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Harry and the Potter

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Harry and the Potter

 

Chapter 1
July 25 , 2024

The lake was sparkling, clear blue and deep. Viewed from nearly any vantage point, it rivaled any body of water he’d ever seen before in its intensity. The pines around the lake, the snow still clinging to the shoreline, all gave a pristine beauty to this location so apparently unsullied by the touch of humanity. If there was a God, this was God’s place, a modern day Eden.

They paused again on the trail, standing side by side beneath the pines and gazing out over the single island on the lake, aptly named “Wizard Island.” It was just a name, given to the island by the man who named the volcanic cone on it “Witch’s Cauldron,” yet it would always draw special notice from the magical folk who walked the trail, magical folk like these, Harry Potter and his 18-year-old son Albus, on holiday here in the States to kick off Al’s “in between year.”

Father and son watched a tour boat as it moved away from the shore toward the island, gliding on this fathomlessly deep lake, the deepest in this vast country. More than anything else, the silence of this place struck them. The boat made no noise as it moved toward its destination; the people on it, seemingly in awe of the splendor of this place, were content to stare downward into its startling depths.

“Fancy a boat ride, Al?” asked Harry. Like his son, he was dressed as a Muggle, and dressed for hiking. They had been following a wizarding map of the Pacific Rim Trail, apparating from waypoint to waypoint to hit the highlighted sections yet doing their fair share of hiking along the way. Harry planned to celebrate his birthday here in the states with Al, then head back to England when Al met up with friends on the opposite side of the country to hike the famed Appalachian Trail until winter set in.

They considered their map of the park a moment then chose an appropriate route to the visitor’s center. Once there, Harry joined the long queue to purchase the tickets and chatted amicably with the two older couples on either side of him, both seemingly delighted to hear his “darling British accent” out here in the middle of the American Pacific Northwest. He had left Al in the bookstore attached to the visitor’s center but his son, usually easy to pick out with his mop of messy black hair so like his own, was no longer in the building when he emerged with his tickets thirty minutes later. Harry walked outside and spotted him right away, sitting on a bench facing away from him. He was not alone on the bench—he sat beside another dark-haired youth who Harry could see only in profile.

He recognized that profile and stopped in his tracks, watching from several yards away as the two young men conversed. No, it was ridiculous of course. Severus Snape had aged as much as he had these past twenty-one years. He would be well into his sixties now, not a boy Al’s age. Yet the intuition that had made him such a successful Auror gave him the obvious answer now. This boy must be Snape’s son, just as Al was his own son. Like Al, this boy must resemble his father strongly.

The only other possible answer was that it was a coincidence of cosmic proportions.

Severus Snape had left wizarding Britain as soon as he had served the “parole” period assigned by the new Ministry—five years at Hogwarts as Potions Professor. He’d stoically served under new leadership—first Minerva McGonagall and then a Ministry-appointed interim Headmaster—doing whatever was asked of him but remaining, as far as Harry could tell during his regular visits, apart and disengaged. He’d been able to do very little the first year besides teaching the lowest levels and doing some limited tutoring. His body had been left weak and his voice and stamina compromised by his injuries, but he had been allowed to progress at his own rate, as his recovery allowed.

The tutoring had been specially arranged between the Ministry and Hogwarts, and was instituted for the very specific purpose of helping Harry Potter achieve a NEWT in Potions.

When the five years ended, Snape had picked up his release, packed up his belongings and left a forwarding address of Abiquiu, New Mexico in the American Southwest. Harry, Snape’s Ministry-appointed parole officer for the last three years of his service, had stared at the piece of parchment in his hands and had then asked Hermione to use her computer and look up Abiquiu. Small, remote, home of a wizarding community of artisans. Former stomping grounds of the American artist Georgia O’Keefe. He’d heard, over the years, an occasional bit of news about Snape. He had work published from time to time in “Potions Quarterly,” and on at least one occasion several years ago had returned to Europe to attend a conference in France. He had declined the invitation to the recent celebration at Hogwarts to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of Voldemort.

Harry had met with Severus Snape every two weeks for the last three years of his extended stay at Hogwarts. Over that time they had established a tentative friendship, with progress review meetings eventually morphing into Thursday night sessions at a pub just outside of Diagon Alley. Harry had given Severus his final release papers at that pub one Thursday night and had never seen the man again. His wedding to Ginny was only a few months away at the time and he launched himself into preparations to fill in the emptiness he felt on Thursdays. It had taken him more than a year to adjust to Snape’s absence.

Harry schooled his features into a neutral expression and walked around the bench in front of him, stopping a few feet from the boys.

“We’re on the 3 o’clock boat, Al. We can grab something to eat in the meantime if you’re hungry.”
Harry’s son glanced at his companion on the bench then smiled at his Dad.

“Dad, I just met another Albus…”

The boy looked up at Harry and smiled, a very un-Snape-like smile from a face that was remarkably Snape-like. He didn’t look quite as old as Al, but he was certainly well into his teens.

Harry smiled. “It’s an unusual name, Al, but I’m sure there are others…”

His son interrupted him.

“Others with the same middle name too, Dad?”

Harry and Al’s eyes connected. Al’s told him that he’d figured it out too, but something was off here, something not entirely right.

“Well, I’ll admit that’s unusual,” said Harry with another smile. “Al here is named after two of my professors from school.”

“We’ve already covered that, Dad,” said Al, more quietly. He looked at the other boy. “It’s just that Albus is pretty much in the dark about it all—about his father, anyway, and why I’m named after him.”

Harry glanced around.

“Dad and I were hiking around the lake,” the boy volunteered upon seeing Harry search with his eyes. “He told me to go ahead and wait for him here. He should be around soon—he takes a ton of pictures.” The boy’s accent was decidedly American, making it seem quite incongruous coming out of Severus Snape’s young face.

“Yeah, I can understand that,” commented Harry, looking out over the pristine lake. He looked around again but still saw no sign of Severus Snape.

“Where do you go to school, Albus?” asked Harry.

“He’s a wizard, Dad,” supplied Al softly, understanding where Harry was going with his question. “He and his Dad live in New Mexico. His Dad’s taught him at home mostly.”

A lengthy silence followed. They all stared at one another awkwardly. Harry finally spoke.

“I’m sure you have a lot of questions, Albus, but I’d like to respect your father’s wishes if possible,” he said. “He obviously has a new life here in the States and would rather keep his past…well, in the past. Suffice it to say that he’s a great man, and a brave one. Al here is named after the two bravest men I ever knew, and your father is one of them.”

Albus seemed to take it all in, looking intently at Harry as he spoke. “I wouldn’t even know he’s British if it weren’t for the accent,” said the boy with a sigh. He looked up almost pleadingly at Harry. “He was one of your professors? What did he teach?”

“Potions, then Defense Against the Dark Arts,” answered Harry, not seeing how those answers could be too harmful or go against Snape’s obvious desire for privacy. “He was brilliant in both.”

“He still does Potions,” said Albus. “A chunk of our income comes from specialty orders, some that he’s developed himself with ingredients we find in our area. I do a lot of those, actually, and help him collect in the desert.” He looked at Harry closely. “What do you do, Mr. Potter?”

“I’m an Auror,” answered Harry, watching Albus Snape closely to see if the word meant anything to him. It apparently did not.

“Wizarding cop,” said Al helpfully. “And actually, he’s the head of the MLE—that’s the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

“Is that like Scotland Yard?” asked Albus.

Harry smiled. “Yeah, kind of. The MLE is like Scotland Yard but just for wizarding Britain.”

They talked on for a few more minutes. Harry deliberately turned the conversation to their obvious shared pastimes—hiking, seeing the natural sights of the Pacific Northwest in particular. Al was sharing their recent experience with an adult black bear when Albus stood up quickly and waved at someone.

Harry steeled himself before turning around. He expected Severus Snape to be unhappy at finding his son with the Potters.

“Severus,” he said in greeting as the man approached. The sun was in Harry’s eyes and he couldn’t easily read Snape’s expression. He could see, however, that Severus was wearing hiking clothes similar to his own and had an expensive-looking camera slung over one shoulder.

“Dad,” said Albus, “I’ve met some people who know you.”

“You’ve met a person who knows me,” corrected his father, eying Harry speculatively then moving his gaze over to Harry’s son. Harry took the opportunity to scrutinize Snape. Twenty-one years gone by and he looked only a bit older than he had at Hogwarts, and generally more relaxed and carefree, despite his similar demeanor.

His son shook his head in exasperation. “Yeah, OK. I ran into Al here while his dad was buying tickets for the boat tour. It took us about a minute after we started talking to figure out that we have the same name.” He tried staring his father down. “I thought that was pretty unusual.”

“Did you, now?” answered Snape, his mouth twitching slightly.

“Yeah, I did. Al told me he’s named after two of his father’s teachers. At Hogwarts.” He stressed the name deliberately, adding, when his father didn’t immediately react, “In Scotland.”

“Ah.” Snape casually folded his arms in front of himself. “I remember now. I did have a post at a school in Scotland for a time. I believe its name was Hogwarts.”

“It’s good to see you again, Severus,” said Harry, holding out his hand toward Snape. Snape accepted the gesture and shook Harry’s hand. “It’s been—what—twenty years?”

“Twenty-one,” said Severus. His gaze moved again to Al.

“My son, Albus Severus,” said Harry. “He’s just finished at Hogwarts.”

Al held out his hand and Severus shook it, staring rather curiously at Harry’s son who looked remarkably like the Harry he’d taught at Hogwarts.

“I’m honored to meet you, Professor Snape,” said Al. “I’ve grown up on stories about you. It’s good to finally put a face to the legend.”

Albus Snape was clearly finding the sketchy conversation fascinating.

“Legend?” he asked, mouth agape as he regarded his father. “You told me you had a boring life in England and Scotland, Dad. You said nothing of interest ever happens over there. You said Hogwarts was full of stuck-up rich kids. You said…”

“Boring life? Stuck-up rich kids?” repeated Harry.

“You named your son Albus Severus?” asked Snape.

“Nothing of interest?”

“Why not James? Why not Sirius? Or even Remus?”

“He’s my second son, Snape. My first son IS James Sirius. Don’t you read the Prophet? Don’t you talk to ANYONE back in England? Draco Malfoy, maybe?”

“Why would I talk to that prat?” answered Severus.

“His son’s a prat too,” offered Al. Both boys had been following their fathers’ conversation with obvious interest.

Harry and Severus turned as one to face Al.

“It’s like looking into a time machine,” said one of the tourists who had stopped to watch the men argue.

“I just love the British,” said another. “Though you’d think they'd give up that obsession with tea. It stains their teeth.”

Severus glared at them until they hurriedly walked away while Harry self-consciously brushed his tongue along his teeth.

“Dad, our boat leaves in 30 minutes,” said Al, changing the subject. “We’d better get in line.”

“How about you and Albus take the tour?” suggested Harry suddenly, handing both tickets to his son and glancing at Snape. “Severus and I will stay here and get reacquainted.”

“Excellent idea,” said Severus. “Al…” He said the name with some revulsion, obviously not approving of the abbreviated form of the name the Potters commonly used. “Al, I would appreciate it if you would refrain from discussing my … past … with my son. I have kept it from him for a reason, with every intention of revealing it to him at an appropriate time.”

Al looked to his father, who nodded at him.

“I’m sure you can find plenty of things to talk about, Al.”

“Spoil sport,” said Albus under his breath. Severus reached out and touched his son’s shoulder.

“I have good reason, son,” he said. He then nodded at Al. “And thank-you, Mr. Potter, for cooperating in this. You can certainly correct my son’s misconceptions about Hogwarts. I have no idea why he formed such erroneous opinions…”

“Right, Dad,” said Albus, shaking his head.

The two boys walked away together down the slope toward the boat launch leaving Harry and Severus standing up facing each other in front of the bench where the boys had been sitting.

“What the hell are you doing here anyway, Potter?” asked Severus as soon as the boys were out of earshot.

Harry stared at Severus, mouth open slightly.

“Doing here? What do you THINK I’m doing here? Looking for you? I’m on holiday with my son! Has it even occurred to you that our meeting here is simply a coincidence, Severus?”

Harry held Severus’ eyes for a long moment before Severus let out a sigh and dropped back to sit on the bench.

“I suppose I wasn’t prepared to see someone from my former life,” he said. “I’ve deliberately stayed away all these years.”

“It’s obvious you wanted to start over with a clean slate,” said Harry. He sat down next to Severus and dropped his pack on the bench between them. He looked over at Severus, taking in the man’s appearance again. “It’s also obvious you’ve succeeded. You look great, Severus. And you’ve got—what—a sixteen year old son? Seventeen?”

“Sixteen,” said Severus. “Going on 25.” He pulled a bottle of water from a pouch on his belt and took a long drink. “Merlin. This changes all my plans. Albus won’t rest until he hears everything. He’s been restless lately, asking lots of questions. That’s why I agreed to this trip. He wanted to get away from our little piece of paradise in New Mexico.” He shook his head, incredulous. “Everything we need is there…”

“Friends?” asked Harry. “Other kids his age?”

“A few,” answered Severus, looking warily at Harry.

“Wizards?” continued Harry.

“It’s a wizarding community,” said Severus. “Or it was. There are only a few of us left, though. More artisans have moved in, glass workers, a couple of quack healers.” He sighed. “He doesn’t know anything about me, Harry.”

He’d called Harry by his first name those last years in London, during those every-other-Thursday meetings at The Cock and the Bottle. He slid back into it now, rather easily, and despite the twenty-one years and thousands of miles between them, they sat together now in shared camaraderie.

“What do you do there now?” asked Harry, bypassing the obvious discussion of Severus’ past.

Severus allowed the change of subject. He laughed and shook his head.

“Actually, I’m a potter,” he said, glancing over at Harry to see his expected confusion. “I make pots, Harry. Out of clay. On a wheel.”

“Albus said you do specialty potions orders,” said Harry.

“We do,” answered Severus. “More than half of my income in generated from that business. I have several well-place clients back on the continent and in the UK. But I’ve also developed some…” he searched for the word he wanted “…fame…as a wizard potter.”

“Magic pots?” asked Harry with a smile. He pulled his own water from his pack and dug in for some trail mix. He took a handful and offered the bag to Severus.

“Actually, yes,” answered Severus, accepting the bag and pouring some out onto his palm. He relaxed back onto the bench, stretched and crossed his legs. “I’ve only been at it a few years, mind you. The magical part, anyway. Started with just plain clay and plain pots. It’s good therapy for the mind and the soul and doesn’t cost much to start up. One of the retiring artisans gave me an old wheel, I dig up my own clay and use a homemade kiln, rather like those used down in Santa Clara Pueblo just south of us.”

“Where’s the magic, then?” asked Harry, intrigued.

“In the temper,” he answered, shaking his head and smiling at the confusion on Harry’s face. “The material you mix with the clay to strengthen the pot. Native American potters used bits of shell or grit or ground limestone.” He laughed. “For a Potter, you know surprisingly little about pottery.”

Harry smiled. “Tell me about it.”

Severus glanced over at Harry, then looked out at the lake where the tour boat was making its return trip from Wizard Island. Al and Albus would be on the next run.

“I began experimenting with certain potions ingredients some years ago, adding them to the clay itself before the pot was shaped. I had a hypothesis, of course unproven at the time, that ingredients worked into the clay in the place of traditional temper might imbue the final object with certain…properties.” He paused, glancing over at Harry to gauge his interest. Harry was listening intently, nodding his head.

“Like healing properties?” he asked. “Or calm—like you might get from a calming draught?”

“Precisely,” answered Severus. “It started with oyster shells. I wondered if the shells could give an aphrodisiac property to the vessel.”

Harry forced himself not to roll his eyes. “But pottery is usually glazed, isn’t it?” he asked. “Wouldn’t the glaze seal in the active ingredients?”

“Most cooking vessels are unglazed,” responded Severus. “I’ve spent a considerable amount of time experimenting with different combinations of ingredients that may have a gradual, cumulative effect. Recall that a potion is not just a collection of ingredients. Rather, it is a combination of specific proportions added in a specific order to a specific base, under very specific conditions…”

“Like heat or temperature, length of time stirred…” supplied Harry.

“You did listen,” said Severus dryly.

“I did that last year—when you helped me through my NEWT,” said Harry with an appreciative smile. “I did thank you for that, didn’t I?”

“You did,” said Severus. “Several times. Usually over your last pint of the evening.” He considered a moment, then resumed speaking. “This combination of disciplines—pottery and potions—has proven to have some interesting utility. The clay itself works as the base. Key ingredients will, when used correctly, leach out slowly from the vessel itself under certain conditions. Heat is one of those conditions, moisture is another.”

“Wouldn’t the type of liquid used in the cup or pot potentially affect the ingredients? Change the potential effects?”

“It could,” answered Severus, looking at Harry, clearly surprised. “However, the firing process in the kiln ‘creates’ the potion, or pseudo-potion if you will. The liquid becomes a delivery mechanism—rather like crushing up a Muggle tablet in applesauce or yogurt.”

“I can see how this has kept your mind occupied for some time,” said Harry, looking out at the expanse of deep blue as he spoke. ‘So in essence, you’re actually creating new potions, or perhaps a new method of delivery of standard potions.”

Severus looked at Harry with an appraising eye.

“I didn’t expect to find you so interested,” said Severus. He paused to laugh. “Hell, I didn’t expect to find you at all.” He looked over at Harry curiously. “Are you still with the Aurors?”

Harry nodded and sighed. “I’m head of the MLE now, Severus.”

Severus whistled softly. “Congratulations.” He glanced back at his former student. “Assure me again you’re not here on business.”

“I’m not here on business, Severus.”

Severus nodded absently, then reached into the bag for another handful of trail mix.

“Head of the MLE. So you’re retired from the field?”

“Not exactly,” answered Harry. “I still go out on big cases, mainly to help wrap things up. The Minister doesn’t like it much, but it’s who I am. I made it a condition of taking the appointment.”

“And how’s that new Minister working out?” asked Severus. He picked through the mix in his hand, discarding the dried bananas.

“You do keep up with us a bit then, don’t you?” said Harry. He took another long drink of his water. “Better than the last one. No one really expected a guy named Codwaddle to garner any respect, but he’s managed. Things have calmed down quite a bit back home.”

Severus glanced down toward the lake but their sons’ boat hadn’t yet appeared. It was undoubtedly still loading at the dock, and the dock was hidden by the steep angle of the access path to reach it. The sun peeked out from behind high clouds.

“So, James and Albus? Two sons. How old is James, then?”

“James just left Hogwarts last year—he’s just turned 19. I married Ginny a couple months after you left and we had James not too long after that.” He waited a moment then added. “We have a daughter, too.”

Severus looked over at him sharply, a dry smile on his face.

“Let me guess—Lily?”

Harry laughed. “That obvious?”

Severus relaxed a bit. “Who does she look like?”

Harry understood. “Her mum. Ginny. Red hair, brown eyes, freckles. Al is the only one with green eyes.”

“And Ginny? What is Mrs. Potter up to these days?”

Knowing the question was coming didn’t make it any easier to answer. “Actually, she and I divorced just after Lily was born. She lives with her partner, Tempest O’Keefe—the daughter of the owner of the Holyhead Harpies.”

Severus’ silence registered his surprise.

“I didn’t expect to hear that,” he said at last. “Interesting…you’ve not remarried, then?”

“No,” he answered. “I’ve dated.” He looked sideways over at Severus, trying to judge. Better just put it on the table. Severus would find out eventually—it certainly wasn’t a secret at home and had caused a bit of a stir when he was up for the head position at the MLE. “I’ve dated both men and women.”

“And do you prefer one over the other?” asked Severus, surprising Harry with his question and lack of reaction.

“I’ve only dated men these past seven or eight years.”

“So that’s your answer?” asked Severus. Harry grinned at the smirk on his face.

“Yeah, I prefer men,” answered Harry. “That bother you?”

Severus smiled.

“I could have told you that twenty-three years ago. Saved you a lot of trouble.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “I never even considered it that long ago. Not until Ginny hooked up with Tempest. That must be why you never wanted to talk about her—way back when.” He assessed Severus a moment, something dawning on him now that had not entered his mind all those years ago.

“How did you end up with Albus, then?” he asked. “Considering…”

Severus fortunately did not look affronted.

“Experimentation,” he said. “I was woefully inept at it, and terribly drunk.”

“His mother?”

“A very beautiful and mediocre witch. At least she was beautiful that night. She’s married now, lives in Austin—that’s a town in Texas. Albus sees her fairly regularly.”

“Ginny and I separated before Lily was even conceived,” said Harry, not understanding why he was offering this bit of information to Severus. “She always wanted a daughter, and frankly, so did I. She convinced me to give it one more go.” He glanced over at Severus. The man seemed to be listening with interest, not necessarily judging him. “I’d have been happy with another boy, of course. Wouldn’t have gone down that road if the gender really mattered. But we ended up with Lily Luna.”

Severus lifted his water bottle toward Harry. “To our children, then.”

“Our children,” echoed Harry, touching his bottle to Severus’. “There they go now,” he said, pointing toward the sparkling lake before them. The prow of the boat could just be seen as the boat reached a point in the lake that was visible from their bench high above.

They sat in silence watching the boat for a few minutes. Harry was reminded of the many times he had sat with Severus, sometimes doing nothing but quietly drinking and watching the other patrons at the little pub, sometimes discussing small happenings at Hogwarts, sometimes talking about Harry’s job and his growing responsibilities as an Auror. A few times they talked about Harry’s relationship with Ginny Weasley, and his plans to marry her, but when it became apparent that Severus had…reservations… about the relationship, Harry stopped bringing it up and Severus stopped asking about it. Harry had reservations too, but he’d set his course and he was sticking to it.

They never discussed Severus’ plans for the future. They were supposed to—it was part of the MLE’s process with people like Severus, people not quite on probation or parole as they’d never actually served time or been convicted, people who walked on the margins during the war, who were asked to contribute time and talent to the rebuilding of Wizarding Great Britain following the defeat of Voldemort.

But Severus simply wouldn’t talk. Not when Harry told him that Narcissa Malfoy, Harry’s only other “service” case, planned to stay on as administrator of the program in which she’d been placed—the program to serve the war orphans, give them temporary shelter, place them with appropriate families and monitor them until they reach legal maturity. Not when he told Severus that there would be an opening at Hogwarts for a Defense professor.

He understood, then, that Severus had already made plans.

He didn’t force the issue. He figured Severus had already paid his dues.

“And you?” asked Harry, after the little boat had moved out of sight again. “Anyone special in your life?”

“Besides my son?” asked Severus with a small smile directed outward to the lake.

Harry laughed. “You know what I mean.”

“No, no one special. Oh, I’ve not been celibate all these years…”

“Thanks for sharing,” said Harry, rolling his eyes.

“You started it,” contested Severus. “Or am I to imply that ‘dating’ means only dinner and dancing in your lexicon?”

Harry’s laughter was rich. He’d left all vestiges of boyhood behind long ago. “Have it your way then,” he said. “I’ve not been celibate either. And no, there’s no one special in my life now. These thing have been rather fleeting with me.”

“You should try going somewhere where no one knows you,” said Severus. He changed the subject then before Harry could digest his statement and respond. “Where are you off to next?”

Harry filed away the first statement and focused on the second.

“We’re heading north. Albus is interested in the peaks around Portland and Vancouver—particularly Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier. We’re told the glades in the park area around Rainier are phenomenal this time of year. From there, who knows? The Oregon and Washington coast, perhaps, and a peek at the Olympic Peninsula.”

“How are you traveling?” asked Severus, glancing down at Harry’s hiking shoes and pack.

“Apparating to a designated apparition point then hiking,” Harry answered. “You?”

“Automobile,” supplied Severus with a grin that acknowledged how Muggle that must seem to Harry. “Hiking at our destinations. We’re heading north too.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. That sounded almost like an invitation.

Severus looked again at Harry’s pack, and at Albus’ which the boy had dropped on the ground in front of them before he left for the boat ride.

“You have a wizarding tent?”

Now Harry did grin. “One of the retired Auror Corps tents. Talk about comfortable…”

“And roomy?”

“Two sets of double bunks,” replied Harry. “Complete with shower and loo.” He took a chance. “You inviting yourself?”

Severus stood. “Come. Let’s go make room in the car.”

As they walked together toward the parking lot, Harry toting his pack and Severus carrying Albus’, Severus spoke up again.

“But mind you, I do the talking when it comes to filling my son in on my…past. He’s not quite the Slytherin I was—this may not be altogether easy for him.”

“There’s a lot of material to cover,” said Harry as they stopped beside a mid-sized SUV.

“The Wizard?’ asked Harry, reading the model name. “A Volvo Wizard?”

“Couldn’t resist,” said Severus, popping open the back with a flick of his hand inside his pocket. “Volvo broke into SUVs and hybrid technology at the same time a few years ago.” He began rearranging supplies in the back of the vehicle, glancing over at Harry.

“You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

Harry shook his head sheepishly as he accepted a large cooler from Severus and placed it on the ground.

“At least you use featherweight charms, you Muggle,” he said.

“No ice in the cooler either,” supplied Severus.

“Why the car?” asked Harry finally, when they had cleared off the back seat and had everything neatly stored—some of it shrunken into book-sized bundles. He had not let Harry touch or shrink his camera equipment.

Severus looked past Harry at the surrounding terrain, his eyes taking on a softness that gave Harry quite a bit of pause.

“You miss quite a bit when you apparate,” he answered simply. “You don’t get carsick, do you?”

“I don’t think so…” replied Harry, now regarding the car more suspiciously.

“Good,” said Severus, closing the back hatch and locking the vehicle again. “We should find a site here for the night and start out in the morning, though. It’s six hours to Mount St. Helen’s.”

Packs locked up, they leaned back on the car, water bottles in hand, and waited for their children.

 

Chapter 2
July 25 , 2024 Evening

“Wow…this is awesome!” Albus Snape was wandering around inside the Potter’s tent. He stuck his head inside the loo.

“Flush toilet?” he asked his dad, standing in front of him with hands on his hips and a familiar scowl on his face. “You mean we’ve been using those awful pit latrines when you could have laid your hands on a wizard tent…?”

“You will appreciate this all the more since you’ve experienced Muggle camping,” interrupted Severus.

“But beds, Dad! Real beds—look at these!” He swept his arm around to indicate the two sets of double bunks, each set back into privacy alcoves.

“We had very adequate cushioning charms,” replied Severus. “And expensive sleeping bags, mind you.”

“Yeah,” grinned Albus. “They’ll be great on top of these mattresses.”

Harry poked his head inside the tent flap. “I’m having a bit of trouble with the fire…” He trailed off and looked at them pleadingly. Al jumped off his bunk.

“He does the fire spell wandless,” supplied Al with a smirk. “But you said no magic, Professor.”

“You can’t just light a fire magically with Muggles wandering about,” said Severus. “You have to at least pretend to use matches.” He tossed Harry another box of matches, correctly guessing that Harry had already gone through the first box. “I’m surprised, Potter. You were raised a Muggle and you can’t light a match?”

“Oh, please, Severus. Yes, I was the official fire-starter on all those camping trips I took with the Dursleys. Besides, it’s windy out there. ”

“I know very little of your life with the Dursleys,” Severus reminded Harry. “For all I know you spent every holiday camping together.”

“We didn’t,” said Harry, simply. “Help me, Al? Albus?”

The boys slipped out of the tent into the fading day. They’d erected the tent in one of the park’s two campgrounds, a level site with a picnic table and a large fire pit. In setting up camp, it was even more apparent that Severus and Albus lived a different life than Harry and Al did. They set about each activity as a Muggle would while Harry stood there, fighting the urge to reach for his wand, finally just taking directions and pitching in. Pitching in meant moving the heavy picnic table to the other side of the site, hiking down to the host’s site to purchase firewood, fetching water—Harry didn’t even bother to point out that there would be a magical tap inside the tent—and smoothing the ground where the tent would go up to remove all the rocks and pine cones. Al was puzzled at this.

“We don’t sleep on the ground, you know,” he muttered to Harry.

When Severus joined Harry and the boys outside once the fire was finally going, he handed Harry two long canvas bags that had been sitting on the picnic table next to the cooler.

“Camp chairs,” he said. “I’ll go inside and get a couple more.”

“We don’t have…” begun Harry but Severus shook his head at him in mock exasperation.

“Right,” said Harry, swinging the heavy bags back in Severus’ general direction. “Why don’t you get these set up and I’ll go get the others. “ Transfiguring the kitchen counter bar-stools into something useable outside around the fire seemed a much less formidable task that assembling chairs that were currently stored in bags.

“I’ll help you, Dad,” said Al, though Harry knew he’d never set up camp chairs before either. Harry narrowed his eyes at Severus but let him go. He pulled open the first drawstring bag and pulled out…something…metal pieces and canvas. Al took it, looked at it curiously, gave it a shake and a chair sprung up where certainly no chair had been before. It was both lightweight and strong and looked, admittedly, quite comfortable.

Harry set up the other one himself and positioned it upwind from the blazing fire. He played with the mesh lining of a circular hole in the armrest.

“Cup holder,” supplied Albus. “For your drink. Works for most cans and bottles too.”

“Ahh,” said Harry. He had turned the mesh inside out and now stuffed it back down, understanding the purpose of the accessory.

“Let the boys use those chairs,” said Severus. Harry looked up to see the man walking toward the fire, pulling two camp-style chairs behind him. Both were oversized but Harry didn’t realize, not until he’d stood up and passed his chair over to Albus, that these chairs had rocker assemblies on them.

“I feel like an old man, about to entertain his grandchildren around the fire,” laughed Harry as he settled into his extremely comfortable chair. Severus set his up on the upwind side of the fire as well. They’d already eaten at the café in the park village after the boys returned from the boat tour, but Albus dug out an odd device from the back of the car and set about pouring oil and popcorn kernels in it.

“Popcorn popper,” supplied Severus as Harry watched. “You can use them at home, too, in your fireplace.” He got up and walked over to the cooler, bending over it for a short while before returning with two bottles of Coke. He handed one to Harry, who looked at it oddly. He’d had Muggle soft drinks before, but it still seemed odd to have Severus offer him one.

“I took care of the contents over there,” said Severus, indicating the picnic table and cooler as he sat down and twisted off the cap. “Quick switching charm with the beer.” Harry could smell the beer already, aroma wafting from the opened bottle in Severus hand. “It’s an IPA from a brewery in Santa Fe.”

“Right. Thanks,” said Harry, truly meaning it. He twisted off his own lid and dropped it into the bottom of the mesh pouch on his chair. “Why the switching charm?”

“Americans are odd about alcohol,” said Severus. “I’m not sure if it’s permitted in this park. Different parks have different rules.” He shrugged. “I don’t mind bending the rules—I just try to not be blatant about it. There’s no use being a wizard if I can’t use it to my own advantage occasionally.”

“And to mine,” said Harry, holding his bottle out toward Severus. “To old friends around a campfire.” He waited until Severus clicked his own bottle against Harry’s. “Cheers.” Severus raised his bottle and took a drink. The boys had the popcorn popper in the fire and Al, seated opposite his father, was sniffing at his own Coke bottle which curiously still held Coke.

“The drinking age in the States is 21,” commented Severus idly.

“Unbelievable,” said Al. “No exceptions for wizards, eh?”

“The wizarding community in the States is not quite as organized as it is in Europe,” answered Severus. “Wizards are more scattered and the American version of the Ministry of Magic has its hands full just tracking the existence of the wizards who live here. Here, as everywhere, parents make the rules for children regarding drinking alcohol in the home, and most tend to abide by the federal and state law.”

“Coke is fine,” said Al. He took a swig and sputtered at the carbonation. He laughed, and so did Albus. “It’s good—I’ve only ever had it once before.”

They passed the popcorn around and Severus fetched another beer for himself and one for Harry. Al and Albus left when a Park Ranger came by to invite them to a program on local wildlife in the amphitheater but Severus and Harry both declined. When both the boys and the ranger were out of earshot, Harry spoke up.

“They’re getting along rather well, don’t you think?” Harry picked a few pieces of popcorn out of the old maids at the bottom of the bowl then picked up the stick Al had been using and prodded the fire a bit.

“Albus hasn’t had a lot of friends his own age,” commented Severus. He looked up to see Harry’s slight frown. “Yes, I know I told you he had friends. He does. Some are quite a bit older and some several years younger. His mother is married to a Muggle and lives in a Muggle neighborhood. He has a few friends there closer to his own age, but of course he lives with me round the year, not with her, so he doesn’t see them as often.” He picked up the bowl of popcorn, and, apparently finding it to be lacking—as Harry had eaten the last good popped pieces—leaned forward and dumped the kernels into the fire. “I’m happy they are getting on. They have a lot of intriguing…similarities.”

Harry smiled at that. “Albus only resembles me in appearance. He’s quite a bit more level-headed than I was at his age, and definitely smarter. He was top of his class in potions, in fact.”

Severus looked surprised.

“I know. A Potter excelling in Potions. We’ve always attributed it to you being his namesake. “ He poked the fire again with his stick, stirring up the embers and reigniting one of the charred logs. “What about your Albus—what’s he like?”

“He’s generally quiet and respectful.” Severus paused. “Very bright, inquisitive, loves to read. And he’s not afraid of anything.” He rolled his eyes, muttering “Gryffindor” and Harry laughed.

“Sounds a lot more like my Al than my James,” said Harry. “James is all Weasley. Resembles his Uncle George in quite a few ways. He’s going to study business this fall at Uni—he spent last year traveling with the English Quidditch team—he was only their unpaid broom boy but you’d have thought he was the Prince of Wales by how his uncles treated him.” Harry chuckled. “He’s a loveable sort—friendly, out-going, a good mind too. We get along well, probably because he’s not much like me when it comes down to it.”

“Gryffindor?” asked Severus as he stood up.

“Yep. No surprises there. Al was a bit of a surprise, though. Went to Ravenclaw.”

Severus shuffled around in the cooler and pulled out two more bottles. “Last two,” he announced as he came back and sat down, passing one of the bottles to Harry. “I’ll sleep well tonight.”

“Especially since you’ll be in a bed,” commented Harry. He took a swig of the third beer, enjoying the hoppy taste, and then set the bottle down in the chair’s cup holder, mesmerized again by the simplicity and utility of the design.

“So what are you going to tell him?” asked Harry after a long but still comfortable silence. “Kids like James and Al and Lily have grown up with stories about the war. Hell, we’re on Chocolate Frog cards, Severus! We’re in the History of Magic curriculum. A few years ago, they produced an opera about the Battle of Hogwarts. An opera, Severus! It was horrid.” He closed his eyes and visibly shuddered. “More than anything else, the war is part of the popular culture of magical Britain.”

“Which is why I never went back,” said Severus. He looked at Harry, the feeble light of the fire and the waning moon illuminating his face. “Chocolate Frog cards? Really?”

Harry grinned. “I consider it my greatest, honor.” He laughed and pulled out his wallet from a zipped pocket of his hiking pants. He opened the wallet and thumbed through the items in it then handed a dog-eared cardboard card to Severus. Severus reached into his pocket, took out his wand and idly flicked it at the fire. It erupted in bright orange flames.

“What? I thought…” started Harry, scooting his chair back to keep from melting his boots.

Severus didn’t look up from the card he was studying as he answered. “I never make it look easy when Albus is around,” he said. He looked again at the card, eying the picture intently, then flipped it over and read the back.

“Harry Potter credits his defeat of Lord Voldemort to two men—Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape,” he read aloud. He turned the card back over and once again stared at the picture.

“Al keeps your card in his wallet,” said Harry. “I’m sure he’ll show it to you if you ask.”

Snape nodded vaguely. “You were Al’s age in this picture,” he stated. He looked up and examined Harry more closely. “He strongly resembles you, except for the eyes.”

“Except for the eyes?” said Harry, stunned. “He’s got my eyes exactly. You’re the first person who’s ever…”

He stopped talking, meeting Severus’ level gaze.

“Oh, he has your eyes—the color, the shape,” reassured Severus. “Just like your mother’s. Exactly like hers, in fact. The thing is, Harry…” He emphasized Harry’s name, drawing it out as he continued to stare at the trading card in his hands. “He’s an 18-year-old with 18-year-old eyes. When you look at your son, really look at him in the eyes, you see a boy who’s on top of his game, just out of school, ready to take on the world.” He ran his thumb over the card, picturing, Harry knew, not the defiant boy on the card with his wand raised against an enemy, but the boy who had looked him in the eye as he lay dying on the floor of the Shrieking Shack. Severus smiled, a vague sort of smile. “Your eyes at that age were...different. Older. I doubt you ever had eyes that look like Al’s do now.”

He left it at that and Harry let it go, taking back his Chocolate Frog Card and tucking it away in his wallet with his passport, Muggle credit card, pictures of his children and US currency. He was surprised again when Severus spoke.

“Albus has grown up with magic, but isolated from wizarding society. All along I’ve intended to take him back when the time was right. It was just never right for me. I’ve neglected it too long.”

Harry opened his mouth to protest but in all honesty, felt that Severus was right. He’d only been eleven when he was introduced to the magical world and not much more than thirty years later he was so far removed from Muggle life that he was fascinated by cup holders in camp chairs and totally inept at lighting a match.

“He’ll figure it out, Severus,” he answered, feeling his statement was inadequate. What he wanted to say was ‘He won’t hold it against you, Severus. He’ll understand what kept you away.’

Severus regarded him a moment and nodded, seemingly hearing precisely what Harry didn’t say.

“If he’d still like to go to England once he hears my story—or as much of it as I can tell—will you take him back with you?”

Harry was grateful he didn’t have a mouthful of beer. He glanced at Severus. No, not smiling. Not laughing. Dead serious. He considered.

“If he’d like to come—sure I will. How long of a visit do you think he’ll want?”

“Visit?” asked Severus.

“Yes, visit? Or were you expecting him to move in with me?” asked Harry, grinning.

“With you—no,” answered Severus. “I was thinking of enrolling him at Hogwarts.”

Harry stared at Severus.

“At Hogwarts,” he repeated. Somehow, he’d not seen this one coming. “Wow. That would be…brilliant.” He looked up at Severus, attempting to convey his approval of the plan. Severus narrowed his eyes at him.

“I’m well aware of the difficulties he might face,” he said, continuing to stare at Harry. “He’ll be useless at History of Magic and Defense—there are no Dark Arts to speak of in the American West to defend oneself against, thankfully, so I’ve let that one slide. I think he’ll hold his own in Transfiguration and Charms, and he’ll excel in Herbology and Potions. Care of Magical Creatures and Astronomy could fill in his schedule—he’d be at level in those as well, though the magical creatures of the Americas are quite a bit different than those of the Old World. His wand, for example, is made of pinon wood with a hair from the tail of a wild magical mustang as its core.”

“Who made it?” asked Harry, intrigued by the description.

“There’s an old wand maker at Taos Pueblo, not too far from our place,” answered Severus. “He crafts a few each year still. He made Albus’ when he turned eleven.”

“I don’t have any reservations about Albus at Hogwarts,” said Harry. “He’s young—he’ll figure it out. We might even make a start in getting him a bit of an English accent.” Severus rolled his eyes. “But what about you, Severus? Are you ready to let him go? To send your family so far away? I take it you’ve no plans to go yourself…”

“None.” Severus was adamant. “This is not something I dreamed up when our paths crossed earlier today. I’ve been giving it a good deal of thought lately, especially these last months when his interest in my past has escalated. Your fortuitous appearance has, however, made it possible for my son to be introduced to the magical world…safely…without me.”

“Do you think he wouldn’t be safe with you?” asked Harry.

“That wasn’t what I meant,” responded Severus, though he added thoughtfully “though one never knows. There will always be those that seek retribution or retaliation…those who lost someone, or something, during the war.”

Harry nodded. “Unfortunately, there have been a few cases like that, but I’ve not heard of any for quite a while.” He hesitated. “Severus, what I meant when I asked if you were ready to let him go—well, you’re obviously settled here, with him. This is the only life he knows. It’s not like he knows he’s missing anything by not being part of wizarding society…”

“I know what he’s missing,” answered Severus, a bit roughly. “And that is enough.”

“Right.” Harry smiled, more to himself than to Severus, and stood up. “Feel like some tea? I’ll put the kettle on inside.”

Severus rolled his eyes and half-whispered his answer. “One does not put the kettle on inside a tent in a campground, Harry.”

“Right,” Harry repeated, standing up. “Well then, how about I go in the tent and dig out some biscuits to have with our tea—the tea that we’re going to make right out here once we boil water in an old shoe on the campfire.”

“Oh, and Harry,” called out Severus softly as he moved toward the tent, “you can’t keep food inside the tent, not even biscuits—or cookies.” His voice had an air to it that Harry recognized as teasing, though from Severus, teasing would always sound like sarcasm. “Wildlife,” he said, gesturing to the wooded areas around them. “Especially bears. Black bears have become a real problem in this area.”

“Which is why I left my salmon and blueberry body wash in your car,” answered Harry, shaking his head as he went inside the tent to put the kettle on. The response from Severus, a snort that led into a deep chuckle, brought a relaxed smile to Harry’s face.

Severus came in the tent a few minutes later carrying a canvas bag. He sat down at the small kitchen table and removed four wrapped items and placed them on the table and began to unwrap them. Harry had already placed a tea tray complete with pot, mugs, milk, lemon, sugar and biscuits on the table. He left the kettle to boil on the stove and sat on the chair across from Severus to see what he’d brought in.

Severus was holding a clay cup, handleless, fairly thick and roughly the size of an ordinary mug. But this cup wasn’t ordinary. Harry could tell that by looking at it, and he could feel it when he reached out and touched it, tracing the rim with his fingertip. The cup was blue in color, but barely blue, the outside covered in a light wash that looked like an early morning grey-blue sky. There was an irregularity to its shape in the middle and Harry stared at it curiously until Severus handed him the cup and it slipped into his hand naturally, his thumb resting in a clever depression in its side. The outside of the cup was smooth but the inside, when he ran his finger on it, seemed more rough and porous.

“It’s a thumbprint cup,” explained Severus. “The indentation makes it easier to hold since it doesn’t have a handle.”

He unwrapped a second cup, similar to the first, this one more green than blue, and placed it on the table. Harry set the cup he was holding beside the first. It rested neatly on the table, its bottom perfectly flat, its sides regular, nearly, but not quite, identical in size and shape to the first. Two more cups soon joined these, one an earthy brown in color and the other a deep grey.

“What is that stuff?” asked Harry, his eyes on the plastic material that Severus had removed from the pottery.

“This?” asked Severus, looking at the long sheet of bubble wrap in his hand. He glanced at Harry and laughed again, his hand coming up to rub his forehead in mock frustration. “It has been too long since I’ve been around wizards who don’t live with Muggles.” He watched as Harry picked up the other piece of bubble wrap, now ignoring the real show and tell pieces and focusing on this marvelous Muggle invention.

“It’s bubble wrap, Harry. Plastic with air bubble pockets. It cushions fragile objects for transportation or storage. It’s been around since before you were born.” Harry was pressing now on one of the large air pockets. Predictably, the bubble popped and Harry jumped.

“Children love to play with it,” said Severus.

“Hey!” protested Harry.

“Muggle children and adult wizards,” corrected Severus. “If I had had this back at Hogwarts, when I had to pack straw around my potion vials just to get them safely up to the hospital wing…”

“If you’d had that at Hogwarts, it would have gone missing from your supply cabinet along with the pepper-up ingredients,” said Harry. “There would have been a black-market at Hogwarts for bubble paper…”

“Bubble wrap,” corrected Severus thoughtfully. A nostalgic look crossed his face, but only briefly, then he stood to fetch the boiling kettle. He added a pinch of something organic to the tea leaves already in the teapot from a small pouch he’d extracted along with the cups and poured the hot water from the kettle over the leaves in the pot, replacing the lid when it was full.

“What did you add?” asked Harry.

“Wild lavender,” he said. “From home.”

He said those two words with such comfort, such ease, and Harry was reminded of his own home, not the cottage near the Burrow he’d shared with Ginny for those early years, or #12 Grimmauld Place, which he’d gifted to Teddy when he turned 18. No, he thought instead of the small cottage he’d bought in Hogsmeade a couple years before James started at Hogwarts, with its three bedrooms upstairs—one for him, one for Lily and one for the boys to share—and its high ceilings and old woodwork and butler’s pantry in the kitchen and cozy den with floor to ceiling bookshelves. Back in the day, the floor of the den was always littered with books and toys and junior brooms were lined up side by side against the front porch wall. He thought of the garden space out back, and how he let old Mr. and Mrs. Arbunkle from next door garden to their hearts’ content and how Harry’s rose garden grew up fragrant and thorny around Mrs. Arbunkle’s gnarled hands.

“Harry?” Severus was looking at him oddly.

“Sorry—got distracted.” Harry put down the bubble wrap he was still clutching and sat on the bench behind the tea service. Severus picked up the strainer and poured tea into two of the cups.

“These four are for peaceful slumber,” he said, touching the green cup lightly. “They will have some effect tonight but work best when used a few nights in a row.” He watched Harry as he touched each cup in turn then finally took the green one.

“I developed a bit of an addiction to dreamless sleep back in the day—your probably remember that,” said Harry.

“Ahh. I do. I’d forgotten that, however.” He took the blue cup and took a sip, holding the cup comfortably in both hands. “This vessel contains a natural muscle relaxant and some of the basic ingredients in the draught of peace. It’s less..harsh…than dreamless sleep. It also doesn’t suppress dreams. One of the best ways to assure peaceful slumber is to let the normal dream cycle occur, but to turn away thoughts that evoke bad dreams.

Harry tested his tea. The hot liquid slid down his throat. He followed Severus’ example and circled his hand to swish the tea around so that it had more contact with the inside of the cup.

“It won’t make you tired—not necessarily,” said Severus. “If you’re already tired though, it may intensify the feeling.”

The tea was almost like a balm to Harry. He took another drink and closed his eyes, feeling that he was drinking perfectly normal tea, the sort that relaxed him after a long day on the job, yet…not.

“It will grow on you,” said Severus.

Harry opened his eyes and fingered the cup.

“Who buys these?” he asked, realizing by now that Severus had as much contact with Muggles as with wizards and must rely on them for some of his income.

“Do I sell these to Muggles you mean?”

Harry shrugged. “Sure. Do you?”

“I do. I supply shops in both Taos and Santa Fe—those are artisan towns in New Mexico.”

“Doesn’t the Ministry…” he stopped, shook his head and corrected himself. “Doesn’t the Department of Magical Peoples control the sale of magical objects to Muggles here?”

Severus nodded. “They control the sale or distribution of potions, yes. And other obviously magical objects—anything with obvious magical properties. I’ve slipped under the radar by creating something that didn’t exist before. They’ll probably get around to doing something about it in some future administration but currently, I’m not regulated at all. It’s really nothing more than herb lore—the right ingredients in the right proportions in the right order worked into the clay, the clay fired at the right heat for the right amount of time…”

“The hands of the potter, imbued with his own magical energy, working the ingredients into the clay…”

Severus looked at Harry.

“Do you think I’m doing something unethical?” His voice was conversational but his eyes held a challenge.

Harry considered a long moment then shook his head.

“I’m a bit out of my depth here, Severus. I’ve been an Auror for nearly 25 years now and I’ve learned that the law can be bent and twisted and made to serve specific aims and purposes. But in this case, I couldn’t prove that you were doing anything illegal. Or unethical,” he added when Severus opened his mouth to say something else. “What’s your best seller, anyway?”

“Anti-aging,” said Severus. “It has a positive effect on the collagen in the skin. The anti-stress and aphrodisiac vessels sell well too. The real win for me from a marketing perspective is that the cups only have the desired effect for a year at best. By then, the active ingredients have generally leached out. If the purchaser has had a positive experience, they always reorder , usually by mail—thus the bubble wrap.” He fingered one of the unused cups that still sat empty on the table. “Of course, they still have a perfectly fine cup.”

The two men drank their tea in silence for a few more minutes. Harry absently took a biscuit off the tea tray and broke it in half.

“I’m curious about your son’s name,” he said.

“Are you?” answered Severus. “I think I should be even more curious about your son’s name.”

“Right,” said Harry, his smile reaching his eyes. “I already explained that—to Albus anyway. It’s just that you seemed surprised that I had named my son Albus Severus. You didn’t know, then? It was a coincidence that your son has the same name?”

“Had I known 16 years ago that there was a two-year-old Albus Severus terrorizing Great Britain, I’d have asked my son’s mother to provide his first name as well as his second. She chose Severus; I chose Albus. So Albus Severus he became.”

“Albus would be proud,” said Harry softly, catching Severus’ eye. “The original Albus, I mean.”

“I know who you mean. And I concur.” He lifted his cup then. “To Albus Dumbledore,” he said. “The Greatest Wizard of his day.”

“Hear hear,” said Harry, completing the toast by clicking cups with Severus.

Al and Albus came back from the ranger presentation when Severus and Harry were well into their second cup of tea. Severus poured for the boys and the four sat around the table, the boys quickly devouring the remaining biscuits.

“Albus has never been on a broom,” said Al. “We’re going to have to find some wizard space so I can take him up, Dad.”

Severus picked up a piece of bubble wrap and handed it to Al. “Do you know what this is?” he asked.

Al took the plastic, looking at Severus curiously. He pulled on it experimentally. Albus reached over helpfully and squeezed one of the air pockets until it popped. Al’s reaction was similar to Harry’s. He yelped.

“Object lesson, “said Severus. “Albus has never flown; you’ve never played with bubble wrap. Don’t think he’s been cheated out of life because he hasn’t grown up inside an all-wizarding community.”

“I wasn’t thinking that!” said Al in defense.

Severus stared at him.

“You don’t know Severus very well, do you?” laughed Harry. “He’ll win a staring stand-off any day.”

“OK, I might have thought that—but only because flying is so wicked,” said Al. “I’ve been flying practically since I was a baby.”

“And Albus has been playing with bubble wrap that long too,” said Severus. “I used to wrap his knees and elbows in it when he was toddling around out in the desert with me. It was as good as a cushioning charm—kept his skin clean too.”

Al was catching on. “You didn’t,” he said, his mouth twitching into a smile.

Severus conceded. “Fine. I didn’t. I used a cushioning charm. I am a wizard, after all.”

It turned out that Albus did play wizarding chess, and he and Al set up on the kitchen table while Harry cleaned up after tea.

“Albus and I can use these bunks up here by the front,” suggested Al when he caught his dad yawning as he rinsed out the teapot. “We’d like to finish the game if you don’t mind.”

“Just keep the volume down,” said Severus. Albus reached into his pocket for his wand and cast a Muffliato as he continued to study the board. Harry chuckled.

“Useful spell, that,” he said.

He used the loo, brushed his teeth then dropped down onto a comfortable chair between the kitchen nook and the back bedroom alcove and unlaced his hiking shoes. He lined them up next to each other beside the chair, wiggled his toes and removed his socks. Glancing over at Severus as the man came out of the loo, he cast a quick freshening charm on his feet and another on his shoes and socks.

“Bottom or top?” asked Harry as he stood and pulled off his shirt. He dropped it onto the chair to find Severus staring at him. Hard.

“Bunk,” he added, blushing slightly. “The top or bottom bunk I mean.”

“Bottom,” responded Severus softly.

“Right,” said Harry. He turned to face away from Severus—he knew he was blushing—pulled off his jeans, dropped them onto the chair with the shirt then climbed into the top bunk wearing only an old pair of striped boxers, managing to do it all seemingly casually and without looking directly at Severus or observing his reaction. He was spending so much time with teenagers he was beginning to act like one.

“But that applies only to bunk beds,” added Severus once Harry was settled in.

“Of course,” agreed Harry. He didn’t ask Severus to elaborate.

“We’ll stop in Portland on the way to Mount St. Helen’s tomorrow,” said Severus a few minutes later after he, too, had undressed and gotten into bed. Harry had glanced at him once while he undressed and had noticed the tan line at Severus’ shirt sleeve. “There’s a little donut store there I visited the last time I was in town—Voodoo Donuts.”

“VooDoo Donuts?” repeated Harry curiously.

“It will likely offend your proper English sensibilities,” said Severus with a laugh.

“Can’t wait, then,” said Harry, turning over onto his side. “Offend away.”

Severus chuckled but did not say anything else. Harry heard him adjust his position and before too long, heard the man’s steady, slow breathing. Of course—the tea. Severus had undoubtedly been using the cups for some time already and the peaceful slumber had affected him more quickly than it did Harry.

But Harry followed soon after. It was not the first time that Harry Potter had fallen asleep to the peaceful, even sound of another man breathing beneath him, but it was the first time he’d done so with nothing in his arms but his pillow and feeling so strangely alone.

 

Chapter 3
July 26 , 2024

“Bacon? On a donut?”

“Just eat it, Dad. You eat bacon for breakfast all the time.” Al was staring at his own donuts. One of them alone was a diabetic’s nightmare. Together they would rot his teeth and erase all those years of good dental hygiene.

“But it’s noon,” said Harry. “I’ve already had breakfast. This is supposed to be lunch….I think…”

“You must really like chocolate, Al,” said Albus. He was staring at Al’s “Triple Chocolate Penetration” and “Old Dirty Bastard.” Both were round donuts overloaded with chocolate in various forms—icing, cereal, chunks, candy... He wouldn’t be too surprised if Al bit into one of those things and found a chocolate Easter bunny.

“One of my donuts has bacon and the other is shaped like a….” Harry stared down at the monstrosity in the pink box on his lap.

“Cock and balls, Dad,” supplied Al. “You really shouldn’t have let Professor Snape order for you. You should have just gone in with us.”

“It was crowded! I don’t like crowds. Reminds me of…” he trailed off and shook his head. “Let’s just say I preferred to wait outside. I’ll know better next time.”

“What do you have, Albus?” asked Al, looking inside the bag Albus was holding.

“Voodoo Doll and Portland Cream,” he said. “I didn’t let Dad order.”

Severus came out of the shop then, pocketing his wallet and glancing around the street until he spotted Harry on the bench and the boys standing next to him. He was carrying his donuts in a brown sack. Only Harry, it seemed, had merited the signature pink donut box.

“What did you get, Dad?” asked Albus as they walked back to the car together.

“I purchased a long john for myself,” he said.

“You mean a Gay Bar,” said Albus, grinning.

“A Gay Bar?” repeated Harry.

“All the colors of the rainbow and filled with cream,” said Albus in a sing-song voice. ”Did you get the one covered in Fruit Loops too Dad?” He jumped away from his father when Severus tried to cuff him on the head.

A few minutes later they were all back in the car and Severus was attempting to navigate the one-way streets and find his way back to the freeway.

“Use the GPS, Mr. Potter,” suggested Albus from his seat behind his father.

“I thought the battery was dead in that thing,” said Harry immediately. He’d been obsessed with the car’s built-in navigation system since eight o’clock that morning when they’d left Crater Lake, staring at it, poking the touch screen with his fingers, learning to scroll through “attractions” and suggesting roadside diversions as they drove. Finally, Severus had reached over as if to adjust it and had turned it off. He claimed the battery was dead.

With nothing to focus on besides the highway, Harry had dozed off and, when he awoke, went into near panic mode thinking he was in the driver’s seat of a speeding car.

“Dad! Dad!” Al had said from behind him. He grabbed Harry’s shoulder and shook him. “We’re in America. The driver is on the left!”

“What’s that?” asked Albus now, pointing at a building ahead of them. “Is that that bookstore, Dad? The one we visited when I was 12?”

“Indeed,” answered Severus, giving no indication that he was planning to park so they could shop for books. “Powell’s it is. It occupies an entire city block.”

Al was staring with his mouth half-open. “Aunt Hermione would wet her pants,” he said, almost in awe.

“She must be related to my Dad,” said Albus in a stage whisper.

Harry choked on his donut.

/

While Mount St. Helens was a mere one hour drive from Portland, Severus decided on a detour.

“You can’t come to Portland without seeing the Columbia River Gorge,” he said, going east on I-84 instead of staying north on I-5. It was fortunate that the Potters were not accustomed to lengthy car rides and that Albus was accustomed to his father’s driving, or there might have been more complaints about the frequent lane changes, variable speeds and choice of radio station. Did Portland really have a radio station that played nothing but the singing cowboys or was there magic involved?

“It was actually on our original itinerary,” commented Harry. “We were going to pop in and see the falls and do a bit of hiking then pop over to Mount St. Helens and then to Mount Rainier.”

“All in one day?” asked Albus. “And miss all this?”

He was pointing out the Columbia River, it’s wide expanse and green banks filling their view.

“I know,” said Harry, staring raptly at the GPS and ignoring the scenic, slow-moving river. “To think I would have missed this if we’d stuck to our original plan.”

“You’re hopeless, Dad,” said Al. “It’s just a GPS. We learned all about it in Muggle Studies.”

“You were taught about GPS in Muggle Studies?” asked Severus, clearly incredulous.

“Of course. Professor Hardcastle tinkers with all the electronics and actually gets them to work at Hogwarts. Well, mostly. The GPS he brought in the first time was tracking us in Finland.”

“That’s fairly close—in world terms,” said Severus dryly.

“How do these things work anyway?” asked Harry, adding, “Oh, by the way Severus, the speed limit is 65 here and you’re going 68.”

“Magic,” drawled Severus, intentionally speeding up.

“Wizards have GPS’ in their magic,” provided Albus. “We just have to ‘think’ a coordinate for apparition.”

“You can apparate?” asked Al, staring at his friend. “You’re not 17 yet…”

“Of course I can apparate. What’s age got to do with it?” he said, glancing from Al to the back of his father’s head.

“Wizards need a license to apparate at home,” said Harry, wrenching his attention away from the little icon for the vehicle on the GPS screen—he’d already figured out how to customize the icon and had changed the car into a banana—and turning to face the boys in the back seat. “You have to be 17 to get the license. It’s controlled by the Ministry—the Department of Magical Transportation.”

“You mean you can’t drink until you’re 21 here but you can apparate when you’re…what?....15?” Al was not letting the subject drop.

“Thirteen,” said Severus. “But it is different for each individual. Generally, the parents…”

“Right,” interrupted Al with a smile. “I got it. The parents decide what’s best for the child.”

“You’d have been apparating at 13 too,” said Harry with a shudder. “I’d have been picking up eyebrows and ear lobes and fingernails all over the place.”

“That was James, Dad,” said Al, rolling his eyes.

“No, with him I’d have been picking up whole limbs. He’s got the concentration of a fruit fly.”

Albus followed the friendly banter.

“I just love your accents,” he said.

“They’re no different than your Dad’s,” commented Harry and glancing over at Severus. Severus had both hands on the wheel and was accelerating to pass a motorcycle convoy. Harry looked out his window as they began to pass the trailing bikes.

“A Harley club,” commented Albus. “We get a lot of those at home. They love to ride through the desert.”

“They’re…interesting,” said Harry, clearly fascinated with the array of humanity on the powerful bikes. “All that leather…”

Al and Albus, turned around as they were in the backseat looking at the columns of bikes behind them, fortunately missed that comment. Severus did not.

“The seats are actually covered with vinyl. It holds up better in the weather,” he stated.

“I wasn’t talking about the seats and you know it,” murmured Harry, turning to face Severus. He sounded annoyed but he was smirking, a delightful blush on his high cheekbones.

“Albus says a lot of those guys are retired businessmen—rich guys,” said Al to his father.

Harry looked at the fading line of motorcycles in his side-view mirror. “Really?” He sounded distracted.

“Yeah, and he says they hang out in these bars along the highway and he can look one up near Mount St. Helen’s on his mobile and…”

“We won’t be visiting any biker bars on this trip, Albus,” said Severus quickly, closing the subject.

“You’ve visited them in the past?” asked Harry. “What are they like?”

“Yeah, what are they like, Dad?” asked Albus. Harry was now relatively sure Severus’ son would go directly into Slytherin.

“Look—here’s the exit for Multnomah Falls,” said Severus, cutting off the freeway directly into a parking area for visitors to the falls. He pointed to the right. “Look—there they are.”

“Nice try, Severus,” said Harry as the boys jumped out of the car and Severus cut the engine.

“Here’s your camera, Dad,” said Albus. He’d been digging around in the back of the vehicle and handed his father the black leather bag with his photography gear. He and Al set off ahead of their fathers, leaving Harry and Severus to lock up the car and follow them to the viewing platforms.

“I’m giving 3 to 1 odds that those bikers are going to stop here,” said Severus as they walked. “You might get lucky.” He paused, then added. “Does Al know about your preferences?”

“My preferences?” Harry repeated curiously. The knut dropped. “Oh. Of course. I’m Harry Potter, Severus. My preferences are usually featured in the Prophet. Anyway, Al was the one who introduced me to my last boyfriend. Roger was his friend Brian’s uncle.”

“Was?” Severus lifted his camera to his eye and began focusing on the lower portion of the double falls before them.

“You’re right. Is. Was my boyfriend, is still Brian’s uncle I suppose. We almost moved in together there at the end.”

“Really? Why didn’t you?”

“I found out about David.”

“David?” Severus took a few more shots then knelt down on the ground to change lenses.

“The other guy Roger was seeing. Quite a bit younger than me. A lot more fit. Problem was he wasn’t well…let’s say… established…in life. He rather resented me.”

Severus looked at Harry oddly but Harry had finally stopped to study the magnificent waterfall.

“Your friends are here,” said Severus, nodding his head in the general direction of the parking lot.

“Friends? Oh…” Harry turned away from the gorgeous waterfall in front of him and looked back at a parking lot on the access road they’d just crossed, a lot which was filling up quickly with bikes.

“They’ll keep, Harry. Let’s hike on up to the top of the falls. The kids are already up on the bridge.” He waved back up at their sons who had paused in the middle of a bridge suspended over the river in front of the upper portion of the falls and were waving down to their dads.

Harry grinned. He walked comfortably beside Severus as they took the footpath up to the bridge, pausing to gaze at the free-falling water whenever Severus stopped to take a photo. Several times, Harry noted, Severus stopped to admire but didn’t lift his camera. Once they crossed the footbridge, the path steepened considerably.

“You’re awfully fit for a man your age,” commented Harry. He had stopped at an overlook and was watching the leather jacket-clad bikers mingle with the other tourists at the bottom viewing terrace.

“I know that was meant as a compliment,” said Severus as they started walking again. “But a man ‘of my age’ doesn’t necessarily like to be reminded that he’s old.”

“That’s not what I meant,” laughed Harry. “I’m struggling to keep up with you and I’m supposed to be in top physical shape at all times.”

“Too much apparition, not enough good old fashioned walking,” commented Severus. He stopped at a switchback in the path ahead and looked down again toward the parking lot. “Your biker friends are all going into the café.”

“I’m not that intrigued by them, Severus,” said Harry as he watched the lingerers move out of sight toward the Visitor Center complex. “OK, so I like leather. Who doesn’t?” He shot Severus a sideways look and caught him grinning.

“It has its appeal, I admit,” he answered. “Stay there.” He backed up several paces and focused his camera on Harry. “Auror Potter stops to catch his breath,” he said as he composed the shot and took the photo. “Breathtaking,” he added softly as Harry turned back toward the view. Harry didn’t hear him, and if he had, he would have assumed Severus was talking about the falls.

/

Severus pulled out maps from the glove box of the Volvo before setting out again, charting a route further west then over the Bridge of the Gods into Washington State and from there north to the east side of Mount St. Helen’s. They set up camp in a small and primitive National Forest Service campground amid old growth forest and had the tent set up and a small fire going by seven that evening.

“I can’t believe you keep a fully-stocked refrigerator inside a tent,” sighed Albus as he stood like millions of children and teenagers before him, holding the door of the fridge open and staring inside waiting for something to jump out at him. He picked up a jar of pickled beets and frowned.

“How about eggs and sausage?” asked Harry, looking over Albus’ shoulder. “I can do a scramble, or make omelets.” He rubbed the small of his back as he turned to get Al and Severus’ opinions. It seemed like they’d been in the car for days—the six hour drive from Crater Lake to Mount St. Helen’s had stretched into a nearly 11-hour day of sightseeing, hiking and donut eating.

“Omelets,” said Severus.

“Omelets are fine,” said Al. He’d dropped down onto his bunk to take off his hiking boots. They’d walked a rocky three-mile trail into a canyon and everyone had hurried inside to remove their shoes once the tent was up. He looked at Harry, noting his slightly bent stance. “Your back hurting again, Dad? Do you need your potion?”

“A bit. It will be fine—too much sitting today is all,” answered Harry as he pulled out eggs and butter and dug around some more. “Cheese and tomato all right for everyone?” He held up a slightly wilted tomato and a hunk of cheddar.

“What’s wrong with your back?” asked Severus as he helped Harry grate the cheese a few minutes later.

Harry glanced over at the boys. They were sitting on the bottom bunk looking at a Quidditch magazine. “Got shot. Al doesn’t know it was a Muggle weapon. Happened a little more than a year ago—all the kids were in Hogwarts. It wasn’t life-threatening so we underplayed it—kept them away from the hospital. Anyway, it shattered a couple vertabra and the back knots up on long days like today.”

“A magical person wielded a gun?” asked Severus, still chopping.

Harry shook his head. “David." He cracked another egg in a bowl.

"David," repeated Severus. "Oh. Roger's friend.".

Harry nodded but said nothing more.

They ate quickly, everyone ravenous, then Harry and Al volunteered to clean up. Severus and Albus took the camp chairs and transfigured rockers outside and set them up around the fire which Harry had started using only six matches.

“This has been fun, Dad,” commented Al as he stacked clean dishes and put away the salt and pepper.

Harry smiled at his son. “I’m glad you’re enjoying it, Al. You and Albus seem to be getting on well.”

“Oh, we are. He’s great—he knows so much about magic and about Muggle stuff. It would be great to take him back home sometime and show him Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. Maybe go to Diagon Alley and the Burrow too. I think those are the kinds of things he still needs to see—big, magical places and magical families.”

Harry nodded in agreement. “Maybe his dad will realize that. Looks like we’ll be together a few more days at least—let it ride for a while, see what happens naturally.”

“You and Professor Snape seem to be getting on rather well too,” said Al sagely. He had tucked the kitchen chairs under the table and scourgified the tablecloth.

Harry looked up at his son from the sink where he was bagging up the left-over sausages.

“I had to meet with him every two weeks for three years back before your Mom and I were married,” he told his son. “He was my first case—in the Ministry’s Death Eater rehabilitation program. They asked certain ‘fringe’ witches and wizards to commit to five years of service to rebuild the wizarding world after the war…”

“Yeah, we studied that my sixth year,” said Al. “It was a controversial program, wasn’t it?”

“Most people thought they shouldn’t get any chance at all so yes, it was controversial,” answered Harry thoughtfully. “Personally, I always believed Severus should have been cleared immediately and allowed to get on with his life. People just couldn’t get over the fact that he killed Albus…”

“He’s going to have to tell Albus that, you know,” said Al. He looked at the closed tent flap leading outside. “I kind of hope he waits until after we’re gone. Think they’re talking now?”

Harry shrugged. “Maybe. But I’m sure they’re expecting us to come out. Grab a jacket—it’s getting chilly out there. I’m going to make tea first.”

By the time Harry joined the others, carrying the tea tray, they were all sitting comfortably around the fire, talking softly. Night had settled in and high above them the stars were beginning to awaken in the unusually clear sky.

“You Americans never get this straight,” laughed Al as he started to explain again. “England is just one part of Great Britain. Great Britain is the entire island. It has England, Scotland and Wales on it. Hogwarts is in Scotland—that’s the northern part of the big island.”

“Then what’s the UK?” asked Albus, shooting a look over at this father. Severus had a knife in his hand and was whittling a point onto the end of a long stick.

“That’s Great Britain plus Northern Ireland. The rest of Ireland is its own country.”

“The Scottish aren’t technically British,” said Severus. He was testing the end of his pointy stick with his finger. “Back in the Roman days, only England and Wales were considered Britannia. The Romans never conquered Scotland.”

“Is there going to be a test on this?” moaned Albus.

“Maybe,” answered Severus. “But now you do understand that when you asked me a little while ago about my life back in England, I could have omitted a good part of it and still given you an honest answer.”

“Right.” Albus exchanged a fond look with his father. “So, Dad, what was your life like back in Great Britain?”

“I grew up in England—I have told you a bit of my rather unhappy childhood.” Severus looked at his son while he spoke. Albus nodded and looked down at the ground. “My father was a Muggle; my mother a pureblooded witch. Her family was not altogether happy about this particular union. My parents were both dead before I was a twenty.”

“At the age of eleven, like most witches and wizards in the UK, I went off to Hogwarts. There I was sorted into Slytherin House. Al has told you about the houses, yes?”

Albus nodded. “He’s in Ravenclaw. They get on rather well with the Slytherins, generally.”

Severus smiled. “Better than with most,” he agreed. He picked up his knife and began whittling again as he continued. “While at Hogwarts, in my later years, I took up with a group of students, my age and older. These were not the best role models, I later came to understand, but while with them I began to follow a charismatic man of my mother’s generation, an individual whose ideas appealed to me at the time. Suffice it to say that he has, on many occasions since, been compared to Adolph Hitler, and worse.”

Severus looked up at his son then. Albus had been following his father eagerly. Now, however, his face took on a slightly disturbed look. He opened his mouth as if to speak.

“No. No questions yet, Albus. I made a grievous error. I swore my allegiance to this man who called himself Lord Voldemort and became one of his marked Death Eaters.” He held up his left wrist to show the faded dark mark and Albus’ eyes locked on the mark that he was so accustomed to seeing. “You see this mark now and do not judge me, Albus. But there is not a magical adult alive in Europe today who would see it and not judge me.”

Harry had passed out tea in Severus’ restful slumber mugs and all were holding warm cups in their cold hands as they listened raptly to Severus speak. He was a masterful storyteller, Harry realized. Severus took a long sip of his tea before continuing.

“We were called Death Eaters because it was Voldemort’s desire to achieve immortality. He laughed at death though deep within he feared it terribly.” Severus closed his knife, leaned his stick against his chair and leaned back with his mug clasped in both hands, warming them. “I stayed with him a short time, a matter of only a few years. I left when he decided to kill a childhood friend—my best friend, in fact, a woman I had grown to love, although she did not return my love in that way. A prophecy had been made about her son, stating that this child was the one with the power to destroy Voldemort. I went to Albus Dumbledore and pledged to be faithful to him and his cause, the end of Voldemort’s reign of terror, for I thought he could protect my friend. I began spying for him, serving as a double agent, if you will. Ultimately, however, my friend and her husband were killed by Voldemort, but their child survived.”

Al was looking down at his tea, completely silent. He’d heard the story before, of course, but never quite like this. Harry, on the other hand, was staring at Severus, transfixed.

“There isn’t much more to tell tonight, Albus. Voldemort killed my friend’s husband first, then he killed my friend while she tried to protect her year-old son. He then used the killing curse against that baby, but my friend, in giving her life for her son, gave that baby an ancient blood protection. The killing curse rebounded, hit Voldemort and while it didn’t kill him, for reasons I shall explain at a later time, it destroyed his corporeal form and left his spirit adrift and incorporeal for many years.” He took another long drink of his tea. No one spoke. Al had lifted his eyes and was now staring at his father, who was staring at Severus. “I returned to Albus Dumbledore that night, after I learned that my friend and her husband had been killed. He told me then that her son had lived and on that day, that terrible night, I swore to protect that child with my life. For Lily.”

His eyes were intense as they stared at the fire. Harry felt like he was back in the Headmaster’s office, face in the Pensieve, reliving those terrible memories, watching Severus’ pain unfold and bleed like a fresh wound.

“My friend was Lily Evans. Her husband was James…James Potter. Their son, the boy who lived, is sitting next to you.”

Albus nearly dropped his tea. As it was, he spilled a good portion on his lap and hissed while Harry quickly cast a drying charm and a cooling charm on him.

“I’ve never heard it told quite like that before,” said Al, very quietly.

“Dad’s a great storyteller,” said Albus. He looked at his father appraisingly. “How much of that story is actually true, Dad?”

“What do you mean?” protested Al immediately. “It’s all true. It’s in our history books.”

“Dad?” asked Albus, seemingly ignoring Al.

Severus smiled reassuringly at his son. “I know you’re accustomed to my bedtime stories which do mix fact and fable. But this story is true. Every word.”

“But Al said that you’re a legend. The story might be true—but it’s not the whole story, is it? There’s not enough there to make you a legend…”

“Hardly,” said Severus. “The story I told tonight ended in 1981. Voldemort was ultimately defeated in 1998. I think this is enough of my story for this evening.” His voice had an authority, a finality, in it that Albus must have been accustomed to hearing.

“More tomorrow night then?” asked Albus. He had pulled his feet up and was sitting cross-legged on the camp chair. Severus nodded and Albus looked over at Harry. “Do they call you the Boy Who Lived or is that something my dad just added to the story?”

“They still call me that sometimes,” Harry answered.

“They also call him ‘The Boy Who Would Not Die’ and ‘The Boy Who Lived Again,” said Al.

“And that’s also a story for another night,” said Severus.

“Then tell me about Hogwarts—about the castle,” said Albus at no one in particular, clearly not ready to stifle this nearly free-flowing font of information about this father’s past.

“You’ve never felt cold until you’ve spent a winter in a Scottish castle,” muttered Severus.

“The first charm we learn there is a warming charm,” laughed Al. “But it’s not that bad, really. It’s a beautiful place—built right beside a lake—they call them lochs up there—and not too far away from Hogsmeade. That’s where we live when we’re with my Dad—it’s an all wizarding village. There are ghosts at the castle—have you ever seen a ghost?”

Albus shook his head. “No. But that’s one thing Dad has told me about. He used to tell me a story about a ghost named the Bloody Baron. He was covered in silver blood stains…”

“He’s the ghost of Slytherin House,” said Al. “He’s real—or as real as ghosts get, I guess. The Ravenclaw House ghost is the Gray Lady. She’s the ghost of the daughter of Rowena Ravenclaw—one of the founders of Hogwarts.”

“The staircases at Hogwarts move rather arbitrarily,” said Harry. He smiled—but he almost always smiled fondly when remembering his days at Hogwarts. “And there are 142 of them.”

“The ceiling of the Great Hall is enchanted to mirror the sky,” added Al. “It brings the outside inside—without the weather of course. It’s phenomenal.”

“My personal quarters were in the dungeons, near the Potions Lab,” said Severus, surprising them all with his contribution. “There were windows in my rooms, four of them, charmed to show what was outside in each of the four cardinal directions.”

“Did your students blow up as many cauldrons as I did?” asked Albus, staring at his father with new eyes.

“How many did you blow up? Two? Three?”

“Two, I think,” answered Albus. “Is that a lot?”

Severus’ eyes traveled over to Harry, who was already biting his bottom lip to keep from laughing.

“No, definitely not a lot,” answered Harry.

“Mr. Potter here blew that many up his first week in Potions,” added Severus.

“Not true,” protested Harry. “You’re confusing me with Neville Longbottom.”

“Ah. Correct. What is Mr. Longbottom up to these days, anyway?”

Al and Harry exchanged an amused smirk.

“He’s the Herbology Professor at Hogwarts,” answered Harry. “And Deputy Headmaster.”

Severus looked up and met Harry’s eyes. There was something there that hadn’t been there before.

“And Minerva?” he asked, rather cautiously, Harry thought. “Professor McGonagall?”

“She lives in Edinburgh. She’s writing a book on famous Animagi and enjoying her retirement.”

They chatted quietly for a few more moments, but it was obvious that everyone was tired and soon Harry stood up and gestured to Al.

“Let’s go in, Al. I need to get a note back to your mum one of these days and let her know you’re still alive over here in this uncivilized backcountry.”

As Harry held the tent flap open for Al as he bent and crawled inside, he glanced back toward the fire. Albus was standing beside Severus, one hand on his father’s shoulder, the other reaching out to touch his left forearm and the faded mark that still marred the no-longer-pale skin.

/

“I noticed something this evening, Severus,” said Harry. He was curled on his side again, in the top bunk and Severus had just settled into the bottom bunk below him.

“Go on,” answered Severus. His voice came out in that lazy, relaxed way that suggested he was ready for sleep—the peaceful slumber potion at work.

“You used Voldemort’s name tonight.”

“I did, didn’t I?” responded Severus. “I do that now.”

Harry laughed. “You do, do you? Been discussing Voldemort with anyone else lately?”

Severus chuckled softly. “When I found out I was going to be a father, I decided then and there that I would not raise a child to fear a name. So I started practicing saying the name. Every night I’d stare in the mirror and force myself to say it. It took me a week to get it out the first time. It got easier and easier after that.”

“So, how long since you’ve said the name?” asked Harry.

“I still say it every night,” answered Severus. “I’ve been doing it now for 17 years. Brush teeth, flossing charm, say “Voldemort”…”

“There’s a flossing charm?” asked Harry, leaning over the edge of the bed and peering, upside down, at Severus below him.

“I invented it myself. Saves having to use that awful waxed string like a barbarian.”

Harry leaned over again, his hair hung down, framing his face. “You’ll teach me, right? Do you know how much time this is going to save me every night?”

“I’ll teach you,” sighed Severus. “Now go to sleep. We’ve got a big day ahead of us tomorrow.”

“Yes Dad,” teased Harry, rolling away from the edge of the bed and curling up again, hugging the spare pillow.

“Don’t call me Dad,” growled Severus. His voice held an odd warning.

“You don’t want to be compared to James Potter, huh?” asked Harry .

“No, that’s not it. That’s not it at all,” answered Severus, yawning. He fell asleep almost immediately but once again, sleep was some time coming for Harry Potter.

 

Chapter 4
July 27 , 2024

Harry lay in bed, suddenly awake from a wonderful dream. Wonderful as in erotic. As in fingers and lips and tongues moving all over his body, his naked body, stretched out on a bed, hands and feet restrained, eyes covered so he couldn’t see his wonderful tormenters. Opening his eyes at some distant sound from outside, staring at the stretched canvas of the tent above him, was a frustrating let-down. It was daylight already, though likely still very early in the morning. He closed his eyes, willing sleep and the elusive dream to return. Neither did. Instead, a pressing need to use the loo reached his brain and he tried to will it away. When it became evident he would have to use the loo despite his mental efforts, he remembered Severus sleeping below him and instead began to try to will away his nearly painful erection. Unfortunately, thinking of Severus in the bunk below him did not exactly cause his hard-on to wilt.

His hand drifted down to his cock. Merlin he wanted to wank! He moved his hips experimentally, trying to gauge the movement of the bed. He knew every motion he made would be distributed into the bed frame shared by the two bunks and didn’t really think he could manage an entire wanking session without Severus waking up seasick.

Sighing, he sat up.

And realized he had another problem.

He would have to climb down from the bunk using the ladder at the foot of the bed. He was wearing nothing but a pair of fairly old light grey briefs. His sizable erection would be clearly visible as he climbed down. There was simply no way to hide it. If Severus were awake, if his eyes were open, he’d have not just a glimpse of it but a steady view as Harry made his way down the ladder.

He could jump down, of course, but his back still ached and he preferred not to jar it with such a maneuver.

He’d spent too much time thinking. He’d wet the bed if he stayed up here much longer. As there was nothing for it, he started the climb down, as quickly yet as nonchalantly as possible. He couldn’t see Severus’ head until he was stepping from the bottom step onto the floor.

Severus was not sleeping.

Harry muttered a “Morning, Severus” and hurried off to the loo. He checked his reflection in the mirror. Slight blush, barely noticeable.

He took his time while in there, coming out more than five minutes later then casually retrieving his jeans from the chair and sliding into them. The morning was chilly, even through the warming charms in the tent, and he was grateful to be covered. Severus was still in bed, curled on his side now, but eyes open and following Harry silently as he dressed.

“It’s seven,” said Harry quietly as he pulled on his second sock—he’d fetched a clean pair from his duffel bag. “I should probably wake the boys.”

“I can start breakfast,” said Severus. His voice was slightly hoarse and raspy. Harry had noticed that it took Severus some time in the morning to get his voice “warmed up.” While the scars on the outside of his neck were faint enough as to be hardly noticeable, he had clearly suffered some internal damage that had residual consequences.

Harry looked up as Severus slid his feet to the floor and sat on the edge of the bed.

Jeans? Why was Severus wearing jeans in bed?

Oh. Harry looked down to hide his smile. Severus had obviously not wanted to be caught in the same situation in which Harry had found himself this morning and had used Harry’s time in the loo to locate his jeans and do a quick cover-up.

Harry stood up and turned again to his duffel, bending carefully to extract a clean shirt. He stood, still facing away from Severus, and began putting the shirt on.

“Wait.”

Harry paused, arms already pushed through the sleeves. He turned his head.

“I didn’t realize the injury was so low. Come over here. Let me have a look.”

Harry dropped the shirt onto the chair and turned around to face Severus.

“It’s already healed, Severus. There’s nothing else that can be done.” He didn’t fully understand his reluctance to show Severus the scars from the attack, the scars Severus had obviously glimpsed when he’d bent down for his shirt.

“Humor me,” said Severus. He remained seated on the edge of the bed. Harry sighed and took the three steps over then turned around so that his back was to the bunks. He felt Severus tug on the waistband of his jeans so he reached down and unfastened the button and pulled the zip down a bit.

The hand that touched the scar was cool and dry. He had less sensitivity in the skin there, but could feel the fingers’ ghostly touch.

“How many times were you hit?” asked Severus, measuring the area with his fingers, studying it closely. He counted the vertebra above the impact site. Harry had had similar examinations numerous times but none of them made him feel quite as…edgy…as this one did.

“Four times,” murmured Harry. “Twice there.”

“Where else?” Severus’ voice had a clinical tone to it.

“Buttocks. Muscle damage only. Completely healed.”

Severus pressed a spot just below the scarred area. A jolt shot down Harry’s right leg, wrapping around below the knee. He jerked upright, taking a step away from Severus. He buttoned his jeans, zipped them and walked back over to the chair for his shirt, slipping it on over his head before turning around again.

Severus was standing now. He looked thoughtful.

“I’m sure you’ve been told how lucky you are,” he began, smiling slightly as Harry rolled his eyes.

“I have. Many times. Every time I go in to St. Mungo’s for a treatment, when my leg gets so numb I can hardly walk. I haven’t been in for three months now—a personal record.”

Severus nodded. “What do they give you?”

Harry counted off on his fingers. “Painkiller. Muscle relaxant. Nerve stimulator. Skele-Gro…”

“Anything topical?”

Harry stared at Severus.

“For the skin. To be applied on the outside, such as a cream, lotion, salve…”

“Right. Sorry, I knew that. No. Only potions.”

“Exercises?”

“No…” Harry looked at Severus, uncertain. He couldn’t quite read the look of Severus’ face.

“Hmmm.” Severus made a non-committal sort of noise then dug in his bag for his own clothing and sat on the bed to put on shoes and socks. Harry shook his head, a puzzled look on his face, but shrugged and went over to wake the boys. His back was not a major concern of late—he had learned to respect its abilities and limitations, to not push it too hard. He’d succeeded in strengthening it considerably over the past year and had put it to the test on this hiking adventure with Al. The judicious use of feather-weight charms on his pack plus excellent hiking shoes with custom-made insoles helped exponentially. He wouldn’t think about Severus’ exam. The man wasn’t a healer, not as far as Harry knew anyway, and was probably only curious about the wounds, especially given how they were received.

They packed up camp after a hearty breakfast and set off to see the volcanic crater from the western overlook.

“Mount Rainier is nothing like this,” commented Severus as they gazed out at the crater with the significant dome built up since the eruption more than 40 years ago. “But still, this has its own kind of beauty, more reminiscent of our home in New Mexico.”

“Except we don’t have smoldering volcanoes,” added Albus.

A long stream of bikers was starting to pull into the parking area as they walked back to the car. The leaders were already off their bikes, pulling out water to drink and stretching stiff muscles.

“Come on, Dad,” said Al, pulling his father by the elbow toward the car. “This is my vacation. If we’re going to stop and ogle someone, can we at least find some girls?”

“I wasn’t ogling,” protested Harry.

“You were ogling,” commented Severus dryly. “Have you ever been on a bike?”

“Yes…” answered Harry, rather tentatively.

“You have, Dad? When?” asked Al, walking backward in front of his father.

“Well…when I was 1. Hagrid took me to the Dursley’s on Sirius’ flying motorcycle. Or so I’m told…”

“That doesn’t count,” said Al.

“Flying motorcycle?” asked Albus.

“Hold on,” said Severus. He stopped and turned back to look at the parking lot. His eyes skirted over several individuals, finally focusing on a likely victim, then he grabbed Harry’s elbow and ushered him back toward the bikes. He walked up to a man of about 50 or so who was sitting on the curb next to his bike, drinking from a water bottle.

“Excuse me,” said Severus, in a very delightful and slightly exaggerated English accent. He held onto Harry’s wrist tightly as Harry tried to pull away. “My friend here just admitted that he’s never been on a motorcycle before. He’s visiting from the UK. Would you be up to taking him down the road a mile or two so he can experience it before he goes home?”

The man looked up and quickly appraised them both. Harry gave up on trying to get away and stepped forward, giving the man a reluctant smile. Severus let go of Harry’s wrist and folded his arms across his chest. The man’s eyes wandered back behind Severus and Harry to where Al and Albus had stopped near the car.

“My sons,” said Severus. The man narrowed his eyes, looking again at Severus and then once more at Harry. He stood up.

“Trey,” he said, reaching out to shake Severus hand.

“Arthur,” said Severus. He gestured at Harry. “My friend Alastor.”

“Alastor,” repeated the man, shaking Harry’s hand now and lingering on the wrist.

Trey then handed Harry a helmet which Harry eyed a bit suspiciously before putting on. He climbed on his bike and patted the seat behind him. Harry got on cautiously and Trey showed him the foot rests. Severus took a step backward and gave Harry a mock salute. As the motorcycle began moving Harry screeched like a girl and grabbed on to Trey, instinctively leaning in and holding on around his midsection. Albus, left holding his dad’s camera, took a nice series of shots as the bike roared away.

/

When they stopped for lunch several hours later, Harry was scratching his scalp, having gotten the idea, courtesy of Albus, that lice can be transmitted from other people’s hats.

“You don’t have lice,” stated Severus. “And don’t let the idea of it ruin the experience. You loved it. We could all tell.”

“Well, it was pretty fun,” said Harry.

“I wish I had that scream on video,” said Al. He sat down at the roadside picnic table and unwrapped the sub sandwich they’d purchased before they got off Highway 7.

“It wasn’t a scream,” said Harry. He pulled open a bag of crisps and sat down beside his son. “I was just startled.”

“It was a screech,” said Severus. “And now you’ve ridden on a motorcycle and can cross that one off your list.”

“Cross it off my list? Before I even get my own operator’s license?” asked Harry. He reached over and snagged some grapes from the bag in front of Severus.

“With your back?” said Al. “Come on, Dad. Get real.”

“I could take short rides,” protested Harry.

“Where? In Hogsmeade?”

“I could keep a bike at Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione’s,” he said, frowning at his son. “I could take it through the woods over to the Burrow. Your Grandpa would love it. He’d help me tinker with it.”

Severus had just lifted a bottle of water to his mouth and did a marvelous spit take. His dark eyes crinkled with mirth.

“I haven’t thought of Arthur Weasley in years,” he said. “The one and only time I ever went to the Burrow, for an Order meeting and Molly Weasley food fest, he insisted on taking me out to the shed…”

“No! Not the shed!” exclaimed Al while Harry closed his eyes and shook his head in sympathy.

“Yes. The shed. Batteries. Plugs. Pieces of televisions and radios. Spark plugs. Tire valves. The inside canister of a washing machine. Key pads from push button telephones. Treasures, all of them. My favorite was the beater bar of a vacuum cleaner. He was enthralled by it.”

“It’s been a while since you’ve been there, hasn’t it?” asked Al.

“More than 25 years…why?” answered Severus.

“Because he discovered computers about that time,” answered Harry.

“And mobile phones,” added Al. “He has a real thing for power chargers.”

“Merlin help us,” said Severus. He cut off a piece of the nearest sandwich and picked off the banana peppers, placing them in a neat pile on the napkin he’d placed on the table in front of him.

“Can I…?”

“Take them, Albus,” said Severus. Albus nabbed the peppers and Severus thoughtfully took a bite from his sandwich.

“Are we camping in the park tonight, Dad?” asked Al, his mouth full of crisps.

“Of course. We’ll stop at the next campground. We’ll have time to reserve a spot and then still see some of the park.”

“I drove through here only once before, ten years ago at least. We’ll want to spend quite a bit of time at Paradise Valley. It’s well worth the time to explore the mountain glades there on foot. We are well into the wildflower season but hardly past the prime.” Severus opened his National Park Service map and pointed to a spot between their current location and the Paradise Park parking area.

“Cougar Rock Campground. It’s large, larger than I’d like, but our options are fairly limited here. Besides, we won’t be spending a lot of time there.” He consulted a second book. “And yes, it has an amphitheater and ranger presentations.”

“You two should go with us tonight,” suggested Albus. “The one we went to at Crater Lake was great. This little kid kept telling the ranger how he was feeding the pikas cheese puffs.” You should have seen the look on that kid’s mother’s face. She was humiliated.”

“I’ll consider it,” said Harry. He opened his sandwich and studied it critically. He rearranged it so the cheese was sandwiched between two pieces of ham, replaced the top and took another bite and looked up to find Severus staring at him.

“What….?” He cleared his throat and tried again. “What was that about?”

Harry looked up, puzzled.

“You mean my sandwich?” he asked, swallowing with difficulty.

“Of course I mean your sandwich. You just took it apart and rearranged the ingredients.”

“Dad doesn’t like his cheese against the bread,” supplied Al helpfully. He had finished half a meatball sandwich and reached for a turkey and ham.

“Why not?” asked Severus, directing his question to Harry.

“Tastes better in the middle,” answered Harry. He was pulling grapes off the stem and eating them one at a time.

“Rubbish,” answered Severus. “How can it taste better in the middle? The order of the ingredients of a sandwich makes no difference at all once you bite into it. In fact, putting the cheese in the middle might cause the meat to slide around.”

Harry shrugged and smiling, catching Severus’ eye deliberately, opened his sandwich again, picked up a few crisps, and layered them on top of the ham.

“Barbarian,” muttered Severus as Harry took a bite.

“Repressed childhood,” said Harry. “Missed out on all the joys of being a kid and am living them now. My therapist says that’s perfectly normal, by the way.”

“Aunt Luna is not your therapist,” countered Al.

“Well, she’s some people’s therapist,” argued Harry. “Other people pay her for her advice.”

“They pay her for advice on how to remove invisible, nonexistent creatures from their property,” said Al, quite nonchalantly. “Great racket she’s got. Think she’ll hire me when I get back home?”

“You’re going to Uni when you get back home,” said Harry emphatically. “You want to be Aunt Hermione’s partner. Remember?”

“Oh yeah.” Al shrugged. “Would be fun working with Aunt Luna though. I could invent another nonexistent magical creature nearly every week, publish an article in the Quibbler about them and then convince gullible people like Uncle Esmond that he’s got an infestation.”

Severus and Albus, sandwiches forgotten, were watching the father and son’s banter with interest.

“Your Uncle Esmond is not that gullible, Al.”

Al smiled. “Right. He falls for nearly every one of the new Wheezes that come out.”

“He wasn’t brought up as a Weasley. He doesn’t even have any siblings. He doesn’t know what to make of all of you.”

“I like him all right,” said Al. “I mean, he’s great when it comes to helping Gramma degnome the garden. He can toss them further than anyone else. He’s even stronger than Uncle Charlie.”

“He can throw them far now that he doesn’t try to put them in burlap sacks for Aunt Fleur, thinking she gets a bounty for turning them into the French Ministry of Magic. Who came up with that one, anyway?”

“Fred,” said Al easily, taking another handful of crisps. “Well, it serves Uncle Charlie right for keeping Uncle Esmond a secret for so long. Here Grandma was trying to fix him up with girls all the time. Uncle Esmond may be gullible, but he’s cool. Besides, we have enough cousins.”

Harry looked across the table to find both Albus and Severus staring at them.

“Done eating?” he asked. “Let’s clean up and get started for Paradise.”

“Bounties on garden gnomes?” asked Severus as they bundled up their trash and packed up the leftovers.

“Fred is George’s son,” said Harry as he fiddled with the bear-proof lid of the trash can. “He’s more Fred than Fred himself was.” He finally figured out the two-handed approach to opening the bin. “Slytherin,” he continued. “The first Weasley in generations.”

Staking out their campsite and putting up the tent took another hour. They managed to secure a site on the quiet all-tent circle where generators weren’t allowed, a half-moon shaped clearing with trees on all sides and homemade benches with low backs close to the fire pit. As Harry helped with the tent, he realized how easy the last three days had been. Not easy physically—they’d done their fair share of driving, hiking and climbing as they headed north from Crater Lake—but easy on the spirit, easy on the soul. They’d lapsed into the kind of easy camaraderie they had shared all those years ago during the last years of Severus’ five-year “commitment” to the British wizarding world, but the quiet comfort of this camaraderie had spilled over onto their children as well. The boys got along with a natural ease, as if they’d known each other the entirety of their young lives, and Harry instinctively knew, since he knew all his children so well, that James and Lily would fall right in line with Al when it came to Albus Snape.

The trip to Paradise Park followed a mountainside route with waterfalls and scenic views of the Paradise River far below. They stopped to hike a short loop trail back to a hidden waterfall and sat comfortably on a bench while Severus exercised restraint and only took a dozen photographs of the falls.

“Harry, Al, over here,” he instructed when he had finished composing and taking his shots. Albus snickered as he pushed them to their feet.

“Go on,” he said. “When he gets an idea in his head…”

Severus posed them together with the falls in the background. Al was an inch or two taller than Harry, so he placed him behind his father and on a slight incline, left elbow at ease on Harry’s right shoulder. The falls were the sort that showered droplets out in a fine mist and the sun caught the droplets so they sparkled like diamond dust.

“Let me have the camera now, Severus,” said Harry when Severus had photographed his own son, alone against the beautiful backdrop, and was satisfied with his efforts. Harry held out his hand and Severus hesitated but handed the camera over, barely able to resist cautioning Harry to be careful with it.

“Albus, over there with your Dad,” instructed Harry. Severus looked like he was going to resist, but, perhaps recalling that Harry and Al had been cooperative, walked over to stand next to his son. Harry looked down at the camera. “I take it I just use the same settings, right? Focus and shoot?”

“Right,” said Severus. “Get on with it.”

Harry raised the camera, focused…and waited.

Severus of course assumed he didn’t know how to use the camera, and began issuing instructions. Harry zoomed in a bit, turning the big lens and refocusing. Albus picked up on it and said something to his father that Harry couldn’t hear. Severus looked back at Harry as Albus circled his father’s waist with his arm. Harry snapped the photo just as Severus rolled his eyes.

It would, in years to come, be Severus’ favorite photo of the two of them.

/

The meadows and glades were better even than they had imagined. Alive with flowers, raucous colors of red and blue and yellow and purple and orange over one hundred shades of green. Gurgling streams broke the nearly perfect silence, impossible with the hundreds of cars parked, the hikers within scattered over the miles of trails that circled this paradise, this little piece of heaven on earth.

They walked together, watched black-tailed deer graze at the forest’s edge, jumped when a yellow pine chipmunk ran across the path, a peanut in shell in its mouth, obviously dropped or offered by another hiker in the glade. They walked a steep trail which promised to loop back to its origin, crossed the stream on smooth rocks and headed back downhill until the light was just exactly right and Severus lifted his camera and forgot that everyone else was there.

“May as well wait him out,” said Albus. He walked slowly beside Harry, just behind Al, as Severus composed and shot, sometimes sitting in the grass, sometimes standing, once or twice even lying down.

“What does he do with all these pictures?” asked Harry after a bit, when they’d gotten a bit ahead of Severus and had rounded a corner and found a fallen tree to sit on.

Albus looked thoughtful a moment. “I suppose I can tell you,” he said. “It’s not a secret, or anything, and I bet he’d tell you eventually on his own, or right away if you asked.”

Harry was tempted to wait, but his desire to know was equally great. When he didn’t protest, Albus continued.

“He uses all of these for his pottery,” he said. “He recreates color and movement and texture in his best pieces. You’ve only seen his potion cups, right?”

Harry and Al both nodded.

“Those are brilliant, but he can’t do with those what he does with his other pieces, with his bowls. I don’t really know how to describe it—you’ll have to see it for yourself some day. He’s found a source of very light-colored clay near our place in Abiquiu and he’s figured out how to use natural pigments to color it. He doesn’t paint his pots like the natives do. He’s great with color, but he’s skilled with texture too. The Native Americans around us used cords and woven cloth to add texture to wet clay. He uses similar techniques, but uses moss, lichen, feathers, fur—all sorts of materials.”

“How about movement?” asked Harry. “You mentioned that too.”

“That’s in the sculpting of the piece before he fires it,” answered Albus simply. “He’s really good. I wish he’d actually sell some of his pieces, but he won’t. I understand, though. He only finishes one or so a year—he puts that much effort into each one. And we don’t need the money—the potions cups bring in plenty. It’s just that I know he’s good enough to be famous, to be recognized for the artist he is.”

“I doubt that at this point in his life he needs to be recognized for anything other than having his sanity, and having you,” said Harry, putting his arm around Albus then ruffling his hair.

Severus walked around the corner, camera already lifted, and skilled photographer that he was, did not miss the shot.

/

“We’ve got to come back here tomorrow,” said Al as they piled into the Volvo an hour later.

“I think we should stay an extra night here,” said Harry. “Seems like a lot to see and do still.”

“I picked up a trail map,” said Albus, unfolding it on his lap. “There are some five and eight mile loops—we might try one of them.”

Severus started the engine and eased out of the parking lot carefully. It was a popular time of the day for wildlife viewing, just before dusk, and the vehicles were moving slowly on the steep and scenic roads, their occupants scanning for deer and elk and bears.

They rounded a curve by a waterfall that broke down a steep cliff side into a pool that ran beneath the road. Several cars were parked on the left side of the road where a black bear was ambling, completely ignoring the spectators. Severus drove slowly so they could watch it and continued around another corner but stopped behind a long line of cars. Below, a dozen elk were grazing along the roadside.

“Let’s change seats, Al,” said Harry. “You can get better shots up here.” His son had been photographing the wildlife with his own camera. Severus eased the car into Park and sighed. “Rather ridiculous,” he pouted. “All for a herd of elk. We have those in abundance back home.”

Harry and the boys exchanged a glance. Severus could pause to take a hundred photos of a field of flowers but had no patience for a traffic jam. He removed his seatbelt and paused to reach over and pat Severus’ arm.

“Calm down, Severus,” he said. “We’ll be back to the tent in a few minutes and you can take your nice, warm…”

A screech behind them was the only warning that anything was about to happen before the car behind them, another good-sized SUV, plowed into the back of the Volvo. The Volvo skidded forward but the car was in Park and the vehicle in front of it had moved up a car length.

Harry, seatbelt off in preparation for changing places with his son, was thrown forward and hit his head on the dashboard.

“Damn!” he exclaimed. The accident was not a serious one. Their car, it turned out, was the third one hit in a chain.

“Dad!” exclaimed Al, pulling off his seatbelt and moving forward to check on his father.

“Don’t get out of the car,” said Severus, turning to make sure the boys were not injured. “Albus, get the first aid kit out from under the seat.”

He turned to Harry and tried to pull the man’s hands away from his head.

“Harry, let me look at it,” he said.

“OK, I’m OK,” said Harry, holding his forehead.

“Everyone OK in there?” Someone was banging on the windows. Al opened his.

“We’re OK—I think. My Dad banged his head.” The man outside turned his attention to the front seat as Albus passed the first aid kit up to his father.

“Do we need an ambulance?” asked the man outside. “Don’t think you were hit too hard…”

“No,” answered Severus quickly. “He had just taken his seatbelt off to change seats with one of the boys. Hit his head on the dashboard.”

“Not too much damage to your car,” said another voice, this time from Harry’s side of the car. “These Volvos are fantastic. What model is this?”

Severus had managed to wrench Harry’s hands away from his head and remove his broken glasses. He pressed a cloth to Harry’s head. It looked like it was bleeding pretty badly. Harry had likely hit it on the edge of the inset panel for the navigation system.

“Can you hold it there?” he asked.

Harry nodded and made a move to lean back in his seat.

“Oh. Shit. Ow.”

“Oh great,” said Al, leaning forward again. “His back.” He reached in behind his father and began rubbing his back. “Is it spasming, Dad? Where does it hurt?”

“No. Center,” responded Harry. He leaned forward again. “It’s better when I’m in this position.”

“You sure you don’t want an ambulance?” asked the man outside, leaning in Severus’ window again. Severus had gotten out to talk with the driver behind him to exchange insurance information.

“Nah, he’s fine,” said Al. “He’s got a bad back—old injury. We’re fine, really.”

An hour later, after signing papers to refuse medical assistance, exchanging insurance data with four drivers and assuring the Park Ranger that Harry would be fine once he got back to the “RV” and could rest, they made it back to the campsite.

Harry was still bent forward, arms resting on the dashboard and head resting on his arms.

“You’re going to have to get out, Harry,” said Severus five minutes later, standing beside Harry’s open door.

“I’m working on it,” hissed Harry.

“Here it is, Dad,” said Albus, approaching Severus from the tent and handing him a clay cup with steam rising out of it and a glass vial.

Severus took the items from his son, poured the contents of the vial into the cup and returned the vial to Albus. He swished the now half full cup and crouched down next to the car.

“Take your arms off the dashboard and drink this, Harry. It should take away most of the pain. Then we’ll get you inside.”

“Remind me never to take my seatbelt off again, OK?” said Harry, taking the cup from Severus after moving his head away from the dashboard just enough to make enough room to get the cup to his lips.

“I won’t need to remind you,” said Severus. “Drink.”

Harry downed the liquid fairly quickly.

“What’s in that?” he asked a moment later as a haze started to form over his brain.

“Most people would ask before drinking it,” said Severus. He took the cup from Harry and handed it back to Albus.

He slowly pushed Harry against the back of the seat, forcing him to straighten his back. Harry hummed a bit but did not complain.

“What IS in that stuff?” asked Al as he and Severus slowly turned Harry and got his feet out of the car and on the ground.

“Pain killer and muscle relaxant. Both about as strong as he can safely tolerate. He’ll be out of it for an hour or so. Come on, lift.”

“Did you check for concussion already?” asked Albus as the two men carried Harry into the tent and laid him on the bottom bunk bed.

Severus was examining the cut and the bump on Harry’s head. He shook his head.

“Damn it, no. And I don’t know the spell to check for it either. We’ll just have to watch him for signs for a few hours. The cut’s not too bad—it’s already stopped bleeding. The bump can be taken care of.” He pulled out his wand from his pocket and muttered spells to close the wound and reduce the swelling.

“That will help if he does have a concussion,” he said.

“Get him undressed,” said Severus as he stood and moved toward the tent flap.

Albus began removing Harry’s boots while Al unzipped his jacket and rolled him out of it carefully. He looked toward the tent flap where Severus had disappeared outside.

“Dad’s got his healing vessels in the car,” said Albus as he carefully removed Harry’s socks. “He’ll probably be able to get your Dad back in shape pretty fast. He’s pretty good at it, really.”

“He’s pretty good at everything, isn’t he?” grinned Al. He was carefully pushing up Harry’s t-shirt, exposing his back.

“Tickles,” laughed Harry.

Albus rolled his eyes and reached under Harry to unfasten his jeans. He loosened the button and the zip then pulled the trousers off until Harry was left in the same briefs he’d been wearing that morning.

“Wow,” said Albus, looking at the scar on Harry’s back. “What happened to him?”

Al looked back toward the tent door. “Shot four times, two here, two right in the butt. By his boyfriend’s other boyfriend. We’re not supposed to know about it—they told us it was an on-the-job injury, a curse of some type.”

“Wow. How did you find out?” asked Albus, looking at the fading scars.

“Extendable Ears,” he said. “One of my brilliant uncles invented them nearly 30 years ago. I’ll send you a pair.”

He took his Dad’s jeans from Albus and folded them as Severus came in carrying a cardboard box and a very large jar of petroleum jelly.

/

The hands working his back when he came to his senses some time later nearly put him directly back to sleep.

Except that the pain was back, in a measured dose, just this side of bearable. It was concentrated in the center of his lower back, though his hips hurt too, and his neck.

“Head clearer now?” asked Severus’ voice above him.

“Yeah,” answered Harry. He moved one hand up to feel his forehead. The expected bump was there, still sore, but a small swelling instead of a bludger-sized lump.

“I want to finish working this in before you get another pain potion,” said Severus, working the heel of his hand over Harry’s lower back. His hands were slick with some sort of salve.

“What is that?” asked Harry, turning his head slightly and noticing a bowl at his side that held a clear, oily substance.

“A topical muscle relaxant and anti-inflammatory,” he answered. “I need to put it wherever it hurts. I’ve been concentrating on the obvious—your lower back.”

Harry wiggled a bit. Damn Severus’ fingers felt good, sliding through the slick stuff on his back and kneading his sore flesh.

“Hips. Neck and shoulders. That’s all,” he said.

He’d hardly finished the sentence when Severus’ hands moved away from the center of his back and out over his hips, working the unguent into the skin and pressing into the muscles below. He thought he must have moaned, because Severus chuckled.

The hands stopped a few minutes later, but only to dip into the bowl for more of the topical potion. They settled on his upper back then—his shirt was gone, he noted absently—and began to work into his shoulders and neck.

Paradise Park was not heaven, he decided a few minutes later. THIS was heaven.

He thought vaguely of complaining that his pectorals hurt, or his quadriceps, thinking of how good it would feel to have those magic hands working over those muscles. But he’d have to turn over for that and he didn’t know how many hard-ons Severus Snape could see in one day and not get the wrong idea.

 

Chapter 5
July 28, 2011

After applying the ointment, Severus had prepared another pain potion for Harry, souped it up with a half-dose of Dreamless Sleep and served it in one of the Restful Slumber earthenware potion cups. Harry had fallen asleep moments after drinking the potion and Severus had rolled him carefully over onto his back and had aligned his body, placing a large rolled towel under his knees and a homemade lumbar roll under the small of his back.

Severus slept on top that night.

When he awoke the next morning and climbed down from the upper bunk with more difficulty than he would admit if asked, Harry was still asleep, and still in the same position in which he had arranged him the night before. Severus was showered, dressed and was frying bacon when the boys woke up. When they finished cleaning up the breakfast dishes, Harry was still sleeping soundly. By 9 o’clock, Severus had given the car keys to Albus and the boys had driven off to a trailhead on the other side of the park.

Harry finally woke up a few minutes before 10.

He opened his eyes and immediately knew that it was already late morning and that he was alone in the tent. Awareness of his position on the bed came next—he seldom slept on his back and certainly never woke up on it. A vague disquiet came next along with recall of the events of the previous evening. Experimentally, he moved his hips. There was a dull ache, uncomfortable, low in his back but as he rolled onto his side as he prepared to sit up, there was no stabbing pain, no arcs of shocking numbness down his leg.

He got to his feet slowly, straightening up and rolling his shoulders and neck. He felt like he’d been hit by a truck, but a small truck, not the semi trailer he had expected. He walked over to the loo, looking around the tent but finding no clues to the whereabouts of Severus and the boys, and opened the door.

The first thing he noticed was that the shower was gone, replaced by an old-fashioned high-backed porcelain bathtub with brass fixtures. The second thing he noticed was the small clay vessel on the vanity, on top of a note written in Severus’ handwriting. He didn’t think he’d ever forget that script, angular and precise. He used the loo as quickly as he could, given that he’d been up only a couple minutes and his morning erection was still very present. He then carefully scooted the small, deep bowl over a few inches and picked up the note. His cock, rarely willing to listen to the instructions he gave it anyway, twitched as he held Severus’ note in his hands.

Harry—fill the bath with the warmest water you can tolerate. Pour the potion into the bathwater once the tub is filled. It will rise to the top—do not mix it in. Submerse yourself for a minimum of fifteen minutes. The boys have gone off to hike and will return before supper time. Take your time—you are not doing anything strenuous today. –Severus

Harry let the note drop back onto the counter. There was no explanation of what the potion was or what it did. No explanation of where Severus himself had gotten off to. He felt like Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, finding and eating a cake with a tag that said “Eat Me.” Giving an exaggerated sigh, he approached the bath, turned on the old-fashioned taps and adjusted the temperature. The tub was full in two minutes. He picked up the cup-like bowl from the vanity and drizzled the oily substance into the water. It spread across the surface like a miniature oil spill, iridescent and shimmering. He carefully returned the bowl to the counter, pulled off his pants and stepped into the tub, lowering himself slowly, mindful of his aches and pains, until he was sitting with knees slightly bent and back against the high, slanted end.

He could feel it immediately.

The potion clung to him as he lowered his body, sliding over his skin as he submersed himself, clinging to his back and neck and shoulders, to all the places that were sore and stiff. Within a minute, he could feel the temperature rise in those very places, as if the potion clinging to his skin beneath the water was reacting with the skin itself to heat it even more than the warm bathwater already had.

Oh. Now that was odd.

He shifted a bit, wondering if it was just a fluke, wondering if the heat he suddenly felt between his legs was a product of his imagination, brought on by the lingering erection.

No. Cock and balls were warming up deliciously now along with his lower back, neck and shoulders. Before he could quite comprehend what was happening, the pressure began. It started in his back first, this micro-massage of tiny fingers pressing into his flesh, drumming on the muscles, prodding them and stimulating them and having the ultimate effect of making him moan. The pressure continued on his back as it the fingers started on his neck and shoulders. He leaned his head back, hands underwater, framing his groin, but not touching. He waited, knowing now what was coming.

When the pressure started, he gazed down at his submerged erection, incredulous, half-expecting to see a hand at work on the organ. Micro-pulses of pressure massaged him. Combined with the heat, it felt like the gentle beginnings of a fabulous blow job, but a blow job unlike any other he had ever had for the heat and the pressure remained exactly the same, all of his cock affected at once, all of it engulfed, all of it squeezed, all of it rubbed. The build-up was so quick and so intense that when his orgasm hit him, head thrown back, neck bared, toes curled, he realized he had not touched himself, not even once.

He panted as his cock softened, and was jolted a moment later when the heat and pressure began on his feet, the feet that had curled up during his powerful orgasm, abandoning his now quiescent cock.

Severus was seated at the small kitchen table when Harry came out of the loo, a plain white towel wrapped around his waist. Harry paused in the doorway as Severus openly watched him.

“That potion—“ began Harry. He seemed flustered. “Thanks—it helped. A lot.”

Severus’ eyes moved from Harry’s face, traveling slowly down over his body then back up again as if verifying that all the muscle groups he had treated last night were all intact.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Sore, but remarkably functional,” answered Harry. He took two steps toward the bunk beds then turned and faced Severus again.

“What is that potion? Do you sell it? You’d make millions, Severus, millions…”

Severus narrowed his eyes.

“The potion is designed to seek out stiffness or soreness in the body and work to relieve it.” His eyes traveled down once more and rested on Harry’s towel-covered midsection. He smiled—no, he smirked. He definitely smirked.

“An effect I hadn’t considered before. I made the potion originally to mimic a Muggle analgesic heat rub used to relieve muscle stiffness. I perfected the pressure element only recently to further stimulate the muscles and flesh and promote recovery from injuries such as your own.” His mouth twitched as once again he stared at the towel then, almost reluctantly, looked back up at Harry’s face. “So, Harry, tell me. How was it?”

Harry stared at him. Was Snape having him on? Had he really never used the potion to get off in the bathtub? He narrowed his eyes in a very passable imitation of Severus.

“How was it? Brought me off in three minutes and I swear I never touched myself. That’s how it was.”

He turned away and walked back to the bunk, carefully bent to pick up his duffel, tossed it on the bottom bed and removed a clean pair of briefs. Then, in a brazen move, he dropped his towel on the floor and with back still toward Severus, lifted each leg in turn, displaying an arse as lovely as any Severus had ever seen, and stepped into his pants.

“Loo’s all yours now,” he said, back still to Severus. Severus’ very deep and rich chuckle made him smile.

/

Severus had gone outside while Harry ate bacon and sliced tomatoes on toast. He’d scooted two potions over to Harry first—a pain reliever and a muscle relaxant—and Harry had dutifully downed them and thanked Severus as he did so. He knew almost immediately that he wasn’t going to get much done in the next couple of hours. His eyelids began to droop and his brain felt fuzzy, as if every one of his thoughts had rolled around on the floor and came up lint covered and confused. Knowing there was nothing for it, he stumbled back over to the bed and curled up on his side, clutching a pillow to his chest in his favorite sleeping position.

A position Severus didn’t like, it seemed, for when he woke two hours later he was once again on his back with knees supported by a rolled-up towel and small lumber roll under his lower back. His back ached only dully, though , and he was able to stand with minimal pain and effort.

The tent was again empty. This time he dressed, easing on jeans and shirt and shoes, made a quick cup of tea and carried it outside through the closed tent flap.

Severus was sitting at the picnic table, his hands deep in a wide, flat bowl. A piece of heavy plastic was spread over the table and several clear bags and plastic containers were lined up to Severus’ right.

Severus looked up at Harry and his eyes then traveled higher upward, obviously checking the position of the sun in the sky.

“Past noon,” he said. “You’ve probably given that back enough horizontal time for a while.”

“Better stop giving me sleeping potions then,” said Harry. He sat down across from Severus, tea warming his hands, and looked into the bowl, curious.

“You haven’t had a sleeping potion since early last night,” said Severus, frowning. “The muscle relaxant and pain potions might have reacted poorly together with you.” He broke the lump of clay in the bowl into two pieces, shaping each into a ball and separating them inside the bowl. “Or,” he continued thoughtfully, “the potion I gave you for the bath had some sort of soporific effect.” He shrugged. “Either way, you got more sleep and rested your back as well. How are you feeling?”

Harry straightened his shoulders and flexed his lower back slightly.

“I’m sore, achy. No pain, though. That’s good. I’m often down for several days for a hell of lot less than a car collision.” He looked around, noticing just then that the Volvo was gone.

“Where’s the car?” he asked. “Did you have to have it towed?”

“Albus took it. He and Al went hiking—I put that on your note, didn’t I?”

Harry nodded. “I didn’t realize Albus could drive, I guess,” he said. His forehead creased, thinking of his son in a vehicle—on these steep and clearly unsafe park roads—with a 16-year-old driver. “He’s a safe driver, right?

Severus raised an eyebrow.

“Right,” said Harry. “Your son, your car and all.”

“He’s had a learner’s permit for a year and has had his license for six months. They’re not going far. They’ll be fine. Here, help me.”

He took one of the lumps of clay and plopped it down on the plastic in front of Harry. Harry looked at the clay then back at Severus. Severus had picked up one of the plastic containers and removed its red lid. He studied the contents of the container critically—it was filled with something organic, crushed leaves perhaps. If Harry had to describe the color, he’d call it a burnt red.

Severus leaned over again and with his thumb made a deep depression in the clay ball in front of Harry. He then shook a good portion of the material in the container into a small earthen bowl which already contained water. He used a wooden stirring rod to mix the ingredients then poured the pasty substance it produced into the depression in Harry’s clay.

“Work it in,” he instructed, moving on to select another plastic container and going through the same process. The contents of the second container resembled loamy soil in texture but grey in color, more like ashes. Severus stopped to stare at Harry’s still immobile hands.

“Oh,” said Harry. “Right.” He placed his hands over the clay to gauge its texture and experimentally flattened the ball slightly then folded it over onto itself. The clay was firm but pliant. The pasty dark red material slid across the surface of the clay and Harry had to use his thumbs to press it in, trying to mix it into the clay instead of just letting it ride across the surface. His hands took on a strange red hue, almost too reminiscent of dried blood for his liking, but he continued working the clay, flattening it, folding it over, reshaping it into a ball then working his thumbs in, spreading the color around. The ball, which had started out a light tan in color, was not uniformly red yet but instead had a swirled effect. Harry was reminded of a desert landscape in an American western film. He wondered at that, whether the intent was to create a ball of clay of a uniform color. The movement of fingers and thumbs and hands, the stress on forearms and triceps and shoulders, actually felt relaxing and he could feel the stiffness in his shoulders begin to subside as he worked the clay.

He looked up to ask Severus about the color and caught the man watching him intently while he worked his own clay.

“You have a natural instinct with the clay,” said Severus.

Harry smiled. “It’s a good workout. My shoulders feel better.”

Severus smiled as well, nodded. “Keep at it a few more minutes. The color doesn’t have to be uniform. Leaving some irregularities creates interesting effects when the clay is worked and fired.”

Harry returned to his clay, watching the color change and was startled by Severus’ voice.

“Harry. Harry…”

He looked up. Severus was smirking.

“You were pretty deep into it. I thought I’d better pull you out before you decided to move to New Mexico and start up a competing studio.”

“What?” Harry looked down at his clay. Perfect.

“Head space,” answered Severus. “Potting can be an excellent form of relaxation, and I’d bet my last dollar that your stress level was incredibly high before this vacation.”

Harry shrugged and pushed the clay toward Severus.

“It’s finished,” he said simply. He leaned his elbows on the table and watched Severus work the clay in the bowl. Severus’ fingers were long and dexterous, powerfully adept as they worked the clay. The ball he was kneading had taken on the color of ash in a floo, and it glinted with slight iridescent sparkles.

“So why don’t you tell me about that shooting while I finish here,” said Severus, as if the conversation had been sliding in that direction all afternoon.

Harry shrugged again. “Not much to tell. I got shot, they took me to a Muggle hospital to stabilize me then transferred me to St. Mungo’s. I was there for nearly three weeks. I was walking and not in too much pain by the time I left. I had another month off work, then three months out of the field before they let me start helping with clean-ups again.”

“That’s not the part I want to hear,” said Severus. His fingers, all of them, not just his thumbs, pressed into the clay, reshaping it and spreading around the iridescent bits. He looked up at Harry. “And that’s not the part you need to tell either.”

They looked at each other across the table for a long moment, two adults now, not professor and student, each with his own life, his own baggage.

“David was aiming for Roger, not for me,” said Harry, looking at Severus’ hands, not his face. “He hit him once—in the leg—before I kicked into Auror mode and threw Roger on the floor, got on top of him to cover him like the ‘saving people’ idiot they say I am. We were at a Muggle club. David hit a couple other patrons and killed the bartender. I had no idea he was after Roger until my boss told me a couple days later at St. Mungo’s.”

“How did you get to St. Mungo’s?” asked Severus. His hands were still rhythmically working the clay but Harry pulled his gaze away and looked Severus in the eye.

“They took us all to a Muggle hospital first. Roger wasn’t hurt badly. When they released him the next day he notified my boss and they transferred me out of there that evening. I’d already had surgery to remove three of the bullets. They had scheduled a second surgery to work on the shattered vertebra. I had feeling in my legs, thank God, but they weren’t being very optimistic about my chances for a full recovery.”

“You obviously got good care at St. Mungo’s,” said Severus. He had turned back to his clay and was studying it critically.

“I did. They have a special private ward set aside for Aurors.”

“I take it this wasn’t the first time you’ve been in it?”

Harry glanced at Severus. “I’ve been an Auror for more than twenty years, Severus. What do you think?”

“Personally, I think you’ve served the Wizarding World long enough.” He picked up the clay he had been working and dropped it into a plastic bag with a zipper mechanism on the open end. He reached over to pick up Harry’s clay and placed it in a separate bag and sealed it with the zipper. He then picked up a plastic bottle with a screw-on cap, stood up and walked around to Harry’s side of the table.

“Turn around and hold out your hands.”

Harry swiveled around on the bench. He wanted to respond in some way to Severus’ statement but ultimately decided he didn’t know what to say so he remained quiet. He privately agreed with Severus but he also knew he had enjoyed his job these past years. It wasn’t all about serving others…was it? He held out his hands, palms up, and Severus poured some liquid from the bottle into his open hands. It felt soapy and slick and he rubbed his hands together, watching the cleansing foam turn red. He stopped rubbing them for a moment, staring at his hands until Severus began to pour plain water on them, washing away the foam, the blood, a ritualistic cleansing as well as an actual one.

“Let’s go inside and get some lunch,” said Severus as Harry stood up carefully, stared once more at his hands then wiped them dry on his pants.

“Lunch sounds good,” said Harry. He wasn’t really hungry but he certainly would appreciate the distraction of eating.

/

Severus and Harry took a short hike after lunch, a level two-mile loop on narrow pavement that started on one side of the campground, worked its way through woods and glades then looped back to the other side of the campground. Severus had his camera slung around his shoulder and stopped from time to time to take pictures, but Harry could tell, from Severus’ general attitude, that on this walk, the walking was more important than the photography. They didn’t talk much. Harry took his time, walking slowly on the well-maintained path and taking his time to clear his thoughts and enjoy the quiet beauty of his surroundings.

The boys were just pulling up when they returned.

“Dad! You’re up. How are you doing?” Al had jumped out of the car and approached Harry, looking concerned.

“I’m doing great—Severus has some great potions. I slept all morning, took a bath and then we went on a long walk.”

“Does it still hurt?” he asked, falling in step beside his father then sitting down on one of the camp chairs that Albus had just dragged out from the tent. Harry sat down gratefully on the other.

“It’s sore but not painful. Really, Al, I’m doing great. I’ve taken it easy all day. I’ll be good to go tomorrow. What did you guys do today?”

They discussed their respective days. Al and Albus had taken a much longer hike out of Paradise Park and had had a run-in with a bear. “Darn thing charged us. Didn’t even have cubs. Shield spell did the trick—confused the heck out of the girl, though.”

Albus and Al volunteered to get something together for dinner. They sorted through the wizarding pantry and refrigerator, pulling out ingredients and assembling a collection of possibilities before deciding on spaghetti with meatballs and a salad.

“Shepherd’s Pie?” asked Albus a few minutes later in response to something Al must have said. “Yeah, I think Dad’s mentioned it. You Brits wrap all sorts of stuff in dough, don’t you?”

“There’s no dough on Shepherd’s Pie,” answered Al. “It’s meat and such covered with a layer of smashed potatoes.”

“You mean mashed potatoes,” said Albus as he placed the large pot he had filled with water on the stove to boil.

“We say smashed,” said Al. “Doesn’t your Dad say that too?”

“Nah. He’s been in the States so long he’s started talking like an American,” Albus said with a grin. He was standing in front of an open cabinet door. “Rhubarb biscuits?” he said with a frown, pulling out an unopened package.

“Cookies,” supplied his father from the table where he was setting up a chess set. It was Harry’s wizarding set, the same one he’d pulled from a Christmas cracker all those years ago at Hogwarts.

“Rhubarb cookies?” repeated Albus. He all but dropped the package on the counter and looked back inside the cabinet. “Don’t you have any Oreos? Or chocolate chip?”

“You don’t need cookies this close to supper,” admonished Severus and Harry, now sitting across from him, couldn’t help but grin.

“You sound just like a dad,” he teased.

“I am a dad,” answered Severus, separating the white pieces and pushing them across the board toward Harry.

“What are Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans?” asked Albus, picking up a box and shaking it. “They look like jelly beans.”

“Try them,” said Harry and Al at the exact same time. Severus rolled his eyes.

“One at a time though,” cautioned Al. “They’re better that way.”

Fortunately, Albus had a cinnamon, a raspberry and a treacle tart before he popped a green one in his mouth and immediately spit it out.

“That’s gross!” he said, spitting again into the sink.

“Grass,” said Al. “It does say every-flavor on the box,” he added cheerily.

“What else is in there,” asked Albus, shaking the box and peering inside it, oddly intrigued still.

“Try another one,” dared Al. “Try a brown one.”

“No way am I trying a brown one,” said Albus, shaking the box some more. He pulled out a yellow one and placed it on his tongue. He smiled. “Banana.”

By the time the pasta was boiling and the meatballs were browning—Al had shaped them all as Albus continued to experiment with the candy—Albus had tasted cherry, licorice, butter, milk, booger, earwax and dirt. He hadn’t been able to convince his father to try even one.

“But it’s tan, Dad. It’s harmless.”

“The earwax bean was tan, was it not?” asked Severus, moving his bishop and putting Harry into check—again.

“But this is a different tan, look!” he protested.

“You try it first,” said Severus. “Just bite off half.”

A minute later, Albus rushed to the sink to rinse his mouth out while Severus smiled and put Harry’s king in checkmate. “What was it?” asked Harry, standing to stretch before offering to help with the salad.

“Vomit,” answered Al. “I knew that one had to be coming.”

They finished the quiet day with an after-dinner campfire. They settled down together, Severus and Harry taking the rockers, and Albus digging into the car for a bag of marshmallows, which he brought over to the fire triumphantly. He and Al found a couple of green sticks and they spent a happy half hour roasting and eating marshmallows. Severus prepared hot chocolate for everyone, using the peaceful slumber earthenware potion cups, and adding generous portions of Peppermint Schnapps to his and Harry’s.

Dinner had been rather late and it was close to nine in the evening when they were finally quiet, nursing their second cups of hot chocolate.

“How about continuing where you left off the other night, Dad?” asked Albus. He was burning the end of his marshmallow stick in the embers and scratching his name on the rocks lining the pit with the burnt end of the stick.

“Where did we leave off?” asked Severus. He was rocking slowly, looking up at the nearly full moon hanging low on the horizon.

“Dad…” protested Albus.

“All right. The Potter child, the Boy Who Lived—“

“Mr. Potter,” corrected Albus. “Harry.”

“Right, Harry went to live with his mother’s sister and her family, Muggles all, after Voldemort’s defeat. I continued on as Potions Master at Hogwarts. Neither the Headmaster nor myself truly believed that Voldemort was dead. Within ten years, there were signs that he was gaining strength. He appeared in several manifestations once Harry started at Hogwarts when he was eleven. Voldemort’s intent seemed to be to regain his human form then destroy Harry, and his attacks were focused on those goals.

“Suffice it to say that with the help of some of his former supporters, Voldemort regained his corporeal form at the end of Mr. Potter’s fourth year at Hogwarts. He summoned his supporters, his Death Eaters. I had already agreed to resume my role of spy if he should ever succeed in coming back, and went off that very night to his side. You will recall that I swore to Albus Dumbledore that I would do everything in my power to protect Lily’s son.”

Harry was rocking, both feet on the ground, looking at his folded hands in his lap. Severus glanced at him. He needed to tell this part, difficult as it may be for Harry to hear.

“Voldemort, aided by a Death Eater he had implanted at Hogwarts, was able to capture Harry that night. Harry was only 14, recall, and through the actions of this traitor had been forced to participate all year in a dangerous wizarding tournament. At the end of the tournament, he and another contestant were port-keyed away from Hogwarts to the graveyard where Voldemort’s Muggle father was buried . A man nicknamed Wormtail, a Death Eater and the man that turned the Potter’s over to Voldemort, killed the other contestant and captured Harry. He used Harry’s blood to help resurrect Voldemort—that is important, remember that. Harry was then forced to duel with Voldemort; Voldemort of course intended to kill him.

“They did not count on two things—the first was that Harry’s wand and Voldemort’s shared a core—feathers from the same phoenix. The wands did not work as intended against each other. The second was that Harry was no ordinary 14-year-old. He managed to escape and port-key back to Hogwarts, bringing back the body of the other contestant. When he returned all hell broke loose, as you may well imagine. The traitor at Hogwarts was found and neutralized and Albus Dumbledore called up the Order of the Phoenix. This was a group that had fought together years before against the Dark Lord—Voldemort. And then Dumbledore sent me back as a spy to Voldemort’s side.

“And so it continued for three more years. I played the role of loyal Death Eater yet reported back to Albus Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix. Voldemort grew stronger. The British Ministry of Magic was weak and easily corrupted. The Death Eaters began attacking Muggles, creating havoc all over the country. Factions rose even inside Hogwarts.”

Severus stopped for a moment. Harry thought his face looked gray even in the golden firelight. How far would he go with the story tonight?

A bit further.

“When Harry was nearly 16, Dumbledore confirmed his suspicion, his theory of what made Voldemort invincible. He had long suspected that the Dark Lord had made a horcrux.” He looked over at Al and confirmed from Al’s expression that he already knew what horcruxes were. He turned his attention to his own son. Albus had pulled his feet up onto his chair, sitting cross-legged, staring at his father raptly. “A horcrux is an object that holds a splintered fragment of a person’s soul. It is an evil thing, wicked and selfish in intent, constructed only with an intentional murder. With a spell, a wizard intent on making a horcrux actually rends his soul into two pieces with the act of murder and captures the splintered portion of the soul in an object. If the corporeal form holding the remainder of the soul is killed, the soul does not die and leave the earth but instead continues to exist, formless yet somehow alive.

“Voldemort, so intent on conquering death, on being immortal, created not one horcrux but many. All of these horcruxes would have to be found and destroyed before he could be killed for good. Dumbledore thought that Harry Potter, the child of the Prophecy, must be the one to kill Voldemort so he took the boy under his wing during his sixth year, when he was 16 years old, and together they worked. One horcrux had been destroyed unwittingly by Harry at the end of his second year and a second by Albus himself before the sixth year started. However, in destroying that particular horcrux, Albus Dumbledore was fatally cursed.

“He was dying…all year. I did what I could to keep the curse at bay to buy him time. It was a complicated year. He became weaker and weaker. Another student, the son of a powerful Death Eater, was, at the same time, given the task of killing the Headmaster by Voldemort himself. No one knew Albus Dumbledore was already dying but myself.

Severus stopped and rubbed sweaty hands together. He faltered a moment.

“Albus Dumbledore asked me to kill him before the student could. He wanted to save the boy. He knew he was dying anyway, and I promised to do it. I promised to end his life so that Draco Malfoy would not succeed in the task himself.”

“Did you?” Albus’ voice, soft as it was, stood out starkly in the night. Harry’s heart ached for the boy. His own son had known this story since he was small, since before he could ride a broom. He had grown up on stories of the heroes of the war, his Uncle Fred, Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, his friend Teddy Lupin’s father. But Albus had not. To Albus, Severus had always been his dad, a potion maker, a potter, an artisan.

“He did,” said Harry, catching and holding Severus’ eyes. “It was the bravest thing I have ever seen anyone do in all my life. I was there when it happened, and I didn’t know at the time that your father was a spy. I thought exactly what I was supposed to think—that he was a Death Eater, one of Voldemort’s cruel supporters, and that he was murdering our beloved headmaster. Draco Malfoy had his wand raised and pointed at Dumbledore when your father took that thankless job away from him. Dumbledore was dying—I’d been with him all evening on a horcrux hunt. He was getting weaker by the minute.”

“But how could you…anyone…how could you deliberately kill?” Albus’ voice had a plea in it.

“You now know what every wizarding child in Great Britain already knows, Albus,” said Harry. “What every wizarding child in Europe knows as well. There’s a great deal more to this story, of course. A year later, with a lot of help from friends and your father, I’d managed to locate and destroy the horcruxes. And with a lot more luck and help, I killed Voldemort. Your father nearly lost his life in that final battle. He probably never told you that he was the Headmaster of Hogwarts that year, the year after Voldemort took over the Ministry, and he did everything in his power to protect the students there.”

“You’re leaving out a great deal,” said Severus.

“I said there was a great deal more to this story. Those are just the highlights. Albus, I couldn’t have done it without your dad. I didn’t know until he was almost dead that he was Dumbledore’s man through and through. He was loyal to him to what could have been, to what almost was, his final breath.”

“Here, Albus. Take a look at this.” Al had pulled something out of his wallet and was holding it out to Albus. Harry waved his wand at the fire to increase its light and intensity so Albus could read. “It’s a Chocolate Frog card. They’re wizarding trading cards that come in packages of chocolate frogs—that’s candy, of course.”

“The cards depict great wizards,” said Harry. “Wizarding kids all over Europe collect them. When I met my best friend Ron when we were 11, he already had all but three of them.”

Albus took the card, looking at his father. His face, so raw with emotion, contrasted sharply with Severus’ closed, masked countenance.

“It’s you, Dad,” he said, his face softening a bit. He glanced over at this father and smiled, then looked down at the card again. He looked at the front and grinned as the black-clad Potions Master crossed his arms over his chest in a defensive posture and sneered. He looked up again. “It looks just like you too!”

He turned the card over then and read it slowly. Harry had read that particular card enough times to remember the gist of it. Severus Snape. Youngest wizard to gain his potions mastery in two centuries. Spy. Former Potions Master then Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Killed Albus Dumbledore. Bitten and nearly killed by Voldemort’s nake, Nagini. Instrumental in bringing about the final defeat of Lord Voldemort in 1998. Awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class. Currently lives in the United States.

Albus turned the card back over and looked at the picture of his father again. He handed the card back to Al, then looked over at his father.

“So, what’s this about you being the youngest person to gain his potions mastery in two hundred years?”

It was the perfect thing to say. The son had handily skirted around the notoriety, the drama, the hero father he didn’t know, and focused instead on his outstanding academic and professional achievements.

Severus, so obviously distraught by the retelling of the story and the possibility of his son’s rejection, looked up at his son and smiled.

In that moment, Harry Potter loved Albus Snape for putting the smile back on his father’s face.

 

Chapter 6
July 29-30, 2024

They didn’t hurry out of the park the next morning, taking their time to pack up the tent and drink coffee around the fire—Severus could hardly believe his luck when he found an old fashioned percolator in one of the kitchen cabinets. He’d gone to the car immediately for his secret store of coffee and a cardboard box containing four earthen mugs wrapped in cotton tea towels.

“Excellent. The Wake Up Cups,” commented Albus as Severus unwrapped the cups and placed them carefully on the table. He’d already started the coffee and carried out the coffee tray to the table, including plenty of sugar and a metal creamer filled with milk. Once all was in order, he went back into the tent for the coffee.

“I don’t think I like coffee,” said Al, looking at the tray suspiciously.

“Oh, Dad will do a café con leche for you,” said Albus.

“A what?” Albus lifted the lid of the creamer and peaked inside.

“Café con leche—literally it’s coffee with milk. But it’s really kind of like a latte. You pour scalded milk into strong coffee—about as much milk as coffee—and add sugar if you want. You’ll like it. And if you don’t, pretend. Dad’s pretty rigid about his coffee.”

Harry laughed as he reached in to pick up one of the “Wake Up Cups.” He’d woken up in minimal discomfort this morning and had been walking around the campsite a bit, stretching out his back and hips for the long car ride ahead. “He’ll probably frown at how much sugar I put in mine,” he said, taking the lid off of the sugar bowl and fortunately finding it filled to the top with perfect little white sugar cubes.

They sat comfortably around the fire on that cool and clear morning drinking the coffee. Severus had made café con leche for all four of them and had indeed frowned as Harry added a fourth sugar cube to his cup. He didn’t seem to notice—or to care—that Al and Albus added at least six cubes each. “Men of our age should not need all that sugar,” he said as they packed up the last supplies after finishing the coffee and extinguishing the fire.

“Men of our age?” asked Harry. “We’re the same age now?”

“We’re both over 40,” said Severus. He had rinsed out the mugs and was wrapping the last one back in its tea towel.

“Any reason you brought four Wake Up Cups along on a camping trip for two?” asked Harry as he scooted a duffel bag over so that the cardboard box could slide back in.

“They were samples I was planning to drop off at a shop in Durango on the way home,” he said. “But they were better used this morning. Coffee comes first, Harry. Always remember that.”

It was after ten o’clock in the morning when they left the park, and Severus had already announced that they would be taking it slowly as they headed to Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula, their first stop on their planned visit to Olympic National Park.

They stopped once before they reached Interstate 5 so that Harry could walk a bit and stretch, but once on the Interstate, Harry, riding in front beside Severus and constantly adjusting the built-in lumbar support in his seat, grew bored.

“Let’s play a travel game,” he suggested, turning to look in the back seat at the boys instead of at Severus.

“How about ‘I’m Going to Hogwarts?’” suggested Al.

“Great idea, Al,” said Harry. He turned to Severus. “We used to play this one all the time when the kids were younger. “ He quickly turned back to Albus. “Do you know how to play?”

“Umm…no,” answered Albus. “Never been to Hogwarts—remember?”

“Oh you can play with any destination. I think the original was a Muggle game about going to Paris or somewhere. I’ll start—you’ll pick it up.” He paused and looked out the window a moment. “OK. I’m going to Hogwarts and I’m taking armadillo bile.”

“Why? So you can spill it?” said Severus half under his breath.

Harry rolled his eyes and shook his head. “OK, Albus, you’re next. You repeat what I said then add something that beings with B.”

Albus looked a little unsure about this game but gamely played on. “I’m going to Hogwarts and I’m taking armadillo bile,” he said.

“And…?” said Harry.

“Ummm…a broom?” Harry nodded happily. “Good one,” he said.

“Are you making a wit-sharpening potion?” Albus asked. Severus snickered.

“It’s a game,” said Harry. “Your turn Al.”

“I’m going to Hogwarts and I’m taking armadillo bile, a broom and my Chudley Cannons poster,” he said quickly. Clearly, he understood the game and wanted to get it over as quickly as possible, despite the fact that he was the one that had suggested playing it.

“Your turn, Severus,” instructed Harry.

“Fine. I’m going to Hogwarts and I’m taking a properly stoppered container of armadillo bile, a broom, a Chudley Cannon’s poster and a duck.”

“A duck!” protested Harry. “What’s that got to do with Hogwarts?”

“Nothing. Should it?” answered Severus.

“Of course. What would you do with a duck at Hogwarts?”

“I don’t know, eat it? Use if for potions ingredients? Put it on the lake for decoration?” answered Severus. He put his turn signal on and eased over into the left lane to pass a UPS truck.

“The giant squid might eat it if you put it on the lake,” said Al with a grin.

“Giant Squid?” asked Albus.

“Fine! A duck! My turn,” said Harry. “I’m going to Hogwarts and I’m taking a well stoppered vial of armadillo bile, a broom, a Chudley Cannons poster, a duck….” He paused and glared at Severus. “And an elf.”

“Aren’t there enough elves…?” began Severus.

“It’s my personal elf,” groused Harry.

“Just play the game, Professor Snape,” suggested Al from behind him. “My dad really likes it for some reason.”

Albus added floo powder and Al a ghost and then it was Severus’ turn again.

“I’m going to Hogwarts and I’m taking a vial of well stoppered armadillo bile, a broom, a cauldron, a duck, an…”

“Not a cauldron,” corrected Harry. “It was a Chudley Cannons poster.”

“Actually, I prefer a cauldron. Whatever would I do with a Chudley Cannons…?” Al kicked his seat, hard. “Fine, a Chudley Cannons poster, a duck, an elf, floo powder, a ghost and hantavirus.”

“What’s hantavirus?” asked Harry.

“It’s a deadly disease humans can get from mouse feces,” answered Albus as Severus prepared to pass another semi.

“Then don’t bring it to Hogwarts!” said Harry. He glared at Severus.

“You’re taking this game entirely too seriously,” said Severus. “Have you had your blood pressure checked lately?”

They played nicely in the sandbox for a few more rounds. Harry was gleeful at getting “Q” but couldn’t decide among “Quaffle,” “Quidditch robes” and “Blood Quill.”

“Blood Quill begins with B,” said Severus.

“Doesn’t matter because quill starts with Q,” replied Harry. “It’s acceptable if at least one of the words begins with the key letter.”

“But…”

“Don’t argue about the rules with Dad,” said Al in a low, threatening voice. “Just don’t.”

Unfortunately, “X” fell to Severus.

“We sometimes play you can just use any word with an X in it,” said Al.

“No, I’ll play by the official rules.” He recited the string of items from A to W then added, “and an Xeromyopicardigan.”

“A what? You just made that word up,” protested Harry.

“I didn’t,” said Severus, rather smugly.

“What is it then?” prompted Harry.

“A potion ingredient. I use it frequently—in my hair restorative formula.”

In the backseat behind Harry, Albus snickered.

“Spell it,” insisted Harry.

“X-e-r-o-m-y-o-p-i-c-a-r-m-o-g-e-o-n,” spelled Severus.

Both boys snickered.

“Look it up if you don’t believe me,” said Severus.

“In what? In my personal copy of Most Potente Potions that I keep in my backpack?”

The game ended a few minutes later with Zonko’s chocolate. Severus pulled over to get gas at an exit just north of Tacoma and everyone piled out of the car.

“There’s a coffee shop,” said Harry, stretching his legs and pointing to a building in the next parking lot.

“Wow! A coffee shop near Seattle!” teased Al, laughing.

“Do you want something, Severus? I’ll walk on over.” Harry opened his wallet and pulled out a bill with a ten on it. “I don’t understand why all of these are the same color,” he said grumpily.

When they were on the road again, two hot coffees—one black, one loaded with cream and sugar—nestled together in the cup holders in the center console, Harry began fiddling with a small paper bag he’d brought with him from the coffee shop.

“What is it, Dad?” asked Al as Harry pulled out a trifold brochure and a small device.

“It’s a song stick,” said Albus, leaning forward. “What’s on it?”

“What’s a song stick?” asked Al, looking at the little device in his father’s hand.

“Oh, It’s just like a hard drive that holds music. You stick the end into your car stereo or phone or even your TV at home and it plays the songs stored on it.”

Harry opened the brochure. “They were playing this in the shop. It’s from a brother-sister duo. It features…” he checked the brochure again. “Phil and Autumn Carrrow on guitar and vocals.”

Severus raised his eyebrows. “The Carrows, you said?”

“Yeah,” answered Harry, glancing over at Severus but not elaborating. “The name caught my attention but really, they can sing.” He tried to insert the wrong end of the song stick into the car stereo until Severus grabbed it out of his hands and inserted it correctly.

“The set is named ‘Carrow’s Sparrows,’” said Harry. “They’ve covered a whole bunch of other artist’s songs about birds.”

“Oh Merlin help us,” said Al. “If that stupid song about the bluebird on your shoulder…”

“It says it’s an ‘eclectic mix.’ Give it a chance,” said Harry as “Song Bird” by Oasis started up.

The boys gave thumbs up the Beatles and called for a repeat of “Blackbird.” They hissed and booed “Wind Beneath My Wings,” were confused by a mostly instrumental song called “The Duck Dance” and for some reason already knew “Freebird” as they were able to sing along effortlessly. Their hands-down favorite, however, was They Might be Giant’s “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”

“That song is ridiculous,” stated Severus after the third time they’d played it. “It makes absolutely no sense at all.”

“Say I’m the only bee in your bonnet,” sang Harry.

“That wouldn’t be difficult to say,” muttered Severus.

They rolled into Port Angeles rather late after several stops to eat dinner, stretch their legs and retrieve the song stick that Severus had mistakenly dropped into a rubbish bin at a roadside rest area.

“How about a hotel tonight?” suggested Harry. “It’s getting late and…”

“A hotel is fine with me,” said Severus, cutting him off. As Port Angeles was the largest town on the Olympic Peninsula, a number of options were available. He pulled into the Red Lion Inn, got out of the car to inquire about availability and came back a few minutes later with two key cards in cardboard envelopes.

“What are those?” asked Harry.

“Room keys,” answered Albus. “But they never work. Not for wizards.”

Severus pulled the car around and they hauled duffels up to the two rooms Severus had procured. 114 and 113 were across the hall from each other. Severus stood outside of 114 and quickly opened the door with a whispered Alohomora. Harry tried the key in his door first, but as soon as he inserted it into the slot the door knob shot out sparks which burned the hair on the top of his hands.

“Guess you’re right,” said Harry, opening his door the more traditional wizarding way and beckoning to Al to follow him inside.

It soon became apparent, however, that the boys would be better off sharing the same room. Each room, in fact, featured a wall-mounted 42” television with a wide selection of channels and video games. Al and Albus sat on one bed in Harry’s room flipping rapidly from football to reality TV (strange people sticking their hands under sunken logs and into fishes’ mouths to catch then) to a martial arts movie to an animated show featuring a sponge, a starfish and a squid that reminded Harry of Severus, to the weather, to the news and back to football.

“This is making me dizzy,” said Harry. They’d moved from football to the fishing show and Harry gathered up his bag, realizing the boys were in this for the long haul.

“Albus, get your things out of the other room and bring them in here. I’m going across the hall to bunk with your dad tonight. You boys can stay up all night watching this but I’m getting some sleep.”

Severus was stretched out on one of the two queen-sized beds in the room, boots off but fully dressed. The television was not turned on.

“That didn’t take long,” he said as Albus grabbed his bag and Harry dropped his down on the dresser in its place. “What are they watching—cartoons or sports?”

“Cartoons, sports, a movie, news, weather and people sticking their bare hands down fishes’ mouths.”

“Right,” said Severus. He closed his eyes. “Hillbilly Hand-Fishing. It’s been on for years. Fairly controversial in the early years—people were upset about the fish getting hurt.”

“I’m more concerned about the people doing the fishing,” said Harry as he took off his boots and sat on the other bed. “Are they allowed to reproduce in this country?”

Severus opened one eye and looked at Harry. Harry’s posed frown turned into a grin and Severus shook his head.

“Unfortunately, yes. We also allow politicians to breed, as well as televangelists. It’s a great country, Harry.” He sat up and began pulling off his socks. When he spoke again, his tone was more serious. “What do you think of it so far?”

“Of what? The country?”

Severus nodded. He pulled off his jeans, leaving him in black boxers and the long-sleeved hiking shirt he’d been wearing all day.

“It’s beautiful—at least what we’ve seen so far. I just can’t get over how big it all is, Severus. And how they butcher tea here—cramming those old dried leaves into little bags…”

Severus laughed. “I eventually gave it up and went to coffee. It’s been nice having real English tea these past few days.”

Harry began stripping down too, pulling off his shirt and socks but leaving his jeans on while he brushed his teeth at the little vanity outside the loo. Severus was under the covers when he came back in the room, lying on his back with two of the four pillows on the bed tucked under his head.

Harry sat down on his bed again and pulled his wallet out from his back pocket, setting it on the night table between the beds. His glasses were next. He folded them and placed them in front of the alarm clock, next to Severus’ wallet. Finally, he removed his own wand from his jeans and placed it on the table, next to Severus’ wand, darker than Harry’s, a bit more worn. He sat there a moment longer, staring at the table and the items on it, realizing as he did how intimate it looked, his wallet and wand and glasses mingling there with Severus’ wallet and keys and wand. He imagined for a moment that there was a book there, a mystery novel perhaps, lying on top of a potions journal. He closed his eyes a moment, confused at his line of thought, then stood and pulled off his jeans.

“Night, Severus,” he said as he climbed underneath the covers and arranged his pillows.

“Goodnight, Harry,” returned Severus. Harry dropped right off to sleep but Severus stared at his back for a long while.

/

“We don’t have to pay, then?” asked Harry as he followed Severus across the parking lot the next morning to the hotel lobby, where breakfast was being offered.

“No, it’s included with the price of the rooms,” responded Severus.

The breakfast room wasn’t crowded. Severus headed straight for the coffee while Harry watched, fascinated, as an elderly woman operated the waffle maker. When a perfect waffle popped out three minutes later he glanced back at Severus, who had gone from coffee to sifting through the bacon with a plastic fork.

The elderly lady caught him watching her.

“Do you know how to use the waffle maker, honey?” she asked.

“No, I’ve never seen one before,” he answered.

“Oh, you’re foreign!” she exclaimed. She seemed delighted and began making a waffle for him. Five minutes later, Harry was slathering butter all over a steaming waffle while Severus looked on. Severus made a face when Harry added syrup on top of the waffle but he refrained from commenting and instead ate his Fiber Nuggets and chewed on his overcooked bacon.

The boys were still sleeping when they got back from breakfast so they left them a note and headed out for a walk along the waterfront. Severus had grabbed his camera and they found a little park between the hotel and the water where a sand sculpture competition had been recently held. Most of the sculptures were still intact and they ranged from fairytale scenes to a pirate ship to reclining mermaids to dolphins skimming the surface of the water. Harry posed with the mermaid, giving her a pretend kiss on her sandy lips, then challenged the captain of the pirate ship to a sword duel with his wand. Exhausting photo opportunities, they walked together along the sandy gravel at the edge of the strait, stopping to pick up an occasional shell or stone or piece of sea glass. Harry, having learned to respect the limitations of his back, crouched down instead of bending from the waist.

They both sat after a while, on a bench just beyond the sand close to a footpath, and looked out toward the city of Victoria across the strait.

“It’s peaceful here,” said Harry after a time. “It reminds me a bit of the summer after the final battle.”

“Why is that?” asked Severus. He turned his head to watch Harry as he answered.

“Bill Weasley and Fleur had a cottage on the sea in Cornwall. They lived there during that year—the year we spent looking for the Horcruxes. We spent some time there—after Malfoy Manor.” Harry stopped and looked away. Severus could see his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed.

“Anyway,” he continued, “a cottage near his became available and I picked it up—rented it, anyway—and stayed there most of that summer. Everyone came and went—Hermione brought her parents there for a week, and Luna and her dad. Even Neville and his Gran. People who were grieving seemed to find some peace there, for some reason. Maybe it was the ocean. I don’t know. Andromeda and Teddy came nearly every weekend.” He smiled at the memory. “I used to take Teddy down to the sand. He loved to squish his feet into it.”

“It sounds like a place of healing,” said Severus and Harry remembered that Severus himself had spent a good portion of that summer in St. Mungo’s, healing in a more conventional manner.

“It was. George needed it more than anyone else I think. Not having Fred…” He paused, the emotion still raw after all these years. “I don’t know. I can’t even begin to understand what it must have felt like for him. But really, we all needed some healing, didn’t we? We had bonfires on the beach, and quiet days swimming or swinging in the hammock, days just sitting wrapped around each other on the sofa, breathing in the sea air.”

Severus nodded, looked over at Harry again, his eyes curious.

“I even lost my virginity there,” offered Harry, rather suddenly.

“The lucky Miss Weasley?” asked Severus, attempting a smile.

Harry shook his head. “Not Miss,” he said simply.

“Mr. then?” he said slowly. “Not Ron?”

“Oh my God no!” protested Harry with a shudder. “He’s my best mate. Ugh.” He turned marginally toward Severus. “No, it was George,” he said. “He’d had a bit more experience than me—which wasn’t hard, since I’d had none. He just lost it one night down at the beach—it was just us that week, a few days before my birthday. Cried and cried and cried and got me crying too until we were both drained. He was hugging me—had his hands thrown around my neck and next thing I know I’m lying face down in the sand and he’s on top of me and…” He stopped, looked at Severus.

“Is this making you uncomfortable?” he asked.

“No, it’s making me horny,” said Severus, shaking his head.

Harry laughed. He looked at Severus then and leaned back on the bench, spreading his arms out over the back of it.

“When it was over, we started laughing. Right there in the sand. Both of us were laughing so hard our shoulders were shaking. We both chalked it up to experience. He went on to marry Angelina Johnson and have a couple kids. I went from him to Ginny and never looked back.”

“A one-off then?” asked Severus.

Harry shrugged. “I guess you could call it that.”

“You do one-offs, then?”

“Not anymore,” said Harry, looking sideways at Severus and speaking rather slowly.

“You told me—that first day—that you’d never considered that you might like men until Ginny left you,” said Severus. “This obviously happened before that.”

Harry smiled wistfully. “I always put that experience in its own category. It was nothing like any experience with a man I’ve had since.”

“Better?” asked Severus curiously.

“No. Just different. Frenzied. Desperate. It was like the obvious end to an emotional shipwreck—the last hurrah before the big rescue.”

Severus nodded. “I see.” He looked out again at the strait, watched a small boat hoist its sail. “We’d best be getting back. The boys will be wondering where we’ve gotten to.”

“Severus?”

Severus turned his head toward Harry then and was surprised to find Harry’s head so close to his, his hand reaching out and grasping his shoulder, pulling him even closer.

He was surprised to find Harry’s lips on his, pressing lightly then opening a bit, but was not surprised to find his own hand moving to cradle Harry’s head, pulling them more tightly together. He responded to the sweetness of the kiss, opening his mouth to the questing tongue and searching with his lips, pressing over Harry’s mouth, suckling the sweet bottom lip, smiling as Harry pressed his face into the crook of his neck.

“You thought you were seducing me, didn’t you?” he said, his voice a whisper in Severus’ ear.

“I did. I was,” he said, bringing both arms around Harry and pulling him closer.

“You thought I was oblivious.” It was a statement, not a question.

“I did.”

“I was at first,” admitted Harry. “But then…then you played the game. The stupid Hogwarts game. Armadillo bile all the way to Zonko’s. And I knew.”

Severus sighed and leaned down to kiss Harry again, pressing his lips against the corner of Harry’s mouth and moving them up to press against the juncture of ear and neck.

“That game was ridiculous,” he said.

“I know,” said Harry. “Hantavirus.”

They both laughed then, separated, leaning back side by side on the bench. Harry reached out and took Severus’ hand. Severus laced their fingers together.

“The boys are making plans, you know. For Albus to go with Al and his friends to the Appalachian Trail to hike.”

“I know,” said Severus. “They’ve been rather obvious.”

“Two more days, then,” said Harry. “There’s a lot to cover in that time.”

Severus released Harry’s hand and stood up. “Come on then,” he said. “We’d best get started.”

Harry stood and they walked companionably away, side by side, perhaps a bit closer together than they had on the way out, but not touching as they walked. Yet something had changed. Everything had changed.

 

Chapter 7
July 30, 2024

It was very difficult not to reach over and touch Severus as they drove from Port Angeles to the park an hour and a half later: a casual pat on the arm, a squeeze of the thigh, any one of the comfortable little gestures he would have made to a lover had their uninformed sons not been in the back seat.

As they drove up the mountain roads inside Olympic National Park, heading toward a summit trail, Severus braked suddenly to avoid several black-tailed deer that had stepped out onto the road from a patch of grass beside the shoulder. The deer regarded the car with their oversized doe eyes and strolled casually across the road to the other side to continue their grazing. All in broad daylight.

“I’d say they’re used to people, and cars,” said Harry, watching one of the animals, one whose youthful spots had not yet totally faded, lift its head and gaze fixedly at the car. One ear twitched then the doe lowered its head and resumed consuming a patch of wildflowers and clover. The boys watched the deer through the car window, interested but not transfixed. Deer, after all, were not altogether uncommon though it was unusual to see them about and so comfortable in the light of day. Another minute passed. Then two more.

Harry was looking at Severus now, and Severus was still staring at the deer. He glanced into the backseat where Albus had picked up a magazine and Al was looking out the other car window at the view. Albus caught Harry’s look.

“He loves deer,” he said simply. “Always has.” He shrugged and kept reading.

Albus’ statement , however, brought his father out of his reverie. He turned his head back and without comment, checked behind him then eased the car back onto the road and continued forward.

The doe, thought Harry. My mum. So many years had passed since he was in school, since the silvery doe had led him to the Sword of Gryffindor, since he’d gone into the Pensieve to see Snape’s memories, that he seldom thought of those incidents. True, his Patronus was still a stag, and he had unfortunately had cause to use it all too often in his career at the MLE, but the stag did not evoke memories of Severus or his mother. Rather, it nearly always reminded him of Sirius, if he let his mind free to think about (and he tried never to do so). It was an odd, disjointed memory of his past self…or was it his future self?...saving Sirius from the Dementors with the stag Patronus. And of course, he thought of his father, of James Potter’s Animagus form, and of the Marauder’s map with Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs.

Albus and Al looked out the windows as they drove, exclaiming at the overlooks and mountain vistas, Albus having abandoned his magazine as soon as they’d started moving. Severus drove rather fixedly, taking care on the curves and narrow passes, while Harry closed his eyes and let his mind obsess on Severus and the deer. How the hell had he managed to let himself get this far gone without considering Severus’ professed love of his mother? The memories Severus has shared with him as he lay bleeding to death on the floor of the Shrieking Shack did not depict a platonic sort of love. Rather, it depicted a Severus Snape desperately in love with his mother—an unrequited, sad sort of love that endured beyond death. But did it endure still? What did Severus see when he looked at Harry? Better yet, who did he see?

He looked up, distracted out of his train of thoughts, as Severus pulled off the road and into the car park for a scenic overlook and trailhead. Al had his National Park map and a supplemental hiking guide spread open in the back.

“Perfect! It’s only five miles to the top and back. We can do the hike and still have plenty of time to set up camp and make something to eat.”

Albus followed Al out of the car and the two moved around to the back to get their water and binoculars. Severus cut the engine then went back to help the boys. Harry got out more slowly, stretching as he stood next to the car. He was instantly entranced by the view—steep meadows covered in blankets of yellow wildflowers blending into forested hillsides which fronted distant snow-capped peaks. Above them, white clouds flitted across a brilliant blue sky.

“Here’s your water, Dad,” said Al. He walked up and handed Harry his lightweight pack. “I threw in a couple of granola bars and some cashews.”

“Thanks, Al,” said Harry. He checked the pack for his binoculars then bent down to tighten his shoelaces before they set off together toward the trailhead.

The trail, though an easy one, climbed steadily. Other hikers, some well-equipped and dedicated, others more casual vacationers in search of a beautiful view, passed them, returning to their cars. Everyone looked tired but content. A mile into the hike, alone on the section of trail, they turned a corner and came upon yet another deer, this one with two babies. They were grazing twenty feet from the trail. While the boys may have found the adult deer on the highway less than captivating, not even a teenage boy could resist the overwhelming cuteness of twin fawns. All four men stopped to watch the doe as she stood, head raised, body frozen, watching them intently as the fawns flanked her. After several long motionless moments, she bent her head to graze and the fawns moved away from her to nibble on grass and flowers.

The boys grew restless before Harry and Severus did, moving quietly on with the agreement to wait for their fathers at the top of the one-way trail. The deer didn’t bolt as the boys passed quietly by.

Finally, Severus motioned to Harry.

“Ready to move on?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Harry answered, eyes intent on Severus and allowing an uncomfortable disquiet to come over him. “I am. But are you?”

Severus didn’t answer immediately. He looked at Harry a long moment then started forward along the trail at a pace so brisk that it startled the deer and they shied away, moving further down the slope to what they must have perceived to be a safer distance. Harry hurried to catch up with him but Severus showed no signs of slowing his pace.

“Severus—please, slow down. Wait! We should talk about this.”

He felt like an idiot, and knew he must look like one too, chasing after the other man this way. He’d obviously erred in voicing the question that was on his mind. Yet, in another way, he knew that what was on his mind must have been on Severus’ too or he wouldn’t have reacted to Harry’s question as he did. He eventually gave up trying to catch up with Severus and settled into a more relaxed pace, determined to enjoy the hike. He’d have to meet up with Severus at some point on this out and back trail anyway. Just let him try to get away!

And meet up with him he did, sooner than he expected. The trail had begun to climb more steeply, cutting back and forth in easy switch-backs up a mountain slope that still held remnants of winter snow. Midway up was a bench, placed as a waypoint for tired hikers, and Severus was sitting on that bench, looking out at the Olympic Mountains. His backpack rested on the ground next to him and he was holding his water bottle in his hands in a posture that seemed to indicate he had forgotten it was there. On this beautiful mountainside, with its wealth of purple and yellow flowers and the snow-caps behind it as a heavenly backdrop, Harry's eyes were only on Severus.

Harry took his time getting to the bench, walking at an easy, unhurried pace, collecting his thoughts. When he reached it, he dropped his pack next to Severus’ and said, “Budge over.”

Severus obediently scooted over from the middle to the far side of the bench as Harry sat then pulled out his water and took a long drink.

“Why did you ask me that question?” asked Severus as Harry recapped his water.

“Why didn’t you photograph the deer?” returned Harry.

Severus turned his head toward Harry, the expression on his face unreadable. He looked, if possible, both distressed and guilty.

“I asked you first,” he said at last, defenses back up. He turned back toward the mountains.

“It seemed like the appropriate question to ask at the time,” said Harry. “I’d forgotten about you and my mum. Not until Albus said that about you loving deer. Stupid of me, really. Forgetting something like that.”

Severus turned his head to look at Harry, but when he spoke he was looking out at the mountains yet again. “You think my feelings for you are somehow connected to my feelings for your mother. You think I look at you and see…her.”

“I wondered about that,” answered Harry. He sighed. “Look, Severus—I haven’t had that much time to think about it, really. What? An hour or two since we saw those first deer?”

“And have you filled that time by convincing yourself that I am substituting you and your vibrant green eyes for your mother—the woman I could never have? Do you see anything odd at all about that thought?”

Harry shrugged. “That a gay man was in love with my mother? What’s odd about that?”

Severus ignored him. “When I was young, I was desperately in love with your mother. I was incredibly jealous of your father as well, for he managed to win what I could never have. I was in love with her still when she died. I was in love with her when I promised Dumbledore to protect you. I carried that love for your mother within me for a long while, and in many ways I still do, but I did eventually explore other avenues of love—both physical and emotional.”

Harry, too, now stared at the mountains. He nodded. For some reason, he did not want to think of Severus exploring “other avenues of love.” That, in fact, was a whole lot worse than thinking of Severus pining over his mother.

“And I realized, eventually, that I preferred to be with men. And when Albus and I met up with you at Crater Lake I never once thought of your mum. I was reminded of her, of course, when you mentioned your daughter, but never in a romantic way. I was much too preoccupied, after a day or two anyway, with the thought of your body sleeping feet above me. I would watch your face as you spoke, the way your eyes crinkle at the corners when you smile, the fondness on your face when you watch your son, the light in your eye when you speak of your family.”

Harry smiled and turned to look at Severus as he spoke. “So why didn’t you take photos of the deer, Severus? Those little fawns were hands down the cutest thing I’ve seen on this trip—well, besides you eating roasted marshmallows.”

“I used to photograph deer obsessively. Every time we encountered one I’d have my camera to my eye. Then one day Albus said that we had plenty of pictures of deer and didn’t I just want to watch them with my real eyes for a change? He was eight or nine at the time. I put my camera down and sat with him to watch them—a group of female and young mule deer. ‘Look, Dad,’ he said, ‘Look how their ears twitch when they’re listening. And when they turn their heads to stare at you—what do you think they’re thinking?’ And I realized then that I really knew very little about deer, and ever since I’ve watched them instead of photographing them.” He smiled. “I know a lot more about deer than I did when I loved your mother, Harry.”

“And your Patronus?” asked Harry. “Is it still…?”

Severus shrugged. “I admit I haven’t had cause to cast a Patronus in many years. I don’t think I’ve done so since I came to New Mexico, in fact.”

Harry looked around. There wasn’t a soul in sight. “Think you can muster a really happy thought?”

“Of course,” said Severus. He, too, looked around before pulling his wand from his pocket and holding it loosely in his hands in his lap.

“It’s clear,” said Harry.

Severus held his wand out, smiling as he said “Expecto Patronum.”

A beam of pure while light shot out from the wand, coalescing to form not a doe, as they may have expected, but a young buck instead, similar to Harry’s Patronus but unaccountably smaller, less mature, an animal just growing into its skin and sprouting the beginning buds of its first set of antlers. It was remarkably well formed, corporeal, muscular, and cantered around them twice before disappearing when Severus, looking totally gobsmacked, flicked his wand at it.

“Well,” said Harry, suppressing a smile. “That was interesting.”

“Interesting?” asked Severus. “My Patronus has undergone gender reassignment and all you can say is that it’s interesting?

“I think it’s been de-aged too,” Harry added. “Did you see those little tiny antlers, Severus.”

Severus picked up his pack, stood up and shouldered it. “For the record, little tiny antlers are in no way indicative of little tiny anything else.” He started off down the trail.

“What do you mean?” said Harry as he hurried after him. “My Patronus has great big antlers and those certainly are indicative of a great big something else…”

“Stop it.” Severus did not slow down.

“How about this? I’ll be Prongs and you can be Prongs Jr.? Or I can be Buck and you can be Buckaroo?”

“Enough.”

“What was Bambi’s father’s name? The Great Prince of the Forest? Would that make you the Little Prince of the Forest? No—better yet—The Half-Blood Prince of the Forest! Oh, no, wait. You can be Bambi!”

Harry’s mouth suddenly sealed shut as Severus landed a well-placed silencing spell on him from ten paces ahead without even turning around.

Ahead of him, Severus grinned. Buckaroo indeed.

/

Harry and Severus had been walking side by side for nearly a mile when they finally reached the top of the trail and looked out over the magnificent vista of the Olympic Mountains. Albus and Al were watching the marmots on the rocks, sitting together on a bench with an open bag of trail mix between them.

“Took you guys long enough,” said Al. “You’re getting old, Dad.”

“Don’t remind me,” said Harry as he pulled his water out of his pack and took a long drink. He stole some of the boys’ trail mix then tossed the bag to Severus.

“Eat up. You could use the calories. Might make your antlers grow.”

Severus caught the bag and rolled his eyes. He took a handful of nuts, raisins and chocolate, surprising Harry by picking out extra pieces of candy-coated chocolate, and sat down on the bench with the boys. They scooted together to give him space.

Albus took the opportunity to broach a new subject.

“Dad, Al’s invited me to hike for a couple weeks with him. He’s meeting some cousins and friends the day after tomorrow on the Appalachian Trail.”

“Really? He is? I’d never have guessed,” answered Severus with thinly veiled sarcasm. “Which Weasley cousins, by the way?”

“Oh, you don’t know any of them,” said Al hastily.

“Ahh. But I know some if not all of their parents. Humor me. Who’s going?”

“Well, Rose—that’s Uncle Ron’s daughter. She’s really smart and responsible like her mother—not much like Uncle Ron at all, actually. And Dominique and Louis—they both belong to Uncle Bill. And Fred. That’s Uncle George’s son. James will be there too, of course.”

“Mother of God,” sighed Severus. “Not another Fred Weasley.”

“They’re meeting three American friends that have hiked the trail before,” said Harry helpfully.

“Well can I go, Dad? We figured Mr. Potter could ride home with you to New Mexico to keep you company in the car and go home from there—that is if he can get a few extra days off work, of course.”

“You will listen to me when I give you my rules and restrictions? You will obey them?” asked Severus, speaking directly to his son.

“You know I will, Dad,” answered Albus.

“And you will return in two weeks—by the 15th of August?”

Al and Albus exchanged glances. Al shrugged. “Sure,” answered Albus.

“And you will not mind if I insist of meeting you on the 15th then accompanying you on the apparition hops back home to make sure you arrive safely?”

“Fine. OK.” Albus was clearly not pleased with the last restriction but also clearly wanted to go on this trip.

“Then you may accompany your friend. We will discuss this more this evening.”

Victory and desired end achieved, the boys again walked ahead of Severus and Harry on the return trip to the car. The all-downhill hike proved hard on Severus’ knees, and by the time they made it to the car and then from the car to the campgrounds and picked out a site, he was hobbling.

“Severus, sometimes I think you forget you’re a wizard,” said Harry as he sat Severus down at the campsite picnic table. “What do you usually do when they get like this?”

“Rest,” muttered Severus a bit crankily. “And I never forget I’m a wizard.”

“What about that balm you used on me the other night?” asked Harry, smiling at Severus’ ill humor. “That seemed to have rather pleasant effects.” He had pushed Severus’ pants leg up and was pressing on either side of his knee with his fingers. He then pushed down on the knee cap and moved it marginally. Finally, he pushed against the spot just below Severus’ kneecap. Severus grimaced noticeably.

Harry let out a “hmm.”

“What?” groused Severus. Harry, it seemed, was about to find out that Severus was not the best patient, especially when it came to this visible reminder that he wasn’t 40 anymore.

“You need an anti-inflammatory, and you should probably wrap it. I get the same thing, after some hard training runs, and they give me an anti-inflammatory potion and sometimes a topical pain reliever.”

He dug the first aid kits out of the car—both the Muggle one and the Magical one—and instructed the boys to get the tent set up while he rummaged around in the boxes.

“What’s this?” he asked, holding up a tube labeled ‘Ben-Gay.’

“That,” said Severus, “is the Muggle salve that was the inspiration for the ointment I used on you after the accident. It will do until I can walk you through mixing up some more ointment.”

Harry removed the screw-off cap and sniffed the open end.

“Helga Hufflepuff’s left titty!” he exclaimed, dropping the tube onto the bench. “What’s in that stuff?”

Severus had grabbed the tube and was applying the ointment to his knee while Harry held his nose closed.

“You’re a wuss, Potter,” he said lightly.

“Oh, it’s Potter now, is it?” said Harry. “And what’s a wuss?”

“A baby. A wimp,” supplied Albus as he walked from the car toward where Al was struggling with the tent poles.

“I’m certainly not a baby nor whatever a wimp is,” said Harry.

“A wimp is a wuss,” supplied Severus as he continued to work the ointment into his knee.

“Well what’s in that anyway?” asked Harry, ignoring Severus’ attempt to lead him around in circles.

“It’s methyl salicylate, a cheap substitute for the original wintergreen oils used in traditional remedies to relieve pain. The substance stimulates temperature sensitive nerve-endings, thereby temporarily over-riding pain signals.”

“Right,” answered Harry. He didn’t want to admit that he’d actually gotten accustomed to the smell already and it seemed to be clearing his sinuses which had been bothering him since he and Al arrived in the States. He held up an elasticized wrap. “If you’re finished with that I’ll wrap it for you.”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “Why don’t you just bring over the good first aid kit and I’ll get out the anti-inflammatory potion I brewed for just such an occasion.”

Harry pushed the box across the table toward Severus and watched as Severus found the potion, uncorked it and downed it in one long gulp. His eyes fixed a moment on Severus’ Adam’s Apple and the faint scars that still marked his neck. Funny, he thought. I’ve never really noticed the scars before.

An hour later, Harry had potatoes and corn roasting in the fire while the boys sat at the outside table studying a map of the portion of the Appalachian Trail they’d be hiking in a couple days. Severus sat in a camp chair reading, occasionally using a stick to rearrange and turn the foil-wrapped potatoes and corn.

“What are we going to do tomorrow for your birthday, Dad?” asked Al when Harry came out of the tent carrying mugs of tea for himself and Severus.

“I didn’t realize it was your birthday tomorrow, Mr. Potter. We should do something special,” said Albus, glancing at his father.

“We’re going to the western side of the park tomorrow,” said Harry. “I’d like to get a glimpse of the Roosevelt elk. We don’t need to do anything more special than that.” He laughed when his son and Albus began to protest. “Listen, I’m going to be 44. I’ve had plenty of birthday celebrations, really. A nice quiet day with family and friends tomorrow sounds pleasant enough. Besides, it will be my last full day with you boys since you’re heading off the next morning.”

Severus looked up as he spoke, but returned to his reading before Harry noticed him watching. The boys gave up on their attempts to convince Harry to plan something special and instead helped him lay out the rest of their dinner.

It was past eight in the evening and beginning to grow dark by the time they finished eating and cleaned up. The boys had gathered more wood and they added it now to the fire, creating a bright blaze that warmed their cold toes. Albus brought out the popcorn popper and made a perfect batch which they passed around in a plastic bowl. Al went into the tent and came out with four bottles of butterbeer, passing it around to all.

“What is this stuff?” asked Albus, looking at it suspiciously.

“It’s butterbeer,” answered Al. “Maybe you don’t have this brand over here.”

Albus shook his head. “I’ve never even heard of it,” he said. “Is it like root beer?”

“Try it, Albus,” suggested his father, taking a long drink of the nearly-forgotten beverage. “It’s fairly sweet—rather reminiscent of butterscotch—but has a warming effect.”

They drank their butterbeer around the fire while Al gave an impromptu Astronomy lesson as the night darkened and the stars awakened in the sky. Albus couldn’t quite believe that Astronomy class at Hogwarts was held in the middle of the night, or, in fact, that there was an entire class devoted to the study.

“We have an Astronomy Tower, you know,” said Al. “Just for Astronomy class…” He trailed off, embarrassed, as he remembered what else that tower had been used for.

Severus saved him.

“Just for Astronomy my eye!” he huffed. “I cannot tell you how many students I caught in virtual lip-lock, desperately groping each other in the dark, up on that tower. It’s the Lover’s Lane of Hogwarts.”

Al grinned. “Yeah, I got caught up there my fourth year with Estelle Thatcher. Professor Flitwick gave us detention and made us both keep our hickeys. She gave me this giant love bite right on the side of my neck. I swear she has the Giant Squid’s tentacles for lips. I thought that thing would never go away.”

“I never heard about that,” said Harry, gazing at his son across the fire. “Fourth year, eh? Rather young to be on the Astronomy Tower, weren’t you?”

“Not really. Lily got caught up there her third…uh…never mind.”

When the butterbeers were drained and the popcorn reduced to a few unpopped kernels, Severus stood and tested his weight on his knee.

“Why don’t we turn in early tonight so we can get started at a reasonable time in the morning?”

“But Dad, I thought we’d have another story tonight,” protested Albus. “We only have tonight and tomorrow night left.”

“I’m sorry, Albus,” said Severus. “I’d really like to lie down. We can have a longer story tomorrow night.”

“Why don’t we all go in and get ready for bed,” suggested Harry, “and then talk for a while before we go to sleep? “

So it was that thirty minutes later they were each in their own bunks and Severus started up his tale once again. His voice seemed to flow to all the corners of the tent, from his bed across the room to the alcove where Al and Albus rested in their own bunks.

“Harry already told you last time that I was Headmaster of Hogwarts the year before the final battle—the year before Harry destroyed Voldemort. Harry and his friends were gone that entire horrible year, fulfilling the quest Albus Dumbledore set for Harry—to locate and destroy the Horcruxes so that Voldemort could be dispatched once and for all.

“Unbelievably, they managed to do it. But during that quest, something else had come to light—the realization by both Harry and Voldemort that Dumbledore had possessed an immensely powerful magical item—a wand made of elder wood, said to be one of the legendary Deathly Hallows.

“Deathly Hallows?” interrupted Albus. “What are those?”

“Three magical items that, if united, would make their possessor the master of death. They were, until this time, thought by many to be truly the stuff of legends and not actual items at all. The Elder Wand performed correctly only if one mastered it by winning it from its current master. Dumbledore won it from a Dark Wizard named Grindelwald in an epic battle. When Dumbledore died, the wand was buried with him.

“Voldemort discovered where the wand was and stole into Dumbledore’s tomb to retrieve it. It did not take him long to realize that the wand did not work properly for him. He decided that the reason it did not was that I, in killing Dumbledore, became its true master. So while the final battle raged at Hogwarts, he called me to him, and set his giant snake upon me to kill me. “ Severus paused and Harry, above him, knew it had cost him to reveal this and to say the next piece.

“And that is the true source of the scars on my neck, son.”

“A snake? A snake did that to you? What kind of snake could possible…?”

“He did say it was a giant snake, Albus.” Al’s tried for sarcasm but his voice had more awe to it than anything else.

“He left me for dead, but by a stroke of luck, Mr. Potter and his friends were in hiding nearby when the snake attacked me. They managed to prevent my death.”

“That was Hermione, of course,” said Harry, his voice floating across the tent from his berth on the upper bunk. “She’s brilliant like that.”

Severus sniffed. “You had more important things to do.”

“Hardly,” countered Harry lightly. “But fortunately it didn’t take all three of us to save you.”

“I remember nothing more of that night, nor of the next week or two. When I came to my senses, I was in St. Mungo’s hospital and well on my way to recovery.”

“Dad! You can’t just skip this epic final battle!” protested Albus. “That would be like making Star Wars without the Death Star!”

Harry, who had sat through the Star Wars saga countless times when Ron discovered videos at Hermione’s parents’ house, snorted.

“I already told you I was unconscious,” said Severus. “I wasn’t there. Everything I know of the battle I learned from others. Since Mr. Potter was there, perhaps he can finish the story.”

There was a long silence in the still darkness. Severus began to grow uneasy. Finally, Al’s voice spoke.

“Dad doesn’t talk about that,” he said quietly, but loud enough for everyone to hear. “But I can tell what I know, if you’d like.”

“No, Al.” Harry’s voice was quiet but firm. “Let me.”

“Dad—“ Al’s voice held a note of caution.

“It will be fine, Al. It’s just the four of us. I think I can do it.”

“Really, Mr. Potter—Al can tell me while we’re hiking next week. I don’t mean for you to have to relive this all if it still bothers you.” Albus had propped himself up on his elbows and was looking rather worried.

“It bothers me for a great many reasons,” began Harry with a sigh. “I lost people I loved in that battle. I killed a man.”

“He was hardly a man by that point, Harry,” said Severus.

“Oh, he was a man,” said Harry. “He died like one, anyway, even though he lived like a monster.”

A few moments of silence followed; Severus did not speak up again.

“I’m not going to start at the beginning,” said Harry, getting on with the story he hadn’t told anyone since the week after the battle. When all the funerals were over, he’d decided that he’d said enough and left it up to others to tell his tale. So tonight, the words came with some difficulty, but he spoke them nonetheless and found the experience to be rather cathartic. He told of the capture by the snatchers, the battle at Malfoy Manor, disarming Draco and taking his wand. He touched on the weeks at Shell Cottage, the infiltration of Gringotts, the escape on the dragon, the return to Hogsmeade and from there to Hogwarts. Voice even lower, so at times they had to strain to hear, he told them of viewing Severus’ memories, and learning that he, Harry, would have to die. He spoke of the Resurrection Stone, and of turning himself over to Voldemort, of dying, of finding himself with Albus Dumbledore in King’s Cross Station, of returning to the Forbidden Forest. Of being carried, supposedly dead, to Hogwarts and of finally, finally facing Voldemort.

“I’d figured it out somehow, by then, you see,” he said. “That it was Draco Malfoy that had defeated Dumbledore so that he was the master of the Elder Wand, but only until I defeated Malfoy. Then I became its master—without myself or Draco ever having touched the wand. So when Voldemort used it against me, it didn’t work as it should, and the spell he cast at me, the killing curse, hit the disarming spell I cast with Malfoy’s wand and rebounded on him. And that was that. With Neville having killed the snake, the last horcrux, and with the horcrux that had been inside me destroyed as well, Voldemort died. And more than 25 years later, he’s still dead.”

“You turned yourself in?” asked Albus after a long and very quiet moment. Harry wondered if Severus was asleep. He was silent and still in the bed below him.

“I did,” replied Harry. “There was nothing else I could do.”

“You could have run,” suggested Albus.

“And I’d still be running today,” answered Harry. “What kind of life would that have been?”

Below him, Severus pursed his lips. What kind of life indeed?

/

Several hours later, Severus woke to an imagined noise, or perhaps to a real one. He lay still for a while, listening for Harry’s quiet breathing, soon realizing that the sound he’d grown accustomed to hearing this past week was gone. He eased his feet to the floor then stood. His knee felt entirely better and he stretched and flexed it to test it. Glancing at Harry’s bed he confirmed that it was empty. The loo door was open as well and the light off, so Severus slipped on his jeans, put on a jacket and slipped his feet into his house shoes. He opened the tent flap. His eyes were drawn to the fire that was again blazing and to the form sitting in one of the camp chairs beside it. He walked silently over toward the fire and Harry looked up at him and smiled, the dancing flames painting moving shadows on his face.

“Hullo, Severus. What are you doing up?”

“I missed your breathing,” said Severus. He seemed startled to hear those words come out of his mouth. “Where did you get that cake?”

Harry looked down at the plate in his lap and the half-eaten piece of chocolate cake on it. He looked back up at Severus.

“Come here,” he said, nodding to a second camp which he then pulled in closer to him.

Severus sat down in the chair, barely noticing his knee, and Harry forked a bite of the cake and held it out to Severus. Severus opened his mouth, wondering what demon spirit had taken over his body to allow it to respond to Harry…to anyone…in this way.

The rich chocolate taste filled his mouth, the lush and creamy icing kissing his tongue. He swallowed.

“I always eat my cake at midnight on my birthday. It’s kind of a tradition Hagrid started for me when I was eleven.”

“Do you usually share it?” asked Severus.

Harry shook his head. “Not usually,” he answered, a bit cryptically. “Once or twice I had a sleepless child to contend with.” He took another bite of the cake and Severus watched as he licked his lips afterward. “Do you want some more?”

Severus shook his head. He held his hand out to Harry and patted his lap, his turn now. “Come here.”

Harry raised an eyebrow but acquiesced. He placed his cake plate on his vacated chair and somehow managed to straddle Severus’ lap, knees on each side of Severus’ thighs on the wide chair, arse resting on Severus knees. Severus, already aroused, groaned at the welcome weight. “Sure you don’t want more cake?” he asked, leaning in toward Severus so that Severus could smell the chocolate on his breath.

Severus’ lips were on his in an instant, tasting the sweetness of the cake that barely masked the sweetness of the mouth. His tongue followed and Harry pressed forward against him, cradling Severus’ head while Severus’ hands came up behind him, pulling him closer yet. They kissed like that, in that awkward yet intimate position, chest to chest, nose to nose, breath coming in short pants as they devoured the other’s mouth, Harry now more desperate than Severus, pressing kisses to his eyes, his forehead, his chin, pressing against him so that Severus could feel him, his hardness, his need. He tried to slow it down, began caressing Harry’s back, moving his hands from shoulders to arse and up again, rubbing circles on his upper back, and Harry sighed and relaxed, hands around Severus’ neck, leaning in to rest his head in the crook of Severus’ shoulder.

“Thank-you for coming out here,” he finally whispered as he pushed himself backward and stood up. He held out a hand to Severus, wordlessly, and Severus took it and allowed Harry to pull him upright. Standing face to face, chest to chest, Harry wrapped his arms around Severus’ neck and kissed him again, and Severus enveloped Harry in his arms as well, walking him purposefully backward until Harry’s arse was against the edge of the picnic table. Harry scooted up on its edge, and Severus fit himself into the vee of those legs then knelt on the hard-packed earth, unzipping Harry’s jeans, rearranging Harry with both hands, letting his mouth taste the offering sweeter than any birthday cake in the world while Harry groaned, legs wrapped around Severus like a vise, hands in his hair, fingers caressing the shells of his ears “God, Severus, yeah, that’s good… good, my God your tongue, fuck, feels so good, been so long, God I love watching you, watching your mouth on me,…” thrusting through his climax, kissing Severus hungrily afterward.

“Was that my birthday present?” asked Harry quietly a few minutes later. He was sitting on the edge of the table again, arms around Severus’ arse, pulling him close and rolling his hips, bringing Severus closer to the edge with each thrust and roll as the fire died down behind them.

“Maybe,” answered Severus, the negative almost a groan. “Was it what you wanted?”

“It was half of what I wanted,” said Harry, eyes glittering as he reached for Severus’ zipper.

/

Severus had never liked birthdays. He only grudgingly celebrated his own, at Albus’ insistence, of course. He detested birthday parties. He didn’t much like the decadent sort of cake people insisted on having with icing spilling out between layers and sprinkles and sugar flowers decorating the top. He hated when chocolate ice cream was served with white cake. He hated that insipid birthday song. He didn’t mind a present or two, however, as long as they were useful and in good taste.

But tonight, as he fell into his bunk, all languid bonelessness, he decided he liked birthdays now. And he liked parties, well—parties for two anyway. And cake was good, especially when tasted secondhand. As for presents…useful, good taste…he didn’t have to change his current opinion one bit.

Harry’s form settled on the bunk above him.

One more night, after tonight, and the boys would be off. The first thing Severus was going to do involved a spot of transfiguration. He went to bed wondering how cold their first night of camping alone would be and if he’d try for flannel sheets…or silk.

 

Chapter 8
July 31, 2024

“Mobilicorpus.”

The spell was uttered in a low voice, nearly a whisper, and the hand holding the wand directed the sleeping form of Harry Potter several inches up from the top bunk bed, moved it out to hover nearly six feet above the bare wooden floor, then slowly lowered it. As the form descended, the boys could see that Harry was still sleeping, was clutching a pillow to his stomach with both hands, was covered, waist down, with a tangled quilt and was snoring lightly, mouth open. When Harry’s sleeping form was slightly higher than the lower mattress, Severus flicked his wand and Harry’s body moved sideways until it was centered over the bottom sheet in the bed he himself had recently vacated. Severus lowered him the last two inches then shook his head at Al and Albus who were standing in the kitchen, suppressing their laughter.

Severus pointed his wand at the other set of bunks.

“Accio pillows,” he said, still quietly. He managed to deflect all four pillows as they attempted to pummel him, directing them onto the floor next to the bed.

“Tea’s ready,” whispered Albus.

“You really don’t have to whisper,” said Al, still using a low voice despite his message. “Dad could sleep through a train wreck.”

Severus joined the boys in the kitchen and stacked his masterpiece on a plate—two waffles, coated in hot butter, with a small pitcher of warm maple syrup and a handful of blueberries beside them. He added three strips of bacon and placed the entire breakfast ensemble on a bed tray transfigured from a dinner plate he’d found in one of the cabinets.

Al opened a different cabinet, reached way in the back and pulled out a small cardboard box. He took it to the table, quietly dumped the contents then pulled out his wand and enlarged the small bits of shiny paper and glitter until they resembled the birthday presents they were. “Everyone gave me their gifts before we left,” he explained.

“What’s this?” whispered Albus, poking a particularly lumpy package wrapped in plain green paper.

Al smirked. “If we’re lucky, you’ll get to see your first Weasley jumper in a few minutes.”

“Jumper?” Albus poked the package again, as if encouraging the package to jump.

“Sweater,” provided his father.

The two boys carried the packages to the foot of Harry’s bed, arranging them in a pile. Harry hugged the pillow he was clutching more tightly, babbled something incomprehensible then let out a long, low moan that did not need to be translated. The boys backed up. Al shook his head.

“I didn’t need to see that,” he murmured.

Severus tested the temperature of the waffles and used his wand to warm them up.

“Can I wake him now?” asked Al, a mischievous light in his eyes—green like his father’s, sparkling like his namesake’s.

Severus nodded. “Go ahead. But remember—it’s his birthday. Don’t give him a coronary.”

Al approached his father, held out his wand and with a muttered “Aguamenti!” shot a stream of cold water directly into his father’s face.

He should have known better.

Harry was up and on him in a second, Auror reflexes kicking in to grab Al by the arm, disarm him, tackle him to the floor and pin him down with his wand to his throat while Severus grabbed Albus and pulled him backward and out of the way. Fortunately, Al landed on the pillows Severus had summoned to prop behind Harry while he enjoyed his breakfast in bed. Unfortunately, Harry was for some inexplicable reason, totally naked.

“Dad! Get off!” shouted Al, lying perfectly still. “It’s me!”

Harry stared at his captive a long moment, shaking his head a bit before slowly letting go of Al’s wrists and then looking down at himself. He hurriedly grabbed the quilt that had fallen off when he attacked his son and wrapped it around his waist.

“Get back in bed, Dad,” muttered Al, pointing to the lower bunk and rubbing the back of his head. “Oh, and Happy Birthday.”

Albus gathered up the spilled presents, Severus arranged the pillows and did a quick drying charm on the bed and Harry climbed back in. He settled back against the pillows and pulled the sheet up around him.

“How did I get here?” asked Harry, suddenly realizing that he didn’t usually sleep in the bottom bunk.

“That’s where we found you this morning,” said Al, innocently, seemingly trying to get back at his father for the surprise Auror attack.

Harry looked down at his lap and then over at Severus. He was blushing.

“Dad!” protested Al. “I was kidding! Professor Snape just levitated you down a few minutes ago while you were sleeping.” He stared at his father, then glanced at Severus. “Oh, I am so glad we’re leaving tomorrow!”

Albus looked at his father, understanding on his face. Severus shrugged his shoulders, as if absolving himself of all the apparent usual histrionics of the Potter family.

“Happy Birthday, Mr. Potter,” said Albus. “Presents first?”

“Breakfast first,” said Severus, “seeing as it’s ready now.” He carried the tray over to Harry and arranged it so that it stood up on its own and served as a mini table.”

“Hey! Waffles! Where did you get waffles?” asked Harry, excitedly spreading both blueberries and hot maples syrup over the top of the waffle stack.

“Magic,” replied Severus.

“Nope, these are definitely real waffles, not transfigured from hot cakes or anything,” said Harry with conviction. “Where did you get them, Severus?” he asked again.

When Severus simply shrugged noncommittally, Al volunteered. “Professor Snape made them at the hotel this morning.”

Harry paused with a loaded fork halfway to his mouth. Syrup dripped onto Harry’s bare chest. Severus’ eyes followed the path of the dribble as it moved toward his navel.

“You made these? You went to the hotel in Port Angeles?”

“Of course I did,” said Snape, making it sound as it were an everyday activity to apparate to a hotel breakfast room, make waffles then apparate back to a campsite to serve them.

“Wait,” said Harry, grinning. He looked down at his bare chest and stomach and idly wiped the spilled syrup off with his finger, licking it pointedly as he pointed at Severus with his fork. “You apparated to the Red Lion Inn, broke into the breakfast room…”

“I hardly broke into the breakfast room,” corrected Severus. “I apparated right into it.”

Harry was still smiling. “You snuck into the breakfast room, made me waffles and apparated back here?”

“Don’t you like them?” asked Severus. “You certainly seemed to yesterday when that elderly woman made them for you.”

“Oh, I like them,” said Harry. He enthusiastically cut another bite. “It’s just that I didn’t realize you noticed.”

“Oh, I noticed,” said Severus, quite softly, as he turned back to the kitchen to get breakfast for himself and the boys.

Birthday presents followed breakfast, and Harry, forty-four and going on 12, tore into them exuberantly.

“I cannot believe that your ex-wife gave you a beefcake calendar!” exclaimed Severus, paging through the Best of Quidditch (21st Century, UK edition) calendar and stopping to turn his head sideways and squint.

“She knows me too well,” replied Harry, grabbing for another present.

“Sweet Merlin, some of these men were my students!”

“I was your student,” said Harry. He ripped open another present and held it up in front of him.

“Don’t remind me,” murmured Severus.

“Of course not, Professor,” said Harry. “Sir,” he added, smirking.

“What is that thing?” asked Severus.

“A pencil holder,” said Harry affectionately. “From Lily. She makes me one every year. It’s a tradition.”

Severus stared at the…thing…in Harry’s hands. It seemed to have started its life as a tin can, but now had several varieties of uncooked pasta noodles glued over it in a varied pattern that really wasn’t a pattern at all. It was painted orange.

“How old is Lily again?” asked Severus, eying the gift critically.

“Sixteen,” answered Harry, glancing at Severus, then frowning. “Severus, it’s a joke. Joke. The real gift is inside the can.” He reached into the can and extracted two rectangular bits of paper. “Tickets to the Canons/Falcons game!” he exclaimed.

“Hey! Did she only get two?” asked Al, looking up from his eggs and toast.

“Well, it is my birthday,” answered Harry, putting the tickets back in the can and grabbing the lumpy present Albus had poked earlier. “I bet I know what this one is,” he said, smiling gently. He unwrapped the package and extracted a navy blue sweater vest with a golden snitch patterned on the front.

“I haven’t had one of these in years,” he said as he fingered the wool.

“A jumper with no sleeves?” asked Severus with a frown.

“No, one with a snitch,” he said. “She’s been making them for us for so long that she’s taken to repeating patterns. I’ve had three with lightning bolts and at least that many with dragons and brooms.” He folded it up carefully. “We get one for Christmas too—with sleeves.”

“My last Weasley jumper had my initials on it,” said Al. “It was actually pretty cool—since they spell ASP Grandma did them up like a snake.”

“ASP,” sighed Albus, looking at his father and shaking his head.

“I’m British,” replied Severus. “We say arse, not ass. Blame your mother.”

“What did James give you Dad?” asked Al a few minutes later as he spread jam on a fourth piece of toast.

“Hiking socks.” Harry held up two pairs of wool socks. “Built-in cooling and drying charms. I think I’ll wear a pair today,” he mused.

“What about Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron?”

“Aunt Hermione got me a book,” said Harry, reaching in front of him to pick up a rather heavy tome. “It’s about the American West. And she stuck this in it. I guess it’s a bookmark.” He held up a green plastic card and Severus shook his head while Albus laughed.

“That’s a Starbucks gift card,” he said. “For coffee,” he explained, seeing Harry’s puzzled look. “It’s like money…”

“We’ll be sure to use it on the way back to New Mexico,” Severus said. “I’ll explain it then, Harry.”

Harry shrugged and stuck the card back inside the book and picked up the last gift.

“This one’s from Al,” he said, opening the package and extracting a photo album bound in rich leather.

“No photos yet, Dad,” said Al. “I’m going to fill it with pictures from this trip for you.”

“Excellent,” said Harry, smoothing his hands over the front of the book.

“Aren’t you going to open it?” asked Al, winking at Albus.

“Why? You said there weren’t any pictures in it yet,” said Harry, opening the book anyway and grinning as he pulled out two more tickets.

“Cannons vs. the Wasps,” he said, whistling.

“You’re going to have a busy schedule once you get home,” commented Severus. He sat down on the end of the bed, pushing bunched up wrapping paper out of the way. He handed Harry a fresh cup of tea.

“When’s cake?” asked Albus.

Harry couldn’t help looking at Severus and found Severus’ eyes already on him.

“Oh, I had my cake last night,” he answered, holding Severus’ eyes. Severus rewarded him with the smallest of smiles. But it was enough.

/

“I don’t see how it being your birthday should mean you don’t have to carry your pack,” complained Al nearly three hours later when they were all standing around the Volvo in the parking lot, getting ready for another hike. They’d driven from their campground back to Port Angeles, then west around the northern part of the peninsula before heading south to the western park entrance. Unlike the mountainous terrain they’d experienced yesterday, this part of the park was famous for its lowland rainforest environment and its giant spruce and cedar trees, not nearly as large as the giant redwoods, but impressive nonetheless.

Harry stared at his son. “Potter family rules,” he reminded, excusing himself to use the bathroom on the other side of the parking lot.

“What are Potter family rules?” asked Albus as they checked their packs and Al moved Harry’s water and binoculars to his own.

“That you get to make up all the rules on your birthday,” said Al, sighing. “It’s great when it’s your birthday, but Dad really tends to take advantage of it.”

“Oh?” asked Severus, tucking a park map into a pocket of his pack and trying to hide his obvious interest in the subject. “How so?”

“Well, last year we had to give him a sickle whenever we forgot to call him ‘Your Majesty’ when we addressed him. The year before that we had cake for every meal—and only cake. And a few years ago, he decided there should be a “Birthday Boxing Day.” He may act like he doesn’t care about birthdays, but he does. He always has. And not just his own, either. He goes out of his way to make our birthdays special, but not just by spending a lot of money on gifts and stuff.”

When Harry came back from the bathroom, they were packed up and ready to go. This section of the park bore almost no resemblance to where they had hiked and camped the previous day and night. It was dense and shady, with an overabundance of moss, ferns and fallen trees with exposed roots. More than anything else was it overwhelmingly green. The trail the boys chose ran along streams and marshes, followed fallen trees whose trunks were nearly as tall as Harry and afforded them glimpses of many of the mammals and birds who called this park home. Harry was particularly quiet as they walked, occasionally trailing his hand along a fallen log as they passed or pressing it against the uneven bark of a giant spruce or cedar.

They stopped to rest, after a time, sitting down on a moss-covered fallen tree and while the boys and Harry sat quietly with water bottles in hand, listening to the birds calling all around and above them and trying to identify them with one of Al’s wildlife guides, Severus took out his camera.

“I’ve never been anywhere like this,” said Albus softly as Severus moved off the trail a few paces, eyes on a Pileated Woodpecker midway up the trunk of a small spruce.

“Me either,” said Al. “It seems so old here.” He paused, looking around and into the forest. “It feels so alive.” He glanced at his father. “Almost like you could reach out and touch the magic here.”

“The Native Americans believe that magic comes from the earth. It seeps little by little into the mountains and rocks and things that grow.” Albus looked around him at the magnificent trees, standing and downed. “Maybe these are so old it’s in them too.”

Harry had been gazing out into the forest but turned to look at Albus.

“The Native Americans aren’t the only ones who believe that,” he said. “Elemental magic is a powerful branch of magic, a discipline studied by many but truly mastered by few. You can feel this same pulse deep in the Forbidden Forest, Al.”

He paused and looked down at his own hands for a long moment, considering their size and strength, then flexed his fingers. “Be really quiet a few minutes, boys,” he instructed as he placed his hands on either side of him, just on the surface of the deep moss and lichen that covered the fallen red cedar on which they were seated. The boys looked on with curiosity as he dug his fingers into the spongy material and closed his eyes.

He wasn’t sure if he even believed in elemental earth magic, or elemental magic of any sort actually, but he had on a limited number of occasions, when he was alone and immersed in the feel of the earth and trees, been able to connect with the natural magic—or living energy—of the oldest trees rooted to the earth of the Forbidden Forest. He didn’t do anything with that magic but ride the waves of the high it provided, enjoying the feel of it, the texture of it. He knew, academically at least, that there were some who claimed to be able to actually harness that energy and put its power behind spells, but he had never tried anything other than to feel it and let it wash away his cares.

This magic was closer to the surface than any that he’d dipped into yet. He didn’t know, of course, that there were more than two hundred species of moss and lichens on that trunk alone. Or that the downed tree where they’d taken their rest served as nursery bed to a dozen more fledgling trees. He couldn’t say whether it was his magic, or the magic of the earth—for really, weren’t they ultimately the same thing?—that pulsed within him, releasing the most wonderful endorphins in his brain. He felt drained and energetic at the same time, as if he could run a marathon or sleep a hundred years. His fingers and hands tingled with a pleasant energy where they were connected with the moss and the bark beneath it.

Al and Albus watched, fascinated, as Harry’s body went slack and the thrum of magic they’d felt around them earlier seemed to pulse from Harry as well. After a moment, Al began to look nervous.

“Dad?” he said. When Harry didn’t respond, he tried again, louder. “Dad?”

Severus turned his head.

“What is it, Al?”

“Dad was listening to the tree.” He tried again. “Dad! This isn’t funny.”

“What do you mean he was listening to the…” Severus looked closely at Harry and nearly dropped his camera as he pushed through the undergrowth near the path. He surprised them all when he lifted his wand and repeated the spell that Al had used that very morning—an effective Aguamenti.

Harry sputtered, pulled his hands up to his face and promptly fell backward off the tree trunk.

“What the hell were you doing, Potter?” hissed Severus as he leaned over the tree and attempted to right Harry. Al and Albus had gotten off the log quickly and had backed up marginally, looking at each other.

Harry didn’t answer. He was groaning quietly.

“Holy Merlin, can’t you even sit up?” Severus changed tactics and bent down in front of the log, pulling Harry forward by his legs. The log was just high enough off the ground for Harry’s body to fit through and onto the trail.

“What was he doing?” asked Severus as he checked Harry’s pulse while Harry continued to hold his head and moan softly.

“He didn’t say exactly,” said Albus, crouching down beside his father now. “But Al mentioned how alive this place feels, almost like you could reach out and touch the magic here. Then I told them what the Native Americans say about magic coming from the earth. Mr. Potter said something about earth magic. He looked at his hands and asked us to be quiet for a few minutes. Then he stuck his hands into the moss on this log.”

“He said you can feel the same kind of magical pulse we feel here deep in the Forbidden Forest,” said Al. He had crouched down beside his friend and was looking worriedly at his father. “What happened? Is he going to be alright?”

“Idiot,” muttered Severus, a decided frustrated fondness in his voice that Al didn’t miss. But he looked worried. He pushed Harry’s hands away from this face and pulled down his lower eyelid. Apparently satisfied with its color, he let it go.

“Does anything hurt?” he asked Harry, putting both hands around Harry’s head and lightly feeling his scalp.

“Owww…” said Harry, bringing his own hand up to feel the lump on the back of his head.

“He must have hit a rock or something when he fell,” said Al, peeking over the log.

Severus was helping Harry sit up. He managed to stay upright only because his back was against the log. Severus held out his hand for Al’s water, which Al promptly handed over. Severus helped Harry take several long drinks until he appeared a bit stronger.

“That’s never happened before,” he said. He held up shaky hands and turned them over so they were palm up.

Severus glanced over at the boys, his mouth compressed into a tight line.

“Harry, many of these trees are hundreds of years old. It’s nothing like the Forbidden Forest here.” He frowned again. “Who taught you to do that? They should have their wand snapped.”

“No one taught me,” Harry grumbled. He gripped the water bottle with both hands and took another drink. “I was on a stake-out—years ago—in the Forbidden Forest and spent a long time leaning against an old tree. “ He rubbed his head, grimacing a bit. “I must have been there hours but it felt like only minutes. I finally decided the tree was somehow giving me energy.”

“Lean forward,” instructed Severus. He used a standard healing spell on the lump to reduce the swelling then looked at Harry’s eyes again, using his wand to shine a weak light into each eye in turn.

“But it wasn’t just that tree—it happened again a few years later and since then whenever I’m around old forests I try to feel the magic.”

“You’re getting off on it,” stated Severus, still frowning. Albus looked at his father in shock while Al snorted.

“Not that way,” Severus said with a glare at the boys. He picked up his camera and stood. “You boys go on ahead. Wait for us back at the car. I’ll take it slow with Mr.'likes to sniff paste like a four-year-old' Potter."

He and Harry both watched as the boys walked away side by side, their easy camaraderie evident. When they were safely out of sight, Severus turned on his companion with a near violence that surprised Harry. He pressed back weakly against the log, instinctively seeking distance.

“Elemental magic is not to be toyed with, Harry,” he hissed. “You should not even be capable of doing what you do without training from another elemental.”

Harry bristled. “I’m not an elemental,” he shot back.

“You have elemental powers,” insisted Severus. He was still standing, hovering over Harry.

“Don’t say that! So I can feel magic from trees! Al and Albus felt it. Hell, I’m sure you felt it too—“

“Feel it, yes! Call it? Pull it into us? Or worse, connect to it and let it drain us?

Harry paled and struggled to stand up. “I’m not an elemental, Severus. And fine, I’ll stop doing this…thing.” He gestured idly with his hand.

“I don’t want you to just stop doing it!” exclaimed Severus. “I want you to understand what it is you’re doing!” Harry was standing now, an undecipherable look on his face.

“Why does this bother you so much?” he asked, his voice much lower than Severus.’ “Surely there are other people with latent elemental…abilities?”

Severus shook his head. “Other people don’t concern me. You concern me.” He turned and sat down suddenly on the log. “You are a Potter, Harry. A potter!”

Harry moved to stand in front of him, forced himself between Severus’ knees and draped his arms, still tired and a bit trembling, around Severus’ neck. Severus looked up, frowning.

“I know that, Severus,” he said. “I’m just not putting this together…”

Severus shook his head. “Your family name is derived from the profession itself. You have the earth in your blood, Harry.”

“I don’t want anything else that makes me different or special,” said Harry, “so it will probably be best that I stop dabbling in…this…” He trailed off, not knowing what to call it.

Severus wrapped his arms around Harry, pulling him in even closer. “In any event, you cannot continue to experiment here, in this wood. You are right—even I can feel it. It is too close to the surface, too apt to find a conduit…”

“Conduit, eh?” said Harry. He was slightly taller than Severus in this position and he looked down into Severus’ dark eyes, darker still in the perpetual shadows of the forest, and smiled. “Well, at least we can be assured I’m not a fire elemental...”

Severus chuckled. “No, I am relatively certain a fire elemental would not have the trouble you have getting a campfire to burn.”

Harry smirked then bent to kiss him, balancing his hands on Severus’ shoulders then meeting his lips with the gentle, questing pressure of lips and tongue. And Severus, seated on the log, on that thick bed of moss, understood then, as that power coursed through him, why Harry listened to trees.

/

The Park offered a third environment, and it was here, after a picnic lunch on a park table, far enough away from the allure of the spruces and cedars, that the Volvo was headed. The Pacific Ocean could be seen as they drove, between the trees that lined the scrap of land between highway and sea. Severus parked the car a few minutes later and he and Albus walked ahead of Harry and Al toward the rocky, log-strewn shore.

Al waited for Severus and Albus to get out of earshot before he got right to the point.

“What’s going on between you and Professor Snape, Dad?” he asked as they began to walk slowly toward the water.

Harry considered a moment before he answered.

“Well, we’re certainly getting to know each other better,” he began.

“That’s obvious,” said Al, rolling his eyes. “So are you…what? Together?”

“How about ‘we’re exploring opportunities’?” asked Harry. “Why? Do you have a problem with this? Don’t you like Severus?”

“Oh, I like him. He’s not at all what I would have expected…”

“Me either,” sighed Harry.

“Dad! Come on. Be serious. I mean, If you want me to name objections—“

“I didn’t say that,” interrupted Harry.

“Anyway—he’s way older than you and he lives about five thousand miles away from you but besides that…”

“Point taken,” said Harry. He gestured in the air. “Go on.”

“Well, are you ready for something like this?” asked Al. “You know, after Roger…”

“Roger was more than two years ago,” said Harry. “Don’t you think it’s time I started to date again?”

“You call this dating?” asked Albus, incredulous. “Devouring each other with your eyes? Rub downs with scented oil?”

“Hey! I was in pain! That was medicinal oil.”

“Whatever,” teased Al. He paused and continued, his voice more serious. “The thing is, Albus is worried too. He didn’t really put it all together until today, when his Dad apparated to Port Angeles to make you those waffles.”

Harry slowed down. “What’s Albus worried about?”

Al lowered his voice even more. “That his dad will get hurt. He said there hasn’t been anyone for a long time—years. No one he’s brought home anyway. He’s worried you’ll go back to England and leave him—that you’ll hurt him.”

“It’s inevitable I’ll go back, Al. My job is there…my family.” He paused. “My life,” he muttered. He looked ahead and wondered if Albus and Severus were having this very same conversation, if Severus was telling Albus about his plans to send him to Hogwarts.

“Yeah, he knows that. I think he’d like his dad to go back, at least for a while. He’d like to see Hogwarts too.” Then, with all the wisdom of an eighteen-year-old who had been around the block and back again, he added, “This could really complicate things for you, Dad. Be careful—but be happy.”

Harry reached over and wrapped an arm around his son and pulled him over into a quick, sideways hug. He reached out to ruffle his hair but stopped himself from making the easy gesture he’d made with his small son so many times in the past. Instead, he squeezed his shoulder.

“I will, Al. I most definitely will.”

/

They spent a long time at the beach, though this beach had smooth stones instead of sand and was littered with fallen logs and driftwood. There were large rocks, the sort on which sealions sunned, just out in the water. The boys took their shoes and socks off and waded out, climbing up on the rocks and sitting together, looking out to sea. Severus and Harry sat near the edge of the water, just out of reach of the incoming waves. Harry idly tossed stones into the ocean while Severus picked them up one by one and examined them.

“Did you get the talk too?” Harry finally asked.

“If by ‘the talk’ you mean did Albus broach the subject of our relationship—then yes, I got the talk.” He glanced out at the rock. Al and Albus were still sitting with their backs to the land.

“Have you told him, yet? That you’re considering Hogwarts for him?”

Severus dropped the rock he was examining and put his hands behind him on the ground, leaning back slightly. “Just now, yes. He’s absolutely thrilled. And terrified.” He nodded out to the boys. “I assume that’s the topic of conversation out there. I expect your son—and the others on the hiking trip—will take care of most of that terror for him.” He sat up again and reached for another rock.

Harry could feel the palpable tension in the man beside him and instinctively knew what it had cost him to make this decision, to send his son back into the wizarding world he had abandoned, knowing that it would, by necessity, pull him back into it in some small or large way as well. He reached out and squeezed Severus’ hand where it rested on his knee. Severus surprised him by lacing his fingers with Harry’s and squeezing back. They were quiet for long moments, watching the waves push foam within inches of their feet, listening to the occasional gull, watching the boys on the rock.

“I’m looking forward to seeing your place,” said Harry at last. “Your home,” he corrected after a moment’s consideration.

Severus nodded. Another long, quiet space. “But I find I’m not missing it as much as I thought I would,” he said at last. “Now that I know Potters can live most anywhere.”

Harry squeezed his hand again and laughed when a wave pushed water onto their feet. They scuttled backwards a foot or so, letting go of each other’s hand.

“Water isn’t doing anything for you, then?” asked Severus, raising a brow.

“Besides getting me wet?” asked Harry wryly.

“You know what I mean,” said Severus. “All this water, this elemental force…”

“No.” Harry laughed. “You can strike off water and fire then.” He reached for Severus’ hand again. “But I like the water. I could sit here for hours.” He edged in a big closer to Severus and leaned against him, shoulder to shoulder. Severus’ arm came up around him naturally, fitting them together in this gentle moment while the wind came up, pushing back their hair and baptizing their faces with a salty mist.

“Ah, wind,” said Severus, glancing at Harry.

“Nothing,” said Harry.

Out on the rock, Al looked behind him then nudged his friend on the shoulder. Albus snuck a quick glance backward. He blushed again—Al noticed he did that a lot, obviously not as used to seeing his dad wrapped up in another bloke as Al was.

“I really like your dad,” said Albus.

“Thanks, I like yours too,” answered Al.

Albus seemed to be thinking. “What would I call him, you know, if they get together?”

Al laughed. “Harry. You can leave off ‘Your Majesty.’”

Now Albus laughed. But after a moment he looked at his friend. “What’s a sickle, anyway?”

/

A celebratory birthday dinner at a steakhouse in Port Angeles and then back to the campsite. One more campfire. One more batch of popcorn. One final night of stories.

But this time, they were stories of Hogwarts, of adventures and friends, stories of family, and of growing up in wizarding Britain, in the rugged comfort of New Mexico. Inevitably, there were stories of how inept Harry was in Severus’ potions classes, but how brilliant he was in Slughorn’s.

The boys went to bed before Harry and Severus, leaving them sitting near the fire, Restful Slumber cups of tea warming their hands.

“Well, they’re leaving in the morning,” said Harry, glancing toward the tent.

Severus followed Harry’s eyes. “Indeed.”

“I thought this would be the end of my holiday,” said Harry. “I was going to start back home when Al left to meet up with his friends and cousins.”

“Consider it an extended vacation, then,” said Severus. He paused and locked eyes with Harry over the dying flames. “Or something like that.”

Harry held those eyes with his own until his mouth quirked up in a shape that resembled Severus’ trademark smirk more than his own smile. “Alright then, Severus. Something like that.”

Severus sighed and got off his comfortable chair. He settled on the ground, back against the rustic log bench next to the picnic table. Harry looked at him, puzzled, until Severus opened his knees and patted the ground between them.

“We’re getting too old to sit on the ground,” said Harry as he settled down, facing the fire, between Severus’ knees. He leaned back, his form somehow aligning perfectly with Severus’ angles and long limbs. Severus ignored his comment and instead brought both arms around Harry, pulling him back against him to close any spaces that might have remained. Harry laid his head back and Severus tightened his arms, sighed.

“Long ago, I talked myself into believing I don’t miss Britain, but I do,” he said. He nuzzled Harry’s ear. “And you’re just making it worse.”

“What do you miss the most?” asked Harry. “Besides the ready availability of other wizards, of course. Real tea?”

One of Severus’ hands moved to Harry’s side and tickled him. Harry batted his hand away. “Probably,” he answered, smiling. “But I also miss good fire whiskey and drafty castles and meat pies and…” He stopped and Harry prompted him.

“And?”

“…and rain,” finished Severus, smiling softly.

“So why have you stayed away so long?” asked Harry, pushing up a bit to rub his head under Severus’ chin.

Severus gestured toward the tent. “Albus. I wanted to give him a childhood free of the stigma of being Severus Snape’s son. And he’s had that. He has his own legs to stand on now.”

Harry pushed Severus’ arms down and turned around until he was facing Severus, half lying in his lap. He unhurriedly reached down to unbutton Severus’ jeans, pull down the zipper, push jeans and pants down around his hips. His mouth came tantalizingly closer, close enough for Severus to feel Harry’s warm, moist breath on his hungry flesh.

“Lie down,” Harry said. “Spread your legs…” He maneuvered Severus’ legs so they were a bit further apart, then released a gentle breath on him. “And think of England.”

 

Chapter 9
August 1, 2024

The tent was down and bagged up, the campsite nearly clean, the car packed and ready to go. Severus had completely unloaded the car and then repacked, grumbling about impatient careless children and scatter-brained wizards tossing items randomly about and creating chaos in his orderly world. The boys sat together at the picnic table, wizarding map of the United States spread out before them, marking safe apparition zones to take them from one side of the country to the other. Their packs sat on the bench beside them, ready and waiting with featherweight charms already applied. Their walking sticks were propped against the table, their boots laced, their eyes bright with the excitement of starting off—alone—on a new adventure.

Harry sat down at the table across from Al and leaned over to study the map from a somewhat upside down perspective.

“Show me the route you’ve planned,” he asked. He and Severus had both agreed that the boys’ apparition hops should be no more than a few hundred miles each. They’d leap-frog across the country, taking the better part of a day to reach the trailhead of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, stopping along the way to take in a few sights as well.

“Redwoods first,” said Albus, pointing to a spot on the map not too far from Crater Lake. “There’s a safe apparition zone in the park itself.”

“We were going to go there together,” commented Harry, a bit apologetically.

“That’s alright, Dad,” said Al, smiling fondly at this father. “I’m glad we ran into Professor Snape and Albus. This week was a lot of fun. And we hadn’t planned on coming all the way up here originally and look what we would have missed.”

Harry smiled his agreement, still studying the map.

“Where to after the Redwoods?” he asked, looking at the maze of lines and colored spots fanning out over the map. Albus and Al traced a long line of point-to-point hops that took them all the way to the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Mount Katahdin, Maine. Harry turned his head and squinted, following Al’s finger as it moved.

“We’re trying to stick with safe apparition zones so we don’t take too many chances running into Muggles,” he said. “But it’s not exactly a direct route. I think we could do it in about half the jumps…”

“Except there is absolutely no need to hurry,” commented Severus, walking back from the car and settling on the bench beside Harry. He reached over for the map and Harry stared at his long, tan fingers, remembering how stained they were when he was a student at Hogwarts. “Albus is not accustomed to long-distance apparition—shorter hops are considerably safer. You have a much smaller chance of splinching.” He leaned forward and scrutinized the zig-zagging line Al had traced with his wand across the map. He raised an eyebrow. “You are stopping at the Petrified Forest?”

“Most of the big parks have safe zones,” offered Al.

“It’s rather far south—along the Interstate 40 corridor in fact.” He indicated two other heavy solid lines nearly spanning the map from west to east. “Here. I-70. You will do better to stay north of this line.”

“But we’ll miss Graceland!” Albus protested, then slapped his hand over his mouth.

“Graceland?” asked Harry, looking at Al, who shrugged, then at Albus and Severus.

“Elvis Presley’s home,” said Severus, rolling his eyes. “The family sold it off some years ago and it’s become a proving ground for Elvis impersonators.” He started to smile but at Harry’s bemused and confused look, just shook his head. “Sometimes I swear wizards live in holes, Harry.” He looked back at the map and indicated a spot just east of St. Louis. “Cahokia. An ancient Native American mound group. There is a safe zone at the site.”

Albus sighed. “Fine. I doubt we’ll see any Elvis impersonators there, though.”

Severus rolled his eyes and turned his head slightly, squinting down at the map. “And this stop in New York City? There is a park there?” He looked up at the boys speculatively.

“No one will notice two wizards apparating in the middle of New York, Dad,” assured Albus.

“Upstate New York will do just fine,” said Severus, changing the course of the zig-zag by dragging the line north.

“Do you have your money, Al?” asked Harry for the second time that morning.

“Yes, Dad. And my emergency portkey. And that card thingy to get more money out of those At’em machines.“ He paused and glanced at his pack. “And five clean pair of pants, a first aid kit, my anti-venom kit, water-purifying elixir, insect repellent and toilet paper. Oh, and a roll of duct tape--you can never have enough duct tape.”

“And I have everything he doesn’t have,” said Albus, grinning, seemingly not too upset over his father’s alterations to their planned route. “Plus my phone. I’ll call Dad on the 15th to tell him where we are so he can come pick me up.”

“You may not have a place to recharge the phone,” cautioned Severus. “Conserve the battery—do not let that Hogwarts crowd spend all their time playing Extremely Angry Birds on it.”

“Angry birds?” asked Al.

“It’s the sequel to Really Angry Birds,” explained Albus. “Which was a sequel to “Very Angry Birds which of course came out after “Angry Birds III, The Wrath of the Pigs.”

Al nodded as if he fully understood.

“You have a phone too, Severus?” asked Harry, swiveling his head around to stare at the other man. “I haven’t seen you with a…”

“He keeps it in the glove compartment,” said Albus. “It’s one of those phones made for old people—with big buttons. When it rings it sounds like a bell and all the dogs within hearing distance start to bark. All you can do with it is talk.”

“All you can do is talk?” repeated Harry, turning the statement into a question. “What else do telephones do these days?”

“Everything but pay your taxes ,” said Severus. He glanced at the planned apparition route once more and, apparently finding it satisfactory, nodded to his son and Al.

“You’d best get going, boys. Call when you meet up with the others, Albus. I’ll keep my phone on and will expect your call before dark.”

They all stood up and as they boys began to sort out their packs, Harry gave Al a hug goodbye and delivered his last-minute fatherly warnings and advice, including the importance of Al letting his mother know where he was every once in a while, of taking care of his feet on the hike and of behaving himself in a manner befitting a young British wizard.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Al, looking at his father indulgently.

“That means do nothing to embarrass your country or wizards in general,” answered Severus. “Admittedly, a difficult task.”

“And take care of Albus,” Harry added quietly as he hugged his son yet again. “Keep an eye out for him—I don’t think he’s quite so accustomed to being around other wizards, or away from his family.”

“Dad, he’s 16, not 12,” answered Al, speaking softly as Severus and Albus were having their own goodbyes at the other end of the table. He glanced over at his new friend. “He’ll be fine. This will be good for him, really.”

They all walked together into the grove of trees next to the campsite, away from any stray Muggle eyes, and this time Harry gave Albus a quick hug as well.

“Will you be there on the 15th?” asked Albus, eying Harry a bit cautiously as he backed up a few steps and placed his hand on Al’s arm, preparing to side-along with him.

Harry shook his head, smiling a bit sadly. “Unfortunately no. I’m going to have to get back to my job before then. But I’ll be seeing you once you start at Hogwarts. My Lily’s still there—she’s your age, you know.”

Albus shot a quick questioning look at his father. Severus smiled and shook his head slightly. A signal—some sort of communication—passed between them that Harry could not interpret.

Final goodbyes, a wave and with a step, a turn and a distinct crack the boys were gone leaving a good bit of empty air and their fathers, staring at each other through the space where they had just stood, alone at last.

/

“We’ve been in this car forever today,” said Harry, attempting to sound casual but failing miserably. He was staring out the passenger window, looking out over the rough and ragged shores of the Pacific Ocean. It was a testament to the anxiousness that had been eating at his gut all day that one of the most beautiful drives in the entire country was no longer enough to entertain him.

“We’ll stop for the night in Astoria,” said Severus. “And it hasn’t been that long.”

“Hours,” stated Harry. He ran his hand down Severus’ thigh, squeezed it and sighed. “Where do you think the boys are now?” He looked at the clock on the dashboard—nearly 4 in the afternoon—six hours after the boys had apparated out this morning.

“Nearly there I’m sure,” commented Severus, glancing over at Harry’s worried face. “Really, Harry, I should be the one that’s worried. After all, Al is of age and Albus is only 16.”

“Albus is American,” answered Harry.

“They didn’t splinch themselves on the first leg,” said Severus, his voice as reassuring as Severus Snape’s voice could be. “You practically combed the ground looking for eyebrows and fingernails.”

“I know. I’m being ridiculous.” He looked out again at the ocean. “I’m going to New Mexico and I’m bringing an aching hard-on…”

“No,” said Severus. “Absolutely not.”

“And a boner.”

“Harry…”

“A crotchety cock-sucker, a boner and an aching hard-on.”

“I’m not going to play.”

“That’s OK, Severus,” Harry smiled, suddenly enjoying himself. “I think I can do this one all by myself. Let’s see—D? I’m going to New Mexico and I’m taking a dildo, a crotchety cock-sucker, a boner and an aching hard-on.”

“And an egg-shaped vibrator,” added Severus.

“Do you have one?” asked Harry rather hopefully.

Severus rolled his eyes even as he shifted in his seat, feeling his jeans tighten. “Can’t you think of anything besides sex?”

“We’re getting a hotel tonight, aren’t we?”

Severus glanced at Harry and gave a half-smile. “If you’d like.”

“Oh, I’d like…” said Harry.

“We’d be there by now if you hadn’t spent so much time on the beach earlier,” said Severus.

Harry shrugged. “It was a beautiful beach. Our sandwiches would have been better without the sand, but the setting made up for it.”

“I’m not sure that old couple ever saw two men kissing before,” commented Severus.

“That or they were staring because you were calling me an idiot and putting sand down my pants.”

They drove nearly an hour more before arriving in Astoria. Severus pulled into the parking lot of a brew pub and Harry looked up critically.

“This doesn’t look like a hotel.”

“That’s because it’s a restaurant,” said Severus. “Food first. Then we’ll find a hotel.”

Harry pouted a bit as he got out of the car, obviously still having other things on his mind besides food, but an hour and a half, a warm meal and a few pints later, he was in a much better mood. He perked up even further when, twenty minutes after leaving the pub, they stood alone together in a roomy hotel room with a king-sized bed. Harry dropped his duffel on the floor next to the bed while Severus placed his own on the luggage rack and dropped keys, wallet and phone on the table next to the window.

“Albus hasn’t called yet,” he said, checking his watch then taking it off and adding it to the pile of his personal items.

“They’ll call soon,” said Harry, smiling a bit at how his previous worry had passed and had been picked up by Severus. He dropped down gratefully on the bed and took off his shoes and socks then arranged pillows behind his head and got comfortable. When Severus sat down on the opposite side, Harry crawled over to hug him from behind. He let him take off his shoes, unbuttoning Severus’ jeans as Severus unlaced his shoes, then pulled him down to lie facing him. They looked at each other and Severus’ thumb came up to brush down Harry’s cheek. Harry’s face broke into a wide smile.

“Finally,” he said, pulling Severus closer and kissing him. Severus’ arms wrapped around Harry and moved down his back, resting on his arse and gripping him closer. Within minutes, their movements were more frantic and Harry was straddling Severus, mouth working his jaw, hands squeezing his shoulders, rubbing his chest under his shirt. Severus’ lips captured his own again, pressing against Harry’s, sucking then nipping his bottom lip, tongue caressing teeth and gums then wrapping around Harry’s tongue, intimate and erotic. He managed to turn them so that they were on their sides facing each other again, but only for a moment, then he gained advantage and straddled Harry, pressing Harry’s hands against the mattress and dipping down to taste this neck, his jaw, his ear.

His voice whispered, breathy, against Harry’s ear.

“Not tonight. We need to wait…one more night.”

Harry froze beneath him.

“Wait?” he said, his voice low.

Severus trailed kisses down his neck and onto his clavicle. He nuzzled against Harry’s shoulder and let go of his hands, bringing his own hands in to cup Harry’s face. He rubbed his cheek against Harry’s, bristle to bristle.

“Tomorrow night,” he breathed. “Somewhere special. I want to take you there—for the first time.”

“Take me where?” asked Harry, frustrated, pushing his groin up against Severus.’

Severus smiled. “Take you there. Fuck you. Make love to you for the first time…in this…place.”

Harry moaned. “Christ, Severus.” He gritted his teeth and strained upward. “Let’s go tonight,” he begged, continuing to thrust upward as Severus pressed against him, a constant, aching pressure that made his already throbbing hard-on pulse with need.

“Tomorrow,” repeated Severus. He was breathing heavier now, his arousal evident as he continued to push down against Harry, moving faster, panting.

“It damn well better be worth the wait,” complained Harry. He was so hard, so achingly hard, and feeling Severus against him, on him, was nearly intolerable. He wanted him in him. With great effort, he pushed Severus off and began stripping off his own jeans and pants.

“I mean it, Harry,” panted Severus, watching him breathlessly while he undressed. “We need to wait. You’ll thank me.” He hoped he sounded convincing. He was sorely tempted to throw the whole plan he’d concocted out the window and fuck Harry into the mattress and right into the hotel lobby below them.

Harry dropped his pants onto the floor and started to work on Severus’ jeans, stripping his lower half expertly then turning around and climbing over the other man until they were mouth to cock, cock to mouth. As Severus was enveloped by warmth and suction, he groaned audibly, unable to form a rational thought nor a coherent word nor a protest of any kind to deter the absolute need to have Harry tonight, at least in this way. He reached up to claim his prize, taking it in as Harry arched his back and moaned around him. The heady thrum filled him. Magical indeed, but tomorrow, he somehow knew with the six brain cells left functional, would be more so.

Later, after they both were sated, after lying side by side on the wide bed, fingers entwined, panting, coming down slowly from their plateau, after stripping off the rest of their clothes and crawling under the blankets, after plumping pillows and rolling over each other to change sides of the bed, Harry and Severus slept.

Severus, surprisingly, given his still suspicious nature, was the first to fall asleep. Harry stayed awake for a long time, snuggled back to chest against Severus, touching from head to toe along abs and thighs and knees and calves. Severus was thin, with wiry limbs, a lightly furred chest and a still-rich treasure trail from navel to cock. His thighs and biceps were muscular, his hands long-fingered and splayed possessively on Harry’s stomach. He smelled earthy, and Harry was reminded of the potter that he was, of the damp clay that had permeated his hands while mixing the colors together at the campsite. Severus’ even breath sang in his ear, in and out through his nose. His stomach rumbled, gurgling quietly. Those long-fingered hands tightened against him as Harry pressed back into Severus. Sleeping, thought Harry, sleeping together is hands-down the most intimate act in the world.

He would change his mind within twenty-four hours.

/

They left the hotel early in the morning after a quick breakfast of waffles and coffee and continued south along the Oregon coast toward northern California. The boys had called late the previous evening, reporting a successful arrival at their destination in Maine, and Harry had spoken with James as well, a James that was gobsmacked silly at being presented with Severus Snape’s son. “He’s not Slytherin, Dad,” James had said, disbelief in his voice. “Shouldn’t he be?”

Harry and Severus were settling into an easy comfort now after a mere twenty-four hours of being alone together. They didn’t fill the empty air around them with idle conversation, though Severus quizzed Harry at length about his job as Head of Magical Law Enforcement, his career plans for the future, his level of contentment in his current position. Harry, in turn, asked Severus about his life in Abiquiu, the friends he had made there, the work he loved. He even dared to delve more into Severus’ relationship with Albus’ mother.

And they spoke at length about Hogwarts, about how it had changed in the years since Severus left Great Britain, about what Severus would have to do to enroll Albus, about how wizarding Britain would react to the news when it broke, as it was sure to do within a day of the sorting if not before. Harry may have been comfortable enough to ask Severus about Albus’ mother, and to rest his hand on Severus’ thigh as he drove, to rifle through his glove compartment and play with his mobile phone, but he shied away from what he truly wondered, what he was dying to know. Would Severus come back to Scotland now that Albus would be at Hogwarts?

“Where are we going, anyway?” asked Harry after hours of driving and a hearty meal at a seaside restaurant in the town of Gold Beach. He had unfolded a map showing US Highway 101 along the Pacific Coast and was looking at it and trying to determine exactly where they were and what towns nearby offered the prospect of room and board. “Are we getting another hotel tonight?”

“You’ll know when we get there,” answered Severus cryptically. “And no, we’ll be camping.”

“I’ll know it when we get there,” repeated Harry, folding the map up rather inexpertly and shoving it back into the glove box, not noticing Severus’ disapproving look followed by an almost-indulgent smile. He looked out his window a moment then turned back to Severus. “How exactly will I know it?”

Severus smiled. “Trust me. You’ll know.”

Twenty minutes later, Harry knew.

It started with a feeling, a tingling in his extremities, a vibration in his gut. He had been dozing, or at least resting his eyes behind closed lids, and he noticed that the vehicle was slowing down. He opened his eyes and stared ahead at the mighty trees before him with mouth agape.

“Are these the Redwoods?” he asked as he rolled down the car’s window, needing to remove even the clear glass obstacle between himself and the forest. “Merlin, pull over Severus!”

“We have a few more miles to the campground,” said Severus, his voice calmer than his demeanor. His fingers were literally dancing on the steering wheel. Harry’s head was half-hanging out the window as he craned his neck around and upward. The pleasant tingle turned into a steady thrum within him. The car continued forward slowly, one car in a line of vehicles full of admirers gaping at the mighty trees. As they moved further into the park, the summer sunlight became yellow and diffused as it filtered down through the great canopy.

“Campground?” Harry pulled his head back inside the car and spun around to look at Severus. “We’re camping here tonight? In these trees?” His voice had a rawness to it, an ache that Severus did not miss, could not miss. He felt a passing sense of guilt, as if he were somehow taking advantage of Harry but the feeling was wiped away as Harry’s hand came down on his thigh and squeezed, as he leaned over and bit Severus lightly on the neck.

“If it’s alright with you,” said Severus. He slowed down as they entered a particularly dense area where the road had been worked into the forest, winding around trees as old and as tall as Hogwarts herself.

In answer, Harry stuck his head back out the window, first looking up, then closing his eyes to feel the power of the earth around him. It was a glorious feeling, both peaceful and powerful, a balm for his soul and a passion in his heart. He opened them only when the car slowed and pulled into the campground. Twenty minutes later, Severus was grumbling and unloading the car while Harry Potter was hugging a tree.

Not just any tree, mind you. And hugging was hardly the appropriate word when the tree was so huge that one’s arms didn’t even curve a they attempted to wrap around it or onto it. He didn’t get to touch it long before Severus was pulling him away and sitting him down at the picnic table.

“Stay here,” Severus said, quite firmly. Harry buried his head in his arms on the table and listened.

He could have sworn the trees were talking. Mumbling, at least, low and indistinct. Beneath his feet the earth felt molten, substantial but in motion, as if molecules were rearranging themselves deep among the roots of the trees soaring above.

“Merlin, Harry!” Severus was back at the table and this time lifted Harry’s feet so that he was sitting sideways on the bench, no longer connected to the ground except through the medium of the bench. “Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all. I thought…”

“No! It’s a good idea. A great idea!” Harry protested immediately.

Severus sat on the bench in front of him and spoke firmly. “Harry, listen to me. We won’t be able to stay here unless you can manage this. You have to control the magic or it will control you again. I don’t know what to tell you--feel it but don’t let it inside you.”

“And I do that exactly how?” asked Harry, shaking his head as he looked longingly around at the giant trees. He’d never before in all of his life felt anything quite like this; the trees held for him a thrall not unlike a vampire’s. He held his head, trying to quiet the thrum. He shook his head again.

“Just try,” said Severus, half-exasperated. “Think of the ocean, or fire. Some opposing force.” He returned to the tent, managing to get it set up with little difficulty despite his grumbling and coming back out with the two transfigured camp chairs on rockers. “Maybe you need to somehow redirect the energy into another activity,” he said as they settled into the chairs and Harry leaned back, gaze drawn skyward to the canopy above them.

Sitting in that camp chair surrounded by the trees, watching the small fire burn, talking with Severus in a low voice as the sun set and the already diffused light disappeared altogether—this was Harry’s heaven. He could feel the energy around him permeate his very blood, moving trancelike throughout his body as the night settled around him. Severus seemed affected too, Harry noted, relaxing into his chair and opening up at last about his own life, his self-imposed solitude, the companionship of men that he sometimes sought in Sante Fe, or in Taos, or even in Espanola or Farmington. He spoke of his passion, his works of art in clay and paint and sometimes stone. The solitude of the desert. The quiet of the nights there, in their adobe house with its six rooms and outside oven and exposed vigas.

And Harry spoke too, answering Severus questions about Roger, and their relationship, and whether it was love or lust or somewhere in between. Of others before Roger, of the realization that he preferred men, not just their company but their bodies, the feel of unshaven faces, their flat chests and fat cocks and morning wood and Adam’s apples. Of being comfortable with a man when the children were around, sitting together on the sofa reading, having one more man at the family dinner table, sharing a bed, sharing a life.

The fire burned low as they ate sandwiches and drank hot tea from the potions cups, only two this time, but filled with a rich fragrant blend that, along with the thrum of magic just barely beyond reach in the earth below him, made Harry’s fingers tingle as they were wrapped around the smooth, warm cup. Severus, at last, extinguished the fire to faint glowing embers with a wave of his wand, lit his wand tip with a quiet Lumos, stood and led Harry into the tent.

The first thing that Harry noticed when they were inside was that Severus had banished the floor.

The wooden planks were gone, leaving the earth bare beneath their feet.

A space had been cleared before their bunks. There were pillows on the ground but Severus directed Harry to sit on the bottom bed, then knelt down before him and took off his shoes and socks, helped him stand, then proceeded to remove the rest of his clothing, piece by piece, until Harry stood there naked, feet tingling on the ground, living energy from the earth and trees pushing up into his legs, rooting him. He imagined he could feel it center in his groin as he hardened under Severus’ ministrations. Severus pushed him back onto the bunk, seated still, and deftly removed his own clothing. When he was naked, he picked up his wand and cast a warming charm and a cushioning charm on the floor while Harry reached out his hand and rested it on Severus’ hip, wrapping it around him to pull him closer, nose pressed into his groin, inhaling his scent and being reminded, inexplicably, of summer.

Severus wrapped his fingers in Harry’s hair, pushed his head gently away then knelt down in front of him.

“Harry,” he said quietly, looking in his eyes then leaning in to kiss him, mouth lingering on Harry’s soft, searching lips. He drew back reluctantly but Harry wrapped his arms around Severus and pressed into him, working himself off the bed and onto the ground, to that blessed contact with the earth which was calling to him, pulling Severus down with him, on top of him, bending his knees to make a cradle for Severus as he kissed his mouth, caressed his chest and stomach, palmed his arousal, while Harry’s body melded to the earth, drawn by the roots within it and the towering wood above it. Severus’ own movements grew more frantic the more Harry channeled the power, running worshiping hands over every surface, laving the skin with lips and tongue, rolling Harry over onto his stomach, preparing him slowly, so slowly, joining with him as Harry keened.

Joining with Harry as the elemental force of the earth seeped deeply into him, as Harry gripped the earth beneath him with his hands, drove his knees into the mat of fine soil, rested his chest and arms and cheek against the dirt, pressed back against Severus with his own strength and the power of the earth, hungry and greedy, taking but giving, a vessel of earth himself, a conduit of energy, a nerve center of pulsing greed and benevolent generosity. Giving. Taking. Offering. Receiving. The natural motion of the act itself first drawing out then giving back.

Above him, on him, in him, Severus panted, wildly out of control as he pounded into Harry, fingers digging into hips, toes digging into the earth at Harry’s feet, wondering if this is what elemental magic was—this raw, coarse, rising, consuming need to both possess and to share. He would have Harry. Here. Now. The body beneath him was tighter and warmer and stronger and more powerful than any he’d ever had before, anything he’d ever shared. Despite the fact that he was the one doing the fucking, he felt that he was being used, that Harry’s body below him was the only thing keeping him from being sucked into the earth, wrapped in living roots, buried in trembling loam.

It had been a long time since he’d had this, the physical act with its intimacy and its burning, raw need, but he’d never really had it before, had he? Not with someone he’d waited for for so long. His conscious mind said only a week…you’ve only waited a week but his soul told him otherwise. A lifetime, it said. You’ve waited your whole life for this.

They came together, joined, as Harry keened and the earth trembled beneath them, Harry’s borrowed power pushing back into the soil, pulling from Severus the last vestige of control. Harry collapsed below him, flat on the ground, head turned sideways, arms spread out. Severus fell on top of him, kissing his neck, his ear, panting, whispering to him, Harry, Harry, fuck, Harry, covering him with his body, achieving a oneness of corpus and mind, merging self to self and soul to soul. His vessel, his clay, shaped by his hands, his to form, his to fire, his to love.

To love.

“Severus?”

He stilled.

“Yes?” He stayed atop Harry, covering him with his body, voice soft in his ear.

“Will you come back to England with me?”

“Harry….”

“Because if you won’t,” continued Harry softly, reaching awkwardly with his hand to grasp one of Severus,’ “we’re going to have to move here together and give up both our places.”

“I don’t think my heart can take another orgasm like that,” replied Severus. He kissed the back of Harry’s ear, nuzzled his neck, sighed.

“So you’ll come?” asked Harry, quiet voice echoing in the tent. He was boneless, spent, still except for the soft, resonating voice.

There was a long pause, punctuated by Severus’ grunt as he rolled off of Harry, maneuvering himself up against his lover, taking his face in his hands, kissing his mouth, hugging him tightly.

“I’ll come,” said Severus, breathing into Harry’s mouth the breath of the earth. “How could I not?”

 

Chapter 10
August 2, 2024 - August 4, 2024-midday

Harry woke up in the morning as he had the previous day, wrapped around Severus. But today they were stretched out on the lower bunk of the spacious wizarding tent, not on a hotel bed, and today he was sore where he hadn’t been sore the day before—where he hadn’t been sore for more than two years, in fact. He was spooned up against Severus’ back, both of them still naked, and his lover--his lover--was still asleep.

His mind drifted back to the day and night before—how it felt to see the giant Redwoods for the first time, how it felt to touch them, to feel them. Being with Severus at last, having Severus in him, joined with him while the power of the earth filled him and Severus filled him and somehow the two were one—the earth, and Severus—and he was a vessel, a conduit, passive but powerful, controlled but controlling. Sex had never been like that for him, never. Never had he felt so truly one with a lover, so truly joined. He knew it in the afterglow of the act, when they had basked in the warmth of the earth and the warmth of each other, when Severus had kissed him and promised him a future…

He stumbled over that thought. Severus had said he would go to England with him. But it had felt like a promise. At this moment, lying here against Severus in the half-light of the early morning, as spent and sore as he’d ever been after a night of lovemaking yet more comfortable than he’d ever been, he couldn’t imagine a future without him.

He lay there quite still for a moment, right hand resting on Severus’ belly, left curled up under the pillow that supported both of their heads. The early morning light was just beginning to chase away the shadows from the corners of the tent and in the dim light and peaceful silence he could once again feel the thrum of life around them. Even on the bunk, two feet above the earthen floor, removed physically from every living thing except his lover, he felt it. He closed his eyes, letting the song of it enter him and pulse out, though his bloodstreams, to his fingertips, his toes, his no-longer quiescent cock. He nearly hummed.

“Severus?” he whispered.

Severus, he’d learned this past week, did not dawdle in bed. He awoke, stretched and got up, padding to the loo first and then to the kitchenette to put on the water for tea.

Severus grunted and snuggled—literally snuggled back against Harry. Well…

Harry moved his right hand off Severus’ stomach, sliding it low enough to brush through the thick hair at the base of his cock then up his hip and over his arse.

“Severus?” he repeated, nestling in closer.

“I know what you’re going to ask,” answered Severus, talking into his pillow. “And the answer is ‘Sometimes.’”

Harry smiled into Severus’ neck as he rolled his hips and maneuvered his left hand and arm under Severus, drawing him in even closer, grazing fingers over his chest, sliding over a nipple, coming to rest on his ribcage.

“Sometimes like now?” asked Harry hopefully.

Severus answered by turning himself in Harry’s arms, maneuvering so that he was chest to chest with Harry, arms wrapped around him, drawing him in tightly. He moved his hands downward, cradling Harry’s arse.

“It’s a long two and a half day drive back to Abiquiu,” he said softly as he kissed Harry’s neck. “The driver, at least, needs to be able to sit comfortably.”

Harry gave an exaggerated sigh and rolled onto his back, pulling Severus on top of him as he did so. Severus rested on his forearms and elbows, looking down at Harry with half-awake eyes.

“Fine,” Harry said. He reached up and tucked a strand of Severus’ hair behind his ear, then traced his cheek with a fingertip and ran it gently across Severus’ mouth. He lowered his voice. “You did mean what you said last night? You’ll come back to England with me?”

Severus met his eyes, verdant, hopeful. “I meant what I said.”

Harry pulled him down into a kiss as he canted his hips and pushed up to feel the delicious slide of flesh on flesh. Suddenly the power of the earth he’d been so eager to share with Severus moments before, the desire to be on the giving side instead of the receiving end, faded in importance. He smiled and touched the end of Severus’ nose. Severus rolled his eyes and Harry laughed.

“Just the two of us this morning, then,” Harry said as he rolled his hips again. “You there, me here…” He adjusted his position, pulling his knees back, folding muscular calves around Severus’ lower back. “Face to face, Severus. I want to see you this time.”

Their lovemaking was slow, unhurried. Skin bathed by the canvas-diffused daylight, Severus’ body melding with his own, holding Harry back, folding him against the bed, against his skin, against his heart. Harry’s eyes locked with Severus,’ lids heavy as the pleasure mounted, head tilted back to expose the column of throat, hand, trembling, moving to touch Severus’ face. Severus pressing his cheek to that hand, the hand to face connection grounding them, stabilizing them against the act below where Harry pushed into each thrust from Severus, biting his lower lip, watching Severus, watching the sweat break out on his forehead, the breath escape his mouth in pants, feeling his hair so soft on his fingers, the stubble on his cheek beneath his hand.

Waiting.

Waiting to see the look on his face, the glaze in his eyes, his breath faster now, Harry’s name in each exhale. Waiting to reach down to touch himself until with a last thrust the king began to quaver, moving slowly from check into mate. Grasping himself, pulling once, twice then catching Severus as he fell, counting the beats as their hearts slowed down, at they lay together, spent and lax.

“I could get used to walking up with you,” said Harry.

“I have silk sheets,” mumbled Severus.

“Oh?” asked Harry, tracing an old scar on Severus’ hip.

“On my Sleep Number bed,” he added.

“On your what?” Harry’s hand stilled on his hip.

“I’m joking,” said Severus, trapping Harry’s hand under his own. “Only it’s not much of a joke, is it, when the person you’re joking with doesn’t…oh, never mind…”

“Do you have some kind of special bed?” asked Harry, trying to sort out this new puzzle.

Severus chuckled. “Impatient to get in my bed, are we?”

Harry pushed himself up on his elbows, looking down at Severus. “I’d say I’m already in your bed, Severus.”

“You know what I meant—and no, my bed isn’t at all special. Except for the sheets—and the down pillows.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “That’s all? Silk sheets and down pillows?”

Severus pretended to think. “Did I mention the vigas?”

“Vigas?”

“Exposed beams—it’s a common architectural element in the old adobe homes. Mine, however, are not only exposed but run below the ceiling instead of flush with it. If one were inclined”—he raised an eyebrow—“one could hold on to one and swing about directly over the bed.”

Harry grinned. “If one were inclined and were, say, a particularly fit British Auror…?”

Severus regarded Harry and titled his head a bit on the pillow on which it rested. He lifted a hand and ran his fingers through the fit British Auror’s hair. “Perhaps. Do you know any?”

“Git.” Harry moved quickly to straddle Severus, wincing a bit as he did so. He lowered his head and kissed the juncture of Severus’ neck and shoulder.

“You need something for the pain, and a topical analgesic.” Severus’ hands had come around Harry’s back.

“If you come close to me with that Ben Gay…”

Severus let out an abrupt chortle then pushed Harry to the side and sat up. “Come on, Auror Potter. Let’s start the day. We have an extremely long drive ahead of us.”

/

They made it as far as Bakersfield, California that night, passing through Eureka, Santa Rosa and San Francisco in a blur. Harry slept for several hours—knowing upon waking, as he had just before his eyes closed, that the potions and salves Severus had supplied—and applied—must have had a soporific effect. Harry wandered into a Muggle convenience store to use the loo while Severus gassed up the car and came back with an assortment of items in a white plastic bag that he attempted to keep hidden from Severus. Severus pretended that he hadn’t seen Harry slip the bag into the glove compartment, though h e didn’t manage to look too surprised when the bag reappeared thirty minutes later as they continued south from San Francisco.

“I got us each one of these,” said Harry, holding up two pieces of colorful cardboard.

“Lottery tickets? I didn’t know you were a gambler, Mr. Potter.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “I gamble every day of my life, Severus. Kind of comes with the job.” He dug in the cup holder for some change and extracted a dime. “Yours first, or mine?”

“Which is which?” asked Severus. “Do I get to choose?”

“Sure. Do you want ‘Scratch Your Eyes Out” or “Cat Scratch Fever?”

Severus glanced at him. “You’ve got to be kidding,” he drawled.

“No, really. Look.” Harry thrust the tickets toward him and Severus had a brief glance of a green ticket with little eyeballs all over it and a red and gold ticket stamped with cats. Harry laid the tickets out on the dashboard in front of him and held up the dime.

“Which do you want?” he asked again.

“You really have to ask?” Severus nodded at the green ticket and Harry held it in front of him, squinting at the small print.

“Apparently you have to scratch off the two lucky numbers first up here…” He used the dime to aggressively scratch an area at the top left of the ticket. Little specs of some unknown material scattered across the dashboard. Severus frowned at them.

“Alright, you’ve got a ‘4’ and a ‘7.’” He looked over at Severus. “Seven is supposed to be lucky…I think.”

“Get on with it,” said Severus. “What do I win?”

Harry scritched and scratched with the dime until the entire dash was covered with little grey flecks. He noticed Severus’ eyes looking disapprovingly at the mess and pulled out his wand to vanish it.

“Well?” repeated Severus.

Harry frowned at the ticket. “Apparently nothing. That was a waste of a dollar, wasn’t it?”

“Give me that,” said Severus, presumably not convinced that Harry understood how to read a scratch-off lotto ticket. He glanced at it and sighed then stuck the ticket on the sun visor.

“It will make a colorful bookmark at least,” he said.

Harry made short work of his own ticket then, exuberant at his big win of twenty dollars. The next time they pulled off the interstate for the loo, Harry went into a convenience store to redeem the ticket for cash. Severus washed the windshield and scoured the car for trash. Harry was already inside the car when he got back in.

“Look!” Harry held up a sheaf of brightly colored bits of paper. “I traded it in for more tickets!”

“I’ve got to get you out of here,” sighed Severus, backing out of the parking space with a long-suffering sigh.

/

They stayed at a comfortable hotel in Bakersfield that night which advertised newly remodeled bathrooms for weary travelers. They were both sore and tired from the long day in the car and dissatisfied with the quick on-the-road meals. Harry made straight for the loo once Severus opened the room door, ignoring the key card as usual and using magic instead to gain entry.

Severus distinctly heard a “Wow!” followed by the sound of water running. He stuck his head inside a few moments later, determined to have his turn whether Harry was finished or not, and found a very naked Harry opening up a bar of soap and spreading towels and flannels out on the vanity.

“Take a look at that shower, Severus,” said Harry, voice still awed. “And get those clothes off.”

Severus glanced at the slightly sunken shower stall with its sheer curtain pushed back against the wall. It was certainly big enough for two—or even more—but what caught his eye was what had surely caught Harry’s as well. Four shower heads. Four. Two on each end, one placed high on the wall and one at waist level. Water was streaming from the highest shower head on the left side. He looked closer. The shower head was glowing. Red.

“I don’t know how it works and I don’t care,” said Harry, grinning as he placed the soap and the small bottles of shampoo and body wash on the shallow depression along the back wall then leaned in to turn on the second shower head. Pulses of water began to shoot out and Harry jumped back in surprise.

“It’s a massaging unit,” said Severus as he sat to take off his boots and pull off his socks. His jeans followed after he placed wallet, keys and wand carefully on the vanity. Shirt and pants followed and he picked up his wand, flicked it at the clothes and silently sent them back to a neat pile on the floor near his duffel in the other room. He eyed Harry’s clothes, piled on the floor near the shower, sighed, then sent them to join his own.

They could have spent the rest of their lives in that shower even had they not eventually discovered the erotic possibilities of pulsing water at waist level.

The back of the shower stall was gently tapered and Severus found that Harry fit against the curved wall perfectly and that the shoulder high grab bars were the perfect distance apart to splay him out, naked and open, glistening with soap and water, and that the water could be aimed to hit one of Harry’s nipples, delivering a constant, aching pulling sensation while Severus entertained the other with teeth and tongue and lips and fingers. He loved the way the water flowed down Harry’s chest, drawing down the sparse hair, how it dripped down and off his cock, how his toes tried to clench into the tiled floor. He took pity on his lover though, arranging him so that the play of water spun about his chest, hitting him randomly, sometimes grazing one nipple or pummeling the other, then knelt before him, engulfing him and swallowing him while Harry hung on to the bars and moaned his name and let loose a string of obscenities, soft and sexy in that beautiful British accent he’d missed so much, stifling a scream as he came then sliding down the wall to sit on the floor, eye-level with Severus’ needy cock.

Then it was Severus’ turn to be the banquet, Harry’s to feast and both of them to end up panting, , boneless, staring at each other from the floor of the shower. Together.

And when they fell asleep that night, tangled around each other on the strange bed with the dual controls that alternatively deflated or inflated the mattress, Severus brushed Harry’s face with his hand and Harry kissed his fingers and sighed.

“Still puckered,” he said, squeezing Severus’ hand with his own. “I think we spent too much time in the shower.”

/

They had the hotel standard of waffles and coffee in the morning and were back on the road by nine. Severus was determined to make it to Gallup before they stopped, leaving them an easy half-day trip to Severus’ home the following day. It would be a hot day’s drive, through the desert and into and across Arizona. They had a long and animated conversation about ethics, Harry having wondered why unscrupulous wizards didn’t alter losing lottery tickets with magic to make them winners.

“Bar codes,” Severus had explained.

At Harry’s blank look, he’d pointed out the series of short lines of different spacing and width on the back of the card.

“Right,” said Harry, smiling slightly. “Like when we go to a Muggle shop and they scan the items you’re purchasing. I guess I never paid attention to it, really. It’s easier to just think that it’s…magic.”

Severus smiled. “Muggle magic. On a lottery ticket, the bar code translates into what the payout is. I believe scanning it for the payout only works after it’s been scanned at the point of purchase—the convenience store where you bought these yesterday, for example.”

“You’re awfully Muggle savvy,” said Harry.

“It’s different here in the States, as I’ve said before,” said Severus. He reflected. “Though at the time, the boys were with us and I suppose I was really delivering the message to Al. You were probably too busy ogling those bikers on the Harleys to pay attention to my culture lessons.”

Harry grinned. “Thanks for getting me that ride by the way,” he said. “Until the other night that was the most action I’d gotten in a couple years.”

Severus let the comment slide and Harry wondered, again, what Severus’ romantic life had been like in the years since he’d come to the States. He was obviously experienced, comfortable in all that they’d done to date, and not at all awkward in a shared bed. Yet he’d mentioned no one, no one except Albus’ mother, that is.

“Do you have anyone—back home?” asked Harry after a few minutes of watching one mile marker after another slide by to his right. He’d finally become accustomed to the right-side-of-the-road system in the States, and no longer had mild panic attacks when Severus pulled out of a parking lot into the right lane of traffic.

“If you mean, do I have a lover back home, no, I don’t,” said Severus.

“Yeah, that’s what I mean,” said Harry, glancing at Severus. “But I wasn’t implying you had someone there now, waiting for you. I assumed you didn’t have that or you wouldn’t have started this thing…with me.”

“Started it? I distinctly recall someone kissing me and a bit later straddling me and practically devouring me like a piece of chocolate cake.”

“Didn’t you like it?” asked Harry innocently.

“I didn’t say I didn’t like it; I’m simply stating that I didn’t start it.”

“Alright, alright,” laughed Harry. He sobered. “You know what I meant, though. I’ve told you about Roger, and about Ginny. Those were the two most significant relationships I’ve had.” He paused, trying to form his words carefully. “Have you had someone like that? Someone here in the States?”

Severus was quiet for a long while.

“I’m sorry,” said Harry. “You don’t have to answer, really, if you’re uncomfortable…”

“No,” interrupted Severus. “It’s a fair question. I’d like to answer it.”

Harry settled back in his seat, eyes forward, waiting. He wanted to know, but he didn’t want to know. The possibility that Severus had had not just a lover but love both relieved and unsettled him.

“There hasn’t been anyone like that for a long while,” Severus began. “Not since Albus was born, at least.” He glanced over at Harry. “I have not exactly been celibate—my relationships have been occasional and…fleeting.” He paused again and seemed to collect his thoughts before continuing. “I settled in Abiquiu in 2003, just after leaving Great Britain. I had researched the location while I was still at Hogwarts and had arranged to purchase the home where I still live. It took me some months to become established, to meet the locals, to be accepted by them.” He stopped talking a moment, smiling to himself. Harry wasn’t sure if he liked that smile or not. A tug of jealousy pulled at him but he willed it away.

“Ruben taught me the basics of pottery. We developed an…affinity for each other as well. He was a bit younger than I was, and had grown up in New Mexico. After a few months he moved in with me. That lasted nearly two years. We fought over something trivial, he left in anger and I went out, drank too much and had the encounter with Albus’ mother.” Severus sighed. “The relationship fell apart when she came to me to tell me she was pregnant. He wasn’t interested in raising children—I was. He left for good soon afterwards and I became a father. My relationship with Albus has been the central one in my life since that time.”

“Ruben.” Harry tested the name. Odd that it reminded him of Roger…five letters, two syllables, beginning with ‘R.’ He rested his hand on Severus thigh and Severus removed his right hand from the steering wheel and placed it on top of Harry’s. “Does he still live nearby? Do you ever see him?”

“I used to see him from time to time, run into him when I went into town for supplies. But he’s moved on now—I haven’t seen him in years.”

They drove in silence for a while then Harry reached into the glove compartment and pulled out the plastic bag he’d stowed there the day before.

“More lottery tickets?” groaned Severus, not able to keep himself from dusting off stray motes from the dashboard.

Harry shook his head. “Gummy bears,” he said. “And green apple licorice.” He glanced over at Severus as he opened the packaged. “Which do you want?”

Severus looked at the offerings and immediately rejected the neon green licorice.

“That’s not even food,” he said, pointing at the licorice. “And those…”

“I wonder if they make Haribo Every-Flavored Gummy Bears,” mused Harry as he bit off the head of a red bear.

“Just give me the bag,” said Severus, grabbing it out of Harry’s hands. He handed Harry the red bear torso that he’d dropped back into the bag and sighed.

/

They reached Gallup after dark and tumbled into another highway motel, fell asleep almost immediately, and were back on the road by eight thirty the next morning. Severus was in familiar territory now and drove east on I-40 through desert landscape patiently answering Harry’s questions about the Native American lands they were crossing.

Two hours later, as they were approaching Albuquerque, Harry had learned that the Navajo reservation covered portions of three states and was headquartered just north of Gallup but that there were an additional nineteen Native American Pueblos in New Mexico, as well as two Apache tribes. They’d passed through Laguna and Acoma and Severus had, naturally, launched into the stories of the famous pottery from these peoples. He’d even taken the time to pull off for a rest at the Acoma Visitor’s Center so Harry could see examples of the pots himself.

Harry, who had no experience with pottery, had never visited New Mexico and had never heard of Acoma Pueblo or any Pueblo for that matter, could have spent the entire day walking from display to display, staring at the pots. Whether ancient or modern, the shapes, colors, patterns and textures seemed to speak to him. He gazed for a long time at a pot with a representation of a turtle. The room felt old to him, and powerful , and he thought, for a moment anyway, that the pots were speaking to him with the voice of the earth. Low, faint, faded, put present.

“We should get going,” said Severus as he stepped up beside him. “Have you seen enough?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever have seen enough,” said Harry, smiling enigmatically.

They passed through Albuquerque and headed north on I-25 toward Santa Fe, passing through the town of Bernalillo at lunchtime.

“Time to introduce you to chile,” said Severus. “Which, as a whole, is the main reason I’ve stayed here all these years.”

Harry, however, wasn’t so sure about that.

“It can take some getting used to,” Severus explained as he dug into his blue corn enchiladas and posole and Harry drained a second glass of water.

“I don’t understand why this restaurant uses a stove on its sign,” said Harry, looking again at the neon sign above the restaurant’s door as they returned to the car.

“It’s a range—another word for a stove and oven combination,” said Severus. “And the restaurant is called ‘The Range.’ And in the west—have you heard of ‘Home on the Range?’” Severus was opening the car door and looked back to find Harry shaking his head.

“Never mind. It’s just a quirky name,” he said.

Two hours later, when they pulled up in front of Severus’ home, Harry couldn’t begin to remember the number of Pueblos they’d driven through. Some names were easy—Santo Domingo and San Felipe—and others more difficult—like Tesuque and Nambe. He opened the car door, stood up and turned to face the house he’d been staring at as they drove up the long dirt driveway.

It was long, taller in the middle and lower on each side, the color of the earth, with a wide and long porch framed in heavy wood with two wooden rockers set back in the shadows against the wall. The doors were angular and unframed, the windows inset and wide. Wild herbs and desert flowers, cactus and shrubs grew against the house and in the beds in the drive. And the trees…

“Cottonwoods,” said Severus, standing still on the other side of the car, watching Harry, noticing he was staring at the trees. “Cottonwood and cactus—that’s what grows here.”

Harry simply nodded, feeling as overwhelmed as he ever had, here, in front of Severus’ home.

“Leave your things—we’ll come out later to unload,” he said as he walked around the car and stood beside Harry. He draped an arm around him, as if he’d been doing that for all of their lives, and took out his wand, using it to remove the wards he’d erected before he and Albus had left on their trip. The feeling that washed over Harry then, as the wards dropped and that odd invisible barrier he’d felt between him and the house vanished, could only be described as home.

And that was odd. Because he’d never been here before, had he?

A pair of cats—one a grey tabby and the other calico—ran up as they walked forward, rubbing against Severus’ legs and meowing their welcome.

“Peeves and Minnie,” said Severus by way of introduction.

Harry grinned as Severus opened the door and the cats ran in ahead of them.

A quiet Lumos and the wall sconces turned up. Severus stood back to let Harry enter first and he stopped only two or three steps in, eyes wandering into corners, up at the ceiling beams, resting, at last on the room’s showpiece, a kiva fireplace, occupying an entire corner and decorated with stone. It boasted a wide tiered shelf and on the shelf were pots.

Harry didn’t ask permission before he walked slowly to the fireplace, stood before it and reached out for the pot placed in the center. It was round, with a narrow bottom bowling out then tapering at the top, the round, raised lip larger than the base. He picked up the pot and held it, turned it in his hands, then settled on the leather sofa that faced the fireplace, studying the bowl-like pot, feeling its warmth.

“This is what you meant, then,” he said, very quietly. He smiled back at Severus then looked up at the mantle again, at the photograph of a much younger Albus on a pinto pony. At the one beside it of Severus on a larger horse with a very small Albus in front of him. Severus’ hair was longer then, pulled back into a tail. Albus was laughing. Still photos that did not move in a still house that was somehow, still, alive with magic.

Severus had moved silently up behind him. He reached out a hand to touch the pot Harry held.

“It’s my favorite too,” he said.

“It looks like the rock faces we drove through—the cliffs. All the colors…”

“It’s in the mixing,” said Severus. “You helped me that day—mix the colors into the clay.”

Harry turned the pot again. It was like watching the sun rise on a desert landscape, the colors and textures changing and growing from one side to the other, around the axis of the small planet in his hands. He felt inexplicably sad as he realized what he must say.

“You can’t leave this.” His voice had a finality to it. It said more as well. I can’t leave my family, my friends, my job, my life…

Severus walked around the sofa, took the pot from Harry’s hands and placed it back on the shelf. He ran a finger over the tops of the picture frames beside it, wiping off a light layer of dust, then walked over to the sofa and sat down beside Harry. He wrapped an arm around him and pulled him closer.

“There is clay in Britain,” he said. “And colors, and old forests, and castles as old as time.” He dropped his head back so that it was resting on the cushion behind him, his eyes staring skyward, seeing not the vigas and the lofted space above him with dust motes dancing in the sunlight but the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall and the colors of the moors. “And there is magic.”

“And Albus will be there,” added Harry, dropping his own head back now.

“And you,” said Severus, very quietly.

Minnie and Peeves skidded by in front of them just then, breaking the quiet moment, sliding across the wooden floor. Peeves jumped on the chimney shelf and a pot on the end toppled and fell. Harry watched in horror as the pot fell, hit the floor, bounced and stopped, entirely whole.

Severus laughed at the look on his face.

“Unbreakable charms, Harry. I do have cats you know.”

Harry shook his head as Severus stood and offered him a hand.

“Come—I expect you’ll want to see the bedroom now.”

Harry held out his hand and let Severus pull him to his feet.

“That’s some pick-up line, Severus,” he said as he followed him down the hallway, pausing to look at another pot on an inset shelf in the hallway. He jumped back to avoid the pillow Severus hurled out at him then disappeared into the room at the end of the hall while Minnie and Peeves curled up on the warm spot he and Severus had vacated on the old leather sofa.

Within ten minutes, they were all asleep, cats and men, men and cats, enjoying a proper siesta—some on old leather, some on silk sheets—as the midday sun shone high over Abiquiu ..

 

Chapter 11
August 5, 2024

They had real American coffee on the back porch early the next morning .

Severus had gone into town the evening before for groceries and supplies after an hour-long nap on the promised silk sheets and down pillows. It had proven difficult to make Harry leave the comfort of the bed, not because the bed was special, for it was neither unusually large or lush or comfortable, but because it was Severus.’ It smelled like him. It sat in a room surrounded by his furniture, by little pieces of Severus’ life, by his sensible, dark Muggle clothing. There was, in fact, a disconcerting lack of robes in the room and for a moment, a hidden, dark and secret moment, Harry wondered what Severus would look like now in one of the form-fitting black robes that twirled about him and made him look like he was hovering several inches above the ground when he walked.

But in the end Harry had rolled out of bed while Severus was still gone, used the loo then wandered about the house, room to room, quietly observing, furthering his understanding of the man who was Severus Snape. Wizard in hiding. Artist and potter. Father.

There was an abundance of wood in the home. The floors were of hardwood, wide planks, even in the kitchen, with area rugs of simple design and muted colors. The doors—interior and exterior—were heavy and old, the windows framed in unpainted wood, the ceiling beams exposed and solid. The furniture, too, was wooden and heavy, the kitchen cabinets a rustic oak. The entire house had a solid feeling, as if it were as strong and as old as the land it rested on.

Severus liked books. That didn’t surprise Harry. There were books in the living toom, the kitchen and the bathroom. There was a shelf in the bedroom that held wizarding books—Potions journals and texts, tomes on Defense, Charms, Transfiguration. Books on magical creatures in the Americas, on runes and Arithmancy. Reference books—on magical plants, magical theory, magical places. School books, Harry realized, well-worn, well-used. Oddly, some of the few items in this home that would give away its wizarding inhabitants.

The house had electricity, though the light fixtures on the walls seemed to be old-fashioned gas lights and gave off a soft glow, seemingly increasing in intensity on their own as the darkness outdoors deepened. But there was a coffee maker in the kitchen, an electric refrigerator, a toaster. A cord that ended in a small square piece of metal was plugged into an electrical outlet above the counter. Coffee cups hung by their handles from hooks beneath the cabinets. Harry took one off and examined it. It was exquisite. Solid but not overly heavy, a deep emerald green in color with flecks of sky blue. The bowl of the cup curved out of a solid base, the handle S-shaped, grooved perfectly to fit his fingers. He turned it over, smiled at the double S marking, and replaced it on the hook.

There was a small dining area between the kitchen and the living room with the kiva-style fireplace and the showcased pots above it. Four chairs around a plain, square table, a clay vase in the middle held stalks of tufted grasses, gold and brown and tan. A jacket hung on the back of one of the chairs. Harry picked it up. It had a hood and a zip and looked comfortably faded. Albus’ for sure.

Albus’ room intrigued Harry the most. He felt he had grown to know the boy fairly well during the week they’d spent together, but his room told the story of a boy who loved books as much as his father did, who was intrigued by animals and the natural wonders of the earth, and who was not unfamiliar with Muggle technology. There was a computer on a small desk beside the window, a television on a low table, a video game system attached to the television. His bed appeared hastily made, a colorful native-print blanket pulled up over blue sheets. The cats lay sleeping on his bed now, Peeves lying behind Minnie, both animals on their backs with bellies exposed, the picture of trust and comfort. Probably missing Albus too, Harry thought. There was a bookshelf in the room, full of Muggle novels and works of nonfiction, a collection of interesting rocks, and photographs, all of them unmoving. The boy loved horses. He had photographed them—or Severus had—and no matter that they weren’t moving in their frames, their grace and movement was obvious as they were captured in print. One photograph in particular caught Harry’s eye—Albus with a woman who had to be his mother. Like Severus, she had dark hair and eyes. But the similarities ended there. She was round while Severus was angular, shorter, darker-skinned. She had a soft look about her, a kindly face. Her hair was long and loose about her shoulders. There were laugh lines around her eyes. Harry smiled as he picked up the small framed photo. He wanted to wave at the woman in the picture, but he knew she would not wave back and it seemed rather pointless.

He wondered about that. Why were all the photos so lifeless here? Did Muggles comes by frequently?

He wandered out of Albus’ room and settled on the sofa in the living room, head tipped back on the cushions at his back, staring at the ceiling.

Had it been only ten days ago that his life had collided with Severus’ at Crater Lake? Had they really only danced around each other a handful of days, propelled by an undeniable and inexplicable attraction, before tumbling into bed together? Was ten days enough to know you were in love? To know a person’s character? To trust that the feeling burgeoning inside was real? To uproot your life and move across the ocean?

It wasn’t just ten days, though. He smiled at the ceiling, relief at this new realization flooding his mind. He’d known Severus’ true character for decades. As for his own instincts—he’d trusted them all his life. Why start doubting them now?

/

They’d stayed up rather late last night, drinking some extremely old scotch Severus must have brought with him from Hogwarts, though Severus assured him that was not the case. Harry, however, still had his doubts. They had sat on the rocking chairs on the front porch talking until nearly midnight. Shop talk—of mixing colors and how to get the colors just right and cases Harry was working on at the Ministry—and family talk—what James was doing with his life, what house Lily had been sorted into, the time Albus had broken both arms falling out of a tree. Harry wobbled a bit when he stood up to go inside and Severus held his elbow to steady him. When they had sat down on the edge of Severus’ bed to remove shoes and socks, Harry had casually asked about plans for the next day.

Severus smiled.

“Are you wondering if I’m planning to have you in the car all day?” he asked as he stood up and carried his boots over to the large armoire against the wall at the end of the bed and lined them up beside it.

Harry looked up hopefully. “You’re not, are you?”

“I was,” answered Severus. “But we can spend tomorrow here instead and go up to Taos the following day—if I’m…” he paused here as Harry looked at him hopefully…”uncomfortable in the morning.” He began to unbutton his shirt as Harry continued to watch him, making no move yet to undress himself. Severus hung his shirt in the armoire, pulled off the t-shirt he wore beneath and tossed it into a basket inside the open closet then walked back toward Harry, unbuttoning his jeans as he approached. There was no tentativeness or lack of confidence about the man. He pushed Harry’s knees apart, maneuvering in between them, and lifted the bottom of Harry’s shirt, pulling it over his head, balling it up and throwing it toward the closet. He took off his own jeans then, followed by his black boxers, then pushed Harry backward until he lay face up on the bed, dropping down on top of him and pinning his hands to the bed next to his head.

Harry raised his head to kiss Severus.

“I thought I was going to top,” he said, groaning as Severus rubbed his stubbled chin over his chest, rasping over a nipple.

“I only bottom from the top,” said Severus. He lowered his mouth to Harry’s chest, kissing the nipple he had just rubbed, then taking it into his mouth and sucking it as Harry managed to free his hands and card them into Severus’ hair, holding his head in place and thrusting upward with his hips.

“Patience, Mr. Potter,” said Severus, kissing the tip of Harry’s chin as he moved his mouth to the other nipple and moved his hand down to unbutton then unzip Harry’s jeans, a difficult task given how tight they had become against his straining erection.

Severus stood and pulled off the obstructing jeans and briefs, dropped them on the bed then turned toward the door.

“Hey—where are you going?” Harry grabbed Severus’ wrist.

“Lube,” Severus said. “It’s on the kitchen counter.”

Harry fumbled in his jeans for his wand. “Accio lube,” Harry said without hesitation, dropping the wand beside him as Severus turned and caught the tube then handed it to Harry.

“My God, Severus!” exclaimed Harry, examining the over-sized tube. “This is enough for a horse!”
Severus grinned and arched an eyebrow at him, looking significantly at Harry’s straining cock. Harry smiled and unscrewed the cap.

/

Now, sitting on Severus’ back porch, a sunroom really, with windows open to the morning air, sipping strong coffee from potion cups—these for ‘Mental Clarity’—Harry’s face once again broke into a relaxed smile.

“Last night was brilliant,” he said.

Severus raised an eyebrow and shifted a bit on his chair. The smallest of smiles graced his face for a brief moment. He took a long drink of coffee then warmed both hands around the cup and shook his head at Harry.

“I had no idea you were quite so accomplished at that particular activity,” he said. “Had I known you had the tongue of a giraffe, we might have tried that earlier.”

“The tongue of a giraffe? You’ve got experience with giraffe tongues, have you?”

“I’ve seen them—on television,” answered Severus. “They are extremely long and supple.”

Harry quirked an eyebrow himself. “Well, now that you do know, we can try it again anytime you want.”

Severus rolled his eyes. “For being well into your 40s, you act like a randy teenager.”

“Well into my 40s?” protested Harry. He reached for a piece of wheat toast from the tray on the trunk between them which was serving as a breakfast table. He spread the toast with grape jam, broke a piece of bacon in half and folded the toast around it.

“Let me revise that,” said Severus. “For being well into your 40s, you eat like a child.” He shook his head as Harry grinned and bit into the jam and bacon sandwich.

“Really, Severus. Where’s your sense of adventure?” asked Harry as he finished the half sandwich and picked up his coffee cup again.

“Says the man who dissected his rice the other night looking for hidden fragments of chiles?”

Harry shrugged. “You said chiles are an acquired taste,” he reminded Severus. He reached for another piece of toast, spread blueberry jam on this one and made another jam and bacon sandwich. He looked up at Severus before he took a bite. “How are you feeling, anyway? Now that you’ve been up a while?”

“Better than I did when I woke up,” answered Severus, making an exaggerated show of shifting in his chair.

“Aren’t you glad I was here to apply the salve?” asked Harry.

“I wouldn’t have needed the salve if you weren’t here,” Severus reminded him.

Harry laughed. “Come on! It was brilliant for you too.” He took a long drink of coffee, finishing it and placing the cup carefully on the breakfast tray. He placed the last uneaten piece of his sandwich next to the cup, stood up then walked over to Severus and knelt down in front of him, scooting in between his knees and taking Severus’ cup from him, placing it on the trunk beside his own. He turned back and pulled Severus’ head down for a kiss, folding his arms around his lover’s shoulders and neck, moving his mouth to kiss Severus’ cheek, the corner of his eye, the tip of his prominent nose. “I loved looking at you like that,” he whispered. “Riding me, touching yourself. Shit Severus, you even top when you’re bottoming—you’re so totally in control…”

Severus silenced him with another kiss, tasting the strong coffee and sweet jam, then pulled him to his feet.

“I’m feeling well enough to drive,” he stated. “Finish your breakfast. I have business up in Taos, and we can sight-see along the way.”

Harry grinned as he followed Severus down the hallway.

“Do we have time before….?”

“You’re insatiable,” muttered Severus, but he smiled as he said it and reached out to pull Harry by the wrist into the bedroom.

/

“This is called the High Road to Taos,” said Severus two hours later as he pulled off the highway at Nambe Pueblo and started up a more narrow, winding roadway. “It’s the old route—before they put the highway through the canyon along the Rio Grande.”

Harry was mesmerized for the next several hours, watching out his car window as well as Severus’ as they traversed narrow, twisted roads and passed through towns that appeared to be perched on top of the world. At Chimayo, early on the road, they stopped at a small church, called the Sanctuario de Chimayo, a pilgrimage site for devout Roman Catholics. Harry followed Severus curiously as they quietly walked the quiet grounds with its shrines of rosaries and handmade crosses, entering the church with him, then turning into a side room, ducking under a low wall into another room with a hole on the floor, a hole filled with a fine, powdery gray dirt.

“The dirt here—this dust,” explained Severus, his voice low and soft, indicating the hole below them, “is purported to have curative powers.” He dipped his hand into the hole and picked up a handful, rubbing it into his neck and his left forearm. Harry watched him, half astounded. Did Severus believe…? But Severus only nodded at him. “It cannot hurt,” he said softly as he ducked under the low door again and back into a room filled with mementos left behind by those who found hope within the walls. Crutches, braces, casts, large crosses borne by pilgrims, baby shoes, photographs, walkers… Harry watched Severus stop and read a note on a piece of notebook paper tacked on the wall by a visitor. He reached down self-consciously, picked up a handful of dirt and rubbed it distractedly onto his forehead as he followed Severus outside.

They drove through Truchas, a village perched atop a ridge, land dropping off to greener valleys on either side of the narrow road, and though Harry asked about stopping to explore the galleries there, Severus said that they’d have plenty of time for shopping once they reached Taos. At Las Trampas, they pulled off the road for a short while to visit the 18th century adobe church there then passed through the Carson National Forest and down into the valley at Penasco. Finally, when Harry thought he couldn’t take any more breathtaking views, they arrived in Taos. It was a town the color of dust and sand, built at the foothills of the Sangre to Cristo Mountains.

“Lunch first,” said Severus, expertly weaving his way through the crowded highway which narrowed into two lanes through the old part of town. They ate at a restaurant with an attached bakery. It was at this point that Harry realized that Severus was, if not famous, at least well-known in Taos. They were approached by no fewer than six different people as they sat eating at an old table in the corner of the restaurant. A woman who called him “Sev” and asked about Albus. A man with a German accent that wondered if he’d have a booth at the Solar Festival this year. A couple who asked about a special order. An elderly Native American woman who asked him when he’d be up to the Pueblo next.

But it was the last visitor, a man of Severus’ age with a faded British accent, who called out to Severus from another table at the restaurant and walked over just as they finishing lunch, who recognized Harry.

Harry had been sitting with his back to the door, facing Severus and gamely eating the last of the stacked enchiladas in front of him, as the man approached.

“Charles,” greeted Severus, standing up to shake the other man’s hand.

“Severus—long time.”

Harry had turned his head, waiting to be introduced as he had been so many times already that day.

Charles had stared at him. His mouth dropped open. He took an unintentional step backward.

And Harry stared back. The man before him was wearing robes. Robes! Right in the middle of a Muggle restaurant. His hair was long, worked into a braid that hung down his back and he wore glasses with gold frames that reminded Harry of Albus Dumbledore’s.

“Harry Potter, my classmate from Hogwarts—Charles Harrison. He was a year behind me—in Ravenclaw.” Severus kept his voice low and gave Harry a significant look.

“Harry Potter. Severus—he’s Harry Potter,” said Charles, intent, apparently, on conveying this important piece of news to his oblivious friend.

“I realize that, Charles. Please, have a seat before you embarrass yourself further.”

Charles fumbled with the chair between Severus and Harry and finally succeeded in sitting down on it. He was still staring at Harry. Harry found this rather disconcerting. He’d been enjoying the anonymity of being a tourist in the United States.

“Very pleased to meet you, Charles,” he said, nodding at the man and taking another careful bite of his enchiladas. He resolutely did not ask about the robes. Severus didn’t seem at all put out that his friend was clearly breaking the Statute of Secrecy.

Charles watched him, fascinated.

“Charles, really,” said Severus after a minute or so of watching his acquaintance. He looked faintly amused. “He eats just like the rest of us. Look—he’s not rubbing the food all over his skin and absorbing it through his pores.”

Charles swiveled his head toward Severus. “But you didn’t tell me you and Harry Potter were friends,” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me, Severus?”

“Because we weren’t friends,” said Harry, speaking up before Severus had a chance to say anything. “We ran into each other while we were on holiday—separate holidays—and got…reacquainted.”

“Harry was my student, Charles. At Hogwarts.” Harry glanced at him again and Severus gave him a quick smile and a slight nod, then reached out his hand and covered Harry’s with his own, grasping it and appearing altogether casual in the familiar touch.

“I bloody well know that, Severus!” said Charles, still staring a bit too avidly at Harry. “I was living in London during…well, back then.” He caught sight of Severus’ hand over Harry’s then and let out a startled “Oh!” He seemed to shake himself mentally, getting a grip on his runaway tongue. “Mr. Potter—I’m honored to meet you. I’ve been a great admirer of yours for quite some time. Will you be visiting Severus for long? Perhaps we could get some more expats together?”

“Ahh, not this time, Charles,” said Severus, squeezing Harry’s hand reassuringly as Harry began to look alarmed. “Mr. Potter is just here for a few days. We’ll drop by your shop in an hour or so—I wanted to check on your stock.”

Charles got hurriedly to his feet, eyes straying once more to the joined hands on the table. “That would be wonderful—we’re low on the Energy medicine cups.”

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Charles,” said Harry in his most professional and polite voice. He sounded very British. Severus had to suppress a smirk.

“Just wait,” said Severus, picking up a sopapilla in one hand and the squeeze bottle of honey in the other. “They’ll be a crowd waiting for us when we get to his shop.”

“You could have warned me there were British wizards here,” said Harry in a low voice. “I could have worn a glamour.”

Severus set the honey down on the table and stared across at Harry, the sopapilla seemingly forgotten in his other hand. “You are accustomed to doing that?” he asked.

Harry nodded, not looking up. The last few bites of his enchiladas seemed fascinating. “Doesn’t work when I’m with the kids, of course,” he said with a small sigh. “Or the Weasleys.” He looked up at Severus. “I’m not afraid,” he said, surprising Severus with his intensity. “It just gets old sometimes—the attention.”

Severus stared at him, his eyes softening. “I imagine it does,” he said.

Harry shrugged and reached into the bowl for a sopapilla. “What are these things?”

And Severus Snape had the unique pleasure of introducing Harry Potter to the wonders of the fried pastries.

/

“Why was Charles wearing robes?” asked Harry as they walked down the street away from the restaurant. “We’re in the middle of a Muggle town!”

“Ah,” said Severus. He looked up and down the street then pointed discreetly across the street where two women were walking, dressed in floor-length tie-dyed gowns with beads worked into their hair. “This is Taos. It’s a most…unconventional…town. You could wear your Quidditch gear here and get away with it.”

“Are you saying you like me in my Quidditch gear?” teased Harry.

“Perhaps the leather boots,” answered Severus thoughtfully.

They walked to the town’s plaza from the restaurant and meandered slowly around the square from shop to shop. Harry would wander about selecting gifts for his friends and family back home while Severus spoke with the proprietor, checking stock and catching up after his holiday.

Severus warned him before they entered Charles’ shop.

Fortunately, the store held a wealth of possibilities for Harry’s gift-giving needs, and he busied himself looking around, bending over cases of turquoise and silver jewelry, finding something small and delicate for Molly, practical and professional for Hermione, large and showy for Ginny. While Harry shopped, Severus dealt with Charles. And his wife. And her mother. And his wife’s brother. And two adolescent girls who followed Harry around the shop, giggling and pointing at his scar.

Harry was loaded down with bags when they walked back to Severus’ car. He had consented to autograph Chocolate Card Frogs for the girls. Who would have thought that Charles’ shop sold them, keeping them behind the counter for the wizarding clientele?

Severus relieved Harry of two of his heavy bags and peered inside, shaking his head.

“Didn’t you get anything for the Minister of Magic?”

“Potions Cups,” said Harry, holding up one of the bags he was still carrying. “Or as your shops call them—Medicine Cups. For ‘alertness and mental acuity.’ He’s always falling asleep during meetings.”

Two hours later, after a drive to the Rio Grande and a walk over the bridge that spanned the gorge and an incredibly intriguing visit to the Earth Ships—which were actually self-sustaining homes built “off the grid” but looked like the kind of house Albus Dumbledore would have built for himself out of discarded beer cans and if given the time and opportunity—Severus eased the car off the busy highway just outside of town and pulled into a restaurant parking lot. Harry had become increasingly more tired since the shopping trip, seemingly fighting against the thrall of the earth magic in this earthiest of all places.

“I’ve been wondering about these,” said Harry as Severus pulled into a parking space and studied the menu posted on a large back-lit board to their left.

“Sonic,” said Severus. “They’re quite ubiquitous in these parts. But they’ve marvelous soft drinks for hot days such as this. What’s your favorite fruit flavor?”

Harry considered, bending to look out Severus’ window at the menu.

“Cherry,” he said. Five minutes later he had a cherry limeade freeze and a container of French Fries.

“I didn’t order these chips,” he said, handing them back to Severus.

“They’re not for us,” said Severus, lowering Harry’s window with the window control on his car door. “They’re for the prairie dogs.”

“Prairie dogs?” asked Harry, confused.

In answer, Severus reached over, took a chip and tossed it out the window and onto the ground in front of the car. Within seconds, a furry creature had snatched it up and stood there—on its hind feet—politely eating the bit of potato.

“I’m not sure that’s entirely healthy…” protested Harry. But another animal had come up to join the first, and a second and third after that one, all of them looking imploringly at the car.

“Alright,” said Harry, sighing and tossing several more chips in their direction. “Poor little buggers.” The animals scrambled for the offerings and Harry was hooked. He could have stayed there all day watching them.

“Are they supposed to be that fat?” he asked as one finished a chip and waddled toward the car.

“Hardly,” said Severus, tossing the last pieces toward the animals. “I’m trying to kill them. Prairie dogs are quite despised around here. Horses and cattle step in the holes that lead to their burrows and break their legs.”

“Kill them? But they’re cute!” protested Harry as Severus smirked and drove away.

The drive back down to Abiquiu, as the sun was beginning to fall in the western sky, was slow, and scenic, and quiet. The road hugged the Rio Grande as it flowed down through the mountains. They were forced to stop though with a flat tire, and Severus quickly pulled off the highway at a scenic pull out. Harry, who had never in his life even contemplated changing a flat, helped Severus get out the spare and the jack and watched him curiously as he put the pieces of the jack together and began to raise the tire off the ground.

“Seems like a perfect time to use magic,” said Harry, crouching down beside Severus on the far side of the car.

Severus’ hand stopped pumping the jack. He regarded his hands for a moment then looked at the jack and the tire, still resting against the ground. He seemed to crumble to the ground then, sitting down on the gravel and looking at the tire in front of him dumbly.

“I forget,” he said, rather tonelessly.

Harry left the jack in place but pointed his wand at it. The tire rose slowly and steadily off the ground, bringing the corner of the car up with it. He turned the tire carefully, found and removed a nail, and repaired the tire with a quick Reparo. An inflation spell, the same kind he used to blow up children’s balloons, finished the task. He removed the jack, lowered the tire to the ground and handed the lug wrench to Severus.

“I’m not sure how tight to make them,” he said, shrugging.

Severus dropped the wrench, took out his wand and pointed it at the tire. The nuts all spun at once, tightening up.

“We need to talk about this,” said Harry as he helped Severus to his feet and began putting the tire changing tools back into the car.

“It is nothing. I am simply accustomed to living around Muggles,” said Severus as he snapped the jack down into place.

Harry watched his hands.

“You’ve done that before,” he said. “You’re not too used to living around Muggles, Severus. You’re used to living life as a Muggle.”

“It was better for Albus,” said Severus, sighing. He seemed to be having an internal war with himself.

“I won’t argue that,” said Harry. “But Albus is going to Hogwarts soon. He’ll be surrounded by magic every breathing moment, Severus.” He followed Severus as the man closed the hatch door of the SUV and got back into the vehicle, standing so that Severus couldn’t close the door.

“I’m not arguing that we should use magic to make every task in life easier. Some things are best done by hand. Like cooking. And shaping your pots and cups. Taking care of a child—changing nappies and two a.m. feedings.” He lowered his voice. “Preparing your partner before sex… But changing a tire on the side of a road? Especially when the flat is on the side away from the traffic and no one can see you?”

“I wanted Albus to be self-sufficient. To not depend on magic because there are times when it cannot be used. I was his role model—his only role model—for many years. I do these things—“ he waved his hand in the air then squeezed his eyes shut, pushing his head back against the head rest of his seat—“without thinking of magic. I admit I have to thinkabout doing magic now. Especially when I am here, at home.”

Harry dropped down to a crouch, still in the vee of the open car door. He spoke softly. For the first time since he’d met Severus and Albus at Crater Lake, he didn’t feel like the stranger on holiday, nor like the student to Severus’ teacher.

“Do you miss it, Severus? The feeling of the magic all around you? Places like Hogwarts? Diagon Alley? Letting yourself be the wizard you were born to be?” Severus did not answer. His fingers traced patterns around the car’s steering wheel. “It’s alright if you don’t, Severus. I can come here to visit if you don’t want to stay in England, if this thing works out between us.”

“Why wouldn’t it work out?” Severus looked up and caught Harry’s eye, here on the side of the highway, sitting in a Muggle SUV. “You have said you love me. You must realize I love you. Even our children have become friends.”

“Then it will work out,” Harry assured him. “But you didn’t answer my question. Do you miss it?” He shifted, his back beginning to ache in the crouched position.

“I miss it when I let myself think about it,” admitted Severus. “I began to miss it more as soon as we met you at Crater Lake.”

“Severus, I know you’ve made a home here. It’s a beautiful place, and the earth is old here. I can feel it. But the magic isn’t familiar—not to me anyway. You’ve been here more than twenty years. You’ve made a home here. But are you—truly—at home?”

“I love it here,” Severus mused.

“I love it here too, Severus. That’s not what I asked.”

Severus remained silent so Harry stood up, took a step back and closed Severus’ door. He walked around the back of the car to his side and slid in, rubbing his back.

“I’ll sort that out for you when we get back,” said Severus. He started the car.

“Thanks,” said Harry. He dropped his head against the headrest and closed his eyes.

He didn’t open them again until Severus nudged him awake forty-five minutes later as he stopped the car in front of the house in Abiquiu.

“We’re back,” he said.

Harry opened his eyes. The sun barely lit the horizon now. “You didn’t say ‘We’re home,’” he said.

“No, I didn’t, did I?” asked Severus. “Come on. You need one of my special bath potions.”

“How big is your bathtub?” asked Harry a bit grumpily as he followed Severus into the house.

“Quite miniscule,” replied Severus as he opened the front door. He waited for Harry and closed the door behind him. “But fortunately I’m a wizard. I can temporarily make it big enough for two.”

“I love magic,” said Harry and he followed Severus down the hall.

 

Chapter 12
August 6, 2024

It wasn’t until that next morning that Harry got the full tour of Severus’ home.

Oh, he’d taken his own self-guided tour of the house itself, and there wasn’t much more to see in the small but comfortable home other than what he’d already peeked at, just a spare bedroom used as Severus’ office on the other end of the house and a mudroom, screened in, on the end of the house close to where Severus parked the car. But today, with sight-seeing and business out of the way the day before, with the pantry stocked, and with orders to fill and with Harry scheduled to leave for England the next afternoon, Severus stood up after breakfast on the sun porch and said, “Come. I have work to do outside.”

He’d made sausage gravy, rich and spicy, over biscuits for breakfast, and Harry had finished his meal with a left-over buttermilk biscuit spread with blackberry jam. He looked at Severus as he stood then glanced into his empty coffee cup.

“Is there more coffee? I’ll refill it and bring it along with me.”

“There’s always more coffee,” answered Severus with a nod toward the kitchen. “You’re developing quite a taste for it that will be harder to satisfy in England.”

Five minutes later, Harry and Severus were walking together across the yard toward a low wooden building shaded by a pair of cottonwood trees.

“Is that your pottery oven?” asked Harry, pointing to a dome-shaped structure that resembled the fireplace in the living room.

Severus tried to hide his semi-indulgent smile. “Kiva oven,” he saidd as he waved his wand at the shop door. “And yes, I use it instead of an electric kiln to fire my pottery.” He pulled open the heavy wooden door then reached inside to unlatch a second door, opening that one as well to let in the morning sunlight.

Harry followed him into the small structure. Like Severus, he had to duck slightly to fit under the doorframe, though the motion appeared instinctive to Severus. Severus walked over to a pair of windows and opened the interior shutters that covered them. Sunlight, filtered through the cottonwoods, lit up the countertops that ran around the perimeter of the room and sparkled on dancing dust motes in the air.

Harry tried to take in the room. It was obviously Severus’ studio, as he had expected, though Harry was immediately reminded of the Potions’ classroom and storeroom at Hogwarts. An entire floor to ceiling shelf, in fact, seemed to be filled with potions ingredients—though Harry could not help but be relieved that the ingredients seemed to be plant matter—seeds, leaves, moss, flowers, berries—and not disemboweled amphibians and beetle eyes. Another shelving unit was filled with clay of different colors wrapped in clear plastic. He assumed the larger boxes on the bottom shelf contained even more clay, probably as yet unworked for color and ingredients. Pottery of all shapes, sizes and colors was fitted tightly on shelves on an end wall. A wooden stool stood beside the potter’s wheel. The middle of the shop was occupied by a large and heavy table, counter height, stained by frequent use. A bucket of tools and sponges sat on the edge of the table near the wheel. The entire shop had a comfortable, lived-in feeling and was, as Harry had expected it would be, neat and orderly.

While Severus began studying the shelf where the clay was stored, Harry wandered to the end of the room where a small sofa was pushed against the front wall. A pillow sat on top of a neatly folded blanket; a coffee cup rested on a scuffed end table beside it. From the looks of things, Severus spent a lot of time here.

“I’m going to try to make a few hundred potions cups before I leave,” said Severus.

“A few hundred?” asked Harry, surprised.

“You’d be surprised how fast they come off the wheel,” said Severus. “The hard part is wedging and kneading the clay. I mix the color agents and potions ingredients in then too. Albus usually helps me when I’m doing a big run. Fortunately, he got me quite a bit ahead before we left on vacation.” He looked around and frowned. “Still, I could use some help dividing the clay. Are you up to it?”

“Well, I’m no Albus but I’ll give it a shot,” teased Harry. He placed his coffee mug on the end table and walked over to stand beside Severus at the table. “What do I do?”

Severus reached under the table and brought out a familiar looking set of scales.

“Wow,” said Harry, grinning at Severus. “I get to make a potion.”

“Have you gotten any better since school?” asked Severus.

“No,” admitted Harry. He placed a weight on one brass plate and watched that side sink. “But this brings back memories…”

“Disturbing ones of when you were my student,” said Severus, shaking his head.

“What, you didn’t like me back then?” asked Harry with a small smile as he continued playing with the scales.

“Oh, please,” answered Severus. “Had I been so inclined—and believe me, I was not—I would have molested someone in Slytherin House.”

“Like who?” asked Harry. He put two weights on the opposite plate to counterbalance the first and watched the scales adjust.

Severus looked at him and smiled. “There is no way in heaven or hell you would ever get me to give you a name. You can stop trying now.”

“Draco Malfoy,” said Harry is a low sing-song voice.

Severus ignored him and dumped a large lump of bluish-gray clay onto the table.

“Pansy Parkinson…”
“You get to weigh clay,” said Severus, shuddering. He pulled off a piece, shaped it quickly into a ball, eyed it and handed it to Harry. “This much.”

“How much should each ball weigh?” asked Harry as he smoothed the clay with his palms.

Severus smiled enigmatically. “I’ve no idea. Whatever that ball weighs. It’s the right size.” He showed Harry which clay to use when the first batch was done, waited for him to weigh the first ball then took it from him and sat down at the wheel, wand in his hand, looking so natural that Harry almost forgot he’d never seen Severus in this position before. Harry created six more balls while Severus prepared his tools and equipment. He pointed his wand at a pan beside him, muttered an Aguamenti and filled it with water.

“No running water in the studio,” explained Severus, catching Harry staring at him, undoubtedly wondering why the wizard who didn’t think of using magic to change a flat tire would so readily use it for such a basic task.

By the time Harry had located a second bag of prepared clay, Severus was halfway through the first set of clay balls he’d prepared. The cups virtually grew out of his hands, each one moving from lump of clay to fully shaped vessel in hardly a minute. Harry was transfixed.

Severus was using magic to control the speed of the wheel. His foot was nowhere near the foot pump yet the wheel was spinning rapidly. His hands centered the clay on the wheel, created the opening that would become the bowl of the cup then somehow, miraculously, magically, pulled the clay up into the proper shape, smoothing out the lip of the cup as he did so. He used a wire to cut the clay evenly from the wheel and gently lined the finished cups up on a side counter behind him.

Harry watched him make three cups, fascinated by Severus’ fingers, the way he dipped them in the pan of water, drizzled water onto the cup, used a wedge of sponge to mop up the excess water that collected inside. He watched the cup literally grow up from the lump of clay as the wheel turned and those long, dexterous, clay-stained fingers framed the cup and guided it into its final form.

“It’s called pulling,” said Severus as the fourth cup began to take shape. He glanced up at Harry to find the other man still staring at him. “Come, have a seat.” He drew out a second stool from under the table with his foot as he worked and Harry positioned it beside him and sat down, his task of measuring clay forgotten.

“People frequently purchase the potions cups in sets,” Severus explained without looking away from the cup he was shaping. “So the cups need to be the same size—the height, circumference, even the thickness of the walls.

“You make it look so easy,” said Harry after Severus finished the cup, removed it cleanly from the wheel and started centering another ball of clay.

“This is the hardest part to learn,” said Severus, nodding to the ball of clay currently on the wheel. “It’s called centering.” For Harry’s benefit, he showed how the clay wobbled when it wasn’t perfectly centered on the wheel. “The motion of the wheel of course helps to make it symmetrical. You open the hole next then begin pulling to form the walls of the cup.” His fingers worked the clay, inside and out, acting as a guide, a wedge, a mold, smoothing and shaping.

Harry leaned in to get a better look.

“Here, let me show you.” Severus beckoned to Harry with a wet hand. “Dip your fingers in the water first.” He slowed the wheel then stood, motioning Harry in front of him, then held Harry’s hands in his own and positioned them on the clay, using Harry’s hands themselves as shaping tools, extensions of his own. Before Harry’s eyes, the simple cup bulged into a small pot with a smooth lip, the clay wet and slippery smooth beneath his fingers.

“Harry’s first pot,” said Severus a few moments later, moving the small, nearly round vessel from the wheel.

“You’ll have to teach me—really teach me—someday,” said Harry, studying the pot and wondering how the spiral pattern in the interior had come to be. He held up his right hand and laced it with Severus’ left, palm to palm. The two hands, slick and gray-blue, slid against each other with a satisfying, squishy slide. Harry smiled and pulled his hand away then went back to splitting up the clay.

They worked together for most of the morning, Harry lining finished cups up on the countertop surfaces, weighing and shaping lumps of clay, bringing tea and sandwiches out from the house. They napped together after a late lunch, long limbs tangled together on top of the covers on Severus’ bed, Harry’s glasses propped on the bedside table on top of their wands, and in the early evening went back out to the studio to clean up.

But once they reached the shop and Severus began cleaning the wheel, he had another thought.

“You don’t jump right into pottery making with a wheel,” he said, eyes scanning the shelves where his finished pottery was stored. “Learning the wheel takes time and dedication. You really should understand the clay first. Your first pot can be a pinch pot or a coil pot.” He reached up high and removed two small vessels and placed them on the table.

“Some of Albus’ early efforts,” he said, smiling as he picked up a small slightly misshapen bowl. He handed it to Harry. “This is a coiled piece. The other is a pinch pot.”

He demonstrated the two techniques, and Harry spent a happy hour rolling clay out into long ribbons then coiling it to form what looked like a small and deep plate. He worked on it for some time, wetting his fingers to keep the clay soft and pliant, and while at first Severus straightened shelves and noted stock to be replenished, the intensity of Harry’s effort, the focus he had for the task at hand drew him in. He pulled a stool out from under the table and sat across from Harry, watching the man’s fingers at work on the clay.

“You’ve never done this before?” he asked softly, already knowing the answer.

Harry looked up. His glasses were askew on his face. He shook his head. “No, but I can’t imagine why not.”

Severus reached across and adjusted his glasses, straightening them on Harry’s nose. “It’s not an art commonly found in the wizarding world,” said Severus.

Harry’s creation had apparently reached its final size. He focused now on its shape and proportions, making slight adjustments, using his thumbs to shape the shallow angles inside the curious plate. “I don’t think many wizards have the patience they’d need for something like this,” said Harry, considering his words as he spoke. “Because of magic.” He didn’t look up at Severus, furrowing his eyebrows instead, still deep in thought.

“Says the man who recently admonished me for not using magic to change a flat,” said Severus with a smile.

Now Harry did look up. “But that’s where it’s different, don’t you see?” he said. “Using magic to change a flat frees up time and energy to devote to activities that need both time and a personal touch. I use magic all the time, more than I probably should. But using it while hiking with Al meant we could carry more in our packs and enjoy our time together on the trail more. It wasn’t a substitute for the time we spent together—it made that time more enjoyable.” He had taken out his wand now and Severus watched, thoughtful, as he laid it crossways on top of the clay plate then pressed it so that it created a deep groove on either side of the rim where it rested. He turned the wand to smooth out the groove, rotating it slowly. Then he looked up at Severus, a pleased smile in his eyes.

“May I use your wand for a minute, Severus?” He held out his hand and Severus handed his wand over without question.

Both of their hands froze for a moment on that wand, Severus’ in the act of giving, Harry’s in the act of receiving, as they realized the symbolism of the gesture, the trust, the sharing. Wizards and witches sometimes bonded this way, by exchange of wands in a formal ceremony.

Severus let go of his wand and Harry thought it felt warm in his hand, the pleasant tingle of magic it conveyed to his flesh different than what his own wand imparted, but still familiar. He lay Severus’ wand down over his so that they created a narrow X and pressed Severus’, too, into the clay until it too had created grooves, not so deep as the grooves Harry’s wand had made. He rolled this wand too, noting as he did so that the wood was darker than his own but that the wand was of nearly the same width and length. He lifted it straight out of the clay and wiped it clean with a rag, handed it back to Severus then removed his own wand then and cleaned it as well.

“Make the grooves just a bit bigger now,” suggested Severus, understanding what Harry was about. “We don’t want to have to force the wands in when the clay is fired and no longer pliant.”

Harry nodded and used his fingers to carefully widen the grooves.

“You could sell quite a few of these in the wizarding world, you know,” said Severus a moment later as he examined the result. “And these could also be created on the wheel.” He looked up at Harry, his eyes bright with something Harry hadn’t seen before in those dark eyes, the spark of the creator, the master. Oh, it has most certainly been there before, back when Severus Snape was a renowned Potions Master , but Harry hadn’t seen it then and wouldn’t have recognized it if he had.

“You can make them, Severus. In fact, we’ll do them as Christmas gifts…”

Severus was regarding the wand rest thoughtfully. Harry didn’t know if he was thinking about the design of the wand rest or the upcoming holiday season and the need to exchange gifts. “You could make them slightly larger and put the wand grooves side by side so you don’t have to lift off one wand to get to the other,” he finally suggested.

“Not too large,” said Harry, canting his head a bit to imagine what that design would look like. “These should fit easily on a bedside table.”

“If we’re going to use this one, it needs a place for your glasses too.”

Harry’s gaze lifted from the table to Severus. “You’ve just complicated the design,” he said. He reached across the table and took Severus’ hand in his own. “I suppose when we’re here we’ll need one that would hold your wallet and car keys too.” Speaking of the two of them as if they’d be sharing their future together was becoming second nature.

Severus didn’t appear to hear Harry. He was holding Harry’s wrist, turning it in his hand, running a thumb over his palm. He released Harry’s hand and reached out and ran his thumb slowly over the curve of Harry’s cheek then down his neck.

He stood up suddenly. Harry could not interpret the look in his eye.

“There is another way of making pottery off the wheel.” He was reaching on a shelf for a plain wooden roller. He set it on the table and got out a large portion of reddish clay, already wedged and kneaded. He pulled off a chunk of the clay and began to roll it out on the table.

“The Navajo and some of the other Native American cultures make slab pottery as well. The curves are understandably harder to set with this technique but I’ve just realized it has could have some very interesting possibilities.” He rolled out several wide flat pieces of clay, continuing to talk as he worked. “I’ve been doing this for more than twenty years and I never once thought of capturing the natural curves of the body. But your wrist, the musculature of your arm, the curve of your arse…” He trailed off as he looked up to find Harry staring at him, eyes wide, understanding dawning in them.

“You’ll help me with this, won’t you?” asked Severus. He had of course simply assumed Harry would. The roller stopped moving and he waited for Harry’s response.

“Alright,” answered Harry, with the barest trace of hesitation in his voice. “What do I need to do?”

“Undress,” said Severus. He began moving the rolled sheets of clay to the edge of the table, clearing off the center of the heavy surface, and Harry understood. The corner of his mouth quirked into a half-smile as he bent to remove his shoes and socks. He stuffed a sock into each shoe and lined the shoes up beside the open door of the studio, then pulled the t-shirt he wore over his head. He hung the shirt on the door knob, aware, fully aware, of Severus’ appreciative eyes on his torso.

“Your boyish lack of chest hair will make this quite a bit easier,” said Severus.

“And less painful, I assume,” said Harry. “I’ve heard that Uni students model nude for art classes. To earn money for groceries.”

“Are you asking for payment?” asked Severus. He had pulled a bottle of what looked like oil from a shelf and sat it on the table beside the clay slabs.

“If I’m right about what you plan to do, your hands on me will be payment enough.”

Severus rolled his eyes but watched as Harry took off his jeans and pants and stood there, completely nude, arms folded casually in front of him, comfortable standing there naked in Severus’ studio. “Where do you want me?” he asked.

Everywhere, thought Severus. “Up on the table,” he said instead, using his wand to cast a cushioning charm on the hard surface.

“I sure hope you’re not expecting company,” murmured Harry as he allowed Severus to position him, on his back, on the high table, hands folded behind his head and knees bent as the table, unfortunately, was a bit shorter than Harry, even after Severus used an Engorgio to lengthen it.

“I’m not,” said Severus. “And I’d know if anyone got close. I have no plans to share you.” His voice was intent, serious. He lifted Harry’s glasses from his face. “Relax,” he said, running a hand over Harry’s shoulder and down his arm.

“You’re about to encase me in clay and you tell me to relax?” quipped Harry, closing his eyes and tipping his head back.

“Encase? No,” said Severus. “At least not all at once.”

The first piece of clay, cool and slightly wet against his skin, draped over his cheekbone, from just under his right eye to the corner of his mouth. It felt oddly comforting, earthy and damp, and Harry recalled Muggle movies of women with towels around their heads and mud covering their faces in some sort of bizarre spa treatment. Severus’ fingers shaped the clay against his skin now, molding it to follow the contours of bone and flesh. The press of those fingers was both firm and cautious. A whispered spell after the fingers stopped working and the moisture of the clay seemed to disappear and a pleasant heat grew between his skin and the clay. Severus carefully lifted the piece from Harry’s face and turned it in his hands. Harry opened his eyes to see Severus’ thoughtful look as he placed the first piece on the cleared countertop.

Harry never knew his body had so many curves, so many crevices, so many places for the other man to touch and explore, for the coolness of the clay to dampen his skin. Severus spent a lot of time on the hollow of his neck, moving on to his bicep, the crook of his elbow, the sinewy length of his lower arm. He used a light coating of oil to keep his hair from adhering to the clay. As he worked he talked quietly, not trying to fill up empty space with his words but instead using them to punctuate the moments of his hands.

Harry had never in his life been so relaxed.

Oil drizzled on him and Severus rubbed it carefully over Harry’s sparsely-haired chest, grazing a nipple, coming back to caress it again. Harry arched into his touch as Severus played with the nub then draped another square of clay over the pectoral muscle, working it down against his skin. Belly, hip bone, knee cap, calves, the arch of the foot. He turned Harry on his side to press clay to his hipbone then onto his stomach for the dip of his shoulder, the base of his spine and finally, finally, the curve of his arse, the cleft where cheek met cheek.

It was slow work, the work of long minutes chaining themselves together until the sun was low on the horizon. The gentle press of fingers on his body had gradually moved Harry into a relaxed stupor, the feeling intimate and personal, bordering on erotic. He’d been lulled into a near-sleep when Severus finally draped the cool clay over his arse.

“My favorite curve on the human form…exquisite on yours. If I could replicate this curve in a bowl I’d eat from that bowl every day of my life.” His words blanketed Harry and there was no need for response. Words from Severus’ mouth unlike any he’d heard before, heartfelt phrases, yet almost--almost as if he were speaking to himself, as if he were alone in his studio with hands wet with clay, shaping a vessel on the wheel and not capturing the form of a lover soon to leave, memorializing it, soft curves into stiff forms, flesh into clay.

The drying charm prickled his skin and the final piece was lifted off, placed carefully aside. Harry remained in position, on the table, cheek against folded forearm, eyes closed, smiling at the rustle of clothes behind him, not resisting the pull as his body slid down the table, toward the edge, legs bending at hips until toes brushed the floor. He felt Severus push himself in to stand between his legs.

“I want you like this,” Severus said, running hands over Harry’s hips and arse, leaning down over him until he was pressed against him and Harry was pressed tightly against the cool table. “Here.” He kissed the back of Harry’s neck, rubbed his rough chin against his shoulder. Harry worked his arms out to grasp the opposite edge of the table and pushed back against Severus. His cock, no longer languid but full and needy, slid against the table, wet and cool with the oil from his body. Severus stood and pulled his hips back and away from the table, freeing his trapped cock. Harry hissed as Severus prepared him, grunted as Severus sank into him, braced himself as Severus set a demanding pace of thrust and retreat. They’d made love slowly and languidly on Severus’ bed, passionately on the floor of that tent in the redwoods with Harry’s hands clutching the earth, panting and restrained in that glorious hotel shower. And while Severus had claimed Harry that first time, it had been in Harry’s territory, the earth speaking to him, channeling out to Severus through him. And while the bed was indeed Severus’, and they’d shared that bed already on numerous occasions for sleep and rest and play, they were now truly in Severus’ world for the first time. He’d worked here, labored here, created here for more than twenty years, created a life for himself apart from Hogwarts, from magical Britain, from steaming cauldrons and potion-stained fingers. A life as a Potter, apart from Harry Potter.

The act might have been symbolic, the joining of his past and his present, with Harry the linkage between the two worlds, but God it felt oh so real to him, and to Harry beneath him.

“Fuck, Harry, you’re tight,” hissed Severus, continuing his relentless coupling. And Harry felt strong fingers dig into the flesh of his arse, kneading it as if were clay, shaping him, working him, the masterful hands of the potter, the artist. “Never thought I’d have this…have you…spread out like this…on my table…” He grunted between phrases, short and clipped, and Harry ached to be touched, flesh so hard now, bent down by force of the position. He wanted to touch himself, but needed both hands to brace himself so fierce were Severus’ claiming thrusts.

“Take me, take me, take me.” It has become a mantra now, a plea rather than an order and as Severus tensed above him, driving into him in one last, long slide, his hand slid around Harry and grasped him, circling the base of his hungry cock, pulling slowly upward as if shaping a vessel on the wheel, claiming him again as his vessel, his cup, catching his seed as Harry bucked and spilled, anointing the hands of the potter, adding his own life, his own essence, to this place, Severus’ place. Like raw materials shaped into new purposes, given new life by the hand of the creator, Severus and Harry rested now, Harry for the first time in his life believing in synergy—the whole as greater than the sum of the parts. When they were together—in passion, in the quiet of sleep, around a fire with the boys, hands buried together in clay—they were something together than neither had been before. More than what they were a mere two weeks ago. Different than they would ever be again.

He would go home and Severus would stay here—for a while, at least—and he would count the days until he was whole again.

Severus was turning him now, helping him straighten and stand, then leading him to the sofa, lying on it and pulling Harry down on top of him. They lay there together as the sun set, quiet, contemplative, until Harry spoke.

“I can’t even imagine being back at work after this.”

“Not the kind of vacation you envisioned, I imagine,” responded Severus.

Harry shook his head.

“I’m going back and everything will be the same but nothing will be the same.” He looked at his hands, at the clay still under his fingernails. The thought that had been bouncing around his brain for a week finally took voice. “I’m not sure I want to be an Auror anymore.”

Severus’ hand, which had been rubbing circles on his lower back and over his arse, stilled.

“Do you have something else in mind?” he asked after a significant pause.

“I think I’m good at modeling,” answered Harry, biting Severus’ neck lightly.

“You are good at modeling,” confirmed Severus. “But you won’t be doing that for anyone but me.”

“I won’t?”

“Decidedly not.”

“Good—I don’t think it would go over well with the kids anyway.”

Severus chuckled softly. “Maybe I should let you, just to see how you explain it to Molly Weasley.”

Harry sighed. “I should just stick with it. I’ve been at it for twenty-five years now. I am rather good at it.”

Severus didn’t reply for a moment.

“I was your age the last time I changed careers,” he said at last. “And I, too, was rather good at what I was doing at the time.”

There was a long quiet moment as Harry considered that.

“Are you happy you came here?” said Harry then.

“I am.”

“And you don’t mind going back? There must be a reason you haven’t gone back in all these years…”

“I’ve never had a reason to before,” said Severus. He drew Harry in for a kiss, framing his face in his hands.

“I can see us working together…some day,” said Harry when they drew apart and Harry once again had his head nestled in the crook of Severus’ neck.

“Let’s see how things go when Albus and I come to Scotland,” said Severus.

“My kids will love you,” reassured Harry. “And so will the Weasleys. Even Ginny will be happy for me. Hermione will probably wet her pants—I think she’s had a thing for you for a long time…”

“A thing for me? What sort of thing?” Severus squeezed Harry’s middle and Harry laughed.

“Forget I said it,” he said.

“How can one forget something like that?” countered Severus with a shudder.

Harry relaxed once again into Severus. “I have a thing for you too, you know.”

“You mean I have to choose between you and Miss Granger?”

Harry snorted. “You’ll get Ron and a couple of kids too if you choose her.”

“Hmmm. Can Mr. Weasley play chess?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Yes.”

“And are the children financially independent?”

“Not yet. Rose is just like her mom. She’s probably got eight years of University ahead of her.”

Severus hummed again, pretending to vacillate.

“Fine, I choose you.”

“Good choice,” said Harry. He snuggled closer and they lay together, listening to each other breathe.

“Severus?”

“Hmm?”

“Have I told you about my house elf?”

Severus let out a long-suffering sigh and silenced Harry with a kiss.

 

Chapter 13
August 7-25, 2024

They showered together that night. Regrettably, the tiled stall only had one showerhead, but it was roomy enough for two. They stood wrapped in each other’s arms, water streaming down their bodies, snogging like teenagers, reluctant to let each other go, until the water turned cold and Harry fumbled for his wand on the vanity outside the shower and cast a spell on the showerhead to warm the water again.

They fit together perfectly, Harry Potter and Severus Snape. Severus was taller than Harry by two or three inches. He was not soft by any means—he had a wiry build, muscular arms, narrow hips. Harry was broader in the shoulders, shorter in the waist. Twenty-five years in the field as an Auror had given him an all-over strength, a stomach that was still flat, calves accustomed to running. Standing together, naked and wet—Severus leaning into the corner of the shower with his hands on Harry’s arse, Harry pressed against him with his arms around his neck and his knee between his legs—their posture spoke of two people comfortable enough in their own skin to go forward as equals.

The night was warmer than usual, and they lay on top of the covers in Severus’ bed an hour later, tangled together, moonlight spilling through the window and over their skin. The dark mark was still a brand on Severus’ forearm, though it looked more like a soldier’s old tattoo now, and a collection of scars decorated his body. Some were very old, a few acquired in the last twenty years; some badges or honor, others painful reminders of bad decisions and reckless behavior. Harry had scars of his own, most of them acquired on the job, though the most prominent ones were from the bullet wounds and the one that made him famous, the lightning bolt on this forehead, was usually hidden behind a shank of dark hair.

“We’ll wait to go to Diagon Alley until you get there. I’d offer to get Albus’ supplies for him but I imagine he’d like to go himself—see what Wizarding Britain is all about before he gets to Hogwarts.”

“I was told they’d send the supply list this week,” answered Severus. His arm was around Harry’s shoulder and he ran his hand over Harry’s stomach, back and forth rhythmically, as if he were keeping time with it. “I’d like to check out the textbooks—determine if Albus will be significantly behind in any of the core subjects.”

“Well, there isn’t much time for him to catch-up now.” Harry laced his fingers through Severus’ on his belly, stilling them. “You can check out the books as soon as you arrive—I’ll go ahead and pick up Lily’s this weekend or borrow Hugo’s—that’s Ron and Hermione’s son. He’s Lily’s age and knowing Hermione, she’ll have purchased his books months ago.”

“Albus will need robes…he’s never worn robes. I’m not sure what he’ll think of that.”

“I’d never worn robes before I started at Hogwarts either. It was odd, but everyone else was wearing them too. It felt like a uniform. It made me feel like I belonged.” No one knew I was raised by Muggles. No one knew I had no idea I was a wizard ‘til a month before.

“It was a uniform,” said Severus.

They lay quietly for a few more minutes before Severus spoke again.

“I am wondering how Albus will be sorted. I cannot help but worry that at his age it will be difficult for him to make friends.”

Harry considered this, thinking of what it would have been like to have a new boy appear in Gryffindor House at the beginning of his sixth year. Then he turned Severus’ question on its side, understanding Severus’ real fear.

“The other students will see him for who he is, no matter what his name is. You forget how much you’re admired by our children’s generation, Severus! And he’s a great kid. Mature, polite, intelligent and attractive. The girls will be all over him.”

“You think my son’s attractive, do you?” said Severus, rolling over on top of Harry suddenly and trapping his hands against the mattress with his own.

“Of course I do,” laughed Harry as Severus nuzzled his neck then kissed the skin just under his ear. “He looks like his father, doesn’t he?”

“He does,” admitted Severus. “Though fortunately he’s got his mother’s nose. And before you say it, her nose looks very much like mine but without the hook.”

“I like your nose,” said Harry. He pulled his hand free and ran a finger over the nose in question then wrapped his hand around Severus’ neck and pulled him down into a kiss, a gentle press of lips and swipe of tongue. “Don’t worry about Albus,” he said as Severus rested his head again in the crook of his neck. “He’ll be fine. The kids in Gryffindor will love him.”

Severus bit his neck.

“Alright, alright. Ravenclaw. He’ll be a perfect Ravenclaw.”

“Personally, I’m hoping for Hufflepuff,” said Severus with a sigh, soothing the bite with a kiss. “They seem to be an accepting lot.”

“Gryffindors are an accepting lot,” whispered Harry in his ear.

“You are, aren’t you?” sighed Severus, wrapping his arms around Harry and rolling to the side so that they were face to face in the middle of the bed. “You’ve accepted a sarcastic old man whose sophisticated British vocabulary has been infused with crass Americanisms.”

“There’s always a chance he could be Slytherin,” suggested Harry as he plumped a pillow under his head and prepared to snuggle in.

“Not a chance. And that’s about the only thing I am sure about in this whole thing.”

“It will be fine, Severus,” soothed Harry.

“I’m going to miss you.” The phrase was so unexpected, coming from Severus, that Harry opened his eyes and rose up a bit on one elbow.

“I’m going to miss you too,” he said slowly in answer, eyes locked with Severus.’

“Perhaps. But the two weeks will go fast. You’ll have Lily and your family and friends. You’ll be home.”

Harry smiled enigmatically and snuggled back down into his pillow.

“No I won’t,” he said as he pulled Severus closer. “Not anymore.”

/

Harry left after breakfast.

There was little fanfare.

Harry had woken Severus early in the morning when he was in that ethereal place of half dream, half sleep. He’d rolled him gently onto his back and straddled him, fist around aching morning wood, glorious pressure easing him to consciousness. He was already moaning, eyes still closed, hands fisting the sheets, when Harry shifted and rose, teasing him with that first taste of tight heat then sinking on him, slowly, steadily, cursing lightly under his breath--fuck…Severus…Merlin…good…--until he was balls to skin and Severus was nearly panting with the need to pound, languid early morning haze forgotten in the need to react, to push up into Harry, to pound against his panting, his whispered curses, to give, to not just take.

Harry squeezed around him, reached back and ran his fingers lightly over his sac, teasing, then rose up and back down once, twice, three times, while Severus’ fingers clutched the bedclothes. “It’s not enough, is it, Severus?” whispered Harry as he sunk down and stayed there, fisting his own cock now, eyes on his lover’s tense face. “You don’t want me like this this morning, do you? Slow and steady, me in control, setting the pace?” He raised himself one more time, let out half a gasp, half a wince, eased back down, gave his cock a long and slow pull. “How do you really want me now, Severus?” he asked, his voice low, sibilant, almost as if talking to himself, almost as if talking in that long-forgotten language of the snakes.

Afterward, Severus would find it hard to believe that he had been able to roll Harry over that fast without unseating himself. A second, perhaps two, and Harry was on his back, legs against Severus’ shoulders, doubled back at an angle many younger men couldn’t manage. Somehow, Severus had maneuvered them to the side of the bed and he was half standing, knee on the edge of the mattress, using powerful legs to piston his body and there wasn’t a coherent word coming from Harry’s mouth anymore save the repeated fuck, fuck, fuck. It was possession in its most raw form, don’t forget me while you’re gone, a parting gift, a planted memory of a claiming and a pleasure that rivaled the power of the redwoods. Close, so close, Severus reached for Harry, hand shaky with need, and Harry’s hand met his and together they stroked, two short pulls all that were needed to push Harry over the edge, Severus following him, orgasm ripped out of him at the look on Harry’s face, drawn out by the rhythmic pulsing of Harry’s own climax.

Lying together, Harry’s ear to Severus’ chest, listening to the pounding of Severus’ heart, a heart beating out with every pulse a rush of words, the same word, mine mine mine mine mine.

/

Once more over the plans. They’d meet on the 25th, on platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station, as near to six o’clock in the afternoon as Severus could manage given the number of apparition hops, the long-distance Portkey and the time difference. From there they’d apparate together to Harry’s cottage in Hogsmeade.

A long hug, a last kiss, a crooked smile.

And Harry was gone.

/

The first week was the hardest.

With Albus gone still, the house was quiet. Severus liked quiet. He liked being able to hear the raucous call of the ravens and the wind in the cottonwoods. And it wasn’t unusual for Albus to be gone. He spent a week or two away several times a year visiting his mother, after all.

Perhaps it was not the quiet of the house that bothered him but the loneliness of it.

Or rather, being alone in it.

Which was ridiculous. He was by nature a solitary individual. He sought company occasionally, for a drink or two at the local tavern, conversation with the other artisans in shops and studios and co-ops. After Ruben, he’d never really slept with another man. Sex had been a fulfillment of a need, another man’s mouth on his cock, his cock buried in someone’s arse, always from behind, always purely physical, always only half of the act.

Even with the warm, soft weight of Peeves and Minerva pressed up against him, his bed felt empty and he felt small. Like the house was too big for him to fill it alone, like he was rattling around in this little world he’d carved out for himself.

He didn’t know that the sound of another person’s breathing could be loud enough to be missed so much.

He threw himself into his work. Three hundred Potions Cups. Each one to be dried first with magic, fired in the outside kiva, finished with a light glaze on the outside surfaces and fired again. Packaged and delivered to the shops with which he worked. Stock enough to get through Christmas now that the tourist season was waning. Work for his hands for a week, certainly, but idle time for his mind. Idle time to think about what he had left behind all those years ago, when he had left England to start over in the States. Before Harry he rarely allowed his mind to wander across the sea. Before Harry he could wrench it away, think only of Albus, of the normal life the boy would lead, a life lit by magic but not ablaze in it.

He knew it was a trite saying, and he mentally slapped himself whenever the thought came to him, but Harry had brought the magic back. Seeing Harry’s son, the other Albus, confident, strong, comfortable in his skin and with his magic, a young man who easily befriended his son, a stranger, an American—made him wonder how his own son would have turned out after seven years at Hogwarts.

Albus was not like him. Not exactly like him anyway. He was more social than Severus, but not overly so. He was quiet, intelligent, loved to work with his hands, but his mind lent itself to different pursuits—sketching instead of pottery, biology instead of chemistry. Shit, he thought humorously, girls instead of guys. He shook his head as he washed his hands. He’d liked girls at that age too, hadn’t he?

He sat on Albus’ bed later that evening, looking slowly around the cozy room, to where the white crib, borrowed from Celia and Abe in town, had stood against the wall beside the window, where the little boy had drawn pictures of dragons and horses at the small wooden table, where the adolescent had set up terrariums full of spiders and lizards, where the teenager had filled sketchbooks with pictures of horses in stride and of Severus working at the wheel and ravens hopping on the sandy loam under the cottonwoods. Where he’d lain in this very bed, talking to his mother on his cell phone, talking to girls from town with that silly smile on his face.

It was the way of things to grow and move on he thought, a curious weight in his chest.

It was time to embark on a new life, for Albus, and for himself, as he had twenty years ago.

It was better when Albus came home.

Severus made only three apparition hops to get to the agreed-upon meeting place and Albus was there waiting for him.

Albus, and Al, and sweet Merlin that had to be James. And the girl was most decidedly a Granger.

They were polite to a fault. And so damn British it hurt. James was a Weasley, but he carried himself like Harry, with a quiet assurance and understated determination. He shook Severus’ hand firmly, told him how much he had enjoyed getting to know Albus, how he’d love to come see their place in New Mexico some day. He asked after his father as well, and looked at Severus appraisingly, as if measuring his worth, more like a father would look over his daughter’s suitor than a son watching out for his father.

The girl introduced herself as Rose Weasley. “I’ve read so much about you,” she said by way of greeting. “I’m apprenticing with a Potions Master in September.” A polite inquiry and he was left with mouth nearly agape to learn she would be working with Horatio Egglestein, an old friend of his with whom he maintained a professional correspondence to this day. The girl would have to be a near genius for Horatio to have agreed to take her on.

Albus was as filthy and as happy as he’d ever known him to be. He’d hugged him exuberantly when he’d first seen him and if Severus had held him at arm’s length after that, complaining of the stench of two weeks of unwashed teenager, the look in his eye had said “I’m so glad to have you back again.”

With hugs all around, they’d taken leave of Albus and Severus, with promises to see him at Christmas at the Burrow if not before.

Christmas at the Burrow?

The next week and a half passed like time had doubled up on them without fair warning. The cats, quite regretfully, went to Celia and Abe, with promises to retrieve them by Christmas. The Potions Cups were delivered, the studio closed up, forwarding addresses distributed to the Post Office box in London he’d just set up, the one with the forwarding service by owl post to Hogsmeade. Albus visited his friends, delivering the news of transferring to the boarding school in Scotland his father had attended. Severus endured the frequent drop-ins from neighbors who heard the Snapes were moving to Scotland. Would he be selling the place? No, he wouldn’t. He’d hired a caretaker to look after things in his absence. Would they be coming back? Most definitely, for holidays and visits at the very least.

Albus packed and repacked. Am I taking too much, Dad? No, son. Take what you want; take what you need. Take the blanket your mother gave your when you were four that you’ve slept with all these years, the books on lizards, the charcoal and watercolors, the colored pencils and sketchbooks. Take the picture of us on the pintos, your cowboy boots and hat, your wand with the Wild Mustang hair core. Take home with you; make home wherever you land.

Severus himself packed lightly. Clothes. The necessary toiletries. His camera, the tablet computer he used to process and store his photographs. He’d have to figure out how to use it in an all-magic town but he didn’t think magic would let him down. He made a mental note to consult Hermione Granger if needed.

He stood in front of the closet in the spare bedroom for some time, gazing in at the robes hanging there. Robes that were twenty-five years old. Almost all of them already out-of-fashion when he’d left Britain. All of them black, a few of them with threads of green or silver or darker black woven in at the cuffs and lapels. He reached out and ran his hand down a black waistcoat with twelve buttons and finally took a cloak off the hanger. It fitted snuggly at his neck and was heavy and solid and very plain. He hung it loosely over his arm and selected the last set of teaching robes he had purchased and the dress robes he’d worn to the anniversary celebration the summer after Harry killed Voldemort. They would have to do.

He left his cell phone in a small box tucked inside a kitchen cabinet.

Albus was all but bouncing when it was time to leave. He looked curiously at Severus, who appeared from his room with black robes worn open over his button-down shirt and formal dark trousers, but smiled and shrugged. They sent the trunks ahead by parcel Portkey.

The last thing Severus did was to take a pot off of the mantle shelf, wrap it carefully in the bubblewrap Harry had enjoyed so much, and tuck it carefully into a pocket of his robe where it absolutely should not have fit.

He looked around the room, found it all in order, nodded as Albus put a hand on his arm and with a goodbye in his eyes if not on his lips, popped quietly away.

/

The first week was the hardest.

He was back at home, back with Lily, back at work and everything was the same but nothing was the same.

He told Ron and Hermione first.

It wasn’t exactly easy to bring up in normal conversation.

“How was your trip, Harry?”

“Great! Ran into Severus Snape and his son. Traveled with him, shagged a bit and fell hopelessly in love.”

Instead, he told them to sit down, and told them he met someone on the trip, someone he knew from the past, someone he wanted to be part of his future. Then he told them it was Severus Snape, and he had a son named Albus Severus—Imagine that!—and Hermione cried and Ron laughed and then poured them all fire whiskey, and they made him tell them everything, but of course he didn’t tell them everything, and they went out to a pub for welcome home fish and chips and gave Ron all the mushy peas. And Ron, with the fire whiskey and four pints in him, said that if Snape hurt Harry he’d kill him and Hermione rolled her eyes and Harry smiled at both of them.

It was much harder to tell Lily.

She was Albus’ age after all, spoiled by Harry he had to admit, a Gryffindor through and through from her reckless bravery (which Hermione said she inherited from her father), skill on a broom and courage to face anyone, anyone, who spoke ill of her father. She had Ginny’s red hair but it behaved more like Harry’s until she’d grown it out and fastened it in a braid down her back.

Lily Luna Potter was protective of her father for a reason. She’d seem him hurt before.

So she grilled him up and down and back and forth and from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley about Severus Snape. Was he sure? Would they be living together right away? Did he like children? Would rogue Death Eaters be after him? How would Harry’s reputation stand up to being associated with Severus Snape? Would Harry be in danger because of him? Did he have a job? Would Harry be supporting him? What was his favorite color?

He’d had an answer to all of her questions until that one popped out.

They hadn’t discussed it, actually. But when Harry closed his eyes and thought about it, thought about the thick adobe bricks and the desert sunsets and the red canyon walls and the clay under his fingernails, he could honestly say that Severus Snape liked the colors of the desert and leave it at that.

He delivered gifts to Ginny and Tempest and got a pair of hugs for his efforts, and his news.

He didn’t make a grand announcement to the Weasleys. He told them in bits and pieces, asking them to keep the news quiet until Severus was here and settled, that he didn’t want the press hounding him as soon as he arrived.

Work…was work. He debated turning in his resignation but decided, in the end, to take a leave of absence.

After it became second nature to smile at a friend or a family member and tell them, when asked, exactly why he had that big smile plastered on his face, after everyone who need to know knew, after he visited Minerva and she broke out her best bottle of scotch to celebrate the best news she’d had in twenty years, Harry sat in his little cottage in Hogsmeade and wondered if it would be enough for Severus.

He tried to see it through Severus’ eyes.

The comfortable and worn furniture in the large front room where they spent so much time. Wooden floors with braided rugs, a tall bookshelf stuffed with books in no particular order, the large fireplace, so large he didn’t have to duck to floo, the comfortable rocker, the wizarding chess set on the table beside the sofa. His desk was against the wall near the fireplace. He was proud of that desk—an old-fashioned roll-top with two dozen small drawers and cubby holes, a real ink-well, grooves to rest his quills. The owl roost, elaborate, large enough for four owls, was positioned in front of the window. All four owls were sleeping there now—the two tawneys—Lily’s and James’, Al’s small barn owl and his own snowy.

Would Severus find it odd to share his living space with owls?

He wandered into the kitchen, swept his eyes over the cabinetry, the old-fashioned butler’s pantry, the natural stone countertops, looked at the refrigerator with the perpetual cooling charm then ran his hand over the old round table with the six chairs where he’d spent so many hours with the children and with friends and family, eating meals, talking, doing homework, playing cards or chess, catching up on Ministry paperwork. Four of the chairs still matched—the other two had been added to accommodate Teddy, who came by so frequently that he was simply another son to Harry, and whichever friend or family member happened to be around when dinner was served.

There was a small bathroom downstairs and a much larger one upstairs with the bedrooms. He trudged up the stairs now, fingers brushing one wall as he stared at the photographs on the opposite one, wizarding photographs of the children as they grew, of the entire Weasley family a few years ago, of himself and Ginny and Tempest and the children the year Albus had started at Hogwarts. He stopped to stare at that one in particular, realizing how odd it could seem to someone, to an outsider who didn’t know that they were two families but one family. What would Severus see in that picture?

Staring at it, he knew.

He’d see Harry as he was now and Harry as he was then.

Eleven years old, unsure, messy hair, green eyes, glasses.

Albus’ glasses were not round, but his eyes were green, his hair was dark and messy, his face was his father’s.

Lily wiggled on his lap, James pulled at his tie and Ginny smoothed down Albus’ hair.

He shook his head and made his way up the stairs to his bedroom.

He didn’t spend a lot of time in this room. A bed, standard double with no frame, looking very small in the large room with its high, slanted ceilings. A tall chifforobe, a low dresser with rectangular mirror, a closet. He liked the dormer windows the best, two of them on the same wall, both with window seats, both looking out toward Hogwarts, the castle just barely visible in the distance when the leaves were off the trees.

He’d slept in this bed with Roger and with Alex before him and with Ginny before Alex.

He hadn’t realized how old it was.

It had always been just a bed to him before but now…now it would be their bed. He fingered the wand in his pocket then took it out…and banished his bed.

The sheets and quilt fell to the floor like fluttering ghosts and he banished the sheets as well but folded up the quilt and put it on the dresser. It had been a gift from Molly, years after he and Ginny divorced. It was simple, and warm, and hand-sewn with her love. The quilt would stay.

Picking out a new bed took the better part of the second week.

He found the one he wanted in a used furniture shop at the back on Diagon Alley. It was a four poster made of mahogany. The headboard was tall with vertical slats that Harry could imagine gripping with his hands as he writhed beneath Severus. There was no footboard. He could see himself kneeling at the foot of that bed, Severus hips and arse on the very edge of it. It was a foot or more wider than the bed he had used all these years, a foot longer as well.

He spent a fortune on new sheets, silk, flannel and densely woven cotton, a down comforter, a mountain of pillows both soft and firm. The therapist he’d seen after the shooting had told him once to make his bed his palace, a luxurious place to be savored and enjoyed, but he’d had no one to bring home to it then and couldn’t imagine doing it all for himself.

He bought the mattress at a Muggle store in London and had it delivered to James’ flat, where he shrunk it and brought it home to his cottage. The mattress was firm but had a cushiony top. The first night he slept on it he dreamt of Severus and thought that was a very good sign.

Lily approved of the changes to his bedroom. She lay on the bed next to him on Saturday morning and sighed.

“You’re in love, Dad, aren’t you?” she asked.

Harry closed his eyes and wondered…wondered what he would feel if Severus didn’t show up at King’s Cross Station in three days with Albus in tow, if he stayed only through the sorting then fled back to the States, if he found himself to be incompatible with Harry, unhappy sharing his home.

“Yeah. I think I am, Lils.”

She reached out for his hand and squeezed it, held it in her own as they lay there together on the enormous bed, staring up at the gauzy canopy.

“You deserve love, Dad.”

“I have you three already,” said Harry. “No matter what happens, I’ll always have that.”

Lily leaned over and kissed her father’s sandpaper rough cheek and rolled out of the comfortable bed.

“Of course you will, Dad,” she said, squeezing his hand one last time. “But honestly, I don’t think that’s quite enough anymore.”

He lay there after she had gone, still staring up at the canopy, imagining he could see the sunlight filtering down through the magnificent redwoods, and wondered how his little girl had grown so wise.

Three days later, at five o’clock in the evening, Harry Potter walked out and sat on his front porch.

He waved at Mrs. Arbunkle as she walked by with her spaniels, told Sean Finnigan that Lily was off at her grandparent’s for the day and pulled up the stray grass that was growing in the cracks between the pavement stones near the porch.

At five twenty-five, he stood up, took a deep breath and disappeared with the smallest of cracks and no one, no one at all in this quaint and magical village, thought that the least bit unusual.

 

Chapter 14
August 25-31, 2024

Platform 9 ¾ was deserted when Harry arrived, apparating in with an almost imperceptible crack. He checked the platform clock—he was fifteen minutes early, or at least fifteen minutes ahead of Severus’ target arrival time. Harry walked the length of the platform slowly, treading on boards worn to a near polish by thousands of feet over a hundred years or more, magical children and their families waiting—some eagerly, some nervously—for the Hogwarts Express.

He looked down at the barrier, imagining himself coming through when he was eleven years old, Hedwig’s cage balanced precariously on his cart, glasses repaired with tape perched on his nose. He saw himself at 13, at 16, and later, sending his children off year after year after year.

But he could never come here, through King’s Cross Station to Platform 9 ¾, without recalling his meeting in this very place with Albus Dumbledore, the most memorable of all his visits to this platform. In his mind he always called it a meeting, not a dream. It looked dreamlike and ethereal, white and misty, but it felt real. He stopped at a bench and sat, remembering the conversation he’d had with Albus, after Severus had given him the memories, after he’d viewed them, learned the truth, taken the longest and slowest walk of his life, gone to Voldemort, sacrificed himself, succumbed to the Avada Kedavra.

Only to find himself here, of all places, a place of arrivals and departures, truly not knowing if he was coming...or going.

One day he would meet Albus again. One day he would ask him about that conversation.

He checked his watch. Six on the dot. It was too much to think that Severus and Albus would be exactly on time, and he was normally a very patient man when it came to waiting. He’d raised three children after all, and had been on innumerable stake-outs where he’d had to lean against trees for hours and hours. He smiled at that memory, which evoked the memory of the earth magic in Washington State. Which, of course, made him think of Severus all over again. How he had ached for him these past two weeks, going through the days as if nothing had changed when in fact nothing, nothing was the same. Always feeling like something was missing, something as vital as his right hand, as his magic. He’d never felt that way before, never in his life, and he wondered about that, about how he had thought he had been in love—with Ginny, with Roger—but if what he had felt with them was love, then this was something altogether different.

And, as if thinking of him somehow made it real, he heard a crack far to his left, close to the end of the platform, and Severus and Albus appeared there, Severus wearing robes and Albus looking pale and a bit worse for the wear. Severus grabbed hold of Albus’ elbow and kept him upright as he stumbled and tried to get his footing.

As Harry stood, he realized he had absolutely no idea how to greet Severus. He wanted to throw his arms around his neck and kiss him.

But Albus was there. What had Severus told Albus about him? About them? And how would this child—this young man—react to not just the knowledge but the evidence that his father was in a relationship with Harry?

Deciding on caution and decorum—there would be time for intimacy later, lots of time, if Harry had his way—Harry walked quickly to the end of the platform. Severus and Albus both looked up, nearly identical tired smiles on their faces as they saw him coming toward them.

Harry returned the smile, though his was more exuberant and less weary, and quickened his steps. He reached out first for Albus, knowing that Severus would understand.

“Almost there, Albus. I won’t ask how the trip was.” He hugged the boy, trying not to shake him up anymore. “I can tell you’ve had enough apparition for a while.”

“Good to see you again, Mr. Potter,” Albus said a bit weakly.

“We’re going to have to decide what you should call me. Mr. Potter isn’t going to do for long.” He turned then to Severus. “Welcome back, Severus,” he said, stepping forward into Severus’ arms and pressing a light kiss onto his cheek, lingering longer than he should, wanting desperately to press himself against that lean body. Merlin he felt good. Just smelling Severus had Harry half hard already.

“Let’s sit for a moment,” Severus suggested, looking worriedly at his son.

“It’s weird to see you in robes, Mr. Potter,” said Albus as they made their way to the closest bench. “Do you wear them all the time?”

Harry glanced over at Severus. Severus, however, was looking around the station, reacquainting himself with Platform 9 ¾ and the smell of London. “I take them off when I’m at home, but wear them to work and when I’m out, unless we’re out in the Muggle world. You’ll wear black robes at Hogwarts, over your shirt and trousers. Did your father tell you?”

Albus nodded. “He said we could go shopping this week to get my school supplies and clothes. We have a supply list already.” He looked around. “Are we taking the train back to your place?”

“The train from this platform only runs a few times a year,” answered Severus. “It’s the Hogwarts Express.” He looked critically at his son. “Are you up to one more apparition jump?”

“We could take the Knight Bus,” suggested Harry upon seeing the look on Albus’ face. “Or use the floo.”

“The night bus? What’s the night bus, Dad? It’s not dark yet.”

“Not much better than apparating,” muttered Severus.

“Knight with a ‘K’,” explained Harry. “It’s a triple-decker bus for wizards. And it’s purple.”

And of course, Albus was sold.

They gathered their luggage, which had arrived ahead of them, and walked out through the Muggle part of the station to the busy London street.

“You’re still wearing your robes,” whispered Albus, who was walking between Severus and Harry.

“It’s alright. This is London,” Harry whispered back to him. He watched Severus’ face soften as they walked down the busy sidewalk. Harry hoped it was a good homecoming for him, and realized he knew very little about the life Severus had lived here outside of Hogwarts.

“Wow,” said Albus as a red double-decker rumbled by, driving on the left side of the road of course. They dodged the pedestrians walking quickly and determinedly down the sidewalk—London pedestrians had quite a reputation in their single-minded determination to get from point A to point B as quickly and with as few steps as possible. “We’re going to get on a magical triple-decker purple bus in the middle of all this?”

“It’s London,” shrugged Harry as they stopped at the curb and he stuck out his wand furtively. “No one will notice.”

“I’m beginning to wonder about London,” said Albus with a grin.

And indeed, no one seemed to notice as the large purple bus seemed to pop into existence and stop at the curb, squeezing in between a bread lorry and a motor scooter.

“Mr. Potter!” The conductor, a portly middle-aged wizard wearing a red morning jacket with gold tassels, looked surprised and delighted to see Harry. “Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard,” he stated rather proudly.

“Three for Hogsmeade, thank-you,” said Harry, dropping the appropriate number of sickles into the man’s outstretched hand. The conductor hefted Albus’ trunk onto a luggage rack and Severus added his bags and, as the bus jumped forward, grabbed onto a green and gold striped sofa that was sliding across the floor and dropped down onto it.

“I haven’t been on this thing in forty years and I swear it hasn’t changed a bit. Sit, Albus,” he instructed.

“Can’t we go upstairs?” asked Albus as the bus lurched again and he fell onto the couch on top of his father

“Believe me, you don’t want to,” muttered Harry as he maneuvered himself onto the end of the sofa and grabbed a vertical hand pole to try to keep the couch from sliding into the driver’s compartment.

“Is this thing safe?” asked Albus as the end of the sofa swung around, pushing him into his father. When the sofa spun in a complete circle, despite the fact that there could not have been room for it to do so, Albus reached into the cushions desperately. “Are you sure this bus is safe? Where’s my seat belt?”

“Safer than the London Underground!” called out the conductor. He was sitting on a rear-facing seat at the front of the bus, feet braced against two poles in front of him.

“Is the London Underground safe?” Albus asked Harry.

Harry gave an anemic smile and a shrug. It was hard to concentrate with the swaying of the bus which was now careening down a very narrow country lane.

“Cows!” screamed Albus, looking up as the bus narrowly missed the bovine.

“Did you have to recommend the Knight Bus?” asked Severus, sticking a finger into his ear.

“I can’t believe there aren’t seatbelts, Dad,” said Albus a few minutes later as he slid into Harry and Severus slid into him. He turned to Harry. “Dad never let me ride without a seatbelt before…”

“The rules are different here,” said Severus. “As dangerous as this may seem, it’s a magical bus. Accidents simply don’t happen.” He reached out and grabbed a pole as they slid around again.

Fortunately, the bus was nearly empty and it made only one stop before arriving in Hogsmeade, dropping off an elderly witch in full dress robes in front of Balmoral Castle. In Hogsmeade, it stopped near the village square. The conductor unloaded their luggage and tipped his hat to them, leaving them standing on the curb while the bus hopped on to its next destination.

“Well, was that better or worse than apparating?” asked Harry as he cast a hovering charm on the luggage and it popped a few feet into the air and bounced happily, as if eager to follow them home.

“You have to ask?” said Severus, rolling his eyes.

Albus grinned. “Different,” he replied. He lowered his voice. “Aren’t you worried about Muggles seeing those?” He indicated the hovering luggage.

“We’re in the village of Hogsmeade now,” answered Harry. “It’s Britain’s only all-magical village.” He glanced over at Severus, who was standing very still now, looking around the square then letting his gaze drift in the direction of Hogwarts.

“You can see the castle from my bedroom window in the winter,” Harry said quietly. “But the leaves block it the rest of the year.”

Severus nodded absently. He pulled his gaze away and regarded the village before them, quaint homes with pitched roofs, storefronts that hadn’t changed in his fifty-year memory of the place. “It looks exactly the same as I remember it,” he said, sounding surprised and a little relieved.

“George and Ron bought out Zonko’s a few years ago,” Harry said. “Besides that, everything is pretty much the same. It’s pretty quiet in the summertime when Hogwarts isn’t in session.” He paused, then added, “There’s always a chance someone may recognize you while we’re walking to my place, Severus. Would you rather apparate? It’s only a few blocks.”

“Should I be hiding?” Severus asked, eyes catching and holding Harry’s.

“No—of course not. That’s not what I meant at all,” answered Harry, frowning. “When word gets out that you’re back in the UK, I expect you’ll be hounded by the Prophet for an interview. Everyone will have a lot of questions…about you… and I didn’t know if you were ready for that yet.”

Severus glanced at Albus whose expression was vacillating between puzzled and concerned.

“There’s no sense in delaying the inevitable,” Severus answered. His gaze returned to Harry. The questions would, of course, be about both of them.

They started out and Albus was all eyes, commenting on the size and shape of the cottages, how close they were together, the small front gardens, the white garden gates, the fact that there were broomsticks in the front yards but not bicycles.

“That dog had two tails!” he hissed at his father when they rounded a corner and a small dog barked at them from behind a gate.

“It’s a crup,” his father explained. “A magical breed of dog.”

They walked all the way back to Harry’s cottage without attracting too much attention, though several people waved at Harry as they passed. They had made it to just inside Harry’s gate when a voice called out.

“Oi, Harry!”

Harry turned around, as did Severus and Albus.

“Whoa!” The man walking toward the gate stopped in his tracks. “Snape…”

Severus studied the man briefly then approached the gate again and held out his hand.

“Mr. Finnigan.”

Seamus Finnigan had settled in Hogsmeade nearly ten years ago when he took over the management of the Hogsmeade location of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. His oldest son, Sean, was in Lily’s class at Hogwarts. Now he reached out his hand slowly and took Snape’s. He looked as nervous as he had during his Potions O.W.L. Harry felt a bit sorry for him but didn’t offer a word of explanation.

Seamus looked from Snape to Harry.

“Well, this is a surprise,” he sputtered out finally.

“A surprise to see one of your old professors?” asked Severus as Albus looked on with obvious interest.

“Frankly, a surprise to see you, Professor,” answered Seamus, regaining some control of himself. “You’re a long way from home.” He glanced at Harry, but Harry’s face revealed nothing.

“Am I?” Severus looked behind him at Harry’s cottage. Harry barely managed to keep in the bark of laughter that was trying to escape.

Seamus looked flustered. His gaze wandered over to Albus. Severus gave him a reprieve.

“My son, Albus,” he said by way of introduction. “Albus, Mr. Seamus Finnigan, one of my former students. Albus is transferring to Hogwarts this year.”

A look of understanding—perhaps mingled with relief—passed over Seamus’ face, as if the sudden appearance of Severus Snape in Harry’s front garden in Hogsmeade was somehow easier to swallow when tied to children and Hogwarts, giving less importance to Harry and Snape.

“Harry has a son named Albus too,” offered Seamus as he shook Albus’ hand.

“Right,” answered Albus. “Just spent the better part of a month with him, in fact.”

“Oh.” Seamus’ face showed his surprise, either at Albus’ Yankee accent or at the statement he just made or both. “So you’re mates then?”

Albus’ face looked momentarily shocked but then comprehension dawned. “Friends. Right. Yeah, we are.”

Harry now turned to Seamus. “They’ve just arrived from the States and I’d like to get them settled. Did you need something, Seamus?”

Seamus grinned. “Just heard a rumor that you’ve taken a leave of absence from the MLE and wanted to see what was going on. I’ll let you get back to your guests.” He nodded politely, if a bit formally, to Severus. “Nice seeing you again, Professor Snape. Good to meet you, Albus. Good luck at Hogwarts.”

“Likewise.” Severus watched while Seamus moved on down the street as Harry moved the luggage up to the cottage and opened the door. His eyes darted back to Harry, who had apparently already gotten the luggage in and was holding the door open for Albus.

Leave of absence? This, indeed, was curious.

/

Lily had arrived home from the Burrow while Harry, Severus and Albus were eating the dinner Harry had prepared before leaving to meet Severus and Albus.

She flooed in, stepping lightly out of the fireplace like someone accustomed to using that form of transport for some time. She was carrying a broom and looked like she’d been mugged.

Harry stood up and sighed.

“My daughter Lily,” he said by way on introduction. “Who apparently has just returned from another pick-up Quidditch game at her grandparents’ house. Lily, this is Severus Snape and his son Albus.”

A mischievous smile lit her face. “Pleased to meet you,” she said, looking at her hand before she offered it to Severus and deciding that it was much too muddy—and bloody—to offer to someone engaged in eating a meal. She turned toward Albus. “Do you play Quidditch?”

“Not yet,” answered Albus, failing to add that he hadn’t yet been on a broom either. But it was the perfect answer. Lily’s face broke out in a broad grin. He grinned back.

“Go upstairs and get cleaned up. There’s extra for you if you haven’t eaten. At the very least you can join us for pudding,” instructed Harry with a semi-indulgent shake of his head.

“Gran made her chicken stew,” said Lily as she eyed the table hungrily. It was obvious by her look and the way she said chicken stew, with the same tone of voice one might use to announce their favorite dog had died, that she preferred what they were having.

“Steak and kidney pie,” said Harry. “Go on—it will wait.”

The conversation at the table returned to plans for shopping in Diagon Alley the next day. Harry and Severus were sitting across from each other, with Albus between them. Their conversation seemed more like a series of disjointed statements than a true conversation, with significant pauses between each sentence, and Albus looked from his father to Harry several times, catching them eying each other meaningfully more than once. Severus also seemed to be having trouble with his utensils, holding them alternatively as he did at home then switching to pick up his fork with his left hand. When Lily arrived back downstairs ten minute later, she took a quick look at the very quiet table and announced that she really wasn’t hungry after all and why didn’t she take Albus down to the ice cream shop in town and introduce him around?

Albus immediately stood up and pushed his chair back.

“Sounds great,” he said. “Can I have some money, Dad?”

“Do you remember stopping at a currency exchange?” asked Severus, raising an eyebrow and folding his napkin.

“I’ve got enough,” announced Lily, sidling back toward the door. “You can pay me back later.”

And suddenly, Harry and Severus were alone in the house.

“They don’t even know each other,” said Severus, looking at the door and shaking his head.

“We must have been making them really uncomfortable,” laughed Harry.

“Indeed,” said Severus, smiling as he put down his fork.

“Do you want pudding now?” asked Harry.

“Depends. How far away is the ice cream shop?” Severus stood and tucked his chair in carefully. He looked around the room, so comfortable and lived-in, and wondered how well he would fit in such an established life.

“They’ll be gone an hour. She’s never gone less than an hour,” answered Harry, standing up himself.

They made it upstairs, but only because Severus pointed out that the stairs were right in front of the front door and wouldn’t it be lovely if Molly Weasley popped in and saw him buggering her former son-in-law in front of the family portrait. As it was he took Harry against the door of the bedroom, with trousers around their ankles, robes pulled off one of Harry’s arms, lube summoned from the bedside table and dropped onto the floor. Harry bit his lip to keep from crying out as Severus prepared him hurriedly, as if the act must be done immediately and as quickly as possible, then sunk into him, pressing up against his back and holding him against the door. Harry pressed hungrily back against his lover, a starving man seeking sustenance, grinding into him, forcing him deeper, taking from him as Severus thrust, Harry rutting against the door in front of him until he could hold back his orgasm no longer and let go against the door. He wanted to collapse then, his arms were weak, his legs like jelly, but Severus held him up, vice-like arm around his chest, pressing him into the door as he pounded, his breath a heavy pant in Harry’s ear.

“Fuck you feel so good, so goddamn tight, God I missed this, missed you, missed having you, missed your shoes lined up next to mine, missed your clothes on the floor, missed you spread out on my table, missed your idiotic car games, missed…your… voice…fuck…Harry….”

He came then, staggering with Harry over to the bed, collapsing sideways on it and panting for a minute. Then Harry rolled him onto his back, kicked off his trousers and kissed him, attacking him with hands that scrabbled for purchase on the sheets as they rolled again, claiming all the parts not yet claimed, lips and tongue and ears and throat. Harry moved his mouth down, fervored desperation ebbing, kissing a nipple, rubbing his cheek against the other, then pushing his head into the crook of Severus’ neck and clinging to him.

“I really don’t care where we live, Severus,” he breathed into that neck when their heartbeats had slowed and the passion had mellowed. “Let’s just do it together.”

“Excellent idea,” said Severus, staring up into the canopy above the bed, a vaguely pleased look on his face. “I’m not sure how many more reunions my body can take.”

“I don’t know how many our kids can take,” added Harry. “Albus practically ran out of the house.”

“No faster than Lily did,” said Severus with a chuckle.

“What, because their fathers were ogling each other?” Harry teased.

“If there had been any more sexual tension in that room, the neighbors would have complained,” said Severus.

Harry pressed a kiss onto Severus’ neck. “I can’t believe you didn’t talk Albus out of the Knight Bus,” he said.

Severus’ laugh was a pleasant reverberation in Harry’s chest. “I admit it was only slightly less traumatic than another apparition after our five thousand mile journey,” he said.

“Seatbelts!” said Harry, chuckling. “Albus has a lot to learn about the wizarding world.”

Severus sombered a bit. “I would like to help him—as much as possible—this coming week. Once he gets to Hogwarts, he will have to fly solo as they say.” He thought for a moment, and when he continued his voice was lower-pitched and more serious. “He’s a good child, well-rounded, even-tempered. And he’s bright. He’s been sheltered—I admit that. But now is his time to shine, so to speak. There is a lot on offer here for him and I think he’ll see that, despite the difficulties he may have adjusting. After all, you Brits are an odd lot. Did you see the look on his face with Finnigan referred to Al as his mate?”

They both chuckled. “Think of Hogwarts as cultural immersion—he’ll be immersed in wizarding and British culture all at once,” said Harry, flipping over to his back to stare at the canopy with Severus. When Severus sighed, Harry squeezed his hand. “They’ll love him, Severus. He’s a great kid. There’ll be a Hogsmeade weekend in the first month and you can visit with him all day if you’d like.”

They lay together for a few more quiet moments, hand in hand, eyes upward, until Severus broke the silence.

“Were you planning on telling me about this leave of absence?” he asked.

“Of course,” answered Harry. “Seamus just beat me to it. I’ve just started the first week of a six-month leave of absence from the MLE. I don’t plan to go back, either.”

“You don’t?” asked Severus. “Do you plan to cater to my whims every day then? Let me wrap you in clay and memorialize your artful curves?” He ran his hand over one of Harry’s biceps appreciatively.

Harry laughed. “I figure six months gives me plenty of time to figure out what I do want to do with the rest of my life—I’m leaning toward becoming your full-time model or establishing a Potions Cup export business.”

“I didn’t think you’d move so quickly…”

“Are you upset?” asked Harry suddenly, raising up on his elbows.

Severus’ response was a deep rumble of a laugh that vibrated the bed and put a silly smile on Harry’s face.

“Upset at what? Upset that you won’t be risking your life every day? That we’ll have more time to spend together? That you won’t have to attend Ministry social functions with me at your elbow?”

“I was really tired of those things anyway,” sighed Harry.

“I imagine you were,” said Severus.

“But now that you’re offering to be my trophy wife…”

Severus laughed. “I’m no trophy, Harry,” he said. But Harry disagreed.

/

At the end of the week, on the afternoon of August 31st, as Lily and Albus struggled to pack their trunks, and Albus wondered if the formal robes they’d purchased for him made him look too feminine, Harry tried to calm down an addled Severus in the bedroom.

“Nothing is different than it was the day you got here, Severus,” said Harry. He sat on the edge of the bed watching Severus pace from one end of the room to the other. “Why are you so worried now?”

“I was worried then,” answered Severus with a scowl. “But it was a busy week. I didn’t have time to think about it until now.”

“Does it really matter, Severus?” asked Harry. “Each of the houses has its strengths and weaknesses. The heads are all very good, and there’s more inter-house activity than there used to be. He’ll be happy wherever he lands. Where do you want him to be?”

When Severus didn’t answer immediately, Harry rephrased the question.

“Or where do you not want him to be?”

“I want him to be where he’ll be accepted—where he won’t be judged by his name,” said Severus sharply.

Harry stared at him a long moment. “He doesn’t have a heavier load than my children had,” said Harry quietly. “Different, certainly. But no worse. Notoriety attached to a name comes with expectations, for good or for ill. They either try to live up to them, or live them down.” He paused and locked eyes with Severus, his voice low and serious as he continued. “Like when I came to Hogwarts, Severus. I didn’t know a whit about my parents, but others did, and measured me by that.” He didn’t need to remind Severus that he was one of those. “Are you more worried about the students, Severus, or the professors?”

“I…” Severus began to respond but trailed off. He had abandoned his robes in the house, wearing them only when they were out in public, and he paced now in a white button-down shirt and a pair of black jeans.

“Have you ever sent your son to school before?” Harry asked suddenly, not knowing how Albus was educated in the primary.

“No. I have seen to his education myself. I have met and surpassed the state’s requirements. This is…this is new to me.”

“You met with the headmaster this week. You’ve toured the school and the common rooms. You inspected the kitchens and talked to the house elves about his strawberry allergy. Hell, you even met with all the heads of houses and half of the remaining professors. You personally selected most of his supplies in Diagon Alley. You drove the shopkeepers nearly insane. We had dinner with Minerva and you grilled her too. Did anything rub you the wrong way? Give you more cause for concern?”

Severus walked to the dormer window that faced Hogwarts and stood with his back to Harry.

“No. It was all more than adequate. I… It was good to see the castle again. To feel the magic of the place. Albus loved it. He sailed through that castle. He held his own. That alone made it worth it.”

Harry stood and walked over to Severus and stood beside him.

“This isn’t about the sorting, is it?”

Severus’ only answer was to purse his lips.

“This is about letting go, Severus.” Harry’s words were gentle. “You’ve kept him close to you all these years. You’ve been responsible for his magical and his academic education. You’ve helped shape him into a wonderful kid. And you don’t want the reality of the cold, hard, ugly world to get hold of him.”

Severus looked over at Harry. He gave the barest of nods. “Perhaps.” The corner of his mouth quirked and he smiled. “When did you become so wise, Harry Potter?”

Harry shrugged. “I’ve been through this three times, Severus. What happened to your optimism from a week ago? When you said it was time for him to fly solo? Why did you decide to bring him here, anyway?”

Severus placed an arm out and leaned forward, hand resting on the slanted dormer roof. Harry leaned against the opposite wall of the nook and looked at Severus, trying to read the expression in his eyes as he spoke.

“Seeing you again. Traveling with you and Al. Hearing your voices. Seeing what a grounded young man Al was. I…” He trailed off again and Harry thought he looked very vulnerable at that moment, as if he were about to admit something that would put him at risk. “I looked at Al—your son—the son of Harry Potter, and I saw a normal young man. Confident. Not arrogant. Friendly. Comfortable in his own skin.” He stopped. He sounded pained at admitting this, whether to himself or to Harry Harry could not guess. “And you achieved that—he achieved that—at Hogwarts. In Scotland. He grew up with magic all around him, not just a tool to use at times that had to be hidden more often than not, but an integral part of himself and of his surroundings.” Severus straightened up and began pacing again.

“Albus has never had the opportunity to take out his wand and use it freely without wondering who might be around to see him do so. Before he came here, he’d never seen a ghost. Or a poltergeist. Or a house elf. He’s had limited and infrequent exposure to magical creatures. He’d never talked to a portrait, he’d never jumped a trick stair or navigated a moving staircase. He’d never played Gobstones or exploding Snap. Shit—he’d never been to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes!”

Harry’s eyes followed Severus as he paced.

“And my Al has never ridden a horse. Or watched the sun rise in the desert. Or buried his hands in clay. Or studied potions with his father. Don’t second guess yourself, Severus. He’s had a magical childhood—but a different kind of magic. And he’s here now.”

“I want to give him this chance, Harry. But I don’t want him to be hurt.”

“He’ll get hurt,” said Harry softly. “They all do.”

Severus frowned. “If you think you’re reassuring me…”

“Oh, I don’t.” Harry shook his head. “I’m giving you the truth. He’ll get hurt. And you’ll hurt for him and with him. When he doesn’t get chosen for a team. When he asks a girl out and she says no. When he hears something unkind about you, or about himself.”

“You’re not helping.”

“I’m not finished yet.” Harry approached Severus and took one of his hands in both of his own. “You’re a good father, Severus. You’ve laid the groundwork. Now it’s his turn to shine.” He opened Severus’ fingers. “This hand. These hands. Are artist’s hands, Severus. I’ve seen what you can do with them. You make earth come alive with them.” He placed Severus’ hand over his heart. “You made me come alive with them. All those pots, all those potions cups, they’re all works of art.”

Severus’ dark eyes stared at their hands, Harry’s lying atop Severus’ pressed against his chest.

“But the greatest thing you ever created was Albus.” He raised his eyes and met Severus’. “I get it. I’ve been there. I can’t make it any easier. All I can do is tell you that I think you’ve made a good decision, bringing him here. If he hates it, you can decide what to do then. But let’s wait to see how he likes it—give him a month or two to adjust. And in the meantime, we need to find you something else to do with these hands.”

“Indeed,” replied Severus. He brought those hands up and framed Harry’s face with them. “I bow to your wisdom and experience. But if he gets sorted into Gryffindor…”

And Harry Potter laughed.

“Hufflepuff, Severus, and I’m willing to bet on it.”

 

>Chapter 15
September 1, 2024

“Don’t you think it’s the least bit ridiculous that we’re flooing to London with the children to put them on a train that comes right back here again?”

Harry looked up from the sandwiches he was making in the kitchen. He had bread, meat, cheese and fixings spread all over the kitchen table and had just finished making a sandwich so tall there was no way either Al or Lily could open their mouth wide enough to bite into it.

“Does Albus need more than three?” he asked. “He can always buy from the trolley but he’ll want something filling instead of all those sweets.”

Severus eyed the sandwich again then lifted his eyes to stare at Harry.

“You’re not serious.”

“He’s serious.” Lily squeezed between Severus and the door frame he was standing in and walked over to pour herself some lemonade. “He does this every year. James and Al think it’s his way of dealing with his separation anxiety.”

Harry glanced over at Lily and smiled at her indulgently. “Your brothers appreciated the sandwiches. Unlike you, they actually eat.”

“I eat!” exclaimed Lily. She glanced at Severus. “Don’t I?”

Severus rolled his eyes. “She and Albus ate an entire bag of crisps last night, Harry.”

“That’s not food. That’s junk.” He added two pieces of cheddar cheese to the sandwich he was building, slathered on mustard and topped it off with two slices of tomato and a thick slice of bread. He sighed, looking at his masterpiece. “This is food.”

“Can I have three this year Dad?” asked Lily. She had walked over to stand next to Harry.

“Three?” Harry got out two more pieces of bread. “Of course, Lils.”

“You’re planning to sell them, aren’t you?” asked Severus dryly, shaking his head at the look on Lily’s face that clearly said ‘got me.’

“Sell them? Sell these works of art?” She winked at Severus, kissed her father on the cheek and bounced out of the room.

“She’s not going to eat three sandwiches, Harry,” said Severus, walking into the kitchen and standing across from Harry on the other side of the table. “I doubt even Albus could eat two of those monstrosities.”

“Of course not.” Harry looked up and smiled. “But she has so many cousins on that train that I figure if I make her three, she has a better chance of eating at least one of them.”

Severus shook his head and picked up a piece of waxed paper and wrapped up one of the finished sandwiches, folding the paper around it neatly.

“Wow! Hospital corners!” said Harry.

“Are you making fun of me, Mr. Potter?” asked Severus. He pulled another piece of waxed paper off the roll and expertly wrapped a second sandwich.

Harry laughed. “Never. What time is it?”

“Nine thirty. And I still don’t see why we’re rushing. The train won’t arrive at Hogsmeade Station until nearly six o’clock tonight. We could all stay here and enjoy a calm, peaceful day and walk over to the Station when we hear the whistle.” He looked at the sandwich he was wrapping. “And perhaps invite five or six people to lunch to take care of all this food you’re making.”

“Are you having second thoughts about facing your adoring public on Platform 9 ¾ by any chance?” Harry cut a sandwich in half diagonally and pushed it over toward Severus. He then pointed at a wicker basket on the counter. “By the way, there’s more owl post for you. I disposed of the howlers already, but left the perfume-scented letters for you.”

“How many today?” asked Severus as he walked over to the counter and poked his wand into the basket. His nose crinkled up. “I hate lilac.”

“Only two howlers. A dozen love letters—I didn’t open them, by the way. I just assume they’re love letters or marriage proposals by the stench.”

Severus picked up a roll of pink parchment tied with a red ribbon.

“I don’t understand this. We were photographed in Diagon Alley. We were clearly together. The entire wizarding world knows your sexual preference. Why would my reappearance, literally on your arm, engender such a spate of missives from women?”

Harry, who had finished with the lunches, washed and dried his hands then walked over beside Severus and leaned back on the counter. He took the other man’s arm and pulled Severus in front of him, holding him comfortably around the waist.

“You’re tall, dark, mysterious and most importantly single. The photograph—which, as you recall, was not on the front page of The Prophet...”

“It was on the front page of the Society section—since when does The Prophet have a Society section anyway?” Severus looked disgusted as he glanced once again at the basket of love letters.

“Since we haven’t had a Dark Lord and a merry band of Death Eaters to fill up all the other pages,” said Harry with a sigh. He moved his arms up to wrap around Severus’ neck and leaned his forehead in to rest on Severus’. “As I was saying…the photograph had Albus and Lily in it too. All the evidence needed to your admiring female fan club that you do swing both ways.”

“I do not swing both ways,” said Severus. “I may have fallen off the boat once or twice but…”

“Twice?” asked Harry with interest, kissing the smooth, freshly shaved skin just in front of Severus’ ear.”

“Precisely twice,” answered Severus, shivering slightly as Harry pulled on his earlobe with his teeth.

“We’ll have to talk about that someday, hmm?” replied Harry.

“You want to hear about my fumblings with a Slytherin girl when I was 17?”

“Hmm…perhaps. Was it Millicent Bulstrode’s mother?” He kissed his way along Severus’ jaw line until Severus jerked his head back and laughed.

“Agnes Lovejoy! I haven’t thought of her in years.” He had been holding Harry around the waist and now moved his hands lower and hefted Harry’s arse up to sit on the counter, moving in a step closer to stand between his knees. “Agnes Lovejoy had the most amazing…” he trailed off and instead pulled Harry’s head forward and pressed a kiss to his lips, urging Harry’s mouth open and running his tongue along his teeth before sucking his bottom lip into his mouth.

“Amazing what?” asked Harry, a bit breathlessly, as he pulled his head away slightly while pulling Severus even closer, his hands gripping Severus’ arse through his trousers.

“Merlin you’re amazing,” said Severus, moving his mouth to the juncture of neck and shoulders, pressing an open-mouthed kiss there while Harry laughed.

“You’re not getting off that easily,” he said, pulling Severus’ head up gently. “Go on. Agnes Lovejoy had the most amazing…?”

“Breasts,” supplied Severus with a small shudder. “Big enough to smother a Death Eater of two. Some of my classmates stole one of her brassieres once and Peeves got hold of it. He used it as a slingshot for weeks. That thing could have held quaffles…”

Harry pressed his chest against Severus. “I’m afraid you’ll find me sorely lacking in the chest department.”

Severus smirked. “I like lacking. And there’s nothing at all wrong with your chest…except perhaps that it’s covered with this annoying Gryffindor Alumni Quidditch t-shirt.” He pulled on the collar of the shirt and peeked down at Harry’s chest.

“Get a room!” muttered Albus from behind them.

Severus scooted backward marginally and let go of Harry’s shirt, a much more measured reaction than the first time Albus had caught them snogging. That time he’d pushed Harry away and whirled around to face his son. Since they’d been standing against the back of the sofa, Harry had toppled over the back onto the cushions and had rolled on the floor, hitting his head on the low table in front of the sofa.

“Wow! These sandwiches look great,” Albus said, ignoring his father and Harry and picking up an unwrapped half.

“They’re for the train,” said Harry. “If you’re hungry now—and I should remind you that you finished breakfast an hour ago—eat an apple.”

“I’m not hungry for an apple,” said Albus as Severus mouthed the exact same words at Harry. Harry smirked.

“If you’re really hungry, an apple will do,” answered Severus while this time Harry mouthed the words back at him.

“You two are impossible,” sighed Albus. “First thing I’m doing at Hogwarts is getting a girlfriend and making you two watch us make out.” He shuddered at the thought but picked up an apple from the bowl and tossed it into the air, catching it with one hand. “When are we leaving?”

Severus leaned in to Harry and kissed him one more time then turned to face his son. “Less than an hour. Be in the parlor with your trunk in forty-five minutes. We’re taking the floo.”

“Cool.” He eyed the sandwiches but left without further comment.

“I’m starting to rethink that Hufflepuff thing,” said Harry.

“He was acting rather like a Gryffindor, wasn’t he?”

“Slytherin,” mumbled Harry.

Severus smirked.

/

The Hogwarts Express was waiting on the tracks beside Platform 9 ¾ when Harry Potter, Severus Snape and their children walked out onto it an hour later. Lily promptly abandoned her father and Severus, grabbing Albus by the hand as she went, leaving Harry and Severus with the trunks, trolleys and owl.

“Working on that girlfriend threat already, I see,” said Severus as Lily pulled Albus up to a group of girls and started making introductions.

Despite the fact, or perhaps because of it, that they had been featured—rather prominently—in The Prophet only a few days before, they attracted a great deal of attention on the crowded platform. Harry’s family and friends were uniformly friendly and courteous, greeting Severus with a variety of appellations—Professor, Headmaster, even Mr. Snape. To each one, Severus patiently replied “Please, call me Severus.” But the greetings came from other sources as well. His former students—Slytherins—who still had children at Hogwarts eyed him speculatively, most waiting until Harry was engaged before approaching him. They were more wary, he noted, than Harry’s crowd, less willing to wholeheartedly accept their former Head of House on the arm—virtually or not—of the Savior of the Wizarding World.

What surprised him the most were the greetings from the students. Children, some of them second and third years, who would cluster around them in groups. He heard their whispers, sometimes. “It it really him?” or “It is! Look at his nose!” or “Can you see the scars on his neck?” A few actually approached him to shake his hand. He even heard one high-pitched voice exclaim. “I touched him! I touched his robes!”

Harry was finding this attention hysterical. Oh, he had the same problem, but this was his ninth straight year at Platform 9 ¾, sending a child or two or three off to Hogwarts. Finding that former Headmaster Severus Snape was now on the wizarding child radar was an unexpected bonus. He reached back and grabbed Severus’ hand, pulling him up to stand next to him to greet the Minister of Magic and her husband, who had just stopped to speak to Harry.

None too soon, the train whistle blew and Lily and Albus pushed through the crowds to get to their trolleys and belongings.

“You’re good, Albus?” Severus asked as the boy struggled with his trunk. “You remember what I told you, correct? You are to owl me immediately if you need anything at all. I can be at the castle within fifteen minutes if there is anything amiss. And if any of your courses are above your ability, you are to contact me immediately so that I can make arrangements with the Headmaster…”

“Dad.” Albus dropped his trunk back on the trolley and stood facing his father, arms folded across his chest in a fair imitation of the man who had raised him.

Severus stopped talking and eyed his son, his mouth turning slightly into something that anyone who knew him recognized as a smile. Albus smiled in return.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was you who was going off to a new school alone.” He gestured over at Lily and Harry. “I already know Lily and she’s introducing me around. I’ll be fine. I promise.”

“You’ll let me know if you need anything?” Severus’ dark eyes held Albus’.

“I’ll let you know if I need you, Dad,” said Albus. He unfolded his arms and stepped closer to his father, wrapping then around him and hugging him tightly. “This is a good thing. I’ll owl you tonight after the sorting—Lily said I could use her owl. I promise I won’t leave you hanging.”

Severus held Albus by his shoulders and looked at him. This sixteen-year-old boy was years older than the other children going off to Hogwarts for the first time, but it was still a rite of passage and Severus had something to say.

“The sorting…it does not matter to me one bit where you end up. The hat will choose wisely. You have qualities that will be outstanding in any of the houses. But if you have a preference, let the hat know. I hear it can be swayed.”

Albus grinned. “Look around Dad. I have no idea what house any of these kids are in. It doesn’t matter now and it shouldn’t matter there.” He hugged his father once more, whispering as he did so. “But I’ll let you know no matter what. And don’t worry—I’ll make you proud.”

Albus let go of this father, grabbed his trunk, waved at Harry and hurried after Lily, never hearing his father’s parting words. “You already have, Albus. You already have.”

Harry squeezed Severus’ hand and they stood together, two fathers in a jumbled crowd of parents, watching the train take their children away.

/

They were sitting together on the sofa in the little parlor, aching feet sharing the ottoman, half-empty glasses of red wine on the end table beside Severus.

Harry curled his toes. “I hope we don’t have to do that again for a while.”

Severus snorted. “Might I remind you that you arranged this little surprise.” He picked up his wine and took a drink. “You did engage a particularly zealous agent, however. I do not think it was necessary for us to walk the perimeter of every potential property.”

Harry laughed. “I suppose I should have told her five acres instead of ten.”

“Or two. Two is ample for a cozy home and a spacious shop with enough space around them for some privacy.” He dropped his free hand on Harry’s thigh and squeezed it. “As much as I appreciate the entire gesture and the sentiment behind it, it is not necessary. We can make do here for the time being.”

“There’s nowhere for a shop here, Severus, and I don’t want you to have to rent somewhere. Several of the properties we saw today would be great for what you need.”

“Ahh. Do not forget what you need as well, Mr. Potter.” Severus’ hand on his thigh squeezed again.

Harry snorted. “Alright, I admit it. The property that butts up to the south side of the Forbidden Forest was perfect. The cottage would have to be completely redone and the outbuilding remodeled but…”

“Even I could feel the trees there,” said Severus softly. “If Miss Thatcher had not been present, I might have pushed you up against one of those trees and had my way with you right there.” His hand moved upward and Harry reflexively parted his legs.

“It’s close to Hogsmeade too,” he said, groaning as Severus’ fingers brushed over his cock. “You could open a shop here, if you’d like.” He leaned his head against the back of the sofa, spread his legs a bit wider and closed his eyes as Severus lightly traced the outline of his burgeoning erection with his fingertips.

“Since when do Hogwarts children spend their allowances on pottery, hmm?” Severus asked, giving up the light teasing and grasping Harry’s length through the fabric of his trousers, squeezing mercilessly.

“You’ll have to…umm…invent some—fuck, that’s good—something that will appeal to kids.” Harry moaned as Severus’ deft fingers unzipped his trousers, carefully delved inside and freed his erection.

Severus stood and dropped to his knees, facing Harry. He grasped the thick cock and licked the head, tongue pressing into the slit, teeth lightly grazing it. Harry scooted forward and Severus carefully lifted out his bollocks and caressed them with his other hand.

“Potions cups for students…Endurance for Quidditch. Acne control. Study Cups…” gasped Harry as Severus eased his trousers and pants down past his knees then blew on his cock. Harry shuddered.

“Infused with caffeine, hmm?” mused Severus as he worked a finger back along Harry’s crease then pushed behind his balls while at the same time going down on the cock, sucking, licking, letting Harry push into the wet cavern of his mouth, seeking friction against the back of his throat.

Harry’s hands grasped the back of his head and he rubbed them in the silky hair, thrusting upward as Severus worked on him, so warm, so wet, so gloriously uninhibited. His mouth and tongue were artistically perfect, working him like no one ever had, giving him exactly what he needed, exactly what he loved.

“Severus…”

He could stay like this forever, his only job to be the object of Severus’ desire, used by those hands, that mouth, that lovely long cock. Fingers grazed over his bollocks again as Severus continued to work his cock, as the pleasure built and pulled at him, centering in his groin. He grasped handfuls of black hair and reflexively thrust, burying himself deep, pleasure edging ever upward, until with a strangled cry he came, pulsing his release into Severus’ wicked mouth, cockhead pushing up against the back of his throat and Severus taking him, taking it, then leaning in and up to kiss his mouth, his hands on the sides of Harry’s head, breathing those words, his words, into his mouth. Mine…mine…mine.

They lay on the couch together for long minutes, Severus pushing away Harry’s hand at his zipper with a “Later, Harry,” and might have fallen asleep so relaxed were they if not for the tap tap tap on the window announcing the arrival of an owl.

“Well, this is it…” said Harry, kissing the corner of Severus’ mouth and untangling himself from his lover.

Severus opened the window and let in Lily’s owl, who flew directly to his perch and hooted at Harry.

“Wrong dad, Bilius,” he said. Bilius allowed Severus to untie the scroll he carried and accepted an owl treat from him, which he promptly dropped into his water dish.

“Stupid owl,” said Harry, sitting on the couch now with his feet crossed on the ottoman.

Severus walked back to the sofa, holding the rolled parchment. He sat down on the middle cushion and Harry leaned up against him. He looked at the scroll for a long moment then opened it and scanned it quickly.

“Slytherin,” he breathed out after a few moments.

“Slytherin?” Harry leaned over to have a look. “I sure didn’t see that coming.”

“Nor I,” said Severus, frowning at the note. “Perhaps the hat is losing its touch.”

“Or getting lazy and just looking at the name. How does Albus sound?”

Severus read the note through one more time. “I’m not sure. I think something is off but I don’t know what. Perhaps I should contact the headmaster…”

But at that precise moment, another owl flew in the still open window. A school owl this time, large and tawny, and it flew to the owl roost and held out a leg to Harry.

“A note from Lily,” he said, taking the scroll. He unrolled it and caught a crystal vial before it fell to the floor. “And a memory…”

Severus looked up quickly as Harry scanned the note.

“It’s her memory of the sorting ceremony,” he said. He walked over to his desk, opened a deep drawer and extracted a simple stone Pensieve which he carried to the table in front of the sofa. “She says it was the weirdest sorting she’d ever seen and we need to watch it.”

He opened the crystal vial and dropped the memory, a long, thin, gossamer thread, into the bowl. It wafted through the air before settling in the basin, seeming to fill it even though the bowl had been empty.

Severus grasped Harry’s hand and they bent together toward the bowl, already seeing the image of the candlelit Great Hall as they neared the cloudy surface. The expected free fall ended with them landing on their feet behind the Headmaster’s chair. A small child, clearly a first year, was hurrying over to the Ravenclaw table amid cheers and clapping. A middle-aged witch, Minerva’s replacement, called out the next name.

“Albus Severus Snape.”

Albus had been standing at the back of the group of remaining first years, and he now made his way quickly up to the stool. Severus thought he looked nervous. The Hall had gotten very quiet but Albus seemed to ignore his surroundings. He placed the hat on his head—it fit rather well, Harry noted—then sat down on the stool.

And sat there.

Harry and Severus exchanged a glance after a few minutes. In silent agreement, they walked around the faculty table together and stood near the small group of unsorted first years, eyes fixed on the stool. Albus would mumble something from time to time, and the hat would murmur something back. The words were indistinct, indecipherable.

Finally, the tear on the brim of the hat opened and the hat called out “Huffleclaw!”

Albus had started to stand but sank back down as the hall erupted in voices. He glanced backward at the faculty table, but the professors looked as confused as he did.

“There is no Huffleclaw,” he said to the hat. “Which did you mean? Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw?”

“Ahh…let me try that again,” said the Hat, making a noise as if clearing its throat. “Better be … Ravendor!”

“Ravendor!” exclaimed Albus. The noise from the students grew again, excited, hushed voices growing slowly into a soft rumble. “That’s not a house either.” He took the hat off and shook it, looking up at the faculty table again.

The hat now made a gagging sound. “Slytherpuff!”

Al dropped the hat in disgust and dropped his face into his hands. He looked frustrated and upset. Headmaster Epcott, however, had come around the table and picked the hat up. He removed his own hat and placed the sorting hat on his head and proceeded to have a quiet discussion with it. All eyes were on the headmaster as he removed the sorting hat and placed it on the faculty table behind him. He cleared his throat and the noise in the great hall died down.

“Our illustrious Sorting Hat has found that Mr. Snape here exhibits fine qualities befitting members of all four houses. It categorically states that it cannot choose only one house for Mr. Snape and therefore asks Mr. Snape to choose for himself.”

The noise from the tables was deafening. Albus looked from the Headmaster to the Sorting Hat then back out into the hall where hundreds of students sat on benches at the four house tables. He glanced over at the open-mouthed first-years yet to be sorted, standing there with Hagrid.

He stood.

“Slytherin, then,” he said calmly. He nodded to the Headmaster and moved toward the Slytherin table, where his new housemates cheered him and scooted over to make room.

Harry tugged at Severus’ hand and moments later they were back in the Hogsmeade cottage.

Severus was still staring at the Pensieve. He looked up after a moment, an unreadable look on his face.

“He chose Slytherin,” he said. “He could have had any of the houses and he chose Slytherin.”

Harry smiled. “And was it the right choice?”

Severus looked back at the Pensieve, then up at Harry again. “It is not the choice I would have made for him,” he said. His face softened then. “But it was his choice. And that makes all the difference in the world.”

“What was it that Dumbledore always said about our choices?” asked Harry after a few quiet moments had passed.

Severus smiled.

“It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Harry and Severus, Albus Dumbledore’s men both, smiled at each other across the table. Harry had chosen to leave the MLE; Severus had chosen to bring his son to Hogwarts and to leave his life in the States. And somehow, in a land as vast as the United States, they had ended up in the same place at the same time and had chosen each other as well.

“Come on.” Harry stood and held his hand out to Severus, helping him to his feet. “You promised me a ‘later’ and I’m ready to collect.”

“You mean you’re ready to be fucked into the mattress,” clarified Severus, pulling Harry closer to him and encircling him from behind with his arms.

“Mattress, wall, kitchen table…”

Severus began walking forward, forcing Harry to move with him.

“This isn’t the way to the bedroom,” murmured Harry, head back on Severus’ shoulder, shuddering as his lover kissed his neck.

“Well, you did mention the kitchen table,” returned Severus.

“You’re pretty adventurous for an old man.” Harry managed to turn around in Severus’ arms, wrapped his own arms tightly around Severus’ neck, locked eyes with him for a long, slow, moment. “Hmm.” Kissed him, slowly, thoroughly. “You’re better. Some of that stress is gone.”

“And a little more is going to be gone as soon as you quit talking and get your arse up on that table.” He walked Harry backward a few more paces, lifted him up and sat him on the edge, then pushed him backward with a hand flat on his chest. He made short work of Harry’s clothes then his own and pulled Harry forward by his hips.

“I feel like the main course tonight,” said Harry. He had reached down and was slowly stroking his cock, heels on the edge of the table, knees spread invitingly, open, bared, uncovered, a feast for Severus on this night of feasts. Minutes later, his hands were gripping the edge of the table behind his head instead of languidly stroking his own cock, his heels were digging into Severus’ back instead of the edge of the table, and Severus’ fingers, not his own, were working his cock. And Severus was like a man possessed, pushing life into him, claiming him here, keening at the feeling of oneness, of purpose, of lives irrevocably joined together. And Harry was so full, of Severus, of life, of redefined purpose, so full he could not hold it in and he wept as he came, as Severus, spent, collapsed on his chest, both of them groaning at the hard surface below them, Severus kissing away Harry’s tears, whispering those words so hard for him to voice aloud, I love you, I love you.

They would have a shop together, across the street from Honeyduke’s, capitalizing on Harry’s name because, after all, they were businessmen now. Harry and the Potter, Potions and Pottery. They would buy the land at the back of the Forbidden Forest, build a new cottage and remodel the shop, collect ingredients in the Forest, in many ways give up the lives they had known apart for this life they had forged together. But intrinsically they were the same men, fathers both, and while some would say that the children must come first—their problems, their concerns, their broken hearts, their futures—Harry and Severus tried not to distinguish one from the other, their love for each other enwrapping their love for their children, both of them better fathers for having each other.

And it would not be all sunshine and flowers for Albus Snape, child of the magic of the desert transported, Wizard of Oz style, to magical Britain, but in the end he had his father, and he had Harry, and when he missed the desert and the home he had known they would take him there for a while, and reopen the shop, and borrow horses to ride—Lily riding with Albus, Severus, with Harry behind him, flying across the desert on his black horse, for flying on the back of a horse was the only kind of flying Severus did these days.

But for now, lying there together, beating heart to beating heart, sprawled like two teenagers on Harry’s kitchen table, they weren’t thinking any farther than the soft bed waiting for them upstairs.

“This is one benefit of having the children away at boarding school,” said Severus as he adjusted his head to better pillow it on Harry’s chest.

“They’d be scarred for life if they walked in on this,” laughed Harry. He kissed the top of Severus’ head. “Come on. Let’s go upstairs and cuddle on a mattress.”

“I do not cuddle,” insisted Severus as he struggled to get up.

“Right, and your son’s not a Slytherin.”

“He is, isn’t he?” Severus smiled.

“All that worrying for nothing,” said Harry as he stood up and winced as he straightened his back.

“I was not worrying,” responded Severus, rubbing Harry’s back. “I was being cautious. Preemptively.”

They continued to banter as they climbed the stairs to their bedroom. Harry was asleep within fifteen minutes but Severus lay awake for some time, contemplating the vagaries of time, the impossibility of having a Slytherin son and the very solid, very present reality of the man sleeping beside him. And if he nestled down in the covers beside Harry, if his arm snaked around Harry’s middle and his head shared the same pillow, could it really be called cuddling?

“Your feet are freezing,” murmured Harry, grasping Severus’ arm around his middle and pushing back to mold his body more tightly against Severus.’ “And I was right about you cuddling.”

“Only when I’m cold,” answered Severus, his voice low.

“Have it your way,” said Harry sleepily, and Severus fell asleep to the steady beat of Harry Potter’s heart, the gentle hooting of the owls in the tree outside the window and the memory, playing over and over in his head, of his son, his son honoring him, honoring his father, choosing Slytherin.

Fin