Harry found himself contemplating questions other than Bill's as he flew over Ottery St. Catchpole after everyone had gone to bed.
Why did I tell Sebastian that I couldn't love him?
He jerked his broom handle abruptly upwards and made a series of backwards loops before dizziness caused him to right himself again.
Why did I say that when I knew it wasn't true? There's something between us now, something that I don't want to lose, but . . . .
Harry didn't understand how one person could split himself apart so completely. The entire time that Snape had been a bastard to him at Hogwarts, the man had been protecting him. Master Sharpe was demanding during training, but Sebastian was affectionate and fun in private.
Is it all to do with the Firebright?
Harry didn't think so. Snape had never shown any signs of using the potion at Hogwarts. Of course, he'd never displayed one ounce of sexual interest in Harry while his teacher, either, and Sebastian was clearly interested in him. But use of the elixir couldn't explain that interest; it had been there from the moment they'd first kissed—before it.
It wasn't a coincidence, Grapplethorpe's choosing Sharpe to be my curse-breaker.
As much as Harry didn't want this to mean that Snape had arranged matters as he had because he looked on him as a replacement for his mother or Regulus, Harry had to consider it, but he didn't consider it for long.
Perhaps it's just that generally, I've got something in common with Mum and Regulus, something that both Snape and Sebastian like.
Thinking this was better than feeling as if he were a substitute, and loads of people had types. He had one, himself—Weasleys and red hair.
Merlin, Sebastian's hair.
From their Occlumency lessons, Snape would have known about Harry's crush on Bill, just as he'd known about his crush on Ron. For a moment, the inherent creepiness of this fact overwhelmed Harry, and he began to fly erratically; it took him more time than it should have to regain control of his broom.
When he was flying steadily again, he thought, There are no coincidences here. He turned himself into someone I'd have to like, so . . . so why the hell does he need the Firebright to face me?
The answer to that was simple, he supposed: the Firebright had nothing to do with him. It was Snape's way of coping with his transformation into someone new.
It was awful to think about that. Even though Snape had tried to make right the wrong he'd done, even though he hadn't run away from his mistakes before he'd done everything within his power to correct them, he'd still had to invent an entirely new persona in order to escape his past because there was no one left to forgive him.
He drove Mum away by choosing to join the Death Eaters, and those people could hardly have been his friends. At the end, there was no one there to help him.
No wonder he'd become Sebastian.
No wonder he took to the Firebright. He's still himself, no matter how much he wants to be Sebastian, and . . . and he can't move on because he hasn't let go of Snape anymore than I have. Merlin, we're both hiding, aren't we?
Snape was hiding in Sebastian, and Harry was hiding in activity—his Auror training kept him away from the public, but it also meant that he didn't have to think about his past or his future; he'd just been going on as expected. He supposed that Snape still really must want to teach Defence because training novices was practically the same thing, but Harry no longer knew if being an Auror was the right choice for him. Like Hermione, he found the prospect of an adventurous future a bit too much to contemplate; yet, he'd said nothing of that when Ron had told him about their having been invited to join the programme.
And Snape knew I'd join, didn't he? Is . . . is he still trying to protect me?
Harry didn't know; it wasn't the sort of thing he could very well ask Sebastian, either.
Fuck, this is tiresome.
Suddenly finding his train of thought too convoluted and exhausting to contemplate further, Harry stopped flying and looked down; he realised that he was very close to where Luna lived.
I should have spent more time with her yesterday.
Of course, there was still time for that, wasn't there? Harry knew that Luna would still be awake; she loved Christmas. She'd always said that it wasn't over until one fell asleep.
She'll probably still be awake, taking Christmas treats to gnomes and thinking about everything good.
Luna was like that; no matter what unpleasant things happened to her, she was always prepared to dwell on the pleasant and the possible—and she lived her own life, not the life other people thought she should have.
She never hides from anything, does she?
"Harry!" Luna exclaimed, as she greeted him at her "door."
Unlike Hogwarts, which had undergone extensive, if incomplete, repairs, Luna's home was still half-built. While the repairs were being made, she and her father were making due with a reinforced tent. She was walking out of it as Harry came down to land.
"Happy Christmas! Why are you here? Is it Nargles?"
"No, it's just Potter's dreadful timing."
Malfoy stepped out of the tent after Luna, scowling. "Obviously."
"Sarcasm isn't festive, Draco," Luna said lightly, although there was a warning edge to her tone that Harry had never heard before.
Malfoy sighed. "Happy Christmas, Potter."
Gobsmacked, Harry mumbled the same thing back.
"So much better," Luna praised Malfoy, and Harry was stunned to see him flush. Turning to Harry, Luna continued, "Draco's been coming 'round trying to ease his guilt by being nice to me—and get me to shag him, too, I thi—"
Harry snickered at Malfoy's embarrassment in spite of his shock to see him there.
"Be nice, Harry. It's been very hard for him."
Harry burst out laughing. "I'll bet . . . it's been . . . hard."
His laughter was abruptly cut off by Malfoy's punch to his gut, but he recovered quickly. His first swing missed the bastard, but his second connected, and then he and Malfoy were grappling furiously with each other—until everything went cold and slow, and he discovered that they'd both been encased in large snowballs.
"He started it!" Malfoy shouted.
"You hit me!"
"Luna?" Mr Lovegood asked, coming to the door. "Oh," he said, as he noticed Harry and Malfoy's condition. "I see. Fighting over you, dear? How flattering. Happy Christmas, Harry."
Harry looked at Malfoy, who, after a furtive glance in Luna's direction, shook his head in disgust as Mr Lovegood returned to the tent. With his eyes on Malfoy, Harry was startled when he felt something press against his lips.
"Pth! Luna, I don't want a carrot!"
"But snowmen always have carrots, and I'd like a picture. You're both adorable this way."
"No pictures!" Harry and Malfoy exclaimed as one.
"Fine," Luna told them, "but you'll just have to wait as you are until I've taken this carrot to the Gernumblies. I'm not wasting a good carrot."
With that, she disappeared from Harry's line of sight.
"Wonderful. Just how I wanted to spend the end of Christmas," Malfoy muttered.
"Damn it, I think she's iced this," Harry said, struggling within his snowman prison.
"She's good with charms, brilliant, really."
Harry raised an eyebrow at Malfoy's tone. Merlin, he really likes her. That was . . . wrong. Malfoy had no right to be seeing Luna, or admiring anything about her. "You can't be serious."
"I most certainly am. Most of the construction charms are hers, and—"
"If you hurt her, I kill you."
"Don't make me put hats on you!" Luna called.
"Fuck," Harry muttered, as Malfoy called back, "We're fine, Lu, really!"
Lu? Oh, that's just . . . so very wrong—and it's my fault, isn't it? If I'd spent more time with Luna, Malfoy would never have been able to get his hooks into her. Glaring at him, Harry whispered, "Just so you know, I meant what I said."
"Consider me suitably warned, Snow Potter."
"Why are you here, anyway?"
Harry ignored him. "This is really cold."
Malfoy snorted. "You think?"
"I think she's going to leave us like this until we apologise."
"Well, get used to being cold then—and stay away from my girl."
"Your what? I don't think so. Luna's my friend."
"Which is why you didn't say more than what, three words to her after yesterday's debacle? Some friend."
"I tried, but the press—"
"Was too much for our ickle hero?"
"If you were there, then you know—look, Malfoy, is Luna all right or isn't she?"
"She's fine," Luna said, from behind them, "but she wishes that you were sorry for being so mean to each other."
Harry sighed as Luna came into view. "I really am sorry about the statue."
"I know. Everyone was."
"Not everyone," said Malfoy.
"Well," Luna replied, pointing her wand at them and flicking it sharply left and then right, "not everyone's forgiven the professor."
Harry found himself able to curl his stiff fingers, and he began twisting in the melting snow to release himself. Malfoy did the same.
"Are you very cold, Draco?"
"Terribly, awfully cold, Lu," he murmured, as she stepped up to him.
"Hey, I'm cold, too."
Without looking at him, Luna twitched her wand in Harry's direction, and a warm rush of heat rolled over and dried him.
"Don't I get a warming charm?" Malfoy asked.
"Do you really think of me as your girl?"
"Lu," Malfoy said, shifting from one foot to the other and rubbing his arms, "Potter's standing right there."
"I know. He's worried about me. I told you he'd come. Answer my question."
Luna and Malfoy stared at each other until Malfoy reached out to caress Luna's face. Apparently, this was enough of an answer for her; Harry had never seen such a beatific smile.
"Er, Luna?" he asked, feeling incredibly out of place and watching in quiet horror as she wrapped her arms around Malfoy.
Malfoy seemed to have forgotten that Harry was there, his gaze was so intent upon Luna's.
"Now that you've come, Harry, you see I'm all right?"
Harry saw no such thing, but he'd had enough of fighting for one night. "Yeah, I . . . I guess."
"Good, because I need to make sure that Draco gets warm . . . privately, it seems. See you again soon?"
"Not too soon, I hope," Malfoy whispered hoarsely—against Luna's lips.
Thoroughly out of sorts to be thus dismissed, Harry Summoned his broom and again took flight.
Harry flew low as he returned to the Burrow, coming to land on the other side of the hedge that formed the border of the back garden. He was surprised to hear voices coming from within. Walking around to that part of the fence that had an eye-hole, he peered inside to see Bill and Sebastian sitting at the table that the Weasleys sometimes used when their company was too large to eat comfortably in the kitchen; snow had melted around it, indicating that the two men had been sitting there for some time thanks to a warming charm. They seemed at ease—both of them were leaning back in their chairs and resting their feet on the table—so Harry's initial suspicion that they'd been discussing him faded.
"Why'd Brent retire, anyway?" Bill asked Sebastian, flicking his wand at the flask that sat between them and making it pour what looked to be coffee into his mug.
Sebastian shrugged. "Said it was time."
"Why you, Sharpe?"
Sebastian looked away from Bill to stare into the mug that was resting in his lap. "Morecrafte."
Who's Morecrafte? Harry wondered.
"Ah," said Bill. "The boys were wondering about your old masters."
"Given that tantalising statement about your past, their curiosity can hardly be a surprise to you."
"I suppose not."
"The man was an evil piece of work. What more is there to say?"
Loads, Harry thought, as Bill replied, "A lot, I should think. How did Brent know about your apprenticeships?"
"Brent had been trying for years to catch Morecrafte at his 'work'. I met him in one of the raids. He tried to save me from him, but I . . . had my family to consider."
Family? What family? I thought Sharpe's family were dead!
"So you what, stayed and collected what evidence you could?" Bill pressed.
"Weasley, why do you suddenly give a damn about my . . . youthful indiscretions?"
Bill snorted. "You're my age, you pillock."
"Old before my time. Morecrafte, remember?"
Sebastian sighed. "I'd almost forgotten we'd talked about this before. Remind me never to get pissed with you again."
Bill snorted. "You're sober enough now and you're talking."
"Only an idiot tries to Apparate when . . . inebriated."
Inebriated. Right. High, more like it. Harry's conscience pricked him, then, because Sebastian didn't appear to be making use of his phial.
"Glad you came back. We can always make more room here."
"Interesting architecture, very homey," Sebastian replied, his tone light.
"Was a despicable piece of shite, but he was nothing to Morecrafte. When Morecrafte destroyed Smythe and took his holdings, I made him believe that I was never loyal to my old master. I lied to him about my parents and sister, told him that Morecrafte had killed them. He believed me, and after I cooperated with him in the retrieval of the artifact he'd come for, he decreed that I showed potential and should study under him."
"What happened to your family?"
"They're still hidden under Fidelius, at least, I hope so."
"I'm so sorry."
"I'm sorry to have whinged about it to you."
"We don't have to—"
"No, it's fine. I . . . don't mind telling you."
Bill said nothing while Sebastian drained his mug and set it aside.
"When Mother arranged matters, I was too young to become their Secret Keeper. She came to me before she and my sister disappeared to tell me that she'd left my father, that she was sorry to be leaving me, but even though she told me to whom I could apply for her location, I think that she . . . I knew that she was afraid of me. I could tell that she was hoping I'd never try to find her."
"Damn my father. It was his doing that put us all in harm's way. He's the one who sold me to Smythe."
It was hard to see everything through the eye-hole, but Harry could hear the horror in Bill's tone. He felt it, himself.
"I am, if you're still willing to talk."
"No one's ever asked before, you know."
"Perhaps someone should have."
"Perhaps. So, the raid. Brent. He wanted, well, obviously, he wanted my testimony against Morecrafte. He wanted to know how I'd come to serve him, and I couldn't very well tell him that my father had sold me to a Dark wizard and my mother had done nothing to stop him. I've . . . I've never blamed Mother."
"But under Fidelius, she and your sister couldn't have been found."
"I was nine-years-old. I thought that, Morecrafte had told me that, the Aurors used torture to extract information from 'witnesses'. I thought I'd break under it, reveal my family's Secret Keeper, and I didn't have any proof, you understand. I'd only been with Morecrafte for a little under a year. He'd not yet taught me anything I could attest to as being Dark, but he had ensured that he had the appropriate paperwork to keep me. I felt trapped."
"You were trapped."
Harry, listening intently, felt ill. That poor bastard.
"Yes, well . . . . I fought with the Aurors, screamed at them to leave us alone, and that satisfied my master as to my loyalties. He gave me more freedom after that, began to tell me more about the true nature of his work, and then . . . ."
And then, what?
The way Sebastian was speaking, it was impossible to believe that what he was saying had happened to someone else, no matter that Harry knew otherwise.
"And then?" Bill prompted.
"Shortly before my tenth birthday, I met Severus Snape."
"I suspect that Brent spoke to Dumbledore about me. They were friends. I was collecting a valuable specimen of rare herb for Morecrafte one night, and Snape approached me. He told me that Dumbledore was willing to offer me protection in exchange for helping Brent apprehend the man while engaged in illegal activity."
"Why would Dumbledore have done that?"
"Because Elias Morecrafte was sympathetic to Lord Voldemort's cause, if unwilling to follow anyone other than himself. He'd been working on a spell to destroy 'impurities' of the blood, and he'd provided safe haven to more than one Death Eater in my time with him. . . . He liked to show off."
"So Voldemort knew of his activities?"
"Yes, and he wanted that spell."
"And Dumbledore would have learnt about it from Snape."
"So that's when you started spying for Dumbledore?"
"Oh, I never spied for Albus Dumbledore, Weasley. I knew about Snape, what he was. He and other Death Eaters had been guests of Morecrafte in the past, and what they discussed . . . . No, I thought Dumbledore was a fool to trust Snape, and I couldn't bring myself to trust either of them."
Harry frowned. Even if Snape's the one who saved you? He shook himself. That is Snape, and he . . . I'll bet he's the one who persuaded Dumbledore to try and help the real Sebastian.
"And Brent?" asked Bill.
"Brent never gave up on me. It came out after . . . Voldemort murdered the Potters that Morecrafte was a sympathiser, and that was enough at that time for the Wizengamot to direct the DMLE to apprehend him. He escaped during the raid, and so vile was his work and the fact that the Aurors had failed to stop it that the incident was kept out of the public record."
"What happened to you?"
"Brent had me declared his ward and then sent me to Hogwarts. Having lived with Smythe since my seventh birthday, and then with Morecrafte, I flourished there. You remember what an arrogant sod I was," Sebastian said, rueful amusement colouring his tone.
"You weren't so bad."
"I was insufferable, as Snape never tired of telling me, but my time at Hogwarts was . . . well, it was then that I became interested in curse-breaking, as you know, and then it was off to Gringotts."
"Yes, but that still doesn't explain—"
"Why Brent elected to make me his replacement when I'd never had one minute's Auror training?"
Harry's muscles were beginning to cramp from leaning down to peer at Bill and Sebastian, but he couldn't bring himself to move. He didn't want to do anything to alert them to his presence, and he desperately wanted to learn what he could about Sebastian's past.
"I know enough that it involves Morecrafte. Billings—"
"Yes. He's a friend of mine, and he was on the team that took Morecrafte down."
"Ah. I was responsible for that, as well, in a way. Morecrafte found me again shortly after you introduced me to Fleur in Paris, as it happens, after I left the restaurant, and he told me he'd killed the man my mother had trusted enough to keep her secret. That was easy enough to verify."
"What did he want?"
"Supplies. Banned substances, all. He told me that he knew where my mother and sister were . . . ."
"Did you help him?"
"No. Oh, I agreed, of course, and allowed him to believe it was because I thought he'd tell me where my family was, but I knew better. I went directly to Brent, who ensured that I filled Morecrafte's 'order'."
"That was a trap."
"And because Morecrafte was killed during the exchange, you never did find out where your mother and sister were."
"No, I didn't," Sebastian said, standing up and stretching. "And I never will find them, now. It's for the best, really. They've made their new lives. They don't need me."
Harry felt his eyes burning, and reminded himself that Sebastian—that Snape—was acting. But the story he's telling is true, no matter that it isn't his.
"The upshot of all of this is that Brent, with whom I never have had a conversation like this one, spent whatever time we had together while I was out of school training me as he would any novice. He seemed to think that physical activity and 'healthy' pursuits would right what ailed me." Sebastian snorted. "So you see, the best of the best turned me into a quasi-Auror, and when it came time for him to retire, he felt that by giving me his old post, it would keep me honest, give me 'structure'. Brent is a great proponent of routine making the man—and I did pass every examination the DMLE insisted that I be given."
"I never meant to imply that I thought you weren't qualified," Bill said, rising as well.
As if he hadn't heard Bill, Sebastian said, "Thank you for asking, and for your hospitality. I believe I'll have a walk through your orchard before bedding down in the attics. You're certain that Longbottom won't mind?"
Bill chuckled. "Neville won't be there to mind your company."
Harry felt his face grow hot.
"That's a cavalier attitude to take regarding your baby sister."
"Ginny hasn't been a baby for some time. I think even Mum's beginning to appreciate that since—never mind."
"Since she threw over our Harry?"
"I wouldn't have put it quite that way, but yes. Skeeter was more bothered by the break-up than Mum."
Harry held his breath, wondering if Bill would take this opportunity to bring him up.
"Sells more papers to be scandalised, I suppose. Goodnight, Wea—goodnight, Bill."
The two men shook hands, and then Sebastian turned towards the back of the garden and moved out of Harry's line of sight.
Harry sank down into the snow, overwhelmed by both Sebastian's story and his renewed admiration for Snape. He was cold and wet and stiff, hungry, too, and he had questions, but he expected that Sebastian would be in no frame of mind to answer them.
After what he'd just overheard, it was harder to reconcile his belief that Snape was Sebastian, especially when all he wanted to do was go to the man, whoever he was, and comfort him.
Everyone needs friends.
But Snape-Sharpe, as far as Harry was concerned, needed them more than anyone he'd ever known.
He keeps coming back to me, Harry thought, pushing himself up out of the snow. He needs me.
Harry picked up his broom and crept quietly into the house.
My questions can wait.
The door creaked as it opened, and Harry heard Sebastian's sharp hiss of surprise.
"Forgive the intrusion, I thought that—"
Harry rolled over so that Sebastian could see who it was lying on the bed, blinking sleepily in the candlelight.
"What are you doing here?" Sebastian asked, entering the door and closing it behind him.
"You keep coming back to me. I thought it was time I came back to you."
Sebastian moved closer to the bed, his eyes fixed on Harry's, and Harry felt a slight push against his mind.
"You overheard my conversation with Bill."
"You . . . you're a Legilimens, Sebastian."
"You'd rather I called you Sever—"
"I . . . I can go, if you'd like."
"No, I wouldn't like that at all."
"Then come to bed," said Harry, holding out a hand in invitation.
Sebastian began to move forward but abruptly stopped. "Don't you want to ask—"
"You a thousand uncomfortable things? Hell yes, I do, but not," Harry said, rising from the bed, "now."
"What do you want?"
Harry took a step towards Sebastian and reached for his hands. "Isn't it obvious?" Even in the dim light, Harry could see the bob of Sebastian's Adam's apple. "Don't be nervous. That wasn't a trick question," he whispered.
"You . . . you just want a Christmas shag."
"No," Harry replied, ignoring the bitter hollowness of Sebastian's voice. "I just want you. Come to bed. . . . Please?"
Sebastian squeezed Harry's hands once and then let them go, turning to remove his coat and lay it over a chair. Harry watched as he then sat down on it and unlaced his boots before rising to remove his trousers and carelessly toss them over his coat. He stripped off his socks with equal disregard, and then pulled down his pants and allowed them to drop to the floor. And then, after running his hands down the front of Mrs Weasley's jumper, he removed it slowly, almost reluctantly, and folded it with great care before placing it on the chair.
The reverence with which Sebastian treated Mrs Weasley's gift made Harry's throat clench with repressed emotion. "Let me . . . help you with these," he said hoarsely, moving forward to undo the buttons of Sebastian's shirt—but Sebastian took his hands and stopped him.
"Lock the door," he murmured, "and make sure that we won't be heard."
Harry stepped out of his y-fronts before Summoning his wand, and when he'd finished casting his spells and looked at Sebastian, he was nude, as well, and un-braiding his hair. Oh. Harry bit his lower lip at the sight of its shining cascade over Sebastian's shoulders. Hard and soft at once.
"In the morning," Sebastian said, his voice almost too low to be heard, "I want you to fuck me, but now, I want . . . I need . . . ."
Harry got into bed and held up the coverlet for Sebastian, who slid in next to him and pulled him close. With his head resting against his chest, Harry could hear the hammer of Sebastian's heart; it echoed his own.
"I know what you need."
"That's . . . that's why . . . I keep coming back to you, Harry."
Harry was dreaming. He knew that he had to be because when he'd fallen asleep, it had been in a bed, not a low-hanging hammock on a ship. There were cracks in the hull of the hold in which he found himself, and brackish, salty water was seeping through them to flood the cabin.
This isn't right. I'm not here, he told himself, shaking his head to clear it.
A sudden lurch sent him flying, and he reached out to grab something solid and found himself clutching Sebastian's shaking, sweat-soaked, foul-smelling body.
"Sebastian?" Harry asked, wrinkling his nose against the smell as he sat up and threw off the covers. "Sebastian?" he asked again, shaking his shoulder.
Sebastian grunted but gave no other sign of consciousness as he continued to breath shallowly. Harry rose and lit the candle, glancing out the window to see the first faint rays of dawn light. He moved to Sebastian's side of the bed and knelt by him so that he could see his face; in the candlelight, Sebastian's expression was pained, and his hair was matted against his skin, which felt hot, even though he was shivering.
This is bad. It could be flu, but . . . but it's not, is it?
On impulse, Harry looked through Sebastian's clothing; his Firebright phial was nowhere to be found.
"Sebastian, what did you do?" Harry asked, realising that at some point between their argument and reconciliation, his lover had got rid of his elixir. He came back to me. He knew that I didn't want him if— "Shite." Could he really have gone into withdrawal this quickly?
From what he'd observed of Sebastian, Harry knew that he sipped from his phial approximately every half-hour, more when he was stressed.
And you've got to take Polyjuice every hour, he thought, his confusion returning because it was Sebastian Sharpe in the bed, not Severus Snape. How is that possible?
It didn't matter how, however, as Sebastian began convulsing. Harry moved quickly to hold Sebastian on the bed, fear seizing him.
What do I do? "Sebastian, it's all right. It's Harry. I've got you. Can you hear—"
Tap! Tap! Tap! "Er, hullo?"
"Hullo? Is anyone in there?"
As Sebastian's tremors subsided, Harry thought about Body-Binding him but didn't do it. He wasn't sure how any spell might affect him, not given the mystery surrounding how Snape had managed to take Sebastian's form. But it was clear that he had to find help for him, help from someone he could trust to keep Sebastian's secret if he should suddenly re-transform. That person wasn't Neville.
Harry rose and dressed hastily, un-warding the door and slipping through it before Neville could see inside.
"Harry, what are—"
"Nev, listen. Master Sharpe is ill."
"Sharpe's in there? What, how—"
"He came back last night and stayed here because Bill told him that you'd be with . . . right," Harry said, as Neville blushed furiously. "Anyway, we were supposed to go for a ride this morning, but when he didn't come down to join me, I came up to check on him. He looks bad, Nev, but I don't want to embarrass him in front of the entire household."
"I don't think so, but—"
"You don't want Ron to see him ill?" Neville interrupted, obviously finding Harry's explanation a bit odd but seeming to accept it for all that.
Harry was grateful. "I doubt our Master of Instruction would want to appear weak before any other of his novices, you know?"
"Okay," Neville replied slowly. "Should I get Mrs Weasley?"
"No!" Harry exclaimed, before he could stop himself. "I mean, I think it would be best to get Bill. He and Sharpe are friends, after all, yeah?"
"Sure, Harry, I can do that."
"Bill," Harry said, when the man appeared at the top of the stairs. "Sebastian's—"
"Ill, Neville says. Let me see him."
Harry swallowed. "He's, er, we—"
"Do you want to go dress him before I come in?"
Cursing himself for not having thought of that sooner, Harry dashed inside. "Shite!"
Bill followed him at his exclamation and closed the door. "Hold him," he ordered, even as Harry was moving to do it. "You've already set an Imperturbable?"
"Yeah," Harry acknowledged, pressing Sebastian's shoulders into the bed. "Bill, I don't think he's taken any Firebright since coming back here."
"I can tell that from the smell," Bill muttered. "Harry, I need Mum for this. I don't know how to manage someone in Firebright withdrawal. I just know the symptoms."
"We can't get your mum."
Harry lay on top of Sebastian and pressed his forehead to his. "She won't understand—"
"Don't be stupid! He's ill and she'll know how to help—"
Rap! Rap! Rap! Rap! Rap!
"Who's that?" Harry demanded, as Bill opened the door and Sebastian began moaning loudly.
"Shut the door before you wake the entire household," she said briskly, setting a basin filled with flannels and phials on the bedside table and sitting down next to Sebastian and Harry. "How long has he been taking it?"
"Mum, how do you know what he's—"
"Harry," Mrs Weasley said, drawing her wand and ignoring Bill, "how long?"
"I don't know."
"Up," she ordered, before sending linen lengths of cloth from the tip of her wand; they flew towards Sebastian and wrapped around his wrists and ankles before securing them to the bed frame.
"Nnngh," Sebastian protested, although he didn't open his eyes.
Mrs Weasley felt Sebastian's forehead, opened one of his eyes carefully and clucked at what she saw, and then swished her wand and murmured something over him. "For quite some time, I should think, given that the whites of his eyes have gone red, his skin is hot to the touch but he's without fever, and his sweat smells of dragon's dung. It's definitely Firebright withdrawal."
"How can you know that?" Bill asked, while Harry sat there feeling useless.
"When did his symptoms present, Harry?"
Bill huffed and crossed his arms.
"Er," Harry said, flushing, "I was asleep, but not that long ago."
As if she hadn't heard Harry's admission, Mrs Weasley replied, "Bill, I want you to take charge of breakfast and see to it that no one comes up here."
"All right, but do you need—"
"I have everything I need right here," Mrs Weasley said, removing her phials and other oddments from the basin before tapping it.
It filled with water.
"What do you want me to tell people when they ask where you all are?"
"That they're not to come up here," Mrs Weasley snapped, shooing him away with one hand while passing Harry a flannel with her other one. "Get that stench off him."
Bill left, and Harry moved to the other side of the bed to take Mrs Weasley's place as she stood and began mixing powders and potions in a small bowl.
Harry's hands shook a bit as he wiped Sebastian down, discreetly sliding his hand with the flannel under the coverlet as he moved lower. Sebastian continued to shake, and he groaned occasionally, but at least his convulsions had stopped.
"How long have you and Sebastian been friends, Harry?"
Harry found Mrs Weasley's tone awfully calm and tried to take comfort in that. "Since Hogwarts reopened."
"That's nice, dear."
"It must be if you were up here sleeping together."
Harry's face flamed. "How did you know to come up?"
"It was Neville's face that gave it away. When he came into the kitchen, I'd already found the lounge empty, and I'd heard Bill set Sharpe up in the lounge while you were out flying."
"You knew about that?"
"I always know when one of you leaves," Mrs Weasley said, running a hand through Harry's hair. "In any case, with both of you missing, I expected that you'd taken yourselves off somewhere more private."
Harry's ears throbbed with embarrassment.
"In future, the two of you might try to avoid the lovesick glances if you want to be discreet. Budge over."
Harry moved to the other side of the bed after putting the flannel into the basin and sat down, looking at the glass that Mrs Weasley held. The potion inside of it was thick and white and smoking.
Not smoking. It looks like breath does in cold air, Harry thought, realising that the glass was also radiating coldness. "What's that?"
Mrs Weasley sighed and turned to regard him. "This is a purgative of sorts. It will—hold him still," she interrupted herself as Sebastian's tremors began again. She set her glass to levitating. "I need to make sure that he swallows all of this."
With that, she leant over Sebastian and pried open his mouth while Harry held his legs. The glass emptied its contents slowly into Sebastian's mouth while Mrs Weasley massaged his throat. He choked a bit but got down the potion, and then he went still, his skin growing so cold that it burnt.
"Let him go and stand away from the bed."
Harry did as he was told, watching in fascinated distress as Sebastian's skin went blue and shiny and his shaking seemed to ease.
"It looks as though he's turning to ice."
"That's the Firechill at work," Mrs Weasley replied, as if this explained everything.
An awful cracking sound shot through the room, and Harry moved towards the bed.
"No!" Mrs Weasley admonished Harry, dashing to his side to stop him.
"But . . . but his skin's—"
"That's supposed to happen. Wait. I know it's difficult to see him like this, but wait."
The creeping icy blueness reached the end of Sebastian's hair before the lines running through the ice covering him stopped growing. The ice grew thicker, so thick that Sebastian's features were obscured, and then the ice suddenly turned dark red and shattered.
Still clutching Harry, Mrs Weasley Summoned her wand and began Vanishing the shards. "Don't touch the ice. It's poisonous."
"It pulled it out of him?" Harry asked, his eyes never leaving Sebastian's body.
His skin was red and blotchy, and Harry suddenly saw more of it as Mrs Weasley flicked the covers off the bed.
"It's nothing I haven't seen before, and he'll never know," Mrs Weasley said, busily beginning to clothe both Sebastian and the bed by magic. "And yes, the Firechill did pull the poison from Sebastian's body, but—"
"How did you know what to do?" Harry asked, as she sheathed her wand.
"That should be obvious," she said, her demeanor suddenly changing from stern to worried as she wrung her hands. "Poor boy."
"You've . . . seen this before."
"Yes, but we're not going to discuss it."
Wondering which of her sons had taken Firebright, Harry asked, "May I sit with him now?"
"Oh, you'll need to do more than that, I'm afraid."
"Pardon?" Harry asked, as Mrs Weasley began Shrinking furniture and cartons. "What are you doing?"
"Removing anything that he might use to hurt you when he wakes up. He'll want to leave, and you can't let him."
"Because if Sebastian takes Firebright within twenty-four hours of Firechill, he'll die."
Harry's Anti-Apparation ward crackled into life, and Sebastian lunged at him. "Take it off! Let me out of here!" he shouted, seizing Harry by the collar of his shirt and shaking him.
Harry brought his knee up between Sebastian's legs, hard. "I can't," he said, keeping his voice calm as Sebastian sucked in a breath and dropped to the floor. "You know why. Don't make me bind you again."
It had been stupid of him to release Sebastian in the first place, Harry realised, but even without the Firebright, Sebastian had charmed him into thinking that he wanted to hold him.
I should have listened to Mrs Weasley, Harry thought, retrieving the Anti-Apparation bracelet that she'd placed around Sebastian's wrist before leaving Harry to it.
Getting it back onto Sebastian's wrist, even though he was gasping through the pain Harry had just caused him, was a bit of a struggle, but he managed it. Harry didn't trust his own basic charm having only recently learnt how to cast it in training, and he knew it would take a while for Sebastian to pry the bracelet off again.
"I'm sorry," he said, stepping away from Sebastian.
"What would you have me do? Let you leave? Let you go kill yourself?"
"'M already dead. Doesn't matter."
Sebastian reached for one of Harry's ankles and clutched it. "Please, Harry. I need—"
"You need," Harry replied, pulling his leg away from Sebastian's grasp, "to wait five more hours. Mrs Weasley says that once the shock to your system has passed, you'll be in a better frame of mind to consider what you're doing."
"What the fuck does she know about it?" Sebastian demanded, sitting up and beginning to paw at the bracelet.
Harry sat down on the bed, keeping his wand at the ready. "Enough, I suppose. She had the Firechill, didn't she?"
"Which of her brats was it? Poor twin-less Georgie?"
Shut it, Harry thought, trying and failing not to narrow his eyes.
Sebastian pushed himself up off the floor, and Harry tensed. "No, it was her precious baby girl—couldn't deal with the loss of you, I'd imagine."
Harry sighed. He doesn't mean any of this. He's just baiting you. "How long have you been taking that shite, anyway?"
"Yes, Ginevra. That has to be it. Abandoned by her hero, the little bitch just couldn't—"
"You're a fine one to be talking about abandoning people," Harry interrupted, electing to bait rather than to hex Sebastian. "Was it worth it?"
Beginning to pace the room, Sebastian asked, "Was what worth it?"
"Choosing your Death Eater friends and Dark magic over my mother—and just what did Mulciber try to do to Mary MacDonald?"
Sebastian didn't miss a step. "You'd have to ask her. Oh, that's right, you can't. She's as dead as Lily is."
Harry's grip tightened on his wand so much that he thought he might snap it, but he pressed on. "You don't have to tell me that. I can hear her dying in my nightmares—thanks for that."
"That wasn't my doing, you little shite!"
"Oh, right, because you're not Severus Snape?" Harry asked, rising.
Sebastian looked ready to spring at him again, and he wanted room to manoeuvre if he did.
"Do I look like him, you useless twat?"
The insult rolled off of Harry. He doesn't mean any of this. It's just the—
"And how typical of you to blame Snape for something someone else did."
"You took the prophecy to Voldemort. That was as good as murder, and you know it—isn't that why you took refuge in a bottle? Couldn't stand to take your share of the blame?"
Sebastian stopped pacing abruptly and turned towards Harry. "Mothers are overrated, Potter. I did you a favour."
"You . . . I . . . ."
Sebastian laughed. "You'll never make much of an Auror, not that they'll let me drum you out. Clarity, remember?"
Harry clenched his free hand and tried to focus on "Sebastian's" admission while they circled each other. "So you admit it, then? That you're Snape?"
"I admit nothing except a poor choice of fuck."
"She never touched you."
"Perhaps if she had, she wouldn't have gone the way of quasi-magiceuticals."
"I meant my mother!" Harry shouted, ignoring the jibe about Ginny. "She wanted Dad, not you, and I don't blame her. At least his friends didn't torture girls with Dark magic! And you just stood by and let Mulciber do it, didn't you? Just like you let Voldemort kill Mum!"
Harry's spell missed, and he found himself on the floor, struggling with Sebastian for his wand. Even weakened by his "cure," Sebastian had the height and weight advantage on Harry, and slowly, Harry felt his wand being pried from his fingers.
Sebastian went still above him, and Harry shoved him off and looked up to see his house-elf holding a pan, his ears quivering furiously.
"Th—anks," Harry said, feeling Sebastian's head. There was already a huge knot forming on the back of it. "He's still breathing. Good."
"Kreacher has been waiting, Master Harry. Kreacher thinks that Master waited too long to call him."
Harry sighed. "I thought I could handle him by myself."
"Does Master Harry want Kreacher to remove the glamour?"
"This wizard is wearing a glamour, Master Harry."
Harry looked down at Sebastian, stunned. A glamour? Is that how he managed it? "But . . . personal glamours don't work when their casters are unconscious."
"He has a fairy stone, Master, here," Kreacher said, pointing at Sebastian's left forearm, which began to pulse.
Harry had never heard of a fairy stone, and he wasn't sure it was such a good idea to remove Sebastian's glamour given his current state of mind. What if he can't work the glamour again? That would definitely drive him to— "Stop doing that. Leave him alone—please."
"Kreacher will obey even Master Harry's foolish orders."
Harry snorted. "It's all right. I know who he is. His . . . glamour never fooled me," he lied. "Is Mrs Weasley still awake?"
"Don't mention the glamour, but send her up."
"It'll hurt, but he'll be fine, Harry," Mrs Weasley said, after she'd examined Sebastian—who was once more secured to the bed. "Are you all right, dear?"
I don't know what I am. "Er, yeah. Fine. I just . . . this is . . . ."
Mrs Weasley patted Harry's arm. "Don't untie him again, and it will be easier. You've only a little over four more hours now."
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean he still won't want—"
"Sometimes it's enough, Harry, but that's very rare."
"You mean Firechill can cure the addiction?"
"Only rarely, and it would be better to say that it gives some people the help they need to resist their addictions. It didn't quite work that way for—at least if Sebastian takes Firebright again after the purgative period passes, he won't die from it. But you must understand that the reasons Sebastian took it weren't purged with the potion—and you can't do anything to cure him of those."
That made sense to Harry, but it wasn't at all consoling. "How did you explain things?"
"When you didn't come down? Don't worry about that. Everyone knows how contagious dragon pox is."
"You told them that Master Sharpe has the pox?"
"I told them that you both did, and that you'd have to remain quarantined until it was no longer contagious. I'll charm you both green before you come down, and Bill won't say anything."
"What about Hermione? She's never had dragon pox, either, and if we have it—"
"Not to worry, Harry. She's 'quarantined' in the lounge. The boys enjoyed themselves by pestering her through the window most of the day."
Harry laughed. "Arseholes."
"Language," Mrs Weasley admonished him. "In any case, no one knows about Sebastian's true illness, and no one will, unless he elects to tell them."
"I should move him to Grimmauld. Like you said, he's still going to want the Firebright, and—"
"You'll do whatever you think is best, of course, but you need to accept that you can't force the man to behave the way you'd like him to."
"I know that, but . . . but you said you've seen this before. How did you help—"
Mrs Weasley sighed. "It's not my place to say, but he's not stupid, and he saw Sebastian yesterday. I expect he knows what's truly ailing him."
"And if he wants to and Sebastian is willing to listen, perhaps he'll talk to him."
George, Harry thought. It has to be George. "That would be good, if Sebastian wants to talk to someone, I mean."
"Try to get some rest now. You must be exhausted. I'll stay here until—"
"No, that's okay, Mrs Weasley. I mean, thank you for everything, but he's . . . I'm just not sure he'd be happy if he knew you knew, you know?"
"He doesn't mean them."
"Whatever awful things he's said to you. He doesn't mean them."
Harry stood in the centre of the attic ignoring the burning of his eyes for a long time after Mrs Weasley left. He was exhausted; he'd not slept even while Sebastian had, and the previous two hours had been dreadful. He was still scared because he didn't know what came next.
"This is all kinds of fucked up."
Nursemaiding his Master of Instruction wasn't how he'd imagined spending his hols, and now he was considering kidnapping the man for his own good.
Kidnapping Snape. Merlin.
He didn't doubt it, anymore, not really, but it didn't matter. What was Snape to him? Someone he'd hated, and now that it was a near certainty in his mind that Sebastian Sharpe had been, however real, a construct as far as Snape was concerned, he didn't know where that left him.
"I'm so tired of being confused all the sodding time!" he shouted, grabbing fistfuls of his hair in frustration. "Ow!"
Sebastian mumbled something; it sounded like an insult, but it wasn't clear.
"Fuck you," Harry said to him, but Sebastian showed no sign of true consciousness. "Fuck you for not allowing me let you go—and I don't know why I should care. You've always been a nasty piece of work. You've always hated me. Why couldn't you have just left me alone?"
Harry stood over the bed, his fists clenched by his sides, and stared at Sebastian. Even as attractive as he was under glamour, the lines at his eyes and creasing his brows seemed familiar now. They were Snape's lines.
"You couldn't bring yourself to die completely, is that it? You were too afraid to let go, yourself?"
Sebastian's breath hitched before smoothing out, and Harry recognised the signs of someone pretending to be asleep.
"So why me? What business could you possibly have with me? Why did you want me to know you, even a little? Why couldn't you just go away and be someone new without dragging me into it?"
Sebastian stiffened but didn't open his eyes.
"Why fuck me? I'm not her. I'm not him. I'm no one you want!"
Sebastian didn't move; Harry sighed.
"Fine then, don't say anything. This is ridiculous, though, our situation, and I don't want it anymore. Hell, I don't even want to be an Auror," Harry said, turning his back on the bed.
"What did you say?"
Without turning, Harry repeated, "I don't want to be an Auror. It was just something to . . . it was just the only thing I thought I'd be any good at, but I'm not, am I?"
"Ronald Weasley bests you in all things at the Novitiate and you can't stand it, is that it, Potter? You can't stand not being first?"
Harry spun around to see Sebastian staring at him, and his expression was more a sneer than anything else—Snape's sneer.
"I was never first at school except for Potions in sixth yea—"
"When you cribbed from someone else's text."
"Oh, for fuck's sake! From your textbook! Just admit it! You've admitted worse today. I know who you are, you git."
"Sebastian, stop being so bloody stupid."
"You're sure, are you, that you know who I am?" Sebastian asked, frowning and shaking his head. "What the hell did you hit me with?"
"It was Kreacher, and yeah, I know you're Snape. I know you've used a fairy stone to look like Sharpe. I don't understand how any of that works, and . . . and you know, I'm not sure I give a damn about it anymore."
Harry huffed and crossed his arms. "This is too much. I don't like it. I'm not—"
"You do want to be an Auror. It's all you talked about wanting to be at school. How Minerva despaired over your ever having a normal life."
"Do you think that we could talk about one thing at a time?" Harry demanded, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
"The Auror topic was yours."
"I had other questions."
"Yeah, I expect you could use some."
"Arse," Sebastian said, turning his head away.
"You're one to talk. What kind of an idiot takes an illegal potion just to be able to talk to people?"
Sebastian set his jaw.
"And what kind of . . . pervert are you, anyway?"
"Is that what you think?"
Sebastian's voice was almost small, and Harry instantly regretted his words. "I don't know what to think. It's not as if you've made it easy to know—"
"I made it incredibly easy for you. For you! And this is the thanks I get."
"You . . . you've really got your head up your arse, don't you? Did you really expect that giving me everything I ever wanted in a made-up bloke would be enough? Did you?"
"It was working fine before you decided you couldn't let go of Snape."
Harry flushed. "Please tell me that you didn't—Sebastian couldn't have been just for me."
"Well, no, Potter, he was for me. . . . You came later."
"So, not a total perv, then."
Sebastian glared at him.
"What happened to the real Sharpe?"
To Harry's surprise, Sebastian's lower lip began to tremble, but he compressed his mouth and turned away again.
"He's . . . he's dead, isn't he? He never got away from Morecrafte."
"Oh, but he did. He was my student. Brilliant, bright, and broken. He trusted me to keep him safe, and I failed him."
"I was right. You have a saving thing, too."
"Not so you'd notice."
Harry reached for Sebastian's thigh and squeezed it. "What happened?"
"What you heard of Sebastian's history as related to Bill was true, if stretched and . . . incomplete. The boy came to Hogwarts with a tonic, one he ran out of almost at once, and it almost killed him."
"I analysed it and found that it was Firebright. Given how his masters had . . . used him, it was no surprise to me that they'd also seen fit to keep him 'fresh'."
"So you gave him Firechill?"
"Hell, no, Potter. That would have killed a child. I brewed his 'tonic' and taught him to how to manage its dosing so that the effects wouldn't be noticeable."
"There are more low-dose addicts than you real—"
Sebastian frowned at Harry, but he nodded before continuing, "And at the time, it was the only option. If I'd sent him to Poppy, she'd have given him the 'cure' and killed him. It was the only way. Firechill can only be administered to an adult."
"Did his, did Brent know?"
"He did, and before Sebastian left Hogwarts, Brent arrived to help his charge through the cure. Of course, it wasn't a true cure, but the purgative helped him. Brent rode that boy for a year training him, never giving him a moment to consider seeking out another dose, and Sebastian got through it. Curse-breakers train through apprenticeship, so Bill wouldn't have known when Sebastian actually began his, but begin it, he did, and his career went well—until Morecrafte found him again."
"The bastard wanted supplies, as I told Bill, and Sebastian, who'd never stopped trying to find his mother and sister, gave in. Believing that his family's Secret Keeper was dead, he knew he'd have no other opportunity to find them. But the stress of what he was doing became too much for him, and he began taking Firebright again. Brent suspected this and asked me to speak with him. Sebastian told me everything."
"And then?" Harry asked, leaning forwards.
"And then I became Sebastian. I took his place during that last meeting between him and Morecrafte, and when he arrived, I killed him."
Harry swallowed. "How did you get away with that?"
"It was part of the arrangement between Dumbledore and Brent. The Headmaster felt it unwise to allow someone that powerful in sympathy to Voldemort live, and Brent agreed. It was he who arranged for Billings and his team to take credit for Morecrafte. He didn't wish Sebastian to be involved in any way."
"So he's not dead?"
"No, Sebastian's not dead. He's with his family. I was able to find the Secret Keeper. He'd gone into hiding the moment Morecrafte arrived in his village looking for him."
"Then how is it possible that there are two of you?"
"Because there aren't. Sebastian Sharpe lives. I'm Sebastian. For a while, there were two of us. I'd take his assignments in order to establish myself as his identity, and he'd visit his family. Eventually, he never wanted to leave them, and—"
"He owed you a life debt, so he gave you his life—so that when you were ready to leave yours . . . ."
"Excellent, Potter. You've worked it out."
"So it wasn't for me. I mean, you didn't make yourself over into Sebastian because of—"
"It was the way you thought you were dreaming. The way that even though so much evil had touched you, you remained so fucking pure. It was an impulse."
"Yes, and then . . . and then I decided that I wanted you for myself."
Harry's heart was hammering. He was relieved and confused and astounded. He didn't know what to think.
"But why the chest? Why did you leave—"
"When I made my will, I realised it would be the only opportunity I had to . . . make things right between us. I thought I'd have time to flee once I'd completed my mission, but things didn't quite work out the way I intended."
"You wanted me to have Mum's things."
"But not mine. I never intended that you should have my journal or letters. Things happened faster than I thought."
"You weren't mocking me."
"Oh, there was mocking. I couldn't help it. You make it easy."
"That's nice. You said you wanted me because I was 'pure', but I'm still mock-worthy?"
"I'm not a nice man, Harry. It's Sebastian who's nice."
"But you are Sebastian now."
"Am I? And does it matter? You know."
"I know that Severus Snape is dead. I assume he'll remain so, no matter what I know."
"That's true, but I'm not charming without my—"
"How long, what?"
"How long were you taking Firebright before Mrs Weasley—"
"Since I was fifteen, in measured doses. Small ones, to get by."
"But you increased them after the attack."
"I did, and when I quit, I . . . ."
"You idiot! You took it all, didn't you?" Harry demanded, rising.
"I don't remember what I did. I . . . only remember that you didn't want me if I took it. I quit for you."
"That can't be the reason."
"Why the hell not?"
"No, I mean, I know you're not lying, but I can't be the reason that you—shite. I can't explain this. I'm not enough of a reason. You'll go back to it if I am."
"Ah. I see. Then let us say that you were the catalyst."
"I . . . all right. Let's. Still, after all that time, I don't think, I mean, I'm worried that—"
"You asked how, remember?"
Harry shook his head quizzically.
"How I became Sebastian."
"You told me how."
"The precise manner in which I did it, not the reason for it."
"I know that. Kreacher says you're using a fairy stone to hold a glamour."
"You don't know what fairy stones truly do, do you?"
"Watch," Sebastian said, and suddenly, he shrunk, turned green, and slid from his bonds.
"If the goblins could have breached Hogwarts' defences, the history of the castle would have been much different."
"But . . . but he was in the room with me. You knocked while he was!"
"No, I cast a knocking charm and then slipped through the tunnels to get to the door while you were distracted."
Harry squeezed shut his eyes, feeling like an idiot. "That's why he seemed so frail. It had just happened. You were hurt."
"A bezoar and Blood-Replenishing Potion only go so far. That bite hurt like hell, but I wanted to conclude my business with you while you were still at the castle."
"I . . . I have no business being an Auror," Harry said, sitting back down on the bed—and on top of the Anti-Apparation bracelet. "Shite. You're not—"
Grapplethorpe stretched back into Sebastian, and Sebastian said, "No, I'm not leaving, not unless you'd like me to."
"No, Sebastian, I wouldn't like that at all."
"How easily you've taken to that name."
"It's your name," Harry replied, shrugging. "I don't want him."
"But . . . I am—"
Harry pressed his fingers to Sebastian's mouth. "The man I'm falling in love with. That's all I need from you—but for Snape, I need a memorial."