An unrelenting wind whirled through the leaves on the ground, howled over the rooftops and blew apart the smoke that a huge factory chimney belched into the sky. The black fumes didn't stand a chance. A masterful spinner, the wind twisted them into threads of air, thin wisps that soon became part of the clouds. The sky was a blanket, intricately woven in all shades of grey, hanging low over the town and threatening to tear apart.
The boy on the swing braved the cold and the wind. Up and down, up and down he swung, higher and higher. Ground, rooftops, chimney - the world dissolved into patterns of grey, mere threads, indistinguishable from another. He closed his eyes.
His name was Severus, that much he knew. His mum had told him to be back home before it started to rain. His dad had threatened him with a good thrashing if he ruined his clothes again. It wasn't fear of his dad's wrath that kept him out here today. He wasn't a coward. His mum was a witch, and he was a wizard, half a Prince. He didn't care for his stupid Muggle dad.
Severus opened his eyes. Ground, rooftops, chimney - higher and higher. A wizard and not a coward, he jumped.
He was flying. Like a pair of wings, his too large coat kept him airborne for a couple of seconds. He flapped through the air, laughing; and unlike the leaves, he wasn't at the mercy of the wind. With a movement of his arms, he landed next to the line of swings. His feet got caught up in the hem of his coat, and he fell to the ground.
As if to mock him, the empty swings rocked back and forth, their chains creaking and groaning. His coat was torn at the seam, and he wished that he owned a wand and knew how to repair it. Getting up to his feet, Severus glared at the swings, and they started to move faster. He remembered now why he was here. He was waiting for his friend. He'd forgotten who his friend was, and he didn't know when they had said they would meet again, but he was sure that his friend would return to the playground. He decided to wait a little longer. A fat raindrop splashed on his head.
Harry laughed. The swing pushed him higher and higher. Like an excited baby dragon, a factory chimney puffed white clouds into the sky. His mum was swinging at his side, but before Harry could reach her, the swing pulled him back. The bushes surrounding the playground were in full bloom, and the grass was green. The sunlight, reflected on the rooftops, made Harry blink. He was pushed higher again.
At his side, Lily shouted with glee. She let go of the swing, flying higher still, soaring through the air and landing lightly on her feet. Harry didn't pay attention to Petunia's scolding or to the bushes where he knew Snape was hiding. His eyes were fixed on Lily, following her every move. He watched her pick up a wilted flower, turn it into a bud and make it bloom again. Rocking gently back and forth, his feet planted on the ground, Harry watched the little drama unfold, watched his mum leave the playground in Petunia's wake. When she was out of sight, he pushed off the ground once more, not minding the crestfallen boy who clambered on the swing beside him.
Higher and higher - green grass, sunlit rooftops, the puffing chimney. Harry waited for the scene to dissolve, when suddenly, he noticed a disturbance in the sky. It wasn't the usual maelstrom that indicated the transition from one memory to another. The sky bulged like a blanket spread over a moving body. It quivered, and the bulge became larger. A freckled nose broke through the sky, a red mouth and the tip of a chin.
"Harry," Ginny's voice shouted, "get out of there!"
Harry had to cling to the swing chains so as not to get blown away by the heavy storm that had come up with Ginny's intrusion. He waited until her face was gone and the storm had ceased. Then he jumped out of the Pensieve and landed clumsily in Ron's bedroom where Ginny was waiting.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"I thought you'd want to know," Ginny said, her eyes fixed where Harry's hands fumbled with his shirt.
Self-consciously, Harry tucked his shirt back into his jeans. "What?" he said.
"They found Snape."
St. Mungo's was as crowded as ever. When Harry entered the reception area, an old witch who sprouted a shock of green tentacles on her head shouted, "The Boy Who Lived Twice," and thunderous applause broke loose. Harry was glad that Healer Smethwyck was already waiting at the information desk and hurried to follow the mediwizard to his quiet office, several corridors away from the uproar of the entrance hall.
"Mr. Potter, it's a pleasure to meet you," the Healer said, indicating a chair in front of his desk.
"You've earned it, you know," he continued with a jovial smile that lit up his affable, slightly pudgy face, "all that attention. The whole wizarding world loves you. Why don't you enjoy it?"
Harry shook his head and took the offered seat. "Nice to meet you, too. I'm here to see one of your patients, Severus Snape. How is he?"
Smethwyck's face became serious. "The patient's a mystery to me, to be honest. Auror Shacklebolt told me that you witnessed the events leading to his current condition?"
"I saw him dying, yes. I mean, I thought he was dead. When I returned to the Shrieking Shack later, his body was gone. How could he survive a snake bite like that?"
"We found not one, but two bezoars in his throat and stomach, and he ingested more antivenins than our potions expert has ever heard of. He must have been brilliant in his area of expertise. If he ever makes a full recovery, I'll see to it that St. Mungo's offers him a position as a potion maker."
"He's still in danger, then?"
Smethwyck, who'd been smiling admiringly when praising Snape's skills, furrowed his brow. "He's out of danger to his life," he said, but his frown deepened. "He was lucky to be still alive when he was found. Auror Shacklebolt wouldn't tell me any details, though I suppose you know all about his rescue?"
Harry drummed impatiently with his fingers. "He had a Portkey on his person that transported him to his childhood home. It took the Aurors three days to break through the wards, or else he could've been brought here sooner. What's wrong with him?"
The Healer's face wasn't made to show too many conflicting emotions, and it turned blank. Smethwyck now resembled a children's book's illustration of the full moon. "The patient's condition doesn't make sense to me," he said. "His body is completely healed. There will be no long term damage from the snake venom or the heavy blood loss."
"That's good," Harry said, nervously watching Smethwyck's expressionless face.
Smethwyck nodded vigorously. "It is. I can't stress it enough. As for the state of his mind - I'm not an expert, but even Healer Strout is at a loss here."
"The state of his mind? He isn't mad, is he?"
"We don't use that word," the Healer said, "and I can't tell you what he is. I've seen victims of the Cruciatus curse, and they were saner and more responsive than he is. A person subjected to the Dementor's Kiss still babbles nonsense, shows signs of life. Professor Snape is nothing like that."
"What is he like?" Harry asked, rubbing his hands along the arms of his chair.
"I never had to face Inferi, thank Merlin, but Severus Snape is exactly what I imagine an Inferius to be. He's like a dead man, a breathing corpse."
"Can I see him?"
The Healer nodded, and Harry jumped to his feet.
Snape was sitting with his back to the door. Only the greasy strands of hair that hung over the back of his chair gave away his identity. The chair faced a tiny window, and it was as if Snape were watching the sunset outside, a blazing fire over the city.
"The nurses always turn him around," Smethwyck said in an unnaturally low voice. "They can't bear his stare."
"Perfectly understandable." Harry tried to sound cheerful, but his voice came out shrill, like glass exploding against the empty walls of the room.
"Let me turn him back for you," Smethwyck whispered and stepped into the cubicle.
"Wait." Harry touched Smethwyck's round shoulders to hold him back. "I can manage."
Cautiously, they circumnavigated each other. The space was so small that Harry had to climb over the bed to get to the window. He crouched in front of Snape and took Snape's hand in his. It was warm and alive. Snape looked odd in a white hospital gown and even more sallow than usual. His eyes were wide open, and Harry could see the orange sun mirrored in them. Harry blinked.
"Professor," he said, "it's so good to see you alive."
The silence was broken only by muffled sounds from the adjoining ward, the shuffling of steps and the closing of a door. Snape stared out of the window with empty eyes.
"I wish you could hear me," Harry said. "There's so much I want to talk to you about."
Harry rose from his crouched position on the floor and leaned against the window, shutting out the bleeding sky. Snape's eyes were a black void. "I want to thank you. Thank you for always keeping me safe."
Snape didn't move or blink. Only his regular pulse gave away that he was alive.
"I hope that some time we can talk about my mum, about Lily. Maybe we can become sort of ... friends." At a loss for words, Harry pressed Snape's hand. Snape's eyes were fathomless, dark tunnels with no end in sight. There were many doors, each different from the other. They led into empty rooms, into vast spaces that contained nothing at all, and whenever Harry approached one of them, it shut with a loud bang. Further down the tunnel, through a huge black door that was decorated with rusty barbwire, Harry got a glimpse of red eyes in a snake-like face. Behind a door with peeling white paint and a broken window Harry saw a couple fighting. Still further down, a door in all colours of the rainbow flapped excitedly when he came near, as if to beckon him to step through. Outside, the rain was pouring down in torrents. It was so dark that Harry could hardly see. After a while he recognised the playground from Snape's memories. The boy on the swing - Snape - waved enthusiastically, jumped down and moved closer to Harry. With his hair and coat soaked through and dripping, he looked even more grotesque than in the Pensieve.
"Are you my friend?" he asked, cocking his head and blinking raindrops from his eyes.
Harry shook his head, and then he was back in the hospital room, Snape's unblinking eyes before him.
"Of course," Harry said to the Healer who was waiting at the entrance to the cubicle. "I think I know what's wrong with him. It's the loss of his memories."
It was raining in earnest now, and Severus cursed the fact that he hadn't gone home a long time ago. He knew many swear words, ordinary ones like bloody, fuck and shit that both his parents used all the time, and special ones like Merlin's balls that his mum only dared using when his dad was at the pub.
"Merlin's bloody shit," he repeated when he examined the seam of his coat once more. There was nothing for it - his dad would use his belt on him now and send him to his room without supper. His mum would take the leftovers up to him later. She would have that hopeless look in her eyes that was so much worse than all his dad's punishments.
"I'm sorry, mum, I'm sorry," he said, sitting down on one of the swings and pushing off the ground. He had to close his eyes against the wind and the rain. When he opened them again, he saw a blurry figure under the chestnut tree next to the sandpit. He should have trusted his friend not to leave him alone in his misery. Waving hello, Severus jumped off the swing. The figure was a boy, his age or maybe a little bit younger. He was wearing glasses, and his black hair was a wild mess. If Severus ever wore his hair like that, both his parents would punish him.
It was silly to ask, but Severus wanted to be sure before he trusted the boy. "Are you my friend?" he said.
The boy shook his head and ran away. This time when Severus cursed, he heard thunder rumbling in the distance.
The following day, Harry Flooed directly into Healer Smethwyck's office. Smethwyck introduced him to Olive Hornby, St. Mungo's expert for Legilimency and Occlumency.
"It's an extraordinary case," Hornby said. She was an elderly witch with a dark complexion and grey hair, pulled back in a strict bun. "The patient is a master Occlumens. He must have Occluded his mind before he fell into his current state. A steel wall was all I encountered when I used Legilimency on him. Fascinating."
"That's odd," Harry said. "Yesterday, I looked into his eyes, and it was like Legilimency. I saw the Professor as a boy, in surroundings I knew from the memories he gave me before he ... when I last saw him at the Shrieking Shack. But he was all alone, and the weather was dreadful. Everything was grey. He asked me if I was his friend, and I think that he was mistaking me for my mother, Lily, his childhood friend."
Both Healers watched Harry with avid interest. A smile flashed across Smethwyck's full moon face, and Hornby's dark eyes glittered. "Fascinating indeed," she said. "What you saw wasn't a simple memory, or else you wouldn't have been able to communicate with the patient - or better, with a manifestation of the patient's subconscious."
"Subconscious?" Smethwyck asked. "Isn't that a Muggle theory?" He frowned.
"Muggles have intriguing concepts of the psyche, the mind. It's a new field to us, and it only makes sense to learn from their experience."
A black cloud darkened Smethwyck's features. "Nonsense," he said. "My former assistant had just the same ridiculous notions. He nearly killed a patient that way."
Hornby held up a hand. "We know all about poor Pye's endeavours. You tell us often enough. But we shouldn't discuss this here and now.
"Mr. Potter, your connection with Professor Snape must be a very close one, that he recognises you even in his current state and allows you into his mind."
"I told you, I think he mistook me for my mother."
Both Healers smiled now, even if Smethwyck's smile seemed forced.
"Can't we simply give him his memories back, and he'll be all right?" Harry asked.
"I doubt it," Smethwyck said. "It's not an uncommon practice for a witch or a wizard to extract memories. I've never heard of any complications from doing so."
"You forget the exceptional circumstances," Hornby said. "If a person loses too many of their memories while suffering severe physical injury, it might lead to a condition like that of Professor Snape. We can't know. There was never a case like that."
She turned to Harry, showing brilliant white teeth. She must have been an intimidating beauty when she was young. "Absorbing memories is a conscious process. Their owner must welcome them back actively. I don't know if the patient is capable of doing that. We can try it, but I can't promise success."
Snape was facing the door this time, greeting the visitors with his empty stare. "Hello Professor," Harry said, "glad to see me again?"
He unstoppered the flask with Snape's memories and took Snape's hand. "I took good care of them. Thank you for giving them to me. I bet you'll be glad to see her again."
Snape's pulse was regular, his eyes wide open. The silver memories lay over his head, thick like morning fog over the Hogwarts Lake on cold autumn days. "Don't you want her back?" Harry said. "I wished I could have known her like that."
Harry didn't know how much time had passed when Healer Hornby gently touched his shoulder. "It didn't work. He's too far gone to accept them."
The memories were already starting to dissolve at the edges. Afraid to lose them, Harry quickly put them back into the flask. "What can we do now?" he asked.
"There's nothing we can do," Healer Smethwyck said.
"Why don't you try to contact him again, Mr. Potter?" Healer Hornby said.
It was hard to concentrate with the Healers watching, and Harry wondered how Snape's eyes could be that black. If he had irises at all or only over-large pupils, black holes that sucked Harry in.
He was in the tunnel again. Only this time, all the doors were closed. Harry rushed along, looking for the entrance to the playground. The way seemed longer this time, steeper and more winding. When Harry finally reached the multicoloured door, he found that it was closed, too. Harry tried the handle, but the door was locked. It wouldn't open, no matter how much he pulled and yanked. "Let me in," he shouted. "Let me in. It's me, your friend."
The door opened a crack, just wide enough for Harry to slip through. A thunderstorm was raging on the other side. Crashes of thunder and pounding rain forced Harry backwards, but when he reached for the door, it was gone. A flash of lightning illuminated the playground, and Harry could see Snape standing right before him under a big tree.
"You aren't my friend," Snape said between two claps of thunder. "Friends don't run away."
"I'm sorry about that. I had to go. There was something I had forgotten to do. But I'm here now."
It was eerie how much like his older self boy-Snape looked when raising an eyebrow. "Are you sure that you don't have better things to do on such a lovely afternoon than being out here with me?" he said, and a bolt of lightning punctuated his words.
Harry grinned. "We could go somewhere else," he said. "Don't you know a place a little drier?"
"Come on then," Snape said, and Harry followed him, splashing through puddles, wet grass and mud. When they reached a bus stop shelter two blocks away, the storm had ceased and the rain had turned into a mere drizzle.
"What's your name?" Snape asked, shaking his head like a wet dog.
"Harry. Harry P ... Harry Evans."
"Nice to meet you, Harry Evans. I'm Severus. My father's name is Snape, but my mother was a Prince." They shook hands, and Harry had to suppress a smile when he saw the serious expression in Snape's thin face.
"Are you a wizard?" Snape continued to question Harry.
"I thought so."
"How could you possibly know? Wizards and witches don't look any different from Muggles."
"Dunno." Snape shrugged his shoulders. "But I've been right."
He grinned. "It's odd though. I've never heard of other magic folk around here."
"My parents are from Godric's Hollow. They're dead."
Harry shook his head. "Hey, you're sodding wet," he said, trying to avoid another shower of drops from Snape's hair.
"Sodding wet yourself," Snape said, but he stopped behaving like a rain-soaked animal.
They stood like that for long moments, shivering from the cold and at a loss for what to do or say. Snape finally broke the silence, rubbing his arms. "It's too stupid that we can't have a wand."
"Wait," Harry said. He should have thought of a hot air charm sooner. When he reached for his wand, though, he only encountered his bare arm. Looking down at himself, he noticed that he was much smaller, and that his clothes weren't his own. He was wearing a shirt with bright orange flowers on it, a corduroy jacket, and his jeans were flared. The face that looked back at him from the glass pane at the bus stop was that of a child.
"Merlin's balls," he said. He must have looked like an idiot if Snape's broad grin was anything to go by. "I have to go now. Want to meet again?"
"Sure," Snape said. "Where are you staying, anyway?"
"With my Muggle relatives," Harry answered. "Tomorrow? Same place, same time?"
They nodded at each other, and Harry was back in the tiny cubicle at St. Mungo's. Snape in his chair looked as bleak as his surroundings, and Harry came to a quick decision. "I'm taking him with me," he said to the Healers. Their smiles never wavered.
"You know, Professor, it wasn't easy to get you out of there. Healer Hornby wanted to keep you at St. Mungo's for her studies. She even asked for permission to use Legilimency on me to view my memories of your subconscious. The Aurors didn't want to let you go, either. They said they had to investigate your role in the war more thoroughly before you could be allowed to leave their custody. I had to use all my influence as The Boy Who Lived Twice. It was horrible, I can tell you, though you'd probably accuse me of enjoying my celebrity status. Still, I hope you appreciate it."
Harry looked at the silent man before him. Snape was sitting in a comfortable armchair in front of the fireplace in the library at Grimmauld Place. The white hospital gown was gone, and he was wearing black robes that resembled his old attire. Buttoning Snape's cuffs, Harry continued talking to his quiet guest.
"You prefer your robes to be dark and austere, don't you, Professor? They're less elegant than those you were wearing at school, but honestly, you look great. You see, they can't be that tight-fitting because they have to allow easy access to your body for me to take care of you. That's also the reason why you can't have underwear. But don't worry, sir, the nurses taught me everything. They said I was a natural. They instructed me to use a moistening charm on your eyes every full hour. Does it feel good?"
Harry waved his wand and watched a film of moisture coating Snape's eyes. Glittering in the light of the fireplace, they looked alive and menacing.
"Don't glare at me like that," Harry said. "I promise to take good care of you. I'll cater to your every need, and I'll see to it that you're ready to accept your memories back soon. You'll be your old self again in no time at all. I promise."
Taking Snape's hand in his - the pulse steady and reassuring - Harry focused on Snape's eyes.
"I hope we'll be able to talk then," he said. "And now please excuse me, I believe I have an appointment with your younger self."
Severus was content. He was lying on a wooden bench next to the sandpit, and the sun was shining on his full belly. When Severus had come home the day before, his dad had been at the pub. His mum hadn't been upset at all. She'd taught him a charm to repair all kind of things and shown him how to spell his clothes dry and clean. Later, they had brewed a potion together. That she'd burnt their supper hadn't mattered a bit. It had been fun to make it vanish and to Accio fresh eggs from the neighbours' backyard. His mum had laughed. She'd made Severus promise not to tell his dad - as if he'd ever do that. This morning, his dad had been still asleep when Severus had got up, and his mum had made sandwiches for him and his friend.
Letting his arm dangle off the bench, Severus felt the still-wet sand under his fingers. Twigs and small branches - debris from the storm - were scattered everywhere. Severus took a branch the length of a wand and removed its leaves. "Accio fag," he said, pointing it at a heap of cigarette stubs under the next bench.
"Hey there. Don't hex me." Harry was standing under the chestnut tree, grinning, his hair as unruly as ever.
"Hey." Severus sat up on the bench. "Want to play duelling?" he asked, picking up another stick and throwing it to Harry.
They bowed at each other from opposite corners of the sandpit. Severus counted to three, and Harry shouted, "Tarantallegra."
Severus did his best to shake his legs in an imitation of a wild dance. He never lost sight of Harry, though, who was doubling over with laughter. "Expelliarmus," Severus shouted, and after a short moment, Harry stopped laughing and threw away his stick.
"Crucio," Severus said, waiting for Harry to let himself fall down and twitch as if in agony. At first, Harry didn't react at all. Before Severus could explain the curse and apologise for assuming that Harry knew such advanced magic, though, Harry had lunged at him and wrestled him to the ground.
"Don't you ever do that again." Harry's face was red, and his green eyes flashed behind his glasses.
"Don't get your knickers in a twist. It's just a game." Severus tried to push Harry off, but the small boy was stronger than he looked.
"The Cruciatus isn't a game."
"Merlin, what's wrong with you?" Severus was really annoyed now. He broke free from Harry's grip and retreated to his bench. "My mum does it to my dad all the time."
Harry was at his side immediately. "Your mum uses the Cruciatus on your dad?" he asked in an oddly high-pitched voice.
"Not in earnest, of course. She points a cooking spoon at him, or a whisk, and says it under her breath while he's eating or reading the paper. I asked her what it meant, and she demonstrated it on a rat." Remembering the rat's pain, its violent convulsions, Severus shivered. He could never do that to someone, least of all to his friend.
"I'm sorry," both boys said simultaneously.
"Whatever for?" Severus asked.
"Your parents. It must be horrible for you."
"It isn't too bad. My dad's at the pub most of the time. And my mum, she's a good person, really. And a great witch." Severus rummaged in his coat pocket. "She's made sandwiches for us. Want one?"
"Ham or cheese?"
Later that day, when Harry carried Snape upstairs, Kreacher popped up on the staircase in front of him. Harry - still not used to the house-elf's sudden appearances - was lucky not to fall backwards down the stairs, hurting Snape in the process.
"Allow Kreacher to help you, Master. Kreacher can carry the Professor for you."
"Thank you, Kreacher," Harry said. "I prefer to take care of Professor Snape personally. Please see to it that no one disturbs me whenever I am with my guest."
"Yes, Master. Is there nothing Kreacher can do for you?" the house-elf said, his ears flopping down.
"You could prepare one of your fantastic sandwiches. Ham and cheese would be great. Do we still have some of those pickles we had for lunch yesterday?"
Kreacher nodded and popped out of sight. Seconds later, Harry could hear him rummaging in the kitchen.
When Harry returned to the playground, Snape was sitting on one of the swings, rocking gently back and forth. Harry walked along the hedges to join him, picking up a wilted flower on his way. They grinned at each other.
"What I always wanted to ask you, Snape," Harry said, "do you perhaps -"
"Don't call me that," Snape said, and a crease appeared between his eyes.
"Snape. It's my dad's name. My mum's -"
"- a Prince, I know. What do you want me to call you? Half-blood Prince?"
Snape's face turned dark red. He gave a little bow with his head, then, haughtily like a real prince, and said, "I allow you to call me Severus."
"Thank you for the privilege," Harry said, answering Severus's bow, and they broke out into laughter. Snape - Severus - pushed off the ground, and Harry soon followed. They swung side by side for a while, up and down, up and down.
"What did you want to ask me?"
"I wonder if you know a girl -"
"Don't know any girls."
"- with red hair."
"My mum's the only witch here."
Harry brought his swing to an abrupt halt. "Don't call her that," he shouted furiously.
"Whom?" Severus dragged his feet on the ground until his swing came to a stop, too. His face was flushed, but he looked more confused than angry.
"Forget it," Harry said. "It's just, I hate that word. It's rude. Mean." He turned away from Severus, and his eyes fell on the flower in his hand, crushed and dying. Harry placed it in his palm like he remembered Lily doing and concentrated hard. Nothing happened. He was about to throw it away, mad at himself for being such a pathetic fool, when he heard Severus gasp.
"Wow," Severus said, "you've got loads of magic. You'll be a really great wizard some day."
Harry followed Severus's eyes. There in Harry's palm sat a perfect bud. They watched it unfolding its petals one by one, growing into a beautiful flower.
"My Prince," Harry said and offered Severus the blossom.
Severus, who had turned yet another shade of red, took it and put it in one of the buttonholes of his huge coat. With an odd little smile he said, "Thank you."
"I'd never have thought it possible, Professor," Harry said, covering Snape with a blanket and tucking him in, "but I like you. I mean, I like Severus. He's got a lot of issues, but he's still fun to be with. I'm sure you had a great time together, you and my mum."
Snape stared at the ceiling. Harry performed a moistening charm on Snape's eyes and covered them with small cloths that were soaked through with a potion to keep them humid over night.
"That's all, I think." Harry waved his wand and the room went dark.
"Good night, sir."
That night, Severus dreamed of Harry. It was a strange dream, and he didn't remember it in the morning, but as soon as he got up, he went to his mum and asked her to put a stasis charm on the flower Harry had given him. Then he put it on his bedside table.
Feeding Snape was the most difficult of Harry's new duties. Harry had learned a spell that stimulated the swallowing reflex and another that closed the voice box and stopped the patient's breathing to prevent food or liquid from entering the lungs. Opening Snape's mouth, putting food or water in the right position in its back, performing the closing of the voice box spell, the swallowing spell and a quick Finite Incantatem to prevent Snape from suffocating - all this needed a lot of coordination skills and took more than an hour, three times a day. Harry was glad that eventually, he got into a routine.
One morning during Snape's mealtime, Harry heard loud voices from the hallway and Kreacher popped up next to him. "Finite Incantatem," Harry shouted, panicking, and Snape, already blue in the face, spat porridge all over him.
"Bloody hell," Harry said and looked at his patient, but Snape was sitting stock still again, a lifeless puppet with porridge trickling down its chin.
"What?" Harry barked at Kreacher, and the house-elf started to bang his forehead against the wall in a steady rhythm.
"No, Kreacher, no. I order you to stop."
The banging ceased, and Kreacher looked at Harry with bloodshot eyes. "Kreacher is sorry, Master, for disturbing you, but Master's friends are here, and they insisted that Kreacher must go and fetch you."
"Where are they?"
"Kreacher locked them in the pantry."
Harry sighed. "Release them and offer them tea. I'll be with you in about five minutes."
Kreacher bowed and disappeared.
"Harry. It's so good to see you." The moment he entered the kitchen, Harry found himself in a bone-crushing hug with Hermione's bushy hair tickling his nose.
"How are you, mate?" Ron clapped him on the back, and all three of them nearly fell over a chair.
"Hi. It's good to see you, too." Harry managed to free himself and grinned at his friends.
"Hard to believe, judging from how your house-elf treated us," Ron said, but he grinned too.
"Sorry about that. I told Kreacher I didn't want to be disturbed."
"What's that?" Hermione cried out, pointing at a slimy spot on her blouse.
Harry noticed a corresponding spot on his own shirt. "It's only porridge," he said, and Hermione's scouring charm washed over him.
"So what have you been up to?" Ron asked. "One day you're at the Burrow to stay over the holidays, next day you're gone. What's all this Snape business you're going on about in your letter? And why do you have to stay at Grimmauld Place because of him?"
"I didn't think you wanted to share your bedroom with Snape."
Ron choked on his tea. "What?"
"Does that mean that Professor Snape's here with you?" Hermione asked.
"Yep," Harry said. "Biscuits, anyone? You must try the shortbread. Kreacher's a brilliant baker. What's wrong? Why are you staring at me like that?"
"You're living with Snape?" Ron's eyes were huge like saucers, his face slack.
"Don't forget what the Professor did for Harry during the war, and how he saved his life countless times," Hermione said.
"There's not much evidence of that, other than those memories that Harry never allowed us to see."
"Oh, Ron," Hermione said. "They're of Harry's mum. Don't you understand that it's a personal matter between Professor Snape and Harry?"
"I'm sorry, mate. So that's why you were carrying Dumbledore's old Pensieve around with you all the time?"
Harry nodded. "McGonagall lent it to me when we left for the Burrow."
"That's wonderful, Harry." Hermione smiled. "How's Professor Snape? How do you two get along? Have you been able to talk things out?"
"He's not exactly his old self. Sometimes he spits food at me, but other than that we get along just fine."
Hermione's eyes moved from her blouse to Harry's shirt. "Don't you think he'd be better off at St. Mungo's?" she said.
"Absolutely not. The Healers can't help him, and everything is so bleak and horrible there."
"I see," Hermione said. "Regardless of the fact that you can't help him, either. What are you planning to do with him when we return to Hogwarts?"
"Yeah, mate. Going to take a salivating Snape with you? I'm sure the greasy git will be loads of fun. I always wanted to make him wear pigtails with pink bows."
"Ron," Harry and Hermione chided simultaneously.
"I won't return to Hogwarts," Harry said.
"What about your NEWTs, Harry? You'll need them to get into Auror training or for any other decent job."
"And the Quidditch team? You can't let us down now that we can play again. We could be brilliant this year."
"I'm sorry," Harry said. He looked at the familiar faces before him and knew that this was the parting of the ways he'd always feared. Whatever the future might hold for them, they would always be best friends, but they'd never be the golden trio again.
"I'm sorry," Harry repeated. "Ron, the Quidditch team will be brilliant this year, and you'll become Hogwarts' most successful Keeper in ages. I'm sure they'll make you captain.
"Hermione, I trust you to shine for us all. You're the cleverest witch of your age, don't forget that. As far as I am concerned, I'm certain that I can take my NEWTs another time. If I take them at all. I don't know yet what I want to do with my life. The only thing I know is that I have to take care of Snape. I owe him that much and more. And then there's my mum. He knew her better than any other person alive."
Hermione wiped the tears from her eyes, and Ron nodded. "Good luck, mate. You'll need it."
They hugged for a long time.
Time passed differently in Severus's world. It had been autumn when Harry and Severus first met, and now it was summer again. Severus's nose had grown at least half an inch, making his face look even thinner, and Harry's hands, still those of a child, were finally big enough to close around the swing posts.
"It's boring here," Severus said one day after winning yet another wizarding duel because Harry couldn't stop laughing at his crazy contortions. "Why don't we go down to the river?"
The black and foul-smelling river, used as an open sewer and rubbish dump and avoided by most, was a wild and exciting place. Its overgrown banks were ideal for all kind of games, a perfect adventure playground. On their first visit, Severus and Harry found many treasures among the debris that was strewn everywhere. Tyres, fence posts, car parts, broken furniture, plastic film, muddy carpets and an entire door - they collected it all. Within a week, they had built a little hut in the undergrowth. It was perfectly hidden from view, and even if passers-by were to accidentally spot it, they would take it for just another heap of rubbish. Severus loved it there. He called it Sanctuary and pretended to hide it under a Fidelius Charm with Harry as their Secret Keeper.
Their favourite game was witch-hunt, and Harry didn't know what he liked better - being the wizard who was burnt at the stake, or the hocussed Muggle executioner who had to act as if he didn't notice the disappearance of his victim. When they played Auror and Dark Wizard, Harry took great care that Severus was always the Auror. Severus would frown and accuse Harry of wanting to have all the fun for himself, but in the end he would unfailingly give in, smiling his odd little smile.
The sun was burning hot from a cloudless sky when Harry returned to their hiding place one of these days. Someone had dumped a ratty old sofa into the river, and Harry was trying to haul it ashore. Sweat was running down his face, and he cursed profoundly as the sofa fell back into the stream for the third time in a row. It didn't help his mood to hear Severus laugh behind him.
"Guess what I've got today."
Harry shrugged his shoulders. "Dunno. But you'd better come down here and help me with this monster."
When Severus didn't respond, Harry finally turned around. Severus stood motionless with his arms hanging down and a huge grin frozen in his face.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked.
"You must've got it, too. Didn't you get it?" Severus sounded panicked.
Letting go of the sofa, Harry clambered up the bank. "What's wrong?" he repeated. "Got what?"
"Your Hogwarts letter," Severus said.
Harry pondered what to do. There was no reason why he shouldn't have got the letter; he was certainly the same age as Severus, here in the reality of Snape's mind. Just when he had decided it would be best to pretend having received it, something poked him in the back. He reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out an envelope. It was adorned with the Hogwarts seal.
"There," Harry said, waving the letter in front of Severus's face.
"That wasn't funny," Severus said with a frown. "Don't delude yourself that I fell for it. Not even for a second. Of course you'd get your letter; you've got so much magic."
Severus punched Harry playfully in the chest, and soon they were rolling around in the grass. "Ouch," Severus said with a wince as Harry rolled on top of him.
"What's wrong with ..." Harry started, and then he noticed a red spot on Severus's smock.
"What the hell is this?" he asked. "What happened?"
"It's nothing," Severus said.
"A very bloody nothing. Can I see?"
For a moment, it looked as if Severus was about to run away, but then he turned around and shrugged out of his smock. His entire back was covered with bruises and welts.
"No," Harry said. "No."
Shifting his position so that he was sitting next to Severus, who was hiding his face behind his hands now, Harry asked, "Who did this to you? Your dad?"
Severus nodded, putting his smock back on.
"He doesn't want his only son to go to a posh school. This is just a little reminder of my working class roots." Severus's voice sounded oddly like that of his grown up self, and his face showed no emotion at all.
Careful so as not to hurt his friend, Harry put an arm around his shoulders. "And your mum?"
"She's out working most of the time now. I could've visited her at her job and asked her to heal me, but I wanted to see you first to tell you about my letter."
Harry pulled Severus closer. "Hogwarts will be great," he said. "But you should go and get yourself healed now, or else we'll never get our new sofa."
Gently, an arm sneaked around Harry's shoulders. "We'll become great wizards," Severus said. "And we'll always be great friends."
Severus Snape was sitting in his usual chair in the Grimmauld Place library, a fog of memories hanging low over his head. Harry was kneeling on a footstool, following the lines of Snape's face with a finger.
"You know, Professor," he said, "I've never seen you laugh before I met you as Severus, the boy. Not even so much as smile."
Harry's finger traced Snape's thin lips and the sharp creases around their corners. "I wish you could smile for me now, even if it were just to mock me.
"Your life hasn't been easy as a child. Why is it that you were able to laugh then?"
Harry's exploring finger had reached Snape's nose. It rested on the tip for a moment, moving it up and down and from one side to the other.
"I'm going to tell you something really amusing, sir. I always loved your nose.
"Yes, you're right, it doesn't sound very believable. After all, we made fun of your beak all the time.
"Well, I suppose I worked it out only recently. Nevertheless, it's true."
Following up the bridge of Snape's nose, Harry's finger reached the crease between Snape's eyebrows. It swirled up the memory fog, and Harry withdrew it immediately. He took his wand and a little flask from the table nearby and guided Snape's memories back into their glass container.
"Why can't you accept them back?" Harry asked, gently touching Snape's forehead. "I know that you're there."
Severus tried very hard not to show how impressed he was by all the colours and the noise that was platform nine and three-quarters. Never before had he seen so many witches and wizards together in one place. Parents kissing their children goodbye, students hugging each other, those who'd already boarded the Hogwarts Express waving and shouting hellos from open train windows, cats meowing and owls hooting - it was a fabulous chaos. The only thing that worried Severus was that at five to eleven, Harry still hadn't turned up.
When he finally spotted Harry far away at the other end of the platform, Severus was oddly disappointed. Harry must've been there the whole time - since before his arrival in fact; Severus hadn't lost sight of the magical barrier separating the wizarding platform from the Muggle station for more than a few seconds. He needn't look down at himself to be aware of his shabby appearance, of the way he stood out from the crowd like an ugly caterpillar among butterflies - a caterpillar that would never metamorphose into one of them. Harry was right to be ashamed of him now that he could find so much better-looking and more interesting company.
It was time to board the train. He should change into his student robes as soon as possible. Maybe Harry would still want to be his friend if Severus looked a bit more like his peers, even if his robes were second-hand. Severus turned to his mum. "Goodbye," he said and stretched out his hand.
His mum was a good person, and Severus loved her dearly. She wasn't a witch who showed her emotions easily, though. Severus could count on one hand the times she had laughed, her hugs on the other. "Never forget that you're a Prince," she said now. "Through generations, Princes have been worthy members of Slytherin house. You may find Quidditch Captains, Prefects, Head Girls and Boys among your ancestors."
"And a Captain of the Hogwarts Gobstones Team," Severus said.
His mum smiled one of her rare smiles. "You'll find that Gobstones is much less popular than Quidditch, and that it's ridiculed by the majority of the students. It's a fine sport nonetheless."
She pulled him into a loose hug. "I know that you'll continue the family tradition. Now go, Severus, go and be great." She released him abruptly and left the platform without looking back. A whistle sounded. Severus shoved his trunk through the next carriage door and followed it onto the train.
When Harry arrived at platform nine and three-quarters and didn't see Severus, he went to look for Lily. Since the arrival of the Hogwarts letter in his jeans pocket, Harry had wondered if he would meet his mum at Hogwarts. Sure, Snape's most crucial memories of her were gone, imprisoned in glass and hidden in the drawer of Harry's bedside table, but there had to be more. Snape must have memories of Lily in class, during meals, or at the library. Those everyday occurrences had to be imprinted on his mind, too. That Lily should be gone completely was implausible. If Harry could only find her and reconnect Snape to her, there must be a way to make Snape accept his memories back so that he might return to life in the real world.
Harry looked everywhere. He spotted his dad and the other Marauders, each of them with his own family, not friends yet. It was the first time that Harry saw his grandparents, and he lingered to watch them exchange affectionate goodbyes with James. They were much older than Harry had thought, and their white hair and wrinkles made them look more like his dad's grandparents than Harry's own. They had beautiful faces, though, smiling and full of life. Harry turned away so as not to be noticed. Stumbling over his trunk, he heard a well-known peal of laughter, shrill and piercing. Walburga Black was just as horrible as her portrait, and Harry saw Kreacher carrying Sirius's trunk. An impossibly small Remus clung to his mum as if he never wanted to let her go. Averting his eyes from Peter, Harry clambered onto the train to see if Lily was already on board.
It wasn't much quieter on the train than outside, but everybody was leaning out of the windows and the seats were not taken yet. Shoving his trunk in the luggage rack of an empty compartment, Harry continued the search for his mum. Only when he'd made his way through the whole length of the train without so much as a glimpse of a red-headed girl Lily's age, he thought of Severus again. Just as he was about to jump back onto the platform to look for him, he heard a whistle blow and all hell broke loose.
It was impossible to find Severus in the ensuing havoc, and Harry had to wait nearly quarter of an hour until the chaos had died down again. He finally sighted Severus leaving a toilet, already clad in his uniform robes. "Hey," he shouted over the noise, waving. "Severus."
Severus remained where he was, pressed against the wall next to the toilet door, and only a slight twitching of his face betrayed that he'd noticed Harry.
Harry fought his way through a throng of students until he was right in front of Severus. "Hi," he said, but Severus still didn't react.
"Probably a good idea." Harry pointed at Severus's robes. "I should change out of these hideous clothes, too." Like always in Severus's world, Harry's attire was extremely colourful and mismatched. This time, he wore a light blue corduroy jacket, a striped shirt in all colours of the rainbow and red trousers with flower appliqué.
Severus's eyes flashed. "Don't you dare make fun of me," he said. Then he dropped his head. "You'd better go and find yourself shiny new friends. Leave me alone."
"What's the matter?" Harry said. "Why should I make fun of you? And what's all this about new friends? You're my friend, are you not?"
"I thought so. But I don't like it when you mock my clothing."
"Mock your ..." Harry looked down at himself and then at Severus, who was glaring at him defiantly. Only then did he remember how hideous Severus's usual attire was. Harry had become used to it, seeing the boy wearing it day in, day out.
"I was mocking my own clothing," Harry said. "The colours are horribly clashing. I always look like a parrot or a clown."
"I love the things you wear," Severus said, stroking the collar of Harry's jacket reverently. "They're bright and cheerful."
"Don't you think that black and austere is much more elegant?"
Severus grinned. "You're a weird boy, Harry Evans. Come on, let's find a compartment."
In the bathroom next to the library, Snape was hovering in front of the toilet, held upright by Harry's spell. Holding Snape's robes up with one hand and Snape's penis with the other, Harry guided a stream of urine at the bowl. The sound of the urine hitting the water in the toilet bowl was drowned out by a loud voice from the hallway.
"Harry? Are you in there?"
"Shit," Harry said. "Leave it to my girlfriend to turn up just when I've got another guy's prick in my hand."
He waited until Snape had finished, spelled them both clean and Apparated them back into the library where the remains of Snape's lunch were scattered all over the table. "Kreacher," Harry called, putting Snape into his chair and performing a moistening spell on his eyes.
"Master," the house-elf said, popping up next to Harry.
"Where is she?"
"Kreacher offered Miss Weasley tea in the kitchen, Master."
"Perfect. Thank you, Kreacher. It would be great if you could clean up the table."
The house-elf nodded, his ears fluttering happily, and Harry went to see Ginny.
Ginny was sitting at the table, her hands around a steaming mug. She didn't look up when Harry entered the kitchen.
"Hello, Gin," he said tentatively and sat down opposite her, the teapot like a barrier between them.
"Long time no see," she said, still not looking up.
"I'm sorry." Harry Accio'd a mug and poured himself some tea. "I've been really busy with Snape and stuff."
"Too busy to inform me of your plans? Too busy to answer my owls? Too busy to say thank you for the birthday present I sent?" Her voice sounded shrill.
"Bloody hell." Harry slapped his forehead. "I asked Kreacher to collect my mail and put it away for when I have time to go through it. I totally forgot my birthday."
"House-elves are really convenient creatures, aren't they?"
Ginny sounded a lot like Hermione, and Harry didn't know what to say. "He's happy like that. It would break his heart if I set him free," he finally said, stammering.
"Idiot." For the first time, Ginny looked directly at Harry. Her eyes were red and swollen, and they flashed dangerously. All of a sudden, her wand was in her hand. Harry hid behind the teapot, readying himself for the sensation of huge bat-bogeys flapping from his nostrils.
"Accio Harry's birthday present." Instead of bogeys, the pantry door flapped. Parcels in all shapes and colours shot through the kitchen and piled up on the table.
"What did you get me?" Harry asked, watching Ginny rummaging through the mountain of presents.
Ginny took a tiny golden box with a red bow from the bottom of the pile and pocketed it. "It doesn't matter anymore," she said.
"Not long ago," she started, and it sounded as if she'd practised in front of a mirror, "you broke it off to protect me. I accepted your decision since I couldn't change it anyway, and I waited for you to come back. But you never did, not really. We got back together after the war -"
"Ginny," Harry said, but she held up her hand.
"- except that you were obsessed with those memories and with finding Snape. We were living in the same house, but you hardly even noticed me."
"Ginny, I -"
"Now, I have to break it off. Don't think I'm doing it to try to get back at you. I just think that we both need more time to find out what we really want."
She fell silent, looking at Harry as if she were prompting him to speak. He was at a loss for words.
After a moment, she added, "I hope to see you at Christmas, though. Who knows, maybe things will look different, then."
She shrugged her shoulders, got up and walked slowly out of the kitchen. At the door, she turned her head. "Goodbye, Harry."
Harry stared at the multicoloured parcels in front of him. "Bright and cheerful," he said, pressing his hand to his mouth to stop himself from laughing out loud.
"Slytherin," Severus said after McGonagall had ended her speech on the four Hogwarts Houses and left to see if everything was ready for the Sorting. "I hope we'll both be in Slytherin."
Harry shrugged his shoulders. Huddled close together with the other first years in the small room off the Great Hall, he'd discovered two important things - that his mum definitely wasn't at Hogwarts, and that nobody seemed to notice the striking resemblance he bore to his dad.
"Does it really matter?" Harry wondered. "I don't care where I end up. It would be great to be in the same house with you, though."
A skinny boy with mouse-brown hair and a face like a rodent turned around to him. "You can't be serious," he said. "Only a Mudblood can be that stupid."
"Don't call him that." Severus glared at the boy and balled his fists. "Both his parents were magic."
"Nothing wrong with being Muggle-born," James said, smiling at Harry for the first time. "And believe me, you don't want to be in Slytherin. You don't look like a dark wizard to me."
Severus left the rodent-boy alone and turned to James. "Slytherin is the most noble of the four Houses."
Sirius, who'd been listening with a bored expression, laughed out loud. "A very sorry kind of noblesse," he said. "As tattered as your robes."
James guffawed, and Severus, red in the face, lunged at Sirius. Harry barely managed to hold him back. "Leave Severus alone," he said. "He's far more noble than you can even imagine."
James and Sirius were holding their sides now. "Leave ickle Snivellus alone," Sirius said between bouts of laughter, "he's so noble, it's beneath him to wash his hair."
"Don't listen to them," Harry told Severus who was struggling against his grip. "They're just a bunch of stupid idiots."
His last words were shouted, and only McGonagall's arrival prevented the situation from escalating. "First years," she said, and her voice sounded more stern than Harry remembered it, "form a line and follow me."
The Great Hall, the Sorting Hat's song, the floating candles, the enchanted ceiling - lost in his memories, Harry only came back to this strange reality when he heard McGonagall call a well-known name.
The rodent-boy went to the front where the Sorting Hat sat on its rickety stool. He put it on his head, but before he could even sit down, the hat shouted, "Slytherin."
"Are you really sure you want to be in Slytherin?" Harry whispered to Severus, watching the Slytherins cheer and clap as Avery walked over to their table.
"Don't worry about Avery. He'll be soon very sorry to have talked to you like that." Severus looked fierce.
"It's not that. It's just, I don't know ..."
"Black," McGonagall called, and Sirius walked to the stool, grinning and waving like an actor who's about to receive an award. It took the hat an eternity to come to a decision, but finally it shouted, "Gryffindor."
"At least I know one thing now," Severus said.
"I'd rather die than be in Gryffindor."
Harry sighed. When McGonagall called, "Evans," he made his way to the front, full of determination.
"Slytherin," Harry thought, putting on the hat, "Slytherin."
"What a strange request from a reckless Gryffindor like you, Harry Potter," the Sorting Hat said, and Harry nearly fell off the stool.
"What?" he asked and bit his lip to keep himself from speaking again.
"What?" Harry thought. "How do you know me? Who, I mean, what are you?"
"Well." The hat chuckled. "Let's better first establish what I am not."
"You aren't the Sorting Hat," Harry thought. "You can't be. We aren't at Hogwarts, but in Snape's mind."
"Well done, Mr. Potter. 100 points to ... ah, I forgot, that's what we're here to find out."
"Why play games? If you're a part of Snape's mind and know everything that's going on here, why can't you make him, or better yourself, come back to life?"
The Sorting Hat, or whatever it was, chuckled once more. "Even if I tried to explain it to you, I don't think you'd be able to understand. There's a part of Severus that loves being here with you, that doesn't want to go back."
"Should I be horrible to him, then, so that he doesn't want to be here with me anymore?"
"I told you you wouldn't understand. Another part of Severus, most probably the stronger of the two, abhors the fact that you're here and is unwilling to ever acknowledge your presence. And then there's the part of him that wants nothing more than to die."
The Sorting Hat sighed. "Of course there are still other parts of Severus Snape. He's a very complex character, after all. But those three are the ones that concern you most."
"So what can I do?"
"What do you want to accomplish, Mr. Potter?"
"I want him to live his life, to be happy, to be himself again."
"Severus is always himself, never forget that. And he's happier now than ever before."
"But you just told me -"
"I told you that the mind is a complicated thing."
"Still, I want him to live. In the real sense of the word."
"Then you must show him that his life is worth living."
"How can I do that?"
"Just like you won all your great battles. Be yourself, your annoying, stubborn, wonderful self. And there's only one place where you can be your true self."
Severus lowered his head. He refused to watch Harry walk over to the Gryffindor table, refused to see Harry's new mates cheer him on, refused to see Harry's happiness. Severus was well aware of the fact that now that Harry was a Gryffindor, Severus had lost his best friend. There were certain principles, laws of magical existence a mere mortal shouldn't call into question. Slytherins don't get along with Gryffindors was one of them, and Severus had listened to too many bedtime stories featuring sly Slytherins escape the wrath of Gryffindor bullies to know that it couldn't be far from the truth.
When Severus looked up again, he met Harry's eyes. His friend didn't look happy in the least, and the little smile Harry sent Severus's way could only be interpreted as apologetic and sad. Severus didn't answer Harry's smile. He had to avert his eyes to fight the tears that threatened to invade them. Snivellus, he thought and made a fist. He was a Prince, and he would show his enemies how strong he was.
"Hmm," Severus heard a small voice say when it was finally time to put the Sorting Hat on his head. "Difficult, very difficult. I can see courage, so much courage, and loyalty to those you love. There's darkness and hatred, too, and an incredible amount of talent. An exceptional child, indeed - so where shall I put you?"
Severus shrugged his shoulders. This Sorting Hat didn't seem very capable of doing its job. First it put Harry in Gryffindor, and then it failed to recognise Severus's heritage, the Slytherin noblesse of the Half-blood Prince.
The hat chuckled. "Never underestimate what you don't fully understand, young man."
The small voice in Severus's head became serious, then. "It's a dangerous path you have chosen. Never forget that it's his choices that make a man. Never forget your courage and your love in ...
In the days that succeeded the Sorting, Harry had a hard time to demonstrate that his friendship for Severus hadn't changed. He managed to sit next to Severus in every class the Slytherin and Gryffindor first years had together. When classes were over, Harry took great care not to lose sight of Severus. He followed him to the lake, the Quidditch pitch and even the library. Most of the time, Severus didn't acknowledge his presence. He only talked to Harry once, when Severus had been trying to sneak into the Restricted Section. Madam Pince had thrown him out on his ear and threatened to complain about him to Professor Slughorn. Severus blamed Harry to have alerted the librarian by treating the books in that typical Gryffindor fashion, clumsy and without respect.
Harry didn't give up, and while Severus behaved as if Harry were invisible, he didn't seem to make friends in Slytherin, either. They danced around each other like boxers, each waiting for the other to make the first move, and just when Harry had had enough of Severus's childish behaviour, good luck came his way.
They had their first flying lesson on a cold and windy day. Dark clouds enveloped the castle's towers, and Madam Hooch was acting even more chipper than usual. Each standing next to a broom, the first-years were shouting, "Up!" in various degrees of excitement. The battered old broom beside Harry leapt into his hand at once, just like its mate had done all those years ago, but Severus's broom behaved oddly. Whereas its handle jumped up and nearly hit Severus in the face, the bristles described circles on the lawn. Mary McDonald, a tall Gryffindor with pigtails and overlarge teeth, sniggered demonstratively and nudged Sirius, whose broom didn't move at all.
"Do you want to sweep the lawn, Snivellus?" Sirius said. "If you work really hard, maybe you can become Filch's apprentice some day."
Harry sighed with relief when Madam Hooch interrupted them, clapping her hands. "Hurry up, hurry up," she said. "I want to see you airborne before it starts to rain."
She showed them how to mount their brooms, corrected their grips and finally instructed them to kick off from the ground. Like Neville before, or rather, after him, Peter shot up into the air. More fortunate than Neville, Peter managed to cling to his broomstick until it returned to the ground, reeling and rocking.
While everybody watched the spectacle of Peter whirling helplessly through the air, Harry hovered two feet above the ground. He kept his eyes on Severus, who was struggling to stay on his broom, red in the face and scowling. The broomstick was bucking under him, and Harry drifted closer, covering Severus's hands on the handle with one of his. "You must treat your broom as if it were alive, a shying Thestral or a proud Hippogriff."
"Don't think that I need your advice," Severus said, but then he smiled, and his broom hovered next to Harry's, firm and steady.
At exactly that moment, Mary turned around to them. "Look at those sweethearts," she said, and her laughter was derisive.
"Shut up," Harry shouted. Everything happened very fast. Harry pulled his wand out of his robes with his free hand, and huge boils broke out all over Mary's face. Harry and Severus soared up to the clouds, their hands still linked together on Severus's broomstick handle.
Harry leaned forwards and pushed his hand gently down. They stopped their ascent and hovered next to the Owlery, surrounded by clouds. "Brilliant," Severus said. "That's better than jumping from a swing."
"Much better," Harry said. "Only I'm afraid it's detention for both of us. Are you angry with me now?"
Severus shook his head. "What did you do to that girl?"
"It's called Furnunculus. I can teach you, if you want me to."
It was chilly outside, and a pale sun gleamed through the morning mist. On Grimmauld Place the leaves were falling, swirling through the air like an army of miniature witches and wizards on broomsticks, landing gently on the ground and covering the rundown square with a thick blanket in all shades of red, brown and yellow. Hidden under layers of clothing, the few Muggles who ventured out into the wind and the cold were hurrying to the underground station nearby and had no eyes for the beauty of the late autumn day.
Harry shivered at the open window. Picking up a red leaf from the sill, he thought about the oddness that was his life. How much time had passed since he'd last talked to Ron and Hermione? June, July, August, September, October, he counted the months on his fingers. Was it really only five months since he'd seen his friends? It seemed that years had flown by - and in a sense, it was true.
In Severus's world, he and Harry were about to start their fifth year at Hogwarts. Time wasn't an issue there, and to Harry, everything he experienced appeared to be real. These days, he managed to distinguish one reality from the other only with great difficulty.
Harry looked forward to going back to Hogwarts. Last night in the playground, Severus had found a full cigarette packet on one of the benches and promptly had decided that it was time for them to start smoking. Harry's stomach still lurched when he thought of his first cigarette. At school, Severus wouldn't have much opportunity to continue with this nonsense.
Shaking his head, Harry breathed in big gulps of fresh air. It wasn't real; he'd never so much as pulled on a fag. He wondered how Ron and Hermione were doing at Hogwarts, if Gryffindor had won the first Quidditch match of the season, and if Hermione had read all the books in the library yet. He really should send them an owl, but there was something he had to do first.
Harry closed the window and turned to the bed where Snape was lying, his arms crossed over his chest, the eyes still covered with small cloths. Banishing the cloths, Harry performed a moistening charm on Snape's eyes.
"Good morning, Severus," he said, "how do you feel today?"
The moon had barely begun to rise over the Forbidden Forest when Madam Pomfrey emerged from somewhere below the Whomping Willow where she'd disappeared with Lupin about an hour ago. She moved quickly across the lawn. In the silver moonlight, Severus could make out the sweat on her forehead, little droplets running down her red face. Obviously in a great hurry, she only stopped when she'd reached the entrance to the castle. On top of the stone steps, she turned around and stood in silence for a moment, nodding her head in time with the willow's battering branches. The hint of a smile softened her stern features, and then she was gone, the door closing with a loud thud.
Severus gave a sigh of relief. When Black had told him to follow Lupin down the rabbit hole, he'd conveniently forgotten to mention that there would be a dragon accompanying little Alice. Severus smirked. While Madam Pomfrey made a picture-book dragon, Lupin wasn't much of an Alice. It was really strange that a boy that bland should be surrounded by so much mystery. Whatever his secret was, Severus would find it out tonight. Harry would have to believe him then that those Gryffindors were only a bunch of brainless twerps.
The coast was clear now. Severus crept to the edge of the vegetable patch where he'd been hiding behind a huge pumpkin. Just as he wanted to cross the lawn to see if Black had told the truth about that blasted tree, he noticed a movement near Greenhouse Three, and Harry stepped out of the shadows.
He was beautiful in the silver light, a fairy-tale hero sallying forth to slay a dragon. Severus shook his head. What a fool he was. Harry's appearance could only mean one thing: that he was in league with those jerks.
Harry seemed to be unsure how to proceed. For long seconds, he simply stood there, in full sight of the castle. Then he disappeared behind Greenhouse Two, only to turn up next to Greenhouse One again. He was so close now that Severus could easily touch him. Severus stopped breathing.
Harry's eyes fell on the pumpkin patch. "Severus," he whispered. "Severus, are you there?"
Not sure if it would be wise to reveal himself, Severus waited a couple of seconds before he answered. "Harry."
"Thank Merlin!" Harry sat down next to Severus. "I was afraid you were already in the tunnel."
"What do you mean?" Severus had to speak very softly to prevent his voice from breaking. "You know Lupin's secret, don't you?"
"Yes," Harry said, his voice equally soft.
"You must've had loads of fun, taking the piss out of greasy Snivellus like that."
"Actually, I can hardly believe that you still don't trust me after all these years."
"And I can't believe that you're friends with those ... those dunderheads," Severus said, and he couldn't keep his voice from squeaking anymore.
"I am not."
"You are not what?"
"I'm not friends with Sirius Black and his mates. I don't even like them very much." Harry sounded angry, and Severus wasn't sure if his anger was directed at him or the Gryffindors.
"No. Severus, this is silly."
"Then tell me Lupin's secret."
"All right. I'm going to tell you. But you have to promise not to tell anyone."
Severus nodded. There was a big lump in his throat, and he was suddenly very nervous. "Want a cigarette?" he asked, fumbling for the packet.
"No, thank you." Harry put an arm around Severus's shoulder, and Severus forgot to light his fag.
Then Harry began to talk. The moon was shining brighter than ever. Its light was pure magic, transforming the night into a wonderland of silver and velvet.
When Harry looked into Snape's eyes these days, he wasn't drawn into the tunnel with the doors anymore, but thrust directly into the thick of events. Sometimes he landed in the middle of a class, already standing behind his desk and stammering through the answer to a question he'd never heard. On other occasions he found himself on top of one of the towers, balancing on the parapet, or at the centre of a duel, hurling hexes at James or Sirius, Avery or Mulciber. Nothing bad ever resulted from Harry's sudden surfacing in Severus's world. Severus was always at his side, whispering the correct answer, catching him when he threatened to fall, and blocking hexes directed at him.
Blinded by the sun, it took Harry some time to orientate himself. He was glad to have landed on the grounds, on a flat patch of grass behind a row of bushes. The castle was in front of him, the lake at his back. Oddly enough, Severus was nowhere to be seen. Loud cheers and laughter alerted Harry to a group of students down at the lakeshore. Turning around, he found himself confronted with a scene he knew all too well, and that he'd been dreading for a long time now.
Severus was hanging upside down in the air. His robes were covering his head, leaving his legs and underpants exposed to the eyes of the small crowd that had gathered around him. Sirius, James and Peter were roaring with laughter, pointing their wands at their helpless victim.
"Who wants to see me take off Snivelly's pants?" Harry heard James say.
Whenever Harry had duelled the Marauders in the past for Severus's sake, he'd been very conscious of the fact that his adversaries weren't really James Potter and his friends, but figments of Snape's imagination created from unpleasant memories. None of these thoughts crossed Harry's mind now. Furious with his dad and his godfather, he raced down the slope, shouting, "Expelliarmus."
"Calm down, Evans," Sirius said. "We didn't touch your precious little friend."
"Finite Incantatem," Harry said. "Accio Severus's wand."
Severus fell to the ground, and too late, it occurred to Harry that he should have cast a cushioning charm. Severus's wand had been lying nearby on the grass, and it soared into Harry's outstretched hand now. While James and Sirius were looking for their own wands, Peter was still gaping with his mouth wide open. "Accio the Marauders' wands," Harry said, and four wands sailed through the air in his direction.
Remus turned up from behind a tree, his face beet red. "Can I have my wand back?" he asked, his eyes lowered and his shoulders hunched.
"Give it to him," James said. "He didn't do anything."
Severus, who'd finally managed to disentangle himself from his robes, snorted. "He's such an innocent little lamb," he said. "Or should I say a wolf in sheep's clothing?"
"Leave Remus alone, you greasy bastard." Sirius lunged at Severus.
"Petrificus Totalus." Harry's spell hit Sirius in the chest, and he fell flat on his back, rigid as a board.
Harry returned Severus's wand to him, and they stood side by side, holding the three remaining Marauders at bay. "Lupin," Harry said, "as a Prefect you should've intervened. I'm sure you know that yourself."
Remus nodded, still not looking up from the ground. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "I'm really sorry."
"It doesn't matter." Harry shrugged his shoulders. "We don't care about you or your friends. Leave us alone, and we'll leave you alone. As you should have noticed, we know your secrets, so you'd better do as we say. Do we understand each other?"
The three boys nodded, Peter with a stupid smile on his face, Remus with averted eyes, and James with a defiant stare. Harry released Sirius from the body bind and threw their wands at them. "And now bugger off," he said.
After the Marauders had left, the spectators soon followed. Harry heard a distinct, "Poofters," and fired a Stinging Hex after Mary McDonald, but he must've failed; the girl continued her way to the castle unperturbed.
"Phew," Harry said as he and Severus were finally alone. "What a bunch of arseholes.
"Severus, are you okay?" he asked when his friend didn't react and continued to stare out at the lake where the Giant Squid was playing tentacle tennis with the waves.
"What's wrong?" Harry touched Severus's shoulder. "You mustn't be ashamed. Three against one is totally unfair. None of them would've had a chance to beat you in a fair duel."
Harry didn't know what else he could say, and so they watched the antics of the Giant Squid in silence. After a while, Severus turned to Harry. His face was very white and his eyes glittered. "Harry," he said, his voice nearly inaudible.
Severus wrapped his arms around Harry and pulled him close. "Thank you," he whispered in Harry's ear. "Nobody has ever done for me what you've done for me today."
Soft lips touched Harry's cheek and the corner of his mouth. Hot breath tickled Harry's lips. When he opened them, he and tasted soft skin, the tip of a tongue - Severus's tongue.
"Whoa. Wait a moment. Wait," Harry said, pushing Severus gently away. The air grew cold, and when Harry looked up again, he was back in the library at Grimmauld Place. The flames in the fireplace had died down to mere coals. In the dark red glow, it was as if Snape were glaring at Harry with malice in his gaze.
Plucking blossoms and leaves from bushes at random, Severus watched Harry flee around the lake. He didn't care that the bushes were full of thorns, didn't even notice the pain. When Harry was but a mere dot in the distance, Severus looked at his scratched hands. The crushed remains of the leaves and flowers were smeared with blood, and he tossed them away, disgusted.
"You know, Severus ... Professor Snape ... that's the crux to the matter. I simply don't know what to think of you. Of Severus, I mean. How real is he?"
Supported by magic, Snape hovered in the middle of his bedroom, unimpressed by the fact that Harry unbuttoned Snape's robes and eventually removed them.
For the first time since he'd begun taking care of Snape, Harry was embarrassed by having to undress the man. Washing and dressing Snape had become a daily routine, just like feeding him and helping him in the bathroom. There was no reason for anything to be different now. So why did Harry's face get hot and his mouth dry when he noticed the dark tuft of hair on Snape's chest as if he'd never seen it before, Snape's pale skin and the shape of his prick?
With a quick wand movement, Harry Accio'd a nightshirt and pulled it over Snape's head. He turned down the sheets and, taking Snape into his arms, carefully lowered him onto the bed. His hands shook when he performed the moistening charm on Snape's eyes. Harry sat down and turned Snape's face to the side so that he could easily look into his eyes while lying next to him on the bed.
"I like you, too, Severus," Harry whispered and pressed a kiss to Snape's cheek.
"Go back to your own common room, dear," the Fat Lady said. "I can't let you in without a password, and it's long after curfew."
Severus shook his head. "I have to speak to Harry. Immediately. If you don't call him, I'm going to hex you. I wonder if portraits can get boils."
"Oh, the ardour of youth. I wish I were sixteen again, and in love."
Severus raised his wand threateningly. The Fat Lady sighed and sipped from the glass of red wine she was holding. "I'll see what I can do for you. Wait a moment."
"You can tell Harry that I'll stay here all night if I have to," Severus called after her.
He didn't have to wait long. A couple of minutes after the portrait had left its frame, the canvas swung open, and Harry slipped through the hole. His hair was even more tousled than usual, his glasses slightly askew. He was already wearing his pyjamas, a dressing gown in all colours of the rainbow and only one slipper. Severus swallowed and forgot to breathe.
"What's the matter?" Harry asked. "Is something wrong?"
Severus cleared his throat.
"You aren't sick, are you?"
"Listen, Harry, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to attack you like that."
"Please, believe me. I'm sorry." Severus hated to sound so needy, exactly like the snivelling idiot his enemies made him out to be. Perhaps he should leave.
"Do you mean the kiss?" Harry was standing very close now.
"I liked it," Harry said, his voice a mere whisper. "I'm sorry I ran away. I was surprised. Confused, I suppose."
Harry was so close now that his nose rubbed against Severus's cheek and the frame of his glasses got entangled in Severus's hair. "We could do it again," he said.
Severus's stomach fluttered and his knees went weak. "Yes," he said, but it only came out as a whimper. Severus turned his face so that his lips met Harry's. The glasses pulled at his hair, but he hardly noticed.
Having returned to her painting, the Fat Lady watched them with avid interest. "Boys. Sweet, innocent boys," she said and smiled.
Harry opened his mouth, and the world around Severus ceased to exist. All that remained was Harry.
Harry's heart pounded like the hooves of a thousand centaurs, his head spun, and he was painfully hard. Breaking the kiss, he took a deep breath and adjusted his glasses. "We'd better find a more private place," he said. "I mean, if you want to."
Severus nodded against the curve of Harry's neck, kissing and licking his earlobe. "Yes," he said. "Private. Yes."
Hand in hand, they staggered down the corridor, entering the first door they came across. It led to an unused classroom, filled to the brim with old chairs and desks that were covered with dust and cobwebs. Ignoring the dirt, Harry closed the door with his foot and pounced on Severus. Their lips met once more, and they stumbled further into the room, rubbing their hard-ons against each other's bodies.
A loud crash, and a stack of chairs toppled over. Severus landed with his back against a pile of desks and it started to sway dangerously. Harry grabbed Severus's arms even tighter. Leaning backwards, he barely managed to keep his friend from falling. Between the desks and the wall, there was a small space free of furniture. Harry manoeuvred them behind the desks - Severus clinging to him like a drowning man clings to a life-buoy - and carefully lowered them to the ground.
Sitting with his back against the wall, Severus draped over him like a blanket, Harry kissed Severus's hair, his forehead and his cheeks. He caressed every part of Severus's body he could reach. "Mm," Severus said and kissed back.
Severus's hands were all over Harry, stroking his chest and exploring below the waistband of his pyjama bottoms. "More," Harry said, "more."
And then Severus was touching Harry's cock.
It was incredible. Harry could hardly believe how different someone else's - Severus's - hand felt on his cock.
"Wait," he said, pushing up into Severus's hand. "Let me -"
Severus was still wearing his robes. Frantically, Harry searched for a way to get inside them, but Severus was kneeling on the hem and didn't move.
"Shit." Harry was so close now, so close that he couldn't think straight anymore. He rubbed the bulge in Severus's robes, and Severus pressed back against Harry's hand, never stopping to stroke Harry's prick.
"Yes," Harry said. "Yes ... Severus."
His mind went blank, and the world exploded into a million stars.
They sat next to each other, breathing heavily, their heads touching.
"That was amazing," Severus said, and his voice sounded strange.
Harry brushed back sweaty strands of hair from Severus's face. For a long time, neither of them spoke.
Back at Grimmauld Place, Harry's face grew hot when he noticed that he'd thrown an arm around Snape and pressed himself close against the still body on the bed. It grew even hotter when he became aware of an uncomfortable stickiness in his pants.
"I'm sorry, Professor," Harry said. "So sorry."
Sitting up on the bed, he buried his face in his hands. "I didn't want to take advantage of you, sir - or of Severus - you must believe me that.
"It's only, I'm confused. Never before in my whole life have I been that close to another person. Not even to Ron. When I'm with Severus, it's as if ...
"Sod it, I can't explain what it's like. It's perfect. And now this thing between us - it's so amazing, so new and amazing. Thinking that Severus might not be real ..."
The temperature in the room seemed to drop several degrees. It was as if an ice-cold hand had gripped Harry's heart and squeezed it. Harry shook his head. Wiping the tears from his face - he hadn't even been aware he was crying - he got up.
"I'd better take care of you now," he said and went to the bathroom. He cleaned himself up with magic and washed his hands and his face. Taking the potion for Snape's eyes and two cloths from a small cabinet, Harry returned to Snape's bedroom. At a wave of his wand, gaslights flared up and bathed the room in a harsh yellow light.
Harry tended to Snape's eyes with clockwork precision, and only when he took the blanket from the foot of the bed to tuck Snape in did he notice the wet spot on Snape's nightshirt. Harry didn't know how long he'd been standing there, staring uncomprehendingly where the nightshirt covered Snape's groin.
"Sir," Harry said, shaking Snape's body, "sir!" But Snape didn't move.
With trembling hands, Harry eventually lifted the nightshirt to make sure he wasn't hallucinating. Snape's soft cock was resting in its nest of dark curls, lying peacefully - and covered in semen.
"Bloody hell," Harry said. "You really aren't totally gone."
Performing a scouring charm on Snape and his nightshirt, a plan formed in Harry's head.
After he'd finally tucked Snape in, Harry kissed him on the forehead. "I think that I know now what I have to do to allow you to accept your memories back," he said.
"I only hope that Severus is real, and that he'll return to life with you.
"Good night." Harry waved his wand, and the room went dark.
"Just walk past the wall three times and concentrate really hard on what we need."
Severus did his very best to follow Harry's instructions, but found it difficult to focus on a room when he had only Harry on his mind. He didn't care in the least where they spent the night, as long as they spent it together. "Why don't you do it?" he said.
"I want this to be perfect for you, Severus."
Severus looked at the painting on the opposite wall where trolls in tutus were snoring like only trolls can snore. No wonder the adjoining paintings were empty. The wall in front of him was blank, unchanged. "Are you sure this Room of Requirement exists?" he asked.
Harry nodded. Severus shrugged his shoulders and continued walking up and down the corridor. Images of Harry flashed through his mind. Brilliant green eyes in a face flushed with emotion. Raven hair, soft as down, a wild mess. A beautiful boy in a thunderstorm, changing Severus's world forever.
"You did it," Harry said. "Merlin's balls."
Severus opened his eyes. On the wall in front of him a door in all colours of the rainbow had appeared. Harry looked at it with a strange expression on his face. "What's wrong?" Severus asked.
"Nothing. It's perfect. Come on, let's see what's behind it."
Their hands met on the handle, and Severus shivered. The door opened soundlessly, revealing a fabulous sight. Surrounded by hundreds of floating candles, a gigantic four-poster bed dominated the room. It was much bigger than the beds in Severus's dormitory, but what Severus liked best about it were the countless cushions and the blanket, matching the colours of the door and Harry's dressing gown.
"Blimey," Harry said. "Bright and cheerful."
"Exactly like you are."
"This is fantastic," Harry said, clambering onto the bed and bouncing up and down on the mattress. "A fairy-tale bed. I only hope you didn't hide a pea somewhere, my Prince."
Severus joined Harry on the bed, and they jumped around as if it were a trampoline. "I know that you're the ideal mate for me. I don't need proof, my sweet princess."
"What did you just call me?" Harry grabbed Severus around the waist and tickled him. "Let me tell you, I'm very much a man."
Harry released Severus from his grip and took off his dressing gown and pyjamas. Standing naked on the bed, he began to stroke his already half hard cock. "Proof enough for you?"
"Hmm. Appearances are deceptive. I better taste you to be sure." Severus fell on his knees and took Harry's prick in his hand. It wasn't as long as Severus's own cock, but thicker, sturdy.
"Beautiful," Severus said and swiped his tongue over the head. "Very manly."
Severus had never done this before, but he'd spied on Avery and Mulciber in the showers often enough to know that he should try to take Harry in as deep as possible. Severus choked.
"Hey," Harry said, stroking Severus's hair. "Take it easy. Get up; I want to see you naked, too."
While Severus opened the buttons of his robes, Harry sat down. He leaned against the cushions, spread his legs and started to play with himself. Severus hated to be naked. In the showers, he always took great care to be either the first or the last, so that nobody would see his scrawny, ugly body. Watching Harry's fingers on Harry's cock, glistening with precome and Severus's saliva, turned out to be the best diversion tactic ever. Severus's eyes were fixed on the stunning sight before him, and he only became aware of what he was doing when he pulled his robes over his head.
Severus noticed that Harry's voice sounded throaty. His face grew hot, and he wondered where he could hide. Embarrassed, he fumbled with his underpants.
"Careful," Harry said. "Here, let me help you."
Severus had been hard since the moment he'd tasted Harry's cock, and now that Harry was touching him, he grew even harder. Harry's mouth and his skilful fingers made an art form of removing Severus's briefs, kissing and rubbing and licking. When the garment finally landed on top of Harry's pyjamas on the floor, Severus hid his jutting cock with his hands.
"Come down here." Harry patted the spot next to him. "I want to kiss you."
Pressing the full length of his body against Harry's - for the first time completely naked together - was a mind-blowing experience. Severus couldn't get enough of Harry's soft skin, Harry's scent, Harry's tongue in Severus's mouth. They were rutting in earnest now, Severus pushing his cock between Harry's thighs and Harry's cock rubbing against Severus's belly. Severus took Harry's hand and guided it downwards. Shifting his body so that his cock came to lie next to Harry's, Severus interlaced their fingers and wrapped their joined hands around both their cocks.
Harry gasped. "Severus," he cried out, "this is amazing."
Hot come spurted over their hands and bellies, and Harry grabbed Severus's shoulder with his free hand, clinging to Severus while his body shook in convulsions. Severus's own orgasm ripped through him, more intense than he'd ever experienced it, almost painful. He closed his eyes to keep tears from spilling and screamed Harry's name.
"Wow," they said nearly in unison after their breathing had slowed down a bit. "Wow."
Severus brought his hand to his mouth, tasting their come.
"Do I taste any different?" Harry asked.
"I can't decide who's the sweeter of us two," Severus said, painting Harry's lips with semen.
"We taste great." Harry grinned and pulled Severus's face close to his own. They exchanged languid kisses, and for once, Severus was completely happy, at peace with himself and the universe.
"Maybe we should get clean," Harry said after a long while. Half asleep, Severus barely noticed the tickling sensation of Harry's scouring charm washing over him.
Harry pulled the blanket over them and snuggled against Severus. "You alright?" he asked.
"M'fine." Severus yawned and wrapped his arms around Harry. The floating candles went out one after the other and the room turned dark. The only light came from the ceiling, where millions of silver stars were shining in a velvet sky.
"Magnificent," Severus said before his eyes dropped shut.
Harry caressed Severus's hair with feather-light touches. "You are," he whispered, "you are."
"I hope that we meet again," was the last thing Severus heard before he drifted off to sleep.
The logs in the fireplace hissed when Harry resurfaced in the library, still feeling Severus's arms around him. For a second, Harry thought he was hearing a snake speak Parseltongue. Shaking his head to drive away the ghosts from the past, he raked the fire. Somewhere in the house, a clock chimed and reminded Harry of his plan. He turned towards his silent guest. A thick fog enveloped the top of Snape's head. Everything looked exactly the same as when Harry had left to meet Severus in Snape's mind, only that the memories were already dissolving at the edges. Silver threads had formed, thin wisps that rapidly faded away into nothingness. Harry's plan hadn't worked.
Afraid to lose Snape's precious memories, Harry groped for his wand and the empty glass container. "Why do you have to be so stubborn?" he said. "When I made you come, didn't you become aware of yourself? Wasn't it enough to accept your memories back?"
Harry sighed. "Surely you don't want to stay in Severus's world forever ... or do you?"
Harry could see the orange flames from the fireplace mirrored in Snape's eyes, and it was as if the fire were fighting the mist above Snape's brows. Snape's body was in the shadows. Harry wasn't able to tell where his robes merged with the darkness. He was just about to guide the memory strands back into the flask, when a sudden idea crossed his mind. Placing the flask on the occasional table next to Snape's chair, Harry lighted the candles on the mantelpiece with a wave of his wand and lifted Snape's robes.
Snape's cock was standing proud and thick, red and leaking. He hadn't come yet.
"You've grown at least a couple of inches overnight, Severus," Harry said and wrapped his fingers around Snape's hot prick. Pushing his wand back up his sleeve, he weighed Snape's balls in his hand, taut and heavy.
"You're desperate to come, aren't you?"
Fondling Snape's prick, Harry was well aware of the fact that this was the first time he was touching another man's erection in the real world. What they'd done in Severus's world hadn't been very refined either. They'd liked it anyway, but this had to be better, so good that Snape wouldn't have any choice but to react. Harry took a deep breath and concentrated on what he liked best when touching himself.
"I hope that sometime soon, you'll do this to me," Harry said, jerking Snape's foreskin up and down the shaft. The head was swollen, and pearly drops oozed from the slit.
"You're close, so very close."
Harry flicked his tongue over the purple head, again and again. Snape's taste and scent was intoxicating, and Harry became aware of his own arousal. Willing it back, he adjusted himself in his jeans. Harry pumped Snape harder and rolled Snape's balls in his hand.
"Let it go, Severus," he said, still pumping harder. "Let it go."
Harry sucked the head into his mouth and continued to stroke the shaft with one hand. With the other, he explored the space behind Snape's balls. Snape's cock twitched in Harry's mouth, and Harry sucked harder and faster, increasing the pressure on the shaft. Harry's forefinger found Snape's hole, and on the spur of the moment, he pushed it inside.
Tremors ran through Snape's body, and hot come flooded Harry's mouth. It was too much. Letting go of Snape's cock, Harry coughed and sputtered. Snape's seed spurted all over Harry's face and Snape's robes, adorning the black wool with threads of molten silver.
Snape's whole body shook in violent convulsions, his arms and legs thrashing around. He swept the little flask from the table, and it shattered on the mantelpiece. Harry struggled to hold Snape down, but Snape threw him off, and Harry landed on the floor. Looking up, he was greeted by a strange and wonderful sight. Strands of silver memories danced around Snape's head. With each convulsion of his body, more threads formed at the edges of the fog and found their way into Snape's eyes, his ears, nose and mouth. Soon, the fog had dissolved completely. When the last wisp disappeared inside Snape's nose, Snape's body shook one last time and lay finally still. For the first time in six months, Severus Snape closed his eyes.
Harry scrambled to his feet and hurried to Snape's side. Snape was breathing regularly, and his pulse was strong. Harry sighed in relief. "Severus," he said, gently shaking Snape's shoulder. "Severus, are you there?"
Snape opened his eyes. "Potter," he said, and his voice was as cold as ice. He pushed Harry away and rose from the chair. His movements were elegant and precise, and Harry wondered how that was possible after six months of immobility.
"My wand?" Snape said in an imperious tone.
"Listen, Severus ... sir, why don't you sit down again and we can talk?"
Snape stretched out a hand and stared at Harry as if he were a Flesh-Eating Slug or something equally disgusting. "My wand, Potter," he said.
"Acc ... Accio Professor Snape's wand." Snape's wand slid from one of the shelves and soared through the air in Harry's direction. Harry caught it with a clumsy movement, unworthy of a Seeker. His hand shook when he turned it over to Snape. Their fingers brushed, and an electric current ran through Harry.
"Severus," he said and found himself all of a sudden at the tip of Snape's wand.
"Don't you dare call me that!" Snape's face was contorted, and his eyes gleamed dangerously. "Wasn't it enough to molest me when I couldn't defend myself? Do you have to mock me now?"
"I'm sorry. So very sorry. You must believe me that I only wanted to help you. And I'd never make fun of you." Harry lowered his head. "I'm so sorry," he repeated in a low voice.
"You're either even more of an idiot than I previously assumed or you're a filthy little pervert. Not man enough to get your girl, are you, Potter?"
Snape laughed, and hot tears burned behind Harry's eyes. "Severus," he said.
An ugly troll-shaped vase on the mantelpiece burst into a million pieces. "I told you not to call me that!" Snape roared.
Harry wiped the tears from his face and was horrified when his fingers came in contact with Snape's come on his cheeks. Looking up again, he noticed with astonishment that Snape was still standing in the doorway.
"I take it, since we're both alive and no one deemed it necessary to hinder you in your imbecilic ways, that you defeated the Dark Lord?"
"Am I free to go, or are there Aurors waiting to arrest me?"
"Your name's cleared," Harry said. "You're free to go wherever you want."
"Very well, then. I offer you a truce. I'll forget your revolting behaviour, and you'll promise never to bother me again." Snape stared at Harry with piercing eyes. "Is that understood, Potter? You will not pester me, nor will you come near me ever again."
Harry nodded once more, and the door shut with a loud bang.
For a whole week, Harry stayed in bed. He kept the window closed and the curtains drawn so that his bedroom was constantly dark. Once a day, Harry allowed Kreacher to bring him something to eat and do some necessary cleaning. Harry hid his face under the sheets when Kreacher popped into the room, and he barely talked to the house-elf. Kreacher prepared all his favourite dishes and offered him tea and pumpkin juice, but Harry limited his diet to dry toast and water.
On the eighth day, Harry got up and soaked in the bathtub for several hours. Clad in his best robes, clean and shaven, he entered the kitchen around noon. He smiled at Kreacher and nodded when the house-elf offered him food. Settling down comfortably at the table, Harry Accio'd his mail from the pantry. The rest of the day and most of the night, Harry spent eating with a ravenous appetite and answering his mail, every single letter, even the silliest ones. Thanks to a set of magic quills and a copying charm, the work turned out to be much easier than Harry had expected. No, he didn't plan to marry in the foreseeable future, and yes, he liked Kneazles. Thank you for the chocolates, ma'am.
Among the last owls he answered was an invitation to spend Christmas at the Burrow. Harry thanked Mrs Weasley, apologised for being out of touch for so long and accepted. He composed a letter to Headmistress McGonagall, asking if it was possible to return to Hogwarts after the Christmas break so that he could take his NEWTs in June. Then he wrote to his friends.
Hidden under his Invisibility Cloak, Harry Apparated to Spinner's End. Severus had told him where he lived, but Harry had never visited him at home; the boy hadn't been comfortable with the thought of his friend meeting his parents. Now that everything was over, Harry regretted not to have met Severus's mum.
He landed in the middle of a deserted street, and only a pair of rats took notice of the loud crack of the Apparition. Harry shivered in the ice-cold drizzle. It was early in the afternoon, but the sky was covered in black clouds, and it was already dark. The cobblestones of the pavement were hidden under a layer of wet leaves, and walking down the row of derelict houses, Harry had to be careful not to slip. Everywhere he looked, Harry saw only boarded and broken windows. Just when he was about to give up, he noticed a faint light further down the street.
The very last house in the row seemed just as ramshackle as its neighbours, but it had a complete roof, and the windows were intact. Not only was there a light in one of the upstairs rooms, Harry could also feel the tingle of strong wards.
Now that Harry had found Snape's house, he didn't know what to do. He'd promised never again to pester the man, and he would stay true to his word. He just wanted to make sure that Snape was well.
After long hours of waiting, the upstairs window went dark, and some time later, light flared up in the front room downstairs. Harry could clearly see Snape levitating a teapot and a mug and lowering it on a small table in front of a sofa. A book floated from one of the shelves and joined the tea things on the table. Snape went to the window, and before Harry could enjoy the sight of his face, the harsh lines and the beaky nose he'd learned to love, the curtains closed.
Harry slowly walked away. Snape was fine. All was well. Harry shivered in the cold.
"Oh, come and stir my cauldron,
And if you do it right
I'll boil you up some hot, strong love
To keep you warm tonight."
Tears were running down Mrs Weasley's face, and she reached for the handkerchief her husband held out to her. "Do you remember, Arthur?" she said, blowing her nose vigorously.
"Yes, my dear," he answered and took her in his arms.
Harry thought of the last time he'd spend Christmas at the Burrow. So much had changed, but despite their losses, the Weasleys were as warm and welcoming as ever.
Just like two years ago, the family and their guests were sitting around the tree, listening - or avoiding to listen - to Celestina Warbeck's Christmas broadcast. Having accepted her fate, Fleur was talking to Bill in a low voice. He had his arms wrapped around her, one hand resting protectively on her round belly.
Ron and Hermione had persuaded George to play a game of Exploding Snap. Every time one of the cards blew up with a loud bang, Mrs Weasley smiled at them, dabbing her eyes with Mr. Weasley's handkerchief. Occasionally, George looked up from the game, his face white and more earnest than ever. Harry followed his eyes to the Christmas tree, where an odd angel was glaring down from the top. Ron and Harry had spent the whole morning finding the perfect gnome. After Stupefying it, they had painted it gold, squeezed it into a miniature tutu and decorated it with small wings. When they'd presented it to George, a shadow of his old mischievous grin had run across his face, and he'd put the Fred Weasley Memorial Gnangel on the tree himself.
Bent over a chessboard, Charlie and Percy discussed strategy with the agitated pieces. The pawns complained in high pitched voices and threatened with general strike. Ginny and Dean were holding hands in the shadowy corner next to the fireplace.
Harry was glad he'd come. Since Snape had left, he'd been freezing. All the tea, hot chocolate and mulled cider Kreacher had treated him with had been wasted on him - he couldn't get warm. To be with the only family he'd ever known, to share their grief and sorrow, their desperate attempts at normality, put his own pain into perspective. What did the loss of an imaginary love mean in comparison with the loss of a friend, a brother, a son? It was incredible how much warmth the Weasleys had to give. They were brave in a way he'd never known, and some time they would heal. So would he. He'd probably never be happy, but he could be content, knowing that he was part of their loving circle.
Mrs Weasley's hand on his arm startled Harry out of his reverie. "Don't worry too much, Harry, dear," she said. "I know my daughter. She's just trying to make you jealous."
Only then, Harry noticed that Ginny and Dean were kissing under a stray mistletoe. He shook his head. "She's been in love with Dean before," he said. "I wish her all the luck in the world. She deserves to be happy."
Gripping Harry's arm tighter, Mrs Weasley looked at him with a grave expression in her round face. "Listen to me, Harry," she said. "I'm an old woman, and I've seen a lot in my life."
Harry wanted to protest, tell her that she wasn't that old, but she stopped him with a sad little smile. "There have been good times," she continued, "wonderful times. And there have been sad and horrible times. If I've learned one thing, it's that you should fully enjoy what life has to offer. It's important to act responsible, yes, but other than that, nothing must keep you from living your life to the fullest. Don't waste it with waiting, hesitating, standing back."
They sat in silence after that. Harry watched his family, and all of a sudden he knew that wherever life would take him, he'd always have a home here. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you for everything."
Mrs Weasley hugged him close. "My dear boy," she said, stroking his hair.
"I've got to go now," he said, pulling away from her embrace. "I'll be back soon."
"Harry?" she called after him, but he was already at the door.
Snow crunched under his feet, and a silly little melody accompanied him on his way to the Apparition point outside the wards.
"Oh, my poor heart, where has it gone?
It's left me for a spell ..."
Not even the freshly fallen snow was able to lighten the atmosphere of Spinner's End. While it had turned the Burrow into a glittering fairy-tale world, the houses in Snape's street looked like the charred remains of a child's first attempt at baking, hastily hidden under a too-thin layer of icing sugar.
Harry's boots left dark holes in the snow that soon filled with water. With every step, Harry's heart pounded faster. He reached for the shrunken parcel in his coat pocket. He'd been foolish to buy Severus a present in the first place, even more foolish not to have left it under the Weasleys' Christmas tree. He fumbled for the small card that said Mrs Weasley and banished it. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on Snape's door.
The wards sizzled under his knuckles, but Harry disregarded the threat and knocked again. This time, yellow flames materialised on the wooden door, and Harry quickly withdrew his singed fingers. "Ouch."
The door opened with a bang, and Snape appeared on the threshold, his wand at the ready. "Potter," he roared. "You brainless dolt!"
Blue light emanated from the tip of Snape's wand, and before Harry had a chance to protect himself, Snape's spell hit him full force.
"Didn't I tell you to leave me alone? Your company isn't wanted. Is that too hard to grasp for the hero of the wizarding world?"
Examining his hand, still numb from Snape's spell, Harry noticed that the swelling was gone. He moved his fingers, and they didn't hurt anymore. "What did you just do?"
"I healed you, Potter," Snape said, his voice dripping with contempt. "And now leave before I regret it and turn you into a doormat."
"Merry Christmas," Harry said and turned to go. A low voice stopped him in his tracks.
Harry spun on his heels. The man in the doorway watched him with dark and fathomless eyes, an odd little smile on his face. "Severus?" Harry asked.
The man nodded. Harry didn't waver. He flung his arms around Severus's neck and hugged him tightly. "Is this really you?" he said.
Severus's answer was a kiss. It was exactly like the kisses they'd shared in Severus's world - hot and wet, a bit clumsy, and so very urgent. A door slammed shut. Something shattered on the floor with a loud crash. Books everywhere, the screeching of door hinges, a staircase. Harry let himself be dragged upstairs, kissing whatever part of Severus he could reach and desperately trying to open the little buttons on Severus's robes.
"Wait," Severus said and pressed Harry against the wall. Their hard-ons rubbed together. Buttons clattered to the floor. Severus's hand found its way under Harry's shirt. Another door opened and revealed a small room with a single bed. They collapsed in a heap on the bed, kissing and rubbing and struggling to undress each other. "Missed you so much," they said, "missed you so much," over and over again.
Then Severus was naked. For the fraction of a second, Harry was taken aback by the hair on Severus's chest, his broad shoulders and the scars on his neck. He liked what he saw, though, and hurried to explore it. The skin on Severus's neck was soft, the twin scars tiny lumps under Harry's eager tongue. Harry appraised them thoroughly before placing a trail of slow kisses down Severus's chest. Severus moaned when Harry captured a nipple with his teeth, but after a short while he ordered him to stop.
Harry looked up, afraid he'd done something wrong. Severus turned them both around and attacked Harry with a shower of kisses. "Let me take care of you," he said. "I've been waiting for so long."
Severus's mouth and his fingers were everywhere, kissing, probing, licking and biting. Harry writhed under the skilful caresses. "Yes ... Severus, yes."
Wet heat surrounded Harry's cock, and Harry bucked his hips, unable to lie still. Chanting Severus's name, he thrust up into Severus's mouth, again and again. Severus pushed Harry back on the mattress, held him still and swallowed his cock to the root. Harry was helpless against the onslaught of sensations. He came down Severus's throat so hard he nearly passed out.
When he finally let go of Harry's cock, Severus looked positively smug. "So, was I any good?" he asked playfully.
"You were incredible," Harry said. "You must've practised quite a bit."
Severus lowered his eyes. All of a sudden, he reminded Harry of the little boy in the rain, awkward and sullen. "I'd have loved to keep myself for you," Severus said in a mix of irony and bitterness, "but you didn't ask me to."
Severus's face was beet-red, and he fixed Harry with a defiant stare. "You left without so much as a goodbye. I thought I'd lost you forever."
Harry didn't know what to say. He stroked Severus's sweaty shoulders and his back, but Severus ignored him.
"It's odd, though." Knitting his brows, Severus studied his hands and Harry's face. "There's a gap in my memory. I can't remember anything between the moment I woke up all alone in that strange room and the moment you stood in the door tonight. I only know that for a long time, I was very angry and full of despair. How much time has passed? You look so much older."
"Don't think too much," Harry said in his best seductive voice. "Let me kiss you."
Harry's come tasted salty in Severus's mouth, intoxicating. Severus broke the kiss. "Why are we here, and where are my parents?"
Harry sighed. "They won't disturb us. Come on, relax."
"What's the matter? What are you trying to hide?"
"I'm not trying to hide anything. I didn't want to kill the mood." Harry shrugged his shoulders. "I have to tell you sooner or later, I suppose. All right then -"
"Shush," Severus said and placed a finger on Harry's lips. "Tell me later."
"Are you sure?" Harry sucked Severus's finger into his mouth, swirling his tongue around it.
Severus nodded. "I trust you."
Releasing Severus's finger, Harry watched in awe the stern and dangerous former Potions-master-cum-Death-Eater-spy stretch out contentedly like a kitten in the sun. Harry's face grew hot, and he was suddenly ashamed. "Hey, do you want to see your Christmas present?" he asked.
Supporting his head with his hand, Severus grinned at Harry. "What did you get me?"
Harry fumbled for his wand, Accio'd the gift and enlarged it. "Merry Christmas, Severus."
Petting the garish wrapping paper, Severus took great care not to destroy it while opening the packet. "Wow!" he exclaimed when the wrapping came finally off.
When, on one of his Christmas shopping sprees in Diagon Alley, Harry had come across a blanket in all colours of the rainbow, exactly like the one in the Room of Requirement, he'd bought it for Severus without thinking. Later, after the initial excitement had died down, it occurred to him just how ridiculous it would be to send it to Snape. Half-heartedly, he'd decided to give the blanket to Mrs Weasley. Now that he saw Severus's smile, Harry was glad not to have given his present away.
Severus pulled Harry into a kiss. "Thank you," he whispered against Harry's lips. "It's beautiful."
Kicking the old blanket off the bed, they pulled the new one over their naked bodies and snuggled against each other. Severus's hard prick poked between Harry's thighs. Harry stroked it slowly with one hand. "It's high time I take care of you," he said.
"Would you like to ..." Severus paused, and Harry noticed that he was blushing.
"Everything," Harry said, determined. "I'll do everything you want me to do."
"I want you to fuck me."
Harry gasped. The thought that Severus might prefer it that way had never crossed his mind. "Are you sure?" he asked.
"Absolutely sure. I want to feel you inside me. I've been dreaming of this for a long time."
"I ... I don't know what to do."
"Let me show you."
Following Severus's detailed instructions, Harry stroked Severus's pucker and pushed a finger inside. He found a small bump and rubbed it in circular motions. Severus's cock twitched. "Use more lube and a second finger," Severus said.
Harry sniffed the vial that Severus had produced from a bedside table drawer. "Smells great," he said. "Did you make it yourself?"
Severus shrugged his shoulders. "Dunno," he said, and a crease appeared between his brows.
"Never mind." Harry leaned forward and kissed Severus, moving his tongue in rhythm with his finger. Severus's cock left a trail of precome on Harry's belly. Inserting a second finger, Harry scissored his fingers and loosened Severus's hole. Loud moans told him that he was doing something right. Harry's own cock was painfully hard now, and he was afraid to come long before he'd satisfied his lover.
"Now," Severus ordered. "Lube yourself up and fuck me."
Thinking of Griphook and Grawp, naked in bed with Umbridge, Harry succeeded in applying lube to his prick. He lined it up with Severus's pucker and pushed inside in one swift motion.
The feeling of Severus around him, hot and tight, was incredible, and Harry wanted to stay like this forever. Looking up at his lover, Harry's heart lurched. Never before had he seen Severus's face so full of emotion, open and vulnerable.
"Hey," Harry whispered, and then his body began to move of its own volition.
Naturally, they didn't last long. Severus came first, Harry's name on his lips, and Harry followed immediately, incapable of holding back any longer. Severus held him in his arms, and when Harry finally collapsed on top of him, Severus kissed his cheeks, eyes and lips.
"Thank you," a soft voice whispered next to Harry's ear. Harry opened his eyes. He must have been asleep for some time. The room was dark, and Severus was pressed against his back, warm and comforting. Happier and more content than he'd ever been, Harry closed his eyes again and snuggled deeper into Severus's embrace.
"Your sexual skills beat your skills in Potions by far, Potter. Of course, that's no surprise given your abysmal performance in my class."
Harry shivered under Snape's malicious stare. He was freezing. The blanket had slipped off his naked body and was lying at Snape's feet, its bright colours a stark contrast to Snape's black robes, buttoned-up and pristine. Harry didn't know how long Snape had been standing there, and he didn't care. He reached for the blanket.
"Prudish behaviour doesn't suit you. You weren't that shy last night," Snape said, quickly putting his foot on the blanket.
"Hey." Harry pulled at the blanket. "I'm not shy, I'm fucking cold."
"Language, Mr. Potter." Letting go of the blanket, Snape watched Harry fall back onto the bed and bang his head against the headboard.
"Stop glaring at me like that," Harry said.
"All things considered, don't you think that I'm entitled to some answers?"
"What are your questions?"
Snape Transfigured one of Harry's boots into a chair and sat down, never losing eye contact with Harry. "Why, Potter? Why did you penetrate my mind and alter my memories?"
"Why? For Merlin's sake, isn't that obvious? I wanted to bring you back to life."
"Why did you even care?"
"You saved my life countless times. In the end, you even died for me."
Snape snorted. "Hardly."
"You were my mother's best friend. You loved her."
"What is that to you?" Snape said in a low voice, averting his eyes.
"I wanted us to become friends, too. I hoped you could tell me more about her."
"I haven't thought of her for a very long time now," Harry said. His hand hovered in the air above Snape's knee. The moment it touched the soft fabric of Snape's robes, Snape jumped to his feet, and the chair toppled over.
"I didn't give you permission to fool around with my memories."
"I didn't. I took good care of them."
"Now, did you?" Snape went to the bedside table and took something out of a drawer.
"Why is it then, that when I look at this ..." He presented his hand with the palm open. "... I don't know if you gave it to me, or if I took it after Lily had left the playground."
Harry swallowed. There on Snape's palm sat a flower, preserved and still beautiful, a flower Harry knew all too well and yet had never before seen in the real world.
"You kept it?" Harry said in wonder, gently touching Snape's hand.
"Of course I kept it. I'd have kept a cow-pat if you had given it to me."
"Get out." Snape withdrew his hand and put the flower back in the drawer. "Get dressed and get out, Potter. I don't want to see you again."
In the neighbourhood of Spinner's End, all streets looked the same. Harry walked with unseeing eyes, a blind man in a labyrinth of desolation. He woke from his stupor when a snowball hit his head. As far as Harry could see, the snow was untouched, his own footsteps the only signs of life. He heard mocking laughter in the distance, and, looming over the area like the middle finger of a giant, the derelict factory chimney told him to fuck off already.
Slowly, the streets changed. The windows weren't boarded or broken anymore, but decorated with ornaments and lights. The houses backed away from the pavement, allowing space for front gardens and roadside trees. Plastic reindeer lurked behind bushes, and Santas and snowmen greeted the passer-by with festive smiles.
Harry turned away from so much garishness in horror. Even the snow, glistening in the light of the early morning sun, seemed fake. He rounded another corner and paused to look about. Some of the buildings were strangely familiar. He remembered Severus standing in front of the little bakery for hours on end, telling Harry about the fantastic food at Hogwarts. Right across the street was the bus stop where they'd found shelter from the storm. It had changed its form and colour, but Harry recognised the old brick building to its left. He rushed along. A flower shop he was sure hadn't been there before, the white house with the flat roof, and there it was, a small metal gate. Harry gasped. He'd found the playground of Snape's memories.
The gate gave a tiny squeak of surprise, and Harry stepped resolutely through. Covered in snow, the place was different and familiar at the same time. More enormous than ever, the chestnut tree stretched its leafless branches where the sandpit had to be, and the benches and bushes reminded Harry of miniature alps.
The row of swings was unchanged. The dark figure on the middle swing moved slowly back and forth, the feet firmly planted on the ground. "What took you so long, Potter?" Snape said.
Harry stared in open-mouthed wonder at the man in front of him, whose black coat and Muggle trousers didn't do anything to make him fit better into the scenery. "What are you doing here?" Harry finally asked.
"I've been waiting for you."
"Do you remember everything?" Harry said.
"Most of the time."
Harry sat down on the swing next to Snape. "Listen, I'm sorry. I didn't want to -"
"Spare us your useless apologies. What's done is done. We have to live with it, and I intend to live well." Snape started to swing in earnest, pushing his long legs forward to gain height.
"What are your plans?" Harry asked.
"St. Mungo's offered me a position as a potions maker. The salary is high, and I'll have sufficient time for my own experiments."
Snape's hand brushed Harry's hair. "What do you want to do with your life, Potter?"
"I haven't planned that far ahead yet."
"Of course not." This time, Snape slapped Harry lightly on the head. Harry watched his face when he swung back. Snape didn't look angry at all.
"Hey. I'm going to take my NEWTs in June. Time enough to decide afterwards." Harry kicked off the ground, and they swung side by side.
"Very well, Potter. It's your life."
"You could call me Harry."
"I suppose you want to call me Severus?"
"As you wish, Harry."
Up and down they swung, up and down, higher and higher. Snow glistened on the ground, it glistened on the rooftops. The old chimney was only a blur in the gleaming sun. Harry stretched out his arms and his hand touched Severus's.
Ground, rooftops, chimney - the world dissolved into light.
"Let's go down to the river," Severus said.
Harry grinned. "Let's go."
Hand in hand, they jumped from the swing. It was a bit like flying.