He had been thrown into a filthy cellar that was lit only by a candle that would never burn down. Severus knew he was only alive because they wanted to extract some information from him. Being alive here was worse than being dead.
When they opened the trapdoor again it wasn't to take him away, but to throw another unfortunate fellow downstairs.
The young man rolled down the stairs and landed in a heap on the floor. Severus approached him carefully and immediately recognised the young Muggle whose hair he had used in the Extended Polyjuice Potion he had created for the Order of the Phoenix. Or, to be more accurate, for Harry Potter, who was being stalked night and day by Death Eaters and needed a disguise. Instead of lasting for just one hour, the potion lasted for a whole day.
So Potter had been captured too. But not everything was lost.
Severus knelt beside Potter, who was trying to stand up. Severus tried to help him, but Potter shrugged him away.
"Take your hands off me," hissed Potter, standing up by himself.
Severus felt rage building up within him. "As you wish. But don't forget I know very well who you are."
Potter paled, and then clenched his fists. "Are you threatening me?"
"You are free to interpret my words in whatever manner fits your prejudices," replied Severus.
Severus sat on the floor in a corner and regretted having threatened Potter. That hadn't been the right thing to do in a situation such as this; he knew that. But Potter had the gift of making him lose his temper. It was probably genetic. Severus had hoped that in another body, perhaps Harry wouldn't irritate him so much. But no: it wasn't Harry's appearance that bothered him; it was Harry himself.
Potter was pacing the cellar, examining it. Severus could have told him it was useless. He had done the same thing as soon as he had been thrown down here, a few hours ago, and he hadn't found any hidden passage, cave, tunnel or breach. It was an empty cellar with only a well-guarded trapdoor. But what good would it do to tell Potter that? Potter always did the opposite of what Severus said.
Suddenly, Potter raised his hand to his forehead with a pained expression. Severus ran to him and held him.
As soon as Potter recovered, he pushed him away. "Leave me alone. You stink."
Severus turned his back on Potter and went back to his corner. Instead of being outraged, he felt hurt.
It would be so easy to get even with Potter. Severus shivered just at the thought.
Harry was about to give up on finding an exit from the suffocating cellar when two Death Eaters opened the trapdoor and descended the stairs. The taller of the two cast a Cruciatus on Snape, and then the two of them dragged Snape outside.
Harry hadn't known what to do. He could have asked to be interrogated first. That way he might have spared Snape from the torture. But the truth was that he didn't trust Snape. It hadn't been wise to treat Snape the way Harry had just treated him, but Harry was sure Snape would betray him. So, even if Harry had asked to be the first it wouldn't change anything, because Snape would spill the beans anyway.
Harry was left alone in the cellar. When he began to hear Snape's moans coming from upstairs, Harry was stung with remorse. He sat on the floor and buried his head between his knees. How many Cruciatus curses would be necessary to break Snape? Why was he enduring all that pain? Harry couldn't believe or understand what was happening.
When the moans and cries subsided, the trapdoor was opened and Snape's almost unrecognisable body was thrown back down into the cellar. He was covered in blood from head to toe. The two Death Eaters came downstairs to fetch Harry.
"No," said Harry, in an anguished tone. "You don't have to torture me. I'll tell you everything you want to know."
The two Death Eaters ran out as soon as the young man they mistook for a new member of the Order of the Phoenix told them of Harry Potter's whereabouts.
Harry knelt beside Snape's body and felt his pulse. He was alive. "Oh, thank God," Harry murmured.
Snape moaned and held Harry's arm. "I... didn't... tell them," he managed to whisper.
"Shh. I know." Harry felt tears welling up in his eyes. He had been wrong about Snape, and was to blame for what had happened. "I'm sorry. You're one of the bravest wizards I've ever met, and I'm one of the most stupid."
Snape's lips formed a crooked smile, which soon faded into a pained grimace.
"Don't move around too much," said Harry. "You may have broken something. They will come to rescue us soon."
Snape closed his eyes.
Harry checked Snape's body and was pleased to see he could move his legs and arms. There wasn't any serious external bleeding either. Harry was tired. He lay on the floor beside Snape and gently wrapped an arm around his waist.
Severus's sleep was interrupted by the pain he felt throughout his entire body. At least he didn't seem to have broken anything.
Harry slept snuggled closely to him. In the middle of all that pain and humiliation, Harry's arm around his waist was Severus's only source of comfort. Turning around carefully, Severus looked at the young man. Under the flickering light of the candle, Severus could see that the effect of the Polyjuice Potion had worn off. It was Harry's real body that Severus had in his arms. Severus felt a heat throughout his body, and rest his hand on Harry's chest. He was also afraid for Harry, and wanted to protect him.
Harry felt a hand on his chest and woke up. Snape was lying beside him, gazing at him with passionate intensity.
As soon as he saw Harry was awake, Snape's face became unreadable again, and he removed his hand. "The effect of the potion wore off. I was... observing."
But it was too late for explanations. Harry had noticed it. The affection in Severus's eyes had been clear, even in the dim light, and Harry hadn't felt repulsed by it. On the contrary: he was flattered and happy. Harry's heart wrenched when he remembered the way he had treated Snape a few hours ago.
"It's okay," he said, resting his hand on Snape's chest like Snape had done to him.
"I don't want your pity," said Snape. "You don't have to touch me. There's nothing you can do, and I know how disgusting you find me."
Harry shook his head. "Oh, no! That's not true. It's this place that stinks, not you. Please forgive me. I said that to hurt you. I didn't trust you. Not after what happened to my parents, Sirius and Dumbledore. I hated you."
"And now you don't hate me any more?"
"You almost died to protect me."
"I would have done that for anyone," said Snape, managing to look haughty even while lying on the floor and covered in blood.
Harry gave a sad smile. "I don't doubt it."
"Just because you trust me is not reason for -"
Harry had to agree, but they were alone in a dimly lit, barren cellar, and Snape was injured because of him. Was it pity? Harry didn't know. He just knew he wanted to comfort Snape. He just had to convince Snape to accept the comfort he wanted to give him... "I think we should stay close. The potion wore off. If they enter and see me, they will recognise me."
With a tremendous effort, Snape managed to raise his upper body slightly. "If I stay in front of you, they won't see you."
"Yeah. But please, lie down. You just have to keep... close to me," said Harry, embracing him gently.
Snape held him against his body, and Harry heard him let out a soft moan.
"Everything's going to be all right," Harry whispered in Snape's ear. "I sent them into a trap. We had it all planned out. We couldn't tell you, you know. As a spy, it wouldn't be safe for you to know. When they arrive at the place I sent them to, the Order will know that we've been kidnapped and will be able to find us and rescue us."
The next time Severus woke up it was due to a loud noise. Harry stood up. Someone had opened the trapdoor.
"Remus! Why did you take so long?"
Lupin, Shacklebolt, Moody and Tonks were coming downstairs.
"Finding the place was easy, but breaking in... Let's just say that it was a hard battle," said Lupin.
"We have to take Snape to St Mungo's," said Harry.
The Aurors surrounded Severus. He decided to pretend to be dead. It wouldn't be difficult: he was really drained.
Harry wanted to stay with Severus, but the mediwizards didn't let him. Severus had internal bleeding from many injured blood vessels and would have to spend the night in the Intensive Healing Ward. Only the next afternoon, in the visiting hours, could Harry see him again.
Harry approached Severus's bed and covered Severus's hand with his.
"What are you doing here, Potter?"
"You can call me Harry."
"If you are here out of pity, you may leave now."
Harry didn't let go of Severus's hand. "My heart races every time I think of you. I want to be with you all the time. I want you to be mine and only mine. Is that pity?"
A thousand emotions seemed to cross Severus's face before a sardonic smile curled his lips. "I'm sorry, Potter, but you are not my type."
Oh, that hit Harry hard. It was as if all the air had been sucked out of his lungs. Harry lowered his head, unable to meet Severus's eyes.
He tried to remove his hand from Severus's, but Severus held it between his.
Harry lifted his eyes again to meet those of his torturer .
"It was just a stupid attempt at revenge for the way you treated me when I tried to help you the day before yesterday," said Severus, gazing at him with the same intense look that Harry had seen when he had woken up in Severus's arms.
Harry swallowed hard. How could he have fallen for someone who could hurt him so deeply and so easily? Harry felt torn between contradictory emotions: happiness, fear, anger, and complete frustration. "You ruined the magic," he finally said.
"I know. If you want a romantic lover, a lover who will - "
Harry lost his patience. He leaned closer and silenced Severus by capturing his lips. Severus moved his hand to the back of Harry's neck and held him as their tongues entwined in a sensuous dance.
When their lips parted, Severus arched an eyebrow. "I have to admit you have found a creative and effective way of ending a discussion."
Harry let out his breath in relief. It was beginning to look as if he might have a chance, after all.
Ptyx, October 2006