It had been quite the overwhelming day all around, although Harry couldn't see how it could have been bigger for anyone else (except possibly Ruby - being born was pretty hard to top). If his maritus had simply died, he would have been much calmer about the whole situation. However, he'd not even dared hope for such a sign since sometime around the beginning of June.
Sev had woken up after perhaps an hour's nap, cranky and irascible and a little bit confused, and demanding to know why Harry had latched onto his leg like a dog to a mail owl. When informed that he'd been asleep he looked utterly stunned for about five seconds. Severus promptly looked down at Ruby and, with arched brow and serpentine tone, said, "It seems your plot to kill me by an overabundance of redheads has backfired. Wouldn't you say, Miss Weasley?"
Ruby stuck out her slug-like tongue and went back to sleep.
He reluctantly (and sullenly) gave Ruby up when the Grangers arrived. They spent as long as they dared cooing over her and looking at her gums ("Nice, strong teeth she'll have!" Mister Granger boasted with his chest puffed out) before handing her back to a very grumpy Severus. Hermione asked, jokingly, if she'd be allowed to raise her own daughter.
Sev had scowled and informed her, "After the mayhem you've aided since you were eleven, Mistress Granger-Weasley or whatever you're calling yourself these days, I'm loath to believe that you and your... husband," a dryly arched eyebrow, "are trustworthy to raise my goddaughter without instilling her with any of your less desirable traits."
"Don't talk to her like that--"
"Ron, I can handle myself." Hermione looked coolly at Severus. "Professor Snape, we're perfectly capable of raising our own daughter. If our work isn't up to your standards, then you can bite me."
"Herm!" Ron stared at her, stunned. (And, if the faint flush creeping over his slack jaw was any indication, a little turned on.)
She looked at him blandly. "Yes, Ron?"
He sputtered, "You can't... this... he's..."
"I'm aware of who Professor Snape is and what I just said."
Ron turned pinker. He didn't seem to have a response.
Harry looked up from where he was still camped at Sev's feet. He expected Sev to be furious. He jumped a little when he saw the distant sadness in his maritus' eyes. Tenderly, he stroked a bony knee. "All right?"
Severus nodded absently. He adjusted the blanket around Ruby. "It's a bit chilly in here. I won't have my only goddaughter catching her death."
If Harry didn't know better, he would have thought Sev was going to cry.
Mrs. Weasley managed to get Ruby back with only a little difficulty. Sev was oddly quiet, his empty hands folded in his lap and a thoughtful look on his thin face. Tentatively, Harry leaned his head against his maritus' leg. He tensed when a sallow, skeletal hand touched his hair, but forced himself to relax into the gentle petting. He noticed Fred and George gaping in horrified shock. A calm, steady stare made them look away.
Percy and Penelope returned before long. Percy looked as proud as if he'd been named Head Boy all over again. He kept an arm around Penelope and said things like, "Well, it won't be long until we've got one of our own," and, "Do you need to sit down, honey? There's a chair by the window." He squeaked when he saw who was in said chair by the window.
Penelope gave him a battle-worn look. "Hush, Percy. I'm fine. Hermione, tell him I can stand on my own two feet for more than a minute at a time?"
"She can stand on her own two feet for more than a minute at a time, Percy. I was turning in articles up until last Friday."
"But you sit down to write--"
"Yes, Penny, dear?"
"I love you, but you're being a pest."
Percy looked rather stunned over that.
Suddenly, the door flew open and six feet plus of lanky redhead tore into the room. Ginny dived upon Ruby and snatched her from Molly's arms. "Oh, my god! She's adorable! Oh, yes, you are. Aren't you? Aren't you? Gootchy, gootchy!" She tickled Ruby under the chin and squealed. "She looks just like you, Hermione!"
Hermione's eyes widened a little, but she grinned. Harry couldn't understand why; if anyone had said he looked like a squashed tomato he'd be a bit upset. "She's going to have Ron's nose," Hermione said matter-of-factly.
"Oh, no! Poor little thing."
"Well, it's not my fault you got Dad's nose, is it?"
Bill looked over Ginny's shoulder. "Hmm. I think you're right. Let's hope she doesn't break it or she'll look like Professor Snape."
"Good afternoon to you as well, Mister Weasley."
Bill blanched. Even his freckles went from rusty to simply reddish. Sev raised his eyebrows in cool challenge. When Bill only stared, his pallor slowly turning to a flush, Sev went back to staring blankly out the window.
A dark face peeked around the corner into the room. There was the glint of glasses, and a wide smile, and a finger to thin lips. William tiptoed into the room mischievously. His hair wasn't blue any longer. It was pink. Bright pink. Shocking pink. Almost exactly the shade Severus' had gone when Harry had neglected to properly clean a cauldron.
"Oh, my god," Harry whispered, staring in horror. He didn't need that. He didn't need that at all.
Sev looked at Harry, clearly puzzled, then back over his shoulder to where William suddenly dug his fingers into Bill's ribs. Bill yelped, glared down at him, and dived for a kiss. Sev made a small noise. Settling his gaze on Harry for a moment, he said smugly, "Didn't bother you last time, if I rec--"
His eyes widened drastically, then narrowed. He snapped his head around for another look. The hand resting gently on Harry's head wove itself into thick, unruly hair. His other elbow came to rest on the arm of the rocking chair and he balanced his chin on his fingertips with a menacing sidelong glare.
Harry drew his knees to his chest and hugged them. His breathing grew the slightest hitch. He ground his cheek into Sev's bony knee until he felt capillaries strain and nerves cry out. Don't come over here. Don't speak to me, please. I'm not here. I'm not here. For the love of god, William, I'm not here.
"Hullo, Harry. How've you been?"
He snapped his eyes open. William was looking down at him with a hint of a tender smile. The hand in Harry's hair tightened.
"Fine," Harry said in the most pleasant voice he could manage.
William relaxed just a little. "Oh, good. Molly said you'd gone through some rough times, and we hadn't heard from you since February." He looked at Severus. "Ah! Hello! You must be Harry's bloke! Severus, was it?" He stuck out his hand. "I'm--"
"I know perfectly well who you are." Severus' voice was low, steady, calm. Harry's spine prickled at the sound. William's dark skin slowly turned ashen as black eyes bored mercilessly through him.
William licked his lips. "Ah." He backed away, eyes the slightest bit wide, and didn't look away from Sev until he was safely on the other side of Bill. Sev still didn't loosen his hand. He continued to clutch Harry's hair until pinprick pains shot through and several strands loosened. He didn't take his eyes off of William.
"Ease up, you greasy bastard," Harry hissed softly. There was a threatening note of panic coming from his chest. "That hurts."
Severus' hand twitched and immediately let go. He looked down at Harry, his brows knitted in the middle. His thin lower lip caught in his jagged teeth. "I'm sorry," he whispered. The hand fluttered over top of Harry's hair but didn't quite touch him.
"It's okay." Harry rubbed a palm briefly over Severus' thigh. He pulled it back. The odd, creeping sensation of hands had started to return. Thanks to William, his protective euphoria was over.
Molly looked a bit nervous. Sirius and Remus had come on Ron and Hermione's insistence. While she was perfectly sweet to them, and blushed every time Remus smiled (earning a few innocuously curious looks from Arthur), she still hovered like a mother hen the whole time a werewolf and an Azkaban escapee cooed over her granddaughter.
Sev, who still looked disheartened, sat in his chair, rocking gently. Harry was still at his feet. Every now and then, when he could bring himself to it, he would reach up and stroke a thin, pallid hand. Once again, he felt it twitch as if Sev wanted to return the affection. Harry gave him an apologetic look. Sev only looked sadder.
William was fortunately chatting with George and had been for quite some time. They'd set up camp around a piece of parchment and were passing a quill back and forth. George grinned wickedly. It wouldn't have surprised Harry to learn that William had a history of pranking on top of everything else. He didn't want to know, though. He still carried some weight of guilt and preferred to ignore it.
Remus, rocking Ruby gently and letting her head rest in the crook of his arm, glanced up at them. He frowned a little and came closer. He didn't ask what was wrong; he'd have no idea that Sev was apparently on the mend. Rather, he quietly asked, "Would you like to hold her, Severus?"
Sev's arms shot out, and some of his downtrodden look evaporated. Remus' eyebrows lifted in surprise, but he snorted pleasantly and smiled. Gently, he handed over the sleeping lump of infant. Ruby's eyes opened a little and she snuffled and kicked.
"That's enough of that, Miss Weasley," Sev murmured, settling her against his chest once more. He pushed back the layer of pink blanket covering her head and carefully stroked her soft, red curls. Ruby made a mewling sound and snuggled closer.
Remus raised a surprised eyebrow. "I'd have never guessed you were the paternal type, Severus."
"There are a great many things you don't know about me, Lupin." Sev didn't take his eyes off Ruby. Leaning forward slightly, he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. She squeaked, and stuck three fingers in her mouth. Sev smiled. He glanced at his maritus with something Harry hadn't seen in a long time: contentment.
"All right?" Harry asked softly. Gingerly, he placed a hand on Severus' knee.
Sev nodded. He shifted Ruby's weight slightly and lightly laid his own hand over Harry's. Harry controlled his flinch. He took a deep breath. Go away. All of you, leave me alone for five minutes.
The hands faltered. They pinched before they pulled back, and Harry had to close his eyes a moment to block out the lingering sensation.
He opened them and looked up. Severus was still watching him with soft eyes. Harry turned his hand over and clasped Sev's, smiling crookedly.
Sev clasped back, squeezing. "Semper fidelis et semper tuus sum, mi marite," he whispered.
Harry's face broke into a grin at the same moment the flash went off. He blinked rapidly while afterimages burned away at his retinas. Ruby squeaked and squirmed. Sev looked up and glared at Mister Weasley. "If you can't keep that thing to yourself, Arthur, I'll have to take it away."
Arthur's ears turned red. "Sorry." He scratched the back of his head. "I'll get you a copy."
Sev arched an eyebrow. "I hardly think that will be necessary." Harry rolled his eyes and nodded to Mister Weasley, who looked relieved. Sev glared coolly at Harry and, with great show and a subtle squeeze, unwrapped his hand and went back to holding Ruby with both.
The door opened and a severe-looking witch in a white smock did an unusually good impression of a monolith in the doorway. "Everyone out. Visiting hours are over, and I'm sure we have a few patients who'd like some rest."
"I'm not," Hermione yawned, "tired."
Sister folded her arms, giving Hermione an I've-seen-this-a-thousand-times-you-can't-fool-me look. "Come on, tomorrow's another day." Her cool countenance was broken by a sudden wicked smile. "Unless the lot of you are that eager to help with nappy changes."
Fred gagged. George shuddered. Bill shifted uneasily, and William looked oblivious. Ginny made a face. Percy cleared his throat and tried to look responsible, but the colour had drained from his cheeks anyway. Penelope rolled her eyes at him. Sirius made a subtle crablike movement towards the door, and Remus smirked resignedly. Even Arthur looked nervous.
"Oh, for Heaven's sake," Molly put her hands on her hips. "Just what I'd expect. You're all happy to come in and coo, but as soon as the real work starts you scurry away like mice." She shook her head. "Go on, out, all of you. She probably needs a change anyway."
The Grangers and Molly and Arthur hung back until the rest of the pack had said their goodbyes and hurried out to the waiting room. Most of the rest of the pack, anyway. Molly pointed at the two mariti and put a finger over her lips. The four said their murmured goodbyes, and promised to come back as soon as sister would let them back in the ward. Harry waited until they'd gone; he stood up and reached out to take Ruby so Sev could stand more easily.
Sev didn't budge. His long fingers traced delicate patterns on her blanketed back. Ruby slurped her fingers.
"Come on, Sev. You don't want to get caught up in nappy changes, do you?"
Severus lifted a mildly annoyed eyebrow. "And what if I do?"
Harry gave him a rather perturbed look. "You're joking, right?"
"Why would I joke? It's not as if I've never done it before." He shifted Ruby against his chest. The tiny fingers not in Ruby's mouth flexed and once again gripped Severus' robe.
Sister tapped him sharply on the shoulder. "I'm afraid it's time for this little one to have a nap."
"She's having a nap, thank you very much." Sev set his mouth and narrowed his eyes.
"Sev, come on. Hermione's tired, too." Harry shrank from the glare he got. He scowled, dropping his arms limply at his sides. "Greasy bastard."
Sister folded her arms. She tapped her foot impatiently. "Sir, visiting hours are over. You're welcome to come back tomorrow, but for now I have to ask you to leave."
"Sev, please?" Harry looked at him pleadingly. "If you get kicked out they won't let you come back."
Severus was silent. He stroked Ruby's back. A little of the sadness came back to his eyes.
Harry took a couple of deep breaths. Steeling himself, he bent forward and pressed his lips against Sev's cheek. Sev snapped his face towards Harry with a stunned look.
Harry smiled softly, and a little sadly. "Just because you've slept all day doesn't mean the rest of us are wide awake, you selfish bastard." Sister stiffened in surprise, but said nothing.
Sev blinked. He nodded a moment later and, reluctantly, lifted Ruby from his chest and handed her to the nurse. The warm scent of baby powder and the strange metallic smell lingered on his robe.
Ruby whimpered and thrashed her arms. Sev held out a hand and her tiny fingers overlapped when they clamped around one of his.
"None of that, Miss Weasley. With your parents' permission I may even find a few minutes to see you again someday." He glanced furtively at Ron and Hermione, who were staring. Ron looked confused and a bit scared; Hermione looked a little sad.
"Well," she said, "I suppose we could always use a baby-sitter."
Severus' eyes screwed shut. His spine tensed, and Harry was close enough to feel the reined tremble in his shoulders. He set his mouth, stood, smoothed his robes, pressed a quick kiss to the top of Ruby's head, and swooped out. The door banged shut behind him.
Ruby immediately opened her mouth and screamed. Sister sighed and rocked her. "Goodness, you'd think he'd know better than to slam the door around your sensitive little ears." She cast a glare at the door, then at Harry. After a moment, Ruby calmed to steady whimpers. She kept clutching at the air.
"What the Hell was that about?" Ron asked incredulously.
Harry shrugged in confusion. "I haven't a bloody clue."
Hermione scowled. "I..." she shook her head. The dark rings under her eyes were nearly black. She looked like a panda. "I'm too tired to figure him out. Harry, will you tell him I'm sorry? I don't know what I did, but I'm sorry."
Ron gave Harry a dark, knowing look. "You don't suppose it's got to do with...?"
Harry shook his head. He pulled off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Wish I knew."
Hermione glanced at Ron. "What are you talking about?"
Ron took her hand. "It's private."
Hermione frowned, but didn't say anything.
Harry slid his glasses back into place. "Reckon I'd better go find him." He fidgeted. "Um... yeah, congratulations, and all that." He chewed his lip, hopping from one foot to the other.
Ron managed a weak smile. "Thanks. You two are welcome back any time, you know." He put the slightest stress on "you two". Of course. He'd been through Snape's class with the rest of them, and had spent Christmas wincing at the bruise on Harry's jaw. He'd have had to be insane to leave Sev alone with Ruby.
Harry nodded. "Thanks." His voice was strained and a little bitter. This wasn't the evening he'd looked forward to. "Sorry we killed the day." He shuffled out, head down. Ruby's lost whimpers mirrored his soul.
Everyone else was still in the waiting room. Mrs. Weasley hurried up to Harry. "He's stormed out, said something about wanting to be alone for a few minutes. At least, I think that's what he said."
"What were his exact words?"
Molly blushed. Hesitantly, she whispered in his ear. Harry's eyes went round. He'd heard more interesting metaphors from Molly Weasley in one day than he'd heard in the previous eight years combined. "Ah."
"He does paint a blue streak, doesn't he?"
"Not usually." Sev typically confined that sort of language more or less to the area behind closed doors. Well, used to, apparently. "Um, I'm going to find him."
She gave him a sympathetic smile. "If you need anything, dear, let me know."
Harry flashed a smile. He suspected it was less pleasant than he'd intended. He ignored Sirius calling after him and walked out into the rose-yellow corridor. At the reception desk, he saw the witch he'd spoken to earlier gathering up her things. "Excuse me," he called.
She looked up. Her tired eyes were red, but she managed to give him a grey smile. A few granite-coloured strands had come loose from her bun. "Let me guess. Tall, skinny fellow, black robe, looks like he's eaten a spoonful of salt?"
Harry nodded. He slumped a little in relief.
She pointed down a pale green corridor. "Little wizards' room, second door on your left. Went straight in without a word."
"Thanks so much." Without waiting for another acknowledgement Harry trotted as quickly as he could down the corridor. There was an icon on the door of a vaguely human figure in a straight robe and a pointed hat. The "little witches' room", as he supposed the woman called it, had a similar picture but the robe flared and the hat had a brim. He pushed on the door and it swung open far more smoothly than the Muggle equivalent. "Sev?"
Harry frowned. Usually, when Sev said that it was mocking. Now, it was rending and bitter. "Hermione's sorry, even if she doesn't have a clue what's going on."
"How wonderful for her. Leave me alone."
"Fuck off, Potter!"
Harry jumped. His eyes narrowed. With quick strides he crossed the large restroom and stood, arms crossed, just outside the only closed stall door. "I'm not fucking off, you greasy bastard. What happened in there?"
"Leave me alone, Harry. I want to go home."
"Then why haven't you taken the Floo back?"
There was a pause. The door swung open and Sev, eyes red and mouth hard, towered over him. "After everything I've done for you, Potter, I'm surprised you have to ask." He brushed past Harry and turned on a cold tap.
"You really are insufferable, you know."
Sev splashed his face with a double handful of frigid water. He rubbed it over the sharp planes of his skull. "Towel."
Harry sighed and pulled a soft cotton hand towel from what looked like a Muggle paper towel dispenser. He handed it over and Severus blotted his face. He carefully sopped the water from his lashes before blinking at Harry. "As for being insufferable, I learned from the best." A sharp eyebrow nailed home the implication.
Harry shook his head and held up his hands. "Fine, I'm horrible. I've suffered unto you the most dire and devious of tribulations. It doesn't explain why you're swearing at half the hospital."
Severus stood there, fingering the towel. His eyes were dropped, and were focused on some other point in time. "Gran had to come here for her work sometimes. She hated it, never told me why."
"Has this got to do with that?"
Severus shook his head. "No. I didn't remember it until now for some reason, that's all."
"Has it got to do with Eversor? Baby-sitting, I mean?"
Severus narrowed his eyes. "Don't be disgusting."
Harry decided there was more to that than he was going to hear. Not that he couldn't extrapolate. It was as good as a "no", though. Something Sev had said earlier came to mind. "Has it got to do with Draco?"
Sev was quiet. He wrung the towel in his hands.
"What's it got to do with the Malfoys?"
"Absolutely nothing." Severus turned on his heel and threw the towel, hard, at the bin. It missed. He didn't move to pick it up. Just as he started to reach for the door, it swung and nearly bashed him in the nose. A bright pink head peeked in.
"Sorry! Did I hurt you?"
Severus took a step back and pulled himself to his full height. He glared down at William, coolly. He didn't say a word.
"I came to see if you were all right," William explained. "Looks like Harry found you first."
"Just as I found him first," Sev said in a warning tone. He glared at William, cast a look back at Harry, and, with obvious upset and difficulty, yanked open the door and strode out.
Harry grimly watched him go. He perched on the edge of the sinks and rubbed his eyes. To think, it had started out as such a pleasant day. Leave it to Severus to kill one of the best days of Harry's life--he mentally slapped himself. After everything Sev had been through, Harry didn't have any right to feel that way. Something about Hermione's comment was seriously bothering him. Without the Pensieve, Harry wondered if he'd ever find out what.
William hummed softly. "How's he doing?"
Harry looked at him incredulously. "You really have to ask."
William shrugged. "I can hope, can't I?" He scratched his arm. "Take it you told him."
"What did he do?"
Harry blinked. "What do you mean?"
William indicated the side of his face.
Harry arched an eyebrow in a very Sev-like way. "Hardly."
"I only asked." William crossed his arms and perched on the other end of the short row of sinks. "Why is it that I always seem to follow you into the loo?"
Harry snorted ironically. He shrugged. "Too much of Mister Weasley's stout?"
William laughed out loud. He covered his mouth with his hand and stoppered the noise. It was the same rich, full laugh that had tempted Harry so thoroughly over Christmas. It ran up and down his spine like spiders. He hunched, trying to hide from it.
"It's not so bad, a few bruises. Better than the alternative, anyway."
Harry gave William a decidedly confused look. "What the Hell are you talking about?"
"I'm only saying that I'd rather have a black eye for a couple of days than feel like some sort of pariah until someone decides to stop being grumpy. At least with a black eye it's all over with quickly enough."
Harry blinked. Something in his stomach twisted. "Bill didn't--"
"'Course not." William ran a hand through his pink curls. Harry wondered vaguely if they were still soft; he shoved the thought aside. "And he wouldn't, even if I told him."
William shook his head. He unwound a stray pink hair from his finger where it had gotten caught. "Reckon I'll save it for an anniversary present. 'Happy Anniversary, love, here's a watch. Oh, by the way, I snogged Harry at our wedding. You're not upset, are you?' Ought to go over well, don't you think?" He kicked his feet at nothing. "Sorry. This wasn't why I was in here, was it?"
"In case you're forgetting, I snogged you. You stopped me."
"Barely." William turned his face away. "There was a time..." he pulled his glasses off and wiped them on his robe. It was black, of course, and looked like it was made of alternating strips of suede and cloth. The leather was probably simulated because William intentionally used a section of that to wipe his glasses. "Sorry. You probably don't want to hear about that."
Harry shrugged. His own glasses were crusted with oil and the film of undetermined origin they always had by the end of the day. He didn't want to imitate William, though. "What d'you mean, 'barely'?"
"Exactly that, barely. Erm," he rubbed his aquiline nose, "let's say that if a couple of things had been different it wouldn't have stopped where it did." His dark cheeks flushed; William dropped his head and stared at the floor.
"Oh." Harry felt a bit warm. A sensation like worms squirming covered his skin. "It did, though."
"Yes. It did." Whether William's deep, soft voice held relief or regret was difficult to tell.
Harry was just about to open his mouth to excuse himself when William said, "You... the two of you looked happy. In the room, I mean, when Arthur took the picture. Bill and I spout off at each other in Arabic a lot, but it never sounds like... whatever your bloke said."
"It's Latin. You heard that?"
"Mostly the tone. Um. Yeah. Um... I'm sorry. About him. I expect you're... what is it? The Muggle Disease?"
"You know. That... something, whatever it is, virus or something, Muggles get it mostly. Makes you reduce. Was he Muggle born?"
Harry blinked. His stomach tried to creep up his throat. "No. No, it's nothing like that. He's thin, that's all." He scowled at William, anger burning his skin and resentment making parts of his brain spin.
"Oh. Sorry, I only thought... you didn't touch him very much, and I thought, maybe..."
"That's not how it works, anyway. And even if it were, I'd rather die than not..." Harry trailed off. He shivered at the sudden chill in his bones.
William nodded. "Okay. That's good. I didn't want to say anything back there because of Ruby." He sighed. "Sorry. Sorry, that's not what I meant to say, I don't know what I meant to say, I knew something like this was going to happen, I'm stupid, I'm sorry." He hissed in exasperation and leaned back so his shoulders rest against the mirror.
Harry slid to the floor. "I'm going to see how he is."
"Yeah. Tell him I'm sorry. For everything, not only this." William sat up. He reached for Harry's shoulder; Harry flinched.
"Sorry," he muttered. "I don't like anyone touching me." He hurried out into the corridor. The walls felt faded and oppressive. That pallid, mouldy green was the colour of despair.
Sev was sitting quietly in the deserted reception area. His fingers were steepled in front of his mouth; he stared blankly at a spot between two chairs. Harry slid into the seat next to him.
"We only talked."
Harry decided not to ask how Sev knew. He'd promised nothing like that would happen again, after all. Gingerly, he touched a thin leg with a single fingertip. "Still want to go home?"
Sev slowly shook his head.
"You want to go see Ruby again, don't you?"
Sev nodded. He still stared at the floor.
"Why did what Hermione said upset you so much?"
"It reminded me of something about which I don't wish to think." There was a very final note in his words. Harry didn't push - he didn't want to have to chase after Severus a second time, and there was every chance William wouldn't survive if that happened again.
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw a pink and black smudge tiptoeing past them towards the yellow corridor. Some part of him still wanted to comfort William, as he had at Christmas, to show him he wasn't evil for his past. Another part wanted to stay far, far away and let him deal with it himself. Harry turned away to look at Sev. He started to brush a greying piece of hair out of Severus' face. At the last moment, his hand jerked back. The tiniest ashen flicker grew beneath sallow skin.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered. "Didn't mean to spoil your birthday."
"Oh? Is it my birthday?" Severus gave him a dull sneer.
"Prat. I'm not going to forget something like that. I was going to give you your present when we got home."
"Might I remind you, Mister Potter, I don't want to go home." Sev leaned back in his chair. The dark shadows under his eyes bled into his lashes, his black irises, making them look like they'd been scooped out. "You ought to have stayed at Hogwarts."
"Why would I want to stay at Hogwarts?"
"You might have found something to make you happy." Severus spoke very softly and very firmly and his face showed nothing whatsoever.
Harry arched an eyebrow. "I swear you do it on purpose, you greasy bastard. I've got loads to make me happy."
"Apart from the fact that I've got a goddaughter, there's that other little detail. Let's see, what was it? Oh. Yes. You fell asleep for the first time in a year without taking enough Draught of Living Death to kill an elephant."
Sev snorted. "And this is significant how?"
"Well, I sort of hoped that if you got better maybe I could get better and, you know, we might be able to be happy. Again. That's what I want." Harry scowled and slumped forward, elbows on his knees. "Goddamned greasy bastard. Whatever happened to 'semper fidelis'?"
"You've never said it."
Harry closed his eyes. "You know perfectly well I have."
"My last birthday."
"As I recall, you got as far as 'semper' before switching to religious affirmations."
Sev rippled his fingers. "I quote, 'Semper, oh god'. After that your vocabulary deteriorated rather quickly."
Harry glanced at Severus and glared. "What about 'tuus sum'? Seem to remember getting that out."
Sev blinked. "What about it?"
Harry shook his head. He realised he'd clasped his hands and was currently squeezing until his knuckles went white. He relaxed them, flexing his hands to get the blood moving again. "You're impossible, you know?"
"I do my best."
Harry sighed. A cold ache was forming in the middle of his chest. Very quietly, looking at the wall, he said, "Semper fidelis et semper tuus sum, mi marite." For good measure he added, "Et te amo, te adipate nothe."
Harry turned to look at Severus, puzzled. Those dark eyes were closed. A single clear tear ran over the plane of his cheek; it left a shimmering wet streak like a comet's tail. Guilt devoured Harry's insides. Without thinking, he reached over and smeared the tear away. Sev grabbed his hand and, clutching it tightly between his own, pressed his lips against short fingers. He leaned his mouth heavily against them. Warm air rushed over Harry's skin.
"Hicne certum egeas?" Severus murmured against Harry's hand. Are you sure this is what you want?
Part of Harry screamed that, no, it wasn't. He realised that was only his skin, and the portion of his brain that allowed the hands to crawl over him at the slightest touch. Sev hadn't touched him this forcefully since--in a very long time. "'Course I am," he rasped. "Think I'd be here if I wasn't?"
Sev kissed his fingers again. "This may still be my last birthday," he said flatly.
Harry shivered. "And it might not." His muscles twitched erratically. Sev released his fingers. Harry pulled them away, torn between gratitude and crippling self-loathing.
Harry looked at him. "I'd wondered about that."
Sev blinked. "It doesn't mean precisely the same thing." He paused. "But it's apt."
Harry arched an eyebrow. "What would mean the same thing, then?"
"What does obnoxius puer mean?"
Severus glanced at him solemnly. "It's an exceedingly roundabout way of saying I'm," he paused thoughtfully, "dependent on you." He looked very brittle in the dim, colourless light.
Harry paused. He licked his lips. "I think I prefer obnoxius puer."
"I'd rather hoped you might. Besides, having to learn another new word might damage your fragile little brain."
Harry poked his tongue out. "Prat."
Sev didn't smile, but he looked better than he had in a while.
"I've always liked it, too," Remus said, watching the bird clean its beak rapidly on the branch. "Sheng won't sell it, though, especially for what I can offer. I'll break him down one of these days."
"Uh-huh." Harry's attention was still on the dragon. It glowered at him, got up haughtily, turned until Harry had a clear view of its rump, and plopped down. Not even the statue outside Slytherin was that sulky.
Harry and Severus had rejoined the group in the maternity waiting room only to discover that Sirius had offered to take the lot of them to eat. Remus refused to budge on where. So, after several minutes of Weasleys reacting with anything from apprehension to enthusiasm, Sirius outright refusing to touch something called "tofu", Severus looking significantly more cheerful and downright smug (especially after hearing Sirius go on about that tofu stuff), and Harry attempting to make the odd comment that he'd never had Chinese food in his life and he'd like a say in the matter if it was all the same, fifteen assorted people Apparated into or fell out of the Floo at the Happy Dumpling. The Grangers took the Floo with Harry and Severus. They nearly didn't - Sev, bizarrely cheerful, made a show of moaning about how dangerous it was until Harry kicked him.
Next to Harry, Hermione's parents stared in a similar bug-eyed fashion at a painting of a group of ladies dancing. "This is brilliant," Mrs. Granger breathed. "Hermione's told us a lot, but I never imagined anything like this."
Mister Granger hesitantly held up his fingers. After a couple of false starts he touched the canvas quickly. "You can't even feel them, honey. It's like touching a telly screen."
His wife did the same, gasping slightly. The sound of a throat clearing behind them made her jump. Harry looked to find a middle-aged wizard with a wide stomach and a sour expression. His arms were folded over his white chef's robe, and his short hair was steel grey. Remus exclaimed, "Sheng!"
Sheng nodded at Remus, took in the extremely nervous-looking and slightly shaking Grangers from toe to top, and asked, "Your mates, Remus?" His accent was bizarre. Harry supposed it was Chinese, but it also seemed to hover between London and some part of America.
"Sheng, this is Rod and Roberta Granger." Remus indicated Mister and Mrs. Granger. "This is Sheng Yao, one of the best chefs in Britain."
Sev, who'd been sitting quietly and looking around, snorted. Sheng raised an eyebrow at him; Severus raised one back.
"Pleased to meet you, Mister Yao." Rod Granger held out a hand. Sheng, however, ignored it in favour of stalking over to where Sev was sitting. He stuck his fists in his hips.
"And what makes you think you can do better?"
"Thirty-eight years of potions work."
Sheng scowled. "Just because you can mix up a batch of Noxious Nightshade doesn't mean you can cook. I've got thirty years in potions, and nearly fifty in the culinary arts, and I can tell you that there's a big difference between a pan and a cauldron."
"I've known how to cook since I was a boy. I understand the difference perfectly well."
Sheng looked Severus up and down. "How many decades has that been?" he said snappishly.
Sev smirked. "Three and a half."
"Amateur," Sheng said.
"Prodigy," Sev replied with an arrogant smirk.
Sheng snorted. "This another friend of yours, Remus?"
"Of sorts. Severus Snape, Sheng Yao."
Sheng rubbed his eyes and muttered in a sharp, singsong language Harry couldn't understand. The general herd of Weasleys - by blood, marriage, or association - glanced back and forth between the two. Most looked nervous; William looked surreptitiously amused; Fred and George looked ready to take bets on the winner. Harry tried to look innocuous.
"Suppose I'll have to ask Li to open up the back room. If this whole lot's with you," Sheng grumped at Remus, who nodded. He shot Sev another look. "Never trust a skinny chef."
Severus pulled himself to his full height. He glared down at Sheng's belly. "Only an insecure chef eats all his own cooking."
Sheng cocked an eyebrow.
Sev tilted his chin.
"Oh, god. I don't want to see this," Harry muttered to Remus between clenched teeth. "I don't want to have to spend all night at Saint Mungo's, too."
Remus held up a hand. "No, no, I think it'll be okay. One of them has to back down sometime." Pause. "I think."
By this time, Sev had stretched himself up until he resembled the Grim Reaper on an especially dignified call, and Sheng was puffed out like a fighting cock. They stared at each other, daring one another to look away first.
"Come back tomorrow afternoon. We'll settle this," Sheng growled.
"Potions or cooking? Either way I'm afraid you'll be sorely outmatched."
"Both. Two o'clock."
"What makes you think I haven't got anything better to do with my time?"
Sheng smirked victoriously. "If you're going to capitulate--"
Severus snarled. "Two o'clock."
Sheng nodded curtly and marched out of the restaurant's anteroom. He paused long enough to glance at the Grangers and Bill, and mutter something that sounded an awful lot like, "Wizards these days. Whatever happened to robes?"
Harry covered his face with his hand. "Tell me that didn't just happen."
Remus shrugged. He looked a bit embarrassed. "Sorry."
On one side, he had a giggling eighteen-year-old girl.
On the other, he had six feet, five inches, eight and a quarter stone of growling death.
Throw in a few other factors - such as Fred and George testing the aerodynamics of their ivory... sticks (the purpose of which Harry had only the most theoretical concept), Rod and Roberta Granger staring bug-eyed at the menu's moving illustrations, Mrs. Weasley blushing throughout a chat with Remus while Arthur prodded the Grangers for information on Muggle dentistry, and certain strategic seating arrangements - and Harry found himself wishing desperately for canned chicken soup and his own couch.
The fact that he recognised absolutely nothing on the menu only rubbed salt into it. Coarse salt, at that.
They'd been seated in a comfortably large room around an enormous table. A huge gold dragon occasionally roared on the red wall, and parchment scrolls with Chinese writing on them (Harry supposed it was Chinese, anyway) weaved gently whenever anyone moved nearby. Severus couldn't walk quickly for more than a few steps and so he and Harry hung back. It was sort of pleasant, really; Sev had calmed down a bit and was merely antsy and snappish rather than frothing. He made a few sniping comments about Sirius trying to poison him. Harry shot back with the fact that Sev had done a pretty thorough job so far of poisoning himself and really didn't need any help. Instead of sulking, Sev looked at him with an odd sort of pride and gently took his hand.
He dropped it when he found that Molly had saved them seats.
She grinned. "A nice change from Christmas, isn't it, Harry?" She indicated the roomy table. The fact that she'd saved them the two seats between Ginny and William didn't do anything to settle his stomach. William looked too scared to sit there and too scared to argue. Harry took Sev's hand again and squeezed pleadingly. Don't kill anyone at the table. I'll do anything you want, you greasy bastard, only don't kill him at the fucking table.
To Harry's relief and utter horror, Sev swept ahead and solidly planted himself in the chair next to William. William's shoulders stiffened a bit, and his black eyes darted about as if he were looking for the escape hatch. Harry gave him a subtle look of apology as he sat down between Sev and Ginny. He put his hand on Severus' leg for as long as he could bear, trying to hold him back.
As much to distract Severus as to get any real information, Harry leaned in and whispered, "What do I order?"
Severus glanced lightly at Harry's menu. His glasses, as usual, had slipped down his nose. With a haughty look he stuck his finger at the bottom right panel. "This."
Harry scowled. "Chewy Chow Cheating?" He looked up at Sev, only to receive the dreariest look he'd gotten since the day he dropped a whole mouse into his cauldron in Potions class. "What?"
"I'll order, shall I?"
"What? That's what it says, isn't it?"
Harry folded his arms. "I suppose you're going to tell me you speak Chinese now."
Severus peered at him through oddly narrowed eyes. "Hardly." He leaned in to whisper, "There was more to being a Death Eater than murder and mayhem, you know."
Harry cocked a surprised eyebrow at him. Despite his stony expression and relative position at the table, Sev must have been happy as a loon to say something like that. Of course, it didn't do much to reassure Harry about what he was going to put in his mouth. "Do I even want to know what you're feeding me?"
"Chicken." The corner of Sev's mouth twitched.
Harry blinked grimly. "You're trying it first."
Severus put a hand to his chest. "I'm hurt. Here I am, trying my hardest to introduce you to something new, and you accuse me once again of trying to poison you."
Sirius' head snapped up. "Harry, what does he mean, 'again'?"
Harry sighed. "Nothing." He gave Severus a weary look. Sev pouted. He looked at Harry with big, sad eyes and did a fair job of looking thoroughly pitiful. Harry couldn't stop his mouth from quirking. "Prat."
"You don't mean it," Sev sulked.
"Severus, I don't think I've ever meant anything more in my life." Harry leaned on his elbow. A soft smile blossomed at the smug flicker under Sev's skin. He realised quite suddenly that most of the table was looking at them. William in particular was staring at Harry in a way that made him wonder if he'd sprouted an extra head.
Harry smiled sheepishly in response. Severus' brows pinched slightly. He turned his head. Even from the side Harry could see the sharp increase in tension in Sev's face, the stiffening of his shoulders and spine. "I suggest you gawk in the other direction," he snapped.
"That's not called for," Bill snapped.
"Tell your pet to keep his eyes off my husband."
Harry winced. "Sev..."
A surprised flicker furrowed Bill's brow, and a momentary pause broke the small noises around the table. Bill set his mouth in a grim line anyway. He pointed at Severus. "There are a lot of things I could say right now, Snape, but none of them are really appropriate for the table. However, I'm going to tell you once, and only once, if you don't treat both William and Harry with the respect they deserve I'm going to have to take care of matters myself."
"I believe I did treat him with the respect he deserves," Sev said mildly.
Bill started to his feet. William grabbed his hand. "Hon, settle down. It's been a long day, we're all tired, and I'm starving." His eyes darted nervously from Bill to Severus and back. "Please?"
Still glaring, Bill sat down. "Sorry, love," he murmured, and kissed William's head. As he did so, he arched a challenging eyebrow at Severus.
Sev sniffed and turned his attention to the menu again. The rest of the table was uneasily quiet for a moment. Remus cleared his throat softly. "Arthur, have you figured out that 'come pewter' thing yet?"
"What? Oh! Yes, yes, all by myself!" Mister Weasley relaxed noticeably. "You know, I never realised how different all those Apparating systems were--"
"Operating systems?" asked Mrs. Granger.
Arthur pointed at her. "Exactly! Yes! Operating systems, thank you! There are all sorts, did you know? One of Percy's mates started me on something called 'open sores'. Don't ask me why it's called that, but it's got penguins all over..."
As Arthur chattered gleefully about software and the first computer he'd tried to enchant - the one that started smoking when he tried to fill the "hot sink" with water - Harry gave Remus a grateful smile. He mouthed, "Thank you."
Remus smiled back softly. His eyes flicked towards Severus and Harry thought the smile turned a little sad. Before he could be certain, Remus turned his attention back to Arthur and his "open sores private--no, colonel".
"Um..." Harry poked with his fork. "Why is it in a pudding?"
"That's not a pudding. It's a bird's nest."
Harry dropped his fork and blanched.
"Not a real bird's nest, of course." Sev smirked and used the mysterious ivory sticks to delicately place a small cube of something white in his mouth. (Sirius shuddered for some reason.) He waited until he'd swallowed to say, "It's probably made of potatoes."
"Probably?" Well, the chicken part looked edible enough...
"Or some other starchy tuber. Really, Harry, I'd have thought you'd appreciate my efforts to find you something somewhat familiar."
Harry snorted. "Twee bastard."
"Xenophobic brat." Sev reached over with the sticks, dislodged a bit of the "nest", ate it, grabbed a bit of chicken and a vegetable, ate those as well, and looked expectantly at Harry.
Harry gave him a look that stated, quite obviously, "you've got to be joking". Sev lifted his brows the slightest bit. After more than a year together, it still struck Harry how eloquently and frequently Severus spoke with his eyebrows.
Sighing, and casting a this-had-better-not-kill-me glare, he dug in with his fork and tentatively lifted a small bite of dead bird in fake nest to his mouth. Harry chewed thoughtfully. To his surprise, it wasn't bad. "Gingery."
"Quite. Care to try something a little more adventurous?"
Sev smirked. "Couldn't say 'boo' to a puffskein." He picked up another of the white cubes and demolished it with a look of bliss.
Sirius shuddered again. "Don't see how anyone can even put that stuff in their mouth," he muttered.
"I've put a great many things in my mouth, Black," Sev said calmly, picking up another cube.
Remus choked. Sirius glowered. Fred and George stared in outright awe. Percy snorted loudly and groped for his water glass, which he nearly tipped all over the table. Harry's face felt like it had been doused with Incendius Solution. William dropped his fork. Ginny giggled madly and turned the colour of the walls. Molly sputtered for a moment before bellowing, "SEVERUS SNAPE!"
Sev looked up innocently. "Yes?"
"I'm surprised at you! Honestly, a grown man, a former Hogwarts professor at that, bringing up that sort of thing at the dinner table!"
Sev cocked his head. "I'm not sure I follow."
Molly glared her most spine-withering glare.
Severus blinked innocently. "Molly, I'd be quite surprised if anyone at this table hadn't put a great many things in his or her mouth. Including you, I might add."
Mrs. Weasley looked like she was about to throw a hex when Sev added, "For example, you have rice, fish, at least two other varieties of seafood, several vegetables, and various trace ingredients, not to mention... I believe that's oolong. It's certainly not jasmine tea, although if you'd care to try some I'm sure that nice young man at whom your daughter has been making eyes all evening would be more than happy to bring some."
"Professor!" Ginny somehow turned even redder. She hid her eyes and growled out the side of her mouth, "Jesus Christ, Harry, and Mum gets on at me about the boys I fancy."
"Severus," he hissed softly, "shut up. You're really going too far."
Sev started to retort. He took a good look at Harry's clenched teeth, his clenched fingers, the narrowness of his eyes. Some of the wicked mirth in his face faded.
"Ah. You'll have to forgive me, Molly. There may have been some accidental double entendre in what I said." Under the table, he tentatively touched Harry's leg.
Harry looked at him sullenly. "You're impossible. Completely, irredeemably impossible."
Sev dropped his eyes. "Paenitet sum," he whispered.
"Valde." Severus looked at him with no trace of malice or manipulation.
Harry sighed softly. "Twit."
Long fingers like bone traced the contour of Harry's cheek. Harry flinched at the near contact. Before Sev could pull away, though, he pressed his face against them. They were cool, as always, sharp and stiff and slightly rough on the tips. He'd not remembered the roughness; then again, Sev hadn't touched his face like this since December.
"Going to behave, then?" Harry murmured.
Harry's mouth quirked up crookedly. "Bene." He stroked his cheek against the fingertips once more and went back to eating.
"Ohh..." George flopped back in his seat. "I'm not going to eat again for a month."
"Me neither," said Fred, wriggling to loosen his robe. The last traces of some sort of jelly clung to the dish in front of him. "Reckon we've got any Fortescue's left at home?"
Molly gave them a look. "My sons, the bottomless pits." She shook her head and looked further up the table. "Thank you, Sirius. That was lovely."
Sirius grinned. "Don't mention it. It's not every day I become a grand-godfather."
"How did you find this place?"
Remus blushed a little. "Erm, I used to work in the bookshop next door. After I left Hogwarts, only for a few months. Sheng came in one day, looked at me, and said I needed fattening up. I've been his guinea pig ever since."
Harry snorted and choked on his water. Ginny slapped him on the back. "You okay?"
"Yeah, sorry." He covered his mouth for a moment, trying not to snigger. "Inside joke's all." He could feel Sev looking at him in amusement. He looked back, valiantly fighting a wicked smirk.
Mrs. Weasley glanced at them in a way that said she didn't want to know. Quickly, with a hint of a flush in her round cheeks, she squeezed Remus' arm. "You are a bit thin, dear."
"Oh, um," he pushed a straggling bit of hair out of his face, "it's normal. I've... always been a bit. Thin, I mean."
"Well. If you ever decide you want a home-cooked meal..."
"I couldn't impose, Molly."
She gave him a look of mock disparagement. "After nearly thirty years of having children around I don't know how to cook for only two people. Once this one's gone," she motioned to Ginny, "I don't know what Arthur and I are going to do with ourselves."
"Mum," Ginny muttered. She hunched over.
Bill looked at her, smirking. "Should I tell them?"
"Don't you dare!"
"Tell us what, Ginny?" Arthur peered at her, polishing his glasses on his sleeve.
Ginny turned vibrant red. "Erm. I'm, erm, moving out. William's told me a lot about London, and I thought I might try to find a job down Diagon Alley. Maybe, erm, at Slugs and Jiggers?" She glanced at Severus. "If you could write me a recommendation, Professor, I mean. If it's not too much bother."
Molly's hands flew to her cheeks. "My little girl!"
"Brilliant!" George yelled. "You can live with us! We've got an extra bedroom."
"I thought your flat only had two bedrooms," Arthur said.
Fred shrugged. "We tried that. Couldn't get used to it, so we moved my things into George's room." He looked around at the odd glances they got. "You lot are filthy-minded, you know that?"
"It would be normal after some of the combinations I've seen," Sirius said blandly, glancing between Harry and Sev.
"I don't see anyone on your arm, Black."
"Maybe I'm being discreet, Snape."
"Actually, you know, I'd sort of like to have my own place," Ginny said quietly. "Maybe over one of the Diagon Alley shops. That way I wouldn't have to go far to get to anyplace, and it's only a few minutes to get to Ron and Hermione's. And Ruby's," she added. "It's... I've always had brothers or room-mates or been on someone's couch and I'd just like someplace that's mine for a while. To get away. You know?"
"Well talk about it, honey," Arthur said with obvious worry. "It's a big world out there--"
"Miss Weasley has repeatedly and admirably demonstrated an ability to take care of herself, intellectually, emotionally, and financially." Sev said the last word with a glance at Harry. "If she wishes to have her own flat, she should be allowed to have her own flat. If you'd like," he said directly at Ginny, "I'll speak with Arsenius Jigger. He's got a spare room over the shop, and I'm certain he'd be more than happy to let you stay there for a small decrease in salary. Assuming he and Madam Slug take you on, of course."
Ginny's face lit up in a wide grin. She squealed and jumped up. "Thank you, Professor!" She'd thrown her arms around his shoulders before she caught herself. "Erm. I mean... sorry." She crab-walked back to her chair, monotonously red.
"It's quite all right. It's not every day I have lovely young women throwing themselves at me."
"Oi!" Harry slapped him on the arm.
Sirius made a face of disgust and disbelief. "Oh, my god," he muttered.
Severus smirked at him. "Someday you'll simply have to accept the fact that Slytherins are sexier."
Percy choked on his tea and started coughing. Penny and Bill both pounded him on the back. He pointed at Severus and said in a reedy, strangled voice, "Professor, what exactly are your intentions towards my sister?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Shut up, Weatherby."
Fred and George broke down. Bill snorted, lips twisted to hold in a grin. Arthur busied himself with studying his wand. Molly's eyes twinkled. Ginny, who was bordering on purple, muttered, "Now you see why I want my own flat?"
Severus gave all present Weasley offspring his most practised Professor Snape glower. They shut up, although Bill tried to stare him down. Checking to be sure the lot of them were ready to behave, Severus leaned forward slightly and said to Ginny, "You may rest assured, Miss Weasley, that you aren't the first person with reason to escape her family." He surreptitiously placed a hand on Harry's leg, lightly enough that Harry could escape if he needed to. "As you are a legal adult, I have no qualms about what your parents might say, although you may find the situation easier with their blessing. It's," he paused, "very difficult to suddenly be alone. However, if you wish, I shall write to Arsenius in the morning and inquire if he has any positions available for a bright young lady whom I know will work very - very - hard." He punctuated the last sentence with an intense, warning glare.
Ginny lowered her eyes and covered her mouth with her fingertips. "Yes, please," she said meekly. She looked at her parents imploringly.
Mrs. Weasley's mouth was twisted, and she looked torn between protectiveness and the impending knowledge that her home was about to become much emptier. "We'll talk about it," she said quietly.
Arthur cleared his throat. "Yes, well. Don't suppose anyone's got the time?"
Mrs. Granger looked at her watch. "Ah... goodness, going on ten o'clock! I'm afraid Rod and I have to get home. Erm..." she looked a bit embarrassed.
"We'll get you back." George grinned wickedly.
The Grangers blanched. "Ah... thank you," Mrs. Granger wheezed. Harry wondered vaguely what Fred and George had done getting them to Saint Mungo's in the first place.
Sev was looking at the table. His face was neutral, but there was something sad and distant in his shadowed eyes. Under the table, Harry lifted the skeletal hand and grasped it. Sev looked at him. Harry asked softly, "All right?"
Severus nodded, but the lines around his mouth deepened. Harry bit his lip and, with clumsy fingers, pushed a stray piece of oily, grey hair behind Sev's ear. He pulled his hand back as quickly as he could. Sev's brows still pulled upwards in the middle and he gifted Harry with a soft, rare smile. Harry dropped his eyes slightly and felt his cheeks go warm. It hurt just as much to break contact with the long, slender hand beneath the table as it did to keep holding it.
"Take me home, Harry," Severus murmured too low for anyone else to hear.
"I think I'd like to rest for a while."
Harry smiled, wide and rejoicing and serene. "No more potions?"
Severus dropped his gaze to the table. He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. "I didn't expect to be gone so long."
"There's no cure." He looked away. "You knew that. Obnoxious brat."
A small explosion went off in Harry's chest. It left charred, empty wastes where something had started to grow again. "Oh."
Bill looked at them and frowned. "Snape, what did I tell you about showing Harry some respect?"
"It's okay, Bill--"
"No, it's not. He's been calling you names all night and I'm sick of it."
"Bill, it's fine." Sirius gave him a dark look.
"I don't need you to defend me, Black." Severus narrowed his eyes.
"How can you say that, Sirius? He's been sitting here all night taking the piss out of Harry--"
"This is bigger than language, Mum." Bill leaned protectively across William, pointing a finger in Severus' face. "I don't know what makes you think you can get away with beating the living shite out of Harry, not to mention insulting him constantly--"
"Be quiet, Harry. Someone needs to do this. Nothing gives you that right, Snape. If I hear one more insult out of your pathetic mouth I'm going to show you what a fist can do." His brown eyes flashed dangerously.
"Bill, leave him alone. He hasn't done anything wrong!"
"Harry, let me defend myself," Sev said quietly. He looked at Bill. His outward calm was belied by the fingertips flexing and squeezing on Harry's leg. Harry flinched and jerked away.
Bill tensed. "What did he do to you, Harry?"
"Yes," Harry hissed. Hands were starting to crawl from nowhere to cover his body and covet his soul. "I'm tired. And I have to be up early tomorrow, so if nobody would kill anyone else I'd really appreciate it."
"I'm trying to make sure you don't get killed."
"Nobody is going to hurt Harry."
"Not what you've shown so far, Snape."
"Bill, settle down." Mister Weasley's normally lenient attitude had been replaced with an angry edge and a stony look. "There's more to this than you understand." Sev flinched; he scowled at Harry accusingly. "You're being overprotective when you don't know enough to protect anyone."
"Doesn't give him the right to treat Harry like garbage--"
William snapped, "Bilius, shut up!"
Bill did. He gaped at William with open shock. "Hon--"
"Don't 'hon' me. If you have something to say to Severus, you can do it somewhere else. Don't go accusing him of something he isn't doing, though. Believe me, here." He pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "I'm sorry. It's been a long day."
Bill said nothing, only rubbed a soothing hand over William's hunched back. He still looked stunned. He glanced questioningly at Harry; Harry's mouth set in a grim, accusing line.
The Grangers quickly excused themselves. All told, they were probably a bit shocked at their daughter's choice of in-laws. Between rebellious offspring, pink hair, scheming twins, and the apparent disproportionate number of... unorthodox pairs, they were likely planning a little talk with Hermione regarding her choice of friends. Fred and George, who acted more impressed than anything else, said their quick goodbyes. George tried to pat Harry on the back. Harry flinched sharply.
"Sorry," he muttered. "I don't want anyone to touch me."
"S'okay," George replied uneasily. He backed off, and Harry closed his eyes to fight the hands that sent biting tingles through his nerves. When he opened them, Percy and Penelope were leaving. Penelope nodded at him silently. She hid behind the dark cloud of her hair.
Percy nodded curtly. "It's been a pleasure seeing you again, Harry. You'll have to tell me all about the Cannons sometime." He glanced at Severus. "Professor."
Harry snorted. He covered his mouth with his hand. "Prat," he muttered from the corner of it. Sev looked pleased.
Percy sputtered for a moment. "That's not dignified, Professor Snape!" he snapped and folded his arms.
"Dignified or not, you do turn the most amusing shades of red." Severus leaned delicately on his elbow and gave Percy a mischievous little smirk.
Percy pinched his mouth. "Hmph! Come along, Penny."
Penny followed him out, casting a quick, wicked grin at Sev as if to say, "You're right, you know".
Ginny stood up and stretched. "I'll be back in a minute."
Mrs. Weasley started to stand up, too. "Let me come with you, dear."
Ginny blanched. "Oh, no, Mum, that's all right. I was only going to look around."
"Are you sure?"
Ginny nodded apologetically. She hurried out of the private dining room.
"We seem to be dwindling." Remus looked around. "Wonder where Sheng's gotten to? He's usually in every ten minutes."
"Perhaps he's hiding."
"He's not hiding, Severus. Honestly, sometimes I wonder who's older, you or Harry."
"The general consensus seems to be that I am, Lupin. Of course, you never were that strong in Arithmancy." Sev smirked. It was more haughty than malicious.
"Ha, ha, very funny." Remus leaned back in his chair. "You're in a good mood."
"Should I not be?"
Remus shook his head. "It's unusual, that's all. I haven't seen you this happy since--in a while. You haven't bitten my head off once."
"I'll be sure to do it twice next time I'm forced to suffer your damnable presence."
Remus grinned. "There's the Severus I know!"
Harry tugged gently on Sev's loose sleeve. "I really need to get some sleep." The Cannons' coach wasn't terribly forgiving of tardiness. Downright Snape-like, when it came to it. Practise ran from eight in the morning to five in the evening, with an hour off for lunch, five days a week. Harry had yet to see anyone be late twice; all things told, he also had yet to see anyone else leave early for anything short of a potentially crippling Bludger. He was going to be in for a right bollocking when he got there and the coach reamed him for sneaking off while the first string was running drills.
Unforgiving obsidian eyes, half-open in a we-are-not-amused sort of way, cut into him. "Somnolent obnoxious brat."
Harry grinned. He wouldn't trade the job his coach would do on him for the Quidditch World Cup. "Exhausting greasy bastard. Some of us didn't spend the whole day sleeping."
He cast a glance at Bill, whose jaw was set protectively. William put a hand over his and squeezed. He murmured something Harry couldn't hear. Bill flicked an eyebrow, but did nothing more than glower, tensed to spring.
"Some of us..." Sev trailed off. He pushed his chair back and stood, straightening his loose robe. He silently nodded to Arthur, Molly, and, a bit curtly, Remus. He gave Sirius a superior look, and ignored Bill and William completely. Unexpectedly, he tried to pull out Harry's chair. His stick-like arms twitched, his skeletal hands slipped.
Harry smiled up at him softly. "Grates," he murmured.
He received a blank look tinged with the quietest of apologies. Harry worked his own chair out. It was tempting, painfully tempting, to throw his arms around Sev and drag him down for a hearty snog; the threat of a different sort of pain kept him from acting on it. He suddenly yawned.
Sev gave him a withering look. "Your tonsils are lovely, Potter. Perhaps we ought to have them framed."
"Never bothered you before." He yawned again, this time deliberately letting his jaw nearly unhinge. When he closed it he nearly choked - Sev had stuffed an almond biscuit in his mouth. "'Hanks," Harry muttered sarcastically, munching.
Severus folded his hands primly in front of his chest and tried his haughtiest, most hurt look. "This is the gratitude I get for making sure you're well-fed."
"Well, since you're such an amazing cook you might try doing some of it once in a while."
"Perhaps I will." With a little flick of his head that sent his greasy hair flying behind him, Severus shuffled out of the room. Harry smiled sadly, proudly.
"Is he always like that?" William leaned across the table to Remus, who shook his head.
"He's usually not that cheerful."
William arched an alarmed eyebrow and settled back in his chair. His eyes were wide and his mouth was crooked; he looked rather perturbed.
Bill made a noise. "Harry, we've got room if you want it, or there's Fred and George's flat--"
"I'm fine, thanks." Harry set the statement with a look. "I'd better go. No telling what sort of trouble he's getting himself into."
Harry braved his way through a handshake from Arthur, and hugs from Molly, Remus, Sirius, and Bill (who once again offered their couch should "anything come up"). William nodded and smiled softly. Harry smiled back. Sirius used the brief hug to mutter, "House should be ready about the middle of August."
"Brilliant!" Harry grinned. He stepped back and pushed the hair out of his eyes.
"You can tell," Sirius nodded towards the door, "that the cellar's been fixed up. If he's not happy, he can kiss my arse."
"Moony, I'm not about to have all that work sniffed at--"
"I did at least half of it." Remus folded his arms. "If Severus isn't happy, he's got to take it up with me, too."
Remus looked at Harry. "Don't worry, I won't bite. Much." He grinned and winked.
Harry smiled back, a little unsure. After everything he'd heard about the house he had yet to see, he didn't want to put anything past an angry Azkaban escapee and a miffed werewolf. Not that Sirius and Remus would do anything to Sev, but they might put the fear of freeloaders into him. Remus, anyway. With the way Sev kept baiting Sirius, that might turn to a hex war.
"Try to leave me a little something if he does throw a fit? I'd sort of like to keep the greasy bastard for a while longer." He smiled, and was confused for a moment over the guilty looks he received.
"You know we wouldn't hurt him," Remus said softly.
Harry pushed the hair out of his face. "I know. Only, he's, erm, sleeping again. A little, anyway. He, erm, might be on the mend."
Sirius blinked. "But--"
Harry shrugged. "He wasn't Potions master for nothing."
Remus beamed. "Oh, I'm so happy for you. When did you find out?"
"Today. He had a nap with Ruby."
Remus looked at Sirius. "You see? This is what happens when you insist on painting an entire room before we go anywhere."
Sirius held up his hands. "Watching Severus Snape sleep isn't exactly top of my 'to do' list."
"He's sort of cute, really." Harry smirked and said his quick goodnights while the implications sank into his godfather's brain.
As he scurried out the door, he was met with a loud, "Harry! Don't do that to me!" He grinned to himself and went to find his greasy bastard.
Severus was sitting quietly in the anteroom, looking mildly at the dragon and the phoenix. "Fawkes needs feeding," he said offhand when Harry sat down next to him.
"He's your phoenix."
"With the way you keep leaving me alone to suffer he'll be yours before long."
"Hush." Harry stood up. "We need to go. Have you just been sitting here?"
"Actually, I've been subjected to the dreariest conversation I've heard outside of Sirius Black's presence in quite some time. Miss Weasley has been chatting up a particular young man who goes by the name of Xien. Or Sean, I don't think he cares which. When asked why she didn't have a gentleman friend she, ah, replied that her only real interest to date decided to practise the love that dare not speak it's name?" Sev narrowed his eyes at Harry.
Harry shrugged. "Her interest, not mine."
"Yes. And I suppose those mooncalf eyes you made at a particular Miss Chang for three full years were simply her interest as well." He got to his feet, slowly and with great dignity. "I'm not blind, Mister Potter."
Harry raised an eyebrow. He pointed to the pocket where Sev's glasses lived.
Severus puffed out like a chicken. Tried to, anyway. "Even the blind could have seen you fawning all over the pitch. Honestly, I don't know if I should trust you around women," he finished with exaggerated hurt.
"Paranoid twit. D'you really think I'm going to run off with anyone? After dealing with you, I don't think I've got the nerve to risk anyone else!"
Sev sniffed. He brushed his way to the hearth and fished some Floo Powder from an enameled box on the mantel. He stepped into the green flames and calmly said, "Seventh Ring."
Harry rubbed his eyes. It was time to tuck Severus in and hope he got some rest. The day had been long and hard on both of them; Harry suspected it was far harder on Severus. No, not suspected, knew. He held no illusions to ever learning what the Malfoys did, but a part of Harry still hoped he'd find out someday.
Severus was sleeping. The goblet on his nightstand held only traces of Draught. Really, it was too much to hope for a miracle cure overnight. That dose had been difficult, even painful, to mix; Harry had thrown out his first attempt when a saline drop accidentally skidded into the cyan liquid.
He sat quietly for a bit and, despite the fact it was well after midnight, watched Sev breathe. The Hobbit was on Harry's lap; he had a finger caught between the third and fourth chapters. Severus had insisted Harry read it to him. Now Sev lay on his side, hands drawn up to his chest and one knee to his stomach. The worn grey cloth of his nightshirt pooled around him sadly.
Acting more than thinking, Harry brushed a few mixed black and granite strands out of his face. Hands threatened to crawl over him, but if only to spite them in light of the previous hours he pressed his fingertips to his lips, then to Sev's, then to his own again. He thought he felt a slight kiss when he touched his maritus. Harry paused a moment, trying to smell and taste things he'd not quite forgotten. Sticking a scrap of parchment in the book, he stretched and went to put on his pajamas.
Sev was humming when he came back. Harry furrowed his brow; Sev had never hummed in his sleep before. He started when Severus suddenly muttered, "Go back to sleep, Draco. It's only the wind."
The drapes twitched with Harry's hands as he made sure they were drawn for the night. He doused the torches and darkened the room - it had taken weeks to get used to sleeping in a room with no fireplace - before dropping his dressing gown on the floor. His glasses clattered on his nightstand. Sev snorted. Harry held his breath; it flowed again a moment later when the low humming resumed.
Harry had just climbed beneath the covers and fitted the pillow in the crook of his neck when he heard something else. A sad chill filled his bones, and he tried, he tried to cuddle his maritus tight. He couldn't do more than rest three fingertips lightly against Severus' spine until exhaustion drew his arm away for him. Even as he fell into mournful sleep he could hear Sev's low, gentle voice echo through his head, "Mi puelle."
Latin Lexicon For Latin Lovers
obnoxius: liable, addicted to, guilty of; indebted, obliged, dependent on; subject to, exposed to (according to The Archives of the University of Notre Dame Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid)
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