Part 7

His cheeks still burning, Harry trotted down to the Great Hall, knowing he was late for dinner and not even pausing to drop off his books at the dormitory. The gang might all be planning to head to the library afterwards, anyway.

" 'Lo," Ron greeted him, face already stuffed with chicken, as Harry plunked down in his customary seat. " 'Ow 'us 'ur d'tenshun?"

"Fine," Harry replied quickly. "I just sat and studied in Dumbledore's, um, study room. The study, I mean. Not bad at all. But I have to go back tomorrow," he added, doing his best to sound properly aggrieved.

"Rotten," Ron said sympathetically. "Not hungry, eh? Can I have your treacle tart?"

As he'd predicted, after dinner the Great Hall emptied in a mass exodus to the library on this, the last night before exams. Harry shouldered his bag and told Ron and Hermione he'd meet them there after they'd collected their things. On the way, he decided to make a quick stop at the loo, where he ran into Fred and George.

"Harry, old son," George greeted him as Fred splashed water on his face from one of the sinks and muttered dire things under his breath. "Heard you got caught doing something stupid. Can't tell you how proud we are."

Harry grinned. "You two are my role models, y'know."

"Oy! Hear that, Fred?" George announced, slapping his twin hard on the back and knocking him face-first into the sink basin. Fred cursed. "That's an honour, that is, to mould a young mind. Don't mind Fred," he added in a confidential tone to Harry, "he's just upset I threw pumpkin juice in his eyes."

"Git," mumbled Fred, toweling his face off on his robe, and then looking up to beam at Harry. "But he's right. Well done, Harry. Too bad you had to knock your head."

"Er ... yeah," Harry replied, looking from one twin to the other, feeling slightly dizzy as a sudden idea gripped his mind and wouldn't let go. "Yeah, I was knocked on the head."

Both Weasley boys looked at each other quizzically. "You all right, Harry?" George asked.

This was so stupid. It was so stupid, and it was now or never. Harry took a deep breath. "I have a favor to ask. It's really weird, and I'll understand if you say no, but you absolutely CANNOT ever tell ANYONE that I asked you."

That hooked them, as he had known it would. " 'Course not," Fred said instantly.

"Promise on your wands," Harry said darkly. "I mean it. This is personal, and I ... well, I feel a bit silly, but ... "

"A bit silly" didn't even begin to cover how he felt, but the more innocent it sounded, the better. The twins' ears were practically out on stalks.

"Promise," they said emphatically. "Now let's have it," George added.

Harry could feel himself turning pink. "Would one of you kiss me?" he blurted. Then he closed his eyes and spent the next small eternity of seconds regretting the words.

"What for?" asked Fred, and Harry opened his eyes again. The words hadn't sounded accusing, or disgusted, just ... curious.

He took another breath, and launched into such an astounding lie that he was rather impressed with himself. "It was this summer. A ... a Muggle girl kissed me. Weird, right? It's the only interesting thing that's ever happened at the Dursleys ... but I didn't feel anything much, and since we're going home so soon and I might have to see her again, I was wondering ... " his voice trailed off and he looked up at them pleadingly. "That is, I'm just not sure if I'm ... "

"One of the stately homos of old England?" Fred asked, patting his shoulder comfortingly. "Perfectly understandable. I myself am of that noble persuasion. So's George. You can trust us. We wouldn't - "

" - Tell a soul," George continued, elbowing Fred aside. "Cross our hearts. Like I said, it's always an honour to mould young minds ... "

" ... especially in the finer things in life," finished Fred, elbowing George right back. "But we've got to get a move on and hit the books, so which one of us do you want? I feel obliged to tell you that I'm a much better kisser than he is."

"Like sod, you are!"

"I have it on the finest authority - "

"Finest drunk authority, maybe - "

"Oh, I don't really care," Harry said desperately. "Whichever of you wouldn't mind awfully much, er, that would be fine."

Then he was fixed by two identical, penetrating stares. "We'd neither of us mind, Harry," said George in a voice Harry had certainly never heard before.

"In fact," Fred added brightly, "why not give both of us a go? Just to be sure?"

Harry blinked, and felt dizzy again. "All right," he heard himself mumble.

"Smashing! Now I say alphabetical order wins the day - "

"I say chronological," George replied, "and I popped out of Mum ten and a half minutes before you," and before Fred could voice his outraged objections, George had bent and kissed Harry full on the lips.

It was ... nice. Maybe more than nice. Harry enjoyed the silky lip-on-lip feel, and then the surprisingly delicate touch of a tongue that encouraged his mouth to open just a little bit. But something was ... missing. He kept waiting for the hot urges to come, the desire to clasp George to him, or the feeling that his bones were melting. It didn't happen.

Then George pulled away, eyeing Harry's rather glassy-eyed state with some satisfaction. "That's one. Now you, Fred."

"Oh, thanks very much," Fred grumbled, but set to quite willingly, and much more adventurously now that his twin had paved the way. His tongue slipped into Harry's mouth and tickled around in an extremely interesting way. Interesting ... but somehow just not as interesting as ...

Fred's lips popped off his with a wet smacking noise. He threw a smug glance at George before turning to Harry. "Well?"

"Thanks," Harry croaked. "That was ... uh ... " Nice didn't seem the appropriate thing to say, but his adjectives seemed to have deserted him for the moment. " ... Really good."

"Helped you make up your mind, did it?" George asked curiously.

"Oh! Yes," Harry said quickly, remembering the reason he'd given for the kiss. "Definitely yes. Uh. Quite yes." In spite of himself, he could feel a small, shy smile spreading over his face, though he didn't notice how its sudden appearance mesmerised both other boys. "I think I've got it figured out now."

And he did, just not the way he'd said. He'd liked kissing Fred and George. He'd even got aroused, judging by the twitching feelings in his nether regions. But it just wasn't - it didn't compare. So it was ... Snape. It had to be Snape. Of ALL people ... !

"Oh, good," Fred said weakly.

"Anytime," George added in a voice just as faint. "Uh, Harry, really, anytime you want to ... er, experiment again ... "

"We're here for you," put in Fred.

"Absolutely," George said fervently.

"Thanks again," Harry replied rather dreamily, and wandered out of the lavatory, forgetting completely about actually using it, leaving two very befuddled Weasley twins behind him and a slightly impatient Ron and Hermione awaiting him in the library.

Severus Snape woke up and immediately wished he hadn't.

Oh, he knew where he was. He'd been in these rooms once or twice. And one could never forget, no matter how hard one tried, the magenta-coloured hearthrug. The purple velvet curtains. Those paintings. And, of course, the awful bedsheets in which he appeared to be firmly entombed.

Snape closed his eyes and tried to remember what heinous crime, sin, or alcoholic excess might have landed him in, of all places, Albus Dumbledore's bed. Not a one came immediately to mind. In fact, the very last thing he remembered was ... was ... it seemed to be ...

... It seemed to be Lord Voldemort, standing over him and laughing.

Snape's whole body jerked into instant awareness and he couldn't stop a hoarse gasp from escaping his throat.

"You're awake," said a quiet voice, and Snape's head jerked over to the door, where Dumbledore had entered silently. His head was whirling. Hadn't he just been about to die? In fact, he'd been extremely sure of it. Therefore, taking in the décor -

"This is Hell," he said flatly. "I see I failed to redeem myself sufficiently in the mortal plane."

Dumbledore laughed softly. "Ah, this is just Purgatory, my friend. You've only recently come back from Hell." His wizened face became solemn. "By the skin of your teeth, I might add. I'm glad you're awake at last."

"At last? How long have I been asleep? And how the hell did I come to be here?"

"It is Monday morning; as to the rest, I think we'd better get you something to eat, and maybe cleaned up a bit, before I embark on that particular - "

Monday. It took a moment for Snape to remember why this should concern him. "What? I have an exam to give. Two, in fact. Oh, damn it all, I never even prepared the tests - "

"And you will not be giving them, nor any of your other exams this week," Dumbledore said firmly. "You are to rest, Severus. You've been through quite a bit. Professor Binns has kindly agreed to compose and give your exams for you."

"BINNS?" Snape shouted, outraged. "He knows nothing about Potions! What the devil kind of test is he going to make up, the history of Veritaserum? I - ow." He shifted in the bed, and winced as his bladder rather urgently reminded himself of its existence.

"Are you all right?" Dumbledore asked in concern.

"No. No, I'm not. But I might shift into the realm of 'tolerable' - I say, might - if I could use the lavatory."

"Oh, of course, of course," the headmaster said hurriedly, and helped the Potions Master out of the bed. Snape's legs felt weak and unsteady beneath him, though he refused to make the tired metaphorical connection to day-old colts or kittens or anything else of the kind. He absolutely forbade to allow Dumbledore to follow him into the loo, however, so when he emerged it was with a modicum of personal composure. Perhaps now he could stand to hear about something more serious than the presenting and marking of exams.

There was a tray waiting for him with a bowl of soup and a hot cup of tea. The aromas made his mouth water. Dumbledore, for once choosing tact over mischief, had opted for a plain pot of Darjeeling, and Snape sipped at it gratefully, sinking back down to sit on the bed. He really did feel terribly ... fatigued. Not weak. Fatigued.

"I remember Voldemort," he said eventually, after finishing the soup, "and I remember blacking out from the pain. But that is all. How on earth did you rescue me?" His voice was as flat and steady as if he were lecturing his class.

Dumbledore took a deep, rather unsteady breath. "I didn't."

"Then who?"

"Can't you guess?"

"I am not in the mood for guessing games, Albus."

To Snape's astonishment, Dumbledore couldn't meet his eyes. And rather than answer the question directly, he launched into, of all things, a story. "I'm going to ask you to put yourself in my shoes for an evening, Severus. All right? Imagine that you are sitting up in these very rooms, all night, unable to sleep for worry, and feeling deep down inside that you have made a terrible mistake. Little sounds make you jump; you rather feel you might be sick to your stomach, even though there are no Every Flavor Beans in sight.

"And then there comes a tapping at the window. It's a white owl. A very familiar white owl, bearing a scrap of parchment.

"Now, imagine how you would feel, Severus, if you opened the window to this particular owl, took the parchment it offered, and read this."

His gnarled hand, actually trembling a little bit, held out the aforementioned ragged bit of parchment. Feeling impatient, and not a little confused, Snape took it and glanced it over.

The handwriting was terrible, nearly illegible. It sprawled all over the page, as though someone had written it in a great hurry.

I had another vision I know where the meeting is in a clearing near Hogsmeade and Voldemort's there They're going to kill him I have to go PLEASE SEND HELP

- HP

Snape watched his hand crush the parchment into a wad as if someone else were controlling it.

"Harry saved you," Dumbledore said, his voice sounding as weighted as if Hagrid were sitting on it. "By himself. It was far too late for me to assist him; as I judge it, by the time I got the note he was already approaching the clearing. As to the how of the rescue, as Harry explains it, he ... "

Snape hardly heard whatever explanation Dumbledore gave of the events of two nights past. He just kept staring at the balled-up parchment in his fist. Words floated in and out of his consciousness inconsequentially, words like, "Invisibility Cloak ... fire ... hexes ... broom ... the Cruciatus," but they didn't matter at all.

"He could have been killed," Snape rasped, interrupting the narrative. "He could have been worse than killed."

Dumbledore merely nodded, and stared at his own hands as if wondering where all their power had gone. "Because we did not listen to him."

"Because he is an IDIOT," Snape exploded, feeling hysteria come rising up at last. "What the hell was he thinking? Why did he do it? WHERE IS HE NOW?"

"He is quite all right, Severus," Dumbledore said gently. "The only injury he sustained was a sprained ankle when the broom landed at Hogwarts. At the moment, as a matter of fact, I believe he is just beginning his Potions exam." Brief pause. "Which he will pass, I'm sure."

Snape ignored the implied instruction completely. "Taking his Potions - taking his Potions exam. I see. And what did you say to him? How did you punish him? How did you make absolutely sure that he will NEVER do anything like this EVER AGAIN?"

Dumbledore looked hard at Snape. "I did not punish him, Severus, and I will not. His was an act of great courage. And so was yours. If it were possible - if we did not have to keep all of this so terribly secret - I would be highly inclined to laud you both as heroes from every tower of Hogwarts."

"Oh, that's just what he needs," Snape hissed, and with a sweeping motion of his arm sent his teacup and emptied soup bowl crashing to the floor. They cracked and splintered, and Dumbledore, seemingly unruffled by this eccentric display, merely waved his wand to make the pieces disappear. "Public accolades. Lauded as a hero. Again! Does it not occur to you, almighty Albus Dumbledore, that you are only encouraging the boy to go out and break his neck?"

"His risk saved your own neck, Severus," Albus reminded him. "Do try to be grateful."

"Shut UP!" Snape roared, rising to his feet, and clinging to the bedpost to stay on them. "He must never do anything of this sort again! Do you understand me? Never! That meeting was a trap for him, set by Voldemort, and if he'd been caught - oh my God, if he hadn't gotten away - " his knees gave out and he sank back down on the mattress, trembling all over and seeing spots in front of his eyes. He felt a cool hand on his forehead and, humiliatingly, another hand drawing the covers back over him.

"There, you've got yourself too worked up," Dumbledore said gently. "I shouldn't have told you yet ... Shush, now. I really must insist that you calm yourself, Severus. I told Harry he could come up and sit with you after he finished taking his exam, but if you are going to greet him with hysterical screaming I might rethink that particular idea."

Snape tried to think of something particularly caustic to say, but all that came out was another softly muttered, "Oh my God." He lay still for a few moments, Dumbledore silently allowing him to regain control of himself.

"Can you tell me what happened yet?" was the headmaster's next question, leaving plenty of room for Snape to say 'no.' But even in extremity Snape wasn't the type to say no, and, forcing himself away from all thoughts of Harry, he recounted all that he could remember of that hideous night. With one significant omission. He couldn't - simply could not - confess to Dumbledore that someone, most likely Draco Malfoy, had seen him kissing Harry Potter on a balcony. Especially since Dumbledore didn't know he'd kissed Harry Potter in the first place. Especially since that damned kiss was probably what had goaded that impossible boy to such a terrible, dangerous action ... In the bottom of his heart, Snape cursed himself far more viciously than Voldemort could ever manage.

When he had finished, Dumbledore looked tired and sad. "Young Draco is working for Voldemort, then," he murmured. "I thought perhaps ... but I had hoped ... And you say he's been spying on you?"

"So Voldemort said," Snape replied evasively. "I was not aware of it myself." Dumbledore shook his head, his silver beard swaying slowly from side to side.

"We have been sorely deceived," he said quietly. "And very nearly defeated. If not for Harry - well. I don't like how thoroughly I was outmaneuvered, Severus. Your life was simply an unacceptable price to pay for mere information, and I should never have agreed to gamble with it. I am more ashamed than I can say."

Snape had never heard Dumbledore say anything like that before, and it stunned him speechless. When Dumbledore quietly suggested, a few tense minutes later, that he take a bath, Snape mutely acquiesced, and spent the next thirty minutes sitting in hot water, staring at the ceiling and trying to keep his own head from spinning off. Harry had saved him. Harry. Had saved him. And as he managed to piece together what Dumbledore had told him through his disjointed memories, he realised just how unsuccessful that rescue had nearly been. Albus had said he'd had to levitate the Firebolt back onto the Hogwarts grounds ... Snape passed a shaking hand across his face, then blinked the hot water out of his eyes.

He had risen from the tub, dried off his trembling limbs and was dressing himself in fresh black robes when someone gently knocked on the door.

"I'm decent," Snape called dryly, not even bothering to wince at the irony.

"Fine," came Dumbledore's voice through the door. "But the allotted time for the Potions exam is up. Harry will be arriving soon."

Snape took a deep, shaking breath, and willed the older man not to open the door. He didn't want to think how his face must look right now.

"Severus," Dumbledore continued quietly, "I don't know what to say to you. I know - I think I know - how you feel about the boy," Snape shuddered hard, "but I can't imagine how you are reacting to ... this. But when he comes ... be kind to him, my friend. That is all I ask. Be kind."

Instead of answering, Snape emerged silently from the bathroom, to see that the bed had been neatly made up again, with one corner turned invitingly down. His limbs already quaked to rest themselves, but he ordered them sternly into a chair. "I want to speak to him alone."

At this, Dumbledore looked most concerned. "I am not sure - "

"I want. To speak to him. Alone. Albus."

Dumbledore sighed heavily. "As you wish. But I beg you, Severus, break nothing you cannot mend."

Even as the words were leaving his mouth, a timid knocking came at the door. The headmaster glanced at the professor, muttered a few incantations at the door, and called out "Come in" in a rather apprehensive voice.

Harry Potter entered the room.

Part 8   |   Non Anime Fanfiction