Author's Notes: Harry's a few years out of school, so it's all legal. This is set in the fictional time in my head between the huge battle and the final push. Everyone's out of character except for one nice speech of Dumbledore's, but don't let that discourage you.
The fact that I am but a humble teenage girl and not a homosexual man was a bit of an impediment to writing this story, so sorry about that. I’m sure many of you’ll agree Sev is the coolest character but impossible to write. Please send all tips, deserved abuse, and adoration to ness_de_blah @ hotmail.com
Many apologies for the flagrant soap-operaity of it all.
Dedication: This one was my first foray into the wonderful Snarryverse. I owe it all to the utterly inspirational Severa for introducing it to me, and to Cybele, Telanu and Sushi for leaving me in awe. Special thanks and many, many virtual brownies to my beta, Beta, whom I love. It’s also dedicated to the legendary poet W.H. Auden, who gave this story both its title and its backbone. I hope I haven’t done his beautiful poem too horrible an injustice.
DISCLAIMER: own nothing but my sadistic urges. You’ve heard it all before.
Lay your sleeping head, my love
Human on my faithless arm,
Time and fever burn away
Your individual beauty from
Thoughtful children and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral;
But in my arms ‘ till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.
A fragile heat seems to radiate from the beautiful brat as he lies, draped against me. I’d say I would be able to sleep without his weight crushing my shoulder, but I know it would be a lie. I don’t need the weight of his person to irk me with the weight of his personality ever hiding, constantly creeping on the periphery of my mind.
My mouth contorts in a smirk as I realise I’ll have plenty of time yet to look on the boy at peace. Struck by the hopeless irony of it all, I find myself overcome with a chortle that I bite back on. It comes out as a shrill giggle. I flinch. He stirs, making a sound somewhere between crooning and groaning.
I still the urge to run my hand over the smooth muscles and try to disentangle myself from him. I think I’ve succeeded when a foot kicks me and a leg snakes around my own. His head nestles somewhere around my armpit. I leave him there and let my head turn again towards him.
Soul and body have no bounds
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant, enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon.
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope,
While an abstract insight wakes;
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit’s carnal ecstacy.
I wake from a long doze and I know he’s been watching me. The shadows under his eyes are dark and deep, and I can feel the intensity of his gaze, for all the trouble he goes to keep it from me. I wrap the blanket around myself for warmth and go to wrap my arms around him. He grunts, quickly going back to his marking and his coffee and his toast. I snatch a piece and take a bite, playfully. His glare is enough to freeze mercury. He never was a morning person. A draught nips at my shoulders and I shiver. He tells me to take a shower and I’m more than happy to oblige.
I remember joking to him once about his chambers; “Yeah, they’re always cold, but in a comforting way, like you.” I don’t think that makes him feel better about my presence. I know he feels guilty about the part he plays in keeping me here - both on and off the record. He thinks I should be enjoying my freedom, but I love being able to slip down here and hang up my angel wings, to fly invisible under the sheets without being branded as a hero, to pace quietly in thought, walking easily without the weight of my stigma on my back.
The first blast of water is always ice to my body, the second burns like sulphur. Enduring this almost daily is an obscure chastisement for my infidelity, but a small price to pay for the comfort of the quiet here, something I’ve been sheltering in for almost six months now.
Staying for a drink after an intense Defence lesson, a thickening silence, the brush of sleeve on sleeve, a caught hand, a held glance, the utter penetration and nakedness of body, mind and soul before a perfect human counterpart… first domination of affection, then the world! It’s amazing what can become ordinary, in an endless hollow labyrinth, in another moment spent cheating death and cringing away from the light. It’s amazing what can become yours…
A rapping at the door brings me out of my blissful reverie. I turn of the water and reach for my wand, before I can stop myself. I blush, realising I’m totally over-reacting. It’s probably just Sev wanting to use the bathroom. What reason would anyone else have to find me here? ‘What other reason indeed?’ The callous voice in my mind echoes bitterly. The visitor taps again. ‘Just a minute…’ I call, forcing calm into my voice.
I open the door to a reproachful Hedwig, taking time to glare at me before swooping around me to drop a letter at my dripping feet and head away again. I reach to pick it up and find myself staring at glimpse of familiar neat handwriting, beckoning ever-lasting support and empathy. Oh fuck. Oh no. My chest tightens with guilt as I begin to open the letter from my comrade, confidant and “girlfriend” Hermione.
Harry, (it begins mercifully)
I miss you more with every day, but I wish different circumstances would let me write to you. I think there’s a Death Eater congregation in a weeks’ time, at midnight, in a clearing near Hogsmeade. I have inside information that tells me You-Know-Who’ll be meeting with the inner circle. We don’t know what he’s gearing up for, but we know after what happened at Azkaban, Fudge won’t be endangering anymore lives of his colleagues and is keeping a close eye on us…We also think You-Know-Who has suspicions about the spies in the inner circle. The Order has met and we decided we can’t let him find out for sure. We’ve discussed it with Dumbledore. I’m sorry, Harry. Hopefully Dumbledore and Professor Snape have prepared you to do what needs to be done. I’ll be apparating in Hogsmeade at nine tomorrow morning. Maybe we can spend the day together. The circle are scared after The Battle of Azkaban, Harry. You have friends and enemies alike on your side, and nothing to worry about. I know you’ll win. We all do, and we’re all behind you. The Weasleys have gone successfully into hiding and send their love and admiration. I still miss Ron.
With all my heart,
I’m too shocked and absorbed in the letter to notice Sev creeping up behind me. For a split second, I want to run. I’m not sure I can take it, the combined pity, the absolute trust; the crucial need for me to meet the challenge and the expectation that I’ll conquer it. And Hermione. God, that’s something I don’t even want to think about. How can I tell her, her affection just isn’t what I … need?
When I feel his breath on my cheekbone, his presence envelops me as protectively as any armour. Amidst the screaming ghosts of hope and encouragement, between the pinnacle of success and the gaping, endless chasm of failure, he stands behind me, magnified in his individuality, and somehow I’m calmed by the knowledge that his brittle bones will cushion me if I fall and his company will surround me if I succeed. He’ll love me and support me, without letting a word of it ever pass his lips and fall upon my “frail famous ears”. Living or dead he’ll tower over me silently, my better half in my other body. With or without me he’ll be watching, thinking, waiting for time to pass and clicking his tongue, wanting to tell me how I could have done it better.
I think I see a trace of shock in his eyes as he scans the letter, but before I can identify it properly his eyes are wiped of all emotion. They seem dark and complex when they look into mine, and I see my own face, so small and young, reflected. It’s not a look, but a moment of pure chemistry and atmosphere as my hopelessness leaks into the air. It too is mirrored briefly in his gaze. As if thinking with the same mind, as if denying what we’ve seen, we share a brief kiss to block the misery resounding in the space between us. We are fused together in a stream of promises that will shatter and dissolve as soon as our lips part. I try not to look too alone when they do, but hold his cryptic gaze defiantly. He drops his eyes and walks out the door. I busy myself with dressing and tell myself I’m not apprehensive. In the slightest. My shaking hand betrays me.
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like the vibrations of a bell
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.
It’s into the evening when he returns, the moon has risen and is settling itself in a northerly spot where it’s bright eye will stay fixed on us children until the sun returns tomorrow. I’m clutching my cup of tea, watching the sullen crackling of the fire when I hear footsteps on the staircase. He’s wearing his travelling cloak, and the black fabric shimmers in the light of some guttering candles, wet with dew. He walks straight past me to hang it in his room. The clock lingers on a quarter to nine. I can only wonder where he’s been.
He looks haggard as he flings himself in the chair next to mine. I want to curl around him like a sponge and absorb the weariness from his bones. I settle for offering him the bottle of scotch beside me.
‘You look awful.’ I tell him.
He gives me a trademarked scowl. ‘And you, Mr. Potter, remain the poster-boy for all things good and cuddly.’
I smile wickedly. ‘There’s a blow-up doll, too.’ I say, putting down the scotch and winding myself into his lap. His smirk is almost a smile. Intent on distracting him (and myself) from the day’s events, I kiss him along a protruding cheekbone. ‘But you get the real thing.’
Something flickers in his eyes and he gets up, pushing me gently out of his lap. He begins pacing the room. In a few long strides I cross to him and catch his hand. He turns to me, the corner of his mouth drawing up tightly in indignation.
‘Come on, Sev. Come to bed.’
‘Don’t call me that.’ He keeps pacing.
‘Please… We both need to relax. Let’s just…’
My face must be reduced to the texture of a rasin before he replies with cutting sarcasm:
‘Yes, let’s. Because another violation of The Boy Who Lived To Fuck Me would solve everything, wouldn’t it?’
He turns away again and something already pressured inside me snaps. I snap, too. ‘About as much as you’ll solve brooding and alienating yourself from the one person prepared to love you!’
Fuck. I shouldn’t’ve said that. The fury starts in his fists, which clench, turning paler, and I watch, transfixed with horror as it works his way up his back and neck. He doesn’t turn, but I can imagine the twitch of his left eyebrow and the throb of a vein in his neck. He storms straight past me to grab the bottle of scotch from beside the chair and a glass from the mantelpiece as he makes his way to the bedroom. He rounds on me before opening the door.
‘I’m sorry,’ he sneers, eyes dull. ‘I didn’t realise loving me was an act of martyrdom.’
The door slams behind him.
The door opens quietly, and I jump, brought suddenly from my meditation by sounds other than cooing of Fawkes and the comforting whir of various silver objects. I see the pointed tip of a boot first before Dumbledore pokes his wizened head around the doorframe.
‘Ah, dear Harry,’ he greets me, not half as jovially as the term would suggest. ‘I thought I might be seeing you here. Please, come in, I’ve just put on another pot of tea.’
I smile as if getting pleasure from the thought, when in fact my stomach is turning. I follow him in all the same, sinking into a leather chair in front of his desk. He sits himself opposite me, chewing at a corner of his moustache, and smiles. I bite the bullet and introduce the topic.
‘Hermione owled me this morning.’ I say. ‘She said she’d talked to you about it. There’s a Death Eater meeting near Hogsmeade next week. They think something’s up.’ I take a deep breath. ‘They… they want me to stop it.’
He nods sombrely and begins to pace. ‘I have indeed met with The Order on this subject.’ He sighs. ‘It’s a complex puzzle, Harry, and the pieces of we’ve been able to gather are sparse. Voldemort has called a meeting with his most trusted cohorts, to discuss a plan of some sort.’ He meets my gaze. ‘What it is, I cannot say exactly, unless the location is saying much more than he meant it to.’
A frown creases my brow. ‘You mean you think he’s going to attack Hogsmeade?’
‘And then Hogwarts, yes.’
‘But that makes no sense!’ I protest. ‘Without the Dementors? After he lost to us at Azkaban last year?’
‘It was a narrow victory, Harry. We lost almost as many as he did.’ He gives me a penetrating look. ‘And we can’t keep the Dementors away from him forever.’
I shudder. ‘But, sir!’ The respectful address is automatic.
His face softens. ‘You are no longer a student. You may call me Albus.’
‘But Albus…’ I appeal desperately. Voldemort can’t attack Hogwarts!’ Hogwarts is my home… ‘‘The Ministry is so much weaker. Why not attack them?’
He smiles bitterly. Before last year I wouldn’t have thought him capable of such a thing. ‘You raise a good point.’ He sighs again. ‘Harry, can you remember what Tom Riddle told you when you faced him in your second year?’
I shudder. That meeting is not something I like to remember.
“Haven’t I told you? Killing mudbloods doesn’t matter to me anymore. For many months, now, my new target has been –you.”
‘Albus, d-does Voldemort know I’m here?’
He takes a deep sip of tea. ‘We think he suspect it.’ His eyes burn with an odd light. ‘We can move you if you don’t feel you’re ready.’ I shake my head dumbly, not believing what I’m hearing. ‘But’ he says with emphasis. ‘I have great faith in your courage and ability… And’ he straightens, hitting me with another penetrating look. ‘I feel you’re the most prepared.’
I bury my head in my hands, overwhelmed at what he’s telling me, though none of it is what I wouldn’t expect, or haven’t been told before.
‘I’m sorry to place this burden on you, Harry.’ I look up to the sound of my name to see he looks frail and old, though his sky blue eyes are burning with earnesty. ‘I feel, however, that the burden of choice is generally preferable to the burden of obligation. And you do have a choice. Though you may have coped with it the most… successfully to date, there are many other families with their own vendettas. And I know your Godfather is more than willing…’ His gaze turns steely.
‘Um… Dumbledore, sir?’ I ask, timidly.
‘Albus, Harry.’ He motions with a gentle smile.
‘Yes, er, Albus, can I go for a walk before I make my decision?’
He chuckles and I wonder what could possibly have been funny about that sentence. ‘I was going to suggest a hot bath, myself.’ He looks at his clock watch and stands. ‘But, yes, you are free to go. I have other appointments also. I’ll see you after lunch, perhaps?’
He chuckles as he shows me out.
My shoulders feel no less heavy when I enter Dumbledore’s office once again. I feel faint, having not brought myself to eat anything, but at least I’ve decided. I couldn’t stand being locked away from Sev, nor could I not defend this place. It’d be almost like being locked in the cupboard under the stairs again, waiting to come out for Dudley to beat me. Except this time, I can fight back. Rage bubbles up inside me. This bastard is the reason I had to live there in the first place. For a second I’m itching to face Voldemort, to go with him mano-a-mano, but with a rush of cold I realise it won’t be as simple as me holding my own in a fistfight. I remember Cedric, slumped and lifeless on the ground, me twitching and retching in pain. I shiver. Please, God, don’t let it come to that. The door clicks open once more.
“What’s coming will come. And we’ll just have to meet it when it does.”
Dumbledore smiles at me and beckons me inside. We sit down and I begin to talk but he cuts me off with a hand. ‘Before you tell me anything’ he says ‘I think this is a good moment for some chocolate.’ A plate materialises on the table, flanked by a pot of tea. He beams fondly and passes me a cup. My appetite comes back to me and I take a piece, feeling the pleasurable warmth spread over me from tip to toe. I wonder what it would be like if we kept some of this at home. I grin impudently, imagining Sev feeling all warm & fuzzy inside. For not the first time today, Dumbledore –no, Albus, sorry- chuckles.
‘I’m glad to see the chocolate has lifted your spirits. I could offer you a Muggle sweet, if you like. Sherbet Lemon, perhaps?’ I shake my head. He gnaws on a piece of chocolate, suddenly looking very serious. ‘Alright then, Harry. I suppose time is getting on… If you have anything to tell me?’
I put my cup down suddenly with a chink that’s way too loud, so I lower my voice to compensate; ‘I’ll-I’ll do it.’
The great man nods sagely. I don’t know if I thought he’d be delighted, but the gleam in his eye doesn’t look quite like it’s celebratory.
‘That’s a very noble decision.’ I’m the victim of another penetrating glance. ‘Are you sure?’
Suddenly my resolve crumbles. No, I’m not. ‘Yes…yes, I think I am. I mean, no, but, I don’t have a choice, do I?’ He replies sternly ‘You always have a choice, Harry.’
‘With all due respect, sir, I don’t think I do. I’ll have to do it someday, and he’ll always be a Dark Lord, and I’ll always be …well, “young Harry”. And putting it off will only make it worse.’
He nods. ‘Perhaps you are right.’ He goes to his desk drawer and pulls out something. He smiles, and when he next speaks, there’s a note of laughter in his voice. ‘Now, I know Severus regards these as… what was it… “pretty pictures on cards that belong in a Muggle junk shop.” But I find, sometimes, they can be a useful method of introspection. They help to remove one from the situation and bring up possible consequences without the Querent having to think upon them to deeply. If one is inclined towards prophetic dreams or visions,’ he pauses and I shift uncomfortably. ‘Or blessed with The Sight, they may tell the future. But even in those cases it’s very rare.’ He grips the desk. ‘ I just want to help you understand the possible ramifications of your actions.’ He hands me the cards and I look at him blankly.
‘I hope you don’t want me to pull out a Grim’, I joke, a bit ill at ease.
He laughs. ‘No, not at all. Just clear your mind and shuffle the cards. I want you to pull out a card and tell me what it means. Then you may repeat the process, as many times as you feel you need to. This should just give us more objective evidence about your feelings. It should help you, more than anyone, sort yourself out.’
I do as he says, eyes closed, shuffling slowly, before something occurs to me. ‘Er, Professor, you do have a manual, right? It’s just, it’s been a while since…’ the colour rises in my cheeks and, thankfully, he laughs. ‘Of course, Harry, I quite understand. Now, when you’re ready…’
I shuffle for a few more moments and pull out a card. A blond woman with a crown holds a cup to her lips as though about to drink from it, a half-smile on her face. The heading ‘Queen of Cups’ is written in archaic capitals above it. I hold it up to Dumbledore. He beams and hands me the book. I look it up, aware he’s watching me. When in my life am I not being watched? ‘Queen of Cups,’ I read. ‘You are surrounded by people that love and support you. Open yourself up to new visions and possibilities.’ Dumbledore frowns. ‘Follow the promptings of your heart.’ I finish. I look up at him, not sure what to make of the part about visions, but he just motions me to continue once more. I take a deep breath through my nose and shuffle the cards again. The number nine in roman numerals floats above a scene of a man with his head cocked to the side, as if thinking, and leaning on a stick. Eight other sticks, drawn as saplings, stretch into the sky behind him. I look up the book and read the description to Dumbledore as I hold the card up to him. ‘Nine of Wands. One last test, for which you are prepared. I think that’s straightforward enough… I still don’t feel prepared, though.’ Dumbledore smiles a little sadly. ‘You may draw another card, if you feel it’s necessary.’
I nod and pick the first card from the pile, for the first time fairly confident about the up-coming confrontation.
What I see takes those feelings right away from me. A ten hangs in the air above a slumped body in a flowing white shirt. The shirt is covered in bloodstains, and ten swords stick unceremoniously from its back. I remember this card from my life-analysis reading last year, right at the begging. ‘Sudden loss.’ I say, holding the card out to Dumbledore and begging him to take it. He gathers them all and puts them back in his desk, gesturing me to take from the platter of chocolate. I nibble at the corner of a piece, relaxing almost against my will. Dumbledore takes my free hand and squeezes it. ‘It’s very likely you’re only seeing your fears reflected, Harry. It doesn’t mean anything. We were only trying to gain an emotional insight.’ I nod dumbly and make myself focus. He’s right. How many times had we said Divination was rubbish? I convince myself it’s utter shite and get up to leave the room. Dumbledore nods. ‘Be sure to alert the House-Elves when you wish to have dinner.’ He stops me just as I leave the room, and I turn to face him. ‘Defence on the Dark Arts isn’t just about defence, you know. Attack is just as important. You can play the same game on your own terms, by countering hatred and destruction with love, acceptance and determination to create something worth protecting. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ He smiles gently and warmth envelops me as his words sink in. I smile and nod, exiting on the high note. I frown as I shut the door, wondering how to put his words into practice. From somewhere inside me a sinister voice calls: “Come on, bow to death, Harry.”
I’m brought with a shiver back to the present. A bitter draught whips around my shoulders and I clutch my robe tighter to myself, telling myself that yes, the cold is why I’m trembling. I sink back into the chair and refill my mug of stone-cold tea with the more preferable steaming variety. I lean back and inhale the fumes before taking a deep sip. This tea could really do with something stronger in it. I reach beside me for the scotch. What did I do with the scotch? I remember holding it, entwining myself around Sev, putting it down. Fuck. Oh fuck. It’s in the bedroom. With him. And I’m not.
I rap softly on the door to the bedroom, anxious to make things right again. ‘It’s me, Severus. Can I come in?’ I wait for a few moments. No reply. ‘Severus? I’m really, really, sorry.’ I hear a snort and the chink of glass on glass. I open the door. He’s sitting on the bed, one long leg crossed over the ankle of another, nursing the glass of amber liquid in his left hand. I sit on the edge of the bed and watch as he takes a deep gulp. He stays silent. His eyes remains fixed in the other direction and he drinks again. I’m not sure whether or not I should try him. He drums the fingers of his right hand against his thigh. Maybe he is more far-gone than I thought. He should at least be making some kind of biting witticism to acknowledge my presence and make me go away. He wouldn’t be so childish as to ignore me completely. I wait a bit longer. It seems that he would. I guess I’ll just have to make it harder for him to ignore me. He fills up the glass once more. The noise of liquid flowing is a nice break to the ponderous silence that’s filled the air these past minutes. He places the bottle on the ground. It’s about a third empty. Deciding it’s now or never, I snatch the glass as he’s bringing it to his lips, and down the contents in one swallow. He looks at me with a mixture of surprise and indignation. I make a face as the liquor burns it’s way down my throat, but I warm up slightly. I’ll never get used to spirits.
‘Thanks, I needed that.’ I say, as I walk into his line of vision. He glares and turns away from me but I sink onto the bed next to him, much closer than before. My fingers snake between his and I pull his hand into my lap. He gives up and turns to me, resolve melting. ‘Look, I’m sorry.’ I say. He rolls his eyes at my originality.
‘I believe you’ve mentioned that before,’ he replies. ‘I fail to see how that fixes the problem.’
‘Which fucking problem?’ I ask, exasperated. ‘I don’t know what your problem is!’ My voice is louder than necessary. I take a deep breath to calm myself before adding ‘But I’d help if you’d just tell me.’ He tells nothing. I sigh, and continue with my planned speech. ‘I’ve been a git.’ I say.
He responds dryly. ‘I applaud you for your astute observation.’ I silence him with a glare. I really have become him. I continue before thinking myself into a corner. ‘You’ve been a git, too.’ He splutters. ‘But we’re going to need to work together’ I plough on. ‘Because in a week, there’s a Death Eater gathering, and I have to face Voldemort. We also need to make this work…’ I exhale a breath I didn’t realise I was holding. ‘Because I love you.’ Pause. ‘And I think we should make the most of this week.’ It may be my last. I finish silently.
I look down at the covers afraid of what I might or might not see in his face. His hand withdraws from mine and thumping noises tell me he’s started pacing again. ‘Sev…’ I protest, grabbing his wrist and trying to pull him back down. He flinches, and I see his face is knotted into a frown of lines, lips and eyebrows. ‘Don’t call me that!’ He spits. I stand to appeal to him once more. ‘And another thing,’ he adds, eyes blazing ‘shut up.’ Heat surges through my body as he kisses me. It feels like coming home. His long fingers weave through my hair and my hands trace the back of his neck. Heat turns to warmth as the urgency dissipates and hands and mouths caress tenderly. The meeting of eyes is as pleasurable and almost as palpable as touch. The air crackles with intensity. I graze his neck, delighting in his shivers as he peels of my cloak and unbuttons my shirt. The shirt comes off and his eyes search mine for consent before he starts on my belt. I wave his hands away, knowing I’ll pay through the nose if I don’t show restraint, and de-pant myself. That taken care of, I continue ridding him of his clothes. His hand brushes where it knows it’s not supposed to. My crotch twitches. ‘Bloody cock-tease’ I laugh around his earlobe before pulling out his belt with a quick swish. His pants come down and a cool breeze chooses that moment to raise goosebumps on both our legs. He steps out of his pants with as much dignity as he’s able and nudges me onto the bed. ‘Brat. Lie down.’ He continues the conversation with my snail’s trail. His head comes into my view again suddenly. ‘You know,’ he says, lips pursed in mock-severity ‘I do wish you’d wear more interesting underwear.’ His fingers taunt me from beneath my y-fronts and my breath catches. ‘This part could be so much more fun.’ He gives me a fierce kiss as my knickers are yanked downwards and clean away. I put my arm around his neck and pull him closer, our chest press together and I feel as if we’re one. Perching on arched feet, he soon looses balance and topples sideways. ‘Excuse me, Mr. Potter,’ he says with a kiss to my nipple. ‘I’ll thank you not to interrupt me when I’m busy. Now where was I?’ His hands begin their circling again. I groan. He smirks self-satisfiedly. ‘Sorry, what was that?’ My moans become louder. He straightens and crosses his arms. Even on his knees he seems to tower above me. ‘Mr. Potter, you’ll have to be more coherent.’ His mouth introduces itself to my cock.
‘Uuuuuuungh….’ He stops his activities to laugh.
‘There’s the celebrated Potter eloquence!’
I push his head back down with a sweaty hand. ‘Don’t you dare stop!’
His tongue begins to inch its way around the length and breadth of me. His fingers join in, too. Can’t this man keep his hands still?
It continues this way for a while. He brings me to the brink, leaves me teetering over the edge and then firmly shoves me back, stopping to make a smart-arsed comment. It’s not quite the tender union of flesh and spirit I was preparing for, but it’s enjoyable, and it is very Sev.
When I think the man has reached the limit of his amazing oral callisthenics I risk crying out. Not that it’s a choice. The yell that escapes me is born of pure joy before I have time to think about it. I see stars before my eyes as my blissful agony comes to a climax.
He crawls up beside me and I tuck myself under his arm, pillowing my head to his chest and listen to his heart beat as his arm wraps like a vine around my shoulders and he brushes my hair from my face. Forgetting himself for a second, he uses his left hand and before I can stop myself, I run my finger around the disfiguration on the inside of his wrist. I feel him stiffen and look up to see his face is drawn tight, his mouth a line of restrained disgust or fury. Before he can say anything, I shift and bring it to my lips. With passion and reverence I trace every inch of that scar. I keep my thumb on his wrist as I lie on my stomach on top of him, and tilt my chin to look him straight in the eye. In the living room, a clock chimes.
Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly ‘round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless
Find our mortal world enough:
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.
I’m watching him again as he slumbers. It’s typical of nature that anything so beautiful must be so short lived. He stirs, deep in sleep, and in my minds eye I see my hand stroking him and murmuring sh… He nuzzles further into the blankets, suitably hushed without my intervention. Leave it to the others to reach out for him and nurture him. My silence speaks volumes.
I shift and sit upwards, happy to gaze on him from a different angle. Why does no one ever see the fragility of that beautiful face? Or more to the point, why is nothing ever done about it? Ah, well, action will come all too soon. I hope the boy’s blessed by the old madman we all put so much faith in, and Granger doesn’t suffocate him with sudden affection. I’ll be annoyed if he puts on a brave face. The divine brat should be afforded the dignity of being human.
God, I hope his Godfather and the werewolf at least treat him with some of the classic Gryffindor I’m-such-a-straight-man stoicism. I don’t think I could stand them whining and slobbering all over his face.
The clock strikes twelve. I memorise the image of his face, bathed by the peace of the afterglow in the light of my guttering candle. Lucius’s words from the day’s meeting echo, unbidden and wanted, through my mind. The Ministry’re onto us. The Dark Lord has decided it would be unwise for us to apparate. We will gather tonight in the clearing as planned, but we will meet instead at a half past one. You’ll need to leave at midnight. I sigh as I rise to dress, knowing I’ll have to make up for lost time by running, and probably puffing. It’s almost worth it, I think as I pull on my cloak, feeling for the mask in a hidden pocket.
I stop as I reach the door, my hand still poised on the handle. I take one last look at the boy, reminding myself why I didn’t tell Dumbledore, just why it is I’m doing this. Is it for freedom? Perhaps, though in a truly just world I’d also rid myself of the Malfoys and most of the old crowd, not to mention the worm and the bitch, sorry, Godfather, painting myself with blood into a nice cell in a re-constructed Azkaban. Is it a last fuck you to the never-ending victimisation? Closer to the mark, though I’m more than aware my young lover is the probable unwilling victim to my nobility. Perhaps I’m doing it for him, the boy that looked at every visible scar I possess tonight, and decided that they, too, were something to nurture. Perhaps. I run a finger a long the cold stone wall of my beloved dungeon, and say goodbye to it as my eyes give a last farewell to Harry. I hold the candle out in front of me, and shut the door behind me as I envision my epitaph:
“Severus Snape: Some’ll go to hell for the quiet life.”
I wake to the burning pain in my scar, disoriented, groping for my wand and glasses. My hands go to my forehead as I convulse again with pain, flapping like an electrified rag-doll. It’s not just my head that’s hurting as I feel pain pitch in my hips, my ribs and my toes. The pain lulls me into a pattern and I come close to passing out before it intensifies and I feel the contents of my stomach hurl itself out through my mouth. I retch again and again; I’m coughing up blood and bile when the pain dissipates. It fades out and I’m numb and throbbing, teetering just on the edge of consciousness. Weak, and pale with a hand that tremours violently enough to be incarcerated, I pull back the sheets, meaning to get out of bed and wash my face. My back stiffens again with pain and tears run down my face before fiery vomit burns out of my throat and down my front. I feel the agony escalating, working in every nerve of my spine and down to my anus. I soil myself. My vision, going crazy, haunted by melting, bleeding schizophrenic spectres goes cloudy, and I my hair moves with a sudden wind and rush of green light. The pain pitches, and moisture drips down into my eyes. I must be bleeding. My head slumps back into my pillow. There is silence.
I wake in a place filled with white. Even my breath seems to sparkle psychedelically in the air. I blink, trying to get used to the cosmic play of light before me, the faces sparkling, snarling, winking… There are hints of shadows that glimmer, moving slower than the faces in my eyes. There’s an echo of the rushing sound that brought me hair, the light diminishes again. A breeze ruffles my hair. I open my eyes to see everything much more clearly, now that the blinds are drawn and my glasses rest on my face. I hear a familiar chuckle and see a jovial smile. Maybe the God-like figure I saw in my various dips in and out of consciousness wasn’t the real thing. I glance around the room as much as I can without moving my head. I’m confused. I try and place all the half-familiar faces. I can’t, and I’m suddenly drained of energy. My eyes flutter closed and my mind flutters out of this troublingly familiar dimension.
I open my eyes again to the wizened face that’s all too recognisable. Something gleams in my line of vision, and I try to brush it away. My arm is a concrete sock that refuses to be lifted. I groan in irritation.
The wizened face creases in concern and a voice says very clearly. ‘Harry, listen to me. This is professor Dumbledore. We moved you from Severus’s chambers. You’re now in the hospital wing.’ I blink. What? So you’re not God. I must have said it aloud because the man laughs. ‘Not quite, no.’ I blink again. When I open my eyes, I can connect a concept to the picture the old man’s face. I look down at the sheets, doubtless much cleaner than my own as I left them. ‘…Hospital wing…’ I mutter. Everything begins to make a whole lot of sense.
I sit up suddenly and Albus steadies me with a hand to my wrist. He helps prop me up with some pillows, and I gather my thought.
‘What time is it?’ I ask, hopefully not too groggily.
‘Nine o’clock, Wednesday morning.’ He replies.
“Nine o’clock” ambles about my brain, searching for something to connect itself with.
‘Hermione!’ is the next word that escapes my mouth.
Dumbledore looks at me sympathetically and finishes my sentence with an answer. ‘Is having breakfast with the others in my study. They arrived Sunday morning. You’ve been out for nearly four days.’
‘Oh.’ I pause to let this sink in.
He goes on after a moment, as if I hadn’t spoken. ‘I must now ask you, dear Harry, to remember why.’
‘I remember a dream, a tall man walking through to a clearing in a long, hooded cloak. He stops behind a thicket and stiffens with resolve before holding it back and walking over the gap to the other side. He’s shocked by the sight that greets him.
A circle opened, not standing stiff, waiting to hear plans and the appearance of a cherished member, but spread almost casually, grotesque white masks mirroring faces contorted with vengeful glee. Their leader, robed in a shimmering, melting black is the most terrible sight of all. He laughs jovially, his reptilian nose taught in two slits parallel to the red gashes that pass for eyes. While his minions echo his laughter, they all fall silent, when he reaches forth with pale hands and kisses the traitors’ sallow face.
Why, Severus, you’re early. Lucius said he’d told you to come at one-thirty. Were you really so anxious to meet us?’
The tall man is thrown off balance by the strange juxtaposition of open scorn and cordiality, but he knows reaction is what they’re looking for. He refuses to show one.
I was, My Lord. Can you not understand how hard I’ve worked to gather useful information, how eager I was to be accepted back into the fold?’
The leader snorts with mirth. ‘Yes, I believe I can.’ Though his words become more accusing, the note of urbane humour does not leave Voldemort’s voice. ‘You hate us, do you not Severus? You hate my people and my cause, you hate those who pushed you into it, and you hate yourself for letting yourself be pushed.’ He moves closer to whisper into his ear. ‘I’m very disappointed in you, Severus. You did bind me to you. You did promise me the core of your magical being.’ His hand snakes out and grabs Severus’s, pressing cruelly into the mark that just hours ago was given such kinder attention. He stiffens with pain, biting his lip ‘til it’s bleeding, but says nothing. ‘You did give me your soul, so to speak.’ He raises his voice for the rest of the crowd to hear. ‘And now I find you’ve betrayed me. Despite my signature’ he presses and it burns harder. ‘on the dotted line’ there is the sound of searing flesh as Severus sinks to his knees. The crowd laugh. ‘I find, you give it over to the first person that throws himself at you.’
Severus begins to crawl back up again, blood trickling from his mouth. Voldemort kicks him savagely in the stomach until the man is down again. He wags a finger in a farcical gesture of disapproval. ‘Naughty Severus, don’t interrupt your betters when they’re talking.’ His underlings look from one to the other, not sure whether to laugh. They settle fixing rapt attention on the only figure whose beatific face isn’t a mask. ‘To add insult to injury, I find the “one person prepared to love you” as he so charmingly put it, is my most beloved nemesis.’ He chuckles, in a hauntingly Dumbledorian fashion. ‘Oh, Severus, the irony of your life.’ He stops to polish his fingernails on the slippery coat. ‘I don’t even need to start on the irony of your death.’ The man really is mad. He places his foot on the ground where Severus’s head still lies and drives it further and further into the dirt, stopping only when the poor brave man gives out a strangled yelp. He removes his foot slowly from his head, and inexplicably, offers the man a hand by which to help him up. Severus regards him disbelievingly, shifting his head out of the dirt, so he can put his chin up and see properly the mans hand. He spits on it.
Eleven people give a collective gasps and pull out their wands, amazed to find their leader waving at them to put them away and chuckling desperately. He takes a deep breath inwards. ‘You’re a witty man, Severus. Never before have I regretted not being able to cry.’ He seizes the other man’s wrist powerfully, and pulls him upwards, again caressing the Mark. Pain. He watches disdainfully as the man twists and turns like a marionette on a string, trying to break free of his strong grasp and trying not to make a sound. ‘It’s alright to cry, Severus.’ He says patronisingly. ‘Show weakness, because weak is what you are.’ The man doesn’t say anything, but lifts his chin defiantly in reply. ‘Ah, no, Severus, arguing won’t get you anywhere. There’ll be no heroes’ death for you. You, my friend, will die slowly, and painfully. Weeks from now that dear lover of yours will be receiving parts of you home in boxes. Living parts, of course.’ Sev figures he might as well take one last shot. This time it’s him who giggles manically. ‘You idiot,’ he taunts. ‘There’s an army’s worth of wards on that place. You wouldn’t know where to send them.’
That’s a worthy observation, old friend.’ He looks at the man with mock-pity. ‘Unfortunately not worthy enough to die for, but I’ll answer the question all the same. You see’ he sneers. ‘I told you, you promised me your soul. It’s not something you pledged with words, granted, but friendship, as my love, Dumbledore is so fond of saying, is a powerful thing, especially between wizards.’ He whispers into Sev’s ear. ‘My bond with the twelve of you is as powerful as my celebrated connection with the great Mr. Potter. I don’t need Veritaserum to see the darkest secrets, Severus. I already know them. And.’ He adds even more quietly. ‘I’ll know them until the day you die.’ He laughs good-naturedly again, and pats Severus on the back. ‘But I wouldn’t worry, Severus. That won’t be for a long, long time yet. Crucio!’
Though tossing in my sleep before, this is the part where I remember waking to intense bouts of pain. I remember seeing Sev falling from his feet, hand clawing at air where Voldemort held him, one hand clawing at the grass. I remember hearing the word repeated until he began to froth with blood and foam at the mouth. I remember more heart-wrenching, vein consuming knives of fire stabbing every inch of my body, my convulsions echoing his. God, I remember the pain, never stopping, making my brain weep and my organs boil until I just wished I would die.
And then I remember it stopping. I remember a face, a mask of amusement and triumph turning away, a wand lowering. A split second of clarity before rolling over, reaching for a wand, frantic waves and cries not stopping the yell “Avada Kedavra!”
And I remember hell. I remember agony. Spewing and shitting and trying to turn myself inside out, trying to escape the earthly cage of my body where every nerve was screaming… I see green light rushing, but I see a million smiling faces and dancing bodies rushing towards me as well. The wind that ruffles my hair is the breeze of a million fragments of squatting souls trying to find their way home. I hear a thump and see a body slumping at the edge of my blurred vision. Fragments of Voldemort lie like broken ceramics. I don’t know whether it’s vision or dream or neither, but I have an insight that those fragments are crushed smaller and smaller by the wind and their spreading is not the spreading of the pollen of evil. A tortured face flew among the green lights, an ice breeze came from the rush in my hair and my soul. I have a feeling those find their way back to a grave marked ‘Tom Riddle. Died 2004. Never again to walk among us.’’
Again I find myself slammed back to the present, this time by a breeze with the odd mixed smells of drying herbs and disinfectant. I go to rub my eyes and groan, surprised to find my glasses already on my face. I open my eyes to Madam Pomfrey fluffing my pillows.
‘I see you’ve joined us again, Harry.’ She says archly. ‘The Headmaster says he was just about to question you before your eyelids flickered shut again.’ She puts her hands on her hips and purses her lips. ‘Really. He’s a huge disruption to my care for my patients. I should really not let him in here anymore.’
Realising where I am, my mind drifts back to think where I’ve come from. I recall crazy montage of stabbing pains and soiled sheets, spliced with scenes from my dream. I remember the thud, and the pasty, sinewy body limp, contorted, skin mottled in all kinds of unnatural hues. I feel sick.
‘Is Dumbledore here now?’ I ask with urgency.
She regards me suspiciously. ‘He’s caring for another of my patients.’ She says with bite. ‘He’ll be in here shortly.’ I fidget beneath the sheets. ‘But as you refuse to rest’ she snaps, pointedly ‘I’ll have to insist you have something to eat.’
I don’t want to eat with the though of Sev in danger, no matter how long ago. ‘No thanks, Madam Pomfrey. I’m really not hungry.’ My stomach chooses that moment to growl. ‘Well,’ I grin sheepishly ‘ maybe a little something…’
A gnawed sandwich and half a pitcher of pumpkin juice later I’m allowed to see Dubledore. I jerk upwards against my pillows when I see him entering.
‘How’s S-Professor Snape?’ I demand.
He chuckles, and it really is a totally different sound to Voldemort. ‘You may call him Severus, Harry. He has already informed me of the true nature of your relationship.’ The old wizard’s eyes twinkle. ‘He has asked me to prepare him a nice room at St. Mungo’s and given me permission to fire him. I will, of course, be doing neither. I’m delighted you have each other to turn to, and while it is not my business as your educator…’ he beams. ‘As your friend I offer you my blessings.’
I exhale. If he’s well enough to be sarcastic to Dumbledore he must be out of the woods. Telling Dumbledore is one thing I almost forgot to worry about. I frown as the other thing hits me full force. ‘…And Hermione?’ I ask timidly.
‘Hermione wishes to speak to you in person.’ He replies blandly. I nod. I knew this would take some talking out.
“May I see him, sir?’ I ask Dumbledore, anxious not to pass another day alone in this bed. He nods. ‘Of course. He’s right this way.’ He smiles. ‘I believe Poppy was to let you move on the condition that you ate something?’ I nod. We walk out of the main healing chamber and down a corridor that veers sharply to the left. Several things occur to me. ‘Professor Dumbledore… how is he?’ I settle on, to begin with. Dumbledore peers at me, and seems to understand my real intent. ‘He’s sleeping.’ He says quietly. ‘Naturally.’ He adds, beaming. ‘It’s seems telling me about the other nights events exhausted him as much as thinking of them exhausted you.’ He opens the door. ‘He was asking after you. I’ve no doubt your presence will be very therapeutic.’
The room is large and bright, which I’m not sure is to Severus’ liking. A single chair is placed by his bedside. Sitting in it, I find Hermione.
Before I work out how to react to her, she races up to hug me. She exclaims my name quietly and kisses me on both cheeks. A flush rises to my cheeks. I forgot how… nice it was to evoke that sort of immediate affection.
I know it’ll only make it harder when the inevitable talk comes, but I make no move to shatter the comfort. We stand, holding hands, watching Sev’s gentle breathing and the giant squid play on the water outside the window.
She shakes her head, her eyes wet and earnest.
‘That is a beautiful man.’ She whispers.
I smile, a little sadly. ‘I know.’
‘You’ll be…you’ll be very happy together?’ Her voice catches. It isn’t a statement. I choose to pretend it is. ‘I know.’
She gives my hand one last squeeze and leaves the room. I call out to her before she opens the door.
‘Hermione.’ She turns to me, hazel eyes rimmed with red. ‘I still love you, you know.’
She nods, the smile on her face framed oddly by the shimmering tears on her cheeks.
She doesn’t quite close the door behind her.
I don’t waste time wondering whether it’s intentional or not. Enough scenes in my life have ended with the shutting of doors this week. I choose to think of it as a metaphor for our relationship; glad at least, that one of my friends’ll always be there for me to call on.
Forgoing the chair by the bedside, I lie on top of the bed and listen to the sound of his heartbeat. I could be worried for him for trying to be the hero, annoyed at him for making me the victim of his heroism or dancing at our final emancipation. I settle on quiet laughter, wondering how he’d feel knowing I was watching him sleeping.
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