Snape startled awake in the darkened room, some sound shockingly interrupting the safety of his warded sanctuary. Reflexes from nineteen years of playing the double agent caused him to keep his eyes shut and his body still, as he cast his senses outward, testing for the source of the intrusion. The sound came again – a thumping accompanied by a moan. Where…? But… his bed was soft beneath him, the coverlet warm over him, the scents reassuringly familiar. He was definitely in his private chambers in the dungeons. The moan came again, and memory and comprehension kicked back in. Potter.
He flung the covers off and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, swaying slightly as dizziness threatened his equilibrium. Inhale. Take it slower. What use was he going to be to the boy, if the mere act of getting out of bed, attaining vertical, threatened his stability? Nagini venom. Damned snake! He took a moment to balance himself, then rose and made his way to the other room.
Potter was thrashing about on the sofa – the source of the thumping sound – and moaning, fighting against something in his sleep. Even in the flickering, uneven light from the fireplace, Snape could see that the back of his right hand was abraded from its contact with the rough upholstery. Even as he watched, Potter lashed out as if to fight off some demon, his hand coming into contact again with the sofa, this time breaking through so that small drops of blood bloomed across his knuckles. If this was how Potter slept every night, it was a wonder he was uninjured every morning. The realization that the boy had probably – definitely – slept in the large, soft bed Snape had just left created a twinge of guilt that he did not have time for. He crossed to the sofa swiftly, and bent to shake the boy's shoulder. As luck would have it, the boy thrashed one more time, his left fist swinging up and out – until it caught Snape squarely in the nose.
Blood immediately gushed forth as Snape's head snapped back and his arm came up defensively. His startled oath was enough to pull the boy awake, and Potter sat up suddenly, nearly compounding Snape's injury by ramming into his jaw. Snape pulled back just in time, one hand already dripping with blood, the other reaching out to restrain Potter from a potential defensive attack.
"Damn it, Potter!"
"Who did you think it was?"
"I… what are you doing here? I was sleeping. I… You're bleeding!"
"Of course I'm bleeding, you infernal brat! You cocked me in the nose with your bloody fist!" Snape had backed away from the sofa, up against one of the wing-backed chairs that sat to either side of the fireplace, hand to nose, and fell into it, feeling nauseous at the trickle of blood down his throat. His blasted wand was under his pillow. Idiot!
"Oh my God! I'm sorry! Here – let me…"
"Don't touch me, Potter!"
The boy recoiled, looked around, and grabbed his glasses and wand from the table where he had been working that evening. He shoved the glasses onto his face, and, raising his wand, not backing down at the glare Snape was giving him around his bloody fingers, flicked it in the other man's direction. "Episkey!" There was a quiet snick of bones snapping into place, against the pain of which Snape closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. Harry winced. "Here – let me…" He stood and made to move off, but Snape's voice pinned him into place.
"Potter! Sit down!"
Harry ignored the order and rushed to Snape's bathroom, where he ran cold water over a cloth, wrung it out partway, grabbed a dry hand towel, and headed back to Snape's sitting room. The man was leaning back against the chair, head thrown back, eyes closed, looking pale. Blood covered the lower half of his face, smeared by his hand, which was hanging over the arm of the chair, slowly dripping blood onto the area rug beneath him. Merlin, the man had lost a lot of blood in those few seconds! Must have high blood pressure or something… probably because he's so tall… it has to take a lot of pump pressure to get the blood up to his head. Harry realized his mind was doing the equivalent of hysterical babbling, and tried to shut off his thoughts and focus on what needed to be done.
He knelt at Snape's side, and raised a hand to apply the cloth to Snape's face. Snape's blooded hand grabbed at his wrist, and he snatched the flannel from Harry's hand, opened pained eyes to glare at him, and held the cold cloth over his nose. A muffled groan came through his hands, and Harry winced. "Sorry, Professor," he said, settling back on his heels. Black eyes glared at him over bloodied fingers, before Snape closed them again.
Five minutes and two Scourgifys later, both of them paler than usual, they sat at a table sipping hot tea brought to them by a cheerful, wrinkled house elf, obviously elderly, who was apparently on duty in the kitchen overnight. Hiding behind his longer hair and the teacup he held in front of his face, Harry cast wary glances at Snape, waiting for him to tear the mickey out of him. Finally, he could stand the silence no more.
"I'm sorry." The words came out in a desperate whisper. Snape snorted.
"I am. I… I was asleep. I'm sorry. I –"
"There is no need… It's not your fault, Ha… Potter," Snape said tiredly. "You were having a nightmare, thrashing about in your sleep." He gave a wry smile. "I should have stayed out of range."
Harry gaped at him.
"Close your mouth," Snape commented – without even looking up, as far as Harry could tell. His voice held a touch of humor. "I do occasionally understand what lies behind a person's behavior – even yours."
Harry's lips twitched. "I'm sor… Uh…"
Snape sighed and stilled a moment, clearly restraining himself from his typical comment about Harry's lack of… eloquence. "What were you dreaming about?"
"Oh… ah… I… I don't remember," Harry lied.
Snape contemplated him over the rim of his teacup, one eyebrow raised challengingly. Harry averted his eyes. "I… it was… a lot of things, I think," he said. "A lot of things happened this past year."
He drew a hand over his forehead as if trying to banish the memories, and let out a long, slow breath. His hands shook, unresponsive to his efforts to control them. He put his teacup down, and it rattled against the saucer. He clenched his hands together under the table, hoping that Snape wouldn't see, and looked up to find the man watching him steadily, black eyes glinting with some emotion, teacup pressed to his lips as if to enforce silence. He did not look away, and Harry felt trapped, caught by Snape's stare, and winced, but he did not feel the man's mind probing at his; Snape did not attempt Legilimancy. After what felt like long minutes, he pulled his gaze away and sighed deeply again, his shoulders slumping in what might have been defeat… or relief.
"It is four o'clock in the morning, Potter. It is both too early to be up and too late to return to our beds." He put his teacup down and laced his fingers together over it. "Why don't you tell me about it?"
Harry looked up and met the man's eyes, incredulous that… that what? That Snape would be interested? That he'd want to know? That he'd… listen? His eyes filled with tears that he tried to dash away, but they stubbornly refused to be quelled, and before he could even begin to understand why, he was sobbing, his shoulders shaking with the weight of it – the fear, the loss, the burden, the uncertainty, the pain, the absolute terror of the last twelve months. He'd held it in so long, deferred his own grief and loss and reaction to… to the whole of it, for so long… for the eight months of hiding and trying and starving and freezing and utter, utter loneliness and loss and terror… for the sharp, short exhilaration and terror of the battle itself… for Fred and Tonks and Remus… and Moody and Hedwig and Dobby… for the shock and sudden understanding… the knowledge that, for this to be over, truly over, he must die. For the heart-pounding risk… of coming back… For weeks of funerals and watching wounded friends recover – or not… facing families and the Ministry… for the exhausting weeks by Snape's side, hoping and despairing, the fear and shock that… that… Oh gods! That he loved and honored and respected and would never, never be worthy of the man he had reviled and hated for most of the last seven years…
It all came crashing down on him, and he found himself sobbing and gasping for breath, unable to breathe, and warm arms wrapped around him, and drew him to an equally warm chest, and he was held and rocked and petted and soothed, and a voice – Snape's voice – was murmuring into his ear, "Shh… shh… It's all right. It's all over. You did well. I'm so proud of you. You did well."
Snape woke slowly, blinking in the light of the fire and the artificial sunlight that came from a painting charmed to reflect the view over the Black Lake. Kreacher was moving about slowly in his bedroom, flashes of towel visible through the doorway as he walked back and forth, apparently freshening the room. Some warm weight pinned Snape to the sofa, and he found it oddly comfortable, though it didn't shift with him when he went to stretch his legs and arms. His left hand fell onto…
The last few hours came back to him in a flash – his nose (better now), the boy's heart-breaking sobs… How they had come to be on the sofa, he did not recall, but he supposed he must have urged the boy to move from the hard chairs around his table, to the comfort of the sofa. He did recall Potter clinging to him, trembling… that it took long minutes, maybe more, before the shuddering sobs softened into sniffles and hiccups. He did remember holding the boy firmly against him, soothing his fingers through the long, soft hair, rubbing small circles on the boy's back, feeling his spine through his thin sleep shirt. He must have summoned a blanket at some point, or perhaps Kreacher had found them asleep like this and pulled up the blanket with which Snape had covered the boy, so much earlier in the evening.
His left hand still lay on the boy's hip. He had slid down, sometime in the early morning, so that his head lay in Snape's lap, his knees drawn up as he lay on his side, facing away from Snape now. Snape's right hand lay on Potter's head, tangled in the boy's hair. A wave of something… some feeling… squeezed through Snape's chest, and he fought down an urge to lift the boy against his chest again, and hold him there. He shook his head and smirked at himself. You just cannot lay off protecting him, can you, Severus? His right hand moved without conscious intent, soothing the boy in his sleep, fingers running through the boy's hair.
Some part of his anatomy twitched, and he froze, then snatched his hand away from Potter's head.
"Mmmm… don't stop. Feels good," the boy murmured.
Snape said nothing, holding his breath, hoping the boy was talking in his sleep. Potter stirred, and groaned as he stretched out his legs, simultaneously turning onto his back. Snape failed to move quickly enough, with the result that his left hand slid across the boy's hip and stomach as he turned, brushing against what could only be…
His anatomy twitched again, and he jerked his knee up to dislodge the warm weight from his lap. Please don't let him have noticed! he prayed frantically. He fought the impulse to dump the boy from his lap.
Potter startled fully awake, his eyes, unfocused without his glasses, opening straight into Snape's. He froze for a moment, then levered himself awkwardly to a sitting position, narrowly missing Snape's nose – again, managing to elbow Snape in his groin as he did so. Snape yelped and shoved him to a complete sitting position, bending forward slightly to protect himself from further harm, as well as to cover the surge of… of energy… that resulted from the brief contact. Bloody hell! What was that? He shot off the sofa and glared at Potter, summoned his wand, and cast a wordless Tempus.
"Breakfast in half an hour," he announced, turning quickly away from the… the… boy. "I trust you can wait to…" He halted uncertainly. "I will be in the bath. I… I shall only be ten minutes. Don't touch anything," he finished, in a vain attempt to recover some semblance of authority. He… fled… to his bathroom. There was no other word for it. What he was fleeing, exactly, he was not sure. Why was he having this… this reaction to the… to Potter?
Nagini venom. It must be affecting his endocrine system. Yes. That must be it. He tried to work up an anger about it, but could not manage it, instead feeling some… longing. In fact, his… endocrine system… seemed to latch itself onto the memory of the last few hours, reviewing the feel of Potter in his arms, against his chest…
He growled at himself as he stripped and filled the bath with a wave of his hand, particularly when he realized he was having trouble quelling the rising swell of his cock. He groaned again as he sank into the warm water, desperately – and unsuccessfully – tried to clear his mind, and squeezed his eyes shut, refusing to touch himself. To no avail. Every move he made seemed to increase the pressure, until he finally gave up, gave in, and stroked himself, trying not to think about… what he was thinking about… which was primarily Potter's head in his lap, not ten minutes earlier.
His hand sped up as it squeezed and stroked his now-weeping cock. He flicked his fingers over his balls on each downstroke, drawing his legs up and apart slightly, his other hand finding and grazing his aching, quivering hole. His breath came faster, and he felt warmth spread up his chest to his face, grimacing in want and need. He shut his lips determinedly against the groan that wanted to escape as he found his release, but continued until he had milked every drop from his poor cock, as if making sure there would be nothing left to betray him later in the day.
Merlin's bollocks! What was that about?
Normal. It's just a normal reaction to a return to health, that's all.
But… the memory of Potter's head in his lap caused an unwanted twitch, and he cast an admonitory glare at his bits, grit his teeth, and emphatically turned his mind away from it all, distracting himself by reciting ingredients and the procedure for brewing amortentia. When he realized what he was mentally concocting, he flung the flannel down in disgust, rinsed the soap from his body and hair, and viciously toweled himself dry. By the time he dressed – in black, buttoned up entirely, including his ankle boots – he was outwardly calm. He would address the issue himself tonight. That is, if he got through the day without molesting the boy.
"We have three more curses to undo in the dorms, then should inspect the corridor itself," he said, when Potter emerged from the bath, hair semi-controlled by dampness, fifteen minutes after the boy had entered his room. Potter nodded and walked to the table by the sofa, to collect his journal, his wand, and the list of spells and counter-spells he had made the night before. He weighed the journal in his hand, tapped it with his wand, and pocketed it. Snape raised his eyebrows. Nonverbal shrinking spell… controlled. The journal had shrunk to about half its size, rather than the miniature that usually resulted from such spells. Control of that sort took a tremendous level of concentration. He shook his head. Potter simply did not have that level of control. It must have been a fluke… or a weakly cast spell.
He noted that he did not really believe that.
Potter was turning in a circle, inspecting the side tables, the work table, and Snape's desk.
"No. Not really," Potter said absently. He folded the parchment and tucked it into his other pocket and looked up. "I'm ready for breakfast." There was no awkwardness in his look or tone, and Snape silently gave thanks that, apparently, he did not remember anything… awkward… about the early morning.
He narrowed his eyes at the chit. "Your readiness to consume some undoubtedly disgusting combination of comestibles that you will deem breakfast hardly concerns me… However, I will not have you in my quarters unsupervised. Come." He turned and strode to the door, stepping out to the corridor and waiting for Potter to leave. When he had, radiating enough rebellion and anger as he brushed past the older man to satisfy Snape's soul, Snape shut the door and warded it with his personal signature. He did not bother to change the password, given Potter was hovering at his elbow, instead whirling and stalking off, leaving Potter to follow in his wake.
"And how are you two progressing?" Minerva asked as they settled at the Ravenclaw table once more. Snape snapped his fingers at Potter and held out his hand, and the boy threw him a sullen look and pulled the parchment from his back pocket. "Your handwriting is as atrocious as ever, Potter," he drawled as he smoothed it out on the table between him and Minerva.
"Not many opportunities to practice my penmanship in the last year, Professor," Potter said, glaring at him from the seat nearly opposite Snape. Snape ignored him, though his stomach twitched guiltily.
"As you can see, Headmistress…"
McGonagall tsk'd irritably. He ignored that, as well.
"… there were several different spells used. All had Carrow's signature – Amycus Carrow." He flicked his eyes to Potter's side of the table, but the boy was busy chasing egg around his plate, though he appeared to be listening. "I – that is to say, Potter and I, both confirmed that only his signature was present in the curses on the Slytherin dorm." He drew a finger down the second column. It was complete and surprisingly exact. "Potter kept track of the counterspells required, as you can see." He glanced up to see Potter's face flushed. The corners of his mouth were lifting in a reluctant smile, though the boy kept his head directed at his plate. Snape rolled his eyes and continued, tapping his finger to direct Minerva's attention to the final three hexes. "We will continue with these three today, and then direct our attention to the Slytherin corridor. There is at least one active curse or hex there, and I suspect there may be more."
Minerva nodded as she looked over the list, her lips tightening into a thin line as she identified potentially deadly curses amongst the more nuisance hexes. She glanced up at Potter, then at Snape. "Dismantling these requires a tremendous amount of energy, Severus. Are you sure you and Potter…? Perhaps if Filius would consent to assist you…"
Snape shook his head, folding the parchment and placing it in his pocket. He drew the teapot to him and poured himself a cup, then began helping himself to a moderate breakfast. Potter was moving food around on his plate, more than actually eating anything. "You will finish what is on your plate, Mr. Potter – as well as seeing Madam Pomfrey for a nutritional supplement. I will not have you depleting yourself and collapsing on me, as you did yesterday," he said, looking down the table to the mediwitch. She nodded approvingly. Potter looked up, his mouth opened in a protest that died when he saw McGonagall, Pomfrey, and Snape all looking at him in a united front. He shrugged and nodded.
"I'll want to see both of you before noon, Severus, Potter," the mediwitch said. Snape shut his eyes momentarily, to summon his patience - successfully, to his satisfaction – and nodded. Perhaps he could ask her for something to quell his… sensitivity. He began sorting through known libido-suppressing potions in his mind, but dismissed each of them immediately as not suitable, or as having unacceptable side-effects. His thoughts centered on this dilemma, he missed the next bits of conversation, and dragged himself back to the table when he realized Minerva was addressing a question Potter had asked.
"To the best of my knowledge, no other area of the castle has been plagued with curses, but it wouldn't hurt to check, Potter. That's a reasonable suggestion. If you and Severus could go through Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff first… Gryffindor is still not ready to be inhabited, and in fact, it is dangerous footing in that tower just now. I'm sorry to impose, but as the two of you are working so well together…" Here, she stopped and glared meaningfully at Snape, who twitched a shoulder in irritation. "I'll ask you to continue."
"Here, now," Flitwick protested. "I'd like to be present for that in the Ravenclaw dorms. No insult, Severus."
"None taken. I would appreciate the assistance." Snape smirked at Potter. "Someone who knows the dorms should accompany us in each of the Houses." He nodded at Pomona and Minerva.
"Potter is familiar with Gryffindor Tower," she pointed out.
"Someone with a bit more… knowledge," he clarified.
His attempt to needle Potter was wasted. The boy continued eating unconcernedly, occasionally flicking his eyes up to McGonagall or Snape as they talked, seemingly immune to Snape's indirect jabs. Probably too thick to know when he was being slighted, Snape thought with a sneer. Potter did react to the sneer, frowning at him as if trying to figure out what he'd done wrong, or perhaps whether Snape had swallowed a bug. Snape narrowed his eyes at the boy, and Potter mouthed at him, What? When Snape did not reply, the boy shrugged and turned his head toward Flitwick, who had been trying to capture his attention.
Snape turned back to McGonagall, who had watched the interaction with eagle eyes. She thinned her lips in disapproval, but said nothing about it. "If you'll continue to keep track of any curses or hexes, however minor, and their casters, I'm sure Kingsley Shacklebolt would find it helpful."
Snape nodded. He would assign Potter the task of recorder, to keep him out of trouble, and out of the way. Besides, he admitted to himself, the boy had done an excellent job, given he had not been keeping record along the way. He allowed himself to take a longer look at the boy, sitting across from Flitwick, leaning forward, deep in discussion. He did not look much like a boy anymore, Snape admitted. Certainly, he was thin, and he would never be tall, but… his eyes were intent, his bearing purposeful, his gestures emphatic, precise, and confident… No, Potter was definitely no longer a boy. For some reason, this made Snape uncomfortable.
They jockeyed for position at the top of the stairs leading down to the dungeons after breakfast. Snape had vetoed Potter's suggestion they visit Poppy immediately, pointing out that unraveling the remaining three hexes would not take terribly long, but they would both be due for a break after the morning's work. Besides, he was concerned about how drained Potter had been the day before, and wanted Poppy to have a look at Potter after a bit of work, not before, when he was well-rested.
They walked the corridor, and reached that same odd spot, identifiable by the slight resistance as they pushed through it. Potter reflexively reached with his right hand, simultaneously pushing Snape back with some wordless spell and snatching something from the air, even before the sparkle warned Snape of the knife hurtling through the air. When the boy barely broke his stride, and merely tucked the knife under his belt at his left hip, Snape double-stepped to catch up, grabbed Potter by the shoulder and spun him around to face him.
"Just what the hell are you playing at, Potter? You will dismantle your ward this instant, or I shall drag you before the Headmistress for attempted murder!"
Potter looked up at him in confusion. "What? I didn't… You think I planted that?" He drew the knife from his belt, and Snape leapt back out of range of the sweep of the boy's arm. Potter looked hurt, and then angry. "I'm not about to knife you, you berk!" The fact that he was gesturing with the knife did not help his case.
"Hand. That. To me... Now." Snape said in a quiet, controlled tone that froze the boy where he stood. Moving with exquisite slowness and care, Potter turned the knife haft-out, and held it on his palm, stretching it out toward Snape, his wand hand held up, palm out, unmoving. Two swift steps and Snape snatched the knife from the boy's hand, and threw it down the corridor behind him, where it clattered, spun, and skittered for some six meters or so. He grabbed Potter by his wand arm, and shoved him, face-first, up against the stone wall, twisting his arm behind him tightly enough to draw a painful protest. Potter did not resist as Snape laid a forearm across the back of the boy's neck, forcing his face into the unforgiving stone, causing his glasses to skew, fall, bounce once off his shoulder, and hit the floor.
"What. The hell. Are you playing at?" Snape whispered viciously.
Potter choked and Snape backed the pressure off of his neck, keeping the boy's wand arm cocked up his back so that he was forced to his toes to alleviate the pressure. "I'm not doing anything!" he gasped. He shoved back slightly, and Snape added a knee to the pressure against him, bringing it up so that it held the boy's hips tightly to the wall, shoving in once, for emphasis.
"You will not move until I am satisfied with your answers. Is that clear?"
Potter started to nod, thought better of it, stopped, and forced out, "Yes."
"Where did you get that knife?" The boy twitched, and Snape renewed the pressure against his neck before backing off slightly to allow him to speak. He took longer to respond than Snape was happy with. "Well?" he barked.
"It… it flew at me. Days ago. When I came down to the dungeons. Nearly speared me."
Snape backed off, spun the boy around and pushed him against the wall again, feeling up his left side.
"Why, Professor, I didn't know you cared!" the boy – the man snarled. His eyes glittered with something dangerous, but he held still until Snape found and removed his wand, and held it, pointed at the… man…
"Explain, Potter. And make it good."
"Of course, Professor." Potter's eyes seethed with continued anger. He took a breath, paused, and blew it out, and the look on his face changed from anger to mere frustration. He raised a hand as if to run it through his hair, but stopped when Snape twitched his wand. He let his hand fall and met Snape's eyes in a clear message. I'm telling you the truth. Read it.
"Are you suggesting I use Legilimancy on you, Potter?" Snape asked incredulously.
Potter hesitated, then nodded, and held his hands out to the side in a gesture of willingness. "I've got nothing to hide," he said, challenge and wary consent clear in his tone.
Snape took a step closer, narrowing his eyes, searching Potter's face for any hint of trickery. Finding none, he twitched the wand again, whispered, "Legilimens," and fell into Potter's mind.
The boy offered no resistance, in fact, seemed to lead the way. Snape followed, deferring attention to other bits of memory that flitted past. They arrived at the relevant memory… Potter wandering the corridor, lost in thought… a pulse of energy… a flash in his peripheral vision… the swift snatch of something out of the air as Potter, barely breaking stride, looked down at the knife in his hand.
Snape looked at the ephemeral Potter beside him. "You don't seem surprised," he accused.
"Watch," Potter said, and nodded at the memory-Potter, who stopped and peered back the way he had come, then looked at the knife in his hand, and continued, one hand running along the stone walls.
Snape watched as Potter allowed every memory having to do with the knife play out before them. He moved closer to where Potter's journal lay open on the writing table in the Slytherin dorm, the knife lying beside it, but the Potter at his side held out a hand to restrain him. "I'd rather keep my journal private," he said.
Having said that, of course, his mind immediately began flashing pages in front of them, filled with ink, his hand writing or pausing. The Potter beside Snape scrunched up his face in concentration, and the images sped by too fast for Snape to read anything, then paused. A parchment flickered onto the table where Potter sat, tears dripping onto it, smearing the ink…
There was a stabbing pain in Snape's head, and he found himself pushed not only out of Potter's mind, but across the corridor. He stumbled and fell, landing flat on his arse, the breath knocked out of him. Potter stared at him, panting, then sprinted to his side, landing on his knees, helping him to sit up.
"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean…"
Snape waved a hand to shut the blathering idiot up, but accepted the hand he stretched out to help him to his feet, once the boy had scrambled to a stand himself. "No harm done, Potter," he said as he got to his feet. "You have a right to limit my… foray… into your mind to the matter at hand."
Potter gawked at him. "You're…" He shook his head. "You mean that, don't you?"
Snape finished dusting himself off, refusing to look the boy in the eyes. "You are no longer my student. We are no longer at war. You are… an ally. I have no right to treat you as if you are the enemy." He forced himself to stand erect and look the boy in the eyes. "I apologize for my… intrusion. It was unnecessary."
"Yeah, but… how would you have known that if you hadn't looked?" Potter argued. He shrugged. "Anyway… no harm done. That is, if you're all right?" He looked at Snape anxiously. "Do you need to… to rest, or something? Or maybe a pain potion…?"
Snape growled. "I am not an invalid, Potter!"
The… man… threw him a grin. "Apparently not. That was fast work, disarming me like that. Will you show me how to do that?" He smiled up at Snape, apparently bearing him no ill will, something that Snape found baffling enough to make him frown - which was preferable to standing there, slack-jawed, lost in those eyes...
He turned his back to the boy and looked back down the hall, where he had thrown the knife. It was nowhere to be seen. "Huh."
Snape turned partway back toward Potter and gestured him to follow. "Come," he said, and retraced their earlier footsteps, then turned them around to pace the corridor again. Just as he felt the resistance of the ward begin, he gestured Potter on, narrowing his eyes to watch. Sure enough, there was a flash, and the knife again spun, seemingly out of nowhere, to smack itself into Potter's waiting hand. And just as unconsciously as before, the boy automatically stuck it into the belt at his side, as if it belonged there.
He turned to look at Snape, looked down at his belt, and looked back up, a look of perplexity on his face.
"What is it?" Snape asked.
"Feels like it's… like it belongs there, you know? I almost feel naked without it."
"It's what you were looking for earlier, before breakfast, in my quarters, isn't it?"
"Was I? Yeah. Probably." Potter's hand unconsciously moved to protect the knife at his side.
Snape waved a hand. "It's alright, Potter. I do not intend to…" His voice slowed thoughtfully. "…disarm you…"
He drew a breath to answer, then thought better of it. "Give me a while. I need to think it through and not draw any hasty conclusions."
"You'll let me know when you do, though, won't you? Draw a conclusion, I mean. I hate when unexplained things happen around me," Potter said, clenching his jaw in anxiety.
"I'll bet you do," Snape acknowledged sardonically. "Meanwhile," he said, gesturing further on down the corridor, "if you're up to it after this interesting… experiment, we have some hexes to dismantle."
The work was swiftly done, leaving them ample time to visit the infirmary prior to lunch. Madam Pomfrey pronounced both of them in fair health. "Not good health, mind! Both of you need to put on weight and eat more nutritionally." She handed each of them sheets with instructions for exercise, rest, and nutrition. "I've instructed the house elves that you are to eat six small meals a day, so you can expect them to bring you snacks at midmorning, mid-afternoon, and before bedtime. I expect them to report to me that those snacks have been consumed," she emphasized. Neither of them mentioned Potter's nightmares.
"Poppy," Snape said quietly as he buttoned his shirt and pulled on his waistcoat.
"Hmm? What is it, dear?" she replied absently, waving her wand at the parchment on which a Quick-Quotes quill had recorded her notes as she examined him. It curled up and disappeared with a pop.
He waited until she turned to look at him. "Potter…"
Her eyes softened, and she stilled, giving him her full attention.
"…gets depleted after we deconstruct a hex. Are you sure he's…? He's as thin as a bowtruckle!" he complained in a thin voice.
She frowned. "Depleted? How? He seemed perfectly healthy a moment ago. Perhaps I should call him back…"
Snape stayed her with a hand on her arm. "Don't. He'll deny it," he said with an attempt at a sneer. "But he seems… exhausted – easily exhausted. And I…" He couldn't say it – couldn't acknowledge that he was worried about the boy. He didn't need to, though. Pomfrey saw right through his truculent complaints. She patted his arm.
"He is exhausted, Severus. We all are. Even you. You'd think weeks in a coma would be restful, wouldn't you? But all your energy went into healing… and I think all Potter's energy went into healing you, as well. He has potential, that boy. Well – he's not a boy any longer, is he? In any case, Severus…" She stopped at his skeptical look. "He did nurse you, Severus, surely you know that. Be that as it may, I'll keep an eye on him, and you will bring to my attention anything that concerns you – yes? Now shoo. You won't do either of you any good by skipping a meal!"
Potter had waited for him outside the infirmary, and paced at his side solicitously as they headed to the Great Hall for the mid-day meal. Snape snorted and shook his head, lengthening his stride until Potter had to double-step to keep up, which made Snape smirk in amused satisfaction. Potter eventually got the better of him – his stamina was not up to his usual standards, and the boy outpaced him, passing him in a purposeful huff, stomping off ahead of him. Which gave Snape the opportunity to observe something peculiar.
The staircases of Hogwarts shifted in some pattern known only to the castle, some pattern that suited the castle's purposes, as if it were sentient. That pattern always – always – suited the purposes of the current Headmaster, as well, and under most circumstances, the goals of the faculty, particularly Heads of Houses. This allowed their swift, unimpeded movement, when trouble was afoot. The Headmaster was loyal to the castle, and the castle returned that loyalty.
But… Potter moved through the castle with that same ease. Staircases swung in his direction, and moved to facilitate his progress, so that he never needed to wait, break stride, or take an alternate route. Snape had gotten so used to the castle adapting to him that he hadn't noticed, with Potter at his side, that the castle adapted for Potter, as well. He added that fact to the information he was gathering in his mind, resolved to test his theory in the afternoon.
Thus it was that Potter led the way to Ravenclaw Tower, Snape having given the excuse for lagging behind of wanting to examine in more detail the progress on repairs to the corridors and staircases. There was no doubt about it – the school adapted around Potter's presence, moved with him, almost eagerly. The fact that it also facilitated Snape's progress was incidental, almost a given, something he did not question. Nor did Potter seem to question that he moved through the school with unprecedented ease, in partnership with it.
Snape found himself watching the boy's movements – the easy sway of his hips as he moved; the sometimes-jerky, awkward movements that he saw as alert, reactive, defensive; the way his fingers trailed the bannisters, the way his palm caressed the walls of the corridor as he passed. More than once, Potter slowed or stopped, leaned a shoulder into a bit of stone, stretched his hands to connect two sides of an archway, traced the shape of a bit of carving, set a bit of some guardian figure – armor or a gargoyle or stone soldier – more firmly into place, patting it and tracing a bit of detail… Potter was… making love to the school, Snape thought, and felt something stirring in him again, at the imagery. And… the school was making love back, brightening in Potter's presence, standing a bit firmer, as if coming to attention, and Potter, unconscious, accepted the magic that swirled in his passage, given and taken, some reciprocity evident in the relationship between wizard and stone.
It was enthralling to watch. It touched something deep in Snape's chest, warmed him, almost brought tears to his eyes. He forced himself to take a mental step back. Collect the data, he ordered himself sternly, and called to Potter to wait for him at the next turn.