Title: One Wave Short of a Shipwreck
Author: a tale for another day
Giftee: <lj user="alisanne">
Word Count: ~12,250
Warnings: EWE, Seduction through enticing alternatives (aka Dirty Talk)
Disclaimer: Don't own them. Don't make any money from them. I just let them have a bit more fun than JKR ever did.
Summary: Severus and Harry end up in the same hospital for very different reasons. Afterwards, Hermione plots, Harry seduces, and Severus thinks he may just be going slightly mad.
A/N: <lj user="alisanne"> I managed to at least mention most of your kinks and requests, and get two of your optional prompts in as well. Hope you like it.
Many thanks to my amazing betas: F, M, and J.
I'm one card short of a full deck
I'm not quite the shilling
One wave short of a shipwreck
I'm not at my usual top billing
I'm coming down with a fever
I'm really out to sea
This kettle is boiling over
I think I'm a banana tree
Oh dear, I'm going slightly mad
-- I'm Going Slightly Mad by Queen
Part 1: Not at his usual top billing
Three more days, Severus reminded himself. Only three more days and he would be released from this hellhole of a hospital. He'd survived more than five months of their so-called care -- and he did not know the exact number of weeks, days, hours, he simply refused. Surely, he could survive another three days.
A chill breeze blew through the tree above the bench where he sat, showering his black cloak with red and gold leaves. He shivered, yanked up the hood of his cloak, and slid a little lower on his seat. He was not ready to go back in and subject himself to more of their damn fussing.
He settled his book a little more comfortably, moving the hard leather corner from where it was jabbing into his thigh. Carmeline's Prescriptive Potions had two advantages over the rest of the semi-acceptable reading material in the hospital library. It was two thousand pages long and, like almost every other potions book of its class, worth rereading.
Mostly worth reading, he corrected himself, pulling a self-inking red quill from his pocket and jotting a correction in the margin. Only a dunderhead with a penchant for exploding cauldrons would recommend using a triple anti-clockwise figure-eight stir to combine those particular ingredients.
"Leave me 'lone."
The high-pitched yell almost made Severus lose his place. He snarled, "Shut it up or hex it."
A young boy skidded to a halt in front of Severus, hospital dressing gown flying out behind him to reveal dark blue pyjamas decorated with airborne snitches and broomsticks. He glanced around the small garden and sighed, obviously intelligent enough to realise that the only way out was the way he'd entered. He peered through the over-long, uncombed mop of hair and whinged, "Bad man comes."
"Indeed." Severus could have kicked himself for responding, but that would have hurt and... well, he had promised never to intentionally hurt himself again.
Face solemn, green eyes wide with fear, the boy nodded.
Severus looked down and turned the page in his book. It really wasn't any of his business, whatever it was.
Two steps, slippers dragging on the flagstones, and a hand grabbed at Severus' knee. "Bad man."
"As you've already said." Severus pried the small fingers off his cloak. "You may wish to run away before he finds you here."
One step away, just one, and then the little horror threw himself at Severus, wrapping his arms around Severus' leg almost tightly enough to cut off circulation. And Severus had had enough of those problems over the past few months. He reached down to extricate himself from the parasite, only to have his hand grabbed in two clammy little ones and legs wrapped around his.
The mucky pup even had the audacity to look at Severus with those unbearably green eyes as he cowered against him.
Severus scowled and started to disentangle himself.
From somewhere close by, a man yelled, "Boy! Come here. Now!"
The child gasped and clutched Severus' hand, hard.
A thrashing noise came from the other side of the hedge at Severus' left, followed by much stomping of feet. The same man growled, "Bloody brat. Just wait till I get my hands on him."
The child whimpered and started to pull away, as if he didn't expect Severus to help.
Something in that sound -- perhaps the familiar, tangible, resigned fear -- made Severus twitch his book to one side and open his cloak. He nodded at the child, who looked surprised as he obediently scrambled up and over Severus' lap with a whispered "thank you".
"Hmmm," Severus murmured. He resettled himself, angling his body slightly sideways to provide a space only just large enough between his back and the bench for the boy. A flick of the thick wool sorted his cloak and brought it close against his body. The careful placement of his oversized book ensured that no one could tell he was trying to hide something.
The small vibrations from the boy trembling against Severus' ribs had his nostrils flaring as he considered the not-necessarily-remote possibility that his robes would develop a damp patch. With a sigh, he went back to considering the utter idiocy of adding crushed camomile stamens to a Perspicacity Potion. Even Longbottom had known better than that.
A couple of minutes later, an Auror stomped into the garden alcove and crashed around the hedges. Abrek Eydel, Severus snorted. He should have known. Incompetent cretin. Hopefully the man would get into more trouble over losing the child as he had for allowing another inmate to kill Lucius on his watch.
"Snape." Eydel turned to go. Then he blew out his bushy, brown moustache and asked, "Have you seen a boy? About five years old. This high." He held his hand at hip height.
Severus arched an eyebrow and did his best not to react to the little fingers digging painfully into his back. He moved his gaze up and down the Auror, taking in the smears of dirt on his dark robes and the leaf bits caught in the thinning brown hair. "Do I look like a babysitter to you?"
"You don't want to know what you look like to me," Eydel sneered. Then he shook his head, muttering something that Severus couldn't hear.
"If that's all," Severus said, ostentatiously lifting his book and running a finger down the page. He used the movement to disguise the shift of muscles that dislodged the fingertips poking into his ribs.
"Well," Eydel began, then stopped to push a hand against the comm-bug in his ear. He murmured, "Fine" and then, "Coming." After a pause, he continued, "Snape, if you see a black haired, green eyed brat running around, trip the heads-up, and someone'll come and get him."
After Eydel left, Severus sat there for a few minutes. Small arms slid around his back, and the trembling slowly eased. The boy whispered, "Thank you."
"Hmmm..." Severus grunted. His mind was stuck on the description Eydel had given. Unfortunately, there was only one way to know for sure.
Laying his book aside, Severus shifted forward and opened his cloak.
The boy crawled out. Before he could slip down to the ground, Severus caught his arm.
The chin lifted and the green eyes narrowed, squinting. "I won't tell. Promise."
"I'm not worried about that." Severus raised his other hand, pushed the messy fringe back to expose the boy's forehead. A jagged lightening bolt scarred the pale skin. "Potter," he hissed.
"Harry," the boy insisted.
"Bloody hell," Severus swore and pinched the bridge of his nose. He really should have known. Who else... he cut off that train of thought and started cursing. Everything and everyone.
Potter was watching him, awe-struck. "You know more bad words than Uncle Vernon."
"I hardly consider that a feat. To call your uncle's vocabulary severely lacking would be an exaggeration."
"What's a 'saggeration'?"
"Never you mind."
"Do you ever just listen?" Severus growled. But Potter cringed instead of fighting back, clearly expecting a wallop to follow those words, and Severus' frustration drained away. Determined to get to the bottom of whatever was disturbing his well-earned peace, he grabbed the child and his book, and stalked towards the hospital.
And if the thin arms around his neck and the head tucked under his chin felt like a benediction, Severus would never tell anyone. Not even himself.
"Hermione and I looked after him the first time," Ron Weasley said, running a hand through his unkempt red hair. "We aren't allowed to look after him this time."
"What do you mean, the first time?" Severus hissed.
"Just what I said, Snape. We looked after Harry a couple of weeks ago. It was his suggestion that we de-age him again, so that we could catch whoever did it. We figure that's more likely to happen if he's in a public place."
Severus snarled, "And you expect me to blithely sit in the middle of the trap, right next to the bait?"
"Keep it down," Kingsley Shacklebolt murmured, and they glanced at the other side of Severus' hospital room, where Hermione was reading to Harry. The silhouettes of the two Aurors on guard outside loomed through the frosted glass inset into the door next to them.
"This is ridiculous," Weasley said and cast, Muffliato and another, unrecognisable spell that surrounded them with shimmering wards. "If this huddle hasn't given us away, then he or she isn't smart enough to figure out that a Silencing spell means we're hiding something."
Severus crossed his arms over his chest and waited. This had better be good.
After a significant look from Kingsley, Weasley continued, "Thing is, the de-aging curse hit Harry in the middle of training. Sixteen trainees, four Aurors doing the training, and all of us in a shielded building that no one can enter or leave until the end of session."
"A locked room mystery, only nineteen suspects, and you can't identify the culprit?" Severus shook his head. "Maybe you all need to go back into training."
"Now, Severus," Kingsley began, then he sighed and ran his hand across his smooth pate. "If we hadn't checked every wand, questioned everyone present -- multiple times -- under Veritaserum and Legilimency, I'd probably agree with you. But we did. And everyone present came up clean."
"Which only proves that we didn't know the right questions to ask," Weasley grumbled. "Veritaserum is only going to tell us what the witness believes to be true, and every Auror is trained to Occlude."
First baby Potter had told the truth, and now Weasley was speaking something that sounded like sense. Severus closed his eyes and firmly instructed his stomach that now was not the time to get sick. Not if he wanted out of this hell-hole sometime soon.
"What I don't get," Weasley said, scratching at the back of his neck, "is how 'did you curse Harry Potter?' couldn't have been the right question to ask."
Relief coursed through Severus and forced him to speak. "Thank you, Mr Weasley, for asking an utterly stupid question and proving, once again, that all is still right with the world."
"Just ignore him, Ron, or he'll tangle you up in enough mental knots to keep you busy for the next hundred years." Kingsley frowned at Severus. "Now, where were we before you so adroitly sent us off on a tangent? Ah, yes, you were agreeing to take care of Harry until we can catch the suspect."
"I.... agreed?" Severus' eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared. He reared himself up to his full height to give the conniving bastard a piece of his mind.
The door opened, and two Aurors entered with a small bed and a bag of clothing floating behind them. Potter released a high-pitched squeal and raced through the supposedly impenetrable wards, scattering sparks in every direction, to clamp himself around Severus' leg.
"I'm not exactly sure you were given a choice." Kingsley snorted.
Severus bent down to disentangle his leg only to find that Potter had somehow managed to latch onto his arms. The child had more tentacles than the bloody Giant Squid.
When Severus stood up again, with the insufferable brat in his arms, Weasley's face was bright-red. "You... he..." Weasley managed. But then Potter wriggled into what he apparently considered a more comfortable position, and Weasley completely lost it, laughing so hard that he was clutching his stomach.
"And here I thought you'd forgiven me for being a spy during the war." Severus stared haughtily down his nose at Kingsley, trying not to think about what the grubby child attached to his neck was doing to his carefully cultivated image.
Kingsley's booming laughter was not the least bit reassuring.
"An' they all lived happily ever after, the end," Potter announced, slamming Bayla Barnacle Goes to the Zoo closed and peering up through his fringe at Severus. "Is okay?"
"Much better, Potter," Severus said.
"Harry," the brat insisted, for the umpteenth time in two days. He held up the book. "Now it's your turn."
Severus massaged the bridge of his nose against his incipient headache and tried to remember how many hours it had been since he took a potion to ward off the last headache. "I think not. It's time for bed."
"But I'm in bed and you said I should read lots."
"Do not twist my words," Severus gritted out. Snatching the book out of Harry's hands, he tossed it towards his own bed. It landed with a thud on the floor that sent a matching throb through Severus' skull. "Not if you know what's good for you."
"Sorry," Harry whispered and curled up tightly against the head of his bed, as far away from Severus as he could manage. Then he held out his hands, palms up. "You want for me to count?"
"No!" The bottom dropped out of Severus' stomach. He flung himself out of his chair and over to the window. Clenching his fist on the windowsill did not quell his urge to destroy, to rend something. He rested his forehead against the cool glass, closed his burning eyes, and tried to get his thoughts in order. But all he could think was not Potter, too. Potter was supposed to be the Golden Boy, not another child who suffered simply because he existed. If Albus was still alive, Severus would gladly kill the man again. He groaned, and then groaned again when Potter whimpered.
Before he could do anything, say anything, a woman came barrelling into the room, a tray piled with scrolls and potions floating behind her. "Well, hello there," she said, in a nauseatingly chirpy voice. "I'm Mediwitch Belthorne. How're we doing this evening?"
Severus spun around, smirk fixed firmly in place, and responded. "We were doing just fine until you came in. Weren't we, Harry?"
"Uh huh." Potter nodded so hard that Severus' headache started up once more in sympathy.
"Lovely. Lovely. Now let's get started, shall we?"
The self-satisfied pat she gave her sloppy bun set her cap askew, but she didn't seem to notice. That, combined with her obnoxiously toothy smile and distinct lack of stress lines, had Severus making sure his wand was in its holster. He would have bet the meagre contents of his vault that the woman wasn't a mediwitch.
Potter, apparently being more intelligent than he looked, scrambled off the bed and hid behind Severus -- without exhibiting any of his usual clinginess or tendency to get in Severus' way.
The woman pulled a pair of potion phials out of her pocket, rather than off the tray, and Severus pulled out his wand. She looked at him and blinked. "Oh," she said, and then patted her pockets. "I must have..."
As she ran for the door, the tray clattered to the floor behind her, sending scrolls and phials in every direction. By the time Severus made it to the corridor, she was nowhere to be seen. Dawlish and Rajagopalan, a brown-haired female Auror, stared at him for a moment before taking off after the woman.
"Sev'rus?" Potter was still standing near the window, chewing on his bottom lip.
Severus crossed the room and picked him up. Wrapping his arms around Potter, he settled back into the chair between the two beds and did his best to comfort them both.
Two hours later, Severus was still sitting in the chair with Potter sound asleep in his lap. His memory of the event currently resided in a Pensieve on his bedside table, and he'd answered innumerable questions from Dawlish, Rajagopalan, and Weasley about what had happened.
Shacklebolt stared at the snapshot of the woman taken from Severus' memory and shook his head. "She looks familiar, but I just can't place her."
"Know what you mean," Weasley said. "Can't say as I've ever met her, but I've seen her around somewhere."
"Could she work at the Ministry?" Rajagopalan asked.
"It's possible." Dawlish shrugged. "But, if she does, circulating the picture might just tip her off. Assuming, of course, that we're not looking at a case of Polyjuice."
Severus sneered at them. "If I repeat myself again, will you be able to get the information into your thick head? She exhibited none of the physical awkwardness that typifies someone who has Polyjuiced into another body. And that means it was the woman herself, unless whoever it was makes a habit of Polyjuicing into the same woman over and over again."
With a mulish thrust of his chin that exposed the bald spot under his comb-over, Dawlish protested, "You can't know for..."
Cutting across whatever the imbecile was going to say, Severus said, "I am a Potions Master. It is my job to know everything about Polyjuice potion."
"He's got a point," Weasley said, then he grimaced and whinged, "and you have no idea how much it hurts me to agree with him."
Oh, but I do, Severus thought. He arched an eyebrow at Weasley, permitting his lips to twitch into his favourite almost-smile when the man flushed nearly as red as his hair.
"We've gone around in so many circles that I'm getting dizzy. While I agree that our suspect was unlikely to be Polyjuiced," Shacklebolt held up his hand to stop Dawlish from objecting, "even that possibility, however remote, requires regular access to the subject to obtain hair. Now, can we please move on to actually finding her?"
As they discussed strategies and ideas, Severus adjusted Potter and cautiously flexed his arm, trying to get some feeling back into it. How the boy slept through all of this upheaval was beyond him.
He gave them another hour. Then, he kicked them out of the room and told them not to allow anyone in until the house-elf came with breakfast. He tucked Potter into his bed, pausing briefly when the boy rolled over with a murmured complaint. After setting his own wards within wards around the perimeter of the room and around their beds, he readied himself for bed.
What he really wanted, instead of sleep, was a decent Keep Awake potion. But Healer Delyannis had vetoed that proposal with a graphic description of how it interacted with his other potions. Bloody overgrown worm. If Longbottom hadn't killed it, Severus would have taken great pleasure -- and spent far more time -- doing it himself.
As for protecting Potter, that had always been Severus' job. He clearly couldn't trust the Aurors to find the noses on their own faces.
Over the next few days, Severus adamantly refused to allow Potter to go anywhere without him. Not even the nauseatingly hopeful looks that the miniature delinquent kept giving him through that dratted hair were enough to change his mind. Each night, after the Aurors -- bloody useless imbeciles that they were -- had swept the room for Portkeys, hexes, and other traps, Severus ushered them out and set his own wards and traps.
Other than the usual annoyances of being responsible for a five year old Gryffindor with marginal taste in family and friends, nothing happened. He'd made more than his fair share of mistakes, losing his temper far too many times and, worst of all, discovering that Potter's interpretation of Severus' offer to give him lessons had nothing to do with reading or writing.
If he were being honest, which he wasn't, Severus would have admitted that he was bored out of his skull and back to being desperate to get out of the hospital. But his release had been delayed until the "situation" with Potter had been resolved. And he had been expressly forbidden from taking the brat with him.
By the fourth day, they'd fallen into a routine of sorts. Potter woke him up with a disgustingly cheery and shy smile. He sent Potter back into the bathroom three times: once to wash behind his ears, again to comb his hair, and finally to brush more than just his front teeth. The house-elf popped in, blithely ignoring the Aurors outside the room and the wards inside, bringing the exact same breakfast that Severus had eaten since he'd demanded they allow him solid foods: a soft-boiled egg, four slices of wholemeal toast with butter and silver marmalade on the side, a cup of plain, Greek yoghurt, a large pot of tea (hospital coffee being poisonous to anyone with functioning taste buds), and The Daily Prophet.
He was deeply involved in spreading the silver marmalade to the edges of his first slice of toast when Pott... Harry stopped slicing his toast into meticulously even soldiers -- and one day Severus would know why the little horror hadn't used that skill to prepare potions ingredients -- and asked the question that changed everything.
"Did they catch the bad man?"
"The bad man," P... Harry repeated with a completely unnecessary sigh. "Ron said I had to stay until they got him and that lady in 'skaban. So, can we go home yet?"
"If the Aurors had caught them, do you imagine we'd still be here?" Severus folded the gossip rag in thirds and laid it out on the table for easier reading.
"Then we got to catch them."
"And how do you propose we do that?"
Harry bounced a little in his chair as he ate, smearing strawberry jam on his cheek. He chewed and swallowed, then said, "Like before only better. I run. And you hide. And he chases. And then you catches them. And then they go to 'skaban and we go home and... The End."
Severus narrowed his eyes and wondered, not for the first time, how much of the teenager was left in the five year old. Because the real problem was that it wasn't a truly horrendous plan, even if it called for using a child as bait. Then he really started thinking. Maybe he should fake a relapse. Just a little one. Enough to convince the unknown miscreants that Harry wasn't all that well-defended...
A hand tugged on his sleeve. Severus directed a glare in the approximate direction of the interruption.
"Sev'rus?" Harry sounded desperate.
"Mmmmm?" He'd need someone else as back-up, just in case. Perhaps Weasley could bring that damnable Invisibility Cloak.
Another tug at his sleeve. This time he actually looked at Harry, at the way he was crossing his legs and just about jumping up and down, and arched an eyebrow in inquiry.
"Need to go wee-wee."
"So go." Nobody else could know what was going on though, because there was the matter of trust...
This time, the brat caught Severus' finger and almost made him spill his tea. "But you said to ask you and to not break the curtain again."
"The curtain...?" Severus glanced over at the bathroom and sighed when he saw the tell-tale shimmer. He lifted his wand off the table and disabled the wards. "Well, go on."
Hand between his legs, Harry ran.
Severus settled himself gingerly into the garden chair. He didn't know how hypochondriacs managed it. Feigning illness was almost as aggravating as actually being an invalid, and this damned chair was just another reminder that he couldn't get up and give the thing the kick it deserved. The cushions didn't support, they yielded. Sucked you in and trapped you like those malevolent armchairs in Albus' office. All he needed now was for the old biddy to trundle past with her tea cart and offer him one of those vile lemon drops.
Merlin help them if he had to get up in a hurry.
"Sev'rus! Want to watch me play 'scotch?" Harry stood at one end of the column of squares that he'd chalked onto the path. He hopped on one leg, clutching a pebble.
The squares, surprisingly enough, were straight-edged and almost even. Only the occasional blurry spot identified the places where Harry had rubbed out a line and redrawn it. No numbers, but perhaps five was a little young for that. Still another lesson wouldn't go amiss.
Severus made a grand, sweeping gesture that was the best imitation of a bow he could manage sitting down. "Your audience awaits, milord."
Giggling, Harry tossed his stone. He hopped, skipped, and jumped to the square where the pebble had landed. Several wobbly tries later, he was flat on his bum, holding the pebble in an upraised fist. He crowed, "I got it!"
"You most certainly did."
"But of course," Severus said, wondering when he had so completely lost his mind as to find this inane game amusing.
Luckily, Harry got tired of playing hopscotch at about the same time that Severus was ready to wring his scrawny little neck. Harry hunkered down, concentrating, the pink tip of his tongue peeking out of his mouth, and drew chalk pictures on the path. Severus pretended to nap, while inspecting everyone who tripped his perimeter spells.
He was reasonably sure that Weasley was keeping watch from under the tree on the other side of Harry. At least that had been the arrangement. Severus had received no sign that the man was actually there, which, now that he thought of it, wasn't the brightest part of the plan.
A veritable herd of patients, two tittering mediwitches, four arguing healers, and one too many addlepated Aurors later, things started to get interesting.
"Here kitty," Harry called out in a stage whisper. A few apparently unsuccessful calls later, he looked over at Severus.
Eyes open just a slit, Severus moved his hand -- the signal that he should stay there and not take the bait. Unfortunately, Severus had forgotten to take into account the fact that he was dealing with Harry Potter, the boy who turned disobedience into an art form.
And so, as Severus sat there, pretending to be asleep, the insubordinate whelp took off after the cat. Honestly, had no one ever taught this child not to take sweets from strangers? At that thought, Severus shook himself. Given what he'd seen over the past few days, his family had probably told him to accept anything offered -- in the hopes that the boy would up and disappear.
Waiting for sufficient time to pass before following was difficult, to say the least. The brush of a hand across his knee -- indicating that Weasley was on the move -- didn't provide much in the way of reassurance. But eventually, after thirty seconds or so, Severus cast Silencio on his feet and then a Disillusionment Charm that sent an unwelcome shiver down his spine. Only then did he go after Harry.
Weasley's trail was almost inspired. The flower petals and fallen leaves were in the right direction to have been blown by the wind and just infrequent enough to appear random. And they led directly to the small, out-of-the-way rose garden where Harry was on his hands and knees next to the cat.
Too bloody predictable for words, and confirmation that they were dealing with an amateur, despite the location of the original attack. No professional would have chosen a place with only one exit.
Taking up a position that forced anyone leaving the garden to go past him, Severus watched. As Harry giggled, petted, and played with it, the cat rolled over and batted at his hands and kept the boy moving towards a gazebo near the back of the garden. Which, as far as Severus was concerned, removed any doubts as to whether or not the cat was an Animagus.
A rustle across the entrance alerted him to Weasley's location. Too loud, but what more could he expect from a half-trained Gryffindor idiot. At least the cat didn't seem to have noticed. Making his own, much quieter and more realistic movement of branches, Severus padded silently towards their target.
Only a few feet from the boy, Severus knew he'd made a mistake. Whiskers and nose twitching, the cat jumped onto Harry's chest, knocking him off-balance, and transformed into the pseudo-mediwitch.
"He's mine. I won't let you take him from me again," she hissed and grabbed Harry, using his body to shield herself. He struggled, but she whispered something in his ear, and he fell still. "Show yourself."
Severus remained still and hoped that Weasley would do the same.
"Did you think I wouldn't notice the foul stench of sickness and potions and Death Eaters? Show yourself." Her eyes darted around the garden as she slowly moved backwards, towards the gazebo. Four or five feet away, Harry kicked her in the shin and made another bid for freedom. This time, she pulled her wand. "You were never such a bad boy before, lovey. Mummy will have to punish you if you can't behave yourself."
Utterly insane, Severus thought and swallowed the bile that rose up into his throat. His knuckles whitened as he tightened his grip on his own wand.
She glanced back and then crooned to Harry, "Just a few more steps and then Mummy will take you home. We'll have all your favourites for tea. Toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches, with treacle tart and cream for afters. Have to celebrate our little boy coming home, don't we?"
What was it about the gazebo? It was within the anti-Apparition wards. He stepped sideways, looked past her. A table, some chairs, and a small flowerpot. Portkey, his mind supplied, and he was too far away to disable the damned thing. Merlin's banished left bollock.
Swiftly but cautiously, Severus began moving in an arc that would intersect with her path at the entrance to the gazebo. He was almost far enough around to hex her without endangering Harry when Weasley -- the gormless twit -- tripped and fell, half-losing the Invisibility Cloak in the process.
"Well, well, well, what do we have here," the madwoman said, moving her wand to cover Weasley. "You're not who I expected." She narrowed her eyes and tightened her grip on Harry. "Where's the other one?"
Weasley struggled with the Cloak, but finally extricated himself. "Don't know who you mean."
"Just another liar, aren't you?"
"I don't lie," Weasley huffed. "You can ask anyone."
"Everyone lies sometimes. You're old enough to know that by now." She waved her wand. "Don't force me to hurt you. Tell me where he is."
Knowing that he had to trust in Weasley's ability to distract her, Severus stopped listening to the conversation and took a step forward. When she didn't react, he took another step. Although Severus was sure his Silencing Charm was still working, Harry's gaze slid to the side. Severus' heart thudded. One beat. Two. Then Harry started darting glances all around the garden. As if he were trying to find Severus.
"Don't you dare!" Her cry rent the air and caught Severus' attention. Weasley was standing there, arms held out parallel to the ground, wand out. The woman whirled around, still clutching Harry, and ran.
Dropping his Disillusionment spell, Severus aimed at her and cast Stupefy. Not waiting to see if his spell hit, he dove for Harry.
"Confringo! Petrificus Totalus!" Weasley called out from behind Severus.
The flowerpot shattered. Shards blasted out in all directions.
Severus rolled with Harry in his arms, his body curving protectively around the smaller one. Small objects thudded into his back, sliced across his neck and scalp.
"Snape. I've got her." Weasley's voice broke the silence. "You and Harry okay?"
Straightening out and sitting up was far more painful than Severus anticipated. More than one groan escaped him before he was able to clamp down. He gritted out, "Never been better, can't you tell?" You bloody nincompoop.
Harry wriggled around until he was ensconced in Severus' lap. Small hands patted over Severus' face and neck, then Harry murmured, "Oh no."
"You all right there, mate... umm... Harry?" Weasley finished binding the woman and came over to kneel in front of them.
Holding out his hands, blood visible on them, Harry said, "Sev'rus hurt."
And then everything didn't just ache. It stung and throbbed and, if asked, Severus might even have admitted that he was in agony.
A very welcome distraction came right on the heels of John Dawlish as he and his Aurors thudded down the path, around the corner, and into the garden. They split up almost immediately. One of them went off in search of a healer. Dawlish came right over to the three of them. Rajagopal and Eydel headed over to take charge of the prisoner.
Severus was busy waving off Dawlish and Weasley's unwelcome attempts to examine his injuries and take Harry away, when a moan had everyone turning their heads.
On his knees next to the bound woman, Eydel moaned again. "Oh, Emily, no."
"We caughted the bad man," Harry announced, green eyes shining as he tugged on Severus' robe. "We go home when you all better?"
Part 2: Coming down with a fever
Men, Hermione Granger decided, were the most stubborn creatures on God's green earth. And, honestly, that was saying a lot. She smirked as she walked away from the scene in her small sitting room. This definitely called for tea, and then she'd have to sort them and their messes out. As usual.
By the time she returned to the sitting room, the argument was over. She used the distraction of handing out mugs of tea and plates of fairy cakes and biscuits to gauge the situation.
Harry was slumped in an armchair near the fireplace. His hair was standing out in every direction, testament to how many times he'd raked his fingers through it over the past hour. The fact that he accepted her offerings with a distracted nod, but just sat and stared at them told her that he'd won the argument but still felt that he'd lost whatever was most important to him.
On the other hand, Ron not only smiled at her, but he balanced the plate on his knees and immediately started alternating sips of tea with bits of cake and biscuit. He didn't care that he'd lost to Harry; he was really frustrated at not being able to give his best friend what he needed.
She waved her wand, directing her own mug and plate to the top of the pile of books on her side table, and settled in her corner of the settee, tucking her feet underneath her. "So," she said with a sense of satisfaction, "I take it Auror training is definitely out."
Harry's eyes narrowed and focused on her. She met his gaze, keeping her eyes even and warm. Friendliness and caring always did throw him off-balance. He snorted, raked his hands through his hair again, and said, "Yeah. For now, at least. I've had my doubts all along, but this last episode made it clear. I'm going to be as much of a hindrance as a help out there, especially without finishing school. And," he sighed, "I think I'm due a holiday, don't you?"
"That's what I've been telling you," Ron said, pointing a biscuit at him.
"What were you fighting about then?" Hermione sipped her tea to disguise the feeling of triumph. They were just too easy.
Harry and Ron exchanged glances and then both stared at their own hands.
After a few minutes passed, Hermione felt like strangling the pair of them. Instead, she took matters into her own hands. "Let me guess. Harry, you presented Ron with a fait accompli, telling him that you weren't going back and that was that. Ron, you took exception to not being given a chance to say your piece first, especially since you only signed up for the training because Harry was doing it and you didn't want to lose your best mate."
"You won't lose me, Ron. I've told you that, yeah? Best mates forever, remember."
"Yeah. All right." Ron blew out a breath. "But if you're not going through with it, I'm going to quit as well. George could really do with some help in the store."
"That sounds right up your alley." Harry's smile faded rapidly. "Now I just have to figure out where my alley's located."
They talked for a while, Hermione only occasionally directing the conversation, until Harry got up and started pacing again and, finally, got to the real reason why he was so upset.
"What I don't understand is how Severus could just disappear like that. If I'd thought he'd up and leave, just when they were restoring me to myself--" He thumped a hand on the mantelpiece, causing the nearby ornaments and framed pictures to jump. "It's been almost a month and I know I wasn't that bad as a five year old. I remember..." he choked on whatever he was going to say next.
"What do you remember?" Hermione asked, hoping that this time he'd talk about what had happened.
"All of it," he admitted, looking more than just a bit lost.
Putting his mug and plate on the coffee table, Ron went over and pulled Harry into a clumsy, one-armed hug. "It wasn't easy being five the first time around. I can't imagine doing it over and over again."
"Well, you know what they say," Harry made a face, "third time's the charm."
"Honestly, Harry James Potter." Hermione shook her head, but made room on the settee when Ron tilted his head.
They settled down with Harry in between them, his head resting on her shoulder. Ron's arm stretched across the back, encompassing both Harry and Hermione, his fingers occasionally toying with the wisps of hair that had escaped from her loose bun.
Hermione was content to wait for Harry to talk, not even tempted to prompt him. They'd sat this way far too many times over the years for her to be impatient with him the way she once had been. She only wished that she'd had a chance to talk with Ron first and make sure that she knew for sure how he was going to react to Harry's feelings about Snape.
Then again, she wasn't sure how she felt about it, and she was a lot more open to new ideas than Ron.
Eventually, Harry blew out a breath. He squirmed around until his head was in her lap, his legs lay across Ron's thighs, and he could see both of them. Then, he said, "You don't think I'm mental, do you?"
"Not any more than usual," Ron muttered.
And that was why she loved him, Hermione thought as she joined them in laughing.
When the laughter subsided, Harry rubbed at the faded scar on his forehead. "Thing is," he said, "Severus was like Snape, but he wasn't, if you know what I mean."
"A bit, yeah." Ron stared down at his hand, which was plucking lint off Harry's pyjama bottoms. "Not sure why, but the git almost seemed human."
Hermione bit her lip. This wasn't the time to send them off on a tangent.
"He took care of me," Harry responded, shoving Ron's hand away. "Better care than almost anyone else in my life. And somehow--" he paused, frowning, then shrugged "--I just knew I could trust him."
Deciding that it was time to push Harry a bit, before he gave them another rambling lecture on how well Severus Snape looked after five year old Harry Potter, Hermione commented, "He took care of you when you needed him. I don't understand what the problem is."
"He just..." Harry sighed and gave it another try. "He took care of Harry, if that makes sense. He saw me in a way that he never managed before. And," he wrinkled his nose, "that hardly anyone else manages."
"Your life's so bloody hard, isn't it?" Ron snorted. "We should all have it so bad."
Harry flashed two fingers at him. "Still pouting because your Order of Merlin was only second class?"
"Well, we can't all be first class wankers, can we?" Ron grinned at him.
"And on that note..." Hermione interrupted with a smile.
"Sorry," they both mumbled, neither looking particularly repentant.
"Oh, I'm sure you are."
"Honest, Hermione," they chorused, smirking at each other, clearly pleased with their cheek.
She harrumphed, but couldn't even pretend not to be amused. "Can we please get back on topic?"
Ron scratched his head. "What..."
Glaring at him, Hermione warned, "Ron."
"Right," he said, scowling at Harry, who had licked a finger and checked off an imaginary mark. "Harry wants someone who'll love him for himself. We know some nice blokes, and I vote we set him up with every one of them until he finds the one that suits."
Hermione opened her mouth to say something, but closed it again when she saw Harry's face. He could take care of this one himself.
"Nice," Harry grumped, "is a four letter word for boring."
"It's not that bad, mate." Ron patted his leg.
"Yes, it is," Harry insisted. "Terry Boot was nice, and you saw what happened to him. He was beginning to resemble a doormat, and I was the arsehole wiping my feet all over him. I never want to feel like that again."
"Oh, Harry," Hermione said, stroking her hand through his hair. "You didn't treat him that terribly. You were a perfect gentleman, always checking whether he had a preference."
"That's my point." Harry pushed away, getting up and starting to pace in front of the fireplace. "I shouldn't have had to check with him. Terry should have spoken up whenever and wherever he felt like it, especially if he disagreed with me."
Now we're heading in the right direction, Hermione thought. And then she pushed a little more. "You don't exactly make it easy to..."
"I shouldn't have to make it easy. Let's be honest. I'm an opinionated sod with more issues than The Quibbler. And that's not likely to change any time soon. I need... no, I want someone who'll tell me where to get off when I'm out of line."
With a snort of laughter, Ron agreed, "You're definitely all of that, mate. And, since we're doing truth instead of dare here, I'm not much better. It's why I love Hermione." He pulled her into a hug. "She never hesitates to tell me off when I'm being an idiot."
Feeling herself blush, Hermione pushed him away. "Damned with faint praise."
"Not really," Harry disagreed, curling up on the rug at their feet and resting back against the coffee table. "We should all be so lucky as to have someone who feels that way."
"And that's why you're wanting Snape? Because he's a git who won't hesitate to tell you to sod off?" Ron asked, thoughtfully.
Hermione made a note to reward Ron for his good behaviour. After she found out what he'd held back about that time in the hospital.
"Yeah." Harry's lips twisted wryly. "Mental, huh?"
"Nah, it's just you," Ron said.
They continued to talk for a couple more hours, Hermione letting Harry and Ron carry most of the conversation -- even if it meant talking about the latest standings in Quidditch -- while she considered and discarded a variety of schemes. By the time they'd made up the settee for Harry and headed to bed, she had the framework of a plan. This was not something she could leave up to the boys.
Hermione spent the next week laying the foundations for her plan and leaving tantalising clues for Harry. She broke off the occasional conversation when he came near, even if it had nothing to do with Snape or Harry. She talked with Ron and made sure that he wouldn't cock things up with one of his all-too-frequent and utterly oblivious remarks. She tried not to worry too much about how much time Harry spent brooding.
On the Monday of the second week, she took the afternoon off work and went to see Snape.
After a couple of passes up and down Diagon Alley, Hermione finally saw the worn sign for Leman Square tacked to one side of the boarded-up shop that had once housed Gambol & Japes. Like most of the residential streets in the area, the entrance was barely wide enough to allow two people to pass. At least this one was open to the public, rather than being protected by wards and Disillusionment Charms.
Checking her notebook, she walked between the buildings. According to Kingsley, Snape had the downstairs flat at number forty-two, Leman Square. If he was on the Floo network -- and she found it hard to believe that he wasn't -- no one had been able to supply her with the address. Apparently, for Snape, being ex-Directory meant his Floo Address wasn't listed anywhere. She really should find out how he managed that.
The houses had brightly-coloured front doors and wrought-iron railings and loomed four and five stories above the street, leaving most of the square in shade. She counted down the numbers until she came to one with a door and railings painted in a shade of turquoise that she had only ever seen in Dumbledore's clothing.
She let herself through the gate of number forty-two. A quick check of the -- what was that thing called anyway? A directory? Something else? She jotted a note in her book to look it up. Whatever its name, the circle of ward-bells on it didn't have any names, just pictures that were supposed to identify the five flats and their residents. She debated between the mortar and pestle and the cauldron until she saw the image of Janus.
A tap of her wand started the ward-bell flashing. After her third attempt, a familiar snarl broke the silence of the square. "Go away, unless you wish to be hexed."
Heart beating rapidly, refusing to reconsider her strategy at this late date, Hermione swallowed hard and said, "P... professor Snape?"
The connection closed with a hiss.
Smiling, she leant against the wall and started tapping the ward bell. Again. And again. And again. Until he answered, "I will not ask a third time. Do you wish to be hexed within an inch of your life?"
"It's Hermione Granger, sir."
"Just what my day required: an infuriatingly stubborn know-it-all. Leave before I have you arrested for trespassing."
"You could save us both a lot of aggravation and let me in now. You'll have to eventually." She stepped back and crossed her arms over her chest, keeping a firm hold on her wand.
"Have you no..." His sigh crackled through the connection. Loud enough that she had to clench her fists to stop herself from clapping her hands over her ears. "Oh, who am I kidding? Of course you don't."
The front door clicked open, and she dove through before Snape could change his mind. Once inside, she held the door open until after her eyes had adjusted to the sudden gloominess of the entrance hall. The door closed with a thud that almost toppled a vase of roses that sat on a tiny table. In fact, she noted with great pleasure, it righted itself at the last minute with only a small amount of water splashing onto the marble top.
An arc of light that was just visible at the end of a narrow, wood-panelled hallway guided her to Snape's flat. He was waiting inside, leaning against an archway that led into an inner room. His arms were crossed over his chest, his feet were crossed at the ankles, and he was scowling. Hermione pasted a blandly polite smile on her face, certain he'd find that expression more annoying than any other.
They stood and stared each other down. Hermione supposed that if she cared very deeply about winning, his intensity would be disturbing. But, instead, she ended up understanding what it was that Harry saw in the man. To have that kind of focus turned on you for the right reasons would be very appealing, especially for someone like Harry who'd spent so much of his life either being ignored or getting attention for all the wrong reasons.
"Well," she finally said, "if you entertain all of your guests in the doorway like this, I understand why you have so few."
Snape arched an eyebrow. "Say your piece and go."
"I'd rather sit down and talk."
"I'd prefer many things, such as having my wards evict you from the premises. However, I don't often get what I want."
"Perhaps I can help you change that." Hermione raised one of her own eyebrows. "Shall we?"
"If we must," Snape replied, and swept an arm towards the room behind him in what was clearly an invitation.
That he neither sighed nor glowered as Hermione walked past gave her hope. The tray on the coffee table -- complete with two porcelain cups and saucers, a matching plate filled with biscuits, and a teapot covered in a flowered, knitted cosy -- had her biting her lip in an effort not to smirk or grin. She loved it when her reputation won the battle without her needing to fight.
The room itself was not one she would have associated with Snape. It was lovely, filled with light from a pair of tall windows that faced onto Leman Square and, if she remembered correctly (and she always did), appeared to have their curtains drawn from the outside. The Victorian furniture gleamed with polish and, if the armchairs were anything like the sofa she was sitting on, plush with comfortable cushions. The walls were covered with custom bookcases that were crowded with books. Not a knick-knack in sight, she noted approvingly; just a clock on the mantelpiece and an eerie landscape in a frame above it.
She couldn't help thinking that rumours of Snape's poverty were greatly exaggerated. Although that was one thought she was going to keep to herself. Even if it would make things easier. The man's pride had always been one of his biggest problems, and he likely wouldn't appreciate feeling like a kept man.
A painful, rasping sound drew her attention away from her own thoughts.
"Even though I am no longer your teacher, my time is valuable. To myself if to no one else." Snape held a plain cup of tea out for her to take, then waved at the tray. "If you require more than sugar and milk," he paused, the tic of a muscle visible in his jaw, "that can be arranged."
Leaning forward, Hermione placed a chocolate digestive on her saucer, and added a little milk and a sugar cube into her tea. "This is lovely, thank you."
Silence descended again. Not awkward or combative this time, but anticipatory. After a sip of tea to firm her resolve to be blunt, Hermione said, "I want to know why you abandoned Harry."
This time, his entire jaw flexed before he said, "Scarcely abandoned."
"How would you describe it then? A strategic retreat?" Nibbling on her biscuit, she fought the urge to relax and sink into the sofa cushions. She'd absolutely love something like this for her place. It was probably out of her price range... for now at least.
"Allowing Har... Potter to reunite with his family with a modicum of dignity."
"Oh, please. Surely, you can invent a more believable excuse than that?" Hermione snickered, crowing silently when Snape looked affronted.
Snape's lip curled into a sneer. "I hardly think I need to explain myself to you."
"Perhaps not, but I think Harry deserves an explanation. You treated him abominably." Hermione clattered her cup back on the saucer, wincing at the muffled thump that seemed to come from behind the sofa.
"Better than you treat my grandmother Prince's china," Snape grumbled. "I would appreciate it if everything in my home remained intact after your visit."
"Don't change the subject."
A black eyebrow quirked and a strange expression crossed Snape's face. "I wouldn't dream of doing anything to spoil your plans."
Hermione scrutinised him, trying to determine what the man was up to but, as usual, failed to penetrate his defences. Just once she'd like to see what Snape was really like, to see whatever he'd revealed to child Harry, because that was what made Harry fall in love with him. And Hermione hated to leave a mystery unsolved.
But now was not the right time for her to say anything. Not when Snape had just deposited his teacup on the tray, untouched, and sat back. She sipped her own tea and waited.
Crossing his legs and placing his elbows on the arms of his chair, he pressed his fingertips together and rested his chin on them. Eyes fixed on a spot somewhere above Hermione's right shoulder, he broke the silence. "Whatever I may have wished to say to--" he paused, closing his eyes briefly and then reopening them before continuing, "--Harry, was not something to be shared with anyone else. Not even those he considers to be family. If--" another pause, another closing and reopening of his eyes "--Harry desires to speak with me, I'm certain that you will ensure he knows where to find me."
And that, Hermione recognised, was her cue to leave. Harry could take it from there.
Part 3: The kettle is boiling over
Although he knew that Severus knew he was there, Harry didn't move until Severus escorted Hermione out of the room. He could hear murmuring voices from the entrance hall as he tiptoed carefully around the sofa and made himself comfortable on the hearth. Snagging a couple of chocolate digestives on the way past, of course.
Moments after the front door closed -- with that bloody solid thud that had had Harry jumping out of his skin and almost smashing that bloody stupid vase on that bloody small table -- Severus returned. While the man sat down and helped himself to fresh tea and more biscuits, Harry looked him over.
Severus' robes were black, as usual, with touches of white at the collar and cuffs. But instead of hiding his body, as those he'd worn at Hogwarts and the hospital had done, these moulded to his shoulders and chest, splitting at the waist to reveal black trousers with a crisply ironed crease. Not handsome, no. Not with that nose and that lank hair. But he was striking. Long and lean, with black eyes that Harry could gladly...
"Are you quite done, Harry?" Severus' lips curved into an almost-smile and amusement flashed in his eyes. "Or would you like to examine me further?"
Getting out from under the cloak was not quite as easy as flipping it around him. Although, Harry had to admit, if only to himself, that it would have been easier if he'd stood up first. Eventually, however, the cloak was off, the andirons were righted again, and his flushed face was starting to cool down.
"Much better." Severus held out a plate. "Biscuit? As I recall, chocolate digestives were your favourites."
"Er... thanks." Harry started to reach for one, noticing belatedly that his fingers were smeared with chocolate.
"Perhaps I should take you to wash your hands first?" Severus laughed. An odd, harsh sound that was as comforting to Harry now as it had been when he was five.
"Not necessary," Harry said, shaking his head and grinning. "I'd just get more chocolate on them, wouldn't I?"
"You always did."
Harry took up his usual spot: on the carpet at Severus' feet, leaning back against Severus' chair. They sat like that for a while, drinking tea and munching on biscuits, neither feeling the need to break the comfortable peace. But eventually, after they'd eaten all the biscuits and drunk all the tea, Harry slid around to face Severus.
He sat there, cross-legged, staring at his hands. Now that he was here, he hadn't the foggiest idea how to start this conversation. He knew exactly where he wanted to end up. The problem was how to get there.
"I won't blame you if you berate me," Severus said, voice low and soft. "I can see how my actions could be construed as rejection. Although I did not, I assure you, intend them that way."
"Not blame me, maybe." Harry tilted his head and licked a chocolate smudge off his thumb before continuing. "Though that wouldn't stop you from berating me back, now would it?"
"That would hardly be fair."
"And Gryffindors are known for their sense of fair play." Harry released a single snort of laughter.
"Certainly more than Slytherins," Severus agreed.
Running a trembling hand through his hair, Harry briefly wondered if he was just making it worse and then decided that Severus probably wouldn't care. Just take the dragon by the snout, he told himself. "Was it only because you were forced into looking after me?"
Severus sighed and settled back into his chair. "At first," he admitted.
"But not the whole time?"
"Do you think me that much of a masochist?"
"More of a sadist, actually. Just ask any of your students."
"And the two are, of course, mutually exclusive."
"Wouldn't know, would I?" Harry grinned up at him. This was familiar. This he liked.
"Git." Harry put his hands on the carpet behind him and leaned back, stretching out his legs and crossing them at the ankles. "But seriously, Severus, I need to know."
"Is this where you expect me to bare my breast and wail out my desperate, long-hidden desire for you?"
Harry was laughing too hard to manage a proper leer, but he did his best. "Don't know about the wailing or the desperation, but I could definitely go for the bared breast and the desire."
"Utterly hopeless." Severus shook his head, clearly amused.
"Yeah, that's me." Harry got to his feet and went to stand in front of Severus. He contemplated him for a moment, and then put a finger under Severus' chin, raising it, so that they looked into each others' eyes. "Just so you know, because I don't want any more secrets between us, I remember everything."
"Everything?" Severus arched an eyebrow.
Pulling away from Harry's touch, Severus stared down at his own fingers. "I..." he began, but didn't finish his sentence.
"I wondered," Harry said. "Spent a week falling apart, trying to decide what I'd done wrong. Hermione and Ron said it wasn't me, but I couldn't be sure, you know? Not on their say-so. I finally figured out that it wasn't me. Or at least not all me."
When Severus didn't respond, Harry knelt down and forced Severus to look at him again. He took a deep breath. It was now or never, because he didn't think he could do this again. "I want you, Severus. More than anything or anyone I've ever wanted before in my life. Do you want me?"
"Why..." Severus cleared his throat and glared down his nose at Harry. "What on earth would give you the impression that I want you?"
That not-answer sent a spike of exhilaration through Harry. Severus hadn't said no, hadn't said he didn't want him. And if Harry had learned anything over the days spent in Severus' care, it was that while the man never directly lied, he could twist the truth and avoid answering better than anyone else Harry had ever known -- even better than Dumbledore. After all, this man had tricked Dumbledore, Harry was sure of it. He'd gone back and watched those memories, listened to the words that Severus didn't say, the assumptions that he played into, and he knew.
Harry rose to his feet, slowly, making sure that he had Severus' attention. He reached out, cupped Severus' face with one hand, and dropped a kiss on Severus' forehead -- the same kind of kiss that Severus had bestowed on Harry when he'd been five years old.
"I want you," Harry whispered. "It took me all this time to figure it out, to discover that it's been there for longer than I knew. That it was part of the reason why I knew I could trust you, even when I should have been too young to understand."
"You badly wanted bedtime stories and hopscotch once."
"Not quite the same," Harry said. He trailed a hand through Severus' black hair. It was longer than he remembered from school, but just as thick and straight. Slightly greasy to the touch and a bit coarse, but he wanted to play with it, run his hands through it, hold on to it. He swallowed.
Severus shifted in his chair. "If you say so."
"Oh, I do." Harry allowed his hand to drift down, to clasp the thin shoulder encased in heavy black fabric. He stepped sideways, placed his other hand on the chair arm and cupped Severus' elbow and lower bicep. Leaning forward, he murmured into Severus' ear, "And I think you want me just as much."
"Hmmm..." Severus turned his head and rubbed at his ear. "Still delusional, I see. It's always nice to be reminded that some people never change."
"Shall I prove it to you?"
"I don't need proof that you have a very active fantasy life."
"Well, since you seem so sure that you know all about me, perhaps we should investigate your imagination?" Harry walked around until he was behind Severus. Resting his hands on Severus' shoulders, he ran his thumbs up and down Severus' tense neck muscles. Gently, because he didn't want to aggravate any remaining damage from the almost-healed snake bite, but firmly enough to feel the quiver that ran down Severus' spine.
"Taking up after Don Quixote?"
"Er... who?" Harry made a face at the back of Severus' head. Really, the man just didn't know how to give up.
"Don Quixote," Severus spoke slowly, enunciating each syllable in the name. "From a novel written by a Muggle named Cervantes. You know, tilting at windmills, chasing after lost causes, and generally making a nuisance of himself?"
"I don't see the resemblance, myself." Harry pursed his lips. With a flick of his thumbs, he parted the thick fall of hair, baring Severus' nape. This time, when he traced his thumbs up both sides of the spine, he blew on the pale skin, raising goosebumps.
Severus bent his neck, his head falling forward, and did not respond.
A kiss on each vertebra, Harry decided, and carefully folded the loose collar out of the way. He sucked lightly, leaving small pink marks. Once, twice, and then the last time, he pushed the hair aside and kissed his way to the side. Scarring, red and dimpled, was rough against Harry's lips, but he didn't stop. He lavished more attention. Kissing and licking, instead of sucking. Pretending that he hadn't noticed how much Severus was shaking.
"So," Harry said, "about your fantasies."
"Assuming that I have any."
"Everyone has fantasies." Harry shifted his focus to a spot just behind Severus' ear. "What are yours?" He licked the sensitive shell, nibbled on the earlobe. "Did you imagine me in your bed? Spread open before you. My cock so hard that it's almost painful, and my belly slick with pre-come, I've got my legs open wide to expose my quivering--"
"No!," Severus insisted, a little too forcefully, moving his head to give Harry better access.
"Mmm... too plain for you? Too vanilla?" Harry kissed the corner of Severus' jaw. "Do you prefer a little bondage? Silk cords tying me to the bedposts, holding my legs apart, leaving me vulnerable to anything you want to do. A blindfold over my eyes, so you can surprise me with a touch here, a caress there, a pinch or a twist to a nipple?"
Severus uncrossed his legs, spread them just a little wider, and adjusted his position in the chair. "You have a very... ahem... vivid imagination."
"Why, Severus, you're positively dripping with compliments tonight."
"Compliments? Is that what you call it?"
"Uh huh," Harry replied, taking a moment to adjust his trousers, which had become uncomfortably tight.
"Eloquent as always." Severus raised his head. The smile that curved his lips and carved laugh lines around his eyes took Harry's breath away.
Harry grinned back, knowing that he'd do just about anything to make Severus smile more often. "It's your fault, you know?"
"I take no responsibility for how you turned out. Being your teacher was bad enough. I have never had the slightest desire to be your parent."
"And, here we are, back to your desires." Harry slithered through the small space between the chair and the coffee table and knelt in front of Severus. He removed the black leather slippers and socks, then slid his palms over the tops of Severus' feet and up his ankles. He could feel short, wiry hair under his hands as he caressed what he could reach of Severus' calves.
"I've learned, over the years, that some desires are impossible to escape, while others remain thwarted."
"But how do you imagine me?" Harry pressed the heels of his hands into Severus' leg muscles as he moved them upwards, over the trousers. He stopped just above Severus' knees and started scraping and playing with the inseams.
"How do you think?" Severus asked, slipping down in the chair and spreading his legs wider, giving Harry access to the hard cock tenting his trousers.
"Perhaps--" Harry licked his lips, slowly "--you think about me in a skirt. Silky, and so short in front that it just brushes the tops of my thighs. And, when I move in just the right way, you can see my bollocks spilling out from the tiny lace panties. The lace teases my so-fucking-hard cock until the skirt is damp in front and I ache. Oh Merlin do I ache for you. My legs..."
Hands in Harry's hair distracted him, made him raise his head and see Severus' flushed face and dilated, heavy-lidded eyes. He swallowed hard, framed Severus' erection with his hands, and continued, "My legs spread as your hand teases my arsehole through the panties--"
"Like this?" Severus' voice was hoarse, drawing Harry's attention to that thin mouth, even as Severus' hands cupped Harry's arse.
"God, yeah. Just like that." Harry pushed back, wriggled his arse until he could feel fingers against his arsehole. Arousal pooling in his groin, he tried to lever himself up. But his legs were shaking too much.
Then there was help, hands under his bum, between his legs, pulling Harry into Severus' lap.
Harry moaned as one of those hands moved upwards. His cock was pressed against Severus'. Their hips rocked and rubbed together. A tongue swept across his mouth, seeking entry. His lower lip was sucked into Severus' mouth, and Harry put everything into his kiss, all of his yearning need.
It was good, so good, and Harry wanted. He whimpered when the arms of the chair made it impossible for him to spread his legs enough, and when cloth got between him and Severus. "Please," he managed, but then he was kissed again.
"Please," he repeated when the hand disappeared from Harry's arse. "Severus, please."
"Soon," Severus promised, picking up his wand. And then that wonderful, glorious magic banished their clothing and transfigured the chair into something armless and long enough to accommodate their legs.
"Fuck, Severus," Harry said, lying down on top of Severus and -- finally -- spreading his legs wide, feeling that long, thick cock against his bollocks and his cleft. "I need..."
"I know, Harry, I know."
A combination of spells and Harry's arse tingled with emptiness. It was slick with lube, cool and loose, and beyond ready. He raised himself on his hands and looked at Severus. They kissed, brief but sweet, and then Severus' lovely big hands cradled Harry's hips, moved him into place, and impaled him on Severus' cock.
"Fuck," Harry said. Half prayer, half curse. Head thrown back, clutching Severus' arms, he remained still for a moment. Full, oh-so-full. And then the pain eased, the burn became need, and they started to move.
Up and down. In and out. Harder. Faster.
"There," Severus rasped, and his cock stroked against Harry's prostate. Over and over. Severus' hand tugged at Harry's cock, twisting just a little, just enough. Orgasm caught Harry by surprise, swamping him. His whole body vibrated. His arse rippled when Severus' cock hit his prostate one last time. And Harry spurted, cock jerking, hips still moving, rocking.
And then Severus grasped his hips, held him still, thrust one last time. Aftershocks had Harry's arse clenching on Severus' cock, and Severus groaned, deep and guttural, and pulsed inside Harry.
They lay together afterwards. Sticky, with Harry half on top of Severus, forced into an awkward closeness by the narrowness of the transfigured chair.
Harry considered Summoning his wand, transfiguring the chair and making it a bit wider. Using one or two of the milder Cleansing spells. But he was almost comfortable, damn it, and he liked the way Severus' hand was carding through his hair, resting his cheek against Severus' chest, and having his legs tangled with Severus'.
He loved feeling Severus' breath and heartbeat returning to normal, and the long, slow drift into sleep.
Part 4: Slightly mad, oh dear!
Severus awakened in stages. First came an awareness of the weight and closeness of the man sleeping on him -- his Harry, he thought, and wondered why it didn't feel stranger. Then, as he stretched carefully, trying not to wake Harry, his muscles protested the unaccustomed use after his long recuperation. And finally, there was an unfamiliar comfort in simply being with Harry, despite the dried semen that pulled at Severus' skin and at the hair on his chest, stomach, and groin.
"Mmm..." Harry said, and shifted position.
Tightening his arms to prevent Harry from rolling off their precarious bed, Severus wrinkled his nose as the ridiculously uncontrollable hair tickled it.
Harry stretched, a sinuous movement that made Severus wish he was ten years younger, or a year older and that much more recovered from his long illness. When Harry's hand caressed its way down Severus' chest and his fingers twisted and toyed with the hair that trailed from Severus' navel to his groin, Severus realised that he might not need that wish after all. His cock was already half-hard.
"You'll be the death of me, Harry," Severus said, smiling to soften the words, "though, apparently not in the way that I'd anticipated."
Lifting his head, Harry grinned lazily. "I'd rather be the life of you."
"Time will tell, I expect." The thumb that grazed the head of Severus' cock, pressing into the slit, sent a wave of arousal through him. His hips bucked upwards, and then he winced as his lower back twinged.
He reached down and stayed Harry's hand, kissing away the murmured protest. "So tempting, but a shower first, I think, and then we should eat and talk."
"Yeah. All right." Doubt muddied the usually vivid green of Harry's eyes. He chewed his lower lip in a nervous gesture that now seemed enticing instead of annoying -- and that worried Severus.
"Stop that," Severus snapped, placing a finger on Harry's mouth.
Mouth rounding in an O of surprise, Harry reared back and scrambled to his feet. After a quick glance around the room, he padded over to the sofa and sorted through his clothes. Underpants in hand, he turned to Severus and said, "I'll just..." then, with a jerky nod of his head, started to get dressed.
"Harry?" Severus rubbed a hand over his face. He must be mad, he thought, wanting more than that one fuck, wanting Harry. But he did, and that meant they had to talk. He got up and went over to his -- what? Lover? Partner? -- Harry.
When Harry ignored his presence and continued struggling into his pants, Severus placed a hand on his shoulder and said, "You are overreacting. A desire to talk does not mean that I wish for you to leave."
Returning both feet to the floor and straightening up, Harry spun around. He let go of his pants, and they dropped to pool around his ankles. "I've not had much luck with lovers who want to have a talk with me."
"I do not want to have a talk with you," Severus bit off the words. "I want to talk with you. Converse, discuss, set the grounds for our relationship. And it will help greatly if you actually listen to what I say, instead of what you expect to hear."
"Relationship?" Harry asked, tilting his head in inquiry.
"That is the word I used, yes."
And Severus found himself swept up in an embrace. Tight and warm and bestowing an unexpected level of belonging. He returned the hug, surprised to realise that Harry was now tall enough to lay his head on Severus' shoulder and too tall for Severus to rest his head on that messy hair.
"And after we talk?" Harry mumbled into Severus' neck.
"After we talk, brat, I'm going to take you to my very comfortable bed and spend the rest of the evening making love to you. Slowly, with careful attention to every part of your body, not just your cock."
Harry swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing. "If you do that, you just might be the death of me. And definitely not in the way I once imagined."
Severus smirked. Perhaps sanity was overrated.