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Escaping the Paradox

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Prologue

"Peterson, what do we have? Morgan sent me out to help," said Harry, crouching down beside him. The air had that moist dirt smell of rain. They were just beyond the wards of a run-down cabin in the Forest of Dean.

Milt Peterson shot him a grateful look. "We got a hostage situation. We think they're attempting a blood ritual to activate the device they nicked from that Dark Arts relic dealer."

Harry's stomach tightened. "Fuck. It's some kind of time device, isn't it?"

"As far as we've been able to figure out from the few scrolls we've found on it. We're not positive about what it does, but we're pretty sure it could transport a lot of people if they trigger it in a crowded place."

It started to drizzle and Peterson looked up at the sky in disgust. "I doubt we can use a rain-away spell right now."

"Probably not," Harry agreed. "Too likely to be detected. I've heard that the device needs a lot of Dark Magic to get it going."

"More than those idiots have, that's for sure. And that's the reason they need the hostage and the Dark ritual. We need to think about moving in on them." Peterson looked up at the sky again. "Aside from everything else, I have a date tonight."

Harry laughed. "Me, too."

"Hardly counts if you're engaged to the witch."

"Don't let Ginny hear you say that. She's expecting dinner out tonight." Harry smiled and patted his pocket. "We're going to look for a house tomorrow."

"Well done." Peterson grinned. "Finally set a date, have you?"

"Next summer." It started to rain harder and Harry looked back at the cabin. "We'd better get to it or we'll both be keeping our ladies waiting. Where are Johnson and Pickering?"

"Around the other side of the cabin, just beyond the wards. They want to try and take down the wards."

"It's not like they can do that and not alert them that we're on the way." Harry wasn't sure he could do it and he was stronger than all of them. Probably put together. "Maybe I can press a Stunning Spell through the wards."

Peterson nodded. "You should try --"

A scream rent the air.

"Fuck." Harry raised his wand. "Stupefy!" He pressed his power into the spell and towards the cabin. The whole thing was engulfed in light and the wards fell. "Let's go!"

He and Peterson ran for the cabin, and Johnson and Pickering came from the other side. Pickering got there first and kicked in the door. A witch was lying on the floor, a knife through her chest. Two wizards were lying beside her. The device was sitting on the table, smoking.

As Harry came through the door, his wand raised, the device exploded outward with a high pitched sound; a beam of blue light shot straight out. It hit Harry mid-chest and he didn't have a second to open his mouth to scream before the world went black.

*****
Part 1 - First Year

When Harry came to, he lay still, trying to assess the situation. There was a slight breeze blowing and it was warmer than it had been in the forest. He was lying on the ground, outside, rather than in the cabin.

"Are you all right?" an eerily familiar voice asked.

Harry opened his eyes, and then closed them again. Oh, sweet Merlin. Albus Dumbledore stood above him, but not the Dumbledore he'd known at school or even the one from his time in King's Cross. This one was visibly younger -- though how someone that old could look slightly younger, Harry wasn't sure.

One thing was immediately apparent: the younger Dumbledore didn't dress any better than the older Dumbledore. That shade of lime green could blind a person if they looked at it for too long.

"What happened?" asked Harry. "Am I dead?"

"I don't think so. Not unless I am as well." His voice was too amused for him to actually be thinking that he was dead.

Better not tell him that as far as Harry knew, he was dead. It might upset him. Harry opened his eyes again, praying he was ready to deal with this. He was lying at Dumbledore's feet in what appeared to be the garden beside the castle at Hogwarts.

"Are you injured? Can you move?" Dumbledore crouched beside him and put a hand on his arm.

It was solid enough. Harry tried to sit up, and while he managed to make his muscles obey him, they didn't do it willingly. "Ugh...."

"Where did you come from?" The question was casually asked, and Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling, but that didn't negate the subtle demand for an answer.

Harry wanted to answer him, a feeling he knew was foreign to him and something he could resist without much difficultly. "Where am I?"

Dumbledore's eyebrow rose a bit. "Have you never learned not to answer a question with another question?"

"You wouldn't be the first person to mention that. Maybe the better question would be when am I?" Which was as much as he would give until he knew what was going on.

Dumbledore's smile faded. "It's August of 1971. And you're at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry."

1971! Oh fuck. All the air raced out of Harry's lungs. God, that was, what, nine years before he'd been born. How in all seven hells was he going to find his way home? That time device would likely require another blood ritual. And Time-Turners only went one way. He'd probably have to find some other kind of device. If one actually existed. He was so screwed.

"Are you all right, m'boy?" Dumbledore's voice dragged him back to the present.

"Yes," Harry gasped. Of course he wasn't all right, probably wouldn't be for a long time to come. He needed Hermione. Who was out of reach. And so was Ron. And Ginny. And everyone and everything he'd ever known.

"Do you wish to lie down?" Dumbledore sounded concerned enough that Harry wondered what he looked like.

Sweat was starting to form in the small of Harry's back, and under his arms. He wanted nothing more than to lie back down and wake up from this nightmare at home. "I'm already on the ground."

"I was thinking more in terms of the infirmary, though Madam Pomfrey, our medi-witch, hasn't arrived yet."

Unfortunately, there wasn't anything in the infirmary that was going to help him. The library, perhaps, but he was pretty sure he wasn't going to get to that any time soon. "I think some tea might be a good idea. Or maybe a drink."

"I think I can offer both. Let me help you up." He took Harry's arm in a surprisingly strong grip and helped him to his feet.

"Thanks." Harry swayed a bit and then steadied himself. He followed Dumbledore into the school. His legs felt like lead and he tripped once, but Dumbledore caught him.

Dumbledore got him into his office, which looked remarkably similar to the one in Harry's time. He waved Harry to a seat. "Tea?"

"Please." Harry would've killed for a cuppa right now.

"Digby," Dumbledore called.

A house-elf popped into the office. "You is needing something, Headmaster?"

"Can you bring some tea for me and..." Dumbledore paused, clearly waiting for Harry to fill in the blank.

"Potter. Harry Potter." he said without thinking. Fuck. Telling Dumbledore his name might have repercussions in the future -- like when he came to Hogwarts, or even sooner, when he was born. God, he was going to have to watch every word he said to anyone in this time. And that had never been his forte.

"So it would seem," Dumbledore muttered, turning back to the elf. "Some tea for me and Mister Potter."

The elf was quick. Within a few minutes, Harry had a cup in his hands. He took a slow sip, letting the caffeine and warmth seep into his system. He still half-hoped that this was a dream he'd actually wake-up from.

"Would you care to tell me where you came from?" It was a bit more subtle this time, but Dumbledore's tone had that bit of push in it that begged an answer.

"You probably wouldn't believe me if I told you, and I'm not sure it would be a good idea if I did." Harry didn't know a lot about paradox theories, but he was pretty sure that he needed to be away from this time before he was born into it or something awful was going to happen. Just thinking about it made his head hurt.

"Perhaps. Who are you?"

"I told you I'm --"

"Clearly a Potter. And a powerful one at that."

"You can tell by just looking at me?"

Dumbledore chuckled. "That you're a Potter, absolutely. It's written on your face."

"No. I meant that I was powerful." He wondered if Dumbledore thought he was a threat, which would make sense.

"That, too," Dumbledore said, and met his eyes, pushing again, but it was clear he expected to be repelled.

Which Harry did. "That just means that I know some Occlumency."

"As I said," Dumbledore said, sitting back in his chair, "since it's common knowledge that Ignatius Potter had several illegitimate children, I can only assume you're one of them."

Dumbledore was giving him that. Harry nodded. "Yes. That's right. I was...educated at the Salem Institute. In the States."

"I'm surprised you retained such a distinctive accent."

Bugger. "I came home every summer holiday to stay with my mum until she died. She was a Muggle."

"Ah. So, you're familiar with the Muggle world?"

"Very much so." Harry had a feeling that Dumbledore knew he was lying, but he couldn't quite pinpoint why. "Why do you care?"

"I could be looking for someone to teach," Dumbledore paused, clearly having to think about it. "Muggle Studies."

"Why tell me?"

"Do you have a job yet?" Dumbledore's eyes had that glitter to them that always made Harry wonder what he was thinking.

"I just got here." Harry closed his eyes and then opened them again. "Forgive me for being blunt, but what is going on here?"

"Perhaps this could be beneficial for both of us," Dumbledore said.

Harry couldn't fathom what he was thinking. Why he would take such a risk? He said nothing, waiting.

Dumbledore wasn't smiling now. "I find out who you are and why you're here, and you get a job and a place to stay."

"You want to make sure I'm not a threat, don't you?" That was a lot more consistent with the Dumbledore Harry knew. "I could still be a Dark Wizard or just mad. How would you tell?"

"I sense that you are neither. But I'd like to make sure."

In the past, it had served him well to trust Dumbledore, but he couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. It was just too perfect. "Why help me at all? Why not just watch me?"

"You appeared to come through a portal which closed behind you. Into thin air. I'd like some explanation. I don't believe things simply happen without a reason."

Okay, so clearly he knew something was up. Unfortunately, it wasn't what he was hoping for. Harry couldn't help him this time. "I --"

Dumbledore waved his hand. "Tell me what you can."

"We were working on a Dark Magic case with a magical time device triggered by a Dark ritual."

"We?"

"I'm an Auror."

"I would have said that you don't look that old --"

"I'm twenty-three." Harry met his eyes and even though he knew it wasn't possible, it seemed that Dumbledore looked through him.

"But, looking into your eyes, I can see you're much older than you look. Much older than twenty-three. What have you seen in your short life?"

Life and death and everything in between. But Harry wasn't going to tell him that. "I shouldn't be here."

"I gathered as much, but unless you can tell me more than that, I can't help you." It was clear that for some reason, Dumbledore did want to help him.

"Maybe you shouldn't trust me. You don't know me. And no, I'm not ready to talk about it. Perhaps when I have more answers myself."

Dumbledore nodded. "Fair enough."

One of Harry's strengths was the ability to make a quick assessment of any given situation. Right now, he could detect nothing from Dumbledore that set off his alarms. Getting home would not be an easy task, and he needed a job to survive. Harry sighed. "I'll take that job. I'm assuming it will give me access to the Restricted Section of the library. I have some research to do."

"One thing. If you take the position, then I would ask you not to leave until the term is done. It's difficult to find a teacher mid-year," Dumbledore said.

"I agree." All that research would probably take him most of the way through the term anyway. He missed Hermione even more. But she'd be really proud of him when he figured it out on his own. "And thanks."

*****

Diagon Alley seemed different, still bustling with activity, but older looking, and a bit shabby. Everything had been rebuilt after the war, as if putting a shine on things could make things better. Perhaps it had. As Harry walked along, he recognized no one, but several people did a double take when they saw him. Madam Malkin's was still right on the Alley.

"Sir," she said brightly as he came in. "What kind of robes can I show you?"

"I need several sets of good quality teaching robes." When he'd been taken he'd had enough galleons shrunken in his pocket for a down payment on a house. Merlin, Ginny was probably worried sick about him right now. His chest tightened. When he got home, he'd make it up to her.

"Are you teaching at Hogwarts, then?" She smiled. "A Potter?"

"Yes." He was surprised she'd asked. "Harry Potter. I'm teaching Muggle Studies."

He'd looked over last year's curriculum and decided not to change it much. The lesson plans were another issue. They were all due to Dumbledore by the end of the week and he hadn't even started on them.

He'd already made one trip to Flourish and Blotts for books on Muggle culture. Unfortunately, The Truth About The Muggle World: From Tellyphones to Tellyvision had been inaccurate enough that he'd recognized it as such. Another trip to the bookstore was in order today.

"What do you think of these?" She had brought out several styles of robes, in several colors. Merlin, did anyone actually wear that shade of teal to teach in?

His first thought was for Gryffindor colors, but he was teaching all houses. "How about the dark red, and dark green and maybe black?"

"Very good. Why don't you hop up on the dais here, and I'll fit you?" She knelt and pulled out her wand to charm the hem. "Will you be needing other robes?"

"You know, I probably will need some. Maybe some plain day robes, in those same colors?" He should probably go into Muggle London for jeans and trainers. Maybe a jumper or two. As much as he complained about them, he missed the warmth of Molly's jumpers. When he got home, he'd never complain about them again.

"I'll have these sent up to Hogwarts?" She was already moving away towards the back again. "I have several other styles --"

The door opened and a thin woman came in with a small boy. They both had greasy hair and patched robes. There was something vaguely familiar about them, but Harry couldn't place what.

"Mrs. Snape." Madam Malkin's bright tone had become edgier. "I'm sorry. I haven't been able to find second-hand robes to fit the boy."

Eileen Snape, which made the little boy.... Oh Fuck. As he watched, her shoulders slumped. "I can't --"

"I know. I'm sorry. I wish there was something I could do. I've asked around, but... maybe you can find something at Oxfam?"

"Thank you anyway," she said, defeated. "I'll have to charm my school robes to fit him."

"What if he isn't sorted --"

"Oh, he'll be in Slytherin," Eileen said as if it were a foregone conclusion. She didn't smile when she said it.

Snape was looking at the floor like he wished it would swallow him up. Harry knew that look. He'd felt it so many times as a kid when he wanted something and it was denied. Embarrassed for the poor boy, Harry cleared his throat.

"Oh, Mr. Potter, I'll be right with you." Madam Malkin hurried off.

Eileen turned towards the door. "Come along, Severus --"

"Mrs. Snape," Harry said. "I'm Harry Potter. You probably don't remember me, do you?"

She looked wary, and tired. Like she couldn't deal with much else. "No. I'm sorry. I don't remember you."

"Years ago, your father was very kind to me. He helped me out of a situation --"

"What situation was that?" Snape asked, his tone clearly saying he knew Harry was lying.

"Hush, Severus," Eileen said. "What can I do for you?"

"I'd like to return that kindness. Can I pay for Sna...Severus' robes?"

"Why would you want to do that?" She didn't ask what was in it for him, but it was pretty clear from the look on her face that she was thinking it.

"I believe that if someone is kind to you, you should be kind to someone else." And while he didn't care that much for the man this little boy would become, he owed him more than he could ever repay. One of the things he'd regretted when all was said and done was that he'd never got a chance to make peace with Snape.

Snape snorted. "You should be kind to the person who was kind to you."

"Well, your grandfather was kind to me, but he's not here. Will you allow me to pass on the favor to you?" He smiled his best smile at her.

Madam Malkin came back in; when she caught sight of Eileen and Severus still standing in her shop, she looked a bit annoyed. "I said --"

"I was just telling Mrs. Snape that it would be an honor for me to see Severus outfitted for school."

Both Eileen and Madam Malkin choked. "Thank you," Eileen said.

"What do you want in return?" Snape asked, radiating suspicion.

"For now, nothing. However, if you want to do something, you can do well in your classes and I'll consider it repayment."

"I can't believe you don't want something more than that." Snape folded his arms over his chest and gave a pretty good imitation of his nasty teacher scowl. For some reason, it made Harry feel even more sorry for him.

"Sometimes that's enough," Eileen said and turned to Madam Malkin, "One set of school robes, if you please."

"Actually, why don't you let me outfit him with everything he needs? He's probably growing so fast that you have a hard time keeping up." He looked over at a stunned-looking Madam Malkin. "Can you put a charm on the robes so that they last for the whole year, even if he hits a growth spurt?"

She nodded. "It costs a bit more."

"That's okay."

Snape's expression was pure suspicion as he stepped up onto the dais, but Eileen looked grateful. Harry could live with that.

*****

"You asked to see me?" Harry said, coming into Dumbledore's office. The message had been a bit too cryptic for him to figure out if he'd done something wrong or not. He couldn't think of anything he might have done, but that didn't mean he hadn't violated some unwritten rule.

"I understand that you bought new robes and books for Severus Snape this afternoon." Dumbledore waved him to a seat by the fire and sat down himself.

"Word travels fast, doesn't it? I've only now returned from Diagon Alley." Harry sat and shook his head at the offered sweets. "Is there a problem with that?"

"No. I'm just curious as to why. There are many needy students here. Why him?" There was something vaguely disapproving in Dumbledore's tone.

"Would you believe me if I told you because he was there?" Harry asked. Dumbledore didn't need to know that there was a history with him and Snape, and maybe, the Snape he knew wouldn't even come to be.

Changing Snape's present meant possibly changing the future as well. The consequences might be grave. He probably shouldn't be thinking about Snape, but it was hard not to feel compassion for a man who'd served so well and literally got nothing but heartache and death for his efforts.

With a faint frown on his face, Dumbledore stared at Harry. "I sense there is more there than simply a random act of kindness."

Of course he did. "Possibly," Harry hedged. "It's also possible that I have been poor enough in my life and wanted some things badly enough that I would be willing to give them to someone else. My lot was made better by random kindness. Perhaps I am only passing it along."

"A noble thought, I'm sure. And you don't wish to tell me, I can appreciate that."

Harry rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. "It's not that I don't, exactly. I just don't want to give too much information away yet. I hope to find my way home this summer."

That earned him a sharp look. "And who will buy Mr. Snape's robes next year?"

"If he does well this year, then I'll make sure there is money for his robes." New robes and books wouldn't make a huge difference in the long run, but it might be enough for Snape to find some joy at school.

"I hadn't realized you felt that strongly about it."

"It puts him on an equal footing with the other students. He won't stand out as much or for the wrong reasons."

"That may not help him as much as you might hope it would. He comes from abject poverty. That is likely to leave its mark on him as much as starting school in patched robes."

"Poverty, I can't fix. The other I could. And did. Is there a problem with it?" Because really, Dumbledore should be grateful that one of his students would have a bit of a hand up.

"No, of course not. But I worry that you're starting down a path that won't do either of you any good."

"I've always felt that --" No, he was not going to tell Dumbledore that maybe if someone had mentored Snape along the way, he might not have ended up in quite the dire misery he had. With any luck at all, Harry wouldn't be here beyond his first year.

Dumbledore gave him another hard look and then sighed. Even in the few weeks that Harry had been in this time, he'd noticed that Dumbledore knew when to pull back and when to push forward. It was something he'd missed completely as a child.

*****

Harry crossed the barrier for Platform nine and three-quarters, running late, of course. He was supposed to meet the older prefects just now. It would be interesting to be on the train as a chaperone. Dumbledore had told him it would be a good way to get to know the children. He hurried onto the platform, looking around. The prefects were grouped together near the head of the train.

"Good morning," he said. "I'm Professor Potter. Your chaperone for this year. Tell me your names, and I promise I won't remember any of them."

A couple of them laughed.

A tall, thin girl in elegant robes stepped forward and held out her hand. "I'm Eloise Haybert, and this is Bruno Daniel." She nodded to the hulking boy who towered over him. "We're Head Boy and Head Girl for this year."

Eloise was Ravenclaw, and Bruno was a Hufflepuff. Between them, they introduced all the other prefects so quickly that Harry only caught a couple of their names. One name he did catch was Lucius Malfoy.

Harry bit back a reply and clenched his hand in his pocket for a moment before he shook the hand that Malfoy offered. With his hair school-boy short, and his body thin rather than filled out as the adult had been, Malfoy looked more like Draco than the man Harry remembered. "It's good to meet you, Mr. Malfoy."

The look Malfoy gave him said he didn't believe it, but he smiled. "And you, sir. What subject are you teaching?"

"Muggle Studies. And I'll also be coaching Quidditch part-time."

Malfoy sneered, but at Harry's sharp look, seemed to think better of whatever it was he was going to say.

Harry smiled at the rest of them. "This is standard procedure for all of you. We are here to make sure all of the first years make it to the platform, especially the Muggle-borns." He glared at Malfoy's snort.

"I have the list of them," Eloise said, smiling. "I'll make sure we don't lose anyone."

"Thank you," Harry said. "I'll see you all on the train."

*****

Harry watched as the prefects herded the various groups of children onto the train, making sure their luggage got to the right places. Several first years were fighting back tears at leaving their parents for the first time. He hadn't expected it to be quite as complicated as it was. When he'd been riding the train to school, he'd never even thought about the coordination that was required to get everyone where they were going.

He turned around and saw Eileen Snape and Severus hurrying through the barrier. Eileen was sporting a black eye, and it was clear she was moving with some difficulty. Her cheeks were flushed, and Harry wanted to say something, but her look pleaded with him not to.

"Mrs. Snape. Severus. It's good to see you both."

"Mr. Potter," Eileen said, not looking at him. "Thank you again for --"

Snape groaned. He was already wearing the new robes, but his hair was greasy and his ancient luggage looked to be held together by the strap around it.

"Why don't we get your trunk stored on the train?" Harry pulled his wand and spelled the trunk to follow him.

"Follow Mr. Potter, and do what he says," Eileen said, and kissed his cheek. "I've got to get to work."

"I'll make sure he gets on the train."

She nodded and then hurried off.

Snape's face was outraged. "I told her I could have come by myself. She didn't have to walk me in like a baby."

How many times had Harry wished for someone to see him off at the train? "She cares about you, you know?"

Snape glanced up at him. "I do know that. But...."

Harry forced a laugh. "Let's get you situated." He led the way and Snape's trunk bobbed along behind them. "Eloise."

She turned. "Yes, sir."

"This is Severus Snape. Can you see that his luggage gets on the train?"

Eloise looked down at Snape and smiled at him. "Well, it's nice to meet you, Snape." She bent a bit and held out her hand. "I'm Eloise Haybert."

"Good to meet you, too. Miss Haybert." He solemnly shook her hand.

"Eloise or Haybert. If you don't know someone, just use their last name until they give you leave to use their given name. The teachers are the only ones to call us by Mr. or Miss."

"Thanks, Eloise." Snape smiled at her.

She looked down at him. "Maybe you'll be sorted into Ravenclaw."

Snape looked down, his face red. "I don't think so."

"Why not?" Harry asked.

"My mum says I'll be sorted into Slytherin." And he said it as if he didn't want to be.

That was a surprise. But given that he was a half-blood, and poor, maybe it wasn't. "Well, if you don't want to be in Slytherin, then just tell the Sorting Hat that you don't want to be there."

Eloise laughed. "Would that work?"

"I have it on good authority that it will." Harry looked down at Snape. "You can be whatever you want to be."

Snape looked at him disbelievingly, but not without some small amount of hope. "I don't think so."

"You've got nothing to lose if you try, right?" Eloise said. "Let's get you on board."

*****

"Excuse me, Professor Potter." Someone tapped his shoulder. Harry turned around and was face to face with someone who looked like Harry would in about forty or fifty years. Harry hadn't realized that green eyes were on both sides of his family. "Sir?"

"I'm Edward Potter --"

"And I'm James Potter," James said, his chest puffed out.

"Don't interrupt Daddy, James. I'm Rose," Rose said. She was strikingly beautiful, and elegantly dressed. In a way, she reminded Harry of Narcissa Malfoy. Not so much in the way she looked -- she was small, and her hair was dark brown -- but in her bearing. As if she'd known her place in the world from birth.

James also seemed to know his place in the world. And right now, it looked like he thought he was the center of the universe. Harry had tried to prepare himself for this meeting, but even knowing it was coming didn't make it any less bizarre. Clearly, this wasn't his father, not yet, just a spoilt eleven-year-old.

Edward cleared his throat. "I hope you don't mind the presumption, but I can't help but notice your name and the way you look..."

Fuck. Harry hadn't expected to be faced down quite like this. He'd really thought that everyone would ignore the issue. "I'm not going to cause you any trouble, if that's what you're worried about --"

"No, no, not at all," Edward said quickly, shaking his head. "That wasn't what I meant. It's just that I thought you might be related to me. And clearly you know that you are. Are you one of my brother children? Ignatius' son?"

"Not that he would have claimed me as such." Harry made it sound like he was resigned to it. How he hated having to lie, but there was no way around it. He needed to have a background and this one was just too convenient to ignore.

"He wouldn't have claimed any of his illegitimate children, more's the pity." Surprisingly, Edward's manner and tone said he disapproved of his brother's actions in that regard.

Harry's estimation of his grandfather went up a notch. "Probably not a half-blood like me, anyway."

"Your mother was a Muggle? Or Muggle-born?" Rose asked, but she too sounded like she was actually interested in him as a potential family member rather than an interloper.

"Muggle. She died a few years ago. He, Ignatius, paid for Salem Institute for me."

"Better than he did for the others," Edward said. "I'm glad. Maybe he learned something about responsibility or compassion as he got older. You're the youngest by far."

They seemed willing to accept him without question. Harry found that...so unlikely. He'd never thought they'd want to have anything to do with him. "How many others are there?"

"There were four that I know about." And clearly Edward thought there might be more.

"And what happened to them?" Harry asked carefully. His Auror instincts on high alert.

"They have all left Wizarding Britain. Two were non-magical, brother and sister, and are living in Germany. I couldn't even find out their names. But Tamara Talbot went to Australia. And I'm not sure what happened to Bradford Hanta -- he's disappeared completely. Of course, he sent you to the States."

"As I said, I won't cause you any problems. I need to see the rest of the children to the train." Harry took a step back, and looked hopefully in that direction.

Edward didn't seem to want to let Harry escape. "I'd like to talk to you again about this. Did you meet him before he died?"

"No." Harry shook his head. "I never did."

"If I came to Hogsmeade, would you have lunch or dinner with me?"

"Yes. I'd like that." The thought of knowing his family crackled through him. But it would be a mixed blessing. He'd have to lie to these good people.

The train whistle blew. "Let's get you on board, James," Harry said. "You can take his trunk over there."

"I'm taking my cat with me." James held up his black cat. It was huge and hissed at Harry. It reminded him of Crookshanks.

"Good idea," Harry said, leading James to the steps to get onto the train.

"I need to go. Don't I, Professor Potter?" James looked imploringly at him.

"Say a proper good bye to your mum and dad."

His parent's hugged and kissed him while he squirmed like any embarrassed eleven-year-old.

*****

All of the other teachers had told him the first week was the hardest. And it wasn't that Harry didn't believe them, either. He just hadn't expected it to be that hard. Harry made it to Saturday only by the skin of his teeth.

He settled at one of the big tables in the library and started to pull out the books he'd been using. His hope that he'd find an easy solution was gone within the first few days of starting his research. There weren't that many time devices and the ones he'd found bore no resemblance to the device that'd sent him here. Most of them, like Time-Turners, went back in time, but not forward. It was infinitely harder to go forward because the future was always shifting with each decision made.

This past week, he'd been too tired to do more than flip the pages of the most recent book he was reading.

"What are you researching?" Severus asked him, sitting down at the same table without an invitation.

There was no point in lying about it. "Ways to travel through time."

"Why would you be interested in that?" Severus asked, and clearly he thought it was a foolish notion.

Harry tried hard not to smile at his look. "Why not?"

Snape looked up at him. "You just want to know?"

"You think that's unlikely?"

"I think you're more of a doer than a reader."

Severus was more perceptive than Harry would have guessed. He smiled. "That's true enough. How did you know?"

"It just seems that way." Severus opened his book and then sighed.

"How are your classes?" Harry asked when Severus didn't go back to his reading.

"Good. I guess you know that I was sorted into Ravenclaw."

"The badge on your robes was my first clue."

Severus actually cracked a smile. "I took your advice about the hat."

"You asked it not to sort you into Slytherin?"

"It said I was ambitious enough for Slytherin, but that I was also brave and that I loved to learn new things. It asked which I liked best."

"And you said to learn new things?"

"I said I didn't want to be in Slytherin. My mum was surprised."

"I'll bet she was. Now, it's getting kind of late, don't you have to get back to your common room?"

"I need to read this." He nodded towards the open book.

Harry wasn't fooled. "When is it due?"

"Next week."

"Bed."

Severus scowled at him, but put his books away before he ran off.

*****

"So, Harry, how has your week been?" McGonagall asked, sitting down in one of the comfortable chairs in the teacher's lounge with a huge sigh.

"Wake me up in the spring, okay, Minerva?" Harry found it odd to call his teachers by their first names, but they'd all asked him to do so.

McGonagall chuckled. "That bad, is it?"

"No. It's just hectic and I've got the most bizarre mix of liberal purebloods and clueless Muggle-borns. Everyone wants to correct me. I suspect the books aren't as correct as we'd like."

"I thought you were Muggle-born."

"I'm a half-blood. But Muggle-raised. And clearly not nearly as informed as I thought I was." Well, that was hardly surprising since even when he'd been in the Muggle world, he hadn't seen much of it. At the very least, his information was twenty years out of date.

"Are you following the syllabus?"

"Yes. Next year, if I stay, I'm going to find a better book."

"Good idea. I've always thought this class could use an overhaul, but there's been no one to do it. I believe the text you're using is from the turn of the century."

"Pretty close, actually. I didn't see it until I arrived, and then it was too late to do anything about it."

"Any standout students?"

"Not yet. What about you?" he asked.

"Of the first years, there are a few good ones. Lily Evans for one," McGonagall said.

"Since I don't get them until third year, I haven't had a lot of dealings with first years. I've run into a few during patrols and that's about it."

Her mouth tightened a bit. "And from the sound of what you're not saying, not in a good way."

"James Potter and Sirius Black are a handful separately, together, they are..." Harry shook his head, words failing him. "I'd like to spank both of them."

At McGonagall's horrified expression, he laughed. "Oh, I wouldn't do it, but I can fantasize, can't I?"

"A young man your age should be fantasizing about something else." She wiggled her eyebrows at him.

The pain in his chest that never quite faded flared sharply. He looked away. "Yeah, you're probably right."

"Oh, dear. I'm sorry --"

"No. I recently lost my fiancée and I'm not quite over it yet." He hoped he would find his way home somehow. This must be so hard on Ginny, Harry thought. At least she had her family to support her. Except in the most oblique of ways, he didn't even have someone he could talk to about her or any of his lost friends.

"I'm sorry." She sighed. "It's tough sometimes. Is that why you came here to teach?"

"Among other things. I'm still hoping it will work out, and then I'll be able to go home." Even though he'd settled into this life, he couldn't bear to think about having to stay forever.

"I hadn't realized you didn't plan to stay." McGonagall sounded faintly disapproving, as if teaching for only one term wasn't done.

"I'm not sure what I'm planning at this point." Harry sighed. That he wasn't making more progress identifying the device was a constant source of frustration for him.

"So, tell me about Mr. Black and Mr. Potter. They drive you mad, yes?"

"Black knows virtually nothing about the Muggle world, but makes disparaging jokes about it anyway. James is a bit better. But together they are a handful."

In general, Harry didn't have a lot of problem with discipline, but both James and Sirius pushed him to the limit. James seemed to think that because Harry was his cousin, he should be granted special privileges. And was quite displeased to learn that Harry treated everyone the same. "Potter rides roughshod over everyone and Black eggs him on."

"I suspect they are both just high-spirited, but they are both good boys." McGonagall's smile dimmed a bit. "I've noticed you've taken an interest in Severus Snape. He's as sly as a fox, that boy. I'm surprised he wasn't sorted into Slytherin."

Harry did not appreciate her tone and frowned. "I think he's a good boy, too. And a very smart one."

"I don't argue his intelligence, but there's something about him --"

"Poverty isn't a crime," Harry said, probably more sharply than he needed to.

She looked at him and then down at her hands. "No, of course not. I can see that you've championed him."

"I think he has a lot to offer, and if someone points him in the right direction, he'll use it for good rather than something else." And with that, Harry stood up. He had nothing else to say on the subject, so he left the room.

*****

"Thank you for meeting me," Edward said as he stood and held out his hand.

"I'm intrigued that you asked. I mean...." Harry looked away.

"No. I understand." Edward cleared his throat. "You're my nephew. I'd like for you to be a part of my family."

Harry wanted that. He wanted to get to know his grandfather, even if it were in these circumstances. "Why? Why would you even care? Why now?"

"You mean after all this time? I only found out about all of you right before Ignatius died." Edward sighed. "I came into his office at the Ministry and one of his children, Miss Talbot, was leaving. I confronted him about it, and he did worse than deny it. He said that he didn't actually consider her a person because her mother was a Muggle."

That was so horrible. Harry could not conceive of having a child and rejecting him or her so thoroughly. For any reason. "Oh. I don't know what to say." Harry looked down. "I'm grateful for the education he provided me. Even if I never met him."

"I was appalled by his attitude, but there was nothing I could do until he died. Since his wife had died before him, all of his assets came back to me. I made a point of tracking down the children that I'd known about. But none of them wanted anything to do with me. I don't blame them. It was just happenstance that you showed up at Hogwarts when you did."

"Right. I don't want anything from you monetarily. But I wouldn't mind...." A family. He missed the Weasleys, all of them, like a severed limb. For the first time in thirteen years, he would be completely alone at Christmas. Why that should be the thing that cut so deeply, when his whole world was gone, Harry couldn't say. "I've never had much of a family."

Edward smiled. "I would like that. I would like to get to know you. You seem like such a good boy."

Harry tried not to bristle at the use of the word "boy." He wasn't quite old enough to find it amusing yet.

"Oh, don't look like that. At my age, you tend to think of anyone as young as you are as a boy. I know you're responsible for yourself, and probably have been for longer than you should have been."

Harry laughed. It was hard to stay annoyed at someone who was so genial. "Right then. I'd like to get to know you and Rose, too."

"James is part of the package, too, you know."

"Of course. He's a --"

"Handful? Rose and I know it. And we make it worse by spoiling him. But," Edward shrugged, "he's our son. And we waited a long time for him to come along. That really is a problem with the wizarding world. Purebloods are far too inbred. We're having fewer and less powerful children. I'm going to encourage James to marry a Muggle-born. Then he's got a shot at powerful children."

Harry wanted to tell him that it worked. But he just smiled. "I expect you're right. James seems powerful enough."

"He's as powerful as any pureblood child, but he's not nearly as powerful as, say, a half-blood."

A very young Rosmerta came and took their order, and lunch arrived quickly.

"I understand you've taken to mentoring young Severus Snape," Edwards said after a few mouthfuls of his lunch.

Harry choked on his stew. "What? How did you hear that? And what possible difference could it make?"

"Surely you realize that you live in a small community. Madam Malkin mentioned it to Rose that very day. She was taken with your generosity."

"Oh. Well, I know what it's like to want something and be denied."

"I'm sorry. I'm sure you do. But it was a gallant gesture."

"I like Severus. He's quite bright and I'm hoping starting him off on the right path will help him."

"He comes from such an impoverished background that you will need to do more than buy his books and robes."

"How do you know so much about him?"

Edward looked at him and sighed. "It's a small community. And I mean all of Wizarding Britain. His mother was one of us."

"If that is so, why didn't anyone try to help her?"

"She wouldn't take it. Her father was not wealthy, but the Prince name is old and respected. She was determined to marry Tobias Snape and her father said he'd disown her if she did. She is as stubborn as he was. And most people seem to feel that she's made her bed, so she should lie in it."

"That's harsh, considering how uncomfortable the bed is. Or she might have got out of it by now."

"I understand that some of her friends tried to help, but she wouldn't take any aid. And she could have gone home and taken Severus with her. Her father died only two years ago. That he'd never seen his grandson was a heartache for him."

"He could have left him something." Harry knew that was a long shot.

"Truthfully, aside from a crumbling Manor house, there wasn't a lot left of the Prince estate. And what there was went to a cousin. I never said he wasn't as stubborn as she was."

"I guess Severus comes by it honestly."

"Do you know him well?"

"I'm doing some research, and he spends a lot of time in the library."

"I'd heard he was quite bright."

"He borders on brilliant. But he's got other issues."

"I'm sure he does. The robes and books will no doubt help, but nothing is going to erase the life he had before he came to Hogwarts."

Harry knew that very well. But he could help and he would.

*****

Two days before the start of the Christmas holidays, Harry finally found time to get back to the library. Between school work to grade and Quidditch practice and endless detentions, there wasn't time for him to sleep some weeks, let alone do detailed research. He wanted his life back and he wasn't finding the information he needed.

If he were home, he'd be having Christmas with the Weasleys. Molly would put out a spread that would make the table groan. Ron and Hermione would be there, snogging in the corner. Bill and Fleur. When he'd left, Victoire had been born and they were talking about another child. Andromeda and little Teddy. And Ginny. Damn. He took a deep breath to ease the tightness in his chest.

He'd promised to stay at school for a week to help out with the children who weren't going home, but he was spending Christmas with the Potters. The invitation came as something of a surprise; though he'd enjoyed his lunch with Edward quite a bit, he hadn't expected much from them.

"Professor Potter," Severus' voice penetrated his reverie.

"Mr. Snape, isn't it a bit late for you to be haunting the library?"

"I'm working on a paper that's due tomorrow. I wanted to add more to it." Severus glanced at his books. "Still working on time travel?"

"Yes, I am." Harry looked up at him and sighed. Severus' hair was particularly greasy today and he'd heard the older children tease him about it more than once. Maybe it wasn't his place, but someone had to say something. "Mr. Snape. You should wash your hair."

Severus' face turned red and he looked down. "What difference does it make? It's my hair, not yours."

"Yes. It certainly is, but your classmates and I must look at it."

"Then don't."

"Would you rather I not talk to you?" Harry knew that was a risk, but it might drive home the point to him.

Severus' eyes flashed with anger, and for a second, he thought Severus might explode. "I want to talk to you."

"I'm glad you feel that way. I like talking to you, too. But you still have to wash your hair."

"It's not that I don't want to, it's --"

"Just that there wasn't always shampoo to do it with?" Harry knew exactly what that was like. He'd used whatever came his way in terms of toiletries because the Dursleys would not buy him anything. When he went back to the Dursleys' for the summer holiday, he'd taken enough with him to last a month or more, and then he'd hoard what was there to last until the fall.

"When we didn't have any, Mum said that I should just rinse my hair with water." Severus' face was red, and his tone had dropped to a whisper.

"I know. But there is plenty of shampoo and soap at Hogwarts and I think you should make a point of using it. Really."

"I know I should, but I hate for people to tell me what to do."

Harry bit his lip not to smile. He could see the adult so clearly in the child. "I'm telling you and it's in your best interests to listen to me. I won't lie to you."

"Everyone lies." Severus was too damned young to know that with so much certainty.

"You're right, most people do lie. But I'll try not to lie to you." But he would. For as long as he was here. That bit hard into Harry's conscience.

"Try." Severus looked skeptical. "That's not nearly the same thing."

"No it's not. But sometimes, that's all you can have."

Severus seemed to think about it for a moment. "I guess you're right."

*****

Harry wasn't sure what he was expecting as he Flooed into the Potter home. From all that he'd heard and what he'd known in his own time, the Potters were quite well off and a mansion would not have been out of the question. While the house was large and beautifully decorated, it wasn't on the scale of Malfoy Manor, for which he was grateful.

"Come in. Can I get you an eggnog or something stronger?" Rose said as she ushered him into the drawing room. Large and airy, the room had bookcases lining one wall, and a large fire burned brightly along another. French doors led out to a patio and Harry could see a lit garden beyond it.

"Eggnog," Harry said, handing her the presents he'd bought for all of them. Buying something for James had turned out to be a bit more complicated since he was one of Harry's students. He'd settled for a book on Quidditch that had just come out. "Am I early?"

"Not at all," Edward said, coming in and holding out his hand. "It's good to see you again, Harry."

"And you, sir." Harry wondered if it were rude to ask if anyone else was coming. He'd thought this was going to be a party.

"Christmas Eve has always been just for the family. Unfortunately, there's not much family left on either side, I'm afraid." Edward looked down and sighed. "My father's brother Charlus married Dora Black and they had only one son, Devlin. He's in Romania raising dragons."

Like Charlie. Harry smiled at that. Oh wait, Charlie hadn't been born yet.

"He'll be here tomorrow for the day. But it's hard for him to get away right now. This is their breeding season."

"I would have thought it was the spring." Not that Harry knew much about dragons, except to be very wary of them.

"Apparently the breed of dragon he works with needs to be closed in a barn to hatch their eggs. And they prefer to do it in the winter." Edward smiled. "Devlin is a lovely boy --"

"He's hardly a boy," Rose said with a smile. "He must be close to forty."

"I expect you're right, m'dear," Edward said.

"As I was saying, aside from him, there wasn't anyone until James came along. And he was a bit of a surprise."

James appeared at the door. "Why was I a surprise? You had to have been pregnant for a few months. I couldn't have been a surprise."

Rose shrugged. "I was a bit old to find myself pregnant. But I was very, very happy about it."

"Of course you were," James said. "You got me."

"Yes we did."

James took that as his due, and sat down for a moment before jumping up. "I'm going to go and see if Sirius can come over tomorrow."

"Shouldn't he be with his family?" Edward asked.

"I don't think he likes his family very much. They believe all that pureblood stuff." James closed the door behind him.

"He's a whirlwind, isn't he?" Harry hoped he sounded neutral. James tried his patience to the limit. After getting to know the child, it had been surprisingly easy not to think of him as his parent. It might get harder as James aged, but for now, he, Harry, was the adult and James was the child.

"It's all we can do to keep up with him." Rose sighed. "As Edward was saying, you and James are all there is of this generation."

"You don't consider the rest of Ignatius' children as part of this generation, but you do me?"

Edward shook his head. "If they took the Potter name, I could claim them as kin." He held up a hand. "I completely understand why they reject it. They have been shabbily treated. I doubt I would want the name of a man who so thoroughly rejected me, either. You're the only exception."

"Well," Harry said, looking down. He hated lying. "He did pay for school. And my mum wanted me to have his name. I think because I looked so like him."

"All of his children look like him. But he refused to acknowledge anyone who was a Muggle as a real person. Even when he produced magical children with them." Edward shook his head, sounding perplexed by the notion.

"I don't understand that thinking," Harry said. There were far too many people who still thought that way, even after Voldemort.

"I don't either," Edward said.

"I think that's a bigger surprise." And one of the few completely pleasant ones Harry had had since arriving in this time.

"Not really. There are many people, purebloods included, who believe that all people have worth. Dumbledore attracts them."

"I guess he does at that." Dumbledore was amazingly consistent; Harry would say that for him.

"Speaking of Dumbledore and Hogwarts," Rose said, "how do you like teaching?"

That wasn't subtle, but Harry let it go. He didn't want to think about what Voldemort was doing, or he might be inclined to do something about it. And he wanted to go home, to his home and time someday. "I'm rather surprised at how much I do like it."

Edward's brow creased. "You took a job, thinking you wouldn't like it? Were you that desperate?"

"Not desperate quite like that. However, the job sort of fell into my lap, as it were, and I would have been a fool not to take it."

"Is there something you'd rather do?" The question was oh so casually asked, but it was clear that Edward wanted to help him.

"Actually, not now. I might have wanted to cont...be an Auror, but now, I'm quite happy to be teaching. I like having an active role in helping shape the way the children think." And he genuinely liked most of the children, especially the younger ones. They had the attention span of a gnat a lot of the time, but they were usually eager to learn -- especially if they were in his class, which wasn't required.

*****

Harry put several books down on the table where Severus was sitting. Despite the late hour, the library was packed. And he was sure Severus wouldn't mind sharing his table.

Severus looked up, and his eye was black.

"How did you get that black eye?" With some difficulty, Harry managed to keep his voice even. It was painfully obvious where he'd got the injury.

"What? Not how was your holiday, Mr. Snape? Just an explanation that might --" He stopped, realizing he was probably about to cross the line.

Somehow even with that scowl, he didn't look that angry. "You're right. How was your holiday, Mr. Snape?"

"It was fine."

"How did you get --"

"It's fine. Okay. If I wanted to tell you about it, I would have done." Severus looked down at his book, studiously ignoring Harry.

"Mr. Snape, I think you're skirting the line here." Harry gave him a hard look and held it until Severus looked down. "Now, how did you get the black eye?"

"My father hit me," Severus spat out, angry now. "Are you satisfied?"

Although spanking an unruly child sometimes helped, Harry didn't approve of it. Punching a twelve-year-old in the eye was not acceptable in any civilized society, no matter what the offense. Harry took a breath and forced down his need to curse Tobias Snape. "No. I'm rather upset by this. Why didn't your mother heal you?"

"Because if she did, my father would have just done it again. Do you know how much I hate Muggles? I hate them --"

"It wasn't all Muggles who did this. Just one specific one." Harry could see he wasn't going to make headway on this right now. "Why didn't you go see Madam Pomfrey?"

Severus shrugged. "I meant to go yesterday when I got back, but I never got the chance."

"I'd say it was time for you to go, right now." Harry made it an order.

"I'm busy." Severus looked pointedly down at his parchment. "It will keep."

"Mr. Snape, now."

Severus stood up and scowled again. "See, this is why I didn't want to talk about it in the first place."

"Right. Some mean and inconsiderate teacher might make you go and get your injured eye fixed."

That didn't even get a smile from Severus.

"Go." Harry nodded towards the door.

*****

Unlike most terms when Harry had been a student, the end of the school term had snuck up on him. He'd never considered the level of effort involved in teaching and grading until he was doing it. And as much as he did enjoy it, the amount of detailed work was staggering.

"Mr. Snape. Don't you have a train to catch?" Harry asked, looking up from his final grading to see Severus standing in the doorway of his office.

"I've got a bit of time. I wanted to..." Severus took a breath. "To thank you."

Pure pleasure washed over Harry. It was wonderful to see Severus starting to develop social skills. Maybe he wouldn't end up the bitter, anti-social man Harry had known. "It was my pleasure. Since you got top marks all year. I'll meet you in August in Diagon Alley to buy next year's robes and books."

Severus looked gobsmacked and then more suspicious than Harry had seen him look in a long time. "Why would you do that?"

"Didn't I say I would pay for your books and robes if you did well in school?" If everything went well, and he did manage to find a way home this summer, Harry would make arrangements with Dumbledore to see that Severus had what he needed for the rest of his years at Hogwarts. He'd always be on a level playing field with his classmates. What he did after that would be his choice.

"But you didn't really mean it. I mean, why would you?"

He looked right at Severus. "Because I know what it's like to be without. I know what it's like to never measure up because you don't have what other people have."

"But..." Severus trailed off. "What's in it for you?"

"The satisfaction of knowing I've done something good for someone else. A lot of people did help me, and I'm paying them back through you."

"I don't understand that."

"I know you don't. I guess you'll just have to accept it as one of my many quirks. As long as you do well, I'll see that you have new books and new robes at the beginning of every year."

Severus stood there for a moment or two, his brow creased. "All right," he said finally. "Thank you."

*****
Part 2 - Third Year

"Harry," Dumbledore said, as Harry came up the steps of Hogwarts. "I'm sorry you had to come back under such dreadful circumstances."

"I know. It's awful. I just can't believe that Edward was killed like that." Harry followed Dumbledore into the castle and then up into his office. He put his pack down on the table.

"Unfortunately, he was a pureblood with views that were unpopular in some circles."

Harry heard what he was saying. "I thought he was killed in a magical accident. Something related to his job?"

"So it was designed to look." Dumbledore's expression was bleak enough to tell the tale.

And Harry was willing to believe he knew the truth of it. "How did you find out about it, then?"

"I've heard rumors that Voldemort tried to court Edward, to convince him to join his cause."

"As if that were going to happen. Voldemort would have had better luck in recruiting me than he would have Edward." Of all the upper-crust purebloods Harry had met since coming to this time, Edward was the most modern and progressive.

"After being rejected, Voldemort wanted to make an example of him, to show what would happen when he was defied."

Harry had been trying hard to avoid the whole issue of Voldemort. There was nothing he could do in this time to help, not if he were to kill him in the future. It was also possible he could totally destroy his own timeline if he made the wrong move.

But this hurt. And given how poorly his search had gone so far -- This was the second summer he'd spent abroad, looking for information on time-travel devices, and not finding it. Maybe he should consider doing something for the cause. It was just that he wasn't ready to give up the idea that maybe his luck would change and he'd find a way back. "Is there nothing you can do to stop him?"

"There are things in the works. I suspect it's not going to be enough, at least for now. Are you interested in helping fight him?"

"I don't know if I can. I don't want to..." He trailed off. At this point, he wasn't sure what Dumbledore knew or thought he knew. Harry had been careful, but it was impossible not to let some information slip.

"You must do what you think best," Dumbledore said, clearly disappointed.

"I wish I knew what that was. I'm still hoping to figure something out." But he knew the truth. It was becoming more and more unlikely that he'd find a way home. "Let me know when you've put something in place. At least, I can try to help."

*****

Edward's funeral was well attended. Several people gave eulogies, including Dumbledore and Clarice Mazden, the deputy Minister of Magic.

"Rose. I'm so very sorry. If there is anything, anything at all, that I can do, please let me know." Harry put his hand in hers and squeezed gently.

She dabbed her eyes with a lace handkerchief, looking as if she'd aged twenty years. "I don't think so. Thank you for coming, Harry."

"It's the least I can do. I admired Edward a lot. He was a man of strong convictions, a good man. He was so kind to me." It was hard to put into words what Edward had come to mean to him. Both as a man who stood firm on his convictions and as the grandfather that he never knew he was.

"He considered you family. And you are. I hope you know that." She shouldn't have been the one reassuring him.

Before Harry could thank her again, James came to stand beside his mother. He was tall for thirteen. His eyes were red-rimmed and lacked their usual animation. "Sirius and Remus are going to stay over."

She turned to him and put a hand on his shoulder. "What about Peter?"

James shook his head. "No. He's going home."

"All right, then. Run along and see to them."

Rose looked up at Harry. "Come back to the house? We're expecting family and friends."

"Of course."

When he would have moved away, she put a hand on his arm to stop him. "He put a provision in his will for you."

Harry swallowed hard. "He didn't have to do that."

"No, he didn't. But as you said, he was a man of his convictions."

A wave of guilt washed over Harry.

*****

"What are you researching?" Severus said, as he sat down at the table next to Harry, during the second week of classes.

Madam Pince had ordered several books for him, and Harry was only now getting a chance to look through them. Between being away all summer, and then the funeral and a day getting Severus his robes, he'd had no time left to read.

"Same as always." Harry closed the book gently, but he wanted to slam it shut and stomp on it. None of the information he was hoping to find was in it. He was running out of options for places to look.

"You know, maybe you should get some expert help." Severus smirked at him.

"Are you offering to help?" He didn't expect Severus to take him up on the offer.

"Maybe. What exactly are you looking for?" Severus' eyes were gleaming at the prospect of helping him. Or maybe he was just interested in the subject matter.

Even though it was clear that Severus wanted to help him, the ethics of allowing it worried Harry. "This is by no means required of you. I want you to understand that up front."

"I get that," said Severus impatiently. "I'm just helping you out with a project. No extra points or anything. Tell me what you're looking for."

"Spells or devices that move people or objects through time." Harry didn't want to be suspicious, but Severus rarely did anything without a reason.

"Theoretical or actual?" Severus pulled out a parchment and started to scribble some notes.

"Both. But more emphasis on the actual device."

"I'm assuming you don't mean a Time-Turner?" Severus asked without looking up.

"Something similar, but with more of a range and time span. And something that can go forward in time as well as backwards."

"Right then." Severus stood and disappeared into the stacks, returning with a huge book called the Complete Magical Bibliography.

"Why that one?"

"Start with all the articles and journals that even remotely fit the category you're researching, and then move on from there. That's the way to do research." He said it as if he were the teacher and Harry was a not very bright student.

Harry wondered whom he was quoting, or maybe he was just quoting himself. That would be like Severus. It was hard to believe he was only a third year, sometimes.

*****

"You look pensive," Dumbledore said as he sat down beside Harry on a low wall outside the castle. It was still warm for so late in the autumn.

"Did you know that Edward left me a quarter of his vault?" He couldn't even say it without feeling like a fraud.

"It's public knowledge with the reading of his will. The reaction to it has been mixed, too."

"I've read the papers. The general consensus seems to be that because I wasn't legitimate, Rose could file a grievance with the Wizengamot and probably win."

"Except that she's said publicly that she isn't going to do that." Dumbledore clearly agreed with her.

"She should. It should have all gone to her and James."

"James has more than he'll be able to spend in his lifetime. I think it must have given Edward peace to know he was doing the right thing for you," Dumbledore said, quietly.

"Perhaps, but...."

Dumbledore looked at him sharply. "If he wanted to do it, then why let it bother you?"

"It's based on a lie." They had never discussed it, but he had to know. Harry felt it every day.

"If you remember, I suggested the relationship. But I also sense that you are a close relation to him. Perhaps not a nephew. Am I wrong?"

"No. You're not wrong. But if he knew --"

"What your true relationship to him was, then he wouldn't want you to have his legacy?" Dumbledore's tone was skeptical as well it should have been. It was amazing what the man knew.

Harry looked away. "No. I think, after knowing him, that he would have helped any family member, but the vault should have gone --"

"Edward died because of what he believed. You yourself said he would have helped you."

"You always did make it difficult to argue with you." As much as he wanted to hang on to his guilt, Harry had to concede that Dumbledore was right. If Edward had known who he was, he might have done even more.

Dumbledore chuckled. "Nice to know I'm consistent."

*****

"Good practice, everyone," Harry called to the group of Ravenclaws he'd been coaching. As much as he liked teaching, he loved coaching so much more. Everyone who was there wanted to be there, and wanted to learn to play better.

"Professor." Belinda Montgomery was the fourth year reserve Seeker for the team. She was tiny, as most Seekers were, and had curly brown hair that stuck out everywhere. It reminded him of Hermione when she was that age.

"What can I do for you, Miss Montgomery?" Harry hoped this wouldn't take long. He wanted a shower and a cup of tea before he had to supervise tonight's detentions.

"I know you know Snape...."

Oh Merlin. What had Severus done now? "Yes."

She cleared her throat. "He's a pretty bad flyer."

Harry had heard that, and that Severus was teased unmercifully by James and the Marauders for it. James, of course, had been the Seeker for Gryffindor since his second year.

"You see, I know he'd like to be better at it. But he won't ask for help." She looked down, blushing.

Okay, he wasn't even going to crack a smile. It was nice to see someone thinking kindly about Severus. "So, you're asking for help for him? You know, he won't love you for it."

She nodded. "Better that than to have him injure himself falling again. It's just that he's kind of...."

Harry managed to keep a straight face. "Temperamental perhaps?"

"Most of the other third years are easier to deal with. But on the other hand, he is the top student in his year." And that clearly was a point of pride for the whole house.

"I'll have a word with him, and see if I can help." He didn't relish the thought of that conversation. Severus was just as likely to threaten to hex him as he was to accept help, even if it were something he wanted.

"Thanks." She looked ridiculously grateful as she walked away.

As if talking about him could conjure him, Severus appeared as soon as Harry opened the side door.

"What did she want?" he asked, falling into step with Harry.

"She thinks you need to learn to fly better."

Severus' jaw tightened and Harry could almost see the annoyance start to build in him. "I know how. It's not like I want to play Quidditch or something. Why does everyone care?"

"It's one of those social things you do at school."

"I'm not social. Most Ravenclaws aren't that social. Why do they all want to fly?"

Harry sighed. He did understand, but... "Sometimes you need to do something so that you can get by. You're going to be dealing with most of these people for years to come. Besides, do you want to keep falling off your broom?"

"Fine. What do I need to do?" He glared up at Harry as if it were his fault.

"Why don't we meet on the pitch after dinner --"

"No. I have homework!"

Harry exhaled. Why was everything so difficult with Severus? "You can consider this homework as well."

"Only if I must. I'll be there." Severus stalked away, the hem of his robes flaring out in a fair imitation of the teacher's stalk he would have someday.

*****

"I'd like to bring this meeting of the Order of the Phoenix to a close." Dumbledore banged the gavel and the room erupted into agreeable chatter.

Harry hadn't planned on attending the Order meetings, but Dumbledore had mentioned it to him in passing, and he hadn't been able to resist. Maybe he could help in a minor way. At least, that was what he'd told Dumbledore.

It was such a shock to see all the people he'd known in his time here, only now so young. Charlie and Bill Weasley played with blocks by the fireplace. Molly's hair was so bright it almost hurt to look at it. Arthur looked the same, only younger, but he spoke and acted exactly as Harry remembered him.

Frank and Alice Longbottom had just started their Auror training. And Kingsley Shacklebolt had only been an Auror for two years.

"Harry. It was good to meet you," Kingsley said, holding out his hand.

"And you as well, Kingsley." Harry shook it. His grip was firm and warm.

"If you don't have any plans right now, some of us are going to walk into Hogsmeade to get something for supper. Maybe a pint."

Right on cue, his stomach rumbled and he laughed. "Yeah, that would be great."

Harry walked behind Andromeda and Ted. Tonks, or Dora as they called her, had been born over the summer. Even though it had happened some time ago, rumor had it that Andromeda was still shattered over the rejection of her family.

"So, Harry," Kingsley said as he held the door to the Three Broomsticks open. "Do you enjoy teaching?"

Harry breathed in deeply as he went in the door. The warm spiced apple smell reminded him of other times. "Quite a bit, actually. I'm kind of surprised by it, too."

"Why?" Alice asked as they all sat down. "During Auror training, we all have to teach a few classes in Defense Against the Dark Arts for Hogwarts."

They hadn't done that in his years at Hogwarts. It was a good idea. Harry was sorry it had fallen by the wayside. "Really? Why?"

"It's supposed to teach us to deal with children and their questions," Kingsley said. "I think Alice liked it a lot."

She nodded, smiling widely. "Yes. That's what I was saying. If I wasn't an Auror, I'd teach."

"First you'd have to get Dumbledore to hire you. Though he can't seem to keep Defense teachers," Ted said.

"He'd hire me, I think," Alice laughed. "Not that I'd give this up after all the years of training."

It was interesting that no one thought the position was cursed, even though there was a new teacher every year. Harry nodded.

"It's only two. And then two more as an intern," Kingsley said. "I'm glad to start complex investigations this year."

"You know, at one time I thought I'd like to be an Auror," Harry said, a bit wistfully. Every now and then he missed the problem solving of a complex investigation. Mostly though, he missed the camaraderie of team-mates. It wasn't the same with his teaching colleagues.

"Why didn't you join? I know you came from the States, but I think they must have N.E.W.T.s. equivalents."

"They do. And I had the marks. But it just didn't work out."

"Sometimes it just doesn't," Kingsley said with a look of commiseration. Like he understood that life wasn't always what you wanted it to be.

About half-way through supper, it occurred to Harry that Kingsley was flirting with him. The only reason he realized it was because it had got more and more blatant as the meal progressed.

After more than two years, the pang of missing Ginny wasn't as sharp as it had been when he'd first lost her. He hoped she'd moved on as well. In truth, she probably thought he was dead.

Was he ready for another relationship? He wasn't sure. Even in his time, he'd found Kingsley attractive. The younger, less care-worn version was even more so. The stirring in his groin was not unpleasant at all. It would be nice to get close to something other than his right hand.

Laughter brought him out of his thoughts. "What's so funny?" Harry asked.

"You should pay more attention." Kingsley looked into his eyes.

"You're right, I really should."

*****

"Mr. Snape. And Miss Evans. What a surprise. How many times have I caught you out after curfew this year?" Harry put his hands on his hips and tried to look stern.

This was the third time he'd caught them together. He wondered if he'd set them up to actually become more than friends this time. The idea bothered him on some fundamental level that made no sense at all.

"We were just talking," Lily jumped up to say.

Harry had long ago stopped thinking of her as his mother. Just like James wasn't his father. He knew logically she would be some day, but this little girl with her big green eyes and bright red hair wasn't yet.

"And what was so important that you had to be out after curfew?" Harry asked, glaring at both of them.

"That's private," Lily said, but she looked down and then back up at him.

As much as he might've liked to make an exception for Severus -- it wasn't that late -- he'd promised himself that he'd treat all the students the same. "I think that it's time you both got back to your common rooms. Five points from each of you."

"I'll talk to you later, Sev." Lily ran off.

Harry was surprised when Severus didn't stalk off after Lily left. "Mr. Snape?"

"It wasn't her fault." He looked down at his feet and put his hands in his pockets.

Severus knew better than to use that with him. "Of course it was. And yours as well. You were both out after curfew," said Harry, frowning.

Severus stood his ground with his arms folded across his chest. "I was the one who asked her to meet me. I wanted to talk to her."

"Is something wrong?" Harry gentled his voice. He'd found that strategy was surprisingly helpful with many students and especially so with Severus.

His face turned red, but he shook his head.

"Are you sure?" Harry gave him one more chance.

"It's just..." Severus turned away. "I know it's not really a problem. But it's just..."

Harry waited. It was getting late, but he wanted to encourage Severus to talk to him.

Severus sighed heavily. "I...um...think I might like boys better."

"You know that in the wizarding world that won't be a problem." Even among purebloods, a person's preferences were just that.

"My father is a Muggle."

"And would not approve." That was okay. Harry didn't approve of Tobias Snape, but he'd been told more than once there was nothing he could do about it. "Don't tell him."

"I wasn't going to, but...what if he finds out?" Clearly Severus was afraid that his mother would give up his secret. Eileen Snape hadn't much will left, but what she had was all directed towards her son.

"Don't tell her either," Harry said. "Or at least, wait a few years."

Severus nodded. "Do you care?"

"No. Of course not. Why would you think I would?"

"You're Muggle-raised."

"True. But I've been in the wizarding world for most of my adult life. And besides, I'm dating a man myself."

Severus' eyes widened. "You date too?"

"Just like a real person." Harry laughed. He'd heard somewhere that all teenagers saw adults as cardboard cutouts that moved. Experience had taught him it was a universal truth.

"Who are you dating? Anyone I know?" And it was clear Severus was going through all the teachers in the school.

Harry couldn't hold back another chuckle. "Not that it's any of your business to ask, but I'm dating a man named Kingsley Shacklebolt."

"The Auror?"

"You know him?"

"He taught a couple of Defense classes when I was a first year." Severus smirked knowingly. "You know, he's pretty hot."

Harry could not believe that he blushed.

*****

"Congratulations are in order to Mr. Snape. He had top marks this year amongst all third years, by several points, and is awarded twenty-five additional points." Dumbledore announced the rest of the years, but Harry wasn't listening. He was so proud of Severus.

The final announcement caught his attention. "Ravenclaw wins the house cup." Dumbledore waved his wand and all the banners changed to Ravenclaw colors blue and bronze.

The applause was thunderous and Harry looked down as Severus was patted on his back and had his hand shook. Poor boy looked a bit stunned. Last year, he'd had to share the award with Lily Evans, so the additional points had cancelled each other out. This year it had made a big difference, since the houses were so close.

"Well done, Mr. Snape," Harry said and shook his hand, too.

"Thanks." Severus' cheeks were red, and flushed with excitement.

"I'll meet you in August to buy your books and robes. I'll owl you when I get back into the country." Harry started to move away, but Severus put a hand on his arm.

"Really. Thanks for everything."

"It's my pleasure to see you succeed so well, Mr. Snape." And it was. Harry had known that Snape was a good, even great student. But to see Severus excel so brilliantly underscored just how important a little acceptance could be.

*****
Part 3 - Fifth Year

Harry trudged up the steps of Hogwarts, and made his way to the Great Hall. Surprisingly, Dumbledore was sitting at one of the long tables, staring off into space. Harry put his pack down. "Is everything all right, Albus?"

Dumbledore blinked and then nodded. "Oh yes, fine. Were you successful with your search?"

Harry sat down and let out a long, slow breath. "No. I suspect I'm out of options. I've looked everywhere I can think of and everywhere Severus came up with as well."

"Severus?" There was a note of something in Dumbledore's voice that he was not sure he appreciated.

"He wanted to help. He's actually a brilliant and methodical researcher." And Severus had found two possible time devices that might have worked. Unfortunately, Harry couldn't locate either of them. As much as he hated to admit defeat, he was sure this was his last summer of looking for something he just couldn't find.

"That doesn't surprise me." Dumbledore sighed. "I've invited him to be a prefect this coming year. I'm hoping it will help him develop some social skills to go along with his intellect."

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" It wasn't that he didn't think Severus could do the tasks, but there would also be the temptation to abuse his authority. And Severus wasn't known for resisting temptation.

"As you are his greatest champion, I thought you'd be pleased."

"I am. Really. But I know how difficult he can be. And I'm not sure he'd resist the urge to misuse his power -- don't look at me like that. Just because I like him doesn't mean I don't see his flaws. He's loyal as any Hufflepuff."

"With people he likes. That would be you and Lily Evans, and possibly Regulus Black, though I'm not sure about that." There was something else in Dumbledore's tone.

Harry couldn't guess what it was. Even after knowing Dumbledore as an adult, he was almost as much of an enigma as he'd been when Harry had been a child.

"Regulus Black is headed down a dangerous path and I truly hope I can talk Severus out of following him down it." Harry actually knew very little about Regulus, and what he'd seen had not endeared him to Harry. At least Severus wasn't actively associating with the Death Eater children in Slytherin. Harry was aware there were a number in Ravenclaw as well, but those seemed less politically active. Or perhaps politics wasn't first on their agenda.

"Ultimately, it's not going to be your choice," Dumbledore said.

"No, it's not. But if I can influence him in the right direction, then I will." Now that he knew he'd be staying, it was more than time to make a commitment. "When is the next Order meeting?"

"Next week. There have been several more deaths of high profile purebloods, as well as a few Muggle-borns." Dumbledore's brow creased. "And a fairly insignificant seer. Sibyll Trelawney. I'm not sure what her death was supposed to accomplish."

Harry's pulse started to pound. Trelawney? If she were dead, there would be no prophecy for Snape to overhear and take back to Voldemort.

This place wasn't just earlier on his timeline. It wasn't even his world.

Even though he'd known there was almost no hope that he'd find his way home, knowing it absolutely was like hitting the ground after falling from a broom moving at top speed.

"Harry, Harry! Are you all right?" Dumbledore's voice sounded very far away.

Harry blinked several times, trying to focus. "I'm fine," he lied.

"You don't look fine. You look as you did when you popped in and ended up at my feet. What just happened?"

Hoping to clear his head, Harry took a deep breath and then a second one. What did it matter, now? This was his time and if he could help them better than he had been, then he should. Even if it meant facing Voldemort again.

"Why don't we start with what upset you?"

Harry put his head in his hands. "In my time, Sibyll Trelawney delivered a prophecy that had a significant impact on my life. She can't do it if she's dead."

Dumbledore pushed his glasses up onto his nose and frowned. "Perhaps she's already made it."

"Unlikely. You heard it given and it should have been years from now."

"What did it say?" he asked, his frown deepening.

Harry drew in a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "It said that I would defeat Voldemort or that Voldemort would defeat me."

"And did you?"

"Years after the prophecy, but yes."

"Can you do it again? Defeat him, I mean."

"I had a lot of help then." Harry didn't think about Ron and Hermione as much as he had when he'd first got here, but he missed them fiercely right now. It didn't seem possible he'd be able to do it all again without them. "You do know about the Horcruxes, correct?"

"Yes. But I only recently found out about them. I haven't even started to research what he used." Dumbledore looked hopefully at him. "Do you know?"

"I know what they were in my world and possibly how to find them. I'm not as sure about this time and place." He was committed to this version of the wizarding world, even if it meant giving up any chance of going home.

Not that he had any chance of getting back to his own timeline at this point, not after more than five years. But if he did, it wouldn't matter. Everything would have changed. Everyone would have moved on. No, he had to accept the fact that what he remembered was gone.

But there was still the paradox of him being born here in 1980. That was less than five years away.

"We'll operate under the assumption that the Horcruxes are the same. And we should inform the Order," Dumbledore said, pulling Harry out of his thoughts and reminding him of something else.

Peter would be part of the Order in two years, and if there were one traitor, then there could be more than one. "Perhaps it wouldn't be a good idea to tell all of them."

Dumbledore gave him a pointed look. "Do you know something about any of the members?"

"No. But it's possible I know something about a future member." Harry wasn't going to accuse Peter yet. Maybe in this time he didn't sell out his friends. "I will need help tracking the Horcruxes down.

"You'll have it." Dumbledore was silent for a moment. "We'll have a meeting after school starts. And speaking of school starting, are you paying for Severus Snape's robes and books this year?"

Harry was never sure if he approved or not, but he asked every year. Trying to fight his annoyance, Harry said, "Was he the top student in his year last year?"

"By quite a bit."

"Then I'll be buying his books. And I've already owled him. We're going to meet next week. I'm also thinking of having Kingsley join us for lunch. It feels like forever since I've seen him."

Dumbledore chuckled. "I'm sure that will be an interesting lunch?"

"Why would you say that? I'm fairly sure that Severus likes Kingsley. Do you know something I don't?"

"No. Of course not. I'm sure it will be fine."

*****

"Mr. Snape," Harry said. "How has your holiday been so far?"

"It was fine." Severus didn't meet his eyes. He was more drawn and pale than he usually was at the end of the summer. Too thin by half. And his hair -- it looked like it hadn't been washed or cut since the end of last term. Merlin, Severus needed to do something about it before school started.

"Was it?" Harry asked, taking in the patched robe and worn out shoes.

Severus glared at him. "Must you do that?"

"What?" Harry asked, forcing himself not to glare back.

"Always doubt me when I say that things are fine."

"It only happens when I think you're lying. Like now."

"Maybe it's just my business and not yours," Severus snapped.

Had they been at school, Harry might have reprimanded him for the tone, but they weren't and Harry didn't want to get into an argument with him today. "Why don't we get your robes first?"

"You don't have to do this every year, you know?" But it was clear Severus didn't believe that he wouldn't do it anymore.

Harry smiled at him. "I know I don't. But I want to. Somehow it will make everything a little easier if you have new robes in the autumn."

"You sound like a girl. Everything's better with new robes." His tone was mocking.

But Harry didn't care. "I've been told that more than once. It doesn't make it any less true."

"That you're a girl?"

"That new robes make things more even."

"I could go one year without."

"You probably could. If you didn't grow that much -- the charms give out after about eighteen months. But it's better if you have new ones. So, shall we go?"

"Let's not talk about it anymore."

"The weather has been unusually nice for August." Harry snickered at Severus' annoyed look. "All right, pick another topic."

"I'm thinking about trying out for the Quidditch team."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "This from the boy who couldn't care less if he learned to fly a few years ago."

"I'm just thinking it might be fun." Severus grinned at him and Harry knew better than to trust that smile.

"What aren't you telling me?" Harry got it. "Maybe it will impress the boys, perhaps?"

"I don't care about that." But Severus' face was red and he was pointedly not looking at Harry.

"Of course not." Harry caught sight of Kingsley and waved. When he caught up with them, Kingsley gave him a quick kiss.

"Good to see you, Harry. And Severus, isn't it?" Kingsley's smile was wide. Harry shivered a bit, remembering how Kingsley had used his mouth the last time Harry had been with him.

"Yes," Severus said quietly. "I thought we were going to get my robes?"

"We are. But I asked Kingsley to come to lunch with us. You don't mind, do you?"

Severus looked nonplused for a moment, but then shook his head. "No. It's fine."

"Great," Harry said. "Let's go."

*****

"I haven't seen you in the library much the last couple of weeks," Severus said as he came into Harry's office, his book bag on his shoulder.

"I'm not doing as much research this term." Or any at all. Since he'd decided to commit to this timeline, he wasn't going to continue to hit his head against the wall, trying to find some way back to the other version of this world.

"No more time-travel? I'm still researching it." Severus sat down on the sofa.

"You don't have to," said Harry. He probably should have told Severus that before he'd had to ask.

"I'm finding it interesting. But you've decided to stay here?"

"What makes you think I wouldn't?" Aside from Dumbledore, he'd never discussed his situation with anyone, and even with Dumbledore, he'd never come out and said anything. And now, there was no point.

Severus shrugged, but didn't look at him. "I get the feeling this whole thing was more than an exercise in theory. That you wanted it for a purpose."

Harry sometimes forgot just how perceptive Severus could be. "You're right. There was something I'd lost and I wanted to find it again."

"But you don't want to find it anymore?"

"Now I know it's lost beyond hope of finding it." As painful as it was to accept that, Harry was finally ready to do so. He still wasn't sure what to do about the coming paradox, but all he could do was hope that it would take care of itself.

"I'm sorry." And then he came closer, lowering his voice. "I...um...wanted to ask you... Do you think playing Quidditch would impress a boy?"

It was so hard being fifteen. Harry didn't laugh. "I think people are going to be more impressed with your intelligence than they are with your Quidditch playing skills."

Severus snorted. "Do you think you could think of something else to say? I don't think the boys my age give a crap about my intelligence."

"Watch your language," Harry admonished half-heartedly. "But you're right, the only time boys will be impressed is if you help them with their homework."

"Most of the boys I know who need that kind of help are in Gryffindor, and trust me when I tell you that I'm not going to date one of them." Severus shivered with his whole body.

"Should I remind you that Lily is in Gryffindor as well?"

"Like I said, I'm not dating anyone in Gryffindor!" Severus shook his head, disgusted. "But you know, maybe I could charge them for helping with their homework. That might get me what I want."

Harry was horrified by that implication. "You wouldn't though, would you?"

Severus sighed. "No. The only ones that would probably take me up on it would be the --"

"Gryffindors. Yes, I've heard. You don't need to trade for dates."

"I know what I look like. I'm going to need something." That he was right was sad, too. When you were fifteen, looks counted a great deal, and no matter how smart he was, Severus would never be good looking.

Harry wished there were something he could say that would help. "Looks aren't everything and your friends all know that."

"That's easy for a gorgeous man to say," Severus snapped out. "It's always easy for people like you."

"My life has not been easy, thank you very much. And maybe you need my glasses." Harry made a show of pulling them off and holding them out. The things Severus came up with sometimes. This conversation was already skirting the edge of what Harry considered appropriate. "How are your classes this term?"

"You know I could have got whiplash from that subject change."

Harry folded his arms over his chest. "Well?"

Severus blew out a breath and pushed the limp hair out of his face. "My classes are fine. I thought about taking your class this term, but I couldn't fit it in with Arithmancy and Ancient Runes."

"You're taking both?"

"I want to get twelve O.W.L.s."

"Ambitious, aren't you?" Hermione had only got eleven and only ten outstandings. Harry smiled. He could barely remember how many he and Ron had taken, but Hermione had always been so impressive. Damn, he still missed them both.

Severus gave him a strange look. "I can't decide what I want to do, so I need as many as I can get."

"I thought you were going to do something with potions," Harry said. Severus was the best potions student to study at Hogwarts in many years. Even Lily didn't come close to his brilliance. And Slughorn was enthusiastic about helping him excel, giving him extra lab time, and letting him experiment.

"There are a million specialties and I need to find the right one, so I'll stand out at it."

"I'm sure you're going to shine at whatever you do."

Severus' face went red.

"Still, why twelve?"

Severus looked at him as if he were mad. "Because I can."

*****

The cave where Voldemort had hid the locket wasn't any less traumatic the second time Harry encountered it. He and Dumbledore fed Digby -- who had volunteered once he knew the circumstances -- the contents of the bowl where the locket was submerged. The poor elf was sick for two days, but Harry and Dumbledore took care of him. And Digby was quite proud of himself when they let him out of bed.

They destroyed the locket with Gryffindor's sword, much as he and Ron had. The Ravenclaw diadem was exactly where Harry thought it would be as well. This time, he hadn't had to rescue Draco Malfoy on his broom either. Fiendfyre worked the second time as well as it had the first. It almost seemed too easy.

"I'm pretty sure Marvolo's ring has a curse on it," Harry said later that night, after destroying the diadem.

"Where is it?" Dumbledore asked.

"In the ruin of the Gaunt's house. It's also under some kind of magical protection."

"Can we retrieve it?"

"We'll need to be very careful."

"It's my watch word." Dumbledore looked at him sharply. "What are you not telling me?"

Harry met his eyes. "Just be careful, all right?"

Dumbledore pushed the glasses up onto his nose a bit farther. "I'll do that."

*****

"The rest of the Horcruxes are going to be more difficult." Harry watched with grim satisfaction as the ring slowly dissolved in a cauldron of acid. "I'm pretty sure the diary is at Malfoy Manor."

"The Hufflepuff cup?"

"In the Lestrange...no, wait, probably the Black vault. Bellatrix hasn't married Rodolphus Lestrange yet, has she?" She had been out of Hogwarts when Harry started.

"She's supposed to marry him next summer, but that's still uncertain, as she and Lestrange have had some rather explosive fights in public. Her family is expecting her to marry him as they've arranged, but she's been fighting it. She's also actively working for Voldemort at the moment. It probably would be easier to get the cup while it's still in the Black vault."

"Why do you think that? Have you ever tried to get anything out of Gringotts?" Harry didn't even want to think about stealing something from there. He shuddered. Never again.

"It's possible that Sirius Black might be convinced to help us." Dumbledore said it as if he really considered that an option.

Harry did not. "He's fifteen!"

"But as the heir, he has access to the vault."

"What part of he's fifteen isn't clear? Besides, I'm not sure we can trust him." Harry had loved his godfather with all his heart, but the Sirius Black in this world was enough to drive him mad.

"I do think he's trustworthy. And we don't have to tell him why we want it. Just ask him to get it and tell no one."

"As if he's capable of not telling his gang." And it was possible that Peter had already sold them out. He couldn't chance it. "I doubt he'd do it."

"We can ask."

*****

"You do know this is my office, don't you?" Harry asked as he dropped into the chair behind his desk.

Severus looked up from his place on the battered leather sofa, and smirked. "I'd heard that rumor."

"You didn't believe it though, did you?" Harry hid his smile. Encouraging Severus never worked in his favor. The boy was too smart by half.

"I assumed you would want to see me occasionally, now that you're not haunting the library," Severus said, making it sound as if he were doing Harry a favor.

Maybe he was. Harry liked having Severus about, challenging him, watching him learn. It was too bad that Severus never took his class. "So, you're what? Being generous and making my life better by visiting me, and using my office as your own?"

"Ten points to the Professor. I can do that now."

Harry laughed at the look on Severus' face. "And you love it, don't you?"

"Gryffindor is down twenty-five points just today." Oh, and it was so clear that Severus was looking forward to taking more.

"So what did Mr. Black and Mr. Potter do to you that prompted the points loss?" It might be two against one, but Severus had no trouble holding his own with them. This year, it was easier for him.

"You know they never stop. They tried to hex me for some reason. And before you even ask, I have no idea why." Severus' grin was nasty. Despite what he'd said, he'd no doubt provoked them. "They will think twice about doing it again."

Harry couldn't do anything about Severus without knowing the entire situation, which Severus wasn't going to tell him. "You know Miss Evans is a Gryffindor too."

"You keep telling me that as if I don't know it already. Besides, that's why it wasn't thirty points." Actually it was because a prefect could only take twenty-five house points in a day. For a more serious infraction, they would have to go to a teacher.

James and Sirius were not known for their restraint where Severus was concerned, but then, neither was Severus. And they all took grudge-holding to new heights.

*****

"Miss Evans and Mr. Snape. Out after curfew, yet again." Harry folded his arms over his chest. "Care to give me an explanation?"

"I was just talking to Sev," she said. "He's walking me back to my dorm right now."

"Without taking points for being out?" Harry raised an eyebrow and waited.

"Um...five points for being out after curfew." Severus gave Lily an apologetic look.

"I'll just go by myself, then." She sighed and took off.

"The rules need to be applied fairly." Harry remembered how Snape's own unfairness had bred resentment among all the other houses.

Severus was shaking his head. "Trouble is that they aren't. Not even the teachers are even-handed."

"All you can do is try to be fair." Harry wished it were that easy, but it had to start somewhere.

"Why should I?"

"Because you've been given a position of power, and you need to act accordingly," Harry said, knowing he wasn't getting through.

Severus frowned. "But not everyone does."

"Someone wise said to me that we are all defined by the choices we make."

"That's rot. We're defined by our experiences and our lives."

"What he said was true, but you've got a point too."

*****

Severus slipped into his office a few days before the Yule holiday. Harry looked up and smiled at him. "What can I do for you, Mr. Snape?"

"I have something I've wanted to tell you for a while." Severus stalked over to his desk. "And I want you to hear me out before you say anything."

Harry stood and moved over to the chair next to the sofa. He waved Severus to sit beside him. "What's the problem?"

Without looking at Harry, Severus raised his wand and cast a Silencing Charm and then a door locking spell. "I think it's time for us to be together."

That made absolutely no sense. "What? What are you talking about?"

Before Harry could get another word out, Severus was in his lap, wrapping his long arms around Harry and then pressing a sloppy wet kiss to Harry's mouth.

For a second, Harry was too stunned to move. Then Severus attempted to stick his tongue into Harry's mouth and it galvanized him into action. He shoved hard, with both hands. Severus ended up sprawled on the floor, looking up at him with surprise written across his face.

Harry stood quickly, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and took several breaths. "Mr. Snape, that was a completely inappropriate display," Harry said calmly, but his heart was racing so hard it hurt.

After a beat or two of strained silence, the hurt started to creep across Severus' pale face. "I was trying to show you --"

"I know what you were trying to show me. And you have to know that I can't possibly allow you to do that." Harry kept his voice low and spoke slowly, hoping he could get through this without damaging Severus too badly. He took another breath.

Severus was hardly the first student who'd declared their feelings for him, and previously Harry had tried to be gentle with them. It was easier to do when they didn't try to kiss him. That required punishment to make sure it didn't happen again. And he'd have to report it to Dumbledore.

"I know you think you've got feelings for me that go beyond friendship, and I'm sure this seemed like a good way to express them, but it wasn't. And you need to realize that," Harry said sternly in his most disappointed teacher tone.

"I thought you were --" Severus made a sound, and then climbed to his feet, staring down at them.

"I'm sorry, I can't let this go. You have a week's detention with Professor McGonagall when you get back from the holiday. And I want a ten-foot parchment on the proper behavior between a student and a teacher."

For a moment, Severus looked like he might want to argue, but whatever sense he had won out and he closed his mouth.

Relieved, Harry waved his wand to unlock the door, and the Silencing Charm fell off. "Go now, before this gets any worse."

Severus looked at him one last time, tears in his eyes, and ran out.

*****

As Harry climbed the stairs to Dumbledore's office, he was shaking with the reaction he hadn't let surface when he was dealing with Severus.

"What's wrong?" Dumbledore opened the door before he could knock.

"Severus has taken it into his head that he's in love with me." Harry sat down wearily in one of the chairs by the fire, and put his head into his hands.

"You didn't realize this was nearly inevitable?" Dumbledore raised an eyebrow.

"I never even considered the possibility. Why would I?" asked Harry, completely incredulous. He'd always thought of Severus as different from the rest of the students, not so much more mature, as too clever to fall for a teacher.

Dumbledore chuckled. "You're joking. No, I can see that you aren't. What did he do?"

"He jumped into my lap and tried to kiss me."

"What did you do?"

Surely Dumbledore didn't think he'd respond in any kind of positive way. "I dumped him on his arse, and gave him a week's detention with Minerva.--"

"That's a bit harsh, don't you think," Dumbledore interrupted, his expression losing its amusement.

"I also assigned him a ten-foot parchment on the proper conduct between a student and teacher." Harry supposed it was somewhat harsh. Even with some of the students who'd tried to kiss him, he'd been a bit more...lenient.

"The essay would have been enough, I think."

All right, perhaps his reaction was a bit out of proportion to the crime. But Harry had expected better of Severus than this. "I was...very angry."

"Why are you so angry?"

There wasn't a reason to be this upset about the incident. "I didn't expect this from him. Or maybe I hoped he wouldn't have those kinds of feelings for me because we were friends."

"He's fifteen. You know all children that age seethe with passion and emotions. This doesn't surprise me at all. What does surprise me though is your reaction." Dumbledore met his eyes. "Tell me why you've reacted so strongly?"

Harry had no idea. When Severus had kissed him, it had struck him as so wrong that he couldn't even think straight. It had been all he could do to stay calm with Severus. He took another deep breath and his stomach finally started to settle. "I shouldn't have been so hard on him. I'm sure that I hurt him badly. And now I'll need to go and make amends."

"I suspect few people have more ability to hurt him than you do. But perhaps you should wait until he returns from holiday."

Harry stood. "By then, he will be inured to anything I say."

"Now, his temper may get the better of him and you'll have to punish him again."

He had a point. Severus did not understand the meaning of the word restraint. "At least I'll be able to apologize for overreacting."

Dumbledore shook his head. "Do as you think best."

That was the problem with Severus. Harry was never sure what would be the best for him.

*****

Harry opened the door to the Gryffindor common room and scanned the people. "Miss Evans. A word if you please."

"Hey Evans, what did you do?" James called as she followed Harry through the door, and down the corridor.

Her glare was just this side of acceptable, but she said nothing.

"Where is Mr. Snape?" Harry hated being put in this position, but he'd failed to locate Severus in either the library or the Ravenclaw common room.

She folded her arms over her chest. "I don't know."

And of course, Lily was going to make this as difficult as she possibly could. Harry gritted his teeth. "I know he's annoyed at me --"

"A bit more than that, don't you think?" Her eyes flashed with her own annoyance.

"I'm not going to discuss him with you. Now, if you know where he is, I suggest you tell me." He folded his arms over his chest and glared back at the girl.

She just stared right back. No doubt thinking that she had the advantage. Fortunately, she wasn't a Slytherin or he'd pay dearly for the knowledge he wanted. "So you can hurt him again?" she finally said.

"Miss Evans. Now, please." He put the force of his best disapproving teacher tone in the order. Even the most stalwart Gryffindors generally couldn't stand against it.

She sighed. "I really don't know --"

He ground his teeth. Bloody, stubborn, loyal Gryffindor. If he weren't so annoyed with her, he'd find it laudable. "Miss Evans!"

"Seriously. I told him not to tell me. He just wanted to be alone."

Harry pinched the bridge of his nose with two fingers. "Do you have any guesses?"

She glared at him again and then dropped her eyes as he glared back. He could still out-stubborn any student alive.

"I just don't want to see him hurt again, okay?" she whispered.

Harry couldn't answer her, so he just waited.

"Try by the lake. There's a little alcove where it meets the forbidden forest. There're some rocks that sort of create a little hiding place. He likes to sit there sometimes."

"Thank you," Harry said, and waited until she went back into the common room before he hurried away.

*****

Even with the moon shining on the lake, there wasn't much light. Harry heard a soft muffled sound before he found Severus. He'd cast a Silencing Charm on his shoes, so that Severus wouldn't hear him and run, but it clearly hadn't been necessary.

"Are you plotting your revenge?" Harry asked tentatively.

"You can be sure of that." Severus' cheeks were wet and his voice was hoarse. "Did you come to give me another detention?"

It all made Harry feel worse, which knowing Severus, it was probably designed to do. "I've already done that, haven't I? I didn't want to hurt you --"

"Really? Do you always react so severely to people telling you they care about you? It's a wonder that you manage any relationships at all." Severus' voice cracked.

"You didn't just tell me, though, did you? You showed me, and in a fairly inappropriate way." Even now, it still felt so wrong to even think about Severus crawling into his lap.

"I'm sorry. I just thought....never mind." Severus turned his face away.

Harry cleared his throat. He'd never doubted his mentor/teacher status. Never considered Severus would misread him so badly. "I know you thought I felt differently for you than I do --"

"That would be an understatement. I thought you lov...cared for me." His tone was brokenhearted.

Harry was lost. "You have to understand. There can never be anything between us. Not like that, at least."

"Why not? I thought you didn't care what I looked like."

"What you look like doesn't matter to me. I think of you as a good friend." Okay, so maybe a good friend was pushing it, but he didn't want to hurt Severus more than he'd already done. "But you're fifteen. And forgive me for saying so, but you're very young yet. There will be other and better people for you than me."

"What? What are you talking about?" Severus stood up. He was almost as tall as Harry now. "Don't you know that you're the best thing that's ever happened to me? I can't imagine what my life would have been like in my mother's patched Slytherin robes."

Knowing what would have happened to Severus without his intervention, Harry couldn't regret that it hadn't unfolded that way. "Other good things are going to come your way. I promise you that."

"Maybe. But without you, they won't be as good."

Harry wanted to smile at the drama in Severus' tone, but that would no doubt exacerbate an already bad situation. "Right now, this is completely inappropriate. I could lose my job if someone found out."

Severus' eyes widened. Clearly, he hadn't considered that. "No! They wouldn't --"

"What do you think they do to teachers who abuse their students?" Harry folded his arms over his chest.

"It wouldn't be abuse if I said yes."

"You're not old enough to give consent." And there was a special place in hell for any adult who took advantage of someone that young.

A little smile appeared on Severus' face. "I will be in a few weeks."

The age of consent might be sixteen, but in the case of someone in position of trust, it was actually the legal age of seventeen. It didn't matter either way. "I'm sorry. You are dear to me, but not as a lover. Never like that."

Severus' shoulders slumped. "Never?"

Harry wanted to say never to extinguish that little bit of hope in Severus' eyes, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. "I can't say what the future will bring, but I can assure you that whatever comes, nothing will happen while you're still in school."

"I'll make you eat those words one day. I promise you that," Severus threatened in a tone that sent a shiver of dread down Harry's spine.

"Don't try it until after you leave school. Or this will pale in comparison to what I'll do if you try this again." He could not live through another scene like this one anytime soon.

"Fair enough." Severus started to walk away, but then turned back. "About the week's detention?"

He rarely retracted a punishment, but this one hadn't been fair. "All right. I guess that was a little harsh."

"And the essay?" Severus asked, clearly hoping for a complete reprieve.

That wasn't going to happen. Harry wanted to teach him a lesson about thinking before he acted. "Twelve feet by the end of the holiday or I'll reinstate the detentions."

"What?" Severus squawked, outraged. "It was only ten feet before."

"It grew. Don't argue or it might grow more." Harry laughed at his horrified expression.

*****

"So, what do we have here?" Harry said, looking down at Regulus Black and Severus in a tangle of clothes and sweat and come. He bit back a sigh. This was hardly the first time he'd caught them together since the beginning of the winter term. It was starting to get annoying. "Twenty points from each of you for inappropriate actions and dress or lack thereof. Now get dressed and back to your common rooms."

They both dressed in silence as Harry glared at them. Severus' cheeks were red, but Regulus didn't seem to care. He sauntered off with a wave at Severus.

"A prefect should be better behaved," Harry said when Severus hadn't moved.

"It's none of your business." His tone said Harry shouldn't have bothered to interrupt them.

"Oh, but it is, Mr. Snape. I'm a teacher at this school, and I can't condone this kind of behavior in public. You should know better. Or at least know not to get caught."

"Is it that you care so much about what I'm doing or that I'm doing it with a Death Eater?" Severus scowled, his eyes flashing with fire.

"I think you can answer that question yourself. I don't want to see you follow that path." Harry sincerely wished that Severus would listen to him about Regulus, but he'd tried talking to him until he was blue in the face to no avail.

"Why not? They would appreciate me." It sounded as if Severus believed their promises.

It hurt Harry to see him go so wrong, to actually believe that crap. "They will use you for their own gain. And you're smart enough to know it. It's not as if you don't have many other, better options."

"I like Reg." Severus' looked down, his cheeks red.

"I'm not saying don't see him. I'm saying think about everything else."

"You think that I don't?"

"It doesn't look like it." Harry waved a hand at the nest of blankets. "Go to bed. It's late and you and I both have classes in the morning."

*****

Once again, the end of year seemed to sneak up on Harry. He could have sworn it was April, but the bright sunshine and the warm weather said something different.

Late in the afternoon on one of the last days of fifth year O.W.L.s., he glanced out the window towards the lake and saw several groups of students, all hanging out in the bright sunshine. James, Sirius, Remus and Peter were all together, and Severus was sitting under a tree not far away. A memory clicked in his mind and Harry raced down the stairs and across the lawn.

The scene was unfolding just as he'd seen it in Snape's Pensieve all those years ago. He stopped for a moment, breathing hard.

James shouted, "Expelliarmus!"

Severus' wand flew away from him, and Sirius let out a bark of laughter.

"Impedimenta!" he said, pointing his wand at Snape, who was knocked off his feet halfway through a dive towards his own fallen wand.

Students all around had turned to watch. Some of them had got to their feet and were edging nearer. Some looked apprehensive, others entertained.

Snape lay on the ground, panting. James and Sirius advanced on him, wands raised.

"How'd the exam go, Snivelly?" said James.

"I was watching him, his nose was touching the parchment," said Sirius. "There'll be great grease marks all over it. They won't be able to read a word."

A couple of people watching laughed at that. Most of them looked stunned by what was going on. Like they weren't sure what to do.

The jinx was still operating on Severus; he was struggling, as though bound by invisible ropes.

"You are such an idiot," he panted, staring up at James with an expression of the purest loathing, "I am going to get you for this! You wait."

"Wait for what?" said Sirius coolly. "What're you going to do, Snivelly, wipe your nose on us?"

Severus swore colorfully. "Are you so stupid that you'd hex a prefect with witnesses?"

"I think they want to see you put in your greasy place," Sirius sneered.

"Leave him alone!" Lily yelled, running over from the lake. Two other Ravenclaw girls came with her.

"All right, Evans?" said James, and his voice was suddenly pleasant.

"Leave him alone," Lily repeated. She was looking at James with annoyance in her eyes. "What's he done to you?"

"Well," said James, appearing to deliberate the point, "it's more the fact that he exists, if you know what I mean..."

A couple of the students laughed nervously.

"Maybe you'd better let him up, Potter," Billings, one of the older Ravenclaw boys, said. There was a hint of authority in his tone. "You'll buy yourself a world of trouble, if you don't."

Sirius snorted, but James looked around. The crowd was not as amused with his antics as he'd assumed they would be.

The jinx had worn off Severus, and he'd got hold of his wand, but he hesitated for a second. "Expelliarmus !" he caught James' wand as it flew to him. "Petrificus Totalus!"

James fell over. Sirius raised his wand to hex Severus.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Mr. Black," Harry said, stepping close to Sirius. This had gone on long enough.

If looks could have killed, Harry would have been dead. But Sirius lowered his wand.

"You as well, Mr. Snape."

Severus' look was mutinous. "Do I have to?"

"Yes. And let him go, too."

"Only because you asked." He flicked his wand at James. "Finite Incantatem."

James breathed a sigh of relief and jumped to his feet. "My wand."

"I'm not so sure I should give --"

Harry glared at Severus. And he silently handed back the wand.

"Are you okay?" Lily asked Severus.

"I'm fine. I suspect that if Billings hadn't stepped in, things might have got very interesting." It was clear by his tone that he knew that from experience and that he'd been looking forward to the fight. If he'd known how it could have turned out, Harry was sure he'd have reconsidered that.

"Mr. Lupin, can you tell me why you allowed a fellow prefect to be assaulted?" Harry asked. It had always bothered him that Remus had done nothing to help Snape.

Remus looked up, guilt written on his face. "I was reading."

"Ten points from Gryffindor," Harry said and started to walk away. Really, Remus deserved a detention.

Severus caught up with him. "Why did you let Billings step in first? I mean, you were there long enough to stop it from the beginning."

Now that the crisis had been averted, Harry was glad to let the old memory die. "Billings broke James' concentration on you. And that was good enough. I wouldn't have let him hurt you, if that's what you're worried about."

"He wouldn't have. Too many witnesses. He's not subtle or smart." It was a different situation, wasn't it? Severus wasn't the outcast he'd been in Harry's past. James might or might not have done the same thing, but the results would have been different.

"No. He's not," Harry said. "But he could have done you some damage before anyone would have noticed."

"I would have got even with him for anything he did."

*****
Part 4 - Seventh Year

"Severus," Harry said, holding his hands out. "I'm so sorry. I got here as soon as I'd heard. But Professor Dumbledore had some problems locating me in Mongolia."

Severus took both of his hands and just held them for a moment, trying to gain control of himself. He was wearing an ill-fitting brown Muggle suit that hung on him. His eyes were red-rimmed and his face deathly pale. There was a sadness that clung to him, making him seem much older than his seventeen years. "Thank you for coming at all."

"I'm going to go home, now, Sev," Lily said. She was the only person there. "Call me if you need something, okay?"

"Thanks for coming," he said, softly. She put a hand on his arm before she slipped through the door.

"Where's your father?" Harry asked, looking around. Not that he really wanted to meet the bastard.

"Down at the pub." His disgust came through loud and clear in his tone.

"Do you want to take a walk?" Harry had never been good at dealing with grief, his own or anyone else's. But for Severus, he would make an effort.

"No. I'd just like to sit for a while." Severus slumped onto the sofa.

Harry sat down awkwardly in the chair beside it. "What happened?"

"Muggle flu." Severus laughed and started to choke. "She was so worn down that she couldn't fight it off. He wouldn't let me brew anything for her. And there was no money to buy medicine. Muggle bastard drank both of their pay cheques."

Severus took several deep breaths. "I'd like to hex him for that alone." He opened his mouth to say something else and then closed it. His eyes went wet.

Harry knew he shouldn't, but he couldn't help himself. He knelt on the floor and took Severus into his arms. "It's all right."

"It's not. He killed her. I hate him. I hate everything about him," Severus said against his neck. "Sorry, sorry." He started to shake.

Severus soaked the shoulder of Harry's Muggle suit. As he cried, Harry rubbed his too-thin back, whispered nonsense into his ear. When Severus reached the hiccupping stage, Harry pulled back just a little and wiped his face with a handkerchief. "Better?"

"It's never going to be better."

"It will. I promise." Harry moved the greasy hair away from Severus' face with the flat of his hand. The boy looked at him, his eyes still wet.

The back door slammed, and a thin man came into the room. While his hair was short, it was obviously dirty, and his hawk nose was even bigger than Snape's had been as an adult. He was wearing an ill-fitting Muggle suit similar to the one Severus had on.

"What the fuck is going on here?" Tobias Snape shouted at both of them.

Harry pulled back and stood up. "I'm Harry Potter. From your son's school."

"Fuckin' freak. What are you doing with your hands all over him?" He made it sound dirty.

Harry had been ready to cut him some slack today, but the comment changed that.

Before Harry could even open his mouth, Severus stood up to face his father. "Leave it be, Da."

"I'll not have him manhandling you." Tobias wasn't even looking at Severus. His hands closed into fists. "You're enough of a pansy without someone making you into more of one." He turned to Harry and smiled. His teeth were broken and yellowed to the point of being almost brown. "I tried to beat some toughness into him, but he was too much of a freak for it to work."

Harry really, really hated when someone used the word freak as a description. And this man was already grating on his nerves. "I would rethink your choices."

"No. I think I'm going to teach you a lesson about being a nancy-boy." Tobias laughed.

Severus pulled out his wand. "Don't you go near him, Da. I will hex you."

But Tobias just laughed again. "You're not allowed to use it on me."

"He may not be able to do magic, but there is no such restriction on me. Don't cross me, Mr. Snape." Harry shook his head very slightly, hoping Severus would understand not to correct him on the assumption. Better to let Harry handle this.

Tobias blinked. And took a step towards Harry. "A little thing like you? You think you can take me?"

"I don't think it. I know it. I don't think you want to test it, though. Really. It would not do you any good."

Tobias swung. And connected with the brick wall shield that Harry had silently thrown up when Tobias moved towards him. The crunch of the bones in his hand was easily heard in the quiet room. He screamed, holding his hand. "What did you to do to me, you freak? My hand is broken!"

Harry was an inch from losing his temper entirely, but he took a deep breath and managed to pull back. That wouldn't do Severus any good. "I'm sure it is. You should do something about it."

"Get out of my house." He looked at Severus. "Both of you. I only let you stay this long because your mum wanted me to."

"I need to pack." Severus was stepping towards the narrow staircase.

"Now. I want you both gone. Now!" Tobias was shouting again.

"What do you need, Severus?" Harry asked, gripping his arm. Clearly, Severus was on the verge of losing his temper, too. Harry didn't want him doing something he might regret, or worse, that would bring the MLE down on him.

"Trunk, books -- all of them, including my mum's, my robes," Severus ticked off.

Harry waved his wand and the items requested all flew down the stairs and packed themselves into the truck. Within a minute, Harry handed Severus a one-inch by one-inch cube. "Did you need anything else?"

"Nothing." He shot a sneer at his father. "Nothing at all."

"Let's go then." Harry held the door opened for him.

*****

"Do you have your Apparition license yet?" Harry asked, closing the door behind him. The neighborhood was deserted.

"Of course," Severus said. He motioned for Harry to follow him into the alley behind the house.

It had the air and smell of disuse that went with the rest of the rundown neighborhood. "Let's go to the Leaky Cauldron. I'll get you a room there."

"Where are you staying?" Severus glanced around. Someone was taking his trash out and they both watched him.

"I live at Hogwarts." Harry wanted to be gone from here before someone saw them, or Tobias looked out the window. "We need to go."

"One more second." Severus looked back at the house and then nodded.

They both arrived at the pub within a second or two of each other.

"Are you hungry? Never mind," Harry said as he started to shake his head. "You should eat something."

"Fine." Severus headed for one of the tables in the back. "I could eat."

"Growing boy."

"I am. I'm way taller than you now, in case you hadn't noticed." Severus smirked as he sat down.

"You were taller than me halfway through last year. It would be hard not to notice." Sometime in the last year, he'd lost the last bit of boyishness in his looks. Harry could see the adult he'd become in his face. While he wouldn't be handsome, he wouldn't be ugly from bitterness either.

"What can I get you?" Tom asked.

"Mr. Snape and I will have whatever's on special," Harry said.

"Right away," Tom went back towards the kitchen.

"I liked it better when you called me Severus."

"When did I do that?" Because really he shouldn't have.

Severus gave him an annoyed look. "When you asked me what I needed to take with me."

"Right. I called your father Mr. Snape. I could hardly do the same with you." Harry looked over at him. "What are we going to do with you for three weeks?"

"Why don't you let me come to Hogwarts with you?"

"There's no one there to supervise you before the teachers all come back."

"I'm an adult. I hardly need supervision."

Harry managed not to even crack a smile. "Of course not, but those are the rules."

"Are you going to leave me here without any supervision?"

"Point. Hogwarts would be the better option. You'll be bored to tears. What would you have done at home?" Harry asked.

"Watched the telly and argued with my father."

"Well, we'll pick up your supplies and robes after lunch and I'll call the Headmaster to see what he has to say."

Tom brought their dinners and Severus tucked into his as if he hadn't eaten in a long time. It was possible that he hadn't.

"Tom," Harry called. "Can I use your Floo?"

"Going already?" Severus asked, stuffing a roll into his mouth.

"No. I'm just going to make a call. Do you want mine?" He pushed his half-eaten plate at Severus.

"Thanks," Severus said, already starting to dig into it.

*****

"Harry," Dumbledore said, his head floating in the flames. "Is there a problem?"

"Only that Tobias Snape threw Severus out. I was going to put him up at the Leaky Cauldron for a few weeks until school starts, but I'm not sure it's best to leave him on his own for so long with nothing to do."

"Indeed not. I don't generally allow the students here without supervision, but perhaps I can make an exception in this case."

"I was thinking that. He won't admit it, but he's pretty upset about his mother. Maybe we can find something for him to take his mind off it?"

"What did you have in mind?"

"I was thinking that maybe he can prepare the bases and ingredients for the coming Potions classes."

Dumbledore nodded. "I'll Floo Horace and ask him what Severus can do to help out."

"Very good. I'll bring him up with me."

"There will be a meeting later tonight. And we'll be discussing a specific problem."

"What problem?" Harry asked, and then sighed when Dumbledore shook his head. Not on an open Floo.

As he'd done every year, he'd spent the past summer traveling. Once he'd got a taste for seeing other places, he'd seen no reason to stop, even if he wasn't looking for something specific. It gave him a whole new perspective on the wizarding world. "I'll be there."

*****

Dumbledore called the meeting to order. "We have a significant problem with several of the students being courted by Voldemort."

"They are just children!" Molly Weasley said, as if that mattered when it came to ideology. Percy sat on her lap, squirming and whining.

"They are almost adults. And some of them are dangerous." Mad-eyed Moody looked at Harry. "Especially Severus Snape."

"Severus isn't a Death Eater. He wouldn't be that stupid." Harry refused to believe Severus would associate himself with the violence and death of Voldemort.

"Don't be naive, Harry," Kingsley said, giving him a sharp look. "He's been going out with Regulus Black for almost two years. And he's been associating with Black's friends, picking up their ideas."

"He's never said anything to me about it." He and Kingsley had split up last spring just before Harry had gone away for the summer. They had remained on friendly terms. Kingsley's parents had arranged a marriage for him and he'd agreed to it.

Severus knew how Harry felt about Voldemort and the Death Eaters, and probably wouldn't mention anything about it in Harry's presence. Not only that, but Harry was aware of just how much Severus wanted the things that he didn't have. There were obviously some promises that the Death Eaters could make that Severus might listen to. "I'll speak to him about it."

"Be careful what you say," Dumbledore said. "You don't want him to take the information back to Voldemort."

"He wouldn't do that." Harry wanted to believe that Severus wouldn't betray him. Unfortunately, it was too easy to see the hunger in Severus' eyes.

"I wouldn't bet the house on that," Kingsley said, and his expression was grim.

Harry rubbed the bridge of his nose with weary fingers. "Do you know something more? Something you haven't said?"

"There were several raids this summer where junior Death Eaters took part. We're fairly sure they didn't take an active role, but they watched as Muggles were tortured and killed. We spotted Snape in the crowds during at least two of the raids."

Harry's stomach twisted and he started to feel sick. He'd worked so hard to see that this didn't happen, and it was happening anyway. Where had he gone wrong?

"Don't beat yourself up," Kingsley whispered. "Some people are just bad --"

"No. I refuse to believe that of Severus. I'm going to speak to him and see if I can't get him to back off."

"I suspect he's in too far. He'll be taking the Mark, if he hasn't already. We're fairly sure that Regulus has already taken it," Alice Longbottom said with a resigned sigh.

Harry would have said that Regulus was too young, but he remembered the speculation that Draco Malfoy had taken the Mark before the beginning of sixth year.

****

"Harry, a moment more of your time," Dumbledore said as he stood to leave.

The room cleared out and Harry sat back down at the table. "We need to discuss the last Horcrux, don't we?" Sirius Black had come through with the Hufflepuff cup last year right before Bellatrix's wedding to Lestrange and his own split with his parents.

Dumbledore nodded. "You said it was in Malfoy Manor."

"I'm pretty sure it is. The diary was entrusted to Lucius. I hope that he's just keeping it in his library." Harry would need some time to find it once he got inside. If he got inside.

"Do you have any thoughts about how to get it?" Dumbledore didn't look hopeful.

"I've been thinking of a way to get myself invited to the Manor. Unfortunately, the couple of times I've seen Lucius Malfoy since he left school, he's been coldly polite to me. And even if I did get in, wouldn't it seem very suspicious if the diary went missing right after my visit."

"Perhaps we should transfigure something to look like it, and then it might not be missed for some time." They'd done the same thing with the locket.

"Good thought. I still need an invitation."

"Maybe your friendship with Severus will help with that."

"Instead of warning him away from Voldemort, I should make it seem like I'm interested?" The very thought turned Harry's stomach.

"I think it might work."

Clearly Dumbledore didn't know Severus as well as he thought he did. "He'd never buy it," Harry said. "I've spent quite a lot of time telling him he shouldn't be playing with baby Death Eaters."

"Perhaps you could make it seem that you were interested in hearing what Voldemort has to say." Dumbledore could be such a bastard when he tried.

Oh, he understood that Dumbledore was more concerned with the greater good than any specific person, but sometimes he was a little more cavalier with people's emotions than Harry could stomach, particularly where Severus was concerned. "I can't believe you would even suggest such a thing. I don't want to lie to him and I especially don't want to hurt him."

Dumbledore turned a sad look his way. "Don't you think that if he becomes a Death Eater, he's going to hurt a great many more people?"

Maybe he would. Harry hoped not, though. He still believed that Severus would do the right thing. "All right, maybe if I know what he's being told, I can...I don't know, counteract it."

"That's all I'm asking, really. It will get you into Malfoy Manor, and perhaps you can nick two birds with one stone, as it were."

Suddenly very tired, Harry stood. "I'll talk to him."

*****

The fall was unusually warm this year, and the grass and trees were all still leafy when school started. Harry found Severus outside under a tree, reading, his long legs stretched out in front of him.

"Severus," Harry said, sitting down beside him. "I want to talk to you about something."

"What about?" Severus' tone was wary and his eyes darted around, clearly looking for escape. He closed his book carefully.

Harry took a deep breath. "About your friendship with Regulus. I'm given to understand you're still going out with him."

"What do you care?" Severus sneered, looking annoyed at the presumption. "I'm an adult now. You can't tell me whom I can see."

"I wouldn't dream of it, but I do want to...warn you against making decisions you might regret for the rest of your life." And Harry had the certain knowledge that he put behind his words.

Not that Severus was going to listen to him. "How can you say that? Have you ever listened to Lord Voldemort? He makes a lot of sense."

"He's a Dark Wizard --"

"I've heard that. A lot of people are afraid of him. But he wants glory and honor for all wizards. And he'd separate us from the Muggles."

"Is that why he kills them?"

"They are worthless."

Harry took a deep breath. "Your father is worthless, but surely there are other Muggles who are not."

"I don't care about them. And before you ask, not even Evans' parents. What has any Muggle ever done for me?"

"It might be better to ask what they did to deserve to be tortured to death?" This wasn't the way to get what he wanted, but it was hard to even pretend to be interested in what Voldemort spewed out. "What are you trying to find with them?"

Severus blinked. "I think you know what I want. I want people to respect me."

"And you think that Voldemort will help with that. How?"

"His people came to me. They courted me. They tell me I will do great things, and that they will help me. That I can do great things for all wizards. I want to."

"And you believe them? Why? I don't understand that."

"You'd have to hear him talk. Lord Voldemort understands that the Ministry is crumbling. That it is decadent and that we need sweeping change. It won't be easy, but it's something worth doing." Severus sounded like a convert already.

Harry wondered what he was going to do when Voldemort asked him to kill the first time. Severus was so young and so filled with his own hatred. He sighed. "I do want to understand why you'd believe in this."

Severus sat up and blinked at him. "Really? I can take you with me to one of our meetings. You can meet him. And you will understand after that. I know you will."

*****

The white peacocks strolled along the path to the entrance of Malfoy Manor, reminding Harry of unpleasant times. Even if it hadn't happened yet, and might not happen at all, being here put a lump of dread into Harry's belly.

"You have to hear him speak, Professor." Severus was leading him along. He'd received permission to bring Harry and seemed so damned excited about the whole thing.

The entire situation gave Harry a bad feeling, but getting the diary would be worth an evening of listening to Voldemort's rhetoric. He sincerely hoped he could keep his mouth shut.

"Mr. Potter," Voldemort held out his hand. His face was pale, and his features seemed burned and blurred; they were waxy and oddly distorted. The whites of his eyes had a bloody look to them. "I have to say I'm surprised you wished to come tonight. Though I'm very pleased by it."

Harry wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, maybe something closer to the good looking Tom Riddle from the diary. While this version did look more human than the snakelike version Harry had known, he didn't look completely human. The tearing of his soul to make the Horcruxes had obviously taken its toll.

Before he met Voldemort's eyes, Harry Occluded his mind with thoughts of what Severus had told him about Voldemort and a carefully constructed curiosity. "Severus has spoken so highly of you and your ideas. I wondered if perhaps I'd misjudged --"

"Yes. I wanted you to tell him about how you see Wizarding Society changing, how those changes will be for the best," Severus said excitedly.

"Don't interrupt his Lordship, Severus," Lucius Malfoy said, tightly. "You should know better."

"Nonsense, Lucius. Severus is just excited to be a part of something that will change our world. Aren't you?"

Severus nodded eagerly, his eyes alight with pleasure. "Yes, my Lord."

"Why not let me take a walk in the gardens with Mr. Potter? We'll be in for dinner in a bit. You don't mind waiting for us, do you?" He smiled at Narcissa.

She smiled back, but it didn't reach her eyes. "No, of course not, my Lord."

*****

Harry finally escaped Voldemort's company and found the library. What he really wanted was to find a washroom and have a bath. He couldn't guess what they promised Severus that he would buy into such insanity.

He hoped he'd made the right responses, but Merlin, it was hard when he wanted to vomit on Voldemort's shiny shoes. After a deep breath and then another, he was ready to look for the diary.

It was ridiculously easy to find it in the bookcase. Most of the books were leather bound first editions, with a few other things thrown in. The diary was smaller than the rest. It was almost too easy. He'd put a charm around it to seal in the magic, and then slipped it into his pocket. He was about to replace the copy in the bookcase when the French doors that led to the patio opened.

Severus came in, standing in the doorway for a moment, looking windblown, with his clean hair flowing around his shoulders. The light softened his harsh features. Harry felt a stirring that should not have been associated with Severus.

Before he could even consider it, Severus sidled up to him, and slid his arms around Harry, leaning down to kiss him. For one second, Harry was too stunned to move, then Severus' hand slid down the front of his trousers, and heat burst through him.

Oh yes, Harry thought, his hips pushing forward into Severus' hand. This was where they'd been headed for a long time. It should have shocked him, but he was too busy drowning in Severus' kiss to worry about it.

He groaned, tightening his arms and sliding his tongue into Severus' mouth. His hands, of their own volition, moved into Severus' robes, looking for purchase.

Severus pulled back to look at him for a moment, then leaned down again, his tongue swiped Harry's, and sensation exploded on his tongue. The world narrowed down to Severus in his arms and Severus' taste in his mouth.

The universe shifted in some fundamental way, but he couldn't stop kissing long enough to figure out how. Truth was, he didn't care about anything right then except laying Severus on the fancy Persian carpet and fucking him until they both couldn't think of anything else --

"Excuse us." Lucius' tone was far too amused for Harry's liking. It did occur to him that Lucius and Voldemort had been watching them, possibly for the entire time they had been kissing.

"Oh God." Harry moved away from Severus. "I'm sorry."

"There you are, Lucius. I told you there was an explanation as to why someone who is in Dumbledore's pocket might show up looking for information." Voldemort chuckled. "I believe you and I will talk again, Mr. Potter."

"What do you have in your hand?" Lucius asked.

"I picked it up from the bookcase. It's blank." Harry made a show of putting it back. "I'm sorry. It caught my eye. It just looked out of place."

"Yes, it does. It doesn't belong in a bookcase such as this." Voldemort's tone was cold.

"Come along, Severus. We should get back to school." Harry tangled his fingers into Severus' and tugged slightly.

Severus nodded. "Good night."

*****

They did not speak again until Harry had cast a Silencing Spell on his office. He turned to Severus. "What the hell was that?"

Severus folded his arms across his chest. "I think that was saving your arse. They couldn't figure out why one of Dumbledore's men would suddenly show up except to spy on them. I gave them a reason."

"How did you know?"

"I overheard them talking in the garden after you left. And I went to find you at the same time they did. I've seen them feed people to a huge snake. I wouldn't want that to be you." Severus was visibly shaking.

"They would hardly kill me." But Harry wasn't actually sure whether they would've or not. It was possible that they might have done it. And if they had wanted to take him down, he'd been far too outnumbered to save himself. Oh, he might have been able to take a couple of them out with his old Auror spells, but it was unlikely he could have taken all of them, even with Severus to help.

"Oh, don't think for a moment that they wouldn't do it." Severus put a damp hand on Harry's arm. "They would have killed you."

"And you don't care about that?"

Severus pushed him away and glared. "Of course I care about you, you idiot. That's why I came in and kissed you -- to give you a reason for being there." He looked right at Harry. "I know you set me up in there, and I hope you got what you wanted."

"Don't call me names. I'll take points for disrespect." But that wasn't the issue.

"Don't try to change the subject. I know you set me up." He didn't even let Harry respond. "I know you, Professor. I know how you think. You wanted something at Malfoy Manor and were willing to use me to get it."

Harry would have to make a point of not underestimating Severus' perceptiveness in the future. "About that --"

"Are you going to tell me what it was?"

As much as he wanted to trust Severus, Harry couldn't, not quite yet. There was too much at stake, too much he didn't know yet. "No. But I did want to remind you that you shouldn't have --"

"Don't even try to deny you kissed me back this time."

There was no denying it now. And Harry wasn't even sure he wanted to. "I... I guess I did at that." He touched his mouth.

Almost without his being aware of it happening, Severus had grown into a man. If not a handsome one, then certainly a striking one. And this Severus bore little resemblance to the bitter, ugly man that Harry had known as a boy. But that was not the issue now. "You need to choose what you want from your life."

Severus folded his arms across his chest, and glared. "I already have."

"Tell me, then, because I don't want there to be any misunderstandings between us."

"Fine. I choose you."

Harry blinked. He ruthlessly squelched the pleasure that was trying to invade his chest. "I'm not one of the choices here. I meant between Voldemort and the Light."

"I'm not sure I appreciate the way you put that. With Lord Voldemort in the wrong," said Severus angrily.

"He is wrong. He doesn't have the right to kill people who weren't born with magic. He doesn't have the right to kill people who don't agree with him. And I think you should know that."

Severus' eyes flashed, and then he looked down. "I don't want to kill anyone. Except maybe Potter and Black."

Given everything, Harry wasn't going to address that. "I think we need to have a talk with the Headmaster."

"I'd rather not. He's not inclined to look kindly on me. Not anymore."

"You haven't been Marked. Have you?"

"It would require the killing of a Muggle. And as much as I hate them, I don't want to kill one. Not even my father."

"Nice to know you're not capable of patricide."

Severus grinned evilly. "I'm enjoying the idea that he's going to be miserable for a long time to come. I wouldn't want to cut that short."

"Of course not. All right. Let's go have a chat --"

Harry's mouth was suddenly filled with Severus' tongue. Without even meaning to, he closed his eyes, and let the kiss happen. His heart started to pound and his prick started to harden. He moaned, sliding his hands into Severus' hair, and anchoring his head.

The kiss gentled, slow pushes and pulls of Severus' thin lips, soft little flicks of his tongue. Severus melted against him, sleek and firm in his arms. And Harry let him, holding him tighter, and sliding a hand into his robes.

Oh sweet Merlin, what was he doing? He had to stop. One more second, just one more. But no. He had to stop. Slowly, but firmly, he extracted himself from Severus' hold. "No. We can't."

"What? What? Of course we can."

"Do you remember what I told you when you were fifteen about teachers abusing their students? It still applies." He wished he could convince his aching prick of that.

"Except that I'm an adult in Wizarding Society and can give consent." Severus pointed a long finger at him. "And you're not my teacher."

"It doesn't matter. I am a teacher at your school, and you're a student. How would you feel if I gave you a detention?"

"Wouldn't be the first, would it? And think about all the fun --"

"That is why this isn't going to happen. Not now."

Severus' eyes lit up. "But later. When I've finished school?"

"I refuse to make you any promises. Not now."

"Fine." But he not only didn't seem upset, he almost seemed...amused.

That worried Harry more than anger would have.

*****

"I fail to see why I have to accompany you to see the Headmaster. Can't you tell him what he needs to know without me?" Severus said for the third time in as many minutes. He could whine like no one's business when he didn't want to do something.

If it wouldn't have seemed completely childish, Harry would've put his fingers in his ears to stop having to hear it.

They reached the Gargoyle that guarded Albus' office. "Lemon Drops," Harry said and the Gargoyle stepped aside to let them up.

"I don't see what the problem is. Professor Dumbledore will be pleased that we were successful." Harry followed Severus onto the moving stairs.

"You still haven't told me what it is you retrieved out of Malfoy Manor." Severus' voice held his curiosity.

Harry just shook his head. "No I haven't," he said as the stairs deposited them at the open office door.

Dumbledore stood as they came in. "You were successful?"

"Yes. And Mr. Snape helped me out. They think I'm at least willing to listen to them." Harry had a vague plan to return as often as he could manage it. There was a lot of information that would be helpful to the Order. And wouldn't it be ironic if he was the spy this time.

"And how was that accomplished?" Dumbledore asked, his tone already suspicious.

"I gave them a reason for Professor Potter to be willing to change sides." Severus stared at Dumbledore and then looked down. "They wanted to know why he'd even consider it."

"And what did you do?"

Severus' face turned red, but he didn't look down. "I made them believe that Professor Potter and I were involved."

"In other words, he kissed me. Rather passionately." Harry was pleased that he'd managed to say it without giving himself away by blushing. "All things considered, it was a good idea. I think they bought it. I'll be able to go to a few meetings, I think. Maybe find some information about what they are planning --"

Dumbledore nodded.

"No! You're not going back there." Severus put both his hands on Harry's arms, and turned him around. He shook his head frantically. "You can't. I couldn't bear it if something happened to you. And I know it will."

Harry patted one of Severus' hands. He wanted to move the hair out of Severus' eyes, but that probably wouldn't be appropriate in this circumstance. "Nothing is going to happen to me. Okay. I think it will be fine for me to go back."

"Do you think you can, Harry, without endangering yourself?" Dumbledore asked, speculation coloring his tone.

"He can't. But I certainly can," Severus said, dropping his hands and turning to Dumbledore.

"Can we trust you?" Dumbledore asked.

Severus straightened and his gaze met Dumbledore's. "I wouldn't do anything that would endanger Har...Professor Potter."

"If it's not safe for me to go back there, then I certainly don't want you going, either." It would be even more ironic if after everything, Severus became a spy anyway.

"I'm already committed, or they think I am," Severus said quietly, looking down at his feet. "I'm in a lot deeper than Professor Potter could be without being Marked."

"Why don't you want to be Marked?" Dumbledore's expression was blank. But Harry rather thought a lot rested on this answer.

Severus drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "Part of what they require before you take the Mark is to kill a Muggle. I don't want to do that. And there is no leaving his service. I'm stuck."

"How have you avoided it so far?" Harry asked. Regulus Black was probably in the same position.

"By telling him I'd be ever so much more useful to them with a completed education. And that if the Headmaster knows I'm Marked, he might expel me." He met Dumbledore's eyes. "I think he's afraid of you."

Dumbledore didn't say anything to that. "If I were willing to trust you, and I'm not saying I am, what do you want in return for the information?"

Severus looked pointedly at Harry and then cleared his throat. "Nothing. I won't say I don't agree with some of their theories, because I do. I don't like Muggles. I just don't want to kill them."

"That's very honest of you." Dumbledore actually sounded pleased.

"I've got nothing to lose and everything to gain."

Harry wasn't sure what about this conversation was bothering him, but it seemed....off somehow. "You know, if I didn't know better, I'd say you had this planned."

Severus smirked at him. "Oh, right. Ever since I was eleven, I've been plotting to make sure you ended up with me."

Only Harry was afraid he heard the truth in that, but he wasn't going to ask him about it in front of Dumbledore. Severus would never admit to it.

"Is that truly your ultimate goal?" Why was Dumbledore smiling like that? Harry didn't like that smile at all.

"Of course it is," Severus said, his voice laced liberally with sarcasm. "What other goal could I possibly have had?"

"I don't know," Dumbledore said, still smiling. "What do you want?"

"I think I've already said what I wanted." He looked at Harry and then back to Dumbledore. "I've got homework I need to get done. May I go?"

"Yes, fine. We'll appreciate any information you can bring back to us."

"You don't think he was serious, do you?" Harry asked after Severus had closed the door behind him.

Dumbledore chuckled. "It seems unlikely, but I wouldn't completely discount the possibility."

"And you find that funny?" Because really, Harry didn't believe it, and if it were true, it wasn't at all funny.

"Not funny, no. But I do think young Mr. Snape knows what he wants. And will stop at nothing until he gets it. I just misjudged what he wanted." Dumbledore looked at him over the rim of his half-moon glasses and his eyes were twinkling.

Harry looked down and then he laughed, impressed despite himself. "Well, he is a clever bastard, isn't he?"

*****

In a little used classroom in the dungeons, Harry raised the sword and brought it down as hard as he could into the diary. The sound it emitted was unearthly and horrible. Dumbledore, who was standing beside him, winced.

It started to bleed out black ink, and then smoke. Another high-pitched sound filled the small room and that gave way to an eerie silence.

"Well, that was every bit as awful as it was when I did it the first time," Harry said, remembering eleven year old Ginny lying unconscious in the Chamber of Secrets. Part of him would always love her and mourn for what was lost to him. "At least the sword worked."

"I'm sure Godric would be glad to know you've found so many uses for his sword." Dumbledore sighed.

"Actually, I didn't use the sword last time."

Dumbledore looked up. "What did you use?"

"A basilisk fang."

"Dare I ask where you acquired that from?"

Harry laughed. "I'd killed a basilisk right before I did in the diary. I didn't even know it was a Horcrux at the time."

"Do I even want to know the details of that?"

"Now that I think about it, maybe you should know them. The basilisk is probably still living in the Chamber of Secrets."

"Excuse me?"

"Remember when Hagrid was expelled for supposedly opening the Chamber of Secrets? Well, it was actually Tom Riddle, and there's a huge basilisk down there. Somehow he knew about it. That's what killed those people. It was the monster."

Dumbledore nodded. "And you're saying it's still there? And you kill it in the future."

"My past, actually, but yes. I think you might want to have someone take care of it sooner. Not to mention that basilisk skin is a rare potions ingredient and will no doubt fund your scholarship fund for years to come."

Dumbledore smiled at him. "That's very practical for a Gryffindor."

"How did you know?"

"By this point, it's obvious, m'boy."

"I'm not sure that's a compliment." Harry picked up the dead diary and put it into the cauldron of acid. It smoked and slowly dissolved. "You haven't said anything about what happened with Severus last night."

Dumbledore held out his hand for Harry to precede him out the door. "We should discuss this in my office, I think."

"You're probably right." Because there was no one in the corridor didn't mean that no one was listening.

They walked in silence until they reached Dumbledore's office. "I don't plan for anything like that to happen again. I can tell you that."

"You don't seem nearly as upset as you were the last time he did something like this."

"I know. He's older now. I still wish that he'd change his mind. But I know him well enough to know that he's not going to. He is the most stubborn boy I've ever run across."

Dumbledore chuckled. "More so than even yourself?"

"I'm not nearly that stubborn."

"Of course, you're not." Dumbledore sobered. "You do know it's against the rules --"

"You don't even have to say it. I would never --"

"Never is a very long time when you've got a stubborn young man instigating things. You may find yourself in a situation not of your making."

Harry was not going to sleep with Severus until he left school, if then. "I am just as stubborn as he is."

"I hope so."

*****

"I can't believe this." Severus slammed into his office, throwing himself on the sofa.

"What can't you believe?" Harry looked at him sprawled there and then forced himself to look away. Once he'd started to notice Severus' long lean body, it was hard not to think about what it would be like to touch or to lick or to taste or.... He shivered and pushed the image out of his mind, focusing back on the present.

"Lily is dating that dunderhead James Potter." The shock and horror in Severus' voice was so great that Harry had to bite back a laugh.

"So?" This had been going on since the beginning of the school year. "Didn't you know that?"

"No!" Severus whined. "How can she do that to me?"

"I don't think it has anything to do with you." Harry shook his head. No, he absolutely did not find that pout adorable. What he needed to do was find someone else to date for the rest of the term. Except he didn't want to date anyone else. And Severus might gut him if he tried.

"But it does. She's my best friend. And she's dating him. I just can't believe it." Severus closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall, his long neck bared.

Harry did not want to lick it. No, he did not. "You have to admit, he's been better this year."

"Very slightly. He's still a total and complete prat. And I hate his guts." Severus put a hand on his chest and rubbed it back and forth idly.

Closing his eyes, Harry breathed out sharply. "Yes. I did get that."

"How can she do this? I tried to talk to her and she went mad. Said I had no right to tell her whom she could date, just like she didn't say anything when I was going out with Reg. But she did. She complained long and bitterly about it. And the other people I saw. You know how much she hated Avery? I mean, yeah, they don't like Mudbloods, but --"

That snapped Harry out of his pleasant fantasy. "Okay, Mr. Snape, think about what you just said."

"James hates me every bit as much as Avery might have hated Lily. I still liked her." And that made perfect sense to him.

"And she'll still like you. She's put up with you this long, I expect it will be for life." Which was something else Harry was grateful for. He might never be as popular as James Potter, but Severus wasn't friendless.

"I wasn't worried about that."

"Of course not."

"I want her to stop seeing him." He folded his arms over his chest as if he actually had a say in the matter.

"Did you stop seeing Reg? When either Lily or I told you that you should?"

"Of course not. You were wrong. And besides, I wasn't going to marry Reg. She might do that with James and then I'll be stuck with him forever."

Harry knew he would be stuck with James forever. "You do know that James and I are related."

Severus gave him a withering look. "But you don't like him."

"He's my cousin." After so many years, the lie rolled off his tongue without hesitation. And in truth, James was much closer to being a cousin then he was to anything else. "I expect I'll continue to see him for some time to come."

At least until Rose died, and Harry hoped that wouldn't happen anytime soon.

"Crap. That means I'm going to have to see him, too. No matter what. Well, I still don't want Lily to waste herself on him." The casual assumption that Severus would remain a part of Harry's life should've bothered him much more than it did.

"Calm down."

"You calm down!" Severus huffed and pointed a finger at him. "This is very serious!"

"You're skirting pretty close to the edge, Mr. Snape."

"When are you going to call me Severus?"

"When you leave school." Or turn into a grownup. Harry didn't have high hopes for that happening anytime soon. "Speaking of leaving school. Do you have any plans?"

"Of course I do. I've applied to several potions apprenticeship programs. There's one in healing at St. Mungo's. There's another one in research at St. Juliana in Paris. And a third one in Dark Arts at Durmstrang Institute of Dark Magic. Lord Voldemort said he wanted me to look into that one."

A chill raced down Harry's spine at the mention of Voldemort. "I thought --"

"Don't worry. I'm not seriously considering it. But I don't want to tip my hand yet. I won't let him Mark me, but haven't I brought you back some interesting information?"

Harry didn't like the idea of Severus spying. "So London or Paris?"

"It would be two years away from here, but I'm thinking seriously about Paris."

Harry nodded. "I think that time abroad would do you a world of good."

"I can also Floo home on the weekends. It's not that far."

*****

"No one has been able to get near him in a duel," Kingsley reported at the next Order meeting. "We've had our best duelists go after him now that you've said it's time, and they have had no luck at all."

"I wonder if I need to do it," Harry said.

"Why you?" Alice Longbottom asked. "I mean, I know you're powerful. We can all feel it. But are you that much more powerful than the rest of us?"

"I'm not sure that I'm that much more powerful, but I am a good duelist."

"That good?" Frank Longbottom asked. "If you are, why didn't you go into the Aurors? They would have taken you in between sessions if you could beat one of their best."

Harry shrugged. "The timing wasn't right for it. Can we set up something where I come with you on one of the raids?"

"I don't know. I'd have to figure out a way to sneak you in under the noses of my superiors. Who would not allow it," Kingsley said.

"Perhaps I can help with that," Dumbledore said.

"How, Albus?" Arthur Weasley asked. Molly wasn't with him tonight and Harry hoped he'd be able to ask after her when the meeting was over. Carrying twins was never easy, but he'd bet anything Fred and George were even worse than regular ones.

"I'll speak with Fudge about letting Harry come along. I can say he's specially trained from America."

"I'm not sure even you can convince him. And really, we'd better make sure he is trained --"

Harry was across the table and holding his wand to Moody's throat. "You were saying?"

"Very good." Kingsley laughed. "I've sparred with him, Moody. I could have told you he's got good reflexes."

"Nothing like a practical demonstration." Moody patted his robes down and smiled.

"Let me know when," Harry said.

*****

"Rumor has it that you're sleeping with Snape?" James lounged indolently on the sofa. His mother had just left to see about their Christmas Eve dinner.

Harry couldn't quite believe that James had the balls to ask that, but James was nothing if not reckless. "You know, if it were true, I could be fired."

"No one would care." James shrugged, not even looking at him.

"Obviously someone does, or they wouldn't ask."

"I just can't believe you'd have such bad taste."

"Funny, that's just what he said about Lily," Harry said, smiling at him. And trying not to think about Severus sprawled on the sofa in his office.

"Point," James laughed, surprisingly good-naturedly. "I can't stand him. I'm hoping you're just being obstinate and you're not really going to bring him home."

"Since this is your home, you could simply not invite me." But Harry hoped it wouldn't come to that.

"Thing is, I have two cousins. You and Devlin."

"And your point?" Harry rather thought he'd got the point, and was rather surprised, but pleased that James was turning out so much like his parents. It was as if James had finally grown up this year, or maybe it was Lily's influence.

"I might not like you, but you're family. And that's important."

Harry laughed. "Thanks. I think."

"It's nothing personal. You have horrific taste in friends."

"And your friends are so much better. Tormenting people who are less fortunate than you are." Harry had always made a point of not getting into it with James at the holidays. He loved Rose and wouldn't do anything to hurt her. And this would. "Never mind."

"No." James sat up. "I've wanted to talk to you about this for a long time. But you refuse to bring it up."

"There's a time and place for it and now isn't it," Harry said, glaring at him. Really, James should know better. "It's the holidays and all."

"It's not like we can talk about it at school. You're as likely to give me a detention as talk to me. Which isn't very sporting of you, by the way."

"Right. I treat everyone the same. I dare you to say otherwise."

James grunted. "Maybe. But I'm family. You should treat me better."

Harry didn't know if he should laugh or cry. "There are enough people who give you special favors for your looks and charm. You don't need me doing it as well."

"No. Of course not, you're the champion of the greasy underdog."

"Well, someone has to. You, who should be gracious and grateful for what you have, only want to rub it in the noses of the people who don't have your privilege. It's amazing you didn't end up in league with Voldemort."

James went white. "How dare you say that? It's him that's in league with You Know Who. Not me."

"Or not, as it happens."

"He was dating one of them. And I know Regulus is a Death Eater. Sirius told me."

"It doesn't matter who he dated. He's not associated with Voldemort in any way." Except as a spy, but as much as he'd got to like James this past year, he wasn't ready to tell him about that. One false word might endanger Severus.

"I'm surprised you're even here. I thought you'd be with him since he's not going home for Yule this year."

It was on the tip of Harry's tongue to tell him that Severus had no home to return to, but he bit it back. Severus would not love him for talking about his home life. "As it happens, I'm going to go back to school tomorrow to help out. Several extra students stayed this year."

"Right. So, you won't be here for dinner tomorrow night." James seemed ticked off by that.

"I just said that."

"Fine. Lily is going back up to school as well. Maybe I should, except --"

"Except what, dear?" Rose said. "Can I get you a refill on your eggnog, Harry?"

"No, thanks." Harry nodded in acknowledgement. "You need to be here."

"Sirius and Remus are coming over, tomorrow anyway." James sighed.

"Not Peter?" Rose sat beside him and pushed James' hair down. He squirmed just like he had when he was eleven, and fluffed his fringe back up.

"No. Peter is acting funny these days. I'd just as soon not have him around."

Harry bit his lip. "You might want to rethink your friendship with him."

James wasn't half as annoyed as Harry might have expected. "Why? What do you have against Peter?"

"I don't have anything against him, but I'm not sure he's..." Harry shrugged. He didn't want to condemn Peter without knowing something concrete, but he also would've preferred to see James think twice before trusting him. "He may have other interests that you don't know about."

"What do you mean, dear?" Rose asked. "Do you know something about him?"

"I don't know anything for certain, but I'm not sure he's trustworthy."

"But you think Snape is? I don't get that." James scowled. But after a moment, his expression turned thoughtful.

At least, he was thinking about it. That was really all he could ask for.

*****

As soon as Dumbledore entered the Room of Requirement, Harry pulled out his wand, and shouted, "Expelliarmus!" He caught the wand as it flew away from Dumbledore.

"Was it something I said?" Dumbledore said, smiling faintly.

"I needed to disarm you, so that I could use your wand. I need to be its master."

Dumbledore's forehead creased and he tilted his head. "Why would you need my wand?"

"It's the Elder Wand, isn't it?" Harry looked down. It looked just like the one from his time.

"It is. I should have realized you'd know about that, too."

"I'm not sure I'm going to need it, because I'm not sure my own wand is a twin to his in this timeline, but...." Harry shrugged. "You can take it back from me when I'm done with it."

"I'm fairly certain that I'll need to do more than that. It will know if it's staged."

"That's why I did it this way. I had planned to take it from you since I realized I'd be staying."

"I only hope it lets me take it back." Dumbledore looked down and then back at Harry. "There are other ways of mastery, you know?"

"No. I didn't. And I'm sure I don't want to know that." Harry slanted him a look, hoping he was hiding his shock. He did not want to be discussing this with Dumbledore. Now or ever. It was just wrong.

Dumbledore chuckled, but his cheeks were red above his beard. "I only mention it for the future. If I don't manage to win back the wand, you might need to know that."

"Part of me wants to know how you found that out. But really, I'm afraid to ask." Harry's face was heating up fast.

"I took it from someone that way. I believe it's why I won the duel."

"Gellert Grindelwald?"

"Where did you hear that? There aren't that many people left alive who'd even remember."

And there would have been even fewer at the time before Rita Skeeter's book came out. "Um...right. There was this book...." He saw Dumbledore's horrified expression and coughed, not meeting his eyes. "So maybe this wasn't a good topic, after all."

"I have that to look forward to in the future. Dare I hope it's a fair accounting?"

"I'd heard that it was, but I'd thought it was common knowledge at the time."

"Not especially. Not at all. We were very young and obsessed. Do you also know what happened to Ariana?"

Harry nodded.

"I feel like I shouldn't be surprised, but I am."

"It's not like I'll tell anyone, if that's what you're worried about."

"Harry, you wouldn't have made it this far if I didn't trust you completely."

"I've never understood why you did. I mean, I landed at your feet. You had no idea who or what I was."

"Oh, I had an idea. And the way you first looked at me said you knew me, and when you closed your eyes, it said that you'd grieved for me."

"You saw that in one look?" Harry shook his head to clear it. This was Albus Dumbledore. "Of course you did. Tomorrow, I'm going to go with Kingsley and his team. We think the Death Eaters are going to attack the Ministry."

"I'll be there as well. I have business with the School Board of Governors, as it happens. And several Order members will also have business at the Ministry tomorrow. We have a strategy session later tonight." He looked at the wand in Harry's hand and sighed. "I'll need to find another wand."

"Sorry," said Harry, trying to look at least somewhat apologetic. "I hope I can defeat him with this without him even realizing what it is."

"We're all hoping that. Now, about the situation with Severus? You've been spending a lot of time with him."

Harry had planned to let Dumbledore know about him and Severus, and this was as good a way as any. "There's nothing to know. The time we spend together is in my office, with the door open. I'm not sleeping with him. I'm not even promising him anything. But... I doubt that's fooling him. And he is already possessive."

"You allow that? I find that surprising."

"To be honest, I'm not sure I have a choice. I've said nothing to him, of course. But...." Harry shrugged. He might as well be upfront about it. "He knows very well how I feel."

"I thought your relationship wouldn't lend itself to that kind of closeness." Dumbledore's tone was perfectly neutral.

"So did I, but...." Harry looked down, his face heating. "I guess he grew on me without my even being aware of it. I do wish that it had waited another year or two. He's seen nothing of life beyond this school."

"He's applied to go to Paris, hasn't he?"

"I'm hoping he gets it."

"It will take him away from you for two years."

"I know. What is between us will wait. And this is a wonderful opportunity for him. It will let him see what else is out there, so to speak."

"That's generous of you."

"I want him to make an informed decision. One that he won't come to regret when he's older."

"I somehow doubt that he makes any decision without considering all angles."

Harry laughed. "I suspect you're right."

*****

Harry climbed the stairs to his tower rooms, breathing out in relief when the door closed behind him.

The strategy session with the Order had lasted longer than he'd expected. His neck and shoulders were stiff from the hard-backed chairs.

Even though a hot bath might help, Harry wanted his bed more. Without turning on the lights, he put his wand on the table beside the bed, and stripped down to his pants, dumping his clothes on the floor. He'd pick them up in the morning, if he had time.

He slid into bed, right into another body. Instinct kicked in, and he was out of bed, holding his wand against the intruder's throat before he'd quite got that it was Severus.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Harry took a breath and hoped his heart would slow down before it burst. "I thought we had an agreement about what was appropriate."

"No. You handed down an edict and expected me to follow it. I didn't agree." Severus sat up, and thankfully, he wasn't naked.

Harry, of course, nearly was. And Severus was staring at him like he was an ice cream treat on a hot day. Oh fuck, did he have to lick his lips like that?

Severus met his eyes, and they held all of the lust Harry had expected, but there was something else there, too. Something that made Harry feel warm inside.

"If you die tomorrow, I won't ever know what it's like to be with you," said Severus quietly, but intensely.

"How do you even know what's going on?"

"I'm the spy in Voldemort's camp, remember. I don't hear everything, but I do know something major is going to happen tomorrow. And I also know your classes were all canceled -- something about you being sick and in the infirmary." Severus shook his head. "I can add this all up, you know. Lord Voldemort is going to try and take the Ministry, right?"

"Be that as it may, it doesn't explain what you're doing here, now?" But Harry could see it in his eyes. He was afraid.

"Because...it might be our only chance. And I didn't want to waste it."

"You don't think much of my dueling abilities."

"Well, you're teaching Muggle Studies and not Defense." Severus sighed at Harry's sharp look. "There are a whole lot of variables that need to be accounted for. But mostly, I just don't want to lose you."

Harry wanted to say that he wasn't going to die, but he couldn't with any certainty. This Voldemort didn't have any of Harry's blood in his veins, so there was nothing to tie them together. In addition, Harry didn't have his mother's protection in this timeline, either. The danger was quite real.

It would actually make a lot of sense for him to die. Then the paradox of there being two of him wouldn't happen. He sighed. "And what happens if we do this and I don't die? I'll be sacked for it in the morning."

"Not if no one says anything. And I get back to my dorm room before dawn." Severus smiled at him. "And maybe I'll send you into battle with a reason to stay alive."

"God save me from overly dramatic seventeen-year-olds." Harry half-expected an explosion from that, but Severus just sighed.

"I'm eighteen. And you know you want me." The accompanying smirk wasn't as confident as it should have been.

As hard as it was to admit, Severus was right. Harry did want him. It pinched too that Severus was so unsure of him. That was probably why he wasn't undressed. And to reject him now would do neither of them any good. It might, in fact, harm the possibility of a future relationship.

Whom was he kidding? He wanted Severus, wanted to touch and taste and lick every square inch of him. His prick ached from wanting him. The few months that lay ahead weren't endless, but if he did die tomorrow...

With a sigh, he pulled back the blankets, and slid into bed beside Severus, his back against the headboard.

Severus' eyes widened with tentative joy. "Yes?"

Closing his eyes, Harry let out another sigh. It was wrong, so very wrong. They should wait. But Severus was here now and while he might pay for it tomorrow, Harry needed him tonight. "I'm sure this is a bad idea, but yes."

The smile that lit Severus' face was worth it. He crawled up Harry's body to plant himself in Harry's lap, sitting with his knees on either side of him. Slowly, Severus slid his fingers into Harry's hair and tilted his mouth up as he brought his own mouth down.

Something inside Harry went soft at the gentleness of the kiss. Severus' lips ghosted over his, not settling at all, but instead continuing to move, to nip softly. His tongue slid out and licked slowly, delicately along the edge of Harry's mouth.

Harry's stomach tightened and his breath fled. Severus' mouth closed over his, and Harry let himself melt into the kiss. Good. So very, very good.

His fingers shook as he worked the buttons on Severus' shirt. He only lost two of them to his excitement. His mouth left Severus' so that he could nuzzle his long neck, kissing down along his collarbone.

"Oh God," Severus breathed when Harry bit gently into one of his nipples. His back arched, driving it further into Harry's mouth. He sucked just a little harder, and Severus moaned again.

His hands traveled along Severus' thin back. He'd put on some weight over the school year, but not enough. Harry could feel all of his ribs.

Harry made short work of Severus' trousers and pants, and finally had him stretched out on his back in the bed, delicious pale skin, punctuated with spots of dark hair under his arms, and in the middle of his chest, a glory trail leading down to the thickness at his groin. He was a feast for the senses, and Harry hardly knew where to start.

Leaning forward, he licked a stripe down the middle of Severus' chest to his belly button. Severus made the most unlikely sound.

Harry looked up and chuckled. "Did you just giggle?"

"Don't be silly. Of course not. I wouldn't do that." But Severus was smiling. When Harry bent his head to do it again, Severus made the same sound.

"You were saying?"

"Wizards who don't finish what they start get hexed."

"Right, then," Harry said. He was sure that Severus would not appreciate being told he was adorable. So Harry bit it back for later. Intent on a new destination, he bent his head, and continued licking down the dark line on Severus' belly.

Harry buried his face in the dense hair, breathing in deeply the earthy male smell of Severus. He loved it, loved everything about Severus. He was also aware of the need in Severus right now. Something that was answered in him. Something that had brought them together in this way when reason said that they should have waited.

Without hesitation, he closed his mouth over Severus' hard prick, taking him in as deeply as he could. Severus' back arched, and he thrust once, twice, and a third time, before he came with a yell.

"Oh, God. Sorry. Sorry. I can't believe I did that so quickly." Severus put his arm over his face.

"It's hardly unexpected. I'm sure you'll be good to go again in a few minutes."

"Let me do something for you first?" Severus asked, his voice low with invitation. "Do you want to fuck me?"

Did he want his next breath? But he hadn't expected that so soon. "Only if that's what you really want to do."

"What do you think?" Severus rolled over onto his belly and spread his legs. "Any time you want to start."

Harry closed his eyes and breathed out. What trust did it take for him to lay himself out like that? Harry wanted to be worthy of it. Starting at the top of Severus' spine, he licked down each indentation, mouthing the vertebrae. When he got to the small of Severus' back, he nuzzled his face into the soft skin there before spreading apart his arse cheeks and blowing across the heated flesh.

"Oh, God, please!" Severus moaned.

Harry rubbed his finger along the crease and Severus bucked against it.

"Please," Severus whined.

With a smile, Harry bent his head again, tracing with his tongue where his finger had gone.

Severus made a strangled mewling sound. "Please," he whimpered again.

Harry bent to his task, his tongue sliding in and out. The taste of Severus invading all of his senses. He loved what it did to Severus, loved listening to him moan and whine and beg.

After a while, Harry pulled back.

"What? Why'd you stop?" Severus demanded. "Keep going."

"I could, or I could do something else." He slid a finger over Severus' entrance and felt him shudder deeply. "I'm assuming you've done this before?"

"What do you think?" Severus shoved back against Harry's finger. "Does hurry up mean anything to you?"

"Only that you didn't answer the question."

Severus turned around and glared at him. "Do you want to hear about my conquests? Reg and I did everything together."

He thought about making Severus give him the details, but that might not be fair. Instead, he touched his wand to Severus and muttered, "Lubricus".

"Mmm," Severus said as Harry pressed his finger in. "Just a bit to the right, there, yes. Perfect." He canted his hips back and moved with Harry's finger.

Even if Severus had done this before, Harry was happy to take his time with the preparations.

"Come on, Harry. Please. Get on with it!" Through the whole process, Severus directed and moaned and whined in an effort to get Harry to move faster.

The impatience was nearly too adorable to bear. Finally he took mercy on Severus, arranging his long legs over Harry's shoulders and pressing in slowly. Heat surrounded him, and it was Harry who moaned and then flew with the sensations of bliss.

He tried not to laugh as Severus continued to issue orders, and then he didn't have breath left to do anything other than gasp. His balls tightened, and he was flying, losing himself in the feeling of coming home.

*****

The morning sun hadn't even started to show through the crack in Harry's curtains, when he opened his eyes. He stretched his hands over his head, his body more sated than it had been in a very long time.

He turned to Severus who grunted his displeasure, before closing his arms around Harry.

"Don't even think it. You need to get up and get back to your common room."

Severus made a whiny disagreeable sound and tried to roll on top of Harry.

"No time this morning." Harry's hand slid down Severus' back and over his bum. Then he brought it down with a smack. "Up. Now."

"Oh, I'm up. And don't hit me." Severus frowned.

It hadn't been that hard. Harry made a mental note not to do it again. "You need to take a shower before you go back."

"Fine." Severus sighed and then sat up. But made no move to get out of bed.

"You smell like sex. Do you really want to go back like that?"

"Funny about smelling like sex." But Severus went into the bathroom and Harry heard the shower come on. He thought about joining him, but neither of them would get to where they needed to be if he did.

Severus came out, dressed in his trousers and his shirt. "I'm missing two buttons." He glared at Harry.

"You didn't mind last night. Besides you're a wizard. Fix it with a charm."

"Accio Snape's buttons." He held out his hand and they came to him. He waved his wand and both attached themselves to his shirt.

"See. Good as new." Harry stood and walked over to him. "Now go. I need to get dressed."

"I rather like you as you are." Severus' hands slid down his chest to fondle his prick.

Which was very interested in the proceedings. It took more willpower than he had right then to step away. "Severus. Please."

"Now, that's what I like hearing. You begging me for a change." But he did stop. And then he sighed. "A kiss for luck?"

Harry pulled him close. Severus was several inches taller than Harry, so he stretched up, and Severus had to stoop down.

The kiss was threatening to become something more when Harry finally pulled back.

"You know, we're going to have trouble dancing with you being so short," Severus drawled as he picked up his book.

"There isn't much I can do about it. Besides, when do you suppose we'll be dancing together?" If he could avoid it, Harry didn't dance at all.

"I was thinking of our wedding reception."

Ask a stupid question. "Which won't be for quite a while."

Severus smirked and left.

*****

Harry lurked in the Ministry lobby, holding a newspaper, trying to look like he wasn't there without a reason. The attack was supposed to take place at 10:00 a.m. and it was quarter past that now. Trust Voldemort to be late.

All of the Floos flashed green at once and Death Eaters started to step out. Harry's heart sped up. This was it.

The Death Eaters, all dressed in robes and masks, congregated in the lobby. The Order seemed to appear from nowhere and faced them. Harry wasn't sure who fired the first hex, but a second later the battle was engaged. Hexes and curses were flying everywhere and several people started screaming. Voldemort Flooed in after the fighting had started and Harry tracked his progress across the large room. He wasn't engaging anyone and no one approached him.

Harry stepped out of the shadows and moved towards him.

Voldemort looked up at his approach. "Come to join me, Mr. Potter?"

"I think not," Harry said pleasantly. "I'm not inclined to kill those I don't like or who don't agree with me."

"Pity. Because you're going to die now."

"Again. I think not."

"Oh, but you will." Voldemort raised his wand and Harry cast "Expelliarmus!" at the same time Voldemort cast "Avada Kedavra!"

The two spells hit each other like a crash of two trains, the clang drawing everyone's attention. The power behind Harry's spell caused Voldemort's wand to come spinning towards Harry's outstretched hand, the curse still emerging from its tip. When the wand turned halfway around, the curse struck Voldemort mid-chest.

The look of surprise on Voldemort's face was priceless. Harry would have laughed if it hadn't been so deadly serious.

"You killed him!" Bellatrix screamed, raising her wand. "Avada --"

Before he could do more than turn, Alice Longbottom screamed a curse at her, and it hit Bellatrix in the chest. She looked down at the blood rushing out of her for a moment, her expression shocked, and then she crumpled to the floor.

Alice picked up Bellatrix's wand and snapped it. "Well, good riddance to bad rubbish."

The rest of the Death Eaters were rounded up and unmasked. Surprisingly, Lucius Malfoy wasn't among them, and neither was Regulus Black. But Avery, Crabbe and Goyle all were there. And so was Peter Pettigrew.

"They all need to have fair trials," Harry said to Dumbledore. "They can't just be sent to Azkaban."

"I'll see to that," Dumbledore said.

A very young Rita Skeeter raced in with a camera. "You killed He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?" she asked Dumbledore breathlessly.

"No. I didn't. Harry Potter did." Dumbledore nodded to him.

She looked disappointed. "Aren't you the Muggle Studies teacher?"

Harry tried not to laugh as he nodded. "Though next term maybe the Headmaster will let me teach Defense Against the Dark Arts."

"You may count on it, m' boy."

*****

"Congratulations on the apprenticeship. I understand you were offered all three," Harry said. Severus had come into his room late one night right before the end of the term. N.E.W.T.s. were the following week, and then school was over.

Severus should've been revising, but Harry hadn't been able to keep him away. Harry was fairly sure that Dumbledore knew about him and Severus. So far he was pretending not to notice. They'd been discreet the last couple of weeks, but there was no mistaking the spring in Severus' step or the gleam in his eyes.

"Pending my N.E.W.T.s. scores, of course. I think I'm going to take the one at St. Mungo's," Severus said, sitting on the sofa.

Harry looked up from the pile of parchments he was grading and frowned at him. "Why? I thought the one in Paris was what you wanted to do. To do that kind of intensive research."

"It is, but...." Severus looked down and let out a long-winded sigh.

"What?"

"I don't want to go to Paris without you."

A part of Harry's heart warmed that he didn't want to be separated. And another part cheered that Severus had admitted it. But the grownup said, "I'll be here on weekends. And when you get back."

"I don't want to --"

"This isn't about me. You should take the Paris apprenticeship since it's what you want. You shouldn't sacrifice your desires for any reason." Harry met his eyes and wouldn't drop his gaze until Severus looked away.

"Except that you're being all noble and sacrificing. You don't want me to go, do you?"

Oh, sweet Merlin, Harry could hear the question as if he'd spoken it. "Severus. You know you are dear to me --"

"Don't you do it. Don't tell me it's for my own good," Severus ordered, his eyes huge and frightened.

For a moment, Harry kept his mouth closed, but he couldn't let this go. "I want you to go to Paris." He held up his hand before Severus could speak. "Not because I want to get rid of you. Not because I don't care for you. But because this is the best thing for you."

"You might meet someone else while I'm gone," Severus said, quietly.

As much as he might've been ready for promises, Harry knew that Severus wasn't. It wasn't the right time. "I might. But it's unlikely since I've already got a lover."

"Of course you do. But what if I meet someone."

"Then I'll try and be mature and wish you well." As much as he hoped he'd be mature about it, Harry didn't think he'd manage it with any grace at all. He could see it happening, too. Severus was young and brilliant, and had the whole world in front of him. Harry felt every one of his twenty-nine years, and ten or twenty on top of that.

"You'd let me go? Without a fight?" Severus' tone was incredulous.

"I can't hold you if you don't want to stay."

"But I do want to. That's what I'm saying. I want to be with you. I...I...I...." Severus drew in a deep breath. "I love you."

Harry closed his eyes. "I love you, too." And he did. "Enough to want the best for you. And that means going to Paris."

"What if you find a way back --" Severus' face went red, but he didn't back down. "Would you leave me here?"

"I'm not going to find a way back. It's been too long." There was a part of him that would always miss his old life. That would mourn for Ginny and the children they might have had. That would miss Ron and Hermione with a longing that nothing else was going to fill.

But after seven years, he knew it was too late. Even if he did find some way back, it would never be the same. He couldn't regain the life he'd lost. And his life here was good. He had friends and a lover and he wasn't the Boy Who Lived. It didn't even things out completely, but it came pretty damned close.

"You never admitted that before."

"What? I told you about my research. And I've mentioned --"

"No. You've hinted around the edges, and I'm smart enough to read between the lines. Despite what or who you look like, you're...not from here." Severus made an impatient gesture with his hands.

Harry could say he was from Britain or even repeat the lie he'd been telling for years. But this was Severus, whom he hoped to build a life with and that had to be done on a platform of trust. "What do you want to know?"

Severus blinked. "Where are you from?"

"Be more specific. I'm from Britain. I am a half-blood." Harry met Severus' eyes. "I didn't go to the Salem Institute. I went to Hogwarts."

"Gryffindor, right?" Severus' look was smug beyond words.

Harry couldn't help but laugh at it. "I guess it shows."

"From a mile away. But you didn't go before, so it must have been after." Severus' brow creased. "You knew me as an adult, didn't you?"

"Why would you say that?" Harry did not want to tell him about Snape. About the mean-spirited, horrible person he could have become.

"Because you said to my mother that her father had been kind to you. But she didn't remember you, which probably means you didn't meet him. I can only assume from the timeline you came from you meant me. But I can't see me being a kind person."

Harry shrugged. Snape was someone that his Severus didn't need to know about. "You can be," he finally said.

To which Severus snorted. "To you. To other people I care about. Mostly though, I don't care about people. They're nothing to me."

"We need to work on that." Not that he had any real hope of changing Severus. In truth, he rather enjoyed him just the way he was; Severus was socialized enough to get along in the world, and really, that was all he needed.

"Don't change the subject." Severus scowled at him. "Tell me."

"No. It doesn't matter anymore." And at this point, all the information could do was hurt him. Harry saw no reason for that.

Severus frowned. "Was it that bad?"

"Yes. It was bad. And no, I'm not saying anything else. We've strayed from Paris." He could almost see Severus debating with himself whether to push the issue or not.

Finally, Severus just let out a long sigh. "All right. I do want to go. Can we get to other things now before I have to get back to my dorm and study for the rest of the night?"

"I'm glad you're going to go without a fight." He'd known Severus wanted to go, but clearly he wanted it more than Harry had realized.

"What did you call this?" Severus waved his hand between them.

Instead of answering, Harry tossed the quill onto the stack of tests. There would be no grading for a while. He stepped around his desk and held open his arms. Severus was in them in a second, kissing him, his tongue pushing into Harry's mouth, his hands burying themselves in Harry's robes, clinging tightly.

Harry tipped his head up, opening his mouth wider, his arms tightening around Severus' skinny back under his robes. Severus' tongue explored his mouth for a moment longer, and then pulled back and pushed Harry's hip a bit so that he'd sit on his desk. Harry grinned.

With a flick of Severus' wand, Harry's clothes vanished. "What do you have in mind?" His already hard prick twitched.

"That's for me to know and you to enjoy." Severus took off his robes, but not the rest of his clothes. He pushed Harry back on the desk, pressing his legs up.

The wand point touched him, pressing in just a bit, moving around in a circle around his entrance. A tease, nothing more. Harry writhed, canting his hips and biting back a moan. "Severus...." Harry panted, as the wand went in a little more.

Severus laughed and the evil sound sizzled along Harry's spine, his aching balls tightening again.

"Lubricus," Severus whispered.

A warm rush moved through Harry and he sighed. Finally. Something.

Severus' long finger slid into him, and Harry moaned. There was nothing like the feel of a lover preparing him for fucking. He adored it.

"Please," Harry moaned when Severus' wouldn't get with the program. "Now."

"When I say, Harry."

The sound of his name on Severus' lips was still unique enough that it sent another thrill through Harry. "Just remember, turnabout is fair play."

"Right. And don't think I've forgotten what you did to me the last time. You thought I'd forget."

"Since it was only yesterday, it's unlikely --" Harry drew in a breath as three fingers hit the right place all at once. "Oh, Merlin."

"Got it in one." Severus pulled his fingers out and shoved his trousers and pants down. He lined himself up and pressed in without any fanfare.

Harry moaned softly, trying to cant his hips into Severus' thrusts. But Severus wouldn't cooperate; he slid in deeply, but slowly, his prick sliding over that perfect place, making Harry whine louder.

"Harder, damn it!"

But Severus kept up his slow steady pace, driving Harry mad as pressure built and built inside him without release, without hope of release unless Severus gave it to him.

Harry surrendered to it, giving himself over to Severus' care, his touch, his hands and mouth and prick as he'd never done with anyone else.

And Severus took him, and teased him and gave him what he needed. What he'd known he needed and what he hadn't as well. He pressed Harry into the desk, harder, faster.

Pleasure broke over Harry and he was shattering, whining, and begging and he didn't care. It was good. Brilliant.

After a moment or two, Harry became aware of how hard his desk was, especially with Severus draped over him. There was a quill sticking into his side, and the ink bottle had turned over onto the tests he'd been grading. Maybe making use of his desk wasn't such a good idea.

Severus heaved himself off Harry, and leaned back down to kiss him. "Mmmm. Good. I hate to fuck and run, but --"

"You've got revising to do. How many N.E.W.T.s. do you think you'll take?" Harry sat up and put a hand at his back. That desk was too hard. Or he was too old to be fucked on it.

"All of them." Severus smiled and did up his trousers.

"Of course you will. My clothes?" Harry didn't see them.

Severus' smile was chagrined. "Might have been vanished some place --"

"Where?" Harry could just see them turning up on Dumbledore's bed, or worse, one of the other teachers.

"Should be on your bed." But the 'I hope' was unspoken.

"I'll take it out of your hide if you killed another set of my robes." At least one other pair had been banished, never to be seen again.

Severus picked up his book bag and went to the door. "Promises, promises."

After the door closed, Harry went into the bedroom and found his clothes neatly folded on his bed. Severus was amazing. And he was Harry's. It didn't get much better than that.

*****
Epilogue
October 31, 1980.

"She had a girl!" Severus raced into the rooms they shared at Hogwarts. "I can't believe she had a girl. I was sure it was going to be a boy."

"What? Who?" Harry looked up from his chess game with Dumbledore.

"I believe he means Lily,' Dumbledore said, smiling, his blue eyes twinkling.

"Right. She had a girl. Six pounds, seven ounces. Named Sarah Rose. I'm a godfather." Severus stopped long enough to draw in a breath and then reached down and kissed Harry full on the mouth.

They had been living together for almost a year since Severus had returned from Paris. He'd surprised Harry by applying for the Potions Master position that had opened up when Horace Slughorn had retired. He'd said it was as good a place as any to do his real research.

July 31 had come and gone with Lily only six months pregnant and now delivering a girl. Fate had fixed the paradox without his intervention.

"I'm going to Floo over to see her now. Do you want to come with me?" Severus put on his coat and picked up a handful of powder.

"I'll follow along in a few minutes," Harry said. The fireplace flashed green and he was gone.

Dumbledore chuckled. "You do know that Severus and Sirius are going to try and outdo each other, spoiling that girl?"

James had wanted Sirius to be his child's godfather and Lily had insisted on Severus. They'd managed to compromise and have both.

"Oh, I do know it. It's going to be fun to watch, don't you think?" Harry forced a smile.

"What concerns you?"

Was he still an open book? "I'm okay. I actually think this makes things right. The paradox isn't going to happen."

"Oh? Oh. I see." And then he chuckled again, his eyes twinkling. "I guess you are a close relative of Edward's after all. Just not the one I thought."

"You thought I was his son?"

"I think he may have thought so too."

Harry didn't like the implications of that. "Why was that?"

"He told me before he died that he'd owled the Salem Institute about you and was told that they had never heard of you. But curiously, a day later he received another owl telling him that they'd made a mistake. That Harry Potter had gone there for seven years and all of his fees had been care of by Ignatius Potter."

"How did you --"

"I didn't."

Harry scratched his head. "Then how?"

"I believe that time doesn't allow for paradoxes."

"So even though I remember my other life, you're saying it didn't happen?"

"Does it matter so much now? Your memories will no doubt fade as time goes along."

He was probably right about that. While Harry could remember everyone he'd loved in his other timeline, enough time had passed that he couldn't remember a lot of the details anymore. "I guess it doesn't matter that much. I've got a life here with Severus. And speaking of life, I need to get over to my cousin's and see his new baby."

"We can finish this later," Dumbledore said.

"You mean you can beat me later."

Dumbledore inclined his head. "Tell James and Lily that I'll be by later in the week to see the baby. I'll see myself out."

"Thanks." Harry reached for the powder and his cloak. Time to get on with his life.

--finis

 

01/22/08-03/14/08