"You're the only one I thought to go to."
"You think I'll help you?"
"I think… you'll consider it."
He yanked Potter into the sitting room and slammed the door behind him, warding against prying eyes. He snarled under his breath at the pitter-pat of Potter's blood dripping onto the worn runner by the door.
"I have never suffered fools." A declaration, spat into Potter's face. The brat's hair actually flew backward from the force of it.
Potter held his ground. "I'm bleeding."
Snape snorted. "You deserve it, I'm sure. I should call the Aurors. I should call them right now."
"But you won't," Potter said, voice loud, sure, and full of bravado. And transparent as the wispiest fog – the little bastard was worried.
Snape growled and shook Potter's injured arm for good measure. "I will not consent to the ruination of my life. Get out! Go and bleed at Granger's. Or Weasley's."
Potter planted his feet. "I can't. You know I can't."
Snape leant in, backing Potter into the corner. He smirked at the resulting nervous gulp. "I will not harbour you."
Potter drew in a shaky breath. "I promise. No magic."
Silence descended and stretched, broken in uneven intervals by the splat of blood onto the rug. Snape cocked his head, vigilant for any sound from the street.
Potter had the nerve to look smug. "I wasn't followed."
"Quiet, you idiot."
He would never learn. Neither would Potter. They formed a twisted dichotomy that way, hating in each other exactly what they were themselves. Meaning that there was little hope for either of them.
After another hateful sneer, Snape stepped back. "What happened? Did you forget to smile? Or nod when you were expected to? Disagree with the force-feeding of—"
He caught himself in time.
Potter's smirk was grim. "What was that?"
Snape backed up another step. "Nothing."
Potter hugged his injured arm close to his chest. "You will help me," he said. The tone had gentled, but the conviction had strengthened.
Snape stared at the rug, trampled and threadbare. Much like his promises these days - held together with a thread of hope.
"One day. No magic. Then you leave."
Potter's look of disappointment failed to raise a response. Too tired to be angry at the unspoken accusation of cowardice, Snape stripped his robe off and wrapped it loosely around Potter's arm and shoulder. "This way."
Kitchen candlelight threw the injury into sharp relief. Snape pushed Potter into a chair and gathered supplies. "What hit you?"
"Only the arm?"
Potter cringed when Snape peeled his shirt away. "You were lucky," Snape said. "It could have been much worse."
"I'm quite aware of that."
Fool. Saying it would give no satisfaction, as the fool – too busy bleeding – wouldn't understand the irony.
Potter hissed when the alcohol splashed over the wound, dissolving the clotted blood into tiny, red rivers. Snape placed a towel in his lap and Potter bent over it, keeping the mess localized. "Thank you."
Snape grunted and dabbed; cleaned and examined. "You should have it stitched."
"Can't you just…"
Snape threw him a sharp glance. Potter sighed. "Fine. Do it."
Needle through flesh, Potter's look of pain, a muffled groan he couldn't quite swallow – it carried a certain poetic justice. It should have pleased him, but it didn't.
"You're not enjoying this," Potter said, teeth clenched.
Damn Potter and his un-Gryffindor-like perceptiveness. Why couldn't it have suffered the same fate as his common sense? That is to say, complete obliteration.
"No," he admitted. "I'm not."
Potter bit his lip as Snape made the second stitch and pulled the flesh closed. His fingers tightened on his trouser leg. "I'm surprised."
"As am I."
Potter slouched into his chair, at ease despite the movement of the needle through his skin. "I knew I could count on you."
"You knew no such thing." He glared, needle hovering. "You still don't."
Harry gave a lazy smile. Snape poked extra hard in retaliation.
"Ow! Bastard." Potter turned his face away and stared at the mess of dishes in the sink. "You would have called the Aurors the moment you opened the door if you planned on turning me in. You've fucked yourself by helping me. You wouldn't dare summon them now."
There was nothing to say to that.
First aid skills exhausted, Snape led Potter upstairs. "You can rest there." He pointed to one of three open doors.
Potter sagged at the sight of the bed. He shot a tired smile over his shoulder. "Thanks. It's smaller than I imagined it would be."
"Forgive me for not living up to your standards."
Harry leant against the doorframe. "Don't snap. I meant the house. I always pictured it… bigger."
Snape crossed his arms over his chest. Hating himself, he asked, "Why?"
"It's just that…" another glance around the small landing, "in school, and after, you always seemed…larger than life." He shrugged. "I just assumed…well, this house is smaller than the one I grew up in." He frowned, thoughtful.
A touchy subject for both of them. Snape's earlier misgivings, never fully faded, rushed back. "Yet another lesson on how perceptions can skew the truth."
"I'm hardly unfamiliar with that lesson," Potter whispered. "And neither are you."
He closed the door behind him, leaving Snape alone on the landing.
Snape made breakfast earlier than normal. He took great delight in prying a reluctant Potter from his bed and herding him, grumbling and bleary-eyed, down the stairs.
"Anxious to get rid of me?"
"Is it that obvious?" Snape asked, all syrupy sarcasm. "Eat. Leave. I can't make it much plainer than that. I've risked enough having you here for the night." He turned away, refusing to acknowledge Potter's defeated expression.
"I thought—" Potter cut himself off, shook his head, and nibbled his toast.
Snape poured tea and didn't rise to the bait. Potter finished his breakfast in stony silence, stretching the last piece of toast an entire fifteen minutes, licking the crumbs from his fingers until Snape pounded his fist on the table. "You are not a cat. Tongue bath or no, you are finished and you are leaving."
Potter met his eyes for the first time that morning. "I can't."
A second of panic, a twist in his gut, and Snape couldn't decide if he was scared or annoyed at the ridiculous statement. "You mean you won't," he said.
Potter ran his finger through the stray crumbs on his plate. His eyes never wavered from Snape's. "No, I can't. I have nowhere to go. My home…" he shifted in his seat, "…that's where they found me."
Snape's spoon clink-clinked around the inside of his teacup as he considered. Potter must have recognized the gesture because he remained silent. Snape fluctuated between impressed – that Potter remembered his mannerisms so well – and disgusted. "Very well, let me guess." He placed the spoon on the saucer. "One of your so-called friends betrayed you."
Potter pushed his plate away with his good arm. The other he kept cradled next to his chest. "These stitches hurt like a bastard. Got any pain potions?"
"Not that I'll waste on you."
Potter's face twisted into something remarkably like a pout.
Snape rolled his eyes. "Very well. Explain how you came to be on my doorstep – bleeding and homeless – and I'll consider it." A terrifying possibility occurred to him. "You didn't Apparate here, did you?"
"I said I didn't."
Unaccountably angry, Snape glared. "You said nothing of the sort."
"I said I hadn't been followed. That's the same thing."
"That is not remotely the same thing, you imbecile!"
Potter pursed his lips. "Fine. I'll tell you." He rubbed his arm and stared over Snape's shoulder. "I was teaching a group of children – children of resisters – wandless magic." He took a deep breath. "One of them, a girl, had more talent than I gave her credit for. She managed the spell when I wasn't expecting it. I didn't have time to disguise the unauthorized use of magic. We were discovered."
Snape resumed stirring his now-cold tea. Explanation without extrapolation. Confession without excuse. "You were aiding resisters."
Potter cocked his head, suddenly amused. "I am a resister."
"So that's a 'yes'," Snape muttered.
"Don't act as though you didn't know."
"I had hoped the rumours were false."
Potter stood, ignoring the strange statement and its veiled meaning. "The potion?"
Snape watched him go pale and teeter in place. He sipped his tea as Potter grabbed at the table for support. "A bit of help?" Potter gasped.
The tea slid down his throat, bitter and cold. "I refuse to enable your behaviour."
"Fuck, you're still a heartless bastard." Potter stumbled away from the table and studied the row of cabinets. An image of vials breaking, potions lost, set Snape in motion. He moved past Potter and retrieved a tiny beaker from the highest cupboard. "Here." He thrust it into eager hands.
Potter stared at the purple liquid. His eyes drifted back to Snape. "Is this all you have?"
"Don't be a hero, you fool. Drink it." He softened his voice, just slightly, when Potter's jaw clenched. "My magic allotment renews at the end of this week. I'll brew more then."
Potter drank without further comment. The lines on his face relaxed as the potion numbed him against the pain. "How much do you get each month?"
Bristling, Snape returned the beaker to the cabinet. Questioning someone about their allotment was invasive and rude. Potter, of course, wouldn't care.
"I would suspect less than average, considering your history," Potter continued.
"None of your business."
Relentless, ruthless, Potter forged ahead. "Not even enough to take care of simple household things?" He jerked his head toward the sink, where the pile of dishes from the night before had grown and looked in danger of collapse.
Snape frowned at his cold tea.
"Or execute a simple warming charm?" Potter lifted his hand.
"Don't you dare!" Snape roared, snatching his cup.
Undeterred, Potter's arm continued upward until it stopped and hovered by his head. Eyes on Snape, he scratched at his temple.
Snape sucked in a great breath of air. "Get out. Get out!"
Harry leaned across the table. He spoke fast, voice low, urgent and impassioned. "Before, when I was young, you warmed your tea without a thought. You cleaned and shaved and dressed with magic. You lived it. Breathed it. You spent the majority of your life teaching it. Is it so scary now that you can't recognize how hollow you are without it? How pathetic you've become?"
"Zealot," Snape said.
Potter's eyes narrowed, then he grinned. "You don't believe that. Think you can fool me?"
"With my eyes closed."
"I would never put you in danger."
Would the boy never learn to protect his vulnerabilities? "I suppose you said the same to your pupils? Before the Aurors dragged them from their parents and sent them for reconditioning?"
"I thought as much." He stood, using what little advantage his height gave him. "I want no part of your revolution. The system, however much you deride it, works."
"Works to oppress, maybe." Still smarting from Snape's accusation, Potter's voice was sullen. "You of all people…you must believe that. If you don't, what hope is there?"
Snape set about packing what little food and supplies he could spare. "This is the way of things now. There will never be another Grindelwald. Another Riddle. We are protected. We are safe."
"Now who's the fool? There are ways around the Ministry's watchdogs. If someone like Riddle wanted a war, he'd get one."
"Someone like you?" Snape handed him the bag.
Potter stared at the proffered supplies. "Fuck you."
He took the bag anyway.
Snape grabbed his arm before he could turn away. "What if that girl you just obligingly introduced to wandless magic holds a seed of darkness in her heart?" he whispered.
Widened eyes, flooded with realization, was Potter's only reaction.
"Would you risk another war?" Snape asked, pushing, goading.
"What they're doing is wrong." Potter jerked his arm away, nearly dropping the bag of food, and stumbled toward the door.
"You're no different than he was." As parting shots went, it was one of his better ones.
Potter turned and Snape felt a prickle of fear, not the first since last night. Rage, pain, and sorrow poured from Potter in equal measure. "How dare you!"
"Tell me the difference, then," Snape said.
"If you can't see it, you've been poisoned beyond my ability to explain."
Snape hissed. "Your hubris astounds."
"So does your cowardice," Potter replied before he walked out. As parting shots went, it was one of Potter's best.
Snape let him go, knowing he'd return. Had known the moment he allowed the boy to bleed all over his floor that he'd be back – bringing his war, his principles, and his foolhardy plans for revolution.
Snape sat down to his cold tea. Apparently he did suffer fools.
Potter's talent for sneaking through shadows hadn't waned, but Snape knew he was there. The brat didn't give up easily, if at all. The trait had won him accolades in the past, but it was hardly an admirable quality when it put Snape in mortal danger. The last thing he needed was Potter drawing attention to his meager existence.
Not that it would deter him from his planned activity for the evening, essential aspect of human nature that it was. He kept to his usual route, then backtracked through an alley so narrow his shoulders scraped the grimy brick on both sides. He retraced his steps three times, circled his intended destination twice, and approached from an entirely different direction.
To no avail, of course. Potter's luck ran second only to his foolishness. The little bastard caught him anyway, hands ice-cold and trembling where they gripped Snape's cloak.
"I don't appreciate being made a fool of," Potter said, his voice a low growl. He kept a tight hold on Snape.
"I suspect you lead a disappointing life in that case."
"You bloody bastard! This whole time you were on my side." Potter released him, then wiped his hand across his shirt. Snape tried not to take it personally.
"So now it's your side?" He wouldn't admit the stab of fear at that.
"No, you idi…I meant our side. The Resistance."
Idealism at its unhealthiest. "I am not on your side."
He brushed past a stunned Potter, out of the alley the brat had pulled him into, and back onto the deserted, foggy street. Potter rushed to keep up. "Then explain what you're doing over a mile from your house, sneaking around at half-two in the morning."
Now that should have been obvious. Even to a rabble-rousing revisionist. "I'm going to fuck."
Potter stopped dead in his tracks. "Fuck?" he echoed.
"That you say it with such vitriol is quite telling." Snape continued to walk.
"That…what? I don't believe you!"
Snape smirked, though Potter was surely wallowing too deeply in his illusory romanticism to appreciate it. "Fuck, Potter." He swept around, placing them eye to eye. "The intended result of which is, for most of us, orgasm. One is acceptable. Two, preferable. I assure you," he lowered his voice to a near whisper, "the chance of any inflammatory or subversive discussion occurring during said activities is…nil." He breathed the last word in Potter's face.
"You walked a mile in the dark. In the middle of the night. To get laid?" Potter shook his head. "You must think I'm an idiot."
At last, someone who understood him. "Quite."
Snape walked another hundred yards and stopped at the door of a large house. He turned to Potter, who had trudged along in his wake. "Bugger off. Go save the world."
"I'm coming, too."
Green eyes glowed in the dark. Challenging. "Are you now?" Snape asked.
Potter elbowed him to the side and stepped up to the door.
"Very well. The more the merrier," Snape said. He followed Potter into the smoke and darkness. Feeling strangely dispassionate despite the venue, Snape guided him through the gloom. This one time, he would regret the low light; witnessing Potter's horror at the proffered entertainment would be worth the risk to his anonymity.
"Here," he said, pausing after several steps. "Look."
He held Potter in front of him, snug against his chest, and eased a door open with his foot, revealing the room beyond.
Potter stiffened in his arms. Gasped. Then sighed like a child on Christmas morning. Snape frowned.
Not the reaction he'd been expecting.
Two men – perhaps aware of their audience, perhaps not – writhed on a sagging mattress in the middle of the room. Snape's fingers curled into Potter's shirt, keeping him in place. But his eyes followed the men on the bed. Surrounded by a halo of light – intentional ambiance, Snape was sure – they fucked in complete silence. Even the slapping of skin was muted. They reached their peak together, the first with a quiet moan and his partner with a series of stuttered wheezes, before collapsing onto the stained sheets.
Potter's chest expanded, a shuddering inhalation that made Snape smirk.
He leaned close to Potter's ear. "I shall add Gender Betrayal to your list of crimes, then?"
"Fuck you," Potter replied, more breath than voice.
Snape released his shirt. "I think not. I have other plans for the evening." He shoved him away.
Potter spun and followed, hovering at Snape's elbow. "I don't believe you! You won't help me, but you'll risk your emancipation for a hasty grope with a man half your age."
Snape shrugged, though he knew Potter couldn't see it in the darkness. "I'm forty-five. I grew out of hasty quite a few years ago."
"You avoided the question."
"You didn't ask one. Now," he turned and advanced on Potter, backing him into a corner. "Go and self-delude elsewhere. Or fuck, if you're capable. But leave me to my pleasures, few as they are."
This time when he gave Potter a shove, he stayed away. Snape snorted his approval. "Excellent. Ten points to Gryffindor for your brief sensibility."
He stalked away, and Potter never said a word.
In the end, he found relief with a man half his age. It grated that Potter would think himself clever for predicting it, though nothing could be farther from the truth. Obvious conclusion was not genius.
A sweep through the main room turned up a handful of prospects for later, but no Potter. Luck being a fickle bitch of late, he doubted the brat had left.
Raised moans drew him down a side hall and around a sharp corner, which is where he found Potter, propping up a wall, eyes glazed and fixed on a young man in front of him. Snape eased through the door, melted into the shadows, and watched.
Potter's eyes darted between the group coupling on the couch several feet away and the youngster – god, he looked even younger than Potter – who spoke to him in a low, suggestive tone. Potter shook his head, but the lad smiled and nodded and sank to his knees.
Snape tilted his head back and watched, unashamed, through half-lidded eyes.
The boy made short work of the trousers. Despite Potter's token protests, his cock sprang free seconds later, leaping toward the open, available mouth. The boy chuckled and leant forward.
Potter stopped him before his lips closed over the weeping head.
Snape's eyes closed and opened in a slow blink. Then, as Potter shook his head and pushed the boy back onto his heels, Snape reached for the hastily fastened clasps of his own trousers and worked them open.
Undeterred, the boy returned. This time he kept his mouth to himself, choosing only to feather his fingers over the pale skin of Potter's thighs. Potter jumped, his cock bobbing in time. The boy raised his face, encouraged, and Snape caught a glimpse of his beauty – young, open, and needy.
Potter must have agreed. Trance-like, he reached for himself, closing his fist around the tip of his prick.
Snape copied the movement.
With his other hand, Potter cupped the boy's face in his palm and stroked a thumb over his cheek. On Potter's thighs, the boy's fingers curled into claws, turning caresses into scratches, just hard enough, Snape saw, to leave red streaks in their wake. Potter groaned – his first sound since Snape had entered the room – and began to fist himself with jerky, uncoordinated movements.
Snape followed suit, his strokes more controlled, if no slower.
Potter's left hand drifted into the boy's hair, pulling and twisting in time with his right, and Snape snorted. Another bit of trivia learned; Potter probably couldn't pat his head and rub his stomach at the same time either. Then the humour washed away as another moan floated across the room.
Potter's plaything had dared to stop his teasing touches, and was now using one hand to stroke himself and the other to fondle his bollocks, though he still knelt, reverent, at Potter's feet. Potter's moan had been one of disappointment.
"Please," he whispered.
The boy didn't answer; Snape hadn't expected him to, and neither, apparently, had Potter. He didn't ask again. His hand returned, cradling the boy's face like a cherished piece of bric-a-brac. He gulped, panted, and moaned as he fucked his fist, but kept his gaze fixed on the boy's eyes.
Denial-fed desire would eroticize a eunuch. On Potter, it was glorious.
Snape's vision narrowed to the head of Potter's cock as it rode in and out of his fist, dripping like a tap over the knuckles. His breath hitched as – without warning – his own passion crested. Cursing, he pried his hand from his prick and gripped his shaking thigh, determined to outlast the brat.
He didn't wait long. Potter's hand slipped back into the boy's hair. He tugged, pleading again under his breath. The boy moved forward and Potter's hand fell away from his cock.
But the boy didn't suck him. He didn't even lick, and Snape snarled, feeling cheated. Not as cheated as Potter, he was sure. Instead, the boy did nothing more than rub his cheek against Potter's prick, back and forth, while contented sighs poured from his lips.
It was enough for Potter. He doubled over, pulling the boy's hair hard enough to evoke a yelp, and came, cursing and giving thanks all at the same time.
Snape finished himself off in three quick strokes, Potter's breathless words urging him on. The climax held twice the satisfaction of the first and left him shaking. By the time he'd recovered enough to open his eyes, Potter had the boy in his arms and was whispering his gratitude.
Snape refastened his trousers and straightened his shirt.
He left without thanking anybody.
Potter slunk out of the shadows when Snape emerged from the house an hour later. "Have your fill?" he asked.
"For tonight. You?"
He began to walk, avoiding bright splashes of light. Potter fell into step with him, managing to echo Snape's graceful movements as they navigated the deserted street. Snape refused to be impressed, though he appreciated Potter's efforts.
"Why take such a big risk?" Potter asked after several minutes.
"You're ruining my good mood."
"It's just sex," Potter said, voice bland.
Snape grit his teeth. "It's your opinion I should find a nice, soft woman with which to exorcise my appetites?"
Potter shrugged, part agreement and part, to Snape's shock, embarrassment.
"Is that what you do? Close your eyes and imagine more enticing scenarios?"
"It works," Potter said.
"And here I thought you lacked imagination. No, of course I didn't. You entire life is based on the fruition of an impossible quest. Castle-building in the extreme." He made a sudden turn, off the main street, and traveled deeper into shadow. "I prefer the real thing."
"Gender Betrayal is punishable by life in Azkaban."
It hadn't always been so. "I will not deny who I am simply because I've been instructed to."
Immediately, the sound of Potter's footfalls ceased. Snape kept walking.
"Neither will I," Potter called out. "A fine line, don't you think?"
Ten different retorts flew to his lips. When he'd chosen one and turned to deliver it, Potter was gone.
He was back a week later, bleeding child in tow.
"Just for one night."
Snape shut the door in his face.
"Damn you, Snape! You cold-hearted bastard. Just one fucking night!" A dull thud followed.
The brat had kicked his door. When he jerked it open the second time, wand in hand – empty threat that it was – the child started crying.
Potter had the audacity to smile. "In a way, it's comforting to know you haven't lost your touch."
He briefly considered killing Potter. It didn't solve the problem of the sniveling brat, though. He yanked them over the threshold and shut the door.
"Give her to me."
He gathered the waif from Potter, who slumped in relief. "I need to get her cleaned up," he said to Snape. "It's not as bad as it looks."
"No?" Snape shot over his shoulder. He hefted the urchin in his arms, and she wrapped herself around him like a leech. "Since when is the loss of a quart of blood not 'bad'?"
"When it's mine, not hers."
The answer, weak and tremulous, brought Snape up short. He turned just in time to watch Potter crash against the wall on his way to the floor.
"Hell," Snape said.
"How is she?"
Snape ignored the revived Potter and probed his wound. It ran from his left shoulder, across his back, to his right hip in an uneven gash. He poked at it a second time and got a hiss and a moan for his trouble. Swearing under his breath, he grabbed the alcohol.
Potter gasped at the splash of antiseptic and went white with pain. Snape found the reaction so delightful, he bathed the wound again. More liberally this time. Better safe than sorry.
"Quiet, huh? She's usually pretty talkative," Harry said, teeth clenched. "She loves to chatter on about her cat, actually."
The Cruciatus could not be more excruciating than this. "Not her, you bloody simpleton. You. Shut up."
Snape pretended disinterest at the extensive scarring on Potter's back. Very few of the puckered lines were old enough to be wartime injuries. Most looked rather recent. "You look like a whipping boy," he said.
Potter twitched under his hands. He turned his face into the sheet, muffling his answer.
Cleansing revealed the full nature and depth of the gash. Blood still seeped from ragged edges of skin near the middle of the wound. Without giving himself time to think, Snape took his wand in hand and knitted them together.
Potter tensed under the spell's tingle. To his credit, he didn't panic. "Was that wise?" he asked.
"It's a low level charm. It shouldn't raise any flags. I've used the same on myself many times. It won't do much but close the wound, but at least infection will be less of a worry."
Potter rolled over, and Snape stood before they ended up in each other's laps.
"Thank you," Potter said.
Snape kept his eyes locked above Potter's neck. "You owe me."
"I've owed you all my life."
Such a heartfelt confession, and nothing but the truth, of course. Though Snape never imagined he'd hear it – not as he offered up his coveted allotment of magic in the name of treason, while Potter, sprawling naked across his bed, accepted it.
"Is she the one?"
Potter spared him a glance. "Yes. Does she look dangerous to you?"
They both watched the child sleep, curled into a ball at the foot of the bed. Potter chewed on his knuckle and watched Snape out of the corner of his eye.
The question didn't really deserve a response. A seven-year-old performing wandless magic – the answer was obvious.
Snape set his jaw. "How long do you plan to pursue this?" Until you get her killed?
"Until people remember that not all magic is evil."
Potter stepped out of the room and into the hallway. After another look at the girl, Snape followed.
"All magic has the potential for evil," Snape said. How can you control her when you can't even control yourself?
So many questions. He wondered when he had lost the courage to voice them.
Potter reclined against the wall, one foot crossed over the other, a picture of casual confrontation. "The same can be said of anything. Potential drives us forward. It's not a bad thing."
Snape rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "You're full of droll platitudes. Do you ever factor truth into your arguments?" He congratulated himself on matching Potter's even tone. What would escalation accomplish, except perhaps to wake the brat in the next room?
Potter changed tactics. "She's just a child."
"I notice you didn't say innocent."
"Are any of us these days?"
Snape snorted. "No more of your skewed dogma." He turned toward his bedroom.
"I'm taking her to stay with friends tonight," Potter blurted. "Later. I know you don't feel safe with her here."
"It's not her," Snape mumbled. Louder, over his shoulder, he said, "Friends? I'm surprised you have any left."
Potter's mouth clamped shut, and Snape enjoyed the small victory while it lasted.
"There's no need to be cruel," Potter said after a moment, not a trace of bitterness in his voice.
There's no reason in cruelty, Snape felt like saying. That Potter could still drive him to pettiness, though, left a bad taste in his mouth. "I only meant…do not expect me to shoulder the blame for your sundered relationships."
"Did I ask that you should?"
Potter smiled, and Snape's stomach dropped to his toes. He may as well have been hosting a stranger in his house for all that he recognized the confident misguided man standing in front of him.
"I asked you not to be cruel," Potter continued. "The very challenge of that should be motivation enough to attempt it."
Potter still knew him well enough, it seemed.
"Do not expect me to pity you," Snape said.
Potter's wry half-smile did nothing to alleviate the tension. "I was rather hoping for something a bit different," he said, voice low. He reached around to pull the girl's door shut.
It shouldn't have surprised him. But Snape found himself taking a step back.
Potter's smile grew strained. "Is the thought so distasteful?"
It wasn't. It rubbed that Potter would know that, and Snape had a sudden misplaced desire to take a thousand House points for the whelp's presumption. Impossible, of course.
He settled for the next best thing. "He asked the same of me, you know."
Potter tilted his head. "And what did you say?"
Snape ignored the question. Some ghosts were his alone. "He said he'd take care of me," he added, almost to himself.
Potter snorted, tried to rein it in, then gave up and laughed as though Snape had just delivered the funniest punch-line of all time.
In hindsight, he supposed he had. His own mouth twitched traitorously.
Potter shook his head. "He didn't know you very well, did he?"
Amazing how someone so blind could cut to the crux of the matter with such efficiency.
"No," Snape said.
He opened his bedroom door and Potter was there with him. Behind him, closer than a shadow, and Snape didn't bother with any more words.
He'd barely turned and Potter's shirt was gone, a shapeless lump on the floor. His skin glistened with a fine sheen of sweat. Desperate – hands everywhere on Snape's body – he chanted under his breath, "Fuck, fuck, fuck," floundering over what to do first until Snape took the decision away from him.
He captured Potter's hands in his. "I'm flattered. But slow down."
"Can't," Potter sang in his ear.
"You can." He pinned Potter's wrists behind his back. "You will."
Potter twisted in his grip. "Let me suck you," he begged.
He tried to drop to his knees, but Snape held him fast. "Do you remember how?"
He collapsed when Snape released him, a whimper escaping his lips.
Snape ripped open his trousers and shoved his pants down. He grabbed Potter by the hair, meaning to yank him forward, but he surged ahead on his own and captured Snape's prick without further coaxing.
He was out of practice. He slobbered like a puppy and sucked with no finesse whatsoever. Not that it mattered. The Boy Who Lived, the leader of the Resistance, was on his knees at Snape's feet.
It was the best blowjob he'd ever had.
Potter's hand, buried wrist-deep in his own pants, beat out the same rhythm as his bobbing head. Snape enjoyed the view for over a minute before grabbing him by the scruff of the neck.
The brat stayed latched on, and Snape gave him a vicious yank. "It's not the Last Supper," he growled.
One piteous groan later, Potter let go. "God, I hope not." The hand buried in his pants sped up.
Jealous, Snape's cock jumped. He gave it a soothing stroke. Then another.
Potter's mouth dropped open and his eyes glazed over. How predictable.
"Shall I continue?" Snape asked, giving himself another pull.
Potter managed a nod. Barely.
Snape let go. "I think not. Get on the bed."
The hand exited the pants, glistening with moisture. Potter swept it over his still-damp lips. "Why?"
"I'm going to fuck you."
Potter reached the bed in less than three seconds, and Snape snorted. "If only you'd been that obedient in school."
"You never asked me into your bed while I was in school."
True enough. Snape shed the rest of his clothes.
A naked fuck was a novel experience. He'd forgotten how the glide of skin on skin, head to toe, multiplied the pleasure. Potter had managed to disrobe in a frenzied rush before flopping onto the mattress. Snape crawled over him, giving each nipple a lick as he passed.
"How long?" he asked when they were face-to-face.
"A long time," Potter answered. "But don't hold back."
He squashed the temptation to take Potter at his word. He'd learned that lesson well enough.
"So I can expend even more of my rapidly dwindling reserves of magic when the wound on your back reopens?"
Eyes closed, mouth thinned, still unable to verbalize with any adequate skill, Potter shook his head. "Just…then…."
"Shut up," Snape said, lifting himself away. He prodded Potter to roll over.
Potter resisted. "Why?" he asked. "I want to see—"
"To stay vigilant of your injury."
Not so he wouldn't have to look at Potter's face twisted in orgasm, with all the worries and fears stripped away.
Preparation, though necessary, pushed them to the limit. Snape entered with more force than he should have and with less control then was prudent. Potter flinched, but rode through the pain, egging Snape on, pushing, always pushing for more.
Snape obliged him.
Potter fucked soundlessly. Snape understood the implication and appreciated it. He didn't try to wrench the moans forth, though he wanted to. Instead, he watched his cock glide in and out of Potter's arse. It was an excellent distraction, the only downside of which was an orgasm he had no hope of holding back.
He tried. He stopped, but the brat didn't.
"Potter," he said in a huff, then again in a moan.
Potter grunted and impaled himself again and again, rocking them both backward. "…me…please," he said.
The pillow swallowed most of the words. It didn't matter. He'd lay odds Potter wasn't asking for a kiss. He reached around for his cock.
It fit in his hand perfectly, molding against the ridges of his palm. Made for him.
He wrapped it up tight, just like he knew Potter liked it. Tight and hard and fast. That was all they had tonight, anyway. Potter gasped once, then again, and swelled in his fist. Snape's head fell back as Potter thrust one final time, driving Snape balls deep, and came with a loud cry.
Snape followed him willingly.
Potter wasn't accustomed to the rigours of a hard fuck. He stumbled as soon as he tried to stand, floundered for the bedpost and missed.
Snape caught his hand before gravity finished him off. "If you break something, you're never coming back."
Potter glanced at their clasped fingers. "And if I don't break something?"
Snape jerked away. "Take your tiny pupil and leave."
Potter sat on the bed instead. "She has a good heart. She doesn't deserve this."
"I couldn't care less."
But the smug look in his eyes and the smile pulling at his lips hinted otherwise. The brat thought he'd gained a believer. Conceited demagogue. He wouldn't be letting Potter back in.
Not for a week, at least.
"In trouble again?"
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
Potter crowded inside. Snape shifted backward more slowly. He refused to look eager.
The front door snapped shut, pushed by Potter's foot. "Should I beg and get it out of the way?" He stared at Snape while his hands reached for his coat, popping buttons open.
"If it pleases you, though it won't change the course of events." Snape's fingers went to the zip of Potter's trousers. No sense duplicating effort.
"No, I doubt it would," Potter said in a wry voice. "Though you do enjoy making me ask for it."
Perhaps at one time. "Not anymore."
It was the closest he would come. Fuck Potter if he didn't recognize an affectionate overture when he heard one.
Potter's voice was breathless. As though he'd just run a mile. Perhaps he had, but the thought failed to arouse Snape's sense of self-preservation as it normally did. Potter's hips, bare beneath his hands, were smooth and cold. It made the heat surging from between his legs all the more exciting.
Potter stumbled back, gasping when Snape's hands closed around him.
"Snape? For fuck's sake!"
"Yes, upstairs…eventually." Snape gave Potter's cock a rough pull. "But first I'll watch you come. Here. Like this."
"That's…" Potter made a sound that shot straight to Snape's groin. "…not going to be a problem."
Snape pushed Potter against the door, squinting at him in the near-dark, and admired the pretty picture he made – coat hanging from one shoulder, tattered cuff brushing the floor, shirt still closed but for lone button near the collar, trousers open, and hard cock leaking onto Snape's hand.
Through the gloom, Snape spied a sliver of exposed skin near Potter's throat. Riveted, he watched a bead of sweat roll across the collarbone and disappear beneath wrinkled fabric. His strokes faltered, desire stealing his rhythm for a moment.
Potter interpreted the pause as an invitation and fumbled at Snape's robe, searching for the fastenings.
Snape captured Potter's hands. "No, you little fool. If I wanted you to touch me, I'd tell you."
"Sorry," Potter breathed. "I just want…"
"You want too much. I thought we'd established that." He jerked on Potter's wrists before releasing them. "Keep your hands to yourself."
He kicked Potter's feet apart and laid his free arm across his chest, pinning him to the door. Potter's eyes glazed with lust, and Snape's prick jumped in response. Increased pressure on his chest, a twist at the end of each stroke, and Potter's incoherence reached record levels.
"Do your women give you this?" Snape hissed. His hand sped up.
"Fuck…oh fuck…you know they don't."
Potter's chest heaved. He tried to twist away, even as Snape threw his weight forward, intent on restraint. When Potter made an angry sound and bucked against him, Snape doubled the speed of his strokes.
Potter's struggles slowed, and his head met the wall with a thud. But still, he fought.
"Stop," he demanded, wheezing.
So Snape did.
"Noooo," Potter keened. He rolled his head against the wall, back and forth.
Snape threw more weight against Potter's chest. "Do they make you this hard?" He jerked once, too roughly, on Potter's cock.
More head rolling. More incoherence.
"I thought not."
Potter gasped a breath and pushed into Snape's hand. "More."
Snape moved back instead. "You're never going to win," he said. Potter went still, and Snape eased forward again, pushing the fresh air from his lungs. "You're never going to win because you're the only one who cares."
They panted together for several seconds, before Potter surged forward. "That's not true! Get the fuck off of me!"
Too easy, Snape thought. Which was why Potter would never live to see the end of his quest. He cared too much. And soon, it would kill him.
He tightened his fist around Potter's cock, a split second of painful pressure, before slapping his palm over the brat's mouth.
"No," Potter said. But his eyes were uncertain.
Snape set his lips against Potter's temple. "You need it." He pushed his hand against Potter's mouth. "Lick."
Ten seconds passed before he obeyed. The feel of Potter's rough tongue on his hand nearly broke him. Snape cursed and ground his erection into Potter's thigh. "More!" he said.
The lapping accelerated. Still, Snape only lasted another moment before taking Potter back in hand. "Don't move," he growled, slicking Potter's shaft.
Of course, Potter did the exact opposite. Leveraging himself against the wall, he threw his weight forward, trying to dislodge Snape's arm. He heaved and pushed and grew harder and hotter in Snape's hand for his efforts.
Snape held him easily. He let Potter exhaust his rush of adrenaline, and when the squirming and the twisting and the kicking finally slowed, he slid his hand up and down Potter's cock. Once.
He wanted to draw it out. Wanted to get on his knees and worship the brat's cock with the piety it deserved. But it was sliding so sweet and smooth through his fingers now, and Potter was keening in his throat and babbling nonsense, and his own body was demanding more than a quick rub-off through multiple layers of wool and denim.
He leant close to Potter's ear. "You have only as much power as people are willing to give you." His hand flew over Potter's cock, a blur of motion. Trapped between the wall and Snape's body, Potter gasped and tensed.
Snape brushed his mouth over Potter's ear, then doubled back with his tongue, nipping the lobe before he pulled back.
"You have no power here," he said, meeting Potter's confused, lust-filled eyes with his own.
Potter's back arched off the wall. His cock jerked in Snape's hand and bathed his fingers, shirt, and trousers in hot, slick release. Snape's prick leapt in sympathy, and he bit his tongue to stave off his own climax.
As the last spurt pumped weakly from the tip, Potter lowered his head onto Snape's shoulder. He slid toward the floor, but Snape caught him round the waist and pulled him in. A few harsh breaths later, warm puffs of air on Snape's neck, and he raised his face.
Snape kissed him before reason killed the idea.
Potter returned the favour. Reason rarely factored into his decisions.
As kisses went, it lacked the rough passion Snape preferred, but with Potter still trembling from aftershocks and barely able to remember his own name, some tenderness wasn't out of place.
When they broke apart, Snape led him up the stairs.
Potter always fell asleep after his second orgasm. That Snape recognized a pattern in their lovemaking scared him. Attaching himself to Potter in any sense endangered them both, though the brat wouldn't see it that way. He rejected any truth that didn't fit his sanguine expectations.
And the look in his eyes after sex had grown far too tender of late.
Snape began to suspect that their arrangement wouldn't end well. As a last resort, he tried honesty.
"You're torn," Potter announced. He sat at the foot of the bed, cross-legged, chin in palm. Naked. "Admit it. You have your doubts."
"Perhaps I do."
"So you do believe we should be given our magic back. As well as the freedom to use it as we please."
Snape scowled at the sheets pooled in his lap. "Do not put words in my mouth."
"Why not? It's not as though you'll admit the truth without being provoked."
A sharp look in Potter's direction earned him a bitter smile. He bore it for over a minute before turning away. Potter laughed under his breath.
Snape let him gloat.
Potter leant back on his hands and stretched his legs across the bed, but Snape ignored the blatant seduction and weighed the idea of summoning tea rather than preparing it himself.
Tea. Two low-level spells. One mid-lev. One-fifth of his monthly allotment to stay in bed with Potter.
"Things used to be so different." Potter had abandoned his seduction to examine the cracks in Snape's ceiling. He nibbled his thumbnail as he spoke.
"Different, yes. Better, I can't say."
Potter's mouth twitched at the purposeful misdirection. "I'm on the right side. I'm doing the right thing."
"Says the fanatic." Snape swung his legs to the floor and searched the room for his robe.
"I'm not a bloody fanatic!" Potter's anger lifted him onto his elbows, but no further. Snape felt his glare from across the bed.
He sighed, knowing it would placate his bedmate. "It's the road travelled that determines fanaticism. Is yours the path of peaceful change? Or radical insurrection?"
"Do you believe peaceful change is possible?" As predicted, Potter melted back onto the mattress.
"In this? No."
"No," Potter agreed before returning to his thumbnail.
Another point to Potter – but only because Snape liked the look of him spread across the blankets. Still, he would avoid honesty in the future; it was as useless as ever. He shrugged into his robe and decided to give cause-and-effects reasoning one last go.
"Your seditious actions do you no justice, and, in fact, turn would-be supporters against you. Do you not see the irony?"
"More clearly than you think." Potter rolled onto his side. "I don't understand you, Snape. You'll let them control your magic, but you'll break the law so you can fuck whom you like."
"The differences are vast."
Potter snorted. "How so?"
"Voldemort didn't try to fuck us all to death." With that, Snape stood. The tea wouldn't make itself. Not today.
Potter looked to be debating the irony of Snape's statement. "He murdered. You turned the other cheek."
And you saw only what you wanted. "I did what I needed to do."
"Says the righteous."
"Professor," Snape corrected.
One Auror and two New Law Enforcers on his doorstep, and the fear was the same as it always was – sudden and irrational. The reason for it had changed, though.
Potter was probably dead. The thought didn't please as it may have in the past.
He would be joining him soon, at any rate. Aurors didn't visit criminals-turned-heroes to swap war stories. "Why am I being disturbed?" he asked. The best offense, they say.
To his surprise, the Auror executed a slight bow. "My apologies, Professor. We have a matter of some…delicacy to discuss with you. May we?"
Of course, it would be dreadfully tacky to strike him down on the street. Snape moved aside without comment.
The Auror was the only one to sit. Snape joined him while the others hovered. "Tea?" he asked, keeping to the rules of engagement.
"Yes, thank you. No, allow me," the Auror said when Snape stood. His wand swished through the stagnant air and a flurry of activity – the clang and clatter of china – sounded from the kitchen.
Snape's eyes followed the wand. Magic tingled against his skin and his stomach clenched in jealous sympathy. Stiffly, he sank back into his seat. The tea arrived, accoutrements piled alongside, and the Auror waved it onto the table between them.
"Some allegations have been levelled against you, Professor. Nasty allegations." The Auror added an obscene amount of sugar to his cup, then splashed milk over the cubes. He sat back.
Snape met his stare with equal ambivalence. "Indeed? What is it this time?"
The Auror made an offhand gesture toward the tray, which Snape ignored. The tension climbed to palpable levels.
"Gender Betrayal," the Auror said with a grimace, as though the words themselves tasted foul. The accusation hung in the air.
Snape held his breath for three heartbeats – which was all he believed the pronouncement deserved in the way of a dramatic pause – then laughed, thrilled he wouldn't have to pretend his relief. He was safe. For now. The visit was little more than a fishing expedition.
And he wasn't the fish they hoped to net.
Potter was alive.
"That is a very serious accusation, Auror." When in doubt, state the obvious. Nothing appealed to a bureaucratic sycophant more than jumping on the agreement bandwagon.
"Yes. Yes, it is. Quite serious, sir."
"Professor," Snape corrected.
The Auror's knuckles turned white around Snape's chipped china. "Professor," he said. "My apologies."
Snape sat back in his seat, crossed one leg over the other and continued to ignore the tea.
"Skinny little boys are not to my taste, Auror. Unless you take into account my desire to chop them up for potions. Too many years of teaching the brats, you understand."
It marveled, how quickly the tension evaporated. The Auror laughed. His companions joined in for good measure. For himself, Snape offered a bitter, lopsided smile.
"I do understand," the Auror said. "Vile things, children. And so full of untapped magic. Dangerous."
Snape swallowed the bile when it rose in his throat. "There is much danger afoot these days."
"Yes." The Auror slurped the last of his tea. "I'm sorry to have bothered you. I suspected the allegations were unfounded. The delirious ravings of a doomed man. You'd think by now I'd know the difference."
Snape nodded. "You'd think we all would."
They surveilled him twenty-four hours a day for a month. He recognized some of the watchers – former students who'd been lucky enough to survive the war and its aftermath – others were strangers. None were very good at their job. Their presence was so obvious Snape almost tripped over them. Perhaps that was the idea, intimidation being the benchmark of the times.
At least Potter was smart enough to stay away.
Once, he saw Granger across a crowded market. Unmistakable eyes, despite the glamour. Unmistakable and sad. For the first time, Snape wondered how many nurtured the resentment Potter bled from his every pore, but pretended to toe the line in the name of peace. Enough to give the Resistance a chance of success?
The thought was traitorous enough to make his heart skip. Out of self-preservation, he buried it immediately. Then, maybe because he thought he owed Potter, he exhumed the notion and let the fantasy burn off some of his loneliness.
The Aurors abandoned their posts four weeks later. When Snape left the house that morning, the stranglehold of tracking spells that usually wound round him was absent. The air was bitter, yet he managed a deep breath for the first time in days.
Potter returned that night. Snape met him halfway across the kitchen, spun him round him by the sleeve of his jacket, and pushed him against the counter.
Potter's breath whooshed from his lungs in a laugh. "Missed you, too," he said.
Snape would never understand Potter's need to talk when nothing needed saying.
The jeans tore open easily. Snape ignored the pained hiss, too thrilled to have Potter's cock back in his hand to care about gentleness and etiquette.
"Easy," Potter muttered against his lips.
More words. Snape bit him hard along the line of his neck in retaliation. When Potter's head fell back and Snape could taste the moan crawling up his throat, he used a hand – not the one grasping Potter's erection – to open his own trousers.
"Fuck, yes," Potter said and thrust forward.
The first contact buckled his legs. Snape grabbed at the counter and prayed for the strength to stay standing. He refused to topple to the floor like a teenage boy after his first fuck, or worse, an old man after his last.
He steadied himself with one arm and wrapped the other around Potter's waist. Potter pushed forward again, grinding their cocks together and Snape's world shrank to the two points in the world where they were connected skin to skin. He abandoned technique and tenderness and rubbed himself off against Potter's cock, feasting on the brat's mouth through it all.
Potter leant back with a gasp. "Bed?"
Forehead against Potter's, he thrust again, trapping their erections in the tight heat between their bodies.
Potter's next words trailed off into gibberish. About fucking time.
The pace went from fast to furious. Potter's hands shot out, scrabbling for leverage, and a stack of dishes tumbled over. He panted into each kiss, adding needy moans here and there that, when swallowed, sank all the way to Snape's prick.
They never would have made the stairs. Snape growled into Potter's mouth with each thrust. Potter's hips danced with his, faster and faster. Another stack of dishes, unsteady from the start, slid like dominoes into the sink, and before Snape could stop it, he was coming in short, powerful pulses.
Potter cried out and wriggled snake-like in his arms, spreading spunk and sweat over their stomachs. He thrust twice more against Snape's sagging body before giving in and adding his release to the mess between them.
By some miracle, they remained standing.
Between breaths, Potter whispered things against his neck, and Snape was never more grateful for how the words, caught in the collar of his robes, never reached his ears.
No good would come from hearing them.
"You've been watching the house," Snape said.
Snape scowled. He despised being obvious. "You were not concerned?" he asked, and his scowl deepened. 'Needy' trumped 'obvious' on the self-disgust scale. Potter had turned him into a sentimental mess.
Potter shrugged. "Of course. At first."
"Listen." Potter curled around him, twisting the blankets into a hopeless tangle. "If it had been about me, if they'd been looking for me, you'd have been dead the first day. You weren't. It wasn't about me."
"It was about you."
Potter stopped breathing. "How do you know?"
Snape noticed he hadn't questioned the validity of the statement. "They accused me of Gender Betrayal."
"So? That's not a stretch. I told you that would happen eventually if you kept using the brothels." Potter relaxed, then tensed, then voiced the obvious question. "So why aren't you in Azkaban?"
How the boy remained alive was a mystery. "Because it was about you. There were no accusations. They knew you'd been here."
Potter lay quietly in his arms, ear against his chest, as though considering the idea. His only reaction to the panicked, frantic beating of Snape's heart was a gentle caress of fingers over the faded Dark Mark.
"If I'm endangering you, I should leave."
Now that was uncharacteristic. "Something happened while we were apart," Snape guessed.
"I don't want to talk about it right now."
Frighteningly uncharacteristic. Suddenly, Snape didn't want to hear the details. "I'll make tea." He shifted out of Potter's arms.
"No!" Potter said. "No." He buried his face in Snape's neck and threw a leg over his hip. "Can't you just…summon it. Just this once." He sighed. "I'll make it up to you."
Snape made the quick calculation in his head. Summoning the tea would leave him with almost nothing for the final week of the month. Barely enough magic to live. It was a frivolous and selfish request for such a small comfort.
He stroked Potter's hair. "Very well," he said. "Now?"
Snape closed his eyes as Potter slithered under the blankets.
He enjoyed the way the polished wood slid through his fingers. Before the New Laws, he'd paid little mind to such tactility. Now, any touch to his wand brought a euphoric rush. In the beginning, poor at budgeting his allotment, he'd spent the final weeks of each month with his wand in hand and a constant ache in his gut, tortured by the feeling of untouchable power coiled inside him.
He'd improved with time. Enough so that exhausting magic on a few cups of tea made him twitchy. But Potter clung with needy arms even as he sucked a scream from Snape's throat, so as soon as he could speak, he fetched his wand and incanted the spell. He waited, perspiration drying on his chest and Potter's head resting on his thigh, until the tray floated through the door.
"She's dead," Potter said as it settled on the blankets.
Clearly. Still, he'd let Potter get it off his chest. "Who?"
"The girl. The one who was here with me."
Snape busied himself with the tea.
"She killed an Auror."
Snape plucked a cube of sugar from the bowl and deposited it in Potter's cup. "How old was she?"
Unfazed, Harry continued in a toneless voice. "They came for her, and she struck out – she was completely untrained. She didn't know her own power. It was so…" Potter clutched his head, "If she'd been taught about her magic earlier, it never would've happened."
Snape indulged in an undignified snort. "Believe it if it makes you feel better."
"She didn't want to hurt him. She was scared."
"She was threatened," Snape said.
"She was scared."
"The great motivator," Snape mumbled.
Potter set his cup back on the tray and folded in on himself. Snape kept his and finished the tea – he'd wasted too much not to enjoy it – then set his empty cup next to Potter's full, cold one.
"She was only a child," he said, relenting, stroking Potter's hair. "Impulsive, immature, naïve of the consequences."
Potter nodded against his thigh. "Yes."
"That doesn't absolve her."
Potter looked up.
"Or you," Snape added.
Guilt, he knew, rarely evoked recompense. Any that made a difference, that is. When Potter plucked his cold tea from the tray and swallowed it in two gulps, Snape indulged in a silent moment of grief. Not for the child, but for her champion.
"Can you make it go away?" Potter asked, voice hard.
Snape set the tray on the floor. "For a little while."
"Sorry for wasting the tea."
Potter peeked over the edge of the bed and frowned at the tray.
Snape shrugged. What did it matter in the end, whether one suffered now or later? It was still suffering.
Potter flopped back down beside him. "Would you leave if you had the chance?" Potter met his startled look with an unflinching one of his own. "I know how much you miss your magic."
"Your intuitiveness is stunning."
For once, Potter caught the cynicism and didn't even crack a smile.
"You'll die without it, you know. Eventually."
Potter ignored the dig. "So…would you? Leave if you could?"
Snape ran a hand over Potter's thigh. "And go where?"
"I've heard that restrictions in the East are practically nonexistent."
Legend or fact, Snape had always wondered. "I've heard the same. Though, the Apparition boundaries are impenetrable. Best keep your fantasies realistic."
"I could find a way."
No doubt he could. "Would you go?" Snape asked.
Something like a smile passed over Potter's face. "Are you asking me to?"
Was he? "Yes."
For a heartbeat, the smile slipped. A trick of the light, Snape told himself.
Potter shifted on the bed until he was sprawled perpendicular to Snape, then threw both legs over his lap.
"Her mother said she didn't blame me. Do you think she should have?"
"Yes," Snape said, remembering the pitfalls of honesty too late.
Potter looked unperturbed. "Do you think she was lying?"
A mother for her child? "Yes."
Moody silence should have followed. Snape's caresses faltered when, instead of pouting, Potter spoke.
"Why?" he asked.
Could Potter truly be that naïve? "People are lazy. Why fight their own battles if you are so willing to do it for them?"
Potter covered his confusion as poorly at twenty-five as he had at eleven. Snape fought the urge to snap at him.
"Would being blamed for her death discourage you?" Snape asked.
"Did forgiveness give you the strength to keep fighting?"
Finally, understanding in his eyes. And something even better. Resignation.
"Did it?" Snape asked again.
"Yes," Potter whispered.
Never the user. Always the used. Snape blew the candles out and soothed as best he could with touch and tongue.
The next morning, Snape feigned sleep while Potter studied him. His resolve to beat the brat at his own game lasted less than an hour.
"Would you go?" Snape asked again, eyes still shut.
"Yes," Potter said, hesitancy beautifully absent, and Snape opened his eyes. Potter nodded. "I would."
Snape blinked. "And your mission to free the oppressed masses?"
If Potter noticed the lack of sarcasm, he didn't let on. He shrugged. "Let them go it alone this time."
Potter brought a music box.
"It's a Portkey," he said. "I don't want to talk about what I went through to get it."
"I don't want to hear about it. How apropos."
Snape held his hand over the object, felt the pulse of unused magic, and almost couldn't tear himself away. He sneered at Potter to cover his excitement.
Potter's mouth curved into a genuine smile. "Thanks."
Snape held his sharp retort. It hadn't been a compliment.
"Am I to trust this with my life?" He swept his hand over the jeweled case.
Potter shrugged. "It was hers."
He supposed that was the most Potter would reassure him. "And it will take us…where?"
"East. Beyond the Apparition borders."
Potter cocked his head. "To freedom."
Snape folded his hands in his lap when they inched toward the Portkey. Did Potter even understand the idea of freedom? It wasn't as though he'd ever had the chance to experience it himself.
"When?" he asked.
"Tonight. Midnight." He placed his hands on Snape's shoulders. "Will you be ready?"
Snape gave in and ran a finger over the green and red glass gems, fashioned after the real thing, no doubt. The clasp was loose, and before he could think twice, the top sprang open under his fingers. On cue, a miniature fairy-child – winged and smiling – began to spin. Tinny music filled the room.
Snape's throat closed. "Rock-a-bye baby."
Harry's fingers twitched. "Does the song matter?"
"Not at all."
Dread and excitement rolled through his stomach in equal measure. He walked the house, room to room, touching one object after another, committing each to memory, only to find his mind empty when he returned to where he'd started. When Potter interrupted his third tour, took his hand, and led him upstairs, he went without complaint.
Potter turned in his arms and nuzzled his neck. "Any last minute preparations?" he asked.
"No." His life was as empty as it had ever been. Except for Potter, of course. "You?"
The nuzzling ceased. Against his throat, he felt Potter swallow, then lick his lips.
Snape's heart seized.
"There's just one more thing I need to do," Potter said. He slipped from the bed and pulled on his clothing, never once meeting Snape's eyes. When the buttons were fastened, the laces tied, and the shirt tucked, Potter smiled. "I'll be back in plenty of time, I'm sure. But just in case, promise me…promise me you'll use the Portkey. There won't be a second chance. Once it activates, the Enforcers will be here in seconds. You must go."
And just like that, he was trapped. By a Gryffindor, no less.
"Very well," he said, surprised the words emerged at all.
Potter hovered by the door. "I…I'll be back."
Snape nodded. "I understand."
At ten o'clock, he considered throwing the Portkey in the river. Upon reflection, it felt drastic. Potter still had two hours.
At half-eleven, he stopped pacing and went to the kitchen table to wait.
He indulged in thoughts of the past few months, replaying them in his head until he reached the present moment – the one in which he sat staring at the key to his freedom. Annoyed that his memories ended on such an uncertain note, he rewound to the night of Potter's arrival and relived it all again.
At five minutes to midnight, he shifted in the chair and his wand, hidden in the lining of his travel cloak, dug into his side. He took his time adjusting it.
Three minutes to midnight.
His hand snuck out and popped the lid of the music box. The fairy-child stumbled into motion, spinning round and round to Rock-a-bye baby. She began to slow during the third chorus, just as the cradle began to rock. She danced in fits and starts through the fourth refrain, freezing for an endless moment when the bough broke, then skipped down the chord and stuttered to a stop, hands over her head, face hidden in her shoulder, wings folded tight against her back.
Snape ran a fingertip over her hair and across the thin, barely-visible line of her cheek.
Two minutes to midnight.
Too late for the river. Too late for anything. Snape shut the music box, laid his hand on the lid, and waited.
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