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

Precious Illusions

Part IV

By Kat Reitz and Tzigane


There were whispers throughout the hall, all around them, thick and flying. Words like 'Azkaban' and 'blood' and 'rape' and 'his father'. Draco wasn't sure how much more of it he could stand.

They hadn't wanted to let him come to class; he was still pale and coughing and far, far too thin, but he couldn't bear another minute in that bed, and he had promised that he would go carefully and come back to the infirmary if he felt poorly enough. He had lied, of course, but there was nothing new about *that*.

The first class of the day, Transfiguration, had been quiet -- piddling with turning beans into golden eggs, and back again. Not so much of a challenge, but a good post-holiday warm-up. Now, he was heading down into the dungeons for Potions. Snape had visited him only once, the night before, and Potter had met him out in the hallway as soon as he'd left. Draco had heard them talking, soft laughter.

Both of them. He couldn't remember ever hearing Snape laugh before that.

He'd certainly never done it for *him*.

The sheer *weight* of knowledge returned to him, heavy as it had been in Azkaban, the fact that Severus Snape *didn't* love him. /Probably doesn't even particularly like me, beyond a sense of obligation,/ Draco decided. The memory of him yelling in the library that evening, the subsequent arguments in Knockturn Alley and Glastonbury, brought sharp tingles into his sinuses as he resisted the urge to cough, shuddering slightly with the feel of it.

"Hey, Malfoy..." It was Blaise, and that was not so bad. They'd known one another since they were children and, if nothing else, Zabini would make sure most of the others left him alone. "Need a partner for Potions?"

"Yes." He'd thought he *had* a partner, one in Snape, but... but he hadn't. No. He never had.

It hurt.

It'd been that one hope, that once he was out from under his father's clutching, bloody fist, that he had a great bond with a wonderful man, who loved him, who'd...

But it was Potter heading down to the dungeons every night, staying there until morning.

It was especially hard to deny when he and Blaise entered the classroom early, to find Potter's potions text sitting at his desk already. Severus didn't even notice they'd come in, busy as he was writing directions on the board.

He practically *tingled* with the pain.

"Hey, Malfoy." It was a not-quite-joking tone, one from some Gryffindor he didn't recognize, pitched low so Snape would miss it. "Who'd you have to fuck to get out of Azkaban?"

Titters of laughter sounded uncertainly among most of the students who'd managed to catch the quietly spoken words.

"Fuck off," Blaise declared with an unequivocal lack of friendliness. "Ignore him, Draco."

Like he could do anything else, when all that he could think of was his father and that night vacation had become something else entirely. Hell for them both, but there Severus was, intent on writing his directions. It seemed as if nothing had changed in him at all, since the Christmas holiday had begun.

But his back was still to the class, and he was still writing when he started to talk, eyes glancing to the hour-glass on his desk. "Today, students, we'll be working on a Brilliance potion." He finally put down the piece of chalk, dusting off his fingers as he turned to the class at large. "Not that it's the type of brilliance that will do you dolts any good at all--"

"But, Ron, I don't want to be la--" That was heard as the dungeon door slammed open, revealing the 'inseparable trio'.

"Ten points from Gryffindor -- take your seats, and see me after class, Potter. You left your *book* here over the holidays -- it's hard to study when you haven't got a book."

Harry muttered something under his breath that sounded sort of like 'sorry' or maybe 'bloody git', nobody was quite sure, but there was a *spark* in those green eyes. And Malfoy hated him for it, especially when Severus's thin lips stretched into something vaguely resembling a smile, a look previously reserved for *him*.

"Hey, Malfoy," that same Gryffindor whispered, "looks like Snape's tired of *you* kissing his ass and he's looking for somebody else to do it for him. You not fucking him good enough?"

"You don't know a thing you're talking about," Blaise hissed at the boy. "But why don't you say it a little louder. You'd lose your nerves if you thought the Professor might hear you."

"The directions are on the board, along with the ingredient lists -- I'll be testing your products on you at the end of class, so I'd advise you to not foul it up." That was a dismissal to talk quietly amongst themselves as much as it was an order to start their work for the day.

"Right," the other boy drawled. "So, if he's sick of fucking you, Malfoy, who're you doing now? Are you the one who got your Daddy Darling out to start with? Maybe you fucked his way out of the place, too."

Right back to square one.

"Not getting any, are we?" Draco asked coldly, whole body turning to ice, nausea rising sharply. "I mean, seeing as you're so concerned about *my* sex life."

"Draco, don't listen to them," Blaise stressed softly, setting up their cauldron. "Just work on the potion." He darted a glance over to Harry and Ron. Harry seemed... less *listless* than he'd been in the weeks before the vacation, though no less quiet as he went about his work.

Snape seemed slower about starting his vicious, prodding inspections -- he was penning something down furiously in a dark notebook, and filled an entire page before he set down quill and looked up at the class with glittering eyes.

It was *never* a good day when he looked at anyone with that expression, and Draco felt his stomach drop in sudden fear. He couldn't take being yelled at today. He really just couldn't, and especially not by *him*....

Severus stood up smoothly, and started down the aisle, pausing at Draco's and Blaise's cauldron for a moment. His eyes were still glittering as he looked at the work they'd managed so far, but all he told them was, "Chop tongue like that finer, Mr. Malfoy. The results will be better the smaller you chop that."

His hands were shaking too badly to chop it any finer; fingers trembling violently, and he cut the tips of them, jerking them backwards with a startled little breath.

"I can do it," Blaise offered quickly, glancing up at Snape.

"You do that, Mr. Zabini," Severus said, catching Draco's hand at the wrist. "Hold still a moment, Mr. Malfoy." He had enough time to pull his wand free, casting a forceful 'Ferula' for each wounded finger.

Draco winced with every one, still shaking. He knew, just *knew*, that Snape was going to yell at him, and then he was going to fall all to pieces...

"Teacher's pet," somebody whispered softly, the sound of it going almost unheard.

"Would you like me to cut off *your* fingers, Mr. Thomas?" Snape bit out, letting go of Draco's hand once it was bandaged. The professor started right away towards his cauldron, abandoning Blaise and Draco from his harsh attentions.

"Not particularly, sir, no," Dean said nervously. The whisper hadn't come from *him*, but it had been awfully close by.

Snape glared at him, almost for good measure, before he peered into his cauldron. "Tell me, Mr. Thomas, why is your potion *green* right now? As you've already added the snail eyes, it should be orange."

"Ummm..." Dean gulped. "I guess I didn't chop the tongue up enough?" Maybe that was it. Of course, it *could* be that he'd been watching Malfoy and Zabini, and listening to their heckler instead of paying attention to what he was doing...

"I would *guess* that you're right -- *fix it*. And I expect whoever made that *comment* to step forwards *now*, or Gryffindor loses thirty points." Snape stood in the center aisle, glancing over the Gryffindor section, *looking* for the person who'd dared to say that.

Silence. Not even a Gryffindor would be *that* brave.

"Thirty points from Gryffindor." And much as everyone expected, he whirled on Neville without hesitation. "Mr. Longbottom... Dare I wonder what concoction you've made today, rather than what you were told to make? Have you done *all* the work for him, Mrs. Granger?"

"No, sir," Hermione said, wide-eyed. He was *so* much like the old Snape that it was scary! "He's managed most of it on his own..."

That cauldron, too, was peered into, and he dipped a ladle into it once he deemed the color correct... to draw the ladle out with most of it dissolved away. "Dispose of this, Ms. Granger, and start over. This is *not* a brilliance potion, Mr. Longbottom."

"Greasy asshole," somebody muttered. "Should've been left in Azkaban with Malfoy."

"Who said that?!" He turned again, eyes darting over *all* the students now, glittering with threat. "Which one of you said that?!"

Silence again, only this time it seemed almost *angry*, almost *threatening*, and there were more eyes on him than he cared to have.

He felt control slipping with every moment that it went on, looking over the faces of the children for a sign of who'd said it. "Step forwards *now*, you cowardly Gryffindor, or face having your house in the negative of points."

Almost belligerently, the boy who'd been hissing at Malfoy stood up. He wasn't very well-liked amongst the Gryffindors -- a Smythe or something or other -- and he *definitely* wasn't getting on with any Slytherins, not with the handful of fifth years remaining glaring at him with eyes fit to turn him into flames.

"Detention for a *month* you sniveling brat, and the headmaster will hear of this!" It still wasn't a yell, no, his voice was a familiar snarl made through tightly clenched teeth, if less controlled than they had been in the past. "The rest of you, back to your work!"

"Maybe it was *you* who fucked somebody to get out," Smythe braved, face flushing a brick-red with anger.

Before Halloween, he would've had the sense about him to case a silence spell over the boy, or some other cruelty. In the days between then and the Christmas holiday, he would've seethed, and escorted him, in a body lock, to the headmaster's office. Now... It struck too close to home, all of it -- all of the roiling memories that he'd barely been able to shove down for the sake of his classes. "And perhaps you, Mr. Smythe, would like to *die*." Wand held laxly in one hand, he advanced on the child -- but didn't strike with a spell. "This doesn't strike me as very Gryffindor behavior."

"Snape." That was Harry's voice, short, *sharp*. "I'll take him to Dumbledore, now."

"You're not his tongue, Potter, so kindly stop your voice and finish your potion. Now, Mr. Smythe, have you any other brave words before I toss you headfirst into the school's flue system?"

The red face had turned absolutely white, and the boy managed to stutter out, "P-please let Potter take me to Headmaster Dumbledore." It seemed very, *very* obvious that the man was crazy as hell, in that moment.

"It would be bad policy to kill off the students, Professor," Harry said from behind him, voice tense.

"It's my fault," Draco said, and most of the faces in the class turned on him. He was faintly tinged green, he'd gone so pale, and his hands were shaking so violently that they continued to do so even knotted together, the bandages white upon fingers almost as pale. "I egged him on." Even though he hadn't, he didn't want Severus to *kill* anyone...

"Strange. I haven't heard a word out of you today, Draco," Snape said, not yet *moving*, glittering pupilless eyes still locked on the boy. "Listen well, Mr. Smythe -- in Azkaban, no one 'fucks' their way out. They're released, or locked away for life, tortured and tormented in ways that break almost every pathetic muggle law in existence. You make it sound like child's play, and it's no such thing. So don't *speak* of things that you've no idea of!!"

"Yes, Professor." That was said with stark terror, because Snape *still* looked like he was going to go off and kill him where he stood.

His fingers twitched over the slightly scratched wood of the wand -- his wand, given back to him by Dumbledore that very morning -- and a curse rose to his lips, almost unbidden. Thin lips curled, forming a distinct 'cru' before he went down in a tumble of limbs, two distinct bodies tackling him to the floor.

Potter and Malfoy.

His wand skittered loose, and Zabini picked it up, white-faced. "Everybody, *out*," the Slytherin said shortly, sharply, and most of them obeyed with alacrity.

They *ran*, leaving books, cauldrons still brewing; at least one of them would get another professor to deal with the matter, because the shouts for Professor McGonagall could already be heard ringing up the hallway. Severus noted nothing, though, only that he'd been knocked down and needed to get free.

"Dammit, Severus, you can't cast Crucio on anyone! It's fucking *forbidden!*" Harry said sharply in his ear.

"Don't talk to him that way, Potter!" Malfoy said, nausea growing sharp.

"I can! I'm allowed, damn you, I--" He jerked free of them both, staggering to his feet to look at them with those wild eyes.

"You *can't* *cast* *Crucio* on a student," Harry told him gently, standing up with him. Malfoy remained on the floor, looking upward.

"He wasn't a student! He was... was..." Severus's expression seemed to clear of blind, shaking rage, and the glitter in those eyes faded completely. "Was..."

"A Gryffindor," Zabini said softly.

What color there was on Severus's face drained right out, leaving him as green-looking as Draco. Not that he had time to process through anything, because the dungeon door slammed open.

"Severus, *what* is going on?!!"

"He's a little confused, Professor McGonagall," Harry said simply. "I think he needs to lay down a bit... Smythe was being disruptive, and he got..."

"Confused," Draco finished, swallowing hard.

"I think you need to see Madam Pomfrey, Severus, or the Headmaster," she said sternly. 'Confused' shouldn't have left her with a stampede of *frightened* children from two opposing houses disrupting her transfigurations class and seeking sanctuary.

"I'll take him," Harry agreed solemnly, glancing down. "I think Malfoy needs to go back, too."

"I'll help," Blaise sighed, shifting to help Draco up from the stone floor.

"I don't need to go back," Draco almost whimpered as he was pulled up. "I'm fine..."

Severus was quiet, tense as if waiting to be struck dead for what he'd almost done. He was rather glad he didn't have his wand in hand, because he would've broken it in half if Blaise hadn't picked it up.

"Go, and don't complain, Mr. Malfoy," McGonagall said. "I'll send your class back to their dorm rooms, Severus."

"Thank you, Minerva." That was barely said at all, as he let Harry move to his side, just to make sure he was headed where he should. Madam Pomfrey, who would give him more bed rest, or Albus, who had an idea of why things had faded and blended away so easily... "You can go back to your dorm, Harry."

"Not on your life, Sev," Harry muttered as McGonagall swept out of the room. "Come on. Both of you need to be back in the infirmary..."

"I need to talk to Albus," Severus insisted, giving Blaise a glance over his shoulder. "Mr. Zabini, give Potter my wand."

Blaise handed it over as they headed out into the hallway. "I'll get the Headmaster and bring him to the infirmary," Blaise volunteered, glancing at Draco worriedly. He was swaying, sweating, not at all composed, and the blank, bleak look that had been in his eyes before they had walked into Potions was back again.

"Hurry Mr. Malfoy ahead." His mind felt *cleared*, for the moment, yet... yet that rage was still there, fear and anger twisting hotly together. It was more than he could deal with, when mixed with the knowledge that he'd almost killed a student.

His students obeyed quietly, Blaise finally *lifting* the protesting Malfoy as his knees went out from under him, and striding ahead. There was more strength in Zabini than anyone gave credit to, Harry decided.

"How long was I like that?" Severus demanded quietly, once Blaise and Draco were enough distance ahead.

"Not long," Harry denied. "You were your normal self, and then he... He said something about Azkaban. A few minutes, two, three at most."

That was soothing to know, that he hadn't been so threatening all class -- because obviously his own checks on his personality had failed. He hadn't noticed a thing, until he was down on the ground and disarmed. "I can't teach like this."

"Maybe you need to take more than two days off, Sev," Harry agreed as they neared the infirmary. "Two days isn't enough. I'm sure they can get someone to cover for a couple of weeks..."

"No. I won't." The only reason he'd taken so much time off after Hallows eve was because he'd been so close to dying, so far from healed. This time... it felt different. A healed body, with the mind in tatters. "I need to teach, I have to teach, Harry."

"Look, you can teach Malfoy or something. He's not up to being back in class, either... And you can teach me. We'll split shifts. I'm sure Hermione would love to have one-on-one instruction, Sev. But you honestly need to rest a little more, I think..."

He turned, stopping them both short of the infirmary, grabbed Harry's shoulders, and looked him hard in the eyes. "Harry. If I 'rest', I am only going to think. And that will surely drive me mad."

Silently, Harry looked at him. "All right," he said finally, nodding at him. "All right...."

If it had been the break, if the halls had been assuredly empty, he would've kissed Harry, done more than just pull back. That was the understanding he needed from Harry, acceptance of what *was*. Severus started to the infirmary, pulling open the doors. "No more than a day."

That made Harry smile. "One more day," he agreed. It was almost the weekend, anyway, and it would end up being three. That was all right, then.

Severus raised an eyebrow at that smile, though the expression faded quickly as he found Madam Pomfrey *glaring* at him outright. "Minerva sent me."

"Yes, I've already seen Messrs. Malfoy and Zabini," Pomfrey agreed. "Take him to the back, please, Potter, and then you may go back to your class."

"Class is canceled," Harry said quickly, leading Severus towards the area reserved for teachers.

It was quiet, and promised complete and utter solitude, with nothing to do but look at the walls. Severus was already regretting agreeing to a day -- he couldn't think of anything that could be done for him there. "Keep an eye on the time, so you're not late to your next class," Severus murmured, taking off his dark outer robes, and laying them on a chair.

"Don't have a next class," Harry denied softly. "I'll see if I can get the day off tomorrow, too."

"Harry, I won't have you missing classes!" Severus insisted, sitting on the bed. He made no movements to further disrobe, or to do anything other than perch there. "Just because you--" Wisely, he stopped himself short the moment the door started to open.

"Severus." That was Albus, and his face was *most* serious. Severus's stomach sank, simply from looking at that serious mien. "How are you feeling?"

"I tried to kill a student, Albus -- so I'm not sure any longer." His hands knotted together, guilt clear in the motions.

"Severus, perhaps some time off..."

"Time off doing *what*," the potions master half demanded. Time off -- what did they think it would do for him? 'Time off' wouldn't take the white masks from his mind, the screamingbloodagonypainpain from his memory, the involuntary wince that twitched his face when he heard the word 'Azkaban'.

"Research, perhaps. You could also tutor Mr. Potter, so that he doesn't fall behind in his classes while he helps you," Dumbledore suggested. He *would* not fail Severus. He wouldn't.

"You can't trust me around students who can't kill me if I make a stray move, can you, Albus?" Bitterness was hard to keep down, as he looked up at the older man. Like a child would look to his father for guidance, Severus looked up to Dumbledore, expression begging to hear that his own words were wrong, that it wasn't a precaution that it felt like, that he was trusted, and worth the waste of energy...

"That's not what I mean, Severus." The man sighed, sitting down beside him. "I worry for you. I want you to be better sooner rather than putting your own sanity at risk to continue teaching these children in such a traumatic time, when you are not yourself. For that, you need *time*, and I dislike the notion of forbidding that time to you for my own need..."

Severus was still looking down at his own hands, as they caught at each other, wringing. "I would've been fine if that brat hadn't asked who I fucked to get free," he tried to excuse, soft tones almost plaintive.

"I assure you that I will take care of that matter, Severus. At least take a few weeks for yourself," Albus coaxed quietly. "I will make sure you have appropriate companionship and I'm sure you have much research you'd like to give yourself over to..."

'Appropriate companionship' meant that he'd be watched over, too... because he couldn't be trusted on his own was just as much a part of the decision as that he needed to not be alone. "And how would Harry's disappearance be explained?"

"I feel sure I'll think of something," Dumbledore said with a smile, shaking his head. "Don't worry about that, Severus. I want you to worry about being well." They were words he'd said to Severus the first time he'd been in Azkaban, and he meant them just as much now as he had then.

And just as they had the first time, it would take time for them to sink in. "And I'll be remaining in my rooms for this duration...?"

"If you like," Dumbledore agreed. "Or, if you like, I think I can arrange a small, private place for the two of you to stay." That would also help to keep secrecy, he felt sure.

Severus lifted his head after a moment of thinking. "If it would be safe." Which was why he hadn't seen his family's Manor in years and years -- it simply wasn't safe for *him* to go there.

"I will make sure it's very safe," Dumbledore murmured, glancing at Harry. The visible relief on the boy's face was almost startling. "Very safe."

Black eyes closed for a moment, and Severus simply nodded. It was madness one way, or madness the other... perhaps it was for the best to leave Hogwarts for a short time. "You still have that list of people you can call up to replace me." Sketched out when Voldemort had risen again, when it had been obvious that his spying potential put him at great life-risk.

"Yes. I shall see if Remus might come along, for a while. He isn't quite as good as you, but he'll do in a pinch," Dumbledore murmured.

That was almost bad news. The students would go from a showdown with a psychotic professor, to the benighted, beloved Professor Remus. A teacher they hated, with one they loved quickly after... And if he and Harry left at the same time, well, all chances of secrecy were nigh on ruined. "I'll leave wolfsbane potion for him, in case."

"Of course," Dumbledore said with a smile. "For now, though... *Rest*, Severus. All right?"

"I'll make an attempt," was the tightly sighed reply. It felt more like being condemned than being offered a short escape, this time. Research, yes, all right, he had plenty of that he wanted to do. But there was a difference between doing it at the school in precious free-time, and doing it to combat boredom and uselessness. It felt like the Summer vacation once he finished planning his courses for the coming year. Trapped in one place, no matter what lies Albus told him to the contrary...

He couldn't look Dumbledore in the eyes, so Severus went back to looking at his hands. They'd almost killed a student, those lean artisan digits.

The older wizard sighed, nodding to Harry silently. "Feel better soon, Severus. I *cannot* do without you," he said simply, standing.

"I'll try." He couldn't give assurance in any direction, as strained as he felt. Harry was still standing there, silent and waiting -- for what? Him? /Boy has no taste,/ he noted to himself, lifting tired eyes to look at Harry. "Thank you, Albus."

"Why don't the two of you head back to your rooms once Poppy has seen you? She wants to give you a calming potion, and I'm sure that will make everyone feel a bit better..."

"Even me?" Harry said with a smile.

"Even you."

"Priggish brat." Severus went back to looking at his hands, shaking his head. Shock lingered still -- blood on them had been a permanent stain for a time, yet... never a *student* of his. Never someone that had been his responsibility. If it had been a first year class, no one there would've tried to stop him. And there would be a student who was very dead. Azkaban for the rest of his living days... "I think I need a calming potion."

"I'll fetch Poppy," Dumbledore said, and then he was gone.

"You still love me, though," Harry said softly in response to the name he'd been called. "Even if I *am* a priggish brat."

"You are," he insisted softly, glancing over to Harry again. "I hope you're willing to let me teach your classes to you, while we're gone. I will be damned before I let you fail your O.W.L.s on my account."

Harry's mouth curved upwards. "I won't fail. You'll do your best by me. I trust you." And that was very, *very* true.

Trust. Love and trust were so closely entwined, and perhaps that had been his mistake with Draco, where the boy had thoughts... Dark brows sunk for a moment, and he sighed, shaking his head -- but it obviously wasn't at what Harry had said. "I know you do. Now, sit down. You're looming, and small people loom poorly."

Harry sat as footsteps came towards them, and he looked towards the door, expecting to see Madame Pomfrey. It was, instead, Draco, appearing pale and tired and *small*, shoulders hunched forward.

He walked into the room quietly, reached to touch Severus's face and tenderly pressed his lips against those of the potions master, but he said nothing. He only pulled away, *looked* at Harry with an almost visible threat, and hurried back the way he had come.

"That," Harry declared, a little disgruntled, "is a very strange boy."

Severus simply sat there in a stunned silence, the protest that had risen to his lips dead in his throat. "I'll go see what that was about," Severus said in a tense voice, "once Madam Pomfrey lets me leave. When a Malfoy acts so dramatically..." It was never a good sign.

"Severus, I have your calming potion..." That was Poppy, slipping into the section kept for teachers, a phial in her hand. "I trust you will take it without complaint!"

"None, Poppy," he acquiesced softly, fingers reaching for that tube of glass. Perhaps it would wipe from his mouth and mind the press of a frightened boy's lips... "Given my actions, you'd be fully justified to body-bind me."

She let him have it, tilted her head to the side. "You need more time off, Severus. I told you as much yesterday. Are you going to take it?"

Harry remained quiet by his side as he answered, a comfortable sort of silence. Severus had to wonder if Albus had *explained* to Madam Pomfrey. If he had, no doubt she disapproved highly, just as the rest of the wizarding world would. "Albus will arrange it for me."

"Excellent." She took the empty phial back from him. "You may go, so long as you promise to return to your rooms and *rest*, Severus."

/With a short detour to see what Draco was thinking,/ he amended onto her edict. "Of course I'll rest -- come along, Harry. You can help me... rest."

"Yes, Professor," he answered despite the little *look* that Madame Pomfrey gave him.

Severus let the edges of his lips twitch upwards for a *moment*, glancing at Madam Pomfrey out of the corner of his eyes. "You never fail to rise to bait, Poppy."

"If I did, you would miss it awfully, Severus," she told him, unable to help the smile that curved the edges of her mouth with amusement. "Tell the truth."

"I'd be more easily bored," he countered, moving languidly towards the door. He certainly *did* feel calmer than he had before, less tense already, yet... yet that could be disrupted, he knew. Calming potions only swept away previous tensions. /Just check on Draco, and then to your rooms, to *rest*./ "Why don't you get some of your books from your dormitory, Harry?"

"All right," Harry agreed, heading towards the door. "You're going straight back downstairs, aren't you?"

"Yes..." But as soon as the door closed behind him, blocking Madam Pomfrey from hearing him, he went on with, "As soon as I see to Draco and ask what that was about."

"You know what that was about," Harry told him. "He loves you..."

Severus suppressed an urge to glare at Harry for stating the painfully obvious. "I know, Harry -- but I also know that he had a purpose in doing that. I need to speak with him."

"All right. Do you want me to go with you?" Harry asked. "It'll only take a few minutes to fetch my books..."

"He doesn't take well to seeing us together. Just run and grab your books. I'll probably be back to the dungeons before you escape your fellow Gryffindors." And decisively, Severus turned to head to the Slytherins' part of Hogwarts.

It was a longer trip than it seemed; some person had very thoughtfully placed the infirmary closer to the Gryffindors than to any other house, undoubtedly having some knowledge of the nature of Gryffindors, on the whole. Indeed, the Slytherin dungeon was farthest from the infirmary -- likely because Slytherins were known above all for *surviving*.

And they survived. Ambition and high goals led to self preservation, and a penchant for not pulling the idiotic stunts that Gryffindors did. Though Albus had accused him of belonging in Gryffindor just out of his sheer stubbornness, Severus called it Pride.

Draco had just as much of that, he remembered.

The portrait didn't even bother to ask him for a password, just lifted for him, letting him into the commons room.

None of the Slytherins seemed surprised when he stepped inside. "Hullo, Professor," Blaise said, homework spread out on one of the work tables, Vincent and Gregory on other side of him as they worked together.

"Have you seen Draco since class?" he asked, voice firm and clearly intent on finding the boy. Though after his fit in class, there were probably those who were still scared...

"He came in a little while ago," Vincent said, frowning slightly at his parchment. Still six inches too short. "He went up to take a bath, I think."

"Thank you." He'd at least go knock on the door and let Draco know he was looking for him. Small things like that counted in the long run. Without pausing, Severus started up to the boy's dorm bath. It wasn't far -- it was closer to the top level of the dungeons than any of the other rooms, and it held three fairly large tubs each with their own separate doors to go along with three shower stalls. The moment he opened the door quietly, carefully, Severus got a face full of damp, warm air, only interrupted by a slight breeze that blew from a tiny window that was cracked open high on the wall.

He moved to the bath door that was closed, knocking a bit on the loud side. "Draco? It's Professor Snape."

There came the quiet sound of sloshing water, a steady drip, and Draco answered him quietly. "Oh. 'm bathing..." He sounded desperately tired, and no small amount melancholy.

"Are you all right in there? I wanted to apologize, Draco, for how I acted in class..." He leaned against the door a little, pressing a shoulder against it to better hear that small, sad voice.

"I'll be okay..." It sounded like a lie, and it probably was, but it was so very Malfoy of him not to admit that he wouldn't be, or that he felt as though he wouldn't.

"Then why did you kiss me and then leave the infirmary? Did Madame Pomfrey release you...?" Severus didn't sound angry -- he sounded like he wanted to help, to reach out to Draco and make things right.

"Wanted... to be alone." A pause, another soft sploosh. "Professor?"

"Yes, Draco?"

"I'm very sorry."

"Why are you sorry?" Severus pressed nearer the door.

"For m-making you uncomfortable. F-for telling you I l-.." The boy paused. "Love you. When you c-can't..."

This, again. "I do love you, Draco. There's all sorts of it, and just because it's a different sort doesn't mean that you mean any less to me, understand that?" Not a conversation to have through a closed door. "Can I come in?"

"Please don't." It seemed a little panicky. "Please. Because I do. I do love you that way, I l-love you so much it hurts, *it h-hurts*. I do. I'm sorry. I'm s-so sorry..."

"Draco." He sounded sterner, now, a hand on the doorknob but not turning it. "Don't be sorry -- it's my fault, for letting you think that I could..."

"No..." It seemed that he wouldn't accept that thought. "No. It's mine, and I *am* s-sorry. I'm sorry. Please, just g-go away..."

"You keep telling me to go away, Draco, but I can't go away for the next two and a half years. I'm worried about you, and I'm afraid you'll do something and get yourself hurt."

Breathless, shaky little laughter. "Already d-d-did that."

"What your father did to you *wasn't* your fault." He wished he could bring himself to break long-standing trust, and just turn the knob, calm Draco with his presence once inside instead of his voice, on the outside.

"N-no?" Whispered, stealthy. Plop. Sploosh. "I n-never wa..anted you to..."

"I'm sorry -- I would've helped you if I'd known sooner... Draco, let me come in. Please. I need to make up for this."


Severus let out a hiss of soft frustration, resting the side of his head against the door. "Let me try, Draco. I know what it's like to be at the worst moment of your life -- I *know*. It gets better, Draco."

Soft silence, no answer, only the silky, steady sound of water shifting.

"What the Death Eaters did to you, Draco, I've been there in my own experiences with them. You *have* to let someone help you, or you'll break..." And still he didn't answer, didn't reply, had nothing at all to say. Nothing... "Draco, let me come in."

Plop. Sploosh.

Curiosity got the better of him -- he expected tears, yelling, fitful screaming... not silence. It wasn't very Malfoyish at all. Lean fingers on the doorknob turned it, slowly, and he peered in.

It was enough to drive him mad, if he let it.

Silvered eyes were closed, lips parted, and Draco was white -- so very white, platinum locks draped tenderly over his sharply pointed face.

Those were the only parts of him that were their natural pale color. Everything else was painted in shades of red, the hot water saturated with it, an arm laying across his belly painting soft drips of blood down it from elbow to wrist. He'd slit both of his lower arms, it was obvious, and the knife on the edge of the tub seemed infinitely sharp.

Severus's voice caught in his throat, before a raw noise of denial left him, and he staggered into the room. "Draco, Draco, *no*, you stupid child, oh, Merlin, NO!"

It seemed too late, but Draco's lashes lifted again, so slowly, and he *looked* at Severus, just looked at him so terribly sadly, chest hitching upward slightly and then the air left him and it didn't rise again.

"Enervate!" Only he didn't have a wand. His fingers burned as a desperate crackle of energy left his hands, directed at the child's chest before he fell to his knees with a crack against the tile. "Enervate! Medicor! Medicor!" Pale fingers clutched over blood-drained wrists, desperate to try to right what Draco had done to himself.

"Professor?" It was a scared little voice from the doorway, one of the first year Slytherins.

"Get Madam Pomfrey," he ordered, silken voice catching like sandpaper. His hands kept clutching over those bloody gauges, trying to force his magic on them, down those drained veins to move the stopped heart. "Run!"

The sound of pattering feet left him alone there with Draco, bloody and pale beneath it, and the water just kept *splashing* until he could nearly have screamed and perhaps he even did.


That was a familiar voice, surely it was, surely. Not that it broke him from trying to pour himself into the pale, drained body. A familiar voice, but Draco, Draco, sweet Merlin, he'd thought he could help the boy turn his life around, and now it was *gone*. He couldn't let the smarmy little Slytherin be *gone*, so tight lips didn't stop trying to force magic out of himself, 'Medicor' and 'Enervate', along with spells that rose up out of his unconsciousness, seldom used preservation spells.


"Oh, Merlin!!!!"

"Oh, fucking hell, Malfoy's cut his..."

"Everybody *OUT*!" Harry bellowed, herding the lot of them towards the door and out into the hallway.

"Wake up, you stupid boy, wake *up*, you shouldn't have done this... *Medicor*! *Enervate*!" His voice felt and sounded like broken glass, and his hands throbbed as those desperate words sent a small throb of magic through lifeless wrists. "Wake *up*!"

"Sev..." It was said gently, so gently, close to his ear as arms came around him. "Sev, stop. He's not going to wake up. You have to stop now..."

"God dammit, ENERVATE!" He smelled ozone, mixing with that sickly blood-smell that threatened to creep down into his stomach and haul his breakfast up. "He has to wake up..."

"He's not *going* to, Sev! You're just wearing yourself out!"

Those words were accompanied by the sounds of people crowding in again, Pomfrey, Dumbledore, some of the other teachers come to help.

The arms around him were hard to respond to, just like the voice, because his mind seemed locked on the chilling flesh his fingers held. "Wake up, Draco... Medicor! Ferula! *Enervate*, oh, God dammit, you stupid sot, wake up!"

"Stupefy." It was almost whispered, and Severus went limp automatically so that Harry could pull him back, let the others get close to Malfoy. There was nothing more that Snape could *do*, and he was only wearing himself out trying. /God.../

Sallow, limp hands were as blood-stained as Draco's, the tips burned-looking from trying to force magic through them; after all, Harry still had Severus's wand.

Albus bent over the tub, fingers pressing at the side of Draco's neck, and then withdrawing regretfully. "Cancel classes for the rest of the day, and tomorrow, as well, Minerva," he murmured, fingers trailing over the slack face to push pale hair from his forehead and close blank silvery gaze.

"Oh, God..."

There were sounds in the hallway; weeping, yelling. It wasn't what Harry had ever thought he'd hear from Slytherins, for whatever reason, and he cradled Severus close, unable to take his eyes away from the limp, bloody body so close by them. /Fuck, Malfoy. How *could* you..../

"Madam Pomfrey, please go speak with the students..." It was Snape's job to calm his students, to explain what had happened and to help them, but he wasn't in any shape to do it. Dumbledore conjured a shroud as he spoke, and levitated Draco from the water. "Harry, take Severus down to his rooms, please."

"God..." Harry didn't look, only shuddered, and then quietly used his own wand. "Mobilicorpus." That made Severus his puppet, and he gently began to prod him towards the doorway, intending to obey.

The Stupefy spell would wear off soon enough, so speed was essential to get Severus someplace else before he came to again. Someplace where Draco's bloody body wasn't being floated out of a pink-stained bath-tub, where the air didn't smell like blood and ozone. But he still had to pass by the aggrieved Slytherins.

"Why is Potter taking the Professor out?"

"Is Malfoy really dead?"

"Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God." That last was Blaise, crumpled in a corner, hands pressed tightly to his face.

No matter what way you looked at it, it wasn't *good*, Harry decided heavily, hurrying carefully down the stairs to the common room and out into the hallway to take Severus to the rooms they now shared.

*They* shared. Strange, to think of it that way -- he hadn't *quite* moved in, yet, nor had he *asked* Severus, yet... His things just showed up there. Books brought with him, clothes left overnight, and they never seemed to go with him when he went. That very morning Severus had threatened -- if it could be considered a threat at all -- to make him drag down a trunk to keep his things in.

"Hurry along, Potter." Madam Hooch's voice, scolding from behind him on the stairs. "I can take him from here..."

"I've got him," Harry said firmly. "Headmaster Dumbledore asked me to take him down to his rooms." And there was no way he was giving in to *anybody* about letting him go.

"After the stunt he pulled just this morning, I can't see why Albus would trust a student to his care..." Madam Hooch was *following* down the stairwell that led to Severus's rooms at the lowest point of the dungeons.

"Please, Madam Hooch," Harry said quietly. "He's just seen Malfoy kill himself. I don't think he should have to take criticism just now..."

"All the more reason for you to let a teacher see that he's settled into his rooms. Your team can't risk what might happen if he comes out of that stupefy you put on him, and hurts you." She'd guessed that he'd crossed over the tentative line between him and madness, because few wizards ever, even in desperation, tried wandless magic unless they were particularly powerful.

"Yes, ma'am." He gave in, even though he didn't want to do so. What else could he do? He'd have to come back with the invisibility cloak as quickly as possible...

He barely had a chance to acquiesce, though, when he heard a mutter rise up from Severus. The limp body he'd been puppeting twitched with a roil of motion, and Snape shook his head roughly.

"Stupefy him again, Harry, while I take the wards off of his door."

"I think he'll be all right, Madam, at least for a few minutes. He's got some dreamless sleep potion in the bag that he brought back from... from the trip we all took. Professor? Professor, we're taking you to lay down, now..."

Hooch was casting a steady stream of curse-breakers at that door -- funny, it never gave Harry any trouble, and gave Minerva nothing more than a warning growl at best. The sparks caught Severus's lolling eyes, and he jerked, whispering, "Enervate!"

With a flat sigh, Harry reached out a hand and pushed the door open with ease. "I think his rooms don't like you," he pointed out to her. She'd been one of his favorite teachers to start, but the way she was treating Severus... It didn't sit well with him.

She looked surprised when he did that, saying, "They seem to like you well enough..." She waited until both Harry and Severus's still restive form were in the main room until she entered, too, glancing around. "How anyone can live in a place so chill... I think his bedroom is that door on the back wall."

"Probably because I'm not threatening to knock him out again," Harry muttered under his breath, gently dancing Severus's body back towards the bedroom. He winced slightly as he noticed some of his own clothing folded in the chair that had become designated as 'his', but did not look that way again.

"I'll light a fire," the flying professor told him, as she moved past that chair with the clothes, and bent a little to light the fire. "Just put him on his bed."

Tenderly, Harry pulled back the covers and reached for the tiny catches that kept his robes closed, quickly tugging them free. He knelt, too, and took off his shoes before slipping him more carefully into the bed, pulling up the covers around him. While Hooch was busy, he stepped to the luggage that still remained unpacked and withdrew one of the phials he knew to be Dreamless Sleep and brought it back to the bed.

By then, Severus seemed awake, eyes fixed on a point on the dark ceiling, the side of one lip bitten tightly between his teeth. He was coherent, knew he was in his rooms, yet... yet he still felt blood and pain on his fingers, still smelled death, still saw...

It was his fault. He'd been greedy, where he had no right to be, taken an underage boy as his lover, a *student*, and he'd hurt Draco, he'd *hurt* him. And now, because he had to feel *happy*, Draco Malfoy was dead.

"Drink this." It was Harry's voice, Harry's fingers, and they were prying his lips open gently to give him the potion.

"No." The protest only made him open his lips, though his hands came up to stop Harry, to push him away at the same time.

"I don't want to have to knock you out again," Harry said, reaching up to hold his nose so that he would have no *choice*.

Severus jerked his head to one side sharply, trying to avoid it. "Let me have my dignity."

"Just take the potion!" Harry said. "Please."

"Here, Potter, give it to me. I'll administer it," Madam Hooch said firmly.

"I'll sleep on my own!" he hissed, closing his eyes painfully tight, lips sealing. He didn't *deserve* sleeping draught...

"Take the potion, Severus, or we'll find some way to put it in your veins. Potter, go back to Gryffindor Tower!"

Severus's eyes snapped open, damp-looking around the edges. "I'll take the bloody potion -- but Potter stays."

"Then swallow," Madam Hooch growled.

"Frigid bitch." He lifted a stained hand and snatched the phial from her fingers. They were shaking, and hurt to move much, but he quickly drained it. Maybe he wouldn't be harassed since he'd done what he was supposed to do...

He was asleep almost before the phial dropped out of his fingers.

"Well, Potter, I suppose you'd better go back to your rooms, now," the teacher began.

"No," he said simply. "He wanted me to stay. I'll stay."

She blinked at him, as she picked up the empty phial with a bit of distaste. "You don't have to -- he won't remember saying it, you know."

"I have to," Harry said simply. "And even if I didn't have to..." He sighed. "I'm a Gryffindor," he decided to say. "It's the right thing to do."

"Any idea why he'd ask you to stay, Potter?" Madam Hooch asked, moving away from the bed and into the middle of the barely lit bedroom to glance around.

Harry shrugged slightly. "Maybe he trusts me. Would you go back upstairs and... and check on things? Zabini didn't look too good.."

"Madam Pomfrey has a good grasp on them," Hooch murmured. She seemed distracted suddenly, by a book balanced on the edge of a dresser-top. "Potter, I think this is *your* transfigurations book!"

This SO wasn't looking good. "Professor Snape's been tutoring me a little. I've been really distracted since Halloween..."

She had the eyes of a lifetime Quidditch player, and they were quick to alight on the Quidditch Monthly laying under a chair. "Really...?" she asked, wandering to pick up that Magazine. "And what has he taught you about Transfigurations that the head of your house couldn't teach you?"

"That he's bad at them?" Harry suggested sheepishly.

"You don't lie very well, Potter," she said, gesturing with the magazine once she picked it up. "There's a pile of clothes out on a chair in the entry-room. Clothes that I don't think Snape could fit into. Care to give me an explanation?"

"Since Halloween, we can't sleep. Either of us. Nightmares," he said shortly. "And the bit with the Death Eaters after Christmas, and Azkaban... It hasn't helped. Professor Dumbledore suggested it. At least this way, I don't wake up the whole tower shrieking, and both of us get a little sleep. You can ask him, if you like." There was so much more to it than that, but it was easier to explain that way. "We're supposed to keep it quiet."

"There's only one bed. I'd better hear that Severus is sleeping on the floor," she said in a clipped manner, looking at Harry with *sympathy*.

"Sorry, no," Harry said dryly. "THAT'S the only way we get any sleep."

Madam Hooch, a woman who could handle near g-forces on her broom, looked ill. "And Albus suggested this? Harry, you've got to be aware that Professor Snape has... tastes."

"I'm aware," Harry said sharply, suddenly greatly annoyed. "Sirius told me. Remus talked to me about it. And you know what? Draco apparently had the same 'tastes' for the same 'reasons', namely Lucius Malfoy, and *he* slit himself wide open and bled out. I'd really like it if Severus Snape didn't do the same!" He sighed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

She glanced down for a moment, to the magazine she held; it ended up being thrust into Harry's hands. "I don't think I've ever heard a Gryffindor say such a thing."

"I'm sorry, Madam Hooch," he apologized again. "It hasn't exactly been the best day, has it?" There were so many things to wonder about...

"No, you're right. It hasn't." Between a professor railing at a student and trying to cast an unforgivable curse on them, to a student killing himself, both in the same day... She set down his Transfigurations book, and headed for the door. "Don't let him hurt you, Potter."

"I'll be careful," he promised, glad that she was leaving. "He wouldn't hurt me."

"I'll check in on you, later," the flying instructor promised quietly. "Or I'll send Professor McGonagall down." Then she beat a hasty retreat from the room, leaving Harry alone with his drugged companion.

"Oh, Sev..." He sighed deeply, stood and fetched a damp cloth. Severus's hands were covered in blood, and he smelled of it. A quick wash wouldn't hurt anything, especially with his fingers probably burnt from trying to use magic without his wand...

It was still in Harry's pocket. If Severus had been in possession of his wand, would it have made any difference at all to Draco being alive, or dead...? Possibly, but more likely not. 'If' was a dangerous game to play, and for the moment, it was so much easier to simply stroke the hair back off of Severus's face, brush fingers across damp lashes carefully. Guilt wallowed in the pit of Harry's belly, eating at him. *If* he hadn't interrupted Draco's attempt, *if* he'd paid more attention, *if* he'd gone with Severus instead of back to the tower... It was stupid to even consider such things!

Not that it made it any easier in knowing that 'if' was a useless, hurtful game. Draco was still dead, and Severus had been all but hysterical in trying to revive him. And he couldn't be expected to keep Snape drugged into oblivion forever.

"I'm so sorry, Sev," he whispered, kissing a high cheekbone as a steady tap came at the door. Harry rose, opened it, and was surprised as an eagle owl flew in, settling on the bedstead, a letter attached to his leg. "What are you here for?" he asked, shifting to remove the folded parchment.

The owl just snapped his wings, almost impatiently, leg offered to Harry.

The parchment, when unfolded from its flattened state, was filled with short lettered, fluid handwriting.

"Dearest Severus;

"I will call you Severus this one last time because surely I may. Surely you won't be angry with me for it, though perhaps you will be angry with me for other reasons.

"I'm sorry for them.

"I am sorry for them, and you know that Malfoys do not apologize. I have never apologized before; luckily, I will not have to apologize again. It is one of the few pleasant things about being dead. If I am even more lucky, I will not become a ghost, as I do not wish to haunt your days any further than I must already. I should not like to be known as Drowned Draco or some other equally stupid appellation such as that Moaning Myrtle creature; in fact, I believe I dread that more than I dread death itself, which surely cannot be a good sign.

"I *am* sorry, even if you don't believe I am.

"With any luck, they won't call you when they find me. Blaise will know better, and he won't want to upset you. Blaise is not so bad, even if he's a bit strange about some things. I feel awful for him, but then, mostly, I just feel awful. It's not that I'm sick -- though maybe I am, and for more reasons than you think -- it's that I realized things in Azkaban that I cannot face. Not now.

"Not ever.

"Worse, I cannot *forget* them, either.

"I know you can't love me. I think I even know why, and the utter sense of mortification that you *know*, you know what Father did, it won't leave me. I dream about it. I think about it all the time and the look on your face when they made me say it in front of you, and it hurts. It hurts so badly that I'm eager to die, and I think that will make things easier for you.

"I hope that will make things easier for you.

"You say that you do love me -- like a father loves a son, or at least, the way one should. And I can't bear it. I can't live like that, and I can't go any farther knowing that is all you feel for me. Ever since I was very small, I have known that you were all I ever wanted. Ever. And I've waited, I've been patient, and nothing could ever have been better than coming to Hogwarts so that I could see you every day and so that you could smile at me and every now and then touch my cheek. It made everything so much better, and I didn't even dread going home for holidays. Not even the summer... because I could come back, you see. And because you'd be waiting there. And because that would make anything that could happen to me, no matter how horrible, so much better.

"It probably hurts you for me to tell you these things. I'm sorry. I am, but I want more than anything to explain to you, and I don't want you to be angry with me for what I've done. I can't bear that you be angry with me anymore, not when you've been so angry with me so often of late, or it has felt like it, and it has been awful.

"I'm sorry that I cannot be pure and innocent and good. I am sorry that I cannot be Potter.

"I am sorry that I'm *not* Potter, for then I'd have you, and all of these awful feelings would go away... wouldn't they? I'd like to think that they would. I don't know that it's true, though. Nothing can erase the sin of me, or wash me clean. I'd have killed him if I had thought it would do any good, and that makes me so much like Father. Too much like Father.

"There are certain truths here. The first is that I love you. I cannot help that. I love you; for all of my life, you have been the most important person I have ever needed or wanted or known. The second is that you cannot love me. Not the way I need for you to love me. You love Potter, and I cannot begrudge you that now. Not now that you know what I am and what I've been since the first time Father touched me. The last is that I am more like him -- Father -- than I ever wanted to be. Than I ever thought I could be. I look like him on the outside, pale and colorless, and inside, I would do anything to achieve my heart's desire. Anything. Even murder, if I had to, and I cannot forgive that in me any more than I can forgive myself for, every now and then, enjoying the things he made me feel.

"You see what a wretched excuse for a person I am, now. It's best that you didn't love me. You deserve better than some little boy who's been his father's whore.

"I don't deserve to live.

"The worst in all of this is that you will feel responsible. It is so very much like you, is it not? Don't. Please, don't. Please, Severus. I know you won't be able to forgive me. I know that you won't love me anymore, even that small way that you do. But please, please, let this make you happy. Let this free you from the Malfoys and their touch for always.

"And please, please remember that I really do love you, so much that I cannot live without you, cannot live knowing that you understand how very dirty I truly am.

"I'm so sorry.

"Draco Malfoy"

Halfway through the letter, Harry realized he should've stopped reading. But the letter wasn't set aside until the very end had been reached, that final apology read. It wasn't written to him, it was for Severus, but... surely, it could be excused that he'd read it.


It made him almost nauseous to think about it, but he carefully folded it back into place and laid it down on the small table beside the bed before crawling atop the covers fully clothed and laying his head down beside Severus's. He wrapped his arms tightly around him and closed his eyes, and tried very hard not to think about the blood-covered boy he'd so recently seen.

It didn't do very much good.

He couldn't sleep, between thinking about the letter and the fact that he'd spent so *much* time sleeping when Severus slept, the past few days. It was almost a relief when perhaps hours later, Snape stirred, curling against him a little. Close to waking up, and that meant close to remembering what he'd seen.

"It's all right," Harry whispered, almost to himself. "It's all right. I love you, Sev. It's all right."

"He's dead." His smooth voice sounded gravel-filled, a shortened breath as he turned further towards Harry.

"Yes," Harry said gently, holding him tightly. "Yeah. He's dead. I'm so sorry, Sev..."

No tears, just a hitched noise that sounded almost fearful as he pressed his face against Harry's neck. "I was speaking... with him, through the door, and he *stopped* talking..."

"I know. I know," Harry whispered. "I know. He wrote you a letter, Sev... He didn't address it, so I didn't know it was to you and I... I read it. He didn't want you to see him that way..."

"If I had've opened the door sooner..." Draco wouldn't be dead. Dead didn't solve things, it just left one free of everything, good and bad. "He looked at me, when... I opened the door. I should've opened the door sooner..."

"Shhh," Harry soothed. "Shhh. You couldn't have done anything. You couldn't, Sev..."

"He was still alive..." There was no protest or *outrage* in Severus's voice. Only desperate, hollow words. "He's dead now, and it's my fault. I shouldn't want you, Harry, and if I hadn't, he'd still be alive..."

"It's not your fault." It *wasn't* Severus's fault. It wasn't anyone's fault, unless maybe it was Lucius Malfoy's. "Draco didn't have to do that. It's not your fault."

"I was with you, when I should've helped him -- there was no one to help him after Azkaban... It's my fault, for not seeing... for, for being derelict as Head of House, for..." For wanting to be happy, for wanting something of his *own* that wasn't because of school, or duty, or someone ordering it of him. Harry was his, just his...

He didn't deserve it.

"Shhh...." Carefully, Harry rocked him, holding him tightly. "Shhh, shhh, it will be all right. I'm so sorry, Sev. It's not your fault. It's not your fault. You were in Azkaban yourself, you weren't able to do more, it's not your fault..."

"I was just speaking with him! For minutes! I could've..." Precious minutes, wasted in trying to soothe down his own guilt over his affair with a student, of trying to make amends over bridges he never should have let become broken. "I could've saved him."

"He didn't want you to save him," Harry whispered. "I think you should read his letter..."

Severus just shook his head, shaking a little as he shifted nearer to Harry. "I can't. I've heard it before from him... he didn't *listen* to me..."

"You don't have to," Harry promised him quietly, stroking soft black hair. "Not ever, if you don't want to.... It wasn't your fault," he said again, quietly.

"I'd told him I'd help make things better for him..." Severus's fingers clutched at Harry's arms, before he started to sit up, shifting off of the boy. "He didn't let me try."

"Sev, I think he was too hurt to try, or to let you help him. Maybe he's been too hurt for anything all along..."

/I won't believe that./ He couldn't believe that -- all his life, he'd lived with Malfoy influence. Lucius and his manipulations of all sorts, then Draco, and Draco was hope for that name, a bright thing who just needed someone to guide him better than his father had... and Lucius had been molesting him all along. Those nights Severus had slept at the Malfoy house for whatever reason -- had Lucius been raping his child then? So *close* to the situation, and he hadn't even known until it was too late... "I should've done more. I should've stopped Lucius, I..."

Was useless.

"If he didn't *tell* you, you couldn't do anything about it," Harry told him. "And he didn't *want* you to know. It hurt him that you knew, and probably worse that everybody else knows now, too..."

Severus started to say that everyone knew *his* dirty secrets, too, and that he'd never kill himself, yet... he and Draco were cut from entirely different cloth. It didn't matter. Slowly, he shifted to lay on his back, drained. "He's dead. I didn't *have* to do it..."

"Didn't have to do what?" Harry whispered, brushing his nose against the bridge of one high cheekbone. "You did everything you knew to do, Sev. You tried. I know you did, and you have to know, too..."

"It wasn't enough." He turned his head a little, brushing his lips against Harry's chin. It hurt. He'd had such hopes for Draco's future, hopes that he'd get better. "I shouldn't've yelled at him..."

"Shhhh," Harry soothed. "Shhhh. Sev, I'm sure he forgave you. I'm sure. He was so sorry. I think he was afraid you wouldn't forgive *him*..."

"He kept apologizing, and I was trying to talk sense into him, yet all the while he was... *dying*... on the other side of the door..." Severus's voice broke into silence around the cruel reality of it. "I was trying to debate sense with a dying boy..."

"I'm sorry, Sev," Harry whispered, arm wrapped tightly around his chest. "I'm sorry. I wish I could make it better for you..."

And that was how it had started, really. If he hadn't wanted Harry, Draco would still be alive, waiting to be with him when he graduated. He might've been dead inside by then, but what did it matter? Draco, a child, had so much more in him still than Severus did. "You can't bring him back." He hadn't been able to do it himself, though he seemed to remember trying. Fiercely. "I burned my fingers, didn't I?"

"Pretty badly," Harry whispered, watching him. "They've all been bandaged, now. They'll be better."

"Potions take a delicate touch." A twisted, hurtful part of him hoped they never got better. The part that wanted to go after Draco and make up for trust misplaced.

"I'll bet Madam Poppy will come down soon and see about them..." The green eyed boy felt as if he was doing a miserable job at soothing the other man, and maybe he was, but he had to try his best, didn't he? "Sev..."

"What?" He couldn't just give up, though.... could he?

"It'll get better," Harry promised quietly, stroking his face. "It will. I know that it will..."

The fingers on his face, he noted absently, were those of an innocent. Despite it all, Harry still *was*. He had no right to, yet... yet the touch to his face was so pure in its meaning. Harry *loved* him, despite his fervent warnings that it just wasn't sane. And given enough time, a turn about the *real* world, Harry would move on, would see that Severus was right. "When you graduate, Harry... I'm going to send you on a trip, around the rest of the Wizarding world. Then you come back and tell me that 'it'll get better'."

Quietly, Harry pulled him close, kissing his temple. "Sev. Some things are so bad they just can't do anything *but* get better. Ever. And right now, you look as if you're suffering one of those very things. I know you have to be. You loved him, even if it wasn't like he wanted. And I know it hurts you. And I'm so sorry..."

"I was... trying to not remember anything, but now..." Draco hadn't been strong enough to survive such things, and Severus started to doubt if he was, either. Guilt tangled mercilessly with memories, knowledge that he'd all but stood by while Draco had died, knowledge that he'd killed muggles, slit open their veins himself, knowledge that he'd whored himself to Voldemort for Dumbledore, knowledge that it amounted to nothing in the end, any of it, because that one boy had decided to stop living.

"I know..." And God, it *hurt* to know what Severus had suffered through, what he was suffering through *now*, and to know that there wasn't anything he could do about it. "Can you go back to sleep? That might help, to start..."

"'ve slept so much I may as well be dead," Severus murmured, shifting to press his face against Harry. He didn't care *where*, only that he could touch his companion, revel in the fact that he was without question alive. "No more sleeping."

"Okay," Harry agreed. "All right. Anything that you want, then, Sev..."

He wanted Draco Malfoy to be alive; but he wouldn't say it aloud. He wanted to be *whole*; but he wouldn't say it aloud. He wanted to not be a pariah; but he wouldn't say it aloud. Strange, to have relief and acceptance from such an unexpected source... "I want to do something, or distract myself somehow, before I go mad from thinking."

"Then let's go wherever Dumbledore's arranging for us," Harry suggested. "We'll find ways of keeping occupied, Sev. I'm sure we can..."

As if in reward for his suggestion, Harry found himself being gently kissed. There was clear passion and *want* in the gesture, but Severus felt far too drained to do anything more than that gentle motion of mouth to mouth, feeling soft lips against his, a hot mouth. "Now, Harry," that sensual voice husked, strangely pleading with Harry. "We'll see Poppy bout my hands, then go right away..."

"All right," Harry agreed, stroking his hair again. So soft... "We'll go right away."

"Don't ever do what he did." Words mumbled against the side of Harry's face, as Severus clutched him close for a moment before he sat up fully. Getting out of bed was easy despite one leg being asleep from an odd position, though he did have to let go of Harry.

"Never," Harry promised him. "Not ever. Sev, I want you to promise me that you won't do anything like that, either. Just because Malfoy did isn't... Well, it's no reason for you to. All right?"

The potions master had his back to Harry as he straightened his rumpled clothes, and tried his best at doing the job himself, even with his bandaged fingers. "I've lived through a great deal, Harry. I've no reason to want to escape to a void when there are still things to enjoy in life."

Relieved, those green eyes became huge. "I'm glad," he said evenly. "I'm so glad. Let's go get your fingers seen about, all right? Anything else, we can worry about later."

"There isn't anything else to worry about, Harry." Standing helped Severus re-gather some of his control, and his gaze seemed opened to Harry as he looked at the green-eyed boy. Green green eyes of the best, right type...

"I love you, Sev," he whispered, leaning up, pressing his lips tenderly to those of Severus Snape. "Let's go."


"Rainbow sherbet." Severus's tone seemed almost impatient when he addressed the gargoyle guarding Dumbledore's office. His hands were still moving of their own accord, rubbing in the last of the healing goo that Poppy had smeared over his burnt fingertips and palms. He'd had the option to let it simply sink in, but he felt *rushed*. Snape couldn't shake the feeling, couldn't pin why, but he knew that he had to get out of the school as quickly as possible.

Perhaps Malfoy *would* be a ghost after all.

It was a terrible, terrible thought.

The gargoyle shifted, and they moved up the stairs silently, Harry close by his side. He had been every moment since they'd left the dungeons again, the looks they'd been cast flying right past him. It didn't matter, not with the whole school in an uproar, and the Heads of House all scattered to care for their children. All extra teachers had been sent to Slytherin House, and that made Harry shiver. Severus ought to be with his children, but he couldn't even care for himself at the moment...

It was all he could do to keep walking. It was cowardice, of course, to run from the situation, to not give the students in his house his all, to *not* stay and do what he should, yet... Yet he couldn't. It wasn't in him, and he'd already failed one of them in sad attempts to help.

Severus didn't knock on the door so much as he just nudged it with the toe of his shoe to make a noise, hands still rubbing the healing salve in.

"Come in, Harry, Severus." They were quite obviously expected, and so Harry reached out, pushed open the door, and let Severus enter first.

The Headmaster was seated with a tea tray in front of him, staring quietly into the fire. "Do come have a seat," he said quietly, nodding to them both.

"I'm sorry I couldn't protect him, Albus," Severus said, before he'd even finished sitting down one of the two free chairs. "I tried..." Trying didn't matter when it was paired with a clear failure.

"You did your best, Severus. He has been on this course for quite some time, or so I am told. It is only a surprise that he did not commit such an action before now." The old man seemed as tired as Severus even as he poured cups of tea for both of them, placing a slice of lemon in Severus's before putting milk and a sugar cube in Harry's. "I know you tried."

Severus rubbed at the side of his face with one hand, while the other, shaking, moved to grasp that cup. "Doesn't matter. I've failed him, I've failed my House..."

"Severus, you have failed no one. If anyone has failed, Lucius Malfoy would be the one," Dumbledore informed him quietly. "He failed at being your friend, your lover, and he failed at being Draco's father. You cannot always fix things, Severus. Not when the root of the problem has become so very rotten."

"He's right," Harry told Severus quietly. "Sev, it's not your fault. I swear it."

"That doesn't change that... I'm currently in no condition to fulfil my duties," Severus murmured, looking down into the cup. "This had better not be enchanted. I'm not in the mood for games."

"No, not enchanted at all. I had thought, perhaps, that you and Harry would like to leave very soon -- perhaps tonight," Albus sighed. "I had assumed that was why you were coming to see me."

"I would like to leave tonight, yes," Severus replied a bit absently, and a pause followed before he took a deep sip from that cup. "All I need is to know the destination, a chance to pack, and learn the lessons Harry would miss." After all, even if he *stayed*, he was still useless to his house. At least with him gone, they wouldn't expect impossible miracles of him.

"Everything is taken care of," Albus informed him. "Clothing has been sent ahead for both of you, the necessary lessons will be ready when you arrive, and a laboratory has also been set up for you, Severus."

"And how will you explain our respective absences?" The last piece of the puzzle to worry over, before he could give up, and simply *rest* and hide.

Dumbledore looked at him solemnly. "You were two of the first to see Mr. Malfoy this evening. You, as well as the first year who came to fetch Madame Pomfrey, Mr. Potter, and Blaise Zabini, will all be taking some time off for a while, Severus."

The addition of Blaise made things far less suspicious, yet... Severus raised hollowed black eyes to look at his old friend. "How will he be? Blaise was close to Draco..."

"I'm afraid not well," the Headmaster said simply.

"I think Blaise really loved him," Harry said, biting his lip. "He was... He seemed so devastated..."

Two cases of unrequited love... ah, Draco could've had just the sort of attentions he'd wanted, if he'd looked just to the boy so often at his side after Crabbe and Goyle. It made a burn settle deep in the pit of Severus's chest, a hurt. Draco's death was so *senseless*. "Where will he be resting? Perhaps..." There was something he could do. Perhaps.

"It's uncertain, as yet. He was, as you know, the last of the Malfoy line, and with Lucius dead and Narcissa in Azkaban..." Dumbledore gave another of those great sighs. He seemed to be full of them at the moment. "We're attempting to make contact with other members of the family. I understand that there is a family plot at Malfoy Manor..."

"If... they won't take him, Albus, he could be buried in my family's plot." Perhaps not so lavish a cemetery, yet it was cared for, and there were *other* Snapes aside from him. A plethora of cousins.

"I think that he would quite like that, Severus." It was said warmly, and there was no censure there; nothing but the obvious care Dumbledore felt for him. "When the two of you finish your tea, you might want to fetch broomsticks and leave quietly. It shouldn't take more than an hour or two to arrive where I'm sending you."

Severus glanced over to Harry, so quiet up to then, almost for confirmation that it was all right. "Do you want a moment to say goodbye to your friends...?" /Because who knows what else may go wrong today./

"Yes," Harry agreed, carefully setting down his finished cup of tea. "Hermione will be fretting about my O.W.L.s..."

"Then I'll fetch your broom for you, get a few of my things..." Books. He had a few books to take, and he wanted that leather jacket he'd worn when he was masquerading as a muggle. It was roughed up, but it had mostly survived, and he could feel hidden away in it. "Then I'll meet you in front of your tower's entrance."

"Right," Harry agreed, heading for the stairs and going swiftly from the room.

"Severus," Albus said softly. "I want you to be very clear on something. What has happened was *not* your fault..."

"I was standing outside of the bathroom door *arguing* with him when he was in there dying. It *is* my fault." Severus's kept his voice hushed, knowing Harry might be close enough to hear still. he was well aware that the sentiment would've... yes, it would've disappointed the boy more than he already must've been.

"Severus, you couldn't have known what he would have done. He removed the mirror from that particular tub area. All of the wards against students... doing such a thing were placed on the assumption that they would choose magic with which to commit such an act. The possibilities that he knew that are quite high. You couldn't have known."

"I've been neglecting him out of my own selfishness, Albus." Severus's voice was almost a sigh, tense as the line that knotted between his brows.

"Even you have needs, Severus," the headmaster replied with firm voice. "And I'm glad to see that you're finally seeing to them. It is not your fault. If it's anyone's, it is mine for not realizing and having Mr. Zabini stay closer by him."

"Blaise is just a child... not the Head of the House. I'm supposed to *watch over* them..." His fingers idly twisted at the drained tea-cup. "And I'm running away from it again."

"Even you have needs," Albus said again. "You've ignored them far too long, Severus, and I insist that you take time for yourself now. This is not about abandoning your House. *I* will take care of them for you. I should have been paying more attention to Mr. Malfoy because he, like you, was in a very delicate condition. The responsibility lays *solely* upon my shoulders, Severus."

"I'd truly feared, you know, Albus, that when you found out I was corrupting the pride of Gryffindor, that you'd throw me out." Severus couldn't look at the older Wizard yet, though the edge of the desk seemed quite interesting to his eyes. "I don't know what you see me doing for Harry Potter, other than draining him."

The old man smiled sadly. "You mistake me, Severus, for of all of the children who have passed through these halls, you are one of only a handful I have loved as though you were my own. Yes," he said with a nod. "I do. And Harry Potter, as well, in my way. I think that perhaps he is precisely what you need and, if you can bring yourself to it, and I see that you have, you are what he might well need, also."

Someone who had Been There, someone to empathize with, someone who *understood* and didn't need the constant gogogolaughplay that Harry's friend needed and thrived off of. "I'll do my best to help him, Albus. It's in my best interests as well as his..." A moment of lingering pause, and then he added, tongue darting out to dampen his bottom lip, "Thank you for guiding us together." Past what Draco had done in a streak of ill fate.

"You're very welcome. Be well, Severus. I'll come by to see you soon," Dumbledore promised him with a smile.

He halfway rose up, before he stopped, sitting the cup aside. "You still haven't told me how to get wherever we're going..."

"Here," Albus said, his own cup placed aside. "Let me show you the way..."


Gryffindor House was mostly awake when Harry arrived, many of them down in the common room talking quietly amongst themselves despite the fact that McGonagall was with them and it was past their bedtimes.

Funny, they were all awake, while he was just eager to reach wherever he and Severus were going, and sleep with the older Wizard holding him.

"Hey, Harry," Ron greeted softly, when he spotted his friend sneaking into the common room. "Where've you been?"

"Downstairs," he said quietly. "Could you get Hermione? I need to talk to both of you for a minute..."

Minerva was talking with a clot of younger students, and Fred and George near the fire... "All right, Harry. Our dorm?" He got up from his chair, moving to grab Hermione's arm and shake her from the book she was reading.

"Wha-- oh, Harry! I've been worried..."

"Come up for a minute," he said quietly, glancing at their Head of House. She still hadn't noticed him, and that was just as well. They managed to slip up silently, and he began fetching small things even as he began to speak. "I'm sure by now that you've heard about Malfoy..."

"Of course," Ron sighed, frowning. "We've all heard about it. He... killed himself like a muggle would, didn't he?" Ron glanced over to Hermione, as if she had the answer -- but she was watching Harry put spare things into a little sack.

"Sev -- Snape -- found him. He's not taking it very well. I came in after a first year did. It was..." He paused, took a deep breath. "It was really, *really* awful. He meant it. When you do it the way he did it, you *mean* it..."

"I don't see how you couldn't mean it when you kill yourself," Ron frowned. "Why were you so close to the Slytherins part of the school that you got there right after Snape found him?"

"I was heading downstairs to talk with him. The first year ran pass me yelling for Madam Pomfrey, so I knew something was wrong..." Harry sighed deeply. "Dumbledore is sending us away for a while. Snape, me, the first year, and Zabini..."

"Oh," Hermione whispered. "Poor Blaise!"

"Sending you away...?" Ron's face showed every shred of worry he had -- that all four of them were going to be packed off to St. Mungo's. "Harry! Where's he sending you to...?"

"Just on a short vacation. To rest and study and not have to think or deal with the rest of the Houses," Harry said quietly.

"Yeah, but you're being sent off with two Slytherins and *Snape*." Ron's lips curled in disgust. "Don't you remember what he tried to do to you? I still can't get that out of my mind. Just disgusting." Thank god Ron couldn't see Hermione, trying to keep herself from saying something sharp to him.

"He's not like that, Ron." It was said simply, quietly, tiredly. "That was Lucius Malfoy's work, while Snape was under Imperio."

"Get off it, Harry," Ron sighed, moving to sit on the edge of his own bed as he watched Harry put his gobstones game, and his magical chess set into that bag. "We all saw how he was acting towards you in class today, before he went nutty."

Drawing in a deep breath, Harry turned, expression worried. "Look. The thing of it is that he's not nearly so bad as you think and... and..." And he was just going to have to spit it out. "Ron, I think I love him, and I'm not going to let him suffer this alone. He loved Malfoy like a *son*, and he's utterly destroyed right now and I can't..."

"Backtrack -- you *WHAT*?!" Ron demanded loudly.

"Calm down," Hermione hissed, moving close to him. "It's Harry's business, not ours..."

"Sirius knows. We've talked about it. And I'm going with him because I can't leave him alone," Harry said firmly. "Ron, we've been through a lot together..."

"Merlin." The Weasley boy's voice caught in his chest; suddenly he was looking at Harry as if he were a complete stranger. "You... you're in love with Snape. A *TEACHER*."


"I don't care! My God, he's as old as *mud*, a greasy git that's only ever treated you *badly*--!!"

"Ron!" Hermione kicked his shin, but it certainly got his attention.


"He's not nearly as old as he looks," Harry said quietly. "He's just tired and *sad* and *hurt*, and... and he *needs* me. I can't sleep without him, Ron. I can't bear to see him that way. And maybe those aren't the right reasons to love someone, but I can't seem to help it."

"It sounds like pity," Ron hissed after a moment of silence. "You're sleeping with someone your *father* went to school with because you pity him."

"I'm sleeping with him because that way, I *can* sleep. Because he's good to me. Because he'd rather die than hurt me, and what Lucius Malfoy made him do is almost killing him," Harry answered coolly. "I stay with him because he's so much better than I ever thought he was, or could be."

"Is he fucking you yet?" Ron's voice had turned into a miserable-sounding growl.

"Ron, that's *not* any of our business -- Harry, do you want me to help you pack...?"

"Thanks, Hermione," Harry said quietly. "I don't need clothes. Dumbledore says that clothes, books and lessons are all set up. Just... I just needed a few other things.." Like his broom and his photo album.

"I'll get your photo album," she gave him a sympathetic look, leaned near to kiss his cheek as she moved past him to get that book. "Have a wonderful time. I hope Professor Snape has a wonderful time, too."

"So, the headmaster knows about this?" Ran asked, crossing his arms irately over his chest.

"Yes," Harry replied simply. "He does."

Red brows remained furrowed despite that added information. "I can't believe you're letting that old freak molest you."

The sheer gleam of anger in green eyes was impossible to miss. "Ron, if you call him that again, I'm fucking well going to have to hit you, all right? I don't want to. But I'm going to, and especially if you imply that again, and especially if you fucking well imply it again tonight!" That was practically snarled. "Malfoy slit his goddamned wrists because his *father* was molesting him, and I've got no urge to do the same for the very good reason that Severus isn't like that fucked up son of a bitch!"

From the way that Ron's eyes went *wide*, he hadn't expected such an outburst at all. He fell silent, blue eyes *wide* in shock for the moment. He'd almost forgotten those moments in the cave where it had seemed so very sickeningly obvious to him that Lucius Malfoy was doing just that. "Draco's father...?"

"Yeah," Harry said finally, anger fading out of him. "And Severus, too, when they were younger. Don't say anything." That was almost pleaded as Hermione handed him a small bundle.

"Merlin." Ron shuddered, looked down at the floor with his eyes still widened. "I'm sorry, Harry. I guess... if someone did that to him, he couldn't do it to you." Which meant that if anything was going on, it was consensual, which wasn't really any more of a soothing thought for Ron.

Quietly, Harry nodded at him. "I know."

"Oh, you two idiots," Hermione whispered, and she pulled both of them close, cheek pressed momentarily to Harry's. "Go. And be careful, Harry. And study *hard*..."

"You'll at least..." Ron would probably had processed through it all by the time he got back, but for the moment he sounded hesitant. "You'll at least do well in potions, probably... I mean, with Snape drilling... teaching you."

"Ha." Harry gave a tired little chuckle. "He'll probably expect more from me than he does from the rest of you, now."

"I think he always has." Hermione gave him a little push, smiling at them both in a sad way. "Write, if you can."

"I promise," he agreed, and then he slipped back out and down the stairs. No one was paying any attention to him, still, conversation quietly rolling in the room, and so he slipped out easily, closing the portrait behind him only to find Severus standing there already, his old broom in hand, and a small rucksack clasped loosely, laden with books.

"Ready, Harry?"

"Ready," he agreed, tossing his own small bag over his shoulder.

"You'll have to follow me, so don't dive too far ahead on your broom," Severus warned, turning to lead down towards the front door. "We're going to a house of Albus's. It's... more than adequately safe."

"Can I fly loops around you?" Harry teased him almost gently.

"As long as you don't fall off, I can't see why not." Severus arched one eyebrow at him, the corner of his mouth twitching upwards on one side in a bit of a smirk. He *knew* where they were going. It was the same place that he'd gone to recover after he'd been released from Azkaban the first time. A peaceful place, with a garden that bloomed even as deep into winter as they were. "You'll enjoy where we're going."

"Great," Harry agreed with a smile. "I can't wait. Let's get going."


Despite the *chill* that had nipped him near frozen by the time they reached the estate, Severus was glad of the trip. The biting air had cleared his mind of most everything but Harry's presence. Bt the time they landed in the expansive snow-covered yard, though, he was *glad* that they were there. It would be *warm* inside, and he'd be able to move his fingers past the twitch that pulled the key from his pocket.

"I think I'm half-frozen," Harry informed him, hands fairly trembling with the feel of the cold that was biting at them.

"Then I must be entirely frozen." Unknotting his knuckles from their grip of his broomstick had been hard, but... He crunched through the snowed over walkway to the front door, and fitted the key into the single lock. "Pull the handle."

Obediently enough, Harry did, and the door opened, releasing a flood of thankfully warm air. "Oh, this is going to be nice..."

The hall beyond was glowing warmly with *muggle* lighting of all things. No matter what, it would never seem as good as torches to Snape, yet he was eager to move into that perfectly heated hallway, bustling Harry in ahead of him. "Just put your broom against the closet door. Your outer robes, too." Before the ice on them turned to melt, and dropped all over.

Obediently, Harry stripped off, placing broom and outer robes carefully, stripping off gloves and scarf and knitted hat, to boot. "This feels wonderful," he sighed.

"What does? To be able to feel your fingers again?" Severus ran a hand through his hair, trying to shake the worst of the icy stuff off of him. He was more worried about his burning ears and nose than his hands, which were already recovering motion.

"And to be off my broom," Harry agreed, rubbing his rear end. It was *hurting* after flying for so long. "I think we need a hot bath, Sev..."

"Upstairs, third door. If you'll run it, I'll check to see that everything is in order..." And walk a little to get his legs unstiffened from holding them locked for too long.

Smiling at him, the boy leaned up, pressed his lips tenderly to Severus's mouth. "Don't take long," he said huskily.

Warmer lips pressed against his still chill ones, and Severus wasted no time in pulling back to see that things were just as Dumbledore had said. No matter how he looked at it, it was terribly insane. Leaving Hogwarts in the first place, with the Boy Who Lived, who was a student of his... yet, it was better than the other option of being alone, nightmare racked and isolated in his dungeons. Dying bit by bit, day by day, because no one cared to prod him to do more than slowly die.

By the time he got back upstairs, the bath was run and Harry was in it, gloriously bare and wet. It was almost enough to give a poor man a heart attack, really, especially with the way Harry was *looking* at him, as if he adored him, as if he was the only man in the world. "Come in."

There was enough food in the kitchen to feed an army, or, well, Harry. The laboratory seemed, as it had before, perfectly stocked, and his research books were there already. The Master bedroom had held their clothes, neatly packed away already, which left him with one final and enjoyable task -- Harry himself. "You'll have to give me a moment to undress," he murmured, toeing off his boots while he unbuttoned his tunic. Despite the adoration in those eyes, Severus was still reluctant to be *seen* in such good lighting while naked. His bedroom, the times he and Harry had made love, had been *very* dark.

Damn the muggles and their efficient lighting.

Those green eyes didn't look away from him; nor did any expression of dislike or distaste become apparent. Indeed, it seemed as though Harry greatly enjoyed the removal of his clothing, and was waiting impatiently for him.

It was something, when he was nude and bared before his lover's eyes, to think about. "Is there room in the tub for me? You seem to have sprawled out in it, Harry..."

"I think there might be enough room for you," Harry teased, sliding forward so that he could sit in the tub, too.

The water's coverage was just as nice as the heat, and just as nice as slipping close behind Harry's body. "Ah. Lean back, Harry..." For the moment he dipped his hands beneath the steaming water, wincing a little. Apparently those wounded digits weren't as warm yet as he'd suspected. "I think there is enough room for both of us..."

Carefully, Harry set his back against Severus's chest, taking in a deep sigh. He'd worried, for a moment, that the tub would make him think of Draco, make things worse; but it was better to go ahead and bathe, warm up, and to talk about things a bit if necessary.

Chill, perhaps, and constant motion kept Severus from thinking of such a thing. Having Harry lean back against him, and folding his arms over the boy's chest to keep him close, didn't stir up thoughts of Draco. Had he been alone in that room, however, it would've been impossible to escape thoughts of the Slytherin boy.

For a while, they remained there quietly, thawing out before Harry shifted and began to bathe both of them. Those verdant eyes had become heavy-lidded with sleepiness, and he yawned in the midst of his task. "Sorry."

"It was a long flight over," Severus reminded him, brushing soap suds off of Harry's forehead. They were tangled close, and though Severus wasn't sure how Harry could stand it, he knew he himself would be hard-pressed to move any time soon. "A little sleep won't hurt."

"Mmmm," Harry agreed, beginning to rinse off both of them. "I think so. Will you be able to?"

"I really don't know." He pushed wet hair back off of his face, and then flicked wet fingers at Harry idly. "I'll make an attempt."

"So long as you do," Harry agreed, scrubbing his face one last time.

Severus watched Harry, openly watched him without even a slight attempt to hide it. "Harry, how..." /A poor start, Severus./ "I just want to know if you need help, with what happened. Any of it. My head feels clearer than it has since... then." And Harry had been tending to *him*.

"I don't know," Harry admitted. "Hasn't sunk in yet. I felt... I feel..." He pulled his knees up tightly, the water cooling around them. "I feel *so* sorry for him. I felt sorry for him before. It's not your fault, Sev. He was falling to pieces before now."

Severus let one handle idle down against Harry's body, brushing the side of one updrawn leg. "I wish... well. At least wherever he is now, perhaps it's better for him there."

"I hope so," Harry agreed. /I hope, for your sake as much as his.../

The lingering stroke of the potion master's fingers over the smooth skin of Harry's leg seemed to be as much for Severus's own enjoyment as Harry's. "It's best not thought of. I've no want to drive myself mad with 'ifs'."

"Yeah," Harry agreed quietly, sighing. That touch felt good, and he was so tired he could almost fall asleep where he was. "Sev, we ought to get up and go to bed..."

So that they wouldn't drown. For a moment, clear and stark in Severus's mind was the image of Draco, sprawled bloody and so pale in pinked water, head supported by the rim of that large tu-- /Don't think such a thing. Don't think it./ But his hand shook for a moment, and then he withdrew the touch entirely, shifting to stand and drag Harry up with him. "Then we'll go to bed this very moment."

They moved out, Harry pulling the drainplug loose as they quickly dried off, green eyes taking in the scars on that thin body. They didn't disturb him, but they did make him hate Lucius Malfoy even more than he had before.

Green green eyes, just like... Severus shook off that sort of thought, reaching behind the door for robes. Two this time, one sized perfectly for Harry, the other perfect for himself. Albus always *did* know how to do a thing properly. He held the dark red robe out for Harry, even as he slipped on the dark green one. "Tomorrow we'll start with whatever Flitwick was going to teach. The lesson plans are all stacked neatly in the laboratory, I just haven't looked at them yet."

"No sleeping late, then," Harry teased quietly, smiling up at him. "Sev, we might want to take a day or two off..."

"Put on your robe, Harry," Severus drawled, folding his arms over his chest in a barely threatening manner. "And don't worry. It will be less lecture and notes and more hands on learning. As long as I cover everything in those notes... I'd thought we could perhaps take a mid-week day off, or two, and go down to town. We're just outside of London, and I'd thought you might..."

"I'd *LOVE* to!" Harry agreed excitedly. The thought pleased him immensely, and he smiled with no small amount of relief. "I only get to come every now and then, with the Weasleys before every term."

"There are limits to where I can go within Diagon Alley, of course, but..." Severus mimicked Harry's smile, though his own expression was a decidedly weaker version of it. "There is still London proper."

"That sounds *perfect*," Harry informed him, carefully hanging up the damp towels before he turned towards the door. "I..." A yawn broke off any further words.

"Yawning in mid conversation with me is never a *subtle* hint that I've talked for far too long," Snape told him, grasping Harry's shoulder to steer him towards the door. "If you've any nightmares, let them be about the Charms I'll have to teach you tomorrow."

"Are you good at them?" Harry asked him, walking down the hall ahead of the potions professor.

"Charms and Hexes, Harry, are one and the same," Severus told him, lingering to turn off the lights in the bathroom, and then the hall. There was still enough light from the windows to see where they were headed. "The only difference lays in what school of thought they come from."

"That sounds promising," Harry agreed, yawning again. "Bet your history lessons will be better than Binns's."

Harry had been lagging, so Severus pushed open the bedroom door and herded his companion in. "Minerva was willing to bet for a few months after he died that he'd bored himself to death practicing for class."

"I'm *sure* she must have been right," Harry agreed, abandoning the robe halfway to the bed and leaving it on the floor as he climbed up into it and snuggled his way towards the other side.

Severus was sure Harry had left a path of residual warmth in his wake. He bent to pick up Harry's robe, then took off his own and folded them together over the back of a chair. "He was boring when he taught me, and that was when he still had a pulse."

"Were you happy, then?" Harry asked as he climbed into the bed. "At all?"

He wanted answer 'yes', but he had no urge to lie to Harry so outright. "For a time... I thought I might be. When I was a first year, I was eager and happy, if quiet. I should've been a Ravenclaw, but... I had to be the Best." And now he was... nothing, worse than nothing, an outcast on all sides and failure to the students that *did* look up to him... Severus was suddenly laying very close beside Harry, close enough to be soothed. "I met Lucius. And fell deep wherever he led me -- it was Albus that asked me to finally give in to what Lucius had been trying to wheedle me to do. I was happy then, because I'd *thought* I was going a great good for the Light. I'd, foolishly, thought that it would gain me rank, or respect or *some* semblance of...."

The boy wrapped himself quietly around the older man, fingers tangling in damp, dark hair, face lightly pressed close against his own. "I think you're probably the bravest person I've ever known," he said solemnly. "More so than anyone else. It takes a great deal of courage to walk into the presence of Voldemort and knowingly betray him, Sev."

"It wasn't courage. It was childishness, foolishness... I was a fool thinking I could walk into His presence unscathed. It became... more fear as time went out, and I kept my promise because I didn't want to die. I wanted protection, and to be safe from Him and what He used to do." Lucius had *never* been on the same level of mastery as Voldemort.

"Maybe," Harry agreed gently. "But if that's true, then we're more or less on the same level, Sev. God knows I've done it..."

"No, Harry. You haven't the things that I've done to stay alive," Severus said firmly. He turned his head a little to kiss the boy beside and atop his lips, a light brush. "You never have, and I hope to whatever higher powers there are that you never will."

"Me, too," Harry said sadly, nuzzling against him. "Me, too..." Because oh, how such terrible things had damaged Severus, damaged Draco...

"I think..." Severus let one hand rest atop Harry's head, cradling it. Harry had such resounding trust in him now... a trust he couldn't betray. "That I love you. In ways that I never loved or wanted Lucius. I also believe that you'll change your mind when you realize what a stigma I am, Harry."

"I'm not that much of an ass," Harry disagreed. "By the time I'm done, the rest of the world will accept you or I'll die trying."

The hand at the back of his head twitched, clutching a little. "Don't die for a wasted cause, Harry. I've got you, now, and you're not something I'm going to let go of lightly for wounded pride's sake."

"It's not right, Sev..." And his own wounded pride *sang*, Malfoy's ability to get him into places that Harry couldn't absolutely aching within him.

"I don't care. I want you to be alive, and not putting your neck on the line for me." His fingers caressed a little, as if that would make amends for his stubbornness. "I *will* protect you."

Harry's entire expression softened. "You've been doing that for years, now, haven't you?"

"Trying to." Sometimes effectively, sometimes with poor judgement... yet he was sure he'd hardened Harry enough, perhaps taught him *something* that he'd used in his trials. For the moment, all he was sure of was wild black hair under his fingers, and being too bodily drained to make good use to the leanly formed body laying atop him. "Did any of it sink in...?"

Harry gave a quiet laugh. "Some of it," he agreed tiredly. "A lot of it. Not at first. I think I wasn't ready to see it, at first. For a long time, even. It got hard to miss, the last several months..." Since Voldemort had come back, and everything had gone straight to hell...

It had made Cedric's death in the tournament seen strangely useless, to have such a *fast* revival of Voldemort... Twice since then, actually, though Harry hoped it was the last of it.

"But we're safe... for the moment."

"I hope for always," Harry whispered, thinking of Cedric, of Draco. "It doesn't seem at all fair for us not to be."

"Life, Harry, has *never* been fair." There was still that odd innocence about Harry, a *hope* despite everything, perhaps despite even sanity. "We simply have to savor that right now, we're safe."

"Hmmm." He buried his face in Severus's shoulder, held onto him tightly. "I know," he said softly. "I know..."

It was hard to not smile a little, even if it was just a bitter twist of his lips. One more lesson for Harry to learn, if slowly... He slipped his other hand up, to rest at the small of Harry's back, holding him still. "Goodnight, Harry."

"G'night, Sev," he whispered, and they drifted there, held close and safe.


He was dreaming. He knew he had to be dreaming, because Lucius Malfoy was dead, at least as dead as Draco was. He was not sitting upon the edge of the bed, *watching* Severus and Harry with those menacing dead silver eyes.

He half wanted to shake Harry, and wake him up, so that Harry could wake *him* up from his own nightmare... but that didn't make any sense. Only that those empty, chill eyes were staring down at him, as he closed his own for a moment, and huddled Harry closer against him. "Go away." That tense whisper, in his own voice, seemed foreign in the heaviness of night.

"Really, Severus, I thought you'd be glad to see me." Oh, that was Lucius all right, smiling and vicious even when he seemed to be nice. "Especially after all of that worry with poor *dear* Draco..."

"You haven't any right to be here." Not sitting, nebulous on the edge of the bed. It left Severus feeling *cold* and crowded, so he held Harry all the tighter, turning away from Lucius, his lean bare back turned to the hallucination. "Leave me be."

"Of *course* I have every right to be here," Lucius tutted. "You did a better job of destroying my son than I ever did, after all. Don't you think you deserve to be haunted for it? After all, *he* can't haunt you... not where he is..."

"I didn't destroy him!" Severus's voice was louder now, roughened as he pressed his face against Harry's hair. He was starting to shake, and dream or not, if he *did*, he'd wake Harry up...

"Didn't you, 'Uncle Sevvie'?" Oh, that was mocking, and he could almost *feel* spectral fingers sneaking down the length of his spine. "Didn't you? He was so much like you, too, always *screaming*, always begging. 'Please, no, don't!'," Lucius mocked. "I'm sure he's screaming just as much now... I promised him to the demons years ago, you know."

"What?" Severus jerked, fighting the urge to look back at the apparition. He wouldn't look, it was just a hallucination, a bad dream. It wasn't *real*. "You didn't... even you couldn't, Lucius."

"*Really*, Severus. You doubt me?"

"I doubt you." It was a bare, scarce whisper, and he pressed shaking lips against Harry's temple. There was comfort in the boy's touch, comfort that Lucius was draining with his *voice*.

Silvery peals of laughter rang out. "You dreadfully stupid man. I gave him to them for what I wanted, of course; for power. There were conditions, of course, but in the end, I had to promise them even more for what I wanted, and I almost got it. Perhaps I will get it, yet, in some way..."

"There isn't any power to get this time," Severus told him softly, twitching a bit more away, so that Harry was tucked safe and mostly beneath his lean bodied frame.

"Isn't there, Sevvie?" That was a cold breath against his ear, his cheek, teasing at him. "After all. You hold in your arms the Boy Who Lived. Just imagine what I could do with that..."

/Nightmare. It's only a nightmare.../ "Nothing. He's just... just a weak little wizard with poor training and too much luck."

"Hmmm, then why are you wrapped up so tightly in him, then?" Lucius mocked, and with a cold wind, seemed to disapparate into nothing.

To Lucius, the real answer would've been more delightful than being told it was for power. Severus shuddered, bitten by the cold that had been *breath*, the voice in his ear, the fingers he swore he'd felt against his spine, and hunched deeper under the sheets, dragging Harry with him further.

"Hm? S'v?"

"Go... back to sleep," the Slytherin master shuddered, pressing down a knot of fear in from his throat.

"'S cold," Harry sighed, nuzzling tightly against him. "Like ice..."

Severus made a note to himself, for the next night, to put more blankets on the bed. He wouldn't get up, though, and risk coming back to find Harry *gone*, or hurt, or... /Calm down. You're so tired that you mistook a draft for Lucius in your dreams.../ "Just a draft, Harry."

"Mmmm." It wasn't much of an agreement, but Harry pushed cold toes against Severus's knees and went back to sleep quietly.

Severus found himself terribly awake, though, and that made him wonder about the dream all the more. Idle hands stroked Harry's neck and back, tucked the blankets a bit higher so that thick material brushed their necks and heads. It had seemed so *much* like Lucius, but surely it hadn't been? Surely it had only been a waking dream...

Surely it had only been idle threats, horrible words spoken to make his aching conscience scream at him about what had happened to Draco.

But, wouldn't it have been ironic that Draco thought he was escaping a hell, only to find himself in a new, worse one...? No, he couldn't let himself think of that possibility. He had to think of calming things, warm things, safe things.

Harry snuggled against him, for example. Not... not about that, not about all of the blood and that last *look*, that last desperate, sad little release of breath. Those silvered eyes staring at him with a desperate sadness even in emptiness...

No, green green eyes, of the best sort, looking at him, not questioning, not doubting him, wanting, oh, to be wanted and loved, which was all Draco had ever asked of him..

God, he was going to go crazy this way. Just crazy. There wasn't any doubt in his mind about that. /Don't think on it. Don't consider it. Don't contemplate anything about it!/

He needed, somehow, to soothe himself into sleep without having to get up from the bed and possibly lose the warmth of Harry's body against him. /Close your eyes and think about relaxing things,/ about potions, about soothing swirls of liquid twisting in a cauldron listlessly, beautifully, caressing the inside of the thing with a delicate and lasting sort of loveliness. Yes, that was better. That was much better. Twining colors, fading to opal shades, the delicacy of adding just a pinch of pickled dog hair to get something to turn a darker shade, of--

Not silver. No. Not silver.

So eye of newt instead, because that would change it to green, green green, the good kind of color that he wanted the most, and he was drifting back to sleep, away from everything...


"That can't be right, though!" Harry objected. "I mean, when you transfigure something like that, it's not *supposed* to turn that... COLOR..." Whatever color *that* was, because it was a vaguely undistinguished shade of... Well, perhaps it was *puce*, Harry thought, but surely puce was an extraordinarily BAD color for a dachshund that had been transfigured from a bright blue foot stool??

Looking at it, Severus had a vague feeling he should just give up altogether on teaching Harry anything to do with Transfigurations. There was a reason, definite and unarguable, why he very seldom changed the shapes of things. Proof of that reason waddled over to Harry, and tried to lift a leg on him. "Perhaps I should turn it back and try again... No, better yet, *I*'ll turn it back and you try again." Never mind that it wasn't supposed to have been a dachshund at all, but a *manx* cat...

"That sounds like a good idea!" Harry said hurriedly as he moved out of the way before the thing piddled on him.

Severus's hands were tense when he cast the reversal spell, so perhaps that explained why it became a crooked, puce-colored footstool when he turned it back. The potions master scowled at the thing. "Perhaps you can turn it the right color."

With a little laugh, Harry waved his wand, and the thing not only returned to its original color, but then morphed into the appropriate form of cat. "How did you ever pass the transfiguration section of O.W.L.s.?" he asked, curious.

"Albus guided me through the entire test on weekends, in the exact order that the tasks were listed," the potions master admitted after a moment, bending to pick up the cat. "It was a bare pass, but I managed it... Now, the second part of the lesson is to turn the *cat* into a bird of paradise."

A wave of the wand, and it *was*, even if it was a little bare of feathers. "That's not cheating?"

"It would be cheating if it were a non-practical class. But the O.W.L. for Transfiguration was entirely on putting *out* what we'd learned. Now, try that again -- with enough feathers to not look like a plucked goose." Severus turned it back again -- though the cat looked *mangier* than it had when Harry had done it, and there was a hint of puce around its edges.

"I just don't understand why it turns that *color* when the footstool itself is *blue*," Harry noted, shaking his head as he turned it back to the appropriate shape and color.

"It's probably a flaw in my thought pattern. When I was younger, things turned mint-green." Severus lifted an eyebrow at Harry, then prompted, "Now, try again."

Obediently, Harry did, and just as obediently, the footstool turned the appropriate shape and color and mewed. "Well. I suppose it's kind of cute. Puce?" he asked, shaking his head. "Sev..." He grinned. "It's definitely cute."

"No more cute than your inability to tell diced from clobbered to bits," Severus drawled; the quirk of his lips at the edges gave away his tone, though, as he picked up the cat, petting over it's fur. "Now, turn it into an owl."

"Not all of us have the fingers for potions, I suppose," Harry agreed, making the transformation, even if the owl *did* have thick legs and slightly stubby wings. His own fingers were long and fairly slender, Seeker's hands with broad palms, but they were nowhere near as beautifully dexterous as Severus's. The only people he knew with hands that worked that well were Hermione and...

Well, it didn't matter, anyway.

"Try the owl over again, Harry," Severus said softly, as he smoothed a hand over its feathers, checking the texture. It gave a 'oo' at him, and shifted its stubby feet on his wrist. "And I'm rather sure I'd *still* manage my potions, even if you cut off my hands."

"Let's hope it never comes to that," Harry agreed, and transfigured the owl into a stool before turning it into the bird once again. This time, it was better, and it looked very much like Hedwig. "There," he said, pleased with himself. "That's marvelous."

"For Minerva's sake, Harry..." Severus warned, "*do* try to not transform it back to the original object when someone's holding it." This time, the owl was neatly set back down on the ground, despite the confused 'oot' it gave

"Sorry," Harry apologized sheepishly. "I just wanted to do it properly..."

"That's fine. It's easier to learn the curtesies of the skill than it is to learn the actual techniques." And since Severus himself had no luck with the techniques, he knew all the nuances of politeness to Transfigurations. It had helped his grades along a little. "Don't worry -- most everyone has a subject they perform poorly in."

"That would be potions," Harry teased him, mouth turning up slightly with humor.

The potions master gave a snort of noise, as he turned the owl back into a footstool. "You're not a hopeless case. You are *passing*, after all."

"Which is more than can be said for poor Neville," the younger man said with a laugh, changing the color from puce back to that deep blue again.

"If he would only pay *attention*..." Long-standing frustration burbled up, but Neville wasn't there, so it was easy to let it fall again. Severus slid his wand away, then moved back to the office desk to check Minerva's lesson notes. "Tell me, what all have we done today, Harry?"

"Charms, Transfiguration, we're skipping Care of Magical Creatures..." That was because they were lacking in large, dangerous animals, thank goodness. "...and we still haven't done Divinations or Potions."

"We can skip divinations. Just remember to predict something fantastically horrific and she'll give you flying colors..." Severus waved off that class as he flipped through more pages. "Potions, then." And for a moment, as Severus straightened up, and turned back to him, Harry was sure he saw a glint of *evil* in dark eyes.

It gave him the shivers, and he grinned at the man in retaliation. "You know, you look positively *satanic* when you do that? It's no wonder Neville nearly wets his pants every time we walk into your classroom..."

"He'd have a lot less to worry about if he could think straight," Severus reminded Harry, as he moved towards the door of the downstairs office. The laboratory was just across from that door, and down a flight of stairs. "After all, with Transfiguration, you can guess what you'll do. In potions..."

"It all has to be just right down to the last drop," Harry finished off.

"Indeed, Mr Potter. Do you care to take a guess at what we'll be brewing today...?"

"Well, we're up to page 300 in the potions text, but I have this vague suspicion you're planning on trying something more spectacularly nasty..."

"I wonder what would bother you more," Severus mused, as he crossed to a potions book rather idly. "Nasty ingredients, or a threatening end result..."

"Either way, I'm not sure it would be good," Harry teased him.

"Something that's simply hard to make, then. You've helped me with Veritaserum... Ah." He had the *perfect* Idea, and it was quite hard for a student at Harry's level to make. The potion Madam Pomfrey had given to him and Draco when they first returned from Azkaban. "I know what you'll be making. It is, in fact, _on_ the O.W.L. For Potions. Please start a cauldron of boiling water, Harry, half-full."

Half full meant two quarts, at least in the cauldron they had set up for labs. It took a moment to search out the distilled water they used for that purpose, but he quickly set it up and watched as Severus dragged out several glass bottles that had been specially stoppered, and even a metal one. These glasses and the phials that they had to use looked much like the ones that Severus kept in his room, and they fascinated Harry no small amount.

"I hope you don't have plans of being so distracted when we start this," Snape chided as he passed Harry by with a tray. All the ingredients would be placed on it, any tools Harry would need, and then he would *watch* the boy, guiding him with careful instructions.

"Even you agree they're lovely," Harry said lightly, picking up one of the delicately twisted phial. "What are we going to make?"

"Vitalisi." As if that explained everything; Harry could hear a few soft clinks, and then Severus cut a hunk of something, and set it on the tray. "It's the potion that Madam Pomfrey gave after..." Draco. Ah... He halted, reached for a way to reword that. "It can recover a body and mind after a stint in a hellish environment."

"Ahh." Harry understood what he meant and said nothing more in particular about it. "It's red, then. It looked like it would taste cinnamony," he murmured, reaching for the instructions Severus had laid nearby. The ingredients were surprisingly not stomach-churning to think of. A large chunk of chocolate, diced to tiny bits (a hair-raising prospect), spices, a phoenix feather, unicorn tears, and a cup of mouse fur, plucked, not skinned. "That doesn't sound so bad," he decided, looking up at Severus. "It's a shame we can't just grate the chocolate, though. My fingers don't like dicing very small," he admitted with a wry smile.

"And my fingers don't like plucking mouse fur." Ominously, a wire cage full of mice was set down in front of Harry, along with a tray of the other ingredients. "So, you can start there."

Shaking his head, Harry set to work, pulling out the first mouse. It squirmed fitfully in his hand, a *good* feeling, but he held it close, carefully, and began lightly pulling at its fur over the small measurement cup Severus had also set out for him. "That's all right, then. They feel good in your hand," he declared.

"My potions professor in seventh year explained that the mice fur made for a 'warm fuzzy feeling'. Retrospectively, the woman was off her rocker and made a bad joke, but at the time..." Severus shook his head a little -- it was a teacher's *right* to make the occasional crack that went soaring over the heads of their students.

"At the time, it seemed to make sense?" Harry asked, because it did to *HIM*. It gave *him* a warm, fuzzy sort of feeling, right in the palm of his hand!

Right up until the squirming little thing *bit* him, with tiny tiny teeth that nipped more than they really hurt. "Sadly, yes -- ah, try to not let them bite..."

"Ouch! It's a little late for that," Harry told him dryly, shifting his hold on the thing so that he could try to protect his fingers as well as pull off the fur.

"Use another mouse now; he'll only try to bite again," Severus told him firmly, reaching to take the creature from Harry's hands. "Potions isn't a timed O.W.L. -- but you only get one shot at the mix, so take your time."

Gently, Harry slipped the mouse back inside, pausing to watch Severus carefully dice the chocolate for a moment before fetching another one. This one, he was very careful to hold differently as he began to pluck hair from it despite its little squeals. "It shouldn't be erotic to watch someone do that with a knife," he grumbled half-heartedly.

"I'm going to assume you can dice, Harry. If you can't, you're shit out of luck, and the potion will probably dissolve your fingers." Severus cut with a practiced sort of ease, the tiny chips not ending up sprayed all over.

"I can dice," Harry agreed, still lightly plucking at the second mouse. A whole cup full of mouse fur would be one very long sort of project. "It just doesn't look half as good when I do it."

"That's practice. Now, don't press that fur down. It's a dropped cup of fur, not a pressed one." He turned the chunk of chocolate to start dicing at the other side.

"Mhm," Harry agreed, still watching him from the corner of his eye. When that mouse, too, finally nipped his fingers, he reached in for yet a third to begin working on that mouse. Dropped fur wouldn't be nearly so bad, he decided. He was delighted that it wasn't supposed to be compressed!

Severus worked in silence, finishing with the rest of the chocolate, and spelling clean the knife before he set it down and joined Harry in mouse plucking, just to speed it up. If he gave Harry the exact conditions of the O.W.L., no help at all, it probably would count as cheating.

The silence between them was good and comfortable, and they worked together quietly until they had managed to tug loose an entire cup of mouse fur. That was quite a task, and nearly took more mice than they had, but Severus picked up the first one again, avoiding its teeth, and managed to get the last of it.

"There," Harry said with satisfaction.

"Now, take a look over the rest of the ingredients. I want you to make sure you know which is which, and measure them out *now*."

That wasn't so hard; a dropper full of unicorn tears for the required ten drops, the phoenix feather placed carefully on a tray, the mouse fur there as well. The chocolate came up to precisely the cup amount he needed, an affirmation of Severus's talents, and other spices were laid out as necessary. Cinnamon *was* one of them, and unrefined sugar, as well as a taste of rum, which surprised Harry just a bit.

Severus watched in looming if approving silence. No snide remarks, no snapping, or taunting... Snape was a much calmer professor with smaller groups of students or even just one as in that very moment. "Bring the water to a boil, and when the bubbles turn small, start to add the sugar -- slowly."

"Why the sugar first?" Harry asked, watching the little bubbles begin to form on the bottom of the cauldron. It was easier with electric lighting; he rather liked it that way, in fact.

"Because." Severus seemed to want to leave it at that, but if Harry were to learn anything... /This isn't as bad as a class full, Severus, and Harry's paying attention./ "Because the sugar dissipates into the water, and make it possible for other substances to blend in with greater ease."

"It acts as a bonding agent?" Harry said, beginning to stir it in slowly. "That makes sense."

"Slower," Severus corrected him, leaning in a little. The way that pale hands knotted together, it was obvious that Severus wanted to be doing it.. "Pour slower, but your stirring speed is fine right now."

Harry obeyed, and further instructions came along right up until the end, the moment at which the phoenix feather was laid carefully into the cauldron. It dissolved beautifully in a rain of red and golden sparks, and the entire liquid turned crimson with its addition. "Oh, WOW..."

"Now, quickly, turn out the fire!"

With a wave of his wand, the steady blue flame was gone from beneath it, and the constant stirring he continued to give went on. "So this is really mostly a restorative. Must be something incredible, with that light show," Harry said solemnly.

"When it cools, I'll let you taste a drop. No more." Never mind that he had all but *chugged* the glass that Poppy had handed him when he had first woken up. But it had successfully taken a shocked body and brought it towards life again.

"Does it taste as red as it looks?" Harry asked, watching it quietly. He could *smell* it, and for once, it was something that smelled absolutely *magnificent*.

"As much as Draught of Living Death tastes blue," the potions master mused, moving away to get large bottle to pour it into. "Think of it like that chocolate Lupin carries around."

Harry couldn't help laughing at that. Remus *always* had a chocolate frog or something similar tucked away into a pocket. "Has he always been like that? I mean, carrying it around that way?"

"Remus had a sweet-tooth when he was a student at Hogwarts -- and then imagine his delight when he had an *excuse* to carry chocolate with him at all times...?" Two phials, because the large one didn't seem large *enough*. Severus would be hard-pressed to admit that he wanted the use the potion for himself if he had another night like the previous one.

"I enjoy him," Harry admitted, watching Severus carefully deposit the liquid into its phials, saying nothing about the two separate phials. "He's really nice. Brought me breakfast in bed a while back and gave me a potion that you'd made for him. Fixed my arm," he said solemnly, nodding.

"I didn't say he wasn't nice. He's certainly a more tolerable, reasonable man than your godfather." Who, given half a chance, would still probably like to skin the potions master alive, Severus was willing to bet. "He's very... in touch with things."

Harry nodded. "Remus just *knows*," he agreed as stoppers were carefully placed in the phials. "Can I taste?"

Severus hadn't forgotten, though -- he offered Harry the ladle he'd used to pour with, and there was still a goodly amount left in it. "Drink just a taste. I don't want to have to pull you down from the ceiling."

"Oh, so it's likely to make me high?" Harry teased, and leaned forward to sip. It was *good*, even better than it smelled, and the whole of him perked up with the taste of it on his lips, on his tongue. All of him seemed to *sing* with it, and he trembled a little as he lifted his head, licked his mouth slowly and let out a shaky breath. "Oh. WOW."

Severus laid the ladle aside, setting it with a soft 'clang' back into the cauldron. It was wonderful to see green green eyes light up like that... "You're in a good mood, Hmn? You must've been in one before. It's a cure of sorts for severe depression."

"Let's just say it's no wonder you thought you'd have to pry me off of the ceiling." Harry was practically glowing! "And I was. I enjoy spending time with you and not having to worry about anything, like everyone knowing how happy it makes me... I'd rather they all just knew..."

With the lesson effectively over, the potions master had no qualm in leaning near Harry, and pressing a kiss against those burbling lips. "When you graduate."

"Two and a half years," Harry agreed, kissing him back again, and again, and then one more time.

"If you're going to remain hyperactive, Mr. Potter, I will have to put that energy to some use," the older Wizard threatened vaguely, letting his own mouth linger for another kiss. "Like a trip into the city..."

"Or upstairs..."

That sent a *thrill* through Severus's blood, one that was comparable, and still better than the Vitalisi potion Harry had sipped. A lean arm snaked behind Harry's back, jerking him close to Severus's body. "Upstairs, my Harry. And we'll go to London tomorrow -- make it an all day affair. You're ahead in your lessons, after all."

"That," Harry agreed, "sounds just wonderful."

And they did.


It was only hours later, laying in the warm bed, breathing in air that smelled heavily of their recent sex, that Severus found himself discomfited. There was a *cold* in the well-heated room, and he started to crack open his eyes instinctually before he stopped himself.

"*Really*, Severus. That doesn't fool me at all, you know. I'm surprised to find you such a coward." It was familiar, that drawling affectation. Lucius...

"Haunt me not, spirit," Severus hissed, waving the hand that had been above the covers dismissively in the air. But he didn't open his eyes yet. Better to see swirls of nothing, and sparks behind his gaze, than Lucius.

The soft rattle of parchment sounded, cool air wafting over him. "What a sweet little letter. I always knew my son was a complete fool, but I had never considered that he might be an utter sentimental *idiot*. Would you like me to read it to you, Severus? You *haven't* read it, have you? Not your style to listen to the tortured words of a poor boy you didn't want to save because you were too busy fucking the Boy Who Lived, hm?"

"It's not just *fucking*, Lucius, though I doubt you're have much of a grasp of anything beyond the simple act," Severus hissed. Just... yes, he had to carry on the conversation as if his friend/lover/enemy were alive and not dead. Thinking that he was talking to a ghost was too much for him.

"I have a *very* good grasp of things quite beyond that simple act," Lucius disagreed. "Well? Aren't you going to read it?" The parchment lightly caressed over his face. "I could read it to you. I'm sure you'd like that much better, hm?"

Severus twitched his face to one side, to press against Harry's soft, thick strands of black hair. "Read it, if you're so damn pressed to do it!"

"Really, Severus." That was so softly mocking, full of amusement. "You *are* a coward, aren't you? Well, all right then, if you aren't brave enough to read it yourself... 'Dearest Severus;'... Oh, really, Draco. What an idiot..."

"Brilliant child," the professor corrected softly against Harry. "He was brilliant. I just couldn't be what he wanted me to be."

"No surprise there. You've failed more than one Malfoy in your time," Lucius said lightly. "Even those of us who are not fools. 'I will call you Severus this one last time because surely I may. Surely you won't be angry with me for it, though perhaps you will be angry with me for other reasons. I'm sorry for them.' You know, Malfoys do not apologize. I'm even more disappointed than before, though I admit to having been greatly disappointed to start. Oh, wait, he says that here... 'I am sorry for them, and you know that Malfoys do not apologize. I have never apologized before; luckily, I will not have to apologize again.' Well. At least he didn't like it."

"Shut up." Severus's often sensual voice was a stark, bare hiss, teeth clenching slightly. He *remembered* hearing Draco sob apologies at him in those last moments...

"No," Lucius answered coolly. "I rather think I won't. It's much more fun to hear your breathing get all rough like that. You've destroyed my line, which is much more than I intended to happen, and you deserve to suffer for it, Severus Snape. So. Keep suffering," he said, and continued to read.

"'It is one of the few pleasant things about being dead. If I am even more lucky, I will not become a ghost, as I do not wish to haunt your days any further than I must already. I should not like to be known as Drowned Draco or some other equally stupid appellation such as that Moaning Myrtle creature; in fact, I believe I dread that more than I dread death itself, which surely cannot be a good sign.'" Lucius paused. "Well, I quite agree with that. Drowned Draco, indeed. I named him dragon for strength, and he's failed me utterly. This is really all your fault, Severus."

"You worked for years to destroy him, Lucius, and it's *my* fault now...? You sick fucking..." He couldn't let his voice raise beyond a hiss, or else Harry would wake up.

"Ah-ah-ah," Lucius said softly. "I'm sure I can make you more miserable than just reading you a letter, Severus. I can speak with the demons. I can *show* you what you've abandoned him to..."

"I didn't abandon Draco!" It was impossible to keep his eyes shut any longer, impossible to not look at Lucius's ghostly form. "Just go away, Lucius. leave me be. I can torture myself over his death..."

"Well, you don't seem to be doing a very good job, thus far, I can tell you," Lucius said primly. "So shall we go forward then? Yes, I believe so. Let's see, he apologizes -- again -- dear God, what *did* you teach my son? No wonder he was such a fucking pouf... Ah, here we go. 'With any luck, they won't call you when they find me. Blaise will know better, and he won't want to upset you. Blaise is not so bad, even if he's a bit strange about some things. I feel awful for him, but then, mostly, I just feel awful. It's not that I'm sick -- though maybe I am, and for more reasons than you think -- it's that I realized things in Azkaban that I cannot face. Not now. Not ever. Worse, I cannot *forget* them, either.' Well, join the club..."

Severus gave a shuddering sigh of breath. "You raped him. Your own *son*, Lucius, and then you gave him to your Death Eaters... He was still a boy. Too young to do that to and *not* have him break!"

"He was a Malfoy, Severus. He might have been weak, but he should have lived long enough for me to breed a grandchild off of him, for God's sake, and he would have if you'd had an ounce of caring about anyone but yourself and Potter!"

But... he hadn't. "Albus said... it was all right." It was weak to fall back onto that, but he himself felt that it *wasn't* all right to have wants of his own.

"Not when my son kills himself, Severus. It is *not* all right when my son kills himself!" He continued, reading rapidly now. "'I know you can't love me. I think I even know why, and the utter sense of mortification that you *know*, you know what Father did, it won't leave me. I dream about it. I think about it all the time and the look on your face when they made me say it in front of you, and it hurts. It hurts so badly that I'm eager to die, and I think that will make things easier for you. I hope that will make things easier for you.' All he thought of was *you*. YOU, Severus. How could you be more guilty?"

"You left me in a state after Hallows Eve that I couldn't care for myself, let alone your *son*. If it was so important to you that I care-take him, perhaps you should've kept it in mind!"

"Perhaps you shouldn't have been such a selfish git, you greasy bastard. 'You say that you do love me -- like a father loves a son, or at least, the way one should. And I can't bear it. I can't live like that, and I can't go any farther knowing that is all you feel for me. Ever since I was very small, I have known that you were all I ever wanted. Ever. And I've waited, I've been patient, and nothing could ever have been better than coming to Hogwarts so that I could see you every day and so that you could smile at me and every now and then touch my cheek. It made everything so much better, and I didn't even dread going home for holidays. Not even the summer... because I could come back, you see. And because you'd be waiting there. And because that would make anything that could happen to me, no matter how horrible, so much better.' You see? You destroyed everything he had to want, even his time with you. I might be at fault for some of it, but *you* are at fault for taking away the last thing he needed, the most important thing. It's quite easy to blame you. After all, he's been accustomed to suffering for *me* for years!"

"I only... wanted to be happy..." And now he felt like he couldn't be. Not with the weight of Draco's words in his mind. If he had've sacrificed his own greedy wants, Harry would've been perhaps the worse for wear, but alive, and Draco would be *happy* and alive, and... Severus swallowed down a tightening feeling in his throat.

"What right do you have to be happy when my *son* is dead, Severus!?"

None. He swallowed again, let his eyes close. It was easy to turn his head, press a soft kiss to Harry's hair. "You've no right to outrage after what you did to him."

"Perhaps not." That agreement surprised him. "However, no one else is going to take you to task. After all, who else could possibly have cared what happened to him? He's just a *Malfoy*, Severus. Isn't that what they say?" It wasn't spoken bitterly, just truthfully, with that sense of amusement that was inevitable with Lucius.

"I failed him, I know that, Lucius. I know. I'll never be able to forgive myself for not getting him away from you *sooner*." But he had to live in the moment, with Harry there, for and *with* Harry, for two and a half years. Such a short span of time, and then they'd be free to do whatever they pleased.

"Hmph." It was a noise of disagreement, and then Lucius read on. "'It probably hurts you for me to tell you these things. I'm sorry. I am, but I want more than anything to explain to you, and I don't want you to be angry with me for what I've done. I can't bear that you be angry with me anymore, not when you've been so angry with me so often of late, or it has felt like it, and it has been awful.' You were making him *suffer*, Severus. How like you. He keeps apologizing, says he can't bear for you to be angry with him anymore, that you're always angry with him and that it's been awful.... Oh, just marvelous. You should like this bit. 'I'm sorry that I cannot be pure and innocent and good. I am sorry that I cannot be Potter.'"

"Even if Harry hadn't wanted me, you know damn well, Lucius, that I couldn't've given Draco what he wanted." Severus turned away from the apparition again, to watch the ghostly flickering shadow that he cast instead on the far wall. Curling around Harry was so easy, so comfortable for him...

"He was a *worthless* little thing, wasn't he? Beneath you, Severus? Though I don't see how anything could be beneath you, as worthless as you are."

"I loved him differently." There was no contesting the worthlessness, because, yes... yes, to have failed at so much in his life, he was. There was no way to argue that, when Lucius was right. "He was brilliant. He could've been Minister of Magic if you hadn't driven him to suicide..."

"I beg to differ, Severus. It was the fact that you did not love him that drove him to suicide, not the fact that *I* didn't. He has been living with that for all of his life."

"I did love him..." Weak protest, but it was *true*. He shifted a bit deeper beneath the sheets, once more Dragging harry under then with him. "Leave me be, Lucius."

"Don't you want to hear the rest of your letter?" Oh, that was mockingly said, accompanied by soft laughter. "About how dirty he is, about how much he loves you? About how he knows you can't love someone as filthy and wretched as he is, about how he doesn't deserve to *live*? And he just keeps apologizing, Severus, as if it's his fault and not yours..."

"It's yours." If he didn't keep that in mind, the ghost would drive him mad... /Think of Harry, and green green eyes, the good ones, think of that, and that you're holding his warm body, and that he loves you.../ "It's your fault. You taught him to think like that... I shouldn't have to suffer because I couldn't clean up all of the messes you made in people's lives."

"Because you're too busy fucking Harry Potter," Lucius scorned. "You know, I rather *do* think that I'll have a talk with those demons, Severus. You should, after all, reap the benefits of Draco's death, and knowing what he's suffering now that he's gone seems quite appropriate to me somehow."

"You did it to him, you bastard." No shouts, just a tense hiss as he curled further against Harry, long limbs tucking smaller ones against him, bringing the heavy blankets they'd put down before bed up higher.

"*I* certainly wasn't the last thing he found important in the world, now was I, Severus?" Lucius sighed. "No, it's your fault."

"Fine. It's my fault, Lucius. Everything is my fault. Now what?"

"Now, I want you to suffer." And again there came that wash of cold air that meant Lucius was gone, or seemed to mean it, at any rate.

It left him shuddering in the bed, holding Harry tighter. Suffer. Suffer he would, because _nothing_ could bring Draco back. And there was no way he could share those nightly visits with his heart's ease, or else he'd be sleeping drugged sleeps, and surely then the ghost would invade his dreams, trapping him there. The thought terrified him, made him shudder with a burning fear that couldn't be denied. At least awake, he could fight back, and Lucius had always grown frustrated with anything that could do that. Maybe if he fought enough Lucius would get tired of him and go away.

That still wouldn't get rid of his own thoughts. His bottomless black eyes squeezed tighter shut, and he pressed Harry closer still, slipping down to nudge a kiss against the boy's cheek. Albus was right, but so was Lucius...

The slight nudging seemed to disturb Harry's rest, for he turned, nuzzling his face into Severus's throat, arms wrapping tightly around him before he settled down once again.

Perfect. He could... not go back to sleep, no, but he could lay there the rest of the night with Harry tucked so perfectly against him, bare skin to bare skin just a tingle of arousal, beneath the surface.

It was so perfect....


"I love London," Harry said quietly as they settled down to lunch. They'd converted several Galleons into muggle money and were now more than ready to eat. Harry was *starving*, in fact, and grinned from ear to ear at Severus.

"All of it, or simply the muggle part?" Severus was peering at the menu that was being shared between them. If given a choice, at least the muggle part thought he was a respectable gentleman, and ignored him. Diagon Alley and Gringotts had been something else in and of itself.

"DEFINITELY the muggle part," Harry decided firmly. He'd been utterly infuriated by the treatment Severus had received on Diagon Alley, and he wasn't likely to get over it any time soon.

"It's certainly more of a mind your own business place," Severus agreed lightly, before setting the menu down. He glanced around for the waiter, then gave up -- it wasn't as if they had any reason to rush. The Floo at Diagon Alley was open twenty four hours a day. "I'm still sorry that the trip didn't go well..."

"Me, too," Harry said softly, thinking of that last night and the pain that had kept Severus hovering on the edge of the bed, Draco crying in the window. "I don't know that we could have done anything more about it..."

"Nothing that I can think of -- aside from not having gone at all." Severus glanced away from Harry, for just a moment, and gave a slight signal for them to choose another conversation topic.

"Are you and your son ready to order, sir?" the waiter smiled at them when he strolled up.

Harry's expression turned deadpan for a moment. "Yeah, 'Pop'. Are we ready to order yet?" he teased, shaking his head.

"I am... 'junior'." Severus rolled his eyes, and thrust the menu into Harry's hands. "I'll just have the chicken sandwich, and a cup of tea."

"I'll have the same," Harry agreed with a grin, and the waiter headed away, perfectly oblivious to the roiling sarcasm.

"Well, Harry, you must look like your mother. I *truly* had no idea you were my son..." Severus leaned across the table slightly, looking terribly indignant and apologetic.

"It's the hair," the green-eyed boy decided, grinning. "Black on black..."

"Really, and I thought it was the age difference that leant him the idea..." Severus sat back in he seat, shaking his head. "When we were in Gringotts, I kept *waiting* for the goblins to attack me and hold me down until they could find an Auror to make sure that I wasn't robbing you. I'm sure if it had've been one of your friends with you..." Of course it never would've happened.

Harry's expression turned stubborn. "Even if it takes the next twenty years, Sev, they *will* get over it and change their bloody filthy minds."

"Have they changed their minds about Remus...?" And the werewolf had done little but simply be *alive*!

That was true, but Harry didn't have to *like* it. "Again. If it takes the next twenty years, I'll find a way."

"Start with Remus, then -- he isn't, and never has been, a murderer." Ill timing was plaguing Severus, it seemed, for that was the very moment that the waiter returned with their tea.

"Uh, s-sir..."

"Thank you," Harry replied calmly, taking the shaking tray from the waiter. "Do please try not to spill anything."

The waiter stared at *him* now, and slid the tray down between the both of them. Whatever conclusions he'd reached, it seemed they were freshly shattered "Sorry... I'll be right back with your meal..."

"Then carry on." Severus waved one angled hand, and picked up a tea-cup.

"I guess it's not every day he runs into our sort of conversation," Harry murmured. "Memory charm, you think?"

"Once lunch is over. If we're going to do it, though, I'd rather such a spell not be wasted purely for something so slight as that." Severus lifted his cup, taking a slow drink from it before he tossed a little sugar into it. "You may as well crawl into my lap, to make it more worthwhile."

Harry grinned at him. "If I wasn't half afraid some other wizard would come wandering in and they'd lock you up in a deep dark dungeon forever for it, don't think I wouldn't."

"I could cast a glamour so that they wouldn't see me, but Ronald Weasley instead," the potions master suggested at length, looking at Harry over the edge of his cup. "Wouldn't that cause talk."

"Ron would have *kittens.*"

"The twins would possibly invite him to a threesome." He stirred the tea languidly, smiling at Harry ever so slightly. Bland, senseless banter back and forth, unimportant blither at the heart of it, but it soothed his mind, and he could *do* it with Harry. He could speak seriously with him, and yet the boy still knew when he needed to just banter and not-think.

"So much for the kittens. He'd just outright have a heart attack at the thought and die right there. Hermione would be *very* put out with all of us, that being the case," he decided. "Sometimes, I wonder *why* Fred and George... Well."

"Why... what? That they're that way with each other? Same reasons that two people spend together in that way." Snape made a mental note to himself to watch Ron and Hermione for signs of flirting with each other the next class, and rub it out quickly. At least between he and Harry, there wasn't any chance of one of them ending up pregnant.

"Yes, well, we're not twin brothers," Harry noted, knowing *precisely* where Severus was heading with that. "Although I suppose there's not many ways to be closer than that..."

"None that I can think of, short of having been part of the same person at an earlier point. Drink your tea, Harry, while you muse on this subject."

"Their mother knows, I think," Harry said, sipping obediently. "I mean, she keeps them separate in the bath, at least. Not much she can do about them sleeping in the same room, I guess..."

"They're probably best for each other -- I can't think of any other students in the school who'd be eager to take up with the two of them. They're nothing short of dangerous. I'd imagine Mrs. Weasley wants her tub to stay in one piece for as long as possible." Severus shifted a little, forwards on the seat, so that his knee brushed against Harry's leg.

"They brought me a toilet seat once," Harry agreed. "To the infirmary. I think blowing up bathrooms worldwide is their ultimate goal."

"Fred and George Weasley -- International Anti-plumbers?" Severus snorted, as he set his cup down. "That would figure. The only potions they make properly, of course, are the ones with explosive properties..."

"There's something immensely *logical* about that," Harry decided as the waiter brought their sandwiches and set them down silently.

The waiter, wisely now, was *silent*. Scared stiff, too, and he startled a little when Severus asked for the cheque to be brought as soon as possible. Then he could memory charm the man, pay, and they could finish lunch in relative peace. "I suppose if it keeps them awake in a boring subject..."

"I think they *love* it. Otherwise, they wouldn't be making things like canary creams, now would they?" Harry challenged. "That probably requires extensive potions work. And they blow up their room at home regularly. It has to be at least as exciting as a class with Neville in it..."

"Neville does it out of incompetence and skittish wits," Snape corrected, picking up his sandwich. Muggles could make *very* good food when the thought occurred to them... "I keep waiting for Neville to blow up the dungeons."

"Maybe he'll learn something while we're away..." Harry suggested. After all, Neville wasn't *stupid*. He *was*, however, nervous, and there wasn't any way around that. Harry couldn't blame him, considering his parents. Maybe without Severus *breathing* on him, he'd do better...

"With Remus teaching the class? Without a doubt." Severus was hard pressed to deny that Lupin was probably better at *teaching* than he himself was. Not the concepts, but passing it out... It reminded him again just how tenuous his grasp of his position was.

Harry simply shrugged. "Remus will be glad for you to come back," he said, as if knowing what the other man was thinking. "Neville, on the other hand..." He grinned.

"Not so pleased." They fell silent for a time, eating and drinking. Severus spent a lot of time between bites *looking* at Harry, trying to pinpoint what exactly had doomed him to falling for the boy. Everything, it seemed, from those green green eyes to the way he tilted his head when he spoke and the way that he smiled between bites of his sandwich. It was everything...

Just as nothing in Draco had stirred such feelings in him. A need to protect, to watch, to *help*, but not... No. /Best to not think of it, Severus./ "Are there any shops you want to see here...? Anything else you'd like to do?"

Harry looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. "Ever been to a muggle movie theatre?" he asked.

Severus finished drinking the last of his tea. "No, I actually haven't. Is that where the muggles put their 'television' on a bigger screen?"

"More or less," Harry agreed with a grin. "Let's go to one. Let's *see* something!"

As he set the cup down, Severus had to think it over. Yes, it sounded... sounded... Perfect. "All right. We'll find a theatre and go see one." By the time it got out, they could go back to Diagon Alley, and Floo back home. All in all, a perfect day.


Laughing, Harry walked backwards as they slipped out of the Leaky Cauldron and Severus tapped the bricks that would take them into Diagon Alley. "That movie was *insane*," he decided, shaking his head.

"I didn't expect him to be the man that he saw being shot, when he was a boy... It was certainly... grim and creative. Most unexpected from muggles." Severus had *enjoyed* watching 'Twelve Monkeys', with all of the twists, and odd symbols in it. Going in, he hadn't quite expected to see it, and had been willing to throw Harry's popcorn at the screen if it turned out to be a waste of muggle money. "Most worth two hours."

"Maybe we could even make it a habit," Harry teased him, laughing as they stepped into the magical street and headed for the large fireplace at the end. It was safe to Floo from there at any hour, and so that was quite all right.

"We'll see another movie before the end of our vacation," Severus told him easily, as they walked side-by-side through the evening crowd in the alley. They seemed to part in front of them, though whether because it was Harry Potter or an ex-Death Eater, Severus couldn't tell. "But not tomorrow. Tomorrow we've history of Magic to go over, which I'm sorry won't be half as interesting as Transfigurations or Potions."

Harry sighed in agreement. "Professor Binns can be boring from a million miles a-" He broke off, screams sounding around them, and his eyes shot sharply around before he stopped dead, pointing. "Look!"

It hung bright in the sky over the alley, green and black, looming threateningly in the air. And it turned Severus's blood cold, froze him in his tracks as he looked up, and up at the Dark Mark. There must've been a murder, or there were Death Eaters ready to strike...

"Hurry!" Harry gasped, grabbing his hand and trying to hurry through the crowd. It wasn't parting around them any more, though; it had become thick, and the Floo point was crowded with people trying to get out, tossing in powder, yelling, screaming...

"Hold it!!" Hands grabbed them both, jerking Harry's frantic run to a short halt. Severus was still *looking* at it, half terrified, half trying to figure out through its nuances which of them had cast it. Then the Auror who held his shoulders jerked again, and started to drag them both away from the Floo point.

"What the *hell* are you doing!?" Harry shouted, turning and *kicking* the man in the shins. "Let go of him!"

"You can come, too, Potter!" The second auror grabbed his lean shoulders, and started jerking him along towards the point where there were other aurors. The second instructed the two in front of Gringotts to keep on the lookout for 'others'.

"What?" Severus's head snapped from the sight of it at last to glare at the Auror that was jerking him along. "I didn't cast that!"

"Well, you're the only Death Eater I've seen so far, Snape, you slimy fucking..." Harry kicked the man in the ankle, furious.

"Fuck you! We just got back from dinner and we were going *home*..!!!" Strange to think of Albus's safe place as home, but it *was*, in a way. Safe. A place to *be* with Severus. Home...

"Home, huh?" the second, a scraggled, but *tough* woman asked, guiding them along to a little circle of Aurors. Three others, one of whom cast a binding spell on Severus so he couldn't run. "Where's 'home', Potter? Aren't you supposed to be in school right now?"

"Headmaster Dumbledore gave four of us time off, because we were the first to run across Draco Malfoy's *body* when he committed suicide," Harry ground out. "The professor was kind enough to agree to tutor me so that I wouldn't fall behind since we're taking O.W.L.s this year! We finished studying early and came to London for dinner..."

"And happen to come through Diagon Alley when a Dark Mark appears at the same time the 'Professor' here appears in the Alley?!" She snorted at him, then demanded of the bound. Muggle-dressed Severus, "Where's your wand?"


Seething, Harry glared at her, eyes *gleaming* with sheer viciousness. He was only a student, but oh, he wouldn't forget *her*. No, he definitely wouldn't, and if the asshole with a meaty hand on his arm would let go, he'd be tempted to deck her.

She shoved both her hands up Severus's coat-sleeves, then his shirt-sleeves, and pulled free his wand. "It's hot -- he's cast a spell in the past ten minutes..."

"A *memory* charm, you bitch," Harry spat out, furious.

"On whom?" Severus knew very well that he wasn't being addressed, and that any attempt to talk would be ignored. Better to simply look balefully at the woman, and wait for her to test the wand.

"On a waiter who got a little too nosy. Care to check it out so that we can go home?"

"Since when did a 'vacation' become 'home'?" The second auror, the one holding him still, pounced on that discrepancy, and shook Harry a little.

"Since any place is more home than Diagon Alley with the Dark Mark hovering over it and a bunch of total *assholes* playing Auror keeping me from getting there," Harry replied sharply.

"Sounds like someone's been around 'professor' Snape for too long," one of the other three snorted.

"Actually, I'd skip the niceties, and call you pricks, but you're used to being called that by now. Check the last spell I cast -- you'll see I'm innocent." Severus muttered, trying to twist within the bonds.

"I think we'll check Potter's wand, too. Someone shake him loose," the woman said before invoking the words to discover what had last been cast. "Priori Incantatem!"

Wisely, she hadn't aimed it at anyone, but a familiar thread of spark swirled loose, and burst against the nearest wall in a tiny flash. Memory spell, just as he'd said.

"Potter's, next," the woman ordered, dropping Severus's wand at his feet. "Where do you keep yours, Potter?"

"It's in my jacket pocket," he growled sullenly, glaring at her.

Her hand checked both pockets and pulled out the wand. "Hard to believe you used this against Voldemort..."

"Hard to believe anyone would put a bitch like you in control of something, too, but there you have it," Harry sniped back.

"I'd clap, Harry, only my hands are tied," Severus drawled, looking back a little at the boy, while the Auror snapped her wand a few times, and then *cast* it.

A heating spell.

"Can we go home now?" Harry asked angrily, scowling.

"Keep your noses clean," she muttered, dropping Harry's wand at his feet, too, before releasing the binding spell on Severus. "Don't come here and start trouble again."

Darting down, Harry picked up both of them, handing Severus his wand. "Considering we haven't *started* anything, that won't be a problem, will it?" he smarted off.

"We'll leave you to the task of finding the *real* perpetrator," Severus drawled, putting a hand on Harry's shoulder to guide him back towards the still crowded Floo portal. "Remember what we say to get back to the house?"

Harry nodded. "Safeway Station."

Aptly named. "Good. And when we get back, we need to have a talk."

Just the *sound* of that sent a sharp jolt of dread through Harry's belly and he looked up worriedly and bit his lip as they joined the queue of people rushing to get out of Diagon Alley. "Okay," he said softly. "I..." He stopped, shook his head. "Okay."

"It's nothing so bad as you think." Severus's voice was a low whisper in his ear, pressing near so the rest of the queue didn't hear. "Just... that it's important."

Harry nodded, biting his lower lip. It was still *worrisome*, and he was upset that the Aurors had stopped them. /Bastards./

"Your wand still seems to be functioning..?" He needed to be sure that Harry hadn't come to any harm other than being angry.

"Everything's fine," Harry agreed as they got closer to the Floo point. "Well, except my temper..."

"Which is disturbingly enough starting to resemble mine," the potions master drawled. He was careful to stay close to Harry as they progressed, and the crowd seemed to have calmed some -- the dark mark in the sky was starting to fade. Though that didn't mean things were any less or more safe.

"The dangers of association with a man known to be cranky," Harry drawled, glancing around a little worriedly.

"Try not to pick fights with the Aurors, though -- there's cranky, and then there's insane." The hand on Harry's shoulder pushed a little, steering him towards the Floo point. Two left ahead of them....

"They shouldn't be allowed to treat you that way," Harry fretted. "The lot of them. Unreasoning prejudice is just as bad as utter stupidity and trust!"

"Mr. Potter, you seem to forget that I am a murderer." That was crisp, and said so only because the Floo-attendant was giving each of them a handful of powder. "You first, Harry."

Stepping into the fire, Harry cried, "Safeway Station!" and was gone.

"Safeway Station." After a moment of that pulling, lost feeling, he found himself dumped out of the fireplace in the master bedroom, right atop Harry.

"Hi," Harry greeted, laughing a bit despite everything.

He closed his arms around Harry out of reaction, letting out a relieved noise. "Not so poor a trip, except for the ending."

"I really don't like that bitch," Harry whispered, burying his face in Severus's shoulder. "I'm not going to forget her."

"You won't forget her, and then...?" Severus's hands gripped Harry, and he shook the boy just a little. "Don't become me, Harry. Learn from my mistakes -- don't become me."

"It won't make it any more right if I do or don't," Harry told him quietly. "And if she's behaving that way towards you, who else is she behaving that way towards? The lot of them..."

"Then work on reforming the system that tells that that how they do things is 'all right'. Bitching at one or two aurors, though, won't get you any further than a body bind." Severus coaxed him forwards, towards the bed. Long fingers tugged at Harry's coat, pulling it off of him to let it drop on the floor.

"You have a point," Harry sighed, shifting to begin ridding both of them of their clothing. "I just don't like it, much."

After tugging Harry's sweater up over the boy's head, Severus stopped long enough to run a fond hand through unruly black hair. "I wouldn't be able to stand you, Harry, if such things didn't worry you the way that they do."

"Sev..." Harry sighed, laying his head upon the older man's shoulder. "I'm glad. But... are you all right? There's been something bothering you the last few days, I think, and... I'm worried," he admitted.

/Bothering me... You've no idea./ "Mental ghosts," Severus sighed softly -- close enough to the reality of it, though if he told Harry he was being Haunted by Lucius Malfoy, the boy would probably think he was going insane. "I'll be fine, given time."

"All right," Harry agreed, smiling at him. "Come on, then. Let's go to bed..."

"To bed, Harry, or... to *bed*?" After a fine day, and a sip earlier that morning of Vitalisi, Severus still had energy left to spite the Aurors and to not let them ruin the day.

"To *bed*," Harry agreed, tugging at him lightly, drawing him towards it with a little *look* that almost screamed the same defiance.

"I believe we can afford to sleep late tomorrow, considering how well you've learned your lessons so far..." Severus bent a little, and caught Harry's mouth in his.

The response was enthusiastic, Harry leaning up on his toes to reply, arms sneaking tightly around Severus's waist and tugging at his shirt, pulling it loose from the dark pants he wore. "Great. Perfect. Wonderful. *Yes*..."

Kisses smothered over every utterance Harry made, Severus's lips pressing and parting against his to coax the boy into longer, deeper kisses. Hands undressing him, he had to help, didn't he? Harry was let go of long enough for Severus to unbutton his shirt, and slide the thing off. "Bed, Harry. Lay back on the bed..."

The little chuckle Harry gave was delicious, his fingers moving swiftly to divest himself of his clothing before he scrambled up into the bed. He propped himself up on his elbows and watched the dark man across the way, green eyes glittering. "Like so?"

"Just so, you little tease." Severus stopped moving forwards long enough to get his boots off, and to strip off his pants, before he prowled over his lover. Body to body was still a sweet feeling, one he was sure he'd never tire of.

Harry's fingers found their way into his hair, tugging, pulling him close to steal his mouth in breathless kisses that left them both trembling. The sheer intensity of him was devoted for the moment to Severus and *this*, touch and kiss and rub, and he was nearly purring with enjoyment of it. "Love you..."

"Well, isn't *that* just bloody sweet," Lucius growled in Severus's ear.

Severus went still against Harry, and then hissed softly, "Go away, this isn't the time for it..."

"Sev?" That question was confused, Harry tilting his head to look at him.

"I'd think this is precisely the time for it. Not so bright, is he? Can't even see a ghost as purely visible as *me*," Lucius laughed, sitting down on the bed beside them.

"Oh, Merlin," Severus muttered, making a tired kick at the apparition as he crowded against Harry, moving him up the length of the bed a little. "Just ignore it, Harry..."

"Ignore *what*?" Harry asked. "Sev, are you all right?"

"What?" Severus lifted his head a little, to see Harry's deeply confused expression. Oh, Merlin, of course... "You can't hear Lucius, can you?"

"Sev, he's dead," Harry reminded him gently. "He's gone. He can't hurt you anymore..."

"Bloody little fool," Lucius laughed.

Dark eyes searched Harry's green green gaze for a moment, for any registration or reaction to Lucius's words. *He'd* heard them... But Harry obviously hadn't. Black eyes slid closed, and he kissed Harry again, a bit desperately. Perhaps if he carried on, and ignored the voice, it would go away...

"You're wishing, Severus. I can see it on your face, you know. I've brought you a little present this evening..."

No, no, he wouldn't think of it, wouldn't even consider... /Just pretend he's not there./ His gaze looked fractured, though, when he looked up to Harry's eyes after breaking the kiss; desperation granted little inspiration for lovemaking.

"Sev...?" he whispered, and it was then that the sounds reached the older man, just as Harry spoke.



"Do you like my present for you, Severus?" Lucius whispered. "They're feeding on him, you know. On his soul. It hurts as much as it would have had he been alive, Severus, and it is *all* *your* *fault*!"

The fractures in those eyes sharpened, went empty with pain when Severus started to shake his head, slowly. Black eyes closed tight with equal slowness. "Stop it, stop, I don't want to hear that..."

"Severus, what's wrong?" Harry asked over the growing chorus of growls, ripping flesh, and the screams of Draco Malfoy. The boy was *crying*, crying for Severus, screaming for him, pleading for it to stop...

"For Merlin's sake, Lucius, don't make me *listen* to that...!" Worse, he was afraid that if he opened his eyes, he'd see it; or see nothing at all, but Harry staring at him as if he'd gone mad. Neither were things that he could face, or wanted to face. "Stop, Lucius, please, just make them stop..."

"Why shouldn't I?" Lucius demanded over Harry's questions, worried and fitful. "Why shouldn't I make you listen to that? Don't you deserve it? Didn't you stand by while he *killed* himself, Severus!?"

"I tried to help him, damn you! Leave me alone!!" Demanding it seemed to do him no good, because those *screams* only grew louder. Severus finally ducked his head against Harry's shoulder, making fitful noises. "Leave me, leave *us* alone..."

"Sev, there's no one there. I promise," Harry whispered worriedly. "I promise, Sev, I promise, what's wrong?"

"I think I'll leave you with that gruesome chorus," Lucius said lightly, and then there came that cold wind again, and he was gone, leaving behind the sounds of Draco's hysterical pleading and pain.

And if Lucius wouldn't take it away with him, then it simply wouldn't *leave*... Severus hunched closer to Harry beneath the sheets, all thoughts of play swept far from his mind. "Make it stop, stop them, please, come back Lucius, just *take* that with you..."

"Sev, you have to tell me what's wrong!" Harry demanded, shifting to shake him slightly. "You have to tell me or I can't help you!"

He felt caught, between two different worlds, neither of which he was fully aware of. Draco was still screaming, and it seemed to almost drown out Harry's words... "Can't you hear him? Lucius gave Draco over to the demons, Harry -- can't you *hear* it?"

Helplessly, Harry pulled him close, shook his head. "I can't hear it, Sev. There's nothing *there*..."

Severus started to shake, all but limp in Harry's arms. "He's there, I can hear it, I don't want to look..."

"There's nothing to see," Harry whispered, holding him tightly. "Nothing, Sev..." His hands tenderly moved to cover Severus's ears as if that would help.

It didn't block out a thing, though, and Severus's desperate need to get it to *stop* brought words to his lips, counter-curses in attempts to toss off whatever curse Lucius had laid against his hearing.

None of them worked. Draco's voice rang hysterically in his ears, sobbing, pleading, begging him for help; begging him to love him, to forgive him, to do anything, to make it stop, and it was enough to drive him mad.

"I can't help you, I'm sorry, I've failed you, I can't *help*, just leave me be... just leave me be..." Even Harry's shaking of him didn't help, just made him want to hide away all the more. But surely, somehow, the Boy Who Lived could do something unexpected and just... make it stop. "Harry, help me..."

"Sev..." It was a shaky whisper, barely heard over the hysterical screams now echoing in Severus's head, sounding too much like the echoing cries heard in that cavern such a short time before. It went on and on an *on* and he thought he'd go mad from it... "Sev, tell me what you're hearing. LOOK at me!"

The *snap* in Harry's voice, command that felt so much like Him, drew Severus's head back up, looking at the boy with gaze that shook. "Draco," he rasped, barely able to hear himself over the clamour of agony. "He's screaming, Harry -- can't you hear it?"

"Sev... *I can't hear it*," Harry told him softly.

Softly. Severus saw lips move, half-heard the words... And simply closed pained eyes, whispering back, "I can barely hear you over it. I can't hear anything but..." He was still shaking when he pulled back from Harry, just enough to move off to Harry's side.

Worried, Harry kissed his cheek and began to shift from the bed. "I'm going to contact Dumbledore," he declared seriously, reaching for his shorts.

"Please." No one else could take away the screams, or Draco's pathetic, hysterical pleading. If Lucius weren't a ghost already, the potions master would've been forced to do *something* to make him regret what he'd done... When Harry did get out of the bed, Severus felt strangely deserted to the sounds, and curled himself up tightly in the bedding as if to try to drive it all away again.

It left Harry most worried.

By the time he'd contacted Dumbledore, Severus was sobbing softly to himself, a keening sound, ears covered by his palms as he rocked himself back and forth, back and forth. It hurt Harry to see it, and he climbed back into the bed, wrapping himself around the man. "Shh. Shhh. It will be all right..."

Draco's screams had turned to hysterical howls, sobbed cries for Severus to help him, to let him go, to not *fail* him again. There wasn't a thing he could do for the boy, and when he'd opened his eyes that once, he'd *seen*... Oh, Merlin, what he'd seen. Harry gave no comfort when he started to try to soothe Severus, only something to hold onto, and beg desperately for *help*, because no curse, no hex or spell was working to stop it.

The sound of others in the room came to his ears; Dumbledore, perhaps, Madame Pomfrey, maybe. He wasn't sure. He wasn't sure and he didn't *care*. "Make it stop! Make it *STOP*!" They had to, they *had* to -- Dumbledore had always been so good about helping him, always *able* to help him...

Hands gripped the sides of his head, and everything went blessedly silent, startling him from his own pleading howls. "Stopped..."

"Yes, Severus, yes -- it's stopped now..." Dumbledore frowned down at Severus, who was still clinging tightly to Harry, now crying with relief. He didn't dare yet to move his hands -- not until the ward had taken completely.

It was tricky business fixing a ward to keep someone's own mind from attacking them, after all.

"Shhhhh," Harry whispered, rocking tenderly. "Shhhh...."

"Oh, Severus..." Madame Pomfrey whispered tearfully.

"He'll be all right now," the headmaster murmured quietly, as he lifted his hands, carefully. He could almost *see* the ring of magic he'd left around Severus's head, like a piece of string holding together a broken vase. "You'll be all right now, Severus. Why don't you have a drink of this potion Madam Pomfrey has for you, my dear boy, and then go to sleep?"

"I just... want to be glad it's stopped," he murmured raggedly, against the side of Harry's neck. "Merlin, it's finally stopped..."

"It's all right," Harry whispered, kissing him tenderly on the temple. "It will be all right..."

He leaned gratefully against the kiss, settling bonelessly against Harry. Gone. Lucius was gone, Draco was gone, and he could finally concentrate on Harry. So comforting, the boy was such a comfort that he didn't deserve to have... "It will. It will, they're gone now..." He let his head slip down, to rest against Harry's shoulder, lips close to the boy's neck.

"That's right, Severus," Dumbledore said quietly. "Poppy, you may return to Hogwarts. I will remain for at least the night, to be certain..." Certain that Severus might begin pulling himself back together again.

"Yes, Albus -- the sleeping potion..." She trailed off, simply leaving it stoppered and sitting beside the bed beside a phial that was already there -- a phial of simple oil, with an obvious purpose. Then, with a handful of Floo powder, she left the room.

"Thank you, Albus -- Merlin, thank you..." For whatever had *stopped* it. Severus pressed closer against Harry, still soaking in the relief.

"You're most welcome, Severus. Please, *do* try to rest. Poppy's sleeping potion will help you, I do promise," Dumbledore said gently, sitting upon the edge of the bed to lightly touch Severus's head once again... just to be sure.

There seemed to be no more of the roiling disturbances, but he left a touch more of the spell lingering on Severus than before, just in case. "Can't sleep again -- not after hearing, seeing that..."

"Shhhh," Harry whispered. "Shhh, Sev. Shh. It will be all right. I'll sleep with you. Dumbledore is here. It will be all right to sleep..." He looked at Albus, confusion clear in those infinitely green eyes. He wanted answers, and he knew he couldn't ask for them until Severus was asleep.

That was the final bit of coaxing needed, Albus could tell. He kept one hand lightly at the back of Severus's head, and called the phial to his fingers. With gentle touch, he moved the potions master just enough to press the lip of the phial against his mouth. Severus swallowed with obedience, and settled against Harry again, almost seeming to try to tuck himself away.

By the time he was well and truly asleep, Harry was bursting with questions. "What was that all about? He just kept on and on, so upset, something about Malfoy *screaming*...?"

"Tell me exactly when it started, and the circumstances, Harry," Dumbledore sighed, calling a chair from the other side of the room to his hand, so that he could seat himself beside the large bed. "Then I'll explain."

"We had gone out," Harry explained. "Into muggle London for dinner and to watch a movie. We came back to use the Floo station at Diagon Alley, and the Death Eaters had been there -- left Voldemort's sign in the sky." It didn't seem to matter to them that he was dead, now. "The Aurors... They searched us. Used Priori Incantatem." He paused, shamefaced. "I was furious. Severus took it in stride, though, and we came back and were... erm..." Color rushed into his face. "Well. You know. And all of a sudden, he said something about ignoring 'him' -- someone who wasn't Severus -- except there wasn't anyone talking. And he rambled on a bit, and then... well, you saw him. Something about Malfoy screaming and wanted me to stop it, only I couldn't..."

"I'd expect that the brush with the aurors and seeing the mark in the sky" -- not to mention guilt, probably lingering in the corners of his mind, over the fact that he was with Harry -- "combined to exacerbate a... crumbling mental state."

"Will he be all right?" It was a small voice that gave life to those words, reminding Albus suddenly of the boy's sheer youth.

He was young, and certainly had a *long* life ahead of him... while Severus was much less a predictable thing. The merciful thing to do would've been to simply weigh the spell heavier, until it shut down all of Severus's mind and put him into a permanent, lingering slumber. "No, Harry. No, he won't."

Harry nodded tiredly, expression slowly going blank. "I suppose," he said finally, softly, "that I expected that answer." Expected it because it was so typical of his short life so far. Expected it because he knew that he wasn't ever going to be happy; that being happy was too much to ever ask for, even if it seemed to come so easily to so many others. "What will happen, then? Sir..." He wouldn't abandon Severus, no matter how hard it was going to be. He wasn't that kind of person.

"I can exert... a spell over his mind, to suppress the part that's causing the hallucinations," Dumbledore said at last, with some consideration. "It doesn't take much effort at all to cast it, and from time to time, I suppose it will need to be upped, or lowered in power..." But it was hard to cast in the first place... "It's a bit advanced, Harry, but I think you could be taught to cast it. I think Severus would do better not knowing that whatever he was seeing came from his own mind."

Silently, Harry nodded his agreement. "All right," he said solemnly. "Can you teach it to me now?" It didn't matter that he was tired. It didn't matter that all he wanted to do was lay down and curl up around Severus and try very hard not to cry.

The headmaster shook his head, and leaned forwards to rest his hand atop one of Harry's. "Tomorrow, when you've rested. Severus would be best kept sleeping for another day, to rid him of the last of the... hysteria. While he sleeps, I'll teach you the spell. For now, Harry... rest. I know it's a great deal of grave news to accept at once, but with this spell, he'll be all right. Both of you will be all right."

"Thank you," Harry told him quietly, knotting his fingers momentarily into the old man's, seeking comfort in a way Severus often had and driving a spike of pure guilt and worry into the ancient wizard's heart.

There was nothing to do for it but crinkle his eyes a little, and not withdraw from clutching fingers. "You don't have to do this, Harry. You have your schooling to worry about..."

"No," Harry said firmly. "This is *my* fault. If I hadn't been selfish, if I hadn't *needed* him, no matter what for, Malfoy wouldn't be dead and Severus wouldn't hear him screaming, would he?"

"No, perhaps not -- but Severus would be the dead one." It was hard to not remember the meeting in his office that had started it all off, when he had been so very close to dismissing Severus on a sabbatical at the very least. He'd been cracking then, a shaking, sleepless, mess... "The 'if' game, Harry, is a dangerous one to play."

"Hard not to," Harry said dully. "Draco's dead. Severus is..." He stopped, shook his head, tucked black hair back behind the potions master's ear. "We'll make the best of it," he decided firmly, chin notching upward. "I will."

"He may pull himself back together, yet," the headmaster suggested softly -- anything to see *hope* in that green gaze again. Anything, to keep those eyes from becoming as fractured and dulled as the black eyes of his companion. "He managed it after Voldemort died the first time."

"We'll see," Harry agreed.

He didn't believe it.


Something was gnawing at the back of his mind, a flicker of memory that said he should've been tense and shaking.

It was enough to make him cautiously open his eyes, looking into the face of the smaller body he was wrapped around. Harry. Looking down at his lover's slack, sleep relaxed face, Severus dredged up a weak smile. Warm-toned, pale skin, dark lashes that laid against the slight indentation under each eye, a flush from warmth lingering over soft cheeks, that he kissed lightly. Relaxed. Merlin, it was so strange to feel that boneless, and not so strange to feel comfortably warmed.

He didn't expect to see Albus Dumbledore sitting in the chair beside the bed.

"How are you feeling, Severus?" the older wizard asked him very politely, tilting his head to the side. His eyes did not twinkle in the least; they were, instead, gravely concerned.

How was he feeling...? Fine, good, even, except... A grimace stole across his face, slipping that smile away into nothingness when he remembered the *torment* Lucius had pressed upon him. But it was daylight, and there were no ghosts... Not with Albus's protection, strange as it had always been. "Considerably better than last night, Albus. I'm sorry Harry disturbed you..." It was *rude* to talk to the headmaster from the arms of one's lover, so he started to shift -- or tried to, until he realized how desperately tight Harry's arms were around him. Small fingers had locked together, holding tight even as he slept. Why? Had Harry been so worried... /My poor boy.../

"No," Dumbledore said calmly. "He was quite right to do so, Severus. It was necessary that he do so. You were in considerable distress."

"Any idea why he couldn't see Lucius, or... hear?" Severus asked, rather calmly, as he propped himself up on an elbow, so he didn't have to leave the circle of Harry's arms.

"A few, Severus. I am awfully concerned about you and about what you were hearing and seeing. How long has it been going on?"

"A few nights now," he sighed. It was tempting to lay back down in Harry's arms, but he didn't want to risk waking Harry. "Since our first night here, actually."

"And it has been Lucius who has actually bothered you; not young Draco?" Albus asked quietly.

"It's only Lucius... except, he says that he sold Draco's soul to the demons. Albus, if there's anything you can do..." It was hopeless, but he had to *try* for Draco's sake. "Some string you could pull that I might not know of..."

"I will do my best, Severus. For now, I have managed to prevent him from contacting you. Harry knows the spell; we worked on it for a very long time..." They had also once again discussed the need for Severus not to know that he was ill. "He will be able to prevent Lucius from bothering you in this way again."

Black eyes flooded with something akin to relief, and Severus nodded, letting his gaze drift back to his lover's face. "What time is it, Albus...? If you don't mind, I'd prefer we don't fall behind on lessons..."

"It is Saturday, Severus," Dumbledore said gently. "Perhaps it's best that there be no lessons until Monday. Learning that spell was very difficult."

"Saturday..?" The potions master blinked, looking a bit slackjawed. But, it had been just *Wednesday* when they'd seen the movie, spent the day out and... "Saturday. Draught of Living Death?"

"It was very difficult for Harry to learn the spell, and best for you to rest, Severus."

But, for it to be Saturday... "Then I had best move about, before I become part of the bedding." He'd wondered why his hair felt far too slick against the sides of his face.

"You could, indeed, do with a *bath*," Albus agreed good-naturedly. "Perhaps I will attempt breakfast while you are doing so."

"Doesn't the school need you, Albus...?" To have taken the headmaster from Wednesday to *Saturday* was almost unthinkable...

Albus only smiled at him, though. "I have been available for consultation, Severus. Minerva is perfectly competent to handle things for a few days."

"Are you sure?" He arched an eyebrow at the headmaster as he shifted beneath the bedding, reaching a hand back to carefully pull apart Harry's hands. He'd always liked to take the occasional jab at her. "We'll see if it's in one piece when you get back..."

Those eyes were shining at him again, amusement written completely in Dumbledore's every motion. "Indeed," he agreed cheerfully. "Now, I shall go and attempt to make breakfast. This should be most interesting," he decided, standing and making his way from the room.

"Thank you, Albus -- for coming to help." He slid Harry's hands down to lay on the bed, and moved off of the boy, still beneath the sheets. He had a great deal to thank Albus for, from allowing it, to putting them where they were, to the spell that had obviously saved him.

"You're most welcome, Severus," the older wizard sighed, and then he swept from the room, leaving Severus alone with the sleeping Harry for the moment.

He was loathe to wake up his lover, so he simply slipped from the bed, and gave a languid stretch that he swore must've cracked half the bones in his body. It felt good, that little ripple of movement-pain -- he was alive. Everything was all right.

It *would* be all right... For a moment, doubt crept in, but then he swept it away again. He wouldn't think about it. He just wouldn't think about it!

There wasn't a place for it -- there wasn't anything he could do, except move forwards with living. Try to... repent. Make Harry happy, because he could remember so *clearly* the agony and confusion written on that face, and scored into green-green eyes. He let his lean, stained fingers touch Harry's cheek, stroking so gently for just a moment. Bath. He had to *bathe*...

Dark lashes fluttered, lifted sleepily and Harry *smiled* at him before they closed again. Smiled, meant it, loved him... It was almost too much to ask for.

"I'll come back in a few minutes," he promised softly, the touch lingering to brush over Harry's lips, before he turned to pad across the floor.

That seemed all right to Harry, for Severus heard a heavy sigh and the sound of the boy shifting deeper into the covers, snuggling into the warm spot so recently abandoned.

Severus had taken a liking to the bathroom in that place since his first time there -- large, comfortable, with water that was the perfect temperature, and an endless supply of soap. He washed himself twice, and his hair three times in an attempt to get the slimy feeling out, before he simply *relaxed* in the soaking heat, for just a moment.

So the night before had been haunting after all. Funny, how he'd feared in his last near cognizant moments that it was some odd hallucination -- because Harry couldn't see or hear it, and everyone knew that ghosts could be seen! But Lucius... was probably devious even as a ghost.

Everything would... work out in the end, he told himself firmly, as he rose from the water, and toweled himself dry. A moment spent to wrap himself up in a dressing gown, and then he padded back into the bedroom, back to Harry... Back, he hoped, to a brighter future than he'd ever faced.


"Harry!" That was Hermione's voice, and he turned, looking down the hall to see her hurrying towards him, Ron right behind her. "We were so worried. You were gone for so long, and Lupin was teaching Potions, and Malfoy..." She trailed off as she stood in front of him, eyes huge in her face. "Oh, Harry. It's all so awful. Where were you? How are you? How.." She paused. "How is *HE*??"

"Better." All right was the wrong answer entirely, but... he was *better*. and they didn't need to know exactly what had gone one while they were gone. "What's this about Malfoy? What's so awful?"

Ron shook his head. Even *he* was just a bit pale. "The Slytherins have got a new ghost," he said morosely. "He doesn't come out much, though. Just wanders around in the dungeons like he's looking for something. He keeps coming in and out of Potions class. Smythe, that kid who was teasing him first day back... he's fairly had a nervous breakdown. Can't take the sight of him, all naked and covered in blood..."

"*I* can't bear it," Hermione added, biting her lip.

"Ohh, no..." Draco, as a ghost -- a real, undeniable ghost that wasn't something brewed up by Severus's mind. Something that could, if it was wandering around the dungeons, drive the potions master right to insanity. And that was where Severus was headed that very moment, down to his rooms. Then to meet Lupin, find out what had been taught in his absence, but there was no doubt he'd hear about the ghost... "Does he talk?"

"He hasn't yet," Ron said, "but that's not to say that he can't. After all, we've never seen the Bloody Baron say anything, either, but he *must*, because the Slytherins have conversations with him. Maybe it's just that he won't talk to anyone that he doesn't want to talk to. Or maybe..." He shrugged. "It's awful, Harry. I hope you don't see him any time soon. Once was likely enough."

"But, I..." Sleep down there, almost was going to live down there between his classes. What was he going to do? "Oh, Christ."

"Understatement," Ron agreed, and Hermione nodded.

"I'm so sorry, Harry," she said. "It's awful."

He just shook his head, the motions shaky. "He didn't want to be a ghost. Draco said he didn't want to be a ghost afterwards, because he didn't want to hurt Severus, and now..." Now that the potions master was on the brink, there wasn't any way that it couldn't hurt him. Nothing *ever* went right for him, Harry noted miserably. "God."

"We really ought to get to class," Hermione said, "but we wanted to warn you, Harry. It seemed like the sort of thing you'd need to know..."

"I just get back, and I have to hit the ground running," he sighed. "Hopefully I'm not very far behind... What're you covering in DADA right now..."


Remus folded his hands neatly, frowning at Severus. "There's something we need to talk about," he said solemnly.

"Did something go terribly wrong?" Severus asked, surveying his currently empty classroom carefully. Everything seemed neatly in its place. "Some student explode themselves while I was away?"

"No," Remus promised. "The students were fine and the classroom is just as it was when you left..." Thank God there were a few bright students in every class to help with practical applications of potions. Remus had never been very good at them. "It's about..." He sighed. "I'm going to be blunt, Severus. It's about Draco Malfoy."

All at once, the potion master's face still, and he turned slowly. About Draco, who last he remembered was... No, don't think about, he couldn't think about it. Not unless he wanted to slip down a path towards misery afresh all over again. "What is it, Lupin?"

"He's haunting Hogwarts. Most particularly the dungeons and the Potions classroom," Remus told him with a sigh. "He hasn't spoken with anyone. I suspect he's looking for you."

Which meant that Albus *had* gotten him free. That was almost a relief... But the mere thought of it still left him dry throated, shocked. "Then, I'll have to talk to him."

"You should just be prepared, Severus. He's been wandering about naked and... and bloody," Remus said. "But I'm sure once you talk to him..."

"I was the one who found him, Lupin," Severus reminded quietly. "I think it can't get much worse than that, can it?"

"No," Remus agreed, "only it's worrisome. Very much so. One student's had a nervous breakdown over it, and he's stopped coming in during class as much... Blaise Zabini is back, of course, and a complete mess, Severus. I'm not sure what to tell you about him."

"Tell me what you can," the potions master demanded, with a heavy sigh. "Everything you can -- they're my house, I need to know..."

"The other boys are saying that he cries in the middle of the night. Can't sleep. Won't eat. Nervous wreck. You know that Gryffindor who made fun of Malfoy the day classes began again?" Everyone knew about Smythe now. "He's the one who's had a nervous breakdown. Can't face Malfoy drifting in and out of potions class."

"That's not my problem." He had to separate what was and wasn't... "I'll talk with Blaise later tonight." He could do that. The Gryffindor was McGonagall's entirely.

"I just didn't want you to be unprepared," Remus sighed. "How is Harry?"

"Tired, but..." Severus leaned against his desk a little, surveying the papers there. Remus seemed to grade them entirely too easily. "He's bounced back well."

"Good." That seemed to be relieved. "Sirius has been worried, particularly after what happened. And how are you, Severus?"

"Better." It wasn't a complete lie. At least he didn't feel like he was going to shatter to a hundred different pieces anymore. He was rested, calm, ready to teach again... Not ready to face Draco's ghost, but he never would be.

"Are you going to be all right with this? With the ghost? Because I can keep teaching until you feel that you are, if need be..." Even though he'd rather go home and go back to work on the house in Godric's Hollow...

"It doesn't matter much, Lupin -- after all, I live and work down in the dungeons. The Bloody Baron doesn't bother me, so I can only hope..." That Draco didn't decide to make his life a misery, even if he deserved it.

One last offer... "If you're sure..."

"I'm sure -- go home, I'm sure your dog misses you."

At that, Lupin laughed. "Probably. Severus..." He placed his hand tentatively close to the other man's. "You know you're welcome in our home. Even if Sirius doesn't say so himself."

Severus raised an eyebrow slightly, and asked with heavy suspicion, "Welcome why?"

Seriously, Lupin looked at him. "Because Harry loves you, Severus. That ought to take precedence over everything else, hadn't it?"

"Student... teacher. Albus might sanction it, and you and his godfather haven't killed me yet, for whatever reason you might have, but I'm not *foolish* enough to do something so eye-catching as stay at the house of my foremost adversary!" He turned a little, then decided to busy himself with a bit of rearranging on his desk, to make it feel like *his* again.

"I'm just telling you that you're welcome, Severus. Keep it in mind, all right? We don't want to lose Harry," Remus admitted. "He loves you. Part of being a guardian is caring for emotional needs, too, isn't it? And Harry's more than mature enough to make the decisions he's made. We want him to be happy."

"I'll keep it in mind." For some last ditch, impossible emergency. "Have you finished grading these papers? How were the classes...?"

"They're finished. And everything went well, all of the students were remarkably well-behaved. Er, they'll probably have some questions about the more practical applications of the potions we went over. You know I'm good in theory and rotten otherwise."

"What potions did you go over?" Severus sighed. He'd probably have to simply reteach the classes. "I usually have them make whatever potion themselves."

"These." There was a list right beside the stack of graded papers. "They did the experiments themselves, but a couple of times, the results weren't reliable and I didn't know why so I marked those down for you."

"Did you make sure the cauldrons were all clean before class started...?" Severus picked up the list, musing over them. Growth potion, coloring agents, slowing potions...

"Er..." The answer was clearly no. "I hadn't thought about that."

"Do you remember from potions class how we were told that our cauldrons had better be clean...?" He set the list down, shaking his head. "There's a reason for it."

"Thank you, Professor," Remus said dryly, shaking his head. "I'm better at DADA. Sorry, Severus."

"At least I'll never have to worry about you moving in on my job," the man murmured with dark wryness, slipping behind his desk to flip through the papers. "Far too many 'a's here..."

"They worked awfully hard while you were gone!" Remus told him earnestly. "Really. They deserve it, don't you think?"

For his psychotic fit, at the very least. He grimaced in memory as he set the papers down, nodding. "Perhaps. But will I see any of the results of this hard work in class? Doubtful."

"You mi..." The sudden stillness of Remus's words and face were a warning in and of themselves.

Severus held still a moment, cautious as he turned slowly. Did he dare to really look over his shoulder...? Would it be Lucius, or...? Oh, Merlin...


He was timid.

It was the only word for the way he skirted close by, silver and pale, even the blood barely pink.

"Severus, I..." Remus said a little hoarsely.

"Draco..." Severus himself had gone pale, but oddly, he didn't falter as he looked at his long-time student. "Draco, oh, Merlin..."

He came a little closer, still reticent, the look on his face telling.

"Severus, do you want me to stay?"

"No, Remus... I'll be all right," Severus lied. He wasn't sure, not at all, but *looking* at Draco... "Draco, I'm sorry..."

There were no words, no movement, until Remus had left, and then there was a flood of silvery ghost close by him, fluttering, buried at his feet, and whispers so soft they were almost unheard. "Sorry so sorry so sorry, sorry, sorry, please, sorry..."

"Don't be -- Draco, don't be..." What was he doing, trying to talk sense into a ghost...? "Draco, get up, look at me."

"Sorry, so sorry, don't be angry, so sorry..."

"I'm not angry, Draco." His voice, shaken, but still mostly calm, assured that. "I'm not. You're the one suffering..."

"So sorry..." That pale, tear-flooded face looked up at him, white, *wavering*. "Didn't mean to hurt you."

"I wish... I had've made it more clear what you meant to me -- how much I cared for you. That's my fault for failing you that way," Severus told the crying ghost. "Please don't blame yourself."

"Loved you. Love you. So sorry," Draco sighed tiredly, cold, wispy fingers touching him lightly. "Hurt you. Been waiting for you to come back..."

"Waiting...?" Severus cocked his head a little, expression suddenly one of confusion. "Lucius said you were... he made me listen to you screaming..."

"I've been right here," Draco told him. "Waiting. For you."

"The entire time?" Severus asked, throat suddenly dry and cold as the fingers on his face.

"All the time. Did..." Still that whisper. "Did Lucius tell something bad? He's a liar, you know."

"He'd said... he'd sold you to the demons, your soul, and then I could see you, and hear you screaming, Draco..." He shivered a little, looking at that translucent face.

"He's a liar," Draco promised. "A horrible, dreadful liar."

"Ob...viously." It still felt *strange*, and Severus couldn't put a finger on how, but he stood still, trying to not think about it, as he looked at Draco. "I'm still sorry that I failed you, Draco."

"Forgive me." It was a plea so truly heartfelt and deep that it seemed to come from the very stone around them. "Forgive me, please. I love you. Please."

"Draco..." He lifted his hands, trying to catch Draco's chilled translucent fingers in them. Useless, but a nice gesture. "I know. I forgive you. I love you, also, only..."

"I know. I know. Don't say. I know..." He seemed so desperate and sad and pitiful there, naked and cool and bloody. "I know. I know."

"You shouldn't have done it. You should've given me a chance to help... you're a beautiful boy, Draco, you weren't ruined at all..."

"You saw. You heard. And others saw and heard and *told*," the ghost whispered. "They *told*. All of them *knew*. They still whisper. And they think I can't hear or don't know because I'm a ghost. So stupid... I didn't want to be a ghost..."

"I know -- I read your note..." He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them, still looking at Draco. "I'm sorry you're a ghost."

"Maybe I won't be for always." It was a hopeful sort of reply. "You forgive me. Really?"

"Forgiven. If... things are better somehow, ... I can't fight your decision, and I want... whatever is best for you." He wanted to hold Draco, give him life again, somehow... It wasn't possible, though in wet eyes, the urge was there, palpable.

"Love you," he said softly, sadly. "Love you. Will always. So sorry. So so sorry..."

"Don't be sorry." His hands tried, again, to catch cold fingers, but to no use. "Don't be sorry."

"So sorry. Can't help being sorry. So, so sorry. I am. I can't help it. I am."

"I know. But... you're forgiven. So there isn't anything to be sorry about." Severus tried to sound firm, even as he continued to look a ghost in the eye.

"I'll always be sorry. You saw."

"I saw," he agreed softly. "but at least I got to see you alive one last time..." Those sad eyes, peering at him from the bathtub as one last shuddering breath was drawn...

"Love you. Sorry. Forgiven?" It was a loop, and the disheartening realization that it was probably a never-ending one was horrible.

"Forgiven." Worse, he couldn't foresee himself breaking it, not even to drive Draco away from him.

"Forgiven..." It was a happy breath, and it seemed that Draco was becoming less and less solid, more of a wisp. "Tired. Will see you later?" It sounded desperate, forlorn.

"Yes. I won't be leaving anytime soon." God and Merlins all help him, he didn't dare.

"Love you, love you. Sorry." And then he was gone, and the first class of the day was coming into the classroom. He was still pale and reeling a little, when they poured in, though he was quick to get behind his desk, snatching out the lesson plan for their class.


"So how was your day?" Harry began tentatively later that night, books scattered all around him on the floor. Severus had kept him up to date in almost everything and he was even a little ahead in Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts, but he still had plenty of work to do.

Homework, and studying to keep up with... but he'd manage that as he always had. And Severus didn't seem to mind having a teen-aged Gryffindor sprawled on the floor of the living-room/office. "It was long. And I saw Draco."

At that, Harry became very still, turning to look up at him. "You saw Draco."

Something in Harry's eyes... "Lupin saw him, too -- he didn't speak until Lupin left the room, however." He glanced away, calmly, from Harry for the moment, signing a 'D' on a paper with a flourish of red ink.

Harry drew in a deep breath. "Hermione had said. You know. That he was a... a ghost. I just... I had hoped you wouldn't see him, yet. After..."

"After Lucius. Draco wasn't with any demons -- he's apparently been waiting to talk with me, since we left. Since he *died*." The point he'd been mulling over all day long. Ghosts simply *were*, after all -- they had no more magic than a squib, and couldn't conjure up the sort of torment Severus had been bombarded with that night.

Quietly, Harry looked at him. "So maybe it wasn't Draco. Maybe it was just... I don't know..."

"Is there any particular reason, Harry, why you couldn't *see* Lucius?" He tacked a 'F' onto the next paper, without giving it anything more than a glance at the hand-writing. His grade-book looked worse than any accountant's cooked books.

"Because..." Oh, hell. He couldn't *lie*. Not to Severus. "Because he wasn't there."

The professor's voice, when he answered, sounded sad, and infinitely disappointed. "I've assumed as much."

"Sev, I'm sorry. Dumbledore asked me not to tell you, he said that you would be so upset, and..." Harry paused, biting his lip. "I'm sorry."

"Is there any particular reason why I'm not supposed to know that I'm apparently going mad...?" He was still grading, albeit steadily. Every so often, he paused to re-dip the tip of his quill in the bottle of red ink.

"Because you *aren't*. You aren't. It's just... It's too much guilt for one man, Sev. You aren't responsible for what Lucius did or what Draco did. You can't take their sins on with everything else, or you *will* go mad...."

"Tell me about the damper spell that Albus taught you. How much of my mind is it blocking off?" He wasn't listening -- wasn't *going* to listen, not yet.

"A... a fair amount. Twenty-five percent, maybe," Harry said. "Maybe not quite that much. But about..."

"My God." He set his quill down, staring at the papers before him. Everything he did was probably being affected, only he didn't *know* it, and now he had no idea to what degree... "And you thought I'd never notice?"

"I don't know. I had hoped that... that maybe you wouldn't need it anymore. That I could just make it go away, slowly..." Harry paused, biting his lip. "If you know the spell is there, it sort of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? I mean, I don't think it would negate the spell, but...?"

A shift, and Severus was leaning back in his chair, still staring at his desk. "It doesn't matter. You've blocked off some of my thought processes. A number of them, actually, because I remember that they should be there, but they just... aren't."

"What do I do?" Harry whispered, looking at him. "Severus... I don't know what to do." He looked so young, so lost. So eternally sorrowful.

So much like Draco had looked the night he had died.

He couldn't have that happen twice. No, he wouldn't lose them *both*. Not Harry, not because of stinging pride and shock. Albus had to have had a reason to put it in place, given what he'd 'seen'... "Get off the floor. I want an apology for not being *told* about it."

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you," Harry said promptly, rising. "I'm sorry. He didn't want me to tell you, didn't want you to know because it was so awful. I'm sorry, Severus..."

"Get over here." That was bade rather firmly, and Severus was still half looking as his desk, though his attention was slowly shifting to Harry. He'd have to go over the papers carefully, just to test to see if any of *that* part of his mind was affected.

"I'm sorry, Sev," Harry whispered again as he stepped close, green eyes cloudy with worry.

"Gryffindors -- who leap in where Angels fear to tread. Without thinking of long term consequences. Without thinking that there are *people* involved in their actions." One leanly muscled hand moved, grasped onto Harry's wrist. It was a simple motion, and Harry felt himself tugged neatly into Severus's lap. "Brat."

"D'you still love me?" Harry asked, snuggling himself closer and laying his head on Severus's shoulder for a moment. "Even though?"

Arms slid around him in silent response. Well. The papers could be handed back a class later than usual. The students, after all, wouldn't protest it. "It's obviously for the best. Just *tell* me when you're doing something like this."

"I promise." That was said quietly, and they remained there, silent, for quite some time. Eventually, they both gave up on the idea of accomplishing anything else, and took themselves off to bed to continue the relaxing silence and holding in a more comfortable place.


"Whoa! No running in the dungeon!" Harry chided, shaking his head at the first year student who was obviously late for potions. It was the last class of the day, and his own was waiting for him -- Slytherins and Gryffindors, God help him. Seventh years.

It was sort of like rolling back time just as many years to the fall before that awful Hallow's Eve. The way they sat, talked, the animosity between them...

Well. He remembered clearly what came after that, and how *horrible* it all seemed. Given time, it seemed to fade from his memory. And there were at least one Gryffindor and one Slytherin who got along perfectly well.

The dungeons didn't even bother him anymore.

By the time Defense Against the Dark Arts let out, Harry was more than glad to see them go. It seemed that he was doomed to see himself and Draco over and over again, sometimes, and he could only smile wryly and shake his head as they finally all filed out of the room.

"Thinking too hard, Potter. Shouldn't."

That was Draco, then. He wandered in and out every now and then, mostly when the students weren't around.

"You're right, I shouldn't. Is potions finished, or is he still yelling at them?"

"Finished. They had a quiz." Which meant that as soon as they'd turned it in, they were allowed to *flee* the room, and usually did so with efficiency. No reason to hang around the git of a potions master, after all.

Harry wasn't sure when he and Draco's ghost made their tentative amends with each other, but it was good to see the pale ghost, still trapped as a boy, smiling a little. "Thanks, Draco."

"You make him happy. Still hate you." That was drawled, but not meant. "He's waiting for you."

That was his habit on a fine Friday afternoon, no matter the season. He'd probably give the quizzes a glance over, grade a few, and then stow them somewhere to remain untouched until Sunday evening. It kept them both sane, to take two days and a few hours of change every week off, just like the students had. Time to rest, to catch up on things....

Life at Hogwarts, other than the odd prowling creature in the halls, was calm compared to the life he could've had as an Auror. It was worth every minute of it, though. Every single last one. "See you around," he promised the ghost, and headed into the hallway and down to the potions classroom.

Well, there was still one student lingering when he slipped into the room -- which was perfectly all right, because the class wasn't *truly* over yet. The Gryffindor fourth year had every right to his last thirty seconds...

"Oh, just sign your name to the top of the damned thing! Either you know the material, or you don't!" Severus snapped, the way he always had, without raising his voice at all.

/And even if he did, you just scared it out of him,/ Harry thought with amusement as the student looked *up* at Severus and then went back to work methodically. /Or maybe not./

Precisely thirty seconds later, the quill was placed down and the student sauntered to the front to hand it in, not quite insolently placing it with care upon the pile of others.

"Get out." Severus was a bit curt-sounding, though that faded as he looked up at Harry, "Your entire house, Harry --- every last one of you is that irritating, in one way or another."

"But you love me," Harry said with a little laugh once the boy was gone. "You can't deny it. And I love you, too, you slimy bastard. Goddamned obnoxious Slytherin."

"With low enough morals to give a student an 'f' on a paper just for irking me," he agreed, shuffling the stack together neatly, as he stood. Not that he'd done it in the past two or three years. Harry had been able to ease down the damper on his lover's mind, as time and distance from those horrible days had mellowed his nerves.

"So. Kiss me, and let's go flying. It's Friday," he reminded Severus.

"However can I forget." He dodged the kiss, though, just to irk Harry, and moved quickly to lock the papers away in his office desk. "You'd have better *not* volunteered to chaperon the Hogsmeade trip tomorrow."

"Volunteered you, too," Harry lied, and then chuckled as Severus swatted at him. "All right. So I didn't."

"Good -- because we're leaving the school for the weekend." And without warning, as Severus opened the door to their rooms, Harry had a suitcase thrust into his hands.

"Thank you for the warning," Harry replied, giving a faint oof as he gathered the case close. "Where are we going?"

"There's a few choices. We can go to my estate, we can go to London, or we can harass your family. You choose -- I did the packing." He picked up his own suitcase, already shrunken, and pocketed it.

"Harass Sirius and Remus," Harry chose automatically, shrinking his own. "The full moon isn't until next week."

"Then I can bring him the wolfsbane he'll need." He moved to walk past Harry, but stopped, and instead snagged his lover close to kiss him -- on his own terms, of course.

By the time it was done, Harry was pleasantly giddy and altogether pleased with himself... pleased with Severus... pleased with life in general. "Let's take off," he offered huskily. "Otherwise, I'll throw you down on the potions room floor and we'll never get there."

"You mean that wouldn't make a worthy excuse? 'Didn't visit, were too busy in the classroom: fucking like minks.'" There had been a few 'episodes' where he, or Severus, or both of them had had to steal a week away from the world to make sure everything was all right. But aside from that, life had gone *well* for him.

He damn well deserved it, didn't he?

There was no question about that.

"Come on," Harry told him with a little smile, one so Gryffindorish that it ached. "Let's go, Sev. We'll worry about the Wolfsbane later."

"And have to brew it there...? There's dog-hair in *everything*," he drawled, pulling Harry with him a little, even as they left the office.

"Well," Harry said as they shut the door behind them on their way out, "at least we know that Remus won't mind."

"What, the dog-hair that's everywhere?" Severus paused a moment to *spell* the thing locked, then carried on, walking briskly with Harry.

"Or if we have sex on the floor while it's brewing," Harry replied, waving to Draco as they passed him by and he waved at them in return. "We'll see you Sunday."

"Goodbye, forgiven," the Malfoy-ghost said a little sadly, and waved.

That always saddened Severus a little, and he waved to Draco, echoing the ghost's soft goodbye. It wasn't until they were out of the ghost's earshot that he replied, "I still haven't figured your godfathers out."

"Don't worry," Harry said as they made their way upstairs and headed out through the foyer. "They haven't figured us out yet, either. With any luck, none of us will ever manage to do such a thing, hm? Would you really want to know what Sirius was thinking?"

"Since it's probably along the lines of 'biscuit, flea bath', no, not really." There would be a detour to the Quidditch pitch, to get their brooms out of the shed there, but past that, they wouldn't have to see the school until Sunday. A necessary break.

They gathered their brooms in companionable silence, Harry's coming most obediently to hand as they walked back out into the gathering afternoon darkness. "Well," he said softly, "let's go."

"A kiss first." 'For the road' he almost added, knowing that he could usually get Harry to at least take a swat at him when he used bad muggle clich‚s. It didn't stop him from turning towards his companion, trusty old broom in hand, and *waiting*.

He didn't wait long; Harry moved to him, leaned close, and pressed his lips almost tenderly to Severus's in full view of the arriving Gryffindor Quidditch team. The sounds of laughter and soft smattered mutters of 'how can they?' amused him, and he tilted his head back for the moment, smiling. "Shall we go?"

"And here I was enjoying killing Gryffindor morale..." The potions master nodded, though, called his broom 'up' and pulled away from Harry enough to get on it. "Don't leave me lagging too far behind."

"Never," Harry promised him gently, and then flew. Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, Hogwart's longest-standing DADA teacher in years (with four years under his belt in that position, young as he was), always seemed to be flying. Through life, through luck, danger...

Severus snorted back a laugh as he followed after Harry. They flew best, after all, together.

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