*Phew* Got hit with a case of writer's block, so I went on hiatus on purpose, and it was like the very moment I decided to do that, inspiration hit. This chapter has a little bit more darkness in it, so be warned. I'm also changing the genre from Angst/Hurt/Comfort to Drama/Hurt/Comfort, because it's actually not as angsty as I originally intended. Of course, I didn't originally intend on nefarious Ministry plots either. Go figure.
If you haven't already, check out my new side-story about Anastasia King. It's something a lot of people have asked me for.
Their love-making (although Severus had once despised the term, he now found it decidedly apt) that night was slow and gentle, an affirmation of life. It was to be expected after the loss of someone so close to the both of them. Severus felt the need to touch Harry everywhere, to learn the new planes and valleys caused by his scars. Harry originally seemed uncomfortable with the attention that Severus paid them, but then his own hands had found the scars on Severus' back from when he'd been found out by the Death Eaters after Voldemort's fall. He endured the regard after that without protest.
They still had so much they needed to learn about each other, but there was still plenty that they already knew. Harry was still particularly sensitive at that one spot, just below his ear. He also still preferred to have sex face-to-face, which seemed a bit unusual considering how self-conscious he was about his scars, and he still liked lots of kissing. He was not as limber as he had once been, that was true, but then again, neither was Severus.
The scars also clearly bothered him. There were a few times when Harry moved a certain way that Severus caught a flash of pain in his face. He made a mental note to brew a topical pain relief potion that was known to work well on old wounds.
One major difference was that Harry now preferred to lie on his right side when they were in bed together, although Severus would have thought it would be uncomfortable for him to be putting that much pressure on his wounded side.
"Do you think it's m-my fault that Kingsley's dead?" Harry asked as they lay together, drawing absent patterns on Severus' chest. His stutter tended to be the best just after they'd bedded each other. If Severus had to guess, he would say it was because Harry was so relaxed and languid. He couldn't help but feel an inkling of pride at the thought; he was, after all, just a man.
"Truthfully? It's impossible to say for certain if Brankshaft would have still killed Shacklebolt if you had let the world know you were still living." Severus could see that the words hurt Harry. "But you cannot blame yourself for the actions of another."
"He's g-going to go after you now, isn't he?" Harry frowned. "Maybe if I d-did step forward…"
"Brankshaft will still be after me," Severus interrupted gently. "He's gone too far to abandon whatever game he's playing now. He'd just adjust his plans to include you in them. And trust me when I say that those plans will just put you in danger."
"I j-just got you back. I d-don't want to lose you again."
They were silent for a long while after that, Severus running his hand through that infernally long hair (he wondered briefly if he could convince Harry to cut it. While he knew that Harry liked it to cover his face, Harry let no one see his face but those that already knew about the scars). Severus thought Harry might have fallen asleep, but there was a question he had to ask, and he knew if he didn't do it now, that he might never. "Harry?" he asked quietly, his fingers running down the younger man's bare back, to the left of his spine.
"Hmm," Harry hummed, his eyes closed. "Feels nice."
It certainly did. Harry's skin was so soft and smooth under his fingers. But if he moved them just to the right, he could feel the hardened ridges of the scar tissue, a souvenir of that terrible night, of those horrible wounds, of all that blood, of all those screams, and of the certainty that he had lost Harry forever. Severus closed his eyes, forcing that memory to the back of his mind. It would not help him at the moment, and it was not a moment he enjoyed reliving, especially now with Harry warm and alive under his hands. "All these years, Harry," Severus murmured. His voice was quiet, but he knew that Harry could hear him clearly in the silence of the room. "All these years, did you think of me?"
Harry's eyes stayed closed, but Severus could feel his body tense. "All the t-time," Harry admitted. "Part of me w-wanted to… Every s-single day I thought about t-telling you. But if it w-was true… I c-couldn't handle that. Not from you, too."
Severus could feel himself stiffen at Harry's phrasing. "Who? Who turned you away?" Severus couldn't imagine who it might have been. It was Harry Potter, broken and scarred maybe, but still the man who had sacrificed his childhood and more to save them all. And to have someone that Harry trusted enough to go to still be able to do that… it was very nearly inconceivable.
"He d-didn't turn me away," Harry amended, so softly that Severus had to strain to hear him. "Dumbledore had made… R-Ron," Severus didn't think that it was Harry's stutter that caused him to stumble over the name, "his back-up, in case… well." Harry shrugged uncomfortably. They'd all known intellectually that Albus was only human, mortal like the rest of them, but it had never actually occurred to any of them that he might die. Any of them, it seemed, but Albus himself. "He s-saw, from the very beginning. He didn't… didn't say anything, but I c-could see it in his eyes." Harry buried his face briefly in Severus' chest as though to hide himself from the memory. "When Dumbledore… died, I t-told him that he still had work to d-do for the Order and that I'd be f-fine with Draco. He still th-thought we were dating, anyway." Harry's mouth twisted into a little grimace that could have been an attempt at a smile. "I th-think he was relieved."
Severus closed his own eyes. While it was true that there was no love lost between him and the youngest Weasley boy, he had to admit that Weasley had been an asset in those last days, an unstoppable, unshakable force for their side. Severus had always known he'd put so much of himself into the fight because of guilt. He'd always just assumed that the guilt was for the fact that he'd never made amends with Harry before his (presumed) death. He now knew it was for something quite different.
"It was b-bad enough to see that l-look in Ron's eyes," Harry continued, still so quiet that Severus almost felt, rather than heard the words. "I c-couldn't bear to s-see it in your's."
"And did you?" Severus asked, almost in spite of himself. He knew that he'd stared that first time. He wondered with an almost morbid curiosity what Harry had seen when he stared.
"No. Amazement, like you c-couldn't believe what you were seeing. P-pain. But no disgust. No pity." A gentle finger stroked Severus' still-closed eyelids. "No f-fear."
Severus reached up to catch Harry's hand, opening his eyes. "And what reason could I possibly have to fear you?" he drawled. "Brat." He drew Harry's hand to his mouth and curled his tongue around Harry's index finger. Harry's breath hitched in his throat. "After all, I've always known how to turn you into putty in my hands," he added, before sucking the finger into his mouth.
Harry's good eye darkened with lust as he watched Severus' mouth intently. "Yes," he agreed, a little too quickly. "Putty. Absolutely."
The look on Harry's face sent a thrill down Severus' spine. His Harry was still in there somewhere, foolhardy and optimistic and willing to sacrifice his own comfort for that of his friends. Older, wiser, and rather gun-shy (and wasn't that so very apt?), yes, but still somewhere deep down in this broken recluse of a man. With time, Severus knew he could draw him back out. It may not be the happily ever after that fairy tales were always raving about, but it sure as hell felt close enough.
Severus released Harry's finger from his mouth with an audible pop, but before he could do anything else, a warm, furry weight settled onto his lap. "M'rrow?" Nemo said mournfully, looking up at Severus with his large, misshapen, yellow eyes.
Severus stared back. "What in the blazes are you doing, you brain-damaged feline?" he asked with exasperation. "You are not welcome at the moment." Nemo just continued to meow piteously.
Harry snickered. "Maybe he's h-hungry," he suggested.
"I don't particularly care if he's hungry," Severus all but growled. "He's not going to die of hunger should he have to wait an hour."
"An hour?" Harry raised his eyebrows and pressed his lips together, clearly suppressing a smile. "Your… expectations are a little h-high aren't they? Especially for the s-second go 'round."
Severus skimmed Harry's side with his fingertips, barely touching the skin. Harry shivered under his touch. "That was a conservative estimate, you little demon. You know very well that I could draw it out for hours should I so wish."
"Cheeky brat." Severus' voice was low and husky. "Do you require a demonstration?"
Harry leaned forward, so close that his lips brushed Severus' own as he spoke. "Maybe I do."
Nemo, however, didn't seem too pleased with the fact that he had been forgotten and swiped at Severus with his claws extended. Severus jumped and cursed, knocking Nemo off of the bed. Harry covered his mouth, clearly holding back laughter. His eye was sparkling with mirth. "I think the mood's been s-sufficiently killed," Harry said from behind his hand, voice thick with suppressed laughter. "Go, take c-care of your c-cat. We'll not get a m-moment's peace until you do."
Severus stepped out of the bed with extreme reluctance. "He always chooses the worst times," Severus grumbled, reaching for his dressing gown.
Harry was watching him with an appreciative look. "Welcome to the w-wonderful world of p-pet ownership," he said with a smile. "Go. I'll be right here, w-waiting for you to get back." He reclined back on the pillows and his voice held so much promise that Severus had barely tied his sash before he was out the door.
They were sitting to breakfast when the owl came to call. Draco was in the midst of an off-color comment that Severus and Harry were in the midst of ignoring. "… and I hope that you two had the good sense to employ cleaning charms," Draco continued, waving his porridge spoon for emphasis. "I'd hate for the house elves to be traumatized by the evidence of your little…" He trailed off as the bird landed on the table, nearly upsetting Draco's bowl.
"Hedwig?" Harry asked, startled, blinking at the animal. "What's-"
The bird snapped her beak sharply and deliberately three times. Draco's spoon fell out of his hand and clattered against his bowl as he and Harry both paled.
"What?" Severus demanded, looking between the two of them. "What's happened? What does that mean?"
Harry held his injured arm out to the bird, and she clambered on, making small distressed noises. Harry drew her close, stroking her feathers, though whether it was to soothe her or himself, Severus couldn't say. "It's a warning system we created eight years ago," Draco explained, his face so pale that his lips looked bloodless, "when Harry first came to stay with Neville. If something happened, Hedwig would come to find me. Neville's in trouble."
"B-but he's okay," Harry said quietly, almost speaking to himself. "Three c-c-clicks. He's g-gonna be okay."
"Two clicks means something suspicious," Draco clarified. "Three means something serious but not life-threatening. Four means an attack. Five…" Draco trailed off, and Severus found he didn't need to know what they thought they'd need five clicks for.
"He's okay," Harry continued to murmur softly as he stroked his pet. "He's okay."
Severus squeezed Harry's knee under the table. "I think we can safely assume that this has something to do with Brankshaft. They've already searched Longbottom's property and brought him in for questioning, so this has likely gone through official channels. Longbottom will be safe for now."
Harry nodded, but he didn't look reassured. Draco swallowed hard. "We'll need to confirm," he said slowly, and Severus could tell that he was struggling to maintain his composure. "Do you think Alcander would be able to get that information?"
"I'll call him now." Severus released his grip on Harry's knee, but before he could move his hand, Harry caught it and squeezed it so hard that it was almost painful. His face was blank, closed off. Severus felt his heart twist at the sight. "We'll not let anything happen to him, Harry. I swear it." He pressed a hard kiss against the brunet's forehead. "I swear it."
The grip on his wrist slackened enough for Severus to pull away and head to the sitting room.
Severus wasn't sure how long he was speaking with Alcander. But he knew as he pulled his head out of the fire that it had been much too long. His knees and back ached from the crouched position, and his arms were nearly trembling from holding him up so long. It was truly the most bloody uncomfortable method of communication, and Severus was much too old to be utilizing it. That was one thing that Muggles had gotten right: telephones. He should suggest to Draco that they install one in the Manor, if only to see if he could drive a healthy 28 year old into cardiac arrest.
Severus managed to push himself upright, listening to his joints creak with a wince. It was only then that he saw Harry standing in the corner of the room. The weak sunlight from the overcast morning and light from the fire were all that illuminated the room, and the light barely reached Harry's corner, leaving him drenched in flickering shadow. His hair was down around his face, but Severus could just make out the glitter of an eye. "Harry?" Severus asked tentatively, his voice unsure.
"He keeps threatening the people I love, Severus." Harry's voice was cool, even, and full of steel. "He's hurting the people that I care about, disturbing the peace that so many people gave their lives for." He took a step forward. The shadows created by the ridges and dips of his scars made his face look like some sort of gruesome Halloween mask in the ruddy firelight. "I can't let him hurt anyone else. I won't."
This wasn't the bright, optimistic Harry Potter of his school years, nor was it the broken recluse that Severus was just beginning to get to know. It wasn't even the Harry that he might become once Severus had helped him to heal. This was the Harry that Severus had tried his damnedest to keep him from becoming. This was Harry the Chosen One, Harry the soldier, Harry the weapon that Dumbledore had molded. This was the man who walked up to the most powerful Dark wizard in history without fear and made the kill shot without hesitation even with the knowledge that his own life was likely forfeit. This was the man that had willingly sacrificed half his body to bring down his enemy. This was the Harry that inspired fear.
"We'll stop him, Harry." Severus held his arms out to the younger man, half afraid of what it would mean if Harry refused the gesture. "I promise."
He needn't have worried. "We had better," Harry said as he stepped into Severus' arms and pressed a chaste kiss against his lips. "Or I'll kill him."
It was said so simply, just a statement of fact, but it left Severus reeling. By the time he had gathered his wits about him, Harry had gone. And it wasn't until that moment that Severus realized that Harry had spoken without a trace of a stutter.
Did you know Albus? Did you know what you had turned that boy into? Is that why you kept him locked away, hidden from the rest of the world? Severus drew his arms tightly around his middle, though he wasn't cold. Did you fear your creation? Severus knew enough of the old man to know that he had. Albus Dumbledore had created the perfect weapon for defeating the Dark Lord, but he could have very well created Voldemort's successor in the process.
But that was wrong. Severus would never allow Harry to become that. He'd die himself before he let Harry become the next Dark Lord. Did you know that too, Albus? Was that why you never interfered? Albus had always maintained that what separated Harry from Voldemort was Harry's ability to love. It would be very like him to allow their affair for that very reason.
Severus turned and brought his fist down hard on the mantle. Barmy old codger, will you never allow me to hate your memory in peace?
Dumbledore would remain as enigmatic in death as he had been in life, and that would never change no matter how long Severus agonized over it. For now, he had a godson who was most likely in danger, a friend (yes, Severus could admit it, if only in the privacy of his own mind) in the clutches of a murderer, and a lover with a rather unhealthy coping technique of contemplating murder. This is what happens when one starts to find their safe, comfortable routine monotonous; Severus could kick himself for ever thinking that traitorous thought.
Word Count: 32,321
I'm not doing August NaNo anymore, in case anyone cared. I was already feeling the burnout from July. So wave bye-bye to the bi-weekly updates.