Title: The Boy in the Fireplace
Age-Range Category: Two
Pairing: Severus Snape/Harry Potter
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
Note: Title and plot somewhat inspired by the Doctor Who episode, "The Girl in the Fireplace."
Summary: 'What are you, then? The Ghost of Christmas Future?'
Severus is eleven the first time he sees him. They aren't supposed to be using the fireplace; Mum has warned him repeatedly of the consequences if his father finds out.
Despite being magical all his life, it's the first time he's seen anyone use the fireplace for anything other than lighting a fire. The man's head appears slowly, flickering a couple of times as though its owner is trying to find his bearings. His hair and facial features are greenly lit, making it impossible to identify the colour of his skin or eyes.
'Hello?' Severus says, tentative.
'Sn—Severus,' the man says. 'Finally, thank goodness. I've been to about a dozen different grates.'
'Do I know you?' Severus asks, all of his mother's warnings about not talking to strangers echoing in his head.
'I—no. I'm Lily Potter's, uh, cousin.'
Severus frowns. 'I don't know a Lily Potter.'
'Evans, Evans, sorry. I, um, have a couple of cousins named Lily.'
Severus decides that his strange visitor is a liar. But he's been bored lately, counting down the days until September when he'll get to go to Hogwarts with Lily, and he could use some entertainment.
'What do you want, then?' he asks.
'I just… er… wanted to see you.'
The man—boy, really, Severus thinks; he's much older than Severus, but clearly younger than his mother—half-turns his head, as though someone has come into the room he's in.
'Ah, hold on. I'm not really supposed to—I'll be back, okay? Don't go anywhere.'
He doesn't come back until the school term is done.
Severus is sitting on the sofa, books strewn all around him. He doesn't really like coming back to Spinner's End for Christmas, but he's grateful for the holiday homework (assigned by a few of the more stringent teachers like Professor Binns) that keeps him busy. Lily's too busy with family during the holidays to visit him much, although she sneaks off to meet him when she can. The floorboard under his bed has an assortment of sweets and cakes she's brought him.
A light crackling from the fire alerts Severus to the imminent appearance of the head in the fire.
'Sorry, I—' his visitor begins, then interrupts himself. 'You're different,' he says, surprised. 'Your hair. How did it change that much so soon?'
'Hello to you too.' A stomach full of slightly stale (but still satisfyingly rich) plum cake makes one bolder, Severus supposes. 'It's been ages since I last saw you.'
'I've only been gone five minutes.'
'Try four months.'
'Wow.' A disembodied hand, which Severus supposes is actually attached to the boy's body wherever he is, comes up to push through the already messy hair.
'How could only five minutes have passed for you? That doesn't make sense.'
'I, er. I've been working on a spell. It takes you to fireplaces in other times.'
It's his turn to say 'wow,' Severus thinks, but he refrains from saying it. 'What are you, then? The Ghost of Christmas Future? Lily never mentioned she had a smart cousin.'
'We don't talk much. I'm Harry, by the way.'
'Is knowing your name supposed to help me in some way? You must be here for something.'
Harry lets out a startled laugh. 'Even the little you is snarky. I should've known.'
'Who're you calling little? You can't be much older than—'
Severus cuts himself off when Harry's head disappears with a loud popping noise.
Severus has crossed his twelfth birthday when he sees Harry again.
He's more than a little preoccupied this time, but he looks up from the tiny bundle on the sofa when Harry's head appears in its familiar place.
'I brought you this,' Harry says by way of greeting. A chocolate frog is tossed from the fire at Severus, who catches it one-handed against his chest.
'It worked,' Harry says, grinning like a green-headed, disembodied ghost. 'I—wait, who is that?'
Severus glances at his charge. 'A house-elf. A baby one.'
'A baby—oh my fucking god. Dobby.'
'You know him? He says he doesn't have a name yet. I rescued him from—'
'I have to go,' Harry says, sounding as though he's choking.
'Dobby likes his new name,' the little creature says sleepily, curling into a tighter ball.
'One of us should,' Severus mutters. He tucks the ends of the blanket more securely around the elf.
It's humiliating that one of the few times he cries, Harry is the one to see him. Even Lily hasn't seen that particular expression of his usually pent-up grief.
'Where are your parents?' Harry asks, his voice soft.
'He went out after they… he's out. She's upstairs, I think.' Severus scrubs at his face with his damp hands. 'You must think I'm… a weakling.'
'I don't. I know what it is to have a home life that's, well, not much fun.'
'Yeah?' Severus sits back on his heels in front of the fireplace. The green fire isn't warm, but it's still comforting in a way that yellow flames aren't: not in this house, anyway. A sudden thought strikes him. 'Why do you only appear when I'm alone? How do you know?'
'I don't,' Harry says, looking a bit uncomfortable.
'You mean you've been here when… you've seen them?'
'Sometimes. They haven't seen me, I promise.'
'Are they… are your parents like them?'
'No. I never knew my parents. My aunt and uncle raised me.'
'Guess they weren't—what was it you said? Much fun.'
Harry smiles. 'You can say that again. But it wasn't all bad. I had my friends. I had Hogwarts.'
For the first time in his life, someone other than his best friend seems to understand what it feels like to be Severus Snape. Severus Prince, he corrects himself silently.
'Where's Dobby?' Harry continues, looking around.
'I don't want to talk about it.'
He doesn't look at Harry, but he can feel the other boy's gaze for several moments.
'All right,' Harry says finally. Severus is surprised for a moment before he remembers that Harry already knows all about Dobby, much more so than Severus himself.
'I found this at Flourish and Blotts.' Harry holds out a book, and Severus, distracted, reaches for it. 'I could hardly believe it.'
It's a secondhand copy of an advanced potions-making textbook. Severus turns it over in his hands. It looks promising, and he loves potions, but he can't really see anything about the book that would merit the reverence with which Harry has spoken of it.
'Is it… am I missing something?'
Harry chuckles. 'It's a long story.'
This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince, Severus scrawls in the book during the train journey to Hogwarts. Lily hardly ever sits with him these days, preoccupied with her Gryffindor friends. The book—an unsolicited gift that has had Severus puzzling over its intent for weeks—is his constant companion.
It's curiously fitting that the first—and only—person to ever catch Severus touching himself is his clandestine visitor.
He jerks his hand out of his jeans when Harry's head appears. But he can tell from the way Harry whips his head away—and appears to be blushing very greenly—that Harry's seen what he was doing.
'You ever learn to knock?' Severus asks, smirking a bit at Harry's obvious discomfort. At sixteen, he's taller than most boys his age, and even if he still considers his features wholly unattractive, his stronger body has made him far more confident than he's ever been.
'Er, sorry. You look… good.'
Severus doesn't miss the appraising look in Harry's eyes. Having looked at other boys the same way, he's pretty sure Harry's as queer as he is.
He lifts a shoulder in a careless shrug. 'Been a while.'
'Miss me?' Harry asks, grinning.
'Hardly.' Severus grins back. 'Where've you been?'
'It hasn't been that long for me, really.'
'Still working on your mysterious spell?'
'Fine, don't tell me.' Amused, Severus makes a show of zipping up his jeans, enjoying the way Harry squirms at the reminder of what he'd been doing.
'Yes, Severus?' For the first time, Harry appears rather young to Severus. Perhaps it's because he's grown so much since their first meeting, and Harry looks about the same.
'Would you like to kiss me?'
Harry's jaw actually drops; it's the first time Severus has seen that particular gesture outside of books. His eyes, wide and unblinking, give him the appearance of someone Petrified.
Severus raises his eyebrows. 'Should I take that as a no?'
'No,' Harry says immediately. 'I mean no, you shouldn't take it as a no, not at all, I mean. Oh fuck. Yes. Very much yes.'
'Good,' Severus says with a grin. Dropping to his knees in front of the fire, he still has to bend his head as he slides his fingers into the harmless flames and cups Harry's face. Harry gasps the moment their lips meet, and it's absolutely a proper kiss, tongues and all, rather than the gentle peck Severus had been intending to start with. Harry moans into his mouth, and Severus feels his hands rise up out of the fire and tangle with his shoulder-length hair, fingers entwining and tugging as they kiss and kiss.
'Oh god. Oh god,' Harry whispers when they break apart for air. 'I just kissed…'
'A boy?' Severus guesses.
'The bravest man I've ever known.' There are tears sliding down Harry's cheeks now.
Confused, Severus tries to thumb the tears away. Harry's gone before he can say anything, tears remaining like tiny pearls on Severus' fingers.
'If I timed it correctly this time,' Harry says, 'it hasn't been very long since we… since my last visit.'
Severus uncurls his body on the sofa, setting his book aside. 'It was yesterday.'
'Good.' Harry clears his throat.
'Are you all right? You left very suddenly.'
'Sorry about that. I was just… overwhelmed, I guess.'
'What did you mean? Why am I the bravest man you've ever known?'
Harry groans, closing his eyes for a second. 'I wish… I can't, Severus. I can't tell you. It may change too much.'
'About the future?'
'Yes,' Harry says. His gaze is all over Severus' face, his body.
As though he were memorising me, Severus thinks, and then he knows. 'I won't see you again, will I?'
'No. Not like this, anyway.'
'Am I dead? The me you speak of, I mean. Am I dead in your time?'
'Listen to me,' Harry says, and there's unmistakeable pain in his voice. 'I have two things to give you, and I need you to trust me.'
'This,' Harry says, holding out a tiny vial, 'is—'
'A concealer for potion, worn under the skin.' Severus takes it carefully in his palm. 'I've never seen one so small.'
'I made it,' Harry says simply, no trace of pride in his voice. 'I needed to make it.'
'You must be very talented at potions.'
'I had a great potions master.'
'Professor Slughorn? Does he still teach at Hogwarts?'
'He did teach me, but I didn't mean him. You know the spell to conceal it under your skin?'
'Of course,' Harry repeats, chuckling. 'You should do it now.'
'What's the potion inside it?'
'I can't tell you. Severus, please.'
Severus holds out the vial. 'Then I cannot take it. If you know me at all, you should know that I'm hardly likely to take you at your word.'
'It's something that you'll really, really need when the time is right.'
Severus considers the small object in his hand. 'What's the other thing?'
Harry seems to hesitate for a moment, but then he holds out a glass vial, stoppered with a wooden cork and filled with a clear lavender-coloured liquid. This one Severus knows.
'A forgetfulness potion?'
'Customised,' Harry says, soft. 'It'll only make you forget your memories of me. Nothing else.'
'No such potion exists.'
'It does now.'
'Your teacher must've been really good.'
Severus is being sarcastic, but Harry smiles ruefully and says, 'You have no idea.'
'Even if I were to believe you, why would you want me to forget you?'
'I can't say any more.'
'What does it matter, if I'm to forget it all?'
'No, I mean… I can't. Not won't. I can't say anything. I don't know where to start. I never expected… this.'
Severus turns the glittering vial over in his hand. 'So, if I take this… when I meet you for the first time—I mean outside the fireplace, obviously—I won't know you.'
'Yeah. That's the idea.'
'The simplest answer? Every sci-fi story you've ever read. You can't know too much about your own future.'
'But you've told me nothing.'
'I just… trust me, Severus. You won't want to know.'
'Shouldn't I be the one to make that choice? Wait… unless you're the one who kills me? And you're here out of guilt, or something to that effect?'
'What? No. Of course not. I'm not the one who… oh, shit.'
'So I am dead,' Severus says with a smirk, suspicions confirmed.
'You don't have to look so pleased about it,' Harry mutters. 'I should've known you'd outsmart me.'
'If you think I'm so clever, why not just let me in on the secret? I could probably help.'
'No,' Harry says, resolute. 'There's too much at stake.'
'You're a stubborn brat,' Severus observes.
'So I've been told.' Harry smiles. 'Come closer. Please.'
Severus goes. They kiss again, gently this time, and Severus thanks the stars when Harry doesn't start crying again.
'Please do as I say. Please.' Harry strokes gentle fingertips down the side of Severus' face, the touch feather-light.
He's gone before Severus can reopen his eyes.
They don't meet again. Not at the fireplace, anyway.