Chapter Two - No Easy Decision
“Hold him, Harry! Easy, easy, don’ let go.” Harry did his best to keep rein on the thrashing black horse. Just as he started to tie it off the creature lifted its gigantic wings.
“Uh… Hagrid…” Harry’s feet dangled. Hagrid cursed and grabbed the reins. Suddenly, the horse just wasn’t there.
“Bloody Hell!” Hagrid fought to tie off the empty, hovering and jerking rope. Harry fell back on the grass, panting. He watched as Hagrid finally managed to tie off the thestral.
“At least… he didn’t… get away again.”
Hagrid grunted. “Now ye know why I had Flitwick enchant those reins. Jus’ imagine the spot we’d be in if he could leave the grounds.” The half-giant plopped down next to Harry. The ground shook slightly. Harry watched the rope thrash; he understood how the poor creature felt. Hagrid dug around in his coat and pulled out a flask. He took a long swig and offered it to Harry.
“No, thanks.” After the first and only time he’d gotten drunk, Harry wasn’t eager to repeat the experience.
“Suit yerself.” The flask disappeared again. Hagrid lay back with his hands folded on his stomach. The day was warm and clear and perfect for throwing rocks into the lake just to watch them splash. Harry wished he felt clear enough to do that. “They’re gorgeous creatures, eh?”
“Yeah.” The thestral had finally worn itself out. It was visible again and stood there, pawing the ground and looking at the two bipeds with curious eyes.
“I’m just tired. I didn’t sleep very much.” What little of Hagrid’s face was visible under mounds of hair turned red. “Nothing like that. It was just a rough night.”
“Need ter talk?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “You’re the second person to ask me that and it’s not even noon.”
“Maybe that should tell ye somethin’.”
“Maybe he should tell me something,” Harry muttered.
“Nothing.” He pulled the small dog tag out of his robe and held it to his eye. The world looked very different through the cutout. “Does Madame Maxime ever just refuse to tell you when something’s bothering her?”
“For a while, sometimes. Olympe likes ter make people guess.” The half-giant’s eyes went misty.
“Lucky. I can’t even guess without getting my head bitten off.” Harry slowly shredded a piece of clover.
“Severus isn’ a chatty feller. Wha’s he done?”
Harry shook his head. “Nothing huge. He just won’t tell me what happened when…”
Hagrid flinched. His enormous hands worried at his coat. “Death Eaters’re a brutal lot,” he said quietly.
“You know what happened?”
“No, but I can guess.”
“What?” Harry was distantly aware that his voice was getting louder and more strained.
Hagrid shook his head. “Not goin’ ter tell ye. I could be wrong, an’, anyway, it’s somethin’ ye need ter hear from him. When he’s ready ter say.”
“Harry…” Hagrid got up and stroked the thestral’s nose. The animal whickered, and was rewarded with a sugar cube. “Ye don’ know what it was like first time Ye-Know—Voldemort,” he shivered, “was in power. The Death Eaters didn’ jus’ kill, y’know. Some people weren’ that lucky.” Those warm black eyes glanced at him uneasily.
“Didn’ it ever occur to ye that maybe they thought it’d be harder for him ter come back and live with what happened? It would’ve scared ye jus’ as much, maybe more, if they’d sent back a body.”
“Professor Snape’s a proud man, Harry. Don’ push him. He’ll tell ye when he’s ready.”
Great. At this rate, Harry was going to be a ghost before he learned anything substantial about Sev. He squirmed at the thought of finding out the Death Eaters had killed Snape. He didn’t want to think that what he was going through could be worse than death. It wasn’t possible. Dead was as bad as you could get. Well, close. Harry thought about Neville’s parents, still locked up (as far as he knew) in St. Mungo’s. Sev wasn’t insane, though. He was just… reserved.
“Come on.” Hagrid grabbed his hand and pulled him up. “Break time’s over. Got ter get the hippocampi exercised.” Harry stopped briefly to stroke the thestral under his thick, wiry, black mane; it reminded him rather a lot of Sev’s hair. It whinnied softly and nuffled him. For something that had fought so hard for so long, it was surprisingly docile. “Ye comin’?”
“Be right there.” He pulled up a handful of clover and fed it to the horse, which stretched its wings happily. “It’s not so bad here,” he said softly.
The animal blinked. It didn’t entirely seem to believe him.
A week later the thestral was happy to remain, more or less, in his paddock. Sometimes he would spread his wings and take flight but never for long or far. Hagrid kept him nicely full of sugar and apples and carrots, and he genuinely seemed to enjoy Harry’s daily visit. “Maybe we ought to find Grendel a girlfriend,” he commented offhand while currying the contented animal’s forelegs.
Hagrid gave Harry a slightly surprised look. “Nah, they’re solitary beasts. They’d probably fight.”
“How about a boyfriend, then?” Harry covered his mouth and giggled. “I can’t believe I just said that.”
Hagrid finished checking the thestral’s hind hooves. “Well, ye did,” he muttered uncomfortably. “They’d still fight.”
“Harry!” He looked up to see Professor McGonagall marching up to the paddock. She had one hand on her pointy hat to keep it from blowing off. The tip of her nose was peeling, presumably from her summer sabbatical to Greece. He carefully finished rubbing the horse’s ankle. It lipped his hair in thanks.
“Hullo, Professor.” Hagrid grunted a greeting; he had his hands full, checking twitchy, sensitive wings for burrs.
“Harry, I’m to bring you to Headmaster Dumbledore’s office immediately.” She gave him a no-nonsense look.
“What for?” He stroked the thestral’s nose. She just raised her eyebrows.
“Hagrid, would you mind?”
“Hmm? Erm… I guess not. Got things in hand here.” Every time he checked between feathers the entire wing would jerk. The thestral snorted and looked at him. “Hush, ye.”
“Come along, Harry.” He felt much younger than a day shy of eighteen. Reluctantly, Harry followed her.
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. Professor Dumbledore hinted that the governors may have reached a decision, though.”
“Why would he need me for that?” This didn’t sound good. What if they’d decided… no, he wasn’t going to think about that.
“As I said, I don’t know.” She didn’t want to say much else. Harry tried to ask a few times how her sabbatical was but got little more than one-word snips. She stopped abruptly outside the gargoyle guarding Dumbledore’s office. “Jelly slug.”
“Last time I was in here it was ‘Butterbeer’.” She made a small noise as she led him up the slowly twisting stairs. When she dropped the huge door knocker Harry’s head spun. Reality was setting in. The door opened.
“Thank you, Minerva.” Professor McGonagall tipped her head to Dumbledore. “Good afternoon, Harry.”
“Hello.” He looked past the headmaster. Sev was seated in front of the desk, one leg crossed over the other, chin resting on his steepled hands. His face was blank. He didn’t look up as Harry sat down. “Hey.”
Professor Dumbledore sat down and folded his hands. He looked at Severus, then Harry. “Would you like some tea? Maybe a biscuit?” Harry shook his head. “No sense beating around the bush, eh? I’ve already spoken to Severus about part of this. We agreed that you need to hear it, though. The school governors’ decision came back this morning, and they’ve decided, rather grudgingly, to let him stay.” Harry released a breath he didn’t know he was holding. He glanced at Sev. No response. “However, he’ll be on probation until they decide otherwise, and have demanded that he be removed as Head of Slytherin House.”
“They can’t do that.”
“They did.” Sev turned his dark eyes to Harry. They were bloodshot. If Harry didn’t know better he would have guessed that Snape had been crying.
Harry fidgeted. He felt guilty enough without it being rubbed in. “So why am I here?”
Dumbledore bit his hairy upper lip. He picked up an Ice Mouse and played with the wrapper. “They don’t agree that you should simply be allowed to stay here despite the situation. Their first idea – ludicrous as it might be - was to arrange a teacher exchange with Durmstrang—“
“Then I’ll go to Durmstrang.”
“Harry!” Severus grabbed his arm. He glared. Harry screwed his mouth shut. He was grateful for the small comfort when Sev didn’t remove his hand.
“I told them you’d say that. Considering Durmstrang’s reputation for the Dark Arts, and the fact that Karkaroff is still free, they… well, an appropriate term would probably be ‘had kittens’. Remember, you’re still the greatest living hero of the wizarding world.”
“So what’s going to happen?”
“They have agreed, finally, to let both of you stay here as long as you, Harry, take up some sort of non-teaching position. Some of the governors are worried that if you were to be a teacher there would be too much potential for bias.” His blue eyes flickered. “I’m afraid that means no assistant teaching positions, either.”
So Care of Magical Creatures was out. Helping Hagrid had been one of Harry’s only real escapes lately. Sev spent his days doing research he refused to talk about, and the evening Quidditch matches had become sporadic. They still played chess, and talked, and everything else, but Harry was starting to feel trapped. “What kind of position are you talking about?”
“Well, Madam Pince needs someone to help her in the library. They asked when you could start.”
“Ugh.” Harry’s face fell. He’d spent so much time in there studying for the NEWTs he’d barely passed due to helping Sev that he wasn’t keen to see the inside of it for quite some time. “Can’t I help Madam Pomfrey or something instead?”
The headmaster raised an amused eyebrow. “After the stories she’s told me?” Harry blushed. Sev’s hand started shaking. Harry took it and stroked his palm. Dumbledore cleared his throat. “Forgive me. But, no, you don’t have the proper training to help in the hospital wing.”
“What about Quidditch? That’s not a class.”
“It is as far as the governors are concerned.” Harry sighed, frustrated. “Believe me, I’ve already tried everything.”
“So, what you’re saying is we’re being punished for killing Voldemort.”
The headmaster gave him a disapproving look. “You’re being punished for the same thing any teacher and student who decided to conduct a relationship would be punished for. The governors are being extremely lenient, in their eyes if not mine.” Sev shook his hand free and stood up sharply. He paced, grim, watched intently by the portraits lining the walls.
“What happens if I resign?” he asked quietly.
“If you resign I’m going with you.”
“Not if I stop you.” Their eyes met. Harry felt his temper start to flare. “It’s too dangerous for you to leave.”
“Please sit down, Severus.”
“I’d rather stand, Headmaster.” His chin tilted defiantly.
“Very well.” Dumbledore took a breath. ”If you resign, Harry is allowed to either teach, or simply remain here so long as he pays his own way until either he chooses to leave or the Ministry determines the Death Eaters no longer pose a threat.” He gave Snape a profusely apologetic look. “You take your chances.”
“It’s my decision, Harry.”
Harry looked desperately to Dumbledore. “You can’t let— didn’t the governors get my letter?” The headmaster rolled the candy between his palms.
“They did. You managed to convince a couple of them that you were justified in what you did, but several more saw it as a desperate, manipulative attempt by a teacher to keep his job. Considering what they went through with Lucius Malfoy, they didn’t see much problem with a Slytherin doing such a thing.” Those summer sky eyes again glanced apologetically at Snape. They hadn’t twinkled much lately. “It hurt your case more than it helped.” Harry huddled up on himself, mouth bunched up, brow wrinkled. He couldn’t look at Severus. He felt hollow.
Suddenly, a strange sound echoed through the office. Sev had laughed. It was bitter, immolating, on the verge of warping into a snarl. “’In disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes’. Familiar, dear?” Harry looked up at him and stared. For the third time he saw tears run down those sharp cheeks. Like the first they were dignified, utterly unmarked by sound or shaking. This time there were only two, but they might as well have been a thousand. He wanted to get up, take Sev in his arms, hold him until the governors came to their senses. Harry couldn’t move. Dumbledore seemed to sense this. He got up and put a hand on Snape’s shoulder.
“I tried, old friend, I really did,” he whispered.
Snape nodded. “Thank you, Albus.”
“Do you need—?”
“Please.” Dumbledore nodded and glanced back at Harry, still paralysed in his chair.
“I’m going to go for a walk around the lake. I shall return soon.” Harry watched him walk out of the room. His vivid robes flickered like flames. The door clicked.
“Sev, I’m sorry.” Snape was staring at the portrait of a fat woman in a wide red hat. She, like the others, was trying not to look at them, to give them some privacy. “If I’d known—“
Severus swooped down and grabbed Harry’s head in those long, yellow hands. “You are a stupid, thoughtless, self-righteous brat.” He pulled Harry into a violent kiss. “Promise me that you’ll stay here.”
“I want to stay with you.”
“Promise me, Harry,” Snape growled. Harry grabbed his wrists. Those eyes burned through his soul.
“I’ll stay here as long as you do.”
“That’s not good enough.”
“Well, it’s going to have to be, isn’t it, you overbearing prick?” He pulled Sev’s hands from the sides of his head and squeezed them between his. “I’m not going to promise you something I can’t do.” Snape tried to stare him down. Harry narrowed his eyes. “I’ve spent seven years with you breathing down my neck, bullying me whenever you thought you could get away with it. I’m not going to stand for it anymore.” He brought Sev’s hands to his stiff lips, seething. The obsidian eyes looked away. “What’s wrong? Too scared of famous Harry Potter to say anything?”
“Stop doing this. You’re going to get killed.”
“If I stay here you’ll be miserable, you impertinent little urchin.”
“Then I’ll be miserable whether you stay or not.”
“Good! Then I can leave and possibly let you salvage something of your life.”
“Goddammit, Sev!” Harry’s nails dug into Severus’ hands. “I – want – to – stay – with – you. If you leave, I’m going with you whether you want me or not.” He searched for some sign of concurrence. “You really are too stubborn to live, y’know that?”
“No more than you, Mister Potter.”
Harry shoved him away. “At least I’m not hung up on some stupid pride thing.”
Snape’s brow furrowed. “Pray tell, exactly what do you mean?”
“You’re too fucking proud to admit that there might be something more important than playing the noble martyr. Oh, yes, run away, let poor little Harry become a teacher because he might be able to salvage his life. Did it ever occur to you that I might want to shelve books forever if it means I can stay with you?”
“Don’t lie to me. You want to play Quidditch.”
“Fuck Quidditch!” Sev actually looked surprised. In an instant, though, his stony expression returned. Harry didn’t give him a chance to interrupt. “Want me to burn my Firebolt? Fine. It’s done. Want me to never play again? Done. Are you starting to get the picture, Snape?”
“Quite.” Severus pulled himself to his full, imposing height. He glowered down his nose. “You want to throw you life away, very probably literally, so you can keep shagging a monster more than twice your age. You astound me.”
“Better a bastard than a selfish little brat with delusions of righteousness.”
Harry stood up in the chair. He grabbed Sev’s hair in both fists. Sev flinched. “You have no right to accuse me of selfishness.” He kissed him, hard, fists clenching tighter and tighter. Severus tried desperately to push him away but Harry held his ground. Salty liquid seeped between their lips; he couldn’t tell who it came from. Sev finally stopped struggling and lay his hands flat against Harry’s chest. His eyes were unnervingly wide and he panted hard when the kiss broke. “Don’t you dare run away. Don’t you dare turn into a coward on me.”
Sev stopped panting. His wide eyes narrowed. “Don’t you dare stop playing Quidditch on my account.” They stared at each other. Neither moved save the quick rise and fall of their chests. “It seems we have a stalemate.”
“You know I’m right.”
“I know nothing of the sort.”
Harry shoved his fingers into the neck of Severus’ robes. He drew out the slim, beaded chain and held the tag up for Snape to see. “If that’s true then take this off and destroy it. Go on. The fire’s right behind you.” Sev’s hand flew to the piece of steel and started to pull it off. He stopped. “Well?” Snape fixed him with a murderous look and stuffed the dog tag back into his robe.
“You’re worse than your father.”
Harry relaxed his grip on the man’s hair. His left knuckles were yellow and numb. “I really hope you’re just talking about my temper.”
Snape looked disgusted. “Trust me, buggering one member of your bloody family is plenty.”
“You’re such a fucking romantic.”
Sev raised an eyebrow and sat back down. He smoothed his hair. “You may wish to remove your shoes from the headmaster’s chair. I dread to think what might be on them after running around in a paddock all morning.” Harry really couldn’t argue that. Grudgingly, he fell into his seat.
“So you’re staying, then.”
“If it’s what’s required to keep you from telling the world at large that I’m a ‘coward’, as you put it, then yes.”
“You’re quite welcome, I’m sure.”
“Goddamn greasy bastard.”
“Fucking obnoxious brat.”
Harry rubbed his palms on his robe until they turned pink. “You know, if you haven’t gotten me a birthday present you can always wash your hair.” He wasn’t about to admit that he didn’t mind so much anymore. Sev wasn’t unclean, he just didn’t bother much with his hair.
No reply. Severus just sat there, staring at nothing. He dug out his pocket watch and pressed the button to open it. “Professor Dumbledore should be back in a minute.” His eyes lingered on something before snapping it shut. “As for my hair, you’re more than welcome to try to wash it for me if it’s such a critical part of your birthday. I don’t fancy your chances, though.”
“Is that a challenge?”
Harry’s eyes narrowed. “This is war, Snape.”
“As if you’d win, Potter.” He turned his dark eyes on Harry and sneered.
While getting the shampoo on Sev’s hair had proven to be a battle to the extreme, now that it was long gone he seemed more than happy to just lay in bed and be sucked. “You seem to be enjoying yourself.” Indecipherable moan. “Oh, I guess not. I’ll just stop, then—“ Surprisingly strong hands pushed his head back down. Harry smiled and licked a wide swathe up the underside of Sev’s shaft before taking it into his mouth. Lazy fingers drifted over that long, thin body glowing with sweat. In the weeks since returning, Sev had been unusually dominant and Harry was glad for this moment of control. For the first time in months he slid one hand down between the man’s legs to start something that inevitably made them grateful for soundproofing charms. Severus startled. He reached down and, gently, placed Harry’s hand on his hip and held it there. Harry frowned. He pulled himself up Sev’s body, flesh on flesh, and kissed him. “What’s wrong?”
One black eye opened. “You stopped.”
“Are you feeling okay?”
“No,” Sev growled. “Quit talking and put that mouth of yours to something useful.” He silenced Harry with his lips before pushing him back down. Long fingers stroked soft, black hair, the other hand gripping his shoulder.
Mouth full, Harry snuggled in between Sev’s legs, one bony knee wrapped between his. An edge of worry wouldn’t let him focus on what he was doing, though. One of his canines caught on tender foreskin. Sev hissed; fingers dug into his skull. “Sorry.” Harry tenderly kissed the tiny mark before trying to clear his mind enough to pay attention. He wondered if the Death Eaters had… no, he didn’t want to think about that. Harry wrapped his arms around the gently moving body, lay his cheek on a protruding hip, and concentrated. Gasps slowly became moans. Moans became whimpers, and all too soon wordless, punctuated cries. Nobody would have ever guessed how much cold Severus Snape craved these gentle attentions, and Sev would never let himself admit it except with unintelligible noises and a slight, subtle curve to his back. He constricted and Harry’s mouth filled with a strong, sharp taste. Until then he hadn’t realised how much he missed it.
He stayed there, sucking ever so softly, until the twitches and whimpers stopped. He kissed Sev’s tip twice before crawling up to nestle against him. That sallow skin shimmered with sweat and life and looked like new gold. His eyes, when they finally opened, were clear. This was the only time Harry could really read him, and he read everything Severus couldn’t bring himself to say. They kissed, flushed red lips to relaxed thin ones. “I suppose this is what Albus meant when he said making up is half the fun.”
“Ugh! I don’t want to think about Dumbledore right now!”
“Oh, really? I would have thought that, with your penchant for teachers, the headmaster would be forbidden fruit too sweet to ignore.” That smirk was back, but soft and teasing.
“You’re a sick fuck, you know that?” Harry nuzzled his neck. Sev shivered happily.
“I thought you liked the way I fuck.”
“Mmm… if you were in any fit state I’d prove it.” Harry yawned. He cuddled in more as sharp fingertips traced a lazy pattern on his back. He’d often suspected Sev was excellent with a quill, but there were no drawings to prove it. “Greasy sick fuck,” he mumbled.
“Only for a couple more hours.”
“Pity. I’d rather grown to enjoy my role as the school paedophile.”
Harry blew a raspberry. “Shut up.” Severus pressed his face into Harry’s hair. Harry yawned so wide his jaw nearly popped out of joint.
“Go to sleep. You’re exhausted.”
“So are you.” A pause. Harry looked up into the black eyes, the angular face. “Oh, come on, you have to be after that.” A stony look said everything. “This is the fourth night in a row.”
“Fifth. And I daresay I should have less trouble if I didn’t have your carcass cutting off my circulation all night.”
Harry grumbled. While Sev never slept well, he usually slept. That morning Harry had caught him considering bottles of wormwood and asphodel. “Go see Madam Pomfrey tomorrow.”
Severus snorted. “Poppy has already exhausted her scant knowledge on this subject.”
“Get to sleep.” Sev brushed his lips across Harry’s forehead. “And don’t look at me like that. It’s disrespectful.”
Harry muttered under his breath but put his head on Severus’ shoulder. Despite his worry about not one but now two things, he couldn’t deny that he was spent, and fell asleep wondering how Madam Pomfrey’s knowledge of insomnia and its treatments could ever be exhausted.
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