Title: Pains and Contradictions
Rating: R - NC-17 (in later chapters)
Warnings: Character Death (not Harry or Snape), angst, under 18 (Harry is 17), violence, AU after Book 5 (I needed Dumbledore alive and Snape at Hogwarts). Some of Snape's back story has been used.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or his nifty universe. Just taking the characters out to breath some new life in them. Trust me, I'm sure they're grateful.
Summary: When Harry begins to break under the pressures of death and prophesy, help arrives from an unlikely quarter: Snape. Despite their own doubts, manipulations from all sides and hapless interventions combine to bring their two souls together.
A/N: Thanks to thesewarmstars for helping the plot a great deal for this chapter and for a great beta job. WhiteCotton served as grammar beta as well as Latin charmer, smut-wrangler and Brit-picker. My love goes out to Torina who is with us in spirit for this chapter.
Thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed. Your comments mean so much to me.
"Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for." Dag Hammarskjold
Two young men sat in a clearing deep within the Forbidden Forest. They sat in tense, uncomfortable silence, one lying stifly on the ground, the other stoking the fire in a vain attempt to gain more warmth.
Harry watched as tiny embers flew into the air, paying no attention to where they chose to land. He was lying on a large root that was painfully embedding itself into his back, but couldn't bring himself to pay it any attention. His thoughts were somewhere else, with someone else, and nothing could distract him. He barely noticed the oppressive silence that hung in the air.
"Harry, I-" Ron said, disturbing the quiet.
"Don't," Harry cut him off.
Harry heard Ron sigh and the silence returned.
"Just don't. I don't want to hear it, Ron," Harry said mechanically as he stared into treetops so dense none of the starlight could shine through.
Harry opened his eyes and before he even brushed away the foggy haze that lingered from sleep, his thoughts turned to Severus.
Harry's concern for his lover was at the forefront of his mind and, without making a conscious decision to wonder about Severus, the depth of the man's emotions assaulted him. Severus was awake, Harry knew for certain, and he was agitated about... something. The only other thing Harry could feel was the constant guilt and remorse that surrounded Severus like a fog.
He stared at the canopy over his bed for a few moments, his heart heavy with the weight of Severus' demons, which now affected him as though they were his own.
Harry discovered quite quickly, that even if he wished it, he could not tune his lover's emotions out.
He fumbled for his glasses, which lay on his nightstand, his hand encountering the round lenses as well as a piece of parchment. Putting his glasses on, he recognized the headmaster's handwriting asking to see him in his office as soon as he woke.
Harry sighed and lay back down, wanting to pretend he had not seen the missive, but knowing that he shouldn't ignore the summons; especially not after the events of yesterday.
He rose from his bed and showered quickly, amazing himself with his ability to function as though the weight of the world wasn't nestled firmly on his shoulders. His heart was heavy and his thoughts were only on Severus and how badly he needed Harry, and on how he had turned him away all the same.
As he dressed, he suppressed the despair that was threatening to overtake him, despair that radiated from Severus.
If he wasn't so stubborn, Harry could be with him right now... If Harry knew what to do, knew of some way he could help Severus...
Shaking his head and forcing himself to think of something more productive, Harry threw on a t-shirt and left the dorm. It was still early and hardly anyone was awake on a Saturday morning. He moved quietly towards the exit of the Gryffindor common room, only to encounter Hermione waking up in a chair by the hearth.
Damn, he thought, knowing that he wouldn't be able to get out of talking to her. He hadn't been paying much attention to his surroundings when he had returned to his dorm a few hours before, and hadn't noticed her.
"Harry!" she exclaimed as she ran over to him. "What happened to you and where have you been? You didn't come to dinner and then you didn't come back to the dorm last night."
Harry inwardly groaned and put up a hand, stalling for time.
He hadn't thought of Hermione or anyone else in relation to the situation he now found himself in. What could he tell her that she would believe?
"I was with Snape and Dumbledore," he said quickly, knowing instinctively that it would be better to stick to the truth as much as possible in order to get out of her questioning.
"The headmaster? But why? And why all night? Harry, you look terrible."
Harry ran a hand through his hair and gave a snide smirk before looking down. He hadn't even given himself a look this morning, but he knew what he would find- regardless of the eight hours he spent in Severus' bed, Harry felt exhausted and drained. The pain of their separation and of Severus' self-loathing was an enormous weight and Harry mentally gave it the equivalence of carrying around a large rock on his shoulder.
Of course he looked horrible.
"We practiced dueling all night. Snape thought that I was good enough for a spar with the headmaster, and we just kept going... lost track of the time," he lied almost effortlessly.
Hermione looked thoughtful, but nodded her head all the same. "Oh," she said. She bit her lip and looked down. "You would tell me if something was wrong though, right, Harry? You haven't exactly been yourself lately, and I thought it was Ron-"
"Hermione-" Harry said, cutting himself off as he realized he was about to snap at her. He sighed and rubbed his eyes. "You're my friend and I wouldn't leave you out of anything. If anything happens, I'll tell you, but I really was with Snape and Dumbledore all night."
It was almost frightening how easy it was to lie.
Hermione nodded and took a step back. "Well, now that I know you're alright- but what are you doing up at this hour?"
Harry pulled Dumbledore's parchment from his pocket. "Old man never sleeps, does he?"
Hermione smiled back, but her eyes betrayed her worry. "Well, maybe you can get a bit of sleep when you come back."
Harry nodded and smiled painfully. "Yeah," he said, thinking of how Severus' pain invaded even his dreams.
Harry slowly walked the halls that led to the headmaster's office. He was in no hurry, and as Dumbledore's note hadn't given a specific time, he figured whatever he had been called for was not incredibly urgent.
He spent the time trying and failing to ignore the dull pain that enveloped him and feeling guilty for the attempt at the same time. As much as he loved Severus, he had no idea how the man could live this way. Harry knew something had to be done, but for the life of him he didn't know what.
He and Severus were bonded for life, but Harry couldn't contemplate a future with this awful feeling of loneliness and misery inside him.
But how could he fix it? Was it even fixable? Severus didn't want him, had made the conscious choice to turn him away. He knew there would be no quick fixes, no subtle turns, nothing to easily make this right.
So what could he do?
Nothing, he answered himself, wanting nothing more than to take a break from this feeling of complete misery.
His steps slowed and he soon found himself with his back against the wall, lacking the energy to continue. He put his face in his hands and willed it all to go away. Damn Severus; damn his guilt and his self-loathing and everything he was doing to Harry!
He tried to shove his thoughts of the man from his head, to have a moment, just one goddamned moment of peace, but the despair would not release him. He couldn't begin to contemplate feeling like this for the rest of his life.
And it was only the first day.
He continued to feel the pull towards Severus, the bond telling him that his bondmate had need of him, that he needed to comfort him, make him feel loved.
Harry shoved his fingers between his eyes and his glasses and tried to mentally picture ignoring Severus, feeling guilty even as he tried. He imagined placing the same wall he constructed during his Occlumency lessons between them.
Just for a moment, he told himself. I'm not ignoring him, I'm just trying to get my head together. Just give me a moment, Severus, please.
Harry concentrated and held his breath.
Just like in his Occlumency lessons, the wall failed to materialize and Severus' continuous despair washed over Harry with no end in sight.
Harry sighed and he realized that, although he was partially disappointed, he was also slightly relieved.
Perhaps he shouldn't be able to block Severus' suffering. Severus needed his help and Harry couldn't allow himself to forget that, not even for a moment.
Severus' pain was terrible, but something inside Harry told him that he should not ignore his lover's anguish, as awful as it was.
Harry felt Severus' irritation turn to blinding anger in an instant, and while that did alarm Harry, the slight twinge of fear that followed terrified him.
He abandoned his mental ramblings and kicked off from the wall, running to Dumbledore's office in a sprint. Something terrible must be happening and Harry needed to get to Severus right away.
He ran the short distance to the gargoyle as fast as he could, shouted the password, and took the stairs two at a time. He didn't bother with knocking, throwing his manners to the wayside in the wake of Severus' fear, and flung open the door-
Only to see Dumbledore sitting behind his desk with a frighteningly pleasant look on his face. Standing next to him was Severus, his arms crossed and his expression thunderous. The only other occupant of the room was sitting in the chair in front of Dumbledore's desk.
Harry would have known that blond hair anywhere, but he was still unprepared to see the snide, cocky face of Draco Malfoy turn around to face him.
"Ah, Harry," the headmaster said kindly as he bade him to enter. "Excellent. Now that we are all here we may get started. The door, if you please."
Harry remained silent and closed the door, entering the room slowly. He did not miss how Dumbledore did not offer him a seat, nor how Severus stood next to him like some sort of silent enforcer. Harry looked at his lover, wishing that their eyes could meet for just a moment, but Severus' eyes were focused elsewhere. They were glaring daggers at Malfoy, betraying his rage, though the younger man was not looking at him.
Malfoy was looking at Harry.
"Oh, how awkward," Malfoy said, commenting on the silence between the two lovers with a barely concealed chuckle.
Harry immediately stopped looking at his lover or anywhere near him and walked to the opposite side of Dumbledore, holding himself in a stance similar to Severus'. He didn't need to give Malfoy any more ammunition than he already had.
"I think that will be enough of that, Draco," the headmaster said coolly. "This meeting is for your benefit. It would be to your advantage to be polite."
"My benefit?" Malfoy asked snidely. "I really don't see what you're talking about. In fact, I fail to understand why we're having this little meeting in the first place."
Harry watched as Severus' eyes narrowed and a storm coursed through him. As much as he acknowledged that Severus' tongue could flay the best of men, he admitted that he looked much more frightening standing silently next to Dumbledore, a strong, black pillar of indignation.
"We're having this meeting, Draco, for you. You could call it a... negotiation, if you prefer."
Malfoy laughed right in the headmaster's face this time. "Negotiation? What exactly is there to negotiate? The fact is that I gave you," he pointed to Severus, "a potion that brought out your deepest desires, and it led to none other than you," he pointed to Harry.
Malfoy smirked and looked Harry up and down. "And from the look of you, I can't imagine it worked out well. What happened, Potter? He kick you out of bed in the morning?"
"That will be enough of that, Draco," the headmaster said in a clipped tone.
"He took one look at you and... oh, let me guess... vomited a bit and then sent you on your way without breakfast?"
Harry seethed and clenched his fists at Malfoy's words, but followed Severus' lead, saying nothing.
"So you were his deepest desire for what? One good night's-" Draco was silenced, but his mouth continued to move for another moment before both his and Harry's eyes turned to Severus-
Whose wand was pointed at Malfoy, his nostrils flaring and his eyes set in a deadly blaze.
"I think that will be enough of that, Draco. If Severus removes the silencing spell, will you agree to be an active part of this conversation?" the headmaster asked.
Malfoy's face twisted in anger, but he nodded. Dumbledore turned to Severus, who made a circular motion with his wand as he removed the spell.
Malfoy cleared his throat and shot a glare at Harry, seeming to intentionally look anywhere but at Severus.
"As I was saying, Draco, this is a negotiation of sorts. We have decided to give you a chance to remain a free citizen as well as a student at this school." Dumbledore leaned back in his chair and his face grew darker. "The bottom line is this: the four of us in this room will pretend as though nothing out of the ordinary happened yesterday. You did not administer a potion to Professor Snape and you know of nothing that may or may not have happened in the dungeons after you left."
Harry balled his fists and bit his lip. Dumbledore was just going to let Malfoy walk away after everything he had done to Severus? Harry knew that after yesterday Malfoy would have no love for Severus and no information to save his life would be forthcoming. So what would be the point in this continued farce of a truce?
"Oh?" Malfoy said, leaning back in his chair to mimic Dumbledore's stance. "And why should I? I really don't see what's in it for me. You can't keep me locked up for the duration of the war. My mother would come looking for me and then you'd have to tell her- what? That you're keeping me in a room somewhere because I have certain information?"
Malfoy smirked and looked at Harry before continuing. "You could kill me, but you won't. You won't obliviate me either. It's too risky and you wouldn't risk my mind, being the great, noble Dumbledore."
He extended his legs and crossed his feet at the ankles, looking completely relaxed. "So I really don't see that you have a leg to stand on."
Harry looked to Severus and for just a moment their eyes met. The camaraderie, the knowing that they shared, gave Harry that smallest reprieve he had been aching for before Severus looked away.
"That is not exactly how we see it, Draco," Dumbledore said, waving a hand to encompass the other two men in the room.
"This is the way we see it: you administered a potion to a professor at this school with the intention of seducing him. You did this against his will and broke several school rules, not to mention the rules that govern our world.
"While the potion in itself was not illegal, your intent was. If I so desired, I could expel you immediately and Severus could press charges that would land you in Azkaban before the week is out."
Malfoy's ankles uncrossed themselves and he sat up straight in his chair. "My family-"
"Does not have the political clout it once had," Severus spoke for the first time, his voice dark and menacing.
"Is on the run and your mother has been ostracized from any family not faithful to the Dark Lord."
Malfoy paled and looked to the ground. "And what about you, Severus?" His eyes were slits as he turned to look at Severus, his face twisted in hatred. "I could go to him, tell him everything. How you're in love with his enemy, that you're a traitor to the cause. He would kill you."
"And I would kill you," Harry said automatically. It was a knee-jerk reaction to Malfoy's threat, but Harry quickly realized it was true.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Severus turn to look at him.
"There is no need for melodrama, Potter," he said quietly.
Harry turned from Malfoy's glare to Severus. He wanted to argue that, while the statement might have been dramatic, the sentiment was very real, but held back. He knew better than to fight in front of the enemy. He had to control his own anger at the threats made against his lover. Harry had failed Severus once. He wouldn't fail him again.
"Now, let's try to keep from making death threats so quickly," Dumbledore said in a light tone. "Draco, you could in fact do all of those things. You could inform your master of Severus' true allegiances and his life would be forfeit. But then yours would be as well."
Dumbledore steepled his hands and peered at Malfoy over the rims of his glasses. "You would be expelled and thrown into Azkaban for most of your adult life. Now, I am willing to make a deal with you."
Malfoy gritted his teeth but seemed to realize that his fight was futile. He nodded his head in response, bidding the headmaster to go on.
"You will swear an oath to me that you will not reveal the events of last night to anyone. You will keep Professor Snape's secrets as well as any knowledge you may have about what occurred after you administered the potion. In turn, you will remain a student at this school until you graduate and no charges will be pressed."
As Dumbledore leaned forward at his desk, his eyes steeled and his voice darkened. "That is your only option, Draco. Do you accept?"
Malfoy looked at his feet for only a moment before jutting his chin up and looking defiantly at the headmaster. "I accept."
Dumbledore nodded and spoke, "Do you swear never to reveal the true allegiances of Severus Snape and to keep what occurred in the dungeons last evening to yourself?"
"I do," Malfoy said gravely.
Dumbledore nodded and smiled. "Well then, I believe that concludes our business here. I think it goes without saying that you should limit your contact with Professor Snape and Harry from now on."
Malfoy answered Dumbledore with a glare.
The headmaster merely smiled and shooed him off with a wave of his hand. Malfoy rose quickly, opened the door and left without looking back.
"Do you really think this is the best course of action, Albus?" Severus asked, sounding skeptical.
"I do, Severus. Draco is right. Obliviation is too risky and we are not murderers. This is our only option if we are to keep this secret."
Their mutual enemy having gone, a different yet still heavy tension invaded the room. Harry looked up at Severus, but the man would not return his gaze, his eyes focused instead on the headmaster.
Dumbledore sighed and leaned back in his chair. "I suppose it would be pointless to ask if the light of day has changed anything, Severus."
Dark eyes met green before Severus turned towards the door and left the room in a sweep of black robes.
Dumbledore sighed again and rubbed his temples. "It's only been a few hours, Harry. He may yet change his mind."
Harry gave a small half-smile at Dumbledore's attempt to comfort him, but said nothing. It would take a great deal longer than a few hours for Severus to come around. He excused himself from the office, wanting nothing more than to climb back into bed.
Four days later, Harry was no closer to devising a way he could help Severus and the inevitability of his snapping under the strain of the bond grew more certain.
He hadn't even attempted to speak to his lover, instead wanting to give the other man time to sort out his feelings. Surely Severus knew what his own pain was doing to Harry?
It was Wednesday evening and dinner had ended an hour ago. Harry had not returned to the Gryffindor common room, choosing to wander the halls aimlessly in search of the elusive answer to his problem.
In his heart, he was beginning to understand that there was none.
Harry shook his head, trying to cast off the dark thoughts. It didn't matter, nothing mattered but helping Severus. Making Severus realize that he was worthy of every good thing, that he deserved to love and be loved.
He had to keep going...
He couldn't give up hope, not so soon. It hadn't even been a week since they were bonded, but already Harry had to fight to keep the hopelessness from overwhelming him.
He turned a corner and walked down the stairs that led to the ground floor when suddenly he encountered Malfoy in his path.
The taller man looked down at Harry and smirked. "Well, don't you look like death warmed over? Got something on your mind, Potter?" Malfoy asked snidely, blocking Harry's way with his body.
Harry stepped to the side, saying nothing, only wanting to get away from Malfoy as quickly as possible.
"So tell me- what's it feel like to be Severus Snape's guilty pleasure?"
Harry closed his eyes for a moment and continued walking away, not wanting to be goaded into an argument with Malfoy no matter what he said.
"Did he scream when he found you sleeping next to him in the morning, or did he just hex you? I'm inclined to believe the latter, 'cause you really do look like shit, Potter."
Harry wanted nothing more than to turn around and physically beat the life out of Malfoy, channel all his anger and his despair into the destruction of another living being, but he held off. He might not be the smartest wizard, but he knew beating up Malfoy would change nothing.
"You're not going to win, you know," Malfoy said, his voice no longer vindictive and taunting, taking on an odd solemnity instead.
Harry's pace slowed almost of its own volition. He clenched his fists and could hear the other man's steps as he neared him.
"You're too far behind and you have too many rules. If I were Dumbledore, do you think I would have let me live?" Malfoy made a clicking sound with his tongue that suggested it was a pity Dumbledore was such a good man.
"You're not going to make it out of this alive, Potter. But you know that... don't you?"
Harry had not thought that the weight on his shoulders could grow any heavier, but it did. Dumbledore had said that he needed Severus to defeat Voldemort, and that was the one thing Harry couldn't have.
The hopelessness that had been threatening to overtake him for the past few days descended upon Harry and his shoulders slumped. Harry stopped walking altogether and Malfoy advanced on him from behind, his voice a whisper in his ear.
"They'll never let you live. But you're not going to be the first... oh, no. If the Dark Lord doesn't kill Severus first, I'll kill him mys-"
Malfoy was cut off as Harry turned and grabbed him by the collar, flinging him against the wall, and the sound of his head meeting the hard stone made a sickening dull thud.
"Shut up! Just shut the fuck up!" Harry screamed as he took out his wand and jabbed it into the other man's throat.
"You're not going to touch him, do you understand?" Harry screeched through gritted teeth.
Malfoy whimpered and tried to tilt his head back, squirming out of Harry's grasp, but Harry wouldn't let go.
The events of the past few days and the hopelessness of his situation became too much and Harry felt his rage take over completely.
"It's your fault, you little ferret, you stupid little-" Harry dug his wand farther into Malfoy's neck, eliciting a strangled gasp and making his eyes bulge.
"Why did you do that to him?!" Harry screamed, desperately needing to know why Malfoy had been so selfish as to give Severus that potion. "Do you not know him at all? You didn't think, did you? No, you just saw something you wanted and Malfoys- fucking stupid Malfoys," Harry roared, his face growing red and his breathing becoming erratic.
"You think I'd let you touch him? You think I'll let you anywhere near him after what you did?!"
Harry pressed down around Malfoy's throat with his left hand while his right burrowed the wand further into his flesh.
Malfoy's eyes were frantic and he began to claw at Harry's hands as his strength seemed to leave him and his face turned blue.
Harry didn't notice. All he could think of was keeping the little ferret from ever harming Severus again.
Severus was in the middle of brewing healing potions for the infirmary when suddenly he felt an odd tugging he had never felt before. He was tempted to look down to assure himself there was no wayward house-elf trying to gain his attention, but then Harry's emotions were thrust to the forefront of his consciousness.
In an instant, the bond was screaming at him to help his bondmate. This was no longer the dull ache, the quiet, constant pull that demanded he go to Harry.
This was alarm, an almost physical draw to find Harry and aid him.
Severus abandoned his potion and stormed out the door and into the hallway. He ran up the stairwell, his robes flowing behind him, when he suddenly realized he had no idea where he needed to go.
He knew that Harry was in trouble, that Harry needed him, but how would he find him when there was no locator spell in the bond?
As though in answer to a direct question, an odd feeling moved through him and he knew where Harry was. There might not be a locator spell, but it seemed that the bond would give the one what he needed to help the other.
He turned on his heels and began to run, only to hear screams in a nearby hallway, exactly where he knew Harry would be. He ran the distance between himself and the noise, not caring if he encountered any wayward students on his path, only needing to get to Harry.
The screaming became clearer as he rushed into the hall. He could hear Harry's voice yelling gracelessly and felt mindless rage course through him.
"You think I'd let you touch him? You think I'll let you anywhere near him after what you did?!"
Severus slowed his steps as Harry and Draco came into view, Harry's face red and twisted in his anger, his wand digging into Draco's neck.
He didn't seem to notice that his other hand was cutting off Draco's air supply.
He approached Harry slowly, mindful of the fact that his bondmate was not in his right mind. He saw the instant Draco noticed him, a pleading in his eyes as he continued to paw at Harry's hands, his struggle growing weaker by the moment.
With great care, Severus spoke, "Harry."
Harry didn't seem to hear him and continued his chaotic ramblings.
"Harry," he said again, very softly. "Let him go, Harry."
Harry didn't register that Severus was there at all. He continued to put pressure on Draco's throat and Severus knew that he needed to do something. Coming up from behind Harry would only startle him, and that could mean death to Draco.
Severus did the only thing he knew to do. He closed his eyes and pushed all his terror and panic away. He concentrated on only his love for Harry, for a moment allowing himself to think of it as something to be cherished and celebrated when he knew that nothing could be further from the truth.
He could lie to himself if it would help Harry.
Slowly, he extended his hands, laying them on his bondmate's shoulders and leaning in close to his ear.
"Let him go, Harry."
Severus pushed away the guilt that threatened to overwhelm him, the guilt that said he was toying with the young man, giving him false hope.
He watched as Harry let go of Draco's throat and his wand hand fell to his side. Harry released Draco and gently turned his head to face Severus'.
Recognition flooded green eyes and Harry's face looked relieved at once. He exhaled deeply and Severus felt peace run through him as Harry smiled weakly.
Severus could not smile back. He grabbed Harry by his shoulders and said, "Would you stand over here for me, Harry? Just for a moment." Harry nodded, still in a daze, and stood where Severus placed him.
"Severus," Draco said, congenially. "Thank Merlin-"
Severus thrust his forearm against Draco's bruised neck, holding his entire body in place. He loomed over the younger man and whispered with clenched teeth, "Listen to me, Draco. What I am about to say is very important and you shall listen to every word."
Draco nodded, his eyes fearful and looking around the hallway.
"Dissimulare," Severus said, casting a privacy sphere around the three men. "To ensure no one will disturb our conversation." Draco's eyes took on a crazed look that they had not had even when Harry was choking him.
"Draco, I want you to understand something- Look at me!" Severus commanded and gray eyes snapped to his.
"Listen to me very carefully," Severus spoke slowly and succinctly. "I don't care if I am given a life sentence in Azkaban. I don't care if they give me the Dementor's kiss... I don't care if the Dark Lord comes after me himself... If you go anywhere near Harry again, I will kill you."
Draco's eyes widened as he took in Severus' promise and he shook his head.
"You think I wouldn't do it? Dumbledore may not be a murderer, but I am. I swear I will kill you if you go anywhere near him again. Do you understand?"
Draco nodded mutely, his eyes still looking for a way out. Severus put pressure against his windpipe and Draco croaked.
"Tell me you understand."
"I understand," Draco mouthed.
Severus released him and took down the privacy sphere. "Go."
Severus watched as Draco ran down the hall away from the two of them as fast as he could.
He exhaled and rubbed his temples, thankful that he had been able to arrive before anything awful had happened. He had reached Harry...
Severus turned abruptly and quickly found himself besieged. Harry was standing in the exact spot in which he had left him, looking up at him with more hope than he could qualify.
The rage that had disfigured his lovely face had left and all that remained was a gentle exhaustion. Severus had known that Harry was suffering, but now he was able to see it up close.
His eyes looked tired and pained; the type of fatigue that comes with long anguish. The madness now gone, his face was quickly losing its red color, taking on the pale cream that was so familiar to Severus.
He looked Harry up and down, tenderness and desire coursing through him, wanting nothing more than to take Harry with him into the dungeons. Harry needed him; needed to rest, needed to be in Severus' bed...
He took a step forward and he saw as Harry's eyes lit up in hope and contentment. That tender, tentative smile was back, but Harry's eyes betrayed him.
And although Severus could not read Harry's mind, his eyes seem to scream at him, "Yes, please take me home. I'm so tired and I miss you so much and I can't do this anymore, I need you so badly..."
They stood like that for a moment, Severus caught in Harry's gaze, unable to move forward or back.
Severus couldn't name the emotion that came flooding through the bond as the happiness left Harry's eyes, as he began to understand that nothing had changed. Despair and desperation were not adequate words to describe the pain Harry felt, or the trepidation that he himself experienced watching the man he loved fall apart in front of him.
Harry nodded and coughed, then gave a frantic chuckle. "Are you not- How can-" He shook his head and laughed deliriously. "My God, you must be made of steel, or something."
Severus stood still, not knowing what to say, knowing that nothing could be said in the situation in which they found themselves. All he knew was that he hated to see Harry suffering, but he cursed himself as he knew it would be far worse to comfort him.
In the end, all he could do was his duty and assure himself that Harry was as well as he could be.
"Are you alright?" he asked in a soft voice.
Harry laughed. It was the same odd, nervous laughter that was serving to frighten Severus and he looked closely at Harry again.
Green eyes met his and he could feel Harry's pain, his desperation, and his confusion at why all of this was happening in the first place.
He expected Harry to scream at him, to demand more answers, to beg for Severus to stop this ridiculous charade and take him to his bedroom.
Severus readied himself for the onslaught, resolving himself to not give in to Harry's desires. He stood like a man before a firing squad, determined to survive.
"I'm fine," Harry lied. His shoulders fell and he dropped his gaze to the floor. "I'm fine," he repeated, somewhat softer yet more insistent this time.
They stood there in silence for a moment, Severus memorizing the senseless pattern of Harry's hair and the sound of his breath as he attempted to calm himself.
Severus nodded and turned away, knowing that he couldn't remain in Harry's presence for another moment. He had completed his responsibility to Harry, protecting him even from himself.
It was a shallow victory, but it was all Severus had as he slowly made his way along the corridors leading to the dungeons, every step feeling as though Harry were walking right beside him.