Author: Stasia (stasia)
Genres: Romance & Hurt/Comfort
Prompt: Oath of Fealty
Warnings: Implied torture, bullying/coercion (past).
Word Count: 15,500 +/-
A/N/Betas: Oh god. If it weren’t for Inkgeist this story wouldn’t exist at all. Rexluscus and Acromantular helped in zillions of ways (and words) and Schemingreader lent her expertise as well. All in all, a group effort.
Disclaimer: The world of Harry Potter, its characters and settings are the copyrighted works of J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., her publishing companies and affiliates. No profit was made from the writing of this story.
Summary: In letting go of his past, Harry finds his future.
“Say it, Snivellus. Repeat after me and just say it.”
“Yeah, Snivvy. Or do we need to give you more of the Special Juice?”
“Here do I swear by mouth and hand…”
“Here… do I sw—swear by mout’n han’”…
He wasn’t coming. No one was coming to save him. No one ever had before, so it stood to reason that no one would now.
But, as he cringed into the cleanest corner he could find in the filthy cell he’d been dumped in by those who’d considered him a friend, he wished for the Hero to be looking for him. Just once, he wanted to be the one the Hero wanted to rescue, the one the Hero would give everything to save.
Harry eased himself down into his seat, trying to look inconspicuous. “How far have we got?” he whispered to Ron.
“Only to the second ranking of the dead,” Ron whispered back, shifting slightly in his own seat. “It’ll be at least another hour before we’re done with this.” Beyond Ron, Harry could see Hermione knitting surreptitiously in her lap.
“What are you knitting now?”
Hermione glanced at him. “Pinney needs socks.” At Harry’s raised eyebrow, she continued, “Well, she does. Her poor feet were blue the other day.” Harry laughed lightly, and turned back to face the stage.
I can sit through another hour of this. Then I say my piece and leave. He crossed his arms tightly across his chest and waited for his turn to speak.
Scrimgeour stood at the centre of the stage, gesturing broadly as he spoke, but Harry tuned his words out. Scrimgeour would never say the things that were truly important, or acknowledge the debts that were truly owed, so it didn’t matter how much he spoke about ‘The Greatest Need’ or ‘The Common Good’. He wasn’t the one working to fill either of those two needs, so Harry felt justified in ignoring anything he said about them.
Harry wished he had knitting to distract himself with, like Hermione. He wished he could hurry time so that he wouldn’t have to waste as much time as he already had on this drivel. He wished he didn’t have to watch Severus Snape, pale and gaunt, the shackles barely visible, sitting behind Scrimgeour on stage.
He watched Snape’s hands pick at the edging of his robes and let Ron’s soft snores wash over him.
Two hours later, Harry stood in the middle of the stage, pinned between the combined stares of the thousand or so viewers and the hopeless, blank look he knew was on Snape’s face. Knowing that he had to say this but that if he screwed it up he could damage one of the things he wanted to heal, he locked his hands behind his back, lifted his chin and began to speak.
Harry had been dreading this part of the dinner. He knew that any invitation to Hermione and Ron’s house included the obligatory after-dinner questions about his personal life. He didn't like to admit that he didn't really have much of a personal life; he would prefer to keep his personal life private. However, keeping something private from his two best friends wasn't really possible.
"So Harry," said Hermione, handing him a cup of tea, "are you ever going to stop working all the time and start looking for someone to spend your life with?" Next to her, Ron rolled his eyes and waved his hands as if to say that he hadn’t had anything to do with this topic of conversation.
Harry took a long sip of his tea, knowing that the magic answer wouldn’t be in his teacup, but hoping that he could find something that would make Hermione let him alone about this. “Hermione, I’m busier than ever with work. I don’t think I’ll have time to even look at anything that isn’t in a lumberyard or a maybe in a Housebuilding Charms book.”
Hermione shifted in her chair, tucking her legs under her. “I just think—“
“Why not let him be?” Ron’s voice was tired. “It’s not like he’s hard up or anything. He can still pull the birds—“ he froze for a moment, then continued, his voice a little tighter, “or, I mean, pull the blokes. He was just saying something to me about some bloke he’s seeing.”
Hermione twisted around. “Ron! That was almost eight months ago. Reggie stopped seeing Harry two weeks after they started dating. Honestly, don’t you ever talk to him?”
“We talk,” Ron snapped, “we were talking over dinner, or didn’t you notice—“
“I think I’ve found a buyer for Godric’s Hollow,” interjected Harry, a little more sharply than he’d intended. He hated it when Ron and Hermione’s bickering got that tense, personal tone. He’d been planning on bringing up the buyer over dinner, hoping to distract his friends from this very conversation, but he’d been distracted himself by Ron, who had heard from Krum that the Cannons had hired a new Keeper, and they’d spent the whole of dinner discussing the various styles of Quiddich play and how they varied by country of origin.
Harry smiled at his friends’ chorused shout. “I heard from an agent that they’ve got someone interested in the house. They’ll be looking over the house and grounds in the next week and then, if whoever it is actually is interested, I’ll get a list of any modifications they want.”
“How wonderful, Harry,” said Hermione, the anxiety in her voice belying her bright words. “Have you any idea who the buyer is?”
“And you still haven’t really explained why you want to sell that house anyway,” said Ron. “It was your parents’ house—the first one you fixed up. Why aren’t you living in it?”
Harry opened his mouth, but Hermione jumped in first. “Ron! Of course he has a hard time living there. It’s where his parents were,” she dropped her voice to a whisper, as if Harry couldn’t hear everything she said, “killed.” Ron flinched.
“Sorry,” he said.
Harry waved it off, and then stood. “I don’t know who it is, actually. The agent didn’t say, but whoever it is offered more than the asking price, so I said yes. Anyhow, I’ve got to get going. I’m sorry to leave so early, but I’m expecting a delivery of carpet-weaving beetles in the morning and if I’m to get the third story of the Grithenout’s house done, I’ll have to get an early start.”
Ron and Hermione untangled themselves and stood up as well. “Did you ever get that barmy woman to give up on the idea of having anti-flying charms on all of her balconies?” Ron asked, grinning.
Harry grinned back. “No, but I made her sign a waiver and pay extra. If she wants to make it harder for fire wizards to get to her when her idiot son starts a fire, I can’t stop her.”
Three weeks later, Harry sat in his office and stared at the list of modifications the buyer wanted him to make on the house at Godric’s Hollow. He flicked a glance at the estate agent, who shifted in her chair.
“These are more extensive than I usually do—“ Harry began, when the estate agent opened her file and slid a piece of parchment over to him.
“The buyer is willing to pay that amount over your normal fees for the extra work. He would like it to be done by you, however, rather than one of your employees.” She looked nervous and Harry wondered who her buyer could be. He’d dealt with her before and she’d always been the hardest and most ruthless of the agents. “He also mentioned that he’d be willing to pay bonuses for early completion of any work you do.”
Harry blinked. His fees were kept high by the lack of other practitioners of his particular form of construction magic. In fact, this exact estate agent had once tried to get him to give a 50% discount. He’d blandly replied that he’d be happy to, but he’d only do half the work they’d requested. She’d pressed him for the discount until he threatened to simply quit.
“This will be fine,” he said, pulling the list back to his side of the table. “Will he want to meet with me before we start work? These work rooms, for example, seem pretty specified. It might be a good idea to have him go over the plans with me so I don’t have to re-do anything.”
She looked uncomfortable. “I’ll discuss it with him and get back to you. If that’s all, Mr Potter, I have another meeting in an hour.”
Harry watched her leave before turning back to the list. After half an hour he had a list of his own, and followed the agent out the door.
“Shopping,” he groaned to himself, “my favourite part.”
“So I asked her if she really thought casting accio was the best way to search for hidden objects in a room, and she said that it was the only way she could think of.” Ron shook his head and gestured wildly. “She was caught in a storm of books—she hadn’t even thought to specify which book she was looking for.”
Harry smiled and shook his head. “Give her time. She’s only just out of school. I mean, think about what we were like when we were eighteen.”
Ron swallowed his bite of fish and grimaced. “We were mopping up the Death Eaters, Harry.”
Harry winced. “Right, but I mean – did we think everything out first?” He blinked and saw a host of faces rise up in the second’s darkness. His voice, when he continued, was lower. “We made some regular blunders.”
Ron nodded, and Harry knew that he could see the same faces, the faces of those they’d lost.
Suddenly, the door to Charing Cross opened and Harry glanced up to see who’d come in. He stared at the tall dark form, unable to believe that he was really seeing who he thought he was. Around him, the whole room had gone silent. Ron, seeing his face and hearing the unnatural stillness, swivelled around to see what had caused it.
“Snape,” he sneered. “Kings said he was back, but I didn’t believe he’d really show his face here.” He turned back to Harry.
“You knew he was back?” Harry could hear the strain in his own voice. He looked at Ron and was surprised at the dark look on his face. “When?”
“Almost a month ago, now. I think he’s got connections with the Minister—I mean besides the obvious—but I can’t think why he’d want to come back.”
Harry’s response was forestalled by a shout of “Snape!” from somewhere else in the crowded dining room. Harry watched as Snape turned slowly to meet the person who’d called him; Harry was surprised to see a flash of something that looked like fear on his face.
Snape stood with his head tilted slightly back and his most supercilious expression on his face. “Yes?” Harry realised that his wand had dropped into his hand.
A burly man stood up in the back of the room, and waved at Snape. “You never owled to say you were coming, Snape! Bring your drink over here and tell us what you’ve been doing.”
To Harry’s surprise, Snape relaxed, his face taking on an expression almost of pleasure. “Heyeworth,” he said, “let me just conclude my business with Tom and I’ll be right there.” Heyeworth waved, then sat back down.
Ron turned to Harry. “Was that Fenton Heyeworth, from that small bookshop at the corner of Diagon and Leeg Alleys? Who’d have thought he and Snape were friendly.”
Harry felt a fierce rush of pride. He and Hermione had hoped that something like this would happen when they forced Scrimgeour into the Probation arrangement for Snape. Scrimgeour had wanted to put Snape in Azkaban, but that had offended both Hermione’s sense of the rights of the underdog and Harry’s sense of fair play. Snape had borne the brunt of the war’s aftermath; the documents that Dumbledore left were strong enough evidence to acquit Snape of war crimes, but many, including Scrimgeour, believed him guilty of Dumbledore's murder and wanted him to suffer the Kiss.
Harry hadn’t been able to think of a way to change the public opinion of Snape, but he’d refused to allow him to be sent to Azkaban. He was sure that, if Snape was sent there, Scrimgeour would arrange for an ‘accidental’ Kissing. One night, Hermione found him awake and suggested making Severus’ Probation a Restitution instead. Snape had seemed bewildered, at first, when he was told that he wasn’t go to go Azkaban, but was, instead, going to spend five years living in rooms at the Leaky Cauldron and working, on a rotating basis, for all of the merchants on Diagon.
The way Hermione explained it to Harry was that if the merchants, and of course, the shopping public, saw Snape on a daily basis, saw that he was human, like themselves, they’d soon un-learn the habitual hatred they’d had for him just after the trials. Harry was sceptical; this was Severus Snape they were discussing. He didn't count on the changes in Snape's personality after being tortured, or perhaps he underestimated the power of Snape's competence and intelligence in changing people's opinions of him. Within a year Hermione was reporting that wizards and witches on the street were defending Snape to one another. By the time Harry saw him again, the Wizarding World was back to regarding Snape as a perpetually grumpy but competent wizard—their perpetually grumpy and competent wizard—just like he'd been at Hogwarts.
Clearly Snape hadn’t been aware of how much he’d been missed in his two year absence.
Harry watched him move through the crowded tables to Heyeworth’s. “He looks good, doesn’t he? I wonder where he’s been.”
Ron shoved his chair back roughly. “I don’t care where the git’s been. I still think he should never have come back.”
Harry stood and followed Ron through the room towards the Diagon doorway, passing Heyeworth’s table on the way. As they edged past the large, boisterous group, Snape glanced over. Harry, who’d been watching him curiously, nodded slightly. Snape nodded in return, his eyes hooded. Harry hurried to catch up to Ron, forcing himself to not glance back over his shoulder at Snape.
Severus sat down heavily into the chair by the window of the room he’d let from Tom. He hadn’t expected to see Harry—Potter—Harry so soon after coming back to England. If he were honest with himself, he thought, glancing out the window and seeing Heyeworth’s cheerful wave from Diagon, there were several things he hadn’t expected.
He rolled his head on his neck, trying to stretch out the tension that had crept in. He hadn’t missed the youngest male Weasley’s dark looks, even while he had been distracted by the Auror’s inevitable companion. Moving back to England will clearly take more courage and fortitude than I’d thought, especially if I’m going to run into—he stood abruptly and began unpacking his things. He would not dwell on things that were out of reach and pathetic besides. He had gone away and lived on his own, without any master at all. He could do this – he could find a place for himself in his own country.
The next morning, he breakfasted at the bar counter downstairs, idly listening to the chatter of the few other early morning patrons in the dining room. It seemed that the Quibbler had reported on a new sighting of the Dementors which had escaped at the end of the War. Severus shook his head to himself and started for the Charing Cross door. He had to get to the Ministry.
Before entering the lift, he took a moment to shake his head at the fountain in the Atrium, and marvelled such a politically correct fantasy still held up. To his surprise, Arthur Weasley got in just behind him.
“Snape!” His face ran through blank, then startled, and ended on pleased. “I didn’t hear you were back. It’s good to see you.”
Severus nodded. “I had not thought to notify many that I was returning.” He shifted under Weasley’s continued smile. “I heard that there was a possible sighting of the Dementors. Have you heard anything?”
Arthur’s expression immediately darkened. “The news has made it out? Damn. There was a sighting, not two months ago. I thought we’d covered it up.” He glanced over at the younger man and grimaced. “How did you hear?”
“Please state your floor,” came the voice of the lift.
Severus jumped and was pleased to see Arthur was just as startled. “Level One,” he said.
“Level Two,” said Arthur. “I see you’re here to visit Draco.” He nodded at Severus’ raised brow. “Ask him when he’s next coming to dinner. Molly wants to know.” Just then the lift doors opened and Severus had to step out. No one is reacting the way I expected them to. Have they all forgotten who I am?
He had to wait in Draco’s office for nearly five minutes before the younger man pulled his head out of his fireplace. As he stood up, he saw Severus in the door and burst into a smile. “How long have you been standing there? Or did you use the opportunity to discover the things I’ve been hiding from the Minister?”
Severus smirked. “You’ll never know, will you?” He moved towards the table and chairs in the corner of the room. “I do have things to discuss with you, though, if you’ve time.”
Several hours later, they were walking down Diagon, looking for a place to have lunch. Draco turned when his name was called from behind them.
“Harry,” he called. “Good to see you. Well,” he drawled, “it would be good to see you if you were presentable, but really, Harry. Look at yourself.”
Harry propped his hands on his hips. “You wish you looked this good when Fabius and Gerry were born. And when we were working on their nursery. I’ve been working. It comes with the territory.” He brushed ineffectually at the multicoloured dust on his shirt, then shrugged and gave up. “Listen, I was wondering if you had any idea about when you want the rest of that done. I’ve got a big project going—did I tell you?” He grinned. “I finally sold the albatross. Anyway, I think it’ll take me at least a month to get the modifications done that this person’s asked for. So, if you want the Terrace done soon, you’ll have to do the lighter stuff yourself.”
Severus stared, barely hearing the words Harry was saying. He’d grown, that was clearer now than in the pub, and he was amazingly dirty. He was wearing Muggle clothes, and the shirt fit so snugly that Severus could swear he could see the way his muscles shifted when he moved. The trousers were nearly indecent as well, making it clear what he looked like under them. To Severus’ eye, the dirt only improved the view—Harry looked like he was an adult, magnificently an adult. He looked like he had been working hard, working up a sweat in the sun.
Severus realised he’d been staring, and wrenched his gaze away only to meet Draco’s amused grey eyes.
“Would that suit you?” Draco’s voice was more amused, if that was possible, than his eyes had been.
Severus lifted his chin. “I’m certain you will not make any arrangements that are unacceptable.” He couldn’t help but let his eyes drift to Harry again. He forced himself to turn away entirely at Draco’s not-nearly-quiet enough snort. “I think the restaurant is just that way.” Keeping his spine stiff, he nodded to Harry. “Potter,” he said, before turning and striding towards what he desperately hoped was the restaurant Draco had intended them to eat in.
He heard Draco’s footsteps before he’d gone more than a few metres. “Well,” said Draco, voice filled with suppressed humour. “That was… unexpected.” Severus spun, feeling the comforting swirl of his robes.
“Do not mock me,” he snapped.
Draco stopped walking and turned to face him, all trace of humour gone from his face. He regarded Severus’ tight features for a long moment, then something in his expression shifted. “I did not mean to, sir. I’m very sorry. If it makes you feel better, I’m sure Harry didn’t see what I did.”
Not sure if he did feel better knowing that his feelings were still unrequited and unknown, he looked back as Draco continued.
“He’s been working hard in the past few years.” Draco was looking back at Harry, who still stood where they’d left him. He was consulting a long list and ticking items off it, occasionally checking in one of the bags at his feet. The small weekday afternoon crowd moved calmly around him and Severus was surprised to see how easily he was accepted by them. He’d have thought Harry would never be free from the Chosen One aura. “I think he’s finally going to relax now. Ginevra would be pleased to see him settle down, though.”
Severus tried to keep his voice light. “What is he doing, now? I know he didn’t join the Aurors.”
Draco glanced at him, his face slightly incredulous. “You don’t know? He works as a house re-fitter. He does conversions from full-Muggle to Magical. He’s doing the house you’ve bought, in fact. That’s the job he’s working right now.”
Severus’ face snapped back to Draco. “WHAT?” he roared.
Harry looked up to see Snape roaring at Draco. Wonder what’s got him so upset. Poor Draco looks rather like he’s in a storm. He shrugged, turning back to his list. He had everything he’d planned on buying, but he didn’t have anything for lunch, or dinner, so he picked up the bags and turned to trudge down the Alley to the restaurant Finch-Fletchley had opened. He kept meaning to stop eating take-away so much, but really, when he didn’t have anyone to cook for except himself, he couldn’t really muster up any energy for it. Besides, take-away let him get more work done.
As he passed the restaurant Draco and Snape had gone into, his thoughts wandered. I wish Snape hadn’t seen me like this. When will I ever look like an adult to him? He sighed heavily and shook his head. Why did he care what Snape thought of how he looked, anyway? He glanced into the window and caught Snape just looking away.
Harry ate lunch at the worksite, holding the sandwich with one hand and using his wand to push around markers for the various new walls he needed to put in. “If we shove this here and then use that one as the load-bearing… yeah. That’ll work.” He shoved the last, slightly over-large, bite into his mouth and looked around for his crew.
“Oi, Alex,” he called, as soon as he could speak. “I think I’ve got it.” A dark head popped out one of the upper windows, and Harry waved. “Come down here and tell me what you think.”
Half an hour later, Harry was surrounded by his entire crew. They were all looking at the small models he’d conjured of the steps they’d have to take. “… so first we’ll have to get the roof supported somehow,” Harry said, “but I think we can just use one of the helio charms for that, and then we can do the rest.”
“Helio only lasts half a day,” came Alex’s gruff voice. “D’you think we can get it done that quick?”
Harry shrugged. “We’ll have to, won’t we? And it’ll only be for the walls. The interior stuff we’ll do the regular way.” He stood, then bent backwards to stretch his back. “I think we’ll start tomorrow. It’s too late today to get it done in time.” The crew started to wander off, but Harry held Alex back. “Hey. There’s a lot for this house – do you think we could find a way to speed any of it up?”
His shop foreman crossed his arms and stared at the house. “Well, while we’re moving the walls, you could get started on the additions. We’ll need to add to the roof to accommodate them, so it would help to have them done while we’re getting the other stuff done.”
Harry nodded, thoughtfully. “Makes sense. I’ll see if I can’t get started on the preliminary charms for that.” He bent back to his model, muttering under his breath.
Alex turned to him. “Any idea who bought this monstrocity?” At Harry’s shaken head, he said, “Well, whoever it is, they’ve got some strange ideas of what they want. I wonder why they want so much storage.”
Harry spent the evening worrying about the Helio charm and didn’t sleep well. He dreamt of chasing down long filthy corridors, searching for something he knew he’d lost. When he woke up, he could tell that nothing was going to go right. He burned his coffee, cut his finger on the knife he used to open the packet of sausages he wanted to eat for breakfast, he had to go back to his flat twice for things he’d forgotten, and some of his workwizards didn’t show up on time.
Getting the Helio placed was the trickiest part of the morning, however, and once it was set and the roof was floating placidly two metres above the walls, he sighed deeply and hoped all the bad luck had been spent.
Severus woke feeling fidgety and uncomfortable. He hadn’t been able to concentrate after Draco had told him that Harry was the one working on his house. When he’d told the estate agent he wanted the re-fitting company’s main contractor to do the work, he’d had no idea Harry was the one who’d be doing the work.
That afternoon, he decided that he would just go look at the house one more time; he’d seen it, along with enough others that he’d had to refer to them by colour of exterior paint, or peculiarities of lavatories, but now he was having a difficult time remembering exactly which one he’d bought. He thought he remembered two storeys, and something about it being set into a small hollow in the hills around it.
Checking the Apparition coordinates the agent had left him, he took a deep breath and waited for the feeling of pressure.
He’d been right—the house was surrounded by low hills. He had appeared a bit down the path and as he walked towards the house he could see there were several people working on it. Something appeared odd about the construction; he started to run when he saw that the roof was floating a metre above the walls. It was tipping; he could see the person attempting to keep it upright standing at one corner and yelling.
Suddenly, the figure resolved itself into Harry and Severus’ gut seized. Severus could see Harry was lowering the roof, but from his angle it was clear that Harry couldn’t see that the whole thing was uneven. He practically flew, hoping he’d make it to Harry before the roof tipped itself right over and Harry couldn’t hold it any more
Just as Severus got close enough to try to catch the roof, it stabilized and settled neatly onto the house. Severus could see Harry bending forwards from the waist and gasping for breath. Finally he straightened up and ran a hand over his face. Harry turned to walk around the corner of the building, and Severus flinched backwards, not sure that he wanted to be seen. His standard luck seemed to be holding, however, and Harry stopped and stared when he saw him.
Harry offered him a grin. “What brings you here, Professor?” His face took on an endearingly puzzled look. “And how’d you get here anyway, this place is blocked against anyone but the owner… oh no.” The puzzled look crumpled into shock and dismay.
“Why should it bother you that I purchased this property?” Severus crossed his arms. Now he’ll quit the job and I won’t get a chance to …. Harry grimaced and shook his head.
“It’s just—I didn’t expect you to be the one who’d buy this house.” Harry was looking at the hills around them and Severus followed his gaze. He stiffened as the shape of the hills and the arrangement of the trees triggered a hazy memory in his mind. He thought if it were darker… and if he were looking at the house from the other direction… He staggered when the memory coalesced and he realized where he was.
“Is this… this is Godric’s Hollow, isn’t it?” He turned to see Harry looking at him, his gaze somehow sympathetic. Harry nodded. “I think I need to sit down.” He stumbled; when Harry caught him he had to suppress his own inner thrill at the warmth of Harry’s body.
Harry conjured a chair and lowered Severus into it. “I’m sorry, sir. I know you’d not—this isn’t the house you’d have chosen if you knew.”
Severus tilted his head back, trying to force his body to relax. He has no idea. “It was the only one out of the countless hundreds the agent showed me that was even halfway suitable. I think it’s just that Fate has a sense of humour.” He sighed.
“Now that you’re here,” Harry said diffidently, “would you like to see what we’re doing? There were some questions I had, but the agent didn’t seem to think I could talk to you about them.”
Three days later, Severus stared out the window over the sink in the kitchen at Godric’s Hollow. The sun was only just now rising over the rolling hills to the east; the sky was filling with spectacular pinks and pale aquas. For one moment the view he’d had from the cell in Azkaban was superimposed, but he blinked fiercely and it was gone. He was never going back there.
Harry lay on a cot in the alcove off to the side of the room. It turned out that the kitchen at the Hollow was large enough for the two of them to inhabit it while construction continued on the rest of the building. Harry had invited him to stay in the house while it was being worked on; he said something about some of the refittings working better and being longer lasting if the house’s final owner were on site. Severus, prompted by some demon hope he refused to acknowledge, asked if it wouldn’t be easier for Harry if he, too, were to stay in the house. He could get to work faster, and would be able to keep a closer eye on the whole project that way. And, as Severus’ alterations hadn’t included any work to this room, they could both stay.
Harry shifted and Severus turned away from the brightening sky. He could see the shaggy top of Harry’s head from where he stood; he had to force himself to glance away. Harry grunted and swung around to sit up on the edge of the bed. Severus swivelled to stare out the window, doing his best not to think about the flash of muscular leg and chest he’d seen.
“Is there coffee?” Harry’s voice was rough with sleep. Severus could see, reflected in the window, Harry stretch and run his hands through his hair.
“If you want coffee, you’ll have to make it yourself.” As Severus stared out the window, he could hear what he had learned was Harry’s morning routine. Harry was not a morning person; he stumbled to the counter, poked the coffee beans with his wand until they hexed themselves into grounds, then he waved his hands over them and they flew to the filtered pot just in time for the kettle to burst into full whistle.
A few minutes after that, Harry, first cup of coffee in hand, ambled over and stood nearer to Severus than he was comfortable with. “Like the view?” Harry’s voice was no less rough, even after half a cup of coffee.
Severus nodded. “It will do.” At his side, Harry turned, bringing his arm up against Severus’ back. Severus stiffened; about to step away, he paused when Harry said, “I wonder if my mum and dad ever stood like this. You know,” he waved his cup, then sipped from it quickly, “watching the sun rise.”
Feeling the Oath twinge inside him at the reminder of how spectacularly he’d failed and that he was still bound, Severus moved away. His back felt cold without Harry’s arm against it and his anger at himself grew. Am I incapable of doing what is best for myself rather than attaching myself to the nearest other person? I did perfectly fine alone while I was— “You still haven’t told me why you want to sell this house. As you said, it is your family home.” He didn’t repeat any of what he’d learned from Draco—that Harry had spent the first year after the war was over re-fitting and re-furbishing this house. Why he’d want to give that up baffled Severus.
Harry grimaced, and followed Severus to the table in the centre of the room. He busied himself with pouring more coffee into his cup. Severus, intimately familiar with methods of distraction and delay, waited.
“Honestly, it’s too big for me.” Harry looked around at the kitchen. “It’s nice here; the view is great from all the rooms, I love the village nearby, and the orchard out back’s brilliant, but really, it’s a house for someone with a family. I—well, there’s just me.” He took a slightly too big swig of the coffee and nearly choked.
“A family.” Severus held himself very still. Did the brat think he was hiding a family somewhere? A wife, no matter how disgusting he found the thought? Children?
Harry slanted a grin in his direction. “Yeah. Ironic, huh, that you’re the one who bought it? I’ve had it on the market for almost four years now. I was beginning to think it would never sell.” He finished the coffee and Banished the pot to the sink. Severus looked at the light streaming in through the window – dust motes danced in the air, alternately flashing and turning. He turned back to see Harry, chin in his hand, staring at him.
“You’ve changed, you know, sir.” Harry seemed to be struggling with something. “I hope you like the house. That you can make it a home for yourself. That’s all it wants—to be a home again.” He smiled then strode off towards the one loo they’d finished. Severus stared after him. He thinks I can make this house a home? And what does he mean, changed?
That evening, Harry leaned into the kitchen. “Sir? Professor?” Severus came around from the room he’d insisted Harry’s crew finish first; he’d turned it into an office. They’d been eating dinner in the local pub as the gas hadn’t been installed to the kitchen yet. He’d heard mysterious bangings during the day, but hadn’t come out to investigate.
“Yes, Potter?” The evening sun shining behind Harry hid his face.
“We’re all going now. I just thought you’d want to know.” There was a curious pause, then Harry shrugged. “I’ll see you on Monday, then.”
“You’re not—I’d thought you were still staying here.” Severus gestured at the cot Harry had inhabited for the past few days.
“Oh. No, I was just… well, that first day you were so insistent, and then it was just nice—I mean easier to be here in the mornings and….” He trailed off and shifted, taking a small step back. “So, anyway, I was thinking, the gas is in, and it’s the weekend now and you’ll probably want everyone gone, so I’m—we’re—off.” He shrugged and hitched his satchel higher on his shoulder.
“What about dinner,” burst from Severus’ mouth, before he could think to censor himself. Harry stopped, half turned away.
“The meal at the end of the day. Possibly you’ve heard of it?” Severus crossed his arms. Maybe he could get out of this by making Harry lose his temper.
Harry chuckled. “I’ve heard of it, but I—you can’t want me to cook you dinner as well as fix the back room into that awful cold-storage room that you want.”
“I’ve seen what you do when faced with uncooked food and a stove, Potter,” Severus said dryly. “I’ll have to replace that pan.” He’d decided it wasn’t worth trying to teach the boy to cook over a magical fire after seeing the mess that he’d made of a simple omelette.
Harry stepped further into the room. “I’m a bachelor. We don’t cook.” He tucked his hands into the pockets of his trousers, and Severus forced himself to look away from the tightly pulled fabric.
“You may not cook, but true adults know that cooking is one of the highest art forms.” Severus could barely believe he was having this conversation with Harry. Did he really think Harry would— He paused and closed his hands, tucked away under his arms, into fists. “However, this is the first dinner I’ll have here, and—“
“All right,” Harry said brightly, “you’re on. I’ll go down the village right now and pick us up something from the shops. When I bring it back, you can practice your ‘highest art form’ on it.” He sent a brilliant grin at Severus and ducked back out of the kitchen. The crack of Apparition sounded seconds later.
Severus collapsed into a chair. “What did I get myself into?” Letting his head drop into his hands, he groaned. “And now I’m talking to myself. This can’t get any worse.” After a few minutes thought, he groaned again. “He’ll probably bring back something impossible.”
Harry enjoyed poking about in the shops; he found early aubergines and chose carrots to go with. When he caught himself musing over whether or not Severus would like sprouts, he mentally smacked himself and took a deep breath. It doesn’t matter if he’s making you dinner, or that he seemed so worried about you. It’s not like he’s interested in anything but getting his house finished on time. He chose the nicest chops he could find, grabbed some onions and then found himself in the liquor aisle. He’d not want to hear about your stupid crush anyway. He started to walk on, then slowed and stopped. He chose several bottles of beer, a name he recognised from adverts he’d seen; he hoped it wasn’t awful.
Just before he Apparated back, he closed his eyes. We’re both adults. It would be good to be friends with him. He has so few friends.
He staggered slightly when he landed. “I got us some Samuel’s,” he called, shaking the bag with the beer. In the kitchen, he dropped the small bag and pulled out several large bottles. “I’m sure I saw glasses around here…” A determined survey of the cabinets revealed two, unmatching, large mugs. He raised an eyebrow at Severus. “These’ll have to do.” Harry started pouring the beer into the mugs, nodding at the smaller bag. “Go on. I know you’re worried about what I bought.”
Severus jumped slightly; Harry wondered if he’d known he was staring. He scrabbled the bag open, then seemed bemused by what Harry had chosen and Harry wondered if he’d done something silly yet again. He shrugged. “I know, you’d never expect me to be a meat and two veg kind of person, but I was sure there was something you could do with the aubergines.” He handed Severus a mug of beer and lifted his own. “To dinner. May it be the first of many.”
Severus stilled slightly and Harry stumbled into explanations. “I mean, the first of many dinners you make, not the first you eat with me. I mean, I know you’ll have lots of people over. Er…” He couldn’t believe how much worse he was making this. Wasn’t it enough that he was a prat, did he have to be one in front of this man? He took a swig of beer, to stop his mouth.
Luckily for Harry, it seemed that whatever had made Severus stop moving wore off quickly. He began to chop the carrot; his voice was tense as he asked, “Why are you doing this? Working on house modifications?”
Harry leaned back in his chair, wondering why Severus cared. “Well, after the…after everything was done I couldn’t stand to be in the Aurors. I tried it, you know. Well, maybe you don’t.” He sipped from his mug, then put it down on the table. “Ron stuck to it. He’s better at it than I am, anyway. Less prone to heroics.”
Severus shot him a look over his shoulder, and Harry caught his breath. It looked like he was smiling.
“You, prone to flashy heroics? Impossible.” His voice was dry, but the humour caught Harry by surprise. He burst out laughing.
“Yeah, you’d think I’d have learned, right? I mean, nothing I do from now on would ever top that time in Voldemort’s dungeons. Anyway,” he continued, “Ron’s got the right temperament for it. I…got bored, I guess.”
Severus waved his wand over the two pans on the stove, then came and sat across from Harry. His eyes were hooded and Harry found himself wishing he could read the man better. “Bored? With being the hero and saving people from Dark Wizards?”
Harry’s face twisted. “It’s not like that. It’s more that, well, it’s always been the same thing. I’ve been fighting Dark Wizards, what? Since I was in first year? I wanted to do something else with my life. Chasing after yet more people, defending myself from yet more hexes … it all just seemed so pointless. I wanted to build something new, not be stuck doing the things I’d been doing since I discovered I was a wizard.” He had to look away from the sudden understanding that shone in Severus’ eyes. It occurred to him that no one else had really understood his decision. Oh, they’d accepted it, but no one else seemed to know what he was talking about.
“Professor, sir—“ he didn’t know how to say this. “I want to … thank you. For, you know…” he waved his hands around.
“I—what?” Harry hated that he could never make sense of the conversations he had with Severus.
“If we are to have this conversation, I think we can be on a first name basis.” He turned his mug in his hands. “And I think I need to have more to drink.”
Harry surprised himself by chuckling. “All right. After dinner, then?”
Harry was surprised at how pleasant dinner was. He knew he was deliberately putting off discussing things – and more and more things that he wanted to talk to Severus about piled up in the back of his mind – and it seemed that Severus was doing the same. They had a neutral conversation about the latest Ministry edicts, then Severus responded sharply to something Harry said about restrictions on the press and the conversation took off. Harry didn’t even notice that they’d finished dinner until he found himself arguing over his shoulder while he stood at the sink watching the dishes wash themselves and Severus sat at the table gesturing with his mug.
A short silence fell when Harry sat back down. Harry ran his fingers through his hair. “I don’t—I just wanted to thank you, you know, for what you did. I never did say anything to you then. I mean, I saw you there in that cell and I just….”
Severus’ face drained of colour.
Severus stood up, aware that this was not the conversation he thought he’d be having. He didn’t want to think of that time, of being in that damned cage…
“I did what was necessary,” he said, his back to the table. The view out the window was calming, even after dark.
“No, sir—Severus. You didn’t.” Harry had leaned forward, his voice gone earnest. “You did more than was necessary. Do you think I’ve forgotten what you were put through? How I—we—found you?”
Severus closed his eyes and the memory of how he’d felt when Harry had stepped through the door of his cage rose before him. To his light-starved eyes, Harry himself dazzled; brilliance seeming to stream from his face and hands. Severus had expected his touch to burn, but instead he’d been gentle and soft. Even now, years later, he still felt the joy of being rescued. He knew that his current pathetic fixation on the boy had its roots in that moment.
“I only did what had to be done.” He turned back to Harry. “You should not have done that. You should have left me there.”
Harry looked down at the table. “Yeah, that’s what everyone else said. Only,” he glanced back up, his eyes fierce. “Only I couldn’t just leave you there. I couldn’t. You’d done so much and I was so worried….” His voice faded to a whisper. “Draco was the only one who thought I was doing the right thing. I think it was the first time he saw me instead of Voldemort’s Opposite Number.”
Severus nodded to himself. He’d wondered why Draco and Harry had been so comfortable together. It was clear that Harry, without realising it, had done more to prove himself to the younger Malfoy simply by being a true Gryffindor than any other action could have done.
“That still doesn’t explain why you’re here, and why you’re,” he wouldn’t say ‘single’, he wouldn’t, “not married to the youngest Weasley.”
Something passed over Harry’s face then. “I’m, er. She and I found that we’re better friends than we are a couple. Plus, she’s much better off with Draco. He… he understands more about this world than I ever will.”
Severus felt confused. “What difference does that make? You’re easily the more powerful wizard.”
“I’m gay.” Harry was looking out the window, his cheeks pink. “Okay? And she didn’t want to be married to someone who’d rather shag her brothers than her.”
“Oh.” Severus leaned back against the sink, brain whirling. This conversation had got to be the strangest one he’d had in years. “I… see.” He wasn’t going to think about the fact that Harry was interested in men. Being interested in men wasn’t at all the same thing as being interested in ugly, old men who’d betrayed everyone who’d depended on them.
Harry stood up, still looking away. “I—it’s late. I’ll be back on Monday.” He looked around for something, but Severus was still trying to catch up and only thought that if he found it, he’d leave.
“Harry, stay.” Harry’s back stiffened. “You said you liked being here in the mornings, and this way you can still look out the windows, see what your—” He couldn’t believe he was asking Harry to think about his parents.
Harry swung around. “It doesn’t bother you that I’m gay? You’re not repulsed and don’t want to sleep in the same room as me?”
Oh. Severus felt much more confident once he knew what the difficulty was. “As long as you don’t mind the same thing.” He watched as Harry’s face clouded then cleared. “And this way I can discuss the house with you.”
Harry’s smile, though rueful, made Severus’ chest clench tightly.
They spent the weekend working on the plans Severus had drawn up for the house. Now that he knew which house it was, and had a clearer picture of where he was, he thought there might be changes to the modifications he wanted. To his delight, their conversations wandered off of the modifications and onto subjects like whether or not ley lines existed, and if they did, whether or not they were the framework that guided Apparition. He found Harry a stimulating, if occasionally loud, conversationalist, and spent the whole weekend in a slight daze.
Monday morning was only slightly uncomfortable, as Harry was outside and working much earlier than he had been the week before. Severus was, at first, concerned that Harry found his friendship worthwhile while no one was looking, but when Harry called him out of his office just before lunch and introduced him to his work crew as ‘Severus Snape, the war hero’, Severus relaxed just a bit.
Harry knew he had enjoyed the weekend with Severus a little too much. He had to remind himself several times a day that just because Severus was willing to talk to him didn’t mean the man was interested in him. He wanted Severus to think of him as competent, so he made sure to be out early on Monday – that way he could look like he was working hard on the new modifications Severus wanted.
He knew that the five year Restitution Severus had served had managed to change most wizards’ and witches’ opinions of him, but he wanted to make it clear to his work crew how he felt. He ordered something large for lunch then invited Severus out to eat with them. Severus seemed stiff at first, but he’d relaxed when he had a plateful of food in front of him.
Harry smiled into his own serving of vindaloo and poked at the model house to see how the modifications were coming along.
Harry spent the next two weeks hoping that his increasingly hard to hide feelings weren’t going to get him in trouble. Severus had seemed happy to see him every day, and had gone so far as to change some of the modifications to the house to include things that Harry mentioned wanting in a home for himself. Harry was feeling cautiously optimistic about his life for the first time in years.
The only odd thing was that one of his most reliable workers was acting strange. He wouldn’t speak to Severus at all and often came late and left early. It bothered Harry; he’d thought everyone had had a chance to learn who Severus really was. He tried to ask Alex about it, but Alex just shrugged it off and said something about everyone having their off days. It had been more like an off fortnight, but Harry decided to see if things got better.
He was surprised to see Ron’s Ministry owl flying through the maze of construction materials strewn about what was going to be the front garden. With a grimace, knowing he’d likely forgotten a dinner appointment at their house, he pulled the parchment off the owl’s leg and offered her some of the crusts from the lunchtime’s garlic bread.
Ron’s handwriting was messier than usual.
found something that you need to see.
Meet me at
the office the Leaky your flat as soon as you
get this owl.
Puzzled, Harry looked around until he saw Alex through one of the upper storey windows. He trotted up the stairs, and told him that he’d be off-site for an hour or two. On his way back outside, he stopped into Severus’ office.
“I have to go meet Ron,” he said, watching Severus measure beetle’s wings into a cauldron. “Is there anything you need while I’m out?”
Severus held up one finger, then blew gently across the surface of the liquid he was working on. After another moment, he turned, smiling. “No, not unless you want to find something to go with dinner tonight. I thought I’d make a shepherd’s pie.” He reached out and touched Harry’s shoulder and Harry leaned slightly into the touch. Severus had begun to touch him like this—just gentle touches, often seemingly to let him know when Severus was walking behind him, or once, to illustrate a point in an argument. He’d won the argument, as Harry hadn’t been able to think about anything besides Severus’ hand on his knee.
Harry put his hand on Severus’ for a moment, then started for the Apparition point. He was trying to think of how to lead Severus up to a kiss when he walked into his flat to meet Ron.
Ron was pacing around the sitting room, holding something in hands. He swung around when Harry came in; his face held a mixture of worry and triumph.
“There you are,” he cried. “What took you so long?”
“I came as soon as I got your owl.” Harry shook his head and went into the kitchen to grab a butterbeer. “Want one?” He looked over his shoulder at Ron and straightened slowly when he saw the look on Ron’s face. Ron looked like he was about to explode. “What is it?”
“I found this.” Ron held out a small wooden box. Harry raised his eyebrows and reached for it. It didn’t weigh very much, and there were no markings on any of the faces.
“Okay, I’ll bite. What is it?” Harry set the box down on the table and twisted the top from his butterbeer.
“It’s an Oath.” Ron ran his fingers through his hair and threw himself into one of the chairs at the table. “You know how prophecies are recorded into their Orbs automatically, right?” Harry nodded grimly. He remembered that very clearly. “Well, Wizard’s Oaths are recorded as well.”
“Oaths? You mean, like Unbreakable Vows?” Harry shook the box curiously.
“No. Unbreakable Vows aren’t recorded.” Ron shifted.
Harry felt his confusion grow. “Right. Vows aren’t recorded, but prophecies and Oaths are. And Oaths end up in little wooden boxes. Got it. Only, why are you telling me this? I haven’t made any Oaths.”
Ron shifted again, looking very uncomfortable. “Your name’s on this one. Yours and Snape’s.”
“What?” Harry sat up. “I know I
didn’t make any Oaths with Severus. How
can there be--
“Severus?” Ron’s voice was sharp. “You’re calling him by his first name now? Never tell me you’ve seen him.”
Harry winced. He’d been so involved in the work on Godric’s Hollow, and in his hopes for his relationship with Severus that he’d entirely forgotten that his friends didn’t know yet. “Oh, uh. Well, see, it’s funny, but the person who bought Godric’s Hollow? It turns out that it’s—“
“Snape.” Ron looked congealed. “You sold your house, your parents’ house, to Severus Snape.”
“I didn’t mean to! I mean, I’ve been trying to sell it for four years, Ron. It’s not like I went to wherever he was and asked him to buy it.” He paused. “And anyway, if he likes it and I don’t mind, I don’t see that it’s anyone’s business who I sell my house to. I sold Grimmauld Place to that horrible woman with the cats.”
Ron held up a hand. “I don’t want to hear about it. I know what you and Hermione say about this, but it’s not going to change my mind. Nothing will.”
Harry stared at him, feeling suddenly chilled. “What if I … never mind.” He looked away, at the bright walls of his flat that had felt so homey before he’d started spending so much time with Severus at his house. “How do you open one of these, anyway?”
“You tap it with your wand. Anyone listed on it can play it that way.”
Harry took a deep breath and tapped the top of the box with his wand. He couldn’t imagine at all what this was about, but he was looking forward to laughing about it with Severus when he got back.
A thick mist oozed through the sides of the box, making what looked like a platform or a stage with the box in the centre. Suddenly an image began to grow up from the mist, until Harry could see that it was showing a small section of what looked like the Hogwarts grounds, near the Forbidden Forest. There were five boys there, and Harry jerked slightly when he realised that the one on his knees was Severus. His wand tip fell off the top of the box and he gasped as the scene instantly grew to fill the room.
It was almost as if he were standing in a Pensieved memory, except that he could see Ron still, and his kitchen walls were faint echoes at the edges of the image.
Harry sucked in a deep breath as he looked into the faces of his father and the rest of the Marauders. They were all frozen in place, as if this were a movie and someone had hit the pause button. Harry pushed back in his chair. “Ron? What now?’
Ron shook his head. “It’s just supposed to start.”
Harry stood up and looked closely into Severus’ face. Something was wrong. He reached out to touch Severus, but jumped back when the scene stuttered once. Suddenly, he could hear night creatures, cicadas and late frogs, and wind soughing through the trees. The boys started moving.
“I don’t see why I had to be the one to write the thing,” Sirius moaned, looking over a parchment. Beside him, Remus had his arms crossed and his back half-turned to the rest of them.
“Did you bring the potion?” James was ruffling his hair and shifting his robes. Beside him, Peter pulled out a large bottle and waved it around.
“I want to be the one to make him drink it.” Peter’s voice was bright, and Remus flinched.
He turned to face them. “I don’t think we should do this. It’s not right.”
“Oh, come on, Moony. It’ll be fun. Imagine old Snivelly, having to do everything James tells him to do.” Sirius handed the parchment roll to James and bumped his shoulder against Remus’.
“I just want to register my comment,” Remus said, his voice tired.
Peter pushed up to Severus’ kneeling form and tried to tip his head back. “Padfoot, help me,” he said. “He won’t move.”
“Of course not, you ninny. He’s Petrified.” Sirius waved his wand and Severus fell to the ground. “There. Now do it.”
Severus was thrashing, trying to get away and Peter couldn’t hold his head still. With a half-barked laugh, Sirius knelt down and grabbed Severus’ hair, yanking hard and pulling his head back.
“Stay still, damn you,” he said in a conversational tone. Peter grinned and poured half the potion into Severus’ mouth. He clamped one hand over Severus’ nose and Sirius clamped a hand on Severus’ mouth, forcing Severus to swallow the potion.
Within a few minutes, his body slumped. Sirius stood up. “That’s some pretty powerful stuff you got there,” he said to Peter approvingly. “We’ll have to keep that around.”
Together, they dragged Severus back up to his knees, and then stood with their wands touching his shoulders. James moved to stand in front of them and touched his wand to Severus’ head.
“Repeat after me, Severus. Here do I swear by mouth and hand…”
Severus’ head drooped and he remained silent.
“Say it, Snivellus. Repeat after me and just say it.”
“Yeah, Snivvy. Or do we need to give you more of the Special Juice?”
“Here do I swear by mouth and hand…”
“Here… do I sw—swear by mout’n han’”…
Harry gasped out “Stop,” and the scene froze again. He tapped the box with his wand again and shivered as the whole thing disappeared back into the mist and then into the box. “Oh god.” He covered his mouth with one hand and fell back into the chair. “Oh god,” he repeated. “He’s forced into… he has no choice. He wouldn’t want me if he … if my father…” He ran for the sink and vomited.
Ron came up and stood next to him, his face slightly green. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
Harry swung around, the water he’d been splashing on his face flying in glittering droplets across the room. “No? What were you expecting? What?” He dropped his head again, running more water over his head. “God, I have to go back there and…”
Ron touched his shoulder. “Go back where?”
“I’ve been staying there, at Godric’s Hollow. Only I guess it’s Snape’s Hollow, now.” Harry sat down at the table and let his wet head fall forward. Slowly he slumped further forward, but then his elbow hit the box and he jerked upright. With a snarl he shoved it towards Ron. “Take that back. I don’t… I have to find out how to break this.”
“You’ve been staying with Snape?”
Harry glared at him, feeling the misery inside himself swell. “I—it was easier. I was already at work, and I could talk to Sever—to Snape about what he needed done and he was funny. I mean, he was still sarcastic a lot of the time, but it was funnier, somehow. I thought we were getting along.”
Ron was looking at him oddly. “Getting along? With the git? The man who betrayed us?”
“Ron! You were there. You saw him, when we found him. What they’d done. You know he was the one sending us the information.”
“I just don’t think that his actions during the war should be considered alone. He is guilty of … responsible for his actions before the war as well. He has never been the good man you and Hermione seem to think him.” Ron shrugged.
Harry ran a hand over his face. “I know he’s never been all good, Ron, but really, he did save many of us during the war, and he certainly paid for his actions with blood.”
The silence filling the kitchen felt empty to Harry, as if there were no more words in the world. Finally, he pulled in a breath and asked, “Do you think Hermione knows how to break one of these Oaths?”
“Break an Oath?” Ron seemed shocked at the idea. “You don’t break an Oath, Harry. It’s …” he sat back. “I guess you could ask her.”
Harry nodded, not sure he could trust himself to say anything else.
Ron left a little while later; Harry sat in the kitchen as the day ended. Outside the windows, the sky darkened until all he could see was the narrow slice of moon in the corner. Gritting his teeth, he tried to prepare himself. He thought Severus would be rather pleased, though. He’d be done with pretending that he liked Harry at all.
Severus was standing at the stove when he heard Harry come in.
“What did Weasley want?” He tried to disguise his worry; he’d expected Harry back hours ago.
“Severus… I—“ Harry sounded awful, tight and constricted. Severus turned around, really worried now.
“What happened? Is Gra—Mrs Weasley all right?” Harry appeared whole and unharmed, and Severus felt himself relax just a bit.
Harry’s brows pulled together. “Hermione? Sure, she’s… I have to see her, actually, so I think I can’t stay here tonight. I’ll just…Oh god.” He wrapped his arms around his chest and Severus felt himself begin to go cold.
“What has happened?” He tried to keep the chill he was feeling from his voice, but by the way Harry shivered, it was clear he hadn’t.
Harry seemed to gather himself together. “I have to go now, Severus. I’m so sorry.” He looked around the kitchen, and Severus wondered what he was seeing, what he was looking at. “I’ll see you—I’ll owl you.” He turned and left, the sound of his Apparation loud in the quiet night.
Severus sank back into one of the chairs at the table. What had happened? What had that disgusting excuse of a Weasley told Harry? He stood up, fury filling him. He’d go now and find out just how much of his old power to scare he still had. At the door, he stilled. Whatever it was Weasley’d told Harry, pulverising Weasley was possibly not the best way to deal with it. Plus, he was an Auror – he might be better able to defend himself now than he had been.
He shut and locked the door behind himself, waved a hand at the stove to turn it off, and went to bed. He’d think of something in the morning.
Nothing happened in the morning except that the work crew came and Harry didn’t. They didn’t seem surprised not to see Harry, so Severus supposed he’d contacted them the night before. One of them smirked at him when he looked out the kitchen door.
He was sitting in the newly finished front room, staring out the window, when Draco found him.
“Severus?” He knelt in front of Severus and shook his knee slightly. “I’ve been calling for you all over the house. What’s wrong?”
Severus drew his focus away from the distant hills and looked at Draco. “I don’t know. I’ve been trying to think of what could be wrong, but I don’t have enough information.” His gaze sharpened, as if he were just now realising something. “You work for the Minister. You could find out. What can you find out about Weasley?”
Draco’s brows rose. “Arthur? What do you want with Arthur?”
“No, I want Ronald.” Severus felt himself filling with energy again. He could figure this out. He stood up. “Come into the kitchen and I’ll make us something—“
Draco shook his head. “I don’t think so. I think you’ve been here alone too long. Come with me to a tea shop I found in London.”
Severus started to say that he hadn’t been alone, but stopped himself. That could be worked on later. Now it was time for him to work out a plan.
The tea shop was called Fortis Fidelis. Severus was surprised at how comfortable it was, and how quiet each table was. It wasn’t until he saw the waitress use a wand to hold a extra large teapot over several smaller ones that he understood what made this such a pleasant place. They were seated towards the back of the room, in a booth against the wall. Severus sat so he could look out the window; old habits died very hard.
“So,” said Draco. “What have you been doing the past few weeks? I thought I’d see you – didn’t you say something about having to stock your lab?”
Severus stirred his tea. “I have been staying at my new house.” He flicked a sharp look at Draco. “You did not tell me it was Godric’s Hollow.”
Draco raised his brows. “Should I have? It’s just a house. And,” he paused, “I thought it might be a way to make you finally move on that—“
“That is nothing you should involve yourself with.” Severus glared at Draco until he made the boy’s eyes fall. “As for the house, you might not have known, but it’s a house I would not have purchased if I had any choice.”
Draco winced. “Sorry. Has the house worked out well? I mean, other than the fact that you didn’t want it?”
Severus’ lips twitched. “I thought things were … but now I am less sure. I need information.”
“Anything. You know I owe you.”
Severus breathed deeply. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to risk this. “Harry has been staying at the house with me. However, Ronald Weasley contacted him yesterday and something changed.” He forced himself to say the next part. “I think he said something to Harry that made him leave.”
Draco sat up slowly. “What could Ron say that would… Harry’s stronger than…”
“There is no reason for Harry to be interested in me. I am sure that the time he spent at …” He trailed off slowly, staring at the couple he just saw coming into the shop. Draco, seeing his expression, turned slowly.
Harry and Hermione were sitting down in one of the window seats; smiling up at the waitress, they ordered quickly. Once they were served, they huddled together and began what looked like a close conversation. Hermione had a book propped open in front of them, and was taking notes.
Severus moved his fingers and whispered an eavesdropping spell.
“—n’t seen one like this. I think it’s a non-standard version, but I can’t find it anywhere.” Hermione sounded upset.
“It’s possible they made it up, you know.” Harry looked dreadful; there were bags under his eyes and his hair looked unbrushed. He appeared to be wearing the same clothes he’d worn two days earlier.
“If they made it up, we’ll have to modify the standard release.” She sighed and took a deep sip of her tea. “I think we should just design a release based on the Oath they used—“
Severus jerked back and the spell stopped. He stared at Harry, his eyes and lungs burning. “He’s going to…” He shuddered in a breath and closed his eyes.
Draco looked back and forth between Harry and Hermione and Severus. “He’s going to what?” He lunged forward and shook Severus’ arm. “Severus. What’s going on?
Severus felt as if he’d aged a hundred years in one minute. “I swore an Oath of Fealty to Harry’s father.”
Draco froze, still halfway across the table. “You what? Why?”
“I was forced, but the Oath doesn’t care. I don’t know what happened; I thought it would end when Potter was—when he died, but it transferred to Harry.” He put his head in his hands. “This is why I wouldn’t have bought—“
“Godric’s Hollow. Oh!” Draco sat back, his eyes wide. “You… they did this to you at school, sir, didn’t they?”
Severus nodded tightly, his eyes back on Harry.
“So, from what I heard, Harry’s going to Release you from the Oath. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?” Draco appeared puzzled, and even Severus couldn’t fully explain why it hurt so much to have the Oath Released. He clenched his fists. It felt like the rejection it was.
“Well,” said Draco thoughtfully, “I guess we know what Ron found.” At Severus’ curious look, he continued. “Oaths are recorded, like prophecies.”
Severus felt sick. There’s a record of that night? He rubbed his lips, his nausea increasing. Harry saw that? He must think I’m such a disgusting weakling.
Draco peered around the corner of the booth again. “They’re still talking. Do you want to try to leave without them noticing?”
No, I want to go up to that hateful brat and ask him why he’d… Severus sighed. “Yes. I think that would be wisest.”
They almost made it, but Harry looked up at exactly the wrong time. Severus felt his chest squeeze tight as Harry’s green eyes, dull now, bored into him. Lifting his chin and using every last skill he learned at hiding his emotions, Severus nodded and followed Draco out into the bright street.
Draco pulled him into the nearest alley and said, “You’re not going back there. Not yet. Come with me to the Terrace and play with your god-children. They haven’t seen you in years. Plus, Ginevra can get anything you need out of Ron.”
Severus bowed his head and followed another bright-haired man away from his old life.
Harry couldn’t breath. Why was he here? What was he doing with Draco? And why had Draco given him that ugly look? He was trying to fix what his blasted father had done, wasn’t he?
“Who was that, Harry?” Hermione looked around too late to see who had just passed by.
“No one.” Harry rubbed his face. “Go on. Tell me what I need to do and I’ll do it. Just… write the Release and I’ll say whatever I have to say.”
Hermione watched him, her eyes thoughtful. “You know, Harry, an Oath’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
“It means he’s forced to do whatever I tell him, whatever I want. That’s a bad thing, Hermione, and you know it,” Harry snarled. “And he’s the last person who should be forced into doing anything, let alone what I want.”
“Why do you think he’s being forced? Oaths aren’t compulsions. They’re… they’re more like statements of choice, of actions.”
Harry shook his head. “You don’t understand. He hates me, and yet he was being so nice. I know it’s got to be the Oath – there’s no reason for him to be anything other than his normal—his real self otherwise.”
Hermione smiled. “I don’t know that you’ve got it right, but if you’re this upset about it, then let’s get the Release done and you can see what happens then.” She tapped her notes straight. “Ron told me you seemed really horrified. And that there was something wrong with the way the Oath was administered.” She read the top page in her stack. “Are you sure this is an accurate transcription? I think I should watch the recording, to make sure I’m releasing him from everything.”
Harry choked. He didn’t want anyone else to have to watch that disgusting thing again, but he also wanted very much to let Severus be free from any coersion or compulsion. If this would help, then… “All right, but don’t tell anyone. It’s pretty bad.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Worse than the night we had to go into the sewers?”
Harry grimaced. He hadn’t thought of that disaster in years. “No. No, you’re right. It’s just childish. And…”
“And you hoped he wanted you the way you want him.” Hermione’s voice was soft. She curled her fingers around his and squeezed gently. “Let’s get you home and you can get some rest. I’ll come back tomorrow and we can look at this recording then.”
As they stood up, Hermione said, “This takes a lot of energy. You’ll be pretty wiped out after. Can you take any time off the house?”
Harry ran a hand through his hair. “Er. I think they can get along without me for a while, yeah.”
Severus looked at the note in his hand and tried not to crumple it up and burn it.
Professor Severus Snape,
Your presence is requested at the Forbidden Forest tonight at 7pm.
Mr Harry Potter
It was the small, barely legible please in the bottom right hand corner that made him stay his hand. He gritted his teeth and decided to see this through to the bitter end. Ironic that while one Potter had looked forward to having eternal servitude, the next one couldn’t wait to get rid of it.
He turned to the elderly snowy owl perched on the back of the chair and said, “Yes. Tell him I’ll be there.” It hooted softly, flew once around his head, and took off through the window.
Severus wore his finest, most formal robes. He felt better with the protection it served him. Plus, it would be good to show the boy what he was throwing away.
At a little before 7, he Apparated to the gates of Hogwarts and began the walk to the Forest. He knew perfectly well where Harry wanted to do this; he had no idea if Harry knew that it was more painful to have his services rejected in the same place they had originally been demanded, or if he had no idea at all.
Harry was standing with his back to the small group. Severus identified the Weasley twins, Hermione Weasley and … he looked around for Ronald, but didn’t see him. Apparently he wasn’t going to be part of this. Severus was surprised; he’d expected Harry’s friend to be overjoyed at seeing any connection between himself and Harry dissolved.
Hermione saw him and tugged on Harry’s arm. When he turned around, Severus felt himself go just a bit colder. There was no expression at all in his eyes; it was almost as if he didn’t recognise anyone in the clearing.
Harry cleared his throat. “We are here to redress a wrong that has continued for too many years. My father and his friends forced an Oath of Fealty upon then Hogwarts student Severus Snape. This was unacceptable. I know that simply Releasing Professor Snape from the Oath does not … is not complete recompense for their actions, however it is the first step towards apology.” He turned to face Severus. “On behalf of myself and my family, and any others who might be connected with this, I apologise from the bottom of my heart.” He paused. “I’m so sorry.”
Around them, the witnesses shifted until Severus stood in the centre of the group, Harry before him. The twins stood at Severus’ shoulders, Hermione behind him, facing slightly away. “Professor, please kneel,” said Harry. Severus narrowed his eyes, distracted by a flash of movement in the trees behind Harry. He knelt, torn between telling Harry exactly why this was unnecessary and waiting to see what the unknown person was going to do.
He felt the tip of Harry’s wand touch his head and froze. Suddenly his memories of the first time this had happened rose before him and he began to shiver. Harry had recreated the event perfectly – would he … did he think that drugging him would be necessary as well? He gazed up into Harry’s eyes, his own wide with shock and sudden fear.
Harry sighed, and said, “Repeat after me. I, Severus Snape, having sworn by mouth and hand…”
“I, Severus Snape, having sworn by mouth and hand…”
Severus stumbled when his shoulder hit the kitchen doorframe. The whole house was dark. He thought he’d left a lantern spelled on the kitchen table, but it appeared to have gone out. Slumping down in a chair, he let out a sound that was a half-groan, half-laugh. Trust Harry to get the wrong end of the stick. When the Oath had been forced on him, he’d have been delighted to have it removed, but… now it felt as if Harry were rejecting him. He knew it made no sense for him to have taken any part of the Oath to heart, but knowing that he’d failed it as spectacularly as he had…
He looked around the dark kitchen, moonlight his only illumination. This time the sound was more laugh than groan. How was it possible that he’d ended up living in the house which was the site of his greatest failure?
He walked through the partially finished corridor. The half-walls and incomplete ceiling cast strange shadows, making the corridor look first longer, then shorter than it was. Severus sat down in the living room; he thought about starting a fire or lighting some candles, but decided against it. The thin moon cast fitful light across the grass. Severus closed his eyes. He was beginning to think that coming back to England had been the wrong choice.
He blinked and leaned forward, staring out across the lawn. He thought he’d seen movement again – was there someone in the copse of trees near the gate? He stood up, determined to catch whoever was following him and blast them. It would feel good to let some of this anger go, and no one could blame him if he were simply defending his own home.
Harry stood in the doorway. His arms were wrapped around his chest again and he looked terrible.
“Professor,” he said, his voice tentative. “I know that simply releasing you won’t be enough to assuage you. I just wanted to let you know that you should think of what you would consider adequate compensation for the offence and I’ll get it for you.”
Severus sat back down, his brain whirling. Harry was acting as if the Oath were a dreadful thing, rather than the simple statement of intent and guidance it was meant to be.
“Harr—Potter, did anyone, Mrs Weasley, for example, bother to explain to you what an Oath entails?” He laced his fingers in his lap, looking for any sign of prevarication on Harry’s face.
Harry shook his head. “No, sir. But I saw the… recording, and it was pretty clear from what they said would happen…” He fell silent for a minute. “I’m… I can’t imagine my father was anything like kind to you—with the Oath.”
“I think,” Severus said, “we have now proven without a shadow of a doubt that you are, as you have said, nothing like your father.”
Harry looked up at him, a glimmer of light in his eyes. They darkened again, and it seemed to Severus that he paled.
“Are you cold, sir?” Severus could see Harry shiver, and the light in his eyes darkened even more as they went slightly glassy. “I’m so cold…” Severus stood up; the shadows behind Harry were darker than they should be… it seemed like the whole world was dark. He started forward just as Harry crumpled under the force of the shadows behind him.
Severus darted forward, then stopped. They weren’t shadows, they were Dementors. He raised his wand, screamed “Expecto Patronum!”, but the silver wisp that fluttered from his wand fell to the floor and dissolved. The closest Dementor was leaning over Harry, pulling his hood back to expose his mouth…
Severus shrieked and lunged for Harry, pulling him out of the way. Harry was moaning, but his eyes were open.
“Harry,” Severus said, aware that his voice was harsh, but unable to soften it. “Harry, wake up. I need you here. Whatever the Dementor showed you, it is false.”
Harry’s eyes focussed on his. “It doesn’t matter. What I fear has already happened.” He looked over Severus’ shoulder and his eyes widened. “Can you hold them? The Release … I promised Hermione that I’d be careful after, and I don’t know if I can do much to help.” He reached up and stroked a hand along Severus’ cheek; his fingers curled under the point of Severus’ jaw and trailed along the side of his neck. “I’ll try.”
Severus nodded, his skin burning with the touch. He turned to face the Dementors, aware that he’d choose to be here, Oath or no Oath. Defending this man from his enemies was more important than anything else he’d done. He concentrated on the way he’d felt the time he and Harry had shared the beer in those ugly mugs and sent out his Patronus again.
It was stronger, but not quite strong enough. The Dementors pushed forward making him shiver. The very air around him was freezing—it hurt to breathe.
He couldn’t fail. He refused. He stood in front of Harry, his wand across his body, thinking desperately of every single good thing that had ever happened to him. He’d find a good memory, something to use to fuel his Patronus. Oath or not, he wanted to be here, to be with Harry. Nothing mattered except this. He spared a thought for the way things could have been, if he and Harry had been able to be together, but at least they’d be together in the end.
Harry leaned back agaisnt the side of the chair, staring up at Severus as he whirled and thrust with his wand. He’d fallen in love with him—he wasn’t sure when, or even how, but now, the thought of being without him hurt more than anything else. He could feel the power surging inside him, feeding off of his emotions and burning brighter with every thought he had of Severus.
He panted, losing himself to the flames and the power—he wasn’t cold any longer, he realised. Suddenly it rushed over him, the same sensations he’d had just before he’d killed Voldemort, the feeling of burning fire and joy and love and peace. He threw back his head and screamed, “I love you. I love you, Severus!” and felt the light pour from him, filling the room and the house and the night.
Harry blinked. It was very dark. Carefully, because he could feel the headache just behind his eyes and he didn’t want to dislodge it, he turned his head. Maybe he could see something…
There was a small candle, nearly burnt out, on a table. Harry could see, just within the flickering pool of light, the heavy greasy fall of hair and hooked nose of the one person he needed to see. He sighed and let sleep reclaim him.
The next time he woke, there was a mediwizard at his bedside. He stared around, and saw Ron standing in the corner of the room, looking harrassed.
“Mr Potter.” The mediwizard stepped to the bedside. “You’re awake. Good.” He waved his wand over Harry’s body and made incomprehensible noises. Harry caught Ron’s eye and jerked his head, calling his friend over.
“What happened?” Harry was dismayed to hear that he couldn’t speak above a whisper. He cleared his throat, but the mediwizard gave him a sharp look and he stopped.
“You killed the last of the Dementors,” said Ron. He shoved his hands into his robe pockets and stared at his feet for a minute. “I’m sorry mate,” he said, his voice low. “I didn’t get there in time.”
“Time for what?” Harry was confused. He was here, and he’d seen Severus, so what else could be wrong?
“They were on him… on both of you before I could get there.” Ron still wouldn’t look at Harry, who was beginning to get upset.
He shoved himself upright, waving irritatedly at the mediwizard’s squawk. “What do you mean? I remember … well, I remember that he was doing all right at first. Then,” Harry paused. “Then I guess I don’t remember much. How long has it been? And, wait.” Something else had occurred to him. “Who were the Dementors after? I thought they were after me, but … and how did they know where I was?”
Ron shifted, moving to lean against the bed. “They were after him. I’d been following him…” He flushed, looking away. “I was sure he was up to something, coming back here after being gone for so long. I was outside the building and didn’t realise that the shadows were too dark until it was almost too late. Anyway, we figured it out—it’s been three days, by the way. One of your work-wizards didn’t show up to work and Alex went looking for him. Found him shivering in his bed, too scared to come out. Apparently, he’d found one of the Dementors and … well, he was angry that Snape hadn’t gone to Azkaban. He thought—“
“He thought he’d take matters into his own hands.” Harry was white. “How is Severus? What room is he in? Can I see him?”
Ron raised his eyebrows. “No one’s seen him. He’s not here; he’s gone back to the house. It’s all warded up – no one can get in.”
Harry shoved the mediwizard out of the way and slid off the bed. He nearly collapsed, but Ron caught him. “I can get in,” he said firmly. “Just get me there and I’ll pry him out.” He looked around the room. “Did you bring my wand? Some clothes?” He stared as Ron began to chuckle.
“You’re not going to give up on this, are you?”
Harry leaned on the bed. “No. He might be injured, and he’s certainly alone there. I want… well, I can’t say what I want until I know what he wants. But I’m going to try at least.”
Ron reached under the bed and pulled out a box. “That’s the Harry I know.”
Severus sat in a conjured lawn chair and stared up at his unfinished house. He’d be staying. He had come to that decision in the dark hours when he’d thought Harry wouldn’t wake up. This was now his home. He’d failed twice here, once under Oath and once free from it.
However, he rather thought he’d like to have the house not have holes in it.
Just as he stood up to try to determine where to start the repairs, he heard a heavy thump. Spinning around, he prepared to blast the Howler away.
It was Harry. He had Apparated in, but apparently couldn’t stand.
“Hi,” he said, waving from his position on his bottom. “I heard there was a bit of an altercation and I thought I’d drop by.” His expression turned rueful. “I didn’t mean to actually drop, but, well…”
“You can’t even stand up and the mediwizards let you go?” Severus strode to him, pulling him upright. A flicker of movement caught his eye and he saw Ron, standing just outside the ward-line. To his surprise the redhead waved, gave him a big thumbs-up sign, and Apparated away. “And now your friend abandons you?”
Harry smiled up at him. “No. Now my friend is leaving me with the person I need to see.” He leaned back and looked over Severus’ shoulder. “Huh. Alex must have stopped work. That’s not good. I’ll have to owl him. He knew—“
“He couldn’t get in.” Severus wrapped an arm around Harry’s waist, suppressing any reactions to the feel of Harry pressed against his side. You shouldn’t have been able to get in.”
Harry smirked. “You can’t stop me. The house wards would have to be … did you know the ground is warded here as well? Only since my family bought the land here over 500 years ago and has been building and re-building here, those wards will let me in no matter what you do to the house wards.” He pulled on Severus’ arm. “You were sitting, before. Let’s sit.”
Severus felt his head spinning. He’d never expected to see Harry again, and to have him flirtatious and cheerful was disorienting. He lowered them both to the ground, surprised to see that Harry had transfigured them a blanket to sit on.
“I want a turret,” Harry said dreamily. “I think in the northwest corner.”
Severus crossed his arms. “I think you’re dangerously unwell. What makes you think you get any say in what I do with my house?”
Harry smiled. “Do you know how I killed Voldemort?”
Severus felt his mouth tighten. Was it impossible to have a conversation with the boy? “No.” He thought for a minute. “Albus… Albus told me you had to learn to love.”
“Mmmm, yeah, only I’d say joy is the more important part. Anyway, I had to connect my emotions—love, joy, peace—to a desire, not to kill, but to, well, to share them, I guess. It’s hard to say. It feels like—like lightning, when it happens.” Harry was silent for a minute, staring at the house and Severus wished he could know what he was thinking. “The thing is,” Harry continued, his voice soft enough to make Severus have to lean closer, “it only works if the feelings are reciprocated. I have to be thinking about, feeling about someone or someones who feel the same way about me.”
He turned to face Severus. “Do you know how I kill Dementors?”
Severus felt his brows rise. “With a Patronus?”
“No. That just drives them off. You kill a Dementor by feeling so much joy and love and peace that it’s overwhelmed… and dies.” Harry was staring at Severus, as if there was something he expected.
“I don’t understand what that has to do with turrets in my house.” Severus knew he was missing something.
Harry sighed. “It’s the same thing as what killed Voldemort. I can’t do it unless the person I’m thinking about feels the same way.”
Severus felt his throat close. He remembered exactly what Harry had said before the entire room lit up. He’d thought it was delirium, or confusion. He stared across the blanket at Harry, who was smiling at him.
“So. I thought that maybe, if I promise to be very good and not try to cook omelettes again, you’d let me have a tower.” Harry’s voice sounded bright and confident, but his hands were wrung so tightly together his fingers had gone white. Severus leaned across the blanket and slid his hand over them.
“A turret? Or a tower?” He pulled Harry across his chest, and lay back. “I think you’d better decide which you want. There’s only room for one.”
Harry snuggled his head into the curve of Severus’ neck. “Room for two, now,” he said. He lifted his head and pressed a kiss to Severus’ lips. “Room for the both of us, wherever we are.”
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