Knockturn in the fog. Severus doubted a dirtier, more depressing tableau existed anywhere in Wizarding London. The rank mist made the cobbles look blacker, the building fronts grungier – if such a thing were possible – and the inhabitants more nefarious. Severus did his best to ignore his surroundings while keeping his pace brisk and determined. Focused. It wouldn't do to look hesitant in this part of Knockturn Alley. Not at this time of night. Here, any passerby not prepared to defend himself was fair game. Thieves were as prevalent as whores and hustlers, and in fact, most of the children selling themselves in the filthy alleys were schooled in both trades. They stole from their "clients," wriggling into open pockets with their deft fingers, even as they offered up their bodies.

Here, the witching hour was as busy as high noon on Diagon Alley. Pale flesh flashed in his peripheral vision as he walked. The prostitutes lined both sides of the street – girls on one side, boys on the other – all young and desperate. Still, Severus's focus didn't waver. At first.

He made a sharp turn where the street curved to the left and the moment his gaze swept the sidewalk, he saw him. The boy was beautiful – a tangle of too-long adolescent limbs with wide, innocent eyes. Severus paused only briefly as their eyes met, but his slight hesitation caused the boy to flash a knowing smile. A professional, then. Severus picked up his pace, determined to ignore the brief unspoken communication, but fingers, damp with cold, reached out and brushed the sleeve of his robe. Despite himself, Severus turned back. The boy was dressed in little more than rags – tight-fitting rags – that barely covered him. A scrap of cloth that passed as a shirt and that was translucent in the damp mist, fell from one pale shoulder. The trousers were dark, but whether that was their true color or rather the result of too many romps in the muck filled alleys was impossible to say. Yet the ensemble added to the waif's appeal. Yes, Severus thought, he was quite beautiful indeed.

He wondered what spell was at work that could make the boy look so child-like.

"It's not magic, if you're wondering," the boy said in a small voice. "I've always looked this young."

Severus's mouth twisted. A crop of shaggy blond hair, like golden honey, spilled around the boy's face. His eyes, a brilliant pale blue, sparkled when turned toward the street lamp. Severus tried not to notice how they cut through the gloom. He pulled away from the soft fingers. "I don't fuck children," he said.

The boy smiled and the expression lit his face, increasing his beauty tenfold. Severus felt his breath hitch. Self-disgust welled up in his chest, but he didn't turn away. Only those who had reached the rock-bottom, cesspit of life could smile with so little guile. With nothing to prove, there was no reason to hide. And perhaps that was the root of the appeal – Harry often smiled at him in just the same way. He let his eyes slide lower, past the angelic face, to admire the boy's slim form.

"Want a better look?" the boy asked, not missing the way Severus's eyes raked down his body. "There's not much light here, but I know a place…." He gave a gentle tug on Severus's hand.

"I don't fuck children," Severus repeated, and like an avenging angel, the memory of Harry's face filled his vision.

Sensing his distraction, the boy drew closer. "I'm no child."

"You look no more than twelve."

The boy stepped even closer. "I'm legal. That's what's got you worried, yeah?" He licked his lips when Severus didn't respond. "Your secret's safe with me," he whispered. He leaned up and nipped at Severus's chin before soothing the sting with his tongue, and with feline agility moved under Severus's arm and up against his cloak. "Room for me in there?" he asked.

Harry's face flashed in his mind again. But how the urchin in his arms knew the exact words Harry had spoken to him not an hour before was a mystery.

I'm no child, Harry had said.

Severus had turned Harry away, but he was giving more than a passing thought to burying himself in a boy less than a third of his age. Cleary he was, as Harry had often said, evil and rotten to the core.

But the lingering arousal from that meeting not an hour past refused to die, and he couldn't deny the sick surge of lust at the thought of claiming the tiny blond lapping at his neck. His breath caught again as smooth hands found the openings in his robe and slipped inside. He doubted the boy was of age, but decided he didn't care. He had refused to scratch one itch that night; he wouldn't deny himself a second chance for pleasure. "Where?" Severus barked as the boy circled his ear with an eager tongue.

The boy jumped, but smiled at the sudden change of heart. "Just down here," he breathed and took Severus's hand, pulling him in the direction of the nearest alley. Severus let himself be led, his late night errand forgotten for the moment.

The alley was dark and occupied. Severus's lip curled in disgust, but the boy seemed to sense his distaste and led him beyond most of the fumbling, writhing bodies. The smell got worse the farther they ventured.

Severus made a wordless sound of warning and pulled sharply on their joined hands, but the boy just giggled and turned back to embrace him the dark. "It's all right. It gets worse before it gets better. But it's going to be worth it. I swear." He slid his hands back into Severus's robes once more and cupped the thick length of his erection. "You won't regret it, love."

The boy's hair smelled of sea air, a logistical impossibility, yet Severus swore he could detect the subtle fragrance of summer sunshine in the shaggy locks. Images of the boy romping through the waves and sand assaulted him, and he couldn't hold back a moan. It had been so long since he'd taken anything so pure, even if the innocence was all deception.

The alley narrowed as they walked and Severus realized the boy was right. The oppressive smell of rubbish and unwashed bodies was fading. The boy halted suddenly at a door and turned to look at Severus. "It's clean inside. And warm. Still, I'll understand if you'd rather not come in."

The short speech gave Severus pause. The boy's atypical behavior was beginning to bother him. "Since when," he growled, "does a whore care for the comfort of his tricks?"

He pushed the blond against the wall into a pool of moonlight, gripped his chin, and forced his head up so that their eyes met. When the moonlight reflected off the uncanny crystalline blue of the boy's eyes, Severus's cock twitched and swelled even more. Pressed together as they were, he knew the boy felt it.

"You like my eyes," the little prostitute said with a smile. He shifted his hips against Severus. "I like yours, too."

Severus growled again and tightened his grip on the boy's face. "Save your false platitudes," he hissed.

In answer, the smile dropped from the boy's face and he thrust his hips forward once more. Severus moaned low in his throat as the boy's erection, slim and hot, rubbed his own. "You make me hard," the boy whispered. "It's been ages since that's happened."

"If that's the case, how do you keep your business?" Severus asked. He didn't wait for the answer. Instead, he swooped down and covered the boy's pert mouth with his own. The boy invited Severus in, wet tongue and sharp teeth, all the while thrusting and rubbing their bodies together as best he could, even when pinned to the wall.

Severus dimly remembered there was a warm and dry room very close, which, in theory, had a bed – or something resembling one. Unfortunately, his brain had short-circuited with his first taste of the young blond. Almost against his will, his arms roamed over the small body in his arms. The boy's diminutive stature and obviously adolescent body excited him beyond measure. No spell, no glamour, could replicate that feeling. It was all gangly limbs and young, undeveloped muscle. And it was wrong – so wrong – enjoying the touch of a child so much. The disgust returned twofold and Severus found the strength to push the boy away.

The boy misinterpreted the move. "Ready to move this inside?" he asked.

"No," Severus grunted and made a weak attempt to pull away. The boy held fast. In a move worthy of the most talented street thief, he twisted his arm behind him, dismantled the wards on the door, and pushed it open. Light spilled into the street, and Severus found his intentions waver once more as he took in the boy's flushed, aroused face.

"How did you do that without a wand?" he croaked through a dry throat.

The boy froze for a split second before smiling slyly at Severus. "It's hidden away, love." He pointed to what passed for his trousers. "And that's not the only thing I've got in there. Come on." He pulled Severus over the threshold. "Come on," he repeated.

"How old are you?" Severus asked. He stumbled through the door.

The boy seemed to know he'd been caught out. "Does it matter?" he asked. "Does it really matter anymore?" He closed the door behind them before releasing his grip on Severus's arm. Before Severus could utter a protest, the scrap of a shirt and tight trousers were puddled on the floor. The boy raised himself on tiptoes and pressed himself against Severus's fully clothed form. "Bit overdressed, aren't you, love?" he asked.

Severus gripped the boy by his upper arms. Again, he felt shock at how slight the lad was; his arms were tiny enough that Severus could circle them easily with his hands. Yet underneath the smooth skin, he detected a strength he hadn't expected, rather than the fragility the boy's wispy stature implied.

As the boy went to work on the fastenings of Severus's cloak, he talked. "It's not often I'm able to catch the eye of one such as yourself, sir." He pushed the cloak from Severus's shoulders and it joined the other hastily discarded clothes on the rough plank floor.

"I find that hard to believe. And don't call me that," Severus said. Anything but that.

"But you look like a 'sir'," the boy rambled, all the while working clasps free from their hooks and buttons through their holes. As he worked he continued to rub himself against Severus, not seeming to mind the brush of rough wool against his naked skin. Despite the inner voice that screamed at him to resist, Severus shrugged out of his shirt when the boy urged it past his shoulders.

"It should be obvious by now that I am no gentleman," he said, drawing the boy against his chest, and gasping at the first touch of skin on skin. The boy purred and undulated against him like a contented cat. Severus groaned. If the whelp was pretending his interest and arousal, he was the best actor Severus had come across in years. And there was, of course, the matter of the dripping erection pressing into his thigh. A rather difficult response to fake.

"Gods, don't just stand there. Help me," the boy gasped. His fingers had returned to their task, but were unable to manage the row of tiny clasps on Severus's trousers. "Want to touch you. Suck you," he moaned into Severus's chest.

An image of the blond on his knees in front of him proved to be the final straw. Dark lust rose up in his chest and the last vestiges of his hesitation fell away. He slapped the boy's fumbling hands away and ripped his trousers open. With one rough shove to the boy's slender shoulders, he forced him to the floor.

The blond gave a startled gasp at the rough treatment, although Severus had no idea why. If his actions up until now hadn't confirmed what a bastard he was, then nothing would. He grasped handfuls of the boy's blond hair and pulled him forward. The words he meant to speak – the harsh command to lick, to suck – got lost in his throat when the boy leaned forward and nuzzled him.

The sensation was tender and completely unexpected. So much so that for long moments, Severus stood frozen, rooted to the spot, unable to do anything but watch as the boy nestled his open mouth into the wiry hair of Severus's groin and just…inhaled. The small, pale hands came to rest on Severus's hips, where they held him in a gentle grip, neither holding him back nor urging him on. Warm, gentle puffs of air from the boy's mouth danced around his groin. Severus felt his control slip even further. His cock, only hard before, became as rigid as steel.

Then…the boy ducked his head, buried his face in the juncture between Severus's legs, and kissed him tenderly.

Severus couldn't move. He was struck dumb by the intimate gesture. It was unexpected and unwelcome, and aroused him more than the sight of the messy blond hair entwined in his fingers, the small hands that slipped down to cup his thighs, or the soft groans that sent shock waves down his legs and settled in his toes.

"You smell wonderful," the boy panted as he looked up, and Severus failed to hold back yet another groan.

The boy's eyes cut through him, strong with time and experience. Seeing that much power reflected in such a youthful countenance pushed Severus's arousal to new heights. It was the second time he had witnessed it tonight.

God damn Harry. God damn him to hell.

Severus swallowed the lump in his throat. "Get on with it," he said. Dizzy with need, he scrambled to fist his hands in the mop of sunshine hair. "I don't have all night," he rasped.

His head fell back and his knees trembled when the boy rewarded him with a long, slow lick along the underside of his cock. "You could have had as long as you wanted," the boy answered before sucking Severus's erection deep into his throat in one swift move.

Severus turned the statement over in his mind. Once. Twice. Then he dismissed it and concentrated instead on the wet heat of the boy's mouth. The prostitute was young, not inexperienced. His tongue danced over Severus's rigid flesh as though born knowing what he needed. He leaned forward, taking Severus in deeper and deeper until once more Severus could feel the boy's nose buried in his pubic hair.

"Ah…ah, gods," Severus panted under his breath. His fingers tightened on the boy's head, but he resisted the urge to plunge deep into his throat. He rode the waves of pleasure, gasping as each one crested, but refused to let go completely. The boy, however, held nothing back, and it was short minutes later when Severus shoved him away, knowing he wouldn't last much longer.

The boy moaned at the loss and looked up at Severus in a daze. His eyes were dark with passion, his cheeks flush with color, and his lips glistening wet. The sight took Severus's breath away. It was all he could do not to grasp his cock and work himself to completion immediately. In fact, his hand reached to do just that, but he stopped it in time. Instead he grabbed the base of his cock and gave a sharp squeeze, wincing, but welcoming the pain. He was already damned; he refused to rush the experience. A minute later, when his craving had abated to a manageable level, he expelled a shaky breath.

The boy groaned again, drawing Severus's attention back down to the floor. Deprived of his prize, the blond had rested his forehead against Severus's thigh, all the while working his own prick in a frantic rhythm. Severus watched, hypnotized, until he felt the boy's shoulders tense and a low moan of expectation escape his throat.

"Not yet," Severus growled. He grabbed a handful of scruffy blond hair and yanked the boy to his feet. He slid one arm around the lad's waist and pushed him toward the tiny sagging mattress.

"Oh, please," the boy whispered as Severus shoved him down onto his back. He arched his hips, wanton, keening low in his throat. He reached for his cock again, but Severus slapped his hand away. Swallowing a sob, the boy lifted both hands and fisted them in his hair. When Severus didn't move, only continued to watch, he dragged his hands down his face and across his chest. Meeting Severus's stare with one of his own, he circled his nipples, alternately rubbing and flicking them with the rough pad of his thumbs. "I can come like this, you know," he said, breathless. "Just like this with you watching me. I don't even have to touch myself."

Mesmerized, Severus reached to remove his own clothing, but his fingers refused to cooperate. They slipped and fumbled over the laces of his boots.

"What?" the boy asked. "What are you doing?" He lifted himself up onto his elbows. "For fuck's sake, don't bother," he said as he watched Severus struggle with his shoes. "It's your cock I'm interested in." He reached out and ran his finger over the tip of Severus's prick, spreading the moisture that had collected there, and Severus grunted and surged forward. "Yeah," the boy murmured. He hauled himself up, wrapped one hand around the base of Severus's cock, sucked the tip into his mouth, and lapped at the slit. He licked and licked. Sounds of appreciation rumbled up from his chest.

To Severus, he looked like a small boy enjoying an ice-lolly. It was an obscene, entrancing sight. He doubted he'd ever tire of it.

The sensation of the small, rough tongue on the head of cock was torture, causing his fingers and toes to twitch with each wet swipe. When the boy grabbed his arse and squeezed, Severus drew in a startled gasp, unaware that he'd stopped breathing for a moment. His hands flew to the boy's shoulders, and he started to shake. Climax threatened, tightening his balls, but he couldn't tear his eyes or his body away.

"Stop," he gasped, but the word stuck in his throat and all that emerged was a needy grunt.

The boy redoubled his efforts, both on himself and on Severus. His moans became a constant vibrating drone, and Severus's control slipped even further. Still, it was the sudden splash of warmth on his leg and the twitching body under his hands that finally shattered his control. The boy cried out as his orgasm hit, though he kept his lips stretched around Severus's erection even as his body convulsed with release.

Reason fled.

Severus grabbed both sides of the boy's face in his hands, clawing the skin in his haste and excitement. He ignored the boy's hiss of pain and the way his body sagged in post-orgasmic euphoria. All that mattered to Severus was fucking that pretty mouth. And watching those blue eyes while he came down that throat. And finally, finally wiping that image from his brain – the one of the other boy, Harry – so that he never thought of him again.

He gave a rough push forward, growling when the boy's hands flew to his hips to check his movement. "Yield," Severus hissed. The boy made a choking sound as Severus pulled out and slammed forward again, but dropped his hands and relaxed his throat before Severus thrust a third time.

The urge to plunder grew rather than abated, but he was too stimulated to last for long. He pumped into the boy's mouth only a dozen more times before he came with a guttural shout. The shout petered out to a series of soft moans as the boy dutifully swallowed, then collapsed back onto his heels, breathing heavily. It occurred to Severus as he stood there, heart pounding and knees shaking, to inquire after the boy's welfare, but he bit his tongue. He was a whore, after all, and no doubt used to such treatment. For a moment, regret surfaced, but he squelched it. At least he hadn't fucked the child. He wasn't the worst of the monsters prowling the streets that night.

Ever so slowly, he released his death grip on the boy's hair and stumbled across the room toward the door. As he bent down and retrieved his cloak from the floor, an image of the boy's face, held prisoner between his palms, haunted him, as did the panicked struggles when Severus had thrust hard and deep, without a care for the whelp's welfare. Guilt pressed in on him. His muscles ached and his head throbbed. He felt two hundred years old. "How much?" he asked, voice still hoarse.

"How much have you got, love?" the boy asked, unfazed by the incident if his behavior was anything to go by. He sauntered, still naked, to a nearby table and plucked a cigarette from an open pack. He lit it before turning back to Severus.

Severus dug in his pockets and was horrified to discover he was carrying less than eight Galleons. He fought embarrassment for a few seconds before he replied. "I don't have much. I wasn't expecting…"

The blond rolled his eyes. "Show me what you have, then." In one graceful move, he lifted himself up onto the table. His legs were short enough that they didn't even brush the floor, and he swung them back and forth like an impatient child. Which, Severus supposed, he was. At a loss for words, he held out the seven Galleons and twelve Knuts he had retrieved from his pocket.

The blond gave an enigmatic smile. "Seven Galleons?" He hopped off the table, stubbed out the cigarette and padded, still naked, across the floor. He plucked the gold coins from Severus's hand, leaving the Knuts, and jingled them in his palm. Slowly, he lifted his eyes to Severus and for a moment – a blink in time – his smile twisted into something else. "No thirty pieces of silver?" he taunted.

Severus's eyes narrowed.

The boy laughed under his breath and jingled the coins again. "Lucky seven," he whispered.

Then the strange expression was gone and so was the boy. "Come back anytime, love," he said as he walked away. He stopped to light another cigarette before disappearing through the only other door in the room. The latch engaged with an audible click and silence descended.

Severus scrubbed a hand across his mouth and winced at the lingering odor of sweat and semen on his fingers. But before dropping his hand back to his side, he paused. Underneath the smell of sex and corruption was something else. Hesitant, Severus lifted his fingers to his nose again.

Could innocence have an odor? If it did, he suspected it would smell just like this. Like sunshine and sea salt and the musty odor of damp beach sand.

Like heaven and hell all wrapped up together.

The trip back to the street took an eternity. Severus was just starting to suspect foul magic when the flickering street lamps of Knockturn came into view. He didn't hesitate as he turned left out of the small alley and headed back the way he had come. There would be no late night trip to the apothecary tonight.

Instead, he entered the fist pub he found.

The small room reeked of whisky, and Severus's mouth began to water the moment the warped door closed behind him. He strode to the bar and ordered two shots of Old Ogden's. The witch tending bar didn't reply, but she did grab an empty glass from the rack and shuffle off to the other end of the bar where bottles sat in a line against a cracked and filthy mirror.

While he waited, he cast a powerful Scourgify on his hands and sighed in relief as the telltale tingling of the spell wiped away the lingering evidence of the past hour's activities. The whiskey arrived, and Severus reached for the first glass with a trembling hand. The first shot burned his throat. The second didn't. Deciding a tie-breaker was in order, he asked for a third, and it joined the first two in a sensual slide to his stomach. He sighed, sat back and closed his eyes. After a few minutes, the voices around him faded to a hum and some of the tension melted from his shoulders.

The memories, however, didn't fade. They remained vivid. Powerful. Erotic.

He didn't fight them.

"Have you seen the Prophet today?" a deep voice asked.

Severus snorted and opened his eyes. The new bartender was a scruffy sort – short and unkempt – a Squib, no doubt. Who else would pass his life in such a way? He sighed. "I have not," he said and lowered his eyes to the scarred wood of the bar.

"Absolutely amazing, don't you think?"

Severus clenched his teeth. "I believe I just said that I hadn't read it," he repeated, not bothering to raise his eyes.

The bartender said something under his breath. Severus glanced up in time to see him swipe his hand under his nose before reaching for Severus's empty glass and refilling it from a bottle under the counter. He placed it back on the bar, and Severus waged a brief war with himself about whether to risk the germs and drink it. After a moment he swallowed it down, deciding the alcohol would likely kill whatever noxious bacteria had been left behind.

"Well, you should," the bartender said. "Read it," he clarified when Severus arched an eyebrow. "If you're curious at all about the end of the war."

"I know enough." Severus made a sour face.

The bartender pointed a grimy finger at him. "But did you know about those Horcrux things? That's what I'd like to know?"

Severus's stomach turned over. "The what?" he rasped. His eyes darted to the copy of The Daily Prophet the bartender was holding.

The bartender grinned, happy to finally have an audience. He made a show of snapping the paper open and clearing his throat. Severus licked his lips and tried not to rip the newspaper from his grasp. "It says here," the bartender began, "that one Harry Potter, boy savior," the bartender waggled his eyebrows at Severus over the top of the page, "has defeated the Dark Lord once and for all. Two weeks ago, Mr. Harry Potter, age nineteen, destroyed the last of Lord Voldemort's hor-horo-horcurxes. Then, this past weekend, the Boy Who Lived killed the Dark Lord himself in a mighty duel at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." The bartender squinted at the page. "The duel lasted for more than an hour!"

One hour and twelve minutes, Severus amended silently.

"Clever boy," the bartender commented.

Severus's hand tightened on his empty glass. "Why do you keep doing that?" he asked.

The bartender looked at him, open-mouthed. "Huh?"

"Saying it that way," Severus clarified. "Boy."

The bartender stared at him and gnawed on his toothpick for a few seconds before reaching back under the bar and producing the whiskey bottle. "I think you need another one, mate," he said. He poured a generous shot into Severus's glass. After swallowing the whiskey under the bartender's watchful eye, Severus motioned for him to continue reading.

"It's this Horcrux thing I was talking about," the bartender said. He pointed to the facing page. "There's another whole story about those. How Voldemort split his soul all apart and spread six pieces of it around for safekeeping."

"Now that was clever," Severus mumbled.

The bartender shot him a curious look, but Severus just tapped his glass on the bar and watched the toothpick bob up and down in the other man's mouth. "Yeah, well," the man said as he refilled Severus's whiskey yet again, "maybe it was, but our Harry still beat him, didn't he?"

Severus swallowed his whiskey and didn't answer. The bartender shook his head and bent back to the paper. "Six Horcruxes plus his own body." He gave a short barking laugh. "Lucky seven."

Severus worked his jaw back and forth. "Or unlucky, as the case may be."

The bartender tipped his head back and laughed. Severus looked away, put off by how the man's huge stomach bounced to and fro as he cackled. He glanced back when the man tapped him on the shoulder. "Another one, mate?"

"I cannot even pay for the ones you've already poured," Severus admitted, expression blank.

He was rewarded with even more laughter. "No worries," the bartender said, "tonight's drinks are on the house." Chuckling under his breath, he pulled a glass for himself from under the bar and filled both glasses. This time, he left the bottle on the wood between them. "It's a celebration, after all."

Severus acquiesced and drank the proffered liquor. The bartender finished his own before slamming his glass onto the bar. "Lose your money in an unlucky game of cards?" he asked as he ran the back of his hand over his mouth.

Severus snorted. "No," he drawled. "A whore. He couldn't have been older than sixteen. Though," He picked up the bottle and poured himself another shot, "he looked closer to twelve." He drank his whiskey.

Silence reined for two heartbeats before the bartender burst into hearty laughter. "Oh, you're a dry one." He grabbed the now mostly empty bottle by its neck. "Another?"

"No," Severus said. His hand shot out to cover his glass. "I've had enough." He slipped off the stool, taking great care to appear steady.

The bartender cocked his head and smiled. "Maybe you better stay awhile."

Severus shook his head. "I've got a promise to keep."

Damn it. Damn his loose tongue. He added whiskey to his mental list of things to steer clear of. Whiskey and Harry. He headed for the door, stumbling a bit as he went.

"Promises to keep," he murmured to himself.

"And miles to go before you sleep," the bartender quipped.

Harry was sitting in the same spot Severus had left him in when he had stormed off all those hours ago. That fact didn't surprise him, though it was a cold, damp night to be lingering so long outside. For some reason, both he and Harry favored the secluded courtyard. It certainly wasn't because of its elegance. Severus found the small space compelling, not beautiful. He knew Harry felt the same. Hidden away next to a little used side entrance to the castle, it was striking in that it had always looked neglected – abandoned – yet Severus knew it had been anything but. Albus had kept it that way on purpose and had visited when his mood suited the atmosphere of the place, which had been more often that Harry would ever know. Now, two years after the old man's death, the crumbling stonework and broken statuary were being overrun with tall grass and runaway ivy. Now the air of abandonment was real.

Harry looked up when Severus crossed from the grass onto the uneven pavers. "You came back," he said, a hint of surprise in his voice.

"I said that I would."

Harry dropped his gaze. "Yeah, I know what you said."

When Severus nodded and moved past him to the door, Harry lurched from the stone bench and intercepted him.

Severus tensed for an attack, but none came. Instead, after his initial burst of movement, Harry stopped, still a few feet away, and stared. He took a large shaky breath and wrapped his arms around himself. The fog, heavy and oppressive, swirled around him, and he trembled. "You also said you'd take care of me," he said.

"I didn't mean to imply that I would take you into my bed," Severus countered.

Harry snorted. "Even though that's where you want me." He sniffed. "Besides…it's not as though you want to be my keeper. You promised Dumbledore."

Severus nodded. "I did."

Harry nodded too, but his eyes drifted, losing their focus. "The truth is…you wouldn't be here otherwise. You'd have left. Just like everyone else."

Severus's hands tried to betray him. He started to reach out toward Harry. At first, he didn't stop himself, intending to offer comfort, nothing more. But at the last moment, he clenched his fingers into fists and held them at his sides. He knew the limits of his willpower. And just because he had given in to his needs once that night, didn't mean this second boy in front of him was any easier to resist. Quite the opposite, in fact. And Severus knew this one would respond to his overture with as much eagerness as the first – if not more.

He stepped back, but Harry had noticed the aborted gesture. He gave a dry laugh and hugged himself tighter. "Am I asking too much? Is it so bad to want to be comforted?"

"You look for comfort where there is none."

Harry shook his head. "No." He shuffled forward, slow and steady, giving Severus a chance to flee. When he was no more than an arm length away, the moon emerged from behind a cloud and flooded the courtyard with white light. Severus caught his breath. Harry's skin, normally flushed with healthy color, was ghostly pale, nearly translucent. He looked young. So very young. And something even more horrifying.

Scared. Harry Potter looked scared.

"Don't you understand what I've been trying to tell you, Severus? You have to understand. Something…something…" Harry shook his head and untangled his arms in order to clutch his head. "It's done," he said. "After all this time, all these years, it's finally done." He dropped his hands and stared at Severus through watery eyes. "But it doesn't feel done. It feels…unfinished."

Severus's unease returned tenfold. Paranoia licked at his heart. He thought, perhaps, Harry might be toying with him. Punishing him for rejecting his advances. Enraged, he struck out in retaliation, for didn't he, as well, deserve some peace after all his years of suffering – of waiting for Harry to finish things? "Foolish boy," he spat. "All you care about is that your purpose has disappeared. Your reason for being. Spare me your martyrdom."

Harry ignored the outburst. "I feel so confused," he said. "Things aren't making sense. Time…isn't adding up the way it should. And I can't sleep. I'm exhausted. Severus, it's been seven days." His voice dropped to a harsh whisper. "When will it get better?"

Severus's nails dug into his palms. "You make it sound as though it's been an eternity. Seven days is not enough time to recover from nineteen years of expectation."

Harry flashed a bitter smile. He dropped his eyes and watched the tendrils of fog weave in and out of his legs. "Why do you deny me?" he asked after a moment. He glanced up at Severus, peeking at him through his long fringe. His eyes flashed and his voice, full of uncertainty a moment ago, rang with contempt. "Are you afraid?"

Yes, Severus thought.

"Of me?" Harry added, voice low.

Yes, Severus thought.

Harry nodded, as though he had heard Severus's unspoken words. He sighed, tilted his head back, and stared at the moon. "After nearly a lifetime's worth of indiscretion, you decide to make a stand now. With me."

Severus stiffened. "You know nothing of my indiscretions."

The grin that formed on Harry's face made Severus's blood go cold. He kept his head tilted back, bathed in moonlight, while he looked down his nose at Severus. "Oh, don't I?" he taunted.

Severus swallowed hard. "What do you think you know, Potter? If you believe you've ever seen more than I've allowed you to, then you're sadly mistaken."

Harry remained motionless, staring.

Severus stared back.

The standoff lasted several seconds before Harry dropped his eyes. It was a concession of sorts and Severus let some of his tension go. He expected Harry to run now. It was his patented reaction when losing one of their many battles. Severus unclenched his fists and softened his stance. Later, he would realize it was what Harry had been waiting for. He would also wonder how he had so badly misjudged the situation.

Harry closed the distance between them before Severus could utter a word. In one step, he was pressed flush against Severus's damp cloak. His arms snaked out and he grabbed handfuls of whatever material he found. With a soft cry, he pulled himself in and buried his face in the skin of Severus's throat.

The embrace struck Severus like a physical blow. The air rushed from his lungs, his knees went weak, and for a moment disorientation ruled. "Harry," he gasped, making a half-hearted attempt to push him away.

"No," Harry pleaded. "No." He clung more tightly. "At least tell me the truth. Tell me why you won't."

Severus tried again to pull Harry off, refusing on principle to answer the question. After all, he had already answered it once that evening. Just as he had the day before, and the day before that. Harry resisted, struggling to stay latched on, and soon they were engaged in a miniature wrestling match, every second of which brought Severus closer to his undoing.

They pushed back and forth over the uneven ground, battling for dominance. Several times Severus tried to reach for his wand, but Harry was always there, preventing it. He growled at Severus, dug his heels into the soft dirt, lowered his center of gravity, and used his smaller stature to his greatest advantage, just as Severus had taught him.

It shouldn't have been a fair fight. Physically, Severus was the stronger of the two. But Harry's body in his arms, the boy's needy cries, and Severus's overwhelming, long-standing desire to possess him – it was a battle he was destined to lose. And if he were honest with himself, it was one he was tired of fighting.

"Tell me," Harry pleaded again when their struggles finally slowed. Severus found himself backed against a stone pillar, legs spread to accommodate Harry's, his breath wheezing through his lungs, and his face in Harry's hair.

"You're too young," he said, steadfast.

"That's a fucking lie!" Harry said, shoving Severus harder against the column. "I know that now. What I want is the truth."

Severus relented, and the confession, given free rein after so long, rushed out in one breathless gush. "I promised Albus I wouldn't."

Harry's grip didn't loosen, but he did pause. Severus closed his eyes, hating himself more in that moment than ever before. Apparently, he couldn't even take proper responsibility for his perversions.

Harry shifted against him. "Now that's more like it," he said with a bitter laugh. His hand snuck between them and grabbed Severus's cock. Severus gave a surprised grunt and bucked into the contact – to Harry's extreme amusement. "Nothing like a bit of brutal honesty to get things moving, is there, love?" he purred.

Severus's legs turned to water. "What did you call me?"

Harry ignored the question. His hand began to move, sliding up and down over the growing bulge in Severus's trousers. Each exhaled breath became part groan as Severus became rigid in his hand.

For his part, Severus held to the wispy fragments of his promise for a few more seconds before giving in. His head dropped back against the pillar with a dull thud. His soft, "Ah, yes. Just like that," spurred Harry to rub harder and faster. Unable to control the impulse, Severus's hands moved from where they had been holding Harry's arms to settle on the curve of his arse. They didn't linger long, though, before they slid up Harry's back and twisted in his hair. "Harry," he said.

Harry moaned his approval, but when Severus ducked his head to kiss him, he jerked back, puzzled. "What are you doing?"

Severus slid a hand from the back of Harry's head to cup his cheek. "Kissing you," he said.

Harry didn't seem to have an answer for that, so Severus tried again.

This time, Harry pulled away completely. "Stop," he demanded.

Severus stayed where he was, though now that he had decided to take what he wanted, being denied was almost painful. "Why, Harry?"

"You don't want to kiss me," Harry said. He held up a hand, as though he could physically ward off the idea.

"I do." Severus started forward.

"No!" Harry said. "You want to fuck me."

The accusation brought Severus up short. The words stung, never mind the truth behind them. "And if I do?" he challenged. He arched an eyebrow when Harry did nothing but stare daggers at him. "It's not all I want."

"Liar." Harry stepped forward in challenge. The move put them toe to toe. "You want to fuck my mouth till I choke."

Severus froze. The words hung in the air, heavy with innuendo. Harry watched him – and waited. After a moment, one in which he wished he had never met Harry Potter, Severus took a deep breath and willed his heart not to jump out of his chest. He crossed his arms and locked eyes with Harry. "Where were you tonight?" he asked in a low voice, dreading the answer.

"I—" Harry's answer cut off. He licked his lips and cocked his head. "I was here."

Bile rose in Severus's throat. "I don't believe you."

"I was. I swear I was." Harry blinked. "I think I was," he whispered after a minute.

Severus slipped his hand into his cloak and gripped his wand. With his other, he reached out, lightning quick, and snatched Harry's arm. Harry gasped in surprise, but when Severus dragged him forward, he didn't protest. He stumbled against Severus, unresisting and trembling. "What's happening to me?" he whispered.

Severus didn't take the time to answer. He plunged his hand into one pocket of Harry's jacket and breathed a sigh of relief when he found it empty.

Harry remained in the circle of his arms, unresisting. "Please help me," he said into the folds of Severus's cloak. His shaking increased, so much so that when Severus tried to spin him around to reach his other pocket, he almost collapsed. His hands scrambled for purchase as his knees gave out, but Severus caught him and held on. Harry's hands crept upward to stroke Severus's face as he pleaded under his breath.

"Please," he said. "Please."

His skin smelled of whiskey and cigarettes.

Until then, Severus had held his panic at bay. He wasn't prone to paranoia. It was, he knew, the reason he had survived two wars. But as he lowered his hand into the left-hand pocket of Harry's jacket and his hands closed around its contents, his heart stuttered to a stop.

Ever so slowly, he closed his fist around his find and withdrew his hand. It didn't escape his notice that Harry had gone statue-still. With his wand arm now supporting Harry, Severus knew he was at a disadvantage. Yet he couldn't stop himself from opening his fist.

Moonlight sparkled off of seven gold Galleons.

Harry made a sound – something between a gasp and a laugh. "Lucky seven," he said.

Severus dropped the money and scrubbed his palm over his cloak. He felt dirty just for touching the hateful coins. Harry clutched him tighter, but Severus shoved him away with a wordless sound of disgust. Harry tripped backward and landed heavily on the stones among the discarded Galleons. He grunted and stared up at Severus with pain-filled eyes.

"You must enjoy hurting me," he said.

"Enough!" Severus roared. "This charade ends now." He circled Harry slowly, giving him a wide berth, but brandished his wand and kept it at the ready.

Even though Severus was expecting what happened next, watching it chilled his blood. The innocence melted from Harry's face like warm candle wax. It left his eyes first, turning his look of frustrated passion to one of cold, flinty steel. His jaw locked into a hateful scowl. It was Harry, yet Severus knew that it wasn't. Not completely. And perhaps, it never had been.

Harry smiled. "Enough, you say? But I was having so much fun." His studied Severus for a few seconds, cool and calculating. "I fear I will never tire of taunting you, faithless servant that you turned out to be," he said with venom. "And I must admit, I so enjoyed tonight. Watching you give in to your passions – if that is indeed what they were." Harry lifted himself up onto his elbows. "Do you even have a heart, Severus? A conscience?"

Severus ignored the questions. "How long?" he asked as he circled. "How long have you been festering inside of him?"

Harry's hawk-like eyes followed Severus as he paced. "Seven days," he answered with a laugh. "And up until now, I'd venture to guess he believed he had actually defeated me. But here I am – soul intact. Seven is, indeed, my lucky number."

Only seven days, Severus thought. Only since the day of the battle. There was hope, then. The possession was new, and Severus had witnessed the final seconds of the confrontation. Voldemort may have hoped to possess Harry, perhaps even create another Horcrux, but Severus knew there hadn't been enough time to initiate such a complex spell. Seventy-two minutes in all, and sixty of those had been spent engaged in a furious duel. The final twelve had been nothing more than a mental battle of wills – a give and take of Legilimency and wandless magic - so the opportunity to invade Harry's mind had been present. Yet…

Twelve minutes was not enough time to erase Harry completely.

Severus prayed that it wasn't.

The boy that was no longer Harry spoke. "Before you try to kill me, Severus, I must know." He sat up and hooked an arm over his knee, "Why did you really deny the boy all this time." He curled his lip. "I'm afraid those pitiful excuses you've so far provided don't do your imagination justice."

"I owe you nothing," Severus sneered.

"Was it," Harry asked, ignoring Severus, "that you were ashamed? Did you fear he'd discover all of your transgressions? That he'd ascertain exactly…what…you…are?" His mouth turned up into a sly smile. "You did, after all, want to kiss him. Do you fancy yourself in love with the boy?"

Severus's hand tightened on his wand. "Your hubris knows no bounds."

"Because," Harry continued, "he loves you very much." He grinned when Severus's eyes widened. "Oh, yes. Didn't you know?" With exaggerated care, he stood. Severus retreated another step and raised his wand.

Harry kept his hands limp at his sides, but he did cock his head and flash an indulgent smile. "Can you really kill him, Severus? Knowing that he's only a boy? Can you destroy him knowing that he loves you?"

No, Severus thought. I can't.

Tremors shook Severus's hand as he searched Harry's face. He knew what he needed to do, but the risks were great. Too great. He would wait and pray for a sign. And finally, Harry gave him one.

Without warning, Harry's face twisted in agony and he doubled over, clenching his teeth as a primal scream was ripped from his throat. Severus clutched his wand so tight that his nails bit into his palm. Blood welled up and dripped onto the ground, but he didn't waver. When the scream ended, petering out into a long, pain-filled moan, Harry lifted his tear-stained face to Severus. "What are you waiting for?" he asked, gasping for breath. "Finish it, Severus. Finish him."

"Harry," Severus tried to say, but he choked on the sound. "Harry," he said again, "this may kill you."

For several seconds, Harry didn't answer. He stared at Severus, eyes full of tears and forgiveness. "You know that it probably will," he said. "But we don't have a choice." His body jerked and he started to shake again. "Hurry!"

Obligation and guilt collided, and for a split second, despite Harry's plea, Severus waffled. The spell he needed, the one he and Harry had developed to destroy each remaining Horcrux, had never once been tested on a living being. In all likelihood, it was deadly. It was also, however, genius. Foolproof. And Harry's idea, of course, although Severus had helped him refine it. If it worked, Voldemort would be gone forever.

A questionable redemption, Severus knew, nestled as it would be amongst his indiscretions. And if Harry died, an unworthy one.

"Severus!" Harry screamed.

Heart filled with dread, Severus sent the spell flying. It hit Harry square in the chest, and the courtyard filled with white light. Severus closed his eyes.

Knockturn on a sun-drenched, summer day. Maybe because the light revealed so much that the dark did not, Severus considered it a more pitiful, depressing sight than when the night fog came calling.

Despite the early hour, the children were out, loitering on corners and at the entrances to narrow alleys. The sunlight was unforgiving; even their youth and beauty couldn't compensate for the filth on their bodies or the cynicism in their flirting eyes.

Severus strode past, not bothering to hide his contempt. He hated this stretch of Knockturn. The memories it invoked were painful. If he didn't absolutely need the rare ingredient his potion required, he would have chosen the more respectable apothecary in Diagon Alley. But as it was, the ingredient was as rare, and as illegal, as the potion was. It could only be found here.

He turned onto a side street and out of the corner of his eye, caught a flash of yellow. Despite himself, he paused and glanced into the adjacent alley. The warm sun didn't reach far between the buildings, sandwiched together as they were, and he had to squint to make out the boy standing in the shadows.

As soon as the boy noticed his interest, he bolted forward, pasting an alluring smile on his face. Severus found himself holding his breath as the youth ventured closer. Unkempt blond hair framed his heart-shaped face, and as the boy stepped forward into a beam of sunlight, his blue eyes sparkled. "Lonely, love?" he purred.

Severus peered down his nose at the boy. "Hardly."

The inviting smile faltered, but the boy edged closer. "I'd wager you are, and just don't realize it." He reached forward and snuck a hand inside the folds of Severus's robe.

Severus caught the fingers before they had ventured far beyond the metal clasps. "You mistake my interest."

The boy flashed a cockeyed smile. "Huh?"

"I meant," Severus removed the grubby hand as he spoke, "I do not want you touching me."

"Oh." The boy seemed at a loss for a moment before he brightened. "You just like to watch?"

Severus tried not to notice the relief on the boy's face at that possibility. "No," he said in a firm voice.

The boy frowned. "Why were you looking, then?"

"You remind me of…something." The boy's face fell, and Severus gave an irritated sigh. "I have an errand," he said. "Are you interested?"

The boy stepped back and looked Severus up and down. "Not sure," he said. He licked his lips and retreated another step.

Severus clenched his fists at his sides. That the boy would find the idea of fucking a complete stranger less risky, less repulsive, than a simple errand made his stomach turn. "Seven Galleons," he said. "To fetch a package from the apothecary and deliver it to me at The Leaky Cauldron." He stepped forward and glowered at the boy. "And make no mistake; cheating me would be one of the biggest mistakes of your life."

The boy gulped and seemed to consider the offer. "Is it illegal?"

Severus snorted.

The boy rolled his eyes. "Fine. What do I need to do?"

Severus nodded, masking the relief in his eyes. "Here," He withdrew a scrap of parchment from his pocket. "Simply present this to the proprietor and there should be no questions."

"And my Galleons?" the boy asked, fingering the note.

"When I have the package." Severus reached into his robe pocket and jingled the loose coins in his hand. It seemed to decide the lad. He thrust the note in his shirt and nodded at Severus.

Severus nodded back and turned, before swinging around a second later – all calculated disinterest. "And if you're quick about it, there'll be a hot meal waiting for you."

Anticipation flared in the boy's eyes and in a blink, he was gone. Severus stared after him.

"You can't save them all, Severus."

Severus schooled his features into his normal scowl before turning to face Harry. "Mind your own business, brat. I thought you'd approve. I've gained us an additional half hour for our meal."

"Hmmm," Harry answered, hiding a smile.

Severus turned away in a huff. Harry chuckled under his breath and caught his arm before he could stalk away. "What are you plans for this one?" he asked as they walked.

"I'll think of something," Severus muttered. "I have a desperate need for an able assistant in the greenhouse. Perhaps he'll show some penchant for herbology."

Harry grinned. "Perhaps. And if he doesn't, I'm sure you'll eventually find one that does."

Severus bit back his retort. "Are we through here? The memories are… I do not wish to linger." Without waiting for Harry's answer, he steered them toward Diagon Alley. As they walked, the filth and the stench faded.

Harry sighed and closed his eyes, letting Severus lead him. "Yes, I suppose we're done for today," he said. "Although you'll be back, I'm sure."

Severus's thoughts turned to the boy – to all the children loitering in the street behind him. "Their dilemmas are no affair of mine," he insisted with a sneer.

Harry bit the inside of his cheek. His hand tightened on Severus's arm. "You've made that quite clear – each time you rescue one of them." He darted a glance at Severus. "You've nothing to prove, you know. Not to me."

Severus hissed something under his breath, but didn't reply otherwise. He guided Harry out of Knockturn and into the bustling chaos of Diagon Alley. Sunlight blinded them both as they emerged onto the thoroughfare, and together they paused – half in the sun, half in the shade.

"It's not for you," Severus said after several moments. "I've a promise to keep."

"To whom?" Harry asked in a soft voice.

Severus guided Harry into the crush of bodies and began walking toward The Leaky Cauldron. "To myself," he answered. He pulled Harry close. "To myself."



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