"Only six weeks. We thought you would be down, longer, actually." Albus responded to Harry's first inquiry as he fussed about in a manner much like Madame Pomfrey's. The man cringed slightly as his pillows were fluffed, giving a forgiving smile when the headmaster apologized for his lack of gentleness.
At the foot of his bed, Harry spotted a newspaper. Once he focused on it, however, a freckled hand slid it from his view. Green eyes peered around purple robes and caught sight of Ron Weasley. "Ah, hello, mate." He weakly ushered a greeting to the redhead. Ron's good-morning smile was nervous and only half-curled.
A plume of velvet sound entered the room from the doorway, "Every page is about his glorious victory, Mr. Weasley. Would you really deprive Mr. Potter of his praise?"
Ron tried his best to level their ex-professor with a glare, but failed miserably once Severus returned it three-fold. Albus interrupted the silent argument with a light cough. "I believe we'll spare Harry the effort of reading until he's better rested."
With that, the three of them left the twenty year-old in solitude. He tried a few times to sit up, but his head was blaring with pain. He must have been hit on the head. That would explain the pain and the fact that he couldn't remember the final battle at all. A sense of pride and relief was evidence that it had happened, but he had no recollection of the actual events.
...And why was Snape so concerned about him reading an entire newspaper about himself. That didn't bode well at all. After all, the man had never been one to feed Harry's ego. Maybe the knock to the head came about in some embarrassing way, like a backfired shot or something as simple, and degrading, as a trip or slip.
Wouldn't that be great? He casts the final, end-all spell, turns around, and trips over a discarded wand.
He closed his eyes and sighed, then, suddenly angry with himself for not knowing what happened nor what to do. Weren't there still deatheaters to fight? Wouldn't they be trying to find a way to bring the Dark Lord from the dead? Would they replace him? Harry was suddenly convinced that he didn't need to be in bed. "Professor Dumbledore!" he called, his voice coming out in an unattractive croak.
A long moment passed before the door eased open. "The headmaster left me to care for you until his return. Why don't you just go back to sleep, Potter?"
Harry frowned to his old professor. "Where is Lucius Malfoy?"
"That's of no importance to you."
"That is also of no importance to you."
"Potter, why are you looking for Voldemort's bridge club?"
"If they try to make someone else into their leader, I need to..."
"You need to what? Stop them?"
"...yes..." Harry replied, suddenly feeling silly and small.
"Let me ask you something, Potter. Can you move without severe pain or even recall exactly what happened prior to you entering this room?"
"I see the draught is working and you should see that any business of The Order is, currently, of no importance to you."
Harry couldn't have been sure, because he was on the brink of passing out just as it happened, but, The Potions Master seemed to smile from ear to ear before closing the door behind him.
When Harry woke next, it was Hermione hovering over him instead of Albus. "Ah, I'm glad you're awake, Harry. The potion should wear off in a few days and Ron is going to stay here to take care of you. I've got things to do. I'll tell you exactly what, later." She continued talking, but said nothing useful to his purposes.
What were his purposes? Finding out why they'd drugged him, what The Order was doing, why Snape wanted him to see that newspaper, and why Ron and Albus did not.
Hermione didn't seem was tentative around his bed as Albus and Ron had. "Um, Hermione... can I ask you something?"
"Of course, Harry. Ask anything you'd like."
"What has The Daily Prophet written about me, lately?"
"Nothing you need to know about."
"You said I could ask anything I liked!"
"And you did."
She smiled and patted him on the shoulder, "You'll be out of the infirmary in no time and then we can let you out of the school and maybe you'll catch up on a few things, but for now, try to get some rest."
There was no point arguing with her, so he closed his eyes, once more, to be awakened, next time, by Severus. "You have wonderful friends that will leave you under the arm of someone they know won't make you comfortable at the first hint of Quidditch." He grumbled when he saw Harry's eyes open.
Severus uncrossed his legs and put his book aside. He'd been sitting in a chair across from Harry's bed, reading. He only glanced up when the boy made a noise, which was rare. "Oliver Wood has arrived and Ron ran out to greet him. A greeting that lasts two hours implies something more than a simple "hello". For the sake of keeping my lunch down, I'd like to think they're playing Quidditch."
Harry blushed darkly, not noticing the way Severus' shoulders stiffened and eyes averted at the innocent reaction. After a long silence in which the professor realized the Hogwarts' graduate wasn't going to fall back asleep, the man cleared his throat. "The draught I fed you will wear off in a matter of hours. Mr. Weasley was told to give you a quick explanation of what happened six weeks ago and what The Order is doing, now. Because I doubt he'll be back, soon, I'll spare you the terror of recalling those memories without warning."
Harry yawned, his fingers pulling at the blanket as he stretched. "Thank you, sir." He said calmly, trying to fight his Gryffindor urge to ask a million questions and the Slytherin one to force the answers out of Severus in any way he could. Perhaps the overview would be enough to satisfy what he did not know.
"I gave you a draught to keep your mind unable to focus and keep your body unwilling to move. The large bursts of pain have not damaged your nervous system in any way; they are simply personal alarms to keep you in the bed. Certain memories you recall will cause you great distress, so we wanted you to rest and completely heal before thinking about the battle. We kept you in the bed, mostly to keep you from getting to a newspaper or leaving this room, which has been magically sealed from people that don't know it's here."
Severus stood and stretched. He turned his back to Harry to share this part. "Voldemort is, indeed, dead. The Deatheaters, relieved to be free of their obsessive leader, is looking to regroup. I can remain a spy. Only Voldemort knew of my betrayal. Bellatrix was defeated by Neville Longbottom. Draco has pleaded not guilty on the claim that he was imperious-bound and will remain in Azkaban, pending trial. Lucius has, somehow, disappeared."
The younger man nodded to himself, trying to commit everything to memory. The only thing his mind truly held onto was his first memory since waking up in the infirmary. He looked to Severus, determined to find out the significance of Ron and Dumbledore's wariness. "The newspaper...?"
"I will pass it to you later. Now, about The Order..."
"Why is everyone keeping the newspaper from me?!?!?!?!"
"I would gladly hand it to you if Albus hadn't enchanted it. It cannot enter this room until I've told you certain things or your memory returns. The sooner you listen, the sooner you'll get to see it."
"The order lost a few members, I'm sure your memory will supply the names, soon enough. What's important is that we're working hard on helping the ministry restore order to the Muggle world and tracking Lucius Malfoy."
Severus turned to Harry and closed his eyes. His brow furrowed a bit, as well. He seemed to be concentrating. Once his eyes opened, he still did not speak, right away. He began talking, and then paused, then started again, only to reword himself several times. Harry was in awe. He'd never seen the man so unsure of what to say. Finally, Severus' facial expression showed that he'd settled on exactly what to say.
"Are you aware of how The Killing Curse works, Mr. Potter?"
Harry's eyes widened and he paled a bit. He'd used an Unforgivable to kill Voldemort? How fitting... Terrible, but fitting. Severus, again, averted his eyes from Harry's boyish shock and did not look back when he continued speaking.
"I know you know the incantation and the effect, but you don't know –who- can perform the curse." The man's face scrunched as if he had a nasty taste in his mouth, "A person that is both powerful and wholly pure can avoid the curse, but the forfeit for a chance at safety is defenselessness. A... a virgin cannot perform The Killing Curse."
Harry's entire upper-half turned red. Even his fingers were rosy. Severus looked up and only caught a glimpse of the body blush before turning his attention to the floor tiles, once more. "What does that mean to me, Professor?"
"You tried to defeat Voldemort with a series of potions and spells that we taught you in class and in training, but when all else failed to fully destroy him, you cast the most unforgivable curse."
"...and... it didn't work... did it?" Harry asked, his voice small and embarrassed. His mind slowly recalled the burst of blue light that escaped his wand and put a shield around him. He recalled the confusion he felt. Had he said "Avada Kadavra" at all?
He watched as Voldemort laughed, waiting for the shield to drop. He tried, unsuccessfully, to send a spell through the shield to kill the evil man. "Even at twenty? And such a handsome boy!" the Dark Lord had mocked him. Both had turned to the graveyard's gate when a flurry of witches and wizards, The Order, arrived. Voldemort cackled as everyone paused, momentarily to eye the blue orb of protective light that held Harry captive.
He continued his sickening laughter as the other magicians tried to harm him. Their spells cut and scorched, and any Killing Curse that was thrown rebounded and killed the caster. Harry remembered the blue light dropping with a pop. He remembered the unbearable rage that sent him sprinting toward the man. He remembered how bones snapped under his hands. He remembered how, in a last attempt to survive, Tom Marvolo Riddle had placed his wand to Harry's neck "Avada..." but the curse was left unfinished because the last word was curdled with blood from his own throat.
Harry shed a few tears as he recalled the twisted, blood-soaked body he'd been pulled away from. He'd –mutilated- his enemy. He only looked up when a large, reassuring hand cupped his chin. "You did what you needed to do, and the world is grateful."
A long silence spread out between the two of them. When Harry finished sorting through the horrible memories.
Weeks later, Harry was in Grimmauld Place, dusting shelves and scrubbing floors. Dobby and several other houseelves were on loan from Hogwarts, but Harry couldn't bring himself to make them work much. Besides, he was slightly stir crazy from being in the hospital bed for over two months and undoubtedly paranoid by the prospect of Lucius Malfoy attacking Muggles, Mudbloods, or anyone else, for that matter.
So far, the fugitive had managed to keep a low profile, but there was only a matter of time before Harry had to deal with him. It would be entirely too much to hope that Draco was truly innocent and that Lucius would try his damnedest to redeem himself, or, better yet, drop dead.
On a far less important note, or a note that Harry felt shouldn't have been as important to him, there were the recent articles in The Daily Prophet. After all, they could only praise a man for so long before people tired of the fanfare. Two days with no articles on Harry Potter proved detrimental to their sales. So, from salvation to slander, The Prophet dipped its quill into Harry Potter's private life, which they knew absolutely nothing about.
As with all Celebrity text it was ninety-nine point nine percent speculation and one percent ink. For days they'd dabbled on why he was a twenty year-old virgin. They followed up with a narrative from some girl that claimed to have tried at him, only to be turned away because he'd claimed to be in love with someone else. One person said that his Muggle family had been barbaric in their own sexual activity and scared him from it. An entire issue was dedicated to stories from his so-called ex-girlfriends. The Prophet had turned from a paper that pretended to present factual, unbiased, useful news into... a rather well-organized tabloid. Still, only when the headlines shifted to –who- would deflower him did he become truly uneasy.
They paired him with everyone from Angelina Jolie to Charlotte Church. They magically edited pictures to show what a baby would look like if parented by him and Hermione Granger. They hit the nail on the head when they assumed he was gay, one Sunday, but that entire column was a joke about him and Albus Dumbledore. To make it worse, the following Tuesday, at an Order meeting, the grey-haired man chuckled that Harry wasn't his type when the article was mentioned by a surprisingly jovial Tonks. Of course, she wasn't joking a week later when her name came up in a threesome with him and Draco Malfoy. Severus didn't seem too happy about that article, either, but Harry assumed it was because Draco had been one of his favorite students and shouldn't have been mentioned in such a degrading manner with such a "foolhardy, Gryffindor" boy.
The Prophet eventually slipped from celebrities, fellow graduates, and coworkers to everyone that had a thought to the future of what was below the man's belt. Women eagerly spilled their fantasies to grubby reporters and the editors had no problem printing every dirty detail. It quickly came to the point that Harry wouldn't even read the quotations next to the tiny photographs of smiling young girls. He even feared pictures of children in the community service section may mention Potter and "no-no parts" at some point. He felt harassed, but resigned himself to dealing with it until his popularity faltered... if it ever did.
Molly Weasley wasn't too keen on letting it ride itself out. "This needs to be stopped, immediately! We owe our very lives to this dear boy, and we thank him by treating him like an object??!?! This is absolutely unacceptable!" she was quoted on the very front page of the prophet, in an article about her son Ronald being the secret love of Harry Potter that was mentioned months ago. She made several fire calls to Harry, after that, insisting that he complain, sue, or just blow-up the editor's office. All advice given was quick-winded and seasoned, generously with swear words. He'd never heard her so upset. He'd also never received a howler from her, which is exactly what arrived at his inherited home when an article about the Weasley twins trying to rape him, and therefore creating a fear of sex.
Always the hero, Harry could deal with people talking about him, but if his friends were involved, something had to change. After agreeing to be interviewed, a reporter met him at a café in Hogsmeade.
"Ah, Mr. Potter. How do you do?"
"I'm fine." He said blankly, unable to hide his disdain for the woman across from him. Her ruddy cheeks were large and filled with fat, as was the rest of her. Her eyes had a sleepy look to them and her pug nose reminded him slightly of Draco Malfoy. She wasn't all that ugly, but looked like maybe a bit of rest and a hairbrush could have helped. Or, perhaps, wearing clothing and fingernail polish that wasn't –neon- orange. There was a familiar smell on her, too. Something Harry couldn't quite put his finger on. She was no Rita Skeeter, but she still had one of those blasted quills.
"My name is Diana Dionysus. It's a great pleasure to finally meet you, Harry. May I call you Harry?"
"Ah... well... shall we begin?"
"I do hope your answers to the interview questions will be a bit more detailed." She said as her orange fingernails thumbed through a pad of parchment. Diana set her quill to writing, telling it the date, her name, his name, their location, and how the weather was.
Harry said nothing; he simply listened to her breath crackle and wheeze as she waited for the quill to finish its first paragraph. "Alright, there we are." She murmured, looking over the pad that she'd purposely arranged out of Harry's sight, "Mr. Potter. How do you feel about all of the things people have been saying lately?"
"About your virginity."
"What about it?"
"You're not making this very easy, Mr. Potter."
"That's not what I'm here for."
"Well, what are you here for? What did you hope to accomplish by calling on me for an interview?" Diana was leering, then.
"I want you to stop writing about my friends." He snapped. He was in no mood to play the diplomat.
"Give me something better to write about."
"The danger we're still in! Deatheaters are hiding, everywhere! There's no way to know what they're up to or when they'll do something extreme."
"You're our hero, Mr. Potter. Perhaps we're taking the public's attention off of all the bad things in the world."
"And talking about sex everyday is a good thing? You're a newspaper! ...children can read that stuff."
"And that, of course, is something for parents to deal with. We've never sold more papers in all our hundred years. You should be glad to help ease the country's tension and support such a prestigious news source."
"Gossip is not news."
"Why such a touchy subject this week? Why call this week? Perhaps Aveeno Trumphette was right about your encounters with the Weasley boys?"
"Nothing you've printed about me has –ever- been true."
"So, you're not the Boy Who Lived?"
"I'm Harry Potter."
"So, you aren't the man who defeated Lord Voldemort?"
"Armies were present. We all worked, together, to destroy him."
"You were the last to touch him! Nobody gives details on these things, but, it's agreed that –you- gave the final blow!"
Harry actually jumped, looked to his hands and, for a split second, could see all the gore that he'd come away from the battle with. At first, he thought the Dionysus woman had done something to him, but when she looked at him, asking if he was okay, he knew she had no idea what he'd just seen.
"I need to leave."
"You haven't finished the interview! You gave me your word that you would stay until I was done!"
"I'm not a virgin, anymore." He lied. "Write about that."
"But, that doesn't put us in any better..."
"And I'm gay. Gay gay gay. Quit interviewing women."
Ms. Dionysus looked as if she might protest, again, but Harry dropped several galleons on the table to take care of their tea and hurried from the café. After running headlong into the street and far up the hill into the yard of the shrieking shack, he ran directly into another person, knocking both of them onto the ground.
"Just my luck. I finally decide to get some fresh air, and you bulldoze me in my front yard."
Harry knew that voice, anywhere, although it puzzled him that the place he was about to seek refuge already belonged to someone else. "Y... your yard, sir?"
"Yes, Mr. Potter. My yard." He then realized he was still flat on his arse in the snow and bristled at the younger man that was already standing and dusting himself off. "ARE YOU GOINGTO HELP ME UP, OR NOT, YOU CLUMSY IMBECILE?!?!?"
"Oh!' Harry exclaimed, reaching down to guide Severus from the ground. He instinctively started dusting off the man's robes, until he a glare started burning through the top of his head.
"I'm perfectly capable of cleaning myself. Please, put at least four feet of space between the two of us, immediately."
"Yes, sir." Harry stood nervously, his hands gripping each other behind his back and his body rocking from heel to toe. Severus averted his eyes to a row of trees behind Harry and pursed his lips in annoyance.
The silence was finally broken as Severus growled "Why are you here?" and Harry asked "Why is this your house, now?" at the same time. Harry paled and Severus glared.
"Uh... I was going to stay here, a little while. People are always in and out of Grimmauld place... like Mrs. Weasley. And all the random Order meetings I'm not a part of are annoying."
"My home was destroyed during the war when your stupid friends thought I was a traitor and blew up my neighborhood. I do hope they realize they injured several muggles in the process... and will drop out of any future military affairs."
"Oh." Harry blushed. Ron had finally gotten "proof" that Severus was a traitor when the man immobilized Harry during a short battle in Muggle London and took out his own bit of revenge with a rather large bomb on Severus' neighborhood, which he stupidly assumed contained a colony of deatheaters.
Again, silence prevailed between the two of them as Severus turned away from Harry and paced a few feet. "You do realize that if you stay here, you will have to be completely quiet at all times and must do your share of the chores."
"You mean, I can stay?"
"It's a loan from Albus. If I turned you away, he'd force me to let you in."
"Oh... well, I'm going to get some things and I'll return, tomorrow."
"I thought your Hero-complex would kick in and you wouldn't force yourself upon an unwilling host." Severus grumbled as the turned to face Harry, once more.
"I'm saving Professor Dumbledore from having to force me upon you."
"Figures." Was the older man's only reply as he trudged into his new home. He'd only been there a few months, but knew, eventually, some refugee would be placed in his cold, unloving arms. Of course, Harry's blushes always put a little warmth into his extremities and he didn't know whether to thank is lucky stars... or cast the most Unforgivable into a mirror.
Option two was the clear choice, or at least that's what Severus decided the following morning when Harry arrived in baggy, Muggle clothing, looking completely lost and carrying a trunk, an owl, and a broomstick.
"Good morning, Professor."
Severus couldn't believe that tan, innocent face was looking up at him with wide eyes and a nervous grin. He'd just read about an explicit, most-likely false encounter between the hero before him and some other man. Oh yes, a man. The images were still running, or rather –riding- through his head. How dare a newspaper be so scandalous! How dare a man be so cute! How dare the star of his latest fantasies remind him he'd been his teacher!!!
"Seve... Dr. Snape will do fine. I'm not keen on being called "Professor" in my home." The man responded as he held the door open for Harry. He coughed a bit when Harry tried to stride right in. "I have a door mat, Mr. Potter." He wasn't just about to mop up melted snow because Potter had no home-training. Sexiness did not exempt a person from using proper etiquette.
"Perhaps, in the Muggle world men become renowned chemists with grade school educations, but you must realize I had to spend most of my life in the classroom to become a Potions Master. ...or perhaps you don't. Thinking would be completely unlike you."
"I'm not stupid!" Harry argued, immediately. If he let the old fart start beating him up, early, the man would never let off. Already fuming and looking ready to stub the older man's toes, he was surprised when Severus' lips quirked into the slightest of grins.
"I did not say that you were stupid, Mr. Potter. You're perfectly capable of thought, but choose to avoid it." He plucked Hedwig's cage from the boy's right hand and turned sharply. "That would make you incredibly ignorant."
Harry, followed Severus without a word. The man had his bird, after all. To be honest, Harry would have followed him, anyway. He would have trailed right after him until the man turned, his hair a sheet of black steel, and cursed him to Hell and back. He was happy. He'd just earned a grin and a compliment. Well, a shadow of a smile and a lesser insult.
As for Hedwig; she looked absolutely horrified. Her eyes zipped frantically from Severus gripping her home to Harry casually walking behind him. She ruffled her feathers several times and fanned a wing angrily at Severus when he carried her into a strange bedroom and sat her on a strange dresser.
Severus spoke swiftly, telling Harry the location of towels and cleaning supplies. He also explained what parts of the house were off-limits and what activities would not be permitted. Swooping out just as quickly as he'd come, Severus exited Harry's new bedroom.
"It's alright, girl. Just forget everything I've ever said about him." Harry said, cheerfully, to a still disgruntled Hedwig, "He's not so bad. ...not so old, or crotchety, or ugly."
Severus' eyes widened and he froze in the middle of his hallway. "Crotchety?!" he mouthed to himself, with a mind to punch Harry in the face. Of course, that wouldn't be good form at all and he –did- have a reputation to uphold. ...and a life to keep. Albus would murder him if he hurt the boy. Man. Harry was a man, finally. "Finally?!??!" he mouthed to himself. He'd never realized he'd been counting down the days until Harry started his career and eased into adulthood.
Even days into his visit, Harry hadn't managed to run into Severus around the house. Of course, classes were in and Severus was probably back at Hogwarts, but he still couldn't believe his paranoid, ex-potions professor hadn't returned to make sure Harry wasn't having fancy dress parties, indoor Quidditch tournaments, or, as the newspaper would have people believe, hot, steamy mansex.
Another thing Harry couldn't believe was his longing to see Severus. He always woke up early to eat breakfast and lingered in the kitchen, just in case the man returned to eat. He did that for all other meals, as well. One night, Harry got his wish when an unhappy Severus Snape ungracefully plopped down at the dinner table and stabbed the steak that appeared in front him.
"Prof... Dr. Snape?"
"I... uh... Welcome home?"
Severus glared at Harry and chugged down his goblet of water. Harry blushed, again, and looked at his plate. He'd been looking forward to seeing the man, again, but hadn't expected him to be rude. That's right; he was being rude, wasn't he?
"What's your problem?!?!? I'm just trying to be nice. Whatever happened to you, today, is –not- my fault."
"Actually, it is."
"WHAT?!??!?!" Harry was livid! He hadn't done a thing since he'd arrived at Severus' house. He'd eaten, slept, and helped keep the place clean. He hadn't even been in the yard with his broom or let Hedwig fly around his room. He'd been the perfect guest! When he finished relaying this information in an emotional rant, Severus simply pressed his fingers to his temples and rubbed.
"I know that, Potter." He replied with exasperation. "I told my houseelves to keep an eye on you and report any strange behavior. You've been here a week and haven't left your room for any reason other than to eat. You haven't read a book, owled a friend, ridden a broom, or anything else. They asked me to return because they believe you're ill."
"Well, you have to admit there –isn't- anything to do, around here."
"I have nothing –to- study."
After a long silence that turned out to be a staring match, Severus closed his eyes with a sigh. "Fine." He conceded. "Use my library. BUT put everything back exactly how it was. I won't have you making a mess in my home."
"Thank you." Harry didn't know what he'd expected when he confessed boredom, but a suggestion to study wasn't it. He didn't look up from his plate when Severus stood, obviously about to leave without eating.
"And... do something young and foolish. Ride your broom, fly a kite, wank. Be a boy."
Harry choked on his steak, caught between shock and laughter. He still managed to garble out, "I'm a man."
"Well, invite someone to play Quidditch and bend him over a bush and have at it. Just stop moping around."
Harry was only glad he no longer had food in his mouth. "HIM?!?!?!?"
"Well I read... in the paper... oh, why did I even believe that?"
Harry immediately blushed, again. "No... no... it's true. I just... I'd forgotten I told her about that."
"So... last Sunday... that was true."
"Yes." Harry admitted without even knowing exactly what the woman had written. He'd stopped reading The Prophet after that interview.
Severus gave a slow nod. Harry didn't know what it meant, but the man seemed to have made some decision in that moment. Without another word to one another, Severus retreated through the fire as Harry went upstairs to his room.
The library in Severus' home proved to be more than engaging. He learned that potions could do everything charms and incantations could do... and more. An immobilizing potion could last for years and cause no harm to the body of the victim. A potion could melt a person's head clean off, and then replace it. A potion could alter memory, physical features, emotions, and everything else about a person.
Harry felt a passion growing in him that must have been similar to Severus'. Potions were interesting and worth all the study and work. With all the things potions could do, Harry wondered why Severus hadn't made himself the most attractive and powerful man in the world. He wondered why nobody else had. After all... making potions was as easy as following instructions, carefully.
A minor explosion in Severus' off-limits potions laboratory, with results that were hard to hide and houseelves that were impossible to silence told Harry otherwise. "Oh shit." Harry said out load when a pop alerted him to the fact that Severus had just apparated into the space behind him.
"I suggest you take a moment to revise your final words, Mr. Potter."
"I... I can explain, sir!"
"Oh, I'm sure you can, but I don't want you to. You have wasted precious ingredients, created an explosion that destroyed an expensive cauldron and an irreplaceable book, split my work table in two, and released acrid fumes into my home. Your excuses do not matter."
"I can fix it!"
"The houseelves watched you try. You can't fix this, Potter."
"I can find you another book. If I get help from the Headmas..."
"Potter. Do you think I'd keep a book that useful in a house I hardly live in if Albus approved of it? He can't know that I had it. Nor, can he know that you used it. Do you think anything short of the dark arts would create..." he stopped to sniff the air and inspect a droplet of liquid with his toe. "A... love potion...?"
That same infernal blush rose in Harry's cheeks, almost dismantling Severus from his anger. To keep from forgiving the boy, he pushed himself into absolute fury. "You're an absolute nuisance. I should not have allowed you to stay here. All you've done since your arrival is cause me problems in some way, or another. JUST BECAUSE I LET YOU INTO THE LIBRARY DOES NOT MEAN I GAVE YOU A LICENSE TO KILL!!!"
Harry Potter, for all his Gryffindor foolishness and bravery, couldn't stop himself from looking at the floor and shedding a tear. The tear, when it landed, appeared to turn red and ooze up his leg. Then, his clothing was in rags, his hair was singed, and his arms were covered in blood and foreign flesh. He stumbled back, choking with shock and turning a ghostly white. In a blink, the flashback was gone and he looked at Severus with fear. "I have to leave."
"No, no. Don't leave. I was out of line."
"No, Professor. I have to leave." The younger man mumbled as he backed toward the door, his eyes unfocused and his movements lacking confidence.
"And go where?"
That stopped Harry in his tracks. He didn't know where. Hell, he didn't even know why.
"Potter, if you're going to have a nervous breakdown, at least do it, here, so I can get you to St. Mungo's as quickly as possible." Severus tried to state sharply, although he couldn't hide his concern. "I'll stay here, tonight. You can sit by the fire and relax."
Harry nodded, absently, agreeing just to keep the man from arguing. He suddenly felt sensitive. Another bout of yelling would hurt too much. He just wanted to sit down in darkness and silence, as if he had a migraine. Something in him was happy, though. Confusion and shock ebbed, making way for the happy flutter that reminded him that Severus was there. That Severus cared.
"Yes, sir. That sounds fine."
Harry fell asleep when the two of them sat down in the living room. So, he was quite surprised to wake up in his bed, wearing pajamas, tucked in, and smelling freshly bathed.
"Done with our not-so-little fainting spell, Mr. Potter?"
Harry sat up, quickly and turned to see Severus lying on top of the covers next to him. The man was obviously tired, but there was a relaxed expression on his face that Harry wouldn't have expected to see with the man lying in bed next to him. If he didn't know any better, he'd think Severus liked being seven inches to the right of Harry with his head propped on his hand.
"I'm in my pajamas."
"Does that translate to "Yes, sir, I'm fine, now?" or should I call an ambulance?"
"Oh, oh... yes, sir. I feel better. I'd been reading without sleeping, so I guess I was just tired."
"I don't think fatigue explains your reaction to my yelling, downstairs. You've been through all kinds of hell, and I still don't think I've ever seen you so frightened in your life."
"No apology needed. An explanation would be nice."
"How did I get in my pajamas?"
"I bathed you, dressed you, and put you to bed."
The full-body blush returned and Severus couldn't look away. The other man was so close to him that he could feel the embarrassed heat seeping from Harry to lick at his neck and cheeks. He was glad to be in his robes instead of his dressing gown. If that heat touched him anywhere else, he'd have no choice but to give Harry a –real- reason to back away fearfully. Gods, Harry was beautiful.
"You're sweating, sir."
Silence, again. Harry fidgeted underneath the heavy blankets and Severus' heavier gaze. Severus was good at not fidgeting, but every muscle in his body ached to release the nervous energy that was building in him.
"If you don't feel comfortable telling me why you reacted like that, last night, I won't force you to. Please know that it will make it easier to take care of you if I know exactly what's wrong."
"I'm not here for you to take care of me."
Severus' eyes glared for a millisecond and he grunted before flinging his legs off the edge of the bed. "I suppose the sorting hat has never put "grateful" in the Gryffindor rhyme."
Before he could stand completely up, a hand grabbed his arm and yanked him back into the bed. His mind was quite pissed at being manhandled, but his body turned to face the body he'd landed on top of and kissed the lips of said body fiercely.
This was written for eriador117
14, 911 Words
This is un-beta'ed.