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The (Happy) Half-Blood Prince
Category: Drama/Angst, Hurt/Comfort
Summary: A heart made of lead, and a Swallow longing for
lotus-flowers, and no Mystery so great as Misery.
A/N: Written for the hp_fairytales fest
(though well after
the deadline). An HP take on Oscar Wilde's The Happy
Prince. Bit of a Jane Eyre tribute in there as well. Thanks
immensely to betas fabularasa
and cluegirl, who refuse to
let me get away with s**t.
Harry ran his thumbnail over the edge of the knut pinched between his
fingers. It made a satisfying ridgey noise. "I like the sound of the
"Do you?" Ms. Fairfax's smile got a little brighter. It always did when
Harry said something she found suspect. Damn. "Is that a good reason
for wanting to travel there?"
As good a reason as any. Instead he said, "All
right, so, it was just something I thought was funny. Truth is, I've--"
His hesitation was only momentary as he groped for a better answer. "--
been thinking about something a little farther than Portugal. I've
always wanted to see the Pyramids, actually."
Ron, wearing that stupid fez, waving from a newspaper photo.
Careful. You can't go all wet on her now.
This time the smile reached her eyes. She was brunette and pretty and
Harry very nearly hated her. Had from the first session. "Egypt! Oh,
I've been there. Such a memorable event. Yes, I certainly can recommend
that as an excursion."
Yes. "So I..." Careful. You can't leap out
of your seat in relief. "...you think I can go?"
She reached up to adjust her spectacles. Harry suspected she wore the
things only to look cleverer than she was. Her smile didn't waver. "Mr.
Mr. Potter instead of Harry. This wasn't good.
"...I am going to declare you fit and capable of resuming all
activities of daily life, including travel out of the country..."
She was? Holy fuck, yes.
"...under one condition."
He'd sleep with her if it meant he was allowed to get
out of England. He'd make sure to be the best she ever had. But Ms.
Fairfax probably wasn't about to let him off so lightly. "Yes?" he
said, politely as he could, as she tortured him with her smile and her
"I think it a necessary part of your recovery that you visit this
Professor Snape of yours, Harry."
"She didn't say forgive, Harry. Only that you visit him."
"The hell. She might as well have. She expects me to go and be civil to
Hermione took her hands from the water. "Towel." Fetching the dishtowel
from the counter behind him and handing it to her was something Harry
could do without toning down his outrage. "He's unlikely to be happy to
see you either," she reasoned as she dried her hands. "And if you're
civil, you might one-up him on that."
"You're trying to play me."
"When would I ever do that?" she said mildly. "Have I ever been
dishonest with you, Harry?"
"Not so I've caught you." It came out sulky. That gave him a twinge of
shame, and did bring his outrage down a notch. No, Hermione didn't play
those kinds of games. "Sorry. That wasn't fair."
"It's all right. I don't know that your counselor's being fair to you,
either." She turned away, smoothing and folding the dishtowel on the
counter in a way that looked liked busywork. "I don't think she's
completely wrong, though. No, hear me out," she said without turning.
"I think that the longer you avoid him, the more you'll work him up in
your mind into the worst of gorgons. If you see him as he is now, it
might be better."
"You think I'm frightened of him?"
"No." Now she did turn back to look at him. "Why? Are you?"
Harry opened his mouth to speak, closed it. Then: "You are playing with
me now, aren't you."
Hermione smiled. And no, he wasn't angry at that either. "Maybe a
"Yeah. Well, I'm not scared of him. I just don't want to see him." He
picked up one of the just-washed mugs. "He was the one who hated
me, did from the first. I couldn't do anything but
hate him back. D'you have any tea that isn't herbal?"
"Back of that drawer." She pointed.
He noticed how she folded her arms after. He was having to justify
himself all over again. "Learning he did what he did on Dumbledore's
orders was too bloody little too bloody late. It wasn't as if we were
ever going to be chums." He rummaged about in the drawer, came up with
a near-empty tin of Cornerstone's Finest. "Some people are just going
to hate each other no matter what."
"Now that sounds," Hermione said, "like what you told me Sirius said
about your dad and Snape."
He actually put the box down on the counter and let his arms fall to
his sides before he turned to look at her. "That's--" Not
fair, he didn't finish.
Neither of them said anything more for a moment. Then Hermione, arms
uncrossing, moved to his side, touched his arm and held it in that way
that both gave strength and took it from him. They'd had a lot of those
hold-each-other-up moments, this past year.
"He lost a great deal in the war, too," she said presently. "I think if
you see him as he is now it'll be better for you. I don't know how
it'll be for Snape, though."
Harry looked at her. "You've seen him."
"He has to report to his Ministry liaison monthly. It's part of his
"Ministry li--" He stopped. "That's never you?"
"No, but I work in the same division. So, yes, I've seen him. And I
know more about the details of his parole--how he lives, what his
services to the community are."
Harry could have known. Could have learned. If he'd cared to. He bloody
well hadn't cared to.
"Go see him," Hermione said, squeezing his arm once before releasing
it. "You want to go abroad so badly; this is simpler than fighting your
counselor. Go see him, be civil, and take a little example from me, if
It was a Knockturn Alley address, which didn't surprise Harry; it was
Ministry-approved, which did. But Knockturn wasn't merely for shady
dealings; it was also for low-rent budgeting, which meant a good
percentage of the shabby folk moving purposefully through its twisting
lanes had legitimate, if unprosperous, business within.
And wasn't that Snape all over.
Harry hadn't contacted Snape beforehand; he couldn't take the risk that
Snape would refuse to open the door to him, if he'd had advance
warning, and prolong this distasteful business. Harry wasn't getting to
Egypt or Lisbon or anywhere until he could tell Ms. Fairfax they'd had
what she called "a proper visit," and he wondered if Snape would have
made a point of barring him out of gleeful spite, if he'd explained
On the other hand, he had told Hermione he'd try to be honest.
It wasn't a flat. It had been a place of business at one time, but the
sign was time- and weather-worn, and Harry had no idea what
...licoe (the first few letters were unreadable)
& S... (Son, presumably) had provided.
The door opened to his knock. Not the tiny crack of suspicion Harry had
expected--it opened slowly, but it opened fully, and it was Snape doing
Snape, who looked five years older than he had a year ago at his trial,
when he'd looked ten years older than he had the year before that.
Snape, whose expression could only have been more sour if it had been
willing to relinquish the incredulity in the eyes, and clearly it
wasn't about to do that.
"I'm here because I was told to be," Harry said, wondering how far he'd
get before Snape slammed the door in his face. "Not for charity, pity,
or hatchet-burying. It's one of the terms my counselor set, before
she'll clear me from treatment. And I'm telling you that because
Hermione Granger told me I should be honest with you." He extended his
hands, and the enormous plain white box between them. "And I brought
cake because that was Hermione's suggestion too."
He was genuinely hoping Snape would snatch the box away and then slam
the door. Surely Ms. Fairfax would call it even, if the man was
lunching on cake bought and brought at Harry's expense and it hadn't
been Harry's fault that he wouldn't allow a longer visit.
Snape didn't reach for the cake. Snape stood, expression unchanging,
unmoving as if he'd been turned to stone. What was it Hermione had said
"Look, take it or let me in, so we--" no, that wouldn't do; Snape had
nothing to gain from this--"so I can have this over
with and you can be rid of me. Otherwise I'll just have to come back."
It choked him to consider it, but he was aware that Snape was owed a
particular word here. "Please."
The incredulity was beginning to fade from Snape's face and the sour
look was beginning to win out. But that was all right. That was an
expression familiar and simple to Harry. The non-closure of the door
was as much encouragement as one could ask. "I wasn't sure you'd even
open the door past a crack," Harry dared.
The lips wrinkled even further, prior to parting. "I have
Aspectus charms on every potential entrance to this
laboratory, you fool."
Ah, now they were back on thoroughly accustomed terms. "Laboratory,"
Harry said. Snape didn't elaborate; Harry could feel the
That's not a question, idiot weighing in the air as
if encased in a cartoon balloon.
"Look--" He tilted his head, pretended to be looking at the numbers on
the door lintel so that he had a reason to look away from Snape, one
that didn't make him look meek. "--if you're not going to take it, I'm
going to leave it here on the doorstep, and if you don't let me in, I
will go away, and I won't be upset in the least. But
my counselor may be contacting you if you don't, and I've got the
feeling you really would rather talk to me for a quarter of an hour
than put up with Violetta Fairfax for five minutes of a floo call.
Later Harry believed it was the Violetta which had
done it--Snape probably didn't expect anything promising from a
Ministry cog with that kind of name. Snape reached for the box in a way
that suggested he'd rather he had potholders for the job (or perhaps
salad tongs), took it, and took the necessary step back that was not
invitation, but at least constituted permission for Harry to enter.
Keeps the vampires out that way, I suppose, Harry
thought as he stepped into dimness. The door shut behind him without
effort or gesture from either Snape or himself, deepening the dimness.
And didn't that say something, that the duskiness of a Knockturn Alley
day had provided any significant illumination into the place.
It was indeed a laboratory, almost a nightmare of one. Potion and
ingredient bottles lined every sill, shelf, and wall, though not the
counters. Those were cluttered with burners and cauldrons,
distillations and alembics, interrupted by the occasional altar-like
workspaces devoted to chopping, dicing, splicing, and other methods of
turning components into unrecognizable bits. It was at a complete
remove from the orderliness of Potions classes at Hogwarts. Yet at the
same time it was familiarly associated with it, evoking the few
comfortable hours Harry had spent studying the notes of someone who'd
called himself the Half-blood Prince, and Harry didn't know if he felt
homesick, nauseated, angry, or what.
Instead he looked at Snape. Snape had found free space--no, that wasn't
right, there was no free counter space. Instead he'd put the cake box
on top of a layer of dried and diced somethings (that didn't look as if
they'd seep through the box's bottom, but Harry wasn't sure), and now
stood, arms folded and wrapped in his customary black robes as he
glared at Harry. No--it wasn't quite so merciless as a glare. Just a
sneer. Also customary.
A good percentage of the man's greasy hair had gone to grey. Along with
the face. Harry was used to thinking of Snape as sallow, but now the
face was chalky, dull, as if grit had gathered in the lines. Azkaban
hadn't done that, Harry didn't think. Snape hadn't spent a full week in
that place, so quickly had his trial been brought and his release
Harry almost started, to realize what the room and Snape's appearance
was causing him to feel: pity. Impossible, as short as one year ago.
Should have been impossible now.
Well. That would be simple to remedy. All he had to do was to get Snape
talking, and he was sure Snape would root out any lurking pity before
He said the first thing that came to his thoughts. "So, do you still
hate my guts?" It sounded ridiculous, like he'd come
looking for forgiveness. Surely Snape would take him to pieces for such
The sneer did deepen. "I don't think of you at all for you to be worth
any emotion. I am busy."
The last word prompted Harry to glance around again. "Yeah. Hermione
told me. She knows your Ministry liaison," he added, not wanting Snape
to think Hermione was prying where she shouldn't. "Said you get a
pittance for living expenses. And they make you--how'd they put
it--'apply your talents' to community service, full-time. You don't get
to charge for the potions you make." He bent to peer at a blue glass
flask, which bubbled despite a lack of any heat source near it. He
didn't touch it. "Do they give you all this stuff, or do you have to
buy the ingredients out of your own pocket?"
"Don't touch that. Why should you care, Potter?"
"I wasn't. Going to touch it, I mean." He straightened. "I just mean,
if they're making you do charity work on pretty much no salary, they
should be buying this stuff for you and not making you put up your own
funds for it."
"Exactly how long do you have to stay before your counselor is
Harry looked back at Snape--the sneer, the bitterness, the shape and
form he'd come to hate so much--and waited for his own bitterness to
surge, for himself to wonder how he could ever have felt pity for the
It didn't come.
It wasn't even a question of getting the upper hand by staying civil,
as Hermione had said. He just didn't feel provoked. So he didn't need
to snap back.
"It's not important," Harry said, still surprised by how neutral it
sounded, how neutral he felt. "I'll go right now, if you really want me
to. I can tell her that you at least let me leave the cake. She should
be okay with that."
He waited for Snape to tell him to go. That didn't come either, though.
At last Snape's eyes flicked back to the box. "What kind?"
"Er--" Suddenly he was fourteen and babbling. "I thought chocolate
would be good because everyone likes chocolate, but then I remembered
some people are allergic--well, I asked at the shop, and they
recommended this, they called it a Neapolitan, like the ice cream, half
vanilla, half--no, not half, sorry, one-third
vanilla, one-third chocolate, one-third strawberry. So if you...don't
like any of those parts, you...don't have to eat them."
Something happened to Snape's sneer; for a moment, a portion of its
snide amusement was not directed at Harry. "I doubt such a cake had any
origin in Naples whatsoever, whatever twee sobriquet the bakeshop terms
It took Harry a moment to parse that, but then he had the deftness to
ask, "Have you been there? Naples?"
Snape's brows drew down again. "No."
"Oh." Be honest. "I'd like to go there. Italy, I
mean. That's what brought this all on, actually. I want to go abroad.
But I can't leave England until my counselor says I can. And she told
me I had to see you before she would. Say I could, that is. They're
making me see the counselor because they're scared, y'know." He
wouldn't stop. He'd give Snape the truth. "They're afraid if I get
angry like that again--like I did--well, they're scared. So they call
it 'Anger Management,' and Ms. Fairfax is after everything she thinks
could make me angry. Except she's the one who makes
me angriest." He gave a bleat of a laugh. "But I don't show her. At
least I try not to. That's management, isn't it?"
Snape said nothing. At last, just before Harry knew he was about to
begin babbling again, he pronounced, "Italy," in three precise
"Well, Italy as good as any other place. I just want to get out of
England. Get away from the people who know me on the bloody street, you
know? I told her Lisbon, and then I told her Egypt. And she said this
was her last requirement before she'd clear me."
He stopped, thinking he'd been a bit too carefree with his honesty.
Certainly Snape knew all about wanting anonymity, wanting to get out of
England. Wanting, and not able to have it on anything so simple as a
Ministry counselor's word. Snape was nothing so plain as a free man.
He'd been spared Azkaban, once the truth had been revealed, but his
parole was a life sentence all the same. Like Harry, the world did not
forgive Dumbledore's murderer that easily.
But Snape didn't look as if his annoyance had deepened--though Harry
wondered how anyone could tell. His eyes flicked back to the cake.
"This hardly looks the act of a man likely to fly off the handle and
make another crater in Britain's topography. Are you really all that
"I don't know. Am I?"
Somewhere, deep in the lines of Snape's sneer, Harry realized he'd just
been graced with the hundredth part of a smile. Certainly it had its
share of scorn, but it was there all the same. "Idiots." And Harry knew
that, for once, he wasn't included in that pronouncement.
"Step away from that. I need it." Harry didn't realize at first Snape
was speaking of the blue glass flask. He backed away as Snape leant
over it, wand tip poking from his sleeve. A wordless gesture and the
flask rose, levitated to the opposite counter and tipped its murky
contents into an equally murky cauldronful of simmering slurry. The
fizzes and pops that resulted sounded almost friendly.
Harry recognized the cooling charm gesture that Snape threw over the
cauldron before he lifted a pipette and a palm-sized bottle, preparing
to decant the stuff. Harry saw he had several of the same-sized bottles
standing in preparation. "Need help?" The words were out before he
could check them.
Snape didn't give him a look, Snape didn't look at him at all or even
pause in his task. Harry endured the awkward silence for a few seconds
longer before blurting, "Or I could make tea while you do that."
Now Snape did pause. "Tea," he said, in the same way he'd said
Italy, as if he'd never heard the word before and
thought it the oddest of nonsequiturs.
But Harry had nothing to lose. "Goes with the cake." He shrugged a
shoulder at the box.
Snape's gaze returned to his task without any other word. Harry
reckoned that for Snape, that was as close to permission as he was
likely to get. There was a doorless archway marking another room, no
less cluttered than the first from what he could see of it, and if
there was any promise of tea in this place he guessed it would be
there. Snape didn't stop him as he headed in its direction.
One corner of the room held a sofa, ragged at the edges and otherwise
hidden under short stacks of books, and another corner looked as
pantry-like as anything could here. There was a kettle, bread, sugar,
one inexplicable jar of olives in cilantro-infused oil, and a half-full
tin of Cornerstone's Finest. Harry had a déjà vu of
When the tea was boiled, Harry filled the single mug he could find,
then took an empty beaker that seemed to have no more residue than
water lime in it and poured tea into that too. He didn't actually trust
it to drink from it, but at least he could hold it and make a show of
having actual tea with Snape.
There was a knife that looked like it was meant for the table and not
for dicing slugs; Harry took it and the mug and beaker back into the
other room. Snape was stoppering the potion bottles, squinting at the
level in each before pushing its cork into place. Harry set the mug
near but not too close to his workspace. "You were planning to drink
from that?" Snape asked without looking away from his bottles.
"No," Harry said, marginally sheepish. "I couldn't find another cup."
He didn't think Snape was going to answer him, but after a moment,
Snape, still not looking anywhere but at his work, said, "I live alone.
I'm not accustomed to needing more than one."
Harry was grateful that any urge to say You live
here? was easily overcome. He'd had his suspicions. It wasn't
a ludicrous location to work in: teakettle, sofa for resting, tiny W.C.
off the second room--but for Snape to have to call it home twinged his
pity receptors once more.
For a moment, he was foundering. He'd hated Snape, truly hated the man
for so long, even after the trial and the truth, that to have that
anger swept out from under him left a fat blank emptiness where it had
been. What was he, if he was not Harry-Potter-the-Boy-Who-Hates-Snape?
Had his hatred been that much a piece of himself?
He needed to get out of here. But there was the knife in his hand,
ostensibly for the cake, and one didn't just walk into a room with a
knife, put it down, and flee. Sounded too much like cliched detective
A brisk knock sounded on the door and Harry jumped. Bugger, now it
really was going to look awkward.
Snape's first look was at Harry, and then at the door, and he set one
of the bottles down long enough to enhance the
Aspectus upon the door, swelling a window into
existence that framed the door's upper half. Harry didn't recognize the
man standing there; the porkpie hat and little mustache had
civil servant written all over it, but not quite
enough dignity to be Ministry.
The charm snapped itself shut; Snape crossed to the door and opened it.
Harry did set the knife down on the cake box, with self-conscious
haste. "Good day," said Porkpie in a voice free of any attempt to
convince the listener that it was actually a nice day. It was simply a
"It's ready." It might have sounded short but was only matter-of-fact,
from the way Porkpie nodded and entered.
"I've brought your basket back. And brought one of the clinic's own, to
take away, this time. I did remember." Indeed, the man had two baskets
over his arm.
Snape only nodded and moved to the newly filled bottles. "Good day,"
said Porkpie, catching sight of Harry and nodding. Then he did that
second-look-and-widen-the-eyes which Harry knew too well, the one which
brought him as close to anger as anything did these days. (Other than
Violetta Fairfax.) "Mr. Potter? Why--hello, Mr. Potter."
Oddly, it didn't make him bristle quite so much as usual. It was
Porkpie's tone, the same he'd used when he hadn't tried to be cheery
about the day. It spoke of a tiredness, a jadedness that couldn't be
overcome even for the Boy Who Lived, Savior of the Wizarding World,
Destroyer of Voldemort (And A Large Section Of Scotland's Moors, But We
Won't Speak Of That Too Loudly), But Who Lost His Best Friend In the
Battle, Poor Boy, Best Tread Carefully Around Him. "Hello," he returned.
Snape appeared to have ignored the exchange altogether, or perhaps not
even noticed. He had several of the bottles cradled in one arm, two
others in his hands as he crossed to set them in one of the baskets. "I
had enough ingredients for seven bottles, double-concentrated. Do not
neglect to tell the clinic Healers it is double-concentrated; they only
need ten drops instead of twenty for a dose."
"I'll remember, Mr. Snape. You're keeping the usual half-bottle behind?"
Snape's mouth twisted in something resembling impatience. "The woman
refuses to be transported from her home. If she were offered a flying
carpet she would still refuse to go, I'm certain."
"Well, that's a kindness of you."
There was something in Snape's look then--something that wanted to look
at Harry, Harry was sure, but was suddenly embarrassed to have Harry
hearing this exchange. "It is no further than the corner. It would be a
waste of the Healers' time to ask them to come this far from the
clinic, when I can do it."
The man nodded. "I'm sure they appreciate it very much." He produced a
wand, tapped it against the now-filled basket. "Acceptum
referre." A spray of glitter coiled from the wandtip, swirled
about the bottles in the basket, and resolved into a coil of paper with
writing on it. The man handed it to Snape. "Obliged, Mr. Snape."
Snape remained expressionless, which, thought Harry, was as good as a
smile from anyone else.
The man lifted that hat at Harry. "Mr. Potter. Pleasure. Good to see
Mr. Snape with some company." The expressionless on
Snape was still expressionless, but now there seemed a little frozen
quality to it.
Not waiting to be shown the door, the man took his leave, and now it
was not just Harry and Snape, but Harry and Snape and the man's wake.
It was impossible just to lift that knife and go to cut the cake now.
Only impossible if I don't do it, Harry thought, and
took up the pantry knife. "So. Not allergic to chocolate, are you?" He
opened the cake box and was momentarily caught up wondering how best to
go about getting all three flavours into one slice.
"No," said Snape presently, and it seemed the frozen quality had
thawed. "I am not allergic."
Icing kept flaking off in pieces as he tried to cut. Not his best
efforts. "So. You--you're taking that potion to someone who's sick? And
won't go to the clinic."
He could hear the ice re-forming, even in perfect
silence. Damn. He'd miscalled it.
Well. There seemed nothing to do but go on, clumsy as he had been. "I
could--take it for you, if it'd save you time."
"No." There hadn't even been a hesitation, and it wasn't frozen, it was
hot. Angry. Enough to make him look up from what he
"I only thought--"
"You thought wrong. Leave it, Potter."
"Well, excuse me for trying to help." It came out bewildered, stung. A
"Your help," bit Snape, "is neither wanted nor asked
for. How is it you fail to miss something so obvious?"
And now it was impossible to continue with what he'd
been doing. Harry stood, holding back his retort with such unfamiliar
discipline that it was a physical effort to do so.
Snape's expression changed again. The fire slid from it; what was left
behind was no longer neutral but aloof, dignified in a way that would
repel all pity. Snape came around the counter towards Harry, reached
down and took the knife from him in a way that kept their hands from
touching. "Go, Potter. You have done your duty. I will tell your
counselor you were a model of courtesy, if she asks me."
Had it been said still in that angry heated way, Harry thought he would
have refused to go. He would have checked his own anger, apologized.
But Snape was calm, and apology seemed feeble, and Harry found himself
He could not say sorry, and so he left without saying anything else at
His thought that at least Snape would have the whole cake for himself
seemed pathetic rather than charitable. He was glad Snape hadn't made
any pretense of thanking him for it.
"It's here." Harry extended the parchment; Hermione took it, unrolled
it, and skimmed it all the way down to the signature at the end, where
her lips quirked into a smile that didn't include her eyes.
"Congratulations." She let it snap back and returned it. "So. Egypt,
then?" she asked as Harry stuffed it away. "Or was that just for Ms.
Harry snorted. "It started that way, but now I think it really sounds
like a good idea. I keep picturing myself trying to manoeuvre a camel."
He extended his hands on imaginary reins, made a show of trying to keep
his seat on an unsteady beast.
Hermione laughed, and this time her eyes crinkled up. "Maybe a flying
carpet after that."
Harry remembered the last time someone had mentioned flying carpets,
and tried not to sober. He and Hermione laughed so little these days.
"Come with me, why don't you. You keep saying no."
There was still a trace of smile on her face, but she shook her head.
"I'm not ready to go yet. There'd be...too much free time. Too much
time to sit and think."
He tried to keep it light. "I can't imagine a Ministry job keeps you
that occupied. You're too clever for it."
Again she shook her head. "It helps to see the problems everyone else
is having too. Not just after the war, but the ones that are always
there. Poverty, abuse, all that." She picked up her fork, pushed at
what remained of her salmon. "And there's the Elfish Refuge. It's just
beginning to get attention from the upper-ups."
"At least you picked a better name for it this time."
There was a touch of pink in her cheeks. "For every Dobby, there's a
hundred Winkys, but I'm feeling my way through it better. It matters to
And nothing matters to me. Were those only his
thoughts, or hers too?
Well. She wanted him to be happy, he knew that.
Egypt. He thought he could make a start there.
He didn't send advance warning this time, either.
"I want to apologize," he began. He'd been over it a dozen times, and
each time this seemed the best way to start.
Snape didn't look quite as disbelieving as he had the first time.
More...tired. "Harry Potter upon my doorstep, twice in one week.
Whatever have I done to be so deserving?"
That much speech, drawling sarcasm and all, was so much a contrast from
his first visit that Harry found himself cheered. Careful.
Can't show relief this quickly. "I'm sorry for last time. I
acted like I was doing you a great favor, and that made me a bit of a
jerk. Or a lot of one. I wanted to at least tell you I figured that
out, and I'll try not to do that again." He bit back the
Okay? that wanted to be added; that'd sound like
he'd assumed Snape's forgiveness, and would put him right back where he
It was a scowl, but not as deep as Harry usually expected from the man.
Snape's eyes flickered to the bag in Harry's left hand. "What is that."
Harry swallowed. "Scones." He'd known to resist the impulse to arrive
with an entire armamentarium of groceries. Charity or pity would get
him thrown right back out again. But scones, well, those were just
He hoped. Granted, there were two dozen of the scones. But maybe Snape
wouldn't notice until later.
After an eternity, Snape said, "Are you expecting me to let you in."
The lack of inflection in Snape's questions would have intimidated him
two years ago. "You don't have to give me tea. But maybe we could aim
for a visit that ends better."
"I highly doubt that outcome."
"You're probably right," Harry let slip. "Look, I'm going for honest
here. Does it help if I admit I know this is still all about me and not
you? And that I am trying?"
"Trying for what."
"To do it better." He'd talked himself into a
corner. If he went on he'd only sound defensive; either Snape would
accept his honesty or he wouldn't.
Another twist of that mouth. And Snape retreated from the doorway, but
did not close the door, once again granting Harry indifferent
This time, Harry didn't try for casual conversation. Having set the bag
of scones on a tiny corner of counterspace--he didn't quite feel he had
the freedom to go into Snape's pantry/sleeping room today--he perched
on a small stepstool for want of a chair. He drew a breath in
preparation. "I...I know you don't need my help. Or want it. When I
offered to deliver something for you I didn't think how snot-nosed it
would sound. How snot-nosed it was."
"How old are you?"
The question, as well as the return of inflection, caught Harry
off-guard. "Twenty. Nearly." If he stretched the meaning of
"I do not think," Snape said with precise enunciation, "that nineteen
knows how to be anything other than snot-nosed. I forgive you. Is that
what you need to hear? I shall blame your youth, and not even pass
judgment on your nature, if it will let you go away clear-conscienced."
He leaned in. "Only go away, Potter. I shall send
word to that counselor of yours singing your praises and you can be
quit of me. We can be quit of each other."
"That's--" He almost stood. "It's nothing to do with that. She cleared
me, right after I saw you."
It didn't quite bring Snape up short, but he paused for several
seconds. "Then why are you here?"
"Because I'm trying to learn. Because I asked you
out of pride and you made me go for the same reason, except you were
right, because I shouldn't have been asking to help you but to help
that woman. The one who was sick." He took another steadying breath.
"I'm sorry for that. I'm trying to remedy it."
"You cannot remedy it." It was both harsh and
bitter. "One does not mimic the actions of caring,
Potter. One either cares or one does not."
The situation was as far from funny as it could have been, but Harry
found an odd smile had come to his face. "That's one way of looking at
it." He did stand, now. "I think there's others. I think if you don't
know what there is to care about, you sometimes start by going through
the motions. Doing what's right. And you learn." He folded his arms in
mimicry of Snape. "You going to tell me you don't know anyone who's
gone that route?"
Snape did not answer or change expression. At last he began a slow
shaking of his head. "No," he said, and Harry knew it wasn't an answer
to his last question. "You will not do this. I will not be your agent.
I refuse to be your teacher." His chin jerked at the
door. "Go, Potter. You have what you want; go to Lisbon or Egypt or
what have you. Don't make yourself care. Not caring
is ever so much easier. Be grateful you don't, and be grateful I am
sparing you a world of regret. Go."
Harry found himself sitting back down on the stepstool. "That's...not
going to work, if you really do want me to go. It would have worked
"What on earth changed since then?" Snape snarled.
Harry thought before speaking. "I'd like to say Hermione, because you'd
believe it better. But it wasn't. You were enough."
With a groan, Snape finally slumped out of his pose. He looked as if he
could have used a seat to sink onto himself, but, lacking one, simply
looked heavenward, arms at his sides.
Harry pressed on. "You made me ashamed. You wanted to. Or maybe that's
not quite right; you wanted to go on thinking the worst of me, so you
were hoping the lesson wouldn't take, right?" He shrugged. "Well, it
did work. So don't give me that 'I won't be your teacher' shite,
because you're already off to a start and I never asked you."
"I assure you it was unintentional."
"You'd never take that as an excuse from me."
"You're damned well right," Snape said, as if he'd
just scored the point.
Harry took another breath to collect his thoughts. "Look. The
Ministry's got you doing a lot for essentially no pay. They've actually
set you a quota each week--yes, I checked, and you can go ahead and
have a yell at me for doing that, but it's public record. If anyone
wants to look." Now he met Snape's eyes. "Let me help. I don't mean
money," he added hastily. "I mean in person. Let me do something to
Snape's angry expression did not waver. "Listen to you. You could not
do one thing worse for me, Potter, not if you aimed a Killing Curse at
my head, than to give me your pity."
"But I'm not," Harry said, too earnest to work up his own anger. "Those
others--the people you're helping at the clinic, and the ones who won't
go so you go to them--those are the ones who shouldn't get caught
between our arguments."
"And they don't require your pity either! Pity can't be eaten, can't be
drunk, won't do a damned thing for a soul in need," Snape spat.
"But what you do does help," Harry tried again. "That's what I'm
asking. To do something besides just feel sorry." He ran a hand through
his hair. "Christ, Snape, are you going to...penalize everyone else I
could help, just because I can't say the words right, because you hate
me so much? I want to make a difference before I do leave England, in
some way that matters. To...earn the right to go."
"Earn." There was venom in it. "You still have no
concept, do you."
"No! I don't. I'm admitting it. I want to become marginally less of a
selfish prick before I inflict myself elsewhere on the world. Can you
not give me any ground on that? That I know I don't know and I want to
The silence that followed reduced Harry to squirming. Once again he
found himself with nothing to add, but this time it wasn't because he
felt he couldn't. This time he thought he just hadn't anything left in
"You win," he said, trying not to make it sound heated. "I'm going."
The owl came the next day.
It surprised Harry, how quickly. It revealed how quickly the change of
heart had come, how hasty the sender was to contact him before Harry
could actually make arrangements to depart for Egypt.
Though it wasn't that which made Harry smile. No, it was the utterly
derisive tone of the message, and the lack of greeting or signature,
all doing a piss-poor job of disguising what amounted to an apology.
On Saturday I make my rounds to several clients who benefit
from my ministrations. If that missish little conscience of yours is
still boo-hooing over the need to atone for your being an egocentric,
vainglorious popinjay, I will find it in me to endure your presence, if
you choose to come along.
Ten a.m. If you are late I shall never admit you through my door
Harry was there at nine-fourteen.
"...told him I'd not be toyed with! I had a way of showing those young
men I was angry, in those days--fist on my hip, toss of my head--they
reacted to it, fell all over themselves to get back in my good graces,
"You still have it, Mrs. Hill. And we still do."
"Go on with you. You'd say anything to please an old lady."
"Well, I wouldn't say just anything. You do have it."
"Well. If I do, it's because young men like you bring it out in me.
You'll see, when you're my age--you still think of yourself as the way
you used to be. You feel your joints refusing to move and you look at
the face in your mirror, and you want to say, 'Who in Merlin's name
took my body and gave me this one in its place?'"
"I'm sorry for that, Mrs. Hill. I'm sure I'll be saying the same thing
when it happens to me. Even with the warning."
"Mind, I'm resting much more easily with Mr. Snape's draughts. You're a
dear to be bringing them to me, these past months. I know Mr. Snape's
very busy and it's good he has an assistant."
"Ha. Don't call me that in his presence. He doesn't like to think of it
that way. Might kick me out."
"Let him try! I wouldn't allow it."
"Oh, well, in that case, I'm quite safe."
"Besides, he knows quite well I'd have to talk his
ear off with all my stories. You're a better listener than he is."
"...That's...that's very kind of you to say so."
"Don't think I haven't noticed! It's not every young person who'll sit
and listen to an old lady's reminiscences. You're a dear boy--oh, and
still young enough to blush, look at you. Well, I've kept you long
enough today--thank you for staying, Harry, but I know you've other
duties, so, off with you. I mustn't get too greedy."
"That's all right. Nice to know someone wants me around."
"I know I'm hardly the only one. And yes, that includes Mr. Snape,
stingy as he may be with his words. I still remember the first day he
brought you--you were as meek and polite as a young man could be, and
don't think he didn't notice."
"I suppose he'd never have let me come alone if he thought I was too
much of an oaf to be inflicted on others."
"Don't value yourself so cheaply, dear boy. I assure you, he doesn't.
All right, off with you, now."
"Good-bye, then. I'll see you in a couple of days."
"Before you go. I was thinking...I was thinking that...perhaps there's
something in what you and Mr. Snape say. Perhaps I could manage the
trip to the clinic--once, mind."
"I...Mrs. Hill, that--that would be brilliant, I...I haven't wanted to
keep on about it--"
"I know you haven't, and I'm glad of it. No one likes a nag. But...if
Mr. Snape's draughts alone are helping, and if he thinks a clinic visit
might help with some of my other aches and pains...well, I suppose
there's something in what he says. What you both say. If...if I
go--they won't make me undress in front of everyone,
"Oh, no, they--well, they might want you to--to d-disrobe certain
parts, but o-only for one healer and very privately. And they'll ask
first. They won't make you do anything you don’t want. And if they do,
all you have to do is give them that look and that head-toss."
"Oh, you. And--Harry..."
"If I go...and if I think it's worth it to keep going there...you'll
still come to visit me here once in a while, won't you?"
"Oh! Of course I will. Tuesdays and Thursdays like regular. Wouldn't
miss it, Mrs. Hill. Besides, you still have to finish the story of your
suitor and his invitation to Brunhilde's Bower."
"Go on with you."
"Mrs. Hill says she's thinking she'll actually go to the clinic."
"Hmpf." Snape was squinting at a jar label; Harry knew the verbal
acknowledgement was as close as he'd come to expressing pleasure. "And
I suppose you're congratulating yourself mightily over that one."
Harry shrugged. "Well, she hasn't gone yet. I'll hold off."
the one for the Bandridges," Snape said, still examining the jar.
Harry looked at the counter, where he'd deliberately left the bottle.
"No, I didn't. You're taking it."
"I can't leave this batch, you idiot. The lacewings will need to be
added in twenty minutes, then the oakmoss."
Harry stood. "First, you need to get out. You've been giving me most of
the delivery duty, but that just coops you up here; that's not fair to
you. Second," he pushed on before Snape could protest, "the Bandridges
want to see you."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"It's true. The twins like you. The few times I've gone in your place
they've been disappointed. You're better with children."
Snape actually stopped what he was doing and turned. "That is the
greatest piece of nonsense I've heard in--ever."
Harry smiled. "It is, isn't it? Who'd believe it. But it's true. They
adore you. I've even gone with sweets in my pockets and they never try
to climb all over me to get them the way they do with you."
"I don't enjoy that."
"I don't. I took them sweets once and I could hardly
refuse to bring them after that just because they were hellacious
little sticky-handed horrors, could I? It's their nature. Now I know to
throw the sweets through the door in advance of my entrance."
"And they still jump all over you like a sticking charm." Harry picked
up a pair of tweezers, stained yellow from whatever they'd been
handling. "There's a number three on the list, you know. Third's that
you need to let me help you in your workspace, not just outside of it."
Snape selected another jar and began to examine the contents through
its glass with equally close scrutiny. "Do I."
"Yes. I can be trusted not to muck up your brewing. I wouldn't dare
to." He set down the tweezers, stood with his hands in his pockets. "I
did get that 'E' on my O.W.L.'s, you know. Though exceeding
your expectations would probably have meant spelling
my name right on the test paper."
Snape still didn't look at him. Said nothing.
Harry said patiently, "Start me out with something small. I know I'm
going to have to earn your trust in this, but you have to let me start
The lacewings had appeared to meet with Snape's approval. "We'll start
"We'll start now." He kept the patient tone. "The Bandridges are
waiting for you to come today."
"Potter, I cannot."
Snape didn't quite whirl, but only because he was working in such a
crowded space. "Some things cannot be explained as neatly as you would
have them, you ruddy idealist!"
Harry waited before speaking. "Probably not. So don't explain. But
don't put me off if you're going to give me the same excuses next week."
Harry was standing, so the stepstool was free. Snape sank down upon it
with a weariness Harry was rarely allowed to see. "Don't ask this of
"I already have. So you're going to have to start explaining, or to let
me. Pick." He crouched down, putting himself on Snape's level but
careful not to lean in too close. "I'll follow your rules, your
methods. I will. Just let me."
After a set of tense heartbeats that Harry thought he could hear, Snape
looked up. "You will put everything back exactly as you found it."
"Of course," Harry said, unable to keep the smile from edging into the
corners of his mouth.
"No 'of course.' I mean exactly. I mean if I have left a soiled knife
at a fifty-three degree angle ten inches from the edge of the table,
you will not clean the knife and find 'a cozy spot in which to put it
away.' I mean that I will find that same knife, in the selfsame soil,
at the same angle and distance from the table edge. Clear?"
Harry fought to keep the smile down but had already lost. "Yes. I won't
touch anything but what I need to touch, and I'll put everything that I
do touch back where it was. I promise."
"Do you." Snape straightened. "All right. First task." He pushed the
jar of lacewings at Harry. "Twelve whole lacewings. Eighteen minutes.
Followed by one-and-a-half gills of oakmoss extract; the jars are
organized alphabetically and don't confuse it with the dried oakmoss,
except you wouldn't measure that in gills, except that I have no idea
if you remember that, you cretin, so I have to make sure I tell you.
Stir counter-clockwise until it turns saffron yellow, and turn off the
heat." He stood. "When I come back and find you've botched it, I'll
throw you out of my life for good."
Snape picked up the bottle for the Bandridges, gathered his cloak from
the peg at the door, and left without another word.
When Snape returned, the elixir in the cauldron was the yellow of
saffron dye, the heat below it had been extinguished, and Harry had
made sure he was standing precisely where he had been at the moment of
Snape's departure. The jar of lacewings--of which twelve and only
twelve were missing--was in his hands as well.
"Foiled again," he heard Snape mutter, and failed to suppress yet
"I thought I'd have to make an appointment! Honestly, Harry, you're
harder to pin down than I am." Hermione pointed her wand at the
thickest part of the dust on the floor. "Scourgify.
You know, I think you're the one person I actually want to give a
house-elf. Have you forgotten you're a wizard and cleaning this flat
would take only a minute or two?"
Harry smiled, knowing it wasn't really nagging. "I don't spend much
time home. And then it's late at night, so I can't see the dirt."
"Some at the Ministry say you're trying to earn yourself another medal.
Some say you're trying to get one named after you."
Harry sat up. "They never."
"Well. They say it as a joke."
Harry pushed himself off the sofa. "Fine. I don't care. It isn't true,
so what does it matter."
"I'd say you're even starting to sound like Snape, except I know that's
Oscar Wilde." Hermione slid her wand away, either satisfied she'd done
enough or giving up. "Can I treat you to dinner out? It's been so long.
We could even--ask Snape, if you wanted."
He made a derisive noise. "I can barely get him to let me bring in
take-away. Though he will eat my cooking, if I put something together.
He says it's a waste of time and funds for him to eat in a restaurant.
Drives me spare."
"Not even once?"
"It's been months. Still won't go."
"It's been the better part of a year, Harry."
Harry looked at her. She had her entire body turned towards him, as if
it had been a pose on a stage. "Yeah, well. Months."
"Look, it's Snape, all right? It's two steps forward, twelve back with
him, all the time. I count it a victory that he doesn't throw me and
the take-away out, he's so bloody proud--"
"That--" It was uncharacteristic for her to raise her voice to cut
Harry off like that. It stopped Harry right away, and she dropped her
voice. "That wasn't what I meant." She had her hands folded and laced
in front of her. It looked odd. "Don't you want to go abroad any
He looked away, picked up a Quidditch magazine that was lying on the
table. It was six months old, and he hadn't read it. "Yeah, I do, it's
just, there's still a lot to do--"
"There's always going to be a lot to do. There never won't be a lot to
do. If what you're doing makes you happy, that's wonderful; I just want
you to understand that, Harry."
"I'm all right." He put the magazine back on the table, concentrated on
laying it exactly straight with the table's edges. "It's just--it's not
like Snape can up and go when he pleases. He's not allowed to leave the
country. I don't feel right going yet, okay?"
"If--if I asked you to go?"
He looked at her. There was pink on her cheeks. "Not--not just me, I
mean," she stammered. "Something's--someone's come up. Um. I suppose
that's rather an indelicate--"
He hoped his face didn't look dismayed. He was, but not at the idea
that she had someone--rather, that he hadn't been in touch with her to
find out sooner. "No, that's--who?"
The pink deepened. "George."
"George? FredandGeorge, George?"
"It's just George I'm dating, but yes." Her smile was timid.
"Wh--that's wonderful, my God, I hadn't--I'm sorry, God, Hermione, how
did I not--you're my best--" He stopped. "That's
great," he said, finding his genuine smile. "I'm
really glad for you. I'm really sorry I didn't know."
She flushed again. "Well, it's not like I haven't been a little selfish
myself. George and I have had more time to spend together since you've
been so busy. And we're--well, we thought we might go to France in a
month. For a bit of an extended holiday."
France. "That's brilliant."
"And we'd like you to come. Before you say anything," she rushed on,
"about being a fifth wheel, Fred will be coming too. I can't see George
and Fred surviving if they're separated for that long, and they know
it's true. And it would be lovely to have all of us together." She gave
him a beseeching head-tilt. "Couldn't you? Just for a little while?
It's not for a month, so you'd have time to prepare."
France. Croissants, Eiffel Tower. A year ago it would have sounded like
heaven. Now it sounded like some painter's view of heaven: harps,
halos, clouds. Sort of artificial.
He looked at Hermione's expression and knew he couldn't say no
thank you outright. "Let me think about it, okay? But you can
definitely buy me dinner tonight. Anything that isn't curry."
"These are not," said Snape, venom rising in his voice, "sorted
Harry didn't even turn around. "Right," he snorted. "As if I'd disrupt
your precious system."
"Damn you, Potter!" Harry almost cut his own finger instead of the
groundnut; Snape never screamed at him like that, not when
sarcasm and a well-turned synonym for nincompoop
would serve. He turned about. Snape was on his knees, on a level with
the last row of the first set of shelves. "How difficult is it to
remember that c comes before r,
and that Buckthorn gets sorted before Burdock? How?"
Froth actually flew from Snape's lips and struck Harry in the face.
Harry swallowed. Snape was purple. He found himself
carefully setting the knife down on the cutting block behind him by
feel, too nervous to take his eyes off Snape, no less terrifying for
being on his knees. Suddenly Harry was twelve years old and in danger
of losing points for Gryffindor all over again.
He almost failed to see the label on the empty jar Snape was
brandishing in accusation.
"That's...that's Bryony," he said, surprised his voice didn't crack.
"It's supposed to be before either one of them. What the fuck is your
Snape snatched the jar back as if he'd just been showing Harry a photo
of himself naked and doing the limbo. "I know it's Bryony, damn you!
And if you'd sort it properly, I'd know when we needed more! You
idiot," he spat, but it didn't have the fury behind
it that it had had a moment ago.
It was so much a contrast that Harry could only stare. Couldn't even
Snape shoved the jar back into place on the shelf, turning his back on
Harry. But Harry could still see what he was doing, could still see him
touch the jar to its right--that one was the Buckthorn, and then the
Bugleweed next to that, until his hand was on the jar of Burdock, which
he snatched from the shelf.
He stood and carried it away from the shelves with him, shouldering
Harry out of the way. Harry kept staring, Snape's sharp-boned back no
real shield, despite its being turned on Harry. He could see Snape open
the jar, sniff at its contents.
"My God," Harry breathed.
Snape didn't turn, but he stilled.
"My God," Harry repeated. "How...how long?"
"How long has it been? How much can you--" He
swallowed, not saying still see.
"No, Potter. Shut up. Now."
Harry had come round the counter. "All this time..." He was back to
breathing the words. "All this time I thought it was just your way of
being difficult and fussy. And you--"
"I said no."
Harry understood, or thought he did. But he couldn't be deterred. He
moved until he was directly in front of Snape. "What can you see. Can
you still see light? Is it just reading things? --No, of course it's
not, or you wouldn't be identifying things by smell. My God, I don't
believe I didn't...!"
"I said get out. Go."
Now it was his turn to refuse. "No. I'm not going to go. Fuck you. Fuck
you for thinking I would let you." Snape turned from him, but there
wasn't far in the shop he could go, and Harry wasn't letting him go
even that far anyway. "Not for hiding the truth from me, you hardheaded
bastard. You think I don't get it?" He grasped Snape's arm, wondering
if Snape might bite him for it. "Fuck you for thinking you could get me
to go by telling me to go."
Snape didn't bite. He didn't sag, didn't turn to look at Harry, but he
didn't try to shake Harry off either. A thought forced its way through
Harry's brain, and it almost choked him to ask it. "Have you not told
the Ministry because...because telling them would mean you'd have to
Snape, pulling his arm free, snapped about to stare at his face. Harry
could only assume it was a stare; he realized he didn't even know.
"Don't be thicker than you are."
Harry would have preferred a simple, more reassuring Of course
not, but he figured that was the best he would get. "You
think they'll revoke your parole."
Snape's mouth twitched. "Not...revoke. But there are...alternatives
they might choose that I would not prefer."
What, Harry wanted to yell. What could they dare
demand of Snape that made this kind of slave labour seem more appealing
But that wasn't the question that came through. "Why haven't you got
help for it? Seen somebody? Are you letting yourself
go blind because you're afraid of the Ministry
finding out? My God, Snape!"
A re-emergence of the familiar sneer. "Unsurprisingly, you
don't get it. Some conditions are not some bloody
quick fix with two casual wand-twists or three drops of Dragonsbane,
Potter. Loss of sight is one of them."
"And this loss of sight--that's one of them? You've
seen someone? You know?" He knew the answer. "Fuck you, Snape, you
haven't even bothered to find out. You're letting it go because of the
Ministry and what they might do if it's not curable."
Snape stood with his arms folded so rigidly it looked as if it would
take a pickaxe to make him change position. "I have a home," he said.
"Shabby, but mine alone. I have independence. And I have a clientele
who benefit from my services, and are more worthy than anyone I ever
served save for one dead old man in a white tomb. I pray, Potter, I
truly pray that you are never in a position where the loss of one of
your senses seems a small price to pay to preserve those small
dignities." The last word was a hex in itself. "Now
get the hell out of my home."
Harry didn't move.
Slowly he shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere." He pointed at the
cauldron upon the fire, and Snape's eyes followed in the direction of
his arm. He can see that much. It might not be too
late. "We've got that to finish, you stubborn, touchy--" he
was advancing with every word--"sarcastic, surly, peevish, prideful
They were nose to nose, and Harry didn't feel the least bit on the
disadvantaged side--that was saying something.
Presently Snape said, "You have been paying
attention, haven't you."
Harry exhaled, "Not bloody enough."
It took another few moments more, but Snape took a step backward. He
wet his lips. "Potter," he said in what was supposed to be a steady
voice. "Will you tell me if I'm indeed holding the jar of Burdock root."
Harry didn't take his eyes from Snape's face. "No. I won't," he said.
"Your system's good. And so's your memory. You can trust it."
The upward quirk of Snape's lips brought the corners of his eyes into
his expression. "Can I."
Harry nodded. "I'll make sure of it."
Good to hear from you. Your letter came by a white stork! Thought they
only delivered babies, ha ha. Did you really walk on top of the Great
Wall? I didn't know they let you do that. Thought it was forbidden.
Glad the three of you are having a good time. So what do they call
Chinese food if you're in China? Kidding. Don't worry about rushing
back here; nothing's near as exciting. I'm all right, really.
Hermione, I can't leave him now. Don't ask me to explain in a letter. I
"Potter, wake up." The hand on his shoulder had a grip like steel.
When had he thrown the duvet off? He was freezing. "Mmf. Don't--"
Another gut-deep bout of coughing worked its way up and out of him.
Damn. He'd thought sleep would help. He wiped at his mouth when it was
done. "Don't shake me like that," he rasped. "'M awake."
"It's been two days. Tell me you've been to see a Healer, you idiot."
Harry tried to focus. Snape must really be worried, bless him. To
default to idiot like that without searching for
something more colorful. "I'll be fine. I drank some of the stuff we
brewed the other day. I don't need--" His raw throat protested as
another set of coughs wracked him, longer than the last set.
Okay, maybe he did need one.
"I bloody told you not to go inside the house. I said leave it at the
Harry found himself able to sit up, more to reassure Snape than because
it was the comfortable thing to do. "The little one--Susan--she asked
me to come in and look at her mother. I couldn't say no."
Snape had his walking stick propped on the side of Harry's bed. Harry
knew he would have needed it, to make the trip to Harry's flat unaided.
Harry had had a time persuading him to carry it, reassuring Snape that
he indeed looked more like a man with an affectation than a real need
for a cane. "You couldn't?" Snape almost rasped the
words himself. "You were afflicted with a temporary Muting spell? You
forgot your native tongue? You blasted halfwit."
Ah, that was much better. "It's all right," Harry soothed. "I'll see--"
More coughing. "I'll see a Healer. This morning. Promise."
"I shall take you."
"I said I'd go."
"I want to make sure you don't collapse on your own floor, damn you."
Snape stood, took hold of the walking stick. "Where are your overrobes?
Or did you give those away to some needy creature as well?"
"You're a fine one to talk." The duvet was at the foot of the bed;
Harry pulled it over himself before his teeth could start to chatter.
"It's in the--no, I think I just threw it over the sofa when I got
home." He touched Snape's hand, then pointed in the direction of the
sofa. Snape's own hand followed along Harry's arm to see where he'd
indicated, then he moved off to fetch it.
Harry opened his eyes. He'd dropped off in just that short time. The
duvet was too hot. "Maybe if I sleep just a lit--" The coughing took
"Potter, you're burning with fever. Get up."
He was. His t-shirt was wet, too. Snape's hand on his face felt
comforting, though. "You shouldn't have had to come for me," he
muttered. "You're busy too." Snape was pulling him up. "Can't keep
going on. 'S going to change. They promised."
Snape stopped. Harry was glad he was going to get to lie back down;
then he thought about what he'd said. "Oop." Wait, he'd just said
oop out loud too. Damn. "Sorry. It was supposed to
be a surprise. A good one, though." He coughed again.
Snape was quite still. "Tell me."
"Just the paperwork. That's all that's left." Cough. "No more community
service. None that you don't want to do. You can slow down. Stop if you
Again that long stillness, silence. "And whom do you expect to provide
for those who are in need if I do?"
Harry's eyes were shut; he smiled. "Me."
The noise Snape made told Harry what he thought of that idea. "Oh, yes,
that'll work beautifully. You're clearly the best judge of your
abilities--you've worked yourself into pneumonia and possibly
"I don't think they have consumption any more."
"It's come back specially for you."
"Dammit, Potter!" It was hard for Harry to feel defensive at Snape's
tone when Snape was letting him rest against his chest. "You're trying
to humanitarian yourself into a grave."
"That's not a verb." Why was it so hot? "And you're going blind for the
same reason. Um. Did I say that out loud too?"
Snape pulled him into a standing position. "You meant to." Harry felt
his winter robes wrapped about him, and mewled a protest noise at the
added heat. "I won't let you kill yourself doing it."
Harry grabbed the front of Snape's robes. "We're not so different, you
"I am ten thousand times more stubborn than you."
"Give me a few years." Cough.
Snape's face twisted. "You may not have them." He put an arm about
Harry's shoulder, picked up his walking stick. "Enough is enough,
Cough. "You can't tell me that unless you're going to live by it too. I
may not be that stubborn--" he was shivering now--"but I'm stubborn
A sigh. "You likely are. Fine. We'll talk. Later. If
you don't walk to that floo, it's Mobilicorpus for
There never won't be a lot to do. "Snape." Walking
felt odd, floaty, but he did, Snape supporting him. "It wasn't about
earning it anymore. The right to leave, I mean.
Wasn't for a long time."
"I know. "
"I helped, didn't I? I mattered."
"You're feverish and babbling."
"I need to know." Cough.
"You already do, you simpleton."
Simpleton. He might live after all.
From The Daily Prophet, February 20th, page 8--
...has not been seen in over one month's time. Potter, who has become
increasingly shy of the public eye since the defeat of
He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, choosing hands-on charity work over any
comfortable resting on celebrity laurels, had been fighting a lengthy
illness, though St. Mungo's is releasing no information for the present.
The concurrent disappearance of Mr. Severus Snape is not thought to be
coincidental to this, as he and Mr. Potter were known to work together
and he was also rumored to be in declining health. The Ministry for
Magic's Auror division released a statement that Mr. Snape was not
considered a fugitive at this time, as the terms of his parole had
recently been commuted after review...
"Why Barbados, again?"
Harry squinted through his sunglasses as he looked skyward and smiled.
"I liked the sound of the name."
Snape sipped at his tea, though how he could drink hot tea in the
midday sun like this was beyond Harry. "As good a reason as any."
"And it's warm. And they have cricket. And Quidditch."
"Ah. Of course."
Harry's drink was iced, and there was rum in it. Quite a bit of rum.
"You made me promise not to work myself into a grave. Only fair for you
to promise me the same thing."
Snape made a noncommittal noise.
"What color shirt am I wearing?" demanded Harry.
"As if I could fail to notice that bloody scarlet Quidditch jersey of
Harry grinned wider. "Told you it would improve. Just some rest and the
Another noise, this one more stubbornly dubious. "The healers also said
I'll likely never be much of a reader again."
"Well, they don't know everything, you know." Harry leant back in his
chair, thinking that that bit of hope might convince Snape to keep at
this rest thing after all, mightn't it.
He signalled the waiter. He was definitely having another of these.
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