Learning to Swim

There was no thought. Only action. One second, Harry was watching Sirius fall through the veil. The next, he was charging forward, desperate to follow. Hands grabbed at him but he shook them off and dove, screaming, "Sirius!"

"How'd I learn to swim? Dunno, can't remember, mate. I just remember someone being there at first, keeping me from drowning, keeping my head above water."

–Marcus Flintwhistle, Junior Wizard World Diving Champion, 1989.

He couldn't see. He couldn't hear. He couldn't breathe.

He was drowning. Drowning, drowning, drow—

"I've got you," a voice echoed in the slush of grayscale and muted clanging. Or was the voice in his head? Had he gone crazy? Was he hearing voices?

Wafting spicy-sweetness coiled around him as strong arms did the same. Sirius.

"I've got you," Sirius said again, pulling Harry close, shielding him from the din of the veil.

Harry felt the world begin to swim as his mind and body disassociated. Ribbons of Harry unwound and looped with the ribbons of the veil. He pushed himself closer to Sirius, glad to have an anchor. Something to keep him from drowning.

Learning to swim is an organic process, one that should feel as natural as breathing. And yet, those first few tentative paddles make you feel like a crup wading through pumpkin pudding.

–The Joy of Swimming, Miranda Markum.

Time passed. Only it didn't. Sometimes Harry thought about why he knew things, like spells he'd never heard of, the history of places and people he hadn't known existed. But then Sirius would whisper in a needy moan, "James. James. James," and do something that made Harry feel so good that he forgot about time and everything in between.

Conjoined as they were, Sirius held onto him and thrust against him, into him, and turned them in summersaults through the viscous mush and shattered him, making him feel incandescent.

After that first time, Harry stopped thinking. He and Sirius simply floated on the undulating currents of wishes, regrets, and desires streaming through the veil.

This was forever. Forever was as long—as short—as the curve of a moment.

"You go blind in the water when those things are down there. They mesmerize you to the point that you don't know who you are anymore. You drown, while being fooled into thinking that you're living."

–Sean McPhee, brother of lost swimmer, Seamus McPhee, who died after straying too close to Selkie territory in the Green Lake.

It started as a gentle tug. Harry shivered and pressed closer to Sirius.

The tug became insistent, as if it were trying to dislodge Harry, pull him away from Sirius.

"No!" he screamed, holding onto Sirius harder. What was happening?

There was an almighty clang and a whoosh of rushing water pounded against him, pulling. "Stop it!"

But he couldn't stop it. He was barreling down some unseen channel, holding onto Sirius for dear life, terrified.

He tumbled out onto a hard surface. Gravity stole his breath and weighted down his bones. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't move.

"Potter!" someone called.

Harry groped blindly for Sirius. Where was Sirius?

"Potter!" the voice screamed again, as sharp and unforgiving as the floor he was surely splayed across.

Harry tried to open his mouth, but nothing worked. He didn't—

Warm hands cupped his face, a different spicy-sweetness coiled around him. "Potter," the voice called again, but not as sharply or unforgiving as before. "Open your eyes," the voice said. "Open them. Now."

Harry gasped as his eyes fluttered open and settled onto the object in front of him.

"That's it. Come on, now. Focus on me."

In the distance, Harry heard Sirius shouting. He sounded angry. Deranged. Jealous.

"Sir—Sirius," Harry slurred, his voice sounding odd to his ears.

"Yes, Black's here," the voice spat. "The damn mutt came with you."

As if Peeves had run through him with five hundred of his closest friends, everything came rushing back to Harry in a frigid wave.

"Professor Snape?" he asked, blinking owlishly.

"Good. At least your brain's not as addled as it could have been."

"What—Why—What happened?"

"You went through the veil. I pulled you back."


"You're still needed."

A heavy, warm cloak wound around his shoulders, its weight like the crushing mantle of responsibility Snape had just given him.

Snape pulled him to his feet and when he wobbled—still gasping for breath—Snape picked him up and carried him out without a word.

Harry held on for dear life and forgot to ask about Sirius.

"What are the advantages to swimming, you ask? It keeps you fit, young, and full of vim and vigor. But best of all, it allows you to enjoy that custom hoverboat you've had your eye on without fear of drowning."

–Advertisement in Witches Weekly, December 1993.

"He needs food."

"No, he needs clothes."

"He needs sleep, you idiots. Can't you see? He's exhausted."

"Well at least he's not screaming and throwing things like Sirius. That Stunner was a bit harsh."

"He deserved it. Mangy mutt, ranting and raving like a wild man, clutching at Potter as if he were a rag doll. He should be put down. Would serve him right."

"Stop saying such things, especially in front of such a young boy."

"He's thirty. He's not a boy."

"He is! Look at him. Thin and wobbly as a colt, barely any signs of puberty. He's a boy. And he needs food."

"Give it a rest, Mum. Harry just needs—"

Harry stopped listening to Ron, his mum, and Snape, entranced by the silent figure across from him. Hermione was really old, Harry thought. Deep lines dug into the skin beneath her eyes, were carved across her forehead, and drawn past her lips, making her look as though she were a wooden totem of an old woman. They said she was only thirty, but Harry didn't believe them. He was supposed to be thirty and he didn't look a thing like her.

His gaze darted around the kitchen. It looked exactly the same—dark and oppressive. Only the people had changed. They'd donned new faces when he hadn't been looking.

"I'm going to bed," Harry announced, bringing the conversation around him to a screeching halt.

He shuffled off without looking back, found Sirius's room, and twined around him, holding him as close as possible.

"What you have to remember is that the sea has a mind of her own. One minute, she's letting you sail on. The next, she's pulling you down and you're lost."

–Anonymous Muggle fisherman's gravestone, 1901.

What was the big deal about clothes? They served no appreciable purpose that Harry could see. And they were scratchy and constricting. And so what if Harry forgot to put them on? He had to remember to do so many other things, were clothes really so important?

"Potter! What in the hell are you doing? Put some clothes on. Now."

"Why?" he asked, sauntering closer to the kitchen table. It was the middle of the night, which meant it was quiet.

He tilted his head and studied Snape, discovering how transparent he was. Yes, Snape was still a spiteful bastard, but Harry knew he could trust him because he was Harry's anchor in this world. He could just… he just knew. Like he knew that Sirius was dying in this house, like he knew that the walls swallowed dust and breathed despair.

Like he knew Snape wanted him.

He knew Snape was marveling at the jut of his adolescent bones, cataloguing just how many ways he could fuck him.

Harry liked that.

He moved closer and began to say something, but Sirius crashed into the room, raving, "Get away from him, James!"

Sirius's feet pounded across the stone floor with the erratic gait of madness. He pulled Harry behind him. "Stay away from him. He's mine!" he snarled.

Snape was out of his chair in an instant, his wand at the ready. "You're insane, Black. And so is Potter. I don't want anything to do with him. Keep him away from me."

As Sirius dragged him away from the room, Harry looked back at Snape, whispering, "Eyes don't lie."

"What do I love best about swimming? Wow. That's a tough one. I think…. I think I like the sense of freedom the best. It's the one time when you're completely insulated and protected. Only if you know how to swim, of course. If you didn't, I imagine it could be quite scary."

–Bertha Bomgardner, first witch to swim to Antarctica without magical assistance.

Breathe. Sleep. Put on clothes. Brush teeth. Choose tea. Bathe. Talk. Listen.

The war was still on. The final battle was gearing up. The last Horcrux had been destroyed—whatever that was. What would they do? How would Harry defeat him? The sky was falling! The sky was falling!

Of course, no one asked Harry about this. They just shuttled him to the back and gave him tea, redid his buttons, and tsked about his shoe laces.

"We've got to come up with a plan."

"We've gone through every spell book there is. What would you have us do?"

"There must be something. You've obviously missed it."

"I've crawled through every—"

So much fucking noise! So much thinking! They didn't shut up. They didn't stop moving. Didn't they ever get tired?

Harry slipped away. Walked up the stairs, careful to put one foot in front of the other. He closed the door to the bathroom, his fingers fumbling with the lock. Turned the water knobs, watched the water sluice out. Decided on the temperature. Took off his confining robes. Stripped naked. Climbed in and submerged himself under the water, this time remembering to leave his nose out so that he could do more of that wretched breathing.

The world faded away into a hazy, muted translucence. He smiled as his body floated on the currents of tepid bathwater.

The business of living was exhausting.

"Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs, Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes, being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers' tears. What is it else? A madness most discreet, A choking gall and a preserving sweet."

–William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare received critical acclaim in both the Muggle and Wizarding worlds for his ability to create brilliant tragedies and love stories, brimming with fantastic tales of sorcery and magic. J. Peabody, ed.

Sirius woke him in the middle of the night, tipping over furniture and tearing through wardrobes.


"I can't—We have to—Let's leave. Right now. Let's leave and never come back. We can live like fairy kings."

"We can't. Voldemort."

"Shh! We don't—He's not real. Not unless we let him be. Come on. Let's just decide he's not real. Then we can leave. We can run away and never come back."

It was heartbreaking to realize the depths of Sirius's insanity. Harry had just come to understand that in this world, he was meant to be Sirius's anchor. But he couldn't do that. Not without help.

"Sirius—" Harry paused. He heard a creaking floorboard. He glanced to the side and saw a black clad figure hovering by the doorframe. He knew what needed to be done.

"Come to bed."

"No. We have to leave."

Harry settled on his back, splaying his legs and arms. "Come to bed," he said again.

Sirius licked his lips and stumbled forward. He moaned as Harry palmed his cock. Harry heard a sharp intake of breath by the door and smiled to himself.

"Come on. Come to bed," he whispered, half to Sirius, half to Snape.

Sirius crawled onto the bed and covered Harry with his body, licking and biting every inch of skin he could find.

"Yes, that's it," Harry hissed, while Sirius played with him, prepared him, fucked him.

Sirius brought him to the heights of pleasure, but the whole time Harry's eyes were locked with Snape's.

"The thing about swimming is knowing when to push yourself and when to pull back. Everything in life is a race of sorts. It's all about pacing."

–Rufus McHearthy, Coach, Glendale Swim Club, winner of the coveted King Neptune Award 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1983.

"He's got to have training."

"I'm not doing it," Severus said.

"You don't have a choice!"

Harry sighed and leafed through a Quidditch magazine. If only they'd ask him, he'd tell them that he'd remembered a spell last night—one that would destroy Voldemort.

But no one asked him anything. They just assumed he had nothing to say. Didn't they realize that he had more knowledge at his fingertips than they did collectively?

"Well, what do you propose, Severus?" Hermione asked, looking more and more haggard.

"I came up with the spell to drag him back. It's time someone else did some work around here. If this is the best you can come up with, Granger, then we may as well just give ourselves up now."

Harry couldn't let that happen, couldn't let Snape get away when he and Sirius needed him so much. "I know a spell," he said.

"That's very nice, Harry. But if you'd let us finish—"

"No. I know a spell. One that will destroy Voldemort." Harry scrunched up his face. "It's hard, though. Need a few people to work it."

The silence was deafening. Harry had never noticed that before. That silence could be deafening. He wondered if he could share that with the veil.

"How do you know about the spell?" Hermione asked.

Harry shrugged. "The veil," he said, his excuse for all things unexplainable.

"What's the spell? How does it work?" Snape asked, his tone accusing.

"Celtic—long string of words, silver daggers, blah, blah, blah." Harry paused. "And a sex ritual the night before. Lots of practice needed for that one. It's tricky."

"What?" Hermione screeched, no doubt thinking that a fifteen-year-old boy cum thirty-year-old man should never utter such words.

Harry shrugged again. "I didn't research the theory. I just know the spell. And the sex ritual. It's an anchor spell. So that means I have to have sex with Sirius and Snape to set it."

Hermione started screaming, Ron went green, and Snape bellowed, "Absolutely not," even though his hands twitched in Harry's direction.

Harry smiled and left.

He wondered if this was what it felt like to be Luna.

"I'm terrified of drowning. That's the only reason I learned to swim. You see, my mum had this theory that if she just kept chucking me in the water enough times, my survival instincts would kick in and I'd get the hang of things. They didn't at first and I nearly drowned. Thank the gods for the kindness of strangers. A man—I never knew who he was—plucked me straight out of the water—sputtering, coughing, unable to breathe—and set me on the side, keeping me steady until my mum could scramble around the pool and collect me."

–Oliver De'Pressario, two time distance swimming champion for the Exley Egrets.

It was the day in the kitchen that seemed to change Severus's mind about the spell.

Harry sat at the table, remembering to breathe and blink while Ron and Hermione stood in the corner, stirring tea and arguing about an upcoming maneuver. They looked so sad to Harry. He could feel the yearning between them. If only they'd give in, they'd both be happier.

"You should make her feel good," Harry blurted.

Ron and Hermione started.

"What was that, mate?" Ron asked. It sounded a bit condescending to Harry. He got the impression that everyone thought him slow. Though, they also thought Sirius was mad—he'd heard everyone talking one night—and they were right about that.

But they weren't right about Harry. He'd just have to prove it to them.

"She fancies you. She's tired—look at those lines on her face—she needs you to make her feel good," Harry said.

"Harry, Ron does make me feel good."

Harry snorted and sniggered, like a schoolboy with an indecent secret. "No he doesn't. At least he hasn't yet." He cocked his head to the side. "I'd venture no one has, actually."

"What are you talking about?" Ron asked, his voice covering Hermione's gasp.

"Come off it, Ron. You know. Sex. Fuck her. Snip the bloom before it shrivels up and dies." Harry laughed to himself.


"It feels so good when someone fucks you, Hermione. It's like—it's like you're the only thing that exists. You deserve to feel that way. Sirius made me feel that way all the time, and it was brilliant. Still is."

Hermione stared at him, her eyes huge. Harry thought she wanted him to continue. He felt giddy inside. They were finally listening to him.

"I know!" he continued, taking a step forward. "You should Transfigure a dog hair carpet and lay down on it and fuck each other crazy. Oh I know what you're thinking, but honestly, dogs are so soft. Why just the other day, when Sirius was Padfoot… that fur is so soft and warm and feels so good. Have you felt it? It's like—what? What's wrong?"

Harry didn't understand why Hermione was crying, why Ron's face had gone all red and blotchy, or why Ron came running at him, his mouth twisted in an angry sneer.

Before Ron could reach him though, he stumbled with a yelp and fell flat on his face, unconscious. Hermione ran to his side. Harry—bewildered—looked around the room and saw Snape put his wand back in his robe pocket. He grinned.

"Naughty, naughty, Professor."

Professor Snape's lips quirked at the corners as he shook out another page of the Daily Prophet. "I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about, Mr. Potter."

Harry grinned again. He turned back to talk to Hermione and Ron. He opened his mouth to say something, but Hermione stopped him with a vicious shake of her head.

"I'm sorry, Harry, but—" she began, only to stop and shake her head again, Levitating Ron behind her as she left.

"That was most amusing, Mr. Potter."


"Are you always this amusing?"


"I see that you are. Be in the basement this morning at ten."

"Wha—er, why?"

"To discuss the spell, of course. You are prepared, aren't you?"

Harry's face split into a wide smile. "I'll just get Sirius."

"The crawl is a complicated stroke. One must simultaneously cup one's hands and draw them through the water in a wide windmill fashion while also kicking one's legs in a tight, yet relaxed manner in order to propel one forward. One's legs should be relaxed and slightly bent at the knees. One's arms should be straight, the wrists slightly tilted down, and the hands gracefully cupped. When performed correctly, the crawl is your most powerful stroke. Performed incorrectly, disaster looms at the end of the pool."

–Aquatic Athletics, Primer 3, Chapter 6, Mastering the Crawl.

Sirius had run off again. He wasn't happy about the spell or the sex ritual. He'd howled and snapped before turning into Padfoot and darting though the broken fence in the back garden.

It was Harry's first night alone.

It didn't take much thought for him to slip into Snape's room and slide under the covers, snuggling against him.

"What the—?"

"Shh. Time for bed," Harry said.

"Yes, in your own bed. Get out," Snape said, kicking Harry.

Harry held on tighter. "No. Need you."

"I don't care."

"Yes you do. I see the way you look at me. The way you watch Sirius and me."

He felt Snape stiffen beside him.

"Don't be like that, Snape. I want you too, or I wouldn't be here." Harry pressed closer, cupped Snape's half-erect cock, and squeezed. Sirius liked it like that. He imagined Snape did, too. "Feels good, yeah? Wanted to do this for a while now. Just need to get you and Sirius together."

"You wicked little—" Severus inhaled sharply. "There is no sex ritual required for this spell, is there?"

Harry kept squeezing, setting a soft rhythm in counterpoint to Snape's shallow thrusts. "Does it matter?"

Snape took a long time to answer. "No," he said finally. "Black, though—"

"Sirius needs me and I need you. He'll just have to understand. We all have things we have to understand."

Snape rolled over and pinned Harry to the bed, his hard cock rubbing against Harry's. "And what do I have to understand, hmm?"

"That you want me because I look fifteen. That you think you can have me because I'm thirty. Don't be like that—I like it. No one else likes me like this."

"Except for Black."

"Yes, except for him. Good thing we're to become a threesome."

Snape didn't respond with words. The bed undulated beneath them, they turned summersaults in the sheets, and Snape made him feel incandescent.

"I'll tell you, there's nothing more beautiful than perfectly synchronized swimming. Though, conversely, there's nothing more painful than watching it fall apart. People forget that there's a real danger in what those heroic performers do. Anything can go wrong and when it does, there's a hell of a lot more to worry about than a scraped knee or a broken nail. People can drown, you know. My Peg did. That's why I believe all synchronized aquatic performers should be fitted with discreet Safety Jacket Charms, and I am before you today, asking for your support on this crucial issue."

–Dallard Dysworthy, Islington Representative, in filibuster on Legislative Petition, Wizengamut Record No. 45A23—08, May 15, 1908.

"I'm not doing this," Sirius said mulishly.

"Yes, you are," Harry said.

He stripped his clothes and stood before both men. He held out his arms, wondering who would be the first to try to claim him.

Sirius let out a strangled yelp and pounced, his teeth sinking into Harry's shoulder.

Harry moaned, refusing to close his eyes. He stared at Snape. Taunted him.

Snape strode forward and knocked Sirius to the side. He pulled Harry to him roughly and slithered his tongue down Harry's throat, laving the spot where neck met shoulder.

Harry moaned again and couldn't bring himself to feel remorse at Sirius's piteous cry. He was going to have to learn. Just like the rest of them.

"Bugger off, Snape," Sirius said, trying to elbow himself in.

"Plenty of me—plenty to go round," Harry said with a breathy sigh. "Sirius, why don't you get behind me and Snape here will take care of the front."

Their bodies melded together as Sirius thrust into him, and Harry's hands closed around his and Snape's cocks while Snape's arms pinned the three of them together.

So much heat, but Harry wanted more.

"No clothes," he mumbled, and thought a spell he'd remembered hearing, delighting in the sudden feel of skin all around him.

"What was that?" Sirius grunted.

"Spell. We're wizards," Harry responded, his eyes fluttering shut as Snape sucked the side of his neck and thrust into his hands.

"We all have to fuck each other," Harry said, stifling a giggle at Snape's snort.

"Fine," Sirius said. "Fine," he keened as he rammed in again and again.

"I've been looking forward to putting you in your place, Black. On all fours, I think. Taking you like the dog you are," Snape said between vicious nips to Harry's collarbone.

"Shut up—both of you—too much noise," Harry said, sighing as they finally stopped talking and got on with the business of making each other feel good.

It was like before, like in the veil. Perfectly synchronized by raw need, they fucked each other and did whatever might please them. There was no thought. Only action. Only feeling.

When it was over, they tumbled to the bed together in a mismatched jumble of limbs.

"Was that the ritual?" Sirius asked, his voice tinged with wonder and exhaustion.

"No. That was practice," Harry said, holding his breath.

Sirius shot a speculative glance at Snape and said, "Oh. I suppose we'll be needing lots of practice, then."

"Absolutely. Lots of practice," Harry said, barely able to keep a straight face.

"Technique must be honed," Severus murmured.

"Perhaps we should practice alone a few times, Snape. Get everything sorted."

"That could be arranged," Severus said, already crawling across the bed and taking Sirius by the wrists. "You need a few lessons in control, I think," he whispered before darting in and biting Sirius's lip.

Harry watched, grinning.

"Follow the river and you will find the sea."

–Muggle French proverb.

They'd done it. Voldemort was destroyed. The Wizarding world wept rejoicing tears.

There had been parties and dancing and smiles. But that was all over now. Neither Harry nor Snape were needed any longer and Sirius—well, when had the world ever really needed him? Harry and Snape needed him, but not the world.

One by one, they left, shooting uncomfortable glances at the three of them, making promises they had no intention of keeping, and leapt back into lives they'd long ago put on hold.

Harry, Sirius and Snape had no lives to go back to, so they stayed in Grimmauld Place and stared at crumbling walls.

The warm fire crackled and popped in the library. To anyone else, it might have seemed cheery. But as the three of them sat in the stifling quiet, the fire sounded like cascading artillery shells and the flickering light threw shadows of grotesque, undulating figures across the room.

Sirius sighed, but it sounded like a strangled gasp, as if it were his last. Harry came to a startling revelation. They were drowning and taking Harry down with them. That clenched it. Harry made a decision. He stood and walked over to the Floo.

"Potter? What are you doing? Get away from there. That's the Floo."

"I know what it is."

"How am I to know? You didn't know what the decanter was and broke it. I'm not in the mood to fix anything."

"No. You've got it wrong. I'm going to fix you," Harry said with glee.

"Ja—Harry? What are you doing?" Sirius asked, a moment of lucidity breaking through the madness.

"Follow me and find out," Harry said with a wink before he threw in the Floo Powder and called out, "Ministry of Magic, Atrium."

"In the love of narrow souls I make many short voyages but in vain – I find no sea room – but in great souls I sail before the wind without a watch, and never reach the shore."

–Henry David Thoreau, American Muggle essayist, son of celebrated wizarding philosopher, Mary Alcott Thoreau.



Harry laughed as he ran for the door he remembered so long ago, dashed through the circular room and made his way to the veil.

He danced back and forth, waiting for Snape and Sirius to catch up with him.

"What are you doing?" Snape asked, storming over and catching Harry by the elbow.

Sirius stared at the veil with a longing on his face that Harry hadn't seen in a long while.

"Harry?" Sirius asked.

"They won't miss us," Harry said. "They won't miss you," he said to Snape, holding onto him when he tried to pull away. "We're dying. There's—this world, there's nothing for us here, but behind there—behind the veil? There's knowledge and freedom and fucking and love and no one to condemn us."


"But, nothing. There's nothing for you here. You want me, and I'm going back. I want you to go with me." Harry looked over at Sirius who was tottering towards the veil, entranced by the beckoning whispers. "With both of us. Please."

"I don't—"

"There are spells, potions, things beyond your wildest dreams. There's no pain there, Severus. Just us. Just…." Harry shrugged, unable to convey what couldn't be described with mere words.

Snape stepped closer.

"Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! (Pause. Vehemently.) Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!"

–Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett.

There was no thought. Only feeling. Warmth to the front, warmth to the back. Conjoined in triplicate. Harry could feel his mind unraveling again. He sighed in bliss and dove headlong into forever.



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