Summary: Snape and Harry hit a rough spot in their relationship. Well, Snape creates a rough spot in their relationship.
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. Actually, one of them is mine, but he's kind of a tool, so I don't really want to claim him.
Warning: This fic contains a sexual relationship, which is explicitly described in places, between two men. If this sort of thing doesn't float your boat, I would suggest that you read no further. Thank you.
Harry fell out of the floo onto the floor of the sitting room and shook his head at his continued inability to use the floo network without falling out onto his arse. You'd think after all this time in the wizarding world, he would have gotten used to certain things. Well, at least Severus wasn't here to witness his clumsiness and tease him. He had that to be thankful for. Harry was earlier than he'd told Severus he'd be home, and Severus would be at the office still. Harry jumped to his feet and shook the fine sheen of soot from his clothing. He removed his bags from his pocket, resized them, then sent them sailing up to their room.
Eager to see Severus after three weeks away, Harry returned to the hearth and grabbed a handful of floo powder. "Severus' office," he called. "Severus, are you there?" Harry dropped to his knees and stuck his head into the fire. He knew better than to just appear in Severus' office without receiving approval first. Through the corresponding hearth, he could see Severus sitting in the arm chair before the fire, and a smile lit up Harry's face at the sight of him. "Severus!" he said warmly. "I'm home early."
Severus had been smiling, but the smile fell from his face when he heard Harry's voice. It was then that Harry realized there was someone else in the room with his lover. Harry turned to look at the other chair to find a man sitting there, a very bald man with a sizeable nose (though not as big as Severus') staring regally down at Harry.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Harry said immediately. "I didn't realize you were with someone. Hello," he said to the stranger.
The man did not respond – he continued to stare down at Harry's head in the fire as though Harry were some kind of unpleasant bug.
"Okay," Harry said, when it became obvious the man wasn't going to return his greeting. He turned back to Severus. "I just wanted you to know that I was home."
"So I see," Severus said coldly.
Harry grinned at him. Severus had never been one to display his feelings in public, especially before a business acquaintance. "I've got a lot to tell you. Will you be home at the usual time?"
"Potter, I am in the middle of a meeting. Your interruption is not appreciated. I shall be home when I am home."
"All right, all right," Harry said, still grinning, so happy to finally see Severus, even if he was in an ugly mood. "I'll have a nice dinner waiting for you when you get here. I can't wait to see you."
"Yes, yes. Go."
"Love you," Harry said as he pulled out of the fire, because he knew it would irritate Severus. "Later."
Harry made sure everything was just so. He'd made all of Severus' favorites: a roasted leg of lamb with that mint sauce he liked so much, small roasted potatoes, tender braised asparagus spears. A chocolate gateau waited in the icebox for pudding. He'd put flowers and candles on the table and fussed with them until they looked just perfect.
He was looking forward to a nice dinner with his lover. Harry would ask Severus how his three weeks had gone, and he would try to keep up with Severus' account of the potions he'd worked on and the headaches he'd had to deal with. Then, he'd tell Severus about his success on the quidditch pitch. As England's reserve seeker, he normally saw little to no playing time. He'd suspected more than once that he'd been taken onto the team for his name and its ability to draw crowds. But the team's first-line seeker had been injured, and Harry had been pressed into service. He'd caught the snitch in all three games, and his team had won them all. He was aware that there'd been a lot of press coverage surrounding his success, with more than one person calling for England to permanently replace their injured seeker with the Potter phenom, but Severus claimed he didn't read the sports section of the Prophet (which Harry, quite frankly, doubted) and would not have seen any of that. He was justifiably proud of his accomplishments but trying not to get caught up in all of the media hype so that he wouldn't be disappointed when Quimby returned from the injured reserve list and Harry went back to riding the pine (figuratively speaking).
All of this he was dying to share with Severus. When everything was ready, Harry sat in the sitting room with a magazine, idly flipping through it while he waited for Severus so he could throw himself upon his lover the moment he flooed into the room. And he waited. And waited. And waited.
Where was Severus? At ten o'clock, Harry began to worry. Severus never stayed at the office this late, and when he was going to be late, he flooed to let Harry know. This wasn't like him at all, and Harry began to pace. After thirty revolutions around the sitting room, Harry grabbed the cannister of floo powder and flung some into the fire. "Severus' office!" he announced. He stepped into the hearth and into Severus' office.
Which was empty. And dark. Severus was not here, either. Where could he be?
Harry crossed to the desk, lumosed his wand, and pulled Severus' calendar toward him. There, written in the 7:00 p.m. time slot, was one word: Octavius. What was that? A person? A company? In any event, it appeared Severus had some sort of meeting outside the office which had apparently run late. Why hadn't he let Harry know? And how long was this meeting supposed to last?
Still a little worried, Harry flooed back into his sitting room and dropped into a chair, wondering where Severus could be. He racked his brain, trying to come up with a viable place to even begin searching and came up with nothing. There was simply no other place that Severus should be.
At eleven o'clock, Harry returned to the table and surveyed the ruins of his perfect meal. He was tired, he was worried, he was hungry, and he didn't know what to do. Perhaps he'd just go wait upstairs. He sighed as he looked at the food on the table. Might as well leave it there – when Severus got home, he might be hungry. He could clean everything up tomorrow. Harry renewed the warming spells he'd placed on the food five hours ago and went upstairs.
Harry had fallen asleep atop the duvet waiting for Severus to arrive. He woke instantly when he felt the other side of the bed move. "Severus?" he asked groggily, rubbing his eyes. He squinted into the near-total darkness at the ill-defined shape across from him. "Time's'it?"
"Go back to sleep," was the only response.
Harry rolled over and pulled himself up toward the clock beside the bed so that he could read the time without putting on his glasses. Even then he had to squint. 12:58 a.m. "It's almost one o'clock!" he exclaimed. "Where have you been?"
"I had a meeting," Severus said as he slipped in between the sheets. Harry jumped up, quickly divested himself of his clothing, and joined his lover in the bed.
"Couldn't you have let me know?" Harry asked, snuggling close to Severus even though the other man's body was quite chilly. Harry thought he could probably warm him up rather quickly. "I was worried."
"I was busy."
Harry wormed his way under Severus' arm so he could rest his head on the bony shoulder. "Did you eat?"
"I ate while I was out."
"Oh." Harry couldn't help the disappointment that he felt at that. He'd told Severus he was making him dinner. He put that aside, though, still so happy to be home and in the arms of his lover. "Tell me about your last three weeks."
"Potter, it is late, and I am tired."
"Oh. I'm sorry." Harry dropped the volume of his voice in deference to the late hour. He lay there for a moment, but then his head popped up and he couldn't not ask, "Did you see the paper? I got to play, Severus! Finally! And I caught the snitch in all three matches, and we – "
"Potter, could this prattle not wait until tomorrow?" Severus asked.
"Oh," Harry said again, and he dropped his head back to Severus' shoulder. He lay there another moment, and then said, "Is something wrong?" Even Harry, as oblivious as he could be to subtlety, could sense something off with the man who lay so stiffly beside him.
"Nothing is wrong," Severus protested. "I am just tired."
"Okay," Harry said, and he was quiet again for a moment. But then he nudged Severus' thigh with his hard cock. "Too tired for this?" Without waiting for an answer, Harry's hand found Severus' sleepy cock and his tongue stuck out and wiggled against a nipple.
Severus thought about pushing the annoying brat onto his own side of the bed, but then he thought better of it. Why not? What did he have to lose? If he did this right, he could have his satisfaction and send a message to Potter.
Severus had made a decision, and he was reluctant to come right out and tell Potter because he knew the whelp would make a hysterical scene, most likely complete with tears. He had, almost, it seemed, on the spur of the moment, decided that he was ready to move on from his current amour. Potter had helped him to gain respectability in the wizarding world after Voldemort's defeat, but he no longer needed Harry for that. He'd established himself as the pre-eminent potions expert in Britain, perhaps even in all of Europe, and his own reputation spoke loudly for him now.
In addition, he had his eye on a new man, someone he'd met through the course of his business, someone slightly older than he was himself, with the same interests Severus had, a man who was so much more intelligent, dignified and sophisticated than Potter could ever hope to be. He'd taken the budding relationship with this man to the sexual level for the first time tonight, and it had been everything he'd hoped it would be. While Harry had been here, sitting and waiting and worrying about Severus, he'd been sliding his cock into the exciting heat of a new lover. He'd been so satisfied, in fact, that he'd actually fallen asleep after the act, which accounted for his lateness in arriving home.
If he didn't mind dealing with the histrionics, he'd just come right out and tell Harry all of this. But he knew Potter – he knew the boy was capable of drama, and he just didn't feel up to any of it. So maybe he could begin to show Potter that they were over. He was a dunderhead when it came to subtle clues, but Severus thought he'd eventually make him understand.
So, picturing his new lover in his mind and remembering the forbidden fruit he'd sampled a mere hours earlier, Snape felt himself growing hard in the pup's hand. "Suck it," he ordered.
Harry grinned up at him. "I love it when you get all forceful and bossy." Harry reached up to try and kiss Severus, but was pushed away for his trouble.
"Shut it and get busy," Severus growled.
Harry chuckled. "Eager, huh? I like that, too."
Harry slid down his lover's body and attached his mouth to Severus' ever-hardening dick. Severus, thinking now only of his new lover, grew to full mast quickly. He had to admit that Potter was quite skilled in the area of fellatio, and it wasn't difficult to lose himself in the sensations Potter created with his flickering tongue and his nimble lips. He hoped some day soon to experience the same act with his new lover. Severus worked his fingers into Potter's lush locks and held them tightly. This was the one thing that he'd miss about the minx. His new lover was bald, by choice. He'd always liked touching Harry's mane, thick and luxurious and only slightly better controlled since he'd let it grow a little longer than he'd kept it in school.
Severus let Harry work him for a long time. He wanted to be close when he finally entered the boy. When he felt his balls drawing up, eager despite having been emptied once already this evening, he pushed Potter roughly away. "On your knees," he growled.
Harry happily complied, handing Severus the jar of lube he'd summoned wordlessly while sucking on Severus' dick. Severus first slicked up his own cock so that he could continue to stroke himself while he prepared Potter's arse for penetration, which preparation consisted of thrusting two lube-covered fingers into Harry and roughly twisting them this way and that.
Harry cried out, whether in delight or dismay Severus knew not, nor did he care. He took a moment to rub his thumb over the purple head of his cock, which always brought him to the edge, then shoved himself roughly into Potter's backside. His fingers caught Harry's hips up in a bruising grip, and he pounded himself roughly into the young man. It took less than ten strokes, and he was coming for the second time that evening. He gave no thought to touching Harry, and as soon as his senses returned to him completely, he pulled out of Harry and dropped back onto his side of the bed. Rolling so that his back was to Potter, Severus pulled the duvet up over his shoulder and prepared to sleep.
Harry was still on his hands and knees, with come dripping from his arse and an unsatisfied erection, wondering what the hell had just happened. He sat back on his heels and looked over at his lover, though he could not see him well in the gloom. He waited a full minute before he spoke, just in case Severus wanted to reveal that he was having him on. "Severus? I'm still – "
"I am sure you can take care of that yourself. I told you I was tired."
Harry sat the way he was for many minutes, until he heard Severus snoring. While he waited, his erection wilted, and he came close to tears. What was wrong with Severus? Why was he acting this way? Harry had been so excited to get home to his lover after a long separation, and Severus was doing everything he could to push Harry away. He'd always had a nagging insecurity that Severus would one day tire of him, but he thought the fact that he was gone so much had provided the other man with a measure of relief, absence making the heart grow fonder and all that rot. Was he wrong? Was Severus trying to push him away? Or was he just having a bad day?
Feeling unsatisfied and worried all over again and sad and wide awake, Harry got quietly out of bed, cast a wordless cleaning spell on himself, grabbed his glasses and his robe and left the room. He wandered downstairs and was confronted with the remains of the dinner he'd worked so hard on. He sat down abruptly at the table, feeling the twinge in his bum from Severus' not-so-gentle lovemaking, and noticed immediately that everything was just as he'd left it earlier – Severus hadn't touched it when he came in.
Harry stared at it for a while, as if cold lamb and congealed mint sauce held some answers. When they didn't cough them up, Harry sighed and got up and began cleaning the mess away.
Harry awoke, confused for a moment about where he was. He'd apparently fallen asleep on the sitting room sofa. Oh yeah. That thing with Severus last night. What had that been? It couldn't be called a fight. That would have involved angry words being flung back and forth and perhaps some sulking on the part of one or both of them. There hadn't been any of that. In fact, there had been very few words at all, on Severus' part especially. Harry lay back on the sofa, replaying the events of yesterday in his mind in an attempt to determine what it was he had done to upset Severus. Yes, he'd firecalled in the middle of his business meeting, but how was Harry to know he was meeting with someone? Severus always closed the floo to traffic if he didn't want to be disturbed. It wasn't Harry's fault if he'd forgotten to do so. Had he imagined all of that last night? Was he making more out of a bad mood of Severus' than was warranted? Harry hoped so, but he didn't believe it. He wasn't imagining the fact that Severus had used Harry to get himself off and then left Harry aching and wanting. That had been real, and it had never happened before.
Harry flung back the thin blanket he'd covered himself with, determined to go upstairs right now and pry out of his lover what the hell was wrong. He bounded up the stairs, ready to apologize for whatever offense he'd committed, just to keep the peace, because he didn't like this feeling in his stomach and he'd do almost anything to banish it.
But Severus was not in the bed, which had been neatly made already, nor was he in the loo getting ready for work. He never left for work before seven, but he sure was gone now. And this time, he hadn't forgotten to block the floo in his office.
Harry had spent the day in a funk. Even a two-hour quidditch practice late in the afternoon, where he'd received the news he'd be playing in England's next match as well, hadn't brought him any relief from the darkness that he'd been pitched into by Severus' strange mood and behavior. It was approaching dinner time, but Harry didn't feel in the least bit hungry. He dropped into a chair in the sitting room, sweaty and dirty and not really caring. He by no means felt certain that Severus would even come home for dinner, given the way he'd been the last couple of days. He could find no motivation to get up out of this chair and shower or plan and cook a meal.
Harry's brooding was interrupted when Severus flooed into the room. Harry immediately jumped up, unsure of how to approach his volatile lover. Before he could make any decisions about what to say or how to say it, a man followed Severus into the room. Harry immediately recognized him as the man who'd been in Severus' office yesterday. That hairless pate was hard to forget. Harry offered a tentative smile to Severus. It was not returned.
"Hello," Harry said to the other man. This time, he intended to find out who this man was, and he approached him with his hand extended. "I'm Harry Potter. Welcome to our home." Something made him place extra emphasis on the word our, the same something about this man that was making Harry feel possessive and territorial.
The man was tall, taller even than Severus, and held his shorn head high. He looked down his nose at Harry, hesitated long enough so that Harry thought the man was going to ignore his outstretched hand, then took the offered hand with obvious reluctance. "Octavius Blackstone," the man said, his lip curling with disgust at Harry's touch.
Harry had to agree. The man's hand was cold and clammy, like holding a fish by the belly, and he was glad the handshake was brief. He surreptitiously wiped his hand on his robe.
He turned to Severus. "May I speak with you privately for a moment?"
"We have a guest," Severus pointed out.
"I apologize," Harry said to Blackstone, "but this will just take a minute."
Severus' nose wrinkled. "Merlin, you smell."
The tone cut, but Harry ignored it and took hold of Severus' arm to steer him into the kitchen. Severus jerked his arm out of Harry's grip but stalked into the kitchen, followed closely by Harry.
"What is going on?" Harry asked as soon as he'd closed the kitchen door.
"I've brought a business acquaintance home for dinner," Severus said.
"For dinner?" Harry repeated. "I've not made any dinner. I've only just gotten home from practice. I haven't even showered."
"Is that why you smell like a hippogriff?"
"I would have appreciated some advance notice," Harry pointed out.
"Why, Harry? Your presence at this meeting is not required."
That hurt, too. Severus had entertained clients in their home plenty of times, and he'd always wanted Harry present. Severus was hardly a social creature, and he relied on Harry for small talk and to make guests feel welcome. "Do you want me to leave?"
"No. I'd like you to stay." He had more points to drive home after all. "But please do us all a favor and get cleaned up."
"What are we going to do about dinner? I hadn't even begun to think about it yet."
"Do not let it worry you," Severus said, his disappointment in Harry obvious, though Harry wasn't sure what he'd done to warrant Severus' disappointment. "I am sure the house elves can manage something." Even if you can't, Harry heard.
"Fine," Harry said. He felt as though a hot ball of molten lead had settled in his belly. "I'll go shower. Can we – after dinner – after he's gone, can we talk?" Harry requested. He could hear how pathetically needy he sounded, but he didn't care. He had to get to the bottom of this, or he was going to go mad.
"Are we not talking now?"
"No. We need – we can't do this with someone else here. Please. Later."
Severus nodded curtly, then went to rejoin their guest.
"I'll be as quick as I can," Harry told them both. "Please excuse my absence, Mr. Blackstone."
"We shall endeavor to survive without your presence," said Severus snidely.
As soon as Harry left the room, Severus offered his new lover a drink. He poured it and approached the other man, his heart fluttering excitedly. There was something so . . . naughty about having his new lover here, in the house he shared with his current lover. Just being near Blackstone was enough to get his blood racing, and he leaned up to offer the man a kiss. Blackstone returned it, his lips hard and dry, not wet and messy, like Potter's kisses always were.
"Please, sit," Severus invited after Blackstone pulled away. Caught up in the exciting newness of this relationship, Severus was nervous. He wanted Octavius to be comfortable here – with any luck, the man would be living here in the not-too-distant future.
Severus left to commandeer two house elves from the office and instruct them on a simple, fairly quick supper, then returned to his paramour. They chatted, mostly about work issues, kissing intermittently, the thrill of potentially being discovered by Potter in an embrace heightening the pleasure, until Potter returned, scrubbed clean, pink and glowing, fresh from the shower. He entered the room and stared at the two men for a moment before crossing to fix himself a drink. For reasons he couldn't identify, he felt the need of a little liquid reinforcement.
The two men occupied the sofa, sitting rather close together, so Harry sat in the arm chair. "Mr. Blackstone, again, please excuse my absence."
"Don't fret, dear boy," Blackstone told him, his tone imperious and condescending. "We hardly missed you."
Harry felt like he'd been slapped. The comment was so unexpected and hurtful, coming from a stranger, that Harry thought perhaps he must have heard the man wrong. Some of what he was feeling must have shown in his face, because Blackstone continued.
"I mean, of course, that Severus has been a perfectly pleasant host."
Oh. Was that all he meant? Harry squirmed uncomfortably in his chair. He did not like this man. He hoped Severus didn't plan on doing a lot of business with him, and bringing him into their home often. But Blackstone wasn't done.
"And certainly we all appreciate that you are presentable now. Severus tells me that you have finally gotten some playing time for Team England."
"Yes." Under other circumstances, Harry would have found some pleasurable pride in the fact that Severus had discussed him with another. That was lacking here.
"Tell us about it," Blackstone all but ordered.
"I played in three matches when the first-string seeker was injured by a bludger," Harry said. He'd wanted to tell Severus about his success. All of the joy he would have felt in that was nowhere to be found now.
"And I understand from the Prophet that you were successful in catching the snitch in those matches, and that your team consequently won."
Harry nodded stiffly.
"And those matches were against Portugal, Senegal and Uganda, were they not?"
Blackstone sat back, satisfied, as though he had scored some point.
"Ah," Severus offered, as though just understanding what it was that Blackstone was trying to say. "All three teams of inferior standing, if I don't miss my guess."
"Correct," confirmed Blackstone. "I think it possible that I could have caught the snitch against those particular teams." He chuckled at his own wit, and Severus joined in.
Had Severus' conscience not been deluged under a flood of pheromones, he might have felt a bit of guilt at the hurt look that crossed Harry's face.
"I, of course," continued Blackstone sanctimoniously, "find quidditch to be a complete waste of everyone's time and energy. A bunch of young people, with no discernible skills other than an otherwise useless ability to fly a broomstick, cavorting about the sky, throwing things at each other and attempting to catch a ball. Ridiculous." He turned to Severus beside him on the sofa. "Don't you agree, Severus?"
Severus looked into Blackstone's deep blue eyes and murmured, "I have often expressed that sentiment myself." And he had, but he'd always been joking when he'd made similar observations.
He wasn't joking now, Harry knew, and he added gut-punched to the list of things he was feeling.
"Master Snape, sir," said Birdy, the house elf, from the door. "Dinner is served."
"Ah, let us go in, then," Severus said. He stood and offered his arm to Blackstone, who stood and accepted it, and the two men walked away from Harry together. Harry sat where he was, looking longingly at the hearth, wishing he could floo out of here and never come back. This dinner was turning into a nightmare. Harry felt assaulted and wrong-footed by this man, and the fact that Severus was not only not standing up for Harry but was actively agreeing with the things this man said hurt deeply.
But he wasn't a coward, and he loved Severus, and he just knew that he couldn't leave. So he got up and very reluctantly followed the other men to the table.
Blackstone had not let up on Harry while they ate. He offered further derogatory comments about quidditch and quidditch players, and then he moved on to Gryffindors, short people, young people, Harry's hair. He made jokes thinly veiled with large words about Harry's lack of potionmaking skills and his lack of intelligence. More than once, Harry looked helplessly at Severus, feeling utterly betrayed by his partner's lack of support. Harry had eaten next to nothing, his stomach so tied in knots he could hardly breathe.
During pudding, the topic of conversation somehow turned to past partners. Harry had nothing to contribute, since he'd had none, not that he would have ventured his thoughts anyway, sure they'd be belittled. Blackstone seemed to have had his share and provided them with a litany of things he'd found annoying about each of them.
Harry was surprised when Severus opened his mouth, because as far as Harry knew, he'd been Severus' only real partner.
"What do you think about this?" Severus asked, directing his question at Blackstone. "Did you ever have a partner prepare a dinner for you, a dinner for which you were unavoidably detained, and then have that partner leave the dinner on the table, as some sort of subtle reprimand?"
And of course Harry knew that Severus was referring to himself last night. But he hadn't left the food on the table as a reprimand – he'd left it there thinking Severus might be hungry when he finally did get home. Had he really misconstrued Harry's motives that badly?
"I believe the Muggles refer to that as 'passive-aggressive'," Blackstone said. "When a person hasn't the bollocks to make his point face-to-face, like a man, but goes about it indirectly, much like a woman would," Blackstone agreed.
"Exactly," Severus said, sitting back in his chair with a smug expression, his eyes on Harry.
Harry couldn't stand this any longer. This was a new kind of Harry-hunting, a sport he thought he'd left behind a long time ago. This actually hurt worse, the pain in his chest, his heart, and his head threatening to force his stomach to regurgitate its meager contents. He threw his napkin into his plate and stood up quickly.
"If you'll excuse me, I have to . . . go." Harry's manners wouldn't allow him to just leave the room. "It was very nice meeting you, Mr. Blackstone. I hope to see you again soon." Lies, all of it lies, but Harry spit the words out, then made a beeline for the door.
Harry hadn't even thought about sleeping in the communal bed. He retired directly to the guest room, climbed into bed with all of his clothes on, covered his head with a pillow, and cried until the resulting headache forced him to stop. After tonight, he knew that Severus was through with him. There was no longer any doubt in his mind that this was over. The only question was would Severus leave him, or would he continue to torment Harry until he forced Harry out? Harry did not want to leave, he did not want to be separated from Severus, he did not want the only relationship he'd ever had or wanted to be falling apart. In his entire life, no one had ever wanted Harry. Oh, plenty of people had wanted to get close to the Boy Who Lived and the Man Who Defeated Voldemort, but no one had ever wanted Harry. Until Severus, who had never wanted anything to do with Harry's public persona and in fact had belittled Harry for it at every turn. He'd thought Severus was, finally, the one who understood and who would accept Harry despite all of his faults. That he'd been wrong, that he'd mistaken what he thought they'd had here so badly, nearly destroyed him. He prayed for the comfort of sleep, but it didn't come for a long time.
Harry didn't know how long it was later that Severus appeared in the doorway. "I thought you wanted to talk."
"No," Harry said miserably. Talking tonight would do no good. He would only cry, and Severus would only get angrier with him for it. Maybe they could talk tomorrow, but not now.
Severus could hear the tears in Harry's voice, and he took a perverse pleasure in it. By his best guess, in as little as a few days, he would be a free man. He shrugged and said, "Suit yourself," and took himself off to bed.
When Harry awoke the next morning, a Friday, he deliberately lay abed until he knew that Severus was gone. When he finally rose, he drank coffee but ate no breakfast and decided that he would spend the day, and perhaps even the night, with Ron and Hermione. He needed them now and knew that Hermione, especially, would be able to sympathize without patronizing and would likely be able to help him figure out just what Harry should do now. As he packed a small bag, just in case, he wondered if Severus would even notice he was gone.
Harry's friends had been sympathetic, listening to Harry as he poured out his troubles and some tears. Hermione had offered tea and a shoulder. Ron had offered insults regarding Severus' character and offers of physical retribution. He loved his friends so dearly, and he felt a little better when he woke up on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, they couldn't solve his problem, and Harry knew he couldn't put off going home forever. He flooed home first thing, leaving a note of thanks for Ron and Hermione, dropped his bag in the sitting room, and went to find Severus.
Severus was in the kitchen cleaning up his meager breakfast dishes. He made no attempt to speak to Harry when the younger man walked into the room, nor did he even look up.
Harry stood and stared at him for a second. "Did you even notice I was gone last night?" he asked.
"Your absence is hard to miss," said Severus.
"I was at Ron and Hermione's."
"What's wrong?" Harry asked. "Why won't you look at me?"
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Then look at me," Harry ordered.
Severus looked out the window, then turned to face Harry. But still he couldn't meet his lover's eyes. As much as he wanted Harry gone, now that he was out of Blackstone's immediate presence, he felt a tiny measure of guilt at what he was doing to the boy.
"Look at me!" Harry said again, taking a step closer to Severus.
Marshaling his formidable courage and scolding himself not to feel at all guilty about this, Severus raised his eyes to Harry's.
"Why?" Harry asked.
"Why? Why did you let that man attack me like he did? Why did you not come home until one a.m. without even letting me know you'd be late? What is going on?" Harry cried, though he knew. In his heart, he knew what all of this meant, but he needed to hear Severus say it.
"Let's not get hysterical," Severus chided.
"What do you expect me to be, Severus? You've been cold to me ever since I got back. And that thing in the bedroom the other night . . .? You won't talk to me. You can barely stand to look at me. I want to know what's going on!"
"I have many things to do this morning. Could this discussion wait?"
"No, it can't wait. We're going to – "
"Harry?" he heard Hermione call from the sitting room. "Harry, are you there?"
Harry glared at Snape. "You don't move," he ordered, his tone brooking no argument. "I'll get rid of her, and then we'll have this out, once and for all."
Harry stalked into the sitting room. "Hermione, now's not a good – "
"Are you all right?" Hermione interrupted. "When I saw the Prophet, I just had to check in with you."
"The Prophet?" Harry asked. "What does the Prophet have to do with it?"
"Oh my God! You haven't seen it! Harry, I – "
"Hermione, I really have to go. I'll talk with you later."
"Floo through if you need me," she instructed. Once she was gone, Harry warded the floo so they wouldn't be interrupted again.
When he returned to the kitchen, he was almost surprised to find Severus had obeyed him and was still there. Foregoing their talk for a few more minutes, Harry strode to the table and opened the paper which lay on the table after Severus had perused it while he ate. He didn't know what he was supposed to be looking for, but when he saw it, it was obvious. He sucked in a pained breath, heart and lungs on fire, as he stared down at the image. Of Severus and Blackstone. At a restaurant. Sitting really close, intimate-like. They were talking. And then Severus reached over and stroked the back of Blackstone's hand. Gently, sensually, affectionately. Harry stared and stared, while Severus watched Harry, waiting for the explosion that he suspected was coming.
The caption under the photo read: Severus Snape, current love interest of the Boy Who Lived, is captured at an intimate dinner with an unknown man on Wednesday. Is Harry Potter no longer the Chosen One of Severus Snape?
"How long has this been going on?" Harry asked, his voice dead.
Severus didn't see any reason to lie now. This was it. This was where he got rid of Potter once and for all. No sense in holding his punches now. "I've known him for some time. I met him through my work. We are . . . compatible."
"And you want him now? Not me?"
"I thought that you . . . I thought that we . . . Is it because I was gone so much?" Harry had thought that Severus appreciated Harry's frequent and extended absences, but maybe he'd been wrong. Maybe it had been those absences that had allowed Severus time to think about options.
"Frankly, Potter, I think your absences are the only reason I've been able to tolerate you as long as I have."
Harry drew in a shuddering breath. He was going to cry, he just knew it. "Please, Severus. Please, can't we just . . ."
"No, Potter. We can't."
Harry gulped in a large, wet breath. With the scant amount of pride he retained, he lifted his red, watery eyes to Severus and said, "These last three years have been the best of my life." And he turned and left the room.
Several days later, Harry returned to the house he'd shared with Severus to retrieve more of his belongings. When he'd left, he'd taken with him only a change of clothes, and he'd been wearing those clothes all week. He'd come today to get the rest of his clothing, his broom and some other treasured possessions, and his books.
He'd chosen a Thursday morning with the sure knowledge that Severus would be at work and he'd be alone to remove his things. Unfortunately, for some reason, Severus was in the sitting room when Harry flooed in. Harry stopped at the sight of him, his heart thumping painfully. He contemplated for a moment returning immediately into the floo, but it had taken him days to work up the nerve to come back here, and he wasn't sure he'd be able to do it again.
Harry and Severus stared at each other for an interminable moment. "I just – " Harry started to say, then thought better of it and turned away and trudged up the stairs.
When Harry entered the bedroom, he didn't have far to go. His trunk lay beside the door, already packed, looking much like a tombstone, a monument to an expired relationship. Apparently Severus had been anxious to rid himself of all reminders of Harry. Harry looked at it for a moment, sadness threatening to overwhelm him, and a tear or two crept out of his eyes without his realizing it.
Harry sighed and took a deep breath, then shrunk the trunk and slipped it into his pocket. His other things were downstairs, and he turned around, hoping against hope that Severus had left and he wouldn't have to face him. Apparently he was doomed to never have his way again, because Severus was still sitting in the armchair, and he looked up to observe Harry coolly when he re-entered the room.
Harry went into the front hallway to retrieve his broom from the cupboard. He then returned to the sitting room, withdrew the cardboard box he'd shrunk and placed in his pocket, resized it and placed it before the bookcase. He dropped to his knees and began to sort through the books, dropping those that were his into the box. There were many, but his box was made up of wizard space, so no matter how many he dropped in, the box never filled.
"Be sure you only take what is yours," Severus admonished.
Harry ignored him and continued his work.
"That Wharburton text on medicinal potions is mine," Severus said when Harry removed that particular treatise from the shelf.
Harry flipped the cover open. Clearly stamped in the front: "Black Library." He slammed the cover shut with as much noise as he could muster and threw the book into the box. He'd never read it, he knew, but he'd be damned if he was going to leave it here for Severus now. When he finally finished the task, the bookcase was satisfyingly empty. Most of the books had been brought here from Grimmauld Place when Harry moved in. He re-shrunk his box and placed it in his pocket.
Before Harry took up a handful of floo powder, he stopped, his back to Severus. "Was it all just a game for you?" he asked. "Were you using me to buy back your respectability? Did you ever have any feelings for me at all?"
"Potter, do you really want to get into this?"
"Yeah, I do," Harry said, giving in to a previously unknown masochistic streak. "I really do. Maybe if I know what I did wrong, I could fix it – fix us."
Harry heard Severus sigh. "In the beginning, it was just about what you could buy for me, what you could do for me. I thought perhaps I might develop feelings for you, over time. It certainly would have made things easier if I had. But I found that you were just not the type of man I could become attached to. It wasn't just your youth. It was everything – the way you eat, your lack of sophistication, your inability to carry on an intelligent conversation about subjects that interest me, your slovenly habits, your ridiculous, juvenile profession, the amount of noise you make. I had hoped that perhaps your youth would be of benefit in the bedroom, but I found that even there you were lacking. Oh, you were eager enough, but you lacked experience and expertise, and I found that you were as incapable of learning lessons in the sexual classroom as you were any other subject I ever tried to teach you."
Snape kept his voice cold, his words hurtful but not quite cutting. He'd heard the hope in Harry's question, hope that they could somehow mend what had been broken here, and Snape thought it best that he quash that hope now. He had no wish to destroy Harry's future. If the boy continued to cling to the hope that he and Snape would get back together, he'd not be able to get on with his life. It was better for him, better for both of them, that what they had together die in this room today.
Harry finally turned around to face Severus. "Severus, I would do anything, anything if you would just give me one more chance. I know that I can be better. I can be whatever you need me to be if you just give me another chance! Please!" Tears were flowing freely now, and Harry knew that he was begging. He knew that he was he was being pathetic and throwing away what little pride he had left, but he couldn't help it. Nothing in his life was more important than Severus, and if it meant debasing himself a little to get back what they had, he was more than willing to do it.
And this was exactly why Snape hadn't wanted to tell Harry that he wanted out – the tears, the pleading, the anguish. "There is nothing you can do. I do not want you, Potter. Accept that and move on."
Harry nodded once, feebly. He'd gambled it all, and he'd lost. He turned, grabbed his broomstick, and left his home for the last time.
"Harry James Potter!" Hermione said, pounding on the door to his flat. "You let me in this instant!"
Hermione waited for a response before trying once again to dismantle the heavy wards Harry had placed on his door. She knew she didn't stand a chance of breaking them, but she had to try something. No one had seen Harry for two weeks. Owls were being returned unopened. His new place wasn't connected to the floo network. He'd stopped showing up at quidditch practice, and after a week of trying to find him, the team had issued a press release stating that Harry Potter had been released for abandoning the team. Public opinion had been not kind, given that a week earlier, fans had been screaming for him to become the full-time seeker. Hermione herself hadn't seen Harry since that day he'd come to them, upset about the way Severus had been treating him. She could only assume that they hadn't been able to patch things up and that Harry was recovering from that blow by himself. She wouldn't even know where he was living if he hadn't owled her the day he'd leased this flat.
Hermione gave up on her attempts to break in. Harry was just too powerful – when he set a ward, no one was getting through it without an almost similar level of power and hours and hours to invest in the project. She lay a hand and her cheek against his door. "Please let me in, Harry," she begged. "I know you're in there. I can feel you. No one's seen you for days, and we're really worried about you. Ron said you wouldn't let him in when he came by yesterday."
Hermione felt herself close to tears. She knew Harry well enough to know that if he and Snape had ended things, Harry would be feeling it very strongly. He'd loved Snape, despite all of the reasons not to, and like everything else in his life, he'd thrown himself into the relationship with zest and every bit of his heart.
"Please, Harry. I only want to see you, to make sure you're okay. Won't you please let me in? I won't stay. I won't even come in if you don't want me to. I just want to see you."
On the other side of the door, Harry mirrored Hermione's gesture, palm flat, cheek pressed to the wooden door. He didn't want to see anyone right now, but he knew that she would not just give up. If he didn't see her now, she'd be back later, and tomorrow, and the day after that, until she'd satisfied herself that he was alive.
Hermione felt magic zing through the wards on the door, and she stepped back quickly. When Harry opened the door, it took every bit of self-control she had not to gasp at his appearance. His hair was sticking up in all directions, well beyond it's normal state of disarray. He had bags and dark circles under his eyes, which were a dull, lifeless pale shade of green. His clothing looked like he'd been sleeping in it for a week, he hadn't shaved, and though it was only ten o'clock in the morning, the smell of alcohol rolled off him in waves, which quite effectively masked the fact that he hadn't bathed in two weeks.
"Hermione, I'm fine," he stated, and she thought she'd never heard a more ridiculous statement.
"You are not fine, Harry," Hermione countered gently. "You look like hell."
Harry managed a weak smile at this, though there wasn't a trace of humor in it.
"May I come in?" she asked.
"I'd rather you didn't," Harry said. His flat was a mess: clothes strewn about, empty dishes and cups, some still containing food or forgotten tea, covered almost every available surface. And then there were the empty firewhiskey bottles. No, Harry would really rather Hermione not come in right now.
"All right," she conceded. "Did you – did you leave Severus?"
"He threw me out is more like it. You saw the picture in the Prophet. He's found someone else."
"Oh, Harry. I'm so sorry. Is there anything I can do? Would you like me to go hex him?" she offered, hoping to wring a real smile out of him.
"No, thank you," Harry said, as though she'd been serious. "I really appreciate your coming here today, and Ron yesterday, but I just need a little time by myself right now, to kind of get used to things in my mind."
"Are you sure that's best, Harry? Have you been eating?"
"I've been eating," he lied. Well, he had been eating, because no one could go two weeks without food and still be on their feet, but he hadn't been eating much. He'd lost weight, and his hands trembled constantly, though maybe that was because of the alcohol.
"I'm worried about you," Hermione confessed. "You could come and stay with Ron and me for a bit. We'd let you have your space. And we'd be there if you felt like talking."
"Thanks, Hermione, but I'm not really fit company right now. Thanks for coming by, but I really have to . . . go."
Hermione recognized the stubborn set of her friend's jaw and knew that pushing would get her nowhere. "All right, Harry. Thank you for letting me see you." Although it had hardly set her mind at rest. "When you're ready to talk, you'll let me know?"
"I'll owl," he promised.
Hermione drew him into her embrace, wrinkling her nose at his smell. Beyond his shoulder, she could see into his flat, and it looked in no better shape than he was. Hermione squeezed him tightly before letting him go.
"Take care of yourself, Harry. You know we're only an owl away."
"I know. Thanks."
Eyes downcast, Harry stepped back and shut the door. Hermione immediately felt the wards shift into place again. She sighed and turned to go.
Snape sighed and refolded the Prophet after reading yet another Where's-Harry?! story. Where had the brat got to, Severus wondered idly. Severus had known Harry would react badly to the break-up, but he hadn't suspected that he'd turn tail and run from the country. Octavius entered the room, and Severus put aside his thoughts of the troublesome urchin.
"Good morning," Severus said, smiling warmly, tilting his head, the invitation for a kiss obvious.
Blackstone ignored it and crossed to the teapot. He poured himself a cup and sat at the table opposite Severus. "Anything of interest in the Prophet?"
"Not particularly," said Severus. "Another story about Potter missing."
Blackstone narrowed his eyes at Severus. "Oh?" he said as he snapped the paper open.
"Yes. He still hasn't turned up."
"You're not concerned about him, surely?"
"What? No, no," Severus assured him with what he hoped was conviction. "Of course not." Severus sipped at his tea and nibbled at his toast. "Still, it is curious."
"Hmm? What is curious?" Blackstone asked without looking up.
"Harry. Potter. He's been gone a while now. No one's seen him. It's just – curious, is all."
"Surely you have better things to consume your time than mooning over the whereabouts of your former boy lover."
"I'm not mooning," Severus defended himself. "It's just – curious."
"Hmmph," Blackstone said, because he didn't think it was curious, or even interesting, at all.
"Perhaps we could go upstairs and engage in some activities which would take my mind off of . . .everything," Severus suggested.
Blackstone flicked his eyes up to Severus and looked back down. "Really, Severus, you sometimes act like a juvenile yourself. Have you thought any more about my ideas for expanding the business into eastern Europe?"
Chastened more by the tone of dismissal than the words, Severus sat back in his chair. His new lover apparently wasn't as enamored of the pleasures of the flesh as his last was. Harry would not have missed or ignored the invitation for a kiss. Harry would have leapt enthusiastically and immediately at any offer of sex, no matter what time of day. Octavius liked everything on a schedule, including his sex, and if it wasn't Tuesday or Thursday night, it wasn't happening. And even when it did happen, it was bland, vanilla, without imagination. Not like with Harry, who was –
Severus forced himself off this train of thought. It would get him nowhere. He'd made his decision – there was no going back.
But he did hope that Harry was all right.
"No, I haven't had the time," Severus countered. He was finding Octavius' interest in his business a little – smothering. He daily had suggestions on how Severus could do things better, contacts in the Ministry and elsewhere he should be cultivating, events he should be attending, potions he should be researching. Severus was perfectly content with the way things were going now and had no intention of changing anything. He liked being in charge and being the sole decision-maker. He had a sneaking suspicion that Octavius was working his way up toward insinuating himself into a more active role in the business. Severus had no intention of letting that happen. Octavius and he just didn't have the same vision for what the business was and should become. And he wasn't looking forward to the conversation where Octavius brought this up again and Severus finally had to say no.
Severus couldn't help but think that, annoying as Potter had been, he'd never tried to interfere in Severus' business.
Harry skittered around the corner, holding onto the door frame to maintain his balance, and into the room at St. Mungo's. Startled at the sudden appearance, Severus, reclining on the bed, looked up from the book he was reading. "Potter!" So the boy was alive! It had been five months since their break-up. The Prophet articles speculating about Harry's whereabouts had become less frequent as time had gone by, but no sightings of Harry had been reported in all that time.
"What happened?" Harry panted.
Severus had been about to tell him it was none of his damn business, but then he actually looked at Harry. The boy looked like he had some kind of terminal Muggle condition – he was thin to the point of emaciation, his skin had an unhealthy gray cast to it, his usually bright eyes were dull and lifeless, and he had black smudges and bags under his eyes. He looked like he hadn't eaten or slept in weeks, maybe months. Had he been ill? Is that why he'd been away?
His shock at the boy's appearance forced an answer to the question out of his mouth. "A minor potions accident. Exposure to fumes. I passed out. Everyone over-reacted. I'm quite ready to leave this place, but they won't release me unless they're assured I have someone to go home to. Some nonsense about a possible delayed reaction. Why are you here?"
"I guess I must still be your emergency contact. They emergency owled me. And I came right over because I thought . . . But you're okay. So I should go."
"Potter, you look like shite."
That caused a spark of the old Harry to shine in the boy's eyes, but only for a moment. "Sorry I don't measure up to your exacting standards. But then, I never did, right? No surprises there. You should change your emergency contact." Harry turned and started to leave.
"We should . . . talk."
"Talk to your new boyfriend," Harry countered, and he left.
Severus let him go. He'd love to talk to his new boyfriend, but Octavius still hadn't come, even though a nurse had floo called him hours ago. Harry, who had no obligation to him any longer, had raced here, concern for Severus over-riding whatever health issues he was facing and his self-imposed exile. His lover, on the other hand, was apparently too busy to leave his work to come here so that Severus could be discharged. For the thirty-seventh time this afternoon, Severus sighed in frustration and went back to his book.
Severus, still miffed at Octavius for leaving him at the hospital so long yesterday, sat in the sun room which Harry had insisted they add, sipping a cup of tea. Severus recalled how he had fought this addition to the house, arguing it was unnecessary. Harry had eventually bartered agreement for this room with blow jobs every night for a week, and Severus had decided it was well worth it. Truth be told, this room had become his favorite in the house. Sun came through the many windows almost all day and toasted the stone floor. Plants hung in splendorous profusion from the slanted ceiling, giving the air a moist, easy-to-breathe quality. It was tranquil here, soothing to the nerves. Harry had been right about it, as he had been about so many other important things.
Severus turned once again to the photo in the Prophet. The paper had apparently been notified that Harry was at St. Mungo's yesterday and had dispatched a reporter and photographer posthaste. They'd caught him as he left the hospital. Severus watched the tiny photo Potter stride through the frame, his eyes down, his jaw set. Harry suddenly stopped and whirled around, perhaps in response to a shouted question, and the camera caught him full-on. The caption read: "Harry Potter is captured leaving St. Mungo's yesterday after visiting former lover Severus Snape, who was admitted following a minor potions accident. Mr. Potter would not stop for comment."
Severus stared at that well-known face, distorted by time and ill health or some unknown medical condition. He looked weary to the bone, worn out by life, much older than his years. The more Severus thought about it, the more concerned he became. Harry had always vibrated with life and good health. Whatever caused him to look this way now was serious and was likely eating away at him from the inside out.
Severus knew, of course, that Harry had been ignominiously dropped from England's quidditch team in the days following their break-up. Perhaps that had been the beginning of whatever was causing him to look so ill now. He also knew, at least according to the Prophet, that Potter had become somewhat of a recluse. Perhaps that was also due to whatever he was suffering from.
Severus stared at the photo for a long time, as though he could discern just what was going on inside Harry from staring at his photo. But he got no answers from his perusal – only more questions. And more concerns. And the more concerned he became, the more he became convinced that he had to know what was going on with the young man. Perhaps he could help. Perhaps there was a potion. Just because their relationship had not lasted did not mean that Severus wished the boy ill health. He still – what? He still cared for Harry, that's what. He still cared for the boy. They'd been together for three years, and you didn't just stop – caring for someone when you'd been with them for that long. Right?
Severus sat up straight, some long-forgotten part of his conscience demanding that he be honest with himself, if no one else. He more than cared for Harry. He missed Harry. He missed the boy's presence here, in this room, in his bed, in this house, in his life. He hadn't appreciated what he had with Harry until he he'd lost it (thrown it away, really), and the scientific part of him, which had always approached difficult decisions to be made by listing the pros and cons of them, did so now. He didn't fetch quill and parchment – this was all done on the tablet inside his mind, but it went something like this:
Octavius was aloof and self-centered. Harry was playful and considerate and always thinking of Snape's happiness and pleasure. Octavius bottomed exclusively. While Snape preferred to top, he did on occasion enjoy receiving a good buggering. Harry had always been more than eager to follow Severus' lead in the bedroom. Octavius was a pureblood snob, and while he would never admit it out loud, Severus knew he looked down his nose at Snape for being halfblood. Harry, whose mother and best friend were mudbloods, couldn't have cared less about blood status. Octavius knew potions nearly as well as Severus did, and his attempts to gain some control over Snape's business were getting more frequent and vociferous. Severus used to think that Harry's ignorance in this area was a fault, but now he realized that while Harry showed polite interest in what Severus did, because it was important to Severus, he would never attempt to tell Severus how to run his company. Octavius was reserved and stately at all times. Even at rest, Harry seemed to emit an energy that filled the house when he was home and left it as quiet as a mausoleum when he was absent. Octavius had no hair. Severus had guessed that he would miss Harry's luxurious locks, but he'd underestimated just how fond he was of running his hands through that dark mane while Harry sucked him off. That had not become a huge issue with Octavius because the man refused to engage in fellatio, either on the receiving or the giving end. And rimming – the one time Severus had mentioned it, Octavius had been put off sex entirely for two weeks.
The two men were so totally different, in almost every way. Everything that Severus had thought was better about Octavius – his sophistication, his intelligence, his appreciation for potions, his reservedness – none of those things seemed like attractive qualities now.
At the end of his analysis, Severus could come to only one conclusion: He had made a terrible mistake. Could he fix it?
First, he needed to find out what exactly was wrong with Harry. He knew the place to go for this information: Ron and Hermione Weasley. Well, maybe just Hermione Weasley. From what he knew of the youngest Weasley son, Ron would be more apt to hex Severus than answer any of his questions now. Hermione was protective of Harry as well, but she had better control over her temper. Yes, he would owl her at once and ask her to come here. If she refused, he would go to her and risk Ron Weasley's wrath.
Second, he needed to end things with Octavius, immediately. Unfortunately, the man was out of town on a buying trip and wasn't due back until tomorrow. But when he returned, Severus intended to sit down with him immediately and tell him that it was over.
His heart lighter than it had felt in a very long time, Severus conjured parchment and quill and scribbled a quick note to Hermione Weasley.
"Mrs. Weasley. Thank you for coming."
"You said it was important."
"Yes, I did. It is." Severus stepped back away from the door. "Please, come in."
Once they were settled in the sun room with tea and scones, Severus began.
"I have made a lot of mistakes in my life, Mrs. Weasley. But I fear the biggest mistake I have made concerns Harry." He had difficulty meeting her eye, but he forced himself to do so. "I thought I wanted something different. I thought I wanted someone who was more sophisticated, more like myself. Someone who shared the same interests. But I was wrong. Over time, I have come to realize just how much Harry meant to me. There is a hole in my life that he once filled, and Octavius Blackstone cannot even begin to fill it. I have realized that my driving Harry away was a huge mistake. And I asked you here today to ask if you thought that I have any chance of rectifying this mistake."
"You want Harry back?" Hermione asked.
"I do. I want that more than anything."
Hermione sat back in her chair and eyed Severus.
"He came to the hospital yesterday. Did you know?" Severus asked.
"I saw the photo."
"He looks horrible. Is he suffering from some illness?"
Hermione stared at him for a time before she answered him. She'd sized him up, thought about whether he seemed sincere in his remorse and second thoughts, and determined that he was.
"He's not physically ill, Severus. He's very deeply depressed. And he has been since the day you turned on him. He drinks too much, he eats very little, he never goes out. He's not capable now of holding a job. He's not even capable of taking care of himself, but he's too stubborn to let anyone help him. He sits around in his flat all day, alone. I don't know what he does there all day. He won't let me into the flat, but every few days, he'll come to the door so that I can see he's still alive. He looks worse every time I see him."
She paused for a moment, staring at Severus with watery, concerned eyes. She took a deep breath and continued. "I live in fear, every day, that someone will floo to tell me that Harry has killed himself, that he just couldn't take it any more, and he . . ." Hermione couldn't bring herself to say it. She'd taken a risk telling Severus these things. She knew Harry would be incredibly displeased with her, but she needed him to know exactly what she had done to Harry with his behavior. She needed him to understand just how serious the situation was. And she hoped with all her heart that he could do something about it.
"I had no idea," Severus whispered. And he hadn't. He'd thought Harry's condition must be the result of a physical ailment. To find that he'd allowed himself to waste away, that he was depressed because of what Severus had done, struck him hard. He had to fix this. "What can I do to help him?" he asked.
"It's not going to be easy. He's been hurt very deeply. He loved you, Severus. Actually, I'm pretty sure he still does or I wouldn't be telling you this. But he's gone deep inside himself, and it's going to take an effort to get him back."
"I am determined, Mrs. Weasley, to do just that," Severus said sincerely.
"Hermione," she corrected. He'd called her Hermione, back when they were friends through Harry's connection with Severus.
He smiled at her. "Hermione. Do you have suggestions on how to start?"
"Have you gotten rid of the other man?" Hermione asked boldly.
"He's out of town. When he returns tomorrow, I shall take care of that."
"Harry's not going to let you in if you go there on your own. I'm due for a visit with him in a couple of days."
"I'd like to go right away," Severus argued.
"And if he were to ask you if you were still with Blackstone? Are you going to lie to him? Or are you going to be forced to tell him that you haven't broken it off with him yet. No. You take care of Blackstone, and then you can go to Harry with a clean slate. Friday. I'll come here at ten, and we'll go to Harry's flat together. I'll get him to open the door, and then you take it from there. He's going to hate me for this, but something's got to change. I won't let him live this way any longer. I should have done something before now, but I wasn't sure what to do."
Severus had little choice but to agree. He needed her help.
"Severus," said Octavius when he stepped through the floo. "How very nice to see you."
Severus couldn't seem to stop comparing his former lover with his current. Harry would have flung himself on Severus after being away for two days.
"Octavius," Severus acknowledged.
Octavius withdrew a parchment from his pocket and thrust it toward Severus. "I have more ideas on how to expand your product line. We should discuss them as soon as possible."
Severus took the parchment, folded it without looking at it, and put it in the folds of his robe. "We should speak now."
"Oh," Octavius said, sounding surprised. "Excellent."
They seated themselves on chairs in the sitting room, facing each other but not touching.
"I have been doing some thinking these last couple of days," Severus began. "I don't think this," he waved a hand between himself and Octavius, "is going to work. I thought that you were what I wanted, but I find that I was wrong. There is no passion, no great feeling even. I think you would admit this."
Octavius seemed surprised by this. "But what is passion when there are mutual goals and intellectual compatibility?"
At least he admitted that there was no passion. "Months ago I would have felt the very same way. But now that I have lived without the passion, I find that it is much more important than I had previously thought."
"So, this is it, then? I rather expected we'd last a little longer than this." He sighed, though there wasn't a lot of disappointment in the sound. "Well, I shall go upstairs and pack then. I suppose you'll be returning to Potter?"
"I don't know," Severus confessed. "I would like to, if he will have me back."
"I wish you well, Severus, with everything." Octavius got up and left the room.
Even breaking up with the man was devoid of passion and feeling.
After Octavius left, Severus sat and thought for a long time about what he would say to Harry when he saw him tomorrow. He planned to state his case as briefly and succinctly as he had done to Hermione yesterday. She'd been fairly easily swayed that he was serious, and he suspected Potter would fall just as quickly. He was certain that they'd be able to pick up where they'd left off without too much trouble. Given what he'd seen of Harry's condition, the boy must be desperate to come back, and he felt sure he only needed to make Harry aware that he wanted him to come home, and the boy would be his again.
By tomorrow night, Harry would be back in his life, in his bed. He could hardly wait.
Despite his well-thought-out plan, Severus stood nervously in the hallway outside Harry's door. He looked at Hermione, and the anxiety he was feeling must have shown in his eyes, because she said, "Is he worth it, Severus?"
He'd expected words of encouragement. "Yes," he admitted.
"He's not going to make this easy. I hope you're not expecting him to just take you back. While I think he wants that, you've hurt him terribly. And as forgiving as he is, I don't think he's going to be able to just throw his arms around you and agree to come home. If you're prepared for that and prepared for the effort it's going to take to get him back, I'll do this."
Severus was sure, and he was certain he had what it took to convince Harry. But he really didn't think it was going to take that much effort. He nodded once, resolutely.
Hemione gestured for Severus to stand away from the door, then knocked, three times rapidly, her identifying knock so that Harry would know it was her. Moments later, Harry opened the door, looking as horrible as he usually did. "Hello, Hermione. As you can see, still alive. Thanks for coming."
"Harry," she interjected quickly, before he could shut the door in her face. "Harry," she began again when he showed signs of willingness to listen. "You've been suffering for a long time. I thought you'd get better on your own, but you haven't, and it's time I took some action. I hope you won't hate me for this, but I love you, and I can't watch you suffer any more."
Hermione stepped away from the door as Harry said, "Hermione, what are you –" He stopped when he spotted Snape lurking in the hallway. He turned accusing eyes on her.
"Harry, I'm really sorry," Hermione said sincerely before she turned and left them.
"What do you want?" Harry asked, his voice hard.
Severus took a moment to take in Harry's condition once again. The poor boy – he was obviously in desperate straits and needed Severus back in his life, taking care of him. "I'd like to talk to you."
"Why?" Harry demanded, not moving an inch. "Are there some insults you forgot to throw at me last time we saw each other? If this is some effort by Hermione to interfere with how I choose to live my life – "
"You call this living?" Severus interrupted. "Look at you."
"Oh, so you have come to insult me. Well, thanks, but I've had enough of that." And Harry made to close the door.
"No!" Severus said, wondering just how this had gone so wrong so fast. He put a hand out to stop the door.
Harry glared at the hand. "Move it, or I'll do it for you."
Severus stared at Harry. This hard young man was not the Harry he knew. He had to make Harry understand why he was here, and he had no intention of leaving until he had done so.
"I need to speak with you. Please."
"Tough. You gave up the right to ask me to do anything months ago."
"I know. That's why I'm here. I won't take much of your time. Please let me in."
"No." There was no way Harry was letting Severus in to see his flat.
"Then you leave me no choice. Petrificus totalus." He said it so suddenly, and Harry's instincts were so dulled by non-use and drink, that he made no move to defend himself. He stiffened and fell to the floor. Severus cast a cushioning charm before he could injure himself. He entered Harry's dingy, smelly flat, levitated the boy over to the sofa, and closed the door.
Before releasing Harry from the spell, Severus took his time to look around. The place was disgusting: Dirty dishes growing mold on leftover food, soiled clothing littering the floor, copies of the Prophet stacked in several places, dust several inches thick on every surface, empty liquor bottles standing in silent testament to how Harry had been handling the end of his relationship. Harry had never been the world's greatest housekeeper, but he'd never been this slovenly. The flat looked as though it had not been cleaned or even picked up once since Harry moved in here.
While he perused the room, Severus looked for Harry's wand, thinking he should probably have hold of it before he released Harry. He couldn't see it, though it was possible there was a hippopotamus in this room that he couldn't see.
Hoping for the best, he cleared off the only chair in the room and sat down. He stared at Harry for a moment. The boy's green eyes, showing plenty of life now, glared back at him.
"If I release you, will you give me your word that you will not hex me?" He knew well Harry's power and that the boy didn't need a wand to curse him sufficiently.
Harry's look of "you've got to be kidding" was hard to misinterpret.
"Shall I only release your mouth, then, so that you can speak? If you'd prefer, I can leave you like this, and I'll tidy up a bit here."
Harry's hard stare told him he'd better not dare.
"Will you behave then?"
Harry's eyes, always so expressive and easy for Severus to read, now showed reluctant agreement, if only to have him gone.
"All right. I'm going to release you now. Finite incantatum." Severus watched Harry warily for a moment until the boy was in complete control of his muscles and hadn't hexed him. Harry swayed slightly as he sat up, but Severus wasn't sure if that was a result of the alcohol fumes coming off him or a residual of the spell.
"Talk fast," he spit out.
Severus took a deep breath. "I have been thinking about things. I believe that I may have made a grave mistake. I have come here today to tell you that I miss you and that I want you back." There. Now Harry knew. Now they could put this unfortunate period in their lives behind them and begin to repair their relationship, get things back to the way they used to be.
"You want me back?" Harry repeated. He threw his head back and laughed and laughed, the sound high and maniacal.
Severus stared at him. Had the boy's months of solitude and excessive intake of alcohol and negligible intake of food caused some sort of brain damage?
When Harry had laughed himself out, he sat for a moment, clutching at his side and breathing deeply. When he looked up at Severus again, all the humor in his eyes had died. "Do you have any idea what you've done?"
Well, that was unexpected. Severus could only shrug, not sure what Harry was getting at or what he wanted to hear.
"I loved you. And you took that – and it was gentle and sweet and true – and you took that love and you filed it to a point with your cruelty, and you used it to stab me right in the heart. And I let you, because I loved you. And you did it over and over and over and over again until finally even I couldn't ignore what you were trying to tell me."
"You should drink to excess more often," Severus said, hoping to lighten the moment. "You are much more eloquent this way."
"You see?! That right there! You insult me just as easily as you breathe. I know you think I'm stupid. Recent evidence likely bears that out. But I loved you, and I thought that would count for something. It should have counted for something. Do you think he would be drinking himself to oblivion trying to forget you, if you threw him out?"
"You could go ask him," Severus tried to say, but Harry motored right over him.
"No, because he's too smart for that. It's only fools like me who would pine for someone who never wanted me, Harry, to begin with."
"He's gone, Harry. I ended my relationship with him yesterday."
"Bully for you. You need to go now."
This isn't at all how Snape had thought this would go. "Didn't you hear me? I ended it with Octavius."
"Yeah, I heard you. Doesn't make any difference. Did you think you could just waltz in here and I'd come running back?"
Well, yes, that's exactly what he'd thought, actually. "I want you to come home, Harry." He looked around him. "It's obvious that you're not doing well here. You never go out. This place looks like a dump. And you look like you haven't bathed in months."
"I got thrown off the quidditch team. You forgot that." Harry leaned forward and reached under the sofa. He pulled out a firewhiskey bottle, tossed it aside when he saw it was empty, and reached under for another. This one had a couple of fingers left in it, and Harry popped the top and drank it all down in one swallow.
"And you drink too much. Your life has fallen apart."
Harry stared at him, then pointed the empty bottle at him. "I like my life. Why on earth should I give it up for you?" He dropped the bottle at his feet.
Snape sighed in frustration. "It's obvious that you need help, Harry. Do you even know where your wand is? I want you to come home with me now, and we'll get you cleaned up and get your life back on track."
"You've got a lot of nerve, Severus Snape," Harry said, peering at him with one eye open and the other squinted halfway shut. "And, also, you can go to hell."
"What is it, exactly, that you want from me? You come here, you insult me, you tell me you've kicked old stick-up-his-arse out and that you want me back, but you know what you haven't done? You haven't apologized for what you did, and you haven't given me one single reason why I would even want you back."
"I will say I'm sorry, if you need to hear it," Severus said. "And I am. Truly. But I'd rather show you how sorry I am."
"Phhhhht!" was Harry's irreverent response to that. "It's always been about what you want, hasn't it?" Harry pointed a shaking finger at Severus. "You are a selfish man."
"So tell me what you want, Harry. Tell me what you need, so that we can go home."
"Well, first of all, I'm not going home with you. This is my home. And you want to know what I need?" When Severus nodded, Harry continued. "You know, I've had a lot of time to think about things these past few weeks. And this is what I figured out: There are people in this world who aren't very nice, people like Bellatrix LeStrange and Lucius Malfoy . And there are people in this world who aren't traditionally attractive, like, say, Hagrid or that Bulstrode girl I went to school with. But Bellatrix and Lucius both found someone who could overlook their personalities and love them. Hagrid's got Madame Maxime. Even Millicent got married. I know I'm not very smart, but I try to be a good person, and I don't go around being mean to people on purpose. And I know I'm no male model, but I'm average anyway, right? So why do those people have someone to love them and I don't? Is it because they deserve it more than I do?"
Harry didn't wait for an answer. "And then I found this." He reached into his back pocket and removed a folded square of worn Muggle paper. "You're going to sneer at this, I know." He handed the paper to Severus, who unfolded it. On the paper was a drawing of a heart, rent almost in two, containing these words:
Love is . . .
Love isn't . . .
Severus turned the paper over. The back contained telephone numbers for a Muggle family violence crisis hotline. He turned the paper back over and read the words again. Strangely, he didn't feel like sneering. Had he become his father? Was he the kind of man that partners called these numbers for?
Severus handed the paper back to Harry. "I find nothing there worth sneering at," he said quietly. "Those are admirable traits to aspire to. Harry, I can be those things for you," Severus said with sincerity.
"I never wanted you to change," Harry said. "I fell in love with you the way you were – sarcastic and spiteful and critical. I even began to find some humor in your cutting remarks. But then you did change. When you took up with that . . . bloke, you became downright vicious and mean. And it wasn't funny any more. It hurt. It hurt really, really bad."
To Severus' dismay, Harry was crying now. Harry fell sideways onto the couch, covered his face with his hands, and wept. Severus stared at him in horror. What did he do now? Should he approach Harry? Would Harry hex him for the presumption? When Severus realized Harry was snoring, he breathed a small sigh of relief. Checking to be sure Harry was deeply asleep, Severus stood up, wrinkled his nose in disgust at the filth around him, and got to work.
An hour later, Harry's flat was reasonably clean, his dishes had been washed and put away, and his dirty laundry washed, dried and folded neatly on Harry's bed. Severus wanted desperately to toss Harry into the shower, but he settled for a fairly strong cleaning charm. When he'd finished, he paused to write a note:
I will be back tomorrow for tea, which I will bring. Do not try to keep me out as I have modified your wards to let me in. It would be wonderful if you had showered and put on clean clothes.
I am not going to give up until you realize that I am sincerely sorry and determined to prove that to you. This is my one warning that I am not going away.
P.S. I found your wand. It is on the kitchen table.
He placed the note where Harry would see it when he woke, kissed the sleeping man on the forehead, and let himself out.
Striving for a polite, bland expression, Severus knocked on the door to Harry's flat the following day, though he didn't expect to be allowed in. Sure enough, even copying Hermione's knock brought no one to the door. Did Harry think he'd been kidding about the wards yesterday? With a small sigh, Severus set himself to opening the "back door" he'd installed in Harry's wards yesterday. It hadn't been easy – Harry was a powerful and gifted wizard – but he knew Harry's magic intimately, and he'd finally established a way around the wards that only Snape himself could access. Even Harry couldn't close this door.
Once he'd gained admittance to the flat, Severus looked around. The room looked much as it had yesterday when he'd left, except that there was no Harry in it. Had the boy gone out?
"Homenum revelio," Snape said under his breath.
In the corner, by the window looking out onto the street, the air seemed to shimmer – Harry, under the invisibility cloak.
Snape looked down at the bunch of flowers he carried. He'd brought them as a peace offering, and to brighten up the place. He strode into the kitchen, ignoring Harry's hidden presence for now, and looked for something to place the flowers in. The best he came up with was an empty glass, and he arranged the flowers in it, filled it with water, and returned to the sitting room.
After placing the flowers on the table, Severus turned his attention to the two rooms in the flat he hadn't seen yesterday. The bedroom was every bit as dirty and untidy as the main rooms had been (Severus was pleased to note that Harry had put away the clothing he'd washed yesterday), but the small bathroom was just disgustingly filthy. Severus started there, using the most powerful cleaning charms he knew. Judging by the state of the bathtub, Severus guessed his estimation of when Harry had last bathed was correct. Once the bathroom looked shiny and new, Severus moved on to the bedroom. He banished the bedding, freshened the mattress, and conjured new sheets and a duvet. He cleaned and tidied, banishing several more firewhiskey bottles in the process, until he was satisfied with the room's appearance.
Only then did he return to the sitting room and prepare to confront his former lover.
The bag he'd placed beside the flowers was untouched, and Severus removed from it two cups of tea, which he reheated, and a plate of the croissants that he knew Harry loved. He set everything on the table and then sat down.
"You may as well come out from under there. I'm not going away."
A dramatic, huffed sigh sounded from the corner, then the cloak was pulled away to reveal Harry, wearing the same clothes he'd been wearing yesterday, glaring at Severus. "What are you doing here?"
"I told you I'd come back," Severus said with a shrug.
"I don't want you here. How did you get in?"
"I told you I modified the wards. While you were passed out yesterday."
"How?" Harry demanded.
"I'll not tell you that now. Perhaps when you're . . . better."
"I've a telephone, you know. I can call the authorities and have them drag you out of here." Severus didn't need to know that service had been disconnected because Harry hadn't paid the bill.
"Muggles?" Severus asked, unimpressed.
"You won't use magic against them," Harry said, certain of that.
"No, but I will explain to them how your mental state is of such a concern to me that I felt compelled to force my way in here. I believe the Muggles have some sort of system in place for this type of thing, involuntary commitment to a mental health facility, I believe they call it. For the subject's own good, of course."
"You wouldn't dare!" Harry accused.
Severus sipped his tea. "Try me."
"I'm beginning to hate you," Harry told him.
"When did you last eat?" Severus asked, pointedly ignoring that last observation, because he hoped desperately that it was not true.
"What difference does that make to you?"
"None, I suppose, except that you look like a strong breeze would blow you away. Why don't you come and sit? I brought those croissants you like."
Harry's nose twitched, as though smelling the offering, and he took a tiny step toward the table. "I don't want to eat with you."
"Suit yourself," Severus said with feigned unconcern. "I'll just eat mine, and then I'll be on my way."
"I will be back tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that, until I am assured you that are looking after yourself properly."
Harry rolled his eyes but otherwise didn't move. He watched as Snape finished off one croissant then reached for another. Suddenly, he was flinging himself into the other chair, across from Severus, and reaching for a croissant with a muttered, "You'll probably eat them all."
Severus hid a smile and pushed a warmed cup of tea toward Harry.
Severus had brought a dozen croissants. He intended to leave the remainder with Harry when they'd eaten their fill. It quickly became apparent that there would be no "remainder". Severus ate two croissants, and Harry packed away the rest. As Severus watched Harry eat, he was hit in the gut with the fact that he had done this to Harry. He had caused the boy to stop eating, to lose his coveted place on the quidditch team, to live like a dirty hermit in this hovel. This was all his fault. He'd thought he no longer wanted or needed Harry, that the proverbial greener grass was the place for him, but he'd been so wrong. Suddenly he felt angry at himself and an overwhelming sense of sadness that the great man he'd known a year prior had been reduced to this, and he had to get away, both for himself and for Harry.
He cleared his throat to rid it of all the unbidden emotion. "I will be going now," he said, and he stood up. He wanted to come back tonight, to make sure Harry got another meal into him, but he couldn't. He knew Harry would only balk at this, and he had to respect, at least to a point, the boy's wishes.
"Good," Harry muttered around a mouthful of pastry.
"I will be back tomorrow." And because it was the next step in the process, and an important one, he added, "If you have not showered by then, I will take care of that for you, too."
"Fuck you," was Harry's only response.
Patience, Snape thought to himself, another of the six virtues as he'd begun to think of them. As is commitment and caring.
"I will see you tomorrow," Snape promised.
"Bring jam next time," Harry muttered.
When Severus arrived the following day, he politely knocked again, then forced his way through the wards when Harry didn't respond. Harry was sleeping on the sofa, passed out more likely, if the smell coming from the boy was anything to judge by. Severus had brought another bunch of flowers and some groceries, and he placed these in the kitchen beside the bag of croissants and tea. He wandered through Harry's flat, picking up another empty bottle of firewhiskey in his travels. When he had finished his circuit of Harry's tiny home, he returned to the sitting room and dropped into the chair, where he sat for a time, watching Harry as he slept.
When Harry's eyes finally opened, he was staring straight at Severus. His eyes widened comically and he shot up off the sofa. "Fuck!" he exploded. "Don't scare me like that! What are you doing here again?"
"I believe I told you I would be back."
"What part of I don't bloody want you here are you not getting?!" Harry demanded angrily.
"I also told you that I would stop coming when I was certain you were taking proper care of yourself."
"I'm fine," Harry muttered.
"You don't look fine." Harry was, again, wearing the same clothes he'd been wearing yesterday, so he was going on at least three days in them. His hair was greasy and matted, and Severus' finely-honed Potions Master's nose could smell Harry's unwashed body from where he was sitting. "Did you forget what I told you I would do if you hadn't showered?"
Harry glared fiercely at him. "Don't you fucking dare!"
"I'd prefer not to," Severus admitted, calm in the face of Harry's ire. "But before I leave today, you will be clean, and you will not be wearing the same clothes you've been wearing for at least the last three days. Will you do so of your own accord, or will I have to assist you?"
Harry crossed his arms defiantly and lay back on the sofa.
Severus sighed. Did the boy have to make everything so difficult? "I warned you," he said. "Petrificus totalus." Harry went rigid, his green eyes snapping at Severus.
Severus righted him and floated him into the bathroom. He left Harry hovering while he started the shower and went into the bedroom to retrieve clean clothing. When he returned, he studied Harry's form, deciding on the best way to proceed. Harry's clothes were fit only for the rubbish bin anyway, so he pointed his wand at the boy and banished his clothing straight off him. Harry's eyes widened in alarm when Severus pointed his wand at him, then narrowed in anger when he realized what Severus had done.
Severus had to use a great deal of will power not to look over Harry's naked form as he lifted him into the shower. He couldn't help but notice, however, how very thin the boy was, his ribs standing out prominently front and back. "Is the water too warm?" he asked once he had Harry underneath the spray. Harry only stared back defiantly.
Being sure to keep Harry's eyes clear of the spray, Severus washed and rinsed Harry's hair twice. He soaped up a flannel and began to run it over Harry's body, washing everything he could get at with Harry's muscles locked into position as they were. When he had finished, he looked into Harry's eyes and was mortified to find the boy was crying.
"Merlin, Harry!" he breathed, and he ended the petrificus spell. Harry's body immediately went limp, and he would have fallen to the floor of the tub if Severus hadn't caught him. Sobbing loudly now that he could, Harry hung limply in Severus' arms. Severus just held him awkwardly for a moment, wondering what he should do now. He finally decided they'd come this far, they might as well finish, and he took up the flannel again and proceeded to wash the rest of the boy. Harry didn't protest or fight him in any way, but when Severus ran the flannel between his legs and over his genitals, he wailed louder.
"We're done, Harry," Severus said, feeling drained. "Let's get you out of there."
Harry clung to Severus until he'd been pulled free of the bathtub and then let go, whereupon he slumped to the bathroom floor, still crying. Feeling like the world's most awful person, Severus stood over him, unsure what to do. Finally, he found a towel, dropped to his knees by the boy's side, and began to dry him gently. "Please don't cry, Harry," he begged. "I'm sorry about this. I'm sorry about all of it. Let's just get you up and dressed, and then we'll get something to eat, all right?"
Harry only sniffled in return, but he did stay in a sitting position when Severus pulled him up. And he helped a little when Severus dressed him, placing his arms and legs where directed. Harry swayed a little when hauled to his feet, and Severus pulled him close to steady him. Harry rested his head against Severus' shoulder and just stayed there. Unwilling to break the unexpected closeness of the moment, Severus held him until Harry seemed to realize what he was doing and pulled away from the older man, leaving Severus feeling bereft of his touch.
He followed Harry out to the table, and when Severus placed the croissants and jam before him, Harry fell to with alacrity. Severus had already eaten, but he sat and watched the boy while sipping on a cup of tea. When Harry finally finished, having eaten only eight pastries today, Severus spoke.
"I'm sorry about earlier. You needed to bathe, and I . . . well, I'm sorry in any event. I have brought you some groceries, as I noticed that you didn't have anything to eat when I was here yesterday. There's milk and bread and tea and some other things. I'd like it if you'd fix yourself something later today. You're much too thin."
Harry didn't respond, looking down at his fingers as they clutched around the mug of tea.
"I will come back tomorrow," Severus continued. "I will bring more croissants unless you'd like something else. I would like to begin the detoxification spell tomorrow morning."
Harry's head came up at this, his face clearly registering the indignation he felt at Severus' suggestion.
"Don't pretend you don't need it," Severus sternly advised. "You've been half-drunk almost constantly now since . . . for several months. Your body won't let you just stop, not without some intervention, and you are going to stop this destructive lifestyle you've been living. You're going to do this not because I care too much about you to see you waste away. No, you're going to do this for yourself. It is not going to be easy, but I will remain with you to see you through the worst of it. When I leave, I will take with me any remaining spirits you have. Hopefully you will not feel compelled to imbibe any more."
Severus stood. "I will leave you now. I am . . . sorry about this morning. Please take care of yourself until I return."
Harry said nothing at all, and Severus turned and walked away.
Snape had to force his way through the wards when he returned the following day. Harry was at least awake this time, and not hiding beneath his invisibility cloak, when Severus stepped into his living room. He was met with hostility immediately.
"I don't want you here, and I don't want you fucking touching me."
"I have no plans to touch you," Severus informed him. "I can cast the spell from here."
"If you do, I will never forgive you. And I will hex you six ways to Sunday," Harry informed him.
"If you can sit there and look me in the eye and tell me you don't have a problem, then I will go." Severus had no intention of leaving it at that. He knew the boy had a problem, whether he was willing to admit it or not, and he was not leaving here today until it had been dealt with.
Harry's green eyes locked on Severus'. "I do have a problem. But it's not with alcohol. It's with you."
"So the fact that you've been drunk at ten in the morning three days running gives you no cause for concern?"
Harry looked away now. "I don't need you, you know. I have friends."
"Friends who have let you wallow for months. Mrs. Weasley knows that I am here today, and she knows what I am doing. And she heartily approves. I can accept that you don't need me, Harry, but only if you demonstrate for me that you are capable of pulling yourself together enough to resume living your life. As long as you stay ensconced here, not eating, not working, and drinking, I'll have no choice but to interfere with this so-called life of yours. Do you want to rid yourself of me?"
"More than anything," Harry said firmly.
"Than let's get this over with," Severus said, praying the boy didn't really mean it. "Once you're cured of your dependence, you can begin to get everything else back. And then I'll leave you alone."
"I'll never have everything back, will I?" Harry challenged.
"You can if you want it," Severus answered softly.
"Well, I don't," Harry said, certainly sounding sure. "And if it's the only way to get rid of you, then I'll agree to let you do this. Are you going to rape me in the shower first?"
Severus sighed. What he'd done yesterday hardly constituted rape, though he could certainly see how Harry might have felt violated. "No, showering first would make no sense. This process will be . . . messy. You should eat first, though."
Without another word, Harry got up from the sofa and went to sit at the table, waiting. Severus followed and placed before him the bag of croissants he'd brought. He removed from his pocket several potions and lined them up on the table. Severus could tell that Harry was curious about them, but the boy didn't allow himself to inquire about them. Stubborn git.
Harry ate silently, and when he was finished, Severus handed him one of the potion vials. "Go into the bathroom and drink this. It will completely clean your bowels, so be prepared."
Harry blushed and looked about to argue, so Severus cut him off before he could get started. "Better there, now, than out here, later."
Harry apparently saw the wisdom of this and took the vial without further comment. As he made his way to the bathroom, Severus called after him, "Wear something comfortable. The next few hours are going to be difficult."
Harry began to feel the effects as soon as Severus cast the spell upon him. His heartbeat sped up, until Harry thought sure it was going to bound completely out of his chest. He began to sweat profusely, and the shaking in his hands, present for weeks now, became almost violent.
He placed a hand over his heart. "I don't feel so good," he groaned.
"It has begun," Severus told him. "Your body will be ridding itself of the toxins you've subjected it to. It has taken months for them to build up, and it will take several hours for them to work their way out. Is there something you would like to do to take your mind off things for a bit?" Severus knew that after the first hour, there would be nothing that could distract Harry from the torture his body would be putting him through. But now, while it was still possible, he should try. "Have you a book to read?"
"No," Harry croaked. "I've not been to the library for a while." Severus remembered how much grief he'd given Harry when Harry had come home with a card from the local Muggle library. When they'd begun their relationship, Severus had been surprised to learn that Harry actually liked to read. And he liked to read Muggle literature. Severus had teased him about it mercilessly, until he'd actually read some himself and begun to see the appeal. Another thing Harry had been right about.
"I have some with me today. Have you read any of these?" Severus removed from the satchel several books he'd brought with him and handed them to Harry. He'd intended to occupy himself with them, but he was willing to share.
Harry looked them over and handed all but one back to Severus. "I haven't read this one."
"Please, feel free," Severus offered.
Harry settled back on the sofa and opened the book to the first page. It soon became apparent that the shaking in Harry's hands was going to make it impossible to read.
"I can't," he said, frustrated. "I can't see the words."
"Give it here," Snape instructed. When Harry did, Severus opened the book and began to read, "'In the latter days of July in the year 185–, a most important question was for ten days hourly asked in the cathedral city of Barchester . . .'" (from Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope).
Severus read, and Harry listened, stopping only briefly when Harry turned onto his side and vomited over the edge of the sofa. Severus banished the mess without thought and continued reading as though nothing unusual had happened.
After forty-five minutes, Harry groaned loudly. "I really don't feel good." He turned his head and tried to vomit, but he'd emptied his stomach pretty effectively earlier, and there wasn't much to bring up. Severus banished what there was and then retrieved a second potion from the table. "This will help with the nausea."
Harry gratefully drank it down and felt its immediate relief. "You couldn't have given that to me earlier?" he groused.
"It was necessary for you to empty your stomach first."
"Bastard," he whispered. "Is it normal for my heart to race like this?"
Severus placed two fingers on the pulse point in Harry's neck, which caused the boy to flinch. Harry was right – his heart was beating twice as quickly as normal.
"Yes, that's normal. And unfortunately, I don't have anything that will help with that. Is it uncomfortable?"
"Not so much. Just weird. God, I'm sweating like a pig!"
"Would you like to change your clothes or get into the shower?"
"I thought you said it didn't make any sense to shower?"
"It didn't, as you will surely soil your clothing again. But if it will make you feel better now, there is no reason not to do it."
Harry thought for a moment. "Could I take a bath? Perhaps soaking in hot water will help."
"Of course," Severus said. "I'll go draw it."
When Severus had the tub full of hot water, he assisted Harry to his feet. Angry that he needed help, but weak and shaky enough to recognize that he did, Harry let himself be led into the bathroom. "I can do it myself," he said, even to his own ears sounding like a petulant child.
"All right," Severus conceded. Though he didn't think it was safe to leave Harry alone, he sensed that arguing with him right now would be counter-productive. "Would you leave the door open, please?"
"Perverted old peeping tom," Harry flung at him. "Didn't get a good enough look yesterday?"
Severus closed his eyes and counted slowly to five. Patience. "Close the door if it makes you feel better."
"It does," Harry spit, and he slammed the door after Severus had left. Severus immediately charmed the door so that he could see through it, but it remained its solid self on Harry's side.
Severus watched as Harry, hands shaking so badly it was noticeable from several feet away, undressed himself and wobbled unsteadily into the tub. Only when Harry had settled himself into the water and closed his eyes and leaned back in relief did Severus feel safe to leave the room. He left only long enough to retrieve a book, and he settled himself onto Harry's bed to read, looking up from the text at the end of every sentence to check on his patient.
Harry stayed in the bathtub long enough for Severus to read a chapter in his book. Then Severus began to notice Harry's shaking becoming more pronounced, and the boy seemed agitated. He put his book down and went to the bathroom door. "Harry?" he asked. "Are you all right in there?"
"Thirsty," Harry called. "Can I have something to drink?"
"Certainly." Severus retrieved a glass of water from the kitchen, then knocked on the bathroom door. "May I come in?"
"Of course you can," Harry said. "You're my best mate, aren't you?"
Best mate? Severus wondered as he opened the door.
"What are you doing here anyway, Ron?" Harry asked. "I haven't seen you since you disappeared with Lavender."
Ron? Harry thought he was Ron? Well, Severus thought, we must be moving on to stage two of the proceedings, then. "Harry, it is I. Severus."
Harry ignored that. "How was she?" he asked with a leer. Apparently he wanted a blow-by-blow description of whatever Weasley had been doing with the Brown girl.
"A gentleman doesn't discuss such things," Severus told him primly.
"Good thing you're not a gentleman then," Harry countered. "Give it up!"
"She's a silly bint," Severus said. "I thought you were thirsty."
"Oh yeah." Harry took the proffered glass and drained the contents in one long guzzle, losing some of it out of the corners of his mouth. "Ahh! More, please."
Severus filled the glass from the bathroom tap and handed it back. Harry drank it all down. "More," he demanded.
"No more. It's time for you to get out of there."
"C'mon, mate. Lighten up. I want to hear about Lavender."
"I'll tell you all about it, once you get out of there."
"Oh all right," Harry pouted. When he tried to stand, his body betrayed him, and he slipped back into the water.
"Perhaps I should assist you."
Thinking he was Ron, Harry allowed Severus to hoist him up under the arms and stand him on the bathroom rug. Harry rubbed himself suggestively against Severus. "I love you, mate," he said.
"Yes, well, we shall talk about that later," Severus told him, wondering now if Harry and Weasley had ever . . . No, Harry would have told him, back when Harry had told him everything there was to know.
Foregoing a towel this time, Severus dried Harry magically. Harry's entire body was trembling violently, and as Severus held him upright, he could feel the heat emanating from the young man. He placed a hand on Harry's forehead. Definite fever.
"Let's get you back," he said. With no strength to argue, Harry let himself be escorted back to the sofa, still naked. Severus settled him there and covered him with a light blanket. This close to the sofa, Severus could smell it – a mixture of alcohol and sweat and urine and who knew what else – and his nose wrinkled in disgust. As soon as this was over, Severus was going to banish that sofa to hell, where it belonged.
"So t-tell me," Harry said, his teeth chattering. "Ab-bout L-Lavender."
"I ejaculated prematurely. She was most unimpressed," Severus said, taking great glee in maligning Weasley's reputation, even if his audience wouldn't remember it later.
Harry actually laughed at this. "You s-sound just like S-Severus," he said, his voice low. "I'm c-c-cold."
"It's all right, Harry. I've got something here to help with that."
Severus offered Harry yet another potion, this one a fever reducer, and had to help Harry drink it when the shaking threatened to spill it over the boy's chest. Harry curled into a ball, huddling on the sofa and trembling. Severus summoned the duvet from the bedroom and settled that over Harry as well, but it didn't seem to warm the boy any, so Severus cast a warming spell on him, which seemed to help a little. As soon as the potion took effect, Harry's teeth stopped chattering altogether. They were both relieved when Harry fell asleep shortly thereafter. Severus summoned his book from the bedroom and settled back to wait.
It wasn't long before Severus was distracted by Harry moving about in agitation on the sofa. His closed eyelids were flickering, and Harry was whimpering. Nightmare, then. Severus kept his eyes on Harry until suddenly, Harry bolted upright with a cry of "No!" Startled, Severus dropped his book. Harry dropped back to a supine position, eyes still closed, and quieted, apparently still sleeping. He stayed this way for a few minutes longer, until he began to writhe beneath the duvet. "Oh," he moaned, and that sound was decidedly sexual in nature. Severus began to harden in his trousers. He tried arguing with his wayward cock, but it had formed ideas of its own and wanted nothing to do with logic and reason. He was able to ignore it until he looked up at Harry. The boy's hips were jerking up and down, making the obvious tent under the duvet even more noticeable, and though he couldn't see it, Severus suspected that Harry's hand was wrapped around his turgid flesh. Harry appeared to be still asleep, apparently caught in the throes of an erotic dream. Severus' cock was fully awake now, sniffing about for the other erection it knew was in the room.
Severus sighed and threw his book aside. This was impossible. This was wrong. He shouldn't be getting off on watching Harry rutting against the duvet while caught in a dream induced by the spell he was under. But it had been so long since Severus had had a satisfying orgasm, an orgasm with Harry, that he just couldn't control himself. He pressed his erection down against his leg with his palm and began to move his own hips in time with Harry's thrusts.
Severus came first, and while it was satisfying on an emotional level, because he was sharing it with Harry, it was wet and sticky and uncomfortable and lacking physical contact with the object of his desire. He sighed at his foolishness and wandlessly cleaned the mess from his trousers. Satisfied himself, he was able to watch Harry bring himself off against the duvet with a modicum of dignity, then banished the mess he knew was concealed by the bed coverings. Harry actually settled down and slept peacefully for a time after that.
Harry blinked awake a short time later, his eyes confused as he looked across at Severus. He slowly sat up, and just as Severus was about to ask how he was feeling, Harry's eyes widened. "We have to get out of here!" he said.
"The flat is on fire! Severus, we have to get out of here!"
Severus looked around anxiously. There was no sign of fire or smoke or anything that would have raised an alarm. "Harry, it's all right. Everything is fine. The flat is not on fire."
But Harry was beyond reason. "Fire!" he said, obvious fear in his voice and on his face. "OhmyGod! It's everywhere!" Harry was trying to get off the sofa, but he'd become entangled with the duvet, and panic was setting in. "Gotta get up! Gotta get outta here!" he mumbled as he became further ensnared.
Snape stood and approached Harry. "Harry! It's all right! The flat is not on fire!" He looked around again, involuntarily, just to be sure. He put his hands on Harry's shoulders and pushed down, but that just made Harry fight harder to get away. In the struggle, Harry slid halfway off the sofa, and Severus wordlessly stupefied him before he could injure himself.
He slid Harry back onto the sofa and sat beside him. Looking down into the boy's panicked eyes, Severus said, firmly but calmly, "The flat is not on fire. You are in no danger. I am here with you, and I will take care of you." Slowly, the terror left Harry's eyes, until Severus felt safe releasing him.
"All right?" he asked,
Harry nodded and pushed weakly at Severus, clearly wanting him to remove himself from the sofa. Severus stood up, and Harry curled onto his side again, tears leaking from his eyes. He was shaking again, and his teeth began to chatter. Severus touched the boy's forehead to confirm – the fever had come back. Thankfully, he'd brought more than one vial of fever reducer, and he retrieved the second vial now.
He crouched beside the sofa and offered it to Harry, but Harry shook his head. "So tired," he whispered. "I just want to sleep. Please, Severus, just let me be."
"Not yet, Harry. Drink this first. You'll feel better. The worst is over, I think. You should begin to feel better soon."
"Okay," Harry said, his plaintive tone tugging at Severus' heart strings.
Harry allowed Severus to turn him onto his back and sit him up a little. "It's going to be all right now, Harry," Severus crooned. "You're going to get better."
Weak, Harry had to be helped with the potion vial. Once he'd drunk down all of the contents, Severus summoned a wet flannel from the loo and used it to wipe the sweat and tears from Harry's heated forehead and face. "Feels good," Harry muttered, his eyes closed.
"Just relax and let the potion work, Harry. It won't be long now."
Harry lay still and let Severus card his fingers through Harry's pillow-ruffled hair. "Feels good, too," Harry murmured, stretching his head up and into the caress.
"Shhh," Severus soothed. "Perhaps you can sleep a while now."
"Tired," Harry agreed. "Read to me again."
Reluctant to give up the physical touching, Severus nonetheless returned to his chair and picked up the book they'd been reading earlier. He read to Harry until he could tell the boy was asleep.
Harry slept fitfully for a time. When he awoke, he was irritable. "What are you still doing here?"
"Watching over you. It shouldn't be much longer now."
"You can go. I'm fine."
"I'll just stick around and make sure of that." Severus stated firmly. "How do you feel?"
"Jumpy," Harry said. "I can't stop shaking."
"That should ease soon as well."
"And I'm all sweaty again."
"Would you like another bath?"
"No. I'm too tired to get up."
"I could give you a sponge bath, if that would help."
"Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you, you pervy old sod?" Harry accused.
Since it was true, Severus said nothing.
"What?" Harry squawked. "You would like that?" as though he were surprised.
"Yes, of course, I would. You're quite attractive, and I like touching you. I've missed that. I won't lie to you and say it isn't so. But I also realize that you don't want that now, and that you're not feeling well. If you allowed me to bathe you, I would do it for you, not for me."
"Yeah, right," Harry said, unconvinced of Snape's noble motives.
"Suit yourself," Severus said, and he settled back into his chair with a book.
Harry huffed around in irritation for a while, tossing and turning and trying to get comfortable, before he finally fell asleep again.
When he awoke, an hour later, he blinked owlishly at Snape several times before asking, "Is it over?"
"How do you feel?"
"M'tired. So tired." And he was. He felt as though every bone in his body had melted into this sofa and like he'd never be able to get up again.
"That's all? Just tired?"
"Then the process has likely been completed."
"How long has it been?" Harry asked, smacking his lips at the dryness in his mouth.
Snape looked at his watch. "It's just four now, so six hours. Are you thirsty?"
"Yeah. I'll just –" Harry made to get up, but the crushing fatigue pressed him back down.
"I'll get it," Severus offered. He handed to Harry the last vial from the table. Harry sniffed it, cautious for the first time today, looked suspiciously up at Snape, then quaffed the contents. It tasted like ginger ale, all fizzy and clean, and quenched his thirst immediately.
"What was that?" Harry asked, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"A restorative. It will help with the fatigue somewhat. You should eat a little, then get yourself to bed and sleep for a good long time."
"Can I shower first?"
"Do you feel up to it?"
"Yes, I think I can manage." And Harry thought he probably could stand to be on his feet for a few minutes. Severus really knew what he was doing when it came to potions, there was no doubt about that.
Snape let Harry struggle to a sitting position on his own. Harry had to brace himself on the sofa to get himself up, but once he was there, he felt steady enough. Without a look back at Snape, he trudged into the bathroom and closed the door, likely unaware that he was completely naked still.
As soon as he was gone, Snape removed the duvet from the sofa and sent it to the laundry. He then banished the revolting couch, searched Harry's bedroom for liquor bottles, and set about fixing them a simple supper.
"Hey! Where's my sofa?!" were the first words out of Harry's mouth upon entering the sitting room. He was wrapped in a towel, his hair in total disarray.
"It has gone to a better place," Snape assured him. "Do not mourn, Harry. It is no longer feeling any pain."
"Har har," Harry responded. "I liked that sofa."
"Yes, a little too much, I fear. I'll get you another, but you won't be needing it tonight. Tonight, after you've eaten, you will crawl into your bed and sleep. Come. Dinner is ready."
Harry muttered something that sounded a lot like "Presumptuous bastard," before disappearing into his room. He returned dressed in pajama bottoms and an old, faded t-shirt. He dropped into a chair at the table and cradled his head in his palms, his elbows on the table. "What's this?"
"A very simple soup. Broth, mostly, with a few pieces of chicken and vegetables. Your digestive system will need to be treated gently for a couple of days."
Harry inhaled deeply. It smelled quite good, though he suspected that anything would, as he suddenly discovered that he was ravenously hungry. "I'm hungry," he said, surprised. He hadn't been hungry for a very long time.
"Your system is clean, no longer clouded by spirits. You should find that the simple pleasures in life may become just that again – pleasurable."
Harry guessed he really should thank Snape for what he had done for him here today. It hadn't been pleasant, and it hadn't been easy, but Harry felt better than he had for months. And it was all Snape's doing. Of course, the misery had been Snape's doing as well, so maybe they were now even on that score.
Instead of speaking, Harry ate. He finished the bowl before him and asked for another. Snape said no, that he really should take it easy tonight, but Harry looked so pathetic, turning those soulful green eyes on him full blast, and Severus acquiesced without further argument. After the second bowl, Harry seemed content.
"You should go to bed now," Severus advised. "I will clean up here. I will check back with you in the morning."
Harry stood, reluctant to follow Snape's orders. He really did feel very tired, though, and thought that maybe going to bed sounded like a good idea. So he went to the door of his bedroom, then stopped, feeling as though he should say something to Severus. "Thank you," maybe, or "I feel so much better." But he couldn't bring himself to say either of those things, so he went with, "You'll bring croissants?"
Severus smiled. "Yes, I'll bring croissants. And jam."
Harry went into his bedroom and closed the door. "Good night, Harry," Severus whispered before setting about cleaning up the few dishes he'd dirtied. When he finished that, he tidied Harry's bathroom, searched the remainder of the flat for alcoholic beverages of any type, and let himself quietly out.
Harry looked immensely better the following day: his skin was clear, his eyes bright. He didn't, however, look any happier to see Severus.
"How are you feeling?" Snape asked as he placed the bag of breakfast on the table.
Severus studied Harry's face, his eyes, closely. "Have you had anything to drink since I left here yesterday?"
"No!" Harry said defiantly. "You took it all."
"You looked?" Severus asked, disappointed that Harry had felt the need to go looking for the bottles.
"I was going to throw the rest of them out. I . . . I don't need them any more, so I didn't see any need to have them lying around. But they were already gone. Didn't you trust me?"
Trust. One of the six virtues. But others were commitment and caring. "I do trust you, Harry. But there was no point in leaving temptation laying around. If you say you're not having cravings, then I trust that you are telling me the truth. And I trust that you will stay away from alcohol entirely for a while. You will be susceptible to re-dependence if you drink even a little for the next several weeks. After that, you should be able to resume your normal habits, in moderation."
"Thank you for the lecture, Professor," Harry snarked. "I thought you said you were going to leave me alone after I did this."
"No," Snape corrected. "I said I would leave you alone when I was assured you were resuming your normal life. One day sober isn't evidence enough for that."
"So, what? You're going to use that as an excuse to hound me every day for the rest of my life?"
"No. When I see you eating three meals a day, when I see you venturing outside these four walls, when I see you interacting with your friends again, then I will know that you are on the road to recovery. Then I will stop 'hounding' you."
"Well, let's get started then." Harry plopped himself down into a chair, dragged the pastry bag toward him, took out a croissant and stuffed it into his mouth.
Severus could see that remaining here any longer would be counterproductive, so he took himself away.
"Did you go out yesterday?" Severus asked the following day.
"No. But I ate dinner last night."
"What did you eat?"
Harry looked at him, then looked away. "How is that your business?"
"If you ate a chocolate frog, I'm hardly going to count it as eating."
"I had a peanut butter sandwich, all right?"
"That's . . . acceptable." It wasn't great, but at least it was protein. And calories, which the boy was in desperate need of.
"Oh, well. Severus is happy, so the world may now proceed to spin again," Harry said with a dramatic gesture of his hands.
Patience. "Do you plan on going outside today?"
"I really hadn't thoroughly planned my calendar for today, Severus. My social secretary took the day off."
"Good. You have some time free, then. Let's take a walk."
"No, thanks. I'll wait for a better offer."
"Shall I call Hermione? Have her come over and take you out?"
"No. What you shall do is leave me alone. I don't want to go out today."
"All right. I will return tomorrow. Perhaps you will feel more inclined then."
"No, Severus, I do not want to take a walk with you today. And I ate a ham sandwich for supper, before you ask."
"Thank you, Harry. I shall return tomorrow."
"Get out of my life, Snape!" Harry shouted when Severus appeared the following day. "I can't take this any more!"
"You know what you need to do, then."
"All right! Let's go!"
"Really? You'll go outside with me?" After Harry's repeated refusals, his acquiescence now took Snape by surprise.
"Yes. If it's the only way to get rid of you, then let's go," Harry said, and he stormed off out of the flat.
Severus trailed along behind. Harry's head of steam evaporated by the time he reached the outside door at the bottom of the stairs. Severus caught up with him, and they stood there for a moment. "Something wrong?"
"I . . . I haven't been outside for . . . for a long time."
"Well, it hasn't changed any," Severus said gently. "I'll be right here beside you."
Severus watched Harry draw from his immense store of courage. His spine straightened and his shoulders drew back. "Like I need you," he said, and he pushed the door open.
The sun was shining brightly on the gorgeous day. Harry raised his face to the light, closed his eyes, and inhaled a deep breath of fresh air. Severus watched him, then took Harry lightly by the elbow to guide him gently down the street. Harry walked, seemingly fascinated by the mundane sights of the street. Severus led them to a nearby park, and they sat on a bench for a time, listening to the birds, watching people go by, not speaking. Given his lack of activity for such a long time, Harry tired quickly, and he indicated soon after that he wanted to return. Severus saw him back, and before he left for the day, he said, "Congratulations, Harry. You did well today."
Harry couldn't even come up with a sarcastic reply to that. Going outside had been wonderful. He'd forgotten how much he enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air. He should probably thank Severus for forcing him out of this flat, but he was still angry and hurt, and he wasn't ready yet to thank. Or forgive.
When Severus returned to Harry's flat the following day, the boy was gone. Severus checked to be sure that he wasn't just hiding beneath the invisibility cloak. He was actually gone. Severus didn't know where, but the fact that he'd gone out was a very positive sign. Severus returned home and floo called Hermione.
"Harry let me in yesterday afternoon!" she reported happily. "He looks good, better than he has in a long time. You've done wonders with him, Severus."
"It's amazing what having blood in your veins, rather than alcohol, will do for you. I told him that when he started living his life again, I would let him be. I think he's reached that point."
"So you're going to let him go?" Hermione asked. She seemed saddened by this.
"No. But I can't justify my daily presence in his life any more. He's made it clear that he doesn't want that, and I have to respect it."
"He still loves you, Severus. I know he does. He wouldn't have fallen so fast and so hard if he didn't."
"I'm not going away completely, but I need to give him his space. I need to win him back. I just wanted you to know that I won't be around as much so that you can keep a closer eye on him for a while. I think he's turned the corner, but it's better to ensure that he doesn't slip back into bad habits."
"All right, Severus," she agreed.
"I will speak with him this afternoon."
"You knocked!" Harry said when he opened his door to see Severus Snape in the hallway. "You never knock! You always just barge right in."
"May I come in?" Severus asked.
"Can I stop you?"
"You can. There's something I want to tell you. I'd rather do it inside, but I will do it here if you insist."
Harry stepped back. "Please," he said sarcastically, gesturing with his hand for Severus to enter.
Snape entered the room and waited to be invited to sit. The invitation never came.
"I came by this morning. You were not in," Severus offered.
"I was at the library, if it's any of your business," Harry said.
"I told you that I would leave you alone when you showed signs of improving. You have done that. You are going out. You are eating. You are bathing. You have not been drinking. You are interacting with your friends. It is time for me to uphold my end of the bargain."
"You're going to leave me be?" Harry asked. "Hallelujah!"
"If you need me for anything, anything at all, I hope that you will not hesitate to call on me. I meant what I said to you. I know what a mistake I made letting you go, and I want to rectify that mistake. Just because I will no longer be seeing you every day does not mean that I have given up on trying to rebuild what we had. I know that you don't want that now, but I hope that in time, if I show you that I am sorry, I can win back a place in your life."
Harry looked very unimpressed by this declaration. "You know where the door is."
Severus nodded. "Good day, Harry."
So Severus began the very difficult job of staying away from Harry. He thought about him constantly, worried if he was taking care of himself, concerned that he might slide back into drink. But he trusted that Hermione was looking after her friend and that she would let Severus know if there was anything to be concerned about. And because he couldn't cut off all contact, Severus sent Harry letters almost daily. Sometimes it was just a quick note, Just wondering how you are, to which he received no response. Sometimes he sent a note along with a single flower or a chocolate frog. Once he sent a book that he thought Harry might find interesting. To that he received a brief note, one word, Thanks, written on the bottom of his note to Harry. This note he saved as though it were a treasure.
And because he'd begun to miss seeing Harry with an ache that was almost physical, he penned an invitation for Harry to join him for dinner at their home. To that, he received another one-word answer - No - scrawled on the bottom of his missive. He even saved this note. He tried again a week later. The response this time was Don't you ever give up? No, he wrote back, enclosing a sugar quill and sending it off with his owl, who was getting a little miffed about the constant back and forth trips to Harry's flat.
So a week later he tried again a third time, hoping that would be the charm, and was chuffed to receive the following response: Fine. If it will get you to leave me alone, I'll come for dinner. Friday night.
Snape was nervous. He was actually nervous. He tried laughing at himself. He tried talking sternly to himself. He tried deep breathing. But none of it helped. He was nervous about his dinner with Harry, and he wanted – needed – to have everything just right. He set up a small table in the sun room, Harry's favorite room in the house. He'd made Harry's favorite dinner – lobster risotto with a green salad and crusty garlic bread. He'd hovered candles over the table and placed flowers from the greenhouse throughout the room. And he waited, pacing nervously, for Harry to arrive.
Harry stepped out of the floo at the stroke of seven, right on time. Severus smiled at him as he approached, reached a hand out to Harry, then stopped when Harry flinched away.
"Don't . . . don't touch me," Harry requested.
"All right," Severus said, chastened. "I'm sorry."
Harry shrugged, as though it didn't matter. "Dinner ready?" he asked, apparently eager to have this over.
"Yes, actually, it is."
Harry looked at the table, which was completely clear, and his confusion was obvious.
"I thought we'd eat in the sun room," Severus told him.
Oh. Harry led the way, and he stopped in the doorway and gaped at what he saw there. He slowly approached the table and cataloged what he saw. All his favorite foods, displayed beautifully on the small table in the romantically decorated room. For a moment, Harry couldn't breathe. This reminded him keenly of another night in this house, one that ended with Harry hurting, one that started him down a slippery slope that bottomed out in depression and alcoholism. His chest ached, the memory of Severus' betrayal still so clear and apparently completely unforgiven.
"Everything all right?" Severus asked, directly behind him.
"Hmm?" Harry started. "Yeah. Fine." Harry's first instinct had been to run, fast and far, but he reined it in. He wasn't sure why, except he had some vague idea of maybe turning the tables on Severus, treating him the same way Harry himself had been treated all those months ago. He wasn't sure – he couldn't seem to think beyond moving his feet to cross the room. He certainly wasn't up to hatching any well-thought out, long-range plans, even if long-range only meant later this evening.
Harry sat in the chair indicated by Severus and watched as the other man left the room. He drew in a deep breath to steady himself as he waited and began to wonder why he'd agreed to come here. He wasn't ready for this, especially not this room, which he had loved so much when he'd lived here. This house was full of memories, some of them good, but some of them really, really awful. As those awful memories of the last couple of days here began to assail him, he began to curl up inside himself.
When Severus returned to the room with a bottle of sparkling cider, he noticed right away that Harry seemed very tense. Afraid to know why, he didn't ask. Instead he filled both glasses and sat across from Harry.
"I made all your favorites," Severus noted as he unfolded his napkin and spread it in his lap.
"My favorites," Harry repeated. Harry had made Severus all his favorites once upon a time. And they'd been left as rubbish on the table because Severus was off boffing his new boyfriend. Harry's eyes dropped to his plate, and whatever appetite he'd brought with him completely deserted him now. He just wanted this night to be over.
"Yes," Severus affirmed. "I made everything myself."
Harry had made everything himself, too. He guessed Severus hadn't been interested enough in the meal Harry had made for him to even know what he'd made, let alone whether or not it had been prepared by a house elf. His stomach began to squirm, and he picked up his fork and toyed with the risotto.
"Are you not hungry?" Severus asked after a few moments that were palpably uncomfortable.
"Not really," Harry mumbled. He dropped his fork. "I think this may have been a mistake."
"Give it a chance, Harry. Give us a chance."
Harry could hear the note of pleading in Severus' voice, but he just couldn't afford to care. "I – this is just – you don't even know, do you?"
"Forget it," Harry said, and he stood up, intent on getting out of here. "I need to go."
Severus jumped up. "Please, Harry. Tell me what it is. I'll try to fix it."
"You can't fix it, Severus. This night – this whole thing – the food and the candles and the flowers. This is what I did, for you, that night. Do you remember? That night you came home late, after fucking your new boyfriend? I waited for you, I worried about you. And when you came home, you –" Harry couldn't do it. He couldn't go there.
Severus felt like crying. Harry was right – he couldn't fix this. "I was a fool, Harry," he said, his desperation out there for Harry to see. "I was a fool, and I'm sorry. Let me show you how sorry I am."
Harry had no idea what made him step closer to Severus and stretch up to kiss him. No part of him had planned that in advance, and he had no idea where he wanted the night to go from here. But he did, and when Severus put his arms around Harry and kissed him back, Harry gave himself up to the kiss. A small part of Harry's brain was telling him to get Severus aroused and then leave him, as Severus had done to Harry that night. Another small part of him wanted to drag Severus to the floor and fuck him into the stones. Yet another part of him demanded that he rip his lips away from Severus and get the hell out of here. His brain was a jumble of emotions, but his body remembered just what Severus' body heat felt like and yearned to never leave it again.
The kiss stretched on for minutes, two bodies nearly melding into one. Harry stretched up onto his toes and heedlessly frotted his prick against the equal hardness he felt in Severus' trousers. Until suddenly Severus pulled back.
"Wha–?" Harry asked, mindless with arousal.
"No, Harry," Severus said, his voice filled with regret. "You're not ready for this."
Harry stepped closer again and thrust his cock into Severus' thigh. "Doesn't this feel ready?"
It took every ounce of self-control he possessed, but Severus was able to step away from Harry again. "You're not ready up here," he said, gently caressing the side of Harry's head, "or in here." He pressed his palm to Harry's chest over his heart. "Do you understand?"
What Harry understood was that Severus was pushing him away – again. Leaving him hard and aching – again. "Who is it now, Severus?" he spat.
"What? There's no one. This isn't about me, Harry. It's about you."
"It's always about you, Severus. It always has been, and it always will be. Well, I'm done. I don't ever want to see you again." And Harry turned and left a stunned Severus, who could only watch him go.
"I don't know what happened!" Severus practically sobbed into the floo connection. "He agreed to come, and I was so happy. When he got here, he seemed defensive, like he expected to be hurt. I tried to reassure him, but everything I did reminded him of . . . of one of our last nights together. Then he just threw himself at me, and he kissed me, and I kissed him back, but then I stopped because I didn't think we were ready to take that step. He hasn't forgiven me yet, and I don't deserve to have him back in my bed until he can find it in himself to forgive me. So I backed away, and he took that in the worst possible way. He left, saying he never wanted to see me again. I think he means it this time!"
"Oh, Severus," Hermione sympathized. "I'm sorry it turned out this way. But you did the right thing. Harry would have hated you in the morning."
"I'm worried about him, Hermione. Could you go and check on him, make sure he's not drinking."
"Of course I will, Severus. I'll go now. Will you be all right?"
"I don't know. I may have lost him for good. I'm not ready to accept that or process it yet. But right now, I'm worried about him. Please. Make sure he is all right."
"I will, Severus. And I'll let you know. Just . . . try to get some sleep. You look like you could use it."
Severus closed the floo connection, certain he would be getting no sleep tonight.
Before even having his first cup of tea the following morning, Severus put quill to parchment.
I cannot express how sorry I am that our dinner ended the way it did. I hope you are not operating under the assumption that I pulled away from you because I was not interested. I would like nothing better than to resume that aspect of our former relationship. But I cannot do that while you have yet to forgive me for my past indiscretions. Once you have, I very much look forward to having you completely back in my life. I sense that you need me to leave you alone for a time, and I will honor that wish. Please take care of yourself, and if you need anything, please do not hesitate to let me know.
Taking a deep breath, gathering all of his courage and squashing a justly-acquired habit of never showing vulnerability, Severus finished his letter.
I love you, Harry. Please don't ever doubt that.
He rolled the parchment up and gave it to Owen, then watched the bird until he was just a speck in the sky. He waited all day, but Harry never sent a response.
It had been nearly two weeks since Severus had last seen Harry, and he missed him acutely. He was giving Harry space, waiting for the boy to reach out to him, to invite him back into his life. He suspected that he knew Harry's stubbornness well enough to be fairly certain that he would not receive such an invitation. He was leaving for Italy tomorrow for a two-day potions conference. When he'd registered for the conference, he'd had some vague plan about asking Harry to accompany him, assuming that by now, they'd be at least working their way back toward what they had formerly. In fact, he'd planned to ask Harry to go with him on the night of their fateful dinner. Obviously, that whole plan hadn't worked out very well. When he returned, if there still hadn't been any word from Harry, Severus planned to pay the obstinate man a visit.
Thank you for your updates regarding Harry. I am happy to hear that he has not reverted back to his old ways and that he seems healthier and happier every day. I wished to advise you that I will be in Italy until Sunday evening. When I return, I plan to pay Harry a visit. I have given him long enough to come to me.
Harry whistled absently as he strolled down the sidewalk, crowded with Muggles, on his way to the library. One benefit he'd never expected from his break-up with Severus and the following descent into near-madness was his renewed dedication to reading. He made nearly daily trips to the library now and spent the better part of his days with his nose in a book. He knew he was putting off getting back into life full-time this way, but he was willing to give himself some more time before he began some serious thinking about what he wanted to do with his life now – what sort of work he wanted to do, where he wanted to live, whether he wanted Severus somewhere in there. He'd never stopped loving the irritating wanker – he'd always known that. The betrayal and the hurt were still so fresh, but Severus had really done him a good turn by getting him sober. If Harry had carried on the way he was, he likely would have been dead of alcohol poisoning sooner rather than later. Weeks ago, that thought would not have mattered, but now, Harry wanted to live. He wanted to hear the birds singing, and he wanted to read at least one more book, and he wanted to fuck someone again (and maybe that someone was Severus). Even after that disastrous night back at the house, which Harry knew had been partly his fault. He'd gone there expecting Severus to hurt him again, and everywhere he looked, he was reminded of the time when he had. And he still couldn't believe he'd thrown himself at Severus. He knew he wasn't ready for that yet, and part of him was glad that Severus had stopped things before they'd gone irretrievably far. He still wanted Severus, too, that much was clear.
Harry's whistle stopped as the weight of his thoughts slowed his feet. He needed to figure out what to do about Severus soon. He either needed to forgive the man and try to mend their relationship, or he needed to let Severus go. Neither one of them was served by the current state of limbo.
As he crossed the open square toward the library steps, Harry heard the report, much like the sound of apparition, from somewhere behind him and whirled around to see what was happening. A body was lying in the middle of the square, another person bent over them. Another crack sounded, and then that person fell, too. People were screaming and running, and Harry moved back toward the fallen person, to see if he could help. He'd never heard a gunshot before today, which made what was happening more than a little unreal. The bullet that slammed into his chest was, unfortunately, all too real.
His hands came up to the spot in his left chest that suddenly felt as though a piercing hot brand had been shoved into his lung and came away covered in blood. Oblivious to the increasingly panicking crowd around him, Harry fell to his knees, then dropped face forward onto the flagstones, with nothing to break his fall.
Two days later:
Severus had only been home for twenty minutes when the knock sounded on his door. He was tired, and unless it was Harry, whoever had dared to invade his home right now was going to be sorry.
He tore the door open and stopped in amazement when he saw two uniformed police officers standing on his doorstep.
"Severus Snape?" one of them said.
"Yes. May I help you?" Law enforcement showing up at your door was never a good thing, wizard or muggle. Severus racked his brain to discover what he might have done to merit the notice of these particular muggle authorities.
"Do you know a Harry Potter?"
Severus began to sweat, while at the same time, his veins seemed to fill with ice. "Yes. Has something happened?"
"I don't know if you've seen the news in the last couple of days, sir, but there was an incident in St. James's Square two days ago."
"I have been in Italy. I have only just returned moments ago."
"That explains why we haven't been able to find you at home," the shorter officer, the one who had yet to speak, said. "We've been coming here a couple of times a day since yesterday morning. You have no telephone registered in your name."
That wasn't a crime, as far as Severus knew. "What has happened?" he demanded.
"A sniper shot seven people Saturday morning, during a totally random attack," the taller officer informed him gently.
There was no way Harry could have been the shooter – sweet Merlin. "Harry . . ."
"He was shot, once in the chest. He survived, but he's in critical condition at the hospital. He had no identification on him, but we did find a library card. The shooting took place outside the library, so we speculate that Mr. Potter was perhaps on his way there?"
Numbly, Severus nodded his head. Harry loved the library. The muggle library of all things.
"The library had this address on file for him, so we've been trying to contact his family. Are you his father?"
"What? No, no Harry has no family. He and I were – Where is he? I must see him now!"
Both officers had been around long enough to know what Severus had been about to tell them he and Potter were. "We can take you there, sir, if you'd like. You look like you're in no condition to drive."
"Drive?" Severus asked, distracted. "Yes, yes. Please. Please, take me to him."
"We'll let the doctor know you're here." A short, blonde nurse, whose name tag read "Beverly", led Severus into a hospital room. "We've been waiting for someone to show up."
Severus slowly approached the figure in the bed, covered to its neck in a sheet. Harry looked so pale (except for the large bruise on his forehead) and small in the bed, and a sob escaped from Severus' chest before he could stop it. There were strange wires leading from unidentifiable places on Harry's body to beeping, whirring and sighing machines all around him. He had some sort of tube in his mouth that was hooked up to yet another machine. He looked like he'd been abducted by aliens and was being subjected to scientific testing. Severus had an overpoweringly strong urge to gather Harry up in his arms and get him out of this muggle horror show. He'd take him straight to St. Mungo's and they'd set him right in no time. Harry would be fine. Harry had to be fine. He'd survived a dark lord. There was no way some damned muggle with a gun was going to end the boy's life.
Tears streaming from his eyes, he squeezed Harry's hand. "Harry, please. Please, I'm here. Wake up now, and we'll get you out of here." The only response was the steady beep beep and whirring of the machines.
"Hello," said a voice behind him.
Severus whirled around to find a man in a white coat eyeing him. "I'm Doctor Gideon. I'm taking care of your . . . of Mr. Potter."
"Severus Snape. How is he?"
"Are you family?" the doctor asked before imparting confidential medical information.
"No. Harry has no family. His parents are both deceased. He had no siblings. He and I have been in a steady relationship for almost four years." This was a lie, but this man didn't need to know that.
The doctor sighed. It wasn't optimal, but he'd work with what he had. "Mr. Potter was shot once, in the chest." Dr. Gideon pointed to a spot on his chest, about an inch to the right of and above his left nipple. "The bullet traveled . . . well, there's really no way to explain how the bullet traveled. I've never seen anything like it, quite frankly. It entered the chest, and the downward trajectory of the initial wound tract would have taken the bullet directly to the heart, which would have been fatal. Somehow, the bullet was deflected, making a nearly ninety degree turn away from the heart, missing it by a hair's width. The bullet continued through Mr. Potter's torso, lodging beneath his left shoulder blade, just beneath the skin. We have removed it.
"Due to the length of time it took for emergency personnel to reach the wounded, Mr. Potter lost a significant amount of blood." The law enforcement officers had explained to Severus on the ride here that medical help had not been able to reach the victims of the shooting until the gunman had been neutralized. "He has been given three transfusions already, and his vital signs have stabilized. He has not awakened since he arrived here, but there is really no reason why he shouldn't at any time. As he recovers from the blood loss, I would expect him to awaken."
"So he will be all right?"
"He should be fine. And I can't downplay how much of a miracle that is, Mr. Snape. If the bullet hadn't deflected as it did, we would be having an entirely different discussion. The same discussion which was had with family members of the six other victims of this shooting, I might add." Severus had also been told that Harry was the sole victim to have survived. The shooter had been a marksman in the service, recently returned from serving a tour in Afghanistan. The officer had mumbled something about PTSD, apparently some kind of excuse or explanation for why an otherwise perfectly normal individual would start shooting innocent people in a public square.
And Severus knew how Harry had survived the sharpshooter's bullet when the others had succumbed to his skill with a rifle – Harry's protective magic, the same force that had saved him from bullies when he was a child, had kicked in when he needed it most and sent a potentially lethal object away from his fragile heart. Severus really needed to get Harry out of here and into St. Mungo's. But how? He didn't dare move Harry himself – he could do more damage than good that way.
"How long do you think he will need to be hospitalized?" he asked.
"That will depend on his condition when he awakens."
"And when should we begin to be concerned if he does not . . . awaken?"
"His body has been through a serious trauma. It will take time to recover. But if he has not awoken on his own some time in the next couple of days, I would be surprised."
Severus looked over at Harry, lying so still on the bed. "Is there anything I can do for him in the meantime?"
"Just be here for him. Talk to him. He'll hear you," the doctor advised. "If you need anything, just let the nurses know."
"Thank you, Doctor."
Severus returned to the bed and pulled the room's lone chair closer. He reached through the rail to take Harry's hand again and leaned over so that he could speak directly into Harry's ear. "Wake up, Potter, you lazy brat. I leave for two days, and you think you can just stay in bed the whole time?" Tears dripped onto Harry's pillow as Severus talked, imploring Harry to come back to him.
Needing more contact, but frustrated by the separation caused by the bed rail, Severus let go of Harry long enough to wrestle the annoying contraption out of his way. Once he had it down, he very gingerly lay down alongside Harry, taking care not to interfere in any way with the wires that seemed to be everywhere. He settled his head next to Harry's, his nose touching Harry's ear, and breathed deeply of Harry's scent, his very live scent. And he fell asleep there beside his young lover.
Harry blinked his eyes open and stared up at the ceiling. He was in a hospital, but not any hospital he'd ever been in before, he was quite sure. Something told him this was a muggle hospital. But why was he in the hospital? He searched back in his memory, which seemed a painstaking process, and came up blank.
Harry tried to move, but discovered very quickly that his left side hurt too much for that. He was unable to move his right arm at all, and that caused him a moment of panic until he figured out that something . . . some weight . . . had it pinned. He turned his head to the right and would have jumped in surprise if he'd been able when he saw a very familiar head and face, with eyes closed in sleep, resting next to him. What on earth was Severus doing here?
And WHAT IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT WAS MAGICAL was in his throat? Harry hadn't noticed it before, while he was taking stock of everything else, but now that he had, it became the focus of his existence. Something large was wedged in his mouth and extended down his throat, and the more Harry focused on it, the more it gagged him, and the more he had to get it OUT before he vomited, which he guessed correctly would be a very bad idea.
"Severus," he tried to say, but the horrid thing in his mouth prevented words from forming. He began trying to move his right arm out from under Severus – he'd pull the damn thing out himself if he had to. His movements were useless as far as trying to dislodge his arm, but they brought about another benefit: They woke Severus.
"Harry!" he said, sitting up quickly and scrambling off the bed.
Finally, Harry could move his arm, but it felt filled with pins and needles, and it wouldn't do what he tried to make it do. "Uh uh," he was only able to grunt around the damned obstruction in his throat.
"Shhh," Severus soothed. "Harry, you're all right. Don't try to talk. You're in the hospital. A Muggle hospital. Do you remember why?"
Harry shook his head, back and forth, back and forth. He didn't care about that right now. He didn't care about anything but getting. This thing. OUT. Of his throat!
"What is it, Harry?" Severus asked, leaning toward Harry, as though if he were closer, he could make sense of the sounds Harry was making.
But Harry couldn't speak, not at all. Finally getting his arm to cooperate, Harry lifted it and gestured clumsily at his face with his hand, his eyes large, begging Severus to understand, his gag reflex kicking in again.
"The tube, Harry? You want the tube out?"
Thrilled that Severus understood, Harry nodded vigorously, tears of relief filling his eyes.
Until Severus spoke. "I don't know, Harry. I'd have to check with the doctor. I'm not entirely sure what they're doing with that tube, and I wouldn't feel comfortable just pulling it out."
Now the tears were more of the frustrated variety. Harry gestured with his hand again, trying to mime writing, hoping Severus would understand.
He did. "You want something to write with?"
Yes, Harry nodded.
"All right. Let me see what I can find." Severus turned and began searching the small room for something for Harry to write with and on.
As soon as his back was turned, Harry reached up and grabbed hold of the offending piece of plastic and began to pull. He thought at first that perhaps his intestines might come with it, but he no longer cared. As soon as he felt the thing sliding out of his throat, the need to have it all the way out was overwhelming, and he would have it out, come what may.
Finally finally it was out, and Harry was coughing and hacking and drawing Severus' attention back to him. Severus realized immediately what had happened, and he squawked, "Harry! You imbecile!" followed closely by a bellow of "NURSE!"
Harry was coughing up blood, and he couldn't sit up to clear his throat, so he turned his head and hacked up onto the clean sheets. By the time the nurse came bustling into the room, accompanied by the sounds of Severus berating Harry and begging the nurse to hurry, Harry had stopped coughing and lay there panting, breathing heavily, but oh so relieved he was almost smiling.
"Mr. Potter, you are a naughty boy," the nurse scolded. "Now we're going to have to put that back in."
"No!" Harry said, his voice raspy from lack of use and the abuse he'd just put his throat through. "No. Please. I'll give you anything."
The nurse cleaned the spit and blood from Harry's face and neck and disposed of the used tube. "I'll have to talk to the doctor. That'll be his call. I'll get an orderly to change your sheets and get you something clean to wear."
She bustled out again. Severus stared down angrily at Harry.
Harry tried his best innocent, aren't-you-glad-that-I'm-alive expression. It worked, and Severus' glare softened noticeably.
"What happened to me, Severus? Why am I here?" he asked, no longer willing to wait now that he could breathe and speak again.
Severus sat back down beside the bed and took Harry's hand. Harry let him.
"What's the last thing that you remember?"
Harry thought back. "Eating breakfast. Friday morning. What day is it now?"
Harry's eyebrows raised in surprise. "My left side hurts. This is a muggle hospital."
"Yes. You were shot, Harry. You were likely on your way to the library, and a man, a deranged veteran, just started shooting people, six others besides you. They caught him. He's in custody now. The bullet penetrated nearly all the way through your body, and they were able to remove it. You lost a lot of blood, but you should be fine, according to the doctor. I would like to move you to St. Mungo's, but first, I want to have a healer come and look at you, to make sure that everything has been done properly and that it is safe to move you. Is that acceptable to you?"
Harry nodded vaguely. "The others?"
Harry had a very vague, hazy memory of someone . . . on the ground . . .another someone bending over and then falling to the ground as well . . . maybe he could help. He had to try. "The others who were shot."
Severus didn't want to tell him, that much was clear. Which was all the answer he needed, really.
"All of them?"
"I'm afraid so."
"So I'm the Boy Who Lives Again?" Harry asked, tears of sympathy and guilt filling his green eyes.
"And thank Merlin for that!" Severus said fervently. He crawled onto the bed again and held Harry as gently as he could while he cried.
When Harry dropped off to sleep, Severus moved quickly out of the room. He followed the red arrows leading the way to the exit carefully, oriented himself once he was on the sidewalk, and walked as quickly as he could to St. Mungo's, which was only blocks away, thankfully. He bullied his way through the crowd of people waiting to see a healer and demanded to see someone right away. He refused, in this crowded lobby, to state the nature of his emergency and was on the verge of being escorted out by security when a former student spotted him and came to his rescue.
"Professor Snape?" she asked, coming towards him in her healer robes. "Is there something I can help you with?"
Severus searched her face, trying to place her. "Tamara . . . Tamara Morgan," he said. "Ravenclaw."
Healer Morgan smiled brightly. "You have an incredible memory. Is something wrong, sir?"
"Not with me, no. This is a somewhat sensitive situation which I would rather not discuss here. Is there some place we can speak?"
"Certainly. Follow me to my office."
Gratefully turning his back on the throngs still waiting their turn, Severus followed his savior, up stairs and down hallways until they reached a tiny office tucked away in a corner. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm here about Harry Potter," he said and watched her eyebrows climb slightly at the name.
"Is he ill?"
"No. He's been injured. Shot, actually. You may have heard about the incident in St. James's Square yesterday morning. A muggle rifleman shot seven people. Harry was one of them. He was alone, and he was taken to a muggle hospital. I was out of town, in Italy, and I was only just informed of his situation hours ago. I have just come from him. He is conscious and the bullet has been removed. I was assured that he should make a complete recovery, but I would rather have him here. Is there some way to get him out of there?"
"Gunshot wounds are obviously very serious, Professor. Muggles actually are better equipped to deal with them, for obvious reasons. He may be best served by staying right where he is. I understand why that makes you uncomfortable. Would it help if I came by and examined him?"
"Would you do that?" Severus asked, relief flooding through him.
"I would be happy to. He's Harry Potter, yeah? But I should warn you that I won't be able to use magic to examine him. I'm sure he's hooked up to a multitude of machines?" Severus nodded his confirmation of that. "Any magic I use will disrupt their functions, which they will surely notice, not to mention that it may be dangerous to Mr. Potter's health. I am still willing to come and check him over, review his file." At Severus' skeptical look, she continued, "We're trained in muggle healing techniques. Our worlds are crossing over more and more, Professor. It pays to know what alternative methods are available, when you run out of magical options."
"I would appreciate that very much, Miss Morgan. Is there any chance you could come right now?"
"If you could give me five minutes?"
"Of course. I need to advise Mr. Potter's friends about his condition. Might I beg a quill and a piece of parchment from you? I shall write while I wait."
She handed over the writing materials and left the room. Severus wrote to Hermione, telling her that Harry had been injured and where he was currently hospitalized. He posted it in the hospital's mail room on his way back to Harry with the healer.
Harry had been still asleep when Severus returned. Harry's chart rested in a bin outside his door, and Severus had slipped it out on their way in.
Tamara had examined Harry as well as she could and explained to Severus each of the machines he was currently hooked up to. Severus was impressed with the breadth of her knowledge. She then sat in the chair and reviewed his chart in great detail. While she did, Severus stood over Harry, watching him sleep.
"Professor?" Tamara said a while later. "Everything looks good. They've done everything just right. I really think the best thing for him right now is letting him stay here. Once he's ready to be discharged, bring him in, and we'll give him a look-over, just to be sure."
"Thank you, Miss Morgan. You have set my mind at ease."
"You're very welcome, Professor. I hope he makes a very speedy recovery. I'll just put this back on my way out."
Seconds after the healer left, Beverly came in on her silent nurse feet, checked Harry's vitals and made adjustments to some of the machines. "The doctor said we could leave off the tube," she told Severus.
"That will make Harry very happy, I suspect."
Beverly pulled the sheet up to Harry's chest and smoothed it out. "When he wakes again, we'll give him a bath. That should make him feel better as well."
She smiled at Severus and went on her way.
And seconds later, Hermione Granger burst into the room, followed closely by Ronald Weasley.
"Severus! Harry – what happened?!" Hermione cried.
"Shhh. He is only sleeping," Severus admonished. "Please keep your voice down."
"Sorry," she whispered. "What happened?"
"He was in St. James's Square yesterday morning."
"Oh my God!" Hermione said, covering her open mouth with her hand.
"What?" Ron asked. "What does that mean?"
Hermione turned on him. "Oh, Ron, don't you ever pay attention to the news?"
"What news? I read the Prophet every day!" he exclaimed.
"Muggle news, Mr. Weasley," Severus corrected. He actually had some sympathy for the boy – he never followed the muggle news either.
"Oh, well, 'course not," Ron said. "So what happened?"
"A sniper opened fire on innocent people in St. James's Square yesterday morning," Hermione told him.
Ron looked perplexed. "I'm not even sure what that means, Hermione."
"A man with a gun started shooting people. For no reason. He shot seven people."
Severus looked down at Harry in the bed. "Including Harry." He looked back up at Harry's friends. "He was shot in the chest. I suspect his magic kept the bullet from hitting anything critical. He lost a lot of blood, but they've removed the bullet, and he should be all right with a little time."
"Is this the best place for him?" Hermione asked.
"I've actually had a healer here already," Severus told her. "She seems to think he's in very good hands."
Hermione approached the bed on the other side from Severus and picked up Harry's hand. "So he's really going to be all right?"
"When he woke earlier, he was his usual independent self. They'd put a tube in his throat, and he pulled it out."
"He can be very determined when he wants something," Hermione noted with a hint of humor.
"Determined?" Severus said with a snort. "Bloody-minded more like."
"Oi," said a weak voice from below. "Stop maligning the guy with the bullet wound."
"Harry!" Hermione squeaked. "How are you?" She leaned over the railing to plant a kiss on his forehead.
"I'm good, Hermione. You? Yo, Ron! What are you doing lurking over there?"
Ron took one step closer to the bed, eyeing the noisy machines suspiciously. "This place creeps me out."
"Me, too. Got a plan to bust me outta here?"
"Working on it, mate," Ron assured him with a smile.
Harry's eyes found Severus, and he looked away quickly, shyly. "Severus."
"If that nurse comes in to put the tube back in, you have to promise me that you will hex her, consequences be damned."
"I would agree if that were necessary. The nurse said the doctor has agreed you do not need it."
"Oh, thank God," Harry said, closing his eyes in relief. He couldn't imagine anyone coming near him with that horrible tube, having them put it down his throat. He shuddered at the thought.
"How long are you going to have to stay, Harry?" Hermione asked.
"I don't know. I only just woke up from my latest near-death experience a short time ago. I haven't seen a doctor yet, only a nurse."
"One of them will be back shortly to give you a bath," Severus informed him.
Harry waggled his eyebrows. "Was she pretty?"
Hermione rolled her eyes and grinned. Severus growled. Ron looked around hopefully for the nurse. Harry just looked innocent. Then he yawned.
"We should let you get some sleep," Hermione said, leaning over to kiss Harry again. "We'll be back tomorrow."
"No, stay," Harry protested.
"You need rest, hon," Hermione argued with her usual logical air. "We'll leave you in Severus' capable hands."
Harry pouted, but let them go without further argument.
"Capable hands?" Harry asked with a doubting tilt of his eyebrow.
"Quiet, or I'll ask the nurse to let me bathe you."
Three days later, Harry was stronger and able to sit up in bed for short periods of time. Snape was itching to get him out of here and into St. Mungo's. Harry was adamant that when he left this hospital, he wasn't going to install himself in another. Their whispered argument went back and forth for a time until they arrived at a compromise: Harry would leave here, and he would not admit himself to St. Mungo's, but he would stay with someone until he was completely recovered.
Then came the discussion about with whom he would stay. Snape immediately assumed that Harry would go home with him. Harry countered that he intended to stay with Ron and Hermione. Though Severus had no good counter-argument to this proposal, he desperately wanted Harry to come home.
"I was very sincere when I told you I regretted my actions with regard to you and our relationship," he said. "Let me take care of you, Harry. Let me show you just how sorry I am and how much I want to be what you need."
Harry studied Severus for a long time without speaking. Could he trust Severus? He'd shown a different side of himself over the course of the last few months. Perhaps he could be a considerate, thoughtful, sympathetic partner. Perhaps he was capable of commitment, patience, respect, honesty, caring, and trust. Or perhaps Harry only saw those things because he very badly wanted to see them.
"I need to speak with Hermione before I decide," he finally said. She had always been able to help him figure himself out. "Can you get her?"
"What should I do, Hermione?" Harry asked after he'd laid it all out for her.
Hermione thought for a moment. "What do you want from Severus, Harry?"
"What do I want?" he repeated. "I want him never to have cheated on me. I want him never to have thrown me out."
"But you can't have those things, can you?" she pointed out. "That's your past. What do you want from him in your future? If the answer to that question is 'nothing', then you owe it to him and to yourself to let him go, before either one of you invests more time and energy into a relationship that isn't going to go anywhere. But if you want to try to re-establish a relationship with Severus, in whatever form it may now take, then this may be the perfect opportunity to see if he has changed at all from the man you knew before. So I ask you again, Harry, what do you want from Severus?"
"I want . . . I still love him, Hermione. I didn't want to, after what he did, but I can't help it. He's the only man I ever loved, and God help me, I want him back. But he can't . . . if he ever did that to me again, I think it would kill me."
"I don't know, Harry. I think you're a stronger person than you were then. You've changed. But so has Severus. I've seen it. I think he always loved you, in his own way, but now I think he appreciates all the unique qualities that make up Harry Potter. Once you were gone, he saw just how much he had to lose. You know how I feel about divination, but if I had to predict, I'd say the chances of him risking losing you again are very minimal."
"So you think it's worth taking a shot. No pun intended."
Hermione winced at the bad joke. "I think what the two of you could have together is worth the risk," she said. "I want to see you happy again. I want to see Severus happy, too, because I care about both of you, but mostly, if he hurts you again, I will personally hex every body part he owns separately and repeatedly."
Harry smiled at Hermione. She really was a very good friend. "Thank you, love. I don't know what I'd do without you. Can you get Severus back in here?"
"Sure," she leaned over and kissed Harry on the forehead. "I'll go now so the two of you can talk. Make sure he understands the reservations you have and why you're coming back. Best to start with a clean slate."
"Did you and Miss Granger have a nice chat?"
Miss Granger? Wow, Severus must be really nervous. "We did. She's always been able to make me see things about myself that I can't on my own. She helped me to figure out I was gay. Did I ever tell you that?"
"No, you never mentioned that." So apparently Harry hadn't told him everything there was to know. "Out of curiosity's sake, did you and Mr. Weasley ever . . ."
"Me and Ron?" Harry asked, surprised. "No . We've only ever been best mates. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, no reason. Have you made a decision, then?"
Harry fidgeted with the edge of the sheet. "I want to come home, Severus."
Severus's heart rate increased, and something that must have been hope tried to leap out of his chest.
"I have to warn you, though – if you ever hurt me like that again, I think I will seriously die, Severus. Hermione thinks I'm stronger now than I was then, that I'd be able to handle it better, but I'm not so sure."
Severus reached over and took Harry's hand. "Harry, I promise you with all that I am that I will never even look at another man again." When Harry made a noise of protest, Severus shushed him. "No, listen. I did not realize just what I had until I lost it. You and I are diametrically opposite, and I thought that I needed someone who was more like myself. But then I got that, and I realized that those things that make you different from me are the things that make you so special. I love you, Harry. I think that I always have, but I wasn't able to recognize that until you were gone."
Severus had never said those words to him, and Harry was stunned. The Severus he'd known previously had always accepted Harry's declarations of love but had never returned them. And now he was offering one up unprompted. Harry's eyes filled with tears. "How do we get me out of here?"
Severus smiled and squeezed Harry's hand. Still holding onto the hand as though it were a lifeline, Severus said, "You will need to demand to be discharged. The doctor will likely strongly recommend against your leaving now, but you have the right to insist. They'll have you sign a document acknowledging that you request discharge against medical advice. Once they discharge you, we will head for the nearest loo. Healer Morgan will meet us there. She will sedate you for the trip home. She will accompany us and get you set up at the house. She will examine you magically and prescribe an appropriate healing regimen. She will then leave you in my care. If you need potions, I will brew them."
Harry smiled up at Severus. "You've thought a little bit about this."
Severus tilted his head in acknowledgment. "Is this plan acceptable to you?"
"Yes. When should we do it? Do you need time to get things ready at home?"
Severus actually blushed, just a little. "No. I already have everything ready."
Harry smiled at him again and saw an equally goofy expression mirrored on his lover's face.
"Welcome back, sleeping beauty," Severus said with a soft smile and a caress to Harry's head when he woke. As they had discussed, Harry had been sedated by the healer and then apparated here unconscious. The healer had examined him while he slept, proclaimed him mending well but still weak, then left Severus with instructions for his further care, which included plenty of rest, limited movement from this bed for the next week, and restorative potions.
"Where am I?" Harry asked, muzzy with sleep. He tried looking around, but he was tired, and it was just easier and much more pleasant to continue looking at Severus.
"I thought you might like to be in here," Severus said, gesturing around the room. He'd moved a hospital bed into the sun room, added blinds to the windows which could be closed when Harry was asleep, and moved all of Harry's belongings from his flat into this room.
Harry looked around and realized immediately where he was. "Thank you," he said sincerely. He wasn't sure he was ready for Severus' bed yet. Soon, but not yet. "This is perfect."
Severus seemed unable to stop smiling. Harry was home! "I have dinner ready. The healer said you could try something solid. Do you feel up to eating?"
"I think so. Can you help me up?"
Severus raised the head of Harry's bed, then helped him to sit comfortably. He sat beside Harry while they ate their "solid" supper: mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and applesauce. It wasn't a medium-rare T-bone grilled to perfection, but it tasted wonderful to Harry, who'd been on a bland hospital diet since he'd woken up following surgery.
"Thank you, Severus," Harry said, having a difficult time holding his head up once he'd finished. "I think I need to sleep a little now. Maybe later, you could give me a bath?" He looked up with hopeful eyes.
Severus' heart skipped a beat. Harry was inviting him to touch. Maybe it was just a bath, but maybe it was another step in the direction he'd wanted to take Harry for months. That look in Harry's eyes told him it was likely the latter, and his spirit soared. "Of course I would, Harry. I'd do anything for you." The plate in Harry's hands was in danger of being upended, so Severus reached over and took it from Harry's failing grasp. "You get some sleep now, love. I'll be right here when you wake up."
And he was. As soon as Harry's eyes blinked open a couple of hours later, he saw Severus, sitting in the chair by his bed. "Hello," he croaked.
Severus smiled. "Hello, again. Still want that bath?"
Harry nodded, still caught in the grasp of sleep. Severus stood up and leaned over Harry's bed. "The gown will have to come off. Shall I?" he asked, wanting permission before he disrobed the young man.
Harry nodded, and Severus pulled back the sheet. He carefully reached behind Harry's head and unfastened the St. Mungo-issued hospital gown that Healer Morgan had dressed Harry in after she'd examined him. It wasn't the world's most fashionable garment, but it certainly came off easily enough, Severus noted as he pulled the gown away from Harry's body. Still too thin, Severus noted with clinical detachment the still-prominent ribs and the sunken belly. But his eyes seemed drawn to the thatch of dark hair below that belly, and the half-hard cock beneath that – nothing thin about Harry there, Severus remembered. "Start with the back?" he asked.
Harry nodded, and Severus helped him to turn over. Severus dipped the flannel into the bowl of ever-warm water he'd placed beside Harry's bed earlier, rubbed some soap onto it, and hesitated for a moment over all that pale skin.
Carefully, efficiently, in case he was misreading Harry's motivation in asking for this, he began to wash Harry's back. After casting a warming charm, he washed a section of skin, rinsed the flannel, and removed the soap. When he'd finished with Harry's back, he moved down to his feet and legs and gave them the same treatment. Hesitantly, he finished with Harry's buttocks, running the flannel lovingly between the cheeks. Harry's only response was to wiggle his hips a little, perhaps, Severus hoped, frotting against the sheet below.
"All done," Severus whispered. "Over now."
And when Severus rolled Harry, there was no doubt the boy was aroused. His cock was fully hard and twitching against his belly, and Severus wanted to throw himself upon it, impale himself, ride that magnificent tool to heaven. Harry is sick, he admonished himself, he's not ready for that. But then Severus looked up into Harry's eyes, and his desire for the young man washed through him like molten lava.
Harry wanted him, Severus could see that much in his lover's eyes, hazy with lust and need. Harry showed not a trace of embarrassment at his condition, and Severus seemed unable to take his eyes away from those green orbs.
Severus swallowed audibly and began the chore of washing the front side of Harry's body while at the same time controlling the overpowering urge he felt to touch Harry's cock. The boy was ill, and he could control himself until Harry felt better, despite the evidence that this part of him was already feeling just about as healthy as it could get. Look at his arms, Severus chided himself as he washed them. Look at his chest, as he swirled the washcloth between Harry's nipples, watching them, fascinated, as they hardened to tiny nubs.
"Are you cold?" Severus asked, his voice no more than a seductive whisper.
"Absolutely not," Harry assured him, somewhat amused by Severus' obvious attempts to appear nonchalant in the face of Harry's raging erection.
Oh, Merlin, here we go! Look at what cute little toes he has. I'd never noticed them before. And his ankles, so slender and sexy. Bony shins, covered with coarse dark hairs. Knees are somewhat knobbly, but they're oh so Harry and therefore perfect. Thighs haven't lost all of their quidditch-honed hardness. And speaking of hardness – No. He wasn't going to do it. He couldn't take advantage of Harry's condition that way.
He rinsed the flannel one last time, then rejoined Harry at the head of the bed and used the clean flannel to wash Harry's dear face. When he finished that, he asked, "Better?"
Harry stared at him, boring a hole through the back of Severus' skull with his intensity. "You forgot something."
Severus' eyes darted involuntarily down Harry's body, to where that magnificent member still lay quivering in anticipation. "Um –" And that was it. That was the best he could do.
"It wouldn't do for me not to be clean all over," Harry noted.
Severus was now under no misapprehension about what Harry wanted. "The healer didn't say we could."
"The healer didn't say we couldn't," Harry countered. He, of course, couldn't be sure what the healer had said, since he'd been unconscious while she was here. But he thought he knew Severus well enough to know that he hadn't come right out and asked a former student if he could engage in sexual activities with his young lover, so he felt safe in his assumption.
"You're not well – " Severus tried to argue.
The look in Harry's eyes stopped Severus' words, a look that said, "Please don't deny me again."
"You said you'd do anything for me," Harry pointed out, his certainty about taking this step beginning to waiver in the face of Severus' reluctance. He wanted Severus to touch him, just there, so badly, but apparently the other man wasn't so inclined. Had this been a mistake, after all, coming here, returning home, to Severus? Had Severus only offered to take Harry in out of pity? Harry hadn't thought so – Severus had argued and pleaded for Harry to come here, when he could just as easily have gone to Ron and Hermione's, so –
Harry's train of thought was cut short when Severus wrapped the warm soapy flannel around his cock. Severus had seen the direction Harry's thoughts were taken, and he wasn't going to mess this up again. If Harry was offering, Severus would take. And give. No, maybe he would just give.
"Oh," Harry said, his eyes widening in wonder at the remembered sensations invoked with that simple touch, which wasn't even skin-on-skin yet.
Severus kept his eyes on Harry's face while he thoroughly cleaned the young man's cock and balls. Harry's eyes dropped closed after the first couple of moments, riding the waves of ecstacy coursing through him. He whined when Severus stopped his attentions to rinse the flannel, then sighed his pleasure when the flannel returned to rinse the soap away. When that was finished, and Severus didn't immediately wrap his hand around Harry's engorged flesh, Harry started to open his eyes to protest. Until he felt the bed dipping and shifting beside his knees. He re-snapped his eyes closed, certain that if he looked at Severus now he would shoot off like a fountain before the other man even had a chance to touch him. Severus bent Harry's knees up and pushed them apart, and Harry's breathing quickened. Harry felt him kneel between his legs. He wanted to look, but he knew he shouldn't.
"Harry, look at me," Severus said.
Harry forced his eyes open and looked down at Severus, crouched between his legs, mouth only inches away from Harry's heated flesh. His cock leapt once, as if trying to throw itself into that hot, moist mouth, and Harry whimpered.
"I want you to lie as still as you can," Severus said. "Let me do all of the work. Can you promise me that?"
Harry would promise him his first-born if it would make Severus get busy, and he nodded his head vigorously.
"All right then," Severus growled, and he bent to the task at hand. Harry's eyes closed again, gathering his self-control so that he didn't shoot off as soon as Severus' lips touched his head.
Severus paused for a moment, savoring the banquet spread before him. His own cock was hard and aching, and he wanted very desperately to slick Harry's cock up, squat over the boy, and force himself down onto that beautiful prick. He could just imagine that turgid pole sliding up into the welcoming tightness of his arsehole, the missed stretch and burn and glide.
But that was for another time. As much as he wanted that, and as much as he thought Harry would enjoy it, it was too much for the recovering young man. Besides, Severus owed him one.
Pushing his own desire aside, Severus grasped the base of Harry's prick and stood it upright until it was pointing at the ceiling. "You're so lovely, Harry," Severus breathed before he finally finally lowered his mouth onto Harry's straining flesh. Harry tried to push up into the heat, but Severus used both hands to push the thrusting hips down into the bed. Damn, the man was strong, Harry thought with the small part of his brain that wasn't being soaked with pleasure at the feel of Severus' mouth on him.
Leaning forward on his knees, Severus licked the head of Harry's cock thoroughly, then licked his own lips before lowering his mouth as far down on Harry's erection as he could. It had been a while since he'd performed fellatio (Blackstone had only let Severus go down on him once in all the months they'd been together), and he'd sincerely missed it. He'd always liked sucking cock, and Harry had always been so responsive to every single touch. Now was no different. Harry was having a difficult time keeping his promise to lie still, but Severus wasn't going to hold him to it. He lowered his mouth down onto Harry's cock and let the young man thrust up into him as he would.
Severus' own cock, even in its neglected state, was rapidly reaching the point of no return. All he needed was the slightest contact, and Severus reached down with his free hand and forced his cock between his legs, squeezing them tightly together. It wasn't much, but it was all the pressure that he needed, and without even moving, he began to come against his own legs, unable to participate in what Harry was doing with his cock until he'd finished his orgasm.
Feeling like a cad for giving in to his own pleasure before satisfying Harry, Severus renewed his attentions to Harry's cock with ferocity. He flattened his tongue on the underside, laving the vein there. He used his tongue to reach up and caress the head of Harry's prick whenever Harry pulled out enough for him to do so. And he used one hand to cup Harry's balls, fondling them with his thumb.
Harry's rhythm began to get erratic, and Severus knew he was close. He shoved his mouth down on Harry until his lips were touching the raspy pubic hairs at the same moment that Harry drove himself up into Severus' throat and let loose the first burst of ejaculate. Severus swallowed greedily, holding Harry in the back of his throat though he was nearly gagging, until he had everything that Harry had to give. When Harry finally stilled, Severus slowly and gently withdrew his mouth from Harry's sensitive flesh. He placed a sweet kiss on the tip of Harry's softening cock, cast a wandless and nonverbal spell to clean up the mess he had made of himself, and climbed off the bed.
Harry lay in the bed with his eyes closed, trying to get his breathing back under control. Severus watched him while he banished the bath materials to the bathroom.
"Okay, there, Harry?" he asked.
Harry opened his eyes. "I'm great," he said sincerely. "Thank you. I feel bad that you didn't . . ."
Severus smiled fondly at Harry. "But I did, you foolish creature. I've wanted you so badly for so long, I came without being touched."
"Oh," Harry said with a pleased smile. Then he yawned.
"We should get you settled in for bed." He helped Harry into a clean gown, then turned to the windows. "I'm going to close the blinds so that the sun doesn't wake you in the morning."
"Can you leave the highest one open?" Harry requested. "I'd like to look at the stars for a while."
"Of course," Severus said, and he used his wand to close the blinds, leaving the one open.
Harry settled back into the bed, and Severus spent a few fidgety moments picking things up and putting them down again, delaying the moment when he must go up the stairs alone and leave Harry here.
"Severus?" Harry finally said.
"Would you like to look at the stars with me?"
Severus smiled, incredibly pleased. "I would like that."
Harry scooted over in the bed, and Severus settled beside him. Harry nestled into the crook of Severus' arm, and when Severus looked down at him, he couldn't help the well of emotion that leaked a bit out of his eyes.
"Are you okay?" Harry asked.
"I'm fine. I'm just . . . happy to have you here. I had begun to despair . . ."
Harry silenced him by reaching up and kissing him, gently, tenderly, sweetly. Severus pulled him tight against his side, and they lay back on the pillows, staring up the twinkling heavens. Moments later, they were both asleep, Harry still wearing his glasses and Severus still fully clothed.
Days passed pleasantly. Severus had taken an indefinite leave from work to nurse Harry, and under his loving care, Harry was getting stronger every day. After a week, Healer Morgan returned and examined Harry and proclaimed him ready to get out of bed for short periods and begin to build up his strength and stamina.
At first, a trip around the sun room exhausted Harry and caused him to need a two-hour nap, but gradually he became able to leave his bed for longer and longer periods, until he was able to eat his meals at table and join Severus in the sitting room for a while after. Ron and Hermione came to visit every other day or so, and Harry's recovery was uneventful and, finally, complete.
Harry knew he was getting better when he began to get restless. Severus had returned to work, and the days were long. Harry had begun to give some serious thought to what he wanted to do with his life now. He was pretty sure his quidditch career was over. He'd decided long ago that being an auror was not for him, though he suspected that the Ministry would still let him into the program if he asked. So what was left? Anything potions-related was definitely out. Harry had earned an Acceptable on his potions NEWT, but he was pretty sure there was some kind of divine intervention involved there, and he had no wish to make them his life. He had liked teaching members of the DA, but he knew he was too young for a position at Hogwarts, and there weren't a lot of other teaching opportunities about. He liked warding, and he knew he was good at it, but he wasn't sure what career opportunities might be available in that line.
He was mulling this all over at dinner one night when Severus noted, "You're very quiet tonight."
"Sorry," Harry smiled in apology. "I've been thinking lately about what I want to do with my life now."
"Have you given up on quidditch?"
"I wouldn't take me back," Harry said, "not after I just left them like I did."
"I am sorry," Severus said sincerely. He knew that if it weren't for the depression which Harry had fallen into after Severus had treated him so poorly, Harry would still have his place on the team. Given the success he'd enjoyed in his last three games, perhaps he would have become the team's permanent first-line seeker. He knew that's what Harry had worked for, and he felt as though he'd taken it away.
"In the past," Harry assured him with a sincere smile. "Not your fault at any rate."
"Have you had other ideas? Why don't we take this conversation to the sitting room? If you're finished?"
Harry indicated that he was, and they moved to the comfortable chairs in front of the fire. "I can think of about a hundred things I don't want to do," Harry continued his train of thought. "But as for what I want to do – that's a different story."
"Well, let's examine your strengths. You are powerful, one of the most powerful wizards alive today, I'd wager, so anything you set your mind to should be attainable. I know you expressed desire once upon a time to be an auror. Does that still hold your interest?"
"No," Harry said. "I'd decided that a while ago. I've had enough chasing evil to last me a lifetime."
"You have some skill at warding," Severus said, echoing Harry's earlier thoughts.
"Yeah," Harry said, rolling his eyes. "I'm so good you got right through them."
"I know you, Harry. Knowing another's magic gives you an advantage when it comes to spell casting and breaking. Especially when that knowledge is intimate. No one else could have gotten through those wards. They were immensely powerful."
Harry blushed his pleasure at Severus' praise. "But can you make a career out of warding?"
"Certainly. The Ministry has an entire department in the Magical Law Enforcement office that deals with warding. They'd likely kill to get you. Gringott's has a number of warders on staff. I suspect there would be a fortune to be made in private practice, warding businesses, residences, and government offices. I would hire you to ward my business."
"You would?" Harry asked, immensely pleased.
"I would. You should likely spend some time apprenticing with someone. Would you like me to make some inquiries? You'll want someone reputable, who can handle your level of power. There may not be many prospects."
"That would be wonderful. Thank you, Severus."
"You're very welcome, Harry. Now, it's getting late. You should probably think about getting into bed soon."
"I'm fine. Better every day."
"Still, no point in pushing it."
Harry sat for a moment, staring at the flames, working up his courage. "Severus?"
"Would it be all right . . . I think I'm ready . . . would it be okay if I slept upstairs? With you?"
Severus looked over at Harry. "Are you sure?"
Harry nodded slowly. He'd been thinking about this for over a week. He'd wanted to ask Severus before, but he hadn't been able to find the courage. There was one thing that had held him back, one thing he hadn't been able to get out of his mind.
"Do you remember what you said? Before? That day I came back here to get my stuff after you . . . after I . . . Do you remember?"
Severus remembered he'd said a lot of things, all of them stupid, most of them likely untrue. He really didn't know what specific thing Harry might have been talking about, and he told Harry so.
Harry closed his eyes, the memory of that day so fresh he could recite Severus' speech verbatim. "'I had hoped that perhaps your youth would be of benefit in the bedroom, but I found that even there you were lacking. Oh, you were eager enough, but you lacked experience and expertise, and I found that you were as incapable of learning lessons in the sexual classroom as you were any other subject I ever tried to teach you'."
Severus closed his eyes as well and leaned his head back against the chair. "Oh, Harry," he said. The way Harry had memorized the insult spoke volumes about how much he'd thought Severus meant the hateful words.
"Did you mean what you said?" Harry asked.
"Harry, look at me," Severus requested softly.
When Harry opened his eyes, he discovered that Severus had come to kneel beside his chair. "I said a lot of things to you that day. Some of them I thought were true, but I learned later I was mistaken. Some of the things I said I knew were untrue, and I outright lied because I was trying to hurt you and drive you away. That was one of the outright lies. I never had any complaints in that area of our life. You were enthusiastic and passionate and thoughtful, and I never fully appreciated what a lover I had in you until I had someone to compare you to. Octavius was – "
"Severus," Harry said, very sternly. "Don't ever say that name again when I'm thinking about taking you upstairs to fuck you."
Severus pressed his lips together, eager to appear compliant.
Harry offered a hand to Severus, who took it, and they both stood up. Harry made for the stairs, but Severus pulled him back and bent down to kiss him. "You must understand something. Just the thought of touching you, or you touching me, is enough to make me lose all reason. There is nothing lacking about you in the bedroom, Harry. Nothing."
"Shall we go up and see if it's as good as you remember?"
Severus nodded and then followed behind Harry as he was towed up the stairs and into the bedroom they once shared. Harry wasted no time looking around to see if Severus had changed anything in here. He made his way to the bed, fell onto it, and pulled Severus down on top of him.
Severus lay atop Harry and kissed him with everything he had. And it was wet and messy and exciting and Harry and perfect, and Severus fell into it, with no desire to ever climb back out. His knee dropped between Harry's legs, and he could feel the hardness of the man beneath him pressing against his thigh, and he could feel Harry thrusting up against him, and he could feel that soft hair he'd missed so much beneath both hands and he could feel.
Wordlessly, wandlessly, Harry undressed them both. Severus shuddered at this display of Harry's power, and his arousal climbed another notch. Somehow Harry had in his hand the lube that Severus kept in the bedside table, and he thrust it between their bodies.
"I want you to fuck me," Severus murmured into Harry's mouth. "I want you to fuck me hard and fast."
Harry groaned and forcefully thrust his hips up into Severus. "We'd better get you ready soon, 'cause I'm not going to last."
Severus felt the same way, and he rolled off of Harry, scrambled to the head of the bed, and lay back. Harry approached, eyeing the body before him with appreciation, then got down to business. He dipped two fingers into the lube, and approached Severus with them held high. "Spread 'em," he growled.
With a shudder of lust, Severus did so. Harry approached, chucked a pillow under Severus' hips, and smeared the lube from Severus' balls back to his arsehole. He circled a fingertip around the whorl of muscle before pressing on the center, nudging gently until Severus pushed against him, demanding penetration. Harry pushed a single finger in until it could go no further, then twisted it this way and that. He searched for and found the walnut nub that was Severus' prostate and pressed down against it, causing Severus to shout, "Yes, Harry! There!"
Harry pulled his finger out, then forced two back in. Severus groaned and pushed down against Harry's hand. "Hurry!" he ground out.
"I should make you wait. I should torture you," Harry said playfully, "but I can't wait either." He pulled away enough to slick his cock with the lube, then positioned himself at Severus' entrance and thrust himself into the tight heat. He thrust once, twice, three times, so forcefully he drove Severus' head into the headboard. Then he pulled almost all the way out, until only the head of his cock was still buried inside Severus, and he made several short dart-like lunges into Severus' channel before pushing himself all the way back in, scraping Severus' prostate on the way through.
"Jesus, Harry! Finish it!"
Harry inched his knees closer to Severus to increase his leverage, grabbed hold of Severus' erection, and began to fuck him like a deranged animal. Less than a minute later, they reached orgasm simultaneously, and they rode the waves of pleasure together. Harry pressed his lips down on Severus' mouth, "You said you wanted it hard and fast."
"Mmm," Severus agreed into a kiss. "I did. Thank you."
Harry's rapidly tiring and softening cock shrunk its way out of Severus' arse, and Harry rolled off of Severus and lay panting beside him on the bed.
"It was better. Better than I remember."
"Good," Harry said, curling up against Severus. "Then you cast the cleaning spells." And he closed his eyes.
Severus chuckled and happily complied. He'd cast every cleaning spell from here to the end of his life if it meant that he could have this every night. He closed his eyes and snuggled up next to Harry, feeling complete for the first time in months.