Disclaimer: Harry Potter, etc. © J.K Rowling, Warner Brothers, and probably a million other people; no profit is being made from this fan production, no disrespect is intended to the original creators. I'm only having fun with them. I promise not to damage them. Much.
Summary: Harry feels lost after Voldemort's demise, and seeks a comfort that Draco doesn't want him to have.
Notes: *peeks up* This is the first *long* bit of fiction my co-writer and I have put together for the Harry Potter Fandom. Expect the other three parts to be released as soon as we're done reading over it ^^;
Other stories can be found: http://www.rpgplug.co.uk/Asylum/potter/hp.html
By Kat Reitz and Tzigane
Waking was accompanied by the sound of soft wheezing, the rattle of liquid in lungs, and Harry turned over, looking for the source of that sound. It was early and the alarm had yet to go off, but his body seemed to think he'd slept enough.
At his side, Severus still slept heavily; it would be hard to move very far until the man woke up, because there was a thin arm secured tensely around his waist, keeping him in place. Harry could feel, through the fabric, the chill, numbing feeling of the shield on that arm -- somehow, as they'd slept, they'd moved closer so that the potions master was half-pinning him.
When he fumbled his glasses on sleepily, he could see that Draco was awake, staring up at the ceiling and coughing those soft rattling noises.
"Are you going to be all right?" he asked softly, trying to get Draco's attention without waking Severus.
"Go back to... to *sleeping*, Potter," Draco eked out in a tight, bitter voice, before coughing a little to clear his throat.
"I *can't* sleep with you trying to hack up a lung. Why don't you try sitting up?" Harry suggested. "It might help."
"Why don't you try minding your own business?" Draco half-pleaded, turning to lay on his side facing away from the bed that Harry shared with Snape. He couldn't stand to see them that way, couldn't stand to know that Snape was *happy* with Harry Fucking Potter!
"Because waking up with drowned-in-his-own-lungs-Malfoy-corpse across the way isn't appealing," Harry murmured, raising a dark brow. "Sit up so you can breathe. I promise I won't tell him you lessened your suffering any, if that's what's important to you."
"Shut up, Potter!" Draco's voice rattled with an intake of breath. He saw Severus shift, pulling Harry back against him gesture that had great sexual implications to it -- a roll of lean hips, just shifting, against Harry's backside. It was too much, and Draco did sit up, expression a little hysterical. "Just shut up!"
"Shhh!" Harry hissed. "Don't wake him up, dammit!"
Draco covered his eyes, shaking his head to himself and trying to muffle the coughs.
But it was too late -- Snape was waking up, languidly. He stretched against Harry, jerked him closer for a moment before muzzily kissing behind the boy's ear. "Morning."
"Morning," Harry greeted. That was more than enjoyable, quite delicious, in fact, especially when accompanied by a lazy flex of hips that made him shiver with need.
Severus drew them both up sitting, letting Harry go almost *right* away. As soon as his mind came back to him, and let him know that Draco was still in the room -- and sitting up already? The sound of the boy's breathing was the tip-off for him.
"Draco, is your chest still bothering you?" Severus's voice was still sleep laden, but he was making an effort to sound more coherent. A cough answered, the noise of it thick, sounding as if something the consistency of glue had taken up habitation in his lungs.
"That's what woke me," Harry said dryly.
The potions master made a thoughtful sort of noise, and rose from the bed with a muttered 'pardon'. He was at his suitcase in moments, digging through the vials. This time, a runny golden liquid, that he shook languidly as he approached Draco's bed. "You know that running around in the damp makes your health ill, Draco."
"I didn't think about it," Draco answered. The sound was listless, raspy with his breath and his misery, and his pale face was flushed. "I wanted a walk."
"Of course." Severus seemed a bit doubtful, at least in the way his brows were quirked as he said that. "Drink this, Draco -- all of it." The golden liquid was offered to him solemnly.
Obediently enough, he swallowed it, eyes closing tiredly as he drained the last drops from it. Within seconds, he was fast asleep -- but he wasn't rasping those awful, painful sounding breaths, so obviously something was right.
"You're really good at that," Harry said softly.
"Good at what?" Severus replaced the stopper, and rose again, slower and more thoughtfully as he walked back to his suitcase.
"Taking care of him," was the quiet reply. "Taking care of everyone, really. You take good care of me, too."
"What makes you notice that? Perhaps..." he slid the vial away, and re-locked his suitcase. "Perhaps I'm simply doing my job."
"Perhaps, if you were doing that, you wouldn't be nearly so tender," the green-eyed boy said gently.
"Strange words to hear," Severus mused, moving to sit on the edge of the bed he and Harry had shared that night. The motion was tired, and heavy, and for a moment he watched Draco. The young Malfoy would awaken within an hour, a hyper state of sleep to recover for lost hours. "Very strange words."
"Not so strange," Harry argued. "Just most people don't actually look and see what you're doing. They're too busy *thinking* that they know what you're doing."
"What, you mean I wasn't simply trying to preserve the strength of my ailing House?" Snape turned to look at Harry with a raised eyebrow. "You should get out of bed -- beat the line to the shower, Harry."
"I begin to wonder," Harry said simply, gathering soap and towel along with a pair of jeans and a sweater. "I really do."
"Wear shoes you can hike in -- we're going to the Tor today," he reminded, shifting to lay down for a moment in the warm spot Harry had left on the bed.
"I'll put them on when I get back." Bottle-jade eyes glanced over to Malfoy. "Will he be able to go?"
"If he can't, I'll stay behind," Severus murmured, shifting to pull the covers up for a moment more. "But he should wake up within the hour."
"You really shouldn't let him make you feel so guilty," Harry said as he slipped out of the room. "Really."
/Easier said by you than it's done by me./ Harry didn't get a parting answer, though -- just a view of Severus shifting back to doze for a few more moments.
By the time he came back, the professor was stirring about again, fetching things he needed, and even Malfoy seemed to be waking up, slowly but surely. "There's no line," he said softly. "Everybody's still asleep, or just getting up."
"Then I'll be back in a moment," the professor excused himself, taking soap, and his clothes for the day with him, folded up under his arm. As long as the odd routines of the trip held true for the rest of it, they'd be all right. They'd manage, even if things were strained...
With care, Harry sat down and began pulling on his shoes, tying them tightly. Walking to the Tor ought to be interesting; especially with all of the ley lines. He'd never been anywhere so fully magically enhanced while still being open to the public at large, even muggles, so it would be very entertaining.
Draco's voice, the moment Severus closed the door behind him, as the blond boy started to sit up with slow moving, heavy limbs weighing him down.
"Just me," Harry told him firmly. "Feeling better?"
"Don't pretend you care, Gryffindor," Draco murmured miserably, pulling his knees up to his chest. His chest wasn't gurgling any longer, though, proof that he was better.
"I told you, waking up with a drowned-in-his-own-lungs corpse doesn't excite me. Plus, you'll miss out on a lot if you don't get up and bathe and get dressed. It'll be a busy day, and I'm sure you need breakfast..."
"It's not me you'd wake up *with*," Draco hissed, still hugging at his knees. He didn't want to go anywhere, or eat breakfast...
"Doesn't matter," Harry said. "If it'd make you happier, I'm sure he'd be willing to let you share this bed with me." Not that *either* of them wanted that, but if Malfoy was going to be such a baby about it...
"It won't change that he still wants to... *sleep* with you," Draco murmured, getting to his feet in a fit of motion. If he got dressed quickly, he could duck into the bathroom the moment Snape got out. And hopefully not have to say a word to him.
"Why are you being such a dork, anyway?" Harry asked him. "You'll live. Trust me."
"*You* would -- because you're Harry Potter, and you get *everything* you want, when you want it!" Draco shoved his trunk open, pulled out a pair of jeans and a pull-over. "Everything!"
"Sure, like dead parents, bastard muggle relatives, and Voldemort after my ass. I wanted all of that, all right," Harry drawled in a tone worthy of Draco himself.
"It doesn't matter, though, does it? Because in the *end* you get it all! Everything!" He pulled his pajama bottoms off, and jerked on a pair of underwear, jeans covers pale legs just as quickly.
"You're whining," Harry pointed out, frowning. "Look, it's not like I said, 'I'm after what Draco Malfoy wants!' or that Severus..."
"Shut up!" Draco's voice threatened to crack as he snapped that phrase while he took off his pajama top. "Shut up, shut up! You've got a family now, friends, *him*, and everything else! So just shut up!"
"Calm down," Harry said firmly. "It's not going to do you any good to get hysterical like some kind of... of flighty *girl*!"
"You can say something like that, Potter," Draco muttered, "because your life is perfect."
"And now you know how I felt before, and I'm *trying* to at least be sympathetic, so stop being such a prat," Harry replied.
"But you've got *him*," Draco whined softly, knowing that it was whining just then, as he sat on the bed and pulled his shoes on. "You hated him for years, and joked him, and hurt him, and then you change your mind, and suddenly you've got what you want, when I've wanted for longer than you've known what Wizards are!"
"You know, maybe you should have said something *sooner*, then," Harry suggested. "He doesn't *think* about you that way. He's been taking care of you since you were a *baby*. That would be like me shacking up with Remus and Sirius!"
"Maybe you should," he encouraged weakly, fixing his second shoe before he pocketed his wand and picked up the windbreaker he'd been given to wear.
"That's not going to be warm enough, as sick as you sound," Harry warned him. "And I don't because that would just be sort of gross, Draco. They changed my *diapers*."
"And he's old enough to have done the same for you!" Draco was quick to point out, tossing his jacket back down with frustration.
"But he *didn't* do it for me, he did it for *you*," Harry pointed out. "It changes the dynamics of things!"
Draco just frowned at him, almost viciously, if such a thing were possible, as he started to dig through his trunk for a heavier coat. He'd wandered around the entirety of the day before without one, but... Severus would insist now. It almost pissed him off, that he would be solicitous *now*, when Draco would rather that he just didn't care at *all* instead of giving him some sort of apparent filial affection. Another father, he *didn't* need.
One was *more* than enough.
"I'm right," Harry said. "Look, you don't need your coat to take a bath. You can find it when you get back."
"I took one last night." By wandering around in the wet, but he hadn't gotten dirty, and his hair was still fine. He just didn't feel like having to wait for that. He wanted to put that coat on and just *disappear*...
"McGonagall is sending out for breakfast to be brought up, so that the others have more time to get ready before we leave," Snape announced as he opened the bedroom door.
"Great," Harry said, relieved that he was back. "I'm *starving*."
Draco slid on his coat and moved silently to sit in the window seat, looking out at the misty morning. It was cold, undoubtedly wet, and probably going to get nastier as the day went by. It didn't look very promising.
"The Weasleys have already started complaining over the weather; they need to just be grateful that there's been a spike in the temperature so that rain isn't snow." He didn't want to think about such an oddity of weather, though -- it reached into familiar things that burned at Severus's memories, things that were improbable.
"Yes," Harry agreed, glancing out the window himself. "Though maybe it'd at least be *dryer*, if it were snow...." Well, he could hope. As it was, they'd be damp inside and out by the time they came back to the hotel, surely!
"This is the only part of the trip that I promised Albus we would do -- so beyond this, everything will be as weather permits." And probably be inside. There were shops that the students wanted to see, he knew. "Is your chest better now, Draco?"
"I can breathe now," Draco said simply, not turning to look away from the window. Harry shrugged slightly, uncertain of what to say.
"That's an improvement, then." Severus moved to take his jacket off the coat hook, rubbing a bit absently at his shielded and numb arm. "We've a few minutes to wait -- how about something constructive?"
No sooner had the words left his lips that there was a knock on the door.
"Professor Snape, is Harry in?" George, or Fred, Severus didn't want to bother telling the difference.
"I'm here," Harry said, moving to open the door. "Come in?"
"Hey, Harry, can we talk to you for just a moment?" Fred asked, peeking his head into the quiet-seeming room.
"Sure," Harry agreed. "I'll check on bringing up breakfast while I'm out?" he suggested.
"I don't want anything," Draco told him coolly from the window.
"And do bring up a plate for Mr. Malfoy, Potter," Severus said quite solemnly, letting his hands clasp in front of themselves as he stood in the middle of the room, waiting for Fred to be *done* before he spoke with Draco once more.
"Yes, sir," Harry said politely as he slipped out into the hallway. "What do you need?" he asked Fred, heading towards the room McGonagall was sharing with Hermione. "And *is* breakfast up yet?"
"It's up," Fred nodded. "But... I just wanted to say that... well, you were *right* about Snape."
"Huh?" Harry looked at him, tilted his head to the side. "What's that mean?"
"It means..." Fred glanced around the hall, finding it wonderfully empty for the moment. "That Snape caught George and I doing something we *shouldn't* do, not really, but he decided to not tell anyone. And he even joked us on it, which was just as great as him not telling."
"Ohhhhh. *That*," Harry said.
"Yes," Fred agreed. "*That*."
"He's actually a fairly great guy," the boy who lived agreed, smiling at Fred. "I've been surprised to figure it out."
"Yeah, well..." Fred glanced around again. "We're sorry for razzing you for trying to get along with him."
"It's all right. Now, if I can just live out the week with Malfoy, everything will be *great*," Harry decided with a grin.
"Boys, get into a room and stay there -- I don't want you wandering about!" McGonagall all but burst up the stairs towards them, a newspaper open and clutched in her fingers. "Is Professor Snape in his room?"
"Yes, ma'am," Harry said, surprised at her obvious upset. "This way... see you later, Fred," he wished, and headed back for his room.
She didn't wait for a reply to her brusque knock -- she flung the door open. "Severus, read this!" The paper, a front page, was shoved into hands that had been resorting the potions in his suitcase.
"Read what, Minerva?" he questioned, flicking dark eyes to the page for a moment from her intensely worried expression. What he saw left his throat dry.
~Residents of two apartments found in Ripper-esque condition~
The article went on with some rather gruesome descriptions and hypotheses, but the thing that struck him most was a single line. /The perpetrators appeared in dark clothes, faces masked, according to eye-witnesses./
They were in Glastonbury.
And Draco had been out last night during the time the crime had been committed.
He closed the paper neatly, handed it back to Minerva, before looking to Harry in the doorway. "Breakfast, Mr. Potter?" The casual question was hard to manage, as one hand idly moved to where his mark had been. "We'll go as a group, then, Minerva. The students can't be let out to wander..." His eyes drifted over to Draco, suspicious and worried all at once. He needed a vacation, not... not everything that was happening.
Still, the boy remained quiet in the window, watching people pass by two stories below, and he didn't seem to take note of what was happening in the room.
"Professor McGonagall told us to go back to our rooms," Harry said.
"Breakfast is up. Go see Ms. Granger, please, and bring back enough for all three of you," McGonagall directed. "Severus, do you really think it's safe...?"
"No." He pulled his wand free again to tap it against his suitcase, starting to rummage. "It never is safe, Minerva. But the ministry will have gotten wind of this. In fact, get Ronald Weasley -- he's got his owl with him. We'll have it fly this article back to Dumbledore."
"And Arthur, as well," she said thoughtfully, glancing over at Draco, who remained silent and still. "Is everything quite all right, Severus?"
"As right as they can be -- please, caution the children to stay together." And leave, because he needed, just a moment, to ask... As a former Death Eater, who had so recently walked in their ranks, he understood, and saw that it was possible that Draco *was* one.
"All right. Perhaps we should delay our trip to the Tor..." McGonagall suggested as she moved towards the door.
"That would only give them more time -- if we don't go today, we will not go at all, Minerva." He shifted impatiently to his feet, nearing Draco in the window seat.
"Well, all right..." she trailed off, shaking her head and sighing. "We'll see you shortly Severus." And the door shut behind her.
"Is that where you were last night, Draco?" Snape asked in a low tone of voice, not even bothering with pretense.
"First I'm a child, then I'm a Death Eater?" The sound of that was distant. "I wish you would make up your mind and stick to it, whatever way you intend to go about it."
"You were missing last evening, Draco -- I *know* how young one can be and do those things." Murder, the curses, the blood, everywhere, and the rush from it, as empty as it left him afterwards. He twisted Draco around to face him, a hand on the wilful boy's shoulder. "I know."
"You honestly believe I was there." He looked so much like his father in that moment, how could Severus doubt it? "Well, there's an answer to your question, then, isn't it? Even if I said I wasn't, I sincerely doubt you'd believe it."
He'd certainly been victim of Malfoy guilt games often enough in his lifetime to be wary of Draco in that moment. "It's a possibility. I also know that if I was asked outright when I was your age, that I would've lied." His hand in Draco's shoulder clutched for a moment. "But I believe that you were simply walking about last evening feeling sorry for yourself." /Merlin help me if I'm wrong on this, Merlin help us all.../ "Which you can't do any more, because it isn't *safe*."
"You think a Death Eater would threaten a *Malfoy*?" he said lazily. "My, we are feeling innocent in the glory of Potter's presence, aren't we? Father might be in Azkaban, *Professor*, but I'm sure they all expect me to uphold his position... aren't you?"
Severus's expression twisted for a moment, and it was with lowered eyes that he let his fingers creep up to touch loosely to the side of Draco's neck. "I expect you to be better than that, Draco Malfoy!"
Quietly, the boy sighed, mouth twisting slightly in his misery. "Sometimes, I think you expect the impossible. Like expecting me *not* to be upset over Potter..."
"I didn't expect you to ever find out," was the truthful reply, Severus's tone a dry thing. "I'm a grown man, Draco, which means that I'm allowed to make personal decisions without first consulting with every member of the Slytherin household."
"Remarkable," Draco said dryly. "So, either I'm a child who doesn't know what he wants, or I'm a Death Eater, which at least implies that I'm evil enough *not* to be considered a child... and either way, it's not going to change what you feel about me, so what does it matter if I'm a Death Eater? What does it matter if I drown in my own lungs, as Potter so charmingly put it, or if I'm not hungry, or if I don't want to talk to you anymore? Which," he noted, "I really think would be nice. To not have to talk to you anymore. At least that way, I could brood in silence, which is infinitely preferable."
"You're as much a manipulator as your father was," Severus sighed, still not moving away yet. He was losing the battle... but was too tired at heart to rally. "This is a turning point for you then, Draco, and there's nothing I can do to influence you no matter what you choose. I don't have enough fight left in me to drag you to where you belong if you don't want to be there."
"There's something you could have done, but you can't. You won't. Because Potter wants what I need, and so I can't have it," Draco told him bitterly. "That's just the way the world works, though, isn't it?"
Guilt. Christ, he was going to drown in the guilt before it was all over, between his own voices and Draco. "That's just the way the world works, Draco. I've never been able to see you in that light, I never will."
"So why does it matter if I'm a Death Eater or if I don't eat or if I do anything at all? It doesn't," Draco told him gently. "Not to you. Never to you."
The door opened, and Harry walked in, three boxes balanced on his arms -- breakfast. "I'm back," he said unnecessarily.
"Oh, Bloody *HELL*, Draco," Severus snapped, the edges of his nerves going off at last. Never mind that Harry was there, because it *needed* to be settled. "It matters! It matters that you don't toss your life away, or starve yourself! Just because I don't want to have sex with you doesn't mean that I don't worry!"
"This isn't about *SEX*!" Draco cried back. "If it was just about *sex*, I could bloody well shag half of fucking *Slytherin* if I needed, all right!?"
"Bad time?" Harry asked, stunned. Severus was looking absolutely *pissed*, and Draco had just gone whiter, if that was possible
"Then I don't see what the bloody problem is, Draco! I still damn well worry about you as much as I did a week ago, three weeks ago, three *years* ago!" Bad time didn't come close, from the storm brewing in the potions master's eyes.
"The bloody problem is that I fucking *LOVE* you, you blind, *stupid*, useless ass, and you've *looked* at me and you've as good as fucking *promised* with those looks and now it doesn't *matter* how I goddamned well feel or what I want any more than it did before, before Father and Mother went to Azkaban, before the Aurors started tearing the fucking *house* apart, before *anything*, and it hasn't *changed* because all of those looks, all of those things I thought were *fucking promises*, you've been giving to Potter!" And it didn't *matter* that Harry heard it, it didn't *matter* that it hurt him so bad that he wanted to die right then, because he couldn't help but say it.
Yes, Harry decided. This was DEFINITELY not a good time to be in the room. Wisely, and just for the moment, he backed out of the room, and closed the door to wait until the shouting died down.
"I wasn't promising anything to you!" Severus's voice dipped into anger. "Understand that! It wasn't a promise of anything other than caring for you! I can't change that you love me -- Merlin knows it's not worth your time!"
The well of tears that came up were dashed away with a shaky hand. "That's not what it looked like from this side, all right? Not at all. Why do we have to go over this? You don't care, at all, and if you did, you wouldn't *hurt* me like this. And since you don't, then it doesn't *matter* if I'm just like Father or just like everyone *thinks* I'm going to be, or if I'm a Death Eater. It *doesn't* *matter*!"
"We're going in circles," the potions master hissed, bringing a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose. He wanted the fire in his dungeon rooms, the silence and darkness to rest in, a book... Not parading as a muggle while trying to deal with incomprehensible melodrama. "I'm a selfish slimy ass, Draco -- and I've made a choice that's in my own best interests, and no one else's. God knows Harry will come to his senses and find his reputation damaged beyond repair. But I *do* care, or I wouldn't standing here trying to argue with you!
"Fuck off, *Uncle Sevvie*," Draco said just a bit mockingly, a name from childhood momentarily ringing true. "You're right about one thing. You'll do just what you want, and believe what you want, too. Think I'm a Death Eater if it pleases you, but by *Merlin*, don't talk to me about this again or I swear I'll find a way to make you regret it as much as I do."
"You insolent *brat*!" Snape cut himself short from anymore words, instead storming towards the door to wrench it open. "Eat breakfast now, Harry, and quickly -- we're still leaving for the Tor at eight sharply."
The sheer *fury* in the dark-eyed man was unbelievable, and Harry glanced into the room to see if Malfoy had moved. He didn't seem to be, and so Harry tentatively slipped one of the breakfast boxes towards Severus. "You, too," he said, moving to lay the second box upon the bed.
The quiet fury went on, though, as Severus took that box and put it promptly on Draco's window seat. "Eat." He wasn't going to take no for an answer at all -- they were all going to have breakfast, and then *go*, before his temper snapped completely.
Deciding that perhaps he'd pushed Severus's temper far enough for now, Draco lifted the box and began to poke idly at the cold eggs within, looking up at Harry through thick blond lashes. /I hate him./ Or maybe he didn't. Just at the moment, he thought perhaps the only person he hated at all was himself.
"Ahh..." Harry said softly, beginning to eat his own. "I think the others are almost ready..."
"That's fine." Severus was eating more mechanically than usual, only half chewing in an attempt to simply finish with it faster. That, of course, would get back at him later, but he didn't care. He didn't want to put too much effort into anything when all of his effort was going into calming down. "We've decided to walk rather than bus." Because he *knew* the Death Eaters weren't above sabotaging a bus!
After a handful of bites, Draco put down the box firmly and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" Harry asked sharply, glancing back and forth between them.
"To *puke*, Potter, if that's all right with you?" Draco tossed back, slamming the door behind him.
"Without his manners, he's just like his father," Severus muttered darkly, taking a final bite of the eggs. "It shouldn't surprise me."
"I don't suppose it's any of my business..." Harry began tentatively. Christ, it had been impossible *not* to hear them out in the hall. He only hoped everyone *else* hadn't!
"It could be considered your business, depending on the question you ask." But Severus wasn't going to volunteer information, nor would he talk about Lucius in any way than as Draco's father, vaguely.
"I think I won't ask any," Harry decided. "But if you want to tell me something, I'll listen. I don't think I know the *right* questions to ask..."
"Perhaps we'll talk about it later this evening." He closed the box, mostly empty now, and picked up his coat to put on. "I'm going to strangle Albus when we return to the school."
"Sounds fair," Harry sighed, and promptly put away his own box, as well, dragging out his coat. He paused, looked at Severus, then fetched Malfoy's, as well. "Let's go down to McGonagall's room?"
It was just go, go, go, when he wanted to *stop* and rest a moment. Comparative to that day he spoke with Dumbledore in his office about the trip, his mood was a bit better. Stability, however, was as far from his reach as it had been. He wanted his Potions, his own bed, and privacy. A few moments with Harry in the seclusion of his rooms, yes... Something to think of, to keep as something to look forwards to. "Lead on."
"Well," Hermione said, hands upon her hips. "It's a phallic symbol if *I've* ever seen one."
"She said phallic," Fred whispered with amusement, poking George in the ribs.
All told, it had been quite a nice walk, if a bit damp. They'd left Malfoy behind in the end -- he hadn't been joking about being sick, apparently, and McGonagall had made that decision despite Snape's sheer aggravation about it. He didn't *want* any of their number left behind. He didn't want to leave Draco behind, any more than he would've left Harry had the boy been sick. Yet he couldn't leave the main group of students down a protector, for the sake of one.
Which led him to questioning if he would've failed to do that for Harry, too. More guilt that he had no use for, and no room left to put it. "It's a *church*, not a phallus," he corrected, a bit sharply as they stood at the outskirts of it. While traversing the maze, they'd crossed *over* the ley line a few times, and the *feeling* that had surged through him had set him even further on edge -- so he was wavering over whether or not to step into the convergence point.
"If you say so, professor," George said with what was almost glee. "But you know, it looks pretty phallic to me."
"Most definitely of the penile persuasion," Blaise agreed.
"You're a lot of right perverts, you are," Ron sighed.
"It's called childhood, Weasley, something I'm sure you've been accused of indulging in at times." Severus looked over to Professor McGonagall, who was looking *out* over the town, and beyond. How strange, that they were all alone in being there that morning... but perhaps it was simply because it was early. "Harry, come, let's look at this 'Phallic symbol' more closely."
"Yes, Professor," Fred whispered to George, grinning.
"Yes, Professor," George whispered back.
"Say that again, and I'll roll you off the hill," Blaise threatened.
Severus was mildly aware of it as he waited for Harry, and then started towards the monument with purpose in his stride. "Being Muggle raised, this will probably be your first experience with a ley-line intersection..."
"What exactly is it meant for, Professor?" Harry asked, following him quietly. Fred and George had also fallen in line, though the others seemed willing to stay with McGonagall for the moment.
"It isn't meant for anything, other than perhaps for divination at times," Snape said, voice rather text-bookish for the moment. "It's simply *happened*. Sacred sites in England fall along these lines, and deepened the power over the ages as sites were built atop each other, or beside... These are old, raw magic channels, that pulse with the island's life." And he was being drawn towards it with unerring accuracy. Almost upon the tower, and he felt his stomach start to sink rapidly.
"So, they magnify magic, then, logically?" Fred not-quite-asked, serious for once in his life... or almost.
"The sensitivity to Magic, and the *feel* of it..." He'd felt many intersection points in his life when he was a Death Eater, and a few post- Voldemort. Darkness, spiralling darkness, compared to the pulse of the land itself. Two completely different feelings, impossible to mistake.
He sucked in a startled breath when he stepped into the intersection of the lines -- in four directions were lines of ruins, and churches, and half-ruins, and bits of rubble, mounds, hills, all sacred spots. But he couldn't see the view for the spots of pain that flickered before his eyes, crippling pain that seared from his forearm to his chest.
"Professor??" That was said in a profusion around him, different voices, the same voices, he wasn't sure. How could he be sure, when something hurt like that?
It was like being branded anew, like that first time where he'd nearly bit his lip clear through to try to tamp down the agony. But then he'd had support, and adrenaline from expecting it to get him through. Now it tangled tightly with the sinking feeling of being swallowed wholly into the darkness. And laughter, no, no, he could hear Him laughing...
The fingers of his left hand clawed the right arm close against his side as he fell to his knees, crumpling.
A crack of sound came from beside him, and the twins were off, yelling for McGonagall, the sound of rushing feet coming towards them fast.
"He just collapsed," Fred declared.
"And then Harry yelped," George added.
"And they both look like they're in real pain," Fred agreed.
McGonagall called the others to stay close to her, and hurried towards the intersection. And felt her stomach sink, too; it suddenly *felt* like the old times, when Voldemort had run his reign of terror, as if all of those sensations were sweeping through the ley lines. "Harry, get up!" Harry was the first concern, probably the easier to deal with. "Fred, George, Ron, get him towards the edge. Then help me with Professor Snape."
It was easy enough to move Harry; he was light, only slightly stunned, and Blaise and Hermione helped Evans and Tobias, leaving the Weasleys to help with Professor Snape.
Fred and George took his shoulders, careful with him. "He's heavier than he looks," Fred muttered.
"Not by much, though..."
He wasn't out entirely, though, and started to twitch, jerking fitfully as if trying to get away, as soon as they were safely far enough away from the intersection.
"What happened, Professor McGonagall?" Hermione asked, worriedly patting at Harry's face in an attempt to un-stun him.
There was no answer. "Severus? Severus! Come to, now," the woman said firmly, smacking him a bit more firmly than the Gryffindor girl was patting Harry. "Come to!" Oh, it wasn't working! Surreptitiously, she pulled out her wand. "Enervate!"
The reaction was disturbingly delayed. He shifted as if to sit up, for just a moment, before clutching at his right arm in agony, curling in on himself some. That burn that seared down to his bones, just like a Cruciatus curse, as if someone were puppeting the pain through his body.
"Severus?" she asked quietly, helping him to sit up as he seemed to want. "Are you all right? What happened?"
"Nothing, nothing, it..." His voice seemed too *strong* for the pain in his body, just for a moment, before a wretched sounding noise shivered free of his throat. "The... t-the ley line, M... Minerva..."
"There's something wrong," she said sharply. "Children, help me. We need to go back to the hotel."
"Can you Enervate Harry?" Hermione asked cautiously. "I don't want to risk it... he's groggy."
Severus stayed sitting up how Minerva had propped him, then staggered to his feet suddenly. But his left hand still clutched at his right forearm, holding it as if it were wounded. "Ha -- Potter's hurt?"
"He just fell right over, Professor," George said worriedly as McGonagall went about reviving Harry. "About the same time you did."
"It's... It's not something *really* bad, is it?" Ron asked him.
"It's..." His tongue felt stoppered, because nothing else came out right away. Instead of answering them, he moved to stand beside McGonagall -- and of their own volition, without thinking it, his lips moved in a soft utterance -- waking Harry up completely.
Bottle-jade gaze flew wide, a desperate gasp for breath parting Harry's lips as he sat upright. "Voldemort!" That brought several little sounds, cries from Hermione and Blaise and Tobias, and the rustled hush of words.
"Him," Severus agreed at last, expression solemn and dark as he finally twitched his left arm to motion other than clutching his right, offering a hand up to Harry. "We're leaving *now*."
Trustingly, Harry took it, shuddered as another spark of pain flooded his scar, his head, leaving him dizzy. "Unh..."
"Here," Fred said, sliding his arms under Harry's knees and outright lifting him. "I can carry you a ways..."
"No," Severus said, voice still that sharp thing torn between pain and angered shock. "I'll take him. This... is my fault, I hadn't thought..." His right arm seemed to come into play again, muscles working despite the sickening pain.
"If you're sure, Severus, but you don't seem to be doing so well, yourself," Minerva said almost sternly. "Perhaps it's better to let Fred and George carry the burden, at least until we're away from the Tor..."
"I know what I'm doing." Smooth voice, usually calm even in anger, peaked to the point that he was almost spitting with the words, lips drawn back over his lips as he *did* take Harry from the twins, and started down towards the maze's entrance with the Boy who Lived cradled tight in his arms.
He was afraid to know why touching him had made Harry pass out again... and why he didn't come to any better once he was being held.
Worriedly, Fred glanced at George, who looked right back. That didn't seem at all like the man who'd teased them only the night before! No, in fact...
"Maybe it's just the magic," George muttered.
"Maybe," Fred replied.
"Professor McGonagall, what *happened*?" Hermione asked worriedly, as they all started after Severus, who was managing a decent pace almost just to keep ahead of them.
"I think the magic was just too strong, dear," McGonagall replied. "Now, do let's all be quiet and hurry back, hm?"
"We should go back to Hogwarts," Blaise shuddered, taking a last look over his shoulder at the tower.
Severus laid Harry down on the bed they'd shared the night before, with reluctant, almost nervous motions, long fingers darting up to his face for a moment to push dark hair out of Harry's face. His arm was throbbing anew, from having carried Harry all that distance -- strange, how he'd nearly missed the pain of it in his determination to get back to the hotel.
"Harry, wake up. Harry, wake *up*."
He shifted groggily, eyes fluttering open with an almost lazy motion. "Mmmm?"
Severus let his fingers trace down the side of Harry's face, relieved to be touching the boy and *not* causing him to pass out. For a moment, for a moment he'd feared... something that he didn't want to think of. "How are you?"
"Groggy," Harry answered faintly as the door clicked open almost soundlessly.
Malfoy had not been in their small chamber when they arrived; but neither could Severus be sure that he been gone from the room any longer than a trip to the bathroom might have taken. Who knew; perhaps...
"Back so soon?" It was a soft question, no small amount angry, equally shaky, and asked from the doorway as Draco slipped back inside from the hall.
His hand lingered, taking up a soft stroking of its own will as he kept looking down at Harry. "Going to the Tor today wasn't such a wise idea."
"Oh," Malfoy said blankly, moving to the small twin bed against the wall as Harry closed his eyes again. "The weather's wretched."
God, they were reduced to talking about the *weather*...
For a long moment, it seemed as if Severus was going to be silent as the walls themselves were. "You frightened me when you passed out that second time, Harry -- what happened then?"
"..jolt," Harry whispered. "Hurt. 's back..." /Voldemort./ It was all he could think, and he was so bloody *cold*...
"I know." Fingers lingered, caressed softly, stroking the line of his neck now with a comforting tenderness. "We're going to stay to the Hotel today -- let me get your shoes off and get you under the covers."
It was all Malfoy could do not to *scream*.
He bit through his lip, instead, to keep quiet, especially as the dark-haired man was so bloody *gentle* in his motions, shoes delicately removed, sheets pulled up, a blatant kiss given. /Bastard,/ he thought, squeezing his eyes shut. /You complete irredeemable *bastard*./
The potions master was utterly distracted, however. As soon as Harry was settled in and fed a trickle of potion so he'd sleep real sleep for a bit, Severus couldn't seem to stop moving. Stretching his hands a little, taking his coat off, putting it back on as if to go outside, taking it off again -- all before he finally settled down beside Harry, laying right beside him atop the covers like a damned watchdog dressed in muggle clothing.
"Would you for *God's* sake stop that movement?" Malfoy finally groaned. "I'm queasy enough without you making it worse by *wriggling* over there." And conceivably pressing against Potter, which upset him even worse. He really shouldn't have eaten breakfast, he knew it when he'd taken those bites, but Severus had been *looking* at him and so angry with him. /I'm an idiot./
"He came back, Malfoy," was all the potions master could muster up, leaning over Harry a little to address Draco better. Motion seemed to keep the searing of his arm at bay -- he still wasn't sure if he should tell McGonagall about it or not, that it *felt* like it was back, but he was too afraid to roll his sleeve up and see.
"And to think, you're telling me this despite calling me a Death Eater just this morning," Draco drawled, swallowing hard. God, he was going to be sick again, and there just wasn't anything left to come *up*.
"If you were one, if you'd ever been one, you'd bloody well *know* right now," the dark-haired man all but snarled in return to Draco's arrogant drawl, laying back down close beside Harry. This time he strained for stillness and reached it, concentrating on the pain, and how it seemed to be ebbing away.
"Remarkable," the blond murmured. "You do have a brain left in your head, despite Potter and all."
As if to spite Draco for the comment, Severus let his right arm creep across Harry's body, holding him close through the layer of sheets. "And it's just as remarkable that you can act like a spoiled brat even given as *tense* as things are right now."
"Wouldn't be a *Malfoy* if I couldn't, would I?" Draco said, sitting up on the edge of the bed. He was paper-white again, and when the door opened, he got up and trudged past McGonagall, heading for the bathroom once more.
"Oh, dear, Severus. You don't have *anything* to give him? He seems to have lost so much weight, just since this morning..." she hedged. "And you, and Harry..." Laying there together. It was beyond bizarre. "How are you?"
He shifted slowly, sitting up but still half-hovering over Harry's sleeping frame, protectively. "He's sleeping. And I've tried to dose Draco, but he isn't cooperating; I'm not a medi-wizard." Severus sounded tense as he leaned a little, holding his right arm out towards her. "Roll my sleeve up. I can't."
She looked at him momentarily, outright fear in her gaze, and then she moved, obeyed, rolled up the sleeve... and it was there, clearly black and *throbbing* against scarred skin, singing. "Oh, dear sweet Merlin," she whispered.
Clearly visible -- somehow, the shield-charm was gone. Just one more thing to disturb Severus, as he let her put the sleeve of his muggle shirt back down. The potions master couldn't even turn his head to look at it. "It's black as pitch, isn't it? I can feel it. He's here in Glastonbury."
"I'll try to contact the others posthaste." The others being Sirius and Remus, who would be able to round up a few Aurors, if necessary; as well as Arthur Weasley. With any luck, Dumbledore would already have someone on the way.
"V'ld... No..." Harry whispered, despite the sleeping potion.
"Do that." She'd already lost his oddly fleeting attention, which he'd turned back to Harry. The fingers of his right hand shook now, but calmed when he touched them against Harry's chest, shifting to lay down beside the boy once more. It might help. It might, might soothe them both enough...
There was some strange suspicion in her eyes as she turned as though to speak, opening her mouth and then closing it. Malfoy was back in the door again, pale and sweating, and she didn't want to voice her suspicions where anyone could hear. "Lay down, Mr. Malfoy. I shall fetch you a cloth and some herbs I have with me."
Draco almost wanted to be in another *room*, but decided to not ask for that... He didn't want to look at the two of them being so tender when there was no right to be! Harry Potter got everything he wanted... "Thank you..."
Severus had already closed most of the world off from his mind, but he kept himself dimly aware of Minerva's glare, that suspicious look... they'd probably have a 'discussion' when he'd recovered from the burning sensation.
Silence reigned steady until she returned, wiping Malfoy's face and slipping him a concoction that made him feel a little better. He was altogether too high-strung for the sort of yelling matches they'd been having, and Severus had once known that, or so he thought. He'd thought Severus had known *everything*...
Draco decided that he was an idiot to have ever believed that Severus knew anything at all.
"I also have a cloth for Mr. Potter," McGonagall murmured, moving to wash his face off, as well.
That stirred Severus to move, reluctantly sitting up again, watching as Minerva wiped over Harry's scar, and the rest of his face, carefully but without the same sort of touches Severus had been seen using.
"If you wish to talk to me, Minerva, we can go outside for a moment." Because Harry would sleep for a while more, and as long as he got back there before the Boy Who Lived woke up, then all would be well. "I won't leave him for but a moment."
Draco *really* hated him at that moment. The temptation to do something horrible -- not to *himself*, because Severus wouldn't care, but to *Harry*... It was too terribly tempting. It almost hurt, he wanted to do it so badly.
"No," McGonagall said softly. "It can wait, Severus. Do remain still. I shall go and check on the other children."
He was grateful for that -- just a little more time to gather himself together, to think, to think and wonder at things that had happened... Snape started to lay down again almost right away, before Professor McGonagall had even turned away. He just didn't feel close enough until his face was pressed against Harry's hair, close enough to smother sensation with the tickle of unruly strands. The motions screamed that he'd done it before, laid down with Harry, even with the awkwardness of a sheet between them.
"That sounds wise."
"I'm sure," she muttered under her breath as she headed for the door. /And to think, we all thought.../ Well, she supposed *that* wasn't true!! Only the fact of the matter *was* that what she had now seen with her own eyes seemed a little more bizarre. "I'll come to check on you every so often. Rest. All of you."
Rest. There wasn't much else to do, until things sorted out a bit more, until word came back on what they should do... Severus drifted into a pained doze, waiting until Minerva wished to speak to him, or for the mark to sear with pain again.
Draco sat, watching them both. The Potions Master and Potter, when it should've been *him*, those promises were his, and he'd...!! Yes, the urge to simply hurt Harry was overpowering.
It seemed almost as if his thoughts were *visible* to Severus, though, for he found black eyes open, glaring at him almost hatefully, and he swallowed hard, backing himself against the hotel room wall. He could feel his mouth trembling and he pressed his lips together tightly, suddenly afraid. That *look*...
/Don't think about it!/
"I know what you're thinking, Draco -- don't even *think* it, because you wouldn't get away with it." Severus's voice was heavy, muted so as not to disturb the boy he was protectively watching over. "You've no right."
You've no right. Draco had heard it before, somewhere...
It came to mind, then, and the words were out, terrified, before he could stop them. "Yes, Father."
When Severus awoke, he felt stiff, pained, and had moved even closer to Harry as he'd slept. Draco was nowhere to be seen -- presumably with Blaise, he guessed -- and Harry seemed half-awake. A quick glance at the clock told him it was at least time to seek out Minerva and make plans.
"Harry, wake up."
"I'm awake," Harry assured dazedly, though that was most distinctly not quite true. He was actually drifting pleasantly, aside from the pain in his head, which had become almost constant. "Hurt. Lots."
"I know." And that was his fault, that he'd insisted they go to the convergence point, that he'd brought down upon them the knowledge of what was going on. Carefully, sitting up himself, he shifted Harry up sitting, half cradled against him. "The Mark is back."
The green-eyed boy shuddered violently. "No..."
"Yes -- the shield I was wearing dissolved, I assume... when the Mark flared. We'll likely be going back to Hogwarts." And just for a few moments, he wanted to hold Harry -- before it set in again that Severus had done as much victimizing as he'd been a victim.
"I thought he was..." It was a weak whisper at best, Harry's head lolling to rest upon his left shoulder -- the side that was free of the Mark, free of that God-awful blemish. "Dead."
"Shh." There wasn't much else to muster, because he was shoving down an urge to *shake* in favor of holding Harry close to him. "He's dead. This just means... that someone's claimed power. There've always been dark wizards in the world."
"Not like this," Harry told him, shuddering. His head *hurt*, a desperate sort of pain, a localized hurt that made the rest of it ache terribly. His scar seemed to *throb* with a wild beat, and it made him distinctly nauseous. /I'm not a baby,/ he thought to himself crankily. "What time 's it?"
"About five," the potions master sighed, pressing his cheek, just for a moment, atop Harry's head. Harry's pain was his, in a way -- because his arm still felt on *fire*, but he'd gotten so used to it over the years, when it suited Voldemort to do that to him. "I need to speak with Professor McGonagall for a moment so we can decide what to do now."
"Don't go..." Harry offered tiredly.
"I won't be gone for more than a moment," he promised, trying to not sound desperate as he started to shift Harry to lay on the bed again. "Just a moment."
"Okay," Harry agreed, and laying flat seemed to make him feel better, or maybe it was the coolness of not being touched anymore.
Severus sat beside him for a moment more, wondering over that before he moved off of the bed and strolled to the door, straightening sleep-wrinkled clothing before he stepped out into the hall, door closing behind him. Soon he crossed the hall to McGonagall's room, and knocked a bit roughly with his left hand. The right still hurt too much.
Blaise answered the door, peering out at him worriedly. "Oh, it's you, Professor." The Slytherin allowed him inside, shutting the door behind him. "Professor McGonagall went downstairs for a moment. She'll be right back..."
"Are you feeling all right, Professor? How is Harry?" Hermione asked.
"Sleeping," he lied so easily, waiting just inside that door, uneasy. His arm was *flaring* with pain anew, and his left arm rose to clutch over the mark as if to stop it. "Have you seen Draco, Blaise?"
The look that he was shot was full of recrimination, somehow. "He's with Professor McGonagall. He's a bit of a mess, I think, Professor..."
"Bit of a mess?" Severus's expression tensed minutely, as he pinned Blaise in place with a hard gaze. "Explain."
"You mean you haven't noticed?" Hermione blurted out and then paused.
Blaise glanced at her, shook his head. "You know he's high-strung, Professor," was all that he said.
"He's gone hysterical, hasn't he?" His question was more than half redundant as he lifted the fingers of his twitching right hand to pinch the bridge of his nose, force back some of the pain that felt like it was spreading through his mind. He had to *fight* against the pain, something he hadn't had to do for years and years.
"He's really upset..." Blaise said. "Like I've only seen a couple of times." Those had been times that his father had come to the school and they'd 'talked'. Blaise honestly didn't believe that 'talk' covered whatever it was, because Draco was always an incredible mess afterwards, and was inevitably just as nervous at the beginning of every semester, if not more so.
"Of course." He wanted to go back into his hotel room, and simply crawl beneath the bed and die. Snape wanted the pain to stop, the *strain* to end -- but it just wasn't going to stop until he was dead, was it? No, of course it wouldn't. Albus would've done him a favor to have just let him fall to pieces after Hallow's Eve. "I'll just wait here for them to come back up."
The room's two occupants seemed to agree, for Blaise settled down upon Hermione's bed quietly. "I think they ought to be back really shortly," Blaise murmured. "They've been gone a little while."
"And how is Professor McGonagall taking this?" He let his eyes drift towards the two of them for a moment, before he crossed to the window in an anxious sort of motion, just to look out.
"She's nervous," Hermione said softly. "We're sort of like sitting ducks, aren't we? And Voldemort..." Blaise's gasp cut her off. "Sorry. You-Know-Who is sort of like the Terminator coming to get us."
"A what?" His gaze flicked from the window back to them. "What?"
"Sorry. It's a muggle thing. A sentient machine whose mission is 'seek and destroy', sort of, and stopping it generally requires large explosions," Hermione explained. "It's kind of like that."
"Almost." His voice sounded defeated, though, as he looked out the window again. Sharp black eyes sparked oddly for a moment. "There isn't any stopping Him. He has His hooks in, and it's too late."
"You really hadn't ought to say such things to the students, Severus," McGonagall declared from the doorway, having opened it silently only a moment before. "I believe some of them are quite paranoid enough."
"We're back where we were two decades ago, Minerva," he observed morbidly, not yet turning to look at her. "Where I was two months ago. I wonder if the fight is worth it any longer, as He continues to come back..."
"We do what we must, Severus." How very British of her. "What is necessary. And we will do it for as long as is necessary, and we will kill him until he finally *dies*, one way or another!"
"It's Him this time... but it isn't Him." He seemed to still for a moment, staring out that window. "Blaise, Hermione, might I have a moment alone with Professor McGonagall?"
They both rose and left, slipping out into the hall, worried expressions firmly plastered upon their faces.
"How do you know, Severus?" she asked. "How can you tell?"
"I know what his power feels like." Almost boredly, he started to turn from the window to look at her. His own thin face was drawn, eyes haunted by present and remembered pain. He knew *intimately* what the Dark Lord's power felt like... /Don't think, Severus. This, this moment now, is no time to think./
"All right," she agreed gently. "All right. Severus, perhaps I should give you some of what I fetched for Malfoy..." It seemed that Draco wasn't the only one in desperate need of a soothing draught, and she knew it, but she didn't want to dull any warning they might have received from Severus.
"I'll have none of it. I need my wits about me." And he needed to just cut off his right arm. Surely, it would hurt less. "It's not Voldemort. I can almost... almost recognize who it is, but when I get too close to remembering, it... leaves me." Left him suspicious, fearful beyond explanation. "We need to return to Hogwarts."
"Dumbledore is arranging for a portkey. Everything should be in place by tonight at three, but until then, we should remain just as we are."
"Good," the potions master sighed, fingers twitching nervously over the spot where the dark mark laid beneath his muggle clothing. "The children have to get back there."
"We'll all be back by tomorrow morning. For now..." She paused, looking at him carefully. "I've sent Malfoy back to rest. He's not well, Severus. It's unlike you to be so unconcerned with one of your students, particularly that one. I understand that things are particularly stressful for you now..." Oh, and that was a delicate way of phrasing it! "...but it does seem rather odd that you would ignore that particular student in favor of one of *mine*."
"Potter and I have reached an understanding. Draco..." He seemed to tense saying the name, shook his head once as if to rid himself of the knowledge he'd ever said it. "He's been hysterical. I can't calm him when he doesn't want to be calmed. I gave up this morning."
That answer obviously wasn't the whole of it, and her lips pressed together slightly as if to say that she *knew* it wasn't. "Well, he's resting now... just leave him that way, and rest yourself, if you can."
The expression on his face said, very clearly, that he couldn't rest. "Minerva... I won't be going back through the portkey. I'll guard against them until you're all safe back at Hogwarts, but I cannot go back again, not as much of a risk as I pose."
Matching stubbornness filled her own face. /We'll see about that./ "It's the only place *close* to safe for you, and Albus will have my head if I don't bring back everyone. That includes," she noted, "*you*."
It seemed a morbid solution to his problem -- Draco ruining himself for *him*, and Harry, him ruining Harry for himself, his own wishes... perhaps the Death Eaters would be placated by his death. The revenge that they'd wanted, surely... "I'm causing him pain."
"Who?" McGonagall asked in confusion. "Albus?"
"I should cause him pain... considering that I'm at this point now because of him," Severus snapped sharply, moving away from the window. The surge of energy, he had no idea where it came from, how it managed to animate his body. "I do something for myself, for once, and I can't even have that for more than a day, two... I can't touch him without hurting him. He feels the mark!"
"Harry...." she said softly. "Severus, he's a student. You're aware of what that means." It wasn't a question, it was a *statement*.
"It means I'm losing my mind," the Potions master lamented, suddenly quiet voiced again as he dragged a wretchedly shaking hand back through his hair, trying to take it completely out of his eyes. "Albus knows."
"Go have a lie down, Severus." That was the firm, stern voice McGonagall used so well on students. "I'll give you something to help you rest; or perhaps you have something that would work better with you."
"Go have a lie down... No, I'd rather do something useful." He simply wasn't going to *cooperate* with her, for whatever reason.
"And what might *that* be, Severus?" McGonagall said sharply. "Hm??"
Protecting Harry. That was useful... "I'll find something to do in my room," he muttered at last, as he headed for the door. "Make sure the students have repacked, Minerva."
Stating the obvious seemed to be his way of escaping the room, and she let him, nodding simply and stepping to the door. "Blaise, Hermione, do come back now, dears. Professor Snape is just leaving."
And he did leave without a word more, striding smoothly across the hall back to the room he shared with Harry and Draco. He opened the door, and was half pleased to see what he saw. Draco in his bed, drugged to slumber, and Harry in the other one, dozing it seemed. There was an innocence and rest in sleep, a vulnerability, too.
He veered from the double-bed just long enough to set an alarm-clock to one thirty a.m.
That would be enough time, and if he shared a sleeping potion with Harry, then they'd wake at the appropriate time to hear the alarm go off, too.
So that was gathered up, too, and he slipped beneath the covers with it in hand. For a moment, he hesitated to wake Harry up.
How quickly things changed. Just the night before, they had been miserable, a little, but unhurt, and comfortable, and before then, he and Harry had talked, teased... Back earlier, stolen, dangerous moments of passion purloined in the back of the Hogwarts Express. So little time indeed, to make everything seem a vast, empty waste to him.
"Wake up for just a moment, Harry," he whispered, smooth voice crackling at the edges.
"Mmm?" It was a little sound, half-heartedly given. "Sev?"
Sev. Severus. But not Snape any longer. It felt like a millennium since he'd taught a lesson, a few days away from it and his precious research feeling like an eternity. Sev, yes, to *someone* he was that... "Yes." Carefully, fingers still shaken with pain, he unstoppered the narrow vial. "Sleeping draught, Harry -- drink. There's a portkey to take in a few hours, and you should get real sleep."
"Okay." That was said with such ease, utter acquiescence. He could be pouring poison down Harry's throat, and the boy would trust him, lips parting, sipping easily the portion he was given.
Poison, perhaps, was a kinder thing than his own traitorous company, wasn't it? Whatever madness drove Harry Potter to trust him so, after so long...
It was all too late, Severus felt, too much gifted to him just before he teetered over the cusp and fell. Dark lashes blinked, as he watched a few more drops of the potion slip into Harry's mouth, lightly staining soft lips. No tears. No, he was just too tired... "Go to sleep, you old fool." His own voice's instructions seemed to give him motion again, enough to drain the vial easily, tossing it towards his suitcase once empty.
It fell to the floor, rattling about, but that didn't matter. No, he was already so tired, and it was so easy to close his eyes. To close his eyes and...
When Harry woke, he was immediately aware that the bed across the way was empty.
That was something of a shock; not only because there should have been someone in the bed, but also because the potion Snape had given him seemed to have worn off before it should have. Perhaps he was becoming immune to it...
Moonlight spilled in, cold and clear, from outside, and he glanced in that direction rather than towards the empty bed, mostly because of the cold air rustling its way past moon-faded velvet curtains. He could see the window seat there, the leaded window open to the night, all of it cast faintly in the blur that meant his glasses were still on the nightstand and not on his face where they belonged. He reached for them silently, slid them on, wondering why the window would be open at all, but the answer became obvious once he could see again.
Malfoy must have done it.
There had certainly been plenty of arguments over the past few days, but he was more than a little worried about the other boy. He seemed even more pale than usual, and thinner than he should have been, as well, and Harry wondered if Draco was eating at all. It didn't quite seem feasible that he would stop entirely, but he obviously couldn't keep anything *down*, so perhaps it was more probable than he would have liked to think.
Impossibly slender fingers reached out into the cold night air, and for a moment, Harry missed entirely what he had reached for. It was only once Draco brought his hand back inside the window that he saw it: a slim fairy standing upon his knuckles, a male from the look of it. Black hair cascaded down the tiny back, iridescent blue wings gleaming from shoulder blades that were marked with a configuration of colors.
It was no type of fairy that he could remember ever seeing before, and only great concentration brought him the realization that the tiny thing wasn't mottled in color; it was tattooed somehow, a dragon curling down its coppery back and past the tiny iridescent loincloth that barely pretended to cover it.
Why would a fairy with a dragon tattoo be coming to see *Malfoy*, of all people?
The little fairy fluttered loose from Draco's knuckles and moved to his face, holding out a minuscule hand with something in it to brush over Draco's cheek, careful to touch him only lightly even as a golden glow of about the same size appeared in the window -- another fairy to join the first. This one was as golden as the other was dark, with wings a gingery color that seemed to glow in the shadows. There seemed, at first, to be no marks at all on the second fairy, but eventually Harry made that out, as well, the faint red gleaming of rose petals on white skin. They worked diligently for a long time before Draco gathered both of them delicately in his hands, and kissed them in thanks. From his hand passed a small black stone in payment, and he released them from the window, closing it quietly behind him.
It was only as the blond Slytherin moved slowly to rise from the windowseat and return to the bed that Harry realized that the fairies had been harvesting tears.
"Draco... I'm sorry," Harry whispered into the darkness after a few moments of the silence of pretending to sleep.
That startled him, and the obvious jerk of breath and motion said as much. "You're awake?" he whispered, humiliated. "You were watching me?"
"I..." Harry felt embarrassed to have been caught, but braved it since he'd opened the floodgates on the issue. "Yes. I didn't mean to, Draco. I just woke up..."
Draco paused, seating himself on the edge of the bed. Severus was huddled across the way, clinging to the edge of the bed far from Harry, and it made him... It hurt him. It hurt him to see the man so obviously avoiding touch. And as much as he wanted to be loved by him, as much as he loved him, as much as he didn't want him to be with Harry...
He didn't want him doing that, either.
"I'm such a stupid prat," he whispered hopelessly, sinking back into the small mattress.
"Maybe," Harry agreed softly, unable to help himself. "I think we've all been. I haven't helped."
"No," Draco told him. "You haven't." Silenced filled the room for a little while, and then he spoke again. "I can't believe he's such an idiot. How could he not... KNOW? Didn't you think.. Oh, hell, never mind, Potter..."
"He's stubborn," Harry mused aloud, quiet so as not to wake Severus from his sleep. He'd noticed the older man was so far away, but... he'd also been unable to not notice that his head wasn't throbbing wildly anymore. The dark mark.... "He just doesn't think that anyone wants him, because of how he's treated." A brief silence, and he picked up on the next breath that came with thought, "I watched when you helped him on Knockturn Alley. I couldn't do that -- it hurt to watch him being turned out of places. Hermione was pretty sure that the ice cream shoppe wouldn't've served him, if he'd tried. I can't imagine what it's like to have people treat you that way."
"Not so nice," Draco admitted, turning on his side to look at Harry. "People are a bit different now that Father's in Azkaban." He seemed grimly approving of that, though. "I just wish..."
"I know." Harry's expression wasn't a smiling one, as he sat up a little, fingers coming up to press against his scar a little. No, it didn't hurt at all, now... and Severus was feet away from him, close to falling off the bed if he moved away any more. "Things... work themselves out, in the end, for the better."
"Do you really think?" It was so forlorn, soft and pained. "Why? You get everything you want, why did you have to want him?"
"I didn't... I mean, at first, it..." Harry's cheeks flushed a little, as he looked over to the Professor. "I needed someone to talk to about what happened on Hallow's Eve. What I saw there, what I saw happening to him... I have nightmares, and so does he. It just happened, Draco -- I didn't set out to want it."
"It really *isn't* fair, you know." Draco seemed so tired. "You could want the sun and someone would find a way for you to get it. I don't mean to be a brat about it, but it's true."
"I spent eleven years in a cupboard," Harry whispered, "because the people who raised me hated me. And I've had to go back there every summer, because Voldemort took my parents from me. Sometimes it seems that way to me, too, but it makes up some for the reality that I have to keep fighting Voldemort until he finally goes away."
"Hmmm." Those silvery eyes were looking past him, out the window again, and they darted to Severus for a moment, a shudder ripping through Draco visibly. "Potter. There are worse things in the world than nasty muggles. So much worse. Sometimes, I think, worse even than Voldemort..."
"I know that, too, Draco," Harry told him, watching him still. "Things that people just shouldn't... shouldn't have to see or be a part of."
"Yeah." It was quiet agreement, said almost sleepily. He could see blond lashes drifting shut with exhaustion, sorrow, and it was so pitiful, not at all what he'd ever thought to see of Draco.
"Alarm's about to go off, soon -- do you need help packing your things back up?" Harry offered quietly, starting to shift reluctantly free of the bedding. His shoes were neatly set on the floor, right within quick grasp when he sat up, dragging sheets with him.
"I haven't really unpacked anything," Draco told him, eyes going to the narrow back just beyond him wistfully. "I haven't really felt like it."
"Oh." That made sense, didn't it? Draco had been in a miserable mope since before they'd even left. "Then I hope you don't mind that I pack." Put the few things of Severus's away for the man, too. Not that he'd unpacked, either -- just a few stray bottles to recover and put away, before closing the suitcase, and then opening it again in the hopes that the other 'half' would be revealed.
Not that it worked. It shouldn't have worked without the spell put to it, he supposed, so Harry simply set Severus's book atop it, and the clothes he'd worn the dark before.
"Turn the latches twice," Draco whispered. "Widdershins." Two quick motions pressing the small catches counterclockwise *did* gain him the other half, and he looked at the Malfoy boy, obviously startled. Draco only shrugged. "Father had one like it..." And that thought obviously didn't sit well with the blond at all.
"Did Severus know your father well?" Harry whispered, as he started to pack away the clothes for his... Teacher, lover, companion, friend. Something.
"I think he must have," Draco murmured quietly back. "He never talked about it much. But he compared me to him, sometimes..." Sometimes... "Because of the way I react to things. I guess."
"I think... that they never really got along, for whatever reason," Harry voiced softly. The heavy tome of potions history was set down amidst the muggle clothing, and then he shut the suitcase. "Because, whenever he mentions him, he sounds... hurt."
Draco watched him silently, eyes reflecting nothing. /Father has his ways, Potter. He always has./ That was what he wanted to say, but he didn't. It wasn't really any of Harry's business, was it? It wasn't anyone's business, he supposed, but his own. He had thought... Grey gaze flickered back to Severus for a moment. No. Even that wasn't there, after all. He wasn't sure he wanted to go forward any more. "I'm not surprised," he said finally, leaving it at that.
"I shouldn't be, either, after I saw what... what your parents did to him." Harry's voice was directed to the suitcase as he thought about it. Maybe that was why Snape could never see Draco *that* way.
Draco looked at him, that strange non-expression firmly fixed on his face. "Really." He shifted, rose, moved to fetch clothing. It was too obvious that he was heart-breakingly thin in those soft, silken pyjamas, the sharp planes of his face, his pointed chin, almost pitiful, waifish. "I'm going to get dressed, Potter. The alarm will go off shortly, anyway..."
"All right." At least they weren't yelling at each other, even if Draco didn't seem terribly happy. Harry moved to save Severus the high-pitched drone of the Alarm by turning it off, and then shaking the man gently.
Severus awake to Harry's hand on his left shoulder, and the odd blaze of pain searing through his right arm. "Morning?"
"Time to get up," Harry agreed quietly. "I've packed most of your things."
"Thank you." He hadn't expected that -- Harry seemed better for the extended rest. Slowly, Severus sat up -- his hands moved to touch Harry, but didn't, hovering. "How... is your head?"
"Burning, some," Harry admitted, reaching to touch him despite the pain. It was only a caress of fingers, but it was better than nothing. "I've been awake a little while." He didn't mention Malfoy or the fairies.
Severus, expression intently on Harry's face, shifted back immediately after that slight touch, hands knotting in on themselves. "I was right. I'd guessed... that touching me hurt you." Thin lips were wetted with a nervous tongue as Severus got out of bed, careful to not brush past Harry when he did so. "I'd hoped I was wrong."
"No," Harry said glumly. "It does. But..."
"There isn't a 'but' to it, Harry," Severus all but grimaced, as he straightened the lines of his clothing, then slid his jacket on. A quick glance around the room, a check for his wand, and yes, he was packed. "I must be too Dark now for you to stand."
"No," Harry denied flatly. "There's something else going on here, I think. I don't know what, yet, but we're going to find out. Understand? None of this too Dark for me business."
"I held you earlier and you were all but delirious with pain." Severus sneered suddenly, as he snapped his suitcase up. "You'd probably die from the pain if we rutted."
"Rutted?" Harry flushed darkly. "That sounds sort of animalian. I'd like to think it'd be more than that. I'd also like to think we'll manage to fix whatever it is that's wrong. Surely..."
"You're picking up Darkness from the Mark, Harry," Severus went on in a sharpened tone. "And that won't go away until either I'm dead, or He is. The former seems more realistic than the latter."
"No." That was said from the doorway, Draco back and dressed again. He was pale, his eyes still red-rimmed, and his hands fairly shook as he shut the door. "It's not. It won't be. I won't allow it to be, and neither will Harry."
"You're *children* compared to me," Severus bit out. But there was something odd to the way his voice rose. It sounded angry, but both the Slytherin and Gryffindor knew that Snape never raised his voice unless trying to catch attention or in pain. Anger drove it lower, softer than sand, not thundering.
Not thundering the way that Lucius's voice went.
"There is nothing to allow or not. This conversation is *over*."
Surprised, Harry watched as Draco's pallor grew even worse, the grey-eyed boy pressing himself against the wall tightly. "There's no reason to *yell*," Harry said firmly. "You're scaring him."
"Perhaps he needs to be scared." Severus lingered in place, and for a moment, he seemed... less than he'd been moments before. Lean shoulders hunched slightly. "I'm losing my mind."
"Yes," Draco agreed in a tiny voice, eyes huge in his face. "I think you are."
"Both of you, calm down. You," Harry said firmly to Draco, "take a deep breath and get your trunk. You," he said to Severus, "sit down for a minute while we make sure we've got everything."
Severus did sit down, almost brokenly, on the edge of the bed, suitcase still held in his hands. What was going on? One moment, worried, the next yelling at the top of his lungs...
"We need to get back to the school," Draco whimpered softly, as he started to toss the few things he'd taken out back into his trunk.
"We're going," Harry said quietly. "Don't worry." God, he was going to have to be the calm one amongst them. Taking a deep breath, he shut Draco's trunk and helped him close it. "Come on. Let's... here." He took out his wand, cast a quick spell, and all three trunks became pocket-sized.
It seemed enough to startle Severus into motion, pocketing the suitcase as he stood. His wand was clutched in his right hand, slid up his sleeve on a moment's thought so that it would be ready to use if needed. "We'll get the others, go down to the gardens, and wait for the portkey to activate."
"That's another hour or so," Harry protested quietly.
Pointing out that he was wrong had never been a wise way to soothe down a nervous potions master. Stinging pride brought up defenses that just didn't need to be hurdled with the shape all of them were in. Severus felt so different from the man on the train two days prior, or the man who'd tossed a mouse down George Weasley's shirt and chatted with his students little. He felt iced-over, and couldn't say *why* or change it. "Fine. We'll wait, then."
Draco's obvious terror hadn't changed much, for he remained fairly far away from Severus, and eyed him nervously, looking to Harry as if uncertain of what to do. He *was* uncertain. Whatever was wrong... Well, it wasn't the Severus he knew. He was very, very aware of that. He wanted to get back to Hogwarts desperately, because surely whatever was wrong would be over there; even Father had feared Dumbledore, and as much as Draco might have *said* the old man was a doddering fool, he knew that it was very possible Dumbledore would be the only one capable of fixing it.
So the tense silence hung, Severus putting forth enormous effort to remain still and to not feel the pain. He felt desperate, as if it was all... some sort of ending gone awry, a wasted moment. Harry needed to be away from him, though, safe and away... And near. Those thoughts warred with each other, keeping him mute and stiff.
"Okay," Harry said finally, the heavy atmosphere beginning to get to him. "All right. Let's go and check on the others, then."
Severus rose after a moment more of sitting, and moved towards Harry instead of the door. "I'll wait outside by the portkey." The professor's voice was a soft swell in his ear when he pulled Harry close, brushing his lips across the boy's cheek. Then he quickly pulled back, not wanting to prolong the pain that Harry felt. "I do apologize for this."
"I know," Harry said quietly, very aware of his own hurt as well as Malfoy's agony, so few feet away. "I know."
Severus was already walking to the door. "Goodbye," he said, quietly, as he slipped out the door, and down into the hallway beyond.
With the loss of his presence, Malfoy seemed to relax a little, but not much. "Potter," he said, biting his lower lip. "That's *not* Severus Snape. It's not. It's..."
"He's never acted like that before," Harry agreed, still staring at the door that Snape had closed behind him. "It doesn't feel like him."
"What shou..." The words were bitten back, Draco frowning. He wasn't going to be such a baby about it, even if Severus *was* scaring him half to death by acting that way. "All right. Let's get McGonagall and the others. Best thing to do is to get out as soon as possible, I think."
"The sooner we're back at Hogwarts, the sooner everything will be all right again," Harry sighed, pulling open he door, and knocking lightly on McGonagall's door.
They were bade sharply to come in, and found all of the other students there already. "Where is Professor Snape?" McGonagall asked, mouth pressed into a thin line.
"He went ahead into the garden," Malfoy said, but no more.
"He... was adamant about it," Harry added, looking directly at McGonagall's tense expression. "Are we going now?"
"Yes," she answered. "Now would be most appropriate. Children, keep your eyes on me. Be ready to scatter at a moment's notice." And with that, she swept from the room, the lot of them following her, two by two, with the exception of Ron, who dropped back to Harry and Malfoy, the last to leave the room.
"Why d'you think he left early?" he asked Harry quietly as they moved down the stairs, careful to remain as silent as possible.
"Because he wants to go as soon as possible," Harry answered, though he wasn't sure of the reason at all. Anything to save him from having to explain everything to Ron.
"I'll just bet," Ron muttered.
"Shut up, Weasley," Draco hissed softly. "This is neither the time nor the place for that sort of useless talk, so let's just get out of here, and you can be an ass later, all right?"
"Why can't you just trust him? I do," Harry went on with fierceness equal to Draco's hiss.
Ron backed away, looking at Harry with an expression of purest betrayal. "Well, I think I see where your loyalties lie, Harry. I hope you're right," he said softly, and then hurried forward to Fred and George.
That left Harry just *stunned* to silence, gaped-mouthed. He hadn't expected that! And Ron had no grounds to act like that, no reason.
When they reached the steps and went down them, Harry was glad of it -- everything would sort itself out at Hogwarts, once they were there... yes.
"You shouldn't be so surprised," Draco told him softly. "Weasel's generally on the good guys' side, but he's as much of an idiot as the rest of the Pure Bloods can be, given an opportunity. Sometimes, I think most of us only see the obvious. Everybody's afraid to dig any deeper than that."
"I just didn't think..." That his friend would be so quick to *turn* against him! They'd been best friends since their first days at school...
Draco shrugged. "He'll go back to normal when we get back to Hogwarts, maybe." If they got back to Hogwarts. They were out in the garden now, and a sickening wave of paranoia was sweeping over him. He wished he had the sheer bravery required to reach out and hold Potter's hand, or anyone's, but even that was more than he could do at the moment. There was something so *wrong*...
"Harry, you said that Severus came down to the gardens? Are you sure he said gardens...?" Professor McGonagall called back to he and Draco, as she started to search for the portkey.
"Yes, ma'am," Harry said quietly, and the lot of them moved closer together, becoming a tight knot. He could smell the scent of pure fear off of Draco, and he reached out a hand, took the blond boy's fingers in his own. /Whatever it is... he senses it as much as Severus did..../
Draco seemed to melt into the comfort garnered from that touch, though his fear didn't slip in the least. It seemed to heighten as they dove deeper into the graceful plot of land that was cluttered with statues and bushes of slushy-ice covered twigs. The desolation seemed... fitting in ways Harry didn't want to think over.
"I think I've found.. yes, this is the portkey," McGonagall sighed in relief as she picked up the battered old rugby ball. "Gather close, children -- I'm going to look for Professor Sn--"
"I'm right here, Minerva." His voice *roiled* over them, too much of something behind it as he walked towards them, his black jacket a smudge in the darkness against the icy purity.
"Severus... Thank goodness, I was just..."
"Constant Vigilance, Minerva -- *CRUCIO*." His wand was in his hand before anyone could stop him, angled perfectly to strike the Transformations professor with the forbidden curse.
The outright screams that echoed weren't even hers; they were Hermione's and Blaise's and Draco's, angry cries from both twins and Ron, strangled gasps from Evans and Tobias. There was only quiet from Harry, too shocked to do anything else, much less make a noise in protest.
Severus kept it *up*, a soft, almost chuckled utterance of Crucio until Professor McGonagall was nothing more than a puddle on the damp, frost-nipped ground.
"Come here, Harry."
"No, thank you." It was said almost primly, but his hand was on his wand in his jacket pocket, and his hair was standing on end, tousled up by the cold of the wind.
"I am loathe to hurt you, Harry, but if you will leave me with no other choice... *crucio*." It had all the force of Severus's many years behind it, his extensive training under Voldemort himself. But he only cast it once, and barely held it at all -- then he leapt at Harry, to tackle him to the ground.
The sharp crack of bone sounded, Harry giving a muffled cry as he fell beneath Severus's taller body, his arm twisted beneath him. He didn't have to look at it to tell; he *knew* it was broken from the pains shooting up into his shoulder and the *feel* of it in his upper arm. "Fuck!"
Add to that the pain of Severus *touching* him... Touching him, trying to rip at his clothes. "Yes, we should've days ago, Harry..." A feral breath in his ear, as a hand that had touched tenderly before groped painfully at his crotch, ripping at fabric--
"EXPELLIARMUS!" Hermione's voice, then joined in echo by Ron, and Fred, and George, Blaise, Evans and Tobias. Severus was knocked off of him -- though a glance of one brushed Harry -- and sent rolling away from him.
It was quite enough to send Severus into unconsciousness, and despite his fear, Draco moved to kneel beside him, hair falling into his face. "Harry..."
"Oh, Christ," Harry swore, panting raggedly as he stared at up Draco. His enemy, his *challenger*, but Severus had just tried to...
"Harry, are you all right?" Fred's voice, hysterical, as he and his brother joined Draco kneeling at his side.
"He's out cold. Harry, I think..." Draco whispered, and suddenly turned sheet pale, grey eyes becoming huge in his face.
"Do go on, Draco. I'm sure we'd all love to hear what you think."
The man, walking across the ground towards them, had others at his back. One stooped to pick up Professor McGonagall, while the leader himself bent for a moment to pick up Severus's limp body.
Lucius Malfoy. Harry swallowed, closing his eyes tightly as he felt those roils of pain flood him for a moment.
"Excellent job, son," the blond man purred, narrow-eyed gaze looking directly at Draco. "You've gotten them all right where we wanted them."
Draco said nothing, only closed his eyes tightly, and it was just as well, because Ron exploded.
"You bloody fucking *ASSHOLE*!!" he yelled at Draco. "Traitorous sod! How'd he get out of Azkaban!? I knew you were rotten!"
"Petrificus Totalus!" Lucius's voice had barely a force behind it at all, but the spell sent Ron down like a stone into a well. "Severus served as a sweet puppet to our ends, but you, Draco... a good soldier. Stand up and walk while the rest are carried back with us."
Inwardly, Draco cringed. He *would* not disobey his father. He'd learned long before that he'd prefer death to standing up for himself, so instead he simply stood quietly while the others were gathered up, looking at the slush-wet ground.
"And, the savior Potter... Mobilicorpus!" He was suddenly jerked up from his prone position, being tugged like a puppet to hover before Lucius, the pain in his arm sharp and terrible though it wasn't visibly broken. The man paid him little attention for the moment, as he glanced over the few Death Eaters who were unburdened by students. "Set the town on fire as we go."
There were cries of protest as they went, but even those were soon silenced by the Death Eaters, and they marched, the lot of them moving steadily out of the small garden and towards the density of the forest so close by.
Draco's head was spinning. /Father. How did he get loose? He'll know./ Oh, God, of course he would know. Who else could have committed the act? There were only two remaining Malfoys strong enough to do it...
The march was a steady thing, and the Death Eaters that had been set to task darted to and fro, lighting buildings' roofs as they went.
Soon they were were walking down into a trap in the midst of soft earth, down to a cavern, and that sent Harry into an absolute fury of trying to fight off the spells on him. /Malfoy *betrayed* us!/ God, it made him furious, that he could claim in one breath that he loved Severus, and in the next, could hand him over to his father. /Bastard!/
He'd pitied Draco, been almost sympathetic, and look what had happened -- look what had happened to them all! He could hear his fellow students twitches of noise, hard, panicked breathing from all still conscious, verging on hysteria.
After all, the only one among their captures who didn't wear mask and cloak was Lucius Malfoy.
At the end of the tunnel, torch-light flickered almost welcomingly to them, promising warmth.
"Father..." Draco began tentatively, shivering in the damp of the stone walls.
"Keep quiet." The words were sharply given, and he knew them well, the threat behind them implicit in the tone itself. He kept quiet, glancing at Harry furtively, unable to keep himself from wincing. The arm of the Boy Who Lived hung a bit strangely at his side and a bruise was growing on his forehead, but those things weren't so bad.
It was the look of sheer *anger* on his face that made Draco cringe.
"We've sealed the trap behind us," someone marching up behind them announced. "The muggles are in a panic with the town ablaze."
"And soon the Wizarding world will be in that same panic." Lucius looked down at the man he held in his arms -- a puppet, really, nothing more than just a puppet. "Get Severus's old mask and robe. We'll have some games with him, then put them on him. Get one for my son, also."
/Father, I don't want one!/ He was terrified, breath coming short in his lungs, and the eyes of his schoolmates on him were more than enough to make it even worse. Draco had thought that his father being in Azkaban would mean his release. He'd thought that he would no longer have the expectation upon him that he would wed, breed heirs, become a Death Eater... /Oh, Merlin help me.../
His father *peered* at him, into him, and seemed to guess what he was thinking. "You may play games with my son, also, before dressing him properly. He will receive his mark tonight, pressed in place with his treasured Professor's hands."
"No!" He couldn't help the word that blurted out from him, and the automatic sickness that came with it. He knew better. Draco *knew* *better*...
"You dare to protest?" A gesture, slight motion of his head, and two masked men converged on Draco the very moment that the groups stepped into the brightly lit hall. "Do with him as you please. Bring him back when you've finished. And someone take the puppet-traitor from me."
"No!" Draco said again, firmly, despite his obvious terror. He stood between the two robed figures who reached for him, frail in his thinness and his pallor, and his chin edged up in the manner Harry was most familiar with. "No! I won't! I didn't! I won't, Father, do you hear me!?"
"Unbind their heads," Lucius ordered suddenly to those Death Eaters who were carrying the students. In that moment, Draco's brave protest was brushed away as if it were nothing. A fly zipping past his ear. "And set them down. Let them scream."
"Did you hear me?" It was asked shakily, and Draco moved forward, hand slipping into his jacket pocket for his wand. "I won't do it. I never wanted to do it..."
He wasn't even given the benefit of a magical disarming. Lucius dropped Severus from his arms with no ceremony, and no care to the damage it might do, and snapped a hand over Draco's wrist without a pause. The other hand snapped the wand as it laid still tucked away within Draco's jacket, the simultaneous soft crack of wrist bones going unheard with the violent spurt of magic that worked free, knocking Draco backwards.
Harry spoke out, then, once he was free, voice strong and angry. "What are you planning on, Malfoy? Voldemort's dead. The Death Eaters are falling into disarray. Killing the lot of us won't do you any good! Even if your *son* thinks it might..."
"Lord Voldemort isn't dead," Lucius drawl in clear, strong pride as he stepped *on* Severus Snape's unconscious form, moving after his stumbling, backwards staggering child with grace. "Not that you've the wits to manage such a thought, Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived."
"No, Father..." It was humiliating, it was *painful*, but fucking *Merlin*, how could he do anything else but plead? His father was never supposed to be let out of Azkaban! "No..."
"Come here, son," the dark wizard purred, grabbing Draco by his upper arm this time, twisting him around so he couldn't move. "You've said 'no' too often for my tastes."
The flicker of steel caught his eyes, and he stilled, shuddering, concentrating instead on the dark shape nearby that was Snape. /Please.../ Pleading had never done any good, though. Not with Lucius Malfoy, and when the blade shifted, he wasn't surprised to find it pressed against his throat almost tenderly for a moment before it pushed past the upper layer of skin, bringing a trickle of red blood to the fore. That didn't seem to bother Draco, although Blaise cried out from across the way, huddled amongst the bound and frightened students.
It seemed nearly purred, and the caress of his father's lips against his ear did not cause him to move or to shift his gaze from the heap that was Severus.
"My own *dear* child. My only child. I admit that I wondered," Lucius hissed softly. "Your great-grandfather taught the spell to your grandfather. Your grandfather taught the spell to me. And I... I taught the spell to *you*. Remarkable, isn't it? I never thought you would betray me, certainly not over a traitorous piece of filth such as Severus Snape. Did you enjoy your frantic search for the proper ingredients? Did he have them on hand? Oh, yes, I would imagine he *did*. He always did keep everything imaginable where he could find it. And this..." His tongue darted out, kissing away the sanguine liquid trickling over Draco's collarbone. "Did you enjoy removing the pint of your own blood required for the spell?"
Mercury-liquid eyes closed, and Draco swallowed, unable to prevent himself from doing so.
"I can kill you here," Lucius whispered. "I can kill you here and have another son, another child to replace you. But first, tell me something... tell me something.."
Harry watched, wide-eyed, as Draco dropped his head back, silently offering his throat to the knife as if it would solve all of his problems, all of the horrors of the past few hours.
"Tell me why you let Harry fucking Potter walk through that fireplace in your stead."
So, it hadn't been a careless mistake on the part of the Death Eaters that had let him save a professor's life, that had given him nightmares for weeks on end. It had been Draco's plan, to open that portal, to... ah. To help Snape, when sheer luck had led him to it. That was why the other boy had been so broken up over Harry getting what he kept saying he wanted...
"You're sick, to want to kill your own son," Harry hissed from where he dangled above the floor.
"Kill him?" Lucius smiled, kissed Draco tenderly again. "I don't want to kill him. Unlike you, he is useful to me. You see, there are only two Malfoys left with blood pure enough to use the spell that he undoubtedly did -- one of his ancestor's spells, requiring blood of his own or that of his child. His blood is worth much to me. Much more than the entirety of you," he nearly purred.
That was enough to make Harry's heart sink deep into his chest, swallowing down fear as he heard Fred make a protesting noise from where he'd been dumped behind him. One of the Death Eaters there garnered a pained noise from one of the twins, and Harry felt his heart sink further. Professor McGonagall was probably lucky to still be unconscious.
"Blood spells are a dark wizard's right, Draco -- and you've proven your ability in using them. I cannot let such talent simply *die*." The knife scraped a little, as his lips lingered against his son's mouth. "Talented wizards are to be used until they lose their edge, or cost more than they're worth."
"Please..." It was a raw sound, one that seemed infinitely hurt, and Draco was trembling so that even the soft flutter of hair around his face seemed to shake in time with his body.
"Answer my question first, son," his father ordered. The threat beneath it was unmistakable to Lucius's son, as the boy cowered already under the press of blade. "Why did you let Potter waste your spell?"
"H-he came in when it started. I c-couldn't stop him fast enough. The b-blood loss..."
"Then you're still just a weak child." Draco was flung loose, the knife drawing a thin line across his throat as Lucius released him with mild disgust. "Take him!"
There was nothing for it, though, two of the robed figures coming forward to lay hands upon him. There was little fight in him, for he shook wildly even as he tugged at an arm, gave a soft sound of terror, the two forms pulling him away from the small group of students and into the darkness. /No! No, no, no!/
Sickened, Harry glanced back at the others. The twins were wide-eyed, Hermione had turned her face away altogether, burying it in Ron's shoulder, and Blaise sobbed softly, shivering. Ron was, in fact, the only one watching, and he watched with eyes that were suddenly furious, full of blue fire.
"So it *is* true. You *are* a sick, incestuous asshole," he tossed out at Lucius, shivering as the man's gaze turned on *him*.
"Rapist, murderer, cannibal at times, dark artist, yes, yes, and more," Lucius drawled coldly, stalking towards Ron threateningly for a moment. "Would you like to be next, Weasel?"
"No, thank you!" Ron squeaked out, bravery all used up.
"Such a pity that I don't care what any of you say," Lucius decided with a dark, delighted sneer. Azkaban had added a new level of madness to the man. "It will be great enjoyment to break each of you and then bring you under the Imperio spell. Harry Potter, serving the Dark Lord -- Oh, yes..."
And all Harry could do was close his eyes tightly... and hope.
The shadows outside of the cavern were thick, the entrance well-hidden, but it was not hidden to a nose well-versed in the scent of at least one person who had gone inside. Indeed, the nose of Sirius Black was quite familiar with the lingering smell known as Harry Potter; his was remarkably similar to that of James's, slightly spicy and easy marked.
It was rather unfortunate that the smell of imminent death was also on the trail which Sirius followed.
The smoke that drifted through the air was crossing his signals, but he was sure of it -- sure that there, beyond that hidden entrance, was Harry. Sirius Black needed to find other aurors, and *help*, quickly. There were more coming, yet could he wait for them to arrive, or hunt out others...?
There wasn't much choice for it; the scent of more than one Death Eater had been present. In fact, he was certain there were at least fifteen or so, and there was no way he could take them on by himself. There was Gryffindor bravery, and then there was utter stupidity.
Sirius had outgrown utter stupidity some time ago.
If he barged in on his own, chances were that he'd simply be tossing rocks at a nest of hornets. If it took an hour, two, for the other Aurors to arrive, the students would still be alive.
Death Eaters were renowned for languishing over their tortures.
That was a particularly gruesome thought, and it made his stomach roil, so he settled down on a small patch of grass to watch the entrance and to nibble at a few green leaves nearby, waiting...
He was beginning to lose all hope of anyone coming when they finally arrived, almost an hour after he had gotten to the small cavern. Remus headed the lot of them, and even Mad Eye Moody was present.
Apparently, they were scraping the bottom of the barrel.
They were rag-tag aurors, skilled but politically disinclined and ill-likely to ever gain notoriety because they *fought* for whatever had been taught to them as right and wrong, not simply because the ministry pointed and said 'go'. The Ministry seldom took Albus Dumbledore serious often enough, though if Harry Potter were to die they'd face a fit from the public... These were the handful who came when he called, who came when they were needed, and all of them had been contacted as quickly as possible.
Sirius shifted to human form, and greeted them with a noise that was almost a bark. "They went in here."
"How many?" Remus asked quietly, the lot of them gathering close. There were almost twenty of them; it would be touch and go, Sirius thought, considering.
"Fifteen," he sighed, counting over them again -- no, the numbers were still the same. "Tell me you still carry extra wands, Moody. The students, if we re-arm them..." It would tip the odds in their favor.
The crazy old coot just grinned at him with pure viciousness and patted a pocket in his robes. "You'd be surprised," he growled out.
"Well," Arthur said softly, looking at all of them. He wasn't an Auror; he was the only one in the group who wasn't, in fact, but his *children* were in there. "I suppose we should go in. Is there any back way out, Sirius? Do you know?"
"Death Eaters only keep one entrance, one exit," Sirius told the Ministry member. "If they can't Disapparate, they fight until killed or taken. This is it." Now it was a matter of prying it open with enough opening spells.
"Right." Taking a steadying breath, Arthur's chin notched up in determination. "Well, then. Let's go forward."
A burst of spells and light, and that entrance cracked open for them. Cut earth gave way to cut stone, to worn stone and guttering torchlight. With one entrance to the cavern, there was nothing to do but march in with all the speed and force they could, a clabber of noise that burst into the Death Eater's equally noise-filled satisfactions.
The first thing that struck them was the stench of blood; of burning flesh, the sound of hysterical screams from somewhere deeper in the cavern.
The second were the stony expressions on each student's face.
There was no question that they knew what was going on; Harry had heard Draco begin to cry out at least half an hour ago, he knew. He was pretty sure it had been that long ago, because that was when Severus had begun to stir.
It had been... gruesome. Between hideously pained screams from a room down from them, to watching Severus in a body bind, twitching in silent-kept agony even through the restraints of the spell. Lucius's knife had come into play, heated over and over again by thrusting it into the torch he'd taken from the wall. It promised to last for hours, before one of *them* had a turn...
Sirius froze for a moment, just on the threshold of the cavern. Five Death Eaters, Lucius included -- so the others were in the separate room. Perfect, perfect, they had a better than fighting chance.
The first spell zipped right past his ear and scared him half to death -- Moody's, given without warning, and the Death Eater nearest Lucius dropped, petrified into stillness even as the others became aware that their lair had been penetrated. Thick yells spilled out, but the cavern itself distorted the words, the warnings, and it seemed that none of the other Death Eaters could understand them over the yowling from the back.
Nineteen Aurors and a ministry member spilled into the main cavern, and chaos took reign.
Someone -- Moody? -- thrust a wand into Harry's hand the moment he was freed to motion again, even though Harry's own was still untouched in his pocket. The other students were freed with equal speed, although most of them were stunned still by the sight of five Aurors taking Lucius Malfoy down.
Orders barked out in sharp tones didn't distract Harry, nor did the pain in his arm, now mostly forgotten. He moved forward, knelt beside Severus and quickly cast the only spell he knew that might help. "Ferula," he whispered, gesturing sharply for Hermione and Blaise to come forward. "You two, stay here. I'm going to see if I can help..."
Hermione's wand had been lost of the scuffle, so she was grateful for the lent wand, even if it lacked power compared to her old one. She and Blaise stayed just where Harry had instructed, while three of the Aurors, Remus among them, Disapparated to take Lucius to Azkaban once more. There was little to do but *watch*, and help Blaise in trying to heal the professor's cool, limp form.
By the time Harry reached the back cavern, the Aurors had mostly done their work, taking out the ten remaining Death Eaters with a stunning efficiency. Part of the reason for that, he supposed, would have been the bleeding, pale boy laying on the altar in the center of the room -- Malfoy, parts of him obviously broken, cuts tracing over that pale flesh with sickening regularity. "God."
Moody was the one to move that broken form off the table, while Arthur murmured stunned spells over and over again in a weak attempt to bandage damage done.
"Move him over by Snape -- the ministry will be here any moment now, and we can get them to Madam Pomfrey, or St. Mungo's," Sirius instructed as he grasped Harry's shoulders to turn him away from the sight.
He didn't think he'd ever get it out of his head, though.
"Halt! Official Ministry business!"
Naturally. The Ministry *would* show up when everything was said and done, and that irritated Sirius so much that Remus could see the veins in his temples begin to throb. A hand on his wrist held him back as they allowed Arthur to move forward and to speak for them.
"Cornelius," he said firmly. "I see you finally decided to come and save our children."
"We had to evaluate that it was a true threat. I see that most of the Death Eaters have been dispatched to Azkaban already," Cornelius said. The way the man stood, as if not wanting to get the mess of the room on him grated on Harry's nerves, as did the gesture he made towards Severus, and Draco, still in Moody's arms.
"One can hardly believe that madman nearly joined the Order of Merlin. Smyth, take him to Azkaban. Jorge, you take the Malfoy there."
"WHAT!?!" That was a chorus of student voices, a steady babble of explanation, of words trying to say what had happened, but the minister only raised his hand.
"It will all be sorted out in a few days. Medical attention will be granted them before they're placed in cells, and if they're not responsible for any of this..."
"I don't *CARE*," Harry all but howled, charging up towards the minister. "They didn't do any of it!! They were being *hurt* by them!"
"But, Harry, Snape tried to *rape* you--" Ron found himself smothered quickly by Fred's hand.
"Dangerous man, I'm sure," Cornelius said sharply. "And Lucius made allusions to his son's help before he broke free of Azkaban."
"He was under IMPERIUS, you ass!" Harry cried, shaking his head.
"And Malfoy..." Blaise added. "D'you honestly *think* he'd have wanted to help his father!? He's *terrified* of him, and there's something so wrong about that man...!"
"You can't possibly understand the... the, ah, complexity..." Cornelius waved a hand about, and before further protest could come, Snape and Malfoy were *gone*, the two aurors gone with them. "The ministry needs to investigate this thoroughly."
"Investigate, my *ass*," Sirius ground out in a low growl.
"I would think, Mr. Black, that someone as notorious as you who has had *such* a difficult time of regaining his license would keep such disparaging remarks to yourself."
"Don't investigate too slowly," Moody rumbled threateningly.
"Or else what, Moody?" one of the Aurors who'd come with the Minister asked.
"Be ever vigilant," the old auror half-threatened. "Think of what the Daily could do if you investigate this slowly."
Stiffly, Cornelius sniffed. "I assure you, we'll move *most* expeditiously."
"You'd better," Blaise said softly. "Because there are still people with power watching you." And from a Slytherin, that was no small threat.
Harry was still staring at the man, wand clutched loosely in his fingers. He felt like he was burning with anger, and it was all he could do to not toss something nasty at him. "You'll regret this."
"Are you making threats to me, Mr. Potter?"
"No," Harry said flatly. "I'm making promises."
"We'll go home, Harry," Sirius told him, fingers grasping Harry's shoulder almost warningly. A fight with the Minister was the last thing they needed, the last thing the Minister needed, either. "Let's go, Remus."
"Yes, take him 'home' for the remainder of this ill-fated 'vacation'," Cornelius encouraged.
"Let's go back and talk to Dumbledore," Harry said numbly as Fudge walked away. "I don't know if he can do anything, but..."
"He'll press it along quickly -- he... he already knows," Remus murmured. Dumbledore had all but met him at the gates of Azkaban, and was there that very moment, no doubt making sure that the two were getting their promised medical care. "We'll go home, all right? Most of the house is finished up..."
The stress of the last few days was crashing down around his ears, the horror of what he'd watched Severus suffer shuddering through him, the sound of Draco screaming still in his ears. "Yes," he said hoarsely, shuddering. "Yeah. Let's go home..."
One hand on his shoulder was Sirius's, the other was Remus's. One moment they'd started up the dark hallway to the forest beyond, the smell of smoke tingling at his nose, the next he was standing in the middle of a barren living room that was spread over with plastic tarp.
"I'll make tea," Remus offered immediately. "Sirius, take Harry to his room and settle him in? I'll be up with tea for both of you."
"Come on, Harry," Sirius urged gently, worriedly. The expression on Harry's face was one he recognized; shock, to such an extent that he was quite sure Harry *needed* a good, strong, sweet cup of tea, and maybe more.
Remus could be trusted to bring up more food than was needed, chocolate, and enough tea to sail a ship on. Harry seemed to drag himself up the stairs, and Sirius guided him carefully over slightly sawdust covered stairs, into a mostly furnished bedroom. "Here, Harry -- you weren't supposed to see it until it was done, but..."
"It's nice," Harry said blankly, tiredly, the entirety of him feeling momentarily weightless. "Sirius? What will they do to them?" He wasn't sure if he believed that Draco had betrayed them or that he had not, but he *was* sure that Severus didn't deserve to be in Azkaban, and it was entirely possible that Malfoy didn't, either.
"Just keep them there until they pull their heads out of their asses and look at what really happened tonight," Sirius sighed. "The Ministry is quick to put people there -- they even put Hagrid away for a little bit, didn't they?"
Harry nodded, looking around the room slowly. It was nice, but... He didn't feel like talking about it. "I'm probably putting you out of the bed. You probably don't have any of the other rooms together, yet," he said, mind not really on what he was saying.
"Remus and I have, erm, our room set up," Sirius was quick to say. "Bed and all." Which led him back to another issue that he was loath to even think of. "Arthur's son -- Ron -- said that Snape... tried to..." The Auror looked uneasy for a moment, before going on. "Not that he did -- But... I was wondering about your friendship with him."
"I think he was under Imperius. He wasn't acting at all like himself, not since we went to the Tor, and the mark, it was burning," Harry explained softly. "And Draco was terrified of him. He wasn't acting like himself," he repeated. "I think... you know, that he might have been acting..."
"Who was he acting like if he wasn't himself?" Sirius wanted to know however *Harry* could tell the difference between Severus being one sort of asshole and another, but he bit that down from his lips.
"I think, Lucius Malfoy. Draco was so scared of him," he said slowly. "Really scared..."
Sirius grimaced a little. "Malfoy was a cruel bastard, always had been. He's done that knife-game with Snape before, and we'd see him in Transfigurations hiding the marks." The auror paled a little as he went on, "He's probably done things like that to his son for years. The man was always sick, sick, sick."
"'s that what you meant by tastes?" Harry asked distractedly as Remus slipped in with a tray of hot chocolate, various goodies settled on the tray. "Why don't they need any of us for witnesses? Why did they let us go, instead of taking us with them?"
"Veritaserum on the Death Eaters that were there," Sirius told him, reaching for a cup for Harry almost right away. "Or perhaps use it on Snape and Malfoy themselves."
"Drink up, Harry," Remus encouraged, as Sirius pressed the mug into the boy's hands. "You'll feel better."
"I'll feel sick," Harry said, but he took it anyway. "They were both so scared in their own ways..."
"Who was?" Remus asked, and he had every right to, given that he'd just waltzed into the conversation moments earlier.
"Snape and the Malfoy boy," Sirius explained quietly.
"I think Draco's father was setting him up," Harry said feverishly. Malfoy had been out that first night, but he was certain that it was just to avoid being near him or Severus, particularly after the way he'd cried earlier in the night. "Fairies don't like Death Eaters, do they?"
"Never," Remus agreed without even having to think it over. "They love the light, Harry, and that'll never change."
"He was crying tonight. I promised I wouldn't tell, but two of them were in the room and they..." God, that sounded weird, didn't it? "They were harvesting tears or something. I think. Would it make any difference if we told anyone?"
"Yes." Remus's eyes lit up a little, that warm, calm light Harry was used to seeing in the man's face. "Tell us everything you can -- there are probably so many little things you've seen that would work in their defence."
Taking a deep breath, Harry began.
Quietly, Remus shut the door to Harry's room and turned to head down to the smaller one where their own bed and fireplace resided. "Oh, Sirius. What are we going to do?" he asked quietly. "Harry is right. Neither of them should be in that place..."
Sirius knew best how awful a place it was. "We'll talk to Arthur about it. Maybe Dumbledore's already pulled strings..."
"Sometimes I think the Ministry's not any better than the Death Eaters," Remus said suddenly, intensely. "Just in another direction!"
"I know, Remus," the animagus sighed, striding towards the fireplace. "But I can understand it, as much as I hate it. They're trying to cover their asses. Snape *is* vulnerable to the Imperio curse. And as..." He swallowed that down -- because he still hadn't outright *asked* what was going on between Snape and Harry, and he wasn't going to jump to conclusions.
"As...?" Remus asked, sitting on the end of the bed and *looking* at Sirius. "As what?"
"As much as Harry trusts him, as much time as they spend together, it's... dangerous to Harry," Sirius sighed, looking reluctantly at his lover.
"Because of...?" Remus looked at him. "Lucius? What they used to do? Oh, Sirius..."
"Not *just* that," Sirius growled. "But, if they're... if they're..."
"Having sex?" Remus inserted blandly.
"I don't want to think about it," Harry's godfather sighed, lifting his fingers to the bridge of his nose to pinch there. "It turns my stomach. But if they... are, then Snape, being vulnerable to the Imperio curse, is a risk to Harry's safety."
"*I'm* vulnerable to the Imperio curse," Remus said gently. "That also makes *me* a risk. And you a risk. Sirius, I know you hate him, and I know you fret about Harry, but..."
"He's sick in the head," Sirius finally sighed. "He's a petty, childish prick, and I don't want Harry messed up by being around him so much, let alone... having sex with him. That's just *wrong* because he's Harry's teacher! Think of what that could do to grading, or..."
"Like that semester you spent with Professor Applebottom eating out of your hand?" Remus pointed out. "And I *know* he was into all sorts of things that simply aren't 'kosher' by the standards you're holding, Sirius."
"But, I wasn't... he wasn't *SNAPE*, Remus!" Sirius finally sighed. "He wasn't a Death Eater, reformed or not, or a slimy bastard who live to piss people off!"
Great brown eyes looked at him calmly, the werewolf quiet for a while. "Sirius, I really think that you're overreacting. If it were, say, Trelawny, would you be saying the same things?" And oh, Remus *knew* he wouldn't, because Sirius had 'had' her when they were in fifth year.
Sirius, Remus knew, had done a *lot* of things that he would object to Harry doing.
"At least I wouldn't have to worry about her trying to kill him," Sirius muttered, looking at his mate over his shoulder for a moment. "It's just... it's *Snape*. James is rolling over in his grave right now!"
Remus sighed heavily. "I really don't think Severus would do anything he hadn't ought, Sirius. He was greatly curious when we were young, and he made some very *bad* choices, but he's tried terribly hard to fix them. I don't think you ought to fret so much about it. Besides that, Harry isn't nearly as young as his age implies..."
Sirius couldn't help but shiver. "I'll never trust him. He's still a great greasy letch, bad choices or not. And we could argue this for hours, Remus, I know -- let's contact Arthur and see what we can tell him?"
"All right... but I'm not letting this go," Remus agreed quietly, and cast the spell that would make it possible for them to contact the Weasley home.
The lot of them seemed to all be in the kitchen -- at least, there were more red heads than could be counted conveniently through the green haze of the communications fire.
"Arthur?" Sirius stooped a little to be right on front of the fire. "It's Sirius and Remus, Arthur."
"Oh, Sirius. Hello," the elder Weasley greeted distractedly. A wave of a hand gained him the removal of his children by his wife, and he sighed deeply, looking at them. "Well, at least they got their hands on Lucius again. I can't imagine how he got loose... or actually, perhaps I can. They're saying that he did something similar to what Quirrel did, five years ago..."
"He had Voldemort tucked up under all of that hair?" Whether it was worse that Sirius seemed serious or that he had even suggested it was anyone's guess.
"Actually, it seems to have been his belly. We haven't been able to get anyone into Azkaban, though Dumbledore is trying. Snape and the boy..." He paused, shrugged helplessly. "They got medical attention, but I'm still uncertain if it was anything proper..."
"Are there any charges being levied against them, or are they just being detained?" Sirius questioned thoughtfully. "Hopefully they'll just sleep for a while..."
"Detained for now, but who knows how long that will be? Snape kept saying something about the damp, but I couldn't make it out and I couldn't get any nearer." Arthur rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I'll be going back there shortly to try and sort things out, get them away sooner, but I'd hate to guarantee anything. All I've got now are the words of my boys, and I'm not sure that will hold up to anything."
"Actually," Remus said, "That's what we wanted to talk to you about. We talked to Harry, you see. The Dragon Fairies were in their room tonight."
"Really?" Arthur's attention twitched towards Remus, and he smiled for a moment, though grimly. "We can find them and verify it... it would certainly make the case cleaner."
"Two of them," Remus volunteered. "They were tear-gathering. Harry didn't know what it meant, really."
"Well, whatever he was crying over was just and noble, else they wouldn't've taken his tears. And if there were a true, current, Death Eater in the room, they wouldn't have even entered. This is a great stride in their case, before Veritaserum even has to come into play," Arthur assured them both.
"*IF* we can track them down," Sirius agreed. "But you know what finding them's like."
"You're the auror," Mr. Weasley told him seriously. "Start looking, if you can. I'll contact you as soon as possible if I get word as to their condition..."
"I'll be here," Remus said softly. "To keep watch over Harry and... Well. Just in case?" he said, looking at Sirius.
"Yeah," Sirius agreed. "Just in case."
"We'll hope there isn't a just in case needed," Arthur said seriously, "but a wise idea. The other students are all either back at Hogwarts now, or with their families."
"And they didn't question any of them, did they? How typical," Sirius growled, remembering his own lack of trial. He wasn't sure about much, but he *was* fairly certain the only thing that would get those two out of Azkaban would be to find those damnable fairies, and they were hell to roust out!
"Wouldn't want to 'traumatize' them," Arthur said, shaking his head. "As if seeing one of their classmates, and a professor carted off to Wizard Prison isn't traumatizing..."
With a deep sigh, Remus sent a hand ruffling through dark hair. "We'll just have to do the best we can do, then."
"Not much else *to* do. Thank you, both, for helping tonight..." Arthur stepped back a bit, and his picture fuzzed. "If you need anything else, let me know."
"Right," Sirius said, and then they closed the connection, leaving them sitting in a nearly dark room looking at one another.
"I guess this means you're going back out," Remus murmured.
"To dig out those fairies so Harry doesn't kill me because Snape's still in Azkaban," Sirius murmured reluctantly. "And so Malfoy's son doesn't get shafted the way I did."
"Kiss me before you go?" Remus invited, at least moderately amused by Sirius's expression. It would be *awful* to try and find those blessed fairies, and he really didn't want Sirius going out, but... Well. It couldn't be helped, really. Not if they wanted to help two relative innocents out of a hellish place.
"You had to ask?" Remus felt lips press against his, a soft buss and then something harder, a tantalizing swipe. "There, to hold you over until I get back."
The werewolf sighed as Sirius apparated away. "Well. I guess it's nice to have something to hold me," he decided, and headed downstairs to wash the handful of dishes they'd dirtied.
Someone was shaking him, albeit gently from his sleep. The jostling motions *hurt* him, and the person doing the shaking seemed to realize that.
"Ow..." Ow was, perhaps, an understatement. 'That hurts like fuck' would conceivably have been a bit more direct and definitely more truthful. "Hurts. That hurts." Why did that hurt? "I think I broke my arm last night..." In all the rush and emotional anguish, it hadn't quite occurred to him that he'd done it at all.
"All right..." Remus's worried voice faded for a moment, and Harry could hear him dickering about at a shelf. "Here, drink this -- sit up a little, too."
Sit up. That was one truly monumental task, Harry discovered, wincing as he did so. "Unh..."
"How'd your arm break, Harry?" Remus was holding the affected limb with careful fingers in one hand, a vial pressed against Harry's lips.
"Sev tackled me in the garden," Harry said hoarsely, shuddering. The stuff tasted nasty. "I think he was trying to fight the hold Malfoy had on him. He cast Crucio first, but broke it just as fast."
Remus drew the vial back just as soon as Harry was done, and started to manipulate the boy's arm carefully, checking the location of the break before settling it naturally against his chest. "But why would he tackle you if he was fighting it?" Not that Remus doubted that Severus Snape would fight an Imperio spell -- but he wanted to hear Harry's reasoning.
"Dunno." Well, maybe he did know. Maybe he didn't want to think about it. "He's not nearly as bad as Sirius thinks, Remus. He's really not. He's tortured and sad and needs so much for someone to understand things. He hates himself, I think." God, why was he babbling that way? "He doesn't think he deserves that, or I think he doesn't. And maybe, maybe he thought if he did, I'd be able to get away or something, or maybe he wanted to touch me. I like touching him, Remus... He's so sad, and I wish he wasn't so sad..."
The werewolf finished folding Harry's arm, gently, across his chest, before he simply sat close to the boy. "Harry, you don't have to convince me of anything -- just calm down and try to sort through what you're saying, all right?"
"What was in that potion?" Harry asked him. He definitely didn't feel his arm *now*. "Must have been interesting. Then there's Malfoy, too..." He paused for a moment. "He's the reason I saved Severus. He is. He'd cast some kind of Malfoy-only spell because it requires Malfoy blood or something and his father said that he was going to keep him because he was useful and I think that must have meant for his blood. And he cast it Hallow's Eve and I interrupted and saved Sev instead, but he loves him. Malfoy, that is. Draco. He loves Sev, and he's so sad, too. I wish people wouldn't be sad. I'm sad enough sometimes for all of them so that no one should have to be, don't you think?"
"It never quite works that way." Remus shook his head a little, expression rueful as he sorted through what Harry had just told him. Draco loved Snape. Snape... clearly he and Harry were entangled. And Harry pitied Draco, and had a long-standing grudge with the boy. Not a clean-cut situation. "The potion was something Severus gave me before I left the school in your third year -- for if I hurt myself when I was in my changed form. So it's probably filled with things that would make your stomach turn to name."
"Probably. He likes to work with some of the nastiest things, beetle's eyes and bug guts and all sorts of odd components. Of course, I guess he gets predictable results, doesn't he? I wonder if it's like cooking. Well, it is like cooking, isn't it? You put in the right things, you get out the right things. Except it has to go in order. Neville can never get it quite right. He always complains that I don't, but he always praises Malfoy. It's no wonder Malfoy thought Sev wanted him. I would have thought it, too. We all thought it, really..."
"But it wasn't true, apparently..." Remus got up again, to bring breakfast to Harry from where he'd set it aside. "Sirius and I *are*... confused, and Sirius is worried about just what... you and Severus are doing. You see, we don't know, and neither of us are willing to jump to conclusions over what's going on."
"I think I love him," Harry blurted. "He doesn't want me to say it, though. He doesn't want anybody to love him, because he thinks he doesn't deserve it, like I told you. And I feel bad about it. I don't know what to do for him. Malfoy helps him when I don't know what to do to help him, and I feel bad about that, too. Are you sure you don't know what was in that potion?" he asked suspiciously. "I haven't talked this much in... EVER," he declared.
"Maybe a bit of Veritaserum -- Severus always has enjoyed watching people spill themselves publicly," Remus admitted slyly, as he handed Harry a cup of tea. "Just be glad Sirius isn't here -- he'd be drilling you *why* and then kicking himself because he doesn't ever want to hear anyone dote on Severus Snape."
"That sounds like Sev," Harry sighed. "He threatened to give me some once last year and I nearly wet my pants. I mean, you know, what if I'd said something I shouldn't? Like telling him Dobby stole the gillyweed out of his cabinet, or that we had made Polyjuice Potion second year and then he'd have really been on my ass." That brought a breathless little laugh. "Hm, although not quite like that, I think. I think in a not nice way. Oh, dear. Remus, is Sirius really going to be so ticked off? I can't help it," Harry sighed. "I mean, it's not like I wanted to feel this way, I didn't, but I needed someone to understand and Sev did and then it was something more and sweet and I really think I do love him. I do," he insisted, shaking his head, taking the cup absentmindedly. "And I feel bad, really bad. They're in Azkaban. Not just him, but Malfoy, too. They don't deserve to be in there, it's awful in there. Sirius knows. And what those people did to them..." He shuddered, hard, clutching his cup. "I can't believe I had to watch Malfoy's asshole father *DO* that to him. I mean, he, that, it was awful. And Malfoy was *screaming* the last half hour of it, and then to see him that way, and it was just awful, Remus. Just so awful..."
"Lucius Malfoy..." Remus picked up a bit of raisin roll from the tray. "'Has issues' as Sirius has said. To be a Death Eater, one must have cultivated an enjoyment of *hurting* people. And Lucius Malfoy has always exemplified that."
"Draco was really scared of him. He was really scared of Sev when he was acting like his father. I think Blaise must know something, because she's really really funny about Malfoy, you know, watching for him and things, even though he doesn't like girls. Well," Harry muttered, "maybe Blaise isn't a girl. We don't know. But they put it in the room with Hermione and McGonagall, so maybe it is a girl..."
"Blaise isn't a girl," Remus assured him quietly. "Although... she... *he*, may very well wish to be one. But, that's another matter entirely." And for the moment, Remus had enough slightly disturbing thoughts settled on his mind. "So Snape was fighting the Imperio for how long before Lucius had full control of him?"
"All day, I think. Since we were at the ley lines, and that was early in the morning, nine-ish, I think," Harry replied. "And then, until three the next night, more or less, he fought it. It was terrible. He was in pain a lot, and he said some truly awful things, but I think that he must have been losing himself when he said them. And he yelled," Harry added. "He never yells when he's really angry, just gets all deadly quiet..."
"Mmm. He used to do that in school, too." Remus prodded Harry a bit, trying to get him to drink. "I'm sorry it happened -- the Dementors are hard to trust..."
Obediently enough, Harry swallowed the tea, shifted. He wasn't hurting anymore, and his arm seemed as if it was better, which was a bit strange. A potion that fixed bones? Well, he knew there were ones to re-grow them... "I *don't* trust them. What if they hurt him? What if they hurt Malfoy? They're awful and horrible and can't be trusted at *all*. I mean, everything is terrible there. What they do is terrible, what they *are* is terrible. Malfoy doesn't know Patronus. Even if he did, I'm sure they haven't got wands, so it wouldn't do anything for them even if..."
"Snape has been in Azkaban before -- he, at least, knows how to deal with it," the werewolf said as helpfully as possible.
"But that was before, and he's so hurt now..." Harry's voice trailed off. "They all raped him and he was cut up when I found him, did you know? A mess. And he looked like they'd done things, he looked like *Draco* did, and Draco's never been anyplace like that. Even living with Lucius Malfoy can't prepare you for Azkaban, can it? And Sev can't, can't, he has these awful nightmares, he can't sleep without using something unless I'm there, and now it's all a mess..."
Remus was forced to take all of that in, too, process it through his mind. Severus using Harry as a sleep guard of some sort -- because he was comfortable with the boy? "Don't think about them being there. Think about them being out. What will you do then?"
"I don't know. Sev is so sad, but Draco's heartbroken that he doesn't love him, and *I* love him, Sev, not Draco. I can't imagine anyone loving Draco, or I couldn't, but now I wonder about it. I mean, he seems like he really *really* loves Sev, and it's killing him that Sev doesn't want him. How can I fix that, Remus? I don't know how..."
"If it isn't there..." Remus shrugged a little as he lifted the tea-pot in offer of a refill for Harry. "Maybe find him someone who would love him the way he should be loved."
"I don't think he wants that. I think he'd rather die," Harry said morosely. "I think I'd rather die, if Severus didn't love me. Though," he admitted, "he hasn't said as much." That thought seemed to put a damper on his babbling flow of talk even as Remus poured him more tea.
"You've be expecting an awful lot from him if you expect him to ever *say* it. I rather suspect Snape would be the sort to act on it instead." Unless Harry twisted his arm to get those words from Snape, or the man was feeling particularly *up*. Remus somehow couldn't envision it, though.
"I suppose," Harry sighed. "He does things. Like when I passed out yesterday, he carried me all the way back and took off my jacket and shoes and slid me into bed. Very sweet," he admitted. "Sort of uncharacteristic, considering. I think I'm sleepy again," he said, changing the subject slightly. It was all he could do to keep his eyes open, but his arm felt *much* better!
The cup was taken from slightly lax fingers, and Remus was smiling to himself a little as he put the tray back on the desk. "Then go back to sleep -- we'll wake you up if there's any news to be had."
"Don't bother," Harry said a little grumpily. "It'll all be *bad*."
"Even if it's to tell you that Severus is released?" Remus asked, straining to sound light-hearted.
"Only if it's that," Harry said sleepily. "Remus? If he is, can I see him? Do you think Sirius would let me?"
"I wouldn't let Sirius *keep* you from seeing him," the older man reassured as he moved back to fluff Harry's pillow a little. "So, go back to sleep."
"Thanks, Remus," the boy said quietly, eyes already closing. "For the potion, and for listening to all of that, too..."
"Anything to help you -- you're family, Harry." Remus tugged the sheets up around him a little. "And you'll certainly manage whatever life can throw at you -- I've faith in you."
Harry was already asleep, though, and so Remus simply gathered together the tea things and the untouched breakfast tray before he headed back downstairs.
Albus Dumbledore wasn't particularly pleased with the state of Azkaban, or the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge. That the fool decided to accompany him when the two ill-begotten 'prisoners' were released...
Infuriating, and Albus was not a man easily stirred to anger. "Has the paperwork been sufficient to release them to Hogwart's care?" he pressed as they walked the damp, mold-filled halls of the prison.
"Everything's been taken care of. You *have* to understand, Albus," the man told him firmly. "We *had* to be sure they weren't involved."
"They were both suffering a grotesque amount of blood loss, and both unconscious when they were taken out of that place, Cornelius -- however *could* they be involved?" He looked over his half-moon glasses at the younger wizard. "They had better be well cared for."
"Of.. course," Cornelius said a bit uneasily. "I'm sure that the prison doctors will have done as they should..." Or, if they hadn't, at least he had a scapegoat.
"A teacher at Hogwarts, Cornelius, and a young student. If they *haven't* been taken care of, so help me, the Daily Prophet will hear of this disgrace." He glanced into the open to the draft cells and their rusty bars. Listless prisoners, murderers, Death Eaters, other magical offenders all lazing in tattered robes, mostly mindless.
"They're just down at the end," Fudge said, grimacing as a wracking cough sounded from that area, one that went on and on and was finally followed by a desperate panting for breath. "Er..."
"Are they in one cell or two?" Dumbledore asked, as soon as he placed he location of that cough. If it was the boy it *sounded* to be, he'd let the public have Fudge's head on a platter.
"Two," Fudge answered a little weakly. "Here, right... Right here."
The second one from the end proved to hold the source of that wracking cough. Dumbledore had to duck his head as he slipped in through the door that opened to let him into the dark space beyond. "Draco Malfoy? Are you all right, child?"
Walking to the back of the room showed why there was none; the boy was burning up with fever, a small greenish pool of coughed up mucus resting beneath one scarlet cheek. His eyes didn't open even when Dumbledore reached down to touch him.
He needed to get him to Madam Pomfrey as soon as possible. Very carefully, he bent and shifted him slowly up off the floor. The thin robes he'd been given were hardly adequate for warmth of any sort... "The medical 'care' was less than enough, obviously," he bit out as he turned back to Cornelius.
Fudge shrugged, amazed to see how easily Dumbledore had lifted the young man. He was so old... "He got the same care everyone else gets, Albus. There's no preferential treatment in Azkaban." The words, 'and never for a Malfoy' were left out entirely.
"But he's innocent of any crime." Not that that same defense could be used for Severus. "I wish that you could see the flaws in this system... I need to get this boy to Hogwarts before a moment more passes. Are there any portkeys available here that I might be unaware of?" It was more than worth looking stupid to ask and hope.
"No way but the way you came in, Albus," Fudge said sternly. "As you should well know. You'll have to take him out that way, and you'd best go ahead and take Snape with you!"
Dumbledore shifted Draco in his arms, for a moment feeling a sting of guilt. Sometimes it was disconcertingly easy to put Severus aside for a few moments in favor of dealing with someone that seemed more *urgent*. "Open his cell for me, then," the headmaster of Hogwarts instructed, moving out of Draco's cell and back into the damp hallway.
The same quick motion that had opened Draco's cell opened Severus's, and the door was pushed open quietly.
He was at least sitting upright, bony fingers clutching his thin replacement robes close around his frame. Shivers racked his body, but he wasn't sleeping -- instead, his eyes were open, unblinking and fixedly ahead, thin lips moving sporadically in half-formed words. The cuts seemed to have been healed, but there were *new* marks on him, bruises and a crinkled line of blood coming down over his face as if he'd split his scalp at one point, that lean face hidden by long tangled strands of hair.
"Severus," Dumbledore said softly. "I've come to get you." /My poor, dear boy.../ Yes. Severus was as dear to him as any child might have been.
"It's time to go, Snape," Cornelius added.
"Ah..." He swallowed a few times, tongue darting out to try to wet dry lips. A blink, and for a moment Severus felt a strange feeling that felt... distant. Only half-familiar -- and it wasn't immediately sucked from his mind. "Albus?"
"Yes, Severus," came the gentle reply. "Help him up, Cornelius." It was a hard-edged threat, really, that had been implied with those words. "It's time to go. I'm sorry that Minister Fudge must assist you. I seem to be burdened with Mr. Malfoy, at the moment, and we must get both of you to Poppy most expeditiously."
Fudge was reluctant to touch a Death Eater, but he didn't have to do much, because Severus was already getting to his feet, using the wall at his back for leverage. It *hurt* to move, a bone-deep pain that still couldn't rival the aching chill inside of him. But that warm spark of thought had burrowed itself comfortably within him, leaving him with enough drive to move with the minister's help at his elbow. "Poppy will let us in?"
"Poppy is waiting most impatiently for you, Severus. You have always been a favorite of hers," Dumbledore noted, "ever since you were a child. As you are a favorite of mine, and will always be. Can you walk, then?"
"Yes." Hurt, shuffling motions, but he was walking -- stubbornly set at anything as he'd ever been. It hadn't been so bad the last time he'd been in Azkaban, but Severus had been almost fifteen years younger then, too, and had fifteen less years of guilt to rest on him. "I tried to kill someone. Are they well?"
"Everyone is well, save the Death Eaters and the one who forced his will upon you -- Lucius Malfoy," Dumbledore said softly, but even the name of Draco's father didn't drag him up from the depths of his illness. "He had given himself over to Voldemort, much as Quirrell had done."
Severus shuddered, head tilted down so that stings of his tangled hair fell in his face again. "Is he dead?"
Those twinkling eyes were most serious as they settled upon him. "Most definitely and *thoroughly* dead, Severus. It was somewhat difficult, but it was managed; partially in thanks to the Dragon Fairies. They also helped to clear you and young Mr. Malfoy, as well."
"Fairies..." He mouthed that echo-like, then seemed to drift away to thought. Fairies. Nothing came immediately to mind, except for green, green eyes, and a tight urge in his chest to *cry*. The last few times that image had come to his mind, it had been gone as soon as he'd had it, and he was expecting it again... "Is the... my arm. Is it still...?"
"You can look, Severus," Dumbledore said gently as he moved along the wide hallway ahead of him, careful to go slowly. "It should be gone, now."
"It was gone before, and it came back." And then it had *hurt* so much, and hurt worse when... green, green eyes. He closed his own, to grasp onto that thought and savor it when he wasn't snatched away from him.
Fudge was baring his wand at a Dementor who was trying to follow them, though. "We're coming through," he said grimly as they walked towards the small dock and the little boat there. "Go back to your post."
It obeyed, though it didn't want to do so, reluctant as it moved away from them. As they walked onto the harbor, Draco's wracking coughs started again, shaking the entirety of his body so badly that Dumbledore almost dropped him. When he ran out of breath, he gasped desperately to try and drag something into his lungs, and it seemed for a moment that he wouldn't manage it. He finally managed to get a single breath, enough to give another great cough, and fell afterwards into whimpering, desperately seeking air.
"It won't be long now," Dumbledore half told himself, half Draco. Severus's odd statement was easily ignored, because now the man seemed hesitant to get into the boat -- and Fudge seemed on the verge of shoving the potions master in. But Severus had, his very first year, been reluctant to get into the boats to cross the lake to the school, Dumbledore remembered clearly. Something about a fear of deep water. Still, there wasn't *time* to waste for young Malfoy's sake.
"Infirmatio," Dumbledore cast quietly, a flicker of his wand almost going unnoticed, and Severus slumped into Cornelius's arms. It made the man look faintly queasy, but he didn't *dare* let him drop, not with that look on Dumbledore's face. "Now, put him in the boat, and be *gentle* with him, for God's sake!"
"I don't like to *hold* murderers," Fudge shivered, depositing Severus rather hurriedly at the bottom of the boat, before getting into his own end of it, away from Severus. Once Dumbledore was settled, the boat started to skim across the water, and Fudge continued to look queasy.
"At this point, Cornelius, it is not *your* comfort in which I am interested," Dumbledore growled, settling Draco down gently against Severus and covering both of them carefully with his own warm cloak.
"They'll live," Cornelius said almost dismissively.
"If they don't, Minister Fudge, you can count on the fact that I will let every parent of Hogwarts know how easily you believe you may abuse their students; even if the child *is* a Malfoy, he is no less a child," Dumbledore said firmly. "And you have suspected Severus falsely, despite my own words and those of others, more than once. This *will* not be allowed again."
"He tried to *kill* Harry Potter, according to reports," Fudge grumbled, hunching a little in his seat. "That can't be *allowed* to happen!"
"He was under the Imperius curse, as you well know. Harry is in no danger now, nor will he be again, as both Lucius Malfoy and Voldemort..." His speech was interrupted by that hacking cough again. "...are now dead."
"We suspected Voldemort of being dead once already," Fudge reminded, scowling for a moment at the two laying on the floor of the boat. "Your potions master... keep him to Hogwarts property."
"Hopefully that will protect him from the overzealous. I will assume that Mr. Malfoy, at least, will be out from under your suspicion now?" Especially as he'd been at the boy's hearing; he'd heard the words both he and Severus had given, and had been horrified at them in many ways, but most particularly horrified by the fact that the Ministry sent them back to those cells afterwards.
Draco had been coughing then, and Severus less bruised, but both looked as if they'd been given Pepper-up potion before they took the stands to speak. Now a short day after the very fast hearings, they seemed worse than Dumbledore would've considered possible. "Yes," Cornelius sighed after a length of silence. "Poor boy, abused by his father. I doubt he'll ever tread the dark path."
"No." That was quiet agreement. "If he *lives*. You should be desperately ashamed of yourself, Cornelius." The boat was going as fast as it could, as fast as they dared, but it would still be nearly an hour before they reached land and he could portkey the two of them to Poppy.
"I've told you, they were given the same treatment as all else there," the minister defended. "They'll be fine and recover well."
There was no use in talking to the man. He was just as endlessly brain dead as he'd always been, and it made Dumbledore sigh quietly. It was better to just settle back and wait, and to hope for the best.
"If you could fetch more blankets, Albus," Poppy fretted, tucking Draco into bed as she spooned a pale green potion past his lips. "And there're visitors here, but they're waiting down in the Gryffindor tower... I won't let them in yet because they'd only be underfoot!"
"Of course," he told her gently, stepping to fetch the other blankets most obediently. Severus was laying in the bed beside Draco's, and it had been made larger to accommodate the inevitable thrashing that Albus knew he would do in his sleep. Quietly, he brought the requested blankets and settled one atop Severus, watching him as the Malfoy boy gave another of those desperate hitchings for breath despite the potion Poppy was giving him.
"It's going to take time to start to work on him," she sighed. "The fluid should start to evaporate soon from his lungs, though. And the first one will bring down his fever." She set both bottles aside, but still in easy reach, and turned to the bed Severus laid in, to see what she could do for him. Bruises, cuts... Simple enough, it seemed. "Severus seems to have gotten off lightly."
"I'm afraid there is no such thing as getting off lightly this time," Albus said softly, reaching up and rubbing a hand over his own eyes tiredly. "We will see, however." Yes. They would, indeed.
She ran her wand above the length of his body, frowning as she passed it over him a second time. "Someone ran him through the wringer in the past day."
"Beyond what we know of Azkaban?" he asked sharply.
She pressed a hand against his side through the sheets, and even in unconsciousness, he moaned softly at the pain of it. "Do the Dementors kick, Albus?"
The old man sighed quietly. "I believe I am going to have to do some very *nasty* things about Cornelius Fudge," he decided quietly.
"And letting a child fall so sick..." She frowned in disgust at the situation, then started to apply her wand to spots where the bruising was deep. "That man doesn't deserve his post."
"He was sick before." That was a little voice, quietly given from the doorway. "I know you said not to come up, but..."
"Mr. Potter," Poppy said disapprovingly, as she cast another healing spell, "please leave -- neither are in any condition for visitors."
"No," Albus said, nodding to her. "Do come in, Harry. I believe Severus will be quite glad to see you, though he's not so well now. We've got him firmly asleep, you see."
"And don't you *dare* wake him up!" Poppy half-threatened, though Harry had the sense to take her threats seriously. She'd sent enough of his visitors running over the years.
Albus seemed of an entirely different train of thought, though, and patted the bed that Severus was laying on. "Sir down, Harry -- just be quiet."
"How is he, sir?" Harry asked, sitting down on the side of the bed and tenderly taking Severus's hand. His motions were only interrupted by the sound of Malfoy's desperate search for breath again. "Both of them, I mean?"
"As well as can be expected, since Azkaban's medical care was... poorly executed. There were gashes on Severus unattended to, and Draco has bones that need to be re-broken and set properly. I don't think that either of them will be leaving here any sooner than the start of the new semester."
"Oh," Harry said softly, fingers tracing carefully over the slender digits of the hand he grasped. "Will he wake up before then?" He was definitely wanting to talk to Severus, to make sure that he was all right.
Those thin fingers were lax, though, and the narrow wrist bore an ugly bruise. "Most likely. A few more hours of sleep, and he'll no doubt regain consciousness -- if he wants to, of course."
"And if he doesn't want to?" Harry asked, suddenly desperately worried.
"He didn't seem anywhere near to giving in to death, Harry, when he was in Azkaban. He'll want to, when he's ready," Albus assured, though Draco drowned him out for a moment with coughing. "I think if you stay with him that he'll recover quicker -- Azkaban takes all pleasant thoughts from one, so a return to pleasant things..."
"Would be best for him," Harry agreed, looking at him, fingers lightly touching Severus's face. "Sir? Thank you. For bringing him home..."
"Bringing him home, Harry?" Albus looked around the place for a moment, and sparkling blue eyes looked watery. "It's my fault that this school is even home to him, let alone that he had to be brought back."
"But it *is* home, now," Harry pointed out. "And I don't think there's anywhere else that he would truly want to be. He respects you very much."
"I know." Albus gave Harry a sad smile, looking at Severus's bed, then to Draco's. "I wish sacrifices had never had to be made."
"Sometimes, you have to do the best you can, I suppose," Harry said softly tucking black hair gently behind an ear. It was so fine, and soft, fresh washed, he didn't doubt. Madame Pomfrey was wonderful that way.
"It still doesn't completely validate things that have been done, though," Albus sighed, watching Severus made that slight motion towards Harry. "You're aware, I hope, that your... friendship with Professor Snape shouldn't detract from your grades any more than your Quidditch season should." Something that would go into full swing again when the semester restarted. Two days.
"I promise," Harry said quietly. "If anything, at least it means I get some sleep at night..." And that was something he hadn't had much of between Halloween and Christmas.
"Given the rules that govern this school, you at least have to be *somewhere* when curfew falls, and not wandering the halls," the headmaster told him. "And, for your own best interests, I would keep it a hushed matter."
"What's going on here?" Poppy asked, frowning as she came back with some dressings in her hand for the cuts. "What's a hush-hush matter?"
"That Malfoy's father was a malicious, molesting *asshole*," Harry filled in as Draco began to cough again, the lie coming not-quite-easily to his lips. "He'd die if anybody knew. Just to spite everyone for keeping him alive.""
"We've always known that," the old witch sighed, setting down the dressing to give Draco another dose of the potion. "He caused more 'accidents' when he was a student here than anything else."
Pausing, Harry's brows knit, his fingers reaching to lightly caress over the back of Severus's hand. "Did all of you *know* he was molesting Ma.. Draco? And you let him get away with it?" Because that was what it sounded like to *him*...
"Heavens, no," Dumbledore frowned, folding his hands over one knee as he shifted atop the chair he was perched on. "No, no, it's just that it wasn't much of a shock to find out that he *was*. That was just the sort of person Lucius Malfoy was."
Those green eyes were drawn to Malfoy's face despite himself, the flushed color of pale skin, the scrapes and bruises still obvious on him. "Yes," he said softly, fingers still gentle on Severus's flesh. "Yes, he apparently was."
"You shouldn't pet poor Severus so," Poppy chided without even *looking* at Harry. She was still busy at forcing a spoon carefully past Draco's lips. But she'd seen it already, and guessed The Boy Who Lived hadn't stopped. "He's never approved of people touching him."
"No, he doesn't, does he?" Harry agreed quietly. Still, he didn't stop. He wished Severus would wake up. "Sirius and Remus are probably wondering where I am by now..."
"If they come bounding up here..." An unspoken threat, as she pulled a heavy blanket up to Draco's chin, and tucked it in. "I think the poor thing's come down with a permanent chill."
"I think maybe he's always had problems with... that," Harry said vaguely. "He came in from walking in the damp that first night we were in Glastonbury and he was coughing horribly, then. It didn't seem to surprise the Professor, so..."
"Severus has a nasty habit of treating students in his house with potions without telling me that whatever sickness has been going on," Poppy scowled. "Draco seldom ever has to come up here."
Which further explained obvious feelings, not that Harry really *wanted* to know anything more about it or to even think about it.
"Yes, well," Dumbledore said softly. "You know Severus is most serious in his obligations..."
"I hope you're going to work with him, Albus -- he was proper mess the last time he left Azkaban..." She was carefully patting down Draco's bedding, then wiped pale gold strands of hair off of his forehead. "And this one, too."
"We'll do our very best, Poppy," he promised solemnly. "I suspect that we will simply have to wait and see what happens, now."
Wait and see.
It was a game that Harry hated worse than any other he'd ever had to play. Wait and see meant the possibility of terrible wrongs, of horrible things that had no cure, no cessation, no happy ending. He wanted a happy ending. Suddenly, desperately, he wanted nothing more than that, for all of them, every one of them, and yet he couldn't see how it could be gotten. Oh, how he wanted it, though...
"Well, if you don't mind, Mr. Potter, I'll leave you here with Professor Snape, and go tell your guardians to not fret over your short disappearance." Albus stood, and moved past Poppy with intent on doing just that.
It was quite a shame that they were already in the doorway.
"Harry! You snuck off without us!" Sirius accused, frowning.
"I just wanted to see them," Harry was quick to excuse. He watched Remus give Sirius an almost warning jab in the ribs with one elbow.
"Now, out of my infirmary," Madame Pomfrey told the two most firmly. "Out, out! You're interfering with the rest of my patients!"
Dumbledore simply smiled at both of them. "You heard Poppy, gentlemen..."
"All right -- Harry come on..." Sirius turned, but looked over his shoulder at the boy.
"Hm? Oh, no. Thank you," Harry said simply, and remained where he was sitting, watching Severus's face.
"I'll bring you a few of your books back from the dorm, Harry," Remus told him softly, as he shoved Sirius out of the room in front of him.
That left him alone; him and Severus and Draco and Madame Pomfrey, who was gently pushing Draco onto his side as he began to cough weakly again. Harry rather thought it sounded as if he was getting worse, and not better, but what did he know? He wasn't a medi-wizard...
"It's kind of you to stay here, Mr. Potter -- I don't think either of them would have visitors otherwise," Madam Pomfrey commented as she rearranged Draco's pillows to keep him propped up on that side. "Could you do me a favor and take Professor Snape's pulse?"
Quietly, he did just that, counting out the beats as he kept an eye on the second hand of his watch. "Sixty-four," he told her quietly.
"Good." It was a relief that Severus was stable in his unconscious state. Draco's heart-rate was a wild thing for the moment, shifting every time she moved him. "Do you plan on staying here for very long?"
"For a while," he said vaguely. "And I can stay as long as you need me to."
"If you're going to take up space, then you can put yourself to use -- look for cuts on Professor Snape while I see if there's any healing potion that hasn't expired," Madam Pomfrey informed him, after she made one more check over Draco. If there was none to be found in the storage closet, she'd have to go down to the store in the dungeon where Severus kept things.
Obediently enough, he began doing just that -- pulled the sheet down, parted gently the pyjamas Severus wore, and began checking him to a steady, soft racking sound of coughs. There were bruises all over him, cuts upon his ribs, and the angry, half-healed slices Lucius had made in his chest and belly, and probably the same on his back and buttocks. Harry wondered if he had gotten into the pyjamas by himself. Knowing Severus, it was a distinct possibility.
"They're everywhere," he told her softly.
"Then I haven't enough," she sighed, coming back into the room shaking a half empty bottle of a dark yellow syrup. "Start to put this on the most obvious cuts -- you can use your fingers, it's safe -- and if Mr. Malfoy starts another coughing fit, give him a spoonful out of both bottles on the tray there. I need to go down to the dungeon and find where Professor Snape hides his back-up supply."
"Yes, ma'am," Harry responded politely, and took the bottle from her. The notion of spreading the stuff on Sev while he was unconscious was a distinctly erotic one, and he was vaguely grateful that he'd slid on his robes before coming up earlier. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been able to hide his reaction to it at all, which would've been very embarrassing to explain to Madam Pomfrey, when coupled with his previous 'petting' of the man. The skin under his fingers was as sleek as it had felt the one, too-brief time he'd had a chance to really touch Severus, before Professor McGonagall had interrupted them. And as he traced the opaque potion over angry red welts, they sizzled a little, sealing up slowly and sucking the potion into themselves. It was a simple matter, really, and it made him wonder why the 'doctors' at Azkaban hadn't bothered.
He didn't even want to ask himself about it. He knew the answer, at least he was sure that he did, and asking it aloud would only make it somehow worse.
Draco began coughing again, but it was a sound mixed with soft whimpers, and he was almost afraid to get up and give him the mixtures that had been left. Still, he did, and the blond Slytherin quieted even as he returned to Severus and tracing those lines in pallid skin, sealing up the cuts that had been left there.
Soon, the cuts on his chest were healed, and even a scrape on his forehead, and Harry felt proud that he'd been able to do that much. Just running damage control while Madam Pomfrey was looking for more of the potion that was smeared on his fingers. There was a little left, but not other cuts that he could see with Severus still wearing the pyjama shirt.
"I really wish you would wake up," he said softly. "I've missed you so bad, Sev. I've wished for you. I'm so sorry they took you there. I tried to stop them..."
The words fell on deaf ears, but Severus's head lolled a little -- perhaps it was just because Harry's voice stirred him a little.
"I feel really sorry for Malfoy, too," Harry sighed. "He loves you. And he tried to save you. And I stole that from him. Sometimes, I'm not surprised he hates me, but more than anything, I'm glad it was me who saved you. I can't imagine being without you now, Sev. So you have to get better. You have to get better and you have to wake up for me, or I don't know what I'll do."
"Do I need to put *you* in a bed, Mr. Potter, for delirium?" Poppy's voice, rather serious, broke into the ward as she walked hurriedly back in, bottle of the thick yellow stuff in her hands again.
"No, ma'am." That was just as polite as his previous answers. "I was just talking to him. You know. They say talking helps..."
"But how did 'Professor Snape' become 'Sev'?" she asked a bit archly, handing him a cloth to wipe his fingers off on.
He couldn't help the high flush that built in his cheeks. "Er..."
"Go back to your room, young man," she scowled, trying to maneuver between Harry and the bed. "The last thing this man needs is an infatuated teenager."
Great. Just great. "Yes, ma'am," he said softly, unhappily. /Now I won't get to see him again until he's awake.../
"If you stay clear of the Hospital wing, I'll not mention a word of it to him," Poppy said kindly, though she was already starting to strip Severus of his pajama shirt, turning him over to tend to his back.
"Thank you, ma'am." And then he left, even more miserable than he'd been before he arrived back at Hogwarts. /I... am a *complete* git,/ he decided privately, and headed back to Gryffindor tower.
The halls were quieter than usual at the end of the holidays, he had to note as he walked them. The password into the tower hadn't changed since before the trip, and that was good because he was sure that he wouldn't have been able to remember another one.
With a great sigh, he headed for the fire and flung himself down in one of the chairs, feet stretched out towards it. This was obviously going to be a great deal more difficult than he had thought that it was going to be..
Keeping it a secret kept him from... well, he wasn't sure he'd ever be able to look at Madam Pomfrey without blushing again! And then there was still the question of if Severus was all right. Physically, he certainly looked like he'd be able to teach when the semester started again, but...
"Harry, is that you?"
Green eyes darted upwards, surprised. "Hermione! I didn't think you'd be here yet..."
"I came back this morning -- my parents thought I shouldn't be away from the school for very long," she said, standing beside the chair he was stretched out on. "How're you?"
"Tired. Depressed. Madame Pomfrey caught me calling Professor Snape 'Sev'. I've had better days," Harry admitted.
Hermione managed a little smile as she pulled a foot-stool up near the chair. "How is the professor? We're not going to miss any classes, are we?"
"He's asleep right now. The 'doctors'," and this he said with such cutting sarcasm that he seemed to her to be Snape *himself*, "in Azkaban weren't exactly very good at actual medicine, apparently. He still had the cuts Lucius Malfoy made on him. For that matter," he continued, "Draco's practically coughed up a lung. Seems like he's got pneumonia, both lungs from the sound."
"But they are going to be all right?" Hermione still clung tightly to optimism above all other things. Though, Harry was worrying her as much as what had happened. "And... Harry, just what happened when he was acting strange? They never explained it to us, just took us back to our parents, or here..."
"Imperio," Harry answered her shortly. "Lucius Malfoy managed to get out of Azkaban. He cast it that morning at the Tor, best I can figure. Sev fought it all day and finally Lucius's will won over his. I don't know if they're going to be all right, 'mione." He shrugged, looking small, tired. "They're not awake. I mean, physically, I think Sev will, but..." He paused. "Azkaban is a terrible place..."
"You've probably explained it to death, haven't you?" She bit her bottom lip a little, worrying on it thoughtfully before she added, "You look scared."
"I think I'm terrified," Harry told her softly. "I don't know what to do. I think..." He shrugged. "I love him, Hermione. Ron'd wet his shorts if I told him that..."
"Ron comes back tomorrow, and Sirius and Remus are probably rifling through your room for anything suspicious," Hermione told him, glancing towards the dormitory doors for a moment. "But... Harry, he's a *professor*."
"I noticed," Harry said tiredly.
"And you're not afraid of being *caught*, or... and *he*... what..." Hermione sighed. "It's confusing, Harry. Does *he* know?"
The green-eyed boy shrugged, gave a deep sigh. "Of course I'm afraid. Or maybe not afraid, maybe just... I have some reservations about being caught. I tried to tell him, but he wouldn't let me say it. He's... Hermione, he's so..."
"So...?" It was rude to question people by tossing their words back at them, but sometimes, it was the only way to get Harry to spit something out.
"So sad, so lonely, so *right*, such a bloody ass about things sometimes, and I still think I love him madly. I've lost my mind, haven't I?" Harry asked her solemnly.
"Probably," she agreed a bit reluctantly. "But, he... *is* very old compared to you -- he was old when we came here, so it only makes sense that he's older..."
"Hermione?" Harry questioned. "What's that got to do with anything?" Honestly, he'd have thought it would disturb her more than Snape was a *man* than that he was *old*... and technically, he wasn't really all *that* old.
Hermione was *odd* that way, though -- her parents were fairly progressive, so perhaps the idea of two men didn't even give her a twinge. "It's got a lot to do with things -- I don't think you'd ever be able to be anywhere with him without being mistaken for father and son."
At that, Harry cringed. After all, that was the way Sev felt about Malfoy, and... Well. That wasn't good at all. "I'll have to grow up eventually, you know. Another ten years, nobody'll notice."
"And, well..." Hermione's cheeks hazed a bit. "How're you sure he's not one of those pedophiles?"
"Because Malfoy's been offering and he hasn't taken up on it?" He felt as if he was fighting a question with a question.
"But..." But, but, but, she was sure to drown him in her questioning. "But, how do you know that he's thinking a single thing that you are?"
"I'd ask him, Hermione, but he's unconscious at the moment." Harry sighed. "Well, no. I mean... He's just *tender*. You wouldn't think it was possible, would you? Can't sleep without me there. Can't... Well, you know. You saw how he was when Fred and George slipped the mouse in his clothes."
"Completely panicked." She looked contemplative, before going on, "But, Harry, lots of people think they've found the perfect person, and then change their mind -- can you imagine the trouble if that happened?"
"Answer me this. Is it better to try and fail or not to try at all?"
"To try and fail, of course, but *Harry*, this could ruin your life..."
"Maybe." Maybe, but he didn't think so. "But what kind of person would I be if I didn't?"
"Not Harry Potter," she sighed at last, in the face of his stubbornness. Nothing was going to change his mind... "It still seems strange."
"I won't blame you if you don't think you can be my friend any more because of it." The sound of his voice was miserable, but he meant it to the depths of him. He *wouldn't* blame her. How could he? "I hope... things don't happen that way, but I won't blame you if they do..."
Hermione looked *shocked* that he'd suggested such a thing. "Just because you plan on... with Professor Snape, and there's obviously nothing that'll change your mind about it, you think that I'd stop being your friend?"
"I don't know how *wizards* feel about these kinds of things, but I do know how most muggles do. Hermione, if anyone finds out, there's going to be hell to pay if they're all like muggles about it... I wouldn't blame you for not wanting to get involved," Harry promised.
"The wizarding community in general is a great deal more open about it -- just look at Remus and Sirius," she smiled.
"True," Harry admitted dryly. "But you know. Remus and Sirius are outcasts, anyway. Maybe that's why I didn't think of it..."
"They're outcasts for different reasons. It's different from how the muggles are, though the *age* difference will make it hard. He *did* go to school with your father, Harry."
"And Sirius hates him," Harry said with a half-hearted sort of chuckle. "But it doesn't matter to me. I might very well have lost my mind, but... It doesn't."
"You're not going to miss study sessions because of this, will you?" she asked, half-ready to ask something else, but... well. Harry would've killed her, or at least jinxed her for dragging him unwittingly into a 'girl chat'.
"Ha!" Harry shook his head. "Can you imagine what that greasy git in the hospital wing would do to me if I screwed up in Potions? I don't think I can *afford* to miss one..." He couldn't help smiling. "Besides. We need to do really well this year. OWLS, you know."
"I started studying yesterday -- I don't think it's too soon to start..." She smirked at him a little, adding, "Heaven help you if you don't start doing *well* in potions. I think Snape wouldn't be the sort to let a personal life interfere with his class, but I can certainly see him letting his class interfere with his personal life."
"No kidding. I just hope..." He heaved a great sigh. "I just hope he's better soon. That's all."
"I can't see him *not* getting better. He's..." She chuckled softly. "I've just never *seen* someone faint dead off from pain, and then he picked you *up* from Fred and George, and fairly well ran back to the hotel."
"Yeah..." Harry smiled at her. "You know, he hasn't said it, but I really think he does. Love me, I mean."
"He's been such a cold bastard for the entire time we've been here, and he was just *childish* when we were in the Shrieking Shack... It's hard to think of him being able to do something like that. But if he's different around you..." Hermione shook her head dismissively. "Well. Why's he so mean in class?"
"Fear of rejection?" Harry suggested. "I think he doesn't feel as though he deserves to be liked. Even Malfoy, he takes with a grain of salt.."
"Doesn't seem to," Hermione countered quickly. "We all know he's botched potions but that Snape's just glossed over it. He all but dotes on him in class."
"Mmm." Harry shrugged slightly. "It's true, though. You didn't see them earlier, a few days ago. They were arguing... It was awful," he sighed, shaking his head.
"But we all saw Malfoy buy that shield that Snape put on." Not that the shield had worked against a more powerful danger.
"Malfoy loves him," Harry said gently. "Sev thinks of him as a child. Maybe even *his* child, really, from the sound of it. By nature, if not by blood."
"Harry, this really... it's almost too much for me to know. I know far too much about the personal lives of teachers at this school than I've any right to." She's almost said 'than you've any right to'.
"You did ask," he reminded her pointedly.
"I know, but..." She sighed, cheeks flaring again, "I'll just never be able to look at Professor Snape again without thinking of things you've... implied."
"I promise not to imply anything else," Harry answered solemnly.
"Well, it *is* a bit late," she went on in a slightly flustered voice.
"Don't think about it," he advised gently. "It's better that way."
"Probably, Harry, but it's easier for you to say when you're the one who's kissing him -- I'm just saddled with my mind making up pictures." Hermione shifted, sitting on one leg.
"Makes you uncomfortable, hm? I'm sorry, Hermione," he apologized quietly. "Really, I am. I didn't mean to."
"Not uncomfortable, Harry, just... distracting to think about." That flush on her cheeks half-hinted as to *why*, but Harry didn't have a chance to press her about it. Which wasn't fair, since he'd been drilled near senseless with questions about it, when all he wanted to do was to *be* with Severus, to make sure he woke up, instead of talking about him. Talking about things instead of doing made them seem unsure.
"Harry! We didn't think you'd be run out of the infirmary so quickly!" Lupin came down the stairs quietly, two large, unopened bars of chocolate in his hands. "When Madam Pomfrey lets you go back, take these to them?"
"She kicked me out when she caught me talking to him," Harry admitted, turning a deep red. "I called him Sev. She promised not to tell him if I'd just head back here."
"Oh, now, I really doubt Snape would kill you for mangling his name," Remus said, tossing the two bars at Harry before dragging two chairs up near Harry's. "Sit down, Hermione."
"She thinks I have a *crush* on him," Harry specified dryly.
"Ohhhh." Remus chuckled softly, in the back of his throat, as Hermione sat in the other chair. "Well. That could be a problem. Did you know you have a sneakoscope, Harry? I think I'll have to get Sirius one of his own, so he doesn't borrow yours permanently."
"What's he using it for?" Harry asked, forcing out a little laugh.
"Probably to check and see if Professor Snape is being sneaky," Hermione said, shaking her head with an expression that almost seemed to shriek, 'boys!'.
"Everything -- so far, he's found two books of yours that could count as 'sneaky'," Remus murmured, shaking his head a little. Some days, no, on the *better* days, Sirius was like a large child, which pleased Remus a great deal to see him without the weight of twelve years of suffering.
"Oh," Harry said, promptly turning absolutely crimson. "Um. THOSE..."
"Yes, *those*," Remus said with a slight twitch of his eyebrows. "The Library might want that back, though I'm not quite sure."
Sheepishly, Harry shrugged. "Erm, well. You know. I was curious..."
"And now *I'm* curious," Hermione told them. "Harry, surely there's nothing *naughty* contained in the Library?"
"In depth anatomy books," Remus smirked at Harry. "Arguably porn, but it's there for the wise students to find, and always has been."
Harry shifted helplessly as Hermione turned to look at him, open-mouthed, before looking shrewdly back at Remus. "You found them, too, hm?"
"No, but Harry's father had them checked out for three years consecutively."
"Like Father, Like Son," Hermione sighed, rolling her eyes.
"Sirius didn't seem so surprised," Remus agreed, smiling at Hermione. "Though, I wouldn't stretch the 'like father, like son' analogy too far."
"Do you think he'd be terribly disappointed in me?" Harry asked the werewolf quietly.
"James?" Remus's expression softened in memory for a moment, before he shook his head. "No. Never. Why would you think that?"
"Because of Sev. Those muggles I lived with probably would have scalped me and sold me to the gypsies or something." Well, no, they'd have sent him off to an asylum somewhere, instead, but still.
"No, Harry -- he wouldn't have been disappointed in it at all." Remus sounded firm in that, as he leaned nearer to the boy who lived. "After all, he did save Snape's life."
"Your father sounds a great deal more pragmatic than the Dursleys ever were," Hermione agreed.
"I worry," Harry admitted with a little shrug. "And now I've got more to worry over. Sounded like Malfoy was going to cough himself clean to death, and Sev... Sev just wouldn't wake up."
"Wizards will sometimes put themselves to sleep when they can't deal with their health and need to heal. I'm sure he'll wake up when his condition improves. As for Draco Malfoy..." Remus looked at Harry for a moment, soft gold eyes curious. "Madam Pomfrey will do her best."
"Mmmm," Harry said in quiet agreement, and his gaze went back to the fire and it stayed there.
For a moment, he was sure that he was dead.
That thought registered, though, and as soon as he was aware of having thought it, well, he had obviously proved himself wrong. It didn't make the throbbing of his skull any better, though, or the stiff chill that seemed to still hold his body. One hand groped for blankets, to find them half kicked off, and he pulled them all up again, huddling comfortably back in.
Someone was coughing.
It was a familiar sound, ages old and deep in his mind, except that it had been the cough of a child so very long ago.
Was it still a child? Draco. It was strange to think things and not have them sucked away right away, and he was torn between enjoying that as much as he had the day prior, and being scared that thoughts would be taken from him again. The only thoughts that hadn't left were the hurtful ones, painful miserable things and memories of an older man with unruly black hair, greying, and green green eyes.
A different person from the young man with the green green eyes that made him happy.
"There, there, now. There, there..." That was a woman's voice, and the sound of metal clinking against glass came, followed by the slightly click of teeth. "If you'd just wake up, you'd feel better, Mr. Malfoy..."
Malfoy? Blond, blue blue eyes, older... no, younger. Draco Malfoy, with the cough. The man huddled in the bed swallowed dryness in his throat, then bit his tongue to try to fix the problem. He wasn't Malfoy, no, he was Snape.
Severus Snape, Potions Master at Hogwarts, Death Eater, Professor, Greasy Git, Cranky bastard.
It had taken him a few hours to think of a way to keep his wits about him with thoughts that weren't happy, but neither were they maddening.
"Now, there. Yes, there..." A heavy sigh came, and then footsteps that shifted towards him. "And then there's you, Severus. What am I going to do with the two of you?" Blankets shifted atop him gently, a hand moving to soothe hair loose from his forehead. "If you would both just wake up..."
So he *was* awake, or at least, there were people who wanted him to wake up. Which was almost as good as being there already. A ragged noise escaped him in place of words, though, as he shifted restlessly deeper into the bedding, away from the fingers against his face.
"Severus? Oh, dear, Severus? Are you awake? Here..." Cool, soothing fingers slid into his own. "Squeeze my hand, Severus, if you can..."
Fingers twitched tiredly, clutching for a fraction of a moment against her own. Yes, he was Severus, that was right. It still felt a little fuzzy for him, since he'd had a flash of time when he was leaning against that stone wall and he'd thought he was Lucius. The *other* Malfoy, the one who'd made him hurt the one with the green, green eyes.
Or, had let him hurt him. Severus wasn't entirely sure.
"Yes, wonderful, just a moment!" And then those fingers were gone, but there was cool glass against his lips, and a *taste*, it tasted red, it tasted fire, it tasted cinnamon and cloves and hot things, deliciously sweet things, mixed somehow with chocolate and the smell of cookies. "Drink it all down, Severus, yes, yes, that's good..."
He shifted a bit more upright, trying to drink down the offered liquid greedily. Cold to his dry, parched lips, but *warm* to his insides, easing the tense chill that had settled within him. Cinnamon made him think of things, hazy memories distant and near, sitting by a fireplace in comfort and warmth, reading a book or talking to someone. Sweet sparked flickers of the Great Hall within his mind, a rain of pink things and green-green eyes looking as him when he brought that sweetness to his own lips. Cloves and chocolate, the only student who'd ever spared a real smile for him when he'd been so young. Cookies were protectiveness, the sanctuary of an office and a phoenix's preening noises.
Severus was sure, as he tried to grasp the glass with one hand, that he wanted more of it.
"There, now. There, there. Open your eyes for me, Severus, and I have chocolate for you, and milk, as well. Open your eyes..."
Slowly, carefully, and only because she'd asked him to -- just like he listened to things the smiling, safe man asked him to do -- black eyes slitted open to the too-white, too bright room. He winced right away, closing them again.
"Oh, yes..." The sound of curtains closing seemed to block off all of that light, leaving him floating in dimness. "That should help, Severus. Here..." That soft, cool hand pressed to his again, holding something. "Eat that, and you'll feel much better soon. I promise."
The professor shifted again, clutching it uselessly in his fingers for a moment before he was comfortable again. Mostly laying on his back, twisted comfortably and still curled into the bedding, he brought that whatever she'd told him to eat to his lips. Chocolate. It was safe to eat, then, slow bites that sped until he'd finished it and felt well enough to open his eyes to the room again.
"There. And now, some milk, Severus? I'm so glad to see you back with us again. Those Gryffindors have been pestering me at the door for days, and the Headmaster spends every night in here. I have personally tossed Harry Potter out *thrice*," Madame Pomfrey told him gently.
That name was familiar; that he was processing it through his mind was painfully obvious to Madam Pomfrey. Harry Potter. Lightning blot, green green eyes, refreshing, warm, smiled for him, wanted... "Tossed out?" Severus licked his lips again, fingers rubbing bits of chocolate off of themselves.
"He keeps sneaking in to hold your hand, Professor," she said disapprovingly, and shook her head. "The Weasley twins attempted to bring you a bath sponge and a toilet lid. I still haven't convinced them of what a horrid notion that is!"
Bath sponge and a toilet lid? No, he didn't even want to try to drudge up whatever memories would associate with that. He held one hand out for the glass of milk she held, but still asked, "But why did you make him go?"
"I know how you hate having anyone hovering over you, Severus," she told him with dignity, "and truly, I didn't want an epidemic on my hands. Whatever Mr. Malfoy seems to have isn't getting well at all..."
"Cough. Weak... weak lungs." His fingers closed around the glass of milk, glad of its chill when he started to drink it. But he drank too fast, so it settled in his chest in a knot at first, and that made him slow.
"Can you recall if there's something special that you brew for him, Severus?" The question was gently asked, if urgently. "Once you drink that, lay back down."
He nodded once, laying back in his odd, but comfortably twisted position, empty glass fumbled aside onto the nightstand. "Whistleflu serum. Gold..." And he could barely remember where he'd put it. Desk, no suitcase, yes, suitcase, but that was gone, there was... "Shelf, workroom. "
"All right," Madame Pomfrey told him gently. "I'm going to have someone come in and sit with you while I'm gone. Can you sleep?"
Severus shook his head. He didn't *want* to sleep, not as long as he could think good things again, and feel warm. Those were feelings to not be wasted. "Can it be Harry?"
That gained him an odd little look, but she nodded all the same. "He'll probably be here again within the next fifteen minutes, anyway... I'll send for him now. Rest," she ordered, pulling the blankets up around him firmly. At that moment, the coughing came again, and she moved tiredly to dose the boy in the bed across from him.
Rest, rest, he felt like he'd been resting for years... "We don't have to go back when we're better, do we?"
The spoon clattered from nerveless fingers, and the woman turned to look at him, eyes gone wide. "No," she said, shivering. "You never, *ever* have to go back there again." Especially not since Dumbledore had made the necessary movements to remove Cornelius Fudge from office.
"Good." Severus shifted again, curling against one of the pillows, eyes half closed. He sounded *smug* about that fact -- because they wouldn't take his good thoughts from him anymore, wouldn't stop him from thinking of things that didn't hurt. Draco *would* be better, surely, when he woke up.
Everything would be better.
"Sev?" It was a breathless question, asked from some few feet away by a boy who'd skittered to an outright halt. His hair was askew, face flushed from the cold, and *God*, he was beautiful.
Green green eyes, and not the ones that glittered heartlessly at him in the middle of painful nights. Unruly hair that needed to be stroked through, ruffled and made worse, a scar and a smile that told him it was the best one standing there. "Harry." He *knew* it was Harry, Harry Potter, but it seemed more real to see him in something other than memory.
"You're awake." And oh, it was so hard not to *fling* himself at the man, especially with Madame Pomfrey watching.
"I must go to the dungeons to fetch a healing potion, Mr. Potter," she said sternly. "I will return *very* shortly. Please watch Professor Snape and Mr. Malfoy and do *not* get out of line!"
"She seems cranky," Severus shared in a voice that wasn't quiet enough for her to not hear, as he started to push himself a bit more upright, careful to stay on pillows, though, so that if he was questioned, he could claim rest still. "I didn't kill you."
"I'm sort of hard to kill," Harry whispered as she walked out, waiting an extra few seconds before flinging his arms tightly about Severus's neck. "Oh, Sev. I was so scared for you."
It half-startled him, but Severus was quick to return the embrace, lean arms coming tightly around Harry and hugging him to his chest. "Thought I'd killed you. He tried to make me kill you, and I couldn't. He was going to kill you..."
"Shhhhh," Harry whispered, clinging tightly to him still. "Shhhh. It's all right, Sev. No one killed me. I'm here. I'm here, and I love you. Shhh..."
Words that made his heart jump up into his chest, and hold Harry all the tighter. "You shouldn't. It's not safe. It's not safe. I thought I'd killed you, that you were dead, and they kept taking you from me when I thought of you... I could only think of *him*."
"No. No," Harry whispered, kissing his ear lightly. "No, I love you. They can't take that away from you. Not ever. You're never going back there, Sev, never, and I love you. I do. He's dead now. They're both dead now, they can't hurt you anymore..."
"He was dead before. We all thought He was dead, and He wasn't..." Severus bent his head a little, to press his face against Harry's neck, wanting to feel comfort, the familiarity that was the boy's arms. "You're warm. It was so cold there."
"I promise you," Harry said gently. "I promise."
"Don't move. Stay still, stay with me. This is better than memory." Severus's sibilant drawl crept into Harry's soul all over again, serious in the soft plea that was his request.
"If she catches me again, she'll toss me out," Harry whispered, but he didn't move, even when Draco began to cough again, shuddering visibly even from where his head lay against Severus tenderly.
"I'll tell her not to. You're mine, and you can't go." The coughing seeped into Severus's consciousness, even as he held Harry with his eyes closed, face tucked in against that warmth. But Poppy would be back with the serum soon, and that would help Draco's cough. "You can't."
"I promise," Harry finally said, gently tucking hair back behind his ear. "I promise, Sev. I promise."
"Why, hello, Harry." That was Dumbledore's voice, soft, amused. "And I see that Severus has chosen to join us, as well. How magnificent. Now that you're awake, I'm sure Madame Pomfrey will give you your own room. It will make it easier for her." Actually, it would make it easier for her to ignore the fact that Harry was attached to Severus and neither looked ready to change that fact.
"Downstairs rooms?" His dungeons, a thought that soothed him as much as Dumbledore's voice -- nice man, funny half-glasses, smiling -- and Harry's wonderful presence against him. Severus lifted his head a little, but it was only to shift fractionally in a slight attempt to tuck Harry beneath him. "Hide under the covers, Harry, and Poppy won't see you. It worked with, with... Minerva."
At that, Harry *giggled* -- actually *giggled*. "Sev, she didn't get to peek past the door. I think Madame Pomfrey will notice an additional lump in the bed!"
Dumbledore, however, was not so jolly anymore. He was, in fact, frowning a bit. "Yes. Yes, your downstairs rooms would perhaps be more appropriate, Severus. I shall see to it myself, very shortly, and shall speak with Harry before leaving you to your rest."
"Mmm." Severus didn't even notice the frowning tone in Dumbledore's voice, as he gave up that flit of an idea to hide Harry under the bedding with him. Even with blankets between them, he could feel Harry's warmth well, though he did unwind one arm from around Harry to shove them down some almost desperately. Harry had been that one really good thought that had kept getting taken from him, and now he wasn't going to let go anytime soon.
Draco's wracking, rough coughing sounded again, though, and he lifted his head a little from Harry's shoulder to murmur, "He needs whistleflu serum. Isn't she back yet?"
"I'll go and check on her," Dumbledore promised, smiling at him, but worried -- so worried. Severus was going to have a difficult time this go 'round... "Rest, Severus."
"I'm resting." The protest to being told to 'rest' so many times was a soft, tolerant thing as he settled down against Harry once more. "I'm resting."
Dumbledore couldn't help the soft sigh he gave. "Harry, I'll see you shortly."
"Yes, sir," Harry said simply, remaining in the bent position carefully.
"It's good to be able to think things again," Severus sighed softly, trying to not be loud and possibly wake Draco up. He sounded tired, but certainly relieved to have Harry held close in his arms. "There were so many things they took away... Too many things they didn't."
"Sev..." That was accompanied by a tender kiss to Snape's temple, fingers gently threading through his hair, touching him. "Sev, it will be all right. I promise. I love you..."
No reply to that, only Severus nodding slightly to it, his own fingers creeping up over Harry's robes to tangle long fingers into the shorter hairs, no less wild, at the nape of Harry's neck. "I need you, Potter. Harry." He settled back more, less tucked close against Harry, more trying to relax as he'd been told to do. No, rest -- well, from Albus the words were one and the same.
There came those choking gasps for breath again, and Harry sighed, shaking his head. "I should give Malfoy his medicine..."
"N...ev...er mind," Draco choked out, silvery eyes half-open, *looking* at him, and he seemed so terribly miserable, so tiny and hurt and afraid that it was impossible.
Awake. Draco was awake, cold and empty, Severus knew... He didn't *have* a Harry to hold onto while he settled back into the world of the living. "Red." Severus released Harry a little, shifting to lay on his back. "Give him the potion that tastes red. Can't think what it is, yet."
"I'll find it," Harry promised, standing to walk around the bed as Poppy Pomfrey returned, phial of golden potion in her hand. "Oh! Madame Pomfrey... He's awake. Malfoy..."
"Goodness!" she said, and quickly moved to his side, opening a small drawer from the wall that Harry never would have found and drawing out a potion that was, indeed, *red*. "Here, Mr. Malfoy. I have things for you..."
"Don't wa... nt... to." His protest was broken by a rough cough.
It *hurt* to watch that, to see the boy coughing, but Severus had done what he could as long as he still felt so battered and drained. Long fingers reached out, grabbed Harry's wrist before he could get very far, and tugged. "Lay down."
"I didn't ask you if you wanted to, Mr. Malfoy," she told him, and the potions were promptly poured down his throat whether he liked it or not.
That, Harry knew, was Madame Pomfrey all over. "It's all right," Harry promised him, sitting on the bed. He was afraid that if he lay down, the woman would toss him out, but for the moment, her attention was at least on getting Malfoy settled, catching the thick mucus that came up out of his lungs in a bowl.
Severus flinched when Draco gave a particularly hard cough of it -- he'd heard it before, held a bowl for the boy just like Madam Pompfrey was doing. Draco had always had weak lungs, and Azkaban, well, of course that hellish place had made it worse.
He still hadn't let go of Harry's wrist, despite that he was sitting on the bed, and didn't seem about to go anywhere. Fingers moved idly, of their own will, stroking over the bones and veins beneath soft skin. Green green eyes, safe there, in a familiar -- too familiar -- place. As long as he could wonder at the new good sensations, he wouldn't have to process through the bad ones that had seeped through his mind when he was in that place.
By the time Draco finished, he was sweating and whiter than his sheets. He leaned back carefully against the pillows and gave a thin little whine; even his back was bruised from the force of those coughs, and he ached so badly he wanted to cry.
"There, there," Poppy soothed again. "I'll bring you something to make you feel better in just a moment." There would be no chocolate or milk for Draco; it would only help the congestion along, and hurt him in the long run.
But Draco didn't *want* anything. He didn't want to get better, he didn't want to feel better -- he just wanted to *die*, having watched Snape and Harry curled together, comfortable with each other. The Potions Master didn't see *Harry* as a child, no.
So he just laid back, still, and pretended to not hear Severus's silken voice ask of Harry, "Lay down, *now*?"
Quietly, Harry touched his face. He didn't want to lay down, because he didn't want to cause Malfoy pain; and it was obvious that he was, by his mere presence alone. "How about if I check on your rooms below, and make sure they're ready for you to be transferred, instead?" he asked gently.
Fingers at his wrist *clutched* in sudden desperation, that matched an almost grim determination on the potion master's face. "You can't go, Potter -- Harry. You can't leave, Harry."
"I won't go anywhere," Harry promised him soothingly, ignoring the sharp feeling of those long fingers bruising his wrist. "I'm not going to leave you alone."
The grip didn't lessen, and soothing words didn't seem to work so well this time -- Severus continued to look at him, wary for a moment in a way that the potions master couldn't put into words or clear thought. Green, green eyes, like... like, no, it wasn't Him. Harry cared for him, about him, was just a boy, not Him. "Lay down?" That was more tentative, painful to hear as the low, silken voice verged towards breaking.
There was no way that he could resist that, no way to *not* agree with what Severus wanted, even though he could hear the rapid, pained breaths only a handful of yards away. Carefully, he leaned into the pillows, wrapped his arms about Severus, held him close...
"Goodness! Mr. Potter!!"
"He's staying, Poppy," Severus half-commanded, even as he buried his face in strands of wild dark hair. It felt good to be held, to hold, to know, through tangible things like touch, that life was at least for the moment at a high point.
"Oh, dear, I just don't..."
"Le-eave them a-a.." A cough bit into those words, leaving Draco absolutely gasping once again. "Alone!"
Severus felt a wash of guilt, and hugged tighter onto Harry. Guilt, he didn't want that, he wanted to drown in green green eyes and rest. "Rest, Draco. You need to."
How could he rest when they were there together like that? How could he think? The worst part of Azkaban hadn't been growing steadily more feverish and ill. The worst part had been the ultimate knowledge that Severus *didn't* love him. That no one loved him. That, after his father, no one ever *would*.
Madam Pomfrey looked at the two beds and just threw her hands up before moving over to Draco again. "Lay down, Mr. Malfoy, and try to rest. As for you, Mr. Potter, I expect you to either be standing up before I turn around, or a *very* good explanation as to what you're doing."
"He's doing just what I asked of him, Poppy." Severus laid his head back on his pillow, tugging at Harry to settle the boy more comfortably.
"Poppy..." That was Dumbledore's voice, soft from the doorway. "We're going to be moving Severus below to his rooms. I believe he'll be much more comfortable there..." And no one would question the fact that Harry was in his bed, then.
"Albus, you know my policy about releasing the ill before they're better." She finished tucking Draco's blanket in around him, as she *glared* at the headmaster for even suggesting it.
"I'd like to return to my rooms." Severus wasn't sure if he was helping his case, or not, but he *did* want to go back there.
"I know, Poppy, but in this case..." This case being a white-faced Draco Malfoy, eyes shut tightly as if to fight off tears. "...I really think it would be a better idea."
"At least let me check over him before I release him," Poppy huffed, turning back to the bed. "Get up, Mr. Potter, so I can check over Professor Snape. *Now*."
"Yes, ma'am!" He moved quickly, or tried to, anyway. Severus *clung* to him, and gave her a look that was much more like the Professor Snape most knew and hated. Brows drawn together, disdainful of her opinion in the matter, lips dragged down into a severe expression. Possessive, and he didn't want to let go of what was *his*.
"Severus," Albus murmured to the man who'd been dragged up half-sitting. "It won't take but a moment. Let me speak with Harry while Poppy examines you. Then you can go to your rooms."
Contemplative, the potions master looked at Albus, then slowly slid his arms from their place tightly around Harry. "Won't be long," he promised the boy, just before he did let Harry go.
With a slight sigh of relief, mostly because Harry didn't want Madame Pomfrey angry with *him*, Harry slipped up and let her closer to the bed, walking towards the Headmaster. "Yes, sir?"
"A bit of privacy, first, Harry," the head-master murmured, as they moved out of the ward and into the hallway between the ward itself and the main hall. Silent, utterly empty. "You should be warned, I think, that... I don't think Severus has fared Azkaban this time as well as he fared it the last."
"He seems..." Harry paused, hesitant. "Clingy. Sweet. Not at all himself."
"One of the stages or recovery," Dumbledore warned him softly. "He's able to think whatever pleases him for the first time since he got there. Perhaps even longer than that, given that Lucius had him under his control."
"Do you -- I mean... How long did it last before? When he was in Azkaban... the last time?" Harry asked hesitantly.
"He skipped that stage, and went right to 'shaking wreck', which is a good bit easier to deal with," Albus sighed.
"...I can see that, I think," Harry said worriedly, biting at his lower lip. "Will he... I mean, do you think he'll get better before classes start?"
"Two days...?" the Headmaster shook his head minutely. "It's not enough time to fully recover. But I believe, firmly, that he can *function* in class."
"Even if I have to leave him to go to my own?" Harry asked hesitantly. "I wouldn't want to, mind..."
"You *must* continue your studies, Harry." The older wizard seemed firm on that. "You take your OWLs this year."
"That's precisely what I'm worried about!" the young Gryffindor replied, biting his lower lip.
"Professor Snape can function in the matters of Potions under the most tremendous stresses, Harry." Dumbledore patted his shoulder lightly.
"Maybe he shouldn't *have* to," Harry said softly. "And what about Malfoy?"
"Excused from classes until he's well enough," the headmaster sighed, looking at Harry with heavy eyes. "And, what would *you* do about them both if you were in my position, Harry?"
"Pray for the best and keep going on, sir," he said sadly, shaking his head. "There's little else we *can* do, is there?"
"That's just right." The headmaster looked to the door with sad eyes, shaking his head a little. "It's what I did last time for Severus."
Harry nodded. "I'll do the best I can," he promised quietly. "I'll have to stay with him nights, you know, Headmaster. That probably sucks for subtlety..."
"It does indeed, Mr. Potter," the headmaster agreed. "Yet I encouraged it, not thinking that circumstances would grow so dire."
Harry took in a deep breath. "We'll have to do the best that we can. Is there anything I can do or that we can arrange so that... so that the others in my dorm don't notice? Or don't find it odd?"
"I'm reluctant to cast an enchantment over the dorm, or you, Mr Potter, yet..." Yet it would be necessary, to keep it secretive. And to keep Severus sane. "I will see what can be done."
"Thank you," Harry sighed politely. "Thank you, Professor."
"Don't thank me yet." Still, the headmaster's eyes smiled at Harry, before the older wizard turned and headed back into the main part of the infirmary.
Severus was buttoning up his pajama-top when the door opened, and he flicked an idle glance to it, until *Harry* stepped through. Once he caught sight of the Gryffindor boy, however, his gaze was riveted upon him tightly, and it did not shift away.
"Are you ready to go now?" Harry asked politely. "I'll help you down to your rooms."
"And then you'll stay?" Severus took the robe that Madam Pomfrey pressed into his hands, slid it on and wrapped himself in it; it didn't do too much to counter bare feet, but if they were quick, he wouldn't really be bothered by it before he reached his dungeons.
"I promise," Harry told him gently, and pulled out his wand. With a wave and a word, bunny slippers appeared and tried to hop away, but he caught them and put them on Severus's feet himself, sheepish. "Ah, I didn't get it quite right..."
The potions master stared at them, then gave Harry a look that seemed to say 'you must be rotty in the head'; not that he took them off. Severus was eager to leave, and any bickering...
"Get well, Draco, soon," he told the boy in the other bed, as he started to walk past it, with Harry at his side.
"Yeah." It was a whisper, a bitter little sound, and he didn't look at them. Harry could tell that his lashes were wet, his face pained, and so he said nothing.
Severus was quiet until they were out in the main hall, and there wasn't anyone around. Then he seemed to lean into the younger wizard, and murmured quietly, "I hope you remember the way there, Harry."
"I remember," Harry told him tenderly, and headed in the proper direction, a hand lightly upon Severus's elbow to lead him. Thank God that it was still the holidays and no one would be back until the following morning, or there would have been rumors flying so fast and furious they'd never be stilled.
Severus was *too* willing to be led, too glad to have Harry there with him. "How long... have we been this way? It feels like forever, but I might be confusing you with Him."
"Not so long," Harry said, shivering at the thought that he could be mistaken for Lucius Malfoy, or perhaps Severus meant Voldemort. Either way, it wasn't a pleasant connotation. "Only a few days, really. Since just around the beginning of holiday."
"That's strange." Severus shifted his hand, that elbow Harry had been guiding at, to grasp the young wizard's wrist. "I've wanted you for years."
For a moment, it was all Harry could do not to think of Hermione's words, and his jaw fell visibly. "Y-years?"
Severus was looking ahead, though, taking in the halls before him. "I think so."
"But you aren't sure." And that relieved Harry more than a little. At least he could avoid thinking about what Hermione said, that *word*...
"No." The hand at his wrist squeezed a little as they went down a flight of moving stairs. "You have eyes like Him. That color green, that look... but you're *not* him, and I'm glad. I worry sometimes that you'll become Him."
He understood, then, and he smiled sadly, and pulled Severus close to him for a moment. "No. I won't ever become Him. Ever. I promise you, Sev."
Black eyes closed for a moment, and Severus was more than glad to be pulled close, to feel Harry against him. "Ever. Good. You're powerful enough to do what He did -- you just *can't* do it."
"No," Harry whispered. "No, I can't." He couldn't. He couldn't ever hurt anyone like that... "Come on, Sev. If I don't get you in a bed, Madame Pomfrey's going to have my hide."
"Albus isn't angry at me for getting in trouble again, is he...?" Severus's silken voice, that could pitch between hisses of rage, to sultry, sharp-edged joking, sounded absent and curious.
"No, he's not angry with you," Harry assured him. "No one is angry with you, they won't be. I promise." Well, except for maybe Malfoy, and it seemed that even he was going to let Sev go, considering the shape they were both in. With any luck, that would continue to be the case.
"They were angry last time." Severus started to walk again, though the arm that was wrapped around Harry's back stayed there. He wasn't sure what direction he was going in, but he was sure that it would be good to be in his rooms again.
"Not this time," Harry promised softly. "At least, no one here. Not even Malfoy."
"He seemed sad," the potions master noted, as Harry led them both around a turn, towards the back stairwell down to the dungeons. A thought seemed to occur to Severus -- "Do I have a wand?"
"Yes...." He really hoped that Dumbledore would have gotten it back from those bastards at Azkaban. "I think the Headmaster might have it."
"That's good. I'd thought *he* might have broken it," Severus murmured, twisting his head a little and down to press for a moment against Harry's hair. "Then I couldn't get a new one."
"I'd make sure you got a new one," Harry assured him quietly, pushing open the door that led through Snape's classroom to his private quarters. "One way or another." Even if he had to have Malfoy *help* him.
"Home." Severus seemed to *relax* as he crossed into the sitting room. There was a fire already started -- by Dumbledore no doubt -- and it looked like the house-elves had cleaned it while he'd been gone. "This... has *always* been home."
"Yes," Harry agreed quietly, helping him forward. "Yeah. It has, hasn't it?" It was for him, as well; much more so than the Dursley's house had ever been.
"Yes -- it's safe here." Severus knew where he was now, and led the way to the bedroom. His eyes dragged all over the room, taking in every jar and bottle he had, the intricate, twisted vials that weren't used. "And everything here is mine."
"Everything," Harry agreed tenderly, pushing him lightly towards the bed. "Crawl in, Sev. You'll be warmer there, and I'll join you in just a minute." He needed just long enough for him to take off his shoes and strip down to his boxers, which made him blush.
Slippers were left on the floor, and the robe was dropped, too, before Severus did as he'd been told. Languid motions, pulling down the sheets before sliding in and pulling them up again. "I'm not leaving this place again."
"You don't have to if you don't want to. You might want to sometime later, though," Harry murmured, stripping off and leaving his clothes in a little pile by the side of the bed before sliding beneath the covers and fitting himself neatly against the potions master.
A soft sigh left Severus, and he cinched Harry close to him languidly. His hands, a bit chilled, curled against Harry's back, rubbing over warm skin. "I barely ever leave as is."
"We'll see how you feel later," Harry promised. "Now, I want for you to rest..."
Thinned lips dragged over his cheek in a tender motion, pitch-black eyes already closed to the world. "I'll rest now... because you ask me to."
Tiredly, worriedly, Harry softened. "All right," he whispered, tugging Severus's head gently to his shoulder and closing his own eyes to wait.
He felt when the older wizard relaxed; Harry also felt every twitch of deep nightmare that Severus made, every time he was clutched closer in desperation.
It was a long night.
It was late morning when Severus finally awoke, and Harry was still sleeping. Without argument, he felt better than he had the day before, and went about what *felt* like his morning routine. Get up, tuck Harry comfortably in the covers, take a shower. He took a *long* shower, wondering over all of the odd marks on him and trying to not think of why his right arm was such a mess of scars.
But, he managed well on not *thinking* about things -- anything other than that he was doing what felt 'normal' and that Harry was in his bed, sleeping, and that that felt just as right as anything else. It wasn't until he was drying himself off that anything caught at his mind, those thoughts he'd been evading.
He glanced in the mirror, and finally caught sight of himself.
Thin, pale despite the yellow cast of his skin. Glittering black eyes that didn't seem quite *right* somehow looked back at him, shocked, taking himself in. He was shocked to see himself there, wet strands of hair around his face. Old. Older than Harry. He was...
The weight he hadn't noticed was missing settled heavily on his mind again. He was *old*, marked, looked like a ragged-edged, used thing. No, there had to be a *defect* in the mirror! Those sharp, mad eyes weren't *his*, that smile he saw that was a sneer wasn't *his*, it didn't feel like his! He looked sinister, something that belonged in a muggle movie, the evil villain who repented too late--
Severus jerked away from looking at the thing in the mirror, breathing hard. It was him.
"Sev?" It was a sleepy question, Harry sitting up in the bed as the potions master made a little sound, horrified. "What are you doing up?"
"Go back to bed." However those words left his throat, he didn't know, but the did, and the voice sounded desperate for Harry to listen to him. He had to have a moment to think, a moment to put himself together, a moment to gather what he should know.
He was Severus Snape, Potions Master, Professor and Head of the Slytherin house at Hogwarts, he was a brilliant mind in the field, a Death Eater, No, no, he wasn't, but he was, but he wasn't, he couldn't, and he had a boy -- oh, god it just got worse, now that he knew how old he looked -- a boy, a student of his, sleeping in his bed, waiting for him, and he was a monster. Harry had been his treasured good thought that they hadn't let him keep, until all he'd been able to see was Him and His green green eyes, not Harry's. And Harry was so loyal to him, had wanted to help him, had spent the night in his arms, had laughed, had... Why? Why did he even want what Severus had seen in the mirror? He himself wasn't comfortable with it!
He had to dry off, get dressed. Move on, move, and *not* think, though he didn't manage anything more than leaning desperately, clutchingly, against the wall. It was *back* again, all that thought, and he wanted to deny it, wanted to pretend that the hurtingpainagonyscreamingblood hadn't ever happened.
"Sev." That voice was firm and gentle, but most of all, it was commanding, and he needed that to keep from going mad. Harry had risen, shifted, and he was near him, hands reaching out. "Come back to bed, Sev. It'll be better if you do. I promise..."
Harry was not hurting, and looking at himself and remembering was *hurting*, and he already couldn't forget... Green green eyes staring at him, narrowing before a hand lashed out, green green eyes glinting as madly as his own did, before slipping fingers around his throat, green green eyes looking at him, fearful, angry, loving -- ah, his boy, that last. His... "Leave, Harry." That velvet-throated voice quavered, and Severus turned his face to press against the cool stone.
"No." That was said just as fixedly as his name had been before, and Harry's hands were on him, pulling him tenderly away from the wall and leading him towards the bed. "You need to lay down, Sev. If Madame Pomfrey finds out you're not in bed, she'll have a fit." Well, that was true, but the *real* truth was that he was horribly worried, now...
Lean fingers clutched at the towel he'd been drying himself with, reluctant to follow Harry but just as reluctant to stay where he could see himself. "You shouldn't be here. It's not safe... because He'll find us. Me."
"He's dead, Sev. I told you last night. I promise. You're safe. We're both safe..."
Reluctant, and glad of the darkness of the bedroom, Severus curled beneath the sheets, half hiding away in them. Dead? Dead at long last, dead, no, he'd thought that *before* and it'd been *wrong*... "Not safe, not safe, he wasn't *dead* before. Twice now, we thought... he -- he doesn't die. He just finds someone els--" Severus cut himself short, suddenly staring at Harry with fear in his eyes.
"No, Sev. They caught him. He was in Lucius Malfoy, and he couldn't extricate himself properly. They've both dead. Exe... Executed for their crimes. I swear to you. Would you like me to fetch the Veritaserum?" Harry offered, horrified that Severus seemed to be looking at him as if... as if... Well.
"No." So quiet, and Severus reached a shaking hand to touch Harry's cheek, before trying to pulling him down into bed. "No, I just.... just... don't go. I don't care if you *are* Him, I can't tell anymore, just don't go."
Oh, God, it was bloody awful. "I love you, Sev. I'm so sorry to make you afraid of me," he whispered.
"I'm a monster," the professor whispered, as he clutched Harry close. He *was* scared, though it didn't make sense that he should be scared, or anything other than grateful. But he felt, and he remembered Draco's screaming, and his own voice overlapping it in times past with equal screams, and blood, and that poor boy, when Lucius pretended that he fell down stairs, and being pushed down in His lap, being sent skidding across the floor, trying to escape in vain, and then blessed Rescue. But rescue was there this time. "And you aren't."
"You aren't, either," Harry whispered, tugging him close. "Not you, Sev. Not anymore. Not ever."
"You sound so sure..." He tilted his head down a little, pressing closer with a sort of sensuality in the motion. "I thought... I was younger. Then I saw what I look like. Harry... why?"
"Because no one else makes me content. No one else understands what I need them to understand," Harry said. "...no one else is as wonderful as you are, even though you hide it far too much."
"You said... that it's only been a week. You'll get tired of me, with more time." Harry was nearly nude against him, almost as naked as he himself was, and that sensation added more to the sensual notes of his voice.
"I have a really bad habit of making the right choices and then sticking with them," Harry informed him gently. "Sev. You're a right choice. So don't look forward to me getting tired of you, because it's not going to happen."
He felt a soft sigh against his neck, then felt lips there, soft and a little cautious. There was no way he *couldn't* trust Harry, because Harry was his everything. Without the boy he was holding, there wasn't anything for him, other than empty rooms and maddening fears and memories. "Did Poppy specify how long I'm supposed to stay in bed?"
"Until she says you can get up," Harry said solemnly, though she'd given no *specific* limits. "Besides, it's better for you to stay warm and calm, yet..."
"When do classes start?" Severus rolled a little, out of his tight foetal curl, though he didn't let Harry go. "I teach you, don't I?"
"After tomorrow," Harry told him gently, nuzzling at his hairline. It was clean and so very soft. "That's the first day. You teach me, and you teach Malfoy. I don't know if he'll be in class, though..."
"Because he's sick," Severus finished softly for him. "I need... to rest and think. Sort out my memories..."
Lips fell against his forehead, lightly caressing between thin eyebrows. "It's okay if we just lay here a while, I think..."
"I want to do more than lay here, *I* think," he countered softly, shifting onto his back. Harry was easy to pull atop him, even as tired as he was. "Do you?"
"I think... Yes," Harry agreed, his fingers trembling slightly as he squirmed slowly against Severus's body, feeling him close. He was warm, despite everything, and the only thing that separated him was the cloth of his own boxers. "Yes."
One hand travelled up to his glasses from where it had been gripping at his sides, lifted them a little. "Can I take these off?"
"You can do anything you want," Harry replied, and felt them removed gently from his face. It left most of the world in a bit of a blur, but he could see Sev. That was the only truly important thing.
Severus set them on the bedside table that he could barely reach for being dead center of the bed, and then settled back down, fingers tracing the line of Harry's jaw. "You're beautiful, Harry..." /And mine./ Those fingers, so graceful and careful without having to strain, slid back from the smooth jaw, and curled into the hair at the nape of his neck, pulling him down to kiss. Now was no longer the time to question his good fortune.
Harry didn't question, either, only gave in sweetly, shivering and pressing down in a shaky little rhythm as he grew hard and felt a responding throb against his own hip. He took a shaky sigh as he pulled back for a moment, but then he leaned back down to kiss the older man again, tender, easy -- so easy. That was what he needed...
Just like he had in the train, Severus let his *wants* run him, but he guided Harry through mutual motions, coaxing towards what felt natural at the moment. It helped memory fall into place better, linking one set of good sensation clearly with another. The hand in Harry's hair guided the kisses, while his other hand slid the line of the boy's back to slip between the elastic waist of his boxers and warm skin.
"Oh..." That was a little whisper, helplessly given, and Harry rocked forward against him, shuddering. "Oh, God, Sev... You... I..." Words failed him, and so he simply went back to those languid kisses, shivering beneath Severus's hands. It felt so good to be touched the way he wanted, so very magnificent.
Harry felt them being pushed down from his hips, with slow care that only someone doing it one-handed could manage. For a moment, the band caught over his proud erection, but Severus slipped the waistband past that, and then Harry was free to kick them off when it pleased him. "It'll always feel so good for you," Severus promised in a rough whisper of noise, as he dragged both hands to grasp lightly at Harry's hips, to press them together slowly.
"Yes," Harry said simply, squirming to get them off of him, to leave him bare legged and tangled with his lover. His arms went around him and he lay his head on a shoulder, kissing lightly at the throb of pulse, uncertain. It felt different, being naked with Severus. He'd only been unclothed with him once before, and he was just a little nervous, but he wanted so badly to receive *more*, all of Sev, all of his touch.
Hands played lightly over Harry's backside, from shoulders to the backs of his thighs, and up again. Oh, there were wizarding tricks he knew that could make Harry's eyes roll back in his head, tricks that could flood him with sensation and make him come in a second, tricks that could hold him at peak for hours. Severus just yearned for the simplicity of untainted touch. No magic, no control, neither of them really in charge, yes, he wanted *that* with Harry... His body arched up against the boy's, slow and lazy in pressing them both close together. "Are you all right with this?"
"Yes," Harry agreed, breath a little shaky. "A little new to it. Not quite sure what we're doing yet. But oh, God, yes."
Those sweetly trembling lips gained another kiss, the feel of teeth catching his bottom lip for a moment to suck once. "Whatever feels good, Harry."
"Yes..." So much affirmation, so much solid answer, and all so *sure*. It felt good to give it, and good to receive it, especially when Harry brushed his nose against Severus's chin and *shivered*, rubbing against him steadily. "This feels... *awfully* good," he whispered shakily.
"Yes, you do." There was a note of tease in his voice, and one hand disappeared from tracing over his backside; it ended up slipping between them, two dexterous fingers seeking out and finding a nipple to roll gently. "I'll go so far as to say *bloody* good."
Harry gave a wobbly little laugh, arching slightly to that touch, pressing the rest of his body more fully against Severus. "If you do that much, I'll come all over you, right now," he warned, shuddering, *squirming*.
"Don't have the stamina for more than one round...?" That nub, hardened now, was rolled just as firmly as it had been the time before, and this time Severus rolled his frame up against Harry's.
"J-just warning you," Harry sighed, rocking down and pressing hard against the other man. "Oh, Sev. It feels so good, I think I could just... I could do this for *always*, just with you, Sev..."
Lips brushed his forehead, the gesture a bit sad, and masked well by another sensual roll of that nub, before his wayward hand repeated it on the other nub. /Just with me, for always.../ "That's what I want, Harry..."
"Love you..." It was a breath, the words infinitely reassuring to him. "Oh, Sev, I want..." He didn't know what he wanted. More touch. More pressure. More everything.
"Move up some," the older wizard coaxed softly,, hand moving away to tug at Harry's hips so that he sat higher atop Severus's body. He wanted to kiss the lean chest he'd just touched, take those nubs in his mouth and suck. Sure, sure, Harry tasted as sweet as he acted and looked...
Willingly, the boy shifted, settling himself on the bony points of Severus's hips for a moment, the man's erection pressed to cleft, and then he moved up again, just a little. It was torturous pleasure, really, to feel all of that silken skin that way.
Severus gave a shiver and a low sigh in reaction to how Harry had first settled. "You're a teasing brat, Harry..." Fingers moved to hold the sides of his chest, while Severus bent his head up just a fraction to press his mouth against the recently abandoned nub of flesh. Not sweet, but warm, and a bit salty, and the way it made his stomach knot tightly together was a good sign.
"Your brat," Harry agreed, sighing with the sheer *pleasure* of it, a pleasant ripple dancing down his spine. That nipple was obviously attached to a great many *very* good nerves, he decided, shuddering. "Unh..."
The next thing he knew, Severus had drawn his long legs up, knees bent so that Harry had something to lean back against. It also gave him less room to move, and twitched the older Wizard's erection that much closer to pressing against Harry's body. He switched nipples, murmuring as he kissed his way across Harry's chest, "Will you let me have you, Harry?"
"Yes." It was softly spoken, but just as much of a promise as the words which had come before. "Yes, Sev. Oh, yes." Even if he was nervous. Even if he was scared. It didn't matter. Severus would make it all right... He had faith.
Severus moved one hand from Harry's sleek skin, pointed fingers that went claw-like at the drawer of the nightstand, and muttered a spell under his breath, against Harry's warm tight skin. The drawer shot open, and a vial, capped neatly, levitated itself weakly onto the covers until he dropped the clawed gesture and the drawer shut. Then the vial feel neatly into his out-stretched fingers, and he was opening it without a thought. "It won't be anything like what you've seen happen. I swear that."
"I know. You wouldn't do that. You wouldn't ever do that. I'm still a little scared," Harry said in a rushed whisper, "but I know you won't hurt me. Just, it's different and new, and I've never done it before, so..."
"Lean back against my legs," Severus murmured, slipping the sheets back off of them both so he had a better look at his lover. "We'll take it slowly. No one will bother us."
Silently, Harry obeyed, mouth parted slightly as he sighed. He was lovely to look at, slightly tanned, tightly muscled from playing Quidditch. Small, not like Him, and he probably wouldn't get very much taller, just at a guess. He was beautifully compact, and the way his erection stood, proud and pulsing and deeply colored with the rush of blood, was so very tempting.
Pale fingers wrapped around the proof of Harry's passion, curling languidly over that soft skin, the pad of his thumb rubbing over the weeping tip. "You're beautiful, Harry," he whispered in sultry tones, sitting up just enough to lean his weight on one elbow. The vial that hand held was forgotten for the moment in favor of stroking languidly over his lover's cock. His own was pleasantly trapped beneath Harry, bent backwards a little and pressing temptingly against the firm cleft. "Though I'm sure you're well aware of it..."
"No," Harry answered shakily. "I don't think anybody's ever said that before." Not him, not with his scar and his thin frame. All his life, he'd been told that he was the ugly one, and then he'd come to Hogwarts, and everything had changed. "Oh, Sev. You're so wonderful..."
"Shhh." He stroked slowly, fingers working as languidly as his eyes while they looked Harry over. "I'm surprised -- because you are beautiful. Just..." He leaned up, using his free hand as leverage, to press a kiss against Harry's collarbone before laying down again. "What I want."
With a slow smile, a release of breath, Harry leaned down again, lips brushing slowly over Severus's cheekbone. "Yes," he murmured, nuzzling. "Yes, just *exactly* that. What I want..."
"I don't know why..." Severus's fingers around Harry's cock didn't still, but the hand that held the vial tipped the contents of it down along the cleft of Harry's bottom. "But I won't argue."
Harry shivered, giving a hitch of breath against the other man's ear. "That feels cold," he said with a little laugh, shivering and *squirming* against him.
Hearing that laughter, simply quiet enjoyment, in the boy's voice, made Severus's body thrill with enjoyment. *He* was causing it. "Give me a moment and it will feel very *warm*," the older wizard promised, tossing the vial aside carelessly before stroking the fingers of that hand through the chill slickness, rubbing it languidly over his own cock. Then two fingers teased at the small, tight ring of muscle hidden away, massaging the steadily warming slickness into Harry's skin.
"Ohhhh..." Those green eyes were closed, mouth slack with the soft moan that escaped him. "That feels... That feels..." He gasped as the fingers snuck into him, drawing a little cry as he began to cling tightly to Severus. "Oh, God. Oh, *God*..."
Severus didn't have to ask if Harry was uncomfortable with his careful motions -- blurred as his mind still felt, he could tell the difference between sounds of pain and sounds of pleasure without any difficulty. And those soft, breathy cries that left Harry were pleasure, without argument. He slipped them in a bit further, rubbing over soft, vacuum-like interior, stretching slowly; any discomfort was surely countered by the lazy rub of his fingers over his lover's weeping cock. "You're doing beautifully."
"Feels... so.... ohhhh, Sev..." It was a frantic whisper accompanied by soft lips that ate at his own, hips that shimmied back to his fingers. "'m going to explode, I think..." It felt too good, only a little uncomfortable, and his brain was utterly shutting down!
His cock was deserted rather suddenly, and that hand began to rub soothingly against his hip. But the motions of fingers within him, steady and gaining ground with every moment, didn't pause at all. Severus's tongue silenced Harry, delving past soft lips to distract and tangle while he pressed his fingers against a nub within Harry.
Sharp pleasure spilled up his spine with that touch, and a strand of pearlescent liquid shot over Snape's belly -- just one, in reaction to that touch. It, too, was almost too much, and Harry was valiantly squirming for *more*.
"I think you're ready," Harry was informed, when Severus broke the kiss slowly. The Boy Who Lived felt fingers withdraw, leaving him achingly empty for the moment, stretched and ready for what came next. "Lean back again, and lift up a little, Harry."
With a shivering release of breath, Harry obeyed, shifting and *waiting*, and the nudge he felt made him tremble. "I'm nervous," he admitted with a sheepish little laugh, and then he closed his eyes and smiled. "I trust you."
A long-fingered hand grasped Harry's languidly, squeezed lightly. "As do I you." Trust was something harder to gain than someone's heart, and Harry held both in his hands; Severus trusted him to not waste that gift, to not break him as he could. The hand tugged, once, guiding Harry to lean back against lean legs that were still up-drawn. It was almost a distraction, because in that moment he jerked his hips up against the tightness he'd been nudging.
Harry tensed as Severus slid into him, giving a little cry of surprise as he clenched tightly around the shaft, the head just barely pushed inside of him. "Oh, *GOD*!" he choked out, shuddering. It hurt and it felt good and... and... Oh, he couldn't think. "Sev!"
The wizard beneath him clenched his teeth, shivering as he jerked at all of his control to do nothing more than stay still for the moment. That first time could be a good, or a horrible thing, and he wanted to give Harry the best possible of everything -- at least to make up for Harry settling for something like him. "Don't move..."
"I... I want to move..." He just wasn't sure in which *direction*, move and take that out of him or move and take more of it in. He made a decision, shifted, pressed himself down and cried out, shuddering as he took more into him. "Oh...! Oh, oh... oh! Sev!"
Tense fingers clutched at his hand, half trying to be supportive, half clutching for the strength to not flex his muscles and shove up. "That's it, Harry -- oh Merlin, that's the way..." Equal noises of strain sounded until Harry's bottom rested against the bend of his thighs, and Severus was pressed in to the root.
"Oh, God," Harry whispered shakily, shuddering atop him. "Oh, God, Sev..." He couldn't think beyond that, or beyond the need to *shift*, and he did, not letting Severus withdraw, but instead grinding down upon him. He moaned wildly, dropping his head back and letting himself enjoy that stillness, that slow, steady *squirm* that he felt like he needed. "Oh, GOD...!"
It was a torture in and of itself, one that Severus was willingly submitting himself to. Harry pleasuring himself atop him, what was there to protest? "Move, Harry, *move*..." Before the squirming atop him, and the twitches of sensation around his cock drove him mad.
"Yes..." It was agreement, and the hands on his hips tugged at him, his own knees pushing him up and then dropping him back down, a sharp cry spilling from his lips as he shook his head wildly. "Fuck, *YES*!"
"Moving... is so much better," Severus drawled tightly, fingers clutching for a moment before he remembered that he'd bruise if he grasped too hard. A jerk of his hips upwards, and he was sure that he'd unseat the boy from atop his bony hips, but it didn't happen thankfully. "This is how... it should be..."
"Yes!" It was utter agreement, and Harry was wild atop him, rising, falling, *shifting*. It didn't matter that it hurt a little; all that mattered was Severus *in* him and the sheer wild pleasure that filled him, sneaking up his spine, gathering heavily between his legs.
Heat rose, familiar to Severus, unfamiliar in that it didn't come with *pain* for the first time in too long; it rose, searing through his frame just as sensation had when Harry had put lips around him. It wasn't going to last long, but that was all right, because the boy atop him had to be near. One steadying hand on Harry's hip slipped to the front, and started to stroke him. "Yes, merlin, yes, just move like that, Harry..."
"Please... please, please, please..." It was whimpered, and Harry was riding him wildly, hands pressed tightly to Severus's chest as he cried out, *spilled*, came in a great, unavoidable gush of fluid with the sheer amount of pleasure rippling through him. "AHH!!"
It felt as if Harry was holding him down, and possibly was; it kept him from doing more than a few rocks upwards, and simply letting Harry's achingly tight body drag him along for a ride. That burning heat pinpointed itself, and then he was pouring into Harry, every muscle in his body gone taut.
When he could finally think again, he recognized the feel of Harry's fingers, tracing across his left shoulder tenderly, that dark, tousled head against his chest, lips tracing kisses over his skin every so often. "Wow."
A low, wordless utterance rose from his throat, arms languidly moving to trace over Harry's back. "'Wow', indeed, Harry. Thank you for that."
Harry laughed a little breathlessly, glad to be held. "Mmm, thank *you*. Think we can do it again sometime? Maybe even soon?"
"Soon sounds like a good option, as if you're willing we will do it *often*," Snape promised, sounding more than just a little pleased with himself. Doing that had sunk better into his mind that Harry wasn't, and couldn't be, Him.
"Hmmmmm," Harry agreed sleepily, closing his eyes. What was it about this that made his eyes want to close? It was nice. It was more than nice...
Whiling away the rest of the day together took next to no effort, when Severus had expected spending a day of bed rest to bore him senseless.
Not that either of them were really *resting*.
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