Severus stood just outside of the hall on one of the terraces that led from it and watched the dancing. It was cold, and he was glad of it because the heat and cheer of the gathering had begun to feel oppressive. He was no stranger to such affairs as the one he was currently attending, but he disliked them. Still, the evening had been successful, and he was grateful for the assistance of his Advocate and escorts for seeing to it that it had been. He repressed the desire to take points as he heard couples giggling on the walkways beneath him in the garden as they, too, escaped the festivities.
"Oh, Charlie," squealed a feminine voice, though it was not, in fact, a female one, "you're so romantic!"
"I'm many things, Chris. Come back to my hotel and find out more of them."
Ah, Mr Spenser, Severus thought, and Mr Weasley. Two more to strike from the Scroll.
"Shouldn't you be inside trying for your dance with the Supplicant?"
"Nah, I don't think so. I'd much prefer snogging you than Snape."
"He is striking."
"He is my former professor, and I just can't imagine dancing—or doing anything else—with him," Weasley said.
"Chris" giggled. "Nor can I. He's altogether too imposing for me."
"Is that how it is?" Weasley asked, sounding hurt. "Am I not 'imposing'?"
"You're certainly very something, Charlie."
Disgusting, Severus thought. Too simpering for my taste—and not a particularly witty retort for such a celebrated author.
A polite cough from the doorway broke Severus' reverie.
"Ah, here you are. I wondered when you would make your escape."
"I confess that I, too, am a trifle fatigued."
"How surprising. These affairs used to enchant you."
"Yes, so they did when my husband's name meant something. No respectable Ministry wife will speak to me now, however, and no one's husband will favour me with an illicit glance."
Severus moved to lean against the railing, and Narcissa did likewise, casting an Imperturbable on it as she did so.
"I'm certain," Severus replied, "that your last complaint is not true."
"How kind of you to say so, but we both know how matters stand."
"Indeed. Is that why you were speaking with Harry?"
"You're keeping an eye on that one."
"Answer my question."
"Severus, you know very well that Mr Potter will require a Familial representative should you elect to propose to him. I was merely offering my services."
I thought as much. "How did he receive your completely disinterested offer?"
"I think he was too stunned to wonder about my motives at the time, but he didn't refuse me. I expect his mind is now positively spinning with my potential plots and machinations."
"Do you blame him, Narcissa? Your connection to Harry is tenuous, at best, and he can have no reason to trust you."
"That's not quite true."
"You told him of Lucius?"
"Not your part in the matter."
"That was unwise, Narcissa," Severus scolded her, somewhat worried, but not for himself.
He knew that the potion he'd given his old friend couldn't be traced back to him, and even if it could have been, Albus had approved of what he'd done.
"Don't fret, darling. He won't tell. He has almost as much cause to despise my 'dead' husband as I do."
"Perhaps, but it's not like you to be so careless."
"It wasn't lack of care that prompted my admission. It was a gambit, and a good one. Who else can the boy employ?"
"You presume a great deal."
Narcissa's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly before widening in what Severus recognised as calculated flirtation. "If that's true, then why am I not on your list?"
Severus didn't require Legilimency to understand what Narcissa was feeling. Her pride's wounded. He understood Narcissa's pride too well; she may have loved him once, or thought she had, and she knew that he'd once loved her, so to have lost any portion of his regard after already having lost so much had to hurt. "You would never have consented to marry me as it would have meant taking on a name that was not also your son's. Knowing that, how could you even ask such a question?"
As he asked his own, Severus found it prudent to appear slightly wounded, himself.
Her tone cold but not unkind, Narcissa replied, "You're very good. You're better at this game than Lucius ever was."
"I'm not playing a game."
"No, I expect you're not. Well then, remember me to Mr Potter when next you speak to him, and assure him that I meant my offer sincerely."
With those words, Narcissa lifted her enchantment and made a graceful exit.
Lucius Malfoy was a fool, Severus thought. A dangerous, power-mad fool who didn't appreciate any of the gifts granted him in the life he was given. I wonder if he's lost his mind yet, trapped as he is?
Lucius was fated to lie intact and aware until his body spent itself. The Draught of Living Death was not, as some had posited, a potion to engender vampiric traits. It was the worst sort of prison, worse even than Azkaban, and a fitting punishment for the vigorous wizard who had despised any manner of restraint.
Perhaps I should give him a true death. Perhaps I should release him as I might any old ghost set to haunting me, Severus thought, but then, remembering the bruises on Draco's body and the dim light in his eyes on one particular occasion, decided, not yet.
There had been many battles to fight during the war, and these had increased upon Lucius' escape from Azkaban. The night the Dark Lord almost succeeded in taking the Ministry, Severus had been present—at Voldemort's side.
The situation had been unavoidable, for the Order had received no intelligence about where Auror-in-Training Potter had vanished after his duel with Bellatrix Lestrange in Hogsmeade. Albus had instructed Severus to remain with the Dark Lord to do what he could to thwart Voldemort's plans and discover Harry's whereabouts, and that was how Severus had found himself beginning the war.
"We'll drive the cowards out, my servant."
"Yes, Lord Voldemort."
"And then you may have their remains for potions."
"Thank you, my lord."
"If there is anything left of the boy, you may have that, as well."
Severus had shuddered and reached out across the metaphysical divide between himself and the Dark Lord to capture what he could of his thoughts. Over-confident in what he'd believed to be his victory, the Dark Lord had been careless, and Severus had discovered that Harry was in the Ministry, itself, having been secured there by a minion whom Severus couldn't identify in the murk of the Dark Lord's mindscape.
He means to destroy the building and Potter with it!
"I cannot understand why ever we worried so about the prophesy, Severus. A child, a useless child—Harry Potter was no fit match for me."
It was then that a shower of blue sparks had rained down from the rooftop as a young, masculine voice had screamed, "NO!"
The Dark Lord and his Death Eaters had looked up as one to see the Boy Who Lived radiating a fearsome blue light.
Harry, Severus had thought, too stunned to react—at first.
Harry had sent a controlled stream of magic towards the attackers in the street. When one of his blue sparks, cast wandlessly and issuing from his body, had struck a combatant, the affected individual had simply disappeared—but the magic hadn't harmed any innocent it had touched. Seeing this, Voldemort had elected to withdraw, but not Lucius Malfoy.
"The half-blood coward is abandoning us!"
"Lucius, be reasonable," Severus had said. "We cannot any of us stand against that."
"Run if you like. I'm staying. To the doors!" Lucius had thundered.
Some of the Death Eaters had obeyed their lieutenant, but most had fled in the Dark Lord's wake. Lucius had reached the doors unscathed just as a dark figure had appeared on the roof's edge behind Harry and pushed him off of it.
Severus hadn't thought. Suddenly, his wand had become a broom, and he'd been flying, flying faster than he'd ever flown before. He'd heard a commanding scream cut above the chaos and had known it to be Granger's, and then he'd known nothing but speed as he'd focussed on the falling form of Harry Potter.
The boy's progress through the air had been unnatural; Bellatrix had clearly cast some sort of time-displacement hex on him so that his descent would be controlled. She'd wanted Harry to fall at Malfoy's feet. She'd wanted Harry to suffer. And she'd wanted Severus dead.
"He's coming! The traitor's coming for the boy!"
Severus had been forced to zig-zag and loop through the air to avoid the curses, but he'd managed it, at last Disapparating, broom and all, to the place Harry had been falling—and just as quickly, he'd Apparated underneath of him to break his fall. Severus' left hand had grazed Lucius' head as he'd jerked the handle upward and soared into the sky, well away from the confusion below, while Harry, slung over his lap, had shimmered with sweat and blue light.
Severus had never spoken of that moment with Harry—nor had anyone—for Harry had refused to discuss what had happened at the Ministry, or what had occurred later that night when he'd vanquished Voldemort. The only thing that the incident had taught Severus, and he'd known it even as he'd reached the mistiness of the high sky, was that he couldn't bear the thought of Harry dying—not because Harry had been Dumbledore's weapon and everyone's greatest hope of ending the war, but because he, Severus, had wanted Harry to live.
And I didn't understand why.
Almost a week after that battle, Harry had been a part of the team of Aurors that had removed Lucius Malfoy's body from his home, and then Harry had thrown himself into his training with a vengeance.
I don't believe that he even rested—or celebrated the victory. I'm not even sure that the war is over for him, now.
It was a thought that gave him pause because, more than anything, Severus wanted to put all battles behind him.
Harry was fast becoming tired of the evening's revelry. It had been a long night, and he was exhausted. I hate these gatherings, he thought, wandering amongst the other attendees and catching snatches of their self-congratulatory prattle. Networking, drinking, and gossiping—that's all a Ministry function is. Well, most of the time, anyway. Tonight really hasn't been all that bad—weird perhaps, but not bad.
The last time he'd attended an awards ceremony, it had been the one held to honour him for defeating Voldemort. The way everyone had looked at him as if he were some sort of infallible saviour had been disturbing, embarrassing, and enough to make Harry request any and all field-training assignments that would take him far away from home. His superiors had attempted to persuade him to rest, to enjoy "his" victory, but they hadn't refused him. No one had ever refused Harry anything after the war.
No one except Severus, of course.
"No, Mr Potter. I will not continue your training. You've accomplished your task and now know enough about the mental defences to teach your own student."
"But sir, we hadn't got through the last of it before we were . . . interrupted. I still don't know how to separate an implanted memory from a real one in someone's mind—and, for that matter, I can't build false shielding memories to protect myself. Please reconsider, Professor. I don't want to leave the subject half-learnt."
"Gratifying as it may be to know that you've become such a dedicated student, you're no longer my pupil. You've no need to further your development as an Occlumens. Surely, the normal course of your Auror training should be sufficient to keep you occupied. Now go find yourself some willing witch and enjoy our victory."
Stubborn bastard, Harry thought fondly, remembering what he'd always assumed had been Severus' way of making him accept that things were truly over.
He hadn't celebrated, however, for one couldn't so easily set aside a childhood and adolescence of living in constant fear of attack. He'd always needed to remain vigilant and wary, and his continued activities as an Auror were his way of dealing with those needs.
It would be nice to relax once and awhile, though, wouldn't it? Good to have something more than work, he thought, wishing that he were a true Eligible. Severus is a . . . a compelling man—strong, intelligent, and witty. What would it take to make him see me as a man, rather than a former pupil? I wonder what it would take to make any man see me as something more than a name and a . . . way to pass the time. He'd been friends with Bill Weasley, or so he'd thought. But Bill didn't really want me.
Harry wasn't so thoughtless as to believe that none of his friends valued him, but it was hard to credit himself worthy of anyone's romantic devotion when the only time he'd truly felt someone would miss him was on the day that Severus had saved him from Lucius Malfoy.
He only did that because I was needed to fight Voldemort.
Thinking this was lowering indeed.
That's not quite fair. It was his job to look out for me, but . . . but I think by that time he was doing it without orders. I wish I knew why he risked himself for me that day, why he risked everything.
Harry hadn't seen Bellatrix Lestrange in Hogsmeade as he was returning to the Novitiate from a meeting of the Order, at least, not until it had been too late. The last thing he remembered was passing an elderly woman on the path, and then Lestrange's voice had been shrieking curses at him. His unpreparedness had cost him the duel, and later, he'd awoken in a nondescript office at the Ministry, bound by magical restraints and feeling ridiculous and stupid.
Great. Some Auror I am!
It had, however, not taken much of an effort to free himself once he'd heard the fighting in the corridor outside of his prison, and he'd fought his way to the roof, incapacitating any Death Eaters he'd encountered in his path. Lestrange hadn't been one of them.
I've got to see what's happening!
The slaughtering of Ministry officials in the street beneath him had caused a ball of fury to grow in Harry's belly that had spread outward with an unexpected result. Severus had told him that his magic wasn't bound by wands and incantations, and that it would come when he most needed it if he trained himself to control his will, but he hadn't felt as though he'd controlled anything as he'd stood at the edge of the Ministry's roof. All he'd known was shock and anger and fear—deeper still, however, he'd known his duty—so he'd acted, and his magic had sought those who would have harmed the innocents it had been his responsibility to protect.
Harry had been so completely focussed on his task that he hadn't noticed he'd been followed.
He'd been falling with excruciating slowness towards the ground—and Lucius Malfoy—the next thing he'd known.
And then Severus rescued me, he remembered, warming at the thought.
His memory of that moment was hazy at best, but Hermione, who had been present in the fighting on the ground, had shared her recollections of the moment with him through the use of the Headmaster's Pensieve. Harry couldn't think of a time that he'd ever seen Severus so enraged and directed, and he was exceedingly grateful to know that he'd been the object of that heroic focus.
I wonder what it would be like to receive that sort of attention in a more pleasant context?
The idea made his skin tingle as if he were standing in the bracing cold, but the sensation was quickly chased away by the heat of desire. Harry tried to squelch it.
You can't start imagining that any of this is real. You'll only get hurt. Severus isn't for you, Harry, no matter . . . no matter how much you might wish—it's enough that you know he respects you, now. It has to be because you don't . . . because I don't have anything to offer him. I'm just a boy, a boy he's always saving.
With that unhappily bracing thought, Harry pulled himself together and went to find Severus. The gala was concluding, and it was time to go home.