TEAM DRAGON ENTRY: Dracofiend "Dalliance, a Convenience" Title: Dalliance, a Convenience Author: dracofiend Team: Dragon Genres: Angst, Romance Prompt: Infidelity Rating/Warnings/Kinks: R (see prompt) Word Count: 5350 Summary: It's an ordinary convenience that Severus enjoys. Author's Note: Thank you to my amazing team of Dragons--and of course, to my small pet. ♥
"I think that's everything," Harry said, closing the lid on the trunk. He snapped it locked and got to his feet, surveying the room around him. "Coat, boots, long underwear…" He stooped to pick up a black shoulder bag. "…camera, itinerary…"
Severus rose from where he'd been sitting on the bed to stand near Harry. "Are you sure?" he asked. "You haven't forgotten anything?"
Harry looked over. "Mm, I don't think so," he answered. "Got my keys, my wallet…" He patted at his robe pockets.
"My—" Harry's hands froze inside his pockets. "Shit, I think left it at the office—it's going off in five minutes, I won't be able to get it—" He spun around toward the door, frantic. Severus let their bodies collide.
"Try to remember it next time, hm?" He held up the silver token, arching his brow.
Harry's eyes widened and he sagged against Severus, exhaling in relief.
"What would I do without you?" Harry mumbled into the black buttons. He clasped a hand to Severus' to take the portkey.
"Miss a number of appointments and get sacked, I imagine," Severus replied.
"Sounds about right," Harry agreed. He lifted his chin and kissed Severus' mouth. "Thanks for getting this—I guess my new wards didn't give you any problems?"
Severus' lips pursed in disdain. "Your wards couldn't keep out a five-year old. I fixed them for you."
"Aw, no, Sev—you know, it's horribly embarrassing when you can't get into your own bloody office—"
"You should get your things," Severus cut in smoothly, stepping back. "I'll see you in a week."
Harry sighed and waved his wand at his trunk, which floated toward him, handle-first. A faint chime rippled from his palm where he clutched the token—it was nearly time. He re-adjusted his rucksack and squared his shoulders at Severus.
"Put them back, okay? I don't need your superwards," Harry said, plainly attempting a stern sort of eye.
"Be careful," Severus answered.
Harry smiled. "I will be," he said as his features resolved into a sudden overreal sharpness. "I love you!" he called out—and then his outline and his luggage vanished into nothingness, leaving Severus standing alone in their vaguely rumpled bedroom. He crossed the carpeting to the dresser and shut the top drawer that Harry had left open, then went downstairs to work.
Had the day been clear, the sun would've been slanting orange across the high wooden tables, refracting warm colors through the scattered vials and bottles by the time Severus stopped to stretch his back. He realized he was hungry—and more importantly, that he'd just thrown the last of his belladonna into the middle cauldron, and the potion requiring the night's quarter moon called for it as well. Severus went to each of his cauldrons, leaning to inspect viscosity, aroma…yes, these would thicken nicely for the next hour, unattended. He cooled the flames beneath them and rinsed his hands beneath the faucet, drawing up a list in his mind of the various items to be purchased.
The town of Milford-on-the-Stratt wasn't deserted at early evening, but the witches and wizards Severus passed as he walked along the cobbled path were clearly hurrying home for dinner. Severus quickened his pace—the shopkeeper would be hurrying home soon himself, and the quarter-moon potion couldn't wait a single night.
The door jangled as Severus pushed it open; he stepped inside, looking immediately to the left, where the newest ingredients were always displayed. The shop was smaller than any apothecaries near Hogwarts—smaller but less cluttered, and, particularly during summer term, it carried an inventory that was infinitely more useful for Severus' purposes. It was, in all likelihood, Severus' favorite shop.
"Hello there, we're just about to close—" The voice from behind a spindly rack of dried agrimony stopped abruptly as the shopkeeper came into view.
"Oh, Professor," said the man. He was wearing dragonhide gloves, stained a dark purple. "Good evening."
Severus inclined his head. "I see you have a new shipment of delphin."
"Yes, sir," the shopkeeper nodded, carefully stripping the gloves from his hands, one finger at a time. "Just preparing the packets—would you care to see…?"
Severus was shaking his head, his eyes roving over the shelves of new arrivals once more. "I'm here for belladonna—and perhaps a jar of those newts' livers, as they look very fine."
"Of course." The shopkeeper ducked away and returned with a stepladder, gesturing Severus aside to position it properly before leaping up the rungs to the top shelf. "Will these do?" he asked, handing down a square jar. Severus took it and unscrewed the lid to examine the contents. He shook the jar, sniffed.
"Yes," he answered, twisting the lid back into place.
"Very good," the shopkeeper said from his perch atop the ladder. He climbed down lightly and folded the ladder up. "And you'll be wanting fresh belladonna? I've got some just trimmed." He led Severus around various shelves to the rear of the store; Severus stopped at the till while the shopkeeper disappeared through a doorway behind the counter. Moments later he re-emerged with a wide box of neat bundles.
"How much would you like?" he asked, resting the box on the countertop and sliding it nearer to Severus. "These are roughly twelve ounces a bunch."
Severus dipped a hand in and lifted out a few bunches. He separated the round berries from the leaves, rubbing them between his thumb and forefinger. The berries were a good size, firm; the leaves were sharp-edged and dark.
"High quality, as always," Severus said, plucking a round berry from its stem with a satisfactory snap. "Quite fresh."
"Thank you, Professor," the shopkeeper replied. "I do aim to please." He paused, and shifted behind the counter. "I do have more, sir, not yet cut and bundled…that is, if you'd prefer…"
Severus glanced up briefly, then gazed thoughtfully at the bunches in his hand, blooming, beautifully vibrant. He gave a nod and returned the belladonna to the box.
The shopkeeper promptly moved to raise the hinged portion of the counter, allowing Severus through. Severus followed him in to the lamplit store room. It was cramped, as usual, but tightly organized, with bold labels on every box that was squeezed between the walls. In one corner large potted delphins stood, some cuts already placed neatly inside their box. Near the entrance a narrow table was littered with belladonna leaves and berries. Some had rolled to the floor, beside a half-empty crate of potted belladonna plants.
Severus stooped to the crate of live belladonna and pulled forth a few leaves, breathing in the heady, nearly suffocating scent of vegetative matter condensing in the tiny room. The belladonna here was more brilliant than the boxed cuts Severus had seen; they were lush, their toxins vivid in the black-blue berries and the dark green striations streaking through each spiky leaf.
"These are remarkable," he murmured with his fingers around a berry, pressing until it could burst.
The shopkeeper knelt on the other side of the crate. "They are," he replied. Then he rocked forward on his knees, touching his mouth to Severus' acquiescent skin.
Severus was home before the potions he'd left in his cauldrons had congealed, in more than enough time to receive Harry's owl. I made it, it said in Harry's unkempt scrawl. Severus no longer needed to struggle to make out the words. Turns out Nepalese forests are rather dark and creepy. And full of strange, ambiguously poisonous things. So, perfect for you. Sadly, not so much for me—I haven't found anything that could possibly work for a racing broom of any kind, much less the brand-new awe-inspiring broom to end all brooms, the Meteoroid 5000, coming soon to a licensed dealership near you…but tomorrow's another day. Anyway, I'm off to make some tinned beans and call it a night. Wish you were here. Love, Harry.
Severus finished reading and went to his desk, where his carrier bag sat amidst scribbled notes for potions enhancements and unfinished lesson plans. He reached in, pushing aside the jar of newts' livers and newspaper-wrapped cuttings, and fished out the massive bar of Honeydukes' chocolate praline.
Good luck, he wrote on a long piece of parchment. He folded it around the chocolate bar and tied it to both legs of the hefty brown owl waiting inside, on the window ledge. Severus tugged on the parcel to ensure it was secure, then pushed up the sash window to send the owl on its way. After fastening the window shut, he went to run a bath, for the skin beneath his clothes was prickling with remnants of loose soil and belladonna.
"…and the impact will be really minimal, I mean, practically nothing!" Harry's voice was partly muffled by the half-open closet door. "We'd only need a handful of them, no one'd even notice!"
Severus shut off the tap and replaced his toothbrush in the porcelain holder. "I take it the local authorities see it somewhat differently?"
"Yeah," Harry sighed, rubbing a hand over his hair. He now stood beside Severus in his boxers, the ones covered with faded Snitches, looking at their reflections in the mirror with a glum expression. "We're setting up another meeting with them later this month, but in the meantime I'm to look into alternative sources."
Severus dried his hands on the hanging towel and turned to the bed. Harry padded after him, waiting as Severus pulled back the coverlet and sheets on Harry's side.
"Mmm," Harry exhaled contentedly, sliding in. Severus pulled the sheets back over him and went round to the other side. "It's so lovely to have a proper bed again." He rolled onto his stomach, sticking an arm and a leg well into Severus' half. Severus eased himself under the cover and collected Harry to him. "It's really a shame we can't just go ahead with what we've found—the Nepalese pine is perfect for brooms," Harry said, settling against Severus. "It's aged just enough to be able to withstand all manner of beatings but still light enough to be sensitive to the weight of the rider, the cheat of the wind—I can't really see another option working quite as well…"
Severus let Harry's words wash over him (somewhat familiar gibberish about density, porousness, quarter winds, resistance), letting slip interested murmurs at appropriate intervals while his thumb caressed the rising slope of Harry's curved shoulder. It was Harry's own line of brooms, his own design—his very first! Harry's preoccupation with the affair induced much the same drowsy comfort in Severus as did sinking into a warm bath.
"…the upshot is, I'll be going to Siberia next week," Harry said. His jaw stopped against a fold in Severus' sleep shirt.
Severus' stroking thumb paused a moment later when the quiet caught up to him. "Siberia?" he asked. "You'll need warming potions—charms won't be sufficient…I have one or two on hand but I think fresh ones would be more suitable…" His voice trailed away as he ticked off the ingredients in his mind, recalling the availability of each item in his stores.
"Oh, it won't be for long," Harry said, sliding a foot over Severus' shin. "I just have to go and say I looked into it. They're scheduling me for Indonesia, Brazil…and French Guiana, too," he added.
"Really?" Severus said, angling his head down. "I wasn't aware pine forests thrived in jungle climates."
He could feel Harry's cheek press into his chest. "They don't. The hope is that I'll see how ideal something other than pine can be and drop the Nepalese idea. It's not going to happen—but I'm really looking forward to the tropical holiday," Harry said. "So much more fun than hanging around here," he added, raising his bare face to Severus with a little grin.
Severus took his cue and promptly rolled over, pinning Harry beneath him.
"Ah," Severus murmured, drawing Harry's wrists up, knocking a pillow askew. He bent his head low so the tips of his hair fell past his neck, dangled near Harry's chin. "How terribly unkind of you to say." Then he took Harry's neck roughly, unhesitating with teeth, while the wrists between his fingers strained. Harry gasped and laughed as Severus arched himself out and dug his knees into Harry's sides, to hold him still.
"I don't see the grated unicorn hoof," Severus said in his usual abrupt manner, surveying the rickety shelf of powdered bone, crushed vitals, dry slivered muscle twisting tightly within cylinders of pristine glass. The shopkeeper was scanning the bottles also, craning his neck, leaning in too near. It was an old habit Severus hadn't noticed at first—then had pretended not to notice, for a short while, until he'd stopped noticing once more.
"I'm fairly certain I stocked it last night," the shopkeeper said, his eyes sweeping across and down, then up again. "I wonder if someone moved it…" He shook his head and shrugged. "I haven't finished checking through inventory today—hopefully it'll turn—"
"Yes," Severus interrupted. He wasn't especially interested in the trials and tribulations of stocking product. "I'm sure it will; however, I'd appreciate it if you could lay your hands on—"
"Of course," the shopkeeper answered with a nod. He smiled and turned toward the supply room in the back, tilting his head for Severus to follow.
Severus weaved after him, his movements less graceful for impatience and expectation. He'd left a potion on at home and it couldn't sit much longer; the girl at the sweet shop liked to scarper off early; he needed to stop at the feed store for a new packet of owl treats…They can't eat the galleons, you know, and it's quite a ways to Siberia, Harry had told him.
"Here they are," said the shopkeeper, placing a tray of neatly severed hooves on a countertop crowded with roots, piled separately on pieces of parchment.
Severus cast his eye over them and quickly selected one. "Ten ounces."
The shopkeeper nodded, holding out his hand. "Ten minutes?" he asked, cocking his head slightly. Severus dropped the hoof onto his palm; the nondescript fingers closed around it.
Severus studied the hooves remaining on the tray and found no reason to change his mind. He inclined his head. The shopkeeper's face curved into a gentle smile, one that never failed to hurry the air in Severus' throat as the other man pulled him near.
When he returned home, Harry's owl was waiting. It's bloody FREEZING up here, it read in severely cramped writing. Thank god I'm leaving the day after tomorrow—I've already gone through most of the warming potion. Send me some more? The old stuff will do.
Severus' lip curved at the edge—the old stuff would most certainly not do. The parchment re-curled as he set it down, turning to the brew. He was glad he'd decided to forgo the sweet shop in favor of coming back to his cauldron instead; another ten minutes and it would've been beyond rescue. Picking up the extra-large flask he'd obtained for this express purpose, he ladled the cooling liquid through the narrow rim, his hand steady with pleasure and righteous gratification. He imagined Harry gulping it down and finding himself uncomfortably sweaty half an hour later.
It's just-brewed, he wrote on the slip of paper he would wrap around the flask. Try not to drink it all at once.
Severus tied it to the owl's legs with a double length of twine, then watched it swallow the additional treats Severus had placed on the sill before soaring into the sky. Amusement creased Severus' face—he turned from the window, to fill a second large flask. He'd send it to Harry tomorrow morning, so to spare the delicate creature any further needless chill.
"So maybe the Siberian larches could work," Harry finished, standing up to collect the dirty plates and cutlery. "Apparently they'd be easy to mill, although I did like the straight grain of the Nepalese pine. I mean, I know it's aesthetics and the striping of the wood doesn't have much to do with the performance of the broom but it just looks faster, you know? More racy-like."
Severus had been thinking on his lesson plans—the bane of every autumn—and whether he should bother with attempting the Satura potion on the seventh-years. The results were entertaining whether it was successfully brewed or not—but supervising the inordinately difficult process was a truly grim task.
"Do you think it's worth it?"
Severus looked up. He doubted Harry was asking about the Satura.
"Obviously you can't get a good sense of what a full broom would feel like based on the samples, but you can sort of picture it," Harry said. "Did you like the look of the pine or the larch more? The blue of the pine is incredible, I thought, but the larch is quite nice as well."
"Which one can you actually obtain?" Severus asked, rising and taking the stack of dishes from Harry.
"Well, as of right now—the larch," Harry replied.
"Then I prefer the larch." Severus walked the dishes to the sink and started rinsing them.
"Did you even look at the samples?" Harry's voice was at his shoulder; Harry's arms wound round his waist. Severus could feel the happy arch of his mouth as Harry pressed it the lobe of Severus' ear.
"Of course I did," Severus answered.
"And they were admirable bits of wood. One was slightly blue in color. The other wasn't."
Harry made a sound of mock-indignance. "Come on!" His elbows squeezed Severus' ribcage. "What do you really think?"
Severus scrubbed at something sticky on the edge of a bowl. "I think," he said slowly as he scrubbed, those elbows squeezing into the recesses beneath his ribs, "that the power of Harry Potter cannot possibly fail to move the stony hearts of even the most bureaucratic of Nepalese officials." He tilted the bowl beneath the tap to clear away the suds. "Your blue brooms will become an icon of greatness among Quidditch followers the world over, uprooting conventional broomstick wisdoms and long-held broomstick myths, inspiring poetry, song, perhaps occasional performance art—"
"Okay, now I know you're being mean," Harry laughed.
"Absolutely not," Severus responded emphatically, stretching to slot the bowl in the dish rack. "I've long since given up that joy. I'm being perfectly sincere."
Harry kissed his ear again, through the strands of hair. "Right," he said, grinning. "Thanks for a lovely dinner. And I can take care of the dishes! You should go do something else—go check a cauldron or something. Brewing anything new?"
Harry bumped Severus out of the way and rolled up his sleeves. Severus pulled out his wand with wet fingers and waved it over Harry's shoulder. The dishes floated up.
"A variation on a memory potion; one that doesn't require any jobberknoll," Severus answered. "Let the cleaning charm do the rest."
Harry turned around. "Yes sir, Professor." He kissed Severus lightly. "And I forget, what's a jobberknoll?"
Severus raised a disapproving brow as Harry chuckled his way out of the kitchen.
That night Severus was merciless and Harry was delighted, and afterwards Severus collected the pillows and blanket from where they'd been kicked and writhed to the floor. Harry rolled to one side, then the other, as Severus replaced each pillow; Harry smiled a beatific smile as Severus fluttered the blanket over him. Severus crept under to join him. He lay still as Harry curled against him and took up Severus' wrist, to study the marks on the back of his hand—a ritual from the days when more would've been untoward.
"What's this one?" Harry murmured, tracing a faint line.
"Mishap with murtlap," Severus replied, following Harry's fingertip with his eyes.
"Mm," Harry murmured. "This?" He found another jagged line.
"An unjust swipe from a tentacula."
Harry smiled sleepily. "Really? Unjust?"
"Entirely," Severus said. "Fortunately, its lack of moral center didn't affect the potion at all."
Harry's chest flexed as he huffed a quiet laugh; his finger fell to another groove, traversing two sallow knuckles. "Oh," Harry said, stroking the rusty stripe and finding it ridged with hardened blood. "What's this from?"
It might have been a vial that had broken, splashing gray-purple pickled kidneys or pungent brined spleens or nothing at all on the stained creaking planks of the apothecary floor, pushed aside from a table with so many other clitter-clutter pieces by Severus' swift careless hand while he dallied in the stockroom of his favorite shop. It might not have been.
"I don't know," Severus said. He turned his palm up to twine his fingers with Harry's and kissed the wild-haired head.
Harry nodded slightly and wedged himself even nearer. "More, please." He yawned and closed his eyes.
Severus kissed him again, allowing the warmth of Harry's weight to ease the cramp it would cause. Harry liked to fall asleep with Severus' arm crooked around him; Severus' tolerance for losing feeling in that limb had become rather significant.
Under Severus' watchful gaze, Harry's neck was drifting into a rhythmic rise and fall. Suddenly he jerked in his sleep, rearranging his head so it disrupted a nerve in Severus' arm and sent unpleasant thorns skittering up the violetting veins. Harry was still. Severus was still too. His breathing didn't hitch as the discomfort deepened; as he touched Harry's hair in another soundless kiss.
The vervain stems upon the table were crushed to damp potency, though a few whole leaves remained intact where they lay flattened, as if being set to dry. At the far end of the table, Severus fingered a pale pink blossom, holding it close to one eye. The small petals were well-formed, each a pair of blushing teardrops joined at the dark-rimmed center. Citrus air hung around him, made heavier with earth and the mildly unpleasant musk of intimacy.
Severus flicked away the flower; it meandered to the ground. He picked another creased blossom from the moist skin before him, discarding it without examination. The hands clenching the blunted table's edge eased and tightened as Severus leaned in.
"For the love of god," murmured the man, turning to reveal his pained profile. His blanched-almond hips arched away, then curved back, paralleling Severus' lines as Severus advanced inside his lover, advanced and withdrew. Their thighs remained locked, sweaty backs to sallow fronts, and Severus's eyelids lowered almost shut as the other man's exhales steadily sharpened. Severus savored his own movement—the smell of wood and roots, the faint stinging in his calves, the plain satisfaction of being utterly desired. When the noise beneath him had thickened to impossibility Severus didn't pause to draw the moment out but let his body flush and his spine flash rigid and the next instant he was finished, no longer striving or moving—simply draped about the shopkeeper whose jaw was stubbled. Affectionate.
"Fuck," the shopkeeper sighed out in a half-laugh. His hand was light on Severus' wrist.
Severus straightened up, his robes tumbling into place. He stepped back, taking care not to stumble on the trousers piled about his shoes, and clothed himself, disregarding the wetness of his cock and the heat lingering in his belly to run quick hands over his buttons and fasten each with practiced ease.
Severus gathered his items (a length of dragon intestine, three imported cuts of hellebore) while the shopkeeper retrieved his shirt and trousers and robe. When Severus was sure the other man was dressed, he looked over, nodding.
"These will be all." He gestured at the merchandise cradled in his arm and moved toward the open door, for payment.
The shopkeeper opened his mouth, his face glowing, hesitant. Severus slid his eyes away.
"What about the vervain?" the shopkeeper asked lowly. The sound of his steps, the scrape of a glass-bottomed jar from a shelf—and he was beside Severus, who was passing through the cool of the door.
"Yes, of course," Severus replied dismissively. "I hadn't intended to make use of it but I may as well have some, seeing as it's—" He stopped. The words vanished from him, swooped from his tongue by the leap of his senses indicating his hair reeked of woodland lemon, his collar was unsmoothed, his pupils were flaring outward as he perceived Harry, standing there.
The untidy head was turned from him, bowed to show a square of flesh pinked by the Indonesian sun, and Severus' eyes noted it unthinkingly as they swept down Harry's corpse-still back.
"Sir," the shopkeeper said, far too close to Severus' ear—Severus broke to cross the counter the same moment Harry looked around.
"Oh hello," Harry said. The hinged section of the counter rattled loudly, dropping down behind Severus. "I was wondering what kind of brine this—Severus!" The green eyes brightened with amazement; Harry's mouth broadened joyfully. "What are you doing here? I was going to surprise you!" He flung himself forward; Severus' free arm swung in reflex, circling Harry's side.
"Careful, the hellebore," he murmured into the dark hair brushing his cheek.
Harry moved back, glancing apologetically at the paper-wrapped packages Severus carried before smiling up once more. "Ooh, sorry. Anyway—fantastic news! Guess who's got a limited right of use to ten and a half acres of Nepalese forest?"
Severus turned to the till without raising his head. "So the grant came through," he said, placing the jar of dragon's intestine and the hellebore on the countertop one by one, with the fastidiousness of a potions master. A second jar joined the first, unlabeled—vervain.
"It came through!" Harry exclaimed. "It was completely unexpected—they said it'd take weeks, if it happened at all! Hey," he continued, stepping closer with a great inhale. "You smell nice…what is that? Fruity—but in a manly way," he added, with another sniff.
"Nothing else, Professor?" the shopkeeper inquired. Severus watched him entering the purchases—Harry chirruped next to him.
"What about these?" He slid forth the glass he'd been holding when Severus had emerged. "I couldn't tell from the label if they were the right kind…"
Severus and the shopkeeper looked—preserved doxy wings. "Yes, those as well," he said automatically. Next to him, Harry grinned. "You're going to make some kind of cleaning solution, aren't you?" Harry asked.
"My decanters are filthy," Severus replied, lifting a brow.
"Don't look so shocked," Harry grinned in return. "I saw the stuff you put out—I could guess what you were up to. I was going to turn down the heat on the cauldron because I thought it might burn—but I didn't!" he finished hastily as Severus' hairline peaked.
"Good," Severus murmured, counting out the coins.
"Three Galleons eight," the shopkeeper said. Severus pushed the money across; the shopkeeper's fingers brushed his as they always did. "Thanks very much," he said, sorting the coins in the till while Severus arranged the jars at the bottom of his bag. He lay the hellebore on top.
"We're going to send in the surveyors in the next couple of days," Harry said, animatedly. "To tag the trees we'll use. They put on these special markers that keep animals away…of course we can't use ones that are already housing wildlife—apparently there's a rare kind of bird or something that inhabits the region…"
The metal drawer of the till clanked as it closed. "Come see us again soon," the shopkeeper said quietly, beneath Harry's patter. Severus met his gaze with a curt nod, then re-directed his attention to the rapid discourse on the challenges of extraction and transport of timber from Nepal.
Ever a man of his word, Severus returned to the apothecary soon. He was in need of briony, he told the shopkeeper, who greeted him from behind a shelf.
"Most certainly," the shopkeeper answered, wiping his hands on the discolored smock he wore. "I've a new flat of it back here." He showed Severus the way, leading him to a corner where the live plants rested in a box on a stepladder, beside a half-filled display. Severus picked up a flowering cup.
"The dragon intestine," the shopkeeper began after a moment. "And the hellebore. Were they fit for purpose?"
"Quite so," Severus answered, replacing the cup and choosing another.
"Excellent," said the shopkeeper. Severus turned the cup and prodded at the soil. He set the plant down and began inspecting a third. Its starlike flower winked at him, brazenly white with verdant stripes jutting from a golden center. Severus touched a curling stamen, rimming his fingernail with impertinent powder.
The shopkeeper spoke. "I have additional stock," he murmured. "You're more than welcome to it." Severus glanced at him; he was straightening packets of lacewings on a low adjacent shelf, bending at the knees, his spine curved into an inverted question mark.
"Thank you," Severus said, setting the plant down. "Yes."
That night Harry stood at his elbow, watching their reflections in the mirror while Severus brushed his teeth.
"Twenty pines," he said, smiling. "Can you believe it? It's really going to happen—the Meteoroid 5000!"
Severus rinsed his mouth. "Are you really going to call it the Meteoroid 5000?"
Harry's hand stopped scratching his thigh, pausing on the faded cauldrons printed across his boxers. "Yeah. Why? Don't you like it?"
Severus shrugged, drying his face. "Perhaps you ought to consult the marketing and product development team."
"I thought it conveyed a sense of the future," Harry said. "You know, the future of racing brooms." He looked worriedly at Severus' face in the mirror. "No?"
Severus considered his reply. "It does convey a sense of the future," he conceded at last.
Harry broke into laughter. "I'm kidding. It's a terrible name—sounds like a vacuum, or maybe a medical device." He reached for Severus' arm, squeezing it. "But thanks."
Severus' lips twitched as Harry leaned against him. "I never would've believed it," Harry grinned. "Professor Snape, being tactful. I mean, your lectures! Your marks! Your obvious affiliation with the reigning king of evil!" Harry rubbed his hand over the softness of Severus' sleeve, pressing his palm over the indelible skull and serpent. "You had everyone fooled," he said. "Especially me." His grin cleared with recollection, leaving his face blank.
"Give me some credit," Severus quipped dryly. "I wore that mask well."
Harry's eyes flickered; a moment later he blinked. "Funny," he smiled.
In the light of the mirror their gazes realigned, and Severus felt himself widen, further than before, his heart thinning at the edge into an inexplicable membrane of space and inconsequence, momentary but for the warmth of the hand now fitting to his.
It was the ballast of his days, Severus knew as he turned down the sheets. Harry climbed in and began talking again, filling the dark with half-sensible murmurs of extraordinary brooms. At length he fell quiet; he was dreaming of blue pine. Severus caressed the motionless fingers that had wrapped about his wrist, his strokes slowing as he dozed, his thoughts drifting to his potion and white briony floating over a three-quarter flame. I have all I need, he'd told the shopkeeper, bowing away from the gentle tug at his cuff. Thank you—you have my custom, always. The shopkeeper rang up the sale of briony, his unspoken query taking the weight of regret.
Severus felt none. The apothecary's shop provided fine goods, along with such common pleasures and conveniences that had been absent from most of Severus' life. He'd accepted them with relative prudence and moderation, and he thought it must be wisdom, this new indifference to the incidentals he'd been offered and had enjoyed. Severus' mouth turned up wryly—he imagined Harry would say it was age.
Shifting on his pillow, Severus looked over, observing the tranquil heights and valleys of Harry's indistinct face. He stroked the fingers drooping heavily around his wrist, and closed his eyes.
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