Holding The Fort
Tuesday, 16 May
He'd reluctantly sent Harry away before five. Their first chance together, alone, since the end of Voldemort and their unspoken formal agreement had been little different from any other night, save the lack of research - outwardly, anyway.
Severus had been downright giddy when he'd opened his office door and saw those godforsaken glasses glinting up at him. Not that he'd let Potter know - the chilly you're-not-worth-my-time-you-insipid-insect glare was Snape's natural state. He'd had no real doubts that Harry would come back, but, all the same, there was an ocean between believing something, and having all doubt lanced by the inadequately concealed happy glitter of green eyes and the tender smile teasing warm, pink lips.
It still didn't stop him from making sure the brat finished his homework. After all, Harry had a future to think about.
He wasn't entirely sure when he realised he no longer had an honourable excuse to continue the nightly bouts of detention. It might have been when the pink lips touched his as soon as the door closed; it might have been during the argument over favouritism towards Draco and Severus' resemblance to a certain bird; it might have been the heart-wrenchingly beautiful moments he'd looked down on a shining his face calling his name, Harry pulsing deep inside him; or it might have been in the wee hours, when he felt the same face stir, leave a tender kiss just above his heart, and settle back into sleep.
Most of the staff had attributed Potter's change in behaviour to the odd effects of his scar. They gave Snape unimpressed glares at his scapegoat treatment of an innocent student (Minerva had nearly stopped speaking to him entirely). That was fine for the moment. Effects could linger, and essential exile was nothing new. Albus knew better, though, and Severus had grown weary with that particular guilt.
Albus opened the door. His purple velvet dressing gown was secured with a green-and-gold cord. He smiled broadly. "Good morning, Severus. This is a pleasant surprise - I didn't expect you to be up so early. How are you feeling?"
Wonderful. Brilliant. Better than I've ever felt in my life. I think I'm going to be ill. "I'll live. Have you got a few minutes, sir?"
"Always, old friend." Dumbledore ushered him in and guided him to one of the armchairs in front of his desk. The sky was still pink beyond the window. "Now," Albus said as he surreptitiously held his long hair out of the way to settle in his own well-loved seat, "what can I help you with this pleasant and Dark Lord-free morning?" His eyes twinkled. They hadn't done that terribly much in a while.
Severus squeezed his hands together until the laced fingers went white. "It's about Potter."
Albus nodded. "As I understand, he helped you a great deal with your research. I'm proud of you. Both of you." Absolute adoration took his wizened face. "I hope you don't let the change in our situation deter you from a continued truce."
"About that, Headmaster." Severus' mouth went suddenly dry. He dropped his head. His nerve started to falter. "Albus, I..." for once, Snape couldn't find any words. Slowly, he crushed one set of pallid fingers with another. "He and I..."
"Oh, dear," Dumbledore said quietly. An edge of miserable disappointment sliced Snape's swollen throat. Too much, he'd taken too much and now he would have to suffer. He couldn't stay and make his Harry suffer as well. "Severus--"
"I'm sorry, sir. I tender my resignation immediately." He glanced up.
Albus blinked; his lips were pursed. "This is my fault."
Snape shook his head vehemently. "Not in the slightest. This started before you even approached me."
"How long before?"
"A day," Severus whispered. The lining of his lungs seemed to disintegrate as he spoke. "I fear my behaviour since then has remained less than appropriate."
Albus arched a surprised eyebrow. "Perhaps I should have asked you sooner, then. I feel a bit redundant." Snape didn't reply. His nose swelled; twin tears slid down his cheeks.
"Calm down, old friend." Dumbledore scurried around the desk, fishing a turquoise handkerchief covered with small yellow ducks from his pocket. He wiped the thin streaks from Severus' face. "At least you've not lost your talent for keeping a step ahead of me."
"I'm sorry, sir."
"This is a very serious situation, Severus. I'd rather not deal with a scandal, and I'm sure Harry would rather avoid any more publicity as well."
"I shouldn't think the school governors would be pleased to know the Hero of Hogsmeade has been carrying on illicitly with a teacher, either."
Severus gritted his teeth slightly - Harry had cringed when he mentioned the new moniker the Prophet had graced him with. Snape had been reluctant to touch a paper since the sixteenth, the day of the attack. He still felt he could happily go several years without seeing another one. "Of course not, sir."
"Do you love him?"
Snape snapped his head up. His eyes narrowed. "What sort of question is that?"
"A direct one, Severus. Do you love Harry?"
Snape twisted the robe in his lap. Silently, eyes dropped, he nodded as briefly as he could. "Don't tell him."
"You haven't said anything?" Albus asked.
Severus shook his head quickly. He could never say that. To anyone. Ever again.
"Does he love you?"
"I don't know." He hoped so - he hoped so, far more than he could ever express. Understanding could only do so much. But that was more than he had a right to ask. "I'm sorry, Albus. I never intended for anything like this to happen." He paused. "I know it doesn't justify what I've done, but... I couldn't have completed my research without his help."
"He... I don't quite know where to start, sir." Severus licked his lips. "I believe we would all be under Lord Voldemort's dictate by now had he not..." he trailed off.
"Ah." Albus' face was slightly stern.
Severus quickly elaborated, "He was instrumental in deciphering the Death Eaters' movements. He does have a brain, when he chooses to use it." Dumbledore's faint smile loosened a knot in Snape's throat. "Don't punish Potter for my actions. I take full responsibility."
After Narcissa's prank - pipe bombs, something no Auror would have thought to look for and no Death Eater would stoop to, carrying a payload of Incendius Counter-solution and Solution - destroyed half a dozen "Mudblood" homes, all Death Eater activity around London had abruptly ceased. Severus, between preparing for the summer term and being called to court at least twice a week, was so exhausted he doubted his own thoughts. Harry was the one who'd reassured him he'd connected all the details. Harry was the one who'd stood behind his chair and eased the tension from his back. Harry was the one who'd distracted him - enough to clear his head, anyway - with whetstone conversation, or quiet company, or with flushed skin and urging limbs and abandoned moans and cries.
Harry was the one who, a week into May, agreed that there was an awful lot of activity starting in London again, all around the Ministry of Magic. Soon, he also agreed that the decoys were too obvious. Even the idiot Aurors should have figured it out. They didn't, though, and left a weight of responsibility that would have crushed either Severus or Harry alone.
Albus watched him steadily. His eyes didn't twinkle anymore; they held a softer glow, thoughtful and torn. "So that must have been your eternal action Rowena was talking about."
"Possibly. Prophecies have been known to be wrong."
"If you tell me that either of you is pregnant, Severus, I shall be most singularly impressed."
Snape snorted softly. A weak, short-lived smile broke through his misery. "I'll be gone as soon as a suitable replacement can be found, sir."
A warm, wrinkled hand lay on the back of his. "What are his feelings towards you?"
Severus scowled. "Sir?"
"I'm not going to keep repeating perfectly clear questions. At my age, there's barely enough time to speak my mind once." The implication sent a shiver through Snape's spine.
"I... don't know." He dared not hope. To hope might jinx them both. With clumsy fingers, he drew the steel tag from inside his robe. It had lived in the secret pocket with his wand for more than a week. He'd hidden it before going into battle. It was far too precious to risk. "Potter has another one like it. He... I confiscated them from him in Hogsmeade."
"He's kept silent for over a month, owns - and, I presume, wears - something that could incriminate you both, and has performed one of the most spectacular trains of subtly creative rule-breaking I've seen since his father was a student in order to earn detention nearly every night, and you don't know?"
Albus sighed. "You're as stubborn as your grandmother, and twice as skeptical. Your resignation is refused."
Severus blinked. "Albus?"
"I've waited nearly twenty years for you to find someone who cares for you properly, Severus. The fact that it's a student is highly unsettling, but I can't deny you again." Albus gently stroked the back of Snape's sallow hand. "Call it weakness, or an old man's foolishness, but I won't stop you as long as you both understand the weight of your situation and continue to act with appropriate discretion."
Severus nodded. It was an automatic reaction - the words made sense, technically, but he didn't completely comprehend them. "Thank you, sir."
"Don't thank me. You've got too much ahead of you to ever thank me." Albus paused. "How much have you told him?"
"About what?" Stomach acid surged. Severus felt like a piano wire. He'd not even told Harry about Voldemort's order, god forbid... anything else.
That word - it might as well have been a funeral bell. 'Cissa... Lucius... how? Severus raised his eyebrows with a suitable veneer of haughtiness. "I don't see how that's relevant to the situation, Headmaster."
"It's completely relevant to the situation, Severus. If you truly care a whit for Harry, he needs to know. How many times did I wake you up from begging him to stop?"
Too many. Seven weeks, with only Albus for any fleeting real company, locked in prisons of the Ministry and of the mind. The nightmares had begun in that holding cell, and they'd never relented. He didn't dream so often about Eversor anymore; that dubious honour was more freely given to Aurors, Death Eaters, and other creatures of imperfect evil. However, he would far rather Voldemort return from ashes than ever, ever force Harry to submit to that slice of Hell. "I'll tell him."
"Promise me, Severus."
It was broken before it even reached his lips. "I promise."
Albus smiled gently. He hugged Severus tight and kissed his cheek. "Courage to shame a Gryffindor, old friend."
Snape didn't say anything. If he opened his mouth, he was certain he was going to cry.
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