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.
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.
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? Severus 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!