He draws to a stop along the path to Hogsmeade and drinks in the late afternoon musk, finally free. He slowly closes his eyes and exhales a bit of the dread that still wakes him in the cold dark of night; he can breathe now - perhaps for the first time in his life - and, having fully expected to be dead instead, he recognizes the air that fills his lungs for the gift it is. The ghost of a smile flits across his face as he opens eyes that, if not innocent, are yet fresh...and they are drawn to the unexpected autumn ruddiness of an approaching youth. His heart - that rusty organ - catches as he takes in appled cheeks and the dark chocolate sworl of windswept hair, thudding to a halt when the boy fixes him for an eternal moment in his evergreen gaze. A sharp intake of breath - an exquisite pain more terrifying than any he has known in the past twenty years - a sudden, demanding knowledge that cannot be unlearned or forgotten. He looks to the horizon, he wills himself away as the boy silently passes him, and he cannot breathe he cannot breathe he cannot breathe anymore.


While others gather to bask in the first real Yuletide peace some have ever known, Harry wraps his solitude around him like a shroud and slips into the woods. Neither overlooked nor forgotten, he chooses his exile, the soft, silencing cushion of snow a padded room from which he sometimes thinks he may never emerge. He is drawn to the trees, stark against the snow, their fine veins bleeding black into a gray sky. They seem dead - worn, withered, diminished by the cutting wind - yet he finds in them a nascent life that tethers him to the world. He strokes and brushes and breathes over ice-encased branches, coaxing small slivers of green from dark buds, and his mind wanders to another stark, still figure, black and immutable. So worn, so used and diminished, cloaked in icy disdain, solitary and shrouded; and Harry wonders - not for the first time - what he would find, were he to stroke and brush and breathe warm life over alabaster skin.


His footsteps echo through the quiet halls of a Hogsmeade weekend, and they might be the beat of his heart - now fast, anxious and unsure, now slow, heavy and inexorable. His destination is sure, his reception uncertain, and still his feet propel him into the sunshine and down a path that creeps along the side of the castle, quieting only when he spies a dark head bent in concentration amidst the wildflowers. Too late, as it happens, and he suddenly finds himself pinned in place by a black gaze.

"S-sir," he stammers, the heat rising to his face.

Snape gives a curt nod. "Potter," he acknowledges, turning his eyes back to his book.

Harry can't think - he can't remember why he's here what he wants to say and he blurts out, "Amortentia."

Snape responds with a drawn-out blink. "Amortentia, Mr. Potter?"

The boy hesitates - steps closer - asks breathlessly, "What do you smell?"

Snape stills, and he says nothing.

"B-because" - Harry swallows - "I smell...asphodel...and wormwood...and - "

Snape barks a humorless laugh. "You smell the Draught of Living Death in Amortentia?"

"N-no, sir. I - I - " He worries his lower lip, and a blush rises over Snape's wan cheeks, and his eyes drift away from the book, and Harry sees the moment he remembers a classroom and an owlish young boy.

All he can hear is birdsong and the rustle of wildflowers, broken by a sotto voce baritone.

"'For many a time,'" Snape intones. "I have been half in love with easeful Death...'"*

It's beautiful, but Harry doesn't understand the words.


There is no answer. The silence stretches uncomfortably until Harry swipes the back of his hand across wet eyes and turns to leave.

"Mr.- I - Harry - wait."

Snape's words halt him in his tracks, but he doesn't he can't turn around.

A moment, two, and then warm breath at his ear, whispering.

"Apples...autumn leaves...pumpkin juice and - and - " and he inhales the scent of Harry's hair. "Lavender...mint."

And Harry leans back against Snape, closing his eyes with a sigh.


He sits in the shadow of a broad, leafy tree, arms resting on bent knees, mesmerized by a thin red rivulet snaking its way over Harry's chin and down his throat.

"You've got - " he begins, gesturing vaguely with a bony finger, and the boy brushes his forearm over strawberry-kissed lips. The effect is entrancing, leaving a red smear across his pale cheek.

It wasn't what he had planned. He had meant for there to be a bed - pillows and sheets - but he finds himself leaning forward on all fours to lave Harry's stained face...chin...neck. He thinks maybe he's gone too far it's too soon and he pulls back in hesitation, a tangy sweetness lingering on his tongue. His eyes meet the boy's glazed green gaze - drift across his flushed face - rest on his moist mouth. He reads acquiescence there, desire in the eyes, and he leans forward again, wrapping an arm around Harry to hold him as he uses his own long body to lay the boy back in the grass. Harry pants, licks his lips, reaches up to tuck a limp lock behind an ear, whispers.

"Severus," he says, and Severus can only growl in return.



*Snape's verse is from Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale"