Hymn to Eurydike
"How many times," said the brat, "have I gone down--have I descended into darkness after you? Am I always going to keep coming back alone?"
"It is hardly my fault," said Severus, "if your feeble intellect cannot distinguish between the black of your own guilty desires, and my soul."
Potter flushed. "You still can't trust me, Snape?" he snapped, disguising his accusation with typical Gryffindor righteousness as reasonable enquiry.
"Do not patronise me," said Severus, deathly soft.
"After all I've done--"
The self-absorbed prick couldn't, naturally, let him complete a sentence. "Stop, Severus, I don't want to talk about your redemption complex now! For once I really don't have time for it!"
Severus felt, he was positive, the same feeling as an eagle in the moment before its beak crunched through the spine of a small rodent--the whole field of his vision going pleasantly red in anticipation of the hot blood soon to flow on his tongue. "Oh, are we so short of time?" he hissed.
"Well if you can't skip the speech entirely, we can have the condensed version later on. Or if I take an exam on the material right now, could you let me give it a miss? I know fairness isn't big in your philosophy of teaching, of course," Potter said with insufferable smugness.
How had Severus ever begun to change his mind about the child? His ridiculous arrogance, the stupidity and the sheer cocky cheek of him, were so like his father! Though he might admit--only, of course, deep in the most private of his thoughts--that Potter's ability to converse left his esteemed parent's in the dust.
He hadn't learnt any cleverness from any of the mongrels he had called godparents, either. Perhaps his exposure to Severus had done some good. Would what remained of Potter, the elder, roll in its grave at the knowledge?
Severus smirked a little to himself in the midst of his anger.
"Darkness and danger, evil, madness, staring death in the face--" Potter was saying. "Every time Voldemort called you, the fear of discovery."
"Stupid boy," Severus said, and watched with relish as his pale eyes widened in genuine surprise. "Your trust is remarkably foolish after all I've done to you."
His ridiculous large childish eyes opened and closed like an owl's, blankly glazed like a glassy pool--or a mirror.
Severus thought about the nature of hate, by holding himself still and feeling his mind fill up with it, like a crystal vessel with magic. He felt the temperature, and the shape of it, and knew it, and tasted it, and asked the rage its name, and listened quietly, waiting for the emotion to unloose something in him, to whisper a reply. It bothered him faintly, as Severus tried to describe to himself in few words the interminably long history of himself and this maddening boy, that though he had always carried it with him to the edge of reason, he did not know the color of the feeling. Red? Purple? Yellow, green?
"You bastard," said Potter, "I hate you," and he knew what it was. He knew that he hated Potter. He had always hated him. He always had known that.
"I can assure you that the feeling is more than mutual," said Severus.
Potter swore colorfully and flung one of Severus's prized brandy snifters onto the floor, where it shattered spectacularly on the stone. His fist was clenched at his side, the skin mottling unattractively in red and white. "You bloody well know it isn't," said Potter, and slammed out of the dungeon.
As Severus savored another sip of brandy with deep satisfaction--finally alone, as he truly preferred to be if only his colleagues would believe it--the door opened again and Potter glowered furiously at him through a rat's nest of black hair.
"Vasum reparo," he rapped out, pointing his wand at the mess on the floor, and swung the whole length of his arm to sight down his wand at Severus instead. "You no more hate me," he said quite carefully, like a first-year enunciating a charm, "than I hate you," and swirled and stomped back through the door again.
"There's no point me saying anything about generals and fields of battle," said Potter.
"That's hardly a guarantee against your doing it," sighed Severus.
"Right then," he said, and slid his wand back in his jeans pocket, wiped his hand carefully on the blue denim at his thigh--first the palm, then the back--and reached out and seized Severus's robes at the front, making a fist in the fabric. His glasses were falling down his nose. "I don't care if you're older and more experienced than Merlin. Right now I could have your bollocks without using my wand and you know it. You will stay here with your wand at the ready while I go in. You've sacrificed enough for the cause and it's not your turn this time. I haven't got time to fight about it."
Severus's lip curled, a little. "Unhand me, Potter."
"Are we understood?"
The idiot seemed to actually be trembling. Severus could smell his sweat and taste his fear. "I will follow you," he said.
The fist relaxed and the boy stepped back and produced a dim smile. "You'll follow me into the jaws of death--"
"The Headmaster's office is hardly the Veil." Imbecile.
"--But you would," Potter insisted, "and you have, and yet you can't follow me in--you can't just trust me to--"
Severus felt irritation creeping up on him, which was at least better than the wave of rage these importunate pleas might have produced. It was better not to face Dumbledore too preoccupied with anything. "Potter," he said, "if you will not cease this ill-conceived and ill-spoken rambling, at least have the grace to put me out of my misery first, wand or no. Merlin's balls, I'd rather owe my life to Dumbledore thrice over than listen to you for an hour."
The boy was amazingly thick. He laughed.
He woke up screaming from nightmares he didn't remember. He woke up sweating from nightmares that he did. Snape's teeth hurt in the mornings from grinding them in the night sometimes, but he never wept.
The mark on his arm had faded like ink absorbed by charmed parchment when Potter had broken the Dark Lord. There were no scars on his arm to mark the spot where it had been.
Severus felt it in his dreams; he felt phantom pains in it, stabs and aches when he thought about certain--things. He could feel where it was on the unmarked skin--the sad bagginess of aging flesh hanging a little from the bone of his arm, fat and thin stringy muscle, graying hair, but no sign of the Mark.
It was still there. It would always be there. It had just gone invisible.
The clean skin of his arm was Potter's mark. Once he scratched it so hard under the hot water of a shower with the nails of his other hand that it raised red welts on his arm. But it was never going to go away.
"I thought we were friends," Potter had said to him once, long before the battle, ages and ages ago.
"I don't have friends," Severus had hissed.
Someone like Minerva or the Granger bitch would have reminded Severus that they were colleagues. What the damned boy said reminded him instead of Dumbledore--"Then," he had said, "At least I thought we were enemies!" As if it meant something--something other than what it meant.
Severus hated Potter.
Potter had been a secretive and rebellious boy and a sullen, unpredictable adolescent, and was now a horribly self-righteous young man, so convinced of his own superiority he had no notion he was even convinced of it, so willing to martyr himself for anything and so unwilling to take responsibility for the authority he wanted to have that he he'd waste half the preparation for every battle forbidding everyone to make speeches at his funeral.
Potter thought he understood Severus and would be able to work round him with patience and reason.
Potter could go bugger himself and if he met Dumbledore on the way there could tell him to do the same. Perhaps there was a place for self-righteous know-it-all arses to congregate, other than the Gryffindor Tower, that was. Perhaps they could assist one another with self-buggery.
Severus had a drink. The snifters were identical, but he could feel the stamp of Potter's magic on the one that had been broken.
The boy was also worse than Dumbledore for knowing when you were thinking of him, or so it seemed. Severus suspected he'd put some kind of charm on him--or a curse. A lonely ward jangled his nerves, the ones on the inside of his right wrist specifically, and Potter stumbled out of Severus's fireplace wearing a hideous orange jumper, big round the middle and short in the sleeves, with a mustard-colored letter H over his solar plexus.
"What the bloody hell is that?" said Severus, going to the chessboard by his window and twitching at his robes. (He rarely took them off even round his quarters, unlike Potter, who took every possible opportunity to undress himself as far as possible, and had been known to leave his jackets and gloves in the dungeons and then flare up in the fireplace at half one demanding them back.)
"Infamous Molly Weasley Christmas jumper," said Potter wryly, "you mean you've never seen one of these before? I've got almost a whole alphabet's worth, if you could write the alphabet out in nothing but H." He was shaking his head, spattering drops of water on the mantel and the rug.
He had removed his glasses and was polishing the foggy lenses on the hem of the orange thing. Since the young fool was blind as a bat without them, Severus took the opportunity to surreptitiously drop his eyes below the waistline and admire what the loose trousers did little to hide. He wouldn't mind having a taste of that, even after everything. Too bad.
"You'd follow me anywhere else," said the arse, putting his spectacles back on his aristocratic Potter nose.
Too bad he was such a fucking prick.
"You trust me--"
"I trust no one."
"You know that's not true, but it's all right; you can have the point. I don't need it."
"Big of you," Snape sneered.
Potter grinned unexpectedly, one of those blinding smiles that suggested childlike joy, unconditional affection, feelings of kinship, innocence and all kinds of similar disgustingly seductive mythical things, and when had innocence become a good thing? "Are we here to play chess or to discuss our relationship?"
"I live here, Potter. I can only assume you are here because your only alternatives appeared more mentally taxing than subjecting me to your… company."
"I'll have gin and tonic," the brat replied with a thoughtful air and a wink, unwinding his scarf. "You know--you didn't really do anything to me, aside from the constant humiliation and making me bad at potions."
"I have done many things," Severus said, "but I have never made anyone bad at potions. My efforts would hardly be needed in any case, atop the effects of laziness, stupidity and lack of talent."
"Oh, come on, Snape," said Potter, seating himself on one side of the board and just waiting for Severus to bring the drink to him. "You made me hate you so much I could hardly see."
The injustice of that to one who had been unable to see this whole impudent idiot's life--outrageous, enraging. "I hate you," Severus hissed, moving forward with the gin and tonic like the cracking of a whip, his hair swinging in his face, his hands white-knuckled on the table, "I hate you so much that I can hardly see. You pompous, ignorant fool, you blind self-serving hypocrite, you stubborn child!"
Potter's hand closed over Severus's around the glass. "Go on."
"Life is not fair, you--smug imbecile."
"You coward," he said, low and clear. "Severus Snape--you are a coward. I would face Voldemort again, I will face you, I'll--God! Damn you!" He was shaking. No, Snape was. "What do you want from me?"
"Foolish boy," Snape hissed. He'd bitten his own tongue, vision red with blood, shaking, pounding to the pulse he could feel in Potter's hand, his hateful familiar face, stubborn, anguished and full of hope. He didn't see, still didn't understand.
"Why won't you let me reach you? I've waited, Snape. I've been silent so you didn't have to speak--I've faced all my own demons--"
"For me!" Snape mocked. "Thank you. I'm so glad to hear, Potter, that you've--"
"Shut up," Harry said violently, "just SHUT--UP." The glass cracked again, gradually, wet in his hand. Whether that was blood, or gin and tonic, Severus did not know. "I've gone the distance, Snape, I've done it all, I've learnt to play sodding wizard chess from Ron and I used to be hopeless at it, read till my eyes bled--"
"I didn't ask you to!" He was yelling. Snape meant to be cold. He felt like ice. "Damn you, Potter!" he roared. "Leave me alone! Go and find a house elf to give your fucking mittens to, because I don't want them and I don't need to be rescued!"
Potter didn't leave any articles of his clothing behind. He flung a handful of powder in the Floo and said "Diagon Alley!", and vanished.
Snape repaired the glass himself, still shaking occasionally with an aftershock of reaction. He wished the gin and tonic hadn't been lost: he could have used another drink. He poured another one in the same glass and drank it before he muttered "evaporo" and "ecto sanguino" to the chessboard and healed the gash in his palm.
The fireplace flared to life and Severus whipped around to snarl, "Come to play Orpheus?" at it, but it was Shacklebolt asking after the Wolfsbane, was it ready--as though perhaps Severus had simply forgotten to brew it, or forgotten how, or run short of an ingredient and put it off for a day.
He felt flat and hollow, and pale, still filled with the same indefinable fury, the same hate--friendship--affection--enmity--admiration--wistfulness--nausea he had always felt for Potter.
Possibly not always. If they had always been enemies, and if they were never friends, then there was still something Potter was to Severus now that he had not been always. The fool had gone a long, long way after him, perhaps deep into the dark as he said. They had all fallen from the light--at least a little--during the war.
He always asked. Potter was as solicitous as a father with a newborn babe.
The knock sounded again on the door. "Are you there, Snape?" His robes rustled, an alert rustling, another deep sigh, "Severus, I know you're there."
An ear to the door here, a sly probe of Severus's wards there. The boy had begun calling him by his given name some time more than a year ago. He had never been invited to.
Severus could give no answer.
The door felt Potter's weight, and it was too heavy to rattle or shake or creak, but it moved in its frame.
"I'm coming in," he said; it would serve him right, Severus thought, if the wards had been keyed against him and caused his painful death. He'd have broken them, of course, if they had been.
The door swung open. Harry stepped over the doorsill as over a wooden stile, black robes swirling round his ankles over pin-striped wool trousers.
Severus crossed his arms over his chest to hold himself together, partly. Are you there, Snape? Are you coming?
The boy crossed the room in a few very decided strides, as though he'd made up his mind, but had had some trouble steeling his courage. Snape watched him and felt himself fill up with the feeling again. It wasn't red or purple, or any of those colors, he decided. It was very definitely white, and it wasn't shallow. He felt so deep with it he might overflow from any of several hundred points on his body. He was terrified to move when he knelt--the boy, Harry, knelt--at his feet and touched his knee and his arm.
"I apologise," said Harry, "for everything. Well, of course, not for everything. It wasn't me who stole those herbs in second year, for instance. I'm not sorry I kissed you in the Great Hall at supper, even if you are. I'm not sorry for embarrassing you actually, even though maybe I should be. But I'm sorry for getting you in trouble with Dumbledore, and I'm sorry for making a mess out of this thing, for all the ways I've done that. And I'm aware, before you say anything, that there are quite a few."
Severus moved his mouth a little before the words came out in a mutter. "Give the boy a medal."
Harry grinned. "Anyway, I'm sorry for not listening before too. And I'm sorry for calling at one that time."
"Twelve-thirty," said Severus automatically.
"I didn't really realise how late it was. And, well--I'm sorry for always--checking. Looking. I just, I always have to look. If he hasn't told you already, you can ask Dumbledore about it, believe me."
"I believe," said Severus with some restraint, "I have a fair idea."
"I'm sorry," said Harry, "for always looking back."
There was a silence. "Do you expect," said Severus, "that now, perhaps, I am to kiss you? Or that I make some--gesture."
"No, no," the boy said quickly.
"How does it end?" Snape asked him gently.
Potter squinted at him short-sightedly. Severus could not read him--his eyes, in fact, were covered with Severus's own reflection in his spectacles. "Should I go now?" he said at last, standing in one smooth movement, unfolding from the floor with the outer robe falling down like black wings.
No, Orpheus, thought Severus crazily. Don't go back to the world of the living yet. He sat frozen so long that Harry was on the point of leaving.
"Do you--?" Harry said at last.
"Harry," Snape whispered: "Wait. Don't turn around."