Written for the Snarry Games 2007 for Team Wartime (Genres: Angst and Hurt/Comfort and Prompt: Hostile Territory. Many thanks to Meri, Regan V, and Femme for beta!
Forsaking All Others
by Beth H.
(c) May 21, 2007
"You guarantee the efficacy of this potion?"
"I do, my Lord," Severus said, inclining his head in acknowledgment. "I guarantee it."
He said nothing further, but all who stood silently in the room - each in service to the Dark Lord and familiar with what promises to Him entailed - heard the silent echo of the unspoken words: '...with my life.'
"Excellent," Voldemort said, his blood-red eyes flashing with something like satisfaction. He set the vial down on the counter, then turned to Rodolphus. "All is in readiness at the Ministry?"
Rodolphus nodded automatically (none amongst them was a great enough fool to do otherwise when asked a question by their Master), but Severus noted his eyes darting briefly to Voldemort's side, where Bellatrix stood.
"Of course, my Lord," said Rodolphus. "Two weeks - three at the outside - and then . . . ."
"Three weeks?" Lord Voldemort's voice was dangerously soft and low. He shook his head slowly, then lifted his hand and entangled his thin fingers in Bellatrix's hair. "I did so hope that by this point you might have helped your husband come to understand the urgency of our situation. Time," he said, twisting a strand of her hair tightly around his index finger, "is of the essence, as I'm sure you will agree."
Bellatrix tried to nod, but her head was held fast in Voldemort's grasp. Almost imperceptibly, the corner of Severus' mouth lifted up on one side - in times like these, one took one's pleasures where one could, however petty those pleasures might be - but Bellatrix had a sixth sense about such things, and Severus could see her glaring dangerously at him from beneath heavy-lidded eyes.
Across the table, Rodolphus cleared his throat as if he meant to intercede on his wife's behalf, but one sharp glance from her silenced him.
"A minor setback, my Lord," Bellatrix said calmly. "And nothing with which you need concern yourself."
"I sincerely hope," said Voldemort, his voice deceptively bland as he looked deeply into Bellatrix's eyes," that you have not taken it upon yourself to determine what I need to know and what should be kept from me. I would hate to discover at this late stage that my faith in your loyalty was misplaced."
"I have ever been your most loyal servant," Bellatrix said, an uncharacteristic note of fear underlying her words. "You know this to be true!"
"I have always believed it to be so," he said after a long moment had passed, then released his grasp on her hair.
"Thank you, my Lord." Bellatrix's expression showed nothing but relief. "Of course," she added, looking pointedly at Severus. "Our people would already be in place, if all here were so loyal."
The words had barely been spoken when all present followed Bellatrix's gaze, eager to ensure that the next victim of the Dark Lord's suspicions would be somebody other than themselves, and the tension Severus always kept bottled up, deep inside, suddenly began to seep out. The muscles in his back and neck, already knotted, became painfully tight, but he forced himself to shake his head and smile in his most patronizing fashion; like everyone who wore the Dark Mark, Severus knew only too well how capricious Lord Voldemort's moods could be.
"I do believe," he said coolly, with far more calm than he felt, "Rodolphus had been instructed to have our Master's men in place before the estimated completion date of the potion, precisely so that a delay like this wouldn't happen."
He couldn't help but feel a smug sense of satisfaction as Wormtail took a half step closer to him, positioning himself on what he clearly believed - at least for this moment - to be the winning side. Wormtail could not have known, as Severus did, that regardless of how quickly Rodolphus had acted to place the Dark Lord's spies within the upper reaches of the Ministry, it would never have been fast enough - not when Shacklebolt and certain other key figures within the MLE had been alerted a month earlier and were waiting for those with loyalties to Voldemort to tip their hands so they could be neutralized. But it was amusing nonetheless to see the rat abandon Bellatrix's sinking ship, even if only temporarily.
"And I believe," Bellatrix snarled, drawing her wand and pointing it at Severus' heart, "that regardless of how many potions you brew, you're a treacherous bastard and - - "
In the blink of an eye, Severus had his own wand in his hand, but before either he or Bellatrix could cast a spell, he found himself disarmed and frozen in place, something which hadn't happened to him since his Sixth Year. The humiliation was made only slightly more bearable when he realized that Voldemort had, apparently, bound everybody.
"You will not put my plans in jeopardy with your ridiculous posturing and puerile games of one-upsmanship," the Dark Lord said shrilly, addressing everyone in the room. "Not now when victory is so near. Not ever!" He moved towards the door, then - just when Severus started to suspect that they would all be left there, unable to move - Voldemort turned around.
"Henceforth," he hissed, "even the faintest hint that you believe your own insignificant desires to matter more than the tasks to which you've been assigned, and I shall personally see to it that you live to regret it - a time I promise will be very brief. If any of you have any objections to this plan, feel free to express them by ceasing to breathe. No? Good. Then I see we're all in agreement. Finite Incantatum!"
With that, Voldemort swept out of the room, Wormtail scurrying after him as fast as his legs could manage.
Severus shuddered, unaccountably disturbed by what had just happened. Over the past half dozen years, he - like all the Death Eaters who came into regular contact with Lord Voldemort - had drawn the Dark Lord's ire many times, suffering uncounted 'instructional' curses at His hand, including the Cruciatus, and yet none had shaken him as much as this insignificant . . . it was little more than a jinx, for God's sake and had lasted mere moments. However, this time alone, out of all the times he'd faced Voldemort's punishments in the past, Severus felt fear.
Perhaps it was because this time Severus had something to lose.
Furiously, he summoned his cloak, angered at how easily he'd let himself be distracted by something as ridiculous as the arrangement he had with the boy whilst among the vipers he was forced to treat as associates. Not one of them would pass up the opportunity to strike if he allowed even the slightest vulnerability to show.
"Going somewhere, my dear Severus?"
Despite the falsely honeyed tones, Bellatrix's voice grated, but at least it served the purpose of dragging him back to the present.
"In what possible way could that be any of your concern?" he asked. "My current task has been concluded, and I'm going out. Quite frankly, I wonder that you seem to be more interested in my personal affairs than in assisting your incompetent husband in his task."
"Personal affairs? Bellatrix said nastily. "You? Perhaps with some past-his-prime, disease-riddled whore in Knockturn Alley."
Severus knew he should respond in kind to disguise the bizarre fact that the reality of his all-too-infrequently indulged private life was anything but as she described it, but that would do nothing apart from delay his departure. Instead, he remained silent and started to put his notes away in the cabinet behind him.
"Ah," she said. "Have I hit a nerve? Are you actually off to buy some stranger's sexual services? Didn't Mummy ever tell you that was a dangerous game, Snape?"
For an instant, the room was suffused with an odd light, and. . . Severus spun around. That damned witch had just cast something, but the spell she'd cast - what was it?
"Ignoring our Master's warnings so soon?" he asked. Severus was almost certain the spell hadn't actually hit him, but his left arm had throbbed for a moment. He fastened his cloak and willed himself to sublimate his anger. "I wonder how He'll respond to hearing the news that one of his most trusted associates blatantly disregarded his directions less than half an hour after she was warned against playing this kind of asinine game."
"Feel free to carry what tales you wish," Bellatrix said, her voice and expression both uncomfortably steady as she walked towards him. "I'm sure that when our Lord is acquainted with the full facts, he will recognize I did nothing more than ensure that you would not elevate your 'insignificant desires' above loyalty to Him and to our Cause."
Severus narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but he could feel nothing amiss. "If anybody asks for me," he said. "I'll be back by nightfall."
"How lovely for us all," Bellatrix said, lifting her hand and letting the tips of her fingers rest briefly on his cheek. "Enjoy your pursuits."
"I shall," Severus said, shaking his head as he walked out the door. The time to set out on this afternoon's . . . appointment hadn't come a moment too soon. It had clearly been too long when even the touch of Bellatrix's hand was arousing.
Severus had many reasons to hate the house at Number 12, Grimmauld Place - not the least of which being the fact that it had once belonged to Sirius Black. There was only one reason to occasionally find it moderately acceptable, and that reason, Severus quickly discovered when he Apparated into the front hallway, didn't seem to be in attendance.
For a moment, he almost convinced himself that he should just return to his home and get some much needed sleep, but he couldn't force himself to leave regardless of how absurd he knew the whole situation to be.
It was never intended to mean anything. It had just been a quick fuck, and both of them had been drunk and angry and it was never going to happen again. But then there was a next time, unfueled by alcohol, although no less angry. And the time after that was slow and hard and good, and so were the times that followed. And Severus still had no bloody clue what it meant. The fact that he was spending all his rare free time at the Black House - a place he'd always loathed - and that the main attraction was Harry Potter, of all damned people, was almost beyond his comprehension.
Severus shook his head, then draped his cloak over the balustrade and went into the library to pour himself a drink.
Before five minutes passed, Severus had toed off his shoes. By the fifteen minute mark, he had unfastened the top three buttons of his robes and he was halfway through his second drink. A few minutes later, he . . . well, perhaps it would be best to just say he was resting his eyes and leave it at that.
He woke to find himself covered by a blanket.
Severus scrubbed his face with one hand, trying to wipe the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes, then sat up straight in the chair. Of necessity, he had trained himself to be a light sleeper over the years, but it was obvious that Harry had been able to enter a room which Severus had warded and settle a blanket over him, all without waking him.
Before Severus could say anything, Harry handed him a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits. Severus thought this ode to domesticity might be more disturbing than having been snuck up on unawares, but it didn't keep him from taking the tea and biscuits.
"So," Harry said, looking somewhere in the vicinity of Severus' feet. "Here we are again."
Severus rolled his eyes, then took a drink of tea and tried not to pay any particular attention to the way the neck of Harry's t-shirt - the one he'd been wearing the last time they were together - was still stretched out of shape, a reminder of how impatient Severus had been for Harry to start taking off his clothes . . .
"Severus?" Oh, yes. Once again, Harry was wearing too much clothing. "Is there anything the Order needs to know apart from the fact that you must have finished the potion since you wouldn't be here if you hadn't?"
Severus shook his head - slowly - then took another drink of tea before placing the cup on the table beside him and sitting back in the chair with his arms crossed over his chest.
"Well," Harry said, tilting his head to one side. "Are you going to say anything?"
Severus raised one eyebrow.
"No talking. Okay." A smile crept onto Harry's tired face. "I wonder what we can do instead?" It took a great deal of effort on Severus' part to keep himself from smiling in return and even more effort to keep seated and still as Harry walked towards him.
Rationally, Severus knew that there was no supporting evidence that humans even had pheromones, but he could almost swear that he was able to smell waves of something that smelled like sex emanating from Harry's body. He breathed in deeply, trying to take in as much of the seductive scent as possible. He couldn't stop himself from closing his eyes and leaning in, and when Harry touched him . . .
. . . a sudden wave of intense nausea came over him.
Severus bent his head over his knees and, eyes still closed, held his hand up, palm out, stopping Harry in his tracks.
"Are you all right?" Harry sounded worried, but Severus couldn't answer, not yet, not until he was sure he wasn't going to be sick. He took two slow breaths, and by the time the second exhalation had finished, the wave of nausea had passed.
Severus sat up straight again in his chair and took one more deep breath before drinking a sip of the tea and rinsing out his mouth.
"Are you okay, now?"
"I seem to be," Severus said with a slight frown. "Odd, how that sensation came out of nowhere."
Still wearing a look of concern, Harry nodded. "You haven't been ill recently, have you?" He placed his hand on Severus' forehead. "You don't seem to have a fever or . . . . "
Before Harry had a chance to finish his sentence, Severus drew back, the feeling of nausea having returned with more strength than before. Instinctively, he put his hand over his mouth, but there was no need. The feeling started to recede almost as quickly as it had come.
"Okay, you need to see a Healer."
"What do you propose I do?" Severus said with a sneer. "Stroll into St. Mungo's and schedule an appointment under the name of Mr. Death Eater?"
"Don't be an arse," said Harry. "I'll ask Madam Pomfrey to visit me here, and then . . . . "
"And then, as thanks for her help, you'll Obliviate her, as you'd have to do if you were to let her know we were in contact with each other? A bit callous, even for you, Potter."
Harry narrowed his eyes at Severus. "Calling me by my last name isn't going to work this time; we're not changing the subject."
"There is no subject," Severus said. "I'm feeling perfectly fine. Just a bit tired maybe."
For a moment, Harry just looked at him, then he nodded. "Okay. Why don't you go lie down in the bedroom and take a nap. I'll . . . catch up on my reading or something." Severus snorted, and Harry rolled his eyes. "I do know how to read, you git."
"Yes, of course you do," said Severus mockingly, as he walked out of the room.
When Severus woke, Harry - wearing nothing but Muggle boxers and a t-shirt - was sitting in a chair beside the bed, watching over him.
"Much. Although," Severus said, as he sat up in the bed, "there are a number of things you could do to aid in my full recovery."
"Oh, are there?" Harry said, batting his eyelashes in a ridiculous fashion he was probably foolish enough to think was endearing.
"Yes, and the first involves removing the rest of your clothing."
Harry looked down, then looked back at Severus. "Are you sure?" he asked with a grin. "Because I could - - "
"Strip immediately, Potter!"
Still grinning, Harry pulled the shirt over his head and tossed it on the floor, then stepped out of his shorts.
Severus took a deep breath. It was so ridiculous: Harry was short, he was pale, he was underweight . . . and he was magnificent, at least as far as Severus was concerned. Just the sight of his cock, already hard and jutting out from his body was enough to make Severus' own cock stiffen with arousal.
Harry's eyes darted down to take in Severus' erection, but he didn't move from his place.
"I'm glad to see you've begun to exercise some control," Severus said, reaching for the jar beside him on the bedside table. He removed the lid and dipped two fingers into the jar, coating them with the lubricating potion he'd prepared the last time he visited.
A flush suffused Harry's face as Severus reached between his own legs and started to spread the lubricant, although in truth, Severus needed little preparation. A Muggle dildo, charmed to resemble Harry's cock and used whenever Severus was being watched too closely to meet with Harry, had seen to that.
Harry's tongue darted out briefly between his lips, and Severus almost smiled. It appeared that they were both equally hungry for this.
Severus wiped his fingers off on his cock.
"Fuck me," he said to Harry, then turned and got on his hands and knees.
The edge of the bed dipped down as Harry prepared to follow Severus' instructions. For a moment, Harry didn't move, and Severus became incredibly aware, as he often did at this juncture, how very exposed he was, how vulnerable he had allowed himself to be to this one person, but just then the tip of Harry's cock pushed up against him, and . . .
. . . once again, he started to feel sick.
No, there was no way in hell that Severus was going to let a little indisposition interfere with something he'd been starved of for close to a fortnight.
"Do it, dammit," he gritted out between clenched teeth, and Harry grabbed onto his hips, but . . . nothing happened except that the feeling of nausea had intensified and it had started to feel as if insects were crawling beneath the skin where Harry was touching him.
"What are you waiting for?" Severus rasped.
"There's not . . . I can't seem to . . . "
"You can't seem to what, dammit?" He knew he sounded harsh and unforgiving and angry, but he was feeling sicker by the minute, and was it too much to ask that the damned brat just fuck him already? "Give me your cock!"
"There's nowhere for me to put it, Severus!" Harry said, sounding frustrated and almost frightened.
"What the bloody hell are you talking about? I seem to recall you were watching rather avidly when I was sticking my damned fingers up my own arse."
"I know, but now . . . ."
"Try again," he demanded.
Obedient as he'd never been in school, Harry put one hand on Severus' hip and the other around Severus' cock before . . . no, no, NO! Severus' body screamed, rejecting the touch of Harry's hand as if it were the invading force of an enemy. He reared up, pushed Harry away from him, and crawled as far away as he could go before vomiting over the edge of the bed.
For a moment, he could hear no sound except his own rasping breaths.
Harry cast the spells in a quiet voice, unaided by the wand he'd left back in the library, then he handed a blanket to Severus so he could cover himself. Severus grimaced slightly at the taste of the inside of his mouth, and in the next instant, Harry was waving his hand vaguely in the direction of the kitchen, summoning a glass of lemon-flavoured water for Severus to drink.
"Well," Severus said flatly, once the glass was empty. "There appears to be a problem."
Harry nodded in agreement. "Do you think we've been cursed somehow?"
"No. Or rather, it's unlikely that we have been cursed. You, I take it, haven't been experiencing a feeling of revulsion in response to contact with me?"
"Not since I was your student," Harry said, with a forced smile.
Severus shook his head. Why Gryffindors thought it was so damned important to try to 'lighten the mood,' no matter how bad the circumstances were, was beyond him. And this was bad; there was no doubt in his mind. The last time anybody had even come close to cursing him was when Harry tried to cast Sectumsempra at him on . . . that night. For somebody to have actually succeeded in hitting him with a curse and for him to not have even been aware of it at the time almost beggared belief.
Unless . . . it wasn't exactly a curse.
Harry looked over at him and frowned. "Bellatrix Lestrange cursed you?"
"No," Severus said, tapping his fingers on the bed. "But she cast a spell earlier this afternoon which I think affected my Mark."
"Wait a minute . . . if you thought she did something like that, why didn't you do something about it then? Why didn't you say anything to me earlier?"
"It seemed insignificant at the time," Severus said.
Harry raised one eyebrow. "You mean you were too distracted thinking about cock?"
Severus wasn't even going to dignify that with a response.
"Okay, look," Harry said, after it became clear Severus wasn't going to say anything. "What if this is a way to get at me?"
Severus snorted. "I can't imagine even Bellatrix believes vomit to be a particularly effective weapon to use against the Boy Who Lived."
"Arse." Harry picked up one of the pillows and smacked it against Severus' arm. "Take this seriously. Even I know there are spells that require a third party as a conduit. Maybe this is one of those spells."
"Don't be an idiot. Even the people you spend time with haven't a clue about our arrangement."
"Arrangement?" Harry said, frowning slightly. "Are you telling me that's all you think this . . . thing between us is?"
Severus held one of the pillows against his chest and looked somewhere in the distance beyond Harry's shoulder. "What would you call it?" he said quietly.
"I'd call it - I do call it - a relationship, at the very least."
"Ah," Severus said flatly, unwilling to respond further, unwilling to even continue thinking about what Harry had just said.
Of course, having made that decision, he immediately found himself unable to think about anything except Harry's words. Up until that moment, Severus would have scorned the thought that the two of them were involved in a relationship. The very idea was laughable. However, now that the thought had been voiced, it was impossible to stop thinking about it, in much the same way that it was impossible to stop being able to see thestrals once one had seen them for the first time.
"Setting aside your semantic concerns," Severus said finally, "Bellatrix knows nothing of our . . . of this. The more pertinent detail, unfortunately, is that she touched me and I experienced none of the revulsion that came over me just now."
"She touched you?" Harry asked, his eyes narrowing dangerously. "Any particular reason?"
Severus frowned. What an odd question, particularly as it had been asked as though Harry thought he had some right to demand an answer. Was it possible that Harry was actually jealous? The thought was so ludicrous that he almost laughed out loud, but . . . the two of them had been spending a great deal of time together - over the past year especially. He supposed it was just possible that some combination of possessiveness and misplaced affection had developed . . . in Harry, of course.
"I can only assume she touched me to test the results of whatever spell she cast."
"Oh." The stiff set of Harry's shoulders relaxed a bit. "Okay, what if Bellatrix bound you to her somehow? Are there aphrodisiac spells, or is it just potions that - - "
How was it possible that the damned boy still had the unerring ability to put into words whatever it was that Severus was trying his hardest not to think about?
"I'm afraid you're going to have to continue with your pointless conjectures on your own," he snapped, refusing to meet Harry's gaze. "I need to get back before somebody starts to ask questions."
Harry sat on the edge of the bed, watching silently as Severus finished dressing and looking extremely unhappy, and for a moment, Severus almost decided to risk the feeling of revulsion one last time in order to kiss Harry goodbye. However, in the end, he simply nodded and departed as quickly as possible.
If the atmosphere surrounding Voldemort had been uncomfortable before, at least Severus had been able to use his ongoing project to justify working alone in his laboratory. However, now that he had finished the potion, he had no real excuse to absent himself for hours on end from the company of the Dark Lord or any of his closest associates, and that brought its own set of problems, chief amongst which was the uncharacteristic behaviour of Bellatrix Lestrange.
For some reason, Bellatrix had become an omnipresent, unshakable force over the past few weeks, regardless of how much Severus tried to avoid her. Even back in their school days, their interactions had been characterized mainly by verbal sparring, and Severus was far too adept at the art to be discomfited by her recent barrage of insults and insinuations. However, the real difficulty for him was dealing with Bellatrix's almost constant physical presence. Rarely did an hour go by without Bellatrix drawing close to touch him or caress him or, even more inexplicably, kiss him. While Severus despised Bellatrix, he couldn't seem to keep himself from responding physically to her despite his strong desire not to.
Even more problematic, in light of the fact that he and Harry couldn't seem to touch each other, was that Bellatrix's unwelcome advances seemed to be providing the impetus for the others to behave in much the same way, both with him and with each other. Even Wormtail (whom Severus had always found loathsome) was absent-mindedly patting and stroking Severus at every opportunity, and for some odd reason, Severus was finding it more and more difficult to reject the rat's advances.
As Severus' sexual frustration grew, so too did his conviction that whatever had occurred that day between him and Harry had been nothing more than a particularly uncomfortable aberration. After all, they hadn't attempted anything of a physical nature in many days. Surely by now whatever magic had been affecting them had long since faded away.
When he next visited Grimmauld Place, however, that conviction proved to have been nothing more than uncharacteristic optimism, as Severus was made painfully aware during the ten minutes he spent retching in the back garden after merely greeting Harry with a slightly wary, but hopeful embrace.
When the nausea had finally receded and Severus no longer felt like scraping the skin off his arms, he went back inside. He was grateful for the cup of hot chamomile tea placed in his hands as soon as he walked in the door, but less than grateful to see Remus Lupin's threadbare cloak hanging over the back of one of the kitchen chairs.
"What the hell is he doing here?" Severus hissed, glaring angrily at the empty chair as if Lupin were sitting in it.
"I asked him to come," Harry said diffidently.
"I asked him here," said Harry, a bit more forcefully this time. "We can't do this alone, and . . . ."
"Are you mad?" Severus could feel himself getting more irate by the second. "Have you somehow forgotten that I am the Order's only link to the enemy camp? Have you taken leave of your senses?"
"Severus . . . ."
"Even if I had been willing to risk my freedom by broadcasting my whereabouts to all and sundry, Lupin would be the absolute last person I would have taken into my confidence, and for you to have done this without even telling me is . . . ."
"I trust him, Severus. I trust Remus."
"And you don't trust me?"
"Of course I do!" Harry stretched his arm out automatically, no doubt intending to reassure Severus of the truth of his words with a touch, but he drew it back almost immediately, as if he'd remembered at the last moment that touching Severus would be the worst thing he could do.
"Then trust me when I say this goes beyond idiotic. How could you be so foolish as to have brought somebody into this house when I was present? I may be a Death Eater, but that doesn't mean I have a death wish."
Harry frowned, then his eyes widened. "You can't honestly tell me you believe Remus is dangerous to you?"
"Oh, I think I'm more than qualified to judge just how dangerous the werewolf is," Severus spat, after noting Lupin's silent presence in the shadowed hallway, just outside the door.
"We need his help."
Lupin cleared his throat and took one step into the kitchen. "Er . . . Harry, maybe I should come back a little later, after you've had a chance to talk to Severus."
"No," Harry said, shaking his head emphatically. "You're one of the best researchers in the Dark Arts I know, and . . . this is important to me, Remus."
"I know, but . . . ."
Ignoring Lupin entirely, Severus glowered at Harry. "You believe that creature's knowledge of spells - of the Dark or Light variety - is greater than mine?"
Lupin took a deep breath, as if he were going to answer, then shook his head and crossed the room to pour himself a cup of tea.
"In case you've forgotten," Harry said quietly, "he has time to actually do the research, which you don't."
"If it's just research skills you're after, I'm surprised you didn't enlist your little bushy haired sycophant's assistance," Severus said with a sneer. "I thought she lived for research."
"First of all, Hermione is my friend, not my sycophant," said Harry. "However, she has a job that she needs to devote her time to, while Remus doesn't, and, more importantly, he knows the library here better than anybody else."
"I'm sure Granger has complete access to the library at Hogwarts."
"Of course, but if she spends all her free time on a private research project, people are going to notice, including Madam Pince and Minerva. It won't be long before they start asking questions, which, Hermione being Hermione, she would probably end up answering. How many people do you want to know about this . . . or about us?"
Severus snorted, then muttered, "I didn't want Lupin to know about us!"
"You can trust me, Severus. You know that," said Lupin, leaning in towards Severus.
"Did I invite you to participate in this conversation," Severus asked angrily, as he pushed Lupin away. "In any case, I know nothing of the kind. You almost . . . . "
"I swear to God," Lupin said, slamming his hand down on the table. "If the words 'you almost killed me' pass your lips one more time, I'm going to hex your bollocks off! That was twenty-five bloody years ago, and I wasn't human at the time. Are you a secret participant in some international competition to see who can hold a grudge longest, because . . . ."
"Oh, shut up," Severus muttered, slouching down in his seat.
"Um . . . Severus?" Harry said quietly. "How are you feeling?"
"Perfectly fine," he snapped. "Although why you've chosen this moment to . . . ."
"No, I know, only . . . you just pushed Remus, but you're not feeling sick, are you?"
Severus looked over at Lupin and frowned. "No. I'm not." He turned back to Harry and saw the young man's face fall. "What is it?"
"You were wrong," Harry said glumly. "Bellatrix must know about us. It's the only explanation for why you're only reacting so badly to my touch."
"Not necessarily, Harry," Lupin said as he got up from his chair. "With your permission, Severus, I'd like to try something."
"Your little experiment isn't going to involve marking your territory anywhere near my person, is it?" Severus said, studiously ignoring the way Harry frowned at his jibe. If he was waiting for Severus to change his behaviour just because he'd somehow found himself in . . . a relationship, well . . . he was in for a damned long wait.
Lupin's only response was one of those patronizing smiles he'd been perfecting since boyhood, followed by an even more condescending pat on Severus' shoulder.
Almost instantly, Severus was doubled over in pain and coughing up all the tea he'd had to drink when he'd returned from the back garden.
"Sorry about that," said Lupin, sounding not the slightest bit sorry. "But I think that should make it fairly obvious that it's not just Harry to whom you're reacting so badly, which may actually be good news."
"It proves nothing," said Severus, spitting out bile and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "You've always revolted me."
Lupin shook his head, then threw a dish towel at Severus so that he could finish drying his face.
"The point, Severus," he said, "is that you had no negative response when you pushed me away earlier because your intentions . . . well, let's just say they weren't exactly friendly. However, when I touched you just now, you were bearing no particular ill will toward me - -"
"That's what you think," muttered Severus.
"- - and I suspect that something about the difference between those two responses is going to be significant."
Severus looked from one man to the other. Both Lupin and Harry had tiny smiles on their faces, and Severus wasn't at all certain whether that was annoying or reassuring. Eventually, he settled on the former, as it was the most familiar reaction he could dredge up.
"So . . . what's the plan now?" asked Harry, who had moved as close as he could to Severus without touching him.
"I have no idea what your plan is," said Severus brusquely, drawing back from Harry and the suggestion of intimacy between them. Lupin had been told something about his interactions with Harry, but that didn't mean Severus was comfortable letting him be privy to any public displays of affection. In fact, simply talking to Harry in front of Lupin was making Severus feel extremely ill at ease. "But since I prefer not to spend the rest of the day on my knees in the dirt, re-encounterng my breakfast, I think I'll take my leave."
"Oh." Harry looked unhappy with this turn of events, but he stepped back and let Severus pass in front of him. "Okay, well . . . I guess I'll be spending today helping Remus with his research then."
Severus snorted. "Oh, well in that case, I expect the two of you will have the counter-spell by tea time."
"You know," Lupin said, "this isn't quite as hopeless as you might be thinking. After all, Bellatrix spent most of her childhood in this house. It's quite possible that whatever spell she used was something she came across in this very library."
"We'll find it, Severus," said Harry confidently. "I promise you we'll find it."
Over the years, Severus had learned to his cost just how rarely promises were kept and how useless wishful thinking was. The small glimmer of hope that sparked to life at the sound of their words was banished before Severus even reached the front door.
It was seventeen days before Severus was finally able to return to Grimmauld Place. When he walked in the door, Lupin was nowhere in attendance, but Harry was sitting in the kitchen, with a very old, very large book spread open on the table. Severus sat beside him in an empty chair, and Harry immediately slid the book over so that Severus could take a look.
"It's a sex-based variant of a standard loyalty spell," Harry said, before even giving Severus a chance to skim the words on the page. "And it only works on people who have willingly given their pledge to someone else."
Looking quickly over the old spell, Severus frowned. "I made no pledges to Bellatrix Lestrange."
Harry just shook his head. "Of course not, but apparently the vow every Death Eater made to Voldemort makes you all, well . . . common property, I suppose you could call it, at least for the purposes of this spell." Harry waited for a moment to see how Severus was going to respond to being called property, then continued. "The original intent of the spell was to reinforce the binding power of a loyalty oath by adding a relatively weak sexual compulsion component, but according to Remus, the wording allowed for a loophole, which is why it's never really been in common use."
"And the nature of this loophole?"
"As far as the spell goes, everybody wearing a single individual's Mark falls into the same category, so having sexual contact with anyone who wears the same Mark is treated kind of like . . . well, wanking. Like you're doing it to yourself, you know?"
"Yes," Severus gritted out between clenched teeth. "I am very familiar with the definition of wanking. In fact, I'm growing more familiar with the concept each day."
"Yeah, so . . . anyway," Harry said quickly. "You and I already know that the spell is making your body reject anybody who isn't wearing the Mark - keeping hostile forces at bay, that sort of thing . . . ."
"In other words," Severus said slowly. "Your body is enemy territory as far as my body is concerned and vice versa?"
"Well, then, I can't see why this should be a problem for me," Severus said angrily, slamming the book shut and pushing it away from him. "After all, it appears that I can still fuck any Death Eater I want, isn't that right?"
Harry muttered something in response and received a glare for his efforts.
"What did you say?"
"I agreed with you," Harry said, looking down at his fingernails.
"What else did you say?" Severus asked in his most practiced growl.
"Look, I'm going to apologize for having been a smart arse before I say anything more." Harry took a deep breath. "I said that you could always fuck Voldemort."
At any other time, such an asinine comment would probably have sparked a fight, but Severus didn't have the energy to fight with Harry, of all people. The image Harry had put in his mind, however, wasn't so easily put aside, and Severus shuddered.
"As luck would have it, it appears that over the years, the Dark Lord has become . . . less than interested in sexual relations, shall we say."
"Luck and certain potions, given to him on a regular basis."
Harry smiled. "How convenient. So, okay...what ideas do you have about how we're going to fix this?"
"I have none," Severus said tiredly. "There's absolutely nothing we can do, as Dark Marks don't come off. In any case, I'm certain that even if your analytical skills where spell theory is concerned is lacking, Lupin must have let you know that since Bellatrix cast this spell on her own Mark, the only way the spell could possibly be reversed would be if she were to willingly cast the counter-spell on herself. And that's assuming we could come up with a counter-spell in the first place."
"No," Harry said, getting up and starting to pace back and forth the length of the kitchen. "This can't be the end of it, Severus."
"I've lived the greater part of my life without being touched in any meaningful way, and I'm sure I can go back to that again."
"Other Death Eaters . . . ."
"Who are you suggesting I fuck, Harry? Perhaps Crabbe and Goyle would like new careers as my love slaves."
"No! I'm not suggesting you fuck them, dammit! It's just . . . ."
"I don't know, all right?" Harry slammed his fist into the wall in frustration. "Oh, bloody hell!," he said, curling up around his right hand. "That fucking hurt."
Severus closed his eyes, then took a deep breath and opened them again. "Show me your hand."
Harry's hand was bruised and bloody, with two fingers bent at an alarming angle. Severus wanted . . . no, it didn't matter what he wanted. Keeping back a step further than he would have liked, he took out his wand and cast a simple bone-knitting spell on Harry's hand, then summoned the healing lotion Molly had always kept sitting beside the range.
"Use this once now and once before you go to sleep tonight," Severus said flatly, placing the bottle in Harry's hand. "If there's any blistering . . . call Poppy."
"You're not leaving already, are you?" Harry said, his brow wrinkling in confusion. "You just got here."
"There's little reason for me to stay, things being what they are," Severus said, feeling the oddest sensation come over him - something almost like pain.
Severus turned away, hoping it was fast enough to keep Harry from recognizing just how much he had wanted to touch him.
For the following month, Severus only communicated with Harry by specially encoded messages, the transmission of which had been made possible thanks to an innovation Lupin had been developing in floo networking that didn't require a fire. Much though it went against the grain for Severus to be grateful to Lupin for anything, he was forced to be in this case, since at the moment, he didn't think he could have summoned a Patronus for all the Galleons in Gringotts.
The messages going back and forth between the two men were all Order business. There was nothing of any personal natural, at least not from Severus' end.
Harry had, for the first week at least, attempted to engage Severus in a discussion about the situation they found themselves in (something which Severus might have found amusing in other circumstances, given the boy's natural disinclination to verbalize his own feelings), but the single concession Severus made to their past closeness was the continued use of his own first name at the close of each note. It was a simple case of logic. Given the increasingly intense arousal he felt whenever Bellatrix and her fellow Death Eaters were in proximity, any real level of intimacy with Harry - even just in writing - would only serve to make Severus even more resentful about wanting what he could never have than he already was. Best just to start as he meant to go on.
In any case, the tensions in Voldemort's camp were currently running so high that even if no spell had ever been cast, Severus wouldn't have had the luxury of paying attention to his private desires, not now when all of Voldemort's carefully planned machinations should have been bearing fruit at last, but were, instead, failing spectacularly.
The last straw was the complete and utter collapse of all the plans the Dark Lord had been making over the past year to seize control of the Ministry, resulting in the capture of thirty of his most trusted supporters. The true blame for this failure, of course, rested almost entirely with Severus, but regardless of Voldemort's mistrust of even his closest allies, Severus found himself in the peculiar position, somehow, of being above suspicion.
Rodolphus - who had been set the task of overseeing the mission from the very start - wasn't quite so lucky. After the Cruciatus had been cast for the third time, Bellatrix - due to what could only have been a fit of sheer stupidity (and perhaps some misguided notion that she had more influence over Voldemort than she did) - attempted to intervene.
The Dark Lord's response was swift.
A flash of green light shot out of his wand, and before her eyes had even enough time to widen with surprise, Bellatrix Lestrange lay dead on the floor.
In the wake of the Killing Curse, all who remained in the room stood silently, not daring to take a breath. Even Rodolphus was frozen in place, staring down blankly at the lifeless corpse of his wife.
"Perhaps it had not been made clear," Voldemort said, his usually shrill voice sounding, for once, low and dangerous, "that nobody is so valuable that they cannot be eliminated. I trust it is understood now?" Upon receiving the silent assent of everyone in the room, the Dark Lord turned to leave.
"Wormtail," he said, just before stepping through the open door. "Tell Nagini she shall feed well tonight."
It was the following morning before it finally occurred to Severus that the spell Bellatrix had cast could now never be lifted.
Just walking into Grimmauld Place - the site where Severus had almost been happy for a time - had become so painful by this point that he'd sworn never to revisit it. Once upon a time, there was no question but that when Severus made a promise to himself, he'd keep it. However, that was long before he'd lost every last vestige of his ability to say 'no' to Harry.
To be fair, the message he'd received earlier that afternoon had sounded quite urgent, and even though Severus had been up nearly thirty hours straight brewing potions, he arrived at Number 12 even earlier than the note had asked him to do. That the extra time allowed him to pour himself a more than generous measure of eighteen-year-old Macallan was purely coincidental.
By the time he had downed his third glass of whisky, the exhaustion he'd been feeling for the past week finally overwhelmed him, and he slipped off into sleep.
When he woke, the lights in the library had been dimmed, and Harry was kneeling at his feet, chanting something, the words of which Severus couldn't quite make out.
He wiped a hand over his face, then blinked, unable to make sense of the sight before him. Harry was wrapped almost completely with a long, green silk ribbon, knotted at regular intervals with familiar looking objects - an amethyst ring which had once belonged to Severus' mother, a quill made from one of Fawkes' tail feathers, a watch of the kind Muggle fathers often pass down to their sons, but one which had been given to Severus by Albus on the day he started teaching - all items Severus had once loved but which he had been forced to leave behind at Hogwarts on that most horrible of nights three years earlier.
"What's going on, Harry?" he asked, his voice still rough with sleep. "What are you doing?"
Harry didn't answer, just continued to chant his tuneless song, and when Severus tried to stand, Harry raised his hand. He used neither a wand, nor a word, but Severus was unable to rise from the chair. The chanting continued, and then a blinding flash of white light burst between the two of them, which knocked Harry back on his arse.
"Whoa," Harry said breathlessly, blinking a few times. "That was . . . oh, fuck. I wasn't expecting it to be quite like that."
What had he done? Severus narrowed his eyes. "Tell me what just happened."
"I will." Harry was still breathing heavily, and he looked a little stunned. "Just . . . give me a second, okay?" Severus watched Harry slide one hand under his t-shirt and pat his chest under the thin cotton.
"Are you all right?" Severus asked, his annoyance over Harry having temporarily restrained him without first asking permission taking second place to his concern for Harry's well being.
"Oh yeah," Harry said with a grin, then he slipped his hand back out from under the shirt and crawled back across the faded Persian carpet to a spot at Severus' feet.
"Just sit back and relax," Harry said, still smiling in the most ridiculous manner. "I have a surprise for you."
Severus had never been accused of being the most biddable of wizards, but whether he was still slightly shell-shocked from the odd blast of light or whether the three large glasses of whisky he'd recently drunk was the cause, he did as Harry had asked. He sat back in the chair and breathed deeply as Harry slid his hands up Severus' too-pale legs, over his knees and along his thighs, pushing the black robes up as they went, and Severus was achingly hard long before he even noticed that, for the first time in months, Harry actually had his hands all over him - and Severus felt anything but revulsion.
He looked up in surprise to find Harry's gaze fixed on Severus' face, Harry's green eyes twinkling in an oddly familiar fashion. Then Harry looked down toward Severus' straining erection, and he licked his lips.
Harry's hands rested on Severus' thighs, his thumbs drawing small invisible circles on the pale skin. Slowly, he turned one hand over, and brushed his knuckles lightly against Severus' bollocks, until Severus slid lower in the chair, pushing slowly against the back of Harry's hand, trying to ease the tickle of Harry's too-light touch.
When Harry's hand pulled away altogether, Severus heard a low, needy groan that sounded like somebody begging, and by the time he admitted to himself that he'd been the source of that sound, Harry had taken the base of his prick in hand and wrapped his lips around the head and . . . oh fuck, yes, it had definitely been too long since that mouth had done this.
Breathing heavily, he slid down even lower and spread his knees apart, as wide as the arms of the chair allowed. Paying no attention to the fact that he was still wearing his boots, he wrapped his legs around Harry's back and pulled him closer, and Severus could see the corner of Harry's mouth turn up in a grin, even as he licked the length of Severus' arousal. Then Harry took the head in his mouth - once again, just the tip - but this time, Severus wanted more, needed more, and he rested his hand briefly on the top of Harry's head, before sliding it to the back and pulling Harry toward him, and Harry resisted, just long enough to let Severus know that he did this because he wanted to, not because he was being forced, and it was so hot and tight and wet and the pressure was so good, that in an embarrassingly short amount of time, Severus arched up off the chair, coming hard and fast in Harry's perfect mouth.
"How . . . ?" No, it was impossible. There were questions he had to ask, but they were going to have to wait until he wasn't gasping for breath.
Harry grinned. "Were you planning on asking how I was able to touch you?"
Still breathing heavily, Severus just nodded, and Harry smiled cryptically.
"Oh, I've learned a few things over the years," he said. "I've actually become quite a brilliant researcher in my spare time." Severus raised one eyebrow, and Harry laughed. "You're not buying that, are you?"
"Not entirely," said Severus, suddenly struck by the fact that Harry wasn't getting indignant or frustrated or a combination of both, as he usually did whenever anybody intimated that what he was saying wasn't completely true.
"Okay, so maybe Remus helped a little."
"How much?" Severus asked, attempting to close his mind against the thought of Remus Bloody Lupin having had a hand to play in anything involving him and oral gratification.
"Well," Harry said, crinkling his brow, his expression serious all of a sudden. "He did explain all the big words in the books to me."
Before Severus could even roll his eyes, Harry burst out laughing (he had never been terribly good at masking his feelings), and Severus, well . . . after the briefest of moments, he couldn't seem to keep himself from laughing either, not because what Harry had said was so damned amusing, but because of the raw relief he felt from being able to touch Harry again.
He cupped Harry's face in his hands, teasing at Harry's earlobes with the tips of his index fingers. Harry closed his eyes, the smile still on his face, then turned his head to one side and kissed the palm of Severus' right hand and then the palm of his left.
Severus closed his own eyes and took one long slow breath.
"Harry," he said after a moment. "Come into the bedroom."
He pushed himself up from the chair, then extended a hand to the still-kneeling man and pulled him up into an embrace. It had been so long since he'd been able to feel the warmth of this body against his own. So very long that he'd started to believe he would never again be able to touch him.
To love him.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world for the two of them to Apparate into the bedroom, to banish their clothes with a flick of a wand (or a wave of a hand, in Harry's case), but even though they had been kept apart for so long a time, there was something almost delicious in the small delays at each stage of their coming together.
They walked up the stairs silently, Harry's hand in Severus', then casting Incendio just once - sufficient to light a single candle - Severus undressed and crawled up onto the bed.
"It's been a while, Severus," said Harry, hesitantly. "Maybe a little preparation . . . "
"Believe me when I tell you," Severus answered, his voice low enough to be a growl, "that the only way I could be more prepared is if I had spent every night for the past four months with an exact replica of your cock up my arse, trying to convince myself that you were attached to it. Which, oddly enough, turns out to be exactly what I did spend the past four months doing."
Harry snickered behind him, and Severus turned his head around to face him, raising a single eyebrow.
"Don't tell me you need more of an invitation than that," he said.
"And if I did?" Harry said, laughing.
"Then I'd kindly invite you to get into this bed and stick your damned cock into my arse, you defiant young whelp."
Severus turned away again, a small smile, unseen by Harry, on his face. He closed his eyes and listened as, one by one, each item of clothing Harry wore was dropped onto the floor: his robe, his shoes, the soft fall of his socks and shirt, his trousers. Severus smiled again at not hearing the fall of underpants.
He felt the bed bounce slightly as Harry crawled across to join him, and a moment later Severus felt the press of cold, trembling hands on his hips.
"It's going to be fine, Harry."
"I know," Harry said nervously. "It's just . . . it's been a long time for me, too."
Severus shook his head, his long hair hanging down the sides of his face. "Tsk, tsk . . . imagine how your many fans would feel to hear that the Boy Who Lived to Fuck was suffering from . . . what is it they call it nowadays? Performance anxiety? Ah well, if you find yourself unable to - -"
His sentence was left incomplete. Severus grunted slightly as Harry tightened his grasp and pushed against Severus.
"Oh, I don't think that I'm going to have any trouble performing," Harry said, all trace of nerves gone from his voice. "Do you?"
Severus pushed backwards against Harry, feeling the long, hard length of Harry's erect cock. "Perhaps not," he said with a smile, then grunted again as Harry stuck his fingers up Severus' arse, just long enough to make sure that he really was ready to be fucked. As soon as he removed them, he pressed in with his cock, hard and fast and it had been a damned long time, almost too long, Severus thought, feeling the burn as Harry slid his cock deep inside him, but the almost-pain became pleasure and Severus remembered why no Muggle toy, even a transfigured one, could ever feel like this.
"Okay?" Harry asked, his breath shallow and quick as he thrust forward, then drew back again. He wrapped one long arm around Severus' rib cage. "Are you . . . oh, fuck . . . okay?"
Grunting his acknowledgment, Severus pushed backward over and over again, trying to stay in synch with Harry, and he could feel the slap of Harry's balls against his arse and the way Harry's cock was filling him and the press of Harry's hand against his chest, and he closed his eyes and came for the second time that night as Harry's orgasm pulsed through the two of them.
"Christ," Harry groaned. He dropped a kiss on Severus' spine, then Severus' knees buckled, and he and Harry collapsed on the bed, Severus on his stomach and Harry lying on his back, his knees bent, one arm thrown over his chest, and the other arm resting on the curve of Severus' arse.
Unable to stop himself, Severus sighed contentedly, then slid out from under Harry's hand and propped himself up with his elbow.
"That," he said, exhausted and sated and actually happy for the first time in months. "was rather wonderful."
"I'm glad you liked it," Harry said sounding altogether too smug for his own good, as he rolled over to face Severus. "I think I kind of liked it myself."
Severus looked down at the sweaty, naked, beautiful man beside him. . . and frowned. There, on Harry's chest, just to the left of his sternum, was a small tattoo of a lion encircled by a serpent.
For a moment, all Severus could do was look in horror at the still-raw mark on Harry's chest.
"What have you done?"
Harry sat up in the bed, facing Severus. "Okay, look . . . I know I didn't discuss this with you before I did it, but really, it's not the end of the world."
"You bound yourself to me? What in the name of God were you thinking? You can't bind yourself to somebody and . . . ."
"Too late," Harry said, his tone an odd combination of certainty and anxiety. "It's already over-ridden the sexual binding of the spell Bellatrix cast."
Severus shook his head. "It couldn't have done unless you'd cast the same spell on yourself that Bellatrix cast."
When Harry bit his lip and looked away, Severus slammed his hand against the headboard. "You can't be bloody serious! And you expect me to believe that Lupin helped you in this idiotic venture?"
"Of course not!" Harry said quickly. "Well, not really. Remus helped sort of . . . inadvertently with the theory behind it when we found another spell that he said would have kept you out of Bellatrix's hands. Before she . . . well, you know."
"Before the Dark Lord killed her, which is exactly what he's going to do to me as soon as he learns of this."
Harry shook his head and reached out to take Severus' hand in his. Severus wanted to push Harry back, but being able to touch him again after so long apart still felt too damned good.
"He's not going to find out," Harry said. "The Mark I'm wearing is totally distinct from his Mark."
How could he be so damned casual about this? Severus squeezed the bridge of his nose. "What was the other spell?"
"It was . . . well, let's put it this way: the whole question of sex wouldn't have been a problem anymore, one way or another."
Severus narrowed his eyes at Harry, then realization dawned. "You were going to let Remus Lupin cast a Eunuch spell on me?"
"He told me it would only be temporary."
"It's never temporary. Even Remus Bloody Lupin knows that."
"Yeah," Harry said sheepishly. "I finally figured that out. Anyway, Remus said he wouldn't have really let me cast it. That it was just a joke. But now we can be together again, right?"
In any other circumstances, Severus' natural impulse would have been to rage against the stupidity of trusting in the word of a Marauder, but quite apart from the fact that he knew it would be impossible for him to keep from invoking the name of Harry's father once he was in full flight (something he'd finally learned, thanks to enlightened self interest, not to do), the greater implications of the combination of spells Harry had cast couldn't be budged from the forefront of his thoughts.
"You are completely mad. You can't do something like this just so . . . what? So that you and I can fuck until the day comes that I finally get killed in the crossfire?"
"Clearly, I was hoping that wouldn't happen."
"Then you're absolutely delusional. Don't you understand that there was never going to be a chance in hell that I'd survive this war? You had to have known that from the start of this ill-advised venture," Severus screamed in frustration. "There is nobody else who wears this Mark - nobody else who ever will - which means you are going to be alone, as I have been alone, for the rest of your life. Don't you understand that, you stupid boy? Is that what you want?"
Harry held onto Severus' arm, tightly. "No, I don't want to be alone."
"Then why would you do something like this?"
"Because even more than not wanting to be alone, I don't want you to be alone."
Severus pulled his arm out of Harry's grasp and shook his head. "You're a fool. If I die, you will never be able to touch another person."
"Then we're going to have to see to it that you survive."
"Harry . . . ."
"It took me a long time to make this decision, Severus," said Harry with more conviction in his voice than Severus had ever heard in his life. "I'm not interested in living without you, and I'm not prepared to die, so I guess that means that you and I are both going to have to survive."
With a shuddering breath, Severus took Harry into his arms. "You're an idiot, you know that, don't you?" he murmured into Harry's tousled hair.
"Probably, but as of ninety minutes ago, I'm your idiot . . . and I'm planning on staying your idiot for a very long time."
What Harry believes cannot be right, Severus thinks, as he holds his lover in a tight embrace. All he has done is given the Dark Lord another weapon to use against them.
Yet in a very small, very secret part of him, he cannot help but hope.
Skin to skin, chest to chest, Severus can feel Harry's heart beat, strong and sure, under the Mark.
Comments, critiques, chit chat: bethbethbeth [at] gmail
Back to Harry Potter fiction
Back to the main page