He who has perfect knowledge may have perfect control,
and so may he who has perfect control have complete power.
Therefore better to accept that you shall have none of these,
and instead choose to find joy
in the unintended,
and the uncontrollable.
-Xia Shenfu, 19th century Chinese scholar
Severus was dreaming.
In his dream he was lying in the Shrieking Shack once again, paralyzed, frightened, and in pain. He was just beginning to flail mentally at the dream, thinking—as he had, some of the time, when it was really happening—that it must be a dream, and that if he could just stir enough he'd wake himself up and escape.
He was working up to a good, vigorous, mental thrashing around when he heard a sound from another part of the shack. It was the same sound he'd heard when he was really there—footsteps, muffled ones, coming closer. Harry, he knew immediately, though of course he hadn't, when the footsteps were real. It's Harry, he thought excitedly. He's coming to get me.
He stopped thinking and thrashing for a moment and listened. The footsteps were no longer coming closer. They were slow, somehow hesitant-sounding, and moving away from him, which wasn't right. "Harry!" he tried to shout. "In here!" But there was no sound, and the footsteps continued to recede. "Harry!" he was sure he screamed, but still no sound came, and he was terrified again, afraid that this time no rescue would come, and he would lie here alone forever, until he died of boredom or loneliness … "Harry!" he cried, but the cry remained a silent one, as if his voice were mocking him.
"Severus?" It was Harry's voice, soft but surely no farther away than the next room of the shack. Severus was overjoyed to hear the footsteps coming closer again.
"Harry, I'm in here … " he called desperately, and was surprised to hear his own voice, unmistakable though it sounded weak and raspy. But now surely everything was all right. Harry would pick him up and hold him close. Harry would take him home. He thrashed for real, on the sofa, not really wanting to leave the dream now that Harry was in it for sure. "Come and get me, Harry," he said, thinking Harry must be close now, just across the room, perhaps, and surely he'd see the boy soon.
"Severus." Someone was shaking him gently. "Severus. It's me. Are you all right?"
Severus shook his head, eyes still closed. "Where's Harry?" he whispered.
Someone giggled. "I'm right here, silly. Wake up and you'll see me." There was a pause. "What are you doing with my socks?"
Severus' eyes flew open. Harry Potter sat next to him, on the edge of his sofa, and was patting his arm and looking down at him with concern and some amusement. "Harry," Severus whispered again.
"Yeah, it's just me. Boy, what were you on about in that dream? It sounded like something awful was after you."
"Harry," he repeated, a bit louder. He blinked. "I've had far too much to drink. I'm hallucinating."
Harry giggled again. "You're not hallucinating. I'm right here. You can pinch me, see?" He took Severus' hand in his and put the fingers on his own arm, motioning for him to squeeze them together.
But Severus did not want to pinch him. His hand wrapped itself around Harry's slender wrist and held it tight. "You can't be here. You left. On the train." Severus found it difficult to keep his thoughts straight; nothing was making sense.
"Er, yeah. About that."
Severus tried to sit up, wanting both to clear his head and to get a better view of Harry. But his head pounded and the world spun as he came upright, and with a small moan he let his head drop forward to rest on his hands. "Ugh," he said simply. "Head. Not good."
Harry put a hand on the side of his head and stroked it gently. "Sorry, old man, looks like you're having a serious morning after. Except … " he hesitated, then sounded puzzled, "it's not morning yet." He continued petting the long dark hair for a bit, and then said, sounding cautious, "Severus. Have you been drinking all day?"
"That's none of your business," Severus blurted out sharply, before he could think, then he looked up in horror, his sharp words reverberating painfully inside his head. "I … I meant … " But his head ached too much to figure out what to say next.
Harry seemed to understand. "Okay. It's all right." The hand began stroking Severus' hair again, and then stopped. "Does this bother you? Make it worse?" he asked.
"No." A simple spoken answer seemed preferable to shaking his head.
"Can I get you a headache potion?"
"Yes." He tried to gather the strength to accio the bottle, but found he couldn't. "In the loo. Summon it for me, if you would," he whispered.
"Sure," Harry said immediately. "Accio Snape's headache potion," he said in a firm, clear voice. Severus heard the small thump when the boy caught the flying bottle in his hand. "Here it is," he said. "Have I got the right one?"
"Give it to me," Severus said, gasping slightly at the pain when he moved his head. He squinted at the label, decided he'd rather trust Harry than focus his eyes enough to read it, pulled out the stopper, and drank it down. It was bitter, and after swallowing he fell against the back of the sofa, scowling.
Harry took his hand and squeezed it gently. "Give it a few minutes. You'll feel better." Severus nodded slightly, trying to relax into the sofa, and he sighed when Harry took his hand and began to stroke his forearm, very gently. "Does that bother you?" the boy asked, sounding worried.
"No," Severus whispered. He found he had the strength to add, "Don't stop."
They sat like that, Severus trying to keep breathing and let the potion work its magic, Harry holding his hand and stroking his arm, for some minutes. At last Severus felt his neck muscles begin to unknot, and the thumping drumbeat in his head begin to soften, and he opened his eyes to slits. Harry really was there. It wasn't any ghost or golem sitting beside him, it was Harry, unlikely though that seemed. As Severus was marveling at this, Harry turned his head and saw his open eyes, and smiled. It's really him, Severus thought. But how? "Potter. You're not supposed to be here. You're supposed to be…" Where, exactly? On the train? In London? What bloody time is it, even? His head throbbed as he tried to figure this out.
Harry gave him a guilty smile. "Yeah. Well." He cleared his throat. "I'm not actually … leaving. The Headmistress gave me a job." The smile turned happier.
Harry nodded. "Working with Hagrid, this summer. And next year, coaching quidditch, too. And maybe … teaching something, sometime. Not that I'm actually qualified to teach anything yet. But sometime." He looked apologetic, now, about his happiness, as if he were unqualified for it as well.
"Why didn't you tell me any of this?"
"It just got worked out a couple of days ago. I didn't want it to influence you. I'd been planning for weeks to come to you after my last class, just like I did yesterday, and I was afraid you might be more likely to say no if you knew I'd be hanging around."
"So you deliberately deceived me?"
"No! Please, don't take it like that, I have it all figured out. And there's no pressure on you, there never was, if you don't want me in the castle, I'll stay with Hagrid, he won't mind. And … if you don't want me anywhere near here, I'll leave. I will, I swear to you. I'll tell McGonagall something came up, or whatever. I'll do whatever you want me to." He paused in his desperate rambling, and swallowed hard. "I owe you that much. I'm sorry I surprised you with this, truly I am."
"Are you?" Severus found his aches had calmed enough for him to think again, but he wasn't quite sure what to think about this. What, exactly, did the boy want? Could he possibly want what Severus himself did? "You sound more than willing to stay at a distance from me," he continued, "but if that is so, why are you here now?" Another irritation occurred to him. "And how did you get through my wards?"
"Um. Yes. I had a little … conversation, with your door, when I left this morning. Just in case."
"Yes." He gave a guilty-looking smile. "I know a few spells, too, that need to be treated with respect."
"Obviously." Severus found he didn't have the energy to glare. "So. Continue. Why, exactly, are you here?"
"I meant to stay away, for a while at least. I didn't want you to feel any pressure, like I said." He stared at the floor. "But it's been kind of a long day, and you didn't turn up for any of it, and it was awfully lonely after everyone else left, and I wondered if you were all right, and I just … " He looked as if he might be about to cry. "I missed you. All day."
Severus imagined he might be feeling his heart skip a beat. Surely this was what it would be like, this dizzy giddiness. Though some of it might still be the alcohol, he realized. "You missed me," he said quietly.
Harry looked into his eyes. "I did. I really did."
"And you are staying here, at Hogwarts. For the foreseeable future."
Severus took a deep breath. I have to be sure, he thought firmly. It is extremely unlikely that he actually wants what I do. "What, exactly, do you want from me, Harry?"
In a very small voice, Harry said, "I thought you knew."
"I do not."
"But I told you. What Dumbledore said. What we both needed, and … everything."
"Need and want are not the same thing."
"But they are. I want to … be with you." He seemed confused by the probing questions.
"You've been with me. Last night, as I recall, you were rather spectacularly with me. That was not enough?"
"No! I don't think Dumbledore believed that we needed each other just for one night."
"I don't give a bloody fuck what Dumbledore believed about any of this, Potter. He is gone, and we are left to clean up the messes he left behind, of which this," and he waved his hand between them, "has now become one. What do you want? On your own behalf, just for you?" His heart was pounding now, as wildly as his head had been. I need to hear him say it, he pleaded silently, I have to be sure he wants to be with me, to stay with me, before I let myself imagine …
"Please don't send me away, Severus." Harry's voice was soft and sad, but the words were not yet quite right.
"Damn it, Harry, I'm not sending you away. I'm asking you to tell me what you want. For the future. I need to know, if I am to make appropriate plans of my own."
"Plans?" Harry practically squeaked. "You're not thinking about leaving or anything, are you?"
Throwing his hands out in exasperation, Severus stood up from the sofa quickly; far too quickly, it turned out, as the hammer started up in his head and the world started to spin again. He caught himself against the arm of the sofa, and as he twisted toward it, Harry's socks tumbled to the floor from where they had been caught in the folds of his nightshirt. He looked up quickly, his head still whirling, to see if Harry had seen.
He had, and gave Severus a questioning look. Severus tried to frown back at him, though it rather hurt his eyes to do so. It occurred to him that he looked ludicrous, standing there bare-legged and rumpled.
"Why were you sleeping with my socks?"
"I was doing no such thing."
"You were. You were sleeping with my socks."
Severus harrumphed. "That's quite ridiculous."
Harry was smiling slightly. "It is. But you were doing it."
"I found them under the sofa, and didn't wish for them to get lost again. I was planning to owl them to you."
"You never asked where I was going to be living."
"Minerva would have known." Indeed, Severus thought, she would have.
"You wouldn't owl socks."
"And why not?"
"Because it would be … silly."
"Well, I certainly didn't want them myself. What else would I do with them but send them back to you?"
"Well, evidently, you'd sleep with them."
Severus crossed his arms and tried to look stern. At least he found he could remain on his feet without wobbling; that seemed like progress.
But Harry was looking delighted, as though he'd just solved a very difficult puzzle and was waving his puzzle-book in the air for all to see. "You were sleeping with my socks!" He laughed, and suddenly he was in Severus' arms, which felt extremely good, so good that Severus couldn't organize another rebuttal to the socks argument. "You missed me too, didn't you?" Harry asked, but then he looked around the room, and frowned. Severus knew he was seeing the several assorted liquor bottles scattered there, wherever he had dropped them upon emptying. "Did you really drink all of these yourself?"
"I've had no other guests to drink with me, if that's what you want to know," Severus snapped. "And most of them were nearly empty to begin with."
"Still." Harry looked up at him. He wasn't cross at all, Severus realized; he looked relieved, perhaps. "You haven't been out all day, have you? You've been lying here on your sofa, in your nightshirt, drinking. With my socks."
Severus let go of a breath he felt as though he'd been been holding for a very long time, and gave up. "Is that so hard for you to believe?" he asked.
Harry leaned in closer. "I want to believe it."
Harry was stretching up to kiss him when Severus had an unpleasant thought. "Harry," he said quickly, putting a hand over his mouth. "Wait. I've drunk too much, and had an entire pot of coffee, and I haven't bathed, really, you shouldn't … "
But it did no good. Harry grinned, and reached up to pull Severus down to him, and kissed him, long and thoroughly. Severus closed his eyes and kissed back, firmly, going purely on instinct, doing what felt right, and what Harry really did seem to want.
It was some moments later when Harry pulled back, just a bit. "So," he whispered, his hands tangled in Severus' hair, "we can keep doing this, then?"
"If you can handle kissing me just now, I don't expect I can frighten you away with anything else. So I suppose the answer is yes." He studied the boy for a moment. "That is what you want, then?"
"It is. I want to be with you, to stay with you. I never meant for it to be only the one night."
Severus leaned down to start the next kiss himself.
More long moments passed, equally pleasantly. Then Harry asked, "Could we go to bed, maybe? It's kind of late." He grinned, and blushed. "And your bed is so comfortable." Severus looked at the clock on the wall. It was midnight again, already; surely the last twenty-four hours had been the most extraordinary, and full of more elation and more misery, than any he had ever spent.
"I suppose we should. Not that we have to sleep immediately, of course."
"You'll probably need to, though, won't you?" Harry asked, sounding instantly and irritatingly solicitous. "Don't take this wrong, but I think you're still a little drunk."
"I'll have you know that I am not drunk any longer, Mister Potter, and I am perfectly capable of staying awake for as long as I wish." He thought about trying to look seductive, decided he was too rumpled to pull it off, and settled for simply raising an eyebrow. "Besides, we have work to do. Surely you can't imagine I taught you everything I know in just one night?"
Harry laughed. "Of course not. Let's go then." He put an arm around Severus' waist and leaned in close, and they started toward the bedroom door. "I guess there's always more to learn, isn't there?"
Severus put his arm around Harry's shoulders and held on as they walked, realizing but not admitting that the floor did still seem to waver a bit, though perhaps it just seemed that way because he was dizzy with happiness. "For all of us, I think," he said.
Far away—or perhaps by other means of reckoning not so far away at all—an entirely sane old man, long dead but only now at peace, cackled contentedly.
Severus paused for a moment, thinking he'd heard an oddly familiar sound, but as he listened it faded away to nothing. He pulled Harry a little closer. Then they passed over the threshold into the bedroom, and he closed the door softly behind them.
Many thanks to fantastic betas OperaQueen and psi!