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The Wizard’s Bond

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The Wizard's Bond

 



Chapter 1: Erotic Dreams

Hands. Harry’s breathing quickened as strong hands lifted his hips higher, holding him, pressing into his flesh firmly. One hand slid upwards, caressing a hip, trailing along his ribs, finally coming to rest between his jutting shoulder blades. Pressure. And he was pressed down, face first into the soft pillow beneath him, his hands grabbing madly for the small headboard slats to steady his balance. Now he had to turn and crane his neck to see his lover, whose face was obscured by midnight shadows.

Elegant pale hands, shaded by soft moonbeams, fingertips gleamed with slickness in the soft moonlight. Hair brushed his shoulders and neck as his lover leaned over him, placing soft sucking kisses on his neck as deft, oiled fingers probed lower, stretching him, opening him for their mutual pleasure.

Harry gasped for air, breaths coming in gusting susurrations, as shivers ran through his body. Hard muscles against his back steadied him, and strong arms prevented him from collapsing into the softness below as teasing, cruel fingers probed and massaged something deep inside that made him want to scream in pleasure and laugh joyously at the same time.

“More,” he demanded. And as always, his lover complied.

Harry groaned at the sensation of being penetrated, stretched and filled seemingly beyond his capacity. He squinted in the dim light, looking along the length of his own body, half expecting to see a furrow pushed out along his smooth, flat belly, evidence of his lover’s possession of his body. And possessed he was.

Those elegant hands slid along his trembling body in a demanding caress, coaxing every secret, every unnamed desire he had ever had from his quivering flesh. He felt those hands tease and dance along his skin, along his thighs, coaxing them further apart, as he was filled deeper than ever, joined body to body in the deepest and most intimate caress known to man.

With a muted grunt, he threw his full weight back, none too subtly increasing the rhythm, demanding more. Receiving what he tacitly demanded.

"Harder!" he commanded raggedly, the breathless command slipping through swollen lips bitten in a haze of pleasure. His demand was answered even as he spoke, and the force of the thrusts increased again, the pace becoming faster and nearly frantic, even as he tightened his grip against the bed slats and threw his weight back once again; bodies shifted until Harry sat astride his lover’s strong thighs, riding hard, even as he threw his head back in a silent scream.

"Yes!" he hissed, eyes closed and neck arched, exposing it to the hot, moist, velvet mouth that moved along his throat, nibbling, sucking, making him nearly insane with desperate need.

Strong fingers grabbed his hips hard enough to bruise and roughly brought him down harder, each thrust rising up to meet the downward slam of his body, sending wild tremors through him. Hands shifted, stroked along his thighs, pinched the tender insides as fingertips sank into his flesh, until he was afraid that the intensity of their coupling might split him apart.

Sweat-slicked, fever hot bodies strained together, reaching a crescendo of pleasure as something inside broke. As his body had been possessed, now was his consciousness, his soul, similarly owned. For one moment in time, barriers fell and their very souls rushed together, merged in a dance of light and harmony. Pleasure arced between them until it fused into one seamless, endless climax. They were one soul, one being. No secrets between them. Reality fell away, and this new entity simply was. Utter contentment. Absolute joy. For this one moment Harry knew his lover.

... and he woke, suddenly, his whole body aching with the abrupt loss of sensation; his mind crying out in a despair of loneliness. But the dream had left him. He kept his eyes closed, attempting to calm his ragged breathing. “Please, not again,” he begged silently. To whom his plea was addressed, or what exactly he was begging for, he had no idea.

Then, with his heartbeat and breathing gradually calming, he lay still and silent in the darkness, staring at the canopy above him. Sighing, he finally shook his head. It couldn't go on like this.

These dreams were gradually beginning to render him insane. Just once or twice wouldn't have been that bad, wouldn’t have concerned him. It was normal, or at least that’s what he had been told in his sex education classes. But it was happening so frequently now that it was no longer something he secretly enjoyed. It had gone from being a secret, illicit pleasure to a serious concern as he began to question his own sexuality. It was making him nervous and edgy; he was losing a great deal of sleep over this, and it was definitely beginning to wear on his nerves. He knew it would only be a matter of time until he lost it. He'd finally reached the point were he couldn't ignore it any longer.

Biting back a moan as limp muscles refused to cooperate, he pushed himself up out of the damp and twisted sheets and into a sitting position. He grimaced as his gaze traveled down his body. What a mess. Sighing again, he reached for his wand and extended the silencing charm around his bed along the corridor into the boy’s lavatory. Having one of his roommates wake up and comment on his debauched appearance was the last thing he needed. He got up and made his way to the bathroom.

Chapter 2: Night Terrors

The problem, Harry reflected, as he wiped the steam from the mirror, was that so far as he was concerned, he was straight, a devout heterosexual, thank you very much. Not that there was anything wrong with being queer, err…gay, his mind hastily substituted. The fact of the matter was, he had never been attracted to a man in his life.

He had certainly been curious. That, he would admit to. And he was fairly certain that the Muggle psychologists had it wrong; women didn’t have penis envy—men did. There was always a bit of surreptitious peeking going on in the showers, and Harry was forced to admit that he had done his fair share of looking. He wasn’t small, but he would have traded his invisibility cloak to have Oliver Wood’s proportions. Merlin, he was hung like a unicorn.

As Harry saw it, wanting what Oliver had and wanting what Oliver had were two distinctly separate propositions. And he had never wanted in any sense of the word.

Yet, the fact remained that his dream lover was undeniably male. Reconciling that with the undeniable fact that he was heterosexual was impossible. He had even gone so far as to sneak into the restricted section of the library to find a spell that would reveal all malevolent curses that may have been inflicted upon him, concerned that Voldemort or Malfoy had somehow hexed him. All to no avail.

He sighed as he began combing out his damp hair. A sudden oddness made him pause. Wiping the steam from the mirror and his glasses, he leaned forward to take a quick, close look at his reflection.

He let out a gasp and dropped the comb as unsteady fingers traced the unmistakable outlines of faint, rosy hued bite marks along the long column of his throat and the join of neck and shoulder. His lips were kiss swollen, which could have been from biting his lips, but the light purple bruising along his hips could not have been self inflicted. Placing his fingers into the finger marks, it was easy to see that the bruises had been made by someone with larger hands and longer fingers. Even as he watched, the light marks faded further and disappeared from sight. Legs trembling, Harry seated himself in an abrupt and unplanned manner on the cold tile of the boys’ lavatory. This was simply getting too weird for words.

He reached up to the edge of the sink and palmed his watch. Hastily wiping the fog from the crystal, he noted that the time read half past one. He sighed again. He would spend another night at the window, as he had the first night he arrived at Hogwarts. After breakfast, he would see Dumbledore. He wasn’t looking forward to confessing the strange foibles of his psyche, but he now had no choice. Something weird was definitely going on.

Chapter 3: The Forbidden Forest

Harry clutched his legs to him as he rested his chin in the small hollow between his bent knees. Bright moonlight spilled across the castle grounds, and while the beautiful view from the small window seat was serene and somehow comforting, it was also boring. All was silent. All was still.

Harry sighed and reached under his glasses to rub tiredly at his eyes. He mustn’t fall asleep—certainly not here anyway. The rawness of his throat led to the inexorable conclusion that his dreams were not silent. Without the silencing charms cast around his bed, his ensuing dreams would surely wake the entire dorm. Tired eyes cast desperately about for something to focus on, something to keep him awake. Nothing. No,…wait. There, near the east entrance, a shadow was moving.

Harry blinked and pressed his face nearly flush with the window glass, straining to see into the deep shadows. He had half convinced himself that the floating movement was merely a figment of his imagination, when the shadow moved again, forced to leave the deeper shadows encircling the castle and moving now out into the bright moonlight. Dressed all in black, the figure seemed to be composed of shadows, a figment of dark mist and imagination. Only one man at Hogwarts moved with that dark stealthliness. It had to be Professor Snape, and he was heading, without the slightest deviation, directly into the Dark Forest.

To say Harry’s interest was piqued was like saying Hermione liked to read. Thanks to a fortuitous accident, Harry had known for a while now that Snape was a Death Eater spy for Dumbledore and his Order of the Phoenix. Snape was a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, shrouded in mystery. He was a nasty bastard, but he had saved Harry’s life on more than one occasion. Why Dumbledore trusted Snape, Harry did not know, nor would Dumbledore say. For some reason the older wizard had absolute faith in the “alleged” reformed Death Eater.

Harry, though, was more apt to focus on the “alleged” portion of that statement. As Harry had gotten older, some of Dumbledore’s varnish had worn thin. He no longer saw the shining icon, but the aged, human wizard, who, in Harry’s opinion, often displayed a rather appalling lack of judgment when it came to separating friend from foe: Professor Quirrell and Gilderoy Lockhart came immediately to mind, but there were other, less extreme examples too. Dumbledore wanted to see the good in people, and so he often overlooked more than was prudent.

Given Dumbledore’s tainted judgment, Harry’s suspicions, and the fact that Snape was most certainly heading into the Dark Forest, why it was practically Harry’s sacred duty to follow Snape, gather evidence, and expose him as the Death Eater he certainly was. Harry ignored his conscience, which had of late begun to sound suspiciously like Hermione, draped his invisibility cloak over his pajamas, and grabbed his wand and broomstick, which he had carried up earlier to polish and service. If he had any hope of catching Snape before he disappeared into the forest, he had to go now—no time to dress or wake up Ron and Hermione.

Pushing off from the window, and pausing to hover only long enough to close the window behind him, Harry was soon headed directly into the cold November breeze. Leaning forward and using all of his Quidditch flying skills, Harry hoped to coax enough speed out of the broom to intercept Snape at the Great Oak, before the potions professor disappeared into the darkness of the forest.

Almost immediately Harry began to regret his decision to follow Snape into the forest. His invisibility cloak was designed for concealment, not warmth, and his pajamas and slippers were providing little in the way of a barrier for the sharp wind. He almost turned back, but convinced himself that once he landed, he wouldn’t be subject to the biting wind any longer.

Landing softly, he had just enough time to prop his broom against the oak before stumbling into the forest after Snape. Within minutes, Harry was thoroughly convinced that Snape had undergone some kind of wizard’s night commando training. The older wizard moved sure-footed and silent among the jutting roots, broken twigs and haphazard rocks that littered the forest floor. Harry cursed silently as a soft slipper provided little cushioning when his foot landed on a sharp rock.

Snape must really be intent on his destination, or else he must assume that these are normal forest noises, thought Harry. Every crackling twig and thudded footfall hung loud in Harry’s ears. Snape was oblivious though, and for that Harry was grateful. Tripping and flailing he followed Snape as closely as possible. The twisting, turning route had practically assured that Harry wouldn’t be able to find the way back on his own. He couldn’t go back now, even if he wanted to. For better or worse, his fate was now tied to Snape’s.

They walked for what seemed like hours, though it was probably only 45 minutes or so, before coming to a strangely twisted tree. It was like no tree Harry had ever seen before, though it strongly resembled a California cypress. Planted as windbreaks along the coastal islands by the early settlers and traders, the hearty trees grew and flourished, though the constant driving trade winds twisted them into grotesque shapes. There were whole islands full of trees that looked like something out of a child’s nightmare. It was odd thinking of the Granger family vacation photos while standing near this twisted nightmare in the middle of the Dark Forest. He pushed the thought firmly from his mind.

Knobby and arced over into a twisted bough, this strange tree stood sentinel, guardian to the darkness beyond. Harry wondered if Dante had ever seen a tree like this, and if so, whether he had modeled the gates of hell after its rotting form.

Snape stepped forward, murmured a few words and passed his hand slowly down his face, as if wiping it clean, then performed the same “washing” motion to his hands. Harry stared in confused curiosity. Then Snape did something Harry considered the epitome of stupidity; he laid his wand on the ground next to the entrance of the dark bower, before stepping forth into the darkness.

Realizing that Snape was his only way out of the forest, Harry took a deep breath and prepared to rush into the darkness beyond the bower, using the same reasoning Molly Weasley had advocated when advising him to run into the stone column separating platforms 9 and 10. Cloak flapping behind, Harry ran full tilt toward the darkness, only to be thrown backward like a pancake off of a spatula. Gasping for air, and trying to determine if anything was seriously damaged due to his collision with a nearby tree, he took a moment to ponder this new development. Had Snape performed some kind of dark ritual in order to enter the bower? If so, why did he leave his wand behind?

Approaching the entrance to the dark bower more cautiously this time, Harry encountered the same firm elastic barrier. It had let Snape pass. Why couldn’t he follow? Inspiration struck, and he leaned forward and picked up Snape’s wand. No sense risking his if he was wrong about this. He fingered Snape’s wand delicately, and then in a rather contradictory move, threw it forcefully into the dark bower. Well, to be more accurate, threw it at the dark bower. Snape’s wand bounced harmlessly away and landed just to the left of Harry’s feet. It was as he had surmised then; the bower repelled magic and all implements of magic.

Quickly divesting himself of his cloak and laying the folded garment with his wand, he prepared to step in after Snape, hoping that the other wizard hadn’t gotten too much of a head start. He shivered and felt new goose pimples rising. The little protection the cloak had provided was now gone. He now had another impetus to hurry.

Chapter 4: The Dark Bower

Stepping into that cold darkness was like stepping into liquid anthracite coal. It coated his body, squeezing the breath from his lungs, the life from his body; he could literally feel tons of earth pressing down against his flesh, threatening to bury him for all time in cold black dirt and sharp stone. He supposed he should have expected this, as he was technically a wizard, a being of magic. Apparently, since the magic was spread diffusely throughout his body, he could pass, but concentrated magic could not. It certainly was a disturbing passage, though, as the black portal attempted to prevent his entry, force him out of its inky confines. And then with a merciful ‘pop,’ he was finally through the barrier and had, in his estimation, walked straight into hell.

Dark, twisted trees dotted the barren landscape; the earth denuded and scorched. Even the air smelled acrid, like burning hair and sulfur dioxide. If possible, it was even darker here than in the Dark Forest proper. Harry had little time to think as Snape began to walk, picking his way quickly through the loose rubble and charred wood. He wondered that Snape wasn’t further ahead.

Harry stood behind one of the terrible, twisted trees, undecided. There was little cover. If he followed Snape, he would most assuredly be seen. He could wait here for Snape to come back, if Snape came back this way. To the best of his reckoning, they were in some kind of alternate dimension, nearly lifeless and devoid of magic. There could be other portals scattered throughout the plane that would take Snape back to the Dark Forest, or there might be just the one way out. Or perhaps the bower was a one-way portal. It was entirely possible that the barrier was impassable from this side. Without knowing more about this dimension, Harry had no way of knowing for sure.

Snape took the decision out of his hands.

“Well come on, Potter. I don’t have all night.” Snape’s sneer was audible even in this hushed and barren landscape, and Harry started with a gasp.

“You knew I was following you? How…?” Harry had meant to ask how long Snape had known, but Snape’s acidic reply cut him off.

“You make more noise than the ‘1812 Overture’ with real cannons. I would have had to have been completely deaf to have missed your flailing about.”

Harry reddened slightly, realized he was still hiding behind the tree, and stepped forward to meet Snape. “I meant to ask,” Harry stressed each word patiently, “how long you’ve known I was following you?”

Snape fixed him with one of his best glares. “Since the Great Oak,” Snape replied shortly. “And before you ask, I knew it was you, Potter, as you’re the only student utterly foolish enough to pull something like this.”

Something niggled in the back of Harry’s mind, something that suggested that Snape was lying. But how else would Snape have known the identity of his stalker?

“I simply didn’t have time to take you back to Hogwarts,” Snape continued. “Since you’re here at my sufferance, you will do exactly as you are told. Do you understand?” Snape’s voice was hard, cold and clipped, clearly reflecting a great deal of strain or control.

Harry nodded, trying desperately to look at anything but Snape. It seemed surreal, holding such a conversation with his potions professor within the confines of a hell dimension. But, such was his life.

“Do try to keep up, Potter,” was tossed back over Snape’s shoulder.

Snape’s longer legs certainly had the advantage in this flat, barren wasteland. Harry had to half run to keep up. As he drew close to the older wizard, Snape deigned to speak to him again.

“Oh, before I forget: fifty points from Gryffindor for your complete lack of judgment and sheer stupidity.”

His housemates were certainly going to be furious when, no if – he corrected himself, if he got out of this. He fervently wished Snape had never spoken to him. Hell, he wished he had stayed in his nice warm bed, even if it meant getting fucked all night by a faceless lover. And dammit all to hell, he was still cold.

Chapter 5: Gromelluen

The two wizards continued on in grim silence until finally reaching a small hot spring of sorts. The water here was certainly polluted; the strong scent of sulfur intensified, and Harry found himself pressing his pajama sleeve under his nose to prevent himself from gagging. There was light here. Where it was coming from, Harry did not know, but the area was bathed in a sickening, luminous glow. It was light, and for that reason it should have been comforting, but it was eerily disconcerting. Snape pointed to one of the dark, twisted trees and motioned Harry toward it. Harry was only too glad to get away from the nasty spring, and headed for the scant shelter without question. Snape stood, staring over the vile water, watchful and intent.

He didn’t have long to wait. As Harry watched, a small, dark figure separated itself from the twisted landscape and approached Snape. Whatever it was, it was horribly deformed; its spine bent in a listless curve, forcing its head far left, its uneven shoulders giving the impression that this dark being walked sideways. It drug behind it a twisted leg, the foot engorged—perhaps three sizes larger than the other; it was clearly nearly useless as a limb, suitable only for balance. In its stead, the twisted apparition carried a thick walking stick, upon which it rested much of its weight.

Although he should have been practically invisible in the dark, the dark creature sensed his presence, and his misshapen body swiveled around until it was peering at Harry with what appeared to be its one good eye. Where the other should have been, there was only swollen red flesh with a burned black center, like some kind of demented poppy – it’s stem the ragged, long-healed gash running from temple to jaw.

Snape noted the disquieting stare and said something to the creature; their voices were too hushed for Harry to make out the actual words, but Harry was left with the distinct impression that the twisted little thing was not pleased with his presence. Harry tended to agree. He was none too happy to be there, either.

Snape raised a hand and beckoned Harry toward the odd pair. Harry shook his head before realizing that Snape could not see him, standing as he was outside the small circle of light. Sighing, Harry walked slowly forward, circling a bit to come up behind Snape, keeping a wary eye on the unknown creature. Harry’s attempt at remaining out of the creature’s direct line of sight was thwarted when Snape, displaying manners more befitting a courtier than a Potions master, stepped back and formally introduced Harry to Gromelluen.

Upon closer inspection, Gromelluen appeared to be some kind of forest dwarf, or possibly a dwarf-elf crossbreed. So intent was he in his scrutiny, Harry almost missed the fact that the twisted creature was holding out a tiny misshapen hand. Tentatively, still half afraid of the strange little monster, but equally afraid of hurting it any more than it had been, he took the offered hand gently with a soft, “Pleased to meet you.”

A bright smile met his display of manners, and Harry was awed to realize that the little creature was truly impressed to meet him. He felt self-conscious, but obliged Gromelluen’s request, pulling his hair back from his forehead and displaying the small lightening-shaped scar. Snape cleared his throat and motioned Harry back toward the tree, clearly impatient to get on with this meeting. Harry smiled at the creature before turning to head back toward the tree, back into the shadows.

However, he wasn’t quite so silent this time, and Snape scowled fiercely as he heard the first part of Harry’s mini-diatribe.

“Thinks I’m a dog. Stay, Potter. Come, Potter. Go to the tree, Potter. Next he’ll be wanting me to lick his hand…” Harry’s grumbling voice trailed off as he approached the tree. Had Harry turned, he would have caught Gromelluen’s smile and Snape’s murderous glare. But, he proceeded on, completely unaware of the way his voice carried in the barren landscape.

Upon reaching the tree, he sat down at the base, drawing his legs up under his chin, huddling up in a vain attempt to retain as much body heat as possible. Any heat he managed to conserve was just as quickly leeched out by the cold ground below. Whatever business Snape had with the strange creature, he concluded quickly, and Harry found himself forcing joints stiffened with cold to stand and follow Snape through this frightening hell dimension.

Apparently the way in was also the way out, as they were heading along the same trail they had followed to the spring. Unfortunately, whatever time cycle this world was on did not correspond to anything Harry was familiar with. Harry had believed that it was also full night here as it was back at Hogwarts, but that was clearly not the case, for it had grown quite a bit darker in the past half-hour or so.

Harry stumbled and fell for the second time in as many minutes, forcing Snape to stop once again and wait impatiently for Harry to pick himself up. Following the dark line of Snape’s back, Harry trudged blindly after his professor, determined to get through this. Stumbling again on a loose rock, he felt his ankle twist slightly, not enough to impair his ability to walk, but he would be in a not inconsiderable amount of pain by the time they reached the sanctuary of Hogwarts.

“Sod this,” Harry muttered. He hadn’t wanted either Snape or Dumbledore to know that he had been practicing wandless magic, and could actually perform a few limited spells. Weighing his options, he decided revealing his secret was the lesser of two evils. If he fell, he was fairly certain Snape would leave him to the tender mercies of this hell dimension.

“Lumos,” Harry called softly, watching with satisfaction as his fingertips began to glow. He looked up with a smirk, pride in his accomplishment, even if he had been forced to reveal his abilities prematurely. Snape came around so fast he resembled nothing so much as a dark whirling dervish. Harry had expected awe couched within a sneer, so was completely unprepared for the blow that cracked into his jaw and sent him sprawling onto the rocky ground.

Chapter 6: Shadow Stalkers

Harry lay on the ground, clutching his hurt cheek; emotions numb, he waited for Snape’s next move. He had finally declared himself, tacitly, but it was a declaration nonetheless. Snape was a Death Eater, one of Voldemort’s faithful, and Harry was now in serious trouble. Alone with Snape in a demon dimension, no wand, no cloak, and no one with a clue where he was. He hadn’t even left Ron a note. He was at the mercy of a dark wizard who was clearly physically stronger than a sixteen year-old boy and quite familiar with the chosen battleground. Once again he had rushed in without thought, and was now about to pay dearly for his lack of foresight.

Harry tried desperately to plot strategies, distraction techniques, and recall the rough direction of the portal as he began to inch away from Snape. Snape pinned him with a hooded gaze, and Harry stopped moving, bracing himself for the next attack. And waited in vain for a blow that never came.

Instead of following through and pressing his advantage, Snape was staring off into the distance, watching—waiting for something. Of course, Harry thought bitterly, there must be a small legion of Death Eaters on the way to carry him in victory to Voldemort. He wondered briefly in a moment of idle insanity whether they would be displaying him on a platter with an apple in his mouth too.

He pushed himself into an awkward half sitting position, feeling the loose dirt shift under his scrabbling fingertips. He looked down at the arid earth, not able to see much, but an idea was percolating. If he could just get Snape to turn, perhaps he had a chance.

“Snape,” he called loudly. Snape whirled, robe fluttering around him like a dancer’s skirt, and Harry threw the handful of loose dirt directly at Snape’s cold, black eyes. Had Snape remained upright and glaring, the handful of soil would have hit true; unfortunately for Harry as Snape turned, he dropped, coming to rest in a kneeling position, half crouched over a now prone Harry. Snape didn’t bother to comment on Harry’s failed attempt at incapacitating his captor; instead he pressed a hand firmly to Harry’s mouth, and urgently hissed a whispered, “Shut up!”

Harry wasn’t certain whether he should be grateful or indignant. Snape was clearly afraid of something, deathly afraid if his pallor was any indication. Harry was uncertain. On the one hand, the old adage “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” clearly sprang to mind. On the other hand, Voldemort was living proof of the existence of things marginally worse than Snape, so it was possible that his best chance for survival lay with Snape. If only he knew for certain what it was Snape was waiting for.

A moment later, Harry decided that he really didn’t want to know what it was Snape was afraid of as an unearthly howl broke the eerie silence of this heretofore dead world. A long moment later, answering howls broke the ensuing silence, and Snape nearly ripped Harry’s arm off dragging the teenager to his feet.

“Get up, boy!” Snape hissed. “Thanks to your idiocy, we are now the prey in a blood hunt.”

Harry shuddered at the words even as he stumbled awkwardly behind Snape, trying to outrun, outmaneuver what sounded to be a pack-minded killing machine. More howls rent the air, and Snape shifted direction slightly, now running perpendicular to his previous course, dragging Harry painfully behind. Cold, sore, and near the limits of his adrenaline-induced endurance, Harry could feel the approaching evil as the pack closed in. There was no shelter in sight, and Harry was becoming increasingly aware of his previously strained ankle. Painfully aware that he was the cause of this mess and that he was slowing Snape, Harry tripped a final time, landing hard on a jutting stone, feeling bone crack and give, his temple striking an outgrown root.

“Leave me,” Harry gasped out, clutching what was probably a broken rib or two from his last fall. “You’ll never make it with me.”

Harry fully expected a sneer or a look of pity; he did not expect to be hauled to his feet via handholds on his pajama collar and his perpetually messy hair.

“Owwwww,” Harry cried out, the pain in his scalp competing somewhat with the pain in his side.

“Stupid Gryffindor chivalry,” Snape ground out, panting, half dragging—half carrying a grunting Harry Potter.

For the first time in his life, Harry knew with certainty that he was going to die. Strangely what he most regretted at the moment was doubting Snape; he was never going to get the opportunity to apologize for his suspicions. Snape was about to die in a vain attempt to save Harry’s life, and Harry had planned to throw dirt in his eyes and kick him in the nuts just a few short minutes ago.

“Not far now,” Snape panted, now bearing most of Harry’s weight.

Harry could feel the hair on his neck and arms stand; they weren’t close enough. The pack was nearly upon them and all Harry could see ahead were a few large trees. There was no shelter close enough to save them now.

Chapter 7: Sanctuary

Harry was leaning heavily against Snape, stumbling along, desperately trying to keep up. If Snape thought he was in any condition to climb a tree, the man was seriously cracked. A dozen meters from the largest tree in the cluster, Harry felt his ankle twist fully underneath him, and his legs simply gave out.

Letting out a “Potter,” in a frustrated hiss, Snape paused only long enough to place Harry over his shoulder in the classic fireman’s carry before continuing, stumbling awkwardly now with exhaustion and the additional weight. Harry had a moment to realize his nose was only centimeters away from Snape’s arse, Malfoy’s usual position, when something solid smacked him firmly in the chin, hard enough to make his teeth clink.

Harry brought up a hand awkwardly, rubbing his chin. Turning his head to avoid whatever it was that hit him, he immediately wished he hadn’t. Harry could see their pursuers—even a view of Snape’s arse had to be better than this. Slightly resembling wolves in form, the resemblance to anything Harry recognized ended there. Elongated jaws and long serrated teeth defined their otherwise flat heads; slitted silver eyes guaranteed excellent night vision, and heavy pelts the color of dried blood protected their muscled bodies. Heavy legs, thick with muscle and adorned with claws, completed the image. With those proportions, they certainly weren’t built for speed, but for endurance. Only a few meters away now, the pack began to circle their prey, ringing around the tree—cutting off all escape routes before closing in.

Snape staggered to a halt. Harry felt a silent scream trying to claw its way out of his throat, when he felt his weight shift as Snape threw him arse over teakettle into a gaping black hole.

He didn’t have far to fall. As he sat up, he was knocked flat again as an angular weight landed atop him. Unable to draw breath to scream, Harry whimpered and tears leaked from his eyes as his ribs flared in agony.

“Potter?” The whispered voice was asking a question, and Harry did his best to answer.

“Think m’ ribs are broken,” Harry managed to gasp out. “Maybe my ankle.” Harry struggled to pull himself together, hastily swiping at the tear tracks on his face. No use giving Snape another excuse to think him a sniveling brat.

Snape cursed softly and began to shift his weight, trying not to injure Harry any further in the process. Harry thought getting Snape’s weight off of him would be a relief, but the release of pressure made the deep ache flare again, and Harry moaned softly, biting his lip in an attempt to stifle the noise. Harry had begun to relax slightly when Snape gently took hold of his foot and began to shift his legs. Another spasm of pain, but not nearly so bad as before. He wondered vaguely why Snape was crawling around on his knees, when light flared suddenly, and Harry blinked his slightly watering eyes—forcing them to focus.

He stared about in sheer amazement. For some reason he had thought that Snape had pushed him through another portal, but now he realized that they were actually inside the tree. Snape was holding what appeared to be a small oil lamp aloft while fumbling to light a second lamp. Whether it was a natural formation or had been manually hollowed out, Harry had no idea. A set of shelves carved into the wall held some few meager provisions, and a doorway was set high up along one wall. Other than that, there were no signs life had ever been here. The floor was a carpet of soft, thick moss. Overall, the whole room was about the size of a tiny bathroom, two meters square, or rather round, Harry corrected himself.

While Harry was looking around, Snape was using the additional light to carefully peruse the shelves, selecting phials seemingly at random, muttering things about “efficacy” and “shelf life” that Harry really wanted to know nothing about.

Despite the seemingly million questions he had for Snape, he was too tired to think straight, too tired to stay awake a moment longer. He felt exhaustion, shock, and perhaps the drain of blood loss caused by internal bleeding, due to the broken ribs, pulling him into the blessed silence of numbing blackness. A sharp shake pulled him out of the dark bliss, and as he opened his mouth to groan or curse Snape, he wasn’t sure which, Snape took the opportunity to pour something absolutely vile into his open mouth. Sputtering for breath, Harry swallowed and opened baleful green eyes to glare furiously at Snape.

“Here, this one next,” Snape said, holding an unstoppered phial of some smelly blue concoction under Harry’s nose. Harry tried desperately to turn his face away from the evil-smelling potion, but strong fingers grasped his face, pressing painfully into a tender ligament along his jaw, forcing his mouth open. Before he knew it, Harry had swallowed another of Snape’s nasty potions, and Snape was already reaching for a third. Rather than have a repeat performance, Harry opened his mouth obediently and swallowed, all the while glaring daggers at an oblivious Snape.

“I always wondered what happened to Neville’s failed attempts,” Harry joked weakly.

Snape smiled slightly. “Actually these are my perfectly good healing potions, Potter. Even Voldemort deserves a better end than one of Longbottom’s potions.”

Harry glanced at Snape suspiciously, then back to the now empty phials. “They didn’t taste like any healing potion I’ve ever tried, and I believe Madam Pomfrey has given me just about every kind of healing potion ever brewed.”

“Yes, the student elixirs have cherry syrup and other such nonsense added so that the students don’t make a fuss about taking them,” Snape sneered. “However, the fruit sugars have a tendency to ferment, which significantly decreases the shelf life of the potion. As I stocked this sanctuary for survival purposes, I could not afford the luxury of marmalade-flavored elixirs. I do apologize for the insult to your taste buds, Potter.”

Harry sighed and silently cursed Snape some more. For the millionth time he wondered why every time he said something, Snape somehow managed to make him look like a fool.

“So, what exactly did you give me then?” Harry asked.

“Don’t you know?” Snape inquired coolly.

This was to be another lesson then, Harry thought in disgust. Had the ankle nearest Snape not been the broken one, he would have kicked Snape in his skinny arse for this and for forcing him to stay awake. He knew he had a head injury, knew why Snape was doing it, but the git was still pissing him off.

Harry gritted his teeth and pronounced each word carefully. “I have no idea. I was in a considerable amount of pain and wasn’t thinking too clearly at the time, if you’ll recall.”

Snape sighed and relented. “The first was an asphodel/poppy mixture for…?” Snape’s voice trailed off in a slightly increased register, clearly indicating that a question was being asked.

“For numbing pain and slowing internal bleeding,” Harry replied.

Without acknowledging Harry’s correct answer, Snape continued. “The second was a draught of red dragon scales and skullcap.” Snape didn’t even bother adding the question portion this time.

Harry picked up on it anyway. “Red dragon scales to promote the healing of torn tissues, and skullcap to reduce inflammation and fight infection.”

“And reduce fever,” Snape added.

“And the last?” Harry queried. Given those things outside, Snape had certainly planned his first aid kit well.

“Skele-Gro,” Snape answered shortly.

“But there isn’t time,” Harry blurted. “You’ll have to leave me then. I won’t be able to walk for at least a day or two. If you can get by those things outside, that is.”

“I don’t believe your ankle’s broken. It should be mostly healed by morning.”

When had Snape examined him? Harry struggled to remember faint ghostly touches along his body. Closer examination showed his pajamas neatly folded on the third shelf, leaving him in his Y-fronts. He wasn’t cold anymore either, he realized. Sometime before Snape had pulled him from the lulling darkness of unconsciousness, he had both examined and covered Harry with his own heavy winter robe. Harry had no time to comment on Snape’s unusual kindness.

“Those things are Shadow Stalkers, or so I’m told,” Snape continued. “They’ll be gone by morning; they cannot abide the light.”

Harry digested that piece of information, his tired mind struggling to work this puzzle out. His head was already throbbing from the likely concussion and now nausea rose from the extra mental exertion. “I caused this, didn’t I? They feed on magic, and I drew their attention right to us. That’s why you hit me, isn’t it—to break my concentration quickly?”

“Yes and no,” Snape sighed heavily. “Yes that’s why I hit you. I don’t think they feed on magic, though; else they’d starve to death here. You remember your History of Magic lessons and your Muggle studies? You know that Muggles hunted and persecuted wizards and witches for millennia? Well, legend holds that in one of the science-dominated dimensions, the fearful Muggles went so far as to genetically engineer beasts that would seek out and destroy all magic. This dimension was created as a holding pen when the creators could no longer control their creations. We were safe enough so long as we didn’t run into one directly, but once your use of magic oriented them to our presence…” Snape shrugged and trailed off.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said softly.

“Save it, Potter. You knew better than to follow me in the first place. ‘I’m sorry’ does not always make up for mind numbing stupidity.”

“You should have told me,” Harry replied defensively.

“And you should have figured it out, or asked first. Did it never occur as odd to you that I could have performed that spell, that I would have liked to have had light to see by?”

“Not really,” Harry replied. “You weren’t stumbling and falling on your face every two steps.”

“Not anymore, anyway. I’ve made the trip enough times.”

“Why?” Harry asked softly.

Snape merely sighed and looked at the rows of potions along the shelves.

“If this place is so dangerous, why do you keep coming here?” Harry persisted.

Snape sighed again, but answered this time. “That little deformed creature, Gromelluen…he’s one of my contacts. Even being close to Voldemort does not guarantee that I will hear information of vital import in time for it to be of use to the Resistance. Voldemort is no longer sane, but he isn’t stupid either. He shares nothing until he has to. Therefore, I must rely on Gromelluen and other informants like him to keep abreast of Dark activities. Gromelluen chose this as our meeting place.”

“But why meet here? You could both be killed. Surely there are safer places?”

Snape looked at Harry, clearly weighing how much he could tell the boy. Deciding that Dumbledore had been coddling the boy too much of late, Snape gave him the unvarnished truth. “Did you think Gromelluen always looked as he does?” Snape inquired coolly.

“Voldemort,” Harry whispered.

“Death Eaters,” Snape corrected. “For that reason, Gromelluen does not trust me. He chose this place specifically with the Shadow Stalkers in mind. Should I attempt to betray him, he has a magic charm concealed upon his person; once invoked, it will draw the beasts as rot draws flies. He may be killed along with me, but his world would be safe.” Snape drew a breath before revealing to Harry what very few among the living knew. “Ours is not the only world Voldemort is attempting to conquer. He has Death Eaters and minions on a dozen worlds in several different dimensions.”

Harry gasped, struggling to take in the scope of this new information. “But…but…why,” Harry stuttered, “why not make sure everyone knows, that everyone comprehends the full extent…?” Harry trailed off, still in awe of the full extent of the threat.

“Human nature, Potter. Simple human nature. The greater the threat, the more widespread the danger, the more people begin to believe that someone else will take care of the problem; most people do not want to become involved if they do not have to. If the Ministry of Magic realized that a dozen other worlds were also battling Voldemort, funding would be cut and resistance efforts decreased. Instead of uniting in battle against a common enemy, ‘Let Someone Else Do It’ would become the party line. No one wants to send their children, their loved ones off to fight and die in a war, and if they believe that their sacrifice is not necessary…” Snape trailed off again.

Harry realized Snape had just entrusted him with a terrible secret, one that could tip the balance of the war. He felt the nausea rise again and struggled to quell it. His mind was numb with newfound knowledge; and he wished Snape could somehow pull his wand and cast ‘Obliviate’ on his memory. Some things, he was certain, he was not meant to know. It was too late now, though.

Harry swallowed back bile and felt his notorious Gryffindor courage rally. Nothing could be worse than this, he told himself. Snape had other secrets; he was certain of it. If he was to be a pawn in this war, he would know them all. Yes, Snape had other secrets, and before morning, he would plumb them all.

Chapter 8: The Glamorous Life

Snape reached across Harry, extinguishing one of the two tiny lights, and Harry focused his attention on quietly studying this strange, dark wizard. And Dark he was. Harry’s friends would have laughed to see Snape dressed as he was in Muggle clothes, black jeans, a thick black turtleneck, and heavy black leather boots. The black and silver design he’d noticed on Snape’s turtleneck wasn’t a design at all, Harry realized, but a strap of some sort. At that moment, Harry realized what it was that had hit him in the chin, as Snape struggled out of a scabbard-encased broadsword nearly a meter long. Harry’s eyes widened as he further realized that the silver and black decorations on Snape’s boots were not decorations, but knife handles. Snape was quite literally armed to the teeth.

“Well you didn’t expect me to come to such a place completely unarmed, did you?” Snape queried of Harry’s dinner plate sized eyes.

“Can you use that thing?” Harry asked with a slight gesture toward the sword.

Snape looked at him coldly before leaning forward. “Never carry a weapon you cannot use with skill and proficiency; you are more apt to hurt yourself than your opponent.”

Harry decided to take that as a yes. The man was simply incapable of answering a simple yes or no question.

Snape set the sword and scabbard down within easy reach and then proceeded to reach for the second small lamp.

“Please, can we leave it on—just a little?” Harry asked.

“Afraid of the dark, Potter?” Snape sneered.

“Tonight I am,” Harry replied with a small shudder. “I also thought it might help me stay awake. You are going to make me stay awake, right?”

“Yes, although your pupils are equal and your speech isn’t slurred, I would prefer to take no chances with a head injury, especially as we are a considerable ways from true medical assistance.”

Harry sighed, but refrained from nodding knowing that the ensuing pain would not be pleasant and would probably bring on the nausea again.

Snape reached again for the light, turning it down halfway—a compromise then. Harry would get some light and Snape would conserve fuel oil. “Try to get some rest, Potter,” he said as he settled next to Harry, his arms crossed with his hands tucked securely in his armpits. “But do not go to sleep.”

Harry realized that Snape must be cold too. Before he could reconsider, he found himself blurting: “Professor.”

“What is it now Potter?” Snape said turning to glare at the bane of his existence.

Harry raised the edge of the robe in a clear invitation. “This robe is big enough for three people, and while it’s not as cold in here as it is outside, it’s still pretty cold.”

Snape weighed his options, and Harry was slightly amazed as practicality overrode hatred, and Snape slipped under the robe, tucking it gently around them both. They both wriggled around a bit searching for a comfortable position, finally coming to rest with Snape lying on his back, Harry cuddled up to his side, his head resting on Snape’s shoulder. The numbing poppy in the poppy/asphodel potion was working well. Both his head and his ribs had ceased hurting. Harry sighed; now if Snape would just let him get a little sleep.

Ambitions of sleep were thwarted when his ‘pillow’ jerked sharply, jarring Harry from a light doze.

“Wake up, Potter.”

Harry groaned audibly, but forced his eyes open. The sharp jerk had reminded him of the headache, and he certainly didn’t want any future reminders. He took the opportunity to study his surroundings, but having already examined the room, there really wasn’t much to look at.

He turned his intent gaze to Snape, studying his arch-nemesis, the hated Potions master of Slytherin House. Up close, he really wasn’t so bad, Harry decided. His dark hair wasn’t at all greasy, just shiny-soft, heavy with wave. His skin wasn’t sallow, but moonbeam pale, the sharp angles and planes of his hard face less apparent. Except for the beaky nose, he was almost actually handsome.

His pillow, rather than the bony shoulder he expected to be lying on, was, in actuality, well padded with what felt like a solid slope of muscle. Well, figuring the broadsword probably weighed around two stone, Snape had to be fairly muscular. Why then did he always look so jaundiced, so sickly sallow, thin nearly to the point of emaciation? As dear Aunt Margaret had proven on more than one occasion, black clothing could only conceal so much, even if it was supposedly slimming.

Harry had actually been very close to Snape on numerous occasions, most notably when the Professor stood behind him and ridiculed his “pathetic attempts at potion making.” He certainly would have noticed a handsome Snape. Well noticed, not noticed in the attractive sense.

Therefore, only two viable possibilities existed: Harry and his friends were the most unobservant clods on the planet, which according to Snape was a distinct possibility, or Snape had done something. With a blinding flash of insight, Harry remembered Snape’s actions in the Dark Forest, the washing motions directed toward his hands and face. Harry would have thwapped himself in the head if it wouldn’t have hurt so much. This was stuff from first year Charms; he nearly groaned out loud at his own stupidity. Snape had cast a glamour on himself, but before entering the magic void, he had been forced to remove it. But why would anyone want to look like a scrawny, sallow-faced, greasy git?

A long fingered hand slid up through Snape’s hair, pushing some of the heavy mass out of his eyes. Without conscious thought, Harry’s own hand shot forward, catching hold of Snape’s before it could be tucked back under the heavy black robe.

“What the bloody hell, Potter…” Snape began, but Harry ignored him, oblivious to the ranting Potions master. He was intent on the long-fingered hand clutched tightly in his own grasp. Snape’s fingertips were usually stained an odd greeny-purple from the nastier potions ingredients. Yet his hands were milk white, graceful, long-fingered in elegant proportion. Yanking the robe down, he fumbled for Snape’s other hand, bringing it into the light as well.

With a sick, sinking feeling, Harry recognized the hands as those of his dream lover. Within seconds he was nearly hyperventilating as the other details fell neatly into place: the brush of hair against his neck, the strong chest and muscular body, the pale skin. With a strange rush of recognition, something inside broke, and the odd ‘knowing’ that seemed to occur only at orgasm hit Harry with the force of Avada Kedavra. In his mind’s eye, he was back within the context of the dream, turning to look over his shoulder at his lover, even knowing what he would ‘see,’ Harry was no less shocked to see the features of Severus Snape contorted in rapturous pleasure.

Harry was so upset he was nearly gibbering, and only when Snape had begun shaking him so hard that his teeth rattled did he stop.

“It…it was you,” Harry stammered. “In my d…dr…dreams. It was you. It’s…it’s always you.” Harry flushed scarlet, trying desperately to look anywhere but in his dream lover’s face. But with Snape looming menacingly above him, there was nowhere else to look.

Severus Snape, Death Eater spy, renowned man of ice who had gone toe to toe with the likes of Voldemort without flinching, a man who should have had no clue as to what Harry was babbling about, promptly fell on his arse and rubbed wearily at his deathly pale face.

Harry watched this new tableau intently as realization seeped into his weary mind. Snape’s actions were tantamount to a confession of sorts. They had looked each other in the eye, and Snape had flinched. He knew a hell of a lot more secrets than Harry had first given him credit for. A whole hell of a lot more.

Despite the concussion, Harry pushed himself upright into a sitting position. Bracing his hands against his folded legs, Harry refused to blush and cower a moment longer. Snape owed him an explanation, and by Merlin he was going to get one.

“Snape,” Harry’s voice came out as a cold, controlled hiss, “what exactly do you know about this?”

Chapter 9: The Wizard’s Bond

Severus Snape sighed, and scrubbed his face with his hands. Could this night possibly get any worse? For fifteen years he had known this was coming and dreaded it with a profound intensity he normally reserved for Voldemort, Cornelius Fudge, and Sirius Black. He had thought he had more time, thought that Dumbledore would be present with his gentle, soothing demeanor to help explain this to the boy. Whatever he thought, whatever he had planned, he certainly hadn’t counted on this. And he had no intention of discussing it in the middle of hell with two score of ravenous feral beasts howling outside the door and a half-delirious teenager with a concussion and an overactive imagination.

He was altogether pleased to pass that little bit of information on to Potter.

Unfortunately, Harry Potter wasn’t backing down.

“Somebody did something to me, Snape, something that’s slowly driving me insane, and I have a right to know what it is. You know what that something is, don’t you?” Harry’s piercing green eyes pinned Snape like a bug on a wax palette. “I need to know what it was, and it’s not like you have a pressing social engagement at the moment.” Harry fixed Snape with an intent stare. “Whatever it is, I have the right to know,” Harry repeated quietly, sitting back a bit and shifting his hands to clutch his mending ribs.

The furious, hungry shrieks of the Shadow Stalkers were the only sounds for several long moments as Snape weighed arguments and carefully considered the determined young man in front of him. The fact that he did not want to have this conversation now was balanced carefully against the fact that Snape agreed with Harry; the boy deserved an explanation.

“I’m not Dumbledore,” Snape began.

If Harry thought this an odd opening, he said nothing, continuing to watch Snape intently.

“I’m not going to sugar coat the truth for you, nor will I clean it up nicely and make it palatable. I will tell you exactly what happened, with the forewarning that you won’t like it. Consider carefully, Potter. Once I’ve told you, it will require a great deal of maturity on your part to deal with it. There are ramifications that extend beyond the scope of anything you may have considered. The dreams are troubling, I’m sure, but think carefully; you may be better off not knowing. At least, not for a while—perhaps another year or two?”

“Now,” Harry insisted. “This can’t wait another year or two. I can’t sleep; I’m confused as hell. I have to know what’s going on.”

“I can supply you with a dreamless sleep potion, make sure you get all of the sleep and rest you need. Then, when you’re more prepared…”

“Now,” Harry interrupted. “The truth, as promised. Then I’ll deal with the consequences.”

“How like a Gryffindor,” Snape sneered, “just rush in with no thought whatsoever to the repercussions. Very well, then. Do try not to interrupt.”

Snape leaned back against the wooden wall of their tiny fortress, took a moment to gather his thoughts, sighed deeply and began.

“Our tragic tale begins fifteen years ago in a tiny hamlet known as Godric’s Hollow. Now…”

“Cut the melodrama Snape, and just get on with it,” Harry sighed, rolling his eyes.

“Now our hero, a handsome young Potions master…”

“Snape,” Harry interrupted bitterly. “What happened to the unvarnished truth?”

“Oh, very well then, Potter. Be your usual bane of my existence, suck all the joy out of my life.”

Harry merely crossed his arms and glared.

Snape sighed and began again. “Fifteen years ago I was a Death Eater, loyal to Voldemort. A few days before your parents were killed, I learned of the plot against them. It hadn’t taken me long to work out that Voldemort was not as promised. I had already approached Dumbledore about switching sides. With this new information, I approached Dumbledore again, begging him to warn James and Lily Potter of the plot against them. He did so, but, not truly believing it himself, he rather lacked conviction. Lily wanted to flee, to take you and go into hiding. James was stubborn. Always the golden boy, he was convinced that he could protect his family, if an actual threat existed. He didn’t trust me either, you see. In a last ditch effort to save them, I risked everything and met with James to pass on the warning face to face. All to no avail.”

Harry sat enraptured, leaning forward, hanging on Snape’s every word. While he knew bits and pieces about what had happened, no one had ever sat down and presented the whole tale.

“I’m sure you know what happened next. James died before he could even draw his wand, and Lily died trying to shield you with her own body.”

“Why?” Harry asked. “Why did you risk your own life when Dumbledore had already passed on your warning?”

Despite his previous injunction not to interrupt, Snape didn’t seem to mind the question. “I owed him, you see. For better or worse, it was his action that prevented Lupin from rending me limb from limb at the Shrieking Shack. Then the bastard goes and gets himself killed before I can even out the score. Insufferable prat,” Snape sneered.

“So, he died before you could pay your debt. Is that why you look out for me so much?”

“You have no idea, Potter,” Snape sighed heavily. “Don’t worry; Dumbledore was only too happy to find a way for me to repay the debt, and with interest too.” The sarcasm wasn’t lost on Harry.

“Contrary to what you were told, you were not taken to the Dursley’s that night following your parents’ death, but to Hogwarts.”

From the little information he had been able to glean from his Aunt Petunia and his parents’ death certificates, the sketchy facts seemed to indicate a 24 hour gap between his disappearance from Godric’s Hollow and his reappearance at the Dursley’s, but no one would confirm it, and he was left to believe that Petunia had simply been confused. It was strange hearing Severus Snape verify that there was a missing window of time, but what difference could a day make, anyway?

“Dumbledore blamed himself for their deaths. Not only had he failed to take my warning seriously, he had always encouraged James and Sirius in their foolhardy daring, and consequently neither had ever learned that running away to fight another day was sometimes the best option. Azkaban taught Black that lesson, but James didn’t live long enough to learn it. But it was too late to do anything about that oversight. Realizing that you would most likely follow in James’ reckless footsteps, he set out to find a way to protect you from yourself.”

Snape paused to take a few deep breaths and re-gather his thoughts.

“He, Minerva, and I set virtually impenetrable wards around the Dursley’s. With that done, the three of us were left to find a way to protect you individually. Dumbledore decided that a Wizard’s Bond would offer you the greatest protection at the time you needed it most.”

Snape paused again, and Harry took the opportunity to ask a question. “What’s a Wizard’s Bond?”

“I’m getting to that, Potter. Now, if you don’t mind…?” Snape looked questioningly at Harry, waiting rather impatiently to see if another interruption would be forthcoming. Harry returned the stare intently, pressing his lips together. Satisfied, Snape continued his tale.

“Dumbledore had already spent much of that night and morning in research and contemplation, preparing himself to implant the Wizard’s Bond.” Here, Snape shifted focus slightly, and Harry bit his lip in concentration, trying to file away the previous information and contemplate the significance of this new tangent.

“I do not know if you realize this, but each wizard has one or two areas which are his or her specialty, areas in which innate skill or specialized training creates a predisposition to greatness in that particular field. Dumbledore’s specialties are Transfigurations, which you probably already knew on some level, and Psychic Manipulation, which I seriously doubt any student realizes. Dumbledore’s mastery of the mind is what allows him to know with certainty everything that goes on at Hogwarts.”

“You mean he invades our minds, reads our thoughts,” Harry gasped out.

“No,” Snape supplied hastily. Harry looked a bit mollified, but that was fleeting as Snape continued. “That’s not to say he can’t. However, you would feel the intrusion if he were to enter your mind without your consent. No, what he does is…” Snape trailed off, clearly thinking about how to proceed. “You realize this isn’t my area of expertise, so I don’t know how well I can explain this? What Dumbledore does is read the currents that an individual’s mind projects. Unless one has learned to shield his or her thoughts, the mind ‘broadcasts’ subconscious desires, strong emotions, that sort of thing. Dumbledore’s mastery of the subject made him the ideal candidate to cast the bond. Incidentally, that was also one of Tom Riddle’s areas of mastery, which is how he draws his followers; he ‘reads’ their desires and offers them their dreams. Like any gift it can be used for good or evil.”

Snape sighed heavily, and Harry wondered idly what Voldemort’s ‘reading’ of Snape had yielded. What had Voldemort promised Snape to induce the man to become a Death Eater?

Here Snape paused again, and began searching one of the higher shelves in their small wooden fortress. Finding what he sought, he sat once again, cross-legged across from Harry, his back pressed up to the wall of wood.

‘Want some?” he inquired taking a long swallow. At Harry’s blank look, he glared slightly. “It’s only water, Mr. Potter.”

Harry held out his hand and accepted the flask, taking several swallows before handing it back to Snape. Snape re-stoppered the flask and set it gently next to his thigh, as though he would need it again soon. From that simple action, Harry surmised that there was much more to this tale.

“Albus decided that Minerva would serve as anchor for the setting of the bond. It has occurred to you that in order for a bond to be forged, there must be two parties, correct?” When Harry nodded, Snape continued. “I was given the dubious honor of becoming your bonded.”

“Wait a minute!” Harry shouted. “I’m having these dreams ‘cause Dumbledore bonded us, and you’re letching after me?! You sick bastard!”

“What?!” Snape let out in a strangled shout. “NO. If you’re going to insinuate that this is my fault, that I’m some sort of…of…pedophile, you can just figure the rest of it out on your own!”

“No, wait…I didn’t mean…I just thought…oh, never mind. Just please continue, okay?”

Snape continued to glare, his arms crossed, the fingers of his right hand tapping out a steady but agitated rhythm against his upper arm.

“What do you want me to say?” a remorseful Harry inquired.

Tap…tap…tap…

“I’m sorry.”

Tap…tap…tap…

“I’m very sorry. In no way did I mean to imply that you were any sort of sexual deviant. I’m sure you’ve a perfectly normal sex life.”

Taptaptaptaptaptap…

“Uhmmm…yes…uhmmm…and I would really appreciate it if you would finish the story, and I’m…uhhhh…I’ll do my best not to interrupt anymore, and not jump to conclusions,” Harry finished lamely.

Snape took a very deep breath and let it go in a whoosh.

“Very well, then. Now where was I? Ahh yes…Dumbledore had given me the questionable duty of becoming your bonded.”

“Why you?” Harry said, instantly clapping a hand over his mouth, having forgotten his vow of silence.

Snape shot him a murderous glare, but answered anyway. “Dumbledore had several ostensible reasons. I was of a mind then, and I still fervently believe, that it was to torture me for his sadistic pleasure; however, he tells quite a different story. Snape’s eyes glazed slightly as he began to remember.

Dumbledore paced the room, arms crossed tightly, the notorious twinkle clearly absent from his eyes.

“Severus, it must be you. You’re the only one who can protect the boy.”

“With all due respect headmaster, you’re a much more powerful wizard than I am. Surely it would be a strain to forge the bond within your own mind, but with Minerva and I both acting as anchors, certainly…”

“I am no fit protector for the boy, Severus. I’m nearly 150 years old, much too old to be chasing after an active boy. While I will concede that I may presently be a more powerful wizard, you are nearly as powerful and more than 100 years my junior.”

Snape snorted in amusement.

“It’s true Severus, whether you will see it or not. Why then do you think Voldemort was so eager to recruit you? He knows your worth, your power, even if you do not yet recognize it. One day I foresee that you will surpass me.”

Snape had no answer for this.

“Then there is your debt to James Potter,” Dumbledore reminded him gently. “Protecting his son is adequate recompense, I believe, for the service he performed for you. Don’t you agree, Severus?”

Snape gave a barely imperceptible nod, but the Sorting Hat had not placed him in Slytherin House without reason. “What’s the real reason Albus? What are you hiding?”

“I had hoped not to reveal this, but we are both too sly to fool each other for long. Very well, then, I will be blunt. I do not trust you, Severus. You were always too ambitious, too cunning. I have no assurance that this new leaf you’ve turned over isn’t one of Voldemort’s ploys to set a spy in our midst. However, having a spy within Voldemort’s ranks is too good of an opportunity to pass up. This boy has defeated Voldemort, temporarily, of course. When he returns, young Harry will be the rallying cry, the very crux of the Resistance. If you were bonded to him, it would be impossible for you to betray him. Impossible for you to betray the Resistance.”

Snape swallowed hard and felt the acuity of Dumbledore’s gaze as a razor along his spine. His own pride and ambition had placed him in this untenable situation. Bonded for life to James Potter’s brat or branded for life a traitor to the wizarding world. He was caught, and he knew it.

“When do you want to cast the bond?” Snape asked, making an irrevocable choice.

“This evening, just before we take the boy to the Dursleys.”

Snape nodded and left, oddly grateful that Albus hadn’t tried to soften the blow with platitudes and insinuations that he would have still respected Snape if the bond had been refused.

Snape needed a drink, and then, after the bond was forged, he needed to get very, very drunk.


“Do we have everything?” Minerva inquired solicitously.

“Yes,” Dumbledore replied. “Let us get on with it then. As you know, Lily’s selfless sacrifice inadvertently had the effect of placing a powerful protection spell on the boy. Should his childish mind perceive what I am about to do as a threat, we could all be blown to kingdom come. If anyone is going to back out, now is the time to do so.”

Dumbledore looked around the room. No one so much as twitched.

“Very well then. This will take a great deal of power. Considering that scar tissue is weaker than normal tissue, I will be entering his mind and placing the bond there.”

Dumbledore picked up an old tome and opened it to a dog-eared page near the middle. Checking once more, he began to chant something so old that the original language had long been forgotten, only the strange words of the spell still survived. Still chanting, he picked up a phial, unstoppered it, and dipping a small brush began to paint runes in an iridescent purple substance upon Harry and Snape’s foreheads. Focusing his power, he continued with the ritual.

Some time later Dumbledore announced, “It’s done.”

“Now what happens?” Snape asked coolly.

“Now we forget about it. For the next 11 years, Harry will have the protection of his Muggle relatives. He will grow up knowing little of our world and his significance in it. The bond will have a chance to set. When the time comes, Severus, you will open your half of the bond. When Harry is ready he will open his half. Then the bond will let you both know what it needs for completion.”

“As I spent the day as a cat observing Harry’s Muggle relatives, would someone kindly explain to me what it was we just did? What sort of protection will this bond give Harry? And what form will it take?” McGonagall inquired, turning to watch Harry crawl along after a nearly featherless Fawkes.

Snape colored slightly, moving to gaze out the window, as Dumbledore began his explanation.

“The bond takes one of three forms: paternal, filial, or romantic. Usually when a child is bonded, a paternal bond is created. Severus will view Harry as a surrogate son and protect him as any parent would. Occasionally, when the need for protection is not extreme, a filial, or brotherly, bond is created. In that case, Severus would look upon Harry as a younger brother and watch out for Harry as a brother would. The last option is a romantic bond; upon Harry’s sexual maturity, Severus and Harry would develop romantic feelings for each other. This is the most flexible of the bonds. The protective instinct would be as strong as that of the paternal bond, but the need to provide protection would be mutual.”

“And they have no choice in this?” McGonagall queried, voice rising in indignation.

“The bond will choose, Minerva. When the bond sets, it determines the nature it will take. Only when Severus opens his part of the bond will we know for sure which aspect it has chosen. To answer your other question, the bond will allow Severus to know when Harry’s in danger, or when the boy is about to get into serious mischief. A desire for secrecy on Harry’s part, could theoretically block the bond and the warnings it will provide to Severus, but once it’s fully opened, there will be no way to prevent the transmission of danger warnings. In a crisis, it will also allow them to share energy if one is ill or injured. Most importantly, it will allow Harry access to a stabilizing influence. It’s clear that the boy will be a powerful wizard, and the bond will increase their magical powers. Harry, and Severus too, will need that power to protect themselves from Voldemort and his followers. The danger, of course, is that Harry will develop a great deal of power before his mind is structured enough to exert control over that power. Severus has a keen and ordered mind; access to Severus’ mind will, hopefully, provide the grounding influence Harry will need. The boy will be sorely tested in years to come.”

“Come, Harry,” Dumbledore smiled at the child, holding out his arms. “It’s time to take you to see your aunt and uncle. Do you remember Hagrid?” Dumbledore whispered. Harry reluctantly released a nearly denuded Fawkes, and held up his chubby arms to be picked up.

Harry gurgled happily as Dumbledore quietly closed the office door behind them.

“When did you open it then…the bond I mean?” Harry asked.

Harry’s voice effectively jarred Snape from his reverie, and he realized that he had actually been providing a running narrative of the events as he remembered them.

It was then that he realized that the boy had asked a question. “What, don’t you know, Potter?”

“If I knew, why would I have asked?” Harry inquired patiently.

“Think back. Think back to your first night at Hogwarts.”

And then in an epiphany, it came to him. “The sorting ceremony. I thought later that it was Professor Quirrell’s presence that made my scar hurt, but I had met him before in the Leaky Cauldron with Hagrid and nothing happened then. Dumbledore placed the bond at the scar site, so when you opened it that night, it hurt for a moment. That’s what I felt. With Quirrell it only hurt when he was actively working against me. ”

“Very good, Potter, but you really should have figured it out much sooner.”

“And how was I supposed to do that?”

“Had any ambitions lately to be the most powerful wizard ever to be graduated from Hogwarts? Ever wanted to have lesser wizards groveling at your feet? When was the last time you stood up and declared that the end justifies the means?”

Harry gave Snape the oddest look before replying, “Well, never.”

“Exactly.”

Harry still didn’t get it, and the blank look he shot Snape clearly told the older wizard so. Snape sighed and decided to spell it out for him.

“You really are an obtuse boy. I’m amazed that Voldemort has anything to fear from you. Well…given your answer, did you ever wonder why the Sorting Hat wanted to put you into Slytherin?”

Harry’s jaw dropped in astonishment. “The bond,” he whispered. “The Sorting Hat, it was picking up on the presence of the bond, reading us both—half Slytherin, half Gryffindor,” Harry whispered in awe.

Snape sneered and clapped his hands lightly.

Harry glared and chose to ignore Snape’s facetious clapping. “But I thought that my first…contact with Voldemort was responsible for that—making me a Parselmouth, among other things.”

“And you believed that explanation?” Snape sneered disbelievingly. “If you haven’t figured it out already, the Sorting Hat sorts the students based on a mindset, a paradigm, the way that each tends to view the world around them. The abilities themselves have nothing to do with the way each individual chooses to use them. It is your outlook on life that influences selection, not abilities.”

Harry tapped his finger against his lip, deep in thought. “So, that’s how you knew when I was in trouble or up to something, even if you weren’t sure about the particulars. You were even aware on some level whenever I was near you, even when I had the invisibility cloak on,” Harry said contemplatively, thinking back to first year.

Snape remained silent, letting the boy work it out on his own, bracing himself for the eventual explosion.

“But that doesn’t explain why I didn’t find it, the bond I mean, before.”

When Snape merely raised a brow, Harry struggled to explain.

“I thought Voldemort or Malfoy, maybe, had hexed me, you know…with the dreams? Anyway, I got a book from the library and found a spell to reveal concealed curses, spells, and hexes. Why wasn’t the existence of the bond revealed?”

“Which spell did you use?”

“Malevolum Revealo.”

“In theory, it was a good idea.” Harry’s eyebrows nearly met his hairline—a compliment from Snape. Within a few seconds, however, both eyebrows were both back where they belonged. “Yes, a good idea, but shortsighted. Malevolum Revealo is used exclusively to reveal the existence of malevolent curses.” Harry opened his mouth to speak, but shut it quickly at a gesture from Snape. “Although you interpreted the bond’s effects as malevolent, the spell itself was not. Dumbledore cast the spell with the intent to protect, not harm. As you should already know, it is the intent of the spellcaster that establishes the nature of the spell.”

Snape sighed heavily and at last grudgingly admitted, “You are learning, though.”

They sat in silence a few minutes more, until Harry cleared his throat and asked, “So, uhmmm…when you opened the bond, what did you find…uhmmm…what type is it?”

“Potter, I may call you obtuse at times, but even you aren’t that stupid. Surely you’ve realized the significance of the dreams by now?”

“No, I’m not, and yes I do. However, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t have appreciated a nice lie right about now.”

“Yes, well no more than I could have at that sorting ceremony.”

“Ewwww,” Harry grimaced. “You’ve wanted me since then?”

“Don’t be an idiot, Potter. Remember that part of the bond does not manifest until you reach sexual maturity. No, five years ago I found it quite disconcerting to open the bond and discover no paternal or filial feelings for you. Perhaps you can imagine how upsetting it was to realize that this day was coming. In fact, I’ve done everything possible to stave it off for years.”

“That’s why you…”

“What was that? Speak up, boy.”

“I was just saying that I understand now why you had put the glamour on yourself, to make yourself look worse than you really are.”

Snape looked moderately impressed at Harry’s accomplishment. Then he began to look somewhat worried. “Who else knows about the glamour? How long have you known?”

“I don’t think anyone else knows. I’ve only known for…” Harry trailed off, pinking slightly.

Snape raised a black brow in inquiry.

“…about an hour or so,” Harry finished lamely. Harry raised a hand to forestall Snape’s expected derisive commentary. “Don’t tell me, let me guess. Let’s see now: I should have figured this out years ago,” Harry ticked off on his first finger, “Cleaning charms are basic spells taught in first and second year; you are a wizard, after all. It is certainly within your ability to cast a simple spell. No one that sickly and emaciated could withstand the physical demands of spying for the Order of the Phoenix. Uhmmm,” Harry looked at his hands. “How many fingers is that?”

Snape rolled his eyes.

“I always wondered why Dumbledore trusted you so much,” Harry mused softly, his thoughts racing faster than he could keep up. “He never would tell me though—only that he trusted you absolutely. If he trusted Quirrell, he must have really been suspicious of you to have made you go through with this!”

Severus Snape sat in stunned silence. The boy was working through this like a mature adult. He had expected some sort of furious fit when the boy realized that they shared a romantic bond that was demanding completion. He supposed the boy deserved some acknowledgement for it. He supposed he ought to offer the boy a compliment for it.

“You’re taking this rather well, Potter.”

Harry shrugged. “Why shouldn’t I? I mean, you all had good intentions, right? You were trying to protect me. I’ll just explain to the Headmaster that this is a problem for me. He can remove the bond, and you’ll be relieved of your obligation, too. Debt repaid.”

Harry sat in shocked silence, his stomach sinking, as the older wizard barked with laughter. Snape’s laughter had little to do with true amusement. Harry hated the sound of it; it never boded well for him. The mice Harry was certain were crawling around in his stomach were beginning to do a slow roll as a nasty suspicion insinuated itself into his quavering mind.

“It can’t be undone, can it?” Harry whispered in growing shock.

Snape continued to laugh, wiping his eyes every moment or two. Harry understood then and commiserated completely. Laugh or scream. They had both been trapped in the same snare by Albus Dumbledore’s concerned machinations. Still clutching Snape’s robe and his half mended ribs, he sat shivering in the flickering light of a tiny flame, watching his bond-mate sobbing in hysterical laughter.

Chapter 10: Sex or Abstinence?

When Snape had stopped laughing and they had both had a few more drinks from the water flask, Harry felt coherent enough to ask the most pressing question.

“So, what do we do now?”

“Right now I suggest we get some sleep. I think you’ve been awake long enough to ensure that no real danger exists. A few hours sleep will do us both a world of good.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

“Perhaps, but we both still need sleep. You have the information now that you sought. I assure you as one who has lived with this pressing on him for fifteen years, the problem will still be there in the morning.”

It was awkward to lie down again with Snape knowing what had been done to him--to them both, knowing what Snape did to him in his dreams. But he was cold, and Snape was wonderfully warm; gradually he gave in to the feelings of warmth and comfort and drifted off to sleep.

They really should have known better.

Harry moaned low in his throat and gasped for air as his lover tore lips and tongue from their searing kiss. The lingual attentions moved to his neck and jaw as Harry clutched Severus’ shoulders, gripping tightly, urging him to go faster, to go lower. Amused puffs of chuffed laughter blew over his wetted nipples, and Harry began to whimper and writhe as the sensations built, urging him to scissor his legs restlessly, desperately trying to focus the attention in the one place he so needed it. Long licks to his abdomen and lewd teasing tongue motions into his sensitive navel had him biting his lips in anticipation. Soft brushes of long, black hair against his overly sensitized flesh left him begging incoherently as the moist, velvet tongue tantalized the pale skin in the hollow of his hipbone. Onyx eyes met emerald in the soft moonlight, and the teasing ended abruptly as Severus simply swallowed his lover’s sex. Harry’s scream of pleasure ripped through the night…

…and abruptly awakened both men. Harry came to consciousness sprawled across the firmly muscled body of Severus Snape, wearing only his tiny Y-fronts, pressing an aching erection into the other man’s belly. An answering hardness pressed firmly into Harry’s thigh, which at some point had fallen between Snape’s denim-clad legs. Harry wasn’t certain whether or not it was fortuitous that he had been unable to cast a silencing charm. At least now he knew with a fair amount of certainty that Snape was sharing his dreams.

Harry gasped as Snape shifted, and he was dumped unceremoniously onto his backside. His half-mended ribs flared briefly, and Harry clutched them as the cold and pain pulled him abruptly into wakefulness.

“Well, that was an exercise in stupidity,” came Snape’s slightly muffled voice. Harry noticed that Snape had the water flask open and was rubbing his neck and face with a damp handkerchief. Harry pulled Snape’s robe across his thighs, desperately trying to conceal what could not be concealed. He reached out a shaking hand, and Snape passed the handkerchief and flask without comment.

With nearly steady hands, Harry reached for his pajamas on the carved shelf, pulling them on under the concealing folds of the heavy robe. They were a thin, inadequate cover at best, but gave a tiny bolster to his mental armor. It seemed they were about to have that conversation after all.

“So, what do we do now?” Harry sighed.

“What do you mean?” Snape shifted uncomfortably, wishing he could adjust himself at least, or preferably remove his jeans altogether. Considering recent events, though, neither action seemed prudent.

Harry chewed at his lip for a moment. “I mean, what are our options? Can’t you just close off your end of the bond?”

“It simply doesn’t work that way. Though not sentient, the bond will work toward self-preservation. It will force completion if it must, regardless of our personal desires. We will complete the bond, or it will drive us both quite mad.”

Harry sat, mouth slightly agape, trying desperately to assimilate this new piece of information. He felt hysteria rising as he realized that his earlier assessment that he was close to losing it had been dead-on accurate. Reaching a decision, he pushed the robe down from his slightly hunched shoulders.

“Well, let’s get on with it then. I assume you have something that can be,” Harry flushed a deep shade of Gryffindor red, “used for lubrication,” he said as he began to unbutton his thin pajama shirt.

WHAT?” Snape let out a strangled shout. “Put your shirt back on, boy. Now you listen to me, Harry Potter, and you listen well. In five years you have made me many things. You’ve made me a fool in front of the Minister of Magic over that whole Sirius Black incident. You’ve made me sick with fright over some of your more hare-brained, reckless schemes. You’ve made me absolutely enraged over your use of that damned cloak, and the theft of certain of my personal stores, among other things. You will not make me into a monster. I won’t let you.”

At Harry’s questioning look, Snape elaborated. “I believe you would be more familiar with the Muggle term—pedophile,” Snape spat.

“Look, Snape—no one ever has to know. We do this once and forget about it. I don’t know about you, but I’m already really close to the edge right now,” Harry stated as he began to unbutton his shirt again.

Snape pushed himself into a kneeling position and began to button Harry’s pajama top as the boy was undoing the tiny closures. He then swatted Harry’s hands away from the small round plastic pieces. When Harry turned his head up to glare at Snape, the older wizard simply sighed.

“Apparently there are still some things you do not understand about the bond, Potter. I thought I had been clear. However…” Snape trailed off, collecting his thoughts and re-seating himself. “This is not a one time thing. Once the bond is complete, once you’ve opened your half and the bond has been consummated, we will be bound together as soul mates, forever, desiring only each other, loving only each other, to death and into whatever is beyond.”

“NO,” Harry denied. “No, it isn’t possible. It can’t be.”

“I assure you it is.”

“But I’m not gay,” Harry declared emphatically.

“Well, you are now,” Snape commented dryly. “You are whatever the bond needs you to be to ensure its, and consequently your, survival.”

“And even if I was, gay I mean,” Harry continued on, oblivious, “I wouldn’t have picked somebody so…” Harry trailed off after a quick, covert look at Snape.

“What? Ugly? Greasy? Sarcastic?”

“Old.”

Old,” Snape parroted in shock. “I’ll have you know I’m only 20 years your senior.”

“Yeah,” Harry replied, “old. As in old enough to be my father.”

“I assure you I am not your father.”

“I didn’t say you were my father, just old enough to be him.”

“Potter, you seem to be belaboring under the mistaken delusion that 20 years is a tremendous age gap between wizards. Let me disabuse you of that notion. You are thinking like a Muggle. A typical wizard lives to be about 220 years old, about three times the lifespan of your typical Muggle. Dumbledore is already over 160. If you want to view it in terms of the Muggle ratio, I am, in terms of lifespan, only 6 to 7 years your senior. Or, if you wish to look at it this way, Albus is 80 years older than Minerva, and yet no one bats an eye. To wizards, age is simply an irrelevant number, once the wizard or witch is old enough to give reasoned consent,” Snape stressed the last part.

“That may be so, but that still doesn’t excuse what you did, you and Dumbledore. I will never get married or have children. There won’t be any grandchildren bouncing on my knees, begging for a story. You took that away from me, all of it. What right did you have? What right did any of you have?” Harry’s breaths were coming in gasping heaves as he struggled to hold back angry tears.

“Every right,” Snape hissed. “I told you this would be hard, that it would take a great deal of maturity on your part to deal with the ramifications of this bond. Now, quit your sniveling, and stop looking at this from a child’s perspective. Yes, one aspect of a possible future has been closed to you, yet you do have a future. Dumbledore had an unenviable decision thrust upon him. Your parents were dead; Black was soon to be in Azkaban; your Muggle relatives would have been of no help, and he had to take some sort of immediate measures to protect you. Whether you like it or not, your life, your survival, is important to the entire wizarding community. Adults are often called upon, Potter, to make terrible decisions that influence their children’s lives forever. Dumbledore made the best decision he could at the time, the one that had the greatest chance of ensuring that you grew up to become The Man Who Lived.”

“And what kind of life is it?” Harry threw bitterly into Snape’s face. “I don’t even have a choice about who I fall in love with!”

“You thought you would be given a choice?” Snape sneered. “Tell me, Potter, is it true that your Muggle relatives starved you and made you sleep in a broom cupboard?”

“Yes,” Harry whispered.

“What if Voldemort were to, say, pay them a little visit? Would you grieve for them?”

Harry’s head snapped and green eyes flashed emerald fire. “You leave them alone, Snape. What have you done?”

“I,” Snape inquired innocently, “I haven’t done anything. It was a purely hypothetical question. Well, would you grieve their loss?”

“You know I would.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why would you grieve their deaths?”

“Because they’re my family, and I…”

“Love them?” Snape supplied gently.

Harry nodded, a sinking feeling in his stomach telling him that he had just been neatly trapped.

“From the little I know of them, they are the most detestable of people. Choose to love them, did you?”

Harry shot Snape an angry glare, and silence met his query.

“The fact is: we do not have the luxury of choosing who we will love in this life. Call it fate, call it a foible of the heart, if you will; the mind is not responsible for decisions regarding love. You must face the fact eventually that you never had a choice; if there was ever a choice to be made, it was not yours to make.”

Harry drew the robe tighter about his slim shoulders and huddled in the shadows.

“Believe me, Potter; I have already worked through every thought that is just now occurring to you. I even thought that if I could get you expelled, sent far away from me, from Hogwarts, that the bond would simply wither from lack of contact. Dumbledore, himself, has since assured me that there is no way to thwart the bond.”

Harry sighed wearily and settled back. Closing his eyes, he let the ensuing silence settle over him. The screams of the Shadow Stalkers had ceased; it must be nearing dawn. They would be leaving soon. Harry tried to rest and gather his strength while his nearly numb mind struggled to see to basic function. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Chapter 11: A Matter of Perspective

Snape nudged Harry out of a light doze, and without words, Harry understood it was time to go. Snape took a moment to gather up the used phials, probably so he could refill them later; then he was opening the door, peering cautiously out. Bright rosy light shone in, and Snape motioned Harry to climb up and out the small, high set door. Harry stood, blinking, trying to accustom his eyes to the light of this world’s small, red sun. They split briefly, turning their backs on one another and selecting nearby trees, relieved the pressure on their morning-distended bladders.

A brief nod at one another, and they were ready to leave. Harry was surprised to feel weight on his shoulders and looked to see that Snape had draped his heavy cloak around him. Harry moved to return it, but a glare from Snape stopped him. They trudged single file, retracing their steps toward the dark portal.

The passage back through the portal was just as awful as the original, and Harry found himself stumbling out, grateful to be back in his own world once more. A moment later, and Snape passed through the portal behind him. Gathering their wands, and Harry’s cloak, they began the trek back to Hogwarts.

Summoning his courage, Harry found himself breaking the comfortable silence and addressing a question to Snape’s black and silver scabbard. “I have one more question.”

Snape turned slightly to look over his shoulder at the younger wizard. “Only one?”

Harry grinned slightly. “Okay, only one right now.” He paused a moment trying to think of the best way to ask this. “You deliberately altered your appearance to make yourself unattractive to me, right?”

Harry waited a moment, and when Snape gave a slight nod, he forged on. “Did you…I mean to say are you…your personality…Are you nasty because that’s who you are, or because you were trying to put me off?”

Snape snorted slightly. “Both I suppose. Why?”

“I was just wondering if maybe you could ease up some on Neville.”

“Longbottom?” Snape snorted again. “I rather think not.”

“But I know now. There’s no reason to…”

“There’s every reason to,” Snape interrupted. “How much do you know about what happened to Longbottom’s parents?”

“Just the basics. I know Voldemort’s Death Eaters tortured them until they went insane. Neville still visits them in St. Mungos, even though they have never shown the slightest hint of recognizing him.”

“That is essentially the story, yes. Surviving Cruciatus mentally intact is more about will than the ability to endure pain. The necessary resolve must be present, or the victim simply gives in to the pain and loses himself in oblivion. Longbottom will either learn that resolve, learn to stand up for himself, to persevere in the face of incredible pressure or he will wash out of Hogwarts.”

“You can’t do that! Dumbledore won’t let you.”

“Potter, Dumbledore knows everything that goes on at Hogwarts. Don’t you think he knows about Longbottom’s plight in Potions? Who do you think is encouraging me to weed out the weak ones? We are not so much graduating wizards anymore, as turning out soldiers in a War against the Dark.”

Snape paused a moment to take a deep, cleansing breath, obviously steeling himself for something unpleasant.

“You know Longbottom well, do you not?”

Harry nodded.

“Upon graduation do you expect him to join the Resistance?”

“Absolutely,” Harry affirmed.

“What do you think will happen the first time he is tortured?”

Harry blanched, not wanting to consider the implications of such a thing.

Snape noticed Harry’s reticence and answered his own question. “He will be tortured, you know; and he will break, and he will take countless other lives with him, betray everything, because he lacks the fortitude to withstand the pressure. It’s better for everyone if he washes out now—a failed wizard-squib, beneath even Voldemort’s notice. At least that way the odds are decent that he will live; it may be a banal existence, but it is better than being tortured to death after betraying your comrades.”

“You can’t know that,” came Harry’s heated reply. “Besides, it isn’t your decision to make.”

“I’m afraid it is. Grow up, boy, and stop looking at your education as some kind of us against them, teachers versus students, game. We, all of us, are doing our very best to prepare you, to teach you skills that will keep you alive. Every Professor in this school is testing you in a dozen ways every day. Before you condemn us, look at things from our perspective. There is a reason for everything, even if you don’t understand it.”

They walked a few more minutes in silence before Snape spoke again.

“I know you count yourself Longbottom’s friend, but have you even tried to imagine how he would feel if he knew he was responsible for the death of a comrade? Also, I’m certain you realize that you will one day be a commander in this War. Could you send Longbottom out on a mission knowing his weakness could mean the death of Granger or perhaps little Ginny Weasley? Or a score of innocent children?”

“Surely there are other ways, maybe build up his self-confidence, or…”

Snape’s snort of disdain interrupted Harry’s thoughts. “Potter, I teach 5 potions classes every day. I mark homework in the evenings. I am also the Head of Slytherin House and therefore responsible for ensuring the general safety and welfare of 80 odd students. In my free time, I am at Voldemort’s beck and call, or I am off meeting contacts regarding Dark activity. The other teachers and staff are similarly occupied. I can appreciate your concern, but there simply isn’t time to molly-coddle every student.”

“Not every student, just those who need a bit of extra help. Look at what happened to his parents.”

“Look at what happened to yours. I’m sorry, Potter, but at this level, Longbottom can either take it, or he can’t. It would cause too much rivalry anyway to offer one student what cannot be offered to others, others who may feel they are just as needy and deserving as Longbottom of the extra attention. Right now we simply lack the time and resources.”

Harry had to concede silently that Snape was making a lot of sense, that much of what he had said tonight made a great deal of sense. On the other hand, he could feel something inside of him stretched near to breaking. He was barely 16; he had been forced to grow up too much in one night. He trudged silently behind Snape, longing for the comforting sanctuary of Hogwarts.

Chapter 12: Return to Hogwarts

It was already well past dawn when they reached the Great Oak and Harry retrieved his broomstick. Activity at Hogwarts was already bustling on this fine Saturday morning.

“Dammit,” Snape cursed quietly. “Our mutual absence will have already been noted. We cannot be seen arriving together, especially dressed as we are. We have to get into the castle, see Dumbledore, and come up with a reasonable explanation as to why you have been missing all night.”

Harry fingered his broom lightly. “My Firebolt will carry two.”

“Bloody marvelous, Potter. Why don’t we sky write while we fly over Hogwarts, just to make sure that every last stray Hufflepuff sees us?”

“If we leave from here with the invisibility cloak over us, we can circle around to the south entrance where Dobby will let us in the kitchen door. No one will see us, and Dobby won’t tell anyone.”

“I’m not even going to ask how you know this, Potter,” Snape said, reaching for the broom. “However, I will be sealing that door shut later.”

“Somehow I knew that,” Harry replied. “What do you think you’re doing with my broom?”

“Potter, you’ve taken a chill and been seriously injured. The logical course of action is for you to rest and let me take the windbreak position.” Snape motioned Harry to the passenger position behind him, and Harry capitulated, wrapping his arms about Snape’s waist and burying his face in the warm back. Harry sighed. This was actually kind of nice.

Once they were hovering off ground, Snape drew his wand and cast the invisibility cloak over them both. Quickly charming the cloak to remain around them securely, Snape turned the broom toward Hogwarts. Given the ordeals of the past few hours, getting into Hogwarts unseen was almost ridiculously easy. The little House Elf let them in exactly as Harry said he would. Once inside, Snape left instructions for the little elf to fetch Dumbledore to the dungeons; then they floo’d from the kitchen fireplace to the one in Snape’s sitting chamber, bypassing any curious eyes in the hallway.

Dumbledore arrived almost immediately, relieved to see the wandering duo. A knock at the door, and Dumbledore ushered in Dobby and two other house elves, each bearing a loaded brunch tray. Harry was never so glad to see so much food as at that moment. While he ate, Snape and Dumbledore conferred in the corner, presumably about whatever the little Gromelluen creature had told Snape. Given all that had happened, that piece of information seemed the only thing Harry didn’t know; at least he hoped it was.

Harry drowsed on one corner of the sofa, while the two older wizards tucked into their food. Harry was struggling to stay awake, or at least not to fall into a deep dreaming sleep while Snape and Dumbledore were present. He was vaguely aware that Snape was telling Dumbledore about the dreams, but couldn’t be bothered to pay much attention. The conversation buzzed around him. He came alert as Snape finished a recap of things he already knew and the topic of conversation switched from the events of last night to more immediate topics.

“I think we should have Madame Pomfrey examine Harry, just to be sure that he’s all right,” Dumbledore said as he pushed the remains of his food away and leaned back in the comfortable chair.

“Have you lost your mind, Albus? How are we to explain Harry’s rather serious injuries as well as the fact that he’s been missing from Hogwarts for the last 12 hours?”

“What choice do we do we have, Severus? The boy needs appropriate medical attention.”

“He will be fine, Albus. And, you know that I would be the first person to realize it if he weren’t. Pomfrey is like a pit bull with a wand. The last thing we need right now is her asking questions. And I certainly don’t need another of her lectures about practicing Medi-Wizardry without a license. Just because I keep a few healing potions on hand…,” Snape trailed off.

Harry snorted slightly, and Snape shot him a glare. Harry grinned cheekily, unrepentant. If Snape’s personal stores were anything like what he had for emergency use in that tree…

“Be that as it may, Severus, I would feel better if…”

“Uhmmm, Headmaster,” Harry interrupted tentatively. “If anyone is asking me,” and Harry’s tone and inflection left no doubt that he was miffed that no one had, “I think Professor Snape is right. Everyone will find out that something’s up if I end up in the infirmary.”

“Ahhh, the Hogwarts grapevine, a hale and hearty plant,” Snape sneered.

“Harry, your absence has already been noted. It is too late for concealment.”

“Couldn’t you just say that you heard there was a threat against my life and moved me to another location? I could stay here in the dungeon for a couple of days with Professor Snape…”

“Absolutely Not!” Snape thundered.

“And I could rest and heal,” Harry continued as if Snape had never spoken. “Professor Snape has plenty of healing potions and stuff, and he could look in on me every now and then.”

Dumbledore was stroking his bearded chin, clearly in deep thought. The idea had merit.

“In a few days it will have all blown over,” Harry continued. “I’ll come back to school, not knowing where I was, and nobody will question it.”

“That’s absolutely bloody…”

“Brilliant,” Dumbledore exclaimed. “Don’t you think so, Severus?”

“I was going to say Preposterous,” fumed Snape. “You want me to spend the entire weekend, and possibly longer, playing nursemaid to Potter?”

“Now, Severus. You wouldn’t have to do much for him. He’ll undoubtedly sleep much of the time. Why he’s practically asleep as it is. Look at him,” Dumbledore said, turning to the side table to fuss with the tea service the House Elves had left.

Snape’s eyebrows nearly scrambled up to meet his hairline as he shot a swift glance toward Harry. Harry gasped as a sharp blow connected with his one good ankle, waking him instantly. Before he could register his indignation at being so rudely awakened, Snape hissed, “We do not need a repeat performance of Dreamtime with Harry Potter.”

Harry felt color flush his cheeks as he struggled to sit up. “I’ll have some tea too, Headmaster, if you please.” Caffeine. Yes, caffeine was a good thing.

“Ahhh, Harry,…you’re awake. I suppose you have questions then, about the bond? Hmmm?” Dumbledore inquired as he passed cups and saucers.

To be honest about it, Harry was so tired he didn’t think he could form a coherent question, but the hot tea helped revive him.

Harry shot a quick glance at Snape. “Maybe…maybe later, after I’ve had a chance to rest and think for a while.”

They sat, quietly sipping their tea, until Dumbledore excused himself to, as he put it, “Spread malicious gossip concerning death threats against young Potter.” Eyes twinkling mischievously, he left Snape and Harry sitting in awkward silence.

“Well, I guess it’s time we got you into bed, Potter.”

It was a measure of their tiredness that neither recognized the implications of that statement for a few moments; when understanding hit, Harry flushed scarlet and Snape’s usual razor wit deserted him, leaving him to stammer awkwardly, “I didn’t mean…alone…that is…Oh, you know what I meant. Come along.”

So saying this, Snape opened one of the doors leading off the sitting room and motioned to Harry to follow. Harry was unsurprised to find that Snape had just led him into a bedroom. A quick glance showed a large bed just off the center of the room; a heavy patchwork quilt in maroon, blue and ecru decorated its surface. A large bookshelf, a nightstand, and an armoire completed the room’s furnishings. The room was so Spartan that until Snape removed a nightshirt from the small walk-in closet, Harry didn’t realize that this was Snape’s bedroom and not a guestroom.

When Snape handed the soft white shirt to him, Harry suddenly realized what a ragged picture he must present. Looking down at himself, he noted that his pajamas were now rags, dirty and torn beyond repair. Snatches of pale skin showed through several of the rips, as did numerous bruises and rose colored wheals. Dirt crusted along the edges of some of the wounds and was so deeply ingrained into the scraped skin of his hands, he feared it might be permanent.

Harry looked at the pristine quilt and nibbled his bottom lip nervously. “Perhaps I might have a bath first?”

Snape eyed the boy carefully. Any fool could see the boy was near collapse. The potions had helped, but there was no denying that he was still seriously injured and in desperate need of rest.

Drawing his wand from the sleeve of his turtleneck, Snape cast a cleaning charm so powerful Harry felt the hair on his arms stand upright. Looking up, Harry realized that Snape had included himself within the charm’s aura. It would do, he supposed. A cleaning charm cleaned as well as soap and water, but wasn’t as refreshing and didn’t leave the squeaky clean feeling that water did.

Hyperaware that he was taking the older wizard’s bed, Harry looked from the bed and back again to Snape, who was rummaging around in the armoire as Harry changed quickly into the too long nightshirt; the tinkling sound of thin glass sounding like tiny wind chimes.

“Here, take this,” Snape said holding out a small phial of pale green liquid. When Harry raised questioning eyes to Snape, the older wizard replied, “Dreamless Sleep Draught.”

Understanding dawned in Harry’s eyes, and he hastily swallowed the concoction, this one leaving the refreshing taste of mint. So, Snape liked the flavored elixirs too; Harry grinned to himself. Somehow it made Snape just a little bit more human.

“Off to bed with you, then,” Snape said, pulling back the bedcovers.

“What about you?” Harry asked. “Where will you sleep?”

“When my mind shuts down, and I cannot read one more mindless essay on the uses of tree frog tongue, I will doubtless fall asleep at my desk, as I usually do.”

Something akin to compassion swelled in Harry’s heart; it was odd having tender feelings for someone you automatically associated with all things unpleasant: nasty potions, detentions, Voldemort. And yet, it seemed right somehow too, to once again lift the edge of a cover and invite Snape to rest.

“Eager for a repeat are we, Potter?”

Harry flushed slightly remembering the last time they had tried to rest together. Tapping the small, empty phial he still clutched in his hand, Harry replied, “I’m sure you have more of this. And you need the rest too.”

“I need to grade papers. I have more than 100 essays to read and evaluate before Monday. I hadn’t planned on last night’s little adventure, so I’m quite far behind as it is.”

“I could help,” Harry hesitantly offered. Voice growing stronger, he continued, “I could grade up through the third years easily. If you’ll rest now, I’ll spend tomorrow helping you grade essays.”

Snape was about to retort that he didn’t need help from someone who should be repeating first year Potions with the Hufflepuffs, when he chanced to look at Harry’s earnest face. His breath hitched as his gaze literally fell into calm, sincere emerald eyes. It had been so long since he had last seen a look of genuine care and concern directed at him that he had almost forgotten what it looked like. He made certain that nothing showed on his face, as emotions warred within him. Was this Harry’s genuine concern? Or, was the bond exerting its influence? How much did Harry care for him? How much was being forced? Would he ever know? Did it matter so long as the emotion was genuine and the boy felt it as such?

Harry felt an odd sense of disappointment pass through him as Snape abruptly turned on his heel and walked toward the door. It took a moment to register that Snape had stepped into the closet; in fact, Harry didn’t realize it until Snape stepped out clad in a nightshirt. Retrieving and drinking a small phial of Dreamless Sleep Draught, Snape prepared for sleep. Extinguishing the candles as he moved toward the bed, Snape blew out the last candle as he slid under the covers next to his bond-mate. As Harry fell asleep, a comfortable sensation of peace and contentment settled over him.

Chapter 13: An Understanding of Sorts

Harry awoke with a very full bladder and the general sense that a great deal of time had passed. Stretching, he realized that he was warm, comfortable, and well rested. The extra long sleep combined with the effects of the healing potions had him feeling almost normal, with only a few residual aches. In short, he felt better than he had in weeks, maybe months. A gentle, steady breathing to his left drew his attention. He remembered then. He was in the dungeon, Snape’s chambers—that was the reason for the total lack of light.

Calling, “Sphero Lumos,” softly, he prepared to slide carefully from the bed and find the bathroom accompanied by the light of a softly glowing light ball hovering in mid-air. A glance toward Snape arrested the breath in his throat, as he was moved to study the man intently. Harry couldn’t find a single word to describe what he saw. Severus Snape, Slytherin to the bone and the arch-nemesis of all courageous Gryffindors everywhere, looked vulnerable, tender and altogether sweet in sleep. A goodness seemed to radiate from him that wasn’t visible under his perpetual waking sneer. And then Harry found the word he was seeking. Soft black eyes heavy with sleep opened and fixed blearily on Harry. Before Snape’s face could harden, before he could think better of it, a soft smile and a whispered, “Good morning,” was offered to Harry. Beautiful, Harry’s mind registered…simply beautiful.

Startled at being caught looking and shocked to the core that he had used beautiful as an adjective involving Snape, Harry scrambled to get up quickly. Unfortunately, coordination was not a morning forte. Harry found himself twisted awkwardly in the sheets, attempting to pull free, only to land hard on his arse on the cold, stone dungeon floor. A choked chuffing sound met his muttered curses. As he struggled free of the twisted sheets and peered over the edge of the bed, Harry was utterly gobsmacked to find Snape laughing, a real laugh this time.

“Beautiful,” Harry’s mind whispered again as he was struggling to stand.

“Oh, Shut Up!” His conscious mind sent back in a vicious but silent whisper.

A quick, surreptitious glance back at Snape before Harry opened the door forced him to exit the room with an achy, tender feeling lodged suspiciously close to his heart.

After making rather free with the dungeon’s supply of hot water and some pale blue soap that smelled like clean morning rain and cool ocean breezes, Harry stepped out of the bathroom looking altogether too cute for words. Snape’s robe, which was intended to reach knee level, hung much closer to Harry’s ankles than his knees. The sleeves draped over his hands, making him look as if he were wearing a choir robe instead of a terrycloth bathrobe. Unruly damp black hair stuck out in all directions as Harry blinked owlishly behind steamed glasses.

Snape bit the inside of his cheek to stifle the rising laughter and motioned the boy toward a chair. “I had the House Elves send up breakfast, though it’s closer to lunch time.”

Whether the man preferred to eat in the sitting room or whether he simply took most meals in the communal dining room and saw no need for a table and chairs, Harry didn’t know. So he asked. Snape was surprised, but answered truthfully that he had never needed a dining room set as he ate either in the communal dining room or at his desk while he worked.

That exchange set the tone for the day as breakfast passed in amicable if general conversation. They spent the rest of the day in companionable silence grading papers, after Harry changed into some clothes that Dobby had smuggled down for him. If Harry thought playing teacher was going to be fun, a steady stream of unremarkable and occasionally outright stupid papers soon disabused him of that notion.

Harry and his friends had always believed that the professors had it so much easier; after all, they never had to actually do all that homework they assigned. By dinnertime, Harry was amazed that Snape and the rest hadn’t just hexed them all into oblivion and been done with it years ago. Merlin, this was frustrating. And painful, he decided, as his head started to ache. Whether it was the bond or if Snape was just observant, Harry didn’t know, but he was soon settled on the couch for a nap after swallowing some Headache Draught that tasted faintly of apples and some more of the Dreamless Sleep potion. The combination left the lingering taste of minty apple in his mouth.

Harry drowsed as Snape placed their dinner order with a House Elf, and then went back to grading essays. Through half-lowered lashes, he took the opportunity to observe Snape. The man tapped a quill thoughtfully as he considered another paper. Harry had never before thought of Snape as particularly fair, but he realized that he had been looking at things from a child’s point of view. He had done the work, he acknowledged, but he hadn’t always done it particularly well, nor had he ever put in as much effort as the subject deserved. Snape had been right to give him low marks. In fact, Snape had been right about a great many things recently. That wasn’t to say he had to like it, he admitted silently, as a small rap on the door heralded the arrival of dinner. Pushing himself up slowly, Harry made a silent vow never to place Quidditch ahead of his studies ever again.

Dinner was a rather silent affair as Snape served Harry on the couch and took his own plate to his desk to eat while he worked. Half an hour later, Harry was finished with his meal, while Snape was still picking occasionally at his, concentrating more on the work in front of him than the meal beside him. Warming charms didn’t last forever, and at this rate Snape would be ‘eating’ until midnight.

Clearing his throat slightly, Harry interrupted hesitantly, “I thought most of the essays were done when I laid down for a nap?”

“Hmmm, … Oh, yes. They’re done.” With a slight wave of his hand, he indicated the papers piled on his desk. “Lesson plans for next week. I need to have these into Albus by tomorrow morning at the latest.”

“Why? I’m sure the Headmaster knows you’re doing a good job,” Harry replied.

“Honestly, I don’t even think Albus takes the time to look at them with all of the paperwork of his own he has to prepare.”

“Then why do it?”

Snape sighed deeply. “Well, they help me teach the class, keep me focused and on task. Also, the paperwork does not stop with Dumbledore. He, in turn, must turn in copies of all of the lesson plans to the school board, so that they and the parents are assured that the students are learning an appropriate curriculum.”

“Could I see one?” Harry asked, reaching tentatively toward what he assumed was the completed stack.

If Snape was curious as to Harry’s sudden interest, he said nothing, merely making a ‘help yourself’ gesture toward the stack of parchments.

Harry chose the top one at random and sat back on the couch to read. Merlin, he hadn’t realized that Snape put in more class prep time than any student, including Hermione. He quietly put the parchment back in the stack as Snape finished the last one and signed it.

“What now?” Harry queried.

Snape pulled a small memo parchment from a note-holder on his desk. “Ahhh, yes. I have a request from Madame Pomfrey for a general fever and anti-infection potion. Given the time of year and the widespread prevalence of the ‘flu this year, her stores are seriously depleted.”

“Can I help?” Before Snape could insist he take another nap, Harry blurted out, “I’m really not tired, and my head doesn’t hurt anymore. Why don’t I lay out the ingredients while you finish eating?” Harry suggested, gesturing toward the cooling plate.

Without replying, Snape got up and selected a book from a large bookshelf in the corner. “My workroom is through that door,” he said, pointing to the door on his left. “The ingredients are stored in the same manner as those used in class. The recipe for the potion is…” Snape fumbled with the book, “here on page 268. I’ll be in shortly.”

It didn’t take Harry long to lay out all the ingredients, so he was already mincing the skullcap when Snape came in. The evening passed quietly as the potion brewed. As Harry was helping to bottle the rather large batch, a note from Professor Dumbledore arrived via Fawkes, who seemed rather put out at having been forced to use the owl tunnel to reach the dungeon.

Snape read the note and discharged the bird without sending a reply.

Snape motioned for Harry to follow him back into the sitting room. Harry sat on the couch, as Snape opened a cabinet in the far corner and extracted a rather large bottle. Sitting near Harry, he handed the bottle to the boy without comment.

Opening it cautiously, Harry took a delicate sniff and identified the minty scent of Dreamless Sleep Draught. He looked questioningly at Snape.

“Albus has just informed me that the ‘threat’ to your life has been eliminated, and you are free to return to the Gryffindor common rooms via the floo from his office. You are to tell everyone that you were transported by portkey to an undisclosed location, where you spent the weekend resting. Don’t forget your things,” he said, indicating the small bag of necessities Dobby had smuggled in that morning.

It seemed their easy camaraderie was now over; Snape had reverted to his Ice-Man persona, and Harry was out in the cold.

“Before I leave, can I ask you a question? It’s kind-of about the bond.”

Snape leaned back into the soft couch cushions. “Proceed.”

“Well, if Professor Dumbledore realized that encouraging my father in his more chancy ventures…”

“You mean his foolhardy, reckless shenanigans, don’t you?”

Harry shrugged. “If he didn’t want me to be reckless, why did he give me that cloak?”

“Why didn’t you ask him yesterday?”

Taking a deep breath, Harry replied, “Because I didn’t think he’d tell me the truth. I think you will, though. And after what he did to me already, without my consent, I can’t talk to him, or I’ll probably end up saying enough to get expelled. I don’t trust him anymore,” Harry ended on a whisper.

Snape sighed deeply and surprisingly white teeth nibbled at his bottom lip. “I’ve never asked Albus. Between the two of you, I’ve come near to having a stroke on several occasions these last few years, all thanks to that damned cloak. My guess is that he did it to nurture along my protective feelings for you, a little tweak, as he would say. That’s the only explanation I can offer.”

Despite ostensibly having only one question, once the subject of the bond had come up, Harry found he had more questions to ask.

“What happens when I open my half of the bond? How do I open it?”

“When your half is opened, you will feel the same protective impulses for me that I feel toward you. As to the how of it, you’ll know when the time comes.”

“All right, I guess I’ll have to take your word for it, but there’s still something I don’t understand. If you didn’t feel protective toward me until you opened your part of the bond, why did Dumbledore trust you for all these years? You could have betrayed The Order at any time…I mean any time before you opened your part of the bond.”

“Despite repeated instruction, you still don’t understand the nature of the bond, do you, Potter? Do you recall that I told you that the bond has a rather advanced sense of self-preservation? That it will do what it must to ensure its survival and yours, even altering your sexual orientation?”

Harry flushed slightly, but nodded.

“Very well.” Snape sighed deeply and proceeded with the explanation. “Would you agree, then, that in order for the bond to exist, we must both exist?”

Harry looked confused for a moment, but answered, “Yes.”

Snape nodded. “For that reason, I could not betray you as the bond would not let me. You had the Dursleys for ten years to provide your basic necessities, and although they did not treat you particularly well, you were provided the minimum necessities. The bond did not need me to protect you; else it would have forced my portion of the bond open. However, neither could I work against you and/or your interests, as that would have threatened the bond. From what Albus has told me, the bond can inflict its own form of Cruciatus on a betrayer.”

Harry swallowed hard and tried to digest that little bit of knowledge. Probably best to think about that later.

“Wymmmsx?”

“What was that, Potter? Speak up, boy.”

“I said,” Harry enunciated each word carefully, “why sex? Why is the bond so insistent that we…you know.”

“You have to remember that we are dealing with an ancient spell, one so old that the language is forgotten and only the invocation for the bond remains. In sorcery, three is a powerful number, so having three parts to the bond made sense. Most ancient societies were highly ritualized. Had a paternal bond been forged, a public adoption ceremony would have been required, where I would declare you my surrogate son and equal to an heir of my body in terms of succession. A filial bond calls for the primitive act of cutting one’s hand and binding it to the hand of your new blood brother. A romantic bond demands a sexual completion as the sexual act embodies a true union, which is representative of all we are and all we will become to each other.”

It made a certain sense in a primitive sort of way. He needed time to think, time to really contemplate all of this.

“You can always ask if you have more questions,” Snape offered. “At some point you will have to reach some type of resolution with Albus, but in the meantime, I am available, as is Minerva. If you wish it, she will undoubtedly be pleased to serve as a neutral third party should you need a confidante.”

Harry nodded, trying not to be overwhelmed by all of the new information. He only had one final question anyway.

“Are you going to re-cast the glamour or leave it off permanently?”

“I’ll re-cast it. A radical change in appearance would appear too suspicious. We cannot take any chances. If Voldemort’s suspicions were aroused, he might probe my mind directly. It would take a great deal of his power to do so, but if the existence of the bond became known…”

Snape didn’t finish the thought, and Harry really didn’t need him to. What he had already said was enough to send shudders up Harry’s spine.

“What about when you first…I mean didn’t anybody notice?” Harry said, waving a hand toward his face.

“The glamour? You’re speaking of the summer you turned eleven? I simply let it be known that I was working on an important project. When I came back looking rather poor, my colleagues merely assumed that I had let myself go.”

Harry glanced at Snape, now well able to imagine what must have really happened. Severus Snape, who had no close friends or really anyone who cared about him at all, had come back to Hogwarts after summer break looking dirty, ill, and tired. And no one had cared enough to ask him if he was all right, or to show any kind of concern.

“Here,” Snape said, tucking the bottle of Dreamless Sleep Draught into Harry’s bag, “so you won’t forget it.”

Snape stood, and Harry followed, aware that Snape was escorting him to the floo. Once there, Snape paused with his hand on the container of floo powder. “You have a great deal to think about in the ensuing weeks. I think it best that we hold off on completing the bond until we can do so as equals.”

“When I graduate, you mean?”

“No, the bond may not let us wait that long, though I fervently hope I’m wrong about that. You must remember that in ancient times children as young as thirteen and fourteen were already producing children of their own. As far as the bond is concerned, you are sexually mature, ready for a full bond. In a way, I’m amazed that it’s held off this long. No, I mean equals in the sense of two adults who have worked through the issues surrounding this forced bonding, realizing why this must be.”

With that, Harry’s anger flared sharp and hot. The fact that he hadn’t hexed anyone yet spoke volumes for his level of maturity. Before he realized it, Snape had caught his wrist in mid-arc, holding it tightly mere inches from his jaw line. They stared at one another; each reading the eyes of his ally-adversary, until something in Harry’s expression softened, and Snape released his reddened wrist. Harry’s hand continued to hover in mid-air near Snape’s jaw as the two continued to stare.

Without conscious thought, Harry’s fingers curled into the heavy black mass of the Potions master’s hair, and he pulled the taller man in for a kiss. Their lips touched in a feathery caress that brought sighs of contentment to both men. It was warmth and sweetness, a comforting fire on a chilly night, the hug of a soft, worn, and well-loved blanket in the darkness. Subtly the kiss deepened as their tongues touched. Tentative strokes of velvety heat soon gave way to searing fever as their tongues danced and tangled in an intimate rhythm. Harry vaguely realized that the someone who was whimpering was him, and then promptly ignored it, as Snape’s tongue began to thrust into his mouth in a carnal simulation of sex, a hard demanding rhythm that was begging for completion.

Harry felt the harsh bricks of the fireplace impact with his back as he hit forcefully, Snape disengaging their embrace with a sharp movement that literally threw Harry away from the older man. Color high and breathing heavily, Harry stared at Snape, who was in a similar condition at the moment, at least physically he was. Mind screaming in confusion, body screaming in need, Harry desperately tried to figure out what he had just initiated.

Could he blame the bond for this, or had he done this of his own free will? Harry was honest enough to admit the latter was possible. There was a certain appeal in knowing that someone belonged to you, if only you would claim him. Desperately lonely for most of his life, starved for simple affection and a gentle touch, Harry was less than a hair’s breadth from simply giving in. Snape looked to be similarly off.

Desperately trying to look anywhere but at Snape, he looked at the room. He had been comfortable here, safe and protected. In his mind’s eye, he saw a flash of a possible future, of he and Snape living together in these rooms, touches of them both decorating the barren mantle, reading quietly together, drowsing in front of a warm fire, talking far into the night. It was strangely appealing, making him ache for an unnamed something that teased at the edges of his memory like a half-remembered dream.

“I’m sorry,” Harry gasped out at last.

“I actually thought you were going to hit me.”

“I was,” Harry retorted. “I still owe you for cracking me in the jaw, anyway.”

“You know why I did that.”

“Yes, but that still doesn’t make it all right.”

“So, why didn’t you follow through? You had another fist that wasn’t being restrained.”

“I guess I just realized that being even and being equal aren’t necessarily the same thing.”

Both men saw the maturity in that answer, and both feared the consequences of it.

“I guess I should go now,” Harry said quietly.

Snape said nothing.

Harry took one last look around the room. Snape had given him so much: a sanctuary, an explanation, care and comfort, his very life. And in return, he had given nothing, offered nothing. Part of being equal was giving in return.

“I’ll be back next Saturday to help you grade more essays, okay?”

For just a moment Snape’s mask slipped, and Harry saw a quick flash of interested hope. Then the mask fell firmly back into place. “Do whatever you like, Potter.”

Harry shouldered his bag and threw a pinch of floo powder into the flames. He had a great deal to think about. He was leaving, though, in a much more optimistic frame of mind than the one he had arrived in. He was still confused, still angry, but at least he had the hope that somehow things could be worked out, that maybe this wasn’t such a terrible fate after all. He touched his kiss-swollen lips tenderly, and saying, “Dumbledore’s office,” vanished from view.

The End?