|snarryswapmod (snarryswapmod) wrote in snarry_swap,|
@ 2008-01-13 12:00:00
|Entry tags:||creation: fic, dracofiend, rated: pg-13|
Happy Daft Day, lilyseyes!
Summary: Children remember their first place of comfort.
Author's Note: Lily, you requested detention or Occlumency lessons, first time, clueless!Harry, underage/chan, student/teacher, and a bit of angst with a happy ending—I hope you like this! ♥
On the night before his eighth birthday, Harry decided to run away.
He put as many clothes as he could fit into the rucksack he used for school and when most of them wouldn’t go he took out the trousers and left in the pants. Then he went to the silent kitchen, where he picked up a chair and tottered to the cupboard with it so he had something to stand on to reach the chocolate biscuits. It’d be a whole packet, all to himself. He put the chair back without making a sound and returned to his room. He crammed the biscuits into his pack, zipped it up, and looked around. The red numbers on his clock said it wasn’t midnight yet.
Harry reached over for the little plastic horse, white with a knight in armor astride it, which stood next to the clock. He put it in his pocket. Then he shouldered the bulging rucksack and left the room, the house, closing the door to each behind him with his heart beating fast.
Outside wasn’t dark with the orange streetlights on, and even the sky wasn’t black—more of a deep gray. It wasn’t chilly and soon Harry got a bit hot from the walking. He stopped when he reached the high road to take his jumper off, which he shoved as far as he could into the rucksack before zipping it almost-closed. He glanced around him—there wasn’t anyone else on the sidewalk, though there was some traffic in the street. It looked quite different at night, Harry thought, resuming his walk past the line of neatly planted trees. He’d been dreaming about this for so long, thinking about what to bring and where to go and when to do it. Well, today had been perfect. He’d found a five-pound note in the pocket of Dudley’s newly-discarded trousers, wrinkled and crackly from the wash but entirely unharmed once he’d flattened it out. Harry was wearing those trousers now—his birthday present from Dudley, Aunt Petunia had said—and he smiled as he walked, thinking of the five-pound note that he’d put back in that pocket, carefully folded into thirds.
He looked up at the next street sign—yes, he was still going the right way. He had it all planned out. He was going to a school where no one knew who he was, so they couldn’t make him go back and instead they’d let him live there. He knew there were schools where you could live—he’d talked to a boy in his class about it, Mark Anderson. Mark Anderson had just moved house and was still new and didn’t know that talking to Harry wasn’t a good idea unless you were at least as big as Dudley. Mark wasn’t, but he’d told Harry about his old school, which was only for boys and there were hundreds of them, younger ones and older ones and they all lived together in dormitories, except on holidays when they got to go home. Harry had asked about that and Mark had shrugged and said he supposed you didn’t have to go home; some teachers stayed and the headmaster always stayed…and Harry decided that when he finally got to this school he wouldn’t go home on holidays but would just stay there, and maybe he’d be friends with some of the other boys who also didn’t want to leave. Mark had missed his old school terribly and it sounded completely brilliant, a place to live without the Dursleys where everyone was the same, and no one would notice just one more boy except the ones he liked and they would like him too, and after class they’d go play and do loads of fun things, and they wouldn’t have to go home because they’d already be there.
Harry knew there was a school like this near the high road; he’d seen the massive stone marker with Buxton Academy raised in grand letters as they’d whizzed by it a few times. The Dursleys didn’t often pass that way and Harry had never paid particular attention as he’d stared out of the window while Dudley had poked him from across the backseat—until Mark Anderson had come and then Harry had strained to see the smaller words each time they went by. It was difficult but after a few tries Harry learned it was a boarding school, just like Mark’s had been, and it was quite old. He figured that meant it was decent because if it had been lousy, surely it wouldn’t have lasted all that time. He wasn’t sure if it was only for boys or if girls lived there too, but that didn’t matter so much—it sounded fantastic even though Harry hadn’t been able to see the school itself, only the big gates that stood behind the stone sign. He supposed the building was somewhere down the curved gravel path, behind the heavy screen of trees rising from a smooth green lawn.
Harry grinned to himself, happy and nervous at once, because what if he couldn’t find it and got lost instead? But he was fairly certain he knew the way; he’d looked at a big book of maps one day at school and traced over the streets, memorizing the names that led to the little red block labeled Buxton Academy. Still—there were an awful lot of roads, big and small and some with really tiny print, and—
Harry stopped short as two things happened.
First there was a man who suddenly appeared in front of him like a tower of black, so tall he seemed to block out all light, with large frightening eyes and a massive hooked nose, standing so close Harry nearly knocked into him.
“What are you doing, boy?” the man asked, sounding angry, and Harry’s heart leapt to his mouth. It was the police, he was caught, they’d take him back to the Dursleys or arrest him and either way it’d be horrible. Harry craned his neck up, thinking he should run except there were cars in the road and he might—
“You can’t outrun me!” the man barked, glaring down over folded arms and Harry jumped because the man had read his mind. “Turn around and head straight back home. At once.”
Harry opened his mouth to lie, to say he couldn’t go back—there was a fire! A burglar! No, he was on his way home now!—except then the second thing happened and Harry couldn’t speak.
He went numb with fear. Utter terror. It was icy, frigid through his shirt and his skin and the roots of his teeth, like nothing, nothing he’d ever ever felt, not while running from Dudley or when Aunt Petunia pinched his arm or when Uncle Vernon roared—those were scary but they made you duck or wince or dart. This—this thing settling on him now made him never want to move, made him want to vanish entirely because there were lights in his mind, sounds, screaming green that filled his chest and he could barely feel it burst but he knew it must be bursting and he couldn’t see anything but that blinding streak of green and the ice in his eyes.
Then something warm swooped around him and scooped him up, and Harry’s arms went round a neck as he swung high into the air. He could move after all—he held on as tightly as he could, pushing his fingers into his arms and his face into black. There were scads of black hair—the policeman’s, he thought—except he knew as he thought it that this wasn’t a policeman, and he was scared again, but not like before. Then Harry noticed it was gone, the sounds in his head, the nearly-solid chill everywhere—and perhaps they were moving but Harry couldn’t quite tell. He hung on, dizzy, glad the green flashes had stopped, breathing wetly into the man’s neck because he didn’t want to look at whatever was out there.
Some time later, he felt the man crouching down. The arm supporting him eased and Harry’s feet touched the ground. He let go reluctantly, his pulse hammering. What would happen to him next?
“You’re going home,” the man said stiffly, still crouching on one knee. They were eye-to-eye now, and Harry wasn’t sure whether he was more intimidating up close or when he stood up tall. His hair was tangled where Harry had been hiding his face in it—Harry felt embarrassed. He bit inside his lip and looked at the pavement, but the man didn’t say anything and kept staring until Harry finally forced his eyes back up.
“Running away was a foolish thing to do,” the man said, and Harry noticed his teeth were crooked. He was terribly pale and he looked old, but not old old; more like a very stern teacher or an extremely serious person who hated most things.
“Don’t do it again,” the man said, gazing hard at Harry. And even though he’d made the terror go away, Harry’s gratitude was fading as the man frowned at him.
“Yes sir,” Harry mumbled, as Uncle Vernon had taught him. He looked away again, ready to cry because it was ruined, his whole plan with the school and now Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia would know and they’d punish him, and even worse they’d make it so he’d never get a second chance…
“It’s—look at me,” the man snapped sharply. “It’s dangerous.”
Harry did as he was told and mumbled another “Yes sir.”
The man stared at him silently, and Harry looked tentatively back. Then, as if satisfied, the man straightened with a rustle. He was wearing a long black cape or cloak, and as he stood Harry could see a row of buttons on a black waistcoat underneath. It looked sort of like something a character on one of Dudley’s telly programs wore. Harry wondered who he was—but he was getting more nervous and he didn’t want to ask. He didn’t want to walk back alone, either—what if the green flashing and the screaming came back?
“Hold my hand,” the man said, extending his own. Harry glanced up, startled from his misery.
Harry grabbed on to the man’s long fingers, which were dark with…blood? No, they were dry—and he somehow felt better. The man was making him go back to the Dursleys, but he’d keep that horrible iciness away, and he didn’t squeeze too hard like Aunt Petunia had always done. The man began walking—they were in a short lane, he must’ve carried Harry there earlier, when they were being chased?—and he made for the high road. Harry had to hop to match the man’s stride. The man must’ve noticed; he slowed slightly and curbed his steps.
They turned back to the main street where some cars still rushed along, and as they walked Harry’s mind swelled with questions about what had happened. He wanted to know more than ever who the man was. He wasn’t a friend of Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia, for sure—none of their friends looked anything like this man. But every time he mustered up the nerve to say something, he would look up to the man’s pale yellowish face, staring straight ahead, and something about the set of his jaw would put Harry off. And then Harry would remember what would be waiting for him at home—just his old dusty room and relatives who hated him and people at school who couldn’t do much to make things better…he had no parents, no friends, nothing of his own and the thoughts would press down on him until he could feel his throat tingling even though he musn’t cry.
Then the man would shift his fingers, wrapping them around Harry’s hand or folding them inside, and it would set Harry wondering about who he was again.
Harry’s sense of dread increased as they gradually approached home, so much so that he didn’t bother to think how the man knew to turn at Privet Drive, or how the man knew to stop at Number 4. Lost in unhappiness, Harry simply let the man lead him. The man let go of Harry’s fingers, and the sudden coolness of the air jolted Harry from his silence.
“I don’t want to go back,” he whispered, biting hard on the inside of his cheek to stop the tears that had come. The man looked down at him, expressionless, then lowered himself to one knee.
“They won’t know you’ve been gone,” he told Harry. His eyes were blacker than his cloak. “This time.” The pale lips hardened briefly and Harry nodded, trying not to shake loose any tears.
“Will you keep the…” Harry whispered, pausing because he didn’t know what it had been, what had made the green light go and the screaming begin. “Will you keep it away?”
Through the shimmer of wetness Harry watched the black eyes flicker from side to side.
“Yes,” he said, and he pulled from his sleeve a chopstick—no, a wand, and before Harry could ask what he was doing, the man angled it at Harry and murmured a word, something Harry didn’t catch, but then, he didn’t need to.
“You’re tired,” the man said softly. “Go inside, put your things away, and go to bed.” Harry blinked at the man—he did have such a large nose!—and thought it was the most marvelous idea he’d ever heard. So he smiled a bit fuzzily and leaned in.
“Okay,” he yawned, hugging the man as he crouched there. “Thank you.” Then he turned around and went up the porch steps, already half-asleep. The front door was unlocked, which should’ve been a surprise but wasn’t, and Harry went through without a second glance at the hook-nosed man who stood on the Dursleys’ driveway, watching him.
Harry sat comfortably, letting the hum and snatches of random conversation flow around him and his warm belly. He turned his eyes to the ceiling, still amazed at the candles hovering above, their flames dots of brightness against the night sky. It left him half-dazed each time he thought of it—being at Hogwarts. Being a wizard. It was like a dream come true—that’s what all of this was. Hagrid and the castle and the most incredible dinner in the world…and magic! Harry’s eyes wandered idly and happily from the half-eaten puddings to the High Table, and he grinned as he caught sight of Hagrid, a touch red-faced and taking a drink; and there was Professor Dumbledore in his terrifically pointed hat; and next to it Professor McGonagall’s tight bun bobbed as she nodded, pursing her mouth. There was Professor Quirrell too, with swaths of purple about his head, and he was talking to a man.
The man’s eyes suddenly met Harry’s—and that was part of the dream too. They were blacker than his robe, glittering from a sallow face over a long downward-curving nose. Harry stared back, frozen, at the strings of dark hair hanging at the sides of that face, suddenly confused because he knew this man, he’d seen him—it was at the edge of coming back—
Harry clapped a hand to his forehead and shut his eyes tightly. “Ouch!” The pain in his scar had him breathless for an instant—it was like a knife driving into his head. Then it disappeared just as quickly, the moment the boy next to him asked, “What is it?” and looked over.
“N-nothing,” Harry said, dropping his hand to his lap. His eyes went back to the man. “Who’s that teacher talking to Professor Quirrell?”
“Oh, you know Quirrell already, do you?” Percy said. “No wonder he’s looking so nervous, that’s Professor Snape.”
Professor Snape. Harry mouthed the unfamiliar name, staring at the familiar face. The man’s fingers were long, he saw; they were pale now but he thought they’d been darkly stained.
“He teaches Potions, but he doesn’t want to,” Percy continued. “Everyone knows he’s after Quirrell’s job. Knows an awful lot about the Dark Arts, Snape.”
Harry watched Snape for awhile, trying to remember—but Snape didn’t look at him again and Harry couldn’t figure out where he knew the man from.
Harry frowned as he dug into the bottom of the cauldron with his much-dirtied rag. The brown crust wasn’t coming off, no matter how hard he scrubbed. He growled with effort and frustration, scraping his knuckles against metal, hating Snape even more than Snape seemed to hate him. Because Snape did hate him—he went out of his way to single Harry out, to show off to the class how rubbish Harry was at the whole wizarding business. He was always shouting or sneering or glaring at Harry, who was apparently famous and arrogant and dimwitted and careless and lazy and impertinent and unattentive all at once. It had been a big shock at first—somehow he’d thought Snape would be all right, despite his constant frown. That was the first day. Now he was nearing the end of what felt like his eighty-zillionth detention (it wasn’t even Christmas yet!) and he couldn’t imagine a time when Snape hadn’t hated him.
No, the brown wasn’t coming off and last time Snape had kept him an hour extra because the cauldron-bottoms hadn’t been perfect. “I want them like new, Potter, can’t you understand a simple instruction?” Snape had sneered.
“I can’t get them ‘like new’ when they’re obviously not,” Harry had gritted out, clenching the dirtied rags in his hand. “These look like they’re from the Stone Age or something—are they the same ones you used when you were in school?”
It had slipped out before Harry could think what he was saying, but Snape had turned slowly to him, his face dangerously pale, and leaned down until their faces were quite close.
“Fifty points, Mr. Potter, for indulging your cheek,” he’d said softly. Then he’d summoned a bottle of something from a nearby shelf and ordered Harry to clean every single cauldron again, using the bottle’s contents. Harry, too petrified at what he’d inadvertently said aloud and the fearsome nearness of his professor’s eyes, had done as he was told.
It had worked like the charm, the special cleaning solution. Harry supposed it might’ve been one, at that. He’d tried to ask Snape for it, but the man had snapped at him to get to work—no shortcuts this time—and whirled out before Harry could so much as open his mouth.
Well, bugger it. Harry threw down the cleaning rag in disgust and dropped onto the stone floor, exhausted. The cool surface was soothing against his aching palms. He glanced at the clock—Snape would be back in half-an-hour, so there wasn’t much time—but there were only three cauldrons with the grotty brown crusts that refused to scrape off. If he could find more of that stuff he’d be done in a tick—and wouldn’t Snape be surprised that he’d actually finished on time and gotten it right!
His eyes sweeping the shelves, Harry pushed himself to his feet and moved quickly toward the one he thought Snape had pulled the bottle from last time. It had flown straight from the shelf and Harry hadn’t seen exactly where it had come from, but the bottle had been large, with a long rectangular neck and a purple-stained cork that had popped off rather easily. The bottle itself was clear, though the liquid was deep purple, and it had been half-empty—Harry craned his neck up at the shelves, stacked eight or nine high…and found it, wedged between an even larger bottle of something dull green and a set of three identical squat vials of murky gray. They were perched toward the end of the second-to-highest shelf.
Harry looked around for one of the wooden stools Snape kept in his workroom—there was one by the door and Harry hurried over to drag it to the shelves. He placed it under the cleaner, careful not to put it too close to the lower-most bottles and jars, them clambered on top, reached up—and found he was just shy of being able to grab it.
“Oh, come on!” he shouted to himself in frustration. It echoed from the wall and he forced himself to be quiet, glaring up at the bottle that rested two inches out of reach. There was nothing else to stand on, no countertop or table that could be hauled over—if he could do proper magic he could make the stool legs grow or something…Harry blew his hair from his eyes and tried to think. Snape had said the spell aloud to summon the bottle down—what was it again?
“Accio,” Harry said, remembering in a flash. Was there a special wand movement? He wasn’t sure—some spells had them but some didn’t seem to…slowly he pulled his wand from his robe. He gripped it nervously, wondering what would happen if he did it wrong…but it was only a summoning charm, not anything that was meant to make a fire-breathing dragon or something hideous materialize…
Harry raised his wand, pointed at the bottle, and took a deep breath. “Accio,” he said, distinctly.
And to his amazement, the big purple bottle hovered from the shelf and glided gently toward him.
“Cool,” he murmured, stretching out with his free hand and grasping it by the neck. He looked down at his feet to step from the seat of the stool with the bottle in one hand and his wand still in the other, then lowered a shoe to the first rung—and missed.
Before he could think he was flailing to catch himself—his wand clattered to the ground as his knuckles banged into the edge of a shelf; the bottle of cleaner swung into something glass, which tinkled as Harry clutched the shelving for support. His stomach had dropped when his foot had found the air instead of the wooden rung, and now it collapsed farther as smoke curled from the shards that lay near his left fist, closed around the purple bottleneck and jammed against the shelf’s edge.
The smoke was curling—and then it turned into a bright flame, small, viciously green, and all at once Harry felt sick. Green flickered in his eyes, green fumes rose from the light—the surrounding bottles splintered and burst their liquids against the dark shelf, and Harry saw them run together into a gleaming pool that filled the space between the fragments and started spreading toward his hand. His head drooped from the fumes—his vision had gone faint and he felt around wildly with a foot for the rung to get himself down before something really bad happened—but he was so sick and he couldn’t let go of the shelf, he felt he mustn’t let go, he felt so high up, the stone floor was too far—the burst-bottle mixture was coating the bottom of his fist now—there was a strange tingling sensation but at least it didn’t burn, not like the green fire that was still flickering away, not any brighter but still blazing green…
Harry gazed at it, his stomach turning, and dropped the bottle he clenched. It crashed to the floor, but Harry barely registered the sound. He wanted to let go. So he did.
Harry gasped as someone caught him and drew him from the shelves—his hands were stinging suddenly, badly, both of them, translucent rivulets of dark potions leaking down his wrists as he threw his arms around a neck and twisted himself in to hide his face from the green. His heart was thrumming fast but he held his breath with his eyes squeezed tightly; his glasses squashed against his nose.
“Evanesco,” Snape hissed. “Evanesco. Evanesco. Reparo.”
Harry pressed his face into black and cinched his arms more tightly around Snape’s neck—his hands and wrists and now the insides of his elbows were hurting very much. Snape’s arm was like iron, holding him aloft.
“Let me see,” Snape said brusquely, turning them from the shelves. Harry could hardly hear over the roar in his head and the fire in his hands—he clung close to Snape, kept his chin in Snape’s hair.
“Let me see, boy!” And Harry’s feet, which he’d wrapped around Snape’s waist to take the weight off his wrists, slid down as the man bent and lowered Harry to the floor.
“What in god’s name did you think you were doing?” Snape asked sharply, kneeling and tugging at Harry’s arms. Harry looked down dumbly as Snape yanked back his robe sleeves and pushed back a shirt cuff. His motions were jerky but he didn’t touch where it hurt, where the potions had dripped, leaving shocking purple welts at the edges of each palm. They bubbled over the veins of his wrists and disappeared beneath the stained shirt sleeves. “This is not a playground. These potions are not toys. You could’ve burned an entire laboratory to the ground!”
Snape was inspecting the lines of raised flesh, which glinted damply in the light beneath the beak of his nose. He was grimacing, and the shadows from his hair were harsh on his face. He flung out a hand and barked, “Accio dittany!”
Harry’s heart pulsed faster at the anger in his voice. A round tin from the opposite wall flew into Snape’s palm and Harry’s fingers were released as Snape unscrewed the lid.
“Take off your robe.”
Harry’s arms felt ready to burst into flame from the shoulders—the potions had trickled all the way down his left arm while he’d hung from the shelves, and nearly as far on his right. His eyes were suddenly full with tears from the pain, and as he shifted to unfasten the clasp of his robe, the wetness spilled over, blurring the bottom rims of his glasses.
“Your shirt,” Snape snapped, when Harry had struggled out of the robe. Snape was eyeing the purple-crimson blotches dotting Harry’s white sleeves in a damp broken line. Harry moved to obey, instantly, and found himself crying out as he fumbled, two-handed, with the middle buttons. The burning in his skin was growing fiercer by the second.
The metal tin clattered as Snape dropped it to the ground, pushed Harry’s hands aside—Harry winced, and that hurt too—and reached to Harry’s tie. A twist of his fingers and it was undone; a flick of Snape’s wrist and it slid from Harry’s collar. His shirt buttons came unhooked beneath a deft finger and thumb; Snape’s face was tightly drawn as it bent near Harry’s. Harry squeezed his eyes shut—it hurt so badly—as he moved to allow Snape to pull the shirt free. The air settled cold against his cotton undershirt—he couldn’t feel it at all on his bare bruised arms.
“Stay still,” Snape murmured, and the warmth brushing his chin made Harry relax for a fraction of a second. The next moment his eyes had shot open—he was shouting, there was fire in his arm, tongues of it, leaping down his veins, splitting wide his skin—he was choking, clenching, Snape was clenching his elbow, smearing thick agony up and down his arm.
“Stay still!” Snape hissed as Harry writhed, fingers opening and closing as Snape applied the paste. Through the blur of tears Harry glanced down—the welted flesh glimmered under Snape’s quick fingertips. It was too much. The burn piercing his arm—both his arms—was turning his stomach, and Harry’s head dropped to Snape’s shoulder. His chest rose and fell in heaves.
“Make it stop,” he whispered, licking away tears and catching Snape’s hair. “Make it stop—”
“Don’t move!” Snape repeated, more vehemently. The tendons in his neck jumped against Harry’s mouth but Harry was conscious of only the torment in his limbs and he kept whispering without hearing his own voice. The excruciation in his left arm burst in his right as Snape began swiping that with paste too, his strokes broad and light and impossibly more terrible than the first ones had been.
Harry crushed his mouth to the ridge of Snape’s jaw—his teeth sank into the insides of his lips. He wanted his arms to simply fall or fly away; anything, anything to douse the inhuman pain that seemed to crest higher with each hitch of his chest.
“Make it stop,” he whispered, unable to think.
And there was a palm cupping the back of his neck, there was an arm holding him firm, and Harry’s own arms were hanging free at his sides, jutting stiffly out, still alight with the flames. But he could feel the air now, faintly cooling over the skin, he could feel his fingers convulsing, throbbing under each nail.
Harry hiccupped on his tongue at the return of sensation; his torso shuddered against Snape’s and he emptied his lungs in an exhale at Snape’s jaw. Stubble scraped his lips and the new sting was a relief—it wasn’t in his arms and Harry pressed his mouth to Snape’s skin for the same again. The jaw turned then, beneath Harry’s press—Harry opened his mouth to bite down on his lip because he needed to bite but there was Snape’s mouth; he was saying Potter. Harry choked on his pain.
The surge in his throat when Snape’s mouth closed on his overwhelmed all else, jarred the burning from his arms—then it flooded back and Harry bit down.
He dug marks in Snape’s lip and his face was wet; he was crying, his shoulders folded in, his arms held at odd angles, and nothing was right, everything hurt in great leaky drips from his eyes and his nose and into his palms, nothing was right his glasses were falling he was too close to Snape. Then his mouth was wet too, shifting salty over Snape’s and the dip-swell of his ribs could not be sustained.
Snape pulled back, slightly, where he knelt on the stone. The stillness of his hands on Harry’s neck and spine seemed to drift into Harry’s chest. His breaths slowed, a little.
Harry raised his eyes from the black buttons near Snape’s throat; he couldn’t see the professor’s face very clearly over the top of his glasses, which were almost slipping from his nose. Harry thought Professor Snape must be angry, and it set an erratic jump in his heart.
“Madame Pomfrey,” Snape said lowly, lifting a hand to re-fit the glasses on his face. “You’re to see her at once.”
Harry swallowed, nauseated from the burning that lingered strongly in his arms, exhausted from crying, fearing the worst from the man who hated him, always hated him though he’d tried so hard to please. The thought brought such distress that Harry forgot he shouldn’t move, he shouldn’t swing his arms like that to fetch up his shirt and tie—
He gasped and the weight of Snape’s hands vanished. Drawing out his wand, Snape picked up the shirt and charmed it white again. He held wide one sleeve. Harry looked at him, lashes crusting, and the man gave him a nod. Harry put his arm through, very slowly.
The other was more difficult but Snape took great care, and when the shirt was on Snape drew the fronts together gently, so the folds smoothed without rustling. He attended to the buttons, gazing at each intently as he fastened them, top to bottom with calm hands. Then he picked up the tie and looped it around Harry’s neck, never looking at him but turning up his collar, sliding the stripes into place, folding it back down, crossing the gold-red ends he held. Snape’s face was quiet as he knotted the tie.
His motions were unhurried; once he paused and Harry tried not to sniff through his madly running nose while Snape re-threaded the fabric and set the knot right. Then Snape collected the robe that lay heaped near Harry’s feet; he rose from his knees and found the shoulder seams of the robe, to hold it out.
“The infirmary now,” Snape said, twitching a robe sleeve. His voice was still low and Harry could hardly hear over the thump of his heart and the rushing in his head. Automatically he moved to do as he was told and began to arch a ruined arm to the sleeve. But oh, how awful it was! Because he didn’t want to go. He was sure to lose the way from the dungeons and it was hard to see, and he would’ve done anything not to have to leave. He was certain Snape could fix this, if only he would.
Harry raised his other arm, his lip caught between his teeth. He couldn’t stop the tears. Snape settled the robe on him and shifted aside.
“Go on,” Snape said.
There was no hope of wiping his face with his sleeve, so with a mighty sniff and a juddering inhale-exhale, Harry took a step, despairing at the sound of Professor Snape’s voice. He made his way from the room into the darkened corridor. It was draftier here and the torchlight had fallen—he stood, trying to decide which way to turn, bewildered and made wretched by an endless homesickness that wasn’t for home.
Then something whisked beside him; Professor Snape was there. He was closing a hand over Harry’s fingertips.
“This way,” he said, without looking down. He began to stride and Harry’s heart leapt; his fingers curved into Snape’s as much as the strangely stiffening balm would allow. His thoughts turned over one another—he saw Professor Snape kneeling, bending over him shouting, hair in his face; his nose in the moonlight—enormous!—his stare, ever so black.
“Professor,” Harry whispered. Snape’s step curbed sharply—Harry stumbled, gasping as the skin on his wrenched arm blazed high. He glanced up fearfully. Snape was fixing him with that stare.
“Hurts,” he whispered.
Snape was silent a moment. He frowned and knelt. Harry’s heart soared. He laid the back of his hand across Snape’s open palm and Snape began rolling back the robe sleeve, the shirt cuff, to expose the discolored flesh. It stung when the fabric creased against the wounds. Harry’s hand twitched uncontrollably.
“Can’t you just…” Harry whimpered, not knowing what to say except he knew Snape could, he could, if he wanted, do something magic to stop the pain. Snape was lowering his palm, and Harry’s hand within it, and the movement filled Harry with an unreasoning terror that Snape would stand up again, and walk away.
“Please?” Harry whispered. Then he tilted to squash his wet cheek to Snape’s. He kissed Snape’s jaw twice quickly, touching his open mouth to skin. It stopped Snape from rising, so Harry did it again.
Snape drew himself up, his stubble brushing Harry’s face, and Harry knew must’ve done it wrong, completely wrong. His chest was starting to heave when arms scooped around his sides and lifted him from the ground, and Snape’s breath was warm as it eddied in his ear.
“You mustn’t tell anyone, understand?” His lips were like feathers at Harry’s skin. “You can’t tell anyone.”
Harry tried to put his arms round Snape’s neck but the crackling pain cut short his effort; instead he nodded vigorously and dried his face in Snape’s hair.
“I won’t,” he said, trembling with sincerity. He pulse raced as Snape carried him over the cool winding stone floor. “I promise.”
Several minutes later Snape set him down in a place he’d never been. A bedroom, not chilly.
“Is this yours?” Harry gazed at the books, untidily piled in spilling bookcases. Racks of potions bottles glittered from high shelves in the light of the fire.
“Yes,” Snape said, his tone suddenly blunt. Harry glanced over anxiously; Snape was at a cluttered desk, stacked heavily with parchment and inkwells and quills and more books. He was lighting lamps, and the glow warmed the ceiling with a brighter flickering orange.
Harry sat on the edge of the bed, where Snape had placed him, arms on his thighs. They were only hurting now when he moved them.
Snape turned, looking unblinkingly at Harry for a long moment. It was unnerving, and Harry pulled his body inward slightly, rumpling the bedcover. The welts flashed in pain.
Then Snape was sweeping to him, crouching at the bed, gently extending Harry’s arm until the back of his wrist lay on his knee. Harry’s anxiety faded at the light touch; his pulse fluttered thinly as Snape bent his head, drifting long fingers over the dark sleeve. He seemed to be searching out the path of burns through the fabric, though his fingertips hovered, without pressing down. Harry watched a black twist of Snape’s hair, barely swinging at his cheek. He thought of the way Snape had knotted his tie.
Harry started as Snape murmured something unintelligible—his wrist twinged as it chafed against Snape’s sudden grip, which eased the instant Harry relaxed his arm. It was magic, Harry realized as Snape continued softly, in words Harry didn’t know. It was magic and it was sharp—stinging anew—his skin was tightening, cutting bloodflow and Harry sucked in a breath as tears bolted to his eyes. Through the white-hot strain of his veins came the cool of a hand pressed to his neck. Snape held him firmly—his eyes watered and clenched—Snape’s thumb stroked his jaw. Snape’s fingers were curving through his hair, around his ear, and in his mind Harry traced the line of Snape’s touch, forgetting his right arm, his left arm as the new skin formed. Under his chin Snape’s hand trailed, down his neck, his chest, the side of his thigh, skimming his kneecap and down and back up again, soothingly, tenderly over Harry’s shallow breaths—the unfurling of skin sizzled in his arms. Harry listened only to the flow of Snape’s murmur and its forgiving caress.
When the pain had ebbed to nothing, Snape’s palm floated back to his jaw. Harry opened his eyes, blinking through somewhat stuck-together eyelids. Snape’s fingers dropped away.
Harry’s hands hurried to undo the absence though they hardly knew how. They slipped off the school robe in clumsy fashion; they went to the knot Snape had knotted so well. Fumbling, he loosened it, pulling the wide point free. The ends of the tie still hung from his shoulders when he groped at his chest for shirt buttons, and his new skin tingled, stretching. All the while he watched Snape with a tremor in his breath, and Snape looked back steadily, without contempt or revulsion or the least trace of a sneer.
Finally Harry had all the buttons undone and he squirmed from the shirt, leaving it draped over the robe that lay on the bed. He sat in trousers and undershirt with his trainers not touching the ground, and there were tiny pinches where his bare arms goose-bumped. Feverishly uncertain, he pushed his shoes off with his feet. They thumped softly to the floor.
Harry swallowed, heart rocking. “Um. I don’t—should I…?” He ducked to stare at the socks on his feet. They were black with faint gray speckles of lint on the tops. He slid from the bed and stood, toes curled, in front of Professor Snape, eyes and glasses bright, longing to be surrounded instead of outside, like this.
Still Snape said nothing—Harry could feel the dark quiet gaze in the leap of his pulse and was afraid, dizzy, dry-mouthed, too warm. He reached to his trousers; he looked down at small fingers that didn’t seem to be his and watched as they moved to unfasten the catch at the top.
Snape caught his right wrist and held it back; Harry started and his eyes flew up.
The man drew out Harry’s arm in a fluid arc, as if he would kiss the back of Harry’s hand. Harry’s fingers curled beneath Snape’s grip.
“The wounds aren’t yet fully healed,” Snape said, slowly turning Harry’s elbow so the new pink trails glimmered in the light. Harry could see his professor’s eyes darting quickly up and down beneath the thin skin of lowered lids. “Keep them covered, but don’t bandage them,” he said, lowering Harry’s arm and lifting the other.
Harry nodded, holding his breath. When Snape lowered his wrist slowly back to his side, a wave of tiredness washed over him. Harry’s back softened and he was breathing out, his shoulders settling.
“You should rest,” Snape said. Harry nodded again, misery and relief making his head heavy. He turned slightly and saw his shirt, wrinkled on the robe. He closed his fist on the collar—Snape didn’t like him. Harry bit his lip and shoved his arm into a sleeve.
“Have a care,” Snape said, stopping Harry’s shoulder with a brief touch. He turned Harry to him and leaned down to gently pull the shirt into place. Then he removed Harry’s glasses, pausing to set them on a tall stack of books by the bed before sliding comforting hands under Harry’s arms to hoist him onto the bed. It squeaked as Harry wriggled until he was lying down, and Snape’s hair hung over him as the black eyes moved from pillow to blanket to bedside lamp, the deft hands adjusting until Harry was half-dreaming in darkness, his head tilted toward Snape. The blanket under his chin rose and fell evenly.
He wasn’t fully asleep when Snape’s warmth withdrew, and that allowed him to raise his head in alarm, a little, before it fell back again.
“Professor?” he mumbled, reaching blindly from under the blanket. He found the stiff edge of Professor Snape’s cuff. “Will you stay with me?”
In the dimness, Harry’s eyes were drifting closed. The mattress dipped beside him; the blanket shifted with new weight. Harry sighed and eased, and his head slipped a bit down the pillow. In his dream Snape was murmuring take care, and Harry was doing exactly as he said, exactly what he wanted; Snape was smiling at him and holding his hand. That made Harry happy, for he loved Professor Snape very much.
Beside him, the professor sat quietly, stroking the top of Harry’s head, the slight curve of his neck. Harry fell asleep.