TEAM DRAGON ENTRY: Perfica "Come Out Of The West" Title: Come Out Of The West Author:perfica *See the Author's Master List of Fics Here: Archive* Team: Dragon Genre(s): Alternate Reality *Hover/Click for Games Definition of Alternate Reality* Prompt(s): St Mungo's, Miles To Go Before I Sleep Rating/Warnings/Kinks: R Word Count: 8,978 Summary: Spending time with an injured man causes a bored Harry Potter to rethink his options in life. A/N: If not for loupgarou1750 and auctasinistra, you would have been subjected to curly quotes and impossible feats of strength. Their encouragement, as well as that of the Almighty Team Dragon, made this is a pleasure to write. Disclaimer: This is a fictional story that riffs of fictional characters that weren't created by me.
"Um, hi," Harry said, clearing his throat nervously. "Are there any messages for me?"
The woman behind the information counter raised an eyebrow and continued to plug away at her computer. "And you are?"
"Harry. Harry Potter. I'm one of the night orderlies. I'm expecting — well, not expecting, really — hoping that there's been a message left for me. Or maybe a phone number?"
She paused in her typing, riffled through some papers at her side, glanced back at a row of pigeonholes with tiny labels and shook her head.
"Oh. Are you sure? Because — "
"Positive. I've been on for the last six hours. Nothing for a Harry Potter."
"Right," Harry said. "Right. Okay then."
His hand unconsciously went to the delicate silver chain around his neck, straightening the links and clutching at the single charm — a silver serpent.
The lady went back to typing.
Harry got off the bus and narrowly avoided stepping into a large puddle. The heavy rain immediately splashed against his glasses, causing him to frown as he tried to see past big splotches that diminished his already limited night-vision. He tugged the hood of his jacket over his head and nodded at two orderlies huddled together under a large umbrella just left of the foyer, stubbornly getting their nicotine fix while trying to keep the hems of their pants dry.
Stepping through the automatic doors was like slowing down to half speed; a grey world of dull lights, loud noises and piercing smells. Huddles of tired-looking parents soothed sick children while their healthy progeny scampered over rows of bolted-down plastic chairs. A football player with a dirty, rough sling strapping one arm was being teased by a group of half-drunken teammates; an elderly couple blew into steaming hot cups of tea from the industrial-sized machine in the corner that sometimes stole your money without providing a beverage.
He took off his sodden jacket and shook off the rainwater, backpack leaning awkwardly against his knees as he attempted to clean his glasses on the relatively dry shirt underneath. The admitting nurse gave him a friendly wave and Harry waved back as he hurried down a busy corridor towards the change rooms. It was five minutes before shift change.
A male voice — loud, abrasive, pained — swore incoherently from one of the observation rooms while other voices — female, professional — tried to soothe.
"I'm not — where am I? What did you do to me?"
Harry turned the corner and saw a man with blood on his face trying to push away the hands of an ambulance driver.
"There now, you're fine," a doctor with bushy hair said, catching the injured man's flailing arms and holding them down by his side. "Did you manage to I.D. him?"
"Found his wallet. Says here he's from Edinburgh. Professor Severus Snape," the ambulance driver's partner said.
The doctor nodded at a nurse preparing a syringe. "Pass me those scissors. I need to see how badly he's damaged himself." As she began to cut carefully through the injured man's shirt, her tone switched from efficient to condescending. "You'll be fine, Severus," she said, speaking in a slow, loud voice. "We'll have you fixed up in no time."
Harry didn't remember what he'd been dreaming about but he knew it had made him happy. He was less happy when he straightened up, arse numb from the wooden kitchen chair he'd fallen asleep in. He moaned softly as he stretched his back and fumbled his glasses back onto his face.
"Shit," he said under his breath, rubbing a line of dry spittle from his cheek.
"Nice nap, was it?" Ron mocked in a friendly way. He was standing in front of the fridge wearing nothing but his boxers, idly scratching his balls.
"I can't believe I fell asleep out here again. What time is it?" Harry asked.
"Just gone ten," Ron replied, snapping the door shut with a hand holding a bottle of milk. He grabbed a cleanish-looking bowl out of the sink and yawned as he added what looked like half a packet of breakfast cereal into it.
"Please tell me you mean P.M.," Harry whimpered, dropping his forehead to the table, narrowly missing the tines of a fork that had been sitting in the exact same spot for four days straight.
Too busy slurping up prodigious amounts of food, Ron didn't reply. He gave Harry a thoughtful look.
"That," Ron said, nodding towards Harry's throat. "It's new."
Harry's hand went to the charm. "It is."
"A gift from someone?"
"Yes. No. Well, yes, if you want to be particular about it. He — "
"Did you tell him about Smithers?" Ron asked, referring to Harry's pet; a placid ball python with finicky eating habits.
"I may have mentioned him," Harry said, aggrieved.
"Stop right there, Harry me lad," Ron said, pushing away from the table with a grace unusual in someone so tall. "You know you don't have to tell me what you've been up to."
"It's not what you think," Harry protested weakly. "He was a patient. A friend, sort of. Not a nice guy if you go off first impressions — "
"So if you like this not-nice guy, and he likes you enough to buy you presents, what are you doing talking to me about it? Go spend some time with your admirer," Ron said with a wide grin. "Get out of the house for a bit; it'll do you a world of good."
"It's not that simple," Harry said. His throat momentarily seized up. "He's gone. He is... was... "
Ron grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him sympathetically. "Not to put too fine a point on it, but you look like shite, mate. Your sleeping pattern's been out of whack for weeks and I've not seen you eat anything remotely nutritious — "
"I eat! I eat at the hospital."
"That's not food: it's an inducement to get people to sign themselves out. You barely say a word to me anymore and when you are awake, you're wandering around the place like a zombie. No, what you need," Ron said, noisily filling up the kettle with water and putting it on the burner, "is just what my dear old ma would suggest — a cup of tea, a sympathetic ear and some honest advice. Now I've got the day off, I've got the ear, the tea'll be along shortly and I'm nosier than a hall full of bingo grannies. What do you say?"
Harry looked at the floor, taking in his ratty backpack tossed in a corner, Ron's gigantic bare feet, the scuffed up carpet of the flat they shared.
"Yeah," he said, raising his eyes to the tousled-haired, slovenly man that was his best friend in the world. "I think I'll take you up on it."
"Severus?" Harry called out softly, mindful of the patients sleeping in other rooms. He pushed the door open even though there had been no response. Snape seemed to be an insomniac; he'd been awake every night of Harry's shifts and, once Harry had realised that, he'd gotten into the habit of stopping in at least once or twice during his otherwise boring rounds. Snape was a quick-witted man with a wide streak of bastard that permeated his every observance. Harry liked his sharp tongue and dry sense of humour and looked forward to their nightly interactions.
A lamp in the corner cast the plain room with a warm glow. On a table by the window, a deck of cards was stacked neatly beside an open pad of paper that had both of their names scrawled at the top and columns of scratched out numbers running underneath. Next to it was the cover of a jigsaw puzzle, the picture on the box showing a stone castle, its four grey turrets stretching up to a sky nearly as grey. At its base, a stone bridge fallen into disrepair meandered its way to the entrance. In the immediate foreground a group of docile sheep nibbled on grass that was long and green.
The very concept of such plebeian entertainment had seemed to infuriate Snape — he'd scoffed when Harry, thinking he needed something to help him wile away the lonely hours of the night, had first bought it to him — but the picture was gradually taking shape. Its border was now solid and one or two sheep were scattered around the mostly completed bridge. Harry picked up a piece of the puzzle and his fingers hovered over what looked like a turret.
From the bathroom came the muted sound of a toilet flushing.
"Severus? Everything okay?" Harry asked, raising his voice and straightening up; the piece had not fit. "Severus?"
"Yes, yes, do stop yelling," Snape replied, opening the door. "Can't a man perform his ablutions in peace?"
"He could, if I knew what ablutions were," Harry said with a grin.
Snape rolled his eyes and shut the door.
Harry chuckled, feeling refreshed for all it was two o'clock in the morning, and began to tidy up the room. He busied himself with collecting a tray of used cups and plates, dirty cutlery and empty salt and pepper packets. He stacked everything neatly onto a trolley and pushed it against the far wall. It would do until he had to continue his rounds.
"Blast!" The exclamation was coupled with the sound of something falling into a sink.
"Are you all right?" Harry said, gingerly opening the bathroom door. Snape was leaning heavily against a small counter, his skin slightly grey. "Are you in pain?"
"No pain," Snape said, accepting Harry's elbow and allowing himself to be lowered carefully onto the closed lid of the toilet. "Just my hands. They can't keep up with me."
Harry took in the shaking hands, the slight wincing around the eyes, the beads of sweat that had popped up around Snape's hairline. "You are in pain, you idiot," he said, supporting Severus with a tight hand on the shoulder while his other hand wet a facecloth. "You're not supposed to exert yourself," he said, using the damp cloth to swot at Snape's forehead.
"I'm injured, not infirm," Snape said.
"Tell that to your body," Harry replied, gently running the cloth over the rest of Snape's face. Snape let out a contented, and no doubt unconscious sigh, that made Harry feel inexplicably happy. "What were you trying to do?"
"Shave," Snape said, running a now steady hand over the untidy growth of hair on his chin. "Not only do I look ridiculous, it's starting to itch."
"And you couldn't ask for help?"
Snape sneered. "I had no idea that 'beautician' was listed after 'moronic optimist' and 'trolley boy' in your curriculum vitae. You appear to have hidden depths, Potter.'
"Now, now," Harry said, trusting Snape to sit up without support and wetting the shaving brush that had fallen into the sink. "You keep talking like that and I'll think you don't like me."
Snape awkwardly adjusted his robe. "You're not completely useless, I suppose."
"Why, Professor Snape. For you, that's almost a declaration of love!"
Snape laughed abruptly, a more natural colour returning to his skin. "Idiot boy. I don't know why you put up with me."
"Well, it must be because I have hidden depths," Harry countered, lathering the bristles and painting a swathe of bubbles across Snape's sharp jaw.
Snape meekly let him.
Harry rapped at the door — three loud knocks that sounded faintly foreboding — then stood up straight, almost at attention.
"Come in," said a voice with a thick Scottish accent. "Ah, Mister Potter. Right on time. I admire punctuality."
"Good morning, Mrs McGonagall. Thank you for seeing me at such short notice."
"I'll admit I was intrigued by your message. My secretary tells me it's very, very, very important," she said wryly, peering over her spectacles at him.
Harry blushed. He must have sounded frantic over the phone.
"Well, sit down; I dislike people looking over me. Tell me what's put a bee in your bonnet."
After their one hour interview — which had encompassed Harry's wish to resign and McGonagall's dismay at losing a valued hospital employee at such short notice; Harry's heartfelt desire to change his fortune and McGonagall's reminiscences about her own youthful escapades — they parted at the change room door. McGonagall had insisted she walk Harry to his locker and shake his hand to wish him luck, with the admonition that he remember them fondly and was to return if he found himself in need of a job again.
The old leather lounge-chair was empty when he entered the room, as were the battered table and chairs staff ate at to escape their patients. Harry took in the scratched, grimy surfaces, the sunken cushions, the smudges of dirt around the handles of the lockers, the greasy countertop that housed an urn, the empty packets of sugar and unwashed mugs. He pulled out the spare shirts hanging in his locker and stuffed them into his backpack, unclipped his name badge with cool, stiff fingers and placed it on the table, glanced around the room one more time to make sure he'd taken everything.
Harry sighed, then nodded decisively.
Tucking his chain under his collar, he left, closing the door behind him.
"The New Penguin Book of Romantic Poetry," Harry said, reading the cover of a tattered paperback that looked as if it had been thrown repeatedly against a wall. He fell heavily onto the foot of the bed and flicked through the book's pages. "Do you have a secret admirer?"
"Not likely," Snape said absently from the chair by the window. Harry whistled and waited, knowing the sound of him attempting to hit the high notes drove Snape mad.
Snape sighed, closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. "Enough. You have broken me."
Harry laughed and made himself comfortable.
"A very kind but daft woman," Snape said, settling comfortably, "who, I believe, had actual radishes hanging from her earlobes, and whose main purpose in life when she's not communing with the moon seems to be volunteering to the sick, checked this out from the hospital library when she heard I was a professor of Literature and had not one single friend in the entire city. She seemed to be under the impression that it would cheer me up."
"That was kind of her," Harry said, one eyebrow quirking up.
"Indeed," Snape replied, matching the quirk with one of his own.
Harry closed his eyes and stabbed a finger at a random page. He opened his eyes and read in the halting metre of one unaccustomed to reading poetry aloud. "And said I that my limbs were old, and said I that my blood was cold. And that my kindly fire was fled and my poor withered heart was dead, and that I might not sing of love." He pulled a face. "Is this supposed to be romantic?"
"Read some for me?" Harry asked, holding the book out.
Snape snorted and closed his eyes.
"Sorry," Harry said ruefully. "I sometimes forget you're not here to entertain me. I'll come back later."
As Harry reached the door, the well-thumbed volume in his sweaty hand, he heard Snape speak in a low voice, his diction precise and melodic.
"Strange fits of passion have I known and I will dare to tell; but in the lover's ear alone, what once to me befell."
Snape didn't reply.
The book fell open in Harry's hand. He looked down and read the first thing that sprung out at him. "Such is this maddening fascination grown, so strong thy magic or so weak am I."
"Huh," he said, watching Snape sleep.
It took a bus, two trains and another bus for Harry to reach Edinburgh. Dusk was setting as he walked into the city centre with stiff legs, and the fact that it was Sunday meant the streets were practically empty. He debated whether he should have a quick one at the pub, but the need for a place to sleep made him search the streets of cool, grey stone looking for the open doors and clutches of backpackers that signaled a hostel.
The rates were reasonable so he booked for five nights, almost positive he'd work up the courage to achieve his goal before the majority of his money ran out. A quick word with the Australian girl working at the counter gave him the location of the nearest Internet cafe; he spent the next couple of hours surfing. He'd found his quarry almost immediately — Professor Severus Snape, employed by the Department of English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, presently lecturing in an Honours course on Romanticism and Consciousness — and had printed out a map that led him straight to the campus, leaving the rest of his time to checking world news, clicking around YouTube and composing an email to Ron thanking him for his advice, for being a great roommate, for offering to take care of Smithers until Harry got settled and letting him know that he'd arrived safely.
Harry found a pub on his way back to the hostel and sat in a corner, drinking pints and toying with an open packet of crisps. Around him university students played snooker, yelling happily and singing loudly as if they had no concerns beyond passing the latest test, going to the latest lecture, scoring with the latest paramour.
Snape sniffed derisively.
"Oh, it's like that is it?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Snape replied. A deck of cards lay in two loose piles on the table between them. Snape gave them, and Harry, a filthy look.
"Sore loser," Harry chucked. "Next time I'll let you win. Would you like that, you big baby?"
Snape's upper lip curled into a sneer. "I see that you are one of those modern individuals who believe that hospital patients should be addressed as informally as possible, lest we forget our place. And whose only hope of relief and recuperation relies on the sweet tidings of meddlesome witches who hold nothing sacred?
"Why yes, Doctor Busybody," Snape mocked. "I did enjoy a rather pleasant bowel movement this morning, thank you ever so much for enquiring." He snorted. "There are no titles here; we are all equals to the ravages of our bodies."
Harry grinned. "Hermione was in this morning, wasn't she?"
"Well, feel free to take it out on me. Who am I," Harry said, standing up to pose in the middle of the room, "but a lowly orderly, whose only job is to remove the detritus of medical miracles from your room, whose only wish is to provide silent yet exemplary care to the wretched individuals captured in the evil clutches of St. Mungo's Private Hospital? Ohhh," he wailed, gesturing grandly, "how I weep for you and your brethren."
"You're not funny," Snape said as his lips twitched.
"Really? My friends tell me I'm a laugh riot."
"Your friends are idiots."
"And that makes you...?"
Snape sneered and looked pointedly out the window. The grounds of the hospital were darker than usual, the amber lights that dotted the pathways to the car park and gardens the only clear items under a sky that still contained fat clouds from the afternoon.
"Fine. If you don't want to play, I'll just continue with this," Harry said, picking up a brown and white jigsaw piece.
"Ah!" Snape said, grabbing Harry by the wrist as he attempted to jam the jagged cardboard square into place. "You'll ruin it."
"We could go outside. The walk would do you good."
"Ah yes, a midnight stroll on icy footpaths in pitch-black conditions. Genius."
Harry tapped the edge of the jigsaw piece against his mouth. Snape snatched it away, his fingers briefly running along Harry's lower lip.
"I've got an idea."
"Does it involve me injuring myself again?" Snape asked.
"You didn't injure yourself the first time," Harry said. "Unless you deliberately jumped in front of that car."
"I can assure you that if I were planning on committing suicide, it would be in a more civilised fashion. There's nothing dignified about being hit by a speeding moron and ending up flat on your back in the middle of Waterloo. I had blood spurting from every orifice. My trousers were ruined."
Harry's nose wrinkled. "That's disgusting."
"Indeed it was. I only bought them last month. What a spectacular waste of forty pounds."
"Are you — ? You are! You're telling a joke. Deliberately!"
"And thank you so much for pointing it out and not laughing. Would it have killed you to humour me?"
"Stop complaining," Harry said, pushing back from his chair and supporting Snape's elbow. "C'mon, upsy-daisy. I know what we can do."
"I swear, if you use baby talk on me one more time, the catering staff will find freshly slaughtered haunches de Harry in their freezer."
They shuffled down the corridor, bickering in a friendly manner under their breaths until Harry stopped them in front of a metal door. Snape leaned heavily on his shoulders as Harry punched a short series of numbers into a keypad. The door unlocked with a loud click and they both turned sharply, looking behind them. The corridor was still empty, the nightshift nurses probably chatting at their desk on the other end of the ward.
Snape opened the door and Harry fumbled along the interior wall, quietly boasting when he found the light switch. They made their way over to a scratched-up leather lounge-chair as Snape complained about the messy state of the room. Harry told him to ignore it as he carefully lowered Snape, fussing until his hands were slapped away. Harry sat down next to him, the give of the cushions making them sink towards the middle, their arms and legs pressing up against each other, and hit a button on the remote control he'd found under his thigh. A small TV turned on with a buzz and they companionably flicked through channels until Snape said, "That one. Leave it there."
They watched the second half of an old Red Dwarf episode (Harry snickering every time someone said "Rimmer") before Snape wrestled the remote from him, surfing until he stopped at the beginning of an episode of The Two Ronnies. Snape occasionally snorted or smiled, briefly showing a crooked row of bottom teeth.
"I like snakes," Harry said a long time later, drowsy, his head resting on Snape's solid shoulder as a Monty Python movie began. "I touched one once, on an excursion to the zoo. I always thought they'd be cold and slimy but it wasn't; it felt really warm. And its scales were smooth, you know? He was nice. At least, I think it was a he." Harry burrowed closer, inhaling deeply, noticing Snape's spice and sweat scent, realising he was half-hard but too comfortably wedged against Snape's body to leave the room and do anything about it. "So when I was old enough, I got my own. He's nice too. Not much to look at, but friendly."
Snape said something that Harry didn't quite catch, the soothing noise rumbling up through his chest and into Harry's ear as his eyes slipped shut.
The hall was small and most of the seats were taken as Harry slipped in through the back door, pleased to see that the lecture hadn't yet started. He felt self-conscious around the hordes of bright-eyed scholars with their clean writing pads and handfuls of pens, and the more mature, well-off students who sat down and opened up their laptops, immediately typing even though nothing had been said, so he fumbled around in his backpack until he found a flyer advertising the opening of a new coffee shop around the corner from his and Ron's place. He turned it over to the blank back and sat with a pencil poised to take notes.
Snape's entrance was undramatic; he simply appeared on the stage from a side entrance, turned on the small microphone attached to his lapel and began to speak. While the students around him began to industriously take notes, Harry looked his fill. Snape had obviously healed well — he stalked from one side of the stage to the other without a limp, gesturing as his voice rose and fell, the sound much more soothing than Harry had expected. He'd grown a goatee and, while Harry thought it mildly amusing because it made his sallow features appear slightly dastardly, it was surprising suitable.
Snape flicked a few switches at the lectern and, as the large screen behind him was filled by the image of a young man in knight's armor looking down at a beautiful woman with long, red hair, began to quote by heart.
"Young Lochinvar is come out of the west," Snape said. "Through all the wide border his steed was the best, and save his good broad-sword he weapon had none." He gestured to the young knight's hip. "He rode all unarmed, and he rode all alone, so faithful in love — "
Harry caught Snape's eye.
"So faithful in love," Snape said again, his voice quieter than before. Harry couldn't look away and the students in the hall started to turn around, wondering at what had stopped their professor from lecturing.
"So dauntless in war," Snape continued, his gaze locked on Harry's, "There never was a knight like the young Lochinvar."
The pencil in Harry's hand snapped in two and he gasped as shards of wood pushed into his palm. By the time he looked up again, Snape had gathered his thoughts and had moved onto another poem that Harry had never heard of.
"Sorry," Harry whispered as he grabbed his things and stumbled towards the aisle. "Sorry, sorry," he said as he stepped on feet and almost broke the door handle in his haste to leave the hall.
"Hey," Harry whispered. "Are you awake?"
"Am I ever not?" came the peevish reply.
Harry closed the door behind him, wincing at the clang and screech of his surprise scrapping against the wall. "Why are all the lights off?" he asked, squinting.
"Because that's the way I like it. I trust you can make your way through the room without causing yourself grievous bodily harm?"
"We're not staying in tonight. I've got an idea."
Snape snorted. "Why do I feel terror running through my bowels at that statement?"
"Are you sure it's terror? Because I saw what was on offer for dinner tonight."
"Ha ha. You slay me, Potter."
"Seriously, you're going to like this idea. Aren't you sick of being stuck inside a room?"
At this, Snape sat up straight, his body a big black blur in the shadows. "Another movie marathon?"
"Better. But it's conditional — first, you've got to wear this," Harry said, pulling a misshapen lump out of his backpack, "and second, you've got to get into this." He flicked on the lights and pointed at the wheelchair he'd stashed against the wall.
Snape blinked rapidly at the sudden brightness; Harry was close enough to see his pupils contracting suddenly. "You must be joking."
"No," Harry said, throwing a cardigan onto Snape's lap. "It's freezing outside and we don't want to risk you getting pneumonia on top of everything else."
"Oh, we don't, do we? Why the hell would I want to go outside, Potter? It must be colder than a witch's teat," Severus said, holding the cardigan away from his body with two fingers. He pulled a red hair off the woolen weave with obvious distaste.
"Oh, sorry," Harry said, feeling his face heat up. He took the hair from Snape's fingers and dropped it to the floor. "It must be my roommate's. He's a red head, obviously, and I borrowed this from him because he's about your size."
Snape raised an eyebrow.
"Shut up," Harry scowled. "I'm not 'unusually petite for my age.' It's the two of you that are freakishly large."
"And if I'm to put on this monstrosity, where are we to go?"
"There's a gazebo on the edge of the garden," Harry replied. "Fairly sheltered, ground floor so there's no problem with using the wheelchair and it has spectacular views of the city skyline."
Snape looked blank.
"Haven't you been keeping track? It's New Years Eve!" Harry exclaimed. "We can go outside and watch the fireworks. I know it's cold but I've got a thermos of hot tea and as long as we're rugged up and back in the next couple of hours, no one will know the difference. We're running low on staff as it is tonight and I thought you might like — "
"Yes...as in yes?"
Snape looked amused. "Yes, Harry, I will participate in your midnight excursion deep into the forest. Yes, I'll drink the tea. Yes, I'll allow myself to be pushed around in a wheelchair like an invalid and yes, I'll even wear the godforsaken cardigan."
"Oh," Harry said, panting slightly from his rant. "That's...that's good. It'll be fun."
"Stranger things have happened," Snape said, taking off his robe and pulling on the cardigan. "My god, this is ghastly. Is your friend colour-blind, by any chance?"
"And then he burst into tears," Snape said. He took a long drag of his cigarette and exhaled with satisfaction. "It was the best lecture of my career."
Harry laughed, choked then began coughing as a mouthful of tea (Snape had fortified it with a generous portion of whisky from a bottle he had hidden in his suitcase — "I am from Scotland, after all") went down the wrong way. "I wish I could have seen that. Nothing that interesting ever happens in my life."
"You've got your whole life ahead of you," Severus said, handing the cigarette to Harry. Harry took a final drag then flicked it away. The butt glowed red, gradually growing dimmer as the condensation beading on blades of grass sank into it. "Interesting things will happen as par for the course."
"Yeah," Harry snorted. "Interesting things for an interesting person. I'm in a rut, Severus. Look at me; what am I doing with my life? I sleep during the day if I can get to sleep. I occasionally go to the pub with my friends and all we do is drink pints, talk shit and play darts really, really badly. I come to work and, in between sweeping and mopping and lifting things and pushing things, I talk to you. I don't go anywhere. I don't do anything. My life's a bore."
"Then change it. If your life is so miserable, improve it."
"That's easy for you to say. You know what you want in life and you're doing it."
"Am I?" Snape said snidely. "I'm like a million other pretentious university lecturers — poor, sad individuals whose life's ambition was to be a writer. I once dreamed of creating something beautiful, something that would stand the test of time. Instead...I spend my days talking to a generation that sits in my lecture halls and plays on their laptops, typing who knows what to who knows whom. The personal music players they have jammed into their ears are so loud I can hear them from the stage. I speak of love and loss and death and triumph, and all I see reflected back is the blank stare of buffoons wondering what sort of overpriced Italian coffee they'll have during their next break."
Snape twisted the cap off the thermos viciously and took a swig. Harry stared at him, watching his expression soften and grow pensive as he looked at the skyline.
The wind shifted and the sounds of happy revelers drifted into the gazebo. A loud whine and a burst of light signaled the early release of a firework: preparation for the show that was about to start miles away.
"We're a right pair, aren't we?" Harry said. He wrapped his hand around Snape's knee and shook it carefully. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to bring you down."
Snape placed a hand on top of Harry's, squeezing it. "You didn't. You don't. Without sounding overly familiar, you're the one ray of sunshine in this whole mess. If you weren't around..."
Harry blushed and twisted his wrist. Their fingers entwined. "You would have found someone else to keep you up all night. I'm nothing special."
"Don't talk that way about yourself and don't fish for compliments. I said it and I mean it. No one else would have the patience to put up with me, let alone bring me outside on such a fine night — "
" — to watch such a spectacular show."
"I'm sure there'll be fireworks tonight, Severus," Harry said.
Snape's eyes darkened. "Oh, I can guarantee you that."
Snape's mouth was firm, slow moving and careful as he explored Harry's mouth from one side to the other. Harry sighed and his lips parted. He tilted his head and flicked a curious tongue against the corner of Snape's mouth. Snape responded by opening and letting him in.
During the long minutes in which they kissed, Harry opened his eyes and saw flashes of light on the edge of his vision, brightly coloured patterns that stood out sharply against the sky. His clenched fists were filled with Ron's tacky cardigan but underneath it was Snape's solid chest and steadfast heartbeat.
Harry groaned as Snape's hand tightened in his hair, tilting his head back to carefully suck up and down his throat.
"I wish I weren't in this chair," Snape said wetly at the base of Harry's throat.
"It is awkward," Harry replied. "Maybe if I — "
Snape shouted, pained.
"Oh, shit. Sorry, sorry," Harry said. "Did I — ?"
"It's all right," Snape said, wincing. He adjusted himself. "No permanent damage done."
"Fucking hell, I'm an idiot. I can't believe — "
"It's all right," Snape repeated, grabbing Harry by the shoulders and hauling him close again. Snape's hands patted him down, gentling him. Harry responded by kissing him, carefully making sure that nothing was touching but their lips.
Snape sighed and pulled back. "I've ruined the mood, haven't I?"
"More like I did," Harry said ruefully. "What a way to celebrate, hey?"
Snape grabbed him by the chin, thumb pressing firmly into Harry's skin. "This has been the most interesting New Years' Eve of my life and I won't hear you speak ill of it. Is that understood?"
Harry nodded, amused.
"Now that that's been sorted, I think we'd better go back. Your face is chilled."
"And your hands are freezing. Why didn't you say something earlier?"
Snape smirked. "I was having a good time."
It took a few days for Harry to work up the courage to seek out Snape again.
The corridor was empty when Harry exited the tiny elevator. Snape's door was the only one open and through it, Harry could hear the sound of filing cabinet drawers being opened and closed. He smoothed errant strands of hair over his forehead and took a deep breath, knocking quietly on the door.
"Come in," Snape said.
Harry swallowed. "Hello, Severus."
Snape looked up suddenly, hands frozen mid-air. "Harry," he said.
Harry grinned sheepishly.
"Harry," Snape repeated, dropping the papers, pushing his chair back so fast it clanged against the dusty Venetian blinds behind his desk.
"I hope you don't mind — "
"Not at all. I saw you at the lecture — "
"Sorry, I couldn't stay. I had things — "
"Of course. I didn't think...it's good to see you."
Harry broke into a grin. "It's good to see you too, Severus," he said, thrusting his hand forward.
Snape came around the desk and took it, squeezing it gently. "Shall we both agree to stop babbling and conduct the rest of our conversation as grown men?"
Harry laughed and sat in the chair Snape directed him towards, turning to the side as Snape sat next to him. Harry drank in the sight of him, unable to turn away from the sight of a healthy, whole Snape. He hadn't realized how lonely he'd been until after Snape had gone. "I can't believe how well you look."
"I should hope so," Snape said, crossing one leg over the other. "I have great reservations of any medical establishment that allows their patients to leave before they've finished their convalescence."
"What's with that?" Harry asked, gesturing towards his chin.
Snape's face darkened slightly. "I'm trying something new. I thought perhaps that my face is more suited towards covering up with hair — "
"It looks fine," Harry said, "but I liked it better when I could see all of you."
The side of Snape's mouth lifted. "As wonderful as this surprise is, to what do I owe the pleasure? I didn't know you had family or friends in the area."
"I don't," Harry blurted out. "I just...I felt like a change, you know?"
"Maybe. Maybe something longer."
Their gazes locked and once again, Harry was unable to look away.
"Where are you staying?" Snape asked, his voice gravelly.
"A hostel," Harry said, digging through his pockets until he found a business card. "The Royal Mile Backpackers."
"Have you been there long?" Snape asked as he took the card from Harry's hand.
"I got in Sunday night. It's fine; the room I'm in only has a few other blokes, it's just like sleeping in a school dorm. The bathroom's — "
"And when are you leaving?"
"Thursday. Tomorrow. I mean, I've only paid up until tomorrow so I guess I'll..."
"Have to finish my business before then," Harry said softly. He dug around in the backpack at his feet and pulled out a series of pamphlets. "I've made a few inquires," he said. "The university runs a really good biology course. It doesn't focus on herpetology per se, but I think a person could specialise once they'd completed their undergraduate subjects."
"You look tired," Snape said.
"I...yeah, I guess I am."
"I haven't been sleeping well either. I'm not sure if it's because of the accident or...?"
"Or. Yes, it's that 'or' that's the issue." Harry stood up abruptly. "Listen, I've got to go."
"Harry — "
"Sorry. I shouldn't have come unannounced. You didn't even invite me. I'm sorry."
"There's nothing to be sorry for," Snape said, grabbing him by the biceps. "You just got here. At least stay for a drink."
"Really, really need to get going," Harry said, fumbling with his backpack. "I don't know what I was thinking."
"Stay," Snape said, tugging on his arm.
"It was stupid of me. I'm stupid. We've already said goodbye."
"I don't want you to — "
"Goodbye, Severus," Harry said, walking carefully out the door, even though his mind was telling him to run, run, run.
They'd pushed the bed clothes down to the foot of the bed; stiff white sheets shot through with pale blue pinstripes that gave off a 'sterilised to within an inch of their lives' odour, and uniform brown blankets that were fairly new. Harry had removed Severus' pyjama top and was slowly, carefully, kissing his way down a chest still smattered with bruises.
Snape inhaled sharply and parted his legs. Harry fit himself into the space and slithered lower, humping against the thin mattress.
"Are you cold?" he asked, kissing his way down the trail of hair that ran from Snape's navel to the top of his pyjama bottoms. They were silk, green, entirely impractical for the location but Snape had obviously not planned on spending any time in hospital during his trip to London. Harry loved them; they spoke of secret fetishes and wicked indulgences.
"I'm fine," Snape replied, running his fingers through Harry's hair with a delicacy that belied his gruff tone. "Stop attending to my health and attend yourself to other concerns."
Harry chuckled against Snape's pubic bone, then nipped it quickly as Snape pushed up. The delicious length of his cock ran against Harry's neck and bumped into his chin. Harry moaned and wrapped his mouth around the head, alternatively sucking and blowing warm air through the material.
"Harry," Snape moaned, eyes shut and head thrown back.
Harry moulded his hand around Snape's thick cock and jacked him slowly. "Shhh. I'm supposed to be on the third floor right about now."
"And I don't think you're supposed to be doing this either," Snape said, pupils blown with arousal.
Harry sat up on his knees and, using just his fingertips, pulled the waistband of Snape's pyjama bottoms down to mid-thigh. He licked his lips; this was going to be so good.
"Go on," Snape said, worming a hand between Harry's thighs and wrapping it around Harry's balls. He tugged them experimentally while Harry whimpered and tried not to thrust.
"You like that, do you?" Snape smirked. "Undo your trousers."
Harry fumbled at the button and zip holding him in check. He pushed them down and away roughly, parting his knees so he hung freely.
"Oh, yes," Snape said, giving Harry's balls another appreciative stroke before wrapping a large, cool hand around his straining dick. "That's what I've been waiting for."
"I don't think I'm going to last," Harry said, eyes squeezed shut and panting as if he'd run four blocks for the bus. "I want — "
"I know what to do," Snape said, coaxing Harry up. Gentle hands stripped Harry of his shirt and trousers, then Harry found himself facing the other way on all fours.
"Maybe I should — "
"It'll be fine," Snape said, his words puffing along Harry's inner thigh. Harry's knees trembled on either side of Snape's head as the words were followed with a clever tongue. "Just don't put all your weight on my chest and we'll be fine."
Harry crouched and moaned, face heating up as he pressed it into Snape's pubic hair. Snape mouthed his way up and down Harry's dripping cock, alternatively sucking at bits of tight skin and laving the area with kisses. Harry steadied himself on one hand and lifted Snape's cock until it was pointed towards the ceiling, hastily lowering his mouth around the swollen head, slurping up the first traces of precome.
Their movements were synchronised, as if they'd done this a million times before: Snape thrusting up carefully into Harry's warm, wet mouth while his hands clenched and released Harry's arse; Harry lowering his balls into Snape's open mouth to be sucked greedily. Too aroused to maintain the constant up and down motion, too excited to do anything but keep Snape's cock in his mouth, Harry tightened his lips around the rim and used his hand to pull up in swift, efficient motions, the soft pillow of his tongue swirling under the now steadily leaking head. He could feel Snape's thighs starting to tremble and increased the pressure, sucking hard and panting through his nose as he waited impatiently for Snape to shoot in his mouth.
With a muffled scream and a full body lock, Snape did. Harry avidly swallowed the pulsations, too caught up in the thrill of blowing Snape to worry about the state of his own erection.
When Snape sighed and let his head fall back on the pillow, Harry pulled up and turned around, wiping his mouth.
"Come here," Snape said languidly, patting himself on the chest, looking with pleasure at Harry's hard cock.
He ended up on his knees straddling Snape, who was half-sitting, leaning comfortably on pillows as he sucked on Harry and contentedly fondled his balls. Harry braced his hands against the austere metal railings at the head of the bed and thrust unhurriedly, finding as much pleasure in watching Snape suck on his cock as from the feeling of it happening.
Harry was in the middle of packing his things when the receptionist of the day, a jovial Canadian man, popped his head around the door.
"Are you Harry Potter?"
"There's a guy here to see you."
Heart beating in his throat, Harry zipped up his backpack and straightened the pillow on his bed. A quick glance showed he had all his belongings and a quick hand to his throat assured him he still had his chain. The serpent on the end was a comforting lump on top of his shirt.
Snape was waiting impatiently in the foyer, his back to Harry and his body language showing distaste as he looked at colourful posters advertising bus and walking tours.
Snape turned and Harry's eyes widened. He was clean-shaven.
"Harry. You're still here."
"Well, yeah. The guy said — "
"Is that?" Snape asked, gesturing at Harry's neck.
Harry's hand went to his throat. "This?" he asked, plucking the chain away from his chest. "Yeah, I...I wear it all the time. I had it on yesterday, guess you didn't notice."
"Would you join me for a drink?" Snape said, almost desperately.
Harry nodded and followed in Snape's footsteps as if he'd been hypnotised.
"Hey, I'll need the key!" the Canadian called out.
Harry slid it onto the counter without looking, too caught up in trying to work out what was behind Snape's eyes.
They went to the pub Harry had visited his first night in Edinburgh, the afternoon crowd much thinner than the evening hordes had been. Snape ordered them both a pint and they sat in a booth surrounded by empty pool tables and the gaudy, flashing lights of a silent jukebox.
"You shouldn't have left so abruptly," Snape said, a faint air of pissiness in his tone. "What's the point of going to another country to see someone if you're only going to stay five minutes?"
"It was more than five minutes," Harry protested.
"Don't split hairs, Potter," Snape snapped. "You came to my lecture with the express purpose of seeing me."
"Hey! I happened to be in the neighbourhood — "
"Don't lie to me!"
"Well, don't yell at me!"
Someone dropped a glass and the sound of it shattering, and the jeers of the other patrons, was enough to stop them both in their tracks.
"Why are we fighting?" Harry asked.
Snape stared into his beer as if it could help him divine the future. "I suppose because we both know how important this is. How foolish our prospects and how reckless our actions."
"You didn't do anything," Harry snorted. "I'm the one that gave up his job and his home to...shit, I didn't want to tell you that."
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Snape's hand move carefully, deliberately, until it rested on Harry's clenched fist. "Do you know so little of me that you think I'd not inform you if I thought you were making a mistake?"
Harry chuckled morosely. "No, you'd tell me what a bloody fool I was and pack my bags before sending me on my way."
"And am I?"
Snape's eyes were intent, his features not betraying a single thought.
"I don't know what you're doing," Harry said honestly.
Snape shook open Harry's hand and twined their fingers together. Harry's eyes widened and he looked around the room nervously, but not a single person was paying them any attention.
"Harry," Snape said, squeezing Harry's hand to the point of pain. "I'm significantly older than you — "
"Not that significantly."
"Enough so that people will stare."
"They'll stare anyway."
"True," Snape said, a broad smile suddenly appearing. "And I've yet to give a damn about what people think of me."
"I don't know anyone in this city so I don't care what people say."
"I'm very much stuck in my ways."
"I'm sure I can break you out of them. I've become remarkably adventurous lately."
"My knees will never be the same again."
"Severus, I've seen your knees. I saw what they could do while wrapped in plaster. And I'm sorry to say, you don't look like you were the most athletic of blokes even before the accident."
"Brave young Lochinvar, come out of the west," Harry said, sliding closer to Snape, clutching his other hand. "He rode all alone."
"Yes, he did," Snape said without a spark of humour in his eyes. "So faithful in love?" he whispered.
"Faithful, yes. In love. Yes."
Snape leant in and the touch of his lips on Harry's, the feel of his tongue gliding softly into Harry's mouth was like sinking into bed, sinking into a sleep that was deep and still and completely refreshing.
"Come on," Snape said, pushing Harry off his side, drinking the rest of his beer in one long swallow. "My house is about fifteen minutes walk away. I want to get there before dark. All of a sudden I'm feeling remarkably tired."
"Are you inviting me to stay at your place?" Harry asked cheekily. "Because I can always check into the Royal again."
"And waste what little money you have left? Preposterous. You need those funds to buy dreadfully expensive textbooks. That is, if you're serious about completing such a useless degree."
"Hey, there's nothing wrong with biology! Just because I won't have to memorise any stupid poems — "
"Stupid?" Snape snapped as he took Harry's backpack in one hand and Harry's wrist in the other. "What sort of idiot would refer to classical poetry of the ages as 'those stupid poems.' Illiterate, ignorant, imbecilic — "
"Yes, yes, you know a lot of words. Well done, Severus. I'll give you a gold star when we get home."
They bickered happily as they left, tightly holding each other's hand.
"Surprise!" Harry said, pushing open the door to Snape's room. "I hope you're not asleep. You'll never guess — "
Snape was standing in the middle of the room wearing street clothes. His pyjamas were folded neatly on top of his open suitcase.
"Oh," Harry said. "I didn't realise that you were—what are you doing?"
"I've been released," Snape said. "The doctor came around this morning and let me know I'm as good as new. Well, as good as I can be."
"Good. That's—good. So, I suppose you'll be going home then?"
"Yes. Back to work. They were kind enough to find a replacement for me during my convalescence, but now that I'm better there's no reason for me—"
"No reason for you to hang around here," Harry said, avoiding his eyes. The jigsaw puzzle had been dismantled and was boxed up neatly next to their deck of cards. The pad of paper that they'd scribbled in during their games was nowhere to be seen.
"I didn't expect to see you again. You're always on night-shift — "
"A mate asked me to swap," Harry said faintly.
"And I couldn't hang around all day waiting." Snape looked pained. "They said they needed the room."
"Right. Right then. Well, good luck."
"Harry," Snape said, grabbing him by the wrist. "I want you to have this." He held out a closed fist.
Harry pulled out of Snape's grasp. "I don't need anything. I'm just glad you're better."
"Take it," Snape said, forcing his hand open.
A thin chain fell into Harry's hand. Attached to it was a single charm — a silver serpent with emerald green eyes.
"I don't think it's real," Snape said. "I bought it from the store downstairs and their selection of gifts is remarkably small."
"You didn't need to buy me anything," Harry said.
"I wanted to," Snape said gruffly. "I wanted—well, what I wanted is neither here nor there. You don't have to keep it if you don't — "
"No, it's fine," Harry replied, putting the chain around his neck, tucking it self-consciously beneath his collar.
"I wish I could — " Snape said.
"Have a safe journey," Harry said, finally looking into Snape's eyes. He held out his hand resolutely. "Try not to get run over again."
One corner of Snape's mouth lifted. He paused for what seemed like forever before he took Harry's hand. "Goodbye, Mr. Potter."
Harry smiled back, feeling as if his face were made of plastic. "Goodbye, Professor Snape."
Neither of them shook, they stood in the middle of the room with their palms simply touching.
Snape squeezed Harry's hand tight and released it suddenly. He zipped up his suitcase, picked it up and left without looking back.
Harry watched him go, hand automatically going to the warm chain around his neck, the impulse so smooth it was as if he'd worn it all his life. He sat down heavily on the end of the bed and, an indefinable amount of time later, noticed an envelope resting against an upturned glass on the table. 'Harry Potter' was scrawled across its front in thin, precise lines.
It took him forever to make the short journey across the room. The envelope was bulky in his hands and he gingerly opened it, tilting it to one side.
A pile of jigsaw pieces tumbled out. He laughed, shocked and pleased, and began to join them together with shaking hands.
The completed section formed in the shape of a curved 'L.' A grey turret reached up to the sky and, at its base, a stone bridge connected to the open gate of the castle...leading the way in, leading the way home.
Leading the way to Scotland.
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