He didn't really know why he was in hospital. He didn't know why all the people who said they were there to help snickered behind their hands, first when they thought he wasn't looking, then any time they pleased. He didn't know why the pity and admiration with which he was met when he was first admitted changed, abruptly, to disdain and contempt.
Then again, since he didn't know who he was or who he'd been, he wasn't at all surprised he didn't know anything else.
The man who'd been told he was a wizard named Gilderoy Lockhart stared out the window of the recuperative wing of the ancient hospital and wondered if he would ever remember anything at all. It was all well and good to be told who he was by a bunch of people he didn't know. They'd given him books, then snatched them away a few days later, sneering at him about the contents being a load of crap -- well, one doctor had been kinder and called them works of fiction -- and saying they wouldn't help him rediscover himself. He'd looked at the hard face of the nurse who'd fluttered over him only the day before and wondered what he'd done to disappoint her. Whatever it had been, he didn't remember it.
That was the root of his trouble. He didn't remember anything, and he had the gut feeling that the absence of his memory had turned, overnight, from an affliction to a well-deserved punishment. The problem was, he didn't know why he was being punished, or how his affliction came about. His memory began the moment he woke in an underground chamber with a couple of angry schoolboys and a very large snake.
After that, it got hazy, then it got scary, as he suddenly disappeared from the school and reappeared at the hospital. Nothing made sense.
The sun went behind a cloud, and the clear pane of glass in front of his face clouded along with the sky. He stared at his reflection, hoping for clues about whom he was and whom he'd been. All he saw was wavy blond hair, sad blue eyes and a pensive frown.
And the faintest shadow of what looked for all the world like scars.
He blinked, tried to look harder, and was frustrated when the light broke through the clouds again and he lost his reflection. Surely those thin lines hadn't been there the day before? There was no mirror in his room, and few anywhere else in the hospital, and when he went to the toilet he didn't think to look up at his reflection. He didn't look up much any more at all, since all the eyes looking back at him now seemed to laugh at him. Or hate him.
"Admiring yourself again, Lockhart?" The therapist's voice rang out derisively behind him, and the man turned to face the woman. She seemed angry, but then she always seemed angry. He didn't know if it was because he couldn't remember or because of something he'd done that he couldn't remember.
His head hurt, and they hadn't even started. It didn't bode well for the hour to follow. Sure enough, although she ran him through drills and waved a long skinny piece of wood at him and chanted in foreign languages, it still felt as though he was ramming his head against a stone wall. By the time she gave up in disgust he was nearly blind with the headache. It wasn't until he'd wandered back to his cot in his little dark room at the farthest end of the corridor from the nurses' station that he thought to wonder.
Why would she think he was admiring himself? Why would he admire himself when so obviously no one else did?
That night, he sat cross-legged on his cot in his tiny room and spread the contents of a leather pack across the spread. According to the doctor, these were his worldly possessions. Some coins he recognized from a book he'd found in the hospital library and read a few days after arriving. A cloak, some clothing, a light blue robe with sparkling embroidery, a pair of boots in fine suede, a quill and some ink, a stick he now knew to be a wand though he had no idea how to use it, and a small leather-bound book with some names, addresses, and a tiny gold key. He'd asked one of the nurses what it was, before they'd begun to laugh at him or turned their backs to him, and she'd told him it was the key to his vault at Gringotts. Whatever a Gringotts was. Finally there was a small rock, one he'd been warned not to touch, as it was a 'port key' to 'hog's mead'. No one had bothered explaining what the key unlocked or why the hogs were in the mead. This had been after they'd taken his books from him.
His dreams that night, for he did dream, were full of monsters. Many-armed creatures that struck and clawed him, chased and frightened him, cursed and laughed at him. Some of them looked like his caretakers. Others cried and pleaded with him, but he didn't know what they wanted of him, so he ran away. Only to be caught by more monsters, with fangs and glowing eyes. Waking in the morning was a relief, even if his daily life was a bit of a nightmare itself.
The next morning, after breakfast and a brisk walk about the confines of the inner courtyard (since, as yet another doctor said, "There's nothing wrong with your body, at any rate!" Implying strongly that there was much more wrong with his mind than mere memory loss) he ducked away from the nursing staff and went up to the third floor. The nurse at the station there gave him a sneer but didn't challenge him. She was probably too bored to bother. No one much came up to the floor where the screamers were tied down.
The nice thing about the crazy people's floor was that no one did come to visit, so the toilet was always empty. The man looked about to ensure he was alone, then flicked on every light in the room until it blazed so brightly his eyes hurt. Then he walked over to the mirrors running over the row of sinks and looked hard at his face.
Yes. The lines were more obvious, darker than they'd been the day before. Becoming clearer. They spread like a web over the left side of his face, tracing over his forehead, down his temple and across his cheek, pulling slightly at the corner of his mouth before trailing over his jawbone. They were a strange feverish red color, as if fire lay beneath them. They were beginning to burn, just the slightest bit, and he pressed against the thickest one, a curve four inches long and nearly a quarter inch wide, that crossed over his cheekbone and ended an inch below his eye.
He gasped. It ached. His bone felt as if it was infected. He dropped his hand and waited for the tears gathered in his eyes to clear.
The right side of his face looked normal. His skin was pale, with fine lines at the sides of his eye and mouth, laugh lines or perhaps pain lines, he didn't know. His hair had less curl than the day before, seemed darker, more brown than gold, and for the first time, he saw scattered silver threads. There was a patch of white at his left temple, close by the scars. His hairline there was irregular, as if at some time the scalp had been torn and it had grown back improperly. He looked closer.
Even as he watched, the scars became more prominent. It was as if, once noticed, they were happy to come out into the open, pleased to be noticed. One of the nurses, gossiping to another, had made a disparaging remark about his 'glamour fading.' Putting it into context with the variety of impossible things he'd seen since his new life began in that tunnel under that school, he came to a few unalterable conclusions.
She hadn't been speaking of good grooming. She'd been speaking of magic. Magic worked, and he had worked it, at least in part to cover the scars on his face. Somehow, when he'd done it, he'd hurt people. Or at the very least disappointed them badly. And regardless of how long he stayed in the confines of the hospital, all the spells and potions and wands in the world would not tell him what he needed to know.
Turning from the damaged face in the mirror, the man who'd been told he was Gilderoy Lockhart left the toilet, left the floor, and after a stop at his room to pick up the pack they'd said was his, left the building. No one noticed, he made certain. No one would care, he was certain. He was on his way to find out precisely what it meant to be Gilderoy Lockhart.
He was more than half afraid of what he might discover.
The hospital was in the middle of nowhere. Fields and hills and trees and streams and not another soul for miles. He walked for what felt like hours, until the sun was high in the sky and he was famished. Shaking his head with a wry smile, he muttered, "Should've thought to raid the kitchen before taking out."
Easing the pack from his shoulder onto his lap, he sat on the grass beneath a tree and rummaged through the contents again, wondering if anything in it would be of use. Finding the rock, he peered at it for a long moment. Then with a shrug, deciding he had to start somewhere and forbidden knowledge might be the best place to begin, he wrapped his fingers around it.
When the world stopped spinning, he nearly threw up. He clutched his pack tightly to his chest and waited for his stomach to retreat back from his throat. Eventually the vertigo subsided and he was able to open his eyes. They widened from a crack to nearly popping from his head at what he saw.
He wasn't in the forest any longer. He was in a town. A strange bustling medieval town, with people in odd clothing wandering about, paying him no heed whatsoever, as if people dropping in out of nowhere was the norm. He looked down at the rock still clenched in his fingers and thrust it back in his pack hurriedly. At least now he knew what port the key opened. As he walked unsteadily further along the road, glancing hesitantly into shop windows, he kept a weather eye open for hogs in mead. His own reflection leapt out at him.
It was rather hideous. The first thing he saw was the web of scars distorting the left side of his face. They were bright red, seemed almost to be pulsing, as if the blood running beneath them was angry. They drew the eye to the extent that he wondered if anyone looking at him would see anything else. Still, the past several weeks' coldness from the hospital staff had conditioned him to make himself as invisible as possible. Instinct warned him to do the same here.
Keeping his head down, hair falling over his face, shielding it from the passers-by, he kept as much in the shadow as he could. It was a weekday, the foot traffic was light, and he went unchallenged by any strangers who might have known him from his old life. The one he didn't know, and was determined to discover. A creaking sign above the walk declared one tall dusty building a bookshop, and he decided that was as good a place to begin his search as any.
There were newspapers in the front, with pictures whose inhabitants peered and made rude gestures at him. His brow wrinkled as he stared down at them. Did everyone hate him? Perhaps it was as well he didn't know who he'd been, if that was the reaction he got. Still, he couldn't begin to build his new life until he knew what he was leaving behind, so he headed for the shelves. Perhaps his books, the ones they'd not let him read, would give him some clues.
He couldn't find them. He tried fiction, since the doctor had said they were, but there were no Lockharts to be found. He tried humor, since so many people laughed at him, but they weren't there either. Staring around at the various categories of non-fiction, he sighed. He had no idea where to start.
"Help ya, sir?" a thin voice piped up behind him. He turned with a grateful smile. The proprietor of the bookshop, a very tall, very thin man wearing a black gown, winced and glanced away.
He knew why. The scars along the side of his face were a constant ache now. Trying to ignore the book seller's reaction, he asked tentatively, "I was looking for books by Gilderoy Lockhart. D'you have any?"
The man's laughter sounded genuine. "Looking for a good laugh, eh? Right you are then, they're back here with the remainders. Sell you the whole series for dirt cheap. Nobody wants 'em now it's out what a fraud he was."
He swallowed heavily. He was a fraud? Biting back the questions bursting at his lips, he simply picked up one of each of the severely down-marked books from the huge pile and stuffed them into his pack. The proprietor rang up his purchase, less than three coins to pay for the lot, and waved him on his way without ever looking at his face again.
Not that it would have mattered. Settled at a table in the back of a dark pub, staring at the photograph smirking and winking at him from the back of the book, he knew no one would look at the wreck he was and see the golden beauty he had been. Although from what he'd heard, from several sources, that beauty was as false as the scars on his face were real.
The waitress came over, took his order, tried not to make it obvious that she was disturbed by his face, and left without attempting small talk. It was just as well. He had a lot of reading to do and was in no mood to see any more pity from anyone.
Three hours, two pints and four skimmed books later, he wondered who the hell Gilderoy Lockhart had been. If the books were to be believed, he'd been a hero. If the gossip was to be believed, he was a charlatan. Throwing money down on the table and cramming the books back in his pack, he headed for the bar.
"'Scuse me," he asked quietly.
The pubman glanced at his face, then looked down at the bar and asked the polished wood, "Aye?"
"Would you direct me to the offices of the local newspaper?"
"Right you are. Daily Prophet's two blocks up, fifth door down. Great purple scrolls on the sides of the door, can't miss it."
He didn't. He received the same polite, skittering glance from everyone he met, but he was shown into the archive, and they left him alone. Staring at the stacks of newspapers from the past two months, all the photographs sneering at him and giving him the bird, he sighed again. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like what he found.
Unfortunately, it was worse than he thought. He'd indeed been a fraud, the kind of horrible person who went about stealing other people's fame, claiming it for himself, then taking their memories away so they couldn't complain. It made the relatively benign glamour he'd used to hide his scars seem harmless in comparison.
He read until his eyes were dry, his stomach was churning, and his brain felt fit to burst. None of what he found made sense, or triggered memories, as it should have if the doctors' predictions had been on target. They'd told him the spell that took his memory was strong but applied via an improper tool (the wand was broken). With a will, application of effort and proper input he could eventually overcome it.
Given what he'd find when he did, he wasn't all that sure it was a good idea.
Still, once begun, he felt compelled to continue. Wading through the tale of woe that was his career, from stolen adventures to endangering schoolchildren to nearly murdering the boys he'd first met when his memory was gone, it was an awful journey. He no longer wondered why the people who'd at first admired him so quickly despised him. He was a despicable chap.
The only thing that saved him from overdosing on his own disgusting past actions was the fact that a larger story had overtaken the news. Someone even more vile, more dangerous and vastly more interesting named Voldemort had been defeated in mortal combat by a trio of wizards. Dumbledore, Snape and a youngster named Potter. They looked vaguely familiar. He'd met them at the school, he thought, before being transferred to hospital.
When there was no more to be learned, he returned the newspapers to their keeper. Leaving the archive of infamy behind him, he staggered out onto the walk. Night had fallen since he'd entered the halls of the Daily Prophet, and there were more people out on the streets. Happy, chattering people out for an evening's entertainment, who carefully looked past him so the sight of him didn't ruin their moods. He found the nearest pub, hid in the darkest corner, and drank as much gin as he could afford. Since his books had made him independently wealthy before they were discounted to less than scrap, and the coins he'd found in his pack turned out to be the highest denomination minted, that was one hell of a lot of gin.
Maybe if he got lucky, he thought soppily a few hours later, he could poison himself with alcohol and not have to worry about waking up to see that face again. Or face that past.
However, the owner of the pub, damn him, was the conscientious type. Probably because of all those coins. Not to mention the bother of dealing with a corpse on the premises. For whatever reason, Lockhart, for that was whom he accepted he was, found himself upstairs in a warm bed between soft sheets with a pan on the floor at his side, a glass of water and a tiny blue potion bottle on the stand beside the bed.
The next morning he was entirely certain he was in hell. His face ached, his hair hurt, tiny angry gnomes with pickaxes battered the inside of his skull, his tongue was three sizes too large for his mouth, his stomach was awash with acid and his eyes had melted in their sockets. With shaking hands, he reached for the water and caught up the potion instead. It was a serendipitous mistake. Once ingested, the potion proved to be magic indeed.
After lying supine for an hour, he managed to sit upright. The pan came in handy as he lost most of the gin he'd put down the night before. The trip to the toilet was only bearable because the potion had stilled the pickaxes and shrunk his tongue, but his eyes were still scratchy and his scars burned like fire. Once in the toilet, he took a basin bath and scrubbed his teeth, then glared blearily at his reflection.
The red lines, more swollen and angrier than before, had tracings of yellow running through them. He pressed, feather-light, against one. The pain that lanced through his entire head caused him to vomit in the sink. He stood there, swaying and trying to breathe, until the agony subsided, then washed out the sink and scrubbed his teeth again. He very carefully didn't touch his face.
It didn't seem to matter. The burning under the scars turned inward, feeling as though some kind of poison was eating his bones. If he hadn't already been more than half-mad with frustration and disappointment over what he'd discovered of himself, the pain alone would have driven him there. As it was, he didn't know what to do. Where to go. He honestly didn't think anyone would want to help. He refused to return to the hospital.
So he went back to bed. As the potion took effect and the pain in his head muted to a dull roar, he stared up at the ceiling and wondered what the hell he was supposed to do next. His mind drifted as he lay there, and so subtly he was unaware when it began, he found himself ... elsewhere.
The grass smelled sweet, but all he could taste on his tongue was an acrid coating of fear. He had his wand in his hand, and he looked down to see mud on his boots, splashed on the hem of his plain black robe. The pain in his face was gone, but his stomach was clenched so hard he feared he might vomit. He felt young, so incredibly young, and the tiny part of his brain that wasn't involved in his hallucination realized that he was reliving a memory.
He couldn't have been more than nineteen when it happened. His first field assignment, bearding a particularly nasty monster in its lair. His business was to neutralize the threat. In the end, the threat nearly neutralized him.
It was huge, over eight feet when it rose on its hind legs, and his hand shook as he raised his wand. His mind blanked, the words to the binding spell disappearing in the miasma of fear that overtook him, and his moment of hesitation was a moment too long. It lashed out with a single, platter-sized paw, catching him alongside the face and sending him reeling. Where its claws tore his flesh fire followed, and fear became paralyzing terror in an instant.
Screams he didn't realize he gave brought help, in the form of a local wizard, an old man who'd seen more, fought more, and forgotten more than young Lockhart would ever know. Standing over the wounded boy, the old man bellowed words and wove enchantment, bringing the beast to its knees. Once there, a slice to the throat, a flood of amber blood, and the threat was over.
Kindness gradually pierced the fog of terror surrounding young Lockhart, and when his mind returned to his body he found the old man tutting over him, a worried look in his eyes, his healing knowledge not up to the task of dealing with the wounds the monster had inflicted. Thoughts, unleashed from the frozen fear that had held them, raced through Lockhart's brain.
It was a disaster. An unmitigated disaster. He couldn't do it, but wasn't fit to do anything else, and he had no choice. None at all. He couldn't be a failure. He simply couldn't. He couldn't allow the old man to tell the truth, couldn't lose his job, couldn't lose every scrap of pride drilled into him since birth, couldn't shame his family and himself.
So he didn't.
The one charm he could work wonders with was a memory charm, and he fell back on it to save himself. He took the old man's memories, let himself out of the tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere, and made it back home. In the privacy of his chambers, he began to paint layer after layer of disguise over the livid, weeping marks on his face. No one must know.
No one ever did.
His employers, pleased at his tale of success and the disposal of the beast, gave him a pay rise and a new assignment. No one noticed the gloss that covered him, because no one looked that closely at an upstart kid just beginning his career. A witch in Transylvania with the know-how and the misfortune of getting in his way took care of the second monster. He took her memory, and her credit, and his path was set.
For years, he followed the same route, until it became as real to him as anything ever did. Accept an assignment, find a local expert, no one prominent, no one who would be missed, and use them to bring himself success. Take their memories, write his notes then his books, and make his way on the backs of others. All along the way he continued to add layer after layer to the glamour surrounding him. No one saw the poison eating him from the outside in, until his soul was as riddled with pustulence as the wounds, left untreated, never healed, beneath the beautiful shell.
Until two schoolboys got in his way, and his one sure-fire charm back-fired. His own memories were sacrificed. He didn't know he needed to keep building his shell, and it cracked without his constant maintenance, until the hideous wounds marking his face and soul were on display for all to see. He was exposed as a fraud, debunked as a hero, and all his years of careful conniving crumbled away, leaving him vulnerable to the laughing eyes of the entire wizarding world.
It was worse than lowering; it was cataclysmic. He had no idea what to do and no sense of urgency to come up with any ideas. In a word, he was sunk. His past had destroyed his future, and there wasn't a bloody thing he could do about any of it. Oddly enough, he didn't feel any self-pity. He was too low to climb as high as pity. He settled for numbness, instead.
With no particular plan in mind, he decided more gin was in order. That decision set the pattern for the next few days. Those days turned into weeks, after he gave the nice pubman his little gold key, and the gin didn't stop flowing. The lovely thing about being smashed out of his mind was that he didn't have to think. If he didn't have to think he didn't have to remember. If he didn't have to remember he didn't have to hurt.
Besides, when he was drunk, his face went dead, and that was the only time the agony abated. The fact that no one looked at him any more at all, including himself, was a blessing.
No doubt he would have continued to destroy himself, until he died or his gold ran out, were it not for the fact that when he collapsed in the hall one night, he didn't make it as far as his room. And the pubman was too busy serving customers to get to him straight away. Someone else tripped over him. When the other man found him, he did something no one else had done with Lockhart for weeks.
He looked at him, and he actually saw him.
"Wonderful. Just what I needed to make this disaster of a day complete. Drunks lying across the doorstep."
The sarcastic voice cut through the drunken haze in Lockhart's head. It sounded familiar, rather like an unfriendly buzz saw, but it was a general unfriendliness, not specific to Lockhart himself. He found some comfort in that thought. A strong hand caught his shoulder and hauled him to a semi-upright position.
The voice gasped softly. "Good God, is that you, Lockhart? What happened? Not that I particularly care, but you're dripping blood and pus on the carpet."
Prying his eyes open, squinting in the dim light of the hall that still seemed bright enough to burn his retinas, he saw a pale face with very dark eyes framed in long straight dark hair glaring down at him. He vaguely recognized it.
"Snape?" he asked weakly. The impressive nose wrinkled all the way up to his forehead, and the glare intensified.
"You smell as though you've bathed in a brewery. I thought you were safely incarcerated in St. Mungos. How did you come to escape?"
"Walked out." He could feel himself sobering up, and with the dissipation of the gin cloud the agony in his face reverberated. He could feel a tear make its way from the corner of his eye, the salt stinging like fire as it dripped over his scars.
"They need stronger warding spells," Snape grumbled, but he kept hold of Lockhart's shoulder. It was just as well. The way Lockhart felt, without those bony fingers digging into him, he'd have collapsed back into an oblivious heap. The thought had a great deal of merit.
"Leave me 'lone," he muttered.
One thin dark brow rose, and the dark eyes grew even more intent. "Much as the idea appeals, I'd still have to step over your insensate body to enter my room, and if I'm going to have to deal with you, better sooner rather than later. Can you move?"
The abrupt question brought Lockhart's attention to his circumstances. His legs were essentially useless, and his body felt numb, even as his face burned. "No," he answered honestly.
"What a nuisance you are," Snape griped. "I see little has changed." He looked closer, nose wrinkling again, this time undoubtedly at the stink of infection seeping through the smell of gin. "Or perhaps not so little, after all." Straightening up, he pulled out his wand and muttered a spell.
Lockhart's body lightened and he began to rise, floating gently ahead of Snape through the now-opened door into the bedroom beyond. He looked longingly at the soft bed but Snape levitated him to the sofa instead.
"You're disgusting. If you think I'm letting you anywhere near my sheets with the state you're in, then your mind has disintegrated beyond hope of recovery," Snape informed him.
Lockhart thought about shrugging then gave up the effort before the attempt. He was starting to ache all over, and what he wanted more than anything was a full bottle of gin and a dark corner to drink it in. It didn't help that, once Snape settled him on the sofa cushions with nary a bump, he perched on the edge of the bed and stared at him. Didn't say a word, simply sat and stared, eyes like lumps of charcoal, right through him.
It had been a very long time since Lockhart felt anyone had looked at him and actually seen him. Now that Snape was doing it, he felt worse than naked. He shivered and absently reached up as if to shield his ruined face from sight. The edge of his hand accidentally bumped one of the scars and he cried out in pain before he could stop himself. When the tears cleared from his eyes, he nearly jumped out of his skin to find that Snape had moved until he was mere inches away.
"Thought I stunk?" he asked, confused.
"You certainly do," Snape answered, but he sounded distracted. "Filthy wretch. Not fit to be let out on your own. Too dense to take care of yourself and too bothersome for anyone else to watch over." His nose wrinkled again as he sniffed delicately. "That's not new," he stated, staring at the web of scars.
Mindful of the agony he'd sent through his skull via his face the last time he tried to hide, Lockhart kept as still as he could and tried his best to bear the scrutiny with some equanimity. "No. Very old. 'Least twenty years."
"Why didn't it heal? Is it cursed? What did Pomfrey say?" The scorn Lockhart now remembered being habitual was absent from Snape's tone. He seemed genuinely interested.
"She didn't know," Lockhart answered slowly. "Nobody did."
Snape's eyes widened and he pulled back far enough to stare with disbelief into Lockhart's face. "Please tell me you sought help for this condition. Please don't tell me you simply covered it with the magical equivalent of stage makeup and allowed it to fester."
Knowing how stupid his reasons would sound, regardless of how much sense they made at the time, and not wishing to hand Snape any further ammunition with which to ridicule him, Lockhart kept his mouth shut. Snape snorted. It was an unpleasantly rich nonverbal reaction, expressing as it did both his sincere lack of surprise at Lockhart's foolishness and his contempt for the results of those actions.
"You truly are an idiot," Snape sighed. "You've let rot poison your system for two decades. Why? You were too vain to admit your precious puss had been clawed? You'd rather your bones wither and your brain turn to mush? No, wait, your brain was already mush. No loss there." He shook his head. Lockhart watched, oddly mesmerized by the loose fall of long black silky hair that swirled around his face. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't simply toss you out with the rest of the garbage and let the alcohol finish the job you've so stunningly begun."
It was a challenge, and Lockhart thought hard for long moments. He couldn't come up with a single reason for Snape to help him. Or anyone else, for that matter. His life was in tatters, matching his face, his past was a disaster, he had no future and no one would give a fig if he died in a gutter. Looking at it dispassionately, he said as much to Snape.
Who stared at him as if he'd suddenly grown another head. Finally, quietly, he said, "You truly mean that, don't you." It wasn't a question, but Lockhart answered with an affirmative nod anyway. Snape sat back on the bed, looking stunned.
After several minutes passed with Snape sitting there, staring at him without expression, Lockhart finally asked, "If you're going to toss me, could you make it in the direction of my room? Only two doors down. I've a bottle there."
Snape's lip curled into a rather impressive sneer. "Going to dive in, are you?"
"Stops the pain," Lockhart said simply. Snape blinked at him.
"In your mind or in your face?" he then asked. "Not that I believe you've enough of a mind to bother with, as it is."
"Face." Lockhart kept it as succinct as possible. It hurt to talk, since the blessed numbness was wearing off, and moving his jaw to talk stretched his scars. "Helps turn off the memories, too."
This comment earned him an interested look. "You've regained your memory, then?"
"Enough." More than. He gave Snape a pleading look. Fine black brows drew together as Snape regarded him much like an insect under glass.
"I think not," he finally decided. Lockhart groaned. Snape grimaced at him, or it might have been an attempt at a smile, it was hard to tell. "While it is rather entertaining to see the former star of the wizarding world in all his true glory, I believe I may be able to help."
"Why?" Lockhart kept his eyes glued to Snape's face, trying to understand why the man would care enough to help him. No one cared enough to help him.
"Who knows? I'm at loose ends, with the war over and the Dark Lord defeated. I'm bored. I feel useless at the moment and am in need of a project to distract me from the horror of realizing the rest of my life will be spent dealing with dunderheaded children. Healing you will be a challenge, and I can always throw you back when I'm done. Humanity has smacked me in the teeth, and I recognize the self-hatred writ large on your ruined mug ... take your pick, it doesn't matter. Dumbledore forced me to take a holiday, and I hate holidays, and you're handy."
It was Lockhart's turn to blink. It was the longest speech he could ever remember from Snape, even with his admittedly spotty memory. There was a distinct flavor of bitterness in the words, and he had the impression Snape had revealed much more than he'd intended in his little outpouring. As if to cover for his moment of weakness, Snape rose from the bed and went to the writing table by the window.
Pulling a leather kit from beneath it, he began to bustle. Within moments he'd turned the table into an impromptu laboratory, complete with burners and bottles and a smallish cauldron. He began slicing things and pulling stoppers from aromatic (and a few rather disgustingly smelly) potion bottles and dashing this and that into the cauldron. A flick of his wand, a satisfied hum, and he poured a steaming, purplish-blue, rather sludgy liquid into a small cup.
Carrying it over to where Lockhart lay, staring at him from the sofa, Snape thrust the cup beneath Lockhart's nose. Even over his own unwashed, gin-soaked, sweat-stained, infected stench, it had an appalling odor. He glanced up at Snape's unyielding face.
"Will it kill me?" It smelt like it would.
"Do you care?"
He had a point. Lockhart took it from him and drank it down in one gulp. Surprisingly for something that smelled that awful, it tasted rather like grape licorice. Belatedly, he thought to ask, "What's it for?"
"Make you sleep and begin to purge your system of the infection."
Snape turned back to his table, then returned to Lockhart, carrying a swab and a syringe in his hands. Lockhart had the gut feeling they were both going to hurt. A lot. Thankfully, the potion hit hard and he passed out before either one was put in use.
When he woke up, several things hit him at once, making him rather dizzy. He was sober for the first time in weeks. He was no longer at the pub. He was clean. And naked under a long, soft sleep shirt he didn't recognize. He was in a laboratory that surrounded him on all sides and seemed to go on forever. The fire in his face had muted to the point where it was bearable. He could actually think straight.
The last point was perhaps the most frightening. He glanced over to the largest of several work tables, where Snape hovered over an array of cauldrons of various sizes, emitting steam of various hues and aromas. The Potion Master appeared to be happy, intent eyes darting from one bubbling brew to another. Lockhart watched him work and thought again of what Snape had told him of his reasons.
"How long are you on holiday?" he asked, somewhat surprised by how rusty his voice sounded. Snape jumped a little, then gave him a disgruntled look.
"Oh, awake again, are you? Pity. I was hoping you'd stay unconscious until you were healed. Or dead."
"How long d'you think that'd take? And are you trying to kill me or heal me?" From the tone of his voice it was impossible to tell. Snape sneered at him, a weirdly genial expression.
"If I were trying to kill you you'd be fertilizer by now. You've let the rot run rampant through your system so long it was odds even you wouldn't survive the first round of treatment. But here you are, so you'll probably last the course. I estimate it will take at least another month to completely cleanse your system." The geniality faded and the disgust returned. "As for my holiday, it's ridiculous. Extended, as a reward for my years of service." The hiss on the word made it crystal-clear he saw it more as punishment than reward. "Three months," he muttered, making it sound like a life sentence in Azkaban.
"So when you're done with me you'll still have a couple months for yourself." Lockhart tried to make it sound reassuring. From the glare that bought him, it obviously hadn't worked. "Don't you want a little time to yourself? Doing some research, perhaps? Spend some time catching up with friends?"
The glare was redirected to one of the larger cauldrons, and Lockhart half-expected it to burst into flame from the force of Snape's eyes. "I have plenty of time to myself. You are research." He paused and muttered fiercely, so softly Lockhart almost couldn't hear, "Who needs friends?"
"They say everyone does," he answered very quietly. Snape shot him a look. "I wouldn't know," he continued. "Haven't any myself."
"Better off relying on yourself," Snape told the cauldron. "Then you know what to expect." He glanced back over at Lockhart. "Of course, in your case, that means drinking yourself blind in a back alley somewhere."
He'd get no argument from Lockhart. Without another word, Snape brought a fresh cup of steaming glop over and shoved it under Lockhart's nose. Trying not to gag at the stench, he slugged it down.
When he woke up, three days had gone by. Snape appeared neither surprised nor encouraged by his progress, simply looked at him, sniffed, then walked over to the work table and started chopping up more strange things from various bottles and jars. The next potion he was given smelled like lilacs and tasted like shoe polish. He managed not to bring it right back up again, then passed out. The next time he came to, eighteen hours had passed.
His face felt incredibly better. His body was rested in ways it hadn't been for a very long time, since so much of his energy wasn't being channeled into shoring up his facade. He was also restless. Snape moved about him with a dark flowing energy that made him vaguely hungry. His attempts at small talk were ignored, and he felt the driving need to do something.
The next potion Snape tried on him smelled like red pepper and tasted like moss. It didn't, however, cause him to become either nauseous or unconscious. He considered that a major victory. When he said as much to Snape, the wizard sneered and turned his back to him.
The tension Lockhart was feeling, even if Snape was oblivious, couldn't last forever. He stared into the small silver salver upon which Snape divided powders, polishing it. He'd felt so useless he'd started cleaning up after Snape, in part to pay him back in some small way and in part because he was becoming so bored with lying about doing nothing that he was rapidly going out of his skull. His reflection caught his attention and he stared.
The scars were still there, but they were no longer as swollen and angry. A latticework of thin red lines traced over his cheek, but they no longer pulled his features out of alignment. He'd never be a beauty, but he was no longer a monster. His blond-brown hair hung about his face in soft waves, his blue eyes were no longer sunken and red-shot, and his skin, whilst scarred, was otherwise clear. Snape's voice, dripping derision, interrupted his reverie.
"Just think, in a little while I'll have all the poison out, and you can go back to putting on your pretty face. I'm sure it will be a vast relief to you."
He shook his head, replacing the shining clean tray in its place in the cabinet. "No, I don't think so."
"Why not? Don't think you need the glamour to get the girls? I assure you, with all that's come out about you, you'll need all the advantage you can get."
Lockhart smiled, relieved when it didn't hurt. "No, I don't suppose I'll be getting many girls. Or boys, for that matter."
Dead silence met his calm response. He glanced over his shoulder and caught Snape looking at him with what he could only call hunger, but it was gone as soon as he saw it, and he thought he must have imagined it.
The next draught he was given smelled like rotten eggs and tasted like sour milk. He slept for four days. On the plus side, when he awoke, he felt better than he ever had. After he brushed his teeth.
Snape was slumped in the hunter green velvet wing chair by the fire. A book had fallen between his thigh and the arm of the chair, where it had landed after his hands went limp with sleep. Not examining the impulse too closely for fear it would stop him before he began, Lockhart crept up on the sleeping man.
Knelt between his feet. Parted his robes. Undid his trousers. Pulled out his prick. And swallowed around it as it hardened.
By the time Snape woke completely he was fully aroused and instinctively thrusting into Lockhart's mouth. He tasted salt and sweet, driving the last sense-memory of foul-tasting potion from his mind. Long fingers dug into his scalp as if to push him away, but completion was too near, and Lockhart was too determined.
With a sound that was a mingled sigh and groan, Snape came, pulling his hands away at the last moment and clamping them so tightly about the arms of the chair his knuckles showed bone. When he was finished, he collapsed into the chair. Lockhart licked the warm flesh clean, tucked it away and tidied Snape's clothing. Then he rose to his feet, without looking at Snape's face, and returned to the work table, where he started cleaning the cutting boards.
He didn't have to see Snape to know Snape was staring at him. He could feel the holes burning between his shoulder blades. All too soon, Snape regained the use of his razor tongue.
"What, precisely, was that in aid of? I knew you were a thief and a liar. I had no idea you were a whore as well. Was that your poor attempt at repayment for all my hard work? If so, you needn't bother. You're an experiment, a means to while away a boring summer, nothing more."
Lockhart carefully replaced the scales he was cleaning before he threw them at Snape's head. When he could trust his voice, he turned and faced the other wizard. Snape was staring at him indeed, with the narrowed eyes and watchful posture of a cornered animal. That made it much easier for Lockhart to say, "I'm not trying to repay a debt as big as the absence of pain you've given me with something of such dubious worth as my body. I'm lonely. You're alone. Both of us could benefit with the touch of another."
"Don't expect me to return the favor," Snape hissed. Lockhart gave him a tiny smile.
"I don't expect anything. From anyone." Then he turned back to his cleaning. After a few moments, he heard the rustle of pages as Snape returned to his book. The silence between them lasted the rest of the night.
But the next morning, when Lockhart came to Snape's bed and opened his mouth around Snape's prick, while Snape made no move to reciprocate, he also made no move to escape.
If Lockhart expected any change in Snape's attitude, he was disappointed. The potions continued to appear, he continued to choke them down, the pain continued to fade. As the days went by, he moved from merely cleaning up to helping with the simpler tasks involved in preparing the potions, slicing roots or insects or unidentifiable body parts into fine or coarse chopped pieces and handing bottles or bowls or trays to Snape when ordered. The evenings were quiet, as Snape read and Lockhart gradually re-introduced himself to the lessons in wizardry he'd forgotten, via textbooks Snape left lying about for that purpose. Not that Snape ever actually said he had.
Just as he said nothing about the way Lockhart woke him each morning, or the way his fingers grasped the linens, or the nearly soundless gasp he gave when he came.
As far as Lockhart was concerned, it was an equitable arrangement all round. Snape might consider him a whore, but what he'd said was quite true. He was tired of being alone, and if the only companionship he could get, the only touch he could take, the only closeness he was allowed was a moment of silent sexual offering, he'd accept it gladly.
Eleven days after the first time Lockhart touched Snape's prick, Snape unwound one hand from the sheets and touched the fading scars, fingertips light as feathers. For the first time, as well, Lockhart got hard. The touch was gone as soon as it came, and the swelling at his groin was the work of a moment to take care of, an efficient jerk after Snape was finished with his mouth.
That day, the potion smelled of fresh cut grass and tasted like wild apples. He didn't sleep at all after taking it. He washed the cup, stood at the sink for a moment, and listened as Snape walked behind him. Paused. Breathed against the back of his neck, the warmth of his body blanketing Lockhart, then moved away again, still without a word. He slept well that night, and he dreamed.
Not of the monster.
Of Snape. His mouth. His long, clever hands. His intense eyes. The taste of his skin and his semen. The curve of his back. The length of his neck. Lockhart came during the night, awakening afterward and wiping himself with the sheet. In the morning, after he sucked Snape to completion and Snape rested his palm against Lockhart's cheek, where the flesh moved as he fucked Lockhart's mouth, Lockhart looked up at him for a long moment. He wanted to kiss Snape so badly he could taste it. Snape ran one thin finger along the edge of his lip, catching up a few spilled drops of cream, and offered them to Lockhart. He sucked the finger clean, still staring at Snape's mouth.
After a moment more of watchful waiting, Snape pushed at his shoulder, more gently than he expected, and rolled past him off the bed to begin his day.
Late that evening after supper, Lockhart stared at himself in the small oval mirror set into the wall. He would never be a beauty. The web of scars covering the left side of his face, while no longer swollen, seeping and festering, would never disappear. His eyes were weary, his light brown hair hung limply over bowed shoulders, and he was unbecomingly thin.
But he was sober. He was aware, for the first time in his life, of precisely who he was. He had no idea where he was going, but for once, he was entirely content where he was.
Walking out to the work room, he went to the sink and began to wash the last of the instruments Snape and he had used that day. Once finished, he leaned against the edge of the sink and stared at the row of bright, shining metal. He saw Snape approach, felt him before he heard him. As he had the previous night, Snape paused behind him.
This time, he didn't walk away. Slender, strong arms wrapped around Lockhart's body, undoing the fastenings on his robe and pulling the heavy material down until it pooled at his feet between them. His shirt followed, dropped carelessly to the side, then he felt the slow purposeful slide of Snape's hands as they ran from his waist under his arms to hover over his nipples. He tried to swallow, wondered what to say or if silence was the price he had to pay to have Snape continue. Deciding to follow Snape's lead, he took a deep breath and held as still as possible.
His reward was found when fingers dropped against his skin, rubbing and plucking at his nipples until they stood out, hard and flushed from his chest. He bit his lip to contain a moan at the light torment, until Snape's right hand left a nipple and headed down to his trousers. The left continued to play, sliding from one nipple to the other, and Lockhart found his hands clenching around the edge of the sink until his fingers ached to keep himself still.
A flick of the button, a torturously slow glide of the zip, then a quick movement, and Snape's hand was inside his boxers. The palm felt dry and hot against his cock. A questing thumb rubbed over his glans, spreading the liquid beginning to seep there, then Snape wrapped his fingers around the growing erection and began to milk it.
Lockhart came much before he wished, giving a pained cry of mingled disappointment and satiation. The hands on his body stilled, and he bit his lip until he tasted blood, sure now that Snape would withdraw, and the all-too-brief interlude would be over.
As ever, Snape surprised him. His hands did draw back, but only to join at his trousers, easing them down his hips, and his undershorts with them. In a moment, he was naked but for the small pile of clothing pooling around the tops of his boots. Snape, still completely silent, ran one hand through the dripping mess at Lockhart's crotch, gathering up a palmful and bringing it behind him. The sensation as those slick fingers began to probe his arsehole nearly made Lockhart's knees give way.
In a trice an arm wrapped about his waist, holding him upright, leaning him slightly against the front of the sink, hand sliding down to cradle his rising prick and keep it from being crushed. With no further preparation, Snape pushed forward, working his cock very slowly into Lockhart's arse.
It had been a long time since anyone had done that, and the tiny portion of his mind that wasn't gibbering with pleasure at the hand working his cock and the gradually increasing girth within him applauded Snape's care. Wondered at it. Reveled in it. Eons, or minutes, later, Snape was fully entrenched, and he held there until Lockhart found himself writhing involuntarily, trying to spur him to movement. Snape let him fuck himself on the long cock buried in him for a little while, until Lockhart was nearly mad with the need to be taken, before Snape obliged him.
Once joined, there was very little tenderness in their coupling. Snape's hand on his cock was hard and perfect, Snape's cock in his arse harder still and even more perfect. He jolted against the counter, sending all the bright shiny metal implements tumbling into disarray, grunting with each thrust, until Snape shoved full-force into him. He heard a muffled curse, then the warm rush of spunk spurting into him, and Snape's fingers clenched.
It hurt. It felt wonderful. After Snape finished, he slumped against Lockhart's back for a moment, and uncramped his fist from Lockhart's prick. Before he could get too far, Lockhart took his courage, and Snape's hand, in his own hand, and wrapped Snape's fingers back around his erection. Guiding the fist enclosing him, he pulled and pushed the few times needed to bring himself off.
Leaning against the sink as Snape pulled his prick out of Lockhart's arse as carefully as he'd pushed in, Lockhart tried to control his breathing and waited to see what Snape would do next. A single stroke of the hand down his back, over his flank, to cup his buttock, and a whisper of movement that might have been a mouth over his shoulder, then Snape stepped away and left as silently as he'd arrived.
Had it not been for the ache in his arse, the cool breeze over his naked body, and the mess on the counter and sink, Lockhart would've sworn the whole encounter was a product of his overheated imagination. When his legs could support him, he knelt, gathered up his clothes, and dressed. Then he washed the sink, cleaned the counter where he'd come against it, and once again put the tools in their proper order.
As he walked back toward the sofa on which he'd been sleeping, he saw Snape, sitting in his wing chair, nose buried in a book. Snape gave no sign of interest or encouragement at his presence. Lockhart wondered, not for the first time by any means, what on earth must be going on behind those dark eyes.
Then he sat, gingerly, on the sofa, kicked off his boots, lay back on the sofa, drew his robe about his body and went to sleep.
Morning caught him unawares. Snape was still abed when Lockhart woke, but he was already awake. He watched, lip curled but tongue still, as Lockhart cautiously approached the bed. Pulling the blanket aside, Lockhart found the morning erection he always found, and lowered his head to suck it.
Hands wrapped themselves in his hair and pulled him away before his lips could touch the wet red head. He stared in surprise, then closed his eyes as Snape drew him up to eye level. A long moment passed and Snape did nothing more, until Lockhart finally opened his eyes.
Snape was a bare inch away, so close Lockhart's eyes couldn't focus on him. Then Snape whispered, "Yes," and pushed Lockhart's head back down to his crotch.
For some reason, the hitch in his normal routine made Lockhart phenomenally aware of every detail. The scent of musk and salt rising off Snape's skin. The almost harsh taste of the clear fluid seeping from the slit in the head of his prick. The softness of the folds of his foreskin as Lockhart tongued it, and the way the girth stretched his mouth as he swallowed down the length of the fully-engorged cock. He felt a hunger for Snape's cock to a degree he'd never felt before, as if he could gladly suck it for days, never wanted to let go of it. His hands clutched at Snape's hips, drawing him forward, as he swallowed and licked, suddenly ravenous.
The second time those hands clutched his hair and drew him away, he whined unhappily. He wanted more, wanted Snape's come, wanted to drink him dry. A strong hand wrapped around his jaw and held him still as Snape's mouth dove over his, a greedy tongue probing between his lips, lapping at his tongue, his teeth, his palate. The shocked thought struck him that this was the first time he and Snape had ever kissed, then it was over as abruptly as it started.
The hand left his jaw and wrapped around his thigh, joined by its mate around his other thigh, spreading his legs and urging him over until he straddled Snape's body, a knee to either side of his hips. Then Snape tugged until he was further up, arse poised over the prick he'd just thoroughly moistened with his mouth. He thought for a bare moment of protest; his arse, while not as sore as it might have been due to Snape's care the night before, was unaccustomed to such exercise. But if he protested Snape would stop.
He wasn't going to let that happen.
More subtle urging from those hands, and he reached down behind himself to spread his buttocks and make aim easier. Then with Snape holding himself by the base of the cock, Lockhart sat down, taking him in up to the hilt. It burned, at first, and the burn slid through him like a sharp knife to the ribs, stealing his breath and blurring his vision. Then Snape rocked beneath him, only an inch, enough to prompt motion, and Lockhart began to move instinctively.
Snape felt bigger, longer, more intrusive from that angle than he had when he'd taken Lockhart standing at the sink, and the feel of him triggered an itch deep inside Lockhart's arse. He began to move faster, driving his weight down onto Snape, his hands falling back behind him to brace himself on Snape's thighs, giving him leverage. Soon he was riding Snape as hard as he could, groaning deeply each time Snape's cock filled him, gasping for breath each time it left him empty.
Opening his eyes, he saw Snape staring at him, eyes devouring him, and Lockhart felt naked in soul as well as body. Keeping their eyes locked, Snape reached forward and began to stroke Lockhart's prick, bouncing against his stomach. The added sensation was too much, and he came hard, slamming down to take Snape all the way inside as he shook and spasmed. Snape milked him through his orgasm, eyes never leaving him, and the steady regard somehow made the climax all that much more intense.
He wilted over Snape's chest, then clutched his shoulders as Snape rolled them, still joined, until Lockhart was on his back, Snape crouched over him. With a quick shift, Snape slid Lockhart's legs up until they were bent back against his sides, then got onto his knees. With the new angle and the change in control, he drove hard and deep into Lockhart's relaxed arse, head falling forward, dark hair flowing over his face, obscuring his eyes.
Reaching up with a hand that felt like it was weighted with lead, Lockhart brushed the hair back so he could see those eyes again. Snape's head snapped up and he fixed Lockhart with a glare, the sexual heat in it a welcome change from the usual icy disdain. Then he whipped his pelvis against Lockhart's arse, pushed in so deep Lockhart could swear he felt the tip of Snape's cock touch the back of his throat, and came. He made no sound, merely the hissing of his breath, hard and fast through his teeth. Only at the end, when his muscles turned weak, did his eyes lose their focus.
Holding still, softening cock slipping from Lockhart's arse, Snape raised one hand. Cupped Lockhart's hand where it lingered at his hair. Brought it to his mouth and dropped a single light kiss in the center of his palm.
Lockhart's breath caught in his throat. Before he could find his voice, Snape matter-of-factly pulled away, allowing cramping legs to fall to the mattress, then crawled off the bed and headed for the bath. At the doorway, he looked over his shoulder.
"Your treatment is as complete as I can make it. You're not going to get any better, but at least you're not rotting from the outside in any longer. You'd better make some decisions about what you're going to do with yourself now that you'll live, because as far as I'm concerned, as an experiment, you are successfully completed." Then he went into the room and closed the door.
Lockhart lay splayed, well-fucked and completely confounded, in the middle of Snape's bed until he heard the water stop running. Whatever he'd been expecting, it hadn't been that cold pronouncement. Staring at the closed door, listening to the splash as Snape bathed, he had to shake his head.
Leave it to Snape to continually confuse him.
Rolling slowly off the bed, feeling the pull of abused muscles vying with the relaxation that only came after a bout of great sex, Lockhart ignored Snape's advice to think about himself and instead thought about his benefactor. By the time Snape came out of the bath, Lockhart had attended to his own ablutions in the small bath adjacent to the work room, dressed, and was waiting for him next to his work table.
Snape raised a brow, then sniffed delicately. "Well?" he demanded. "Did you come up with any distant relations upon which you could foist yourself, or possible pseudonyms under which you could find employment to support your worthless hide?"
The glare was back, as cold as ever, but Lockhart saw the almost imperceptible shiver running through the long frame, and the way the strong hands clenched as if to hide shaking. He knew Snape would never voluntarily expose himself to any sort of rejection; their odd and silent courtship, if it could be called that, made it all too plain. But Lockhart himself was more than used to rejection, and he was willing to risk enough for both of them.
"I have no idea what I'm to do now," he said plainly, "but I'll do anything as long as I don't have to leave you."
The sneer that earned him was no more than he expected, so he kissed it. When Snape didn't push him away, he thought he was right. When the sneer finally softened into returning his kiss, he knew it. He broke the kiss only when the need to breathe became imperative.
"I didn't save your sorry arse just to have you waste it on me," Snape informed him with somewhat less than his usual scorn, given his breathless state as he said it. Lockhart grinned.
"It's not a waste. It's a privilege."
"You are utterly mad." That earned Snape another kiss. Lockhart took his time. If the taste of Snape's cock was incredible, the taste of his kiss was instantly addictive. Snape didn't put up a fight.
Lockhart considered this progress.
Eventually they found themselves sitting side by side on the sofa, lips returning to one another frequently. Snape took a deep breath and grumbled, "Well, somebody around here has to make a living." Lockhart gave him an inquisitive look. Snape growled, "Come back to Hogwarts with me. I need an assistant."
He nearly fell off the sofa in shock. "They wouldn't have me. I nearly killed two of the students," he reminded Snape painfully. The superior smirk he got in return dried any further protests on his tongue.
"I fancy recent changes in your demeanor, plus the fact that I want you there and I have some clout given that I am a war hero," he made the two words sound like the caption on a cartoon, "you will have no difficulty re-entering society under my protection. Having you around will make facing my own future a shade less boring." He paused, and when he continued, he sounded as diffident as he could, given his natural arrogance. "That is, if you so wish."
Before he could change his mind, Lockhart dropped another kiss on his lips and told him, "It would be my honor."
"Of course it would," Snape told him. Lockhart kissed him again, quite thoroughly, and felt for the first time since he'd woken up without a memory in that tunnel that he just might have a future after all.