Rating: NC-17 (all over 18, fret not, LJ!)
Disclaimer: I answer the phones and make the coffee. JKR does not.
Warnings: explicit Snape/Harry, Harry/Ginny, spoilers for DH
Summary: Had Harry known bonding with his former professor would lead him to three different countries, a hastily-planned wedding and his pants around his ankles in Snape's sitting room, he wouldn't have quit his day job. Or... maybe he would've...
Notes: My 2007 NaNoWriMo entry! I've been thinking about writing this fic for a while, and National Novel Writing Month was the perfect excuse to get it on paper. And by paper I mean that electronic pixelated computer screen equivalent, the lovely internets. Yay!
Chicago is awful in August.
Or perhaps it is always awful. Never having been before, Harry really can't say. All he knows is that it is awful now, even with his dog-eared Official Wizarding Guide to the City in his pocket, a small plastic I SAW THE SHARKS! souvenir bag from the Aquarium at his side and a hotdog loaded with onions, relish, pickles, tomatoes and peppers in his hand.
He sighs and twists a trainer clad toe into the ground, shifting against the hard boards of the bench beneath him. Though it's likely only been minutes, it seems as though he's been sitting here for hours, his forehead sweaty beneath his fringe, his robes itchy.
"Do you intend to eat that hotdog, or are you planning to continue staring at it?"
Harry looks up, blinking against the bright afternoon sunlight.
Snape scowls down at him, looking even more murderous than usual. "You cannot eat that inside," he informs him.
Harry looks down at it, in all its delicious, highly processed glory, and sighs. "It's too hot out to eat," he says, reaches over and dumps it in the nearby bin.
Snape is regarding him now with a different look, as though he's trying his hardest to read Harry's thoughts and is baffled and disturbed by the fact that he can't. Like maybe his Legilimency's somehow been broken, and he suspects it was Harry's brain that did it in. And he wants revenge.
Has Harry mentioned he hates Chicago?
He supposes in the end it's his fault though. After all, he's the one who decided they needed to bond. Who in their right mind would want to bond with Professor Snape? No one. But then again, Harry's been wondering if he's in his right mind ever since the aftermath of the Battle of Hogwarts, standing in the rubble and wondering what came next.
It was strangely bittersweet, hugging and shaking hands with smiling wizards and witches with the dead lying cold and still just yards away. Some were walking among them, seeking their lost loved ones, or crouching next to them like the Weasleys, crying as though that could somehow bring them back. One girl, grey and transparent, floated about them crying for her mother, not realizing she was already dead.
Remus and Tonks were over there too, Harry realized. Was anyone crying for them?
It was then that Harry thought of Snape, and a pang of loss shot through him. Though not a nice man by any stretch, he was assuredly a good one. Harry couldn't help but feel Snape might have taught him many things, things about life and his mother and what it meant to be so strong while so alone for so long. Harry couldn't help but think that this was one more thing Voldemort had stolen from him.
Someone will have to get the body, he thought, picturing Snape's still form in a pool of blood on the floor of the Shrieking Shack. It made him shiver.
It was then, as he was wrapping his arms about himself to ward off the chill, that he heard a gasp, and Hermione grabbed his arm and pointed at the door. "Harry," she whispered, "Harry, look..."
In the doorway braced against the jamb was none other than Professor Snape. He stood in bloodied robes, pale as a ghost, a thin hand held to the gash on his neck.
Alive, Harry thought, thank God, alive!
Muted whispers filled the Hall, and Harry thought he heard a familiar voice call out, but he was fixed on the pallid form in the doorway, relief washing through him in waves. Snape's sharp eyes searched the crowd, ignoring the shocked scene his wholly unexpected presence was causing. Finally, his gaze fell upon Harry.
"Ah," he said, lips curling into a snarl, "how pleasant," and promptly passed out.
Everyone has looked differently at Snape since then, knowing what he is and that everything he's done has been for them, for Harry, for Lily Evans. After seeing his memories, Harry knew how wrong he'd been about the man. Snape was obviously not the monster Harry had thought he was, indeed far from it, and Harry felt terrible he'd judged him so quickly.
From the first time he'd set eyes upon him at the Sorting Ceremony first year, Harry had disliked him, and what was that dislike based on? Sure Snape was nasty, condescending, and sorely lacking in personal hygiene, but that was just the way he was. Did he really deserve Harry's hatred in return? Wasn't Harry a bigger person than that?
Yes, yes he was, Harry decided, and he would prove it. He would make up for his error.
Snape was not best pleased.
"I did not work undercover for nearly twenty years at constant risk of loss of life and limb to have you follow me around like a lost puppy for the rest of my existence," a tired looking Snape told him the afternoon he was released from Saint Mungo’s. Harry didn't think he'd ever seen the man look so bad, with colourless lips and dark circles under his eyes.
Snape was going through the drawers in the Headmaster's office, a bandage still wrapped around his neck, filling an old grey carpetbag with odds and ends he apparently deemed his. It made Harry nervous, but Dumbledore was slumbering in his frame, and none of the other former headmasters seemed to take offence.
"Professor," Harry said, "it's just that I want you to know that I--"
"You're sorry, I know," Snape said, turning a small metal implement Harry knew to have been Dumbledore's over in his hand before shoving it into the bag. "You've told me this a dozen times already in hospital, and I have no interest in assuaging your guilt for having so sorely misjudged my character."
"I know that," Harry insisted, "but I want to--"
"Make it up to me. To... bond," Snape said, looking disgusted by the very concept. "Forgive me if I am slightly less than intrigued. The rest of the Wizarding world thinks the earth revolves around your over inflated Horcrux of a head. The Boy Who Lived. The Chosen One. Why don't you go... bond... with them instead?"
"It was Dumbledore's choice not to tell you about the Horcruxes, not mine," Harry reminded him. It had all obviously worked out in the end, and he couldn't understand why the man was so hung up on it.
Snape snorted and slammed a drawer shut rather violently.
"Why are you packing up?" Harry asked. "You're not staying? Why aren't you staying?"
Snape didn't answer.
"Where are you going? You're not in some sort of trouble, are you? I told Kingsley everything, he said no charges would be--"
"I am taking a much needed sabbatical from all forms of miscreant insubordination, snide derision and infantile misbehaviour," Snape announced. "For the rest of my life."
"I quit," Snape clarified with a disgusted roll of his eyes.
"But," Harry stammered, gesturing helplessly, "but you-- you can't quit!"
"Despite the fact that you may think every word that crosses your lips is law, I assure you, you are mistaken," Snape informed him coldly.
Harry's mouth fell open. "But how will I find you? How will we..."
Snape smiled nastily. "We won't." To the sound of Harry's spluttering protests, he snapped his bag shut, took hold of the handle with a shaking hand, and marched out.
A month later, Harry still hadn't found him, and he was beginning to get desperate. He'd sent a half dozen owls, but the only response he'd received had been with the last, which had brought him the following note, which Harry had had to read three times to glean some sort of meaning:
If I receive one more of these godforsaken birds bearing a note written in your hand, or in that of anyone else on your behalf, I shall be forced to put said bird out of its obvious misery using an enchantment which is, under this country's current, borderline totalitarian regime, quite disallowed. As I do not plan to spend one more moment of my existence in any manner which might be of benefit to a now eclipsed boy wonder, even to the point of following laws which he may have in some way influenced, in order that I might avoid lengthy and unjust personal incarceration, I hereby insist that you stop and desist immediately in any and all efforts to contact me.
On the bright side, at least Harry knew the man was still alive. On the not so bright side, he didn't fancy being responsible for having a second owl shot down in the line of duty. He still missed Hedwig quite a lot.
"Don't see why you're so concerned, mate," Ron told him when he brought up the issue of Snape's disappearance at their weekly night out at the Leaky Cauldron. "Even if he was friends with your mum, he's still a right git."
"Oh, don't listen to him, Harry," Hermione countered, throwing her boyfriend a look as she picked at her plate of roast chicken. "I think it's admirable you're trying to reach out to him, as he obviously has no one else in the world who cares about him."
"Because he's a right git," Ron clarified.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Oh honestly, Ron, think about it for a moment. I'm sure none of his old Death Eater friends who managed to avoid Azkaban would come anywhere near him now, and even though everyone knows he was on our side, that doesn't mean anyone actually likes him. He's probably lonely."
Ron snorted. "If he were so lonely, he'd wash his hair. Who wants to be knocking around with a greaseball like that?"
Though Harry laughed, the conversation made him worry. He recalled Snape's memory in Dumbledore's office, saying he wished he were dead along with Harry's mum, and worried even more. Had revenge been the only thing he'd lived for all these years? Did he wish he were dead, even now?
It was a thought Harry could've done without.
"I don't understand what you're so worried about, Harry," Ginny told him one night. They were camped out beneath the drapes of Sirius's old bed, the covers tangled about their ankles, sweat cooling in the night breeze.
"But don't you think it seems..." he gave a little shrug and kissed her shoulder, "I don't know, I just don't think it's like him. He loves tormenting children, why would he just up and quit?"
"Mmm, stop, that tickles..."
"If he did anything rash, I'd never forgive myself," Harry said. "And I just... I haven't told anyone else about this, but the things I saw in the pensieve... Ginny, I'm not sure he won't."
"Harry... have you thought about what it would be like for him to teach at Hogwarts next year? I mean, he obviously can't take up as Headmaster again, so that's an automatic demotion, which he could hardly be thrilled about. And it's not like he could really go back to being Slytherin Head of House..." she trailed off, making a face as she ran her fingers through a snarl in her long red hair.
"What do you mean?" Harry asked. "Why not?
Ginny sighed. "Well, what's he supposed to do, apologize for betraying all their Dark Wizarding families because of some crush he had as a boy? On a Muggle-born? On a-- Harry don't, I hate that-- on a Mudblood? Really, Harry. When you combine that with the way he treated all the other Houses like dirt... do you really think anyone will have any respect for him now?"
Harry frowned. "I have respect for him now."
Ginny kissed his forehead. "I think you're much too forgiving, Harry."
It was a strange concept, feeling respect for Snape, the man he'd always held equal in esteem with flobberworms and had long held accountable for Dumbledore's death. It was stranger yet to feel responsible for him and find that no one he knew seemed to think he should.
"He's a grown man, Harry. I reckon he can take care of himself," Hagrid told him, prodding at something putrid looking in his newly planted garden.
"I'm sure he's fine, Harry. Don't you think it's a relief for him to finally be free from Voldemort's control?" Andromeda asked him when he went to visit little Teddy.
"Pthht!" agreed his godson, drooling all over his chin, his hair a rather shocking magenta.
No matter what they told him though, Harry just couldn't convince himself they were right. It was just a feeling he had, like the twinge of a different sort of scar somewhere deep inside him. Something was wrong, and he had to fix it.
Eventually, he managed to find someone who understood.
"Mind this is not for public consumption, Mr Potter," McGonagall said with her long familiar stern expression, "but I knew your mother quite well in her time here at Hogwarts. She hid it well, but I've rarely seen a girl as broken up as she was when the two of them parted ways. They'd been the best of friends. If Professor Snape has been holding that sort of hurt within himself for all these years..." she shook her head, and the expression softened. "Harry, I think you're right to be concerned."
Of course Harry was right. He'd known he was right all along, it was just that no one else had. He had instincts for this sort of thing. People should trust him more.
However, even with his mind set upon putting things to rights with Snape, it took another week and a very stern reprimand from his Auror trainer about his obvious lack of concentration before he managed to find the man.
"This is rather ironic, don't you think?" Harry asked him, arms crossed in a show of his displeasure.
Snape sneered, setting his armful of books down onto the counter with a loud thud and what sounded like a woman's scream from the smallest of the volumes. "Mr Potter. What a very unwelcome surprise." The way he said 'Mr' made it sound like an insult.
"I've been looking everywhere for you," Harry told him, feeling both relieved and annoyed at the same time.
"You needn't have bothered," Snape responded.
"You could've answered my owls," Harry countered.
"Will this be all, sir?" Borgin asked, gesturing toward the books and throwing Harry a distrusting look.
"That as well," Snape answered, pointing at something on a shelf above the shop owner's head. "Wrap them up."
"Of course, sir," Borgin said with a little nod of a bow.
"People are worried," Harry said, watching Burke Summon a small, ornately decorated flask from the high shelf. "You just disappeared. It's taken me this long just to figure out where you--"
"On second thought, Burke, just the books. And quickly," Snape added, throwing Harry a nasty look. "Present company leaves me less than inclined toward further purchase."
"Don't you care? Doesn't it matter to you that people are concerned about you?" Harry asked.
"Charge them to my account, if you will, Borgin," Snape said.
Snape snorted. "I am not so naive as to believe that the general public would concern itself with someone such as I, unless it is to ensure that I never again come anywhere near their beloved children. No one is worried about me, Mr Potter."
"I'm worried," Harry said, a bit of an edge to his voice, as he was beginning to feel truly annoyed. "You quit your job that you loved, you don't answer any of my owls, you practically drop off the face of the earth--"
"Do I look like I care?" Snape asked mildly.
"I care, Professor!" Harry retorted. "I care!"
He realized belatedly that he'd said it rather loudly. Snape and Borgin were both staring at him as though he'd grown a second, highly offensive head.
Harry cleared his throat, cheeks flushed.
"That will be quite sufficient, Mr Potter," said Snape. He pulled a cloth from his pocket and piled the half wrapped books onto it, tying the top edges into a messy knot. The fabric immediately shrank to the size of a tea bag, and Snape tucked it into his pocket.
Harry grabbed his sleeve to stop him from storming out. "Where are you going?" he demanded.
Snape looked at his hand as though it were burning his skin, but Harry didn't let go. "Where. Are. You. Going."
Snape seemed about to snap, but something-- possibly the look in Harry's eyes-- stopped him. He cleared his throat. "That is absolutely none of your--"
Snape sneered. "A conference, Potter, now let go of my person. Immediately."
Harry shook his head and grabbed even more tightly at the cloth in his fist. "I'm going with you."
The look of shock on Snape's face mirrored Harry's own. Going with him? Where had that come from? Harry couldn't go with Snape to a conference, that was ridiculous! He had training, and he was supposed to be helping Ginny practice Quidditch, as she'd surely be Captain this year...
No, he couldn't. It just wasn't doable. And of course Snape would never allow it in a million years anyway. Make that a trillion. He had no choice, he'd have to find another way to bond with the man.
"Professor," Harry started.
"Good," Snape interrupted. "Come with me, then."
Harry gaped, triumph and disappointment battling inside him, and Snape's robes slipped from his fingers.
Snape reached into a pocket beside the buttons on the front of his robe and withdrew a neatly-folded pamphlet. "Meet me at the Ministry's International Floo this Friday," he handed the pamphlet to Harry, "at four AM sharp."
Harry blinked down at the paper.
The Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers
The Fourth Somewhat Quasi-Annual
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE OF POTIONS PIONEERING
August 21 thru 30, 1998
City of Chicago, Province of Illinois
The United States of America
"America? You're going to America?" Harry said, staring up at Snape in disbelief. Who the hell went to America!?
Snape looked smugly malicious, and his greasy hair shone malevolently in the dull light of Borgin & Burkes. "Four AM, Mr Potter. Do not be late."
So that's how Harry ended up in Chicago in the middle of August, bloody sweating his arse off in the sun after an exhausting morning of battling crowds, and waiting for Snape to finish setting up for his presentation.
"Are you going to sit here all day?" Snape asks, eyeing the bin Harry's just tipped his lunch into.
"Maybe," he says a bit petulantly, finding that now that he has somewhere to go, he doesn't much feel like going. Better to sit here sweltering than follow like a mindless sheep. Of course Snape turns on his heel and strides back inside, and Harry has no choice but to grab his Aquarium souvenirs and follow unless he wants to give himself heatstroke.
The old brick building hosting the Potions Pioneering Conference, though unseen by the Muggles hurrying past, looks out of place to Harry, squatting between two skyscrapers like a first year in the midst of giants. The wizards and witches inside do nothing to lessen the sharp contrast between the old and the new. In fact, Harry thinks most of them must be even older than the building.
Stepping quickly through a group of white haired men with strange accents, one of whom appears to be wearing a badger on his head, Harry smoothes his fringe down over his scar self consciously. He feels very out of place walking down hallways lined with wrinkle browed men and women who speak of moonstone as though it were their firstborn child.
But at least it's cooler inside.
Once in the hall where Snape's presenting, he takes a seat in the very back corner, watching the oddly clothed attendees filter in. He thinks he likes the dark-skinned natives best, with their broad, open faces and bare feet, the men exotic and beardless, though the trio that sits in front of him blocks his view with their strange feathered hats.
Snape's presentation, though it seems to hold his audience in thrall, is so far above Harry's head he stops trying to figure it out after the first minute and a half. Hermione would likely be shaking in her chair with excitement if she were here, and Harry almost wishes he'd brought her. She'd be so much better at this than he is, trying to understand what it is that makes Snape tick.
Harry sighs and the woman beside him makes a little "hmph!" as he leans forward and rests his chin on his forearms, probably insulted he's not taking notes, and Harry sighs again. How is he supposed to understand the man when he doesn't even comprehend half the words coming out of his mouth?
The next thing he remembers is a sharp poke in his side.
"Up, you disrespectful brat," Snape says.
Harry blinks at him, moving his cottony tongue around in his mouth and rubbing at his sore neck. He and Snape are alone in the room save one rather stuffy looking man with a black briefcase up near the front.
"Is it over?" Harry asks.
"You are an imbecile," Snape informs him.
"There might've been an intermission or something," Harry grumbles, straightening his crooked glasses. There's a smudge where they've been pressed against his cheek. To Snape's disbelieving expression, he adds, "I was tired. And it's not like any of it made any sense anyway. I'm nowhere near academic enough for this kind of stuff."
"At long last, he speaks the truth," pronounces Snape with a wide gesture of his arms, though his expression is bitter as always.
"My my, that was an excellent presentation, Severus!" the man from the front of the room says suddenly, approaching them. Recognizable as American from his accent, he is wearing very stodgy tweed robes and thick spectacles, with his grey hair combed over the top of his balding head.
Snape is now all politeness and modesty, humbly thanking the man for his kind words and saying all manner of appreciative things that anyone who knows Snape at all would recognize as a load of total rubbish.
Feeling the farce has gone on long enough, Harry asks very thoughtfully if they shouldn't leave the room to clear it for the next presentation.
"In due time, Mr Potter," Snape replies offhandedly, but the other man turns to Harry with a keen interest.
"Potter?" he asks, giving him an appraising look. "Harry Potter?" The way he pronounces it makes the t's sound strangely like d's.
Harry swallows. "Ah..."
"You must excuse his slowness, Director," Snape says with a tilt of his chin, "he was hexed on the head as a child. Suffered obvious brain damage. Very tragic, I'm sure."
The Director is absolutely beside himself. "Well, what a surprise, I never would've guessed! I always thought the Chosen One would be taller, you see... oh but terrible thing this War, terrible," he says, shaking Harry's hand rather excitedly for someone upset about Harry's plights. "Did you come all this way just to watch your professor's presentation? I suspect he's made a very deep educational impression upon you."
"Er, not really," Harry says, trying to be polite and not look at the man oddly. "It's more that I want to get to know Professor Snape a bit better now that the War's over, and it turns out he's--"
Harry winces as Snape plants his heel very firmly on his toes.
"He wanted to do a bit of sightseeing," Snape corrects, throwing Harry a nasty look. "Defeating Dark Lords can be rather emotionally draining, as I'm sure you can imagine."
"Well, how nice!" the Director exclaims. "I see you visited our Aquarium?"
Harry doesn't like being treated like an idiot, or a child, and he wants to snap at his former professor for doing both. And then maybe make cracks about his hair. Was this why Snape brought him here, to show him off? In the spirit of bonding though, he bites his tongue and holds up his bag. "Well, it does say I SAW THE SHARKS!" he says with a plastered-on smile.
The Director beams. "It's great you've taken him under your wing, Severus. Directing wayward youth, as it were, is so very admirable. It takes such dedication to devote yourself to changing young lives. I can see that your love for children is truly immense."
"I simply adore them," Snape says, looking ill at his own words.
"Very good, very good. I must say I now have total confidence in my decision to officially extend the offer," the Director says.
Looking pleased with himself, Snape makes a little bow, and the two shake hands again.
"Are you going to be staying for the rest of the conference, or would you rather settle things now and miss the crowds?" the Director asks. With a laugh he adds, "Oh, they can be something this time of year!"
"I shall depart directly tomorrow morning," Snape says, and shakes the man's hand once more.
"Perfect," the man says. "I'll see you in my office tomorrow then, nine AM sharp. Never too early to mould young minds, eh?"
Snape nods deferentially, clearly ignoring the mould young minds part, and Harry stares as the Director leaves. "Where is his office?" Harry asks. "And what are you doing there at nine? Where are we going?"
Snape sneers, all pretence of niceties gone. "We are going nowhere, Mr Potter. I am going to Salem."
Harry makes a noise in his throat, trying to figure out where he lost the thread of this conversation and not coming up with much. "But what's in Salem? Why are you not staying for the rest of the conference? Who was that man, the Director? What does he dir--"
"In my youth," Snape interrupts, arms crossed with one finger tapping at his elbow, "I heard of a book that, once read, compelled its readers to speak every sentence in the form of a question until the day they die. However, given that your performance in my class suggests you do not actually possess the ability to read, I must assume that you are being purposefully obtuse."
Harry attempts a sound of baffled and righteous indignation, and feels his cheeks heat when it comes out a strange sort of squawk.
"I am going to Salem," Snape announces, "to teach. The Salem Witches' Institute has been condescending enough to offer me a temporary position as Potions Master for the upcoming school year, and I have accepted. You will not be joining me."
Harry stares, feeling the anger rise in his chest like bubbles in a shaken bottle of butterbeer. "You said you were taking a sabbatical!" he accuses. "Forever!"
Snape smiles nastily. "I may have lied."
Harry can't remember the last time he was this angry. Fury burns his insides like Fiendfyre. Snape used him, he brought him all this way to flaunt Harry and make himself look good just so he could walk out on him!
Harry wants to scream, or hit, or both, until Snape takes it back. He can't be abandoning everything, picking up and moving halfway across the world where Harry will never see him again and nothing will be resolved! He can't be where there will be no one to look after him! He can't!
"You're not going," Harry announces.
"In case you have not noticed, Mr Potter, your orders hold little to no importance to me, as always. Let the others say what they will, invent a thousand names to proclaim your Chosen glory, it does not make you my saviour, or my keeper," Snape says with a spiteful sneer. He turns away, leaving Harry to stare at his back, and strides off in that bat-like way of his toward the door.
"What does it make me then," says Harry, feeling malicious and not caring, "my mother's son? I've been told I have her eyes, you know. Or does that hold no importance either?"
Snape goes still in the doorway, his hand very white on the jamb, just as Harry remembers it being in the Great Hall when he'd seemingly returned from the dead. They must do this-- they must bond-- for both their sakes.
Harry tells him, "I'm going to Salem with you. It is not a request."