|caecelia_ (caecelia_) wrote,|
@ 2011-07-31 21:57:00
|Entry tags:||fest: fix it fest, fic: as the wind behaves, pairing: snarry|
fix it fest (fic): as the wind behaves (snarry, 2/2)
(back to Part I)
"You are fucking impossible," declares Harry as he stomps past the hangings the next day, wand out in case Snape should decide to throw anything or, worse, try to hex him. Well, Harry is prepared to give back all he's got. "You are fucking impossible, but –"
"Mr Potter!" exclaims Madam Pomfrey, scandalised.
Harry comes to a sudden halt. "Sorry," he says, annoyed rather than apologetic.
He takes note of her wand, extended over Snape's sunken, nightshirt-clad chest, and recognises the tricolour diagnostic spell Hermione had used in the forest. Then he glances over at Snape – whose open-mouthed astonishment at seeing Harry again is already morphing into something darker, something sinister and dangerous and chilling.
It's enough to make Harry's veins begin thrumming with anger. "Could we be alone for a minute, please?"
"After that barbaric display? Certainly not!"
"You may leave, Poppy," murmurs Snape, sitting up straighter against the pillows, dark eyes lingering on Harry's mouth. Suddenly even more furious, Harry focuses on those eyes, forcing them to meet his own glower. "I am quite capable of dealing with Potter on my own."
Harry's heart pounds against the resentment trapped in his chest – how it clamours, clamours to be let out! He grits his teeth and locks gazes with Snape, daring him to use Legilmency . . . oh, yes, Harry wants him to see into his mind . . .
And perhaps Snape is using Legilmency, for his lips twitch – once – with evident disrelish.
Madam Pomfrey flicks her wand, ending the diagnostic spell. She frowns down at Snape. "Forgive me for doubting you, Severus, but I cannot see either of you behaving appropriately – or in a manner conducive to your health, for that matter – when left alone."
"Thank you for the resounding vote of confidence," Snape says sarcastically, his eyes flicking away from Harry's to glare at Madam Pomfrey. "Nonetheless, I must ask you to accede to my request. It is, after all, my health at stake."
Madam Pomfrey's frown deepens, but she pockets her wand in her smock and purses her lips. "You have five minutes, Mr Potter," she says cuttingly. "After that, I'm checking in on the both of you."
"Five minutes," Harry repeats, holding his breath until Pomfrey, with an admonishing huff, bustles past him through the hangings.
The atmosphere in the room seems much thicker suddenly. Clenching one of his fists, Harry looks down at his trainers, then over at the now-repaired water jug, then back down at his feet, as though his plan of action were inscribed in the tattered laces of his trainers.
"Well, Potter?" says Snape impatiently, once it becomes apparent that Harry is not going to be the first to speak. "Surely you did not come all this way, flinging curses, brandishing your wand, playing the hero . . . simply in order to glower at the floor?"
"No," Harry blurts, then colours because that is not how he wanted to sound. His grip tightens around his wand. "I really hate you right now, did you know that?"
Snape smirks, and only now does it occur to Harry that their eyes are no longer locked together. He frowns and tries to remedy that, to hold down Snape's eyes with his own, but doesn't succeed – it's as though he's chasing Snape's stupid eyes around the room in a game of Hide and Seek . . .
Then Snape, with a sharp jerk of his chin, lifts up his head and meets Harry's gaze on his own terms, his eyes shockingly, unpleasantly cold –
"What a terrible shame," he drawls, corneas glittering – twin glass shards that spitefully cut into Harry. "Allow me to lighten this great burden on your conscience, Potter. You cannot abide me. Fortunately, I cannot abide you myself. There is, therefore, no reason –"
"Shut up!" shouts Harry.
"Do not interrupt me –"
"You're not my professor anymore, I can interrupt you if I very well like!" yells Harry. "Besides, you're always interrupting me – twisting my words around –" Snape opens his mouth to interrupt again, but Harry is determined to be even louder and perhaps Snape can tell, for his mouth instantly snaps shut again. "Like now, for instance! When I said that I hate you right now, that's all I meant – right now! It's like you have to deliberately misinterpret everything I say – it's not right – I'm tired of having to lie about everything – listening to you lie to me, to yourself, it's so stupid –"
Snape hisses, but he has fallen back against his pillow and his face has reverted to the seasick colour Harry had seen it take on his previous visit.
Harry is strangely buoyed and terrified by the sight, and says: "I just – I want us to be friends. Or maybe . . ." His courage fails him here, so he hurries on to say, "You can be as horrible as you want – I'm not going to give up like my mum did. Because you may be the worst teacher I ever had – one of the nastiest blokes I've ever met, and that's saying something – but you're good. And you can understand – you know what it's like to wake up from the dead not quite knowing why you decided not to stay, not quite knowing what this world is and what it wants from you and why you have to be a part of it – you know," Harry says, and there are, inexplicably, tears in his eyes, blurring the sight of Snape before him. He thinks he hears himself let out a sob – how pathetic – and yet it's too late to give up now . . .
"You know," he begins again, feeling warm, absurd tears track their way down his cheeks, "and I'll bet anything you're just as lost as I am, Snape. And I can't help but think . . . the only way we can get out of this mess is together. So – please – stop trying to push me away –"
And Harry has to take off his glasses to wipe his eyes, and he is shaking and trying to find something to hold, to keep his balance against, and his voice has caught in his throat.
"Please," he repeats.
"Potter," says Snape, so quietly and in such an uncharacteristically deflated voice that Harry does not immediately respond, thinking it a trick of his mind.
"Yes?" he asks, pushing his glasses back up his nose and bracing for the – inevitable – rejection.
". . . Come here," Snape says even more quietly.
Harry wipes at his face angrily as he advances towards the bed, plopping down on the edge before Snape can change his mind. He sniffs, unpleasantly aware that his face is about to be covered in snot. "Is this where you tell me that I'm a dunderhead and try to strangle me for good measure?"
Snape huffs. Something about the light changes, and belatedly Harry realises that his glasses have been pried from his nose. Then – Harry goes still – Snape's finger, warm and pitiless, is wiping the tears away. "You are suffering under a delusion," Snape says in a voice that is barely above a whisper. Harry shivers as the warmth of that whisper hits his face, as the skin touched by that small yet monumental breath caves inward and sends ripples across his nerves . . .
"Whom do you see?" he asks mirthlessly and deliberately formal (Snape did teach him a few things about grammar), once it occurs to him that Snape is probably just unnerved by the sight of tears in his mother's eyes.
Snape withdraws his touch and ignores the question. "What makes you think that your mother was wrong to end her association with me?"
"She gave up," says Harry.
"She was right to do so," says Snape, managing to sound both authoritative and surprised. He hesitates, then adds in a sardonic tone, "I did not show you everything, you know – only that which would convince you of my loyalty to your side."
Your side. It sounds so solemn, so grim, so promising, and yet without his glasses, Harry feels too self-conscious to appreciate the overtones. He feels stupid and young and inadequate, a poor replacement for brilliant, beautiful, self-assured Lily. It's no wonder that Snape sneers at everything Harry has to say. He's probably running mental comparisons to Lily all the time, and remembering how much better she was at everything. . .
Harry nearly startles as Snape's finger returns to his face and presses against a stray tear. It's funny, Harry thinks: Snape dries tears the way one might stomp out an ant.
An ant – or a fear. The metaphor is . . . oddly comforting, all the more so because Harry came up with it. Maybe he isn't completely hopeless after all . . . And Harry finds himself drawing in a breath and trying to explain. "She wasn't always right. She . . . I think she looked down on you. Like Petunia, only different. You were too poor and dirty and . . ." Harry considers saying queer, but thinks better of it, "eccentric, and she could have fought harder for you. She could have at least listened more –" Harry stops at the unexpected prickle of even more tears breaking into his eyes, but Snape reaches up and swiftly, lightly brushes them away before they can fall.
(You're queer. I know you are. 'Cause I think I am too. Maybe she would have rejected me, Harry thinks, but can't bring himself to say.)
Snape is grimacing. "I did not listen to her. You clearly were not paying very close attention to our conversations."
"I was," insists Harry past the lump in his throat. "I watched your memories over and over again. I'll bet you've never analysed them as closely as I have. And I'm pretty sure that mum liked you a lot as a friend. But she wasn't . . . she didn't . . ." Harry sways slightly closer to Snape, desperately wanting to take his hand, to touch him in return, and yet wary of breaking this fragile truce between them. Wary of ruining everything – and waking up. "I know what it means to be a friend. Hermione and Ron and I – we would never give up on one another, no matter what –"
"Mr Weasley repudiated your friendship several times," counters Snape, impatient.
"But never permanently. Never – like that. And the same is true in reverse. If Ron had ever called Hermione or me – that name – she would have found it in herself to forgive him. So would I. Maybe not all at once – actually, definitely not all at once." Harry sucks in a long, jagged breath. "That's not the point. We wouldn't make the leap that he just had to be a Death Eater and waved off everything he ever said about the, you know, dashing yet bullying Quidditch stars as jealous tripe."
Snape is shaking his head so that even Harry, with his abysmal vision, can see his black hair writhing. "As ever, Potter, you have overlooked the crucial point. You and Mr Weasley and Miss Granger are all Gryffindors. Hogwarts, as an institution, encourages your friendship –"
"Yeah, but –"
"Do not interrupt. It is one of your more vexing mannerisms. As I was saying: I am a Slytherin, Potter. I do not believe I have to spell out what that means. Your mother was, as a result, constantly under pressure to end our association. She was a Muggleborn with very little idea of the wizarding world – desperately in need of an anchor, Potter, one I could not provide. It was only natural that she would turn to her housemates for support, and, of course, make the sacrifices upon which that support was contingent. Remember, I did the same."
"You apologised," Harry points out. "That has to count for something. As for my mum – you make it sound as though all she cared about was strategy, and I know for a fact that Gryffindors don't think that way –"
"Perhaps you don't," says Snape in a tone of voice that edges on his usual scathing contempt for Harry's ignorance. "Your friends, however, are a different story . . . Moreover, with the Dark Lord on the rise, your mother would have been extremely short-sighted to have not sought out strategic alliances within her House."
"Except that they were stuffed-up arseholes! I wouldn't have given up on you – especially not for them!"
Snape does not reply at once, and Harry realises that he is busy placing Harry's glasses back on his nose. Blinking at the sudden visual shift, the first thing Harry notices is that Snape is leaning as far away from him as possible. Then he sees the pursed lips and furrowed brow. Snape is also definitely avoiding Harry's gaze again, as though the glasses had sprung up a wall between them.
Harry finds this rather depressing.
"Did you not decide that Draco Malfoy was evil the very moment you stepped into Hogwarts?" asks Snape suddenly.
Harry blinks, unsure where the question is coming from. "If you're trying to make a point about how all Gryffindors think Slytherins are evil, then Malfoy isn't a good example," he says slowly. "I met him before I even knew about the different Houses, and the reason we didn't get along is because I thought he was spoiled and arrogant and a bully. I guess it was a bit like your first meeting with Sirius and James. First impressions stick." Harry draws in a breath. "But if you're trying to draw a parallel between you and mum and Malfoy and me, then I don't exactly follow you. I mean, Malfoy and I were never even friends. And then, I never completely gave up on him. Not really. Maybe I didn't show it while we were still at school, but I think I've figured out where he's coming from now, and . . . I guess I'd like to give him another chance." Harry glances up at Snape's heavily fortressed eyes and knows with sudden certainty that he and Lily never reconciled. How must that feel, being left to forever wonder what might have been . . .?
Snape looks vaguely troubled, as though he is aware of the direction of Harry's thoughts. Harry strongly wants to touch him – and not just his hands, but also his lurid, weary face, his washed-out lips, his crinkled eyelids with their long, thick lashes . . . Harry doesn't quite know why he wants such things, but . . . he wants them.
But whom does Snape see?
He smiles tentatively, watching as Snape's irises open up to take Harry in as though he were something curious or unusual. This makes Harry feel a bit better, a bit less like a barely tolerated surrogate for Lily, and he laughs, although the tears still buried in his throat muffle the sound. "You were – I would have loved you as a kid. We'd have understood each other, you and me . . . me in my cousin's hand-me-downs, you in your mum's blouse . . . So you may have come across as a little creepy, sometimes, but I would have loved you all the same –"
"Enough," says Snape, shuddering and falling back against his pillow. He looks exhausted.
"I mean it."
Snape shudders again. "You are plainly overwrought, confused –"
At that moment, Snape's eyes grow shuttered and flat and his face assumes a neutral mask. Harry is perplexed at first, but the click of heels against stone provides explanation enough. That was definitely longer than five minutes, he thinks.
"I think that's quite enough for today, Mr Potter – Professor Snape needs his rest," says Madam Pomfrey, bustling over to Snape's other side and picking up his wrist to feel his pulse. If she finds it odd that Harry is sitting on Snape's bed, she doesn't mention it. "You've exhausted him!" she exclaims, dropping Snape's wrist to glare at Harry.
"Sorry," says Harry to Snape, whose eyes are now shut. He has brought up the fallen hand, Harry notices, in a fist on the pillow, but the other remains loose and unclenched and tantalisingly within reach . . .
"May I come back tomorrow?" Harry asks, glancing at Madam Pomfrey. She has begun uncapping several potions bottles and is clearly readying herself to apply them to Snape's throat.
She frowns and glances at Snape. Inexplicably, as he looks rather wan and unhappy, her gaze clears; she nods. "Perhaps you two could go on a walk. He won't be up to much, but it would be good to get him out into some fresh air. Are you listening, Severus?"
"I most emphatically refuse to be gawked at," mutters Snape, eyes still screwed shut.
Harry is overcome with such warmth that he can't help but laugh. "I won't let anyone gawk," he promises, only barely suppressing the urge to squeeze Snape's hand as he gets to his feet.
Madam Pomfrey's eyes are darting between them knowingly. Beneath Harry's immediate scrutiny, of course, she turns back to uncapping potions. "Until tomorrow, then, Mr Potter."
"I can't wait," Harry bursts out.
Madam Pomfrey raises an eyebrow. Harry colours, turning to leave, but not before he sees Snape staring up at him from gleaming, slitted eyes.
– – –
"I was thinking we could go to the top of the hospital tower," Harry tells Snape the next day. "I mean, it's right here, and nobody ever goes up there."
Snape grimaces, clearly out of sorts with the idea of leaving his sealed-off space. He has been, it must be said, unusually jumpy ever since Harry arrived, snarling and snapping at practically every suggestion Harry or Madam Pomfrey have made and stroking the handle of his wand with disturbing possessiveness, as though planning out all the hexes he will use on whomever witnesses him in his weakened state.
"We can even use my cloak, if you like," says Harry, not something he would offer just anyone, as Snape should well know – only to receive a glower in return. "No cloak, then," Harry sighs, looking to Madam Pomfrey for help.
"You look quite dashing, my dear," she tells Snape smoothly. "No one would know you had been unconscious for over a month, I can guarantee you that."
Snape bares his uneven teeth, plainly unimpressed by this logic. He is wearing his only pair of black robes (the other set had been eaten through by blood and venom and battle and is still being patched together by House Elves) and even Harry can tell that they're slightly too large on him, sagging somewhat sadly at his narrow wrists and chest. His legs have been deemed too weak for more than a stagger to the other end of the hospital wing; Pomfrey has therefore restricted his mobility to an enchanted wheelchair. Harry attributes Snape's considerable displeasure at this news to the fact that the wheelchair – a spindly, fussy 19th century construction – not only fails to inspire any sense of danger and drama, but also looks really uncomfortable.
He can understand Snape's position. But it would be easier to sympathise with him if he wouldn't keep shooting accusing glares at his only sympathiser, Harry, whenever said sympathiser attempted to make the situation somewhat easier to bear.
By the time that they're finally off, Harry is nearly in as sour a mood as Snape, and that's quite saying something.
"Can't you push any faster?" Snape grouses once they find themselves nearly getting stuck in the staircase to the tower roof, which is very narrow and difficult to navigate, particularly because of the buggy levitation charm on the chair.
"Cut me some slack, Snape – this – thing – is a menace. I don't think you realise how hard it is to get it to move up the stairs –"
"Stop complaining, you little twerp, and push!"
For a moment, Harry is shocked into silence. Then: "You're a menace," he mutters, perfectly aware that Snape can hear him.
"What did you say, Potter?" says Snape in a dangerous voice, black hair – not quite greasy thanks to Madam Pomfrey, but tousled and knotted and overly long all the same – snapping audibly around his head.
"I think you're being rather unfair given what I have to work with, sir," says Harry loudly.
"Oh, you do, do you," Snape breathes, struggling to turn around in the chair and ultimately failing, which only incenses him enough to make him bang a fist against one of the wooden armrests. "Potter! Either put your back into getting me up these stairs, or I shall get out of this chair and make you carry me!"
Harry grinds his teeth, pushing with all his might. Admittedly, he takes his strength from several uncharitable thoughts of Snape toppling out of the chair onto his face or even all the way back down the stairs . . .
"Finally," Harry heaves, once they have reached the tower battlements. Thankfully, there is a stone bench straight ahead; he rolls Snape into a position facing it before half-collapsing, half-seating himself and casting a Cooling Charm on his sweat-ridden face.
Snape sneers, looking disgustingly rested and dry. "That was pathetic, Potter. Six years of magical education and it did not once occur to you to use a Featherweight Charm?"
Harry bites his tongue until he is fairly certain it will start to bleed. He won't give Snape further ammunition for a fight, he just won't . . . Rolling onto his back, Harry spreads the whole length of his body against the stone expanse. Stares upward. Leaden stormclouds are gathering overhead, so close to the castle Harry has the impression he could reach up and pull whole tufts of them out of the sky. The hairs on his arm, he notes with a shiver, are standing on end – and the air, as he breathes it in, seems to crackle with latent energy.
It's all very pleasant, if one ignores Snape, Harry thinks, closing his eyes and drifting in and out of thoughts . . .
Why on earth he did he ask Snape to be his friend – or more pertinently, why did he spend most of last night wanking over the git? . . . Clearly, it will be impossible to spend any time with Snape outside of his comfort zones . . . Harry suddenly has a horrifying vision of remaining cordoned off with Snape behind white hangings – a vision of never seeing his friends again – or worse, having to helplessly watch Snape throw endless and passionate tantrums at his friends. The mere thought is enough to induce a migraine . . .
Harry grinds his teeth and squeezes his eyes firmly shut. After what seem several long minutes, he thinks he hears a metallic, scuttling noise. A second later, he hears something like the creak of wood.
A resigned sigh . . .
Harry turns his head, opens his eyes and is taken aback to find Snape's gaze already fixed on his face. He frowns inwardly, wishing he knew how to read Snape – wishing he knew what those glinting, sinister eyes could mean –
He finds himself sitting up halfway, chest propped by an elbow, blinking away sour dreams and resentment. Snape watches him all the while, his expression unfathomable.
"Do you ever want to leave?" asks Harry.
Snape tilts his head, letting black hair fan across his face and hide one of his eyes. The other continues to glint unreadably at Harry. "I presume you mean Hogwarts?"
Harry nods, oddly moved by the sight of Snape hiding behind his hair.
Snape turns away from Harry, facing the scarred battlements, then the crumbling towers looming from above, then the tips of the trees swaying below. "Hogwarts has been my home for nearly all my life," he says quietly, turning his gaze down to his hands. They lie steepled together, spectral, still, in his lap. "Why should I wish to leave?"
Harry pushes himself all the way into a sitting position. "Because it's always the same. Because there's a whole world out there to explore . . . places where they don't know you, where they've never heard of me . . ."
Snape makes a derisive sound. "Surely you aren't suggesting that we travel together, Potter?"
Harry hadn't quite thought that far, but now that Snape has planted the idea, he kind of likes it. After all, with Hermione off in Australia with her parents and Ginny (and Ron by extension) no longer exactly speaking to him, he currently has no one else to travel with. "Well, why not? I haven't been anywhere but Hogwarts and London and Ottery St. Catchpole and a few other random, uninteresting places – a locked cupboard in Surrey, a dingy hotel in Cokeworth, a hut on a rock in the sea –"
"Cokeworth, you say?" interrupts Snape.
"Or somewhere nearby," frowns Harry, trying and failing to remember anything but a gloomy room with a railway view. "We were only there for the night. My aunt and uncle were trying to outrun the owls with my Hogwarts letters –"
"I merely mention it," Snape says, irritated, "because that is the town where Petunia and your mother once lived."
"Really? Aunt Petunia never said . . ." Snape lowers his brow in evident disbelief. Suddenly annoyed, Harry snaps, "She never spoke about mum unless she couldn't help it, as I'm pretty sure you can imagine. Um, let's not talk about Aunt Petunia. Is Cokeworth where you live now?"
"Planning on inviting yourself over, are you, Potter?" Snape sneers.
Harry flushes. "No. God, you really do think I'm like James. For your information, Snape, I wouldn't come near your house unless you actually invited me – not that I expect you ever will . . ." Harry is stammering and hates it. He clenches a fist. "Look, all I wanted to know was whether you still had a house in Cokeworth. You indirectly answered my question, now let's move on. Why don't you want to travel?"
"I don't believe I ever said such a thing," says Snape from behind the shoulder-length veil of his hair. Harry glares, certain that he can see dark eyes glittering with amusement at his own expense.
"Can't you ever just answer a question directly?" he gripes.
Snape smiles, a twisted, spooky curve of his lips. "Perhaps you should learn to ask better questions."
"Do you want to leave Hogwarts?" asks Harry, grinding his teeth. "Yes or no?"
"Clearly you wish for me to say yes," says Snape, lips curling down with disdain. "Although I cannot fathom why." As Harry opens his mouth to retort, Snape continues somewhat more loudly, "Potter. If you are so desperate to leave Hogwarts behind, why not do so? I am certainly the last person who would try and keep you here."
"I wish you would," mutters Harry darkly.
"Pardon?" says Snape, but Harry knows that he has heard every word, for his eyes are narrowed suspiciously.
"I wish you did care," Harry says, dropping his eyes to his trainers to escape Snape's coldly incredulous gaze. "I wish . . . I wish I didn't care about you so much. I know you'll never feel the same about me, and that I'm just being stupid . . ." He stands, still carefully avoiding looking at Snape, and moves to gaze over the battlements.
Snape says nothing, which suits Harry just fine. He looks down at the Black Lake, its gleaming, pitch-dark surface roiling in the wind, and then over at the rustling forest. He thinks he can smell the rowans and pines, overripe berries and chilled mud and spoiled, bitter leaves, harbingers of the coming fall . . .
"Maybe I will leave," he says, turning halfway towards Snape. "You and Ginny can't wait to see the last of me – I broke up with Ginny, you see – and Hermione isn't here to help mend things with Ron. I guess there's not really much reason left to stay." He shrugs, turning back to look at the forest. "Maybe Luna would come with me. I think she'd like that. We could go find Hermione and her parents in Australia, or go to the African desert – see the pyramids, maybe. Or go to Paris . . ."
Harry thinks of exotic animals . . . of the jazzy travel brochures Aunt Petunia used to collect with the drawings of grand ships and aeroplanes on the covers . . . how he had wanted as a child to fly in an aeroplane with smartly dressed stewardesses and pilots wearing leather caps and tinted goggles . . . even now, knowing that flying in a plane can't be nearly as exciting as flying a broom, he feels a pang of nostalgia for the thought . . .
Snape can fly, he remembers with a start.
"One thing," he says, turning around completely, although still not quite trusting himself to look Snape in the face. "Before I leave you alone like you want. I'd like you teach me one last thing."
There is a dead kind of silence. Harry glances up from his perusal of the ground and sees that Snape's mouth is set in an expressionless line, that Snape's shoulders are hunched as though he were preparing against an attack, and that the wind has violently arranged Snape's hair all over his face. It's spread in jagged tufts over his eyes and much of his formidable nose and somehow reminds Harry of a ripped funeral shroud.
"I don't seem to remember having much success at teaching you anything, Potter," says Snape in a flat voice.
"I know, and that's partly my fault." Harry straightens. "This time, I promise to listen carefully and do everything you say."
Snape looks irritable; he shifts restlessly in the wheelchair. Harry is so absorbed in watching him – is so hopelessly entranced by the angles of his wrists and fingers, the austere play of black against lurid white he will probably never have a chance to study again – that he nearly falls over his own feet when Snape suddenly snaps, "Well? What is it you wish to be taught?"
"Would –" Harry moves in an erratic line towards Snape, not noticing how his eyes flare with apprehension. "So if this is completely dark and out of my league, you can just tell me straightaway. But if not –" Harry comes to a halt directly in front of the wheelchair, "would you teach me how to fly?"
Snape snorts humourlessly. There is a vein twitching in his jaw. "I should have guessed that you would only be interested in such a stupid trick."
Harry narrows his eyes, but when he refuses to rise to the bait, Snape merely sneers. "Very well, Potter. I shall teach you this once, but only because I am currently bored out of my mind and because I hereafter expect to find myself in the happy situation of never having to teach you again." Still sneering, Snape pulls out his wand and flicks it, transfiguring stray bits of rubble into an inflatable cushion. The spell should be simple enough, but seems to exert him, for his breath is short when he points at the cushion and tells Harry: "Stand over there."
Harry obeys. Unconsciously, he begins jostling up and down on his heels, as though warming up for Quidditch practice.
"Flying," says Snape, scowling at the rasp in his voice, "is not such a difficult task, despite how it may look . . . You will perhaps recall that your mother mastered the basic principle at the age of nine. Stop fidgeting, Potter!" Chagrined, Harry settles down on his heels and attempts to stand still. "Better," says Snape coldly. "Now, put away your wand. You will discover that this kind of magic is based solely in the mind – no wand-waving is required."
"Sounds like Occlumency," mutters Harry, who then wishes he'd kept his mouth shut. What a great way to remind Snape of how much he hates him . . .
Snape sneers. "Let us hope that you are considerably more gifted in this arena," he says, which Harry thinks is an incredibly mild statement, considering the source. Heartened, he finds it in himself to look Snape in the eye.
Who stares back, eyes glittering and seemingly swirling with secrets. "Tell me, Potter, why do you think so few wizards know how to fly?"
"Er – because they don't think they can?"
"Correct," says Snape, his lip curling. "The key to flying lies in overcoming your deeply-ingrained instinctual belief that gravity is holding you down. Do this, Potter, and you will find yourself capable of levitating your body from the ground, and with practice, even of navigating great distances through the air."
"That . . . sounds really hard," Harry admits.
Snape, eyes still boring into Harry's eyes, leans forward in the wheelchair and steeples his fingers together on his knees. "Close your eyes, and listen to me." He waits until Harry's eyes are closed, then says, voice low and hypnotic and barely audible over the chafing sounds of the growing storm breeze, "Imagine that you are like the wind . . . being pulled across this earth in a strong current, forced to obey natural laws . . . Can you imagine that, Harry?"
Harry barely manages to nod, he is made so light-headed by the sound of his name.
"Then try to behave as the wind behaves . . . touching the earth and never being touched, always tugged away, farther and farther and faster like a building stream . . . Imagine rising and rising towards the sun and then winding slowly back down to the dust . . . and then understand that you are not only wind, that you, yourself, have the power of will . . . that you, like the birds, can control your own rise and fall . . . You have the power to map out the world beneath you, to choose what part of it to see . . . Open your eyes now . . ."
Harry obeys, and he doesn't need to look down to know that he is hovering at least a foot above ground. He grins at Snape –
Snape who has gotten up from the wheelchair and watches him with a perfectly unreadable expression, yet whose eyes shine with something endlessly bright, like pride or love or regret, underlaid by something darker, inherently destructive –
Snape, whose eyes do not stop shining when Harry looks into them –
Suddenly Harry's feet are back on the cushion and he is pushing himself off and rushing to Snape – Snape who is trying to seat himself again and looks simultaneously mesmerised and alarmed by the sight of Harry –
"Severus," says Harry, grabbing him by trembling shoulders and tangled black hair and wanting nothing, nothing more than to kiss him.
"Don't," gasps Snape, pulling away but not getting far. He stumbles over the hem of his robes – and twitches violently when Harry catches him. Blindly, he feels past Harry for the wheelchair. "Let go of me –"
"You don't know what you're doing," Snape snarls, panicked and yet deeply convinced by his own words. "Stupid boy – you can't just throw your life away for something like this. You don't even understand what this is, do you –"
"I know exactly what this is," Harry interrupts, tightening his grip around the atrophied, fluttering chest. Snape's heart is beating so furiously that Harry thinks he would probably collapse were Harry to let go. "I've been thinking –"
"Once again, Potter, you make an art of jumping into a situation without having considered all the facts," Snape interrupts, voice biting and condemning and heavy with self-loathing. "Allow me, once again, to disabuse you of your romantic notions. You are fraternising with a murderer. A murderer, Potter, who most emphatically belongs in Azkaban. Albus Dumbledore was hardly the first or last I killed." When Harry merely tightens his grip around him, Snape lets out a desperate noise. "For God's sake, Potter, I betrayed your parents – your mother, my most beloved friend –"
Harry closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and tentatively rests his head on Snape's emaciated shoulder, cheek against the decomposing fabric, nose brushing against the thickly whorled scar. "I know."
"How can you say that?" Snape hisses, shaking Harry from his shoulder and looking slightly deranged. "What makes you think that you can just – decide – what I am? If this is more of your arrogance, Potter, then I want no part of it –" Snape is reaching for the wheelchair again, and Harry finds himself torn between the instinct to let him sit down and the desperate need to keep them face to face, eye to eye . . .
"Do you understand me, Potter?" Snape is swaying away from Harry now and nearly shrieking. "I WANT NO PART OF IT!"
"Yeah, I get it, you berk!" Harry shouts back. When Snape recoils, nearly falling backward over the wheelchair, Harry does not try to catch him. "Why don't you listen to me for once – it's not like I'm not the only one of us who's always jumping to conclusions! This isn't about redemption or my mum or Dumbledore or what the world might think. Why can't you just accept the fact that – I – need – you? And God help me, more than just as a teacher or friend. There are times when I want you so much I feel I'm going mad–"
"A passing illusion that shall be over soon enough," says Snape, stooping at the waist with one hand clutching an armrest of the wheelchair. There is something in his eyes that tells Harry more about repressed passion than he thinks Snape intended to share.
It makes Harry even angrier. Snape, he thinks, is such a hypocrite. "Why is this an illusion?" he demands. "You've been acquitted of all charges, and I really like you, and I think you –" And at the disgusted curl of Snape's lip, Harry furiously changes tactics. "Besides, who's to say I'm any better than you? What about all the Unforgivables I've used? You were always the one who tried to stop me – not Dumbledore, not McGonagall, not Sirius or Remus! All the mistakes I ever made – you were always trying to teach me, to show me how not to be. Snape, you tried to keep me away from Dark Magic – and I went ahead and used it anyway! So I didn't use the Killing Curse on Voldemort! Great! I still killed him, because I was sure as hell betting on the fact that his own curse would rebound!"
Pausing for breath, Harry belatedly realises that Snape is no longer clutching at the wheelchair, but standing unsteady before him, brows furrowed at the ground. His face is greenish-pale, as though he might faint. And at that – all of a sudden, Harry finds his anger being replaced by concern.
Very slowly, very gently, as though dealing with one of Hagrid's beasts, Harry re-closes the distance between them. And when Snape does not protest, when Snape sags against him for support, Harry finds the courage to lift a hand to the back of that long and ravaged neck. "Don't you realise how much we're alike?" he whispers, palm skimming upward through coarse and tangled hair.
"No," rasps Snape, stiff against Harry, despite having very nearly collapsed against him. "I am twenty years your senior, Potter, not to mention an ugly, ill-tempered recluse who ruined his every chance when he was younger than you are now. I have nothing further to seek on this earth. I should be dead."
Harry cradles the back of Snape's head so that their foreheads can meet, just as they had in the hospital wing. This time, Snape doesn't react to the electric shock. "Your life has only just gotten started," Harry says softly.
Snape stiffens further.
"I'm not just talking about me," Harry adds. He pauses for a moment, wondering whether he should qualify his statement. Snape, after all, has not made any declarations to him. For once in his life, however, Harry is prepared to hope that such qualifications won't be necessary. He takes a steadying breath and continues: "There's plenty still to be done: Death Eaters to track down and school curriculums to update and policies to be implemented to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again." He attempts a laugh, brushing his nose once against Snape's neck. The scent of Snape's sweat and stress and exhaustion is sour and not entirely pleasant, and yet Harry longs to taste it in his mouth. "You wouldn't want to leave all of that to Gryffindors, would you?"
Snape says nothing, a warm, and dead weight on Harry's chest. At first Harry is annoyed, but then he realises he has found his answer in the fact that Snape has allowed him even this far, holding him and stroking his neck and hair.
It has begun to rain – heavy, large drops that cool instantly on the skin – when Snape finally says, very quietly: "I'd like to sit down."
Harry hides his disappointment – a part of him was still hoping for a kiss – and nods his understanding.
With Snape back in the wheelchair, Harry is suddenly unsure how to approach him. He isn't quite ready to go back to pushing Snape from behind. Nor does he particularly feel like falling down on his knees in order to maintain eye-level. And as sitting on Snape's lap is probably out of the question . . .
"Do you want to go back to the hospital wing?" he asks, striving to keep his tone neutral.
Snape nods, his expression closed. Instead of waiting for Harry to move to the back of the chair and push, however, he presses a button on the armrest that Harry had not noticed before. A lever suddenly springs out of a hidden panel.
"I discovered this while you were lying on that bench," says Snape quietly, pushing the lever forward and making the wheelchair move on its own. He does not look up at Harry. "Perhaps it shall save us some trouble on the stairs."
Harry bites his lip and closes his eyes against the tears that have been welling there for he knows not how long. "Great."
"Potter . . ."
"No, I get it," says Harry, clenching his eyes so tightly that the tears seem to evaporate in his lashes. He opens his eyes, hyperaware of the rain pelting against his glasses and leaving thick, opaque slashes on the lenses. Automatically, he begins heading towards the stairs. "Let's go."
Harry stops, but does not turn around. He hears a faint whirring sound that he knows must be the wheelchair, and closes his eyes, unable to deal with the concept of Snape moving forward without him.
"Look at me, Potter."
Harry glances down and is shocked to realise that Snape has parked the wheelchair directly before him. He hesitates, wondering whether he should kneel.
And then Snape's fragile, beautiful hands are upon him, resting delicately on his hips. And Snape is staring up at him, seeking his eyes with such bewilderment and brightness and hunger in his own – with such need –
Harry has been hard ever since the flying lesson – but this –
Snape holds his gaze a moment longer, then slowly inclines his head so that his cheek is buried in Harry's lower chest.
Harry cannot breathe – it takes the greatest of effort just to control his hands, to bring them up to lightly cup Snape's head and jaw . . .
"I did not make such sacrifices in order for you to regret the life you live," mutters Snape, hands twitching once.
"I don't. Not with you here."
Snape stiffens, his voice hard and low. "Do not read more into this than there is."
"Is that –" Harry clears his throat. "Is that your way of telling me to piss off? Or are you just torturing yourself? Because if that's the case, then you can just save yourself the trouble."
Snape's head jerks, only to be caught by Harry's hands. "You would be wise not to underestimate the lengths I would go to in order to prevent you from throwing yourself away on me."
Harry gently strokes his hair, rough and rain-patterned in a way reminiscent of the iridescent, bedraggled feathers of a crow. "Anyone but you, and I probably would be throwing myself away."
Snape frowns against Harry's chest and begins to pull back – pulling Harry's heart with him as if a string connected them – and suddenly their positions are reversed as Harry finds himself falling to his ankles and knees, his hands gripping onto Snape's arms, pleading . . .
Snape's mouth opens slightly, revealing the dull shine of yellow teeth, his chapped and colourless lips so thin and curved they seem mocking even when this relaxed. His eyes have grown wide, the irises overlarge and straining to overcome the swollen red rims of his eyes.
Harry feels the stalks of his own eyes being stretched to the limit, but he does not care if it hurts to see. He wants to see all of Snape, rather than these fragmented isolated glimpses of eyes and nose and mouth . . . He wants it all, and all at once.
But the storm chooses then to grow to such strength that it doesn't matter how hard Harry tries to influence the visual cortex of his brain: he can no longer see through his glasses, they are so streaked and fogged. As though he could suck Snape's essence to him, his mouth opens, greeting the rainwater and the electricity of the dissolving drops. He splutters, raising unseeing eyes to the sky, then lowering them to the dark outline that is Snape. Down the tapered length of Snape's arms slide Harry's fingers and palms, orienting themselves briefly on knobbly wrists, then hastening on to limp hands, to their fading calluses and slick inner webbings and pliant, lightly furrowed nails . . .
Slowly Harry inches closer, until his upper body is nearly wedged between Snape's legs. And it doesn't matter that he is practically blind – his hands know their way. He cups the back of Snape's head and slants it so that he knows it is gazing down on his own. "Tell me you don't want this," he says.
"Harry . . ."
"Because I really do," Harry says, swallowing. "I want to kiss you, here in the rain – I want everything. I want to see the world with you, even to see Cokeworth with you – I want to watch you scribble notes in your books and invent incredible things and argue and be brilliant. And I couldn't care less what everyone else thinks or what rubbish they have to say – I know my real friends will understand. Snape, if you want even a fraction of this, too – if you want it but are just too afraid to say, like my mum – God, I know you're not a coward!"
Harry's throat opens to say something else, but he has never been good with words, and his wit fails him. He tries, instead, to communicate with his hands, and yet cannot overlook the fact that Snape is neither moving nor responding. The silence begins to take on the iciness of the rain, the blackness of Snape's robes . . .
Shit, Harry thinks with a sinking dizziness, he must have really offended Snape. Shit, shit . . . He fidgets. Something seems to curdle inside of him. Slowly, he removes his hands from Snape and bows his own head. He is suddenly painfully aware of the thrashing rain and black silence and his own tortured, constricted breaths.
Something warm lands on his rain-plastered hair. Harry squints, confused, as the warmth shifts and intensifies and becomes a sharp tug.
Snape is pushing his fringe out of his eyes, and some of the hairs must have gotten caught in the screws of his glasses, Harry realises. Dumbfounded, he lifts his chin –
Only to have lean fingers pressed into his shoulders and hauling him up – to hear a snarl and – Harry doesn't believe it – there are fingers fisted savagely in his hair, pulling at the roots as though to exorcise something – cruel teeth suddenly biting his lips, snapping at his tongue, viciously sucking his mouth clean of rain and spit –
Squirming, delighted, Harry begins to kiss back, frantic teeth and tongue and ferocious, unlikely happiness. Whatever suddenly propelled Snape to change his mind, he doesn't care. This is probably about Lily. Could be about James. Revenge and other ugly things. Harry doesn't care. He wriggles forward until his body is nearly flush with Snape's chest of skin and bones, and thinks he discovers the mirror of own anger and misery and obsessiveness on the spikes of those ribs. He kisses Snape so that stinging tears fly to his eyes. His tongue has become the flayed and bitter stage where self-expression can take on its most brutally honest form. And Harry thinks he can feel the presence of his own monsters, and Snape's monsters as well; and he thinks he can devour them by gorging on Snape.
And Harry is so absorbed by the kiss that it is only after he finds himself coming in great, shuddering spurts, only after he has pulled away to try and remember how to inhale that he notices how cold it is. Only then does he also notice how laboured and ragged Snape's breathing sounds, and realise that if he, Harry, is feeling a chill, then Snape . . .
In a horrible moment of self-condemnation, Harry scrambles awkwardly for his wand and casts Warming and Waterproofing Charms on them both. He doesn't need the sudden return of his sight to know that Snape's skin is a sick and clammy sort of pale or that his eyes are wasted, fevered, gleaming almost madly in the recesses of his skull.
A hand to Snape's forehead and he swears. "Fuck. You're burning up."
Snape runs trembling fingers through Harry's hair, feeling his way through the mess of tangles and gravity-defying tufts. His lips turn up in a crooked, languid smile that worries Harry because of the lack of self-concern he sees there. "Do not worry yourself."
Harry leans into the touch, but not without biting his lip. "I'm worried. As in really sort of frightened worried. Don't you see why?" Harry grimaces, knowing not to expect an answer. "God, I'll never forgive myself if you get sick." Overflowing with remorse now, Harry pulls back enough to cup Snape's jaw and gazes into his eyes. "I was too selfish – I wanted you so much, and I stopped thinking. I can understand if you think really, really ill of me right now."
Snape shakes his head once, hand still clenching at Harry's hair. His eyes burn as white as hydrogen stars, overly flammable and instable and indescribably warm in their unceasing scrutiny of Harry's face. Snape doesn't blink, and Harry wonders what he sees, and what he is afraid might disappear.
Harry can't help himself – he leans forward and brushes a kiss across numbed lips, then against Snape's closing, bristling eyes and the lashes lumped together by the rain. He strokes a pitted cheek as he pulls away. "We should get you inside." Snape's eyes snap open, something flickering in his gaze that hastens Harry to add, "And before you say something ridiculous about how this was all really a mistake and start pretending that we don't exist, I wanted to say that this was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life, and if you really do mean what you said about not ruining it –"
His flow interrupted, Harry hesitates. "I won't let you push me away."
Snape blinks, then leans back against the wheelchair's drenched, ratty upholstery. His stare is unreadable.
Harry can tell that this is the most he's going to get. Snape will never make him any overt promises, he is almost sure.
"Hospital wing," says Harry brightly, but he does not immediately rise to his feet.
He can learn to live with Snape's contingency, he thinks, eyes warring with that unnerving stare. He can learn to live with being constantly unnerved by conflicting signals and ambivalent motivations and volatile incandescence. He thinks and suddenly remembers that Hermione had said, before heading off to Australia, something rather wise. You have to learn to accept the idea of your own future, she had said. Stop hiding from us, Harry, she had said. Don't be so afraid to look life in the face.
Could he really trust Snape not to go through with those nasty threats he'd made? Not at all, Harry decides. Then again, he isn't particularly worried. Harry can make just as good on his own threats not to let Snape get the better of him, can't he?
This will be, he thinks, something of a challenge.
Then again, Harry has already saved the world once.
He meets Snape's cool, unaffected gaze, and tries out a smile. And there – a flash of warmth not even Occlumency can hide. His smile widens.
This will be a cakewalk.