He rushed through his morning preparations, walked more quickly than usual from his flat to the coffeehouse, and then had to struggle to master his face as he went in the door, to make sure that neither Harry nor anyone else could see the eagerness with which he scanned the room with his eyes.
Harry was not there.
This was not unusual, he told himself; he generally arrived before the boy, and was settled at their table well before Harry rattled and jostled his way over to disturb him. So he purchased his breakfast as usual, and sat in their usual place, and waited.
Harry did not arrive.
For half an hour or so Severus managed to pretend he was not concerned. Perhaps Harry had been delayed by some crisis at the castle. Perhaps he had overslept. Perhaps he had changed his appointment time for this week.
Perhaps he had decided he'd had altogether enough of his unpleasant former teacher, and would never deign to grace this coffeehouse with his presence again.
After an hour, Severus gave up. He shook himself, put on his coat, and started home, giving menacing looks to anyone who so much as glanced at him. It was gloomy, dark and very cold out, even for December, and by the time he got back to his flat he was thoroughly chilled again, but had nearly convinced himself that this was all for the best. What was he getting, after all, from this bizarre association with Potter? Only worry, and distraction, and trouble sleeping. It would not be such a loss to be shut of him, really it wouldn't.
He had re-entered his apartment, hung up his coat, and was making a pot of tea to warm himself when his telephone rang. It was a sound he had never heard so close at hand before, and he walked quickly over to the noisy thing and stood looking at it for a moment, stunned at just how loud it was. Finally, as the telephone rang for the seventh time, he picked up the smaller piece and lifted it to his ear, as he had the previous week.
"Yes?" he said, not entirely sure what tone one was supposed to take when one had just picked up a ringing telephone.
"Professor? I mean, Snape?" It was Potter, and he sounded very small and far away.
"It is I, Mister Potter." In spite of the happy relief he felt at hearing Harry's voice, he was struck by an odd thought. "How were you able to…does this telephone also have a number?"
"What? Yes, of course it does."
"And…how did you know what it was?"
"Oh. Um…you called me, remember? Last week?"
"Yes, but I am sure I did not give you the number of this device. I don't even know what it is."
"My mobile…er, remembers your number. I just called you back on it. See?"
Severus did not see, but Harry apparently understood what was going on, so he let it drop. "Why are you calling me, Potter?"
"Well, sir, it was so nice of you to call me last week when you couldn't make it to breakfast…and I couldn't come today, so I thought I'd call you as well…I didn't want you to worry…"
"That was thoughtful of you, but I was not worried," Severus lied, smoothly, he hoped. "I trust all is well, however?"
"That's just it, it's not, really. I'm kind of stuck here in the hospital wing. Madame Pomfrey won't let me leave."
"You are ill, then?" Severus tried to keep his concern out of his voice. Harry did sound a bit hoarse, he realized, and perhaps over-tired.
"Yeah, I guess so. I mean, I don't think I'm that sick, but she says I've got a fever and my breathing doesn't sound good, and she doesn't want me out running around in the cold getting sicker. She's being way too cautious, I think, but…"
"You are to do as she says, Potter. Do you understand?" Poppy might be over-protective at times, but Severus trusted her judgment, and if she said Potter was too sick to be out and about, he probably was.
"Um. Yeah." Harry sounded as if he hadn't expected orders from Severus. "I'm sorry to miss our breakfast, though."
"You are missing your appointment, also?"
"Yeah. But I don't care so much about that."
"I see." Severus stopped to think for a moment, not sure what to say about the fact that Harry was missing him more than his psychologist. He thought he should not encourage this feeling, should try to squelch it even, but then he heard a clattering noise from the telephone, and the muffled sound of someone coughing. "Potter?" he asked the telephone, concerned. There was no answer, just more coughing, and then a different voice, even more distant. It might be Pomfrey, Severus thought. The voice and the coughing continued, sounding increasingly far away. What the hell is going on? he wondered, but all he could do was wait, holding the telephone tightly and hoping Harry would not forget to return to their conversation.
Finally, after what sounded like a few stern words from the unidentified voice, the coughing subsided. Then there was a moment of odd rustling and rubbing sounds—is he sitting on the telephone?—Severus wondered—and then Potter's voice was back.
"I'm sorry about that," he said, speaking softly and sounding even weaker than before. "That was Madame Pomfrey, and I had to hide the phone."
"She does not know you are calling me?"
"No. She heard my voice, though, and thought I needed help. And then I started coughing again, and, well, she had to bring me a potion for it, and I just…" and he coughed again, rather violently from the sound of it, as if to confirm what he'd been saying.
"I understand Do not strain yourself with talking. You are to rest, and do as Madame Pomfrey says. No arguments."
"Well, yeah, I just thought…" He coughed again. "Yeah. I will." Then he sneezed, as if for good measure. "But I'll see you next week?"
"If you are well enough, yes. And Potter…" If you need anything…I will come to you. Immediately. But he could not say that, so he settled for, "You know how to reach me."
"Um. Yes, sir. Thanks. I'll see you, then. 'Bye."
Severus waited for the click, but then realized Potter might be waiting for him. "Good-bye, Mister Potter," he said softly. The click came. He put his telephone back into its resting position, and stared at it for a long moment.
Most likely he simply has a bad cold, he told himself. There's no reason to worry. But he did worry, all the rest of the day.
As the rest of the week passed, day by slow, worry-filled day, and he did not hear from Potter again, he realized that by the time next Wednesday arrived it would have been three weeks since he'd seen the boy. Considering he'd gone two years without seeing him before this September, a three-week absence should not have caused a problem, but he found that it did.
Harry had filled his dreams, waking and sleeping, for years now. But as he waited to see him this time, the dreams became more urgent. He could think of little else but how he wished their next breakfast might proceed, how he so wished he could pull Harry into his arms, right there in the middle of the coffeehouse, and make sure he knew he'd been missed.
But that was ridiculous, and Severus knew it.
Track 7: Syncopated rhythms
The muggle Christmas season was in high gear all around him as Severus sat in the coffeehouse the next Wednesday morning, waiting impatiently for Harry to arrive. He'd had enough of waiting, three weeks' worth of it, and feared that he might actually harm someone if the boy did not get here, and soon. He'd already snapped at the barista and actually roared at a fellow customer who'd tried to take the second chair at Severus' table—the chair he was saving for Harry.
Not that he planned to do anything special when Harry arrived. To act on his insane urges would simply hasten the disaster that he knew was coming, eventually. But at least it would soothe his aggravated nerves to look at the boy, and hear his voice.
Severus closed his eyes and tried to calm himself.
"Good morning, sir, are you all right?" Severus' eyes flew open to see Harry standing in front of him. How did he…? The question faded away in his mind, however, as he stared up and filled his eyes with the lovely sight in front of him. Harry looked dashing and slender and very serious, and was bundled up in a bright red jumper and long black wool coat. He carried his breakfast tray and his book, and wore a sad smile that immediately worried Severus.
"Potter," he growled. "Sit down, will you, the vultures have been trying to take your chair."
"Oh. Sorry." Harry looked around, as if expecting to see large ugly birds, and then plunked himself down with his usual paper-rattling, coat-billowing flair. "Boy, there's a crowd in here today, isn't there?"
"Bloody Yule shoppers," Severus muttered.
"Yes, probably," Harry agreed. Then he grinned. "Bet you've had your shopping all done for ages, haven't you?"
Severus stared. Was he being serious? "I do not shop at Yule-time, Potter," he said frostily, "and I resent your implication that…"
But the playful look had dropped from Harry's face instantly. "Wait, sir, I'm sorry. I was just teasing." He looked entirely too upset. "I…I'm not shopping this year, either. I didn't mean to suggest..." His voice trailed off.
"Hummph." Refusing even to look at Harry, Severus took a sip of his coffee, opened his newspaper pointedly, and began to feign reading. This was killing him already. He was barely succeeding at restraining himself from hauling the boy over the table and onto his lap. He wondered if it had been wise even to come here this morning.
Then he remembered the one question he did have to ask, and looked up, trying to appear not-quite-bored by the whole morning. "You are feeling better, I assume?"
"Oh, much, thanks." The sad smile was back. "I'd have come today even if I wasn't, though. I figured out a way to sneak out of the hospital wing, just in case."
"I doubt it was one that Madame Pomfrey does not know," Severus observed. "And if you'd been truly sick today, it would have been most unwise to—"
"I don't care," Harry said abruptly. "I missed…this. I couldn't have waited another week." Then he looked truly miserable. "And it would have been even longer. My doc is going to be on vacation for the next two weeks, so I won't be here."
So it would have been…what, six weeks? Severus thought, groaning inwardly. Then he realized they were both being idiots. "Potter," he began. "I am not here merely to wait upon your appointments, you realize. And there is no reason you may only come here when you have an appointment, either. You had thought of that, hadn't you?"
But apparently he hadn't, because he looked relieved. "Damn! You're right!" He shook his head. "I guess I must have been pretty sick, eh? I really wasn't thinking straight."
"Seems about par for your usual course to me, Mister Potter," Snape drawled, picking up his paper again, but he let one side of his mouth curl up in the tiniest of wry smiles. He heard Harry chuckle softly.
Immediate worries taken care of, they both settled in to eat their breakfasts and read. He looked at the book Harry was reading, which appeared to be different from the gold-embossed ones he'd been carrying around before. "What, no more dragons and giant wolves?" he asked.
Harry looked glum. "Finished them all," he said. "But the story's not done, not nearly, and it's killing me, waiting to find out what happens next. The girl at the bookseller says the next one in the series should be out soon, though. She says the author promises it will." He looked down at his current volume and brightened a bit. "This one's pretty good, too, though. It has spaceships. No dragons. Well, some aliens, too, of course. They go with the spaceships, usually."
Severus snorted in amusement and turned back to his newspaper. It felt good just to sit here and listen to the boy, and watch him read and eat. He tried to enjoy the pleasant routine feeling of it, while continuing to wrestle down the awkward, lusty impulses besieging him. Harry was so close, and it had been so long…if he could only permit himself to reach out, just a short distance, he could stroke that lovely cheek, or warm the slender, cool fingers resting on the table, or press his knee against a muscular young thigh…
Severus realized with a start that something was, in fact, pressing itself against his thigh.
He looked up from his paper without moving his head, and narrowed his eyes at Harry, but the boy sat there looking innocent as church, reading the thick book that he held in one hand, while licking white icing very slowly and languidly from the fingers of the other…
"Potter!" Severus snarled, so loudly that Harry jumped and dropped his book, and people sitting at neighbouring tables looked up. The pressure on Severus' thigh was gone.
"What—what's wrong?" Harry asked, looking actually frightened.
Oh, Gods, Severus thought, perhaps he wasn't provoking me deliberately. What have I… And the pressure on his thigh really was gone, he realized, and he knew he'd made it go away, and the thought that he'd ruined such a lovely feeling, even if it was horribly inappropriate and bound to lead to disaster, made him furious with himself. Oh, Gods, he thought again, I am out of control. I must master myself before I do something truly unforgivable. "If you will excuse me, Mister Potter," he said, biting out the words, "I must…I will return. Momentarily. My apologies." He stood, nodded stiffly at the boy, and fled toward the back of the coffeehouse.
Walking as fast as he could while maintaining some degree of dignity, he went down the dark, narrow hallway that led to the loo, but then turned a corner and exited the coffeehouse by a back door. He leaned his back against the building's brick wall and closed his eyes, breathing much too hard and trying to regain his composure. The brick was cold, and he'd left his coat inside, but he welcomed the shocking chill of it and hoped it might jolt him away from the obsession that was trying to take him over. He tried to think calming thoughts. You can handle this, Severus, they began. You have lived with these feelings for years, and you can continue to live with them. You must not act on them. That would be wrong, and the boy would hate you for it, even more than he does now.
Somehow those particular calming thoughts weren't very calming, so he tried another tack. Be practical, Severus. Get out of this what you can. Harry is allowing you to see him, to spend time with him, right now. He will not always be so willing, so take what comfort you can from it in this moment. You need not hurt him to find comfort for yourself. Remember that. Simply seeing him is good for your soul. Take that from him and be grateful.
Severus stood in the cold with his eyes closed, repeating more or less those words to himself over and over, and concentrating on keeping his breathing even. The brick was solid and steadying behind him. You can do this, he told himself. You must do this. He felt his self-control gradually returning, his pulse slow, his body relax. This is better, he thought with relief. So much better. I can return to him now, and not make a fool of myself.
He was just ready to open his eyes when he felt a soft touch on his arm. He jumped, and his eyes went wide to see Harry standing very close, looking just on the edge of panic. What's happened? Severus thought, quickly regressing to near-panic himself. Harry leaned toward him, looking desperately in need of something, and before Severus knew what was happening he felt his resolve simply evaporate. He made a soft, wordless sound and held out his own arms, and Harry slipped into them.
Having the boy in his arms felt like…bliss. For a heartbeat or three, Severus could not stop himself relishing the sensations of it, of Harry fitting so perfectly against his chest, of Harry feeling so warm it seemed they might simply melt together. But it was horrifyingly wrong. He had to get Harry straightened up and out of his arms before the boy came to his senses and turned on him.
"What's going on, Potter?" he asked urgently, leaning into the sweet black and grey tangle of the boy's hair and trying not to swoon. Harry looked up at him in anguish.
"I thought something was wrong, that you were sick or…or worse, that you'd left. You were gone a long time. And I looked in the loo, but you weren't there, and I was afraid…"
Harry made a tiny sound, almost a whimper, and pressed his face against Severus' shirtfront. The intimacy of the touch, even through his clothing, made Severus tremble. What was so profoundly troubling Potter that he would seek comfort in the arms of someone he should hate? It must be something truly terrible, he thought.
He tightened his embrace protectively, and raised his head to look around them, to see if they were being observed. He was jarred back to reality by the sight of the deserted back alley in which they stood. This was not a good place for two men to be found in such a compromising position, he realized. Even a perfectly innocent hug might be seen as illicit, should anyone happen by to see it at all.
"Potter," he whispered to the top of Harry's head, knowing what he had to do. "That's enough, now. Let's go back inside." He eased their bodies apart, his own screaming at him over the loss. And Harry himself was resisting, though feebly. Gradually Severus pushed the boy away, until he was standing entirely on his own, arms hugged tight about his own chest, looking lost.
"That's right. In we go." Severus guided Harry back inside, trying not to touch him any more than necessary, for fear of inflaming something uncontrollable in one or both of them. He wondered if their table had been taken over by the vultures, and prepared to scatter them with a display of territoriality such as they'd never seen.
Fortunately, the table had remained safely theirs, thanks perhaps to the coats they'd left behind. He pushed Harry gently into his seat and went round the table to his own. Finally they were back where they'd started, and Severus took a deep breath.
He gave Harry a moment to settle himself and warm up a bit, but then there were questions that demanded answers. "What was that all about, Potter?" he asked, trying to sound as if he was sure of what he himself was all about.
Harry had his elbows on the table and his head in his hands, and Severus didn't think he'd ever seen a more miserable-looking soul in all his life. "I'm sorry," Harry began, "I'm afraid I'm just not…managing things very well today." He rubbed his face with his palms as if trying to wake himself up from a nightmare, and then looked up at Severus. "God, I'm so sorry. I should never have touched you like that. I just couldn't…" He shook his head hard, as if to clear it. "I was afraid you'd gone. I know that was silly, your coat is right there, but I just…got so worried I couldn't stand it. I had to make sure you were all right." The lost look changed back to worry. "Are you all right?"
"I'm perfectly fine," Severus lied. "I simply needed a breath of fresh air. I was about to return to the table when you came outside."
"Yeah. I'm so, so sorry." He shook his head again, rubbing his forehead with the fingers of one hand. "Before…before I came out looking for you, I was afraid I might have really upset you. With the…teasing, about shopping. I honestly didn't mean…"
"Forget about that. I understand you meant no harm."
"I was just so afraid…I don't want to do anything to…you know, make you not want to keep…um, seeing me." He gave an embarrassed laugh and his whole face flushed quickly. "Not that I'm such a hot date or anything."
This is beyond bizarre, Severus thought, but he said as gently as he could, "You are reasonably good company, Potter, when you're not destroying a potion. You needn't worry about offending me, or pushing me away, as it were." You could not push me away from you with a battering ram, you silly boy. "I know you think me grim as death, but even I can take a little teasing, here and there." He gave a sardonic little smile, and was pleased to see Harry brighten in response. "That's better."
Harry blushed yet again. "You're being very patient with me. I can't tell you how much it means…"
Severus raised his hands as if to call a halt. "Enough. You can stop apologizing, and thanking me, and making whatever other gracious or submissive noises you're considering. I…enjoy our breakfasts as well, Harry. Perhaps we should consider ourselves even."
"You…you called me 'Harry.'" The boy's eyes were wide in surprise.
"Did I?" Severus asked with studied unconcern. "And am I in trouble for it?"
"No! I mean, I'd like it if you'd call me that."
"Then I will continue to do so. Though I may forget occasionally. Old habits are hard to break, you know. I trust you will not hold an occasional slip against me?"
"No, of course not." Harry gave him a strangely alarmed look, but it faded quickly into an uncertain smile. Severus was glad to see any variety of smile on the boy's face, finally, and he breathed a sigh of relief. His jollying tactics had worked. Disaster had been averted, at least for now.
It was with tremendous relief that Severus returned to his newspaper, and watched Harry return to his book. He kept one cautious eye on the boy as they read and ate companionably, though his caution gradually transformed back into the hungry desire he'd felt earlier. Their brief embrace out in the cold had been splendidly satisfying for a short time, but soon left him wanting more.
Then Harry looked up, caught him staring and blushed yet again, and asked, "Do you have any plans for the Christmas hols?"
Severus was immediately wary again. "No, nothing special. I don't care to make a fuss over them."
"Oh." Harry was licking his spoon thoughtfully.
Severus cleared his throat. "How about you? Going anywhere festive?"
"No, nowhere at all."
"Not even any visits to various Weasleys?"
"No," Harry said curtly.
Ah, thought Severus, wondering what was wrong, but deciding it unwise to question further.
"But I'll be here for breakfast on Wednesdays, at least." Harry smiled shyly.
"Yes. There is that. But no appointments with your therapist, you said."
"No. Not for two weeks."
"Will that cause you…difficulty?"
"I assume you get some…comfort, or guidance, perhaps, from your conversations with her. I know you missed one week when you were ill. I was…concerned that you might feel bereft, when you had no opportunity to talk to her."
"Bereft?" He laughed. "No, I don't think I'll be bereft."
"I wasn't meaning to make a joke of it, Pot…Harry."
"No, I know you weren't. It's just that…we've been kind of, well, stuck for a couple of weeks now. I don't think seeing her is helping so much anymore. Some days my life seems to be…getting worse."
"Your life is intolerable?" Severus was confused. "I thought your living arrangements at Hogwarts were satisfactory. I did not realize…"
"No, no, that's not the problem. Or not right now, anyway. I really meant, I don't think I can go on the way I have…um, emotionally, for too much longer. I'm beginning to see how off things are. I just don't know how to fix them." He was giving Severus a peculiar, searching look.
"I see." Severus thought for a moment, though he was unable to interpret Harry's look. "I would think that in itself is progress. You are motivated to improve your situation, at least." Of course I still don't have a clue as to what your bloody situation is.
"Yeah, I'm motivated. Not that it makes any difference."
Severus sat staring at Harry in confusion, and decided that for purely selfish reasons, he could not stay entirely uninvolved any longer. He'd thought the boy had cheered up, but things did not sound good, the way he had just described them, and if he were to have another such crisis as he'd had out in the alleyway, there was no telling what might happen. Severus sat up straight and cleared his throat, then began to speak.
"Potter," he said firmly. "Harry. I do not wish to pry into your personal affairs, but as you are obviously in need of some kind of solace, and you were unlucky enough to blunder into me, of all people, when you needed it…well, I feel within my rights to ask what the bloody hell is really wrong?"
Harry's face darkened, and he gave Severus a terrible look before saying softly, "All right. You think you want to know? I've developed…some bad habits, Snape. They're hurting me. And I am disconnected from the rest of the world. I don't really want to be with…other people…anymore. But I can't seem to change my bad habits. Not completely, anyway. And apparently I can't fix the…the problem that led me to the bad habits in the first place. So I'm stuck." He looked at the floor briefly, swallowed visibly, then looked back up and into Severus' eyes. His voice was gravelly and pained when he continued. "Stuck here. Eating breakfast with you every Wednesday morning. And thinking that things can't go on like this much longer. My shrink agrees with me about that."
Of course. He will abandon this breakfast routine soon, as it is surely an annoyance to him, Severus thought, trying not to react to the squeezing in his chest. "I understand," he said, lying utterly. "You must do whatever you and your doctor think is best."
Harry was frowning, as if he thought Severus could not possibly understand. "What she thinks," he said deliberately, "is that I have to address the underlying problem. Or else I'm going to have to…just give up entirely."
"Give up entirely?" Those words didn't sound like they'd come from any Gryffindor Severus had ever known. Gryffindors didn't give up on life; they overwhelmed it with brave foolishness until it gave in and did what they wanted.
But the boy was confirming his words. "Well. Yeah," he said. "Give up on the whole bloody situation."
"And then what?"
"I don't know, Snape, that's the problem. Why do you even care?"
"I do not particularly 'care,' Mister Potter," Severus said nastily, feeling the conversation suddenly veering out of control. "I simply do not want a repeat of the incident in the alley."
"Oh." Harry's face was red with shame now, no longer dark and angry but also far from the charming pink it often took on when Severus had caught him staring. "That. Well, I promise you that won't happen again."
They sat not looking at each other for a few moments. Severus tried to untangle the words they had spoken, to make some sense of them, to figure out how to back them out of this unpleasant knot they were caught in. He could not let things stand this way, not with Potter sounding so…despairing. The morning had been going better, he thought, and then… Sod it all. There was no way out but forward.
"Potter." The name came out a bit more stern-sounding than he'd intended, and he tried again, his voice softer. "Harry. I realize I do not understand what problems you are dealing with. You have faced more demons, real and imagined, in your young life than anyone deserves, and if you wish to have a complete breakdown you are certainly entitled." The boy gave him a puzzled look, but he plunged ahead. "And I do not wish to insert myself into your problems, or their solution. That is between you and your doctor." The puzzled look changed to a frown. "But I cannot sit here and listen impassively to you speaking of 'giving up entirely,' not you, not at your age, not knowing you and how…strong you are." Severus paused, thinking he'd already gone farther than he'd planned, but now he couldn't turn back. "Tell me. What would you do, exactly, if you gave up entirely?"
"I don't know," Harry said in a small voice. "That's just it. I can't figure that out at all."
"Good," Severus said firmly. "And you should not try." He leaned across the table and lowered his voice even more, but his tone remained intense. "You will not give up, Harry. Not you. Not now, and not ever. You have your whole life ahead of you, and far too much to live for to just…toss it all away. For any reason. Do you hear me?"
"Yes, sir," came an even smaller voice. Harry's face looked drained and white now, and he stared at Severus, confusion and pain clear in his eyes. Severus stared back, hoping he was giving no clue as to how close he was to crawling right over the table and scooping the foolish boy into his arms.
They stared at each other for a very long moment, and Severus was astonished to feel their shared gaze softening, all by itself, into an affirmation of something like trust. We are safe together, he realized with surprise. We can tolerate each other, like this, so close. I never imagined he'd consider trusting me. He saw a look of surprise in Harry's eyes, as he apparently reached a similar conclusion.
Finally Severus jerked his eyes away and rubbed his hand over them. Merlin, he was tired, and it was only…oh. "You are going to be late for your appointment."
Harry looked at his watch. "You're right," he said, jumping up and pulling on his coat. He looked around wildly. "Sorry to rush off, but…"
Severus shook his head. "Go," he said. "I will clean up your mess."
Harry smiled at that. "I think you always do," he admitted.
"You are correct. Now go." He made shooing motions at the boy, who flashed him an uncertain grin and ran. Severus held his breath as Harry passed by his chair, but there was no touch on the shoulder this time.
Only after the boy was safely out the door and trotting down the street toward his psychologist's office did Severus lean back in his chair and sigh deeply. Gods, what a fraud he was, practically playing therapist now. Who am I to tell him what he may and may not do? he asked himself bitterly. As if I have my own life entirely under control, and am successfully managing all of my own demons. But he couldn't let Harry talk about giving up. What did that even mean? And what is so troubling him that he'd use such words?
He saw a man at a nearby table giving him a decidedly odd look at he sat staring into space. He gave the fellow the most dangerous glare he could muster, and was surprised when the man had the nerve to smirk back at him. "Bugger off," he growled, loud enough for other customers to hear. The man laughed and turned back to his own newspaper.
Severus decided he'd had enough for one morning. He stood abruptly, scooped up his coat, and swept out of the coffeehouse. The morning's breakfast debris remained on the table, and he did not even care.
After less than a block's walk through the damp, wintry cold, he was already looking ahead to next Wednesday. He wondered how he was going to last even that length of time without so much as a glance at Harry. Then he remembered Harry's words: "Things can't go on like this much longer." He took a deep breath and shook his head, and battled his own demons all the remaining way home.
Track 8: Christmas medley
Even though it was a Sunday, Severus spent the daytime hours of an unremarkable Christmas Eve working, as had been his habit for years. He edited two particularly atrocious articles, and spent an especially enjoyable hour looking up references in his personal library to refute the claims made in one of them. Honestly, he thought, did this fellow even attend school? Any school? Has he ever even cracked open a potions book? Because if he had, then surely he would know that…and so on he went, point by point through the entire article, until it looked more like a treatise on the nature of red ink than anything else.
His breakfast at the coffeehouse that morning had been cheerless and lonely, in spite of the holiday decorations and music. Harry had not been there, of course, as it was only Sunday. Three more days until he could see the boy again. Severus sat at his small table alone, and sighed frequently as he drank his coffee and tried to read his newspaper.
Lunch, eaten hastily in his flat between articles, had also been lonely, but not unexpectedly so. At least he was not accustomed to company at lunchtime, so he never felt its lack as much as he did at breakfast when Harry was not there.
By seven o'clock in the evening he was filing the last of his paperwork, re-shelving the books he'd taken down, and tidying up the quills and inkpots and blotter that covered his large mahogany desk. When all was in order he savoured a moment of satisfaction at the neatness of his study, then turned and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. He closed his eyes for an instant as he stepped back into his living room…
…and opened them, only to feel the sharp burst of loneliness that struck him about this time every evening, when his work was completed but he was not yet ready for sleep, and he would feel most keenly that Harry was far away, in a dark castle in Scotland. He supposed Harry was involved in some sort of holiday nonsense there right now, something involving food and drink, and ridiculous games, and inappropriate gifts, and inevitably a certain amount of off-key singing. He had skulked on the periphery of such celebrations there himself, centuries ago, it seemed. They were not his cup of tea, but he assumed they would be Harry's…or maybe not. He was still worrying about what the boy had said, something about not wanting to be with other people anymore… That sounded so unlike any of the Potters that Severus still couldn't make sense of it. Perhaps Harry would be keeping himself apart from the castle's social gatherings this holiday, though moping alone in his room would surely be even worse, for him, than getting sucked into the cheerful Yule crowd.
Severus dropped into his sitting room armchair and put his chin in his hands. The chair was old and worn and comfortable, covered in now threadbare velvet that was still soothing to the touch. It was a good place to sit and feel protected while thinking, and that was what Severus did. He thought about Harry hanging about at the Hogwarts Christmas Eve party looking like a sad, slender ghost; he thought about himself and the long evening ahead with nothing more than a book for companionship; he thought about the long gaze they had shared that last morning in the coffeehouse, when he'd been so surprised that the boy had not angrily stared him down or tried to shove him away. Then he remembered Harry's words about ending their breakfast routine soon, and wondered if he'd completely misread the trust he'd seen in those eyes.
He thought about all those things and more. He reviewed especially the very tender fantasy he knew Harry had seen, in which the two of them made love, and then reminded himself about all the other fantasies that Harry had not seen, but which had kept Severus from going insane with loneliness for years now. He still didn't know why Harry had never displayed the anger he must be feeling about the whole debauched business.
He thought about all these things but could not piece them together into any pattern that made sense. Severus was sure of only two things: first, he would take whatever crumbs of Harry's company fell to him, no matter how meager and with no thought of his own pride; and second, he could not spend this evening alone in his flat. He had to get out, get some air, put himself among people at least for a little while, if only to keep himself from sinking so far down into his loneliness that he'd never crawl out again.
So he made a decision, and made a plan. He got up from his comfortable chair, straightened his clothing and ran a hand through his hair. There. That was better. He put on his coat and headed out the door.
On the street outside, the cold air and a brisk falling snow invigorated him immediately. This was a good idea, he thought, pleased. Things were looking up already. He walked purposefully down the street, his destination a pub not far past the coffeehouse. He'd had his dinner there several times over the past two years. It would be just the thing for a drink or two and a satisfying meal, and there would be a fire in the hearth and a merry-sounding crowd around the bar, and he could feel for an hour or so that he was just a normal part of society, just a regular man who happened to be dining alone this evening, but certainly was not a lonely outcast, dreaming of a boy half his age.
He strode long-legged down the sidewalk, thinking this was just what he needed this evening. By the Gods, it was not only at Hogwarts that there could be merriment and good feelings that one might participate in vicariously and from a distance. By the time he approached the coffeehouse, he was nearly smiling in anticipation of the warm atmosphere he knew he'd be drawn into the moment he opened the door to the pub. And then he had reached the coffeehouse, and he walked past, feeling something close to merry himself.
He happened to turn his head as he passed, to look into the large street-facing windows of the coffeehouse. Inside, sitting at a table right next to the window, waving and grinning at Severus like an idiot, sat Harry Potter.
Severus wondered if his heart had actually stopped, the stunned feeling in his chest was so profound. All his careful plans of immersing himself anonymously into the pub's good cheer collapsed, and were replaced by worries: about why Potter was here at this strange hour, and about how terrible the rest of the evening was going to feel as soon as Harry had gone away again, and about what Severus feared he himself might do if he got too close to the boy before he'd formulated a strategy for keeping himself under control. His recent history of reactions when surprised by Harry Potter was not promising.
It was obvious that he had to go in and speak to the boy, so he did, trying to keep his steps leisurely and his face fixed in a sneer. He walked casually to Harry's table and stood there with his arms crossed. "Good evening, Mister Potter," he said. "I'd have thought you'd be busy with social engagements at the castle tonight."
Harry jumped from his seat and gave him a blinding smile. "Yeah, there's a dinner and such. All the staff are there, and a couple of students stuck at school for the hols. I wasn't in the mood for it, though." He was still grinning like a complete fool.
"I see," Severus said, trying to sound mockingly critical. "So you've chosen to sit here alone instead of spending time with your friends and colleagues? And to have coffee and, what, another of your ridiculous cinnamon buns for your Christmas Eve dinner? I see your judgment is as sound as ever." He raised an eyebrow for good measure.
But Harry couldn't be dissuaded from his delighted grinning. "No, don't you see? It worked! I came here because it was too depressing, going to their party, watching everyone else have a good time. I knew I'd just be lonely there anyway. So I came here, because I…" and he began to blush, charmingly, "I like it here, and I thought I could listen to the music and all, and I thought it would sort of…" and now he was frowning and rushing ahead, sounding nervous, "sort of feel like I was with you." He seemed relieved to have got all the words out. "And now, look, here you are!"
"I see," Severus said slowly, though he did not, at all. He actually wants to spend time with me? Beyond our peculiar breakfasts? Those are just a convenience, I thought, a way to pass the time before his appointments. But to look for me here at other times? "You should realize, however, that I have no intention of spending my Christmas eve in a coffeehouse."
"Oh." Harry looked stricken. "Of course, you have other plans. You must be on your way to somewhere. I'm sorry, I just didn't think…"
Severus decided quickly what to do. "I am indeed on the way to 'somewhere,' Potter. I am going to have a drink of something considerably stronger than coffee, and a meal that does not involve any cinnamon or icing, and I will not be listening to any of this inane music," he said, waving his hand to indicate the music that permeated the air of the coffeehouse. He crossed his arms again and studied the boy, to make absolutely sure his next words would be welcomed. "You may join me, if you wish."
Harry had his coat on almost before Severus finished speaking. "If I wish! Well, yeah! Where are we going?" He looked ready to bounce out the door. Severus rolled his eyes.
"We are going to a pub down this street. The food is decent there, and the bartender leaves his customers alone. I assume you can muster appropriate table manners for such a place?"
Harry laughed and nodded. "I won't embarrass you, I promise," he said, already halfway to the door.
Back out on the street, they walked side by side through cold and wind and blowing snow. Christmas lights kept the street from being as dark as it might have been at that hour. There weren't many people about, however, and Severus supposed that made sense for a Sunday evening, and even more for Christmas Eve. Most people were probably with their families. And here I am, with Harry Potter. Merlin help me. But he looked sideways at the boy and felt his chest tighten, at Harry's smile, at the snow melting in his hair, at the coat collar turned up to warm his pale, slender neck and the soft hair curling around the raised collar… Severus jerked his eyes away with a scowl and concentrated on keeping a constant distance between them, between their almost-touching elbows, as they walked. Bloody lovely boy, he thought grimly. Bloody cold night, bloody snow…what's a man supposed to do, just not look at him? Because every bloody time I look, he's more beautiful…
Harry looked over and saw the scowl. He leaned closer and squeezed Severus' elbow with a gloved hand. "You all right, sir?" he asked with concern.
"I'm just bloody fine, Potter," Severus snapped as the hand was snatched away, wishing it would slip back around his elbow, hoping it would just stay the hell away from his elbow, and wondering how he was ever going to get through an entire dinner like this. "I'm cold, is all."
Oh, that had been the wrong thing to say, he realized immediately, as Harry sidled even closer and took his elbow again. He didn't say anything, just pressed gently against Severus' side and warmed him, making Severus want to scream. "You are…crowding me somewhat, Mister Potter," he said, trying not to gasp between words.
"Oh, sorry." The hand around his elbow and the warm pressure at his side were gone. "I really am sorry." Harry stopped suddenly in the middle of the sidewalk, looking upset. "Was that…I promised you I wouldn't do anything like…oh, God. I'm so sorry. Can you…"
"Shut up and walk, Potter. I'm not keeping track of your promises."
"Oh. Well, thank you," he said with evident relief. "I think." The upset faded quickly, and he hurried to keep up. "Uh, Professor. I mean, Snape." He trotted for a few more strides before continuing. "Maybe I shouldn't bother you about it, but…you did say you'd try to remember to call me 'Harry.'"
Severus gave him another sideways look and sighed. "I did, didn't I? Very well. Harry. Just keep walking, will you? And don't be so damned self-conscious." I am conscious enough of you for the both of us.
"Yes, sir," Harry said, sounding grateful. "Um." There seemed to be more he wanted to say.
"Well? What is it? Less self-conscious, boy. Spit it out."
"Well, it's just that…it feels pretty formal, for me to keep calling you, um, Snape. Or sir. That is, when you call me Harry. If you see what I mean. Sir."
"Did you wish to call me something else?"
"Well, I don't know, what did you have in mind?"
"I hadn't anything in mind."
"Oh. Well. Just if you…wanted me to call you something else, you know, I could. I mean, since we're going out drinking together, and all. That is, if you wanted me to, sir."
"Hmm." Severus thought. Any further informality between them seemed to risk disaster, but as the boy pointed out, they weregoing out drinking together. And how did you possibly think this might be a good idea? he wondered.
"Are you angling to call me by my given name?" he finally asked.
"What? No, I mean really, just if you wanted me to."
Of course, Severus really did want him to. Hearing his first name, which so few ever used, spoken by Harry's sweet voice was a favorite aspect of Severus' fantasies. Did that make it a dangerous thing to allow in real life? He wasn't sure. But the more he thought about it, the less he could resist the idea.
"It might be permissible for you to do so," he said slowly, as if reluctantly granting a great privilege. "As long as you don't…make a joke of it. Or do anything else inappropriate."
"Really?" The boy sounded pathetically thrilled. "Oh, I promise, I won't joke, sir. I mean, Severus." He blinked, and grinned. "That sounds good. Severus."
"Yes. Well. Don't wear it out, I've only got the one."
"The…one?" Harry asked, looking puzzled. "Don't you have a middle name?"
Severus threw up his hands. "My middle name is Tobias, and you may not use it. I have only one first name, obviously. I was making a joke myself, Potter…I mean, blast it all, Harry. Can we just be done with this topic of conversation, please?"
"Sure, no problem." Harry was grinning again. "Though you do look rather like a Toby, I think."
"Do not even go there, Mister Potter. Do I make myself clear?"
"Absolutely clear. Yes. Severus." Harry smirked happily at him.
Fortunately, they were nearly to the pub. They walked in silence the last half block, Severus struggling to keep a precisely safe distance between them while Harry walked with a jaunty swing to his step, making his hips roll just enough to destroy Severus' concentration while also making the task of maintaining the space between them nearly impossible. Severus took a deep breath as he finally pulled open the pub's heavy door and ushered Harry inside.
It was as warm and cheerful in the pub as Severus had expected, though not very crowded. They stood for a moment, adjusting to the noise and warmth. Harry turned down his coat collar and began to undo the big wooden buttons on his coat. Severus reached out without a word and took the coat from him, hanging it with his own on hooks in a long row behind the door. He looked around the room and found an empty booth distant from any other occupied tables, and motioned toward it. Harry followed him there silently, and they sat across from each other. Severus found himself scowling again, not sure what to say. So, Harry, what's a lovely young man like you doing in a place like this?
Harry saved him. "Here we are," he said, looking around him happily. "Happy Christmas, Severus. Or almost Christmas, I guess. Close enough. This is the best way I can imagine spending it, did you know that?"
"I find that extremely difficult to believe," Severus said. "There are not many people at Hogwarts over the holidays, I realize, but they do make rather a fuss over celebrating."
"Oh, yeah. But that stuff's not for me anymore," he said, waving his hand.
"I'd have thought you'd feel right at home in such festivities."
"Used to. Not these days."
"You mystify me, Mister—sod it, Harry."
"Yeah, well you're not the only one. I mystify myself sometimes, too." He grinned. "And Professor McGonagall…I've got her completely tied in knots, I think."
"Do you, now? You must tell me more."
"Huh. I'd better not."
At that moment a tired-looking waitress came to the table, gave them a weary, appraising look, and asked, "What'll it be, gentlemen?"
Severus nodded at Harry, who spoke up. "Fish and chips, I think."
"The same," Severus said. "And scotch, please. Neat."
"I'll, uh, have one of those, too," Harry said hastily, raising his eyebrows at Severus.
"Sure thing, lads. Be right back." She slouched off.
Harry was smirking as if he'd gotten away with something. "You are of age, aren't you?" Severus asked.
"Sure," Harry answered indignantly. "You know how old I am."
Yes, I do, Severus thought. Old enough for it to be legal. Not old enough for it to be right.
"They never question me anymore, though," Harry continued. "Not with this hair."
"Do you spend a lot of time not being questioned in pubs?"
"No…well, sure, I mean, sometimes. Didn't you, when you were my age?"
Severus winced, thinking of just how long ago that had been. "No. Drink is too seductive a pleasure to be indulged in often, I've found. It can destroy one's…initiative."
"Oh. But you're drinking tonight."
"Not often, I said. Occasionally the circumstances are appropriate for a bit of indulgence."
"Well. Thanks for letting me…indulge with you, then. Severus." Harry looked positively delighted.
You'd best watch your step very carefully, Snape, Severus thought. At the same time, though, a sort of recklessness was stealing over him, and it, too, was pleasantly seductive. His brain was finally putting together all the pieces of this evening's puzzle, and they made a lovely picture such as he'd never really hoped to see. I'm in a pub, he thought, trying to remain rational, sitting alarmingly close to Harry, and he seems happy to be here, and we're about to start drinking, and he's giving every sign of being willing to keep drinking for as long as I do, and I don't understand why any of this is happening, and why he doesn't despise me when he should… He realized he was staring into Harry's eyes, and looked away with a growl. "Don't overdo it. I'm not playing nursemaid if you make yourself sick."
"Oh, don't worry about me. I can handle it."
"We shall see who can handle it, won't we?" he said, horrified at the suggestive tone he heard in his own voice. Competitive drinking. Gods, what next?
The waitress returned with their drinks. She set two empty glasses on the table and filled them from a fresh bottle. The recklessness surged again and Severus found himself saying, as if through someone else's mouth, "You may leave that, if you would," and motioning to the bottle. The waitress gave him, and then Harry, a look that was barely a smile. She nodded and walked away, the bottle still on the table between them.
A startled Harry looked at Severus. "Planning to get really drunk?" he asked.
"Not particularly, no."
"Planning to get me really drunk?"
Severus couldn't resist. "Possibly." He gave the boy a sly look. "Do you think this will be sufficient, or should I order another bottle?"
Harry seemed a bit less confident now of his capacity for indulgence. "Ah, no, I think one will probably do it." Then Severus had to give him credit, for he picked up his glass and drained it, set it down hard on the table, and said, "That's good stuff. I'll have another."
Severus said nothing, but drank down his own glass and poured again for both of them. Harry sipped at his determinedly and smiled at Severus. The silence was restful for a moment, and Severus could feel that first drink beginning to settle into his system. It wasn't a bad feeling.
It was Harry who spoke first. "So. Severus," he began, looking down at the table, where his fingers were tracing along the wood grain as if they needed to keep busy. "I've been meaning to ask you. How is it that you have a…a telephone? I don't think I know any other wizards of…well, of your age, who do."
Severus made a harrumphing noise. "Thank you for that vote of confidence in my ability to fit into the modern world."
The boy blushed and laughed. "Sorry. I'm serious, though. I can't tell you how surprised I was when you called me. And even more, when I called that number back and it was you who answered. I thought at first you might have called from a public phone somewhere. But it wasn't, was it?"
"No. There is a telephone in my flat, though I had never used it before I called you. I wasn't even sure if it worked."
"Ah. Well, I'm glad it did. But…where do you live, that you have a muggle phone in your flat?" Harry looked up at him with what seemed deliberate innocence, as if he wanted information he knew he'd never be given if he asked directly.
"I live in a muggle neighbourhood. I assume there are telephones in all the flats, though I don't see myself interrogating the neighbours just to find out."
"So if it came with the flat, then it must be…still wired into the wall, one of those old-fashioned types?"
Severus felt technologically at a disadvantage, and it irritated him. "It does have a wire coming out the back of it, and the other end of that wire does go into the wall. Why does it matter?"
Harry just smiled at him. "Because of that wire, you were able to call me. I still can't believe it. I gave you my number, and you called me." He seemed unreasonably pleased.
"It seems more bizarre to me that you yourself have a telephone. You said it was a mobile, did you not? Why on earth do you have one of those?"
"Oh, that. Professor McGonagall gave it to me. It's for me to call my, um, shrink with. To make appointments and such. McGonagall said she might not appreciate owls hanging about her office."
"I should think not." Severus took a long swallow of scotch. The warmth sliding down his throat felt good. He felt rather good all over, actually. "So since when has Minerva McGonagall provided mobile telephones to students?"
"Well, of course, I'm not really a student."
"Of course. But still."
"Yeah. She says she always keeps a couple around for…special situations."
"Such as…you, for example."
"Um. Yeah. Such as me." Potter blushed, or perhaps flushed, from the alcohol. Severus couldn't tell.
"You are indeed a special situation."
"I'm glad you think so. Severus." He smiled, and Severus thought it was definitely a blush now. He refilled both their glasses.
Their food arrived presently, and Severus found he was hungrier than he'd thought. Perhaps it was watching Harry put away the hot chunks of greasy food in front of him with such ease that enhanced his appetite; perhaps his stomach was numbed by the scotch it already contained. Whatever the reason, he ate, and watched Harry eat, and drank another glass, and listened to Harry chatter about goings-on at the castle. Harry laughed often, and Severus found himself chuckling along on occasion, which seemed to please the boy.
There was a low buzz of conversation and laughter about the room, as well, and at first Severus felt as though their table made up a part of that general noise, but as an hour passed pleasantly it began to seem that they were in their own private room, a little bubble of warmth and all things comfortable. It was just him and Harry, and he had Harry's happy attention, and their private little space felt very good to Severus. He found, too, that he was beginning to really enjoy the reckless feeling. Much more interesting things were happening, now that he felt this way, than ever had before.
He finished his food, and it occurred to him belatedly that he should have eaten more slowly so as to prolong their evening together. But Harry didn't seem in any great hurry to leave, so perhaps he could still safely relax for a while. He leaned casually onto the table with his elbow, chin in his hand, and watched Harry as the boy ate his last chips. When Harry looked up and caught him staring, he simply smiled, thinking how nice it was to be in such a safe place as their little bubble, where he could smile at Harry and not feel guilty about it. And it seemed to make Harry so happy, too, though Merlin only knew why, and Severus didn't care. He watched as the boy put his arms behind his head and leaned back into the cushions on his side of the booth, and for a brief moment all was right with the world.
Then Harry spoke. "So, Severus. May I ask you a question?"
"You may," he replied calmly. "What would you like to know?" Surely it would be a pleasant question, though Harry's face did suddenly look a bit more serious.
"I've just been wondering, you know. Can you tell me…how did you, um, not, well, die? After Nagini bit you, I mean."
A perfectly reasonable question, Severus thought generously. If only I had a good answer to it. "I would tell you, if I knew myself," he said. "Unfortunately I'm not at all sure what happened."
"We never found your body, of course. But everyone assumed it had been taken away by Death Eaters."
"I'm afraid they were quite through with me by then, and had problems of their own, as well." Severus took another sip of scotch. "From the symptoms I experienced as I began to revive, one might conclude that phoenix tears were responsible. I know of no other remedy that could have brought me back from that particular sort of certain death. I'm sure I saw no phoenix, however, either before I apparently died, or after I was revived."
"Fawkes. It must have been Fawkes."
Severus snorted a laugh, and thought it an oddly pleasant sound. How strange to be laughing about my own death. "I suppose that damn bird of Albus' could have come round. Still, I can't imagine even Fawkes would have cried for me."
Harry was still for a long moment, then put his hands on the table and stared at them. "You may not believe this," he said finally, "but I cried for you."
Severus had to laugh again. "You're right. I don't believe it."
"I did," Harry insisted. "It was later, though. After I'd seen your memories." There was another, longer silence, and Severus felt the tension in their private little bubble rise precipitously. The pleasant glow around them faded, and he felt his full stomach begin to churn.
Harry looked up from the table and into his eyes. "Actually," he said, "it was after the second time I saw them." And for the first time, Harry took up the bottle himself, and poured another glass for both of them.
Their conversation seemed to slow to half-speed, with long pauses between comments. "Why on earth," Severus finally asked, reluctantly but inevitably, "would you cry for me?"
"Because…I knew I'd never see you alive again. Just when it seemed like…I mean…fuck." He stopped and closed his eyes tight. "Fuck," he repeated in a whisper directed at the table.
Their private bubble had become explosive with tension, no longer a comfortable place, and there was a hollow, ringing sound in Severus' ears. He knew very well where this was headed. He couldn't bring himself to say anything, afraid he would set Potter off, afraid the bubble would turn to glass and shatter, afraid that what he had feared for weeks now was about to happen.
But Harry, as usual, surprised him again. He rallied, took a swallow of his drink, and looked up at Severus again, his eyes steely.
"Sorry about that," he said softly. "I think I've figured it all out over the last few weeks, but I need to ask you one more thing. I just need to be sure. Why didn't you come to see me, later, when you knew I had survived? Why did you let me believe you were dead?"
"Come to see you? Why in the world would I have done that?"
"Because…" Harry looked desperate. "Because, we could have…I mean, I assumed you wanted to…" He stopped, and made an angry face. "I'd have come for you, if it had been the other way around. It doesn't make any sense, you just walking away."
"I'm afraid you're the one not making any sense."
"Don't turn my words around on me," Harry said fiercely. He looked surprised at the forcefulness of his own voice. "You started this."
"I started nothing, Potter. You were the one who ambushed me as I walked down the street this evening, minding my own business."
"I don't mean this evening, and you know it. Why can't you just own up, and let's talk it out?"
"I'm sure I have no idea what you're on about," Severus said, knowing perfectly well.
Harry was looking more and more angry. "Well, obviously, I'm talking about your…" He pounded a fist on the table, ignoring the startled looks from nearby customers. "Look. We both know about the…the message you sent me. Let's stop pretending. I just want to know what happened after."
"What message?" Now Severus was genuinely confused. "What the bloody hell are you talking about?"
"The message, Severus. That little extra bit of memory, that had nothing to do with my mother, or Voldemort. The bit that was just about me and you. You know perfectly well what message I'm talking about. Why can't you just admit it?"
The atmosphere in the bubble had filled with darkness and poison gas. Severus felt as though he were choking in it, and wondered if he could escape by simply rushing from the booth and fleeing the pub. Because now, surely, he was about to experience Harry's justifiable wrath at being co-opted into someone else's disgusting fantasy. But a message? He didn't know what that was all about. "I assure you, I sent you no message. Whatever it is you think…"
"Damn it, Snape, I'm talking about the false memory you gave me. About you and me. In your rooms. Yes, I know it was your private rooms." Harry lowered his voice to a tense whisper. "With the black satin sheets. Now do you know what message I'm talking about?"
Severus went numb. It was a long, tense moment before he answered. "You thought that was some kind of…message? From me…to you?"
"Well, yeah. Wasn't it?"
"No." He swallowed painfully. "That was no message, Potter."
"Well, then, what would you call it?"
"It was a mistake. A terrible mistake." The words were very soft.
"You mean you didn't intend to give me that…memory?"
"Certainly not. Why would you imagine I'd have deliberately shown you such a disgusting thing?"
"Because…" Harry stopped, looking stunned. "I just assumed. It was in the bottle, and it sure looked like you meant to give me those memories…didn't you?"
"The truthful memories were given intentionally. But the false one of which you speak…that slipped in by accident." Snape took a deep breath. He deserves to know, he told himself. Gritting his teeth, he continued. "I…lost control. I would remind you that I was trying to help save your bloody life, and I was dying myself as I performed that spell. I did the best I could. I regret that my…lack of control resulted in your seeing things you never should have seen."
Harry was silent for a moment. "You did save my life." He stared down at the table. "I don't think I've ever thanked you properly for that. For everything."
"Not necessary." But Severus felt a sting under his eyelids, and a swelling in his throat. And now that he's thanked me he can go back to truly hating me again, and I can go back to the miserable way things were before.
But Harry didn't look particularly full of hatred at that moment. He looked more like a man who had just run into a wall he hadn't seen until it jumped in front of him. "But the false memory. It was…just a mistake?"
"I would have thought that was obvious."
Harry seemed more confused than ever. He picked up his glass and downed its contents again, then set the empty glass down and pushed it away from him. "I was so sure it was a message, that you meant for me to see it." His voice had taken on a sad tone that startled Severus. "I was sure you were trying to tell me something."
"I was trying to tell you what you needed to know to keep from dying. That is all. I assure you, I was not trying to embarrass either of us, though clearly I've succeeded spectacularly at that."
"But it seemed so real. So…honest."
Severus was still very confused. "Obviously it was not real. What, did you think I'd performed the Imperius Curse on you in your sleep, and made you do those things but not remember them?"
"No, no, that's not what I meant. It seemed like…that Snape, in the false memory…like he, like you," he corrected himself, "really felt that way. Like it was true, even though those things never actually happened."
By Merlin, he really did understand, Severus thought, shocked. But he deflected Harry entirely away from the question of truth, answering instead, "Regardless of how I felt, I assumed you would be quite angry about all this, frankly. I've been expecting you to confront me about it for months." He took a sip of his drink, and looked at the glass as he said, smoothly, "I was rather certain you'd have tried to hex me senseless by now."
"You thought I'd be angry?"
"That would be the only reasonable reaction to seeing the…inappropriate liberties I took, in my thoughts, concerning you."
Harry stared at him for a long, tense time. Finally he said, "So that explains why you didn't come to find me, after you…um, didn't die."
"I'd just survived one near-death experience. Why would I court another?"
Severus waited as an uneasy silence fell between them. It stretched on and on, and through it he watched Harry breathe, his slender shoulders rising and falling heavily. "What if you'd known," Harry finally asked, slowly and cautiously, "that I wasn't angry? That I didn't want to hex you, or anything? What would you have done then?"
Snape frowned. "I honestly don't know. I never considered the possibility."
Harry seemed to think hard for a long time, and then he raised his head and looked deep into Severus' eyes. "So what if you'd known…" he began, his voice soft but intense, "that not only was I not angry with you, but I watched that fantasy you gave me, hundreds of times, hundreds of times, Severus," and his voice began to crack, but he kept going, "because it was all I had of you, and I couldn't bear to think that I'd never see you again?"
Severus was so thoroughly baffled he had no idea what to say. What had the boy thought he'd seen, or wanted to see, in that repulsive little sliver of pornographic fantasy that had passed accidentally between them? What within it could have made him mourn a man he'd hated? What could have made him return to watch it over and over again?
Suddenly he remembered Harry's words: 'I've developed some bad habits…and I can't fix the problem that led me to the bad habits in the first place.' Oh, Gods, he realized, I am Harry Potter's bad habit.
And then he knew. In one awful, wonderful instant, he knew.
Harry, he realized with astonishment, was not repulsed.
Harry, he thought, his astonishment growing, responded to my fantasy…by falling in love. With me.
And in that instant, the whole world changed. Or perhaps, he reflected, sitting there staring across the table at Harry's tortured face, everything had changed when they'd both survived the war. They'd not been meant to, neither of them, he was sure. Maybe here, far on the other side of the war, new and outrageous things were possible.
But…if such outrageous things were now possible, then why did Harry look so miserable? He thinks…oh, Gods, what does he think? He studied the boy's lovely features, now strained and in distress, and suddenly saw another truth. I broke his heart by dying. No one else had cried for Severus Snape when he died, but Harry Potter had. And then…
His thoughts kept churning, heartbeats thudding like tumblers dropping into place, one after another, inside a lock that had been keeping the truth hidden. Fool that I was, he chastised himself, as yet another impossible truth lit up inside him, I broke his heart a second time, by living. By living…and not understanding, not guessing, how he would react to what he'd seen. By not coming to find him. By allowing him to love me…and seeming not even to care.
He wondered if he could ever make all this right. "Harry," he began, "I simply never imagined…"
But Harry, twice broken-hearted and seeing a third time threatening, waved him off. "No, never mind. I see how wrong I was." He gave one nearly hysterical-sounding chortle of laughter. "Of course you wouldn't have known. It didn't mean anything to you, it was just a stupid fantasy. I shouldn't have gotten all worked up over it. You must think I'm an idiot." He shifted toward the outside of the booth, preparing to stand up. "I'll get out of your hair now. You have a good Christmas, Snape," he said. Severus could see tears in his eyes.
And he had to decide, quickly. He could let Potter walk out of his life, right now, and his life would probably be much the better for it—or so he told himself—and life would most assuredly be better for the boy. Harry's broken heart would mend, after all. Eventually. And anything, anyone, he thought, would be better for him than a bitter older man, even one who loved him with a passion that had lasted all these years with no…
"Potter." He barked out the words, his voice more stern than it had been toward Harry for weeks now. "You were not…wrong. Sit down." Harry stared at him, eyes wet and shining. Then he sat, and waited.
"Mister Potter. No, Harry." He shook his head to clear away the scotch, and to get his words in the correct order. "You should know, that insofar as a complete fabrication can, shall we say, reflect the truth, then what you saw, what you took as a message…was the truth." There. He took a deep breath. The words had been halting, but they were all there.
Harry leaned over the table, his eyes fixed on Severus. They still gleamed, but now it was a hard and determined look, having nothing to do with tears. "Okay. That's what I wanted to believe, all along." He leaned still closer. "But what I need to know now is…is it still the truth?"
"What do you think?" Severus asked softly.
Harry gazed at him for a long moment, and to Severus it felt like the moment in the coffeehouse, just a few days earlier, when he'd come to feel so safe, held within those eyes. Finally Harry whispered, "I want it to be. And I…I think it is. Or you wouldn't be sitting here now."
"Ten thousand points to Gryffindor, Mister Potter. You are correct." Severus watched and waited as Harry took a deep breath.
"I thought…" the boy said, still searching Severus' eyes, not yet completely certain, "I was afraid that maybe, you'd changed your mind, after…the war, and all."
"Changed my mind? About you?" Severus laughed, a dry, harsh sound. "Unfortunately for both of us, no." He watched, fascinated by the parade of reactions that marched across Harry's face—from misery to utter delight in mere seconds—and terrified that he'd revealed himself completely.
Finally Harry began to smile. "Does it seem like, maybe," he asked, sounding hesitant but hopeful, "we don't have a problem here?"
"On the contrary," Severus said, feeling the scotch acutely, "I suspect we have now acquired an entirely new set of problems." Did I actually just say that? he wondered. Did I just confirm for him that we…oh, Gods, that we could... His brain and his stomach seemed to be spinning in opposite directions and he could not finish the thought.
Harry's smile grew wider, and then he laughed out loud. "What's so funny?" Severus snapped, though there wasn't much tooth in it.
"Sorry. It's just that you're blushing like crazy."
Severus could feel that it was true, but he said, "I am not blushing. It's merely warm in here, and I have had far too much to drink." The heat in his face suddenly stretched a tendril into his belly, where it mingled uneasily with all the scotch and the already-spinning fried food and he felt ill, and aroused, and terrified, all at once. Then Potter was grinning like an idiot and leaning across the table toward him, and Severus wondered what he was up to…and then he knew, because he could feel Harry's ankles move to either side of his right leg and press gently together around it. "Very daring, aren't we, Mister Potter?" he muttered, trying to sound in control of things, though he knew he wasn't, at all.
"Nah, not really," Harry replied. "No one's looking under our table. They don't care." He smiled happily. "But I do. Want another drink?" He poured for both of them again, and took a drink, managing to brush his fingers against Severus' as he set his glass back on the table. He gave Severus a saucy look, but Severus was pleased to see that at least they were both blushing now.
Neither of them seemed to know what to say for a few minutes, so they sat sipping their drinks in a sort of electrically charged silence. Then Harry fixed Severus with a thoughtful look. "You know," he said. "I really would have come for you. If it had been, you know, reversed. Somehow."
Severus snorted unpleasantly. "That may be the Gryffindor way with such things. Having declared…affection, shall we say, even unintentionally, you would have felt obliged to follow up, no matter the risk that you would suffer for it." He folded his hands together on the table in front of him. "No Slytherin would do the same, I'm afraid."
"I guess not." Harry didn't sound too distressed by this insight. "Well, we're here now. That's what matters." He smiled, a foolish and devastating look.
"Indeed. Your Gryffindor instincts appear to have won the day in the end."
"And you're okay with that?"
"As you say, we're here now. As much as I find that somewhat alarming…" he looked down, knowing he was blushing again, "I must confess that I am also…pleased. As I am sure you know." He closed his eyes, afraid of what he might reveal if he looked into Harry's happy face, but he pressed his free left ankle against the tangle of their other legs under the table, and sat silently, relishing the secret touch.
Most of the scotch was gone now, along with most of the other patrons of the pub. The last glass Harry had poured—aided perhaps by the intensity of their conversation—seemed to have pushed them both over some kind of invisible line of inebriation, and Severus realized, too late, that he did indeed feel as if he'd drunk nearly half a bottle of liquor. Harry, too, looked rather blurry—no, wait, that was dizzy,he looked as though he might be dizzy…though he seemed rather blurry, too, now that Severus thought about it.
As he gazed across the table at the young man, he could read desire, and hope, and a familiar recklessness plainly in his eyes. He realized with a jolt that the impossible was suddenly not only possible, but bloody likely, and probably imminent, if he didn't manage things just right. What he'd thought he could only dream of was about to become very real, and he was going to mess it up royally if he let it happen while they were both a sodden mess. He could not allow that. Harry deserved better. For Harry…Severus had to make sure this was done right. He would not subject Harry to a clumsy, drunken first encounter. Harry was entitled to respect, and gentleness, and cherishing, and Severus was going to love him that way or kill himself trying.
So for now, that meant he needed to get their legs untwined beneath the table, and get Harry back to the castle before the bloody boy managed to wrest control of the situation away from him. Severus knew just how easily he could have done it. He hoped Harry himself didn't know.
"Er, now what?" Harry asked then, as it was obvious that something must happen next. It seemed to take a lot of concentration for him to get the words out.
"Now, Mister Potter," Severus said carefully, "we both go home and think about what has transpired this evening. We both have drunk too much, and said too much, to take any action just yet." He felt his stomach rumble threateningly.
Harry looked predictably dismayed "But, Severus, I want to…"
"I suspect I am all too aware of what you want. But now is not the time."
"Harry." Severus reached under the table and gently rubbed the boy's knee. Harry immediately thrust his own hand under the table, and eagerly clasped Severus' fingers. "Trust me. Please. We need to think things over. This is not something to be rushed into." His head was beginning to pound.
"But we're not rushing, we've waited years…"
"Then a few more days will do no harm." He squeezed Harry's fingers. "As much alcohol as we have drunk, by tomorrow morning we may not even remember what we've said tonight." He didn't believe this, but it seemed like a persuasive argument. "Do you really want to wake up tomorrow morning and find yourself with me, and not know why?"
Unfortunately Harry appeared to want nothing more than just that. "Oh! Could I?" he begged.
"No. Absolutely not." This was going to be more difficult than Severus had thought. Because as intoxicated as he felt—both by drink and by Harry himself—if Harry managed just to rub against him in a certain way, Severus knew he would be completely lost and unable to resist. And that would be wrong, so very wrong. This situation was overwhelming enough without letting alcohol take charge of it and remove his last vestiges of self-control. So he said briskly, "It's time we called it a night, I think. We shall get a good night's sleep, think on all we have discussed, and take steps from there."
"We haven't finished the bottle," Harry pointed out, sounding fuzzy.
"That's the least of our problems. You are quite inebriated enough already, and I'm not far behind you. I'd rather not have to carry you out of here." Because Merlin only knows what I'd do once I got you in my arms.
He slid to the outside of the booth's bench and got to his feet, finding them distressingly unsteady. He swayed for a moment, then took muggle bills from his jacket pocket and dropped a stack of them on the table to pay their tab. He steadied himself with a hand on the table, and motioned for Harry to rise as well. "Up you go, then."
Looking mutinous, Harry tried to stand, but couldn't. "Ugh," he said, shaking his head, then stopping abruptly with a hand to either temple as if the shaking had been a bad idea. "Let's try that again." He pushed down on the table as he tried to raise himself upright, but failed. "Whoa. Just give me a minute," he said to Severus.
"As I suspected," Severus replied. "Come on. I'll help you." He took Harry's arm and braced him, and this time Harry managed to get to his feet and stay there, though he was tilting in an unpleasant-looking way. "I've got you," Severus said quietly, still holding Harry's arm. "Let's go."
The lurched as smoothly as Severus could manage to the door and went out into the dark and cold of a very early Christmas morning. The street was nearly deserted, but Severus didn't think it was a safe spot for Harry to apparate from, so he half-led, half-dragged the boy around a corner and down into the stairwell to a shop's delivery entrance. It seemed secure enough, he thought, so long as there was no one watching from the other side of the shop's door at the bottom of the stairs.
Harry, however, was not at all secure. He was groaning a little, as if he felt ill, and was so unsteady on his feet that Severus was afraid to let go of him. "Potter," he said in a low, urgent voice. "Listen to me. I don't dare let you apparate by yourself, you'd probably be splinched or worse." Harry just leaned more heavily against him, which felt warm and nice, but didn't help matters. "I'm going to side-along with you back to the castle, all right?" Harry seemed to nod his head, though it might just have been a wobble. "Hold onto me," he said, and Harry obligingly wrapped his arms around Severus' waist. Trying to ignore how good it felt, Severus took them away with a crack, leaving the stairwell empty but for a faint smell of scotch.
They reappeared with a loud pop in front of the main castle entrance. The cold and snow were considerably harsher here, and Severus was doubly glad he'd come with Harry. It wouldn't have done to have him apparate here, even if he'd made it in one intact piece, only to fall into the snow and pass out in front of the castle. On a night such as this he'd freeze to death, and likely not be found until dawn.
The shock of apparation seemed to have cleared his head a little, and perhaps to have done the same for Harry, who stood up straight and stepped away from Severus. "Uh," he said, shaking himself a bit. "That was…huh. Are we…?" He raised his head and looked around. "Ah."
"How do you feel?" Severus asked, trying not to sound as concerned as he was.
"Okay, I guess." He hugged himself. "Bloody cold out here, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Severus, relieved that Harry seemed no longer in immediate danger of falling down. "Listen to me, now. Have you any windows in your rooms that can be left open tonight?"
"Um. Yeah, I guess so. Why?"
"As soon as I return home, I will dispatch my owl to you with a hangover potion. She should arrive by morning. I will instruct the owl to come directly to you, through your window, and when she does you are to drink the potion she brings straightaway. No arguments, Harry. Do you understand?"
Harry frowned. "Yes. But really, you don't have to…"
Severus sighed. "I'm afraid I do. You see," he said, reaching up to touch Harry's cheek with one careful finger, "I do not wish for your memories of this night to be colored by the way I expect you will feel in the morning. That would serve neither of our interests." He trailed the finger down Harry's face and let it drop back to his side.
Harry shivered and smiled warily. "So…that's good, right?" He took a step closer and tried to lean against Severus.
"Probably not. It is, nonetheless, true." Severus tensed as he realized they'd reached a difficult moment. There was nothing else to be said but good-night, and as he'd insisted, they both needed to get some sleep…but he didn't know if he could pull himself away. Everything he wanted stood leaning against him in one slender, red-cheeked, messy-haired package, and he knew if he pulled Harry into his arms right this minute the boy would not resist. They could kiss, and touch each other, and probably fall to the ground and make love right in this spot, snow be damned, and Harry would let it happen. No one would even see, not this late at night, not if they moved away from the door and right up against the castle wall so no windows gave a clear view of them.
But…no. I will not behave like an animal. Damn it all, this is neither the time nor the place, and I will not pollute whatever is between us with such…base thoughts. Severus gave himself a hard mental shake. "Get a good night's sleep, Harry. And take the potion as soon as it arrives. I will…see you on Wednesday morning, as usual."
He allowed himself one brief touch of his hand to Harry's shoulder in farewell. Harry, however, having suddenly realized that Severus was about to leave, was not satisfied with just that brief touch, and flung himself into Severus' arms; and Severus was so startled, and yet it felt so natural, that before he could think he had leaned down and pressed his lips to the top of Harry's head. He realized what a mistake he'd made as Harry lifted his face and tried to reach Severus' mouth with his own. "Please," the boy whispered. "Just one real kiss?" He struggled to pull Severus closer.
"No," Severus growled, pushing Harry away harder than he'd meant to, damning himself for letting his control slip again. "Don't make this more difficult than it already is." Harry stood a few feet away, trembling and looking forlorn. He is longing for me, Severus thought with wonder. He honestly wants my touch, the idiotic child. But he pleaded, "You must understand. This is not the way, Harry. We shouldn't…"
But he could not bear the look in Harry's eyes, and knew he'd never be able to apparate away with that look haunting him. "Hang it all," he muttered, giving in. "Come here." He didn't even wait for the boy to move. He strode over to Harry himself, and wrapped his whole body around him, and kissed him as he'd never kissed anyone before. It was rougher than he'd hoped for, exactly the first kiss he needed after five years of frustration, though not the one he'd thought he wanted. Harry didn't seem to mind, though; his hands scrabbled frantically against Severus' coat, seeking a firm grip, before just giving up and winding themselves around Severus' neck, and hanging on tight.
They drew apart just far enough for a few hot breaths, then pushed open mouths together again. It felt better than perfect, even though it was fiercer than he'd intended, Severus thought, but dimly, from far down in his consciousness, some part of his brain was signaling him…this is what you were afraid of, it whispered, this is how you'll lose control, it will go too far, now you can't stop, you'll regret this, he'll regret this…
And abruptly Severus stopped kissing. He stared into Harry's eyes, which were wide and wet again with tears and startled at the sudden loss of Severus' lips. "There's your kiss, you foolish boy," he said in a soft, ominous snarl. He let go of Harry and stepped away. "Now go inside, before something truly terrible happens."
He stood there, arms stiff at his sides, face stony with anger and frustration, as Harry turned from him and staggered up the great stone steps to the castle's entrance. He looked back only once, just before he disappeared inside, his own face a mask of misery. Then he was gone, and the heavy door fell shut with a muffled boom.
Severus was gone an instant later, leaving a much smaller crack behind him. The snow continued to fall, until the footprints marking where he and Harry had stood, and embraced, and parted, were covered over and disappeared.
Track 9: Tango, tenor and bass duet
Severus did not go to the coffeehouse on Christmas day. He assumed it would be closed for the holiday, but he would not have gone there on that bitterly cold, slate-grey morning regardless. Instead he sat alone in his flat, eating dry toast for breakfast, and drinking tea. He was coping reasonably well with a severe, though not unexpected, headache. He was trying hard not to think of Harry, to whom he had sent the last dose of his preferred hangover potion very early this morning. He imagined Harry had needed it more than he did.
Severus knew he would have to think about Harry, and about what was between himself and Harry, eventually. That was, after all, what he'd told the boy they both had to do. But every time his thoughts turned to Harry, his stomach clenched, and that made his head pound harder. So this Christmas morning, he'd been trying not to think of the blasted boy at all. He had failed utterly, and found himself particularly fixated on an image of Harry stumbling drunkenly up the Hogwarts steps, then glancing back at Severus from the doorway with wet cheeks and red eyes.
It was pitiful, Severus thought, his lack of control over his own thoughts.
X X X X X
Severus sat in the deafeningly loud coffeehouse alone the next morning, drinking his coffee as quickly as possible. The coffeehouse buzz this morning was nearly all chattering voices, so loud that they covered up the music entirely. The place was full of post-holiday shoppers, all cheerful and talkative and eager to spend money they surely no longer had, after all the crushingly busy, noisy shopping days just before Christmas. Severus was in no more of a humour to tolerate them today than he'd been the week before.
He was definitely, however, in the mood to think about Harry. His headache and other hangover symptoms had eased, freeing up mental space for other things…and the memory of the searing kiss in the snow outside Hogwarts loomed large in his mind. It should not have happened. But neither should he have pushed the boy away so coldly as he had, afterwards. Gods, I can't get it right, he thought miserably. I refused him what he wanted, and then I threw it in his face, so cruelly…what an idiot I am. He wondered if Harry would even come back tomorrow, for his usual Wednesday morning breakfast.
He took one last look at his uneaten pastry, then gave up and marched out, angry at himself, irritated at the noise, desperately hoping that he had not driven Harry away, and determined that if Harry did come back he would somehow, somehow, set things straight.
X X X X X
Finally Wednesday arrived.
Severus sat alone in the coffeehouse. It was early, earlier than his usual breakfast time by half an hour. He'd arrived early so as to be better prepared for Harry's arrival, which always came just after eight. His breakfast sat nearly untouched in front of him. His appetite had not yet returned.
There were fewer people in the shop this morning than there had been on the previous day, and over the voices he could hear music again. It was playing more softly than was typical, perhaps to make the transition from blatantly Yule-ish back to brightly multi-cultural a bit less jarring. Severus wished they'd just turn it off.
As if to deliberately unsettle him further, Harry arrived early this morning, looking pale and determined. He bought his coffee and pastry before greeting Severus, then came straight over to sit in his usual seat. "I'm sorry," he said immediately, before even removing his coat. He looked up into Severus' eyes, and Severus saw the apology was sincere. Not that he'd doubted it, and not that it mattered. It shamed him that Harry had managed to apologize first, and needlessly.
"Take your coat off, Harry. And don't apologize. You did nothing wrong."
Harry shrugged out of his coat and dropped it over the back of his chair. "But I did. I shouldn't have pushed you. It was unfair." He ran his fingers quickly through his hair. "I was afraid maybe you wouldn't come this morning, that I'd messed everything up. I'm really, really sorry, Severus."
"As I said, you did nothing wrong." Severus leaned over the table, onto his elbows, and dropped his voice to a whisper. "What you asked for, in the end, was a small enough thing. I should not have turned it into a point of conflict. It's not as though I didn't want to kiss you." He rubbed his hands together, trying to squeeze the tension out of them. "I also was not sure…if you would return here, after I was so callous with you."
"You were just trying to protect me. That's what you do." He laughed. "You were trying to do what was best for both of us. And you were right, we were too drunk." He smiled shyly. "I want…I want to be able to remember the first time."
"Yes. Well. As do I." Severus leaned back quickly. He was filled with relief, and knew he was blushing furiously, and decided it was too late to care. "If it helps, in some perverse way, you should know how difficult it was for me to…to stop, even as belatedly as I did." You've no idea how my arms ached to crush you against me, how my mouth hungered to taste so much more of you… Had he spoken those words out loud? He wasn't sure. But either way, it hadn't done any harm, if Harry's flushed, beaming face was any indication.
"I understand," Harry said softly. "So what do we do now?"
"Now?" Severus sat up straight and shook his head, tossing his hair back behind his shoulders. "Now, we eat our breakfasts. To fortify ourselves, for whatever lies ahead." He tried to smile suggestively, then frowned at the odd look on Harry's face. "Did I say something wrong?"
"No," Harry said quickly. "It's just…what you just did. With your hair. I've never seen you do that before."
"Perhaps you've simply never been watching closely enough."
"Ha. You've no idea how closely I've been watching."
"Well, you've just missed it, then. Why did it surprise you? Surely you do something similar yourself, from time to time. Your hair is long enough to get in the way occasionally, just as mine is."
"Yeah, but…" Harry smiled weakly. "It just…looked nice. Sorry. I'm hopeless sometimes, I really am. Just…you can do that, that little head-tossing thing, any time you want to get my attention, all right?"
"I will try to remember that," Severus replied with a cool smile, his head filling with pictures of all the little things Harry did that got his attention. It was only fair that it might work the other way, too.
They ate reasonably comfortably after that. Severus found his appetite returning now that the rough spot between them had been smoothed over. Harry seemed to be hungry as well, reminding Severus to inquire about the effectiveness of his hangover potion. "I trust my owl arrived Christmas morning in time to do you some good?"
"Oh, yeah, that was a brilliant potion," Harry said enthusiastically. "I had a pounder of a headache, you were right, but the potion cleared it right up. Stomach, too. I was up and around and looking fit in time for Christmas dinner."
"Good. I'm sure they would have worried if you'd shown up looking like one of Hagrid's pets had just dragged you in. Which, I might add, is how you looked when I left you the night before."
"Yeah, well, you didn't look so steady yourself, just then," Harry said, chuckling. Then he looked at Severus sharply. "How were you the next morning? Bet you needed the potion, too, huh?"
"Ah, no. I was quite myself by the morning," Severus said, thinking that the sour, miserable way he'd felt that morning hadn't been so far from normal.
"I don't believe it," Harry said, smiling. "You were plastered, Severus. I'm pretty sure you drank more than I did."
"Perhaps," Severus replied, trying to sound casual. "But perhaps I have more capacity than you realize. Which may come in handy, if I am to…be friendly, shall we say, with someone such as yourself, who spends so much time not being questioned in pubs."
"Ha. Yeah." Harry looked so happy with this banter that Severus was sorry he couldn't think of another snappy comment to add. The boy's face grew more serious as he asked quietly, "You didn't go anywhere, then, on Christmas day? You said you didn't have any plans."
"No. I stayed at home and enjoyed the quiet." And didn't aggravate my headache more than necessary.
"I just…I'm sorry you were alone. That's not good."
"Nonsense. That's how I spend most holidays. It is my preference, actually."
"Still." Harry frowned slightly, but gave up on the topic and resumed eating, looking thoughtful.
At length their food and coffee were gone, and the breakfast crowd in the coffeehouse was thinning even more. They sat there, nearly alone, past the usual time for Harry's departure, as he had no appointment this morning. "So…what do we do now?" he asked, finally. Severus had been waiting rather anxiously, unwilling to ask that question himself, but ready to supply an answer as soon as Harry was ready to ask.
He cleared his throat, and laid his hands flat on the table, trying not to fidget with them. "We have some things still to discuss, I believe," he said carefully. "Decisions to make. Things to sort out. If you are still…of a mind."
"Yes. I mean, I am. Of a mind." He was nodding his head eagerly.
"And this," he said, indicating the spot where they were currently sitting, "will not do, for the…discussion we need to have. If you agree, that is."
"So. We could, that is, if you would be comfortable…" He hesitated. The actual moment of laying this invitation on the line was more difficult than he'd expected. "We could go to my flat," he said finally, his voice sounding less sturdy than he'd intended. "It's not far."
"I'd like that." Harry smiled, just a tiny smile, but it was lovely and intoxicating.
Severus dragged his eyes away from the boy's lips and cleared his throat. "Right, then. Shall we?"
A moment later they were on the familiar sidewalk outside the coffeehouse, heading back to Severus's flat along the route he took every morning. They'd gotten outside in a blur of donning coats and tossing rubbish and jostling elbows as they passed awkwardly through the door, too close together. Now they walked through the cold side by side, Severus again trying to keep a constant distance between them, Harry still swinging his jaunty way down the walk, infuriatingly cheerful, devastatingly beautiful and dangerously close enough to grab. Though they were not walking fast, Severus felt himself beginning to breathe hard.
Finally they stood in front of the wrought iron fence surrounding his flatblock. "This is my building, Potter." He cleared his throat. "Shall we go in?" Harry smiled and nodded, seeming unaware of Severus' nervousness. He pushed open the gate and led the boy up the walk, fumbled for his key—Harry raised his eyebrows at the real metal key, but Severus just shrugged at him—and opened the door. They climbed one flight of narrow stairs, which brought them closer together than they'd been on the sidewalk. Severus could hear his own heartbeat as they climbed. At the top of the stairs, he opened the door to his flat and took Harry inside.
"Um. Welcome, I suppose," he said, looking around the sitting room, trying to imagine how someone else would see it, as he'd had no other visitors. There wasn't much in it, really. There was a rather nice leather sofa along one wall, chosen because it was long enough for a tall man like himself to nap comfortably on it, and a long coffee table in front of the sofa. At one end of the coffee table was the armchair in which Severus had sat thinking on Christmas Eve. Two large bookcases stood next to each other on the far wall from the door. An unlit fireplace with a large stone mantle took up most of the wall across from the sofa.
Harry was walking around the room, looking pleased by everything he saw. "It's nice," he said. "I like it."
"I'm so glad it meets with your approval," Severus replied, trying to sound sarcastic but raising no reaction from the boy. He sighed. "Can I offer you…something to drink?"
"No, thanks. I've drunk enough coffee to float myself out of here already. And I thought we were…um, trying not to mix things up with anything stronger, weren't we?"
"You are correct." Severus stood stiffly, wondering if this was going to get any easier. He felt ridiculous, and had to admit he had no idea what to do. "May I take your coat?" he asked, grasping at this little task and hoping it would move them forward somehow.
"Sure. Thanks." Harry removed his coat and handed it over. He looked remarkably relaxed, for the situation they were in…unless, Severus thought, suddenly in a panic, he had some completely different idea of what situation they were, in fact, in. Could he not realize…is that possible? Were my words not clear enough, in the coffeehouse? Might he have come here with some entirely different idea of what we are about to do? He fretted on that thought as he hung up their coats, then turned back to Harry, to find the boy had stepped up very close behind him, so that they nearly bumped into each other.
"Oh. Pardon me," he said, then suddenly he could not speak as Harry's mouth was on his, and Harry's hand was on his cheek, and Harry's arm was around his waist and pulling them close together. Severus made one little mumbling noise against Harry's lips, then gave up on words. They swayed together slightly, and he raised his arms up around the boy, slowly, cautiously, as if they were not certain they'd be welcomed, in spite of the enthusiastic reception his tongue was getting, and in spite of the hard, slender body pressed up against him.
After a moment it was too much to resist. He let go of his worries and wrapped his arms around Harry's shoulders firmly, erasing the last empty spaces between them. He held on, and stroked the soft wavy hair, and caressed Harry's mouth with lips and tongue, trying to say desperate, important things—I have wanted you for so long, I will be yours if you'll have me—with no words, over and over again. They kissed for a long time, as if there had been a lot that needed saying in just this way.
Finally Harry leaned back a measure, though he kept his hands warm on Severus' neck and waist, and his body pressed full-length and firm against Severus' taller one. "You seemed a little nervous," he said softly. "So I thought I'd help you out." He smiled and took another kiss, one Severus gave willingly. He was startled by how perfectly complementary their heights seemed now. The boy still fit just under his arms, but their mouths were surprisingly close, when they stood pressed together like this.
"I suppose," Severus murmured against Harry's lips, "that this renders any further discussion as to what we're to do next…moot?" Harry just laughed softly and took over his mouth again. "I had planned to inquire as to whether you were sure, really sure about this, before anything happened…" Severus tried to say when next he was allowed to breathe, but then Harry took his face in both hands and began kissing it all over, so thoroughly and exquisitely that Severus fell silent, absorbed in the tender attentions he was receiving.
"I must admit," he finally managed to whisper, somewhat hoarsely, a few moments later, "that your confidence surprises me. You act as though…" He stopped, and thought this through, and gave a small frown. "Do you have a great deal of experience at this? I'd not imagined you did, but if I was wrong I should…"
"No, you weren't wrong." Harry smiled gently at Severus and then kissed the underside of his jaw, producing a shivering response. "But I've spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do. And a lot of time seeing exactly what you wanted me to do." He looked serious. "You understand about that, don't you?"
"I think so. You know the fantasy I gave you quite by heart, I imagine."
"You could say that. I…um, practically lived in it. A lot of the time. I know that's kind of weird. I hope it doesn't bother you too much." Harry looked just a bit nervous himself, at this admission.
"It bothers me that it caused you pain. It bothers me that I was too blind to see how you might react to my fantasy." He drew Harry into a warm, protective embrace, and then whispered, "It bothers me that I wasted two years." Severus felt himself warming up now, ready to take control again, rallying after Harry's startlingly expert initiation of intimacy. They kissed again, and were both breathless, moments later, when Harry spoke.
"Tell me why we waited so many weeks to get around to this."
"I'm afraid I don't remember," Severus answered. He kissed his way around Harry's face and said softly, his lips just beside Harry's ear, "Should we be done with waiting, now?"
"Yeah. No more waiting."
"Would you like to move somewhere we could be more…comfortable?" Severus asked, hoping he sounded seductive and not simply desperate.
"I believe I can arrange it, if you'll come with me." Severus turned, keeping an arm about the boy's shoulders, and led him into the bedroom. They resumed kissing, and their mouths grew even more urgent. "Forgive me if I seem…impossibly archaic…for asking this," Severus finally said in a voice he knew had grown rough and hungry, "but it is important to me, to be sure…may I have leave to touch you freely?" He rested one forefinger lightly on the top button of Harry's shirt, as if waiting permission to undo it.
"You have leave to do anything you want." Harry's voice was rough, too, and his eyes looked fairly mad with desire. Now, it is finally time, Severus thought. He began to open the buttons of Harry's slightly rumpled white shirt, moving slowly, kissing his way down the bared skin, looking up into Harry's eyes again as each button was loosed. He felt Harry's breath grow more uneven as he worked his way down. Then finally the shirt was opened, and he pushed it gently from the boy's shoulders to drop on the floor.
He leaned back to look. "Harry," he whispered admiringly. The torso he'd just revealed was lean and muscled just to perfection, with a finely sculpted shape but no overwhelming bulk. It sported a soft dusting of dark hair in just the right places, all the spots Severus wanted to rub his face against. It was more mature-looking than he'd expected, and even more beautiful. And there were those graceful wristbones again, with their strong slender hands, revealed in their connection to the whole, perfect body.
All this loveliness stood in front of him, and he'd been given permission to touch it as much as he wanted…and he suddenly felt foolish, standing here staring, as if he couldn't decide what to touch first. Perhaps a bit of turnabout was in order. So he took Harry's hand, and kissed the inside of the wrist reverently, as he had so long dreamed of doing. Then he placed Harry's fingertips on the buttons of his own shirt, giving the boy a look that tried to say, Undress me, as well… Harry smiled and started in on the buttons right away.
An small worry occurred to Severus as Harry's fingers worked over his shirtfront. It took a bit more work to reveal his own pale, hairless chest, as Harry had to remove the buttoned shirt and then slip off the very proper white undershirt. "I'm afraid I can't offer you so…svelte a figure, as you present to me," he said hesitantly. "And I'm more of the smooth variety. I hope that won't be a problem."
"A problem? What are you talking about?" Harry had gotten the undershirt over his head and tossed it across the room, in a hurry to be rid of it. He was running his hands over Severus' chest eagerly, exploring. "You're bloody perfect. Gods, I love this…" Then he stopped, and looked up at Severus with a puzzled smile. "But…in your fantasy, you do have hair, here," he said, touching Severus' breastbone.
"Well," Severus said stiffly. "It was a fantasy, after all. Absolute verisimilitude was not required."
Severus rolled his eyes. "I took certain liberties with the facts."
"Oh." Harry pondered this. "Does that mean you wish you had hair on your chest, then?"
"No. I thought you would like it, would prefer that I look that way."
"Really? You imagined it that way, for me?" He looked pleased. "I think I kind of like it this way, so smooth." He ran his hands up and down Severus' chest and belly, then looked up again, as if struck by another thought. "You imagined me with less hair on my chest than I have, didn't you?"
"I did. It seemed a reasonable assumption, given your age."
"But other than that you guessed what I look like pretty well. Naked, I mean."
"I have seen a few unclothed teenage boys in my day, you realize." Severus smiled, trying for a roguish look, then pulled Harry closer so their chests rubbed together, a warm skin-on-skin contact that felt so good. "I am quite satisfied with the reality of your appearance, however."
"Yeah, me too. Um, with yours." Giving Severus a watch-this-daring-move look, Harry bent to gently suck one dark nipple, and Severus trembled slightly at the touch of his lips.
"If you're going to do that, you'd best be prepared for what comes next," he said gruffly. He dropped his mouth to the boy's shoulder and began gently biting and more firmly sucking his way along it, while his hands reached around to cup the beautiful halves of the shapely arse he knew was hidden inside Harry's jeans. He used his hands to pull Harry up against him more closely, feeling great jolts of lust between them as their cocks pressed together through trouser layers. "I have wanted this, wanted you, for so long," he muttered against Harry's ear.
"You don't have to only want. You can have," Harry said softly. Severus groaned softly, drew back reluctantly, and began to open the belt and fastenings on the boy's jeans. When they were undone he pushed the whole mess down and lowered himself slowly to his knees on the floor, his hands on the strong young thighs, his face level with Harry's dark-haired belly. He could not tear his eyes away from the proud, thick cock jutting from Harry's pelvis. It was gorgeous.
Though what he really wanted was to devour the beautiful thing whole, he knew better than to overwhelm a virgin too quickly. Instead he rested his cheek against the side of Harry's belly, gazing fondly at the cock while stroking everywhere else—along the crease between belly and thigh, down the inside of the thigh, across the belly behind the upright cock… He felt Harry tremble, and he smiled, thinking, so perfect.
"If I were to take you into my mouth just now…" he murmured, keeping up the gentle, oblique touches, "would it be…too much?"
"Uh. Yeah. Probably," Harry stammered. "Gods, Severus, it may be too much without you having to do anything."
"How lovely," Severus sighed. But he stopped stroking. He was formulating a plan, and needed Harry's agreement. "Consider the idea," he said speculatively, "that I might do that deliberately, so as to level the playing field."
"Hmm. I could suck you off nicely, right now," he continued, coaxing. "I'm sure it wouldn't take much, as eager as you are. Your first time for this, yes?" Harry nodded frantically and Severus smiled, feeling powerful and indulgent. "It would turn the steam down a bit, for you. So you could come again later, more slowly, perhaps. With me." At the last words he nosed the dark cock gently, making it jump and Harry give a little grunt.
"I…yeah, Severus. Whatever you want to do." Harry had remembered his hands, and was running them desperately through Severus' hair, as if that might release some of the tension Severus knew was mounting in his belly.
"Well. Let's move onto the bed, shall we? Much more comfortable, I think. And you have a bit of undressing still to do here, if you would." Severus stood slowly, and placed Harry's hand on his still done-up trousers. Harry quickly set to work on them with shaking hands. When he was done he looked into Severus' face, a bit nervously, as he pushed the trousers down. Severus stepped smoothly out of them and pulled Harry against him, making the boy moan softly. "Here we are, now, just like in the fantasy," he murmured. "Feel good?" Harry just moaned again. "Into the bed with you, then."
He turned to the bed, keeping one arm around the boy, and pulled down the coverlet and sheet. Then he saw that Harry was staring, and smiling strangely, at the bed, and he asked, trying not to be irritated, "Is there something funny about my bed?"
"No!" Harry said. "It's just…you really do have satin sheets! And a velvet spread. I…I didn't think…"
"Ah. It surprises you that a lonely homosexual man would have nice bedroom furnishings?" He smiled teasingly.
"Well, no, of course, I saw them in the fantasy…but they sure as hell surprised me there. When I got past, you know, looking at everything else."
"And do they please you? Do they make you…more excited?" He rubbed himself against Harry's side, knowing he was taking a chance, but curious to see what the boy thought about this particular little indulgence of his.
"They do! Uh." He yelped and clutched at Severus. "I like them. I've dreamed about them. I just never imagined, you know, when you were at school…"
"Why don't you think of this as just one more little secret your nasty potions master kept, hmm? Enjoy them, Harry. They'll feel good, I promise. Why don't you slide in, and try them out?" He carefully removed Harry's glasses and placed them on the bedside table, then turned the boy gently to face the bed, and pressed up firmly against him from behind.
Harry needed no more convincing. He climbed into the bed and slipped across to the far side to make room for Severus. "Oh, it's nice," he half-whimpered. "Feels so cool, so slick. Severus…" And Severus didn't make him wait. He pulled Harry into his arms and kissed him long and slow again, moving their bodies together in slow undulations so that Harry could feel the slippery sheets underneath them. "Wow," the boy gasped, when Severus let him up for air. "That…uh…really feels great."
"I thought you might like the effect." Severus ran a hand possessively down the full length of Harry's body from neck to groin, but carefully avoiding the cock that strained toward him. "Shall I give you a little relief, now? I'd like to do that for you. May I?"
"Huh. Do anything, Severus. Please. Now, oh..."
That was all the permission Severus needed. He slid smoothly down the bed and crawled between Harry's legs, with Harry propped on his elbows and watching every move with what Severus thought were the widest eyes he'd ever seen. "Have you thought about me doing this to you, Harry?" he said, his voice smooth and, he hoped, seductive. "This wasn't in the particular fantasy you saw, I know. But it was in others, I assure you. I've imagined it so many times…" Severus put his arms under Harry's thighs, and stretched them up to brace behind the strong young back. Now perfectly positioned, he kept his eyes locked with Harry's as he took the lovely hard cock into his mouth. He gave a good wet lick all around with his tongue, then simply sucked hard, and watched as Harry's eyes closed and he moaned and shook and came almost immediately.
Severus stroked his mouth gently up and down as Harry emptied himself. When the eager young cock was nearly soft again, he kept a gentle, comforting suction—more for his own comfort than for Harry's, but whatever—on just the head of it and lay with his cheek against Harry's belly, letting them both rest for a peaceful moment. "That was…ah…so good," Harry murmured. "So good. You're…" and he stroked Severus' hair, "just so good."
Severus couldn't talk for some moments, what with his mouth still nursing the smooth tip of a lovely satisfied cock, but he didn't mind. Harry's words were music to his soul. Indeed he began to feel a bit overwhelmed by the emotions flooding him, as he lay with this young man he'd dreamed of, knowing he'd been able to please him, hoping that they'd please each other many more times. It was more than he'd ever expected life to deliver to him, and if he hadn't felt his own cock still hard and hungry as it pressed against the bed he knew he'd have fallen asleep blissfully cradled between Harry's legs. But that cock would not let him sleep, not yet, and he was gratified to feel Harry's firming up again shockingly soon. Ah, to be twenty again, he thought. Or, he told himself, feeling wicked, to have a lover who is.
"Still feeling good there?" he asked, finally releasing Harry from his mouth and angling his head to look up at the boy's face again.
"Yeah," Harry replied, his voice rough. "But not done yet, I think."
"I was counting on that. Care to try something else?"
"Uh huh." Harry held his arms out to beckon Severus closer, and he was happy to oblige, skimming up over the black sheet and into those arms. He rolled on top of Harry and kissed him, rubbing their bodies together with more abandon now that the risk of over-hasty adolescent ejaculation was reduced. Severus needed more stimulation, wanted it now, and took it eagerly, thrusting his own cock in long, slow strokes against Harry's, until he heard himself beginning to make noises unintentionally…and he knew he'd lose control soon, so he slowed to a gentler motion that kept him pleasantly on edge.
Harry, however, was not happy with slowing down. He clung to Severus, gasping against his chest, kissing and licking when he could. "That felt…ah. Really good. Do you want…"
Before he could finish his question, Severus stopped his stroking altogether and wrapped his arms around Harry firmly to roll them both over. In an instant Harry was on top, looking startled, and Severus was smiling up at him. He was about to suggest a fairly gentle, nonthreatening sort of mutually stimulating play, what he thought of as a pedagogically sound way to work into the more invasive intimacies possible between two men…when Harry, as usual, surprised him. "Let me do it," the boy said suddenly. "Let me make the fantasy come true for you. Please?"
Severus was taken aback. "Do you mean you want to…penetrate me? Do you…have you ever done so before?" He didn't mean the questions to sound possessive, really he didn't. He told himself that he simply needed to know, that if the boy hadn't experienced either side of full, male on male, penetrative intercourse, he wouldn't, he couldn't, really know what to do…but of course, he knew he would be jealous, if it turned out that Harry had been touched so intimately by anyone else. It was a ridiculous way for him to feel, he knew it was…but he couldn't help it, he was in love with this boy and had been for years, no matter how insane that was…
But Harry was smiling and kissing him, trying to be persuasive. "No, I promise. Only you, Severus. After seeing your fantasy…how could I want someone else?"
Severus could imagine quite a few ways the boy might have wanted nearly anyone else, but he decided not to mention them. "I didn't mean to suggest…" he began, embarrassed by the implied jealousy, but Harry interrupted him.
"I'm serious. There's never been anyone else, I just want you. And I want to…to really satisfy you. What we did in your fantasy…is that what you like best? Can you tell me? Please?"
He looked so eager, and so determined, that Severus' plan to keep things simple at first melted away. "Yes," he said finally. "That is what I like, very much. Though I am capable of…considerable flexibility, adaptability, in such things. And as you might imagine," he said, nuzzling the boy's neck gently as he spoke, "I did have a variety of fantasies involving you, and they covered, shall we say, a large range of possibilities."
"Can we try them all?" The youthful voice was tragically eager.
Severus laughed. "Given some time, certainly we can. If that is your desire." Severus thought he might burst just thinking about this implied promise, but he tried to keep his face calm.
"That's good. Because I know you have lots of good ideas. And I think I might like, you know, what you like, too," Harry said hurriedly, as if not sure it was proper to admit this, "but I want to please you first. I mean, if that's what you really like best. Will you let me?"
"You're sure you feel confident in your understanding of what is required?"
"Sure I do! After all, you showed me how to do it." He laughed. "And I'm sure," he added, "that if I do something wrong, you'll let me know. Won't you?"
And that was how Severus found himself in the bizarre and astonishing position of acquiescing to the desire of the most beautiful young man in the world to fuck him witless…and to the further promise that said young man wanted to explore every avenue of sexuality they could think of together, with him, with only him, the ugly and bitter older man he should have hated, and who was feeling rather less ugly and bitter about the world just now.
Who could have known? he thought, as he nodded.
They commenced with attempting to re-create the fantasy Severus had unwittingly given to Harry on that terrible day when they'd both temporarily died. Severus found that Harry's memory of it, not surprisingly, was even more detailed than his own, and he was more than happy to go along with whatever Harry insisted was The Way It Was Supposed To Go. Harry, fortunately, was willing to omit the parts of the fantasy that occurred before they'd ended up in bed together, and Severus was glad, as now he'd got the boy here he didn't like thinking about the moment they'd have to get out of the bed again. He also wasn't too sure about his ability to carry this somewhat taller Harry across the room in the erotic but awkward position he'd fantasized.
Though Severus had thought the tickling and burrowing-under-the-covers game rather silly even while fantasizing it, he found that he quite enjoyed it, and Harry obviously loved it. Harry quickly figured out just how to position himself for the highly effective thrusting frottage that came before the serious business in the fantasy, and he did an admirable job of pushing Severus to the far edge of arousal. His enthusiastic nipple sucking didn't hurt, either. They quickly realized that Severus had neglected to put a jar of lubricant under the pillow before inviting Harry into his bed, but he remedied that easily enough with a quick Accio from the bath cabinet, and Harry pronounced the heady, musk-scented oil that Severus summoned to be nearly enough to make a man—at least a twenty-year-old man—come all by itself.
Finally it was time for the real action, and Harry threw himself into it with a Gryffindor courage that even Severus had to admit was impressive. To thrust his slick fingers up another man's arse for the first time…well, Severus knew it was a task that could intimidate a young fellow, but Harry didn't flinch. He moved smoothly and confidently, but allowed Severus to set the pace according to his comfort. Harry added fingers as Severus requested them, and had to ask his former teacher only once for additional instruction on exactly where to stroke with his fingertips to induce the deep groans he wanted to draw from the older man.
When Severus felt he might lose control with another of those glorious strokes, he held his young lover gently in place to stop the deep caresses. "I need you now, Harry," he whispered, their lips almost touching. "Would you take me? Come inside me, all the way?" He didn't think he'd got his lines exactly right, but hoped Harry would understand that he meant them, and urgently.
Harry answered with a groaning voice. "I will, Severus," he replied, saying all the correct words. "I know what you want." He sat back on his knees and rubbed the luscious oil on himself, arching his back as he did. "It feels so good," he muttered. "I may…not be able to…hold back, Severus. In you…Gods. Too much." But he got a very serious, determined look on his face and began maneuvering them into position. Severus helped by pulling his long legs up and out of the way, so Harry was quickly positioned perfectly to thrust home. "Now?" the boy whispered.
"Now," Severus affirmed. And just like that, Harry was inside him, and Severus felt filled, and happy, and far too close to orgasm for a man of his age in this position. And Harry, against all odds, was thrusting steadily like an expert, panting and grunting, face reddening and looking focused on the climax that was nearing quickly.
Yet still he had the presence to ask, after a moment, "Severus. Is this…good? Do you want…" he was breathless, "anything different?"
"This is…no, just perfect," Severus managed to get out. "I'm ready, Harry, come when you want. Come inside me…now, Harry…" And he threw his head back, knowing it looked like surrender, knowing that's exactly what it was.
Harry made one long low sound, then took Severus' cock in both slippery hands and pulled on it in time with his thrusts, as if it were his own erect organ. It didn't take long, for either of them, and with their hoarse cries melting together, they both came hard, pulsing together and making a wondrous sticky mess between them. Then Harry dropped like a sandbag onto Severus' chest, and Severus rolled them both to the side, and they lay there breathing hard for some minutes.
"Quite lovely, that," Severus finally said, hoping he'd gotten the words right this time.
"Oh, yeah," Harry replied softly, then raised his head to smile at Severus in delight. "You really do remember."
"Mmm, most of it. I think. The words were mine to begin with, you know."
Harry just chuckled, a sweet, happy sound. "You are the best, Severus Snape."
Severus rolled onto his back, made the requisite scoffing noise and said, "You've hardly any grounds for comparison." That was, apparently, true, and Severus was ashamed of how much it pleased him.
Harry scoffed back cheerfully. "Don't need any. It couldn't get any better than that." He looked back and forth between them. "Sorry, I'm not in the right position. Want me to move?"
"This is just fine. Though you could kiss me, if you wanted. If that doesn't interfere with our re-enactment too much."
"Nah. We don't require…what was that you said? Absolute…?"
"Verisimilitude. Though with life imitating art, here, in a manner of speaking, I'm not sure in which direction verisimilitude would be required, in any case…"
"Whatever." Harry waved a hand dismissively and propped himself up on one elbow, then leaned down to kiss Severus tenderly. It was a slow and easy kiss, and went on for some time. After, he leaned back and said, "The hot flannels. I almost forgot. Can I go and fetch them?"
"Through that door," Severus said, pointing. "Closet behind the door, middle shelf. Careful, the hot tap is extremely hot."
Harry grinned. "Thanks. I'll be right back." He hopped off the bed, and Severus watched him from the back as he trotted into the loo and disappeared for a moment. When he returned, carrying steaming white cloths, Severus pulled down the covers for him as required, and they re-created the fantasy's pleasant little wiping-down ritual. It truly did feel heavenly, Severus thought, as he lay with his eyes closed, feeling Harry's hand sliding the soft cloth up and down his skin. He was very glad he'd included this little detail, and that Harry seemed to appreciate it as well. He remembered, at the end, to toss the flannels away and kiss the boy again, and he felt Harry smile against his lips.
"You know," he said quietly against Severus' cheek where he'd settled, a few moments later, "I always thought it was amazing, how much kissing there was in your fantasy. I mean, those two, they were kissing all the time, even after they'd had sex, when I thought they wouldn't be too interested. And now I see…" he grinned, "…what they were up to. Because I want to kiss you all the time, too." He demonstrated, then asked, "Was the fantasy like that because that's what you like? What you wanted? Or because you thought I'd like it?"
"A bit of both, I suppose," Severus said guardedly, thinking that to admit such a liking might not be wise.
But Harry had no such inhibitions. "Well, I do like it. I don't know how you knew, but I do." He snuggled up close against Severus' side, stroking his chest and teasing his nipples playfully. "And I like this. So smooth and pretty." He giggled, and Severus snorted. "Well, it is. You were wrong about what I'd like, here. I like it just the way it is."
"Perhaps we've merely exchanged roles, then. From the fantasy, that is. You are the—forgive me, I can't bear to make a pun just now—the hirsute one."
"The hairy one, child." Severus scratched Harry's chest gently. "You do realize that you will probably become even more so, as you get older? By the time you're my age your chest will probably be quite lush."
"Yeah. I guess." Harry looked suddenly worried. "Will that be all right, do you think?"
"Yeah. Will it bother you?"
"I'm sorry, bother me? For you to be hairy, when you're forty?" Severus was perplexed.
"Yes," Harry persisted. "Will you still…like how it looks, how it feels? Even when it's…a lot hairier than it is now?"
Severus suddenly realized what Harry was saying. "I don't…" he began, not wanting to point out the ridiculousness of what the boy was suggesting. "I don't believe it will be a problem," was all he could think to say. But inside he hugged Harry's words close.
They lay together for a long time in silence then, fingers gently exploring, lips occasionally touching. Severus was reminded, smoothing his hands down Harry's lovely firm body, that his own was indeed not as lean or as youthful as it had been just a few years ago. He'd shared his body with so few, and none for years now, and he knew that no matter what Harry said, it had never been beautiful; now, though, it was changing and aging at an alarming rate. He did not, as he'd tried to tell Harry, cut quite the "svelte" figure he might have even two years previous. It wasn't that he'd exactly let himself go, after, well, dying; it was just that there hadn't seemed to be much point in worrying about it. And now he was sturdier, more middle-aged-looking, and he wondered...did Harry notice? Did it bother him? Or, would it bother him in the near future, after the initial delight of a young man in having any sexual partner at all had worn off?
"Harry," he whispered, his hand stroking the boy's back. "I regret, that I have not…," he said haltingly, feeling ridiculously formal but not sure how else to begin, "…maintained quite the…shall we say, the trim body you might have expected, given how I presented myself in the fantasy you saw…"
Harry's head popped up next to him immediately, a disbelieving smile on his face. "You're worried about…what, gaining a little weight?" he asked. "You think that would bother me? What are you, mental?" He put an arm across Severus' chest and pulled himself on top of it. "You got a lot of things right, about what I'd like, in your fantasy. But that, you got wrong, if you think I want you to be…really skinny, or something." He smiled fondly. "You're bigger than me. I like that. That's part of what I…what I want to feel, when I touch you. When I hold you. This," he motioned to the solid body underneath him, "is better than the fantasy. I mean, of course, because it's real, but also because it's…well, a little bit more. It's just…your body is just what I want, Severus. Don't worry about it." He pulled himself fully on top of Severus and kissed him again, leaving Severus with no worries about much of anything by the time he was through.
They lay peacefully for a few moments more, and then Harry moved back down to the bed and settled himself close against Severus' side. He pulled the covers over them, and whispered, "Can we nap now?"
"For a little while," Severus replied in a gentle voice, wondering how long the boy might sleep, and what would happen when he awoke. He allowed himself to close his eyes, just for a moment, and to drink in the warmth and the delicious scent and the soft noises of Harry at rest. He wondered, just for a moment, whether it might be possible to stay here in this bed forever…
…and he woke with a start, not on hearing a sound, but at the light in his eyes that had crept around the edge of the drawn shade, and shifted across the room while they slept. He looked at the old oaken clock on his bureau. It was two in the afternoon.
"Harry," he said, softly but urgently. "Harry, wake up. It's late." He let himself have one good look at the relaxed face of his lover in sleep, then shook the boy's shoulder gently. "Harry. Come on. They'll be missing you at the castle."
"Huh? What?" Harry sat upright abruptly.
"It's two o'clock. Were you expected for lunch?"
"Um. I…I guess so. But…maybe not." He frowned, looking sleepy and confused. "I miss meals sometimes. They might not notice. Though…there's not many people around right now. It might be more obvious..." Harry turned his eyes to Severus, who could see when full realization of exactly where he was dawned on the boy's face, along with a smile. "Huh. I just woke up in your bed, didn't I?"
"You did, indeed." Severus smiled and ran a hand through Harry's ever-more-unruly hair. "And that wasn't the half of it." He gave a muffled grunt as the boy twisted his body and fell on him, landing on his chest and kissing him eagerly.
"Can I…could we…" Harry began, but Severus shook his head and made a deep "mmm" noise in response.
"You should go. Minerva will be keeping track of you loosely, at least, I am sure. And I need to get a bit of work done today." He took a brief kiss for himself, and smiled. "Though you've destroyed my ability to concentrate, I'm afraid."
"All right. If you're sure…" and he gazed up at Severus from under dark eyelashes, looking so coquettish that Severus had to laugh.
"I'm sure. Out of the bed with you, and let me get a good look, eh?" He leaned back on his pillow and tried to look as if he were appraising Harry objectively.
"Is this what you wanted to see?" Harry asked, hopping up and striking a pose, with his arms crossed and that beautiful cock, already hard again, flat against his lean belly.
"Oh, yes, that will do nicely." Severus couldn't stop himself from wanting to touch. He raised himself on an elbow and stretched out a hand to stroke the smooth flank, and drew Harry nearer, so he could get his mouth on tender, lovely skin once more. He kissed just the boy's stomach quickly, not wanting to cause trouble, but unable to hold back. "I must let you go," he murmured, then he sighed and dropped back onto his pillow, closing his eyes. "Away with you. You are far too tempting."
Harry just laughed and began to pull on his clothes. "Hey, you get your lazy self up, too. Didn't you say you had work to do?"
That provocation was too much, and with a mock roar Severus was out of the bed and on him, holding Harry gently but firmly from behind as he laughed and pretended to struggle to get away. The struggling eased as the boy relaxed and pressed backwards, and Severus scolded him, punctuated by firm kisses to his neck and shoulder. "I'm not the lazy one around here, Mister Potter, and you'd better not forget it." He held them still for a moment, considering. "Although come to think of it, you did do most of the hard labor in bed this morning. I'll have to even up the score next time, hmm?" He turned the boy in his arms and kissed his mouth with slow lapping strokes of his tongue, thinking as he did so, I must be insane, I'll get him started up again and he'll never leave…or perhaps I'm already started up again myself…and what am I thinking, I don't bloody want him to leave…
Harry was wrapped around him tight again when Severus knew he had to call a halt. "Easy, love," he said softly, finally pushing Harry gently away. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that. You really must go. I don't want Minerva to send out a search party."
"Okay, okay." Harry pretended to sulk, but kept smiling. He finished putting his clothes on while Severus pulled on a dressing gown. Then he ran his hands through his wild hair, pretending to straighten it, and turned to Severus with a serious expression. "You're not going to make me wait a whole week to see you again, are you?"
Severus raised an eyebrow. "You're the one who only comes round on Wednesdays. I'm at that coffeehouse nearly every morning, and have been for more than two years now."
Harry was indignant. "You mean…I could have met you there more often, all this time? You never told me!"
"You never asked."
"But…! Well, now I'm asking." He slid into Severus' arms again, so quickly that Severus didn't have time to resist. "Can I meet you tomorrow? Same time? Please?"
"Well…" Severus pretended to think hard on this, frowning as if there might be some problem. "I suppose so," he finally allowed, speaking slowly. At Harry's worried look, though, he had to laugh. "Of course you can, you silly boy." He kissed the smooth forehead with its ghost of a scar. "You can't imagine I would refuse you, surely?"
"Well, I never know. You're pretty stubborn, sometimes."
Severus thought it best that Harry not realize just how much power he had to overcome that stubbornness, so he simply said, "Yes, and don't you forget it." He fished his hands into Harry's long, silky hair and stroked it gently, just for himself, savouring the sensation, and he closed his eyes briefly to enjoy it. Lovely, lovely, he thought, and I can touch all I want… Then he wrenched himself back to business. "Weren't you just leaving?" he asked archly, reluctantly removing his hands from the silvered tangles.
"Yeah. I guess." They walked, with arms touching, to the front door. "I'll see you tomorrow, then," Harry said, as if wanting to hear the words in order to reassure himself once more that this morning had actually happened, and could be repeated. "And…Severus, thanks. I mean it." His face tightened and flushed. "I just can't tell you how much…"
"There's no need." Severus kissed him gently, trying to keep the touch affectionate and not erotic. "You have my thanks, as well. For…persisting." He opened the door and motioned outside. "Now begone with you." And with a shy smile, Harry turned and bounded down the steps, looking back to wave quickly at the bottom. Then he looked around him and laughed. "Forgot I could just apparate," he said, and vanished with a pop.
Severus chuckled to himself as he walked back into his flat and sat in the armchair in his dressing gown. He really had planned to accomplish some worthwhile work today, but for some time he couldn't make himself move from the chair. He was lost in thoughts of the sight, the sound, the feel, the taste and scent of Harry…in his arms, in his bed, in his life. He closed his eyes and was surrounded by Harry. There was nothing else he wanted.
It was already late in the afternoon, and not so many hours remained until the time Severus usually retired for the night. Though he tried to work, he could summon little of his usual vitriol, and when he finished editing a paper and realized how pitifully scant were the red marks he'd made on it, he gave up. He spent a good portion of the rest of his evening lost in daydreaming, in memories and fantasies about Harry that drew every movement and sensation out into a languid, lovely peak of delight.
At length, Severus finally went to bed. He made the transition from daydreaming of Harry to nightdreaming of Harry smoothly, swiftly, sweetly, and the nighttime hours passed quickly.
Track 10: Tango, reprise
Severus arrived at the coffeehouse punctually the next morning, striding through the door wearing a more studiously calm look than usual. He had carefully assumed this calm look, to cover up the extreme nervousness he felt as he anticipated how he might encounter, or not encounter, Harry. For by the time he'd awakened this morning, yesterday morning's rendezvous had begun to lose its solid feeling of reality, and he'd even imagined he might have dreamed the whole thing. He knew the depth of his obsession with Harry, after all, and knowing that, he had to admit that anything was possible.
He was startled thoroughly out of his calm demeanor, however, when he saw Harry had already arrived. The boy was standing by the counter, bouncing on the balls of his feet and looking at least as nervous as Severus felt. His eyes were on the door, as well, and when he saw Severus come in his face broke into a brilliant smile, and for one horrible moment Severus wondered if the boy was going to race over and fling himself into his arms. When that didn't happen, Severus began to imagine other mawkishly inappropriate displays the boy might engage in, such as kissing him, taking his hand, or otherwise hanging on him. He walked across the shop with trepidation, wondering what might happen…and was a bit disappointed when he reached the counter and Harry just gave him a small, nervous smile and a quiet, "Good morning, Severus."
"Good morning, Harry," he said, hoping he sounded more calm than he felt. "You're here early."
"Um. Yeah." The boy blushed, and smiled again, and Severus felt his insides clench dully. "I, um…well, I was wondering, if you'd like to do take-away?" The smile flashed even brighter for a second.
It was not a dream. And he wants…more. Ye Gods. But he simply said, "I suppose we might do that. If you would prefer. Am I to assume you are…in a hurry this morning, then?" He raised an eyebrow, hoping to look snidely playful. He would have liked to look in control of things, but achieving that seemed unlikely.
"I guess so. Lots of things to do today, you know." Harry looked deliberately past Severus and toward the counter, and stepped closer to place his order, finishing with a distinct, "I'll take it with me, please," that was clearly louder than necessary. When he'd received his food, he stepped past Severus, still not looking at him, but with a hot-cheeked smile on his face.
Hmm. I can play this game as well, dear boy. He placed his own usual order, and finished with, "Ah, yes, can you bag that up for me, please? Too much work to do today, I'm afraid. No time for hanging about in coffeehouses." He smiled sweetly—and uncharacteristically—at the young barista, and she gave him a peculiar look, which he ignored.
Soon they were bustling through the door again, back out to the sidewalk, where Harry seemed to take considerable care not to walk too close to Severus. He did, however, sneak occasional sidelong glances at him, which Severus observed but conspicuously failed to acknowledge. The short walk seemed to take longer than it should have, and Severus found himself on edge by the time they had reached his building again.
"After you, sir," he motioned gallantly to Harry, after he'd unlocked the gate. He thought he heard the boy snicker softly at that, but chose to pay no attention. They proceeded through the front door and up the narrow stair, and only at the top, just outside Severus' flat, did they stop and really look at each other, for the first time that morning. Severus saw the hunger in Harry's eyes clearly then, felt its echo in his own, and gave himself up for lost. He unlocked the door with its ridiculous metal key and let them in.
As he crossed the threshold, the air seemed to grow thick, and time suddenly went strangely unpredictable. He felt Harry take the bag of breakfast slowly and gently from his arms, and place it with his own on the kitchen table. He heard himself ask, in a small, distant voice, for Harry's coat, and he knew he'd intended to hang it up with his own, but suddenly the coats were lying on the long couch as if they'd been tossed there, and he was in Harry's arms, and they were kissing, and it was somehow hard and soft all at the same time. How is that even possible? he heard himself thinking. Next Harry pressed him up against the wall and rubbed frantically against him; and then just as quickly Harry yanked him away, pulling at his clothes while pushing him across the room, asking urgently, "In your bed, Severus, can we? Now?"
"You know the way," was all Severus could manage to say, his voice sounding thick and clumsy to his ears. He allowed Harry to lead him into the bedroom, and Harry was removing clothing from both of them as fast as he could, not quite tearing anything but looking as though he might, if anything were foolish enough to get in his way. Severus felt himself growing dizzy, and he put out a hand to slow the boy down. "Take it easy, there," he said gently. "What's the rush?" And he was startled to find his arms suddenly full of a desperately clutching young man, who was burying his face in Severus' shoulder and shaking. "What's this, now?" Severus asked worriedly. "Did I say something wrong?"
"No." The voice came from near his chest. The body clutching him shook for a moment, and took great gulping breaths. "I was so afraid…that you might not come back this morning. That you'd decide it was all a bad idea, or something."
"How could you think that? How could you possibly think that, after…what we did yesterday?" Severus stroked Harry's back gently, confused.
"You've had years of…of practice," Harry tried to explain, finally raising his reddened face, "at thinking this was all a bad idea. I was afraid you might convince yourself of that, all over again. And I'd never see you again."
Oh. That did make some sense, Severus had to admit, if you looked at it from Harry's point of view. After all, Severus had decided all on his own not to go to Harry after the war, not even to let him know he was alive, without considering that Harry might at least have wanted to talk about what he'd seen. Perhaps the boy was just afraid he'd make another such decision, without giving him a voice in it at all.
But surely he could see that everything had changed? "Need I remind you that you know where to find me now?" he asked gently. "If I hadn't shown up you could simply have come here and forced the issue."
"You could move," Harry said, unconvinced.
Severus snorted. "You are assuming that I want to get away from you. That makes no sense. Why would I want to run from this?" He held Harry's face in both hands and kissed him gently, and decided this was not the time for cautious verbal fencing. "I'm done with staying away from you, Harry. If I'd had the slightest idea that you might possibly have any homosexual leanings…" He repeated the kiss. "I assure you, I thought all along that this was 'a bad idea' primarily because I thought you'd be furious with me for thinking it. I told myself, yes, that it was wrong, and would have been harmful to you, and would have no doubt ended up destroying me, and all that may still be true, but believe me, I am nowhere near virtuous enough, or strong enough, to have stayed away from you if I'd thought you wanted this. Nowhere near." He pulled the boy tight into his arms and held on, shaking just a little himself now, because as he'd spoken all those words he'd realized they were true.
It was a long moment before Harry pulled away and looked up at him. His eyes held Severus tight and were places of safety again, he was relieved to see. "Okay," the boy said finally, his voice very small.
"Shall we begin again, then? If you're, ah, still in the mood?"
"Yeah." Harry nodded, and smiled hesitantly, and put a hand on Severus' unopened shirt buttons, looking up for permission.
"As if you think I'd actually say no." Severus smiled, and the undressing continued. It moved more slowly this time, but increased in urgency until they were in a bare-skinned, standing embrace, arms moving up and down slowly over each others' bodies, pressed together and swaying gently. It felt like a dance to Severus, and he wondered if Harry would laugh at the idea. He tried to make his slow caresses feel graceful and rhythmic, and was glad to see it did seem to please the young man, if his shallow, hitched breaths were any indication. "What do you want today, Harry?" he whispered, his lips stroking softly along the curve of the boy's ear.
"Would you show me how it feels?" Harry asked, breathless. "The way you like it? To…to be taken?"
"I would be honoured to be the one to show you that," Severus whispered, leading him to the bed and easing him onto it. "On top of the covers this time, I think. You will like the feeling of the velvet too, I'm quite sure. And this way…" he gave an evil grin, "you can better see what's going on." Harry's eyes went wide and bright at the words, and Severus chuckled.
"Now, then," he said, lowering himself gently on top of Harry. He rested on one elbow to control the weight pressed against the boy, not wanting him to change his ideas about the pleasures of having a larger lover. He kissed Harry gently, holding back just a little, so that Harry was reaching up to him, wanting more. "Ah, you're so eager," he whispered. "I will give you what you want, never fear. But you must learn the delight in waiting for it, as well." His free hand stroked the inside of Harry's thigh just firmly enough not to tickle, and then he thrust his body very slowly against the boy's beautiful cock, trying to heighten his eagerness even more. He stretched this lovely dance out for several moments, and felt his own arousal rising to near the breaking point. "How much do you think you can stand?" he whispered. "Before you're ready to come at just a word?"
"Uh. Not…much more." Harry was breathing hard. "Can you…use your fingers? Please? I want to see what that…feels like."
"If you think you're ready. Feeling relaxed?"
"Guh. Not really. But…"
Severus laughed softly. "I understand."
"Huh!" the boy wheezed at him. His face looked so strained that Severus had to kiss him. Then he smiled a sly, promise-filled smile and reached under the pillow for the little jar of lubricant. After one last kiss, he sat up on his knees between Harry's legs, pushing those legs apart into a gorgeous, revealing sprawl. He opened the jar and dipped his fingers into the musky oil.
"Mmm," he murmured, holding his oiled fingers to his nose. "Very nice. Can you smell it?" Harry just make a choked sound and watched him, eyes round. Severus smoothed a finger around the boy's taut opening, and then slowly slid the finger inside. Harry gurgled a bit, but didn't sound hurt, so Severus carefully thrust the finger in and out, shallowly at first but reaching more deeply as Harry tried to angle himself toward Severus' hand. "You like that, then? So good…yes, you're going to love what's to come, I promise you." He crooked his finger slightly on the next thrust, and Harry spread his arms and moaned loudly in response. "Ready for more, do you think?" Harry nodded quickly, his eyes closed.
Severus obliged him, adding one finger, and then two, his own eagerness growing until his hands were trembling so that he could hardly hold them still to slide inside the boy. Finally he said, trying to keep the tremble from showing in his voice, "Ready for the real thing, do you think? Because if you are…" he tried to steady himself, "I'm ready to give it to you."
"I'm…ready," Harry gasped. "Gods. No wonder you like this."
Severus chuckled. "You've not really seen anything yet. If you could possibly hold your legs up a bit…there, that's it…" He leaned forward, giving his own very hungry cock a good stroking with the sweet oil, and positioned himself to thrust into the boy. "Ready, now?" There was a hungry-sounding groan. "Take me in, Harry. Let me please you." He knew his voice sounded raw and revealing, and was glad. He wanted Harry to know how good this was for him as well. And with one long, slow push, from bones and muscles that had not made this motion for such a long time, he penetrated the beautiful arse of this boy who should have hated him, but most certainly, absolutely, did not.
It was as hot, and tight, and wonderful, as Severus had known it would be, and he gave one long, loud moan so Harry would know as well. He thrust into the boy over and over, finding a rhythm almost immediately that Harry seemed to recognize as well, by arching and sliding against him in time with it. It is still a dance, Severus thought, for which we need no music. This thought was so lovely that it spurred him to drive a bit deeper, and Harry gasped and moved along with him. He tried to prolong the dance, tried to keep them flowing with it for as long as he could, but he could feel his own need for release nearing its peak, and could hear Harry beginning to make little regular," Huh, huh, huh," sounds, and he realized—happily—that they would need considerably more experience, together, to turn this activity into a marathon. For now it was simply too much stimulation to control.
So he leaned down, pleased and a little surprised that he could still manage such flexibility, and gave Harry one long kiss, ending with a whispered, "Get ready. I'm going to make you come." He straightened back up, took a firm, oily grip on Harry's cock, and changed his movements to quick, short thrusts. The result was predictable. Harry shouted, Severus heard himself make a somewhat embarrassing grunt, and their hands and bellies were covered with the warm liquid spurting from Harry. Severus stroked him steadily, feeling his own body release itself inside the gorgeous one beneath him. He shook and gasped, and rubbed his fingers voluptuously on the boy's wet, sticky middle as he gradually descended from the height of his climax. Then he propped himself up with his hands on either side of Harry, and carefully eased himself out of the hot, tight space inside his young love. Finally he sank to the bed next to the boy, who was red-faced and breathing very hard.
They lay that way for some minutes. It felt more relaxed than the previous morning, when he'd still felt full of worries and questions. Now, things were clearer. Harry had come back for a second round. He had seen all of Severus, had felt all of him, had been inside every part of him, for Merlin's sake, and still he'd wanted more. It made Severus feel light-headed and wonderful.
He rolled over to face the lovely boy, who was looking at him with a relaxed smile on his face. "Anything like what you expected?" he asked, hoping the answer would be a good one.
"Better," Harry replied. "Sweatier." He giggled. "Messier. With, um, both of us, I mean."
"No messier than yesterday. But messier than going solo, yes. Worth the trouble, though, don't you think?"
"Definitely." Harry's hand, lying between them, found Severus' and wrapped around its fingers gently. "Very definitely."
They lay quietly for a few moments, and then Severus asked, "Need a nap? Not that you have to…" Although he did so much enjoy resting next to the sleeping boy.
"No, I'd like that." Harry snuggled closer. "Um. Covers?"
Severus summoned a blanket from a chest at the foot of the bed and arranged it over them. "Better?"
"Yeah. Thanks." The boy leaned his head against Severus' shoulder and closed his eyes. His breathing was regular in barely a minute.
When Severus awoke this time, only an hour had passed. He hesitated to wake Harry, though he knew it would be best to get him back to the castle earlier today. Suspicions would be roused if he missed too many meals. When he turned to face the boy, however, Harry already had his eyes open and was smiling very gently at him. With a tiny, needy sound, the young man slid closer and began kissing him earnestly, so that for a few moments Severus forgot the time entirely.
At length he drew away just far enough to speak. "You do not behave as a well-sated lover should, Mister Potter. Am I to assume from this that you are in need of…something more?"
Harry gave a definite groan and pushed Severus gently onto his back, then rolled on top of him. "I am. But what do you need?"
"I would like to do anything you desire that does not require, shall we say, too much fortitude on my part, as I shall not be personally needing anything for a few hours yet." He kissed Harry's cheek. "Such is the lot of a man my age with a lover your age. I shall endeavor to stand up, no pun intended, under the strain of it."
Harry giggled. "You're not so old, you know."
"Not so old, no. But old enough, I'm afraid, that I cannot operate on your schedule anymore. That's all right, though—it gives me more opportunities to satisfy your every whim." He smiled wickedly. "And what whim have you in mind now?"
"Oh," he said, a look of longing suddenly crossing his face, "maybe you could…you know, suck me, like you did yesterday. That was really nice. Though I'll try to last a little longer today." He laughed.
"Your whim is my command. Any particular position you fancy for this round?"
"Um. I don't know. What do you think I'd like? I trust you, you know." He returned an equally wicked smile.
"Hmm." Severus thought. What might surprise the boy? He settled on an idea, hoping their relative heights would allow it to work. "What about this…here, go where I put you, would you?" Harry obediently moved with Severus' hands. "So you stand, here," he said, urging the boy out of the bed and on his feet next to it, facing him, "while I'll sit, here," and he sat up on the edge of the bed facing Harry, his own knees apart so Harry could stand between them. Their heights weren't ideal for this arrangement, but fortunately his bed was low enough that he thought he could make things work. "So now," he said, wrapping his arms around Harry's legs, "I'll hold you up a bit, that's right, you can lean back on my arms." And he demonstrated, his arms providing kind of a perch for the boy's arse to lean on, and also conveniently drawing his cock close enough, and at the right level, for Severus to get it deep into his mouth if he leaned down just a little.
He gave one long stroke of Harry's cock with his lips, and Harry yelled, making Severus spit him gently out and laugh. "You'll have to hold up better than that, now, if we're going to get anywhere," he teased.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm good. Do it again."
So Severus did, and with a vengeance. He stroked up and down, he licked around the head and on the sensitive underside, and he sucked for all he was worth. And Harry did last longer than the day before, though still only a matter of minutes. When he came he made a long, "Ahhhhh," sound, and then curled himself around Severus' head and shoulders, stroking his hair, as Severus held him close and drank him down.
When Severus finally let go of Harry's legs, he helped the boy move to sit beside him, and put an arm affectionately around his shoulders. "That was…great," Harry said, when he could speak again.
"Yes, I rather liked it as well," Severus said honestly.
"Oh, yes." He gave Harry an appraising look. "Would you like to try it yourself, sometime soon? I would find that most enjoyable."
"Yes! Um, tomorrow? Can I?"
Severus smiled. "I shall pencil you in," he said. "Do get some rest, though. You sound rather winded, and I'd hate to wear you out."
"Why, you…" Harry started, looking ready to playfully assault him, but the assault changed to a hug. "You remember it all, don't you?"
"I think I told you, I do remember most of it. I was fond of that fantasy, too, you know. I assume that's why it was at the front of my mind, and why it ended up slipping out and getting to you." The seriousness of the thought stopped both of them, and they looked at each other without speaking for a moment, and touched their fingers together gently between them.
"I'm really glad," Harry whispered at last.
"I am, as well," Severus agreed, "though until very recently I never would have imagined saying so." He squeezed Harry's hand. "I don't mean to change the subject unpleasantly…but you should probably go. You ought to make a point of seeing Minerva, and reassuring her that you're safe and sound. More or less." He gave a half-smile that he hoped the boy would interpret as mischievous.
When Harry had finally gone, after half an hour, several lengthy kisses and mutual promises for the morrow, Severus walked slowly through his flat, restoring order. He hung up his coat, cast a cleaning spell on his bedding, and then finally ate the cold breakfast and drank the cold coffee sitting on his kitchen table. Harry had taken his with him, swearing that he would eat it to restore his strength as soon as he got back to his rooms. Severus had been afraid to let him stay and eat it in his flat, fairly sure that one thing would have led to another and they would have ended up naked and prone again if he had.
He worked the rest of the day, and was pleased to find his ability to concentrate somewhat improved from the day before. Could this bizarre…whatever it is, really work? he wondered. Could it become a part of my life? He was at first afraid to ask himself such questions, afraid to acknowledge their long-term implications. But his thoughts chased the questions down, worrying them, imagining the possibilities, and as soon as his they started down that path he lost himself in daydreaming, and an hour disappeared before he realized what he was doing. Bloody fantasy, he scolded himself. No point in imagining things that may not happen. You'll just have to wait and see.
But it was with a smile that he shook himself, and tossed his hair back over his shoulders, and returned to his work, wielding his red pen with more relish than he'd felt in a long time.
Track 11: Got that swing…
Severus was not entirely surprised to find Harry waiting for him at the coffeehouse the next morning, which had dawned fine, cold, and sunny. He had not expected, however, that the boy would be standing just inside the front door, bouncing on his toes again, with a large paper sack in his hand and an oddly determined-looking smirk on his face.
"Good morning, Severus," were his cheery, perfectly normal words of greeting, but Severus was not fooled. Something was up. "We're all set here," Harry continued. "I've already got our orders. Shall we go?" He gave Severus a bright smile with steel behind it, and waved back toward the door.
"Go?" Severus pretended to be confused. "But I was thinking of ordering something different this morning," he said unhurriedly, raising a hand to his chin. "Let me see, what was it I was considering?" He tried to hide his amusement under a mask of thoughtfulness.
And Harry seemed to be swallowing it whole. "Something…different?" he nearly squeaked. "Severus Snape, you've ordered the same thing every time I've seen you in here. How could you change your mind now?"
Severus couldn't hold back his laugh. "Well. You're not going to let me, are you?"
"No. Let's go." Harry took a long stride toward the door.
"Ah, rushing, rushing, rushing, Mister Potter. Not wise. It's better to take time to stop and smell the roses, don't you think?"
Harry leaned very close to him, closer than Severus thought was wise, though it did feel rather thrilling. "Roses," the boy breathed in his ear, barely loud enough for Severus to hear, "are not what I'm hoping to be sticking my nose, or anything else, into soon. And I rather thought you might be in a hurry for it, too."
And Severus realized he was. "Ah," he said, acquiescing. "I see." He smiled at Harry. "What are we waiting for, then?" He motioned to the door.
Harry made a muffled noise of irritation, but was out the door speedily.
They hurried along the walk side by side, and Severus didn't care this morning how far apart they were. He had a young man on his arm—well, next to his arm, anyway—who was eager to climb into his bed and do something incredible to him. He could not walk fast enough.
"You do seem in an especially great hurry today, Harry, I must say," he puffed, as they paced along.
"That's because I have a plan," the boy replied smugly.
"I see. And is this a good plan or an evil plan?"
"Both, I think." Harry laughed and had the audacity to wink at Severus.
"And am I an accomplice in your plan, or its intended victim?"
"Ha! Both again."
Severus made a little harumph-ing noise. This was sounding better and better. Then Harry startled him again, by taking his arm, right there in the middle of a public sidewalk, and giving it a fond squeeze. Severus fought down panic.
"As much as I…appreciate that little gesture, Harry," Severus began, trying to remember to breathe, "it might be considered…inappropriate. In such a public place as this, that is."
The hand holding his arm dropped at once. "I'm sorry," Harry said quickly. "I…sometimes I just don't think." He looked down at the sidewalk, and Severus saw that his face was more red than the cold could explain. "I just wanted to…damn. I'm sorry."
"It's all right. There was no harm done."
"I don't want to make you uncomfortable."
"The discomfort came mostly from imagining the ramifications of your evil plan."
He laughed, sounding embarrassed. "Thanks, but I know you don't like me touching you in public. You've said it before, more or less."
Severus hesitated. "That's not entirely true. I am merely…uncertain of the response we might receive, were we to be seen engaged in any sort of unusual contact."
"Don't you think people are getting more accepting of that kind of thing? These days? Between men, I mean?"
"Perhaps, in some places. Here on this street, I am not so sure."
"I am sorry, Severus."
Severus shook his head and waved a hand, as if to dismiss the issue. They walked on, a bit slower now, and Severus was careful to keep his arms at his sides so as not to initiate any sort of problematic contact himself.
Soon there were in the flat again, and this time managed to take care of necessary details—coats hung up, breakfast bag placed on the table—quickly and cooperatively. Severus looked at Harry expectantly, thinking he was about to be dragged into his bedroom, but instead Harry took his hands and looked up into his face, very solemnly. "So I need to know," he asked, "where do you usually sit, when you're here alone? Do you have a favorite spot, a most comfortable place to read, maybe?"
Severus looked around the sitting room, but he knew the answer already. "In the chair. There." He pointed at the armchair. "Why do you…" But Harry was already leading him to the chair.
"I want to do this somewhere you'll remember it, so every time you sit in this chair you'll imagine I'm here with you, making you feel good." He began to unbutton Severus' shirt. "Every time." He left the open shirt on, and moved to Severus' trousers, under which he was already hard and ready. Harry fingered him gently through the cloth. "Oh, yeah. You know what I'm going to do, don't you?" Severus gave a little moan in reply. Harry unfastened the trousers and pushed them down, along with the loose boxers underneath, then gently urged Severus into the chair and knelt in front of it himself. Severus slouched down in the chair and spread his knees eagerly, and Harry moved between them.
"Now, I'm going to kind of make it up as I go along here, because I really don't know what I'm doing, but you can tell me anytime if you want me to do something different, okay?" Harry's arms were leaning on Severus' thighs, his hands stroking the bare sides of his body under the opened shirt. His mouth was slowly, teasingly, moving closer to the waiting cock that twitched in front of it. "Are you ready?" he asked softly. Severus moaned again. "Do you need this?" Severus moaned louder. "Good. Because I want to give you everything you need. Got that?" Severus nodded, and closed his eyes. Just the boy's voice, and the feeling of his breath on Severus' skin, were making him harder and hotter with every passing second. He kept his eyes closed, waiting, feeling exquisitely, blissfully tense.
Finally he felt wet warmth around the head of his cock, and he gave a real groan. Harry had sucked him in gently, and was tasting him, feeling out the contours of this most sensitive part of him. He felt the tongue circling him, then flicking its tip at the taut underside, and he groaned yet again. He had wanted to be more in control of himself than this, but then he had the happy thought that it might be good for Harry to get feedback on his technique, so to speak, so he gave himself up to groaning and moaning freely.
Now Harry's mouth was sliding up and down the hard shaft, his lips soft but tight, slippery and wet and beautiful. He could hear Harry breathing, as fast and urgent as the strokes of his lips. It was too much, and Severus knew he wouldn't last long. When Harry started rubbing the insides of both thighs with his fingertips, the pressure perfect and the pace in time with his mouth so it felt rather like Severus was making one great thrusting motion into every part of the boy…he felt himself slide over the edge and roll downhill into a slow, perfect orgasm. He had a brief flash of worry that he hadn't even tried to pull out before flooding into the boy's mouth, but Harry didn't seem to be having any difficulty taking the bitter liquid. Indeed he sucked a little harder as Severus finished, leaving him feeling thoroughly emptied. His eyes stayed closed. His head dropped back with a last little moan, and he waited for Harry to decide what to do next. Severus was, for the moment, used up.
He realized a few moments later that he had dozed off, sitting there well satisfied in his favorite chair, with Harry's head resting warmly in his lap. "Uh," he said, thinking that an apology for falling asleep so quickly—not to mention coming in the boy's lovely mouth with no warning—was called for, but he was not quite able to put together the necessary words. "I, um. Sorry. Not very polite of me." He hoped that covered both sins, plus any others that hadn't occurred to him.
Harry beamed up at him, cheek still against his thigh. "Don't be silly. You did just what I wanted you to."
"You wanted me to fall asleep?" And come in your mouth? Your first time?
"Well, yeah. I figure it means you liked it, right? It was good?"
"That would be an understatement, Mister Potter." One hand found its way into his lap, and lazily stroked the boy's soft waves of hair.
"Good." Harry closed his eyes and smiled, still resting against Severus' thigh.
He liked it, as well, Severus thought happily, even though it was his first time… Suddenly an unpleasant thought popped uninvited into his mind, and he opened one eye and squinted down at the boy.
"That was quite…masterfully done, Harry. Are you sure…" and he turned his voice cajoling, trying to make sure he got the truth, "…that you've never done this before?"
Harry snorted so hard Severus thought he might fall backward. "Yeah, right. With who?"
"Whom. And I have no idea, with whom. I'm just asking. You seemed…more expert than I would have expected, that's all."
Harry, surprisingly, looked pleased rather than offended at this. "I really did it right? Damn. I was afraid I'd mess up. Since I'd never, you know, seen the way you liked it. It was easier with, um, the other stuff we've done." He smiled and reached up to pat Severus' bare chest with one hand. "You really are a good teacher, you know. When you're not preoccupied with trying to keep the students from blowing things up."
"I will take that as a compliment, I think." He resumed stroking the boy's hair, and spoke softly. "You truly have never done this before?"
"I haven't. I've learned from you the last couple of days, of course. And I'd thought about it a lot. I just never thought I'd get to really try it. But now here we are." He looked so happy that Severus felt the cold, unpleasant thought fading away, and he settled back into the chair more comfortably again. He closed his eyes and basked in the feeling, just for a bit longer. There have been no others, he thought, and he has returned twice now, just for me. Astonishing.
"I assume…" he said after a bit, raising his head from the chair back and looking down at Harry again, "that you are still in considerable need, yourself?"
"Yeah. But no rush."
"Would you like me to return the favor?"
"If you want. That would be nice."
"Indeed it would. And I would like to have that, as well, to remember whenever I sit in this chair. It might be an even more powerful memory. More visual, you know. As I plan to keep my eyes open this time." He smiled, and Harry giggled. "Shall we change places, then?"
So they did. Severus gently removed the boy's jeans and briefs, then knelt in front of him. He spread the lean thighs and slipped between them, stroking and teasing as he moved closer and closer to the lovely dark cock that so obviously wanted his tongue and his lips upon it. Finally he mouthed it, and licked and flicked and sucked and slid, and stroked and breathed quickly and smoothly. His hands caressed firm young thighs that trembled under them, and he was ready when Harry gave a great happy shout and came into his mouth, hands clutching his shoulders and hips thrusting against him as if they couldn't help themselves.
When Harry had relaxed into the chair and gone limp in Severus' mouth, they sat like that, cheek to thigh, for several moments. Severus wondered if the boy had fallen asleep, but didn't want to move to look up for fear of disturbing him.
Then Harry broke the silence. "Right brilliant, that was," he whispered, taking Severus' hand and squeezing it. "Thanks."
"My thanks to you, as well. Your plan was an excellent one." Severus sighed contentedly. "Are you hungry?"
"For food, you mean? Yeah, I guess so. You?"
"I need coffee, I believe, and so do you. Else we will both end up asleep here and wake up quite uncomfortable, I'm afraid."
"You're probably right." Severus took this as his signal to disentangle them, and he stood, somewhat unsteadily. Harry stood next to him and stretched.
"That was really good. Really," Harry said softly. He stretched up and kissed Severus quickly, then turned and began putting his clothes on. Severus watched him for a moment and then followed suit.
They managed to eat their breakfasts without further erotic complication. They read Severus' newspaper, and talked quietly, and touched each other's hands occasionally, gently, in passing across the table. Severus thought it felt good, and normal, and better than anything he'd ever hoped for in his life.
At last it was time for Harry to leave, and though the potential for a further encounter in his bedroom seemed always to hover in the background, they managed to arrive at his front door, saying good-bye, without succumbing to it. Severus realized that this meant, probably, that he had actually satisfied this very young, very ardent man—five orgasms in three days had apparently done the trick. He was unconscionably proud of this achievement, though he said nothing about it to Harry.
And Harry was thinking his own thoughts. "Severus," he said, as he prepared to leave and was taking one last embrace, "what would you say if I wanted to come straight here tomorrow morning? I could pick up our breakfasts on the way, and bring them here, and you could maybe be, um, waiting for me…" He gave Severus a shy look, and Severus guessed what he was asking for.
"You want me to be waiting naked in my bed for you, is that it?" he asked, chuckling. "Is undressing me too tedious already?"
"No! It isn't that, not at all," Harry said quickly. "I just thought it might be fun. What do you say?"
"You are proving yourself to be full of ingenious plans, and I am happy to go along with this one." He kissed the boy gently.
"Brilliant! I'll see you tomorrow, then? About eight?"
"I will be waiting for you. You may count on it."
Harry fairly danced down the stairs, and laughed at himself again when he got to the bottom and finally remembered to simply apparate away. Severus was still laughing to himself as he went inside his flat again. Harry was a delightfully easy boy to please, for sure.
Severus sat in his favorite chair instead of at his desk as he worked the rest of the day, and it passed in a blur of red ink and daydreams. He went to bed early that night, already hungry for Harry again, and he set his clock to wake him early enough that he could rise and shower, and then have time to return to the bed and warm it again, before Harry arrived.
Track 12: Smooth jazz
It was brutally early the following morning when Severus awakened and dragged himself into the loo. It didn't take long, however, for the shower water to shock him to full alertness, and to a state of eager anticipation of Harry's impending arrival.
Severus washed and dried, and shaved and combed, and scented himself fastidiously, imagining as he touched himself that Harry's hands would follow. He knew that he was not a beautiful man, but he could at least make sure that wherever Harry touched him he would be scrupulously clean, smooth and pleasant-smelling. Not that he'd been unclean every other morning they'd been together, but this seemed different, somehow. He put fresh sheets—dark green satin, the color of which he hoped Harry wouldn't mind, as it was the only extra set he owned—on his bed and fluffed all the pillows. He tidied the bedroom, and then the other rooms of his flat as well, and finally spelled the doors and gate to open to Harry without requiring a key.
All was ready, and it was nearly a quarter to eight, when Severus took off his dressing gown and climbed naked back into his bed. He usually slept in modest cotton pyjamas, as the satin sheets—though he loved them—were more stimulating against his bare skin than he could tolerate when he was alone. So now as he lay between them, nude and growing more and more impatient as the moment of Harry's arrival drew nearer, he was acutely aware of their sensual effect. It became difficult to resist thrusting gently against the sleekness all around him.
Finally he heard the sound of his front door opening and closing softly, and two muted thuds as shoes were dropped nearby. Then came the muffled thunk of a full paper bag being set gently on the kitchen table, followed by tiny noises of cloth rustling and zips being pulled, and Harry's padding footsteps as he walked quickly in his stocking feet through the flat. A dark, tousled head peeked around his bedroom door, and he heard a soft, "Severus?" and at the same time saw a smile flash in the dim light of the still-shuttered room. "Good morning," Harry said quietly, and he walked fully into the room…and Severus, who had not yet said a word, felt his heart skip at the sight of this lithe and beautiful twenty-year-old man coming naked to his bed.
He drew back the covers and tried to look enticing, fearing that he wasn't actually capable of such a look; Harry, however, seemed perfectly happy with what he saw. He made a tiny, hungry noise and slid into the warm bed next to Severus, and quickly urged Severus on top of him. Severus was happy to move wherever the boy wanted him, and he took over Harry's mouth urgently, rolling his hips against the lean body beneath him and feeling its arousal as a small triumph. He wants me, Severus thought wonderingly, no matter how impossible that is to believe. He is aroused by me, he has come yet again to my bed, he lies here hard and rubbing against my body… Then he forgot to think in words and they just moved together, sliding over the cool satin until it practically steamed beneath them. Harry touched and kissed all the places Severus had taken extra care to make perfect for him, and the boy moaned and whispered to him that he smelled amazing, and he seemed to delight, just as Severus did, in the sweet, clean warmth of the morning bed. Severus thought it was the most perfect way he could imagine to begin the day, and when they came in quick succession between their now-sweaty bodies, with Severus' hands wrapping both cocks together in one slippery package, the perfection was complete, and they lay side by side gasping in time with each other, hands clasped.
At last Harry turned to him and touched his face with a still-sticky finger. "Every day," he said softly, "we should do this every day. I mean it."
"Well," Severus said slowly, turning his head slightly to kiss the sticky finger, "I see no reason why we can't."
And so, from that morning on, they did.
X X X X X
The next day was a Sunday, and the eve of the new year. Severus decided that even he could take a Sunday off now and then, and Harry was delighted, as that meant they could enjoy a more leisurely time together than on a typical working morning. He even insisted, overcoming Severus' initial objections with a seductive little laugh, that they eat breakfast in bed. One thing led to another, of course, and before Severus could think to question the progression from licking to kissing and feeding to probing, they were at it again. He surprised himself even more than Harry when he came for a second time that morning, spurting lightly into lips already smeared with strawberry preserves and butter.
They lay sprawled together after that, in the crumb-filled and jam-stained disaster of Severus' bed, breathing heavily.
"Very impressive," the boy said after a while. He rolled toward Severus with a cheeky smile.
"Yes. Well." Severus rolled over, too, and slipped into Harry's arms. "You always have inspired a certain…energetic response in me." He surrendered to yet another kiss that went on longer than he'd expected. "Harry," he said, when he regained the use of his mouth for speech. "Do you have responsibilities at the castle this evening?"
"Nothing unusual." He studied Severus. "Oh. For the holiday, you mean. No, I think the teachers are going to stay up late and do embarrassing things, but I didn't plan to join them." He gave a hopeful smile, and Severus realized they had been thinking along the same lines. "What about you?"
"I…no, nothing extraordinary." He added hesitantly, "If you wish to return for the evening, I would enjoy your company. We could celebrate the new year together, if you like." And all the possibilities it brings. He fell silent for a moment, thinking that he'd never really felt like celebrating such a thing before. "If you think Minerva can spare you, that is."
"I don't think I'll give her a choice." Harry was beaming.
"Good. I will prepare dinner for us, if that is acceptable."
Harry nodded enthusiastically. "I'll bet you're a great cook," he said.
Severus snorted. "Why would you say that?"
"Potions. Cooking. I always thought of them as sort of related."
"Perhaps, as long as one is careful to keep the ingredients for the two disciplines separate."
"Ha. You're not going to poison me, are you?"
"And go back to being alone in my bed every morning, with no one to bring me my breakfast?" He kissed Harry quickly, with a little smacking sound that made the boy giggle. "Not likely."
Harry just smiled, earning himself one more kiss.
They parted soon after, with Harry returning to the castle to make an appearance before disappearing again for the night, and Severus beginning to plan a spectacular meal with which to convince Harry—not that he actually seemed to need any convincing—that Severus was a useful sort who might be worth keeping around for a while.
The rest of the morning was taken up with tidying and meal planning and laundering of bed linens. The afternoon dragged, however, and before going out to the market to purchase ingredients for their dinner, Severus found himself drawn to his couch irresistibly. He was so tired…surely, he thought, just a few moments of rest would help him feel alert again. So he lay down, promising himself that he would rise again in twenty minutes…thirty at the most…
He was awakened by Harry bending over him—Harry, who was looking shockingly adult in a jacket and tie, and who had a batch of flowers in one arm that were lovely but also made Severus want to sneeze. "Hey," the boy was whispering, one hand gently rubbing Severus' shoulder. "Are you all right?"
Severus found that he couldn't quite muster the energy to sit up. Besides, he was blockaded into the sofa by Harry, who was sitting on its edge. So he stayed down, feeling groggy and irritated with himself. "I apologize," he said, putting a hand over his eyes. "You must think me ridiculous."
"Don't be silly. You just needed some rest, is all." He took the hand from over Severus' eyes and kissed it. "Are you hungry yet?"
"Our dinner…" Severus groaned. "I've made a complete botch of things, I'm afraid." It was obvious what had happened. The sexual tally sheet of the past few days had been added up and counted against him, he thought, and he had been found not quite up to the game.
But Harry said, "You're being silly again. I'll just run out and get us some takeaway, how's that?"
"No, Harry, I intended…"
"Yes, and it was a lovely thought, but it was more important that you rest. Don't worry about it. You go back to sleep, okay? I'll wake you when I get back—I promise I won't eat without you." Severus gave one more groan, indicating more or less assent, and watched Harry drop his flowers on the table and leave. His eyes, still heavy, closed on their own and he dropped off to sleep again, hearing the word flowers? like a question, spinning around in his head as he did.
He had no idea how long he had slept when he felt Harry gently shaking him again, but he detected some sort of delicious food smells before he'd even opened his eyes. "What…" he began, and this time he managed to sit up. "That smells good," he said, without thinking. He looked at Harry, who smiled gently, and a bit worriedly, at him. "I am sorry, Harry. This is not how I wanted the evening to begin." His eyes were open all the way now, but he narrowed them at Harry, getting a better look. "You're all dressed up," he said, accusingly, and then wondered what the hell he was accusing Harry of.
"I, well, yeah. Sorry?" Harry looked sheepish.
Severus pushed back his hair with both hands and rubbed his eyes hard. "Let me try this again," he said, leaning back against the couch cushions and crossing his arms over his chest. "Why, Mister Potter," he drawled. "You look as if you might be all dressed up for…dare I say it, a date?"
Harry, fortunately, caught on fast. "Why, yes, Professor Snape, I am," he said with delight.
"And who is the lucky lady?" Severus asked with no hint of irony.
"Well, as it happens," Harry said, dropping his voice as if in conspiracy, "it's not a lady, it's a gentleman."
"How scandalous!" Severus said in mock horror.
"It's even more scandalous than that, actually."
"Is it now? Might it be anyone I know?"
"I think it might be." Harry giggled.
"And tell me, does this lucky gentleman realize just how lucky he is?" Severus wasn't sure how much longer his straight face would last.
"You'd have to ask him yourself, sir."
"Perhaps I will." Severus pulled Harry into his arms. "My guess is that he does, indeed." He gave the boy a kiss, and then continued speaking, his voice louder and his sarcastic tone renewed. "And what is this," he said, looking and gesturing at the bouquet, which Harry had at some point while he slept put into a vase on the table, "are those flowers, for the lucky gentleman?" Harry nodded, smiling proudly. "Ah, yes, flowers. How tediously, predictably Gryffindor. Do tell me, Potter, do you plan to subject your lucky man to flowers on a regular basis?"
Harry drew away from him then, looking dismayed. "Um. Not if he doesn't want them."
Severus laughed and said, "Come back here," in a deep, soft voice. When Harry leaned closer, Severus folded the boy back into his arms and looked down at him. "Did I say I didn't want them?"
"Well, no, but…"
"Mister Potter." He kissed Harry's cheek gently. "I am twice your age, which makes me very old indeed. And yet somehow, in all that long life, no one else has ever given me flowers."
"Really?" Harry was incredulous.
Harry smiled, blushed, and rallied. "So does that mean," he asked gamely, "that I have years of neglect to make up for?"
"If you've a mind to try, be my guest." He kissed Harry again, then leaned back. "They are lovely. I thank you."
They ate their takeaway roast beef dinner after that, and drank a bottle of wine that Severus brought out of a cupboard, and finished with enormous slices of chocolate cake that Severus would not have bought if he'd been fetching the meal himself, but which were delicious. They cleaned up together, moving carefully past each other in Severus' small kitchen, and finally sat on the long couch together, or rather lay there together, with Severus turning his back to an arm of the couch and Harry stretched out on top of him. It seemed inevitable to end up there, and so comfortable to just kiss and touch each other affectionately. Severus was shocked when he opened his eyes and realized he had dozed off yet again.
"Gods, Potter. How have you not walked out on me yet?" he asked, groaning again. "I don't know what's gotten into me."
"Well, I do," Harry said. "And it's not only you, I'm tired, too." He smiled. "But in a good way. Maybe we should just go to bed early and sleep, do you think? I wouldn't mind."
"No, you're a young man, you need more…"
"But I don't need anything more. Not now. I've had plenty the last few days, believe me."
"But it's still early. You will probably…"
"Shhh." Harry sat up and touched Severus' lips softly with a fingertip. "Let's read, then. If we feel like going to sleep later, we can. Or whatever. We'll do just what feels right, okay?"
Severus reluctantly agreed, still fretting about what more Harry might need that he wasn't asking for. They settled on opposite ends of the couch, Severus sitting with a journal in his lap, and Harry lying at the other end, knees bent, with his book. Severus found it surprisingly relaxed and comfortable to read like this, even without the distraction of a meal or a specific sexual agenda between them to absorb some of their attention.
Still, Harry was too far away. Severus looked down the length of the couch at the boy, whose face was hidden behind the thick book he held up, and decided to make an offer. "Harry," he said, his voice not as matter-of-fact as he'd intended, "if you are feeling cramped…I would not object if you stretched your legs out."
Harry looked around his book and smiled, and carefully extended his legs, until his sock-clad feet rested in Severus' lap. "That okay?" he asked.
"Just fine," Severus replied, patting the boy's lean calves cautiously. Then he settled back into his journal. They had read for a peaceful half an hour when Harry spoke again.
"So. Severus," he began, staying well behind his book. "I was just wondering. Have you had, you know, a lot of lovers? Before now, I mean."
Severus looked down the couch at Harry, who didn't look back. "A few. Not so many." There was a long pause. "And I'm not sure I'd call most of them lovers, exactly. 'Sexual partners' might be a more accurate term. Or 'sexual co-conspirators,' perhaps." He gave a short, unpleasant laugh.
"Oh." Harry remained in hiding behind his book.
"Does that bother you?" Severus asked. "Did you think… At my age, surely you didn't imagine…" He couldn't finish those thoughts, and wasn't sure why Harry's question made him so uncomfortable. "Even someone as unfriendly, shall we say, as I, would generally have had some opportunity by the age of forty." He stared in Harry's direction, though the boy still hadn't looked around his book. "You do understand that?"
"I understand," he said, but Severus wondered. He wondered, as well, why he felt so compelled to explain or to justify himself to Harry. What does he expect of me? What does he want?
They read in silence for several minutes. Then Harry said quietly, "We're lovers, though, don't you think? You and me?"
Severus pursed his lips in a tiny, private smile. Ah. "I think we are, yes. You and I. Most definitely." He pushed down the white athletic sock on one dark-haired ankle and stroked it gently.
The rest of the evening was similarly quiet. They read, and touched each other gently and carefully, and went to bed before midnight had struck, with promises to wake in the morning refreshed, and to start the new day and the new year with the early morning lovemaking that had so pleased them both.
It was early in the morning, very early indeed, with no light yet creeping around the window shades in Severus' bedroom, when they awakened and did just that.
Track 13: Variations on Auld Lang Syne
With the new year began their new daily routine. Harry would leave Hogwarts early, apparating to an isolated spot in an alley near their coffeehouse. He would buy their breakfasts—for which Severus repeatedly insisted on giving him money, in response to which Harry repeatedly laughed and reminded Severus of all the scotch he'd bought them on Christmas Eve—and would carry them on foot to Severus' flat, where he would let himself in and undress quickly and quietly as he walked from the front door to the bedroom. By the time he reached the bed he would be naked and hard, and it was never clear whether Severus was pulling him into the bed or Harry was diving into it, but in either case they would end up wrapped up tight in each others' arms, kissing hungrily and focused only on the pleasure they found between them.
After making love, they would shower together quickly, and dress in each other's company. Occasionally something in this orderly process would go astray and, for Harry's benefit, they would end up in the bed again, or in the favorite sitting room chair, or pressed up against the shower wall…but in general, they would instead eat breakfast together at Severus' kitchen table. They would read Severus' newspaper, sharing the sections by turns, though after a few days Harry began to bring with him again whatever book he was currently reading. He stoutly endured Severus' teasing about the "fantasy" books he seemed to favor, insisting that if muggles didn't know the truth about the existence of dragons, or werewolves, or magic, or whatnot, then you couldn't hold it against them if they wrote about such things in a completely over-the-top, fantastical way. "It's all about the stories, Sev, and the characters, that's what I love," he insisted. "The dragons are just sort of…fun. You don't have to take them so seriously." Severus did react with a dark stare the first time "Sev" came from Harry's mouth—and Harry seemed to use the nickname hesitantly, as if to see what would happen to him if he tried it—but then he decided it suggested a fondness and familiarity that were altogether acceptable, so he made no complaint.
On Wednesdays, Harry continued appointments with his psychologist. He came to Severus a little earlier on those days, and their lovemaking was a bit more hurried, though Severus thought it was sometimes all the sweeter for the rush. He wondered whether Harry ever looked unusually sleepy or distracted during his appointments. He also wondered what the psychologist thought of him, and how much she actually knew about him, including the fact of his still-living existence, until Harry reported that he had told her about their relationship and she apparently had pronounced it a good thing. This confirmed his suspicions that she might be even more confused about the whole business than Harry had been, but as Harry seemed happy with her approval he knew better than to poke and prod at it too hard.
Severus also knew better than to ask too pointedly about the Pensieve. He thought he'd understood Harry's talk about "bad habits" all too well, and though he said nothing of it he worried about whether Harry was making any progress in getting control of this one. But as the boy spent more and more of his time in Severus' flat, and as Severus became reasonably sure that he could not possibly be requiring any additional sexual outlets, given everything they were doing together, he began to hope that their real relationship had fully replaced the fantasy one for Harry. He tried hard to make their daily routine as satisfying as possible for him, and tried to make it something the boy could count on, just as he had counted on a tiny droplet of memory to sustain him for two years. Severus was pained that it had taken him so long to understand what Harry wanted, and was determined to make up for it now.
Day by day, Severus pieced together his own understanding of the psychological demons Harry had been struggling with, even as they seemed to be fading away. He realized early on that he had always been a significant part of Harry's problems. What took somewhat longer was understanding that his presence, his touch, his attention, were the solutions to those same problems.
And day by day, their routine established itself. They generally stopped at one go-round of a morning these days, but Severus also received the occasional mid-day telephone call…and as no one but Harry ever called him he knew what to expect when he picked up the phone. The boy would use his best persuasive voice to ask if Severus was busy, and what he was doing, and if he wouldn't mind a quick visit, right now, just for a few minutes…and Severus would laugh and drop whatever he was working on, and be waiting by the door to seize the boy as he walked in, knowing his young lover would be fully aroused and easily satisfied by whatever means Severus chose.
It was, by unspoken agreement, Severus' choice on these occasions. Sometimes he would push Harry into the chair and take out his beautiful cock without even pulling down the boy's jeans; then he would suck hard and hungrily and Harry would last no more than a moment or two. Sometimes he would drop his own trousers and lean over the chair himself, and invite Harry to take him roughly from behind. And sometimes he would sink into the chair and pull Harry onto his lap like a sleepy, long-limbed child, then reach inside his jeans to stroke him to a shuddering climax, after which he'd hold and gently rock the boy as he relaxed, Harry's head against his shoulder, eyes closed and a smile on his lips.
Harry never knew what to expect when he came through Severus' door on those days, and seemed to delight in being surprised, and in being completely at the mercy of Severus' fancies. Severus, of course, fancied mainly the lovely feeling of the young body in his arms, and the blissful smile on the face of a satisfied Harry afterward, but he was happy to fill in with different details every time, to keep the boy entertained.
Harry managed to surprise Severus on occasion as well. He'd come back from the loo one morning to find Harry lying in bed with his eyes closed, but apparently not asleep, as he was smiling broadly. When Severus climbed carefully back into the bed, trying not to disturb him, Harry opened his eyes at once and laughed at Severus' puzzled expression, and explained that he was just listening to music in his head.
"How interesting. To what music in particular are you listening?"
"Oh, the stuff they play in the coffeehouse. It makes me think of you." He gave Severus such a shy and beautiful smile then that Severus decided to skip the snide comment he'd been about to make.
Harry rolled on his side then and propped himself on an elbow, and asked, very seriously, "Have you ever made love to music before?"
Severus snorted. "I have not."
"Too bad," Harry said with a sigh. "I've always wanted to. Don't you think it would be lovely?" He looked so dreamy thinking about it that Severus held the memory of that look in his head for a long time.
There were other exceptions to their routine as well, a few less than pleasant, though they usually managed to turn even the unpleasant ones into opportunities. Severus had his occasional early morning editorial meetings with his publisher, and afterward usually had such a severe headache that he was in no condition for amorous activities of any kind. He'd thought Harry would want to stay clear of him on those days, but no. Harry insisted that Severus call him on the mobile telephone—which he now was careful to carry with him everywhere—as soon as he arrived home from his meeting, and he would then come immediately to the flat to make Severus tea and bring him cold, wet flannels to lay on his head. He didn't go so far as to hold Severus' hand through these episodes, but it appeared he might have been willing to, if asked. Severus had thought the fussing and attention would be annoying and would make the headaches worse, but to his surprise, they didn't. So he gave up and accepted Harry's comforts, and found he was soothed by the boy's quiet presence. Once his head felt somewhat better, he enjoyed watching Harry read quietly in the armchair, sitting slouched in awkward-looking positions with his legs propped up and his shoes dangling half-off. Harry sometimes stayed the night after a headache day, and Severus usually woke during the night to find himself feeling much better, as well as suddenly, ravenously, ready for sex, any sort of sex, whatever Harry might want. It was never difficult to awaken Harry.
Other than after headaches, entire nights together didn't happen regularly, as Harry had taken up some sort of late-night patrolling duties at the castle. Since he wasn't much of a nighttime sleeper anyway, it had seemed a perfect task for him to take charge of, as part of his making-an-effort-to-be-more-responsible campaign. But Severus noted that whenever Harry thought Severus needed him—or, frankly, simply wanted him or was mildly interested in him or had even a passing thought of him—he shrugged off his Hogwarts responsibilities without a second thought and came to his lover's side. Severus wasn't sure this was always wise, and wondered what Minerva thought the boy was doing when he disappeared, more and more frequently, from the castle, but decided it was Harry's business and he would let Harry handle it. It continued to take a great deal of Severus' energy, most days, just to handle Harry.
That challenge in itself initiated another new routine for Severus. He began to retire very early each night that Harry wasn't there, knowing that the next morning, he would hear those soft footsteps that meant his eager young lover would soon be in his bed—a man who wanted him, wanted Severus Snape, for reasons that seemed impossible but which Severus was beginning to accept. He took satisfying that young lover as his personal, and very serious, responsibility, and remembering how his energy had begun to flag on New Year's Eve, after the first few bouts of daily lovemaking, he had become grimly determined to get more rest, as much as necessary. He was intent on meeting whatever demands Harry might wish to place on him. He would not allow himself to become the older man who could not keep up. If this required him to go to bed straight after dinner each night, then he would do so.
It helped a bit that even Harry occasionally was too tired to do anything but curl up on the bed or the long couch and read. Severus was pleased and amused by the endless stream of books that passed through the boy's hands these days, most with their contents revealed by their gaudy covers but a few with more serious themes. He was shocked to see the occasional slim volume of poetry, a biography or two, and a very large book that claimed to recount all the traditional mythologies of the entire world. "What," he asked, "dragons and werewolves and aliens not exciting enough for you anymore?"
"Research," was Harry's cryptic reply. Severus smiled and shook his head.
Watching Harry read and sharing so many pleasant hours with the boy led Severus to make a surprising discovery during these first few weeks. Harry, he slowly realized, was much more a quiet, contemplative readerly type than he'd ever imagined, and was capable of deeper and more thoughtful conversation than Severus would have guessed from watching him cavort with his truckle-headed classmates. Harry also seemed not at all put off by Severus' normal behavior, which was by turns taciturn and abrasive; when Severus turned cranky, Harry could nearly always just laugh and kiss him out of it. No one else had ever had the power to do that. It made Severus nervous just thinking about all that power, which Harry and Harry alone could wield over him, but of course Harry could kiss him out of that nervousness, too.
The fact that they were both men, and both wanted sex in similar measure, and seemed to especially desire sex with each other, no doubt helped keep the connection between them warm and alive while they were sitting quietly and contemplatively, or even crankily, together. Still, Severus had never imagined that any of this was remotely possible, so every day was a surprise, and a new affirmation of the miracle that Harry was here now, and seemed to want nothing more than to stay.
As the days became weeks, eventually a month had passed, in a blur of evenings that ended with early bedtimes, and mornings that began early and were full of Harry—Harry slipping into his bed, Harry at the breakfast table, Harry in the shower, Harry lying on the long couch with his feet in Severus' lap and a book in his hands. Severus began to think of the time he spent with Harry as the real portion of his life, and his working hours, when Harry was at Hogwarts, as simply a necessary unpleasantness to be gotten through.
He wondered if Harry might be feeling the same.
Track 14: Bebop between tenor and bass
"Severus," Harry began, speaking around a large mouthful of cinnamon bun. "Did I tell you…they're having a Valentine's Ball at school in a couple of weeks?" He closed his mouth and chewed, somewhat to Severus' relief.
"You did not," Severus replied crisply. "But that's all right. What goes on at Hogwarts it of little concern to me." He thought about this. "Except, occasionally, when it involves you." He gave Harry a smile and a little nod. Harry looked happy, and determined, but Severus couldn't tell exactly what he was determined about.
"Right. Well. So, I have to be at this Ball, you see, as a kind of chaperone—can you imagine? Me, as a chaperone?" He snorted a laugh. "And anyway, I was wondering if you might like to make an appearance. As a…as a distinguished former faculty member, that sort of thing. And a decorated hero. And all that." He swallowed, looking nervous. "A lot of people would like to see you, I think."
Severus dismissed the idea immediately. "Most people are not aware that I'm still alive. And even if they were, I can't imagine I have a great many friends and admirers at Hogwarts these days."
"You might be surprised," Harry said. "I mean, you have at least one, you know. That is, me." He grinned and blushed.
Severus rolled his eyes. "Really. Why would I need to go to Hogwarts to see you?"
"Oh. Well, you don't, of course. I just thought you might enjoy…"
"I think not." Severus shook his head. "Friends and admirers. At Hogwarts. Honestly."
"Um. Okay. If you're sure." Harry looked back down at his book and continued eating, but Severus noticed that his ears were strangely pink. He watched the boy for a moment, confused, then went back to his own breakfast with a slight, worried frown.
X X X X X
They sat at Severus' kitchen table again, eating breakfast. Harry seemed nervous and had less appetite than usual, Severus thought. He was about to ask the boy if he was feeling all right when Harry looked up at him.
"So. Severus," he began. "Remember I was telling you about the Valentine's Ball? At school?"
"I remember," Severus replied warily.
"Yeah. Well. It's this Saturday night, you know."
"I did not know the exact date, but thank you for informing me. I shall make other plans for that evening, then, as I know you will be busy." He arched his eyebrows at the boy to see what reaction he might get.
"Other plans?" Harry's reaction was pleasingly quick.
"Actually, I suppose the rest of my social circle will already have their own plans for that evening. Therefore I will spend the night pining for you, as I usually do."
"Pining! Wait, social what?"
Severus laughed. "Never mind. Is there something else you wanted to tell me?"
"Well, I just…" He stopped, looking flustered. "I thought I'd ask again, just in case you'd changed your mind, if you might want to, um, come round to the Ball for a bit. You know, do the hero thing. Or whatever."
Severus sighed. "I am not a hero, and do not wish to be fêted as one, and certainly not as one who has come back from the dead. I'm sorry, Harry, I have no interest in what you're suggesting."
"I…yeah, okay." Severus was sure Harry looked disappointed, though he wasn't sure why. "You might as well know," the boy continued glumly, "that Minerva has already assigned me to decorating duty all day on Saturday. None of the staff wants to wrangle sprites and supervise house elves and such, so I've been elected. I probably won't be able to see you at all that day."
He looked miserable, but Severus didn't know what to say to make things better. Surely the boy didn't need his help wrangling sprites? "I understand," he said gently. "You must attend to your duties, of course."
Their breakfast continued in silence for a few moments, with Severus feeling uneasy, as though he knew he'd made some grave mistake but had no idea what it was. Finally Harry spoke again.
"Look. Let me be honest here." He held up a hand to stop the sarcastic response he knew Severus was about to make. "I was wondering if you'd like to come to the Valentine's Ball. With me." He looked extremely nervous now. "As my guest. As my…well, whatever you want to call yourself, I don't care." He looked up at Severus anxiously, and Severus didn't try to hide his own uncertainty.
"Do you really think that would be wise?" he asked carefully.
"Wise? Hell, I don't know. But if you…" Severus saw clearly the moment when Harry lost his nerve and started to back away. "It's all right. I understand. I didn't really think you'd want to come, I just thought I'd ask in case…"
"Harry." Severus' throat tightened. Did Harry really want this? It seemed like such insanity; how could he possibly think it would be a good idea? "People would be shocked, Harry. They would not understand. You can't seriously want to…"
"No, it's all right, I said. I'm sure you're right. They'd be shocked, and they'd say crazy things, and all. It's…it's not worth it."
"I'm sorry, Harry. Perhaps in time, people will become more accepting."
"Yeah. You're right." He gave Severus a brave little smile, and kept eating doggedly. Severus felt as though he'd personally eaten a large rock that was sitting in his stomach, a dead, leaden weight.
They said no more about the Valentine's Ball, and over the next few days it appeared that Harry might have forgotten all about it. He came to Severus every morning as eagerly as ever, and left him just as reluctantly. If anything, he kissed Severus more sweetly, more urgently, as if to reassure his older lover, and himself, that all was well.
But Severus knew he hadn't forgotten. He knew because he himself couldn't forget the nervous look on Harry's face that morning, and his words: Let me be honest here. I was wondering if you'd like to come to the Valentine's Ball. With me.
The boy was mad, that was the only possible explanation, Severus decided. Yes, he thought, sadly, giddily, wonderingly, he is mad about me. And what am I going to do about it?
Track 15: Main theme reprise, ensemble
Minerva McGonagall thinks nothing she's ever seen has surprised her so much as the vision of Severus Snape striding across the Great Hall toward her, dressed elegantly all in black and carrying a single red rose.
He looks mightily surprised himself, she realizes. Then Harry and Hermione come off the dance floor sweaty and laughing, and Harry looks across the hall and sees Severus, and the shock on his face is still greater.
It has turned into a profoundly startling evening for everyone, apparently.
She starts across the hall to greet Severus, with Harry and Hermione right beside her. Harry's shock has quickly transformed into a look of joy, which Minerva finds even more astonishing, as she hadn't thought joy would necessarily be an immediate part of what Harry might feel upon learning that Severus was still alive. She'd rather expected the shock to last much longer.
Then the four of them are face to face, more or less, and Minerva watches the other three faces intently, scanning around the group and trying to puzzle out their expressions. Severus looks cold and stony, which is not so unusual for him, but why on earth is he even here? Harry's joy has turned to bewilderment, and he is holding his arms folded in front of his chest as if to restrain himself from something. Hermione looks serious, as usual, but she is glancing back and forth between the two men as if seeing them for the first time. Minerva remembers that she is the authority figure here and should set a tone for whatever strange interactions are about to take place.
"Severus," she begins, in her best school administrator voice, "it's so good to see you again!"
"And you, Minerva," he says smoothly, his face impassive now. "And Miss Granger. You are looking well." He gives a tiny bow, and Hermione smiles at him uncertainly. Then he glances at Harry. "Mister Potter," he says curtly. Harry looks stunned.
"Se…um. Professor Snape," Harry says in a small voice. "How…how are you?"
"Perfectly fine," Severus replies, "as you can see." He turns to Hermione. "Miss Granger. What brings you back to Hogwarts?"
"I'm doing a research internship, Professor. Since Christmas. I'm working with several teachers on a history of muggle – wizard relations over the last millennium. I've turned up some fascinating new primary sources, and I'd love to talk to you about the project, if you have the time…I didn't know, or else I would have…" She stops, embarrassed, as if she's just remembered that Snape used to be dead.
"I would be pleased to speak with you about it," the dead man replies. "At your convenience. Minerva knows how to reach me." He smiles at Minerva, but it is a cold smile. What is he doing here? she wonders again.
"Severus," Minerva says, frowning slightly, "I am delighted to see you, of course, but I must admit I am…startled, as well. What brings you here, tonight, of all times?"
"Why, I was invited," he says in a voice like dripping honey, and turns to Harry with a treacherous-looking smile. She sees Harry swallow hard.
"Yes, Headmistress. I did invite him. I thought…" Harry looks as if he might fall to pieces as he speaks. "I thought a lot of people might like to see him. As a…distinguished former faculty member. And a hero. And all. I thought…" He stops, apparently unable to go on.
Minerva suddenly realizes that Harry does not look as though he's talking about a dead man. She thinks he also might be about to cry, and though he might have intended his explanation to clear things up, it has not. "I see," she says, completely baffled. "Harry, I had no idea you'd been in contact with Severus."
"I just sort of ran into him," Harry says miserably. "In a coffeehouse. On a Wednesday morning. One of my…Wednesday mornings in London." He gives her a significant look, and then turns the look on Snape, who ignores it.
"Ah," she says. "Well. How nice for you both, I'm sure. Always pleasant to, ah, run into old school friends, isn't it?" She draws back a little, waiting to be contradicted, but it doesn't happen.
"It certainly is," Severus says instead. There is a long, ominous pause, and the four of them look back and forth at each other, except that Severus avoids looking at Harry. "Well. Mister Potter," he says finally, and looking at last, sharply, at the young man as he speaks to him. "I have made my appearance as 'distinguished former faculty,' as you requested, and apparently I have spoken to all those who wish to speak with me," he says, surveying the empty space surrounding them with his eyes, "so if you all will excuse me I will take my leave. I have unfinished work to attend to yet this evening. As, I assume…" he pauses, and tilts his head at Hermione while keeping his stony gaze on Harry, "you have as well." He then turns to Hermione and bows again, holding the red rose out to her. "Please accept this token, Miss Granger. A lovely flower for a lovely young woman. Best of luck with your research, and do contact me if I can be of any assistance." He nods to Minerva and to Harry in turn. "Minerva. Mister Potter. I bid you good-night." He turns hard on his heel and starts for the door, the picture of dignity, leaving the two ladies with mouths hanging open
But not Harry. "Wait, you're not leaving already?" he says in a choked voice. Severus does not turn back or acknowledge him. Harry turns to Minerva and Hermione and says, "Um. Excuse me?" and darts after Severus in a most undignified manner.
Minerva watches the two men as they cross the hall. Harry catches up with Severus and trots alongside him, gesturing and apparently speaking, though she can't hear what he's saying. She turns to Hermione. "What in the world," she asks slowly, "do you think that was all about?"
Hermione just shakes her head. She has no answers at all.
X X X X X
Severus marches across the Great Hall at a moderate pace, wanting to appear neither hurried nor too relaxed. He is attempting to look businesslike, as though nothing has bothered him. As though he is not dissolving inside. As though he is not afraid that if he remains in this room much longer, the dissolving will reach the surface and he will collapse into a puddle of blood and tears on the ancient wooden floor of the hall, to be absorbed by it, or perhaps just washed away for all time by a house elf with an enchanted mop and bucket.
Blood and tears are all that is left of him, he fears, unless he can get outside the castle quickly, into the cold, into the cleansing snow, out under the wide starry sky that had seemed to promise such wonderful things just a little while ago. Now that cold open space is all that might save him from dissolving.
Harry is at his side, dogging him, speaking frantic words that Severus does not allow himself to hear.
"Severus. Wait, Severus. What's wrong? Why are you leaving? Are you angry? What's wrong? No, wait, don't go!" As Severus passes out through the doors of the Great Hall, Harry is right behind him.
They cross the entrance hall quickly. "Severus! Stop! You've got to tell me, you've got to…" Still without looking back at Harry, Severus shoves the heavy front door open and marches through it, letting its bulk drop back toward Harry, who slips around it and through the doorway like Severus' shadow.
They are outside now, standing in the snow under the dark starry sky. With no watching eyes on them anymore, Harry becomes more bold. He takes Severus' arm, not roughly, but not quite gently either, and is about to shout at him when Severus turns his darkest, most threatening glower on the boy. Harry is silenced, and drops the arm he had grabbed, and stands staring at his former teacher in shock.
"Return to the ball, Mister Potter." Severus sharpens his voice to a sound like knife blades slashing through the thick night air. He flings his cloak roughly around his shoulders in preparation for apparating away.
"But why are you leaving?" Harry's voice is panicked.
"I am getting out of your way."
"Out of my...what?"
"It is obvious that your attention is occupied. I am merely removing myself from the situation so as not to distract you."
"Distract me? What are you talking about?"
Severus stares at him, trying to make his gaze frigid. He knows he won't have control of himself for much longer, as he can feel the dissolving still proceeding inside him. "Miss Granger is waiting for you, Potter. Go back to her. I will not keep you." The words sicken him.
"Wait…Hermione? This is all about Hermione?" He has the gall to laugh. "Oh, but that's bloody rich. You're kidding, right?" But Severus continues to glare at him, and Harry stops laughing. "You're not kidding." He frowns up into Severus' face, looking closer, trying to understand. "You think…you think Hermione and I…" He steps back, baffled. "How could you think that?"
"It was obvious, Mister Potter. To everyone in the Great Hall, I assume."
"What, because I was dancing with her? Gods, Severus, we were just dancing. She likes to dance, that's all. She feels like she's too old to dance with the students, and it seemed kind of creepy for her to dance with a teacher,"—Severus cringes—"sorry, but you know what I mean…so I was the only one left. And I'm a terrible dancer, so she gave up on me after a couple of songs…Severus, how could you think we were…"
"You looked like you were having quite a good time, the both of you. And it's perfectly natural. You're of an age, and she's a lovely young lady."
"But Severus, I'm gay. What in the world do you think I'd want with Hermione?"
"You didn't know you were gay until I told you so, Potter. Mistakes have been made about such things before."
"Mistakes! You mean, like the last six weeks? Was that all a mistake?"
"Perhaps it was."
They stare at each other. "You can't mean that. I invited you here. Why would I do that, if I wanted to be with Hermione?"
"You were quick enough to explain to Minerva why you invited me. Your explanation, I noticed, had nothing to do with the last six weeks."
"I was just protecting you! You looked so angry, like you didn't even want to be seen with me. I was trying not to make you uncomfortable."
"I was quite uncomfortable enough, seeing Miss Granger on your arm." He had not intended to admit this, not so explicitly, but the words have just swept out on their own. "I will get over that discomfort, I assure you."
Harry shakes his head in disbelief, and says softly, "On my…she's my friend, Severus, just like my mother was your friend. Wouldn't you have danced with my mother if she'd asked you to?"
Severus wants this conversation to be over. "I would have fucked your mother if she'd asked me to, Potter, or even given me half a chance. Is that where you want to go with this?"
There is a long, rocky silence. Severus thinks surely Harry will leave, will storm away in anger, but he does not. Finally he answers, his voice low but dangerous.
"No. You bastard, you're deliberately misunderstanding me. You know you are. Hermione and I are just friends. Nothing like that will ever happenbetween us."
"Perhaps it should." Because nothing else will ever happen between you and me. Severus blinks as he thinks these words. Is that really what he means? What if he is wrong?
Then Harry is leaning even closer, his face tight and hands raised and balled into fists. His jacket sleeves ride up on his arms, uncovering his slender wrists. They look pale and cold in the starlight. "You will not do this, Severus. I will not let you ruin everything between us over me dancing with Hermione Granger!"
Severus leans right back at him, and their faces are inches apart. "Oh, so you will not let me do this? Is that right, Mister Potter?"
Harry shrinks back just the tiniest bit. Then he straightens his shoulders and plants his feet, clearly signaling that he's yielding no more. His chin comes up, and he speaks. "You listen to me, Severus Snape," he says. His words are quiet but distinct, and they ring with the sound of truth. "Whatever you may think, I love you, and I want the world to know it. That's why I invited you here tonight, as my guest, as my partner, as my lover, whatever you want to be." Harry looks as though he's startled himself by speaking these words, but he continues bravely. "I will take you on your terms, whatever they are, but I will not let you destroy this over a silly misunderstanding. I love you, do you hear me? I want them all to know. I want them to see. I am proud of this, proud of you. I…I love you. Just you, you stubborn fool. You."
Snow blows between them as the wind kicks up. The stars in the black sky above are obscured, briefly, by the whirling white powder.
Harry suddenly looks smaller as he lets go of the tension in his body and shrinks back into himself. Severus cannot remember ever hearing him utter so many forceful words all at once. Eloquent words, too, he thinks.
Severus looks at him for a long moment, then turns away and stares out at the frosted fields and woods beyond the castle. He clenches his hands together and closes his eyes, fighting with the tears he thought were nearly all that was left of him. He can feel himself aging years with every passing minute. Finally he says softly, "You never mentioned that…that she had returned to school."
Harry has stepped up close behind him and hears the quiet words, and whispers back, "That's because when I'm with you, I'm never thinking about her."
Severus lets his last wisp of dignity blow away on the wind, and says in a wavering voice, "I thought…that you might have changed your mind." He feels a tear, cold and bitter, on his cheek.
But Harry laughs softly. "Changed my mind? About you? Fortunately for both of us, no."
Severus hears this gentle twisting of his own long-ago words from Harry's lips, and he turns around slowly and blinks damp eyes at the boy, who doesn't look away. Snow has blown into Harry's hair, and the black and grey and frosty white have been tousled by the wind into a mess that Severus thinks may just be the most beautiful thing he has ever seen.
"You must be getting cold," he says, his voice distant and ancient.
"A bit," Harry admits. "Keep me warm?"
Severus opens his cloak, holding his arms out like great black wings, and wraps Harry up inside the cloak with him. Harry sighs, and he fits just so against Severus' chest, under his arms, as if the two of them were made to measure for this, to stand in this pose forever.
"I've missed you so much all day. All those damned sprites," the boy murmurs when they are both warm again. Severus takes his chin in hand and gently raises the smooth young face to his own, and kisses him carefully, as if afraid of breaking him.
"I'm sorry," he whispers, so softly he can barely hear it himself. But Harry hears.
"Shhh. Just keep me warm, will you?"
They hold each other close, swaying a bit in the wind. "I regret that I gave away your rose," Severus murmurs.
"That's all right. It would be frozen by now anyway." Harry chuckles and tucks himself deeper into Severus' embrace.
It is a few more minutes before the boy asks quietly, "Would you like to go back inside?'
Severus hesitates. "I made a bit of a spectacle on the way out, I'm afraid. I shudder to think what might be the reaction if I were to return."
"I know a way to make them forget about whatever they think they saw when you walked out."
"And what is that?"
"Walk back in…with me on your arm. Like this." He steps to Severus' side and takes his arm, just as Hermione had held his own earlier. "What do you say?"
Severus knows this symbolic walk is exactly what he came here to do, but it seems more daunting now, after the disturbance from which they've just recovered. He decides he has to be certain the boy understands what such an action will mean, and he asks, "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"We will attract a great deal of attention."
"They will whisper, say unpleasant things. Untrue things. Or true things, which may be worse."
Harry laughs. "That's all right. I'm okay with the truth."
"They will not understand."
"Do you understand?"
Severus considers this. He looks at this boy in front of him, this ridiculous Gryffindor who has shouted at him and then kissed him, who would not let him make a disastrous, jealous mistake. Finally he says, "I do."
"I understand us, too. That's all we need." He smiles, his face open and sunny again, and the black sky is suddenly not so dark. "It's cold out here. Shall we go in?" Severus closes his eyes and nods once.
"At your pleasure, Mister Potter. At your pleasure."
He takes one last look at the starry heavens above them as they walk together back into the huge stone castle. They are arm in arm as they pass the massive wooden door, and their strides are matched as they cross the entryway.
At the door to the Great Hall, they pause. "Harry," Severus asks, feeling warmer now, and filled with a prickling remembrance of the possibilities of this evening, "are you feeling daring?"
Harry looks wickedly delighted at this question, as Severus knew he would. "What did you have in mind?"
"I may improvise a bit. With your approval." He looks at Harry, who nods. "Work with me, if you would."
With that they re-enter the Valentine's Ball, confident, if slightly mischievous, expressions on both their faces.
It is obvious, completely obvious to everyone in the Great Hall, that they are together.
X X X X X
Minerva McGonagall sits nursing a glass of punch. She is listening to Hermione Granger explain her research yet again, this time to a solemn third-year boy who seems to find Hermione a most entrancing older woman. Thirteen is a difficult age, she reminds herself. Though in the end, she supposes, they all are.
She looks across the Great Hall just as Hermione has finished her little spiel and managed to send the boy on his way. She looks, and then sets her punch down abruptly. "Miss Granger," she says softly. "Do you see…"
Hermione looks. "Oh, my," she says.
They watch silently for a moment as Severus Snape and Harry Potter come strolling back across the Great Hall together. Arm in arm. Hip to hip. Smiling, even. Both of them.
"Hermione," Minerva says slowly, "do you ever feel as if you've just awakened after sleeping for a hundred years, to discover that while you were asleep, the entire world…changed, somehow? In some way you know you will never understand?"
"I…yes, Headmistress. I know the feeling."
There is nothing more for them to say, as they wait for the two men to reach them. It doesn't take long, for party-goers move hastily out of their way as they cross the room. As they draw closer to the table at which Minerva and Hermione sit, Minerva stands slowly to greet them, and as they come to a stop in front of her, Severus lifts his free hand to Harry's head to gently smooth down the wild hair and then kisses it, prompting a nearly incandescent smile from Harry. The entire series of gestures—Severus touching the boy so carefully with his long, pale fingers; his eyes closing as he presses his lips for a long instant to the tangled hair; the brilliant smile from Harry as he wraps his arm in a very familiar way about Severus' waist and pulls their bodies closer together—all combine to make Minerva positively light-headed.
"Well. What a…surprise. It appears you've decided to…ah, stay with us a bit longer, Severus?" This is all she can think to say.
"I have. And I fear," Severus says in a voice both unctuous and intoxicating, "that I may have given a wrong impression, earlier, as to my purpose in coming here tonight. I was, in fact, invited, but primarily as Mister Potter's personal guest." He turns a smile on her that is like nothing she has ever seen on his face before.
"Well. Isn't that a pleasant…surprise?" She feels like a stuttering fool, but what is she supposed to say to this? Personal guest?
"Yes, Headmistress," Harry is saying in confirmation, nodding his head. "He's with me. As my…" Words appear to fail him, though why he started speaking without having decided on this particular word she can't imagine. He looks, a bit worriedly, at Severus for help.
"Partner," Severus supplies calmly. "I am here as his…partner." Minerva can see Severus' arm, which is now resting around Harry's shoulders, give a little squeeze. Harry looks extremely happy. Minerva feels the water close over her head.
Hermione has kept her wits and saves the moment. "That's wonderful, you two. Harry, why didn't you tell me?" She is beaming at Harry, and he is beaming back at her, and Severus is watching it all with a cool smile, his arm very snugly about the boy now. Minerva can sense in the air just a taste of the emotion behind all this, and it makes her tired just imagining it. Where does Severus get the energy for such nonsense? she wonders. Then she looks at him, as he gazes at Harry, and she sees a spark practically ignite the air between them, and she knows. Gods, Severus. You foolish, fortunate man.
"May I take your cloak now, Sev?" Harry asks. "And would you like a glass of punch?"
"You may." He sweeps the heavy garment off his shoulders again and hands it to Harry. "And punch would be lovely, thank you."
Harry is grinning like a madman as he walks off toward the cloakroom and refreshment table. Minerva watches him go, then turns to Severus, who stands with hands clasped behind his back, looking, she thinks, remarkably like the cat that swallowed the canary.
"Well, Severus." She makes her voice more stern, imagining that surely he needs scolding for something in all this. "Really, it is good to see you, but I must admit I am…truly startled. I had no idea that Harry had even seen you, much less…well."
"We met in a coffeehouse last autumn, as Harry told you. We saw each other there every Wednesday morning for months." He sounds huffy, as if he is trying to tell her she should mind her own business.
"Yes, of course. Wednesday mornings." You can't expect me not to ask questions when you've just kissed the bloody boy in front of me, Severus Snape. Oh, no. You aren't getting off that easily.
"Before his weekly appointments with that muggle psychologist to whom you, I should point out, sent him."
"Ah." Severus is staring at her, as if he expects her to say something more. "Yes, that has worked out well, I think. He's doing much better, as I'm sure you can tell." Severus nods. "He's told me he thinks…he's about over it."
"Yes. Over it." Severus is still nodding, eyebrows raised.
"The Pensieve, you know. I'm sure it helped him a great deal, to run into you. Though it must have been a shock at first. Were you able to…explain things to him a bit?"
Severus's face is a blank as he says, "Explain things. Hmm. Yes?"
"About his mother, of course. Poor dear. He was quite in a state for a long time. I wasn't sure whether you'd done him a favor or great harm by giving him memories of her. But evidently he's gotten some perspective on them now."
"I imagine he has," Severus says drily. "I did explain a few things to him, yes."
"And then, well, to look at the two of you…I'd never have guessed. Such different personalities you are. But sometimes that works the best, doesn't it?" She smiles at him, trying to encourage him to tell her something more, anything more, about what's going on here.
He gives her a sly half-smile. "We are different, yes. But not so different as you probably think." And that is all he will say. He turns away from her to watch Harry coming back across the hall with glasses of punch in both hands.
"Here you go, Severus. Headmistress, would you like one? Or Hermione?" Harry asks when he arrives back at their table. He hands one glass of punch to Severus, and holds the other out to the two ladies. Minerva looks back and forth between the men, thinking it's obvious now that Severus did not come here to see her, or any other admiring staff or students, or anyone else at all but Harry.
"No, Harry, thank you. I'll leave you gentlemen to visit. I need to check in with the prefects anyway." She turns to Hermione. "Miss Granger, you may accompany me if you like."
Hermione jumps to her feet with an apologetic look. "Right, Headmistress." She smiles at Harry. "I'm so happy for you, Harry. We'll talk later, okay?" Harry nods at her, though Minerva notes he flashes a reassuring smile to Severus, too.
"Don't be a stranger, Severus, hmm? Now that we've got you back among the living." She gives a little bow. "Good evening to you both." Then with Hermione, she turns and walks away.
X X X X X
Harry and Severus watch her for a few seconds in silence. "Um," Harry says finally, softly. "Would you like to sit down?"
Severus nods, and they sit next to each other at an empty round table. He doesn't imagine anyone else will have the nerve to join them, which is just fine.
"I know we got sort of started off on the wrong foot this evening, but thank you for coming," Harry says, his voice still low.
"I assure you, I had my own selfish motives for coming here tonight," Severus replies. But he does not entirely suppress his smile.
Harry snorts. "I'm sure you did." He puts a hand on Severus' arm. "I'm guessing most of them line up pretty well with mine, though."
"You are probably correct."
They sit quietly, sipping punch, and Severus savours the feeling of how strange it is to be together here, in this place where they experienced so much animosity in the past. At length he asks carefully, "If you had an unsuccessful dancing experience with Miss Grainger, I don't suppose you would like to try again, then?"
Harry stares at him. "Try again? To dance? With you?" He makes a face. "Surely you don't…wait. Do you like to dance?"
"As a matter of fact, I do."
"I don't believe it."
Severus shrugs. "Then don't. But it's true."
"And you know how?"
"I do. I am not so one-dimensional as you imagine."
"One-dimensional! I never said that!"
Severus shakes his head. "It's what everyone assumes." He looks around the hall. "Minerva McGonagall is the only person in this room who will remember that I used to dance quite well. She has known me forever, you realize. Hagrid might also have observed me dancing, but I doubt he was paying attention."
Harry laughs. "I don't suppose you'd want to dance with Hermione? She could use a decent partner."
Severus eyes him coldly. "I would not, thank you very much. I would remind you that such a pairing has already been labeled 'creepy.'"
"Sorry!" He laughs again and pats Severus' arm. "I still don't believe it, but…if you want to, what the hell? I told you I'm terrible, though."
"That should not be a problem," Severus says smoothly. He stands and offers his hand to Harry. "If you wish for people to know about us, this is one more way to make absolutely sure they will."
"What, you don't think it was enough, the way we walked into the hall?" He takes Severus' hand cautiously and rises next to him.
"Consider this insurance. Against…skeptics." He leads Harry to a corner of the dance floor. The music is slow and suggestive, and it is the reason he has picked this moment to ask for a dance. "Take my hand, like so," Severus instructs, holding one of Harry's hands in the air, "and your other one on my shoulder, yes, there. I will lead, if you don't object." He puts a hand on the boy's waist, in a position that would have been quite proper if Harry had been a woman. "We'll keep this decorous, I think. We don't want to give them too much to whisper about."
Harry laughs softly in his ear, a warm sound. "Oh, they have plenty already, I'm sure!" he says. But he doesn't seem to mind.
Severus leads them gracefully around their corner of the floor. He thinks he has never been so proud of anything as he is to be holding this beautiful young man in his arms in front of all these people. And perhaps Harry is right…perhaps the world is becoming more accepting, as he sees smiles rather than scorn on the faces of the people around them, who make room for them as they dance just as they would for any other couple. At least the world of Hogwarts seems to have become more accepting, which, he supposes, is a start.
Then Harry is wiggling slightly in his arms. "I'm feeling daring again," he whispers up to Severus, "but it might be too much."
"What exactly did you have in mind?"
"I'd like to really kiss you."
Harry gives him a long, calculating look, and when he does reach up to kiss him, Severus helps by leaning down to meet him. He can sense that Harry dares not keep their lips pressed together for too long, but he packs a lot of kiss into a brief moment…there is a rough caress of lips on lips, a quick hungry greeting of tongues, even the soft clicking of teeth, the sound of eagerness to be even closer. He pulls his mouth away soon but still holds Severus close. "Daring feels good," he says breathlessly, and Severus can see him blushing even in the dark of the dance floor.
"Indeed," he murmurs very softly in Harry's ear. "Shall we postpone any continuation of this until after the dance, or are you feeling daring enough to just shove me to the floor right here?"
Harry giggles. "Postpone, I guess. But not for long."
"No. Not for long."
Harry looks up at him. "You will stay? After the dance, I mean? Tonight?"
"I had hoped to, yes."
They move gently to the music for a moment. Severus knows the song will have to end soon, and he wants to use the lovely atmosphere it provides to set the stage for later. "Harry," he says against the boy's cheek, "this evening…we need to talk, as well."
Harry draws back at once, looking concerned. "Is anything wrong?"
"No, no. Just…save some time for us to chat, if you would."
"Sure." He still looks a bit worried, but Severus draws him closer and he relaxes with a contented sigh. "After this song…maybe we could leave? Go up to my rooms?"
"Does Minerva need you to stay?"
"Nah, I don't think so. There's lots of staff around. And I don't really care right now, honestly."
"Ah." Severus isn't sure what to say to this, so he just holds Harry close as the song comes to an end. He takes a deep breath and inhales the boy's warm scent, and closes his eyes for an instant, letting himself relax into the music for as long as he can.
It isn't for long. "Can we go now?" Harry asks immediately after the last notes have faded.
"I would like that very much," he says. He thinks his young lover looks half-mad with desire, and hopes he isn't mistaking the look in the dim light. He steps away from the boy, but keeps holding one hand.
Harry smiles and begins to lead Severus out of the hall. "If you'll follow me," he says. "I live in rather a strange part of Gryffindor Tower. Sorry, but it's kind of a long walk. That okay?"
"I believe I can manage it," Severus replies. He hopes to manage much more tonight; he imagines he'll scarcely notice a bit of a walk through the castle. He holds onto Harry and follows.
X X X X X
Minerva McGonagall watches from the far corner of the Great Hall as Severus and Harry walk out. Their physical intimacy is plain to see. If those two are not lovers, Minerva thinks, I'll eat the Sorting Hat.
She'd never imagined anything like this would be the result when she sent Harry off to his London appointments. Even if she'd known he had run into Severus, who would have guessed that they would become...involved? Severus, of all people! But they looked happy, both of them. One never knew.
Perhaps, she muses, running into Severus had been a stroke of luck for Harry. She'd thought all along that he needed explanations of the memories Severus had given him, memories of his mother that no doubt included Severus himself, in situations Harry was likely to find troubling. Having Severus around to clarify, to fill in details, to fully explain the memories Harry had seen might have been a key factor in his recovery from the obsession that had nearly taken him over.
And just perhaps, she thinks happily, I had a hand in making all this happen.
She cannot keep a smug little smile off her face for the rest of the evening, a smile that twitches and giggles whenever she thinks of Severus and Harry and wonders what they're doing at that particular moment.
Wherever they are, whatever they're doing, she knows they are very much together.
Track 16: Love duet for tenor and bass, riff to end
"Up those stairs, then, at the end of this corridor."
Harry has led him up an impossibly long, twisting staircase that winds back and forth inside the back wall of Gryffindor tower. They have just traveled down a corridor that is neither level nor straight, and doesn't seem quite right to fit into the space Severus thinks is available, this high up in the tower. "Sorry it's so far," the boy says for the third time, looking back over his shoulder.
"It is not a problem," Severus replies, thinking, there will be no one roaming around up here to disturb us. He steps quickly to keep up with Harry's pace; the boy is fairly leaping up the next set of stairs.
At the top of the tower, the staircase spits them out into a narrow, curving hallway. Severus doesn't think he's ever been in this passage before, and is sure there is no similar space in Slytherin territory. "Whatever is this part of the tower used for?" he asks, as they walk down what he now realizes is a very long corridor. He is certain now that the construction of this space is as much magical as real. "Surely it's so far away as to be impractical for anyone to live here on a permanent basis."
"I think it pretty much is, yeah. The Headmistress told me it was just used for…um, when they need an extraordinary space, I think she said. I don't know what she meant, exactly, but she said I could have it, so I didn't ask too many questions." He smiles, looking embarrassed. "So mostly it's just used for…well, me, right now. I didn't want to live too close to the students. I didn't want to be, you know, bumping into them all the time. And I'm not really staff, so I didn't want to live in staff quarters. I guess what I wanted most was some privacy." He looks down, cheeks flushed, and keeps walking.
"It seems you and I are indeed more alike than anyone ever guessed." Severus says the words mockingly, but Harry gives him a grateful look.
At last they reach the end of the corridor, and in front of them is a heavy, round-topped door of dark wood. Harry stops and looks back at Severus nervously. "I should warn you," he says, "that my…um, housekeeping standards aren't exactly the same as yours. And I hoped you would come tonight, but I didn't really think you would, so I didn't exactly clean up the place."
"I'll be certain to look in every corner and take copious notes, then, which I will use to embarrass you for years to come."
"I…wait, for years?" Harry asks, looking suddenly more happy and less nervous.
"You may count on it."
"Um. Okay, then. Here goes nothing."
The dark wooden door opens to Harry, and he leads them inside. He waves his hand to light the fireplace and candles in sconces all around the room at once, giving it a warm but not-too-bright glow. Severus follows Harry inside and waits politely as the boy turns to close the door. Then they look around the room together, and Severus is careful to keep his face blank as he takes in the general disarray.
"It's not so bad just now," Harry is saying defensively. "You should have seen it a few months ago." He shakes his head. "I've been trying to do better."
"Have you, now?" Severus murmurs as he turns to look around the entire space. It is indeed untidy, in the predictable style of a young man living by himself for the first time. There are piles of clothes in odd places, though not that many, and books lie everywhere—Severus can hardly be critical of that—and he imagines the corners of the rooms would not stand up to close inspection. All in all, though, it's not as bad as he'd expected. Given what he hopes to accomplish here tonight he supposes he might be alarmed—does he really want to take this wreckage into his household?—but he finds himself more amused. He could live with this. If this is how Potter has to live, then he would like to live with this.
And perhaps he can teach the boy some better habits, though he sighs at the prospect of being the teacher yet again. "There is room for improvement here, Mister Potter," he says, and Harry looks worried, and is biting his lip. "But I shall cope." Harry grins with relief.
Severus is impatient for the lovemaking he knows will happen tonight, sooner or later, but he wants things to move at Harry's pace, since this is, after all, Harry's territory. So to distract himself he begins to walk around the room, inspecting. The collection of books is impressively large, he has to admit. There's nothing too scholarly in the lot, as far as he can see, but what Potter reads is his own business. Then he reaches the little side room in which he can see the Pensieve on a small table, also covered by books and papers. "Aha," he says, raising an eyebrow at Harry. "The scene of the crime, so to speak?"
Harry laughs. "I guess so. I haven't used it in weeks, though. I'm thinking I should have it moved back to the Headmistress' office." He gives Severus a serious look. "It can't compare with the real thing, you know."
"I do know," Severus agrees. "Believe me, I know." He looks right back at the boy, and that look and those words are all it takes to make Harry rush into his arms. The kiss that follows is a confirmation, that he has done the right thing by coming here tonight, that Harry still wants him in his bed, and even that the world, including Hogwarts, might be capable of accepting the two of them together. Severus closes his eyes and opens himself to Harry, coaxing, urging Harry to take the lead. He is ready to offer himself to this young man in every way he knows. This is why he has come tonight. This is what Harry needs to know, to be sure of in his heart, before they have the little talk that Severus has planned.
They draw apart, breathing hard. "Happy Valentine's Day, Harry Potter," he whispers, and then kisses the boy's cheek gently.
"Same to you, Severus Snape," Harry replies. Then, with no further preface, he says, "Fuck me, please. Now." He stands on tiptoes and hungrily kisses Severus again, his mouth gentle but insistent.
"Aren't we even going to finish the grand tour?" Severus asks, between mouthfuls of Harry.
"Yeah, sure. Kitchen, over there," he says, waving vaguely. "Sofa. You can see it." He points. "Bedroom, through that door, let's go." He tugs on Severus' arm.
"Wait, wait," Severus says, laughing. "Surely we've missed something."
"No, nothing important. Come on, Severus, don't you want to…"
"I do want to, very much." He lets the boy begin to lead him toward the bedroom, but notices a small table, set in front of a window that he imagines, from its position in the room, looks out on the lake in the daytime. There is a thick stack of parchment pages all unrolled and stacked on the table, and Severus stops in front of it. "If I may ask…what is this?"
"It's my writing. Just some stories, is all. I was going to ask you to read them sometime, but I hadn't got up the nerve yet."
Severus takes a quick look at the top page of the pile. "Your handwriting has improved markedly," he observes.
"Oh, that's not exactly my handwriting." Harry chuckles. "It's the Speedwriter quill. I'd never have been able to write that many pages by myself."
"I see," Severus says, intrigued. "But with the quill…you wrote all this?" It is an impressive stack, magical quill or not.
"Yeah. It did take a while." He looks embarrassed. "It's what I do when I'm not with you," he explains. "And when I'm not busy with stuff for the Headmistress. It helps…keep me from getting sucked into the Pensieve, too."
"Mm hmm," Severus replies thoughtfully. "I would like to read your work, Harry. When you're ready, of course."
Harry looks pleased. "I'd like that." He seems to remember then that they were in the middle of something, and his eyes go all hot and hungry again, and Severus is happy to follow him into the bedroom as he pleads, "But later, maybe?"
"Later," Severus agrees, into Harry's mouth, and then they are in the small bedroom, standing next to the bed, and Harry is kissing him and pushing the black jacket off Severus' shoulders hurriedly with one hand while unbuttoning his shirt with the other. Severus stands still and lets himself luxuriate in feeling first the boy's hands all over him, and then his mouth as his clothing falls away. Harry strokes his sides, now bared of the shirt that had covered them. He reaches up and runs his fingers through the length of Severus' hair, and as he does his rapid breaths tickle the skin on Severus' neck in warm little bursts. He nuzzles that neck, moving next along the smooth shoulder, and then down to a nipple, where he takes a great mouthful of skin and gently draws back to suck on the tip and massage it with his tongue. At last it is too much and Severus growls with lust as he takes control again, kissing the boy back and nearly ripping his clothes from him. With one hand he yanks their belts open, one after the other, and mistreats both pairs of perfectly good dress trousers by shoving them down roughly, so that he can press their cocks together and make Harry groan.
"What you wanted, Mister Potter?" he mutters in Harry's ear as he rubs them together, awkwardly as their legs aren't quite free of clothing yet, but deliciously as well.
"Uh. Yeah," Harry whispers back. "But…in the bed, could we…"
"In the bed. Yes." He steps out of his own trousers, kicking off shoes at the same time, and kneels quickly to help Harry out of his. As he does, he catches the boy's bobbing, lovely cock in his mouth for one quick, powerful suck, which elicits a yell, then releases it as he drags Harry down next to him on the mattress.
Severus has barely had time to note that although the sheets on Harry's bed aren't satin, at least they seem clean, when he remembers something important. He groans, a loud, unhappy sound, and rolls away from Harry onto his back.
"What's wrong?" Harry asks in a panic, sitting up next to him.
"I…forgot something." Severus rubs a hand over his eyes. "I apologize. There is something I wanted…bloody hell. I'm sorry, I've done this all backwards."
"No, it's all right, whatever it is, we'll straighten it out…" Harry is immediately worried and solicitous, making Severus even more frustrated.
He sighs and sits up, disgusted with himself, and says, "Accio Severus' jacket." Such a simple thing, he thinks, and I couldn't even remember. He plucks his jacket out of the air and reaches into the pocket for the two tiny packages he dropped into it back in his flat a few hours ago. He takes his wand from an inside pocket of the jacket and waves it at the packages in irritation, and they return to their original size. "Here," he says, handing them to Harry. "Happy Valentine's Day. I had envisioned a somewhat more suave presentation, but I'm sure you get the idea."
Harry is delighted and doesn't seem disappointed at all. He smiles as he opens the gifts, first the small one from the coffeehouse—"Hey, I love this music! How did you…that was clever! Thank you!"—and then the larger one from the stereo shop down the street. "Severus. I can't believe you went to all this trouble. I don't know what to say." So he throws his arms around Severus' neck instead, and Severus feels thoroughly thanked. "Did you want to listen to music…now?" the boy asks. "We were kind of in the middle of something."
"You said at one time that you wanted to make love to music. I thought this was a way I could make that possible."
Harry looks amazed. "You did all this…so we could…you mean, tonight?"
"That was the general idea, yes."
"Severus. I really don't know what to say."
"I rather liked what you said a few moments ago. It was something along the lines of, 'Fuck me, now,' I believe."
Harry grins. "I can say that again. Just let me set this up first." Fortunately, the boy seems to know exactly what to do with both gifts—Severus had assumed any muggle-raised person his age would possess such knowledge but he wasn't sure—and he hops off the bed to assemble things. He is taking the CD player out of its box when he stops. "Um, Sev," he says hesitantly. Then he holds up the electrical cord, by the plug end, and looks helpless. "No electricity. Damn."
"Look in the bottom of the box," Severus suggests. Harry does, and pulls out a package of batteries.
"You thought of everything!"
"I do try," Severus says drily. "I have electricity in my flat, you know, though I don't make much use of it. But you can plug in your device there, if you wish."
"You…you wouldn't mind?"
"Why should I mind?"
"I don't know. Clutter, noise. Electrical cords to trip over."
Severus snorts. "That machine will make less clutter and less noise than you do, I'm certain, and I haven't thrown you out yet."
"That's true." Harry giggles as he pops the disc into the player and pushes a button to start the music. He adjusts the volume, looking at Severus for approval. Finally music is playing, soft and slow and seductive. Harry looks around the room and waves his hand, and the sconces tone down their lights so the room looks truly candlelit, and even more inviting. He drops lightly to the bed next to Severus. "So are you going to fuck me now?" he asks in a hopeful voice.
"Actually," Severus replies, taking the boy into his arms, "what I plan to do is make love to you." And he begins to do just that, easing Harry onto his back and leaning over him to start a thorough, tender exploration of his lean and lovely body. His hands tremble, just a bit, as he begins his caresses, and he forces himself to slow down. Everything is all right, he reminds himself. You're here. He wants you still. And he will listen to you, later, when you tell him what you want.
"Severus," Harry asks from beneath him. "Does anyone else know what a romantic you are?"
"No, and if you reveal my secret I will have to take drastic retaliatory action." He delivers this ultimatum from where he's nuzzled deeply into Harry's neck.
"Such as burning all my satin sheets, for instance."
"Try me." Severus leans down and gives one nipple a long, wet stroke with his tongue.
"Ungh," Harry gasps. "All right, your secret is safe. I'll never tell." He touches Severus' cheek. "You'd just better save all your romantic stuff for me, okay?"
"That should pose no problem. Relax, now, and let me take care of you." He sucks on the nipple briefly. "Enjoy the music."
Harry sighs happily and closes his eyes, and Severus tries to work magic with just his hands and mouth. He decides to take an organized approach, starting with long strokes of his fingers through the boy's hair—Harry likes this quite a lot—and moving down his body from there. He bites very gently along the tender neck, massages shoulders and arms, kisses palms and fingers…then he moves to the lightly-muscled chest, working down it with tiny licks while teasing with his fingers a bit lower, on the taut belly and the hipbones flanking it.
It is somewhere in the vicinity of those hipbones, as he kisses them and continues to tease with a hand that refuses to touch the cock pointing straight at him, that Severus realizes he is pleasuring Harry in an odd sort of coordination with the music. He's not moving in time with it, exactly; it's more that the intensity of his touch, and not just pressure but emotional intensity, varies with that of the song. He'd thought this fuck-with-the-music idea was just for Harry's entertainment…but now he finds that he likes it, too. He even knows this song, having heard it innumerable times at the coffeehouse, so he can anticipate the peaks and lulls and move with them easily. He relaxes into his task with new relish, letting the music flow through him as he tries to push Harry to new heights of sensation.
Then in an instant, the mood is broken, as the first song on the disc ends and another one begins, one that is not at all suited for slow fondling. It is fast and chirpy and percussive, and though he knows the song and rather likes it, at first Severus is peeved at the interruption of his carefully orchestrated seduction. But the contrast between the music and what he is attempting to do is so ridiculous that soon he has to laugh, and he draws back, putting a hand over his eyes. "I'm sorry," he says between chuckles. "I'm afraid I've lost my focus."
"That's all right," Harry says, laughing along with him. "I like this song, too." He gives an evil grin while poking his hands under Severus' arms, and begins to tickle him. Severus makes an unmanly screech and twists away, but Harry rolls after him, still poking. "Seems like a good song for a real tickle fight, to me," the boy says brashly. "And not one you've already planned out in advance."
Severus growls and twists back, and in a moment has Harry pinned to the bed by his arms. "You would be a fool to start such a fight with me, Mister Potter," he hisses into Harry's ear, though he softens the warning by kissing the ear immediately after. "As you have pointed out, I am significantly larger than you. I will win this battle."
"Oh, yeah?" Harry asks, and then he's flailing and rolling and wiggling under Severus, who yelps, and has to use his arms and legs and chest to keep the bloody boy still.
They tussle for a moment or two, until they're both hot and sweaty and Severus has regained control by binding Harry against him with all his limbs. At last Harry gives in, coughing out a frantic-sounding, "Uncle!" against Severus' shoulder. Severus relaxes minutely.
"I told you that you would lose, did I not?"
"Who says I've lost?" Harry asks, and while Severus is sputtering in argument, he forgets to hold Harry so tightly, and Harry immediately slides himself up for a kiss, his mouth all warm and wet and still panting from their play. Severus lets go of his death grip completely and takes the kiss, letting Harry roll him over and crawl on top of him while they are absorbed in it.
"You do not consider that a loss?" Severus asks, when Harry finally lets his mouth free for a moment.
"Hardly. Does it look like I've lost anything?"
"No, but…" Severus says, and then stops. He stares at the silly boy for a long, quiet time. "I see. I may have to reconsider my evaluation of your strategic thinking abilities."
"Yeah. You do that," Harry says happily. "Just don't forget—any real fights that come up, I'm on your side. Okay?"
"Yes." He hesitates. "And I, on yours. As I presume you know by now."
The music has changed again, to another slow, romantic number. "You can, you know, go back to what you were doing. If you want," Harry says softly. So Severus rolls them over one more time, and continues his progress down the beautiful young body under him.
They prolong this pattern of tender touching, occasionally broken up by rougher games when the music changes, for a very long time. The music provides an ever-changing backdrop against which they act out feelings too deep to speak. Harry takes the lead from Severus at times, becoming the one to tease and torment with strokes of tongue and fingers that push the older man to a high-pitched state of desperation, but refuse to send him over the edge.
At last it has been an hour of gentle turnabout in roles and games. Severus is seeing the world through a cloudy scrim of arousal that hasn't been satisfied but won't abate, and from the look on Harry's face Severus imagines he's feeling much the same. The music now is suited to the leisurely part of their game but Severus isn't sure he can maintain this leisurely pace much longer. Then Harry says in a rough voice, "This is the last song on the CD, I think. Maybe we'd better, you know, finish?"
"With pleasure," Severus says in a soft growl. He sits up between Harry's legs. "Have you any lubricant?"
"Uh," Harry mutters. "Accio Harry's scented lube." A small red jar with a gold lid flies at him from the bath. "Here." He hands it to Severus, who opens the lid and cautiously sniffs the contents.
"Quite nice," he says, surprised. "Rosemary scent, though? How interesting. I would have thought you'd prefer something less…piquant. Cinnamon, perhaps."
Harry laughs. "That would be too confusing. You don't want me trying to…well, um, you don't want me to get you confused with breakfast, do you?"
"Hmm. I will consider that possibility later." Severus uses the rosemary oil on his fingers to quickly assess how relaxed the boy is, and is pleased to find him nearly ready to accommodate Severus' cock as soon as Severus touches him. He leans down and breathes into Harry's ear, "Do you use this on yourself? How have you ever got the energy, with all we've been up to?"
"Oh, I haven't used it in weeks. Haven't needed to." He smiles up at Severus, who thinks he feels his heart skip a beat. "Go ahead, Sev. Now."
"With pleasure." Severus sits up and places his knees carefully, then smoothes the oil on himself. He can't hold in the low moan of pleasure that the now warm oil elicits. He presses the tip of his cock against Harry's slick, welcoming entrance, and as Harry moans happily back at him, slides in all at once.
He begins to move, and listens to the music as he does to see where it will direct him. It's easy, he finds, to follow the rhythm of the song now, as well as its emotional ebb and flow. How had he never thought of this before? It is such a natural connection, between their lovemaking and this sinuous melody, with thick harmonies woven lovingly around it, cushioning the two of them, wrapping them in velvety sound. And like velvet, the sound flows warm and teasing over their skin, over their ears, a great swath of luxury wrapped around their bodies.
Severus looks into Harry's eyes. They are wide and surprised-looking, as if he has felt the touch of the musical velvet between them, too, and hadn't been prepared for it. "You like this?" Severus asks in a low voice, breathing hard from the effort of his long, smooth thrusts. He already knows the answer.
"I do," Harry says, gasping. "I never realized…" But he doesn't finish the thought, and Severus can see that he's suddenly on the edge of climax, so he takes the boy's cock in a large, slick hand and guides him firmly over that edge, loving the feeling of the hot liquid that bursts out, spreading it eagerly over the cock as it flows. Then he hears the final peak of the song arrives, and with it his own, and he knows this was what he had planned all along though he hadn't quite thought it through in words. He feels himself draining into Harry, who holds his hips to steady him, and when he's done, and the song is done, he falls to the boy's side completely spent.
The only sound in the room for some time is their gradually slowing breathing and an occasional rustling of bedclothes as one or the other stretches and rearranges himself. Severus thinks it feels entirely too wonderful to be lying here in this wreck of a bed, in the chaotic mess of Harry's rooms, at the top of Gryffindor Tower, of all places. As he regains his wits and something like a normal heart rate, he begins to think about what he wants to say to Harry.
Though it's wonderful being here with you, Harry, we should really be together somewhere else, don't you think? That sounded unappreciative of Harry's invitation to the Valentine's Ball, which, after all, was what had brought Severus here tonight and made this conversation possible. So, Harry. Have you given any thought to your future? That was far too parental. Definitely the wrong approach. I think, Harry, that the time has come for us to talk about becoming more serious. No, the time has come for Severus to talk about becoming more serious; Harry, however, is only twenty years old, and he probably should be doing anything but getting serious about any one person. Severus knows this. He has told himself this, over and over. But it hasn't stopped him from wanting what he wants.
Severus has always thought of himself as a good man for improvising in a difficult or dangerous situation. He is quick at manipulating spells, has a vast memory, and generally is well-prepared enough that the need to truly make things up as he goes along is limited. But for this…he is not prepared, and he feels utterly incapable of improvising. He looks at Harry and has no idea what to say, though he's been thinking hard about it for some time. He has no plan, does not even have an opening line, and knows only where he wants to end up, with no idea how to get there.
But he has to do something. So when he's caught his breath, and they've gotten comfortable, and Severus is afraid they both might fall asleep and he'll miss his opportunity entirely, he sits up in Harry's bed. Harry looks at him with a sleepy, but surprised, smile as he arranges his pillow behind him so he can lean back comfortably. Severus is anything but sleepy, and when he has settled himself back against the bed's headboard, he takes Harry's hand and gives the boy a serious look. "Harry," he begins, hoping words will fall out of his mouth in the right order on their own, since he is unable to decide in advance how they should organize themselves.
"Eh, not sleepy yet?" Harry answers him immediately, coming wide awake and sitting up himself.
"No, not yet," Severus says. "So, Harry," he tries again.
"Yeah, me neither." Harry is arranging his own pillow. "Hey, as long as you're awake…" Leaving Severus baffled on the bed, he bounces to the floor and goes into the sitting room. Severus hears parchments riffling, then Harry returns with a sheaf of them in his hand. He climbs back onto the bed and sits cross-legged next to Severus, still naked and gorgeous, though not, Severus notes with some surprise, apparently thinking about sex right at the moment. "Would you like to…I mean, I'd consider it a favor if you'd…" He is hesitantly reaching out to Severus with the hand that is full of parchments, and he looks more nervous than Severus has seen him in some time. "Would you read this, please? It's kind of for you, anyway." At Severus' puzzled look, he says, "You'll see."
Severus takes the pages from him and studies them, suddenly aware again of his own state of undress. It occurs to him that they might yet be distracted from the conversation he wants to have, sitting here as they are both naked, and in a bed. But he presses on and tries to make sense of what Harry has handed him. There is a title at the top of the first page, and then Harry's name, and then a dedication…
He reads it and looks up. "I'm flattered, Mister Potter," he says smoothly, trying to hide the fact that he is overwhelmed and feels all warm inside and isn't sure if he'll be able to continue reading without doing something foolish. He could kiss the boy, perhaps, which would at least be better than crying.
"It's true, though." Harry looks rather warm himself.
"I trust no one else has read this yet?"
"No. I thought I kind of needed, you know, a good editor, before I show it to anyone else."
"I appreciate your confidence in me, but…this is a work of fiction, is it not?"
"I'm afraid I have no experience in that kind of editing." Harry looks so crestfallen that Severus wishes he had bitten his tongue instead of making such an idiotic, though true, statement. "But I might have a go at it anyway. See what I can do. If that would be satisfactory."
Harry looks relieved. "I'd really appreciate it." He gives Severus a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Of course." Severus suddenly realizes that he has been detoured completely from his original intention of having a serious chat with the boy. Sod it all. But how could he say no? And it isn't so many pages, is it? He fans them with his fingertips and is surprised at just how many there actually are. Well, he's a fast reader. And Harry will be staying awake to hear what he has to say, and when they are finished discussing whatever this is, then they can talk about what Severus has come here to talk about. There is time, he tells himself. There is time for Harry, and even time for you, you old fool, to say what needs saying.
Harry has reached to his bedside table for yet another thick book, this one emblazoned with an image of Merlin only knew what kind of fantastic creature. Severus watches him begin to read, then looks down at the pages in his hand. The first page begins:
by Harry James Potter
For Severus, who is all the magic I'll ever need.
Severus reads the dedication again and blinks, trying not to look ridiculous. He can think of no way to swipe at his eyes without being obvious about it, so he blinks a few more times and frowns, just a bit, to steer attention away from his wet eyelashes in case Harry happens to look at him.
And Harry is looking at him. "I just thought, do you want a quill and some red ink or anything?" he asks, nervous again.
Severus laughs. "Not very confident, are we?" But it is clear to him that Harry wants him to take this seriously, and really does want him to edit this whatever-it-is, so he says, "If you have them, of course." Harry jumps up from the bed yet again, and wanders around his rooms for a moment, rummaging loudly, and comes back with an odd-looking implement in his hand and a surprised look on his face.
"No red ink. But I found this. It must have been in my trunk for ages." He hands Severus the small wooden stick.
"A red pencil?" Severus turns the little thing around in his hand, marveling. "I haven't used one of these in years. Decades, probably." He makes a tentative mark at the corner of the top parchment page. "It seems to work. Are you sure you want me to use this?"
"I'm sure. Do your worst." He hesitates. "Er, maybe not your worst."
"My worst is what they pay me for, Mister Potter. For you, I'll try to be gentle." He laughs at Harry's confused smile, and watches the boy settle back down with his book. He turns back to the pile of parchments, starts from the top and begins to read.
He's read only a page, and has made no red marks at all, when he raises his head from the page and slowly turns it toward Harry. He knows already that this story is very different from anything he would ordinarily choose to read. He knows just as surely that he will not be willing to put it down until he's finished it, has seen the characters through to the end, and knows how Harry has tied up the damn thing. "Potter," he says, his throat feeling dry, as if he's already been reading for a long time without speaking. Harry looks up at him. Severus isn't sure what to say, as what he's thinking sounds either ridiculous or insulting. "Harry. You…wrote this? Yourself, I mean?"
"Um. Yeah." The boy looks worried. "Is something wrong?"
"No." Severus shakes his head. "Go back to your book." He frowns and begins reading again, and does not look up or speak—or make any red marks—until he has finished.
x x x
What he reads is the story of an ancient people who find themselves in a new world, having lost through dramatic circumstances their home, their history, and most of all the magic they once possessed. It is also the story of two long-ago, would-be lovers among these lost people, lovers who chose to be parted from each other in order to help their society survive, but whose separation created a great gaping hole between their hearts, through which all their people's magic slowly trickled away. Harry's tale tells how these lovers are reunited, centuries later, and how their reunion heals the rift and allows the rediscovery and restoration of magic in their new world.
Much of the story is told through the folklore of the people, a rich set of legends created to replace the history they have lost. These legends are deceptively simple, often full of sweet and lovely details, and strongly reminiscent of the real magical world Severus knows, but always with some insight or twist that he'd never in a thousand years have thought Harry could articulate. They reflect a society that is also simple, but made strong by deep family bonds and complex, nurturing social customs, all of which help the people face terrible, poorly understood dangers without the magic that would once have protected them.
The gradual progress of the lovers toward reunion is the heart of the story, and is described in detail that astonishes Severus. The lovers talk, argue, misunderstand each other, comfort each other, and eventually find physical solace together in such a realistic manner that he imagines Harry must have been drawing on some real-world experience as his source; then he remembers the endless hours he and Harry have spent in coffeehouse, pub and Severus' own flat together, talking and arguing and making love, and he feels queerly warm inside. He learned about all this…from me, he thinks. With me. Things I didn't know myself.
At long last, after much searching of souls, the lovers' own modest protests that they are undeserving, and reassurances from the strangely familiar village elder—and, Severus notes, quite a few clandestine nights of passion away from the eyes of the kind but rather strait-laced villagers—the lovers are fully reunited. Magic is restored as they build a life together, evil and danger are vanquished, and all is happiness again. Except, Severus sees clearly, for the one thing that is missing. He notes how the lovers do and yet do not quite fit into the life of their now-idyllic village. All is indeed happiness, except, he thinks, for that.
And then he reads the story's ending.
x x x
After he finishes reading the story, Severus sits motionless with the last page in his hand for a long time. Finally Harry turns to him, and sees him sitting and staring at the single page. "So what do you think?" he asks quietly.
Severus gives him a long, quizzical look. What he thinks is that perhaps he has never actually seen this boy before. "I think," he says carefully, "that you have some explaining to do."
Harry looks so disturbed that Severus is immediately sorry for the challenging tone of his words. "What I meant," he says quickly, "is that I'm sure I speak for all your other teachers at this school, when I ask why we never had any writing even remotely resembling this from you while you were a student."
"Well, sorry, but as far as I remember, you never asked me to write any stories in potions class. The last thing you wanted was something I made up out of my own head. Wasn't it?"
"That is true. But your entire manner is different here. You seem…more confident. Possessed of a larger vocabulary, and more fluent. And frankly, you just seem to bloody care."
Harry blushes. "Well, yeah, I do care. I wanted the story to come out a certain way in the end, and I had to make it work all the way through so you'd believe the ending."
"Yes. The ending." Severus clears his throat. "Most creative. Though not at all what I would have expected. Most boys your age would have had the characters end up…well, simply in bed, to put it politely, in the final scene. You definitely took an unexpected turn there on the last page."
Harry grins. "I like to surprise people."
"You have succeeded. I feel almost as if I don't know you. I've certainly never realized that you were someone who could write anything like this." This is bluntly honest, and Severus means it as exactly the sort of praise he never gives.
"So you like it, then?" Harry says, looking like a puppy who has just been praised for doing something adorable.
"I do like it."
"You're not just saying that?"
"I'm not just saying that. It is truly lovely work. Though as I said, it makes me wonder exactly who you are. I'm not at all sure you're the Harry I thought I knew."
Harry looks worried and leans over to put his arms around Severus. "I'm the same Harry I was an hour ago, and a day ago, and a month ago. And there's nothing in this story that wasn't there all along for you to see, honest."
"I simply never would have guessed." Severus shakes his head. "And that ending, Harry. Does this mean that you harbor some desperate longing for such a thing, for that sort of family? Because, obviously…"
Harry is laughing and kissing him. "Now I get it," he says. "Just remember, like you told me, it's a fantasy. Absolute…whatever it was…was not required."
"Ah. Verisimilitude. Of course." He takes a deep breath. "I must admit you had me rather nervous there for a bit."
"Really?" Harry looks pleased at this achievement.
"Really. And don't look so smug about it. My being nervous is not a good thing, as I would think you'd know by now."
"You don't need to be nervous. Honest." Harry kisses his cheek once more, and he holds his lips against Severus' skin for an extra beat. It feels warm and soft and convinces Severus that he's being ridiculous, though when he looks into Harry's eyes he sees a self-possessed sparkle that seems to reserve just a little space in which to hide things, things Severus isn't sure he even wants to see. But, he tells himself sternly, Harry has assured him that he has no need to worry, and he does trust the boy. He is a Gryffindor, after all.
"I will take you at your word then." He suddenly sees how he can steer this discussion the way he wants it to go. "So. I am impressed, Harry. Have you written anything else I should read?"
"A few more stories. This is my favorite, though. Maybe," he says, looking suddenly both embarrassed and pleased with himself, "you could think of it as your Valentine gift from me. Since, you know, I didn't get you anything else."
"I'm honoured to be the dedicatee of this story. That is a remarkable gift." He is still wondering if this is really the same young man he's been seeing these last weeks. When has he written all this? When has he had the time to even dream it all up? Perhaps, Severus thinks, he can use all these questions to his own advantage. He puts on a neutral face and plunges in. "Do you have other writing projects planned, then?" he asks, in as casual a tone as he can manage.
"Well. Now that you mention it, I do, and I wanted to talk to you about that."
"Well. I've been thinking, maybe, that I'd like to do some more stories. Maybe send them off, see if anyone wants to publish them. I mean, I don't know if they're really good enough, but it can't hurt to try, can it?"
"I completely agree."
"And I think maybe I'd like to try, well, spending more time on them. I don't have that much free time every day to write—not that I'm complaining, and I'm not giving up any time with you, not for writing or anything—but I've been thinking maybe I should go somewhere else. That is, somewhere I'd have more time."
Severus thinks his heartbeat must suddenly be very loud. "I see. Anywhere in particular?" But he is thinking, if I don't speak to him now, he will be gone before I know it…and he has no need of me, he is a young man of means, he can go wherever he likes…
"I don't know. I hadn't thought that far. Just away from school."
"That is reasonable. You are after all an adult now, and no longer a student."
Harry grins. "I never thought I'd hear you say that I'm an adult."
"You haven't been listening, then, as I constantly reassure myself when we're in bed together that you are, in fact, of age."
"Huh. So that's what you're always mumbling about." Harry laughs, sounding happy and relaxed. His mood is good, Severus thinks. If I can keep him relaxed, he will be more receptive to my suggestions.
"You'd like to do some writing, then. And live somewhere besides Hogwarts."
"Yeah. I think I'm finally ready to leave this place."
"Have you told Minerva?"
"Not exactly. But I did mention to her that I thought we could have the Pensieve moved back to her office."
"You are…through with it as well, then?"
"I am." Harry smiles at him. "Really, Severus, I am. It was unhealthy, as much as I was using it. I know that now." His face is suddenly serious. "I'm glad I had it, though. I would never have…um, had any idea what to do about you, if I hadn't. I can't imagine if I'd just seen that fantasy once, hadn't been able to spend more time with it and figure things out…"
Severus puts an arm around Harry's shoulders and pulls him close for a moment, in a hug that he intends to be affectionate and reassuring rather than sexual. "I'm glad, too," he says quietly. So glad, my lovely young man, you cannot possibly know.
Harry pulls away so he can look earnestly back into Severus' eyes. "I learned a lot about making up stories from the Pensieve, too. I probably wouldn't have tried writing them down if I hadn't gotten so much practice, just making things up, with the Pensieve first."
"You made up…additional fantasies for the Pensieve?" Severus is quite sure Harry has never mentioned this before, and wonders if it should make him nervous.
"Oh, yeah, lots of them. Didn't I ever tell you?"
"I do not believe so."
"Well." He snorts. "Let's just say I was very creative."
"You made up a large number of fantasies? About…us?"
"Yeah, about us. What else?"
Severus doesn't want to give him any ideas, so he simply says, "Yes. About us. Did you…save them?"
"Well, yeah. That was the point, to learn how to do it. You know, the magical part, of course, but also just…how to make up a story in lots of detail, and make it really interesting, so it would be fun to look at later. I must have done dozens of them—there are a ton of little bottles full of 'em around here somewhere." Harry is smiling a sort of oops-I-guess-forgot-to-tell-you smile that makes Severus wonder again if he should worry, though he thinks this all does make sense in light of the boy's professed near-addiction to the Pensieve. But Harry is continuing to speak. "I got what I needed out of the whole thing, you know. The fantasies I made up helped when I was in bad shape, before I'd found you. But now?" He shrugs. "Who cares? When I've got the real thing?" He kisses Severus yet again, making him feel silly, again, for his worries. Then he asks, "What, would you like to see some of them?"
"Nah, I don't think so." His smile turns naughty. "I can do anything they can do, you know."
"I'm sure you can. And more." Severus runs a hand through the boy's hair, and the gesture feels more intimate than he'd intended. He stares at Harry, their eyes lock, and he shivers. He is suddenly reminded again of all the bare skin on display here, and the fact that they are still in Harry's bed.
Then Harry is in his arms, crawling on top of him, pushing him down to the bed and kissing him hard. Severus kisses back without thinking, and then realizes he is about to be sidetracked yet again. Bugger, he thinks. Do I stop this now, and make him listen to me, or do I go on and get him good and sated, and take the risk that he will fall asleep? "Harry," he says urgently, wheezing a bit, "wait. We need to…talk a bit more." He says this while Harry is pressing tiny kisses all over his face.
"You'd rather have me talk to you than kiss you?" Harry draws back a little and looks at him, dumbfounded.
"Just for a bit, I said. Then we'll come back to this, I promise. Please, Harry. I want to finish this conversation." He gently pushes the boy off of his chest. "It's important."
"Well, okay. If you say so." Harry looks skeptical, but he sits up and crosses his arms, as if to reassure Severus that he won't start anything. "So, um, what else is on your mind?"
Severus is trying to assume a dignified posture, and finding it a challenge in his current unclothed state. "Well. I wondered, first of all, what your psychologist thinks of your plans."
"She thinks they're great. And she's about to cut me loose."
"Cut you loose?"
"Stop seeing me. Send me off to deal with the big world on my own. You know."
"I see. And do you feel ready for that?"
"I do. I mean, I am ready. It's what started me thinking about leaving Hogwarts." He hesitates. "But I hope you don't think…I'm not saying I want to go somewhere far away from you. Just away from Hogwarts. And I don't…wait, you don't want to cut me loose, too, do you?" He looks panicked.
"From me? Ah, no. That's not at all what I had in mind."
They gaze at each other for a long moment. "You had something in mind, though?" Harry asks.
Severus can't look him in the eye as he says, "Well. I simply thought…" He clears his throat, staring down at the pale bare skin of his stomach. I look the fool, and old besides, he thinks helplessly, I should not have allowed this conversation to take place under these conditions. Naked, and in bed, no less. Gods. What was I thinking? But the conversation is happening, now, so he keeps talking. "You could write anywhere, I presume, so long as you had time, and a bit of quiet." Harry nods. "That is, if you could write at Hogwarts, you could just as well write in…say, a cottage in the country. Or a villa by the sea. Or a mountain climber's hut, for that matter. Or…" he pauses, and takes a deep breath, "you could write in London. In my flat."
Harry doesn't speak. He just looks at Severus with wide, somber eyes.
Severus rushes on, spilling details faster than he'd planned, but he can't hold himself back. "I have a study in my flat, you know, and I would be willing to share it with you. Or…I would let you have it, if you felt you required the space." He knows he sounds desperate, but he's rolling now and can't stop. "Or we could look for a different flat, a bigger one, if you wanted, or we could move to the country. Or even the seaside, or anywhere else you fancied…"
His words are cut off when Harry uncrosses his arms and flings himself across the bed and onto his lap. Surprisingly, Harry isn't kissing him; he's only hugging, with his face buried against Severus' shoulder. Severus holds him tight, and strokes his back gently, thinking surely the boy's reaction is a good sign. If he had completely rejected the idea he would be laughing, wouldn't he? He feels emboldened, and he whispers another offer into the ear next to his lips, "I would also be willing to learn more about the kind of editing you will require, if that would be helpful." Harry just squeezes him tighter, trembling a little, and Severus squeezes back, and falls silent with his chin against Harry's neck. He begins to rock the boy gently, and closes his eyes.
Suddenly he has a terrible thought. What if Harry thinks Severus' suggestion is an awful idea, and rather than being delighted at what Severus has proposed, he is upset now, knowing that he will have to disappoint him? What if he is, at this very moment, trying to think of the right way to let him down gently, to explain why Severus' fantasy of their living together is plainly ridiculous, without putting it in so many words?
"Harry?" he whispers. "Are you…is everything all right?" He stops rocking but keeps his arms tight about the boy.
Then Harry pulls away, but keeps his arms around Severus too. His face is pink and damp, and his eyes are bright. "When do you think I could…move in?" His voice cracks a little.
"You would like to do that?" Severus has to ask, to make it a real question to which he'll get a real, definite answer, just to be sure.
"I would. More than anything."
"Should you perhaps…discuss it with your psychologist, first, to make sure she approves?" Severus isn't sure why he's asking this, as he doesn't really care what the psychologist thinks. He wants Harry, psychologist be damned. And Minerva be damned, too, while he's at it, as she is next on his list of people to ask Harry about. Still, he imagines Harry will feel more sure about making such a big change if he consults with the other guiding adults in his life. Other than the one who has been sleeping with him, that is. It wouldn't do for Severus to spirit the boy out from under the watchful eyes of those other adults without their approval, and would only make things more difficult in the long run.
But Harry is unconcerned. "She'll be okay with it," he says with certainty. "She thinks you're good for me. Didn't I tell you before?"
"You did. I simply find it hard to believe."
"Why? I mean, finding you kind of solved my problems. Eventually, anyway."
"She even said she'd like to meet you."
"That's what she said. Maybe you could go in with me this week? And we could tell her about me, um, moving in with you." He says the last few words carefully, as if not completely sure he's permitted to speak them out loud.
"If you wish. What about Minerva?"
"Oh, she won't mind." Harry's grin has returned. "And she knows better than to get in your way."
Severus makes an incredulous face. "I doubt that very much," he says. Then his look turns serious. "Harry. I want to make clear to you that I…I know you are a very young man. You needn't feel yourself committed to this situation forever. I would understand," he says, though he thinks, as he's saying this, that he would never understand, and would in fact be completely destroyed, "if your feelings change, at any time, if you eventually want to move on…" He stops, aware that he's rambling, but wanting Harry to know this thing that is not true but that he feels he must say.
"You are so ridiculous sometimes, do you know that?" Harry is patting Severus' chest fondly. He leans in close again and presses their mouths together, and Severus is surprised to feel something new, something subtle, in the wordless contact. Is it possessiveness? He is all too familiar with that feeling. Or protectiveness, possibly? Or perhaps it is just a sense of belonging. Whatever, he thinks, letting the kiss heat up.
As they kiss a tiny new anxious thought forms in Severus' mind. Whenever Harry does move into the London flat, and Severus certainly wants it to be soon, he'd do well to make sure that all those little bottles of Pensieve fantasies get packed up and accounted for among Harry's belongings. If any of them got left behind, they might be found by some unwary individual rooting around in these rooms months or years from now, with disastrous and mortifying consequences.
Then Harry interrupts his worrying. "You did promise we could get back to, you know," the boy whispers, breaking the kiss while he gently traces circles around Severus' nipple with one finger. "Unless there was something else you wanted to talk about?"
"No. You have answered all my questions most satisfactorily, thank you. And I did promise." He smiles suggestively and slowly leans back onto the bed again, Harry atop him and making tiny smacking noises at his neck. Then Severus gives an evil chuckle and, holding Harry firmly, rolls them both over so that he is on top, looking down into the surprised face of this lovely boy who will soon be in his bed every night and every morning, and across his breakfast table, and in his favorite chair.
"Hey," Harry says. "What do you want to do?"
Severus kisses him. "You're the one not yet sated, my young swain. What do you want to do?"
Harry laughs. "I'm a swain?"
"You are indeed, and a most handsome one."
"Um. What's a swain?"
"You can look it up later. Consider it part of my continuing support of your vocabulary development. Essential for a budding writer, you know." He stops talking and starts kissing the boy in earnest, his kisses probing deep and hot into Harry's mouth. One hand strokes down his neck and plays with the soft chest hair below it, then gently pinches a nipple, making Harry cry out.
"Could you just…keep kissing me like that, and…and maybe do me with your hand?"
"I certainly can," Severus replies in a low, silky voice. He reaches around Harry for the tiny jar of rosemary-scented lubricant, and slicks his hand nicely before taking the boy's cock, which is clearly enthusiastic about recent developments, into that hand and stroking firmly.
Then in mid-stroke, he stops. Harry moans, not a happy sound, and Severus chuckles. "I thought I should ask, before I go any further, if you'd like to have a musical accompaniment for this performance."
"I…no, that's all right," Harry says, gasping. He manages a shaky chuckle. "I can still hear music in my head from what we did earlier. I'm good."
"What a coincidence," Severus growls sweetly in his ear as he resumes his steady stroking. He can feel Harry tensing and twitching toward climax beneath him. "I believe, Mister Potter, that I can still hear it, too."
Thanks to Telanu for the wonderful Valentine's Ball scene in her "Tea" series, which inspired me to write the set of variations that continues with this story.
Thanks also to wonderful betas OperaQueen and psi!