Title: Mind Games
Author: Arsenic
Rating: NC-17 for pr0n
Fandom/Pairing: HP, HP/SS
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling, Bloomsbury, Scholastic and Warner Brothers, I have nothing to do with any of these entities nor any rights to it whatsoever.
Summary: Occlumency lessons are revealing things.

For Amand_r, on the anniversary of her birth. *snerk* It's HP/SS first-time. Um, that's about all I can say about it. Hope it hits that "special place inside of you." Have a good birthday, luv.


The first time Severus touches Potter's mind the result is so unexpected he nearly draws back. It is only years of experience at both casting about in others' minds and having his own cast about in that keeps him from backing down. As it is, he is shaken enough that Potter's weakly -- desperately -- cast Stinging Hex catches him off guard and cuts the link between them.

Severus has heard the whisperings, of course he has, his life depends on his ability to hear and see what others do not. Whisperings that Famous Harry Potter was raised by Muggles who despised him. Severus has not given these one whit of credit. Everything about the boy, his walk, his laugh, the way he holds his quills, everything speaks of James Potter. The beloved James Potter.

It is too much to process, the picture of young Potter -- very young, eight, maybe? -- up far too high in a tree, pursued by a growling dog, being laughed at by the people who are supposed to be caring for him. Severus tries to focus on what he can. The lesson is still happening. "Who owned the dog?"

Potter's eyes are on him, more hate than vision filling them. Severus pushes it aside. Hatred is nothing new, particularly not from this boy.

Severus reminds himself that Legilimancy will bring forth painful memories. It is possible that what he has just seen is something that only happened once. The small corner of Severus's brain that he thinks of as his conscience and actively hates reminds him how unlikely this is. Abuse, even of the neglectful sort, is generally systemic.

The part of his brain that he trusts reminds Severus that this is James Potter's son, and that perhaps all of this and more is deserved. Feeling more settled, Severus gets ready to cast again.

Potter isn't listening at all, though, and the next cast is as hopeless as the first. Only this time Severus finds himself staring into the eyes of a dead student, a student whose death he is perhaps as guilty of as the Dark Lord. He taught with a man using a potion to disguise himself for an entire year and knew nothing of it until Hufflepuff's star (one of the few and far between) was lying dead in the midst of a newly reformed circle of Death Eaters.

Severus's rage at being dragged into that memory only increases with Potter's cry of, "NOOO!" The fool boy was the one who took Diggory with him to that graveyard. Rationally, Severus knows that Potter had no idea -- that had he, Potter would have never touched the Portkey either -- but the feel of Diggory's empty seventeen year old eyes is still on him and he shouts, "You're not trying!"

Potter shouts back, something about how he is, but Severus is having none of it. Potter will never survive at this rate. What Severus wouldn't give to be teaching a Slytherin this skill, even a Ravenclaw, someone who has already been taught the danger of betraying any emotion outside of pity or disdain. But no, he has Potter. Gryffindor Hero. Saviour of the World. Bloody Poor Excuse For A Champion.

Severus does what he does when it's obvious that things are heading to shit quicker than an Apparating hummingbird. He yells at Potter.

Not even that makes him feel better.


For a moment, a bizarre and yet nice moment, Severus doesn't understand what he's seeing when he comes back to find Potter bent over the table, head first in Severus's pensieve. He doesn't understand because it is literally beyond his ability to comprehend that even Potter would violate his privacy in that way.

Then the moment passes and all he can see is fury. Even the small voice that says, "But you've been chipping at his most private memories" is almost completely muted. Severus certainly doesn't hear it at the time, he's too busy hearing himself scream.

Potter is gone so quickly that Severus is pretty sure he's still screaming even after the deed has been accomplished. Severus strides to the pensieve and takes his memories back, one after another after another. The one that comes first is the one Potter has seen, he knows, and Severus grits his teeth, wondering just how far the presumptuous child viewed.

Something is nagging at Severus, something that looks frighteningly similar to the look on Potter's face when he fled, the look of complete horror that, flatter himself as he may, Severus knows had nothing to do with his temper tantrum. He pushes it away. He doesn't have to be concerned about Potter. The only person he owes concern to is himself, and maybe, perhaps Albus.

Severus rubs at his temples. He knows why Albus has insisted that he be the person conducting these lessons but it feels futile. It is true that Potter fears him -- Severus allows himself a trill of pleasure at this thought -- and that he is the only person in the school with that advantage, hence the ability to minimally recreate what Potter will be dealing with when in the presence of the Dark Lord. Nonetheless, to fall back on a truism, there has to be an easier way of going about this.

Severus wonders idly how quick Potter will be to tell one person, two people, three, about what he has seen. Severus is used to whispered comments about him, particularly from the students although not limited to them. It is beyond annoying, however -- Severus shies away from the word humiliating, it has become overused in his life -- that an incident some nineteen, twenty years past is to rear its ugly head as a form of torment once again.

Severus sometimes thinks that the gods have taken his atonement on as a personal project.

He picks up the pensieve, locks it in a cabinet and wonders if there's any way to have Potter resume lessons without losing face in that area as well. The Dark Lord is pillaging Potter's mind and Severus doesn't particularly want to be the person responsible for the downfall of the Free Wizarding World As All Currently Know It. Still, he's owed an apology. A sincere one.

Severus has lived his life long enough to know that he probably won’t get it.


The worst part about Potter's hastily (and clumsily) shouted message to Severus is the hope in his eyes. The…trust. Severus looks for another word but despite everything that has passed between them, despite the fact that he would certainly not be Potter's first choice of saviour, despite the fact that Severus hates Black, Potter trusts him to help.

Though the thought of helping his childhood tormenter rushes through his head like poisoned Veritaserum, Severus knows that one expression has taken the choice out of his hands. This is something he will do.

He has set things up carefully for times like these, times when he has to get away from the school at a moment's notice. Luckily, Umbridge is obsessing over Potter. It will keep her busy for awhile, he has no doubt.

He makes it to number 12 only to see Black (not the person he was looking for) there. Severus has less than a second to think, "No," and then he's talking, shouting, really, because Black won’t listen to anything else. When he's done and Black, obviously in spite of his own wishes, is listening, Severus asks, "Albus?"

Lupin goes to get him. Then Albus is there and he's making the plans and that's much much better for Severus, because now he's only passively helping Potter. It's easier.

In the end it doesn't matter. Well, perhaps it does. Potter is still alive and that should be the only thing Severus cares about. Potter, although a foolish and oftentimes stupid child, is their best hope. Severus would deny that he knows anything about hope to anyone who asked, but he knows this. Severus doesn't plan on letting anything that looks like hope get away from them. He knows too much of what hopelessness looks like.

At the moment, ironically, it looks like Potter. Potter is mad. Well, enraged. Extremely pissed off at anything, anyone, who had anything to do with Black's death. Anyone but himself.

Severus also knows the stages of grief. So while he sneers at Potter's insolence (the boy needs someone to treat him normally) he knows that it's only so long before that fury is turned to the inside. Severus can only hope that it waits a few months, when they can retrieve Potter from the Muggles. The last thing Albus's camp needs is for Potter to have a psychotic break somewhere where it can't be helped.

Severus sneers but his eyes watch Potter as he leaves. The summer is looking to be a long one.


The summer is long, filled with meetings he would rather not attend and people he would prefer to avoid. In September, though, Potter and his band of Merry Making Dunderheads show looking only slightly worse for the wear. Severus allows this fact to make just a little bit of sense out of the rest of his (less than desirable) life.

Potter is withdrawn, the anger still hot and ill-stored below the surface of his eyes, but it has been joined by a somberness that Severus thinks he should be enjoying. To his disgust, he isn't. Mostly the whole thing is frustrating. If Potter displays his emotions as though his eyes were a theater, open for anyone willing to buy the ticket, the Dark Lord is going to be dancing on Potter's grave before the year is out.

Then again, Severus reminds himself that he's been pretty sure of that for what is about to be six years running. It's a slightly cheering thought. He'll take what he can get.

Potter's gaze flashes up to him and Severus steels himself not to flinch at what he sees there. The pure hatred at the end of the previous year was easier to take than the conflicted desire for hatred swimming there now. Severus can sympathize, which is angering. It's easy, though, so easy to know exactly who an enemy is.

Potter has so many that perhaps it doesn't hurt that he sees them where they aren't, or perhaps it hurts more than it would another person. Probably the latter. Severus well knows that even amongst hundreds of enemies, it's always one that tips the balance over and into disaster.

James Potter's son or no, Severus does not want to be that one enemy. Not when there are so many others more worthy. Not when, in some sick twist of fate, he's actually not Potter's enemy at all.

Severus turns to Albus who is at his right and risks whispering, "He will need careful tending to."

Albus smiles, as though Severus has said something of great amusement, and keeps his voice equally low. It is unlikely that anyone could hear them even at full volume in the Hall at this moment but there's no point in taking unnecessary risks. "He shakes off our offers of assistance."

"Then they will have to be given without his knowledge."

"His trust is already dangerously fractured."

"Better his trust than his mind."

"I'm not entirely sure the two are so separate as you would have them be, Severus."

Severus knows that "tough love" works, though. He knows because Hogwarts has the highest percentage of successful Potions NEWTs on the continent. He knows because he still comes home to Hogwarts after Death Eater meetings, still tells what he saw despite the risks. "Give him credit for the strength you want him to have."

"I'm…worried," Albus says. Severus thinks the word he was searching for is "scared." Severus allows the small untruth. He may be many things but a hypocrite is not one of them.

Severus tries another tactic. "It seems we do not have much to lose at this point."

Albus' eyes sharpen at that, which is half of what Severus was looking for. "Don't be such a pessimist, Severus."

Prove to me, once again, that there's no reason to be. Severus looks out at Potter one last time. "What other course of action do you suggest?"


Severus only has a moment to wonder, "What exactly did I do to deserve this?" before several answers spring to mind not the least of which are, "Throw your lot in with a psychotic megalomaniac" and "Prowl the corridors looking for students upon which to heap your wrath." Regardless of how he got himself here, though, here he is, on the seventh floor corridor with a completely hysterical Harry Potter who is throwing himself at the wall. Repeatedly.

Severus likes to think that a little harsh scolding will get him everywhere but he senses the only place it might get him right now is hexed six ways to Sunday and chaperoning a transport Portkey with cargo bound for St. Mungo's Psychiatric Ward. Instead of laying in immediately he chooses the relatively mild, "What, if I may ask, Potter, did that wall ever do to offend you to such an extent?"

Amazingly, Potter turns in Severus's direction, obviously just realizing that he has company. He snarls, "Get the fuck away from me."

Severus is tempted. Sorely. If Potter is found passed out with a concussion whenever anyone next decides to traverse this hallway Severus can always claim lack of knowledge. Nobody else has seen him up here.

Potter screams, "Get the fuck away!"

Then again, Severus likes a good challenge. He hasn't been a spy all these years for nothing. "Answer the question and perhaps I will."

Childish but surprisingly effective as Potter turns to look at the wall with mixed expressions of blinding anger and stunned betrayal. "It won't let me in."

It is only then that Severus realizes where they are. The tapestry that is supposed to cover this spot has been swept back, held to the side with a spell of some sort. The wall that Potter has been crashing into repeatedly is the outlet for the Room of Requirement.

Potter begins to batter his fists against the walls. They are tearing within no time, but Severus still does not think it the best idea to intervene. Potter's suffered worse. Potter says, "I've tried everything, all the spells, even stupid ones, like alohamora. I've tried!"

Severus doesn't know what's more alarming: that Potter is actually telling him all of this, or that Potter's voice gives away the fact that he's crying. The actual tears are completely silent and there are no sobs but Severus knows what grief and pain sound like, and right now, they sound like Harry Potter.

Severus watches as Potter sinks to the floor, his fists dragging along the door all the way down. When Potter's breathing has quieted, Severus says, "The Room will only open if it can give the person trying to enter what they truly need. Right now, it either can't, or your needs are so conflicting that it is unsure of how best to serve them."

Severus cannot determine whether this was the right or wrong thing to say, as Potter begins crying again, this time quite loudly. His body shakes so hard that Severus imagines it must hurt. Severus has only ever cried like that once.

He leaves Potter to his grief, and in the morning, Gryffindor's House points are the same as they were the evening before.


Perhaps Severus should prey on what he now knows about Potter's weaknesses, perhaps he should betray what he has seen to Malfoy and his free-standing limbs. He doesn't though, possibly for the same reason he doesn't take House points. Severus knows there's only so much a person can take, and Potter has obviously reached that place.

Severus is willing to be responsible for a lot of things, but the madness of the wizarding world's Savior is not one of them.

Instead he treats Potter as he would normally treat him, with a thin veneer over his contempt. If the taunts are slightly less personal than they used to be, and he spreads his attentions more evenly out over the rest of the Gryffindors, well, Severus supposes it's possible he's getting soft in his not-so-old age.

At first Severus thinks he's safe, that Potter hasn't noticed.

He's proven wrong when Potter comes to his office one evening, steps inside and says, "Don't start. I've something to say, and I plan on saying it before you can get something out that just pisses me right off."

Severus wants to admonish Potter over his language but it strikes him that the boy might have something to say that Severus wants to hear.

"I know you've been…trying to help, I suppose, in your own severely twisted way."

This isn't near to enough to make Severus give anything up, so he merely sneers, "Whatever would give you that idea, Potter?"

Potter rolls his eyes. "Look, you're not going to admit it, and I can't explain how I know it, I just do. That's not the point. The point is that I think-" Potter stops and takes a deep breath. "I've been feeling more…in control since that night."

Potter eyes him meaningfully but Severus isn't that kind. "To what night would you be referring?"

Potter's figured him out though, because he doesn't respond, just keeps going. "I think it might be time to reconvene on the Occlumency lessons. If you're willing." Potter shifts from one foot to the next, obviously uncomfortable.

On the one hand, Severus really wants to draw this out, make Potter sweat. On the other hand, Potter is where Albus has wanted him to be since, well, even before Black's death. Severus decides not to gamble. Albus will kill him if he screws this up. "I would have to know that you were actually going to follow my instructions this time. I'm no good to you as an instructor if you are merely going to ignore everything I say." The words are pointed and make Severus feel slightly better about the lost opportunity.

"You could meet me half way and pretend that I'm competent and able to follow those directions," Potter says snidely.

Severus snaps at that. "Do you honestly think, Headmaster or no, that I would have agreed to teach you in the first place if I thought there was no hope whatsoever? Do you take me for someone who has time to waste, Potter?"

"I've made it a point not to really think about who I take you for. Every time I manage a conclusion, it's wrong."

Severus flinches at the brutal honesty that Potter has suddenly found it in himself to dredge up. It is too much to take in with the child of his once dearest enemy sitting across from him. "Potions review, eight in the evening, Mondays and Thursdays."

Potter nods. "See you then."


It is odd, seeing Sirius Black the way Potter sees him. It's not all that frequent, actually, that Severus can. Potter has become quite adept at wiping his slate so blank it is hard noticing even lines that betray something was once there. Every once in a while, though, when Potter is unusually stressed, or exhausted beyond normal levels, Severus breaks through his walls and leaves him pale-faced and shaking.

It is odd seeing Black that way not only because Potter loves him, which is an emotion Severus has never been able to conjure in relation to Black, nor imagine the conjuration of, but because Potter associates words like "father" with Black. Severus has never associated that word with anyone, least of all his actual father.

His actual father, Ignominus Snape, was Sir to his face, bastard, arse, and a few less polite things behind his back. Never father.

It has not occurred to Severus before now that Potter might be mourning something more than the loss of parents he never rightly knew. In the glimpses, though, Severus knows that Potter is mourning the loss of a fledgling understanding of what being cared for is actually about.

The pity of it all, muses Severus, is that Black was woefully in-equipped to give anyone, let alone The Boy Who Lived, that type of guardianship. Despise the werewolf as he does, Severus privately thinks that Potter has a much better chance of getting what he needs from Lupin than he ever did from Black.

Severus is annoyed that he has thought any of this through at all; annoyed that when he reaches past Potter's defenses it is no longer a point of malicious glee so much as resignation that they are back at the beginning. In fact, it feels disconcertingly familiar to how it feels for Potter. Severus puts it down to them both having better things to be doing.

One afternoon, when Potter is panting with the exertion of keeping Severus out but has managed for the entire time nonetheless, he asks, "Why are you helping us?"

Severus is startled. Nonetheless, he's careful not to stop probing at Potter's mind. "Us?"

"The Headmaster, me, I suppose. Our side."

It's an odd way to frame the question. Not, "why did you join the Death Eaters?" Not, "why did you switch sides?" Rather, "why are you on ours?"

There are a million answers to the question. Severus wouldn't have betrayed the Dark Lord, set himself in a position of immense danger, for anything less. There is the fact that "Albus" is the only word he's ever known with a definition even close to "father." There's the fact that those who lead him to the Dark Lord, desired him for his skills and knowledge, also betrayed him, laughed at him once they had him where they wanted him. There's the fact that deep under the unpleasantness that Severus uses to his advantage, Severus knows right and wrong. He might ignore his awareness of those precepts for short periods of time but never for long. "It provided more advantages for me than loyally befriending the Dark Lord. The Light is generally more likely to follow through on its promises."

Potter closes his eyes and suddenly the shields to his mind are gone but all Severus can see is one image. Potter doesn't believe a word he's said.


Potter never presses his advantage. Never.

Severus finally asks, "You did receive the memorandum about us trying to defeat the Dark Lord, yes? Because I can have it resent in the case of you having accidentally tossed it."

Potter looks as though he's considering asking Severus to do just that. Instead he tilts his head and says, "You're not my enemy. At least, I'm told you're not supposed to be."

Severus wonders if he did something even worse in his previous life than the things he has done in this one to deserve this moment. "If I were Ronald Weasley standing right here, training you in this art, Mr. Potter, you would still need to practice being on the offensive. Stop thinking like a Gryffindor for two minutes, forget loyalty and morality, and play to win. There's a lot more than a piddling cup at stake, may I remind you?"

It should infuriate Potter. A year earlier it would have. Instead he shifts back and forth from one foot to the other for several seconds before asking, "What good is my victory if it comes at the price of my morality? After all, I think it's patently obvious that I'm not so far removed from who Tom Riddle was."

Severus wants to scoff at this statement, ridicule Potter for being a brash incompetent. Unfortunately, the brash incompetent currently has a point. "There is more to Occlumency and Legilimancy than blocking one's mind and attacking another's. The true art of the practices is to split your mental energies, to know at once who you truly are and who the mental projection you have created is."

Potter considers this. "Was that something I was supposed to figure out on my own?"

Now that Potter mentions it, Severus thinks he probably should have said something earlier. Not that he has any plans to admit to that. Instead he offers the advice, "It's easiest if you have both mentalities clearly pictured. They should be rote by the time you put the knowledge into actual practice. The shadow-self, the one that only you can see, should be so integral that it passes into invisibility. Are you following?"

"It's a Patronus. A diversionary Charm."

"It is far more complicated even than that, I assure you Mr. Potter."

"I was speaking purely of theory."

"In that case, yes, they have their similarities. A Patronus is a bit more glaring." Severus sneers, "Flashy," wholeheartedly meaning it as a dig.

Potter ruins it by not really paying attention. "All right, let's have a go then. See what I can come up with."

Potter fails the first time, and the second, and the third. On the fourth he manages. Severus shivers at what he Sees. Potter is right. If Severus didn’t know better, he might think he was currently sharing space with the Dark Lord himself.


Potter doesn't come back for a while after that session. Severus thinks about pursuing the matter, taking House Points as retribution for Potter's skipping "Potions review," but the reprieve has given him time to work on projects of his own and to settle in his own mind the sick wash of familiarity that was Potter's projected self.

Also, and Severus would never admit this, not even under the threat of insanity by way of the Cruciatus, the taking of House Points is likely to drive Potter even further away and Severus is loathe to disturb the fragile truce they've managed. Peace, even stilted peace, makes the imparting of Occlumency skills considerably easier than full out aggression. Granted, Severus keeps the latter in the wings for when he needs to truly trust Potter's ability.

Potter eventually finds his way into the dungeons on a Thursday evening two nights after the Incident and says, "I'm sorry. I needed some space. I should have sent a note."

Severus tries not to be taken off-guard by the casual apology. He waits until he is quite certain he won't stutter to say, "Had enough time to process, Potter?"

What Potter does then is not something Severus has been trained to understand as part of a Gryffindor's genetic makeup. He attacks. Not with words or fists or even wands but with his mind. Severus recovers quickly, throwing up mental wards so thick he's not sure he'll be able to get through them when he next tries. Potter has already taken things, though, snippets of Severus's father, of Potter's father, of the Dark Lord.

Potter looks at Severus but instead of saying what Severus would at this point, instead of picking at Severus' weaknesses, Potter asks, "What do you think?"

"That the Dark Lord is more powerful than I, and harder to take off His guard."

"Good that I'm not worried about doing that. I want him out of my head, not to be let into his."

"You're assuming that admission into his won't be a necessary step to victory."

Tellingly, Potter rubs at his scar. Severus can tell it doesn't hurt. He's seen it when it's irritated, seen Potter's eyes when the throbbing starts. "I try not to assume much of anything. I'm tired of getting proven wrong."

Severus isn't sure what Potter is referring to. If he were, he would certainly find something suitably searing to say but he doesn't really have the time or the inclination to poke around for context. "Legilimancy is actually easier than Occlumency. Holding walls up is nearly always harder than tearing them down."

"Then why leave this for after?"

"Because subtle Legilimancy, what you truly need, is every bit as hard as Occlumency. You've already understood the basics, obviously, if you were able to reach into my mind. You need to be able to slide in, though, sift through things and slip out without my ever knowing."

"Start by clearing my mind?"

"It need be no less translucent than a pane of glass."

Potter takes a breath.


Potter comes back from Easter with the insight, "It's bit like having a carefully worded conversation, Occlumency."

Severus awaits an explanation. Potter is almost always willing to talk more. Now is no exception. "When you're training me to sort through someone else's mind, when I breach yours, at first there's just what you're feeding me, the things you want me to see. It's only when I find something I know you're hiding that I've really succeeded."


"That is how we speak, isn't it? We only say what we've thought out. Or, well, if we're doing what we should be we do. Then there's all the truth underneath. That's what I need to know, how to 'lie.' Or at least, deal only in pleasantries."

Severus knows this. He's been biding his time until Potter came to understand this. The skill is not worth teaching if the concept behind it hasn't come to fruition in a pupil's mind. "It's a matter of knowing what you want Him to think and editing your own thoughts to present a misleading front. After all, nobody has nothing going on in their head at any point, not even Longbottom, though I imagine it's a close thing for him most of the time."

Potter rolls his eyes. Severus considers taking points but is too busy considering that he's missed all the signs of Potter's coming to relax around him. He can't decide if this is a good or a bad thing. The indecision itself bothers him.

"So, if I want Voldemort to think that I'm, say, going to Hogsmeade, then I dig up memories of anticipation for that event and cover my shields with them."

"They need not seem like memories."

"Is there a trick to altering that?"

"Sheer mental discipline, if you're up to that. You must force your mind to relay the thoughts as they happened at the time, rather than as replays of that."

Potter takes the bait, but only mildly. "Try me."

So Severus does. Several times over the course of the afternoon. At first it's awkward, Severus can feel the shift of his thoughts, sense the masking, touch at the gap between reality and fiction. Slowly Potter starts to mend this. He wraps the thoughts more tightly over the surface of what he wants hidden first. Then he embellishes on the fiction.

"I really would like to go to Hogsmeade," he says, his smile slightly wistful, fully mischievous.

"I really would like for the time I have to spend on you be spent on tasks for myself. We can't all have what we want, Potter."

Potter tilts his head. "Your version of carefully worded conversation is so odd. You hide away all the things that other people use as cover. You live your life inside out."

Severus dives into his mind and doesn't stop pulling out painful, wrenching memories until Potter pushes him out, covering the memories with thoughts about Severus's modus operandi. Aware that despite seeing Potter beaten and humiliated by his cousin, Potter has won this round, Severus sneers, "Go practice."

Potter says, "Sure," and makes his way out of Severus's space easily.


Severus does not miss Potter over the holidays. He's willing to admit that the lessons have been challenging, something he has long missed in his many years of teaching but that has nothing to do with Potter and everything to do with the discipline. Severus wonders if he can get Albus to approve Mind Magics as a course.

He then shakes his head and goes back to planning out the new Potions curriculum. The last thing he needs to be doing is teaching every sixteen and seventeen year old in this institution how to crawl into each another's mind. Most would be unteachable, those who were would merely turn into menaces, and oh, it would probably be a bit like giving the Dark Lord a trail of Spell-protected bread crumbs to victory.

Maybe it is Potter that he misses. Just as a relief from the tedium of the day to day. Potter, at the very least, is often amusing in his failures.

Severus pushes the admission into a tiny corner of his mind where he can be proud that he was a big enough person to admit it but not have to deal with it in any way. Potter is still James Potter's son. He's still the boy who was blindly loyal to Black unto his death. He's still the child that considers Remus Lupin all to be left of what was once a fairly nuclear family.

He's also, Severus realizes, the Dark Lord's biggest fear.

Severus is beginning to suspect, as he never thought he would, that said fear might be well-grounded. The throwing off of the original killing curse was far more Lily's work than her son's. Severus isn't now and never has been surprised that she had the power for such an action. Lily, when she put her mind to something, was an unstoppable force. The Dark Lord would have done well not to discount her due to heritage.

Then again, the Dark Lord would do well to get himself a head doctor over at Mungo's and see if he could straighten out a considerable amount of childhood issues left to fester.

The Dark Lord makes Severus understand why Muggles have something in their legal system called an "insanity plea." He also makes Severus glad that wizards don't go in for that. Either a person did something or they didn't. Motive is very rarely an issue. This backfires more often than not, particularly in cases of self-defense, but in this situation it's deeply reassuring.

As is the fact that none of this is likely to ever get that far. Things will either end with Potter, or they won't end at all. The thought sends a sharp spike of pity for the boy through Severus. He promptly ignores ever having had any such reaction.

The pompous little arsehole had better be keeping up with his practicing. Severus will kill Potter with his two hands and face the Dark Lord himself if Potter is wanking off rather than strengthening his mind control. This upsurge of spite is calming, and for a while Severus is able to go back to his planning for all the things that need to be done despite the fact that everything is uncertain.

The peace lasts for all of ten minutes before the mention of an Armoring Potion has Severus considering extra measures for any face off to come which only leads him back to Potter.

Severus sighs, grabs an empty parchment, jots off, "You'd best be practicing," and sends the school owl off with minimal instructions. Potter will recognize Severus's handwriting, he's seen it smeared over too many of his Potions assignments not to have visceral negative emotions attached to it. Severus smiles and goes back to his work.


Severus casts his mind into Potter's mid-way through the Sorting Ceremony, when he should be preoccupied. All that Severus gets, though, is what he believes (perhaps believed, if he's being honest) Potter to be. The boy he reads is too confident, too clean of the things Severus has glimpsed in his intrusions before.

Ever so slightly, Potter turns his eyes to Severus. Before he even realizes what has happened there is an imprint of words on his mind. "Welcome back, professor."

It's cocky as hell, and Severus wants to be infuriated but it's also exactly what they've been working toward. The thought almost puts him in a good mood. It would if the subject of his attentions were anyone other than Potter.

After the feast Severus sweeps back to his dungeons, intent on a few more quiet hours before the morning, when first years will trip over themselves getting into his classrooms, and second years will break things out of sheer nerves upon returning. Severus doesn't even bother with a token thought for the continuing disaster that always has been and will again this year be seventh year Double Potions. Damn Albus for insisting that the Houses can cooperate if given enough opportunity. Or at least, damn him for experimenting with the idea on Severus's time.

His quiet is interrupted by a knock at his door and a simultaneous brush at his mind. Severus throws back the door and takes a stance calculated to intimidate. "Your friends already tired of you?"

Potter doesn’t cower or take the bait, merely asks, "Mind if I come in, professor?"

It occurs to Severus that he doesn't remember Potter having manners. The thought takes up so much space in his head that he actually steps back to allow the menace in his home. Potter says, "Did it work, earlier? It felt like it worked but I've had nobody who would know to ask."

Severus gives lying serious thought. He rather likes his nose where it is now, though, despite his interest in spiting his face at the moment. "It worked. Could this not have waited until the resumption of your tutoring?"

"No, not really. I'd describe it like an itch except that's all wrong. Being away from magic, really truly away from it, unable to talk about it or see it or anything, it eats at me. And with you having me practice on my own…special form of torture you could say." Potter eyes Severus. "Bet that thrills you."

Severus is busy being rather bothered by the fact that there was no response, not even the tiniest trill of pleasure at Potter's pronouncement. "To no end."

"So, if it worked. I suppose…well, that means I shan't need tutoring this year."

Potter doesn't sound happy over this prospect in the least. Severus is lost as to what is required of him at this moment.

"Only, I was thinking. I mean, it's common rumor that you've always wanted the Dark Arts position."

"Defense Against." Severus finds himself correcting Potter as a matter of rote and wonders when exactly it was that he lost his edge and if there's any way for him to go back and locate it.

"Of course. If you'd be willing then, I was wondering if we might just change what you were teaching me in these sessions? I don't think anyone is going to argue the fact that it's in my best interest to know everything possible there is to know in reference to that subject."

Severus is surprised at the force with which he finds himself wanting to do this. He presumed himself trained free of such strong emotions. "Have you spoken to the headmaster?"

Potter frowns a small, inward frown. "No. I…wanted to ask you first."

It's odd and completely obvious that neither of them understands the impetus behind the decision or the moment it has created but it makes Severus say, "I'll notify him later." Then, "Five points from Gryffindor."

Potter's cheeks redden slightly. "For what?"

Severus nods at the clock on his wall. "Being out after curfew."

Potter rolls his eyes and lets himself out. Severus is only mildly discouraged at his nonchalance.


Potter picks up Defense much quicker then he did Occlumency. This isn't entirely surprising to Severus. The boy has a very literal mind in some ways. Severus assumes this comes from being raised by Muggles.

Regardless of the reason, it makes Potter's requested lessons much more…enjoyable than the previous ones were. Not hard, considering that most of those sessions would have been looked on in an unfavorable light even when put up against some of Severus' meetings with the Dark Lord.

What Potter does have a talent for that Severus would have never predicted is the minute altering of spells to serve his needs. Severus doesn't think that Potter even realizes he does it, it's so intrinsic. Sometimes, however, when Severus will throw a spell and Potter will react with a defensive maneuver that Severus has taught him, the shield or counterattack or whatever it is will mutate so as best to protect Potter. It is a useful skill to have if often inexplicable to anyone who doesn't have it. The only reason Severus recognizes it is that he's seen it elsewhere twice. Once in Dumbledore and once in the Dark Lord.

Severus asks, "What are you thinking when you throw those spells?"

Potter says, "Why don't you just look?"

"Because I would prefer you explain it to me." Despite Severus's rather rough approach to teaching Potter Occlumency, he makes it a general policy not to prey on others' minds unless absolutely unavoidable. Of course, in this case he actually wants Potter to work the words out for himself, in addition to the moral issues that Severus may or may not hold in regards to mind reading.

"Mostly that if I don’t block this or that it means I'm toast. Possibly soggy toast, depending on the curse. Either way, not something I have a desire to be. And then it always occurs to me, somewhere in my head that I generally try and ignore that it isn’t always going to be you throwing these curses, and that Voldemort will actually be after the whole burnt-bread ending, whereas you're just trying to prove a point. I think it sends everything into overload, that awareness, every spell just gets…augmented, I guess."

"Rational fear is a powerful tool. Magic responds to all strong emotions but it responds best to those strong emotions that have some type of basis in the real."

"Is that what this is, then? Rational fear working itself into my magic?"

"Something of that nature. It's actually more internal than that, even. Your magic is fluid. It responds to your emotional needs which generally mirror the physical ones."

"What happens if they don't?"

It's an interesting question. As Severus has never discussed this in depth with either of the wizards who possess the skill, he's not entirely sure of the answer. "My knowledge of the phenomenon is somewhat limited, as it's not overwhelmingly common. However, I would have to venture that the emotional ones would take precedence."

"Basically what you're saying then, is that while fighting Voldemort I need to make sure that my emotions are sharply appropriate but also unavailable to him?"

"I see you're starting to understand that it actually takes work to be a hero."

Potter's eyes darken. "Don't start, all right? Just don't."

It's like dangling gold in front of a Niffler and Severus starts to chew on the bait when he catches another glimpse of Potter's eyes, unfathomable and obviously expecting betrayal. Severus has betrayed enough people for one lifetime. Before Potter can realize what Severus is doing, he flicks his wand and throws a Burning Hex.

Potter's face fills with surprise for a second before he easily counters the hex and laughs as more head his way.


Christmas arrives with shocking (and somewhat terrifying) rapidity. It takes Potter all of a day into the hols to be knocking at Severus's door. Severus opens it, highly unimpressed with whomever is seeing fit to disturb him. At noticing Potter he immediately goes to shut the door. Potter is too quick, though, sliding in the moment before he's crushed between wood and stone.

Severus takes a moment to fully experience his disappointment.

"I haven't anything near to the inclination to spend this afternoon drilling you, Potter. Best run back to your dorm mates before I assign you some type of grueling and yet pointless task."

"I'm not really in the mood to be drilled, either, Professor." Potter slings his bag onto the floor and settles into a chair. "Christmas is a time to strengthen bonds. I haven't the foggiest as to whether you have other people to be strengthening those with, and if there are, and I'm intruding on that, I'll leave. But most of my friends have gone home for the hols and it strikes me that we're rather alike in our solitude during this time, so I thought I'd brave your wrath, risk being thrown out on my arse, and see if you were willing to provide a little season-of-joy cheer."

"Get out, Potter."

"Not unless given a good reason or metaphysically forced." The look in his eyes is pure I-dare-you mentality.

"I'm expecting family."

"Oh, who?"

"None of your business."

"Except it is, as I said good reason, and I know you perfectly capable of lying. I should at least like to make you work for my concession."

"My mother."

Potter blinks. "Professor… One of your memories was-" He shakes his head and stands. "Nevermind, I'll leave."

Severus realizes what he's talking about. Potter's seen Severus's father kill his mother, just as Severus saw when he was thirteen. He hadn't realized that was one of the memories Potter had gained access to and the fact that Severus never would have if not for this lie is somewhat eye-opening. "Potter. Wait."

Potter stands still, not saying a word, his back to Severus. Severus says, "You're quite right. My mother is dead. My father died in Azkaban, sent there for her murder, a fate rather thoroughly deserved. I have no siblings, and while I do have extended family, my branch was looked upon somewhat poorly and I'm not particularly close with any of them."

Potter turns slowly. "I'm sorry."

"All of these events are long past."

"Pain from familial conflict rarely vanishes," Potter says it quietly but with confidence. "Fades, maybe." He seems doubtful.

"It does, Mr. Potter." Then, because his family has always caused him far more pain than even the worst of his enemies, Severus offers, "Tea?"

Potter looks at Severus slightly askance. He says, "Yes, please."

"Sit down then, no use standing while it's brewing."

Potter goes back to where he was originally and makes himself comfortable again. Severus concentrates on making the tea.


Severus isn't sure who figures everything out, and manages enough proof to truly condemn him. He's quite certain he's been meticulously careful about not allowing any kind of trail to accumulate around his less-than-loyal activities so far as the Dark Lord is concerned.

Evidently, he hasn't been as careful as he's thought.

The part that upsets Severus the most about the entire situation -- aside from the fact that he is surrounded by people who are quite convinced of his treachery and eager to make him suffer for it -- is that he didn't notice anything amiss leading up to it. Severus has always taken extra precautions to monitor his conversations both with the Dark Lord and other Death Eaters. In the past month, nothing has been out of the ordinary. In fact, it hasn't even been so perfectly normal that the sheer normality would give rise to suspicion. There's been nothing to suggest that something was about to go completely bloody pear-shaped.

Regardless, it has, and there are twelve of them, (not counting one rather irate Dark Lord) and one of him. The Dark Lord already has Severus's wand, and while Severus can manage a modicum of wandless magic, it's nothing up to par with what he needs in this situation.

He's already tried talking his way out of the situation but whoever was gathering intel on him was thorough. The clincher, however, is that they've suspected for quite some time. They've suspected since Harry bloody Potter began Occluding.

Severus spins believable lies, of course, but there's very little with which to work. The Dark Lord will know that Dumbledore was not coaching Potter, and the number of accomplished Occlumens is miniscule. Several of the Death Eaters have eyes in the Ministry and therefore fingers in the school. They will know that no special tutors have been brought in to handle the boy.

In the end the true problem that Severus is faced with is that the Dark Lord simply wants to believe in his treachery, has wanted to believe for a long while. These days, it is one of the Dark Lord's biggest thrills. He brings the fact of his Death Eaters who escaped imprisonment up time and again. Severus knows that he is waiting for each and every one of them to make a slip. After all, there will always be minions to replace them with, always.

That, and the Dark Lord is hungry for entertainment more fulfilling than watching helpless Muggles scream. He graciously gives Severus over to Crabbe as a starting course. This is not surprising. The Dark Lord often starts with his goons, saving the wankers more likely to screw with a person's mind for last, when the threshold of sanity has already been severely weakened.

Severus uses what wandless skills he has not to lash out but to cast what protective spells he can, lessening the impact of Crabbe's Diffindios and Cruciatuses. The walls hold all the way through Goyle and Pettigrew, and almost through MacNair. Unfortunately, MacNair is more observant than most people give him credit for and he recognizes what Severus is doing. At one complaint from MacNair the Dark Lord puts a stop to that right quick, Blocking Severus from the source of his magic.

The pain of the Block, like cutting off an arm, sends Severus into a shock that he would probably be grateful for -- as it drowns most of the torture -- were he not infinitely aware that it could mean an irrecoverable loss of his magic. Not that it will matter in a short while.

MacNair gives way to Rodulphus LeStrange, who hands Severus over to Nott, and then Rookwood. Lucius has just begun in on him, a warm up to Bellatrix's loving care when something manages to push itself all the way through the pain and confusion that Severus is still struggling to keep at bay.

He's not sure, but the something feels a hell of a lot like…Potter. Potter's mind, to be exact. He can't entirely understand what it means, although he thinks it probably means he's completely delirious.

The fact that Lucius is using a cutting spell on the palm and finger pads of his right hand, slowly destroying its nerve circuitry is more of a concern for Severus at this precise moment, though, and the feel of Potter fades behind the pain.


Severus awakes to the smell of wood and cold air and a Healing Potion so intense that he only makes one bottle per year. Poppy rarely ever even manages to make it through that one. Not even with Potter around.

He can't feel a thing which signifies that he's either dead or under the influence of mad amounts of Numbing Potion, as the last thing Severus remembers -- not clearly, but it is a memory all the same -- is Bellatrix's fingers ghosting along his collar bone so, so gently.

A voice says, "He's awake," and the small sense of something foreign in his mind disappears. Severus has the foresight to be afraid of whoever this was poking around in his thoughts but it doesn’t sound like the Dark Lord, and at this moment, Severus is willing to consider anything an improvement over the situation that he was in previously.

The voice is evidently Potter's, as it is he who comes into Severus's vision a second later. There are so many things Severus wants to ask. He tries to talk and when he fails, starts with, "Water?" It's more a movement of his lips but Potter seems to understand as he brings a glass over.

"I have to pick up your head but, um, you have torn ligaments everywhere, so this might hurt a bit."

It probably would if Severus wasn't on so much of whatever he is on. When he has taken several sips he lets his head fall back completely against Potter's hand, and Potter guides it back to whatever is being used as a pillow. He says, "We're in a forest. I don't know where. Ron's Apparated back to the school to get help."

"Albus?" Severus thinks there's something wrong about his use of the man's given name but he's too doped up to try and ride the thought through.

"He wasn't moving quickly enough. It's just the three of us. Hermione's monitoring the Potions. She stole them from the infirmary. I hope she was right about everything but honestly, she usually is."

Severus blinks, fighting the urge to fall back asleep. "Dark…Lord?"

"I um…did something to him."


"I…rearranged things inside of his head. He was a complete gibbering mess and then he did some kind of spell and it. I don’t know how to explain. He imploded, I guess."


"Pile of goo. Hermione bottled it up."


"Took care of them before we went in. Rearranged their minds too. Made them jump each other. It was complete mayhem when we walked in, I don't know that they even noticed us. By the time I had Voldemort where I wanted him, namely making a mess on my shoes, half of them were dead and those that weren't decided it might be a good time to get the bloody hell out of there."

There's something about all of this that Severus knows he's going to find terrifying when he wakes up again but at the moment the terror is pleasantly muted. He says, "Sleep."

Potter says, "We'll be back at Hogwarts when you wake up."

Severus mutters, "Home."

Potter puts a hand over Severus's chest. Severus can vaguely feel the increased pressure. Potter whispers, "Home."


Poppy explains, "There's only so much I can do about that kind of damage, Severus. You won't lose the hand but it's use is going to be significantly lessened."

Of course it's his wand hand. Wand, writing, stirring, chopping, everything-worth-mentioning hand. Lucius is such an asshole. Was such an asshole. The change of tense allows Severus a fleeting moment of pleasure. Whether his tormentor is dead or no, Severus is still left with a completely useless hand. "I understand."

All things considered, though, it could have been his magic. Severus is ever so glad it wasn't.

"The rest of the injuries that weren't immediately fixable should heal within time. I imagine you'll have a bit of scarring on your thighs, the wounds had already started to fester by the time you arrived, and there wasn't much I could do for the cosmetic portion of the problem. I managed to take care of the ones on your feet, chest and upper arms."

Severus looks at her. Despite the no-nonsense clip of her voice, her eyes are shadowed and starting to redden. "I appreciate your efforts, Poppy."

She nods at him. "That is what they pay me for, Severus."

This is true and normally Severus wouldn’t even question the brush off. Poppy, however, is one of the few people in the world who has never made him answer for where his hurts came from, just treated them as she would any other student's, person's, patient's. She turns to go back to her office. "Off with you. If I catch you out of your rooms before three days are up, though, so help me Merlin, Severus, I'll take care of the other hand for you."

Severus believes her. He's being a good boy, following orders that really aren't so heinous -- his bed is quite soft and he's not yet ready to begin training his weak hand at nearly forty years of age -- when there is a knock at his door. Severus doesn't answer. There's nobody he particularly wants to speak to.

The knocking is insistent though, and Severus does want to sleep. He makes his way to the door and answers it. "Potter," he sneers.

Potter rolls his eyes, insolent as ever. "Did you think I would just decide you weren't in here? I checked with Madame Pomfrey, you know."

"Did it occur to you I was sleeping?"

"She said you left not five minutes ago, so no."

"Say whatever it is you need to say and get out."

"I stole into your head to find you."

"I didn't know where I was."

"No, but you remembered the Apparative jump."

"We go wherever He Calls us. It's not a recognized location."

"You went wherever he called," Potter corrects, "and no, but once coordinates assemble in your head they don’t exactly just disappear into nothing."

"Why are you telling me this? Do you wish for appreciation? Thank you for saving my life, now if you wouldn't mind, would you allow me to go on enjoying it? Without you?"

"I don’t need a thank you. I need forgiveness."

This brings Severus up a bit short. "Forgiveness?"

"It was like walking into your pensieve. Only worse. Much worse."

Potter is looking green around the corners of his mouth and the edges of his eyes. Severus sighs. "You did what you had to. That's never something to apologize for."

"If this is a new, different way of torturing me, professor-"



"I am tired. Can we have this conversation later?"

"Right. Er, sorry. Do you need anything?"

"You to show yourself out."

"I'll come back in a few days."

Severus doubts he'll be ready to deal with Potter then, either. It buys him time, though, and right now, that's all Severus wants.


Severus has prepared himself for Potter's return. He's got his insults perfectly planned and the timing for every emotional dig laid out. Only, instead of returning, Potter sends an owl.

Severus looks into his fireplace and considers what type of incendio is most appropriate for the missive. He's managed to work his off-hand up to enough magic to manage simple fire spells. The letter starts speaking before he can throw it, and Severus has to give it to Potter: he thought this one through.

Professor -

I know you won't listen to me if I come there. Not straight through, leastways, which is what I need. Chances are you'll dispose of his before I even reach the end but if you haven't noticed, I'm rather good at giving things my best shot.

Severus knows he'll listen to the rest at this point, merely to spite Potter. It occurs to him that this was probably what Potter intended but his mind is only willing to draw so many circles around itself.

I can't change the things my father did and I won't apologize for them. It would mean nothing to either of us. I regret his arrogance and childishness for the wedge it has driven between us but as I never knew my father, I can't extrapolate on how his behavior might have affected me.

I will apologize for sneaking into memories that were yours by right. Again, I do not regret the knowledge of those memories, although I did at the time. They have given me insight that has allowed for certain fundamental changes in the way I see things, changes that I believe were crucial to my defeat of Voldemort.

I will apologize for eavesdropping in on what Voldemort did to you. I should have left immediately, as soon as I knew where you were. The thought of leaving was awful, though, and I stayed until it was no longer safe for me to be there. I saw things that I doubt you intended me to see, things that no one, not even yourself, shall ever be privy to by way of me.

I will apologize for the undeserved insults and suspicions I have thrown your way, although not for the deserved ones. You can be a complete prick, in case nobody has reminded you of that yet today. If you're staying in your quarters as you are supposed to, you might be missing hearing that fact by now.

Then again, so can I. Be a prick, that is. I think it's why, despite the odds, I find you rather enjoyable most days, insults and all.

Most of all, I apologize for that. To you or to myself, I'm not sure. That will depend on how this letter is received. As Voldemort is dead there is no call for us to work together outside of classes anymore, and in a few short months I will leave Hogwarts. I would like none of that to matter when it comes to us. If you can say the same, at all, please respond. If not, well, the last thing I will say to you is: thank you for everything.

Sincerely, Harry Potter.

When Potter's voice finishes "speaking" to Severus, Severus rereads the letter, this time in his own -- less grating -- mental tones. Severus knows a million ways to run and hide from things. He's done it all his life. He joined the Death Eaters running. He'll no doubt spend the rest of his days hiding from that decision in Hogwarts' dungeons.

The decision is easy. He shouldn't send the letter.

Of course, he shouldn't have approached Dumbledore for help, either. He should have disappeared to some island where few people lived and fewer asked questions. Severus isn't enormously fond of the word "should."

Severus accios a quill and parchment.

Potter -

Your chances of passing the Potions NEWT would greatly increase should you choose to spend some extra time with me in the evenings. This is completely optional. Professor Snape.

He sends the owl and doesn't think about any opportunities he just threw away. Voldemort is dead, and Severus suspects that maybe, just maybe, the world might be changing. The only intelligent thing to do is change along with it.


Severus finds that if he thinks of Potter as Harry things get infinitely easier. Harry still looks like his father but the cessation of being mentally reminded of this fact by way of his surname lessens tensions considerably.

Harry shows up on a Wednesday night, the first after Severus has returned to his classes. He has his Potions text under one arm, his wand gripped in his other hand, and an uncertain expression on his face.

Severus asks, "Making friends with my doorway?"

Harry moves into the room, his relief palpable. "I wasn't sure you were going to keep to your invitation once I showed up."

"They'll come after me with wands and werehounds if I'm the only thing to inhibit the Great and Mighty Savior of all Things Good and True from becoming an Auror."


Severus waves a hand. "They. The people who thought up that title."

"I believe that was you."

"I could be thinking of the whole Boy-Who-Lived thing."

"Oh, that."

Severus allows a smirk to pass his lips. "Your understanding of generic bases needs work."

"Good of you to say that as though I may have somehow missed the fact that I've yet to pass any assignment involving an explanation for those."

"Ever made soup?"

Harry looks suspicious, like he's checking for possible tricks in the question. "Plain soup? As in, lunch food? A pre-course to a multi-dish meal? That sort of soup?"

"No, the soup that Muggles theorize as one of the starting elements of this planet. Yes, plain soup. Chicken or beef or vegetable or, I don't know, chowder, if it pleases you."

"Sure, bunches of times."

"What's the basic ingredient in soup?"

"Depends on the soup."

"No," Severus shakes his head, "any soup. The basic, across-the-board ingredient."

Harry frowns. "Stock, then?"

"Yes, stock. Generic bases are to Potions as stock is to soup."

"It's not that simple, the generic bases change, even within Potions they change if the Potion is to be given to, say, someone of a different sex, or a child as opposed to an adult."

"But the theory is similar, and it's the theory that's your issue. Once you begin to understand that, it's only details. If you're actually willing to put some effort behind this, preposterous as that may sound, you can most likely fit those into your head long enough to take one measly test."

Harry huffs at that description of a test that will determine his future path. "I'm here, aren't I?"

"Let's neither of us pretend that your efforts to squander my time have anything at all to do with your desire to succeed at this venture."

"It's a good thing I know you so well, otherwise I might be tempted to think that your responding to my letter had been a fluke of poor judgment on your part."

"And your knowledge of me is so extensive that you have decided otherwise?"

"You think everything through. Even your insults. It makes them that much worse."

"If you find yourself uncomfortable-"

"I can fight for the things I want every bit as hard as you can fight against them," Harry says. "Now if you don't mind, I'm going to reread this chapter, see if what you've said helps at all."

Harry's head drops over his book and Severus is left to stand there, empty-handed and oddly sore.


Severus sees the scores of owls that fly over the Gryffindor table every morning, hears tell of all the jobs being offered to Harry. Still Harry shows up every night with his Potions book, sometimes pulling supplementary texts that Severus has recommended off of Severus' shelves, sometimes not.

This goes on until Severus is forced to ask, "Why are you so set upon being an Auror? There are a million jobs that could be yours with a simple responsive missive. Why this one?"

"Perhaps I enjoy the struggle."

While Harry's tendency to make everything at least twice as hard as it technically needs to be has not passed Severus's attention, the "perhaps" in Harry's confession makes him doubt this is the truth. "You don’t, though."

Privately, Severus thinks Harry might have good cause for this. He has struggled more than the average seventeen year-old to reach this juncture in his life.

Harry is still pretending to concentrate on the book in front of him but Severus has watched his eyes pass over the same sentence four times now. Severus says, "Give me an answer I can believe and I'll show you an easy way of remembering the order of credible substitutes when building any type of soporific."

Severus can see the debate between giving up a part of himself and having necessary knowledge rage for a few moments behind Harry's eyes. In the end Harry says, "I'd like to earn the title hero for once, rather than just have it handed to me."

The preposterousness of this statement is so overwhelming to Severus that he's not entirely sure where to begin explaining his incredulity. He decides on, "And being an Auror is your way of going about that?"

Harry glares. "Look, I know they're not your favorite people, and probably for good reason, but they are the people that everyone in the wizarding world looks to for protection. Tell me how that isn't a good place to go in search of what I'm seeking."

"Your talent, Mr. Potter, and I will only tell you this once, lies in doing what is not expected of you."

Harry laughs. "So I should, what? Become a wand-maker? A barkeep? Robe designer?"

"Do any of those sound like something you would enjoy?"

"I haven't the slightest- No."

"Have any of the offers?"

Harry's eyes slide to the side, where Severus's can't exactly follow. "I haven't really been reading them."

"Why ever not?"

"They're made on the basis of my name."

"They're made on the basis of you having vanquished the Dark Lord twice. Which, far be it from me to point out, might seem to some an act worthy of the title hero."

"I just wanted to get you away from him. And we're not even going to go into the first time. We both know that has nothing to do with anything, least of all me."

"Despite the proverb, most of the time it is not our intentions that matter so much as our actions. You killed Him. Your ability to do so, your defensive capabilities, all of these things make you an excellent candidate for the Auror program, and should you decide to pursue such I have no doubt as to your succeeding in that goal. I would read the letters, though. It never hurts to be aware of one's options."

"There are so many, I'm afraid that if I start reading them-"

"There will be many that you'll be able to throw away without a backwards glance and rather few that end up on the list of things to consider. A list is always a nice thing to have, though."

"What if I choose something that I'm incapable of actually doing?"

"The world will be scandalized at the sight of Harry Potter being sacked and you'll apply for entry into another job of your choice."

"I." Harry met Severus's gaze. "I hate being a disappointment."

"We all have to do things we don’t enjoy at some point. There's no guarantee of that outcome, either. It's merely a possibility. Everything in life has unsavory possibilities."

Harry nods slightly, withdrawing into his thoughts. After several long moments of silence he says, "Shortcut to remembering the order of credible substitutes in soporific building."

Severus delivers on his promise.


Harry comes to Severus' quarters after the Potions NEWT. He says, "I know I've no excuse for being here anymore. I just…thought you might want to know that I think I managed. Well enough, at least."

Severus says, "Congratulations are in order then, I suppose."

Harry smiles an off smile. "Right. Well, thanks."

Harry's walking away when Severus calls, "Did you read the letters?"

Harry turns back. "Yes. They're, ah, still coming."

Severus has noticed. "Was there anything in them that you wanted to discuss?"

Luckily, Harry has somewhere along the way developed a necessary cleverness and recognizes the excuse for what it is. Severus is infinitely relieved. He doesn't have it in him to just invite the boy into his space and privacy. "Actually, yes."



Harry makes his way quickly into Severus' rooms. When he's there he sits in his usual spot, although not with his normal sprawl. He is fastidious tonight, his posture ramrod straight, his breathing measured. Severus summons tea. "Found options you hadn't thought of before?"

Harry pours himself and Severus a cup of tea. He blows over the surface of his. "Gringotts has made me an offer. Curse-breaking. I've always thought what Bill Weasley did was interesting but. Well, I'm not sure I'm ready to be half-way across the world from everyone I know."

"An interest then, but one with definite drawbacks."

Harry nods. "Then there was an offer from a private firm called Lancelot, Inc."

Severus is impressed. Lancelot is a private security company. They deal almost strictly with creating devices, wards or otherwise, to protect structures or items. They contract out with magical museums, the Ministry and other high profile organizations. "They feel you could be talented at ward creation and design?"

"They feel, er, it was something like 'you have an innate understanding of the Dark and measures with which it can be countered.'"

Severus can see where that might be attractive to them. "What is holding you back on that? I can only imagine the pay is quite generous."

"Ridiculously so, only, last I checked doing something like that took quite a bit of knowledge in both Arithmancy and Runes, neither of which I've ever even cracked a book for."

"If they are wanting to have you on board, they will be willing to extend any effort to see that you have the tools necessary to do what they ask of you. Your school records are not closed, Mr. Potter, it is unlikely that they are not aware of this lack."

"They mentioned assistance, only, what if I find those subjects something I simply don’t understand?"

"You part from Lancelot amicably. I seem to remember us having this conversation at a point prior to this evening."

Harry pours himself some more tea. "The challenge of it all is appealing."

Severus can't imagine how it couldn't be. "The offer has been made for a reason, Mr. Potter. Lancelot, Inc., has neither the time, the money, nor the prestige to waste when it comes to hiring people who are incompetent. If they have made the request that you join them, then while I have no doubt that your name and your former deeds are certainly attractive to them, they also feel you have skills and talents which will suit them well. It is now up to you to prove them correct."

"That frightens me."

Severus blinks. "You're a Gryffindor."

Harry takes another sip of tea. "Right, thanks for the reminder."


Severus is forced to admire Hedwig's resourcefulness when she finds him at one of the more obscure Snape family holdings, a cottage in the Dense Forest. The Dense Forest is one of six magical forests in the isles (including the Forbidden.) It is appropriately named, and the cottage is hard to find merely for the covering of the trees. In addition, Severus's great-great uncle, who built the cottage, had a paranoia streak that makes Alastor Moody look happy-go-lucky. As such, it is warded and charmed to the teeth, making it nearly impossible for anyone (or anything) but the owner to find it.

Nonetheless, Hedwig manages.

Admittedly, Severus has spent several years trying to undo some of the protective measures. He believes in solitude but there is a limit. After all, he didn't want the- Voldemort being able to access him via the Mark and Albus to have no way of contacting him. The wards disallowing outside communication were the first to go. Which is probably how Hedwig has managed to find the place: on a technicality.

Given all the trouble inherent in such a feat (and it was trouble, Severus can tell by the disgruntled way Hedwig has settled herself on a window perch, very obviously not going anywhere for a bit) Severus expects the letter to be something of great import. He breaks open the seal and gets to reading, wondering why Harry wouldn't have thought to floo Albus. Severus never neglects to tell Albus where he's going. Not even when he really wants to.

The answer comes a second later as Severus reads the contents of the letter.


Hope your summer's going well. Should be less busy at least, with Voldemort gone.

I started at Lancelot two weeks ago. I really like it so far. You were right when you suggested that they knew what they were looking for. The things they want me to do are the things I'm best at. They have me in tutorials for both Arithmancy and Runes. I'm decent at Runes and horrid at Arithmancy but they don't seem to be worried so I've chosen not to be either.

I'm mostly writing because I've gotten used to talking to you and it feels pretty bizarre not to have that option six floors down from me at any given time. Also, I wanted to say thank you for forcing me to think for myself about the whole job thing, even if I should've known to do that on my own.

Send a letter back with Hedwig?


Severus walks to the bread box and pulls out a scone. He feeds it to Hedwig piece by piece as he thinks about this newest development between him and his most pseudo-hated student of all time. He should just not respond. Send Hedwig off after replenishing her -- after all, it's hardly her fault her owner's a prat -- with nothing to show for her trip.

Really, though, it's not as though he's got much to do while he's out here. That's why he comes. To read and sleep more than any decent person has a right to. To remember what it sounds like in his own head without the demands of countless others being heaped upon him. Harry has no right to intrude upon this time.

Only, Harry really hasn't. He's sent a letter. There's a request for a response, sure, but that's all it is: a request.

Severus finds some parchment and a quill. His ability to write is still shaky, so he places a Dictation Charm on the quill. He thinks for several long seconds and then begins his reply with the word,




Thanks for your letter. I'm getting along fine and all but with Hermione working all hours at the Ministry, and Ron acclimating to France -- he accepted the Defence position at Beauxbatons, I'm not sure I told you that -- things are a bit lonely. Neville's in Botswana harvesting some type of malevolent weed, Dean's in America visiting distant cousins, and Seamus is in Auror training.

My coworkers are the friendly sort, only, well I suppose it takes a while to get to know anyone, of course.

The project I'm working on now is fascinating. I'm jumping to tell you but I think I'd best wait until I get clearance. I'd really rather not get sacked.


Severus can read between the lines. Harry's coworkers are still in the period of "shock and awe" that most of their kind go through when meeting the Boy Who Lived Repeatedly.

Now on his fourth reply to Harry -- who still hasn't taken it in to his head to take for granted Severus's compliance in the pen pal schematic, as he thanks Severus for every letter received -- Severus has come along far enough in training his off-hand so as to actually write out Harry's and his own name neatly. The rest still has to be handled by dictation.


No doubt you are enjoying the adulation of your coworkers, mumbles of protest to the contrary.

Merlin help the poor generations of French witches and wizards that shall be tutored in Defence by a Weasley. Granger is at the Ministry? Wreaking terror on our law and way of life, I'd imagine. Perhaps you could drag her out to your side, save the British wizarding world and alleviate your loneliness in one action. After all, you are the Boy Who Keeps Saving the Bloody World, Regardless of Invitation.

Vector has informed me of an Arithmancy text called Easy as 1, 2, 3. She suggests you give it a try as it covers many of the areas you are experiencing difficulty in from a different angle than most wizards are taught.

For my part, I'm having a lovely summer, interrupted only by the steady stream of your correspondence. Thank you for asking.



Thanks for writing. Inquiring into your life is to no purpose. Either you will tell me about yourself or you won't.

Hermione, since you ask so sweetly, is working with Kingsley rewriting the bylaws of Auror domain. In other words -- in case the implications are too subtle for you -- she's trying to make it so that the Aurors of your day can no longer legally exist.

I've found a coworker of Muggle background who was raised in Singapore. We get along famously as she has very little idea of who I am or even who Voldemort was. Anonymity is one of the more beautiful words in the English language, wouldn't you agree?

Tell Vector thank you for the recommendation. My employers' sighs of relief can be heard throughout the entire complex.

I think Hedwig prefers your treats, she's gotten rather insistent that I hurry with my letters.



Your creature likes the scones with a dab of creamed butter on them.

Is anonymity a synonym for "she's actually willing to engage in intercourse with me" in Harry-speak?

I'll relay the message to Vector, I'm quite sure she has nothing better to do than wait around to hear whether her suggestions have eased the way for you.

Amazing, Granger may have very well found the one way to make her overbearingness a useful trait. Poor Shacklebolt, perhaps I shall send him a Tension-Relieving Potion. After all, it wouldn't do to have him murder her until after she's done her Good Works, now would it?



Good to hear from you.

My coworker actually finds me quite fit and has alluded to her willingness to take our relationship outside of the office on more than one occasion. However, as she is female, this does me little to no good, more's the pity. I could well use a shag.

Be careful what you snipe at, you might get more information than you wanted.

Also, Hermione and Kingsley have been dating for over a month now, so while they might be in need of one or two potions, I seriously doubt the one you're offering up would be of any help to them. At all. But I'll inform them of your generosity, I've no question that they'll appreciate it.

Thanks for getting back to Vector for me. It's good to know that I make her long days less boring.


Snape reads the letter over twice. He sets it down and walks away. Some care is required in his response.


Severus always waits until the last minute to return to Hogwarts at the end of those summer terms when he actually manages to get away, few though they are (at least, used to be, Severus has a feeling that freedom from Voldemort might be more than just an abstract concept that he's long carefully not thought about.) It's not that he doesn't like Hogwarts. Hogwarts, after all, is his home.

It's that coming back always engenders an endless round of questions from his colleagues. On a normal basis, he has a sort of understanding with the men and women who have taught with him for years upon years. For the most part they leave him alone and he pretty much returns the favor. There are, of course, matters of House and curriculum that sometimes have to be discussed but overwhelmingly he sees no need for small talk or companionship among the people who have a similar job as him in the same place. Other than Albus, everyone respects this.

Except at the end of summer.

Severus isn't sure if it's the months away that makes people forget, or the time among their families, with whom communication is no doubt different. He doesn't know if they're hoping for change to have come over him in the time he was gone. He just knows that the end of summer obliterates boundaries that he has carefully built up over time.

As such, he always waits until the last minute, so as to give everyone precious few days to get their newly social demeanor out of their system before the children return and all his concentration must be spent dealing with new and less-than-interesting students.

The end of this summer is no different, with Filius inquiring enthusiastically after what Severus did, Xiomara pestering him for details, Poppy checking up on his continued health (as though being left to his own devices for a few months on end might do him in after an on-again off-again twenty-two year career as a spy), and Albus offering comfits and scones in exchange for information.

It's all the more annoying that Albus always has the best comfits and scones, and Severus is willing to trade.

Which is most likely how Minerva finds out about Severus's continued association with Harry. It must be, as Severus knows he hasn't told anyone else. Surprisingly, her, "Severus, might I've a moment?" is less grating than the others' immediate questions about sun and sand and other such ridiculous ideas.


"It's come to my attention that Harry Potter has been in communication with you."

"A few posts is all." It bothers Severus that he doesn't know why he's lying. Harry's letters nearly overtook the cottage by the end of the summer, regardless of Severus reusing the parchment and Evaporating it when it was no longer of use.

"I should like to know how he's doing, is all."

When Albus hadn't seemed surprised at Severus receiving letters from Everyone's Favorite Eighteen Year-Old, Severus had just assumed that Harry was writing several people. Harry did admit to being lonely, after all. Minerva's question makes it clear that this is not exactly the case. She was Harry's Head of House, a perfectly logical person to write to so far as Severus is concerned. Which he isn't, not particularly. Then again, Harry has never shown a great skill for logic.

Still, this new fact doesn't seem to want to sit quietly in Severus's mind. It is probably this that accounts for the fact of him giving Minerva far more information than he would regularly see fit. "He seems quite intrigued by his new job, is making friends with at least one of his coworkers, and since Margot recommended some texts to help in his Arithmancy sessions he confesses to coming along quite well in that area."

"Lancelot has surreptitiously mentioned him in nearly every press release they've made since his hiring. It would seem they are also pleased with the arrangement."

Severus already knows this but he would rather be forced to sing while under Cruciatus than admit that he's paid attention to anything that might in some way reveal his concern for Harry. "They've no reason not to, his name alone will no doubt boost their contract numbers."

Minerva makes a small sound in her throat. "Odd that Harry would only keep relations with the one man in this school who thinks nothing of him whatsoever, don't you think?"

She's down the hall before Severus can answer, which is just as well. There is some level of decorum to be observed with her. She is technically his superior.

Severus hates coming back to Hogwarts in the fall.


Severus hears the whisperings but ignores them. Of course Harry's not back at the school. Severus received a letter from him not two days ago, had Harry planned on visiting for Halloween, he would have mentioned something.

Despite this fact, quite a few of the students seem to think he's about. The sixth and seventh years are buzzed about their friend returning. The first years are nearly peeing themselves with excitement at meeting the Esteemed Messr. Potter.

Severus wonders who's actually at the school that's causing all the commotion.

He finds out when he escapes to his quarters for lunch, unwilling to deal with the mounting festivities down in the Great Hall. Harry's waiting there for him, despite the fact that Severus redid his passwords and his wards at the beginning of the year.

"Surprise," Harry says. He's looking terribly nonchalant but Severus has spent too much time inside his head not to see the slight worry. Harry stands to greet him. "Hope you don't mind my waiting here. I did it the old-fashioned way, no asking Dumbledore. Took me bloody forever to get in."

"Why didn't you tell me you were coming?"

Harry shrugs. "Didn't precisely know until yesterday. Su convinced me to actually go somewhere, what with having the holiday off anyway. Only, I mean, it's not like there are a ton of places for me to go."

Severus agrees with Su, Harry's Singaporean coworker friend (whose name is actually much longer than that, Harry once wrote it out and Severus promptly forgot it), that it's high time Harry took a small vacation. He's been working somewhat non-stop since his hiring in June. He doesn't agree with Harry, seeing as how Severus can think of at least two people and one family that would immediately take him in should he show up at the door. Severus is pretty sure that Harry actually knows this and therefore has chosen to intrude on Severus's space, just as he has chosen to communicate with Severus and few others.

Memories begin to click into place for Severus and he's disappointed in himself for not noticing earlier. There were a million hints, thoughts that Severus interpreted incorrectly or just neglected to think through at all, coded word patterns in letters, touches than went unfinished. "You're a bit old for a schoolboy crush."

"As such I like the words 'mature infatuation' much better. They sound more promising."

The last time Severus traded innuendo with anyone, even bad, completely unsubtle innuendo, was ten years earlier at a conference on the etymology of Latin as a magical language and the possibilities for evolution in its use. The man he'd traded with had obviously been locked behind a school's wall every bit as long as Severus. Not that it hadn't been good, it had, just highly tinged of desperation. After that it was back to the Death Eater crowd, and they weren't so much for any kind of talking as getting to the point. Severus always found it slightly boorish but was also firmly of the opinion that were he to reside in Rome he was most certainly going to make like the Romans. Well, until his not-quite-catamite Boy Saviour came and turned the emperor into goo.

Severus is out of practice and slightly overwhelmed by the awkwardly handsome, ridiculously sought-after man who's attempting to banter with him. Not that he plans on letting on to either of those facts. "Promises are something only Gryffindors keep."

That's not true, Severus knows for a fact that Hufflepuffs are pretty damn reliable as well. As a hallmark shame to Slytherin, Severus has been known to keep quite a few of his own. None of that is the point.

"Lucky one of us is one, then." Harry moves in, faster than Severus could ever have predicted, and runs his tongue over Severus's lower lip in a quick swipe. Then he's gone, moving fluidly past Severus, all hips and legs and undulation, out the door. Right before the door closes of its own accord behind Harry, Severus hears, "Later. That's a promise."


Severus doesn't even see Harry for the rest of the day. Whatever Harry is up to, it's something that takes him far away from the dungeons. Severus catches a couple of glimpses of him during the Feast; he's roaming around the student tables visiting with students in the classes immediately below him. Unsurprisingly, he ends up next to Miss Weasley at the Gryffindor table.

Severus, as he does for most meals but most especially for festive ones, eats and runs. He settles into his quarters behind the fourth years' essays and prepares himself for a long night of marking. Trying to slog through their drivel is easier than thinking about whether he wants Harry to keep his promise or not, about what it means if he does want that.

Harry shows up at near to midnight, when Severus is considering going to bed and leaving the rest of the scrolls to deal with in the morning. He doesn't have a class until one. Harry's lips are on Severus's before Severus is even entirely aware of his presence.

One quick kiss and Harry draws back. "I'll take it since you didn't change the wards that you were actually somewhat expecting me."

"Testing you, perhaps. Seeing if that bloody Gryffindor reputation you wear with the scarf would prove to be of any truth." Harry's mouth tastes of lemon tea and sugared biscuits. "Been visiting with the headmaster?"

"Been listening to a light and rather disguised scold on not breaking your heart is more like it." Harry looks amused. Severus supposes it's good that one of them is.

Severus stands. "I don't have a heart, and even where I to come across one, you would be among the last people that I would give it over to."

"Among the last? That means there's hope, right?"

"It's a raging debate between you and the rather loquacious ghost who keeps flooding the girls's upstairs bathroom."

"Myrtle's a sweetheart, all right. I suppose I can give you the need for debate."

Severus kisses Harry, more out of a desire to shut him up than to taste second-hand tea again. At least, that's what the dialogue in Severus's mind seems to think. Harry's a surprisingly good kisser, though, very attuned to his partner's needs, and Severus doesn't pull away. If anything, he steps into Harry.

Harry pushes at the outer robe that Severus wears largely because the dungeons are consistently drafty, even in the summertime. Although it's presumptuous, and Severus shouldn’t allow it, Severus rolls his shoulders back to make it easier for the covering to slip to the floor.

Harry pulls his mouth back, sucking his lower lip in and under his teeth. He rests his forehead against Severus's. "Pretend, all right?"

Severus doesn't know what Harry's been told about sex, but… "Pretend?"

"That you'd give me your heart. If you had one, that is." Harry's voice is soft and just clear of pleading. He straightens his head so as to meet Severus's eyes.

Severus hasn't had anyone look at him like that since he was a sixth year dating Silas Rookwood, a fourth year. Silas's expression was always a combination of hero-worship and honest affection. Severus could never figure out where it came from and was almost relieved when one too many attempts to drive it out of Silas finally succeeded.

As many faults as Severus has though, he knows how to learn from his mistakes. Severus pulls Harry's glasses from his face and sets them on the desk. He soothes a thumb down one side of Harry's face. He tries to push back some of the famously unruly hair from Harry's forehead. For the first time since he met Harry, Severus notices just how fragile every part of Harry is, despite the fact that it adds up to something enormously powerful, nearly indestructible, when put together. Severus often feels that way himself.

Severus puts his lips to the corner of Harry's eye and kisses his way down to Harry's ear. "I'm brilliant at pretense."


Severus recognizes Harry's actions. Harry has planned this. Every move Harry makes has been thought out beforehand, possibly even written down on a list of some kind. Severus would laugh at him, really wants to laugh at him, but remembers being barely an adult and wanting to seem like his skin already fit.

Not that Harry's bad. He's obviously practiced with somebody, maybe several somebody's. Severus doubts there was any lack of volunteers.

Harry's fingers are sure, if frustrated by Severus' buttons. Harry himself is wearing only an over robe with trousers and a jumper underneath. Severus has gotten the better deal, he's quite sure, but Harry seems rather happy unpeeling layer after layer, exploring what is revealed after each one.

Severus for his part slides his hands up underneath the jumper which fits to Harry's skin. He rests his palms against Harry's chest and lets the warmth generated by Harry's body and the proximity of the cotton-wool blend seep into his hands. He's allowed a few seconds before Harry tugs at his arms in order to roll Severus's undershirt up and over his head.

Harry fingers a few of the scars that are now visible, sighs a soft, "Ow," then allows himself to be distracted by the fact of Severus's pants still residing on his legs. As Harry is bending down, Severus grabs hold of both sides of the jumper and uses the oppositional movement to draw it off of Harry.

Harry takes Severus's trousers off with his teeth and it's obvious from the way he looks up expectantly that he's showing off. Severus knows all the tricks though, and Harry's going to have to do better than that if he wants to make an impression. Harry sighs, rolling down the underpants as well and lifting Severus' feet one at a time to make him step out of apparel. As Severus, economical man that he is, started with Harry's robe and pants, they are now both completely nude.

Harry breathes over the tip of Severus's erection, a quick stream of warm air. Severus has long taught himself to control his reactions and he's not giving Harry anything until Harry has damn well worked for it. Which doesn't mean that he doesn't want to moan low in his throat. He does.

Harry takes the tip of the cock into his mouth, firmly running his tongue over the head. Severus takes a deep breath. Harry slides his mouth upward until his nose is pressed against the skin of Severus's groin, the head of Severus's cock wedged snugly in Harry's throat. Severus decides that deserves a moan.

Harry grins or laughs or does something to express his joy at coaxing this from Severus and the result is another moan. Harry draws back, all the way. His teeth scrape ever so lightly along a scant inch of the stalk and then withdraw back into hiding. Severus works to control his breathing. He hasn't the slightest desire to pass out during what may be the best blow job of his life. He has no idea how he's going to pay Harry back. Severus has never quite managed the art of deep-throating.

Harry repeats the pattern a few more times before sliding back onto his heels, inches away from Severus's cock. He looks upward but his eyes are curiously unexpectant, and Severus is not the type to beg. Harry says, "I'd like, er. Well, it's that-"

Harry is going to ruin the mood if Severus allows this to continue. All the same, he's not quite willing to offer what he thinks Harry wants, not yet. There are some things even Severus can respect as worth waiting for. "This won't be the last time we do this, Harry."

"First off, you're a Slytherin who's openly admitted we're pretending, so forgive me if I have cause to doubt, and secondly, I know what I want, all right?"

Harry's eyes are still shining like Silas' did, only with an added pinch of determination and frustration. Severus asks, "How come you were never this focused as a student?"

"Maybe you should have offered me the chance to have your cock up my arse earlier."

Severus can't help it, he laughs. "Because that wouldn't have ended in Howlers containing the Killing Curse To Go."

Harry laughs too, and it's not sexy at all, really, but amazingly the mood hasn’t been killed. Harry holds out his hands and Severus pulls him up by them. Harry cajoles, "This is my favorite part, promise."

Harry extends a hand, and if he says the words that bring the small jar of lube to him, Severus doesn't hear it. Harry offers the jar up. Severus takes it. He gets out of the way so as to bend Harry over the desk. It takes pushing several essays aside, and the organizational freak in Severus cringes but Harry Potter is arse-upwards over his desk, miles of toned muscle and bronzed skin being offered up to him. Severus sets the jar next to Harry's hip and takes advantage of Harry's position. He runs his hands from the rounded bones of the pelvis up over the spinal chord and to where his hands meet over Harry's neck. He massages at the shoulders and the shoulder blades, runs his tongue along the crevice of the spine. He follows the indentation all the way up and then back down again, continuing past where it stops until he reaches Harry's arse.

Harry screams at the contact of Severus' tongue on his hole. He pants as Severus bites lightly at the rim and then sucks. When Harry's regained enough breath, Severus sticks his tongue inside the hole and wrings another scream from him. Severus stays a bit longer, seeing what types of sounds he can pull from Harry before straightening up and dipping two fingers in the ointment. Harry's so relaxed from the treatment that Severus hasn't a problem sliding both in at once. He doesn’t waste time, searching out Harry's prostate and giving it a good tweak before withdrawing to spread lube over his cock.

He sinks into Harry swiftly, pressing until he feels the edge of the desk impeding both him and Harry. Harry is moaning, one hand holding desperately to the desk, the other curled awkwardly backward, scrabbling at the skin of Severus's back.

Severus thrusts shortly several times in succession, moving just enough to scrape at Harry's prostate but not much else. Harry is whimpering and Severus thinks there are words escaping his mouth, words like, "shit," and "please," and "brilliant."

Severus withdraws until he's just barely inside Harry and proceeds to drive back inside of him. He's not rough but he's certainly not gentle, banging Harry's thin hips into the edge of the desk, holding back words of his own, contradicting words about how beautiful Harry is, about what a slut Harry is, about how Severus doesn't want to stop.

He does eventually, long after he's wrapped his hand around Harry's cock and wanked until his hand was covered in Harry's cum. He even waits for a bit after he's come, slumping over onto Harry, careless of how his weight feels on top of Harry, exulting in the frantic breaths that Severus can feel radiating from below him through his sternum.

Eventually, though, Severus stands, drawing himself from Harry. Harry murmurs something then, something Severus doesn't understand but it must be a Cleansing Spell, as Severus immediately feels less sticky. When it becomes evident that Harry doesn't plan on moving of his own accord, Severus drags him up from the desk, slinging one of Harry's arms over his shoulders. He's still taller than Harry, and Harry's side is stretched, long and silky against that of Severus's.

Severus throws Harry into his bed, yanking the covers from beneath him so that Severus can draw them up over himself. Exertions or no, Severus is cold. Harry rouses himself enough to climb under the blankets and settle next to Severus in a firm line of unmovable flesh.

Severus doesn't mind horribly. Harry's quite warm.


Severus awakes to an empty bed and the smell of breakfast. He accios a dressing robe and heads toward the small table he uses when dining in his quarters. Sure enough, the table is completely covered in all sorts of breakfast delights, Harry sitting in one chair with a look torn between childish glee and bewilderment.

"You told the House Elves you were hungry, didn't you?" Severus asks.

Harry looks guilty. "I forgot about, um, their tendency to overdo things."

Severus takes the other seat. He finds an empty plate among all the filled ones and begins serving himself. Harry follows suit. Severus looks around to find a teapot and pours himself a cup. "Tea?"

Harry shakes his head. "Never got used to it in the mornings. Too much of a jolt."

Severus hands over the carafe of milk. "I'll assume this is for you, then."

Harry drinks straight from the carafe. Severus sneers, "Mature."

Harry's grin is irrepressibly boyish and Severus gets the feeling Harry knows it. "I've never slept with anyone who much cared about my eating habits."

"Yes, I can just imagine who my illustrious predecessors were."

"I've already told you once to be careful where your curiosity leads you."

"And I've already ignored that warning quite easily."

Harry smiles. "You're lucky then, that there are some secrets I'm above spreading."

"Even to the people whose cocks you've had up your arse?"

Harry chews thoughtfully on a muffin. "That depends on what follows said cock, I suppose. At the moment, I'm less than impressed. However, the way we've related has never followed normal patterns so I'm more than willing to wait."

"If you're expecting something more significant than an act of buggery to pass between us, you'll be waiting a damn long time. The word forever comes to mind."

Harry twists one edge of his lips before straightening his mouth carefully. "I don't believe you."

Severus reinforces his mental wards. Harry's eyes blink in surprise and narrow in hurt. "I wasn't poking around. I wouldn't. Not without your permission. Voldemort gave me the use of parseltongue and a scar, he didn't give me his arrogance or his ability to harm."

"No, those were transferred previously by your genetic predisposition."

"Actually, I've heard my mother was quite lovely."

"Your father-"

"Has nothing to do with this," Harry says, as though he is discussing whether it will rain later or not, "which you well know. So now we're just playing word games. I'd rather eat, if that's all right with you?"

Severus isn't hungry. "I don't lie. There's no reason for you not to believe me."

"You lie more than anyone I know. The only difference being that you tell yourself the lie before you tell it to anyone else. Makes it much harder to catch but I <I>have caught it. Whether you are willing to tell me or no, you are not the type to have sex wherein there could be strings attached if unwilling to follow through on where those strings lead. You're too smart, and you are far and away too self-defensive."

"These 'strings', as you call them, lead nowhere."

"Have the bollocks to find out with me."

It's a Gryffindor's challenge, Harry's stance firm, his lips set, fingers clasped around his knife and his fork ever-so-securely. Severus should answer it with a Slytherin let-down. In the same place that he knew he had to defy Voldemort, the same place where he knew he had to return to Hogwarts, in that place, however, he knows that he can't. Severus, for all wishes that he couldn't, has always been able to see possibility and has never been able to turn from it completely. "This is ridiculous."

Harry must hear the surrender, because his laughter is soft and pleased.


"I don’t want to leave," Harry says, because Harry is quite good at saying things that open him up to scorn and ridicule on Severus's part.

Severus has no pressing desire for Harry to leave either. "It'll be a blessing to have my space back."

Harry nods. "If you're worried about the ensuing loneliness, I can always send Hedwig to keep you company. She seems to like your grumpy arse. Lucky that I found the one bird in the world likely to enjoy putting up with you, eh? Otherwise this might have been difficult."

"Otherwise indeed." Sometimes Severus thinks that Harry screwed up something more than just Voldemort's and the Death Eaters' neural synapses the day of his rescue.

"Although, if I left her here, I'd have to trust you to send the first letter, and while I may trust you with my life, the initiation of communication is something entirely else."

"I have been a flawless correspondent." Severus is a little miffed that Harry would think to intimate that it hasn't been so, when Severus has been diligent in not allowing himself to push Harry's -- often times trivial -- letters aside.

"When given something to respond to, I agree completely. I just wouldn't want to leave the responsibility of starting a conversation up to you. You're not even that skilled at it when we're in the same room."

"Untrue. I can always find something wrong with you to make a point of; I just rarely voice such thoughts. The situation is easily rectifiable."

Harry grins. "I wouldn't want you going out of your way for me."

"It's no trouble, I assure you. Leave the bird and you will see." Severus thinks he's just petitioned for something which he had no desire for in the first place, and that somehow Harry has maneuvered all of this but the words have been said and there's no backing out now. Harry is only merciful at random intervals, and Severus has never been able to determine a pattern for when those fall.

Harry holds out his arm, waiting as the snowy owl flutters to him and settles on the curved bicep. "What d'you think, Hedwig, you want to stay here for a few days?"

Hedwig hoots softly, nosing her beak in Harry's hair. As messy as it is, it manages to fluff some against the curve of her beak. Harry says, "That's settled then. Yours she is. At least till you get that first letter off. Even if it's not to me, I warn you that's where she'll return. Joking aside she's a total Hufflepuff owl, loyal to the core and with a surprising array of tricks if one just cares enough to find out."

"The essence of a familiar is its loyalty, Harry."

"I'm not really one to take things for granted." Harry doesn't look at the owl as he says it. He looks at Severus.

Severus holds his arm out, and though Hedwig hesitates, at a slight lift of Harry's arm she's off and on Severus's, her claws carefully held over the skin so as to rest lightly rather than gouge. "You'll get your letter."

Harry's eyes shine softly with cautious belief. "I look forward to it."

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