Author: corvus_coronis (aka Electromoon)
Team: Team Post-War
Theme: Horror & Hurt/Comfort
Prompt: Time Bomb
Rating: NC 17
Warnings: See Snarry Games Post for warnings.
Word Count: 12,200 +/-
Disclaimer: Characters and setting belong to JK Rowling. No profit or harm intended from using them in this fanfiction.
Notes: Written for the fic round of the 2007 snarry_games. I made some alterations to the big Harry-Voldemort showdown flashback scene after seeing the US cover for Deathly Hallows (where they both appear to be wandless), & in a way I think it may have helped the rest of the plot. An amphisbaena is a serpent with two heads, one at each end of its body.
Betas: morganlefay1958, rakina & snakeling. Much gratitude to all of you.
Summary: Snape returns to Harry,
needing help with an old war wound.
Prologue - St. Mungo’s, 2017
A barn owl darted her way along the lifts, stairwells and corridors of St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, swerving to dodge a mediwitch levitating a bloodied, cloth-covered basket of what looked like human limbs. Eventually she found the right room, and so darted in through an owl-flap in the office wall. Inside, a wizard – who had been deep in thought - took his fingers out of his black hair and put down an old book he had been reading, before going over to receive his message.
“What is it this time?” he muttered to himself, as he skimmed the parchment she’d carried. “Oh that, they must be running low again on the usual Elixirs.” He promptly took one of Eeylop’s Light & Special Owl Treats from a bag on his shelf, and broke it in half for his messenger. The owl fluffed up her feathers in annoyance at the wizards’ stinginess, but he only waggled a finger at her, gently scolding; “I’ve seen you getting a little plumper than you should be lately, Athena.”
Athena hissed, but took the treat without biting at the wizard’s fingers. He then made a quick check over his potion ingredient stocks, writing down a list of the ones he was running out of. When he was done, he gave it to the owl, which promptly flew back to the Apothecary with it. Meanwhile, he checked the Potionmakers’ clock on the wall to see how the other brews were going. He saw that the Skele-Grow would need another stirring in twelve minutes time, so he decided he might as well begin the Elixir as soon as he was finished with that.
There was one more thing he would need to get though, so he looked over to a small wicker basket by the fireplace where he knew she would be sleeping, and called to her. She was sleepy and a little reluctant to go out with him into the cold, but a warming charm he cast helped to put her in a more cooperative mood. “You still miss him too, don’t you, old girl?” the wizard said, gently stroking beneath her smooth scaly chin. She nodded. “I do too”, he replied, “but we’ve both got a job to do at the moment. There’ll be enough time for other stuff after work, so come along now.”
He gave her chin another tickle, which she rewarded with a flicker of tongue against the scar on his forearm. He then busied himself with gathering together the ingredients and instruments he’d need, along with the old book he’d been reading. Though he rarely used it while working, things always seemed to go uncannily smoother when he took it along with him. He’d long given up trying to explain it to his colleagues.
When he’d gathered everything together, he levitated the lot on a tray, called her to follow him, and together they departed for the potions lab. Knowing old Fawkes, he would already be there waiting for them.
The Burrow, 2000
Nobody had expected Harry Potter to make the career choice that he did.
Though the second war with Voldemort had ended, and Snape was finally out of his life, in the months that followed the need to mourn for Ginny, Dumbledore, and the rest of those who had been maimed and lost sent him into semi-seclusion at The Burrow for a year. He spent most of the first weeks of peace in his room, or sometimes going outside in the dead of night on his broomstick to fly around the garden until his body was tired and his mind empty enough to allow sleep to come.
Eventually, he began not to mind as much when Molly wanted to talk with him about Ginny. Soon, they were able to find more comfort than pain from sharing stories and memories of her. Talking to Molly was good, it helped him remember the good times and forget the rest for a while.
When the numbness subsided enough, he helped out in as many ways as he could in gratitude to the Weasleys for their support, including Hermione. Her diligence in keeping such annoyances as The Daily Prophet off his back while he sorted himself out was a life saver.
He still liked to go out on his broomstick after dark sometimes, but now as much to help clear his mind as to salve his grief. It was somehow easier to think about his future up there with the stars around, Hedwig and Fawkes ever ready to warn him of snoopers.
One night, when he’d been up counting meteors for an hour or maybe two, he found he could think about Ginny’s death long enough to remember how close Snape had come to saving her (or so he’d said), and (with a sting of anger) how nasty he’d been to Harry after he realised he’d failed.
In hindsight, it made sense that the old git would run off to Russia or Siberia or wherever afterwards, and use his Amnesty privileges to train as a Healer and set himself up in one of the hospitals there with his rotten pet snake that used to be Voldemort's, now that she was no longer a Horcrux. Harry hoped that she’d make herself useful and bite him before he killed too many of his patients from sheer misery.
Then an idea came that somewhat eased his bitterness. Quidditch was fun, but it didn’t really do much. Being an Auror had lost its appeal, and he was sick of having fame for doing nothing but being an exterminator. Going back to Hogwarts as the DADA professor was something he didn’t want to do either. The place held too many bad memories for him now, and he didn’t want to put up with the hideous new ghost it had recently attained.
Being a Healer though… if he really worked at it, he could just make it. The Ministry had made changes to its intake rules for the Auror and Healer programs, and Harry knew that with remedial training he would have no trouble getting into either. If he could somehow come across cures for curses like the ones that killed Ginny, or withered Dumbledore, then at least he knew he would be doing something decent with his life.
A faint warble came up from the Burrow's roof and he could see the faint red glow of Fawkes perched below on one of its chimney pots. Harry took that as a good sign and pointed his broom downwards, towards his window. It would be morning in a few hours, so he may as well get some sleep. If he still felt right about the idea in the morning, then he would go for it. Another thought came to him, bringing a wide smile to his face for the first time in months…
Wouldn’t it be great if he somehow got to be a better Healer than old Snape, even!
St. Mungo’s, 4th Floor (Spell Damage), April 2010, Friday Afternoon
“Oh, hello Ron,” Harry said as Ron peered into the office. “You can come in, I’m not too busy right at the moment though I’ve got four appointments this afternoon, plus I’m waiting on an important Owl to come in from Moscow any time. Things still going fine at the school?”
“Absolutely,” Ron said, “though I think one of the Gryffindor Beaters needs to learn a bit more sportsmanship on the field.”
As he spoke, Harry noticed a poultice bandage covering Ron’s wrist and knuckles, plus puffiness around one eye that smelt faintly of Shiner-Go lotion. He remembered that since Lavender Brown took over from Madam Pomfrey, the Hogwarts Quidditch instructor became reluctant to use the school infirmary.
“Got time to Floo out for a cuppa then?” Ron asked.
“Not today,” Harry replied. “I’ll need some time to study, this case I’m waiting on looks like it’s going to be a biggie. Apparently one of the top Healers from the Moscow Institute of Medical Magic is coming over here with an old curse that’s just started to really turn bad, and his magic isn’t strong enough to let him keep on managing it by himself anymore. Since I’m a medical curse-breaking specialist with a lot of power behind me, they think I might be able to help him.”
“Do you know who he is?” he finally said.
“No,” Harry replied, “but I’ll find out when the owl gets here.”
“Well, I’ll better be off then,” said Ron, “Can’t keep you distracted. You should try and drop into Hogwarts sometime, catch up with the old crowd.”
“And have Voldemort’s carved-up little ghost hanging over me while I’m eating?” said Harry, pulling a face, “no thanks! I’m not quite ready for that yet.”
“Whatever,” Ron said, “see you later!”
“Ron,” Harry said, “I’ll try to make it to the Burrow for afternoon tea this weekend, if I can.”
“Thanks,” replied Ron. He turned to open the door, then thought of something, and looked at Harry.
“You should try to get a bit of a home life of your own, you know, before it’s too late.”
Harry smiled, shaking his head. He knew what Ron was getting at. “I’ve not really had the time to go looking for Miss Right; all the good witches I’ve met have been well and truly taken. It’s not easy.”
Ron grinned, “Whatever, but I just don’t want to see you letting yourself end up a lonely, miserable, old man like Snape, okay Harry? 'Bye, and see you Saturday!”
“I’ll try not to, 'bye,” Harry said with a smile as Ron left.
* * *
The scrolls Harry had been expecting Owled in at three o'clock sharp, with a small translator’s lens clipped to the parchment string. He hardly needed it, since all but a few notes were in English. Then he took another look at the first scroll, to get the patient’s name…
…By three fifteen, he realised that he was yet to even read the second page, let alone take in all the details of the first one. Each time he picked up, or even looked at the top scroll, a single name drew his eye:
Patient Name: Snape, Severus.
Date of Birth: The Ninth of January, Nineteen Hundred and Fifty-Nine
Current Occupation: Healer, Moscow Institute of Medical Magic
…and so on.
Severus Snape. The same bastard of an ex-teacher who had made his life miserable when he was a boy, killed, let die, or failed to save nearly everyone who’d cared about him, and who had - as far as it seemed - only helped him because he’d wanted Voldemort out of his life as badly as Harry did, but didn’t have the power to do it by himself. Who’d gone off after all the post-war rigmarole was over without even a civil goodbye.
Now the old git was back, for a familiar-sounding reason. He'd got a problem he didn’t have enough magic to handle, so he needed Harry’s help to fix it.
Harry checked the clock and decided that he’d better get on with it, since he had three more patients to see before five. May as well stop goofing around wasting taxpayer’s Galleons he thought, picking up the scrolls and hoping like hell he’d find enough painful and embarrassing ailments in Snape's records to lift his mood.
Unfortunately, when he skimmed over the first two scrolls he found nothing promising. Apart from a few tooth cavities, occasional bouts of bronchitis and a tendency towards constipation, the old git had been very good at keeping himself nauseatingly healthy... at least in regards to the more mundane ailments.
When Harry came to the section for the specifically magical complaints, he found more satisfaction. The list of curses, hexes, jinxes, Dark potions and malign charms that Snape had been affected by probably went on for six feet of parchment, if one counted the Healer’s notes on treatments, effects, side-effects and degrees of damage.
The maladies were listed in alphabetical order. He counted fifteen entries mentioning ‘Cruciatus’, all but one by the same caster Riddle, Tom (formerly known as ‘Lord Voldemort’). Under ‘Dark Mark’, Harry saw that Snape had not only managed to neutralise the curse that came with the brand, but had healed Draco Malfoy and Alecto Carrow from it as well. They’d even given him an award for that… Harry quickly moved on. It was obvious the reason for Snape's coming here was not going to be that one.
He lingered awhile over an entry titled: ‘Impotens, Cast: 1977. Caster: Unknown, Status: Cured’. “Probably my father,” Harry grinned to himself, and kept on reading.
When he got to the second-to-last parchment of the scroll stack, he saw an entry that glowed with the incandescent blue of a highlighting charm. He knew then that this was probably the complaint for which Snape would be coming to see him about. None of the others (he checked the last parchment to make sure) had been given the same kind of attention.
The entry was titled: ‘Sectumsempra, Cast: 1998. Caster: Riddle, Tom (formerly known as ‘Lord Voldemort’), Status: Uncured, Notes: Cast Wandlessly, caster distracted. Ongoing Complications of full nature unknown, due to improper casting.’
Underneath was a note neatly printed in Russian, which the translator’s lens revealed to read:
‘Applications of Flesh-Binding Lotion (Once daily; upon waking), Tincture of Snake Venom (Once daily, at Noon), Tincture of Dittany (At Noon, Before Meal), Skele-Bond Potion (Once daily, before retiring), and Coagmento Charm (Three times weekly) have been prescribed…’
So it was Sectumsempra. Harry read through the rest of the details, and then put the scrolls down so he could think.
The curse came as no surprise to him as he’d known for a long time that Snape had received it - he’d been there and seen it happen. It was on the day he’d taken Voldemort down. After he’d thrown the final Horcrux through the Veil at the ruins of the Ministry, they’d duelled wandlessly to the death before the assembled Death Eaters.
In the heat of the battle, Harry remembered, Voldemort had suddenly flicked his wand hand towards the crowd, slamming Snape backwards against a wall before blocking an Engorgio from Harry. Harry recognised the spell Voldemort muttered… but Snape had only been knocked down, he’d seen no blood, so he’d assumed the curse hadn’t worked.
Apparently, though, it had… just not properly. It was all there on the scrolls
Harry went through all he’d learnt from the ten years he’d trained and worked as a Healer, sifting through the possibilities. Magic tended to dissolve upon the death of the caster, though there were plenty of exceptions. Those tended to involve permanency spells too complicated to cast during a fight, without a wand. Badly cast spells often had delayed or abnormal effects, but these were usually easy to detect and cure. A wizard of Snape's experience and skill should have had no problem fixing it.
So if he’d been diligent enough in taking all those potions and charms to keep his body together, Harry wondered, why did the old bugger suddenly start needing his help now?
* * *
On Monday morning Harry arrived at St. Mungo’s earlier than usual. If he had been hoping for an extra half-hour to ready himself, he was out of luck, for he saw an unpleasantly familiar figure standing in the waiting room of Harry’s department.
Snape, looking much the same as ever. A few strands of grey were now in the hair that was a little longer, but just as greasy as he had remembered it. He had grown thinner as well, his face more lined and hollow-cheeked, making his appearance more severe than ever. Harry observed that the livid scars over his eye and cheek that were left by Buckbeak had now faded to silver.
“Greetings, Potter,” he said flatly.
“Mr. Potter, if you please,” Harry tersely replied. “Here to see me?”
“I trust that you’ve received my records,” Snape said. “Since we are early, I think it would be good to get things started.”
“Follow me,” Harry said.
They went to Harry’s office, and he opened the door to show Snape in. Snape at once made himself at home in one of Harry’s armchairs, and while Harry sorted out the parchments he began looking around the office, giving a little curl of the lip every now and then at something he saw.
“Right, then,” said Harry. “I’ve had a look at your records, I presume it’s the Sectumspempra you received in 1998 that’s the problem you want me to treat?”
“That is correct.”
“As I saw… as I understand it,” Harry continued, “the spell was cast wandlessly, and possibly improperly as well as...”
“Voldemort was distracted by the fight,” Snape interrupted, “so though the spell found its mark, its effects had been altered. In my case my tests have indicated a delayed response, as well as a wider pattern of damage.”
“This wider pattern of damage,” Harry asked, “the scrolls I got were a bit vague on that one. Could you explain it further?”
“It means, Mister Potter, that the Sectumsempra Voldemort cast did not strike me in the simple line that both you and I are familiar with,” he said, narrowing his eyes meaningfully at Harry as he spoke the ‘you’. “Rather, it has radiated throughout my body in seven lines from the point of contact. Therefore, as you would have read from the notes, if I do not receive the correct treatment regularly, and on time, the curse will cause my body to self-dismember and self-eviscerate.”
He spoke the last sentence as casually as if it was a first-year Potion lesson.
“What is the longest time you can last between treatments?” Harry queried.
“Seven days, thereabouts.” Snape answered, and Harry saw that he’d begun nervously stroking at a livid, knotted scar between the knuckles of one hand.
Harry nodded. “Normally, spells that persist after the caster’s death are easy to deal with. What’s the difference with this one?”
“Voldemort was skilled enough, strong enough, and most certainly emotionally aroused enough at that time to cast a powerfully resilient spell,” Snape answered. “Plus, I believe that it has somehow found a way to use my own life-force to maintain itself.”
“And we can’t really get rid of that, can’t we?” quipped Harry.
“Not for the moment, no.” Snape replied, his face expressionless.
“Do you know of another cure?”
“That is one of the things I had been working on,” Snape said, “before my health became worse.”
“I was told that you’d been managing it by yourself until recently,” continued Harry. “So what happened?”
“As I have already explained,” said Snape, “I believe the curse is maintaining itself from my life-force, and that the condition worsened soon after that. Also, my usual Healer has taken ill and she is unlikely to regain her full power for some time. So in spite of my skills, I will still require treatment from someone with a magical strength that is considerably…”
He paused, curling his lip and looking away from Harry for a moment, “…greater than mine, preferably as strong as, or stronger than the original caster’s if possible. I expect you do know what the treatment is that I am talking about?” he added.
“Yes, I do,” Harry said, trying not to grit his teeth too noticeably. He next checked the clock to avoid looking at Snape. “I have the room booked until nine-thirty, so we’d better get to it. There were also some other items mentioned in the prescription note in your records…”
“I can supply my own tinctures and Potions,” said Snape, rising to follow Harry. “All I shall be requiring from you is the Coagmento charm.”
“Of course, Mister Snape,” replied Harry. “If you’ll just come with me, we’ll get started.”
* * *
Soon after he arrived home from work, Harry summoned a bottle of Firewhisky, and downed a shot from it. He considered pouring himself another before deciding not to. Drinking was not a habit he wished to get into.
“Hello Fawkes,” he said when the phoenix finally warbled a greeting from the spare room, even though Harry had been home for several minutes. He’d barred the bird from the lounge since another burning day was due, and Fawkes, in keeping with his usual habit, was trying to put it off.
“You probably look just like I feel at the moment,” he added, turning the radio on with a flick of his wand. He hoped the music and the evening newscast would distract him from his tiredness and what he’d had to deal with today. It didn’t always work; whenever he closed his eyes the image would return.
Snape, naked, lying first on his back, and then rolling arse-up so that Harry could work the wand over his whole body.
It was a sight that took some getting used to… the near-skeletal thinness, the paleness, the scars, the severe, expressionless face… and the ugly, purplish mark of the curse itself. Invisible while it was under his clothes, bared Harry could see the way it spoked outwards like a malign sunburst from the midline of Snape's chest and belly.
Of course, he’d had to touch him as well; it wasn’t an essential part of the charm, but necessary if he was to be thorough. Thankfully, that part turned out to be less of a trial than he’d been dreading. Snape, though he’d been all sharpness and disapproval, promptly shut up and behaved himself as soon as he was undressed and on the table. Harry didn’t even need to ask him.
Wherever he touched him, even on the intimate areas, he remained silent, moving a limb or turning his head without a word.
The session itself lasted longer than Harry had expected. The curse extended its magical tendrils far beyond what were visible with ordinary sight, so he’d had to go over virtually every inch of his patient’s body. He’d have a report to write for the hospital, but that could wait until after dinner. He also remembered Snape's skin had felt very soft under his hands, belying the hardness of the muscle and bone it covered; those long, wiry body hairs also had an interesting texture, he’d actually even cupped those bushy-furred bollocks and ran his wand along that prick. Snape's prick, and he'd done as Harry told him without so much as a squeak…
Harry took his glasses off. With a deep breath to steady himself, he forced his mind to behave itself. This was wrong. Yes, having Snape naked and at his mercy had been one of his favourite fantasies back when he’d been training as a Healer… but that was only a fantasy; this was reality. Reality had nothing to do with sex; he just liked having the bastard under his control, that was all.
Besides which, Snape was a patient – and a Legilimens to boot – so even thinking about him in ‘that’ way was neither professional nor right. Harry Potter was damned if he was going to let himself slip and become unprofessional before Snape.
In a more comfortable frame of mind, Harry planned the report he would write just as a song finished and the introductory music for the evenings’ first news broadcast came on.
Two wizards and a witch had been arrested for Muggle-baiting; an Auror raid in Old Whittleburn, Lancashire, revealed a cache of illegal potions. A dragon had been spotted outside a reserve near the Welsh border and residents of the Glastonbury district were warned to exercise caution; Pansy Malfoy denied rumours that she would be next in line for the job when the Minister of Magic retired; Marcus Flint would be unlikely to play for the Wasps at the British semi-finals next Saturday, due to a Bludger injury (“serves him right,” Harry grinned); Willowind won the Pugsworth memorial Hippogriff stakes. Tomorrows’ weather would be cloudy and cool, with morning drizzle and rain in the evening…
Harry’s mind drifted from sport and weather to Healer’s reports, but when he began counting the curse-tendrils branching down Snape's legs he got distracted again and decided that he’d better go and make himself dinner. Maybe Ron was right about him needing to try harder to find himself the right witch.
* * *
Snape's next appointment was on Wednesday afternoon, and he had another Friday morning before Floo-hopping back to Russia for the weekend. Future appointments had already been booked indefinitely, since the full nature of the curse remained unknown. So it went on after that; Snape would turn up early, receive his treatment, and return to his own job in Moscow. Any communications between them stayed short, sharp and formal, and it was not long before Harry found the routine exhausting.
It was not the complexity of the magic, which by itself was simple enough to do. He used a modified version of the same song-like spell that he’d once seen Snape himself use to heal Draco Malfoy with back in school. He’d used it often enough to be able to sing it right, but once he began applying it he understood why Snape had wanted to have a powerfully magical person to do it.
Even with the potions Snape had been taking, from the moment Harry applied his wand, the spell seemed to fight his efforts every step of the way. It was worst along the lower chest and solar plexus, where the magic had obviously made contact. Even along the limbs though, it felt at times to him as if he was using the wand to sew his way through elephant hide instead of fortifying a wizards’ body.
The curse eventually yielded to him though, it always did, and it was a satisfying feeling – professionally, of course - to watch the lividness disappear and the normal sallow paleness return. Nevertheless Harry soon realised that, regardless of how well he’d done his job, he was still only buying time for the other wizard. Should Harry be unable to get to him in time, or the curse strengthen beyond even his strength, then Snape would become a living time–bomb.
Less pleasantly, it also meant that unless a stronger witch or wizard turned up Snape would need to see him on a regular basis for the rest of his life. It seemed like Harry was fated never to be free of the bastard.
* * *
Ron Flooed in from Hogwarts one Monday in May to share morning tea with Harry. The topic soon turned to Snape, as it often did lately.
“You’ve got him again this afternoon,” noted Ron. Harry nodded. “How’re you coping?” he asked.
“Tiring,” Harry said, “I’ve shifted all his appointments to last thing in the afternoons from now on, so that I don’t have to see my other patients when I’m drained, if you know what I mean.”
“Yep, I do,” Ron said, adding, “you’ve been looking a bit buggered lately. Have you though of getting another Healer in to help you?”
“I’d like to, but not with the Coagmento. Its pretty much a one-caster type of charm,” Harry replied. “The Strengthening Solution’s been very useful for me, though.” He felt his cheeks warm a little, and hoped that Ron didn’t notice. If the truth be known, though he was right about the charm requiring a single caster, he still could have brought in someone else to help him maintain his strength.
He didn’t want to though, partly from pride in his magical strength, partly from the fact that he’d secretly grown to prefer being alone with Snape during those sessions. And if the truth really were known, Harry didn’t want to think too much about aspects of those sessions that seemed to be stimulating him in ways he felt uneasy about.
“I’ve got to go now,” said Ron, cleaning his teacup with a tap of his wand. “Third year Slytherin tryouts to supervise in ten minutes.”
“And I’ve got Snape,” Harry said. “Have fun with the third years, and think of me stuck in a small room with you-know-who.”
“Good luck,” replied Ron as he headed to the fireplace.
Snape, early as usual, was already waiting when Harry came to the waiting room. He seemed different, paler and more agitated than usual. There was none of the normal clipped greetings; he was silent, his breathing labored, and he was rubbing constantly at the scar between his knuckles. That hand in turn was pressing his chest. Harry noted that the veins in Snape's face, arms and neck seemed unusually purplish… then he realized with a small shot of coldness in his stomach that they were not veins he was seeing.
“Come with me!” snapped Harry, and Snape followed without comment.
Even with a stiff dose of Strengthening Solution in effect, it still took Harry a moment to gather his nerves at what he saw when Snape took off his robes. The curse had regained its strength more fiercely than he’d ever seen it do before. The centre of Snape's chest and abdomen was a raw and bruised mess, as if he’d been savagely beaten there. It was worst around the pit of his stomach and a little above and below it; there, the skin looked cracked as if someone had tried to tear him open, but failed. Blood and serum seeped and crusted around the wounds.
“This has… come on very suddenly… during the Floo here,” Snape whispered hoarsely, and Harry looked up in time to see him lick pink-coloured saliva back into his mouth.
“On the table!” Harry said, then helped him up onto it. The curse tendrils felt like lines of fire beneath his hands.
He took up his wand, and began to work… but it was like trying to stitch through steel. No matter how hard he tried, the curse repelled his efforts. Though he tried his best to focus, Harry’s insides turned to ice as he noticed one, then another of the ‘cracks’ in Snape's skin begin to open and bleed… slender, clammy fingers closed vice-like around Harry’s arm. Blood oozed between two of the fingers.
“Stop your bloody hands from shaking and get to work, Potter!” Snape rasped, eyes wild.
“I… oh god… I’m getting help! Try and hold on, for goodness sake!” Harry stammered as he took his wand away for a moment to summon assistance. As the wispy Patronus sped off, he returned to Snape, who was now sitting doubled over, hands clutched around his chest as if to stop it from swinging open. His breath was coming in shallow pants, a trickle of red running down from the corner of his mouth.
“Snape! Lie down!” Harry ordered, and he complied – though still holding his ribs. “I’ll also need to reach your chest,” he added, and Snape – reluctantly – put his arms aside. They were blood-smeared.
Harry focused himself again, more effectively this time, and began again to weave his wand over where the curse was worst. Snape's breathing had not eased, but the blood flow had slowed a little by the time two Healers ran into the room, thankfully both of them young and magically strong.
“I’m doing the Coagmento charm, I’ll need you two to help me!” ordered Harry, not looking up from Snape. Within seconds, he felt the welcome tingling buzz of magic against his back as they cast their fortifying charms. Though he could not feel his magic strengthen, he knew they had worked when the curse suddenly gave way. The next fifteen minutes he spent working over every inch of Snape until the cracks, bruises and purple lines all faded to pink, and the outer tendrils gave no more resistance.
Harry stood back to take a breather. “Thank you, Stebbins and Longbottom. That will be enough for now.”
“Let us know if you need us again,” said Longbottom, the witch.
“Thanks,” Harry replied as she and the wizard left the room, leaving him alone with Snape. He looked up at a clock on the wall, and saw that it was later than he’d thought, what had felt like twenty minutes was really just over an hour. He also realised how drained he felt after the battle with the curse, he’d probably have a struggle even to warm a teapot right now.
Then he heard Snape's breathing, it was still harsh-sounding, though otherwise more normal. “Can you get up?” he asked.
For a moment, Snape did not move, then he slowly and painfully tried to lever himself up to a sitting position. It was obvious that he was going to need help, so Harry took him by the arm and helped him down to the floor. After that, he conjured a chair so that Snape could sit in it and safely dress himself.
“Been… meaning to tell you something, Potter,” he whispered as he fastened the buttons on his robe, still too weak to speak at normal volume. “I am not… homosexual, never… was, never will… be… for anyone.”
“Why are you telling me that?” Harry retorted, startled. Of all the things for Snape to come out with after what just happened!
“Perhaps you need to… to take a much closer look at yourself,” Snape continued, “rather than fantasise over my body while… you’re working.”
“How can you know that?”
“Nothing… much escapes… me, Potter. You should have… remembered that.”
Harry stared at Snape for a moment, his cheeks burning as if they’d been slapped. “I’m not gay, Snape, if that’s what you're suggesting,” he snapped, then added, “I’m going to send an owl to Moscow. I’m also booking a bed for you tonight. You’ll be staying right here until we find out whether it is safe for you to use the Floo again.”
After that, Harry waited for Snape to finish so he could walk him out. Neither spoke to the other again that day.
* * *
At home the next Saturday afternoon, Harry filled out forms and updated reports while the radio blared out live coverage of the match between the Chudley Cannons and Puddlemere United. The Cannons were getting thrashed, as usual, and Harry imagined Ron being in need of Hermione's consolation by now. He wouldn’t have minded seeing the match but the weather was too wet and he had too much work to do.
Most of the paperwork had to do with Snape. Tests had shown that he had become too physically unstable to take the Floo, or use a Portkey, or even to Apparate anymore. Any form of teleportation magic seemed to aggravate the curse, so Snape was now limited to only the most direct means of magical and non-magical travel.
He’d been discharged so he could return by Thestral coach to Moscow and get some of his things. An owl from the Institute reported that he’d made the journey safely, but had suffered from travel sickness on the four-hour journey there. It was becoming obvious that he would soon need to move within easier reach of London, since there were no effective anti-sickness potions he could take with his medication.
The Institute had already begun advertising for a replacement Healer on a ‘Temporary, indefinite term’ basis. Snape himself had already sent a resume to two London apothecaries, including the one Hermione worked at. Neither had there been any complaints lodged by Snape in regard to Harry’s conduct, either at St. Mungo’s or the Institute.
After the exchange back in the treatment room, Harry had needed to check up on that. Knowing he was still officially in the clear let him sleep better, though it didn’t help him to feel any cleaner.
He picked up his copies of The Daily Prophet, The Quibbler and The Eldritch Enquirer to skim through the personal pages, but found nothing in any of them to draw his interest. When he found himself reading the wizards’ advertisements after the witches’, he put the papers down and went back to his work.
Snape has got it wrong about me, as he usually does, Harry thought to himself as he heard the announcement that Puddlemere's Seeker had caught the Snitch. I’m just as straight as he thinks he is.
* * *
Harry was to make further adjustments for Snape. Soon after moving to London (along with Nagini, since he needed her for one of his tinctures), his condition had worsened to the point where he could go no longer than a day without treatment, in spite of his other potions being increased to their maximum dosage.
This of course meant seeing Snape for at least part of one day each weekend, with the possibility that this could change to daily, should the curse take another turn for the worse. Though Harry learnt from Ron that neither of Snape’s job enquiries was successful, Hermione had been owled a large stack of parchments that turned out to be fresh copies of the research notes that Snape had been compiling on his curse. Another set had already been sent to St. Mungo's when his treatment had started.
“Wonder if that means he thinks he’s done for?” Ron mused the day after, not completely without sympathy.
“We’ll see,” Harry replied as he finished his tea. “I’m his Healer now, and I’m not about to throw in the towel just yet. Hermione found anyone to pass those on to?”
“She’ll be working on them herself,” said Ron mysteriously.
“She wouldn’t have time, would she, with her Potion master's job at the apothecary?” Harry asked.
“She will now, in the next few months at least,” Ron answered, with a meaningful cock of an eyebrow. “We only found out last week, she must have mentioned it in the rejection letter she sent him, and he reckoned he’d see if he could get her to make use of her leave time.”
“Sounds like the sort of thing he’d do,” Harry mused, before the other implications of what Ron had just said sank in. “Ron, you don’t mean… you and Hermione are finally going to…”
“Finally,” Ron agreed with a smile and a nod. "And we’d be very honoured if you’d be his or her godfather, Harry.” Cleaning his teacup, he added, “Though you're right about Snape being the clever opportunist. Hermione's fallen for it already hook, line and sinker. Since she’s in no condition at the moment to be over a potion cauldron, she’s got her nose glued to those parchments of his instead.”
Harry nodded, trying not to smile too stupidly, still taking the news in.
* * *
The next few weeks brought no more big changes to Harry's and Snape's routine. The curse did not alter further for the time being, and though Harry was no longer able to treat it without an assistant, he always succeeded in bringing Snape to relatively stable health – for a while.
Hermione, on the other hand, had made little headway with Snape's notes. “It’s not that he isn’t being thorough or systematic enough,” she’d said tiredly, while cautiously sipping at a tumbler of Augustus Prings’ Special Gastro-Ease potion. “It’s just that the curse itself is such an unknown. It’s really hard to know where to start, but I’m working on a few things.”
“Let me know if you do get any good leads,” Harry replied. "And thanks for taking all this on. I’m pretty convinced the witch at St. Mungo's who’s been looking at them would rather be spending her time doing her fingernails.”
“Would that be Madam Fawcett by any chance?” asked Hermione.
“I really don’t know why she ever decided to be a Healer, she’s not really the right sort. I’ve always found her pretty stuck-up and petty. She even goes on sometimes about the time Snape blasted her and Stebbins out of the rosebushes, during that Yule ball back at school.”
“Yes,” Harry said, going along with her. “Very silly sort of attitude.”
“I’m so glad you’ve given up that nonsense,” she continued. “Snape has done so much for us, so it’s really good that you’re doing something for him for a change.”
“Yes, I suppose it is a bit nice,” said Harry. “Though it’s really all just a part of my job, nothing special.”
“Will you excuse me for a moment?” Hermione asked, and then darted off in the direction of the bathroom before Harry could answer. Which was just as well, since it meant she wouldn’t start asking probing questions about the sudden flush on his face.
He and Snape had a short but bitter exchange just before he’d left to visit Hermione, and so Harry didn’t feel up to any conscience pricking at the moment. Besides which, he didn't want anything to remind him that the struggle to keep Snape alive was starting to rub off uncomfortably on Harry in ways he hadn’t expected. He suspected that he was beginning to actually care for the bastard beyond the detached concern expected of him by his profession, and he wasn’t sure what he could, or should, do about that.
Well, Harry thought, at least I don’t have to worry about him making me turn gay at the treatment table for the moment. THAT thankfully seems to have faded off… though he knew it was only because now there was always an assistant around to watch.
The drizzly English summer turned to autumn and Snape's condition remained stable. Harry shrugged off the extra attention from staff members who had been following the case, though inwardly he congratulated himself on his success. That he had apparently succeeded in stabilizing the curse made putting up with Snape every second day almost bearable, that and the knowledge that it was now his turn to need Harry.
Some others remained less than optimistic. Snape was one of them, and Hermione as well. That was to be expected, since the two were owling each other about their research on a near-daily basis.
* * *
One Saturday early in September, Harry was startled to Floo in to find her sitting by the fire cradling Nagini’s head in her lap. “Before you ask, Harry, I’m only milking her,” she said before he could speak. Harry then noticed the vial she was holding under the snake’s fangs.
“For Snape's tincture, right?” He asked.
“Yes,” replied Hermione, “and we’re also working on a Potion that we hope will be able to permanently arrest wandless curses. I had a theory that snake venom extract could increase its power, so Snape wanted me to help him test it.”
“You’re not still making Potions in your condition, I hope?” said Harry.
“Of course not!” Hermione replied, giving Harry a sharp look. “He and I work together on the theory and he does the brewing. I’ve got time on my hands to do the research, and he doesn’t have much energy nowadays to do much except the potions and helping me with the ideas.”
“Why is she here?” he asked, nodding to Nagini.
“She’s been staying with us since the weather turned colder,” Hermione said, capping the vial and giving Nagini a pat beneath the chin, “Snape has found that keeping his room cold seems to help stop the curse from getting any worse, so she’s with us for a while. I can’t believe how calm she’s been now that she’s free of that stupid Horcrux.”
“Why didn’t he tell me about this cold room theory?” Harry asked again, secretly annoyed at finding he was not the person wholly responsible for his patient’s stability.
“He probably wanted to be sure first that it was fact,” she said. "You know what he’s like, Harry, so I wouldn’t take it personally.”
“Fair enough,” Harry replied. “Do you know where Ron is? I came here to catch up with him about those doctored Bludgers from Hogwarts he’s been showing me. I’ve a bit of spare time, and I’ve got an idea he could try to catch the culprit.”
“You just missed him,” she said. "He’s gone off just now to Diagon Alley to pick up some repair kits, then he’ll be at Hogwarts all afternoon with the fourth years.”
“I’ll see if I can catch up with him while he’s still in town, then,” said Harry, taking the Floo powder. “Thanks, Hermione, and ‘bye!”
There was no sign of Ron when he checked the main Quidditch suppliers, though a competitor selling cut-price imports had recently opened further up the street, so he decided to check on that.
Walking quickly down the street, Harry spotted an alley he could duck into as a shortcut. About halfway down, one of his feet hit something soft and solid, making him trip headfirst into a pile of rubbish. As he picked himself up, he heard a familiar-sounding voice behind him murmur, weakly, “Would you mind watching… where you are going… idiot? Or do you just… happen… to be blind?”
It was Snape.
“Snape! What are you doing here?” hissed Harry, then remembered to make some light. “Lumos!” In the light of his wand, he saw Snape lying sprawled on his side in a puddle, making no attempt to get up.
“Not… taking a nap, if that is… what you are thinking,” Snape faintly replied.
“I’m taking you home,” Harry said. Crouching down to take hold of Snape he smelt the familiar tang of blood. He realized that the fingers of one of his hands was wet with something that felt warmer and more slippery than water. Clouds of red were curling through the dirty water Snape lay in.
“Oh hell!” Harry moaned, and he hurriedly rolled Snape onto his back for treatment. As soon as he began the Coagmento charm, everything went dark until he remembered that he needed something to replace the Lumos spell. By the light of a rubbish bin he spelled with a glow charm, he opened Snape's robes, cleaned the area of blood and filth, and then worked away.
It was harder than he’d ever known it to be before. At one point, he worried if the resistance the curse put up might break his wand. All the time, he could feel Snape's blood running through his fingers, as the man's breathing became shallower…
…Until it stopped.
“Bloody Hell, NO!” Harry shrieked as he frantically wove at Snape's chest. He could see the flesh slowly peeling back to the bone, revealing glimpses of the living ribcage underneath.
“DON’T DIE on me! Snape!” The skin along the arm he was holding seemed to acquire an odd new texture, until Harry realized that it was splitting open like a sausage. Inanely, he began to hear Hermione’s words echo in his mind: “I’m so glad you’ve given up that nonsense, Snape's done so much for us.”
“I said don’t die on me!” Harry pleaded. Snape rolled his eyes toward him, gave a gurgle, and tried to breathe… and was still.
A cut crept its way up Snape’s cheek, moving more slowly as it went, edging dangerously close to an open, unseeing eye…
“Mr. Potter! What the hell has happened? And what the blazes are you trying to do with Mr. Snape?”
Harry didn’t hear the sound of Stebbins’ footsteps, or that of the small crowd that had begun to gather. Neither did he realize, until after a few seconds, that he was no longer trying to heal Snape, but was instead cradling him in his arms and kissing him along the cheek. With another stab of shame, he noticed that the inside of his glasses were spotted with tears.
“Get back, Potter, I think I’d best deal with this!” Stebbins ordered, and before Harry could protest several pairs of arms pulled him away from Snape as Stebbins began the Coagmento charm on the unconscious wizard. He tried to protest, but a spell from one of five wands pointing at him from the crowd made him go dizzy, and the rest became a blur.
* * *
Harry sat before the Head of his department; the Director of St. Mungo’s himself and a witch he remembered from school - Marietta Edgecomb – who was now working for the Ministry in the area of Magical Ethics Enforcement.
“I can assure you that Severus Snape has survived, and is currently doing fine, ” the Director said. “And in light of recent events between you and him, we believe that it would be prudent to let Healer Stebbins take over from you from now on. You have been relieved of your duties in regard to Mr. Snape, and furthermore we have decided to suspend your remaining duties here as well, pending the results of Madam Edgecomb's investigation.”
“I told you I couldn’t do anything. I thought he was dead!” Harry protested.
“We have heard your explanation, Mr. Potter,” the Director said, “and we have noted it. However, we have also received evidence of other incidences of misconduct, so we believe it to be in the best interests of this hospital to suspend your duties until the matter is cleared up.”
“Then I think I’d better resign!” blurted Harry in frustration.
“You’ll remain suspended until the verdict is handed down,” Marietta said. “Then you will be free to decide whether or not you want to resign after that.”
“Can Stebbins take proper care of Snape?”
“Judging from that incident in the alley, he has already proven himself more than capable,” the director said.
“What if he can’t?” persisted Harry. "What if he was only able to do it because Snape was almost dead? You know the curse is using his life force for its strength.”
“Mr. Stebbins has been given the names of twenty Aurors to call on should he need reinforcement,” Marietta said. "Enough of them should be off-duty at any time to suffice.”
“Plus five Healers here, of course,” the Director added. "So Mr. Snape shall be in good hands.”
“Has Snape said anything about this?” asked Harry.
“No,” said the Department Head, a nervous-looking, middle-aged wizard. “And Madam Edgecomb and Mr. Pinkleton, if I may I would like to dismiss Mr. Potter to his home for now. Mr. Potter, do try to be patient; you have been a valued employee. We would not wish to lose you over a moment's impetuousness.”
“He may go, Mr. Wibbet,” the director said. “Mr. Potter, you are dismissed.”
* * *
It was late the following day that Harry received an owl from Snape. On it, in a shaky, spidery hand was written:
29 Sacke Street, 5th Floor, Room 10, at 7:30 pm.
Finish your dinner before you arrive at my house.
He made sure he was at Snape's door by seven twenty-five, mind racing with questions when he used the eagle’s head knocker to announce his arrival. The door opened the moment Harry put his hand down, Snape must have already been waiting.
“Enter,” he said, showing Harry in with a gesture of a scarred, purple-veined hand.
“When were you last treated?” Harry asked, eyeing it in shock.
“Today, this afternoon” Snape said. “Wine?”
“Uhh… ok, yes, I suppose,” Harry replied. Apparently from nowhere, Snape uncorked a bottle with a tap of his wand, pouring the contents into two glasses.
“How many people were there?”
“Five, as well as Mr. Stebbins,” Snape replied.
“You’re not going to last like this,” said Harry.
“Take your wine,” said Snape, pushing one of the glasses into Harry’s hand. “There are some things I wish to discuss with you, and there may not be much time. Now sit.”
Harry found an armchair, and sat. He took a tiny sip of the wine, and found it to be unexpectedly good. He noticed that Snape had taken out a vial and added a drop of its contents to his wine, causing it to mist and turn purple.
“A tincture that Madam Weasley has developed,” he said to Harry. “It will not cure my problem but it will help hold me together for tonight. I have booked another appointment at St Mungo’s tomorrow.”
“How long can you hold out like this?” Harry asked, but Snape only swallowed the contents of his glass in one long gulp, then sat panting quietly for a few seconds as though he’d just taken some over-strong Pepper-Up Potion. Harry caught a whiff of the fumes and unsuccessfully suppressed a sneeze.
“Do you need more wine?” Harry asked, but Snape violently shook his head and waved away the proffered bottle, wiping at his watering eyes and nose with a handkerchief. “This must be taken in alcohol, but if I drink any more tonight, I will nullify the effects,” he gasped.
“It looks like she’s come up with a good one, anyway,” observed Harry as he watched the curse-marks fading from Snape's face and limbs.
“It won’t last,” said Snape.
Harry decided to broach the topic. “Have you called me here to talk about what happened yesterday?” he asked.
“Partly,” Snape replied. "Though there is another matter I believe should be attended to first.”
“Did you tell the Department about… the stuff that had happened earlier?” asked Harry.
“What do you mean?”
“When… when I was treating you at the start of all this,” Harry said. "They mentioned ‘other incidences of misconduct’ at yesterday’s meeting, and I was wondering…”
“There are, to my knowledge, no rules about what you are allowed to think, Potter,” said Snape, the strength beginning to return to his voice.
“So it wasn’t you who told them?”
“What reason would I have?” Snape irritably said. "Regardless of what you thought, what you did with me was all within the bounds of your duties. Probably more so than with the previous Healer I had back at the Institute.”
Harry raised an eyebrow. Snape looked sidelong at him, and nodded.
“There’s something else, isn’t there?” Harry said.
Snape leaned back, steepling his fingers over his lap. “I have found you to be an unexpectedly effective Healer, Potter. When I first heard of your choice of profession, I will say that I had my doubts as to whether you had either the temperament or the aptitude for it. However, I have found your skills to be more than satisfactory. This,” said Snape, “brings me on to the next thing. Good Healers are uncommon enough in the Wizarding world,” he continued, “and I do not wish to see one lost to a foolish little sex scandal, either now or in the future. It would be a wise idea, Mr. Potter, if you took some time to fully examine your proclivities, so that you may find a more appropriate outlet for them.”
“I’m not gay,” said Harry flatly.
“I am well aware of your attraction to the female gender,” Snape said, “but I also noticed when I came here that you have one equally as strong, if not stronger, for the male. You know fully well how I can learn of such things; you never have been competent at Occlumency.”
Only with you though, for some reason, Harry wanted to say, but he refused to speak the words. Instead, he sat dumbly in his chair, agitatedly fingering the stem of his barely-touched wine glass.
“If you wish, I may offer you a chance to understand yourself a little better,” Snape continued, reaching into his pocket to pull out a pouch of ink-colored velvet. “This is an amulet, and an object of genuine power unlike the junk commonly peddled along Diagon Alley.”
He fished a fine copper chain out of the bag, on which dangled a tiny oval mirror set in mother of pearl. He flicked it over with a finger, to show a serpent motif inlaid in pink and red coral. The creature had no tail, but a head at each end instead.
“An Amphisbaena,” Snape said. “A serpent possessing two heads, though they share the same body… and the same heart. This amulet has been permanently charmed to reflect the truth about your wishes to others,” he continued. “The wearer will become fully aware of, and fully responsive to, the desires and wishes of whoever he or she is closest to at the time. It will likewise affect the other person, though less powerfully”.
“Why would such a thing be invented?” said Harry nervously.
“Because there are many times that people deliberately blind themselves to their own motives and perceptions,” Snape said, “this object can enable two people to become more… should I say, understanding of each other. More deeply so than even Legilimency, from what I understand.”
“Do you want me to wear this?” Harry asked.
“No,” Snape said, “I will. Tonight, just for half an hour or so. I am not overly concerned about any embarrassment this may cause me, since I doubt that I will still be around long enough to suffer greatly from it.”
“Don’t talk like that!” Harry said. “Have you tried asking the hospital to let me heal you again? I’ve kept you going for months; it should give you and Hermione more time to come up with something than Stebbins and all his helpers can.”
“The Ministry’s word was final,” Snape said. “I have no more right to request a return to the old arrangement than you do. I have therefore begun to finalize my affairs, in the likely event of Mr. Stebbins’ failure to sustain my health.”
“And putting something on that’ll probably make you act the wrong way is part of this?” Harry said, “Are you sure? What if it makes you… do… things?”
“It will not make me do anything, Potter,” Snape said, “It will only give me the desire to. This is not an object of Dark magic, as it will not affect my clarity of thought, or rob me of my free will. It will only enable me, for a short time, to perhaps help you gain a better understanding of your obsession with me.”
“What if I, well, do something while you’re under its influence?”
“I should expect that you will retain your free will and clarity of thought, Mr. Potter.”
“Okay, then,” Harry said, scarcely believing what he seemed to be consenting to. "But I still don’t fully understand why you are doing this.”
“Don’t argue,” Snape said as he slipped the amulet over his neck.
* * *
Two hours went by without event, though the amulet flashed from Snape’s breast as he read. In the end Harry made a point of walking over to the clock on the mantelpiece.
“Well, two hours have gone and nothing’s happened,” he said with awkward cheerfulness.
“Hmph?” Snape replied, looking up from his book. "Maybe so, maybe not.”
“It must be time for bed,” Harry said. “I think I’d better go home…” and he looked at Snape, who also seemed tired and sleepily. There was something vulnerable about the way he looked now that put a pleasant little twinge in Harry’s heart. He still had the amulet on; maybe it wouldn’t be too incriminating to try a kiss...
“Is that what it is like, for you?” asked Snape, a little surprised, after Harry pulled back.
“This is the first time you’ve been kissed?” Harry asked.
“By a man, while I’m conscious, if that is what you mean," replied Snape.
“Then I’ll give you another one, just this once, then I’d better go,” Harry said.
“I thought you’d said several times that you were not interested in men… mmfff.”
“It’s just a kiss, nothing more,” said Harry. "It’s not like I’d actually want to do anything more.”
“A kiss? Even on the lips, like you just did?” Snape queried.
“Just one more, then, just so you know what I gave you. But no sex or anything,” Harry said, taking Snape by the waist as he reached up for another. This time, without thinking, he used a teasing little tongue trick that he’d often done with Ginny.
Snape's eyes widened, but he didn’t pull away or close his mouth. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he whispered.
“Oh, you are,” Harry dreamily said, letting a hand wander down to Snape’s thigh. He detected some firmness beneath the robes, and realized that he himself was beginning to harden.
It was time to stop things, before they both got out of hand, but then again… Maybe just this once, he thought, to be sure if I really am gay or not, and maybe too find out what it’s really like...
His hand reached up a little to attend to Snape, who grunted a little in response before tentatively lowering his head down to reach Harry’s lips. It was not long before he was kissing more firmly, a sensation Harry could easily get used to. His hands explored the curves and valleys of Snape's buttocks; it felt good to do so for pleasure instead of healing. Holding Snape closer, he felt their erections press together.
“Do you want to?” he asked.
“I’m not going to live forever, Harry.” Snape whispered.
Harry transfigured one of the armchairs into a long, wide and comfortable couch. He couldn’t remember whether he laid Snape down onto it, or the other way around, but when their robes were hiked up above their waists or half off their bodies, such minutiae didn’t count.
Neither did he remember asking Snape whether he wanted Harry to push his prick between those thin, angular buttocks into the warm tightness inside (though he did remember a sharply muttered reminder to use a lubricating charm), but Snape didn’t protest or resist either. By the grunts and little movements he made, he wanted him there; in fact he was soon pushing so far back into Harry’s thrusts that his balls might be flattened. Harry wished he knew some spell that could make him last longer…
Harry came first, followed by Snape half a minute later. For a moment there was a sleepy quietness as they lay stunned but sated against each other. Then Snape irritably muttered something, and took out his wand to clean up the mess he’d made. Then he gestured to Harry.
“Potter, I didn’t expect what you’ve just left in me to be so bloody irritating. I think you’d better attend to it, if you please?”
It took a moment for Harry to realize what he’d meant. “Umm… how do you want me to do it?” he asked.
“You’re a Healer, you should know. A standard internal cleaning charm should do it, and hurry up, it’s stinging like buggery!”
“Okay,” said Harry as he parted the cheeks to get better aim.
“And try not to vanish my bowels, too.”
“I won’t,” Harry grumbled as he cast the charm. “Hey, what’s this doing on the floor?”
He picked up the Amphisbaena amulet that must have fallen from Snape sometime during the session. Snape's eyes suddenly turned expressionless when he saw it.
“Interesting,” he muttered. “May I have this back, Mr. Potter?”
“Okay,” said Harry. "But I’m not sure I’m going to like what this could mean.”
“I will put this away in a secure place, and we’ll discuss other things later.”
As Harry mulled over the dropped amulet, Snape went off with it to his bedroom. While he was gone, Harry took a look at the book Snape was reading before all that ‘business’ had started. It was on medical charms and curse breaking, and after turning a couple of pages he found a spell that caught his eye. Malignus Mutus, a charm that caused the caster to swap any maladies they had, magical or otherwise, with those of the one they cast it on.
It was listed as a spell of borderline Darkness, banned and then re-legalized twice by the Ministry. It was also very simple to cast.
Harry memorized it, and wondered how he could use it...
Snape came brusquely back into the room, as if nothing much had just happened. “I believe it’s time for you to go,” he said. “I have an appointment with Mr. Stebbins at nine and I will need to take the Skele-Bond before bed. It has been interesting seeing you, Mr. Potter.”
“You liked it too, didn’t you?” Harry said. "Even after the amulet fell off?”
Snape's expression became inscrutable again. “I don’t have the tolerance for late nights now that I used to have. We will talk about this later; now I need to prepare for sleep.”
“You enjoyed it, though. That thing we just did. Are you sure you didn’t wear it just for me… you wanted to be sure of yourself too, didn’t you?”
“It was…” Snape’s eyes grew narrow, “…are you asking me as to whether or not I ought to regret that experience? No… that’s not it! No…” Suddenly, his expression hardened, and he flicked his wand sharply at the door.
“Out, Potter!” he whispered, “as I have said, we will discuss this later, and it is getting late!”
Harry knew that he’d gotten the best answer he was likely to get from Snape for the moment. Taking his leave, he wished him the best for tomorrow and went home, stopping for a stiff Firewhisky or three at a bar along the way.
* * *
Next morning Harry awoke with a mild hangover, just strong enough to irritate. He shambled over to the bathroom for a dose of curative potion, and then poured himself a glass of water to take away the taste. He returned to the sitting room, and lay back in an armchair. Fawkes warbled softly from his perch, bright-feathered from his re-fledging a few months back.
“Good morning, Fawkes,” Harry greeted in return. “I really ought to get around to getting another owl. You look too lonely sitting there, and it’s not been the same since Hedwig went.” The phoenix fluffed up his feathers, and then settled back on his perch. “Hope you’re not going to go jealous on me,” Harry quipped, before thinking over the events of the night before.
There’d been that, of course. It was the very first thing he recalled, followed by the Amphisbaena amulet that seemed to enable the whole fiasco. I’m not gay! he half thought, half muttered to himself, whilst filling his mind with his favorite memories of him and Ginny. And it had to be bloody Snape as well!
He tried not to dwell too much on how good it had felt, or that he’d even asked Snape what it was like. The clock indicated the time was nine-thirty in the morning; Snape would be having his treatment by now. He remembered how he didn’t mind the bastard so much now and hoped that things were going well.
He realized then that there was something else he had to remember, something about a charm or spell he’d found in one of Snape's books last night… The autumn morning was cold so Harry revived the fire with some conjured wood and a spell. No sooner had he done so than Hermione's head appeared in the flames.
“Oh, thank God, Harry! We’ve been trying to get to you for the last ten minutes. There’s been some bad news from the hospital. Snape took a turn while Stebbins was healing him, they’ve got six other Healers just trying to hold him together right now. Ron’s already over there!”
“Tell him I’m on my way!” Harry said. As soon as Hermione's head disappeared he grabbed a handful of Floo powder, calling for St. Mungo's.
The fourth floor of the hospital seemed deceptively quiet when the lift finally reached it, but when Harry skidded around the corridor into his ward there was chaos. The door to the treatment room was crowded with green-robed Healers and nurses, and he could hear above their agitated whispers the murmuring of Stebbins’ charm. A weak, raspy wail rose from somewhere in the center of the room – Snape.
“Let me through!” Harry ordered, pushing his way through the crowd with his wand out.
“Oi! You’re not supposed to be in here, Potter!” a young wizard called, but the wall of bodies closed behind him before he could use a spell.
“What the hell is this?” a matron hissed; she was one of the six Healers trying to fortify Stebbins’ magic.
“Never mind!” Harry snapped, and then he saw Snape and had to grab hold of an orderly to stop himself from falling to his knees.
The man he remembered talking to last night, lively and whole, was now lying laid open on the table. Where the curse tendrils had been there were now jagged, bone-deep cuts. The fine, tapered-fingered hands that had held the Amphisbaena amulet looked as if someone had just hacked them open lengthwise in several places. Another cut laid open one side of his face, exposing bones, and muscle. A sliced eyeball bulged out of it’s socket, leaking jelly. Above the exposed, twitching guts Harry could see the heart still moving inside the ribcage. Blood surrounded his body, covered his limbs, spread around the feet of the frantically working Healers.
Snape gave another scream, much weaker this time.
“LET ME GET TO HIM!” Harry bellowed, but three pairs of hands held him fast despite his struggles. “You shouldn’t even be here,” said one of them.
“Bloody well calm down and let Stebbins do his job!” ordered another.
Snape took a breath, it seemed to rattle. Harry realized that his wand hand was free. In that moment, he remembered the charm he’d seen in Snape's book last night, and what it did.
Would I, for Snape's sake? he thought.
He remembered again Hermione's words: “ Snape's done so much for us...”
In a flash, he aimed his wand at Snape: “Malignus Mutu…”
The last thing Harry remembered was an explosion of light and pain in his hand, that burned it’s way up his wand arm before he hit the floor and blacked out...
Hermione Flooed in one morning two months later, levitating a large and familiar-looking basket before her.
“You brought Nagini,” he said, as the snake sleepily poked her head out from the blankets inside to taste the unfamiliar air.
“You’ve probably heard the new safety regulations on charmed and magical creatures the Ministry’s brought in,” she explained, “so she can’t stay with us anymore now there’s going to be a baby in our house soon."
“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll make sure she’s in good care."
“Thanks,” Hermione said, “I’m sure she won’t mind coming here, as long as she’s warm. How are you getting on with the will and everything else?”
“Making progress,” he replied. "I did not expect to be left with so much of what he had. At least I’ve got work to look forward to though, brewing potions should help keep my mind off things.”
“How have you been, really?”
“As well as can be expected,” he answered cryptically, wishing the witch wouldn’t keep on probing his feelings the way she did.
“Well, if you need anything just give me or Ron a call. One of us ought to be home at any time. I hope this transfer turns out well for you, maybe you and I might be working together again someday.”
“It’d be nice,” he replied, “Thanks.”
“I’ll see you later on, then," Hermione said, heading back to the fireplace.
Before she threw the Floo powder in, she remembered something and looked back.
“Don’t feel guilty over this, Harry. You did the best that you could for him.”
“I’ll try not to,” Harry said. “In a way, I sometimes get the feeling he hasn’t really left me.”
“Because of the book?” Hermione asked, “It helps you to feel as though he’s not completely gone, doesn’t it?”
“Maybe,” said Harry thoughtfully as she took her leave and Flooed home. He touched a long, silvery scar on his wand arm that snaked like lightning from knuckle to elbow. Just before the Hospital board had cleared him, they’d told him that Snape was dead, and that the spell he’d tried hadn’t worked. Harry wasn’t so sure, though he didn’t feel up to arguing the point.
He’d tried to tell himself the strange touches on his arm, and the flashes of movement he’s seen in windows and mirrors was just his mind playing tricks, until he walked into the sitting room one evening to find Snape’s old potions textbook lying open on his table (after he’d only just put it back in the bookshelf). He was also sure that he’d had the bookmark in a different place, not lying across pages 323 - 324, pointing to a passage in a brewing instruction that read: ’Not quite gone.’
Snape had once said, during the year he was DADA teacher at Hogwarts, that true mortal death occurred when a soul departed the world, regardless of what happened to the body. He’d tried a Horcrux detection spell from one of Snape’s books on his arm, but the result was negative. Whether the uncompleted magic had unexpectedly caused something else of Snape’s to enter him instead of the curse, or whether the amphisbaena amulet wove a deeper kind of magic between them that night, he hadn’t yet been able to find out.
All he knew for certain was that whenever he touched the new scar, his grief seemed to fade with an uncanny reliability. He felt less alone… as if Snape was still here, sometimes near him, at other times seemingly inside him (he’d learnt to recognise when that was happening by a tingling in his arm). Always, though, he was in some way around, and watching over him.
“Maybe,” he repeated quietly to himself, “I don’t know what’s happened, but I’m sure by what I can feel that he’s not quite gone.”
Coagmento – Latin for: To join, to connect. I don’t know if that was what Snape would have used in Half-Blood Prince canon, but it sounds close enough.
Mutus – Latin for: To exchange. Malignus Mutus – Loosely meaning: To exchange evil.
Also, since Snape is not working as a professor in this story, I didn’t think it appropriate for him to be addressed as one, which is why I let Harry, Hermione etc formally address him as ‘Mr. Snape.’
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