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Draco is not proud of the impulse, but when he comes downstairs and sees what Scorpius has done, his first instinct is, in fact, to kill the boy.

The second is to fall to his knees with gratitude.

Neither of those reactions is acceptable, though, so he simply stares. Occasionally, he manages to blink. At one interval, it's possible he has let out a strangled noise or clutched at the doorframe for balance, but mostly, he stares. It has been nine years since he's seen Severus Snape alive, after all. He feels entitled to his reactions.

"Who's that?" Scorpius's chubby finger is pointing at the well-dressed but sour-faced man standing in the living room. A delighted smile lights up the boy's face, and he giggles as he shoves the finger in his mouth.

That is a spectacular question. Draco crosses the room, steering clear of the ghost haunting the left side of the coffee table, and scoops his son up in his arms. Hoisting him on one hip – Merlin, he's heavy; how does Astoria do this when she's so tiny? – Draco holds him close and looks up at the empty portrait on the wall. The heavy black frame sits in the same place as always; inside, the only item is a painted bookshelf lined with unreadable titles in tiny, gilded font. Severus normally stands stiffly in front of it.

Tonight, only his shadow remains.

"Darling, where's the account book? I need to get Mother a gift for–" Astoria stops short at the entrance to the living room.

"Ah. I can explain," manages Draco.

"Oh, I doubt that," says Severus, and Draco has to struggle to keep his lips from curving into a small smile at the comment. Some things never do change. A second later, he tamps down on a flare of pain. This isn't Severus. This is a walking, breathing portrait. He hates this portrait at the best of times and avoids looking at it as much as possible. Whenever he has glanced at it, Severus has left for another frame elsewhere. It would be easy, Draco supposes, to sit in his living room and have a drink with the portrait as often as he likes, but they have never done so. They have never spoken through it.

Draco has never known what to say.

Scorpius uncurls his wet finger from his new teeth and points again. "Daddy, who's that?"

***

Draco was fifteen when he first noticed Snape's mouth.

His wank fantasies at that age rotated from the things he was supposed to be wanking to (that busty woman at the Three Broomsticks; Blaise's mum), to the things he was sure other blokes wanked to but couldn't quite admit in the common room (the lead singer of Nathan and the Naughty Boys; the entire Gryffindor Quidditch team), to the things he was most definitely not supposed to be wanking to but invaded his thoughts anyway (the suction capabilities of a Squid tentacle; the smooth end of a broomstick).

They didn't regularly involve his professors.

"Mr Malfoy."

A warm body came up behind him and Draco turned from his cauldron, ready to accept his compliment. The ladle froze in his hand, though, as he gazed at Snape's face while Snape inspected his potion. The syllables of his name in that deep voice, formed by those lips, repeated in his mind, sliding down his spine and settling deep in his body. "Sir?" he managed, the word a quick huff of breath.

Snape moved around to the front of his worktable, peering into the cauldron from another angle. When he looked up at Draco again, he held Draco's gaze and said nothing for far too many seconds.

Draco gripped the ladle, waiting.

"Very good." The words, when they came at last, were soft and smooth, curved lips forming them in a way Draco had never noticed before. He appraised Draco a moment longer before sweeping to the next table and cutting down a pair of Hufflepuffs.

He paid Draco no mind for the rest of the lesson or indeed the rest of the week, but every night, Draco put up the strongest Silencing Charm he could manage and gripped his damp prick, squeezing it and gasping. He arched up and came in seconds, his mind alive with thoughts of Snape's heavy gaze pinning him and Snape's mouth moving over his skin.

***

"Who are you?" Draco gives Scorpius to Astoria and draws his wand. "You have three seconds to explain yourself."

"That is three seconds too long." The longer he is out of the portrait, the more confident Severus seems to become. His shoulders unfurl and he raises himself to his full height, looking down his nose at them. "You should already have immobilised me."

He's right, damn him. He was always right. But before Draco can get the word out to follow his advice, he has already waved his hand, muttered a word of his own under his breath, and forced Draco's wand to abandon him. Draco watches the traitorous thing sail into Severus's fist.

Severus shakes his head as though Draco is sixteen again and Severus is just as disappointed in him as ever. "I would rather my likeness not be bound or maimed before it can find its way back to its proper place," he says by way of explanation.

"And what is its proper place?" Draco takes a step forward, trying to reason this through.

"What do you think?" snaps Severus, pointing at the portrait.

"So, you didn't do this?" Astoria asks him. Scorpius's head is on her shoulder and she's bouncing him gently on her hip, her hand running in soothing circles over his back.

Severus turns to her, regarding her carefully before he answers. Draco wonders what he's looking for. Surely he's seen her before, both at Hogwarts and right here in this house, looking out from his portrait. His face is drawn, though, harsh and guarded. "No, Mrs Malfoy," he says, "I did not do this."

The name punctures something in Draco, and he takes in a sharp breath. He glances at her and feels a stab of... resentment. This is madness. Astoria is his wife. He loves her.

***

"Enter."

Draco hitched his bag up over his shoulder after knocking on Snape's door, turning the oversized knob at the command. Something in this room always made Draco feel safe, and it wasn't just Snape himself.

Snape looked surprised. "We are not meeting tonight." Draco attached more meaning to that than he probably should have, imagining Snape's mind whirring. Are you all right? Snape would have asked if he could. What do you need?

"I know."

Sighing, Snape set his quill down. "Draco."

"I just need a break. Okay? I won't bother you." That might not have been true. At the right signals, Draco would have liked nothing more than to bother the hell out of him, in all the ways his nightly fantasies supplied.

"Draco."

He pulled out a chair and slumped over Snape's worktable, pulling his potions book out of his bag and opening it to the assigned homework. "I'll be quiet."

"Draco."

"You promised my mother," he snarled, clenching his fingers around the book and glaring daggers at Snape, who remained perfectly impassive apart from sitting back in his chair and resting his quill on the desk.

"I promised your mother I would allow you to come to my office unannounced and throw a tantrum?" He tilted his head to the side, his face showing neither anger nor amusement. Draco's eyes followed the curve of his lips before he turned away, lowering his head. "Draco."

He said it softer that time, and Draco looked up despite himself, ready to be thrown out.

"It is unwise for you to be here."

"Why? No one would think anything of it. You're my head of House, a friend of my parents, the Dark Lord's most trusted–"

"Stop."

Draco swallowed.

"I said it was unwise. Don't question me."

"Sorry." He meant it, too. Steeling his jaw, he opened his book and picked up his quill, not looking at Snape.

Snape didn't say another word, but over the next two hours, Draco swore he could feel it when Snape's eyes were on him.

***

"Should we call someone?" Astoria gathers her hair at the nape of her neck, tying it in a loose knot before waving her wand at the kettle.

In the living room, Scorpius is reading to Severus, or so he thinks. Draco can hear a lot of attempts at the letter f, Scorpius's little teeth tight against his bottom lip, and the satisfying sounds of sh, his favourite, the air whistling through his mouth.

"That's not an f, child," Severus is saying irritably, belying the fact that when Draco and Astoria left the room to make tea, Scorpius crawled into Severus's lap with his picture book and wasn't immediately kicked off. "You're the spitting image of your father at the same age, but a dozen brain cells short."

Draco's eyes widen in horror, but Astoria only laughs against her fist.

"Wait, was that a knock against me?" she teases. "Maybe we should keep him as a sitter. Might do Scorpius some good not to be coddled for once."

"We're not keeping him as anything," snaps Draco. Her grin vanishes, and she glares at him.

"Don't shout at me."

"Well, I'm sorry, but it's not funny."

"Draco, there's all sorts of rogue magic in this old house. It will run its course, and he'll be back in the frame by morning."

He drops into a chair, barely nodding when she puts a cup of tea in front of him. "Yes," he manages. "Of course, you're right."

She settles across from him, reaching for a sugar cube. "Or maybe you don't want that." Her tone is light, but he isn't fooled.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Gesturing out at the living room, he adds, "You think I want to sit around having tea with a spectre of our former potions professor?"

Her spoon clinks against the saucer. "Is that all he was?"

"What?"

"I said," she repeats calmly, lifting her cup to her mouth, "is he just your former professor?"

"As opposed to what?"

"Well." She takes a sip. "He was my professor too, and yet somehow I'm able to take my eyes off him for more than three seconds."

Draco's fingers press into the little handle on the cup, his jaw tight.

***

The day Katie Bell was sent to St Mungo's, Draco stumbled through the halls of the castle, his hands shaking. Snape intercepted him loitering in the entrance hall, grabbing him by the collar like an errant kitten and marching him to the dungeons.

When they arrived at Snape's office, he ordered Draco to sit down and not move. Behind him, he could hear Snape moving around, clanging bottles and opening cupboards. When the sounds ceased, Draco chanced a peek over his shoulder. He found Snape leaning against his workbench, his palms flat on the surface, his elbows locked and his head hanging heavily between his shoulders. As if sensing Draco's gaze, he lifted his head at the same time as he pulled in a deep breath, finally facing Draco with his chest puffed out and his chin up.

"That," he began, his voice low and rough, "was the stupidest thing you have ever done in your miserable life."

The words kicked at Draco, but he couldn't refute them. He turned around again and hunched over in the stiff-backed armchair, his elbows on his knees and his gaze rooted to the floor. "What was I supposed to do?"

"I told you to leave it to me."

"I had to do something!"

"No, you didn't."

"He– he's counting on me."

Snape sighed. "No, he isn't. He's testing you."

"Then I can't fail!" Draco gave him a pleading look. "He'll kill my mother."

"I'm not going to let him anywhere near your mother," grumbled Snape, moving around the bench and coming to stand in front of Draco. He folded his arms across his chest and glared down at him. "If you pull a stunt like this again," he added, his boots inches from Draco's scuffed toes, "you won't have to worry about him anyway, because I'll kill you myself. Do you understand me?"

Draco took a deep breath, a shiver passing through him. "Yes, sir."

Snape was quiet for a long moment, and in the silence, Draco's suppressed emotions began to creep out from where he'd pushed them deep down. He clasped his hands together to keep them from trembling and rounded his shoulders to protect himself from the sudden cold. His panicked, shallow breaths came in staccato gulps, and he didn't know if he wanted to lie down or throw up.

Without a word, Snape's hand came up to rest on Draco's head, gently and almost imperceptibly stroking his hair.

With a whimper he couldn't hold back, he leaned into the touch, his forehead brushing Snape's hip.

"I'm sorry," he choked out, squeezing his eyes closed.

The fingers in his hair threaded slowly, the anchoring weight of Snape's hand, Snape's protection, warming Draco. They stayed that way in silence for a long time, Snape's hand soft at the back of Draco's neck and his thumb drawing gentle circles up into his hair.

***

Draco throws a set of grey (pewter, darling, all the rage this season, his mother insisted when she presented them) towels on the guest bed and turns to face Severus. "The facilities are to your right," he begins, stilted and awful. "I suppose you'll want to contact people. There is parchment and ink in the drawer–" he points to a small writing desk – "and the owls are upstairs. First hall on your left after the library."

"I've no interest in contacting anyone." Severus steps into the room after him, looking around.

Draco shrugs. "Suit yourself. I, ah, eat breakfast at seven, if you would like to join me." He's not sure where the stiff words come from, but the following silence is dreadful. Suddenly Draco is a teenager again trying to ask for a date. Except that isn't quite right, because he was never nervous about asking that, not with Pansy or even Astoria. The only person who ever made him this nervous was also the only one who ever made him feel safe.

"I should like that," says Severus quietly.

They stand awkwardly for another moment, and Draco realises he has been staring at the bed. He jolts himself and turns his head away.

"I have a theory about all this," says Severus at last, clearing his throat.

Draco leans against the doorjamb and shoves his hands in his pockets. "Scorpius is manifesting his magic early," he says. "I've already thought of that. He must have inadvertently triggered something in the magic around him."

"Perhaps, but that's not my thought."

Draco waits. "And... will you be sharing your thought tonight?" He grins when he sees Severus's lips twitch.

"Not tonight, no," he says after a pause, watching Draco. "There are some other things I would like to observe before I make any definitive conclusions on the magic's cause."

Folding his arms across his chest, Draco regards him. "All right," he allows. "But you would tell me, I presume, if you thought my family were in danger?"

Severus doesn't answer right away. When he does, his tone is harsher than Draco expects. "Have I ever not done everything in my power to protect you and your family?"

Draco's mouth falls open, but he quickly closes it. "Of course you have. Merlin, I didn't mean..." He is arguing with a portrait. This is ridiculous. Taking a deep breath, Draco moves towards the door. "Goodnight, Severus. I'll leave you to–"

"Draco."

A shiver runs down Draco's spine, and he has to grip the doorknob to steady himself. It's been far too long since he's heard this voice saying his name like that. He's never reacted this way to anyone else. When he glances over, Severus is facing away from him.

"You have a beautiful family. You've done well for yourself."

Draco presses his lips together. "Thank you."

"Goodnight."

"I– okay. Goodnight."

***

The night they fled Hogwarts, Snape screaming at him to run as fast as he fucking could and not look back, was the night everything changed. It all became real after that, all the games he'd been playing. Real people were dead now.

Snape had killed someone now, and if he'd already done that before, Draco didn't want to know. This was right in front of his eyes.

Draco nearly choked on his own vomit as he ran, stumbling and twisting his ankle. When they reached the lane and made it through the eight designated Apparition points to the safe house, Draco collapsed in the front room, unable to move his limbs.

Snape treated him for shock, Draco found out later. He barely moved for twenty-four hours, which turned out to be all right since those were their orders anyway. He huddled under a scratchy blanket on an even scratchier sofa, Snape watching him carefully from the chair across the room.

"You should sleep," Draco croaked at one point. "Look terrible." His eyes fluttered shut again.

"So do you," the deep voice came back, and Draco's mouth turned up. He tried to focus on Snape again, bleary-eyed and exhausted. "And I'll sleep when I'm certain you're not going to choke on your tongue when you roll over." He tried to give the words his usual bite, but it didn't quite take. Draco heard the concern underneath them, or at least, he convinced himself he did.

"Glad to know you care," he said, drowsiness and potions clouding his inner censor. He chanced a look at Snape, who had gone very still.

"Do tell me you're joking," he said, his voice so low Draco almost couldn't hear. "I think I've done more than enough to prove to you that–" He stopped, his face pinched as he looked away.

Draco didn't know what to say to fill the long silence that followed. "I'm sorry," he whispered at last, the weight of it all welling up in his chest again.

Snape rose from the chair, crossing the room and bending to sweep Draco's hair out of his face. He picked up a glass of water from the nearby table and handed it to Draco, who struggled to sit up and drink. When he did, he tugged like a child at Snape's sleeve until he sat down beside him with a sigh.

"I'm sorry," said Draco again, his head on Snape's shoulder. Snape sat stiffly for a long moment as Draco struggled to stay awake.

Finally, he felt Snape's arm come around his shoulders, and he sank into the crook of it, his fingers clenched in the front of Snape's shirt. His breathing evened out and he felt himself falling asleep as Snape's fingers moved lightly in his hair. "I know," Snape murmured.

***

Draco sleeps terribly, tossing and turning until Astoria shoves him out of bed with an exasperated sigh. He goes to Scorpius's room and curls up in the oversized armchair in the corner, watching his son sleep.

The child certainly wasn't an accident – they were married, pureblooded, and an heir was expected – but that didn't mean Draco was ready for him. He could barely force a smile when Astoria told him the news. When Scorpius finally emerged, pink and bleary and screaming like a banshee, Draco only clutched his mother's arm for support as he fell in love. He has since spent endless nights with Scorpius in his arms in this very chair. Women's work, his own father would say to him if he knew, but Astoria has always been so grateful for it she won't betray his secret.

Scorpius stirs now, rubbing his eyes and beginning to whine. He should leave him be, Draco knows, but he needs comforting more than Scorpius does right now, so he crosses the room and picks him up. "Shhh." His hand runs lightly over Scorpius's head, smoothing the curls off his forehead as he settles back into the chair. "That's it," he murmurs, cradling him with one arm while the other strokes his head. "You're all right."

He hears a sound at the door and glances up. Somehow, the dark shadow leaning against the door doesn't startle him.

"Don't stand there like the bogeyman," he whispers, "unless you want a shrieking child on your hands. Sit." He nods at the chair opposite.

Severus moves into the room nearly silently. His boots are off, but he's still in his trousers and button down shirt, the sleeves rolled up to the elbows and the collar open a bit too far. He looks as though he hasn't been to bed yet. Draco pictures him prowling around the house while Draco tried to sleep, maybe watching him the way he is now. "It seems I have no need for sleep," he says, spreading his hands by way of apology.

"Ah." Draco's hand continues to stroke Scorpius's little head. "Are you ready to tell me your theory yet?" He smiles. Scorpius has relaxed him a bit; he's not as nervous as he was before. He's almost happy. Severus is here. In a terrifying, confusing way, it's a wonderful thing.

"Not yet." Severus settles back in the chair, his arms draped over the sides. "You know," he adds, speaking softly to avoid waking Scorpius, "I wanted to strangle you when you put that portrait in your house."

Draco looks up, nearly laughing in surprise. "It wasn't my idea, believe me."

"Your wife?" Severus looks as though that can't possibly be true.

"My father."

"Ah, of course. And how is he?"

"The same."

Severus gives a small snort, gazing up at the ceiling. They are silent for a long moment, but it's comfortable to Draco. He feels a sense of peace stealing over him in this room with his son and Severus. A sliver of moonlight falls through the curtains, illuminating Severus through the shadows.

In the dark and the quiet, Draco finds the courage to ask. "Why do you never stay in your frame when I enter the room?" His voice is so low he can hardly hear it himself.

Severus regards him. "Would you like me to?"

"I don't know." Draco considers it. "No, maybe not. I wouldn't..." He swallows, training his gaze on Scorpius to avoid looking into Severus's eyes. "I wouldn't know what to say to you." He sees Severus nod out of the corner of his eye. They are both quiet again for so long that Draco thinks he won't get an answer, like so many other things with Severus, and he should just be grateful for this tiny moment together. He shifts Scorpius in his arms, letting the blood flow back into one as he flexes his fingers. Scorpius's head is heavy against his chest when Severus finally speaks.

"It was always difficult for me... with you," he says quietly, his gaze on the floor. As he speaks, he lifts his head to look at Draco, and with a stutter in his chest, Draco sees that Severus is staring at Draco's mouth.

The silence blossoms again as they regard each other cautiously across the room, and across a decade of grief. Finally, Severus rises and crosses back to the door. He pauses beside Draco's chair only briefly, reaching down to brush the backs of his fingers over Scorpius's forehead. Then he is gone.

Draco falls asleep only at dawn, waking long past breakfast with a crick in his neck and Scorpius gone from his arms. Severus's words play on a whispered loop in his mind as he gazes out the window.

***

The first time Snape let Draco touch him, the war clouds had darkened to black, and Professor Burbage's body was still warm on his dining room table.

It was after midnight, and the rose garden had cooled in the midsummer breeze. Draco shivered as he sat on the stone bench, gulping whisky from the flask he'd stolen from the den and trying not to lose his fucking mind. A vicious crack made him jump, the bush three paces down catching fire and sizzling with the force of a powerful spell.

A nearly inhuman noise followed, not loud enough to call attention from the distant main house, but enough that the growl churned Draco's stomach. Before he could flee, Snape came stalking down the path, a sizeable rock in his hand that he hurled into the destroyed bush, nearly spinning himself around with the force of the pitch.

He saw Draco a second later and tilted his head back, giving an exasperated grunt as he ran one hand through his hair. "Get back to the house," he snapped.

"No." He tried to keep his chin up, glaring at Snape, but his body was shaking.

"Unless you want to die, you will do what I fucking tell you to do." His voice was rough and his eyes blazed. A small thrill shot through Draco at the language. He breathed the cool air deeply through his mouth, trying to settle his nerves.

"Doesn't seem to matter whether any of us want to die," he shot back. "We're going to, anyway."

That seemed to deflate Snape's anger, or at least mute it for now. His shoulders slumped a little, and he made his way towards Draco's bench. He tugged his usually immaculate collar open as he sat, muttering more foul words under his breath. Draco watched him in fascination. "If you give up," he said at last, "you will start making unwise decisions. And if you start making unwise decisions, you will die." He looked sideways at Draco, leaning in closer. "And if you fucking die," he growled, "then I should have given up myself more than a year ago."

The smell of whisky seared on his breath as he spoke. With Snape's dishevelled hair, gaping collar and wild expression, Draco was having trouble breathing. So the bastard was human under all those layers. "What would you care if I died?" It was too transparent, maybe, but Draco was aching and lost and needed to hear it.

He wasn't prepared for the way Snape's expression shifted. His gaze locked on Draco, Snape's eyes moving from his collar to his mouth, taking in the curve of Draco's lips. "Why would I care?" he murmured, but then he tore his gaze away, looking out at the garden. "That is exactly the question. Why," he muttered, closing his eyes, "should I bloody care about you?"

Fortified by his own drinking, Draco took a chance. Reaching out, he dipped his fingers into the open collar of Snape's shirt, letting the pads of his first two fingers skim over Snape's skin. Sucking in a startled breath, Snape held himself still, continuing to look straight ahead. Emboldened, Draco unfastened two more buttons beyond the top one on Snape's shirt, his fingers fumbling with them, but Snape didn't stop him. His shirt fell open, and he gasped and closed his eyes again as Draco's hand slid inside. Draco didn't even know what he wanted other than touch of some kind. He smoothed his fingers lightly over Snape's chest, feeling his heart speed up.

"Draco..." managed Snape, low and desperate, but he didn't push him away.

"Please." Draco looked into his eyes for only a moment before lowering his head, leaning forward and letting his mouth follow the path of his fingers. Snape moaned and tilted his head back, his hands clutched around the edge of the bench but his chest pressing forward against Draco's lips. Draco's entire body burned white hot as his thumbnail caught on one of Snape's nipples, while his lips sucked lightly at his collarbone.

All of a sudden, Snape's fists were clenched in Draco's robes, and he pushed him back, holding him at arm's length. He quickly stood, not meeting Draco's eyes, and swayed only briefly before pulling his shirt closed. "Draco," he muttered again, shaking his head, but he didn't say anything else. He turned on his heel and strode back down the path towards the house, leaving Draco on the bench – cold, hard and alone.

That was the closest they would ever come, at least until Snape walked out of that portrait.

***

Draco scrubs the towel through his hair a bit too vigorously, as if that alone can rub away everything he's feeling – whatever that is. Hurt? Confusion? Grief? Gratitude? This entire thing is ridiculous. Twenty-four hours later and Severus is still here, proving wrong Astoria's theory about a temporary blip in the house's magic. It should have corrected itself by now. Shouldn't it? She has taken to the bath "to think," as she put it, leaving Draco to shower in the spare off the main corridor.

He hangs the towel around his neck and peers at himself in the mirror. The steam obscures his reflection, but not completely. The blond hair is still there, the line of his jaw, the curve of his shoulder. His eyes don't have colour, though, and he wouldn't be able to tell whether his lips were parted or not. He wonders what Severus sees when he looks at Draco now.

Stepping into the loose pair of trousers he wore for the walk from his bedroom, he keeps the towel around his neck and wanders out, still raking one hand through his damp hair. A drop of water lands on his cheek as he turns a corner, and then there is Severus, walking towards him with a stack of books under his arm. He stops dead, a short but audible gasp emerging from his mouth. Eyes dark, he doesn't shy away from his frank appraisal of Draco.

Draco grabs the ends of the towel where they are framing his chest. For security, he tells himself. For something to hold onto. "Find anything?" He nods at the books.

"What?" It takes a second for Severus to tear his eyes away from Draco and glance down. He frowns at the books. "Not yet." Then his gaze is back on Draco and he's walking forward, each slow step an echo on the tiled floor and an added hammer to Draco's chest.

"Astoria was in our bath," he says, glancing back over his shoulder as if to explain why he's walking around the house half naked.

Severus nods, his eyes still dark and intense.

He moves closer, and suddenly Draco can't move. His nipples twist in the cool air, and he feels both vulnerable in Severus's gaze and thrilled with the attention at last. He's dreamed for years of Severus looking at him the way he is now.

"Draco," whispers Severus, his voice raw. He throws the books behind him and mutters a spell to keep them levitated, his gaze never leaving Draco. He takes in Draco's bare chest, moving down over his clenched stomach muscles, down to where his trousers are sitting low, and then back up to Draco's neck, mouth, eyes. With a sudden burst of sensation, Draco wants him so badly he can barely stand.

"You weren't supposed to die," he whispers fiercely, far more emotional than he cares to be. This is insane. Severus is dead, has been for years. Draco is over him. Married.

His reply catches Draco off guard. "Of course I was."

Draco stares at him.

"I didn't want to, particularly, but there really wasn't any other way. Surely you knew that?" He's not taunting, though; his brow is drawn in genuine concern.

"No," is all Draco can say. "I didn't."

Severus keeps coming closer, his hair loose around his shoulders and his steps careful on Draco's floors. Each clack of his boots sends a sizzle up Draco's spine. He's near enough to touch. Without thinking, Draco reaches out to touch his hair, the edge of his thumb smoothing down one lock. Draco wants to kiss him until he can't breathe.

But he drops his hand. "Don't."

"Draco," he says quietly, and damn him, Draco's name in that tone of voice was exactly what got him into this situation in the first place back at school, with his cock at full attention and Severus's voice sliding down his body.

"You're dead." Draco turns his face to the side to avoid looking at Severus, at once hoping he'll turn around and go away, or keep coming closer until he presses right up against Draco.

"I know. I'm sorry."

Draco has backed himself against the wall, his fists still clenched in the ends of the towel. He holds himself very still as Severus reaches out to touch him, his fingers light over Draco's cheek and jaw as he crowds him against the wall. Leaning forward so their cheeks brush, Severus breathes deeply, his chest filling, before exhaling again against Draco's neck, and Draco can't hold in the whimper that escapes his throat. "Please," he gasps.

"Forgive me," Severus murmurs in Draco's ear, lingering another moment with his fingers trailing over Draco's jaw, before he lifts himself away again. He lowers his eyes, his face drawn with emotion Draco has never seen on it before. He doesn't know if Severus means for dying or for this, but he hasn't time to consider it before Severus has moved away, striding down the hall and retrieving his immobilised books as he goes. His boots hit the floor in angry bursts.

Draco can't stop trembling.

***

Draco had no access to Snape as headmaster.

After the Astronomy Tower, after running, after the rose garden, after a summer at the Manor with Snape's hand on his wand whenever anyone so much as spoke to Draco, it all came to a halt. Draco spent the year already grieving, in a way, being denied access to Snape's office and never being invited to share news of the war.

All he had were the glimpses of Snape that he could steal when the headmaster was prowling around the castle, his boots heavy on the stones and his robes trailing obediently after every step. He was even more formidable than he'd been as a professor, his quiet authority radiating through the school. Draco felt it in the Great Hall at meals, when one vicious look from Snape would stop the Carrows in their tracks as they headed for a student to torment; he felt it in the dungeons with his House mates, the pride that one of them was finally in charge of things; and he felt it in the corridors as Snape patrolled, his eyes alert and his mouth turned down.

Occasionally, Snape would whirl around as Draco passed behind him at the other end of a corridor, or leaving the Great Hall after a meal. Draco came to live for those moments, when the castle could narrow only to the two of them, Snape's gaze raking over him as if checking for harm. Draco always tried to push his thoughts forward whenever Snape was looking at him, hoping to feel even a hint of Snape brushing his mind. He never did.

If he was lucky, though, he would get a nod, nearly imperceptible, before Snape stalked off again. The last time Draco saw him alive, he gave just such a nod, his jaw set and his eyes unreadable.

***

"Did you marry me because you had to?"

Draco looks up at his wife from the dining room table as she enters. "No."

"Did you marry me because you had to marry someone, and I was the best of a bad lot?" She gives him a faint smile. They used to joke about that as newlyweds. It went both ways, of course. Her family had placed the same pressure on her as his had put on him.

He gives her an exasperated sigh, but he has to push down a grin. "No, you mad bint. Stop that. I married you because you're just like this." He takes a sip of the whisky he's been nursing. But her next words cut through the joviality.

"Do you still want to be married to me? To me," she emphasises. "If it's just for Scorpius, that's not the same. We'll find another way, if you want your son but not me."

Draco lowers his head, massaging his temples.

"Let me put it another way." Her voice is gentle but shaky, as she lifts her hand to stroke his hair off his face. "Does being in love with Severus nine years ago, and maybe again right now, cancel out the possibility of being in love with me?"

Draco can't breathe. Pressing his fists into his forehead and staring down at the table, he can't refute what she's said, not the first part, and he has no idea how to answer the second.

"Scorpius and I are going to my sister's for the rest of the week," she says quietly, leaning down to kiss his hair. "You need to figure out how to answer that."

"No." He grasps her hand, desperate. "Don't go. Don't take my son. Please."

"I'm not taking him forever," she says gently. "I don't know what you'd have to do to make me do that, but it would have to involve fearing for his safety. You're a wreck, Draco, but you're not dangerous."

He is still shaking his head. "I need you."

She pauses. "I'm glad to hear it."

"Don't go." He stares down at his drink. If he is alone in this house with Severus, the things that have been happening between them, the feelings that have already risen to the surface and spilled over... he'll lose the last of his control. He knows he will.

She leans down, her fingers soft at the back of his neck. "Figure out how to answer it," she repeats, giving him a significant look. "I'll see you in a week."

***

Draco hated that it was Potter and the Ministry – those who had most despised Snape (Severus, increasingly, in Draco's private thoughts) when he was alive – who got to choose the manner of his burial and commemoration. Draco never went to the site himself. He couldn't bear to see either the sagging flowers of random bleeding hearts who had never even known him, or the scratched-over graffiti of those who had.

He honoured Severus in his own private ways instead: drinking black coffee every so often instead of tea, even though it burned his stomach; sitting in absolute silence sometimes for at least an hour, practicing his Occlumency skills; reading a potions journal every few months, even though they bored him stiff, just so he could imagine Severus's reaction to the articles.

Once, after Scorpius was born, he found himself rocking the baby to sleep as he told him a story about the great Severus Snape, the bravest man he'd ever known. It was a standard tale now, and children like Scorpius all over the country were probably hearing similar ones, but it was personal to Draco. He murmured to the baby about the powerful black robes, the tenor of that voice, the curve of his wrist and arch of his fingers when he pointed his wand.

He hadn't thought Astoria had been listening, but soon after, at his father's encouragement, the portrait of Severus had appeared in the living room. Draco wasn't sure it was a coincidence.

***

"You're still here." Draco approaches Severus's guest room with a sigh, stopping at the open door to rub his eyes with both hands, and then sliding them down over his nose and mouth to form a prayer pose. He shakes his head. "I can't do this anymore."

Severus turns from the window.

"Either we have this out right here, right now, or I am taking you to the fucking portrait gallery in the Ministry and leaving you next to one of the Blacks. One you hated," he adds.

As usual, Severus does not rise to any bait. He lifts an eyebrow and folds his arms over his chest. "All right," he says, sounding guarded. "Let's have it out."

"Fine." Draco takes a deep breath. "I know there was something between us back then, and not a day has gone by since that I haven't woken up thinking of you, and I can't keep that up." He waves his arm behind him. "I've a family, in case you hadn't noticed."

"I've noticed they left. Please tell me you didn't force them to do that."

"Of course I didn't. She's giving me space," Draco bites out, shaking his head. "Seems I have issues to work out with you. So, come on, then." He lifts his chin. "This is your theory, isn't it – that you're here because there's something unfinished between us?"

Severus pauses. "Yes," he says at last, "that's my theory."

"Then let's finish it." Draco is too angry to be aroused yet, but he unbuttons his shirt and flings it to the floor. He advances on Severus and tries to do the same, reaching for his buttons. Severus bats his hands away.

"Stop it," he hisses.

"Don't tell me you don't want me." Draco crowds his space. His arousal is building now, with Severus so close.

Severus huffs a laugh, looking away. "Of course I want you," he growls. "Are you mad? Look at you." He turns back to Draco, his expression melting a little as he rakes his eyes over Draco's bare chest.

"You could have had me," moans Draco. "Why wouldn't you–"

"You were seventeen! Barely."

"Do I look seventeen now?"

"No." Severus's face is anguished as he runs one hand over it. "Merlin, no. You look..." He gazes at Draco helplessly, breathing hard through his mouth.

Draco steps forward and grabs fistfuls of his shirt before he can stop himself, dragging him in close as Severus's heart hammers under Draco's touch. "Please." His lips hover over Severus's, waiting. But Severus turns his face to the side.

"You're married now." His voice is harsh across Draco's cheek, judgemental and regretful all in one breath.

"Only because you were dead."

Severus stares at him, his lips parting. Finally, he closes his eyes. "Draco..."

"No. Don't tell me that's stupid, that I was just a teenager with a crush on a mentor. I've already tried telling myself all of that, and it's still not true, all right? I would have done anything for you." He turns and slumps against the wall, one hand rubbing his forehead to cover his face. He feels hot, humiliated and still grieving, as though he is losing Severus all over again.

"I would have done anything for you, too," Severus says quietly, and Draco's fingers hitch over his brow. He doesn't look up, not yet. "But that's not the same as..."

He trails off, and Draco chokes out a laugh. "You can say it, you know. I won't break. That's not the same as love." He pauses. Well, it's all on the table now anyway. He might as well say it. "It was for me."

Severus is still regarding him, his dark eyes fixed on Draco. "You were seventeen."

"Excuses," he bites out. "I was old enough to know what I wanted then, and I'm more than old enough now. My wife..." He takes a deep breath. "... is the mother of my son, and I will always love her, but not like..." He loses his courage.

It's Severus's turn now to press Draco against the wall, framing Draco's face in his hands. "She deserves better than this."

"I know," murmurs Draco. "She'll have it. I'll make sure she's happy. Severus, please."

After searching Draco's eyes for another long moment, Severus pulls Draco towards him, his fingers tracing Draco's jaw.

Draco is twenty-six years old, and Severus looks the same as the day he died, when Draco's teenage fantasies finally come true and Severus kisses him.

Their heights match, Draco finds, although Severus's nose prods Draco's cheek much more roughly than the other way around. Severus presses Draco against the wall and plants his hands firmly around Draco's jaw, pushing his fingers back into Draco's hair while his thumbs anchor him. Draco moans in seconds, letting Severus tilt Draco's face towards him and part Draco's lips with his tongue. He is gentle for exactly three seconds before moving to full passion, his mouth ravaging Draco's.

Draco slumps against him, helpless, and tries to keep up. It's even better than he imagined. "Please," he breathes again, pulling back only slightly to rest his forehead against Severus's and slip his fingers up Severus's neck.

"Merlin, look at you," murmurs Severus, pulling Draco's lower lip between his and tugging, his teeth catching hold for a moment. His hands travel down Draco's shoulders and chest, and Draco can feel him mapping out all the ways Draco has changed, all the ways he's not still a teenager. The fact that Severus has admitted he wanted to do this nine years ago is enough to make Draco hard; the fact that he wants it even more now sends him spinning. He refuses to think of all they might have had if only...

No.

He is here right now. That's all that matters.

He pushes his own shirt off his shoulders and throws it down, his hands furious over Draco's body. Draco lets him walk him back to the bed, sinking down as Severus crawls over top of him, pinning him and kissing him breathless. He pauses only to Vanish the rest of their clothes, and Draco can't get enough; his fingers claw at Severus's back. He spreads his legs shamelessly as Severus presses up against him, his mouth hot on Draco's neck and his hands everywhere Draco needs them to be.

Severus slows his kisses, the initial franticness morphing into something more gentle. He pulls off and rolls over, lying on his back and rubbing his eyes for a moment.

"I–" Draco struggles to sit up on one elbow. "What is it?" he ventures.

Severus doesn't look at him. "You know what will happen if we do this," he says quietly.

Draco closes his eyes. Of course he does. It's classic grieving magic; he should have thought of it days ago. They need closure. "So I can keep you forever if I never touch you, or I can have you once and–" He stops, pressing his lips together.

Severus's mouth quirks. "Keeping me forever and never letting me touch you sounds like hell." He turns his head towards Draco on the pillow, and Draco can't help but smile.

"Once won't be enough," he murmurs, reaching out to trace Severus's jaw. He grabs Draco's wrist, holding his fingers against his mouth.

"Then don't do it," he says roughly, his eyes closed. "You're the one who must live, Draco, and if you can't–"

"I can live," says Draco, coming to the decision as the words leave his mouth. "I can live like I haven't been, in fact. Like I should have been." He crawls over top of Severus, straddling his thighs and spreading his palms over his chest. He leans down as Severus's hands come around his back, drawing him in for a demanding kiss. "Please," he whispers against Severus's mouth. "Want you so much."

Severus growls deep in his throat and sits up to meet him, his hands strong at Draco's back and his lips rough against Draco's. Severus is both patient and desperate, Draco soon learns, slowing down to draw out as many sensations as he can and drive Draco mad with want, and then turning rough, his touches dragging rather than caressing, his mouth hot over Draco's skin. Severus turns them and moves over him with ease, as though they've been doing this for years. The level of comfort he feels, of familiarity, is so acute it surprises him. Severus opens him slowly, his lips warm over Draco's back, and Merlin, it's been too many years since Draco has done this with men, the few he was able to procure before the engagement put a halt to it. Severus is nothing like any of them, though. When he finally penetrates Draco – big and deep, inching slowly inside as one hand smooths up his back – Draco is already so worked over he could melt from sensation. He claws at the pillow and hides his face, even as he spreads his legs wider and pushes back.

"Draco." Severus's breath is desperate against his back, his teeth dragging over Draco's shoulder blades and his fingers curled tight around his bicep.

"More." Draco can barely breathe. "God, please."

Everything about the way Severus makes love is sharp. Each slow thrust is like a command, each groan from his throat a judgement. Draco stops trying to keep himself guarded, stops reining in his emotions, and he finds that when he lets himself go, lets himself get pulled up into Severus's lap and held with reverence, he nearly falls apart. "So beautiful," Severus breathes against his ear, his lips warm and his arms wrapped around Draco's chest. He lets his head fall back to Severus's shoulder, his hair damp and his entire body hot with need as Severus presses up into him and holds himself still, making slow circles with his hips. Draco's arm snakes back to wind around Severus's neck, drawing his mouth down to Draco's shoulder.

They move together as darkness falls outside the window, the room fading from burnt orange to silver. Draco feels alive in ways he hasn't in years, and when Severus's fingers close around him, moving with aching slowness, his body sings with sensation, the deep contentment of his soul anchoring him. He comes with a muted gasp, his mouth open and Severus's voice murmuring encouragement in his ear.

"Draco," Severus whispers again, and Draco will never tire of hearing his name like this, low and desperate as Severus thrusts up into him. His growl is deep and feral as he begins to pulse, holding himself inside Draco and crunching his hands into fists around Draco's chest. Draco can feel him everywhere, pleasure radiating through his body as Severus comes.

They are still for a long time, Severus tilting Draco's head to the side to kiss him gently, still thick inside him and breathing hard. When he moves to pull out, Draco stops him. "Not yet," he begs. "Please."

But the magic doesn't seem to be in a hurry, if they are even right about Severus's theory at all. When they do slip apart at last, easing back down to the bed, Severus wraps Draco in his arms and strokes his back, letting their heartbeats mix.

"I was speaking to your son when all this happened," says Severus softly, his mouth hovering over Draco's hair.

"Mm?"

"He was asking the other portraits about me, why I never speak, and I found it annoying."

Draco laughs against his shoulder. "What did you say?"

"We exchanged pleasantries for awhile. His vocabulary doesn't really lend itself to detailed conversations," he points out.

Draco rolls his eyes, clinging to Severus.

"And then I said," says Severus quietly, "'Tell your father that I'm proud of him.'" He pauses. "The magic must have decided I should tell you myself."

Draco lifts his head, his lips parting. He doesn't know what to say.

Severus only gives him a faint smile, tracing his jaw and then his mouth. He settles back down against the pillows and pulls Draco with him. "Sleep," he whispers.

He wants to stay awake, to talk to Severus forever, to make love again and stay in his fantasy as long as possible. But his body and mind are exhausted, it seems, because at Severus's command, he feels himself drifting off in Severus's arms. A sense of peace settles deep within him as he closes his eyes, and for those last few minutes of consciousness, he is happy.

***

When he wakes, Severus is gone.

***

"Did you marry me because you had to?" Through the darkness of the living room, Draco can see his wife's shadow as she returns from putting Scorpius down. He didn't sleep well at Daphne's, she said. He's exhausted.

She leans one hip against the doorframe and folds her arms across her chest. "Sort of."

His lips quirk.

"But my other options were men who have since turned out to be either drunk, gay, or assorted criminals, so compared to most of my friends, I did all right." With a sigh, she moves into the room and sinks down next to him on the sofa. "I can't help but notice the portrait is gone," she adds.

He nods, setting his tumbler down on the coffee table. She eyes it for a moment and then laughs.

"I don't think you're a drunk," she says, sitting sideways and propping one arm on the back of the sofa to stroke his hair. "You can finish your whisky."

He gives her a faint smile, and her tone shifts.

"I don't think you're a criminal, either."

"But the third..." He swallows. "You do think that."

"I think I have good reason. Don't I?"

He hesitates. "No. Maybe. But–" he turns to her, suddenly desperate for her to understand – "it's not that." He presses his lips together. "It's just him." Her hand moves down to the back of his head, lightly stroking his neck, and he leans into the touch. When she doesn't speak right away, he keeps going. He might as well tell her. "What you said before... you were right. I was in love with him."

Her hand pauses only briefly.

"I was young and terrified, and he was charged with protecting me." He stares at his hands. "For more than a year, he was all I had."

"And he felt the same?"

"He said I was too young."

"He was right."

Draco smiles sadly at her. "I know."

"And he died, so you found a wife." Her bluntness hurts him, but she's not wrong.

"I do love you," he says quietly.

"I know."

Her light touch at the back of his neck reminds him of Severus, in a way. He finds he doesn't mind. "The magic seems to think we've worked through whatever issues we still had."

"How lovely for the magic," she deadpans.

"I'm sorry," he murmurs, and she pulls her hand back to rest her head in her fist. "He's back in the portrait. I had the Hogwarts elves come and take him there."

"I appreciate that," she says quietly. "Not sure I could look him in the eye right now."

"I know. I'm sorry."

"Draco, look at me." She turns him to face her, one finger under his chin. "You never talked about him, never told me any of this before. You never grieved for him. No, look at me," she repeats when he tries to drop his gaze. "You have to start letting me in."

He nods. "All right."

"And you can start by telling me if there are any more figures from your past who are going to show up in our living room one day and challenge our marriage vows."

He gives a startled laugh, running his hands over his face. "No. Merlin. Just the one."

She rubs her hand over his back when he leans forward on his knees. "Then we confront it, and we move forward." Taking his hand, she lifts it to her mouth and kisses his palm before squeezing his fingers. "Yeah?"

Severus's words echo in his mind. You need to live. He squeezes back, giving her a sad smile but feeling lighter than he has in years. "Yeah."

-fin-