July 27th, 2008
|10:23 am - Surface|
Summary: It’s the end of the end.
A/N: For the Steal series: Steal, Strangle, Stricken, Sink
Severus didn’t want to go, but it was getting late—half eight already, and Harry had forgot his hunger in the vigors of exercise. It was the tilt of the world’s axis, its orbit around the sun, drawing the light out until it stretched past supper time. That was all, Severus repeated silently, eyes flicking once more to the kitchen clock’s hands. That was all.
The new restorative Severus had concocted was most effective with a meal and not too near bed. Delaying any further would not be wise. He refreshed the warming charm on the covered pot on the stove, then went to the closet, pulled Harry’s cloak from its depths, and shut the door. The flask of potion in his pocket shifted heavily as he spun in the hallway, to Disapparate.
The grass was damp and grown wild in the place where Severus appeared, a short distance from the pitch, above which several flying figures streamed. The breeze was cool, not yet sharp, as Severus paced through it toward the low benches, stacked in dark planks around the trimmed green. It was light enough to make out the handful of onlookers and their reddish hair, seated in a small clump at the far end of the highest row. Severus firmed his jaw and continued. His eyes returned to the dimming sky and found Harry again, ascending, one arm outstretched. Severus narrowed his eyes—the fine black outline resolved into a leather glove, a wind-pressed sleeve. Harry’s mouth was tight with concentration. Severus watched Harry dart ahead in a burst of speed; he elongated over his broom, cast yearning fingers toward a Snitch that was invisible from the ground—he lunged along the shaft, thrusting his fingertips forward—
Severus snapped his head down. Faint cheers went up somewhere high overhead; a single clap and an oh! came from the lookers on the bench. Oblivious to it all was Molly Weasley, whose arms were crossed over her drab green knitted shawl.
“Harry will be having dinner with us.” She faced him with a frown, with her back very straight and her hair a nest of ringlets, frizzing into the twilight air. The fury in her eyes made her appear nearly cruel. “He insisted.”
“I see,” he said. His chest did not heave as it seized. “His draught for the night.” Severus brought out the potion; the beat of his heart was unendurable. “And his cloak.”
“It was wrong from the start,” Molly hissed suddenly, rapidly, under her breath. “From the very start. And even if you’d cared for him—even then it wouldn’t have been right but you let him carry on when you bloody well knew better. I haven’t the words for your kind of wickedness but if I could afford to spend my life in Azkaban I would’ve killed you the moment you showed your face on this pitch.”
The lines around Severus’ mouth deepened. There was a shriveling, a painful withdrawal in his middle, a heightened form of the sensation that had plagued him since the moment he’d returned home from his last abominable appointment with Lucius to find Harry listless, pale, disoriented on the couch. For all he had borne in his overlong and weary life, Severus had never harbored despair such as this. He managed, inexplicably, to concede nothing more to the woman before him.
Molly’s fists were unclenching in the weave of her shawl, ready to take up Harry’s potion and cloak, when a whoosh of air and a dull thud sounded beside them. The smell of high wind and leather coated Severus’ next breath.
“Hi!” Harry said, unstraddling his broom. His face was ruddy and his exhales loud as he moved close to Severus. “Did you see my catch?” He held up the golden ball with an expectant smile. His hairline was dark with sweat; Severus caught its scent when Harry hugged him, one-armed.
“Oh no—did I miss my potion?” Harry’s face creased, troubled, at the sight of the flask in Severus’ hand. “What time is it?”
The spike of panic in his tone furrowed Molly’s brow. “Harry,” she said, her voice gentle as a dove—but Harry was looking at Severus uncertainly. The flicking of his lashes burst something hot in Severus’ throat.
“Calm yourself,” he murmured, touching the boy’s back, too lightly to feel the damp. “You haven’t missed anything—I was simply telling Molly that it’s to be taken with food—”
“Yes, dear, I told him you’ll be coming home with us,” the be-shawled woman said in soothing tones.
“What?” Harry blinked at her, startled. “I didn’t—I’m not…I’m going home,” he finished, sounding defensive. “With Severus.” He grabbed at Severus’ hand.
“But dear, I asked before, remember?” Molly answered, even more soothingly than before. Severus’ shoulders ached. “I said we were having shepherd’s pie, and you said it was your favorite? And I said you were more than welcome to join us—you always are, Harry—and you said you would?”
“I—did I?” Harry looked confused. His gloved fingers dug into Severus’ palm. The piercing pain in his temples had eased at Harry’s clutching—but now it resumed.
“Yes,” Molly said, nodding with a tentative smile. Behind her, others now hovered, some dismounting from their brooms with soft thumps to the ground. They all looked at Harry with sympathy and concern. “I was getting your potion,” Molly continued, “so you could have it with the pie, and I have treacle sponge for pudding, dear.”
“Oh,” Harry said, biting his lip. His eyes swiveled to Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, who waited, full of familiar discomfort, resigned sorrow. Their hesitant smiles matched Molly’s.
“You did,” Hermione said, with a small nod. She met Severus’ eyes briefly, looking agitated, then focused on Harry and shifted on her feet. “You sounded like you really wanted to come.”
Severus’ eyelids fell and opened; he thought of Harry, who stayed away longer each evening with his broom and his sport; with his loyal, watchful friends. Severus uncurled his hand from Harry’s and held the potion and the cloak out to Molly. “He’ll need to finish all of it,” he said, and his voice seemed oddly distant to himself. “He’s not to go to bed for at least an hour afterwards.”
“No, I think I’ll go back with Severus,” Harry announced, finding Severus’ cuff. He slid his covered hand against Severus’ palm; the buckles on the glove cut coldly into the grooves.
“But we were going to try Fred and George’s new snackboxes!” Ronald put in anxiously. “They’ve got vertigo pops now, remember? And hoarsehound drops?”
“Yeah, and consumption crisps,” one of the Weasley brothers added brightly, twisting his broomhandle. “You were keen on those, right? You said you’d help us with the experimentation—they can’t go to market without proper experimentation!”
Severus looked from the peering freckled faces to Harry, whose fingers still lay clenched in Severus’ hand. Severus’ lips thinned to bloodlessness—they were upsetting him, couldn’t they see? But he couldn’t speak without the boy’s acquiescence any longer and the fact of it rose in him, tightening his stomach, silencing his words.
Harry didn’t answer; then he said, slowly, “I’ve changed my mind.” The quietness of his voice was a warning to Severus—it was Harry’s effort to retain self-control in the midst of spinning thoughts, short breaths, blurring vision—it was crushing, enveloping, darkening his mind and Severus could sense all of it, he’d seen it before, days and nights he’d seen it but now he was helpless because Harry faltered when reaching for him; Harry couldn’t look at him without glancing away.
“Dear, I think—” Molly began, stopping short as Harry’s face contorted. He turned to Severus, his eyes suddenly wet, accusing—he tore his hand free, whirled and leapt onto his broom, kicking forward with such force that clumps of grassy dirt shot from his heels.
“Harry!” Hermione shouted aloud as Ronald and his brothers moved to mount their brooms. Severus shot out a hand and wrested the nearest broomstick to him. The boy’s anguish called to him, calling forth his voice.
“Go home, all of you,” Severus growled, flinging himself over the shaft. “I’ll send an owl.”
“But—” someone protested.
“Go!” Severus shouted angrily without looking back—then he was speeding through the air, squinting into the wind as his eyes started stinging.
Distrait gave unnatural speed to Harry’s erratic path between treetops, and also to Severus’. He caught the boy in the air halfway to the house, drew alongside the narrow figure hunched miserably over the broom.
“Slow down!” Severus commanded. “You’ll run yourself into—”
Harry’s broom leapt forward as he re-tightened his gloved fists over the handle. Severus followed, ignoring the snap of a bough as it broke against his knee. The sudden pain was numb before it bloomed ferociously but his eyes remained fixed on Harry’s face, white and low to the broom.
“Harry, stop!” Severus shouted, pulling himself closer. The edge of his robe whipped toward Harry, who was dipping below a thatch of leaves, swerving around a trunk, veering away from Severus in a wild arch. Severus wrenched himself to follow, weaving through branches, bellowing at him to stop, stop, before he—
Severus heard the loud crack and thunderous rustling, and his throat dropped to the ground, faster than his broom as he raced to the dark form fallen amongst the stripped leaves. He waded forward, frenzied, and scooped Harry up.
“You’re all right,” Severus said, his voice still stiff with the fading fear once he had ascertained that bruising would be the worst of it. “You’re all right.” He passed a hand over Harry’s head to the slight slope of his neck, feeling the rabbit-quick pulse fluttering through the boy’s damp skin. He knew his own must be the same though he had no sense of it whatsoever. “Accio glasses.”
They flew into his open palm with a dry scuttle of leaves, bent into an odd angle that Severus could easily repair. He stroked Harry’s back and pressed a cheek to the disarrayed hair.
Harry shook and sweated in Severus’ arms. Then he broke away and ran.
It didn’t take long for Severus to catch him a second time—the boy was hobbled without his glasses and his disoriented dashing put little distance between them. Severus snatched at the knitted jumper as Harry dodged over thick roots and spun him around.
“If this is another clever attempt at killing yourself—” he hissed, only to have himself thrust back with the jolt of a hex. He stumbled, tripping, and landed hard on the ground. Harry stood where he’d been caught, his wand held in front of him.
“You weren’t coming for me,” he said, breathing forcefully, his eyes fiercely alight and unfocused.
“I’ve been chasing you through this blasted forest,” Severus returned, winded and heartsick, “for the last half—”
“You weren’t coming for me!” Harry shouted with a strike of his wand. Sparks flew from the end and fizzled without reaching the ground. “You were going to let me stay on that bloody pitch all night while you—”
“No,” Severus protested, scrambling to his feet. He could sense the ripples of magic flowing from the boy’s body, bunching together in angry invisible gobs, ready to set the woods or Harry or Severus on fire, or perhaps all of them together in a bright, magnificent blaze.
“I’ve been trying to get over it,” Harry continued, voice spiraling into a low moan. “I haven’t been talking about it, yeah? I mean, I think I’ve been doing a good job of being normal.”
Harry paused to choke; his wand wavered and Severus took a quick step forward.
“You were going to give me away!” Harry shouted. His wand flashed and sputtered in Severus’ direction.
“That is not true!” Severus shouted back, drawing his own wand with a swing of his sleeve. “You’re talking utter non—”
“I loved you!” Harry went on, unhearing. “I did! Didn’t you know? You were the only reason I stayed when—but now I can’t stop thinking of Lucius Malfoy and how you—so I can’t be here—I suppose that makes two of us, doesn’t it?” He raised dazed eyes to Severus—they were opened large, surfaced with dislocated terror and there was no spell, no magic word that Severus could summon to undo what he had done so he stood, helpless, and watched as Harry’s mouth quavered into a forlorn smile.
“As I was saying,” Severus forced himself to reply. He managed a reasonable facsimile of irritation, and it steadied him. “You are talking utter nonsense. Giving you away—what a fool-headed notion! I took the trouble to prepare your ridiculous chicken pie—yes, using the school house-elfs’ recipe—which has undoubtedly grown stone cold during the course of this purposeless rigmarole! And you have the audacity to raise your wand at me?” He strode to Harry in great crunching steps, towering over him, not a blink out of place as he stared down. Harry’s eyes were imploring.
“Inconsiderate child!” Severus thundered. “Put that away!” He closed his fingers around Harry’s rigid wand-hand, caressed the valley between each protruding knuckle. “Immediately. And pick up your broom.” He guided Harry’s arm until the wand was re-sheathed; Harry watched his own elbow bend and unbend. He nodded beneath the hollow of Severus’ palm.
The pie was re-warmed and eaten and the dishes cleaned and stacked, and Harry was having a shower when Severus finally found himself alone. He sat on the bed—their bed, still—and slumped.
Perhaps he dozed off, or perhaps he simply was too far lost in thought—re-living the day he had returned to find Harry, the nights he regretted more than any he had known—but whatever the case, he had no sense that Harry had come into the room until the boy’s quiet voice sounded near his ear.
Severus jerked up, jouncing the bedsprings. Harry stood by him, unclothed, holding a towel. His hair seemed almost dry.
“Yes,” Severus replied, taking the boy against him. “Have you been standing there long? It’s drafty just there; you’re in the path of the door.” He draped the towel around Harry’s back, and finding it too damp, muttered a drying charm at it.
“Thanks,” Harry murmured, putting his chin to Severus’ shoulder.
“Accio Harry’s pyjamas,” Severus said, relishing the feel of Harry tucked safely between his knees.
“Sleep with me?” Harry mumbled. The stubble on his cheek was softened from his shower, and it rasped reassuringly into Severus’ skin.
“Of course,” Severus agreed. He laid the pyjamas on the mattress beside him and folded Harry closely to his chest before angling the boy to the clothing. Harry reached for it and averted his face.
“All night?” Harry asked, without inflection. He was looking down at one foot and pulling on a pant leg. “You’ll stay all night?”
The space between the slats of Severus’ ribs seemed to vanish, leaving exorbitant bone, overdense flesh, and nothing to use for the next jump of his heart. His forehead creased; he parted his mouth. He could mince words more finely than nettles; he could shape the pitch and timbre of his voice to coax souls into bottles—but no power in the world could aid him in the transcription of his intent into sound.
“Hey,” Harry said, unexpectedly cutting off Severus’ contemplation of the impossible. He was at Severus’ chin, holding his pyjama shirt, a vague sideways tilt to his lips that allowed Severus’ ribcage to unknit. “Aren’t—you—” Harry spoke haltingly as he tugged on the shirt and for a second there was only a wild tuft of hair bobbing at Severus from a stretching collar and two cotton sleeves wrestling with the air. “—going to get ready too?”
Severus stirred; he nodded and arose.
“Let me help,” Harry said quickly as Severus turned to unfasten the front of his robe. Severus’ chest leapt oddly, as if the boy’s palms had never fluttered there, as if the boy’s fingers had never indented the narrow folds or picked apart the slim buttons. But they had, on occasions uncounted—and then, Harry did something entirely new.
“You’ve got knots,” he said quietly. His hand had formed a rough-toothed comb and it was pushing slowly down the slope of Severus’ scalp, dragging through the snarls to Severus’ shoulder. Half-unbuttoned, the robe’s seam there was loosening from the white sleeve underneath. Harry cocked his head; Severus looked down past the blotch of his own nose to absorb the creature he loved so well, and unwell.
“It seems so,” Severus answered.
“I never noticed before,” Harry said. “I’ll undo them?” His gaze settled on Severus’ eyes, determined, hesitant. Severus slid an arm around the boy, bringing Harry closer; he saw Harry blinking against his outgoing breath.
“Please,” Severus said.
Harry raised his hand to Severus’ hair, to begin again.
This is so heart wrenching. I usually stay away from fics that deal with infidelity and ended up reading the first one in lack of other reading and couldn't stop. Now I have to go read something comforting and wait for the next part (which I hope will be coming). Thank you for sharing this.
Thank you so much for reading! I'm glad you gave it a try despite the infidelity--I just find it so fascinating and properly angsty that I can't help but be drawn to infidelity fics! I actually saw this as the last part--and a hopeful ending; I hope you found your comfort fic! :D
Oh no.. it leaves everything so damaged and sad :( I should probably stay away of angst that doesn't have a promise of a happy ending rather than infidelity.
I did, went to read favourite parts of few long fics :D
At the risk of saying something inappropriate, you do Infidelity very well. I am actually not sure who I feel more sorry for - Harry or Severus. (or even Lucius, in some small way. B/c there is no way in h-ll he's getting Snape, but I admire the man for trying!)
Thank you so much! :D Infidelity is one of my favorite themes, but it's not especially popular in my pairings (Harry cheating on Ginny doesn't quite count, in my view), so I'm really happy you feel like this rings true! I'm impressed you feel sorry for Lucius--I always feel a certain degree of sympathy for the Other Man in these infidelity fics, but in readers the loyalty to their OTP tends to win out! :D
|Date:||September 3rd, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC)|| |
Wow, I love it. So human and brutal and tender and angst filled.
Thanks so much for reading! I'm a big angst fan, it's true, and you can't get it any better than infidelity fic. I'm happy you enjoyed this!
|Date:||October 15th, 2010 07:43 am (UTC)|| |
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