Despoiling Harry

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The characters and the situations within these fanfiction stories are not my property. They are the property of J.K. Rowling, Warner Brothers, and others, and are used without permission; challenge to copyright is not intended and should not be construed. No profit is being made from the use of these characters and situations; these written-down imaginings are only presented in an internet forum for the interest of and consumption by the like-minded individuals who enjoy them and recognize them as unauthorized fanfiction only, and are not in any way meant to be confused with the originals NOR presented as authorized materials of these owners.

The (Happy) Half-Blood Prince
by Amanuensis

Pairing: Harry/Snape
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.




"Why Lisbon?"

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 name."

"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. " 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. Potter..."

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 silence.

"I think it a necessary part of your recovery that you visit this Professor Snape of yours, Harry."

The bitch.


"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 the bastard?"

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 little."

"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 parole."

"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 you will?"


"Be honest."


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 beforehand.

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 the opening.

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 about gorgons?

"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. Really."

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 secured.

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 long.

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 tripe.

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 satisfied?"

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 man.

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."

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 syllables.

"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 frightening, Potter?"

"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 Hermione's kitchen.

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 telly.

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 polite hello.

"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 was doing.

"I only thought--"

"You thought wrong. Leave it, Potter."

"Well, excuse me for trying to help." It came out bewildered, stung. A reflex.

"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 without defence.

He could not say sorry, and so he left without saying anything else at all.

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. Fairfax's benefit?"

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 me, Harry."

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 started.

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 hospitable gestures.

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 permission.

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 nearly.

"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 last time."

"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 help."

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 be better?"

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 him.

"You win," he said, trying not to make it sound heated. "I'm going."

He went.


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 again.


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, they did."

"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, will they?"

"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'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."

"You forgot 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."

"Oh, please."

"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 doing it."

The lacewings had appeared to meet with Snape's approval. "We'll start next week."

"We'll start now." He kept the patient tone. "The Bandridges are waiting for you to come today."

"Potter, I cannot."

"You can."

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 me."

"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 another smile.


"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 longer?"

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 alphabetically."

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 problem?"

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 yell back.

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. " 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...!"

"Get out."


"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 tell me?"

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 by comparison?

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 git!"

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 just can't.




"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 door."

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.

"Come. Up."

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 him again.

"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 want."

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 consumption, Potter."

"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 know."

"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, Potter."

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 enough."

A sigh. "You likely are. Fine. We'll talk. Later. If you don't walk to that floo, it's Mobilicorpus for you."

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 yours."

Harry grinned wider. "Told you it would improve. Just some rest and the right climate."

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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