December 31st, 2008
|dracofiend||11:01 am - Spanner in the Works|
Title: Spanner in the Works
Word Count: ~9600
Summary: Severus had never had the remotest glimmer, the barest inkling, that Potter could--much less would--employ this precise route for disarraying Severus' day-to-day routine.
Author's Notes: Written for the 2008 Snarry Holidays.
The Night Before
"I am on the very verge of marching down there myself to knock some sense into your mulish skull," Minerva was saying, thrusting her face ever deeper into the flames. "This is an unparalleled honor, bestowed not by the Ministry, which I know you abhor, but by your former students! I hadn't believed it possible to be more flabbergasted than the day I received their letter proposing an endowment in your name, and yet, here I am, exhorting you to attend the inauguration banquet they've so generously put on--FOR YOU!"
Severus merely smiled at the proof he was marking. "Threats of bodily injury have no effect, Minerva." He refreshed his quill in the red inkpot. "You may try again, though, if you like."
She made a closed-mouth sound of frustration. Even through the crackle of the fire, it sounded broguish to Severus' ear.
"You're determined, then, not to come?" she continued, tightly. "You remain unmoved by the pleas of those whom you unwillingly tormented--never gainsay me on that point Severus, I know you better--because you don't wish to have your evening routine disturbed?"
"That's a fair summation," Severus replied, eyes skimming over the text. "Barring the obvious inaccuracy you mentioned."
"Fine." Embers flew from Severus' grate. "I've done quite enough cajoling for one evening. If you are adamant about remaining forever a misanthropic old fool then I'm powerless to stop you."
Severus' lip quirked wryly; he still hadn't looked up. "I am," he said, scribbling a footnote. "Though I expected your efforts to be rather better than that."
Minerva's mouth thinned into its habitual flat line. "Very well," she huffed after a few moments. "I'll re-allocate a quarter of the funds earmarked for Quidditch to Potions."
"Impossible! A quarter."
"Half. You realize you could've arranged this yourself rather than having to endure these distasteful negotiations, if you had simply returned to the post?"
"I do, but then I would've had to arrange it myself, and these are not negotiations. Three-quarters."
"I cannot, Severus! The Quidditch curriculum plays a vital role in students' daily lives, and I'm obliged to consider the attention devoted to it by alumni, the school's governors--"
"Headmistress, the notion of a Quidditch 'curriculum' is absurd and if you are unable to adopt my view on this matter, then I'm afraid you and the tormented creatures that flabbergasted you so thoroughly must endeavor to enjoy the festivities without me."
Minvera didn't answer, and Severus could barely suppress his smirk--he bent closer to his parchment to concentrate on the proof.
Scritch, went his quill. Blot, went his blotter.
"Och!" cried Minerva. "You insufferable--! Three-quarters then, and I hope you're pleased!"
Severus finished the sentence he was writing, then raised his head. "Quite pleased, thank you," he replied with all due courtesy. "Now, where is this detestable event being held?"
The Morning After
Severus awoke with his eyes sealed closed and a ball of dread already coiled in his stomach, on which he lay. Something was clearly amiss, but having been caught in similar straits before, he refrained from starting up and thrashing about like an eel in a trawl. He focused on breathing evenly and immediately noted the inordinate pounding from within his head, as if small boulders were being rolled to and fro in the space above his eyesockets. This, though, appeared to be the worst of the pain. Severus was comforted. He carefully raised his eyelids--they were sticking--a fraction, to observe what appeared to be a floor strewn with clothing. Another fraction wider, and Severus had verified this fact. The floor was carpeted beige, and it was indeed strewn.
It was not his floor. It was, however, his clothing.
And that--Merlin save him--was a hand slinking over his thigh.
Wholly disoriented by the absence of a wand or other weapon in that hand, Severus let it slink as he rapidly recollected prior events. It was but the work of a moment. In the next, Severus was prepared to commence thrashing like an eel.
"Potter," he said instead. "Remove your hand from my thigh. At once." He'd started out raspy but finished steely-clear, and the response was instantaneous. The slinking hand halted, clutched an unthinkable area beneath Severus' buttock, then was withdrawn with such haste that the mattress springs positively squealed as Potter slipped from the bed and thudded to the floor with a hearty fuck. Unhappily for Severus, Potter had taken the comforter with him.
Severus remained sprawled with his cheek pressed to Potter's wrinkled pillow, his eyes opened to Potter's carpet, and his bare back exposed to Potter's bedroom air. Deliberately, he turned and raised himself onto his elbows. The mattress groaned again, in sympathy with Severus.
"Oh fuck, Professor--" Potter stared across at him, swaddled in the comforter that he'd bunched against his chest. He was standing several feet from the edge of the bed, almost to the wall, looking ready to run despite his disheveled state, his uncorrected vision, and the ungainly clumps of goosedown saddling his hips.
"Yes?" Severus queried coldly when several seconds had passed, with Potter's expression unchanged. Severus was intensely aware of his own unfetteredness, as well as the marked draft from behind him to the left.
"Um," Potter finally said, in a strangled tone. "Hi."
Severus stared back at Potter's anxious face and taut narrow shoulders; then, with none of the speed that Potter had displayed, he shifted his legs to the side of the bed and bent to retrieve his pants. After putting them on, Severus set to work on his shirt and trousers with measured movements, in stark contrast with the previous evening, which he could recall with more than ample clarity.
"I, um," Potter started, when Severus was in the midst of shrugging his waistcoat on. "I'll go make us breakfast."
"It won't be necessary for my sake," Severus snapped. The business of fastening his waistcoat was fortifying; when he was through he accio'ed his robes from where they’d been discarded near the open bedroom door.
"Um, okay," Potter answered. He hadn't moved from where he stood, with his ridiculous hair and his ridiculous comforter. "So--are we--?" Potter hesitated. "Icallyoulater?"
Severus sneered and punched an arm through a sleeve. "Whatever for?"
"To--" Potter responded quickly. Severus glanced over in the midst of buttoning his robes, with the intent of stoppering whatever drivel was sure to leak from Potter's mouth next. "--nothing," Potter finished. "Never mind."
Potter looked defiant, and crushed. Severus decided this was adequate and swept to the bedroom door, refusing to think about whether the boy would follow.
"Good day," he said, passing through it. He strode through the living room to the front hallway and let himself out.
The Morning After The Morning After
Following a sequence of deliberations more improbable than the events that had led him to Potter’s bed, Severus found himself at Potter’s doorstep, noting with displeasure the brass lion’s head that formed the knocker. Someone (presumably Potter) had adorned it with a miniature Santa Claus hat.
He pinched his lips and made forceful use of the knocker. The hat didn’t budge.
After several moments, Severus still could discern no sound from within—it didn’t seem likely that Potter would be out this early on a Sunday (what could he be doing? where could the fool boy be?). Severus tried again, doubly irritated at himself for being compelled to come here (but in vain had he struggled!). Voices and crunching footsteps came from behind him—Severus whirled around. At the far end of the otherwise silent street, Potter was rounding the corner. By his side was Hermione Granger.
With a flick of his wand Severus had Disillusioned himself and leapt away from the door—there was no need for Granger to be privy to the conversation he wished to have with Potter. The pair proceeded up the path, engaged in earnest discussion. They were carrying coffee cups and crinkly paper bags, and as they approached, Severus observed the purple shadows ringing Harry’s eyes. Granger was frowning concernedly.
“It’s only been a day—he’s probably still, hm, out-of-sorts about it as well.” She glanced at Potter. “Are you going to go talk to him?”
“No,” Potter answered vehemently.
“But shouldn’t you tell him—”
“Trust me, I told him plenty the other night!” Potter interrupted fiercely, which, Severus thought, was a fair statement. He watched Potter shut his eyes with a sigh; the defeat in the slump of his shoulders was obvious. “Anyway, he wouldn't care. I should never have—ugh, and now—I can’t figure out how any of this could’ve happened!”
Granger nodded. “Well, I won’t say I wasn’t surprised—I mean, I noticed you sat with him all night at the banquet but I thought it was just because you, er, wanted to talk to him; I had no idea that you’d actually—”
“Okay, can you not say it aloud?” Potter cut in, agitated. He sucked in a breath. “I’m sorry—I don’t mean to be such an arse. It’s just—Snape—and then when you told me about—you know, it’s a bit of a shock. Before today, I hadn’t the faintest clue that guys could even get pregnant!”
Severus saw Harry look down at his own abdomen, then look up with a feeble grin. “Hard to believe, huh?” he said to Granger. What she replied, Severus would never know. He Disapparated, taking care not to give away his presence by suppressing the loud crack, and his violent urge to be sick on the spot.
Back in his quarters, Severus regained himself by setting upon the proof he'd been marking when Minerva had interrupted him. A night of passion with Potter was laughable in itself--Severus would've doubted his own memory of it, except the utter degradation of waking in Potter's bed was still fresh, and undeniable. But a child! Potter would have a child? His child! It was impossible--Potter was little more than a child himself! There must be some mistake; surely Severus had misinterpreted...There was a faint snap!; his quill nib had broken. Severus threw the quill across the room with a snarl; it stuck in the carpet, upright, near the closet. He rubbed at his face, closing his eyes as he did so, feeling the sag of the skin beneath his fingertips. He'd been pushing along so admirably, taking up a post as professor emeritus in order to retain his lodgings at the school; he'd begun publishing in journals, not only on potions, but on dark artefacts as well. He interacted sparingly with students, teaching a Potions class only at the Headmistress' special (and rare) request, and he had all of Hogwarts' facilities and laboratories at his disposal. Whilst it was far from an ideal arrangement, Severus found it suitable for his purposes, and thought it highly unlikely that any more favorable circumstances should fall to him. He had therefore planned to pass the remainder of his life in this manner.
And now, there was Potter.
Severus let his hands drop to the parchment; he pushed himself from the chair to fetch the quill, and something to drink. It should not have been unexpected, he thought as he picked up the decanter. Potter had long been an irritant, a hazard, a fouler-up of Severus' plans, both large and small. And yet, Severus had never had the remotest glimmer, the barest inkling, that Potter could--much less would--employ this precise route for disarraying Severus' day-to-day routine. If only the blasted banquet had been an hour shorter, his patience an hour longer; if only his mood had been less sour, and Potter's, less--amusing; if only he had recognized the curious gleam in Potter's smile when the boy had murmured an inebriated I'm bored (though to be fair, Severus wasn't particularly familiar with smiles of such a nature)...
Severus sipped his drink and settled into an armchair in front of the fireplace, to determine, in orderly fashion, the best course of action for confronting Potter about the possibility (false! surely!) of their child.
The Time In Between
Severus entered the Defense class toward the end, without bothering to shut the door quietly behind him. It clanged loudly, interrupting the guest lecturer's rapid speech and stilling his wildly waving wand.
"Can I help you?" Potter asked, a definite frost in his tone.
"I'd like a word," Severus replied, surveying the grubby lot in front of him. They had turned round to stare at Severus. Unsurprisingly, he didn't miss this one whit. "At your earliest convenience."
Potter's jaw tightened visibly. "Right," he replied. "Come back when I'm through in..." he paused to consult the clock. Severus took the opportunity to say, "If you'd be so kind as to see me in my office," before exiting the room.
Severus was searching his bookshelves for a volume of Prendergast's--damned elf must've misplaced it--when a single sharp knock sounded on his door. He noted the time (it was nearly dinner; Potter's stint at teaching was to have ended hours ago) and opened it with a wave of his hand.
"Mr. Potter," he said, flicking through pages until he found the one he needed. "I'm quite obliged; I had almost given up hope of seeing you at all--you must be terribly busy." He turned to face the door with a sleek smile. It was still ajar, and Potter was standing in front of it in a way that reminded Severus forcibly of the boy's years as a student.
"What do you want?" Potter asked, sounding every bit as mutinous as he had in Severus' classes.
Severus had returned his eyes to the book, apparently scanning the text for the relevant passage. In truth, he was--gathering himself for what promised to be a distinctly awkward exchange. More than a week's worth of ruminations on the subject had done little to accustom Severus to the notion of Potter, pregnant, and by his--er, hand.
"Well?" Potter demanded, shifting. Severus jerked his head up, his features carefully arranged. "I thought perhaps we'd discuss the--affair of last week's banquet. That is, following the banquet," Severus amended. "I understand there may have been certain unintended, and certainly unanticipated, ramifi--"
"You said you didn't want to talk about it," Potter interrupted. His voice was composed, though the effort showed.
"There was nothing to talk about immediately after the fact," Severus pointed out. Potter obviously failed to see the reasonableness of this assertion because his brows knitted thickly and he swallowed.
"What, you needed time to consider other options? Not sure whether I'd be worth the trouble for more than a night?" he asked, his lip crooking in a brittle smile. "You could've firecalled, or owled, if you had something to say--or god forbid, you could've stopped by. It's not as if you don't know where I live."
Severus pursed his mouth; he had, truth be told, gone to Potter's home no less than five times in the eleven days prior, in addition to the visit during which he'd inadvertently learned of the putative pregnancy. On those occasions when he had given indications of his presence (four), Potter had not opened the door. Severus did not bother to correct Potter's misimpression, and did not bother to inquire as to what in blue blazes Potter had been up to on each of those instances.
"Firecalls and owls are absolutely out of the question," Severus said abruptly, contemplating Potter's reaction to media coverage of such an issue. "If the press were to get wind of this--"
"Is that what you're scared of?" Potter broke in with a harsh clipped laugh. "In case you hadn't noticed, Professor," he continued, stressing the last, "I haven't been talking to the press about my private life, and I don't mean to start doing it just because we had a one-off, right?"
Severus flipped his hand up in a curt gesture; Harry jumped as the door slammed shut behind him.
"That must explain why your every move is shrouded in perpetual mystery," Severus said, unable to keep his lip from curling. The boy was a complete imbecile! If he left Potter to his own devices for a single year, what would be the result? More critically, why should he be concerned? The question brought Severus' attention back to the thorny topic at hand. "Sit down," he ordered. He motioned at a chair distractedly, so intent on weighing his next words and judging whether they were fit that he failed to notice the way the chair had shot out toward Potter, or the way Potter had cast it aside with little more than a glare.
"No, thank you,” Potter returned, voice cracking. “You don’t have to worry, right? Your secret’s safe with me. Now I’ve really got to get going.”
Severus had expected Potter to be unreasonable, but he was somewhat taken aback at Potter's vehemence. It was too soon, surely, for symptoms to have manifested…? He made a mental note to himself to consult the authorities on male pregnancy—the library would have appropriate resources. Meanwhile, Potter was spinning about and marching to the door. He wrenched at the handle and jerked, to no avail.
“I’ve had enough, Snape!” he shouted, jutting his chin out furiously over his shoulder.
“Really,” Snape murmured abstractedly. "If I remember, you were of the opposite view when last we spoke." Those reference materials demanded his prompt attention—he seemed to recall that Savoyard’s Guide to All Aspects of Male Gestation was said to be fairly comprehensible to the uninitiated.
There was a sharp bang—Potter was punching through the lock on his front door, eyes crazed, wand out. Severus closed on him angrily.
“How dare you—” he hissed, whipping his own wand out to repair the damage—but Potter was gone, stomping his way down the corridor, peaks of unruly hair wavering in the torchlight.
Severus was vastly irked. Potter's abbreviated visit had been followed by a conversation with Minerva that was less vitriolic but also five times as long, and no less vexing than the one he had embarked upon, but not finished, with Potter.
"Was that Harry I passed in the stairwell just now?" she'd greeted him. "He seemed to be in a terrible rush. Fairly fleeing." She'd fastened an austere eye on Severus. "You're to blame, no doubt. Truly, Severus, you hardly see him anymore--is meager civility too burdensome a request?"
"When have you known me to be civil?" he'd answered, not bothering to look up from the refreshment he was pouring himself. She sniffed, and Severus raised his glass to her briefly before tipping it to his lips. Her mouth flattened; she marched across his room and helped herself to the decanter.
"You ought to make an effort," she said in her sternest tones. "Else I fear your triviality may begin to show itself." Minerva turned about, looking dry as her drink. Severus merely swirled his glass and dropped into an armchair, to await the inevitable imposition on his good nature. "I've noticed Harry has, at least, overcome his initial prejudice against you rather admirably, given that it wasn't entirely unfounded--unlike your own silly attitude. Even you must see that the boy suffers the attention--"
"I must see no such thing," Severus interrupted, "and I'd be gravely disappointed if you've imposed yourself on me for the pleasure of my company. Unless it was the mediocre liquor you sought?"
Minerva threw him a prune-like look. "Of course not," she replied, easing herself, to Severus' dismay, into the chair across from him. "I have a request." Severus didn't stifle his groan. "After the next fortnight," she continued unperturbed, "Maureen will be unable to continue lessons for those of her students in the fourth year and above for the remainder of the academic year, and unfortunately, the gentleman who had agreed to take over that portion of her duties informed me two days ago of his most regrettable encounter with a nest of African Stinging Ants. It will be some time before he's in a position to open his eyes, much less to teach a class of any kind."
"You ask too much of me," Severus said grumpily. "A fortnight isn't near enough time to prepare for the rest of the year. And with O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. revisions--"
"I'm hopeful that you won't be needed in this capacity for more than a month; two, at the most," Minerva answered, sounding far too decisive for Severus' taste. "I only need a few weeks to turn up other suitable candidates--"
"I'm assuming that you've already pursued whatever options may be more immediately at hand?" Severus snapped, silently cursing the Defense professor for her blatant abrogation of responsibility. "What is the matter with Whitling that she requires such a lengthy leave? She seemed in perfect health the last time I saw her."
"She is indeed in perfect health," Minerva said, finishing her drink in a bold swallow. "The purpose of her leave is to ensure she remains so. As you would recall had you been present for the last staff meeting, which I had strongly advised you to attend, Maureen is expecting a blessed event, and the Dark magic exercises used in the advanced Defense classes could have ill effects on the child. Be assured I only came to you as a last resort--in fact I'd been all but certain that Harry would take it on."
Severus' head shot up as if yanked by a string. "Potter? He refused? Did he say why?"
Minerva looked surprised by Severus' sudden interest in the conversation. "No, he didn't. He was rather apologetic about it--"
"And you did explain the circumstances of Whitling's departure?" Severus asked sharply.
"Yes, I told him it was merely a temporary arrangement," Minerva said, still nonplussed. "Is there something wrong?"
"I'm just astonished that Potter would turn down a woman in need," Severus muttered, glaring back down at his glass. "Particularly one in Professor Whitling's condition. Not exactly the soul of heroism anymore, is he?" He maintained a healthy sneer as dread crawled over his belly like a horrendous steroidal squid. Surely Potter couldn't be--but he wouldn't risk exposure to Dark magic any more than Whitling if he were also--
Minverva's clipped sigh--more a shot of air through her nostrils--brought Severus from his burst of controlled panic. "Had he been able to accept, I'm sure he would've done so a good deal more graciously than you," she said, setting down her glass and rising to her feet.
"He didn't give the faintest indication of exactly why he's unable--"
"No, Severus, he did not and I had no desire to pry!" Minerva cut in impatiently. "Now if you insist on making my life much more difficult than it already is at the moment then perhaps some other of our colleagues might be more accommodating, despite being markedly less qualified than you--"
Severus shook his head. "No need," he muttered, striving to appear as ungracious as possible. There was no point in encouraging this sort of behavior from the woman. "I am, as ever, at your disposal, Headmistress." He creased his face in a mock-smile, to which Minerva responded with an acidic one of her own. But her tone, when she said "Thank you, Professor," was only exasperated, and grateful.
So after a brief supper Severus found himself skulking about the library stacks, more vastly irked than he had expected to be, what with the lesson plans he had to write up and the possibility of parenthood darkening his every thought. He tried to remind himself, as he plucked volumes from the shelves with an abandon that would've had Pince in seizures, that nothing was confirmed. But Severus' instinct, honed by a lifetime of imagining the worst and being right, told him that his years of being shackled to Potter were far from done. In all likelihood there would be a child, and Potter would want to keep it, and there was no chance whatsoever of Severus allowing Potter to rear their child according to his own reckless whims--the very idea had Severus scowling. Why, Potter hadn't even the sense to speak coherently about it to Severus--how on earth could he be expected to shoulder a task of such magnitude, alone? The proposition was ludicrous. Severus dismissed it out of hand.
He pulled a last leathered spine from the shelf of Ds--Baringer's Primer on Wandless Defense (12th Edition, Revised)--and, books stacked high in the crook of one arm, whisked himself grimly towards the shelf of Ps. The materials on male pregnancy wouldn't be extensive there, but Severus thought it prudent to begin at the beginning. An introduction to the essentials would be useful before he plunged headlong into the intricacies of manwombs and prenatal care. He spied the correct aisle and strode through the shelves--and was startled to a halt by the sound of soft voices from several yards ahead.
"What about this one?" It was Potter. As always. "It's got color pictures. See here, it doesn't look too bad."
Severus ducked and stretched to see past the ridges of books; his pulse was inexplicably brisk. He stepped quickly to one end where the less-imposing volumes were kept, affording him a partially-obscured view of the speakers. Ronald Weasley's face was a portrait of disgust.
"Sorry, but that looks like a bloke crapping out a baby. That's sick."
"Ron," came a decidedly warning tone. Ah, Granger, censorious as usual. "Don't be like that."
"He's not crapping it out," Potter continued, pushing the book across to Weasley. "See, the baby emerges from a special opening that--"
"Ugh, don't say 'opening'!" Weasley hissed. "And put that away, it's bloody awful." Severus couldn't see Potter's face, but the book was drawn back hastily.
"Sorry," Potter said. "Look, here's a list of stuff to do before the baby really starts to, er, show..." The tentative undertone had Severus momentarily clenching the books in his arm. "So stomach exercises, that makes sense, flushing draughts of lovage and heartsease, those shouldn't be hard to find..."
"Can I see?" Granger asked, leaning across the table. Potter turned the book about. Severus suspected it was the very same he had intended to examine--particularly now that it was clear. Potter was with child. Their child. He was dimly aware that his fingers had gone cold. He reminded himself that the revelation could've been far ghastlier than this--at least he'd had a chance to become acquainted with the idea. Now he could arrange the binding ceremony with a minimum of fuss, and more significantly, avoid keeling over during the recitation of oaths that would secure him to Potter--and Potter to him. Severus steeled himslf against an abrupt moment of dizziness.
"Hmm...it says the draughts and other supplements are best when prepared fresh," Granger was saying. "You're supposed to make them yourself." She looked at Potter expectantly, who reached for the volume.
"Oh, okay," he replied, bending over the page. "Well, I guess I can do that. Are they hard?"
Severus bristled; he noted Granger's dubious glance toward Weasley. "Actually," she began slowly, "I was thinking that it might be a better idea if you asked Professor Snape to help..."
Severus' brow arched of its own accord. Potter's back stiffened. "Hermione," he said, almost too low for Severus to hear. "I told you, he doesn't--I made a mistake, okay? I'm not about to throw myself in his path every chance I get--"
"I know, but think of the baby--"
"Snape isn't the only potions maker in the world," Potter retorted. "I'm sure there are plenty of them out there; I'm sure I can even find one that makes house calls, so no worries, right? I'll get someone good. And it says you don't even need to start taking them right away--"
"No, but it might be better," Granger said firmly. "Pregnancy isn't an easy thing, Harry, if you can't already tell." She stared resolutely at Potter.
"All right, you're right," he sighed, looking back at both of them. "I'll go ask someone at St. Mungo's--they'll know the real experts." He slid from his chair, then paused, pushing his chair back in. "I'm glad you guys are here," he said, a tinge of contrition in his voice. "And I'll get the best draughts money can buy, okay?" He went round the table to embrace his friends. Severus saw his faint smile; he thought the boy looked fatigued. "See you later," Potter said, and headed down the center aisle. With a pass of his wand, Severus concealed himself and his Defense books, and set off after him.
"Potter," he called, striding around assorted students as they neared the main hall. Potter was headed toward a Floo. He turned, his form becoming guarded the instant he caught sight of Severus. "I must speak with you before you go." He advanced on Potter with great purpose, so as to scatter the nearby onlookers.
"You already did," Potter answered rigidly without changing expression.
Severus lifted a brow. "Hardly. I recall exchanging pleasantries; then you blasted a hole through my door and scampered off--"
"So that's what that was," Potter laughed without humor. "Pleasantries. Strange, all I remember is you telling me I'm an idiot, which I suppose I ought to be used to by now, and then me deciding I didn't have to take that sort of thing from you anymore. And I still don't." He turned back to the Floo. On reflex, Severus snatched at his arm, and caught it.
"It is imperative that we speak," he said lowly, cognizant of the inquisitive eyes that were being trained on them from all sides. "In private." He cast a meaningful glance at the boy's stomach--tried to picture it distended, carrying their child--then returned his gaze to Potter's face. Potter was looking back at him, mouth pale with loathing.
"So that's what you want," he half-whispered. Severus blinked--the boy appeared truly anguished. "You think because I--" Harry pressed his mouth shut and his eyes were bright, as if he were accusing Severus of--of what? The boy was thinking of that night, Severus knew; and the things he'd said that night. "It doesn't mean I'll just come when you call," he finished. The side of his mouth twitched up in a misfit of a sneer. "In fact I'd really rather not see you again, so you'll have to find yourself another fuck. And stay away from the kids." He jerked free of Severus' grasp, which had slackened, out of disquiet, to nearly nothing.
"Potter," Severus growled, reacting when Harry's sleeve slipped from his hand. "As usual, you haven't the slightest idea of what you're talking about!" Severus couldn't help but raise his voice, though he had no intention of announcing his excessively private feelings on the subject to the fifth- and sixth-years in audience. "I insist that you--Harry!"
But the ridiculous creature had dashed the powder into the grate and jumped in with both feet, leaving Severus glaring at the fireplace and resolving to learn, immediately, whether Floo trips posed any risk for father or child.
"Good day," Pomona Sprout said, somewhat breathlessly, from behind the spiky red-leafed limbs she was pruning. "I don't often see you roundabout here these days; I fancy owl order has kept you well-stocked?" She smiled, though she kept her eyes on the plant. Severus wasn't certain how something so potted could appear so ominous--but he left the incredulity out of his voice as he nodded in return. "Yes, more or less. Of course, with regard to the quality of certain more commonplace items, your greenhouses have no compare in the catalogues." At this, Pomona did raise her eyes. The plant sensed its chance and swiped at her; she foiled it with a lightning-quick snip of the shears and grinned.
"Only because mine are within walking distance, eh?" she said, cutting off a retailiatory shoot.
"Just so. Therefore, I have a request," Severus replied, disproportionately pleased at being able to say this, despite the fact that he wasn't addressing Minerva. "I'd like to take a few clippings--nothing exotic, only of garden-variety plants." He indicated the small basket hanging from his left hand.
"Be my guest," Pomona said, jabbing at another rebellious set of spikes. "What will you be gathering?"
"Oh, a few herbs and the like. Good day." Severus moved off in the direction of the lovage.
He had considered, over the course of the previous night, sending Potter an owl, to rectify the fool's misapprehensions, because it seemed his intentions vis-a-vis a binding ceremony might require some introduction (despite the fact that such a ceremony was the logical thing to do). He had gone so far as to sit at his desk, shove aside a half-formed lesson plan, and drip a quill over parchment. Then he'd regained the slice of sanity that 4 a.m. tended to strip from a man and put the quill down, because a letter would be fruitless. The boy had been angry; he would incinerate it unopened, or disbelieve what he'd read. Severus had sat, frowning; then he'd gotten dressed, warmly, before leaving school grounds. He'd Disapparated to Sydney, where the bookshops were open and full of excellent materials on male pregnancy, as well as nettlesome shopgirls who took egregious delight in congratulating him (entirely unsolicited!) at every turn.
He stepped around the masses of lovage spreading thickly green to his shoulder, looking closely at the yellow flowers, the stalks, the saw-edged leaves, before selecting a section for his basket. He could sense the tiredness behind his eyes--one didn't perform transcontinental Disapparation on a lark--but now he was in a position to brew the draughts for Harry, which would be unquantifiably superior to whatever rubbish the boy might purchase. Severus walked to the other side of the lovage bed, inspecting the plants quickly and carefully. Fortunately, this one wouldn't take long to brew; he expected to have it decanted and delivered before noon.
Severus finished collecting his ingredients and began winding his way around the wild tentaculas to return to the castle.
"That wasn't much at all!" Pomona said cheerily, popping up from a thick trunk of tentacula, a bucket of soil in one arm. "You're welcome to more." She eyed his basket and immediately Severus wished he'd thought to cover the contents. "Why, you've only got a few bundles of heartsease, masterwort...hmm, lovage--and is that tansy...?" She trailed off and raised a questioning eye, heavy with the sort of question Severus most decidedly wouldn't answer.
"The Headmistress has asked me, at short notice, to take on some classes," he said. He offered a curt nod and swept past, leaving her to her own conclusions.
Severus hadn't settled on a particular response to expect from Harry; rather, he'd envisioned a number of reactions. Harry might send it back; he might pretend confusion and scribble some nonsensical demand for explanation. He mightn't reply to the owl at all, in which case Severus planned to continue sending the draughts, and all other necessities within his power to provide, until the deuced child was born. Certainly gratitude was too much to be hoped for. In any event, Severus was in a fine mood--exhausted from producing the potion, deeply concerned by the shape of things to come, aggravated at the way his mind's eye was fixed on the sad twist of Harry's mouth the last time they'd spoken--and to add yet another layer of grief, he was exorbitantly behind on lesson planning. Thus, he was ill-prepared for it when there came a knock on his door, which he abstained from answering, and it was followed by the sound of his wards being forcefully pried apart.
He leapt to the door and flung it wide, wand ready.
"What is this?" Potter marched in, thrusting the flask at Severus. "Were you spying on me?"
"You could've seriously injured yourself by tampering with those wards," Severus returned, barely able to speak for his anger, "not to mention the--"
"How long were you there?" Potter practically shouted. His whole body shook. "Why are you doing this? Is it that amusing to you, saying you want to talk but then only to laugh at me, following me around so I can't fucking get you out of my mind, sending me this shit to tell me you've been watching? Is it supposed to be payback for when I was a kid? Or is it some kind of bizarre power trip?"
Severus, at a loss, remained still where he stood. Keeping silent was typically a wise course of action in such circumstances, and also the easiest.
"I don't know what you're playing at," Harry heaved, after Severus had allowed the pause to continue unbroken, "but it's a poor game and I think you're a fucking sadistic bastard who--if you would just stop--" He faltered and paused; looked away and took a breath and when he began again he was strained but not shouting. "I know you wish nothing had happened with us but I can't go back and change it so if you could leave me alone, that would be--I think it'd be best."
Severus had located a strand of coherence by this time and was able to reply, with perfect dignity, "I disagree. Come in."
Harry's gaze had darted up and he seemed ready to jump back from the door, but Severus was determined to have this conversation no matter how difficult or discomfitting he found it. He touched the boy's hand, which remained clenched around the bottle. "Please come in," he said, entreating.
Harry's look was troubled, distrustful as he hesitated in the doorway. His face worked for an instant; Severus perceived it to be a critical juncture and withdrew into the room, gesturing at the chairs by the fireplace as he did so. "If you would care to sit down...?" he said, going to his little shelf of liquors, for the safety of habit. The glass clinked gently as he removed the stopper. "Can I offer you a--no, of course not," he muttered under his breath, scowling at his own scattered state. "What am I doing?"
"That's what I'd like to know," Potter said behind him, which both unnerved Severus and relieved him. He replaced the stopper and picked up his drink unhurriedly, composing himself. Then he turned around. Potter had shut the door and was waiting, spine defensive, beside a chair. Severus looked at him steadily and took a slow sip. His thoughts flew, for an instant, down a thousand different paths, searching for the single best path to ease Potter's distress, and his own. They all ended in catastrophe. Severus forced himself to speak.
"Were you sincere in your expressions, the night we spent together?" he asked bluntly. Harry's eyes rounded; his skin pinked, his throat swallowed and he sucked in sharply and exhaled, and furrowed his forehead as if gathering strength to refute. Severus' stomach fell.
"Yes," Harry ground out. "You know I was."
"If I knew," Severus responded automatically, "I wouldn't have asked."
Harry's jaw flexed. "I thought there was more to you, that if I could just--" He gave Severus that distorted sneer again. "I should've known the cruelty wasn't an act even if most everything else turned out to be--I guess I really am a dunce, aren't I?" His features shifted unhappily. Severus felt his pulse rise.
"You regret it then," he murmured, holding his glass with whitened fingertips. "It's a critical point, so you'll forgive my inquiring, but if such is not the case, I had a proposal in mind," he continued, speaking softly, swiftly, because he had no wish to hear the boy's interjections. "You'll need care," he said. "I offer it. You'll need assistance; I offer it. You'll need companionship, affection--I offer these, and more. Some things should not be done alone, and in this regard, I ask you to consider a long-term arrangement; permanent, in fact. A binding. Between us."
Severus stopped. The glass in his hand was very near shattering. Harry's mouth had parted; he appeared confounded. "What?"
Severus' anxiety, extravagant, took the form of impatience. "It's a plain enough suggestion! A ritual binding, to formalize union and commitment! You're familiar with the concept, are you not, of sharing a home and the mundane affairs of life such as children with another? Or do you really intend to go on by yourself?"
Harry's frown deepened. "Wha--well, yes, I mean no, not forever but I do have friends, in fact Ron and Hermione are--and I--are you kidding?"
Severus smiled bitterly, turning away to surrender his drink to a shelf--the glass would not bear up. "I take it, then, that such an arrangement has not once crossed your mind, " he said. He commended himself on his unflinching tone. "I'm compelled to remind you that I protected and tended to you from the earliest days, and if it's in my nature to antagonize then it was all for the good. On that score you surely agree, in light of all the relevant circumstances." He fixed his eye on the line of his drink, curving slight and yellow against the clear facets. "But this is a momentous decision; perhaps you aren't so dunderheaded in these affairs as you can be elsewhere. Binding yourself to me--doubtless you'd be questioning your sanity not five minutes after. There must be legions of others who could fulfil the role in a more appropriate manner." This last was a lie; Severus was absolutely certain of it.
Harry merely blinked and gaped, as if stunned. After a few moments, Severus was obliged to say, dryly, "It's customary to give a sign of whether the proposal has met with favor, requires further thought, or must be declined."
The silence that ensued was almost unendurable. It became truly so when Harry finally replied. "I--you can't be serious," he said, stammering. "It's--I can't believe you. Are you serious? It's--I couldn't do that." He paused as if stupefied. "Bind? I couldn't. I mean, you don't even like me."
It was lost, then. Harry. The child. Perseverance Severus possessed in shovels and spades, but--not for this. The compression in his chest was distinguishable as the peculiar brand of sorrow he'd encountered once and had hoped, devoutly, never to feel again. Severus stared at the fireplace mantel and passed a grimace for a smile. "Like has nothing to do with it," he said. It was of no significance. He was well-versed in futility, falling short of the mark. At least this occasion was free of bloodshed or fatality. Severus reached for his drink and tossed back what was left. "However. I quite understand your choice. If you would be so good as to show yourself out." He moved to the decanter without looking up.
Harry's steps were maddeningly faint behind him, and Severus nearly mispoured his second drink when Harry spoke up from not a foot away.
"So--so you were in the library when I was talking to Ron and Hermione about--you know--and, um, you made this for me?" The flask floated into Severus' peripheral view, held up by an uncertain hand. Severus glanced at it and resumed readying his beverage. He had already decided to consume the full contents of the decanter.
"Was it," Harry said slowly, still hovering so damnably near, "was it because you thought I'd say yes? I mean, to your, er. Proposal?"
There was an airy numbness in Severus' head. He took a large mouthful of alcohol, to enhance it. "I realize you think me the most callous of men," he said roughly, "but I would've brewed that for you no matter your answer. The child's health requires it."
"Oh," Harry mumbled. The flask dipped from Severus' sight. "That's really. Um. Thank you."
Severus took another hefty swallow and continued to stare straight ahead at the mantel. He wondered how long this would last--he could, at some point, redirect his gaze to the grate, but eventually he would need to sit down. Or topple over. He didn't have a strong preference as to which.
"So, uh, if, say, I needed more of this stuff--"
"It's a flushing draught of lovage, Potter, get it right," Severus monotoned reflexively.
"--sorry, right, if I needed more flushing draught, you know, for the baby, then would it be okay if I came by here and--"
"I'll owl it to you directly," Severus said, tilting his glass again.
"Okay but really, I can come here to get it--"
"Don't trouble yourself."
"--and of course I'll pay for the cost of the--"
Severus set down his empty glass with a solid thunk. "Would you rob me of the smallest opportunity to provide for the child?" The rapid intake of drink must've bolstered him because he swiveled to glare at Harry in the face. "Do you imagine me to be completely unconcerned?"
Harry's mouth was open in shock. "I--well at first I didn't even know you knew, but yeah, I am kind of surprised that you'd be--"
"Taking an interest in my own child?" Severus was now unquestionably incensed. He could feel the blood rushing to his lungs, the air filling his throat and by god it was good because the fury would enable him to articulate without effort. "I may not be the dauntless champion of all good in this world but I--"
"Wait." Harry's eyes had gone enormous. "Your child?" He bit down on his lip with an indescribable expression, and the truth split through Severus like a dull-ended club. It wasn't his child. Potter had--but of course Potter had gone about with some other man--other men, in all probability, scads of them--Potter had gone and got himself in this way with one of them and the other party responsible had left Potter in the lurch, for Severus would've noticed it on the front page, most definitely, if Potter and this person were cheerfully anticipating the new arrival together. Unless Potter was shielding the man from the media?
"Who is he?" Severus demanded, the sounds grating painfully on his ear. Potter had been lying, out and out lying, when he'd said a few moments ago that his declarations were geniune--and Severus, riddled with his own accursed self-doubt, had been too preoccupied to see it. "Who's the father?" Severus barked. Whoever he was, Severus had already decided to kill him. He would polish off the rest of the decanter, then kill him.
Potter was looking confused and not inclined to answer, which was utterly unacceptable to Severus. He gripped the boy's shoulders and would've shaken teeth loose but for the necessity of handling him with care. "Who is the father?" Severus roared.
"What?" Potter gasped, pushing the flats of his hands against Severus' chest as if he could somehow wrench himself free, which he couldn't. "What are you talking--"
"Quiet!" Severus shouted. "Whose child are you carrying?"
Harry's wide eyes widened. "No one's!" he choked. "Ron's pregnant and Hermione's the mum!"
"I thought you knew!" Harry rushed on. "Weren't you listening to all that stuff about the baby? Didn't you hear Ron and Hermione talking? They were going on and on about breastfeeding and milk pumping and how men still can't do that so the whole process afterwards is a lot faster and there's less risk of infection and things going pear-shaped in--places--" He gulped in a great breath. "Were you not there for that?"
Severus' silence condemned him; the next second Harry's eyebrow was crooking in a most unflattering fashion. "So...this whole time you've been thinking that, what?" Harry asked, with Severus' grip sunk into place at his shoulderblades. "That I was pregnant? And--oh my god. Oh my god! You thought you'd--that we were--"
Severus couldn't move a muscle as Harry fell against him laughing, laughing as no untidy-haired, bespectacled, perfectly preposterous urchin ought ever to laugh.
The End (or, The Beginning of the Rest of Their Lives)
"It was only one time," Harry said. He sat in the chair across from Severus', and his eyes were downcast as he fiddled with his wand, poking it into the frayed hem of a sleeve. Severus caught the reminiscent smirk that played across his face. "Did you really think it could've happened with just the one time?"
Severus had tried to throw him out, of course, but in vain. His unmitigated mortification probably had something to do with it--it dampened his authority. "How richly you've been blessed with the folly of youth," he said in a grandly sour tone. "Just how many times do you suppose it requires?"
Harry's smirk, still aimed at his sleeve, lit into a bona fide smile. "I read in one of those books that it usually takes a year. Of, you know. Concerted efforts."
"It depends greatly on the specific individuals involved," Severus pointed out, "and their particular environments, their magical resonances, the compatibility of their magic, their desire to conceive...it's a complex variety of factors, Potter, it's not merely a matter of concerted efforts." He shut his mouth and stared moodily into the fireplace. How could he have been so thoroughly mistaken? He'd been poised to bind himself in a way he'd never before done; his conviction to do so had been unshakeable.
"That's how long it took them," Potter said mildly, toying with his cuff. "I had no idea they were doing it--well, I knew they were, er--they're married, so, yeah, but I mean I didn't know they were trying. Much less that Ron was the one who'd get. Um. Pregnant." He laughed to himself, shaking his head. "I thought they were joking when they first told me. When I realized they weren't, I almost passed out--I was that surprised."
Severus' features took on a dour dimension. That must've been the day he'd overheard them, Granger and Potter, from the front steps of Potter's house.
"But I don't think anyone could've been shocked as you," Potter went on. "If you could've seen your face! You had this look of--I can't explain it. It was beyond horror." Harry chuckled, and this time Severus permitted the sound to draw his gaze. The boy seemed intent on dismantling his sleeve; if he'd noticed Severus looking over, he didn't let on. The laughter faded into a soft smile, and then into another expression entirely. Severus thought it might be wistful.
"What in Merlin's name could possess Weasley to do such a thing," he snapped, to re-cast the curve of Harry's mouth. "It was Granger's idea?"
Harry's lips lifted, to Severus' liking. "It's Granger-Weasley," he informed Severus, still studying his hem, "and I don't think so. I know she was nervous about what it'd be like...I can't say I blame her. I think she was probably a little--not scared, exactly, but. Anyway, Ron said he'd do it." He shrugged a shoulder; the edges of his teeth glinted as he gave another brief smile. "He'd do anything for her, though. He really loves her."
Severus' sharp eye raked from Harry's averted face to his unremarkable fingers, worrying at what remained of the hem. Harry tore off a dangling string.
"I'd say his bravado got the best of him," Severus snorted. The fingers paused in tattered fabric as Harry finally tilted his head up, and the movement had Severus doing the same.
"Maybe," Harry grinned at him. He opened his mouth as if about to continue, then shook his head and closed it.
"What?" Severus said.
"Nothing," the boy answered, clearly trying not to smile.
"What?" Severus insisted.
Harry glanced sidelong back, then said, "It's just--for a second back there when you were ranting about your child--I had a sudden awful thought that it really was yours and that you and Ron had somehow--"
"Mr. Potter," Severus cut in scathingly, "I do not rant and your insinuation is too hideous to contemplate, much less to speak aloud."
This had Harry laughing again, which satisfied Severus rather well. "Yeah, I think you're right," Harry said. "Plus, I would've been horribly sad and jealous," he added in an overtly jesting manner.
"And yet you refused me without exception," Severus returned in similar vein.
His intent must've been unclear (damn his stoic self!) because Harry was flushing, turning away and jabbing hard at his sleeve. "Well I--that was really unexpected when you came out with that, I mean I had no idea that you'd been thinking of--although it makes a lot more sense now," Harry mumbled, bobbing his head as he reasoned, "if you'd thought that I was, um, having your baby." His face scrunched abruptly. "Okay, that sounds WAY weird--I'm not saying it again."
"Mind you don't," Severus put in, concurring whole-heartedly. An uncomfortable silence ensued.
"I believe I'll take advantage of your winsome nature," Severus began, "and satisfy myself as to one small point." Potter met his glance for a moment with a small smile, as if to acknowledge some sarcasm that wasn't there. Severus tasked himself with instilling rudimentary Legilimency in the boy at the earliest opportunity, then sallied forth with his question.
"Why didn't the offer merit consideration?" He kept his tone neutral--it was a perfectly legitimate query--though he found his gaze reverting to the fire. "Assuming that, consummate liar though you are"--that was facetiousness, Severus couldn't refrain--"you were being forthright as to certain...sentiments."
Harry adjusted his seat on the chair, and started plucking--to Severus' vague consternation--at his other sleeve. He was biting his lip.
"Yeah," he said slowly, with an equally slow nod. "Well. I could tell you were just being--I don't know. Nice." His mouth curved for an instant at the obvious humor, then he shrugged. "You were doing the honorable thing."
Severus grunted disbelievingly. "Making an honest man of you? Really. First, I've never done anything for the sake of honor, as it is a figment of some resourceful imagination, designed to exploit the hopelessly misguided, and second, you weren't aware of my"--he pursed his lips--"misunderstanding until after the suggestion had been made and rejected. Once more, Potter, and it should be truthful--or at the very minimum, plausible."
His challenge seemed to have rattled the boy, for Harry's shoulders tensed; he squashed himself into the chair as far from Severus as he could be. "I already told you," Harry answered, reluctance in every line of his figure. "It wouldn't be--fair. I wouldn't want you to--" He shook his head. "It wouldn't have worked."
"Ah," Severus murmured, sliding his eyes up to the boy's face, which revealed everything. "You were doing the honorable thing. That's plausible indeed." He let his gaze rest upon the boy, taking in the unkempt hair, the rumpled collar, the forlorn chin, the angled-away glasses. A strange and lovely sphere of laughter began swelling gently in his chest. "Idiotic, and entirely plausible."
"Right," Harry muttered, tearing a bit of lining from his sleeve and thumbing it to the floor. "Absolutely." He pushed himself from the chair and stumbled in the general direction of the door. "So now that that's settled, I should go home and be idiotic on my own time instead of wasting yours. Glad I could clear things--"
On the strength of his long stride, Severus cut short Harry's mumblings by blocking the way out.
"Of your diverse and inconceivable failings," Severus baldly stated, staring down, "your credulity takes the prize for most appalling. I can confidently say I have never seen its equal."
Harry had been startled off-balance, but he regained his footing quickly and made to sidestep Severus. "Narrowed it down to just one, did you?" He smiled as though his heart was breaking. "I didn't think that--"
Severus's hand darted out and caught the boy's wrist, which felt small through the sleeve. "Do you actually believe I would suggest binding with someone whom I don't even like?"
Harry didn't move; his eyes were large, almost fearful, Severus saw, when he stepped around to look into Harry's face. He hadn't released the boy's wrist and now he placed his other palm (carefully, lest his fingers be seen trembling) at Harry's neck. It was very warm. Severus' expression remained painstakingly calm.
"Do you?" Severus asked.
Harry didn't--couldn't--seem to reply as he looked up at Severus, in utter disconsolation. When Severus couldn't bear it an instant longer he slid his thumb to Harry's jaw and stroked across the skin. It brought Harry around him, his cheek to Severus' shoulder and his hair to Severus' ear. Severus felt the distinct points of fingertips dig into his back; he felt the press of Harry's rapid heart against him and he knew his own, pressed to Harry, must resolve all the boy's doubt.
"Severus," the boy said, muffled by Severus' shoulder. It made Severus jump a little--he wasn't used to that. "Yes?" he answered, when he had recollected himself. He adjusted his head so the unruly hair nestled his cheek.
"I thought you hated me."
Severus slipped his free arm around Harry. "Indeed I did," he replied. He gently touched Harry's jaw where it lay on his shoulder, so to raise the boy's face, so to kiss the boy's mouth.