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Chapter Forty: Floos and Fishgaping

Severus looked up at Harry in weary bemusement, and Harry couldn't help but to run a soothing hand along the older man's back once more. "Let's get you over to the chair and you can rest a minute." Severus had tensed slightly at Harry's touch but offered no further protest as he was assisted to his feet and guided to the chair in the corner to sit.

Moments passed before Severus stirred again, raising a hand to press at the bridge of his nose and taking a breath. As swiftly as he was able, Severus gathered up the tattered shreds of his composure and rewove them into something passably strong. Harry couldn't help but reach a hand out and gently move it through the place where Severus' aura shone at its darkest.

The sight of it from close up brought Harry to a startled realization, and he breathed, "Scars. Old scars on your aura." His hand passed through the aura to rest on Severus' shoulder.

Severus swiftly pressed himself to his feet and moved beyond Harry's reach, leading the way out to the main room. Tonelessly, he muttered, "You should go to your rooms now. They are just across the hall. The password is "Phoenix Feathers".

Harry wanted to protest, but the weariness in Severus' eyes and aura urged him to give Severus time to rest and recover for a while. He nodded reluctantly but added, "We might want to be careful at first; we haven't really been away from each other for any length of time except in the Hospital Wing which was warded for us."

Watching Harry approach again, Severus nodded briefly and closed the door to the Rune room after Harry. Warding the door, Severus kept himself a safe and comfortable distance from the younger wizard. "Go on, then. Keep your door open at first, and then we'll go from there."

"What about Peeves? Harry questioned. "Won't he be able to get into our rooms and wreak havoc?"

With signs of a faint smirk, however brief, Severus shook his head. "For ghosts or poltergeists, wards are wards- whether the door is open or closed. At least in /my/ rooms and the other dungeon suites that I've seen to long ago. The Bloody Baron is the only one capable of entering these rooms without special measures being taken. Peeves is fearful of the Bloody Baron and rarely wreaks down here- havoc or otherwise."

Harry nodded slowly with amusement and started to make his way along the bookshelves towards the door. In sudden realization, he grinned and turned back, "Thank you, Severus. For rescuing me and everything. I suppose I should also thank you for all you've done to keep me safe when I was younger, too. I never ... appreciated it."

Blinking in surprise, Severus absorbed the words for several moments before nodding brusquely. "You're welcome, Pot- ... Harry. Go to your room and rest now."

It was then that Severus' fireplace sparked to life, a familiar voice coming from within. "Severus. Are you there?"

Harry recognized with shock that the voice belonged to Lucius Malfoy.

The boy's eyes widened in shock as Severus watched, and he quickly gestured at Harry to dispel any foolish urge to confront his caller. Silently he mouthed the words, "Stay here and stay silent," to Harry so that he would stay out of visual range of Lucius in the fireplace. At Harry's hesitant nod of agreement, Severus stared pointedly at him for a moment more before turning to make his way to the area before the fireplace.

Calmly, Severus regarded his boyhood companion. "Good day, Lucius. I expect that you have any number of reasons for flooing me."

"And you know them all, Severus," was Lucius reply, his stern features lightening upon first sight of Severus. "Likely you could deliver an hour dissertation on each," he added wryly.

"And from the sound of things, you must be alone." Severus took a moment to study the blonde wizard whose hair was unrumpled, his composure absolute. He knew that Lucius' clothing and Manor would follow the same theme, no matter the stress he might be under at the moment. He murmured, "I hope things didn't go too badly for you?"

"Too badly?" Lucius questioned with a touch of sarcasm, "No, not at all- for me at any rate. I just got to take a tour of America's charming eastern countryside and seaboard with nothing to show for it apart from nettles in my cloak and sand in my shoes. So I was away while the Dark Lord was venting his displeasure upon the others. That will change later, I expect, when he next summons us and I tell him the results of my search."

Severus winced, knowing that displeasure from experience. "I suppose you're calling to make me feel guilt over it."

Lucius smirked despite the unease of what faced him later, "That and to ask for a bit of your specialty for when I get home." Taking a longer look at Severus, Lucius seemed a touch concerned- although to others with less experience of the man, the flicker of the gaze would convey anything but that. "You look rather hellish if I might say so."

"You may," Sighing, Severus deliberately kept himself from glancing to the side where no doubt Harry was gaping at him like a fish. "I'll send some of the potion over to Narcissa when it's ready; it's time to make a fresh batch."

Knowingly, Lucius muttered, "It's been a busier summer than we'd anticipated last year, eh Severus? Looks like you'll have to get back into the habit of keeping that in stock now that he's back."

"You're hardly safe on that end," Severus growled. "And neither is Draco. When are you going to swallow your pride and leave? Especially now that I seem to have been sunken into his disfavor?"

The other wizard snorted, "If you were any more disfavored you'd be a pile of ash, Severus. He hasn't actually called you a traitor yet, but between his paranoia and his intelligence it won't be long. I'd suggest you don't go out for a while."

Wryly, Severus shook his head, "I'll trade your services of shopping for a few of my more ... selective ingredients for this month's supply of the potion, then."

"Agreed. So long as you don't use the version that contains that repulsive tasting wart root."

Severus couldn't help but chuckle. "Stay on my good side, then."

Lucius suddenly grinned with the warmth contained in his voice, "Always." More seriously, he asked, "How is the old fool treating you?"

"The same," Severus immediately replied, deliberately masking his reaction to the memory of recent events into impassivity.

Lucius knew better, however, and frowned at the answer. He also knew that pushing him would get him nowhere and instead growled, "You know how much I despise that man. Even since Fifth year you hadn't been the same. You shouldn't stay there."

"And where would I go? With you in the Manor?" Severus dubiously asked.

"You could." Sly grey eyes regarded Severus almost impishly.

"Not the most intelligent move. How long do you think it would take for word to get out?" Severus sighed. "Not only would I be at risk, but so would you as well as Draco and Narcissa."

Lucius' expression stiffened at the slight to his pride, but Severus knew he wasn't enough of a megalomaniac to believe in it blindly. He wouldn't have gotten to the position he had if he did. He didn't admit to the potential inability to protect them, however. Instead, he changed the topic. "Send a list of ingredients with the potion and I'll see them delivered tomorrow afternoon."

A touch more kindly, Severus tried for a smile. "Thank you, Lucius. Watch your back."

"You too." And with that, the blonde wizard was gone, the fire dying down to embers once more.

Surprisingly, Severus found the brief 'visit' to have put him in a better mood as he turned to bestow an expectant stare upon Harry who was, as he had guessed, gaping like a fish. "Close your mouth, Harry. You never know what might fall into it otherwise."


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