|snarryhols (snarryhols) wrote in snarry_holidays,|
@ 2007-12-15 09:09:00
|Entry tags:||fic, post-dh: ewe, rated: nc-17|
Trust Me (1/2), for themadscriptor
Title: Trust Me (Or, An Embarrassing Ritual with Unexpected Side-effects)
Word Count: 16,000
Warnings: DH spoilers, swearing, brief (matter of fact, rather than angsty) suicidal thoughts, fairly explicit sex
Disclaimer: All characters belong to JKR. I’m just taking them out for a spin!
Summary: Snape’s suicidal, Harry’s fainting and they’re both hiding their true feelings from each other – and themselves.
“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” – e e cummings
* * *
Professor Severus Snape stirred the lethal potion with the same attention to detail that had marked his long tenure as potions master at Hogwarts, even though said tenure was now in doubt. He decanted the finished potion without a drop spilt, stoppered it securely, and placed it in a rack on his desk. He then sat primly on his chair, picked up his quill and, with intense care and deliberation, drew up two columns. To the left: reasons for. To the right: reasons against. Severus Snape had never been sloppy, and even though others might think it a rather bizarre method of deciding such an important matter, he was determined to carry it out with the same methodical care and cold calculation that was his way. It would not do to leave loose ends, and while Snape was more or less decided on his course of action, he despised unfinished business. Better to suffer than to not do his duty. Snape knew that he was cold, he was cruel and he was unlovable. But by damn he was loyal, and he could not – would not – complete this matter if his conscience told him otherwise.
For, if the truth be told, Severus Snape, potions master extraordinaire, ex-death eater, known variously as unpleasant, greasy-haired, harsh, untrustworthy despite everything, murderer, bastard, was deciding whether – having discharged his duty to Albus Dumbledore – he could finally allow himself some peace. Whether or not to drink the rather fine, speedy and painless method of oblivion that rested innocently on the desk in front of him. In short, whether or not to die by his own hand.
Self-termination was not a thought that had sprung up suddenly, after the conclusion of the war and the months that followed. Rather, it had been a thought that Snape had held deep within his breast, cherishing it as a dear friend, for what seemed like countless years. Snape had held onto his life with grim desperation while it was needed, the pain of continuing to be Voldemort’s servant a just penance for his treatment of his best – and only – friend Lilly, and for his irredeemable mistake in choosing Voldemort as his master. But now, with his duty to Dumbledore – and to Harry Potter – surely discharged, Snape had decided that it was time to bring his closely guarded desire to the light, examine it and – if need be – carry it out.
Snape picked up the quill and began to write. What reasons were there for him to painlessly slip away? He wondered, for a while, if he’d ever be able to stop writing. He was an ugly, middle-aged man with no family and no friends. No-one would miss him when he was gone. On the contrary, many would rejoice in his departure. He was an unwelcome reminder to them of Voldemort, and of the loved ones they’d lost. He would never be a welcome guest in anyone’s home, or anyone’s heart. The very thought was laughable.
He was a good potions master, but there were others just as capable. His skills in potion creation lay towards the darker arts, and he felt no great desire to bequeath a host of new and unusual ways to inflict pain on the next generation. It might be a slight inconvenience for Headmistress McGonagal to find a new master, but there were still some weeks until term began again. It was certainly not an insurmountable problem.
His affairs were all in order. He had no great store of personal possessions, and no wealth to speak of. He had made a short will, leaving what pitiful items he had to various charities. There was no issue there.
Emotionally, he was more than ready for the eternal sleep. Although in sound physical shape, Snape was more than aware of his own emotional inadequacies. While being feared and despised had suited his role as a spy, now there was nothing to struggle against there was equally nothing to live for. He was not an overemotional fool to think this way; he knew he was a cold, hard man without comfort and with nowhere to find it, and no-one to seek it from. Enough was enough.
Snape regarded the right hand side of the page impassively, and put his quill away. There was nothing to write.
* * *
Despite it all, Snape found the act of extinguishing his own life to be more of a struggle than he’d anticipated. He sat back and glared at the potion. It irked him that his life had been, in many ways, so pointless. And although he disdained to admit it, he did not like to think of the legacy he would leave. History would think badly of him; he had forever tarnished the family name of Snape.
So when the owl arrived at his window, tapping insistently until he opened it up and detached the scroll from the bird’s leg, he was secretly rather pleased. Perhaps this missive would give him a meaningful reason to live? He opened it, and as he read, his jaw dropped. It was a scroll from Professor McGonagal, informing him that the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts professor would be filled this term by Harry Potter, with Hermione Granger taking up a new role as assistant librarian. Snape gaped for a time, as he re-read the letter. It ended with a personal plea from McGonagal that he, Snape, should help Potter fit into his new role, and that – although young – Potter was the best choice, and should not be hindered by past grudges.
Past grudges! Hah! The old woman had no idea.
Snape picked up the death-giving potion and poured it down the sink. It would lose its potency in a few days, he reasoned. He could just as easily make it up afresh. It seemed that fate had handed him a tiresome and irritating reason to postpone his timely demise, but postpone it he would. In the right hand column of his parchment he wrote, in neat but cramped script:
“Prevent Harry Potter from disgracing Hogwarts, in this new and ridiculous scheme he’s blundering headlong into. Be there to clean up the inevitable mess when the idiot child realises he can’t cope and/or curses his students, the teachers, or – worst case scenario – the entire castle.”
Professor Snape put down his quill and smiled grimly. It was reason enough to stay alive for. For now, at least.
* * *
After the tedious and formulaic opening ceremony, where Snape had done his best to frighten as many of the incoming first years as possible (a task even more ridiculously easy now, thanks to his reputation as a death-eater and murderer), Snape broke tradition and headed for the staff room rather than his dungeon laboratory. Despite himself, he was ridiculously intrigued by Potter. He had expected him to be chatty, arrogant and above all oblivious to the mixed feelings with which the appointment of one so young and inexperienced to a position of responsibility would doubtless raise in any staff member who had a brain. Namely, himself. But Potter had been quiet, pale and unusually polite, even deigning to call Snape “Professor”.
It was, Snape thought crossly, entirely unnerving. He wondered what devious thing Potter was up to this time, and what form of cruel and unusual punishment the boy – the man – was devising to torment him. So he’d decided as he stared at Potter, a man who usually wielded a spoon with devastating efficiency but was now simply picking at (and even he, Snape had to admit it), a rather marvellous apple pie and custard concoction, that he’d take the initiative when the meal was over.
“What are you up to, Potter?” he said with a sneer, looming over Potter. Potter was sitting in an armchair, set slightly apart from the rest of the staff. Granger was no-where to be seen.
Potter frowned, and Snape wondered irritatedly if the man had ever had more than a brief and transitory fling with a hairbrush or other instrument of tidying. “What do you mean, Snape?”
“Professor Snape,” Snape said acidly.
Potter flushed slightly, and looked annoyed. “And that’s Professor Potter,” he said, staring insolently at Snape.
“You may have a position at Hogwarts for now…” Snape said menacingly, cursing himself inwardly. Could he never begin a conversation without it turning into a battle of words, which he would doubtless win? Victory already tasted sour and unpleasant on his tongue. “But-“
“What do you mean by that?” Harry interrupted, his face flushing. Then, to Snape’s surprise, Potter looked bashful. “Look, I know I’m too young for the job. I told Minerva I was too young. But she insisted.” His voice had dropped to almost a whisper. “This is a nightmare.”
Snape frowned, but battled manfully onwards with his lecture. “18 is a ridiculous age to begin to teach. You are barely more than a child yourself. You haven’t even got your NEWTS.”
Potter looked surprised. “Yes I have. What do you think I’ve been doing for the past year? Sitting around feeling sorry for myself?”
That was exactly what Snape had thought, but he certainly wasn’t going to admit it. Not when that was rather close to what he, Snape, had been doing for the past months. Certainly not. “I am simply concerned that you have taken on too much, and you will come to regret taking on this appointment.”
Harry looked annoyed. “You’d love that, wouldn’t you?” He half-stood, and Snape wondered if he’d try to hex him. But Potter was full of surprises today. He sighed, and sat back down again. “I’ll be fine,” he said, as if trying to convince himself. “And if I’m not, I’m sure you’ll weigh in with a few pointers.”
Snape stared. Was that sarcasm? Had Potter begun to learn the finer points of verbal repartee? “I think not,” he said stiffly.
Potter stared back, his expression unreadable. “I’d hoped that we could be-“ He trailed off. “Friends?”
Snape’s stomach lurched. “Friends?” he said, with an edge of venom to his tone that was more than a little forced.
Potter laughed, a little bitterly. “Yeah, stupid thought, I know.” He got up, and strode past Snape. “I spot Hermione. See you around.”
“Inevitably,” Snape said to Potter’s back, aware that his retort wasn’t exactly the height of cutting wit for which he usually strived. He sighed and looked around. No-one caught his eye, or looked even slightly inclined to speak to him, so he stalked back to the dungeons. He should have known that visiting the staff room would be a useless waste of time.
* * *
Back at his lab, Snape did the thing that he was best at – brooding. It was unthinkable that he should have let the spawn of James Potter rile him up, and for no good reason. Friends! The very idea was ridiculous. Potter certainly knew it was ridiculous. There was too much bad blood between them for such a thing to be possible, even if Potter did really desire it – a fact which he, Severus Snape, doubted very sincerely.
Irresistibly, Snape’s mind went back to the moment in that disgusting, dirty old shack when he’d been bitten by Nagini and quite expected to die. As the pain overwhelmed him, he’d given Potter some choice memories. He’d never expected to survive, and so it hadn’t mattered that he’d opened himself up, made himself unforgivably vulnerable. All that had seemed important at that moment had been proving to Harry that for the past torturous, horrendous years, keeping him alive had been his main aim. That he wasn’t the terrible traitor that Harry no doubt thought him. That killing Dumbledore had been an act of mercy. That there was no pain like this, feeling that Dumbledore had betrayed him into saving Harry all these years, only for him to be slaughtered by Voldemort.
Snape had never expected to survive, so when he woke up in St Mungo’s, his memories his own again, it was rather a shock. More so when he discovered that, rather than being sentenced to life in Azkaban, he was (thanks to the vocal protests and evidence of Harry Potter), to be awarded an Order of Merlin, first class. Even more irritating than being rewarded, thanks to Potter, was the knowledge that everyone thought Potter insane – and that he was still as much disliked and distrusted as ever before. It was a poor sort of reward, and Snape wished very thoroughly that Potter had simply left him to die. For it was, undoubtedly, Potter’s fault that he was still alive.
But, most of all, what irked Snape were two things. First, that he couldn’t recall exactly what memories he’d gifted to Potter. As he’d woken up with all memories intact, it was impossible for him to judge what Potter had seen. It was infuriating. But second, and more importantly, Potter had refused to see him. Declined to answer any of his owls. Had managed to miss every single one of Snape’s carefully orchestrated “coincidental” meetings. He’d even stooped to asking for Granger’s help, only to be met with a non-committal response: “Harry’s not up to visitors. I’ll let him know you were asking after him.” Harry seemed up for visitors all right when Snape read the Daily Prophet from cover to cover each day, searching for details of Potter’s doings. In and out of nightclubs, women all over him, his face covered with lipstick stains. Except. Except Potter didn’t look too happy in these pictures. His face blank and dazed, his hair sticking up at increasingly wild angles. And then he simply vanished from the papers. Of course, he was still mentioned with increasingly hysterical headlines, but no pictures. No information about his whereabouts. Hermione’s owl replied to Snape’s with a terse “he’s fine. Leave him alone”.
There was nothing Snape hated more than to be ignorant of the true state of affairs. Except, perhaps, to be ignored. Which was why he was now more than suspicious of Potter’s sudden desire to be friends. They could not, could never be friends. Snape knew he was not a forgiving man, and Potter’s callous dismissal of Snape’s memories was more than he could bear. It was an insult of the highest order.
Snape brooded a bit more.
* * *
Nevertheless, Snape had to admit that Potter’s presence certainly added a touch of humour to Hogwarts that had been so missing during Voldemort’s rise to power. Even if it were only he, Snape, who was laughing. He took pains to ensure he passed Potter’s classroom at regular intervals. One could never be sure when one’s expert skills at discipline would be needed. Just because he hadn’t heard that Potter was struggling, didn’t mean that Potter wasn’t.
About a week into Potter’s tenure, Snape was striding past Potter’s classroom, when he decided one a whim to pause. The noise emanating from the classroom was ear-splitting. Snape smiled grimly, and flung open the door. The scene beyond was one of chaos. Third years climbed on desks, chairs lay carelessly discarded across the floor, paper fluttered throughout the room. A student shot out of the classroom, tears running down her face, and collided heavily with him.
“O-oh, Professor Snape,” she wailed. “I think I’ve killed Professor Potter!”
Snape raised an eyebrow, and strode into the classroom. Immediately there was silence. He knelt over the prone figure of Potter and checked his pulse. “Fetch Madame Pomfrey,” he snapped at the nearest girl, and turned back to Potter. He was alive, but his heart was beating erratically. “What did you do?” he snarled at the crying girl, who was wringing her hands and weeping more copiously.
“He was demonstrating a duel,” another girl said sharply, glaring at Snape and putting her arm around the snotty child. “Emma here hadn’t even raised her wand at Professor Potter, when he just collapsed.”
Snape bit back a harsh remark as he deftly ran his wand over Potter, searching for a magical cause for his condition. He could find none, which worried him more than he cared to admit. He picked Potter up, feeling ridiculously cross at how light the man was, and carried him to the sick bay. It was only later that it occurred to him that levitation would have been a more suitable mode of transportation. But as Potter hadn’t been awake, he wouldn’t know that Snape had carried him in his arms to find him medical attention. That would be too humiliating to bear.
* * *
It was entirely unexpected when Potter turned up at the dungeons one evening. Snape had been doing a modicum of brooding in his favourite armchair, when there was a knock at the door.
“What?” he snapped, opening the door at speed and glaring down at what he expected to be a Slytherin student with some inane problem that had nothing to do with him.
Instead, there was Potter. He looked a bit surprised.
“Um,” Potter said.
Snape raised an eyebrow and did his best to look menacing. He wondered if Madame Pomfrey had told Potter that he’d been the one who had carried him to the hospital wing. He’d made her swear not to say anything, but in his experience you could never trust kindly women. They blabbed, and thought they were doing you a favour.
“Can I come in?” Potter said, unexpectedly. He looked a little like a puppy expecting to be kicked.
Snape sighed. “I fail to see the necessity of it.”
Potter shrugged. “It won’t take long.”
“Fine.” Snape stepped back from the door and turned his back on Potter. “Shut the door behind you.”
He walked quickly into his living room, not caring if he appeared rude. He couldn’t remember the last time a colleague had visited his rooms, and it was oddly exposing. Almost as if Potter were seeing him naked. He grimaced, and looked around quickly, to see if anything was out of place. He wasn’t entirely sure why he cared. It was only Potter, after all. But somehow it seemed important that Potter didn’t mock Snape’s meagre possessions.
Snape poked at the fire, and then turned around. Potter was standing in the middle of the room, looking nervous.
“Sit,” Snape said tersely, indicating his own favourite chair. “Well?”
“Aren’t you going to offer me a drink?” Potter said, with a faint smile on his face.
Snape rolled his eyes. “Would a cup of warm milk be appropriate? Or perhaps a beaker of orange squash.”
Potter flushed and looked annoyed. “Firewhiskey on the rocks would be good. I’m 18, not eight. It’s perfectly legal.”
Snape snorted, but poured them both a generous measure. The boy wasn’t to know that the stuff was so expensive that he could only afford one bottle every couple of months.
“To friendship,” Potter said quickly, and took a quick swig before Snape could react.
Snape glared at his glass. It would be churlish not to drink. He took a ginger sip, and felt himself relax a little as the warm glow of the alcohol washed over him. When he looked up again, the idiot Gryffindor was smiling at him.
“Kindly state your business, Potter,” Snape said, feeling irritated. “Even if you feel you can spend the evening lounging about, I have work that must be done.”
Potter went bright red, opened his mouth as if to speak, and then collapsed.
It was a moment before Snape realised what had happened. He rushed over to Potter, and felt his pulse. It was weak, but still steady. He picked him up, feeling his back twinge in protest, and placed him gently on the couch. Madame Pomfrey had said that Potter’s last turn had been a panic attack. Snape scowled at him, and wondered what would be the best thing to do. He felt an overwhelming urge to hold Potter’s hand. Instead, he wet a flannel and dabbed at Potter’s brow. The boy was absurdly hot. It was the least he could do.
After a few minutes, Potter’s eyes fluttered open, and he looked more than confused. “What- Where? Is that you, Snape?”
“You surmise correctly, Mr Potter,” Snape said dryly. “Full marks. Five points to Gryffindor for your rapier quick mental processes. Now, perhaps, Mr Potter, you could tell me why you keep fainting? I ask merely because it is inconvenient to me that every time I encounter you, you keel over and act as if you were dead. It is beginning to become annoying.”
Potter flushed, and didn’t say anything.
“Shall I fetch Miss Granger to assist you back to your rooms?” Snape asked, when no answer was forthcoming.
“I. No.” Potter shook his head. “I don’t want to worry her. Could I just sit here for a moment?”
Snape grit his teeth. “Mr Potter,” he said, trying to keep his temper. “Would it be too much to ask that you come to the point? Why did you come to my rooms, and subject me to this display?”
Potter looked annoyed. “I didn’t mean to collapse.”
“You fainted, Mr Potter.”
“I did not! Girls faint. I lost consciousness in a manly fashion,” Potter said, with a grin.
Snape tapped his foot.
“Fine. I, er.” Potter went beetroot red, and swayed slightly.
Snape gripped him firmly by the arm and sat next to him on the sofa. “Once is quite enough for one evening, Mr Potter.”
Potter leaned into him slightly. Snape suddenly felt very uncomfortable, and wasn’t entirely sure why. Potter was warm and solid, and the pressure of his side against his own was not unpleasant.
“I was,” Potter cleared his throat. “Oh for fuck’s sake, Snape. Why is everything with you so difficult? I wanted to apologise for not answering your letters. I… I wasn’t myself for quite a while last year. It wasn’t right to treat you that way, not after what I knew. I was an arse. A big one. A humungous one. And. And. And I hope you can forgive me and we can be friends.” The last words came out in a rush, and Potter went rigid against Snape for a moment. Then he sagged. “God. I don’t know why that felt so difficult,” he muttered. Then, after a while, when Snape sat in shocked silence, “It’s your turn to speak, you know.”
Snape continued to say nothing. He wasn’t entirely certain if he could speak. A strange and contradictory range of emotions churned in his gut. He wanted to tell Potter, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off and die, but he also wanted to clasp the idiot to him and hug him. He was used to scorn, or terror, or even a kind of pity that made his jaw clench. He was not used to this. This seemed almost impossible to respond to, although he wanted to accept Potter’s offer so badly that he felt almost ill.
Potter half turned to him, red faced and looking offended. “Look, Snape, that wasn’t easy, you bastard,” he said indignantly. “I’ve been having panic attacks all over the place thinking about doing it. I even collapsed in class last week. My student Emma thought I’d killed her! The least you could do is either accept my apology, or spit in my face and hex me into next week.”
Snape was unable to speak. With Potter pressed up against him, the room felt too small and too hot. He wondered if he were finally going insane. Next thing he’d be cackling and cursing small animals. It had happened to better, greater wizards than him, so why had he been so certain that he, of all people, would survive the war mentally intact?
“Can I – can I get you another glass of whiskey, Snape?” Potter said, who seemed to have caught on to the fact that Snape was having a nervous breakdown.
He managed to nod, and felt mildly relieved that at least he had control of his limbs.
Potter poured him a large measure and fed it to him as if he were a child, holding his chin and tilting it back. A trickle of the liquid ran down his neck, and dripped onto his robe.
“Potter?” Snape managed to say weakly.
Potter looked pitifully eager. “Yes, Professor?”
Snape’s gut twisted. “Get out.”
Potter’s face clouded over, and he made an obvious attempt to look as if he didn’t care. “Fine,” he said, sounding pained and odd. “Fine.” He staggered up and Snape realised, too late, that Potter’d just collapsed and probably shouldn’t be attempting to go anywhere.
“Potter,” he said.
“Fuck off, Snape,” Potter said, and stumbled to the door, slamming it on the way out.
For the next few hours Snape sat on his chair and stared blankly into space. When he finally got up, he realised he was shaking, and his eyes were wet with tears. He couldn’t even recall the last time he’d cried.
* * *
Snape told himself that he’d keep away from Potter after the dreadful scene he’d caused. If he couldn’t even manage to accept the man’s apology gracefully, then there was no reason why he should want to subject himself to further contact with the tousle-haired moron. But in the days that followed, even he – master of denial and emotional malfunction – had to admit to himself that he had something of a problem. He couldn’t manage to keep away from Potter.
Every time he left the dungeons his feet compelled him to walk past Potter’s classroom, or dally near Potter’s quarters. He even found himself visiting the staff-room on a regular basis, scanning the room impatiently. If he didn’t see Potter there, he left. If he did see Potter there, he left. And now even the other teachers had noticed that there was what they called an “atmosphere” between them. All of them, he noticed with something that felt almost like pain, took Potter’s side. He was used to feeling like a pariah, and Merlin knows he deserved it, but he wasn’t used to this odd feeling of guilt that he now carried around with him. But it was too late for him to change. He hadn’t managed to acquire the skills to be a friend, and Potter had offered his apology too late.
Snape was increasingly aware that, surrounded by staff and students, he felt horrendously lonely. By damn he missed Dumbledore, with a fierce pain that continued to surprise him. If only he’d accepted Potter’s apology. But it was too late, Snape reminded himself on an hourly basis, much too late. The man would never offer it again, and Snape knew he could not proffer one himself. It was a lost cause, and best forgotten.
* * *
Snape was therefore more than shocked when Potter sat next to him one night, a couple of weeks after their argument, at dinner in the Great Hall. At first, Potter ignored Snape’s presence entirely, but Snape knew it could not be accidental that Potter had sat in that particular spot. There were plenty of other seats free. Perhaps Potter simply meant to ignore him for the entire evening, and show him how utterly unaffected he was by Snape’s presence. Well, Snape thought bitterly, two can play at that game. And if anyone was going to win at cold war, it would be him. He had certainly had ample practise.
“I still want to, if you’ve changed your mind,” Potter said airily, not turning to look at Snape.
Snape said nothing, but clasped his hands into fists under the table, his fingernails biting half moons into his palms.
“Be friends, you know,” Potter continued off-handedly. “We could go for drinks sometime. Tonight. If you like.”
Snape forced down the unpleasant retort that threatened to spill out and ruin his unexpected second chance. “That would be acceptable,” he ground out, between clenched teeth.
Potter jumped and looked surprised. He turned to look at Snape. “Really? You mean it? Tonight?”
Snape managed to nod, even though the muscles in his neck had seized up. His entire body felt like a clenched fist. “I… I regret my conduct the previous evening,” he forced out. “I was ungracious and ill mannered.”
“Oh,” Potter said, looking uncomfortable. “That’s OK.” He shook his head. “Merlin,” he grinned, “I never thought I’d hear you say sorry to me.”
“Indeed,” Snape said, inclining his head. “The likelihood has always seemed remote. Let us pretend it never occurred. If you desire, I can take points from Gryffindor for your presumption in imagining that such an event took place?”
Potter grinned. “Thanks, but no.” He looked at his watch. “Damn, if we’re going out later I really need to get my fourth year papers marked.” He jumped up, and ran a hand through his hair, which sprang up at odd angles. “Eight? Outside the entrance hall? Hogsmeade OK?”
Snape snorted. “Hogsmeade? Be still my beating heart. Eight is fine, but I shall choose the location, Potter, if Hogsmeade is your idea of a good time.”
Potter grinned. “Right you are.”
Snape was still looking open mouthed after him, when dessert arrived. He’d eaten a full bowl of jelly before he even realised it. Snape thought, rather gloomily, that there was something seriously wrong with him. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
* * *
At five to eight, Snape was pacing his rooms, wondering if he’d made a terrible mistake. He’d (it made him grind his teeth just to think of it) made an effort. His hair was freshly washed, and he was wearing his best robes. He was surely setting himself up for a terrible humiliation. There was no doubt in his mind that Potter had some nefarious purpose behind this invitation, and one that did not bode well for him, Snape. He wondered, rather grimly, if he should use Legilimency on the boy. But he had sworn, ever since Potter had invaded his memories so carelessly all those months ago, that he would never do such a thing unless his life depended upon it. It had taken Potter’s complete lack of respect for his privacy to make him realise how unpleasant such an invasion could be. Voldemort was dead, damn it, and he need be a spy no longer. He could ask Potter, straight out, what his intentions were if need be, rather than sneaking about like some kind of slippery weasel.
Snape raised his chin, pushed his curtain of dark hair away from his face and strode out of his rooms towards the entrance hall, and out into the cold night air.
Potter was waiting, leaning nonchalantly against the wall. He smiled when he saw Snape, and Snape felt a strange sensation bubble through him. No-one smiled when they saw him. No-one liked him. Why was Potter putting on this act?
“So where we going?” Potter said, as he detached himself from the wall. “If it’s not somewhere amazing, I’ll be severely disappointed.”
Snape amazed himself by laughing. “Potter, you would not recognise style if it stared you in the face and threatened to chew your nose off,” he said. They walked together in silence for a few minutes. Then he offered his arm to Potter.
Potter stared at it.
Snape glared at him. “What? I’d prefer it if you didn’t arrive at our destination splinched, although I often wonder if you left your brain behind in some insalubrious location many years ago. You cannot Apparate somewhere, Potter, if you do not know where you are going.”
“OK, OK,” Potter said, sounding annoyed. “Fine.” He took Snape’s arm gingerly. “You look nice tonight, by the way,” Snape thought he heard him say, but by that point he’d already whipped them both round into that magic space between destinations.
They arrived clumsily, Snape stumbling and Potter leaning heavily against him so that they both almost fell in a heap.
“Oaf,” Snape said, feeling rather flustered. Had Potter really complimented his appearance? It seemed unlikely, but then this whole evening was turning out to be a bizarre deviation from normality.
“Greasy bastard,” Potter replied, grinning, and ruffled Snape’s hair.
Snape stood very still.
Potter blushed, and stammered a little. “Er, sorry. I didn’t mean to.” If Snape had been in the mood to be amused he would have been, but Potter’s action had set his pulse racing. He didn’t think it was anger he was feeling, although it was hard to be sure. No-one had touched him playfully for such a long time, that he’d almost forgotten what it was like. He grimaced. Potter was no doubt used to such horse-play with his bevy of friends. He had no idea what such a gentle touch could do to a man like himself. Snape wondered what to say next. Potter was no doubt already regretting that he’d invited such an odd companion for drinks.
Potter’s blush deepened. “Er, should we, er, a table?”
Snape managed to regain some of his composure in the face of Potter’s utter incoherence. “Yes, a table is an excellent suggestion. I have reserved one in the garden. Although, if it is too cold for you, I have no doubt we could sit inside?” His tone suggested that Potter would be a moron to choose inside. Snape winced slightly. He hadn’t intended to sound so unpleasant.
Potter, however, looked relieved. “Outside sounds great. Lead on.”
* * *
As soon as he opened the door, Snape knew he’d made a terrible mistake. The garden was lit by hundreds of tiny candles, the enchanted roses blooming into the darkness. The whole place smelt of perfume. It was beautiful, and beautifully romantic. The sky was filled with a million trillion stars.
Potter gave an audible gasp, and Snape held his breath.
“How did I not know about this place?” Potter said, sounding awestruck. “It’s brilliant.”
Snape guided him to a table, and motioned towards a waiter, ordering drinks.
Potter’s brow furrowed. “I’ll pay,” he said quickly.
Snape tensed. “I may not be wealthy, but I think I can afford to pay for a few drinks,” he said, feeling offended.
Potter scowled. “You know I didn’t mean it like that. I invited you, so I’ll pay.”
Snape glared back. “Don’t test my patience, Potter.”
Potter half-rose, then sat back down, looking mutinous. “Fine. But I’m buying the next round.”
As they waited for the waiter to bring over their drinks, Snape looked around uncomfortably. There was no doubt that it was a beautiful location. A beautiful location to bring a lover. Potter, no doubt, felt awkward being there in his presence. He was, no doubt, already thinking about when he could come here next, unencumbered by his unpleasant guest.
Potter nudged him, and Snape started.
“Sorry,” Potter said, not sounding very apologetic. “You looked miles away. Somewhere not so nice. I’m always grateful when Hermione and Ron give me a good shove to bring me back to the present.”
Snape looked at Potter thoughtfully. The young man had more emotional intelligence than Snape had given him credit for, despite the appalling way he expressed himself. “Thank you,” he said. The words sounded rusty in his mouth.
Potter grinned at him. “You’re welcome.”
And then, to Snape’s surprise, Potter initiated an entirely easy conversation about Snape’s teaching methods, which he then steered into the avenues of the latest developments in the field of potions. It was only much later, when he was about to fall asleep after a surprisingly pleasant night, having drunk just a little too much wine for a Wednesday evening, that Snape realised that Potter had evidently read up on his subject. Which meant that he’d been nervous about the evening going smoothly. And for some reason, this made Snape’s heart beat a little faster.
It was some time before Snape unwound enough to fall asleep.
* * *
Over the next few weeks, and months, to no one’s surprise more than Snape’s, his outings with Potter turned into a regular event. First once a week, then twice. Potter always nudging at the edges of Snape’s comfort zone, turning Snape’s marking sessions into something more sociable, or disturbing him during his evening potions experiments.
Snape was surprised to learn that Potter, rather than being the brave but rather useless youth that he’d always thought him to be, could be methodical and patient when he chose. He found to his amazement that, when he told Potter about a new potions breakthrough or expressed a dilemma about something that was borderline black arts, Potter would sometimes go away and research the subject. They could discuss things. Argue even.
At first, Snape found it difficult to have his opinion challenged by Potter. It was hard to disentangle Potter from Snape’s memories of him as an insolent, ungrateful schoolchild for long enough to actually listen to him, let alone give his opinions any respect. But however rude he was, Potter always came back. Sometimes to shout at Snape some more, it was true, but it seemed sometimes as if there was an unspoken agreement between them. I know you’re a bastard, Potter’s grin sometimes seemed to say to him, but better the bastard you know.
He often wondered why Potter chose to spend his time with him, when there were so many more congenial companions out there. But after a while, Snape chose to suppress these thoughts. He’d enjoy Potter’s company while it lasted. It couldn’t last long.
* * *
Then one night, a fairly innocuous conversation about transfiguration took a step into a dark and painful alleyway. They were out at a small Muggle pub where they often visited to drink dark, strong ale and indulge in meaningful but light-hearted debate about the limits of magic.
Potter, who had recently become Harry in Snape’s mind, if not in actual conversation, had had a few glasses too many, and Snape had not seen fit to stop him. Harry’s thoughts had evidently turned from frivolous to horrific, and Snape had no idea how to turn back the tide of such bad memories – many of which he knew, to his own shame, he had caused.
“I could change it, you know,” Harry said suddenly, with a strained laugh. His eyes were bright and wild.
Snape wondered why he suddenly felt completely terrified. He licked his lips. “What do you mean by that, Potter?” he asked, all too aware that his voice sounded hoarse rather than imbued with the sarcastic tone he aimed for as a general rule.
Snape tried hard not to flinch. “I think not.”
He had tried endlessly since the war to shift it, but nothing worked. It seemed simply a tattoo, but yet it would not change, no matter what magic of dubious legality he tried on it. Snape had become resigned to being scarred with a reminder of his worst choice in life – and all the horror that had followed – indelibly. Forever. He supposed it was all that he deserved.
Harry laughed again, and his eyes glistened with something Snape suspected were unshed tears. “I could,” Harry said distantly. “I know I could. I could just place my fingers on it, and feel it change into something new.” His voice became hypnotic, seductive even. “No longer a reminder of evil, but the sign of a new beginning. I could mark you as belonging to the light, as a good man.” Harry smiled a strange, bright smile. “Would you like that?”
Snape wet his lips. His hands felt clammy, and he wondered what the right answer was. What Potter would do to him if he got it wrong. He wasn’t sure he’d ever felt so terrified of the boy – no, the grown man – in front of him. “Yes,” he said finally, and panted slightly, feeling out of breath and out of control.
Harry looked at him with his bright green eyes – the eyes of Lilly Potter, the only friend that Severus had ever had. The gaze burned into him. “And you’d come when I called?” Harry muttered, more to himself than to Snape, it seemed. “No pain, just need and friendship. A network of friends, linked by love. Just call me and I’ll be there.” Harry winced. “Does that sound good?” he whispered.
Harry’s voice was so low that Snape had to lean to hear him. He felt hot and dizzy, and he almost wondered if Harry were weaving a spell – except of course he of all people would know if that were the case. It wasn’t. And how that terrified him. “Yes,” Snape said, and then blinked slightly, wrong-footed. He wondered where his sense had gone, and what exactly he’d just agreed to.
Harry’s lips were parted and his cheeks were flushed. He reached out with one hand and gently pulled Snape’s left arm towards him, rolling up the sleeve to expose the dark mark, running a gentle finger over it. Snape shivered under the touch and was lost, any objections melting away under the ministrations of those deft fingers.
Then Harry dropped his arm heavily, snapped upright and glared at Snape. “That’s why I won’t do it,” he practically yelled. “I can’t be who you want me to be, Severus. I won’t be the next dark lord, but for the good. I refuse to be some meddler who controls you at every turn, even if you do trust me to make the right decisions.” He bit his lip and trembled all over. “I want a house. A cosy one where I feel comfortable. A job where I can do well because I’m good at it, not because I’m Harry-fucking-Potter.” He went red, and even his voice trembled. “And I want a partner who loves me despite of who I am, and what I’ve done. Who is my equal, and my better. But never – never – one who is so ashamed of who he is, he’ll sell his soul into servitude once more. Even if it is only to me, and in the name of good. I will never- I refuse to be like-” A half sob. “I won’t do it. Please don’t ask me.”
Harry got up jerkily, and Snape watched him stand and turn towards the door of the pub in a kind of mental daze. His heart was pounding strangely, and speaking – even moving a single facial muscle – seemed impossible.
“Goodnight, Severus,” Harry said, and left the room. The quiet snick of the pub’s front door closing behind him a kind of death, Snape thought hazily. But still, he could not move.
* * *
In the hours that followed Snape discovered, to his own complex horror, that there was no pain quite like this – a pain completely, entirely of his own making. He would have submitted quite willingly to Crucio, if only it would ease the terrible sharpness of his hurt. It was reminiscent, in a way, of that awful time he’d called Lilly a Mudblood and lost her friendship forever. Only this cut deeper, slicing so far into him that he wondered if perhaps his very soul were bleeding.
At first he attempted to deny the import of Harry’s accusations. It was not him to whom Harry referred. Or perhaps Harry had misspoken, and said ‘partner’ where he’d simply meant ‘friend’. But he had spent too many years finely honing his ability to dissect his feelings, thus enabling him to effectively suppress them, to develop a capacity for self-delusion now. Potter had wanted him. And now he did not.
Snape’s brain wearily tried a different tack. At first it seemed an entirely reasonable one. Since when had he desired men? Snape had always considered – if, indeed, he considered it at all – the act of sexual congress to be an awkward, messy thing. Whilst teenage hormones, with a liberal application of Firewhisky, had propelled him into beds – and sometimes bushes – with a moderately respectable number of inebriated females, his abiding memories of this brief period were of the faces of the aforementioned women when they woke and realised exactly whom they’d been intimate with. It had been twenty years, and he still thought in vague terms of self-disgust when he thought of carnal relations. He’d certainly never experimented with men, and never been tempted to do so. Surely, with a man, Snape thought uncomfortably, there would be pain?
Except. Except that in the past few months, growing closer to Harry, his near dormant libido had sparked up at the strangest things. Harry rolling up his shirt-sleeves. Laughing, as he allowed a first-year to outfly him. The sight of him, forehead screwed up, as he tackled a pile of almost certainly incomprehensible second year essays, an ink stain on his cheek. It was a strange, uncomfortable sort of arousal – more mental than physical, on the whole (although once Potter had run the feather of his quill idly over his lips and Snape had been more than grateful for his voluminous robes) – but it was arousal none the less. So no, Snape thought wearily, he wasn’t particularly attracted to men – or women, really – as a general rule. Just, it seemed, to Harry.
The conclusion was inescapable. He, Severus Snape, had just been offered the only thing he’d ever really wanted – the respect and love of someone to whom he could amply return the feelings – and in the very act of accepting, he’d thrown it all away. He couldn’t even blame Harry for being so devious. It was patently clear that the young man hadn’t even known what he was doing – as usual – and only realised what he wanted when he, Severus, had thrown his chance away.
Snape cursed himself. He truly was an idiot, and one of the highest order. But then he’d always been a fool, ever since that fateful day he’d chosen Voldemort as his master. It was clear that nothing had changed. He was ever doomed to act without thinking when it really mattered – even though he always thought, was always rational, cold and calculating. And so was equally doomed to useless regret, and years of penance to make up for the unforgivable.
Snape clenched his jaw and sat up straight. Not this time. This time he wasn’t in the thrall of an insane madman, or being manipulated by a meddlesome, loving old man. This was Harry, and Harry had no hidden agenda to beat Severus with until he bled. He was, it seemed, simply a man who wished to be cherished for himself, not for what he’d done or what he could do. A man, in fact, very much like Severus himself, who was trapped in the role he’d created for himself of evil, unlovable, untrustworthy Professor Snape.
And suddenly, Snape knew exactly what he could do to make it up to the man he had wronged, even though the very thought of it sent him into spasms of humiliated horror. He grit his teeth and rose to consult a book, reading the relevant passages with mounting dread. It was perfect – and at the same time, for a man as private and restrained as himself, it was a perfect torment. Snape sighed, and pulled out quill, parchment and ink. There was planning to be done, and there was no time like the present.
* * *
Snape took a deep breath, but that didn’t help. He almost wished, for a moment, that he wasn’t the sort of man who always followed through; once he’d decided on a course of action, nothing could sway him from his course, no matter the consequences. Even if it were, as this would surely be, grand humiliation and perhaps the end of his career. As he contemplated what he was about to do, even he quailed a little. But he had decided. It was time for the grand gesture. And although he, Severus Snape, had been many things, he had never been a coward. He would do what he must do.
Snape entered the great hall, which was teeming with students and staff. He tried not to react as small, snotty children cowered as he went past. It was yet another reminder of who – and what – he was. An emotional cripple, who inspired nothing but hatred and terror in his younger students, and a horrifying respect mingled with disdain in his older ones. He walked to the teacher’s table as one would walk to their doom.
“Potter,” he said loudly, and his insides turned to liquid as the scruffy-haired young man turned to look at him. Harry’s eyes were bloodshot and the bags under them were dark purple. Harry said nothing, simply inclined his head and moved as if to turn back towards the table.
Snape was intensely aware that the riotous chatter that usually filled the hall had dimmed, and many eyes were watching his and Harry’s strange tableau. Granger narrowed her eyes for a moment, and then – almost imperceptibly – moved her eyes from Snape to Harry as if to say well go on then.
“Potter, there is something I wish to say to you,” Snape said, his voice sounding thick in his own mouth.
“What is it?” Harry asked, but his tone was flat and without curiosity. He didn’t even move to look at Snape.
“Please, turn to me,” Snape said. He could feel his stomach now, and it wasn’t liquid, it was acid. Churning and burning away his insides, in expectation of the humiliation ahead. “Look at me. Please.”
The silence in the hall was almost deafening, as Harry turned fully round and looked up at Snape.
Snape, rather shakily, got down on his knees and bowed his head. He didn’t particularly care to see Harry’s expression at this point. He spoke loud enough for his voice to carry throughout the hall. There would be enough gossip about this as it was, without introducing a tawdry element of speculation as well.
“Harry I wish, in the presence of witnesses, to humbly beg for your forgiveness.”
“I don’t-” Harry began, his voice sounding panicky. Snape didn’t dare to look up, but he heard a swift “shhhh,” and a grunt from Harry, which suggested that Miss Granger had applied a hard elbow to Harry’s ribs.
“I have greatly wronged you, and I wish to atone for my behaviour. I submit to you.” Snape’s breath came hard and he found it increasingly difficult to speak, but he knew that if he stopped now all would be lost – and Harry would fail to understand what he meant by all of this. “I submit to you,” he repeated, “not to the famous Harry Potter, the saviour of the wizarding world. Not as one entranced by power. Not even as one seeking forgiveness from his equal, from his better. But-” Snape paused, his breath coming out almost in a sob. “As a lonely, heartsick man, who has lost his friend and bitterly regrets the fact. Harry, I beg you-”
And with that, Snape – possibly for the first time in his long, and danger-fraught life – lost his nerve. He lurched to his feet, and stumbled wildly from the hall, not daring to look back. By the time he’d reached his rooms and reinforced his wards – no one, no one was going to get through them this evening – his face was wet with tears he couldn’t even remember crying. But even that shaming fact wasn’t enough to prevent him from slumping on his chair and adding a few more to the total. He was lost and he knew it. And this time there would be no rescue.