Disclaimer: All characters from the Harry Potter universe belong to J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury Publishing, Scholastic Inc., AOL/Time Warner and associated companies. No offence, legal or otherwise, is intended by the online publication of this story. Neither is profit. Make love, not lawsuits!
Notes: A post-Hogwarts Severus/Harry story dedicated to Bugland, one of the best writers of Snape in this fandom. This counts as a mild AU, since I've twisted the details of how Aurors 'graduate'. Here, all Aurors need a 'master' to accompany them until they are ready; Snape is Harry's. At this point, Harry's about 19, and completing the final stage of his training that will take him from student to journeyman, and finally from journeyman to soldier. The title is taken from he who Shook the Spear; King Henry the Sixth [V, II]. 'Ah, who is nigh? Come to me, friend or foe, / And tell me who is victor...'.
Rust-colored water fills the tub, swirling around Harry's knees. Yet another sodden bandage comes off his arm with a sticky pull, only to be replaced by the damp warmth of a new one, tight and stinging with one of Snape's potions.
'Oh,' says Harry, without meaning to, and bites his lip.
Snape's hands pause. 'Too tight.' It's not a question.
Harry nods and grits his teeth as the bandage loosens, by small degrees, until Harry can breathe again. The edge of the tub is uncomfortable as he braces his weight on it, feet planted apart on the tub's floor to allow the old, blood-soaked bandages to fall where they may. Harry's naked, but it doesn't bother him anymore--he's used to sitting here, in this small room, where the light is too bright and Snape's fingers are tipped with red as they dab tincture over Harry's wounds. Each careful touch makes Harry flinch, but the sedative keeps him heavy-eyed, unwilling to move.
When the work is finally done, Harry feels all clean and healed apart from the residual sharpness of pain under his skin. Snape doesn't move away, though, palm moist and warm on Harry's bare shoulder--and Harry isn't surprised. Snape doesn't ask do you want or please--instead he simply slips his hand down and wraps it around Harry's half-hard cock, pulling and stroking until Harry comes, another surprised 'oh' when he sees his come, dirty white in the midst of all that red, melt into the water.
It's okay to be helped out of the tub then, because he's used to this--okay to lean heavily on Snape when Snape dries his legs--okay to be led to his bunk, the mattress thin and hard and unwelcoming, before Snape releases him.
'Get some sleep,' Snape says, as though there's anything else Harry could do--and Harry wants to say something that'll make what he just allowed unreal--something like I hate you or greasy bastard--but the sedative makes his tongue heavy too, clumsy at speech.
This is just war, after all. Snape's touches don't mean anything, even if Harry's been allowing Snape to touch him for months. With and without the sedative. Snape's just his training partner and tutor--the other occupant of this small room with two bunks at opposite ends. Harry'll be back home in just a month. Back at Hogwarts with Ron and Hermione, done with all this, done with the fighting and the training and Snape's warm hand on his cock...
Maybe it's comfort. Or something. Maybe it's... --Harry's eyes grow even heavier, and it's difficult to feel the pain in different parts of him now, difficult to feel anything at all of his body, so that he can almost imagine that he's dead and staring up at the ceiling, a heavy, sleepy ghost.
He hears the sound of a palm moving against flesh when he closes his eyes, but he's asleep before he can hear Snape come.
The voice sounds worried--and Harry hurries to his bag immediately, pulling out the two-way mirror to see Ron's face staring back at him.
'Hi, Ron.' The words sound inane even to him, and he sees Ron throw up his hands in frustration.
'Where the fuck have you been?'
'West Point, o' course. With Snape.'
'Yes.' And why does he suddenly feel the need to look away from the mirror? He doesn't, of course.
'Shit, I'm glad he's there, Harry. Never thought I'd say this, but--' Ron raises a hand to rub over his face--and that's when Harry sees the bandages there, thin white stripes across Ron's now-crooked nose, hiding the worst of the freckles there. '--I'm glad you escaped with someone. With one of us. Tonks got away alone, you know? She was wandering the North woods for five weeks before we could find her. Nearly got herself killed at least three times by then.'
'The Eaters came around the base at dawn. We didn't even have the time--'
'Yeah. Yeah. Harry, we know. Tonks told us, remember?'
There's a brief silence, and then Ron smiles. 'I'm so happy that you're all right. Harry, it's been eight months since I've seen you...'
'You're seeing me now.'
Ron throws up his hands again. 'I mean... you know what I mean, Harry!'
Harry chuckles. 'Yeah. I do.'
'Hermione misses you too. She can't be here right now, she's with one of her patients--should I call--'
'No, Ron. Don't disturb her.'
'We were all so worried about you. First you're packed away with Snape as your partner for six fucking months, off at training base, and then the fucking Eaters attack and then you're on a mission for two more months, just before you were s'posed to return--'
'Well, at least my training's complete.'
Ron makes a wry face. 'Shut up, you. The bloody mirrors wouldn't work either while you were injured, and we had no idea--'
'I was fine, Ron. Snape--'
'Fixed you, did he? Merlin, never thought I'd be grateful to the bastard, but he knows his healing potions well.'
There is a sudden burst of static that blurs both Ron's voice and his face--and Harry sees Ron scramble for something out of the boundaries of the mirror.
Meaning, of course, that the Death Eaters are trying to track their signal--mirror to mirror, trying to catch two birds with one stone. 'We'd better say goodbye, then.'
'Yeah.' Ron's voice is a little scratchy, but it seems to be from more than just the interference now. 'Give my regards to the snake, will you?'
Snake. Snape. Something odd must have shown on Harry's face for a moment, because Ron's expression cools suddenly, becomes careful.
'Harry,' Ron says. 'Is he--'
'It's not safe to talk now.' Harry says quickly, and cuts the connection off--seeing Ron's face blink out of sight, leaving nothing but the pale sheen of the mirror behind.
He's still sitting there, with Sirius' two-way mirror in his lap, when Snape comes into the tent.
Snape's eyes glance at the mirror and sharpen immediately. He sets the bundle of firewood in his arms down carefully; turns to face Harry. 'I take it you spoke to Headquarters.'
Harry looks away. 'Er. Not quite. Ron--'
'Weasley? Oh, let me guess. The first time you manage to establish a connection with your little mirrors,' Snape spits, as he always does at anything connected to Sirius, 'you speak to that useless child. Did it occur to you to ask for Dumbledore? To ask for our next orders? To ask where the hell we're supposed to go from here?'
Harry gets up quickly, dislodging the mirror so that it falls with a quiet thump back onto his mattress. 'Ron's not a child. Neither am I. He contacted me, not the other way around. The mirrors didn't even work the last two times I tried! --And don't say anything about Sirius.'
Snape's mouth, which had opened on a vicious little curl, snaps shut. He seems vaguely surprised that Harry knew what he was going to say.
'Stop acting so fucking superior. At least I thought to bring the mirrors along--yeah, they don't work perfectly, but what did you bring? Nothing! And if Dumbledore wanted to send us orders, Ron would have told me immediately!'
Snape bristles. 'The only reason I didn't bring anything, Potter, is because I was rather busy saving your life. Or don't you remember?'
It's Harry's turn to snap his mouth shut.
There's a silence as he and Snape stare at each other, keeping their minds closed tight and their faces tighter.
Finally Harry glances away and looks at the mirror, seeing Snape's posture relax out of the corner of his eye. 'Ron said to say hello to you.'
'Did he?' Snape's voice sounds oddly caught between disgust, wrath and amusement--and Harry finally looks at him, at the tired paleness of Snape's face, the lines that seem carved into his brow, and the paper-thin, oddly delicate skin in the circles under Snape's eyes.
Harry feels the sudden, irrational urge to touch him--to touch Snape's face, smooth away that frown--but that's impossible, that's insane, and Harry's never touched Snape back.
'Yeah,' he says finally, clearing his throat. 'No orders from Dumbledore.'
Snape sits down heavily on his own bed, starts tugging off his boots. 'Which means our old orders stand. Scout around West Point and empty the Forest of stray Death Eaters. Joy. We could be at it for months.'
'Well, we can't let them form a base here. Bad enough they have Phoenix.' Harry considers sitting down too, on the bunk opposite Snape's, but something under his skin feels restless. Snape's feet are bruised and scarred when he removes his boots; Harry finds that he has to look away.
'Indeed. They're like rodents. Stamp one out, and another immediately appears to take its place.'
'I was rather thinking of a Hydra.'
Snape raises his eyebrows, looking vaguely impressed. 'Yes. I believe that analogy will do.'
Harry snorts. 'Better to think that you're slaying Hydras than assigned to pest control, eh?' He walks restlessly to the edge of the tent, opens the flap to peer outside. It isn't raining, for a change. 'I'm going out scouting.'
Snape stands up so quickly he nearly falls over. Winces when his shoeless feet meet the rough weave of the tent's floor. 'You're not, you imbecile. It's not sa--'
'It's as safe as you going out to collect firewood,' Harry points out.
Snape sputters. 'We need firewood.'
'And we need to find more Death Eaters.'
Snape's mattress creaks as he sits down again, face twisted in a scowl, hands reaching for his boots once more.
'Oh, no you don't. You need your rest--and you went scouting yesterday. I won't act on anything, I promise. I'll just see where they are and come back to tell you.'
'If you survive the seeing of them, that is.'
Harry shrugs. 'I've survived the seeing of them before. Battle two days ago, remember?'
It looks as though Snape's going to argue--but his body is weary and his soul looks weary too, and his greasy hair hangs in a dismal black curtain when he lets his boots fall again. 'Your call, Potter,' he says finally, sounding fed up with the whole thing. 'If you die out there, I'm not coming to fetch you.'
'Wouldn't expect you to,' says Harry, which is a lie, but that's okay because Snape's lied too. 'Here.' He tosses Snape his bag, still filled with stored meat from the base, cold with the freezing spells put on it. 'You can make dinner while I'm gone.'
Snape bridles at this--this housewifely delegation (Harry can almost hear the man thinking, now)--but Harry manages to avoid the next barrage of vitriol by stepping out of the tent quickly, letting the flap fall closed behind him.
The air outside is fresh and clean, and just slightly cold--the sky dimming with dusk, but still light enough to spare two hours' worth of scouting.
Harry glances back at the tent for a moment, no longer feeling unnerved when he sees nothing at all. Invisibility charm, and more security wards than Merlin can poke a wand at--well, okay, maybe not Merlin, but close enough.
He thinks of Ron's voice as he walks into the forest, leaving a near-invisible trace behind him to lead him back to the tent. It's... odd... to think of Ron's voice out here, in this wilderness, where he and Snape have been trapped for three months. No. Not trapped. Assigned.
Harry snorts again as he heads in the opposite direction than the one Snape had already covered last night. It's almost peaceful, making his way through the forest in this soft half-light--but it won't be peaceful if he finds someone tonight--young Nott, maybe, or Tescher--and has to go back to tell Snape about it. Then they'll be in yet another battle--another set of bruises, with Snape dabbing at his wounds and...
Harry almost stops for a moment, hearing Ron's voice say Snake, but then he picks up his pace again. Stupid to think of this. He doesn't really want to touch Snape, no matter what his foolish mind thought today--Snape hates him, and he hates Snape, and that, at least, hasn't changed. At the Order Headquarters or in this blasted forest.
Yes. And he doesn't think about Snape's hands on him, or his hands on Snape, cleaning wounds and wandering farther than they should. Of course he doesn't. They don't really want to touch each other--it's just something that happens, that keeps happening, and...
Just then Harry hears a rustle of leaves--and he's whipping around before he knows it, wand out and pointed, as a blurry shape shoots out from among the bushes and heads his way. He hears the echo of another's voice as his own casts a hex--but it's too late, it's too late, and he's struck on the chest. Icy pain unfurls in little claws around his ribs, and he sees another blurry shape come out of the trees, shouting.
No time. No time. He casts an invisibility spell on himself, hearing twin shouts of surprise, and stumbles back the way he came before either of the Death Eaters has a chance to cast a tracing spell on him.
He'll get home. Of course he'll get home. Snape will be so fucking mad--but Harry will say I didn't engage them, and Snape will say--Snape will say--
Survive the seeing of them, Harry hears in his mind--and then he's falling, falling, and the grass is so soft under his hands.
* * *
Ron? Harry thinks groggily, feeling a sense of déjà vu from earlier--but the hands around his arms are too tight, too cruel, hauling him up before he's ready for it.
'Potter,' says the same voice again, sounding relieved and irritated at once--and Harry recognizes it immediately, tries to pull away.
'C'n m'n'ge on m' own, thanks,' he says, only to be met with a firmer tug on his arms.
'Shut up, you idiot.'
Harry thinks of saying something--about being nice to people who've fallen in the field of battle, or something--but Snape's yanking him inside somewhere, cold air suddenly replaced with warmth--and Harry blinks, blearily, at what appears to be their tent.
'Home,' he says nonsensically. His chest feels like a block of ice.
'Yes.' And why is that voice dripping with sarcasm? 'If you'd like to call it that, yes.'
Harry's robes are being tugged off his shoulders--none too gently--and he makes a vague sound of complaint.
'Freezing hex,' Snape says. 'You need to sleep. And warm yourself up. Good thing they didn't trace you, or we'd both be dead...'
Then he's being pushed--forward--and later, when Harry thinks about this, he'll reassure himself that it wasn't really a conscious choice. He was shoved forward towards his own bed, but the first one his knees collided with was Snape's, so it was okay to collapse there, after all, and pull the startled, warm weight of Snape's body in after him. It was perfectly okay.
Sunlight's glass-bright through the windows, almost blinding as Harry steps into Dumbledore's office. Another intimidation tactic? To keep visitors off-kilter a little, to keep minds open just a little, just enough for the paring knife of Dumbledore's gaze?
Perhaps. Harry no longer trusts Dumbledore--not after Sirius' death, and not after Remus'--but Harry does trust Snape and Snape trusts Dumbledore, and that's why Harry's where he is. Snape keeps his counsel, of course, not speaking out against Dumbledore even if the man's commands could cost him his life--because that's what ex-Death Eaters do, if they want to survive--they follow the scarlet swish of Dumbledore's robes like faithful little dogs, hoping for scraps of salvation along the way. And oh, how Dumbledore hands them out. Just enough to keep one hungry, just enough to give hope for more. Watch over Harry Potter. Train him. Keep him safe at all costs.
All costs. It makes Harry's mouth curl with distaste. That's why he's here, making this report in Snape's stead. Because he's had enough of this. Enough of all costs--applied to himself, yes, but most of all applied to Snape.
'Harry,' Dumbledore says in surprise, looking up from his desk.
'Sir.' Harry doesn't bother keeping the disdain, at least some of it, out of his voice.
'I see that Severus isn't with you to make his report.' Dumbledore's voice is kind, so very kind, and the knife under it is so very, very sharp.
'Yes, Sir. Professor Snape was injured in battle.' Because of you. Because of you. Because of you.
'Was he?' A flash of concern. 'I heard nothing of it.'
'No, Sir. He was injured just today, following the path you advised we take through the Forbidden Forest.' Careful, Harry. Don't blame him outright, or you won't get what you want.
Dumbledore's eyes narrow. 'It was the fastest and safest route that our strategists could devise, Harry.'
Harry barely manages to bite back Not safe enough. His mind is locked, thankfully--Dumbledore's eyes won't be able to see anything he thinks. 'Yes, Sir.'
'I hope Severus is not injured too badly.'
Broken ribs. Bruised kidney. Snapped wrist. Acid hex on the entirety of his left arm. 'No. Not too badly, Sir.'
'Good to hear.' And Dumbledore ruffles through his papers again, which Harry notices have Snape's scrawl on them. 'Severus kept me very well-informed about everything until today; unless you'd like to make an extended report, I'm more than happy to wait for the both of you to talk to me once Severus is well.'
The bastard. Harry was hoping for some time, after making his report, to ask about--
'And then we can discuss where you are to be stationed next, and with whom.'
--That. 'Actually, Sir, I'd like to discuss it with you now.'
'I see.' Dumbledore looks like he's going to ask Harry to sit down--but he knows better than to ask now; he knows better than to be turned down. He looks at Harry carefully, for a moment, and has the gall to look like he understands. 'I'm sorry I had to put you with Severus, Harry. I know... that the two of you don't get along well. But he was the best qualified to be your tutor on the field, and to protect you as a journeyman; now that you're fully qualified, of course, you need not be assigned a protector. You've done exceptionally well--all but two of the Death Eaters at West Point were found and eliminated by Professor Snape and yourself. Now, tell me. Mister Weasley will be completing his training soon--perhaps you'd prefer...?'
And Harry almost laughs--because no, Dumbledore doesn't understand him at all. It's almost a relief--it's one of the few good things that's happened to Harry in a long time. 'No, Sir. In fact, I'd rather I wasn't stationed with Ron at all.'
Dumbledore's bushy white eyebrows rise so quickly that it almost seems as though they Disapparate. 'Oh?'
'I'd rather keep Professor Snape as my partner.'
It's interesting to watch Dumbledore's face in the following moments--in a silence so deep and sudden that it seems entirely foreign to this cheerful, unnaturally bright office. Dumbledore's eyes are wide at first, and then they narrow--and there's that look again, that calculating look, that Dumbledore doesn't even bother to mask. 'I'm not sure I understand, Harry.'
'Oh, I think you understand very well. Sir.' Careful. 'Professor Snape and I work well together. As you yourself have said. All I ask is that you re-station me with him for the next mission, and the one after that, and the one after that.'
'Permanent assignments are highly unusual, Harry. They're usually only assigned to..,' here Dumbledore seems to stumble, 'married couples.'
Another silence; this time with Harry trying to find the right words. Finally, all he can come up with is, 'Yes, Sir.'
Dumbledore leans back in his chair. His face is blank, utterly blank, and slightly benign--and Harry can't tell if Dumbledore's disgusted by what he's just been told, or angry, or threatened. Or even, Merlin forbid, pleased. 'This is most unexpected, Harry.'
There's that urge to laugh again. 'Yes, Sir. I... yes, it is.'
'Does Professor Snape wish to be permanently assigned as well?'
Harry stiffens. 'I... cannot speak for him, Sir. But as far as I am aware, he has never asked to be assigned to anyone in the past, nor does he question your judgment in any matter.' Not openly. Not where you can hear him.
'And so you're saying that I should... express my judgment on the matter, and that he will most likely comply.'
Harry flushes. Spoken like that, it sounds a lot like he's duping Snape into this. But. Snape hasn't expressed any wishes to the contrary, has he? Not while they're--no, he's not going to think of that in Dumbledore's office. 'Yes, Sir.'
Dumbledore taps his fingers against his desk.
Harry looks at Fawkes' perch, which has nothing but a dusting of ash on its golden tray. A bad time of the month. 'Think of it as a way to further ensure my safety, Sir.'
Dumbledore raises his eyebrows again.
'With Ron... well, I trust Ron, of course, but you have to admit that S--that Professor Snape is the far more experienced soldier.'
Fuck you, say something. 'If I were to be childish and choose my best friend, it would no doubt detract from my own safety. With Professor Snape--'
'--You always have a guardian to look after you. Yes.' Dumbledore's eyes are sharp, too sharp, but his voice is gentle. 'But that's not why you're asking for him, is it?'
Harry knows better than to lie. In this office, here, with Dumbledore's eyes on him, in more ways than one. There are devices here, little things that look like baubles, which easily reveal the factual truth of one's words. Factual. Not qualitative. Factual. 'No, Sir. It's not.'
Dumbledore relaxes. 'Very well then. I suppose you'll be wanting to get back to Severus now, to see how he has recovered.'
That's as close to a sanction as Harry's going to get. 'Yes, Sir.'
He's already at the door, quick as his feet can take him, before the Headmaster's voice stops him again. 'Note that I don't approve of this, Harry.'
There's a moment in which Harry thinks he'll crack--say something--turn around and throw one of Dumbledore's little baubles back in his face. Instead he only straightens his back, in a gesture that he knows looks a lot like Snape's, and says: 'As far as I'm aware, Sir, you don't have to.'
And with that Harry's out, and moving down the spiral staircase, with his pulse still beating like a gong.
Fool. You fool, his mind's saying. But then his feet are carrying him to the hospital, the familiar hospital, and the only word he can think of is Severus.
* * *
'You asked to be assigned with Snape? You asked to be assigned with Snape?'
Harry winces and rubs his temples; the sharp, anti-septic smell of the hospital is bad enough, but Ron's voice just tops it off. 'Shh, Ron. Yeah.'
'Yeah?' Ron sounds incredulous. He gestures wildly to Hermione, who's shuffling back and forth with a tray of potions. 'Yeah. He says yeah.'
'Ron.' Hermione this time; exasperated. 'Harry needs some time to ingest the potion. Leave him be, will you?'
'Leave him be? The man's lost his mind! Who in their right mind would--would--'
'I would,' says Hermione.
Ron's jaw looks, for a moment, as though it might detach itself from his face and fall all the way to the floor. 'What?'
'Well, Snape's experienced, isn't he? For my first few assignments, I'd rather choose someone whom I can trust to watch my back.'
'I can watch Harry's back.' Sullen.
'I know you can, Ron. But you're both... you're both new. It's better, I think, to have one older person--this way there's greater safety for the younger partner.'
Harry finds himself smiling. Hermione's logic, hex-proof as usual. 'Thanks, Hermione.'
Hermione smiles back. 'You're welcome.'
Ron groans. 'Great. Just great. I find myself surrounded by...' He flounders.
'Geniuses?' Hermione teases.
'Idiots.' Ron sticks out his tongue. 'Well,' he corrects, 'maybe not quite--'
There is a sudden crash in the corner of the room--and they all whip around to see Snape's bed empty, the table next to it upset, and Snape collapsed on the floor in a black-robed heap.
'Fuck!' This from Harry, who rushes to his side. 'Snape. Can you hear me? Snape!'
'Potter.' Unsteadily; but in as unpleasant a tone as usual. 'Why the hell am I out of bed?'
Harry rolls his eyes. 'Don't ask me, you tetchy bastard. You're the one that got out of bed.'
'That,' Snape slurs, fixing Hermione with a gimlet eye, 'is not my fault. It means that you fed me an inadequate dose of sedative.'
An incredulous silence fills the room. Hermione flushes red--and for a moment she looks exactly like she used to in Potions class, when Snape criticized one of her perfectly made potions. Ron looks like he's going to burst out laughing.
Hermione manages to regain some semblance of control. 'Of course, Professor,' she says in her most soothing Mediwitch-in-control-of-the-situation tone. 'Perhaps you'd like another dose of Serenus?'
Snape knocks her hand away. 'Get that thing away from me.' His baleful gaze swings to Harry. 'Dungeons,' he says. 'Take me to my dungeons, Potter.'
'Sir,' Ron interrupts, surprising them all. 'Um. I don't think it's wise for you to--'
'I decide what's wise in my life, Journeyman.'
Ron flinches; reminded of his status here. 'Yes, Sir.'
Snape teeters on his feet; Harry catches him, just like he's supposed to, just as he always has, and guides him out of the room. He feels Ron's eyes fixed on his back then, just as they had been in the mirror, all those months ago--and he knows that in some strange way Ron recognizes what's going on, and isn't saying anything about it.
Perhaps he's afraid of being wrong, Harry thinks. But another, wiser voice--one that sounds disturbingly like Snape, says: Perhaps he's afraid of being right.
They take the short route to the dungeons, with Harry semi-levitating Snape along the way--and when they're inside, with the heavy door closed behind them, Snape finally relaxes against Harry's shoulder. 'Wrist,' he says, and Harry immediately understands.
He lowers Snape carefully onto the front couch, after spelling it clean of dust--they haven't been here for months, after all--and goes to the medicine cabinet. Takes out the muscle-relaxant and the pain-killer, twin potions of blue and white to be applied to the skin.
'I thought Hermione had fixed your wrist.' And all the other bones.
'She has.' Snape shifts on the couch, uncomfortable. 'But the wrist--'
'Is still sore. That's okay.' And it is, unwilling as Snape often is to admit pain. But not with me, some part of Harry thinks wonderingly. Not with me. He takes out the little wads of cotton and rolls Snape's sleeve up, revealing the swollen wrist--sore to the touch, if Snape's flinch is anything to go by--and he starts rubbing in the potions, both white and blue, until Snape's eyes grow heavy-lidded and the swelling begins to lessen.
It's strange to watch Snape like this--like Harry himself was, before--before--
'Good,' Snape says, tongue heavy and not making much sense.
'Do you want to sleep?' Harry asks, and Snape shakes his head--and Harry understands, simply letting Snape recline on the couch and spelling away their robes--summoning a blanket to cover them both as he crawls under it, over Snape, skin hot and dry against Snape's cool, shivering one.
'Ah,' Snape says, and Harry begins to move--slowly, at first, watching Snape's eyes open a little wider, gain a little more wakefulness. It's good like this, the blanket echoing their heat back at them, making them sweat--and the dungeon's cold beyond, and silent, but they have something warm here. Snape grows hard and hot against his thigh, gradual as a blossoming--and Harry says Yes, yes as he gently rubs them both to climax.
It's only afterwards, with his hair damp and clinging to Snape's shoulder, that Snape manages to speak. He sounds on the edge of sleep, as he should be after all those sedatives, but his voice is clear.
'You spoke to Dumbledore.'
Harry freezes immediately. Yes, he thinks, but the word won't make it out of his mouth. 'Yes,' he says finally, clearing his throat. He doesn't look up at Snape. 'I asked to be stationed with you.'
Snape doesn't say anything.
Harry feels a shiver, a strange gathering twist in his chest. 'I asked to be stationed with you,' he says again. 'Is that okay?'
And he finally does look up, expecting rejection--but Snape's already asleep, his face unusually calm and his eyes closed, his hand settled quietly on the small of Harry's back.
As it happens, they're assigned to yet another clean-up operation--this one in Dean, a forest ridiculously close to the Muggle settlements in Gloucestershire. The Death Eaters seem to becoming more and more desperate in their meeting points, and teams of Aurors--as well as non-Auror specialists--are sent to scout the forest under cover of dark, capturing or killing any Death Eaters they might find. Ron's stationed here this time too--with his partner, Padma Patil, who also happens to be one of Dumbledore's pet strategists.
They meet up sometimes, to exchange intelligence in the midst of raids on the Death Eater camps--smarting from hexes and wrapped in bandages, Ron showing off his wounds with the enthusiasm of a new soldier. Harry only smiles, leaning back in his rickety, carelessly conjured chair. Padma spreads their map on the equally rickety table, complaining about having to set up Muggle-proof wards on yet another section of the forest.
'If I cast another Obliviate,' she says, 'I'll start to think it's the only spell I know.'
It is inconvenient to work so close to Muggles--the local Muggle authorities have noticed a large number of bewildered denizens, particularly tourists who regularly visit the forest. Disappearances too number far above the ordinary frequency; not all the Muggles are fortunate enough to encounter members of the Order.
But, overall, things seem to be going well--only a month or two of hard work here, finishing off the very last of the Death Eaters and hopefully catching a few alive for interrogation--and then they'll be back at Hogwarts for a long-deserved break, assisting with the teaching there while waiting for their new assignments. Perhaps the students have finally become used to having new teachers every term.
Harry doesn't realize, until too late, that it was unwise to invite Ron and Padma to this tent--because he sees Ron's brow darken when he notices that only one of the bunks here looks used--Snape's bunk, with Potions texts piled around it.
Still, Ron says nothing, and jokes as he usually does throughout the evening--sparing only these odd little glances towards Harry, as if to ask him if he's in his right mind. Harry doesn't answer, except to flush--and he wonders just how badly fucked-in Snape's bed looks; if the evidence of last night's activities, with Harry sitting astride Snape's lap and frantically riding his cock, is at all visible on the rumpled sheets. The very thought makes him flush again, and look rather distractedly at Padma's map.
But he's being ridiculous, of course--and Snape himself looks the very antithesis of anything sexual, as he usually does in the early mornings. He perches on his chair like a frustrated crow, black robes ruffled and nose sharp as a beak, his sharp tongue lashing every one of Padma's arguments to pieces. Don't be foolish, girl, you'd have to pass the Apparation wards to even get them to surrender-- And Harry realizes too late that he's staring at Snape again, and that Ron's staring at him.
He's inordinately glad, therefore, when Ron and Padma leave--and he's left alone with Snape again, who simply Transfigures the two extra chairs back into firewood, flicks a few splinters off his sleeve, and says: 'He knows.'
Harry sits down rather quickly on Snape's over-used bed. 'What?'
Snape spares him a disgusted glance. 'Weasley, you idiot. He knows.'
It's difficult to resist the urge to swallow like a nervous child. 'He does?'
'Don't play the fool, Potter. You do the real thing too well.' And before Harry can sputter in response, Snape continues smoothly: 'Does it bother you?'
Snape sounds perfectly normal--but Harry knows that particular brand of normality by now--knows the sudden and almost invisible tension in Snape's shoulders, the way Snape doesn't quite look at his face.
'No,' he says clearly--and while it's not the truth, it's not quite a lie either.
But that's all right--because Snape relaxes, because it's true enough, and no one can have absolutes anyway, these days.
'Here.' Snape levitates some of the firewood his way. 'Start a fire.'
So Harry does--and they heat some soup over it, strictly rations-standard and barely tolerable--thin as water, too salty, with little strips of meat in it so lean that they might as well be parchment.
They go out scouting then, two times before dinner, but find nothing. Snape's frustrated when they come back, and Harry heats the same damned soup again--and when Harry finally kisses him after Snape sucks Harry's cock that night, Snape's eyes gleam dark in the flicker of the candle-light, and his mouth still lingers with that taste of too much salt.
* * *
The following days are nowhere near as peaceful. Suddenly, the areas Padma and Snape had scouted previously seem to be crawling with Death Eaters--far more than any of them had estimated, and far more than Dumbledore's intelligence had reported. Cloaking charms, Padma says weakly. More advanced than anything we have. Ron, though, seems stunned into near-silence. Fuck, he keeps saying at every meeting, as they uncover yet another bunker under the cloaking wards in the forest. Fuck. They request back-up from various other teams in the vicinity, but it seems far too long in coming--there seem to be Death Eaters in other areas of Dean too, attacking those who come to help before they even manage to arrive.
'Send them in groups, damn it!' Snape shouts into Harry's mirror, making Vector, Dumbledore's Chief Strategist at the other end, wince. 'Groups, not alone! Merlin, they'll all die before they even get to us!'
A quiet, deep sort of desperation settles over everyone; those that arrive and those that were here already. They set up a sort of timetable--each team taking shifts of waking and sleeping, settling in a group of tents around Harry's and Snape's, with Ron and Padma moving closer as well. Safety in numbers. There's always someone posted on watch, and those that aren't resting or healing from wounds are either guarding the camp or out fighting, returning variously wounded, hexed and scarred. A handful of casualties thus far, which Padma writes up with shaking hands--but it gets worse, it only gets worse, and the back-up never seems to arrive on time. Ambush, the Aurors around the camp whisper. It was all an ambush.
And perhaps it was--but there's no time to think about it now, no time to do anything but fight, keeping the area around their camp clean of Death Eaters. People come to Snape for doses of Dreamless Sleep, saying that otherwise the few hours they do manage to catch will be riddled with nightmares--and Ron himself shows up one night, pale beneath his freckles, and says: 'I keep telling them to stay away. To stay away. Even in my dreams.'
So the days of being bandaged and bandaging others return--and Harry conjures up the familiar tub again, cleaning Snape or letting Snape clean him of blood, settling back against Snape's soaked shirt while Snape bandages Harry's arms. Snape doesn't say anything inane, like take care, when Harry goes out to fight--but Harry can't help saying that to Snape, every time, every single time, until Snape finally snaps at him and tells him to shut up. Harry does--and watches Snape shrug on his cloak, black in the black night, as Snape leaves for his turn on the watch. He leaves a bottle of Dreamless Sleep on Harry's pillow, but Harry doesn't take it--he lies awake, like he does every time Snape goes out without him, waiting for Snape to come back.
Idiot, his mind tells him in Snape's voice--but Harry can't close his eyes, ears pricked for any sound out of the ordinary in their camp. But nothing comes--not until a few hours before dawn, when Snape re-enters the tent, face drawn and legs nearly collapsing with exhaustion, fixing his eyes dully on Harry's form in the dark.
'Idiot,' Snape says--just as Harry had known he would--as he removes his cloak and his shirt, and then his pants, and climbs into the bed. 'You should have gotten some sleep.' A faint patter of rain starts outside, meaning that tomorrow will have yet more battles fought in mud.
Harry only curls his hand around the back of Snape's neck and pulls him closer, demanding this, almost as a sort of assurance--and Snape, whose pulse is as thready as Harry's despite the calm of his voice, gives it as asked. His hands are cold but they warm soon, gathering heat from Harry's body; and Harry sucks him until Snape's hard, until he almost comes, before Harry pulls away. And then Harry only lifts his legs and wraps them around, easy as habit now, easy as instinct, when Snape begins to move.
Snape looks so tired that Harry wonders if he'll fall asleep while fucking him--but as it happens he doesn't--he only leans his forehead against Harry's shoulder and closes his eyes as he moves slowly, in-out-in-out-in-out, and Harry comes quietly onto their stomachs and wipes them off after Snape groans, draws out, and collapses next to him.
Snape's eyes are still closed, but his breath is deeper now, calmer. His arm is heavy on Harry's chest, heavy as it can only be with sleep--and Harry lies there, listening to the rain hitting the water-proof cloth of their roof, carving little silver puddles outside. It occurs to him that it's ridiculous to like this, half-dead and terrified and tired from battle after battle--it's ridiculous to like this here, with the scent of fresh grass outside, the taste of Snape's come in his mouth.
* * *
Harry should have expected it, he supposes. It was inevitable, as these things always are--but he can't quite believe that it's happened, here, right here, with the rain soaking his cloak and his wand dangling from his fingers--he can't believe that he's standing here and Padma's just saying this to him, saying it to him as though it's just another one of those names, as though it's Wilkinson or Zabini or Smith--saying that name as though it isn't Snape, as though it isn't Severus, as though this kind of thing can actually happen to him.
To Severus. No. No.
Hexed north of Dean... scouting with Brown... only Brown survived... recalls the casting of a combustion hex... the Professor's body can't be found...
Can't be found.
That's impossible. There has to be something. Something. Anything at all. He tries to go, immediately, to Apparate immediately to the sector--but the Death Eaters have taken control of it now, and there are Apparation wards around it that Harry can't break, and he nearly screams in frustration.
'You can't go,' Padma keeps saying to him. 'Harry, he's... he's gone. We can't go there until we get reinforcements--we can't break the Eaters' shields... Brown was lucky enough to escape.'
Lucky enough. Lucky? Padma's talking about lucky?
'Harry?' Padma's asking him. Her voice sounds worried. 'Harry, are you okay?' Her hand comes forward, tentatively, and Harry jerks back.
'Don't touch me,' he hisses. 'Don't you fucking touch me.'
She draws back as quickly as if she's been bitten--and someone nearby says 'Look here, mate,' but Harry simply points his wand at them until they shut up, and the rain keeps falling, the fucking rain, that Harry had heard just last night.
'Fuck you,' Harry says. He doesn't know who he's saying that to, the Death Eaters or Snape or Padma, but it's important somehow that he says it. 'Fuck you.'
And then Harry's stumbling back into his tent--their tent--and he--and he--
--It's warm inside. Warmer. Like it always is. Everything looks so unreal. Snape's Potions books, piled by the bed--the sheets half pushed to the floor from last night. The little cauldron poised on its makeshift fire, still bubbling with the Dreamless Sleep Snape had set to simmer this morning. The cracked tub with wet bandages draped over the edge, dripping.
It all looks unreal. Normal. Harry sits down on Snape's bed--their bed--and stares at everything, simply unable to--unable to--
Can't be found?
It occurs to Harry, some time later, to turn off the flame under the cauldron--which he does, knowing that Snape had planned to be back long before now. It makes something strange sink in his chest to think of it--so he doesn't, paying attention to his cloak instead, which has soaked water into the bed, and which he takes off to hang carefully on the chair. He strips down to his shirt and inspects his new wounds--knows that he should bandage them, and fetches the potion before he realizes that no one's here to fetch the bandage for him. So he fetches that too, and sits at the edge of the tub as he usually does, staring unseeingly into the rust-colored water. He applies the tincture and somehow doesn't feel the usual sting--everything feels numb already, before the sedatives even begin to act--and when he tries to wrap the bandage around his arm it slips, because his fingers won't work and he tries and it slips again and again, because he's not used to doing this by himself damn it and he finally screams, snatching up both the bandage and the bottle of tincture and throwing them, throwing them hard so that the glass shatters on the floor with a noise so loud that it nearly rattles Harry out of his bones.
The voice sounds familiar, tentative--Ron, Harry thinks, but his mouth won't move.
'Harry...' And it is Ron, stepping into the tent, looking as though it's almost impossible for him to stand here and not run away--and his crooked nose looks uglier than ever, and the pity in his eyes makes Harry hate him, blindly, for a moment.
'Get out of here,' Harry says calmly, not noticing the tone of his voice or how Ron winces at it. 'Get out of here,' he says again, warningly, when Ron takes a step closer.
'Harry,' Ron says hesitantly. 'Your wounds--'
'GET OUT OF HERE!' Harry shouts, looking around frantically for something else to throw--and Ron's eyes widen and he steps out of the tent before Harry can manage to hit him, but another bottle of healing salve crashes into the floor nonetheless.
'Get out of here, get out of here, get out of here...' Harry keeps saying, but afterwards he just grows tired, and he's hungry but he can't be bothered heating up that too-salty soup. So he finally crawls into Snape's bed, skin stinging with fever and cold and unhealed hexes, face pressed into the scent of Snape's body, before he falls asleep.
* * *
Severus? Harry thinks groggily.
'Potter,' says the same voice again, sounding relieved and irritated at once--and Harry recognizes it immediately, tries to wake up, but before he can follow the voice to where it leads, it fades away.
* * *
This time there is no confusion--Harry feels better, stronger, and he knows who this is. 'Hermione?' he croaks, voice thick and tongue bitter with dried spit.
'Oh, Harry.' She sounds relieved too, and irritated--just like--just like--
'What am I doing at Hogwarts?' he asks in that same unsteady voice, unable to open his eyes completely to the light. He makes out a blur of bushy hair by his bedside.
'Take the potion first,' she says, and before Harry can even move or say anything her fingers are clamped at the junctions of his jaw, quick as lightning, holding it open while she tips a shiver-smooth taste of mint down his throat.
'Gargh,' Harry says, coughing as Hermione sits back and watches him--and he feels reality right itself a little bit, finds himself able to open his eyes a little wider. Hermione's sitting next to him, her face tight with worry, eyes red-rimmed as though she's been crying, or hasn't slept for days. He stares at her for a moment, still feeling hollowed out in his chest, as though there's nothing here. He tries to ask her again, but now that he's clear-headed he also remembers, and the memory of it, the memory of--renders him incapable of speech.
Hermione, as though noticing, twists her hands in her lap. 'Ron brought you here two days ago. You got--you got a fever, Harry, a very bad one, because you didn't let anyone tend to your hexes--Harry, don't you remember? This morning--when you--you said--'
Harry stares at her.
She seems to be gathering breath to speak something, say something, and when she does, her voice is so quiet it almost isn't there. '... I'm sorry, Harry. I'm so sorry--Archibald Brown didn't know what he was doing, and Padma just took his information at face value--'
What? This isn't what Harry expected to hear--and he realizes distantly that his heart's slamming into his ribs. 'Wh-what?' he finally manages, mouth too dry to allow any more.
'You see, Harry--Snape--Professor Snape--he didn't really--' Hermione seems to find it difficult to form the words, but her hand's suddenly tight around one of Harry's when she says: 'He's alive, Harry. He's--he even came by... Only this morning, before his meeting with the Headmaster. You even--you even responded to him--said his name--so I thought you knew, you realized, I mean, but obviously you haven't, and--'
'Wait.' Harry's voice is hoarser than ever, and his heart, which had been slamming before, is beating so fast now that it almost seems like it isn't beating at all. Is this what hope feels like? It feels very much like pain. 'Wait. What are you--are you saying that Se--that Snape--'
'Yes!' And Hermione's eyes are smiling now, even though she still looks worried when Harry tries to move. 'Don't! Harry--'
'Where is he?' Harry shouts--or tries to, but his voice comes out in the same pathetic little croak. 'Where? I have to--'
'You can't walk, Harry! Wait!'
'Then fucking bring him to me!' Harry snarls, feeling something so terrified that it isn't even joy yet, because it can't be, because maybe he's still ill and this is some fever-induced dream, and if he loses Snape again he'll go mad, mad...
'Okay! Harry, we'll call him--his meeting must have finished just now--wait--'
But Harry's already hauling himself out of bed, on arms that feel as weak as twigs, and then there's a sharp crash against his head and he finds himself looking up from the floor, dazed, at Hermione's horrified face.
That is soon joined by another, this one with dark hair, dark eyes, that Harry stares at upside-down, unbelieving, disbelieving, not daring to believe, until that thin upside-down mouth opens and a sneering voice says: 'What did I tell you about inadequate doses of sedative, Miss Granger?'
This is a dream. This is a dream. His heart's hammering again, wildly, when those too-tight, too-cruel hands wrap around his arms--when they haul him up, all strength and easy grace, and he collapses against that familiar, sharply bony body--and there is a steady, odd murmur in his ears that Harry recognizes vaguely as his own voice, saying 'Severus, Severus, Severus,' over and over again.
And there are arms around him, dear Merlin, arms--the same arms, the very same--
'Severus,' he can't stop saying, and he's aware, dimly, of things becoming a little darker as Hermione steps out of the bed curtains and closes them around Snape and himself.
'Severus,' he whispers again, his mouth moving against Snape's neck, breathing him in, oh God, that scent...
'Sit down,' Snape says, and in a saner moment Harry would have goggled at it--no confessions, no vulnerability--even now--
'I said sit down, for Merlin's sake, you'll concuss yourself if you fall again; the way you're talking, you probably have concussed yourself...'
And then those hands are easing him back onto the bed, much more gently than the voice should allow, but Harry clutches those black sleeves and won't let go until Snape almost falls in over him, and has to give in and sit on the bed as well.
Some semblance of sense is returning--sedatives fading, shock echoing through his nerves like fresh, cold water. His body starts shivering. 'Oh my God,' Harry says. This is Severus, his mind keeps repeating, inanely, taking in the cruel mouth and the dark hair and habitually tense shoulders. This is Severus...
'Yes, I am indeed he,' Snape says dryly, reaching out to tug the blankets over Harry a little too firmly to be comfortable; and Harry realizes that his mind's been open thanks to the drugs, and relatively helpless.
'How...?' That's all that Harry can manage, trying to stop shivering.
Snape sighs and shifts uneasily. For a moment Harry thinks that Snape might say something inane too, like The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated, but instead Snape only raises his eyebrows, shifts again, and says: 'Brown is a fool.'
Harry opens his mouth, but Snape raises his hand to signal silence.
'Brown was right that he heard a combustion hex, after which he turned around to see that I had... disappeared. He was, however, so busy escaping himself that he didn't bother checking where I had disappeared to. I was unable to Apparate at that point, as Brown had managed mere moments ago--because the Death Eaters put up anti-Apparation wards the moment they discovered us. I cast an invisibility spell on myself when the first Death Eater cast a combustion charm my way, and escaped into the undergrowth--where I hid, for two blasted days--,' here Snape hisses for a moment, 'before Patil arrived with reinforcements to reclaim our territory. Then, when I came out of hiding, half the regiment nearly fainted away with shock. But you were dead, Professor Snape! exclaimed that little twit Brown--and I managed to point out, quite succinctly, that I obviously was not. Dead.' Snape looks at Harry then, and there's a strange expression in his eyes before he looks away again. 'I was, however, very hungry.'
Hungry, Harry's mind echoes blindly. His mouth says: 'I think I went insane.'
Snape actually flinches--a thing so rare and impossible--that Harry has to stare, for a moment, to make sure it really happened. 'I...' Snape says, and stops, and there's that strange look in his eyes again. 'I apologize,' he says finally, a little stiffly.
Harry's jaw drops. 'Apologize? My God...' He wonders, for a single, terrifying moment, if he's going to burst out laughing. 'Oh my God. Severus--you--you're alive, and you're--apologizing?' Harry tries to get up then, to reach for Snape's face with his hands, but Snape bats them away and holds them down instead, on the bed, so that Harry's left looking up at a pair of very fierce, very angry dark eyes.
It still takes him a moment, after all this time, to recognize that the anger isn't directed at him.
'I was... I didn't think clearly.' Snape's voice sounds jerky. 'I didn't... arrange anything. A--letter. To be sent during emergencies. Or--afterwards. I arranged nothing--to make it--' Snape seems, for one impossible moment, to be floundering. 'Easier,' he finishes finally, although it's obvious from his irritated expression that he finds that word inadequate. 'As much as it can be. Harry,' he says, and Harry starts at the realization that this is the third time he's hearing that name from this man, today. That he'd thought it was a dream... 'I'm sorry,' Snape says again, and there's something about that, the wonder of that, of hearing Snape say that--no, of having Snape here to say it--that Harry almost doesn't understand the words.
All he understands is that Snape's here, now, and...
'We're on leave now,' Snape says suddenly, in a tone so different to what he's just used that Harry might almost imagine that the entire apology had never taken place. 'I haven't been told where we'll be stationed next; Epping, perhaps, or back at West Point. Shacklebolt reported some activity there... Apparently Nott's unwilling to give up his territory.' The little bit of light that makes it past the bed-curtains emphasizes Snape's frown lines, the hollows under his eyes. The sound of his voice is beautiful, so beautiful, that Harry almost feels lulled by it. 'Dumbledore's arranged a--how did he put it--much-deserved rest--but you and I will be back out on the field the moment you've recovered.'
Snape looks so tired then, as though finally letting in the events of the past few days sink in, that Harry tries to tug him down--that same way, that same familiar way, with his hand around the back of Snape's neck.
But Snape resists, pulling Harry's hand away gently and placing it on the bed next to him. 'No, Harry.' Wonderful to keep hearing his name. Wonderful. 'Get some sleep.'
Get some sleep, echoes the same voice, from much longer ago, in Harry's mind. He feels heavy and quiet even now, the weave of the blanket close around him; his eyes staring up at Severus' face, calm at last, calm at last, don't leave me.
'I won't,' Snape murmurs--and he doesn't, he doesn't, because Snape's hand is warm on his even as Harry drifts off to sleep.