Okay, you know by now Yen is responsible for just how much this fits together, and I thank her from the bottom of my heart. ^-^ Ree
Things To Learn
Severus watched as Potter balanced his teacup on the arm of his chair. He waited patiently for whatever was bugging his regular visitor to find its way out of that mouth. It wouldn't take long for Potter to fill the silence with some sort of noise.
"I don't know what I want to do."
Severus pushed himself higher up on the pillows, hating that he needed to use them at all. "Potter, you've barely learned the basics of your education, much less of the Wizarding world. How can you know what your options truly are?"
Surely Potter will not accept the Ministry's offer that he had babbled about last week. They were offering a deal where he could start training as an auror immediately, without meeting the traditional requirements. There was just too much that could be hidden in the deal, things Severus couldn't see yet, but was sure would come to bite Potter in the tail later. The young man had to earn his place so no one could take it away from him.
Severus stared into Potter's eyes, hoping that he wouldn't have to say what he was thinking. He was sure that if he had to, the Hero of the Wizarding world would dismiss it. Fudge was no longer Minister, so everything was peaches and cream. He could almost hear the words coming from those pink lips.
No. Severus refused to think anymore about those lips, or any other attractive feature on his former student, especially the rich green eyes looking deep into his own, currently narrowed in an attempt to glare. There was still a possibility that Potter would once again be his student especially if he could get the boy to see sense, and he did not need the complication of being attracted to a student on his return to Hogwarts.
"I know more than the basics of magic," Potter groused.
Statements like that reminded Severus of just how young the boy was. 'And that is a good thing. I need to remember he is young, too young for me to even be thinking about.' He held back a sigh. "True, you can cast very complicated spells, but your basic is weak, the foundations of the higher magic. That can get you killed in the field."
The messy head dropped, the young man's gaze locked on the floor while the teacup he was holding was in danger of being cracked by the periodic pressure that it was being subjected to. A sigh finally came, Potter's body seeming to shrink into itself before he shook himself and lifted his head, a determined smile pasted on his face. "So, how have the medi-witches been today? They haven't been trying to sneak calming draughts into your food again?"
Severus allowed the change of subject, raising an eyebrow before answering. "They finally learned that trying to dose a Potions Master was a delicate matter."
For the past month, Severus had been convalescing in a small, private room in St. Mungo's, recovering from Nagini's attack. After Potter left, he leaned back against his pillows and wondered what the boy's decision would be. Would he understand that he wasn't quite ready to face the Wizarding world, that he wasn't quite up to snuff to be an Auror yet no matter what the Ministry thought?
Severus found himself desperately hoping that was the case.
Severus watched the clock, knowing that Potter was going to be there in just a minute. When he didn't have a schedule to keep, the boy was like clockwork. Sure enough, he heard the familiar voice calling a greeting to the medi-witch as his door was opened. It was just in time for tea.
Harry set the tea tray on the side table and beamed at him. "I talked them into some chocolate digestives and shortbread as well."
Without waiting for either greeting or permission, he made a plate with both, and then prepared Severus' tea to the man's exacting requirements before making his own. Settling into his customary seat, he fiddled with the spoon and looked up. "Hermione agreed with you. She thinks we need to go back to school to complete our last year."
Raising an eyebrow, Severus spoke quietly, "You mentioned our conversation to Miss Granger?"
Harry quickly shook his head. "She was just trying to get us back there. She didn't mention the things we had failed to learn over the years. I did though. Ron agreed eventually."
Severus made sure none of his relief showed on his face.
"So, I will see you in class this coming year." He considered the young man for a long moment. "I will make an exception for the three of you to be in my class, but once in, you all will have to prove yourselves."
Harry beamed at him. "I'll do my best, sir."
Severus was thrilled to find out that he had been demoted. Yes, he knew that was an anti-Slytherin behavior, but for once, he was happy to step backwards. He was once again the Potions Professor and Head of Slytherin. When Minerva asked him to be the Deputy Headmaster, he had told her to first check to see if Filius wanted it, or Pomona. If neither wanted the position, then he would accept it.
Moving a bit slower than was his want, he continued putting his area to rights. Most parts of the castle had been repaired while he was recovering, but no one had wanted to mess with the potions storeroom. Not even a Potion Master of Horace Slughorn's caliber wanted to enter that room alone as it was filled with smashed bottles of a multitude of ingredients, not that Severus blamed him. He wouldn't be in here either without a qualified and trusted Potions Master nearby. As he worked in the storeroom, Horace was right outside the door, ready to react if Severus fainted or was in any way impaired.
With the last spill cleaned and sanitized, Severus called Horace in. "Should we get the house elves to scour the shelves while they are cleared off?"
Horace looked around, checking to see if anything was missed. "Sounds like a good plan to me. I can't remember the last time they were cleaned, unless it was during your tenure."
"No, they were never bare enough to chance it." Severus called in a house elf and told her what to do before retiring to the classroom. He watched as Horace straightened the chairs in the room. "Are you sure you don't want to come back? The students learned with you."
"Positive, dear chap. Last year was a bit too much excitement for this old man. I am glad I was here to help, but I'm not needed anymore. You can teach them how to make potions as well as I can, especially as now you are not having to bow to the whims of anyone else but the Board and the Headmistress." Horace stopped for a moment before nodding to himself. "You should take the deputy position. You weren't half bad as Headmaster, considering the circumstances, and I think it would do the school good to see that you weren't slapped all the way down, especially the Slytherin house. You as Deputy Headmaster and Minerva as Headmistress will show that things are back in the correct order, but your authority is still recognized."
"I will if Pomona and Filius don't want it. They've been here longer and deserve a shot at it."
Horace smiled. "Then you'll have it, my boy. Neither of those two is interested. It is not their plants or their research."
Harry bolted upright, fear rolling off him in waves, his skin clammy with sweat. It was becoming a pattern he would almost have given his right arm to stop, or maybe his left so that he could still wield his wand. Every night since returning to Hogwarts to retake his seventh year, he would wake up in the dead of night, terrified, but he couldn't remember what he had dreamed about. He glanced over at Ron's bed, considering waking his best mate to talk. 'But there is nothing to discuss. Hey, Ron, I woke up again, scared to death, but I don't know why. End of conversation. Ron will try and stay awake with me and we will both be grumpy tomorrow. Not what Hermione needs.'
Sighing, he stretched out on the bed again, the fear dissolving into the darkness that surrounded him. 'Why have the nightmares started again? They have to be nightmares, even if I don't remember what was so scary. Why didn't I have them during the summer? I came back here periodically to help rebuild the school, so it can't be being at the castle. I even spent more than one night sleeping here when the work went long.'
Slipping on his glasses, he searched the darkness, picking out the faint light starting to leak through the windows – dawn was almost here. He lay there for a while, watching sunlight slowly brighten the room, running everything that he had done during the summer through his mind.
There was the long week at Grimmauld Place before Mum Weasley made it plain that he was to spend the rest of the summer with Ron and Hermione at the Burrow. He had made a short trip to Privet Drive to make as much peace with the Dursleys as possible. He had also spent either the mornings or tea time with Snape, sometimes both. He then compared that to what he had been doing since the school year started. He had studied regularly, thanks to Hermione. He had done that during the summer as well- at least some. He had been to Hogwarts, dealt with a multitude of people, and eaten three meals a day. Nothing startling had happened. In fact, this was shaping out to be the most peaceful term he had ever experienced, except for the nightmares.
'The only thing I can think of that was really different than normal was that I spent a lot of time with Snape over the summer. His room at St. Mungo's started as a place to hide from the press, and soon, going there became a habit, until it was something that I wanted to do almost everyday. Maybe that is it. I babbled about anything and everything while he was sleeping, and it didn't change once he woke up. He is good at listening when he isn't actively belittling a person.'
The window was almost filled with sunlight by now. 'And he hasn't been excessively mean or cruel since the school year started. He has even helped me periodically in class. Not that anyone would say he was being nice while he did it, but he has helped.'
Stretching, Harry sat up and hunted for his clothes. He might as well take a shower and start his day, there was no way he could go back to sleep now.
Harry stopped, a loose fist in the air as he contemplated the familiar door. One too many special lessons had occurred behind it, one too many secrets shielded behind its stout wooden panels. Dropping his hand, he let his fingers brush over the aged wood instead. 'Why did I come here? Would Snape honestly want to see me? Would he be willing to listen to me like he did during the summer? He was trapped in a small bed in a dull room at the time with nothing much to do. Now, he has the entire campus to walk around instead of the tiny hospital room, lessons to give, homework to mark. Would he honestly want to help me find out if talking to him kept this fear away?'
Harry stared at the door. He didn't know how Snape would react, but he wanted to find out. He wasn't worried that Snape might not be up, he had learned that the man rose with the sun when he'd visit him at St. Mungo's. The medi-witches had commented on it repeatedly.
Gathering his courage, he knocked on the door.
Severus had long since discovered that early morning was the best time to catch up on the backlog that built up over the previous day. No one tended to be up at this time in the morning. Teens loved sleep so much that they barely made it to breakfast and their first class with their eyes open. Minerva was a night owl, as were most of the other Professors. Hooch was an exception. Severus was neither a night owl nor an early bird, just one that needed little sleep. He figured that came from years of not having a choice, and since it helped him patrol the halls and get his work done, he saw no reason to change his sleep pattern.
The knock at his door surprised him and Severus looked up from the parchments he was working on. He didn't think Hooch would visit at this hour; she liked to fly in the pre-dawn light while the rest of the castle slumbered. 'Well, normally they would be slumbering. Who is up at this time in the morning? Peeves had never dared to set foot in here.'
Writing a score on the top of the essay, he called out, "Enter".
Potter walked through the door, his trepidation at being there obvious in his slow steps and nervous expression. Severus remembered it from the first time Potter had entered his hospital room when he was awake, just as he remembered there was one way to put the boy at ease so he could find out the reason for this visit. "Have a seat, Potter. I'll be back in a moment."
Harry watched as Snape tossed a bit of floo powder into the fireplace and held a soft conversation with someone. Settling into the stout, not very comfortable chair at the desk, he tried to figure out how to broach why he had come. He was surprised to see the Professor carrying a tray to the desk before pouring and fixing a cup of tea the way he liked it. He was then handed a bowl of porridge and the tea.
"To what do I owe this visit, Potter?" Snape moved his desk chair around to the same side of the desk as Potter. "I thought you would be still sleeping."
Harry stirred the porridge a bit, mixing in the honey that was drizzled on top. It took him only a moment to realize exactly what Snape was doing. 'I can't believe that he is trying to put me at ease. He chose the normal breakfast that we had at St. Mungo's, porridge and tea.'
Taking a fortifying sip of the hot liquid, he knew that Snape's plan had worked when words started to flow out of him, just as they had that summer. "I can't sleep well. I'm having nightmares, ones that I can't remember, but I wake up with the fear, the panic, racing through me. I can't go back to sleep afterwards."
Severus sipped his own tea before taking a mouthful of porridge. "Did this just start, or is it an ongoing problem?"
"It started at the beginning of the school year, but it didn't happen over the summer." Harry darted a quick look over at Severus before taking a mouthful of porridge. "Hey, this is much better than St. Mungo's."
Severus smirked. "Of course, I taught the house elves the proper way to make it when I was still a student here." He shook his head slightly at Potter's widening eyes. "Yes Potter, I like porridge when it is made correctly."
"Oh." Harry took another bite, wondering what was different in the preparation. Dudley might have even liked porridge if it tasted like this.
Severus watched as the stiff line of Potter's shoulders relax as he ate. "So, have you figured out the cause for the nightmares?"
The spoon wavered over the bowl for a moment before dipping in for another scoop. "I gave up a long time ago on trying to figure out the cause of my nightmares, they are too numerous to worry about. Instead, I was interested in why they stopped over the summer. The only thing I could come up with that I did differently was visiting you in St. Mungo's."
Leaning back in his seat, Severus studied the uncertain expression on Harry's face. "So, do you think it is my presence, or the talking you did this summer?" He understood just how helpful it was to tell someone else your fears, even if he had never done it.
"I think it was talking to you, but being with you had also helped. I mean, we didn't talk about Earth moving things, or even what could give me nightmares. I just talked about what was going on, and admittedly babbled about anything that was in my head." He took a bite of the porridge just to stop babbling right then.
Severus nodded slowly and set his empty bowl aside. "You came here this morning to see if this was the reason for the reduction of your dreams."
Harry nodded, giving Snape an uncertain look. He blinked when he received an almost friendly smirk back.
"How are your studies in the basics going?" Severus waited to see how Potter would handle the change in conversation. If they were going to test the theory, then they had to pick something to talk about, and he was curious.
Harry set his spoon into the empty bowl and sighed. "Not well. I can figure out what I need to do for my current classes, but I have no idea what I don't know. I can tell, though, that I am missing some important pieces of knowledge." It was a testament to their regular conversations over the summer that he could admit his shortcomings to Snape without fear of a caustic reply.
"You should pull out your earlier books and go through them." Twitching his wand, Severus summoned a book off his shelf, one he had put there at the beginning of the school year. "For potions, you might want to start with this book. It covers a number of concepts that you appear to be weak on." He handed the wide-eyed Potter the thin book. "It cannot leave my office though. You can look through it while I continue with my grading."
He collected Potter's bowl and stacked it on top of his. Refreshing his cup, he moved his chair back to the opposite side to continue his work.
Potter was nose deep in the book by time he picked up his quill.
Severus watched the other professors faces' as the monthly staff meeting progressed. They had worked their way to the point where they talked about students and anything unusual that was occurring. Filius brought up how Potter had improved over the last couple months. The other professors, at least the ones who had taught Potter before, were agreeing with the Charms Professor.
Severus knew it was because of the time in his office. After that first morning, Potter had become a regular visitor, as regular as he had been at St. Mungo's. At first, he only studied Potions and his current course books, but after a few days he started asking questions about things he should have already understood, Severus had suggested that he look at his previous years' books, only to be told that they were stored in Grimmauld Place. 'There was no way to get approval for Potter to leave Hogwarts to get the books, so I went and retrieved them during one of my ingredients pick-ups. Since I passed them to him in the hall as soon as I returned, I hadn't expected to see Potter at my door the next morning, books with him.'
From that morning onward, Severus watched as Potter marked up his old books, and when he asked intelligent questions, he would help. It had become part of their morning pattern. He would go to his office, order them porridge and tea, and then grade or plan his lessons while Potter worked his way through book after book, gathering knowledge that he hadn't had a chance or inclination to learn before. The nightmare prevention theory had been tested, and they determined that Potter just being in his office in the morning prevented them, since some mornings they barely talked.
Minerva caught his wandering attention. "Severus, have you noted anything like this in your classes?"
"He has improved, but not remarkably so. He will never be a genius, but he is showing his true potential now that he isn't focused on surviving." Severus watched as the others frowned slightly, but noticed that Filius was nodding in agreement.
"The others from his year are doing the same thing, even if not to the same level of improvement." The Head of Ravenclaw smiled at Severus. He left off the comment that peace seemed to be doing the Head of Slytherin a world of good as well - the Potions Master was reaching his full teaching potential at last.
"Is there anything else?" Minerva looked over the gathered faces, discerning that they were as done with this meeting as she was. "Then we're finished. Severus, if you would stay behind, please."
The others filed out of the room, and Severus waited to see what the Headmistress needed.
Minerva sighed lightly as she searched her Deputy's face. "Severus, the monitoring spell noted that Mr. Potter has had an inordinate number of detentions in your office this year, but they are not recorded in the logbook. There isn't even a record of him being assigned them."
Severus raised an eyebrow, wondering if she knew what she was implying. "Potter has been in my office this school year, but not to serve detention."
Her eyes widened. "Surely you are not harassing the boy still. I know that you have no real like for him, the students do talk about your treatment of him in the classroom, but that doesn't mean you can make him serve false detentions. I thought with the end of the war, your attitude towards the boy would have changed, warmed up some."
Warmed up? That was an understatement. It was a banked fire that he was doing his best to ignore.
"Minerva - I just said that he was not serving detentions. Potter has discovered that I am up and in my office early in the morning. He comes by to use the space so he will not disturb the others in his dorm. I allow him so he will not be wandering the castle and can stay out of trouble." He was glad that Minerva wasn't thinking that he was having an inappropriate relationship with Potter, but this was the opposite extreme. 'And what does it say about your wants if you were worried that she would think that, Severus?' Shoving that sly thought away, he leaned back in his seat. 'I am comfortable with him there, that is all. Just like at the hospital.'
"So, what does Mr. Potter do in your office, Severus?"
Severus was sure that he was adding the suspicious overtones to her question now, but it still irritated him. An irritation he made sure to keep out of his voice, "You can check the monitoring spells if you wish. I grade papers and he studies his books. That might be why he is doing better in his classes."
Minerva pursed her lips."He could do that in the common room, or the library."
"Not the library at that time in the morning, Minerva, Irma isn't up yet. I don't know about the Gryffindor common room though. I have no reason to turn him away as long as he is quiet and working."
After another searching look, Minerva sent him away.
Harry gripped his broom handle tightly with both hands as he dived through the Fiendfyre and helped Malfoy clamber up behind him. Goyle was behind Ron as they sped towards the door. Hermione opened up a path through the blaze, and they were free of the room.
Instead of crashing to the floor as he remembered, Harry found himself suddenly alone on his broom in the dark sky above the castle, one of the Fiendfyre dragons still hot on his tail. With his heart lodged in his throat, he glanced over his shoulder as he dived and swerved, trying to escape the gaping, flaming jaws. When he turned back, the Whomping Willow was right before him.
Pulling hard on his broom, Harry shot up into the sky, hoping he would miss the swaying branches. Scorching air whooshed beneath him, and he looked down just in time to see the fire dragon dive into the tunnel the tree guarded. Instead of relief, stark fear flooded him.
'The shack! It is going to the shack and Snape is there! I have to save Snape!'
Leaning forward, Harry plastered himself to the broom handle as he raced onto Hogsmeade, hoping to reach the Shrieking Shack before the flames, half expecting to crash into the castle wards. He slowed down as he passed through unharmed. 'The wards are down. Why are they down? Is it because of Voldemort?' The creak of a nearby tree pulled his attention to back to what was important. 'The fiendfyre! I have to get to Snape. Snape doesn't deserve to die. Not burned to a crisp, like Crabbe.'
He sped on in the darkness, the night wind whipping through his hair. As soon as he spotted the rickety building, he dropped into a tight spiral, ending in a banking move that took him through a conveniently placed opened window. Flames shot up through the floor, engulfing the wall behind him and starting on the roof. Without giving a thought as to why the shack was large enough for him to fly in, Harry made it to the room where he had last seen the ex-Death Eater.
Snape was standing against the wall, one hand pressed against his throat, blood leaking around his pale fingers as flames surrounded around him. His black eyes meet Harry's through a gap in the dancing red orange fire.
Spiraling about on his broom, Harry tried to reach him, but the flames leapt between them. He turned sharply and tried again, racing towards Snape. The fyredragon reared up in front of him, jaws opened wide and behind it, Snape's terrified eyes was the last thing Harry saw...
Snapping up into a sitting position, Harry gasped for breath all the while looking about for the flames he knew had to be there. The inky darkness of the dorm met his eyes, and his loud pants filled his ears. 'Snape... did he make it? Is he okay?'
Still fired up with panic and adrenaline, Harry flung a robe over his sleep clothes, shoved his feet into his shoes, and bolted down to the dungeons.
Severus ran a critical eye over the cauldron that was bubbling away. He finally had a moment, no more than ten minutes, to breathe. He had been working on this potion since Poppy had tracked him down not long after supper. It was needed in the Infirmary as soon as possible. He released a sigh and rolled his shoulders, feeling tension drain from them. Yes, there was at least an hour left in the brewing, and anything would destroy his finicky creation, but he could take a moment to relax before the final push.
Sipping cold tea, not wanting to cast a warming charm near the cauldron, he started when the alarm on his office door signaled that someone was there. 'Who would be here at this time of the night? Must be Poppy. I hope Miss Albany hasn't taken a turn for the worse.' Striding through the lab door, he expected to see the Healer already inside his office. There was no one so he crossed over to the door and pulled it open, his eyes widening as he looked down at Potter.
"Mr. Potter? What can I do for you at this time of night?" Severus searched the anxious, wide eyed face gazing up at him. It was filled with relief that he could not feel at that moment. He knew that the monitoring spell would record the fact that Potter had come to his office at two in the morning. All the suspicions that Minerva didn't have yet would start brewing in her mind. She was already reaching for a reason that they were spending so much time together.
Still gasping for breath from his headlong rush down to the dungeons, Harry scanned Snape's face, neck and hands with almost panicked eyes. There were no burn marks. He knew that there wouldn't be, but just seeing Snape standing there, unharmed, with that slightly puzzled look on his face made him feel so much better. He reached out a hand that trembled with relief, needing to touch the man, just to confirm he was truly there. "I had a horrible dream."
Severus stepped back and cut him off, knowing that everything that was said might be recorded. "Potter, Madam Pomfrey has a calming draught that you can have as well as a dreamless sleep potion."
He locked gazes with the surprised green eyes while jerking his head at two suits of amour standing in the hall a few feet away from his door, hoping the young man would understand.
Potter glanced over at the space before looking back at Snape, frowning in confusion. Then his eyes widened and he nodded before turning in that direction. "Yes, sir."
Severus watched as Potter moved to the spot he had indicated. He closed his office door and headed back to his lab to open another door and gestured for the young man to come through. This door was for emergency use and was invisible from the hall.
Harry searched the room, trying to get himself to calm down, taking in the bubbling cauldron, the ingredients neatly shelved, and equipment scattered about in some type of system that made no sense to him. He wondered why Snape was being secretive about meeting him, but he was sure there had to be a good reason. Snape never did anything without a reason. 'Even if it is something as simple as not liking my face, but this feels like there is a bigger reason behind it.' Taking a deep breath of marigold and snail slime, he looked back at Snape. "You're alright."
Severus nodded slowly. "You sat with me most of the summer, you knew that."
Harry quickly shook his head and reached out once again. This time, his fingers wrapped around a solid arm. "I dreamed... I dreamed that I was back in the Room of Requirements with Ron and Hermione. We rescued Malfoy and Goyle, but then I was flying over the castle alone with a fire dragon from the fiendfyre following me. It started burning the Shrieking Shack, and you were in it. I tried to save you - you were standing there, surrounded by flames and waiting for me to grab you. There was no way to get through and I woke up before I could save... you..."
Potter's voice was shaking, his green eyes moist behind his glasses, fingers clenching tightly on the black clad arm. "I had... I had... to see for certain."
Severus saw the remembered fear encompass Potter once again. Giving into his screaming instincts, he pulled the young man into his arms and held him tightly, offering him what comfort he could. "I am alive and well, Potter."
He felt Potter slump against him, shivering almost violently. At the back of his mind, a voice was screaming at him to release Potter at once, but it was drowned out by how good it felt to hold him. As the young man snuggled closer, trembling arms going around his back, the banked fire under Severus' skin sparked into life and spread, running wild like the cursed fire Potter had just talked about. Every place where their bodies touched was tingling in relief that bordered on excitement and the places that weren't were craving the feeling.
With one hand on Potter's back and the other buried in sweat dampened, unruly hair, Severus realized that the attraction that had started over the summer, the one that he had chalked up to the boy being his one regular visitor was still there -was stronger than he had originally thought. Now that it was free of its constraints, he could tell that he wanted far more than he could have at that moment, that he could ever have if the things went as they normally did. He had to lock these feelings back up, both for his own sanity as well as allowing him to keep this budding friendship.
Taking a deep breath of the familiar scent that he was fast becoming addicted to, he withdrew his arms, just slow enough to let Potter stand on his own two feet. Green eyes met his as Potter's head shot up. The brightness and confused longing in them was almost his downfall.
Stepping back, Severus gestured to the seats on the far side of the room where Albus used to sit to keep him company. "I have to work on my potion, but you are welcome to stay here until you are calmer. There is a calming draught in the cabinet near the chair, if you wish it, and tea in the pot."
He watched as Harry- no - Potter frowned, mouth opening as if to protest before thinking the better of it. Instead, he went over to the seats and flopped down. Turning sharply, Severus moved back to his cauldron, praying that he hadn't ruined it. A sigh of relief escaped his lips when he saw he had just seconds to spare and quickly picked up the next ingredient.
The next hour was going to be intense.
Harry poured himself a cup of tea and looked for the sugar bowl, but didn't see it. Casting a quick look over at Snape, he realized that there was no way he was going to interrupt the man. Snape was stirring his potion, his face a study in concentration and wreathed in fumes. It was not the face of someone who would tolerate an inane question about sugar. Harry was surprised that he was even allowed to stay and wondered if it was because he was so shaken up. That had to be the only reason Snape had held him earlier. 'I wonder if he actually comforts homesick kids in his House like this? I would have never thought that he knew how, but the way he was holding me earlier shows he does.'
Sighing lightly, Harry sipped at his tea, frowning at the faintest taste of sugar instead of the expected bitterness of unsweetened tea. 'There had to be sugar in the cup before I used it... which meant it was... Snape's.' A rush of awareness caught him completely off guard. Pulling his lower lip between his teeth, he looked from the cup to the preoccupied man and back again. 'Snape had put his lips on this cup! I wonder which part of the rim he drank from?' He blinked in surprise, finding himself more excited than disgusted at the thought. Surely he wasn't interested in Snape?
Jerking his eyes to the spot where he had cuddled in the arms of Hogwart's most fearsome teacher, he found himself relieving the warmth of the embrace. Not just because he wanted to be comforted, but because he wanted Snape to do the comforting. His gaze travelled over to where the man was brewing. 'Those robes, they hide so much. His chest was solid and his arms strong. His hands were warm and comforting. His eyes were...' A shiver ran up Harry's spine as he remembered the warmth that had radiated from those dark eyes. For once they had not appeared to be cold, black tunnels, but pools of melting dark chocolate.
Feeling his face grow hot, he quickly looked down at the teacup that had started this train of thought. He was tempted to put it down, but he was more tempted to finish his tea, knowing that he was drinking out of Snape's cup. Lifting the cup to his lips, he took his next sip.
He spent the next hour analyzing every move Snape made, watching the fluidity of his movement, how easy he made brewing look, even though Harry was positive that this wasn't a simple potion.
Severus placed the cooling vials into a carrying case with more care than was warranted. This last hour with Potter in his lab had felt far different than their mornings together. 'It had nothing to do with the fact that he was watching me like a hawk and that I still want to kiss him.' Sighing, he realized that even his mental sarcasm wasn't helping.
He knew those green eyes were stuck to his person practically from the moment Potter had flopped into the seat. It wasn't the friendly watching Albus used to do, but an intense, dissecting look. One that was intent on figuring him out. 'After that display when he came into the lab, he has every right to wonder. He is probably trying to figure out my intentions towards him. I know I treat him differently in company and in private. That has to be messing with his mind. He doesn't have to develop any suspicions about my attraction towards him, he has Miss Weasley to fill that role in his life.'
Doing his best to lock up his emotions, he turned about to face the object of his affections. He tried not to notice the warmth and contemplation in Potter's face. "It is time to head back to your dorm, Potter. I have to deliver these to the Infirmary."
Harry nodded and put the empty teacup down on the small table with the teapot. "I'll see you later, Professor."
Severus' eyes shot to the teacup, a small jolt of excitement shooting through him as he realized that Potter had been using his cup. "Not first thing in the morning, Potter. It is already far too late to think about such an early rising. Get some more sleep." Keeping his tone professional was hard, but he thought he succeeded.
They stepped out of the lab, their eyes lingering on the other for just a moment longer than necessary before they went their separate ways.
"Severus, Potter was recorded as being at your office door at two this morning."
Severus looked up from the very dark cup of tea he was carefully nursing to see the Headmistress frowning at him. Taking a long sip, he hoped that the caffeine would work quickly. This was not a conversation that he was ready to have yet. He had had too little sleep not to be snappy and defensive, and both of those actions could be interpreted in ways he didn't need them to be. He was glad that it was at least taking place in the staff room instead of in the Headmaster's Office or the Great Hall. "He had a nightmare last night."
Minvera's lips compressed together. "Why did he come see you?"
Severus suppressed the urge to shrug and took another long draught of tea. "By the look on his face, I would say that the dream included me in some form. He appeared relieved to see me standing there, and his gaze rested on my neck longer than anywhere else. I sent him to Poppy for a calming draught and then returned to the potion I was working on."
"Severus!" As if to lend credence to his words, Poppy stopped next to the chair near the fireplace, a look of surprised disapproval on her face. "What are you doing up? It is Saturday, you should be sleeping in."
Severus raised an eyebrow at the Healer. He had tried, but his brain turned on at six every morning, and he had given up trying to get back to sleep at six thirty. "How is Miss Albany?"
Minerva looked between the two, understanding dawning on her face as she waited to hear Poppy's answer.
"She is doing better, the potion is working just as you said it would. You pulled it off on your first attempt." Pride resonated through Poppy's words.
Severus quirked up one side of his lips. "There was plenty of incentive to do so. The amount of time it takes to brew and the numerous, complicated steps, were just two of them."
"When did you finish it last night? You should have woken me up before administering it."
"Right about three, and you are going to have to watch her today. I stayed the required hour and a half after she took it to watch for any averse reactions. There were none." Severus shifted his gaze to his empty teacup, wondering if he should ask for another, especially on an empty stomach. Maybe he should ask for something to eat as well.
Poppy sighed in relief. "Thank you, Severus. Mind you have a good long nap this afternoon to make up for last night." She went to talk to Hooch about one of the first years that had fallen hard during flying practice yesterday.
Severus just nodded and decided that another cup was just what he needed. He would ask for some toast with it. He could feel Minerva's suspicious glare relaxing once again. He was curious about what she was suspecting this time, but not enough to ask.
It was Monday morning before Harry found his way back to Snape's office. When he had woken up close to noon on Saturday, he had been embarrassed about how he had rushed to Snape's office just because he had a nightmare about the man. 'But I found out something. Snape's eyes weren't as shuttered, he held me tightly, and didn't seem to want to let me go. And I kept drinking the tea despite knowing it was Snape's cup...' Setting his musings aside, he knocked on the office door and walked through when it opened.
"Good morning, Mr. Potter."
Harry saw Snape already behind his desk, his grading spread out across the top. "Good morning, Professor."
He crossed the room to his normal seat and smiled. His tea and porridge were already waiting for him. Pulling out his fourth year charms book, he settled down, aware that the routine had changed somewhat – Snape hadn't met him at the door, or served him his tea or breakfast, but Harry was still content.
He didn't forget about that night in the lab nor the subtle attraction between them when Snape held him, the only time those dark eyes had looked like melted chocolate. He watched Snape closely after that, hoping that no one would comment on it. It was then that he learned that it was expected for him to watch the Potions Master despite knowing his true role as spy. Hermione and Ron had sighed and told him that Snape might find it annoying, but Harry knew they thought it was just a habit he had yet to break.
Harry noticed Snape's eyes first, since they were the only part of the man that he could discern anything different. Those eyes were warmer in the mornings when they were alone in his office, but nothing like that night. Then he noticed that Snape made sure never to be close to him. Every morning, his porridge and tea were always on the table he now considered his by the time he arrived. In class, Snape stopped hovering over his cauldron, and actually stayed at arms' length. This put paid to all the accidental brushes that might have happened, just when Harry wanted them to. He wanted to know if he would still react to those touches the same way he did to being held.
It was during breakfast the second morning of the Christmas holiday that Harry realized he was jealous. It hit when he noticed just how close the Muggle Studies teacher, Professor Morris, was sitting to Snape. The man's hand practically brushed the Potions Master's every time he reached for something. Cramming that jealousy behind a tight smile, Harry wished that he had agreed to go to the Burrow with Ron and Hermione. 'But they weren't staying there. I didn't want the Weasleys to feel like that had to pay for me to travel to France with them, so I stayed.' Sighing, he glanced back up at the head table to see Professor Morris leaning close to Snape's ear, obviously whispering in the ear of the man he wanted to be close to. 'I just wish Snape would notice me outside of class or his office. But he doesn't even scold me in the halls anymore, much less nod in my direction.' Pushing his plate away, Harry left the Great Hall, doing his best to not show just how aggravated he felt.
Severus leaned away for Morris, wishing the man knew what personal space was. His subtle hints were not getting through, and he had promised Minerva that he wouldn't upset the new teachers, much less hex them. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Potter leaving the table, his plate only half finished. 'He didn't stop by this morning. I wonder if the elves delivered his porridge to the tower.' He had noticed the many glances Potter gave him and the slight slump of the boy's shoulders as he left. 'Confused. I knew that I was confusing him with our private and public interactions. But I can't ignore him in private, not when he is in my room...' The image of Potter in his private rooms rushed through his mind. They would be sitting on his sofa talking about whatever came out of Potter's mouth. Severus would pull that warm body close to his and Potter would snuggle into him before lifting his head up, obviously asking to be kissed. Before he could even imagine what those lips would feel like, Severus deliberately changed the wording in his own mind. 'office. I don't ignore him in class, but the distance that I have to keep between us must be driving him crazy since we were closer at the beginning of the school year and even over the summer.'
He had noticed Potter's contemplative looks, the assessing stares, and the intense scrutiny that had been happening since the Lab Night. He also noticed just how close Miss Weasley stood next to Potter, and how Miss Granger was subtly working them together. If he was to have any hope of a possible friendship or more after Potter graduated, then he needed to keep his distance now and give the boy time to figure out his feelings.
When Morris' hand almost landed on his for the fifth time this morning, Severus pushed his chair away, leaving his plate mostly full. The fact that he had eaten as little as Potter was not lost on him. He would talk to Minerva this afternoon, he needed permission to hex the newest member of their staff or he was going to resort to poisoning.
Harry found the last several months had been a trial. Leaning back against the rock near the Black Lake, he let his attention wander instead of studying as Hermione had insisted that they do. He knew it was important, NEWTs were barely a week away, but this was important too. His feelings were not so confusing anymore, they were just complicated.
How did one manage to fall in love with the most acerbic man in the entire school especially when one hadn't even realized they were into the male gender?
After that morning during the holidays, Harry had slipped off to the Room of Requirement. He wanted to contemplate exactly what he was feeling and how that reflected on who he was and what he was doing. He had examined every little moment he could remember with Snape, starting with the very first time he saw the man. He came to the conclusion that he knew more about the Professor than any other student, and had since his fifth year, maybe longer. The man's true personality had been exacerbated during those war years, but Harry knew his was as well. The stress of war could bring out the worst of who you were.
That known, he also knew he liked, really liked, how Snape was when they were alone. The professor was pleasant if a bit guarded. Harry was still allowed into Snape's office every morning and could ask whatever questions he wanted - he might not get an answer but he could still ask. More importantly, he could talk about almost anything. 'All except my feelings. Well, specifically how I feel about him. It is this connection between us, that is off limits. It is so frustrating! If I even start to mention about that evening in his lab, I won't get any further than my knock on his door before I get the warning glare and the same statement – that he sent me off to see Pomfrey. There is something going on, and I don't know what it is. He isn't quite lying, but he will not let me mention the lab, and I haven't been back in there since.'
Stretching slightly, he flipped the pages of his book, his eyes scanning his notes on the side more than reading the author's words. They made more sense to him. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Morris striding towards the castle from the front gates. 'I wonder where he has been. At least he isn't around Snape.'
Morris kept getting into Snape's personal space and that made Harry to want to hex the professor more than he had ever wanted to distrust Snape. He knew it was because his jealousy was getting the better of him. He had taken to ignoring the head table as much as he could during meals as well as not looking anywhere near Morris when he heard him about. It was the only acceptable thing he could do. He refused to glower and sulk, as both would display his feelings more than he cared too. His life was still in the Prophet, though not as much as it had been the summer, and he wanted his feelings to be private, to remain his alone.
Snapping the book closed, he leaned his head back against the rock, looking towards the Forbidden Forest. Privacy, that is what he wanted, except he wanted Snape to notice. He desperately wanted Snape to notice him as something more than a student. 'The man was a spy, and was used to watching me . He has to notice that I care. He has to...' Taking a deep breath, he glanced over to see if either Ron or Hermione were watching him. A small grin popped out when he noticed that they had moved to the other side of the tree and their books were on the ground near them. 'That might be the reason for the warm and cold behavior. He does notice me as something more than a student. It is almost as if there is a fine line that can't be crossed. If I try, Snape just backs up and redraws the line, keeping the distance between us in public and private different, but at the same levels.' He shook his head at that confusing thought. 'The distance in private is the same, well he did make the distance between us greater after the lab visit, and the distance in public never changed.' There, that was the crux of the matter. Snape put more distance - and a desk - between them when they were alone. The only time that distance decreased was when Harry approached Snape, and even then, he could feel Snape holding himself rigid. 'But when I move close enough to ask a question, his eyes warm up.'
Realization dawning at last, Harry felt a slow smile curl his lips. Snape had noticed. Now what should he do about this? Or rather, what should they do?
Another movement caught his attention, dragging his gaze towards the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Snape was walking through the tree line, obviously about to enter the artificial twilight. Without further thought, Harry slipped his books into his satchel and crept after Snape, making sure no one noticed. He needed a few answers, and there was less chance of anyone hearing a thing in the Forest.
Severus knew the moment Potter joined him and that he should send his temptation away. Students were not allowed in the Forest without supervision, and he wasn't sure he wanted to take on the task of supervising Potter. 'You've done it all year, what is the difference now?' Even as he asked himself the questions, he knew there was a big difference. There was no monitoring spell, no ghosts, no elves, students, or any other distractions about. 'There is no way I can take him to the cave. Him alone with me, in a dark cave lit only by bioluminescent worms would not be a very smart thing. Distance is what we need, and no flat surfaces nearby. I can always use a few more fungi. The students mutilate them fast enough.'
Changing the direction he was heading in, Severus led the young man deeper into the Forest than he had originally intended to go, the heavier foliage cutting out both the sunlight and summer heat. The two of them had been dancing about each other since last summer, but he was pretty sure that Potter had no clue as to why this dance was happening. This was the first opportunity that had arisen for him to explain it to Potter without fear of being found out, and he knew he could not waste it.
Moving with swift sure steps, Severus wound his way through the perpetual twilight and eventually made it to a small clearing, if you could call the tiny space between the trees that, where he cultivated a multitude of fungi. He waited for Potter to gather the courage to enter his space, crouching down and harvesting the mushrooms as he waited.
The barest crunch of dry leaves alerted him that his wait was over, but he didn't look up. Even here, the temptation of touching was there, of seeing if the signals that Potter had been sending his way were truly that of interest. 'Best to keep both of our hands busy, and our focus on not cutting ourselves.' With that decision, he gestured towards the basket sitting on the ground near him.
"There is a spare knife in the basket." Severus almost cringed at the softness of his tone. It was very reminiscent of how his voice sounded at the beginning of the school year. An opening in his defenses. "I would like to have about half of that basket filled with wood ears."
He heard Potter stop behind him and crouch down to get the knife and basket. He tensed, every muscle in his back expecting, hoping that Potter would touch him, drag a hand up his back and rest on his shoulder as he stood up with the basket.
"Is there any special technique that I should use, Professor?"
Every instinct Severus had told him to turn about, to look into those green eyes that he knew were just behind him. Potter's voice was just behind his head. There was the faintest tremor to that softly spoken question, one he wanted to think had to do with their closeness, not with worrying if the mean Potions Professor was going to take points for being in the Forest, which was more likely.
Swallowing roughly, Severus tried to keep his tone as calm as he could.
"Like most things, cut fast and straight. Stay close to the bark, but do not take it with you." He wondered if Potter would understand that he was giving him permission to talk, to ask whatever he needed to, but carefully.
Harry scanned the tree trunks and roots and found the wood ears on an elder tree trunk near Snape. Taking the knife out of the basket, he started to harvest them. It was easier not to look at Snape as he asked his questions. "Professor, why is it you always prevent me from mentioning that night in your lab? Do you regret letting me in? Or... holding me that night?" 'And almost kissing me?' The last part stayed locked behind his teeth.
Severus sat back on his heels, glad that Potter continued to call him by his title. It was keeping him grounded in reality, which at this moment meant that he had to keep his hands to himself. Carefully working a mushroom button out of the leaf litter, he smiled as an entire clump came out with the one he was working on. The smile came out in his tone.
"I do not regret it, Potter." The startling pleasure he had felt at that moment rushed through him again, setting his body alight with the want to do it again. He had refused to think about it consciously since then, but the feeling had started creeping into his dreams at night, leading to embarrassing outcomes at times. Turning his head, he finally looked up as Potter cut a wood ear off the elder tree and dropped it carefully into the basket.
Their eyes locked over the basket. Harry soaked in the warmth that was radiating out of the dark eyes. Taking a half step forward, he stopped when Snape moved the same distance back.
Severus forced himself not to break the eye contact. Potter had to know that this was serious, and Severus was sure that the boy could read the conviction in his eyes. "Relationships between Professors and students are supposed to be professional. We have been dancing about that professional line most of the year, Potter. McGonagall noticed that you've been in my office on a regular basis and has been questioning me about that since the beginning of the school year."
Harry's mouth opened in an 'o' of realization before he turned slightly to slash at the next wood ear, almost cutting the tree instead since he was still watching Snape. He was fed up with people wanting to know what he was doing all the time. "I was just studying!"
Severus watched the knife slice through the fungus, its arc ending before it could cut Potter. "Yes, that is all you were doing. She suspected that I was giving you unwarranted and undocumented detentions."
Harry turned back to Snape and stared at him wide eyed. "If they were undocumented, how did she know I was even there?"
Sighing, Severus turned the knife over in his hands as he focused on Potter's puzzled expression. "All professor offices are monitored with wards to show the comings and goings of students. It is to help record the detentions and their durations. At one time, there was a vocal component on the monitoring spell, and I am unsure if it was added back when the castle was warded again. When you showed up at my door at two in the morning, it recorded the time you arrived and the time you left."
Harry's eyes widened even further. Had he accidentally put Snape back under scrutiny by his need to check on the man? "I didn't leave until almost three. McGonagall... what did she say? I'm surprised that she didn't stop my visits all together."
Severus smirked lightly as he answered, "The charm noted that you never entered the office and left after a brief moment of conversation. It also recorded that I went back into my private lab just seconds after you left."
Harry laughed then, a sound of delight. "Yes, that is why you are the Head of Slytherin, and a spy to boot."
Dropping into a crouch next to Snape, he propped a shoulder against the tree. "In other words, they have no idea that I was in your lab? There are no monitoring charms there, are there? And if I mentioned it in your office, if there is a vocal component, then I would destroy whatever story you told her to keep her from thinking the wrong thing." Harry leaned forward, his face scant inches from Snape's. "How close... how close were we to actually making it a true concern?"
Severus froze for a moment, the invitation in Potter's face clearer than it had been the entire school year, and that face far too close for his comfort. He shifted slightly, putting a few needed inches between them even as the remembered warmth of Potter's body in his arms made his skin tingle. "Too close, Potter, too close. I will not make that mistake again. I cannot."
Harry studied the razor sharp tension in Snape's shoulders and the way those long fingers were clasped tightly about the knife handle. Then he looked into those dark eyes, the same molten chocolate he remembered. His heart started to pound; Snape was definitely still interested. Just as much as he was. "Is there a possibility when I am out of school?"
Severus closed his eyes against the note of hope in Potter's voice, his heart giving a pang. "Why me, Potter? There are plenty of others out there who would be thrilled to receive your affections."
Harry stared at Snape for a long moment, wondering how much he should say. Moving back, he leaned over a root and started to pick some shelf fungi near him.
A small handful of fungi trickled into the basket as he finally answered. "I don't know, Snape, I just know that you are..." Harry took a deep breath before plunging on, "the one I am attracted to. I would like to see where it will go."
He couldn't admit that he thought he was in love with him in the end. He didn't want to scare Snape off.
Severus shook his head. "Potter, you have chased Miss Chang and Miss Weasley during your school years here, but never once have I seen you focus on someone of your own gender. Also, Miss Weasley is still there, side by side with you. Are you truly certain that you are ready to explore what you think is between us?"
Harry didn't think as his hand shot out and slipped around the back of Snape's neck, the knife it was holding hitting the ground between them. He then leaned forward, closing the gap between them to a couple of inches again. Staring into those surprised eyes, he said slowly and clearly, "I have invested far more time thinking about you than I ever did about them. I feel more excitement, more attraction when I am close to you than I do with them. Ginny is only there because we are all in the same classes. Ron and Hermione are there as well."
Severus bit back the gasp that tried to escape the moment he felt of Harry's skin on his. The warmth of that one hand was like a spark falling on dry tinder. Gripping the handle of his knife in one hand and a poor hapless mushroom he had just picked up in the other, he thought through what Harry had just revealed while doing his best to ignore the fires burning down his spine.
Drawing a deep breath, Severus searched the serious expression as he wondered if what he was about to do was wise. "I'll give you my home address after you graduate. You can contact me whenever you feel ready. If you are ever ready."
"I am ready now, Professor," Harry insisted, his fingertips caressing the back of Severus' neck as he closed the distance until it was the barest fraction of an inch.
Swallowing hard, Severus shifted backwards to dislodge that persuasive hand. "After you've graduated," he repeated.
Picking up the basket, he stood up on legs that weren't completely steady and faced Harry – no, Potter, who stood up as well. "You should head back. You do know how to get out, don't you?"
Harry opened his mouth and closed it again. He turned around to scan the woods before giving Snape a sheepish look.
With a sigh that was almost a smile, Severus led him to the outer edge of the Forest before heading back in to collect his glow worms. He had done all he could under the circumstances. Now, they had to get through graduation, then it was up to Harry.