Title: The Impossibility of Crows
Genres: Angst & Hurt/Comfort
Prompt: Casualty of War
Warnings: See Snarry Games Post for warnings.
Word Count: 41,000 +/-
A/N: The hardest fic to write that I’ve ever written. I originally thought it would be 5-7k. Oceans of gratitude to my incredible betas, auctasinistra and perfica, who not only did outstanding beta work but also supported me through quivering wreckdom. Without them, I would have had to withdraw from the Games. My debt to them is enormous. And, as they are the Queens of the Red Pencil, it must be understood that any errors are wholly my fault. Also, a huge shout out to our wonderful mod, djin7, who waited patiently and never once spoke a word of censure. * tips hat * I not only could never, I would never do what she does.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and Severus Snape are the property of JK Rowling. I intend no disrespect and I make no money from this or anything else.
Summary: The weak little whelp. Unable to withstand the most benign of tortures, he had collapsed, forsaking friends, foes and duty and in the process causing me no end of difficulty, as usual. I wanted to throttle him. I truly did.
THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF CROWS
The crows maintain that a single crow could destroy the heavens. There is no doubt of that, but it proves nothing against the heavens, for heaven simply means: the impossibility of crows. – Franz Kafka
The howling wind made the bones of the old house creak. Above the sound of rain battering the windows came the scream of branches scraping along the warped glass as if trying to claw their way out of the storm. Torchlight flickered, illuminating the old man in his bed and turning his aged face into a skeletal mask. His wasted body made barely discernable hills and valleys of the blankets pulled up to his chin. The sound of the latch opening could not have been heard above the raucous storm but he turned his head with a bird's alertness and smiled at the only dimly perceived figure crossing the room.
"Soon now," the old man said in a papery voice. "Very soon. Can you hear them calling me?"
Grief flitted over the face of his visitor. "That's only the cork tree in the wind. It's nothing. It's not time yet."
The old man coughed and cleared his throat. "I thought there would be more time but–" he coughed again, his thin chest heaving, "–I was too slow. Yet," his wheezing laugh was choked by yet another fit of coughing.
"Don't talk. Save your strength."
"Yet," he said again, ignoring the boy, "it seems the joke is on me. I strove to live that I might know and now, dying, at last I recognize the truth; there is more to life than knowledge and power." Laughter bubbled up again and with it the coughing. He hawked a rust-red glob into a handkerchief and settled back into his pillows, his breathing easier for the moment.
"You can't leave me."
"Come here, my beloved boy," he said, patting the bed with a bony, age-speckled hand. "Sit." He stroked the dark head. "You'll be fine, you'll see."
The bowed head pressed gently against his shoulder. "What will I do without you? You're all I know. What will I do?" His voice was thick with grief but his eyes were dry.
"Still no tears?" the old man asked. "Not once have I ever seen you cry, Adán. Ah well, they would be wasted on me and change nothing." He stared out the window, watching the cork tree thrashing by the dim light of a cloud-obscured moon and absently stroked the youth's dark, unruly hair. Finally, he shook his head as if to clear it. "Forgive me. The voices are so strong and bright. I am ready."
"No!" the youth protested, burrowing his head more firmly against the old man's chest. It hurt, bony skull against fragile ribs, but it was a comfort for them both. "What will I do without you?" the young man asked again.
"Live here; the house and everything in it is yours. Study. Learn. Wait. You will find your destiny, or it will find you. Perhaps some day, you will choose to carry on my work. You are young, there is much time in front of you."
"I don’t even know where your laboratory is."
Another fit of coughing had the old man doubled over in his bed. He pressed the blood-stained handkerchief to his lips. "When you are ready, the door will open. Everything reveals itself when the time is right."
And now the boy had a mulish expression on his face, so familiar and so very, very dear. He who had accepted so many things was not prepared to accept this. He must have always been this way, stubborn and uncompromising.
The old man smiled. "There's no point in protesting, my love. I had many turns of the dice before I lost my roll. And in the end, I have you, whom I did not deserve. I bless the day I found you wandering alone and empty. You are the son of my heart, joy of my life. Do not grieve for me. Your light made me whole again." He grasped Adán's hand, firm and full of the blood of life, and kissed it. "Thank you." He closed his eyes.
The young man pressed his lips to the old man's. "I was nothing before you found me. I had nothing. If you leave me it will be the same."
A few more rattling breaths and then nothing. He lingered for a moment, listening to the screaming storm and Adán's muffled sobs, and then he was gone.
Part 1: The Dweller On the Threshold
The wide path, composed more of rut and salient rock than roadbed, seemed to fight its way up a hill that was almost but not quite a mountain. I looked at it in irritation. No way up but foot or flight – I was still far too weak to Apparate – and as I don't have wings hiking was my only option. The path led, eventually, to an incongruity; a fair-sized modern house of stone and wood and glass, half surrounded by scrubby trees. Having achieved the summit, winded and almost staggering, I could barely acknowledge the bloom of hope in my chest. No axle could have survived that path and there was no other road, yet somehow someone had contrived to flatten the hill's crest and to transport the massive stones, broad beams, and delicate window panes to this resting place. It had to have been erected by magic but what wizard in his right mind would choose this place, in plain view high above a remote Muggle village?
And the Muggles could definitely see it; the house was a source of near constant argument in the village, although it took me some time to work that out. The room I’d let over the local bar was cramped and uncomfortable and I spent as little time in it as possibly, choosing instead to wander the narrow village streets when I was not patronising the dingy little pub. In the beginning I struggled to comprehend their incomprehensible language. Had I not been ill I would have remembered sooner that it was not entirely dissimilar to Latin or French. That, at least, made my efforts marginally less onerous and, with some minimal help from the bartender who had a smattering of English, I gradually began to understand the conversations of the old men as they sat drinking their thin, and to my palate hideous, local wine. Inevitably, one would raise the question of the house's construction and another would pound his fists against the hard wood of the common table, claiming that it hadn't been constructed at all but had simply appeared one night. Similar conversations were had in the dusty marketplace where the woman gathered. Vendors would wail and plead for the safety of their wares as voices rose and fruits were bruised by tight fists as this woman said she knew for a fact that a powerful brujo had raised the beams and that woman said the first was a superstitious old fool.
Magic certainly, but whose? It was almost too much to hope that after all this time I had at last caught scent of my prey.
It was obvious none of the villagers knew the truth, whatever their suspicions. It seemed none could actually remember a time the house hadn't crowned their hill and yet they knew it hadn't always been there, for in the bar there was at least one painting and a few dusty photographs depicting a near barren, rounded hilltop with no building and only the merest suggestion of an animal path winding its way to the summit. And certainly, they said, it was impossible that the thin, pale young man occupying the house – whom none could remember not occupying it – was a mighty sorcerer. Nor his friend, who had owned the house before him and who was now buried under the ancient cork tree behind it. The bartender, who’d I’d discovered was also the bar’s owner, told me the friend had been a painter, as respectable as any artist ever could be and, while quite possibly mad, far too fine and generous to fall under suspicion of witchcraft. However disturbing his paintings had been, had Federico Buenaventura been a brujo there would have been curses and spells, sickness and madness in the village. This they all knew for sure.
Muggles can be the most wilful idiots.
As I stood at the crest, nothing stirred about the place. No birds, no breath of air. The house's windows were uncurtained and shutterless but I could detect no movement at all in the dim interior. Out of long habit, I felt for my wand – for comfort's sake primarily as in my weakened state it would be little use against a Muggle child, let alone another wizard – and swore silently when I remembered it was gone. I waited until I had regained my wind and could breathe without noise. Removing my boots so my footsteps wouldn't give me away, I cautiously approached the house and, using my sleeve to clear a patch on a dusty window, peered in.
And there he was.
I sank back against the wall of the house and considered what to do next.
Would he remember? And if he did, could he possibly trust in anything I told him? Even if he believed me, would he agree? I cursed myself for a fool. Not the first time. Someone else should have been chosen, someone neutral, someone unknown, someone – anyone – other than myself. I should have refused. Relief that my search was over and irritation at my folly in agreeing to search in the first place – not that I'd had much choice – commingled in my breast and solidified in blessedly familiar anger. The weak little whelp. Unable to withstand the most benign of tortures, he had collapsed, forsaking friends, foes and duty and in the process causing me no end of difficulty, as usual. I wanted to throttle him. I truly did.
I couldn't, of course, but the desire to do so was familiar and comforting. After a moment's hesitation – I would think of what to say when it was time to say it – I returned to the front of the house, raised my fist and pounded on the door.
Even in the hottest part of summer the stone walls sometimes seemed to leach away all warmth and light, gathering comfort to themselves and leaving none behind, but he was happy enough there. He would curl up on the threadbare carpet in front of the hearth, one finger lazily tracing the veins in the pink marble floor, so incongruous in such a simple house.
The sole item of real value hung above the mantel; a small painting by Federico Buenaventura, a Spanish wizard who had broken with the tradition of talking portraits and pastoral scenery, painting what he laughingly referred to as magical unrealism. "Pay attention to what it tells you. It will show you the truth, whether or not it is real." Depending on the light, the weather, his mood, the painting suggested butterflies on thistledown shadowed by a storm looming on the horizon; spectral children playing with balls of coloured light; sun-dappled water in a lake almost hidden by surrounding trees; an old man asleep, half in shadow, half in sunlight. In all cases, a dark, indistinct figure lurked about the perimeter – a threat or a guardian, it was impossible to say. Perhaps that also depended on his mood. Federico had titled it Historia de Fantasmas - Ghost Story – and had painted it for him. Now that Fico was dead, the painting was both comfort and insurance; he could sell it if needed, if too much time passed between meals or the medicine that relieved his anxiety.
He rolled onto his back and looked at the painting. “I wonder where you are. Alive or dead or caught some place in between?”
He was never quite sure who he was thinking about, whether the dark man was memory or dream. His memory of anything prior to inhabiting this house was gone, but he thought he'd had friends once, in the time before Fico – which was as far back as known life went. Friends and enemies. He had neither anymore.
The villagers, whom he infrequently encountered and to whom he never spoke unless absolutely necessary, usually referred to him as El Íngles to each other and simply Señor to his face. He called himself Adam – Fico had given him the name, saying it was appropriate for one without history – but sometimes in his dreams he was called Harry. Even as he dreamed he knew that was wrong and would awaken nervous and damp with sweat. It would serve as a reminder to take his medicine.
Nights on the little mountain were either uneventful or horrible; there was no middle ground. Sometimes, in the cold hours before dawn after a dream had disturbed him into consciousness, he would huddle at the top of his bed, listening to the wind as it set the branches of the cork tree scraping the window, making a sound like people screaming. When the first light of morning seeped through his windows, banishing shadows that rows of candles couldn't, he would scramble out of bed and race for his medicine.
His days passed slowly; he did little and was content. He could spend hours looking at the painting, or sitting in his battered chair in front of the house, watching the villagers below crawling around like ants. When he remembered to eat he would construct elaborate meals, enough for a dozen people. Most of it would be left outside the back door for whatever wild creature dared approach. Twice a month he made the long walk to the village for whatever essentials he lacked – food, the rare and costly herbs that he used for his medicine. Occasionally, but less frequently as time passed, he sat under the cork tree and talked to Federico. He was both solitary and lonely but, except for the brief time he'd had with Fico, it was all he really knew and he didn't mind.
Just then, it seemed, his solitude had been broken. Someone was making a monstrous racket at the front door. Adam climbed to his feet, dusted off his knees, and padded barefoot through the house.
The door opened and he stood there, hand still on the knob, looking at me with a politely inquisitive expression. "Yes?"
The words I had been sure would come, didn't. I stared at him. When I had looked through the window and seen the stubborn curve of his back and his thin frame, I had been so certain. But now, confronted by damp black hair pushed back from a smooth, clear forehead and eyes, free of glasses and only barely tinged with green looking at me, I was suddenly doubtful.
As I looked at him, saying nothing, waiting, his expression changed to one of uncertainty. "I'm sorry. Should I know you? You seem to be expecting something of me and I haven't the least idea what."
"Mr Potter." It was the only thing that came to mind.
His face cleared. "Ah, I'm afraid you have me confused with someone else. My name is White. Adam White."
He extended his hand and, at a loss, I shook it.
"I'm sorry you had to climb that beastly hill for nothing. Look, why don't you come in? You're very pale. Are you ill?"
"Yes. Thank you. I am tired. Your hill is beastly and climbing it has quite done me in." I felt as if I were saying lines from a play. The whole situation was surreal and I was nonplussed. While I had known he might not know me, I still hadn't really thought it possible. He showed no sign of recognition at all, but then I wasn't entirely sure I recognised him either.
"I hope you don't mind sitting in the kitchen. I was just about to make tea and you look as if you could use some. Or would you like something stronger?"
I followed his retreating back through the doorway and down a dimly lit corridor. "Tea would be fine, thank you."
His laugh startled me. "Just as well. I'm not actually sure I have anything stronger. When he wanted a drink, Fico would usually go down to the village. He and Señor Ábrego – you know, the owner of the bar – were good friends. Other than me, I think he was Fico’s only friend. Anyway, sometimes he’d come home with a bottle of the local red but I never understood why he liked it. As I don’t drink it and have never bought any myself, I doubt there's any still about.”
"My friend. Federico Buenaventura, the artist, you know. This is – was – his family home. At least I think it was. I can't quite remember. In any event, it's mine now. He's dead, you see."
"I'm sorry." Really, I couldn't possibly have cared less.
"Can't be helped. I've gotten used to it, more or less. And really, it seems like he's still here, most of the time. I can feel him watching over me."
"His ghost inhabits the house?" I was genuinely curious and even a bit concerned. The presence of a ghost guardian could make my task harder.
"You believe in them? Have you seen one? What was it like?"
"What are you playing at, Potter?" His words had startled me and I spoke sharply. He looked taken aback.
"My name is White," he said calmly, in the kind of tone one takes with a madman. I fought the urge to slap him but something must have shown in my face because he looked at me warily.
"Do I look very like your friend?"
"You are not my friend!"
Potter shook his head. "No. Of course not. I thought we'd established that. I only ask if I look like him because that's the second time you've called me by his name."
I pressed my palms to my eyes. He was Potter. Of course he was. And somewhere inside he must know it. Perhaps a different tack.
Potter leapt to his feet, his face white with shock. "Why did you call me that?" he whispered. "I'm not Harry. My name is Adam. Adam White. Who are you? Why did you call me that?" He was almost yelling now and pacing agitatedly. "Don't call me that! My name is Adam! Adam!"
"Fine. Calm down, man. Your name is Adam. Sit. You're distressing yourself needlessly."
"I think you had better leave."
I stood to go but the heat of the room, my illness, the stress of the encounter all conspired to make me dizzy and, ridiculously, I almost swooned. I fell heavily back into my chair. "A few more minutes." At his mutinous look the word "please" was dragged from my lips.
"I'm sorry. You really are ill. You can stay the night, if you like." That at least was Potter-like, changeable as the weather. "You'll feel better if you sleep. I'd hate to be responsible for you stumbling to your death trying to navigate the path in your condition."
He led me, hand on my arm, through a confusing array of corridors. He showed me the bathroom and the cupboard where fresh towels were kept, then left me standing in the hall as he passed through a door.
"I hope you don't mind waiting for a minute while I see that everything's in order?"
I nodded but when he left the door slightly ajar behind him, I peered through the crack between the hinges and the jamb and smiled when he pulled a wand from his sleeve. Potter or not, he was a wizard. I only barely had time to move away and lean heavily against a wall before he returned.
"All ship shape and Bristol fashion."
"I think so."
"You don't know?"
"I . . . I had an accident. Amnesia. I don't remember anything much before I came here."
"Wizards aren't usually susceptible to amnesia," I remarked.
"You know! Are you one too?"
"Come now, Potter, you know the answer to that," I snapped, annoyed more at the fact that I barely counted as a wizard these days than at the question itself.
"My name isn't Potter."
"How about Smith, then?"
Something sparked in his eyes and was gone. Recognition? Or annoyance? I couldn't be sure.
"My name," he said very softly, "is Adam. Please use it." He looked so distressed I almost felt sorry for him.
Another wave of dizziness assailed me and I swayed. He grabbed my arm again.
"We can talk about things later. You need rest." He stepped back to let me into the room and when I turned to say something he was gone, just that quick.
Shrugging, I stumbled towards the large bed, shedding my robes as I went.
The sun had almost sunk beneath the horizon. Bands of light and shadow streaked the floors and walls as Adam moved quickly around his room lighting candles. He felt vaguely irritable. It was hot and his clothes adhered to his skin but it was more than that.
"Who is he?" he wondered out loud. Talking to himself had become a habit. For a long time after Federico's death he'd kept up the pretence that it was Fico he was talking to but as there was no one to hear and none to judge, he'd let go the façade. Who would it bother if he was crazy?
After making sure every candle was lit against the coming darkness, he left his room and wandered through the house lighting more candles and torches. He didn't draw the curtains; there was a full moon and he liked to see it. "Why is he here? What does he want? Why, oh why did I tell him he could stay?"
He had no answers for himself.
In the kitchen, Adam put the kettle on and took down a plate. A bit of bread, a slice of cheese, a few olives. He wasn't hungry but he ate because he knew he should. The food was dry as ash in his mouth and finally, in disgust, he spat out an olive pit and listened to it ping against the kettle and then clatter from stove to floor.
"Who the fuck is he? I shouldn't have let him stay. He's sick. I don't care; he was well enough to get up the hill, he's well enough to get down. I'll wake him up and tell him to go. No, let him sleep. What harm if he stays 'til morning? I can ask him to leave then."
Then he did want to talk to his dead friend but the sun had fallen below the horizon and it was too dark to sit under the cork tree. Sighing, he made his tea and took the mug to his favourite room; perhaps the painting would ease his mind. But tonight it was nothing more than splotches of colour artfully arrayed across the canvas.
"Go to bed. Just go. Stop thinking. Stop moping. Sleep is what you need. Things will look better in the morning. They always do. I don't want to sleep. I wish it wasn't so fucking hot. Who is he? Why did he call me Harry? What does he know about my dreams? You're being stupid. Just go to bed."
He returned his mug to the kitchen, lit some candles in case he or his guest needed something in the night and extinguished the torches. The rest of the house was lit as brightly as day, candles burning on every surface, and Adam left it that way.
A brief pause outside the bedroom door confirmed his guest was sleeping. Soft snores filtered through the thick oak. "Wonder he can sleep through his own racket. Well, not surprising he snores, not with that nose."
For Adam, sleep that night was hard to come by. His eyes would drift closed and then his whole body jerked and he'd be wide awake again – for a few minutes. He watched the moon outside his window until it rose too high to see.
It's dark and cold and there's the sound of someone coughing in the distance. The idea that his visitor is awake flitters through his mind and is gone. He can hear timbers creaking and footsteps on wood floors and his own teeth chattering but he can't see anything. It's that dark. Waving his hand in front of his face gains him nothing, not even the ghost of some darker shadow in all that blackness.
He knows he is dreaming and he can't stop the dream or change its course. He can only observe; he's there and not there. But he can feel the cold stone floor against his skin, the bone grinding chill setting in. He's acutely aware that he's naked and miserable; at the same time he is also outside himself, watching.
He curses and gropes his way across the floor until his hand bumps the wall. He stands up, trying to orient himself in the dark. His need to piss is urgent, which means he can probably tick off another day, but his legs are weak and unsteady and he doesn't want to kick over his bucket in his haste to use it. He's done that more than once and had to spend hours, if not days, afraid to move in case he stepped in his own waste. He slides a foot forward, feeling with his toes, hand on the wall to steady himself. He sweeps his foot in a wide arc and, encountering nothing, moves his other foot forward a few inches and repeats the arc. On his fifth sweep, his foot knocks gently into the bucket. Keeping the side of his foot in contact with it, he stoops and feels for the rim, making sure of its position before he lowers his arse to it.
He fights to keep from leaping up when he hears footsteps. Someone is coming and that means light to see what he's doing. He doesn't want to upend his toilet before he can finish using it.
The door opens but there is no light. He can hear the quiet click of footsteps crossing the room towards him.
"You stink. I could smell you from fifty paces."
Harry cocks his head. It's an odd voice, speaking in little more than a whisper, but he thinks he might know it.
"Pissing sitting down like a toddler. Pathetic. If you're going to use the toilet, be quick about it. I haven't got all day. I'm taking a big enough risk as it is without you dawdling."
"Who are you? And why can't I see you?"
"It wouldn't serve me to be seen by you, or anyone else for that matter. For fuck's sake, use the toilet so I can empty it and we can get you cleaned up."
Harry feels the man staring at him. He can't piss with someone watching him.
"Damn you, boy. Evacuo!"
He wants to die of embarrassment as his bladder and bowels empty explosively into the bucket. The experience leaves him drained, weaker than before. The man returns to his side and pulls him up.
Something very like a rough brush scrubs all over his body, even between his arse-cheeks. It feels like several layers of skin are being removed with the dirt. He whimpers.
"If you think I'm going to stoop to washing you with my hands, you're sorely mistaken. You smell marginally more human at least. Here," the strangers thrusts a bundle of cloth into Harry's hands. "Pants and a jumper. Not much, but all I could get. I didn't know I would be here today. I didn't even know you were here until yesterday."
"Who are you?"
"A pretty puzzle to occupy your lonely hours. I'll return if I can."
"Wait!" Harry yells but the door snicks closed.
Adam jerked awake again and sat bolt upright in his bed, heart pounding violently in his chest. His breathing steadied as he looked around the room; all the candles were still lit and the sky outside his window was pale and tinged with pink. It was a dream. Just a dream, he assured himself. But he'd dreamed about Harry again. Harry and someone else. A man who – but it was gone; fading as fast as his dreams always faded.
I awoke to the smell of coffee drifting under the closed door. Sunlight was just beginning to filter through the branches of the tree outside the window. My stomach growled, a good sign as I was rarely hungry in those days; my lack of appetite both a symptom and magical enhancement of the wasting illness with which the Dark Lord had gifted me. I looked at myself in the room's mirror, running a hand over my concave belly and prominent rib cage. I had never carried excess weight but now I was skeletal. I scowled into the mirror and then covered my grotesqueness with my robes.
I needed a bath, a shave and a change of clothes, but I had left my valise in my room above the village bar. It certainly hadn't been my plan to stay the night. My nose wrinkled when I picked up my socks. They stank and were stiff; I certainly wasn't going to wear them again. My robes weren't much fresher, but padding around barefoot was one thing, walking naked through a stranger's house was something entirely different.
I expected the corridor to be dark, and so it would have been but for a dozen candles burning on a table outside my door. It appeared my host was an early riser. Signs of hospitality were evident in the bathroom where, in addition to two large towels and a clean flannel, I found an unused razor, a shaving mug with a fresh cake of soap, and a hand towel immersed in a bowl of steaming water. I snorted with amusement. Potter's dead painter must have been a wizard of extraordinary finesse if he managed to inculcate the conceited brat with manners; something that six years of Hogwarts education had failed to instil in him. Either that or Adam White was not Harry Potter – an idea I preferred not to entertain.
Shaved, bathed and dressed, I felt marginally more human. I knew it the feeling wouldn't last. The sky was the sort of washed-out blue that promised unbearable heat. Blasted country. At least the permanent inhabitants could be excused on the premise that they know no better, but why anyone – and it's my understanding that many do – would pay good money to come here voluntarily was beyond me.
I'd been dead on my feet the night before; too tired to track the path through the house. There were a ridiculous number of corridors for what was, after all, not so grand a house. Once, where there should have been a door, I was brought up short in front of an immense tallboy. I scowled – it was a ridiculous place for a piece of furniture – and turned back the way I came. Several more wrong turns, and a few correct ones, brought me at last to the stairs. I sighed with relief. Something about the oppressive atmosphere of the house had me half convinced I was doomed to wander aimlessly forever, but I did remember that the kitchen was down the stairs and at the back of the house.
"Garlic? At breakfast time?" I spoke softly from the doorway not wanting to startle my host who was standing on tiptoe, reaching for a small bottle on a shelf above his head. My good intentions were wasted.
He whirled around, eyes wide and said, "You!"
"You were expecting someone else? I wasn't aware you had other guests."
"N-no," he stammered stupidly, "you just startled me."
"Who did you think I was? Here, give me that before you crush it." I tried to take the little bottle from his tightly clenched fist but he clutched it tighter.
"No one. I don't know. You reminded me of . . . something. I can't remember." With agitated fingers he fumbled at the bottle's stopper. Quicker this time, I snatched it from him. "Hey, give that back!"
I held the bottle up to the light before unstoppering it and taking a sniff. It smelled of nothing much, perhaps a vague odour of damp grass. "What is it?"
"My medicine. Give it back!"
"Medicine for what? You look tired," and he did, with dark purple smudges beneath his eyes, "but not ill." I sniffed again but couldn't identify anything that could be considered medicinal.
"To help me sleep." He pouted like a child when I didn't return his bottle. Sulking as only a Potter could sulk.
"Why on earth would you take a sleeping potion at," I faltered, having no idea of the time, "the crack of dawn. Surely it would make more sense to take it before you go to bed?"
"It's not . . . It's because . . ."
"Spit it out, you young fool. And mind your cooking."
"I have nightmares, not that it's any of your business. It stops them coming. When I remember to take my medicine, I don't dream at all."
"You take this regularly? That's not a good idea. Dreams, even bad ones, are necessary. Did you learn nothing at Hogwarts? And your garlic is burning." My stomach rumbled loudly. "As reprehensible as the idea of garlic is at this hour, I could cheerfully eat a flobberworm doused with the stuff, only I'd prefer it unburnt."
"Flobberworm?" he asked as he stirred the garlic and whatever else he was cooking.
"Not my preferred breakfast food but–"
"What's a flobberworm?"
Bemused, I stared at him. Any normal person would have enquired about why dreams are necessary, or at least asked about Hogwarts. I felt immensely cheered. It was very Potter-like to focus on the least important thing I'd said. The eye colour and lack of scar were still a puzzlement, but I was feeling more confident that this lunkhead was indeed Harry Potter.
"What? Am I dripping bogies or something?"
"Not at all, although it wouldn't surprise me in the least if you were. No, you're just running rather true to form. It's heartening."
"I haven't the least idea what you're talking about." He picked up a knife and competently began chunking potatoes.
"Why doesn't that surprise me? About your nightmares, what did you dream last night?" It seemed important. Taking something to repress dreams only makes them that much more virulent when they manage to burst through. And anyone who can craft a potion to stop dreams, knows that. Buenaventura would have known that. Why had he stopped the boy dreaming?
"My nightmares are my business and none of yours," he snapped.
His tone didn't deter me in the least; I kept probing. "Do you take it every night?"
"No. I'm supposed to take it twice a month but I forget."
More interesting information; I was familiar with no version of Dreamless Sleep that was more than a temporary palliative, or needed to be taken on a regular basis, however infrequent. "And what reminded you this morning? Did you have a nightmare, Potter?"
He scooped up the potatoes and threw them in the pan. "My name is Adam White. You can eat breakfast but I really think you'd best leave afterwards. I have a busy day ahead."
"Why is it," he whirled on me, face flushed, "that you think anything I do is any of your business? I let you stay because you were feeling ill. I'll feed you breakfast because I always cook more than I can eat myself. But I want you gone from here. You annoy me. I'm sorry if you find that rude but as you're so very rude yourself, I suspect it feels natural. Now, will you please give me back my medicine?"
With a shrug, I handed him his bottle and then made myself comfortable at the table, watching him as he tipped the bottle back and practically inhaled the contents. He closed his eyes for a minute, his expression almost one of ecstasy. I was intrigued. I would have expected to be able to identify several ingredients in any potion that could have that kind of effect. His eyes, when he opened them again, were bright and clear. The shadows that had been lurking under them were gone completely.
"Sorry I was rude. I had a rough night. Feeling much better now, though." He turned back to the stove and poured eggs on top of the potatoes, garlic and onions. "Don't have any meat. Haven't been down to the village in ages. I'll be going a bit later, if you'd like to accompany me. I didn't mean you have to leave. You're welcome to stay if you like. Much more comfortable here than in what they call a hotel down there. And I could use the company. I've no one much to talk to. My Spanish isn't very good and I think the good people of the village are frightened of me, for some reason. Don't understand why. I'm completely harmless and I've never done anything to anyone. Haven't even been rude. Which might surprise you, considering." He grinned as he slapped a plate down in front of me.
"Am I? I suppose it's having someone to talk to after all this time. I mean, I go to the cork tree and talk to Fico all the time – he's buried under it, you know – but as he doesn't answer, it hardly counts as conversation. What do you do? You seem to know something about dreams at any rate, and medicine too, I'm guessing. Are you a doctor? Oh, that's right, you're a wizard, a Healer then? Can you brew medicines? Fico could. He made mine and taught me to make a simple one for anxiety . They help tremendously. The nightmares are terrible only I can never remember what they are. I always feel dreadful the morning after I've had one. How're your eggs?"
"Surprisingly good, in spite of the garlic." I would have liked him to shut up so I could enjoy eating in peace.
"Fico taught me how to make eggs like this. Tortilla de patatas. I quite like it. I worried about my breath, you know. Who wants to kiss with garlic breath? But then he was eating it too, so I guess it didn't matter. He never seemed to mind and I certainly didn't."
"You and Fico were–"
"Does that shock you? We never let anyone in the village know, although I always thought they must suspect. How could they not? But then Fico always said people expect the worst of artists in any case."
"Do you always talk like this after you take your medicine?" I asked through a mouthful of eggs. Hardly polite but bright-eyed and inanely cheerful Potter wasn't noticing. And if I couldn't dine in peace I might as well take advantage of his gabbling to find some things out.
"Am I talking a lot? I suspect I do, or would, if I had anyone to talk to. Fico never complained."
"Well, I'm certainly not he, and to answer you in order: No; they probably did; and yes, far too much for my taste."
He giggled. Giggled. A grown man. At least in theory. More evidence of Potterhood. Both father and son were always completely emotionally inappropriate and extremely immature.
"Did you have a bath? I see you shaved. You'd have quite the beard if you let it grow, wouldn't you. Wonder what you'd look like in a beard? I've hardly got any body hair at all."
Much to my surprise, he pulled open his robes and exposed his chest, which was indeed bare. And nicely sculpted. I squelched that thought in a hurry.
"Cover yourself up. I have enough trouble eating these days, without the hideous sight of you parading nude in front of me."
He giggled again. "Sorry. I think it's the medicine. I always feel so extraordinarily well after I take it that well, you know, I get kind of uninhibited. Used to make Fico laugh."
"Likely made him a few other things as well," I muttered. "I've heard of Buenaventura. I was under the impression he was quite an old man. Apparently I was mistaken if you and he . . ." I delicately left off the end of that statement. "When you said he was dead I assumed old age. How did he die? If it's not too painful for you to discuss."
"Nope. I like talking about him. And yeah, he died of old age. He claimed to be three hundred and forty-two, but I didn't believe him, of course. Still, he was an old man."
"And yet you were lovers?" Fuck delicacy.
"I've got to tidy up in here and then take a bath myself. Or perhaps I should wait until after I get back."
Apparently the euphoric effects of his medicine were wearing off. Oh well, it really was none of my business and in any case, if I was to stay, I'd have more opportunities to probe.
"Will you come with me or do you think it will be too hot this afternoon for you to make the long walk there and back?"
"You meant it then, when you said I could stay?" I was relieved. My plans had never included staying with Potter, but my room above the village bar was exceedingly uncomfortable and it would be far easier to do what I came for if I didn't have to expend my energy making the trek up and down the mountain and manufacturing excuses to do so.
"Yes. Definitely. It will do us both good, me for the company and you for the rest. You needn't accompany me to the village. Just tell me if there's anything you need and I'll get it for you. You can rest."
It amused me to think how this would have played out if Potter had been in his right mind. He would never invite Severus Snape to be his houseguest. Of course, if he were in his right mind, I wouldn't have been there and the question would have been moot. Mingled with my amusement was irritation at his stupidity. I could have been anyone. I thought it best to point that out.
"Don't you think it's dangerous allowing a complete stranger the run of your home? I could be anyone. I could mean you harm."
He laughed. "I don't have any enemies. Nor friends, not since Fico died. Why would anyone want to harm me? I'm nobody."
What a refreshing change of attitude. It would almost be a pity to help him remember who he really was.
If I thought it foolish of the boy to leave me alone in his house, I was soon proven wrong. The minute he'd disappeared from sight I headed up the stairs and set out to explore. There was no specific intent to my search, I was merely hoping to find something, anything, I could use to pry Potter's memory loose and get him back to Britain. The interior appeared to be bigger than the external structure would suggest. I found his bedroom easily enough, bland and utilitarian with nothing of interest beyond the astounding number of candles, but beyond that the house confounded me at every turn. No matter where I started out and which direction I went, I ended up back in the same long corridor that housed the incongruously placed tallboy. I was on my third go 'round before I thought to open the tallboy. I struggled for a few minutes with the door before it suddenly gave way and I landed on my arse. It was empty. Finally, I admitted defeat; apparently the house was constructed by the same practical joker who had designed Hogwarts staircases. Or perhaps it was some sort of built-in defence mechanism. It didn't matter either way. I was allowed into the bedroom I had been given, the bathroom, and anywhere in the downstairs area I cared to go; everything else was closed to me.
A search of the kitchen revealed little. It was well-stocked with basics, condiments and Spanish seasonings, and every possible kind of cooking paraphernalia, but I already knew the boy could cook. One cupboard appeared to be devoted solely to medicines and a quick look through indicated he suffered from headaches and anxiety. There were a variety of things I assumed had been used to ease the last days of the painter but really nothing out of the ordinary, if one didn't take into account a hundred or more bottles of the boy's odourless, colourless and, as I found out by touching my finger to the rim, tasteless nightmare medicine. I was very intrigued by that particular concoction but had no way to do any tests on it. I left everything as I'd found it and went to explore the surrounding landscape.
The grounds were not particularly well kept and circling the house was tiring as the dirt was rocky and uneven. The discovery of a small kitchen garden and Buenaventura's grave was all I got for my exertions. The grave was marked by a snow-white slab of marble. There were no dates, only the name 'Fico' and the words 'mentor, friend, beloved." Grief rose thick and sour in my throat. The same words could have been used for Albus Dumbledore.
Shaking off my maudlin thoughts, I returned to the house. It would take Potter, or White, at least three hours to get down the mountain and back and I had used up most of those reacquainting myself with the tallboy. Even Potter was not idiot enough to think I wouldn't pry given the opportunity, but it wouldn't do to be caught out. Besides which, I was weak with exhaustion. I needed a cup of tea. What I actually needed was a good stiff drink, but if there was liquor in the house it was hidden from me.
Tea in hand, I walked into the sitting room with the ridiculous pink marble floor. Like the kitchen and unlike the rest of the house, this room appeared to be well used. A bookcase revealed gaps that accounted for the books scattered around. In spite of the sweltering weather, a large fire blazed in the hearth. Thankfully it appeared to have been spelled to cast no heat. As in every other room, candles stood on every surface and torches, currently not lit, filled the multitude of wall sconces. The boy was obviously afraid of the dark – not a surprise, considering.
A painting was given pride of place above the mantel. I had encountered other paintings in the corridors but hadn't stopped to examine them. This one seemed to beckon me.
I stood in front of the fireplace, staring intently at the painting as if I could puzzle out the artist's intention by sheer force of my gaze. Something purple flickered in an area of reds and oranges, clashing horribly. For some reason – perhaps it was an echo of my encounter with the gravestone – I was reminded painfully of Albus. The purple flashed again, this time surrounded by the thinnest line of lime green.
Feeling ridiculous, I said, "Albus?" The paint seemed to shift and if I half-closed my eyes I could make out the figure of a white-bearded man.
"Ah, Severus, my dear friend. It's been a very long time."
"Where have you been? Why haven't you shown yourself before now? Are you in contact with the Order? Is something happening on the war front? Is that why you're here?"
"You're looking unwell."
I snorted. How typical of Albus to answer none of my questions. "I'm not well, as a matter of fact. I have the wasting sickness."
"Oh dear. I'm very sorry to hear that. You've come here for your health then?"
"I came here, as you no doubt are well aware, to bring that idiot back."
"He's not an idiot, you know," the voice from the portrait said disapprovingly.
"You were always soft on the boy."
"I certainly gave him more credit for his intelligence and abilities than you ever did."
"Yes," I sneered, "and look where his intelligence and abilities have landed him, us, the entire wizarding world, and the Muggle world as well."
"Hardly his fault."
"He's weak. Another wizard–"
"He was a boy. And if even I, in the fullness of my powers, could not stop you killing me, what chance did a mere boy have against you?"
Stung, I snapped, "That was uncalled for. You know perfectly well . . . and besides which, it wasn't me, it was the Dark Lord."
"And you did your utmost to prevent Voldemort's scheme?"
"There was nothing I could do. My cover would have been destroyed. I did what you wanted of me. Why are you blaming me for this disaster?"
"I have long suspected that you inhabit some bizarre and dark cloud-cuckoo land, but to suggest that I would value your role as a spy over the life and well-being of any child, let alone Harry Potter . . . I know you loathe Harry and always have done but really, Severus, this is too bad of you."
"I do not loathe the boy," I muttered, feeling a flush colouring my cheekbones. A low chuckle came from the portrait.
"I did as much as any wizard alive, yourself included, to keep that boy from harm's way!"
"You feel no guilt whatsoever at your role?"
"Of course not! The whole idea is absurd!"
"Then why are you arguing with Albus Dumbledore through a portrait that has nothing whatever to do with him?"
I swayed dizzily and, as if on cue, Potter stepped up to me.
"You're not mad, you know. He painted it that way. It's what he did. Magical Unrealism he called it. The painting can sense, or something, that which is buried deep inside and then help create a necessary reality. What did you see?"
"Nothing," I snapped. "Your painter had hideous colour sense."
The boy chuckled. "It wasn't Fico's colour sense that was bad. You provide that aspect as well. I'm sorry, you're looking quite faint. Come with me into the kitchen. You can have some tea while I put the shopping away. Oh, it looks like Señor Ábrego must have sent a boy up with your valise. I found it at the door. I wish I’d known he would do that, the boy could have brought the groceries as well."
The pain was excruciating; worse, if possible, than I remembered. I clutched my arm, digging my fingers into the Mark, thinking that ripping out a whole chunk of flesh would hurt less than the searing heat of his summons. My master's voice. Nothing more than his little joke, of course. I was forbidden to return without Potter in tow.
Find him. If he knows, bring him back for me. If he doesn't, kill him and bring his body back. We're too close now to risk leaving him wandering around loose. I am waiting. Do not fail me again, Severus.
I remember the pain and falling to my knees clutching my arm. And that's all I remember.
I do not remember being moved, stripped, bathed – including my hair – and put to bed, but there I was, damp headed, in hideously coloured but clean pyjamas, blankets pulled up to my chin. It took me a moment to focus and realize I was not alone. In that moment I was sure that Adam White was not Harry Potter. The clear, hazel eyes that watched me with concern lacked the impertinence and spark of Potter’s and held only the vaguest him of green.
"What–" he began but I held up a hand to stop him. I was not ready . . . not capable of speech yet.
It was even difficult to think clearly. I had no real idea if the Dark Lord had summoned all his Death Eaters or if he was merely sending me a reminder that he was waiting. Had I imagined his voice or had his power grown to such an extent that he could speak to me over thousands of miles? If White wasn't Potter, where next? If White was Potter, what then?
"Water." It came out as a croak.
Adam stood without saying anything and picked up the glass on the bedside table. I hadn't realised it was so close but it wouldn't have mattered. I couldn't even lift the covers from my body. Still blessedly silent, he hitched himself up on the bed, put an arm behind my back to raise my head, and helped me drink. When water dribbled down my chin, he wiped it away as tenderly as a mother. Had I not been so weak, I would have hexed him.
Instead, I gritted my teeth and croaked, "Thank you."
"Don't talk. Would you like me to go? Just nod or shake your head."
Good Lord. I invaded your home uninvited and collapsed insensible on your landing. Could you have the fucking courtesy to be properly irritated? I nodded. I needed to think, but first I needed more sleep.
I awoke to the same steady gaze. When I stirred he smiled and held up the cup, raising an inquisitive eyebrow. I nodded. I felt somewhat better and knew I could speak but I didn't trust myself. Here on sufferance and too weak to fend for myself, I knew if I opened my mouth I would say something regrettable.
But I didn't have to allow him to cuddle me. Painfully, I pushed myself up on my elbows. It seemed to take forever but eventually I was able to balance on one arm and extend my other for the cup.
"You're good at this," I said grudgingly.
He smiled sadly. "I've had practice."
"Ah, yes, your dead painter." Pain creased his features. Perhaps I should have apologised for bringing up obviously distressing memories but if he did turn out to be Potter it was better that I not set a precedent.
"Are you always such a bastard? He was very weak at the end. It was hard."
I was afraid the little twit might start crying. I know that among my former students and colleagues I have a reputation for being overly proud but the number of times in my life I've had to set my pride aside is humiliating. Gritting my teeth again I said, "My apologies. I wasn't probing, or I wasn't meaning to. And I do have something of a reputation for being a bastard, yes."
He had the grace to laugh. I sighed – more weight to the notion that he wasn't Potter.
It was another day before I could get out of bed unassisted. My weakness shouldn't have shamed me – the Dark Lord knew his curses and most people would have been dead by now – but it did. In bed for a day and a half over something I used to endure without complaint. Once he seemed satisfied of my recovery, Adam had made himself scarce, appearing occasionally with broth or tea, helping me to the toilet and then leaving quickly. I found I missed his presence, but he hadn't thrown me out and that was something.
I took me almost thirty minutes to dress as weakness forced me to sit down several times. Bending over to lace up my boots made me dizzy. I decided to forego wearing them and stumbled to the kitchen in my stockinged feet.
"You should have called me to help you." He was cooking again and didn't turn to look at me.
I felt my jaw clench. "Perhaps I should have, but I needed to at least make the attempt alone. If I stop trying, I'll die." Melodramatic but true all the same.
My stomach growled. Whatever he was cooking smelled good.
"Can you eat a chop?"
"I would like to say I could eat the tanned hide of a thestral but I'm afraid my stomach will rebel if I eat much of anything. Could you manage an egg?" I hated asking for favours.
At that he turned and looked at me. "I'll make you a deal. Eggs and toast in exchange for some answers. I think you owe me that much."
"You little extortionist."
"Please yourself. I've made tea and there's some broth in the cooler."
"Eggs, damn you. Ask your filthy questions."
"What's wrong with you?"
"Do you mean physically? Or emotionally?"
"I'm not a thera-wizard. I don't much care about your emotional state, as long as you at least attempt to refrain from being so snippy."
"I am not snippy." Outrage does not even begin to convey how I felt. "However, in answer to your question, I've been cursed. Wasting sickness. I should be dead; I probably will be soon. I take some measure of pride in the fact that I'm not yet. There. Satisfied?"
"Who cursed you?" He was sitting now, leaning forwards, wiry forearms resting on his thighs, apparently very interested.
I was flattered; my weaknesses are legion. "The Dark Lord. Oh come now, even living in this benighted country you must know who I'm talking about." I couldn't decide if his blank look was a tick on the side of his being Potter or White.
"Nope. Sorry. Doesn't ring any bells."
I told him an abbreviated version of the story he should have known as well as his own name; the first rise of He Who Must Not Be Named, the massacre at Godric's Hollow, the Boy Who Lived, Albus Dumbledore, the re-emergence of the Dark Lord. I left out the part about Harry Potter's disappearance, preferring to wait until I felt stronger to tackle that subject. And from sheer perversity as much as needing to explain my own illness, I told him my own story of joining the Death Eaters, taking the Dark Mark, and an expurgated version of my role as a spy. Aside from flinching slightly when I first said Harry's name, he had no response. His curiosity about me seemed odd given he apparently had none about himself. He didn't interrupt my narrative; a tick mark on the side of Adam White. But when I was done, his few questions focused on the things I deemed least relevant, Potter's friends; a tick on Potter's slate.
The uncertainty about his true identity was maddening.
It's dark again, only it can't be dark – he distinctly remembers lighting the candles before climbing into bed, it's something he never forgets – so he's dreaming again. Only he can't be dreaming, it's only been two days since he took his medicine. But it's dark and he's cold and filthy.
He can hear voices, muffled by the thick stone of the walls but understandable if he strains.
"I know this must be very difficult for you, Miss Granger, but I'm afraid I'm running out of options."
Hermione! Oh God, thank you. Finally! Unable to wait for the door he can't find to open, he pounds on the wall. "Hermione! Hermione!" But the voices continue without acknowledging him.
". . . already been here for several months, we can't find anything wrong with him other than the persistent delusion. Arthur Weasley couldn't identify him. He seems to know a lot about Hogwarts, so it's possibly he actually was a student there. We thought perhaps someone who had been there at the same time . . . He's roughly the same age as you and Harry Potter."
"What will happen to him if I can't identify him?"
"I'm afraid we can't keep him here much longer. The wards are already overcrowded. He has one of our few private rooms and we need it for those who are more seriously ill but we're afraid to put him in with the general population as he can be quite violent."
A wave of fury washes over him. "Hermione! I'm not violent! They can say anything they want, do anything they want – it doesn't matter. You've got to get me out of here!"
"Through here, if you would. And how are you feeling today?" Yet another Healer in white robes steps through the door. "I've brought you a visitor."
He is startled by the warmth that accompanies the clothes he is suddenly wearing, and by the bed, chair and table that now occupy the previously empty room. He blinks in the bright light, trying hard to focus through watering eyes.
Hermione's familiar frizzy hair is pulled back and held by a clasp. She looks at him blankly, then turns to the Healer. "I'm sorry. I don't know who he is. He certainly wasn't at Hogwarts when I was."
"Hermione!" He's shocked. "I know I'm dirty and my hair must've grown a foot, but you must recognise me.
She shakes her head. "I'm very sorry. Really I am, but I don't know you. I wish I did."
"You've confunded her, you bastards!" He takes a deep breath and tries to think, to calm down. He'd been so excited when he'd first heard her voice but now this. "I want to speak to her alone. You leave," he says, rounding on the Healer. "Let me talk to her alone. Five minutes. Just give us five minutes."
The Healer raises his wand. "Step back, Smith. Of course I'm not going to leave her in here alone with you. There's no telling what you'll do."
"Please," Hermione says, "it's okay. If he wants to talk to me, we should let him, don't you think? Perhaps I can find something out. I'll be fine. I've got my wand." She puts her hand on the Healer's arm. "Honestly. It's fine."
Yes! She's just playing along with them. Together we can come up with something.
"It's against my better judgement, but very well, if you're sure."
The white robes disappear through the door and Hermione starts forward but he holds up a hand to stop her and, holding his finger to his lips, leads her the ten paces away from the door. When he hears footsteps receding down the corridor he throws his arms around her, hugging as hard as she can, tears streaming down his face. She pats him on the back. Finally, he releases her and steps back.
"You look terrific. Oh my God, it's so good to see a friendly face."
"What years did you attend Hogwarts?"
"It's okay. You can talk freely now. He's gone. Who's with you? Is there a plan?"
"A plan? No, I . . . I'm not here with anybody. They asked me to come, so I did."
"Who asked you to come?"
He grunts. "Which one? I've had at least four in the week or ten days that I've been here."
"A week? He told me you'd been here for months."
"Months? You know better than that. It hasn't been but a few weeks since I saw you last." He searches her face for some clue to what she's thinking. "Hermione?"
"I'm sorry. I thought maybe I could do something to help but I don't think I should have come."
"You want to help? GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!"
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't yell at you, of all people. I've got to get out of this place. I'm not sick. I don't think it's a hospital anyway. I mean, I know this room looks enough like a hospital room, when I can see it. What's it like outside that door? I'm not sure what their game is. I can't figure it out. Nothing makes any sense at all. But now that someone knows I'm here . . . You'll do what you can to get me released?"
"If you're released," she runs her hand through her bushy hair. Her fingers tangle in long strands, unintentionally freeing them from the clasp, making her hair look wilder than ever, "do you have some place to go?"
Stopping his nervous pacing, he jerks his head around to look at her. "Do I have some place to go? What kind of question is that? I'll go to headquarters. However much I hate it, it is home."
"Headquarters?" Hermione asks hesitantly.
"What is the matter with you? Headquarters. Grimmauld Place. Maybe you should be admitted. You're the one that seems not to know what's what."
"Headquarters. Grimmauld Place. What do you know about it?"
"What the hell is going on?"
"Nothing. I . . . I'm just surprised you know about it."
"Are you mad? Of course I know about it! Okay. Sorry. I shouldn't yell. You can explain everything to me later. Right now, I just need you to tell them I'm who I say I am so they'll let me go."
"But I don't know who you are."
He sags to the floor. What in hell is going on? He rubs his face with both hands, shoving his glasses to the top of his head, then pinches his lower lip between his thumb and forefinger and stares blankly off into the distance.
"I'm really sorry. I'd thought I might recognise you, that I might be able to help the Healers discover your identity, but you weren't at Hogwarts when I was. I'm sorry." She rests her hand lightly on his shoulder but he jerks away.
"I don't know why you're doing this, why you're playing their game." He stands abruptly and grabs her by the shoulders. He looks intently at her and drops his voice. "What is it I'm not getting? Is there some kind of magic in place that you can sense and I can't? Do you think they're listening? Tell me," he begs. "Give me some kind of sign, blink twice or something. Anything!"
He hates the pitying look she gives him.
"I'm sorry." She shakes her head sadly. "I don't know you."
"Nurse! Healer! Guard! Whoever's outside this door," He pounds on the door angrily, "she's ready to leave now! GET HER THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!"
At first, I didn't know what had awakened me. I sat up, fully alert, and listened. Then the still night was shattered by a scream. I climbed painfully out of bed knowing that speed was of the essence. Miraculously, the house did not confuse my path and within moments I was by his side, shaking him none too gently.
"Potter, wake up. Snap out of it, boy. You're dreaming. Wake up! ADAM!"
He sat up suddenly, eyes wide and unseeing, pupils the size of Galleons.
"What did you dream? Damn you! Don't hesitate. What was your dream?"
He was trembling and his lips were turning an unpleasant shade of blue. Snarling, I pushed him back down and yanked the covers up to his chin. "What was it? Tell me before you forget."
"There was a girl. I was me but not me. I knew her but she didn't know me."
"Quick. Don't stop and think. What was her name?"
"Hermione. She didn't know me but she should have known me. She was my friend and she didn't recognize me or something." His speech was coming faster and faster. "I thought she had come to rescue me. I thought . . . I don't know. I can't remember."
This dream had been a verifiable memory, I thought. I don't know who'd dreamt up the original plan for Harry – the Dark Lord himself, or perhaps Bellatrix Lestrange. I would have thought I detected the fine white hand of Lucius Malfoy but he was still in Azkaban. No, not Lucius and not the Dark Lord; subtlety was not one of his skills. It would have been Bellatrix. Not that it mattered. Bringing in some witch polyjuiced or charmed to look like Hermione Granger had been a stroke of genius. That more than anything had taken Potter to the breaking point.
Naturally it never occurred to the imbecile that the girl was a fraud. She played her part well, I'll admit, even managing to discover that headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix were located in Grimmauld Place. The Dark Lord rewarded her well for that little titbit, and used the fact of it to ridicule my efforts as a spy. Of course I am used to being blamed for things.
But at the moment I had things beyond the boy's gullibility to occupy me. In spite of the thick blankets, his teeth were chattering. I touched his forehead and it was damp. The hand that tightly gripped the coverlet was pale and the nails were tinged with blue. He was in shock. I cursed. Had I my wand, I might have cursed him.
Had I my wand, dealing with his condition would have been simple but it had been a year or more since I'd felt the comfort of its wood in my grip, its loss like an amputation of a limb. I cursed again. While I had been woolgathering, he'd gasped slightly. I turned in time to watch his eyes roll back in his head and his body go limp. He was unconscious. Snarling – I hate playing nursemaid – I pulled the covers down, put my hand over his heart, and found it was beating far too quickly. In spite of that, his pulse was weak. Disregarding my distaste, I ran my hands quickly over his body – the fact that he slept in the all-together made my task easier, and more interesting – ascertaining there was no secret injury that might account for his state. He was thin though well-muscled and entirely without blemish but his skin was ice cold. He needed to be warmed and quickly.
I briefly considered my options and found, as usual, I didn't have many. Too weak to even support him if he'd been ambulatory, there was certainly no possibility of carrying him to the bath. The idiot didn't even have a fireplace in his chambers. He wasn't generating his own body heat and when no other way presented itself, I stripped off my own clothes and climbed into bed with him. I pulled him close and yanked the covers over the pair of us, then ran my hands briskly up and down his body.
"I should fuck you warm, you absolute blithering idiot. At least I'd get something out of it."
Realising my brisk rubbing had slowed to gentle strokes, I yanked my hands away. My soul is black from many sins, but I've never numbered rape among them. It gave me no pleasure to admit to myself that I was aroused by an unconscious body.
Gradually, his breathing and his heart rate slowed. I checked his fingernails and was dismayed to find them still tinged with blue. I pulled back one of his eyelids and looked at his dilated pupils. What kind of weakling goes into shock from a dream? Grumbling, I slid gingerly from beneath the covers, trying not to displace the pocket of warmth our bodies had created.
As I'd discovered previously, the boy had a veritable pharmacopoeia in his kitchen cabinets. In addition to his unidentifiable dream medicine, he had some ordinary potions – ones he brewed himself apparently, another weight on the scale of his not being Potter – and perhaps I might find one that would explain why he was in shock, or possibly even something to treat it if this was a common occurrence.
I turned him on his side before I left; it would be just my luck to have him vomit and choke. The Dark Lord had instructed me to bring him back dead or alive but I had my reasons for keeping him breathing.
He was awake when I returned but still disoriented. His expression was even more vacuous than I'd come to expect from Potter.
"What happened?" he asked thickly.
"Shut up and drink this. Slowly. Oh for fuck's sake, I'm going to have to feed it to you, aren't I?" I mimicked his actions from a few days before, perching on the bed and supporting him so he could drink.
He took a small sip, gagged and spat it out, dribbling it down his chin.
"What?" Weak as he was, he sounded irate. It amused me.
"You're in shock. Take another sip."
"Th'fuck is it?"
"Magic." I had no intention of admitting it was nothing more than salt and soda mixed with water; my ability to brew potions had gone the way of my wand. "Take another sip and if you spit it out, I'll slap you."
There are reasons I never went into the healing profession.
"That's enough for now. Is there a doctor in the village? You need to be looked over."
"Yes . . . but no," he said stupidly. He shook his head as if to clear it. "No doctor. I'll be fine."
I let him have his way. It's not as if I was up to trekking down the hill.
I looked up from my plate. The boy was still pale and trembling slightly.
"For what? If I let you die there would be no one to fetch my groceries."
He laughed weakly. "Don't think I'm up to it, either. I'll have things sent up."
"And how, precisely, will you manage that?" An idea was germinating in my mind.
"I got a mobile when Fico got sick. So I wouldn't have to leave him?"
"What happened to your owl?" Of course if he didn't remember anything else, he wasn't likely to remember his owl but I wondered if, in the aftermath of his dream, something might be sparked in him.
"I don't have an owl. Fico had other ways of communicating with wizards, when he wanted to, which wasn't often."
"What happened to your owl?" I pushed.
"I don't have an owl." His tone was placid, unconcerned.
Would nothing shake his composure about his true identity? By all accounts Potter had loved that owl. I wondered how I could go about getting her here. I couldn't ask anyone in the Order. Unless Albus had left something to exonerate me, I was still a pariah in their eyes. No doubt they suspected I had something to do with Potter's disappearance as well. Although, perhaps Hagrid . . . he'd always had a soft spot for me, trusting me absolutely because Dumbledore had.
I changed tactics. "I think you should stop taking your medicine."
"Are you daft? You see what the nightmares do to me."
"You don't always go into shock. You had a nightmare the night I arrived. You were more-or-less fine the next day."
"More less than more."
"You have no idea of how important dreams are. I suspect that by repressing yours, you're only making them worse."
"Fico didn't think so."
"I doubt your painter was infallible." And any man who could create a painting that diabolical was automatically suspect in my mind. It smacked of the Dark Arts.
"He loved me and he wanted what was best for me and the medicine helps. That's why I'm down here now." He walked hesitantly to the cupboard where it was kept.
"My name is Adam White."
"Fine, Adam; you really should stop taking the potion until I can determine what it does. It may make the nightmares go away but I really don't believe it's helping you."
"Oh, it helps," he said, fiddling with the bottle's stopper.
"You told me you were supposed to take it twice a month. It's only been a few days since the last time. At least wait another week."
"No. I need it now."
Unaccountably desperate, I cast about for something to say. "Your dreams, you're remembering things. This last dream, the things in it actually happened."
"Maybe," he said doubtfully, and then with more assurance, "but not to me."
"So, you have psychic abilities?" I sneered at his monumental stupidity. "Why are you so convinced that these aren't memories trying to surface, which I'm sure they are? You know nothing about yourself. Why can't you believe that I do? You're Harry Potter, damn you! The things you dream about happened to Harry Potter."
"Your friend Potter is dead. I'm as sure of that as I am sure of needing my medicine." He gave me a defiant look, unstoppered a bottle and drank it. Irritated as I was, I found I liked him better defiant than compliant. I watched his Adam's apple move up and down as he swallowed and waited with curiosity for the result.
The effects were exactly the same as the first time. His colour improved, the trembling stopped, and a big smile wreathed his face.
"D'you know, I think I've grown to like your nose. It suits you. Makes you look like a bird of prey. There are hawks here. Sometimes, I sit under the cork tree and just watch them for hours, catching the updrafts, soaring and circling and diving. Wouldn't want to be a mouse, though. Wonder what you'd do with any prey you caught? Kill it and eat it immediately, or toy with it a little first?"
And with that, he sat down. In my lap. I was too startled to move until he had undone several buttons of my robe and then I captured his hands in mine and jerked them away with unnecessary force.
"Oh," he said breathily, "I like it a little rough." He struggled half-heartedly, all the while grinding his arse against my groin.
"Well, then you'll probably enjoy this," I said softly, biting his ear hard and shoving him off my lap. He appeared to land right on his tailbone and I hid my wince behind a scowl. "Go away, little mousie. I prefer my prey to be in control of all their faculties, and you, apparently, are in control of none of yours."
He stood up, rubbing his bum. "Ah well, it's not as if you didn't warn me you were a bastard."
I stood up in turn and gave him a mocking half bow. "With your permission, I think I'll go take a nap. It's been a tedious day."
"Have a wank and think of me." He gave me a cheeky wink.
I resisted the childish urge to stick my tongue out at him and instead, sat back down. "I've changed my mind. I want to ask you some questions." I had no desire to ask him any questions; all I wanted was to go someplace quiet and ameliorate the effects of his brief interlude on my lap but I was damned if I'd give him the satisfaction.
"Well, if you won't, I will," Potter said, and promptly pulled his semi-erect penis out of his trousers.
"What the HELL do you think you're DOING?" I sprang to my feet, itching to hex the little pervert.
"Damn it, now look what you've done. You've scared him!"
"I'll fucking chop him off if you don't get him out of my sight immediately." Unfortunately, out of sight wasn't going to be out of mind. And wanting to laugh didn't help matters. Anger was called for and anger is something I'm very, very good at. Without bothering to see if he'd followed my instructions, I stormed over to the cupboard where he kept his medicine and began pulling down bottles.
"What are you doing?"
"You can't do that! I need that!"
All in all I was having a very good time. I swept a whole row of bottles onto the floor for emphasis and turned to look at Potter. He was near tears, which I found quite satisfactory. He had, I couldn't help but notice, managed to put his penis back into his pants.
"Look, I'm sorry! I told you the medicine makes me a little uninhibited."
I rounded on him. "Uninhibited? UNINHIBITED? YOU ARE A FUCKING MESS AND YOUR FUCKING MEDICINE IS FUCKING RESPONSIBLE!" It took looking away, several very deep breaths and all the self-control I possessed to keep from strangling him. "Your behaviour is beyond uninhibited. Your behaviour is, not to put too fine a point on it, beyond the pale. I'm a guest in your house. I'm a virtual stranger to you. And yet you have the audacity to maintain that parading around with your pitifully puny pecker exposed is merely uninhibited? Your painter, excuse me, your lover who created this was a sad, pathetic old man."
I turned back to look at him, more than half expecting to face a drawn wand, and instead found him slumped in a chair.
He looked up at me, tears welling in his eyes, and said, "You take that back."
"For fuck's sake! You're not Potter. I must have been mad to think you might've been. He's an insufferable brat but at least he does not snivel. Your lover was a pathetic old man and you are a pathetic young one."
"What the hell did I ever do to you to make you so cruel?"
"I'm trying to help you, fool. You obviously need it. I don't know why I bothered trying. You're beyond help. Well, you needn't suffer my cruelty any longer. I'll leave first thing in the morning and good riddance to you."
With a wave of my hand I cut off whatever he intended to say and stormed out, leaving him to clean up the broken glass and puddles of liquid.
Each time the Mark seared was worse than the last. I had no lingering doubts. He was not summoning His Death Eaters; this pain was solely for me, a reminder that He was waiting and not patiently. My body was less able to accommodate the pain, but at least this time I'd had the good luck to already be in bed.
I had neither seen nor heard the boy since the scene in the kitchen. Fully expecting him to storm into my room and demand I leave immediately, I had packed what little I had in my valise before I flopped tiredly – and wholly unaroused – on the bed, but he had not appeared that night nor the next day. It wouldn't have mattered if he did; I was in no condition to tackle the path down his mountain. If he wanted me gone he would bloody well have to carry me.
I felt almost as sick at heart as I had after killing Albus. The boy was not Potter. He could not be. Nothing could have reduced the Boy Who Lived to the pathetic wreck that owned this house, a shambling, near-drooling creature who was only animated under the effects of that blasted potion. I had no idea where to turn next.
No news of the war's progress had reached me. After the Dark Lord's curse I was shunned by the Death Eaters and had, I imagined, never ceased being the pet bugbear of the rest of the wizarding world – my black-heartedness proven beyond any shadow of doubt. Finding Potter and bringing him back had been my only hope of redemption in either camp and now that seemed impossible. I was alone, cut off, completely without contact.
As I began to drift into sleep, it occurred to me not even my mother would welcome me back. There was no hand in all the world that would ever again be extended to me in friendship before I died. I wondered why I bothered fighting the curse, struggling to remain alive. Well, I would leave in the morning and let the world do with me as it pleased.
Not even aware I had drifted off, I jerked awake.
"Can I come in?" Adam was standing in the doorway, candles blazing in the hallway behind him. His arms were wrapped tightly around his chest and he was shivering.
"What do you want?" I snarled. The last thing I needed was to listen to his puling.
"I can't sleep."
"And what am I supposed to do about it? Get you a drink of water and change your nappy? Perhaps you'd like me to read you a bedtime story."
"I don't know what's wrong. I'm scared." He moved to sit on the edge of the bed and I could hear his teeth chattering. "It's dark in here. How can you stand to be in the dark?" He stared out the door into the brightly lit corridor.
"It's night time. It's supposed to be dark. Dark so I can sleep, which I decidedly can't do with you yammering in my ear. Go back to bed. You're not six."
He grinned painfully. "I feel like I am. Please, don't make me go."
The little sod lifted the covers and slid between the sheets next to me. I didn't know what he was playing at, but I was tired and sick and cold and filled with dread. I simply didn't have the energy to kick him out.
Adam shifted until he was as close to Snape as he could get without actually touching him. He wished his teeth would stop chattering. He wished he could take his dream medicine but he knew it was too soon since the last time and it didn’t seem to be helping much anymore. He wasn't used to being scared – he never had been when Fico was alive – and he didn't like it. He had awakened in the dark and it terrified him. It had felt like the walls of his room were closing; for a moment he'd imagined the ceiling descending and crushing him flat.
"Stop wriggling," Snape snapped at him.
"I can't. I'm fucking freezing. Look, I know you like the dark to sleep but I really, really don't. Can we light one candle at least?"
The sound of an exaggerated sigh seemed to echo in the darkness. Snape sat up and fumbled for matches. The candle sputtered and hissed as it was lit. "There. Light. Happy? Can we go to sleep now?"
Adam's teeth chattered so hard he couldn't say anything.
"Sod it." Snape rolled over. "Come here you little wretch," he said, wrapping his arms around the shivering body. "Sleep, now. Please?"
Adam nodded, uncomfortably aware of the sound of his hair scratching against Snape's chest. His own breathing seemed like thunder. He listened to Snape breathe, waiting for it to even out, waiting until he was sure the man had fallen asleep. When he felt the arm across his chest slacken, he shifted carefully, rolling over so they were face to face.
With a trembling finger he traced Snape's eyebrows and the contours of his nose and cheeks. Snape's face twitched and Adam jerked his hand away even though he knew Snape was sleeping. Such a strange man, cruel and bitter and still kind enough to allow Adam this comfort – even if he wasn't allowed to speak or move.
Snape was so familiar and not, so comfortable and prickly. Absorbing the unique smell of him and the blessed warmth of his body, Adam closed his eyes. They flashed open again at the sound of a harsh whisper.
He looks at Snape whose eyes are still closed and whose breathing is still regular. It's not him. Oh god, he's dreaming again but he can't be, he had only just closed his eyes for a moment.
"Potter!" The whisper is more urgent this time, slicing viciously through the frigid air that makes his bones ache.
It's the voice he's come to think of as his friend; the voice of the man who cleans him, brings him bits of extra food, clean clothes; the voice he's never heard above a whisper; the voice that speaks harsh words at odds with kind actions; the voice that calls him Potter. He wants to answer but he can't. His throat is raw as if he'd been screaming for hours.
"For fuck's sake. Potter! Answer me, damn you. Let me know where you are at least."
The best he can manage is a weak moan.
"Shit. Lumos! Good fucking Christ! What have they done to you this time? Come on, let's get you up." Two wiry arms stretch out to him and he clings to them as he would a life raft in a turbulent river.
He can't see anything. His eyelids are encrusted with something and he can't pry them open. He knows there's light because of the whispered spell and because he can see red. That's odd. His friend has never brought light before.
Hands guide him to his bucket and help him sit. He cringes, expecting the spell that empties him but it doesn't come. Instead, he can hear his friend muttering quietly. He sounds angry and Harry is afraid but a hand is on his head, stroking his hair lightly. When his bladder finally releases, the hands help him up and guide him until he is leaning against a wall for support. The hands run up and down his body and he knows instinctively that he's being checked for injuries.
"They beat you, did they?"
He nods even though he can't really remember but they must have beaten him because everything hurts and he can't open his eyes.
"Nothing broken, I think. Some nasty bruises and a cut above your eye."
That's why he can't open them then, they're sealed with blood. He feels faint.
"Don't you dare pass out on me, boy. Not until we're done."
Something hard touches his head and he knows it's a wand.
"No concussion. You should be relieved. It means I'll let you go to sleep as soon as we're done. Does anyone, other than myself, ever come to you in the dark?"
His brain feels muzzy. He doesn't think anyone has but he's not sure so he doesn't answer.
The hands shake him. Hard. "Stay with me, fool. This is important! Does anyone ever come to you in the dark?" The voice is harsh and angry but the hands have stopped shaking him and are simply holding him by the shoulders, firm but unexpectedly gentle.
He shakes his head and croaks, "No. Don' think so."
"Well, I can't leave you like this. I'll have to risk it. You'd better pray they don't. If anyone finds you've been helped, I won't be able to come back. Too risky. They've made a real mess of you. I was a fool to think they'd do you no physical harm. I should have expected it."
More muttering accompanies the feel of the wand moving over him. He knows the words are spells because the ache gradually eases and he feels as if he could stand on his own.
"That's better, don't you think? Let's get you cleaned up."
He cringes again, dreading the feel of the scrubbing brush, but instead of stiff bristles and cold water there's a soft, warm flannel held in a gentle hand.
"Nox!" his friend whispers and the red behind his eyelids disappears as the flannel moves over his eyes.
"Why won't you let me see you?" He's whinging and he hates it but he can't seem to help himself.
"Just an all around bad idea. You've no idea who I am, have you? And it's better for me if we keep it that way. Can you open your eyes?"
He can but it doesn't matter. He can't see anything.
"Here. Blankets. Mind you shove them under the bed as soon as it appears. They mustn't know. Do you understand?"
"Yes," he croaks, and he does. If they find out he's being helped they'll put a stop to it.
"Good. I don't know when I can come back. You hold on as best you can."
He hears his friend's footsteps walking away and then a whisper that sounds vaguely amused. "Don't let the bastards get you down, Potter."
He jerked when he felt the hand on his shoulder.
"Adam. Wake up. You're fine. You were dreaming again."
Adam shivered. Snape's voice was rough with sleep and little more than a whisper.
"You!" He blurted out. "It was you!"
"What was me? Of what exactly am I being accused?" Snape no longer whispered. He had obviously come fully awake; his voice was unnaturally loud and he sounded angry and suspicious and wounded all at once.
"I . . . I don't know. I . . . it's gone again." Somewhere inside him he knew he should act the adult, apologise for disturbing the man and return to his own room but instead he buried his head in the crook of Snape's arm; he only barely managed to keep from whimpering.
He was surprised to feel Snape's hand resting gently on the back of his head and he looked up.
"You're remembering." Snape's eyes glittered in the candlelight.
"I don't remember."
"No. But you're remembering."
"I don't want to remember." He buried his head against Snape's arm again, shocked to be jostled by the man's silent laughter.
"I don't know why I ever doubted. The world doesn't have room for two idiots of your ilk." Snape's voice was tight with suppressed laughter and Adam wanted to hear him laugh out loud.
"You're awfully nice for such a greasy bastard."
It didn't get the laugh he was hoping for. Snape yanked his head up by his hair and then grabbed his chin, forcing Adam to look at him.
"You remember more than you pretend," he said, voice now thick with suspicion.
Adam struggled to pull away but Snape's fingers were digging painfully into his jaw.
"I don't know what you mean." He had no idea what had prompted the sudden shift in temper.
"Then why did you call me that?"
"What? Greasy bastard? Have you looked in the mirror lately?"
And then Snape did laugh out loud. His laugh was grating, like a crow's caw, but Adam found himself surging upwards. Surprised at his own daring, he pressed his open mouth against Snape's, trying to capture the laugh, take it inside himself.
Snape growled, "You little wretch," and Adam was scared. Things weren't made any better by being forcibly pushed onto his back. Suddenly Snape was on top of him, hard fingers gouging into his biceps, black eyes sparking dangerously. It was both terrible and electrifying.
Summoning his courage, Adam spat out, "I am not a little mousie, Mr Hawk!" and kissed Snape again, delighted when a puff of breath, accompanied by a chuckle, filled his mouth.
"At the moment, I don't care who or what you are. In the morning, when you find yourself bruised and battered, remember you brought this on yourself."
He might has well have been a mouse; he was being devoured, eaten alive. Snape flipped him effortlessly onto his stomach and chewed his way across and down Adam's back, taking skin and muscle between his teeth, gnawing and sucking. He followed each bite with a soothing lick that vanished too quickly before the teeth sank in again. It hurt and felt wonderful in equal measure.
Snape said something and Adam blinked. "What?" he asked thickly.
"I said, little mouse, when did you last bathe?"
Adam snorted laughter. "Why, do I smell?"
"Answer the question," Snape demanded, sinking his teeth into the sensitive flesh of Adam's arse.
"Tonight! Just before bed!" Adam squealed, completely confused.
The reason for Snape's question made itself evident; long fingers parted Adam's cheeks, digging in painfully as they had dug into his shoulders and then there was wetness just there. Adam was slightly horrified and incredibly aroused. This was not something Fico had ever done and if anyone before had done it to him, he didn't remember. He couldn't wrap his mind around the idea that Snape would put his mouth there, let alone spear into him with his tongue, but his body accepted it easily. His hips arched, pushing himself up, driving Snape's tongue in even deeper.
"Fuck," he yelled as Snape's teeth scraped across the sensitive ring of puckered flesh that was doing such a poor job of protecting his insides.
"We'll get to that later," Snape mumbled without lifting his head or even slowing down his attack.
Adam didn't complain. Each thrust of Snape's tongue was wetter than the last and Adam knew he was pushing saliva into him, preparing him. He thought he might actually faint from the pleasure. Under him, trapped between his stomach and the bed, his cock throbbed almost painfully. Adam groaned, seconds away from coming, and then Snape snaked a hand around his hips and gripped his cock tightly at the base, cutting off his release.
"Don't you dare. That's for me and I'm not ready for it yet." His mouth had slowed its work, no longer stabbing into his arse but now slowly lapping up and down his cleft, caressing and gentle.
Adam could hear him groaning softly as he licked; the understanding that Snape was doing this for himself as much as for Adam, that he actually enjoyed eating Adam's arse, excited him. In spite of the cruel pressure of Snape's fingers at the base of his cock, Adam new he was seconds away from coming, he could feel his cock pulsing.
With another growl, Snape flipped him over again. "This is why I've no use for children – no patience," he said and then his mouth, hot and wet, was drawing Adam's cock in. The wicked tongue circled his glans and then probed the sensitive slit at the tip. Adam squealed and Snape pulled away, at the same time letting his fingers loosen their grip. Adam exploded, semen arcing in the air before splashing back down onto his belly.
"Bitter," Snape remarked as he began to lick it up. "Delicious."
"That," Adam panted, struggling to catch his breath, "was not half bad."
"What did you say?" Snape's voice was full of menace but his lips, wet and red, twisted up at the corners. "One hundred and fifty points from Gryffindor."
Adam furrowed his brow. "What?"
Snape snarled, "Never mind," and, flipping Adam over onto his stomach again, brought his hand down hard on his arse.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Adam yelled.
"Admiring my handprint," Snape said and smacked him again. "And punishing your impertinence. Remember, you brought this on yourself."
Adam writhed. His arse burned and he could feel the muscles clenching and releasing with hunger. But in spite of all the sensation, he felt drowsy; it was always like that when he came – the desire for sleep became overwhelming.
"I don't think so, Mr . . . White," Snape said through clenched teeth. "You may be sated but my hunger has only been piqued. Which do you prefer, prone or supine?"
Adam moaned. It'd been a very, very long time since he'd been fucked. Fico hadn't often been up to it, even before he started his descent into death. The thought of him brought Adam up short. He thought he should feel guilty but he didn't. He only felt aroused and, surprisingly, safe.
"I prefer you on your back. You're little use to me face down. I may be young but I do need a little time to recover."
He was delighted to hear Snape chuckle again. He was content with his life but hearing Snape's laugh reminded him how little real joy there was in it.
"I suppose that's only fair. I've done all the work so far, now it's your turn." He wrapped his arms around Adam and rolled over onto his back, carrying Adam with him.
Snape's breath came out in a grunt as Adam pressed his hands into his chest and pushed himself into a sitting position on Snape's thighs. Another grunt turned into a deep moan as Adam took his cock into both hands and squeezed gently.
"How did such a skinny man get such a thick cock?" he asked, feeling awed and a little frightened by the girth between his fingers.
"Dark Magic," Snape said. "I sold my soul for it. Cheap at half the price. Sure you can handle it, boy?"
"Not at all sure," Adam said honestly. "But I'm willing to give it a try."
"Then stop pussyfooting around." Snape's words came out in a gasp as Adam continued to work his hands up and down.
Keeping one hand on Snape's cock for guidance, Adam squatted over it and slowly began to lower himself down. "If I die doing this, bury me under the cork tree next to Fico."
Snape went very still, not even breathing, and his face paled slightly. "Are you in the habit of bringing up past lovers during sex?"
"Don't know that I've had more than the one. If it doesn't bother me, why should it bother you?"
"Why indeed?" Snape replied but his face was still tight.
"I'm sorry," Adam said earnestly. "I won't bring him up again." He was relieved to see some of the tension drain out of Snape's face.
And now it was his turn to grunt as the wide head pressed against his puckered ring. Gritting his teeth, he pushed down and then stopped before the head was fully inside. It hurt, burned, felt like a knife slicing into him. Sweat beaded up on his forehead. "God!" he gasped, and then, "Fuck me."
The words had been a curse, not an invitation but Snape snorted and said, "If you insist," as he thrust his hips up.
"Shit! Oh god, don't do that, you bastard." He slapped Snape's chest and was rewarded with a feral smile.
Sucking in air through clenched teeth, Adam pushed down again. "Fuck! It's been a long time."
"It's been quite some time for me as well."
It was Adam's turn to snort. "If I recall correctly, it's much easier from your end."
"There's no need to hurry things . . . Adam."
"Oh, but I think there is. You're not a young man, Mr. Snape. And if your stiffy falters before I'm done, I might cry."
"I suspect my erection may never subside. I've never been harder in my life, nor felt less like coming."
"Oh goody," Adam said.
It was Snape's turn to snort. He rolled his eyes for good measure. "Oh goody? And my stiffy? Reassure me that you're above the age of consent. I may have spoken too soon regarding my ability to maintain erectile function."
Adam slapped Snape's thigh, making himself wince as the movement thrust inches more of Snape's cock up his arse.
"Holy Mary, Mother of God," Snape said quietly. "You're quite tight. Are you sure you've done this before?"
Adam laughed and then grit his teeth. "Shut up, can't you? This is hard enough without you making me laugh."
It seemed to take hours before Snape's cock was fully embedded. The burn had not gone away but it felt sweeter somehow, welcome. Rather than moving up and down, Adam simply rocked slightly back and forth, getting used to it. He watched the expression on Snape's face shift from impatience to humour to bliss as he squeezed his muscles tightly. His own cock flopped limply as he moved. He was never hard when he did this and he was glad of it; getting an erection would merely be a distraction from the exquisite ache of being stretched.
Slowly, carefully, he began to move up and down. Then Snape was up on his elbows, hands clenched into the sheets and he groaned as he began moving with Adam, pushing himself in deeper, moving faster and harder until Adam whimpered with pleasure. Snape's eyes were closed but Adam's remained open, watching Snape's face. A grimace that almost looked like pain, a final hard push, and Snape hissed, "Fuck yes!" as he came.
Sleep simply would not come. I finally gave it up as a bad job and climbed from the bed, wrapping myself in the duvet, which had fallen to the floor. I should have woken him, made him return to his own room but the moonlight through the branches of the cork tree beckoned me to the window.
I was disgusted with myself.
I stood and stared out the window, thinking of Potter and the Dark Lord and Albus, and the complete utter mess I made of everything I attempted.
Behind me, I could hear the boy's soft breathing. I turned to look. He was beautiful and I hated him almost as much as I hated myself.
Finally, the chill of the floor against my bare feet was more than I could continue to bear and I returned to the bed. Careful not to disturb my sleeping companion – who was now lying with his face pressed into the pillow and drooling – I settled myself on top of the sheets, wrapped in the duvet. But I still couldn't sleep.
I didn't realise he was awake until I felt his hand at my waist. I stiffened. "Don't."
"Don't what?" I could hear the amusement in his voice.
"Don't touch me."
"Why ever not?"
"I'm old enough to be your father." It was an utterly stupid thing to say.
"It didn't seem that way when we made love."
"We didn't make love," I sneered. I could feel the warmth of his hand even through the thickness of the duvet. It angered me.
"And don't call me Severus." I jerked my body away from him.
"What's the matter with you?"
"You. This. All of it. You were my student, for fuck's sake."
"And you're not well. You don't even know who you are. Fucking you was wrong. I feel as if I'd molested the village idiot."
I felt his hand tighten on my arm. He peered at my face, confusion on his. "I do know you. At least I–" He stopped, clearly at a loss, then shook his head. "It doesn't matter."
"It does matter," I snapped. "Who you are, what you are, matters." I laughed bitterly. "In your case it matters even more than most."
"Why do you care?"
"About you personally? I don't. About Harry Potter the symbol? Because the fate of wizarding Britain hangs on his weak shoulders. Whichever side controls Potter, controls the war."
"Poor you, you idiot." For the first time, I actually felt sympathy for Potter. I preferred it when I had none.
"You're in love with him."
I almost choked. "Of all the inane . . . You haven't the wits God gave a vegetable marrow."
"You do care," he contradicted me.
Sighing, I wrapped the duvet around me and swung my legs over the edge of the bed, but, although I couldn't stand to be in bed with him a moment longer, I didn't get up.
He took my hand, stubbornly separating my fingers from their grip on the duvet. I made a half-hearted attempt to jerk away, but he didn't let go. Uncurling my fingers from their tight fist, he stroked my palm for a moment before laying a gentle kiss on it.
"It would seem you have a thing for older men." I couldn't leave it alone. I had picked at that particular scab all night long.
He sat up and looked at me, curling his arms around bent knees, heedless that the blankets no longer covered him. "You're not that old. What are you, forty? You look tired and you're skinny because you're ill, but you have the grace and presence of a young man."
I didn't hear whatever he said next. I could feel a flush rising from navel to neck. His knack for zeroing in on my weaknesses was uncanny.
I suddenly became aware of a hand moving back and forth in front of my face.
"Are you still with me? Good. For I minute I honestly thought you'd died. I don't know how many men would be able to die and remain so rigidly upright but I knew if anyone could, you could."
I would almost have rathered he returned to discussing my age and appearance.
"Come here," he patted the pillow next to him.
"No. Thank you."
"Oh, come on. I don't bite."
A peculiar expression flitted across his face and was gone almost instantly. It occurred to me that it might be hurt that I'd continued to call him Potter rather than Adam. It also occurred to me it might be anger at being denied. This was Harry Potter we're talking about.
"Why not?" he asked petulantly.
"Because I loathe you," I snapped. "I have from the first moment I saw you. Your arrogant little face glaring up at me. You were short, scrawny, dim-witted, and had an ego as large as Hagrid. You were the spitting image – physically and emotionally – of your father. Everyone always hastened to add 'but he's got his mother's green eyes', as if that somehow made you less conceited and insolent. I–" I stopped, realising I'd said more than I'd intended.
He didn't even have the sense to be outraged, and I knew the next thing out of his mouth would be completely irrelevant.
I scowled – talking to him was like trying to drink soup with a fork – but I let him pull me into a reclining position on the bed. He rested his head on my chest, looked up at me through ridiculously long lashes, and opened his mouth to say something else. Deciding that later was soon enough to think about why I shouldn't, I cut off his words the only way I knew how.
Awakening to discover the sun already high in the cloudless blue sky and my bed empty of nocturnal visitors, I closed my eyes briefly in silent thanks, grateful I didn't have to immediately deal with the consequences of my monumental foolishness
My body ached in the aftermath of His most recent reminder and my subsequent foray into sexual gluttony. I growled at my cock which had twitched at the thought of the latter. If I had to strangle it into submission, it was better done in the bathroom where there was less chance of being interrupted by vacant-eyed, empty-headed idiots.
I lingered in the bath so long I began to feel as if I were hiding, which was intolerable. As I descended the stairs, I heard the sound of Potter clattering around in the kitchen and finding the idea of seeing him repellent, I turned for the sitting room. As they were everywhere else in the house, candles burned brightly from every surface. I sneered; there was an excellent reason for the boy to be afraid of the dark, but it annoyed me all the same.
I was calmly perusing the books on their shelf when, from the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of purple over the mantelpiece. "Not now, Albus," I snapped, and then growled when I heard a quiet chuckle.
"It's not my fault and I don't feel like discussing it with you at the moment." I crossed my arms and turned my back on the painting.
Unfortunately, that tactic worked no better with this painting than it does with any other.
"That is hardly a startling revelation." He was laughing at me
"I said shut it."
"My dear boy, I'm not even here. If I understand the nature of Federico Buenaventura's work correctly, there's no one here but you and your psyche."
"Any conscience I ever had shrivelled and died years ago, no little thanks to you and your evil twin." This was maddening; all I wanted was a few moments of peace.
"I said psyche, my boy, not conscience." He sounded unbearably smug. "Perhaps a little something to eat would brighten your outlook. There are wonderful smells coming from the kitchen."
Right on cue, my stomach rumbled. I sighed. As usual, everything was aligned against me.
Potter was standing at the sink doing something to a mound of fish and crustaceans that had apparently been delivered while I slept off the effects of relating to him. He was whistling tunelessly as he worked and even the back of him looked so relentlessly chipper that I scowled. I hate morning people – never mind that it was well-on noon. Of course it might have been an overdose of hormones; I was feeling unusually vibrant myself.
He turned when I entered the room and gave me a brilliant smile, his eyes dancing with pleasure. I was momentarily stunned, blinded, and then his arms were tight around me and he tilted his mouth up to be kissed. My heart lurched in my chest.
He wriggled a bit, bringing our groins together, and then giggled. It was as if a vial of acid had broken open inside me. Outrage and betrayal vibrated along my every nerve. Grabbing his shoulders, I pushed his body away but didn't loosen my grip. I looked at his pinpoint pupils and blind fury enveloped me.
"Where are you hiding it?" I shook him like a rag-doll. His smile, which had been so blinding, was now tentative, but he was still smiling. Damn him. "Where is it? Are you so desperate for oblivion that you care nothing for yourself?"
"Where's what?" he asked innocently, but I could see in his eyes that he knew exactly what I'd meant.
"Your infernal medicine," I said through clenched teeth. "Is that what brought you to my–" I bit back my words and fought down the bile that rose to my throat.
He was lying. With one hand, I yanked him in the direction of the table, not caring in the least if I wrenched his arm from its socket; with the other, I sent everything on the table crashing to the floor. I bent him backwards over it and leant menacingly over him. "Is this what you want? Your lover's dead and you're so desperate for oblivion you'll drug yourself insensible and throw yourself at the first man that shows you a bit of kindness?" I scraped my teeth over his neck, sucking until he was whimpering in pain and writhing under me.
Without letting him move, I yanked down his trousers and pants, took his testicles in my hand and squeezed. "Is this why you came to me?"
He was shaking his head violently back and forth, but I ignored that. I roughly turned him face down onto the table. Oblivious to his screaming, I freed my cock, ready to enter him with no preparation, no lubrication beyond a single mouthful of saliva to ease my way.
And then, a single word filtered through my rage. "Severus."
Sick with rage, despair and self-hatred, I jerked away from him and fled.
Adam wandered into the sitting room. Unable to admit it, even to himself, he was looking for Snape whom he hadn't seen since . . .
Restless, upset, he paced the length of the room; back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. There was something wrong with the whole situation – not what Snape had done – almost done – because Adam had actually enjoyed that, in a disturbing kind of way. No, the problem was his reaction to the man himself. There was something very wrong with feeling that way about Snape, with his long, elegant, brutal fingers, his thick, greasy hair, those sharp, biting teeth and sharper words, but Adam just couldn't pinpoint what it was.
It wasn't that Snape was angry with him, nor why. It wasn't that he'd betrayed Fico; Adam didn't believe you could betray the dead. The problem was Snape. God, even that name. Snape. Snape. Sharp and snappish and bitter on his tongue.
At the far end of the room, he turned sharply and walked over to his painting. He hadn't looked at it for several days. What would have been the point? He hadn't seen anything in it since Snape had arrived, or nothing beyond a vague sense of a man lurking at the edges, the dark figure that had always been the one constant, the dark figure that he now identified, and probably forever after would identify, with Snape. Frustrated, Adam dropped to his favourite spot on the carpet in front of the fire. He winced, his knee catching an edge of hidden stone, his body sore from the things that Snape . . .
He stretched out on the worn drugget and rested his head on his arms. He hadn't been sleeping well and he was so tired.
For months going to sleep at all had made him nervous until the day Fico handed him the first small vial and told him it would help. Armonía he'd called it – Harmony. And it had helped, banishing the cold ache that always lingered in his bones after a bad night, filling him with a sense of peace and happiness, leaving him hungry and eager for everything. While Fico was alive to give him a fortnightly reminder, the nightmares went away completely and didn't return until the reminders stopped. He hated himself for not being able to remember on his own.
Snape had said, "You forget to take the medicine because something inside you wants to remember."
That was the stupidest thing Adam had ever heard and he'd said that – only much more politely, of course. Snape had sneered, which is what Snape did.
Snape. Adam shook his head. He'd thought there'd been some real possibilities there. He was drawn to the man in spite of his sharp tongue and withering glare. And then Snape had . . .
Putting a hand in his pocket, Adam felt for the little vial he carried there; one of six remaining after Snape's rampage and one of the five he still had. He wanted to drink it. He needed to drink it, but once the five bottles were gone there would be no more – the secret of its manufacture gone with its creator.
No, he wouldn't drink one now. He would wait, go back to taking it once a fortnight, but it was hard; the bad dreams were so much more persistent since Snape had come.
Adam spelled the fire warm again, summoned a cushion from a chair and rolled it up under his neck, his head flopping backwards so he could watch the flames. In spite of the blaze, he was cold, right into the core of him. There might as well not be a carpet under him. And there isn't. There's no light from the windows or the flames, there's nothing between him and the icy floor and please no, don't do this. Let me wake up.
So cold it hurts and his clothes are gone again. He'd had them briefly two days ago – or perhaps it was the day before that, he can't keep track anymore – when he'd had his first visitor, but he's been naked since and he's not sure he can stand it any longer and the cold wouldn't be so bad if only there was light, but there isn't, there's only darkness so absolute it doesn't even acknowledge the existence of light. He curls up as tight as he can, wrapping his arms around his knees, making himself into a ball of skin and bone, but he cannot stop shaking.
And then suddenly he is dressed, warm, and blinking in the sudden harsh light that fills the room as a harried looking man in white Healer's robes enters preceded by a floating quill and piece of parchment. Without speaking, he runs his wand up and down Harry's body while the quill jots things on the parchment. Then,
"Do you know your name?”
“Of course. Harry Potter.”
“What does that mean? What’s wrong with Harry?”
“We had rather hoped you had moved beyond that stage.”
“What stage? What are you talking about?”
“You don’t remember? Well, perhaps you don’t. Shock. When you were admitted, you said your name was Harry Potter. We’d hoped by now you'd be able to give us your real identity.”
“I am Harry Potter.”
“Harry Potter died six months ago. Try again. What is your name?”
Adam is crying in his sleep, except he doesn't cry. He never cries. He never has. But he is crying because he wants it to stop, wants the dreaming to stop, and if he can just open his eyes, it will stop. But there's red behind his eyelids and that means light and when he opens his eyes it doesn't stop. He pushes and prods himself. Wake up. Wake up. You can wake up.
And with the light comes the clothes and the warmth and these are good things but they're not because they're not real. They only allow him clothes to confuse him and these are not his striped pyjamas and this is not his bed and it's not really warm in here, it's cold, cold as ice, cold as death, cold as despair. A new Healer walks into the room. It's a different one. It's always a different one. But this one is just as impatient as the rest.
"Where am I?" Harry asks, stalling for time, desperately trying to remember the last thing that'd happened to him before he woke up here.
"Hasn't this game gone on long enough?" The Healer is pacing, waving his hands about angrily. "There's nothing wrong with you, no discernable spell, no bump on the head. If you're trying to hide who you are in order to escape paying for your treatment, you needn't bother. The Saint Mungo's Auxiliary Hospital for the Spell-Shocked treats indigents for free."
Harry protests. He isn't indigent and St Mungo's doesn't have an auxiliary. And he is Harry Potter. He's the son of James and Lily Potter, the godson of Sirius Black, the only one who's ever survived the killing curse. He tells the Healer all this and more.
"I survived an attack by Lord Voldemort," Harry rolls his eyes as the Healer flinches, "when I was a baby and a few since then. I was born 31 July, 1980. I attended Hogwarts while Albus Dumbledore was Headmaster and I was present when he died at the wand of Severus Snape."
He begs the hospital administrator – and it is an administrator now, a short, balding man with a toothbrush moustache and a monocle – to get Arthur Weasley. Mr Weasley will identify him, confirm he is who he says he is.
"You know perfectly well Mr Weasley has already been contacted. You saw him yourself just yesterday. He claims to not recognise you. His exact words, I'm sure you recall, were, 'Says he's Harry? How very extraordinary. Nothing like him at all.' He then reminded me that Harry Potter was dead, as if I needed the reminder with flags still lowered all these six months later."
There's something he's supposed to remember, but he can't. Voices fade in and out. He can pick out words, phrases, but there's no logic to it, no reason. He knows he's dreaming, he knows and he can't wake up. The dream is going faster and faster, random images, faces he knows and doesn't quite recognise and it's all gone so very wrong and it's just a dream and dreams don't follow the logic of the waking world but it's all so terrible and fast and frightening.
The voice is high and thin and it scares him, makes him want to run screaming but he can't, he has to stay, he has to see and his head hurts, his scar burns but he doesn't have a scar so it can't burn but it does and there is someone screaming, a woman, terrible screams, pleading, begging, screaming oh god and he wants to help and he can't help he can't do anything and a bright green light and Harry is screaming and Adam is crying and he has to wake up he has to he has to he can't take this oh please oh please oh please oh please.
Adam jerks and twitches and he can't wake up.
"Harry!" The voice is sharp and loud and angry and scared and it hurts his ears but it means he's not alone and he dives, falling upwards, driving himself towards the voice thinking help me, help me, you've always helped me before.
And someone is holding him, strong arms and gentle hands and a familiar voice saying, "Harry. Harry. It's okay. You're okay. I've got you. I've got you. I've got you."
Part 2: Cross the Burning Ground
I took advantage of him. Without qualms or guilt or even a second thought. The drug was finally leaching from his system and I made damned sure there would be no turning back. Within minutes of finding him writhing and screaming on the floor of the sitting room, while he was still disoriented and clinging to me, I had forced him to admit the existence and location of the remaining vials. I left him there, cold and shaking, to gather up the remainder and destroy them.
It was almost as wrenching for me as it was for him; whatever had gone into the crafting of that particular potion was probably lost forever – a work of incalculable genius that I envied and lusted after, destroyed by my hand. I kept one tiny vial, but even if my powers returned in full, it was likely it wouldn’t be a big enough sample for exhaustive tests. I didn’t dare tell Potter; the possibility that his house might lead him to it was too great. I found myself grieving for a man I never knew, a man I detested for the harm he had, knowingly or unknowingly, caused.
I had returned to the sitting room, hefted his shaking body from the floor, carried him to his room, deposited him in his bed, treated him for shock as best I could, and left. Being with him was unbearable after what I'd done. I packed my valise, ready to leave the moment he was up and about again. And then I sat on the edge of the bed to wait and think. And wait.
Alone with your sins in a stranger's house, unable to leave, is a terrible place to be. I have made so many mistakes in my life. I am nothing like the man I wanted to be, the man I should have been. This is my burden, my shame and my outrage. I am petty, bitter, resentful of the people who have accepted me in spite of myself. They should have known better.
That night as I waited, I remembered that Potter had once called me a coward and, while there were any number of brave acts to my credit, I also remembered he was right. I thought, Always brave until they get you alone.
I could not bear what the rest of them had done to Harry Potter during his life – the Dark Lord, Albus Dumbledore, Sirius Black, that obscenity of a family that raised him. Not that any one of them could have behaved differently; that play was written long ago. But I was responsible for my own actions. What I had done to Potter was not orchestrated by events larger than myself. I had as near raped him as makes no difference. I had brutalised him, and all because he was scared and alone and dared to reach out to me. That is a thing for which there can be no forgiveness.
Potter. Mercurial. Arrogant. Irritating. Charming. Irritating. Perhaps he hasn't been taking his medicine after all, I thought. Under its influence – once the regrettable, temporary effects passed – he was calm, reasonable, dull. Recently, he had not been any of those things. But if he had not taken his draught, why had he come to me? Perhaps he had just been scared and lonely. It was better not to dwell on it.
He came to my room. Pale and shaky but with fists clenched so tightly his fingers were white and blood pooled in dark shadows below the knuckles.
"For your information, I haven't taken my medicine for days. Not that it's any of your damned business."
I looked up at him. I knew my face would show everything – anger, grief, despair – and I could not find the will to don my mask. Unable to meet his gaze, I dropped mine back to my hands, the fingers of which were twisting and twining around each other as if of their own will. "Potter," I said around a hard knot in my throat, "I . . . I'm sorry."
What else could I possibly have said?
I watched something soften in his face and then his whole body became tense, his lips drawing into a tight line. "No! Not good enough. You can't make me feel sorry for you, not after what you did!"
"I've packed my things. I . . . I was just waiting . . . to apologise for my behaviour. There's no excuse. No justification. I should have come to you, found you. I shouldn't have hidden, but I couldn't. I couldn't face you. I'm just . . . sorry."
That's what I said, but a voice in my inner ear was raging, You are such a miserable excuse for a hero. You're a wizard. You still have magical ability, I've seen it. Why didn't you stop me? You know damn well this was not my fault. Why didn't you fight me?
Of course I knew I wasn't supposed to feel that way and I kept it to myself. Perhaps I had found a new mask.
Potter's response was about as elegant as one can expect from him: "Oh, shut the fuck up. Apology accepted, okay? And you can't just pack up and go. Not without giving me some answers."
The expression on my face must have been comical because he laughed. I really couldn't believe he had told me to "shut the fuck up."
“Look, Snape. I may be thick, but I’m not stupid. There’s something going on here. Something more than nightmares, and I think you know what it is. You stormed my house, destroyed my Harmony – both literally and figuratively – and have been acting like a grand inquisitor and all around ass, trying to convince me I’m who you want me to be. And now, you want to cut and run because you behaved badly? Fuck me. If bad behaviour is reason enough to leave, you should have been gone within thirty seconds of your arrival. I want some information and you’re not leaving until I get it.”
“You insufferable little prick! I’ve done nothing since I’ve been here but try to help you, and all you’ve done in return is drug yourself and try to distract me. Every kindness I’ve shown you, you’ve taken as no more than your due. Every piece of information I’ve offered, you’ve rejected. And I’m supposed to bow and scrape and cater to your every whim just because you’ve figured out, at long last, that perhaps I know more than you? I should turn you over my knee and give you a sound thrashing!” I could feel a vein throbbing in my temple.
“Oh, well,” he said with a smug little smile, “if you’re going to talk dirty to me, I suppose the answers can wait a little while longer.”
He returned to my bed. Even after the harm I had done him. I tried to refuse him, unwilling to pile sin upon sin, but he ignored me. I hectored, I railed, I begged and pleaded, I threw him out bodily, and still he returned. Every night we had the same essential conversation:
"Go." My tone always far more beseeching than it ought have been.
"No. Why should I?" His tone alternately pugnacious, demanding, wheedling.
"I want to sleep alone. For fuck's sake! I just want to sleep!" Still beseeching.
"No you don't. You like having me here." There is no point describing the tone here, the words speak for themselves. And laughingly, he'd add, "If you're going to force me to suffer through these nightmares then you're going to suffer through them with me and, brute though you may be, sex with you is more fun than sex by myself and you owe me."
He was right, I did owe him, and I supposed it was only fair I share his lack of sleep, but his willing presence did nothing to expiate my guilt, and the way he hogged the covers was incredibly annoying.
So in my bed he stayed. Between the nightmares and the sex and the conversation, I sometimes longed for Azkaban.
Although sleep deprivation did not improve my temper, I did what I could to make our waking hours productive. When not engaged in other activities – the necessities such as eating, bathing, treating him for shock (which happened with appalling frequency,) and various nocturnal exercises – the next few days were spent answering his questions, bringing him up to speed, as it were.
Once again I told him his life history, this time leaving nothing out. Something flickered behind his eyes when I told him of his time in "St Mungo's Auxiliary for the Spell-Shocked" and when I prodded him he struggled with it, then sighed and said, "I'm sorry. I can't remember."
Without his draught, he became increasingly edgy. He would deliberately pick fights and, typically, over the most ridiculous things – the plural of Horcrux or whether or not he was really twenty. As the days went on, I noticed he was developing a tendency to rub his forehead – exactly where his scar had once been, exactly where he once used to rub it when angry, frustrated or, on those spectacularly rare occasions, thinking. I was intrigued and asked him about it. He said, "Dunno. It itches or something." There was no sign of the scar, no shadow or blemish – but sometimes it seemed his eyes were shading more towards green than brown and his hair seemed to be getting unrulier by the day, and I wondered if the scar would reappear.
Whilst, to my disappointment, his memory did not seem to be returning, he now, suddenly, more or less accepted that he was indeed Harry Potter. Still, he frequently didn't respond to the name. If I tried to get his attention, it was, "Potter. Harry. Harry! Damn it, boy! ADAM!" He thought it was funny, although he insisted he was not doing it on purpose. Needless to say, I had my doubts; Potter always did have a peculiar, and difficult, sense of humour. There were times when I was sure he was shamming – his increased use of the epithets "git" and "snarky bastard"; the insulting comments about my personality, my appearance, my hygiene; and the rather startling way he would fly into a temper over my mildest comments – were all too familiar.
Where Adam White had been polite, calm, and disturbingly incurious about anything pertaining to himself, Harry Potter was rude and inquisitive, although he had more interest in my personal life than his own.
"Severus, if you're a wizard, why don't you do magic?"
I winced. Of all the questions he might have asked . . . "The Dark Lord destroyed my wand, the same night he cursed me."
"Wow. That's harsh. What about, you know, wandless? I can do wandless, so could Fico. It's not that hard."
Given our long history, I should have been well past being surprised by his egoism, but it was galling to hear him speak so cavalierly of a skill few very few wizards ever mastered, a skill I no longer had. I raised my eyes to the heavens and begged to be spared; as usual, no one was listening. "It requires a level of strength and concentration unavailable to me in my condition." As an afterthought, I added, "And don't call me Severus."
"Somehow saying, 'Snape, can I sleep with you tonight?' just doesn't have the right ring to it."
I should have expected it. He couldn't remember a damned thing of value, but cheeking me was coming right back to him.
I let my trembling hands dangle at my sides, trying to focus, trying to feel the energy in my palms. Almost afraid to continue, I took several deep breaths and closed my eyes, but I knew there was no point in dithering; I could either do this or resign myself and, in so doing, embrace my own death. Perhaps that would be the wiser choice. If I did not try, I would be dead sooner rather than later; if I tried and failed, I would face the same fate. Better to abandon the attempt; at least I would maintain the illusion of some control over my destiny.
Then I laughed. It wasn't as if I'd ever managed to maintain any control over my own life. I raised my wand arm, sweaty palm canted slightly to the left and whispered, "Lumos!" There was the faintest flicker at my fingertips and then it was gone.
Cursing, I dropped my hand back to my side and once again tried to feel the tingle of energy in the centre of my palm. Deep breath, eyes closed, wand arm raised, palm canted. "Lumos!" Again a brief flicker.
"You can do it. I know you can."
I whirled around to see Potter leaning in the doorway, a tentative smile on his face.
"It would be in your best interest if I don't succeed," I snarled, "as my first hex will be aimed at you. How dare you spy on me. How dare you!"
"If you don't want to be seen, you shouldn't leave your door open."
"I didn't!" And then I stopped. I had, actually. "What do you want?" I snapped. "I'm busy."
"I saved you some dinner, if you're hungry."
"How charming. I'm busy. Go away." I advanced on him and pushed him roughly out the door, slamming it behind him.
Fist clenched, I stalked over to the bedside table and lit a candle. Knowing that intention was everything, I had been working in the near dark, leaving the door of my room ajar so that the candles in the corridor would cast just enough illumination to keep me from stumbling as I moved around. I'd thought my chances of success with the spell would be better if I actually needed the light.
I damned the boy in loud and colourful language. Realising my fists were still clenched, I slowly opened them and was surprised to feel a pulse of energy in my palm. I smiled grimly; anger has always been my friend.
Rotating my shoulders to ease some of the ache, I took my stance again and channelled my rage into my palms, imagining it as a ball of light the colour of the killing curse. Once again a deep breath, closed eyes, arm raised. "Lumos!" Again the light flickered but this time it didn't go out. A faint glow, hardly as much as the most insipid first year could manage, wreathed my fingertips.
I held it until my arm started to tremble and then exhaled, "Nox!" and it went out. I wanted to yell, scream, cheer, pump my fist in the air like some moronic Quidditch twit. I didn't.
"Well?" Potter asked when I found him, as usual, in the kitchen. "How'd it go?"
"Well enough," I said and couldn't keep from smiling.
"How long has it been?"
"Ten months, twenty-seven days and three point seven two hours, give or take."
He tackled me in my chair, straddling my legs and kissing me sloppily. "Severus! Congratulations. God, I'd kill the bastard who took my magic!"
"I'll be sure to mention that to the Dark Lord when next I see him," I said dryly. "And don't call me Severus." I pushed him off my lap.
Laughter was bubbling up inside me and my stomach ached with trying to hold it in. I had done it! Only one easy spell and I had been unable to hold it for long but my magic was still there.
"Is there nothing to drink in this infernal house? I want to celebrate. I feel like I just might not die after all."
"Don't blaspheme the house. It's sentient." He had the impertinence to kiss my nose. "I had Señor Ábrego send up a bottle from the bar – he makes it himself, you know. I thought you had the look of a secret dipsomaniac and I knew you'd break down sooner or later. And Severus, speaking of breaking down, it's okay to smile, you know."
He handed me a bottle and two glasses. I tasted the wine and grimaced. "House-elves could teach Mr Ábrego a thing or two about making wine."
"And you could learn a thing or two about not insulting what you don't understand."
"Are you speaking of the wine, or yourself?" I asked snidely, but there was no answer and when I turned to look at him, he had disappeared.
He returned quickly, covered with cobwebs, a triumphant expression on his face. "I thought there might be some somewhere." He held aloft a dusty bottle. "You might find this a bit more to your liking, and more celebratory."
He waggled a disapproving finger at me. "Champagne comes from France. This is cava."
I hate being lectured, even in a friendly fashion. "Your arrogance never fails to annoy me, Potter."
The only bad thing about his smile faltering was how ashamed I felt for causing it.
"It's no wonder Potter despised you," he said.
No more than I deserved but it stung anyway.
He had the unmitigated gall to haul me to my feet by my shirtfront. He glared up at me, which I might have found amusing if his eyes hadn't sparked green and reminded me that, yes, this idiot you're fucking actually is Harry Potter.
"But you don't despise him as much as you pretend, do you?"
I pried his hands from my clothes and like an utterly besotted fool, wrapped my arms around him. "You're painfully arrogant, incompetent and stupid. No one with an ounce of sense could help but loathe you–"
He interrupted me, "That's not what you were thinking last night."
"If you would refrain from interrupting me," I gave him my most imperious stare. "You're arrogant, incompetent and stupid and no one with an ounce of sense could help but loathe you and yet, it has become painfully apparent I've completely lost whatever sense I ever had." I touched my forehead to his. "Though it shames me to say it, I don't despise you much at all."
I didn't. I should have. I wanted to. Apparently there are side-effects of Cruciatus overdose that no one's ever bothered to chronicle. I envied Alice and Frank Longbottom their honest, basic, reasonable insanity.
The dreams kept coming. Every night now, although he was a little less afraid of them than he had been, because Snape was always there to hold him in the aftermath.
They always started the same way and that's how he knew he was dreaming. Always the cold first, but some part of him knows he can't be cold because he is in bed, with Severus. Then the dark, but it can't be dark because in his house candles and torches are always lit. And he's usually naked. Sometimes, even though he slept, he would smile because he's naked and in bed with Severus and he knows it and then it's not sweet and it's not funny because he's cold and it's dark and he can't wake up.
It never worked to tell himself he was dreaming; knowing didn't stop the terror.
Noises outside and he recognises the administrator's voice. Pompous and smug. Impatient and rude. The door bangs open and he throws up his hands to shield his eyes from the light, always a shock after the utter darkness, even when he knows it's coming.
"I've had just about enough of this, Mr . . ." The administrator looks to the nurse who accompanies him, "What are we calling him, then?"
"Smith," the nurse responds. "It seemed as good a name as any."
"Well, Mr Smith, as I was saying, this has got completely out of hand. The Healers tell me they can find nothing wrong with you, no magical nor medical explanation for your behaviour. This leads me to believe you're faking for some reason. What are you running away from? A nagging wife? Whinging children? A boring job? Or," the man screws his monocle more firmly into his eye, "are you trying to escape from something more sinister?" He turns to the nurse again. "He could be a criminal, did anyone think of that? Escaped from the Aurors? Sentenced to Azkaban. Have the authorities been notified?"
"The Ministry and Hogwarts both. Nothing," say the nurse.
"Who are you? You're not a Healer." Harry looks at the man's rumpled gray business robes.
"Barnabas Billywig, Chief Administrator of this facility and Liaison to the Minister of Magic himself." Billywig puffs out his narrow chest. "So, now you know who I am and I insist you stop this nonsense and tell us who you really are."
Always the same question, every time they come in they bring light and warmth and frustration. The same question over and over and over again. Who are you? And it doesn't matter how many times he say's, "I'm Harry Potter." They argue with him, rebuke him, accuse him of shamming, dismiss him. It should be funny but it isn't. It isn't funny at all. Because, they say, Harry Potter is dead and has been dead for months and everybody knows Harry Potter and you are not he, but Harry Potter cannot be dead because I am Harry Potter and I'm the son of James and Lily Potter and the godson of Sirius Black and I was born and I fought and I went and I am and every time they say no, no you're not, no you weren't, no you didn't. Harry Potter did those things and you are a liar and a faker and a cheat.
And he tries to remember, tries to think of some proof that will convince them but they won't be convinced, they don't want to be convinced, they want him to tell them who he really is but what can he say except, "I'm Harry Potter and I'm the son of James and Lily Potter and I . . ."
He is alone and it's so cold and it's so dark and he is trying to remember what happened before he woke up in this place. He thinks Ron and then he remembers that they had been drinking, a one-night respite from the war. That's right. And they had Apparated to the road leading past the Burrow and then Ron had stumbled and fallen and Harry had laughed before he realised that Ron had arrived minus a foot. And then Harry was trying to remember the spell for unsplinching and then . . . nothing.
What he is trying to remember, what he needs to remember is if he had been undercover. No, that's just stupid. Of course he hadn't been. He was too recognizable and unfortunately, not yet good enough at transfiguration to alter his appearance for any significant length of time.
And yes, that's what he needs to remember. He is recognizable. His hand flies to his fringe and he pulls it back and he says, "What about this, then?"
"What?" Billywig asks.
"This, you pompous buffoon!" He rubs a finger back and forth over the slightly raised, lightning-bolt-shaped scar.
Billywig sneers. "Yes, you can take his history as your own but there's nothing you can do about your physical deficiencies. Harry Potter had a scar on his forehead. You have none. Harry Potter had his mother's brilliant green eyes. Your eyes are brown, hazel at best. And Harry Potter is dead, and you are very much alive."
Adam woke up screaming, "I'm not dead. I'm not dead. I'm not dead." And once again, Severus was holding him tight, saying, "No, you're not dead. You're here. You're alive. It's just a dream, Harry. Just a dream."
And Adam didn't ever voice the thing that burned inside him. If I'm not dead, why can't I remember?
"And his friend?" Harry said, picking up our conversation where we'd left off two hours earlier. "Why did she say she didn't know him? Was she in on the plot?"
Tired and out of breath after the strain of an hour long walk – I'd set a daily regimen for myself, trying to regain some of the strength and vitality the wasting sickness had robbed me of – I didn't want to start up again, but Potter had become relentless. He couldn't remember a damn thing. At first, I'd welcomed the questions, pleased about his inquisitiveness, sure that it was a sign that he was coming back to himself, but as the days wore on and he still didn't seem to comprehend that it was his history we were talking about, and sometimes couldn't seem to hold on to the facts, I grew weary of it.
But after pushing him to think, remember, accept, how could I refuse to play my part? I sighed as I sank into a chair in front of the fireplace.
"Think, you blithering idiot! I've already told you Hermione Granger is one of Harry Potter's two best friends and a trusted member of the Order of the Phoenix." My obligation was to answer his questions, not answer them nicely.
"Yes, I remember. But people aren't always what they seem, are they?"
Touché, you little shit. "It wasn't Granger in the room with him. I don't know who they used, or whether the deception was accomplished with polyjuice or a charm. Whoever it was, the game was very nearly given away when you mentioned Grimmauld Place. A sharper mind would have realised she didn't recognise the name."
"But wait," he frowned and rubbed his forehead, "I thought–"
"That's cause for a celebration," I interrupted him, my voice dripping sarcasm. "Is there any cava left?"
He didn't rise to the bait, which was disappointing; a good shouting match would have gone a long way in reviving me.
"I thought . . . didn't you say that the Order's headquarters were under Fidelius?"
"Very good, Potter." I was quite serious; his ability to retain information seemed to be improving. "Yes, it was, but when Albus Dumbledore died," I gritted my teeth and rephrased. "When I murdered Albus Dumbledore, the protection of Fidelius died with him. Somehow, we had forgotten to provide for that; a nearly disastrous oversight. You didn't reveal the number, only the street. They incinerated the entire neighbourhood."
I watched his face pale and hastened to add, "No one in the Order was killed, apparently."
His colour didn't improve. "That's horrible. Not about the Order – the rest of it. How many Muggles were killed? Or didn't anyone bother to count them?" His voice was bitter and the question surprised me, as did the sudden, and temporary, shift of his eyes from hazel to emerald green.
"One would think you were a Muggle. No. I apologise. That was completely uncalled for."
"There's nothing wrong with being a Muggle! It's not as if anyone has a choice. You didn't just wake up one morning and say, 'I think I'll become a wizard.'"
"Calm yourself. I was apologising for implying Muggle deaths aren't important. And no, no one tallied the non-wizarding dead. But then you must consider where my information came from. The Death Eaters don't give a damn how many Muggles die – the more the better."
He paused and I was immediately alert, somehow knowing I wasn't going to like what came next.
"Why did you come here?"
The familiar knot formed in my chest. "He sent me. The Dark Lord sent me to find you, to find if you remember anything, bring you back if you do and kill you if you don't."
His face, still pale from thinking about the massacre in Grimmauld Place, drained completely. "Are you going to kill me?"
Self-righteous anger flared. “Yes. Just as soon as I’ve had my fill of ravaging your nubile body. The Dark Lord wants you dead sooner rather than later, but I’m taking my bloody time because I do so enjoy wiping up your drool and answering the same questions a hundred times over. As soon as the pleasure of that pales, rest assured, I’ll kill you.”
He gave me such a wounded look that I wanted to gouge his eyes out and use them to garnish a glass of cava. “Don’t be such a fucking moron, Potter. If I were going to kill you, I’d have done it already and been back in the tender embrace of my loving master. No. He sent me, he told me where to look and I did come to take you back, but not to him."
"Then why?" His voice so soft I had to strain to hear.
"It doesn't matter any more."
"Yes, it does."
"It doesn't matter because you can't remember. If you did, it would be different."
"Why?" He was begging for something I didn't understand.
I gave him all I had to offer – the truth. "The war is going badly. The Dark Lord and His Death Eaters are winning. The wizarding world is in shambles. Complete fucking disarray. I thought if I could find you, bring you back, there would be hope again. A chance to regroup. You've no idea how important you are. Whether or not the prophecy is true, people believe it. With you there was hope. Without you, I'm afraid there is none."
"But what can I do? I don't know anything beyond what you've told me! If I'm Potter, I don't remember."
"No," I sighed. "You don't. And it increasingly appears that's not going to change. Ah well, it was a fool's errand anyway."
His fingers were digging into his forehead, leaving sharply delineated crescent moons in the smooth skin. I thought he might make himself bleed.
"Come," I said, standing and stretching my hand out to him. "There's no point in fretting. What is, is. I said it was a fool's errand. Now, what's for dinner? I'm tired and hungry and liable to get a wee bit cranky if I don't eat soon."
"A wee bit cranky." He huffed and then smiled, but there was no joy in it.
I sat at the table, watching him cook. The kitchen seemed to have become the focal point of our lives. It was pleasant to watch him work, a mundane pleasure, both comforting and baffling to me. I was not used to domesticity.
"It's a pity you could never be arsed to pay attention in Potions. You might have made a half-way decent brewer if you'd only applied yourself."
"I actually am a half-way decent brewer. Fico taught me. You'll please be remembering that I make my own anxiety medicine." He shook his cleaver at me and then neatly beheaded the fish he was cleaning.
"So you say, but I've never seen you at it. Where do you brew?"
"Here. In the kitchen."
"That's appallingly dangerous. I believe I've lost my appetite."
"I haven't killed anyone yet."
"Hmm," I murmured. "And yet the painter lies dead under the cork tree."
"I can't believe you fucking said that." He was laughing and shaking his head, looking at me in complete disbelief. "You are so callous!"
"I'm callous?" I shot back. "I didn't even know the man. You, on the other hand, were purportedly his lover and yet you're laughing like a lunatic. The youth of today." I sighed. "No respect for anything."
"You were trying to shock me. Why?"
"Your brooding was getting on my nerves."
"Everything gets on your nerves."
"Back to the topic at hand," I said with mock sternness. "Surely your painter had a laboratory. I've never seen it, but then your house seems peculiarly determined to thwart my every move. It won't even let me go to your room. Not that that's an issue of late."
"He did have a laboratory, but he died without telling me the secret of its location."
"Well, that was incredibly annoying of him. I thought I might be able to hasten the return of my magic by attempting that which I was best at." I'd been brooding about that quite a bit lately, although I'd had the decency to keep my brooding to myself, unlike the spoiled imp in front of me.
"That's a good idea. Well, my equipment is in that cupboard. You're welcome to use it. It's a bit minimalist but, maybe that's all you need to be going on with." He rubbed his forehead meditatively. "Can I ask a question?"
"Since when do you ask my permission?"
"Good point. Why does your Dark Lord want me back? You said, 'if you remembered'. Remembered what? That I'm Potter? Or something else?"
"He thinks you have something of his and he wants it back."
"What the hell would I have of his?"
He gave me a surprised look. "I'm confused. Don't say it!" He threatened me with the cleaver again. "I thought you said Potter had destroyed them."
"I said you'd destroyed the ones we found. There were six Horcruxes. You destroyed the diary when you were twelve. Albus destroyed Gaunt's ring, and you and he destroyed the Hufflepuff cup. Over the course of the next two years, you and your little friends found and destroyed the Slytherin's locket and Ravenclaw's dagger. You never figured out what the sixth item was. No one knows but the Dark Lord and he's certainly not telling."
"Well, whether I'm Harry Potter or not, I can guarantee I don't have it. I don't own anything but my wand and my clothes. And my painting, but Fico painted that after I came. If Potter was intent on destroying the Horcruxes," he wrinkled his nose, a clear reminder of our argument about the correct plural – arrogant little twit, "why would the Dark Lord think he'd keep one?"
I nodded. It was a very good question. "I don't know. I suspect it's because it's something he would do himself. Keeping his last Horcrux might give you a certain amount of power over him, mightn't it? Or perhaps you'd hold on to it for the pure pleasure of destroying in front of him before you attempted to destroy him."
"I would have thought by now that went without saying. Perhaps you should have empathy for him; you're not much better off yourself." Inwardly, I cringed. My barbs came from habit; any real loathing was long in the past.
"Prick," he said, but he was smiling.
I nodded, in acceptance of his right to say such a thing and as mute apology for what I had said.
"Can I ask you another question?"
I rolled my eyes. "Why the sudden timidity?"
"After what you just said? Guess I'm beginning to think you find all the questions irritating."
He had a point. "It's not the question I find irritating, it's you." I held up my hands placatingly. "Sorry. Habit. It's just a bit frustrating having to tell you some things over and over. It's not your fault, and, in any case, it seems to be getting better. So, ask your question."
"How did he know to send you here?"
"Another very good question. One I don't know the answer to. And it disturbs me, it truly does."
Even had his memory been intact, it would have been difficult to get Potter mentally fit enough to resume his part in the war. I was uncomfortably aware of time slipping away while we got no further with his recovery. My own sense of urgency was made worse because I had no idea how things were faring at home. I would have given anything for even a glimpse of a Daily Prophet, or even a Quibbler, scurrilous rags though they were.
The Mark surged with frightening regularity – the Dark Lord’s impatience was growing and that could as easily have meant things were going well for him as that they were not – but I was better able to withstand the pain as my strength grew. I could now walk to the village and back without needing to collapse immediately on my return. I had also regained the weight I’d lost and then some; for the first time in my life, thanks to Potter’s obsession with food, I even had something of a belly.
My magical ability was also increasing, but more slowly. I could cast simple spells, those for light and summoning and thankfully, personal care – I did so hate shaving with a cut-throat razor – but I could not cast the simplest defensive spell, nor transfigure anything. More frustrating was my inability to use Legilimency on Potter; I was certain that would have speeded our progress.
For his part, Potter seemed to be growing accustomed to his nightmares and, while he still woke terrified and trembling, he rarely screamed and the incidences of shock were increasingly rare. It was a relief to no longer worry that a bad dream might actually result in his death, but I had lost almost all hope he would ever regain his memory. I was relentless about forcing him to relay as much as he could of his dreams before they faded completely. In many cases, I could confirm that the events had actually happened; he seemed to accept that, but never seemed to understand that they had happened to him.
“I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem to relate to me. I get it that it happened, but it’s as if I’m dreaming someone else’s dreams. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I’m trying, Severus. I am.”
And I believed he was trying and that it was no use. By that point he could recite his history by rote, but if I asked, without first making sure he knew I was talking about Harry and not Adam, “Who was the first person you met in the wizarding world?” the answer was, “Fico,” not “Hagrid.”
It was hard to not sink into despair. I was filled with a sense of sick helplessness; I had invested all my hopes for personal redemption in bringing Potter back where he belonged, and now it seemed I had to resign myself to failure.
Still, I had to admit there were worse situations I could have been in, worse places to sit out a war. Sometimes I was almost content; I had food, shelter, a voracious young lover, and something other than Potter’s memory, and my own failures, to occupy my mind.
The house had, in its own inimitable way, assisted me. Between bouts of tossing me into the corridor containing the tallboy, it would sometimes let me into the library. I had thought the books in the sitting room were all there were – not that the quantity contained there was paltry – but it seemed Buenaventura had been a scholar as well as an artist; his library nearly rivalled that of Hogwarts. A man like me could happily lose himself for years in that room. There were books on spells simple and esoteric, dark and light; texts for arithmancy and philosophy, magical theory, histories of wizarding cultures all over the world; manuals for cooking and travelling as well as the usual sexual perversions and some completely unfamiliar to me.
Finally, after what I can only presume was some sort of probationary period while the house determined I wouldn’t steal any books, I was allowed in whenever I wished. As Potter had little liking for any title not beginning with “The Adventures of”, he grumbled about accompanying me until, in exasperation, I shoved one of the milder sex manuals into his hands. I discovered he was an apt pupil when a subject interested him and, as I had been the one to set him on his path, I could hardly refuse when he wished to demonstrate the practical application of his studies. I did, however, insist that the library was not the proper place to practice magical autoeroticism.
It became our custom to retire to the library after dinner. I worked my way through in a haphazard fashion, and, as a consequence, stumbled on a collection of notebooks that I wouldn’t have discovered for months had I taken a more systematic approach. Potter identified the hand as Buenaventura’s. To my irritation, most were written in Spanish, and the rest in some obscure melange of hieroglyphic symbols and glyphs. But there were a few that had brief passages in English. Logically enough, I examined these first and found nothing of interest. I had been hoping to find his Potions journals. The mystery of Potter’s Harmony still nagged at me; never before had I encountered a potion where I could not identify a single ingredient by smell or taste.
I was reading a vaguely interesting tale, which had to have been pure invention, of a dinner party Buenaventura had attended where Francisco Goya was the guest of honour, when I encountered two pages stuck together. Prising them apart carefully, I stared in horror at a loose photograph hidden in between.
I must have made some noise, because Potter looked up from his current piece of smut and came to look over my shoulder. My instinct was to slam the book closed so he could not see, but instead, I picked up the photo and handed it to him.
“Severus? What is this? Who is this?”
It seemed an age before I could answer. Familiar feelings of outrage and horror rendered me temporarily speechless and my mind was reeling with questions; how had Buenaventura acquired this, and why? Did he know the origin? Understand its significance? Had he played a part? I hoped for Harry’s sake that the answer to the last question was no, but in my gut, I was sure the painter had known.
“Severus? What’s the matter? Who is this? Whose funeral is this?”
I didn’t want to tell him, but he had a right to know. “Yours.”
Adam was exhausted – he was almost always exhausted these days – but he didn’t want to sleep. He knew if he did, the nightmares would come.
The photograph had bothered him but it wasn’t as if he knew Harry Potter. Anger at his lack of reaction had made Snape savage, bitter, sarcastic, and finally Adam had left him in the library and gone to his own room. He would not go to Snape’s room, would not subject himself to that fury, but he didn’t want to sleep alone, to wake up alone.
He felt like a prisoner in his own room, but he would not, would not seek Severus out. He’d hoped that when Snape’s rage subsided, he would seek Adam out and take him to bed, but it had been hours now and there was no sign of him. Finally, Adam couldn’t hold out any longer. If he didn’t sleep tonight, they would come tomorrow night and be all the worse for having been delayed. Adam longed for his Harmony, but it was gone; destroyed by Snape and now Snape was nowhere to be seen.
He dawdled over his nightly bath, hoping against hope that the door would open and reveal Snape standing there, but it didn’t. He lingered over his nightly ritual of lighting the hundred candles that guarded him from the dark, and still Snape didn’t come. At last, exhausted beyond endurance, he went to bed and almost immediately slid into sleep.
Some part of him remembers, he’s had this dream before and he knows it’s bad and he thinks he should pick another one, but he doesn’t have the capacity to choose; he must go where the dreams want him to go. As always, it is dark and it is cold and he’s someplace he shouldn’t be, some place where he doesn’t belong because no matter what they say he isn’t sick and he is Harry Potter and he is the son of James and Lily Potter and he is – but he can’t remember what else he is, it’s slipping away from him.
And there is light behind his eyelids and there is someone coming into the room and he is in clothes though he was naked a second ago, and he is in bed although there was no bed a second ago and he think he knows they are fucking with him and he’s not really sure any longer. Maybe he isn’t Harry Potter. Maybe they’re right. Maybe he’s delusional. But he’s not. He can’t be. He is Harry Potter and he is the son of and he was born on and he attended and he can’t remember. It hurts to not be able to remember and it’s better if he doesn’t because the questions will stop and maybe the dark will go away and the cold will become warm and the clothes and the bed real, if only he admits he’s crazy.
But there’s the light, the red behind his eyelids, the door opening and the voices, familiar and not familiar.
"Oh dear! Please get up, Mr Smith. Why are you sleeping on the floor when there's a perfectly good bed?" It is a woman's voice, friendly and concerned.
"Who are you?" Harry asks groggily, pretending he’s just woken up. "And my name's Potter, not Smith," he adds as an afterthought.
"I'm afraid sleeping on the floor has addled your wits even further. It's Peony Pomfrey. You can't have forgotten me already; I was just here this morning, not to mention seeing you twice a day, six days a week this past four months. Poppy Pomfrey's sister? Not ringing any bells? Oh dear, oh dear. Healer Adderson will be most disappointed. You seemed to be doing so much better. Oh, do get up. And where is your hospital gown, young man? Here it is, wadded up like so much used parchment and shoved under the mattress. What were you thinking? You'll catch your death! Put this back on immediately."
Harry stands, watching the nurse warily, and hesitantly accepts the proffered gown.
"Do hurry, Mr Smith. Healer Adderson will be here any moment. Wouldn't do to have her catch us alone like this, with you in the altogether." The nurse titters behind her hand.
"Stop calling me Smith!" Harry demands.
The nurse sighs. "We have to call you something, dear. And we can't call you Harry Potter. It would be disrespectful.
"Not a good day, I'm afraid," she says to the woman in white robes who enters the room at that moment. "Found him curled up naked on the floor and he's forgotten we'd agreed on Smith for something to call him."
“Do you know who you are?” says the white-robed Healer.
“Harry Potter. I am Harry Potter and I’m the son of . . . of James and Lily and the godson of . . .” He wants to cry when the name doesn’t come.
“Harry Potter is dead,” says the Healer.
He shakes his head. He is not dead. He is not. “I am Harry Potter and I am not dead.”
The Healer sighs and asks, “Then how do you explain this,” as she hands him a scroll of parchment.
Harry unrolls it. He can feel his eyes widening in shock and his forehead creasing in confusion. Under the words Daily Prophet the is an enormous photograph of himself, in his best robes, lying on a raised pallet, arms folded across his chest, eyes closed. A long line of people are walking past, all looking very serious, some dabbing their eyes. A weeping witch throws herself hysterically across his prostrate body.
Harry looks at the Healer and then back at the Prophet; two wizards are now dragging the overwrought witch away from his body and escorting her out of the picture. Minutes pass before he can tear his eyes away from the photograph of the endless line of people filing by.
Afraid to read and afraid not to, he looks at the headline.
Potter Funeral Draws Capacity Crowd
special report by Rita Skeeter
In a display that would have gratified his enormous ego, witches and wizards from across Great Britain descended on Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry like a horde of weeping Glumbumbles to view the body of Harry Potter, The Boy Who Finally Died, as it lay in state in the Great Hall of the castle.
story continued on page 3
Harry is silent and he doesn’t turn to page three but instead looks at the Healer who is smirking at him.
"You haven't been subjected to a knock on the head. Physically, you're fine. It's your mind we're concerned about. You seem to have misplaced it."
And the dream shifts and Ron is missing his foot and Hagrid is bringing his letter and Harry is catching the snitch and Voldemort screams, “Kill the spare.” Inside the dream and apart from the dream, Adam knows he must remember these things, they are proof, but they hurt and he doesn’t want to remember and they prove nothing because you are not Harry Potter, Harry Potter is dead and I am Harry and I am, I am.
Dark and freezing and light and blankets and voices. And he must wake up, it’s been going on too long, but he knows he might never wake up because he’s dead, he’s seen the pictures and pictures can’t lie.
"No. He just lies there. We haven't had a response out of him for hours."
"Mr Smith. Mr Smith!"
He opens his eyes. It makes no difference; the room is still in darkness.
"Can you see my hand, Mr Smith?"
"No," he responds dully.
"No improvement at all? No glimmer of light?"
"No," he says, just as dully.
"Do you know your name?"
"Well, that's a refreshing change. Do you know where you are?"
"St Mungo's Auxiliary Hospital for the Spell-Shocked."
"Do you know why you are here?"
"Well, nurse. I think it's time. We'll be back shortly, Mr Smith, and we're bringing you a very important visitor."
He rolls over, turning his back to them and closes his eyes again and behind them he sees a flash of green light and hears a woman scream and a high, thin, cold laugh and eyes like a snake’s and he is alone. There is no one to help him, no one who remembers him and how can anyone when he can’t remember himself?
It was a pointless to continue. I was tired and irritable. My eyes burned so fiercely it was almost impossible to focus and I knew they must be shot through with red. I had been turning pages for hours, comprehending nothing. For the hundredth time I cursed the man for his incivility; he understood Latin well enough and English as well, judging by his library, why he couldn't have chosen one of those – or even his native tongue – instead of this ridiculous conglomeration of glyphs and symbols was beyond me.
In the background, Potter struggled on with his pathetic translation of one of the journals written in Spanish. I had mostly stopped listening although the occasional phrase filtered through my concentration on the text in front of me.
"That can't be right," I snapped as something patently ridiculous reached my ears. "Try again."
His voice was tired and bland, as it had been since the night I discovered the photograph. I was worried about him; something had shifted but he wouldn’t talk to me about it. I could make an educated guess – he had discovered that I’d retained a bottle of Harmony and was pissy that I’d withheld it from him – but guessing was not the same as knowing for sure. And what use would a single dose have been to him anyway? It would serve him better if I discovered its secret, and his lack of appreciation for that fact proved his idiocy. As if I’d needed additional proof of that.
"You said something about rosemary and dragon's blood. The rosemary I can understand but dragon's blood, in a potion such as this, would be downright dangerous."
"Well, that's what it says," he responded and I was glad to note a little bit of petulance in his tone.
"You are useless. How long have you been speaking this language? It must be at least two years, and that's the best you can do? Dragon's blood." I snorted in disgust. "Go to bed. Your brain is addled. You can attack it again in the morning."
I was only half aware of it when he stood up. Eventually it dawned on me that he hadn't left and I looked up to find him hovering over me. "What is it?"
"Aren't you coming?"
"In a moment. Just a few more pages. I'm convinced the key is here somewhere."
"Come to bed with me. Your eyes are about to bulge out of your head. We'll both do better in the morning."
I knew I should go with him; this was the first overture he’d made in days, but I was still in search of an answer to the Harmony potion and knew the answer was in there somewhere. I couldn’t put it aside just because Potter needed his hand held. "Not just yet, damn you! I know there's something–" I stopped short as my eyes fell on the first identifiable word I'd seen in the text.
"What is it? What have you found?"
"Shut up," I snapped. My mind was reeling. I looked down at the page, rubbed my eyes and looked again. The word was still there and I was chasing a thread of an idea through my tired brain. Could it possibly be?
"Severus. Bed. Now. Whatever you've found will still be there in the morning."
The thread snapped. I glared at Harry and then, shrugging, stood up. I knew well enough that he was right. I needed sleep and perhaps the thread would reveal itself more clearly in my dreams.
"How you made any sense out of this gibberish," he said wonderingly, looking down at the book on the table in front of us. "Show me what you saw."
Silently, I let my finger trace down the page and pointed to the word that had arrested my attention: Flamel.
"Potions are like alchemy but they are not alchemy per se."
Finding Flamel’s name in the notebook had finally put me on the right track. I felt an idiot for not realising sooner that Buenaventura was an alchemist and that Harmony was not created from magical ingredients and by the use of magic, but rather from ordinary elements transformed alchemically. If irritation at my own stupidity was not galling enough, I had to try to pound something through Potter’s thick skull as well.
I really needed to stop encouraging the boy’s sexual fantasies and get some fucking sleep.
"What are they then?"
"You might has well have been born a baboon as a human. Amnesiac or not, you are a wizard. Think like one."
"I'm not following you."
"Why am I not surprised? It's a good thing for me you have a pretty body. I'd never be able to live with myself if you were both stupid and ugly."
"Thank you." He gave me a smile calculated to charm and damn him, it did charm.
"Potions are magic. Alchemy, in its most esoteric forms, certainly has a measure of magic but most of its practitioners were actually Muggles. There were exceptions certainly, Flamel for one, Albus Dumbledore for another, Hermes Trismegistus certainly, Thomas Aquinas possibly. Isaac Newton was a Muggle, as was Boyle. Even Paracelsus was a Muggle – well, there are those who would dispute that; the wizarding world likes to claim him but I think anyone who's ever actually bothered to read his writings would be forced to agree he had no knowledge of real magic."
"Um, you realise that none of these names mean anything to me?" I scowled at him and he hurried to correct himself. "No, I was listening when you talked about Flamel and Dumbledore but the rest of them . . ."
"Have you no education whatsoever?"
"I don't know. That's my point." He gave me that same calculated smile.
"Don't try to distract me, boy." But he had distracted me. I couldn't even remember what point I'd been trying to make. "Perhaps we should continue this later. Your wits, what there are of them, are unusually addled. Perhaps you need a nap."
"Napping with you doesn't usually prove restful."
"Imbecile!" I snapped, feeling a blush rise; his interest in unusual sex practices hadn't abated, and my interest in them embarrassed me. "I wasn't suggesting we both take a nap. I've work to do." Ah! My point resurfaced. "My point, before you derailed the conversation as usual, was that alchemy does not have to involve magic. Therefore, I may be able to reconstruct some of your painter's experiments. With perseverance I should be able to determine exactly what was in that medicine of yours. If I know it was composed of, I'll have a better understanding of exactly what it did. Once I understand what it did, I'll have a better idea of why Buenaventura created it, what his intent was."
"His intent was to help me get through the night without nightmares." Although he spoke calmly, he rubbed his forehead where his scar had been, and I knew he was masking his irritation; he never liked it when I questioned his ancient lover's motives.
"You take too much on faith, boy. Just because he liked your body is no guarantee that he was looking out for your best interests. The opposite may just as easily be true – that he employed some form of control so that your body was available."
"So I should be questioning your motives as well?" His tone was smug, as if he'd just scored a point. Idiot.
"Yes, you should question my motives, you little twit. Have I not already told you I was sent to bring you back to the Dark Lord? Does that make it seem as if I have your best interests at heart?"
"As you haven't spirited me away from my home, no, I'm not too concerned about your motives. And you like my body even more than he did, so I'd think it was in your best interest to keep me available and pliable. Not that you have to work very hard at that. I'll remind you it's been weeks since I last took it and I still want you, although at times like these I wonder why."
His instinctual discernment, coupled with his ability to make me laugh, was disturbing. Really, there was nothing else I could do but laugh. More than once the thought had crossed my mind that I could chuck my history and sit out the rest of the war disporting myself with his nubile flesh. "Go take a nap. I'll call you if I discover anything."
"I could help."
I snorted. "You forget I taught you for six years. Potions has never been one of your skills."
"At least you admit I have skills. And–"
"Yes, if a talent for mischief, mayhem and general thoughtlessness can be termed skills."
"I'll get up to mischief and mayhem later, when you agree to take a nap with me. As I was saying, before you so rudely interrupted, you just said alchemy wasn't the same as Potions. And, I'm competent enough to brew my own anxiety medicine. Plus, you have to admit that having someone around who can do magic would likely be useful. I'm sure there's a magical component to everything Fico created; his potions wouldn't be any different."
"Fine. I'll need someone to wash bottles at any rate. Even you can't muck that up."
"If I do," he said sweetly, "you can punish me."
"See that you break at least one then. For the moment, promises of torture will have to be set aside. I may be besotted, but, magical ability or not, Potions is my life and even the promise of sexual nirvana," I paused to tweak a nipple through the thin fabric of his nightshirt, "will not sway me from my task."
"I'll break a dozen if you promise to do that again."
"Buffoon. Go put some clothes on."
“One more question?”
“I thought alchemy was all about turning lead into gold.”
“Good god! Seven years of the best education wizarding Britain had to offer and this is the result. Did you pay no attention to your studies at all?”
“I’ll just remind you . . . I don’t remember.”
“That excuse is getting pretty thin. It’s not as if you showed an ounce of intellectual capacity before you lost your mind. The alchemical notion of turning lead into gold is not about transforming one metal into another. Alchemy is about metaphysics as much as physics and the two parts cannot be separated. Lead into gold symbolises turning that which is base into that which is divine.”
“Well, why don’t we go upstairs and practice some reverse alchemy. You can debase my divinity.” His eyes flashed green.
I stared at him. His words had just fitted another piece of the puzzle. “Potter, you are a genius.”
His eyes rounded and his mouth gaped like a drowning fish. "What did I say?"
I laughed. “As a reward for proving the existence of your solitary brain cell, I won’t even make you wait until you break a bottle. By all means, let’s go upstairs.”
"I think your house is conspiring against us."
Potter nodded, his face perplexed and his hand rubbing his forehead.
"No," he said. "I keep telling you, it's benign except to enemies."
"I'm hardly your enemy," I said irritably.
"Oh please. It hasn't done anything to harm you."
"No, it just leads me around in circles at every opportunity. I can't tell you how many times I've ended up in that corridor with the tallboy."
Something sparked in his eyes and I felt an answering spark.
"The tallboy!" we exclaimed simultaneously.
"The laboratory!" Potter added gleefully. "Last one there is a rotten egg!"
He took off running. Short as his legs were, I easily overtook him and tripped him neatly on the stairs. For once the house didn't try to thwart me and I beat him to the corridor by a full fifty paces.
Panting, completely winded, I sagged against a wall, but I was exhilarated.
"Of course I do. Brains over brawn, boy. I'm a bit done in by the exertion, however. You'll have to be the one to move it."
Sticking his tongue out at me, Potter put his shoulder to the tallboy and shoved. It didn't budge. I watched in amusement as he tried again and again. It wasn't until he'd backed up ten feet and made a run at it – nearly dislocating his shoulder and landing on his arse for his efforts – that I sneered and reminded him some things were best done by magic.
He gave me a sheepish look and pulled his wand from his sleeve. "Mobili . . . um . . . Mobilipuerprocerus!" He glared at it in frustration when nothing happened.
I looked at him in stunned amazement, half-impressed and secretly tickled by his literal-mindedness. "I think," I drawled when I trusted myself not to laugh, "the word you're looking for is armarium.
"Oh. Right. Okay. Mobiliarmarium!" he said tentatively. The chest moved perhaps two inches and Potter grinned. "MOBILIARMARIUM!" His gleeful yell turned into a screech as the huge piece of furniture jumped ten feet and toppled over with a deafening crash.
"Whoops, indeed. Potter . . . look."
Where the tallboy had stood, a door was revealed. I had barely put my hand to it when it began to open. I threw the hand up to shield my eyes. The door appeared to have opened onto the outside world. The midday sun blazed against masses of gold; it was as if a childhood fantasy of wealth had been made real. A staircase with golden treads and balustrades spiralled delicately upwards, blindingly – and, at the moment, quite unnecessarily – lit by floating torches in gold sconces.
Behind me, I heard Potter's breath hitch and then he let it out in a long, slow whistle. Eyes watering, I turned on him. "You might have warned me. I suppose you thought it would be funny if I were blinded."
"I didn't know!" he protested. "I've never seen it before. He never let me in."
"Shall we?" I said grudgingly, gesturing towards the glittering staircase.
He nodded slightly, his hand clutching my sleeve.
"You first," I said.
"Merely prudent. You're the one with a wand. You do know how to use it for more than destroying furniture, I presume."
"Yeah, I use it to stir things with when I'm cooking."
I was not entirely sure he was jesting.
He mounted the stairs and I followed close behind. We had only gone up a handful of steps when the staircase began to move. Potter gasped. Accustomed to the stairs at Hogwarts, I was not startled. I smirked at him before casually leaning against the railings, my feet crossed comfortably at the ankles. Potter white-knuckled the railing with the hand not clutching his wand.
Up and up and up we went; our ascent took several minutes, but at last the stairs stopped moving. In front of us was a vast room, defined by floor of the same ridiculous pink marble as in the sitting room. It floated in the sky, free of walls or any visible supports. Potter stood gaping on the top tread of the gaping and I gave him a small shove to move him along. He stumbled and tripped and then simply lay there, doing his best to clutch the floor’s smooth surface, as if he might fall off the edge of the world.
Ignoring him, I stepped into the room – if you can call a floor with no ceiling and no walls a room. Stained glass windows hung suspended in mid-air and coloured everything with jewel tones. I moved around the room in wonder. Bookshelves lined . . . nothing, but bookshelves there were aplenty. There was an apothecary's cupboard with hundreds of small drawers -- each labelled in the messy scrawl I recognised from Buenaventura's notebooks – and the compulsion to stop and open each one was enormous. But I was equally drawn to the long tables laden with beakers, retorts, crucibles, condensers, flasks, braziers, tripods – with not a cauldron to be seen amongst them. Everything metal appeared to be gold -- perhaps I’d been wrong about “lead into gold” being solely a metaphysical concept -- and everything wood was decorated with inlay or intricate scrollwork. All the books were bound in calfskin. All the herbs in the drawers of the best quality -- held in stasis guaranteeing their freshness – and all the elements of the purest possible composition. My knees felt weak with desire and jealousy curled and hissed around my brain. The whole laboratory was a professional wet dream.
At the far edge of the room, incongruous in the midst of all the scientific paraphernalia, stood an easel supporting a small painting – a portrait. Tearing myself regretfully away from the shining laboratory equipment, I walked over to look at it. I'm sure my jaw dropped. Once again behind me, Potter made incoherent choking noises. And no wonder. Captured in paint and light was his image. Adam's features overlaid Harry's, or vice versa. The eyes were simultaneously Potter's brilliant green and Adam's warm hazel. The lightning bolt scar was there and not there, the suggestion of a red shadow marring a smooth forehead. Potter's stubborn jaw was rounded by Adam's softer one. Here was the proof, if proof I still needed, that the two were one and the same.
"Don't," I said as I instinctively stepped backwards and grabbed Potter's shoulders to keep him from crumpling to the ground. "You already knew. I've been telling you for weeks."
He swallowed thickly and once again I caught myself staring in fascination as his Adam's apple bobbed up and down. "It's . . . it's just that . . ."
"Spit it out before I slap you." There was no reason for me to be angry, but I was livid. I wanted desperately to annihilate something and Potter was close to hand. It was a massive effort not to strike him and yet he'd done nothing, was not the one responsible for the hatred that blazed in my chest.
In spite of my efforts to support him, he sank to his knees, trembling hands over his face. "He knew. He did this to me. How could he? Oh god, how could he do this? He loved me." His shoulders shook and suddenly he was gasping, huge unpractised sobs rattling his chest. His grief was so palpable it hurt to look at him.
Unwilling, but helpless to stop myself, I dropped to the floor next to him, wrapping my arms around his trembling frame. "I'm sorry," I whispered, my lips pressing into the thick vein throbbing at his temple. "I'm sorry." As if I had done this; as if his despair was my fault.
"Can we go, please?" His face turned up to me, eyes pleading.
I wanted to scream 'No! Don't be such a fucking coward!' but unaccountably I found myself helping him to his feet. Supporting him with an arm behind his back, I led him back to the stairs. Just before they started their downward spiral, he glanced back at the painting and pain wreathed his features again. He leant against me, his back to my chest, and closed his eyes. With something not unlike tenderness, I pressed my cheek to his hair. Looking down at him, at the smooth skin where jaw met neck, I felt my heart lurch.
Just before we reached the bottom, he turned in the circle of my arms. His jaw worked convulsively before he spat out, "If that fucker wasn't dead, I'd kill him."
I stared at him in consternation. In spite of the attempted bravado, it was clear he was slipping into shock again; dilated pupils, skin slick with cold sweat, lips tinged with blue. By the time we reached the corridor to our rooms, he was shaking violently and I was bearing more and more of his weight as his legs wobbled beneath him.
"Fuck me. Not again, Potter. This is turning into a very bad habit." But instead of shoving him into his room and slamming the door on him, I led him to the bathroom and undressed him while the tub filled. He was limp as a rag doll, unable to assist me at all. I realised he would never be able to get himself into the tub and that once there, he'd likely slip under the surface. With a disgruntled groan, I propped himself on the edge of the tub and awkwardly undressed myself with one hand as I held him upright with the other. Pleasantly surprised at the ease with which I did so, I lifted him in my arms and stepped into the hot water.
A systematic and exhausting search of Buenaventura’s laboratory had yielded a few more notebooks and a new secret. In one of the apothecary drawers I had discovered a pair of glasses. That, in and of itself, was odd but not disturbing; what sent a cold shiver down my spine was the realisation that the drawer had been labelled Terra Figulina – literally, “Potter’s Clay.” I recognised the glasses; the drawer’s label was no coincidence.
Potter’s reaction was nothing more than a laugh and, “I must have looked like a proper git in those.”
Disappointed, I responded mildly. “What makes you think you don’t look like a proper git without them?”
He had no interest in, nor need for, the glasses and I had no reason to keep them, but I did. They affected me strangely; reminding me of the skinny little boy with the bad attitude who had once worn them. It dawned on me in horror that I was feeling sentimental about the glasses, about Potter. Really, I should have just slit my throat. Death was preferable to realising I was . . . in love. Not that I thought there was anything wrong with love in principle; it was the object of my affections that horrified me, not the affections themselves.
I was disgusted by my inclination to wallow in tender feelings, but I couldn’t seem to stop it. I took to carrying the glasses in my pocket and often fiddled about with them when turning over a problem in my mind.
That Federico Buenaventura had known the true identity of his young lover was no longer in question; the glasses confirmed that. My discovery of them, and the label on the drawer I'd found them in, went a long way in confirming my suspicion that Potter's medicine did much more than prevent nightmares and guarantee an overactive libido. His frequent habit of rubbing his forehead and the way his eyes now sometimes seemed more green than brown, had not started until he'd stopped taking his elixir. That, coupled with his quip about debasing his divinity, made me sure that Harmony was the reason he no longer looked like himself. But surety was not proof; for that I needed to decipher the notebooks.
A further sign of my addled wits was that it took so long to remember that whilst my magic was limited, Potter’s was not. Of course, I might be excused on the basis that Potter rarely used magic outside the bedroom, preferring for some unknown reason to do things in the Muggle fashion. Be that as it may, neither the spell for translation, nor its wand movement, is difficult and Potter succeeded on his first attempt. All the notebooks’ secrets were unlocked.
By this point we were spending the majority of our time in the laboratory. My skill with Potions was returning, but the expenditure of magical energy still tired me; when it did, I would resume my investigation into Buenaventura’s history. I learned much that seemed completely inconsequential; he was generous with his work, often giving paintings away even after he became famous and his work had increased in value. It was mildly interesting to learn that Ábrego-the-bartender had been gifted with a small portrait; the idea of a valuable piece of art gracing some wall in that dingy little bar was both amusing and disturbing, and I wondered that I had neither seen nor sensed it – in general, Buenaventura’s magic positively leaked from the paint he used. More interesting was discovering that the dinner with Goya was actually possible; the painter had told Harry the truth when he claimed he was over three hundred years old. Although he had worked with Flamel, and to my complete surprise, Albus, on the Philosopher’s Stone, his long life was due to his own experiments – most of which were beyond my comprehension. Not that I cared; I cannot understand why anyone would want to remain above ground for that long. And none of this got me any further.
I had returned to the notebook in which I’d discovered the faked Daily Prophet picture, which I’d set aside at the time since it was mostly unreadable without translation. It seemed to be the last of the lot and therefore the most likely to reveal information about Harry/Adam.
This particular notebook had apparently been started shortly after Potter had arrived at this house. As I read, I felt my pulse quicken. It was clear from what I was reading that Harry's appearance here was not coincidental, but Buenaventura's writing style was maddeningly elliptical and yet I was convinced that somewhere I would find confirmation of my suspicions. I read a passage several times over, shook my head in frustration, and decided to move on. I read the first few words on the next page and stopped, stunned. I stared down blankly for a moment, then read the words again. My mouth tasted of ash, and it suddenly hurt to breathe.
"Potter," I had to struggle to get the word out. He didn't look up from the notebook he was reading. "Potter," I called again, more sharply this time. I realised he still wasn't completely used to the name but who in the nine circles of hell did he think I was speaking to when there were only two of us in the house? I shook myself. Of all the irrelevancies . . .
He looked up the second time and evidently saw something of what I was going through because he stood and came to stand next to me.
"Did Buenaventura ever mention the name," I stopped, cursing myself for a weak fool. "Did he ever speak of a Lord V-Voldemort?" Saying the name out loud was horrible.
"No. I don't think so."
"Think harder. V-Voldemort or Tom Riddle? Damn it, boy! Don't blink at me with that stupid, unutterably vacuous expression. This is important. Voldemort. Riddle. Even once, in passing?"
"I'm sorry. I don't know for certain. Riddle, that's an ordinary sort of name, isn't it? Not one that would stick. But Voldemort, I think I'd remember that if I'd heard it before. Why? Who are they?"
"Not they. Him. Tom Riddle is Lord Voldemort." And then I screamed. The Dark Mark blazed, a thousand furies as if He'd heard me using his name and didn't like it at all.
I came to on the floor, Potter squatting next to me, the notebook I'd been reading on his knees.
"You could have," I stopped to clear my throat; speaking was difficult. "You could have put me in bed."
He smiled gently. "I could have, but you'd only've insisted on coming right back up here, and, as that staircase still freaks me out, I don't think I could have levitated you safely down and back."
"I’m shocked. You managed to figure that out with only one functioning brain cell?” I felt surprisingly good. It seemed as if the combination of exercise, magical practice and potionscraft was paying off. "Did you read it?"
"Yes, but I don't understand why it upset you so much." His finger traced the words as he read aloud. "I don't think Tom quite trusts me as he once did, but I am not afraid. Powerful yes, but his power does not extend this far. And it was the right choice to make, the boy belongs here. I will keep him as payment for Tom's debt." He looked down at me. "What does it mean?"
I didn't want to answer; just how much was I expected to put the boy through?
I gritted my teeth. I much preferred the insolence of the old Potter's 'Snape' to the intimacy of the new Potter's 'Severus'. But my irritation allowed me to tell him what he had the right, and the need, to know.
"I think it means that your painter knew the Dark Lord." My heart twisted as his face paled.
"What else?" he asked grimly.
Brave lad. "Turn back a few pages. It's somewhere near the bottom on the right hand side. Look for your name and then read the next bit."
"Yeah, here it is, I think. This bit? I'm surprised at how quickly Adán has worked his way into my heart." He faltered and looked pained again. "When I first agreed to take him into my keeping, I did not question the reasons, interested only in what I stood to gain. That's it. Then he goes on about some experiment and then the prospect for the grape harvest. I don't get it. Who was he keeping me for? And what did he stand to gain?"
"As for what he stood to gain, well, if I had to make a guess, something to further his alchemical knowledge perhaps. It doesn't matter now. But I believe the Dark Lord sent you here and, for whatever reason, Buenaventura agreed to take you in. Give me your hand. I think better in an upright position."
"You should go to bed," he said, grabbing me by the wrist and hauling me to my feet.
"Perhaps," I said, but I had already taken the notebook from him and was reading it as I began to pace.
"Severus," he admonished.
My body chose that moment to betray me yet again and I swayed. "Fine," I snapped. "Get those other two notebooks. The one you were reading and the one on the table there. There's no reason I can't work whilst I convalesce."
"I think the two are mutually exclusive, but I know better than to argue with you."
I rolled my eyes. "Since when?"
Impatient as I was to return to the notebooks, the trip on the moving staircase resurrected my dizziness and I was grateful to finally gain my own bed. And I was foolishly gratified when Potter flopped on the bed next to me.
He sighed and toed off his trainers. "You're so prissy."
"I'm not a bit prissy. I merely dislike grit in my bed."
"You're prissy," he repeated, neatly cutting off my retort by sticking his tongue in my mouth.
"Well, if that's how you're going to be. I don't think you should lie on my bed in those grubby trousers, either."
Some time later, he rolled over and rested his back against me, idly twining his fingers in my hair.
"Severus, what debt?"
"Don't call me Severus," I said automatically and then took a minute to track what he was referring to. "I don't know, though I suspect something more than just taking you in. But, since you've brought it up, I think it's time to go back to work. Where are those notebooks?"
"They fell on the floor, I think. At least something did, but I was too busy to pay attention."
In that annoyingly limber way of youth, he anchored himself by hooking his ankles around my leg, and levered himself over the edge of the bed.
I had fallen into the habit, on my forays down the mountain, of stopping into the village bar. After my third or fourth visit, the owner with he improbable name Otoño Ábrego, revealed his ability to converse fluently in English. After I'd got over my initial outrage that he'd kept this from me, I found him an interesting and entertaining companion.
Making friends has never been a particular speciality of mine and I was surprised at how quickly I warmed to him. On discovering I didn't care for their local wine, he feigned offence, but the next time I came in there was a bottle of good Scots whisky to hand. I almost wept. It was such a pleasure to be away from the house and in adult company for a change.
I soon myself giving him a much expurgated history of my life, framed in Muggle terms of course. It turned out he too had once been a teacher and we spent several hours discussing the peculiarities and perversities of dealing with obnoxious children on a regular basis. Plants also featured heavily; he was conversant with botany in general, medicinal plants in particular, and had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the local flora, which, naturally enough, interested me greatly.
He was also very interested in "the mountain house" and its occupant. I told him half-truths and outright lies; that I had been "Adam's" professor, that he'd had an accident and had amnesia, that I had stumbled upon him quite by accident. If he figured out that "Adam" and I were more than teacher and student, he kept it to himself and expressed no judgement.
Our chats were wide-ranging and varied. A conversation about music led to philosophy and thence to literature. I told him about London and Edinburgh and he reciprocated with stories of Madrid and Barcelona which led to Gaudí – I of course did not mention that Gaudí was a wizard – and to art in general. He took the opportunity to grill me mercilessly on the subject of the art in Buenaventura's home, having, as he explained, a personal interest since the both his father and grandfather had been friends with the painter.
I remembered reading in Buenaventura’s journals that he had given Ábrego a small painting and was just going to ask about it when he said, "I have a small collection of my own. Would you like to see?" I nodded and Ábrego gestured for me to step behind the bar. "My father once told me that investing in art one truly loves is never a mistake. My father was a very wise man."
Do not tell anyone," he said as he moved a large bottle revealing a niche and in the niche, a lever. "This is my safe and no one knows the secret except my family." He gave me a short bow, "And now you, my friend." He smiled and pulled the lever and the entire back wall of the bar moved to three feet to the left.
I smiled. "Almost like magic."
Ábrego laughed, snapped his fingers and said, "Hey presto! Follow me and be careful where you put your hands. It is very dirty down here." He led the way down a stone staircase and into a large cellar stacked with barrels of wine. "We go to the back," he said, gesturing to the wall behind the barrels. For a moment I hesitated, suddenly gripped by the irrational fear I was being led into a trap, then shrugged my shoulders and followed my host through a small doorway.
"Mind your head. I think my great-grandfather must have been a very short man." He flicked a switch and the room flooded with light.
I blinked. The bar upstairs was dim, the cellar even darker, and the sudden light was blinding. When I could see again, my breath hitched in surprise. Small collection indeed. The man had a gift for understatement. Framed paintings covered every square inch of wall space in the large room and unframed ones filled bins designed for the purpose. There were enough paintings to fill a small museum and I was impressed.
“Come," he took hold of my arm. "You must see the jewels of my collection: a Goya, a Miró, two Picassos, and very, very small Velásquez."
I looked at them in wonder. Any museum in the world would have been delighted to own even one of his "jewels" and here they were, nearly priceless pieces of art, hidden in a wine cellar.
“Don’t you worry about the damp?”
“No, no. Can’t you feel? It is very dry in here. This part of the country has very little water to begin with, and my father and grandfather spent a lot of money making sure this room would remain dry.”
I nodded, realising he was right, the room had no odour of mustiness at all. In spite of the fact that the temperature in his cellar was perfect, neither cold nor warm, I shivered as I felt the familiar tingle of magic.
"And these," he said, tugging at my sleeve, enthusiastic as a boy when he saw my appreciation. "These will interest you. Buenaventura's. I have six – two from my grandfather, three from my father, and one that Buenaventura himself gave me as a gift only a year before he died. Are they not wonderful? His technique was magnificent. They seem to change sometimes, you know? I can never put my finger on it, but each time I look at them, they seem slightly different. What do you think?"
I was completely incapable of speech, frozen in shocked horror. Among the abstracts and pastoral scenes was a single portrait. My heart pounded and my tongue tasted of ash and death as I stared into the smiling, slightly mocking eyes of a young Tom Riddle.
"Harry! Potter! Adam! Whatever the fuck you call yourself, where are you?" Winded from the long walk up from the village, and still filled with dread, I stalked through the house screaming for him. There was no answer and my sense of panic increased. Had something happened to him? Had the Dark Lord somehow . . . ? Even though I knew it was improbable, I couldn't shake the terror of being unable to find him.
"POTTER!" I stood at the front door, yelling at the top of my lungs and almost fainted with relief when he popped around the corner of the house, smiling.
In an unprecedented display of emotion, I wrapped my arms around him, squeezing him nearly into as I mumbled, "Thank God, you're all right," into his messy hair. At that moment I was prepared to never let him out of my sight again.
Pulling back from me with effort, he looked up and said, "Severus? What's the matter?"
"I need a drink," I said abruptly.
"From the smell of you, I'd say you'd had enough."
"You stupid, arrogant, selfish little FUCK! Don't ever frighten me like that again!" I dragged him bodily through the house and into my room.
I shoved him towards the bed, slammed the door and locked it. When I turned back, he was lying there, half-dazed, looking at me as if I were insane. Well, perhaps I was.
"Don't you ever do that again, Potter. Do you hear me? Don't you ever disappear like that again!" My heart was still hammering in my chest and, although I was no longer screaming, my voice sounded unnatural loud in the quiet afternoon.
"For fuck's sake, Severus! I didn't disappear. I was in the garden. What is the matter with you?" His eyes sparked green.
I was tearing at his clothes, desperate to feel him, desperate to make sure he was unharmed, desperate to wipe the image of that painting from my mind's eye. "Shut up!" I snapped. "Just don't. I need to feel you. I need . . . I need . . . " I didn't know what else to say. I was afraid I might be hurting him but I couldn't stop. Fear was eating me alive, making me sweat, making me clumsy and harsh.
He caught my fumbling hands in his and held them together, clasped to his chest. "Exuo!" he said softly and our clothes fell away. "It's okay, Severus. I'm okay. I'm okay."
He offered gracefully and I took with a complete lack of finesse. Afterwards, my chest still tight with fear, he held me, stroking my head.
How could I explain my abject terror over a painting? I looked into his eyes, the eyes that should have been green but weren’t, the eyes that were so disturbingly similar to those in the hidden portrait, and suddenly I understood. "I've found the last Horcrux."
Adam doesn’t hear the door open, nor the footsteps approaching. The first he knows he isn't alone is when a hand grips and shoulder and shakes him roughly.
"Wake up, damn you."
He sits up. It is his friend, the one he thinks of as his friend, the one who comes occasionally to clean him and bring him things – clothes, extra food, blankets.
"Where have you been?" Harry asks.
"Don't talk. There isn't time," the whisper is harsh and unfriendly. "You've been told you're to have a visitor and so you will. Him."
"You needn't prove your stupidity. I'm very familiar with it. Don't fight him. It will go worse for you if you do."
"The Dark Lord, you little fool. I had hoped I'd have time to get you out of here before now but you're watched very closely. It's been hard enough to get in to clean you; getting you out is impossible. Have you access to any magic at all?"
"I haven't tried."
"Try now, then. Something simple. Make light."
"I don't have my wand."
"You're hopeless. A wand is only a tool. Concentrate with all your might and say the spell."
"Do it," his friend hisses.
"Lumos! " As he expects, there is nothing.
"And this is who we endowed with all our hopes. I told Dumbledore he was an old fool!"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Harry says quietly, turning to face the wall.
"Completely given up, have you? Even I expected better. Not much to be done now, then. But you must try. When he comes, try to Occlude as you've never tried before. Do not let him into the deepest core of you. If you can prevent that, there's hope."
"Occlude?" He rolls over again. "You know who I am! Lumos! " he whispers fiercely. A pale light filled his corner of the room. He blinks in surprise. He can see the shadow of a robed figure standing a few feet away.
"And there might be hope. Well done."
"Let me see your face."
"No. You wouldn't like what you saw. I must go. Occlude. He's going to alter your memory. He's grown to be a master at it. You must fight him without letting him know you're fighting." The shadow turned at the sound of footsteps in the corridor. "I have to go. Occlude. Everything depends on it."
There is a quiet pop and the shadow disappears. The dim light wavers and goes out.
"I can't Occlude. I never could."
There were tears in Adam’s eyes when he woke up. He scooted to the far edge of the bed, back to Snape. He didn’t want Severus to see him cry and he didn’t want to have to explain why he was crying if Severus woke up. And he knew why he was crying; he could remember the dream and even though it felt like the memory of a dream and not a memory itself, he was ashamed of the failure it revealed.
Eventually, morning came, and Severus, as was his habit, woke with the sun and pulled Adam to him. Adam returned his kiss and rested his head on Severus’s shoulder, but he didn’t tell him about the dream, and he knew he wouldn’t.
If the painter had ever kept detailed records of his alchemical processes, they remained hidden. The notebooks were as sketchy on that subject as they had proved to be about almost everything else.
I had managed, by painstaking effort, to break down the tiny sample of Harmony into its basic elements. It turned out I was wrong about there being no magical components, but so convinced had I been of the accuracy of my suspicions, it was anti-climactic to discover the elixir contained both boomslang skin and bicorn's horn – key ingredients of the Polyjuice potion. Nonetheless, I was justifiably proud of my achievement.
Potter, typically, managed to ruin my pleasure. "Big deal. What difference does it make? Who the fuck even cares any more?" Self-centred to the last.
This was the span of our days: We fought; Harry cooked; we argued; we slept; we . . . didn't sleep; Harry worked the garden; we argued; I read the notebooks, did experiments, pursued my magic; we fought; Harry cooked.
It should have been peaceful. It wasn't. Potter was more mercurial, and therefore more Potter-like, by the day. It was obvious there was something was eating at him, but he denied it.
There was something gnawing at me as well. Weeks had passed since my discovery of the Horcrux in Ábrego's underground vault and I had not once returned to the village. I could not forget its existence, but neither could I talk about it. Just thinking about it filled me with such dread, I was as reluctant to bring up the subject as I was to use the Dark Lord's name.
And the Dark Lord was on my mind for reasons beyond the Horcrux. Since the wave of agony that had left me temporarily insensible on the laboratory floor, there had not even been a twinge in my Mark. In the days following my discovery Tom Riddle's portrait, I steeled myself against the pain I was sure would soon come. I was sure that unearthing the Horcrux must cause some vibration to ripple across the miles and disturb the Dark Lord's sleep. Yet nothing happened, and that was also cause for concern. Why was He silent? His impatience would certainly not be growing less. The only answer I could find was the war; either it was going so well for Him that He did not need to worry about Potter, or the tide had turned and He had more immediate concerns.
And yet, while I fretted, I did nothing. An unseemly lassitude had crept over me. I told myself I could do nothing; circumstances beyond my control had conspired to make me a non-combatant. I didn't have the magical strength to destroy the Horcrux. It was, as might have been expected, Albus – or his facsimile – who finally shook me from my torpor.
Of late, all my time had been spent in the laboratory, the library, the kitchen, or the bedroom. I had barely ventured outside, except for moments when some unspoken dread sent me running for the garden when I could not find Potter in the house. But, having exhausted the library and laboratory as a source for more notebooks, and remembering at last that the higher shelves in the sitting room contained untitled volumes bound in the same material, I went into the room I had been in for weeks.
I had quite forgotten about Historia de Fantasmas. I was standing on my toes, stretching my hand towards the books that had no doubt been placed there because they were far out of Potter's short reach, when I caught a flash of purple out of the corner of my eye. I really wasn't in the mood, but the painting didn't care; it flashed more colours at me, various hues of red and orange clashing with the purple.
I sighed. "Albus." No matter that I knew it wasn't his portrait.
"Severus, my lad. You're looking much fitter than when l saw you last. Would I be wrong if I gave some of the credit for that to Harry?"
"He's a good cook," I admitted grudgingly. "But he's just as wrong-headed, argumentative and stupid as ever."
"Tsk, tsk, Severus. I would have expected you to recognise his true talents by now."
"Oh, I'm completely aware of his true talents, but apparently he hasn't got a broom."
"That's closer to the mark than you believe. He's a bit impetuous, I admit, but that's because his intelligence expresses itself more in the physical than the cerebral."
"In other words he acts without thinking."
"That's not what I meant at all, and you know it. Give some honest thought to the things he does best."
Detecting a note of misplaced amusement in Albus's tone, I flushed. "You've been spying on us."
The painting seemed to flare pink and I could hear Albus's familiar chuckle. "My dear boy! I'm dead. I did not leave my ghost behind. This painting is not of me, and I sincerely doubt you've managed to acquire a Chocolate Frog card during your sojourn. No matter what your guilty conscience is telling you – and what you'd have to feel guilty about, I'm sure I don't know – I am not spying on you. I was referring to Harry's magical ability. He's really quite talented."
"He may have been once, although I've never seen any evidence with my own eyes, but he doesn't even do magic these days."
Again the annoying chuckle. "None at all?"
"Fine. I admit. Sexually, he's a magical dynamo. Satisfied? Is that enough information to satisfy your prurient curiosity?"
"Have you ever thought about why so few have mastered Sex Magic? Surely you don't think it's because of a lack of interest." What started as another chuckle soon metamorphosed into gales of laughter.
Had the painting been within spitting range, he'd have been wiping his artistic eye.
"Your point? If you have one."
"Oh dear, dear, dear. You do disappoint me. Think of how hard it is to concentrate on anything at all during orgasm."
"You're a filthy-minded old man."
"I am a figment of your imagination, which would make you the dirty old man." More laughter.
At times such as these, I wondered why I had ever liked him.
"Again. Your point?"
"We should chat more often. I do so love to laugh."
And with that, he was gone; not that he'd been there to begin with.
But, I'm not an idiot. I knew what his point was. Although he rarely used it in any other circumstance, in the bedroom Potter's magic was fluid, flawless, and done without his wand. I should have recognised it sooner; if he could, after reading only a few books, perform such complex magic without apparent effort, his power had to have been on par with Albus’s. After weeks of disquiet, I finally knew what to do.
"Potter!" I roared as I strode from the sitting room. "Imp! Menace! Where the devil are you? POTTER!"
I found him in the laboratory, staring at the small portrait of himself. I had hidden it away almost immediately, but apparently I hadn't done a good enough job.
"What do you want?" he asked sulkily as I stepped off the golden staircase and onto the lab's marble floor.
He didn't wait for my answer. "I hate this thing. I fucking hate it."
"That's a waste of time. It's neither sentient nor intelligent. Hating it accomplishes nothing."
"Don't lecture me, Snape!" He spat the words out and I was taken aback; it had been some time since he'd called me by my surname.
"What's got you sulking this time?"
"Oh, sod off," he grumbled and then stormed out of the room.
I gave him thirty minutes to cool off before I went looking for him. He wasn't in the house and once again the familiar panic flared, but it didn't take me long to reason out where he would be, and I found him, as I expected to, under the cork tree.
The day was windless but the tree was flailing as wildly as ever the Whomping Willow had done. Potter stood there, fists clenched, paying no heed to its writhing. All his attention was focused on the white marble slab that marked Buenaventura's final resting place. I watched in amusement as the engraved words "mentor, friend, beloved" were gouged away and beneath the deep rut the words, "bastard and collaborator" appeared.
"How childish," I drawled, deliberately provoking him.
"Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! For once in your life, try not to be such a shithead!"
"I've had enough of your pathetic moping, your tantrums, your self-pity. Pick yourself up and move on, boy! Everybody has disappointments in life. But what harm did he do you? He took you in, stopped your nightmares, loved you." I despised even saying the words, but I wanted to see how far he could be pushed and what would happen.
"I SAID SHUT IT, SNAPE! JUST SHUT YOUR FUCKING GOB! HE TOOK EVERYTHING FROM ME!"
The air crackled with Harry's rage and suddenly the white marble slab exploded in a million fragments that spouted into the air and fell back to earth as nothing more than a fine white powder. The cork tree's flailing became even wilder and its branches scraped against the windows producing a sound like a thousand people screaming.
For a split second, everything calmed, and then the tree was blasted by a shard of light so brilliant, I was blinded. When my vision cleared, I saw the tree had been split in twain and its core was blackened by fire.
Silently, I thanked Albus.
"Feel better?" I asked snidely.
"No. Damn you! Shut up before I do the same to you!" His eyes blazed green fire and on his forehead, a jagged vein bulged. It looked remarkably like a bolt of lightning. "FUCK!" His scream was full of both rage and pain. "It's no fucking use. It's not even his fault." He gestured at the pile of white marble dust. His eyes glistened with what I at first assumed were tears of rage, but he suddenly crumpled to the ground, sobbing. "It's my own fault, isn't it? I failed somehow. I was too weak. I don't even remember but I know somehow it's my own fault."
My heart went out to him, but this was no time for coddling. I had no use for his tears; I needed his rage. "Yes, Potter. You were weak."
He glared up at me in outrage at my perceived betrayal.
"You made a complete mess of things, but you can do something to atone. Your painter was most likely just a pawn, Potter. If you really want revenge against the one who harmed you, there's a way."
I stalked off towards the path down the mountain, not even pausing to see if he followed. It was only moments before I heard his footsteps as he pounded down the hill after me.
"Where are we going."
"You have a mission to complete."
"I . . . what?"
I stopped walking and grabbed his arm to stop him as well. I looked at him. He really didn't know to what I was referring. I knew it wasn't blind stupidity. In the proper context he could recite every detail I knew about Harry Potter, but he still thought of himself as Adam, and Harry's memories were likely beyond recovery.
"The Horcruxes, Potter. You've one left."
Comprehension flooded his faced. He stared at me for a moment, then nodded and walked on with determination. I followed.
We didn't speak again until we arrived at the village almost an hour later. Harry's face was grim, and the tracks of his tears were outlined in the dust of the path.
"Ah, Severus, my friend! I thought perhaps you had left us without saying good-bye." Ábrego's face showed real delight.
I felt a pang that he'd thought I'd leave without bidding him farewell.
"And Señor White." He nodded at Harry. "It is good to see you." He turned back to me and put his hand on my arm. "What can I get you, profesor? Vino?" He laughed, knowing full well how much I despised the local wine. "No, I am kidding with you. Whisky, I know. And for you, señor?"
Harry surprised me. His face was still pale and set, but anyone who didn't know him well would recognise the anger that hid behind his smile. "Ah, nothing for me. Gracias. Please, call me Adán."
I was surprised and impressed to hear him offer the Spanish version of his name that only Buenaventura had used. I could only imagine how much he loathed it at that moment.
"Don't be angry with him, but Severus let slip you have some paintings of Fico's. I was wondering . . . would you let me see them?"
Ábrego looked at me and I hung my head in silent apology. With a smile, he generously shrugged off whatever irritation he felt. "But of course, Adán." He shook his finger at me. "But don't tell anyone else. You will bring the thieves."
He led us behind the bar and through the passage to the cellar. I could feel waves coming off Potter and it was terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure. At the door to his hidden room, he reminded me to watch my head and laughingly said to Harry, "You are built compact like my great-grandfather."
Harry laughed and again, no one who didn't know him would recognise anything amiss. But I was suddenly afraid of what I had unleashed.
"They are just here," Ábrego said.
"Otoño, I hesitate to ask, but Adam and Buenaventura were . . . I think this will be hard for him. Would you give us just a minute alone?" I wanted him out of there, and in a hurry.
But I was too late. Harry was standing in front of the small portrait, fists clenched. Once again I could feel the waves of rage. Suddenly, the air crackled.
"Otoño," I said desperately just as Potter's body was wreathed in blinding white aureole. "Fuck," I whispered.
Potter raised his hand and a vivid green light shot from his fingertips. In other circumstances, I might have laughed; who but Harry Potter would think to use Avada Kedavra on a painting? But there was nothing funny about this situation. The killing light spiralled in ever tighter circles around the portrait. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as I watched the paint on young Riddle's face begin to run. The portrait's scream was shrill beyond endurance and went on and on and on, long after the painted mouth had melted into a glob at the bottom of the frame.
Harry stretched out a hand and yanked me to his side, enveloping me in his white aura as a ball of vermillion fire blazed and the room exploded.
Two Picassos, a Goya, a Miró, a very, very small Velásquez, and my friend Otoño Ábrego, were the price of the destruction of the last Horcrux.
I had never even wept for Albus, but I wept for Ábrego.
His hands were soft and hot, blunt and sure, and ever so slightly damp. He's nervous. Why is he nervous? But I couldn't think about it just then; couldn't think about it because his hands were all those things and they were touching me. Where his hands went, his lips followed.
Perhaps a leopard may one day change his spots, but he can't do it overnight. I couldn't let it be. "Harry, what's wro–?"
But his hands covered my mouth and he said, "Nothing." Then, "Later."
His only answer was his touch. He didn't use magic. There was no laughter, no teasing, no fury. But there was a desperation in his eyes as he kissed his way slowly up my body from toes to forehead.
"Severus, please? Just this once? For me? Please?" Still the desperation.
I knew what he wanted. I closed my eyes and tried to bring air into my lungs to displace the panic. He could have taken anything he wanted, but instead he asked. His own peculiar little fantasy and the one thing I'd always refused. After what I’d seen him do to the Horcrux, I’d hardly have dared refuse him again, even if I’d wanted to.
"Aduro!" I whispered. I hadn't opened my eyes but I could see the red glow as one by one I kindled the room's torches and the hundred candles that graced every raised surface.
I opened my eyes to see him smiling at me, almost wistfully, and a tight knot formed in my throat. It was not light he was asking for, that was my own idea; a ribbon on the gift he'd requested.
Locking my eyes on his, I pushed myself up in the bed until my back rested against the headboard. I swallowed, trying to dislodge the knot, but it wouldn't budge. I was a spy, a dungeon-dweller, a creature of the dark places; pale, thin and ugly, it was not in my nature to expose myself. The fiery candlelight was not to assuage Harry's fears. It merely promised that I could not hide.
I did not understand why he wanted this and that night, it did not matter. Instinct made me draw my knees up; I forced them back down and made my legs sprawl wide. Slowly, not once allowing my gaze to break away from his, I touched myself. I smiled briefly as the simple act of dragging my middle finger over my bottom lip caused him to inhale sharply. I did it again and let my finger pull my lip down, exposing the red, inner flesh.
In spite of my discomfort, I was becoming aroused. Harry knelt at the end of the bed, knees spread, knuckles pushing into the mattress. He did not touch himself at all, but his erection never faltered as he watched me drag a fingernail down the side of my neck and across my chest. My skin burned and I knew I had left a long scratch in my finger's wake. The pain of it helped me keep from withdrawing into myself.
He inhaled again as my hand strayed briefly across my nipple.
"Why do you like this? Hmm? I don't understand you at all. How could this," I let my hand drag along my ribs, "excite you more than this?" and stretched my hand out to touch his nipple, but he swayed back beyond my reach. He smiled but said nothing.
I had not yet touched my cock, but I was intensely aware of it. A bead of fluid leaked out of the tip and tickled me maddeningly on its slow path down the length of me. Groaning, I turned my head away from him for the first time and sank my teeth into my own bicep, biting down hard and leaving a ring of sharp dents in my flesh.
"Little voyeur. Is there no end to your perversions? I suppose eventually you'll cast some spell that forces me to fuck myself." I sank my teeth into the obscenity as I had my arm, and was rewarded by a green flash of desire in his eyes. In spite of it, I could not continue in that vein. It was enough that I was toying with myself in front of him, I decided. I didn't have to indulge his passion for gutter talk as well. The truth was that I was never any good at it anyway.
I stroked my armpit with the flat of my hand and allowed my fingers to linger at the sensitive crease – a place that Harry often favoured with tongue and teeth because it always seemed to make me wild. The tortures that sprat could do to my nerve endings were outrageous. He knew why I lingered there, knew I was thinking of his lips. His body was taking on that sheen of sweat that always came with his arousal.
With one hand I stroked my hip-bone and the hollows beside it; my other plucked at my minimalist chest hair before straying to my nipple. The thought flitted through my mind that it was a pity I couldn't suck it. Then, imagining myself with mammaries large enough to nuzzle, I laughed.
"What?" he asked with a half-smile and a tilt of his head.
I told him and he laughed but said in a very demanding tone, "Don't stop."
It occurred to me to provoke him but really, what was the point? It would only delay the inevitable.
Bringing both hands to bear on my nipples, I closed my eyes and bit my lip and took a long, shuddering breath. I could hear an answering breath from Harry and imagined what he looked like as he watched me, the strong rise and fall of his chest, sweat beading on his face. It was a stupid thing to do when I could see the real thing if I only opened my eyes.
I jerked in surprise. He had pushed his damp fringe away from his forehead; his scar was back. I thought it seemed fainter than the last time I saw him, but that had been only very briefly, in his hospital room, by very dim wand light. He was not using magic, but power radiated from him.
I cursed my weakness for arrogant and manipulative wizards.
"What?" He asked again. His hand strayed to his forehead and froze. "I've got Harry's scar."
"It looks good on you," I smirked.
I cut him off. "I know, Harry. Now, I don't mean to be prissy, but can we get back to the matter at hand?" I pressed my hands against my body, allowing the heels to bump slowly over each rib as they drifted downwards. I kept my eyes focused on his face, but his gaze was considerably lower down on my anatomy than my head.
As I took my cock between my palms, I said, "I could use some help here."
Harry just shook his head with a slight smile.
I was not inclined to waste any more time, but Harry gave me that same smile and said, "Play with your foreskin."
How does one argue with a man who has the capacity to say something like that? I played with my foreskin.
I skinned it back, tightening the ring of my fingers it passed over the head, twisting as I moved lower. I watched Harry watch my cock as my hand slid back up. When the glans was again hidden, I rubbed my thumb over the velvety skin covering it.
When I was so close my body was starting to shake, I said, "Please?"
Harry tugged on his lower lip and then, without releasing his lip, grinned and nodded. It was a ridiculous expression and I was reminded painfully of his youth. I don't know why it bothered me; I've known men who would kill to be in my position.
I moved to my knees and then closer to Harry, so that our knees were almost touching. The hand not on my cock moved languidly up and down my side. I watched him watch me. And the shame of doing this was a little flame of pleasure in my belly. I wanted to die. And then I did die, just like the fucking heroine in a Regency novel.
My emission splattered Harry's chest. I leant forward to lick him clean but he stopped me with a hand pressed against my chest. He scooped up some of the sticky white mess and lapped it from his fingers.
"There's no point in any of that. I'm an old man. It's going to be hours before I'm up to fucking you."
He rolled his eyes and laughed. "Severus. Thank you. That was," he paused, shrugged, and said, "beautiful."
"You're welcome. Don't expect me to ever do it again. And," I glared at him, "don't call me Severus."
Later – much, much later – as he spooned his back against my belly and wiggled his arse against my desiccated member, he sighed and said happily, "I don't think I'm going to have a nightmare tonight."
But I still thought I could detect a note of desperation in his voice.
"What are you doing?" He didn't answer and I needn't have asked; the answer was spilling from an open rucksack.
on earth do you think you can accomplish? You don't even know who
"Don't," he said. "You know what's at stake. You know better than I do. You've said it yourself; it doesn't matter who I am, it only matters who people think I am. Severus, if I can help then I need to help. It's the right thing to do."
"Ever the hero," I said bitterly.
"No, it's not that. It's not as if I have a thing for saving people. I've got unfinished business of my own. Destroying the Horcrux means nothing if that son of a bitch is still hanging around. He destroyed my life and damn near destroyed yours. I mean to make him pay for that."
I nodded; revenge is a concept I understand.
Reaching into my pocket I extracted Potter's glasses. I'd held onto them out of some perverse sentimentality, I suppose. "You'd better take these. You can transfigure the lenses into plain glass. With the changes in you, you'll have a hard enough time convincing people you're Harry Potter and Harry Potter is almost as famous for his glasses as his scar."
"But I look like him . . . me now. Why won't people be convinced."
"Some people, Ron Weasley springs to mind, are thick but they're not stupid. Potter . . . you have friends, people who've known you intimately for years. If I had doubts, imagine how it will be with Weasley and Granger. Just take the damn glasses."
There was no way to know how things would turn out, who would win, if he would survive. I wanted no reminders.
He stretched out a hand and touched my cheek, rubbing his fingers irritatingly over the stubble on my jaw. "Stop that," I snapped. "If you're going, you'd best just go."
"I'll come back, Severus. Count on it."
"I count on nothing, least of all hare-brained Harry Potter."
"Yes." I smiled without meaning it.
"Right. I'm off then. I will come back."
"When you do, if you do, I won't be here."
"What do you mean? You can't just walk away. No. If that's how you're going to be, I'm not leaving."
"Don't be a bigger fool than you must, Potter. Stay in this god-forsaken village, with its hideous language and worse wine? In this country with its execrable weather?"
He laughed and there was no more meaning in it than my smile. "Where will you go? I'll find you, you know."
"Of course you'll find me, you lunkhead. I'll be in Britain. I can't travel with you, I'll just slow you down and thanks to your weak mind enough time has been wasted. But for good or ill, I belong there, not here. I spent too long, gave too much, to idly sit by eating lotos while others fight that madman."
He picked up his rucksack and walked to the door. I might've expected it but he took me completely by surprise when he turned and lunged at me, wrapping his arms around me tightly and pressing his lips to mine. "I love you, you son of a bitch."
I tugged his messy hair, rocking his head gently back and forth. "I know you do, more fool you. Go. I hate scenes."
He slowly backed away, not taking his eyes from me. I closed mine, biting back the ridiculous
urge to beg him not to go, to stay here and dine on lotos with me.
"I have to do this." His voice was so soft I had to strain to hear it.
"Of course you do. You never did have any reasonable understanding of your own limitations."
I accompanied him to the head of the path that led from his mountain to the village, kissed him with a desperation that nearly unmanned me, and stood watching as he walked away. He was nearly around the curve and out of sight when I called out, "Potter!"
He turned and cocked his head inquisitively.
"Don't you dare fuck this up."
I could see his teeth flash in a smile before he turned and disappeared.
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