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Help Wanted: God and Executioner

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Harry was late, as usual; he assumed that Snape was on time, as usual.

Harry had groaned in frustration and irritation the first time he realized that the location of his next meeting with Snape was the shack where Harry had met Hagrid and learned that he was a wizard. He should have known something was up when Hermione whispered the coordinates into his ear and simultaneously handed him a mac. His attempt to cheer up Ron by telling him the story about Hagrid pointing his pink monstrosity of an umbrella at Dudley's arse and then spelling him a tail had royally backfired. Oh, Ron had laughed like hell, which was Harry's goal; but Hermione raised her eyebrows in that speculative arch that never boded well for either him or Ron, and had said rather primly, "He wasn't supposed to use magic. That sounds like the perfect place for you and Snape to meet. It's time to change your rendezvous point anyway. Good show, Harry."

The room hadn't changed one iota in ten years. It was rank with the odors of salt, sea, and mold; the windows rattled non-stop from the rain and wind pounding against them. The only thing keeping it from being colder than a Siberian steppe was a fire so enormous that the fireplace could barely contain it.

Snape had Transfigured that lumpy, damp sofa of Harry's memory into what looked like a damn comfortable leather chair. Typical. Only one chair. Couldn't even bring himself to make it a sofa, so that the two of them could have a seat in front of the fire. Bastard! What in the fuck was Hermione thinking, insisting on Harry being Snape's point man? Okay, the guy wasn't a traitor. Yeah, an hour with Dumbledore's Pensieve had convinced even Harry that Snape had been only doing Dumbledore's bidding in killing him, before the poison from the goblet did. Which Harry had forced Dumbledore to drink, on his express orders, to retrieve that damn Horcrux. Which turned out to be the wrong locket. Snape's relative innocence (and his own shared culpability in Dumbledore's death) didn't stop Harry from hating Snape's guts.

A curtain of hair hid Snape's face, but he could see Snape's thin fingers curled around a crystal tumbler filled with something that was, without question, the color of fine Scotch.

As usual, he didn't bother to acknowledge Harry with a glance, but greeted him in standard Snape. Verbal scorn. Without moving a hair, he snapped loud enough so that they could probably hear him in Norway, "You are late. Again. Your inexplicable lack of manners at all times may be acceptable to everyone else, but not to me. In future, do me the courtesy of appearing on time."

At some point, they would tire of hurling insults back and forth at each other and get down to business. Some nights took longer than others. Perhaps this was one of them.

"People are dying around us in droves, and you're lecturing me on points of etiquette." Harry threw his mac down next to Snape and Transfigured it into what he hoped was an equally comfortable looking chair. "What next? When performing Unforgivable curses on your enemies, make sure that you ask for their permission before exsanguinating and then disintegrating them so that their bodies will never be found and their loved ones cannot mourn them properly." Harry collapsed into the chair and closed his eyes. He was so knackered even his eyelashes hurt.

"I don't know why I bother, but I will say this yet again. Sometimes it is the smallest things that allow us to retain our humanity in times like these. You would do well to remember that, Potter."

"I refuse to speak to you when you use my last name like that. Not only do you say it in such a way that it's synonymous with 'piece of shit,' but it also makes me feel like I'm a twelve year old and in your fucking nightmare of a Potions class. A memory lane I'd rather not stroll down. Would prefer to be pulled apart by Thestrals, frankly. Severus," Harry added for good measure, just to stick it up Snape's arse. Harry never thought of him as anything but Snape, but relished the certainty that whenever Harry used his first name like that, it irritated Snape six ways to Sunday. Harry half braced himself for a Silencing hex.

"Language, Potter. Act as an adult and you will be treated as one."

With the tacit understanding that his reply would be an exhausted, "Fuck-off," Harry didn't even bother to say it. Several minutes passed before Harry muttered over the hiss and crackle of the fire, "Why do we do this? Argue. Goad each other."

"Sometimes it is the smallest things that allow us to retain our humanity in times like these."

Harry smiled. He didn't need to open his eyes to know Snape wasn't smiling, but cutting irony was a close to a smile as Snape got these days.

Suddenly, the sharp, beveled edges of a cut glass tumbler nipped at his hand. His Seeker reflexes quickly grasped the circumference of the glass while he inhaled that lovely smoky aroma of fine Scotch. The muscles in his neck relaxed just a fraction in anticipation of the pleasant drunk that was sure to follow.

"I've begged Hermione to find a different place. Tell me, do you know why we're continuing to meet here in this hellhole? I doubt this place has seen sunshine for millions of years." Harry took a sip. Christ, where did Snape get this stuff? His estimation of Snape's taste in liquor went up exponentially.

"I do not know about the future, but for today I imagine it might have something to do with you, Hagrid, and the date. To Hagrid," Snape murmured with far more respect in his voice than he'd ever given Hagrid when he was alive.

The muscles in his neck coiled tight again. Fuck. How could he have forgotten? Certainly explains why everyone was tiptoeing around him today. Asking him if he'd eaten, if he'd slept last night. Seemed like routine overbearing smothering. He should have known something was up when Molly made all his favorite foods for breakfast. He downed the entire glass and held it out for a refill. The whoosh of a wand slicing through the air and the glass was once again heavy in his hand.

"That's your allotment for the night. Savor it," Snape ordered.

Harry's eyes opened for the first time since he'd flopped down in the chair. "I miss him," Harry whispered, not sure he wanted Snape to hear him or not.

Snape raised his glass again, took a healthy swig, and swung around to face Harry.

"Shall we go over the list of the dead, first?"

"I said," Harry found himself gripping his glass so tightly that the sharp edges of the bevel bit into his hand. "I miss him."

"Yes," Snape murmured. "I heard you. We've much ground to cover. First, the dead, then there are new strategies for the North Fens that will take some time to explain, not withstanding your preternatural ability to understand anything even remotely resembling a game. Your affinity for Quidditch, I expect. Now--"

"Yes, I heard you," Harry mimicked. "We've mourned Hagrid for the requisite three seconds; now let's 'cover' that ground you're chomping at the bit about," hissed Harry, who stood up and began pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace; the Scotch slipped over the glass and wetted his hand. "Let's rub our hands together in glee while we plot to wipe out as many Death Eaters as possible in the next two weeks."

"The appropriate way to mourn his death is to do our damnedest to ensure that others do not join him," Snape hissed back.

Harry stopped pacing and brought the glass up to his cheek. Rolling the curve of the glass against his cheek, he looked at Snape. "I'm so tired."

Snape nodded. "We're all tired, Potter. I believe that Granger's spectacular wand work brought down three minor Bulstrodes, Weasley's adept use of a freezing hex captured Sybil Parkinson, and you stupefied Nott Senior and Rodolphus Lestrange, but Lestrange got away due to some rather fancy wand action by his wife. Am I correct?"

"Yes, Nott is in a lovely dank cell in Azkaban right next to Crabbe Senior. I think I winged Bellatrix."

"Hmmmm," Snape agreed. "She's hurt but not down. She was able to Apparate before you did her any lasting damage."

"On your side, Crabbe killed Michael Corner, Malfoy Senior hexed Remus so badly that he'll be out of commission for weeks, and Hermione in her effort to bring down all three Bulstrodes ended up getting a nasty acid burn on her arms and three broken ribs. She'll be out for a week..."

Harry had to admit that this was at least progress. Their first meeting had been nothing more than a shouting match along the lines of, "If you hadn't done that, you bastard--" and "If you had not insisted on behaving like the spoiled brat.--" "Piss off!" "Yet another childish display. What Albus saw in you--" "You shut up about Dumbledore, just shut the fuck up--" And that was before it got really ugly.

Snape might not be a traitor, but he was still a bastard of the first order, never passing up an opportunity to remind Harry how inadequate he thought he was.

"Did you know that Tom Riddle was first in class in Potions, Potter? A score that stood until I graduated."

"Potter, war is not a Quidditch match. Your performance in that last battle-- Words fail me. You must think offensively, not defensively. This is war. Do I need to remind you that we are fighting for our lives here?"

Insult after insult. He was never fast enough, never ruthless enough. Harry would hex rather than curse, disarm rather than kill. The cells of Azkaban filled up with Death Eaters who'd fallen victim to his wand, but whom he couldn't bring himself to curse.

Lately, however, they'd fallen into a type of no-man's land. He was no longer a student, but he sure the hell wasn't an equal. Snape still treated him with the familiar scorn he'd heaped on him in his Potions class, but now included a begrudging acknowledgment of Harry's considerable strength as a wizard and a soldier. Not that Snape ever complimented him outright; it was always a backhanded compliment at best.

Every time Harry pleaded with Hermione to send someone else, a someone whom Snape didn't loathe with a passion that amounted to an art form, she would yell at him to just stop whinging. It was four hours out of his life every month, leaving more than enough time for Horcrux hunting. And despite the animosity between the two of them, Harry's reports from Snape were always concise and lost nothing in the telling. Harry had half-heartedly considered buggering up a report, but knew the outcome would most likely be someone would get hexed or die from his selfishness. He always came away from these meetings with a fierce headache, with the added bonus that Snape would have thoroughly humiliated or enraged him, often simultaneously. Double your pleasure, double your fun.

To Harry's depressed query on why did they even bother, since they were sod-all closer to winning the war than they had been two years ago, Hermione had replied with her usual manic optimism, "Well, don't you think that one should look at it as no closer to losing?"

It took everything Harry had not to hex her.

"You missed the last meeting."

If being late elicited a ten-minute dressing down, what did completely skiving off Snape at their meeting two weeks ago merit? Braced for a firestorm of vitriol, fury, and scorn, the typical battery of verbal weapons at Snape's disposal, he was completely undone by Snape handing him a glass of Scotch, followed by a banal, "Sit."

They hadn't bothered to un-Transfigure the chairs. There was only one season on this rock; the cold and rainy season.

"I'm sorry I didn't send word. After that last battle... I couldn't come."

He left it at that. It was true. He'd been throwing up non-stop for five days and could barely crawl to the toilet. Forget Apparating to some God-forsaken rock in the middle of the North Sea.

They sat there drinking in silence. Snape filled his glass from time to time, the shush of the fire and the rain beating against the windows the only sounds in the room for a couple of hours.

All of a sudden, Harry downed his drink with a shudder and a shiver. First the chill and then the delicious warmth of the booze licked his bones. He realized with a clarity he didn't often have these days that he could very easily become a drinker. The kind of drinker that needs it first thing in the morning. It wouldn't take much.

"Why him?"

Snape ignored the question. He stood up, stretched, and Transfigured his cape into a heavy blanket and his chair into a bed. Despite the fact the bed was narrow, the room was so small and pokey that the bed half filled the room. Snape secreted his wand up his sleeve and turned back to face Harry. In the last year, Snape had gone completely gray. The infamous greasy black hanks of hair that had been the butt of many a joke were no more.

"Your hair! It's gone completely gray," Harry said with wonder.

His shoulders slumped, the stiff, unyielding posture somewhat turned in on itself for once, Snape looked every second of his forty-one years.

"Your powers of observation render me speechless, Potter. Any other earth-shattering comments you care to make regarding my person before I turn out the lights?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "I just wondered why. Seems to have happened overnight." He put a hand up to his own hair in a self-conscious gesture.

"Your fixation on your own, granted, hellish reality has blinded you to the unique horrors that each of us face as this war grinds on in its seemingly incessant slaughter. In my case, imagine being forced to choose between killing or being killed by your former students. I was their Head of House. Four years ago my duty was to guide them, keep them safe. Now I spend every waking second of my life engineering schemes that will ensure that they will either die or be captured so that they may spend the rest of their sorry lives rotting in a five by six cell in Azkaban."

Snape shook out the blanket so that it covered the bed, crawled under it to the far side of the mattress, and turned over, away from Harry. An exhausted voice, a voice that sounded like saying every single syllable physically hurt, said, "I couldn't save both. I had to choose between Longbottom or Weasley."

Sweet, nice Neville. The last Longbottom, if you don't count those parents of his, and who could?

Snape took his silence as an indictment. "That's what we are, Harry: God and executioner. I'm too exhausted to argue. I'm going to bed. Considering the amount of Scotch I've consumed this evening, any attempt to Apparate would result in splinching myself over Manchester. Moody's insane paranoia forbids us from using the Floo network, so I suggest you spend the night here as well, as you matched me drink for drink. We can discuss our business in the morning."

"I need to get home." Harry realized he sounded petulant, but for all his bravado he didn't move. A part of him wanted to hurt Snape, draw blood, scar him even, while at the same time get down on his knees and thank him. For choosing to kill Neville, while sparing Ron.

Three years into the war and the weaker wizards and witches had been killed off. Now it was down to the people who mattered. If he'd been more honest with Snape, he'd have confessed to horrible bargains he made with himself every night before he went to sleep. At the next battle I promise to hex six Death Eaters. If I fail, you can have Seamus but not Hermione or Ron. If I only get five Death Eaters, then Ginny will be hurt, maybe blinded, but not killed, and Seamus still dies. He never knew who the "you" was. The one thing he did know was this was nonsense, even bordering on insanity, but he continued to make nonsensical bargains, more than willing to sacrifice a Neville for a Ron without batting an eyelid. Because the one thing he had learned over the past three years was that some casualties had become acceptable. Trust Snape to actually verbalize what Harry would only allow himself to think in the dead of night.

In his more bitter moments, he wondered if they could just stop all this fighting and uncertainty and lay it out in the open. War as poker. I bet you a Neville Longbottom. I'll see that bet and raise you a Draco Malfoy. I'll see your Draco Malfoy and raise you a Ron Weasley. Call.

"Potter," Snape warned him, "I am turning out the light. You may spend the night in your chair or you may share this bed. The only thing you may not do is make a single sound." A Nox from Snape and the room went dark except for the light from the fire. Harry could see the faint rise and fall of the blankets as Snape breathed in and out. Harry looked at the chair. Looked at Snape. There'd probably be enough room. These days no one was picky about where they slept. And to be honest, it was nice to hear someone, anyone, breathing next to you. It was a reminder that you weren't alone. He couldn't suppress a slight grin. The Harry Potter of three years ago would have sooner snogged Crabbe than share a bed with Snape.

Harry crawled under the blanket and lay on his side spooning Snape, positioning himself as close as possible without touching Snape in the hope that the soft in and out of Snape's breathing would lull him to sleep.

"Snore and I will kill you," Snape murmured.

Harry doubted Snape was kidding. "Um, about Ron. Thank you."

He didn't expect a reply back and was startled to hear a sleepy, "God and executioner, Potter. God and executioner."

Harry woke the next morning in the same position he fell asleep, except that during the night he'd moved right up against Snape's back, tight. Back to front, arse to groin. Not only that, but his arm was coiled around Snape's waist, his hand threaded through Snape's, and, Merlin's balls, he had a full-blown erection throbbing against the crack of Snape's arse. Immediately, he scooted out of bed, hoping against hope Snape was still asleep. Snatching his robes from his chair, with the full intention of Apparating home right then and there, the creak of bedsprings put an end to that desperate thought.

He looked up from under his blush.

Snape was lying on his back, eyes closed, fingers together, resting on his chest, as if in prayer.

"Be grateful you still get them, Mr. Potter. In two weeks and don't be late."

"Sorry. Late again. Forgot what day it was, to be honest," Harry mumbled to Snape, who was sitting in his chair, his tumbler of Scotch in his left hand.

The longer the war dragged on, the harder it was for Harry to connect to the concept of time. Every day seemed like a repeat of the previous day or the next day or any day. Even the concept of a week had become completely foreign to him. What in the hell did 'Monday' mean, anymore? In school it meant Charms in the morning, followed by Divination, with Care of Magical Creatures after lunch; then he'd finish up the day in Herbology. He'd never truly appreciated how comforting was the mundane rote of classes, Monday through Friday, with the lovely hiatus of the weekend. Now the days of the weeks didn't fucking matter. MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturdaySunday had become the day someone didn't get killed or the day someone did get killed. Or, eventually, he supposed, the day he got killed.

Hermione, unsurprisingly, became obsessed with the passage of time. At the beginning of the war, she gone out to a W. H. Smith’s and plonked down £4 for an enormous office calendar. Pinning it to a wall in the kitchen, every morning she'd make a big show of marking off the days with an "X". As if crossing off the days of the week would make the war end that much sooner. What in the hell was she thinking? Oh my! So many 'X's'! Time to end this pesky war!

Harry never commented on it other than to catch Ron's eye every now and then and grimace. Like he was in a position to criticize her coping mechanisms, considering his nightly games of Death Eater Poker. Five Card Dead. But he hated the calendar. Sometimes he wondered what good Hermione's intelligence did her. All those days crossed off, reminding them that their youth was being relentlessly consumed by either war or death. Not to mention it being a daily testament that Harry hadn't killed Voldemort, yet. To top it off, she'd gone and outlined in red the days he was scheduled to meet with Snape. Small wonder he avoided looking at the calendar at all costs. Most of the time he relied on Hermione to remind him it was "Snape Night'" Another rite of passage bites the dust. Instead of Hogsmeade Weekend, Harry now had Snape Night to look forward to. How the mighty have fallen. Not that Harry had ever felt mighty. It was more a case of how low could he go

Tonight, as usual, Snape didn't acknowledge him, but Harry was gratified to see that there were two tumblers of Scotch on the little table nestled between their two chairs. Perhaps he wasn't that late. Although in Snape's world, two minutes might as well have been two hundred minutes. "It's the principle, Potter." How many times had he heard that? Usually on the nights that he was late, Snape, in addition to tearing him another one and delivering yet another diatribe on the importance of manners, would not pour him a drink for however many minutes Harry had been late.

Harry sighed as he lowered himself into his chair, stretched out his legs, and, once settled, rocked the tumbler of Scotch back and forth in palm of his hands. Thank Christ, Snape had decided to bag the lecture tonight. Harry sank further into the chair and, like a gentle kiss, let that first initial sip tickle the inside of his mouth. What had Snape said about the little things? He stretched even further as the Scotch began to play tag with his muscles. Ahhhhh. Did Harry need any more proof he was barking mad? How many other people would relish drinking booze (no matter how fine) in a tumbledown shack most likely three minutes away from being blown apart by constant gale force winds, the fury of the rain, waves, and wind smashing together to make a white noise bordering on cacophony, with a man he absolutely loathed with a passion and who quite clearly loathed him back in equal measure. Welcome to my world, thought Harry and raised his glass in a sorry toast to himself.

As much as Harry hated to admit it, something had changed between the two of them after Snape had killed Neville to spare Ron. Of course, it couldn't have gotten any worse or they'd have been casting Unforgivables at each other, but Harry couldn't hate Snape for playing his own hand of Death Eater poker. Although they never mentioned it again, Harry had to admit to himself--even if he didn't have the courage to admit such to Snape--given a choice between Neville and Ron? No contest, even as he wept on Ron's shoulder at Neville's funeral

For months their meetings had begun with a ritualistic snipe fest, which entailed insulting each other, then arguing over strategies, then endless disagreements over the best strategies, but somehow, despite the mutual vitriol, by the end of the evening they'd always come to a consensus. A complete understanding of the mistakes each side were making and strategies on how to minimize the mistakes of the Order and capitalize on the mistakes of the Death Eaters.

He didn't need to be a genius to figure out why Hermione kept insisting that they continue meeting, even as he had begged her to send someone else. These days, he just went and didn't complain.

Now when Harry arrived--assuming he was on time, he'd never been early, not even once--a Scotch would be waiting for him on the table. Like a wax figure from Madame Toussaud's, Snape would be in the same position every time, back straight in the 'L' of the chair, head tipped forward just enough to hide the curve of his cheek behind his hair, right hand resting on the roll of one arm of the chair, left holding his glass. The only concession Snape made to comfort was to stretch out his long legs toward the fire, perhaps Snape's idea of letting go.

If Snape wasn't angry at him, Harry would mutter, "Thanks," which elicited no response whatsoever, and they'd drink. In silence. Savoring the booze and toasting their toes on the hearth, they listened to the thumpthumpthump of the waves against the shore while drinking themselves into a nice comfortable buzz. They'd drink until one of them began yawning, a sign to go to bed. Harry would then Transfigure a couple of handkerchiefs into pillows, Snape would Transfigure his chair in the bed, his cape into a heavy blanket, and they'd sleep, their bodies spooning each other but not quite touching. By morning, however, it would always be a near repeat of the first night he'd spent with Snape. Harry would be clutching Snape's hand in his own, mouth now almost touching the nape of Snape's neck, groin to Snape's arse, raging erection in tow.

Harry had ceased to be embarrassed by these erections. Aside from Snape's one cryptic comment that first night, the issue was never raised by them again. Harry was old enough to know that morning wood was morning wood. If this had happened even two years ago, he'd have thrown himself off of the Astronomy Tower. Now, he knew it didn't mean he wanted to shag Snape. It just meant he wanted to get off, and Snape happened to have an arse, and if Harry was sleeping and his dick found its way to an arse, it was going to get hard, even if said arse was encased in one hundred and seventeen layers of black wool and was Snape's arse. End of story. Nevertheless, he was grateful for Snape's silence on the subject.

Harry didn't even want to think about Snape having erections. God, did Snape even have a dick? Anyway, those voluminous robes he wore probably could conceal a baby hippogriff. Erection? No problem. Another thing from his school days that he missed. Robes hid even the most raging hard-ons.

Despite the lack of curtains on the windows, the constant rain kept the room dark, and they generally slept in fairly late. Although Harry would have gone to the bank that Snape was one of those supremely annoying wankers who get up at the crack of dawn every morning, regardless, Harry would wake first, usually around nine. He'd roll out of bed, stand up with his back to Snape, and arrange his dick in his pants so that he could walk. He'd then set the table and uncharm the breakfast rolls and thermos of coffee he'd brought with him the night before. By the time the food was on the table and the coffee heated, Snape had gotten up and Transfigured the bed back into the chair.

At breakfast they'd get through their reports in record time, no arguments, just two professionals hashing things out. While one part of Harry was grateful that they'd finally broken through that impasse of exhausting sniping, another part of him was horrified that their discussions about death and destruction had become so commonplace that Harry found himself saying in a conversational tone, "Did Seamus kill Nott? I saw him aim... Do you want more coffee? And swore that he hit him. No? Here you go. Damn, I thought he got him."

That night was no different. Several glasses of superior Scotch later--where in the bloody hell did Snape get this stuff? Harry'd paid £20 for a glass of Scotch last week that wasn't nearly as good as what Snape was pouring--they were transforming everything for bed when Harry crumpled to his knees, clutching his chest. Having caught the tail end of a freezing hex a few weeks ago, he'd been prone to it recurring intermittently off and on, despite Madam Pomfrey's handiwork. Writhing on the ground while the spell ate its way through his system, he couldn't even reach for his wand for the shaking. Before he could shout "No!" Snape had pulled up his shirt and muttered a Warming charm.

Harry pulled his shirt down and rolled away from Snape, but he was too late.

"Would you care to explain?" Snape commented in what Harry had privately labeled Lethal Voice No. 3. As if Snape were truly asking. As if that slight rise of his voice at the end of the sentence meant Harry had a choice.

Harry pulled himself up and slunk into his chair, bringing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them in a protective vise.

"No," he said to the fire. "Don't think it's any of your business. Severus."

Snape threw a pillow at Harry's head.

"Of course it's my business, you idiot," he snapped and Transfigured his bed back into a chair with a vicious flick of his wand. "You are jeopardizing all of us. I, for one, do not want to die just because you cannot keep your dick to yourself. The very stupidity. Do you think it wise to have any sort of relationship with a member of the Order?" The timber of Snape's voice had quickly descended into Lethal Voice No. 2. "This is exactly the sort of chink in our armor the Dark Lord would have absolute paroxysms of joy about if he knew. You must assume there are spies in the Order. Do you realize how vulnerable this makes you and the person you're fucking? Based on the incredible number of love bites--"

"Fuck off!" Harry shouted, still refusing to look at Snape and clutched his legs tighter. "It's no one in the Order. No one you know, so just shut it."

Silence for a few seconds, just enough time for Harry to begin to hope that the subject was closed, and then Snape hissed, "Someone saw fit to make a feast out of your entire torso. I want to know who."

"Someone. Just... Someone. It's not going to affect the war or me or anything, I swear. Just... Someone." Please, please, Harry sent up a prayer to no one. Let Snape drop this.

Snape waved his wand, and Harry heard the thud of two more glasses of Scotch landing on the table. Harry looked up, and Snape handed one to Harry and then sat down in his chair. Contrary to Snape's usual practice of completely ignoring Harry's presence, Snape's turned his chair so that he could train his eyes full bore on Harry's face.

"Tell me. Now," Snape demanded. They had reached Lethal Voice No. 1. The no-quarter-given voice. None.

"No! It's none of your fucking business," Harry shot back. Snape could shove potions down his throat, threaten to kill him, nothing would...

Snape stood up. "Very well. I shall Apparate to Grimmauld Place and discuss with Miss Granger how you spend your extra-curricular time. I'm sure she'll be most--"

"Fuck. Don't. Don't!" Harry begged, while jumping up to his feet and grabbing Snape's arms to stop him from Apparating. "Don't," he whispered, utterly defeated, knowing he'd tell Snape everything, his bravado of thirty seconds earlier so much bullshit as Snape expertly played the Hermione card. Dropping his hands to sides, he fell back into the chair, limbs splayed, eyes closed. Snape pushed a glass into his hand. He took a gigantic slug. He'd need all the Dutch courage he could find.

"Proceed," Snape ordered.

"I'm just trying to find a way... I just want to... I..." Harry was at a loss. How in the hell do you tell Severus Snape that you pick up men in bars and have meaningless sex so that you don't go crazy?

That morning Harry had woken up with a nameless dread, a weight so onerous, so horrible that it amazed him he'd had the strength to open his eyes. He'd stumbled downstairs to Molly's insistent pleas of breakfast and managed, somehow, to chew a quarter of a piece of toast before realizing that if he didn't feel something else, anything else, he'd go stark raving mad.

Telling Hermione he had an early meeting with Snape, he'd Flooed to The Leaky Cauldron. From there, it was a short walk to a Muggle pub where he knew he'd find someone equally desperate. He'd had a drink for mere form's sake, made a proposition, found a squalid room nearby, enjoyed a rather intense fuck with someone who very much liked his body (as evidenced by the carpet of hickeys all over his torso), and, two orgasms later, bob's your uncle, the weight had lifted just a little. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to take away the dread, but it had been enough so that he could breathe without his ribs aching. While his afternoon fuck snored away, Harry had written "thanks" on the bathroom mirror with a bar of soap and then waved a gentle sleeping charm over him so that he wouldn't wake up at the sharp popping sound Harry made when he Apparated to the shack for his meeting with Snape.

"Potter, you have three minutes." Snape conjured up a miniature hour glass that hung before Harry's eyes like a sword of Damocles. "If you cannot order your thoughts within that time, I am leaving. And you know exactly where I am going," Snape threatened.

Harry took another gulp of Scotch. "You're an utter bastard, Snape."

"Calling me names in a tawdry attempt to draw attention away from your own unbelievably reckless behavior is beyond pathetic; even by your deplorable standards. I repeat. I am waiting."

Draining his glass, Harry muttered sotto voce, hoping Snape wouldn't be able to hear half of what he was relating, "After everyone's in bed, I Apparate to Muggle bars and...uh...proposition people. Or let them, uh, you know, uh, me. I never see the same person twice. We usually go back to their place, or find a room, and, uh, fuck for two to three hours. That's it. That's why I'm covered in hickeys. I usually don't do this during the day, but today was especially fucked, and I went to a Muggle pub before I came here."

Silence. Then: "How many nights a week do you do this?"

"Two or three. Whenever I need to," he snapped. Sometimes three or four he added privately. Not that he was going to admit to that. Rationally, if Snape was horrified at wanton sex with strangers two nights a week, he'd hardly be more disgusted if it were four.

"Need to?"

Snape wasn't going to give him a lifeline, not a single goddamn thing to hide behind. He was going to strip Harry to the bone. Make him confess it all.

"I'm just trying to find a way--"

"Do not repeat yourself," Snape interrupted. "I'm getting impatient, here, Potter. I want a full explanation of your after-hours high jinks, and I want it now."

Harry couldn't sit any longer. He jumped up and began pacing. The words tumbled out, tripped over each other. "I'm just trying to connect with someone... Anyone. Someone I can feel something with. Anything with... That I don't know, will never know, don't care about. Who won't get killed because I'm not fast enough with my wand. I can feel for a couple of hours and then leave, just leave. I want... It helps with the loneliness. Since Ginny." He wasn't sure whether his voice matched pace with his feet or vice verse, but it wasn't long before he was edging close to hysteria. "God, can't I even fuck someone now and then? I don't know even know the name of the person I fucked today. I am twenty-one years old. Can't I fuck whoever I want to fuck? I am going stark raving mad. Fuck everything. Fuck you. Fuck Hermione. I just..."

By the end of this speech, Harry was shaking so badly he was in danger of falling to his knees.

"You are using condoms, I assume?"

Harry reached into his left pocket, fished for the several packets of condoms he'd shoved in his pants before he left the house, and dumped them on the floor.

"Sit before you collapse." Snape pointed with his wand to Harry's chair. When Harry fell into his seat, Snape ordered in a quiet tone, "Drink. I've refilled your glass."

Harry shook his head. More Scotch and he'd be throwing up.

"These women. Do you honestly think they don't expect something else out of you? A second...encounter? That they are truly one-night stands?" Snape probed.

Fuck, someone kill me now.

"They're not women," he confessed. Harry didn't even have the strength to mentally brace himself for the scorn that was sure to follow. Harry Potter, wonder of the wizarding world, our savior, our answer to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is a bloody pouf. A shirt-lifter. A ponce. A h.o.m.o.s.e.x.u.a.l. "Thought I was straight, but, in addition to wondering if I'm going to see the next sunrise... Yeah, I'm gay. And I assure you. The men I fuck are out for the same thing I am. Getting off."

"I see," Snape said in a voice completely devoid of anything. If Harry had had the energy, he'd have been surprised.

Several minutes passed, the fire dying down, neither of them moving, not even to drink.

Then Snape spoke in a voice so low, Harry could barely hear him over the roar of the ever-present storm.

"I will do you the courtesy of relaying to you that I understand, Mr. Potter. I will also tell you that it will not serve. That whatever you currently glean from meaningless congress with strangers will, eventually, cease to suffice."

At any other time, Harry would have laughed. Only Snape would refer to picking up men in pubs and fucking them cross-eyed as "meaningless congress with strangers," and not getting off as "ceasing to suffice."

"At some point, you will still suffer and seek out these strangers with more and more frequency, and your hunger will not be sated."

Harry blushed. Snape narrowed his eyes.

"I see that you have already reached that point." Harry lowered his head in what he hoped was a tacit acknowledgment of Snape's comment. "With a fair degree of certainty, I will predict what happens next." Harry's head snapped back up. "These 'places' you now begin to frequent will sport a different type of clientele. In my day, such establishments trafficked in what was called 'rough trade.'" Harry flinched. "Ah, I see by your reaction that that, at least, has not changed." Snape looked him up and down. "You are young. Attractive in an unkempt way. You will not lack for partners. In those sorts of places, youth is a prized commodity. In the brief time it takes to gulp down a watered Scotch, you will trade sexual innuendos back and forth with the men who offer to buy you drinks. You will not have much time to decide if someone is rough enough or perhaps too rough for what you want. What you need. Even that will be a sliding scale as time goes on. It doesn't matter, you tell yourself, because you have your wand. If things get out of hand, you can Obliviate or stun him." Snape paused. "Or them. And what you want is something you will learn to consider carefully, because I assure you that there often is a very fine line between what is merely rough and what is out and out violent. You may have started out by looking for anonymous comfort, Mr. Potter, but what you are seeking now is punishment."

Harry stared at Snape. Stared at him. Snape's eyes were closed, his hands gripping the armrest of his chair.

He continued. "It is merely a matter of time before you find your wand at one end of the room while you're being beaten to a bloody pulp at the other, by someone who hates himself for desiring you or hates you for desiring him. I ask you to..." and here Snape opened his eyes and gave Harry his full attention. "I ask you to stop this. Not because I care whom you fuck, Mr. Potter. You can fuck flobberworms for all I care, but," and Harry didn't think Snape's voice could get any lower, "that way lies madness."

"You?" Harry whispered, afraid to ask the question, yet desperate to know the answer.

"I could write a book, Mr. Potter," Snape replied in his standard, cutting drawl before leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes again.

Oh fuck. Snape gay. Snape trolling gay bars for sex. Snape, for the first time in Harry's memory, actually understanding and acknowledging what Harry was going through in his desperate attempt to keep it all together, a grasping of straws that somehow manifested itself in sweaty, anonymous sex. Snape understood. Of all people.

Snape stood up. For a brief second, the uncharacteristic hunch to Snape's shoulders, combined with the fall of now completely gray hair on his shoulders, betrayed the sacrifices he'd made over the years. It elicited the first true flood of empathy Harry had ever felt for Snape. And then the moment was over. Shoulders were hitched back into their perfect posture; a firm and vibrant flick of his wand transformed his chair back into a bed, his cloak into a blanket. He then turned around, Accio'd the condoms, and held them out for Harry to take. Harry shook his head, hoping Snape would understand. A wave of Snape's hand and the condoms disappeared.

"Sometimes it's like I can't breathe. How do you stop the weight? How do you keep from going crazy?" Harry asked.

"In the short term, I find a glass of very fine Scotch does wonders. In the long term? A discussion for another time, Mr. Potter. I am exhausted. As I imagine you are," Snape replied with his habitual snark and a pointed look at Harry's chest. Then he turned away to shake out the blanket and lay it on the bed, and was about to climb into bed when Harry spoke.

"One more thing," Harry couldn't help but ask. "How did you stop?"

Snape turned and faced him. "Unlike you, I never sought punishment in the preliminary guise of comfort. I sought punishment from the onset. I...," Snape stopped and blushed. Actually blushed! "It ended itself. I stopped having erections." With a wave of his wand and a Nox, he climbed into bed without another word.

Not knowing what else to do, Harry crawled under the blanket and settled into his usual position, spooning Snape's back, the requisite half an inch between them. Drunk enough so that the room spun on its axis when his head hit the pillow, Harry was almost asleep when Snape said in a clear, uncompromising voice, "I stopped having erections the night the Longbottoms were tortured out of their sanity. Having erections seemed obscene after that point."

It took forever for Harry to fall asleep.

When Harry Apparated into the room, there were no glasses of Scotch on the table. There was no virtually-immobile Snape sitting in his chair, drink in hand. No, indeed. Snape was standing in front of the fireplace, very much animated; in fact, shaking with rage would describe him to a tee.

"Why in the bloody hell didn't you kill her? Why?"

Fuck. He was determined not to give ground. He was determined to stand up to Snape and not let this denigrate into a shouting match. Keep it as if two adults were talking. As if.

"I couldn't." It was that simple.

They had chased each other through the twisting streets of Knockturn Alley. Spells ricocheting off of grimy stone walls. Whenever a hex would graze her arm, she'd shriek or cackle, it was hard to tell, and then lob off a hex of her own. Harry had the advantage, no doubt, being younger and stronger; and his magic stronger. He caught up with her at the ruins of Borgin and Burkes, now nothing but a pile of blackened splintered wood, its cache of Dark artifacts having been raided years ago. Finally he had her. This woman who had consigned Sirius to neither life nor death.

"Accio wand!" he screamed and her wand flew into his hand, hot and damp from the heat of her hand. He would break it. Relish the give when the wood splintered. Then he would cast the broken bits into a fire and watch it burn.

She stood there, wandless, at his mercy, but nothing in her demeanor admitted that.

"Oh pretty boy, are you going to kill Bellatrix now? Use an Unforgivable? Smite me down where I stand. The saintly Harry Potter."

Watching him with mad eyes, black and shiny with some unholy emotion, she flashed him a smile so broad that the edges of her lips nearly hit her ears. The woman was absolutely insane. With long elegant fingers she caressed her long hair, then dragged two forefingers along the length of her collarbone. On anyone else, such deliberate teasing would be sexual, inviting. On her it was obscene.

Vile and smug, she continued taunting him, displaying herself. "Pretty, pretty boy. I'm here. Right here. All for you. Think you can do it? Think you can say Crucio and mean it?" She thrust her breasts out. "Hmmmm? Sirius was as beautiful as you once...."

At the mention of Sirius' name, rage consumed him. By this point, he more or less had learned how to contain his outbursts of spontaneous magic, or he just didn't have the energy anymore, he wasn't discounting that possibility, but this horrible, despicable woman... The rumble of broken beams, bits of china, crushed chairs, the miscellany that had once been Borgin and Burkes, began crashing and whirling, which only widened her smile.

Harry raised his wand. He pointed and opened his mouth.

"Cru-- Cru--" He could... He just had to think of his parents, Sirius, Cedric, and all those nameless, faceless people who had suffered due to this woman... "C-- C-- C--" Tears of rage and frustration streamed down his face.

What in the holy fuck?

She began to giggle.

"Avada K-- Avada-- A--" Nothing came out. Nothing but these pointless stutters. Dear God, what should he do? What... He would slam her in a body bind. She could have a cell next to Crabbe Senior. The first letter of the spell was on his lips when she jeered at him.

"I thought not," she crowed. "Until next time, darling. You can be sure that I won't falter." She trilled her fingers at him in a mock good-bye and Apparated.

"You couldn't. You couldn't!" Snape spat out. "And when you're finally called upon to kill the Dark Lord, to fulfill your destiny, to save those of us she hasn't killed, yet, will you pout and moan and groan and whinge to all and sundry at our funerals that you couldn't." Snape screwed his face up in caricature and whined, "I couldn't," so violently that a little spit hit Harry's face. "Explain, Mr. Potter, explain to me exactly why you could not kill Bellatrix Lestrange," Snape paused, and with the ghost of a sneer said, "The person responsible for your precious Black's death."

Harry turned his head, because if he looked at Snape one second longer he was going to punch him. Maybe strangle him.

"Don't," he growled out of the side of his mouth.

"You lost all possibility of negotiating this conversation when you let that woman off with a few paltry acid hexes."

Snape began pacing back and forth in front of him, in sharp, measured steps. Considering the room was only ten feet from side to side, Snape was never much more than an arm's length away, the swish of his robes as he turned even audible against the shush of the waves against the shore.

"She Apparated into the Dark Lord's presence and within two minutes had an entire room of Death Eaters laughing and jeering at you. She regaled all of us with how you stuttered and vacillated. How she stood there without a wand, at your mercy, and what did you do? You--"

"For fuck sake, shut up!" Harry yelled.

As usual, Snape didn't pay a whit of attention to his plea.

"Shall I tell you what function she serves? Our Bellatrix?" and the 'x' hissed so profoundly that it was as if Snape was speaking Parseltongue. "She is our inspiration," Snape sneered. "Her fervor for the Dark Lord's cause is unmatched. Not even Lucius Malfoy can compete with her. Up until now Lucius' ambitions for the House of Malfoy have dovetailed very nicely with Dark Lord's cause, but he displays too much familial pride to make him a completely trusted acolyte."

"At the cemetery, when Voldemort killed Cedric, Malfoy backpedaled like--"

Snape stopped his measured pacing for one second. "Yes, Lucius wriggled out of that one nicely." A thin smiled appeared. "I would have liked to have seen that. My old friend, making his excuses. I must say that if the Dark Lord didn't have more pressing business," and this was given with a furious glare, like Harry had mucked up the whole thing by being bound to that wretched gravestone and what was he thinking. Snape resumed his back and forth. "The night air would have been fouled by his cries for mercy. But Bellatrix?. She has no peers in her devotion. No ambition that is not his. The House of Black means nothing. You should hear her scorn for Tonks, her glee at Black's death--"

"I was fucking there, you know!" Harry shouted. That night in the Ministry; would he ever be old enough to forget that horrible chain of events?

Snape stopped in front of him and grabbed him, digging those long fingers of his into the flesh of Harry's arms. "Then you have no excuse. You know the make of this woman. She is held up by the Dark Lord as the one true follower." He gave Harry a vicious shake. "She is beholden to no one but him. She is..." Here, Snape dropped his hands from Harry's arms. He'd been gripping Harry so tightly that the blood rushed into biceps with a sting. With none of his usual grace, Snape fell into his chair, as if exhausted, but his eyes never left Harry's face. "His second heartbeat," he continued. "All her years in Azkaban weren't prison. They were a testament to her devotion. Every second, one more second completed in his honor."

Harry couldn't pull his eyes away; the magnitude of his failure mounted with every word.

"She devises the most diabolical of the Death Eater plans. The plot to poison the children at that Muggle school that failed? Her handiwork. Surely you noticed that the spell dictated that they wouldn't die immediately. No. She would have had them writhing in agony for weeks before they succumbed. Their very bed sheets sheer torture against their skin. Little five and six year olds. And if we push aside their suffering for one tiny moment, can you imagine the horror of their parents, their teachers? Helpless in the face of all that pain. Interestingly enough, I doubt if she even cares whether the Muggles live or die; they are insignificant to her. Everyone is insignificant except him. She is, simply, his consort in evil. She is the only person he would mourn, if he is capable of mourning. Her death would be a tremendous victory! Do you know what that word means, Mr. Potter? Do you know what--"

At that Harry shut his eyes and held up his hand. Mercifully, Snape stopped.

Can one die from failure? For not doing enough? Because this was the mother of all failures, and yet he couldn't have done anything differently. If the ghost of Sirius wasn't sufficient...

Not for the first time in his life did Harry wish he was more articulate. It didn't seem to matter with most people. He'd half-finish his sentences and shrug his shoulders, and everyone else seemed to get what he was trying to say. Not Snape.

At first the calendar seemed like Hermione's pathetic attempt to organize the war into nice little bit of days and weeks. Which Harry thought was bloody ludicrous, because by its very nature war is about destruction. Nothing tidy and neat about that. But increasingly it was a reminder that he was failing them all. Every day was another day that that fucking prophecy hadn't played out. He wondered if the others had the same thought he did. That maybe he should just end it. Get Snape to take him directly to Voldemort and the Death Eaters and let them have him. Because it seemed like it would eventually just come down to that. The prophecy demanded it, actually, and why wait?

"Do you have anything to say to me?" Snape said in a rasp.

Snape hadn't lit the fire yet. A bitter wind roared down the chimney. The room was bitterly cold. If snow began falling from the ceiling, Harry wouldn't have been surprised.

"I... I can't. I see Sirius' shock before he fell behind the veil and Cedric's face stiff with horror as the Avada Kedavra hit him and Molly's face when Arthur told her that Bill had been killed and... I see all these faces and my parents' faces and I know they are all depending on me to avenge their deaths and my friends are desperate because it's getting so dire, death is so close now, and we're all terrified to wake-up in the morning because it might mean that someone will die that day and I can't. I still can't."

He was sobbing now, and at some point had fallen on his knees, the hearth stones cold and unforgiving.

"I don't know if it's my imagination or just that I've thought about it so much that it's become real, but I see that final confrontation between him and my mother and all that binds the two of us and if I do that one final act... Once I kill someone, use magic for that foul and evil purpose, no matter who it is, I will... I..." He couldn't say it out loud. I will be no different than him.

Snape said nothing for ages. Let him cry himself dry. When Harry finally pulled himself up off the floor and staggered to fall into his chair, Snape said in an easy voice, almost as if they were discussing the advantages of tea bags over loose, "You are quite willing to let the rest of us shoulder your sins, are you? Kill for you, so that you can exit this war with a relatively clean soul?"

At that, Harry went berserk. He leapt out of his chair in a blind fury, fists wailing in a hundred different directions with only one thought in mind. To retaliate for every nasty, horrible insult and slur that had been directed at him and his parents and those he loved. To break bone; smash Snape's foul mouth silent once and for all.

Later he realized that had Snape not grabbed his hands, held them tight, kept them bound until Snape could bring Harry's back up against his front and hold him as the rage continued, Harry would have tried to kill him. As it was, Snape's relentless grip on his hands and arms rendered him helpless, despite the twenty years between them. Harry's rage could only find outlet in an endless litany of Snape's sins and failings. At the top of his lungs he castigated Snape for his role in his parents' death, Sirius' fall through the veil, Dumbledore's death, and every snide and horrible thing he had said about Harry the entire ten years of their acquaintance.

Snape let him scream and rage and met every attempt to throw off his grip until Harry found himself more or less slumped against Snape, exhausted and, surprisingly, humiliated. How long had he been at it? An hour?

"You are done?" Snape asked.

Harry nodded. He doubted he could do even the simplest of spells, he was so wrung out.

Snape shoved him in the direction of his chair, where he had just enough strength left to grab the armrest and fall into the seat. Harry closed his eyes and would have fallen asleep there, all crunched up into one corner of the chair had Snape not ordered him to get up.

"Rest. We will talk in the morning."

Harry didn't answer, but didn't resist either when Snape's hand found his wrist and pulled him upright. Snape dragged him across the room into their make-shift bed. A blanket was tucked over Harry's shoulder, followed by a "Nox."

"Why didn't you stun me?" Harry mumbled into the dark.

It was a few moments before Snape replied.

"I understand that sort of rage. Unfortunately, I did not have someone to stop me and hold me. If I had, it might not have consumed me. Now go to sleep."

The morning was as awkward as all hell. You try to kill someone, it doesn't make for happy breakfast-time conversation. The only saving grace was that for once he didn't have a hard-on when he woke up. That was the only saving grace, because no sooner did he open his eyes than he realized he was, as usual, wrapped tightly around Snape as if he'd never flown at him in a blinding rage. And tried to kill him.

Harry scooted away as fast as possible and went to make breakfast.

Better get this out of the way.

"Sorry," Harry said, as he handed Snape his mug of tea and a croissant.

"For the stale croissant and tepid tea or your astonishing loss of control? Or perhaps all three? I think all three deserve some sort of apology. The immature display of temper rating perhaps a rather more strenuous mea culpa than the poor breakfast fare."

Another time Harry would have risen to the bait, but this morning? A quick flick of his wand warmed up the tea so that there was at least a wisp of steam rising from the cup. The stale croissant he could do nothing about.

"I don't expect you to get it..." he began and was completely astonished at Snape sweeping teapot, mugs, plates, jam pot, and silverware onto the floor in one violent fling of his arm.

"How dare you!" Snape growled. "You come to me after that colossal failure, one that will haunt you, mark my words, expecting forgiveness and understanding, and then have the nerve, the absolute cheek, of treating me as if I had no inkling of the moral compromises one is forced to make every single second this war continues? It is no surprise that you have no compunction about letting me bear the burden of one more or many more deaths on my conscience. Why not? I've been doing it for years. Must be old hat. One more death. One more--"

Harry grabbed Snape's wrist.

"Stop," he whispered. "I'm sorry," He pressed his thumb against the soft inside of Snape's wrist, felt Snape's pulse beating fast and furious. "I'm sorry," he repeated.

They sat there for several minutes in silence; Harry still holding on to Snape's wrist.

"How do you stand it? You've been doing this for twenty years. How do you get up day after day and not go mad?" He looked up into Snape's eyes. Snape pulled his hand away slightly and then threaded his fingers through Harry's.

"I treat each day like it is my last. I seek out the beautiful, a glimpse of perfection in this life, and savor it, even if just for a moment. Do you know why I found you and Mr. Weasley so supremely irritating when you were my students? That nonchalance, that sense of 'who cares' about the two of you. You, of all people, should know better. When you're not sure you're going to see the sunrise, an exquisitely brewed potion elicits profound joy. Because you might never, ever, do that again. Wave your wand again. See magic. Again."

"I'm afraid to enjoy things. I feel guilty," Harry confessed and thought of those sexual encounters and how the sex had become increasingly rough. Yes, he sought punishment to mitigate the courting of pleasure.

"Foolish boy," Snape admonished with his old snap, and yet squeezed his hand again. "What gain you by denying yourself a glass, or several, of exceptionally fine Scotch at the end of the day? Or a vintage Bordeaux? Or the smell of roses blooming in the spring at Hogwarts. How do I stand it? I am very partial to music. Any and all of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Chopin's Nocturnes are quite lovely. The etudes. Unfortunately, life as a Death Eater has more or less ended my concert going days. The Dark Lord has no appreciation for music..."

"Not funny," Harry complained.

"And I read. An enormous amount. The written word has a beauty that is only matched by, say, a Beethoven sonata." With his free hand, Snape gestured toward the bookcases lining one wall.

Harry was gob-smacked. What in the hell was wrong with him? How could he have missed the addition of bookcases, filled with books, the make-shift Potions lab set up near the sink, and a shelf containing boxes of oatmeal, tea, and a bowl of fruit?

"You moved in here?" Harry blurted out. "When? And fucking why?"

"Well-spotted, Mr. Potter," If Snape's voice had been any drier, the spilled tea would have beaded up on the floor. "Two months? Give or take a couple of days. And language."

"But this is a total hellhole," Harry protested.

Snape pulled away his hand. "It is isolated, but I am rather good at Warming charms, and I find the pounding of the surf soothing. And the rain? Well, I've spent more than twenty years surviving Scottish winters; I think I can stand a little wet."

"A little wet?" choked out Harry.

"I never even hear it. I'm usually somewhere far away. Depending on where Mr. Dickens, Mr. Tolstoy, Mr. Hardy, or Miss Austen sends me. This is one of the few places where I can sit reading my books and the walls around me have no significance. The memories aren't unbearably sad or unbearably bitter." Snape stood up. "Oatmeal? Those croissants were inedible before, as hard as Bludgers. Now they are wet and dirty Bludgers. Repair those mugs, Mr. Potter. They are the only ones I have."

Harry did as he was told. Fixed the plates as well. Transfigured the bed back into Snape's chair, stoked the fire, and cast a few hundred Warming charms. Breakfast was on the table soon enough. He didn't have much appetite, but the hole in his stomach told him he was hungry even if he didn't feel like eating.

"I am sorry. About last night."

"You should be. I am not."

Harry rolled his eyes, because of course not. Not that he'd been expecting an apology. The horrible part about it was that Snape had been right. Harry wasn't the only one playing Death Eater Poker. The stakes were too high and none of them could afford to play, and yet the cards kept getting dealt. If he folded, then someone else was commandeered to sit in his place. Fuck, he hated this. What would be left of him by the end? Assuming he made it to the end.

"Mr. Potter--"

"Look, Snape," Harry interrupted. "Do you have any magic up your sleeve on how to live with yourself? Keep enough of your humanity intact so that you can face yourself in the mirror in the morning. Any miracles? We've eliminated going to pubs and having meaningless rough sex with strangers. How do I escape this, fuck, this enormous weight that threatens to fucking suffocate me? Because I feel so horribly trapped. I can't kill people, and yet I know that by sparing them, especially her, they'll kill someone I care about, maybe today, maybe this afternoon. Most days I hope it's me."

Snape said nothing.

"No miracles?" Harry said and let his spoon fall back into his oatmeal, any hope of eating now completely gone.

Snape brought his pinky finger up to Harry's hand as it lay on the table and just touched him. Barely skin to skin, nothing more than a faint tickle.

"God and executioner. Participate in a Death Eater raid, Mr. Potter. I assure you, the screams and pleas for mercy would convince you that if you save one life from that fate, just one, it is worth it. If I can get up in the morning and face myself in the mirror, whatever innocence I once had completely ravaged, you can."

"What if I can't?" Harry demanded.

"Bollocks. You have done and you will continue to do so. If I have to Apparate to Grimmauld Place every morning and yank you up by your hair, you will look in that mirror. Albus Dumbledore did not give his life in vain. Yes, you would do right to look embarrassed. Early in the first war, I asked Albus that very question. The impossible task of keeping intact your humanity while committing inhumane acts. I had gone to him, begging for his mercy, his forgiveness for my utter stupidity. I never would have forgiven me, but then I am not the man Albus Dumbledore was. I was half-hoping he'd kill me. Curse me and end my agony. Fortunately, or unfortunately, he forgave me. My penance was fitting. I was to remain a Death Eater. I became a spy for the Order and continued to do those very acts that had me shaking from self-loathing. I shall repeat to you what he said to me. 'Only the certainty that the lives you take will spare innocents.'"

"At the cost of my innocence," Harry said dully.

Snape pressed his finger just the slightest. "Sadly, as you've discovered, even innocence has a price.

In penance, the first thing Harry did when he Apparated back to Grimmauld Place was to fill his pockets with whatever Muggle money he'd stashed away. Ignoring Ron's questioning stares and Hermione's nagging questions about where he was going and when would he be back, he Glamoured a disguise and escaped into Muggle London for a couple of hours. Resolutely ignoring the pub where he'd spent many a lunch hour trying to catch the fancy of someone to blow in the men's, he walked the streets until he found a shop that sold electronic equipment. And bought Snape a CD player. Then he spent a small fortune on classical CDs, returned back to Grimmauld Place, begged Arthur to magic the CD player so that it would turn on and off in response to a spell, and then Apparated back to their shack.

Harry had never been to the shack during the day. It was meet Snape at night, fight like cat and dog, drink Scotch, fall asleep, wake-up with morning wood, adjust dick, make breakfast, strategize on how to kill people, and then Apparate home. Of course, he hadn't known that Snape had been living here. He assumed that when he Apparated back to Grimmauld Place that Snape followed suit and Apparated to Spinner's End or even his rooms at Hogwarts, now that it was under Voldemort's control.

Imagine his shock to find Snape doing something as normal as being curled up in his chair with a book, and a pot of tea and the remnants of lunch on the end table. Funny, he never thought of Snape as potentially being normal. Doing, well, everyday things. Like reading. Having a spot of lunch.

Snape put down his book immediately. Harry saw Snape's hand instinctively going for his wand. "What has happened?"

"Nothing," Harry shrugged. "Just thought... Here," and gestured with his eyebrows at the CD player and box of CDs in his arms.

That got nothing more than the raised eyebrow.

"Could use some help here," Harry panted. The CD player was getting heavy.

Snape banished the dishes to the sink and Harry plonked the CD player down on the end table in gratitude. "Something to keep you company."

"I loathe company."

"Yeah, I know, but you'll like this. Although these guys are dead, so too bad for you; you can't tear strips off of them if they don't measure up to snuff." Harry muttered a spell and the room filled with music. Beethoven's Pathetique sonata. Harry had gone into the classical music section and asked the clerk, "If you were a classical music wanker, something of a bastard, got your knickers in a twist about everything on God's earth, and liked Beethoven's sonatas, what would you want to listen to?"

Snape ducked his head and hid his face behind the inevitable shelf of hair. Harry wasn't quite sure whether he'd blown it once again or if Snape was actually happy with his gift. The continued silence boded well. Not like Snape to keep to his vitriol to himself, now was he?

At a break in the music, Harry whispered the counterspell and the music stopped.

"We, uh, you know, okay now?"

Snape lifted his head and nodded. Almost smiled at him.

"Buttering me up with music will not solve your dilemma," Snape reminded him.

Harry shrugged. "It's unsolvable. Yeah? I kill people, I hate myself. I don't kill people, I hate myself."

"True," Snape agreed, bringing his fingers together, steepling them. "However, it's a question of degree. As I mentioned before, I've found that self-hatred is a sliding scale."

"Don't sugar-coat it on my account," Harry deadpanned.

"I wouldn't dream of it. Did you speak with Miss Granger about the possibility of a global Finite Incantatem should the need arise?"

And it was back to killing and maiming.

Harry Apparated back first. Having just enough energy left to Transfigure Snape's chair into a mattress. He fell on it and immediately curled up, his knees up to his chin, his hands covering his ears, his eyes scrunched shut. It didn't help. He could still hear the screams, still smell the stench of dark magic on his clothes, in his hair. Still see the street. And Dean's lifeless body.

He didn't hear the pop. He was only aware Snape had Apparated into the shack when he felt the mattress give and a gentle hand clasp his wrist and pull his hand away from one ear.

"They are waiting for you at Grimmauld Place."

Harry shook his head violently and made to bring his hand back to his ear. Snape kept a firm, but not cruel, grip on his wrist, and then did the astonishing. He pressed up against Harry, his front to Harry's back, knees tucked into the vee of Harry's knees, and held him. Covered Harry's clenched fist with his palm. And began rocking like he was a small child. Harry tried to pull away because he didn't want comfort. That's why he hadn't Apparated to Grimmauld Place afterward. Because Hermione would say something along the lines of how he did his best. Ron would clap him on the back and say nothing, because Ron was as inarticulate as he was in these situations. Remus? Fuck. Remus would give a little impromptu eulogy and Seamus... He could never face Seamus again.

No, he didn't want words of wisdom or even condolences. He'd lost this round of Death Eater poker spectacularly. Was bankrupt. And yet he was still in the game. With nothing more to bid, he would lose every round.

"You were right. Doesn't that make you happy?"

The rocking stopped, but Snape didn't pull away.

"Not particularly."

"She tortured him to death!"

Rodolphus Lestrange had pinned Harry behind the corner of a building, firing hexes at him, while his wife, Bellatrix, cast Crucio after Crucio at Dean Thomas. To Apparate out of there would have left Dean at her mercy. Every time he stuck his head around the corner, trying to get a shot at her, Lestrange would cast a spell at him, and he'd have to duck back around. But not before catching a glimpse of Dean's body writhing in agony from the Cruciatus.

"I was the other side of The Three Broomsticks. I heard."

"Please. Gloat away. You love to gloat. You told me that I would rue the day I didn't kill her. Yeah, I rue it. I lived with him for six years. He was like a fucking brother to me! And I couldn't do a damn thing. Just listen to him beg for mercy and call out my name and unable to do ANYTHING!" Harry shouted and wrenched himself away from Snape. Jesus, why did he come here? Why didn't he just Apparate to some god-forsaken corner...

Snape sunk his fingers into Harry's shoulder and forced him to turn over so that Harry was facing him.

"No, you could not do a thing to stop Mr. Thomas' death. Yet, this skirmish was not a total loss. Your George Weasley brought down Dolohov, and by that I mean he killed him. Take heart in that."

"You think that makes me feel better? Knowing that George did what I couldn't?" Harry shouted.

"Stop this wallowing in remorse," Snape ordered, his breath hot on his cheek. "That will not bring him back. Rehashing your failures is pointless. Learn from your mistakes. The next time you face her, you kill her. Plain and simple. Why did you come here? Did you expect me to punish you? Hex you for your stupidity?"

At that Harry stopped trying to wriggle away and collapsed against Snape, his forehead pressing into Snape's shoulder. He nodded.

"He called my name, over and over again. Begging me to help him. Stop her."

"I know," Snape said to the top of his hair and then carded his hand through Harry's hair.

"Punish me," Harry whispered.

Harry wasn't sure Snape heard him until Snape said, "No, I will not. I have enough sins on my conscience; I do not need to add to them. I should think your anguish is punishment enough."

Harry pulled away and snapped, "Says the man who doesn't get erections anymore. Fuck you."

"A rather frugal form of self-flagellation, I assure you. I was always the one buying drinks when trolling for a fuck."

Snape let him laugh and when it turned into hysteria, Accio-ed a Calming draught and held his hand while he downed it.

Then they lay back down, Snape spooned up against Harry, waiting for Harry to fall asleep.

"I can still hear him," Harry whispered.

"Accio book," Snape commanded. A book came flying out of the bookcase; Snape opened it to page one. "Perhaps you'd rather listen to Charles Dickens?"

"My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip--"

"Snape?" Harry interrupted. "Does it get harder killing people? Each death more horrible than the last?"

"No. Unfortunately it gets easier."

"So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip..."

After that the momentum of the war shifted. The weaker wizards were either dead on the Order side (Voldemort didn't take prisoners) or in Azkaban on the Death Eater side. The death of any one person would now be a monumental loss. They had one, maybe two, more confrontations left; there weren't that many people left to fight. Harry spent his days at Grimmauld Place, but his nights at the shack.

Harry would never become a classical music buff, but in those final months of the war, he came to appreciate literature in a way he never dreamed possible. Half of it was due to Snape's voice. When not weighted down in scorn or disgust, it was amazing how it caressed and petted every vowel, every consonant. Snape would read to him at night, Harry curled up in his chair, the book hovering in front of them. Harry would cradle his glass of Scotch in both hands, close his eyes, and just listen. And escape. To Victorian England, Russia, to nineteenth century Bath, or where ever the books took them. Snape would read until Harry was on the verge of sleep and then they'd tumble into bed; the last thing he'd hear nearly every day would be Snape's voice.

One night he woke up to find a faint Lumos lighting up the room. It was quite late, based on the timber of light in the room, sometime after midnight. Snape was propped up on one elbow studying him.

"Something happen?" Harry asked, and grabbed his wand as a sudden burst of adrenaline pumping through his veins.

Snape shook his head. "No. I was feasting on the last of your innocence; a real thing of beauty. I will be sorry to see it go."

"And yet you gave me a right ear bashing for it," Harry grumbled.

"Needs must," Snape said with a grimace. "Your face isn't hard yet; your eyes are not empty. They can see it, the other Death Eaters." He brought a hand up to Harry's face and then dropped it. "All of Albus' errors in judgment were a futile effort to preserve this. For as long as possible."

Then Snape whispered Nox and the room was once more in darkness. He scooted up against Snape and felt it. A hard-on. Snape's hard-on. Firm against him. Snape pulled away instantly, not saying a single word.

Harry gave it a couple of minutes, then said, "Snape?" reached over and felt for his hand. Brought it to his half-hard erection.

"Don't be a fool," Snape hissed. Harry held Snape's hand there.

"This is beautiful too," Harry whispered and pushed gently against Snape's hand.

"Merlin, preserve me from the stupidity of Gryffindors!" Snape shouted, then scrambled out of bed with nothing short of a leap over Harry. A harsh,
"Lumos" from Snape and the room lit up bright. Snape did not look at him, but put the kettle on for tea and banged about the kitchen, laying out the mugs, milk, and sugar pot with such force that Harry was amazed nothing broke.

"I'm not beautiful enough, am I?"

That got a snort and penetrating regard that was classic Snape: eyes trained on you, and nothing else. It was a measure of how far they'd come that Harry didn't even think of flinching under that scrutiny but gave it right back to him.

"You have no concept how beautiful you are. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Not all things are about you, Mr. Potter."

"Since when? You know..."

Snape didn't insult him by pretending not to know what Harry was talking about.

Turning toward the cooker, like he was watching the kettle come to a boil, he said out of the side of his mouth, "Several weeks. Not that it matters."

"It could matter, you irritating git," Harry protested and knew that he sounded churlish but for fuck's sake. What Harry had given up, Snape had given up... "This is about me and my father and the past and how you can't let go of one bloody thing... And that bullshit speech about 'beauty.' If you don't want to fuck me, me, then just say so. Don't hide behind some--"

Snape turned from the cooker. "You will be the death of me, Potter. And I mean that literally. You are as stupid as you are beautiful. That dressing down I gave you regarding your sexual partners is exponential in our case. I would be your weak spot and you mine. With your third-rate Legilimency skills, how long do you think it will take the Dark Lord to break through your meager mental walls and see the two of us fucking? One minute? Two? I give him thirty seconds. And then, all," Snape made a sweeping gesture with his hand, "all of this will be for naught. Because you couldn't control your dick. Well, I can control mine. Get out and don't come back."

Harry froze, unable to move from shame. Because Snape was right. Again.

Harry Apparated to Grimmauld Place.

He now spent his evenings playing games of Exploding Snap with the Ron and Hermione while the rest of the Order discussed war strategies. Ron kicked Hermione or started violently coughing every time she asked him why he wasn't going to the shack every night. Harry ignored her. A week went by with no word. Harry kept eyeing the calendar, wondering what he should do on the night he was supposed to meet Snape.

It became a moot issue with the storming of St. Mungo's by the Death Eaters.

Harry lay in a fetal position on his bed, wondering how long he could stand the cold before rousing himself to stoke the fire when Snape's head appeared in the fireplace for all of three seconds. "Potter," he barked. "Death Eater raid. St. Mungo's." Then he was gone.

This time it was Harry's turn to be shaking with rage when Snape Apparated in. Snape ignored him and made straight for his chair. A large tumbler of Scotch appeared and he downed it in one fell swallow.

"Why did you do that? Why?" Harry began pacing back and forth in front of Snape's chair. "Do you have so little faith in me? That I couldn't do it. That I'd fail once again. I had him, Goddamn you to hell. I had him!"

Harry was shouting. He knew that shouting usually didn't get anywhere with Snape, but he couldn't contain himself. Rational discourse went out the window when Harry had cornered Lucius Malfoy is a desolate part of the hospital, wandless, and no more than ten feet ahead of him. With his wand raised and pointed at Lucius Malfoy, the Avada Kedavra on his lips, Snape appeared out of nowhere to hex him from behind, killing him, that horrible green light of the Avada Kedavra illuminating every corner of the hospital ward. Even before Lucius Malfoy's body hit the ground, Snape yelled, "Your Mr. Weasley and Ms. Granger. First floor. Kitchen!"

Harry raced down to six flights of steps to the kitchen to find Ron holding Hermione in his arms, screaming epithets at Draco Malfoy interspersed with healing spells to stop the bleeding from a Sectumsempra spell. A message Harry could not ignore. Malfoy's idea of retribution for exacting the same on him; he muttered the counterspell and the bleeding stopped.

The silence around them said that the raid was over. After handing Hermione over to Molly, they made a reconnaissance of the hospital. No fatalities on their side, the loss of Lucius Malfoy on the other.

"You better have a hell of a reason why. Because I will not be treated like some stupid moron who can't wave a wand. Tell me why!"

Snape didn't reply, but conjured up another glass and Scotch and was bringing it up to his mouth when Harry knocked it out of his hand. The glass hit the wall, shattered, and the smell of Scotch filled the room.

"Answer me, you bastard. Why? Two months ago you gave me a thorough rollicking on how I shouldn't expect you and others to kill for me and then you do exactly that. Killed for me."

Harry braced himself, expecting Snape to go half cocked at the loss of the glass and the Scotch, but Snape just stared at the liquor dribbling down the wall. "He was a friend. A good friend, at one point in my life," Snape said in a detached voice, both hands gripping the armrests, belying his calm. "I didn't have many. I can count on one hand how many I had."

All the fight went out of Harry at that point. He repaired the shattered glass, conjured up a second, fell into his chair, and then waited for Snape to fill their glasses.

Ten minutes later Snape roused himself and did just that.

Harry took a big gulp. "Why?"

Snape leaned forward so that Harry could not see his face. "Because I could, and because you might keep what little innocence you have left if you have just one death on your soul. We know who you have to kill. You might think this foolish of me, but I would like one person, one single person to emerge from this war with their humanity intact. As mine is in shreds..."

The magnitude of this sacrifice left Harry speechless. Up until that moment he never understood Dumbledore's unwavering faith in Severus Snape. Harry had finally forgiven him for Snape's part in Dumbledore's death. He could hardly fail to do so, given that his own involvement in Dumbledore's death was just as great. But there was an enormous gap between forgiving Snape and understanding him. Or at least understanding why Dumbledore never doubted Snape for a single instant, any evidence to the contrary.

"Lucius had a choice." Snape looked up and met Harry's gaze. "His involvement in the first war was total and complete. Nobody knew more than I what utter bollocks were his stories about being under an Imperius curse. His years as a Death Eater were entirely voluntary. When the Dark Lord's attempt to kill you failed and he went into that sort of magical hibernation, Lucius could have turned his back on it all and he didn't. His glee at the Dark Lord's return was only second to his sister-in-law's."

This was said with Snape's usual bite; if Harry hadn't seen Snape's face, pinched and gray in the deepest despair, he would have assumed everything was status quo.

"You loved him?" Harry couldn't help but ask.

Snape nodded. "At one time. It was not reciprocated. That is not to say that he didn't accord me my due. He did. One of the few besides the Dark Lord and Albus who appreciated my talents. But physically? No. You only knew him as the Dark Lord's equally evil henchman. As a young man he was witty, brilliant; the most handsome man of his age. What an utter waste." Harry had never heard Snape so bitter. Which was saying something.

"And you did that to him. For me," Harry repeated.

The liquor in the glass wavered a bit, as if Snape's hand had begun to shake.

"Yes. Do not give it a second thought. He made his bed," was all he said in response.

Harry closed his eyes and made a decision right there and then. This is it. It ends now. He had thought about this before, but had never had the guts to even mention it to Ron or Hermione.

"Is there a potion that can kill and then be reversed?"

Snape didn't answer at first, then snapped, "Why?"

"Remember that first day in Potions class when you made that speech. The one right before you humiliated me in front of everyone? I'm guessing you make that speech to all first years. You know, the one about being able to cheat death. I want you to cheat death. The prophecy, where it says that one can't live without the other about me and Voldemort? What if it means that if he dies, I die? If it has nothing to do with one of us killing each other? It could be interpreted that way, right? Okay, so I take a potion, he dies too, then you bring me back."

"Fool!" Snape spat, and slammed his glass down on the table with such force that half the liquor sloshed over the rim. "Yes, it could be interpreted that way, but do give us a little credit. Don't you think Albus and I would have thought of that sooner? We could have avoided all this bloodshed and misery if it was as simple as you drinking a potion. The ties that bind you and the Dark Lord are mysterious and not understood by even the most brilliant of wizards. As Albus Dumbledore was. He was not willing to chance it. There is ample enough evidence to suggest that his death, given the connection between you, would block and render void whatever spell I would use to wake-you up. Which might also wake-up him. Which means that I would be forced to kill you, knowing that your death would mean the death of him. As usual, you are leaping forward without a second thought--"

"No, I'm not. I have thought about it, you presumptuous arse. If he comes back to life when I come back to life, I want you to kill me. You killed Dumbledore when he asked you. Do the same for me."

You'd think asking for your own death sentence would be difficult, but it wasn't. He might not have swallowed that poison in the goblet, but he now knew what Dumbledore was asking. He was asking Snape to end it. Just like Harry was doing now. He raised his glass in a silent toast to Dumbledore.

Snape dropped his glass on the floor. For the second time in fifteen minutes, Harry repaired it and handed it back to Snape.

"I can't."

"In the words of someone who got their knickers in a royal twist when I said I couldn't--"

"Do not trivialize this, Harry" Snape said in a rasp.

"I'm not. Give me your hand." Harry extended his hand over the arm of his chair. "If I don't make jokes, I'll go crazy. You're freezing. Your hand is like ice. I'm fucking exhausted and if one more person dies I'll go fucking mad. This has to end, Snape." Harry thought of Ron, Hermione, the Weasleys. The ones left. Yeah. It was time. Maybe past time.

That got a hiss from Snape. "That's nothing more than suicide."

"No, it's not." Harry said, the weight finally gone from his chest. It was the last deal, actually. He wasn't bankrupt. He had one chip left. "I take the potion here. At the shack. If it does work, he'll be dead and you'll bring me back. If I die and you can't bring me back, he still dies and it's finally over." Here Harry took a deep breath. "If we both die and you bring me back and he revives too, then you have to kill me. Promise me. How long will it take to brew?"

"No. I won't do it."

Harry finally opened his eyes and faced Snape. "Then I'll brew it. I bet if I looked for it, I'd find it in your textbook." Snape tried to hide his surprise but failed. "Right. It's there. I'll hunt through the book and make it myself at Grimmauld Place."

"That spell is exceptionally complicated, even for a certified Potions Master--" Snape sputtered.

"Then you make it. Those are your choices."

"That is not a choice, Mr. Potter."

"Welcome to my world, Snape."

Harry did not return to Grimmauld Place, except to tell Ron and Hermione that he was staying at the shack for a few days. Hermione's frown-line deepened, Ron's lips thinned in a grimace, but they said nothing. He and Snape didn't talk other than to discuss the intricacies of the potion, a Dark Arts variant on the Draught of Living Death. Except this wasn't any sort of sleep but death itself.

"Have you ever tried this on a person?" Harry asked casually while chopping up the asphodel.

"No. Only on rats. Chop that a little finer if you please."

That's comforting, thought Harry.

The night before he was supposed to drink the potion, they lay in bed side by side, moon-gazing through the open window, the night clear for once. Harry thought it not a bad send off. Hundreds of millions of stars winked at him, the quarter moon signaling Remus' recovery and respite for a couple of weeks.

Harry had nothing to lose at this point, so he said it flat out.

"Fuck me."

Snape said nothing.

"It won't make a difference at this point, and I'd like that."

Snape's response was to finger his scar and suck on a tender spot on his neck. All in all, a very nice beginning.

Harry was somewhat gratified to see Snape's annoying calm shattered for once. He fumbled with the buttons and zipper on Harry's pants, as much as Harry did with the millions of buttons on Snape's robes.

"You want to get laid anytime this century, Snape, help me with these buttons."

That got deep chuckle. Harry could only give a fleeting thought to the amazing fact that Snape could chuckle, like he was actually human, because, well, they were stripping their clothes off each other as fast as they could. Harry had started at the bottom and Snape at the top, and then their hands met in the middle. Snape stopped the action and brought Harry's hands up to his mouth and kissed them once. Then Snape was on him.

Harry hadn't lacked for partners. But most of his sexual experience had either been horribly naïve (Ginny) or extremely desperate (as in strangers who wanted to get off before someone else walked into the loo). In fact, it was all about getting off and very little about the getting there. Snape, Harry discovered, was of the "getting there" school of sex. And it was fucking marvelous.

It wasn't that Harry hadn't had better kissers or received better hand jobs or better anything. After all, if you pick up enough strangers, you're bound to find a mish-mash of expertise.

But he'd never had the entire package be so completely wonderful. It was all of a piece. Languid, knowing hands pinched his nipples, a sure mouth nipped at his ribs, a playful finger tickled his ribs (Christ, Snape had a sense of humor in the sack; who knew!). It was hard to believe that Snape hadn't had sex in twenty years. He took his time, exploring Harry inch by inch, murmuring "beautiful" as he ran his hands all over Harry's body, dispelling all of Harry's fears that this was nothing more than a pity fuck. He wouldn't have stopped if that had been the case, his need being so great, but it would make it easier to face Snape when they woke up in the morning.

At that, Harry just gave himself up to this pleasure, cooing his delight loudly as Snape sucked him off, a slow laving of his crown and then a deep throating of his dick; alternating back and forth, throwing in a delightful tug on his balls every now and then. It's amazing what you're willing to let go of when you think this is the last fuck of your life.

Harry did let go; of all his guilt, his anger at Snape's treatment of him as a child, the bitter words and arguments between them over the last four years. He just let Snape have him. Harry suspected that Snape was doing a similar purging of the past, as Snape was not in the least bit stingy with his kisses, his caresses, and gratified "ahs" and "yeses" were heard from Snape's lips in response to Harry's groans and grunts.

It wasn't one-sided. Harry touched and kissed back, reciprocating, his hands playing over the muscles in Snape's arms and back, cupped Snape's arse, getting higher and higher, thinking it couldn't get any more intense without him having a fucking stroke. Snape's voluminous robes had hid a thin, yes, but wiry body, and that physical grace he displayed patrolling the halls of Hogwarts? It had its counterpoint in bed. Harry half expected to hear the elegant swish of robes as they moved around the bed, trading places in that timeless dance of dominance then submission then dominance again as Snape played him and he played Snape in return.

Every time he thought, okay, this has to be it, and he'd begin (again!), begging, literally begging to come, Snape would say, a laugh in his voice, "Not yet. Patience," and pull back just the slightest. Snape would then take him even higher: a finger up his arse, a tongue on his cleft, so that when he felt the chill of the Lubricating charm, he shoved himself over and without any embarrassment or hesitation, thrust his ass up in the air and screamed, "Now, you bastard."

A caress down his backside and it was a push and a stretch and in. Christ, Snape was built. Which was perfect because it made concentrating solely on the fat dick up his arse that much easier. He didn't want to think about anything but that nice cock up his arse. No madman to kill, no atonement for all those deaths of the last twenty years. Nothing but Snape's crushingly good and slow, oh so slow, fucking of his arse. He was nothing more than your average gay twenty-one year old man. Who had happened to be been on the sucking end of a rather nice blow job and was now on the receiving end of a rather nice fuck. From his former teacher, who he hated with a passion, and who hated him. Thinking about this was a really bad idea so, yeah, stop already. He blotted everything out but the relishing of that build-up of pleasure at the hands and motion of someone. He was merely Harry, making love to a man with a very weird first name and wicked hands that were working his cock and was he ever going to get there...

A speed-up of Snape's hand on his cock and he knew, finally, that he was being allowed to come. This got his own "Yes!" at the top of his lungs. Overwhelming contractions shook him from his toes to the top of his head. A loud grunt and final shove signaled Snape's orgasm, thank Christ, because Harry really needed to pass out. He was only half conscious when Snape pulled out and nestled him against Snape in their old, familiar position. Then there was the weight of a blanket coming down on him and a hand tucking one end over his shoulder.

He woke-up with his habitual morning wood and was more than happy to feel an answering erection against his backside. He turned over, grabbed Snape's dick and began palming the two of them off, rutting against Snape's stomach, groaning with delight with Snape grabbed his arse with both hands and brought him even closer.

In the sticky aftermath, he couldn't help but snuggle against Snape's shoulder, savoring this moment.

"Thanks," he murmured.

"My pleasure, I assure you."

"You have a pretty nice dick."

That got an out and out laugh. Ron would never believe this. Snape laughing!

"If I survive, I shall put that on my resume. 'Harry Potter endorses my dick.' I shall have to beat off the job offers with a stick."

This was said with what bordered on amusement for Snape, but it sobered Harry up immediately. He burrowed into Snape's shoulder even further.

"Will it be ready this afternoon?"


"Will you kill me if you have to?"

That got no answer, just a kiss. A long, punishing kiss that was more teeth than anything else.

Snape pulled back, ran his eyes over Harry's face, then smoothed a thumb over Harry's eyebrows, the plane of his cheeks, his bottom lip. Harry scanned his face, trying to understand where Snape was going with this, but Snape's eyes, hooded and secret, told him nothing.


Snape pulled away and then asked, "Oatmeal?"

Harry nodded yes.

Harry expected a steadying hand when he Floo'ed into the shack, but no Snape. Nowhere. On the kitchen table was a full glass of Scotch, as if Snape had meant to drink it and then had been called away. Christ, what if he'd been called by Voldemort? No, he'd have left a note, surely.

Harry started a fire and then collapsed into his chair. A small stoppered vial sat on the small table between their chairs. Was this the final portion? It'd begun raining again, surprise, surprise, and the room was damp and cold. Harry Transfigured a pillow into a blanket and Accio'd it to himself. How long had Snape been gone? It was bloody cold in here. He closed his eyes to wait. He didn't want to take it without Snape.

What a horrible and wonderful day.

He'd told Snape that he needed to return to Grimmauld Place to get a change of clothes, that he'd be back in a couple of hours but doubted Snape believed him. Snape gave him a sharp look, opened his mouth, and then in completely uncharacteristic fashion said nothing, and just nodded.

Harry didn't need any clothes; he went to say good-bye. It hadn't taken more than a couple of minutes to convince Ron to ignore Moody's paranoia-infused ban on using their brooms, ever. For an hour, they raced side by side, high above London, Ron's expertise on Disillusionment charms coming in handy. With a tacit acknowledgment that this might be a tad dangerous, they stayed in the clouds, and pretty soon their clothes were damp and stuck to their backs. Shouting match scores and useless Quidditch facts back and forth, repeating things to each other they'd said a hundred times before, they pretended that they were nothing more than young wizards out for a late afternoon ride. The near permanent frown of disapproval on Hermione's face when she saw their windswept hair and their cheeks flushed from the cold faded when she saw their shit-eating grins. Clucking and fussing at them like the old Hermione, she wanded their clothes dry and ordered Ron to make himself useful and brew them a cup of tea. While Ron bustled around the kitchen, Harry sat with Hermione at the table and queried her about some complex spell that he had no interest in just so she would lose that perpetual grimace she now wore like a second skin. It was replaced by that animation she only got when her mind played intellectual badminton with itself. "First, Harry, you have to invoke a Protego charm, and then when the sun has reached the hottest part of the day, you must..."

For two hours it felt like nothing had changed; that they hadn't seen their youth gobbled up in service of the war that they had little chance of surviving. They slipped so easily into their fourteen-year old selves. Ron making outrageous remarks, Hermione scolding him, Harry defending Ron. Hermione petitioning Harry for support. Harry grudgingly admitting that Hermione might have a small point. Ron apologizing, Hermione accepting Ron's apology. And round and round it went.

Except they weren't fourteen, Harry was now twenty-one. And Hermione had a permanent crease between her eyebrows and Ron weighed all of ten stones despite his great height.

He held it together until he went to hug them goodbye. He hugged Hermione without breaking down, but when it came to Ron, Harry lost it and started choking up. At Ron's startled, "What the hell...?" and Hermione's concerned, "Harry?" he Apparated back to the shack without another word.

Where in the fuck was Snape? He wanted to get this over with. Knowing Snape, he was probably traipsing the Scottish moors, looking for one more ingredient. Fucking perfectionist. Although in this case he couldn't really grouse too loudly as it was his arse on the line, but he was ready now. It might be a fool's bravado, but strike while the idiocy is hot. Nothing to do but cool his heels until Snape returned. It was a little early to be hitting the Scotch, but what the hell. He Accio'ed the glass of Scotch and felt the pull of a Portkey the second his fingers touched the glass. He reached for the vial at the same time.

"Accio wand," shouted Voldemort as Harry stumbled into the room. Desperate to keep the vial from falling out of his hand, his concentration wasn't what it should have been and his wand flew out of his hand and into Voldemort's. "Harry," he hissed, "so glad you could join me. Or us, rather." Then he broke Harry's wand in half.

Voldemort sat in state behind Dumbledore's desk, the other Death Eaters surrounding him. Bellatrix stood behind Voldemort, a possessive hand on his shoulder. Snape sat slumped in chair off to Voldemort's right, Macnair, slumped as well, in a matching chair to Voldemort's left. Their heads lolled forward, so Harry couldn't see Snape's face. The skin of their hands were green and beaded with sweat, the standard response to repeated inflictions of Cruciatus. Dumbledore's portrait was vacant. Scorch marks criss-crossed the canvas as if someone had tried to Avada Kedavra the portrait.

"It seems that there is a traitor in our midst. We have narrowed it down to either Walden or Severus here." Voldemort flicked his wand in the direction of Snape. "Bellatrix thinks it's Severus, I think it's Walden. A conundrum."

Harry, desperate to know if Snape was still alive but not wanting to give it away, looked at Macnair first. Who looked dead. There wasn't any movement whatsoever; no slight rising and falling of the chest.

He made to turn his eyes to Snape when Voldemort rasped out, "I might have been a little enthusiastic with Walden, but then our Severus is made of sterner stuff, isn't he? I have never had cause to doubt Severus' loyalty until now, but...

At that, Voldemort slammed into Harry's brain. Dear God, it was nothing like Snape's incursions into his mind. Their magical connection made this nothing short of rape. All that evil comprising Voldemort slimed its way through Harry's mind, befouling it; it was all Harry could do not to throw-up. Voldemort marched relentlessly through his memories searching for snippets of Snape. Even while cursing himself for forgoing his Legilimency lessons with Snape, he'd been taught enough to know that you fed the Legilimens fast and furious. And he did. All their nasty, horrible confrontations when he was a student. The final scene in the tower when Harry had hidden behind the cloak and watched Snape kill Dumbledore. His recent meetings with Snape, their arguments, their fights. He threw it all at Voldemort knowing that the meetings were one sort of betrayal, one that Snape could possibly explain his way out of. But the fucking?

Suddenly, Voldemort pulled out of his mind.

"It seems that our dear Severus was a double agent or should I say triple agent. Bellatrix, I shall reward you. You may kill him. But first of all, we need to deal with Harry here."

Snape was breathing, that was all. If he hadn't known it was Snape, he'd have assumed it was nothing more than a bunch of black rags. The repeated use of Cruciatus had even torn his robes, leaving them in tatters. He snuck a glance at Dumbledore's portrait, and even though Dumbledore wasn't there, it calmed him, centered him. Dumbledore trusted Snape, you have to trust Snape, he told himself. He's the foremost Potion Master in Britain. Maybe even in Europe. He knows what he's doing. He began easing the cork out of the top of the vial with his thumb.

Harry turned to face them all. Voldemort smug in his triumph, and Bellatrix with that insane grin splitting her face in two. Wormtail hovered behind Bellatrix, wringing his hands. Several others hugged the walls: Mulciber; the Carrows; the Lestrange brothers stood side by side, one fat, one thin, next to Malfoy who looked smug as well, but then Harry saw the way he threaded his wand through his fingers in a twitchy back and forth. "He's scared," thought Harry. The cork fell free.

"It seems that we've won the chase, Harry Potter. You only have five of the Horcruxes and you need all seven to kill me," Voldemort's voice lingered on the "l" of kill. "In five seconds this room will be nothing but a brilliant display of green light as nine Avada Kedavras reduce you to dust. We end this, Harry Potter. Once and for all."

Indeed. He said a silent good-bye to Ron and Hermione, and then Harry emptied the vial into his mouth.

Harry could listen to this voice forever. The rise and fall of words hovered on the edge of melody. He knew this voice; its tenor; its rhythm. He strained to hear what it was saying, and inexplicitly it was describing sheep. Sheep in the English countryside. And a collie. Harry had always wanted a dog.

The voice continued, but became fainter with every heartbeat, and then two shadows neared him. As the voice faded, the shadows became darker and darker, more defined, and if he could have, he would have shouted because there were his parents. They didn't look happy to see him. Not at all. Their mouths were set in grim, straight lines, his mother's cheeks reflecting tears. They were holding hands. They watched him, but Harry couldn't really understand how because when he tried to see himself all he could see was them. All he could hear was the voice, which was very faint now. He wanted to move toward them, hug them, weep with joy; they were so close. He tried to summon enough energy to do something, he didn't know what, but the minute he had that thought, his mother frowned and shook her head. He was so confused. It's me! he tried to shout. Tears filled both their eyes. They continued to grip each other's hands, their knuckles white. His mother shook her head again, and then tilted it, looking upwards. What? She tilted it again, as if hearing something. Oh. Oh. She can hear the voice. So beautiful, so familiar. Harry looked back at his parents, who seemed farther away or they were fading? He didn't know which. His mother tilted her head again and smiled. He reached out for the sound. He didn't know how, since he didn't seem to have arms or legs or even a body, but somehow a hand caught him. It was warm and strong and closed around him. Somehow he knew the voice and the hand belonged to the same person. It anchored him and he didn't fight it. His father smiled. Then they both mouthed, I love you, and before Harry could mouth it back, their shadows leeched into the nothing.

I can sleep now.

And that voice answered back, "Yes, sleep."

Pain woke him up, pain so excruciating that every cell in his body must have been on fire, ablaze, burning, charring. He opened his eyes, amazed that he wasn't burning up in some spectacular conflagration. Oh dear God, the pain.

"Fucking hell!" he screamed, "Fuckfuckfucking hell!"

He couldn't stand it: absolutely couldn't stand it. Pleasesomeonekillmejustkillme. His back reared off the bed as more waves of that horrible burning marched up and down his body. He reached out for the hand, the hand that had anchored him, that had been so warm and gentle. He'd go insane if he couldn't find the slightest respite from this pain.

"Where's the fucking hand?" he whimpered, throwing both arms out and clenching and unclenching his hands. Without his glasses all he could see were dark shapes. He reached for the one closest to him, begging in garbled whimpers and pleas for someone to stop this. Just stop it at any cost.

Without a word, the hand cupped the back of his neck and the lip of a cup touched his dry lips.

"Drink," said the voice.

He drank, and the fire was quenched, cell by cell, molecule by molecule.

"Sleep," the voice commanded, and Harry thought, I can do nothing else.

When he awoke for the third time, it was early. The weak light of near dawn was beginning its slow creep over the horizon. He lay in his bed at Grimmauld Place. A figure sat reclining in a chair that had been shoved right up against the side of his bed. The other man was holding one of Harry's hands tightly. Harry didn't need to put on his glasses to know it was Snape.

Harry squeezed Snape's hand and closed his eyes. He'd been sleeping for, what, days, maybe weeks? And yet even the small act of squeezing Snape's hand took nearly everything out of him.

"You are awake."

It wasn't a question, but Harry nodded, still too exhausted to open his eyes and speak.

"Any pain?"

Harry croaked out a "No." Christ, how long had he been out?

"Would you like some water?"

He managed to say a "yes" that sounded a little more like himself, and immediately a strong hand cupped the back of his shoulders and lifted him up while the other brought a cup to his lips. Harry then knew who the hand had belonged to, who had kept him in this world, and who had ended that horrible pain.

The water tasted like the sweetest ambrosia, oh Merlin, he was so thirsty. He thrust his face forward trying to get more and more. Snape pulled the cup away and lowered Harry back onto his pillows, ignoring Harry's grunt of frustration.

"After what you've been through, you'll have to wait for a few minutes or you'll be vomiting it all back up. I have an aversion to changing linen; therefore, I have no intention of letting you soil it. I'll give you another sip in ten minutes."

Another weak nod and Harry scrambled with his hand on the bedclothes. "Hold my hand," he whispered.

In answer, Snape's long, elegant fingers closed around his.

"What were you reading? Earlier. Something about sheep." His voice sounded like him but not. Maybe the voice of a younger self.

"You heard me?" Snape asked, clearly surprised.

Harry nodded, wondering if he'd ever tell him that it was Snape's voice that brought him back from the dead.

"Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. We'll finish it while you're convalescing. It's a story about the folly of an older man who's madly in love with a woman much younger than he is. The fatal attraction of the old for the young," Snape said with some irony.

"As uplifting as The Mayor of Casterbridge?" Harry couldn't help asking. "When we finished reading that I wanted to hang myself. What happens at the end of this one?"

"Yes, nearly as joyous. The older man goes insane."

Harry managed a small smile and hoped that Snape could see it in the faint light. "Sounds like your kind of book," Then in a small, small voice, so quiet that he wasn't even sure Snape could hear him, he asked, "Is he dead?"

"Yes, Harry. He is dead."

Finally. Finally. It was over. When he should be jumping for joy he could barely raise an eyebrow.

"You may rejoice when you're feeling better. The Weasleys are plotting a party to end all parties. I say plotting because I mean plotting. I plan to be out of the country when this event occurs, perhaps I will even give serious consideration to vacating the entire continent. You will need a few more days in bed before you can kick up your heels in the manner to which you are accustomed."

And I have heels to kick up.

"Your voice. It's so wonderful."

"I'll be sure to inform your younger Gryffindors housemates of that fact when I dock points. I'm sure that their certain disappointment will abate when they learn that the docking of points has your full approbation so long as they are given in my dulcet tones."

"They are dulcet, you git," Harry mumbled and fought the urge to sleep again. "If I wasn't so tired, I'd smack you." There was so much he didn't know. "Come lie with me. Hold me. Tell me what happened," he begged.

"I'm going to give you another sip of water and then you should sleep. Your body is healing itself, growing your cells back. That's why you were in so much pain. Your cells were fighting to stay alive."

Harry shifted himself and tried to sit up. Old, this is how it will feel to be old, he thought.

"Stop, you idiot," growled Snape and then the firm hands were lifting him up again, the cup with water at his lips. Snape let Harry drink a little more and then gently lay him back. Before Harry's back reached the pillow, he grabbed blindly for Snape's shoulders.

"Lie next to me, tell me what happened, and then I'll go to sleep, I promise," Harry murmured, every word draining his precious energy.

"No, you need--"

"Please," he whispered over and over again until the bedsprings groaned under Snape's weight, and he was turned over and a warm chest parked up against his back. "Closer," Harry demanded, and Snape complied so that they were spooned back to front, Snape's mouth at his ear. "Hand," he begged and sighed with relief when Snape's hand found his. He brought Snape's hand to his chest, to his heart, and placed his hand over Snape's. "Now tell me. What happened?"

"The abbreviated version: you drank the potion, you died, I ended the spell. Victory. Now go to sleep."

"Bellatrix?" he murmured, his last vision of her was her triumphant grin as the potion twisted his body into the rictus of death.

"I killed her. With her own wand." Snape said distinctly.

Harry didn't feel glad, though perhaps he should have on Sirius's behalf. He might have done, had it happened three years earlier; but now she was gone and that's all that mattered. Perhaps now he could truly mourn Sirius. Stop hating himself for his part in Sirius's death.

And then suddenly Snape was holding him tight, almost crushing him. "When he died there was utter bedlam. I will give all the boring details when you are better. But one thing you should know. You were right not to kill her, Harry. That day in Knockturn Alley. Because I had to use her wand. To wake you. They broke my wand before they interrogated me. I didn't know how in the bloody hell I was going to... When you drank the potion and died, then he died, and I Accio'd her wand. But the potion was keyed to my wand. The aftermath wasn't supposed to be like this, I am sorry." This was said with several light kisses to the back of his head.

Oh my God, Harry thought, he didn't think he'd ever heard (a) Snape utter a sentence that didn't contain a subject, a verb and a direct object; and (b) Snape apologize to anyone for anything in the entire eleven years they'd known each other. Perhaps he had died and ended up in some sort of heaven where Snape spoke like a real human and offered apologies all day for all the horrible things he'd done.

Harry brought Snape's palm up to his mouth and kissed it. "I thought you were dying..." Harry remembered how utterly still Snape had been, and how he was certain that he was going to die. Not sleep. Die. "You didn't even twitch..." Harry could feel the catch in his voice. If he hadn't been so tired, he'd have been sobbing.

"Quiet now." Snape gentled his embrace and nuzzled the back of Harry's head. "I will say that it wasn't easy. Let's leave it at that. Now sleep."

"Macnair?" continued Harry.

"They were a little too enthusiastic in their questioning. He never regained consciousness, which saved me from killing him myself," Snape said with all the concern that one would be talking about eradicating moles from the garden.

"And the rest?" Harry could feel himself falling asleep and bit on his lip to stay awake.

"Most of them fled when he died."

Snape never used a word casually, ever, and the inflection on "most' caused Harry to snap his eyes open. With a groan, he turned over to face Snape.


Unflinching, Snape met Harry's eyes.

"I let him go. We have..." Snape paused, "an understanding."

"Why? Why him?" Harry wondered.

"I never thought I'd find myself in a similar position to Dumbledore, with a very stupid young man kneeling before me, asking me for mercy." Snape said in a wry tone. The morning light from the window showed every wrinkle and flaw in his magnificent face. "I was given the opportunity to repay that favor to another. I took it. Everyone deserves a second chance. I had mine. Lucius had his. Draco now has his."

Snape faced him unflinchingly, not asking for forgiveness or even understanding. Like every encounter they'd ever had in the past six months, it was a question of trust. This decision was not made lightly. You must trust me to do what is or was right. And if I am wrong, then I will take the consequences and set it right.

Harry brought two fingers up to his lips, kissed them briefly, and then laid them across Snape's lips. Snape kissed them back and smiled one of his minuscule smiles.

"God, not executioner?" Harry said.

"Yes," Snape kissed his scar as Harry nuzzled his head into the curve of Snape's neck.

"I hope he doesn't abuse your trust."

"I will kill him if he does."

Harry was too tired to laugh, although he knew that Snape wasn't kidding, and that Malfoy wouldn't have been laughing had he heard Snape.

"If the potion hadn't have worked; if you had had to kill me, would you have done it?"

"Yes," Snape replied with complete certainty, even as he placed a kiss on Harry's forehead.

What unbelievable burdens he and Albus Dumbledore had placed on Snape's back. On him alone.

"Glad you didn't, by the way. Kind of looking forward to that party," Harry yawned, so tired, he was so tired, but he needed to know one more thing. "Is this it? My cells heal and that's all there is to it? Or is there something you're not telling me?"

Snape reached up and began to stroke Harry's hair. "As far as I can tell, only one thing. Your hair," and now Snape was whispering. "It is completely white."

Oh well, Harry thought. Another scar, of sorts.

Dredging up energy from who knows where, Harry moved his hand up to the crown of Snape's head and in rhythm with Snape's gentle caress of his own head, began stroking Snape's grayed locks.

"That happens sometimes when you come back from the dead," he murmured.

"You didn't think you'd ever wake up, did you, Mr. Potter?"

He managed to get out a sleepy "No," before his hand fell to Snape's chest, seeking out Snape's heartbeat, and then nestling his head in the curve of Snape's neck.

And like so many nights in the past few months, the last thing he heard before he fell asleep was Snape's voice, low and gentle in his ear. Tonight there was the faintest of chuckles before Snape whispered, "Oh ye of little faith," and then kissed him again on his fading scar.

Sequel to this is Position Filled