Harry woke with a start. He listened carefully, wondering what had pulled him out of a rare sound sleep. Something wasn't right.
Silently, he extracted himself from his lover's arms. She moaned softly, her hand sliding across the bed, but her breathing didn't change. With a sigh of relief, he eased out of bed and reached for his dressing gown.
When she did sleep, My-Le's sleep was as troubled as his was, her nightmares rivaling his own. A Muggle, half American and half Vietnamese, she had lived through gruesome times as well.
A sound made him turn.
A snowy owl was framed in the window, backlit by the pale gray of dawn. For one second, he thought: Hedwig! Then reality interposed itself disappointingly. No, Hedwig was long dead, along with too many others that he'd loved.
Taking a deep breath to ease the knot in his chest, Harry signaled toward the kitchen window, two more down. Thankfully, the owl understood him. But then, wizarding owls were bred for intelligence.
His hands trembled slightly as he opened the window. While communicating by owl was not unheard of in the States, it was significantly less common than in England. His wizarding colleagues would normally fire call him or use one of the modified mobile phones they all carried here.
"What do you have for me, fella?" He unwrapped the message and looked around for a treat for the owl. He settled on some nuts and a dish of water.
He drew his wand and resized the message. The parchment envelope displayed Hogwarts's seal. "You're a long way from home, aren't you?"
Despite everything he knew about the magical world, he'd always wondered how an owl could cross the Atlantic. Just magic, he supposed.
He held the envelope in his hands and turned it over several times. Should he open it? In the ten years since he'd left England, he'd had no contact with anyone from home. His choice, he knew. There were times when he missed England and the friends he'd had at school with an ache that could not be appeased, but he'd always countered that with the memory of what he'd done and how much time had passed.
"I don't suppose you know what this is about?" Harry looked hopefully at the owl.
With a shake of its head, the owl seemed to convey that that it did not.
Harry gathered his courage and tore open the note. He read it and then read it again. The words didn't change:
The headmaster is dying. He wishes to see you. If you are inclined to grant that wish, do make an attempt to come to Hogwarts in the near future. There is little time left.
He sat down heavily, letting the note fall to the table, his head dropping into his hands. God, he'd have to go back.
"Harry?" My-Le's soft voice startled him. "What's that bird doing here?"
"Uh..." Absolutely nothing came to mind. He hated to lie to her, but he'd made the decision early on not to tell her about the magical world. For one thing, he wasn't sure she'd believe him without more proof than he was willing to give. For another, if she did believe him, it would upset her world view. She'd had enough of that in her life already.
My-Le pushed the hair out of her face. She reached for the coffee pot and started to fill it. "Never mind. I don't want to know. What's that?" She then pointed to the parchment on the table. "Or don't I want to know that, either?"
"It's a letter from a former Professor. He writes that my old Headmaster is dying." Harry's voice cracked. Even if he hadn't seen Dumbledore in years, he couldn't imagine a world without him in it.
"So, you must finally return home," she said quietly. For all that they had been together for four years, by mutual and unspoken agreement, they hadn't talked much about their pasts.
"Your internship?" She was a professor from his time at university, though he'd never taken her classes, and she worried about his schooling.
"I'll need to get in touch with the Chief Resident and see what we can work out." She was a decent witch, and had been very supportive of Harry during his tenure with her department. He sincerely hoped she would continue to be understanding.
"I'm sure it will be fine." My-Le held up the coffee pot. "Do you want coffee?"
"Yes, please." He held out his mug and she filled it. After a deep swallow, he sighed in pleasure. Over the years, he'd developed a preference for coffee over tea.
"It's too early to phone anyone." He'd have to take care of so many details before he could return to England.
Setting her mug on the table, she turned to face him fully. Though her shoulder-length hair was still mussed from sleep, something hard and impassive reflected in her face. "This is an interesting twist of fate. You must return to England and face your past, and I must also face mine. I shall be traveling back to Vietnam as part of the university delegation."
"How long will you be gone?" He kept his tone flat, betraying none of the grief he felt at her leaving.
My-Le put a hand on his arm. "Harry, you know I care deeply for you--"
"That sounds like a kiss-off." He set his mug down. It wasn't as if he didn't expect this.
"It is reality. You are so young--"
Harry held up his hand. "No. Don't tell me that. I'm as old as you in experience." He would have said older, but she'd grown up on the streets of Saigon before her father found her as a teenager. Even then, her life in the States had not been easy.
"I don't doubt that." She sighed, her black hair falling into her face. Her delicate features were spoiled by a hawk nose, a genetic gift from her American father. "I hear your nightmares as you hear mine." She looked up and met his eyes unflinchingly. "However, I cannot continue to do this."
"So, after four years, it's just 'so long, Harry'?" He winced inwardly. Making a scene was repellent to him, and would not change the outcome of their conversation.
My-Le pulled her dressing gown tighter around her thin body. "We have never made any promises."
"I know. I'd hoped you want to stay," Harry said quietly, coolly, starting to pull back into himself.
She stepped up to him and kissed him softly. "There is a part of me that wishes I could stay with you. But you have your whole life ahead of you. You must return to your own world."
Something in the way she said that made him look at her. Knowledge that shouldn't have been there shone in her eyes. "Oh God. You know?"
"I know nothing. I do not wish to see. Look around your flat. You have left yourself too exposed." My-Le waved a hand around the room.
He glanced into the living room, and then back at her. "I don't understand."
"In my world, the pictures do not move." She pointed to the picture of his parents at Yule one year after they left school, James whirling Lily around forever in circles.
He'd had that photo since he'd first attended Hogwarts. In truth, he'd never thought to put it away. "It took you four years to mention that?"
With bright eyes, she took his hand and pressed a soft kiss to the palm. "I shall miss you, Harry Potter."
Harry pushed open the great wooden doors of Hogwarts. As they swung silently open, he remembered the first time he had passed through them, the hope he'd had for a better future, his excitement as a new world opened up for him, the joy of making new friends. Passing through the doorway now, he remembered his fears as a madman stalked him, the brutality of a war he could do nothing to stop, the grief and regret for the friends lost to him.
With a shake of his head, Harry dismissed his maudlin thoughts. Now was not the time for such things. He stepped over the threshold, seeing it as both the adult he was now and the child he'd been then. How was it possible that he had changed so much, but this place not at all?
The Great Hall was silent, the students all gone home for the summer. His footsteps echoed as he crossed the floor.
"Harry Potter," a familiar voice said. "It's good to see you back again."
Harry whirled around to see Professor McGonagall coming towards him, a smile lighting her face. She hadn't changed much. Her bearing ramrod straight, her gaze still as direct as it had ever been. "It's good to be back, Professor."
"Oh, do call me Minerva, dear boy. I'm long past being your teacher." She continued to smile, but Harry saw how tired she looked.
He tried to return her smile. "Thank you, Minerva. How are you? How is he?"
"I am fine." Surprisingly, her eyes filled, and she looked away. "Albus continues to grow weaker. It won't be long now."
For a second, Harry closed his eyes and breathed out heavily. "Is there nothing that can be done? With all the magic in the Wizarding world surely someone could do something."
"It's his choice, dear. We --" She cut herself off and looked down.
"Why now? What happened to make him decide?" Shaken, Harry choked on the words.
She shook her head, her eyes sad, but resigned as she met his through the square lenses of her glasses. "He's old, Harry. Tired. He is ready to let go of this world."
It went against everything Harry believed in. "But --"
"But nothing," she said, her tone sharper, reproving even. "When a wizard reaches Albus' age, it's his choice, not ours."
Harry knew she was right. "What shall we do without him?"
"Well, young man, you've certainly done just fine, haven't you?" Her smile took the sting out of her words.
"He helped me." Feeling young and silly as only an admonishing teacher could make him feel, Harry stared at his shoes. "If it hadn't been for him, I can't imagine what would have become of me." Harry looked up, hoping his face wasn't showing every emotion he was feeling. "Can I see him?"
"He's asleep right now. Perhaps after supper."
Disappointed, Harry lifted his pack. "All right. I'll find a place to stay in Hogsmeade. Does Rosmerta still own The Three Broomsticks?"
"She does. However, you won't have need of her hospitality. You'll stay here. We certainly have the room." McGonagall snapped her fingers twice.
Dobby appeared and caught sight of Harry, his watery eyes widening. "It is Harry Potter. Dobby is so glad to see Harry Potter again. Is Harry Potter well, sir?"
"I'm fine, Dobby. It's good to see you again." He grinned down at the elf. That was another thing they didn't have in the States. Magical creatures could not be bound to anyone or anything.
"Is you liking the United States of America?" Dobby asked, solicitously. His gaze fixed on Harry's face.
Harry grinned. "I am. You might like it there, too. All the House Elves are paid wages there."
"Dobby is paid wages here," Dobby said, puffing out his bony chest.
"That's true." This wasn't the time to explain minimum wage or working conditions. It would be lost on Dobby.
"Dobby will stay here." He looked up at McGonagall, clearly waiting for instructions.
McGonagall smiled at Dobby. "Would you see that rooms are made ready for Mr Potter?"
Dobby turned to Harry. "Dobby is doing it myself. Dobby is glad to see you back, Harry Potter. You is to stay with us now?"
"Yes. Thank you. And thank you, Minerva."
"Come back down after you've settled in. There are several others staying at the moment. Not to mention all of the teachers."
"Do I know any of them?"
"You might be surprised." Her tone mysterious as if she had a secret, she held out her hand for him to precede her out of the hall.
An hour later, Harry headed back to the Great Hall. A bit on edge, he wasn't sure what to expect, nor what would be expected of him.
"Harry?" a familiar voice called. "Is that really you?"
He closed his eyes and took several breaths before he was calm enough to face her. "Hermione," Harry whispered.
The physical distance between them was only five feet, but it was nothing compared to the ten years without contact that actually separated them. Harry looked at her, wanting nothing more than to wrap his arms around her and hold her tightly. With her arms crossed over her chest and a deep frown on her face, she looked less than welcoming. Having her look at him that way felt like a knife in his guts, even as he acknowledged her right to it.
Hermione hadn't changed at all and yet she looked nothing like she had when he'd seen her last. Her billowing robes hid her shape, but she glowed with good health. Her wild hair had been tamed into a chignon at the nape of her neck, though several uncontrolled tendrils danced around her face.
The silence between them was broken abruptly by the sound of running footsteps. A young boy with striking red hair came to stand beside her, his face flushed, panting slightly. "Mum, dad said that I can stay over with Daniel tonight, if you say it's okay."
Harry's eyes stung. It couldn't be. Ron had died in his arms. But the boy, perhaps nine years old, was Ron's image.
"Mum?" the boy asked, his voice now carrying a note of worry. He glanced at Harry. "Mum, why is he crying?"
"You look just like your father," Harry choked out, wiping away the tears that he hadn't known he'd shed. That he could talk at all, frankly amazed him. In his mind's eye, he saw Ron Weasley writhing on the floor in agony as he was tortured by Voldemort.
Surprisingly, the boy shook his head, giving him a puzzled look. "No. I don't look anything like my dad."
"He means your biological father," Hermione explained, biting her bottom lip, and not looking at Harry. "And yes, you may go tonight. Have Mrs. Brandle owl me, all right?"
"Yes. Thanks." The boy started to turn away and then looked back, studying him, a bewildered look on his face. "Do I know you?"
"This is my friend from school, Harry Potter." She said it mildly, as if it were still true. Harry hoped it was with all his heart.
"Really!" The boy peered closely at him. "Are you really Harry Potter? We studied you in school. That is so brill. I can't wait to tell Daniel that I met Harry Potter--"
"Ronny!" Hermione's tone rang with a familiar note of censure.
Clearly, Ronny recognized it, too. He blushed and scuffed his feet on the floor. "Aw, Mum."
"Go on now." She shooed him away and Ronny ran off, laughing.
"How?" Harry gasped.
"I think that is fairly evident." Hermione sounded faintly exasperated. Exactly the same as she used to when he or Ron had asked a stupid question. "I was pregnant with him when Ron died."
"Did Ron know?" Not that it would have mattered one way or another. Ron would still have tried to rescue him and still have died and Harry and everyone else would still be mourning him.
"No. I didn't know either. I only suspected it when school ended and you left." She didn't look at him, a poignant expression on her face.
"God, I'm sorry." And he was. That he'd had to leave, that Ron had died, that she had been left alone. Harry's chest felt like there was a steel band around it, and every moment that he talked to Hermione the band tightened more, making it nearly impossible to breathe.
"Don't be. Ronny's a wonderful boy."
"He said he didn't look like his father," Harry remembered, and glanced at her left hand. She was wearing a plain white gold band, and a large emerald surrounded by diamonds.
She twisted the rings, nervously. "I married before he was born."
How could she go from Ron to someone else so easily? Harry forced his anger away. He hadn't been in her shoes. Seventeen, unmarried and pregnant was not an uncomplicated place to be, even for someone as brilliant as Hermione.
"Who?" He promised himself no matter who it was, he'd accept it. Not that it would matter anyway; Hermione had gone on with her own life and his acceptance didn't matter anymore.
"Me," yet another eerily familiar voice said.
Harry closed his eyes and prayed for strength. He turned and watched Draco Malfoy's long legs eat up the distance between the door and where he stood with Hermione.
Malfoy had been fine looking in school, in an icy blond kind of way. Now, with hair as long as his father's had been, and an erect bearing and cool gray eyes, he was magnificent -- certainly one of the most stunning men Harry had ever seen. Harry hated him on sight, with every bit as much fervor as he had when he'd been in school.
He glanced at Hermione and she looked nervous.
As well she should be. Despite how much he might want to, he couldn't explode with rage, but this would be near unto impossible to accept.
"Ronny said--" Malfoy cut himself off as he came abreast of them.
"How?" Harry kept his tone cold and impartial, despite how he felt. It was remotely possible that Malfoy could have changed.
"The usual way," Malfoy said, as scathingly arrogant as Harry remembered. "We had a huge wedding. Too bad you weren't there. I'm sure Hermione would have invited you, had she known where to send the invitation, that is." He looked at her and his whole expression changed to fond indulgence. "Merlin knows, she invited everyone else either of us ever knew."
Hermione elbowed him in the ribs affectionately as she turned and raised her face to his. "Wasn't that the point?"
"Indeed it was, my dear." Malfoy leaned down to kiss her briefly, but tenderly. He put one hand on her belly, molding it through her robes. Harry could see now that she was pregnant. "Are you feeling well?" Malfoy asked, his concern and care unmistakable.
All Harry could do was stare, stunned by the display. He could not reconcile it with anything he knew about Malfoy. "How did you --"
"End up married to a traitorous Malfoy?" Malfoy paused long enough to sneer. "Of course, it's possible that I put her under Imperius."
Hermione put her hand on Malfoy's arm. "Draco. Let me explain, please."
Malfoy opened his mouth, looked down at her and then shut it again. He executed a perfect courtly bow. "As you please, my dear. I'll be in our rooms." Without another word or look at Harry, he walked away.
Looking back at her for a cue, Harry waited silently. Under no circumstances could he conceive of a reason she might have married Draco Malfoy.
"Come on. Let's sit, okay?" She nodded towards the Great Hall.
The situation was almost more than Harry could take in at one time. With a deep breath, he pulled himself together, following Hermione silently to the bench she indicated.
"I hadn't actually meant for you to find out like that," Hermione said, looking as if she might be trying to make light of what she had to say.
"How did it happen?" Harry worked hard to keep his voice even, pleasant. He wanted to rave at her; how she could have possibly married Draco Bloody Malfoy? How could she have betrayed Ron so thoroughly?
"I'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count." Her tone wasn't quite bitter, but there was no pleasure in it either.
Harry didn't need the other two guesses. "Dumbledore. That meddlesome old bastard. Why would he want that? I mean, what purpose would it serve?"
"It would be a sign of unity between the Muggle born and the purebloods. To show the world we wanted to learn to live together in peace. Draco and I became the symbols for Dumbledore's new wizarding world." The words sounded well practiced, and no doubt, Hermione had said them many times through the years. Though whether or not she actually believed them was another story.
"That's outrageous. Why did he agree? More importantly, why did you?" Harry tamped down his temper, hoping to understand.
"I think you already know why I agreed. It was my best hope for a future." Hermione suddenly seem to find the wood grain of the bench they were sitting on quite fascinating.
"Wouldn't the Weasleys have taken you in and helped you?" Harry could not imagine Molly Weasley turning anyone away, especially not the woman carrying her grandchild.
"They would have, but I wouldn't have been able to continue my education. I would have had to go to work."
"Didn't you anyway? I mean, to care for your son." He couldn't believe she'd leave her child to be reared by house elves. Surely Malfoy would have nothing to do with Ron Weasley's son.
"I cared for him, yes. But I could also take classes and study while I did so."
"What about Malfoy? Last I had heard, he was a Death Eater."
"As it turns out, he wasn't. He convinced Voldemort that he would be more useful unmarked since he was still in school. He'd approached Dumbledore and ended up working with Severus -- Professor Snape -- as a spy." Her tone said she had absolutely no doubt about the accuracy of her information.
"You believed that?" No matter what Hermione said, he was having a difficult time believing anything good about Draco Malfoy.
"Yes." Her expression was unequivocal. But she married him. What else would she say?
Closing his eyes for a moment, Harry tried again to bury his anger. He had no right to vent it. "Why did he agree?"
"Because he'd lost his lover, just as I had, and well... it seemed like a good idea at the time." She shrugged, a small smile tugging at her lips.
"It seems like you've made a go of it." He nodded towards her belly.
"This is recent." She blushed.
"About four, maybe five months, or so, I'm thinking." The truth was he didn't want to think about it at all.
Her eyes narrowed and an odd expression flittered across her face. "That's a very good guess. How exactly did you make it?"
"I uh... went to medical school. I'm a doctor." It was all he could do not to mumble it. That annoyed him even more. He was damned proud of what he'd accomplished.
"A Muggle doctor?" Could she look any more surprised?
Harry straightened his shoulders and met her eyes. "Not exactly a Muggle doctor, but not exactly a Wizard healer either. Or more accurately, I'm both."
"I'm speechless. Aside from everything else, I didn't think you were that interested in anything academic."
"Standing next to you, the best student at Hogwarts in five generations, my academics were overlooked. Not that I minded, I had enough expectations to live up to then." He smiled at her to show he truly hadn't minded. "I passed my NEWTs well enough to be accepted into university there."
"You mean Muggle university?"
"Yes. There's a huge wizarding community in New York, but I might as well have been a Muggle for the first few years I was at university."
"Where did you go to school?"
"New York University," Harry said. "I needed something to concentrate on and that worked well. I graduated summa cum laude."
Hermione grinned at that. "Well done. How on earth did you manage? Not the grades, but moving from Hogwarts back to the Muggle world."
"It was easier than you think. Dumbledore gave me the name of someone in New York and she helped me enroll in university and find a place to live."
Looking as if she were still trying to comprehend the idea, Hermione shook her head. "Wow. You're a doctor. What is your specialty?"
"A combination of Muggle psychiatry and mind healing. I can channel despair," Harry said, proudly. "I pull the despair from the person in tiny bits, and replace it with healing energies from the earth, then wash the despair through a magical filter and feed it back into the earth."
"I didn't think that was possible. The amount of power that would take... " she trailed off and looked at him. "You're that powerful?"
"That is amazing. I want to hear about all of it." Hermione glanced at the clock. "But it's almost time for supper and I need to go to my quarters before then."
"Okay. But I do want to hear more about you and Malfoy. And Ronny, too." Something the boy said came back to him. "Does Ronny consider Draco his father? That's why he said he looks nothing like his father."
She nodded. "From the moment Ronny was born, Draco was enchanted. His lover, Pansy Parkinson, had been also been pregnant when she was killed. He was devastated. Draco considers Ronny his son and made him his heir."
"How could Malfoy do that when he's obviously Ron Weasley's child?" Harry still reeled from the idea that Malfoy was Ronny's father in more than just name.
"Wizarding Law says if you're married when the child is born and the father acknowledges the child as his, then he or she is their child. There's never been any question."
"What about Arthur and Molly?"
"They see Ronny and I think it helps with the loss."
Harry conceded that perhaps Malfoy wasn't as huge a prat as he'd been in school, especially if he were kind to Molly and Arthur. "I'll wager this has Lucius is rolling in his grave."
"No more so than my being Draco's wife would have done." Hermione snorted, clearly amused by the idea. "None of his surviving relatives were pleased."
Harry supposed that was an understatement. "I reckon not. You look happy."
"Very much so. Draco and I became friends long before we were ever lovers." She patted her belly.
"But you were married..."
"That didn't mean we slept together. Not right away, anyway. I had a new baby, remember. Maybe we weren't enemies when we married, but we weren't friends either."
"Don't you have to consummate your vows or something? I'm sorry--" His face heated with mortification. He could not believe he'd actually asked that.
Instead of smacking him for the comment, Hermione just laughed. "Don't be. But really, that only happens in Muggle romance novels. Wizards consummate their vows with magic."
There was a noise at the end of the hall and McGonagall and several other teachers came in. Harry stood to greet them.
After dinner, McGonagall stopped him before he could leave the hall. "Albus should be awake now, if you'd care to visit with him."
"Thank you. I'd like that very much." He smiled at her, nervously wondering what he'd find.
She led him up the stairs, and they deposited him in the Headmaster's office. There was a second set of stairs that led up to another study and then beyond that into Dumbledore's quarters. Lying on a huge bed, wearing a purple nightshirt with white and pink stars and moons on it, was Albus Dumbledore.
Harry had to bite back a gasp at his first sight of Dumbledore. He looked frail and withered, as if all the life had been sucked out of him. When it came to someone he cared about, Harry could never find his objectivity.
"Professor Dumbledore," Harry said quietly, sitting down in a chair by the bed. His chest tightened uncomfortably as he took Dumbledore's hand and held it. The skin was so dry and fragile it looked translucent. "How are you feeling, sir?"
"Not too bad, my boy. It's very good to see you." Dumbledore's once robust voice was now a hoarse whisper, but there was still a twinkle in his eyes. Perhaps a bit dimmer than it had been, but Harry was heartened to see it still there.
"And you, sir. Though I wish it were under other circumstances. I wish I'd come home sooner."
Dumbledore's smile faded. "I don't think you were ready to come home, even now. I'm sorry Severus wrote you. It wasn't time yet."
Harry swallowed hard. "It was past time, sir. I should have come home long ago. At least for a visit."
"If it were time, you would have. I did not want you to be forced back here, especially to see me."
"I'm glad I came. I saw Hermione. And Ronny." Harry's heart caught at the thought of the boy. Despite what Hermione had said, they hadn't been at supper.
"Yes. I'm certain that was a shock, wasn't it?" Dumbledore chuckled dryly, a touch of warmth in his tone.
"I'm glad that something of Ron survived, though I do wonder what he would have said to Draco Malfoy rearing his son." Some part of Harry wanted to shout at Dumbledore for arranging it, but it was too late for that, as it was for many things.
As if he could tell what Harry was thinking, Dumbledore looked away. "If Ron were here to comment, there would be nothing to comment upon."
"Very true." That did not make Harry feel any better about the situation.
For a time they sat in strained silence.
When it became untenable, Harry cleared his throat. "Thank you for giving me Shalimar's name. Without her I'm not sure I would have had any idea at all about how to proceed."
"I'm glad she was helpful. And that you've done so well. She's updated me on your progress over the years. Did you find what you were looking for?" Care and concern shone from Dumbledore's eyes.
It warmed Harry's heart. "I did. I believed, at first, I could ignore my magic. But I couldn't keep away from it. Eventually, I knew I had to find a way to channel it into something good and useful."
Although he controlled his magic now, and not the other way around, Harry was never quite comfortable with the enormity of it. He shifted in his chair, feeling it surge over and through him. Always there, ready, waiting for him to slip.
"Channeling despair is one of the best and most productive things you could have done. I'm very proud of you, Harry. Very proud."
Closing his eyes, Harry breathed out heavily. Those words meant the world to him. "Thank you. When I left, I was so afraid I'd be corrupted by it. I didn't know how I could live with the sheer intensity."
"You have a phenomenal amount of power. It was fortuitous that you also had strength of character and courage."
"Let's not talk about my power. The truth is, I try not to think about it." Harry sat back, forcing his hands to unclench.
"I'm sure it's difficult to live with." Dumbledore looked at him, understanding in his eyes. "Tell me of your studies, and your time in New York."
Harry nodded, telling him several funny stories of his undergraduate years. "When I was finishing up my sophomore year," he paused and looked to see if Dumbledore was still following him. "I'd decided to major in biochemistry -- which thanks to Professor Snape, I did quite well in --"
"You should tell him that. I think it would amuse him."
During his last year at Hogwarts, he and Snape had worked together long enough to have developed a fair tolerance for each other. Over the years, Harry had occasionally thought about Snape with respect and a vague fondness. "If he didn't kill me for it."
"Severus wouldn't do that," Dumbledore admonished, his eyes twinkling brightly for a moment.
"Tell me he hasn't changed. I'll bet he's still terrifying his potions students. Still as irascible as he ever was." Harry was amused by the image of Snape with his black robes flaring, stalking down the corridors.
"I think you might be surprised." Something in the way Dumbledore said it tripped alarms in Harry's head.
"I didn't see him at dinner," Harry said carefully, not wanting to pry, but unable to let the topic drop completely either.
"I expect not. So, tell me more of your studies."
The hint was less than subtle, and Harry decided he could let his curiosity ride for the moment. Snape was around the school and he'd see him sooner or later. "I wanted to go to medical school and study psychiatry. By that time, I was using magic again."
"It's hard to give up once you've tasted it."
That was an understatement. Harry shivered. "I'd started to venture into magical New York more often. I even went to see Shalimar again. She told me about a Muggle/Wizard hospital run mostly by squibs that had a combined Magical/Muggle program for psychiatry. I was thrilled. Because it was an actual accredited Muggle program -- though most of the people in it were associated with the magical community in some way, I became a Muggle doctor as well as a healer. I've almost finished my internship."
Before Dumbledore could ask anything else, a knock on the door sounded and Madam Pomfrey came in.
"Well, well, well. Harry Potter. It's good to see you, lad. How have you been?" She smiled at him.
Harry was pleased to see that she hadn't changed at all. "Quite well, Madam Pomfrey--"
"Oh, do call me Poppy. We're nearly colleagues after all."
"Yes, I suppose we are." Harry's face heated with pleasure.
"You knew that our Harry was a healer?"
She gave Dumbledore an admonishing look. "Of course. You're not the only one who follows what's going on in the greater wizarding world. I think it's time for you to go to sleep."
For a moment, Dumbledore's expression was that of a mutinous child, and then he sighed. "I expect you're right." He looked at Harry. "Will I see you tomorrow?"
"I'll be here for a few days. I... I want to catch up with everyone," he said, surprised at how unsettled he still felt.
"Can you take this to Severus for me?" Dumbledore glanced over at his bedside table and picked up a bit of folded parchment.
Bewildered by the request, Harry nonetheless nodded and took the envelope. "Sure. I'd be happy to."'
"His password is perseverantia."
Persevere. That seemed appropriate for Snape.
"He sometimes doesn't hear when you knock," Dumbledore mumbled at his questioning look.
Doesn't hear or doesn't answer? Just what was wrong with Snape?
Pomfrey glanced at Dumbledore with an odd expression. "I'll see you at breakfast, then Harry," she said, clearly not wishing to discuss it now.
More confused than ever, Harry closed the door behind him.
Severus Snape stared into the empty hearth. There was so much he was supposed to be doing, so much that needed to be done. The part of his mind that was still capable of rational thought screamed at him to get up and stop acting like a child. To do something of value, anything. He wanted to. He really did.
With a deep breath, he told himself he'd get up in a moment.
The clock on the mantle ticked.
A minute passed. And then another. And then another.
And so he passed his day.
When his stomach rumbled, he vaguely realized he hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. It was too much effort to go down to the Great Hall. And really, what would be the point?
At least the children were gone. They wouldn't be looking at him as if he were mad. So what if he hadn't taken house points from anyone for a whole term? It wasn't a requirement of his job.
The door chimed. For a brief second, he honestly thought about getting up to answer it, but frankly, it would be too much bother. There was no one who needed him now. Albus...
His heart twisted. Albus needed him least of all.
A sound in the doorway made him look up. For one second, the heaviness lifted and he appreciated the sight of the good looking man who had just broken into his rooms. Dear Merlin, that was Harry Potter.
"You never did have any manners, did you?" Snape asked, pleased with the growl in his voice. If he didn't sound as angry as he should have been, at least he didn't sound pathetic, either.
"I'm sorry to bother you, sir," Potter said, very politely, almost diffident.
"Then why did you?" Snape would have turned away, found something else to look at, but his rooms held little fascination and Potter held quite a bit. "What do you want? Can't you see I'm a busy man?"
"I can see that, yes." Potter's tone was just this side of amused and his eyes sparkled for a moment before fading. He held out a parchment. "The headmaster asked me to deliver this to you."
"So, you're now a delivery boy? What does it say?"
Potter shrugged. "I haven't opened it."
"Just leave it there. I'll get to it." Snape waved a hand at the desk where two months' worth of post lay in a heap.
"If the headmaster sent me down with it, don't you think it might be important?"
"I don't care what it is. Just put it with the rest. And then leave." Snape looked away, scowling. Why did Potter care if he read his mail? What was it to him?
"I'm sorry --"
"Don't apologize. Go away. Just go." Snape raised his eyes. Merlin, how he hated to see compassion on Potter's face. How far he had sunk to have Potter looking at him in such a way. Snape was mortified.
Silence stretched between them as Potter stubbornly didn't leave, his look becoming more concerned. "I know it hurts, but I can help you," Potter said quietly into the breach.
"No one can help me, boy. I'm damned to all seven hells and worse and we both know it." Snape looked back at the fireplace, hoping to close Potter out. The numbness in his chest grew worse, and he breathed out slowly and then back in. Slow and steady. He concentrated on that.
"I can help you to deal with --"
He didn't need Potter to finish that statement. He didn't want help dealing with anything. He was doing fine on his own. "I know he's going to die. We are all going to die at some point. There is nothing I can do about it, or that you can do about it. You can't help me."
"I can. As bad as I know you feel now, I swear I can make you feel better. If you let me," Potter insisted, sounding so sincere and sure of himself. That was more like the Potter he remembered.
Snape didn't have the energy to fight. Perhaps the boy would Obliviate him. "Fine. Do as you please. Just be quick about it."
With another worried look, Potter stepped forward.
And then Potter was too close. It made Snape uneasy. He was hyper-aware of the aftershave Potter wore, the scent of his skin beneath it, the heat of his body. A shudder that Snape couldn't control ran through him, but he could not look away.
"This works better if you tell me what has hurt you." Potter's fingers gently touched his hair.
Snape wanted to pull away from Potter's touch. His hair was filthy. It hadn't been washed in a week, probably closer to two. How could Potter stand it?
Looking back at Potter, Snape could see he was waiting for a response. What was the question? He shrugged and hoped it was enough.
"Close your eyes." Potter gently caressed Snape's scalp with his fingertips.
He didn't feel anything at first, just Potter's hand touching him and the soft murmur of Latin words. After another moment, a curious feeling washed through him. It seemed to pulse inside, to fade out slightly and return. Snape wasn't sure how much time passed as Potter did whatever it was he was doing, but it seemed that the pulsing went through him three distinct times.
When Potter finally stopped, Snape felt different. Better. Some of the awful black melancholy that had dogged his life had been removed, and what was left in its place was indefinable, but it eased his soul ever so slightly. Enough so that he could breathe freely for the first time in what seemed like a year.
Beyond words, Snape opened his eyes and tried to still his body's shaking.
Potter was smiling at him.
"What in Merlin's name did you just do?" Snape asked, his voice hoarse with shock.
"I bled off some of your despair." Potter had no pride or hubris in his tone. He said it as if it were an everyday occurrence.
"That isn't possible," Snape whispered, his voice still wobbly. "You can't just bleed off despair. It has to go somewhere."
Potter removed his hand from Snape's hair and sighed. "I exchange it for earth energies."
"You could rule the world with that kind of power." Snape could taste fear rising in his throat.
Without a blush, Potter looked right at him and nodded. "Perhaps I could. At least until someone stronger came along and killed me. I'd rather live."
Impressed with the quietly spoken words despite himself, Snape chuckled. "So, instead of ruling the world, you'll save it. Again. Typical Gryffindor."
This time, Potter laughed. "God, it's been so long since anyone has brought up school houses."
"That doesn't make it any less true. Don't they use school houses in the States?â€ Snape glanced up.
"Honestly, I don't know. I went to university there, not secondary school." Potter's fingers found their way into his hair again, sliding through the greasy strands.
Snape thought about pulling away, but decided not to. If Potter didn't mind the state of his hair, then he didn't mind the touch. Indeed, it had been years since anyone had touched him. "You learned to channel despair at university?"
That was a surprise on so many levels. "You're a healer? I have to admit that would not have been my first guess at a career that might interest you."
"It seemed the only career possible to me. I'm a Muggle doctor as well." There was the pride he'd expected from Potter.
"I do feel better."
"It could be temporary. Unless you talk about it and accept it -- whatever is bothering you -- then your despair can return."
"Is this your field of study, then?" Under other circumstances, Snape might have enjoyed discussing this.
"Yes. Think about what I've said, sir. You need to work through what's wrong."
"You're not suggesting I talk to you, are you?" Snape would never be comfortable talking to anyone about so personal a matter.
Potter shook his head. "While I'm trained to listen, to help people, I doubt I could ever be objective where you're concerned. Especially given my own grief over Dumbledore."
That was only part of his problems. "Of course."
"Besides," Potter said, his voice low and edgy. "If I treated you, I couldn't do this..." With warm sure hands, Potter cupped his face, tilting it up and looking deep into his eyes.
Too shocked to move, Snape knew he could easily get lost in that gaze. There was no mistaking the desire or intent in Potter's eyes.
Potter bent down and brushed his dry, soft lips across Snape's. The invitation behind it was clear and tenderly issued. A second kiss followed.
The sweetness of the kiss nearly allowed Snape to ignore the greater implications. His rational mind, however, demanded to know why Potter was doing this. What possible reason could he have?
Revenge? Payback for some long ago slight? Unlikely, Snape decided. Potter could have simply left him bound in his despair, and walked away. To heal him simply to hurt him again made no sense. Even James Potter at his worse would not have been so cruel.
Was it possible that Potter had harbored an attraction for all these years? That seemed more unlikely than revenge.
Then what? Why would Potter do this? What did he want? Was there something he hoped to gain? Or was this the price of being healed?
Snape's thoughts spiraled on until a gentle hand on his cheek broke into his reverie. Potter pulled back and he looked up into Potter's face. The gaze returned was filled with tenderness and a measure of true desire.
He relaxed infinitesimally. Whatever this was, clearly it wasn't meant to hurt him. His body tightened in response. It had been so very long. With trembling hands, he reached out to Potter, accepting his offer. He wanted it, wanted Potter.
Potter leaned in for another, longer, deeper kiss. The sweetness thrilled Snape and he allowed himself to revel in it. His tongue slid out to trace along Potter's lips, and then moved inside as Potter opened his mouth. Snape's blood pounded in his veins, making its way down to where it would do the most good. He was pulled to his feet, and Potter gathered him close.
Closing his eyes, Snape gave himself over to the kiss, relishing the feel of Potter's body against his, the thrill of his hard arousal, the scent of his sweat, and the taste of his skin. Potter moaned softly and the sound like silk rubbed Snape's skin. He bit down gently on the juncture between Potter's shoulder and neck, and was rewarded with another soft sound.
Excitement grew with each caress, each kiss, each touch, until Snape was desperate for more. His hands went to the buttons on Potter's robe, but he looked up before starting to undo them. With a new lover, he never assumed, never took for granted that any right was given.
Their eyes met, and Snape saw the knowledge there, of who they were, and what they could be to each other. Potter smiled at him, nodding, his own hands on Snape's robes. Snape took his time, unbuttoning each button as if he were unwrapping a gift at Yule. He kissed and caressed the bits of bared flesh, listening for each response, waiting for each moan, then waiting again for it to settle before he moved on.
After one article of Potter's clothing was removed, he waited and Potter removed an article of his, all very fairly. Potter had his own style of doing things, his own generosity, which he lavishly applied to Snape. It wasn't that often that Snape had a lover take so much time with him, and he appreciated it all the more for the lack.
With sighs and moans and soft laughter, they stripped off the last of their clothes, kissing as each item fell away. Into his bedroom, onto his bed, neither he nor Potter paused until they were stretched out, naked beside each other. Excitement tingled along his spine and down into his gut as Potter rolled on top of him, and Snape spread his legs to allow him to settle between them. He wasn't choosy about what they did, as long as the sweetness continued. Without understanding exactly why, Snape was certain he could trust Potter for that.
Lowering his head, Potter kissed him again, deeply, his tongue stroking into Snape's mouth, caressing. Snape met his tongue, sliding his against it, allowing it access, yielding to it. Delicious sensations rolled over him as Potter's mouth moved down to his neck, teeth worrying, but not enough to mark.
He gave way, settling further into the bed, allowing Potter to take control. Slowly, oh so very slowly, Potter kissed down the center of his chest, each movement of his mouth adding another drop of tension to the dam that was fast building inside of him. He knew it wouldn't be long before it burst and Snape would be awash in absolute pleasure.
Snape moaned softly, surprised and pleased to find such generosity. Potter's mouth moved lower, stroking into his navel, and Snape let out a very undignified giggle.
Potter looked up and smiled. "I never expected to hear that sound from you."
"Did you ever expect to create it?" Snape asked, smiling as well.
"No. I can honestly say that until now, it never even crossed my mind."
Too close to his earlier thoughts, Snape had to ask. "Then why?"
A slight flush covered Potter's face. "I need... I want... You know me," Potter finally said, his tone showing he wasn't quite sure.
Although Snape didn't understand what was driving Potter either, he wasn't going to refuse him, not now. Instead he leaned up and kissed him again.
Potter bent his head down and swiped his tongue along the lower edge of Snape's stomach. Breathing out sharply, Snape was no longer thinking about why this was happening. He was no longer thinking at all. As Potter moved even lower, all he could do was feel the sensations, flow with them, give himself over to them.
Disappointingly, Potter's mouth completely bypassed Snape's most urgent need, moving further down. Potter bent his head and touched his lips to the inside of Snape's knee.
Shuddering, sensations out of proportion for the slight caress, Snape moaned. Potter's marvelous tongue slid wetly along the inside of his thighs.
Snape could not believe how much time and effort Potter was putting into his pleasure. With determination and vigor, Potter licked and kissed and nipped up and down Snape's inner thighs and then up and over, deliberately missing what would bring him relief from this most delicious torture.
Whimpering, Snape canted his hips in supplication as Potter raised his head and looked at him, considering.
"Do you want it to end now?" Potter put a hand on Snape, moving it teasingly, not enough to do more than to arouse further. "I can make it end."
"Yes." Snape was desperate, and he knew that Potter knew it too. "No." He loved what Potter was doing to him and he wanted to revel in it for as long as he possibly could.
"Very decisive, Professor Snape." Potter actually smirked at him, his full lips red and wet from his ministrations. "Why don't you roll over?"
He didn't have to be asked twice. Snape rolled onto his belly and spread his legs. His hands clenched into the bedding, a shiver of anticipation racing through him. He wanted it, needed it, as he could remember needing few things in his life.
Potter pushed a pillow under his hips and Snape hissed as it brushed against his arousal.
"There's lubricant in the top drawer of the left bedside table." Snape tried to keep from pressing into the soft pillow.
"Thanks." Potter moved across the bed and retrieved the jar. "I'm not quite ready for it yet."
Disappointed, Snape looked back over his shoulder. "I am."
"Relax, Severus." Potter's voice was a low, rumbling purr, and it sent tendrils of desire into Snape's already overheated body.
The sensations of Potter's hands on his body were so arousing that he couldn't help himself, he canted his hips down into the pillow, looking for stimulation, for some kind of relief.
Potter's hands slowly caressed his back, moving down to his bum. It felt so marvelous that he couldn't help pressing back into it with a tiny sound of pleasure. When Potter's hands slid to Snape's shoulder blades, he held on for a moment and then moved to straddle Snape's back. Leaning down, Potter kissed along Snape's neck and he shuddered as the sensations slipped through him.
Potter moved down his back, licking and nipping at uneven intervals. Unable to hold back, Snape groaned with each kiss, grinding himself into the bedding. It wasn't enough to ease his suffering. All it did was add to his glorious agony.
With gentle fingers, Potter parted his arse cheeks and blew across the heated flesh. The feel of the cool air made him light headed with want, and Snape whimpered pitifully. Then, amazingly, Potter lowered his head and licked across the crease.
The most embarrassing whine filled the room and for a moment, Snape was not sure who had made it. As Potter's mouth returned for a second swipe, Snape was torn between mortification that he could sound so needy and desire for Potter do it again. After another pass, Snape didn't care anymore.
It wasn't the first time he'd been caressed this way, but he'd forgotten how wonderful, how amazing it was because certainly no one could survive such delicious, splendid torture. Snape sobbed out another moan, dignity gone, nothing left but the need and the want. Surrendering completely, he flew with it, each lick, each suck, each caress of Potter's supremely talented tongue stabbed at the heart of him. He pushed back, desperate for more, needing it, wanting it, having to have it to survive.
"Oh, Merlin, please. Please. Please," he begged as he had never begged before, ready to give Potter what ever he wanted in return for release. He didn't care what he sounded like. "I need--"
Potter's hands were soothing on his sides. "What do you need? I'll give you anything you want. Tell me."
"I want you. Now. Please." Snape moved his hips back, seeking more stimulation. Thankfully, he wasn't denied.
Potter's fingers were slick and gentle as they breached him for the first time, sliding in, slowly, carefully, making sure each step was pleasure filled before he went on.
The slow torture aroused Snape to another fever pitch and he was mindless with desire when Potter finally sank into him. Out of control, he groaned as the burn stretched across his lower back.
As Potter moved on him, a strange harmony sang a mellifluous song, as if a perfect chord resonated between them. Snape was too busy enjoying what Potter was doing to be more than peripherally aware of the hum echoing through him. As orgasm started to court him, his body moved in perfect sync with Potter's. Each stroke was bliss, pure ecstasy. The connection sang between him and Potter, crafted on a note of pure joy.
When the pleasure crested, Snape cried out; too intense, too beautiful to contain. He joined it willingly, joyfully, knowing it had changed him in some fundamental way.
Sometime later, probably much later judging from the stiffness of his joints and legs, Snape opened his eyes. Potter watched him intently, a small smug smile on his face.
Now that passion and despair had been lifted, Snape's questions resurfaced. The most important of which was, "Why?"
Potter blinked. "Why what?"
"Why me? Why now? Why do this? What do you want?" Snape could think of a lot of reasons, none of them in keeping with this new and improved Potter.
Potter's face flushed and he looked down. "I don't know. I promise you that when I came down here, I didn't have this..." he waved a hand between them, "in mind."
"What, exactly, did you have in mind, then?"
"Beyond delivering the note, I was only thinking of helping you. I... I suddenly knew that I wanted you. I hadn't before. Not before that second. Did you... I mean... when I was in school?" Potter raised his eyes, his meaning clear.
Appalled at the very thought, Snape shuddered and shook his head. "Certainly not. I would never -- not with a student."
"Maybe you wouldn't act on it..." Potter trailed off, his face red again. "But did you think... I don't know... something like that?"
Snape nearly choked on the implication. "No. Never. While I may not have detested you as intensely as I led you to believe, I did not like you."
Potter seemed to deflate. "Then why?"
"You tell me."
Silent for another moment, Potter seemed to consider. "I don't understand, but I do know I wanted to be with someone who knew me. Someone who wanted me for me."
Even damaged as he had been before Potter had done whatever he'd done, Snape could not believe he'd given himself away. He fixed Potter with a sharp look.
"I saw it in your eyes before you recognized me, and after. Are you saying it's not true?" Clearly self-conscious, Potter looked away.
Snape thought about lying, but couldn't summon the required energy. It was too late and he was too sated. He would find an appropriately nasty answer in the morning. "You are correct. You may stay the night, if you wish."
Potter laughed. "That's it? No more questions? No more arguments? No taking of house points?"
With a huge yawn and Snape snuggled down into the bedding. "Ten points from Gryffindor for... for not knowing when to shut-up and go to sleep."
"Yes sir." Potter slid an arm around him, pressing close and chuckling softly into his hair.
Although no natural light shone into his dungeon rooms, Snape had a window charmed to mimic the outside. Dawn peeked through the drapes that were not quite closed.
As he became fully awake, Potter moved beside him. Time to face the day. And what had happened between them last night.
Last night. Snape sighed. Last night had been remarkable. Not only physically, but on an emotional level he couldn't quite comprehend. He felt better, more energetic than he had in months, perhaps even years. However, he still had the problem of dealing with what was beside him and that was enough to fill him with dread.
Before he could decide how to act, Potter slid on top of him.
"It's not morning yet. If it's not morning yet, this doesn't have to end," Potter said, a note of desperation in his voice.
If Potter didn't want to let go just yet, Snape wasn't going to argue, not while Potter perched over him, pressing down in oh so perfect a way. If there was something to figure out, he'd do it later. Now, now, he wanted whatever delights Potter had in store.
"It's definitely not morning yet," Snape agreed, sliding his hands along the contours of Potter's smooth, sleep-warmed back, enjoying the feel of soft skin and firm muscle.
As a teen, Potter had been thin to the point of gaunt, but as an adult, he'd filled out nicely, adding height and muscle until his body was lush and delicious. Snape savored the feel of it under his hands.
Potter's mouth came down onto his, his tongue sliding slowly between Snape's lips. With a deep moan, Snape opened to the invasion, welcoming it. Excitement sparked as Potter nipped down his neck and under his jaw, murmuring softly.
His hands in caught in Snape's hair, holding him, Potter kissed him over and over. Long, slow, languorous kisses that let desire slowly simmer between them. Potter seemed to be in no more of a hurry than he'd been last night and his descent down Snape's body was torturous.
Potter's teeth worried one nipple, then moved to the other as Snape arched into each touch, each spike of pleasure bitten into his flesh. He could not hold back the sounds of his bliss, letting Potter know in no uncertain terms that his ministrations were very much appreciated. Potter laughed, slowly licking his way down, his tongue making slow sweeps against Snape's already sensitized skin.
When Potter's mouth finally closed over him, Snape groaned, pressing up, trying not to thrust too hard. Aroused almost to bursting already, it didn't take long for his delight to peak, and Snape came, shouting with undignified joy.
Potter petted him, smoothing gentle fingers along his sweaty flanks and thighs. Still reeling, Snape leaned into each touch, greedily enjoying the affection.<> After a moment or two more, Potter helped him lift his legs to his chest, leaving him open, vulnerable, and quite aware of how much he was at Potter's mercy. The suspicious part of his nature told him to beware, that perhaps Potter wouldn't be as kind or as generous this time. His heart reminded him that with the power that Potter had at his disposal, if he wanted to use it, there had been ample opportunity already. Logic didn't matter and Snape tensed.
"Severus? What's wrong?" Potter's hands stilled on his thighs and he shifted to look at him.
Snape said nothing, wanting to give in, to relax into Potter's touch, but doubt held him back.
Potter kissed him deeply, his tongue sliding into Snape's mouth, exploring gently, tenderly. Under Potter's caressing hands, and affectionate kisses, Snape finally calmed.
"Okay now?" Potter asked, his eyes meeting Snape's.
"Continue." Snape let himself sink into the bedding, opening himself up for whatever Potter might want.
Slick gentle fingers pressed into him, filling him, and unbelievably starting to arouse him again. Snape groaned, the pressure, the pleasure, all coalescing inside him. He yielded as Potter pushed into him again, the burn lasting a bit longer, but his body knew what it wanted, and responded to it.
Shockwaves jolted through him with every hit on his prostate. "Oh, Merlin. Oh, please."
Potter continued to move into him full force and Snape became so caught in the rhythm and the pleasure and the utterly perfect harmony between them that he was carried along with it, surrendering all to that moment of joy.
He opened his eyes to find Potter smiling down at him, a finger tracing across Snape's lips. Unable to resist the temptation, he nipped Potter's finger before leaning up to kiss him.
The sun was shining through the split in the drapes, casting a bright line across the wooden floor. "Undeniably morning," Snape said with a great deal of regret.
Potter nodded and slid off him; Snape's damp skin chilled quickly as Potter sat up. "Do you want me to go now?"
For a moment, everything in him rebelled against the idea. Practically, however, they had to stop, had to give into the inevitability of morning and the reality of the day. There was much Snape had to do and as odd as it seemed, he felt like he might actually get it done. With surprising reluctance, Snape forced himself to push the warm feelings and dangerous sentiment aside. He sat up and braced himself. "I'm not sure this should have happened at all."
Beside him, Potter stiffened. Hurt flashed across his face before it was blanked. "Of course not."
"Potter... Harry... I..." His gut tightening, Snape had no idea what to say. "It was..."
"What? A mistake?" Potter's tone was raw.
"I'm not sure." He looked away, his cheeks starting to heat, appalled that he could still blush at his age. His discomfort usually took the form of anger, but a look at Potter's face once again forced him to honesty. "It was lovely."
"But out of context with who we are. Still, it meant something to me."
Snape was unable to dismiss what had happened as trivial. While he could not express the sentiment, it had meant something to him as well. "Do you wish to return tonight?"
"Yes... yes, I'd like that very much." Potter got out of bed and walked naked to the toilet.
Snape watched the play of muscles as he walked, admiring the smooth expanse of skin and long lines of Potter's body. When Potter returned, he dressed rapidly in last night's wrinkled clothes.
"I'll come by after dinner, if that's all right with you. I still need to speak to Hermione. I was rather surprised by..." He looked at Snape, his eyes full of both pain and hope.
"I'll wager you were." Snape looked back at him, seeing both the child he'd been and the adult he'd become. A disconcerting reminder of just who this was. "Much has changed in the years you've been away."
"So I'm beginning to understand. Everything has changed, hasn't it?" Potter walked to the door, then stopped and came back to the bed. Leaning down, he caught Snape's head in his hand and kissed him gently.
"Yes." Snape leaned into another kiss. Something about the perfect quality of Potter's mouth called for explorations.
With a last caress of his hand to Snape's hair, Potter stepped back. "Will I see you at breakfast?"
"I don't go to the Great Hall anymore, unless required." He was tempted this morning.
Potter looked as if he might reply, but instead simply nodded. "I'll see you later, then."
As Harry made his way down the corridor towards his room, a door opened and an impeccably dressed Draco Malfoy stepped out.
Auror red suited him, Harry thought as they stared at each other.
"I'd say look what the cat dragged in," Malfoy said. His tone held no real malice. "But most of the cats of my acquaintance wouldn't deign to acknowledge you."
Harry knew what he looked like just then and, since there was no denying it, he shrugged, simply too tired to care. "Probably not."
Malfoy looked dissatisfied with that answer and folded his arms over his chest, regarding Harry for several seconds. "I do not wish to see my wife hurt by you," he said, coldly.
Harry met his gaze, something in the way Malfoy had said that worried him. "Is Hermione all right?"
"Physically, she's fine. However, seeing you has brought back a number of painful memories. I don't want her upset any more than she has been."
With a single nod, Harry acknowledged Malfoy's words. "I won't be here that long."
"Just long enough to stir everyone up and then run away again." Scorn dripped from Malfoy's tone.
Harry's patience began to fray. "I don't have to explain myself to you, Malfoy."
"No. That's absolutely true. You disappeared for ten years, telling no one where you were, and now you show up, expecting everyone to--"
Harry straightened and faced Malfoy. "I expect nothing, Malfoy. Nothing."
"You're quite right to expect nothing, you deserve nothing." Malfoy's jaw clenched. "You were her best friend. You should have been there for her."
Instead of attacking, as he wanted to do, Harry took a breath, and hated Malfoy all the more for being right. "I know. If I could have been, I would have. If I'd known..."
"Would you have come back?"
Harry tried to tamp down the emotions trying to erupt. "Not at first. I couldn't."
"Why not," Malfoy snapped.
"Because when Voldemort died, all of his power came to me." Harry heard Malfoy draw in a harsh breath.
"Bloody hell. You're joking, right?" Malfoy's tone had lost all of its civility, and hid none of his fear.
Harry clenched his hands. "Unfortunately not. Had I not left when I did, I believe I would have eventually taken Voldemort's place. And I don't think that would have helped anyone, especially not Hermione."
Malfoy took a shuddering breath, seeming to gather his dented control around him. "No. I expect you're right about that. Why didn't you take over if you could have?"
He knew the question should have infuriated him, but Harry could only laugh. "You know, I haven't thought about houses since I left here, but that was such a Slytherin question."
Surprisingly, Malfoy laughed too. "It was, wasn't it? So, why not?"
"I didn't want to end up like him, dead. I didn't want to spend my life looking over my shoulder."
Malfoy regarded him for another moment and then smiled. "Tell Hermione. I think she'll understand."
"How can you know that?"
There was a great deal of self-deprecating humor in Malfoy's eyes. "If I can see your point, and understand it, given how I feel about you, I think you have a good chance of convincing Hermione."
"Thanks. I appreciate that." Harry said, appraising Malfoy again. There was nothing that would make him palatable to Harry. Nothing.
Malfoy just smirked at him. "I need to get to work."
"Auror?" Harry had recognized his Auror robes, but gave Malfoy a chance to tell him anyway.
"Head of my own division, as it happens." He sounded damned pleased with himself, too.
"That's quite an accomplishment. Well done."
Taking the complement as his due, Malfoy nodded at Harry, and stepped away.
Once Malfoy was out of sight, Harry entered his rooms and headed for the shower.
After Potter had left, Snape climbed out of bed and headed to the bath. Today, there would be no sitting in front of his cold hearth. He'd do something for a change.
The thought of taking a meal in the Great Hall was still too daunting to consider, Snape decided as he soaped his skin, enjoying the feel of the hot water. Perhaps he might summon a house-elf with lunch.
Dressed, Snape settled into the comfortable chair at his desk, picking up his quill and red ink, and after a moment's hesitation, started grading the final exams. They were at least a week overdue, but he supposed with everything, Albus would...
No, Albus would not be doing anything. Most likely it would be McGonagall and she would not be so forgiving. Well, not after she dealt with her own grief.
He had just finished the last of the fourth year exams when his door wards chimed. Before he could rise, Draco entered, stopping dead at the sight of him.
A momentary flash of irritation went through Snape that Draco felt he had the right to enter his quarters without so much as a by your leave. With a sigh, he pushed back the annoyance. Draco had no idea that things had changed.
"You're out of bed," Draco stated the obvious with a pleased smile. He deposited the breakfast tray on Snape's desk.
"Aren't you the observant one? I'm dressed as well," Snape said, in a tart tone, enjoying the shocked look on Draco's face.
"You are. Well done." Draco's delighted smile changed into a suspicious frown. "Why? What's changed?"
"Nothing has changed," Snape prevaricated. He loved Draco dearly, but was not ready to tell him what happened last night. Indeed, Snape was having some trouble reconciling it within his own mind.
Draco looked unconvinced, but was smart enough not to press the issue. "What are you doing today?"
"I'm going to finish these exams, and hand in the grades. I suppose McGonagall is taking over." Just saying her name in that context shot sorrow through him, but there was nothing he could do to change it.
"Hermione believes that will happen." Something in his tone made Snape look at him. Draco seemed put out, clearly unhappy with something.
"What's wrong? Is Hermione having a problem? Does she need something?"
"She's fine. Don't worry." He slanted a look at Snape. "Why do you ask?"
"Forgive me. I didn't mean to over-step."
"Severus, nothing is wrong."
Several moments of silence ticked by with Snape just looking at him, waiting.
As he always did, Draco blinked first. "All right. If you must know, I'm annoyed about Potter being here."
"Are you? I'd have thought you'd have outgrown your dislike of him."
"Evidently not. Besides, he hasn't changed. Older to be sure, but no wiser. If he hurts her, I'm going to hurt him." Draco's harsh tone matched his words.
"I think you're wrong. Potter's changed a great deal. Beyond that, I'm quite sure he won't hurt anyone." Snape sounded more defensive than he'd have wished.
Draco's attention focused completely on Snape. "Do you? I hadn't even realized you've seen him."
"He came down here last night to deliver a note from Albus," Snape said, hoping nothing showed on his face.
Draco glanced towards his bedroom door, which stood open, the ruin of his bed quite visible. The shocked look on Draco's face made Snape want to laugh.
"Well, I did wonder why he looked so well shagged this morning. I just never imagined the reason." Draco's shock changed to concern. "He didn't hurt you, did he?"
Despite trying to control it, his cheeks heated with chagrin. "No. Nothing of the kind. Potter used his power to drain off some of my despair."
"He made you pay for it?"
Snape was shocked Draco would even suggest such a thing. "Don't be absurd. He offered and I accepted. Nothing more complicated than that."
"But the offer came after the fact, correct?"
"It does not matter when. There was no coercion, no force. I appreciate that you are worried for me. However, this truly isn't your concern." Snape said it firmly, meeting Draco's eyes.
For one moment, it seemed as if Draco might argue with him, but he stepped back and bowed slightly. "Of course. I'll leave you to your breakfast."
"Draco." Annoyed by the sudden coldness in his tone, Snape stood and glared at him. "Don't be a fool and don't deliberately misunderstand." Merlin, Snape hated this sort of thing, but he couldn't let him be hurt. "I... appreciate that you're--"
"Let it go, Severus. I know. I don't like the idea that another member of my family is involved with Potter."
"I'm not--" Snape stopped, and sighed. "Potter will not be here that long. Hermione is very wise and will take care."
"That's the problem. She won't take care, not where he is concerned. Potter is dangerous to her."
"Severus, he's dangerous to you as well."
"Actually, I think he's been good for me." Snape waved a hand at the pile of graded papers.
"Perhaps that didn't have anything to do with him."
Wishful thinking on Draco's part and they both knew it.
"You may not like him, but whatever he did last night was well done. I do appreciate it and I won't belittle it. I'm seeing Albus this morning." He met Draco's eyes; the concern there warmed him.
"Are you sure you're up to that? You've only just started to feel better."
Snape squared his shoulders. "I think I must. Aside from sending the note to Potter, I've done nothing in more than a week."
Draco bowed again. "I must get to work. I am glad you're feeling better, truly."
Snape was relieved when he finally closed the door behind him. Draco tended to take over just a bit too fast for Snape's tastes. Still, he was everything his father wasn't and Snape, of all people, appreciated that.
At breakfast, Harry sat with several teachers and made small talk for half an hour. As soon as he could escape, he hurried off to see Dumbledore.
The sun shone bright through the long narrow windows of the room, creating a cheery atmosphere. Dumbledore was sitting up in bed, drinking tea. "Harry, my boy. Good morning."
"How are you feeling, sir?" Harry had to resist the urge to take Dumbledore's wrist to check his pulse or to run his wand over him.
Dumbledore smiled, smugly leaning back on several pillows. "I'm quite fine. I trust you had a pleasant evening."
Something about Dumbledore's tone made Harry suspicious. "What do you know about last night?"
"I felt a magical harmony last night. I hoped it might have been you and Severus." Dumbledore looked pleased with himself. Indeed, his eyes were positively twinkling.
"Did everyone feel it?" Harry shuddered, feeling exposed, as if he and Snape had been spied upon.
Seeing Harry's distress, Dumbledore's face lost its amusement and he shook his head. "Of course not. Some might recognize the power surge, but very few would recognize it for what it was."
"Is that why you sent me down there? Because you knew this would happen?" Harry had disliked being manipulated as a teenager, and he liked it less as an adult.
"I didn't know." Dumbledore stared at the trim on his duvet.
Harry could tell that Dumbledore wasn't lying, but he wasn't telling Harry everything, either. "All right. You didn't know, but you suspected."
"I didn't realize it would be so strong." Dumbledore slowly leaned over and set his cup of tea on the bedside table. For a second it rattled on the edge, as if it were going to fall.
"Do you need help with that, sir?" Harry steadied the cup.
At the weary sound of Dumbledore's voice, Harry considering dropping the whole issue. But when he thought about Snape's confusion and his own, he knew he couldn't let it go, not yet.
As if he knew what Harry was thinking, Dumbledore waved a hand at him, and said, "Go on, Harry."
"I don't understand what happened. I'm not... promiscuous. I sincerely doubt that Sev... Professor Snape is either. I want to know what happened between us." Harry dug his fingers into the arm of his chair in an effort not to raise his voice.
"Your magic was in perfect harmony with his. Do you know how rare that is?" Dumbledore still wouldn't meet his eyes. "Perhaps it is what draws you to each other."
And perhaps there was more to it than what Dumbledore was saying. "You knew it, though. That he and I would fit together that way."
Stroking his hand down his beard, Dumbledore nodded. "I was not one hundred percent certain, but I thought there was a strong possibility."
"Yet you said nothing to me before I went to his rooms," Harry said, carefully keeping the frustration out of his voice. Why did this man think he could manipulate the world? Oh, that's right, because he could and did, regularly.
"I believed you might be able to help Severus. He's taking my choice very hard. I want him... and you for that matter, to be content."
"Don't you think that Professor Snape and I should make that decision?"
"I'm concerned about Severus. I want to see his pain eased. Did you help him?"
A part of Harry understood Dumbledore's motivations, but the rest of him wanted to kick something. "I drained some of his despair off before--"
A knock at the door interrupted Harry. Snape entered, stopping short when he saw Harry sitting in the chair beside Dumbledore's bed.
"Oh," Snape said, glancing first at him and then at Dumbledore. "I'm sorry to disturb you. I shall return later."
Seeing Snape kindled a warm feeling in Harry's chest, but he couldn't possibly consider that now. Waving a hand, Harry gestured for Snape to take the seat next to him. "No. Come in. This is about you, too."
With an uncharacteristically uncertain look, Snape sat down, glancing first at Harry and then back at Dumbledore. "What exactly is this about?" His tone approached what Harry remembered as normal for him.
"It's about what happened last night."
Dumbledore didn't look quite as self-satisfied now; indeed, he looked just as worried as Harry felt. "I sent Harry to see you last night."
"Ah. So that's why you sent me this?" Snape pulled a piece of parchment out of his robes.
"You opened it? Oh, well done." Dumbledore's eyes sparkled with his approval.
"What's in the note?" Harry glanced at Snape.
Harry raised an eyebrow.
"Quite literally, nothing. It was blank." Snape glared at Dumbledore, reproachfully.
"There was little sense in actually saying anything in a note since you don't generally read your mail." He said it insouciantly, but Harry could hear an under tone of concern, and was sure Snape could, too.
"Be that as it may, I'd like to know what you hoped to accomplish by this," Snape asked, giving Dumbledore a withering look worthy of the Snape of old.
"Couldn't you have just asked me to look in on him? I would have." Harry was annoyed by the subterfuge, all of that trouble, to get him into Snape's quarters and apparently into Snape's bed.
Dumbledore played with one of the tassels on his pillow. "You might have refused. I could hardly order you down to the dungeons."
"Why was it so important that he see me?" Snape sounded confused, perhaps even hurt.
Harry could understand that. "Harmonious magic."
"So, it was real. I've never believed it existed." There was ever so slight a note of awe in Snape's voice.
"Apparently it does."
Snape's shoulders sagged and he sat back in his seat. "It did seem too good--"
"Oh, it was real. Very real," Dumbledore assured him.
"So much so, other people felt it." A knot formed in Harry's stomach. Snape looked appalled.
"That is--" Snape sputtered, his face flushing. "Will you leave me no dignity at all?"
"You needn't worry about your privacy. However much the two of you might resonate together, I sincerely doubt anyone will recognize the harmony as yours."
"You're joking," said Snape.
"I am not joking. Did you never wonder why there were such volatile emotions between you both?" Dumbledore's expression was a bit too amused for Harry's tastes.
"We hated each other every year I was in school," Harry said, tamping down his ire. Those had been long, hard years for him, and while Snape had trained him well, there had been little more than grudging respect between them at the time.
"Now, Harry, think about it. What is the opposite of hate?"
"Not in my case and I sincerely doubt in Potter's either. That does not explain what has happened now, either." Snape's face was a dull shade of red, his embarrassment evident.
"Severus is right. What are we going to do about it?" Harry asked, dismayed by what Dumbledore was implying.
"What can be done?" Snape looked away as he asked it.
He and Snape needed to discuss this, but he could not think straight right now. "We're not going to discuss it here." He turned to Snape. "Professor... " No, at this point, calling him that wasn't quite appropriate. "Severus?"
Snape raised his head slowly, and met Harry's eyes. "Yes?"
"Shall we talk after dinner as we had planned?" Harry smiled reassuringly and was delighted when Snape smiled back. Maybe they could work it out between them and leave Dumbledore out completely.
"As you please, Harry." Snape turned to Dumbledore. "There are a few more matters that I wish to discuss with you."
"I'll see you both later." Harry stood.
Dumbledore sent him a pleading look. "Harry... don't be angry."
"I'm not." Harry was sure Dumbledore knew he was lying, but to say anything else would only serve to prolong the conversation. "You haven't changed much, have you, sir?"
"At this point, I doubt I shall." Dumbledore didn't seem at all regretful; indeed he still seemed pleased with himself.
"I doubt it too, sir. I'll see you both later."
As he closed the door, Harry thought there were some things about home that he hadn't missed at all.
Harry walked along the lake edge, watching the wake the great squid left in the water as it moved just under the surface. The day was cool for early July. If he were in New York, it would be steaming, but he couldn't help wishing he were back there, anyway. Nothing in his life in New York was this difficult, nothing mattered this much, nor hurt this bad.
"Harry," Hermione called as she strode towards him, her full robes billowing in a way that reminded him of Snape's classroom entrances. "I've been looking for you all morning."
Harry stopped, nervously bouncing on the balls of his feet as he waited for her to catch up. "I didn't know you were looking for me or I would have--"
"I know," she said with a slight smile. "I spoke with Draco."
"He told you?" Harry didn't know why that surprised him so much.
"Did you think he'd keep it a secret? Draco and I agreed early on not to keep secrets from each other."
"That's a good policy," Harry agreed, wishing he'd put it into practice with his own relationships. He might still have one.
"We thought so. You didn't have to cut us off. We would have understood." She folded her arms under her breasts, emphasizing her round belly.
Harry looked down and resisted the urge to scuff his foot in the soft dirt. "I was going to be a Muggle. Having wizard friends wouldn't have worked very well under those circumstances."
"You thought to deny your magic completely? I can't believe you actually were going to try it."
"I wasn't thinking very clearly at the time. The only thing that occurred to me was to stop using it."
Hermione shook her head. "Surely--"
"No. I can see now that there were other options, but at the time, I was terrified I'd be corrupted by my magic."
"Didn't Dumbledore try and talk you out of it?" Hermione asked.
"Of course he did! So did everyone else I talked to in those last few weeks before school ended. I was too panicked to listen to anyone. No one and nothing could make a dent in my resolve." Harry shivered thinking about the frustration of those conversations and his growing fear of misusing the overwhelming power surging through him.
"You didn't talk to me." Her voice cracked.
"I knew I was going to leave -- I couldn't pull you closer. No matter how much I might have wanted to." Harry bit his bottom lip.
Hermione looked hurt; no, worse than that, she looked betrayed. "You left without a word. Dumbledore told me you were gone and for a long time, I couldn't believe it."
"I'm so sorry. I wish there was something else I could have done."
"I was your best friend. You should have talked to me." She stopped and took a deep breath.
Harry's eyes stung and he had to blink to clear them. "I know it won't help now, but I'm so sorry. I was afraid that I'd hurt someone inadvertently. I knew I had to go away." The helplessness he'd felt, his lack of control, not being able to deal with the constant hum of the magic that surged through him, had all been too much to bear.
For a moment, Hermione looked as if she wanted to strike out. Then her shoulders slumped. "How long did you last without magic?"
"About a year. But there was a constant ache inside me. I missed it terribly. It felt as if I was denying a huge part of myself."
Her eyes widened. "I can't believe you lasted that long. I doubt I could have."
"I was living as a Muggle. That made it easier. Well, marginally. Finally, I couldn't resist anymore and I started to use it for small things. By the time I graduated from university, I wanted to be a full-time wizard again." Harry was relieved to see the sympathy in her expression.
"You still went to Muggle medical school."
"It wasn't completely Muggle. Things aren't as separate in New York as they are here." He had been and still was very grateful for the blurring of those lines.
"You were in between the two worlds, weren't you? Now you're actually in both?"
Harry nodded, pleased that she understood. "I want to help the wizarding world. We depend so heavily on our magic and ignore so many other things."
"Mind healing is one of those things that doesn't receive nearly enough attention. A wizard can go mad and no one will notice, or if by some chance someone does notice something amiss, there's little that can be done. I know a wizard who could use some help." She stopped, looking uncomfortable.
"Snape? It's pretty obvious he's not himself. I was with him last night." Harry blushed at her startled look.
She blushed too, and looked down. "We wondered at the magical harmony we felt last night. Most people who find that kind of harmony also know how to shield it."
Harry knew who she meant: herself and Draco. He was aghast by the very thought, but tried to stifle it. No doubt she'd be offended if he said anything. "Dumbledore sent me down to see him."
"I expect he hoped you'd be able to help Severus." Hermione seemed uncomfortable.
"I hope I helped him." He would find it hard to forgive himself -- or Dumbledore -- if he'd hurt Snape more.
"I'm sure you helped. I'm curious though, how did you manage... ." she trailed off, her face flushing. "To... get him to agree?"
"When I went to his rooms, Snape's despair rolled off him in waves. I couldn't just let him suffer. I channeled a small amount, but then... ." Uncomfortable, Harry shrugged. "I offered and he accepted."
Hermione's mouth fell open and she tilted her head to look at him. "He accepted? Just like that? That doesn't sound like him at all."
Her look unsettled Harry even more. "I'm not sure why exactly I did it either. I told him it was because he knew me, and that was certainly part of it."
"Did you feel compelled?" She was very serious, worried even, but for whom, Harry wasn't sure.
"Not exactly. At that moment, I wanted comfort. To be with someone I knew, who could make me feel better. I can't tell you why, but I knew he would provide what I needed."
She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, still looking uneasy. "That should... I don't know. Do you do things like that often?"
Harry shook his head. "Uh... never. I've just had a four-year relationship end rather abruptly. We didn't agree to be exclusive, but I never dated anyone else."
"Did Dumbledore say anything?"
"No. I mean... I don't understand what happened." Harry hid his discomfort with a sigh. "Can you tell me about what's wrong with Snape?"
"What exactly do you want to know about Severus?" Hermione asked, her suspicion carefully controlled.
That bothered him, even as he acknowledged her right to it. "Even after ten years, there should be something left of his old personality. Some of that sarcastic, greasy git I remember." Harry held up his hand before she could protest. "People don't change that much, not adults anyway, not without a good reason."
"It's worsened in the last few months, since we found out about Albus, but I think it's been coming on for a long time. After the war, it was hard for everyone, but we had a purpose. In the last year or so, he seems to have lost his."
"I know it couldn't have been easy, even with Voldemort gone. And Dumbledore's decision triggered the break-down." A pang of regret washed through Harry. He should have been here to help clean up the mess.
She nodded. "Even knowing how close they were, Draco and I were surprised at how hard Severus took the news."
"Dumbledore is his closest friend, someone who has been his protector, his mentor. I'm sure that Severus feels as if he's being abandoned."
"I never considered Severus in those terms. It seems... childish."
"Not at all. But you find it difficult to picture, don't you?" Harry said, fighting for his objectivity. "That's part of the greater problem of the wizarding world. We tend to think of ourselves as strong because of the power we control. Severus has always been so controlled and resilient."
"He's still very much controlled. It's not as if he's mad, or raving. He just..."
"Doesn't want do anything? Speaks less than he did before. I've seen his despair. Severus isn't the type to have dealt with everything that's happened to him. He has a lot to be bitter about. He's been hurt a lot over the years."
Hermione pursed her lips and was silent for a moment. "That's true. But the past ten years haven't been bad. He's received some acclaim for what he did in the war. He's considered one of the top potions masters in Britain, if not all of Europe."
"The traumas of the previous forty years may have finally caught up with him. The wizarding world doesn't help its people cope." That concerned Harry on a broad level as well as the personal one. "People like Severus are left to deal with everything that happened to them without any help."
"Can you help him?" She sounded so hopeful.
He shook his head, sadly. "I'll only be here a few days. I need to return to New York and finish my internship."
"Oh." She glared at him, her lips thinning into a line of displeasure.
Guilt and regret sliced through Harry. "I'm not fully trained, yet. I have two more years of residency before I can begin to practice on my own. I could do more damage than good."
"What about last night? Were you allowed to drain off his despair?"
"That wasn't about training. That was about power. The actual practice of psychiatry is much more complicated. There are people to whom I'm responsible in New York."
"What about the people here? What about your friends?"
His head went up. Her words felt like a slap in the face. And some part of him believed he deserved it and more. He'd left her before and now he was going to do it again. "I'm sorry--"
"You're always sorry and you always have an excuse, don't you?" Hermione turned and walked back towards the school.
"It's not an excuse," Harry said softly, his head dropping into his hands. Damn, couldn't he do anything right?
Harry walked slowly back to the castle, kicking at the pebbles along the path. He should have been there for Hermione and for the Order, but he'd had a number of challenges of his own to deal with at the same time. What he could have done differently?
No, it was far too late to second guess himself now. As much as it galled him to admit it, Malfoy was right, he had to live with his decisions, and so did she.
As he approached the main entrance, he saw Hermione sitting on the steps. His first thought was to walk in the other direction. You can't run away forever, he decided, squaring his shoulders, and marched forward.
"I'm sorry," she said as he came into hearing range. "That was particularly childish of me."
The pressure in his chest eased ever so slightly and he smiled. "That doesn't make what you said any less deserved. I left you and everyone else behind. There is nothing I can do to make that better."
"Sit," Hermione said, smiling back at him. Her annoyance had disappeared and she seemed nearly amused. "You're so understanding now, aren't you?"
"I can still be just as petty as I was in school. Understanding other people's emotions doesn't mean I actually deal with my own all that well," Harry said as he sat beside her on the stone steps.
Her eyes lit up as she laughed. "I'll bet. Truly, I'm sorry I snapped. It's hard to think about you leaving again when you just got here."
He ached at the thought of leaving again. "I can come back for a visit."
"That would be good." Hermione seemed poised to ask something else, but let out a sigh. "When does your internship end?"
"In about six weeks. The middle of August." Harry grimaced. The amount of work he'd have to do when he returned would be daunting and didn't bear thinking about now. "I'm doing my residency in the same hospital as my internship. After that, I can pick--"
Hermione held up a hand and shook her head. "Please don't say anything. Don't make promises. You don't know what might happen after that. Or what you might want then."
"I always planned to come home..." Harry trailed off weakly and sighed.
"Then why didn't you? Why didn't you at least get into contact with us? Especially after you started to use magic again? I just don't understand." She sounded as if she was trying hard not to give into her anger.
"Once I'd been gone so long, I... I found it hard to think about coming back even though I wanted to." Harry took a deep breath to fight the empty feeling throbbing through him.
"It's harder to be back here than I ever believed it could be. In some ways though, it's been so good. I can't tell you how wonderful it's been to see you again. I missed you so much." He grinned and touched her arm.
"Me, too, Harry. Seeing Ron's son must have been a comfort, after everything." She was always so much more perceptive than he expected.
"Oh, he is. I wish I'd known. I'm so very glad something of Ron survived." His eyes started to sting.
"You've got tears in your eyes." She put a hand on his arm and squeezed. "In all the years I knew you, I never saw you cry, not even when Ron died." Hermione's voice was low. She met his eyes. "I still miss Ron."
"I loved him so much. He was my very first friend. He was prickly and hot-tempered, but he accepted me for who I was, and in the end, he died for me." His voice cracked on the last word and he blinked several times.
Hermione's nodded, her eyes turning liquid. "I know," she whispered. "I know."
The ache in his chest grew, starting to cut off his ability to breathe freely. "I miss him so much." Harry was mortified that his control was starting to slip.
"Oh, Harry." She scooted closer, and gathered him into her arms. "It's so hard sometimes."
"It is." Harry sucked in a wet, loud breath. His sorrow twisted inside him and he put his head on her shoulder. "I'm sorry," he sobbed into her robes. He could feel her shoulders shaking too, and held her tighter. For a long time, he held onto her, giving his grief free reign.
The agonizing emotions finally purged for the moment, he pulled back and raised his head. "I'm sorry. That was--"
"Necessary?" She wiped the last of the tears from her cheeks and then wiped his as well. "Feel better?"
"A bit." Surprisingly, he did feel better, lighter, perhaps a bit less tied to the past. He gave her a watery smile.
"When did you learn to cry? I wouldn't have ever thought you could, not after everything." She pulled back enough to look at him.
"I certainly seem to do it a lot, don't I?" Harry snorted, wiping a hand along his still wet cheek. "I suppose I started sometime during the many therapy sessions I had about my childhood." He tried to make it sound light, but it fell flat. Anything having to do with the Dursleys and their abuse of him still had to power to knock him flat.
Hermione's eyes filled with outrage. "You know those Muggles should have--"
Harry put a finger to her lips and shook his head. "Thanks. Tell me about Ronny. What was he like as a child? Does he have Draco's personality, or is he more like Ron?"
Taking her cue, Hermione was like any mother talking about a beloved child. "Ronny was a good baby. He was always his own person. Draco spent most of the first few years taking a care of him and working part-time."
"I don't mean to be rude, but..."
"He was an excellent father." Hermione's look dared him to say anything about that.
He wasn't stupid enough to step into that one, so he simply smiled and nodded for her to continue.
"Ronny's magic manifested very early." For some reason, she seemed less than pleased.
Harry wasn't sure why that would be so upsetting. "What happened?"
"He was so young we didn't realize what was happening at first. He set the manor on fire several times in one summer. The last time nearly scorching us." Her eyes held a wry amusement that said the situation had been dangerous. "It wasn't until he made all the windows at school disappear that we finally twigged to what was happening."
"All the windows? How old was he?" Harry was astounded. The amount of power that took was phenomenal. That it was accidental magic was even more staggering.
"It must have been amazingly difficult to deal with. Especially that young. I don't think I've heard of a child that age having their magic manifest so strongly."
"We bought him a wand at six and he's been taking lessons in control and simple spells since then."
"I didn't think you could give a child a wand until they were at least ten." Harry looked at her. "At least not in England. In the States things are a lot more lax. Children start to learn to use their magic as soon as it starts to manifest. Sometimes as early as primary school. What did you do about Ronny?"
"We had to apply for a special permit and agree that he would have training."
"How did you and Draco handle that?"
"As you might guess, we were less that pleased that he was so powerful, so young, but we've dealt with it."
"He has no idea anything is amiss. He'll be ahead of his classmates when he starts Hogwarts, but only in a couple of subjects. He's quite good at transfigurations." She seemed quite proud.
Harry wished again that Ron had lived to see his son grow up. The unfairness of it broke his heart..
"Are you okay?" Hermione put a hand on his arm.
He blinked a couple of times and took a deep cleansing breath. "Yes. I'm fine. Seeing Ronny makes it better, but at the same time it's still difficult."
"I know." She met his eyes and he saw her grief. "I loved him too."
"You've managed to move on." Despite everything, Harry realized that he hadn't. He'd never let go of Ron or the past. "I still have this--" He touched his chest, but couldn't go on.
"You must let it go, Harry. Maybe Severus isn't the only one who should talk about things that happened."
"I have talked about it. I've had all kinds of counseling," Harry insisted, knowing he was blushing and nearly beyond caring about it.
"Maybe it wasn't enough or the right kind." She looked at him, concern on her face, and something else in her eyes. "Or maybe not the right person."
"Do you think they would see me? Do you think she would even speak to me?"
"Why ever not? I know both Molly and Arthur have missed you terribly. They lost you when they lost Ron. They weren't the only ones, either."
"I'm sorry --"
"Don't. Okay. Just don't. I think they would like to see you. More than that, I think they need to see you."
The very idea of seeing Molly put a lump of solid dread in his stomach that would not move. "I want to..."
"Both Arthur and she should be here tonight to see Albus."
"That's convenient, isn't it?" Harry said. Anything having to do with Dumbledore seemed manipulated.
"Albus wanted to see people before he died. It won't be long now." She looked down at her folded hands.
"No, I suppose it won't." How could she could be so calm about it?
"You should see him again, too."
"I did. This morning right after breakfast. Do you live here?" Harry asked, looking out across the lawns.
"We live here during the school year. The rest of the time we live at the Manor. As you might guess, the Manor has some unpleasant associations for Draco." Her tone indicated that unpleasant was probably an understatement.
He had to wonder why they went back there at all. But that was a subject he knew better than to broach. "Do you take your meals in the Great Hall?"
"Most teachers do. If you mean last night, Draco thought seeing you again would upset me, and I let him have his way."
"You don't have a problem with that? With him telling you what to do?" Harry knew he was not doing a good job of keeping the outrage out of his voice.
Hermione gave him a superior amused look. "That's not telling me what to do, Harry. That's Draco being protective. Yes, I can protect myself. But I have to admit I find it lovely that he wants to shield me from things he thinks could hurt me. He and I have come a long way together."
It did nothing for Harry's peace of mind. "Did you and he have problems to start with?"
"Draco had a lot of prejudices to get over and so did I. We knew there would be no divorce, so we had to make it work."
"It must have been difficult."
"Oh, it was. From the beginning, we worked at it. Like you have to do to make any relationship work." There was a measure of satisfaction in her eyes that spoke of a hard won accomplishment.
"How did you go from that to being in love with him?" Christ, those words left a bad taste in his mouth.
She'd earned the happiness she'd found. "We got to know each other. Also, Draco's love for Ronny--"
Harry did not want to begrudge her anything. Indeed, he wanted her to be happy, but it was just that, "I don't understand --"
"That someone could love my son?" Her eyes flashed with momentary fury and then it was banked quickly.
Harry shook his head quickly. "No. Of course not. I mean that Draco could look beyond the fact of Ronny's father."
"Draco considered himself to be Ronny's father right from the moment he was born. Actually, Harry, so did I." She folded her arms over her chest and dared him to comment.
Another mine field he did not wish to step into. He had a sinking feeling in his stomach and he could not win no matter what he said. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to insult you, or him."
"Yes, you did." She put a hand on his arm. "You're still thinking of Draco the same way you did when you were in fifth year and he was Umbridge's little toad."
"How can you forget it so easily?" Because as much as Harry might want to, it was damned hard to forget what an arrogant prat Malfoy had been at school.
"Sweet Merlin, Harry, I've had more than ten years of knowing him. Of living with him, of working with him, of learning to like and then love him. He's not an easy man to know, but he's well worth the bother."
It occurred to Harry, rather belatedly, that he didn't know Malfoy anymore. More than that, it killed him to admit that he didn't know Hermione, either. "You're right, of course."
"I know it's difficult to see us together, but you'll have to learn to live with it. I mean that, Harry."
Harry let his anger go. He took Hermione's hand and squeezed it. "I know and I will. I promise. I want to be a part of your life. I've missed you so much."
"I've missed you too." She squeezed back, putting her other hand on top of his.
Harry had to change the subject before he humiliated himself again. "Do you like teaching?"
She blinked and then her expression became amused. "Yes, Harry. I love it. I love the research, too. As you might have guessed, it's what I was meant to do."
"Yeah, I did kind of guess that."
At dinner, Harry sat next to Hermione with Malfoy on her other side, and Ronny beside him. Some of the staff were absent, and there were several places between Ronny and Minerva McGonagall at the head of the table.
Harry and Hermione talked quietly. Harry told funny stories of his university days as a Muggle, and Hermione talked of her university days, too. Malfoy ignored him until dinner was nearly over.
His gray eyes fixed onto Harry and he smiled coldly. "So, Potter, when do you return to New York?"
Harry thought about laughing in his face. Could he be any less subtle? "In a few days. I was granted five days of emergency family leave."
"That's a very interesting choice of terms. Considering you've no family here." Malfoy's eyes narrowed.
Despite how good it might make him feel, blowing up at Malfoy would serve no one's interests, and Harry'd found other ways to disarm nastiness. He straightened and met Malfoy's gaze. "You're quite right, but I had to give them an excuse so they would grant me leave."
Draco blinked, but was otherwise undaunted. "You could have simply ignored the summons. As you have done in the past."
It took Harry a moment to swallow his irritation. Malfoy was a huge prat, but he believed he was protecting his own. Harry could understand that.
"I've never been summoned before. As a matter of fact, no one has tried to get in touch with me at all."
Hermione looked sharply at him. "That's not right. I tried. Several times in fact. I wrote to you after you left. I tried to give my letters to Professor Dumbledore, but he wouldn't take them. I sent several owls to find you, but they all came back still bearing the notes. I finally gave up."
"I told Dumbledore that I didn't want to talk to or see anyone ever again. I guess he took me at my word." Embarrassed, he looked away, not at all sure how he would have reacted to receiving a note at that time. He'd been so stupid.
"I guess that he did." Hermione sounded hurt all over again and Malfoy looked murderous.
Closing his eyes, Harry tried to push his guilt away. He couldn't change the past now. "I'm not sure it would have made any difference, anyway," he said honestly. "I'm sorry."
"You ought to be. You thought of no one but yourself." Malfoy sounded as if he'd been the one hurt.
Harry looked at him. Malfoy's eyes were trained on Hermione. "I've explained--"
"This isn't the place for this discussion." Hermione nodded towards Ronny, who'd been following their conversation avidly.
"You're right, my dear." Malfoy turned to Ronny and put a hand on his back. "Why don't we go for a ride?"
The boy's brown eyes lit with excitement. "That would be brill, dad. Can I go get my broom?"
Hearing Ron's son call Malfoy dad burned like acid in his gut and Harry had to look away.
"You may. And bring mine as well, if you please."
Ronny jumped up. "Thanks, Dad." He was around the table and out of the hall so fast he was nearly a blur.
"Don't keep him out too late," Hermione said.
"It's summer. I want him exhausted enough to sleep well." Malfoy leaned down and kissed her before he left.
"Doesn't Ronny sleep well?" What demons haunted the boy? His own at that age had been suitably awful.
"It's been fairly stressful here the last few months, and he's not sleeping as well as he should." Hermione didn't sound as if she were worried, not exactly.
Harry hazarded a guess as to the cause. "Is he close to Dumbledore?"
"We're all close to Albus."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
She shook her head. "Nothing at all."
Stung, Harry said nothing else.
After dinner, Harry made his way down to Snape's quarters. For several long moments, he paused in front of Snape's door. What was happening between them? Was it going to hurt both of them worse? Should he just walk away? Harry shook his head and knocked.
Snape answered promptly.
"Um... hello." Harry was appalled by the tentativeness in his voice. Snape looked every bit as anxious as Harry felt.
"Come in." Snape stepped aside to allow him in and then waved Harry to the sofa, settling into a winged-back chair next to it.
"I am at a loss to understand what happened last night," Snape said, after a moment or two of silence.
Harry cleared his throat. "I'm not sure what happened, either. I don't generally..."
"Sleep with former teachers? Ugly men? Greasy gits?" The words fit, but the tone didn't.
"You don't mean that," Harry challenged, wondering at the lack of venom in Snape's voice.
Snape looked at him as if he were mad. "I do, in fact, mean it. It is not in my nature to do what we did last night."
"Nor is it in mine. I mean... I'm involved with someone--"
"What?" Snape's face turned red, his expression horrified, and something else, something that Harry was shocked to see there: hurt. A second later, his features smoothed into a mask.
"Was. Was involved," Harry amended quickly. "She left me right before I came back to England."
"Do you hope to reconcile with her?"
"No. She's a Muggle and I never told her about my magic or the wizarding world. She ended it and I'm sure it's for good." Harry felt a pang of regret about My-Le. Even if Snape had not been an issue, he knew that he wouldn't try to resurrect their relationship. "She ignored all the evidence for the four years we were together."
"Ah. So you were less than discreet. This doesn't surprise me."
Harry hesitated, uncertain what to say, and then shrugged. "I've never mentioned it -- she wouldn't have wanted to know. We weren't that close."
"You were lovers for four years, but you weren't close to her? You simply used her for sexual gratification?" Snape asked, his tone contemptuous and cruel.
"No, no. Wait a minute. That's not true. I cared about her. I think I could have loved her, if she..." Harry trailed off. Saying anything disparaging about My-Le seemed disloyal to him.
"You blame this on her?"
"You know nothing of my relationship and yet you feel the right to judge me?"
"I'm only taking you at your word. Think about what you've said. You've had a lover for four years. Yet you weren't close enough to her to tell her of your magical abilities. What does that sound like to you? To me, it sounds as if you were using her for your own pleasure." Snape met his eyes and Harry could see the disappointment.
"She was almost twenty years older than I was, which didn't bother me, but she had issues with it," Harry said, stung by the accusation.
"It's not like it is here. Wizards are long lived enough that twenty years doesn't matter. In the Muggle world, it does. That she was a woman made it all the worse."
"I'm not following what being a woman have to do with differences in your ages. That makes no sense to me."
"For Muggle men, it's accepted that they may take a younger -- female -- lover."
"But not the opposite? How absurd." Snape raised an eyebrow.
"It's about power. Even in the modern Muggle world, men have more power than women and as such, dictate the rules."
"So, what you're saying is that she was ostracized for having you, a younger man, as her lover."
"I'm not sure ostracized is the right word. It isn't done, or at least not often. If she had told anyone she would have been... not so much ridicule as patronizing amusement. It was a sore point between us." It still hurt Harry to think about it.
"You're bitter?" For some reason, Snape seemed surprised.
"I dislike being anyone's dirty little secret."
Snape laughed, and it wasn't a nice sound. "How ironic. In our world, you are so lauded that anyone who was your lover would gain prestige."
"No one knows me anymore." Harry wished it were true, but Ronny's excited words came back to him. "You're Harry Potter?" His father had said something very similar nearly twenty years before that.
"You don't believe that, do you? What will you do about your lover?"
With what he hoped was a careless shrug, Harry hid his hurt. "She left for Vietnam and won't be back until January. There isn't much I can do."
Surprisingly, Snape looked sympathetic. "It doesn't make the situation any easier."
"It's not the first time someone's left me, but it's much worse to have to leave someone." Talking about his past was never easy for Harry and he could not imagine why he wanted to tell Snape about it now.
"I wouldn't know. I've never been the one to leave." Snape's tone was quiet as he stared into the empty hearth.
The implications of those simple words struck a chord in Harry. "I'm sorry. I've only had one other serious relationship, and I left him."
Snape turned to him. "You sound as if you wished you had not done so."
"I had to leave him. It was for his own good." Harry breathed out, fighting the sorrow that always came over him when the thought about that time.
When the silence had gone on too long, Snape seemed to run out of patience. "Was it another Muggle?"
"Yes. When I started university, I met a boy in my freshman year... ."
When he didn't go on, Snape said, "Tell me about it, please," in a tone that conveyed curiosity and something else, something that Harry couldn't quite name, but made him want to comply with the request.
"Peter Lane was a farmboy from Iowa. Tall, broad, and blond. He'd come to New York for an adventure."
Harry closed his eyes, seeing Peter standing in the snow in Washington Square Park and his heart still ached. "I was so taken with him. He was intelligent and sweet. And oh God, so innocent. He'd tell me stories about his family, his friends, high school--"
"It's similar to the last few years of Secondary school, upper level."
"Ah. Go on."
"He was... . Like balm on my nerves. We were the same age, yet I felt a hundred years older. I realized the second year we were together that I was using him, sucking up his innocence and not providing anything he needed in return."
"I think you're selling yourself short. Even when you were young, you were not the type to take and not give. I doubt you have changed much." Snape's tone was quiet, comforting, and a complete and utter surprise.
Harry had to wonder where this Snape had come from. He was nothing like the man Harry remembered from his school day. Had it been that he just hadn't known him, or was this a result of Snape's illness. As confusing at it was, Harry appreciated the sentiment.
"You don't know me that well, but thank you. As I began to use my magic, by necessity, I started to pull away from him. He resented it and the second time he took me home for Yule, we had a serious row." Harry closed his eyes. "After the argument, I Apparated back to my New York flat, without my wand, and without doing much more than wishing I were home and then visualizing it."
"I'm assuming that was a fairly considerable distance?" Snape asked, but the look on his face said he already knew the answer.
"1500 kilometers. I could have handled the situation better, and I ended up hurting him badly."
"And yourself, by the sound of it. You haven't forgiven yourself yet, have you?" There was so much compassion in Snape's voice that Harry was stunned to find tears in his eyes.
For a long moment, Harry fought for control. "Don't you find it odd that we're having this conversation?"
A host of conflicting emotions played across Snape's face. "You do not wish to tell me anything else?"
"I do. But I find it odd that I do. I don't usually care to talk about myself, not even to people trained to listen." Unsettled, Harry plaited his fingers and shifted in his seat.
Snape considered him for a moment. "Nor do I. However, I cannot deny the wish to know. If you will tell me about the rest of your relationships, I shall tell you of mine."
"There's a joke in there somewhere, you know that, don't you?" Harry laughed and then sobered under Snape's intense gaze. "I haven't had any other long-term, important relationships."
"The rest of them were casual?" Snape leaned forward.
"There weren't that many. Is that what you wanted to know? Or would you rather have a number?"
"So few that you can count them?" Snape's quiet voice did not hide his curiosity.
"Three others. None lasted more than a few months. What about you?"
"One serious relationship when I was young. Nothing since."
The look Snape gave him said he should know the answer to that question. And indeed, he did. No matter how compelling Harry found him, Snape was not, had never been, a good looking man. Now, he was thin to the point of gaunt, and badly kept as well. Why Harry wanted him so much was a complete mystery. To both of them, Harry'd bet.
"I had two other relationships that never developed into anything. My life style... and personality, does not lend itself to meeting people." Snape looked away, twin spots of color high on his cheeks.
"Tell me, then, of that relationship." Harry was bursting with curiosity about Snape's past.
Snape nodded once. "When I was in my early twenties, twenty-three, twenty-four, an older man, a potions master, took an interest in me. He taught me a lot about life, and potions and many other things, but after a few years, he grew bored and married someone else."
Harry was uncomfortable enough that he changed the subject. "Why aren't we fighting harder against whatever this is? I don't understand our complacency."
"Nor do I. As much as I think I should, I don't want to. I want to know everything about you." Snape glowered, seemingly appalled by what he'd said.
As ridiculous as it was, he wanted Snape to know everything about him, and to know everything about Snape, from the absurd to the sublime and everything in between. "What's your favorite flavor of ice cream?"
Snape laughed. "Carrot cream. What is yours?"
That bit of information delighted Harry more than he thought reasonable. "Strawberry. I want to ask more questions. I want to know every detail of your life."
Closing his eyes for a moment as if he were fighting himself, Snape nodded. "That I wanted to know something so incidental is most disconcerting."
"That I want to know a hundred other details is just as terrifying. Did Dumbledore say anything after I left this morning?" Harry wanted to reach out to Snape, to hold him. He felt protective of him, a deep need to keep him safe.
"Aside from saying he'd always sensed a magical harmony between us, you mean? No. He's on his deathbed, and he's still trying to manipulate everything around him."
"He is." Harry snorted. "Damn, I'll miss that old man."
"As will I." Snape's head lowered. "I don't want him to die."
"Dumbledore might be a manipulative bastard, but I can't help but love him. I can't imagine the world without him." Harry put a hand on Snape's arm and squeezed comfortingly.
"Nor can I. He has been... like a father to me, protecting me when no one else would. I can never repay him," Snape said, his tone plaintive and raw.
"I suspect there are many people who feel that way."
"He could have condemned me to Azkaban. I was guilty of so many crimes. Instead, he forgave me and ensured I had a place here."
Harry nodded and slid an arm around Snape. After a second's hesitation, Snape leaned forward and rested his head against Harry's shoulder.
Even as he held Snape close, his hands caressing slowly down his long back, Harry was startled by what was happening between them. Had anyone tried to tell him in seventh year -- or at any time before this moment in fact -- that he'd be giving and receiving comfort from Severus Snape, he would have thought them mad.
When the silence lasted too long, Snape looked up at him. "I feel--"
"Yes." That strange inexplicable harmony resonated between them. Talking was done for now, and Harry gently pulled away and stood.
Snape stood up and drew Harry up against him, putting a finger to Harry's mouth. Unable to resist, Harry opened his mouth, and nipped at the finger.
"Don't speak. Whatever this is, whatever it will be, let's enjoy it for the time we have. You'll be gone in a few days and then it won't matter anymore." Snape's voice was silky.
Snape's soft words washed over Harry, and he couldn't remember why this might be a bad idea. Lifting his mouth the necessary inch to taste Snape's, Harry let his eyes close. It was sublime, sweet, and perfect. Snape's tongue brushed against his and sparks of pleasure jolted through him. Harry opened his mouth wider, groaning as Snape sucked on his bottom lip, then pulled it gently with his teeth.
Snape assaulted his mouth with soft, sucking kisses, little nips and licks, all slowly, carefully applied. Lost already in the perfect sensation, the perfect harmony of their mouths pushing against each other, Harry held him tighter, giving himself up completely to Snape's touch.
Harry no longer cared that this might be another of Dumbledore's manipulations. All that mattered was the absolute and utter perfection of Snape's mouth on his. He let it take him and mould him, and give him what he needed. Whatever he might have to pay for it in the future, Harry didn't care; he'd worry about the cost when payment came due.
A long time later, after many, many slow kisses, Harry drew back. Their mouths were swollen and wet and red. "More?" he asked, his voice a breathless whisper.
Snape's long fingers went to the buttons on Harry's robe, hesitating until Harry nodded, and then he said, "Much more."
For a time, Harry was content to let him lead. The harmony continued as Snape divested them both of their clothes, and knelt before him with his stained hands gripping Harry's hips. Snape's mouth opened.
As Snape's talented tongue touched him, he moaned, vibrant sensations sliding through him in waves. It took all the control he had left not to push forward. Wet heat and hot need slid across his nerves and into his gut as he was enfolded in bliss.
It was pure and magnificent and flawless. Mesmerized, Harry could barely restrain himself. The joy sluiced over him. He groaned again, his fingers carding through Snape's hair.
The pleasure built, slowly, perfectly, until there was nothing left in the world save Snape's lips on his flesh, Snape's tongue teasing, and Snape's mouth giving him pleasure. Harry cried out as his passion crested, unable to stand it a moment longer. The world dissolved into sparkles of bright light, and Harry was willingly lost.
When he returned to himself, he lay on the floor, Snape beside him, stroking his chest. Snape's eyes were bright with arousal and he leaned down to kiss Harry softly.
"Shall I?" Harry asked, laying a hand on Snape's thigh, drawing it up slowly, his fingers making small circles on his hairy flesh.
With a sigh that sounded like contentment, Snape leaned back. "As you please."
Harry started to roll on top of him, but then stopped, balanced on hands and knees. "Would you rather, then?"
"I have no preference one way or another." The look in his eyes said something else to Harry.
Leaning down to kiss him, Harry smiled gently. "I want to please you. Shall I?"
Understanding crossed Snape's face and he smiled, too. "Yes. I'd like that."
Delighted, Harry kissed him again, their tongues tangling, arousal already sliding down his spine again. Kissing Snape was a special kind of ecstasy, unlike any Harry had known before.
Harry worked his way down Snape's body, nipping and kissing; he thrilled to the sounds of pleasure wrung from Snape. The feel of Snape's damp skin against his sent marvelous sensations through him and Harry's body responded.
With infinite care, Harry pressed Snape's long legs up to his chest, applying his mouth where it would do the most good. Snape let out a strangled sound halfway between a sob and a plea. The sound thrilled Harry and he slid his tongue in further, savoring the musky flavor and the sounds of Snape whimpering. He'd never expected Snape to be so responsive, so enthusiastic about his pleasure.
With a raised hand, Harry summoned a jar of lubricant silently. He dipped his fingers in and then pressed them into Snape, drawing a grunt this time.
Snape sighed and shifted his hips. "Continue. And be quick about it."
"I live to serve."
"Indeed. I shall remember that."
When he slid in, tight heat and wonderful pressure surrounded him. Harry sighed in bliss. It felt like coming home. Home? With Snape? Two days ago he would not have believed such a thing could happen, but now... now he wanted nothing more than to be here, to be allowed to touch and know this man. Snape tightened around him, and Harryâ€™s thoughts dissolved in the face of so much pleasure. He pulled out and drove back in again, eliciting another gasp from Snape.
"Harder," Snape said, canting his hips.
With heat and light washing over him, Harry pushed in again, angling his hips slightly.
Snape moaned. "Yes. There."
Harry drove into him, their bodies coming together in rising enchantment and harmony.
Each jolt of pleasure rippled through Harry, filling him with utter perfection. The sensations of push and pull blended together to create a perfect harmonious chord and Harry was lost in it. As the note sang and broke, he sank into the depths and let it carry him away.
The coolness of drying sweat on his skin broke Harry's sated reverie, and he moved off Snape, who moaned softly at the separation. Harry helped him straighten his legs.
Snape winced as he sat up, but glanced at Harry with sleepy satisfied look on his face.
Feeling quite satisfied himself, and not a little bit smug, Harry sat beside him, using the sofa as a back rest. "That was fabulous, but I'm exhausted."
"I'm... pleased as well."
"You're supposed to be." Harry grinned at him, stroking his leg. He let his hand trail idly along the fine hairs and soft inner flesh of Snape's thigh. "Tell me about Malfoy. Hermione said you were quite close."
"Do you really wish to talk about this now?"
It might be an inopportune moment, but Harry hadn't had a chance to ask before. "I want to know about you. Your friends. Especially how you became friends with both of them."
"Do you find my friendship with Draco so odd, or is it my friendship with Hermione?"
Harry looked down and tried not to blush. "Both. I guess. It's just that things have changed so much."
Snape chuckled. "Yes. I expect that it was all quite a shock. Hermione and I share a love of things intellectual. While she was at university we collaborated on several projects."
"That would do it with Hermione. What about Malfoy?"
"He and I were always close. He was one of my best potions students. And before he left school he had joined the side of the light." Snape's affection for Malfoy was apparent in every word he spoke.
A wave of jealousy washed through Harry. "I didn't realize he was that good. Nor that he was on our side."
"Despite who his father was, I would not have tolerated his cheek otherwise."
"I knew there had to be a reason."
Snape put a hand on his jaw, turning his head to look at him. "You don't sound appeased."
"I'm fine," Harry lied.
After a moment or two of strained silence, Snape sighed. "You did know that I am godfather to young Ronny?"
Why was that such a surprise? "No. I didn't know that."
"You find this so odd, even now?"
"Not odd. Mind, I think it might be more difficult when Ronny starts school."
"I'm quite sure the boy will be Slytherin."
"A Weasley in Slytherin? That should be interesting." Harry forced a laugh. Interesting was not the word Harry would have chosen under other circumstances.
Snape's expression hardened. "He's not a Weasley. He's a Malfoy."
"I expect you're right." Harry looked away to hide what he knew must be in his eyes.
"I find it odd that after all this time, you still don't care for Draco."
"I guess I've always believed he was part of the darkness. I think it's going to take more than a few days to readjust my thinking." And Malfoy's, Harry thought with a shudder of distaste.
Snape seemed to find that quite amusing. He snorted. "If I remember correctly, you considered me that way as well. You tended to judge people by how nice they were to you. Which you must admit was not always very bright."
"I don't know. I've always thought that was a good indicator. With Malfoy, though, he was always so... prejudiced. I can't believe he'd changed all that much." Harry brought his gaze back to Snape.
"He's changed a great deal from the boy you knew. However, that is not my story to tell. You might ask him."
"I might." The truth was that he couldn't bring himself to do it. With distraction in mind, Harry leaned closer and kissed Snape. "Shall we drop this and find something better to do with the time we have left?"
Snape leaned into the kiss, returning it with full measure. When he pulled back, he looked at Harry. "When you leave, do we simply let this go?"
"This doesn't feel casual enough to just walk away from, does it?"
"No. I'm at a loss as to understand why this feels as important as it does. Magical harmony does not cause closeness."
"As I understand it, magical harmony resonates on the closeness that's already there. Powerful wizards and witches will grow into harmony over time. That makes little sense in our case."
"Indeed. I've never had a casual encounter that felt as if it were this important before," Snape said, confusion evident in his eyes.
"Nor I. In the morning, I'm going to talk to Dumbledore again." Harry's trepidation at the very idea of leaving before they'd resolved anything grew stronger.
"I'm not sure why you think that will be helpful."
"I want him to tell me what's he'd done to us." There was no natural reason for what was happening between them. Someone or something had to have caused it.
Snape raised an eyebrow. "You do not actually believe that -- that Albus has harmed us in some way?"
"I'm not sure harmed is the correct word, but it had to be him. Who else could it have been?" Harry fixed Snape with a hard look. "Do you believe in love at first sight, or that we are soul mates who suddenly found each other after ten years of separation?"
Snape's expression of horror was priceless.
"I thought not. For the record, I don't either. What else does that leave?"
"If he were involved in something to bring us together, do you think he'd admit to it?" It was obvious that Snape didn't believe it for a moment.
"I hope that if I ask him straight out, he won't lie to me. It's all I can do. The old bastard might be dying, but he's as cagey as he ever was."
"Forgive me if I doubt you will find your answers that way."
"Our answers, Severus." Harry put a hand on Snape's chest. "We're not going to find them right now are we?"
"I suspect not. At least not with that look in your eyes." Snape smiled as he lifted Harry's hand to his mouth and pressed a kiss to his palm. "Let's go into the bedroom. Once on the floor is all I can manage."
A pleasant shudder went through Harry as the kiss turned to a lick and then a nibble on his wrist. "Good idea." He rose and held out a hand to Snape.
Harry knocked on Dumbledore's door, and then waited until he heard something that sounded like an entrance invitation. With a sigh, Harry pushed opened the door. "Good Morning, sir. Minerva."
"Come in, my boy." Dumbledore gave him a weak smile. He was sitting up against several brightly colored pillows, all of which clashed horribly.
McGonagall stood and moved towards the door. "I'll let you two have your chat."
"Do come in and have a seat, Harry." Dumbledore gestured to the chair beside the bed. "You wished to talk to me?"
"Yes, sir. I'd very much like to finish the conversation we started yesterday morning." Harry fought back his uneasiness.
"Ah yes. What would you like to know?" Dumbledore's eyes sparkled.
Harry hated that he had to push the old man. Hated it worse that Dumbledore had set up a situation where Harry had to look for answers. "I'd like to know what is going on between Professor Snape and me."
Dumbledore had the audacity to chuckle. "I'm quite sure you'd be better able to answer that than I."
"Have you done something to us to make this happen?" Harry made an effort not to grind his teeth in frustration.
"What could I possibly have done?" Dumbledore looked at him innocently. The same innocent look Harry had always associated with his half-truths. "I'm an old man, now. My magic is weak."
"And I know this bridge for sale."
"What? I --" Dumbledore began.
Harry cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Never mind. Tell me what you've done to us. Please, sir. I want to understand."
"I promise you, I've done nothing to harm either of you. I would not." Dumbledore's voice sobered, losing its teasing quality.
"That simply means you don't think what you've done is wrong, not that you haven't done anything at all."
"I don't know how I can convince you if all you do is find fault with my words." Dumbledore sounded hurt.
If Harry hadn't been manipulated once too often, he might have had more sympathy. "Just tell me what you've done and how to put it right."
"I haven't manipulated this situation or either of you."
Harry knew when he was being lied to and knew that Dumbledore believed what he'd said. "How do you explain what has happened?"
"I'm at a loss to know what you mean." Dumbledore's shoulders sagged, and he leaned back into his pillows.
"I've spent the last two nights with Professor Snape. In his bed."
"Why are you fighting this so hard?" He sounded for all the world as if this were a good thing and that Harry should not care about being manipulated.
Harry barely managed not to sputter with outrage. "Why wouldn't I fight being forced into a relationship with a man I barely know?"
"You do know him. You've worked with him and fought with him and he was your ally," Dumbledore said as if he felt he had to defend Snape.
Dumbledore had a point, but it didn't change the facts. "I knew him. Ten years ago. I was a child. This feels forced, as if neither of us has any say in the matter."
"It will be all right. I promise you that."
"How can you say that? I'm very uncomfortable with the situation. When I'm with him, I feel compelled to tell him personal things about myself...things I would rather not divulge." Not to mention the problem of not being able to keep his hands off Snape, which he'd just as soon not mention to Dumbledore.
"Did you ever think that you might have feelings for Severus? That what you are feeling is a normal attraction and natural wish to be close to him?" Dumbledore made it sound like the most reasonable thing in the world.
Except that it wasn't. Dumbledore was talking about Snape and him, and neither one of them found it reasonable. "No. I can't say that would have ever occurred to me. Whatever friendship I might have felt for him, it was a long time ago."
"I don't know what else it could be." Dumbledore held up his hand to forestall any comments. "I did nothing to either of you. I promise you that."
Harry inclined his head. "I don't understand then. What's between us? Why is this happening?"
"Perhaps it is the harmony working in reverse." Dumbledore didn't sound as if he actually believed that.
Neither did Harry. "Resonating off itself and creating a closeness that does not already exist? That makes no sense. Some emotions must exist before the harmony can resonate."
"Perhaps something happened when you channeled Severus' despair? Perhaps you tapped into emotions that had lain dormant all these years."
"That makes no sense either. I'm just a conduit."
Dumbledore tilted his head and leaned forward, his eyes intent. "Why don't you tell me what you did when you channeled the despair from Severus? Was it the same as every other time?"
"Each time I do it is different. Even with same person, it's never the same twice. The amount of energy, the transfer, the despair are all different."
With a resigned sigh, Harry thought back to the moments with Snape. "It took longer with Severus. The depth of his despair was so great. He was so deeply lost in his pain."
Dumbledore nodded. "What did you do?"
"I drained it off and replaced it with earth energies three times, rather than a single time."
"Had you done that before?"
"No. The most I've done was twice and I took a short break between the two sessions." Harry took a breath and his stomach tightened. "I think... I may have replaced some of the despair with my own energies, rather than Earth energies."
As he said the words, he knew they were true. "Oh God!" he gasped. "I did this to us. I caused the closeness." When he looked up at Dumbledore, he expected horror, or censure, but Dumbledore still smiled.
"There, I told you I had nothing to do with it."
Harry blinked. "Sir, I just told you I misused my powers. All you can say is that you're glad I'm not going to blame you?"
"Well, yes. I'm quite glad you're not blaming me anymore. I also believe that what you did only enhanced what was already there."
"No. It--" Harry shook his head, disbelievingly.
"What was between you and Severus might have lain dormant forever, but it was real nonetheless. The magical harmony between you proves that."
Closing his eyes, Harry tried to think it through and couldn't. "You still set us up. You brought us together."
Dumbledore looked right at him. "I hoped you'd recognize something in each other, something that you both needed. Something you both have always needed and refused to see in each other. You have exceeded my wildest hopes."
"You are still a manipulating bastard," Harry said, his words infused with a vast amount of affection.
Dumbledore laughed. "As I've said, I doubt I shall change at this point."
"I'll have to tell Severus." Harry dreaded the thought. He did not hold out much hope that Snape would forgive him. Or that he should. What he'd done was unconscionable.
"I doubt he'll be angry with you."
Why did Dumbledore always know what he was thinking? "He'd have every right to be furious. I think he might be able to press charges." He looked down at his hands, feeling sick to his stomach.
"There was no harm intended. None done either."
Harry's heart thudded in his chest. "How can you say that? I bound us both together."
"You're not bound, Harry. You'll leave when you have to. Just as you planned to do."
Dumbledore was right. There was no compulsion to stay. He could and unfortunately would leave Snape.
"I still created this--"
"What have you created? It's more a possibility than anything else. You've paved the way for something. It won't hurt either of you. And it will wait for you to be ready." From Dumbledore's look, Harry guessed there would be no arguing with him.
Harry didn't want to anyway. He wanted Dumbledore to be right, but until he talked to Snape he would not be able to relax.
After another moment or two of silence, Dumbledore cleared his throat. "On another issue entirely, I've a request for you. If you've a mind to grant it."
From the tone of his voice, Harry could already tell what the request would be. "Magical release?"
"It would be an honor, sir. If I may ask, why me?"
"I've always considered you a good and dear friend." Dumbledore smiled sweetly, and it was almost enough to make Harry forget everything else. The smile faded. "I'd planned to ask Severus, but..."
Harry understood Dumbledore's reluctance, only too well. "Minerva?"
"She and I are too close. It would be infinitely harder for her to let me go."
Uncomfortable beyond words with the unspoken particulars of that relationship, Harry simply nodded. "When?"
"Tonight, I think. After dinner. Minerva has notified everyone who will attend the actual ceremony and the others who will be on hand afterward."
"All right, then. If you're sure." Harry looked for any doubt, and was not at all surprised to find there was none, only peace. It was time.
Dumbledore nodded. "Very sure. Please send in Minerva when you leave."
Dismissed, Harry stood, glad for the escape. He had a great deal to think about and a fast broom ride over the forbidden forest seemed like the perfect way to deal with it. "Until tonight, sir."
"Harry?" Dumbledore's voice sounded slurred.
Concerned, Harry looked back. "Yes, sir?"
"Molly Weasley is in the castle."
"I know. Hermione told me." The anticipatory pleasure of his ride evaporated.
"Then I won't tell you to go speak with her." Dumbledore's eyes closed.
"Thank you, sir." Harry eased through the door and headed for Snape's rooms.
"Do you expect me to berate you?" Snape asked after Harry had quietly explained what had happened to them. "If you do, I'm afraid you shall be most disappointed."
Sitting straight in his chair, Harry looked at him, his eyes wide behind his glasses. "You don't want to press charges? How can you not be angry?"
"How could I do that?" As difficult as it was, Snape knew he must put aside his own discomfort and reticence to provide the explanation Harry clearly needed.
He took a breath, searching for courage. "You've given me back my life. I was dying of the despair. You know what it does to a person, how it eats them alive. You pulled me back from the brink--"
"I created a connection that wasn't meant to be," Harry choked out, sounding horrified.
"Perhaps... and perhaps Albus is correct and there was something there to begin with. I would not discount that possibility. We worked so closely together by the end of your seventh year. It's possible there was something there, even then."
Harry looked away, his face flushed. "But you said--"
"That I felt no desire, and that is true. But I had come to, if not like you, then certainly to respect you. If I'm not mistaken, you felt the same." Snape waited for Harry to nod.
What was between them now soothed Snape in a way he'd never experienced. Nothing before had ever been as satisfying as being with Harry. There were no words for him to articulate it either. He sighed.
"But--" Harry began.
"Whatever it is, do not rebuke yourself. I am at peace with what has happened." More than at peace, he was thrilled to feel so alive. He had hope for a future that wasn't mired in darkness and despair. As odd as he found it, he felt free for the first time since he was a teenager. And he wished with all of his heart that he could convey that to Harry.
"Why are you being so calm and understanding?"
"Because you stupid boy, I can be nothing else. Nothing that you've done has brought anything unwanted or unasked for to me." Snape looked at him and waited until Harry met his eyes. "You saved me."
"I've linked us together." Harry made it sound as if it were a burden to bear.
"I believe I've stated my thoughts on this subject all ready. I do not plan to repeat myself because you were not paying attention. Are you being dense on purpose or are you actually stupid?"
Harry blinked and then smirked at the insult. "You know, I'm usually not considered stupid."
As much as he tried to stop it, Snape's lips twitched up. "Most people don't know you as well as I do."
He could be generous; he leaned in and kissed Harry softly. "Don't worry about me. Whatever the cost of lifting my despair, I would have paid it gratefully. I don't count what has passed between us a price at all."
Harry looked down and drew in an audible breath. "I can't stay."
Although Snape had known that, it stung to hear Harry say it nonetheless, even with such regret in his voice. "I know."
"Make me no promises. Perhaps on some future day, our circumstances might change, but for now they haven't. We shall live with that."
Harry grinned. "I was thinking of going for a broom ride. Do you want to come with me?"
As much as Snape would have liked to have joined him, he shook his head. "My lab and classroom must be cleaned and prepared for next year. I'm afraid I did little work this past year and now must pay for it." The amount he had to do was staggering.
"I'm glad you feel up to doing that kind of work. Is there anything I can do to help you?"
"I appreciate the offer, but no, I must see to this myself. As much as I do not care for the drudgery of it, but I am glad as well. Glad and thankful, Harry."
Harry's expression sobered. "Are you going to be all right with what's going to happen tonight?"
Taking a deep breath, Snape nodded, ignoring the tightening in his throat and the ache in his chest. "I believe I can face it now."
"I'm going to give you the name of someone I know from New York for you to talk to. She's now at St. Mungo's."
"I don't think that's necessary." He could barely speak to Harry about it, how could he speak to a stranger about such private matters?
Harry opened his mouth, then closed it.
"I am..." Words couldn't convey how much he had improved. He shrugged.
Harry took his hand, raising it to his mouth to kiss the palm. "All right. I just don't want you to slip back into despair. I'd like to see you back to your old irascible self."
Would that it could be. He looked at Harry and shook his head. "I doubt I shall be unchanged by what has occurred. Beyond that, much of the bitterness I felt is gone. I feel..." There were no words to express the release from all of the burdens of the past. Harry had given him this, and for that reason alone he would be grateful for the rest of his life.
Harry leaned up and kissed him. "I know."
"Good. Are you sure you wish to rush off to have a broom ride?" Snape stood, pulling Harry up and gathering him close.
"I think I could postpone it for awhile." Harry smiled against his lips.
"Harry Potter! You've been hiding from me, haven't you?" Molly Weasley's forcibly bright voice carried across the Quidditch pitch.
With his heart starting to pound and a million different feelings flooding through him, Harry dropped his broom to the soft earth and turned to watch her hurrying towards him. "Mrs. Weasley..."
She looked as if she hadn't aged at all. Her hair was as red as he remembered, her figure still matronly. He tried to fight the grief that welled up inside him, but as she advanced on him, he felt a prickle behind his eyes.
"It's so good to see you." Molly opened her arms.
A sob he couldn't control seeped out as he was enfolded into her embrace. Overwhelmed, he held her tightly, burying his face in her hair. Until the moment he'd seen her again, he hadn't allowed himself to acknowledge how much he'd missed her.
When she pulled back, she had tears on her cheeks. Harry couldn't bear it. "I'm sorry." He was appalled that his voice cracked. "I'm so sorry."
"As well you should be, Harry. How could you leave your family for so long?" Molly's tone was mild, but her expression was hurt.
"I had to go," Harry forced out past the lump in his throat.
She folded her arms across her chest, giving him an impatient look. "Nonsense. There was nothing so bad that you had to leave your family to deal with it by yourself."
"You don't understand. I had too much power. Didn't Hermione tell you?" He didn't want to have to explain it yet again. It was too hard to think about, even now.
She met his eyes, but her expression had softened. "She told me about your power. But, Harry, you've always been very powerful."
Blinking, Harry felt some of his control return. "I was. But I was doubly so then. I thought it would..."
"Don't be ridiculous! You weren't corrupted by it when you were a child, and you certainly weren't going to be corrupted by what you received as an adult." She put a hand on his arm and squeezed tightly.
"I was barely an adult, then. I couldn't know that." He wasn't completely sure about it now, though he had to admit taking over the world seemed unlikely.
Molly snorted. "You're being overly cautious. I suppose, all things considered, that is not a bad thing. Are you planning on staying?"
God, he hated disappointing someone else. "I must return to New York in a few days to finish my internship."
Undaunted, she pressed on, the optimism not fading from her eyes. "What will you do when you're finished?"
"Two years of residency in New York after that." As he watched her hope fade, Harry's own heart twisted.
"Do you plan to return to England at all?"
His chest tight with regret, he couldn't even look at her. "I've always planned to return one day. And in the meantime, I'll be back for visits."
"I expect we'll be here when you come back. I wish it were sooner rather than later."
"Me, too." Harry nodded. He had to change the subject before he did something humiliating. "How is everyone?"
"That reminds me, I have a gift from you from Fred and George. They were at the Burrow when Hermione's owl arrived." She pulled a small box from her robes. With a tap of her wand it expanded, and she held it out to him.
He took a step back, and eyed it wearily. "What is it? Or should I even ask?"
"They sell more treats than gags these days. And quite successfully let me add." She sounded like any proud mother.
"Oh, no! Don't tell me they finally grew up?" Harry laughed in mock horror, raising both hands as if to ward off the image.
"They married, too."
Something about the way she said it made him look at her askance. "To each other?"
Now it was her turn to give him an odd look, one that said she wasn't sure if he were joking of not. "Certainly not. Fred married a nice Hufflepuff girl a year behind you, and they are expecting their first child in a few months."
"He married a nice Hufflepuff boy from the same year as Monica, Fred's wife. You'd be surprised how closely the two resemble each other, Monica and Reggie." Her eyes lit with amusement.
"They say twins often have similar tastes." Harry grinned, very pleased to hear both were doing well. "What about the rest?"
"I think you knew both Charlie and Bill had married." Molly looked at him and he nodded. "Bill's oldest is about to start Hogwarts next fall and Charlie's the following fall with Ronny. Ginny and Neville Longbottom just became engaged. Ginny is a curse-breaker for Gringotts, like Bill. Those two had been together for so long, I was beginning to wonder if they would ever marry."
"You and Mr. Weasley?"
"We're fine, dear. I work for one of the organizations that sprang up after the war, finding places for Muggle-born children. Arthur's still with the Ministry."
Since the information wasn't offered, he didn't ask about Percy, but it saddened him to think that poor Percy had never reconciled with his family. "I'm glad you're all doing well. Can I ask you about Ronny?"
"It's an odd situation, but I think it's worked out for the best. Draco has never denied us access to Ronny, not that I think that Hermione would have let him, but he's always been more than gracious."
Harry supposed that she, and the rest of the Weasleys, had had years to work out the details. "I'm glad," he said, forcing a smile.
Molly met his eyes in all seriousness. "He's was not my first choice for the father of my grandson, but he's been wonderful with Ronny. I think Ron would have understood and accepted what happened. Both Arthur and I have."
At the mention of Ron, Harry closed his eyes, his chest tightening. Ron should be Ronny's father, not Draco Malfoy, no matter how good a job the prat was supposedly doing. And whose fault was it that Ron wasn't around to rear his son? Harry took a deep breath, glancing quickly away from Molly.
Like most mothers, her instinct told her when someone was hurt. "You still can't speak of him, after all this time?"
Harry looked down, fighting the tide of guilt. His breath was shallow as he forced out the words, "He died for me. How can I ever accept that?"
"He loved you enough to give his life for you. Harry, you have to accept that." Her voice caught.
Despite a desperate need for reassurance, Harry was too afraid to believe her. It couldn't be true. "But--"
"No buts. Ron wouldn't have wanted you to continue to grieve." She put an arm around his shoulders. Her eyes were shining with unshed tears. "Is that why? Is that why you've stayed away so long?"
He wanted to tell her it wasn't any part of it. That it was all about the power and not about the pain he lived with, but he'd be lying. With a considerable effort, he swallowed past the lump in his throat. "Yes. I thought you'd hate me. That you wouldn't want to see me. That you'd re--"
"Reject you? Never, Harry. Do you understand? Never." Her breath came out sounding like a sob.
The lump in his throat grew and he feared he might choke on it. His eyes burned; he rubbed them before he could look at her. "I was so afraid of what you'd say."
"I do wish we'd talked before you left. We never blamed you, Harry. We never would have." Molly's voice was gentle and soothing.
"I blamed me. It was my fault he died. I couldn't understand how you wouldn't do it as well."
Molly put both hands on his shoulders and held him at arms' length, looked into his face. "It was not your fault that a madman killed my son."
He'd never dreamed Molly would absolve him. He started to shake. "Oh God, how can you not blame me?"
"How could I?" She tightened her fingers on his shoulders, digging in enough to hurt. "It wasn't your fault. Do you need me to repeat it a third time?"
Even if she repeated it a hundred times, he still wouldn't believe it. Harry fought for control. "I killed him--"
"No. Harry, you didn't. Voldemort did. You must accept it. You must believe that." She didn't trip on the name as she once would have done.
With those forceful words, something hard inside him eased a little. He sniffed wetly. "Thank you."
She pulled him into her arms and held him. "It was as if we'd lost two sons, instead of one. We missed you so much, Harry."
"Me, too," he said into her hair. In one more second, he was going to be hysterical and he wouldn't be alone.
He pulled back and let Molly go. "Enough, okay? Tell me, is Bill's girl going to be the next generation of Weasley Gryffindors at Hogwarts?"
Molly laughed, but it sounded forced. "I have an awful feeling she's going to be the first Weasley in Slytherin in two hundred years."
Harry also forced a laugh and it came out strangled. This reminded him of another conversation. "Oh, I'll bet Snape will love that."
"Speaking of Severus..." Molly's look was significant.
Harry opened his mouth and then closed it again, his face heating. "Does everyone know about that?"
"I can't speak for everyone, but we felt the magical harmony crackle in the air last night, and Hermione explained what, or rather who it was. Are you embarrassed by him?" There was a slight a note of worry in her tone.
"Not at all. But the fact that everyone knows what we were doing to create it does embarrass me." Harry couldn't quite meet her eyes.
"You should have thought of that before you did it." She sounded so like a mother admonishing a recalcitrant child that Harry had to chuckle.
"It's so complicated."
She seemed concerned, or perhaps like everyone she was just worried about Severus. "Are you both all right with this?"
At least she wasn't going to ask about it. "Severus means a great deal to me," he assured her.
Molly nodded, looking pleased. "I'm glad of that. Though I admit I'm a bit curious as to how it came about, and so quickly."
"I wish I had an answer for you. But--"
"It's complicated. You've said." She laughed, sounding as if she might actually understand.
A chime rang in the distance. "Time for lunch. Are you coming with me back to the hall?" Molly asked, brightly, as if the awkward conversation hadn't happened.
Harry glanced at his broom. So much for his relaxing ride. Later, he promised himself. "Yes. I'm hungry."
After a pleasant lunch with Molly and Arthur in the Great Hall, Harry tried again to slip out to the Quidditch pitch for that broom ride. He came out into the courtyard of the castle's side entrance, and saw Malfoy sitting on a stone bench, staring off into the distance. His first thought was to keep going, and ignore Malfoy entirely. Unfortunately, he couldn't walk away from anyone in turmoil.
With a sigh of resignation and cursing himself for being a fool, Harry set down his broom. "Malfoy? Are you all right?" Harry carefully kept his dislike out of his voice.
Malfoy started, standing and turning quickly, his wand drawn. "Potter. You idiot. Didn't anyone ever tell you not to sneak up on an Auror?"
For one second, Harry considered drawing his own wand But no matter how good it might feel, it wouldn't help the situation. "Sorry. I saw you sitting there --"
"You couldn't see I wanted to be alone? Merlin, you never change, do you?" Malfoy snarled.
Harry's dislike and annoyance almost overrode his patience, but he was more certain than ever something wasn't right. He forced himself not to snap. "I was going to offer to--"
"To what? Help me? As if you could possibly help anyone. You're such a fool." Malfoy's sneer was worthy of the Snape of old.
Malfoy's response resonated wrongness. Harry gritted his teeth and managed again not to give into his annoyance, but he knew that his patience wasn't going to last forever. "Why don't you tell me what happened today?"
"It's none of your concern." Malfoy glared at him, then sighed and looked out at the pitch in the distance. "It's not about Hermione. If that's what you're worried about."
"Since I saw Hermione at lunch, I hadn't thought it was. I may be able to help you. Why not give me a chance?" Why did he feel the need to push, especially given who it was? His instinct said this was important. Over the years, Harry'd learned to listen to that voice.
Malfoy looked at him, hard, as if he were actually trying to see him, possibly for the first time. He tilted his head, curiously. "Why would you want to?"
The words hovered on his lips: because you mean something to Hermione and Ronny. "Because I can. It's what I do. Help people, that is."
"Oh, yes. That's right. Stupid Gryffindor saving the world."
"You sound bitter that I saved the world. Are you?"
"Actually, I'm not. I'm glad you did." Malfoy meant that, at least.
"Well, given the alternative..." Harry still had nightmares about the alternative.
"Yes. I'm quite familiar with that alternative, too. Probably almost as well as you and Severus." Malfoy shuddered.
"I swear I'll help you if I can."
"I believe you will. I just don't understand why you would."
Harry saw the pain in his gray eyes. "Sometimes, there is no why. Just accept it and tell me what happened."
Malfoy closed his eyes for a moment and then sighed. "You're not going to give me any peace until I do, correct?"
He almost denied it, but that wasn't what Malfoy wanted to hear. "No. I'll dog you until you tell me."
"Stupid Gryffindor. All right. I killed someone today," Malfoy said quietly.
Why should that bother Malfoy, when he'd killed so many in the past? Mortified this was his first thought, Harry forced his professional persona to the fore. "In the line of duty?"
Malfoy nodded. "The first time since I've been an Auror." Malfoy took another breath. "First time ever."
"How are you feeling right now?"
"How do you think I'm feeling? Sick to my stomach." Malfoy's complexion looked grayish in the bright afternoon sunshine.
"I'll bet you are. Why not tell me what happened."
For a moment, Malfoy looked as if he might refuse. "We were raiding a manor house we'd heard contained a stockpile of dark magic artifacts. It should have been routine..."
"Those things never are. What happened after that?"
Malfoy described the incident in few sentences. "I cast Expelliarmus and he fell off the third story balcony. Pikes surrounded the manor and he landed on one. It skewered him. Nothing could be done." Malfoy moved away quickly and bent over a bush to vomit.
Harry gave Malfoy a minute to pull himself together.
"Sorry for the dramatics. I'm usually more in control," Malfoy said, his eyes still watering.
"S'okay. I've seen all manner of bodily fluids excreted in all manner of ways. I'm inured to it."
"I could have lived without that image." But Malfoy smiled.
Harry gave him a reassuring smile. "I puked for a week after Voldemort. Will there be an investigation?"
"Probably. But it was pretty clear he was killed during the commission of a crime." Malfoy touched his wand to his mouth. "I really must brush my teeth."
Harry nodded. "Magic is wonderful, but sometimes you need soap and water."
"Or in this case, toothpaste." Malfoy looked at him. "Thank you."
"All I did was listen." He didn't care for Malfoy, but it felt good to be able to help.
"Right, then. No fancy draining off my despair for me?" Malfoy's nearly pleasant look changed into a glare.
Harry didn't sense that Malfoy was in dire shape, but perhaps he hid it better than most people. "Do you need it? Are you despairing over what you had to do? I'd do it if you need it."
Malfoy stared into the distance for a moment or two, but then turned back to Harry and shook his head. "I think I'll be all right."
"Do you have anyone else to talk to? You may not think so, but talking about it more than once will help you deal with it faster." Harry didn't want to preach; with Malfoy he doubted it would work.
"I'm not sure how you mean that."
"Muggle police officers receive mandatory counseling after they've had to kill in the line of duty."
"No. We have nothing like that. I should think it would be very helpful to some people."
"You may need it, too." Perhaps Malfoy would at least consider it.
Malfoy shrugged a little too casually. "I don't think so."
Harry wasn't about to argue, no matter what his private opinion. It was totally Malfoy's call on what he needed. "Okay. If you change your mind, I can give you the name of someone to talk to. St. Mungo's has a very new Mind Healing program."
"Does it?" Malfoy looked at him curiously. "I'm surprised you knew about it."
"There are so few mind healers in the wizarding world and even fewer who do what I do -- I mean aside the channeling despair -- that I know of most of them."
A cool expression moved over Malfoy's perfect features. "We're not going to be friends, you know."
"That was a non-sequitur." So typically Malfoy.
"I wanted you to know so that you don't get your hopes up." Despite the words, Malfoy's mouth twitched.
"Okay. I won't be disappointed when we don't become friends." Harry couldn't help grinning. This was the silliest conversation he'd ever had with Malfoy. "I still plan to visit Hermione."
"As if I could do anything to stop her." Malfoy snorted inelegantly, but sounded amused.
"What if you tried kicking up enough of a fuss?"
Malfoy chuckled. "She'd tell me to shut-up and act like a grown up."
"Yeah, that does sound like her, doesn't it?"
"Don't hurt her, Potter. I won't stand for it." Malfoy crossed his arms over his chest, looking menacing. He did it much better now than when he'd tried it as a kid.
"I'll try not to," Harry said, not especially impressed with the tactic.
"Nor Severus, either."
Harry wasn't ready to talk about Snape with anyone, but especially not with Malfoy. He didn't respond at all.
The silence continued and Malfoy's expression changed to outright annoyance. "Is there a problem between you and Severus?"
"What's between Severus and me is just that, between us."
Malfoy took a step back and glared. "I don't want to see him hurt."
"I don't either." Harry meant that with all his heart.
"Then we're in accord. Thank you again." Malfoy bowed slightly, turned on his heel and walked away.
Harry picked up his broom and headed for the pitch. He needed that ride more than ever.
Dressed in his very best robes, Snape made his way to Dumbledore's Tower rooms for what he knew would be the last time. He was exceedingly thankful that Harry would release Dumbledore, rather than it being required of him. That it would happen at all still cut him to the bone.
Despite it all, the crushing despair of the last months had not returned. Indeed, each time Harry touched him, his melancholy dissipated a bit more.
He knocked quietly and entered. Draco, Hermione, and Ronny were already there, as were Minerva and Harry. Snape nodded in acknowledgement. Dumbledore was sitting up against his obnoxiously colored pillows, looking weak, but at peace. He chatted quietly with those around him.
Snape was not up to conversation, and appreciated that Dumbledore didn't try to engage him in it. Silently, he took his place along the wall beside the bed. Another knock sounded and Molly and Arthur came into the room.
"We're ready to begin." Harry turned to Dumbledore, his smile bright, his eyes sad. "You've asked for your magical release. Sir, are you certain the time is right and that this is what you want?"
The words were so informal! Snape wanted to protest that it should be done properly. He tried not to be annoyed; after all, Dumbledore was a law unto himself and as he lived his life, so he would end it.
"Yes, m'boy. I'm quite ready." Dumbledore smiled at everyone in the room, and then settled further into his pillows.
"Very good, sir." Harry took his hand and held it, his eyes falling shut. "I want everyone to open your minds and allow yourself to reach out."
Letting his eyes close, Snape tried to reach out. Did he have the emotional fortitude to see this through? A moment later he was aware of everyone in the room, especially Dumbledore. Snape could tangibly feel Dumbledore's affection, and his peace with the decision he'd made. Then Dumbledore's focus changed, directing itself towards Snape personally. Snape felt his heart lift in almost the same way that Harry's healing touch had lifted him, but with Harry, it had been nearly impersonal, at least at the beginning. With Dumbledore, the touch carried his deep love for Snape.
Dumbledore's memories rolled past, almost as if he were viewing them in a pensieve: Dumbledore watching as Snape was sorted into Slytherin; Dumbledore's pleasure at Snape's academic successes in school; Dumbledore's growing concern over Snape's obsessive interest in the dark arts; his pain over the incidents with the Marauders and more pain over Snape's joining the Death Eaters; his joy and compassion when Snape returned to the light.
There were more memories, more emotions: Dumbledore's concern as Snape spied on the Dark Lord; Dumbledore's joy when the war ended and Snape was still intact, both physically and emotionally. More pleasure at Snape's adult achievements: his awards, being published, the recognition that Snape received for his potions work. Snape felt Dumbledore's amusement as he and Snape argued and discussed and bickered over a thousand different subjects during the course of their time together as friends. And finally, Dumbledore's concern over Snape's recent despair.
All overlaid with Dumbledore's love and affection. Snape tried hard to return his emotions, to tell him that Snape did indeed appreciate what he'd done for him over the years and that he accepted Dumbledore's decision to part from the world and him.
Snape mentally stepped back, letting Dumbledore go. Dumbledore began to fade and Snape had to stop himself from reaching out to hold him. With a breath that sounded like a sob, Snape opened his eyes. The bed was empty. Dumbledore was gone.
Everyone in the room was focused on the bed. It wasn't often that a wizard finished out his or her life and then was released into the next one. When it happened, it was beautiful. Snape could see peace in the faces of those around him and felt a measure of serenity himself.
"Wow." Ronny's young voice cut through the silence. "That was brill. He talked to me, just like you said he would, dad. But it was just to me."
"He talked to all of us, dear." Molly smiled indulgently.
Ronny's eyes were wide with excitement. "You too, Gran? He said not to be sad. He seemed to talk to me the whole time. It didn't seem like there was enough time for him to talk to everyone else, too."
"Time works differently, Ronny," Harry said, his voice sounding oddly rough. "He gave each of us the gift of his memories and feelings."
"Oh." Ronny glanced at Snape, and he nodded. But it was clear the boy didn't quite understand.
"He's still very literal minded." Hermione smiled at her son, and brushed his fringe out of his eyes.
"We should go down now." Draco nodded towards the door.
Minerva stood and smoothed her robes. "Yes, we should. Thank you, Harry. That was well done."
"You're welcome," Harry said with a smile that did not reach his eyes. "I was honored to do it."
Her back straight and her shoulders squared, Minerva opened the door. "The others will be gathering in the Great Hall."
"Mum? Why are people going to have a party? I know Professor Dumbledore said not to be sad, but he still died." Ronny followed his mother out.
Snape heard Draco say, "It's not a party per se. But people want to gather to speak of the Headmaster and his life."
"Especially those who couldn't be here for the release," Harry added.
The Great Hall was filled. Snape would have preferred to stand on the sidelines and observe those around him, but Draco had taken his arm and steered him towards the head table where everyone else who had attended Dumbledore was sitting.
Without meaning to, Snape followed Harry's progress across the room. He was greeted as a returning war hero, and even from where he sat, Snape could see Harry's discomfort. He never lingered with any group of people, and never initiated conversation.
The Minister of Magic put a hand on Harry's shoulder, and he turned to speak to her. After a few minutes Harry began to look distressed, until one of the Weasley twins rescued him and led him over to the rest of the family.
As the introductions finished, Snape joined the group. Harry smiled at him and Snape felt a burst of pleasure in his chest. He was being a fool, but he couldn't help smiling back.
All the Weasleys had looks of surprise on their faces.
"It's good to see you out and about, Severus," Arthur said, his tone not quite hiding his concern.
Although he respected Arthur and Molly, he'd never been close to them. How bad had he seemed to have brought about so unusual a response. "I'm quite fine."
"You're looking much better," Molly said, her expression knowing.
What had Harry told her? Snape nodded and said nothing.
"How are you, Professor?" Fred asked, with a deference never shown in class.
He'd heard the twins had finally gown up.
"I'm fine," Snape said again. He wasn't in the mood for conversation, but extended the effort. "And you, Fred? Is Monica well?"
As he'd hoped, Fred spoke at length of his wife and soon-to-be-born child. He and Harry shared a smile and the rest of the family groaned. Eventually, Fred tapered off and George and his husband took over, talking about a topic in which Snape had no interest. It was quite easy to tune them out and concentrate on watching Harry.
It pleased Snape to see him enjoying himself so much.
"How are you feeling now?" Harry asked as they made their way back to the table.
Before he answered, Snape considered. He also resisted the urge to lean closer and kiss Harry. "I feel... all right."
Harry nodded. "I can sense that you do."
"If you knew, why did you feel the need to waste my time by asking?" Oh, the joy of snapping out an acerbic reply. It had been a long time since he'd felt like being anything other than numb.
His response brought a wide, idiotic smile to Harry's face. "You are feeling better, aren't you?"
"I said I was. What didn't you understand?" He was too pleased to put much bite into his words.
If possible, Harry's glee increased. "Oh, I understood just fine. I'm savoring it." Harry reached out and touched his hair.
Snape fought the urge to lean into the touch. "You're a fool, Harry. You do know that, don't you? It is nearly time for me to retire."
"Yes. I'm quite exhausted." Harry yawned and looked at him expectantly. He said nothing, as if he weren't sure of his welcome.
While drawing it out might be fun, Snape didn't want to hurt him. "Say your good-byes and come to my rooms." Was he presuming too much? "If you wish to, that is."
Harry's eyes sparkled. "Yes, I want to. Very much."
Touching Harry's hand once, Snape smiled and stood up. "I'm for my bed."
"I'll be by in a bit.â€
Snape nodded and walked out.
Snape paced his quarters. His old self-protective instincts had resurfaced. What on earth was he doing with Harry bloody Potter? He tried to convince himself that he wished Harry would stay upstairs with Hermione and Draco, and if he did come down, that Snape would find the courage to send him away.
With a sigh of annoyance, he admitted he'd be unable to do that. He wanted Harry, wanted his touch, wanted his kisses, wanted his body, possibly even his lo-- He cut himself before he could finish that thought. Anything else from the blasted man was not on offer. Harry had his own life to lead and it didn't include a broken-down old potions teacher.
A knock on the door startled Snape. He stalked over to answer the summons.
Harry stepped in, smiling. Without a word, he reached out and gathered Snape into his arms, kissing him thoroughly.
Closing his eyes, Snape moaned in surrender, letting Harry have his way. It wasn't as if he could have mustered any objections at this point, not with the way Harry was kissing him. Snape melted into the languid soft kisses, enjoying each one to the fullest. As Harry pulled away slightly, Snape's mouth followed.
He moaned again as Harry renewed his assault, tongue sliding between Snape's lips, sending sparks of pure bliss cascading through Snape. Merlin, but he loved the taste of Harry, his kisses, the perfection that grew stronger each time they touched.
That this would be the last time saddened him. However, he wouldn't dwell on it now. The loss would be accepted, as every other had been, but tomorrow, not tonight.
Harry's hands slid his shirt off and then ran across his torso, touching him exactly in the right places with exactly the right pressure. When Harry lowered his head, Snape made a sound in the back of his throat that would have embarrassed him, had he not been so involved with what Harry's tongue was doing to his flesh. Oh, it was good.
Without understanding exactly how it happened, he was stripped of his clothes, and stood naked as Harry ran knowing hands over his skin, making him pant with want so deep he could barely breathe.
"What is your pleasure? What can I do for you?" Harry asked, leaning in to kiss him again.
A coherent answer was expected, wasn't it? But Snape couldn't think, not with Harry's fingers rubbing little circles on his skin, his tongue licking softly over his body. Raising his eyes, he made an effort to look at Harry, who surprisingly was still dressed. "Strip off," Snape ordered. "Then come fuck me."
"I can do that." Harry grinned his insipid grin; the grin Snape would never admit he found appealing. With a charming alacrity, Harry pulled off his clothes and tossed them on the floor.
Snape's mouth watered with desire. Harry moved towards him with a menacing grin. Clearly they weren't going to make it very far, not that Snape had any intention of complaining.
He was turned to face the sofa back, and then gently pressed over it until he was spread wide for Harry's pleasure. Excitement flared through him. He'd never been taken like this, and it thrilled him beyond words that Harry would want to.
It also bespoke of a trust he wasn't sure they'd achieved. But he could not find it in himself to doubt Harry or his intentions. Harry would not hurt him. Deep resonating desire spiked through him and he shivered in anticipation.
Snape moved his legs farther apart. His heart pounded as he braced his arms against the cushions of the sofa, waiting for Harry's touch.
When it came, he jumped, and Harry quieted him, his hand running along Snape's sides. "Shhh..."
Harry leaned over and kissed the small of his back, his tongue moving up the entire length of Snape's spine, making him shudder with pleasure. Harry trailed down again, not stopping until he'd reached Snape's very center.
With long licking kisses, Harry bathed the whole area, driving Snape to the point of madness, but never letting him move beyond. He was held, whimpering, on a knife's edge, ecstasy washing over him, but allowed no release. Snape pressed back onto Harry's tongue. "Harry... please... "
There was some mercy in Harry after all. He called, "Accio lubricant."
Snape sighed as slick fingers slipped into him, and he pressed back against them, moaning. His body opened, knowing what he wanted. Raw desire swamped him as Harry's clever fingers worked their magic.
When Harry slid into him, he ceased to care about anything else. Nothing mattered but the push and pull of Harry's thrust. Snape moaned and thrashed and sobbed as pleasure built, then broke over him. He was lost in it. Drowning without hope of survival, he sank willingly, surrendering himself.
Later, he opened his eyes to find himself in his own bed, Harry beside him, looking smug. Ah, well. Anyone who could make him feel that good deserved to be smug.
Harry slid across him, and lowered his mouth for another kiss. "Okay?"
"Very much so." He stifled the most ridiculous urge to thank Harry, though for what he wasn't sure.
Snape put a finger to Harry's lips. "I don't wish to discuss tomorrow when there is still more of today."
His eyes bright, Harry was silent for a count, clearly considering arguing. "All right."
With a sigh of relief, Snape let himself smile. "There are much better things for you to do with your mouth than talk."
"I expect there are." Harry leaned over to kiss him again.
Harry awoke slowly, snuggling closer to Snape's warmth. He had to get up soon. Even though it would be the middle of the night when he returned to New York, he planned on leaving right after breakfast. There was no point in drawing out the agony.
Snape's breathing changed, and his arms tightened around Harry for a moment before releasing him completely. Harry sighed and sat up.
Snape sat up beside him, but remained silent.
Harry wanted to say something, to make promises, but there was nothing left to say. "May I use your bath?"
"Stupid question." Snape rose and stalked across the room.
Harry felt as if he was being torn apart. He had to go back, but New York wasn't home anymore. God, how he wished he had some other choice, that he could ignore his obligations. His heart ached at the thought of leaving Snape, of leaving Hermione and Molly and everyone who had entered his life again.
He crawled out of bed. Anything he said now would only sound asinine.
When Harry entered the bath, Snape was leaning against the shower wall, eyes closed, the warm water sluicing over him.
Harry wanted to ask if he was all right. But that was another stupid question. Neither one of them wanted this to end. It was too new and too fragile to survive without constant work and attention. What could he do?
"Oh, do stop the melodrama," Snape said in a wonderfully astringent tone. "It's not as if you can't visit me."
"Would you want me to?" God, he sounded like a child needing reassurance. Which, unfortunately, wasn't far off the mark.
"Of course, you idiot." Snape pushed wet hair from his face. "I want to--"
Harry waited, but Snape didn't continue. "What?"
Snape met his gaze. "To explore what is between us. When there is time to do so. Perhaps to understand what you've done to me."
"You're angry about it?" Of course he was. Now that Snape had time to think about it--
"Don't be an arse, Harry. I didn't mean it that way. I do wish you'd trust me." Snape reached out and pulled Harry into the shower.
The water hit Harry's face and he sputtered for a moment. "I do trust you. But you've had a chance to think about it--"
"What I said yesterday still holds. I don't say things I don't mean."
Relief left Harry weak. "Okay."
"I meant it more in terms of what we've done to each other and what we could do in the future." Snape slid his arms around Harry and pulled him close.
"I'm all for that," Harry said against his lips.
Warm, wet kisses followed and Harry lost himself in them, leaning into Snape, reveling in the feel of his wet skin under Harry's hands. And for long time, they didn't speak.
"Can I say that I'll miss you?" Harry asked as he stuffed the last of his clothes in his pack. He rubbed his chest, his heart felt as if it were being squeezed in a vice.
Snape nodded, his face pale in the charmed light of his rooms. "It's a given. You will return?"
Harry heard the 'to me' in Snape's words. "Another given. Perhaps you'll visit New York?"
Snape looked thoughtful, then nodded absently. "I've never been out of England. Perhaps it's time to try something new."
Nervously, Harry pulled a piece of parchment from his pocket. "This is the name of a counselor at St. Mungo's--"
"Why do you think I would need that?" There was a definite sharpness to Snape's tone and a displeased expression on his face.
Would this do any good? "Severus, you need to talk to someone."
"I can't possibly be any good to you. I'm far too involved." Harry looked at his feet. "I won't be here. Please."
"I'll consider it," Snape said, but didn't sound as if he would.
"Talk to that person. It will help. I don't want you to slip back into despair." He'd pushed as far as he could, and he didn't want to alienate Snape before he left. "Will you come to New York?"
With a nod, Snape leaned in and kissed him. "I shall try."
"I'll expect you then." Through his doubts, Harry smiled. At least Snape had not dismissed either idea completely.
"Gryffindor hope?" Snape asked, his tone taking on a bit of a bite.
Harry leaned up to kiss him again. "No. Only Harry's hope. I have to go."
"I shall accompany you to the Apparation point."
"I'd like that."
With a sad sigh, Harry closed the doors of Hogwarts and trudged slowly down the stairs. Snape walked silently beside him. As comforting as it would have been, Harry resisted the urge to take his hand.
To Harry's surprise, both Malfoy and Hermione were waiting just outside the gates. He gave them both a tentative smile. Seeing Hermione would make it all the harder to leave.
She stepped forward, and opened her arms. He moved into them and held her tightly, a lump forming in his throat.
"I thought if I saw you off," she said, her voice not quite steady, "you might be more inclined to return sooner."
"I promise I'll come back. As soon as I can," Harry said, his voice hushed and raw.
Hermione kissed his cheek. "I'm sorry. I didn't--"
"I know. I don't want to go yet. But I have to." Harry pulled her back into his arms and clung to her.
"I understand. I swear that I do. Come home to us soon. Please." She tightened her arms for a moment more and then released him.
Harry touched an escaped tendril of her hair. "I should have a few days at Yule. Maybe."
"Whenever you can come, we'll be here." She nodded to both Malfoy and Snape. "You'll always be welcome."
"I'll miss you." There was nothing else he could say and he sighed.
With a nod, Hermione stepped back to stand next to Malfoy.
Harry glanced at Malfoy, and nodded.
"Come back if you want to, Potter." There was the smallest note of sincerity in Malfoy's tone.
"I will, thanks."
Harry's heart pounded as he turned toward Snape.
A wave of the intense longing washed over him. How could he leave? How could he let this go now? Harry hesitated. This was so hard. He gathered his courage and took a hesitant step towards Snape, holding out a hand. Snape took it and drew him into his arms, holding him close.
Harry breathed in, trying to memorize his smell and feel. He laid his head on Snape's shoulder and sighed. "I don't want to leave you."
"I don't want it either, but it's inevitable."
Harry tightened his arms and swallowed against the lump lodged in his throat. "I promise I'll come back as soon as I can."
"Do that." Snape released him, not breaking eye contact. He raised his hand to Harry's fringe and brushed it back tenderly.
He leaned in for one last kiss and knew he had to let go. "I'm sorry--"
Snape put a finger to his lips and shook his head. "Say nothing."
"All right." But Harry wanted to make some promise, say something meaningful to both of them.
Snape shook his head again.
He finally smiled sadly at Snape. He prayed that he wouldn't break before he got back to New York, Harry imagined his flat and Disapparated.
With an equal measure of dread and anticipation, Snape followed the dozen or so people who had joined him on the public port-key. He emerged from the sub-sub-basement of Grand Central Station and joined the rush hour crowds fighting their way toward the subway and downtown.
Despite everything that had passed between Harry and him, no promises had actually been made. Only an invitation issued and then reissued several times in the hurried notes Harry had sent. Anxiety slithered down Snape's spine as he climbed the steps to the house. He knocked on the door and a small Asian woman answered. With a start, Snape stepped back to glance at the house number again and then to sheet of parchment he held. It was the right address.
"Hello." Her English was slightly accented. "May I help you?"
"I thought... Harry Potter?" He looked at her again and realized who she must be. She wasn't beautiful. For some reason, he'd assumed that she would be. Her nose was far too big for her face, and her black hair had an odd texture, not at all silky smooth.
"I'll get him." She stepped back from the doorway.
"Never mind." His voice cracked. How humiliating. "Clearly, I've made a mistake." Snape was crushed under the weight of his own expectations. He'd believed. Oh, Merlin, he'd believed in Harry. After a life-time of knowing better, he'd been foolish enough to forget that happiness was not to be his.
To his utter mortification, his eyes blurred and his throat closed completely. He'd wanted this so badly.
With a shuddering breath, Snape turned and walked away, not allowing his shoulders to sag. All the while praying for strength enough to make his escape before his grief overcame him.
As he stepped onto the sidewalk, she called Harry's name. If he were lucky, Harry wouldn't try to come after him, allowing him to leave with his dignity intact. He would be unable to bear Harry's explanations of how he'd reconciled with his lover. How they were closer now. How they were going to make a go of it. How he was so sorry to have hurt Snape.
What utter drivel. Harry would no doubt try to be kind and Snape would curse him for it.
A hand caught his shoulder before he was more than a few steps from the house. Without thinking, Snape pulled his wand and only barely managed to avoid using it. "What are you doing?" he snapped and then looked at Harry's earnest face. "Oh, do spare me this at least." He pulled away again, trying to move past him.
Harry caught hold of his sleeve. "Severus. Stop this. It's not what it looks like."
"Of course it is. What else could it be?" Closing his eyes, Snape tried to find strength to walk away before Harry destroyed him utterly.
"Maybe My-Le was packing a few things she had left at my place before she left for Vietnam?"
He tried to concentrate over the pounding of his heart. "I thought she'd left already."
"Her trip was postponed two months for diplomatic reasons."
"That's very convenient, isn't it? I'm sure it gave you plenty of time to make up." Snape glared, hoping that his pain was hidden in his sneer.
Undaunted, Harry scowled back. "Which we didn't do. It never even occurred to me, frankly."
"Why not?" Snape did not believe him. He couldn't. He'd never be able to believe again.
"Because, you fool, I realized I didn't love her and that I did love someone else."
Snape could only barely make out what Harry was saying.
"Actually, the only reason I found her things was that I was packing myself. I'll be moving soon." Harry's eyes sparkled, as if he were exceedingly pleased at that for some reason Snape could not fathom.
It just got worse and worse. Snape wished he'd delayed his trip. Even a week would have saved him this. He sucked in a breath that sounded precariously close to something else entirely.
Harry heard it, too. "You've ruined my surprise."
Under the best of circumstances, surprises were not high on Snape's list of favorite things. He tried to gather his strength, but feared it was already too late.
Harry's eyes softened and he stroked his fingers along Snape's wrist. "Don't you understand? I'm returning to England."
That made no sense. "You said..." What had he said, exactly? Had he misunderstood? His heart started to soar with joy even as he tried to tamp it down. "What of your internship?"
"I finished it as of last Friday."
"Your residency? Aren't those sorts of things decided well in advance?"
"They generally are. But I..." Harry looked down, his cheeks reddening. "I pulled a few strings. I was able to change things at the last minute."
"How?" The truth was he didn't care how. Harry was coming home. To him. Snape wanted to dance in the street, shout it to the world, do something other than stand on a hot Muggle street.
"I told my advisor I wanted to go home. She arranged it. St. Mungo's was more than happy to admit me to their program."
He shook with the need to move. Snape took a step closer, and lifted his hand to touch Harry's cheek.
A wary expression crossed Harry's face, and he glanced around the block. People pushed pasted them on the street.
"Why don't we go inside where we can talk about it?" Harry tightened his fingers on Snape's wrist and tugged him towards the stairs. "I can also say hello properly."
"What about your friend?" Snape asked.
"She is just leaving," My-Le said, carrying out a box. She turned to Harry and kissed his cheek. "I wish you nothing but good luck."
Harry touched her hair softly. "And you. I hope you find what you're looking for."
"I'm glad you have." She smiled once and walked down the stairs without looking back.
"Do I look like her or does she look like me?"
"What do you think?" Harry held open the door.
"So, you won't answer the question?"
"Perhaps I simply like big noses on narrow faces." Harry ran a finger down the slope of his nose.
Snape stepped forward and gathered him into his arms, breathing in the comforting scent of Harry. "I believe that is acceptable."
"That's all right, then." Harry kissed him softly, once, twice, a then a long third time. His arms tightened and he laid his head on Snape's shoulder. "I've missed you so much."
"I missed you as well." Should he make such an admission so early? Simply being here was an admission in and of itself. Although after Harry kissed him a few more times, he didn't care.
Finally, Harry stepped back. "I need to finish packing."
"When do you report to St. Mungo's?" Snape glanced around at the sitting room. Several trunks stood open, books were strewn over every flat surface.
"I start in two weeks, but I've sublet this place and they want to move in right away. Housing in Manhattan is hard to find."
"Shall I offer my assistance?" It wasn't the way he'd hoped they would spend their time together, but it was better than being apart.
Harry's expression was suddenly sly. "Perhaps if we both work hard later, we will have a bit of time left over. And if we're ahead of schedule, we can spend that time now."
"Your logical thought processes are appalling. However," Snape smirked, "I think that could be arranged."
"When do you have to return to Hogwarts?" Harry slid his arms around Snape's waist.
Snape had a surprise of his own. "I don't. Ironically, I have three interviews in the next week for potions positions here in New York."
"Really?" Harry delight was obvious.
"I did just say that, didn't I?" He tried to put a little bite in his tone. Harry's wide smile showed how unsuccessful he'd been. Well, he could live with making Harry happy.
"That is so great. God, that is so great." Harry face was bright with unsuppressed joy.
"You're repeating yourself, Harry. That can't be a good sign." With his own smile of unrestrained delight, he pulled Harry to him and held him close, breathing the warm scent of skin.
"I'm so pleased. We should talk. Decide where we're going to live. You'll need to find a job in London or somewhere in England. That won't be a problem, will it?" Harry kissed Snape again and again.
"No. I don't think so." When the news of his resignation had spread, he'd had an embarrassing number of unsolicited offers.
"Or perhaps you could work for St. Mungo's. If we had wizarding versions of the drugs that Muggles use, without the side effects--"
Snape kissed him softly, amused at his enthusiasm. Although working with Harry would be lovely. "You're getting ahead of yourself."
"I can support you until you find something. Or forever, for that matter."
"I'm sure that won't be necessary. I think we're done talking for a while." Snape kissed him for a long time.
Snape licked along Harry's neck. That silenced him long enough to stumble upstairs and slip off his clothes. After that, keeping Harry's mouth occupied wasn't a problem.
June 2004 - February 2005