Chapter 1: Blink Once for Yes
When Severus Snape woke up, he was in St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, and a full month had passed since the final battle. He opened his eyes, quite groggy, and was confronted with what seemed to be an explosion of flowers and plastic balloons. He tried to sit up, and when he couldn’t, he tried to speak. But he couldn’t do that, either, as it turned out. Instead, he could only look around his bed in horror. There were teddy bears and cards and bouquets and piles of sweets. Was he in hell?
“Mr. Snape!” The healer that walked in almost dropped her clipboard in surprise when she saw that his eyes were open. He glared at her. “Goodness, Healer Venbright! Mr. Snape is awake!”
Mister. Snape thought. Great.
Another woman, older, joined the first and they moved over to his bedside. They were dressed smartly all in white, and it was a bit of a relief to have some of the violent colors around him obscured by their bodies. He opened his mouth to ask what day it was, but the new healer held up her hand.
“Mr. Snape,” she said kindly. “It is better that you do not try to speak just yet. You’ve suffered extensive damage to your throat and vocal chords, and the poison in your system has been very resistant to our attempts to purge it.” Severus raised his eyebrows at her and she seemed to understand his question. “You will, of course, regain your power of speech eventually, but we did not expect you to wake up quite so soon. There is still much work to be done.”
Severus tried to raise his hand to his neck, but it felt like all the strength had been drained from his body. He could barely lift his fingers a single inch. He let them fall, and then looked between the two witches and raised his eyes to the clock on the wall.
“The date?” the younger witch offered. Severus blinked at her. “Oh.” She looked at her superior and grimaced. “Well. It’s June the fifth.” Severus was at once very dizzy, and there was a little ringing sound in his ears. June the fifth? A month? And he’d woken up quickly? And then he realized that the ringing sound wasn’t just in his ears, it was in the room, as the nurses scrambled around him. And then he didn’t remember anything else.
The next time Snape woke up, it was dark. Well, not perfectly dark, but darker. There were a few nightlights by the door, and there was one on his bedside table, too. This one was shaped like the Slytherin crest, and he scowled at it, and then looked at the ceiling, thinking.
He felt weak, but not paralyzed. At least, not as far as he could tell. He set about trying to shift his body a little under his sheets. He could wiggle his toes, and point and flex his feet, but could not move his legs. In fact, they felt like they were cast out of lead. He could move his fingers, too, and make a fist, and he could turn his - oh, no, better not to turn his head. He could open and close his mouth, and swallowing hurt, but he could do it.
And, of course, he wasn’t dead. How in Merlin’s name was he not dead?
The door opened, and a nurse peeked in at him. Must be midnight rounds. He closed his eyes, and she left again. And after a while, he fell back asleep.
A gentle knock awoke him, and through his eyelids he could tell that daylight was streaming in the windows. He opened his eyes, and was again nearly blinded by the riot of color that was his bizarre collection of well-wishes. The door opened, and the healers walked in. This time, there was a man with them - very old - with a long white beard carefully plaited down his chest.
“Good Morning, Mr. Snape,” he said, as one of the healers beside him handed him a clipboard. “Congratulations on your return to consciousness.” Severus just stared at him. What kind of thing was that to say? Congratulations. “How are you feeling?” Severus changed his stare into a glare. Stupid idiot question. “I see. Well, my name is Healer Demeraux, and I am here to evaluate your body control. Can you move, do you think?” Severus thought about giving him two fingers but withheld it. Instead he twitched his foot. “Very good.”
The healers set about torturing him. Making him move his limbs as much as he could tolerate, and then even having him tilt his head this way and that. And that - was agonizing. But they seemed satisfied, and in the end, Healer Demeraux nodded his head, and made some notes, and then left him with the other two.
“Would you like me to tell you a little about your condition?” the older witch, Healer Venbright, asked. “Blink once for yes, twice for no.” The younger woman was watching, looking uncomfortable. He wondered if she was a trainee. And then he wondered what he looked like. He blinked once. “Well, as I’m sure you know, you were bitten by a snake.”
Yes. I know that.
“The fangs punctured your carotid artery and jugular vein, but barely missed your esophagus. We have in your file that there was blood-replenishment potion found in your system when you arrived here. Good foresight on your part.”
Get on with it.
The Healer’s eyes searched his and she flushed a little.
“Well. The venom injected into your system was a kind of neurotoxin. A paralytic. Very resistant to treatment. Your heart has stopped four times, but we have not quite lost you yet.” Severus looked up at the ceiling, wanting to roll his eyes, but not quite able to give it the force that sentence warranted. He blinked once, very hard, as if to say, YES, obviously I am not dead. Thank you.
“We’ve only recently made a breakthrough in your case, actually,” the younger healer cut in. “A new combination of purgatives and antivenins. They triggered a series of very alarming seizures, but then - you …” she looked at her supervisor and trailed off. Severus looked back at Healer Venbright, who was glaring at her underling quite fiercely. Severus felt a little better about her competence, seeing an expression like that on her face.
“Then you woke up,” Healer Venbright finished. Severus looked at her, and then at the pile of trash beside his bed, and blinked twice. “No?” she asked. He blinked twice again. No. “Would you like us to take it away? There will only be more.” Severus raised his eyebrows. “Yes. Quite a stream of gifts, really. We’ve been giving some of it away to the other patients to make room.” Severus had so many questions. But he couldn’t speak. Blast. “But I can clear some out for you, if you like.” He blinked once, and looked at the bouquet of mylar balloons. They had dancing kittens on them. Offensive.
He slept again, and when he woke next, there were four people around his bed, talking quietly and gesturing. He scratched his nails a little against the sheets to let them know he was awake.
“Oh! Mr. Snape.” It was the young one. He found he quite liked her for letting slip things he was apparently not supposed to know. He hoped she would do it more. “Good morning.”
“I’m happy to see you awake,” said Healer Demeraux. There was another wizard with him, this time. Rather tall and thin, with horn-rimmed spectacles. He looked like he didn’t get out in the sun all that much. “This is our Potions Master, Wilford Ollerton.” Severus raised his eyebrows. Master Ollerton sighed.
“Yes. Of the Ollertons,” he said.
The Ollertons had a pretty good reputation in the Potion’s world. And this man looked just like a Potions Master should. Unwell.
Healer Demeraux continued speaking.
“Your treatment team has come to the consensus that another dose of your medication might restore more movement to you. But in order to do so, we will need to put you into a magically-induced coma. Now that you are conscious, we would like your consent before moving forward.”
Alarming seizures, Severus thought. Have at me.
He blinked once.
“Are you sure?” the young healer asked. He looked at her and blinked once.
“Very good,” Healer Demeraux said, and turned to Healer Venbright. “If you would, please.” She withdrew her wand, a long and thin one of wood so dark it was almost black, and touched it to Severus’ temple. A cascade of rainbow colors rushed through him, followed immediately by darkness.
Severus could sit up, and he did. And when he did, a little bell sounded and the young healer sprinted into the room.
“Mr. Snape!” she gasped, and turned to shout out the open door. “He’s SITTING UP!”
“Abigail, Merlin, don’t shout.” Healer Venbright came in, too, and closed the door behind her. “My apologies,” she said. “This is a high-pressure case. She gets excited.” Abigail turned red. Severus looked down at his hands and flexed his fingers. Then, he raised his right arm and extended it out in front of him, and then his left. His skin was so white it was almost translucent, but here he was - moving his arms. And then, he noticed something. He turned his left arm over. His Dark Mark was gone.
“It worked. I can’t believe it worked,” Abigail whispered. “I thought he was going to die for sure.”
“Be quiet,” Venbright hissed at her. Then she turned back to Severus. “Don’t try to speak, just yet, Mr. Snape. Your throat is still very damaged and now that the paralysis has lessened you can very easily hurt yourself. You might be able to write, though, to communicate. Would you like to try that?”
Severus did want to try.
They brought him a pad of paper and a muggle pencil, explaining to him that a quill might be too difficult to wield just yet. And then they summoned a little table that could be turned to rest over his lap, and handed him the supplies.
I told you get rid of trash, he wrote. His handwriting was blocky, but legible. Abigail read it out loud and started to laugh.
“We did!” she said. “This is all new!”
How long asleep?
“Oh, four days,” she said.
Abigail looked at her boss and she shrugged. “Yeah,” she said. “Really bad ones.”
“A little bit.” She smiled at him.
How are scars?
Abigail grimaced again. She was really quite useful to have around. She was so transparent. “Well,” she began. “They’re pretty… extensive. Still healing.” Now that Severus could move around a little more he could feel a sort of strange tight sensation all the way down his right arm and the right side of his chest and back.
I want to see.
“Not just yet,” Venbright broke in. “Give it a little time.”
It’s my body.
“Just… give it time.”
Severus rolled his eyes.
Water , he wrote. They produced a little bottle with a long, thin straw, and Abigail held it for him while he sipped at it. The water hurt going down and Severus thought that he wouldn’t be able to speak for quite a while. Then, when he was done, he wrote, Newspapers. Back Issues.
“I can try to find some for you,” Abigail answered. “How far back do you want?”
Battle, he wrote.
“You should rest, now,” Venbright said. “I’ll give you something to sleep.”
“Is it Tuesday already?”
“Ha, yep. Tuesday again. I heard he’s awake. Is that true?”
“Yes! And he can write, now. Just since yesterday.”
“That’s fantastic. Can I go in?”
Severus opened his eyes, wondering what time it was. It was sunny again, which surely meant that the nine on the clock indicated nine in the morning. There were footsteps outside his door, and then a soft knock. Abigail poked her head in.
“Mr. Snape?” she asked. “Your visitor is here. Can I send him in?”
Visitor? What visitor.
But then, he should have guessed. It was Harry Potter. With an armful of newspapers.
“Hi,” Harry said, looking a little nervous. “They said you wanted papers.” Severus propped himself up against the headboard and just looked at him. He looked pretty good, all things considered. A little thin, still, as he had been at the final battle, but his hair was cut, and his clothes were clean, and his color was good. Severus supposed it had been weeks and weeks.
Harry was still lingering in the doorway, and Severus took pity on him, and gestured for him to come in. He did, and then set the papers on the bedside table and pulled up the lone chair like he’d done it before.
“How are you feeling?” he asked. Severus took his pad of paper and wrote back.
Very stupid question. Harry laughed a little. Severus wrote again. How are you?
“Me? I’m alright. Been really busy.” Severus raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, you know - Death Eater trials and statements and stuff. A lot of people want to talk to me.”
Trials? Severus wrote. Harry bent over to see, and then answered.
“Yeah. It’s a lot harder now that everyone’s Dark Marks have disappeared. The Wizengamot is relying more on testimony and memory. I have a lot of information in my brain, since I walked right into their weird base camp that night. A lot of them had their masks off.”
Me? Severus wrote.
“Oh, no, not you. I took care of that already. You can read about it in the papers all you want. I think I got most of the major ones. Here,” he rummaged in the stack he brought, and then held up a Daily Prophet for him to see.
SEVERUS SNAPE: HERO?
That was the headline, and under it, there was a picture of Harry sitting before the Wizengamot, and then a picture of Severus as headmaster. Severus put his head in his hand, wishing desperately that he could let out the groan of horrific embarrassment that was trapped inside his damaged throat. Harry chuckled.
“I’m really sorry,” he said. “But I think your choices were either prison or hero.”
Prison. Severus wrote.
“Come on, you don’t mean that.”
That’s why gifts?
“Oh, yeah. You’re an international sweetheart, now.”
“Yeah. Well,” Harry said. “You saved me.” He rummaged again in the papers and produced a later one. This time, the headline was slightly more sedate.
The Man behind the Boy Who Lived.
And underneath this was what must be the only photo of them together. Severus Snape, unconscious in this very hospital bed, and Harry in the chair he was sitting in now, looking down at him.
How picture? Severus wrote.
“Someone snuck in. I heard they actually got arrested for taking that. I dunno if that’s true or not, though.”
Severus looked at the date. May 14th.
Harry turned a little pink and looked at the floor. “Yeah,” he said. What had Severus heard when he’d woken up?
“And Fridays,” Harry answered. “I’m the only one they’ll let in, you know.”
Special treatment for Potter, Severus wrote. Harry smiled a little, and raked his hand through his hair.
“Oh, yeah, there’s a lot of that going on.”
Harry didn’t stay very long, but even so, Severus found he was quite exhausted by the visit. He slept again, and woke in the early evening. And once he was awake, he turned to the pile of papers, and found the earliest one. The morning after the battle. A huge headline blared across the entire front page:
And the subtitle:
Severus thought that was painfully dramatic, and wondered what the tabloids had said. Dark Lord No More, maybe. Or The Boy Who Lived, Again!
He looked at the picture. It was Harry, as he’d expected, scraped up and singed, holding his wand out before him like he feared reprisal.
In the story, Severus read exclusive interviews with some of the students that had stayed behind to fight. He learned that absolutely everyone thought that Harry had died. He learned that Neville Longbottom had drawn Gryffindor’s sword out of the sorting hat and chopped off Nagini’s head. Severus thought that was pretty rich. What an excellent death for Voldemort’s prized consort. Beheaded by a Longbottom. He scanned past some less relevant interviews, looking for an one with Harry, but there wasn’t one. He moved on to the next paper.
He read an article entitled: Hogwarts School - Too Damaged to Reopen? (It wasn’t)
He read: Albus Dumbledore Redeemed, and Malfoy Manor Stripped, and Death Eaters Among Us. He did not read: Severus Snape in Critical Condition, nor did he read: Honoring the Fallen, though he did look at the list of the dead. There were a lot. Some children, too.
And then, a few issues later, about a week after the final battle, he saw: Harry Potter Speaks. It was long. And it was, apparently, the first time Harry had spoken to any reporters, because the tone was breathless. He read that not only had the others thought Harry was dead, but that he had actually died. Or, at least, he’d visited death. Harry described the white light he’d seen, and how it had morphed into King’s Cross Station, and how he’d spoken to Dumbledore, and seen the maimed remnant of Voldemort’s soul. Severus thought it sounded rather like an involved hallucination. But then, Harry had needed to die to purge the splinter of the Dark Lord’s spirit from his body. So maybe he really had died, and come back to life.
He read further, about the quest for the Horcruxes, and how his friends had been invaluable, and about the escape from Malfoy Manor, and how Dobby had died. That part was rather sweet, Severus thought. How Harry described Dobby as his friend, and not a servant.
And then, a little further on, the interviewer told Harry that he’d been seen entering and exiting St. Mungo’s regularly, and asked him who he was visiting. And Harry said: “I’m visiting Severus Snape.” And the interviewer’s shocked follow-up: “What? Why him?” And then a veritable block of text.
What do you mean, why him? Without him, I would have died when I was eleven years old. Without him, I would not have known what to do to finish Voldemort, let alone been able to do it. He gave eighteen years to the cause. He almost gave his life. How dare you ask me why I am visiting him? You think because of the Mark on his arm that he was a Death Eater? He was a soldier. He fought more than anyone. He did more to defeat Voldemort than I did. And all he got for it was fear, and hate, and scars. Severus Snape is the bravest man that has ever lived. And when he recovers, I will personally see to it that he doesn’t spend a single day in Azkaban. Any more questions?
Severus could almost hear him say it. Angry, and tired, and frustrated. And based on the papers after that, the Wizarding World had been listening. Severus’ whole life had been raked over and printed again, and again. There was a picture of him as a boy, standing in front of his parents, published under the headline: The Tortured Soul of Severus Snape. There was an unforgivable artist’s rendering of him sitting at the Headmaster’s desk, staring dramatically out the window under the headline: The Headmaster’s Last Secret. Someone had even dredged up his NEWT scores and published those.
He flipped through the papers, numb with shock. Harry hadn’t even needed to wait until Severus woke up to exonerate him. Once the reporters had started digging, Harry was summoned to the Wizengamot, and had testified for five hours as to Severus’ position in the Order of the Phoenix. This coverage, too, was breathless. And where the early depictions of his life had not been flattering, these later ones were positively rosy. And then, finally, the issue Harry had held up for him, first. SEVERUS SNAPE: HERO?
The Wizengamot had unanimously exonerated him. He’d been awarded the Order of Merlin First Class. There was going to be a statue. And that, he hoped, would be completed only if he died. And maybe he could still manage that. If he died, he would never have to face whoever was sending all these fucking flowers to him.
Harry came back on Friday, and when he appeared, Severus chucked a stuffed bunny at him. It didn’t have enough force to make it quite to the door, and it squeaked forlornly when it hit the ground. Harry stooped down to pick it up.
“I figured you’d be mad about the papers,” he said, setting the bunny down on the side table and pulling up his chair. “That’s why I brought them all at once. So you could be mad all at once, too.”
Severus scrawled on his pad of paper: You ruined my life.
“Was it good, before?” Harry asked. Severus rolled his eyes and looked away, and then wrote again.
Order of Merlin.
“Yeah,” Harry answered. “And a statue.” Severus looked at the ceiling. “I saw the design of it, actually. You’ll hate it. It’s got Dumbledore and me, too. It’s terrible.” He laughed. “The three of us are sort of standing in a triangle, facing out, with our wands en garde. It’s the worst.”
Not Hogwarts, Severus wrote.
“No, I think it’s supposed to replace the fountain of magical brethren at the Ministry. Pretty funny considering how much harder the Ministry made everything.” He laughed again. “Jerks.”
Severus watched him laugh for a while, thinking. Then, he wrote: Thank you.
“For ruining your life?”
Harry smiled. “Even Steven,” he said.
Chapter 2: Potions Idiot
It took two more weeks for Severus to be able to say a single word. He slept a lot, maybe twenty hours a day, and each time he woke up it felt like he had a tiny bit more movement, and a little less pain. And in that time, Harry came each Tuesday and Friday, as he’d said he would. And each time he came, he brought fresh newspapers, and then, when Severus asked him, a couple of books, and a chess set. Harry chattered at him about how the survivors were doing, and how the cleanup efforts at Hogwarts were progressing, and the like, and Severus wrote back his terse little answers whenever Harry paused for breath. He gave Harry all the sweets he was getting, too, and Harry quite happily ate box after box of sugary garbage. And then, that last friday, Severus spoke.
“Your visitor,” Abigail said, opening the door.
“Thank you,” Severus answered. His voice was rough, and raw, and it crackled, but it was audible. Abigail shrieked, and Healer Venbright appeared in the doorway behind her.
“Was that him?” That was Harry’s voice, from out in the hall.
“Mister Snape,” Venbright said. “Did that hurt?” Severus shook his head no, but then stopped, and nodded. It had hurt. No reason to lie. “May I see?” She produced her wand, and approached him, and then directed him to open his mouth, shining a thin beam of light down his throat. After a moment she clicked her tongue. “The lesions are smaller, but you still aren’t ready to talk. I’m sorry.” Severus glared at her. “You could damage your vocal cords. Unless you’d like to end up mute, after all.”
Thank you for insight, Severus wrote, and held it up at her. She glared back. Go, now. I have a visitor. She went, and Harry came in.
“So, almost ready to scream at me?” he asked, and sat down.
No screaming yet, Severus wrote. Chess?
They played chess, and Harry talked to him, and Severus found that it really was quite a relief to have someone to interact with who wasn’t a healer. And Potter himself wasn’t so unpleasant, now that the stakes weren’t as high. Now that the war was over, he was just a boy.
After Harry left again, Severus looked through the new newspapers he’d brought. The cover-to-cover Wizard War coverage was finally beginning to thin out a bit. There was a story about the new Minister of Magic’s hobby of old-fashioned muggle jousting squashed in between a story about the merits of mixed-blood heritage and one rehashing Harry Potter’s adventures with Voldemort’s disembodied consciousness camped out inside Quirrel’s turban. This story, too, had a bit of Severus in it. Hermione Granger was quoted as apologizing for setting his robes on fire.
Even then, Severus Snape was working to save Harry Potter!
He rolled his eyes and tossed the paper on the floor.
“Mister Snape.” It was Abigail. Severus raised a hand at her. “Healer Demeraux wants you to walk today.”
Speaking had hurt. Walking was much worse. It was like an intense, unrelenting sensation of pins and needles in his feet and legs that somehow managed to feel hot, and cold, and numb, and sharp, and tearing, all at once. And he wasn’t even allowed to curse at them. What misery.
He almost fainted, or so Abigail said later.
Another dose? Severus wrote, after they let him get back in bed. For legs.
“I dunno,” Abigail answered. “Might do more harm than good.”
Crippled, Severus wrote.
“You’re improving,” Abigail countered. “With physical therapy, you might be able to walk comfortably with a cane.”
Ask for me.
“I will. Shall I take some of these papers away?” Severus nodded.
Take flowers, leave candy, he wrote.
“I gotta be honest, I really want you to be able to talk,” Harry said. “I have a lot of questions. And you only have that little pad of paper.”
What questions? Severus wrote. It was another Tuesday, and Severus was trying hard not to speak. He was waiting for his treatment team to decide if he could have his legs back, so he needed to behave.
“Oh, so many,” Harry answered.
If you ask, I can write out answers while you are away.
Harry read this and frowned a little. “Yeah?” he asked.
If you like, Severus wrote. And then, I have a question, too.
Why did you say what you said?
“What, in the interview?” Severus nodded. “What do you mean, why? It was just the truth.” Severus scowled at him.
No, he wrote.
“Yeah it is,” Harry said. “Who else could have done what you did? No one, that’s who. No one on earth would have been able to stand at the right hand of Voldemort and the left hand of Dumbledore and live all the way to see it through. No one .”
Severus put his pencil to his paper but couldn’t think of anything to write. He looked at the paper and then back at Harry, and Harry, seeming a little embarrassed, looked out the window.
What questions? Severus wrote. Harry looked back as he heard his pencil scratching.
“It’s ok,” he said. “They’re too big. I’ll wait until you can talk.”
Long answers might be hard for a while.
“You need to understand that if we put you through this again you might not wake up,” Healer Demeraux said. “The cocktail we’ve been giving you is dangerous. It strips the venom off of your nerve fibers, but it could easily do more than that. If we overshoot, you could die.”
What exactly is it? Severus wrote.
“He’s not here today.”
No, Severus wrote. I am a Potions Master. Give ingredients.
Demeraux read this and looked at him appraisingly. “I suppose I knew that,” he said slowly. “I’ll bring you the recipe.”
They brought him a scroll, tightly furled, and Severus read it through and then asked to meet with Ollerton. He came on a Wednesday, and Severus had a note ready for him.
Are you trying to kill me? This has hemlock and cycad seeds in it. And alkaline Curarine. Tell me you decanted it with an acid.
Master Ollerton read this and glared at him.
“Of course I decanted it with an acid,” he said. “You’re alive, aren’t you?”
Severus handed him another note.
Did you take a blood sample from me when I arrived?
And then the next note, already written. He had written two, in fact. One that just said, you are incompetent, and one that said:
If you still have it, as I’m sure you do, use it to isolate a serum. If I was as full of venom as they say I was, it might be enough. Take out the Curarine and the hemlock. Double the cycad seeds. Treat with acid. Put me out and when I wake up I’ll be able to walk.
Master Ollerton frowned as he read it, and then he read it again, his eyes moving slowly over each word.
“You must be a terror when you can speak,” he said after a while. Severus inclined his head. “I’ll try it.”
When Harry came back on Friday, Severus had not yet regained consciousness, and he left the papers, stayed for a while, and then went into the hall, worried. He asked Abigail what had happened, and she told him that Snape had insisted on another dose of his medication even though it was dangerous.
“Jeez, why?” Harry asked.
“He wants to walk,” she answered.
“He can’t walk?”
“Not too well, no.”
“So, what, he just demanded another dose?”
“No, he changed the recipe first. Our Potions specialist was pretty offended.” Harry laughed.
“Did he? Well, if he changed the recipe he’ll probably wake up soon.”
He did. He woke up Monday morning, and set off his little alarm swinging his legs over the edge of the bed to look at his bare feet. They were quite white, and his nails needed a trim. Abigail skidded into the doorway, saw him sitting up like that, and seemed just about ready to swoon.
“Mister Snape!” she whispered. “Thank Merlin.”
Severus raised his arms over his head and stretched, extending his legs and flexing his toes. He felt like he’d been in bed for a year. And then he stood up, and passed right out.
When he woke up again he had a bandage around his head, and Healer Demeraux was frowning down at him. Healer Demeraux seemed to be the healer he got when he was in trouble.
“Welcome back,” Demeraux said. “You hit your head on the edge of your bedside table.” Severus felt the bandages around his temple, and then raised his hands as if to say, whoops. “You know curarine causes a drop in blood pressure, I’m sure.”
Severus reached out for his pad of paper and wrote: I said no curarine.
“Well, you aren’t in charge here.”
I was right.
Oh, good. A Potter day.
“Abby tells me that you bossed the Potions Master around,” Harry said, mowing his way through a box of what appeared to be wine gums shaped like little hearts. Severus nodded. “And she said you were right and now you can stand up better.” He nodded again. “What happened to your head?”
Potions idiot didn’t listen. Passed out. Wrong ingredient.
“Ha. Hopefully he’ll remember who you are, next time. How’s your voice?”
Severus swallowed, and tapped his pencil a little against the paper. He could try, now, probably. “Weak,” he said. Harry smiled, and it was positively radiant.
“Wow! I feel like you just gave me a gift. You sound a lot better than last time.”
“Been… sleeping,” Severus said, and then tensed up against a terrifying urge to cough. Because that, he knew, would hurt. A lot. Harry looked alarmed.
“Abby?” he called out. Abigail appeared in the doorway.
“Oh,” she gasped, and produced the bottle of water. Severus took a few long pulls from the straw and the urge to cough passed. He took a deep breath. “Ok?” He nodded at her.
That’s all you get today, he wrote.
“That was more than ever before,” Harry answered. “I bet in a week you’ll be calling me Potter again and everything.” Severus scowled at him.
Potter is your name, he wrote.
“Most everyone calls me Harry at this point. Well, some people just sort of scream when they see me, but other than that it seems like the whole Wizarding World is on a first name basis with me.”
Severus thought of something, then.
Where are you staying? Not Hogwarts.
“No, not Hogwarts,” Harry laughed. “That would be nice, though. When it’s all fixed up, at least. I’m staying at Number 12. It’s mine. I inherited it.”
“With Kreacher. He’s pretty ok, now. He’s a good cook. And people come to visit a lot. It’s not bad having a little time to myself.” Severus nodded. That, he understood very well.
Chess? he wrote.
Healer Venbright was shining her light down his throat again, but this time the noise she made was not quite as disapproving.
“Well,” she said. “Your throat is still pretty damaged, but the lesions are a little smaller. How much does it hurt to swallow?” Severus held up three fingers. “Very good. Say something for me, if you would, please.”
“Will I - need - a cane?” he asked. Venbright nodded in satisfaction, and Severus couldn’t tell if she was answering him or just reacting to his voice. “Yes?”
“Oh, the cane? Maybe at first. Not for the long term, though. How did speaking feel? Painful?” Severus held up four fingers. “The longer you can stand being silent, the faster you’ll heal,” she said. “The more you speak, the longer it will take.” He nodded, and reached for his pad.
Timeline? he wrote.
“We might be ready to discharge you by the end of July.”
Severus grimaced. Another month in this blasted room. Oh, well. It’s not like he had anywhere to go.
“Morning,” Severus said slowly, as Harry came in with his usual armful of periodicals. He stopped short half-way to the bedside and grinned.
“Morning! Are you allowed to talk now?”
“Some,” Severus answered. “Saving it - for - you.”
Harry moved to sit in his chair, sliding his papers onto the bedside table next to a tower of boxed chocolates. “You sound ok, you know,” he said. “Just sort of… gravelly. It hurts, though, doesn’t it?”
“It sounds a little like it does. You don’t have to talk to me, you know. If it hurts.”
“Need to - ” he swallowed and winced. “Practice.” Then he reached out for the pad and switched to writing. They say that the longer I stay silent the faster I will heal. So that’s all for today. How is Number 12?
“Oh, yeah. Almost all of the defensive charms are still on. If people found out where I lived that might be a problem.”
Fill your house with plushes and flowers?
Harry laughed. “Yeah. I mean, I still get tons of stuff. It just gets routed to Hogwarts. I think Minerva is quite cross with me. But she gets all the sweets, so I suppose she can’t get too angry.”
Severus smirked imagining flocks of owls descending on the Headmistress every morning with package after package after package. And Potter’s birthday was coming up pretty soon, too, wasn’t it? That might be a public emergency. Owls blotting out the sun as they flew en-masse to find Harry Potter and shower him in gifts.
“What’s funny?” Harry asked.
You’re such a nuisance, Severus wrote. Harry turned pink.
“If I’m so annoying you should have just let me die,” he said. There was humor in his voice, but Severus wasn’t sure if it was genuine. Surely he couldn’t mean that, though, in any case. He’d won the war.
Which time? Severus wrote.
“Oh, I suppose that first time would have prevented a lot of trouble.”
Quirrell, you mean.
Just let you fall to your death at age 11.
“Yup. Too bad you’re such a hero, Professor Snape.”
Severus rolled his eyes, and wrote - I hate that.
“Being called a hero?”
“It’s quite awkward, isn’t it?”
How are your friends?
“Ron and Hermione?” Severus nodded. “They’re doing ok. Hermione had to go to Australia to get her parents, but they’re both staying at the Weasley’s these days.”
Weasleys all make it out?
Harry looked away. “Not all of them, no.” He turned away, and didn’t look back around, even at the sound of Severus writing, so he said it out loud, instead.
“I’m - sorry.”
Harry did look back, then, and gave him a small, sad smile. “We tried to save everyone, didn’t we? We did try.”
They had tried. They had tried desperately, and so had many others. How could he answer? There were thousands of words inside of him but he couldn’t speak. What could he do?
Severus hesitated, and then reached out and brushed the very tips of his fingers across the back of Harry’s hand. He thought that he might pull away when he did that, but Harry didn’t move, other than to frown so minutely that it was hardly an expression at all. It was almost as if he was trying not to react, and Severus thought that maybe he could speak a little bit more, if he was careful. It seemed warranted - or even - necessary.
“Yes,” he began. “We did - try - to save - them all.” That hurt quite badly coming out, and Severus knew he had said too much for one day as the coppery tang of blood welled up at the back of his throat. He covered his mouth with his hand, and Harry’s eyes followed the movement.
“That hurt you,” he said. “Did that hurt you?” Severus nodded. “Abby?” Harry called out.
She poked her head in the door. “Yes?”
“I think he - said too much,” Harry said, and looked back at Severus’ face. “He needs Venbright.”
They sent Harry out.
“Just how much blood are you intending to ingest, Mister Snape? A quart?” Venbright asked, shining her little light down his throat. “You tore open two of the lesions. What was so important to say that you pushed through the pain?” She pulled back and Severus glared at her.
Just fix it, he wrote.
“I can’t just fix it. It’s a magical wound. You have to wait.” He rolled his eyes. “You might have set yourself back weeks.”
Bollocks, he thought.
Chapter 3: Tuesdays and Fridays
Severus didn’t say a single word the next time Harry came to visit, but they did go for a short walk around the hospital. He didn’t like it very much. The corrections to his medications hadn’t done nearly as much as he’d expected. He still felt terribly weak, and disconnected from his body, and he certainly didn't like being seen like that. But he refused a cane, and he made it all the way to the other side of the building before regretting it severely.
“You’re looking a little bit grey,” Harry said to him, as they looked out the window at the courtyard in the center of the hospital. “Professor?” Severus squinted at the sun reflecting off of the pond outside, and when he looked back over at Potter he found that the bright spots of light were still in his vision. Did he say grey? “Ooh, okay,” Harry continued, taking his arm. “Let’s sit down.” He tugged Severus over to one of the many benches in the hallway and sat him on it. Severus tried to sit up straight but folded almost at once as the sun-spots in his eyes multiplied. He put his head down between his knees and breathed. After a moment, he felt a very light, tentative touch on his back, and he sat up again. Harry jerked his hand away. “Sorry,” he said. “Are you alright?”
Severus made an “OK” sign with his fingers, and then leaned his head back against the wall.
“Let’s just sit for a minute,” Harry said, and Severus nodded and closed his eyes. “Is this the farthest you’ve walked so far?” Severus nodded again. “Abby told me before that you wanted another dose of that horrible medication so you could walk properly. Suppose it worked, then. At least a little.” Severus nodded again, thinking that Harry Potter had spoken to him more in the last month than in the previous seven years combined. Must be because he couldn’t say anything caustic back. It was rather hard to be rude when you could only write notes. And he didn’t even have his notepad.
After a moment he opened his eyes again, and his vision was clear. He looked over at Harry looking at him, and raised his eyebrows as if to ask, ‘still grey?’ Harry seemed to understand.
“Now you’re more … kind of… white. I guess that’s better? Do you want to sit for a while longer, or go back?” Severus looked back at the windows, and the sunlight streaming through them, and rather did want to go back. But back to the dungeons. Back to his life before all of this. Or earlier than that, maybe. Back to Harry’s first year at Hogwarts. Start right over again.
He nodded his head and tilted it back the way they had come, and Harry stood first and then offered his arm. Severus just looked at it for a moment, weighing the relative merits of submitting to his help, or falling and cracking his head open again. He took the help.
Back in his hospital room, he got back into bed and closed his eyes. He didn’t really feel dizzy - more tired, he supposed. Or… depleted. Absolutely exhausted, if he was honest with himself. Like his life force had been sucked right out of him.
He could hear Harry lingering by his bedside. Breathing and shuffling his feet. And then Harry spoke, and his voice was soft.
“I’m sorry, you know,” he said. “I was right there. I could have done something. I could have - kept this from happening to you.” Severus opened his eyes and looked at the ceiling for a moment, and then reached for his notebook.
There was no other way, he wrote. It had to happen.
Harry frowned at him like he knew that Severus was really saying that he deserved it. And that was rather what he meant, wasn’t it?
“I don’t think that’s true.”
Take some of the candy with you. It’s piling up.
Why is he visiting me? Severus wrote, and showed the paper to Abigail.
“Why?” she repeated. “What do you mean? I thought he was your protégé or something. That’s what I read in the papers.”
Severus shook his head no.
He hates me, Severus wrote. Abby shrugged like she thought that was stupid.
“Well, he doesn’t seem like he hates you.” She sat down in the chair beside Severus’ bed, and straightened her white healer’s cap. “He came every day for the first two weeks, you know. We had to send him away.” Severus raised his eyebrows. “Yeah. He wasn’t that well, either, then. He used to fall asleep in the chair a lot.” Severus stared at her.
That cannot be true, he wrote.
“It is, though. I can show you the logs, if you want.”
Abigail got up and went to the nurse’s station, and came back with a large binder. She flipped through it and then turned it to face him. Severus looked down at the page. It was the visitor’s log from the month of May, and Harry Potter had signed his name on the 7th, the 8th, the 9th, the 11th, and the 12th. The 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 19th, and 20th. Every single day that wasn’t a Sunday. He supposed no one could come on Sundays. He touched one finger to the signature on May the 20th and looked up at Abigail.
“That’s when we told him he couldn’t keep coming every day.” She pointed to the days after that. His signature on the 22nd, and the 26th, and then the 29th. And then June the 2nd. “Tuesdays and Fridays. And then you woke up.” She beamed at him. Severus touched the signature from the 5th.
He came that day? he wrote.
“Oh, yeah. Not while you were awake, though. You were only lucid for a few minutes.”
I remember. He paused. What was he doing here, while I was asleep?
“Mostly just sitting, I guess. He didn’t really talk to any of us for days and days. He seemed kind of shell-shocked. Just stared at the wall, or at you. It was kind of sad. We mostly left him alone.”
“Happy Friday! How is he doing?”
Severus opened his eyes and looked at the clock. Nine in the morning. Harry Potter had never been so punctual in school.
“He might still be asleep,” Abigail answered. “Let me see.”
Severus sat up against the headboard and folded his hands over his lap.
“Oh! Morning Mister Snape. Your visitor is here. Can I send him in?” He nodded and Harry came in looking rather sun-pinked and wearing a t-shirt with a snitch on it.
“Hullo,” he said, drawing up the chair. “Any more fun times being made to walk and talk?” Severus shook his head no.
Not since your last visit, he wrote.
“How’s your throat?”
Fair. You seem sunburned. What have you been up to?
Harry read this and laughed. “I've been trying to get the courtyard at Number 12 in order. Lots of overgrown thorny weeds and vines and stuff. Look.” He held up his arms to show how scratched up he was.
You’re a wizard, Severus wrote.
“Yeah. I don't know any of those house-holdy spells though. And I like to get out in the air, sometimes, you know.” Severus shrugged. He did look good with a little color. Healthier. Like an eighteen-year old boy instead of a wounded veteran. Severus did not look good. He hadn’t seen underneath the bandages yet, but he knew.
Why are you visiting me? he wrote. Harry read this and squinted.
“Why?” he asked. Severus nodded. “Well. I guess…” he frowned a little and pressed his lips together, looking at his hands. “With Dumbledore gone, I suppose you’re the only one who knows… what really - I mean. Everyone thinks I’m a hero.”
“You are a - hero,” Severus said. It hurt a little, but not that bad. He was rather pleased. Harry looked back up at him.
“So are you,” he said.
No, I'm not, Severus wrote.
When Harry smiled at him it looked sad. “That’s why.”
Severus let that pass. They showed me the log. You came every day.
“Oh, yeah. They had to kick me out.”
Are you alright?
“I’m fine,” he said, and that time, his smile didn’t look sad. It looked fake. “I won the war.”
Yes, you did. Chess?
The following Monday Severus submitted to using a cane to walk around the corridors. He figured it would be better to try it out at least once before Harry came back. It wouldn’t do to faint in front of him, after all. And the cane did help, at least a little, even though Abigail insisted on coming with him.
“You can’t go by yourself,” she said when Severus glared at her. “You might have … a bad reaction.” He figured Harry must have told her about his turning colors the last time. Or maybe she had noticed that when they’d come back Harry had been helping him. Either way, he was not happy about it. And with the cane, he couldn’t write anything. He could only glower.
They walked back to the same widow he and Harry had visited, only this time his vision remained clear. Maybe he really was getting better. He looked down at the pond and the people sitting out in the courtyard and swallowed hard. Maybe he could try again, now.
“Abby,” he began slowly, speaking very carefully. “Scars?”
She scrunched up her face, and looked out the window, too.
“Healer Venbright told me not to say.”
“Why?” It was starting to hurt a little bit. He should save his voice for tomorrow.
“I think she’s afraid you will be… unhappy about it.” Severus raised his eyebrows at her. “I know. It’s stupid. But I have to do what she tells me. Ask her again tomorrow, maybe, and see what she says.”
Severus nodded, and they turned around, and made their way slowly back to his room. He spent the rest of the afternoon writing out a few notes in anticipation of a fight with Healer Venbright, and then a few for Harry, too, just in case. While he was writing them out he thought of what Abigail had told him about Harry sleeping in his chair those first few days, and about Granger and Weasley at the Burrow, and about the squalid gloom of Number 12, and about Harry’s sunburn. And he thought about Dumbledore, dead for over a year, and Lupin, dead, and Sirius and James, dead, and Lily, dead, and Severus here, in St. Mungo’s. Harry was alone, wasn’t he? Alone in a crowd of fawning well-wishers, or locked up in Number 12 with Kreacher. Or here, at the hospital, with him.
“It’s too soon,” Healer Venbright said. “You are still very weak and if you upset yourself you’ll delay your healing.”
Severus had done pretty well anticipating her arguments so far, having handed her notes that said things like, it’s my body. I deserve to see how I look, and, I’m a grown man you cannot control me, and, if you don’t let me see what I look like under these bandages I’ll make your life a living hell. But he hadn’t expected the phrase, “upset yourself.” What was he, a wounded baby bird?
FUCK YOU, he scrawled out.
“There’s no need for language like that,” Venbright said.
I’ll rip them off.
“If you do that I'll put you on an involuntary psychiatric hold.”
“I don’t think you fully appreciate what would happen if you did that. The puncture site is packed with gauze. If, for example, you waited until the middle of the night to tear off your dressings, you would rip out the clots and bleed to death in short order. And imagine how Harry Potter would feel if you did that.”
Severus glared fiercely at her.
Low blow, he wrote.
“You’ll have the rest of your life to look at your scars, Mr. Snape,” she said. “Don’t be in such a hurry.”
“How was your week?” Harry asked him. Severus handed him a box of chocolate cauldrons with a note, and he took it.
The Healers are not pleased with me.
“No? What did you do?”
I wanted to see my scar.
“They still won’t let you? Why?”
Apparently it will upset me.
“That’s kind of … ominous.” He frowned, and his eyes traveled over the tape holding Severus’ bandages together. “Did you try to take them off?” Severus shook his head no, and then wrote again.
They told me it’s still open.
“Still? Jeez. What kind of fucking venom was in that snake?”
They told me not to curse, too.
“Ha. What are you, a ward of the state? I hope they appreciate how lucky they are that you can’t talk very much.”
That question gave Severus pause. He’d been in this private room, with around-the-clock care, for almost two months now. And Abigail certainly seemed to be his personal nurse. And his room was spacious. Definitely not standard. Who was paying for this?
He should ask. He had some money, but… not this much. Surely this was costing a fortune. He should ask Abigail if there was a bill somewhere that he needed to see. Probably they would withhold that, too, to keep from upsetting him.
He handed one of his prepared notes to Harry.
How is your project at Number 12? Is it still a squalid den of iniquity and rats?
Harry chuckled. “Pretty much, yeah. It’s a lot cleaner, but it’s still … you know. Kind of - dark.”
Severus nodded and searched through what he’d written. Is anyone helping you fix it up?
“No, just me. But that’s ok. I like to stay busy.”
I know a lot of, as you say,‘house-holdy’ spells. Maybe when I am discharged I can teach you. It’s a lot easier than Occlumency, and if you don’t get it right for a while you won’t die and the world won’t end.
Harry laughed again. “I’m still getting used to the stakes not being so high. It’s weird not being in mortal peril all the time. But, yeah, that would be good. Every time I come home the ghost of Albus Dumbledore asks if I’m you.”
Severus was so startled that he spoke out loud. “Still?” he asked. “Doesn’t that - upset you?” His voice sounded like he’d gargled with broken glass, but it wasn’t so painful, today. At least not so far.
“Wow, a whole sentence,” Harry answered. “And no, it’s ok. It doesn’t bother me much anymore. That tongue thing isn’t very fun, though.”
“I can take that off.” That time Severus’ voice cracked and that did hurt. He went back to the notepad. I can take those charms off, he wrote. When I’m better.
“Yeah? I’d appreciate that, actually. I was going to ask Hermione but she’s kind of … busy. Did they say when you might be discharged?”
End of July, Severus wrote. I don’t think so, though.
Not if I still can’t take off my bandages. Or speak.
“You spoke to me just now.”
Severus shrugged. I think it will take longer than that, he wrote.
“Well, however long it takes, then.” Severus thought about that.
Will you do me a favor?
“Sure,” Harry answered. “What?”
Venbright won’t tell me the truth.
“You want me to try to ask her what’s under your bandages?” Severus nodded.
Whatever information you can get.
“Want my unmatched skill at wheedling forbidden knowledge out of people, do you?”
Yes I do.
Harry ran his hand through his hair. “I can try,” he said. “I think she might be legally obligated to tell me, actually.”
“Oh, I’m your guarantor.”
Severus looked up at him, alarmed. You aren’t, he wrote. Harry flushed.
“Oh. You didn’t know? I thought you - I mean, wow. I’m sorry. That’s why they let me in. I’m … paying for you.” He gestured around at the room, and then folded his hands like he was worried he’d be scolded.
No, Severus wrote.
“It’s ok,” Harry said. “I have the money. And when I came that first time you were in - a sort of - barracks. I couldn’t allow that.”
“Harry,” Severus said, and stopped. The faster he got better, the sooner he could leave, and the sooner Harry could stop hemorrhaging money on his behalf. He should try harder not to speak. Even though he felt like he might actually explode with questions.
“Are you angry?” Harry asked. Severus turned back to his paper.
No, he wrote. Confused.
“I really thought you knew. I figured you’d read all the articles about yourself.”
He hadn’t, though, had he? He hadn’t read Severus Snape in Critical Condition. He’d read all the articles about Harry, though, and none of them had gushed about this incredible generosity.
“It’s the least I could do. You saved me. And not once. Like thirty times. I wasn’t going to let you stay in some room with a bunch of strangers. Reporters and photographers and stuff. No way.”
Severus imagined what that would have been like. Waking up in a group ward. Disoriented, and paralyzed, and not dead. And where would he be if Harry hadn’t testified for him? Maybe he would have woken up in Azkaban, unable to move or speak, and instead of having Abigail, he would have had a Dementor staring down at him.
I’m in your debt, he wrote.
“No,” Harry answered firmly. “We’re even.”
Harry was paying his hospital bills. He was visiting twice a week, and bringing him papers and books. He’d testified for him, and cleared his name, and kept on coming back.
He’d won the war but he wasn’t resting. Maybe he couldn’t.
“Harry,” Severus said again, and held out his hand. Harry just looked at it for a moment, wary, and then took it like he was expecting a handshake. But Severus did not shake his hand. It didn’t seem good enough. Instead, he raised it to his lips and pressed a kiss to his knuckles. He did it on a whim - and although he didn’t have any idea what Harry would do, he certainly didn’t expect him to blush quite as radiantly as he did. And when Harry left a little while later, Severus did not expect a kiss on the cheek, but that’s what he got.
A kiss on the cheek.
“She told me that you aren’t healing properly and that the Potions Master doesn’t know what’s wrong with you.”
Well, no wonder they won’t let me look.
“I don’t think she likes me as much now. I got a little bit… upset.”
“Well, yeah. I kind of… shouted at her… that I didn’t expect St. Mungo’s to employ such incompetent healers.”
If you make me laugh I’ll probably cough blood.
“Sorry,” Harry answered. “But that’s what I said.”
And what was her defense?
“She said that the venom in your system isn’t normal. I told her that Nagini wasn’t a normal snake, and that if she had half a brain she would know that already.”
Ha, Severus wrote.
“Like I said. I lost my temper.” Harry was sitting on the edge of his bed, and not the chair. He seemed rather agitated. His knee was jiggling up and down. “If you die after all this I’ll burn this place to the ground.”
Don’t say that out loud, Severus wrote. You’ll get banned.
“And then who would lose to you at chess and eat all your candy?” Harry sighed.
There was a knock at the door, and Abigail, Venbright, Demeraux and Ollerton all walked in.
Look, you’re in trouble.
“Mr. Potter,” Demeraux said, offering his hand. Harry stood up to shake it. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
“I’m afraid I can’t say the same, under the circumstances,” Harry answered, and Severus was rather surprised to see that he suddenly looked more like a man than a boy. Something about his body language. Annoyed, and frustrated, and - well, rather protective. “Are you the Healer in charge of this case?”
“I am,” Demeraux answered, and then gestured to Ollerton. “And this is our Potions Master, Wilford Ollerton.” Harry's eyes flicked over to Severus and Severus knew he was thinking, potions idiot? He tried hard to keep his expression neutral.
“Good day,” Ollerton said.
“Likewise,” Harry answered tersely.
“Healer Venbright has brought it to my attention that you are somewhat less than satisfied with Mr. Snape’s treatment here,” Demeraux said.
“Well, he isn’t getting any better, is he?” Harry said.
“He is making improvement.”
Harry looked over at Snape. “Are you making improvement, Professor Snape?” he asked. “Give me a nice, long, thorough answer, if you can. And try not to let the agony show on your face.” He glared back at the healers. “I’ll get you a bucket for the blood, shall I?” Severus raised his eyebrows.
“Well,” Demeraux said, rather startled. “I mean. His injuries are extensive. You have to give it time.”
“It’s been two months.”
“He was on death’s door.”
“Is that a technical term?” Harry sneered. He looked back at Severus. “Do you feel that your healers have been honest with you, Professor Snape?” Snape met his eyes and shook his head no. “Have they been giving you all the information you ask for?” He shook his head again, no. Harry turned back to the assembled healers. “I’ve gotten the impression that you don’t really appreciate who this is,” he said.
“We are aware of who he is,” Demeraux said.
Abigail looked terrified. Severus would have to tell Harry to make sure she didn’t get fired. She hadn’t been lying to him, at least not as far as he could tell.
“Are you?” Harry continued. “This is Severus Snape. And you think keeping him in the dark about his own condition is helpful, do you? I heard about the medication, Master Ollerton. I’d have thought you’d learned your lesson.”
Severus imagined this is what he must have sounded like during his interview. It was a little impressive, actually. Quite nice to have his fury pointed at someone else for a change, too.
“He needs to rest,” Demeraux answered lamely.
“He is resting. But it does no good to lie. ”
“What would you prefer, then?”
Harry looked back to Severus. “What do you want? Records? Ingredients lists?” Severus shrugged, and Harry faced the four of them. “He wants everything,” he said. “His entire file, plus speculations, notes, vitals, photos, protocols. Everything.” The healers looked at each other.
“Yes. Everything you have. A bigger table, too.” He met Severus’ gaze and raised an eyebrow. Severus mimed opening a scroll. “Parchment and quills, too. Proper writing materials.” Harry crossed his arms over his chest. “Bill me.”
“Mr. Potter,” Demeraux said slowly. “This is highly irregular.”
“I’ll be expecting everything to be in order on Friday when I come back.”
“Harry,” Severus said quietly, and nodded at Abigail. Harry looked over at her practically cowering against the wall.
“Oh, we like Abby, though. She’s doing a great job.” He smiled brightly at her, and then glared at the others. “If he dies no one will ever trust this place again. Believe me.”
“Is that a threat?” Ollerton asked.
“I don’t threaten,” Harry answered, and Severus thought that he had never heard Harry Potter sound more threatening than he did right now. Hadn’t ever thought of Potter as threatening before, in fact.
Chapter 4: Speak
Severus was quite busy the next day, as around noon an orderly came in with a wheeled cart stacked with papers and scrolls. And then another orderly followed behind, with a folding table and a case of quills and ink. Severus almost laughed out loud. Potter had been unleashed by the end of the war, it seemed. He’d just bulldozed over the entire senior staff of the most prestigious hospital in Britain. And they deserved it.
It wasn’t quite so funny once he’d gotten through some of the records, though. He’d thought they’d been exaggerating when they told him his heart had stopped four times. They weren’t exaggerating. He read in Demeraux’s notes that he’d only barely escaped brain-death more than once. And there were pictures. Gruesome ones.
Looking at them, he knew that whenever he got these bandages off, he would be horribly disfigured. Looking at them, too, he wondered how he hadn’t died. He’d taken blood-replenishing potions, true, but how could it have been enough? He put the photos aside, and turned to the treatment file.
They’d tried a lot. Every antivenin known to man. Restoratives, purgatives, counter-jinxes, antitoxin, muggle remedies. That awful concoction of Ollerton’s, and then, of course, Severus’ revisions. His note was tucked in with the recipe, and he saw that Ollerton had, as he’d known, kept the curarine despite Severus’ instructions. And he’d done something else, too. He read Ollerton’s entire notes through twice to be sure he wasn’t mistaken.
Ollerton hadn’t isolated a serum from Severus’ blood.
He’d used stored serum.
From another patient.
A patient that had been bitten by a fucking basilisk. And Nagini wasn’t a basilisk. She was a Maledictus. They’d been treating him like he’d been bitten by a magical snake. But he hadn’t been. He’d been bitten by Nagini, and Nagini was not a snake. She was a cursed person, and a horcrux, and they didn’t know that because no one knew that. Just Severus, and Albus, and Voldemort. And they were dead, weren’t they? They were fucking dead, and so was she. And Severus was trapped, in here, with these unforgivable dolts. And he was probably going to die, too. Of stupidity.
I told you to use my blood for a serum, Severus wrote.
“Your sample was too small,” Ollerton replied. “It wouldn’t have been enough.”
You gave me Basilisk serum.
“It’s more powerful than anything else. It worked, didn’t it?”
No. It didn’t work. I was bitten by a Maledictus, not an animal.
Ollerton’s eyes moved slowly over this sentence, and his eyebrows furrowed. “A Maledictus?” he asked. “But… those… are extinct.”
Severus rolled his eyes.
“I mean… aren’t they?”
You are making me tired. What happened to my blood sample? It isn’t in these notes.
“It’s gone. I tried to isolate from it but there wasn’t enough. You hardly had any blood left in your body when you got here. Demeraux couldn’t take any more.”
So, what? That’s it?
“I’ve never even heard of someone being bitten by a Maledictus.”
“Mister Snape - ”
Oh, fuck, what a mistake.
Severus seized his own throat, overcome with agony. Ollerton backed out of the room, and Abigail skidded in.
“Was that you?” she gasped. “Merlin, Mister Snape, what were you thinking?”
The painkiller they gave him was strong enough that he slept for an entire day, and when he woke up, he was still in pain, and very, very angry. He scratched out a long letter to Demeraux, ripping him apart for his incompetence, and then shredded it and hurled the bits onto the floor. Then he wrote one to Venbright and shredded that, too. Then he wrote a savage critique of Ollerton’s work on his case and slipped it into the case file. Maybe he could write an article and submit it to the Practical Potioneer. Get him disbarred. He deserved it.
There was a knock on the door. Was it Friday already?
“Hey,” Harry said. “How are you doing?”
Severus looked at the little pieces of paper all over his sheets and the floor.
Lost my temper, he wrote.
“I can see that. What did you find in your file? Nothing that promising, I take it.” He brushed some of the paper off the edge of the bed and perched himself there.
Long answer, Severus wrote.
“That’s ok. I’ll clear up while you write.” Harry used his wand to gather up all the shreds and collect them in the wastepaper basket. Then, he vanished some specs of ink on the sheets that Severus hadn’t noticed. He looked at his fingertips and saw that they were black, too. He must have been very upset to get ink everywhere like that.
He set himself to answering Harry’s question for a while, and when he was done, he handed the page over.
Harry read it carefully all the way through.
“What’s a Maledictus?” he asked when he was done, and then waited patiently as Severus wrote out the answer.
A Maledictus is a witch that carries a blood curse. Nagini could transform at will when she was young, but not later. It’s usually fatal. I think it was the Dark Lord’s favor that kept her alive.
“I didn’t know that,” Harry said slowly, once he had read through this explanation. “I thought she was just a snake.”
They are very rare.
“So, what? There’s no sample from you?” Severus shook his head. “And there’s no other way to make a serum?”
Not unless you know someone else that was bitten by a Maledictus.
“What about Mr. Weasley?”
“Yeah, he was bitten by Nagini at the Ministry. They tried to sew him up but the venom dissolved the stitches. Mrs. Weasley just about exploded. It was scary.”
I forgot, Severus wrote.
“Shall I call the healers? Maybe they have a sample from him.”
There were quite a few samples from Arthur Weasley still in magical storage at St. Mungo’s, as it turned out. Because, of course, it had been a mystery what had happened to him at the time, too, though he hadn’t been injected with half the venom that Seveurs had. There were reams and reams of notes about the chemical composition and properties of the venom, and fully ten vials of blood and plasma. When Ollerton told them, he was practically frothing with enthusiasm.
He thinks he’s going to get a research grant out of this, Severus wrote, and passed the note to Harry.
“You’d better name Snape as a co-author,” he said. Ollerton froze in his manic pacing and turned to look at him.
“What?” he asked.
“Well, you’re going to write a paper, aren’t you?”
“I mean… I suppose.”
“Co-authorship.” Ollerton glared.
Oh, you made him sad, Severus wrote.
They had to put him under again, and this time, Harry demanded to stay. Abigail tried to talk him out of it, but he refused, and Demeraux looked to Severus for the final word.
Let him stay, he wrote. It was his idea.
“Very well,” Demeraux said. “Healer Venbright?”
Severus met Harry’s eyes as Venbright touched her wand to his temple, and the rainbow colors fell over him. And they were followed, as before, by darkness.
In the soft glow of the nightlights, Severus could see that Harry was asleep, half in his chair, and half spilled over the edge of the bed. His head was pillowed on his arms near Severus’ legs, and his glasses were curled loosely in his hand. Severus shifted just slightly, and he murmured and turned his face into the sheets.
“Potter?” he began cautiously, and swallowed. Harry jerked awake and almost fell out of his chair.
“Oh, shit,” he gasped. “Severus - ”
“Are we on a first name basis, now?” It didn’t feel good to speak, exactly, but it didn’t really hurt, either.
“Merlin,” Harry breathed, and threw his arms around him.
“Careful,” Severus said. Harry released him at once.
“Oh, jeez - Sorry - I’m sorry,” he stuttered. “It’s just - it’s been three days.”
Abigail opened the door in her dressing gown, rubbing her eyes.
“Harry? Are you - Holy Hell.”
“I take it no one expected me to wake up.”
Harry put his face in his hands, and Abigail hurried over to take Severus’ vitals. While she was looking at his pupils, Severus continued.
“Did you get to see my alarming seizures?”
“Yes, I did,” Harry said into his palms.
“This is incredible,” Abigail breathed, shining a light into his throat. “This is - amazing.”
“I’m going to send Mr. Weasley a case of scotch,” Harry said, “and a sports car. How do you feel?”
“Thirsty,” Severus answered, once Abigail was done looking into his head from various angles. She brought him the bottle with the thin straw, and that felt good.
He slept again, and for the first time in his more than two months in St. Mungo’s, it felt like real sleep. When he woke up the second time, he was curled up on his side instead of rigidly on his back, and he could hear voices in the hall. Harry was out there. He could hear him talking animatedly to Venbright, and to Abigail, too. It sounded like a damn wedding reception. Severus stretched, and sat up, and then reached up to touch his bandages. They felt strange, and stiff, and itchy, and there was a kind of sharp smell in the air. He waved his arms until his alarm went off.
“I think something came out of me,” he said, when Venbright came in.
“Oh,” she said. “Yes. I think so, too. Abigail?”
“Oh, gross,” Abigail whispered. “Your bandages are all… black.”
“Blood?” Severus asked.
“No,” Venbright answered. “Not blood. It’s like… tar.”
“Can I come in?” Harry asked from outside the door.
“How bad is it?” Severus asked quietly. Abigail grimaced.
“Better not, Harry,” she called out. “Just wait until we change his dressings.”
“Ok,” Harry answered. “I’ll get a cuppa and come back, shall I?”
The bandages felt like they were glued to his skin, and it took a while, but finally Abigail prized the last layer off and cast a cleaning charm on him. That tight feeling was still there, though, and Severus looked down at his chest to see a web of red scar tissue extending down towards his ribs on the right side. They reached all the way to his wrist, too, almost like they were following the lines of his blood-vessels. Like the venom had burned a trail in its wake.
Fair trade, he thought. This, for the Dark Mark. It was worth it.
“Is it still… suppurating?” he asked, as Abigail dabbed at his throat with a cotton ball soaked in essence of murtlap. It stung, but not badly.
“No, but right at the puncture site it’s quite raw.”
“No gouts of blood, though.”
“Cover it up before he comes back, will you?”
“Don’t want to scare him?”
“He’s not that easy to scare. I just… would prefer to see it myself, first.”
Harry brought him a cup of tea in a disposable paper mug, and looked at Venbright to see if Severus could have it. She said he could as long as it wasn’t too hot, so Harry took off the lid and set it on the table to cool.
“I didn’t know how you take it,” he said slowly, sitting in his chair. “I guessed milk, and I brought these.” He produced a handful of sugar packets.
“Milk, no sugar,” Severus said. “Thank you. Maybe I'll get to eat food soon, too.”
“We’ll see,” Venbright said, and left them. They sat in silence for a long moment, before Harry broke it.
“You were blue,” he said. “You were… blue.”
“I thought for sure you were dead.”
“Abigail told me that, too. Weeks ago.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, leaning back in his seat. “She told me to wait. That - it was how you looked the - other times. And you lived, then, so I shouldn’t panic.” He paused. “I think I would prefer to never see you at death’s door again.”
“Likewise,” Severus answered, and took a small sip of his tea. It was still too hot. He put it down.
“How’s your voice?”
“It’s alright. How does it sound?”
“Good,” Harry answered. “It sounds really good.”
He could walk. His stamina was low, and he was very thin, but he could walk without a cane. The first place he walked to was the nurse’s station. He wanted to shock Abigail, and he succeeded. She was really quite fun to shock. It was just so easy.
“Mr. Snape!” she squeaked, clutching her heart. “Why didn’t your alarm go off?”
“I disabled it,” he said. “It’s irritating.”
“You can’t - just - ” she spluttered, turning pink.
“Take it up with my benefactor,” Severus said, and leaned on her desk. “What day is it?”
“It’s the sixteenth. Thursday.”
“I want a mirror. And I want to take a shower. What do you think?”
She drummed her fingers on her papers. “I can ask Healer Demeraux, if you want, but he’ll say no. Not until your wounds are all the way closed.”
“Do,” Severus said. “I’d like to send for some clothes, too, if you don’t mind. This paper gown is unbecoming.”
She gave him a sly smile. “Want to look dapper for your ‘benefactor,’ do you?” she asked. Severus rolled his eyes.
“Ah, yes,” he said. “That is my true motivation, impressing the eighteen-year-old savior of the Wizarding World with my dashing horrific scars and my possession of actual clothing.” he stopped. “Did you say the sixteenth? Of July?”
“Yeah, he’s coming tomorrow. Why?”
“No reason. Ask for me, will you Abigail?”
He wasn’t quite eighteen yet, was he? He was turning eighteen in two weeks.
Severus had to bully Demeraux, and threaten him with revenge, but he got his shower. The soap and hot water stung the last bit of unhealed skin on his throat, but he didn’t care. In fact, he thought that no shower had ever felt half as good as this one did.
He washed his hair, and scrubbed his scalp mercilessly, and then, when he got out, he steeled himself, swept his hair back from his face, and wiped the condensation from the mirror.
It was a little worse than he was expecting.
It was a lot worse, actually, which he realized when Abigail hammered on the door.
“Mr. Snape?” she called. “Are you alright? It’s been - a while.”
“I’m… fine,” he answered slowly, suddenly noticing that he was shivering. He must have been standing there for a long time, staring into the mirror as his wet skin slowly cooled.
He shook himself out of it, and then transfigured the towel and gown into a pullover and trousers. He put them on, and opened the door.
“Hairbrush?” he asked.
“Oh,” she answered. “You look a little bit… pale.”
“Bit of a shock,” he said evenly. “Hairbrush?” She brought him one, and he combed his hair out. It was long. Longer than it had ever been before, in fact. He hadn’t had much time to cut it right at the end, and of course he hadn’t been in any state to worry about his hair since then. He tied it back with an elastic band when she gave him one, and submitted to her attentions as she covered his punctures with small pieces of gauze and taped them on.
“You look like you were mauled by a tiger,” she said conversationally. “Looks cool with your black outfit.”
“How inappropriate,” Severus answered.
Venbright was not as pleased with his clothes when she came on her rounds.
“You’re supposed to be in a gown,” she said, frowning.
“Oh? And what is the punishment for incorrect uniform? Flogging?”
“I rather wish that you still could not speak.”
“I’ve been told that before,” Severus answered.
His vitals were good, or so she said. He might actually make it out by the end of the month, if nothing else terrible happened.
“Oh, look, you’re in black again. Sight for sore eyes. You - ” Harry stopped suddenly about two meters away, and Severus was quite sure that he knew why. Around the little gauze squares, a large and offensive swathe of scar tissue was revealed above the collar of his shirt, weird reaching branches and all. “Oh.” Harry repeated. Severus tried hard not to turn red, but surely that was too much to ask after all that had happened.
“Quite,” he said, and turned his face away.
“Wow,” Harry said slowly, and moved to stand beside his bed. “You look - wow.”
Severus frowned at the floor. “Disfigured?” he asked. And then, to his utter astonishment, Harry reached out, took hold of his jaw, and turned his head to get a better look. The touch was so confident that, for a moment, Severus was unable to protest. He just - allowed it.
“They’re going to have to revise your statue,” Harry said. “It’s not nearly rugged enough, now.”
“Rugged,” Severus scoffed, lifting his chin to dislodge Harry’s hand. “Let go of me.” Harry obeyed him and then sat on the edge of the bed.
“It suits you, I think.”
“Oh? Matches my ‘tortured soul,’ does it?”
“Yeah,” Harry laughed. “That was my favorite story about you, I gotta be honest. I’m sure that’s the one that triggered all the flowers and candy. You tugged on the heart strings of a hundred thousand lonely witches.”
“I’ll have to send some pictures of my scars to the tabloids,” Severus said. “Put a stop to it.”
“I don’t think that’d put a stop to anything.” Harry moved to touch the scarring over his clavicle, but Severus saw what he was going to do, and caught his wrist. There was a moment of silence as their eyes met, and Severus released him.
“It’s sensitive,” he said, looking away.
“Sorry,” Harry answered quietly. “I should have asked first.”
There was something in his tone, and Severus looked back up. There was something in his expression, too, and seeing it, Severus was at once struck with the incredibly strong, and very mad thought that Harry Potter was thinking about kissing him.
And that, of course, was insane.
Harry had kissed him on the cheek, once, true. But that had been in a fit of sentimental anxiety, hadn’t it? He’d thought that Severus was going to die. But Severus was fine, now. Or, at least, he was going to live. Why should Harry Potter want to kiss him? What a stupid thing to think.
But then Harry kissed him. And not on the cheek.
On the mouth.
It took about three seconds for this event to make it into Severus’ brain. And in those three seconds, his entire life flashed before his eyes. Or, at least, that’s how it felt. And then there was a clatter from the door, and Harry jerked back.
It was Abigail, so red she was almost purple, with a clipboard and a scatter of papers at her feet.
“Sorry,” she squeaked, backing out of the door. “I should have - knocked.”
“Oh, shit,” Harry whispered, jumping up. “Let’s not not have that in the tabloids, either.”
He ran after her.
Chapter 5: Household Charms
They didn’t speak of it again. Not on Tuesday, and not on Friday, or the following Tuesday. Harry came to visit, and brought newspapers as usual, and Severus continued to heal, and sent for clothes, and started to eat solid food, and slowly, his little gauze pads became redundant until he had no dressings at all - just the naked scars.
Abigail behaved as if she hadn’t seen a damn thing, and none of the papers Harry brought contained any torrid headlines. Of course, he didn’t bring any tabloids with him. No Quibbler, and no Witch Weekly, and no Wizard’s Voice. But surely Abigail hadn’t said anything to anyone. Not about something so inconsequential as a single peck on the lips. And it did begin to seem inconsequential, after a while. Understandable, even. Harry had been relieved he was alive, and had acted on impulse to express his … relief… and Severus had been too surprised to dissuade him. That was all.
And then, finally, on the 30th of July, Healer Demeraux came to evaluate him, and at the end of the evaluation, told Severus that he could leave on Monday morning if he felt well enough. Severus got the impression that Demeraux would be glad to be quit of him. He had been rather irritating lately, he supposed. Now that he could speak.
Harry came the next day at nine in the morning, as was his habit. Almost as if it wasn’t his eighteenth birthday.
“Good morning, Potter,” Severus said, sitting up against the headboard.
“Hullo, Professor Snape,” he answered, closing the door behind him.
This last name thing they were doing felt pretty unnecessary, at this point. Had for a while, actually. Maybe Severus should lead by example. He’d called him Harry before, hadn’t he? No need to be formal. All formality was gone from their lives, it seemed.
Harry sat in the chair and smiled at him, and Severus found that he was rather … nervous. Unsettled. He was going to have to tell Harry that he was being discharged. And Harry would probably be happy to be relieved of the obligation of visiting him. He’d been doing it for weeks and weeks. Surely he was tired of sitting here, with Severus, in this single room. That he was paying for. And surely, what Severus was about to suggest would be rebuffed.
Severus crossed his ankles and folded his hands.
“How are you feeling?” Harry asked.
“Rather well,” Severus answered. “I had porridge today. It was terrible.”
Harry laughed. “Better than subsisting on nutritional potions?” he asked. Severus handed over a bag of crystalized pineapple.
“Barely.” Hesitating, he watched Harry rip open the package, but then went ahead. No more formality. “Happy birthday,” he said.
Harry froze with a piece of pineapple halfway to his open mouth. “You know my birthday?”
Severus rolled his eyes. “Of course I know your birthday. You’re an international celebrity.” He’d known it since Harry was born, of course. But he didn’t say that. “I thought I might offer to clear your home of nuisance jinxes, by way of a gift.”
Harry’s eyes flickered over Severus’ face, and down to his scars poking out of his collar, and then back up to his eyes. Severus tingled uncomfortably at the scrutiny. “Did they… give you a discharge date?”
“Monday,” he answered. “If I feel well enough.”
“Monday!” Harry gasped. “But - That’s fantastic! Wow! Monday?”
“Wow,” Harry repeated. “Where will you go?”
Where would he go? There was only one place, really, now. Just his old, drafty, empty house in Cokeworth. He imagined he’d have a lot of cleaning to do. He hadn’t been there since Christmas and it had been a mess, then. He’d been busy.
“To my house. Spinner’s End,” he began. “But I could - ” he stopped. “That is to say - ” He looked down at the bedspread, quite embarrassed by this hesitancy. Must be the damage to his body. He’d spent so long in silence that he’d been transformed into a stuttering moron.
Harry let the silence drag out for a while, before apparently taking pity on him. “Maybe you can come on Tuesday, then,” he said. “If that’s not too soon.”
He had not been rebuffed.
“Tuesday,” Severus answered slowly. “Nine O’Clock?”
“Sure. I’ll try to be up and dressed.” Harry grinned, and Severus wondered if he was trying to be funny. Tuesday was their regular day. He always came at nine, why wouldn’t he be dressed?
“You always come at nine. If you aren’t dressed, that’s your own fault.” And then he wondered if this was banter, or… what .
“Fair,” Harry said, and looked away. “Do you remember how to get there?”
“Oh, yes,” Severus answered. “I doubt I will ever forget the time I spent a prisoner of Number 12 Grimmauld Place.” He paused. “Care for a game of chess?”
“I think it’ll be harder to concentrate now that you can talk back at me,” Harry answered. “I might lose faster than normal.”
“The faster you lose, the more rounds we can play.”
As Severus prepared to leave his ward, he collected a pile of the most recent boxes of sweets and shrank them down, and then, after a bit of deliberation, a bouquet of carnations and dahlias. It was the most sedate arrangement he had in his room at the time - the only one with no roses - so that was the one he chose. He wanted to express gratitude, not whatever a four-foot monstrosity of red roses and baby’s breath expressed. Although showing up the next day on the doorstep of Number 12 with that might be pretty memorable.
He left all the rest of the flowers, and the candy he knew Harry didn’t like, and a pile of stuffed animals, and closed the door behind him.
When he signed himself out, dressed in slacks, boots, a button-down, and a coat thank Merlin, Abigail was quite emotional.
“Mr. Snape,” she began, shaking his hand. “It was a pleasure to treat you. But - I hope - you never - come again - ” and she burst into tears.
“Abigail for Merlin’s sake,” Venbright scolded her. “Control yourself.”
“Sorry - ” she wheezed.
Severus shook Venbright’s hand, too, but she did not cry. In fact, she said, “Good Riddance,” and that made Severus laugh.
“I hope to never darken your doorway again,” he said. “And tell Ollerton that I promise not to ruin his career, though I could, if I cared to.”
She laughed, too.
Severus apparated to the market first, knowing that he would have nothing at all to eat or drink at his house, and picked up the essentials in a handbasket. Tea, and milk, and bread, and eggs, and some fruit and vegetables. And then, almost as an afterthought, two bottles of wine. He thought he probably had some at his house already, but he couldn’t quite remember, and certainly he deserved a drink. He was a free man, after all. For the first time since he took the mark, now that he thought about it. How long had it been? Twenty-two years? And now, finally, the Dark Lord was dead, and Dumbledore was gone, and he was out of the hospital, and free. He grabbed a bottle of Scotch, too. A good one.
When he checked out at the counter, the clerk stared unabashedly at him, and he swung his hair forward a little over his right side. Surely it was the scars making her stare like that. He’d have to put a glamour on later, when he was stronger.
He apparated to his house on Spinner’s End with his purchases, and immediately knew that his discharge from the hospital had been leaked to the papers. There was a veritable Quidditch team’s worth of reporters on his front stoop.
“Mr. Snape!” one of them shouted. The rest looked around with a collective inhale, and as they converged on him, flashbulbs popping, he turned on the spot, and vanished.
He appeared on the doorstep of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, his heart pounding.
It took him a moment to identify his surroundings. He hadn’t been thinking of any place in particular, yet here he was, right outside Harry’s door. It was a miracle he hadn’t splinched himself panic-apparating like that. But the street was deserted, thank Merlin. Harry had meant it when he said the wards were all still in place, and now that he wasn’t being accosted, he could think.
He looked at the door. He wasn’t in the habit of showing up unannounced anywhere, really. At least… not anymore. Harry might not even be here. Or he might be … busy. He obviously didn’t want visitors, which was why his house was still unplottable. Maybe there was somewhere else he could go. A hotel… or… an inn, or… something.
The door opened, and Harry appeared with a piece of toast in his hand, gasped, and dropped it.
“Oh!” he said, recovering. “Hi! I wasn’t expecting you. It’s… monday, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Severus answered. “There were… reporters.”
“Ah, fuck, you’re kidding me. At your house?”
Harry opened the door wider to let him through. “Please, come in. How many were there?”
“It seemed like rather all of them.”
Number 12 was as dark and gloomy as ever, though much cleaner, and after passing through the jinxes in the front hall, they made their way quietly past the covered portrait of Mrs. Black and into the kitchen. The kitchen was very clean. Almost sparkling, in fact, and Severus ran his fingers across the spotless sideboard, impressed.
“Master Potter has a visitor?” Kreacher croaked, appearing from behind the kitchen island. He looked quite a bit better than Severus recalled, too. Still ancient, of course, but his toga was white, and pressed, and he certainly seemed happier. He saw Severus standing there and froze. “But - is it - Master Snape?” He bowed so low that his nose brushed the floor. “A triumphant return to the house of my mistress!”
Harry laughed. “Ha. Of course he likes you.”
“Good day, Kreacher,” Severus said.
“Thank you, Sir, and a very good day to Sir as well. Would Masters like a tea service?” He did not rise from his abject bow, but stayed with his face practically pressed to the tiles. House Elves.
“Yes, please, Kreacher. Professor Snape has come a long way.”
“I’ve come straight from the grocers, in fact. I hope you don’t mind,” Severus said.
“Didn’t even get in the door, I bet. I’m honestly not that surprised.”
“No,” Severus answered, and began withdrawing his purchases from his pockets. He pulled out the groceries, and the bottles, and then began withdrawing box after box of sweets. He had more than he remembered taking with him. He must not have been paying attention. And then, after the final bag of toffee, the flowers popped out like he was a bloody muggle magician. He stopped short with them in his hand. With all the excitement he’d quite forgotten he’d brought flowers, too, and suddenly they seemed excruciatingly inappropriate.
“Mitbringsel,” he said slowly, not looking up. Harry just laughed again, but it didn’t sound snide. It sounded… rather kind.
“Thanks,” he said. “I hope Abby got the rest. She sure put up with a lot for a junior healer.” He held out his hands and Severus handed the bouquet over.
“Yes, she did,” Severus answered. “She rather dissolved into tears when I left, too.”
“Yes. Very awkward.”
“Bet Venbright didn’t cry.”
Kreacher reappeared with a tea tray stacked high with biscuits and cucumber sandwiches.
“Shall I bring it to the living room, sir?” he croaked.
“Very good, Kreacher, thank you,” Harry said. “After you.”
Severus sat back in one of the winged armchairs and closed his eyes. What a mess this was. He’d been out of the hospital for less than an hour and here he was, showing up without warning at Harry’s house. After everything the boy had done for him, it felt unforgivably rude. But he couldn’t go to his house, and he couldn’t go to Hogwarts. He couldn’t go anywhere. He was just trapped in Number 12 with Harry Potter like the good old days. Except, of course, no one else was here. No Order of the Phoenix, no Dumbledore, no Weasleys, no Lupin. Just Kreacher, and Harry, and the portrait of Mrs. Black.
He could hear tea being poured and opened his eyes again, expecting Kreacher to ask how he took it. But Kreacher wasn’t pouring the tea. Harry was, and he offered him a cup with milk, and no sugar.
“I should have warned you that might happen,” Harry said slowly.
“I should have anticipated it,” Severus answered, rubbing one hand over his face. “I suppose I didn’t realize how sheltered I was in the hospital. It didn’t occur to me that interest would still be so high after so much time.”
Harry looked a little awkward. “Oh, yeah,” he began. “Well. You had a guard at the hospital.”
“A guard? What, at the entrance?”
“Yeah. At the entrance to your wing. Two of them, actually. Off-duty Aurors. They rotated shifts.”
That was unexpected. There must have been an attempt on his life for the Ministry to protect him that way. Maybe a Death Eater at large had tried to finish him off.
“Did you pay for that, too?” Severus asked lightly, trying to make a joke. When Harry didn’t laugh, Severus looked up at him, alarmed. “You didn’t.”
“After that interview I gave, people started trying to get in at you. Like you were an animal in a zoo. I didn’t like it very much. You hadn’t even woken up yet.”
Severus gaped at him.
“You’re joking. You have to be.”
“No. Not joking. Kingsley helped me set it up. No trouble.”
“No trouble?” Severus asked, agast. “ Two private guards? That must have been tens of galleons a day.”
“Oh, yeah, about thirty.”
“Per day? Harry, Merlin, how much has all this cost you?” He put his cup down on the coffee table, feeling sick. Harry looked at his hands.
“How much is my life worth, do you think?”
“That’s not the right question.”
“Yeah, it is. And I won’t tell you how much I spent, so don’t ask. It isn’t important.”
Kreacher appeared. “Would Master Snape like his wine and spirits sent to the cellar?” he croaked. Severus looked at the little elf and then back at Harry.
“You may as well stay,” Harry said. “You were going to come in the morning, anyway.”
He had been planning on coming in the morning. And, of course, he had nowhere else to go. This was just… awful, wasn’t it? He didn’t have a choice, and Potter was being so nice to him. What an absolute nightmare.
He didn’t say anything, but apparently Harry had gotten pretty good at reading his expressions, because he turned back to his elf. “Yes, the cellar, Kreacher. Thank you.”
Severus watched Kreacher depart back to the kitchen.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked after a long moment.
“Doing what?” Harry asked back.
Severus gestured around, annoyed. “What do you mean, ‘what’?”
“Well, what am I supposed to do? Send you out to be eaten alive by reporters? Come on. There are tons of bedrooms. You’ve stayed here before loads of times. What’s the problem?”
“You said we were even. Not now. Not after this.”
Harry crossed his arms. “Fine,” he said. “So you owe me. Big deal. Get rid of the curses, like you said you would. And - ” he stopped, and looked into the dark fireplace. “I got kind of used to visiting you. It wouldn’t be so bad, having you stay for a while. Now that you’re not, you know, dying.”
“But why? After everything I did to you. Why?”
“Yeah. All the times you saved me. You’re such a prick.”
Severus glared at him. “I was horrible to you.”
“You had to be.” Severus opened his mouth to argue but Harry cut him off. “Look. That’s all done. And there aren’t very many people that - you know. Went through what we went through. There’s a reason the ministry commissioned a statue of the three of us. You, me, and Dumbledore. It was the three of us. And he’s gone, and I thought you were, too. But you aren’t. You’re here. And you were there the whole time, even though I didn’t know it. And - you don’t expect me to be some kind of perfect savior or anything, and you don’t ask me as many questions as other people.” He turned red as he finished, and ruffled his own hair.
Severus had so many questions. Maybe Harry thought he didn’t have any questions because he’d been unable to speak for almost three months.
Severus picked up his cup of tea, and looked into it, thinking of Abigail telling him how Harry had slept in the chair by his bed. And Severus had seen him do it, too. Draped over the edge of the mattress with his glasses in his hand.
“I don’t have any of my clothes,” he finally said. “Or my things. I don’t have… anything.”
“Send Kreacher. He’ll go. Who cares if he gets photographed?”
Severus looked back at Harry for a long moment. “I wasn’t planning on imposing on you like this.”
“I wasn’t planning on inviting you to stay. At least - not so fast.” He grinned ironically. “I was thinking, after you came tomorrow, that I’d ask you to come again Friday. And then Tuesday. That’s what I was hoping for. That we could carry on, even though you’re out of the hospital, now.”
“You’re very forthright, aren’t you?” He didn’t know what Harry wanted from him, but he supposed that, whatever it was, he owed it. He owed it tenfold.
“Oh, yeah. Dying and coming back to life will do that to you. Makes everything seem a lot less scary, once you’ve died. What’s the worst that could happen? You tell me no? Torture.”
Severus snorted. “Well. At least I brought you something when I came. Terrible to appear on someone’s doorstep empty handed.”
Harry gave him a solemn face that was so absolutely and absurdly overdone that Severus almost laughed out loud.
“Candy and flowers,” he said. “Very neutral gift. I should tell the papers you’re courting me.”
“So, can we stop with the last names, or what?”
“It does seem that we’ve moved beyond that, doesn’t it?”
“Well, yeah. You called me Harry just now.”
He had. It had been shocked out of him. But he didn’t mind, really. It had seemed frivolous to hold on to that old decorum since he’d first found out that Harry was paying for his treatment. And then - of course - Harry had…
“You kissed me,” Severus said suddenly. “Why did you do that?”
Harry’s mouth twisted up into a frown so deeply charming that it made Severus reconsider every interaction he had ever had with him. “I dunno. I was thinking - while you were unconscious - that I couldn’t take any more death. I just couldn’t take it. And then you woke up. No, more than that. You were better. You were like you’d been before. I got excited.” He blushed, and then shrugged.
“I’m not like I was before,” Severus answered.
“Well, no, maybe not. And me neither. Probably nothing will ever be like it was before again. But, hey, if we’re asking questions… You kissed me first. You kissed my hand. Why did you do that?”
“I suppose I wanted to say thank you.”
“Well, you have.” Harry met his eyes and then looked away. “So. Can I call you Severus?”
Why not? Why not just start over again. From the very beginning. Harry had died. Severus’ heart had stopped. And here they both were, alive, and having tea. Maybe they were different people, now.
“I suppose you can.”
“How about Sev?”
Or maybe Harry was just the same.
“How about Severus Snape: HERO?”
He was. He was the same. He was arrogant, and cocky, and unbearably confident. But all of a sudden it didn’t seem like he deserved to be punished for it. It seemed like a blessing, really, now, after what he’d done. After bullying the healers into allowing Severus to save his own life. After lecturing a reporter so thoroughly that Severus’ crimes were wiped clean and people sent him flowers and candy.
He rolled his eyes. “How about the Half-Blood Prince?” he asked. Harry laughed.
“Ha! Don’t think I won’t.”
It took about forty minutes for Severus to disable and dissolve the anti-Snape jinxes in the front hall, and then a further hour to clean up the defensive spells around the perimeter. While he worked, Harry watched him quietly from the front steps. It was kind of interesting being around him like this - with no context. Not at school, and not at war, and not at odds. Just… in proximity, with no fight to be won. It really was almost like they had just met. No baggage.
Except, of course, there was an obscene amount of baggage.
It was quite hot out, and as the afternoon approached, Severus found that he was too hot, so he took off his coat, handed it to Harry to hang up, and rolled up his sleeves. That was a little bit better, and he spent a while adding a few more jinxes and charms to the sidewalk and front door.
“What’s that?” Harry asked as Severus sprinkled a shower of purple and blue sparks over the walkway.
“Specialty confundus charm,” Severus answered. “Any Wizard camera brought inside the perimeter will be unable to focus on any object within a hundred meters, rendering the photos unusable.”
“Cool,” Harry said. “How about that one you put on the lintel?”
“Similar. Anyone that comes here with the intention of taking notes of any kind will lose the ability to write.”
“HA! Wish I’d had that when Rita Skeeter was harassing me.”
“Mm.” Severus wasn’t really listening. It was taking a little more concentration than normal to do this, and the heat was disagreeing with him.
“Almost done?” Harry asked after another fifteen minutes or so. “You’re looking a little peaky.” Severus looked up at him and noticed that his vision had a subtle greyish cast at the edges. That was probably not good.
“Oh,” he said. “ … I think I am done.” He hadn’t done much magic at all over the last three months, and here he was doing layer upon layer of advanced spellwork, only hours out of the hospital. What was he, an idiot? “I think I’ve done too much, actually.” Harry’s eyes traveled over him and he leapt to his feet.
“Let’s get out of the sun,” he said.
Severus fell asleep on the couch and when he woke up it was dark.
Propping himself up on his elbows, he was greeted with the bulbous eyes and furry snout of Kreacher. “Master Snape,” he wheezed. “Master Potter is upstairs getting ready for dinner. Would you like to join him or are you indisposed?”
Merlin’s Beard having a House Elf was bizarre. He could never get used to it at Malfoy Manor, and this was not different.
“Oh,” he said, trying to shake himself out of his stupor. “Did he tell you to ask me?”
“No, Sir,” Kreacher began. “But Master Snape was moving in his sleep, so Kreacher took it upon himself to ask.”
“I’ll come. But I might not eat very much.”
“Kreacher has prepared French Onion Soup. Easy on the body,” Kreacher said. “Master Potter did ask for that.”
“Hey,” Harry said when he saw Severus sitting at the table. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” Severus answered. “Not hungry. But your elf is persuasive.”
“Oh, yeah.” He sat down across from him. “He’s made me eat loads of times.”
“Master Potter’s appetite is frivolous and inconsistent,” Kreacher croaked. “Bread?”
“Yes, please, Kreacher,” Harry answered, and two bowls of steaming soup floated over to the table between them, followed by a basket of french bread and a dish of butter. Severus rather thought that the cap of cheese on his bowl was excessive, and so was an entire loaf of bread with butter for each of them. Maybe Kreacher thought he looked thin.
He was thin, he supposed. He’d been subsisting on potions and hospital food since almost bleeding to death, and before that he hadn’t had much of an appetite, either. Or a will to live, for that matter. He looked at Harry, and thought that he looked thin, too.
“You two seem very familiar,” he said, as Harry poked a spoon into his gruyere-covered bucket of soup.
“Well, I’m not very much interested in having a slave,” he answered. “But he won’t accept clothes, even though I told him he wouldn’t have to leave.” Kreacher made a grumbling noise from the stove. “I know, Kreacher. I said I was sorry.”
“Master Potter… sweater vest… rude…”
“I said I was sorry! It was one time.”
Once Severus began eating, he found that he was hungrier than he thought. He ate the whole serving he was given, plus bread, and after dinner Kreacher offered them a plate of profiteroles, and they each took two. Kreacher definitely thought they were too thin.
“I’m glad you’re able to eat,” Harry said after the plates were cleared. “I was afraid you weren’t going to wake up for a while.”
“How long was I asleep?”
“I overdid it, that’s all.”
“Maybe you should wait a few days before doing anything else. If you send Kreacher for some of your things tonight, I can set you up in the master bedroom.”
“A few days?” Severus asked. “How long am I staying?”
Harry blushed, and Severus found that he quite liked making him do that. In school, Harry had usually turned either white or scarlet after interacting with him. This pink situation was much better. It made him look healthy.
“Oh. I mean - as long as you want. It’s going to take a while for the reporters to give up. If they ever do.”
“What happens when you go outside?”
“Mob scene. Sometimes I wear my cloak. Other times I just sort of tolerate it.”
“And at the Hospital?”
“Well, I would usually apparate to the front doors and then sprint inside. Once I passed the guards that was it.”
Kreacher reappeared with a stack of sparkling plates. “If Kreacher might interrupt, what does Master Snape require from his home? Perhaps he might make a list for Kreacher to take with him.”
Severus did make a list. He sent for a few sets of clothes, his toiletries, some of his books, and a Potions kit, just in case he was struck with the desire to brew. It wasn’t much, he supposed. He didn’t really need that much at all, now that he was free.
Kreacher took the list from his hand, disappeared with a crack, and Harry took him upstairs to the master bedroom. The linens had already been changed, and there was a stack of clean towels and a set of pajamas on the foot of the bed, all emblazoned with the Slytherin crest. Severus touched the little serpentine “S” and looked at Harry.
“Expecting me, were you?”
“Oh, everything in this house is Slytherin. I think Kreacher’s relieved to have a real Slytherin to serve.”
“He seems quite fond of you.”
“Yeah, but I’m not a Slytherin. Just wait, you’re going to be his favorite.”
Looking down at the plush, clean bed, Severus was at once exhausted. But then he thought of something. “Why am I staying in the master bedroom?”
“What? It’s free, that’s all.”
“Where do you sleep? Sirius’ room?” Harry looked at the floor, and Severus immediately regretted asking that question. It had been rude. Rude to even speak Sirius’ name, maybe. “I’m sorry. That was - ”
“No, it’s ok. I normally sleep in the living room, actually. On the couch. I don’t usually… come upstairs all that much.” He smiled in an embarrassed sort of way. “There’s a lot of house. I like… you know. A smaller space.”
Severus didn’t really know what that meant but he nodded like he did. “I suppose going from a dorm to an entire mansion was rather a shock.”
“From a tent, you mean. I lived in a tent for almost an entire year.”
“Oh, yes. Of course.”
“Big upgrade. There’s running water and everything.” He smiled again, and this time it was slightly less embarrassed. “I’ll leave you, shall I? Kreacher will be back in a moment, and you should probably sleep as much as you can.”
“Thank you,” Severus said.
“It’s nothing,” Harry answered.
“I think you’ll find it’s quite a lot.” Severus offered his hand to shake. “Sincerely.”
But Harry didn’t shake his hand. Instead, he offered his own palm-down, like he thought Severus might kiss it again, like he had at the hospital. So, Severus took hold of it and bent a little at the waist.
“Prince Potter,” he said, not quite making contact.
“I’m not a prince,” Harry answered. He sounded a little breathless, and confused, and that made Severus feel a little breathless and confused, too. This was mad, whatever they were doing.
“You are,” Severus answered, and straightened up. “Since the day you were born.”
Chapter 6: Letter to the Editor
The next morning Severus awoke to find that Kreacher had brought far more clothes than he’d asked for. Almost all of his clothes, it seemed. Maybe Harry was right and Kreacher was hoping he’d stay forever.
He searched through the neatly hung-up dress shirts and slacks and cloaks and robes, and almost all of it seemed terribly overdone. He’d look like a fool if he came downstairs dressed like he had at Hogwarts, wouldn’t he? Like a bat in Harry’s house. He frowned, thinking maybe he should transfigure something to be more suitable, but then, at the very back, he found a plain black long-sleeved henley that he’d had for years. It was soft, and worn-in, and by far the most casual thing he owned. So, he put it on with a pair of trousers, wondering vaguely why he cared so much if he looked like a bat or not. He didn’t put on shoes, but padded barefoot down the stairs. In the kitchen, he could hear Kreacher whistling in a jaunty and horribly off-key sort of way.
Harry was sitting at the table reading the Daily Prophet and absentmindedly stirring a cup of tea. He was wearing jeans and sneakers, and Severus wondered what time it was.
“Are you in the paper today?” he asked.
“Oh! Morning. And yes, we both are, as usual. Tea?”
“Yes, thank you.” Severus down. “Well?”
Harry looked at him over the top of the Prophet. “I think it was Ollerton that told the press you were being discharged yesterday,” he said, and laid it out flat on the counter so he could see.
Breakthrough at St. Mungo’s was the headline, and underneath it was a beaming headshot of Wilford Ollerton. The bastard.
“I told Venbright to let him know that I wouldn’t ruin his career. Maybe that was a lie.”
“He’s taken all the credit of figuring out that Nagini was a Maledictus. What an idiot. Did he think we wouldn’t see this? I’ll write an editorial.”
“It might be charitable to let it go.”
Harry glanced sideways at him. “Charitable? What, did Nagini suck all of your vindictiveness out through your jugular vein?” He stopped, and his eyes traveled over Severus neck, and Severus suddenly wished he’d put on something with a higher collar. Harry cleared his throat, his expression growing serious. “Does it hurt?” he asked.
Severus shrugged, fighting the urge to sweep his hair forward to cover the wound as he had at the market.
“Not much, no. It just feels stiff.” The desire to hide - to cover himself - was very strong. But why? What purpose would it serve to hide, now? Harry had seen much worse. He’d seen the seizures, and the bandages, and the scars, already. He’d seen all of Severus’ most closely held memories. Severus had given them to him. So, why hide? There was no reason. If anyone on earth deserved to see what had been carved into his body it was Harry Potter. And here he was, sitting in a beam of morning sunlight. So, Severus pushed up his right sleeve and laid his hand palm up on the table. “They go all the way down,” he said.
Harry reached out to touch him but then stopped with his fingers hovering just inches over his skin. “Can I?”
“Go on,” Severus answered him. “You won’t hurt me.”
And it didn’t hurt when Harry’s fingertips followed the scars down the soft inside of his forearm towards his wrist. It didn’t hurt, but it did feel like something. Severus’ fingers twitched, and he tensed them up to stop them from moving again.
“It's like your veins or something,” Harry murmured, so quietly that it was like he was talking to himself. Severus answered him anyway.
“Yes.” He took his hand back and pulled the collar of his shirt down a little so that Harry could see how the scars reached down towards his chest.
“How far down do they go?”
“Far,” Severus answered, and pulled his shirt back into place. “Why are you dressed?”
“Me?” He blinked like he’d just been dragged out of a trance. “Oh. I was going to work in the yard today. I feel like I could use some exertion. No exertion for you, though.” He smiled a little. “Food and sleep only. What would you like?”
“What, for breakfast?”
“Brunch. It’s half past eleven.”
“Oh.” Almost noon. He hadn’t slept so late since he was sixteen.
“Yes, Master Potter?”
“Will you fix something for Severus, please?”
“Nothing too heavy,” Severus added.
Kreacher made him an omelette with a side of toast and fruit, and Harry went out into the front yard. Severus could see him through the kitchen windows, and sat for a while to watch as he began tearing out handfuls of weeds and hurling them into a pile. After a few minutes, a Gnome startled him from underneath one of the overgrown hedges and he fell backwards with a squawk. Severus snorted and took up the paper.
He read the article about his own miraculous recovery and decided that he would, indeed, have to write a rebuttal. Ollerton was just so shameless. He had to be taught a lesson. Or maybe it would be better if Harry wrote it. That might be worse for the Potions Idiot - a scathing takedown by the beloved Boy Who Lived. He’d probably be sent a stream of howlers. That would serve him right.
He paged through the rest of the paper. There wasn’t much else of importance, although there was a rather interesting piece about the improvements that would be made to the school now that reconstruction was almost completed. A brand new Quidditch Pitch was in the bidding stage, waiting for approval from the Board of Governors.
He looked back out the windows, thinking about Hogwarts, and saw Harry stand up, wipe his face on the hem of his shirt, and then pull it off over his head. He was flushed, and sweaty, and yes, a bit on the thin side. But he was alive, and digging in the dirt. And Severus realized as he looked at him out there in the sun, that Harry Potter was a creature of the summer, really.
And then he frowned at his own sentiment and looked away.
A creature of the summer? What did that even mean?
Harry came in around two in the afternoon absolutely covered with soil and bits of sticks and leaves. He had his shirt slung around his shoulders.
“So, is that what you call leisure time?” Severus asked.
“What? Oh. Well, I can’t exactly play Quidditch, can I?”
“I suppose not. Though I doubt seeking ever got you quite so dirty.”
“Not usually, no. I’m going to take a shower.”
“Do. You’re leaving a trail. It’ll upset Kreacher.”
“So, what do you think? Destroy, or turn the other cheek?”
It was around five in the evening, and Severus and Harry were sitting in the parlor with that morning’s Daily Prophet spread out before them.
“I’m leaning towards destroy,” Severus said.
“Me too,” Harry answered. “He could have killed you.”
“He joins an illustrious list, then, doesn’t he?”
Harry scoffed. “Of people who might have killed you? Does that list include me?”
“It’s illustrious. Of course it includes you.”
“Ha. Shall I write it, or will you?”
Severus considered this. It would be more scalding if he wrote it, probably. But more humiliating if Harry wrote it. “Well,” he began. “That depends. Mine might be more technically specific, but yours might be more… embarrassing.”
“I dunno. You haven’t spoken to the press at all, yet. If your first statement was that Wilford Ollerton is a liar and an idiot it might cause quite a sensation.”
How very Slytherin of him.
Kreacher poked his head in.
“Would Masters like a drink before dinner?” he asked. Harry looked at Severus and raised his eyebrows.
“Do you drink?” Severus asked.
“Oh, yeah. I do. Do you?”
“Yes, please, Kreacher,” Harry said.
“Do Masters have a preference?”
“Do you want to open one of the bottles you brought?” Harry asked. “Or do you want to try something from the cellar?”
“The cellar?” This was, of course, a pure-blood family’s legacy home. Obviously there would be a wine cellar. And probably it was well-stocked.
“Oh, yeah,” Harry started. “Usually I play wine roulette. I just ask Kreacher to bring up the weirdest, dustiest bottle he can find and then see if it’s rubbish or not. It’s fun.”
“Sounds like a good way to get poisoned.”
“Nah, all this stuff has been tested, I’m sure of it. I’ve gotten a few bad bottles that were mostly vinegar, but overall it’s been a great success.”
“Alright. Wine roulette, then. I doubt anything on earth could kill me now.”
“Worst one you can find, Kreacher.”
The bottle Kreacher brought up was a two-hundred-year-old elf-made treasure. And it was still good.
“This is probably worth thousands of Galleons, Potter,” Severus said, offering his glass to cheers. Harry raised his own and then stopped.
“I thought we weren’t doing last names anymore,” he said.
“Harry, then. To an eight-hundred Galleon pour.” He raised his glass again, and this time Harry submitted to cheersing him.
“To the miraculous cure of Severus Snape,” he said.
“To the ressurection of Harry Potter,” Severus said.
“To the end of the war,” Harry countered.
“To… the…” Severus paused, thinking. “To the press corps camping out in my front yard for no reason,” he finally finished. “May they waste their time.” Harry laughed, and they drank. And then they drank a little more, and worked on a truly hilarious draft of their take-down of Ollerton, and then after a while, Kreacher came and got them for dinner.
At dinner, they opened another bottle, and Severus found that he was quite drunk. It must be his weakened state. He hadn’t really had that much.
“Do you think we should write that Abby was the only one pulling her weight?” Harry laughed. “Or do you think she would get in trouble?”
“Oh,” Severus answered. “I might keep her out of it. She seemed rather new, didn’t she?”
“She told me she was fresh out of school.”
“That must be why she was so honest. No one else told me half as much as she did.”
“Yeah,” Harry sighed, sounding a little wistful. “She was sweet, wasn’t she?”
“She screamed when I first sat up.”
Harry laughed again, and sipped at his wine. “A woman after my own heart,” he said. “I wish I had been there.”
“You were there for everything else, though, weren’t you?”
“I missed quite a lot, actually. What was going on when they wouldn’t let me in after you woke up? When Abby said they needed to change your dressings. What happened?”
“Oh. Well. There was some… discharge. After the last dose of medication. I didn’t see it, but Venbright said it was black. Like tar. That’s what she said.”
“Tar?” Harry asked, putting down his fork.
“Not dinner discussion,” Severus answered.
“No, that’s ok. I just meant - what was it?”
“The venom, I expect. Or some kind of residue.”
“Ew,” Harry answered.
“As I said, not dinner discussion.”
“I’m not that squeamish, don’t worry. Bet you felt better after that happened though, didn’t you?”
“Oh, yes. Like night and day.”
“Too bad it took so long to figure it out.”
“If Ollerton had listened to me in the first place, I would have been out in a week.”
“Well, that’s why we’re going to punish him.”
Severus just looked at him for a long moment. “You would have been an excellent Slytherin, you know.”
Harry turned back to his plate. “Sorting hat thought that, too,” he answered.
“Pff,” Severus said.
The next morning, Severus set about re-reading the drunken nonsense from the night before while Harry went out into the back courtyard. After a while, though, when Harry didn’t come back in, Severus took his parchment out there, instead. He could probably stand to get a little fresh air.
It was the peak of august loveliness that time of day, and he transfigured an old, moldering garden bench and a large stone into a little bistro set. A table, and two spindly chairs. And then, as an afterthought, he added an umbrella. With his complexion, he’d end up broiled by the sun if he sat out there unshielded for more than twenty minutes, and it certainly wouldn’t be as charming as Harry’s burned nose.
Harry looked over from where he was struggling with a knot of crab-grass as he heard the magic. “Oh,” he said. “That’s nice. Maybe Kreacher will bring out some lemonade, later.”
“Mm,” Severus answered, spreading out a fresh parchment to copy out a draft.
He scratched away at his letter for a good long while. He had a lot to say about his stay at St. Mungo’s. He had a lot to say, in general, it felt like, but he tried to stay on topic. The purpose of this letter wasn’t to inform the public, or to air general grievances. It was to get Wilford Ollerton fired. That was the purpose, and he was going to achieve it.
“How’s it going?” Severus jumped as Harry plopped down in the chair opposite him, wiping his brow. “I figured what we wrote last night was pretty unusable.”
“Can I read it?”
“Almost. Are you done with your war against the weeds?”
“If I am, I lost. I’m just taking a break.”
“What time is it?”
“Is it?” Severus looked around at the piles of torn-out foliage scattered around the yard. The sun was high. “I seem to have achieved a meditative state.” Harry laughed and stretched.
“The absolute bliss of ruining someone's reputation?” he asked. “C’mon, let me see.”
Severus handed it over, and Harry took the parchment by the very edges, careful not to get it dirty. Severus watched him as his eyes traveled slowly down the page, pausing here and there, skipping back up to re-read, and then continuing on. His expressions were quite transparent, and Severus fancied he could tell which passages he was reading based on what his eyebrows were doing.
“This… is… savage,” Harry breathed after a while. Severus was quite sure he’d gotten to the part about the basilisk venom. “I’m having flashbacks of getting papers back from you.”
“I was never quite so cutting towards student work.” Harry’s eyes flicked over to him and then back to the page.
“The Daily Prophet will be drooling to get their hands on this.”
“Their later coverage of me was rather out of character. Hopefully this will give people a more accurate idea of who I am.”
“Yeah,” Harry laughed. “A terrifying genius with a chip on his shoulder the size of Lydford Gorge.”
“I’m not - ” Severus began. “I don’t - ” he stopped again. That was a pretty accurate assessment, he supposed. “Give that back.” He snatched the parchment out of Harry’s hands. “I’m not finished with it.”
“You call him an insult to his family name.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Most certainly. The Ollertons are quite well-regarded in Potions circles. That name lulled me into a false sense of security. I might have complained much earlier if he’d been from a different family.” He started writing again.
“He might find that status quite worthless in our new world.”
“One can only hope.”
Harry left him in search of Kreacher, and after a while came back with the elf in toe, carrying a platter with a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses. He didn’t ask if Severus wanted one, he just gave him one.
It was good. Not too sweet.
“Finished, I think,” Severus announced.
“Rest in Peace, Master Ollerton,” Harry laughed. “Let’s see.” He took the parchment and read it through again from the beginning. “This conclusion is hilarious,” he finally said.
“It’s not meant to be hilarious,” Severus answered.
“Well. I mean, it’s only hilarious because I know you. Ollerton will probably wet himself in mortal terror.”
“And when did I stop terrifying you, exactly?”
Harry gave him a half-smile. “Well. I suppose… when you killed Dumbledore I wasn’t afraid anymore. I tried to chase you down.”
“Tried to cast the cruciatus on me.”
“Yeah.” There was a silence, as Harry put down the parchment, and drew one finger down the side of his glass of lemonade, gathering some of the condensation. “I remember your face, that night. I thought you hated me. That you hated all of us. But I was wrong. After the final battle I thought about that a lot. Your face, when I called you a coward.”
Severus didn’t like this line of conversation at all. He didn’t speak, hoping Harry would lose his nerve and drop it. But when had Harry Potter ever lost his nerve? He was like a bottomless well of nerve.
“Killing him must have been terrible for you,” Harry continued. “Dumbledore, I mean. I could see it in your eyes when you wouldn’t fight back. But I didn’t know what I was seeing, back then. I didn’t know… anything.”
“We kept you in the dark.”
“You sure did.”
All at once all the lies seemed unspeakably cruel. What Harry must have thought, then. That Severus had been lying in wait to betray them all. That Dumbledore had been wrong all along, and Severus had struck like a snake, and now Harry was alone. That there would be no one at all to defend him or help him ever again.
“I’m sorry,” Severus said.
“I wonder if Dumbledore would be sorry, too, if he was alive.”
Severus thought about that. “He should be,” he said slowly. “But I’m not sure if he would be. You won the war. There is no way to tell if what we did to you was necessary or not.”
Harry raked one hand through his hair, and some bits of chaff fell out of it and sprinkled to his lap. “This conversation is kind of stressing me out, actually,” he said.
“Shall we stop?” It was stressing Severus out, too.
“Maybe. Maybe we can talk about this more after a few rounds of wine roulette.”
“I brought scotch, too, if you really want to drown your sorrows.”
Harry laughed a little, and the tension eased. “There’s all kinds of stuff in the cellar. Spirit roulette just sounds a little more dangerous to me.”
Kreacher appeared and bowed low. “Would Masters care to take lunch in the garden?”
“I’m getting a little burned, actually,” Harry said. “Let’s eat in the kitchen.”
After lunch, Severus read his letter through one more time, and, satisfied, rolled it up and tied it with twine. He asked Harry if he had an owl, and Harry answered that there were two that lived in the attic, though he did not know their names. Severus went up to investigate and did, indeed, find two tawny barn owls in the rafters. He offered his arm and one of them fluttered down to him. He seemed rather annoyed, but allowed Severus to tie the scroll to his leg anyway.
“Did they cooperate?” Harry asked, when Severus came back down.
“One of them did. Didn’t seem terribly pleased about it, though.”
“I don’t even know whose owls they were. I tried to make friends with them at first but they said no.”
“I don’t remember any owls living here while it was Headquarters,” Severus said.
“I think they just kept to themselves. Maybe they belonged to the Blacks. I don’t think Sirius had an owl himself, but I dunno.”
Severus thought about asking what had happened to Harry’s owl - the white one - but thought better of it. He probably already knew.
Chapter 7: No More Sorry
“Does Master Potter prefer the hybrid serpent label, or the succubus label?” Kreacher asked, holding out a pair of bottles. One of them featured a baby-headed snake, and the other a naked woman with bat wings and horns. He’d brought up several from the cellar that evening, and Severus had the distinct impression that he was trying to cheer Harry up. He supposed Harry did seem a little out of sorts after the conversation in the courtyard. “Or perhaps the mystery label?” This one was so old that it’s name was completely illegible. “Or the Salem label? All the way from the Continent.”
“Wow that… is dark,” Harry said, taking the last one from Kreacher’s hand. This bottle was decorated with an artfully rendered witch screaming horribly as she was burned at the stake. “Did they actually burn witches alive in America?” he asked.
“They weren’t really witches,” Severus answered. “If they had been, the executions would never have succeeded.”
“So the muggles just … burned each other for no reason?”
“Not unlike we wizards killing each other.”
“I suppose.” He turned back to Kreacher. “Open this one. Let’s see if it’s good.”
It was good. It was a rich, smooth, full-bodied red.
“Your cellar is a gold mine,” Severus said. “Do you ever go down there to look?”
“Not really,” Harry answered. “I wouldn’t know what I was looking at. And, like I said, I mostly stay on the ground floor.” He took a sip. “I wonder how long it’ll take for the Prophet to publish your letter.”
“Not long, I hope. I’m rather interested to see the fallout.”
“Me too. I hope Ollerton gets raked through the tabloids.”
“Oh, I doubt that. St. Mungo’s usually handles things internally.”
They spent the next hour or so discussing what might become of Wilford Ollerton, and when Kreacher opened the bottle of the baby-headed snake, it had gone bad, so they opened the one with the damaged label. That one was good again, and Severus filled their glasses. He was feeling rather agreeable, but not quite as drunk as the last time, and he thought that he might be able to get some more spellwork done in the morning if he slept well.
“Ok,” Harry said. “I have more questions now.”
“Now that you’ve had a bottle of wine?” Severus asked back.
“I’ve had less than a bottle. But… yes.”
“Well, have at me. I’ve been waiting for your questions for weeks and weeks, haven’t I?”
Harry tucked his legs up under himself in his chair and held his glass with both hands, and Severus was struck with a little shiver of foreboding. He looked nervous, and that was rare. What was he going to ask?
“So…” Harry began, but trailed off. “Actually this is a little harder than I thought it would be.” Severus just nodded. “Ok. How about… Dumbledore made you kill him.” He paused, and Severus nodded again. “Because he was going to die anyway.”
“Why not just let Draco do it, then? What was the point of it being you?”
“Our Headmaster, in his infinite wisdom, believed that such an act would damage Draco irreparably.”
“Well, what about you?”
“What about me?”
“Didn’t he care what would happen to you?”
Severus tapped his fingers against his leg, remembering how he himself had asked Dumbledore that very question. He’d shown that memory to Harry, too, right at the end.
“As I think you saw, Albus believed that it would not trouble me. As he had asked me to do it.”
“It did, though.”
“Yes, it did.” Severus paused, and topped off their glasses. “And there was something else. Narcissa believed, rightly, I’m sure, that the Dark Lord meant Draco to fail, and to die in the attempt. She asked me to make an unbreakable vow to protect him.”
“Yeah, I think I knew that, too.”
“So, if I had taken it upon myself to prevent Draco from sewing chaos through other means, I could not have done it. I could not have, for example, put him under the imperius curse, or otherwise disabled him.”
“Hm,” Harry said. “It would have killed you.”
“So, after Dumbledore was gone, you disapparated. Where did you go?”
“Malfoy Manor. We were all there. It was the Headquarters.”
“Was Draco punished for failing?”
Severus looked away. “Yes,” he answered. There was a long pause.
“You cursed George’s ear off.”
Severus looked back up. “I missed.”
“That was Sectumsempra.”
Harry paused again, and Severus thought he could almost see the wheels turning in his brain. Deciding something. He braced himself. “I want to tell you something. Can I?”
“The night Dumbledore fell. When I chased after you, you told me - Screamed at me - that you were the Half-Blood Prince. It just about ruined my life.”
“Oh? After everything else, is that what almost did it?”
“Yeah, it was.” Harry put his glass on the side table and hugged his knees. “I know it sounds stupid but… I don’t think you appreciate what that book meant to me. I spent an entire year pouring over it. Reading it at night, when I couldn't sleep. Trying out the instructions and spells and stuff. I was obsessed with it. With the Prince.” He stopped, and looked at the floor. “With you.”
“But… It was just a book.”
“No,” Harry insisted. “It wasn’t just a book. It was like my friend. That was a terrible year. I didn’t have anyone, really. Just that book.” He scoffed a little at himself, and it sounded quite sad. “Hermione thought it was evil. She thought he was a dark wizard and kept trying to get me to get rid of it. And then - ”
“I - ”
“And told you.”
“And disappeared. Yeah. And - I thought - ” His breath seized, and he broke off like he was trying to control himself, but failing.
Severus was mortified. He had not known this before, and he did not want to know it now. He’d thought that Harry was using his old potions book to impress Slughorn and to steal his spells. The idea that Harry had been reading his notations, alone, in the middle of the night, for comfort was … awful.
“I - don’t know what to say,” he began. Harry angrily wiped his eyes and then drained his glass in a single large swallow.
“Don’t say anything,” he said, and held it out for a refill. Severus obliged him. “It burned up in a fire, did you know that?”
“What, my book?”
“Yes. Crabbe cast fiend fyre in the room of requirement, where I’d hidden it. Everything in there burned, and it killed him. Incinerated him.” He took another sip, but a more normal sized one. “We saved Draco and Goyle, though.”
“Did you? Why?” Severus had been wondering how Draco survived. It hadn’t been in any of the papers - he just wasn’t on the list of the dead.
Harry glared at him. “Why? Because that’s what I do, I guess. I’m a fucking hero, aren’t I?”
“Yes, you are,” Severus answered, and then pressed himself back into his seat in surprise as Harry suddenly appeared directly in front of him.
“I loved the Prince. He saved me,” Harry said, pointing into Severus’ face. “And he was you. ”
“I’m sorry,” Severus answered. “I didn’t know.” Harry sneered and turned away, but Severus caught his wrist. “Harry,” he insisted. “I am sorry.” Harry wrenched his arm free and stumbled back.
“There’s no SORRY,” he snarled, and Severus stood up, too, alarmed by his sudden shift in mood. “No more saying sorry, ok? I hate it. I don’t ever want to hear it again. Not EVER. Not from you.”
“No. Listen to me, ok? Everyone says sorry. So sorry. Poor Harry. I’m so sorry for your losses, Harry, I’m so sorry about your nightmares, Harry, I’m sorry for everything you went through, Harry. Poor HARRY. Well, you know who should be sorry? ME.” He hurled his glass into the fireplace, where it shattered. “All the people that died for me. The wounded. The orphans.” He let out an inarticulate groan of rage and grief and spun back around to face Severus standing there. “Look what happened to you. Look at you! And those seizures. GOD.”
Severus held out his arms. “Harry,” he said again. “What are you talking about? You ended the war. You saved everyone.”
“No,” Harry answered, and all the anger suddenly drained out of his voice. “It’s my fault. You did it for me. Everyone did. And I - I tried to die for it. I wanted to. But - ” He stopped suddenly, and his face crumpled into an expression of such abject agony that Severus was sure he was about to burst into tears. But he didn’t. He turned away, and when he spoke, his voice was quite calm. “I lived. Again.”
“Yes, you did,” Severus said softly. “And so did I. I thought I would never get the chance to speak to you again, or tell you - anything. So you tell me, if you won’t accept my remorse - What is it that you want? What else can I give you?” He felt just then that he would give Harry absolutely anything at all. Whatever he wanted. Anything.
Harry did not look at him, but stayed facing the mess he’d made in the hearth for a long, silent moment.
“I don’t have any idea what I want from you,” he said slowly. “No fucking idea at all.”
Harry might not have any idea of what he was after, but Severus thought maybe he had one. A mad one, like at the hospital. And like at the hospital, he did not think through its consequences. He just did it. He walked over to where Harry was standing near the fireplace, took hold of his shoulder, turned him around, and embraced him.
For a moment, Harry was as stiff as a mannequin in his arms, like he’d been petrified. But then he inhaled, and the tension drained from his body so suddenly that Severus had to take some of his weight. He’d thought maybe Harry would shove him off. Push him away. Shout at him again. But he didn’t do any of those things. Instead, Harry’s hands came up around his back, and he pressed his face into his shoulder. Serverus could feel the edge of his glasses through his shirt very distinctly, and his fingertips, and his chest rising and falling.
What a foreign sensation.
“It was you,” Harry whispered. “It was you.”
I loved the Prince. He saved me.
Severus did not know what he could say that wasn’t an apology. No more sorry? He was sorry. Everything inside him felt like ‘I’m sorry.’ What else was there to say, other than that?
“You can hate me,” was what came out of him. “I’d deserve it if you did.” That was pretty close to what his apologies meant, he supposed. Hate me. And Harry should, really. Harry should despise him for the things he’d done. All the pain he’d caused. The violence. The destruction. The lies. Oh, Merlin, all the lies.
Harry’s fingers fisted in his clothes and his arms tightened.
“But - I don’t,” he said.
Severus slid one of his hands a little higher to cup the back of Harry’s neck, wanting, in some small way, to comfort him. To ease his suffering. As if there could be a less appropriate person to try to do that than Severus Snape.
“I deserve nothing but your contempt,” he said softly. “Nothing but your scorn.” He could feel Harry’s ribcage expanding and contracting against him, and under his palm, and when Harry scoffed, he could feel that, too. “You think I don’t believe that? I believe it. I have never deserved a single moment of your grace. But you saved me anyway. Like tearing Draco Malfoy from the mouth of hell. No regard for whether or not I deserved it.”
“You deserved it.”
Harry gave a shaky little laugh. “No one’s perfect.”
“No one’s perfect,” Severus agreed, turning his face into Harry’s wild hair and inhaling. “Not even you.”
Harry shivered and then went still, and in the silence that followed, Severus abruptly became very aware of Harry’s body in his arms. It was like a light turning on in his brain, illuminating a thought he’d had in the hospital in a very new way: Harry Potter is a man.
Harry Potter is a man and he kissed you and you’re touching him right now, and maybe you should let go.
“This is really confusing,” Harry whispered.
“Yes, it is.” Deeply confusing. Like a hallucination. Maybe Severus was still in St. Mungo’s, in the group ward, and this had all been a dream. Or maybe he’d died, after all, and looking into Harry’s eyes in his last moment of life had triggered this bizarre purgatory. Or maybe he was actually standing here, in Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, with Harry Potter in his arms. “Shall I let go of you?” he asked. Harry turned his head a little to rest his cheek on Severus’ chest, and that felt like a no, didn’t it?
“Masters Potter and Snape, Dinner is s- oh. Apologies.” Kreacher stopped in the doorway like he’d hit a wall, turned on his heel, and walked right back out.
“Oh, god,” Harry breathed. “Kreacher.”
“Such excellent timing,” Severus murmured. “He and Abigail would get along so well.”
“Ha,” Harry whispered, pulling away. “Sorry, Kreacher. We’re coming.” He took about four steps towards the kitchen before looking back at Severus standing in the middle of the parlour. His expression was inscrutable, and he didn’t speak. He just gestured for Severus to follow him, so Severus did.
Dinner might have been awkward if they weren’t both so drunk. As it was, it was quite enjoyable, and they had roast chicken with risotto and summer squash, and drank more, and when Severus went to bed he was nearly staggering, and he fell asleep in his clothes.
The scratchy voice filtered down to him from a long way away.
“Master Snape. Master Snape.”
“Master Potter is ill. Will Master Snape come?”
“What?” He opened his eyes to see the bat-eared silhouette of Kreacher about ten centimeters from his face. He jerked back. “What?” It was dark. What time was it?
“Master Potter is ill. Kreacher does not know what to do.” Severus sat up and his head swam. Whatever time it was, he hadn’t been asleep quite long enough to metabolize all the alcohol.
“Where is he?” Severus asked.
Downstairs in the living room there was a nest of empty blankets on the couch, partly spilled onto the floor like Harry had vacated them at speed. Kreacher, jiggling up and down in distress, pointed to the bathroom door. It was open just a crack, letting out a shaft of light.
“Harry?” Severus called. There was no answer, so he tapped gently on the lintel. “Are you alright?” Still no answer. He pushed the door open a little further to see Harry draped over the toilet bowl with his head hanging weakly between his shoulders.
“Oh, jeez,” Harry muttered, not looking up. “Did Kreacher get you?” He spit weakly into the water.
“Master Potter is ill,” Kreacher croaked, dancing anxiously back and forth behind Severus’ legs. “Master Potter is ill.”
“I’m f-fine, Kreacher. I told you.” He wiped his mouth and sat back on the floor with his eyes closed. He was very obviously not fine. He was parchment white, and shivering, and so drenched with sweat that his t-shirt was almost translucent. “I just had a n-nightmare.”
“Must have been some nightmare,” Severus said quietly, offering his hand. “Come on.” Harry cracked one eye to look at him.
“I’m fine,” he repeated. “I don’t need help.”
“Well you’re getting it anyway, aren’t you?” Severus answered. “Off the floor, now.” Harry looked at his hand, and then up at his face, and then back to his hand, and took it, and Severus hauled him up. On his feet, Harry swayed, and Severus was afraid he was going to get sick again, but he just braced one hand on the sink and took a deep breath.
“Sorry,” he said.
“It’s alright,” Severus answered. “Kreacher? Will you fetch some fresh clothes?”
“Yes, Master Snape!” Kreacher gasped, and hurried away.
Kreacher came back in short order with a stack of pajamas, a sweater, and some woolen socks, and Severus took them from him while Harry rinsed out his mouth and splashed some water on his face. He was still very pale as Severus cast a cleaning charm over him, but the shivering was beginning to ebb, so he left him alone to change.
In the living room, he looked down at the pile of blankets. It really was a rather sad sleeping arrangement. Why didn’t Harry want to sleep in a bed? There were probably seven beds in the house, but still, he wanted the couch? Severus touched one of the throws and found that it, too, was damp with sweat, so he bade Kreacher take them all away and bring something else. Then he cast a cleaning charm on the sofa itself, and sat on it.
When Harry came out he looked depleted, and tired, and deeply embarrassed. Without his glasses, the effect was even stronger than it might have been otherwise. He looked vulnerable. Tender. Like he needed protection. Which, Severus knew, he had never had in his life.
“What time is it?” Harry asked, running one hand through his hair.
“Half-past four,” Kreacher croaked from behind an armful of new bedclothes. Harry grimaced.
“I didn’t mean to wake you up,” he said.
“You didn’t,” Severus answered, and then beckoned. “Come sit.” Harry moved over to the couch, sat at the very opposite end, and clutched his own arms. He didn’t speak, but he did take the blankets from Kreacher’s hands, wrapping them around himself like a cloak. Severus thought maybe he should have cast a warming charm on him, too. “Does that happen often?” he asked.
Harry shrugged. “Oh, not really.”
“At least three times a week, Master Snape!” Kreacher croaked.
“Kreacher!” Harry scolded him. The effect was immediate. Kreacher’s eyes screwed up, and he raised his own fist like he was about to punch himself in the face. “HEY! Kreacher, NO! No punishing!” Kreacher froze, his arm trembling and his eyes wide.
“Ap-o-lo-gies Mast-er Pot-ter,” he croaked slowly.
“Arm down,” Harry said forcefully. “Down.” Kreacher dropped his fist. “Relax. Sit.” Kreacher sat on the floor. “Better.” Harry glared at the little elf and then fell back against the cushions like that exchange had taken all of his remaining strength. Severus frowned at them both.
“Three times a week?” he asked. “Is anyone… seeing to that?”
“Come on, no,” Harry answered quietly, pulling the blankets closer in around his neck. “I’m fine.”
“What do you normally do?” Severus asked, not liking the image this conversation was calling up in his brain. Harry, crumpled on the bathroom floor, alone, at least three times a week, for months and months in this dark old house.
“Usually I’m just kind of… awake, after. I just read, or sit, or go outside, sometimes.”
“It would be better for you to sleep.”
Harry looked down at his legs. “Yeah,” he said.
Severus thought about that. Harry had been awake and dressed by the time Severus got up every morning so far. He’d assumed that was because he himself was sleeping so much. Maybe that was … not the reason. Maybe Harry wasn’t sleeping very much at all.
“Will you lay down, at least?” he asked. Harry just stared at him from his cocoon of blankets, and Severus knew that if this had happened that first night at Grimmauld Place, he would never have dared do what he was about to do now. But Harry was alone, he was cold, and he had nightmares. Nightmares so terrible and so often that they made him sick. And Harry had allowed Severus to touch him several times already. So, why not? They had obviously entered an alternate universe.
He patted his leg, opened his hands, and said it again.
“Harry. Lay down.”
After another moment’s hesitation, he obeyed, and laid his head on Severus’ lap where he’d indicated. He didn’t close his eyes, though. Instead, he turned onto his side so he was facing away, and went absolutely still.
“Aren’t you going to ask me?” he whispered.
“About my - dream.”
Severus very tentatively touched his hair, and when he made no move to withdraw, began carding his fingers through it. It was soft, which he already knew, and under his hand, Harry sighed, and closed his eyes.
“I don't think you want me to ask,” Severus murmured into the silence.
“I don’t. But usually people still do.”
Chapter 8: Tabloid Celebrity
Severus woke up with a very stiff neck, a hangover, and no idea where he was.
Blinking around, disoriented, he could hear Harry and Kreacher chatting somewhere nearby. Where in the bleeding hell was he? The living room? He looked down at himself to see that he was fully dressed in the clothes he’d been wearing the day before, and slowly, the events of the night began to filter back into his brain.
Oh, that’s right. Harry shouted at him, and broke a glass, and then fell asleep on him. Severus had meant to stand vigil, but obviously he’d failed.
He got up and went into the kitchen, where a newspaper immediately flew at his head. He didn’t really appreciate that. His reflexes were slow and he didn’t catch it.
“What?” he asked, annoyed, as he stooped down to pick it up. It was that morning’s Daily Prophet. “Oh.”
Emblazoned across the front page was the headline: ‘I WAS MISTREATED AT ST. MUNGO’S,’ SAYS WAR HERO SEVERUS SNAPE. And the subtitle: Potion’s Master Wilford Ollerton Under Investigation.
“Oh, come now. I never used the word ‘mistreated.’”
“I think they mean it in the technical sense. As in - treated incorrectly.” Severus looked at Harry. He didn’t look hungover at all. And he certainly didn’t look like he’d been up half the night vomiting and shivering, either. He looked perfectly fine, and Severus was at once very grateful that Kreacher had woken him up. Otherwise, he might not have known what was happening for a long time.
“Well, they should say what they mean, then,” he said, and sat at the table. He spread open the paper and began to read. They had, indeed, printed his letter in its entirety, and had a rather lengthy follow-up piece that seemed intended as a primer for laypersons to understand what had happened to him. It was pretty dumbed-down, but accurate enough. St. Mungo’s as an institution declined to comment, but they did have a brief quote from Abigail stating that Severus was a model patient and that the Healers had done their best. He hoped she’d had authority to speak.
“They don’t really say what’s going to happen to him. I was hoping his fate would be splashed over the front page,” Harry said.
“There will probably be a hearing,” Severus answered, turning to the jump. “But I’m quite sure he’ll end up out on the street.”
“I wonder if your former ward will get inundated with more gifts. You’re such a tragic figure, I bet it will.” Severus looked back up to see that he was smiling, but it looked a little strained. Maybe he was hoping Severus wouldn’t mention their nighttime adventure.
“I might find my house buried in largess when I ever get back there.”
“You’ll need a pickaxe to get to the front door,” Harry answered. “Guess you’ll have to stay here for a while.” Or… maybe he did want him to mention it.
“Speaking of brute force, I thought I might continue on with the defensive spells today,” Severus said. “I’m feeling well enough, I think.”
Harry’s eyes moved over him. “Are you?”
“Oh, yes. Quite well.” He paused, trying to read Harry’s expression. “And how are you feeling? Did you sleep?” Harry looked away.
Alright, don’t mention it.
“Yeah, a bit,” he said. “I feel fine.”
Kreacher presented them with little individual quiches, decorated with scalloped edges. They were excellent.
“I think he is trying to get you to stay,” Harry muttered to him while Kreacher was busy with the dishes. “Look at that pastry work.”
Severus rather thought Kreacher might be trying to thank him for getting Harry to go back to sleep. He looked at the back of the elf’s potato-like head where he was stationed at the sink, and thought about how he’d risked his master’s displeasure to tell Severus that Harry needed help. That Harry needed something that Kreacher couldn’t provide.
“He’s an uncommonly skilled House Elf.”
Severus spent about three hours completing the spellwork he’d begun on monday, and after he was done, he took a shower, and spent a while transfiguring some of his clothes to be less aggressively formal. But then he was tired again, and took a nap. He woke up to the sound of Harry cursing out in the back courtyard, so loudly he could hear it through the window.
“Has someone offended you?” Severus asked, leaning against the siding of the house. Harry was clutching his left hand in his right and pacing back and forth.
“Cut myself. Shit!” he said. “Grabbed some - glass.” Severus went over to see. There was indeed a sinister glitter partly hidden in a tangle of ivy, and Harry had, apparently, seized a piece of it full force as he tried to pull out some of the vines. Blood was running down his wrist.
“Give it here,” Severus said, holding out his hands. Harry offered his own with a grimace of disgust at the sight of the glass still embedded in his palm.
“This place is such a mess,” he said. Severus looked down at the shard, hesitating. It was large, and jagged, and he couldn’t tell how deep it was, but the blood was very dark. Harry looked at it, too, and then away. “Go on. Pull it out. FUCK!”
“It’s out,” Severus said, dropping it and withdrawing his wand as quite a lot more blood began to well out of the wound. “Vulnus Consilio.” It closed up. “Tergio.” He began siphoning off the gore. Once it was gone, he let go of Harry’s hand, and Harry opened and closed it a few times.
“Wow,” he said. “That works way better than episkey.”
“Episkey isn’t really for gashes. And your hands are not for cleaning up broken glass, either.”
“I didn’t see it,” Harry answered, scowling. “There’s all kinds of rubbish out here. I don’t think the Order ever came outside.”
“No, I shouldn’t think so. No time for gardening back then.” He paused, looking at Harry’s dirt-streaked face, and pallid complexion. Had he eaten breakfast? “Maybe you should take a break.”
Harry took a shower and Kreacher served them lunch in the sitting room. Now that Severus was suspicious, he noticed that Harry wasn’t really eating it. Instead, he just picked at his food half-heartedly and sort of moved it around his plate so that it would be harder to tell he wasn’t eating. It was rather well done, Severus thought, and he wondered who else Harry had pretended to eat for. He was a rather small person. Who’d been taking care of him at school? Before the war? Anyone?
When Kreacher came in to check on them, he saw how little Harry had eaten, sculked back to the kitchen, and then, very quietly, reappeared on his tiptoes. Severus watched him, nonplussed, as he crept into the room, positioned himself a few feet behind Harry’s chair, and waved. Harry was looking at his plate, so Severus raised his eyebrows at the elf. Kreacher waved again, pulled a face, and then, still quite silent, began gesticulating wildly between Harry and his full plate. His meaning was quite clear. Make him eat his food. Severus put down his fork.
“Harry,” he said. Harry looked up. “Eat.” Kreacher put his gnarled hands together and looked at the ceiling like he was praying.
“What? I am eating.”
Harry scowled at his plate. “I’m not that hungry.”
“Eat. You just sacrificed about a pint of blood to your garden. You need food.”
“Fine.” Harry rolled his eyes. “Mum.”
Severus didn’t think Harry took the tabloids, but he was wrong. The next day, Friday, all of his weekly papers came at once, and there were three scandal-sheets among them.
“I didn’t think you subscribed to the rubbish,” Severus said, removing a rolled-up copy of the Wizards Voice from the outstretched leg of an annoyed-looking Screech Owl that had, in fact, screeched, when Harry didn’t get to him fast enough.
“Oh, yeah, I like to keep up with the insane rumors. Last month I was apparently spotted shoplifting at Tesco's.”
Severus snorted. “How rude of you.”
“Mm.” Harry took a sip of his tea, unfurled his copy of Witch Weekly, and then spat his tea back out all over the table.
“What?” Severus asked, appalled. Harry just started to laugh, and Severus snatched the issue out of his hands to see. There was a large picture of Kreacher, striding purposely up the front steps of his house in his little white toga, with the headline: HOUSE ELF SPOTTED ON SPINNER’S END. And the subtitle: Where is Severus Snape?
“Oh, Lord,” he muttered. Harry had his head on the table and was giggling breathlessly into the wood. He obviously felt better, today. Must be the food. “Merlin, Potter. Take a breath.”
“Master?” Kreacher asked, hurrying over to see if Harry was alright. “Are you unwell?”
“He’s just laughing, Kreacher,” Severus said. “About my tragic life,” he added under his breath.
Harry sat back in his seat, wiping his eyes, and then grabbed the paper back. “Kreacher, look!” he said, holding it out for the House Elf to see. “You’re in the paper! Front page!”
“Hmph,” Kreacher said.
“Did you encounter any reporters at my house, Kreacher?” Severus asked.
“Oh, yes,” Kreacher croaked. “Many reporters.”
“Did you speak to them?”
“No, Master Snape. Kreacher treated them like lawn ornaments.” Harry started laughing again, and Severus glared at him.
“Let me see that.”
The story had very little of substance. It was mostly a rehashing of the old coverage of Severus’ role in the resistance, with a little sprinkling of “tragic backstory,” for flavor. The real interest came near the end, where the author, a one Malinda Gobshock, rather devolved into a long and very uncomfortable rant about how St. Mungo’s had botched his treatment and that everyone involved should be fired for “damaging” someone so “precious” as Severus Snape.
“Oh, I think she likes me,” Severus said, handing the paper back to Harry. He pointed to the passage, and Harry got about half-way through before losing it.
“PFFfff - ” Harry started giggling uncontrollably. “She’s right you- you’re a - precious - precious resource - ” he was overcome. “Of wi- wizarding knowledge!” Severus rolled his eyes and took up the Wizard’s Voice, hoping to see nothing at all. But this one had a picture of Kreacher, too, and one that was apparently a photo of Severus mid-apparition. It was just a black, blurry whorl about the size of a basketball, but the description insisted it was him, and maybe it was.
WHOSE HOUSE-ELF? DO YOU KNOW? Was the headline, with the very alarming cutline, We will pay for information! Send your owls to our Headquarters, 2120 Petra Ln, London.
“Oh,” he said.
“Is it in all of them?” Harry asked.
“It seems to be. Does anyone know that Kreacher is yours?”
Harry held out his hands for the Wizard’s Voice. “No one that would tell.” But then, suddenly, there was a crack outside. And then another one. And then about fourteen more. Harry and Severus both looked up at the square as reporters began appearing in clusters. “Uh,” Harry said.
“Or maybe someone did tell,” Severus breathed.
“Maybe,” Harry answered. “Or maybe it’s just a guess. I visited you a lot. They can’t see the house, though. No way.”
The reporters outside began to mill around like they were looking for something. And then one of them pointed to the house next door, and they all ran over to look at the number, and then they all ran over to the house on the other side, and looked at that number. And then they all scattered to look at all the other houses in the square.
“See? They can’t see it. Tons of people know generally where I live, but no one knows exactly.” He put the paper down. “Plus, with all that extra charmwork you did, even if they could see it, they can’t take any pictures or notes, right?”
“Not if my spells hold up. I’m glad I finished.” The reporters outside were running around like they thought they might be able to catch the house unawares. Idiots.
“Me too,” Harry said. Then he shrugged like this was all terribly normal. And maybe, for him, it was. “Well, I say we ignore it. They swarmed all over for the first two months and then gave up. I think they’ll give up again.”
“Two months,” Severus repeated, agast.
Harry gave him a half smile. “I’m very famous,” he said, and drained the last bit of tea in his cup. “Well. Want to help me get rid of the rubbish out back? That’s warded too, right? The courtyard?”
Severus looked at him for a long moment. “Is this what your life is like?”
“Yep,” Harry said. “Pretty much since the Tri Wizard Tournament, actually. I’m always in the papers. It’s really annoying but it is what it is.”
“Well, yes, I did ward the courtyard. I would have been remiss not to. You spend all your time out there.”
Outside, the weather was lovely, though Severus rather wished for a freak rainstorm to drench the reporters. Harry followed him out and brandished his wand like he was preparing for a duel.
“I am ready to learn!” he said.
“If only you’d been as enthusiastic about Occlumency as you are about gardening,” Severus muttered. Harry did seem enthusiastic - even happy - and Severus wondered if the reporters guarding the door had actually lifted his spirits even more than Kreacher in the tabloids. It was almost like he was happy to be trapped in Grimmauld Place. Or… he was happy that Severus was trapped there.
“What?” Harry asked, pretending he hadn’t heard.
“I said,” Severus drawled, “this is your birthday present so I hope you enjoy it.”
Severus took Harry through a few basic household spells that most wizards already knew, but that were not taught in school. As he’d anticipated, Harry was not familiar with them. He’d been raised by muggles, after all, and no one had thought to teach him anything much that couldn’t be used for defensive or military purposes. He’d been made into a weapon and then dumped out into adult life when he was no longer needed. No wonder he didn’t know how to clear rubbish from a yard.
Harry took to it pretty well, all things considered, although he did almost hit himself in the face with a big chunk of broken tile when he first tried the targeted summoning charm Severus showed him. It probably would have knocked out his teeth if Severus’ hadn’t managed to squeak in a protego at the very last second. It knocked Harry flat, but otherwise, he was fine.
“Thanks,” Harry said, taking Severus’ offered hand. “I’m no good at this sort of thing.”
“Yes, you are,” Severus answered. “Your charms are too strong, that’s all. That’s what happens when your main experience of magic is combat.”
Harry blinked at him like it had never occurred to him that every magical child wasn’t raised in an atmosphere of war. “Oh,” he said. “Is that why I sucked at potions so much?”
“I think that may have been a combination of things. Let’s try again.”
Harry did try again, and listened to him when he tried to explain how to moderate the magic he expended. It took a while.
“There is value in a light hand, Harry,” Severus said, flicking his wand so that a pile of pebbles near an overgrown cluster of hollyhocks assembled themselves into a neat spiral pattern. “There is skill in gentleness.” He turned to see Harry looking at him like he had never before associated the word gentle with the name Severus Snape. And maybe he hadn’t. Why would he? Severus cleared his throat. “Now you.”
The reporters were still milling hopefully around outside when Harry and Severus came back in for lunch, and they were still out there when the sun started to set, and the courtyard was looking rather more like somewhere Harry actually belonged, instead of a rubbish dump. Severus was starting to find the guests outside kind of funny. Or, at least, he started thinking it was funny after the first round of wine roulette. And certainly Harry found it funny.
“You know,” Harry said, sinking down into his chair and stretching out his legs. “Bothering me is an actual job.”
“I think I had that job for a while,” Severus answered.
“Ha,” Harry answered back. “I meant the reporters, Severus.” Severus looked into his glass. He still hadn’t quite gotten used to hearing Harry say his name like that. It wasn’t bad - he just wasn’t used to it. “They call it the Potter Beat.”
“Staking out your house is called the Potter Beat?” Severus asked. “That is obnoxious.” Harry laughed.
“I wonder what yours is called? The Snape Sector.”
Severus rolled his eyes. “Are you drunk?” he asked.
“Not yet,” Harry answered, his eyes twinkling. “The Half-Blood Prince Precinct.”
“The Potions Master Patrol.”
“Merlin, no. If anyone’s is a Patrol it’s yours. The Potter Patrol.” Severus started laughing, too. It was just so absurd. Absolutely everything that had happened since he’d woken up had been absurd. Candy and flowers and plushes and Harry Potter in his arms. Harry Potter drunk, and laughing, and asleep in his lap. “The Boy Who Lived Bureau.”
“Oh noooo,” Harry wheezed. “The Ch-chosen One Comission.” He could hardly get it out he was laughing so hard. “And now - now - it’s the both of us! How about - the - the - ” He held out both hands like he was about to say something critically important. “The SCAR ZONE.”
Severus just gaped at him for a moment before bursting back into laughter. “That is awful.”
“Sorry,” Harry laughed, practically in tears. Severus covered his face with his hands. Harry’s laughter was infectious. What in god’s name had become of his life? “Sorry, jeez. Ha - ”
“Oh, you can say sorry? I thought saying sorry was banned.”
Harry wiped his eyes, catching his breath. “I told you not to say sorry,” he said. “I can say sorry as much as I want.”
“That isn’t fair.”
“Well,” Harry said, looking down his nose, his expression abruptly haughty. “It may have escaped your notice, Potter, but life isn’t fair.” Severus stared at him.
“You,” he said slowly, “are unforgivable.”
“Likewise, Professor Snape,” Harry answered. “And yet I continue to forgive you.” He smiled like he was about to laugh again, but then he caught sight of Severus’ expression and stopped. “Oh. I said something wrong.” Severus looked away from him. “Hey, I didn’t mean to call you Professor. Sorry, that was weird.”
“No,” Severus said. “It wasn’t that. I - ” he stopped, and tried again. “Do you - ” that was no good, either. He took a sip of his wine. It was a rather sweet port. Not bad, just sweet. When he didn’t finish his thought, Harry rescued him. He seemed to be in the habit.
“Do I… forgive you?” Severus looked up and then immediately back down. He hadn’t expected Harry to be looking at him, but he was, and eye contact felt unbearable, though he wasn’t sure why. “I do,” Harry said. “I do forgive you. I thought you knew that, by now.”
Severus supposed he had known that. After everything he’d done, obviously Harry forgave him. But how much did Harry really know? Just what Severus had given him on his deathbed surely would have painted a rosier picture than was accurate. He’d done… awful things. He did not deserve forgiveness, as he’d said already. Maybe Harry thought he was being self-sacrificing. But he wasn’t. He was being honest.
“How much do you know?” he asked.
“Well,” Harry started, pressing his knuckles against his lips for a moment before taking them away. “I know a lot. I testified for you. I think you read about it.”
“Well, I saw most of the other interrogations, too. At least the big ones. I heard some pretty terrible things. And I put together a lot on my own, too.” He paused. “You killed Scrimgeour, didn’t you?”
Severus looked into his wine. Red - dark - like arterial blood. “I did,” he said.
“You tortured him,” Harry said.
“Yes.” Severus looked towards the black windows, where he knew the reporters were still milling about, hoping for a glimpse of him. Because they thought he was a hero. “I tortured him.” He looked back at Harry. “But he didn’t break. He didn’t tell us - I mean, the Deatheaters - he didn’t give us anything on you at all.”
Harry smiled sadly. “I hated him,” he said. “Maybe that was a mistake.”
“I’m going to give you more nightmares.”
“No, you won’t. I have them all the time, really. And I want to know. What did he say?”
“He didn’t say anything. Nothing at all.” He’d screamed, though. He’d screamed and screamed and screamed. “He spat on me.”
“He didn’t say anything?”
You’ll burn in hell, the lot of you.
Do your worst. I know you’re going to lose. I believe in Harry Potter.
Harry looked out the window, too, and Severus thought about Scrimgeour’s blood in a pool on the floor, and about Charity, and so many others, murdered right in front of him if not by his own hand. He thought about standing at the right hand of the Dark Lord for his entire adult life, and about sending Harry knowingly to his death, and going along with it for two years - and then he felt quite sick.
“Harry,” he said finally, and Harry looked back at him. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” Harry answered.
“Why didn’t I die?”
Harry looked at the floor. “You had blood-replenishing potions on you,” he said. “You saved yourself.”
“No,” Severus said. “I mean, yes, I did. But that would have only bought me time. Why didn’t I die? Who came for me?”
“Well,” Harry said after a moment. “I did. Or, I sent the Order. There was - this magic. At the end. A stone. Dumbledore gave it to me after he died. It was set in that ring - the one that almost killed him.” He paused, and Severus nodded, wanting him to continue. “It was a magical artifact. One of a kind. The Resurrection Stone.”
“The Resurrection Stone?” Severus asked. “But that - doesn’t exist. It’s a myth.”
“It is real. I had it. I held it in my hands. I saw everyone - my parents, and Lupin, and Sirius. They helped me to - to - ” He broke off, and the sound that came out of him made Severus’ heart squeeze in his chest. Suddenly the hilarity of a few moments ago felt like another world. “Seeing them helped me to go through with it. But you weren’t there, and I thought…” That time, when he trailed off he didn’t continue, so Severus finished for him.
“You thought that I was alive.”
“Yeah. And I was right.”
“And you’re alive right now, too.”
“I seem to be, yes.” Something about that story didn’t make sense, though. Out of all the people that had died, he’d only seen his parents, and Sirius, and Remus? Why would he expect to see Severus, too? He was hardly in the same category as those four, was he? “But… did you really expect me to appear?”
“After what I saw in your memories? Yeah. I expected it. I wanted to speak to you. I wanted to tell you that I was going to do it. I thought maybe - if you were gone - that you didn’t know you’d succeeded. I mean…” Severus waited, that time. He did not break the silence. “You were the only one left that knew what I had to do, weren’t you? No one else had any idea. No one else could have told me. When Nagini bit you - when Voldemort decided you had to die - you must have thought you’d failed.”
“Oh, yes,” Severus answered softly. “I was quite sure it was all over. But then you appeared. It was - ” It was like a miracle. So, tell him that. Just tell him. He looked up and met Harry’s eyes. “It was like a miracle. For you to come, right then… Just when I - ”
“I saw all of it. I saw Him do it,” Harry said. “And after… There was so much blood. You were… white. I was sure you were gone. And once I understood what you’d done - I mean… I was sure you’d be in the stone. But you weren’t. You weren’t there. So, after it was over, I sent a party after you. They said it was just in time. That you were…”
“On death’s door?” Severus asked.
“Technical term,” Harry answered, and the corners of his lips turned down.
“Dinner,” Kreacher piped up from the doorway. “Beef stew with crusty bread, if it pleases Masters.”
Harry held his eyes for a long moment, and Severus knew they were both thinking the very same thing: Severus, bleeding to death, begging for Harry to look at him.
“Yes, thank you, Kreacher,” Harry said. “That sounds great.”