April 5th, 2009
|dracofiend||11:07 am - March|
Summary: In like a lion, out like a lamb.
Harry looks out the window, through the slanted blinds. It's gray out there, misty, and the puddles are large. Some people like the rain—they say it's nice, to be warm and cozy with blankets in bed, with hot tea and a book, to be inside looking out, listening to it fall, fall, fall, faint and falling endlessly. They say it keeps the world green, bright, lively, for spring.
Harry thinks it makes the carpet smell wet. He thinks March is the cruelest month.
He half-heartedly tidies up the table by the couch. Ron and Hermione'll be here any minute. The conversation from yesterday unreels in his head.
"I've thought of something," he had said. The anxiety of that moment tightens his fingers now, on unopened mail—it had twitched his mouth into an unnatural smile then.
"Oh?" Severus hadn't looked round, or sounded particularly interested.
Harry had forged ahead. If he could've done it again he would've said something else—something harmless, about the viscosity of the potion. Instead Harry had suggested dinner, tacking on a "My treat," in an awful, throat-clearing, obvious manner.
Even then it hadn't been too late. Severus had agreed and jerked his head toward the caged owl, dozing on its perch. "Get the bird awake—I'll have cottage pie."
"I was thinking we'd go out," Harry had hastened to say.
Severus had shaken his impatient head and Harry could've saved himself still, even still. "This is wolfsbane, Potter—not, as you appear to believe, the potion that can brew and decant itself. I don't intend to abandon it for that quick-service horror you call a 'gastropub'—"
"I didn't mean there," Harry had said, sealing his fate. "I meant a proper restaurant. A nice one—anywhere you like—and it doesn't have to be now or anything, or even tonight—how's tomorrow for you? I was just reading about a place that supposedly does a terrific lamb shank—they use only local ingredients—thought you'd appreciate that—I could make us reservations…" The stiffness of Severus' posture had stopped him.
"Ah." Severus had straightened over his cauldron and wiped off his stirring rod. "I'm afraid I must decline." He'd turned away to a shelf of bottles along the wall.
Harry should've taken this defeat like a man, square on the chin and with a stiff upper lip—because then he wouldn't have blurted out, "But I really want to—I'm not just—"
"Why haven't you restocked the feverfew?"
"I've been working up the courage to ask you all week, all month, actually," Harry plunged on, grinning like a madman, trying in vain for humor, "and that's saying a lot, right? Since you've always said I've too much of that and not enough sense—courage, I mean—and I'd really like to—"
"Harry." Severus was looking down at the empty feverfew bottle in his palm. "I'm aware of what it is you'd like to do. I must decline." He'd turned around and, with perfect calm, handed Harry the bottle. "Now. If you please."
Harry shakes his head and tries not to think of how he'd re-filled the bottle with unsteady hands, mortified, face on fire, feeling about twelve years old and wondering how he could've been so completely wrong. He thought Severus had been…warming up to him, lately. In fact, he hadn't even disparaged Harry for the feverfew oversight. Well. It was a small enough comfort.
The doorbell rings—Ron and Hermione are here. Harry sighs and shoves the mail away somewhere and goes to answer.
"Hey guys," Harry says, putting up his usual smile as he opens the door.
Severus doesn't smile back.
"Oh! Professor—I—hi!" Harry finishes, sounding falsely cheery. He hears it but he can't help it; his heart's going too fast. "Come in!" He stumbles back a step, pulling the door with him with more force than it requires. It's instinct taking over—he's got no idea what he's doing. He kicks aside some shoes he forgot to put away, talking automatically through the rush of dizziness. "Sorry, it's a mess in here—how are you?—have a seat—can I get you anything—"
"No, thank you, apologies for the intrusion," Severus says briskly, standing just inside the door. "You're expecting guests—I should've owled—"
"No, it's fine," Harry interrupts quickly, "it's just Ron and Hermione, please, do sit down, here, let me make you some tea—" He's already in the kitchenette when Severus cuts in.
"Don't bother," he says, in a tone that makes it impossible to predict that he's about to ask Harry to dinner. But he does, with a mask-like, almost dubious sort of expression on his face. It throws Harry off—he's not sure he's heard right, so he says, somewhat unfortunately, "Erm, what?"
Severus' lips compress slightly; his shoulders straighten. Harry reacts instinctively and gets lucky this time.
"I'd love to," are the words that come out of his mouth.
"So, I've been wondering…" Harry begins, still toying with whether to ask it or not. Severus looks up from his steak after a moment, meeting Harry's eyes, then back to his plate when Harry doesn't go on. Severus takes a bite; so does Harry. Severus swallows and frowns.
"I believe you had a question."
Harry speeds up his chewing and smiles a little guiltily. He knows Severus hates incomplete thoughts when spoken aloud. An "oh, nothing" right now would be lethal, probably. He swallows.
"I've been wondering why you changed your mind. About dinner, I mean."
That was three weeks ago. This is their third date. It's a funny thing. Harry doubts Severus thinks of it this way, as a date. He doubts Severus has been counting.
Severus' lip curves up at one side as he cuts another piece of steak. "I've been wondering what possessed you to suggest it." He says this wryly, a touch mockingly.
Harry smiles and resists the urge to reach over. He settles for a shrug. "I thought it'd be nice." It's not exactly the truth—he thought it'd be awkward and embarrassing and painful as hell but there was nothing in the world he'd wanted to do more. Well. Almost nothing.
Severus' brow lifts a little, though he's not looking at Harry. Harry takes a hasty sip of wine. "And I was right," he says. "Right? So what about you?"
Severus looks up. He takes a deliberate forkful of potato, his forehead wrinkling as he averts his eyes to his meal. Eventually he says, "I realized I had nothing to lose."
"Ouch," Harry grins, knowing Severus is only kidding. "Pulling no punches, huh? That'll leave a mark." His grin widens as Severus levels a piercing look at him for a moment.
Severus drops his gaze. "Would you care to try the filet?" he asks brusquely. "It's been cooked to your liking." He doesn't wait for Harry's answer before beginning to cut a piece from the grill-darkened end. Harry watches him do it, protests at the second slice, accepts the bread plate from Severus that bears the best part of the filet. Harry tries it and nods.
"That's really good," he says, meaning it. Severus appears satisfied and returns to his vegetable medley, singling out the baby carrots for immediate consumption. Harry smiles without knowing it. He's in love.
That's probably why it's so bad, when Severus asserts that their relationship is purely professional. Granted, he says this to a journalist who's come poking about the laboratory, investigating the sightings of Harry and Severus dining together. Harry's supposed to be sorting the newts' tongues from the livers, not in the front room, but he hasn't seen Severus in over an hour and he misses him. This is how he overhears Severus brushing off the other man's remarks about dinner last night.
"You were obviously enjoying each other's company very much," says the reporter pointedly.
"Nonsense," Severus snaps, shutting the door in the man's face. He whips around, and the angry lines of his face smooth to blandness when he sees Harry there.
"What was that guy trying to sell?" Harry asks in a jokey voice, to cover up the fearsomely audible jumping of his heart. "Double glazing? Ginsu knives? Encyclopedias? I'm fairly certain you've got all those covered, what with your wards, and your poisons, and your…encyclopedias."
Severus' mouth tightens. "It was an abhorrent agent of the press."
"What did he want?" Harry asks, because it would be the natural thing to ask.
"To bolster his laughable misrepresentations with quotes taken out of context." Severus begins striding back to his workroom. "I refused to oblige. Are you through with the newts? I'll need half a jar of the tongues."
Harry nods, turning back to the door. He listens to Severus creak up the stairs. "Half a jar of tongues," he mutters to himself, or else he'll forget, because the pain in his chest is unbearably distracting.
Harry's flat is darkened and he's in bed, watching nothing on the ceiling and hearing the wind fling the water against the outside of his walls. It's 9:07 p.m. He's not especially tired—he's used to staying up a while longer on Thursday nights, with Severus, over pudding, in a quiet restaurant. He wouldn't mind falling asleep. He closes his eyes and wills himself to do it.
It's a middling effort at best, utterly wrecked when the bell sounds at the front door. Harry quickly sits up, wondering with alarm who it could be. He puts on his glasses, tugging on a shirt while he goes for the door. He's got his wand in hand and he waves it; the door reveals Severus, standing on the other side with a grim countenance. Harry hurriedly unlocks it and opens it.
"Professor, hi," he says, anxiously. "Is something wrong?"
Severus frowns down at him. "Yes—you failed to tell me that our evening plans had been canceled. Are you feeling ill?"
Harry blinks up, confused. He'd thought there was something the matter—an emergency, or maybe he'd done something wrong with a potion. "Uh, no. No, I'm fine…" He trails off, trying grasp what Severus has said.
"Then why didn't you show up at the usual time?" Severus sounds impatient, like his usual self. His gaze travels over Harry's rumpled sleepwear and the downturn of his mouth deepens. "I was in the midst of a decoction and when I next noticed the clock it had gone 9. I suppose you've eaten?"
Harry opens his mouth—he has to think about this. "No," he answers with a shake of his head. He remembers now that he hadn't been hungry. "I—you were expecting me…? I'm sorry, I thought—"
"Of course I was expecting you, or at least the courtesy of an owl to inform me to do otherwise," Severus interrupts, vexedly. "I hope you intend to come in tomorrow, there's an order of henbane due to arrive—"
"I do," Harry cuts in, because Severus is clearly put out—he's drawing away from the door. "I'm sorry about tonight—I didn't think you wanted to go, after that reporter turned up and started—" Harry pauses, unable to articulate himself with anything more than a vague gesture.
Severus' expression is disapproving. "If I were to live according to the whims of the media, I'd have died many times over. No two ways the same." He arches an eyebrow in that way that he has, and it draws a half-smile onto Harry's face.
"Yeah," Harry says, his throat moving painfully. "But I—I didn't want to make things difficult; maybe it's better to order in next time, you know, so you don't get harassed by the papers over something completely made-up. And I'm really sorry, you're right, I should've—"
Severus' gaze has sharpened and Harry doesn't feel the Legilimency until it's over.
"Harry," he says. Harry looks back, frozen. Severus hasn't done this to him since the days of Voldemort. "I thought I had made it clear. I have nothing to lose." Severus speaks lowly, clearly, his eyes fixed on Harry's eyes. "Only everything to gain."
Harry doesn't get it—then he gets it all at once. The realization takes him with such force he can't sense Severus' hand before it touches—lightly on his shoulder, inoffensive, not enough. It sets Harry in motion. He steps through the frame of the door and engulfs Severus bodily, lifting his head without seeing, kissing Severus without breathing, his fingers curling gingerly in the fabric near Severus' shoulderblades. Severus kisses back—pushes back, and they are inside, the door is kicked shut, Harry is burning, Severus' hands are swift.
"Professor Snape," Harry exhales. It turns to silence, and sighs, a nervous laugh, uneven murmurings. It turns to Severus at last, at almost the very last, in the moment before the moment before Harry lets go of wakefulness for the comforts of Severus, of his bare and sallow arms, and the soft soundless stroke of Severus' fingers on his wrist.
Harry opens his eyes to dreary watery light. It's raining again. He doesn't need to roll over to know Severus has gone—he felt the man leave, taking the greatest care to be quiet. Harry had been half-asleep and it seemed to make sense to leave it that way. He's been preparing to open his eyes since then, gradually, becoming aware of the steady pattering of the rain, the warmth of his torso beneath the blankets, the faint chill at the back of his neck where Severus, in leaving, had shifted the pillow away.
Harry listens to the rain and the sound of no one but himself breathing. He's certain now, certain, that March is the cruelest month. It's unrelenting, stifling—it's making him ache everywhere.
There's noise at the door—Harry flips around to see the knob turn slowly, to see Severus, dressed, slip in. He has a plate of toast in one hand and the Prophet under his arm. "Good morning," he says, when he catches Harry's eyes on him. "Toast?" He begins extending the plate, then shakes his head once. "No, that would be a choking hazard. Better have this first."
He gives Harry the paper. Harry smiles his good morning and unfolds it—and his smile brightens to a grin. It's a picture of Harry and Severus at dinner, a bit dark, a bit grainy, but nonetheless clear. They are enjoying themselves well.
"I think it turned out all right," Harry says, turning to Severus and laughing at his grimace. He looks at the front page again, smiles back at the two of them. It's real, Harry sees. It's April.