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Complete header information may be found in Part One.

Return to Part Six

Acts of Will, Part Seven

Harry had flown so high up into the evening sky that his broom handle was icing and he felt light-headed. The sting of the slick coldness against his hands prompted him to cast a warming charm—and Bubble-Head—before he could freeze to death or fall to it due to lack of oxygen. More comfortable, he allowed the cloudless darkness to enfold him in its soothing emptiness.

When he'd been trapped in the Dursleys' broom cupboard as a child, he'd dreamed of open spaces—vast deserts, the tops of mountain ranges, bodies of water, great meadows.

But I never wished I could fly. I couldn't even conceive of it back then.

Heretofore, to be in the air had always been an exhilarating, freeing experience for Harry.

And now all I'm doing is hiding.

He'd been a fool, cowering from the world in Snape's arms, which he still couldn't believe had been real. Well, some weird sort of reality, anyway.

How could I have let myself . . . do those things with him? How could I have wanted them—with Snape?

The real Snape was bitter and nasty and cruel. He hated Harry. He wanted Harry to fail.

To hurt and fail and . . . and—"Fuck."

However far gone he was, Harry could no longer lie to himself. Snape was a horrible person.

But he's always tried to help me, even if the ways he tried were awful.

It stung worse than the ice to admit that, but denying the truth of things had almost driven him mad. Still, Harry was terribly confused.

Was it all lies? Manipulation on his part to get me to help him? Why would Snape have . . . touched me like that—even to help himself—if he truly hates me?

It was weakness to assume, based on some stupid, half-buried hope of being loved, that Snape actually wanted him.

But it wasn't just the shagging. He did take care of me. "Of course he did—he needs you," Harry told himself harshly. "He needs you, and you need—" I don't know what I need, do I?

Harry only knew what he wanted—to feel needed, loved, and not so pathetically alone.

Ginny needed me, and look how that turned out. I ignored her and made her feel so useless that she ran to Zabini.

Although he hated to admit it, Harry had been—and still was—grateful to Zabini for filling the void left by his emotional abandonment of his wife. Of course, feeling so didn't make him happy about it.

"Potter," Zabini had told him, the night he'd come for Ginny, "Ginevra deserves more than you can give her. I don't wish you ill, but I'm not so enraptured by the myth of the Chosen One that I can stand by and allow you to ruin her life, as well."

"Lovely speech," Harry had replied. "You think that makes up for the fact you've been shagging my wife?"

"I never touched her," Zabini had said coldly, from above Harry.

I can still feel the ache in my jaw, Harry thought, rubbing the phantom pain.

But Zabini had been right. Ginny was made for happiness, and he had only been able to give her cause to worry.

"I just don't understand it."

Everyone had been so ready to be happy after Voldemort was gone that they'd ignored everything ugly that had preceded the Dark Lord's fall—but Harry had only been able to absorb all that darkness. He felt it now, festering inside him like a malignant weight, and knew.

No one can possibly understand what it's been like for me.

The funny thing was that everything he'd been given—praise, acclaim, job offers, offers of sex, Ginny as his bride—these things and Ginny had come so easily to him that he couldn't feel he'd deserved them.

And everyone wanted me to be someone I wasn't when I didn't even know myself.

Harry checked himself.

"That's not quite true, is it?"

He was just a bloke. An orphan. A child of prophecy. A Quidditch player. A decent enough student. A good friend, for the most part. He knew he was these things, even if the knowledge wasn't particularly helpful.

Scared, that's what I am most of all—too scared to be alone enough to figure out who I really am.

Harry rather thought he'd find himself a disappointment and unworthy of being loved—by anyone, and that realization made him wish, almost, that he was back in the broom cupboard under the Dursleys' stairs.

Everything had been so simple then: he'd just been a little boy who'd wanted someone to hold him.

Who grew up to be a "pathetic excuse for a wizard," he thought, remembering Snape's damning words. "He's right," Harry whispered, flying lower so that he could release the bubble over his head, which had fogged up irritatingly. "He's right—but I don't want him to be."

Leaning into his handle, Harry flew quickly toward the ground with no real thought of stopping. He knew how to deal with pathetic wizards. He'd killed more than one.

Why didn't I think of this before?

~*~

The last thing his father had said to him had been, "We all make our own hells," and Severus—who would not brood over Potter's abandonment of him—decided that his hell would at least be a clean one.

The problem was that, after he'd made the sub-cellar and its "inhabitant" presentable again, there was precious little else to set to rights.

Damning his own efficiency, Severus began to worry. He's been gone for over a day. Surely even a sot like Potter couldn't still be drinking himself into a stupor.

Severus had known the brat had been fond of at least one pub when he'd found Potter's stash of matchbooks and condoms in a kitchen drawer.

But he's not gone there since Unspeakable Granger-Weasley cautioned him against it.

Of course, given their row, he doubted that Potter would remember that discussion—and he resolutely set aside all thoughts of what else Potter might have been doing since he'd left.

Severus wasn't jealous. What Potter did didn't concern him beyond the fact that it meant he wasn't there to help him.

"He can shag all of Britain so long as he remembers me!" Severus shouted, furious again. How dare he leave me alone like this? What kind of bloody tortured do-gooding hero is he? Severus raged, as he willed himself to the drawing room and began restlessly pulling books from the shelves.

However poor an excuse of a library it was, it deserved to be an orderly one.

I can't believe they left these here, he thought, as Dark title after Dark title passed through his hands. I can't believe his friends left Potter alone with such books for company!

It had been obvious from the first that Potter hadn't adjusted well to the peace.

Someone should have seen to him.

Of course, how did one convince a troubled wizard of Potter's power to do anything?

"If I'd been there at the end, it would have been my first concern—for Albus' sake," Severus muttered, stacking the various texts according to subject matter before rethinking his scheme and taking an abecedarian approach. "This isn't right!"

None of it was right, and what galled Severus the most was that, apparently and as usual, he was the only one who could see it.

You're worried about him, his treacherously rational inner voice told him. "I am not," Severus answered, again shifting the books. By subject. By subject! he ordered himself, trying not to feel anything.

It was no use: he couldn't stop worrying about Potter.

Potter, Severus thought, where are you? I want . . . I want you to come home. "I need you to come home," he whispered, suddenly overcome by an emotion he couldn't name.

He wouldn't name it. He didn't like it because it hurt. He could barely stand to feel it, even though it had been lingering on the edges of his consciousness for days.

No, weeks. Weeks of near-suffocation! he thought, fighting with himself to keep the feeling at bay.

He didn't want to feel it, yet he couldn't stop remembering the . . . horror in Potter's eyes when he'd pushed him away; it made him feel the plaguesome emotion that much more strongly.

He didn't want me. He doesn't love—"NO! I won't. I can't. This isn't love!" Love is for foolish little boys who miss their fathers—not men who know . . . who know . . . better.

No matter his fear, however, Severus couldn't deny it. There weren't enough books in the world to organize away that fact that he was in love . . . with Harry.

"Fuck. Severus, you old fool, he doesn't want you." He just needed you—anyone—someone to help him because no one else would!

It made Severus livid. Hermione should have known better than to leave Harry alone with that thing in the sub-cellar.

Why didn't the officious little bint kill it? Why'd she leave it there to torture him? "It's not right," Severus spat, angry on Harry's behalf and wishing that it was within his power to destroy his body so that he could free Harry.

Because he's got to let it go. He must if he's ever to heal. . . . Harry, please. Harry, come home. I can help you do it. I want to help you. Please. "Harry, come home. I love you, Harry. Come home and we'll make it right," Severus begged hoarsely, made desperate by the force of the emotions surging through him as he contemplated the sacrifice he was prepared to make.

He'd never felt compelled to do anything like it before, and he didn't truly understand why he was so willing to forget his own needs now.

Knowing only that he wanted to save Harry even at the expense of himself, Severus focused all his energy on calling to his missing wounded brat. Harry, I love you. Come home. Come back to me, Harry. Harry, I love you. . . .

~*~

The wind was coldly buffeting against his face when the rush of desperate warmth spread through him and Harry just stopped. Frozen, hanging in the air, the most intense embrace he'd ever felt poured itself around his body from inside him and Harry almost suffocated from the sensation.

Love, unadulterated and raw, forced itself inside his mind and body until he was vibrating with it in every cell of his being.

Harry gasped, saw the ground only meters beneath himself, and let all that he'd been feeling go—and then he was falling again.

~*~

Severus heard the front door slam open and then slam shut—and then his name being called in an ecstatic cry: "Severus!"

He was in the entrance hall before he'd even had a chance to think about willing himself there, and he saw him, Harry, his face bruised, his clothing torn, his legs unsteady as they carried him forward—and then Severus was holding him.

Harry! he inwardly exclaimed, as Harry babbled a string of words he couldn't hear for holding his brat so tightly. "Harry," Severus said sternly, pushing back, only just, "you will never leave me again."

"No. Never. I heard you, Severus—I felt you, everywhere. You were there, with me, inside me. You were there. I—"

Severus stopped Harry's mouth with a fierce kiss, pressing Harry into the wall behind them with the force of it. He was never letting him go again.

You love me, Severus. You love me, Harry's voice rang, inside of Severus' mind.

Severus wasn't at all certain how that was possible, but he didn't care. He found himself tearing at Harry's clothing, desperate to feel his skin. He knew how it should feel—he'd dreamed of it as he'd pleasured Harry.

But that's all it was—your idea of how it should feel—"Harry, wait," Severus insisted, grabbing Harry's hands to still them. "How? How can we do this when it's not real?"

"I see you," Harry told him, his breath warm against Severus' neck. "And I can feel you," he continued, thrusting his hips forward. "You were everywhere inside me, Severus, and I want to be inside you."

Severus drew in a deep breath as he felt Harry's hands threading into his hair and then pulling his head down until their foreheads were touching.

"I can see you," Harry repeated. "You're real. This—we're—real. Don't be scared."

"Fuck. Harry. Please," Severus said. "I want—"

Crushing their mouths together in a bruising kiss, Harry spilled words inside of Severus' mind: I know what you want. I'm here, Severus, and I'm real, too.

Continue to Part Eight