Sequel to A Most Disquieting Tea. Let us assume it takes place the year after GoF; however, since I have no idea what's going to happen in Book Five, obviously I'm not going to be making any significant plot attempts. You have been warned.
Warning: Harry is fifteen in this fic, but there's still no serious hanky-panky - just a (story spoiler here) kiss. Still, those who dislike chan should probably stay away. And if you can't handle it, then don't come flaming to me, cause I warned ya. You pays your money, you takes your chances.
Disclaimer: In light of that MSNBC article, this seems so much more important, if so much more futile. J.K. Rowling owns them, not me, and I hope to God neither she nor her lawyers will ever see this. I'm making no money.
Spoilers for PoA and GoF
He grew up over the summer. Now, I thought I was prepared for that. After all, when he came back as a fourth-year student, still mostly limbs and casting furtive glances at girls, I was ready. Nothing to shock me there. And he never suspected a thing.
"To me, Potter, you are nothing but - "
Careful, careful -
" - a nasty little boy who considers rules to be beneath him."
What a liar you are, Severus. But there is, of course, such a thing as going too far.
"One more nighttime stroll into my office, Potter, and you will pay!"
Ah, I almost lost it there, didn't I? Far better not to think of Harry Potter in terms of nighttime strolls and clandestine visits to my office and extracting payment. Of any kind. I told Dumbledore I was not a monster; I grow increasingly uncertain of that. But still, he was a child, and I have a little conscience left.
At least, I did.
He must have grown three inches this summer. Still appallingly skinny, and getting to be something of a klutz - I wonder how they'll deal with that on the Quidditch field? - but his eyes are still green beneath the scar, and there is more of that pale skin than ever before. More of that shy, toothy grin, which I, of course, only get to see as a third party. More of ... everything, I can only assume.
I must be losing my mind.
Voldemort is back; better said, he was never gone to begin with. I'm a Death Eater once more, so it seems, and risking my life with every little jaunt to a secret meeting-place. If any of them, even one, suspected anything, that would be the end of Severus Snape. So I'm a spy. I'm a teacher whose sixth-year students wouldn't know a proper Lesion-Healing Potion if it bit them on the leg. I'm a wizard. In other words, I have much bigger things to worry about than an irksome infatuation with a student.
He said I was pathetic. I'm afraid he might be right.
"Don't look now," Ron muttered.
"What?" Harry muttered back, obeying instructions and staring fixedly into his breakfast plate. Had Fred and George hexed it again? It seemed like his eggs were winking back at him.
"He's doing it again."
Hermione tossed a furtive glance up to the teacher's table. "Ron's right. He's looking straight at you."
Now Harry felt it: the prickling on the back of his neck. Snape. Over the past four years at Hogwarts he'd gotten good at recognising when the hateful Potions Master had him under his eye like a bug under glass. "Wonder what he thinks I've done now," he said lightly.
"Or what he thinks you're going to do," Ron said darkly. "We've kept our noses whistle-clean! I don't even roll my eyes at him anymore!" Which was true. Ever since the end of the Triwizard Tournament, when they learned that Snape was going to be doing...something...dangerous in the fight against Voldemort, they'd all tried to be a bit more charitable towards him. It was quite the wasted effort, considering that he certainly never extended them the same courtesy.
Harry opened his mouth to comment, when he noticed that Hermione was frowning at the saltshaker in front of her with That Look on her face which meant she was working something out. "Not suspicious," she murmured.
"Who isn't? Snape?" Ron demanded. "You've got to be kidding. He's the most suspicious bloke I ever saw."
"I suspect him of quite a lot of things," Harry grinned.
"Yeah, like favoritism, bloody-mindedness, padding that idiot Malfoy's grades and dropping our own..."
"No," Hermione said, more clearly this time, and finally looking up from the condiments. "I meant he doesn't look at Harry suspiciously. You know, like he always does. It's just...like he's just watching him."
Harry blinked. After a moment, Ron, clearly uncomfortable with ascribing anything positive to their enemy, mumbled, "Well good for him, after what happened last year, eh?"
Harry snorted. "Watching out for me? Not unless that's what Dumbledore meant for him to do. Oh, hang on, hang on," he added on a laugh, "Dumbledore said he was going to ask Snape to do something horrid..."
"Nothing more horrid for Snape than that," Ron agreed.
Hermione just frowned thoughtfully again.
I think I can understand it a little better now.
After yet another shadow-ridden rendezvous with Lucius Malfoy, which consisted of alternately swearing undying loyalty to the Dark Lord and singing the praises of Malfoy Jr., is it any wonder I would rather spend my time thinking of something beautiful? Is it such a terrible thing if I would prefer to watch him through a window than stare at the foul jars in my dungeon office? He is a relief to all the senses, spiritual and physical; and if Dumbledore is correct (as he usually is, damn him), he may yet be all our relief from a Voldemortian reign of terror. Harry Potter, Boy Who Saved the World. Even if the Muggle world will never know.
When I first turned away from Voldemort, I was fleeing from something horrible, thinking that the alternative simply had to be better than what I was leaving behind. Now as I work against him yet again I know that there is, and I am running towards it full tilt, unable to stop myself. I work for the good, now, not merely against the evil, and for the first time in my life I can see the difference.
He's quieter in my classes now. So are Weasley and Granger. I'm not stupid: I can see there's a modicum of respect in them now, after what happened last term. But I cannot - cannot - afford to treat them in kind under the eye of Draco Malfoy. I fear that child. I fear his father. And to be quite honest, I can't say that Granger and Weasley inspire in me any kind of emotion except a vague resentment; it is no real hardship to treat them as I always have. But Ha - Potter...
I can see this infuriates him. Why will I not take the proffered hand of friendship? I am not sure I would have the courage under even the best of circumstances, even if Voldemort had never existed. I would be unequivocally bad at it, that much is sure. As it is...I dare not take that hand. I dare not touch anything. I embrace him only with my eyes; even for a wizard, that is safe enough.
"Oh my god," Ron moaned as they staggered out of Professor Flitwick's class, rubbing at various bruised places on their bodies. "What possessed him? Levitating each other." He glanced around and lowered his voice. "Giving me to Neville!"
"It was pretty bad," Harry murmured, cradling his elbow.
"I don't know what you two are complaining about," grouched Hermione. "It's not as if Parvati has it down to an exact science. I swear she's worse at it than Neville. My posterior's going to be multicoloured for days."
"Really," Ron murmured, suddenly looking at the floor as they stomped along to the hospital wing. Hermione rolled her eyes. Harry tried not to snicker and glanced at the wall. Therefore, since none of them were actually looking ahead, it came as quite a surprise when they rounded the corner and smacked right into Snape.
Or rather, Harry did. He bounced off the tall form and back into Hermione, who staggered two steps to the left before bumping the wall and righting herself - and gaining an extra bruise in the process. Ron tried to help them both, but with a sprained wrist was decidedly ineffective. "Oh, um, sorry, Professor," Harry began stammering, just knowing that Gryffindor was probably going to lose ten points on general principle -
"Watch where you're going," snarled Snape and stalked off down the corridor. Harry let out a long breath when he was out of earshot.
"That was close," he said.
Ron glared at Snape's retreating form. "It's been close. We haven't been able to head to the loo for the past week or so without tripping over him. What's he up to? I swear he's been following us around!"
"He is on his way to the dungeon," Hermione pointed out, but her brow was furrowing into The Look again.
"This is the longest way to get there!" Ron objected. "And what about yesterday, eh? He wasn't on the way to anywhere when we caught him hanging about the courtyard - just on the other side of the hedge, am I right? And last weekend! He was in Hogsmeade! Snape never goes to Hogsmeade! People have fun in Hogsmeade!"
Hermione nodded absentmindedly, her eyes still unfocussed. "Maybe you were right," she said. "I mean, I know you were just joking, but maybe Dumbledore did tell him to look out for Harry."
"It's within the realm of possibility! What do you think, Harry?...Harry?"
Harry started. "Hunh?"
"Honestly," Hermione huffed. "This does have a bit to do with you."
"Oh. Oh, I...sorry. It's only - " Harry went back to examining his robe. "Nothing. Snape just makes me a bit edgy, I guess. I dunno."
Clearly exasperated with both of her companions, Hermione tossed her hair. "Well if you two aren't going to take anything seriously, I don't know why I should bother. Let's go get rid of these bruises."
Close. Too close. He's going to start noticing. I can always pass it off as "Snape just being his hateful-bastard self and watching for you to screw up," but I've never followed him around before. I don't think I'm pulling this off awfully well. And he was right. This is pathetic. Wretched boy. Wretched, lovely boy.
I'm only grateful he's still on his best behaviour. I simply couldn't give him a detention right now. Not if I had to supervise it, and not if he was alone. I'm doing my best to protect Harry from Voldemort, but I am not completely certain I could protect him from myself.
Voldemort. Now there's a thought to take the edge off. Harry was holding his arm in the hallway, like it was hurt - but did that recall a Quidditch match to me? Of course not. It recalled to me a scene of Harry limping off the Tournament field, helped along by the Dark agent who wore Moody's face - my own sudden, sick pang of suspicion, my rush to tell Dumbledore...and then finding them in the office. Harry in shock. And about to be completely, utterly killed, unable to raise a hand to defend himself.
I do not think I have ever admired Albus Dumbledore more than I did at that moment: it reminded me of why I had pledged to follow him, to hell and back if necessary. The sheer power it took to restrain Crouch - and more, the power to restrain himself afterwards...I am not sure I could have done. I do remember my own feelings when Fudge let the dementor loose on our unfortunate prisoner. I am afraid that in spite of the damage done to our credibility, regret was not foremost among them.
Harry didn't smile for days after that. I looked. So did Dumbledore, and he watched me too, and I took to hiding in my dungeons to get away from them both. It is a strategy I should perhaps revisit.
Contrary to Hermione's belief, Harry had been paying attention. And he was busy drawing his own conclusions. He just didn't want his friends involved, that's all. After all, if they knew what he was thinking, they'd probably rush headlong into it and get into trouble. No, he had to be sure first.
Snape was working near Voldemort again. Dumbledore trusted Snape, and Harry appreciated that, but he'd also seen the hold the Dark Lord had over his followers. Who was to say Snape hadn't fallen under an evil influence again? What if he was now working against them all, and one of his assignments involved destroying Harry himself? They had been crossing Snape's path a lot more frequently in recent days.
Well, two could play this game. Snape didn't scare Harry. Made him want to choke with loathing, yes, sure, but he didn't scare him. If Dumbledore got wind of any funny doings, Snape was as good as out of Harry's life forever. All that remained was to be watchful.
So Harry started watching Snape right back.
He was bound to see something, after all.
What game is he playing at? I might be losing my mind, but I am not yet such a fool that I can't see he's monitoring me as closely as I ever did him. Peeping at me over his cauldron in class. First to come in, last to leave, dancing just on the edge of getting detentions. Keeping watch on me at meals. Hanging about in the lower levels between classes.
Now when I watch him our eyes meet more often than not. And I find that I am always the first to look away.
What can it mean? Of course, there is the obvious explanation for why a student would frequent all the haunts where a favoured teacher strays. But I am no kind of favourite with Harry, and do not delude myself that I am. For Harry Potter to be infatuated with me, after all he has seen and all I have done, would be nothing short of grotesque. I would seriously wonder about his good judgment.
Second explanation: he's noticed me noticing. And I am twice the fool not to realise he would. He's not the braniac Granger is, but the lad has wits and uses them. It would have occurred to him sooner or later that his Potions Master has rather been haunting his steps. Thank God it would not occur to him that he was haunting the Potion Master's dreams - but I digress, and in an appallingly overblown way. So. Why would Professor Snape be doing such a thing? He must be in league with Voldemort, or something else untrustworthy. Idiot, Severus, you idiot! Why should the boy have any faith in you? Of course he thinks I'm up to something nasty. I usually am, after all. And this is quite the nastiest thing yet, even though he has not grasped the true reason for my behaviour.
The worst of it is that I brought this all on my own head, and have no idea how to get it off again. I suppose all I can do is be patient - not my best trait - and hope things can go back to normal, or at least as normal as they ever were.
"Potter! Aren't you done yet?"
"Almost, Professor. I just have to finish scrubbing out the cauldron."
"Perhaps if you had paid more attention in class your leeches would not have exploded in so singularly embarrassing a fashion."
"I was paying attention. Sir."
"Oh, you certainly were. To me. Not to the lesson."
And the gauntlet is thrown down ...
"Same thing, isn't it?"
"Not exactly, Potter. I am afraid your focus on Professor Snape-watching has been a little too broad and your focus on Potion-making a little too narrow."
"Wha ... you ... you're one to talk, aren't you!"
... and picked up.
"Watch your tone with me, boy."
"Something else you want to say?"
"Do you really care what I have to say, Professor?"
"Ah, you make a point. No, I don't. Now hurry up and - "
"D'you think I haven't noticed? Why are you following me around? Why are you DOING this?"
"I haven't the faintest idea what you're babbling about."
"Oh. Oh, you know, that's really - never mind. Never mind anything. I suppose Professors don't have to have reasons. You've never had a good reason for hating me, why should you have one for stalking me round the school?"
"I told you to watch your mouth!"
"Fine! I'll just go back to cleaning this cauldron and go! If you'll let go my arm so I can scrub it - "
"I said. If you'd let go. My arm."
"P-professor - "
"Um. Oh, God. What, what just was going on here - why're you looking at me like that - "
"I said get OUT!"
Harry hurtled down the hallway, knowing that he had to be in Transfiguration in ten minutes and not caring, not caring at all. He ran straight to Gryffindor Tower, gasped out "Inky nibs!" to the Fat Lady and practically fell into the common room - which, at this time of day, was thankfully deserted. He hightailed it into his dormitory, threw himself on his bed and pulled the thick curtains to, ensconcing himself in the stuffy darkness.
His arm still burned where Snape had seized hold of it so suddenly. He briefly wondered if there might not be a bruise forming, but it was hard to separate the aching feeling from the...the tingling feeling, so he couldn't be sure. Why was his arm tingling? Had Snape used some sort of spell on him? He rolled up his sleeve with shaking fingers and inspected his bicep, but it looked perfectly normal. No funny effects. Not even a bruise. Snape hadn't grabbed him all that hard. So...so why...
Tally up the memories, Potter. See what comes up. The other man's body, two inches from his and blazing a heat he never would have expected from Ice Master Snape. Those dark, sinister eyes - blazing, as well. A faint yet distinct aroma of almonds. That sixth-sense feeling of tightly contained power that only another wizard would notice. And Harry was...tingling. Some parts of him were really tingling. He curled into a foetal position on the bed and moaned softly, hitting his head against the mattress.
This couldn't be happening. He was not getting a hard-on sitting here thinking about Severus Snape. Think about exploding leeches instead. Think about Ron, who had a nice, normal crush on Hermione and Fleur Delacour and a million other girls at once. Think about anything but -
"I said get out!"
- oh, GOD. Had Snape noticed? It would explain why he'd practically jumped to the other side of the room when he'd finally let Harry go. Harry choked on an hysterical laugh. Nothing more horrid for Snape than that! No, Ron, it seemed there were worse things ...
Breathe in. Breathe out. Again. Again.
Eventually the panic began to recede into bearability and Harry lay there chanting his brand-new mantra. It's just a hormonal response. It didn't mean anything. It's just a hormonal response. It didn't mean anything. Hormonal. Anything. And thanks to the gut-churning fear that had overwhelmed him a few moments ago, the physical evidence was now completely gone.
His head beginning to clear, Harry was able to let loose a long sigh and even a weak chuckle. No, he'd really overreacted. If Snape had noticed anything, he would have been far more likely to make book on it than run away from it. Harry never would have lived it down. "Dear me, famous Harry Potter nursing dark desires for a teacher he's always thought to be a bit BENEATH him ... I wonder what Headmaster Dumbledore will have to say about THAT?"
Dumbledore! Harry shuddered before he reminded himself that he was overreacting. Him and Snape? That oily bastard? Hah! As if! No, he was just a perfectly healthy fifteen-year-old boy who responded to practically any stimulus that came his way. Even one that should have by all rights been disgusting, but -
It really, really meant nothing.
Everything was going to be perfectly all right. And if he ran, he'd only be five minutes late for class.
That was the stupidest - how could I possibly have - I shall have to go to Dumbledore - I can't believe I really -
I've practically composed my resignation letter in my head before I manage to take a deep breath and settle down. It is true that I have just made a monumental error in judgment. Touching Harry Potter in my disturbed state of mind was a great mistake. But it was not the worst thing that could have happened, and I didn't actually do anything. I must remember that if I'm ever to look any human being in the eye again. I didn't do anything wrong.
He just looked like he wanted to bolt from the room, and after I let go -
Well, why shouldn't he? His least favourite person is holding onto his arm like an unexploded leech and probably staring at him in an extremely odd way indeed ("Why are you looking at me like that," oh my God) ... of course he wants to bolt. What a revolting experience it must have been. Slimy Snape, touching him. He'll probably need therapy.
I think I am going to immerse myself in composing a very long, very difficult, very nasty pop test.
Harry failed the test Snape sprung on them the next afternoon. So did Ron, Hermione, all their friends and - to everybody's surprise - most of the Slytherins. Only Draco Malfoy emerged relatively unscathed and was even more insufferable than usual for the rest of the week.
"That disgusting little idiot," Ron raged, "thinking he's so smart just because the disgusting bigger idiot lets him get away with anything he wants ... !"
Hermione was too busy staring at her untouched dinner plate, face deathly pale, to reply in kind. She'd never failed a test before in her life and was not bearing up well under the strain. "I knew I should have studied the alchemy bits more closely," she said in a tear-thick voice. "It's just ... he told us they weren't going to be all that important and I didn't think ... "
"You can't trust Snape farther than you can throw him," Harry spat with so much venom that even Ron looked at him in astonishment. "You mark my words, Hermione. Dumbledore's wrong about him. Everyone who thinks anything good about him is absolutely mad."
Ron blinked, but Hermione appeared to take heart. "Well," she sniffled, "at least next time he says something's not important I'll know to study it extra-hard."
"Yeah, you do that," Ron said, still eyeing Harry, who continued to stab viciously at his steak. "Harry, we know Snape's a bastard, but it's just one test."
Harry glared at him. "You don't think it was a shitty thing to do?"
" 'Course I do," Ron replied in surprise. "I just never saw you react this ... well, like this before."
Harry turned pale. "Like what? What do you - like what?"
Ron was now looking seriously confused. "This angry, that's all. I mean, that's my job, isn't it? Are you all right?"
"Ah - yeah. Sure I am. Why shouldn't I be all right?" Harry rose rapidly from the table, not meeting anybody's eyes and sending his fork clattering to the floor. "Listen, I'm not hungry. I'm going to go look over my notes. I've just got a little to ... er, I'll see you back in the common ... "
"Harry - ?"
But Harry didn't say anything else, only hurried out of the room with two spots of high colour on his cheeks. Hermione found herself looking over at the teachers' table and saw, to her astonishment, Snape's narrowed eyes fixed like magnets on Harry's retreating back.
"Ron," she murmured nervously.
"Yeah," he replied quietly, bending again to his dinner. "Something's up."
"Snape's watching him, and lately I think he's been watching Snape too - "
"Well, we'll just have to watch them both then. Won't we?"
"Should we ... tell anyone?"
"Like who? Dumbledore? ' 'Scuse us, Headmaster, but Harry and Professor Snape are acting funny. Is it on your orders?' Don't have much more to go on than that, do we? And Snape's not even acting all that funny, for Snape. It's Harry I'm worried about." He chewed thoughtfully for a moment, then looked almost shyly at her. "Um ... d'you think you could help me with astronomy tonight?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Why don't you just ask me up to see your etchings?"
Ron blushed furiously.
Over the course of the next two weeks, things happened which both aggravated and soothed Ron and Hermione's concerns. For one thing, Harry and Snape no longer monitored each other like hawks: indeed, the Potions Master was hardly seen at all outside the dungeons, even at meals. Harry stopped hanging round the lower levels. The only time the two ever came face to face was in class - but the results of that were less than desirable.
If there had been simmering animosity between them before, there was now flaming hatred. Even Draco Malfoy seemed surprised at the sheer spite in Snape's voice when he brutally and publicly dressed Harry down for failing to make a potion correctly, and Ron had to be restrained by Hermione's more prudent hand from dumping the contents of his own cauldron over the Potion Master's head. In turn, Harry responded to Snape's criticism with such heat that nobody could believe it when he didn't get a detention. And after one class, Hermione distinctly overheard as she was leaving:
In Snape's most mocking voice (which was saying something), "Well, well, another utterly ineffectual potion! I must congratulate you, Potter. You seem intent on making this term one of complete failure."
Hermione had to strain to hear the reply Harry hissed. "Sorry. I didn't realise you had the market cornered on being a complete failure."
She actually had to cover her mouth with her hand so nobody could hear her gasp. Had anyone else heard that? Surely Snape would kill Harry for that - worse, maybe even have him expelled -
But she heard nothing else. Unable to resist looking, she plastered her blandest face on and turned to Harry with an 'are you coming?' smile, just in time to see him storming towards her and the door with a thundercloud on his brow, his face bright red. Then, because she couldn't help it, she cast the quickest of glances at Snape, who stood at his desk like a statue. She almost gasped again, but managed to prevent it and kept her eyes firmly fixed straight ahead as she and Harry left the room. Snape's face ... she must have imagined that. Instead of anger, which was only to be expected, she'd seen something that had looked a lot like hurt.
Well, after having that said to you, who wouldn't be hurt? It's just she'd always thought Snape was beyond caring what a student thought. How very odd. And once again, most incredible of all, he hadn't even punished Harry. That is, yet. There could always come a delayed reaction.
But when she and Ron tried to warn Harry about this, he just scoffed.
"Let him do whatever he wants. Does he think a million detentions could make anybody respect him more? If he's going to be such an arse then he ought to know some people won't stand for it!"
"Harry, I don't know why on earth Snape hasn't come down on you, and hard! I overheard what you said to him the other day after class!" Hermione cried. "He wouldn't take that from Malfoy!"
"She's right," Ron added. "The blighter's planning something. He's going to get you big soon, to pay you back for this. Snape isn't the type to let someone he hates get away with walking all over him." He waved his hands vaguely in the air. "He's more ... the revenge-y type who sits around for years plotting your horrible demise."
Harry's answer was a sullen shrug, which was - frustrating, to say the least.
"What if someone overheard you talking back to him?" Hermione screeched. "What if it was a teacher? You couldn't get away with it then! Harry, you've got to be more careful!"
"I don't do it in front of teachers," Harry snapped. "I didn't mean to do it in front of you. Look, it's between me and him and I don't see - "
"Oh, going mano-a-mano with Snape," she replied sarcastically. "That's a wonderful idea, Harry. Brilliant."
"Oops, my fault. I'll just leave the brilliant stuff to you." Then he said, immediately contrite, "I'm sorry. That was a rotten thing to say."
She looked like she wanted to be angry, but relented with a little smile. "You should leave the brilliant ideas to me, shouldn't you?"
Harry grinned, relieved. Ron still looked deeply perturbed. "Harry," he said carefully, "I mean - don't want to pry and all that - but d'you want to talk about anything?"
The grin disappeared, replaced immediately by the shuttered expression that had become all too familiar to them over the past few weeks. "No, thanks," Harry replied shortly. "Why do you ask?"
Ron opened his mouth, closed it, and said helplessly, "I dunno."
It was so much easier when I detested him. Famous Harry Potter, world-renowned for nothing more than getting hit on the head as an infant and surviving the blow. Son of another man who seemed to garner accolades by exerting no great amount of effort, whom I equally despised. But James Potter never had lonely green eyes, or a quiet, thoughtful air, or skin like moonstone, or sadness palpable around him. His one endearing character trait was foolish courage, and Harry has inherited even that in large supply.
I never cared what James thought of me, or what anybody else in his crowd said behind my back about oily Severus Snape. He could have called me pathetic, a failure, even a coward, and I suppose it would have angered me as much as any normal man, but I would not have felt as if I could not breathe, and never would again.
"You're moping, Severus."
"It's a man's prerogative, Dumbledore."
"Something on your mind?"
"Goodness, no. Being a faux Death Eater is something I've wanted to return to for years."
" ... Are you encountering resistance? Does anyone suspect?"
"No. So far I've only met with Malfoy. He's fooled, especially when I ooh and ahh over his revolting little progeny."
"So no problems on the war front?"
"None, thank you."
"Then what is it?"
"Can I get away with telling you it's none of your damned business?"
"Of course you can, Severus. You can tell me anything, I should think. As a friend, I would like you to know I am concerned."
"You're not going to invite me to tea again, are you?"
"Glad you found that so amusing."
" ... I'm sorry. It was just that horrified look on your face ... ahem. Sorry, Severus. No, I do not foresee that you and I will be sharing another cup of Madame Minster's this afternoon. But - forgive me for asking - does the long face have anything to do with ... the matter we discussed last time?"
"Albus ... "
The holiday of choice for witches and wizards everywhere. The only time when Muggles seemed, more or less, to have cottoned on. For Hogwarts students in the third year and up, it was also the day of a special visit to Hogsmeade followed, of course, by the grand feast at the castle.
A happy crowd from the school tore through the magic hamlet like a Blast-Ended Skrewt through its own littermates. Zonko's was very nearly bought out, largely due to Fred and George Weasley, uncounted pints of butterbeer were swilled in reckless abandon, and the Honeydukes proprietors found themselves gently reminding exuberant youngsters that there would be no room for the feast if they gorged on all that candy first. Even the Slytherins seemed to be having a relatively wholesome time.
Harry was the only holdout. He was aware his bad mood, which never seemed to dissipate, was really beginning to grate on Ron and Hermione, and put the best game face on he could. It seemed to satisfy them, although he was aware that they were choosing to ignore quite a lot of sulking on his part.
He couldn't even explain it to himself, he thought as he nursed a large butterbeer in Rosmerta's and tried to ignore the various items exploding all around him courtesy of the twins. He was just ... wrathful. That was a good word for it. It felt like he spent whole days prowling the school with rage bubbling under his skin and just waiting to burst out. Ron and Hermione should be grateful he was controlling it as well as he did. And he was trying really hard. He wasn't mad at them, after all, and it wasn't fair they should suffer. Especially since he didn't know what he was mad at. Except it had something to do with Snape.
Snape. Even the thought of the name made his insides heat up and his teeth clench. He didn't understand it. He'd never liked Snape, but before the thought of the Potions Master had only engendered disgust, not this - this fury. All right, so Snape was an arsehole, an especially annoying one of late. Harry could handle that, couldn't he? There were far worse things in the world than one self- important, vicious, greasy little man. There was Voldemort, for one. And the nightmares he caused Harry to have night after night after ... Harry shuddered, and took another long swig of butterbeer.
"Lighten up, Harry old son!" crowed Fred - at least he thought it was Fred - Weasley through a cloud of thick green smoke caused by an Exploding Mist Ball. " 'Tis the season!"
"That's Christmas, you prat," Ron said.
Fred promptly sprayed his younger brother with Bump Juice, causing Ron to howl with indignation as Barty's Blue Bumps (patent pending) began to spring up all over his face. "That'll teach you to respect your elders," Fred announced, and bellied back up to the bar while Ron furiously scrubbed at his face with Hermione's napkin.
"Oh, honestly," she said in exasperation, pulling out her wand and tapping it against his cheek. "Dermis claris. There now," she added as Ron's face began to return to its normal colour and texture, "see what a little common sense can do? You should try it once in a while."
"Common sense isn't easy when you have BROTHERS," Ron shouted furiously to Fred's back at the bar. "You just wait until I get you for this, you great stupid - "
"Oh, but Ron," Hermione said sweetly, "I've always thought of you and Harry as the brothers I've never had."
Ron's face fell. Harry fought conflicting feelings of amusement and pity. "You do," Ron mumbled.
"Yes, of course." And Hermione's expression became much more arch. "Never noticing how I look or what I'm doing or making fun of me because I'd rather go to the library than sit around in the common room watching you play Exploding Snap - that's just the way brothers act, or so Ginny tells me."
Ron's face heated up to an alarming shade of red. "Just because I don't sit here like a prat and babble about how pretty you are or something else you think I'm - "
"Oh, that's what prats do, is it, give girls compliments? Because here I thought - "
Harry judged it was a good time to accidentally spill his butterbeer across the table and promptly did so. Hermione squealed as it ran its way across the smooth wooden surface and down into her lap. "Sorry," he said with a sheepish grin. "That's what real prats do, I guess."
But Ron and Hermione fumed at each other all the rest of the afternoon, and Hermione fumed at Harry too for ruining her new skirt. At least it meant they were too preoccupied to ply him with questions about his bad mood again.
Eventually the afternoon began to draw into evening and the Hogwarts students returned to the castle in higher spirits, if possible, than when they'd left. The Great Hall seemed to virtually vibrate with energy as students poured in to sit at table. A charged hush fell over the room as Dumbledore rose from his chair to address them all.
"I flatter myself that I have never bored you with long speeches on Hallowe'en," he said, his eyes still in their perpetual twinkle, "though there was my first year as Headmaster when I ... well, never mind, never mind ... here are my words: Eat up!"
A raucous cry of approval met those words, but no applause, as everybody was busy using hands to grasp utensils and attack the roast beef. Harry set to with his usual diligence, but a decided lack of enthusiasm that fortunately went unnoticed by his friends. Hunger was soon satisfied, and he quickly felt a most unusual need to be alone.
Harry rarely wanted to be alone. He'd spent the first eleven years of his life as solitary as it was possible to get while still living with other people, and now that he had friends he tended to make the most of them. But now the noise and the smells and the dizzying clash of lights and colours was too much, far too much for him, and he mumbled something about going to the lavatory for a moment.
"Are you sick?" Hermione asked in concern.
"Nah," he said with as reassuring a smile as he could muster. He was not going to ruin their holiday by being an ass, he - "Call of nature, you know? Back in a few."
He had no intention of being back in a few, though "several" might be enough. He hoped he'd pulled off a good enough act today that they wouldn't start worrying after five minutes. He just needed a little time to himself, that was all.
Wrapping his cloak tightly around him, he wandered down the chilly, empty hallway and out onto a balcony which looked over the lake. The moon was waxing three-quarters full; Harry wondered what Professor Lupin was up to tonight. Were he and Sirius together, doing whatever Dumbledore had told them to last term? Were they safe? Enjoying the holiday? He hoped they were having a better time than he was, and sighed heavily, feeling his shoulders drifting downward under a weight with no name, and leaning forward to prop his elbows on the railing. His eyes closed briefly and he shivered in the growing cold. The minutes passed and eventually his senses no longer felt like they were completely on edge.
Well, he'd catch his death if he stayed out here much longer, and even the ever-present anger couldn't keep him warm in this. Besides, it had been long enough for Ron and Hermione to notice. He could probably stand to go back in now. He huddled even deeper into his cloak and turned to go inside.
Severus Snape was standing by the doorway. Not blocking it exactly, but unmistakably there, half-hidden by the shadows and his own black robes. Harry froze and felt something horrible, something hurtful trying to claw its way up his throat.
Why? What was wrong with him? Why did he feel like everything he thought, said and did was totally beyond his control?
He swallowed hard. "I'm allowed to be out, aren't I?" he asked roughly.
Snape slowly nodded, the dark eyes never breaking contact with Harry's and glittering strangely. This time Harry found himself blinking first.
"Nice moon," Snape said evenly.
And Harry found he even had an acid retort for an innocuous statement like that, one having to do with how horribly Snape had treated a certain werewolf of their acquaintance. He bit it back with some difficulty. "I'm just going back in."
Snape nodded again.
Eyes fixed firmly ahead, though each fibre of his body seemed attuned to Snape's every movement, every breath, Harry began to march determinedly to the door. If Snape would just let him go ... just let him be ... then he could get back to the Hall and this monster inside him wouldn't break free tonight.
"Potter," Snape said suddenly.
Harry froze, his heart pounding like a wild thing. No, not now, not now ...
"You've been allowed remarkable leniency of late," Snape said in the familiar, insulting drawl. "It's true I've been somewhat ... preoccupied lately with other matters. But do not imagine I will allow your behaviour to continue."
Harry turned around very slowly, feeling his lips pull the skin on his face back into a snarl. "My ... behaviour?" he asked in a voice that was much too soft.
Snape continued staring out at the lake, his expression unreadable. "Don't play dumb, Potter, not when you do the real thing so very well. You have been childish and insulting towards a member of the Hogwarts Faculty and, were it a normal year, you would have been tossed out on your ear by now. I strongly advise you to stay out of my way from now on."
"Or - or what?" Harry gasped. "What'll you do? What'll you tell me? That I can't get away with anything on your watch, that I'm nobody special, that I'm just stupid little Harry Potter with no one but DEAD PEOPLE for parents?"
Snape said softly, "Careful, Potter."
But Harry had moved beyond careful and was rapidly hurtling towards complete recklessness. "I ... I hate this," he said in a voice that choked. "I hate it that you can be as mean as cat piss to me and I'm not allowed to say something just as mean right back at you. Even though you deserve it, oh God, you deserve it! I hate that I'm supposed to just stand here and TAKE it!"
Snape still had not turned to look at him, but Harry could see the vein beginning to throb at the pale temple. "Nevertheless you must take it, Potter," he said, his voice still very low indeed.
"Yeah? Not forever," Harry snapped. "Nothing is forever. You remember that."
Even in the half-light he could see Snape's lashes dip slowly in a prolonged blink. "Are you threatening me, Potter?"
That brought Harry up short. Was he really standing here on a balcony on Hallowe'en, threatening a Hogwarts teacher? This was a bad idea, this was incredibly stupid, but it felt so good, it felt so right to be saying what he really thought for once. "No," he replied hotly. "I'm just reminding you that in two years I'll be gone for good and you'll have to find somebody new to pick on. Somebody else who can't fight back."
He could see Snape's hands tightening convulsively on his own arms. "Go inside."
"I was just about to, thanks!" Harry turned to go, and then turned back again for one last look of Snape, not entirely believing that he was really getting away with this again. Only this time Snape was looking straight at him - or rather, after him. And his face - his face was saying -
The older man's expression shuttered itself instantly into the usual sneer, but Harry had already seen. And what he had seen drove the breath from his lungs and the warmth from his blood and he wondered if the world was ever going to make sense again. There was a horrified expression growing on his face despite his best attempts to stop it.
Snape saw, and stepped back very quickly, completely into the shadows. "I told you to go inside!" he said hoarsely, and what Harry had mistaken earlier for loathing or contempt or anger or anything else was now, quite obviously, very simple fear.
But Harry couldn't go inside. His legs had rooted him to the spot and he had a sinking feeling they wouldn't support him much longer. He could feel that place on his arm tingling again. And he could feel, between his legs, oh good God -
With a soft, frightened cry he sat right down on his arse, drawing his knees up to his chest, uncaring about the damp chill of the stone.
"Go inside, Harry," Snape whispered, obviously shivering now, taking two steps closer, "go inside - hurry, in Merlin's name - go now - "
His head was spinning. Blood roared in his ears and pooled and ached between his thighs, and he had to bite his lip to keep from sobbing. This, then, had been the cause of it all and was the ruin of everything he thought he'd known and understood about himself. Himself, and Snape. It just couldn't be possible, and yet it was. He wanted to scream, or puke, or cry.
"Go inside ... please, for God's sake ... "
Snape was kneeling in front of him now, his black robes rustling around him like an owl's feathers and Harry was so stunned by the sudden heat and presence of him that he leaned his head back against the wall and moaned softly, eyes drifting half-shut. Icy fingertips touched his cheeks and cooled the burning there, traced their way down and stroked the sides of his neck. He could feel warm breath on his face. His heart was going to burn itself out. He was so hard it hurt.
"Go inside," Snape was whispering brokenly, lips drifting toward the corner of his mouth, "go ... go inside ... " And then kissed him.
Heat. That was Harry's first thought. Then, as his lips fell open and he felt a tongue licking him, he added "wet" and was suddenly, horribly sure he was going to come right in his pants. His hands, which felt small and desperate and inexpressive, reached up to seize hold of the black-clad shoulders, to mash them closer so that he wouldn't have to think about anything but the way Snape was licking his palate and the way his hips were twitching and the way his eyes were rolling into the back of his head -
Someone moaned, and then Snape pulled that hot mouth away. Harry heard a lost, keening noise, and realized he'd made it himself.
Snape's head dropped down abruptly to rest on Harry's shoulder, and then raised again so that they were cheek to cheek. The tall body was trembling violently against his own, the chest pressed against Harry's knees, the long fingers still clutching at his arms. There probably would be bruises this time, and even that thought made Harry feel hot and overwhelmed. Shaking all over, he turned his face just a little to the left so that his nose nudged the silky black strands of Snape's hair. Not greasy after all, he thought half- hysterically, just soft ... just very soft ... "What are we doing?" he whimpered, unable to keep from nuzzling the ear beneath the hair, unable to stop clinging to the other body. His knees unlocked, parted, and Snape practically fell forward against Harry's body, his stomach against hot hardness. Unable to stop it, Harry felt his hips jerk upward, seeking the contact, and whimpered again, certain he was going to explode any second. The older man exhaled harshly, almost a moan.
For a moment that was both blissful and terrifying, Harry was sure they were going to keep going. Then: "Nothing," Snape rasped, and then began to pull away, catching Harry's hands harshly and pulling them off his shoulders. The sallow cheeks were flushed past recognising. "We are doing nothing - let go."
Let go. Harry wasn't sure he could, but Snape didn't seem inclined to do so either. "I will if you will," he gasped. Snape blinked, and looked down to where his hands clutched at Harry's like claws. He cursed softly, stared some more, and cursed again. But didn't release him.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered.
Snape's head snapped up and those hot, dark eyes bored into him. Harry was starting to become aware of the absurdity of the situation - sitting out on a freezing balcony in a clinch with his Potions teacher, about to try and have a serious discussion. "About ... what you said," he tried doggedly, closing his eyes and trying to will his erection away. Impossible, with Snape so close - "The way I've been. I didn't know. I just ... I didn't know. I'm sorry," he said again.
There was a moment of silence, and for a second Harry knew mortal fear, that Snape would laugh at him or report him or do something else horrid. The hissed "We are not discussing this ever again" that came instead was just as bad.
Harry's eyes flew open. "Why not?"
Snape finally released his hands and looked steadily at the ground, messing with his robes as if trying to get ready to stand up - though he surely had the same problem as Harry. "You're a child," he said hoarsely. "And I'm not a monster. I am not."
Harry knew that if he ever felt more shame than in that moment he would die of it. "I'm sorry," he said again, feeling tears backing up in his throat. "I know. You ... you're not - those things I said - "
Snape laughed harshly. "That's not what I meant, Harry." His face changed. "Potter," he amended quickly.
Harry felt something inside of him turning to ice and beginning to break.
It must have shown in his face, because Snape - Snape! - flinched and looked pained. "It's just youthful hormones," he said, and it sounded like the words were costing him something vital. "Give yourself five minutes and you'll ... you'll be horrified at what we - what I did." His voice dropped to a low whisper. "Let go, Harry. Please." Because Harry had grabbed his arms again.
That scene in the Potions dungeon recalled itself, and suddenly the memory was not entirely unpleasant. "You know that's not all it is," Harry said quietly, wondering how he could sound so calm when his body was still vibrating like a plucked harp string. "Don't tell me anything else. You know."
Snape's eyes closed and a husking noise came out of his throat. "You're too young," he said in a strangled voice. "And even if you were not ... this is wrong. I am your teacher. And we're ... wrong." He opened his eyes again to see Harry swaying dangerously close to his lips, eyes glazed as if mesmerised. "Don't!"
Harry blinked and steadied himself. "I won't be fifteen forever," he said gravely, and to his astonishment Snape rapped out a laugh, short and harsh.
"No. You won't be. Nor sixteen nor seventeen nor fifty nor any other age forever." Still trembling a bit, he began to pull away, inch by inch. "I think you'd better go back in."
With one of the greatest efforts of his life, Harry let him go. "I will. For now."
He'd never felt so strange in his life. On the one hand he still felt confused, very frightened and rather ill; on the other, at least he understood a lot of things better now, and his veins hummed with new heat.
"For good," Snape said firmly, not looking at him.
"No," Harry said, just as firmly. "Time we gave this up, isn't it? This game?"
That harsh, hurt laugh again.
"I mean it," Harry said quietly. "Now I know why it's been like this. You can keep it up if you like, but I'm not going back."
Snape glared at him. "Not two minutes ago you were defending your right to call me every name in the book and now you're saying - what are you saying exactly, Potter?"
Harry tried really hard not to let that all-too-familiar tone of voice get to him. "I - I don't know."
Snape finally drew himself to his feet and Harry, feeling suddenly at a disadvantage, did the same, trying to wipe off his cloak. "Then I suggest this discussion wait until you figure it out." He looked Harry dead in the eye. "Are you willing to wait two years for your nasty old Potions Master? I somehow doubt it." He dusted off his own robe, breathing now under control again.
That cool superciliousness infuriated Harry. Always had, always would. Best to find ways to circumvent it. Instead of using words, he stood on tiptoe, seized Snape's face, and brushed his lips against the pale cheek. Snape stiffened and this time Harry was almost able to enjoy the current that jolted through them; it was so difficult not to just lower his mouth and investigate that long neck, see where these feelings carried him -
He pulled away. Snape's breath was rattling unsteadily again. "Foolish boy," he rasped.
"Foolish Potions Master," Harry replied, mortified to hear his voice crack, but determined to stick it out anyway. Snape's eyes fluttered closed.
"This can't - you don't know what you're doing. This is no game. And I ... I have no time for it. We - listen to me, child!" Harry's arms had slid up, around his neck and Snape's own hands fluttered ineffectually on the boy's shoulders, wanting to push him away, unable to do so. "I have to treat you badly. Do you understand? I'm ... I'm doing something for Dumbledore, and I can't be seen as your ally. I might not even ... survive." Harry felt suddenly, terribly cold. "You had better stay uninvolved."
"I can't," Harry replied hoarsely. To his horror, he felt tears pricking at his eyes, the result of a month's worth of confusion and emotional upheaval. "Don't you understand? I can't. This - " he gestured at the pair of them in their strange embrace, "this is new, and then again not. I've always been ... involved." With great reluctance, he unwound his arms from the older man's neck, getting control of himself at last and forcing away the tears. "I understand what you're saying about me being too young. About you being my teacher. All right. But you can't ask me not to care."
"I am NOT a nice person, Pot ... Harry."
Harry looked at him steadily. "I know that."
Snape closed his eyes, though with what emotion it was impossible to tell. He licked his lips, which then formed in a shape as if to say a word, but no sound emerged.
"You can keep treating me ... that way," Harry said finally, hearing the deep reluctance in his voice. His voice dropped to a whisper, conscious of the vagaries of an enchanted castle. "I don't like it. I hate it. But if it's for Dumbledore, if it's to fight Voldemort - at least I'll know that you don't ... hate me." The last part carried the unspoken question: You don't, do you?
Still unable to speak, Snape shook his head.
The pair jerked apart at the sound of Ron's worried voice, coming from somewhere down the hallway. "Harry, are you out here?" It was coming decidedly closer to the balcony.
"Go," Snape hissed, and this time Harry obeyed. But not before brushing the older man's hand with his own fingertips, and shivering when the older man gasped softly. Ignoring the new wave of heat as best he could, Harry pulled his hand away and hurried out into the hall, making sure his cloak covered him very well.
Ron and Hermione were looking worriedly up and down the hall, coming towards the balcony. Their expressions quickly dissolved into relief when they saw Harry heading for them. "Where've you been?" Hermione demanded. "We thought you'd been snatched by You-Know-Who or something."
"That's not funny," Ron scowled.
"Just needed some air," Harry said. "Sorry. I meant to come straight back."
"Were you out there?" Ron asked incredulously, gesturing at the door to the balcony, through which a cold wind was now sweeping. Harry took the opportunity to glance back; Snape was nowhere in viewing range. "It's bloody freezing!"
"Must be. Your face is all red," Hermione said in concern, and Harry had never been gladder of an excuse for a blush.
"I am cold," he admitted, and in the absence of Snape's heat he could indeed feel the biting chill once more. "Sorry again. Let's go back in. Is the dessert out yet?"
Ron immediately brightened. "You bet! S'why we came looking for you. You can't miss this. Three kinds of pudding and four cakes."
His friends seized hold of him and dragged him, unresisting, back into the Great Hall. Harry's head was whirling, but his step felt lighter than it had in a long while, even if he couldn't tell up from down.
What on earth was he going to do now? He couldn't start acting differently, but he felt a deep compulsion to share the change in him somehow, to explain it to someone so maybe he could understand it himself. Should he tell Ron or Hermione what had happened tonight? No, he rather thought that wouldn't be a good idea. They'd never understand, not in a thousand years. And Snape might get in trouble. How strange; that idea would have thrilled him to pieces not half an hour ago. He dimly recalled a saying about best-laid plans, and mice and men.
Harry felt the hairs raise on the back of his neck, and almost chuckled. Snape was watching him again. Of course.
This time, he didn't mind so much.
This is madness. Complete and utter insanity. I cannot believe what just happened.
I kissed my student. He kissed me back. I am Severus Snape; this sort of thing does not happen to me. I do not wander out onto a balcony one night and suddenly have my dearest wishes offered to me on a silver platter.
He doesn't hate me.
I simply cannot believe any of this.
Not that this changes anything. It doesn't. At all. He is still a child, and I am still his teacher, and all the other reasons why this is a terrible idea are still firmly in place. He says he'll understand when I continue to act as I must, but I doubt he will. He says he can wait, and I doubt that even more. He is so terribly young, to think he'll be able to handle all life throws his way if he only arms himself against it first.
No, things are still more or less as they were. I have to believe that, or I'll go barking mad and just sit around remembering how his lips opened under mine and how he snuffled around my ear and the smell of musk rising up from him.
No. I cannot allow myself to think about this. I have a job to do, many jobs to do, and miles to go before I sleep.
Still ... it is a holiday. And I have nothing to do, no sinister function to fulfill tonight beyond keeping the general order in my House. It would harm no one if I chose to sit and stare out the window, or into a bubbling beaker, and allow myself to remember, and to dream. Nobody would ever know. Perhaps ... perhaps it wouldn't hurt anything.
Just for tonight. And I can even imagine, up in his tower, that he is doing the same.
Onward | Non Anime Fanfiction