Holding The Fort
Tuesday, 14 April
"I presume you have no new bruises." Severus hefted the jar menacingly.
"No, but you will if you don't put that crap down!" Potter flung himself into his chair. He didn't flinch when his back touched it.
"Threatening a teacher, Mister Potter? Fifteen points from Gryffindor."
"You really are a miserable sod, y'know?"
"So I've been told." He tossed the Prophet at the brat. "Read. I expect a full report within an hour."
"I'll report you, y'..."
"Say that again?"
"Brat. Shut up and work." Severus was pleased to see Harry do as he was told. It wouldn't be difficult or long before he gave up on this mission of his and left the dungeons well alone. Quickly, in order to get away from the sharp pang the thought left in his stomach, Severus busied himself with straightening the potions on the shelf behind him.
He knew them almost by memory. Should he lose sight of the Mellifluous Mixture, he could find it three spots down from the purple jar of bruise salve. If the delicately dangerous Incendius potions somehow vanished (or should he suddenly turn colour blind), an unusual bumpy phial of Screams-In-A-Bottle would point him that way. He squinted at the labels anyway.
None of the truly enthralling substances were here. If they were, he'd have had a great deal to explain when the real Alastor Moody had inspected his office two years before; one stasis jar in particular would have won him an extended holiday in Azkaban. He ran sharp fingertips over the surreal molten smoothness of blown glass. These were what mattered. These were the legacy of what he loved. These were all he told himself he'd ever need.
"You lazy git. That's why you're making me do all your work."
Snape glanced up from the bottle in his hand. His eyes tingled from squinting. "Did I tell you to stop?"
Potter rolled his eyes. "Brilliant. The Potions master is blind. Can I switch seats? I really don't want to sit near Neville anymore."
"Just for that, you and Mister Longbottom will be paired for the rest of the year. Do you have any objections?"
"You could say I do."
"How many points are you intent on losing?"
"As many as it takes to make you shut up, you greasy bastard."
"Twenty points. Obnoxious brat."
Potter growled. "Will you stop calling me that?"
"No. As you've so thoroughly informed me, I am, indeed, a greasy bastard. You, in turn, are truly the most obnoxious brat ever to grace this school."
Harry threw the scroll on the desk. "Y'know what? Fine. That's it. I'm leaving, and I'm not coming back." He slung his bag over his shoulder and started towards the door.
"Make sure you lock it behind you."
Potter froze. Severus put on a mask of boredom while his guts turned to ice. "Well, go on. Unless you're attempting to Disapparate in a huff. Might I remind you that, one, Apparition is impossible on school grounds, and, two, you don't know how?"
Potter turned around. For a moment Snape saw a wash of pain in his eyes. The ice rushed into his chest as he realised the brat was no more eager to leave than Severus was to let him go. He meant it. He wants to come down here. No, that's impossible. Potter could have any person in the wizarding world... and you know perfectly well he wants someone who won't judge him as a living god without a second thought.
He hadn't let himself think about that since Friday. It left him torn between uncharacteristic tenderness and some vague sense of being used. Nobody came to Snape for understanding; it just wasn't done. He was too terrified to let his fears control him again. He'll just get bored and find someone else if you let him near. Nobody would want to spend the next hundred years with the likes of you. Be merciful and send him to another bed where he might have a chance at happiness. It didn't help when the book bag crashed on the stones and Harry stood there with a look of grim embarrassment. "I reckon you'll have to teach me first, then?"
"Believe me, Mister Potter, there are plenty of things I'd teach you before Apparation."
"Like what?" Harry folded his arms.
For fuck's... he means it.
"Don't you give anyone a straight answer?"
"Not if I can help it. And watch your lip or else I may be forced to remove it."
"Does that mean no more kissing?" He pouted in the most infuriating way, sarcastic and exaggerated. Severus was quite tempted to transfigure the jutting lip into a large lump of iron. It would do the cretin good to fall flat on his face. He plucked his wand from the long, thin pocket sewn inside his sleeve.
It flew from his hand even before he'd drawn it completely. Potter caught the thing and sneered. Severus trembled; rage burned his stomach. "Give that back, boy, or it'll be fifty points."
"Shouldn't have taught me to duel, should you?"
"You don't know the first thing about dueling, you arrogant brat. Any Death Eater worth his salt would have turned you into a puddle by now."
"So you'd better teach me, then?"
"You wouldn't stand a chance." Much to his surprise, Severus' wand hit his shoulder. He slapped a hand over it barely in time and quickly had it pointed at Potter. "You should be more careful who you trust."
"You've had plenty of chances to kill me, Snape. I'm still alive."
"Maybe I'm under orders not to."
Potter frowned. "What?"
He has to learn sometime. "Perhaps my master wants you for himself. Accio corpus!"
Harry shot across the room so fast his shoes squealed. Severus caught him by the neck of his robes. "Go ahead, boy. I don't care who you are or what scars you've got. Like I said, any Death Eater worth his salt."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "How can you be completely certain?"
Potter trembled in his grip. His eyes bulged. "Accio..." he didn't even have his wand ready. Snape wrapped the loose fabric around his hand.
"You're far too trusting. You come to a known Death Eater for advice, fuck him, and keep coming back for more. I fear your friend Moody would be dreadfully disappointed."
"I..." his teeth chattered. For a big, brave Gryffindork, Potter could certainly act like a child.
Suddenly, something hard and jagged connected fast with his jaw. Severus hissed and staggered backwards. "What on Earth did you do that for?" he roared.
Harry's fist was still balled. His eyes were glazed with rage. "How - dare - you. Professor." He raised his wand. Severus got there first.
Try as he might to hold onto it, the wand flew from Potter's purple, shaking fist.
"For god's sake, boy, sit down. You're going to give yourself a stroke!"
"You're a Death Eater!"
"I was trying to get a rise out of you! And the correct term is 'was'. I was a Death Eater. Do you honestly believe Albus Dumbledore would allow an unreformed known follower of Lord Voldemort on his staff?" His jaw ached something chronic. It would bruise by morning. Shoving Potter's wand into his belt, he reached for the salve again. "It might surprise you to know--"
Suddenly, the door flew open. A large, shining sword with enormous rubies peppering its grip rushed straight for Potter. Severus reached out and yanked him from its path. It was the sword Albus kept in his office. My god. What's not out to kill him?
He realised Harry was staring. Snape could understand why; flying swords didn't barge into his office on a daily basis. There was something more in Harry's eyes, though. It was a sharpness, a schism between old resolution and realised fear. It was the same look Severus got every time he was forced to don his mask again. Potter's voice was a bit reedy when he said, "Oh, fuck. I was right."
There was something etched into the blade, just above the cross-guard. "Ah," said Severus. "So you were."
Tentatively, Harry reached out and grasped the hilt. There was a short surge of red and gold light, and he sagged. Snape automatically caught him. He pulled the impossible brat to his chest and rest his chin in that mess of hair. Potter clutched the sword to his stomach.
Severus had a sudden, perfect mental image of them: the blade pointed towards the Earth, grounding them, Harry's face turned towards it while Severus' own long arms encircled, from behind, the small form thrust into so much so young. Snape knew all about being thrust into far more than anyone deserved before he was old enough to have his say. He pressed his face into clean hair that still smelled distantly of sweat; dimly, he understood that the boy's bent elbows were pressed hard against his arms as if to keep him. "How much do you know?" Severus asked quietly.
"I know I'm going to die." The slender, strong body pressed back against Snape. "The last of the bloodline. Professor Dumbledore told me about the prophecy a long time ago."
"He told you that you'll die?"
Potter shook his head. "I found that part in the library. Um..." his voice dropped to a whisper. "I sneaked in after hours and found it in the restricted section. I don't even think Hermione knows about that. I haven't told her."
"Mister Potter, there are ways other than gruesome death to end a bloodline."
Harry craned his neck. "What do you mean?"
"You can't be that dim."
The brat was quiet for a moment. Suddenly, he stiffened, then went slack. "I like girls!" He seemed to press even tighter against his teacher.
"Perhaps if we're lucky Voldemort will only succeed in castrating you."
Harry squeaked, and Severus smiled softly.
"Can I just be gay instead?" Harry asked quickly.
"It makes no difference to me." Well, it did, but he wasn't going to say it. Not if he wanted a hope of a moment's peace. Peace, however, could be sorely overrated. Stop this, Severus. It can't happen and you know it.
"I hate you."
"Not remotely," Snape murmured into the silky chaos on Potter's head, "as much as I hate you, you obnoxious little brat."
"M'not an obnoxious brat."
"Oh, yes, I think you'll find that you are. Just as much as I am a greasy bastard."
They were quiet for a minute. Severus could feel Harry's heart pounding with his own. Where one left off, the other picked up, creating an even piston that meshed in the pressure of spine against prominent breastbone. An occluded edge of his brain kept mulling over that obscure prophetic passage:
... Never another, for in Slytherin's eternal action unto Gryffindor the bloodline shall be forfeit...
An odd thought struck him. That's ludicrous, Severus. There are plenty of other Slytherins in the world. I'm sure our dear Madam Ravenclaw wasn't making any presumptions to Godric's grossly great grandson's love life with his teacher. It's Voldemort, just like everyone has ever said. The only sounds were their breathing, and the fire hissing softly, and the watch in his pocket going tick tick tick.
"Can I stay with you tonight?"
Snape sighed. "Potter..."
"Not that. I just don't want to be alone."
Severus pursed his lips. "Out of the--"
Harry's elbows nearly crushed Snape's forearms. A small ball of potential formed in Severus' throat. It cut the air going into his lungs - if he didn't say something he would suffocate. "We'll see."
"Thank you," Harry murmured, still clutching Severus and the sword with equal fervor. Snape kept him close for a minute more, savouring the warmth and the earthy smell, taking in a few moments of silky hair against his face. It could never happen again, and he needed to remember. It was far too late to forget.
Gently, he eased the boy away. The holly wand was tucked into Harry's pocket. "I'm still waiting for that report, Potter." The softness of his own voice surprised him.
"Yes, sir." In a moment the sword lay across his desk. Harry huddled into his chair again and picked up the scroll. Without looking up he turned his wand towards his schoolbag. "Accio quill!"
Severus watched. The brat had a great deal to do, and little time in which to comprehend. With help, he might succeed.
He often took the Floo between his office and his quarters, so there would be no suspicion when he wasn't seen in the halls. As usual, everyone would assume he was working late. Harry followed. The office fire would go out automatically behind him.
Severus was still muttering and drawing his wand over his robe when the flames flashed, surged, and vomited a rather soot-streaked student onto the hearthrug. "On the whole, it's best we left the sword. I'd hate to have to explain to Albus exactly why you impaled yourself in my quarters." He hung up his cloak.
"Yeah, well," Harry got up and bashed thin black clouds from his chest, "it's better than explaining what else I've been impaled with." He froze. His hands went up to cover his mouth and he giggled. "Did I just say that?"
"I'm afraid so. You forgot your bag."
Potter looked. "Oh, crap." He stared up at Snape with a slack, perturbed look. "Can't I just get it tomorrow?"
"You said you would finish your Transfiguration essay."
Potter scoffed. Severus sighed. "Five points from Gryffindor. Don't touch anything." He grabbed the small pewter cauldron of Floo powder from the mantle and followed some in. "Office." The fire relit automatically, and would extinguish the same way. When he returned a minute later, bag pulling his arm from its socket, wondering how many of his precious vials were broken, he found Harry looking through a bookcase.
"Didn't I tell you not to touch anything?" Severus grumped.
"You should have said something if you wanted me to levitate. I'm only looking."
Harry looked up at him. "Bastard."
"Brat. As soon as you've finished I'm sending you home." Severus settled in his chair. He started to reach for his copy of The Last Unicorn.
"I thought you said I could stay here."
"I said we would see. I have seen, and have come to the conclusion that it's incriminating enough to be alone in my quarters with a student, much less have said student sleeping in my bed!"
"Yeah, and it's perfectly fine to have sex on your office floor."
Severus' eyes narrowed. "Do you want to go back right now? It's nearly midnight. I'm sure you have to drag your teammates out of bed in a few minutes."
"Do you ever shut up?"
"Do you?" Snape waved at the other chair in front of the fire. "Sit down, do your homework."
"Yes, Professor." Potter grabbed his bag and fell, scowling, into the pristine chair. The only person to ever really use it was Emily, and she usually bothered him during office hours. It was a sharp contrast to its twin, which was dull and pale from eighteen years of heavy use. Potter tucked his legs underneath himself and leaned against a wing. The Transfiguration book balanced on his thighs, a roll of parchment on whichever page he wasn't reading at the moment. Severus stuck his nose in his own book and left Harry to it.
It was nearing one thirty when he finally closed the well-loved hardback. His eyes were pounding, but he knew the story well enough to go several pages without properly reading. Snape glanced over. "For fuck's sake, Potter. You're allowed to speak up if you're getting tired." He rent himself from his seat and shook the sleeping lump of brat. "Wake up, you useless wretch."
"Mmm..." Potter made a smacking sound. "S'too early."
"It's after one. You need to go back to your dormitory."
"Not yet, Sev..." he trailed off and went back to sleep.
Severus rubbed a burning eye with the heel of his hand. As far as he could tell, there were two options: lug the cretin back to his common room by Floo and leave him on the couch, or dump him on the bed. The first was by far the wiser choice. Gently, Snape worked the textbook and quill from the boy's limp hands and arranged them neatly in his bag. He threw it over his shoulder and bent to pick Harry out of the chair. The bag unbalanced him and, as soon as he straightened his knees, it went one way, he went another, and Harry landed back in his seat. The brat muttered, "S'only a Bludger. Let the Beaters handle it." Peace took his face.
Severus sighed. He felt a little tickle of sadness in his chest. With unaccustomed tenderness he ran a thumb over short lashes. Potter shifted into his touch. He's barely more than a child. Children shouldn't have to be what he is. Damn you, Voldemort. "Let's get you to bed, Mister Potter."
Setting the bag down, Snape tried scooping Harry up again. He grunted. In a moment, though, the brat was awkwardly slung against his chest and shoulder. This was much easier eighteen years ago. When did you get so old, Severus? Harry balanced upright for a moment when Snape dropped him on the bed; he quickly wavered and made a whump when he hit the claret duvet. A few more moments and his shoes sat neatly at the foot of the bed. Severus folded back the covers, rolled him into place, and tucked him in.
The fire was starting to die. Snape hadn't lit the torches - he rarely did - and in the orange light of embers Potter looked far older than his seventeen years. It brought out the hollow planes beneath his cheekbones and, when Severus took his glasses, the empty places around his eyes. Despite this, he still looked peaceful.
Sleeping in his own bed was out of the question, as was putting on his threadbare nightshirt. Grumbling to himself about being put out of his own home, Snape settled into his chair. It was more comfortable than the lumpy anteroom couch. He slumped. With his hands folded on his lap it didn't take long for his eyes to droop. In those last scant moments of wakefulness the past seemed very close indeed.
... Their eyes touched him, stares made solid running over his skin to leave burning trails. He didn't know which was worse: their eyes, or the chains. A hot, narrow trickle of blood slid an inch from the tiny nipple that had nearly been pinched off; his greedy robe drank it before it could escape. He flexed his wrists. The ice that shot through his bones at the halted motion made him hiss. "You don't need to do this, Moody! I was coming here willingly!"
"Just like you got that mark on your arm, eh, Snape?"
"I'm not one of them anymo--!" The sudden crack across his face filled the room with white stars.
"Ease up, girl! Can't get an answer out of someone with a broken jaw."
Severus managed to focus on a distantly familiar woman with cruel red hair. Her bottle green eyes were dangerous slits, and her gloved fingers tensed and released, tensed and released, tensed and released.
"I'm not one of them anymore!" he insisted. "Ask Albus Dumbledore."
"Yeah, Albus told us you were comin'. Said we wouldn't need to keep an eye out to make sure you got here."
"And yet you still dragged me out of my room in the middle of the night."
"You're a Death Eater."
"Pipe down, Irene. You're here to learn." The beady dark eyes turned back to him. Thin bands of scar were all that held Moody's uneven face together. "Why not? You're our special guest, boy. You got all the honours. I'm sure Tom won't mind replacin' one door. 'Course, that's what happens when you don't answer."
"It was three in the morning! What is it now, four? I was asleep!"
"We can't see through doors, y'know. For all we knew you were hightailin' it out the window. Now," Moody crouched and peered at Severus, "what's gonna make me believe that you've left those sons of bitches?"
"You have my word." He silently prayed they wouldn't ask for information he didn't want to give. They would. After all, there was no god to listen.
"Your word, eh? Well, let's just see what your word's good for." From his belt, Moody drew a familiar wand: yew and unicorn hair, thirteen inches long, rigid and outstanding for hexes. That was what Mister Ollivander said when Gran took him to the shop when he was six. Life trapped in death, innocence drowned by corruption, the perfect wand for Severus Snape. The Auror touched the tip of it with his own. "Priori Incantatem!"
A bud of ghostly dark mist started to swell. It twisted and writhed, growing, stubborn strands of short dark hair flung this way and that. Severus whimpered low in his throat when the head birthed and blue eyes fixed on him. Eversor stared. The gaze, transparent and faded like watered aquamarines, was wholeheartedly, purely, sickeningly bitter. Too soon, too soon, far too soon for any sense or sensibility he fell, elbows bound to knees, traces of cloth still clinging to his neck, his wrists, his waist. Ribs poked through the mangled skin on his back. He looked up. "What did I ever do to you, little brother?"
Moody's eye twitched. The woman straightened her back. "Interestin' little development," Moody said dryly. "Uden, get outta here. Go... get some sleep, or somethin'. I need to talk to our friend alone."
"I think this is something I need to see, Alastor. Sir." The cow was all but salivating. Something deep and distressing flickered under her skin. Severus closed his eyes.
"Believe me, you'll have plenty of chances to see it later. We oughtta have a whole new avenue to that lot before long."
"Get outta here, Reenee. That's an order."
In a moment the door squeaked twice and latched. Snape could feel more than hear the footsteps moving around him: shuffTHUMP, shuffTHUMP, shuffTHUMP, over and over again as a living leg jerked and a wooden one followed. It stiffened his spine, grated against bone and sinew, drove a nail deep into his brain. The noises finally came to a halt in front of him.
"Well, well, well. Killed... must be your big brother, then."
Severus' mouth went very dry. "They forced me to do it."
"I have a hard time believin' that. Adstringo!" The suffocating chains clenched tighter. Severus gurgled as air was forced from his lungs. Blood trapped in his hands and feet raced, battering the walls of his veins in its desperation for oxygen. "Y'know, if Albus hadn't made me give him my word I'd be transportin' you to Azkaban already. The word of an Auror, now, that's worth somethin'."
"Let me go! I'm not one of them anymore, Moody!" A wand poked his left arm.
"As long as you've got that you're one of 'em. Now, boy, you're gonna sit here all nice and calm, and you're gonna tell me why I just pulled your brother outta that wand. Oh, one more thing: Aperio Oculi!"
Snape's eyes flew wide. He tried to close them but some invisible force stretched the lids back. Burning tears fought the slight breeze caressing them and lost, drying before they could fall, failing before they could break the rasp of air. His lungs tried to stop working as his tormenters stared through his skin.
"Professor, wake up." Someone else had come into the room - strange that he hadn't heard the door. This voice was throaty and low, unsteady and sweet. He couldn't see the speaker's face. Small hands shook the chains loose.
"They made me do it. I swear."
"Imperius Curse?" Moody sounded bored.
"They... tortured him in front of me."
"Tortured who, Severus? Wake up, please..."
"Why would they want to torture your brother? And how'd they make you finish him off?"
"I don't know why they did it," he lied. "But I couldn't let them do... what they did. Let me go, please! I had to save him."
Eversor cocked his head and snorted.
"Sev, please wake up." The small hands ran over his cheeks, his lips, his hair. When they touched his eyelids the spell broke and he met merciful darkness. "Please!"
Moody made noises, but Severus couldn't make out the words. They were distant and indistinct. He opened his eyes hesitantly. Everything was growing translucent; Eversor flickered and faded. The slack chains were replaced with the oddest sensation of being lifted. He leaned on a chest too flat and hard to be Gran's, but just as warm and just as much like home. Soft layers of blackness swept over him and the nightmares melted...
... An arm, wrapped around his back, was muffled by cloth and feathers. Impossible hairs were petted away, petted away, over and over until they finally lay flat in the oily tangle strewn over his neck. One callused thumb stroked the taut surface of his narrow lips. It didn't feel ever so much like a dream, but nothing like this could be real. The thumb was replaced by a soft, guilty sigh, a puff of warm air, and the lightest press of smooth lips. "Greasy bastard."
Severus unwillingly felt the dream cycle end...
A brain-breaking knock at the door woke him. He groaned. Three knocks, then a pause, then two, then an endless line that wouldn't stop until he answered. What the Hell is Emily doing up this late, and how is she sober enough to find me? He forced his eyes open and saw--
An empty bed. He had the strangest nagging feeling that wasn't right. It had to be - since it had become his, his bed had never held anyone but him. Never. Except Potter.
He bolted upright. Harry's bag was gone, and the duvet next to him had obviously been rumpled by someone lying on top of it. Severus leaned forward on his elbows. His forehead rest on the backs of his woven fingers. Vector's incessant pounding wouldn't let him think.
A quick glance at the table told him it was nearly noon. Or nearly midnight. With a sigh he struggled up, found he was still dressed, and went to see what the insane bint wanted.
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