Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of Leopardspaw. Thanks for reading and enjoying.
Chapter Twenty-Two-About That Potions Master
"You promised me something, back at the beginning of this."
Harry kept his voice soft, so that Draco wouldn't mistake his question for some kind of hectoring, punishing demand. Draco pushed himself up on his elbow anyway and watched Harry with gentle eyes. His hair was mussed from the bed, and Harry had discovered that when Draco looked like that, he was most likely to give in on small, unimportant things like questions of price.
"Yes?" Draco yawned and pushed his hand down his forehead as if that would muffle his upwards-pointing hair. Wrong direction, Harry thought, lounging beside him and loving him, watching him and devouring him. "What was that?"
"The name of a Potions master who would be able to take this off my hands." Harry turned his stained hands over so that Draco could see the black palms.
Draco bent down and flicked his tongue over Harry's palms, making Harry start and draw in his breath. Draco kept licking them, until Harry thought he would try to scrub off the stain with his tongue alone.
Then Draco pulled back and looked him in the eyes. "Do you really want it gone?" he whispered. "It brought us together, and it told me I could trust you. I would understand if you wanted to keep it."
Harry kept his eyes narrowed, watching Draco for a moment, because something about that earnest pronouncement seemed off. Then he understood, and snorted in laughter. "You bastard, you want me to keep it because the ability to tell when someone was lying would be useful to you."
"It would be very useful," Draco said, and coiled around him, his hands wandering and stroking Harry's shoulders as though he wanted to know all about the skin that wasn't marked by the exploding artifact as well as what was. "It's already proven its usefulness. It's helped you save my life. Why not keep it?"
"Because it's annoying." Harry caught Draco's hands and stilled them so that he wouldn't get distracted. "I know why you want me to keep it, but I don't agree."
"You said you would do anything for me, at one time." Draco looked down at him, his eyes distant and watchful. "Was that only a romantic story? Or an exaggeration? Were you lying to me without knowing it?"
"There are things I won't do for you," Harry said, meeting his eyes. "Stand by while you murder someone. Let you sell illegal Potions ingredients that could get me, or you, in trouble just for having them in the house. Keep this curse."
"Is seeing red light around everyone's heads that annoying?" Draco ducked his head and rubbed his cheeks against Harry's hands. "It won you me."
"No, my own persistence and ignoring of the word no won you for me," Harry said, with a sharp shake of his head that got his hands away from Draco, stung Draco's cheeks with Harry's hair, and made Draco come up looking seriously displeased. "I'll do a lot of things for you. I've shown how much. You owe me the benefit of the doubt, and the payment you promised me in the first place. Or does a Slytherin break his word to his pledged Gryffindor lover?"
"Slytherins break their words all the time," Draco muttered, and flopped down beside Harry, glaring at him from under a curl of white-blond hair.
"I'm sure," Harry said, and kissed him on the shoulder. "But here's one who won't, or you'll find out how unpleasant it can be to have me for a lover, right along with how nice it can be."
Draco watched him through half-lidded eyes. Then he sighed, and hid his head in the crook of his arm, and said, "I'm not going to be able to dissuade you, am I? And I would rather stay on your good side, after you've done so much for me and my family."
Harry smiled, and petted his head.
In the end, Harry reckoned he wasn't entirely surprised to find himself standing with Draco outside a small, rundown cottage. When they were this close, he could feel the hum of glamours, powerful ones, and doubted the cottage was as ramshackle as it appeared, or as unguarded. Sure enough, they stepped into the garden, and the weight of potential curses, lightning that could fall on them but chose not to, was as heavy as swimming underwater.
Draco knocked on the window, not the door. They marinated some more in silence before the door swung open.
"I told you never to bring him here." The voice was hoarse, and made Harry want to draw his wand-not from old memories, but recent ones. He refrained. Simply because people who sounded like that usually wanted to kill him didn't mean it would happen this time. He strained his eyes in the dim light, trying to pick out the shape of someone hunched over a cauldron, but made out the man seated on the couch instead.
"He's helped me a lot," Draco said, his voice shrunken and his head bowed with a respect Harry hadn't seen him give to anyone so far, including his parents. "He's changed, Severus. I thought he could be trusted with this secret."
"What's to keep him from plaguing me for potions from now on?" Snape stood up and moved forwards. Yes, there were long scars on the side of his neck that would probably interfere with his voice, Harry thought. That and the pallor of his face made Harry wonder what sort of potions he had taken, to survive.
"Because Draco is good enough at most of the ones I'd need, and he's more convenient," Harry answered.
Snape paused and stared at him. Harry stared back, wondering if Snape had expected someone like the schoolboy he'd saved so many times. The more fool him. Did he think that I wouldn't change with the years, just as he has?
Snape finally turned to Draco as if Harry had done something inexcusably wrong by speaking out of turn, and honestly, and continued his complaints. "Now that he knows I am alive, he will no doubt drag me back into public and attempt to get me honored with an Order of Merlin, and other attention that he must know I do not want."
"That sounds idiotic," Harry said. "Why would I do that? If you've stayed here this long, out of the public's eye, then you don't want any kind of honors. And I have better things to do. Like Draco."
Snape choked and stared at Draco. Harry could tell Draco was flushing, even in the darkness of the cottage; it practically stood out like its own red halo around his face. But he lifted his head and didn't falter before Snape's glare, which Harry had to admit was impressive in and of itself.
"He's honest, Severus," Draco said. "Incurably honest. And he can tell when you're lying, at least right now. He wants a way to cure that. It happened when one of the Unspeakables' new artifacts exploded on him. Can you do that much for him?"
Draco's calm, measured way of talking seemed to have its effect on Snape. He turned away from Draco and faced Harry. "You don't seem as surprised as I thought you would be to see me alive," he whisper-hissed at Harry.
"The lack of a body was kind of a clue."
Snape closed his eyes once, then turned and lit a lamp on a table nearby. Harry blinked as the warm light of oil flooded the room and showed it to be even shabbier than Harry had suspected. He would have bet the Potions lab was clean, though. "Let me see your hands."
Harry held them out. Snape stooped over them, and Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. God, you could at least clean your mouth out? Being bitten by a giant poisonous snake is no reason not to brush your teeth.
Snape examined the dark stain and the way it followed Harry's fingers minutely, and then stood up and stared at him. "Is this some kind of joke?"
"Yes, you know Draco, he lives to introduce Aurors to his hidden friends and fall over laughing at the result," Harry said.
Snape turned back to Draco. "This artifact contains traces of mind-altering potions, and the Imperius Curse," he said. "You expect me to believe that they would willingly expose their precious Chosen One to a Dark artifact of this strength? It is far more likely that Potter exploded the artifact on his own."
"It was something they came up with and wanted all the Aurors to use," Harry said. This was the best that Snape could come up with, after years to think of and store the insults? Then again, Harry reckoned being alone most of the time would be a way to atrophy your insult skills. "They claimed it would make it easy for us to tell when people we interviewed were telling lies. That's all I know about it."
Snape bent closer to his hands, and Harry wrinkled his nose. Yes, some toothpaste would have been nice. He did catch Draco's eyes and refrain from speaking because it was expected of him, but he would be glad when he had made whatever promises Snape required not to speak of his being alive and was able to get the hell out of here.
"I recognize one component of this," Snape said at last. "I will need the afternoon to brew the potion that will remove the stain. I presume you have important things you need to do?" He sneered at Harry.
"The Ministry still has me on holiday right now because I tragically saw Lucius Malfoy murdered right in front of me," Harry said blandly. "I reckon I can spend those hours sitting on your couch if I need to."
Snape shot a startled look at Draco. Draco only shook his head in a way that said he would explain once they were alone, and hauled Snape through a door into what Harry thought must be the lab.
Once he was alone, Harry lit the fire and cast some serious Cleaning Charms on the couch, then sat down and pulled the shrunken book he'd brought out of a robe pocket. The pocket was by Hannah Abbot, who had spent some time with Neville, and it included points and tips on relationships between people who'd had different Houses in Hogwarts. Harry hadn't reached the sections on Slytherin-Gryffindor relationships yet, but Hannah's writing style was easy and open, and he was enjoying it.
"You will need to come in and swallow the potion in one gulp, Potter."
Harry blinked and looked up. He'd been chuckling over Hannah's description of the different definitions Ravenclaws and Gryffindors had for "serious study," and hadn't heard Snape come out of the lab. Snape stood as far away from Harry as he could get and still extend the cup of boiling black potion towards him.
"Offended I cleaned up?" Harry asked, taking the cup. "Don't worry, the soot and dust should be easy to restore."
"Is it wise to speak that way to the Potions master who has brewed something you are about to drink?" Snape's voice was low and deadly, a hiss like the one he probably imagined venomous snakes used. Harry wanted to tell him snakes didn't sound like that and he should know, after his close encounter with Nagini, but he wasn't in the business of educating idiots any longer.
"If I die, it would hurt Draco." Harry held the cup to his lips and sniffed. It smelled like hot blackberries, not awful, but he was willing to bet it wouldn't taste that way. "I don't think you want to do that."
Before Snape could retort, Harry swallowed. It wasn't as dreadful as the initial explosion of the artifact that had covered his hands with the black stuff, but unpleasant enough that he had to pinch his throat to avoid vomiting it back up. Snape was smirking, the smug bastard. Of course he was. Harry held his lips closed, and the tar stayed down. He looked at his hands.
A moment later, the black stain began to melt, to fade into his skin as though someone was swiping his palms with an invisible sponge. Enthralled, Harry watched, and the stain faded from his fingers, too.
"You owe me payment."
Harry glanced up and raised an eyebrow. "We'll see about that. Say something that you know is a lie, so I can see what the reaction from my magic is."
Snape only glared at him. Draco was the one who pushed forwards, with a faint sigh, and said, "My name is Harry Potter."
No red glow, not even the slightest trace of crimson around his face, which Harry had been able to see when he was merely holding the artifact, before it exploded. He grinned and flung his arms around Draco, spinning him in a circle. Draco was breathless, flushed, and smiling when Harry let him go, though the smile vanished with the first words Snape rasped.
"Shall I fear that you will try to repay me, the Potions master who did the work, with something like that?"
Harry turned around and fluttered his eyelashes. "Do you want something like that? I'm happy to give you that, if you'd like. I'm sure Draco won't object to a little kiss in a good cause." He started forwards, arms wide enough that he could have enveloped and stifled even Snape's desperate protesting motions.
Draco seized his arm and said in his ear, "Enough."
Harry wouldn't have yielded for anything Snape could have said, because there was too much old and broken and not right between them, but he could hear pain in Draco's voice. He squeezed Draco's arm and faced Snape again. "Thank you so much, sir," he said. He kept his voice bland, so that Snape couldn't even claim that Harry had "repaid" him with sarcasm. "Here you are." He pulled out the shrunken sack of Galleons he'd also brought, enlarged it, and dropped it at Snape's feet.
Snape looked back and forth between the sack and Harry. Then he said, "How do you know that will pay for the least part of the ingredients?"
"Because it would pay for a lot more research and ingredients-hunting than you had to do," Harry said indifferently, and turned away. The longer he looked at Snape, the sadder the man seemed, hiding out because he was afraid of the effort it would take to have himself declared a hero, jealous of the outside world and hating it at the same time. "Do you want to stay for a while, Draco? I'm going home."
He had the sensation that Draco and Snape had a whole silent conversation while his back was turned, but Draco had joined him by the time he reached the doorway.
They walked down the path and to the Apparition point in silence for a moment, and then Draco turned to him, sighed, and said, "He really is a good man."
"He is to you," Harry corrected him, gently, because it was Draco. "He was a good Head of Slytherin House, and he's a great Potions master, and he tried to protect you. But he got my parents killed, and even though he objected when he realized Dumbledore's plans would kill me, he still went along with them. Made sure that I got the information I needed to sacrifice myself, even. I don't like him, Draco. I never will. But I'm perfectly happy to leave him to rot if that's what he wants."
Draco walked beside him in silence, frowning. Harry said nothing. This was another area where he and Draco would disagree, and he thought the best thing to do was to let Draco ride it out. Draco might actually be relieved when he realized that he could disagree with Harry and Harry wouldn't leave him for it. Sometimes Harry's devotion seemed to worry him.
"I thought Severus was doing something great, or at least the only sensible thing he could, retreating like that," Draco whispered. "But in comparison to you...his insults seemed pathetic, this time. They never have, before."
Harry took Draco's hand and bumped his shoulder into his. "It doesn't mean that you're pathetic for being grateful to him, you know. Any more than you are for liking me, or loving me, or whatever emotion we've arrived at today."
Draco glanced up, grinning at last. "It's somewhere closer to love," he said. "At least until you say things like that. Git."
Harry touched his shoulder again, and said, "So. Are you ready to go home?"
Draco walked a few more steps, head bowed. Then he said, "No one's told my mother yet about what you did to save my father. She's going to hate owing you another debt."
Harry shrugged. "Tell her that I collect it every time you fuck me."
Draco choked. "I can't tell her that."
"Then come up with something else." Harry turned and laid his hands on Draco's shoulders, vaguely hoping Snape could see them from his dirt-encrusted windows. "Do you understand that I am yours, Draco, I'm just not yours for everything you can imagine?"
Draco's hands hovered above his while his eyes searched Harry's. Then he smiled, and his hands came solidly down.
"Yes," he said. "And I'm yours. For lots of reasons."
Harry discovered that you could kiss and Apparate at the same time, and that he was stunningly good at it. Draco, of course, was good at it as he was good at everything, and didn't miss a beat when they fell on Harry's couch, but started undressing Harry.
It's good to be in love, Harry thought, and obligingly wriggled out of his shirt.