The Last Battlefield
Chapter 14 - Paradise Lost
"Wake up, Sev. Come on, get up. I need some help."
Someone was shaking him. With a groan, Severus forced his eyes open. Harry, still in pyjamas and dressing gown, was frowning down at him.
"What bloody time is it?" Severus grumped.
"About eight. Prof--Emily's passed out on the table with chunks of parchment all over the place."
Harry blinked. "How?"
"I put her there. She was conscious at the time."
"Well, she's drooling all over whatever she was writing. You might want to wake her up."
"Why can't you?"
"Because she's your friend." Harry folded his arms and gave Severus a chilly glare. "And you ate all my biccies."
"Did not." With a grunt, Severus pushed himself up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Harry held out his dressing gown; Severus tucked his arms into it and tied it with a jerk. "What are you doing up at this hour anyway?"
"I'm always up by eight anymore. If anyone else bothered to get up at a reasonable hour, they'd already know."
"Hmph." Severus glanced back over his shoulder and arched an eyebrow. He swooped to give Harry a peck, toed into his slippers, and strode out to see precisely what Emily had drooled on.
Nothing he could comprehend, as it turned out. She groaned as he lifted her head by the puffy hair and dropped it again once he'd gotten the parchments in hand. His nose wrinkled as he pinched them between two fingers to avoid the wet spot. "We have a couch, you know."
Her bloodshot eyes cracked open. She groped for the glasses that had fallen near her head. "Time'zit?" she slurred, sliding them on.
"Time you ought to be in bed."
"Mm." Shaking her head, Emily reached for her quill again. Severus planted a hand on its plume.
"Are you lucid enough to remember your own name?"
Emily paused a beat. Severus snorted and pulled the quill out of her reach. "To bed, Hortense."
She shuddered. "Says you... uh..." She trailed off. Squinting up at him, she asked, "What is your middle name?"
"Professor. Why do you think so many people call me that?"
Emily shook her head and cradled it in her hands. A very rude gesture flashed Severus' way as she did. "Arsehole."
"Get some sleep." Severus felt Harry behind him, trying to peek around his arm. A small hand fell to his hip - presumably for balance.
"Need to get back to Hogwarts?" Harry asked.
"Probably." Emily started to push herself up. Severus cleared his throat.
"You'll splinch if you try it. Even if you didn't, you'd pass out halfway across the grounds." He glanced around. "Where are those damnable elves?"
"You is wanting something, Master Severus?" Two bulging brown eyes peeked around the kitchen door.
Severus shot the annoying little creature a half-hearted glare. "Make up the room next to ours--"
"It is already being done, sir. They is all being done."
Something in the middle of his chest tightened. "You'll have to excuse me," he whispered. "I think I heard you say that you tidied all the rooms without my permission."
The elf drew back from the doorframe. "Yes, sir," she squeaked. "We is not going into the attic or the cellar, though. We is not being able to."
"And I suggest you don't try. Get out of my sight. I'll deal with you later."
"Yes, sir." The kitchen door swung closed. Severus thought he heard a small, choked sound. "Idiots," he hissed under his breath.
"Be nice. They're only doing what house-elves are supposed to do." Harry tugged at a bunched bit of Severus' dressing gown.
"House-elves are supposed to do what they're told."
"And keep the place tidy. Look, if Minerva told them to keep the place neat for us, that's a standing order from the Top Dog--"
"Cat," Emily muttered.
"I know that!" Harry snapped. "It's a figure of speech."
"Sirius'd be Top Dog."
"Sev, can you make her be quiet?"
"You're delirious, Emily." Severus smirked, taking her by the shoulders and attempting to guide her to her feet. "I mean they're hardly the same thing, are they? A dog is much, much less intelligent than a wolf." He snorted at the weary, bloodshot glare he got.
"Sirius is clever enough." Emily stopped a yawn with a fist she nearly plunged into her mouth. Profound exhaustion made her surprisingly pliable; with only the occasional sharp prod to the spine, she staggered towards the stairs (and into the odd wall). The portraits eyeballed her. A few looked to Severus in muted hope, as if to say, "Have you finally come to your senses?" The rest seemed to ask them, "Are you sure he's got any sense left?"
"Ignore the peanut gallery," he muttered.
"What?" Emily glanced around. "Oh. Pretty."
Severus chuckled. "I'm sure I can arrange shiny as well."
"I think your werewolf would get jealous if he learned someone else were doing that."
Emily growled, but said nothing.
The guest room was, indeed, made up and scrubbed from top to tail. Severus glared at the white walls dotted here and there with Chlamydia's paintings. Emily took one look at the polished bed with its cornflower blue coverlet and drawled, "Oh. Shiny."
"I'm sure in your little mind it is." Severus patted her on the head, half-smiling. He pinched her sleeve. "If you'd care for something more comfortable, I believe I can scrape up something."
Emily nodded. She sat down hard on the edge of the bed, eyes closed, slumping. Severus was sure he heard a weak snore before he'd even gotten the door shut. He frowned. "Where on Earth am I supposed to find a nightshirt in this place?" he muttered to himself.
"Get her tucked in?"
Severus snapped his head around. Harry was standing at the top of the stairs, a bit of toast in hand. Crumbs littered the front of his dressing gown.
"You're making a mess."
Harry shrugged. "What's she doing here, anyway?"
"Arithmancy. And, no, I haven't got her 'tucked in'. You wouldn't happen to have seen a nightshirt in your snooping, would you?"
"Nope. Haven't done any snooping yet, remember?" Harry took a bite. "What about Philia's things?"
"Don't talk with your mouth full. And Gran was even shorter than you. I haven't got any great desire to see more of Emily than I have to."
Harry arched an eyebrow. "Your mum's things?"
"Assuming I even knew where they were, no. According to Gran, my mother was a 'slip'. Would you call Emily a slip?"
"Not if I wanted to keep my head on m'shoulders."
"How very astute," Severus drawled. He chewed his lower lip, leaning against the wall. He arched an eyebrow as Harry trotted up the hall; a shudder ran through him as Harry ploughed straight into Eversor's room. "Potter, get out of there."
"I'm looking." The door swung shut. Severus caught it just as it latched. He shoved it open.
"Mister Potter, you will not put Emily or anyone else in his things!"
"Too late." Harry picked through a tall oaken wardrobe sitting near the window. Morning sunlight poured into the room, highlighting the cheerful yellow curtains and the green of the carpet. Severus shuddered. He took a step inside, pulled his foot back almost before it had touched the floor.
"Harry, get out of here. Please."
"I've got some." Harry held out a pair of striped pyjamas. "Ought to fit her."
"Put those back." Severus turned on his heel and marched towards the master bedroom. His hands trembled, and his shoulders rose and fell as a faint whistling sound came from his throat. He fell to his knees next to a heavy trunk by the wall; in a minute he'd come up with an archaic white nightshirt with ruffles up the front, and a paisley dressing gown better suited to the nineteenth century.
Harry was still standing in the hallway with Eversor's pyjamas in hand. He said nothing as Severus swept into the guest room. Severus tried to glare at him, but it felt brittle, and like the blood was draining from his skin. He kicked the door shut behind him. It slammed.
"What? No, Mum, I don't know where Keith--oh." Emily pushed herself up on her elbows, rubbing her eye with the heel of her hand. "Could have knocked."
"Not likely. Here." Severus held out the wad of clothing. "I've no idea who these belonged to, but they'll have to do."
"Hmm." Emily took them. She made a face at the dressing gown. "You couldn't have found something a little more, y'know, girly, could you?"
"Have a look at the rest."
"Why? What's--oh, ruffles. Nice." Emily reached back and started unbuttoning her robe.
Severus cleared his throat. "While I've already stated that I have no interest in women's underthings..."
"Oh. Sorry, hon. Suppose I'm just that tired." Her hands dropped; she gave him a grim smile. "Found what I thought I would, by the way."
She nodded and yawned. "Don't think it's the final version, but it's got formulae for tracking, branding, single-node location, identification, and I suspect everything including name, rank, and serial number. Haven't even got half of it sorted yet." She paused. "Think I saw a few bits and bobs for a self-destruct mechanism, but the factors don't work."
"Ah." Severus shivered. With absent fingers, he traced the raised scar on his forearm through his sleeves. "What would happen if the factors were wrong?"
Emily shrugged. "It shouldn't calculate. From what I think I saw, you'd end up with either an indeterminate or no solution. Any history of your... lot blowing up out of nowhere?"
"Not without extreme provocation."
She stared at him.
"Oh. Okay. Then, I'd say it works out to no solution. Like I said, it's probably a rough draft." She shook her head. Another enormous yawn bounced from the walls.
"Get some sleep."
Blinking, Emily nodded. She glanced at him. "Sorry about the other night."
"Oh? And what, pray tell, might have happened the other night? Oh, yes, you tried to beat me senseless, didn't you?"
"You don't have to be sarcastic," she muttered. "And wasn't anything you didn't deserve. Why'd you even need me along, anyway?"
Severus opened his mouth. However, I was afraid to come by myself sounded foolish even by his occasionally less-than-discriminating standards. "You expect me to lug that brat's trunk in my condition?"
Emily snorted. "He's a professional Quidditch player, hon. He's not going to keel over the moment you ask him to carry something."
Severus huffed. "He might." While Emily sniggered, he snapped, "Did you need anything else, o leech?"
Still sniggering, she shook her head. "Sleep." She paused. "And possibly a snuggly werewolf. You wouldn't happen to have one, would you?"
"Oh, well. Suppose I'd have to kick your arse if you did." Emily dragged herself to her feet. "G'night, hon."
"And good morning to you." With a slight, sarcastic bow, Severus backed out of the room. Harry was still waiting in the hall, although Eversor's pyjamas were nowhere to be seen.
"Get everything sorted?" Harry's eyes narrowed a bit.
"Yes, and my heir should arrive within the next nine months."
"That's not funny." Harry's voice was brittle. He followed Severus into the master bedroom and stood at the foot of the bed while Severus shed his dressing gown. "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm going back to bed like any sensible human being."
"If you didn't stay up 'til all hours, you'd be able to get up when I do." Harry perched himself on the corner of the bed. "I was going to go down the shops today. Was there anything you wanted?"
"You shouldn't leave the grounds." Severus pulled the covers up over his shoulders. He craned his neck until he could stare at Harry with a minimum of discomfort.
"Well, someone needs to. Anyway," Harry rubbed the back of his neck, "I don't really fancy staying here all the time."
"Nor do I."
"You've got Pr--Emily today." Harry squirmed. "'Least you won't be alone."
Severus frowned. With a small groan, he pushed himself to a sitting position. He caught Harry's chin and kissed him.
Harry stared at him. Severus tucked a stray bit of hair behind Harry's ear. "I would be more likely to do unspeakable things to your godfather than to Emily. You ought to know that by now."
Harry started to open his mouth. He snapped it shut. "Didn't think you'd liked that."
"I'd have liked it more if I'd got the chance to bite his idiot tongue off."
Harry snorted. He pressed the back of his hand to his mouth, hiding a smile. "Git."
"Hush." Harry pecked him on the cheek and pushed him back against the pillows. He hovered there a moment; Severus' heart thudded.
"Don't sleep all day," Harry said in a soft voice.
"Good." Harry slid off the bed. He still leaned over Severus, though. "Mind if I go and finish breakfast?"
"Leave me some bacon."
"In your dreams." Harry carded his fingers through Severus' hair. A soft smile crossed his mouth. "I'll be in to check on you before I leave."
"I'd still prefer it if you didn't go anywhere alone."
"I'll have my wand with me."
"I won't go anywhere but the village. Won't go near Hunstanton."
"If you do, I'll lock you in the cellar."
"Will you be with me?" Harry fluttered his eyes. Severus swallowed.
"Only if you're nice."
"I can be nice. I can be very nice."
"I know." Severus pulled Harry's hand from his hair and laced their fingers together. He brought Harry's knuckles to his mouth, letting them rest there for a long, long moment. "I want you back here by lunchtime. In one piece."
"I will be."
"I promise. Greasy, paranoid bastard."
"Obnoxious, reckless brat."
Harry hummed and smiled. He squeezed Severus' hand and shook his fingers free. With a poke to Severus' nose, he muttered, "You be dressed by the time I get back."
Harry stuck his tongue out. A moment later he was out the door. Severus sighed and turned to face Harry's side of the bed. It looked far emptier than it ought.
For at least the fiftieth time, Severus checked his watch. "Lunchtime what day?" he muttered, shifting from foot to foot and glancing up at the door. It remained closed, and the watch still insisted it was half three.
Tucking the watch back into his pocket, he prowled into the kitchen. Dobby was levitating a fat loin roast out of the oven. It hit the top of the brick stove with a thud.
"How can you be cooking at a time like this?" Severus snarled.
Dobby squeaked. His fingers fumbled for a ladle hanging over the stove. "I is sorry, Master Severus. Mister Harry Potter will surely be back soon."
"He was supposed to be back three hours ago. For Merlin's sake!" Severus wrapped his arms around himself and swooped across the kitchen. He gave the front of the pantry a swift kick. "Clean this up."
"It is already clean, sir."
"Well, make sure then, you stupid elf!" Without waiting for a response, Severus stormed out into the dining room again. He curled his fingernails into his palms, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. "He's fine," he muttered to himself. "Settle down, old boy, you're only going to give yourself a stroke. Goddammit, I'm going to take that little brat apart."
It was perhaps another quarter of an hour before the dining room door creaked open and Harry trotted in, a bulging sack clutched in each arm. He turned pink when he saw Severus. "I--"
"Where on Earth have you been?" Severus swooped down, grabbing Harry's face. "I have been waiting for nearly four hours."
"I got caught up chatting with a bloke in the village!"
"For four hours?"
"It's not as if I've had much chance to chat with anyone in a while! I'm sorry!" Harry pulled himself out of Severus' grip and dropped his bags on the parchment-strewn table. One tipped over; tomatoes and broccoli spilled across the mess. He swore and leaned over to grab them.
"Did anyone see you?"
"Some Muggles, yeah."
"That's not what I meant."
"No, nobody saw me. There's nobody here to see me. You're being paranoid."
"Oh? There is a major wizarding town four miles to the west. Even a child could Apparate that distance. Have you any idea how dangerous staying out so long could be? The majority of the wards on this house are down to allow that cur of a godfather you've got--"
"I Apparated back, all right? Nobody followed me. I even cut up along the coast a couple of times just in case."
Severus pursed his mouth. "You still shouldn't have been out as long as you were. What on Earth could you have been chatting about for four hours?"
Harry shrugged. He stuffed a head of broccoli back into the bag. His elbow knocked the other one, sending apples and a tub of crystalised ginger rolling across it. The tub's lid flew off, spraying bits of ginger all over the floor. "Shite! Would you give me a hand here?"
"Not until you tell me what you were chatting about."
"What's it to you? I got talking, I lost track of time, and I still had to do the marketing."
"You've never kept a secret from me before." Severus' eyes narrowed. "With one exception." He folded his arms, a thick knot building in his throat.
Harry looked back, frowning. "What the Hell are you talking about?" His eyes flew wide. "You paranoid git."
"Well, you're certainly not getting it from me."
"I would be if I were getting it from anyone!"
"Why should I believe you?"
Harry swept a palmful of ginger off the table and tipped it into the tub. "You married me. Sounds like a good start to me."
"I don't recall you being acquainted with your friend at that time."
"I thought you'd said you'd forgiven me for that."
"That was before I found out you wanted to bugger him into the wall."
"Oh, for fuck's sake, Sev! I said I was sorry!"
"Did you enjoy it?"
"I already told you, I want you. Not William. I don't even want to see him again!"
"I meant today."
Harry turned, gaping. He stared for a long moment. "You don't trust me as far as you could throw me, do you?"
"You don't give me reason to trust you. I have given up everything for you, Potter. My position, the respect of my colleagues, my lineage--"
"You don't give a shit about your lineage."
"I still gave it up for you, you disrespectful slut."
Harry's fist shot out and cracked Severus across the jaw. With a silent snarl, Severus shoved him face-down over the edge of the table, grabbing his shoulders and digging his fingers in. Harry made a choked sound and went stiff. "Sev, let go of me," he rasped.
"No." Some part of Severus' conscience began screaming at him to stop, but he shoved it aside. Wrapping one arm around Harry's chest, moulding himself against his maritus so his lips hovered just next to one pallid ear, he hissed, "Now, you will tell me precisely what was so fascinating it kept you out four hours late."
"Sev, let go. Please." Harry squirmed. Severus tightened his hold. When Harry tried to go limp, he thrust one leg between Harry's, jerking him upwards. Harry yelped.
"Stop it," he whimpered. "Please, please, please, please..."
"Why should I? You've already told me you would happily bugger somebody else. Did you enjoy him? Was he better than me? Better looking, certainly, but you knew that already."
"Sev, I swear, we were only talking. He took me down the pub."
"Ah, I see. And so you let him buy you a drink?"
"You bought him one, then."
"Liar." Severus tightened his grip. "Tell me, did you enjoy it when he did this?" He thrust his hips, once, against Harry's backside. Harry keened.
"Severus, let me go!"
"No." Severus yanked Harry closer. A dark spot suddenly spread through a bit of parchment under Harry's face. He shook his head, and his glasses clattered to the table. The smell of tobacco smoke clung to his hair. Heat rose from his skin, permeating the Muggle clothes he wore. The jeans felt thin, thinner than robes, even through Severus' clothing. Severus dropped a hand to Harry's hip and squeezed.
Harry screamed. He bit it off, but not before the short sound echoed off the walls. He threw back his head, catching Severus in the jaw. Another tear slid down his face, dripping over his cheek. His eyes turned to focus on Severus' face for an instant, then glazed over. "Stop it," he whimpered.
"I think not." Severus panted against Harry's neck. He let his lips run along the curve of his maritus' ear. The skin was hot, a bit salty but fading to clean neutrality as he drew away the thin layer left by the day. A familiar heavy sensation started to run from his throat down the middle of his body to pool in his pelvis. He released a long breath, closing his eyes to let his mouth find the pulse in Harry's neck.
"Sev, please. Stop. Stop. Please..." Harry's voice trailed off, his jaw working as he mouthed, "Please, please, please, please..."
"You've always loved it before. From anyone apparently." Severus pressed himself closer, nudging the collar of Harry's coat aside with his nose enough to let his teeth graze the skin beneath. Harry dropped his head to rest on his folded arms. His body shook; tiny, wet sounds broke the air, shattered by a gasp when Severus ran the pointed tip of his tongue along the underside of his chin.
"I love you," Severus breathed. "Whether you appreciate it or not."
"Love you too," Harry choked.
Severus felt a smile curl his mouth. He slid the flat of his hand from the middle of Harry's chest along his stomach, relishing the twitching, writhing muscles beneath. He reached between Harry's legs, cupping the soft mass he found. Harry arched, screaming, "Eversor, stop it!"
Severus' hand jerked. He froze, Harry still crushed against him. The words sank in over too many seconds, tangled with Harry's wet, wracking sounds. Severus pulled away in short, uneven starts as Emily's thick voice called down the stairs, "What's going on? Are you all right, Severus?"
"Fine," he rasped, far too softly for her to hear. He reached out to touch Harry between his shaking shoulder blades but wrenched his hand back just as it brushed the thick wool of Harry's jacket. Harry lay slumped across the table, his shoulders lifting and falling with wet whimpers. Emily's footsteps pounded down the stairs; before they could reach bottom, Severus Disapparated.
He reappeared upstairs just long enough to slough his robe and tug on his Muggle clothes with numb hands. He grabbed a fat stack of notes from the pile Lupin had left and vanished without any real thought to where he was going. He found himself outside the property, near the Muggle road leading into Holme.
The day was dry but overcast. A thin, bitter wind cut through his jumper. Severus glanced back at Broad Water, at the long, narrow lake rippling like crepe. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he followed the motorway towards the village with his face turned to the ground.
Every now and then, one of those Muggle 'car' contraptions zoomed past. Severus didn't glance up, only felt the rush of air and smelled the acrid, invisible smoke they belched. Something huge roared past as well, growling and spewing black smoke like a dragon. He glanced back at it for a moment but kept walking, kept walking, wondering in the back of his mind if the Aurors would find him out in plain sight and take him back to Hell. He found himself wondering if they would finally send him to Azkaban as they should have done a very long time ago.
Several buildings nearly as old as the house - and possibly older - lined the high street. They were dotted here and there with newer ones: a cornershop, a couple of off-licenses, a greengrocer, something that claimed to be a post office but hadn't an owl in sight. One of the ancient buildings boasted a cut-out of a barrel with the legend "Goat and Barrel" emblazoned across in blackletter script. Severus only paused long enough to glance up at the sign before stumbling inside.
It was a small pub, dark, full of nooks and crannies and secluded booths. A thin haze of tobacco smoke hung in the air, most of it from an elderly man sitting in the corner, smoking a pipe. A box with moving pictures of grown men chasing a round, white ball across a pitch hung in the corner. Severus ignored it in favour of what lay behind the bar.
The grey-haired woman standing behind it, staring at the box, glanced over at him as he came near. She jumped. "Jesus Christ, mate, I'd hate to see the other fellow!"
Severus shot her a glare. "Ogden's Old. Neat."
"Sorry? Never heard of that one."
Cursing himself, Severus growled, "Whiskey. Double."
She nodded but shot him a strange look anyway. As she fished down a bottle of amber liquid, she asked, "What happened?"
"None of your business."
"Only trying to help. Don't see too many fellows stumble in before tea with a mark the size of an orange on their faces."
"How do you know I didn't do it to myself?"
She snorted. "Skinny fellow like you? Haven't got enough of a hook to leave marks like that on anyone else, much less yourself." Sliding the glass across the counter, she said, "Be a fiver."
Wrinkling his nose, Severus dug in his pocket and fished out one of the notes. It bore a 10 in the corner. "I shall likely want more."
"Up to you, mate, up to you." The woman traded the note for one with fives on the front and a picture of a woman in a funny crown. Severus, arching an eyebrow at the picture, took his glass and looked around the place for a long moment. A bit of the old man's pipe smoke tickled his nose, and he sneezed.
"Bless you," the man called.
Severus growled and stalked towards one of the better hidden booths at the back of the place. He flopped down and took an experimental sip of the stuff for which he'd so easily given up James Potter's hard-inherited money. It burned; he made a face and tossed back most of the rest.
A wedge of grey light cut across the floor as the door opened. Severus didn't look up, and he ignored the footsteps coming closer and closer. They stopped at the next booth towards the door. The person sat down, and the barmaid came over a couple of minutes later. "What can I get for you?"
"Lager," Igor Karkaroff's voice answered.
Severus froze. His eyes darted to the side. Hunching down a little in his seat, he looked to see if anyone would see him Disapparate; the man with the pipe was well within viewing distance, as were a young couple watching the box.
"Any in particular?" the barmaid asked.
"No. Thank you."
"Three quid. Where you from?"
"Elsewhere." Heavy coins clinked. "Bring me my drink."
"I'm getting it. Don't have to be rude. I'm only being friendly. Bloody foreigners," she muttered, stomping off.
Severus' voice rasped in his throat. He snapped his mouth shut. He lifted his glass and drained it, setting it down on the back of his hand to stifle any sound. The glowing box droned in the background.
"You want anything else, mate?"
Severus snapped his head up. The barmaid stood there, looking expectant. Severus shook his head. She scowled.
"Cat got your tongue?"
She snorted. "Quiet drunks. Sure you don't want another one? Only, you might not speak for the rest of your life."
Severus nodded again, then shook his head. He handed over his empty glass and pointed at it, fishing in his pocket for the note she'd given him earlier. He dropped it into the glass and shooed her away.
When she brought it (and Igor's lager), Severus only waited long enough for her to vanish from sight before he necked it back and leaned forward, rubbing his temples with his fingertips. "Settle down," he hissed to himself well under the drone of the box and the soft sounds coming from the general denizens of the pub.
The wedge of light slid across the floor once more. Severus held his breath as quick footsteps came near.
"Pyotr," a man said. His voice was deep, sharp, and silken.
"Sir," Igor replied.
The second man grunted as he slid into the booth. "Sodding Muggles, don't see how they live without Cushioning Charms. What've you got for me?"
"Well, tell me. Did you get that tracking formula sorted yet?"
"A simple yes or no will do, Mosevich. Or do you want me to inform certain persons of the whereabouts of one Igor Karkaroff?"
There was a pause, and a rasp of breathing. "No, sir. I haven't figured out the formula. Although I seem to have sorted the problem with the trigger I found."
"Some of its variables are set to infinity. Or zero. I think. It might be both. Sir. It's... complicated."
"What should they be, then?"
Another pause, and Igor whispered, "I don't know, sir."
"Why not? I thought you were supposed to be good at this sort of thing, Mosevich."
"I'm not a miracle worker!"
"Then you had best learn to be one, or we'll see how you get on with the Dementors again. Oh, Hell."
The barmaid's clumping footsteps stopped at Igor's booth. "Regular train station in here today. Haven't seen so many fellows from outside the village in ages."
"How fascinating," the second man drawled, unimpressed. "Gin and tonic, light on the tonic, and no more chit-chat, please. We have business."
"Fine bloke you are. Why can't you lot be like the nice lad in the glasses was in earlier?"
"Because I'm not a nice lad in glasses. Would you please get me my drink and leave us alone?"
"Be six pounds fifty," the barmaid growled.
There was a rustle of fabric and paper, and a sharp, "Keep the change. We won't be ordering any more."
"Should hope not!" The barmaid turned with a scuffle of sensible shoes. She stuck her head around the corner of Severus' booth and started to open her mouth. Severus shook his head, making a cutting motion across her throat. She gave him a strange look but turned back without a word.
"Idiot Muggles," the stranger grumbled. Severus pictured him rubbing a pair of beady eyes. "Sometimes I wonder if You-Know-Who didn't have a point."
"Sir, I'd rather get this over with."
"We'll get this over with when I say so, Pyotr. What do you need to finish your project?"
"The original calculations. I can't... Sir, I'm working with my own arm and a dead woman's body."
"You know perfectly well He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named left no records."
"I don't think he designed it."
A pause. "Excuse me?"
"If he'd made it, it would have worked. The trigger wouldn't be faulty. I... think I know what's off. At least, I've got a rough idea, but I don't know if I can..."
"If he didn't, then who did?"
"I don't know, sir. I don't... Grindelwald is the only wizard I can think of who could have done this, but it's not... I've reverse engineered some of his work, sir, but it felt different."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"It's like reading a Blavatsky prediction and a LeVries one."
Another pause. "Apples and pears?"
"Forget I asked. Oh, for..."
The barmaid's sensible shoes clomped up to the booth once more. Something heavy landed on the table, and she stormed back to the bar. She leaned on one elbow, shooting Igor and the man a glare, before settling in to scowl at the box in the corner. Severus only noticed from the corner of his eye. He stared at the wooden divider ahead of him, tense and quivering. Part of him wanted to try and sneak past certain death; the rest simply wanted to hide.
"Muggle bitch," the stranger growled. "Wonder if she spat in this?"
"Are we finished, sir?"
"Hmm. I suppose. Next week again."
"Where at, sir?"
A glass scraped on their table. It clicked again a moment later. "Here, I think."
"I've got a feeling what we need is nearby. Before you say it, my grandfather was a seer. I'm better at this sort of thing than... well, than you are at your rocket wizardry."
"Yes, sir," Igor said with a slight edge in his voice. There was a scuffle, as if he was getting up.
"Sit down, Pyotr. You haven't touched your drink."
"I'm not thirsty. Sir."
The man grunted. Igor's footsteps shuffled away, and the wedge of light, growing dimmer, cut across the floor once more. Much to Severus' chagrin, Igor's companion didn't seem eager to leave.
Severus stared straight ahead. His breath rasped in his throat. He slipped a hand into his pocket and groped for his watch; he only found the clump of notes. Gritting his teeth, he pressed both palms flat on top of the table and tried to ignore the twinge in his left shoulder. He was still ignoring it when he heard the shuffling of feet from behind him and the man called, "Where've you hidden the W.C.?"
"At the back," the barmaid answered without looking away from the glowing box. The man grunted and got to his feet with a great deal of noise.
Severus' heart thudded against his breastbone. As quickly as he could, he slumped forward on the table, face hidden in the crook of one arm, a hand coming to rest against his empty glass. A bare moment later, the stranger shuffled past. He paused. A blunt finger stabbed at the back of Severus' skull.
"Idiot Muggle drunks," the man muttered. He sniffed, and a few seconds later a door at the back of the pub latched and locked.
Severus glanced up. Only the barmaid and the rest of the pub's denizens were visible, staring at him as though he'd grown an extra head.
"You all right, mate?" the barmaid called.
Severus waved a thumb at the loo. "Old employer."
The barmaid's mouth formed a silent, "Oh," and she nodded. She motioned towards the exit. "Best get gone then."
Severus gave her a slight bow as he stood and hurried out as fast as he could. Darting into a small alley between the pub and the post office, he Disapparated to the edge of the trees circling the house. He pushed through, wrapping his arms around himself against the vicious winds clawing through his jumper and against a growing sense of dread that sprouted from more than wards.
He barged through the front door, kicking it closed behind him. Without even pausing to wipe the mud from his shoes, he ploughed through towards Perditus' study.
Severus gritted his teeth. "I'll speak with you in a moment, Emily," he snapped, upping his pace.
A rough hand grabbed the neck of his jumper. "Mind explaining why I had to peel Harry off the table?"
"Actually, I do. Let me go."
"Severus, I've got snot dried all over that dressing gown you loaned me. He didn't say a word about it, but it's got 'selfish bastard' written all over it."
Severus growled. He squirmed out of the jumper, leaving it to dangle in Emily's hand; he darted down the corridor towards the study, feeling rather naked in his white shirt. Emily's heavy footsteps followed.
"There's something seriously wrong with that boy, hon."
"Yes, probably me, as you so aptly put it. I said I'll speak to you in a minute."
"You'll speak to me now, you git." She grabbed the back of his shirt just as he reached the study door. "I mean it. He's mental or something."
With a growl, Severus wrenched out of her grasp. He fished in his pocket for his wand. "Thank you, Doctor Vector." He muttered the incantation that unlocked the door and shouldered it open. The gaslights popped to life; Emily jumped.
"Jesus Christ!" she panted. "You're both mental if you've got things like that going on!"
"Emily, shut your mouth before I shut it for you." Severus hurried behind the desk and started fishing through the blank black journals lining the bottom shelf. He flipped through, tossing the ones filled with symbols and sums and meticulous graphs onto the desk and shoving the rest back into the bookcase.
"What's wrong with your face?" Emily asked.
"No, you look like you've been punched in the jaw. Did he hurt you?" Her fists clenched and her shoulders grew square.
"No, he defended himself."
Emily opened her mouth in confusion. Her brow furrowed. "Hon, what in Hell is going on?"
"Nothing of your concern. Don't see why it's anything to you anyway."
"I'm worried. God knows we can't stand each other, but he snotted all over me. Now you look like you've been beaten half to death, and you tell me he was defending himself."
"Not surprising. Anything else?"
"Actually, yeah. I think he called me Gran. Does that make any sense to you?"
A shudder ran through Severus' back. "Maybe." He scanned another journal and shoved it onto the shelf. "You need to go home."
"Not until I've got that book sorted. And this. Hon, you're cranky enough at the best of times. You don't need Harry going off the deep end at you on top of it, especially if you're getting hurt."
Severus scooped up the journals on the desk. He thrust them into Emily's arms as he swept past her and towards the dining room.
She followed, close on his heels. "Hon?"
"Be quiet, Emily."
"Just look inside."
He could almost hear her frown. A moment later she yelped, and the journals thudded to the floor. "Where the Hell did you get these?"
"My father." Severus pushed open the dining room door. He dropped a scrap of parchment into the open journal and scooped it up along with Emily's notes. He dropped them on top of the rest as she stumbled through the door. "Go home."
"Go home, and if any one of these ever comes near this house again, I'll have your skull for a lantern."
Emily stared at him. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Apart from a general desire to beat my head against the bricks until it caves in, not especially. Go home, Emily."
"Let me deal with Harry."
"I deserve anything that happens to me. Don't ask. Just take my word for once in your life." Severus pursed his mouth, refusing to listen to the little voice in his head insisting that Harry wouldn't let him look his way, much less come near enough to touch.
Emily frowned. Her arms were wrapped around the muddle of books and parchments. "I'm talking to Sirius about this."
"Fine. I'm sure the mutt will have some brilliant insights on the matter. Go. Home."
"He's going to hurt you. Again."
"No more than I've already hurt him, I assure you."
Emily gave him a wounded look. She took a step backwards, though. "I don't want to know what you mean by that, do I?"
"No, you don't."
"Can I Disapparate from here?"
Severus gave a slight nod.
Emily frowned. "Take care of yourself, hon." Before Severus could respond, she vanished.
The house suddenly felt very empty and very, very cold.
He paused to cap the inkwell on the table and straighten the pyramid of unused scrolls. His fingers brushed the edge where he'd bent Harry down. Severus shuddered. He knelt and pressed his cheek against it. "I'm sorry," he whispered, fingers curling around the wood, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." He trailed off, lips still running in silence.
Pushing himself to his feet and rubbing his dry, burning eyes, he turned and forced himself to march through the door and up the stairs. He paused at the top, glaring at the tiny portrait of Eversor smiling at him from a barren, black frame. Severus snarled, drew his fist back, and left the portrait a mangled mess of wood and photo canvas as he stormed towards the bedroom.
The door was closed. He knocked. "Harry?"
Severus opened it a crack. Harry was sitting on the edge of the bed, trainers dangling, still wearing his Muggle clothes. His head was down, and he'd dropped his hands between his knees. He said nothing as Severus slipped in and closed the door.
"I'm sorry," Severus murmured.
Harry's head moved by degrees. His eyes glittered like glass in the gaslights. He stared, mouth closed, pain and disbelief creasing the skin around it.
"Why?" he whispered.
Severus hung his head. "I don't know."
"Of course you know. You're the one who did it."
"Where've you been?" Harry asked, voice cracking.
"Down the pub."
"Goat and Barrel?"
"You met Lester, then?"
"Lester?" Severus snapped.
"Old bloke with the pipe. Married to the barmaid. The one I was chatting with while we watched the football."
"Muggle sports. Something you wouldn't understand." Harry turned his head away, slumping between his shoulders. "You still haven't answered me."
"I already told you, I don't know."
"And I say you do."
"What do you want me to tell you, that it runs in the family?" Severus tucked a bit of hair behind his ear.
"No, I want the truth. Otherwise, I'm leaving, and I'm not coming back."
Severus leaned against the door. He caught himself before he could slide to the floor like a child. He clutched at his shoulder, taking slow, deep breaths to assuage his thudding heart. "If you leave, I'll die."
"Just answer the question, Severus."
"I won't come back this time."
"Answer the question," Harry hissed.
"I need you."
"Just answer the goddamned question, Snape!" Harry stormed to his feet, stabbing a finger at Severus. "You promised you would never do anything like that! Right now, I don't care if you live or die. You either answer me, or I walk straight out of here, and we just see if you're telling the truth about getting it over for good this time."
They stared at each other. Harry's shoulders rose and fell too hard. His eyes were wild, and the finger still pointed at Severus trembled. Severus felt his legs buckling. He slid to the floor, his arms falling limp at his sides.
"I did it because I want you," he said in a small voice.
"You want me."
Harry prowled towards him, eyes narrowed, fingers twitching. He crouched in front of Severus. "So why couldn't you just say something and see what happened?"
"You'd just gotten in four--"
"--Hours late. I know." Harry's lip curled. "Not good enough."
"'Sorry' isn't going to cut it."
"What do you want? Paenitet sum?"
"That's a start. At least I can probably believe anything that comes out of your mouth in Latin."
Severus pursed his mouth. "Interesting how violently you react to something you stopped when you won't even acknowledge something you couldn't prevent."
Harry's hand flew back. He curled it into a fist, let it drop. "Next time, I'm not going to stop myself," he hissed.
"Perhaps." Severus stared at Harry. "Mi marite," he spat.
"You sure about that?"
"Etiam. Habeueras meum horologium?"
Harry paused a moment, eyes unfocused as his lips ran through a hasty, silent translation. "I can give it back any time you want."
Another pause, shorter this time. "So I'll try again."
Severus swallowed. "Perpaenitet sum."
"I already told you, that's not going to work." Harry rolled back onto his heels and stood. He paced like a lion, slow and predatory and powerful. "So you want me."
"Enough to turn into your goddamned brother?"
Harry snorted. "Funny way of showing it. What I don't understand, though, is what you see that's so brilliant you've just got to take it no matter what I say. I mean, I know I'm not horrible, but what's the attraction?" He grabbed the bottom of his sweatshirt and lifted it to reveal a plain blue T-shirt underneath. "It can't be my clothes. You hate Muggle clothes."
"Shut up." Harry wrenched the sweatshirt over his head and dropped it on the floor. He glowered down his nose at Severus. "When I ask a question, you answer. Understand?"
Severus narrowed his eyes. He said nothing.
"I asked you a question, Snape. Do. You. Understand?"
Severus dug his nails into his palms. He looked away and hissed, "Etiam."
A small hand grabbed him by the chin and jerked his head around so he stared straight into Harry's crazed eyes. Harry hunched over him; Severus found himself drawing his knees closer to his chest. "You will look away when I tell you to look away," Harry growled. "Otherwise, I am packing my trunk with my things and getting the Hell out of your house."
"Tuus quoque domus est."
"Bullshit. It's never been mine." Harry ground Severus' head against the door, his fingers digging into the bruise on his jaw. Severus swallowed against the fire shooting down his neck. "Take your eyes off me for longer than it takes to blink, and I'm leaving."
"Quor faceas hic?"
Harry's eyes narrowed. He got to his feet and hooked his thumbs into his belt loops, pulling down so his shirt puckered below his navel. A smile like a shard of broken glass flickered across his mouth. "Because I want you, too."
Severus drew his knees to his chest and hugged them; a weak whimper lodged in his throat. He pressed back against the door. Every muscle in his body tightened until he trembled. "Si placet nocere me ne."
"I'm not going to lay a finger on you. Bit too nice of me, don't you think?"
Severus could only nod, more out of fear than agreement.
Harry tugged the tongue of his belt through the buckle. The two ends fell apart with a clinking sound. "You really have no idea, Snape. I'm The Boy Who Lived. I'm the most fucking famous Seeker in the British league right now. I've got loads of people desperate to get in my pants. So what have I done? Been a good little boy all for you." He toed out of his trainers and kicked them under the bed. "Y'see, some of us actually learn from our mistakes. I learned the hard way that snogging another bloke is more painful than it's worth. You could have trusted me, but you had to assume I'm just like you."
"Shut up." Harry snarled. He slid a hand down the middle of his chest, his stomach, letting it slide into the waist of his jeans. The blues, royal and indigo, gave it a ghostlike contrast, bringing out the lay of dark veins beneath his thin, pale skin. He pulled the hem of his shirt up just enough to lay bare a patch of skin and a narrow pillar of coarse, dark hairs. Looking down at Severus through a veil of lashes, he murmured, "Still want me?"
Severus shuddered. He nodded.
"I said 'say it', Snape."
Severus licked his lips. "Etiam, egeo te," he rasped.
Harry lifted his chin with a leer. "Just imagine what you could be doing right now. Running your tongue along this." Harry drew a finger up the line of hair, lifting the shirt until his slit of a navel lay exposed. The skin there was even paler than his hands; shadows shifted and left a pearlescent illusion along the line and lift of muscle as he breathed. "I'd have liked that, you know, at least as long as I could stand it."
A weak sob stuck in Severus' throat. Despite his fear, his trembling, the horror turning his pulse to a hum, his breaths were growing ragged at the edges. The heaviness ran down the centre of his chest for the second time in as many hours. He huddled into himself, trying to make his impertinent body behave for once in its attention-starved life. Harry watched in silence as he shifted like a child. A smile that made Severus go cold lit Harry's face.
Licking his lips, Harry went on. "But why stop there? While we're talking hypothetical situations, why not say I'm perfectly fine? Imagine running that forked tongue you've got even higher."
Harry pulled his shirt up enough for Severus to see the bottom edge of his rib cage as he stretched, offering himself. A short finger traced the ridge of bone and muscle. "Not as impressive as yours, but you've always seemed to like it. You know, I can almost remember what it feels like for you to kiss from here," Harry touched the far side of the curve and followed it, mapping the lay of bone and cartilage, "to here." His finger slowed and lifted away where the bone curved into his side. His breaths were hard, harsh, the faint outline of his ribs visible with every sharp inhalation. Harry dropped his head back. The muscles in his throat stood out like ropes. "God, I miss that."
"As do I," Severus breathed.
Harry's head snapped up. He sneered down at Severus. "Did I tell you to speak? Did I tell you to speak English?"
Severus wedged himself harder against the door. One of his hands twitched against his belly. He grabbed a handful of jumper and dug his nails in lest he reach for the doorknob and drive his Harry away for good. If there was any of his Harry left.
"Better." Harry grabbed the bottom of his shirt and wrenched it over his head, setting his glasses askew and sending his hair in a thousand scattered directions. The dog tag around his neck swayed and came to rest against his sternum. He threw the fabric at Severus. Severus caught it before he could stop himself. The warmth that clung to its thin knit ran through his trembling hands. He squeezed it until his arms shook. His eyes darted over the expanse of pallid skin, the patch of hair turning thick and dense in the middle of Harry's chest, the deep pink of nipples pricked with more than sudden cold. Harry bared his teeth in a way that made Severus' pelvis swell with heat and blood.
"How d'you like me now? Not exactly a kid anymore, am I?" Harry ran his fingers through the dark mat, curls sliding between them or wrapping around. He let his hand brush a nipple little larger than the head of a pin; he swallowed hard, a flush rising in his cheeks and down his throat to his chest. "I asked you a question, Snape. How do you like me now?"
Severus forced his mouth to close. He gulped, jaw dropping once again to pant. He stared at the fine muscles and dark hairs of Harry's arm; a few black strands came to a point just next to the heel of his hand. A part of him wanted to crawl forward, pull the hand down to his mouth, trace the outline with lips and tongue; the rest wanted to die. "Nimis."
"You still want me then?"
"You don't say." Pushing his glasses up his nose, Harry turned on his heel. He glanced back over his shoulder, his dilated eyes glittering like mirrors. Shoulder blades like folded wings shifted as he stretched his arms out to the sides. The three moles on the upper right side of his back made a rough arrowhead pointing towards the dip running down his spine. His flush trailed back over his shoulders. Severus followed everything down, down, to find a narrow strip of white elastic rising over the waist of Harry's jeans. Another wedge of dark hairs, this one far thinner and finer than the rest, made a weak shadow near the base of his spine.
"God," Harry breathed, "I am so fucking hard."
Severus whined. He caught himself just before he could bury his face in his knees. Squirming so the underside of his chin came to rest on them instead, he fought to deny the swelling in his groin as well as that in his nose. Harry looked back. He blinked, and for the barest instant Severus thought he caught a flash of icy blue between the dark fringes of Harry's lashes.
He could only stare through a fog of tears that dried before they could fall as Harry eased his jeans down over his hips. He left them there, twin crescents of skin visible between the indigo fabric and the white of his Y-fronts. The cleft of his backside made a dip in the smooth knit. Harry followed Severus' gaze as far as he could. "You're thinking about how much you'd love to be in there right now, aren't you?"
Before he could stop himself, Severus shook his head.
Harry arched an eyebrow. "You want me to bugger you instead?"
A shiver ran up Severus' spine. He swallowed against the moisture building at the back of his throat. Quickly, he shook his head again.
"Then what are you thinking?"
"That's not Latin."
"I don't want to speak Latin."
"I don't care. Say it."
"Stop. Please. Just stop."
"And you call me insolent." Harry turned and stalked towards Severus. Indeed, the front of his pants had bulged; the base of it lay nestled within the V of his fly like an offering between cupped hands. He crouched on the balls of his feet, knees spread wide, elbows perched on his thighs. "I'll bet," he whispered, leaning so close his breath gusted over Severus' face, "you're as hard as I am right now."
Severus said nothing. He tried to take a deep breath; it broke halfway in with a dull sob. He twisted his mouth into a knot and tried to catch with his lashes the tear already skittering down his cheek.
Harry took a few ungainly steps backwards, still crouched. "Show me."
"Leave me alone." Eversor.
"You'll show me, or I'll make you show me. And don't even think you're the martyr here. It's nothing you haven't already done to me."
Harry grabbed his wrists. "Show me, you son of a bitch!"
Severus wrenched free and pounded his fists into the floor. "I'M SORRY!" he screamed. "I'M SORRY! I'M SORRY! I'M SORRY! JUST LEAVE ME ALONE, GODDAMN YOU!" He slammed his head back against the door. A long, wordless howl tore its way from his throat, bloody-tasting and sounding for all the world like steel ripping steel.
A hand grabbed his face before he could crush his skull against the wood again. His head was thrust back and held in place. The touch burned. Severus arched with a screech. He squeezed his leaking eyes shut. His lips began to run a silent litany of their own accord: "Crucio, Imperio, Avada Kedavra. Crucio, Imperio, Avada Kedavra. Crucio, Imperio..."
"Sev!" A pair of thumbs forced his eyes open. Severus gasped. He could just make out a pair of round glasses, green eyes, a slow and spreading grimace of disbelief. "Stop it! You're going to hurt yourself!"
"Leave me alone," Severus sobbed. He shook his head free. "You're just like him. Leave me the fuck alone!"
He had the dim impression of Harry sitting back hard, staring. His legs were still spread wide, but the flush running over his body had been replaced by a sickly sort of grey. "So are you," he said in a mournful whisper.
The sobs shaking Severus' body rose until he thought his chest would crack. He curled into a foetal ball, hands thrust down between his legs, knees drawn to his chest. He took the deepest breath he could and keened.
"Sev, stop it." A hand fell to his shoulder. He flinched.
"Don't touch me!"
"You're going to... Fuck this." Strong arms started to slip under him. Severus yowled and wrenched himself away.
"I said don't touch me!"
"I'm putting you in bed so you don't--"
"I SAID DON'T FUCKING TOUCH ME! GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!"
Harry jumped. He stumbled to his feet, hitching up his trousers and fiddling with the row of buttons until the things were snug around his waist once more. Without another word, he snatched his sweatshirt and scuttled out the door.
Severus lay there on the naked floor. A puddle of tears and slime was forming beneath his face. Choking, gasping for breath, he thumped his temple against the wood a few times. The thumps grew weaker, weaker, until his head fell at a feeble angle. He took a deep breath, and while a lump of ice filled his belly he cried.
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