Title: The Path That Magic Takes
Author: Anonymous
Prompt Number: #3: Snarky Severus, unusual careers, working together, reluctant friends to lovers (or maybe friends with benefits to lovers), a persistent, annoying Harry whom Severus comes to value, plenty of UST, pining, bumping into each other in an odd location, regular pub/drinking sessions, argumentative dialogue, spanking. Basically anything as long as Snape still has a backbone/exoskeleton and an intense, moody presence. Pick and choose whatever works for your story.
Rating: PG for some snogging
Word Count: ~13,600
Warnings: None
Summary: There's a danger to working inside the path that magic takes. Inhibitions disappear and the truth has a way of revealing itself.
Author's Note: Profound thanks to the mods for giving me 394 extensions and to Jess for giving it a once-over. I went with 'basically anything' so I do hope that Snape has enough of an exo-skeleton to suit. All remaining mistakes are mine.



Friday

"Next."

The young witch who approached the window couldn't have been more than a month out of Hogwarts. Biting her lower lip, she nervously slid her Floo application across the counter and gazed at Snape with fretful brown eyes. "We've just moved into the flat, you see, and two of us—"

"I needn't hear the tale, Ms…" Severus Snape glanced at the top of the form for the witch's name. "Ms Beloussov. I merely need to ensure you've completed the form correctly." His coal black eyes ran over the application with practiced efficiency and then he sighed. It was too much to hope that they'd get it right on the first attempt.

A long finger tapped a blank field on the form. "Nearest public Floo, Ms Beloussov. The installer needs to know where your flat is, so you can be connected to the proper network."

Marta took a step back, flustered. "But I've no idea where the nearest public Floo is."

"That, Ms Beloussov, is why there is a map." Snape pointed at a wall to her left that was covered both with a map of Great Britain and a map of Greater London. "Find your flat and find the nearest Floo. They're well marked. Or, if you've managed an OWL in Charms, follow the steps listed under the map to have the correct Floo light up. Next."

"But—"

"Next!" Snape glared at her and she scurried towards the map, application in hand. She glanced back over her shoulder, her eyes wide with alarm, and joined her flatmates in a huddle, whispering heatedly.

Severus Snape enjoyed his job as head of the customer service division for the Floo Network Authority. Most his days were spent scheduling Floo connection installations and managing a bustling team of repair technicians, but every once in awhile, he'd join his subordinates working one of the service windows at the Ministry offices. In his three years supervising the FNA, he'd long since discovered that spending a day or so a month on the front lines ensured that no incomplete applications were accepted by any member of the staff and that the lengthy set of rules were followed to the letter.

It had been a strange journey from Hogwarts to working for the Ministry in a mid-level managerial position. After the war had ended, he had been exonerated by the Wizengamot and somehow managed to escape a lengthy stay in Azkaban. To Snape's astonishment, he was awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class, for his efforts and with that citation came a generous stipend that enabled him to spend a year travelling the world.

But Britain was, and always would be, home, so, wanderlust satisfied, Snape returned to England and found a lovely little flat not far from the West End where he thought long and hard about what to do with his life. Brewing did not appeal. It was a delightful way to spend an afternoon, but he had no desire to spend the next hundred years of his life bent over a steaming cauldron, chopping and weighing ingredients and stirring whilst the magic happened.

After eliminating all careers related to the art of potions, which included Herbology, Horticulture, Animal Husbandry, the Healing Arts, and anything having to do with Apothecaries, he considered more solitary pursuits. He gave some thought to replacing Madam Pince as Hogwarts' librarian, but it was hard enough getting the little urchins to study as it was. He would only serve as a deterrent.

Stymied, he considered some of the more arcane positions at the Ministry and lasted two weeks in the Wizengamot Administrative Services division. Filing and archiving rolls of parchments was a sad and lonely affair. To his surprise, he wanted to be near people. Percy Weasley, the head of Magical Transportation, granted him an interview. Percy knew Snape to be a stickler for rules and regulations, hired him immediately, and a three month probationary period became a career as a bureaucrat.

Once David Blackshear finally arrived for his shift, Severus strode into his office—he would say he walked, but everyone who knew him would say he did nothing without purpose—and sat himself behind his wide, sturdy desk. Today's schedule was fairly light as such things were measured: four new connections, seven repair orders, some deferred maintenance near the Muggle District and Circle lines, and one disconnect.

Automatically, his eyes ran down the page in search of one name. Harry Potter had two repair orders that would keep him busy throughout the day, both of which were from habitual repeaters. The first, Tabitha Clearwater, was convinced a ghoul was residing in her upstairs Floo. The second, Edmund Goodpasture, was experiencing interference whilst on fire calls. Harry—Potter, dammit—had been to the residence four times now, but couldn't replicate the problem.

Potter had begun working as a Floo technician four or so months after Snape had started at the Ministry. No one knew why he'd left the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and Potter certainly wasn't willing to divulge that information, walking away whenever anyone brought the subject up. Mostly, Potter kept to himself and learned his job and before long, the rest of the FNA staff learned to leave him alone.

In a manner of speaking, Snape picked up with Harry Potter right where he'd left off: watching him intently and shielding him from harm. Potter had stepped effortlessly back into his role as well, ignorant of Snape's efforts to protect him. Fortunately, Potter hadn't noticed that Snape's interest was more than collegial. Harry Potter had become a gorgeous young man and Snape was utterly smitten.

Setting aside the duty rota, Severus turned his attention to the agenda for the upcoming meeting with the Department for the Regulation of Magical Games and Sport. The Appleby Arrows was hosting a friendly and wanted international Floo connections for their stadium for the weekend of the 17th. Given that they submitted their request only last week and it would take every Floo technician on the payroll, Severus was demanding that Magical Sport fund the overtime he would have to pay. They were, of course, claiming poverty.

A soft chime sounded and Severus looked up from the attached budget figures to stare fixedly at a single point on the corner of his desk, not so much as blinking.
After a few minutes, Severus' eyes watered as he forced himself to keep them open. Aiming his wand at his face, he cast a cloud of mist at his eyes and continued to stare. The door to his office opened and his administrative assistant, Viola, entered followed by an entire air wing of memos.

Though Severus was the head of the department, it was Viola who kept it running. Born in Bangalore, she'd moved as a child along with her extended family to Britain during Grindelwald's rise to power. Her eyes were every bit as dark as Snape's and equally as piercing. She was middle aged, shaped like a tree trunk, and had three hairs on her chin. Snape had learnt quickly that Viola could not be bullied; she'd learnt just as swiftly that he could not be intimidated. Their yelling matches were legendary and whenever their voices rose, Galleons changed hands as spectators wagered on the outcome.

"It's no use," she scolded. "You can wait all day, but the biscuits will not appear as long as you're watching."

Severus blinked rapidly. In that fraction of a second, a plate of cranberry-orange shortbread appeared, artfully arranged on a doily-clad china saucer. There was a sprig of flowers set daintily on the rim; Severus thought it was a bellflower. "Who is responsible for this?"

Viola rolled her dark brown eyes. "It is quite obviously a mystery. Here are the connection requests for next week. These are the repairs orders and this is the maintenance schedule. I must have these by three o'clock filed in—"

"In triplicate. Yes, I know. You've told me every Friday for the past seventy-two weeks." He snatched a biscuit off the plate and bit savagely into it. The bloody things were still warm. "Have I ever not filed my paperwork in triplicate?"

Viola wagged a stubby finger. "Don't you get shirty with me. I have managed this department since you were in nappies and will still be here when your grandchildren's grandchildren require changing." She arched a brow so perfectly shaped it was nearly a work of art. "Requisitions. Three o'clock," she reminded.

"Oh, sod off," Severus grumbled under his breath. Viola laughed as she left his office, her flame coloured sari fluttering in her wake. He adored her. Worse, she knew it. He picked up another biscuit and contemplated it.

They had started arriving precisely at ten a.m. about eight months ago and no one admitted to knowing where they came from or how they arrived. Severus had used every detection spell he knew, to no avail. He had even considered consulting with the Department of Mysteries, but his pride refused to permit him to make a fool of himself over a daily plate of shortbread.

After working for another twenty-five minutes, Severus gathered his papers, rose from his chair, and headed to his meeting with the loathsome people in the Department of Magical Sport. "If I'm not back by noon," he said as he passed Viola's desk, "invent an emergency and send one of those infernal aeroplanes to fetch me."

"It will be a Messerschmitt," said Viola gravely.

"With a little iron cross on the side?"

"Naturally." She regarded him steadily. Snape couldn't tell whether or not she was serious. Shaking his head, he strode through the office to the corridor that led to the Ministry lifts, girding himself for the battle he knew would follow.

~*~


Shortly after noon, Severus returned to his office on the sixth floor of the Ministry building and relieved Francisco at the customer service desk. As he settled into the high-backed stool, he couldn't help but notice that a number of queued customers suddenly decided to surrender their place in line in favour of having lunch. He sighed. He wasn't a demon—or even a Death Eater—but most of the public gave him wide berth regardless. He just wasn't social. That was all.

"Next," he called out and waited for the next wizard in line to approach his window.

"I am applying for an additional Floo," the man stammered under Severus' piercing gaze. He pushed through a small stack of parchment a small stack of Galleons to cover the fee.

Severus skimmed through the application. "It says here that you have two connections already. For what possible reason would you require more?"

The man, Royce MacEchearn, gazed wearily up at Severus. "I have five children and three grandchildren living under my roof, and now my wife has invited my mother to move in. One son-in-law works in Ipswich, two daughters work in Diagon Alley, my son is the equipment manager for the national Gobstones team and my oldest grandson just turned ten." He gestured to the application. "This one would be mostly for my mother. Please, sir. We spend three sickles a week on Floo powder as it is."

The chaos in the MacEchearn household must be unbearable, thought Severus. "Your application appears to be in order." The man had even listed the nearest public Floo in accordance with the rules. "Approved."

One desk over, Ebony Sweetwater knocked over her inkstand in surprise whilst Severus affixed the requisite seals, signed on the seven lines requiring Ministry acquiescence, wrote out a receipt for the required fee, and duplicated the application for Mr MacEchearn's records. It wasn't as if he'd never accepted an initial application before. "You will receive an owl on Monday with the day and time our technician will arrive to perform the necessary spells."

As the uncoordinated Ms Sweetwood cleaned up her mess, Severus summoned the next person in line. That transaction took less than two minutes of his time; the foolish wizard had barely completed the first page of the form and had managed to make four mistakes already.

"The instructions are printed clearly on the information placard," he growled in his best long-suffering voice and pointed at the large white board covered in teeny tiny letters to the customer's left. Severus sent away the next person in line as well, but only because they wanted an Apparition license and his department couldn't help with that.

~*~


At long last, it was time for lunch. Severus found his meal tucked away in the back of the cold box and fussed with it until everything was to his liking. Steam wafted off the small kettle of soup, butter melted into warm bread. Squares of sharp cheddar towered over the starburst of apple wedges surrounding it. He prided himself on being a simple man with simple tastes; his colleagues thought him fussy.

As he levitated his lunch over to a vacant table, he had the unmistakable sensation of being watched. He allowed his gaze to wander over the lunchroom, already half-empty and clearing quickly. A pair of green eyes dropped swiftly to the magazine in front their owner and Severus found himself heading to a nearby vacant table. He arranged his food to his liking and Summoned the current edition of International Portkeys and Floo Quarterly from his office.

"Did you see to the Clearwater request?" inquired Severus as he took his first mouthful of soup. He scanned the table of contents and shook his head. When were the Slovakians going to come to the realisation that the Austrian Ministry were about as likely to construct a new Floo passage along the Danube as they were to build an aquaduct to import Swiss chocolate?

Harry Potter shook his head. "No, I took care of the Goodpasture ticket first." Harry closed his magazine and toyed with the salad in front of him. "I know there's a problem with his Floo, but bugger all if I can find it."

Severus sunk his crooked teeth into a cube of cheese and followed it with a bite of apple. "What have you tried?" he asked, still not making eye contact. It was too disconcerting. Somehow, when he wasn't looking, Harry had matured into his idea of the perfect partner. That Severus even had a type came as quite the surprise, but when it turned out to be that impudent whelp, it had shaken him to the core. And then Harry transferred to the Floo Network Authority for reasons unknown and Severus' restful nights became a thing of the past.

"I checked for build-up of soot, ash, and Floo powder residue. I checked for webs, nests, hives and whatever else birds and bugs build in chimneys. I checked the firebox. I checked the connexion for spells and curses. I've even checked for Dark magic."

"Hmm." Harry had been as thorough, as usual. "Have you checked the connexion from other Floos?"

"That was the first thing I did. Mr Goodpasture hasn't had any problem with the Floo itself, not that anyone visits much. Just his sister from time to time. None of his nieces or nephews have dropped by since Dylan died."

Severus arched an eyebrow and shifted in his seat to look over at Harry. "Who is Dylan and what has he to do with the Goodpasture Floo?"

"I don't know," replied Harry with a shrug. "His son, maybe? There are photos of them all over the flat." He expression turned wistful. "Mr Goodpasture was so proud of him. I guess Dylan was the manager of the Catapults' Quidditch stadium, ran the whole bloody place. Mr Goodpasture said it was it was some sort of insect bite and Dylan was allergic. He just…" Harry turned his attention back to his half-eaten lunch and pushed around a piece of lettuce. Severus would have given as much as three Knuts to know what was going through Harry's mind.

"You've still not explained what this Dylan person has to do with the Goodpasture Floo," Severus pointed out.

"I guess Dylan's cousins don't come to visit anymore, so it's harder to tell where the problem with the Floo might be." Harry looked up and his green eyes seemed brighter than usual. "He's lonely, Sever—Snape. Mr Snape."

Would Gryffindors ever learn to stop wearing their hearts on their sleeves? Severus thought the odds highly against it. Harry's sentiment for Goodpasture's plight was pure twaddle. "Have you scheduled a follow-up visit?"

"Yeah…I mean, yes, sir." Harry Vanished the remains of his lunch and rose. "It's for day after tomorrow. I'm going to dig through the archives and see if I can find something, and then I'll get the Clearwaters sorted. That won't take but a few minutes."

"Oh?"

"They don't have a ghoul," said Harry with a snort. "They keep using homemade Floo powder and blowing the connexion all to hell."

"In that case," said Severus as his gaze travelled slowly over Harry's body. "Inform Mrs Clearwater that, should we have to make another service call because she's used her bloody powder again, her Floo will be disconnected for a period of not less than thirty days and she will be assessed a penalty of thirty-five Galleons when she submits a new application for a single-source Floo."

"Yes, sir." Harry Banished his lunch things and started towards the door, but Severus interrupted him before he'd managed to get very far.

"A word, Mr Potter, if I may."

Harry turned swiftly, his eyes wide, and Severus couldn't quite tell if they held a note of hope or fear. As Harry returned to the table, Severus' pulse quickened and a flock of butterflies took up residence in his stomach. With his luck, they were more likely to be Death's Head moths, but he wasn't going to whisper one out to learn what it was. For reasons surpassing understanding, he had trouble meeting Harry's gaze. "I somehow managed to acquire two tickets to tonight's performance of 'The Lion King'." Hiding behind a lethal glare, Severus continued. "Would you be willing to accompany me to see it?"

In the space of fifteen seconds, Harry must have blinked a hundred times. His cheeks suddenly blossomed with colour before the pinkness faded to the colour of old milk. Even his lips were white. "I-I would love to, sir, but I have Teddy and Victoire tonight. My godson and my…" His brow furrowed. "Bill Weasley's daughter." Harry managed a curious twisting smile. "Next time, though, 'cause I really do wish I could see it, but I have Teddy so there's that." He scurried away, flashing Severus a smile so bright it hurt.

"Next time," muttered Severus. Tickets for 'The Lion King' didn't just fall from the sky. It had taken ages to find someone who truly needed an emergency repair to their Floo and was willing to provide a token of thanks in repayment. Naturally, solicitation of such bounty was strictly forbidden by Ministry policy, but when a grateful customer said, "I wish I had some way to repay you," was it so terribly wrong to impart a suggestion? Ah well, a trip to the box office on the way home and a small bit of magic ought to ensure decent seats for another night.

~*~


Thursday

Severus tossed a handful of Floo powder into the flames. "CF8 Goodpasture," he called out in his distinctive voice and stepped into the swirling emerald flames. As he spun through the magical conduit, he made note of the speed at which other fireplaces swept by, of how smoothly (or not) the eddies of magic carried him to his destination, and as he came to the end of the journey he paid close attention to an increase in turbulence just before he arrived.

Both Potter and Mr Goodpasture were waiting for him as Snape stepped through. He gave Harry a curt nod before extending his hand to Goodpasture. "I am Severus Snape, the head of the Customer Service Division of the Floo Network Authority. How might I be of assistance?" His manner was a bit more cordial than his typical demeanour; he was in the man's home after all.

Goodpasture bowed his head in acknowledgement. The wizard was much older than Snape anticipated. From Harry's remarks about nieces, nephews and a daughter who seldom visited, he had envisioned someone in his mid-fifties or so. This man was within a year or two of Minerva's age at best. "Young Harry here said you would be stopping by. Care for a cuppa, then? It's no bother." His eyes, the colour indistinguishable, were warm when they settled on Harry.

"If you would be so kind," murmured Snape and watched as Mr Goodpasture tottered in the direction of the kitchen. Snape took a moment to look around. The room was small, though comfortable. A chesterfield sofa with worn, shiny patches sat along one wall. Across from it were two tattered tuck and roll wingback chairs with a small table between them. On the mantel were dozens of photographs; one in particular seemed to hold Harry's attention. He stepped behind the young man and peered over his shoulder. "Ahh."

"Gwenog Jones," said Harry. "That's Dylan there on the left." Dylan waved cheerfully and Harry smiled at him. "And Edmund on the other side. She's Ginny's favourite player, you know."

Snape stepped closer and studied the photograph. Dylan appeared to be at threshold of middle age or happily ensconced in it. Certainly, he couldn't have been much more than sixty. But his face was boyish and his dark grey eyes danced with delight. In truth, he appeared to be a man who wanted for nothing and had everything his heart desired, and every time Dylan's eyes rested on Edmund, he glowed with happiness.

Taking a moment to glance at the other pictures, Snape quickly came to the conclusion that Harry was every bit the idiot he always suspected him to be. Dylan and Edmund Goodpasture weren't father and son.

They had been lovers.

Hard on the heels of that realisation came an emotional punch to the gut. Harry thought the pair were father and son. The thought that they could be anything else had never even entered his mind, which meant there was no chance at all that Harry—that Potter would ever be interested in someone his age. Snape staggered back a step just as Goodpasture returned with tea.

Snape settled in the armchair nearest the fireplace and clutched his cup, watching as Harry seated himself at the other end of the sofa. His heart was beating through force of habit and white noise filled his ears. Distantly, he was aware that Goodpasture had asked him a question, but Snape shook his head dumbly, as though unable to comprehend the nature of the inquiry.

Gazing into the flames, he let Harry do his best to respond while he tried to work out when, precisely, his attraction to Harry had taken root. Certainly not whilst Harry was a student at Hogwarts. The mere idea left him cold. No, it had definitely happened after he'd returned to Britain, when Harry had shown up at work one day, announced he had transferred to the Floo Network Authority and did Snape have any training manuals on Floo repair he could read?

Snape had replied as he always had done—with an insult. "As I was unaware you could read at all, wouldn't you prefer a book with pictures?" Harry had gazed up at him uncertainly, those glorious green eyes as guarded as Snape had ever seen them. It was then that Snape noted his pallor, the smudges of hazy purple under Harry's eyes, the way Harry's wand hand twitched, and something had…softened.

"Come with me," he had said and led Harry into a small office that had more scrolls of parchment and folios crammed with animated drawings than could be read in a year. Even by Hermione Granger. Thus began a truce of sorts, though they hadn't quite given each other permission to use given names. He sipped his tea and ruminated about the relationship he wished he had instead of what he'd allowed to develop.

"Sir?" It was Harry's voice, tentative, perhaps a bit worried. "Severus?"

Snape's dark eyes settled on Harry, the firelight painting his cheek golden, emphasising the line of jaw, the fine arch of his neck. A pang of longing struck so hard and deep that for a moment, Snape couldn't breathe. He nodded and waited for the lump in his throat to vanish. "My apologies. What do you want, Potter?"

Harry managed to appear wounded and turned his head to look into the flames whilst Goodpasture repeated the question. "Young Harry wondered if you'd noticed the journey got a wee bit rocky there at the end. I admitted to him I once thought the same, but decided it must be age. I'll be eighty-two come October."

It took Snape a moment to tear his eyes away from Harry. He blinked once as his gaze settled on Goodpasture and he nodded slowly. "Yes, it is something that must be explored. I have a few theories, but I won't know until we start examining the network itself."

Harry leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees, his wand dangling from his fingertips. He shuddered lightly. "I hate working in the tunnels," he murmured quietly, his eyes focussed on the floor in front of him.

"Then you certainly chose the wrong profession," snapped Snape, and regretted his words the instant they left his mouth. An uncomfortable silence filled the room as Goodpasture's eyes flickered back and forth between them. "I apologise, Potter," he said stiffly. "I do not relish working inside the network either."

It was an experience difficult to describe. To Snape, working inside a Floo connexion was akin to changing his clothing mid-Apparition, or attempting to measure out a gram of lionfish spines whilst using a Portkey. To work inside the network was to work inside magic itself, to feel the whorls and eddies against his skin, to be stripped bare and laid open, to be simultaneously on top of the world and at the bottom of the deepest abyss. He was both wildly exultant and deeply depressed once he returned to the 'real' world. He suspected the same would be true for Harry.

Sitting up straight, Harry met Snape's eyes. Snape arched a brow and Harry's forehead furrowed as they came to a mutual understanding. There was trepidation, but a touch of exhilaration as well. Not everyone fared well inside the network, but they both had enough experience with it to know they'd be all right in the end. "How much time, do you reckon?" asked Harry.

Snape stroked his chin as he considered. The turbulence had begun roughly five seconds before they reached their destination, giving them nearly a kilometre of network to examine. Potter was a strong enough wizard that he didn't require a minder, which left the two of them able to work by themselves. They'd be able to cover more territory alone than together, thus reducing the time they'd need to spend inside. "Forty-five minutes for diagnosis," he decided.

Harry nodded. Opening a small satchel, he pulled out two bundles of heavy black leather and handed one to Snape before unrolling the second. Gleaming instruments sat in their proper sleeves. A row of pouches bulged with potions and powders. With nimble fingers, he extracted a crumpled ball of shimmering grey cloth out of one of the pouches. After tapping the wad of fabric with his wand, Harry fluffed out what appeared to be a gauzy shadow of himself and started to put it on.

Across from Harry, Snape was engaging in the same ritual whilst Goodpasture watched with fascination. With a grimace, Snape stepped into the containment suit that covered him from head to toe and murmured the enchantment that sealed him in. Whilst Harry was strapping the tool belt around his slender waist, Snape was fishing through the pockets in search of the set of sheer gloves and mask that would complete the uniform.

Harry reached into another pocket and pulled out a small, leathery pouch that was so black that it seemed to draw the light out of the room. Once Snape was fully covered, he handed it over gingerly, as if afraid to disturb the contents and finished getting suited up.

Extracting a tiny, collapsible set of scales from one of the many pockets, Snape proceeded to weigh out a precise measure of a glittering powder the colour of sand down to the very grain whilst Harry finished suiting up. Using a fine brush, he transferred it to a thin sheet of parchment, which Harry folded carefully into an envelope. "Ready?" he asked once the tools were put away.

"Is there anything I should do?" asked Goodpasture anxiously. "Or refrain from doing? Should I contact your office if you should…" His voice trailed off. "I suppose there's a protocol for this sort of thing?" He wrung his aged hands and peered nervously at the fireplace.

From behind the fine black mask that clung like a second skin, Harry smiled. The goggles he wore instead of his spectacles gave him a vaguely insect-like appearance. "We'll be fine, Mr Goodpasture. I promise we'll be back before we've run out of time. I'll let you know what we discover when I see you next."

Snape stood at the fireplace and waited for Harry to join him. Once they were standing side by side, Harry tossed the envelope into the fire whilst Snape chanted a lengthy incantation. The flames seemed to vanish, though traces of blue-black tongues could be seen writhing and flickering and tasting the air. Snape and Harry stepped inside and were whooshed away, leaving only malevolent blue sparkles behind.

~*~


The current of magic buffeted Harry as he stepped into the network. Wisps of colour in every hue wove and warped around him like streamers in a strong breeze and his grip tightened instinctively on the handle of his wand. Wide as it was, being inside the network always made him feel claustrophobic, though he seldom felt that way when travelling through it.

Beside him, Snape began to prepare to take measurements of the flow of magic through the network. He extracted from his tool belt a meridian circle, which resembled something like a calibrated mill wheel, though much smaller in scale. Still, it was taller than Harry, though it weighed a tenth what he did. Inside the wheel were a series of oblong gears, one of which was bright blue. From his own belt, Harry extracted a wide stand and set it up before helping Snape place the wheel upon it.

It took them a moment to ensure the wheel was balanced properly, but once they were both satisfied, they took up positions on either side. "On three," said Snape, his dark eyes fixed on a long slender rod that kept the wheel motionless. Harry counted and Snape pulled the pin. On one side of the wheel, Harry kept track of the number of times the blue gear travelled the inner circumference of the wheel, whilst on the other, Snape kept track of the number of times the entire wheel revolved.

"Seventeen and twenty-three minutes," called Harry when Snape reached ten. They stopped the wheel and Snape re-inserted the pin so they could move the entire contraption to a new spot.

As Harry wrote down the figures on a chart, the back of his neck began to tingle and echoes of memory floated up from his subconscious. Something like spell fire swept past his ear and he jerked back. A Death Eater's mask formed and dissolved before his eyes and he nearly fired off a counter curse before remembering where he was and that none of this was real. He hated being inside the tunnel.

"Where are you right now?" demanded Snape and Harry answered dutifully.

"Inside the Floo Network at the Goodpasture residence." Returning to the wheel, he helped Snape carry it down the tunnel and positioned it closer to the far wall.

"Harry!" It was Hermione's voice, filled with terror. Shelves filled with glowing spheres began to topple and Harry sprinted towards the sound, covering his head with his arm to keep from being pelted by falling prophecies. Remembering again where he was, he stopped suddenly and turned, only to see Snape lunging at him, eyes wide and wand out. Before he could so much as move an inch, he was tackled to the ground whilst above his head, Snape carried out a fierce battle with—absolutely nothing.

"Severus!" shouted Harry. "Severus! Where are you right now?" He reached up and turned the man's head towards him, staring into that strange mask as he tried to pull Snape out of whichever memory had him in its grip. A wisp of bright purple dragged across Snape's mask for a moment before floating lazily on.

"Lupin…Wolfsbane," gasped Snape.

Harry shook Snape's shoulders hard, but it didn't seem to help. "Severus, you're in the network. This isn't real. We have work to do." A flash of brilliant white light just over Snape's shoulder caught Harry's attention and he stared as his stag Patronus charged past them. He began to shiver as some formless black shape began circling overhead, standing out from the miasma of swirling colour like a hole in magic. A mewling sound escaped his lips.

"This isn't real. This isn't real," chanted Harry, though the warm body covering his most certainly was. It was warm, heavy, shaped just right, and Harry spread his legs to increase the contact between them. He canted his hips ever so slightly. Ahh, yes, right there. Whilst Snape continued to fling curses at his imaginary foe, Harry was caught in a different vision, one he had enjoyed on countless nights. His hands framed Snape's face and he lifted his head to capture Snape's lips in a heated kiss.

For a moment, everything was perfect until, without a word of warning, Snape scrambled to his feet and backed away with an expression of abject horror on his face. It took Harry a moment, but he rolled to his stomach and slunk on hands and knees to the far side of the wheel. What on earth had he done? First, Snape had stopped talking to him, then he threw himself at the man. It would be a miracle if he wasn't fired the moment they returned to the Ministry.

Mortified by his behaviour, Harry climbed to his feet and took his position at the wheel, hoping against hope that Snape would forget all about this. "I'm inside the Floo Network at the Goodpasture residence," he said dully. "Where are you right now?"

There was a long silence from the other side of the wheel. "I am inside the Floo Network at the Goodpasture residence," came Snape's voice. It sounded funny to Harry's ears, almost hollow, and his insides twisted with dread.

"What's our mission?" asked Harry when Snape failed to give the instructions to get ready. His stomach churned and the knowledge that Snape had an inkling of Harry's desire weighed on him like a lead cloak.

"On three, Potter," barked Snape, apparently ignoring Harry's request. According to the manual, Harry was supposed to ask the question again or abort the session, but Harry had a history with Snape and decided that, in this case, following the rules would not be in their best interest. He found the red gear and noted its position.

"One. Two. Three." Snape pulled the pin and the wheel began to turn, gathering strands of vibrant green, orange and yellow in its spokes.

Over the course of taking readings, they both experienced several hallucinations. Whilst Snape was growling his defiance, or shouting his criticism about potions ingredients, Harry was enduring a harrowing flight from the acromantulas that lived in the Forbidden Forest and trying to defeat Inferi with a teaspoon of happiness.

Whilst Snape made calculations based on their measurements, Harry stowed their equipment, brushing a cloud of bright crimson aside. Once that was completed, Snape issued their next instructions. "Head south down the network for ten minutes. You are searching for patches of bright pink," he handed Harry a card printed in the proper colour, "lining the walls. Let me know if you locate any."

"What is this stuff, sir?" asked Harry as he took the card. It was a sickly shade of pink, too bright by half, and Harry shook his head as he committed the colour to memory.

Snape didn't meet his eyes. "It's a magical fungus called Sniggowary. It disrupts the flow of magic in the Floo System and causes it to malfunction."

Harry didn't quite know what to make of that. He'd been a Floo repair technician for nearly three years and had never heard of such a thing, but Snape had made a study of the Floo Network's system of magic, delving into its construction as though he were preparing to sit a NEWT on the subject. It wouldn't surprise Harry to learn that Snape knew more about the Floo Network than any person alive.

He glanced down the tunnel and back and Snape. "So, I'm to look for pink?"

"Think of lichen such as you'd see in the Forbidden Forest," said Snape as he ventured up the tunnel away from Harry. "Ten minutes. Not one minute more." The words floated down, almost visible, as though magic itself were spelling out his instructions.

Harry jogged for two minutes down the tunnel at a quick clip, estimating that should put him at or near the place where he'd first sensed the disturbance. Pulling a Muggle torch from his tool belt (magic was nearly useless here), he started walking back, fighting off images from his past he'd rather not confront again.

As he moved through the network, feeling the press of magic against his body, Harry suddenly felt as though he was moving through Nagini's innards. Tendrils of dark red patterned like snake skin wrapped around his arms and neck and Harry felt like he was choking. He flailed wildly, trying to escape and ran full-tilt into a patch of Sniggowary the size of a Quaffle. Reeling, Harry tripped over his own foot and fell back—hard.

The magic engulfing him changed, became soft, seductive. Harry felt the press of a hard body against his own, a hard prick burning like a brand against his inner thigh and he wriggled closer. For a brief moment, he was sorely tempted to surrender to the delicious sensations coursing through him, but the voice of reason hadn't been silenced quite yet. No time, Harry. There's no time.

His eyes snapped open and it took him a moment to orient himself in the shifting kaleidoscope of colours wafting around him. Grinding the heel of his hand into his aching cock, he shuddered as he fought to regain some semblance of control before pushing himself to his feet and resuming his search for mutant lichen.

A few minutes later, Harry entered a section of tunnel that made him think a bottle of that stomach stuff Aunt Petunia kept in the upstairs bathroom had exploded. Patches of the stuff were growing everywhere. Pulling an empty phial from his tool belt, he scraped off a sample for Snape and made note of his position, wondering how they were going to rid the tunnel of all this stuff.

As he packed the sample away, Harry realised he was running out of time. He walked as swiftly as possible, pleased to note that the pink crusts had all but vanished. Just as the timer began to buzz, he saw a formless shadow drifting towards him and paused, not knowing if it was Snape or something his memory was providing. The walls of the network morphed into towering yew hedges and the wisping colours faded to grey. A Blast-Ended Skrewt scurried past and Harry flung himself out of the way.

"Potter, where are you?"

Harry gazed around wildly. Was he in the maze? Was he at Hogwarts? Where was he? "I-I'm here," he called out before pressing back further into the hedges. Was it Krum? It didn't sound like him.

Strong hands clutched his upper arms and shook him lightly. Harry blinked at the strange shadowy version of Snape before awareness clicked in. " I'm inside the Floo Network at the Goodpasture residence," he managed.

Snape said nothing. He merely shook his head. "Idiot boy." To Harry's ears, it sounded almost like an endearment. "I didn't ask where you are right now. I was merely attempting to locate you. The powder is about to wear off. Are you prepared?"

Harry was more than ready to escape this hellish place and nodded. He stood with his back to the stream of magic, bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet as he waited to be swept off them and deposited however awkwardly into Mr Goodpasture's front room.

~*~


When they tumbled out of the fireplace, Mr Goodpasture had food waiting for them. It was simple fare: egg and watercress sandwiches, crisps, bottles of butterbeer and a steaming pot of tea. After removing his containment suit, Snape fell on the food like a man possessed, leaving Harry to express their thanks for Goodpasture's foresight.

The moment Potter and Goodpasture began chatting about Quidditch Snape turned his attention to other matters. They would have to go back into the network, of course. The Snigglewary would have to be neutralised before it could be removed. Fortunately, Snape had anticipated this and brought with him the few things he would need in order to cobble together an effective scourgicide.

He did not relish spending another hour inside the tunnel, especially after Potter's peculiar behaviour. Potter had kissed him, and Snape's fingers traced lightly over his lips as he ruminated on it. Experience was a stern master; Snape had learnt well never to get his hopes up, especially where Potter was involved. He was certain he'd kept his longings safely under wraps. It would not do for that whelp to get wind of them.

But Harry had kissed him, and writhed against him when they were in the tunnel. What did it mean? Did it mean anything at all? Snape didn't know, and not knowing was worse by far than knowing. Not knowing meant there were many possible outcomes, while knowing closed off many avenues of conjecture. With fewer options to choose from, there was far less to worry about.

Harry must have lost his head. Strange things happened inside the network. No one knew from moment to moment what was real and what was supplied by a fevered imagination. It was almost a certainty that Harry had been thinking about a previous lover, perhaps just a one-off that he remembered with fondness. No, Harry couldn't have known what he was doing. No one wearing one of those wretched containment suits would ever engage in a bit of snogging if he was in his right mind.

With that settled, Snape attempted to set the memory aside, though his fingertips still moved slowly over his lips whilst he stared off into space, completely oblivious to his surroundings. He found himself thinking of his ham-fisted invitation to see a show and how Harry had reacted. He'd blushed—just before all the colour drained from his face. How was he to interpret that?

Snape had chosen the show with Potter in mind—the whelp seemed to take rare delight in child-like things—and the story was one he imagined Potter could relate to. There were one or two parallels to Harry's life that could be drawn, certainly. But if Potter was going to be embarrassed by Snape's presence, then he'd just as soon acquire a ticket to see Lucia di Lammermoor at the Coliseum.

There was, Snape decided, no point in dwelling on things he couldn't change. "We have to go back inside," he announced abruptly. Goodpasture and Potter stopped speaking immediately and stared at him as though he'd just burst into Parseltongue. "With your permission, sir, we will work in short bursts, no more than fifteen minutes at a time."

Harry exchanged a look with Goodpasture that seemed to say, 'I've no idea who this person is' and nodded. "So, you found some of that mouldy stuff as well. Shall I contact the office then to let them know we'll be out for the rest of the day?"

It occurred to Snape that he'd never even asked what Harry had found. He asked a few questions and revised his estimate of how long they'd be at it before nodding. "Let Viola know. Once that's done, clean the suits whilst I prepare the potion we'll need. Mr Goodpasture," he continued, "might I avail myself of your kitchen? I merely need running water and a small counter upon which to work."

"Of course, Mr Snape," replied Goodpasture, his eyes dancing with amusement. Merlin alone knew what those two must have been speaking about to cause that sort of reaction, thought Snape. "It's right this way. It's a bit on the small side, but I except you'll manage." He climbed to unsteady feet and tottered through a swinging door, leading Snape to a old-fashioned kitchen with a wood burning stove and a pump faucet. A small butcher block table with two chairs sat in a corner with a vase of spring flowers set in the middle.

Love lived here once; Snape recognised it the moment he walked through the door. Edmund and Dylan had spent many an hour here, chatting over endless shepherd's pies and steaming pots of tea. In that moment, he understood at last what he wanted for himself and it resided in the young man who was cleaning magical residue off their containment suits. Clearly, there was no fool like an old fool and Snape sighed.

"There's always a fire burning and the pump doesn't need more than a light touch to operate," said Goodpasture. 'I'll leave you to it then, shall I?"

Snape stepped to the counter and began to pull various tiny bottles and small jars from his tool belt. He set them in a row on the counter and looked through the window over the sink into a garden awash with flowers. "It's lovely," he murmured.

Goodpasture hesitated for a moment at the door. "So is the boy, Mr Snape," he murmured as he slipped back into the living room, leaving Snape to stare in confusion at the swinging door. Wordlessly, he mixed his potion and thought about Harry.

~*~


The next day, Snape was late with his paperwork. And he forgot to submit it in triplicate.

~*~



Wednesday

At precisely ten o'clock, a plate of shortbread appeared on Snape's desk, just like clockwork. Today, there was the merest hint of maple to it and Snape sighed at the taste. It was a little slice of happiness in biscuit form, delivered to him every day by magical means.

Snape sat at his desk, biscuit in one hand, tea in the other, his thoughts still back in the network. A strange tension had arisen between them that afternoon, but they'd manage to rid Goodpasture's Floo of the lichen that had been building up on the walls. They'd squirted and scraped and swept for hours, not finishing until well into the evening.

Through it all, Harry had worked tirelessly by his side without a word of complaint. He'd done whatever Snape had asked, offered suggestions at appropriate moments, ensured neither of them remained too long in the network, and had even given him one or two of those heart-stopping smiles. Harry had even ensured Snape's hair was tucked safely inside the hood of his suit. The gesture, so intimate, had made Snape's knees weak.

"Severus!"

Snape startled so badly he sloshed tea all over his quarterly analysis of Floo repairs. He gave Viola a baleful glare. "See what you made me do!"

Viola tsked. "As if I had anything to do with this. You are late for the meeting of the department heads. Wainwright has sent three aeroplanes already." She swatted another one, this one a Sopwith Camel, out of the air. "Make that four." She waved her wand and restored Snape's report. "They are finalising the arrangements for the Arrows' friendly. We will be at their mercy if you don't hurry."

"For Circe's sake, woman, why did you not inform me sooner?" growled Snape as he shot to his feet. He gathered a sheaf of parchment and tucked it under his arm before snatching another wedge of shortbread from the plate.

"Because your head has been lodged firmly up your arse all morning," she roared back, her eyes flashing dangerously. "Ever since you spent that day in the network, you've been ignoring your work. Go to your meeting and try to remember there are important matters to attend to."

Severus took off at as fast a pace as his dignity would allow, reining in his scattered thoughts as he stalked through the corridors of level six, his dark robes billowing in his wake. It was an effective tactic for clearing the hallway and his journey was unimpeded by busybodies who wanted a moment of his time for their pet undertaking.

It was surprisingly simple to set aside the vexing problem of Potter whilst arguing with Fletcher Wainwright about the advantages of Portkeys over Floo connexions, though, in a moment of weakness, Snape conceded that having both would be useful. All this fuss for a simple Quidditch match. It was nothing short of a miracle that the Ministry got anything done at all.

After agreeing to provide well over a hundred hours of labour to the Department of Magical Games and Sport in exchange for Quidditch tickets and half of the overtime he'd be forced to pay, Snape returned to an office in chaos. Three Patronuses, two Weasleys and the Minister of Magic were shouting at Viola as an aeroplane shaped like a British Tornado fighter jet zoomed through the office.

"What is going on here?" he thundered. A Patronus shaped like an otter swam through the air and burbled out something that sounded like "Harry…St Mungo's…horrible…not make it." It gave a cry of distress and swam laps around his head. Not waiting to make sense of any of it, Snape Apparated directly to the fourth floor where the Spell Damage department was located.

He stormed through the halls, avoiding the lime-clad Healers and medi-magicians scurrying purposefully through the corridors. At long last, he found a cluster of Weasleys at the end of a hallway near the stairs that led to the tearoom.

"Where is Potter?" he demanded as what seemed like dozens of pairs of watery eyes turned on him. "What happened to him? Is he all—"

"I'm here, Severus." Harry stepped out from behind one Weasley or another, his face grey and with tears streaming down his cheeks. "It's Ron. They were about to tell me when you showed up."

"There was an explosion," said George, his freckles standing out like dragon pox on his white face. "I was working on combining an invisibility potion with a beautification potion—"

"Did you account for the effect of dragon liver on fairy wings?" interrupted Snape.

"Yes, but it was the ginger. It turns out there's a false wall in the shop," said George bitterly. "Neither Fred nor I knew about it when we set up the place. We thought it was stone like the rest of them, but it was some sort of chalk or something. I've no idea. The batch exploded and the cauldron shot through it like a cannonball, right into the store room where Ron was taking inventory."

"Did it hit him?" gasped Harry.

George shook his head and his eyes filled as he gazed helplessly at his mum. "No, but it smashed into the wall right next to his head. We had loads of stuff that's not supposed to mix together on those shelves. There's stuff in Heartbreak Teardrops that ought never mix with—"

An agonised scream came from the room behind them. "Ron!" gasped Hermione and she yanked open the door. Inside, Ron was writhing and begging at the top of his lungs. Snape followed the crowd inside and his eyes bulged in horror. Ron's skin was bubbling and sloughing off in huge patches. Blood was mixing with serum and oozing all over the bed and he was screaming so loudly that Snape could practically hear Ron's vocal cords shredding.

A team of Healers began casting spells whilst a medi-wizard consulted with a potioneer, but the spells only seemed to make matters worse. Ron's face seemed to be sliding off his skull, his left cheek was hanging near his collarbone, and Harry sprinted towards the bed as Ron let out a low gurgling moan. Snape wrapped a strong arm around Harry's shoulders and held him back as Molly fainted.

"George, what was on those shelves?" barked Snape in a commanding tone as Arthur tried to revive his wife. "Quickly, before your brother is nothing more than a skeleton."

George turned wide eyes on Snape and began listing products. "Uhh, Beguiling B-bubbles, umm, Crystal Tears…I mean Cupid Crystals, Dungbombs, Extendable Ears, Heartbreak Teardrops, Nose-Biting Teacups, the Skiving Snackboxes, Canary Cream, Tongue-Ton Toffees, Peruvian Darkness Powder, Shimmering Silver Sa—"

"Go back. Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder?" demanded Snape. "Did any of the containers break? Were there any open wounds on your brother? He may have been poisoned by it."

"Darken the place," shouted a Healer before George could say a word. "Everyone out. Now! Nox! Nox!" Two medi-magicians hustled everyone out into the corridor where they were met by a welcome witch wearing green and white stripes and an expression of alarm. Harry clung to Snape and Snape found himself throwing a protective arm around Harry's shoulders.

"If you would come—" she invited.

"Professor Snape, could you remain behind? One of our potioneers would like to speak with you." It was the mediwitch who had helped remove them from Ron's room.

"What is happening to my husband?" demanded Hermione as she swiped angrily at her streaming eyes. "What does Peruvian powder have to do with anything?" Her breath hitched and she sniffed. Harry watched from the safety of Snape's arms though he must have been watching Hermione intently.

"We have a lounge right—"

"It has some rather horrible side effects if it gets into the bloodstream, phototoxicity being chief amongst them," the witch explained patiently. "Professor? Would you be willing to act as a consultant on this?"

Harry turned in Snape's arms and gazed up with wide frightened eyes. "Please?" he said in a voice roughened by fear. "He's my best mate."

"Will he be all right? Can you tell me that? Will Ron be all right?" pleaded Hermione.

"It's too soon to know," said Snape. He met Hermione's tearful gaze, saw the pleading note in Arthur's eyes, and the desperation in Molly's. George's guilt tore at him, but it was the quiet hope shining in Harry's eyes, a certainty that Severus could fix anything, that swung the balance. "I will speak with your Potions Master," he said quietly, unable to tear himself from Harry's gaze. "I presume you have one on duty?"

To the surprise of everyone, Snape most of all, Harry laid a palm on Snape's cheek and kissed him fully on the mouth. "Thank you." He kissed Snape again before wrapping his arms tightly around Snape's middle and resting his cheek on Snape's shoulder. "Thank you."

Snape stood in flabbergasted silence, his lips still tingling from the delight of Harry's kiss, but his arms came up automatically and he held Harry close, breathing in the clean scent of him. His eyes closed and he rested his head upon Harry's.

"I'll just…" The welcome witch gestured helplessly and backed away.

"Please, Ms…?" Arthur spread his hands helplessly.

"I'm Miranda. Miranda Fremantle."

"Why don't you show us to that lounge now?" suggested Arthur. "I'm certain we'll be more comfortable there. Molly? Hermione? Let's find a place to sit, shall we?"

The young witch turned warm brown eyes on Molly and held out her hand. "We've a lovely place right 'round the corner. There's hot chocolate and tea, and you can get a bite to eat upstairs if you'd like."

Snape stroked the back of Harry's head and brushed a kiss over the faint remnant of the famous scar. "Go with your—go with the Weasleys. I will be there presently."

Harry stepped back and gazed at Snape as if uncertain he'd keep his word. "But…" He turned his head and stared down the hallway. "You don't have to wait with us if you don't want to," he said as he met Snape's eyes again. "It's likely to take hours before they get Ron sorted and you have that whole thing with the Arrows' stadium to work out. Oh, and would ask Viola to reschedule the Barksdales cleaning? They have an infestation of Mesopotamian Pixies—"

Snape laid a finger across Harry's lips. "I will return after I've spoken with the Potions Master." He kissed Harry lightly and then followed the mediwitch down to the lowest levels to the hospital where the brewing was done.

Afterwards, Snape couldn't really say what he'd spoken with the Potions Master about. The Potions Master, a fine boned black woman with the most enchanting smile Snape had ever seen, asked cogent questions about Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder and combinations of ingredients that could counteract the worst of the phototoxicity. Snape answered by rote, making but a few suggestions that proved noteworthy, but the rest of him was reliving Harry's kisses.

There was no question that the kiss had been a deliberate action on Harry's part. The unleashed magic within the network could not be used as an excuse. Was it possible, then, that Harry found him desirable? Severus thought back to the way that Harry fit so neatly in his arms; even the memory of Harry's scent was enough to cause his prick to stir.

"Would you care to assist with the brewing, Severus?" The sherry-smooth voice startled Snape from his reveries.

He shook his head. "My brewing is strictly for the enjoyment of it. I will leave Ronald's fate in your capable hands. If you will excuse me, I would like to return to the Weasleys and let them know where things stand with the Potions Division."

Master Nwanna tilted her head. "As you wish. You gave me options, Severus. For that alone I am thankful." She offered a respectful bow, but the moment her head came up, she was snapping out orders. "Selvyn, two number five brass cauldrons of distilled water. Mina, I need shredded jellyfish tentacles. No, not those. Use the lion's mane." The potioneers scrambled and Severus slipped quietly through the door and made his way to the lifts.

By the time Snape made his way to the lounge, Percy, Ginny and Kingsley Shacklebolt were clustered in with the family, offering useless platitudes to Hermione and Molly. Lingering near the doorway, almost out of sight, Snape studied Harry for a moment. Harry appeared to be following several conversations, but every few seconds his eyes would stray towards the entrance as though hoping Snape would step through it.

It was a heady sensation, feeling wanted. Warmth trickled through veins once thought iced over and Snape found he walked a little taller and felt lighter of heart than he had even a moment ago. He slipped quietly into the room, his eyes only for Harry.

Before he'd managed to walk three feet into the room, Percy was on his feet and moving to intercept him. "Snape! Where have you been? You left without telling anyone where you were going? Have you any idea the chaos you left, running off like that?"

In a heartbeat, Snape's expression darkened and his lip curled. "I should think it obvious where I went—and why, if any of you lot had been paying attention. The Patronus intimated that Harry had been grievously injured and was here. I came to render what aid I could to ensure he survived the ineptitude typically shown by most of the Healers on staff."

There was an uncomfortable silence. Then Hermione spoke up. "So, you're saying you've refused to help my husband?" She came to her feet and strode towards him, her dark eyes snapping with anger. "You still want to hurt Harry any way you can," she raged. "Ron is his best friend, but you're leaving him to people you think are incompetent. Get out," she growled.

Harry rose and laid a hand on her arm. "Hermione, wait. He is helping. He's been with the Potions Master working on something that will save Ron. He's not abandoned him any more than he'd abandon me. Isn't that right, sir?"

"Is it true?" demanded Hermione.

Snape locked eyes with Harry and nodded. "I discussed with her several variants for the base she intends to use." He took a step forward and met the full force of her gaze. "She is quite competent and knows what she's on about. I dare say I'd take her potions were I to be under her care."

"Would you give them to Harry?" Hermione stood with her arms folded tightly, her hair bristling almost as much as the rest of her.

Snape's lip curled and the vein in his temple throbbed, but before he could level a scathing retort, Harry stepped in front of her and laid his hand in the centre of Snape's chest. Snape's anger died on his lips, and as he met Harry's questioning gaze, he nodded. "I've not brewed anything more complicated than a basic analgesic in three years, Ms Granger. Whilst I trust my skills have not eroded too terribly, in whom would you place your trust? The Potions Master of St Mungo's or a former profession who's not touched a cauldron in months?"

"I—"

"This is a family matter, Snape," said Percy firmly. "And you've a department to oversee. I'm certain the Minister will back me up on this."

For a moment, Snape wasn't certain which side Kingsley would take. "To be honest, Severus—"

Snape held up a hand. "No, Kingsley. Percy is correct. I should be back at—"

"But—"

"No, Harry. I do have duties to attend to." Snape's eyes were soft. "I will, however, return as soon as I am able." His dark eyes swept over the small group. "As it appears it will be some time before the Healers are able to give you a prognosis, might I bring some food back with me? It is, I assure you, no problem."

The Weasley family looked at him with varying degrees of incredulity. Finally, Molly spoke. "Th-that would be lovely, Severus. Thank you."

Snape started to turn, but a hand on his arm forestalled him. It was Harry. "I'll speak with Hermione, explain things to her. Just…she's a bit scared. We all are. She didn't mean it, at least I don't think she did." Harry pulled Snape's head down for another kiss, and then backed away. Snape felt green eyes boring a hole through him as he walked out of the lounge, more confused than ever.

~*~


It was early evening when Severus returned to St Mungo's with several bags of steaming fish and chips under his arms. Making his way swiftly to the fourth floor, he was met with protestations of "I'm not terribly hungry" and "I doubt we'll be able to eat all this." But the Weasleys fell on it as though they hadn't eaten in months. Half an hour later, there wasn't a bite to be had and Snape was wondering if he ought to step out and buy some more.

The Healers, he learnt, were on a second round of potions to purge the Peruvian Darkness Powder from Ron's system. Hermione informed him that Ron might lose a toe, whilst George added that they should have sacrificed an ear instead. Snape squirmed at that; it was his fault George had lost an ear, but the Weasleys were quick to assure him that no one bore him ill will.

The group fell into silence, curled up in clusters on sofas that had been transfigured from large blocks of foam set in the room for just that purpose. Percy and Arthur dimmed the lanterns set on the end tables, casting the room into a soothing darkness. Harry was draped across him, his head resting comfortably in the hollow of Snape's shoulder. Within twenty minutes, Harry was asleep.

~*~


"Professor? I want to apologise." Hermione's quiet voice barely reached Snape's ears. "I just feel so helpless and it's so hard, not knowing anything." Scattered around the room were dozing Weasleys, sprawled out on couches. Two pewter lanterns, their flames set low, sat on nearby end tables.

Snape peered into the gloom and could barely read Hermione's expression in the dim glow of the lamplight. "I understand, Ms Granger." He shifted slightly, trying not to disturb the young man who had made himself at home in his arms. Harry muttered something unintelligible, rubbed his cheek against Severus' shoulder and slept on.

"You were right, you know—and very wrong. I would have stopped at nothing had it been…" He gestured at the slumbering man, terrified at the thought of losing him. "But I know what your husband means to Potter. I did what I could without making the potions myself."

Hermione's eyes focussed on Harry and studied him intently. "Would you have done had it been Harry?"

Snape said nothing for awhile, electing instead to card his fingers through Harry's messy hair, so soft and silky to the touch. "Beautiful," he murmured before placing a gentle kiss on the top of Harry's head. "I suppose so, if only to take on the burden of failure should the attempts to save him prove unsuccessful." The smile that reached his lips was self-deprecating. "Never underestimate how powerful a motivator guilt can be."

Hermione rose and moved to the sofa Snape shared with Harry. She lifted Harry's feet and slipped under them before settling them on her lap. "And what do you have to feel guilty about? Harry forgave you years ago. He was all set to drop out of the academy when you disappeared, but Kingsley talked him out of it. He's only working in the Floo Network Authority because you're…" Her eyes widened and she clapped her hand over her mouth.

"Because I'm…what, Ms Granger?" said Snape silkily.

"N-nothing," said Hermione swiftly. "Oh, he's going to kill me." She turned pleading brown eyes on him. "We used to tease him back in sixth year about having a crush on you. Well, you or Draco. It was hard to decide since he was obsessed with both of you. When he heard you'd survived the war, he tried so hard to make amends, but you wouldn't see him. He tried to put you out of mind, go on with his life, but he couldn't let go of you."

"I wouldn't see him because I was terribly ill," explained Snape. "The venom from that damned snake…I could no longer determine what was real and what was a product of my mind. Once I was strong enough to leave my bed, I travelled, but home beckoned. It was happenstance that I learnt of the opening in the Floo Network Authority and something of a surprise that I was hired."

He glanced at Harry. "Why did he leave the Aurors?"

"Look at him," said Hermione. "He's sound asleep. Have you any idea how rare that is?" She shook her head and sighed. "It's his story to tell." Hermione looked up and met Snape's eyes. "All we want for him is to see him happy. Maybe he finally has a chance."

"Is this where you threaten me with endless curses and hexes if I break his heart?" Gazing down, Snape drank in the dark lashes fanned against high cheekbones, the hint of stubble along his jaw, the slender nose and well-shaped lips. He would die first before hurting Harry.

"I think you've loved him for ages," said Hermione simply. "Almost as long as you've hated him. But, yes. If you're cruel to him, I will make certain you're the most miserable person on earth."

"No you won't," said Harry with a yawn, startling them both. " It's always complicated with Snape. We'll fight. We'll make up, and then we'll do it again and again and again. But we've not reached that point yet. All I want to do is fall in love and get to know this Severus, not the one who lived at Hogwarts."

Harry yawned again and gazed up at Snape with bleary eyes. "I really did want to go with you to see 'The Lion King'. But I'd already promised I'd mind the kids."

"Go to sleep, Potter," murmured Snape. "We will talk about it tomorrow."

~*~


"Why are you here, Severus?" asked Percy hours later when it was clear no one was going to sleep any time soon. "It's not as if you're family. I doubt you've even seen Ron since the war."

Snape stiffened and Harry sat up swiftly. "He's here for me, Perce," he said quietly. "He's here because I want him here. Because he promised to come back." Harry slipped his hand into Snape's and laced their fingers together. To Severus, it seemed as though they were presenting a united front, but united against what?

"I don't understand," he murmured to Harry. "Ever since we worked inside the network you've been…" Snape didn't have a word to describe Harry's behaviour. In his experience, few people were ever delighted to see him. Few people touched him willingly or showed any signs of affection, but Harry had done all that.

"Interested?" supplied Harry. "Open? Honest about how I feel?"

"How do you feel?" asked Severus, confused. The whole thing simply baffled him, though he'd have been quick to admit he was here because Harry needed him if Harry hadn’t been so swift to answer.

Across the room, Angelina snorted. "I'd say he's right taken with you."

"Now, Anj," scolded George as he took his wife's hand. "Slytherins aren't as tuned in with their feelings as we Gryffindors. I doubt Snape here even knows how he feels about Harry. You can't expect him to know that and how Harry feels as well."

"Harry's only been obsessed with you since he was sixteen," offered Ginny with a smile.

"Hey," protested Harry. "I was obsessed with you, too. I even snogged you after we won the Quidditch Cup."

"That's only because you wanted to practice with someone who knows how to kiss," Ginny fired back, grinning. "You had a lot to learn." She leant forward and gazed earnestly at Snape. "Harry's always needed someone older and wiser and I'm neither of those. After the war, it was pretty clear he'd developed a thing for you. We all thought it best if he was given time to figure out what he wanted out of life, so we let him be. Turns out it's always been you. That's why he went to work for Percy. I can assure you it's not because they're mates or anything."

"Percy's not that bad," said Harry. "I mean, he's not Ron or George or Charlie or Bill, but it's not like he's Umbridge. Well, not usually."

"Oi! I'm nothing like Umbridge," declared Percy as he lifted his nose in the air. "Besides, I look horrible in pink. It clashes with my hair." A broad smile emerged as everyone laughed. Even Molly managed a bit of a chuckle.

Harry laughed as well. "Admit it, Percy. You never met a rule you didn't like."

"He's not the only one who cares about the rules," drawled Snape. "Or have you forgotten the many detentions you served?"

"How could I? My fingers are still twisted from all the writing you had me do." Harry pretzelled his fingers and held them up. "Admit it, Severus. You didn't assign me all those detentions to punish me. You only wanted to admire my assets."

Snape's eyes widen and his jaw dropped. "You were a child," he hissed before realising that Harry was teasing him. He was being teased, by Harry, in front of the Weasleys. "But you do have lovely assets, Potter," he added, recovering quickly. "I'd have to be dead not to notice them."

The warmth in Harry's eyes made Snape's breath catch, and his smile stopped Snape's heart. Then Harry's smile faded and some of Snape's happiness disappeared with it. "The truth is," said Harry in a low voice that did nothing to keep everyone from eavesdropping. "I've been attracted to the Half-Blood Prince for years, but it was almost impossible to reconcile what I thought I knew of him with what I thought I knew about you.

"Turns out everything I thought I knew was wrong, but when I tried to see you so I could explain all that, Pomfrey kept turning me away. Then you left and that was harder to come to terms with than a lot of other things I'd had to deal with. I was certain I'd blown any chance of apologising for my pig-headedness when all I wanted was a chance to start over with you.

"Then you came back. You're not the reason I left the Aurors, by the way," admitted Harry with a sideways glance at Snape. "That's a story for another time." Only Ron and Hermione knew his reasons and they'd keep his secret as long as they lived. "But I heard Percy talking at dinner about how you'd been put in charge of the customer service department and knew that they needed a trainee for the Floo Repair division, so I asked him to consider me."

"I will admit I was surprised to see you appear," replied Snape, still reeling from Harry's confession. Part of him wanted to drag Harry off into a secluded corner and snog him senseless; the rest of him was too curious about what else Harry might reveal. "But you've done exceedingly well. Most of your reviews have been positively glowing."

"Yeah, who wouldn't want the Boy-Who-Lived to repair their Floo?" said Harry. Bitterness tinged his words, but Snape quickly put an end to that.

"Do you not believe I would screen for that?" growled Snape, somewhat affronted. Harry knew damned well who created the duty rota for the repair personnel. "The only time you're assigned upon request is if you've worked on their Floo before. Believe me, Potter, I will not send you into harm's way."

Harry appeared gobsmacked. Clearly, the thought had never occurred to him. "This is why Dumbledore wanted me to trust you. Even when you despised me, you still had my best interests at heart. Anyway, the first time I saw you at the Ministry I was certain I'd made a berk of myself. I couldn't look away."

"You've been all Harry could talk about," interjected Hermione. "'Stunning' was the word he used. Percy said you looked well-rested, but Harry was obviously smitten. We've tried fixing him up with other people so he wouldn't get his hopes up about you, but Harry's the most stubborn person I've ever met." She tilted her head and studied Snape for a moment. "Well, perhaps aside from you."

"Harry doesn't do 'set up' well," said George. "Though Merlin knows we tried. Doesn't seem to matter who we've dangled in front of him, he has his heart set on you." He fell to his knees and walked on them to where Snape was sitting. "We're begging you, Snape. All of us, even Ron if he were here. Please, if you value our sanity, especially Percy's since you work with the git, go out with Harry. Take him on a date. Shag him through the bloody mattress—"

Molly gasped. "George!"

"It's all right, Mrs Weasley," said Harry. "Honestly, I wouldn't mind being shagged through the mattress." He glanced shyly at Snape. "If, you know, you might, possibly, be interested in someone like me."

"You truly are an imbecile," said Snape despairingly. "Of course I'm interested. Why didn't you say something?"

"Because I'm who I am," replied Harry.

"The world does—"

"No! That's not it at all." Harry sighed. "Because we have a long, horrible history. Because I thought if I made the first move, you'd find some reason not to trust it. You'd think I was having you on or taking the piss or something. I didn't think you'd believe I want to go out with you." He dropped his head for a moment as if exhausted. "I really did want to see 'The Lion King' with you."

Severus pulled Harry into his arms and held him close. "If I had known sooner…" he murmured. "Will you come with me to see 'The Lion King'? We'll make a day of it." He might have to down a Pepperup to stay awake, or a Calming Draught to keep from despairing at the inanity of it all, but it was a decent enough place for a first date. At least there would be entertainment if their outing went spectacularly off the rails.

Harry lit up and his smile was blinding. "I'd love to. As soon as I know for certain Ron will be okay, we'll go." Just as Harry lifted his head for a kiss, a Healer appeared in the doorway, asking for Hermione.

They watched as Hermione squared her shoulders and steeled herself. Her steps were purposeful as she walked over to hear what the Healer had to say. Though most eyes were glued on Hermione, Snape was watching Harry, reading his expressions as one might skim through the Daily Prophet. Harry's brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed. He bit his lip. He sucked in a sharp breath and held it before collapsing back in Snape's arms, his eyes closed.

And then Harry smiled.

Harry disentangled himself from Snape's arms and stood by Hermione's side as the conversation continued. His arm went around Hermione's shoulder as he asked a couple of questions, though Snape couldn't hear what they were. Then Harry shook the Healer's hand and pulled Hermione into a hug.

They walked together back into the lounge and Hermione gave Harry a tremulous smile before announcing, "Ron's responding well to the new potion. They think the powder will be out of his system in a few hours, and once that happens, they can start fixing him back up. It will be a few days yet, possibly as long as a week, before he starts to feel like himself, but they think he'll be all right in the end."

Molly burst into tears and hurried over to wrap Hermione in a gigantic hug. Even George was teary-eyed, though most of the others appeared both exhausted and relieved. Arthur swiftly joined his wife as Bill and Ginny joined the throng. Through it all, Harry remained by Hermione's side.

There was an undeniable bond between the two of them, one that had been tested by adversity and endured. With a pang, Snape recognised it was the sort of bond he might have formed with Lily had he been a little more social and far less judgmental when he was a student back at Hogwarts. To his surprise, the thought didn't hurt; it barely stung.

Even more surprising was the realisation that there wasn't even the smallest twinge of jealousy. Harry needed his friends, but he needed a life mate as well, someone who would stand beside him and love him without condition. Perhaps it was a bit of insight. Maybe it was a touch of Divination, but for the first time in his life, Snape acted entirely on instinct.

"Marry me," Severus heard himself say and there was a question over who was the more startled, Harry or Severus.

Harry spun around, eyes wide. "What?"

"What?" chorused half a dozen Weasleys.

"Marry me." It had to be the most ludicrous thing he'd ever heard himself say, but Severus knew to the marrow of his bones that this was how their story would end—assuming, of course, that Harry agreed. Somewhere deep inside lived the clear understanding that the only person he wanted to share his life with was Harry Potter.

"You-you're asking me to marry you?" stammered Harry. He approached Severus slowly and gazed up at him with uncertain eyes as the Weasleys murmured and whispered to one another. "But we've not even gone on a date yet."

"Do you expect to learn something more about me than you already know?" countered Severus.

"I don't even know your birthday!"

"The ninth of January. Next?"

"What's your favourite food?"

"This week?" replied Severus. "Lamb shank with garlic and rosemary, but my favourites change. Constantly. Anything else?" He took a step closer and Harry looped his arms around Snape's neck.

"Will you still take me to the theatre if I say no?" asked Harry, his voice nearly a whisper.

Snape's heart clenched, but he forced his expression to remain open, if not genial. "If that is your wish."

"In that case…" Harry's eyes swept slowly around the room, gazing at person in turn. He lifted his ear to Snape's ear and whispered. "I'll give you my answer after the curtain goes down."

~*~


Severus married Harry Potter six months later. As a wedding gift, Viola doubled her shortbread recipe. Snape never did figure it out.


COMMENT BACK AT LIVEJOURNAL
Title: Sunrise Never Fails.
Author: Anonymous
Prompt: One.
Other pairings/threesome: None.
Rating: NC­17
Word Count: +/­ 20K
Content/Warning(s):Angst. Bottom!Severus.
Beta: Special thanks should be given to PhoenixPixie who betaed this story for the benefit of us all. :D
Summary: Severus Snape has spent so long waiting for the sunrise that he's forgotten the fact that it never fails to arrive...
A/N1: The title of this story comes from the poem 'Sunrise Never Failed Us Yet by Celia Thaxter.
A/N2: Dear recipient, you asked for a Post­War fic featuring a Bottom!Severus, a pining, protective!Harry and a concerned!Severus with a side dish of Harry in stockings. Imust confess that this particular combination gave me a fair amount of trouble, but I sincerely hope you enjoy the end result as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thank you for being a part of our wonderful ship. *Glomps you* :D





Sunrise Never Fails.





Daylight... I must wait for the sunrise.

I must think of a new life, and I mustn't give in...



When the dawn comes... tonight will be a memory too,

and a new day will begin...



CATS ­ Memory Lyrics








(~*~)(~*~)(~*~)





Severus Snape twitched slightly as the first ray of sunlight painted the fragile skin on the inside of his eyelids with a glowing pink color.

He shifted minutely, reluctant to abandon the peacefulness of his dreams, but the light kept disturbing him, trying to drag him away from his restful slumber.
His mind began to lose the soothing grogginess of sleep and he blinked awake.





His dark eyes opened a little, focusing sluggishly on the dancing dust­devils that floated, like golden­coated fairy dust, on the single beam of bright sunshine just above his head.

He smiled instinctively, lifting his long­fingered hand upwards in a futile attempt to take hold of that delicate beauty.

His skin turned golden in the light and dust danced across his slightly curled fingers as he turned them around gently, trying to catch the warm sunlight with his hand.





“Good morning, Severus.” That softly whispered greeting shattered his sleepy contentment and he jerked upwards into a sitting position.

Reality intruded abruptly into his peaceful, sunlit world as he became aware of exactly where he was, and with whom.





It took the thoroughly unwelcome awareness that he was still stuck in the infirmary with his annoying DADA colleague less than a second to sour his mood completely, so by the time he grunted a distinctly unenthusiastic response to Potter's greeting, Severus was rigid like a board in his chair and frowning darkly at the thick, warm blanket that someone had dared to wrap around his body.





Looking around, he discovered that Poppy hadn't arrived yet and the deeply uncomfortable notion that he owed the small charity of that blanket to his Gryffindor counterpart made him flush bright red with shamed vulnerability.





He fought his instinctive desire to jump away from the chair on which he'd obviously fallen asleep and proceeded to come to his feet with as much dignity as he could possibly muster in the circumstances.





His mind reeled with horrified discomfort as he stepped as far away from that chair and that blanket as he possibly could. ;Distancing himself from the confused professor who stood right beside it, in what must have been Potter's unnerving attempt to... spy... on him unnoticed.





Shivering with increasing agitation he walked over to the foot of the bed he'd been guarding all night long and looked thoughtfully at the sleeping face of the young boy who occupied it.





He'd been up all night trying to deal with the aggravating consequences of a clandestine magical duel between one of his seven year students and a dratted Gryffindor bully.

The fact that his Slytherin had not only lost the match, but also ended up forcing him to interact with the recently appointed Gryffindor Head of House, in an effort to sort out the aftermath of the situation, only increased Severus' displeasure with the ghastly ordeal.





He'd been brewing a countering potion for the rather unexpected effects of a seriously botched spell until half past three in the morning, and had come directly here to administer the results of his labors to his confined student.





He remembered dismissing Poppy's help with a brusque gesture, sending her straight to bed with the reassurance that he planned to stay around long enough to monitor the effects of the potion.  ;He must have been so tired that he'd fallen asleep on the infirmary's chair, but that
couldn't explain why on Earth he'd ended up waking to the infuriating indignity of being the focus of Potter's thoughtful scrutiny.





“What are you doing here, Potter? I refuse to allow you the chance of laying all the blame for this unfortunate situation at Mr. Wilson's door. I'll fight you, tooth and nail, if you even try it. We both know that your despicable Mr. Edgar has been adamantly picking on this student for well over three months already.”





“Carl is claiming that he was the challenged party, Severus. I approached him again this morning in an effort to find out what happened, but he's sticking to his version of events. There's nothing else I can do at this point.”





“He is lying. I won't rest until that brat gets expelled over this!”





“You can't prove anything. He's accusing Josh of stealing one of his books. He told me that's the reason why he approached him in the first place. Heated words were exchanged, accusations flew around, and before he knew it he'd been challenged to a duel.


"It was a matter of pride, Severus. A Slytherin had challenged him and he couldn't let it go. It's not his fault that he's gifted in Defense.”





Severus gritted his teeth. The conflict between these two students had been worrying him for some time now, but his every attempt to make Potter see reason always ended in
frustration. He was ashamed of his own inability to find proof of his claims. He knew that there was something unpleasant going on here but, as long as Josh Wilson refused to confide in him and accuse his Gryffindor bully of direct wrong­doing, there was precious little anyone could do.





His mind flashed back to about a million and one memories of his own wretched adolescence between these very same walls, and he shivered with seething indignation.

His inability to put an end to the intolerable situation riled him something fierce...





“So it's business as usual as far as you are concerned. Isn't it, Potter? You've come all this way to tell me that your precious lion is going to walk away scot­free once again. I hope you don't expect gratitude from me.”





“This is not my fault, Severus.” His heart hammered unpleasantly when Potter's warm hand attempted to curl reassuringly around his left shoulder and he shook the touch off with a hastily taken step backwards.





“Do not touch me!” He growled, peeved beyond reason by the sudden realization that he'd been so focused in his own bitter recollections that he hadn't heard the dratted man approach him.





Potter's face turned dead serious. Those green eyes flashed with the kind of stubborn resolution that annoyed him further as the Gryffindor lifted both hands, palm upwards, in the space between them.


Exposing them to Severus' scrutiny in a clearly soothing motion that he found deeply offensive.





“I'm not doing anything to you.  ;Look: I'm unarmed.  ;I've got no intention of either harming you or causing you any more distress, Severus.  ;Why can't you accept a simple offer of comfort?





“I get that I'm not helping you at all, but you've got to give me some credit.  ;I'm aware that Carl Edgar isn't as innocent as he claims to be, but my hands are as tied as yours.  ;Why can't you see that we aren't fighting this situation on opposing sides? ;We are both equally
frustrated, equally eager to put an end to whatever the hell is going on between these two.

"We should be working together, instead of fighting constantly between us.”





“I'm not listening to this!” He growled, turning around with the intention of leaving immediately, but was prevented from doing so by the return of Potter's offensive touch.

 ;Golden digits grabbed his elbow this time, tightening around his limb with enough strength to halt him in his tracks, forcing him to remain in the room against his will.





“Look, I know you still see me as an arrogant, little brat.  ;I know that you want me to stay as far away from Hogwarts as physically possible, but I'm here now and we have to find a way of working together.





“Minerva is really worried about our inability to manage a civil conversation and the virulence of your personal dislike towards me is completely unprofessional.  ;You're making everything harder than it has to be, for Merlin's sake!”





Severus glared at the bold fingers keeping hold of his person and his high cheekbones acquired the kind of temper­fueled color that turned his usually pale complexion into a frightening rendition of livid fury.





“I refuse to apologize for my opinion on the matter.  ;You may be the adored Savior of the Wizarding World but you are far too young to teach wide­eyed children, and nothing will dissuade me to the contrary.





“The safety of a classroom full of magical students shouldn't be put in the hands of a thoughtless, bumbling youth.  ;You shouldn't be here, Potter.  ; You should be out there, finding out what the real world feels like, instead of hiding away from life between these walls.  ;Teaching requires the kind of committed dedication that you are way too immature to understand properly.”





Potter's grip on his elbow softened as the man began to rub up and down his arm in a seemingly unconscious offer of soothing comfort.





“I know you don't want me here, but that's a battle you've already lost, Severus.  ;Why can't you give me a bloody chance to show you how wrong you are about me?  ;





“I'm willing to work with you, willing let the past go in order to be granted the opportunity of getting to know the real you better. ;Why is it so hard for you to give up this constant fighting?  ;We aren't enemies any more.  ;We never really were.  ;I respect you very deeply and I'd welcome the first chance you give me to put our differences behind us.

"I want us to be friends.”





Severus' mind whirled with the appalled realization of what the dratted brat was trying to do.

 ;It had been so long since the last time someone had even thought of buttering him up that he'd forgotten how... shamefully easy... it could be for a man who'd been as utterly devoid of genuine affection as he'd always been to fall for that kind of self­serving trickery.





“Friendship can't be bought with an unrequested blanket and a veritable myriad of unwanted little touches, Professor Potter. ;Friendship is a treasure that has to be first fought for and then fiercely protected in order for you to earn the slightest right to claim its warm comfort.





“I have no desire to invest my precious time on the futile endeavor of attempting to reach such connection with you.  ;Keep both your hands and your pleas for attention to yourself, I beg you.  ;I have neither the need nor the actual desire for our association to expand beyond the minimal requirements of our similar duties towards the students of Hogwarts.”





Potter's hand froze on his arm and those green eyes that he'd tried to forget without much luck since he discovered the depths of his inappropriate... feelings... towards the other man flashed with inexplicable pain.





“What if I have the need to grow closer to you, Severus?  ;What would you do if I told you that you are hurting me more than you probably realize with this intractable attitude? What would you say if I told you that I've been guarding your sleep for the last three hours?  ;How would you react if I confessed that watching you sleep filled me with peaceful joy?”





Severus gasped, truly hurt by the unforgivable cruelty of that clearly manipulating lie, and took a single step backwards.  ;His head jerked to the side lest he show the vulnerability of his own distressed emotions before his enemy.  ;He didn't know how Potter had learned about his inappropriate crush, but he was loath to give the bloody bastard a chance to play sick games with him.





“Do not speak to me thus, Potter!  ;Never, ever, dare to imply that I...  ;that you...  ;There's no link between us.  ;There's nothing uniting us beyond professional courtesy.  ;I will not be ridiculed by the likes of you.”





Potter turned ghostly pale and his eyes became twin pools of emerald misery that Severus couldn't bear to look upon.  ;





“Why?  ;Why are you so harsh with me?  ;Why should my care bring you ridicule?  ;There is no shame in being adored, Severus.”



He blinked in outraged disbelief and a veritable knot of wounded pride tightened around his churning gut, settling in the pit of his stomach like a dreadful rock of burning­cold ice.  ;He couldn't believe the boy could be so cruel, couldn't understand what sort of twisted maliciousness could be driving the Gryffindor to torture him like this.





“There is shame in everything, Potter.  ;There is shame in loving those who were never meant for us and there is also shame in being loved by the wrong person, for the wrong reasons.  ;There is shame in choosing one's desires unwisely, therefore, opening one's soul to the hate­filled whims of one's old enemies.  ;There is shame in wanting what we can never have and in daring to even dream we can posses it.





“Adoration may be a weakness of the heart, but it is also a terrible weapon.  ;It is the perfect tool to destroy those who have never felt its blessing, but would kill ­and die­ to have it touch their souls and I will never let you use it to harm me.






(~*~)(~*~)(~*~)





After that ghastly encounter in the infirmary Severus' usual reluctance to interact with Potter tripled.  ;He refused to be dragged into conversation with the man, no matter how hard the Gryffindor tried to force him to do so, and avoided eating his meals at the High Table.





He never imagined that anyone would bother to challenge him on the matter, until Minerva called him to her office for a cup of tea.  ;He was not only shocked to find Potter sitting on one of the twin chairs that faced the Headmistress' desk, but also utterly distraught to find himself on the receiving end of a very disappointed rant about the worrying message that his constant absence from the teacher's table was supposedly sending out to the student body.





To his never­ending chagrin, he was asked, point­blank, if there was some sort of problem between himself and Potter that she should know about and was forced to sit there: staring, wide­ eyed, directly into her stern gaze while a sickened sort of dread crushed his windpipe into ashamed silence.





“I...” He couldn't even begin to imagine what sort of tales Potter must have been telling her about him and, therefore, had no actual clue about what kind of explanation would serve him best to diffuse the situation.  ;His head turned to glare at Potter with vicious venom and, finding himself on the receiving end of the boy's concerned look, ended up lowering his gaze towards the floor with unnerved confusion.





“Harry swears that there is nothing wrong between the two of you, Severus.  ;But my own eyes tell me that he is trying to protect you.  ;I don't understand the reasons behind your pointed dislike of a man who regularly goes out of his way to treat you with respect and, frankly, I'm starting to fear that allowing you the time and privacy you need to sort out this situation has been a mistake on my part.”





“Minerva...”





“I won't have your personal vendetta against Harry create even more problems between the Gryffindors and Slytherins in this school, Severus.  ;Your recent confinement to your chambers may have aided you in ignoring what is happening, but the truth is that the tension between your two houses is currently at an all­time high.





“A worryingly high number of incidents have been reported directly to me in the last few weeks and only the founders know what else is going on behind our backs.  ;The animosity between Gryffindors and Slytherins is starting to become dangerous and I blame the current deterioration of their former... truce... on the fact that the children have started to perceive your damaging dislike of one another.”





Severus gaped at her, utterly flummoxed by the ridiculous nature of her claims.  ;





“That is... preposterous, Minerva!  ;The rivalry between Slytherins and Gryffindors dates all the way back to the Founders.  ;You can't possibly accuse me of starting it without sounding... deranged.”



“I'm not accusing you of anything, Severus.  ;I'm telling you that your snakes and Harry's lions are taking sides in your little personal feud.  ;Their usual clashes have become more vicious recently and this worrisome shift in their behavior happens to have coincided with the last major clash between the two of you.





“I know you were unhappy with my ruling on the Wilson­Edgar situation.  ;But I'm far more responsible for that than Harry ever was.  ;He tried to convince me to at least place Mr. Edgar on probation.  ;It's not his fault that you weren't able to prove your claims of bullying.”





“I have heard all that already, Minerva.  ;I'm certain that the speech you gave me at the time regarding Mr. Potter's tireless attempts to act with saintly fairness hasn't changed all that much since I endured it last.”





“I'm perfectly willing to treat you like a child if you continue to behave like one, Severus Snape!” Minerva snapped, glaring at him disapprovingly through the small lenses of her spectacles.  ; “I'm done with all this nonsense.  ;I demand you sort out whatever on Earth is wrong between the two of you, or I shall suspend you both from your duties until further notice.”





He looked at her with perfectly appalled disbelief.  ;





“Minerva, you can't....”





“Don't you dare to 'Minerva' me, young man!  ;I'm desperately holding onto my last shred of patience.  ;I don't want to force your hand, Severus, but this has honestly gone far enough.  ;Harry doesn't deserve your hatred any more than you deserve the indignity of having the students label you the bad guy in all of your disputes.  ;Your dislike of one another is unprofessional.  ;It's both heartbreaking to see and thoroughly unfounded.  ;Neither of you should have to endure a single second of it, for Merlin's sake!”





“You can't force me to like Potter, Minerva, just as you can't force him to accept me.”





“His acceptance of you isn't the issue here.  ;Harry accepted you ages ago, Severus.  ;You are just too blind to see it.  ;I know this is none of my business, but a few months ago something happened to you, my friend.  ;Something that forced Harry to make a decision I strongly disapproved of at the time...





“He brought your unconscious body to the infirmary one Sunday morning, just after dawn, and refused to let Poppy undo something that you should have never done to yourself.”





Severus frowned, utterly lost by the unexpected turn the conversation had taken.  ;





“I haven't been in the infirmary since the war, Headmistress.  ;You know perfectly well that I prefer to tend to my own health whenever possible.”





“This happened the morning after the anniversary of Albus' death.  ;You had been drinking heavily and ended up knocking yourself out with a self­inflicted spell, and before you dare to accuse Harry of having attacked you, himself, let me tell you that I've got actual proof of what happened.  ;I cast Priori Incantatem on your wand, Severus, and I'm willing to show you that particular memory.”





Severus ignored her offer for the moment, too busy attempting to bring his hazy recollection of that morning into focus and panicking at his inexplicable inability to do so.  ;He frowned with agitation, wondering why he couldn't recall anything that happened between the moment he retired to his chambers after dinner that night and lunch­time the next day...





“What spell did I cast?  ;Why can't I remember any of this?”





“Because you...”





Potter gasped rather noisily and shifted abruptly forwards in his chair, interrupting the headmistress so rudely that Severus gritted his teeth and had to count all the way to sixty three in order to stop himself from throttling the little miscreant.





“Don't!  ;I'll do everything you want, Minerva. Anything.  ;Just...  ;don't tell him what happened, please, I'm begging you...”





Her stern gaze visibly softened, but she smiled ruefully at her pet lion and shook her head in denial of whatever favor the man was so shamelessly requesting.





“I'm sorry, Harry.  ;I know you disagree with me on this matter, and I understand that this shouldn't be my decision, but it's been months already.  ;Things will never get better unless you bring this out into the open once and for all.”





“Don't!  ;Just...  ;don't, please.  ;You have no idea of how distressed he was...  ;This is going to hurt him very deeply, Minerva.”





Severus was becoming more bewildered by the second.  ;





“What on Earth are you two talking about?  ;I demand to be informed of whatever happened to me at once!  ;This involves my health.  ;I can't believe you've contrived to hide something that was serious enough to put me in the infirmary.”





Clearly panicked green eyes turned towards him.  ;





“Don't do this!  ;You don't really want to know what happened, Severus.  ;You've got to trust me right now, please...”





“But I don't, Potter.  ;I don’t trust you and you've just admitted that you've been lying to my face for months.  ;Why did I end up in the infirmary?  ;What spell did I cast?  ;Why were you the first person to come across me, if it happened the morning after the anniversary of Albus' death?  ;I remember enough of that night to recall that I spent the entire evening alone in my rooms, drowning my guilt in Firewhiskey.”





“You spent the evening alone, Severus, but not the night.”





He was so startled by that perfectly ridiculous claim that he turned a pair of utterly bewildered dark eyes on her.





“That is an abominable falsehood.  ;I never left the castle.  ;I was in no state to leave.  ;I must have drank...”





“An entire crate of Firewhiskey by the time Harry arrived or so he explained to us.  ;Poppy double­checked your blood for alcohol poisoning at the time and came to the conclusion that you had been exposed to a dangerous amount of alcohol.”





His heart froze and his breath halted at the awful implications of her words.  ;He remembered feeling maudlin and utterly crushed by guilt for his role in Albus' death all through that day.  ;He remembered dismissing the couple of Gryffindor dunderheads he had for detention early that evening, in order to return to the privacy of his rooms and... mope... in peace.  ;He remembered the awful sense of desolation that had led him to unearth that old crate of the fine Firewhiskey that Draco had sent over a few years ago.  ;He also remembered his plan of drinking himself to sleep, but he could not remember anything after that.





“Are you implying that I had some sort of drunken brawl with Potter?  ;What did I do?  ;Seek him out in alcohol­induced rage and challenge him to a duel?  ;Did I cast my own offensive spell on myself by accident?” He looked straight at Potter's deadly pale face, trying to imagine the ghastly scene as it unfolded.  ;But all he could see were those pleading emerald eyes looking back at him with something so close to... pity... that he couldn't bear the sight of it.  ;“This is so humiliating...”





“Severus, don't...”





Potter tried to say something, but Minerva spoke firmly above his shaking voice.





“You may have been blind drunk at the time, Severus, but you were still yourself.  ;You do not make mistakes while dueling, my friend.  ;You've never cast a hex over anyone or anything in error.  ;You meant to cast what you did, precisely what you did.  ;We are all pretty certain about that.”



His mind tried to come to terms with this truly worrying concept. He couldn't believe that he had turned his wand upon himself on purpose, and in front of Potter, no less.  ;It was unthinkable.  ;Shameful.  ;Utterly cowardly.





“What spell did I cast?”





“Please, don't do this, Minerva!”





Potter's shout was half order, half desperate plea.  ;Those green eyes had brightened with unshed tears that were making their owner's lovely face look beyond distressed.  ;He was trembling like a leaf.  ;He was wide­eyed and clearly agitated.  ;He looked like the very picture of emotional devastation come to life and Severus couldn't bear the idea of never finding out what could possibly frighten the bravest of all lions so much.





“What.  ;Spell.  ;Did.  ;I.  ;Cast, Mr. Potter?”





Obliviate.  ;You turned your wand on yourself so fast that I couldn't reach you in time, Severus.  ;You... you Obliviated yourself because you couldn't cope with the idea that we...”  ;Potter's wavering explanation came to a jarring halt at that point, allowing the most awful silence to fill the room with a heavy and unbearable tension.





The Gryffindor looked wounded beyond words.  ;His eyes shone brighter than jewels and a single, forlorn tear began to roll down the delicate skin of a slowly blushing cheek.  ;Severus' chest clenched with flustered discomfort.  ;He couldn't cope with Potter's obvious distress for much longer and he knew himself well enough to realize that, now that he was aware of the fact that something he couldn't remember had happened to him, he wouldn't be able to walk away from this room without knowing the full story.





“We what, Potter?  ;What could we have possibly been doing that would lead me to act in such a way?  ; Self­Obliviation is dangerous.  ;It is the single, most foolish decision that anyone can make and I sincerely doubt that I have ever been crazy enough to contemplate it.  ;This ridiculous story makes no sense whatsoever!”





“We slept together, Severus.”





Those four words nailed him to the spot.  ;They drowned every single one of his senses under a thick layer of icy shame that he was utterly unable to shatter.  ;His eyes widened for a fraction of a second before narrowing dangerously.  ;He became rigid and distant in a single heartbeat, becoming as motionless as stone while his every thought focused on a single, awful notion:





He.  ;Had.  ;Slept.  ;With.  ;Potter.  ;





They had been physically intimate.  ;That beautiful emerald gaze had seen him bare.  ;Potter had seen him.  ;All of him.  ;Naked... ;He had exposed his intolerable ugliness to the eyes of the man he...



“No!  ;I would have never done such thing.  ;You must be lying.”





“You'll calm yourself down this instant, Severus!  ;I won't let you accuse Harry of deception after I saw the state you were in when you arrived at the hospital wing that morning.  ;It was obvious to both, Poppy and myself, that you had been indulging yourself in a night of physical excess.





“I'm not trying to judge neither you nor your actions, my friend.  ;But I honestly believe that whatever feelings of... shame... led you to cast that Obliviate upon your person also managed to strengthen the scope of your spell, allowing it to leave behind some sort of instinctive recollection of that debacle with Harry.





“You may now be unable to remember what happened between the two of you, but your dislike for him became decidedly worse immediately after that night.  ;Your mind may have been forced to forget, but you didn't.  ;You've been unconsciously striving to keep Harry at arms’ length ever since, Severus.”





He looked at her in horrified shock, mind abuzz with the awful knowledge that she'd been there.  ;She had heard the ghastly tale of what he'd done with Potter.  ;She had seen what he'd done to himself and had kept it from him, lied to his face about it for months on end.  ;And Poppy... She had been in on this, too.





He felt suddenly vulnerable, unpleasantly exposed and painfully betrayed.  ;He felt humiliated and savaged in equal parts.  ;He was beyond surprised, beyond horrified.  ;He felt totally and mercilessly... corralled.





“Why?... Why did you agree to keep this shameful secret only to throw it in my face like this?  ;What have I ever done to you, Minerva, to deserve such cruel lack of pity?”





Her brown eyes filled with intolerable sorrow and he pushed himself out of his chair, unable to bear the false care of that look. ;He walked blindly towards the huge fireplace, allowing his deeply ingrained instinct to seek privacy when wounded to lead his steps towards the fastest exit.





“You can't ignore what your own heart, your every instinct, has been trying to tell you ever since that night, Severus.  ;There is something unresolved between you and Harry.  ;Something that is too powerful to be denied, even by you.





“This ridiculous feud that you've started isn't solving anything...  ;Your constant fighting is hurting both of you equally, bringing unnecessary stress into your professional interactions and
encouraging the children to believe that your respective houses are justified in their blind hatred of one another.  ;Your attitude is affecting the students, Severus, and I can't allow this situation to continue in good conscience.  ;The school is...”





“The school?” He scorned, turning such a virulent look towards her that her words faltered as she became utterly immobile.  ;“Be careful, Minerva.  ;You are starting to sound just like Albus.”





“I'm sorry, Severus, but this had to be done.”





His fingertips pinched a smidgen of Floo Powder, even as he forced his throat to un­knot long enough for him to emit a single bark of mirthless laughter.





“Of course it had to be done, Headmistress.  ;We all know that I have never been allowed to forget a single one of my mistakes.  ;Least of all if they were committed against ­or in front of­ a merry band of Gryffindors.





“Congratulations to you both.  ;You have now managed to out­do your predecessors in the art of humiliating me completely.  ;Albus would have been so proud of you, Minerva, while James Potter must be laughing uproariously in hell, gleefully celebrating my misfortune with his despicable friends...”






(~*~)(~*~)(~*~)





He couldn't cope with the mortifying idea that he'd been Potter's.  ;The knowledge pierced his brain like a lethally poisoned dart, settling in the pit of his stomach like unmovable stone and constricting his throat with unpleasant embarrassment every time he was unfortunate
enough to find himself in the presence of the Gryffindor.





He could neither remember their encounter nor any of the circumstances that had lead directly to it, and that horrifying absence of... details... was driving him insane.  ;He wasn't a heavy drinker and, whenever he indulged in the despised habit, he tended to do so in the privacy of his rooms therefore he had no actual knowledge of exactly what type of drunk he became.





He couldn't tell if he was the “chatty” kind or not but, bearing in mind his natural reticence when sober, the possibility that his intoxicated self would tend towards having a 'lose tongue' seemed so highly likely that he became literally suffocated with shame every time he imagined how many of his precious secrets he may have unwittingly exposed to Potter's derision.





He spent the days immediately following that horrible scene in Minerva's office tormenting himself with the unbearable thought that he could have confessed the true nature of his inappropriate feelings to the Gryffindor.  ;Knowing Potter's particular inability to withstand a sob story with any sort of equanimity it was entirely possible that such confession may have led Harry to bed him out of pity.  ;For what else could have logically compelled the heroic Savior of the Wizarding World to fall into bed with an ugly thing like himself when he could have anyone he wanted?





Sheer discomfort led him to become even more snappy with everyone around him, but he dared not dismiss Minerva's direct orders to appear more often at the Great Hall table.  ;So he had breakfast, lunch, and dinner there every single day and endured the horror of knowing himself to be the focus of Potter's increasingly agitated attention as best as he could.





Contrary to what he'd both imagined and desired, the Gryffindor Head of House insisted on occupying the seat directly to his left, as had been his custom for the last few months.  ;The man's almost challenging obstinacy in attempting to bridge a chasm that Severus himself had no
wish to have bridged drove him absolutely mad with the kind of frustration that he couldn't afford to show.





Minerva kept looking at him so sternly that he knew she wouldn't tolerate an outright fight between himself and Potter.  ;So he was forced to grit his teeth and endure Potter's increasingly desperate attempts to drag him into conversation with grim rigidity. ;He ate
every blasted meal with the kind of forced relaxation that invariably caused him acid later on and fled the Great Hall as soon as his own sense of decorum allowed him the liberty.





It was madness.  ;All of it.  ;Things could not remain like this for any length of time and he knew it, but his deeply embedded survival instinct told him that he didn't want to tackle this situation in any shape or form.  ;





He needed to keep this particular dragon trapped in slumber for the rest of eternity, if he could manage the feat.  ;He needed to... forget... that he'd ever learned this awful truth.  ;He needed to bury this mistake somewhere unreachable, hide it so deeply inside his mind that the
mere knowledge of it wouldn't be able to affect him thus any longer.





He needed to move forward with his life, attempt to regain the dignity that he'd so recklessly sacrificed in his drunken shortsightedness and never, ever, give Potter the chance to make a fool of him again.






(~*~)(~*~)(~*~)





The passage of time doesn't affect Gryffindors the same way it affects everybody else.

 ;They are unable to understand the idea of giving up.  ;They don't let things go.

 ;They insist on... badgering... against obviously closing doors.  ;Ramming themselves relentlessly against the most impregnable defenses in such a way that they turn every hour, every day, every week that passes into an excruciatingly painful weapon that they invariably use to weaken their weary opponents.





Severus wanted... no, needed, to forget, but the blasted Savior wasn't respecting his wishes in the slightest.  ;He wasn't keeping his distance, wasn't growing discouraged, wasn't desisting at all.





Every single day the damned man managed to find him in every possible corridor or patch of grass he visited, no matter how out of the way it may have been or at what ungodly hour Severus had decided to traverse it.





The situation became so ridiculous that he ended up convinced he was being most doggedly tracked by means of Lupin's old school map.  ;Potter tried to talk to him, attempting to explain himself again, and again, and again.  ;Until all Severus wanted to do was scream himself hoarse voicing out his categorical refusal to listen to whatever the hell the brat was so determined to say.





The man tried to engage him in ridiculous small talk and, when each and every attempt was met with frosty silence, he resorted to the childish technique of simply standing in the middle of Severus' path, blocking off his exit for minutes on end with infuriating stubbornness while he stared directly into his eyes with that soulful green gaze...





Severus was so used by now to encountering the irksome creature wherever he went that he didn't even bat an eye when he saw him lounging lazily against the wall of the seventh floor corridor one night.  ;





He sighed with the exhausted frustration of a man who'd been genuinely looking forwards to the end of his patrolling duties and attempted to bypass the idiot without so much as acknowledging his presence.





“I would like a word with you, Severus.” Potter whispered calmly, forcing him to halt reluctantly in order to at least give the appearance of “listening” to the man.  ;He refused point­blank to give the brat an excuse to accuse him of openly disrespecting him in front of Minerva, so he took pains to always “listen” to Potter.  ;She couldn't possibly fault him for his inability to find a single thing to say in reply, could she?





“My only regret is that you weren't sober when it happened.  ;I know I told you before that I allowed myself the foolishness of believing that everything would be all right when you woke up, but I lied to you, Severus.  ;I've been lying to you all along.





“I knew you were going to freak out in the morning.  ;I knew you'd have never let me touch you if you'd been in your right mind, but I have been dreaming about you for so long that I decided to ignore the warnings of my conscience.





“I'm in love with you and I... I’ve desired you so deeply, so... hopelessly... for so many years that I took the only chance you've ever given me and hoped to Godric that our physical intimacy would help me break down some of the walls you keep building between us.”





Severus felt those words hammer him with the kind of strength that nothing the other man had said to him thus far had possessed.  ;Love... Potter had never used that word before.

 ;His mind whirled as he attempted to reject the pitiful sense of... hope... that the single mention of that four letter word had just brought him.  ;He felt breathless and on edge.

 ;He could not honestly believe that it was true.  ;How could it be?  ;He was nobody, while Potter... Potter was everything.





Silence settled around them like a suffocating blanket while Severus stood there, rooted to the spot like a mesmerized rabbit. ;He was unable to move, unable to think, unable to even breathe while one second slowly merged into the next and the Gryffindor waited for an answer that
he honestly couldn't bring himself to give him.





He could not force his lips to denounce the very words that described his most cherished dreams as a lie.  ;He couldn't openly refuse them, scorn them or reject them in any way.

 ;He couldn't bring himself to... deny... them, because doing such a thing would have killed him as certainly as if he'd poisoned himself.





“Severus?  ;Won’t you at least grant me the courtesy of looking me in the eye while I bare my heart to you?  ;I'm giving you the kind of weapon that my detractors would kill to possess.  ;I'm allowing you to realize how easily you could crush me right now, if you wanted.  ;You could trample each and every one of my most precious dreams under your
booted heel until you turn them to dust.”





Severus’ head turned sharply around.  ;His cheeks were flushed with the deep crimson of turbulent emotions and his black eyes flashed with the kind of uncontrolled rage that would have brought old Greyback to his knees, had he been there.  ;




“Don't you dare repeat that claim out loud ever again.” He hissed, pinning that earnest green gaze with a look so full of scorn that Harry flinched visibly before he squared his shoulders and fixed a wavering smile upon his lips.





“The first words you speak to me in almost two months and they are nothing short of challenge.  ;Do you think your fury frightens me, Severus?  ;You know me better than that.  ;You know I won't be cowered into silence and I refuse to let you hide from the truth a single second longer:





”I.  ;Am.  ;In.  ;Love.  ;With.  ;You.  ;





”There! I've said it, and I’ll say it again.  ;I'll say it until my voice is hoarse from shouting it out loud and you've managed to drain the very last drop of hope from my heart.”





“Potter...”





“Do you seriously believe you're more stubborn than me?  ;I've grown up fighting against insurmountable odds, my love.  ;I know how to win a war and also how to end one.  ;I'm not willing to give up on you, do you understand me?  ;You deserve better than the indignity of being allowed to become a vague, unwanted memory.





“You are a lot more than a dream that was never meant to be.  ;I won't let you become a shameful little mistake.  ;You deserve to be fiercely fought for, Severus, and I'm here to tell you that I'm planning to do exactly that.  ;You can ignore me all you want, but I'll remain
right here, because leaving you behind is simply... unthinkable.”





Severus saw red.  ;He turned fully around to face the annoyingly stubborn Gryffindor and sneered for all he was worth:





“What could you possibly gain from such doomed course of action, Potter?  ;I refuse to engage in another petty battle with you, so if you're trying to push me into hexing you into next week to get me in trouble with Minerva you can just forget it.”





“This has nothing to do with the school.  ;I'm in love with you, you, dimwitted bastard!”





“Don't make me laugh, please.  ;How stupid do you think I am?  ;You've seen me at my very worst.  ;You've been witness to the most heinous acts I have ever committed.  ;There is no way you could have fallen in love with the man you know me to be.”





“That's just...”





“You left me to die alone in that dusty old shack and then had the actual gall of... rescuing me... from a thoroughly deserved sentence in Azkaban, by the excruciatingly humiliating method of exposing every single vulnerability of my idiotic teenage self to the scorn of wizarding society.
 ;Those are not the actions of a man in love.”





“Yes, they are! I was trying to save you.  ;I wanted the entire world to know the kind of wonderful man that you keep trying to deny you are.  ;There is nothing humiliating in loving as completely as you do, Severus.  ;You shouldn't have been forced to stand trial in the first place and I wanted...”





“You wanted to destroy me.  ;You tried to ruin my hard­earned reputation by turning me into a pitiful Hufflepuffish... teddy bear... that everyone could mock.  ;Then, not happy enough with all of that, you dared to follow me here, to the one place in all the world where I
actually feel safe, and proceeded to use your very presence in this institution to drive me away from it!”





“That's not true.  ;I don't want you to leave Hogwarts.  ;I...”





“You used your knowledge of my past, of my deeply held regrets, to approach me at a time when you knew I'd be vulnerable. ;You could see that I was not in my right mind that night and still dared to take what, by your own admission, you knew I would have never given you under normal circumstances.  ;





“Your actions in this instance have been nothing but despicable, Potter.  ;You’ve known that for months and now I know it, too. ;There is nothing to fight for here.  ;Nothing that can be saved.  ;Nothing else for you to gain, no matter how hard you try.  ;You can't possibly humiliate me any further, I assure you.  ;There is no way on Earth that you can ever bring me lower than you've already brought me...”






(~*~)(~*~)(~*~)





Something vital broke inside Potter after that midnight encounter and, although they were still supposedly on speaking terms, tension surrounded their every interaction like a dark and poisonous cloud, making them so clearly uncomfortable in each others' company that Minerva kept giving
them the evil eye whenever they exchanged more than two words past a polite greeting.





Despite the growing discomfort that their constant closeness brought them, the Gryffindor still refused to move chairs at the High Table and Severus, locked as he was into his own placement by his position as Minerva's deputy, could do nothing but resent the other man's bloody­mindedness in stony silence.





At least Potter seemed to have finally backed off.  ;Severus stopped finding him everywhere he went and the man's constant attempts to engage him in conversation became a thing of the past, unless there was something in particular they needed to discuss for professional reasons.





Despite their dwindling interaction Potter did not retreat altogether.  ;He still hovered in the background like a forlorn little shadow.  ;Patiently orbiting somewhere around Severus' general vicinity and looking at him constantly with those dejected green eyes that never failed to make him feel uncomfortably guilty.





He invariably placed himself in Severus' line of sight, always present, but respectfully out of reach like a loving pet or a watchful bodyguard.  ;Like a man who could not bear the very idea of denying himself the small comfort of being constantly... there.






(~*~)(~*~)(~*~)





It was twelve minutes past two on an unremarkable Wednesday afternoon when Severus' entire world finally came crashing down around his ears.  ;He still remembers precisely where he was when Minerva's cat Patronus interrupted his lesson, causing him to halt mid­word and stare at it in thunderstruck horror at its unexpected presence in his classroom.





A veritable myriad of unwelcome memories flashed across his mind before her voice broke the stunned silence, freeing him from dark recollections of a war he hadn't yet managed to forget.  ;Memories of fighting so hard and hiding so much.  ;Memories of loosing so many dear friends.  ;Memories of Albus...





“Severus! There has been an accident in the defense classroom and Harry has been hit by a botched hex.  ;I’m sending his class to you.  ;Please make sure they end the day appropriately and take over my duties until further notice.  ;I'm heading to the infirmary right now.”





He felt cold from head to toes.  ;His throat constricted so much that he could barely breathe properly and there was an unpleasant fire churning in his stomach, making him feel fiercely ill.





He dared not blink too fast, lest the burning in his eyes had the audacity of betraying the pitiful reality of his disconsolate reaction to the knowledge that Harry, his precious, beloved Harry, had been harmed to the point where he needed medical assistance and so he stood, rooted to the same spot where he'd been when the Patronus had first manifested, looking as lifeless and unfeeling as a statue made of heartless wax.  ;Appearing for all intent and purposes callously unmoved by the ghastly news he'd just received.





Whispers rose around the classroom as the children surrounding him began to react to the situation with the freedom that he, himself, could not afford to show and he let the loud, surprised gasps rise for once, feeling a strange comfort in hearing them break the eerie silence to speak the
words that he dared not say himself.





A few minutes later, Mr. Davies, the seventh year prefect, knocked on the door, heralding the arrival of Harry's class.  ;He granted the students entrance with his usual sharp tone, eyeing them menacingly one by one as they filed in quietly past him. ;Only the fact that he had no
proof and no actual idea of what had happened prevented him from hexing that loathsome Mr. Edgar on the spot as soon as he set eyes on the brat's ashen face.





He knew the dammed kid was the strongest student in Defense.  ;His skills in the subject were rumored to be responsible for the visit that the head of the auror's recruiting team had paid him, just last week.  ;If Harry had fallen victim of a botched hex, then it couldn't have come from the boy, that was for sure.  ;Carl Edgar was too good to make that kind of mistake and he, literally, worshiped the ground the DADA professor walked on.  ;





Severus closed his eyes and sighed, reminding himself sternly that he couldn't allow his undeniable dislike of the Gryffindor student to force him into giving the brat the detention that his tongue was itching to deliver.  ;Then he noticed how the rest of the classroom shied
pointedly away from their adored little leader, analyzed the peculiar way in which his seven year Slytherins were clustered around the slight figure of Josh Wilson and came to a truly awful conclusion.  ;His right eye twitched.  ;His dark gaze narrowed and a single vein began
to throb on his temple as he took a single step towards the odious Gryffindor bully.





“Are you in any way responsible for Professor Potter's unfortunate accident, Mr Edgar?” He questioned with dangerous calm.





The boy quivered where he stood, but looked him in the eye with his usual disrespect.  ;





“It was an accident, Sir.  ;The professor thought I mispronounced the hex I was casting.  ;He attempted to cast a shield over my intended target, but was too close for the spell to take properly and ended up stepping into the path of the curse, instead.”





Severus' gut twisted with the unpleasant premonition that he already knew the answer to his next question, but he couldn't stop himself from asking it, anyway:



“Was Mr. Wilson the intended target of your hex?”





“Yes.”





The answer was uttered with the kind of challenging bravado that only managed to rile Severus' infamous temper further.  ;He forced himself to clasp both hands behind his back, channeling the dangerous fury rising within him into the cold­voiced demand that abandoned his lips like the lash of a whip.





“I'm afraid that I could not hear you properly, Mr. Edgar.  ;Did you just admit to having knowingly cast a botched hex on Mr. Wilson?  ;The same hex that has put Professor Potter in the infirmary?  ;I require your answer to be both concise and very clear. ;A simple yes or no will suffice.”





“It wasn't a botched hex, Sir.  ;It was an improvement of my own invention.” The Gryffindor answered once more.  ;Pronouncing precisely the sort of the self­condemning statement that Severus most wanted to hear and he sighed upon listening to it, feeling utterly wretched.  ;





That particular confession would have brought him untold pleasure under any other circumstances, but he couldn't feel any elation whatsoever right now.  ;He finally had this loathsome little bug right where he wanted him, but the fact that Harry was injured, cursed by something cast on purpose by a boy who had not only meant to cause harm, but also possessed the necessary skills to achieve his intended goal, soured his triumph with a sickening dread that he couldn't push aside.





He'd taken a barely controlled step towards the Gryffindor troublemaker when the unexpected pop of a frantic looking castle elf froze him to the spot.





“Vinky is sorry, professor Snape, Sir, but Headmistress McGonagall is wanting this class interrupted right away.  ;Vinky must remove Deputy Headmaster Snape, Sir, from this room, posthaste.”





“What sort of nonsense is th..?” He became the unwilling focus of unfamiliar elf magic before he could finish his sentence and only his instant recognition of the castle's infirmary saved the elf from an absolutely incensed tongue­lashing.





“I'm sorry I had you removed from your classroom so hastily, Severus, but Harry needs you right now.  ;Pomona will take care of the students, so don't worry about them.”





He relaxed at once, reacting to Minerva's apology, with a curt nod of his head.





“I'd be happy to assist Mr. Potter, Headmistress, but I'll need to examine his symptoms if you want me to come up with a countering potion for an unknown hex.” He explained distractedly, turning around with the intention of walking towards the closed off area that he assumed contained
Harry's bed, only to find himself forcefully restrained by the firm hand she placed on his shoulder.





“I wasn't implying that Harry's need of you relates only to your potions skills, Severus.  ;I'm trying to tell you that he needs your support and understanding in a way that I sincerely hope you'll be able to bring yourself to provide.





“This isn't the time to continue the petty little games that you've been so fond of playing lately.  ;Do you understand me?  ;Harry has been hit with a modified Firebrand Hex and the nature of the changes that have been added to the curse are making it impossible for us to put him into the magical sleep that most healers use to prevent a victim's mind from being negatively affected by the constant pain associated with this curse.”





“The Punishment Hex...” Severus gasped “I can't believe Mr. Edgar was reckless enough to hurl such a thing at Josh Wilson.”





“It's not a simple Punishment Hex anymore, Severus.  ;It has been combined with a strong Compelling Charm to create a cause­-and­effect curse.  ;Filius believes that Mr. Edgar was trying to force the unpleasant effects of the Firebrand to become only apparent when certain requirements weren't met.  ;That god­dammed brat was trying to
create a... training... curse, my friend.  ;One that was designed to force his victim to behave within predetermined parameters of behavior until the antidote could be brewed.”





Minerva's horrifying explanation reached him as if through a fog and he shrugged off the trembling fingertips that she had curled around his shoulder in order to take the smallest step towards Harry's bed, surrendering to the unbearable need that drove him to be closer to his love.

 ;To do whatever was required of him to help put an end to the terrible, whimpering sounds that reached him despite the drawn curtains that surrounded the Gryffindor's bed.





“Poppy has done all she can to tone down the amount of pain brought on by the Firebrand Hex, but she hasn't been able to contain it completely, Severus.  ;We believe the regular antidote will work for this modified version of the curse, but it is so highly specialized and so
resistant to long term storage that we don't have it readily available and neither does St. Mungo's.

 ;You'll have to brew it from scratch.”





“Merlin... What was that brat thinking?  ;The Firebrand's antidote takes six weeks to brew, Minerva.  ;If Mr. Edgar designed his hex in such a way that only the actions he wanted to reward could prevent the curse’s associated pain from ransacking his victim's body, then he wanted to have absolute control over Josh Wilson for at least a month and a half...”





“I believe that was his goal, Severus.  ;He wanted to force your student into a certain pattern of behavior for as long as possible and he devised a truly ingenious way to have his cake and eat it, too.





“It is unlikely that he'll go to Azkaban for this, since the Punishment Hex is ultimately harmless when treated, even though everybody knows that it is excruciatingly painful while active and its effects tend to grow worse with every passing hour, until it becomes necessary to either deliver the antidote or induce the victim into a magical sleep while it brews.  ;Nobody has ever died from this curse, though, so chances are that this attack won't be considered intentionally
lethal.”





“But you just said that you can't put Potter to sleep.  ;The increasing pain could make him lose his mind while we wait for the antidote.  ;Six weeks is a very long time to spend in constant agony, Minerva.  ;He will have to adopt whatever behavior Mr. Edgar was trying to enforce in order to avoid unnecessary suffering.”





“That is correct.  ;Carl's design has turned the Punishment Hex into a training tool, thus disabling the loophole that usually allows healers to induce magical sleep.  ;This is a cause and effect hex, Severus.  ;Only the spell's sanctioned behavior will soothe the
unbearable pain that Harry has been cursed to feel until he drinks the antidote.”





”That is why I'm here, isn't it?  ;Edgar hates Wilson with visceral spite.  ;He must have desired to force his victim to grovel at his feet for six weeks while he laughed with his cronies at whatever indignities he planned to force him to suffer in order to avoid bringing upon himself the terrible consequences of “displeasing” his “trainer”.”





Minerva's mouth compressed into a thin line of outraged disapproval and her hazel brown eyes acquired the quality of river pebbles when she grasped his shoulder once again, bringing his attention back to her.  ;



“Mr. Edgar will be most severely punished for this, I assure you.  ;But you are wrong about the nature of his intentions towards Mr. Wilson.  ;It appears that he doesn't hate his peer as much as everyone thought.  ;He doesn't hate him at all, in fact.  ;Carl Edgar was trying to create a love bond, Severus.  ;His “training” requests consisted on absolute sincerity and physical closeness to the person his victim loves the most.  ;We believe he was attempting to force Josh Wilson into admitting that he has feelings towards him, too.”





Severus felt all color drain away from his face.  ;His stomach dropped all the way down to his feet and he wouldn't have been able to move a single muscle had his life depended on it.

 ;He felt paralyzed and wounded.  ;Shocked right into despair.  ;Utterly and painfully shattered.





He could not imagine any fate worse than having to endure the torture of watching the man he loved to distraction seek physical comfort in the arms of whoever he happened to love the most, no matter how magically induced that comfort­seeking may be. ;The next six weeks of his life promised to be torture of the cruelest kind...





“Oh!” He croaked out loud, feeling literally faint with distressed sorrow.  ;“Do you need me to seek out Potter's... beloved... and bring him here before starting on the antidote, Minerva?  ;Is that why you sent for me?”





Her lips trembled and her old eyes filled with a thick film of bright tears.  ;Her head shook from left to right and she looked at him sharply, shacking his bony shoulder so hard that the motion rattled his teeth.





“Don't you dare harm that boy, Severus Snape!  ;Do you understand me?  ;I don't care how much you hate him, but... by Merlin!  ;You are going to grit your teeth and help us get Harry through this or I'll bloody Imperio you to do it!”





Her words hit him like a punch to the stomach and he gasped in horrified reaction to her lack of trust in him when it came to Harry's well being.  ;He attempted to recoil away from her touch, but she held onto him with a grip as hard as iron.





“I'd never hurt the brat when he's this vulnerable, Headmistress.  ;I didn't waste an entire decade of my life looking after his sorry hide, just to let him suffer through the effects of a hex cast by a ridiculously talented teenager in the throes of a wild crush.  ;I will start brewing Potter's antidote as soon as you let me go.  ;He has nothing to fear on that score, I assure you.”





“He needs more than that from you, Severus.  ;He needs you.  ;He tried his best to convince me to leave you out of this altogether, but we are unable to mute the effects of the “punishments” he's enduring and Dreamless Sleep doesn't work.”





“He's right about it, then, Minerva.  ;He doesn't need me.  ;If the Dreamless Sleep is ineffective then nothing save the antidote itself will help.  ;He must fulfill the conditions of his “training” to the best of his ability.  ;Delivering sincerity and remaining in
physical closeness to whoever he loves the most should be a piece of cake for a man like Harry Potter.  ;You just have to make sure that whoever he cares for so deeply has access to him.”





Minerva's disheartened chuckle made him break into a cold sweat with the terrible suspicion that whoever Potter had given his heart to may not have been all that enthusiastic about helping their wounded Savior.





“Harry said you didn't believe him when he confessed his feelings to you, but I hoped he was exaggerating.  ;Now I see that he was telling the truth all along... How can you stand there, urging me to find Harry's paramour as if that has nothing whatsoever to do with you, when anyone
with eyes to see could tell you the name of Harry's beloved within half hour of seeing the two of you together, Severus?





“He is in love with you, you, insufferably stubborn idiot!  ;He's been bound “in training” to you for the next six weeks of his life because he, literally, worships the ground you walk on, and now the depth his emotions and the fact that he must be sincere at all times in your presence have left him in such a vulnerable position when it comes to that ugly feud you've been so doggedly foisting on him that I shall never forgive you if you dare to use this opportunity to harm him any further.”






(~*~)(~*~)(~*~)






Potter's naturally golden skin looked deathly pale against the crisp whiteness of the infirmary's pillowcases and there were circles under his eyes that Severus hadn't noticed while they'd been open and directing that intent, all seeing gaze at him over the last few weeks.





The brat looked so fragile and small, as he slept under a towering heap of fluffy blankets, that Severus couldn't help the awful thought that the smallest breeze would be able to lift him up in the air and carry him far away from this room and the relative safety of his own presence.

 ;Taking him too far to be reached.  ;Helped.  ;Held tightly onto...





Potter... no.  ;Harry was in love with him.  ;He loved him with the kind of genuine passion that had forced the warped magic of Edgar's curse to recognize him as the man in charge of Potter's “training.” No matter how incredible it sounded, the brat's heart had chosen him above all others, turning him into the man Harry Potter had to be sincere to.

 ;The one he had to stay physically close to during the next six weeks of his life, if he wanted to avoid the torture that the Firebrand Hex could deliver...





The thought rattled in Severus' head like a disturbingly loud buzz and he flinched in reaction to the knowledge that, although Harry had gathered enough courage to confess his feelings to his face, he hadn't been willing to believe a word of it.  ;He had dared to scorn, to... deny... the Savior's love, branding it a cruel lie in his infinite stupidity.





“You look rattled, Severus.  ;I'm sorry that you've been forced to come to my rescue once again.”





Harry's soft voice brought him out of his thoughts and he turned guilty eyes towards the pale­ faced man on the bed.  ;Their hands had been entwined since Minerva pushed them together when she first forced him to sit on the chair he's still occupying and he hadn't been able to bring
himself to unclasp them, despite the fact that Harry's distressed whimpering had eased within seconds of that first initial contact.





“You've got nothing to apologize for, Po­...Harry.  ; How are you?”





“I've been better, that’s for sure.  ;At least, I'm no longer burning from the inside out with the effect of the Firebrand, thanks to you.  ;I know you don't want me this close, but I'm grateful for your willingness to help me, Severus.”





Harry's hand pressed meaningfully against his trapped fingertips and Severus curled them instinctively upwards in silent repose to that infinitesimal pressure.  ;Their gazes clashed in a tangle of unvoiced dismay and hesitant gratitude and he suddenly found his throat too dry to voice a single word out loud.





His mind was distressingly empty of logical or even properly apologetic sentences.  ;He had been rendered unable to express himself in any way, shape or form.  ;He had turned into a mass of both increasingly bubbling elation and guilty remorse, becoming a veritable tangle of
overwhelmed affection, wary disbelief and awed bewilderment at the idea that this man, whom he so profoundly adores, has been harboring those very same emotions towards him for months on end.





“I'm sorry for failing to believe you when you told me about your feelings, Harry.  ;I...”





“It's OK, Severus.  ;Don't beat yourself up about that, please.  ;It's all water under the bridge now, anyway.”





The Gryffindor's face crumpled into a mask of shocked pain as soon as he uttered that sentence and Severus realized that it must have been a barefaced lie.  ;Worry brought him out of his chair in the next second, driving him to disengage his still trapped hand from Harry's clenching
fingers in order to pull his wand out of its holder and cast a simple Numbing Charm over the writhing body of the Gryffindor Head of House.





“Please refrain from lying to me until the antidote is brewed, no matter how tempted you feel to spare my feelings, Harry.  ;I'm fully aware of how despicably cruel my recent behavior towards you has been and...”





“Severus, please, don't do this...”





“Listen to me, Harry.  ;Your annoying Mr. Edgar was remarkably thorough when he plotted out this curse.  ;It is designed to allow nothing but sincerity between trainee and trainer, forcing the victim to expose whatever emotions he feels instinctively inclined to hide in
order to bring about the kind of manufactured closeness that they boys must have failed to develop naturally.  ;It is monstrous and manipulative, but wickedly clever and it requires...”





“I know perfectly well what it requires.  ;I'm grateful that you didn't abandon me to deal with this on my own, but... I don't want your pity.  ;I know that you don't return my feelings.  ;You've gone to extreme lengths to make your opinion of me abundantly clear and I'd really
appreciate it if you could avoid giving me false hope now that I'm being forced to... expose... the vulnerability of my emotions so completely.  ;This is hard enough as it is, Severus.”





Severus ran a trembling hand through his disheveled hair, utterly dismayed upon realizing just how deeply Harry had been hurt by his refusal to listen.  ;





“I don't pity you at all, Potter!” He growled, vexed with frustration, and only realized how badly he'd expressed himself when the man in the bed flinched as if he'd been slapped and turned his suddenly ashen face towards the wall.





Utter sorrow oozed from the Gryffindor's hunched form like a poisonous vapor and Severus' eyes burned with the disheartening awareness of how woefully unprepared he really was to deal with his love's heartbreaking fragility.





He sighed out loud with self­deprecating frustration, biting his lower lip in a gesture that betrayed his inner turmoil before he dared to sit on the edge of the mattress, bringing himself as close to Harry's trembling figure as he possibly could in a bumbling attempt to offer the kind of
comfort that he desired to deliver, but had absolutely no idea of how to express.





“I'm sorry, Harry.  ;I... That didn't come out the way I meant it at all.  ;I'm terrible at this sort of thing.  ;Your mother used to say that I don't know how to deal with my own emotions, let alone anyone else's...”





“Please, Severus, please... Don't mention my mother to me right now, I beg of you.  ;I realize that you loved her very dearly and that this request probably sounds illogical to you, but I can't cope with the idea of having to talk about that bloody mess while this curse is messing with
my head.”





Severus' stomach started churning in earnest as he came to the unwelcome realization that nothing he had said or done since the Gryffindor's return to consciousness had managed to ease the man's emotional distress.  ;He'd kept hurting Harry more and more with every word he'd uttered, and the sheer desolation that his arrival at that unavoidable conclusion brought him was enough to make him choke out a hopelessly wobbly vow:



“It's all right, Harry.  ;I'll be as quiet as the grave, I promise... Why don't you go back to sleep, then?  ;Poppy says you need to rest.”




(~*~)(~*~)(~*~)




Although many things remained the same in many ways when it came to their interaction with one another, everything had changed so fundamentally that Severus felt well and truly uprooted.

 ;He was unsettled, out of his depth and agonizingly incapable of coping with the emotional upheaval that his new awareness of Harry's feelings had created within him.  ;His orderly life had been thrown into utter chaos and the soothing familiarity of his usual pattern of behavior towards his Gryffindor counterpart was no longer... appropriate.





Harry's need to be physically in his presence forced them to interact more often than they had ever done before.  ;They ended up having to re­locate to an abandoned 'family' suite because the brat couldn't manage the stress of being out of his sight for longer than a couple of hours at a time and Severus failed to adapt to their temporary cohabitation with the quiet grace he'd been determined to show.





They had their own bedrooms and bathrooms; sharing only the small kitchen, office space and sitting room, but Harry's need to be in his direct line of sight while awake made it impossible for Severus to seek refuge inside the privacy of his own bedroom when things became too much for
him to bear.  ;





For a man who prided himself in his unparalleled vocabulary and sharp communication skills, he was pitifully unable to make Harry understand how very sorry he was about their past interactions.  ;He was simply incapable of delivering the soothing comfort that he tried to offer more than once and ended up feeling both uncharacteristically clumsy and embarrassingly tongue­tied whenever he came in close contact with the Gryffindor.  ;





His crystal clear discomfort soon turned their forced co­habitation into the kind of deeply awkward affair that left him invariably disappointed and so utterly dismayed at his inability to... connect... with Harry that he couldn't eat properly.  ;Couldn't sleep any more.  ;Couldn't just... relax.  ;





Harry loved him.  ;Wanted him.  ;Adored him... They had been together in a sexual way already and the nature of the brat's curse made it impossible for him to lie to his face. ; Severus knew that he shouldn't be wasting their precious time wallowing in irrational insecurity.  ;He knew that he should be using this golden opportunity to bring them finally
closer and make Harry understand that their current relationship could change.  ;That his affection wasn't the hopeless disaster that he feared it to be. ;Severus loved him too.

 ;He'd have done anything to prove himself worthy of the gift of having Harry in his life and yet... he was squandering his chance.  ;





He knew that he had stumbled upon the perfect situation to open up and let the Gryffindor realize the true nature of the impossible dreams that he'd been harboring for so long, but he couldn't find a way to show any of that to the man.  ;No matter how many times he told himself to take a deep breath and admit how very stupid he now found his past behavior, he'd been unable to... beg... his increasingly bitter lion for the second chance that he was now absolutely certain he didn't deserve.





It hadn't helped at all that the cat had been publicly pulled right out of its bag with regards to the shifting nature of their relationship.  ;Mr Edgar's harsh punishment and the reasons behind it had made the front page of the Prophet the day after Harry was cursed.  ;The nature
of the hex and the training 'conditions' associated with it had been leaked to the press, alongside his own name as Harry Potter's 'trainer,' thus allowing not only Hogwarts' students but also the general wizarding public to become uncomfortably aware of the depths of Harry's feelings towards him.





The wounded lion had read the initial article detailing his current situation with a crushing despair shadowing his eyes while showing the kind of unsettling sobriety that had twisted Severus' stomach into a most unpleasant tangle of churning knots.  ;





Nothing could compare to the bitter hopelessness that grew steadily on that green gaze with every passing day, though.  ;The papers continued to capitalize on the ghastly nature of Harry's curse via utterly offensive humorous strips that depicted their 'possible' interactions with the kind of gleeful maliciousness that forced Severus to grit his teeth, reducing him to plotting precisely how to extract a proper Slytherin retribution from those who'd dared to harm his Harry thus for the purpose of selling one more paper.  ;





There had been two such strips decorating the front page of the Prophet that morning and, although he'd managed to hide the paper from Harry during breakfast at the Great Hall, the brat must have ordered a castle elf to find him a copy, because he was holding a slightly crumpled morning edition by the time Severus joined him in their shared living room after his morning
shower.





“They are having great fun at my expense.  ;Wouldn't you say?  ;I don't know who drew the cartoon that has me jumping at your command like an eager puppy, but the one where I'm wearing the throat choker, the green­colored tights and the silver thong with the dangling snake charm for your pleasure has all the hallmarks of being a Dean Thomas original.”





“Harry...”





“Don't, Severus.  ; Please.”





“I thought Thomas was your friend and, even if he isn't, taking cheap shots at a fellow Gryffindor when he's down is despicable.”





“He isn't saying anything that the rest of the world hasn't thought about already and at least his art is classy, if you are into that sort of thing.”





Severus looked at the enticing drawing that he'd so fiercely wanked to in the shower and struggled something fierce with his own conscience.  ;He felt so absolutely terrible that he didn't realize how disgusted his voice sounded when he finally spoke:



“You've got nothing to fear on that score, Harry.  ;I swear.  ;I'd never take advantage of you in such degrading way.”





The distressed bubble of hysterical laughter that Harry offered in response cut short Severus' flustered attempt to deliver soothing comfort, forcing him to retreat back into confused silence despite his almost visceral need to do something about this. ;To grab hold of the slightly
trembling Gryffindor and find a way to make him feel less hurt, less hopeless.  ;Less... vulnerable and wounded.





“Of course you'll never take sexual advantage of me.  ;You're far too honorable for that.”

Awful bitterness turned that simple statement from a reassuring expression of trust into the kind of growled accusation that made Severus stiffen like a statue carved in marble.  ;





“You don't sound all that happy about it.  ;How can you fail to find relief in my desire to spare you sexual humiliation?  ;You can't possibly want to wear this sort of attire for my benefit and it'd be monstrous of me to even consider asking you to do it.  ;I'm uncomfortably aware of how much power I hold over you right now.  ;It frightens me, Harry.”





Harry's emerald gaze settled over his features with unbearable heartbreak and his voice was a mere whisper when he finally voiced his simple, but devastating answer out loud:



“I'd gladly wear that particular outfit for you, if it pleased you, Severus.  ;I don't find the idea of having sex with you humiliating in the slightest.  ;I.  ;Love.  ;You, remember?  ;I would give up a hell of a lot to be granted the chance of exploring my sexuality with you, but that's neither here nor there, is it?





“You Obliviated yourself after we sleep together.  ;You risked your very sanity by performing a highly inadvisable spell on your own mind, in order to forget that you had ever touched me in that way.  ;Trust me when I tell you that I'm perfectly aware of how... abhorrent... you find the idea of having sex with me.”





Those words shattered Severus' composure to such degree that he couldn't keep his indifferent mask in place for a single second longer.  ;His already pale visage lost the last remnants of color it possessed as his body became a graceless mass of shaking bones and muscle.  ;His hands began trembling so much that he had to curl them into twin fists on his lap and his eyes burned with such shamed regret that he was forced to close them before whispering his rough­toned reply:





“Has it ever occurred to you that I may have assumed your interest in me to be false?

 ;Can you not realize that I've been mocked for my physical shortcomings so often and so... thoroughly... that I've spent my entire adulthood shying away from all sexual entanglements?”



Harry's attention became immediately riveted on him.  ;His hands abandoned the paper on the side table and he clasped them together, resting his forearms on his knees in a motion that curled his entire body forwards in his chair and brought him as close as possible to Severus' rigid form.  ;The position made him look nothing short of devoted to the task of hearing him better, of blocking out anything and everything that may distract his senses from his focused study of both Severus' halting words and flustered body language.  ;





“I know you've been wounded sexually, Severus.  ;Your reactions that night were... enlightening... to say the least.  ;You behaved like a man who has rarely found pleasure in the act.  ;You tried your best to hide your body from my sight.  ;You kept shying away from the light and attempted to force me to come down your throat in a bid to prevent me from
moving past your sitting­room altogether.





“You assumed that I'd leave you hanging if you gave me pleasure.  ;That I'd pat you on the head and walk away, like everyone else must have done before me.  ;You dared to believe that I'd abandon you to your drunken loneliness without a second thought for your own needs if you knelt at my feet and allowed me to use you like a... toy, or a doll.  ;Like a lifeless thing devoid of... feelings.”





Severus cringed at the depth of Harry's knowledge of him, at the unwelcome realization of how much he'd revealed of himself with his actions and reactions that night.  ;With his determination to treat the man he loved exactly like he'd treated everyone who had come before him.  ;Men who had never truly desired him and had only ever bothered with him in order to play dangerous power games that they had never, ultimately, won.





“You don't have to... pity... me for my tendency to fall to my knees and pleasure those who care to seek me out, Harry.  ;Men who look like me can't afford to be all that picky about things like sexual positions or even physical attraction.





“I... I may have looked like a lifeless doll to you, but I have learned over the years that the man on his knees controls most sexual encounters.  ;I win every time I put myself in the position of delivering the pleasure.  ;I decide when it all ends and how.  ;I can drag out the
moment or be done with it in minutes... I'm not the one who loses all awareness of where he is, and with whom, in order to enjoy the fleeting pleasure of orgasm.  ;Sex is a weapon that I've learned to turn against those who have tried to use it against me.”





Hot tears spilled from Harry's green eyes, painting twin rivers of sorrow down his golden cheeks before dripping down onto his bare forearms with soft plopping sounds that broke the unbearable quiet.



“Sex is also a gift, Severus.  ;It's an expression of desire so powerful that it can heal all your hurts and soothe your every fear, if only you allow yourself to view the act as something other than a battlefield.  ;I had no intention of hurting you at all.  ;I never wanted to control you, or humiliate you, or whatever the hell it is that whoever had you before me attempted to gain from the experience.



“I never stopped to think about how you'd view my desire to bring you comfort that night, and for that I have only myself to blame.  ;I should have known that something wasn't right, but I didn't pay proper attention.  ;All I cared about was that you were drunk and you were
hurting.  ;You clung to me seeking... oblivion, I think, and it didn't occur to me to question why you'd open up like that to someone you dislike so much, instead of going to Minerva or Poppy for more... conventional... support.”





Those words caught him off guard, crushing his pounding heart with the awareness of how much beauty he'd relinquished with his thoughtless actions.  ;Of how much love and adoration he'd rejected with his terrible decision to Obliviate himself.  ;Of how badly he'd hurt Harry with his subsequent intractable behavior.  ;Of how much time and happiness he'd stolen from them both. ;Time and happiness that had been lost forever, that would now never return.  ;Could never be enjoyed or re­claimed in any way, shape or form...





He inhaled disconsolately, forcing himself to remain as calm as possible even though his very last hope was bleeding to death inside the aching prison of his chest.  ;Anger, fear and absolute terror clogged his throat to the point that he felt literally incapable of uttering a single word further.  ;An entire minute passed before he found the strength to look directly into Harry's steadily darkening eyes and finally managed to gasp out the truth, unvarnished:





“I may have reacted better if I'd disliked you as much as I claimed, Harry.  ;I'm fully aware that I've never treated you with kindness and I understand why you are so convinced that I despise you, but... nothing could be further from the truth.  ;



“I'm the kind of man who only ever bothers harming what threatens him the most and nothing on this Earth has ever threatened me more than affection.  ;I... I love you too, Harry.  ;I love you probably as much, if not more, as you love me.  ;That is why I couldn't cope with the idea that I may have allowed myself to become yours so carelessly.  ;I could not bear the thought that you've seen me as I truly am: an ugly, damaged creature that will never possess enough charm to even dare to entertain the hope of catching your eye someday.”





“Oh, Severus...  ;How could you think such a thing?  ;How could you have been so blind?  ;There is nothing but beauty within you. ;It's hidden under a wounded, tangled mess of sharp­witted resentment and frosty defensiveness, I'll grant you that, but it's there nevertheless.”





His pale throat contracted nervously when Harry pushed himself off his chair, falling gracelessly onto his knees in the space that separated their seats before shuffling towards him.



“Get up, Harry, please.  ;I don't like watching you crawl on your knees in front of me.”





“I don't like watching you fall to your knees, either.  ;But I let you show me that side of yourself when you needed me to.  ;I want to sit at your feet right now and gaze up at you like a humble beggar, Severus.  ;I want to gift you the power that no one else has ever offered you and let you know that I desire the ugly, damaged man you believe yourself to be with every fiber of my being.  ;





”I.  ;Want.  ;You.  ;Limitlessly, my love.





”I want you totally.  ;I want you constantly.  ;I want you genuinely.  ;Hopelessly.  ;I want everything that you have ever been, everything that you are right now and everything you have the potential to ever become.”





“Harry...”





“Listen to me: I want your clever mind and your sharp wit.  ;I want your terrible temper and your immeasurable loyalty.  ;I want your emotional strength and your bloody­minded determination to do the right thing.  ;I want you awake and asleep.  ;Sick and healthy. ;I want you angry, nervous, happy, tired, frustrated, elated and worried.  ;I want you in every way you care to present yourself to me and I find you beautiful in every single one of those forms.  ;You.  ;Are.  ;Everything.  ;To.  ;Me, Severus

Snape.”





“That is too much, Harry... You are too generous.  ;I messed everything up.  ;I hurt you so badly...  ;I don't deserve your forgiveness at all.” Severus forced himself to choke out the unbearable truth as his composure crumbled like a castle built on dust and prayers that could no longer withstand the pressure of Harry's persistence.





His hands rose of their own volition to cradle the Gryffindor's tear­stained face like a priceless treasure.  ;Harry sighed and smiled up at him with the kind of trust that burrowed under his skin and traveled through his veins towards his pounding heart, nesting inside it without bothering to ask for permission or even hesitate in the act of making itself at home.





“I hurt you, too, Severus.  ;I shouldn't have tried to keep what you did to yourself away from you.  ;I was trying to protect you.  ;Give you the oblivion that you so obviously wanted when you cast that Obliviate, but I couldn't keep away...





“I convinced myself that you had allowed yourself to seek comfort with me because you cared for me, deep down, and my constant presence around you when you couldn't remember what happened made you more paranoid than usual about my inexplicable desire to get closer.  ;We both messed up and it's frightening to imagine what would have happened to us if Carl Edgar hadn't decided to cast this stupid spell in the middle of my classroom...”





“Don't even joke about it, Harry, please...  ;I think I'd have murdered that brat if Minerva's messenger hadn't arrived when it did.”





“Let's forget poor, doomed Carl.  ;He's been suitably punished for his actions and, unlike me, has lost whatever pitiful chances he ever had of securing his beloved's heart.” Harry's words ghosted across his palms and he shivered in instinctive response to them.  ;His arm twitched when the lion kneeling before him pressed his soft cheek more firmly into the cradle of his hands and his breath froze in his lungs when his senses became suddenly snared by the open desire that had begun to flash in the emerald depths of Harry's gorgeous eyes.





“I want you, Severus.  ;Please... Oh, please...  ;let me have you once again.  ;I'm begging you, my love...”





Sweet temptation rose through his veins like a powerful tide and he shook before it like a bobbing cork or a flimsy boat in the face of unconquerable power.  ;Desire swept through him, urging him to surrender to the need that was stomping all over his body like a bumbling giant.

 ;He wanted to bend down and pull Harry into his lap, grasp him tightly and cradle his love against his scrawny chest while he still had the chance...





But then his heart brought back the voice of reason.  ;Reminding him that Harry's kneeling position may had been freely adopted, but that he still was a man under the influence of a training bond that would relish his submission.  ;He'd been cursed with a spell that actually sought to make him yield and, although the bond may have never been able to force him to offer himself thus without desire, it was still curtailing both his freedom of choice and his ability to walk away, if he wanted to do so.  ;





Harry could not tell him a lie.  ;Could not remain aloof.  ;Could not... choose... whether he really wanted to be here or not, despite the affection they both held for one another.

 ;Love in and of itself isn't the only consideration to be taken into account when choosing one's life partner, after all...





Sorrow and hope tainted Severus' voice in equal measure when he forced his long fingers to let go of the youth that had so earnestly offered himself to him.  ;His dark eyes sought Harry's own and he fervently hoped that this would be the last time he'd be ever forced to put that terrible hurt in his lion's gaze.  ;





He swallowed thickly and took a single deep breath before daring to place the most delicate of kisses upon Harry's down­turned mouth, whispering his heartbroken answer as softly as he possibly could into the oppressive silence:





“I will let you have me when you are truly free, Harry.  ;I will give myself to you when you can speak to me without having your choice of words restricted by the demands of this terrible curse.  ;I will surrender myself to your touch like I've never done before, as soon as you stop being tied to my presence in order to remain... unharmed.  ;I will have you when you are able to walk away from me, should you wish to do so.  ;I will accept you when you can choose me, truly, genuinely choose me, and not a single second before that, my love...”






(~*~)(~*~)(~*~)






Living in a half­relationship with Harry Potter wasn't everything he wanted, but it turned to be a lot more than he'd ever hoped to receive.  ;The weeks following their Prophet­induced heart to heart were among the happiest of Severus' existence and although there were a lot of things he longed to change, like his own resistance to go past heavy snogging when it came to their physical interactions, his days had been filled to bursting with sheer joy and his nights had become a literal haze of increasingly sensual dreams and ever­growing hope.





Harry's mood abandoned its worrisome dejection altogether.  ;He'd learned to deal with the Prophet's incessant ribbing with the kind of grace that Severus thoroughly admired.  ;He'd refused to continue hiding inside their rooms and, although he couldn't teach his classes any more because they coincided with Severus' own and they couldn't be apart the entire day without him being 'punished' for their physical distance, he managed to convince Minerva to allow Severus to go back to teaching with the stipulation that he sit through every class without exception.  ;





The students initially mocked his presence and delighted in elbowing one another while exchanging offensively lewd remarks about Severus' pretty 'pet', driving the Slytherin head of house to extract such cruel retribution in the form of house­point loss, grade reductions and absolutely terrifying tasks to be performed during detentions that such nonsense had not only dwindled satisfyingly fast, but disappeared altogether within two days of his return to teaching.





Some nights Severus woke in the small hours of the morning bathed in cold sweat and shivered at the realization of how very close he'd been to throwing his current happiness away.

 ;He couldn't get the idea out of his head as he brewed the antidote that would end Harry's training, promising to return the Gryffindor's former freedom to them while hopefully allowing them to retain the new trust and understanding that the accidental bond between them had created.





He'd been an absolute idiot.  ;A ridiculous, terrified fool who'd been unable to see the devotion so generously showered over him by the man his heart had chosen.  ;They could have been kissing and flirting and dreaming about their future together for far longer than they had, if only he had dared to open his eyes and... see.





They could have already made love a thousand times over.  ;He could have kept the beautiful recollection of their first time together safe inside his mind for all eternity, but he'd squandered that memory in the name of fear and now that same enemy was beginning to taint the last few days of their shared cohabitation with the dark specter of his natural emotional insecurity.





The closer Harry's antidote came to optimum strength the more he allowed his unfounded fears to overpower his fragile confidence.  ;He feared what Harry would do once he regained the ability to leave him and wrestled with his instincts' growing determination to overrule his heart's desire to believe in his love blindly.  ;He wanted to hold onto hope, surrender himself to faith for the first time in his life and allow Harry Potter to prove that faith well placed...






(~*~)(~*~)(~*~)






Harry drank the antidote with a wariness that worried him to the core.  ;His lion did not smile in relief as Severus presented him with the small, aqua­colored vial that he'd been slaving over for the last six weeks of his life.  ;He didn't thank him for his labor and failed to kiss him in the loving manner with which he usually welcomed him back to Earth whenever he lost himself in his passion for brewing.  ;





Harry didn't look like a man on the brink of freedom should have looked.  ;He looked sick, nervous and so perfectly unhappy that Severus' already churning gut tangled even more as he watched his perfectly brewed antidote disappear down that utterly beloved throat.  ;Time stood still as neither of them moved for what seemed like a veritable eternity.





“Harry?  ;How are you feeling?” Severus forced himself to ask at last, daring to take a step closer in order to better asses the strange paleness that was spreading through his love's distraught features.  ;“I don't understand why you look so dejected.  ;The potion is
supposed to work right away.  ;You should be free by now...”





Terrified green orbs settled desperately over him, blinking hurriedly to prevent the small tear drops that clung to the tips of Harry's eyelashes from spilling down his cheeks.



“I don't want to be free.  ;I don't want to walk away and I'm terrified that you'll ask me to leave now that you no longer feel compelled to look after me.”





Relief flooded every inch of Severus' lanky body upon hearing those words, leaving him weak at the knees with the kind of joy that he'd seldom experienced.  ;He tried to get even closer to Harry, but ended up stumbling so clumsily that he would have fallen to the ground if his lion hadn't gathered him close at that point.





Careful arms curled under his own, keeping him upright and pulling him tightly against Harry's heaving chest.  ;He was held with such delicate care, with such disarming tenderness, that his dark eyes closed in overwhelmed reaction to the sheer devotion that seemed to be wafting
off Harry like a vapor or an aura.  ;Like an unstoppable force.  ;Like the fabled love of legend that this man had used once before to defeat the darkest wizard their world had ever known.





“Harry...”





“Don't send me away, please... Don't ever ask me to leave you, Severus.  ;I'm pretty sure I don't have the strength to survive that kind of blow.”





Severus swallowed with overwhelmed emotion and allowed his trembling hands to settle atop Harry's quivering back.  ;His senses reeled with the wonder of hearing his love choose him once more, now that there was no magical force compelling him to remain by his side.





Sheer elation bubbled in his veins and he allowed himself the liberty of letting his hands glide along the tense line of his beloved's spine in the kind of clumsily soothing motion that he'd never permitted himself to bestow upon another human being.



“I don't want you to leave, either, Harry.  ;I... I'd love to keep you forever, if you can manage that.  ;Or for however long you're willing to put up with me, if you think you're too young to settle for that sort of... permanence.”



Harry's whoop of joy brought him welcome relief, forcing him out of his self­conscious rigidity as soon as that ecstatic pair of emerald eyes settled over his face, gazing so adoringly up at him that he felt undeniably beautiful for the first time in his memory.



“Permanence is fine by me, sweetheart.  ;Spending the rest of my life loving you is the closest thing to perfection I can imagine...”




(~*~)(~*~)(~*~)






Dinner at the Great Hall had been a cheerful, lively affair that taxed Severus' ability to withstand the uncalled­for knowing winks of his colleagues and the inane giggling emanating every so often from the student's tables.





For all the insupportable glee that everyone had showed at Harry's refusal to even let go of his hand, Severus was convinced that the meal hadn't been nearly long enough.  ;Their snail­ paced descent into his beloved dungeons hadn't been dragged as long as he'd needed it to and he hadn't taken nearly enough time in the bathroom, changing out of his comfortingly familiar teaching robes and into his longest, thickest nightshirt, before coming back out into his bedroom and forcing himself to... ;confront... ;the sheer adoration plastered all over Harry Potter's face.





“There is no need to look so nervous, Severus.  ;I have no intention of hurting you and, although you don't remember our first night together, it taught me enough of your likes and dislikes to guarantee that I'll give you plenty of pleasure.”





Severus blushed to the tips of his ears, directing a wide­eyed look at Harry's bare chest and feeling literally weak at the knees when the man finally approached him, extending eager hands towards him with the kind of longing to hold him that no other lover had ever showed him before.



“Come here, sweetheart.  ;Let me take a good look at you.”





“I... ;maybe we should cast Nox.  ;The fire dancing in the hearth should give off enough light to...”





Calloused fingertips cradled his sharp cheekbones with loving tenderness and a firmly determined thumb pressed against his lips, silencing his flustered request with gentle resolution.



“I won't let you hide in your beloved shadows tonight.  ;I.  ;Love.  ;You, Severus.  ;You can bare your body before me without fearing ridicule.  ;You've got no reason to retreat behind your masks anymore...”





Severus' heartbeat hammered his pulse points with relentless insistence, making him feel anxious and on edge.  ;His eyes closed against the onslaught of Harry's possessive gaze and he stuttered out his agreement in agitated nervousness, unable to bring himself to deny his lover the right to see him, but finding himself absolutely terrified to confront the look of disappointment that he was certain would flash across Harry's gorgeous eyes as soon as they settled upon the undeniable ugliness of his scarred body.





Warm palms slid down his neck, running along the stiff lines of his shoulders and kneading them ever so slightly in a reassuring pattern before coming down his arms and forearms, tracing a single line of fire that burned him all the way to the bone even through the flimsy layer of his long­ sleeved nightshirt.  ;Steady fingers tangled with his own, uniting them palm to palm in so unexpected a gesture that Severus startled slightly backwards and opened his eyes once again.





“Harry, what are you doing?  ;Why aren't you unbuttoning my collar?”





“We have all the time in the world.  ;I don't need to rip off your clothes like some sex­ crazed barbarian.  ;I can give you the time you need to relax into my arms.  ;To surrender yourself to my care.  ;To understand that this, us, will be nothing like the experiences of your past.





“I want to find pleasure tonight, but I also want to see you unravel before me.  ;I want to hear you gasp my name with needy delight while I bring you to orgasm with my touch.  ;I want to have the part of you that no one else has ever wanted, Severus.  ;I don't want your tactical surrender.  ;I want your genuine passion.  ;Your raw desire.  ;Your hunger.  ;Your need.  ;I want you, just you, unmasked...“





Severus' trembling hands were lifted then towards the rosy lips that spoke so sweetly of love and a reverent row of tender little kisses was deposited over his knuckles, like breath­warmed benedictions.  ;The caress shattered something inside him. ;Something fearful and reluctant that he hadn't realized had been shining like a beacon in his eyes.  ;





He came closer to Harry of his own volition, seeking refuge in the heat of the Gryffindor's strong arms and finding it freely offered when they curled around his hipbones and brought him even closer, plastering him all over the gorgeously athletic chest that had starred in so many of his nightly fantasies.





“Harry...” He whispered weakly, finding the courage to bend his neck low enough to bring his lips within kissing distance of his lion's.  ;He hesitated at the very last second, though, hoovering uncertainly a mere breath away from the mouth he was so desperate to worship and ended up sighing with grateful relief when his partner chuckled fondly and bridged the small distance between them, kissing him firmly and with feeling.  ;





Despite having been the one to initiate the contact Harry relinquished control of the caress as soon as Severus attempted to re­gain it, opening himself up to the invasion of his tongue, his teeth, his kiss.  ;Welcoming him so wholeheartedly into the hot cavern of his mouth that the Slytherin could do nothing but surrender to the overwhelming need for more that was rising through every line and sinew of his body like an unstoppable tide.





His hands rose shakily upwards, grabbing huge fistfuls of Harry's soft hair and forcing that scorching mouth away from his swelling lips in a desperate bid to preserve some of his sanity.  ;His breath became labored and his pulse fairly galloped against his temples and wrists.
 ;He felt strangely energized and heavy­limbed at the same time.  ;Breathless, woolly­ headed and itchy with the kind of need that he could neither control nor deny.





“Harry...  ;Harry...  ;I...”





“Sshhh...  ;Everything is all right, my love.  ;I'm right here...” Harry soothed him lovingly, carding gentle fingertips through his tangled hair before peppering a small row of open­ mouthed kisses on the underside of his jaw.  ;Against the shell of his ear and down the tensing line of his neck.  ;All the way across his snow­white clavicle towards his cotton­ covered shoulder.





His Adam's apple began to bob with agitation under the onslaught of Harry's voracious kisses.

 ;He hissed in startled reaction to the soft nip he received when he groaned aloud for the very first time, driving his companion absolutely insane with desire.  ;





Questing fingertips grabbed the tightly closed lapels of his nightshirt and tugged insistently on it, forcing his buttons apart with a sound of ripping of cloth that left him not only utterly shocked at the unrestrained need it betrayed, but also exposed for the very first time in his memory to Harry's hungry gaze.





“Merlin...  ;I can't believe you're letting me look at you like this again while you are wide awake and sober.  ;I will do everything in my power to make sure you never regret this choice, Severus.”





Severus' breath hitched and he closed his eyes to better savor the incredible joy that such heartfelt promise brought to him.  ;A ferocious kiss was pressed against the scarred skin that covered his frantically beating heart and he felt his senses burn as if he'd been plunged directly into a river of scorching lava when his lion's teeth scrapped against the nub of his nipple, worrying it mercilessly before sucking on it soothingly. Only to repeat that maddeningly arousing pattern again and again, with the kind of single mindedness that reduced him to a writhing mass of muscle and bone that could do nothing but hang from Harry's strong arms as he was lovingly extricated from the ruined remnants of his nightshirt and tipped backwards into his soft bed.





Harry played his body like the greatest of musicians.  ;He knew exactly were to touch to make him groan and gasp and sigh so roughly that Severus could no longer recognize the sound of his own voice.  ;





His lion kissed every inch of him with exquisite attention to detail: nipping, nibbling, sucking and adoring every bit of pale skin he came across.  ;Harry worshiped his every scar and mole.  ;Adoring every mark, burn and imperfection of his ugly body with such ruthless determination that Severus had no other option but to accept the depth and breadth to which he was desired.





Wide, capable hands pressed him into the mattress and a soft, breathless sigh of unashamed appreciation ghosted across the sensitive skin of his painfully hard cock in the next second, bringing his reeling senses to the crystal­clear awareness that he lay pinned under Harry Potter while the man held him immobile via the clawed fingertips that he'd curled around Severus' jutting hipbones, exposing him to the covetous hunger that darkened the gorgeous emerald gaze of his own, personal Savior.





A single, lustful groan broke past Harry's kiss­swollen lips before the mouth that had spent the last six weeks promising him unbridled passion descended on his cock and swallowed him whole, turning his every thought into mush and his nerve­endings into a tangled mass of reeling senses that could feel nothing but fire and fullness and tension and... ;bliss.





Heat enfolded his manhood, cradling it delicately.  ;Laving it from root to tip in a devastating ebb and flow of pleasurable demand for him to give more of himself to the Gryffindor seemingly intent on drinking him dry, on swallowing him whole, on devouring him like a ravenous beast, like an elegant gent, like a devoted worshiper, like the lover he must have known once before but had, so stupidly, condemned himself to forget...





“Harry, Harry...  ;please stop.  ;I will spill myself in your mouth if you carry on like this...” He ended up pleading with strangled desperation, pulling on his lion's head with the insistence of a man who was utterly unwilling to allow himself the empty gratification of such one­ sided relief.





He wanted, no, needed to be one with this creature who had waited so patiently for him.  ;Who had dragged him, kicking and screaming, to this place where he knew nothing but pleasure.  ;To this landscape were his senses knew no disappointment and his mind had no hope on Earth of formulating a single logical thought.  ;To this one instant when he was
nothing but feeling and instinct.  ;Trust and desire.  ;Joy, hope and unimaginable bliss.





“I want more, Harry.  ;I need more.  ;I want to know how it feels to have you buried to the hilt inside of me...”





Harry stared right into his eyes, looking literally unhinged with desire.  ;He let go off his cock with a soft 'pop' and arched upwards like a satisfied cat, rubbing his sweat­slicked body against Severus' writhing form in a move designed to crush their erections together, trapping them alongside each other in a contact that stomped all over the Slytherin's over­stimulated senses, leaving him literally weak with the kind of mindless lust that should, by rights, had addled his brain altogether.





“I'll give you everything you want, my love.  ;I'll give you everything you need.  ;Then I'll wrestle it back from your exhausted body and pour it all over your senses again.  ;And again.  ;And again...”





Severus groaned directly into the playful lips so busily peppering breathless, little kisses all over his trembling mouth.  ;He cried out in shocked surrender when Harry's sudden thrust downwards brought their groins into explosive alignment, allowing the clearly experienced
Gryffindor to rut against him with such passionate ferocity that he felt the pleasure of it blast decades worth of memories depicting lukewarm sexual encounters and awkward solitary fumblings away from his mind.





“Harry!...” His mouth opened in a gasp of dazed incredulity at the amazingly fierce passion that was wrecking havoc with his crumbling defenses.  ;His eyes widened and he stared directly into a swirling sea of bright emerald desire.  ;His mouth exhaled a single, broken groan and he tried to beg for mercy but his pleas were cut off abruptly when his lips were suddenly taken, bitten with possessive insistence and claimed beyond all doubt or denial by the desperate hunger that fueled his lover's caress.





Harry kissed him as if he had no hope for tomorrow, as if there would be no next second, or next minute, or next hour.  ;No next... ;anything.  ;His flanks were soothed with a downward motion that ended when his lion curled strong hands around his thighs and pulled his legs upwards, kneeling over him like a conquering warrior and creating a small space between his suddenly trembling legs that allowed Harry to... ;nestle... ;in the little hollow created by the slow and self­conscious parting of his bonny knees.





“You are so beautiful like this, my love... ;all dark eyes and flushed skin and such obvious need to be pleasured...” Those incredible words exploded in the suddenly tense silence like the harsh lash of a whip, making Severus ache to trust in the strength of Harry's reverence.





“I'm nothing of the kind.  ;I'm...  ;scarred...  ;and too thin.” He gasped, pushing the hurtful truth out into the open and praying with all his might for his lover to look at him without rose­tinted spectacles.  ;To see him, as unlovely and heartbreakingly ugly as he really was, and still find a way to want him, despite his failings.





Harry smiled into his eyes, caressing the length of his thighs in a gently descending motion that eventually allowed him to cradle Severus' scrawny rear in the palms of his hands, squeezing it rather playfully.



“You could do with a bit more meat on your bones, but there's no lack of charm in this handful.  ;You are the perfect size, I promise you.”





Severus laughed, despite himself, and attempted to squirm away with a mildly shocked: “Potter!” That earned him another playful grope and a kiss that literally stole the breath from his lungs before the brat pressed himself forwards ever so slightly and growled against the shell of his ear:





“I'm going to make you mine, my love.  ;I'm going to show you pleasure like you've never known before.  ;I'm going to coat my fingertips in conjured lube and push them into your body like a seeking probe.  ;I'm going to open you up like a flower before fucking you ­oh­so­very­slowly­ with my fingers, and I'm not planning to stop until you've forgotten your own name and there is nothing you wouldn't give to have me buried to the hilt inside your body.”





Severus' heartbeat sped up in reaction to the sensual assault that those words both delivered and prophesied.  ;Harry followed them to the letter, dismantling what was left of his sanity layer by layer, making him dance to the tune set forth by the incredible sensations that sunk his frame in what felt like a warm river of molasses.  ;Forcing him to surrender himself completely to the passionate adoration that shone down from Harry's eyes, covering him in a bright glow that could have rivaled summer sunshine itself.  ;





“Harry, Harry, Harry...” He chanted roughly, thoroughly incapable of remembering any other word in the English language. Unable to withstand the exquisite fire that was burning him from the inside out any longer.  ;





His senses reeled with the wonder of feeling himself possessed by Harry's probing fingertips.

 ;He delighted in the beauty of having this man pander to his every needy gasp and shattered groan of desire, wrenching indescribable ecstasy from his body when he curled his fingers ever so slightly to the left and found the one spot that made Severus soar towards the heavens like a crimson plumed phoenix.





“Don't stop!  ;Don't stop... ;please...  ;don't ever stop...”





“I won't, I swear.  ;I will never, ever, stop loving you, sweetheart.” Harry promised him fiercely, looking at him with possessive satisfaction before bringing their mouths back together to place such soft kiss on his lips that Severus felt it turn his very bones to mush as he lay there: spread open and utterly vulnerable under Harry Potter's strong body. Allowing himself the freedom of acting on the emotions that had been weighing his heart down for far too long with the unbearable burden of unrequited love. ;Daring to believe in the unimaginable miracle that this man, whom he so adored, happened to adore him in return.





“I love you too, Harry Potter.” He whispered the truth against a reddened ear as soon as his mouth was set free and reveled in the exquisite smile that blossomed across Harry's lips as he pulled his skilled fingers off him and grabbed Severus' hands in a tight grip that sought to ground and reassure the small fluttering of anxiety that had begun to darken his jittery gaze as soon as he realized that the Gryffindor was now aligning the leaking tip of his hard cock with his carefully loosened hole.





“Harry...” He whispered that one name without knowing whether he intended to beg the man to stop or to continue.  ;Realizing only that he wanted it to flow, unbidden, from his lips, in order to fill the suddenly tense silence with the familiar sound because he'd known that it would anchor him to this instant and this choice.  ;To this one moment in life when he'd decided to have faith and reach out for more than he deserved, for more than he'd ever dared to imagine he'll receive...





Harry's hard flesh pushed inside him with a gentleness that broke him and he arched against the mattress, gritting his teeth in reaction to the burn that accompanied his lover's relentless invasion.  ;Brief pain made him gasp out loud despite himself, but the feeling didn't last because Harry kissed him then, diving into his mouth so profoundly that he had no other choice but to focus every fiber of his being on that demanding kiss.





Playful teeth raked the trembling line of his neck and jaw, bringing his reeling senses into a spinning spiral of sheer need and groaning surrender that only deepened when the man within him decided to pull almost all the way out of his body only to push back in, setting a tortuously slow rhythm that speared him atop a pinnacle of lust that he couldn't fight against.





Pleasure conquered him like a dark enemy, forcing him to open up further than he'd ever dared before and bare himself all the way down to the impossible dreams, terrible fears and crazy hopes that feed his often wounded soul.





His eyes closed as he gave up on resistance altogether and allowed himself the utter freedom to just...be.  ;He became a slave to his own senses, a puppet brought to life for Harry's pleasure, a man who could not bear the awful knowledge that he had lived the first forty five years of his life without ever knowing the beauty of having someone make love to him like this, exactly like this: touching him as if there was nothing in the universe more precious or more fragile.  ;More important.  ;More... ;beloved.





His pleasure crested so suddenly that he didn't have the time to do more than open ebony­black eyes to stare directly into a world of emerald colored reverence.  ;A shocked gasp of incredulous bliss broke out of his lips just as Harry's callused hand settled around him, wanking him firmly once, twice, before his balls contracted, his chest froze and his senses blanked out in the throes of the most intense orgasm he'd ever experienced.





His head shook from left to right as Harry rode him trough the storm laying waste to his mind and body, to his pounding heart. ;The hard cock within him kept him grounded to the world as he spurted creamy fire all over his own concave belly.  ;His eyes widened with exhausted arousal when the brat had the audacity to swirl a bold fingertip into the shallow dip of his belly button, coating it lightly with a small dollop of warm come before placing it in his mouth and savoring it like the most magnificent treat he'd ever tasted.





“Harry...” He groaned, between shock and satisfaction, marveling at the incredibly arousing sight of the man who was still so fiercely embedded inside him, feeding himself his cooling come even as he pounded him into the mattress one more time. ;Two.  ;Three... ;before his powerful back arched upwards and he shouted out his completion with a toe­curling sigh of lust that preceded the incredible sensation of his lover's liquid passion coating his insides with wet warmth.





Satisfied lassitude settled in the pit of his stomach as Harry's boneless form slumped forwards,

settling above him like a living blanket.  ;Ragged breathing puffed against the pale skin of his collarbone, keeping his overwrought nerve­endings on edge and making his flesh break out in goose bumps.  ;





Messy tufts of silky dark hair tickled the underside of his jaw and he buried his long fingers in it, luxuriating in the wonderful certainty that he had a right to touch it just like this.  ;That his caress was both welcome and desired.  ;That he could give himself up to the need to seek
post­coital comfort without fearing the kind of scorn that had always been directed his way,whenever he'd attempted to deliver it before.  ;





The wild pounding of his heart began to slow down as one second turned into two and then three in the kind of contented silence that spoke of peace and... ;joy.  ;His fingertips continued to rake little burrows in Harry's hair and he delighted in the soft purring sounds that floated up to his ears.  ;





Eventually, though, Harry moved carefully away, shifting backwards between his legs in a motion that allowed the spent cock still buried inside him to slip out with a soft gurgle.

 ;Glowing green eyes met his own for the first time since their climax and there was such hope filling their depths to capacity that Severus had difficulty swallowing down the huge lump that the sight of so much... ;love... ;brought to his throat.  ;





Harry waved his hand lazily over them, casting a mild Scourgify that erased every trace of their recent lovemaking, leaving nothing behind save the memories that were slowly sinking into his mind.  ;The bed­covers were carefully pulled over his bare body and his lover placed a playful little kiss on the tip of his nose before curling into his side and placing his messy head in the crook of his shoulder, proceeding to take a gigantic gulp of air before issuing a single, wobbly plea:





“Don't ever regret this, please, Severus.  ;Don't let me live through the horror of having to wake once again to the heartbreak of seeing you deny this beauty by ripping it away from your mind.  ;Don't let yourself surrender to the terror that once led you to reject the future that we can, so easily, have.  ;Fight for us, for this, my love... ;Hold onto the courage that will allow you to face the new day with the determination to embrace the glorious memory of this night, instead of turning your back on it.  ;I'm begging you...”





Severus' dark eyes burned with the deep shame of regret and he tightened his hold around Harry's suddenly trembling shoulders, burying his pale face in his beloved's nest of wild black hair before planting a promise of forever in the shape of a brief, heartfelt kiss atop the crown of his lion's head.





“I will remember this when the dawn comes, Harry.  ;I will remember every single touch, every kiss and every promise we both made.  ;Everything will be different this time around.  ;I will never again curse myself to forget you.  ;I promise.”






(~*~)(~*~)(~*~)






Severus twitched slightly as the first ray of sunlight tainted the fragile skin on the inside of his eyelids with a glowing pink color. ;He shifted minutely, reluctant to abandon the peacefulness of his dreams, but the light kept disturbing him, trying to drag him away from his restful slumber.  ;His mind began to lose the soothing grogginess of sleep and he blinked awake.  ;





His dark eyes opened a little, focusing sluggishly on the dancing dust­devils that floated, like golden­coated fairy dust, on the single beam of bright sunlight just above his head.  ;He smiled instinctively, lifting his long­fingered hand upwards in a futile attempt to take hold of that delicate beauty.  ;His skin turned golden in the light and dust danced across his slightly curled fingers as he turned them around gently, trying to catch the warm sunlight with his hand.





“You do that every single time you wake up.” That softly whispered sentence shattered his

sleepy contentment.  ;Intruding into his peaceful, sunlit world and making him frown with thunderous confusion.  ;He jerked in his bed and turned swiftly towards the voice only to find himself staring in shocked surprise at the naked man next to him.  ;





“Potter!  ;What on Earth...?”





Utterly terrified emerald eyes raked his blank features with disappointed heartbreak.  ;A small silence grew while Severus tried to shake off the sluggishness of sleep.  ;The Gryffindor closed his expressive eyes for a second and took a deep breath before looking back at him with crystal­clear determination.  ;Potter lifted a visibly shaking hand towards his own, wrapping calloused fingertips around his still extended digits in such a simple gesture of clumsy reassurance that it brought a hundred small memories of touches just like this one to his sleep­ addled brain.





“I've seen you wake up like this twice before, my love.  ;I thought it was beautiful the first time I witnessed it and it brought a lump to my throat when you did it again in the infirmary a few months ago.  ;Now I'm hoping that our third time will end better than the first two.

 ;Please, Severus, please...  ;take a good look at me and try to remember...  ;us.”



That anxious little plea sank into his consciousness like a golden dagger, ripping apart the thick veil of sleepy fog that had momentarily confused him and bringing back the memory of the dazzling beauty they had shared the night before.





“You stayed with me after taking the antidote...” He whispered into the increasingly tense silence and was rewarded with such a gorgeous smile that he blinked in response to its mesmerizing brightness.  ;His lips curved into a small smile of his own and he untangled his fingers from Harry's.  ;Abandoning his previous, futile attempts to catch the elusive sunlight in order to press his potion­tainted fingertips against the welcome solidity of his lion's lovely face, grinning from ear to ear at the small gasp his actions elicited.





“Severus...”





“It's you, Harry.  ;It has always been you...  ;I have spent all my life trying to catch the elusive light of sunrise in the palm of my hands and I've failed at it every single day.  ;I thought I was fated to darkness, but kept on reaching out stubbornly, trying to find a way towards the sunshine...  ;Trying to find a way towards...  ;you.”



A single tear formed at the corner of Harry's eye.  ;It trembled there for a second before falling onto his cheek, rolling down towards the pillow in a silent trail that painted his lion's face with overwhelmed emotion.



“I've been trying to reach you too, my love, and now I'm here.”





“Yes.  ;You are.  ;And you will stay, won't you?  ;I need you to stay.  ;I want to add more memories to the ones we've already created.  ;I want...  ;more, Harry.”



“Thank Merlin!” Harry exclaimed and flopped back on to the mattress to stare up towards the ceiling with a goofy grin that became relieved mirth with his next breath.  ;Severus lifted himself upwards and propped his bony form onto his forearm, curling his lanky frame around his softly laughing companion.





“I like waking up to your laughter, Harry.” He whispered before placing a firm hand at the nape of his lion's warm neck in order to lift it just so, bringing that chuckling mouth within touching distance of his own and kissing it with the kind of carefree passion that he'd never bestowed on a lover before.





Their first, ever, morning kiss tasted slightly sour with morning breath and smelled like unwashed bed sheets and post­coital sweat.  ;It was tainted by the barely­there saltiness left behind by Harry's single emotional tear and fueled by the kind of desperate longing that had darkened their lives in the last few months, but it dragged a soft groan from both of them, despite it all.  ;





They smiled into their partner's mouth as their tongues clashed and tangled, adding such blissful happiness to their souls that the touch became the embodiment of sheer sweetness.

 ;Sheer hope.  ;Sheer love finally fulfilled.  ;It was a kiss that changed their lives and shaped their future, bringing them to the unvoiced realization that there was nothing left to hide between them. ;There was nothing to regret.  ;Nothing for them to either abandon or attempt to forget ever again.





Night had come and stayed far too long in their lives, forcing them to fight tooth and nail in order to earn the right of being left finally alone, standing side by side before the sunrise.

 ;Twin smiles curved their lips as they rolled playfully on the mattress, kissing each other breathless and basking in the warm sunshine that filtered in through the open window, painting them in golden beauty as the sun rose steadily on the horizon.  ;





They laughed like the children, feeling elated, excited, innocent and carefree.  ;Relishing the joy of being finally able to look not back, but forwards, towards the future they planned to spend together and the happiness that awaited them in this new day that had only just begun...





The End.




COMMENT BACK AT LIVEJOURNAL

Title: Bound to Freedom
Author: Anonymous
Word count: 11,700
Rating/Warning: NC-17
Warnings: Referal to chan;
Prompt: I would love to read a fic where Harry suddenly starts coming into a lot of new powers and has to go to Snape to learn control. However, as he learns from him, he starts to discover the real Snape and falls in love. Problem is he now has to convince Snape.

Author Notes: To my prompter: You had asked for Post-Hogwarts but that didn't want to work out, so I hope this will suffice. It was a fun prompt to work with and this fic really should have been more epic than it is.

To the Glomfest Mods: Many, many thanks for patience and understanding from a late writer.




"Potter! Detention!" Severus barked.

The young man behind the potion bench slumped slightly and sighed. He rubbed his forehead, he had a headache. "When?" he bit out.

"Tomorrow morning," Severus decided. "You will assist me in gathering potion ingredients."

"But it's Saturday morning and Quidditch tryouts!" Ron hissed behind him.

"Ron, don't make it worse!" Hermione whispered back.

Harry waved a hand behind his back that he hoped they understood. Shut up! he tried to convey.

"Immediately after breakfast," Severus said. "Be prepared to go into the Forest."

"Yes, sir," Harry said softly.

Over dinner, Ron ranted on about how unfair and arbitrary Snape was until Neville said in frustration, "Ron, stop! There's nothing you can do about it."

"But Harry's supposed to be the Captain!" Ron protested. "How can he do that if he's not there?"

"Start trials after lunch," Hermione suggested. "No big deal."

"The Slytherins have the pitch after lunch!" Ron moaned.

"Trade with them," Neville suggested.

Ron looked at Neville in horror, which Harry had to grin at. The look on Ron's face was spectacular.

"It's not funny!" Ron protested as Harry snickered.

"Your face is," Harry admitted. "Listen, it's not the end of the world. You run the try-outs, get someone else to be a backup Seeker and I'll get there when I can get there."

Ron looked pleased to be put in charge. He settled back to his dinner. "It's still not fair!" he muttered.

Harry shrugged. "It's Snape," he said. "It's never fair."

Ron was mercifully quiet that night in the common room, letting Harry do some homework while Ron played Exploding Snape with some of the fourth years. Ron wasn't studying for as many NEWTs as Harry and Hermione – well, no one was preparing for as many as Hermione, even Malfoy – so Ron had more free time than his two friends.

Harry left his room early for breakfast, hoping that, maybe if he was on time, that Snape might let him go before lunchtime. He ate oatmeal and bacon, washing it down with pumpkin juice.

He picked up the warm cloak he had brought with him. Even if was only late September, the Forest would be cool in the morning. He had already put on stout boots and a sweater before breakfast.

Standing in front of Snape's door, Harry took a deep breath. He knocked and waited.

Snape appeared in the doorway, similarly dressed and carrying a basket.

"Ready?" Snape asked.

"Yes, sir," Harry said softly.

They walked out into the Forbidden Forest in silence, Severus leading the way.

Severus stepped into a small open space in the Forest and stopped. Harry stopped just behind him.

"Bloody hell!" Harry swore.

"Bloody hell, indeed," Severus agreed.

Severus turned to face the young man. For young man he had become in the six years they had done this. At seventeen, Harry – for here it was 'Harry' and not 'Potter' – had grown taller and filled out very nicely.

In Harry's first year, Severus had instantly recognized the latent power in Harry. Dumbledore had had an inkling because he had used his position as Headmaster to have Hogwarts bind Harry's power. Voldemort had known there would be something about Harry Potter because of the thrice-damned prophesy, but Severus had ensured that Voldemort would never learn about Harry's hidden powers.

In that first year, Severus had completed a ritual which bound he and Harry together. He had taken the risk that he could protect their memories so no one would figure out what he had done until Harry was ready. The ritual had hidden Harry's power from both Dumbledore and Voldemort, and had given Harry the chance to grow up – relatively – free.

Crossing into their ritual space – the wards Severus had placed required they be there together – released the memories hidden from each of them. Severus had originally surmised that Harry would come into his powers at his magical maturation, usually about fifteen. But fifteen had come and gone with no sign of any change, and Severus had to wait. This year, it was apparent at seventeen that Harry was finally ready.

"Now what? Harry demanded.

"We have to complete the last part of the ritual," Severus replied. "There is an additional component that will release the bindings the Headmaster has on your magic and it will turn those powers over to us." He amended, "To you."

"I get a say in this?" Harry asked.

"We are partners," Severus said solemnly. His agreement with Harry from the start had been to be truthful. "And, to be honest, as you grow older, you will be more powerful and the dominant partner in our relationship. Something I outlined in the beginning but you may not have remembered."

Harry's eyes narrowed at that thought.

Severus waited. He didn't think Harry had it in him to be deliberately cruel, but he had been cruel to Harry. The nature of their public relationship had required it. Severus had hidden the bond even from himself, to better protect them both, and his natural negative reaction to James Potter's son had defined their relationship to date.

"Bugger," Harry swore softly.

"Going forward, we must continue our charade," Severus warned him. "The Dark Lord is still out there, somewhere, and there is a chance he can become powerful again." Severus held his arm out for Harry to see the Dark Mark that was there.

Harry looked carefully at the Mark then looked up at Severus. "How important is it for you to keep this?" he asked.

Severus shrugged. "Dumbledore thinks to keep me as a spy in Voldemort's camp," he admitted. "But I do not know if there is reason to…" Severus trailed off as Harry took his arm in one hand.

Harry hissed at the snake in the Mark, the snake moved and hissed back. Harry gripped Severus' arm forcefully and whipped his wand out to point at the snake. There was a sudden release as the snake on his arm suddenly broke into small, dark pieces that flew away, and the Mark disappeared.

"Better?" Harry asked, releasing his hold on Severus.

Severus flexed his arm, feeling the lightness that came over his entire body with the disappearance of the Mark.

"Much, thank you," Severus replied. "Although Voldemort will know it is gone."

"Too bad," Harry said flatly. "If we are to be for each other, if you are to be for me, then no one else can have a claim on you."

Interesting, Severus thought. The possessive tone of Harry's voice sent a chill up his spine. It was a good thing.

"We still have to do the Ritual," Severus reminded Harry.

"I may actually enjoy it this time," Harry gave a sly grin. "What do we have to do to release the bindings?"

Severus gave his own grin. "You need to come when I do," he said. "And there's a chant you have to say at the same time."

"Really?" Harry was interested in that. He had never come during the ritual, the first years being too young but the last two years he had barely gotten hard. Severus hoped that the lure of power would help Harry achieve an erection this time.

Severus ran Harry through his brief part of the Ritual and directed Harry to take off his clothes as he prepared the pentagram.

As he sat naked on the cloak he had spread on the rock they used as a platform, Severus looked appreciatively at the young man before him. Harry had grown and filled out over the years. Severus knew that the bond between them had not only protected Harry from Dumbledore and Voldemort, but also from the Muggles Harry was forced to live with. The bond had made sure that Harry was treated relatively well and decentlu fed.

Severus picked up the athame and the cup, and looked at Harry. "Ready?"

Harry nodded, "Yes!"

Harry came forward and Severus made a shallow cut in Harry's finger for the necessary three drops of blood. Severus added his own blood to the cup. The freely offered blood showed their willingness to participate in the ritual.

Severus held out a hand, Harry took it and straddled Severus' lap. Severus cast the charm for lubrication and loosening. Harry placed his hands on Severus' shoulders to steady himself.

Starting the chant, Severus focused on the words he needs to say, not the warm, lithe body under his hands. As he chanted, his cock filled and he positioned Harry above him. At the right moment, Severus guided Harry onto his cock and Severus had to ignore the soft "oh!" that Harry voiced.

Harry assisted Severus in moving, flexing his thighs to move up and down on Severus' cock. As the chant came to the critical moment, Severus saw that Harry was hard, leaking and ready. They both came and together chanted the ending of the ritual. Unseen by either Harry or Severus, a dark mist flowed from Harry's scar with a sharp whine. As is dissipated, a bright white light surrounded them, lighting up the open area they were in.

"It's done," Severus said softly.

Harry lifted his head from Severus' shoulder and hesitantly leaned in. Severus put a hand on the back of Harry's neck and guided him in for a soft kiss.

"Can we do this more often? And in a bed?" Harry asked eagerly.

"The problem will be in keeping it a secret," Severus replied. "The Headmaster is connected to castle and able to learn what goes on, mostly from the portraits but most of the House Elves are loyal to him. That means that we will not be able to see each other routinely. It is not, quite, against the rules for a teacher and a student to be in a relationship. However, since it is you, there are always different rules."

Harry sighed.

"On the other hand, you will need training to deal with your expanding power," Severus soothed. "We certainly will need to work on dealing with that."

"More detentions?" Harry grinned.

"I am afraid so," Severus replied with an answering grin.

Harry snuggled into Severus, "Don't want to move. Comfy." The wards around the space they were in kept the worst of the cool air away from them.

"We don't have to hurry back," Severus agreed. "Although you will have to face Mr. Weasley's displeasure in missing Quidditch try outs."

"Fuck," Harry said softly. "I'll deal with Ron."

"If you are not in a hurry, I would like to help you build an Occlumency shield," Severus offered. "It is best if you have your own shield. I will not have to charm your memories that way."

Harry looked wary, remembering their one disastrous attempt at Occlumency training at Dumbledore's request.

"This will be better," Severus promised. "I now know I was fighting teaching you true Occlumency before, the bond between us was not ready for it."

"If you're sure," Harry replied carefully.

"With the bond, it will be simple for me to teach you," Severus replied. "Take a breath and look into my eyes…"

Green eyes looked at him, trusting in a way that took Severus' breath away. Lily had looked at him that way, once, when he first explained about magic to her. Severus pushed that memory aside and gently pushed his mind toward Harry's. He quickly showed Harry the basics of building a shield and then withdrew.

"Oh!" Harry said softly. "That's not hard!"

"Then build a shield and keep me out," Severus said.

"Ready," Harry said, looking Severus in the eye.

Severus attempted to gain access to Harry's mind and just… slid off.

"Very good," Severus praised. "When your full shield is up, no one can get in, but they also know you have a shield. More subtle is setting up secondary memories so that the other person thinks they are gaining access to your mind but they only see what you are allowing them to see."

"Like setting up a decoy?" Harry tilted his head in thought.

"Yes," Severus replied.

"Give me a minute," Harry said. He was silent for almost five minutes, then said, "Try it again."

This time, Severus gained access to memories of Quidditch. Severus pushed further but couldn't get anything but Quidditch.

"Very good!" Severus was impressed. Harry had figured out how to create a diversionary memory just from a suggestion. "It is more than sufficient for all but the most talented Legilimens. Unfortunately, Dumbledore and Voldemort will fall into that category."

Harry shrugged. "You'll teach me," he replied. "What else do we have to do today?"

"That was the most important," Severus answered. "Any truly serious training, I must warn you that we will need to leave the castle."

"We could use the Room of Requirement," Harry offered. "We could make it invisible to Dumbledore." At Severus' inquiring look, Harry explained, "It's on the seventh floor, across from the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy trying to teach trolls how to do the ballet."

"I suspect you could make it invisible," Severus corrected gently. "But that is a good idea."

Severus eased Harry off his lap, casting healing and cleaning charms once Harry was on his feet.

They dressed in silence, and Severus cleaned the cup and the anthame.

The walk back to the castle was easier between them than the walk out. Inside the doors, Harry turned and hesitated.

"I will see you… Thursday evening," Severus said.

"Yes, sir," Harry tried for sullen but wasn't sure if he pulled it off.

It was too late for lunch, so Harry headed for the dorm. Quidditch practice was indeed over as Harry climbed into the portrait hole, the Gryffindor common room overflowing with good cheer.

"Harry!" Ron waved a hand, drawing Harry's attention.

"Sorry, mate," Harry said. "Se-.. Snape kept me forever!"

"We saved you a spot," Ron replied cheerily. "But I think it's a good team!"

Harry looked around the happy room. "Guess we'll see. Who made the team?"

"You're still Seeker," Ron said, "Although we think Ginny would make a good backup, if we need one. I'm still Keeper, Ginny and Dennis Creevy are Chasers, and Jamie Phelps and Matt Lewis are Beaters." Harry didn't know Jamie and Matt that well, being third year students, but they had been on his list of candidates for their large size, if nothing else. "And there's a short list of alternates for all the positions."

"Thanks!" Harry said, taking the illegal butter beer that someone shoved in his direction. "Good job!" He opened the bottle and took a swig of the not-quite-warm beverage.

"Sorry," Ron said. "Forgot to make it cold."

"Its fine," Harry waved a hand. "Tell me about the try outs."

Ron rambled on about the try outs, the others adding random bits as Ron would get sidetracked. It made for a fun afternoon.

"I need a shower before dinner," Harry put in. "I'll see you there?"

"Sure, I'm starving!" Ron said.

"When are you not?" Harry laughed, going up to his room.

In front of a mirror, Harry looked at himself. He didn't think he could see anything different, but he felt different. He'd have to be careful for the next few days until Severus…. Snape, he had to think of him as Snape, to protect them both. He'd have to be careful until Snape could give him some more training.

There was an informal party in the Common Room even after dinner, but Harry begged off and went to the Library to do some work.

"How did you escape?" Hermione whispered. "I didn't think Ron would have let you leave."

"I made him tell me everything this afternoon," Harry admitted. "That way, he's done his job and I can get some homework done tonight."

"What are you working on?" Hermione asked.

They compared notes and settled into some N.E.W.T. level Transfiguration homework. They exchanged ideas on the assignment and then settled in to start writing.

"Closing time," Madam Pince reminded them.

"Oh, sorry!" Hermione said. "Just have to pack up!"

Harry packed up his books and papers into his bag, and they left together. He let Hermione's chattering review of the homework assignment wash over him on the walk back to Gryffindor Tower.

Fortunately, the party had either wound down or moved elsewhere, there were only a few students in the Common Room. Harry bade Hermione good night and went up to his room.

Harry remembered to cast a silencing charm and close his drapes before he went to sleep. He hoped to dream of Severus.

In his chambers, Severus Snape stared at a glass of bourbon in his hand. He had abstractly known this day would come but he still had not been prepared for it. It had been a long six years since he started the bonding between them, but it had been a hidden memory from both himself and Harry. Until today.

Today, he was a free man. Well, free-er. He had traded his slavery to Voldemort – and in a way, also to Albus Dumbledore – to a life-long bond with Harry Potter. It was a vast improvement.

Knowing about the bond and the protection it offered to Harry, he thought back to some of the events over the years that, in retrospect, now made more sense.

The Chamber of Secrets still made Severus wince. How Dumbledore could allow students to be in the school when there was a Basilisk roaming free was still a mystery. While Harry had defeated the Basilisk, it was a narrow escape and Severus had to give the boy credit for seeking his help in dealing with the spectre of Riddle and his very tangible monster.

Sirius Black was another matter. He had escaped from Azkaban only to die saving Harry from Peter Pettigrew. The larger irony being that everyone had thought Pettigrew was dead and was now in Azkaban himself.

Another memory tugged at Severus… Ah! The Tri-Wizard Tournament! After the three champions had been chosen, the Goblet had flared like it was going to disgorge another name but it had given up nothing but a puff of ash. Severus wondered if the false Moody had anything to do with that. Dumbledore had been all chuffed when a battered Cedric Diggory had won the tournament.

All during that year, Severus had been worried that Voldemort would find some way to come back to life. His Mark had grown darker during the year, only to fade again with the coming of summer. Something Voldemort had planned had not gone right, Severus was convinced of that much.

At that point, Dumbledore had finally admitted to that bloody Order of the Phoenix that Voldemort had created fucking horcruxes! They had all scrambled for the next two years to figure out what Voldemort might have used and worked to banish the parts of the soul in the objects.

The members of the Order of the Phoenix had found six artifacts but Dumbledore kept insisting there should be seven. Severus had never disagreed with the theory, but no one had any ideas about what the seventh artifact could be.

Severus took a sip of his drink. Many things would change now that he and Harry had bonded. He stroked his arm, enjoying the clear skin there. Having had some time to digest the action, Severus felt calmer and more centered, in addition to the lightness he had felt initially. He had had the Mark for so long that he had not been aware of how much it had eaten at him.

Severus finished the bourbon and went off to get ready for bed. He had slept alone for many years but, tonight… tonight the bed was cold and lonely.

Harry took advantage of the Sunday morning to sleep in. It also let him avoid both Ron and Hermione – and himself – for a little longer. Harry knew he'd have to spend some time organizing the Quidditch team with Ron, then working on homework for the rest of the day. And it would be Monday before he'd have a reason to see Severus… Severus? Why did that sound so natural?

Harry sighed and turned over, closing his eyes to try to sleep some more.

"Hey! Thought you'd sleep all day!" Ron greeted Harry at lunch.

"Nah, just catching up," Harry replied, sliding into his usual seat.

"We need to schedule the pitch so we can practice," Ron went on. "You're the Captain and you have to do it for us."

Harry sighed. "Sure, we can draw up a plan after lunch and I can put it in to Madame Hooch," he offered.

Ron brightened up with that. "That'll be good." Ron babbled on about ideas he had for the team and Harry couldn't be churlish enough to make Ron stop.

The day alternately flew by and dragged on. Harry interacted with his friends but a piece of his mind was back in the Forbidden Forest, thinking about the ritual and what it might mean.

It wasn't until Tuesday afternoon that Harry realized the change in his magical power. In spite of being a wizard in a wizarding school, he really didn't use his magic that often.

"Finding one's animagus form the first time requires concentration, as well as an openness to the change," Minerva McGonagall lectured. "I want everyone to spread out, make yourself comfortable and quietly concentrate."

Harry and Hermione moved to chairs on the side of the room. Harry closed his eyes to focus…

"Harry!" Hermione shrieked.

"Mr. Potter," Professor McGonagall said firmly, "hold still and breathe."

Harry looked up at the professor. It was odd seeing her in shades of grey instead of in color. He looked around. There was very little color at all. Then he took a breath and… whoa! The odors in the room hit him! He sneezed, trying to get the smell out of his nose.

"Now, I need you to focus on going back to your human form," she went on. "Picture yourself, think of how you look in a mirror. Ignore what you may be feeling in your form right now. That can be hard but you need to focus."

Harry listened to the sound of her voice and thought about his usual form and… changed back.

"Very good," McGonagall praised him. "Fifty points to Gryffindor for the successful transformation."

Harry sat back in the chair, suddenly tired. He turned and grinned at Hermione, "That was cool!"

"Harry!" Hermione breathed. "That was amazing!"

"What was it?" Harry asked. "I think it was a dog of some sort."

"A wolf, to be more accurate," Professor McGonagall said. "A gray wolf, I suspect, but I will need to have you change again to double check." As Harry moved, she said sharply, "Not now, Mr. Potter! You need to rest before you try that again. And don't do it without supervision."

Harry sat back in the chair and relaxed. "I am tired! That takes a lot out of you," he admitted.

"This is a good lesson for everyone else," Professor McGonagall explained. "If you do have an animagus form, the first change can be exhausting. It's also possible to get 'stuck' in your animagus form in the beginning. The abilities of your form can be distracting, which is why you should never attempt your first change without supervision."

"The smells were starting to get overwhelming," Harry replied. "It stinks in here. I mean… well, in my other form, it's smelly and confusing."

"The senses of your animagus form will often be very different from your human form," Professor McGonagall explained. "Once you find your form, you need to practice changing back and forth until it becomes automatic. Then you can focus on learning more about using the senses of your form."

Hermione turned to Harry and asked, "What did you do?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't know," he admitted. "I just thought about it and it happened."

Professor McGonagall looked at Harry oddly but went on to explain to the class more about the process and assigned homework. "Mr. Potter, I would like to set up some private lessons, if you would like. I think that would be useful to you."

Harry ducked his head, not wanting to be singled out. "If you think it would be helpful," he replied. "Thank you."

"I think it will be very important," she replied. "I will see you… Friday afternoon?"

Harry considered his schedule. "I think that will work. I'll be there," he agreed.

Over dinner that night, Minerva mention to Severus, "Mr. Potter found his animagus form in his first attempt."

Severus took a deliberate forkful of stew, and swallowed before answering, "Really? What form did he take?"

"I'm pretty sure it's a gray wolf," Minerva said. "I'm having him for private lessons starting on Friday."

"Interesting," Severus murmured.

"I… thought you would want to know," she replied.

Severus looked at her, trying for bland but overtly curious. "Mr. Potter is always doing unexpected things," Severus tried for a deflection.

"That is true, that is true," she nodded.

That night, Severus considered Harry's growing powers. Developing an animagus form at the first attempt was one manifestation of that. Good thing he had the brat in Potions tomorrow so he could assign detention and they could talk.

As Harry was going to bed that night, Ron said, "Hermione said you have an animagus form? A wolf of some sort?"

Harry shrugged. "Yeah, it was kind cool," he replied. "McGonagall's going to give me private lessons on it."

"Do you have time for that?" Ron looked worried.

"I guess I'll manage," Harry replied. He crawled into bed. "Should only be a couple of lessons, I would think."

"I hope so, mate, you already have enough to do," Ron said. "Good night."

"Night," Harry replied. Then cast the silencing charms, just in case.

Harry drank in the sight of Severus… Professor Snape, in the potions classroom. He went to his usual seat and placed his book bag under the desk. He dropped his head, to take a deep breath to steady himself.

There was something… different about the lesson today. Severus actually took a brief minute to explain what they needed to do before directing them to proceed with the potion.

"You are making a healing salve, one that Madam Pomfrey frequently uses in the Infirmary," Severus added. "It is a general healing salve for minor cuts and abrasions. Many of you have most likely had it used on you. If you perform satisfactorily, I will approve your batch for use in the Infirmary."

Harry could see Hermione's head jerk up at that. Severus had never offered an option like that to anyone, as far as Harry knew. The rest of the class stirred in interest.

"Show me what you can do," Severus purred.

They set to work, studying the directions carefully. While Severus didn't necessarily help anyone, he wasn't as vicious as he had been in the past. He also kept a closer eye on the class, making sure no one disrupted anyone else's potion.

Harry studied the directions and considered. He looked at the ingredients and thought about a change he wanted to make. It felt right.

In the end, his potion wasn't quite the bright green that it was supposed to be, but he was convinced it would be better than what the original potion would do. He scooped it into jars to turn in.

"Mr. Potter," Severus drawled. "That is not the described color."

"I think it's better," Harry replied firmly. Belatedly, he added, "Sir."

"And what makes you think that?" Severus said.

"It will do the same thing as the original but it has a soothing property that the original doesn't have," Harry said.

"Did you write down what you did?" Severus asked sternly.

Harry pointed to the annotated paper on the desk. "Yes, I did."

"I am not convinced. And, it is you, Mr. Potter. However, I am willing to discuss this with you," Severus said. "Tonight after dinner? Come to the lab." Severus swept away.

"Yes, sir," Harry bit his lip to keep in the smile that wanted to break out. He wasn't supposed to want to spend time with Severus.

In the hall, Hermione hissed, "Harry! You were going to finish up that Runes homework tonight! It's due tomorrow!"

"Snape shouldn't keep me all night," Harry rolled his eyes. "It's almost done anyway, I just have to check it over."

Hermione huffed. "If you're sure," she said.

"Hey! Watch it with Snape," Ron muttered. "We have Quidditch practice on Saturday! You can't afford to miss our first real practice! Don't get any more detention for the weekend."

"I'll be careful," Harry promised.

After leaving the rest of his books in his room but taking the parchment with the potion notes, Harry went off to dinner. After eating, Harry went to the lab, tapped on the lab door and walked in.

"Good timing," Severus said. "Come and look at this."

Harry peered into the cauldron. It was the potion they had been working on earlier, only the 'proper' color.

"Now, this is the traditional brewing of the salve," Severus said. "Tell me what you did differently, and why."

Harry brought out his notes and walked through the steps. "At this point, I had this… feeling? I added another two grains of oats, and stirred it an extra five times. Mostly to incorporate the extra ingredients."

"Did you cook when you lived with the Muggles?" Severus asked.

"Yeah," Harry shrugged. "I was their personal house elf."

"Well, the good news is that you never need to go back there again," Severus said. At Harry's look of pleased surprise, he asked, "What?"

"Really?" Harry smiled.

"Now that we've completed the bond, you can… do whatever you please," Severus admitted. "And you're seventeen, you're legally an adult anyways. You can do whatever you want."

"I never have to go back there?" Harry asked, dumfounded.

"Never," Severus promised. Although now that he was free from his own memory charms, he realized that Harry had always come back from the summer breaks thin and tired. Perhaps Lily's sister should be visited at some point.

"Thank you!" Harry breathed.

"Back to this," Severus drew Harry's enthusiasm back to the work. "I'm suspecting that you are a reasonable cook and never had any instruction?"

"Instruction?" Harry frowned. "I guess not, although Aunt Petunia did have a cookbook that I looked through when I was older. But they'd eat almost anything. Mostly meat and potatoes, and lots of it. So I never learned anything fancy."

"Well, your meager cooking skills, and the unbinding of your powers have made you more… intuitive about potions," Severus admitted. "What you've done is actually an allowable variation of the salve, usually brewed for very young or very old patients. Since we have neither here at Hogwarts, I generally use the 'basic' set of instructions."

"Cool!" Harry grinned.

"Sit for a moment," Severus directed, pointing to the stool in front of the bench. When they were settled, Severus waved his wand briefly and said, "Muffliato." He put his wand away and explained, "No one can listen to our conversation now."

Harry thought for a moment and said, "Teach me that! If I use it around me kinda regularly, then no one should think anything of it when you and I use it."

"Good point," Severus agreed and walked Harry through the charm.

"Can I share this with Hermione and Ron?" Harry asked.

"It's relatively benign," Severus said. "The more power you put into it, the stronger it is, but anyone should be able to cast it."

'Thanks!" Harry answered.

Severus went on, "Professor McGonagall says you've found your animagus form?"

"A wolf! It was pretty cool!?" Harry grinned, remembering the transformation.

"Since you've already done that, you should continue to work with Professor McGonagall on practicing and moving in and out of your form," Severus said gently. "But... you need to be careful for a while, until we can figure out what unbinding your magical core has done to your control."

Harry sat up straighter and bit his lip. "I didn't even think of that," he replied. "She was explaining how to do the transformation and I just knew I could do it."

"That's the sort of thing I'm referring to," Severus pointed out. "We don't want to draw any unnecessary attention to you just as yet. Dumbledore will be hearing about your animagus form by tonight, if he has not already."

"And since I did it in class, no telling who will know about it," Harry realized. He closed his eyes in dismay. "Bloody hell, it'll probably be in the Prophet by the end of the week."

"Exactly," Severus said.

"Okay, I get it," Harry said. "I'll be careful."

"Until we can work on it, you'll have to be diligent to resist any… instincts to do things that aren't precisely part of your classwork," Severus went on. "Hopefully, it won't take too long, but at this point, you'll have to not do anything rather than show off anything extraordinary."

Harry shrugged. "Fail rather than succeed spectacularly," he interpreted. He looked at Severus, "And talk to you about it."

"Unfortunately, yes," Severus agreed.

"Good thing I'm only an average student then," Harry grinned. "If I were Hermione, that would be a different thing."

"It would indeed," Severus replied. "I have the hope that you will have a more instinctual ability, as opposed to Miss Granger's book learned ability. She will be good, but you will be much stronger and have more range than she ever will."

"Okay, is there anything else?" Harry asked. "I have some homework to get done."

"Instead of detention on Thursday, you'll be helping me brew more salve for Madame Pomfrey," Severus said. "But the right way."

"That works," Harry agreed. "As long as it's not when we have Quidditch practice, please? Ron will go spare if I have to miss too many practices."

"I suspect I can work with that," Severus agreed. "Go do your other homework."

Harry surprised him by leaning in for a brief hug before he left.

Severus knew that he'd have to balance the 'needs' of the bond with letting Harry enjoy his last year at Hogwarts. He wasn't quite sure what they would do at the end of the year, he still had time to plan, but he knew they would both be leaving at the end of the year.

After casting a quick Muffliato, primarily to keep Dumbledore from learning what they were doing, Severus had Harry work on a different potion for Madame Pomfrey at their Thursday meeting. He gave Harry the instructions for the Fever Reducer and then asked Harry to work carefully and to talk aloud as he worked. And to voice any 'urges' he had to make any changes.

At one point Harry said, "I'd like to add more wormwood here."

"What do you think that will do?" Severus asked.

Harry tilted his head in thought. "It might… it'll serve as a general pain reducer, I think."

"Just the wormwood?" Severus probed.

Harry looked down at the instructions. "No, it also needs some… lemon grass? And some counter-clockwise stirring at the end."

"Again, not a new variation, but close to an acceptable variant," Severus replied. "It works well for patients with a fever related to an infection, rather than just a general fever."

"Hey! This can be fun!" Harry smiled.

Severus resisted rolling his eyes. "I've created a monster! Now, make the potion the way it is written out, please."

Harry giggled. "Okay, I get it, no messing with the potions."

"Only under supervision and with some discussion," Severus replied. "You have good instincts but you don't have the experience to understand the implications. That applies to all of your coursework at the moment."

"I know, I know," Harry sighed. "I went back the other night and wanted to re-write my entire Runes essay. I know what I had there was reasonable but there were suddenly all sorts of interpretations and options I wanted to include." He took a breath. "Although I did resist."

"It will be hard for a while, until you learn to balance your instinct and what you 'should' be doing," Severus replied.

"When it's something Ron and Hermione are in, I can try to work between them," Harry replied. "Better than Ron and not as good as Hermione."

"That's a good plan for now," Severus agreed.

Harry handed Severus a parchment. "This is the Quidditch practice schedule for now until Christmas," Harry said. "If you know when we have practice, then it's easier for you to schedule our sessions."

"Thank you," Severus replied, somewhat surprised he hadn't thought to ask Harry for the schedule.

"When can we work in the Room of Requirement?" Harry asked. "There's this… itching, I guess. My magic wants to do something and I think I need to work on that sooner than later."

Severus looked at the schedule and though about his own work. He did have papers to grade and more requests from Madame Pomfrey, although now he might ask Harry to assist him with that. "How about Sunday afternoon? Will that be soon enough?"

"Sure," Harry agreed. "I have to meet Professor McGonagall tomorrow and we have Quidditch practice on Saturday, but I'll do homework tomorrow night to make sure I have plenty of free time on Sunday."

"Meet me here and we can go to the room together," Severus said.

"Sure," Harry agreed.

Severus was better prepared for the hug today, returning it carefully. He had never been demonstrative but the bond and the proximity to Harry made it easier to accept the hug graciously. Harry hung on to him for a moment.

"Feels good to touch you," Harry muttered into his chest.

"The bond does that," Severus replied. "We will have to explore that, also."

Harry looked up at him, "You don't mind?"

"No, I don't," Severus said softly.

"Good! Then I can do this." Harry stretched up for a quick kiss.

"Brat!" Severus said fondly. "Now go, before it's too late."

"See you Sunday," Harry promised.

At dinner on Friday, Minerva casually said to Severus, "Harry is… different."

Severus took a discrete breath before turning to look at her. "How?" he asked mildly.

"It's like… his magic is like that of an adult," she said carefully. "When we were working on his animagus form this afternoon, he had a level of control that I've rarely seen in a student his age."

"Have you talked to the Headmaster about it?" Severus probed.

"Harry's magical signature also had… it looked like a bond?" Minerva asked gently. "And, it felt like you."

Damn. He had worried about this.

"Would you like to join me for a drink after dinner?" Severus asked, thinking desperately. "This is a conversation we should have in private."

"I'd be delighted," Minerva replied with a small smile. "I have some bourbon you might like, come to my rooms about eight?"

"Certainly," Severus reluctantly agreed.

Severus tapped on Minerva's door and she called, "Come in!" She reached for a bottle and poured two glasses half full. "I suspect this will be an interesting discussion."

Severus sat down and took a sip of his drink. "I suspect it will be," he agreed. He got out his wand, "Do you mind?" he asked.

Minerva shook her head and Severus cast a strong privacy spell. Something Albus might ask questions about later, but he didn't want to be interrupted or overheard.

"How much do you know about Harry's background and living situation?" Severus started.

"Everyone knows about The Boy Who Lived and I remember Lily and James, of course," she answered. "I know Harry went to live with his Muggle aunt. I tried to protest that when Albus left him there, but he overruled me. But, well, other than that, not too much."

"The Muggles had treated Harry as nothing more than a House Elf and, while they didn't physically abuse him, there was no acceptance, much less love in his childhood," Severus elaborated. "They all bullied him and until Harry got his Hogwarts letter, he had lived in the cupboard under the stairs." Severus knew that the bond had protected Harry physically after that but he was now sorry he had to send Harry back there at all.

"Severus!" Minerva excaimed. "Did Albus know about this?"

Severus shrugged. "More than likely," Severus admitted. "Harry doesn't remember anyone checking up on him at all. Lily's sister never wanted him and Harry was painfully aware of that."

"Why didn't he say anything?" Minerva asked, plaintively.

"Who would believe him?" Severus asked. "And Albus had prattled on and on about needing to live with blood family to protect him against the Dark Lord. Harry had to feel like he had no choice."

Minerva huffed but had no argument she could make.

Severus took another sip of his drink and decided he needed to trust someone.

"Back in Harry's first year, I completed a ritual bonding ceremony with him," Severus said. Minerva's eyes went wide at that. "Yes, I know," Severus nodded. "But I could see the magical power that was in him even then and, well, I wasn't going to have him enslaved to either Dumbledore or Voldemort."

"So you enslaved him instead?" Minerva hissed.

"No, I did a bonding ceremony, and, as Harry grows older, he will be the dominant partner in our… relationship," Severus replied gently. "Someone, I'm assuming Dumbledore, had already put a binding on Harry's power before he even started at Hogwarts. He had done some accidental, wandless magic even as a child." He heard Minerva's intake of breath at that and nodded in understanding. "I put a memory block on that for both of us that held until this year."

"Harry's magical maturation?" Minerva guessed.

"He shows the signs for it, now that we've finalized the bonding and freed him from the binding," Severus agreed. He rolled up his sleeve to show his blank arm, "He removed the Mark before we even did the ritual."

"Severus!" Minerva gasped stretching out a hand, as if to touch him. "I've never heard of such a thing!"

"I know," Severus agreed, rolling his sleeve back down. "It's honestly a relief to have it gone."

"Do you think Voldemort is alive?" she asked.

Severus had to shrug. "At one point, it seemed so. During that damned Tournament, the Mark got darker and seemed like it wanted to activate. Then it didn’t, and it faded back to its previous state. I haven't made an effort to compare notes with anyone, obviously, but Karkaroff had come to me at one point worried about his mark getting darker. Once the Tournament was over, we didn't talk about it again."

"Now what?" Minerva asked.

"I need to work with Harry on his control," Severus admitted. "He had a new level of power that he's not used to handling and he needs to learn to… temper his reactions. He also has instincts that he needs to learn to manage. I'd prefer if he not attract Albus' attention until we're ready to leave at the end of the school year."

"Oh, I hadn't thought of that," Minerva replied. "Yes, you'll go with him, won't you?"

Severus nodded. "It's still new to both of us," he admitted. "I'm trying to let him take the lead to be comfortable with what we are doing."

Minerva looked at him with a knowing eye. She took out her wand, held it up with one hand and placed her hand on her heart. "I will keep your Secret – yours and Harry's – and assist you to the best of my ability. So Mote It Be." A white light flashed briefly around her.

Severus released a tension he had been holding in. "Thank you," he said. He had been worried she would insist on going to Dumbledore and he would have had to take some serious action to prevent that. He was glad to have her on their side.

"What are your more immediate plans?" she asked.

"I'm meeting Harry on Sunday afternoon to go to the Room of Requirement," he offered. "I need to test his basic abilities and start working on control."

"That explains his sudden ability to find his animagus form," Minerva realized.

"Indeed," Severus agreed. "And he's manipulating Potion recipes on the fly. So far, he's only changing them to known alternatives, but I can already see how he might make changes that will go outside the known variations. He doesn't have enough experience to understand the implications of what he is doing."

"Oh, my!" Minerva exclaimed.

"We've already talked about Harry's need to resist doing something… different without thought, but it will be hard for him to know what those limits are until we've had a chance to work on it," Severus explained.

"If there's something I can help with, do let me know," Minerva offered.

Severus considered. "It would draw less attention if you were to… request Harry work with you on something. I can only give him so many detentions before Albus will start to ask questions."

"Good point," she agreed. "Let me think of something I can do that won't gather too much attention. I'm already working with him on his animagus form, and there's less chance of something truly dangerous happening in the Transfiguration class. But I will certainly keep an eye on him."

"Thank you," Severus said.

"And how about you?" Minerva looked at him steadily over the rim of her glass. "What do you need?"

Severus should not have been surprised at the offer, but he was touched that she had thought to make it. "I'm not sure, to be honest," he admitted. "While it's technically been going on for a number of years, this is new to me, also. I've been so focused on keeping Harry safe and hidden from Albus, that I haven't had a chance to think of anything else."

"Make sure you take time for yourself," Minerva replied. "This is a change to you as much as to Harry. There's bound to be… repercussions."

Severus took a sip of his drink. "I know," he said slowly. "It's much too early to separate what is from the bond and what are natural reactions. I'm very aware that we have several years of uncomfortable relationship to overcome. I'm hoping that the focus on Harry's more immediate problems give us time to work past that."

Minerva looked at him with merriment in her eyes. "Who are you and what have you done with Severus Snape?" she asked.

"I…" he hesitated. "Between the removal of the Mark and finalizing the bond, I've had a weight I didn't even know exist lifted from me. Knowing that we will leave Hogwarts at the end of the year lets me consider options I've never had a chance to think about. It's… liberating."

"Good!" Minerva approved.

Severus left a while later, bemused to have not only Minerva's assistance, but her approval for what he was doing.

Harry spent Saturday anticipating his time with Severus, so much so that he had to force himself to focus on the Quidditch practice. He decided to mix the lead players and the backups together right from the beginning, mostly so there was less confusion if any of the backup players needed to play at the last minute. He set Ginny to be the Seeker on the other team and he played Seeker with the newer backup players.

They halted the game several times to discuss strategy. Harry let everyone make suggestions about what might work best in certain circumstances, remembering how boring it had been when Oliver Wood would try to dictate complex strategy at them.

Harry made everyone take a turn as Keeper, for at least a few minutes. None of the positions were easy and he knew they'd give Ron less grief when they understood how hard being Keeper was. Ron had a good day, keeping out more attempts than anyone else, and he was in high spirits.

"Good practice!" Ron enthused.

"That was fun!" Ginny added. The others nodded as they moved to the locker rooms to leave their equipment.

Harry let the excited chatter wash over him. It felt good to be part of the team but he couldn't wait to be alone… to think about Severus.

Hermione dragged Harry to the Library after dinner to work on their Runes project. It let Harry focus on his homework and get more of it done than he might have otherwise.

At lunch on Sunday, Harry had to make excuses to both Ron and Hermione to escape.

"Snape wants me to brew that potion properly," Harry tried to put the right level of frustration in his voice. "I did it okay the other night but he's making me do it again."

"At least he didn't interfere with Quidditch practice," Ron muttered. Harry wanted to laugh at Ron's one track mind.

Hermione huffed. "But if you did it right the other night, you shouldn't have to go back!" she huffed.

Harry shrugged. "It's Snape," he said. "No explaining it."

Hermione turned to Ron, "Then we can work on Herbology while Harry's off with Snape."

Ron rolled his eyes but didn't protest. He brightened, "Maybe we can work with Neville. He'll know more about what needs to be done."

"He's studying with Luna," Hermione replied. "But maybe we can join them in the Library."

Grateful to be let off relatively easily, Harry waved goodbye and headed to the Potions lab.

Severus was waiting for him, grading papers. Harry thought he seemed relieved to have a reason to stop.

"Ready?" Severus asked.

"Yes," Harry said.

"Lead the way," Severus directed.

Harry led him in a somewhat circuitous route, mostly to ensure they would not be seen together. Neither wanted to have to explain to anyone what they were doing.

Reaching the seventh floor, Harry paced back and forth in front of the blank wall. On his third pass, a door shimmered into existence.

"We can go inside," Harry directed. "Hopefully, I've asked the room to not report anything to Dumbledore. Not sure how that works."

"There's an incomplete explanation of the relationship between the Headmaster and the school in Hogwarts: A History," Severus explained.

"I guess I have to break down and actually read that book," Harry admitted.

Severus looked around at the room they had entered. There were two chairs around a small table at one end with a pile of pillows stacked against the wall. The rest of the room was empty, to give them space to move around.

Harry shrugged. "Should do," he said.

"It will be fine," Severus assured him. "Let us start with some basics. Simpler spells will let me know what we might be working with." He tossed a pillow in the middle of the floor. "Levitate the pillow the way you normally would."

Harry pointed his wand at the pillow and said, "Wingardium Leviosa."

The pillow shot into the air, hit the ceiling and burst. A snowfall of feathers came down on Harry's head.

"Oopps!" Harry grinned.

"Exactly the sort of thing we do not want to have happen in class," Severus replied. "Can you fix it?"

Harry tilted his head in concentration, waved his wand and said, "Reparo." Feathers swirled through the air in a rush and the pillow was sitting again on the floor.

"Good," Severus said. "Now, do the spell again, but try to think about the level of power you are putting into your spell. Turn it down, if you can."

"Huh," Harry replied. "No one's ever really talked about levels of power, just doing spells." He paused for a moment, pointed his wand and said softly, "Wingardium Leviosa."

The pillow shot up again but it stopped when Harry frowned in concentration. It hung in the air above his head. When Harry relaxed, the pillow continued its upward travel, smacking against the ceiling but not bursting.

"Better than I would have expected," Severus admitted. "And for most students, even for most wizards and witches, fine levels of control is something you learn as you get older. You, however, have enough power that you need to learn control sooner than most."

"Oh, great," Harry muttered. "Something else to learn."

"You've already alerted Professor McGonagall," Severus had to tell him. "Your ability to find your animagus form and her private tutoring with you has already led her to me."

Harry looked up in alarm. "Do we need to do anything about that?" Harry asked.

Severus warmed at the automatic we that Harry used, and shook his head. "I have already admitted our… relationship to her and, while I know she has reservations, she will not only keep our secret but help us."

Harry's face lit up. "Really? That's good," he grinned.

"She also understands our desire to not have the Headmaster learn about us too soon," Severus added. "You may talk to her about anything you do not feel comfortable coming to me for."

"Thank you," Harry said. He looked down at the pillow lying at his feet. "Talk to me more about control."

They spent the afternoon working on the one spell. Harry was drooping and tired when Severus called a halt.

"Enough for today," Severus said. "You are doing well, but it will be a matter of practice. But you'll have to think about your control all the time."

"That's going to be the hard part," Harry admitted.

"You'll get it," Severus replied. "It's just a matter of practice."

"I'll try," Harry promised. He hesitated for a moment and then moved toward Severus. "Is this okay?" he asked as he wrapped his arms around Severus.

Severus held on to Harry, inhaling the warm – if sweaty – scent of the young man. "This is good," he admitted.

Not looking up from where his head rested on Severus' shoulder, Harry asked hesitantly, "I know what I said… out there. If you want… more…"

Severus hugged Harry tighter for a moment then relaxed again. "I'm more than willing to wait for you," he said gently. "This is an adjustment for both of us and we certainly don't have to rush anything."

Harry relaxed in his arms, snuggling closer. "I do want to… eventually," he admitted. "Just… it's a lot to take in."

"The bond will push us together," Severus replied. "But it's already set in place and it won't ask anything we're not ready for."

"Good to know," Harry admitted.

Harry left first, giving Severus a moment to review what they had done.

At dinner, Severus murmured to Minerva, "Perhaps we could meet for a drink after dinner?"

"Certainly," she agreed.

Severus tapped on the door to her rooms and went in. She handed him a drink before he even sat down.

"How did it go?" she asked.

Severus took a sip of the bourbon and sighed. "Harry has so much power that he desperately needs to learn control and I'm not sure I'm the one to do it for him. I can only do so much," he admitted. "He's going to do something that Dumbledore can't ignore at some point."

"Then you have contingency plans," Minerva said practically. "What will you do when Dumbledore stumbles across your secret before the end of the school year?"

Damn. He wasn't thinking. He grimaced. "I should have thought of that," he agreed.

"You're too close to Harry, and it's happened too quickly, for you to have a chance to think about it," Minerva pointed out.

"That is true," he agreed. "I'll have to talk to Harry about what we should do."

"If there's anything I can do," Minerva offered, "do not hesitate to ask."

"Thank you," Severus was grateful.

On their next Thursday night 'detention', Severus brought up the need for contingency plans.

"Oh," Harry exclaimed. "I wouldn't have thought of that."

"It was actually Professor McGonagall's suggestion," Severus had to admit. "But it's an excellent idea. We need to think about what to do when Albus finds out about you."

Harry frowned. "I don't want to leave my friends, but you're more important," he said. "And I can see Ron and Hermione away from Hogwarts."

"Depending on what happens, we may even need to leave England," Severus warned. "For at least a while."

Harry stared at him. "Really?" he said. "I've never been anywhere. I'd like to travel."

It was Severus' turn to frown. "It's not always glamorous, and if Albus gets the Ministry to come after us, we might never be able to return."

Harry shrugged. "We can worry about that when we have to," he replied.

"The first thing we need is an emergency plan," Severus said. "If Albus finds out next week, we wouldn't be ready to go anywhere."

Harry considered. "I know there's money in my vault," Harry said. "I would think we could get some help from Gringotts if we need it."

"It's a Hogsmeade weekend coming up," Severus said. "There's a small branch in town that we should visit so that we're not cut off from our funds."

"I know there's Black money, also," Harry grinned. "I've never wanted to know, mostly so the Dursleys' don't get their hands on it. I suspect it's time I checked into that."

"We can check on that," Severus agreed. "You also need to be ready to leave at a moment's notice," he went on. "I don't think we'd be in immediate danger, but better to be prepared than not."

"I do have some things I'd prefer not to leave behind," Harry said slowly. He thought about Hedwig, his father's Cloak, the pictures he had of his parents, and his broom.

"Make a list of the things you could possibly take with you, what you could hide until you could get back to it," Severus directed. "And think about how you might charm your trunk so that no one could get into it. That would be useful."

"Oh, good idea," Harry agreed. "Maybe we could ask Professor McGonagall to take care of it for me."

"That should work," Severus replied. "As your Head of House, she would be responsible for anything left behind."

"What about your things?" Harry asked.

"I only have a few things that I would be loath to leave," Severus admitted. "And I also will ask Professor McGonagall to take charge of them for me."

"Will she be okay after we leave?" Harry asked.

"She has promised to do what she could for us," Severus said. "We have to trust someone."

"We could put a ward about your rooms so that no one else would be able to get in," Harry offered. "You could teach me what to do."

"I will investigate that option," Severus replied. "Now, on to tonight's potion."

The trip to the Gringotts branch in Hogsmeade stunned them both.

"I have what?" Harry stammered.

"Besides your school vault, there is the Potter family vault, and two Black vaults, as well as…" the Goblin looked the parchment in front of him, "… five properties. The Black family home at Grimmauld Place, your family home in Godric's Hollow, the Potter family estates, a farm in Scotland and a sea side cottage in France."

Harry sat back. "Whoa," he breathed.

Severus was just as stunned. "We did not realize the… extent of Mr. Potter's holdings," he admitted.

"It's fairly self-managing at this point," the Goblin, Swordbuilder, replied. "You have a manager within the bank that I can ask to come out and meet with you, if you would like. He can go into more detail, since he's been managing it for you."

"I… I will think about that," Harry sat back. He looked at Severus, "I think this takes care of a number of things."

"It does," Severus reluctantly admitted. He had an adequate amount of savings, but the vast wealth Harry now had at his fingertips was staggering.

Harry sat up. "I would like Professor Snape to have unlimited access to… the Potter family vault," Harry directed. "We both need whatever documents are needed for international travel and we need Muggle credit cards so that if we go into Muggle banks, we can access at least a portion of the funds."

Swordbuilder scribbled notes. "I can do that," he said. "Since the Potter family vaults are hereditary, it would be simpler if you made a withdrawal from the Potter vaults and places that in a separate vault for Professor Snape."

Harry shrugged. "That works for me," he agreed. "Set that up and deliver the key to the new vault directly to Professor Snape."

"Harry, you don't need to…" Severus started to protest.

"I don't plan to, but if we get separated, you need some money you can readily access," Harry said. He looked Severus in the eye. "Let me do this."

Severus saw how serious Harry was and nodded. "That will be fine," he agreed.

Harry went back to meet up with Ron and Hermione at the Three Broomsticks, while Severus went back to his patrol as one of the weekend chaperones.

Harry and Severus worked out an irregularly regular schedule for their meetings. Harry spent most Friday afternoons with Professor McGonagall. Once they had worked on Harry's animagus form, they moved on to also working on Harry's control of his powers. It only took a couple of weeks for Harry to settle his animagus powers but Harry told everyone "that first time was a fluke and it's harder than I thought" so they wouldn't question the time he was spending with his teacher.

Harry unobtrusively turned most of the Quidditch practice over to Ron. He kept Ron actively involved in the practices and developing strategy, knowing that at some point that Ron might have to take over for him.

It was a snowy December afternoon when Harry got a note from Dumbledore requesting his presence in his office that evening immediately after dinner. Harry looked up at the front of the room, watching as Severus opened a similar looking message.

Harry turned to his friends, "Listen, Dumbledore wants me for some reason and I need to grab something from my room before I go there. Ron, come with me?" he asked. He hoped that if the two of them left together, that Dumbledore wouldn't think too much of it.

"Sure," Ron agreed readily. He finished eating and washed it down with a huge mouthful of pumpkin juice. "Ready."

They hurried up to Gryffindor's Tower together. Harry packed what few belongings that weren't in his trunk and turned to Ron.

"Listen, I may need to leave…" Harry said.

"Harry! What's going on?" Ron demanded.

"It's a long story that I can't tell you, but I need you to hang out here for a bit so you can answer truthfully that you don't know anything," Harry said.

"But I don't know anything!" Ron protested.

"Ron, I just need you to do this," Harry said. "Trust me?"

"Of course I do!" Ron exclaimed.

Harry threw an arm around Ron and said, "You've been a good mate. Take care of Hermione and the Quidditch team. I'll send you a letter when I can. And if it's nothing, then I'll be back later and I'll tell you about it."

"Okay," Ron said reluctantly.

Harry shrunk his trunk and put it in a pocket. He stuffed the Invisibility Cloak in a back pocket, in case they needed it.

"I'll see you later," Harry said. He didn't want to think how much later it might be.

"Take care," Ron replied, sitting on his bed.

Harry made his way to the Headmaster's office, not dawdling but not hurrying. The gargoyle at the base of the stairs leapt aside when Harry said the password, "Butterfingers."

As Harry had been half-afraid, Severus and Dumbledore were both in the office. Severus gave nothing away and Dumbledore said, "Harry! Come in!" He held out a dish. "Lemon drop?"

"No, thank you," Harry said. "What's going on?" He sat in the other chair in front of Dumbledore's desk.

Dumbledore looked at them both, taking his time. He looked at Harry and Harry felt a pressure on his mind. He had learned to keep at least a partial Occlumency shield up all of the time and he had put up his full shield when he had gotten the message at dinner.

"I see you've learned Occlumency," Dumbledore commented. "You do that well."

"Thank you," Harry replied. "Professor Snape was helpful."

"Ah! You and Professor Snape seem to have… settled some differences you had," Dumbledore commented.

Harry shrugged. "I've learned a few things," Harry said. "We get along okay, I guess." He slumped down in the chair slightly.

Dumbledore looked at Harry thoughtfully. "You've been spending a lot of time with Professor Snape," he said.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Everyone knows I get detentions just for breathing," he grumbled.

"But if you're getting along better, why would you have so many detentions?" Dumbledore replied.

Harry shrugged. "Well, I'm pants at Potions, I'll take all the help I can get," he said.

Dumbledore turned to Severus. "And how is Harry doing in Potions?" he asked.

"Mr. Potter is slightly better than he has been in the past," Severus allowed. "I do have to think that he's finally taking it seriously and putting more time into it."

"And why would you need the Room of Requirement for Potions lessons?" Dumbledore asked.

"Mr. Potter's skills in Potions are uneven enough that the Room protects him from any… mishaps he may have," Severus offered.

Dumbledore sat back. "And the bond between you?" he asked softly enough to be dangerous.

"Is between us," Severus replied calmly.

"I would think that if it were to be known that Harry Potter had formed a bond with a known Death Eater, that there would be… repercussions," Dumbledore suggested.

"Who's a Death Eater?" Harry asked, trying for innocent. "I'm certainly not one. Se- Professor Snape isn't a Death Eater. Why would anyone care?" Harry knew Dumbledore hadn't missed Harry's almost slip. He held his breath.

"Severus?" Dumbledore nodded at him.

Severus carefully rolled up his sleeve to show off his Mark-free arm.

"Interesting," Dumbledore said, eyes narrowing.

"Anything else, Headmaster?" Severus said, rolling his sleeve back.

"I will have to report your bond to the Ministry," Dumbledore said calmly. "Unless you would like to explain."

"And why would the Ministry care?" Harry asked. He was more curious than anything.

"Bonds with an underage student are… frowned upon," Dumbledore said. "It is to protect you as well as to protect he school."

"I'm seventeen!" Harry protested. "That isn't underage!"

"Perhaps not," Dumbledore allowed. "But now that you have a relationship with Professor Snape, he is not allowed to be your teacher any longer."

"Well, that sucks," Harry pouted. "I don't understand why you have to report anything. We've been doing fine."

"I will admit that I've just recently realized what might be going on," Dumbledore said. "But at this point, you either have to break the bond, if that's even possible, or I have to separate you." He paused. "For your own good, of course."

"And if we don't cooperate with you?" Severus asked, silkily.

Dumbledore waved a hand. "Then it's out of my control."

"May we discuss the options?" Severus asked. "I may be able to persuade Mr. Potter to cooperate."

Harry bit back a Fuck, no, I won't cooperate! He had to trust Severus.

"I need an answer in an hour," Dumbledore replied firmly.

"That will be sufficient," Severus said. "Come, Harry. We can discuss this elsewhere."

Harry stayed silent on the walk to Severus' rooms. Once inside, he set the strongest privacy ward he could.

"I think it would be best if we left now," Severus said. "Albus will try to turn me over to the Ministry, both as a test subject for removing the Mark, as well as to remove me from you."

"I packed my things already," Harry admitted, patting a pocket. "I can leave now, if you'd like. Although I could use a cloak, if you have one I can use."

"We probably should move quickly," Severus decided, going into the bedroom to gather some things he wanted to take with him. He handed Harry a cloak to wear. "When we don't come up to see him in the hour, he'll set everyone looking for us."

"In an hour, we can be anywhere," Harry said.

"Let me send a message to Minerva, to let her know we're going," Severus said. "Do you want to leave a message for your friends?"

"I kinda said good-bye to Ron before I went to Dumbledore's office," Harry admitted. "I didn't tell him anything but he knows I may not be back. I'll send Hermione a letter once we've settled somewhere."

"Are you sure?" Severus probed.

"Yes," Harry replied. He went over to Severus and put his arms around him. "Anywhere with you."

"Brat," Severus said fondly, dropping a kiss on his head. "Then we'll go."

He released Harry and went over to his Floo. "Minerva McGonagall's office," he said when he had thrown the powder in.

"Yes, Severus?" Minerva asked.

"The Headmaster has decided that Harry and I must break our bond or at least separate," he said baldly.

"I understand," she replied, sadly. "Keep in touch?"

"We will," he promised.

Severus closed the Floo, and looked around his rooms. "I think we're all set."

Harry set the ward so that no one but Professor McGonagall could enter the rooms, and even then she could not invite anyone else into the rooms, only go in herself.

They quietly left the castle, and walked to the edge of the Apparition wards.

Severus put an arm around Harry. "Where would you like to go first?"

"How about someplace warm?" Harry suggested, looking up at the leaden sky. "Dumbledore won't expect us to go to London. From there we can travel anywhere."

"Some sunshine and warm temperatures would be welcome," Severus agreed. "Hang on."

Harry wound his arms around Severus' waist.

They Disapparated in a swirl of magic and snow.


COMMENT BACK AT LIVEJOURNAL
Title: Black and Golden
Author: Anon
Prompt Number: 5
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: About 10000 words
Warnings: Language, homosexual theme, fluff
Summary: Black and Golden, or how Harry Potter decided something needed to be done and so, resolved to harrass Severus Snape into submission
Author's Note: First fic ever x3 Thank you for reading! If you want to jnow more about this fic, please read the header! =P Happy reading!
Beta'd by Tomo-chan



Once upon a time, Harry Potter decided something needed to be done and so, resolved to harrass Severus Snape into submission.


This would probably be the title of my book if I had one, which I don't by the way. Though Ron keeps telling me I would sell millions of them, I don't feel they need any more details on my life thank you very much.

Here I am, Harry Potter, once more facing a door, the resounding BANG still echoing in my eardrums. I sigh...I tend to sigh a lot these days, really. I might as well get you in my story, as uninteresting as it may be.

Last year had been what I can clearly call one of the worst year ever. Though it was a tie, with the year before when I was given as food to a very angry dragon, stole its egg, nearly drowned, lost myself countless time in the creepiest maze ever and got cut and touched by Voldemort while stomping over his own father's remnants while he himself was stomping over Cedric's dead body...a tie indeed. But last year had been...I don't even know why I keep refering to it as "last year" when the worst part actually happened a couple months ago...anyway, it had been a bit harsh on me. I still can't get over the guilt and the grief of having killed my own godfather and I probably won't. Seems really unlikely from where I'm standing.

Ron and Hermione are still there for me but they understand I need time so they let me keep to myself for now. It's not the case for most people really... Now they know I'm actually not a lying attention seeker, I'm getting stalked, embraced, hailed, apologized to and every possible human interaction you can think of. It's driving me mad! They don't know a single THING of what happened there, they don't know about the crucio I yelled to this friggin' mad bitch, they don't know shit about what their precious golden boy is feeling. I may pass for an angsty teenage boy but hell... even I admit that's what I AM! But let's not duel on that for now. The thing is, I did learn something, and I wasn't going to forget about it anytime soon either. My mind had to be closed. It had to be sealed, hid, burried, impervioused to any attempt at revealing it, I wouldn't be the death of any more friends of mine, nor anyone's really. Lesson learned, thanks very much Fate.

My problem is, Dumbledore might have been happy about my resolve to resume occlumency, but Snape wasn't... in-the-LEAST. I asked Dumbledore...alright I begged him, to teach me occlumency himself, but the old fool kept telling me his mind isn't what it used to be, that he was too old for this, excuses, a hell lot of them too! Though he did look sick, his blackened hand wasn't something I was ready to face anytime soon. He kept thinking me a fool, saying it was nothing but a stupid accident and kept changing the subject and making me forget with lemon drops, but I knew it was anything but. Yet here I am, knowing Snape is my only choice, knowing this hateful, spiteful dongeon bat is the only hope for me to stop being a time bomb for my friends and here HE was going out of his way to slam the door in my face and avoid me!

........

Alright, I DID look through his pensieve...once. I DO admit it wasn't the most intelligent thing to do especially when said pensieve belongs to an ex deatheater, possibly STILL deatheater hating my guts and yet, yet I don't think I actually regret it. I do regret my lack of... finesse in this matter, after all it would piss me off royally to find someone like Malfoy nose deep in my thrice damned memory but the man DID spend 3 hours delving into mine so....alright that's a lame excuse, I was curious I know I keep getting into troubles but I SWEAR they find me faster than I find them!

As I was saying, I don't actually regret it, because it showed me what Snape had always told me about my father, that he was a big-headed, bully of a prick. And that did hurt to know that. It felt weird to realise my father and mother knew Snape, that my mother happened to have been friend with him way before she actually met my father. I wonder if they ever talked again after he insulted her...whatever. I did learn a bit about Snape himself, not that I wanted to but still. He does appear to have lived pretty much the way I lived, except it was not his uncle, it was his own father...That's why I don't regret it either, I am learning to understand why Snape is the way he is, which is a polite way to say a complete murderous jerk, ha! Sorry...

I sometimes wonder what I would be like if I had not been who I am, if I had only been a beaten, starved child, if I hadn't met with Ron or Hermione, if I had been bullied at school, hated, made fun of, if my only friend had turned her back on me after I stepped on the boundaries. This is usually when the tattoo on his left arm makes perfect sense to me. I too would probably have been attracted to a man like Malfoy Senior, a rich, respected and powerful man, a man who would have talked to me while others wouldn't, a man who would have showed me power...I would have embraced Voldemort then too. He probably was quite the charismatic leader while he retained his human appearance, I can see it. I can understand why people went to him...bowed to him...served him...even I, the so called epitom of light had to fight these urges sometimes when I find myself facing him. It is a strange relationship we have, Voldemort and I...

I hate him, I want to see him dead and yet, I sometimes have the feeling I belong to him, that I was meant for him to do as he pleases, meant for him to kill. Weird isn't it? But anyway, that is why I can't find it in myself to actually hate Snape the way I used to, I can't seem to even remember what it was like to actually hate him this gut-deep. I'm not saying I like him, god forbids anyone who does! If anyone does, which I really doubt seeing the man we are talking about. I just...*sigh*

It's quite complicated really...sometimes I wish I would unsee what I have seen of him and yet, sometimes I don't. It happens, in DADA class, that I would watch him, and start to feel for him, to sympathise, after all, we are not far off each other family-wise, and then he would ruin it all, catch my gaze and do something particularily aweful, like insulting me or once again my father and I would start hating him again, it was maddening! Could the man not give it a break! He was honestly hated by a good 3/4 of the school, quietly insulted by the other quarter each time he turned his back, he had the fucking dark mark on his arm and STILL he had to add to the fire!

See? I'm starting to get angry at him again! Sometimes I really wonder how Dumbledore can stand him...I would have killed my own child rather than see him turn out like this.

...

Alright...I feel really bad for having thought that... Knowing his father actually tried to do just that, knowing that he has access to every student mind in this castle and that he probably knows what everyone thinks of him when nobody actually knows what he has been through makes me want to hug him...and that's the weirdest thought ever to come to my mind I'm not kidding! This must be my knack for desperate cases talking, as Hermione once put it.

Weirdly enough, I know Voldemort's family wasn't ideal either and yet it doesn't make me feel like hugging HIM! Ew.No. But after all, Snape did save me countless times, and I'm pretty sure he was the one to warn the order about Snuffles, AND he didn't kill my entire family and tried to decimate my own person 20 times a year...that might play.

Am I getting off track?

So here I am, beginning of October, 6th year, and a broken nose not set that straight...blond prick. But I won't tell you my own story will I?

Maybe I can show you...?

...Then again maybe not.


Harry potter woke up this morning, more determined than ever. He had been ignored for weeks, insulted, humiliated, screamed at, sneered at, smirked at, but he WOULD obtain what he wants, that was to be sure. It was time to be cunning.


20 minutes later found our national hero outside Dumbledore's office, ready to plead, carefully crafted innocent face on. He had a theory, a very blurry one mind you but still a theory. That theory was, that Snape might hate him and scream at him and ruin his life, but he would never be able to say no to Dumbledore. Nobody said not to Dumbledore, period.


45 minutes later and a very irate Snape was storming out, black cloak and hair bellowing behind him.


5 minutes later and a very smug Harry Potter was coming out.


When Dumbledore had heard about Snape not ready to give in, he had called him, and discreetly guilted him into doing it. Oh, and he had accepted for the lesson to take place in his private quarters. He had been forced to really...but damn if Harry was going to get mind-raped in a cold and creepy dungeon ever again!
'Cunning isn't so bad after all' was he thinking at this moment.


To say the first occlumency session since 5th year went badly...is a huge understatement. Simple as it is, when you are praying for something not to be discovered, it's usually the first thing on your mind, whether you want it or you're desperately trying to hide it like Harry had been. Needless to say, Getting Snape confronted with his own memories had not gone well...at all. He had been kicked on his butt and thrown out the door with a healthy dose of insults.
Damn.
At least Snape's quarter weren't half bad. It was dark, yes. It was completely impersonnal, yes. It was sad and depressing, yes. But it wasn't cold and filled with dead creatures' organs! That was a clear improvement.


Needless to say, it had taken an entire week and a twinkling Dumbledore to get a new appointment from Snape.


To say the second one went well, would be the most outrageous of lies. Harry had spent the week exercising to forget about Snape's memories, and it once again, had been the first thing said Snape had been confronted to. Except this time, Harry defended himself with the first spell that came to his mind which had been "muffliato".
Error.
He later realised using a spell against his own creator wasn't the most intelligent thing to do, even if he didn't know it at the time. Snape's incredulity had transformed to understanding and anger as he finally understood how the precious golden boy who had always been especially weak in his class, was now head of Slughorn's.
Needless to say, Harry left very much bookless, as lame in potions as he had always been. The awe that came to his face when he realised Snape was the half-blood prince did nothing to salvage the dungeon bat, though the incredulity that followed said expression gave Harry a 2 seconds advance to flee without getting kicked. Unfortunately, Snape had a spell for that...
The only piece of information worth remembering in Harry's mind had been that he would be expelled AND killed by Snape if he ever used one tiny little spell from his book again. Great.
It took two weeks this time, and several twinkling Dumbledores to get Snape to teach him again. Which it left ample time for Harry to realise Snape was well and truly the Half-Blood Prince, which had two main consequences.
First, Harry had been quite star struck by the Prince, and was now by association, getting star struck by Snape.
Second...He was getting star struck by Snape of all people for fuck's sake!


After the fourth time flat on his butt, the walls around shaking from the violent door slamming, Harry realised he needed to do something. He couldn't very well keep coming to Snape, no progress made and be kicked out the door, there was clearly something he wasn't doing right.
After much more thinking, laying on his bed, Harry decided it was time to visit a place he had sworn never to enter willingly.
The library.
He went in the night, invisibility cloak on, and pawed through the restricted section, looking for anything that would help him understand.
20 minutes later and he had found it, an old tome on mind games that looked promising.
He spent a good part of the night reading it, taking notes of what could be useful to him. He had time anyway, his next lesson would be the week after.
As his lesson approached, harry's understanding of mind work kept growing. He might be ready for once.


To say the 5th occlumency lesson wasn't so bad...would not be too far off the mark altogether. Snape had looked pretty tired, pretty sick even, but Harry didn't comment, knowing it would get him another set of butt bruises. They had started the lesson the same way as ever, with Snape getting straight into it. Harry had not been able to stop him the first time, but pieces had started to click together in his mind. An hour later and Harry was still going, much to Snape's surprise. He still couldn't stop him, and it was still painful, but it wasn't anything he had not seen and slowly, his mind was working to defend itself.
He left on his own two foot this time, butt unbruised. The door still slammed, but Snape's nod had told him what he needed to know: he was on the right path.
Weeks passed and Harry's mind kept getting stronger. The book had been a huge help, as it had made him realise occlumency wasn't about hiding and forgetting memories, it was about making others believe it. Once he would have tried to create a wall in his mind and hide everything behing, leaving a blank at the front of his mind, and of course it wouldn't have worked. Only a mind like Snape's would be able to, after so much practicing. It wasn't about that at all, and he understood that a few weeks later.
There wasn't any wall to be added anywhere. Memories were the wall, they were what he needed, what he had been looking for, he didn't need anything else. He would join his important memories in the center of his mind, and he would surround them with all the others, less important, good memories, bad memories, dreams, nightmares, each ot them sending the viewer to another and another, entwining him and never letting him near the center. Which would mean Voldemort would never have access to him again. He would never possess him again like he did, he would never transform his fears into fake visions, everyone he loves would be safe, at last.
Or at least it was the theory.
Practicing it was something else entirely. It was difficult and tricky and it demanded not to be burried by his own memories, it was hard.
Snape, amazingly, helped. He made tea when Harry was ready to faint and actually gave long advice on mind problems that were so reminescent of the Prince's that Harry began wondering if 'star struck' wasn't beginning to bleed on 'crush'.
Preposterous thought really.
The more work he achieved on his mind, the longer he stayed in Snape's quarters, the more he learned about his teacher.
Snape didn't open to him really, if at all, but Harry was starting to understand Snape 'language' as it was.
Hatred had long passed between them, faster on Harry's part but Snape had come around little by little. It may have helped that Harry was actually doing his best to stop resembling his father. Yes his hair was a mess, yes he wore round glasses, but when a lesson was going wrong, and he didn't understand something and Snape wasn't helping at all, he wouldn't jump to his throat and antagonize him, no, that's what he would have done last year maybe, what his father would have done, mistrusting him every turn, doubting his word, something in Harry told him Snape needed to be trust, and so he would sit quietly, by Snape's chair, take his book and start looking for why it wasn't working. He would make a list on the side, so he would write whatever felt of importance to the task. Usually, a good half an hour later and Snape was feeling lenient enough to highlight some sentences of importance he had overlooked. The book had long been properly rented by Harry on Snape's written word, when it became clear sneaking after curfew in the middle of the night would get him nowhere with him.
Snape appeared to be a stickler for the rule but he wasn't really. He just didn't like Harry getting priviledge, causing mischief without retribution. It reminded way too much of things he didn't want to remember and Harry had understood it quite clearly, which is why he had stopped using the cloak and the map. If he couldn't sleep, then he did like any other teenagers that couldn't sleep, he went to his common room by the fire and thought about things, daydreamed or played with crookshanks. Weirdly, that made him feel good to know Snape would approve of his new ways.
Harry had come to the conclusion that Snape was like an abused dog, god forbid anyone told him he thought that! But it was the closest he had come to describe him. The man had had no reason to trust anyone in his life, his father had hated him, beaten him, rejected him, his mother had tried protecting him and got beaten for it, he had been bullied in school, hated for his looks, made fun of, he had joined Voldemort, went back to Dumbledore for something Harry wasn't stupid enough not to understand had to do with his mother's death, and he was now a teacher at a school where students hated him, made fun of him for his looks, where teacher didn't like him that much, it was maddening! Of course Snape did have something to do with how students and teachers saw him, he was sarcastic, degrading, bitter and overall not nice at all, but that's where the analogy comes in handy. A starved and beaten dog, having been starved and beaten all its life will answer the same way to his abuser than to the most well meaning person in the planet: with his fangs firmly sheathed into one's butt. And would you blame the dog? How was it to know this new person wasn't looking to hurt him all over again? how was it to know it brung food? And water? How can it know who to trust and who not to? Well it can't unless the new person takes the time to prove the dog it can trust him, to prove it is cared for. And that's why Harry wasn't surprised by Snape's attitude, humans were famous to be the most unreliable and treacherous beings on earth, no wonder Snape was saying "fuck off" to all of them, he would too, probably does most of the time anyway. So Harry in full understanding of this, had positionned himself as the 'well-meaning person', by being calm around him, by thinking things through before screaming at him, by stopping being unreliable and angsty, by simply trusting him.
And if Harry was guessing right, that simple fact changed their relationship for the best. Snape relaxed a bit in his presence, simple things like crossing his legs when he would have sat ramrod straight a month prior, he would sip his tea quietly while Harry was once again stuck, nose deep in his book, and he recently took the habit of taking off his long outer robe. It wasn't much, he still wore a pretty formal intricate black robe underneath but it's nontheless a habit Harry pretty much delighted in.
Oh of course Snape wasn't very tall, nor conventionnaly handsome, he was very thin, probably too thin but the tight fit of the robe and the less formal look complimented him well, and that's the only thing Harry saw.
So much for a tiny, tiny little 'start struck'...


A few days later and Harry's wall was complete.


Two weeks later and several sneaky mind attacks from Snape and even Dumbledore couldn't break it.


That's when things went a little bit awry.


You see, the advantage of having a weak, Voldemort-prone mind was that nobody gave you important piece of information. Of course Harry had always wanted to KNOW what was going on. But now that he knew, he wasn't so sure.
The next day was spent trying to forget under his cover.
Dumbledore was dying, Snape was a spy, Snape had to kill him, the Gaunt's ring, the horcruxes, everything had to be destroyed, or Voldemort wouldn't be.
His mind was a mess, he had finally gone out of his room and was wandering aimlessly in the silent corridors. He didn't know what to think of it all. Snape was a spy! It meant more bad news than good. He didn't doubt Snape's allegiance anymore, but hadn't for some time now, so the news didn't bring him any reconfort. The only thought in his head was that Snape was going on risking his life every turn for a mistake he committed 20 years ago and thinking one day he could very well not come back from a little session with the snake filled his heart with ice.
He really needed to calm down, after all, there was no way he would survive this war himself. Absolutely no way.
That's where he heard sniffing, from the bahroom on his right. He had not even realised he had gone this far in the castle but what does it matter, he was in no mind to plan.
He hadn't thought about what he would face when he entered that bathroom, but he would never have guessed Draco Malfoy was the answer.
Though he should have known better than following his curiosity really.


He had tried to talk, but the crying man had cursed him straight away.
...
Or maybe half screaming "MALFOY" when the man was crying silently in an abandonned girl's bathroom hadn't been the best approach...
...Right...


5 minutes later and the bathroom was looking pretty much devastated.


Half a second later and Malfoy was casting the infamous crucio at Harry whose mouth had nearly finished the word "sectumsempra" before he remembered his promise to Snape and snapped his mouth shut, and he had never been so glad for that thought as to when Snape actually told him later, what the spell did. Knowing he wouldn't have another spell ready on time, he took the curse straight in the chest and collapsed in a heap of painfull mess.
Let's say that got the blonde's attention if the frightful, panicked scream was anything to go by.
The spell hadn't been very powerful, painful, yes, but not enough to paralyse. More of a spell cast to get away than to hurt. Talk about another beaten dog, really.
It took 4 seconds for Draco to get his bearing and try to flee but Harry was faster. He locked the door and bodybound him, then took his wand. He conjured ropes and a chair a fastened Malfoy to it before he took off the bodybind.
He hadn't thought of what to do past that really, as usual he had acted on impulse and the best would probably be to call a teacher but he needed to know things first, he needed to be sure.
He had seen how Malfoy acted this year and it was completely opposite to what he was used to and that, in addition to everything, scared him. Yes he didn't like the prick, but he recognized the signs, he had seen them long enough during occlumency.
If Malfoy had looked panicked, it was nothing compared to what he looked like when Harry conjured the knife.
Honestly what was the blonde thinking! That he would cut him to shred? idiot.
He cut and ripped the left arm of Malfoy's shirt, ignoring his teary pleas and got a good look at what he had been praying wouldn't be here.
Damn Voldemort to hell.
Marking teenagers now? A coward like Malfoy? Who clearly did NOT want to be part of any of this, if the intensity of the crucio had been anything to go by? He had felt concern for the man thoughout the year, as his body became thinner, his face hollower, his smirks rare, his smiles nonexsitant and he couldn't believe one moment Malfoy went through it willingly. Not one. And he would make sure of it.
He spent 30 seconds trying to enter Draco's mind, and when he was proven he in fact, couldn't, he resorted to asking questions. It's only when he had taken Malfoy's wand by the two extremities and was ready to snap it in half in front of him that he snapped.
"YOU DON'T FUCKING UNDERSTAND POTTER! I CAN'T TELL YOU ANYTHING!"
And that's when Harry understood Malfoy might be refering to his previous unability to keep Voldemort out of his head, fact that would be well known now amongst deatheaters.
Harry being Harry, he decided on a bet.
He would cut him loose and give him his wand. If he succeeded in entering Harry's mind, he would be let go. If he didn't succeed, he would tell him what he wants to know. If he tried to flee or curse him, the ministry would be on about his little crucio attempt. Fairly simple.
It all unravelled from here, Malfoy of course didn't succeed but looked more relieved about that than anything. He didn't curse him either which was a relief in Harry's opinion and in the end, they talked for more than an hour. Harry learnt he had been threatened into getting the mark, and given a task Voldemort knew he would never be able to accomplish, all that to get back at his parents. Draco told him he had thought he was made for this, that he had been raised for this, but even his father wasn't sure anymore, even him wanted out but couldn't. He admitted he didn't like Granger but didn't want to slit her throat open either. He didn't know what to do anymore. Needless to say it got to Harry's heart quick enough.
It took some convincing on Harry's part for Malfoy to willingly go in Dumbledore's office. Upon entrance, the old man understood quick enough and asked Draco what he wanted to do. Against all odds, the man asked to become a spy, so he could go on protecting his parents the best he could. Harry looked surprised at that, told him he wasn't that much of a coward in the end.
Draco had to swear an oath, same as Harry and Snape, to protect the informations he would be given and the people he held dear.
Snape entered not much later, which made Draco panick in record time.
Understandable really, since he might have been his godfather, but he was still a deatheater for him, and a faithful one at that.
What happened next shocked both Harry and Draco as Snape, upon hearing what was going on, whispered "thank god" and hugged Draco so tightly it had to hurt. Though Harry wouldn't know would he? It wasn't HE that got hug by Snape...and NO he was NOT pouting.
In the end, Harry couldn't stop himself and told them to get a room, which was followed by a faint blush and a scowl from one, a look of pure incomprehension and shock, morphing slowly into comprehension and what looked way too much like a mocking smirk for harry's comfort in another, and a healthy dose of barely contained twinkling from the last one.
Then, the Scowl and the Twinkling asked Mocking smirk and Embarassed Harry to go back to their room, but not before Scowl asked Embarassed Harry to be at his quarters at 9.
It took some time for Malfoy to successfully say 'thank you' to Harry on the way back but in the end he did it. Of course it took no time at all after that to tease him relentlessely about his tiny little crush on his godfather...which Harry masterfully ignored...prick.
Once in Gryffindor territory, and for the first time in a long while, he spent a quiet afternoon with Hermione and Ron, talking nonsense and playing chess. After all the serious stuff, it felt good to have his friends again.
At 8.45, he left for Snape's private quarter. He might master occlumency, but he still needed training. They talked a bit during this time. Snape never thanked him for what he had done earlier but as he began to talk about the Prince, Harry understood it for what it was. He learned at last that Prince was Snape's mother's name, and that he had actually been very close to knowing the truth when he had found about Eileen Prince, Hogwart's gobblestones team captain.
Harry went on reading the second book on mind games he had found and time passed until Snape told him he was already way past curfew and he really needed to go. Harry pleaded until Snape abandonned and went to sleep, promising harsh retribution if he was still on his couch come morning.
Harry had smiled at that, as he got back to his reading, surrounded by the scent of the one he was steadily learning to fall in love with.
Come to think of it, he really should have expected to get thrown out on his arse, hardly awake and dishevelled when Snape found him the next morning, fast asleep on the couch, but it didn't make his butt hurt less.
If he ever wondered about the taste of coffee on his lips, he didn't mention it.


It had been three weeks since then and Harry was peacefully sleeping when the white fox came. Glowing but weak and choppy, like an old television and it would have scared him to hell if it hadn't spoken quietly in Malfoy's voice.
"Come...quarters... now"
Blast his resolutions to hell, he grabbed his cloak and ran.
It took 2 minutes and a half to run through half of the castle and barge in Snape's quarters, whizzing like the Hogwarts express, and upon seeing a bloody Malfoy on the floor and a ghostly pale Snape sprawled on the couch he couldn't help but feel relieved: at least they were alive.
Snape looked tired and nearly unconscious but stable enough so he went to Malfoy, who was now spitting blood on the floor.
It took nearly 5 minutes to stabilize him with spells he knew and potions Snape was describing him from the couch but in the end all went well. He conjured a soft matress and carried him on it telling him he could sleep now, but as Malfoy thanked him and was ready to faint, he said something that made Harry uneasy.
"Stubborn..man..............concealing....charm......heal" he said as he kept staring at Harry willing him to understand, and when he did, when the confused look in the green eyes transformed to angst and panick, only then did he allow himself to succomb to his body's need and close his eyes.
'He wouldn't dare...would he??' was thinking Harry while he stood over the near unconscious form of Snape. But the pool of blood quickly forming on the couch informed him that he indeed, dared.
It took him 5 other precious minutes for Harry to break through Snape's heavy concealment charms, much to the man's protest and when he finally did, he promised himself to kick the man to the moon first thing when he was recovered enough.
"Of all the...! Fuck you Snape! People would think you would start trusting me enough to handle that sort of thing would they? WHAT where you going to do with this eh? you can't even go to Pomfresh for fuck's sake!"
"Lan..guage...Potter"
"How can you be so.....so.....INFURIATING! Tell me what to do!" It was clear Harry wasn't a medic and he needed Snape to cooperate and tell him what needed to be done or their could be some serious consequences. He didn't even know where the man hurt!
"Don't...need...help...I can perfectly...take care of myself...leave" ....What?
"Alright Snape you're going to listen to me and listen to me GOOD! I'm not leaving here until the BLOOD on your COUCH is BACK in your BODY am I being CLEAR? And if you keep your "I don't need help whatsoever" act it will be MY pleasure to PRESS FIRMLY on EACH and EVERY CUT THERE IS ON YOUR BODY UNTIL YOU LET ME HEAL YOU IS IT CLEAR ENOUGH!" Thank god for silencing charms or half the castle would already be here...
Harry never knew if that was his raised voice, his serious expression or the promise of more pain that got Snape to talk, but the principal is he did talk and everything went fine...until 5 minutes later.
"You're not...taking my...clothes off Po..tter"
"Silly of me...and here I thought for a minute you were going to make this EASY! I'm not healing your rib, which is by the way NOT in a natural position at ALL, through your ROBE!"
"Potter...I'm not discussing...you're not...taking it off.."
"I'm trying very hard to be patient here Snape, while you are apparently being a masochist and prolonging your pain willingly but if I have to tie you down or bodybind you to heal you, I will."
"I will kill you...Potter...if you do..."
"What the FUCK Snape I'm trying to HEAL YOU HERE!"
"It's..none of your...business..Potter, Leave..."
" LIKE FUCK I...."
"Potter! Come here!" shit...
"Not you too Malfoy! what is it? You hurting somewhere?" Clearly he wasn't a medic and he was dearly hoping Draco didn't hurt and would recover swiftly. It's not until he was kneeling by his side that Draco spoke again, quietly so only the two of them could hear.
"He has scars Potter, and he hates them...I saw them once...he got very angry...it's why he won't...let you...but force him...please...I saw what Voldemort did...he probably has several broken bones...and misplaced joints...heal him...please."
" Of all the stupid reasons...I will Draco, even if I have to stun him..."
"Thanks...*cough*"
"Easy...thanks for telling me...think you can sleep?"
"Yeah, should be good...if you stop yelling it is..." Harry never had thought he would say that one day but damn it felt good to see him smirk again.
" *snort* Sorry, bear with it a bit, it will be calm soon enough, I'm not done with him yet..."
Oh yes there would be screaming alright!
"SEVERUS FUCKING SNAPE!" was Harry's less than quiet approach to the now very bloody couch. "I AM TAKING YOUR CLOTHES OFF RIGHT NOW AND NEITHER YOUR NOR YOUR STUPID SCARS WON'T STOP ME"
"Fuck you Potter! You're not touching me...you don't...know...anything...being perfect golden boy...leave NOW"
"Alright, I'm done being patient. You think I don't understand. IS THAT IT? you think I don't KNOW WHAT SCARS ARE? You think I'll be disgusted or I don't know what shit? Then take a look COME ON!"
Harry's shirt went flying to the ground, half ripped. His thin chest glistening with sweat was catching the soft light as many scars were bared to view. They didn't look painful or deep, but they were visible nonetheless, some more than others. He turned around like a woman exhibiting a new dress, and his back held the heavier looking ones.
"How......?" Was Snape's strangled whisper, eyes wide taking in the sad view of a child's ruined body.
"The ones on my back...come from my cousin, when he found it funny to push me against the neighbour's electrified barbed wires. Though some of the lashes might not be that visible, as they might be crossed with the burns I got from where he tried to fit me in the oven...shame it had been on. The aweful looking on on my left forearm well...you can thank snakeface but you probably knew right?"
"Bastards...to do that...to a child..." He had turned his eyes, apparently unable to deal with it.
"Weren't you? A child?" This was the moment of truth. Either Snape helped, either he would have to bind him. Honestly the talk was taking too long, did he have a death wish or something? Dying in his own blood??
"Not...for all of them. Fuck you...Potter" But the sentiments weren't there, and Snape actually was using his magic to unbutton the heaviest of his clothing.
"Much appreciated Snape really..."
"Don't ask...more of me" He was havng difficulty moving, and breathing and only his shirt was left to unbutton.
"I won't...try not to move" As he came closer, Snape tensed but stopped talking. His clothing got banished, his shirt ripped and Harry didn't even pay attention to any scars. Blood was everywhere, two ribs where sticking out and his neck had taken a blue-violet tint that meant trouble. Harry barely held the "ouch, that got to hurt" comment that was fighting to go out as his own stomach was starting to backflip unpleasantly.
It took all of Snape's and Harry's efforts combined to stop the blood, replace the bones and heal nearly everything except bruises. Snape was past exhausted but Harry didn't want to let him sleep on the bloody couch so he carried him, using a featherlight charm to his bed after cleaning him and got him under the covers. He had seen the scars by now, and they didn't look light. They were on his chest, his hips, his back...but he didn't care. He wanted to tell Snape he didn't care, that he thought he was beautiful the way he was, but he knew he would get AK'ed straight away so he closed his mouth and did the only thing he was brave enough to do, he placed a kiss on his chest, straight above the heart, where a deep scar could be seen running, and hoped the message was clear enough.
Before Snape could say a word, if he was even capable of it right now, he burried him under the cover and went back to the main room, but not before telling him he would stay there, if he needed any help.
He went back to Draco and proceeded to clean him too, so he wouldn't wake up drenched in blood. He cleaned the couch and threw the used potions away before himself succumbing to sleep.


Unfortunately, from there the problems kept coming. The horcurx quest was coming about slowly, Voldemort's attacks on muggles and wizzards alike were becoming more frequent, the nights like this one where Harry needed to heal the both of them kept coming. They all knew what it meant.
Things were moving.
The end was near.


Problems went on as Harry was called by Dumbledore one evening.


He was found much later, wandering the halls like an empty shell by Draco, who panicked and got him to Snape before going back to the Slytherins, to not appear suspicious.
It took Harry some time to get out of that shell, Snape had got him on his couch and had tried to make him drink a calming draught, but Harry hadn't respond so he had taken the matter in his hands. He had quietly taken him in his bed and had unscrewed the bottle, downing it himself before straddling Harry and closing his mouth on his. Their lips moved together for a while until Harry finally swallowed and Snape took him in his arm, holding him, patiently waiting for him to break.
And break he did. Harry cried and cried as Snape tightened his hold on him feeling his heart break, the longer harry's tears fell.
After the hurrican came the calm. Harry calmed down but stayed in the man's arms, thinking he never wanted him to let go.
Snape asked him then: "He told you about the last horcrux didn't he?"
Because he already knew, that Dumbledore wouldn't be able to keep it a secret for much longer. Things were moving too fast, shadows were closing in on them.
Harry only nodded and sniffed quietly, slowly gaining his countenance back. The potion had taken effect a long time ago, but Snape's arms around him were working best.
"Sorry..." was the quiet whisper that came a while later.
"You have nothing to be sorry for Potter" He knew he should untighten his arms but he didn't want to.
"Harry...please...call me Harry...just for a little while"
"Alright...Harry"
"wow...feels weird" Harry had then giggled.
"You were the one to ask...brat" There was no venom in his voice as he was content to hear harry's laugh.
Harry became serious again then, and appologized anew. He told him it's not as if he hadn't known he was to die, it had juste taken him by surprise, after everything.
Snape had then acted selfishely, for the first time since long, and had kissed Harry, gently, a simple mouth to mouth contact but Harry had melted like butter under a summer's sun. In the end they kissed for a while, no pressure, as they didn't want to take it further. Innocent, could have described it the best, as they both were when it came to sentiments.
They talked a lot after that, about the war to come and in the end, Harry arrived to a conclusion.
"Fuck destiny!" He had said "You want me to die? You want him to die as well? Then fuck you! I will kill Voldemort, even if I have to rip his head off myself with my own teeth but I won't die! And you won't either...Severus." He had then looked in his dark brown eyes and told him "If I survive this and you died a stupid death you could have easily overcome with potions or spells, I can assure you I will revive you and kill you myself".
Severus had not understood it at the time, why Harry would want to burden himself with an old man, broken man, who had never known love and who was the farthest he could find from beautiful and nice so he had asked him. He honestly hadn't thought Harry would want anything to do with him if they were to both survive, at least not romantically speaking.
Obviously it made Harry angry, so he explained himself quite clearly. Every points that make him like him. Every little facts that made him love him, and for each of this facts, Harry would kiss one scar. The end of this little speech found Harry at Snape's slender waist, lavishing it with his tongue while a very short of breath Snape was trying his best to reign in his body, his chest still burning from Harry's kisses and little nips.
They stopped here though, as neither of them felt it would be good to step on the boundaries for now, but Harry assured him after a well placed kiss that the next time, when the war was done, and Voldemort dead, he would not stop, as the sight of him, panting on his own bed had made him feel a fever he had never experienced of his living.
Sweetly enough, Snape had looked thoroughly embarassed.
Not much happened after that, Snape told Harry he was a cheeky brat, and they fell asleep on that promise, cuddling together.


Things happened fast after this. Dumbledore told him it was time he accompanied him, and when he crossed Draco that evening, he knew this night would change everything.
"They are coming...I'm sorry Harry..." Draco had told him, looking faint, but Harry had understood. He had hugged Draco tightly and told him he was glad he was with us. He made him promise to survive this no matter what and left to find Ron and Hermione.
It took about 10 minutes to reunify the DA. He told them the few things he had the right to, mainly that they were coming. They told them to leave. Of course nobody left. They all stayed to fight and Harry left the room, proud of his team, his friends.
He went with Dumbledore that night, and got acquainted with the term "inferi". All went bad. The Horcrux was a false, only a note, R.A.B.
They went back to Hogwarts to find the skull illuminating the sky. They arrived on the tower, someone was coming, Harry got disilusioned.
Draco disarmed Dumbledore, and of course couldn't kill him but Snape could, and he did. Harry heart ripped in two as his mentor fell, as Snape and Draco looked ready to cry. Deatheaters ran after that, Harry ran after the two shadows but wasn't fast enough. The last thing he saw of them were both their distraught faces turned to him, as the disaparated in a black smoke, as Harry screamed at them.
"Survive you bastards, you fucking BETTER SURVIVE!"



It had been a long time ago already, since he last saw them. He was now "camping" with Hermione. Ron had just left, influenced by the dark necklace. He needed to cheer Mione so he danced with her and held her close when she felt like breaking.
They didn't find many clues. They found the tales of the three brothers at the Lovegoods, went into a trap at Godric's hollow and nearly got killed. Though he met his parents' graves, for the first time.
He was losing hope when he saw the doe, deep in the forest, near their tents. He knew it had been his mother's, he knew it was Snape's, so he followed it and found the sword.
...
...Alright...
...going IN the water with the necklace had NOT been very intelligent.
But Ron had come hadn't he?
They were back, the three of them, Hermione was smiling again but Harry's heart was more and more heavy.
In the end they got caught by snatchers and brought to Malfoy manor and how Harry had never been so glad to see his favorite blond idiot!
They stared at each other for a long time as Lucius was asking his son to formally identify Harry, hidden under Hermione's quick deforming spell. Harry had never felt so close to kiss Malfoy as he lied while his eyes told him what he wanted to know. Snape was still alive. Malfoy was still alive.
They succeeded to escape thanks to Dobby, who apparated them all. Harry had barely been able to get new wands from Draco and they had left, but Bellatrix's knife had been faster.
Harry burried Dobby himself, at the top of a windy sea shore, where he would be able to see sunsets and sunrises forever, free as he had always been.
Harry had felt like going back when he had realised he had stolen Draco's wand. He hoped he wouldn't be the death of him. But he had saved Luna, Griphook and Ollivanders, who told him Voldemort had learnt about the deathly Hallows.
That meant Snape's days were coming short. His heart had never been this heavy.
The quest went on, he met a dragon...again...but this time rode on it's back, another horcrux safely held.
In the end they only had one choice left: Hogwarts.
They went in the night, and found Dumbledore's brother, Aberforth, who helped them get in.
He did a stupid thing, confronting Snape, but he wanted to tell him he was alright, he wanted to see him.
"How dare you stand where he stood!" That might have hurt him...but he had to tell him, he had to know he was alive, so he wouldn't do stupid things.
He met again with Draco and two of his stupid croonies in the Room of requirements while looking for the diadem and had never been so afraid as to when the fiendfyre was cast and Draco found himself on this meagre bookpile, surrounded by fire.
Luckily he had been quick enough to snatch him and leave the room on a broom, Ron and Hermione showing the way.
The diadem had been distroyed by the cursed fire. A good thing.
Draco hugged him briefly, on the floor where they fell, glad to be alive and whispered to him to open his mind, that Voldemort had called for Snape but he didn't know where they were. He then left running.
Harry opened his mind. It took some time and it hurt to feel Voldemort again after so long but he found them, in the small boat house.
They hurry, the three of them and arrive when Nagini sheated her fangs in Snape's tender neck. It took both Hermione's and Ron's strength to hold Harry back. Now wasn't the time to face him.
Voldemort left, Nagini too and Harry hurried to his lover's side.
The light from the nearly black eyes was fading, little by little...
"look..at...me" were Snape's whispered words so Harry did, and plunged in Snape's ungarded mind. All was choppy, and weak, but he could see the bottle, the two bottles in the pocket. Two drops from the red one, then the entire blue bottle. He hurried to obey, forcing Snape to drink his own potions the same way he made Dumbeldore drink the liquid that drove him mad and after the second bottle, Snape heart stopped. His eyes still opened and unseeing, fixed on Harry and Harry screamed. He cast a stasis and a disillusionment charm on him and left.
If he had ever felt murderous, it was nothing compared to what he felt now.
He sent Hermione and Ron to fecth the fang in the chamber of secrets and, after briefly hugging them both, went to his death.
He had Draco's wand with him and his cloak, and a few hundred meters from Voldemort, he opened the snitch.
The stone that fell in his hand was small, but beautiful and as he turned it over, he got to face his parents for the first time since fourth year.
It was a beautiful moment, a peaceful one, knowing the one he loved where here for him. Snape wasn't, and he wondered about what it meant. Maybe he hadn't crossed yet?
That's the moment he chose to walk to Voldemort and thinking of his loved ones, he took the curse straight to his chest.


All passed slowly, but quickly at the same time. It was a weird feeling.
He saw Dumbledore at this place, very reminiscent of King's cross. He saw a piece of Voldemort's soul. Dumbledore asked him if he wanted to go back, and he didn't, really. All he had was lost. But he couldn't think like that, he needed to kill him if he could, he needed to save those who needed saving and so he went back.
The first thing he felt when he came back into his body was a cold and petite hand, on his head. Then he heard it...
"Is he alive? Draco...is he alive?" So that must have been Narcissa's hand? A nod of his head and she did something he never thought would have happened, she lied to Voldemort.
"Dead" she announced in a cold voice. Harry could hear Hagrid's scream and the deatheater's songs of joy. Laugh all you can, bastards, while you still can.
Hagrid carried him to the castle, and as much as Harry wanted to tell him to alleviate his grief, he knew it was too risky so he kept quiet, heart ripping again at the sound of his oldest friend's sorrow.
Voldemort made quite a smug speech, in Harry's opinion. But that's only when he asked to see Draco that he snapped and jumped from Hagrid's shoulders. He would not hurt Draco, no matter what.
To Malfoy's credit, his thinking was fairly quick. He looked at Neville holding the sword and yelled at him
"LONGBOTTOM, CATCH!" As he cast a spell and sent Nagini flying to where Neville was standing.
He had been scared he wouldn't be ready but Neville had been, and had chopped Nagini's head clean off, a shout of pure rage coming from him.
Voldemort fell to his knees, screaming in agony as the next to last part of his soul disapeared in a puff of smoke. Harry wasn't feeling anything, he wasn't a horcrux anymore afterall and for the first time, he understood where the belonging feeling had been coming from, why he had always felt he belonged to him, to Voldemort.
Their face to face would be remembered for a long time. As Voldemort's face as he realised Draco's and Snape's had never been his. At the thought of the one he loves, covered in blood, harry entered in a white rage and destroyed Voldemort, who believed to the end he possessed the elder wand. Too bad really.
Deatheaters left but a lot of them were arrested. The Malfoys stopped a lot of them from leaving too.
Harry felt weak, as a piece of soul that had inhabited him for so long had now disappeared but he needed to tell someone...
It was Draco who came to him when he fainted, and he had just the time to warn him
"boat...caban...disillusionment...Snape" Then all went black.





When he woke up, all was white. Which was a shock after all this black, really. He saw Ron and Hermione and tried to smile but Hermione left on a hurry. Ron took his hand and looked ready to cry in relief.
He only had the time to learn it had been two weeks since Voldemort was dead when the door banged open and Draco walked in. He was then deprived from air for about 30 seconds flat while Draco and Hermione proceeded to hug him into oblivion.
"Sorry Granger but I can't stand the pressure, Harry Snape is alive, he is in the great hall."
"Malfoy!" My ears only succeeded to catch Hermione's shocked scream as I was already up and running to said hall.
"HARRY COME BACK YOU'RE TOO WEAK! MALFOY HOW CAN YOU BE SO IRRESPONSIBLE YOU KNEW IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN!"
DAMN RIGHT it was gonna happen! Like hell I was sleeping like a good student in the infirmary if Snape was really alive, in the great hall....it was hardly believable.....he had been so sure he was dead.....please be it true....
And as he arrived in the great hall, and realised every family and staff was gathered here, he faltered. It is only when his gaze fell on the man he loved so much, his back to him, talking to Macgonagall, that he made his mind, he didn't care about anything else...It crossed his mind Malfoy probably explained everything about Snape's condition as a spy since he was there, not being spat on and cursed.
"SNAPE YOU BASTARD YOU ARE ALIVE!" Alright, that wasn't the most romantic thing that could have come out of Harry's mouth but it wasn't important.
Snape had barely enough time to turn around, the entire falling silent as Harry ran and jumped him, tears falling at seing him at last. He didn't care he was weak, he didn't care when they fell backward and sprawled n the ground for all to see, he didn't care when gasps were heard but no heart could ever stay cold a this sight, two old ennemies, one crying and holding to the other for dear life, the second clearly embarassed but no less happy, both on the ground so no one said a word until Macgonagall applauded.
And it is in a room full of applause and whistles, that Snape's recovered enough and, after taking a minute to be decidedly, fully embarassed, decided to scold Harry into next year for being out of hospital and running in the castle like a loon.
In the end Snape carried Harry back to the hospital even after he pleaded not to go, making a scene that would make any 4 years old proud.
Draco looked relieved not to have Hermione pester him anymore when they arrived and harry got unceremoniously dumped on the bed. His pout got the better of Snape though, as he bent and kissed him.
Ron ewwed.
"Nonexistent Gryffindor manners" was all he huffed, going back to the great hall.
It is said the stinging hex that burned the ginger-headed backside came out of nowhere.


Later that night, Snape came, quiet as a shadow, and stole Harry.
They spent the night together, a night both of us would remember fondly for the rest of their lives as the night Harry finally could prove to Severus he found him beautiful. They didn't leave the room for two days.
Draco got hit when he mentionned it.





In the end, Harry grieved.
A stone was carved and erected at the entrance of Hogwarts, so they could remember the fallen, and the ones who had been brave enough to fight for freedom.
Severus Snape pleaded his case and got awarded Order of Merlin 1st class, for risking his life for so long.
Draco wasn't awarded anything, but was excused of any kind of retribution, which was all very well from his point of view.
Lucius Malfoy took 3 years of Azkaban and 2 of house arrest, while Narcissa was left off with a year of house arrest.
Dumbledore's painting was added in the headmaster's office, but a special one was commissionned from Harry and Snape: the painting can bee seen above the teacher's table, in the great hall. Dumbledore appears particularily joyful in it, as he guard the cell of Gellert Grindelwald, who does not look as happy.
It has been said if you went later in the night, and peered closely at the painting, you could see it empty, cell door opened. But it never got confirmed as both of them were always back in come morning. And student weren't really allowed to wander at night, were they?
Some say Harry and Severus married in secret, their first dance so sweet and gentle it made Hermione cry.
Some say they bought an old house and rescued a black, joyful dog named Pooch.
Some say Draco kept calling it Pottypots for so long it now only responds to that name...
And there are some that say they had wanted children, but after seeing the misery said children put the weasley couple through they decided that in the end, they were happy enough babysitting and rescuing dogs.
If someone ever saw a tattooed Grim, doe, wolf or deer on harry's wrist they never mentionned it.
It is said Snape still refers to himself as harry's charity case.
It is also said each time harry hears it, he thouroughly covers him in kisses.
It is definitely said severus does it on purpose, but potter being dumb as fuck doesn't realise it.

"DRACO!"

"What bucktooth don't tell me it's not true!"

"When harry will know what you have been writing he will kill you you know that?"

"Hey weasel...damn I do have two weasel in front of me now don't I?... I survived You-Know-Who, I will survive one scrawny pot pot potty, thank you very much! I'm only the best writer in this century, people need to know what is going on!"

" 'Gossip writer' Malfoy"

"Am not! There is nothing invented in all that, I only have been rewriting what's been written in his own diary."

"Honestly Malfoy...don't you have any shame?"

"I'm sorry to interrupt but...did he just say he found, read and rewrote my private diary? I may be mistaken, I might have misheard...and I honestly wish for his pale arse I have..."

"Oops...well...FAREWELL POTTER!"

It is said Malfoy disappeared with the drafts.

It is said the day after's Prophet's first page title was something along the line of 'Black and Golden: the love story that saved us all now in stores!'

It is said Harry and Snape found it.

It is said Malfoy disappeared, period.

"Or not, hahaha no one beats a Malfoy! ISN'T IT RIGHT POTTY?"

"HERE YOU ARE YOU LITTLE BLOND MOTHERFUCKER YOU ARE SO DEAD"

"It is said Severus Snape could not stand such immature behaviours and decided to end his miserable days using a very potent, self-brewed poison"

"That's not poison, that's whiskey."

"Details, Miss Granger, details."


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