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A Hiding To Nothing

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To love means loving the unlovable.
To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable.
Faith means believing the unbelievable.
Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.
Gilbert K. Chesterton

Part 1

"It is the decision of this court that Severus Snape is remanded over to the custody of Harry Potter as an indentured servant for the rest of his life. He will lose all rights and privileges inherent to a member of Wizarding society."

For one second, the shock of the verdict held Snape perfectly still, but then he sighed, disappointed. He should have known better than to think he'd somehow be forgiven for his past. As he was brought forward, his hands bound in front of him, Potter scowled at him. Snape glared back, ineffectually perhaps, but he would never allow himself to be cowed.

"On your knees, Snape," the guard said, his wand drawn. His hand went to Snape's shoulder, pressing him down.

Snape's first inclination was to resist, to rail against this latest ignominy, but it would be futile. Best save his energy for a fight he had a hope in hell of winning.

Potter took his wand out, too.

Gritting his teeth, Snape knelt.

It was better than a death sentence at forty. Where there was life, there was hope. A magical tingle went through him. He felt the spell settle. It made him incapable of hurting Potter in any way. It was permanent, too. Even if he got out of this, he'd still never be able to pay Potter back for what was coming.

A second spell was cast. This one was the tracking spell. There would be nowhere he could run to in the world that Potter couldn't track him down within a few minutes. He could only hope that if the chance came for him to escape, that Potter wouldn't care enough to go after him.

"Get up," Potter ordered, sounding as if he hadn't enjoyed having his mean, old teacher at his feet.

"Do as your master says," the guard said, poking him with his wand.

Snape climbed slowly to his feet. Master? Not Potter. Never. He might not be able to fight outwardly, but there were ways of making Potter pay for this humiliation. And Snape planned to use every one of them to make this experience as unpleasant for Potter as it was going to be for him.

Potter took his arm and Apparated them without giving Snape any warning. He opened his eyes and found himself in a surprisingly comfortable sitting room. A big fireplace dominated the wall across from them, two chairs and a matching sofa sat in front of it.

"Did you buy the books with the house?" Snape asked, taking in the floor-to-ceiling bookcases that ran along the entire length of one wall. "I hadn't realized you even knew how to read."

Potter's eyes flashed with fury. "You know, I can't believe you're stupid enough to try to provoke me. I own your life."

"Forgive me for not being impressed that a nineteen-year-old boy --"

"Shut it, Snape. You're not going to goad me into killing you. No matter how much I might like to."

"Why not?" Because, really, Snape could make this a whole lot worse if Potter wanted.

Potter looked at him and smiled. "I'm not going to let you off that easily. I want you to suffer. And you will."

Fabulous, Snape thought. "Do you think I'm going to do anything you ask? Surely, you're not that stupid. Oh, wait. You're Harry Potter. You define stupidity."

"You'd better get used to doing what I want, Snape. This is your life now." It was rather surprising that Potter wasn't more gleeful about it.

Snape shrugged. He didn't care. His one goal in life now was to make Potter as miserable as he was. "Do your worst."

"Come with me," Potter ordered.

Snape thought about refusing, which would be futile with a Wizard who could move him. He followed Potter silently out of the room and across the polished wooden floor of the entryway, into a modern looking Muggle kitchen. Who knew Potter was well off enough to afford such luxury?

They went down a flight of stairs, and at the back of the house, Potter stopped. "You're in here." The door opened to an empty room, bare, in fact, to the bricks. The floor was stone, and there was a pile of blankets on the floor.

"My, what luxury," Snape said, stepping into the room.

"Take off your clothes."

That startled Snape. "Why Potter, I didn't know you cared."

"Not if you were the last Wizard on the planet." Harry took out his wand and snapped out a phrase too fast for Snape to catch.

His clothes disappeared down to his pants. He resisted the urge to cover himself. His body, never beautiful to start with, was emaciated and dirty from his stint in Azkaban.

"Still not washing your smalls." Potter laughed nastily.

Snape bit his lip, saying nothing. He hated Potter in that moment more than he had before, which, all things considered, was quite a lot.

"These are for you. Too bad they're not black, but you know, prison clothes don't come in that color."

A pile of mud gray clothes were thrust into his hands. Potter raised his wand and said, "Go to bed, you bastard. You'll have a lot to do in the morning and you need your rest. Nox."

The door shut. Snape tried it, and was not surprised to find it locked. There was a bit of light in the room from the high window. It was likely spelled so that he couldn't break it. Moving to the wall, he reached up and tapped it with a finger. A mild shock hit him.

The door opened. "You can't get out," Potter said, smirking at him. "The only way out is feet first. And as I said, that's not one of your options."

Snape said nothing, trying to maintain what was left of his dignity as Potter's smirk faded to disgust, and he left.

For the next few minutes, Snape examined the walls and floor and ceiling, looking for possible means of escape, should that prove possible. There were none. Not that it would matter. With no money or contacts, he had nowhere to go. Given Potter's attitude right now, he'd probably chase Snape down to the ends of the earth and drag him back for the sport of it.

He felt as if the world were closing in on him. He was suddenly exhausted, and he sat down on the pallet.

Although he hadn't expected to be exonerated, he also hadn't expected to be convicted like a common Death Eater who hadn't worked for the side of Light. Dumbledore had left testimony, saying that he'd ordered Snape to do what he'd done. That Snape had been a loyal servant of the Light. The Wizengamot had ruled it inadmissible. Everyone knew, of course, but no one cared.

Snape sighed again, lying down in the bedding. At least it was warmer here than Azkaban. And perhaps safer. There were no Death Eaters trying to get even with him for betraying their Lord. Those in Azkaban were now bound to the place, their magic stripped from them. They were less than squibs. At least, he'd been spared that, too. Even if they'd made a show of breaking his wand, his magic had been left intact.

He snorted to himself. What he had was one enraged nineteen-year-old boy with dominion over every aspect of his life, and free rein to do as he pleased. A boy he had abused and protected alternatively for six years. Maybe Azkaban would be safer.

Snape woke to the sound of Potter's voice ordering him to, "Get up."

Opening his eyes, Snape was greeted by the unwelcome sight of Potter standing in his doorway, dressed in his Auror-trainee robes.

"Get up, you lazy bastard. There's no laying around while I have to go to work." Potter scowled at him.

"Lying," Snape corrected automatically.

"What?" Potter looked apoplectic.

More alert now, Snape realized his error, but Potter's language skills had always been appalling. "I said --"

"You're not the teacher here. In fact, you're nothing. Less than nothing." And Potter sounded as if that pleased him.

No doubt it did. Snape tried not to care. He bit his lip to remain silent. The only way to get through this was to try not to provoke Potter. It was a good idea in theory, but he suspected the practice was going to be difficult.

"Get up and get dressed." Potter folded his arms over his chest.

"And if I don't?" Snape didn't move. He was warm and relatively comfortable, something he hadn't been in a very long time. If he could arrange it, he'd like a few more hours sleep. And, it was impossible not to push Potter.

For one second, Potter didn't look sure how to answer that, but his jaw tightened and he scowled again. "Then I'll cast Petrificus, and dress you myself. You won't enjoy it. I guarantee that."

Snape supposed that he wouldn't. "Fine. Leave and I'll dress."

Potter's eyes narrowed in a way that Snape already knew didn't bode well. "You have no right to expect privacy from me. I own your miserable hide. I might as well see what it looks like."

Pretending that he didn't care, Snape rose from the bedding with as much grace as he could manage. He reached for the clothes he'd dumped on the floor next to his pallet the night before. The draw-string in the trousers' waist were all that kept them on his hips. The shirt said 'Property of Harry Potter' on the pocket. It made Snape want to laugh. Or cry.

"God, you're an ugly bastard, aren't you?"

There was nothing Snape could say to the truth.

Potter wasn't looking for conversation, anyway. "I have a list of chores for you to do today. Not only that, I want you to bathe, and wash that greasy hair. It's disgusting, even for you."

He wondered if Potter thought there were any kind of amenities in Azkaban. But even as much as he'd like a bath, it seemed like too much of a concession. However, he did need to use the facilities. "Where is the toilet?"

"Next door over to the right," Potter said, but didn't move out of the way.

Snape debated the wisdom of forcing his way past Potter, but decided that might come too close to violence for the spell he was under. "Unless you want to have a mess on your hands, I think you should let me pass."

Again, it looked like Potter was weighing his options, but eventually, he stepped aside. "I have to go to work. I expect this list of chores to be completed by the time I get home this evening."

Snape made a noncommittal sound as he passed.

The room was stark and plain. A white tile bathtub, a white toilet, and basin. After Azkaban, it was pure luxury, and Snape didn't care as long as it worked properly.

When he returned to his room, the list of things Potter wanted done was affixed to his door. Potter, thankfully, was gone.

Snape went up the stairs to the ground floor. It was nicely decorated, much better than he would have expected from Potter. He fixed himself breakfast and read the Prophet, which had been conveniently left for him, even if Potter had managed to get the pages out of order.

After dumping his dishes in the sink, on top of Potter's and what looked like last night's dinner, Snape wandered out of the kitchen.

Now that he'd eaten, looking around and getting the lay of the land, so to speak, was the first order of business. He climbed up two flights of stairs, and started on the second floor. It had four bedrooms, all with sitting rooms and bathrooms attached. Everything in them, the bedding, the draperies, the towels all looked brand new.

The first floor had three bedrooms, and one was double sized, and clearly inhabited. There was an adjoining door to not only a sitting room, but also to a well furnished office. Again everything seemed brand new.

However, Snape was sure the house was old. It had the feel of history to it.

Without disturbing anything, Snape searched the room from top to bottom, not sure what he was looking for. Perhaps all he wanted was to get some measure of the man who slept there. There was nothing at all telling about the rooms besides the fact that Potter was stupid enough to leave them unguarded with what amounted to an enemy in his house. If he'd had his wand, he would have arranged it so that Potter learned a painful lesson from his carelessness.

 Alas, those days were gone. And even when it had been his right, his duty, it hadn't done any good.

After going through everything, Snape went downstairs to the kitchen and made himself a pleasant lunch. He brought it into the sitting room. Eating slowly, enjoying every mouthful, he couldn't remember the last time he felt so pleasantly full.

The bookshelves beckoned him, and Snape was surprised by the wide ranging topics. Clearly, Potter had bought the books with the house. No nineteen-year-old he knew, and certainly not Harry Potter, had interests in philosophy, ethics, history, and religion. The selections included treatises from some of the greatest Muggle and Wizard thinkers of all time.

It would take Snape quite some time to get through all of them. Many had been on his reading list for years. He sighed, happily.

He pulled one of the history texts out. After an hour, he put the book down. Leaving the lunch dishes, he prepared himself a cup of tea and found some chocolate biscuits. Contented, Snape settled into the sofa and opened up the book again.

Several hours later, the pop of Potter's Apparition into the room disturbed Snape's concentration on his book. He turned to scowl at him for his rudeness.

"What are you doing?" Potter asked, his tone filled with outraged disbelief.

Snape would have thought that it was obvious what he was doing, but then, Potter wasn't very bright. "Reading," he said, blandly.

"I told you I wanted you to do that list of chores." Potter's tone was a bit too autocratic for Snape's taste.

"I saw it." It seemed unlikely to Snape that Potter was actually stupid enough to assume he'd do what Potter wanted, simply because he'd ordered it. Or perhaps, he was giving Potter too much credit for intelligence.

 "What part of indentured servant do you not get? What part of obeying don't you get?" Potter yelled at him, his face turning red with his outrage.

Snape shrugged. Yes, he'd given too much credit.

Potter pulled his wand out of his sleeve. The book Snape had been reading flew out of his hands and returned to the bookshelf.

"You may not read my books without asking me first." Unfortunately, Potter hadn't lowered his voice at all.

Snape considered putting his fingers in his ears in protest, but that probably wouldn't help matters. For the moment, he'd have to listen. Potter ranted about his books again.

If Snape asked for the books, Potter would say no. The control issue was clear. It would serve Snape better to wait, and just read them when Potter wasn't around.

Potter sniffed. "And I told you to bathe."

"I'll bathe when I feel like it." Which Snape had meant to do today, but not because Potter had demanded it. Now, it would have to wait a few days.

"You'll do it when I tell you to do it. In fact, you'll do it now." Potter's tone was like ice. "You have no choices here, no rights."

"What are you going to do if I don't?" Snape knew he was dancing on thin ice, but if he could establish some control, it would only help his cause in the future.

Even before he finished speaking, Potter had his wand out and Snape's hands were bound. A moment of panic knifed through Snape, but he pushed it back. This was Potter and he wasn't going to hurt him.

"I'm going to force you." Potter cast Petrificus and then Mobilicorpus. As Potter left the room, Snape floated behind him like a balloon on a tether.

He was deposited in the bathtub, and Potter said, "Induviae Removeo."

Snape's clothes vanished. The water was barely warm, and Snape thought perhaps he should be grateful it wasn't ice cold, especially given Potter's mood.

Potter raised his wand again, and it was all Snape could do not to cringe. A flannel lifted and rubbed at a bar of white soap. Snape wanted to move away as it came at him, but he couldn't move and was forced to allow it to wash him. Invisible fingers washed his hair, poking painfully into his scalp.

Seething, Snape bit his lip and bore it, almost grateful that the spell held him still. There was no doubt in his mind that he'd be attempting murder right now were he free. He was literally shaking with rage by the time Potter finished with him.

"Finite Incantatem," Potter said.

He was freed and a towel landed on his head.

"Get up, and dry off," Potter ordered, sounding as it this had been a chore for him.

Good, Snape thought, maybe he won't do it again. Before he could move, he took a deep breath, clamping down on his fury. He seriously thought about trying to kill Potter, but the strategist in him knew he'd never get close. Besides which, the spell wouldn't let him do anything. Wrapping the towel around his hips, Snape pushed past Potter.

The sight of his empty room after the luxury of the house was another slap in the face. He wasn't sure why he expected better from Potter, but he had.

Potter stood in his doorway again. "Go to bed."

"Without my supper?" Snape asked, nastily. "Is this punishment for being naughty?"

"I'll bring you something after I eat."

That was a surprise. He expected to miss dinner.

The door closed and no doubt locked. Wearily, Snape sat down on his pallet. After some time, probably at least an hour, but Snape had no way of knowing, Potter opened the door, and set a tray on the floor. He left without a word.

Snape examined the toasted sandwich. Beans on toast. God, how he hated it. He'd eaten more than his share of it as a child. There was some part of him that wanted to toss it on the floor and step on it. However, starving himself was stupid and counter-productive. He choked down half of it before giving up.

His hair was still damp when he lay down to sleep. He hated sleeping with wet hair. He hated sleeping naked. And he hated Potter, hated him with a nearly maniacal passion.

What he hadn't hated was today. It was the first mostly stress-free day he'd had in more years than he could count. He could do with several more days like this one. Even given how the day had ended, the peace had been worth it.

Unbearably tired, Snape closed his eyes and willed sleep to come quickly.

"Hey mate," Ron said, cheerily as he came into the Auror trainee changing room with the rest of his group. "How did it go today?"

They had been split into separate teams for specialized wand training. It was one of the few things Harry was good at. But after the rest of the week, it wasn't going to matter enough to make a difference.

With a towel over his head, Harry massaged his scalp, trying to get most of the moisture out of his hair. "Fine."

"Are you still coming by for dinner tonight?" Ron asked, stripping off his clothes and grabbing a towel from his locker.

At least that would put off the inevitable fight with Snape until later. After a week, Snape had done nothing in the house, except eat and read, and make a mess. "Yeah. At least I won't have to fix my own dinner."

"I thought you got Snape as an indentured servant. Shouldn't he be cooking?" one of the other guys asked.

"Or is Potter going easy on the guy?" someone else snickered. "Like always."

"Actually, I think he's only been with Harry for a day or two, right Harry?" Ron asked, giving Harry an encouraging smile.

"Yes," Harry said, ignoring the other men. He was not in a sociable mood. And he wasn't up to the usual teasing and horseplay that went with their camaraderie.

"Wait for me, then. We'll Apparate together." Ron walked towards the showers.

Harry let the sounds of the locker room bounce off him as he concentrated on not thinking about anything at all.

"Dinner will be in half an hour," a sullen Pansy Parkinson said, heading back towards the kitchen without another word. Dressed in plain gray robes, her long hair pulled back into a tail, she was a far cry from the elegant girl Harry had known at school.

Most of the Death Eaters who had been convicted of capital crimes, murder or rape, had been executed. Those in Azkaban were the ones the Ministry could not pin an actual murder on. They had been charged with lesser crimes, extortion, robbery, property damage, and all manner of terrorism, and had been sentenced to life in prison.

Pansy fell into the third category. She had been a Death Eater, though a minor one, and she was considered safe enough to let out into society as an indentured servant.

"She's so well behaved. How did you manage to do that?" Harry asked. Snape could learn a thing or two from his former student. Of course, Snape was probably too good to actually do it.

"The first couple of days all she did was sit around and eat," Hermione said.

"The same with Snape. All he does is lay about." And eat, too. As much as Harry had no sympathy for Snape about anything, Azkaban was not known for feeding its prisoners very well and Snape looked...well, half-starved.

"Lie about," Hermione corrected, and then smiled at his scowl.

"I threatened her," Ron said, and Hermione looked away, clearly uncomfortable.

"How?" Harry couldn't see that working. The problem with Snape was that there was nothing he cared about.

"I told her that if she didn't work, she wasn't going to get fed."

Harry's heart thudded at that, and for a second, he couldn't breathe. He reminded himself that this was Ron and he wasn't cruel. "Did she obey with just the threat?"

"No. Of course not. It took three days before she was willing to negotiate for food." Ron's tone wasn't quite defensive, and Hermione wasn't looking at either of them.

"Negotiate?" Harry asked, looking between Ron and Hermione. It was pretty clear that Hermione had a problem with what Ron had done, but she hadn't done anything about it. Which meant that against her better judgment, it needed to be done.

"We couldn't make her work and not give her something in return for it. We don't care that she's an indentured servant, and has no rights. We just can't do that," Hermione said, her expression intense, as it was when she felt strongly about something.

Harry could see this was something she was going to do something about. "So what are you giving her?"

"If she does a good job, at the end of the week, she can have something she wants from a list I had her draw up."

"What did she ask for?"

"Foods that she likes, books, clothes. That kind of thing. A bigger bed. Specific kinds of toiletries, more clothes, days off."

"And it works?"

"Not without a struggle sometimes, but it does." Hermione smiled at him. "Having trouble with Snape?"

"That would be an understatement." Harry was surprised by the defeat in his own voice. It should not have been this difficult. Of course, when had anything dealing with Snape not been difficult? It was too bad he couldn't just give him back. But once the verdict was handed down, there was nothing that could be done, short of a full court judgment, or a pardon. Neither of which was at all likely anytime soon.

It wasn't his fault that he was one of the few wizards alive strong enough to hold Snape. Harry hadn't been given a choice. If Harry hadn't agreed, Snape would have remained in Azkaban and allowed to die at the hands of the other prisoners. Harry might hate him, but he did acknowledge that Snape didn't deserve that.

"He's older and has had years more practice at being stubborn than Pansy. But you might try the food for work plan. Everyone has to eat." Ron didn't seem to have a problem with that.

However, Harry did. "I couldn't do that." A familiar ache ghosted in his stomach. It nauseated him.

Ron seemed surprised by his vehemence. "Why not?"

"You've never been hungry, have you?" Harry hadn't told them much about his life with the Dursleys, but surely they had noticed how thin he was every autumn when they were at school. "I can't withhold food."

Hermione eyed him for a moment, understanding and sadness coming into her eyes. "Okay, something else then?"

The scars of his childhood were there, like the scar on his forehead, but that didn't mean he had to acknowledge either of them. "Like what?"

"I don't know. Food is one of those basic things. You need to strike him where he lives, and in such a way that he has to give in." Hermione looked down, clearly uncomfortable.

"I can't think of anything," Harry said. Things couldn't go on as they had been or Harry would lose what little control he had. The forced baths were one thing, but he couldn't force Snape to work when he wasn't there to supervise him.

"You could threaten to thrash him, if he doesn't do what you want," Ron suggested, and in such a way that Harry wasn't sure he was joking.

"Ron...." Hermione looked horrified, but Harry had to admit that he hated Snape enough to seriously consider it.

"I'm serious. Not to actually hurt him, but make him think that you will, make him think that he's going to be facing that. I don't think his pride could handle it." There was a smile on his face as if the idea actually held some appeal.

"The thing is, I won't be able to carry through." Harry might be able to strike out in anger once, but he wasn't going to be able to regularly beat anyone. There had been too much of that in his early life. And even if he managed to do it to Snape, he'd feel lousy about it afterward.

"Then find some way to convince him you will." Ron thought for a moment. "You might only have to do it once, and then he'll know you will follow through."

"I don't know." Harry wasn't sure he could do it once. He might hate Snape, but he didn't want to hurt anyone. Even if that kind of punishment wouldn't hurt more than his pride.

"You have to have a threat to gain compliance." Ron's expression was calculating.

"And you have to be willing to follow through. Because he is going to test you, at least once," Hermione said.

"Dinner is ready," Pansy said, and turned around and left.

Harry looked after her, considering. He wanted Snape to obey him, but mostly he wanted Snape to stay out of his way.

After dinner, Harry was more relaxed. "I bet the twins are having a grand time with Draco Malfoy."

Ron snorted. "From what it sounds like, they seem to be doing better than you are."

"Which wouldn't be saying much, now would it? What do they have him doing?" Harry could not see Malfoy giving in without a fight.

"Same kind of thing as the rest of us. Except they have him cleaning the shop. And they tease him rather badly. I think they are a bit too much for Malfoy." Ron actually sounded as if he felt sorry for Malfoy.

Well, the twins could be a bit much for anyone to take, and someone as perpetually bad tempered as Malfoy was would not get on well with them. "You know, I hate this whole system."

"Me too," Hermione said, sitting down next to Ron on the sofa. "I know there is a huge historical precedent for it, but I still think it's wrong for one person to own another. No matter what they've done."

"It's not really ownership." But it was, and everyone involved knew it. "I mean, technically he's a servant." And no, Harry wasn't going to think about what was on the pocket of Snape's shirts. Somehow the joke wasn't so funny anymore. Harry shook off the feeling. Snape deserved everything he got, and more.

Hermione's expression hardened. "What would you call it? You have complete control over every aspect of Snape's life and he has no recourse at all."

Harry couldn't think of anything to say to that, especially since he knew it was true.

Ron put an arm around Hermione's shoulders. "I don't know what else they could have done."

"They could have found another way, something other than indenturing them. It's nearly slavery," Hermione insisted, her eyes flashing.

"You know as well as I do that Azkaban without the Dementors is woefully short staffed."

"It doesn't matter. They could have done something else." Hermione folded her arms over her chest.

Ron also had a determined look on his face. "I don't disagree that indenturing them is wrong. But in this case, they had to do something for those who were less violent, those who weren't really a threat."

"I realize that. But to indenture them forever? I think there should be term limits," Hermione said. She had that expression on her face that said she was severely unhappy with the situation. The same expression that she'd had for most of their Fourth Year.

"That's all well and good, but why did I have to get stuck with Snape?" Harry didn't care that he sounded whiney. He hadn't done anything wrong and he'd been given a life sentence with Snape. How completely unfair was that?

"You know the answer to that one already." Ron chuckled.

Harry didn't want to talk about Snape or any of the reasons the greasy git was now part of his life. "Why do you think there should be term limits?"

"Because not every one of them deserves to be indentured for the rest of their lives." Hermione looked towards the kitchen. "She went to a few meetings, and on a few raids. As far as I have been able to tell, she's never hurt anyone."

"That's why she wasn't put in Azkaban," Ron said, but he didn't sound like he liked the idea any better than Hermione did.

Harry, on the other hand, knew better. "I think Snape deserves to be punished for killing Dumbledore."

"He was working on Dumbledore's orders." Hermione said that as if it mattered, as if that should excuse what he'd done.

To Harry, it didn't matter. "The bastard still did it. He still should be punished for doing it."

"It was part of the larger plan. And it worked." Since when did Ron defend Snape?

"Beyond Dumbledore, you know that he let Ginny die, too." To Harry's horror, his voice cracked. Six months ago and he felt as if the knife had just gone through his chest. "He got me out, but he left her. I can't forgive him for it."

"I know. He did what he did to make sure you lived. And as much as I loved my sister," Ron's voice cracked, too, "you had to live to defeat Voldemort. You had to live," he closed his eyes. "But she didn't."

Even though it clearly hurt him to accept it, to think the trade was worth it, Ron obviously had come to terms with it.

Harry never could or would. "I hate him for that. She shouldn't have died."

"No. She shouldn't have. But Snape didn't kill her. A Death Eater did." Hermione's voice had suppressed tears in it. "She was one of my closest friends. And I'll miss her forever, but you know as well as I do, she would have chosen you, too."

"She should have lived." Harry felt the familiar rage rise in him. He wanted to strike out and punish someone for what he'd lost. Snape's ugly, scowling face came into his mind like a bad dream. Yeah, exactly.

"But you know, she wouldn't want you to blame him for that. She was more fair than that, and so are you." Hermione was right, but that didn't make him feel any better about it.

"I hate him," Harry said, not letting it go as he probably should have done.

Hermione shook her head. "I'm not that fond of him, either. But your life and his are now intricately bound together."

" make it sound like a real bond or something." Harry already felt sick at the idea that Snape would be a part of his life, anything more than that was disgusting and just plain wrong.

Hermione gave him an admonishing look. "What would you call the indenturing bond?"

"He is bound to me. He can't hurt me or run away from his punishment. I am not bound to him in any way." And Harry could not be more glad about that. All he wanted from the bastard was compliance.

"Have you asked him to brew the Wolfsbane?" Ron asked, clearly wanting to get off the subject.

Harry was more than agreeable to that. "I haven't got that far with the bastard yet." They had probably both already twigged on to how he'd not got Snape to do one blessed thing all week.  

"Remus is going to need the potion, very soon. You're going to have to get him to do it within the week," Hermione said, and she seemed concerned that Harry wasn't going to have Snape brew it.

"I know. Now that I've got an idea of how to handle things, I'm going to speak to him about that as soon as I can." Harry smiled. Getting the better of that greasy git would be so good. Harry was looking forward to it.

"That should be fun," Ron said, sounding as if he knew just how unpleasant that conversation was going to be.

Oh, and Harry knew it, too.

Part 2

Snape was startled awake when the door to his room crashed against the wall. Without thinking, Snape was on his feet, reaching for the wand he no longer had. Then, before he could do more than register who it was, Potter cast "Petrificus."

In the low light of his room, Snape could see that Potter's face was red and his expression was outraged. Maybe he should have cleaned up after himself this evening, Snape thought as Potter advanced on him.

"You didn't do anything again today! Do you think this is a game? Do you think you have a choice about this?" Potter's voice rose with each question.

Snape couldn't move, and he certainly wasn't going to say anything. He'd found that ignoring Potter's rants worked best.

Potter waved his wand again, and Snape was forced to hold out his right hand, palm up. What? A flash of fear washed through him. Even knowing it was futile, Snape tried to pull it back.

"Verbero," Potter said, his wand coming down in a slashing arc.

Snape let out a startled gasp as something that felt like a cane or a ruler hit hard across his palm, and before he could react Potter repeated the movement three more times.

Snape breathed out hard. A welt had opened across his outstretched hand and blood welled out of it. Anger, pain, and humiliation washed over him and he trembled in reaction.

As much as he'd occasionally been subjected to torture from Voldemort, it hadn't happened often enough to inure him to it. Usually, he could see it coming, and had enough time to prepare for it. This attack had come out of nowhere. He simply hadn't expected physical violence from Potter.

"This is not a joke, you bastard. You will obey me. You will complete all the items on the list I've made or we'll repeat this tomorrow night." Potter was breathing hard, his eyes blazing with hatred.

Stunned disbelief held Snape's tongue for a moment. He couldn't quite accept that Potter had deliberately hurt him.

Potter took a deep breath, and seemed to be trying to calm himself. "To show what a decent wizard I am, we're going to do this fairly --"

"There is nothing that even begins to be fair about this situation." Snape didn't bother to hide his bitterness. This was just one more unjust event in a lifetime filled with them. And he suspected Potter knew it and didn't care. So much for Gryffindor fairness.

Potter didn't even blink at his words. "If you do what I tell you each day, and you do it properly, then you win points for each thing."

"Points?" Snape choked on the word. He couldn't mean that. No, that indignity was beyond bearing.

But Potter's answering smile said that he did, and not only that, it pleased him. "Oh yes, just like school. Only now it's me handing them out or taking them."

This couldn't be happening. It was a nightmare. But the pain in his hand was bad enough that he couldn't ignore it, and his stomach was churning with acid. As surreal as it was, he'd have to deal with it.

Potter wasn't done yet. "Every time you don't do what I've asked or you misbehave, you'll lose points. And if you end the week with negative points, you'll pay for them. And let me tell you that what I just did will be nothing compared to what I will do to you if you end up with negative points." Potter met his eyes. "It won't be your hands either. I'll shred the skin off your miserable hide."

Without a doubt, Snape believed him.

Closing his eyes, he wanted to deny it, to believe that Potter was better than this. Merlin, how could Potter, even hating him as much as he did, do this?

Why should Potter be any better than the rest of the Wizarding world? The Aurors at Azkaban had taken cruel delight in humiliating him at every opportunity. But the Death Eaters had been worse. And there had been no way to escape them when the guards turned their backs.

Potter's voice brought him back to the present. "However, if you do what you're supposed to do, then you can trade the points for some amenity you want."

That was unexpected. Realistically, he knew that Potter couldn't free him, wouldn't even if he could. Beyond that, it didn't matter. "What amenities?"

"Anything you want -- within reason. Books. Special foods. Clothes."

"Inconsequential things," Snape spat. Nothing of value or substance.

"Things that will make your life better."

"Nothing is going to make my life better." Except getting out of this situation, which had started badly and was quickly becoming untenable. And Snape knew with awful bitter certainty, there was no getting out.

"Too bad. This is your own fault."

Snape wasn't going to argue that question. His hand hurt and his anger was starting to overflow. For one second, he wished he could wrap his hands around Potter's neck and squeeze until he turned blue. He took a breath again and tried to let the anger go. Until he could do something about it. "And if I don't agree?"

Potter laughed at that and it felt like being stabbed in the chest. "What part of 'no choice' don't you understand? If you don't do this I'll beat you until you do," Potter said, glaring.

Snape sucked in a breath. At some other point in his life, he would have said that he knew Potter well enough to know he wouldn't follow through on that threat. But the war had changed them all, and now he wasn't so sure, especially after what Potter had just done.

Judging by how badly his hand hurt, and how it was likely to feel tomorrow, Snape wasn't going to take the chance. If Potter decided to take the negative points out on his hands too often, he might lose some sensation or feeling in them. Having his hands permanently damaged would do his career no good at all. Not that he was going to have a career, but something could change in the future. And his hands were his livelihood.

Beyond that, while the pain wasn't unbearable, nothing was after experiencing Cruciatus, it was considerably uncomfortable. The humiliation...that didn't even bear thinking about. For the moment, he'd have to bide his time, seeming to comply with what Potter wanted.

"Do you understand me?" Potter asked, his tone filled with anger. Though what he had to be angry about was beyond Snape. The bastard held all the cards, and Merlin, how Snape resented him for that.


"I expect you to get up, and make my breakfast in the morning." Potter waved his wand. "Finite Incantatem."

After Potter left, Snape sank slowly down to his pallet, shaking. He lay awake most of the night, his hand stinging, and his mind working through all the different ways he could eviscerate Potter.

Trembling, Harry made his way up the stairs quickly, the sound of the spell hitting Snape's open palm, ringing in his ears. He felt sick to his stomach. Maybe a bath. Anything to clean that foul feeling that clung to him.

In his entire life, he'd never done anything like that, never deliberately hurt someone who was not actively trying to hurt him first. Even sixth year, when he'd cast Sectumsempra on Malfoy, which was probably the worst thing he'd done to someone he wasn't actively defending himself against, he'd really only been testing out the spell. He wouldn't have done that to Malfoy on purpose. Malfoy hadn't been held still by a spell, and he hadn't been unarmed.

But...but...if he wanted Snape to obey him, then Snape had to be forced to it. Simply asking or telling or demanding was not going to work. Not with Snape. So, this kind of action was justified. wasn't supposed to make him feel like he'd committed a crime. Wasn't he supposed to feel triumphant that he'd finally got the best of his enemy?

Harry lay down on his bed, trying to sleep, but his mind kept replaying the scene, and every time it did, he saw the welt open on Snape's hand. He saw the pain and hatred blaze in Snape's eyes.

Bile rose in his throat, and he couldn't lie still. Jumping up, he dressed again and went down stairs. Time for a ride. He fetched his broom from the closet, and grabbed his cloak. Harry headed out into the night.

For a long time, he flew without knowing where he was going, but as the graveyard came into sight, he realized where he was.

Ginny's gravestone was cold marble, and Harry sat against it.

"Hi, Gin." He felt silly speaking to her as if she were alive, but he had the most bizarre need to tell her what had happened since she'd died. "It didn't end the way it was supposed to end, did it? You weren't supposed to die." He paused and whispered, "I loved you. I wanted us to have kids and a normal life. I hope I'm still going to be an Auror. But instead of being married to you, I end up with Snape. How unfair is that?"

Harry forced out a bitter laugh, because it was that or cry. "It's not really funny, is it. I hate him so much. I want him to suffer for what he did to Dumbledore. And to you. I just don't want to be the one to make him suffer. It shouldn't be me. He should be in Azkaban. Anywhere, but with me.

"I don't think I can hit him again. Not unless he was trying to hit me first. Maybe it won't come to that. Maybe Snape will take the warning. Maybe using points will be enough incentive to get him to comply. I know I'll lose what little authority I have with him if I can't follow through. And I already know that I can't do that again."

Harry talked for a long time, telling Ginny of his troubles and when he was done, he felt a bit better. It was very late, and cold. He shivered as he mounted his broom for the long flight home.

Deeply resentful, Snape made breakfast for Potter the following morning. His hand ached abominably. It served to strengthen his resolve not to give Potter another reason to use that spell on him again. As he cooked, he thought of all the ways he could make Potter pay for this latest indignity.

"Here is the list of things I want you to do today," Potter said between sips of his coffee. There wasn't quite as much satisfaction in Potter's tone as he would have expected.

Surprised that Potter wasn't gloating, Snape looked at the list. It was mostly household chores. A wave of annoyance went through him. "You couldn't get a house elf to do this?"

"What do I need a house elf for when I have you? Two points for insolence." Potter took a bite of his toast. "Not a good start here, you're already in negative numbers." And there was the arrogance he'd been expecting all along.

Snape ground his teeth and managed, barely, to say nothing.

"There's one more thing." Potter stood and reached for his Auror cloak. "You're going to brew Wolfsbane for me."

"Oh?" Snape gave a brief thought to doing the potion incorrectly, letting his hand slip with one of the ingredients but pride, and the danger it would cause, made him disregard the idea. There were other means of revenge.

"Yes. I've got a lab in the basement near the room you're using. I'm surprised you missed it on your survey of the house. By the way, ten points for going through my things. Did you think I wouldn't notice?"

Actually, he was sure Potter hadn't noticed, especially since he'd done it a week ago. "I was making a point. You should not leave your things unattended."

"I have subtle wards in the house. I know when you cross into my rooms. Don't do it again," Potter ordered, looking superior.

Snape picked up the list and ignored Potter. The hot water for the dishes stung his hand, and he gritted his teeth, making a show of putting the stack of plates into the water one by one.

As soon as Potter was gone, Snape sat down at the kitchen table and put his head in his hands.

It galled him all the more that Potter was enjoying his humiliation. Potter finally had the upper hand, and he was going to take six years of anger out on Snape, unless Snape could think of a way to thwart him. Nothing came to mind immediately. With a sigh of resignation, Snape gave up, and started to work.

He cleaned steadily for several hours, and was surprised to find himself done by early afternoon. After he made himself lunch, Snape went into the sitting room to get something to read. When he tried to retrieve the book he'd been reading, a mild shock hit him.

Seething, Snape sat down and stared at the bookcase, resentfully. He hated Potter so much.

Snape made dinner. He was better than a passing fair cook, but he wasn't going to extend any of his skills. Not for Potter.

After Snape served Harry a plate, he sat down at the table to eat.

Potter looked up. "I won't share my table with you. You can eat when I'm done. Or downstairs."

Snape recoiled as if struck. Closing his eyes, he counted to ten. Then he stood, and walked out of the kitchen. He wasn't hungry anymore. When he heard Potter leave the room, he went back upstairs to clean up.

"Don't waste the food," Potter said from the doorway when Snape would have thrown his dinner in the rubbish bin.

Snape's hands shook with his rage as he pulled a container out of the cupboard and dumped his dinner into it.

"You didn't do badly today, Snape. Five points to you for the cleaning, and another two for the dinner. Though I suspect you're a better cook than that. No matter. It was edible."

Snape couldn't force himself to look at Potter.

"Look at me when I talk to you." Potter's tone was annoyingly mild, but there was steel beneath it.

With a concerted effort, Snape forced himself to turn around. He glared at Potter.

"Tomorrow, I want you to brew the Wolfsbane. It's almost the full moon. Hold out your hand."

"What?" Snape hesitated. He wouldn't be able to brew tomorrow if he couldn't hold either a wand or a stirring rod.

"Do it."

Snape held out his hand and gritted his teeth. He tried not to flinch when Potter drew his wand, but surprisingly, Potter touched his wand to his hand and whispered, "Medicor."

It was a simple healing charm, but it worked to close and heal the welt.

"Normally, I'd leave it to heal on its own, but I don't think you can brew with it open like that."

"I'll need a wand." His had been broken at his capture.

"There's a replacement in the lab. You'll only be able to use it there. And if you try and remove it from the room, you'll buy yourself a world of trouble." Potter's tone was ominous with the threat.

There was nothing Snape could say to that, and so he didn't even try. He would bide his time. Things would change. They always did.

It had been a long time since he'd brewed a potion. How he'd missed it. The exacting science of putting together a complicated potion was a joy he hadn't expected to have again.

It took hours of preparation and painstakingly detailed work, but Snape hadn't felt that content in quite some time.

The lab, of course, was barely adequate. Snape had no idea who stocked it, probably that know-it-all friend of Potter's. Most of the ingredients were non-lethal in and of themselves. No doubt to discourage him from making a poison. Although Potter should have known enough about potions to know that even the most common ingredients could be poisonous in specific combinations. Not that he could inflict it on Potter, but if things got bad enough....

He was a master at his trade, and he could brew what he wished from less than adequate supplies. There were any number of potions he could brew that would serve his purposes, should he decide that he couldn't bear the situation any longer.

There might come a time when the life he was living became too awful. It was bad enough now, but Snape could foresee a future where he couldn't bear it. The bitter truth was that there was no getting out of this, no amnesty, no pardon. The only reprieve that would come was one he created.

As long as he had access to the lab, there would be a way out. It was a failsafe that he would need to endure the coming weeks and months and very possibly years.

Snape was pulled from his dismal thoughts by the timer for the Wolfsbane going off. He checked the brew, and saw that it was the right shade. It smelled disgustingly correct as well. Using his wand, he poured off three goblets of it, and put a no-spill seal on them. Potter could deliver them to the werewolf when he wished.

Before he left the lab, he considered the wand he'd been given. Potter probably hadn't done more than spell the threshold of the door to each room, possibly the threshold at the top of the stairs as well. It would be just like him to not follow through and do the walls as well. Perhaps he could slip the wand into his room by cutting a small hole in the wall.

He couldn't do much with it in there, but at least he could transfigure the pallet into a real bed and it would give him enough light to read by. The spell for the transfiguration would only have to be reset every month or two. At least, he'd sleep better.

With a bit of effort, Snape managed to bore a small hole in the concrete wall, near the floor. The wand slipped through easily enough and he was able to do the transfiguration without a problem. When he'd finished, he cast a glamour on the bed. If Potter examined it closely, he would be able to see what Snape had done, but a casual glance into the room would show a pile of blankets on the floor.

He was pleasantly tired when he'd finished, and it was past time for lunch. Upstairs, he made himself something to eat and sat at the table.

The wards chimed, startling him. With a sigh, he got up and went to the door. Everyone came to the house this way, except Potter, who Apparated in. He wondered why no one used the Floo. It was hooked up. And he'd seen Potter speaking to people with it.

"Lupin," Snape said, unsurprised, as he opened the door. "I presume you are here for the potion."

"Good guess, Severus." Lupin gave him a wan smile, no malice, or any other emotion in it. "But then, you always were rather intelligent."

Biting his lip on a retort, Snape stood aside, and let Lupin in.

"How are you getting on?" Lupin asked solicitously, as if he actually cared about the answer. He followed Snape into the kitchen.

"Wait here," Snape said, going down stairs to retrieve the goblets. When he returned, Lupin had wondered into the sitting room, and was leafing through the book that Snape had been reading a few days ago. So, the spell only worked on him. Anger seethed through Snape at yet another slap in the face.

When Lupin would have put it back in the bookcase, Snape cleared his throat. "Leave it on the table."

Lupin looked at him askance, but nonetheless did as he asked.

"Here." Snape handed him the carrier with the three goblets.

"Thanks. I appreciate --"

"If I'd had the choice, I assure you, I would not have wasted my time with this," Snape snarled at him.

By all that was holy, he hated all of them. The Order could have come to his defense, could have fought for him. A few had done so, Minerva, and more surprisingly, Kingsley Shacklebolt, but none of the others. Most of them wanted to believe the worst.

"I know. I'm sorry --"

False sympathy, especially from Lupin of all people, was beyond anything he could bear. "Spare me your platitudes, Lupin. I don't want to hear them. If you'd cared at all about my predicament, you should have tried to do something when it would have done some good."

Lupin straightened up and looked at him, sincerity written all over his tired face. "I did. I tried to tell the court --"

"Don't lie to me, I was there. You were as useless as every other Order member. Ignoring the ugly facts." But the truth was he hadn't known Lupin had tried. He would have said it didn't matter, that nothing would have helped, but....

"You are an ungrateful bastard, aren't you." Lupin had what sounded like a real note of anger in his normally bland voice.

"Me, ungrateful? Being made into a servant for the rest of my life is something I should be grateful for? Being forced to serve a former student? Being told that I'm no longer--"

"Yes?" Lupin asked, and his yellow eyes met Snape's.

Snape's breath came in ragged pants. Murdering Lupin would do neither of them any good.

"You could have been executed with the rest of the Death Eaters who were convicted of murder," Lupin pointed out, his usual calm returning to his tone.

"Except of course, that I wasn't a Death Eater." Snape hated the whine in his voice. He hated that no one acknowledged any of the good he'd done. Only the evil he'd been forced to do.

"I know. And the Order knows. Dumbledore should not have asked this of you." Lupin sounded like he really meant it.

As much as he wanted to believe that someone beyond McGonagall or Shacklebolt had actually gone to his defense, Snape couldn't. "You might inform --"

"He knows, too. It's just that he's young and angry." Lupin sighed. "He lost a lot in the war. You might try and understand that." Lupin said it as if Potter were actually the wronged party, rather than Snape. That did not endear him to Snape at all.

Snape flexed his fingers, thinking about the wand downstairs. "I lost more than he did. He's free. He can come and go as he chooses. Do what he wants." And that was the rub, wasn't it. Potter could have been decent about it. They could have worked something out. All Potter wanted was to hurt him, to humiliate him, just like all the other Potters he'd known.

Lupin looked down, his shoulders slumping.

"Nothing to say to that?" Snape sneered. They were all so self-righteous. It made him sick.

"What's going on here?" Potter asked as he came into the room, his face showing his annoyance.

"Severus was just giving me the Wolfsbane potion." Lupin held it up as a visual aide.

"So, I see." Potter smiled at Lupin, and then turned to Snape, the warmth fading from his eyes. "Twenty-five points for that."

Twenty-five? Added to the five point deficit he already had, Snape was certain he'd never recover by Friday. Even as his stomach twisted at the points' loss, Snape couldn't quite fathom what had just happened. He'd believed, hoped, that Potter wouldn't use violence to control him. Obviously, he didn't know Potter as well as he'd always thought. Potter was looking for any excuse to humiliate him.

"Harry?" Lupin had that concerned look in his eyes.

It made Snape want to vomit. "If there is nothing else?" Snape walked away without waiting for an answer.

Potter showed up in the kitchen after Lupin left. "What was that all about?" 

"What are you talking about?" Angry beyond caution, Snape simply didn't care anymore. If he were going to be beaten, then he'd give that little bastard a reason to do it.

"Why are you angry?" It was so clear that Potter had no idea.

Snape was shaking with rage. How could anyone who was supposedly of the light be so impossibly careless and cruel? "You are such a stupid, thoughtless child. You have no idea, do you? It's all a game, isn't it? Cruelty comes easily to you, doesn't it? You are just like your father."

Potter's eyes blazed. "I don't know what is wrong with you, but you will not speak to me like that. Ten points for the rudeness."

"Well, let's see that's, what, forty points down, now isn't it? Shall I try for fifty?" Snape took a step towards him. He couldn't actually harm Potter, but maybe he could just startle him. Any kind of satisfaction would do at this point.

"What? Even with the ten I just took, you're still ten up. Look at the counter." Potter pointed to the wall.

How could he not have noticed the points glass? He was ten points up. It infuriated him even more.

"You thought I took points for making the Wolfsbane?" Potter sounded as if he couldn't believe that.

Snape was too angry to answer. He'd actually thought it was for arguing with the werewolf and forgetting his supposed place.

After a pause, Potter said, "Is dinner ready?"

"Give me a few minutes." Snape carefully controlled his voice. Relief made him weak and he hated Potter all the more for the casual fear that ruled his life.


Part 3

Harry slid into the seat next to Ron at their favorite pub and was very pleased to see the glass of ale waiting for him. Hermione had late classes on Wednesday nights this term, and he and Ron had fallen into the habit of sharing a pint and a meal after training.

"How'd you do on the basic evidentiary module? Ron's face was bright with pleasure and that alone said he'd done well on it.

"I did okay," Harry said, noncommittally. Okay was pushing it a bit. He took a long drink from the glass and tried not to think about it.

The light in Ron's eyes didn't dim and clearly, the subject wasn't going to be dropped as he'd hoped.

"I thought that was pretty easy, too. I wish all my classes at school had been like this," Ron's tone was buoyant, enthusiastic.

It hadn't been easy at all, not to Harry. They'd been asked to find clues on a crime scene. Five had been a pass. Harry knew he didn't want to know the answer, but he was a good friend and he asked, "How many did you find?"

"All ten." Ron's smile was incandescent. "Plus the two extra credit ones."

Harry forced a smile, trying to be happy for him. "That's great."

Finally understanding, Ron's smile faded. "Should I even ask?"


"That's not too bad. It's still passing." It was so clear that Ron was trying to be supportive and Harry did appreciate it.

"And in a real investigation that would go over so well, wouldn't it? Sorry sir, I found some, if not all of the evidence." Harry hated it more that he wasn't picking up the information as quickly as he should.

"We've only been in training a few months. You'll get it. I know you will." Just like the good friend he was, Ron sounded sure and encouraging. He wanted Harry to succeed.

"Six months. Two people have already been dismissed from the program. And Benson wasn't doing that much worse than I am." Harry was half-afraid he'd be next. Or that he wouldn't be.

"They are not going to let you go, mate. That much I can promise you," Ron said, sounding bloody sure of that.

Unfortunately, Ron was probably right. And it galled Harry. "Yes. Instructor Belington has already told me that I had did he put it...leeway than some of the other students."

"You told him you didn't want that, right?" Ron didn't phrase it as a question.

"He's still carrying me, waiting for the Boy-Who-Killed-Voldemort to finally pick it up." It galled Harry all the more that he needed the extra time and help. If he'd picked it up the way he should have done, it wouldn't have been an issue.

Shaking his head, Ron picked up his glass and took a sip, setting it down on the table with a thud. "He's not carrying you. Whatever else needs work, you're brilliant at magical spells and defense."

Harry could not believe he was actually saying that, as if one thing had anything to do with the other. "That isn't going to help me, if I can't do an investigation properly."

"It might save your life, and that of your partners," Ron said.

Harry gave him a baleful look. His magic was strong, but, "It takes more than that to be an Auror. It takes specialized skills and not everyone has them."

"You could quit." At least, Ron sounded reluctant to suggest it.

Except that he couldn't. It was simply too important to walk away from. Trying harder was his only option. "This is what I've always thought I'd do."

"There's no rule that says you can't change your mind. Especially if you don't like it."

"What makes you think I don't like it?" Harry asked. But really, liking it had little to do with being an Auror. At least, for Harry.

"Oh, I don't know. The look on your face most of the time. You look like you wish you were any place else."

Harry's face heated. He hadn't realized it showed that badly. "This is what I want to do. I thought that if I killed Voldemort and somehow survived, then my life would be normal. I'd marry Ginny and have six kids and be an Auror and ...."

"Things change, Harry. I think that's what life is about." That was easy for Ron to say since his life had gone just as he'd expected it would.

Harry laughed bitterly. "When did you start to grow-up?"

"About the time Voldemort killed my sister." And there was still a note of disbelieving pain in Ron's tone.

And it was worse for Harry, he knew the truth of it. "To get to me. If Snape...."

"No. Don't blame him. It's not fair," Ron said and it sounded as if he really meant it. "I'm not saying I like the greasy git, but he didn't kill Ginny. Voldemort did."

Harry could not accept that Snape had nothing to do with it. "He could have done something. As it was he didn't help the matter."

"He actually did, if you remember." Ron frowned. "Perhaps not with Ginny, but I don't want to think about what would have happened if he hadn't got you where you needed to be."

Harry didn't like thinking about it, either. "You sound like you think he's innocent."

"No. I don't think that at all. He killed Dumbledore. And even though he did it on Dumbledore's orders, there's part of me that thinks -- I don't know -- that he should pay for it." But Ron looked down at his hands when he said it.

"You don't sound sure." Harry wanted Ron to be sure, to back up Harry's conviction that he was right in his treatment of Snape.

"Are you?" Ron still didn't sound sure at all. In fact, he seemed to be concerned about it. Too much so.

"Yes," Harry said, automatically. "But...."


"It's hard dealing with him every day. It's such a huge struggle, seeing him, making him do what I want him to do. I hate him so much." Harry was tired. He fought long and hard, and when he'd won, he'd thought it was over, but then the struggle had gone on again.

"I take it it's still not going well with you and Snape."

"No. It's better. A bit, anyway. The points idea has helped a lot." But it didn't make Harry feel any better about the whole thing. He didn't understand why, either.

"I bet it's great to take points from him like he used to do to us." Ron chuckled, clearly amused by that idea.

It wasn't fun. That was the whole problem. It was wearing, and Harry hated it. "I'd rather not have him there at all."

"Well, it's not like you can give him back, you know."

"Yeah. Let's order." Harry picked up the menu and looked at the specials for the night, pushing Snape from his mind entirely.


Snape turned from the sink, and the dirty pots he was washing, to see Draco standing at the edge of the kitchen. Draco was dressed in plain black robes, and looked more subdued than Snape thought he should be.

"What are you doing here?"

Draco's smile was tentative, as if he weren't sure of his welcome. "The twins brought me to see you."

"Just like that?" Snape asked, suspiciously. None of them ever did anything without a reason.

"One of my rewards for good behavior. I've seen Pansy, too," Draco said, wryly.

Snape hadn't realized that they were all under the same system of reward and punishment. "Sit. Would you care for some tea?"

"Yes, please." Draco sat down at the kitchen table. At one time in Snape's life, he would have said that Draco didn't even know where the kitchen was. Time changes all things, Snape thought with some disgust.

Snape made the tea and sat across from Draco. "How are they treating you?"

"I'm surviving." Draco sighed. "You?"

"The same." No matter how fond of Draco he might be, Snape would never be able to bring himself to speak of it to him.

"The twins aren't awful. In fact, sometimes they are very funny. But sometimes...they can be ...hard to take." Draco closed his eyes, shuddering.

It wasn't hard to imagine just how arduous living with the twins could be. Having had them in class, Snape could sympathize. "I can imagine that they can be...trying."

"They tease me constantly. Not viciously, but it never ends." The look on Draco's face said he wasn't dealing with it as well as he could. Draco wasn't socialized to deal with anything other than sycophants or enemies. He'd never simply been allowed to have friends.

Snape blamed Draco's parents for that and he felt sorry for Draco. That he couldn't do anything to help was a constant irritant under his skin. "Have you tried ignoring them?"

"First thing. They simply...tried harder." A look of despair crept into Draco's eyes.

"How did you finally dissuade them from going too far?" Snape wondered if he could find a way to deal with Potter.

"I lost it completely. I started screaming at them and didn't stop. They finally understood that they had pushed too hard." Draco met his gaze, allowing Snape to see how humiliated he'd been by the loss of control.

No amount of yelling would aid in the situation with Potter. "I take it your situation is bearable, now?" Snape pushed away the helplessness, perhaps there would come a time when he could do something.

Draco nodded. "Mostly. What about you? Potter can't be easy to live with."

"You have a gift for understatement." Snape let some of his bitterness out in a snort, but he wasn't going to go further than that. "It's fine."

There was a look that Draco got sometimes, when he thought Snape was having a problem or in trouble, that he was wearing now. It was nearly protective. "I know that Potter can be difficult," Draco said again.

Conceding that Draco would not give up, Snape sighed. "That does not even begin to describe it."

Draco looked down. "Is there something--" he cut himself off before he could finish. There wasn't anything either of them could do about their situations.

"I understand that Granger has decided to take up the indentured issue," Snape said into the awkward silence. He was constantly surprised at what foolish things that girl did.

"I never thought I'd be grateful for anything that concerned her, but I am now. She's tenacious enough to get something done." Draco looked as if he were trying not to be hopeful, but it was clear that he couldn't help himself.

"I hope she's more successful this time than she was with the House Elves." His disdain was feigned. He honestly believed that if anyone could do it, it would be Granger.

"She will be. I can't believe this is permanent." Unsurprisingly, Draco sounded a little desperate.

Snape could understand that. He didn't allow himself to dwell on the endlessness of his life right now. "Even if she were successful, it will take her years to accomplish it."

"I know. But I have to have something to believe in or I'll go mad."

For him, there was no hope of anything better. He would never be freed. And that was a burden he felt to the depths of his soul. At some point, it would be impossible not to give in to the despair that hovered over everything in his life, but now all he could do was accept it and adapt.

"You don't think she'll manage it?" Draco asked, clearly hoping for reassurance.

"On the contrary, she'll keep at this until she wins. She's that kind of Gryffindor. Besides, with you, Pansy, and many of the other young Death Eaters, none of you actually did anything wrong."

"Other than being on the wrong side." Draco sounded bitter as if he'd been betrayed in some way. And hadn't he been, though probably not in the way he thought.

"And let's not forget, you have the wrong ideas about Wizarding society." That was the larger issue. Draco and the others had to be punished so that anyone else with the same ideas who hadn't acted would change their minds, or think twice about expressing them. At least, that was the theory. Snape believed that the reality would be much different.

"That too. But they can't change how I think." There was a touch of his old belligerence in Draco's tone.

That rather pleased Snape, but the reality of the world would not change. "No, but if you tell them, they can and will punish you for it."

"Rather severely," Draco said with less anger than Snape would have expected. Perhaps he was learning something.

"Do you still think that way?" Snape asked, wondering if Draco had actually changed.

Draco had a rather perplexed look on his face. "I hadn't actually thought that way to start with. Okay, not after Voldemort let my father die in prison."

"You tried more than once to do The Dark Lord's...Voldemort's bidding." That had cost both he and Draco more than either of them had ever expected.

"I was ambitious enough to believe he might reward me for doing it. I wanted to be that ruthless. To be like my father." Draco's shoulder's drooped and he looked down. "In the end, I wasn't able to do it. I suspect I disappointed everyone."

It saddened Snape to see Draco so defeated at his age, but it wasn't as if he hadn't made the same mistake. "Not everyone. I think you've found that you didn't want that after all?"

Draco nodded. "I was much younger then."

It had only been three years, but Snape suspected that was a lifetime to Draco. A lifetime for all of them.

"I hope that Granger will win your freedom." Snape believed she would do it eventually, but it would take time.

"But not yours?"

"I am a different case altogether. I murdered Albus Dumbledore." His voice still cracked when he said it. Their society would never forgive him, but more than that, he was never going to be able to forgive himself.


"There are no buts, Draco. They will never forgive me for that."

"No. They won't." Potter stood in the doorway, his arms folded over his chest, and his expression angry. "Would you serve dinner now, please?"

Snape nodded, and stood to do his master's bidding. It burned a hole in his gut every time Potter ordered him to do something, and he obeyed.

The look in Draco's eyes no doubt matched his own. But Draco stood as well. "Let me help you?"

After dinner was served to Potter and the twins, Draco and he sat down to eat their share at the kitchen table. Neither of them seemed especially hungry. Draco used his fork to move his food around his plate.

"You know, Granger isn't being horrible to Pansy," Draco said as if it were shocking information, not something he really should have known.

Snape had to wonder if Draco paid any attention at all. "And I doubt she will be."

"I never thought about the consequences of any of it." The look of self-loathing on Draco's face said all that needed to be said.

No one Draco's age ever considered the far-reaching effects of their actions. Not until the worst happened. And then they were always shocked. "You were so young. Don't be too hard on yourself."

"It's hard not to be. Those decisions got me to where I am now. And really, this is no place I ever thought I'd be." A bleakness had crept into Draco's tone.

It worried Snape. "I think I know that better than anyone else. You'll have to learn to live with it." Because that was all anyone could do. That and make amends. It galled him all the more that this might be his paying for his own mistakes. If it were, then the price was unearthly high.

"I'm nineteen. I can't bear the thought that this is all there is to my life."

Snape was sympathetic. He did understand. "You don't have many options, right now. But things can change."

"I have none either way, really. If I'm freed, I'm not sure what I'd do. I never finished school and I don't have any kind of skills." Draco's assessment was correct. If he were turned out into the streets, he would likely starve.

However, Snape knew that Granger wasn't going to let that happen. Not like that anyway. "Perhaps you should think about what you want to do when you're freed. It will be a while, no matter what. You'll have some time to plan for it."

"That's good advice. Thank you." Draco seemed calmer, more accepting.

"Sit," Potter said, after Snape had finished the dishes. It was Friday, and Snape hated Fridays. He hated them with a singular passion. Fridays were the accounting for the week.

He sat, but could not bring himself to begin the bargaining. His life had been reduced to the number of points he earned each week. It brought him the things he should have had by right. His gut twisted with dread.

"It looks like you're still in positive numbers, despite everything you've tried to do to change that," Potter's tone was faintly amused as if it were a joke to him.

Snape breathed out, trying to let the rage and humiliation go. It had been a long week. All he wanted was to collect whatever books he could and retreat to his room to read them.

"You've got eight points."

"I thought it was five."

"You got three for dinner and clean up. Try not to say anything nasty and lose them in the next five minutes." Potter's expression was triumphant for a moment, but it faded quickly.

Snape could almost believe he wasn't getting any pleasure out of this.


"You're far too kind," Snape said in a perfectly flat voice. He had nothing left to give, even for a row.

"I thought so," Potter answered back, just as unemotionally. "What do you want?"

My freedom. "Books."

"Big surprise there. Do you actually care about anything else?" Potter's tone had a fair amount of scorn in it. "Choose five from the bookcase. That should last you the week."

"Feeling generous, Potter? What a surprise," Snape said with a sneer. He hated that both the points and the books were doled out without any consistency. Potter was only consistent with the twenty-five points for the Wolfsbane.

"Not especially, Snape. Don't push me or you'll start next week in negative numbers."

He usually started every week in negative numbers anyway. This week, however, he was brewing the Wolfsbane and that usually helped his accounting.

"I'll take down the wards, go and choose whatever you want." Potter went into the sitting room.

Snape followed him, watching as he took down the wards.

With a sigh, Snape went to the bookshelf and pulled out one of the titles. He slowly leafed through it, his fingers running over the pages. The thing he missed the most was his books. That his library at Spinner's End was gone forever was a pain in his chest he could not assuage.

Even some small access to Potter's books didn't alleviate the need to have them. To be able to browse through the books and parchments, to smell them, to touch them, to know they were his. He put the book he'd been looking at back, and pulled another one.

After a while, Potter sighed behind him. "Can we move this along?"

"I don't want to choose incorrectly." Snape would never be able to express to Potter how important it was.

"It's not a major decision," Potter snapped.

"Not to you, of course. I --"

"Don't start with me. Just choose the bloody books, and let's be done with it." Potter's impatience rolled off him in waves.

Snape took a deep breath and tried to will back his anger. He needed this after the stress of the week, and dealing with Potter. "Looking for the right books is part of the process."

"Process? You're joking. You're picking some books to read!" Potter's face had turned red. He had no idea, not a bloody clue what this was about.

And Snape wasn't going to give him more fuel for mockery. "It's so clear you know nothing at all about books. About having them or enjoying them. I was right, wasn't I? You bought the books with the house."

"It doesn't matter where I got the books," Potter said through his clenched teeth.

"You're a foolish, illiterate boy."

Potter looked like he was ready to explode. "Either you pick the bloody books right now, or you'll lose your chance to do so."

Something snapped in Snape. He picked up a vase and threw it at the fireplace. "Bloody hell, Potter. Can't you just let me be for a few minutes? You control every aspect of my life. Let me spend five minutes enjoying this one, pitifully inadequate joy of my existence."

For a moment, Potter looked stunned by the outburst and Snape wished with all he had he could call it back. It gave Potter too much pleasure to see how this life mortified him, how it hurt him. Snape tried never to let anything show.

"Why should I do anything for you?" Potter's tone held none of his usual belligerence. He sounded as if he were actually asking a question that required an answer.

There was no reason Snape could give him. All he'd wanted was a bit of time to enjoy the books. To maybe leaf through them. To smell the paper or parchment they were printed on. It wasn't a lot to ask. Defeated, Snape let his shoulders slump.

"I don't understand...." Potter said, quietly.

Snape breathed out, fighting for control. He wanted to strike out, to throw something else, but at this point, he knew just how useless it would be. "That is so apparent that a blind wizard could see it."

"Why does everything have to be a battle with you?"

"I assume that's a rhetorical question." The tightness in his chest eased a bit.

"I'll be back in an hour to put the wards back up. Clean up that mess and choose your books." Potter walked out.

Snape retrieved the book he'd been looking at. The joy had gone out of it. After cleaning up the vase, Snape chose four other books at random and went downstairs.

Part 4

Harry knocked on Minerva's door. It was strange coming back here, and even more strange that she invited him with only a vague excuse of tea. "Headmistress."

"Harry, do come in," she said, opening the door. "And I think you're old enough to call me Minerva."

He was never going to be that old, Harry thought, but he smiled at her. "Thanks, Minerva."

"Would you like some tea?" she asked, as Harry settled into the comfortable chair by the fireplace. She took a seat across from him.

Harry nodded, and she waved her wand at the tea set. A teapot poured tea into two cups, and she handed one to him.

"Thank you," Harry said, stirring in two sugars and a splash of milk.

They sipped their tea in silence for a moment.

"So, um...Minerva...." He wondered how rude it would be if he just came out and asked why she wanted to see him.

She smiled at him and the twinkle in her eyes reminded him of Dumbledore. "I know you're wondering why I asked you up here, and I'll come right to the point. I want to borrow Severus for a bit."

Startled, he tried not to let it show. "Excuse me? Why?" That was completely unexpected. He hadn't thought she'd cared about Snape one way or another.

"To brew some of the more complicated potions for the infirmary." She said it as if it were the most commonplace thing.

Maybe it was, but the request surprised Harry. "Why him? I mean, can't you buy the potions from any legitimate source?"

"We can buy them from a wholesaler, and at a reasonable cost, but they are standard remedies. Severus brewed the potions using his own recipes, and they were generally much more effective than what we can buy."

"Oh. How did you know I was letting...." Harry felt very reluctant to say that he forced Snape to do anything. He was sure McGonagall would not approve.

Her face had that 'I know everything' expression. The same one Dumbledore used to have. "You do know that Remus Lupin works for me. I know where he's getting the Wolfsbane from."

Harry closed his eyes. Snape would probably enjoy it, and part of Harry wanted to let him, and another part wanted to deny him.

"I'll pay a fair wage for his services," McGonagall added, after a moment's pause.

"It's not the money."

"I rather thought it wasn't."

"How can you, of all people, forgive him?" Harry found it impossible to believe that she could just forget what Snape had done.

Her eyes blazed intensely. "Because I know what Albus meant to him, and what it took for him to make the choices he had to make."

"I hate him for it." But even he could hear that he wasn't as vicious as he'd been even a few months ago. Something had changed. Maybe he was just worn down by the constant battles.

"And Albus as well, since he was the one who instigated the whole thing?" There was something that was just too knowing in the way McGonagall was looking at him.

"Yes," Harry snapped without thinking. Then he realized what he'd said. "No, of course I don't hate Professor Dumbledore. Snape killed him."

"I don't deny that or that Severus is going to have to live with what he's done for the rest of his life. I'm sure it's no easy thing to do." She actually sounded sympathetic towards Snape, as if he should have compassion, rather than anger.

Harry looked down and ran his finger along the arm of the chair. She might be able to forgive and forget, but he couldn't. "Can I think about it? The brewing, I mean?"

"Yes, of course. I do hope that you will allow it. I think it will be a good thing for everyone," McGonagall said, sounding so disappointed in him. Harry wanted to wince.

"I'm going to stop in to see Remus, since I'm here. Thank you for the tea." He couldn't quite bring himself to let Snape do the brewing, to give him any kind of pleasure. Harry knew he was being completely unfair. And he knew it reflected badly on him, but it just wasn't in him to forgive that easily.

"You're most welcome. Please come back and visit." She stood and ushered him out.

He made it back down to the entrance, and Dobby popped into existence.

"Dobby, you startled me." Harry smiled at him, wishing he was as glad to see Dobby as Dobby was to see him.

"Dobby is sorry to be startling Harry Potter." Dobby sounded hurt, as if he actually could tell what Harry had been thinking.

Harry quickly reinforced the Occlumency on his mind. "It's okay, Dobby. I was just going to see Professor Lupin."

Dobby smiled, his big watery eyes bright. "Dobby is seeing Auror Tonks going to see Professor Lupin, too."

Maybe he'd skip the visit, after all. As much as he loved Remus, he hadn't been feeling much like seeing him, anyway. And the thought of interrupting them, even if they weren't doing anything, made Harry's chest feel tight. "Maybe I'll just go, now."

Dobby's ears drooped. "When is Harry Potter asking Dobby to be his house elf? Because Dobby is wanting to be Harry Potter's house elf."

He had sort of promised Dobby. "I'm not ready for that quite yet."

"Dobby is thinking that Harry Potter is getting another elf."

"I wouldn't do that. If I ever get an elf, it's going to be you. I promise." Harry smiled at him.

But Dobby looked up at him, reproachfully. "Dobby is hearing that Harry Potter is making a house elf out of Professor Snape."

"Not you, too. I have to go." Harry pushed open the door to the school and walked out.

After his unplanned lunch with Gawain Robards, Harry was dead tired. He Apparated right into his bedroom. But try as he would to relax, sleep would not come. Finally he gave up. As he came down the stairs, he heard a laugh come from the sitting room.

Curious, he looked in. Snape sat on the floor in front of the fireplace, talking to McGonagall as her head floated in the flames.

"Well, you old tabby, I know you didn't call me just to make me laugh," Snape said, but even Harry could hear the affection in his voice.

And it shocked Harry. When was Snape nice to anyone who wasn't a Slytherin?

"Oh, I don't know, Severus. I suspect you could use a laugh." She grinned at him, but her smile quickly faded.

Snape sighed. "What I could use...I can't have."

"I'm sorry," McGonagall said, sounding very sad. "I wish there was something I could do."

"You've done far more than anyone else --"

"If you'd let me, I would have done more then." Her tone was faintly admonishing.

"They refused to allow Albus' Pensieve testimony. After that, there was nothing anyone else could have done." Harry could hear the bitterness in Snape's voice.

"I could have demanded to testify. Corroborated your story." She made it sound like she wanted to and Snape hadn't allowed it.

"Minerva, you know they had already decided to convict me. All you would have done was endanger your position at the school. There weren't enough people to back you up." The bitterness was even stronger, but with it was a strain of resignation.

However, none of it made sense. Harry could not believe Snape would sacrifice his defense for any reason.

McGonagall's expression changed to anger. "I'm deeply disappointed in many of my fellow Order members."

"Nothing can be done about it now." Snape sounded as if he were disappointed too.

Harry thought about what he'd said and done to discourage people from helping and felt a jab of guilt. But he dismissed it. Snape had got what he deserved. It was Harry, himself, who had been the one to end up with the undeserved sentence.

"No, there isn't anything either of us can do right now, but there might come a time." McGonagall sounded like she was trying to cheer him again.

But Snape's expression darkened. "I don't expect anything from anyone."

"Feeling a bit friendless, I think?" And for some reason McGonagall sounded amused.

Harry wondered why.

"You're not, you know. Kingsley asks after you. And Remus, though I expect he sees you occasionally."

"Lupin picked up the potion this past week, in fact."

When had Snape and Remus started to get along well enough for Snape to say Remus' name without a sneer?

Harry had forgotten that Snape had brewed the Wolfsbane this week. He wondered why Snape hadn't reminded him.

"And Hermione is working on your case, as well as that of the rest of the indentured servants. She's quite tenacious about it."

"She won't win with me. With the others, perhaps. They didn't actually do anything wrong."

McGonagall nodded. "Their nasty attitudes and general belligerence did not serve them well."

"Twenty-two teenagers and young adults were indentured for life because they weren't nice to the right people. I think that's a bit harsh."

Harry hadn't thought of it that way before. It seemed harsh to him as well. More than harsh, completely unfair.

"But then," Snape continued, "the world is a harsh place."

"You know, he is a compassionate young man."

"I haven't seen it."

"He's got a blind spot where you're concerned. And really, you're no better."

"Oh, I never noticed." Venom dripped from his words.

A voice in Harry's head, that might have been his conscience, said Snape had every right to be angry. But Harry wasn't ready to listen to it. Snape deserved what he got.

"I suspect you both got off to a bad start and never recovered. Pity, you're a lot alike, the both of you." McGonagall chuckled at that, as if it were some kind of joke.

"I hate him, Minerva. He's made my life hell for a very long time. This," he waved his hand, "is nothing new."

Harry wanted to object to that. It was Snape who started it when Harry first walked into his classroom. "Mr. Potter...our new celebrity." The words were permanently seared into Harry's mind. Too bad Snape didn't like the results of what he'd sowed. It served him right.

"I expect that it isn't anything new, except now he has the upper hand. I'm assuming things are no better?" She seemed concerned.

"No. They are the same. I assume that since you didn't mention your meeting with him that it did not go well, either."

"He didn't say no outright." But the disappointment in her tone was a knife into Harry's already tender chest.

"That's not permission."

She winced. "I'm sorry. It's unconscionable that you've been put in this situation."

"I tell myself it could have been worse, that I could have been kept in Azkaban. That my life would have been forfeit there within a month."

"You don't believe that?"

"I'm beginning to think not. I suppose I'd better go. He'll be home soon." He smiled at her. "Thank you for calling."

She nodded and the fire went out. Snape sat back on his heels and put his face into his hands.

Harry's chest felt tight. He'd never considered that Snape might have friends. Or that he might wish to talk to them. The truth was, he'd never considered Snape as anything other than an adversary. Someone he wanted to get the best of. Someone who he'd finally done that with.

The problem was that he didn't get the joy he'd expected out of it.

Talking with Minerva never did anything good for Snape's mood. Her compassion was both balm and acid in his soul. That Potter hadn't agreed to allow him to brew for the school didn't surprise him, or it shouldn't. He should learn not to expect anything but the worst from that spoilt brat.

He heard a noise and looked up to see Potter standing in the doorway. "If you saw I was speaking to someone, you might have left and allowed me some privacy," Snape said without thinking, again. Six months and he still hadn't grown used to the situation. Not that he ever would.

"Ten points for insolence," Potter snapped, glaring at him.

Well, that wasn't an uncommon response. Snape clenched his teeth on a rejoinder, or tried to for a moment. It didn't work. "You stupid, inconsiderate brat, take whatever you want. I don't care anymore."

"You'll care when I take it out of your hide, you miserable bastard. Why can't you ever act like a civilized person?" Potter's tone was filled with menace.

And there was a part of Snape that was concerned about what Potter might do. Mostly, however, he wanted to kill him. "You wouldn't recognize civilized behavior if it bit you on the arse. You are a whiney, brainless child. You should not be in charge of yourself let alone anyone else."

"Too bad, I own you. I can do anything I want with you, and there is nothing you can do about it. So, shut it and accept it. And maybe we'll both survive this."

Snape breathed out sharply, trying to rein in his fury. "What do you want from me?"

"I want you to make dinner. Hermione and Ron are coming over and I promised them roast beef. Yorkshire pudding might be nice, too."

"When are they coming?" Roast beef would take at least two hours to prepare and cook.

"In half an hour."

He could have guessed. "You couldn't have mentioned this to me a bit sooner? There isn't time to prepare it properly --"

"That's not my problem. It's yours. Deal with it." Potter turned around and went upstairs.

"Fine." Snape growled, swallowing back his annoyance. It was starting to burn a hole in his belly.

The Muggle telephone was a great invention. Snape called one of the local pubs that delivered food and put the bill on Potter's account. Because there were restrictions on Snape with regard to having money, Potter had set up accounts with Gringotts and a Muggle bank so that Snape could order whatever he needed by phone or Floo. It worked out well. Especially now.

The food wasn't as good as his, but it was edible. He'd had it delivered for lunch a couple of times, when he hadn't felt like cooking. Potter had never said anything about the expense.

He set the table for three. And told himself to relax. But it was Friday, and Merlin, how he hated Fridays. This week was worse, too. Potter had forgotten to give him points for the Wolfsbane, so with the ten he'd just lost, he had two left. Zero points would be acceptable, but negative numbers concerned him.

It likely concerned Potter as well. Snape had not failed to notice that something always happened to ensure that he didn't end up in negative numbers on Friday afternoon. Not once since this repulsive system had started. Despite that, he wasn't stupid enough to test that theory.

It wouldn't kill him if the worst happened, but there was only so much degradation he could deal with before it broke him. The frustrations, the boredom, the constant demands, were all starting to wear on him.

His thoughts were interrupted by the door chimes. Aside from Potter, no one Floo'd or Apparated into the house. Potter hadn't said anything, but Snape assumed it must be some kind of security wards.

He opened the door.

"Snape," Weasley said as he came in. It never failed to amaze him that Weasley turned out to be such a fine looking wizard. Tall and sleek, and if his hair was still as obnoxiously colored as it had ever been, his skin was no longer covered with freckles and that made all the difference.

Granger nodded to him, and Snape had to resist asking her how her work for the indentured was going. While Weasley had outgrown his awkward adolescent looks, Granger looked much the same as she had when he'd first met her. Her hair was bushy and untamed, though now she at least tried to suppress the unruliness by tying it back into a tail.

He led them into the sitting room, and retreated back to the kitchen to wait for dinner to arrive. When it did, he carved up the roast and set it, and the pudding, on plates. It smelled good, but looked a bit overdone for his tastes.

When he set the plate in front of Potter, he looked down at it and then back at Snape, his eyes blazing with fury. "You didn't cook this, did you?"

Snape was not ready to do battle over the dinner. He was tired and just wanted the day to be over. "Of course, I didn't. It takes two hours to cook it from scratch, if I had a roast to cook in the first place, which I didn't."

"Were you just going to pass this swill off as your own cooking?" The look on Potter's face said he wasn't in the mood to listen.

Usually Snape understood what would set Potter off, but this time, he was at a loss. "I had no intention of discussing it, one way or another. It's not bad. Admittedly, I'd do a better job. If I'd had the time."

"Where did it come from?" Potter asked, his voice controlled, but Snape could hear the suppressed fury.


For some reason, that was the wrong answer. Potter's face went white and then red. "You served me and my guests pub food?"

"I don't see why not. It's perfectly edible." Snape shrugged to cover up the worry at Potter's reaction.

"It's fine, Harry. Really. Why are you so upset?" Granger, ever the peacemaker, said.

"It's disgusting. I can't believe this. I wanted you to make it." Potter sounded like nothing so much as a spoilt child.

"As I said, if you'd given me the time, I would have," Snape explained patiently or perhaps not so patiently since he was rapidly running out.

"You should have said something!" Potter yelled, standing up and facing Snape. "You are so arrogant about everything. Too good to do the work I want you to do. Too good to cook for my friends. You never do what you're supposed to do."

"Harry!" Granger's eyes were wide and, clearly, she thought his reaction was out of line.

"Shut it, Hermione! I've had enough of this. Of him. I'm going to take this out of his hide." Potter rose from the table, drawing his wand, and advanced on Snape.

For a moment, Snape was struck dumb by the threat of violence. He took a step back. There was no place to go, of course, but perhaps he could deflect Potter. "Potter --"

"Don't speak to me. You did this deliberately to embarrass me, just like you always do. Only this time I can do something about it, and I plan to."

"I was actually trying to comply with your wishes, you ungrateful brat. You asked for something, and I gave it to you. And now you don't like it. You might have some consideration when you demand something of me." Snape hadn't meant to lose his temper, to scream at Potter, but the frustration boiled over and he couldn't control it.

Weasley, who had been watching the whole scene with wider eyes than Granger, finally sighed. "Don't take it out on him. You know it's not his fault."

Potter stopped dead and looked at Weasley, his expression betrayed. "Since when do you defend him?"

"I don't. I'm not," Weasley sputtered, but he also didn't take his eyes off Potter.

"Fine," Potter said, but his tone did not say he was ready to back down. He turned to look at Snape. "Fifty points for this."

"Bloody Hell!" A tremor of disbelief and fear shot down Snape's spine. He could not believe Potter, could not believe he could be so intolerably cruel.

"Harry!" Granger looked horrified.

"Don't you dare 'Harry' me. He belongs to me and I can do anything I want with him. You can't stop me," Potter snarled at her.

She stood up, too. If there were one thing about Granger he both hated and admired, it was her courage. "No, you can't do what you want with him. Not while I'm here."

"Then you can leave," Potter yelled.

But really, Potter should have known that Granger was made of sterner stuff than that. She wasn't about to back down. "I can see this isn't about him. You're going to tell me what it is about, right now."

Potter's expression was pricelessly incredulous, for one second anyway. And then, he picked up one of the plates of food and threw it against the wall. He turned to Snape, something of the rage had gone out of him, not enough for Snape's peace of mind, but he didn't seem actively violent anymore. "Get out," Potter ordered.

Not having Granger's courage, Snape retreated. The counter in the kitchen showed negative forty-eight points. Even if he'd had the Wolfsbane points, it wouldn't have helped. He thought about retreating further, into his room, but he needed to hear what was being said. And he was fairly certain they were too far along to remember to put up a silencing charm so that he couldn't.

"Harry James Potter, I expect an explanation of this behavior right now." Hermione sounded just like what Harry had always thought someone's mum would sound like if she were angry at her children.

Harry was suddenly exhausted and he sat down, heavily. "Hermione, did it ever occur to you that I might not want to talk about it?"

"I think the real problem is that he failed his practicum yesterday. I suspect that he was suspended from the program today," Ron finally said, looking at Harry for confirmation.

Humiliation washed over him, and he wished he could deny it. "That would be why I had lunch with Gawain Robards this afternoon."

"What did he say?"

Harry shuddered just thinking about how awkward and embarrassing that conversation had been. "A lot of crap. But on the up side, he said I can take the practicum again next week, and if I pass it they'll let me back into the program."

"Which is exactly what you shouldn't do and you know it," Ron said. "You hate what you're doing."

"It's all I've ever wanted to do with my life." Oh, he knew he was clinging to a dream, but he had seen so few of them realized, he couldn't let this one go without a fight. "And I don't hate it."

"Are you sure of that? Have you even considered other options?" Hermione asked, her tone softening. But it was more than apparent she thought he should consider doing something else.

He didn't want to think about his other options, not when there was even the smallest chance he could have this option. Things would get better. They had to. "If I don't do this, what will I do? I'm hardly qualified for much of anything."

"There is a world of things for you to do. Have you ever thought about what you would like to do?" Hermione's tone had become admonishing.

Harry shook his head. He'd always known he'd be an Auror. Well, if he survived Voldemort. Nothing else occurred to him when he'd tried to think about it, which admittedly hadn't been that often.

"Maybe it's time you did, mate." Ron seemed to want to encourage him, but Harry knew Ron would be just as lost if he were told to find another career.

"I just can't see myself doing anything else. And if I pass the practicum next week, I won't have to." He was going to be an Auror. There was nothing else he wanted to do.

Hermione sighed loudly, conveying her displeasure. "Why do you keep pushing at this? You know you hate it and we know you hate it."

"No, I don't hate it. I just need to catch on." He wasn't ready to give up all of his dreams yet and he wished that they would understand that.

"You spend a lot of time studying and, well, far be it from me to discourage you, but...." Ron trailed off, but he sounded like Hermione did, like Harry should want to leave the program.

"What are you going to do about Snape?" Ron asked. His concern for Snape was starting to seriously irritate Harry, nearly as much as him thinking that Harry should leave the program.

Harry drew in a breath and met Ron's gaze. "I can't believe you care that much."

"I don't like seeing you treat him so unfairly." There was a self-righteousness in Ron's tone that sent another shard of annoyance into Harry's gut.

"Why? It's nothing to you." Besides that, it wasn't any of Ron's business. The only reason Harry put up with him saying anything was that Ron was his friend.

"Not for him, for you. What does it say about you if you hit someone who can't hit you back?" Ron sounded way too grown-up for Harry's peace of mind.

"Nothing good," Harry conceded, and realized once again that he was being unfair. It was getting harder and harder to push the thought away. Maybe in his hatred of Snape, he'd lied to himself to justify what he was doing. "I'm not going to beat him, if that's what you're worried about."

Ron's expression said that it was. "It's not only that. You're treating him...badly."

He'd never wanted to actually harm Snape. Only to get the better of him. Only to pay him back for years of abuse. But how fair was that, if Snape couldn't fight back? Even as a first year, he'd fought back. "Ron, please, just let me alone about Snape."

"Snape doesn't deserve to be dehumanized the way you've done." Hermione's disappointment was plain.

It felt like another pin sticking into Harry.

"It's no different from when we were in school, and he was doing it to us." There was a huge difference. Snape had been horrible then, but what Harry was doing was worse. More than that, both Ron and Hermione knew it.

There was no denying it anymore.

Finally, Harry understood why everything had felt wrong. Every time it should have felt good, triumphant, he'd ended up hating what he'd done. He hated taking points. He hated the look of despair he saw in Snape's eyes. And mostly, he hated himself for allowing this to go on much longer than it should have done. "I...I don't know how to change it now."

"What do you mean? It's all up to you," Ron said, looking down.

It was just so hard to imagine doing anything else. And he could admit that he wanted to. "We both got so wrapped up in the points that we can't see beyond it."

"Then stop using them," Hermione said, as if that were the answer to everything.

"How can I make him comply? You starved Pansy to make her do what you wanted." That bothered him more than taking points from Snape. At least, he'd always made sure there was food available for Snape.

"But we've treated her as fairly as we could. We've never made her do what she doesn't want to do. She has to work to eat. We can't afford to give her a free ride. It's hard enough making ends meet with her there. But what she does is negotiable. And we've been trying to give her as much freedom as we can."

Harry hadn't realized that things hadn't gone on as they started with Pansy. "I don't know what to do."

"Try negotiating with him. Let him have some freedom. Let him do some of the things he wants to do. Don't make him do that many things he doesn't want to do." Hermione made it sound so easy, as if Snape weren't impossible to deal with.

"He's a servant. He's not supposed to have freedom. He's not supposed to do anything he likes. He's supposed to do what he's told." As he said it, something coiled in the pit of his stomach. Something that felt like shame.

Hermione shook her head, her expression sad. "Snape is a victim of an antiquated system. A system that is too black and white for the modern day world of gray. And Snape is as gray as they come."

"He's such a bastard." And of course, that was the bottom line with Harry, the thing he found hardest to get past.

Ron snorted. "That is true. But he's also good at what he does. Or did. And he was on our side."

"I thought you hated him, too." Harry could not believe Ron was still defending Snape.

Ron's smile was chagrined, as if he couldn't believe he'd said such a thing, either. "I do. But I'm starting to see the bigger picture of things."

"You're spending too much time listening to Hermione." Harry tried to make it sound lighter than he meant it. Everything was changing too fast for him to keep up.

"Probably true since I live with her." Ron's smile dimmed. "I'm worried about you."

"Don't be. I'm fine--" It was such an automatic response that he couldn't say anything else, even to them.

"You're not," Hermione said. "You've lost weight. You're miserable."

"My life hasn't turned out the way I thought it would." As much as it hurt to admit it, he wasn't going to make things better, unless he did face it.

"Maybe you should find a way to change it," Hermione said. She made it sound as if it were some easy thing to do.

It wasn't easy. Harry wanted it to be the way it was supposed to be rather than trying to adapt to some new way. "Maybe."

"Harry...." Ron obviously knew him too well. "You should start with Snape."

"Oh joy, my favorite subject." Harry let out a huge sigh. "I suppose I'll have to go deal with him. Harry looked at them hopefully and asked, "Do you want to eat some of this dinner first?"

"No. I think we'll just go. Let you get started." Hermione stood and so did Ron.

She kissed his cheek and Ron punched him lightly on the shoulder. "Talk to you tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Harry said as they left. Before he went in to deal with Snape, he cleaned up the plate, and fixed the wall. That done, there was no more procrastinating. He squared his shoulders and went into the kitchen.

Snape sat at the table, his hands tightly clenched together. If Harry hadn't known better he would have said Snape looked scared. But why would he be? It wasn't as if Harry was going to actually hurt him.

Sitting down at the table, Harry was surprisingly without words to start the conversation. He had to do something, he knew that, but what exactly, he wasn't sure. If this were to go on, they would probably start to destroy each other. "What shall we do about this?"

Snape's face had gone completely blank, whatever had been there before was gone.

The silence stretched between them.

"Potter, please. Don't destroy my hands." Snape's voice was a harsh, angry whisper.

"What are you talking about?" Because, really, Harry had no idea. "Why would I hurt your hands?"

Snape blinked at him. His face was dull red, but he couldn't or wouldn't say anything else.

Harry waited, hoping to wait him out, but ultimately, he had to break the deadlock. "Why? Why do you think I'd hurt you?"

Snape shook his head, his eyes still focused on his clenched hands.

"Tell me, damn it." Harry was already tired of this game. He just wanted this confrontation over with and in away that neither of them felt savaged by it. That was probably too much to hope for.

"What would you have me say? Do you want me to beg? I will." Snape's eyes were tightly closed, as if he could not bear the sight in front of him, the sight of Harry.

Hurt by that, and still not entirely sure why, maybe it was just being thought of in those terms. Terms he'd gone out of his way to foster. Harry hated what it said about him. "I just want you to tell me why you think I'll hurt your hands?"

Snape's expression changed to incredulous, or maybe it was annoyed, but under it was fear. "You have no idea? You said you were going to 'take the points out of my hide'. What exactly does that mean to you?"

"Bloody Hell. I wouldn't --" Harry cut himself off before he could say more. He'd known Snape believed him by his compliance. He hadn't ever considered what Snape might be living with to comply.

"Wouldn't you? You've done it already." Snape flexed his right hand.

He had. And even if he knew he couldn't do it again, Snape didn't. And he'd wanted it that way. Wanted him afraid. Wanted him worried. Harry felt sick. "I'm not going to --"

"What are you saying, Potter? You're not going to...beat me for the negative points? Snape peered closely at him, as if he could tell just by looking whether or not Harry would hurt him.

Harry felt ashamed and he looked down at his own hands. "No."

He could hear Snape breathe out in relief and felt even worse.

Snape cleared his throat, and his voice was deadly calm when he said, "So, this has all been a childish joke to humiliate me further."

"No. It wasn't like that." Harry heard the prevarication in his tone. He tried again. "I wanted you to obey me."

"And so you tortured me with a threat you never intended to follow through on." Snape's tone had turned into a low dangerous growl. He wasn't even trying to hide his anger. "You are every bit as revolting and manipulative as your father was."

It took an effort not to rise to the bait Snape was dangling. Harry wanted to fight, to defend himself, but knew, really knew that he was wrong. He felt bad about hitting Snape, but that didn't change the fact that Snape was an utter bastard. "You were supposed to do what I said. You needed an incentive." Harry cringed inwardly at the whine in his voice.

"Really? An incentive to obey you?" Snape's voice had a razor-sharp edge to it, and a bitterness that was not undeserved. "I hadn't realized that. And if you'd asked, rather than ordered, we might have worked something out. But no, you must try and force everything to your way. You are --"

Harry couldn't help himself. He burst out laughing. "Don't even try to lie to me. I can't believe you'd try and sell me that rubbish. From the beginning, you were never going to do anything I said. We both know it, too."

Snape's mouth twitched. "It doesn't matter since you didn't bother to ask. We'll never know."

"We...I do know. What I should have done is not an issue any more. It's what I'm going to do in the future. I'm the one making the changes. You have no choice at all." Harry glared at him, hating him for making this so much more difficult than it had to be. And hating himself for allowing his temper to get the best of him, yet again.

"Do you think for one moment that I'm not painfully aware of it?" Snape's look left no doubt at all how unacceptable he found that.

Harry tried not to gloat. It was wrong to want to see Snape brought so low. "I'm trying to do what's right."

"It's about bloody time," Snape's voice had started to rise in anger.

Harry supposed he couldn't blame him. But he did, and he yelled, "You haven't exactly been easy to live with!"

"Did you expect me to simply lie down and allow you to tread on me as if I were a carpet?"

In other circumstances, Harry would have smiled at the image, but now when he was trying to do the right thing, all it did was exacerbate the situation. "I realize that you've been unfairly treated by the Wizengamot --"

"They are not the only ones who have treated me foully."

"You know, you're not so innocent here, either. You bastard! You treated me and my friends like shite for six years," Harry yelled, but even as he did, he knew he was wrong. It burned to admit that Snape had every right to be angry with him.

"That's what this is all about? You've got your revenge Potter. You've treated me like a house elf, like a piece of property, for the last six months. And it wasn't once or twice a week for a few hours, it was every single hour of every single day!" Snape screamed back, his eyes flashing with his anger.

"You deserved it. You bastard!" But Harry couldn't meet his eyes when he said it.

"No one deserves that kind of treatment." Snape lowered his voice. "Does it thrill you to know how fearful I was? Does it make you feel good inside? Finally got one over on the mean, ugly teacher."

Harry only wished it did. That he could keep doing it and not feel guilty. All he felt now was sick to his stomach that he'd treated anyone, even Snape, so badly. "You know, I thought it would. I thought I'd love it. But I don't. I hate this situation. I hate it that you're here and I have to deal with you. And mostly I hate you."

"The feeling is more than mutual, Potter." Snape sat back in his chair, folding his arms over his chest. "What are you going to do?"

Harry plucked up his courage and faced Snape straight on. "I think...know...I haven't treated you fairly. But I didn't ask for this, or for you. Really, I didn't have any more of a choice than you did. I can't do anything about what's gone before, but we can try and make your life easier to bear."

"Short of freeing me, how do you plan to accomplish that?" Some of the anger and belligerence had left Snape's tone, making him sound sad and tired.

"I can't free you. I think you know that." At this point, Harry would, if he could have. "It would take an act handed down from the Wizengamot or a full pardon from the Minister of Magic. I think you know that isn't going to happen six months after the sentence." Harry met his eyes. "What would make you happier? Make this easier?"

Snape looked at him for a long time, probably trying to decide if Harry were actually serious or not. Finally, something he saw made Snape sigh. "Not being used as a house elf, for one thing."

Harry didn't have a problem with that. He was sure that Dobby would be thrilled to work for him. At least, he'd be able to pay Dobby. "I detest cooking."

"As I have to eat myself, I can cook for both of us." It was the first time Snape had volunteered to do anything. And he didn't make it sound like a burden either.

"The Wolfsbane. Remus needs that."

"As if I care what the werewolf --"

Despite his best effort to control it, Harry's anger started to rise again. "No. Don't you dare say it. I want --"

"I thought this was about what I wanted." Snape's tone had taken on a defiant whine.

Harry knew he shouldn't let it irritate him, but it still did. "It's about us trying to find a way to live in the same house without killing each other."

Snape actually smiled at that. "If you'll recall, I can't kill you."

"Right. Okay, so what do you want to brew the Wolfsbane?" Given the limits on what he could give Snape, he hoped he could meet whatever demands Snape had.

"My freedom."

"Snape!" Harry yelled. The bastard was impossibly difficult.

"I want a real bed."

Which brought up another subject. "You transfigured the pallet into a bed, didn't you?"

Snape looked gobsmacked and Harry smiled at him.

"I told you that I have wards in the house. Anytime anyone uses magic here, I know it. Did you think I wouldn't notice?" Harry wondered how stupid Snape actually thought he was and knew he didn't want the answer to that question.

Recovering quickly, Snape snarled at him. "If you knew I'd used the wand in my room, why didn't you do anything about it?"

"I don't know." Harry shrugged. He couldn't bring himself to take away the simple comfort Snape had magicked for himself. "What about taking one of the rooms upstairs?"

Snape still looked a bit stunned. "That would be adequate. I'd like a wand."

"You can't own one," Harry said, and watched as Snape's whole expression tightened. "I'm sorry. You can keep the one I gave you. But there's no way I can have one fitted to you."

"I should have asked this sooner, but where did that come from?"

"It's unregistered." It wasn't really any of his business where it came from, and Harry was an inch away from telling him that.

"I gathered that."

"Then perhaps you should think about not asking questions that I clearly don't want to give you the answer to."

For a moment, Snape looked like he might object, but he bit back whatever he was going to say.

"Some clothes?" Harry suggested. Snape was still wearing the gray prison clothes that Harry had given him at the beginning. They hung on him, but not quite so badly as they had when Snape was first out of Azkaban.

"Despite what you may think, I don't care that much about what I wear." And that sounded amused enough to be the truth.

Which went against everything Harry had always thought about him. "All those black clothes at school?"

"Useful in intimidation of students, nothing more."

"No preferences at all?" Harry didn't care that much about clothes either, but he cared enough not to wear orange or yellow.

"Are you going to buy me clothes?" It was clear Snape was having a hard time believing Harry would actually do it.

"Well, I'm not going to make them. I thought we'd go to --"

"I can't go anywhere."

"You can, if I take you." As much as he'd rather not go shopping, he would.

Thankfully, Snape shook his head. "I'd rather not."

"Fine. I'll measure you and get some clothes made. Or better yet, I'll have someone come here and do it."

"You know, I don't understand this change of heart from you. What caused it?" Snape's expression defined suspicious.

"You heard most of it. They were right. I've known it for a while, but...." His face heated. He was not going to tell Snape how badly he felt about all of it. Snape had enough fodder for ridicule where he was concerned already.

"So, you're just going to change everything?" Snape still looked like he could not believe it, and Harry had to concede that he had cause not to.

"Unless you'd like to continue with the points system?" When Snape shook his head, Harry said, "Thought you might see it that way."

"All right, then. What about Minerva's offer?" Snape manage to keep his voice flat, but Harry could hear the hope in it.

"I'll tell her yes. It will give you something to do during the day. And you can keep whatever she pays you."

"If you'll recall, I can't own anything, and that would include money." The bitterness hadn't eased.

Harry suspected it never would completely. "I'll keep it for you. Put it into a special Gringotts account."

"It's not going to do me any good." Snape's tone had lost some, if not all, of his belligerence. If he didn't sound exactly happy, then he didn't sound actively distressed either.

That was as good as Snape ever got, Harry supposed. "You can continue to spend money the way you have since coming here."

"I'm spending your money, not my own."

"So, I'll set it up so that you can spend your money. Does it matter that much?" Harry didn't care what he spent. He wasn't going to tell Snape, but it was unlikely that Snape could make a dent in his Gringotts' account.

"Except that it's in your name."

"Are you going to argue with everything I say?"

"I did when it was costing me points, why would you think I'd stop now?" But he smirked when he said it.

"I live in hope." Harry yawned. The day was starting to bear down on him. "I'm exhausted. Can we talk about the rest of this tomorrow?"

"I'll be here."

"Pick one of the other bedrooms and go to sleep."

"Still giving orders?" At least, there was a touch of amusement in his tone.

Harry chuckled. "I doubt I'll stop any time soon."

"I expect not." But Snape didn't sound as if that annoyed him. Or at least not any more than anything else did.

Part 5

The next morning, Snape didn't get up to make Harry breakfast, and really, that was fine with Harry. After last night, he was too tired to worry about it. Beans on toast was one of his favorite breakfasts, and Snape never made it.

At lunch, he fire-called McGonagall.

"Headmistress...Minerva?" Harry said, sitting on a bench in front of a ministry fireplace. It wasn't the most private place to have a conversation, but he wanted this done before he got home.

"Harry, dear. How are you?" McGonagall said, as if she hadn't seen him last week.

"I'm fine. Thanks. I hope you are, too."

She nodded and smiled. "What can I do for you?"

"About that request you had? The one about the infirmary?" Harry hoped he didn't have to mention what and who, since saying that in public would not go over well with many of the people working here.

Her widening smile said she knew what he was talking about. "Yes. I remember."

"Well...I've decided that it would be all right. For him to do it."

"Shall I get in touch with Sev --" At the shake of his head, she cut herself off. "Erm...get in touch with him?"

"That would be fine." Harry paused for a moment to let the people walking by get further away. He really didn't think they were listening, but he was too paranoid to take chances. "There was something else, too."

"Oh?" McGonagall raised an eyebrow.

"Dobby. I'd like for him to come to work for me." Harry glared at someone who had got too close. She moved away quickly.

"You know, he's a free elf. He can choose his own employment." McGonagall's tone said he should know that and, of course, he did.

It just seemed polite to let her convey the news to Dobby. "Can you ask him if he'd like to work for me? I'll pay him whatever you're paying him. More if he'll take it."

"I doubt you'll get him to take more. But I'm sure he'll be just thrilled."

"I hope he can start today." Harry hoped that wouldn't be a problem. Everything needed to be settled soon, and as soon as he could get Dobby to take over the housework, that would help move it along.

"I'm sure that will be fine with him. Was there anything else you needed?"

"No. Thanks. I appreciate this."

"You've done the right thing. I think you know that."

He knew she wasn't talking about Dobby. It wasn't something he wanted to think about right now. So, he just nodded and closed the connection.

Snape ignored Dobby all afternoon. As much as his presence meant that Snape wouldn't have to clean anymore, he wasn't going to put much stock in the situation until it was completely resolved. Knowing Potter as he did, Snape would not be surprised if he changed his mind six more times before he got it right. If he ever did.

When he got up to make dinner, he found that it was already made. Bangers and mash. Another one of his least favorite dishes.

When he came in, Potter was thrilled with dinner. He took a huge portion of it and dug in with obvious relish.

Not having been asked to sit at the table -- another point that bode poorly for Potter's continued good behavior -- Snape stood at the counter with Dobby. "Will you cook something more appetizing for me?" he said to the elf.

Potter looked up. "You can eat what I eat. What's wrong with this?"

"Aside from the fact it's disgusting?" It wasn't that he hated it exactly, but he'd eaten it so many times as a child that he doubted he'd ever want to eat it again. Snape scowled at him and then at Dobby for good measure. Dobby cringed satisfyingly, his ears flattening. Potter, however, scowled back at him.

"Too bad. I like it a lot," Potter said, pushing more of it into his mouth. "Dobby even made it without a fight. That was novel."

Snape had thought he'd agreed to do the cooking last night. And if it would keep this kind of thing from being served, he would be happy do it, too. He looked down at Dobby. "Perhaps you might use some imagination when choosing the dinner menu."

"Dobby cooks like he did at Hogwarts," Dobby said, sounding quite distressed.

Snape didn't care. "You used to work for Lucius Malfoy. I know for a fact he would not have allowed this on his table." Lucius had delusions of grandeur, but he did know how to eat well.

"Dobby never cooked for the bad Malfoys. Other elfs cooks for them."

"Let him be." Potter smiled at Dobby. "It's okay. You can go now."

Not having to be told twice, Dobby was gone with a pop.

Which left Snape facing Potter.

"Why must you be so cruel to him? What did he do to you?" Potter asked, sounding tired rather than belligerent.

Snape was sure that would change momentarily. "He's a house elf. He can take it."

"But he shouldn't have to. Besides, you could be one, too." Potter's eyes narrowed, as if fitting him with ears.

"You are not going to continue to use that threat against me. I won't have it," Snape said through his clenched teeth. It galled him to think of months of fighting it out with Potter over every small task.

"I can do anything I want. Not only that, there is nothing you can do about it." Potter's tone was petulant, whiney.

Snape wasn't going to put up with it. He turned to dump his uneaten plate into the rubbish bin.

"Don't waste my food," Potter ordered.

It was too much. Potter hadn't changed at all. He was going to continue to lord it over Snape, no doubt feeling righteous about it, too. Snape's temper broke. "Fine. You can have it back!" He turned quickly to dump it on Potter's head, but the protection spell kicked in, holding him fast, with his plate half-turned over on Potter.

And Potter's expression was priceless, caught between startled and horrified. "Is this your answer to everything?"

With an effort, Snape pulled back his aggression and the spell released him. He carefully set the plate on the counter. Angry beyond words, he turned to leave.

"Don't even think about walking away. I'm not done yet."

Closing his eyes, Snape sucked in a breath. "I am. I am completely finished with you. You are nothing but a spoilt child."

"Me spoilt? I'm not the one insulting a house elf. One, I might add, who does his job without complaining about it." Potter's tone was so superior that it made Snape want to gnash his teeth.

Snape glared at him, almost too angry to speak. "I dislike bland, inedible food. You're too stupid and unsophisticated to know the difference between what is good and what is plentiful."

Potter's eyes blazed with fury and he snarled, "And you have never been hungry, have you?"

The constant assumptions Potter made infuriated the bloody hell out of Snape. "There you are wrong, boy. I know exactly what it's like to have my belly burn with emptiness. More recently than you have, I'll wager, too. But I won't settle for what's there, not when I have a choice. I'll choose the best there is."

"I like good food!" Potter's defensive tone said Snape had hit a soft spot.

And Snape wanted to exploit it, if he could. "You wouldn't know good food if you fell over it in a garden. You know precious little about anything."

"I know how to treat people." Potter said it as if it were true, and he really believed he treated everyone well.

Snape snorted. That was completely unbelievable. "I've seen no evidence of that. Ever."

"You're a special case. The rules don't count for you." Potter looked cruelly amused.

"I suppose you think I should feel special to be singled out on your hate list." Snape sneered, infuriated and repulsed by Potter's whole attitude.

Potter's eyes narrowed and he smiled a nasty little smile. "Don't like reaping what you've sown? You deserve it."

"I don't care what you think of me." All Snape cared about was getting out of the room before he got caught by the spell again.

"You never think about anyone else, do you? Nothing matters to you, except what you want." Potter made it sound like something he should be ashamed of.

"Very true. Why should I care about anything, especially anything you want? All you have done is attempt to make my life miserable." It took him a second, but it occurred to Snape that Potter's reaction was out of line with what happened. "What is wrong with you?"

"Me? Nothing is wrong with me. It's you who have the problem!" Potter's voice had risen until he was yelling.

"You've been acting like an idiot since you came home this evening. What the hell is wrong with you?" Despite his best efforts, the frustrations of dealing with Potter got the better of him, and Snape couldn't help yelling back.

"There is nothing wrong with me!"

"Yes, there is. And I'm damned tired of trying to figure out what the bloody hell is wrong with the great Harry Potter. You are an inconsiderate, foolish child." And Snape was ready to strangle him.

"I hate you! I hate that you can't be decent to anyone. I hate that you like hurting people. That you don't care about anything other than yourself." Potter was panting, screeching, and completely out of control. Then, he took a breath, and said in a deadly quiet voice, "Mostly, I hate that you let Ginny die."

What? Snape blinked at the last. Controlling his rage, with an effort, he asked, "What are you talking about? What does Miss Weasley have to do with this?" What did she have to do with anything, he wondered.

Potter's eyes narrowed with his rage and grief. "I'm talking about not going back to get her when she was cornered."

Snape's memories of the final battle were vague at best. Right up until the end, he'd been with the Death Eaters, but had been conveying information to the Order through Minerva and sometimes Shacklebolt. "All I remember is pulling you away from several Death Eaters who were trying their best to do you in. I don't remember her being there."

"She was with me. We were standing maybe ten feet apart." Potter looked at him, devastation in his face. "You left her there deliberately. I know you chose me over her."

Trying to think back to that night was like wading through a fog and left him frustrated. "I had only one thought that night: to make sure you lived long enough to challenge Voldemort. Nothing else mattered. I would have traded my own life for that." He had expected to, in fact. The life he was living hadn't been one of his scenarios.

"She died because of that," Potter said, his voice gravelly with suppressed emotions.

Merlin, Snape hoped he wouldn't cry or something equally awful. Potter took a deep breath and seemed to get control of his emotions. Or as much control as he ever had.

Relieved, Snape pulled back enough to answer in a mild tone. "She died because a Death Eater killed her. I had nothing to do with it." For Snape, it was as if a veil were lifted, and so much of Potter's behavioral problems were explained. Despite the strong urge to do so, Snape refused to feel any sympathy for him.

"It's a year next week," Potter said in a soft, quiet voice. "And they are going to have a party. I got the invitation last week."

Bloody Hell. As appalling as it was to consider, he wanted to say he was sorry. It was an automatic, ingrained response that he had worked hard never to have.

"You should have --"

Though he might hate Potter, he didn't want to tear into an open wound, particularly not this one. "I did what had to be done that night. And so did you. Your girlfriend died. There is nothing anyone can do to bring her back. Taking it out on me won't help her. Or you."

"She shouldn't have died," Potter said, grief still heavy in his voice.

"Shall I agree with you? I do, you know. But that doesn't give you the right to take your grief out on everyone else around you." It especially didn't give him the right to take it out on Snape.

"Not everyone else. Only you." Potter turned away from the table, standing in the doorway with his back to Snape.

It took work not to say something biting, but given the wet sound of Potter's breathing, Snape wasn't going to chance it. He was uncomfortable enough with the situation not to want to add to it. If he could have, he would have backed away. But with Potter in the doorway, there was nowhere for him to go.

"I don't want her to be dead," Potter said, and his voice sounded a bit stronger than Snape expected.

There was absolutely nothing he could say to that. Snape hated the fact that he couldn't help feeling some small amount of sympathy for Potter.

"I'm going to bed." Potter didn't turn back before he went out of the kitchen.

Snape sighed.

Snape was standing at the cooker when Harry made it downstairs the following morning. He had hoped that Snape would sleep in again. Facing him, after the display he'd put on last night, did nothing for Harry's pride.

All this time he'd hated Snape, blamed him for Ginny's death, and the bastard hadn't even known she was there. He supposed Snape could be lying, but to what purpose, and really, he wouldn't bother to lie about it. Not Snape.

"Are you going to unward the bookcases as part of your new found fairness?" There was only a touch of nastiness in Snape's tone.

Relieved that Snape wasn't going to bring up Ginny's death, Harry bit his lip on a retort and sat down at the table. "That would be the first thing you ask for, wouldn't it?"

When Snape turned around, his look was superior. "Actually, a real bed was the first thing, if you'll recall."

If Snape weren't going to torment him, he was perfectly willing to play along with what he wanted. "I don't get this fascination you have with books." He liked to read well enough, but Snape took it to an art form or an obsession.

"Clearly not." Snape put a plate of something on the table.

"What's this?" Harry had been expecting eggs and tomatoes and beans. The same thing he'd been served nearly every day for the last six months.

"Eggs Ranchero and potatoes." Snape's tone said this was something special, something he'd gone out of his way to prepare.

"Say again?" Harry sniffed carefully. It certainly smelled good.

"Fried eggs and potatoes with chili seasoning. It's a bit spicy."

"You made a spicy breakfast without asking me first?" Harry couldn't believe that. His earlier tolerance of Snape started to fade out. After being tense all night, Harry wasn't sure his stomach could deal with something too spicy. "What if I don't like spicy food?"

Snape sighed. "I'm cooking. The least you can do is taste it."

It did look appetizing. "I want some say in what I'm eating,"

"Do you have any allergies?"

"Not that I'm aware of."

"You haven't eaten that many different things to have any idea what you like or dislike." Snape looked down his nose at Harry. "Have you eaten anything beyond what was served at Hogwarts?"

"The food at school was fine."

"The food at Hogwarts was bland and served the lowest common denominator. And that would be you, in case it slipped your notice." Snape scowled at him.

"I liked it. And anyway, this is my house and my food. I don't want to eat fancy spicy food."

Snape folded his arms over his chest and glared at him. "Try it and then tell me that."

He wasn't going to like it, and he didn't want to try it. But he picked a bit up with his fork and took a tentative bite. "Oh." Damn, it was good. The eggs and potatoes and spices all seemed to complement each other in his mouth. He grunted in approval and took a bigger bite.

"Just as I suspected, you've never had decently made food." Snape's tone was knowing and superior and it would have annoyed the hell out of Harry, if he hadn't been so busy eating.

"Fine, you win this one, Snape. This was great. Where did you learn to make this? I can tell it's not English." Harry finished every bit of it, and looked hopefully at the pan.

"It's American. From the Southwest." Snape took his plate and dished up some more of it for him and set it in front of Harry.

"Why do you even know about it?" Because as far as Harry knew, Snape had never been out of England.

Snape was quiet for a moment. "I like to experiment with food. Someone gave me a cookbook from the region. I liked this recipe a lot."

"So do I." Harry dug in again, but then something registered with him. Snape was standing at the counter. "Are you going to sit down and eat, too?"

For a second, Snape looked surprised, but he served himself a plate and sat down across from Harry.

"I knew you had to be able to cook." Even Harry could figure out that the concept of potions and the concept of cooking were the same. It was probably why he hated potions so much. It reminded him of cooking, which reminded him of why he'd had to cook. Which made the whole thing unpalatable to him.

"I've been cooking for you for months."

"Not like this," Harry said around another mouthful. It was spectacularly good. He couldn't remember eating a breakfast that tasted this good.

"So, you were going to tell me what it is with you and the books?" Harry said, wiping his mouth. He was pleasantly full.

"There is nothing to explain." Snape ate his breakfast with as much enthusiasm as Harry had. When he was done, he moved over to the cooker and scraped the last of it onto his plate. "I simply like books. I'm still curious about where you acquired the collection."

"I didn't buy them with the house, if that's what you're asking," Harry snapped. It annoyed him no end that Snape implied that he couldn't have picked them himself.

"Where did you get them?" Snape took a sip of his tea and raised an eyebrow. A tiny smirk played on his lips.

"Why do you care? Do you want to ridicule my taste?" Harry's anger started to rise and for one second, he wished that he could take points. No. That wasn't how he was going to deal with Snape from now on.

"I am merely curious. It's an impressive collection. In fact, there are several books I'd like to read or reread."

Oh. That wasn't what Harry'd expected to hear from him. But the morning had been filled with oddities. "You know that I missed most of my last year at school?"

Snape nodded. "I missed it, too."

"When I bought this house, Hermione suggested that I get all the books I should have read. But once I started to collect them, I realized there were other books that I wanted to read as well." He'd been surprised at how much fun buying the different types of books had been.

"There are Muggle texts."

"I figured if I was going to collect them, I might as well collect everything I thought was worth reading." Harry was proud of his collection. At some point, he planned to read every one of them.

There was a lengthy pause and Snape's brow creased. "The collection in the sitting room isn't all of it, is it?"

Harry's first inclination was to lie, but he couldn't think of a reason why it would matter. "I've got the Dark Arts and Defense books in my office."

"I didn't see them when I was up there." Snape's expression was puzzled, as if he couldn't figure out how he'd missed it.

"The bookcases face the walls, only I can access them." Harry thought that was a bit of brilliant magic on his part.

"I'd like to see them," Snape said, ever so casually.

"I'm not sure that's a good idea." Harry could see the hunger in his eyes and it made him more than a little nervous. Since he hadn't even looked at some of them, he wasn't sure what Snape might find in the books.

Almost as if he knew what Harry was thinking, Snape turned and met his eyes. "You really don't trust me, do you?"

Why on earth would Snape think anything else? "Now that you mention it, no. I know you can't hurt me personally, but I'm not so convinced about anyone else."

"Potter, if I truly wanted to hurt you, I could have done so."

Harry was smarter than that. He wasn't going to be drawn in by Snape. "The spell --"

"As I've already proven, only works for direct attacks. I could have, for instance, poisoned your food." Snape sneered at him.

"I'm not sure that's true. You could have created a poison -- and yes, I know that there was enough downstairs for you to do that -- but you couldn't have served it to me. Maybe if you baked a cake, and put it into the cold box, I could have eaten it."

"Very good. You're not nearly as stupid as I thought you were." Snape sounded too much like the teacher he used to be.

And Harry resented that. "I'm not stupid at all. It's you who always underestimates me. And really, that's not very bright for a Slytherin."

"You're hopeless enough. It's clear you're about to be dismissed from the Auror program." Snape's tone was mocking, spiteful, like a mean child denied something he wanted and then taking his anger out on those around him.

That was the wrong thing to say to him under any circumstances, but when Snape wanted something, it was even more stupid. "That is not something we are going to discuss. Ever." Harry could barely discuss it with Ron and Hermione, Snape was out of the question, even if he'd mentioned it civilly.

"Denying it won't help you. You're going to have to admit you failed at some point." He sounded even more malicious.

"I'm not going to fail, you bastard. What part of not talking about it don't you understand?" Harry was so infuriated that he was screaming, despite his best intention not to let Snape do that to him.

"It's the damned truth."

"If you don't want to go back to the way things were, then you'd bloody well better not say anything like that again," Harry threatened through his clenched teeth.

Snape's face went white. "I've told you before that you are not going to use that rubbish as a threat every time I say or do something you don't care for."

"I can do whatever I want." Harry could hear what he sounded like saying that and he cringed inwardly. But Snape had better understand that Harry was the one making the decisions, not him.

"That's right. All of your promises are for naught." Snape was breathing hard, and his hands were shaking, fury radiated off him.

Harry didn't want to go back to the way it had been. It was just that the bastard made it so damned hard. He took a breath and fought back his outrage. "You never let anything be. You have to push and push and push, don't you? You have to try and bait me."

"And you're still trying to lord it over me. And I won't have it." Snape's hands were clenched into fists. He looked like he was ready to strike out.

"You know, there really isn't anything you can do about it." The truth of that was not lost on Harry. It was why Snape fought so hard, Harry realized.

"You're quite right. You may do as you please. But that won't make it right. And I won't let you enjoy it."

Not that Harry ever did get to enjoy it. "Why do I let you do this to me? Why do I always fall for the bait?"

Snape seemed to pull back from his anger, too. Something Harry hadn't seen him do very often or at all. "I don't know why you let me, either. You shouldn't."

"I have to go to work." Harry was so tired right then he'd much rather crawl back into bed and sleep for a week.

"I thought you were suspended --"

"I am. But I can practice using the facilities until I take the test again next week. I will pass that practicum."

Snape had a dubious look on his face as Harry went past him. It didn't matter. He was going to pass.

"Ron," Harry said, sitting down at the table the following Wednesday night.

Ron looked up from his book. "How's it going?"

Harry sighed and picked up the pint Ron had kindly ordered for him. He never got out of class early. "It's better, I guess."

"Snape is difficult, isn't he? Even when you're not actively abusing him."

Harry bristled at Ron's tone. "I wasn't abusing him. Not more than he deserved, anyway. His attitude drives me mad. How did you get past it with Pansy?" Because Harry wasn't sure how he was going to do it with Snape.

"Mostly we ignored it. She is what she is and we're not trying to change her." Ron's tone was insouciant, as if he actually didn't care what she thought.

"You're very complacent about her thinking that the woman you love is something less than she is, something less than...." Harry couldn't bring himself to say it. At least Snape didn't have those kinds of prejudices.

"I know what she thinks, but why do you care? Or about what Snape thinks, for that matter?" Ron's whole attitude surprised Harry.

"Her? I guess it doesn't matter much. Snape...I don't know." It did bother him, and he was not about to explore the reasons for it, especially not with Ron.

Shaking his head, Ron's expression said he knew just what Harry was thinking. "You've got a few more issues with Snape."

Harry looked down. "That doesn't even start to cover it. And it just gets worse. I had a row with him yesterday."

"And this is different from any other day?"

Harry's chest felt tight even thinking about it. "It was about what happened with Ginny."

Ron's face lost its amused look and he gripped his glass noticeably tighter. "What did he say?"

"That he didn't remember much about that night -- which I can actually understand -- that he doesn't even remember her being there." There was a tremble in Harry's voice that he knew Ron would understand.

"It's one of those things that time heals. You know what happened, but you can't conceive of it being as bad as you remember, so you don't." It was odd that Ron could think like that since Harry had never even considered it.

"Yeah. All I remember is seeing her and not being able to get to her. And then Snape pulled me away, dragging me towards Voldemort." Even though he was dead, thinking about Voldemort made Harry's heart fill with dread.

"Where does that leave you in terms of Snape?"

"He said he never saw her. That he didn't deliberately leave her to die." It didn't seem possible that Snape hadn't seen her, but Harry didn't know for certain. And some part of him knew it was time to give Snape the benefit of the doubt, even if most of him balked at the idea.

Ron nodded, understanding in his eyes. "And you don't believe him?"

"Do you?" Harry was inclined to believe him. And that didn't sit well. It meant that everything he'd believed about Snape was called into question. And he didn't want to do that.

"Yes. Even being the bastard that he was, I don't think he'd cause anyone's death if he could help it." Ron sounded sure of that. Perhaps he'd spent more time thinking about it.

"I just can't believe he didn't know."

"You do want to believe the worst, don't you?" Ron's tone wasn't accusatory so much as tired of his issues with Snape.

Harry closed his eyes and then opened them, letting out a sigh. "All right. I don't really think he left her on purpose. But --"

"There is no but. If he did do it on purpose, it was still to get you to Voldemort. That's what he had to do."

"But Ginny...."

The pain in Ron's eyes was banked; after a year, maybe he'd come to deal with it. "I know, mate. I loved her, too. I have to believe she understood."

"I don't. How could she understand? She must have been so scared." And that haunted Harry's nightmares.

"I know you don't want to, but you have to let it go. We were all scared." Ron didn't even sound like he minded admitting it.

"I don't know. He was there." Letting go of the whole thing was hard. Maybe it was time. Maybe he'd been wrong to blame Snape. Harry didn't know anymore, he only knew that he wanted to feel better.

"You've been blaming him all this time, taking it all out on him, and it wasn't even his fault."

"Other things have been, though. He's a bastard." And that was the bottom line with Snape. Whether or not he had anything to do with Ginny's death, he was still a greasy, mean-spirited bastard. And he was tied irremediably to Harry's life.

"I don't disagree at all. But I think you need to remember that he was on our side." Ron was disagreeing. He was telling Harry something he'd never believed Ron would say, not about Snape anyway.

"You're always defending him. I just can't wrap my mind around that." He couldn't. Not from Ron of all people. It was too disconcerting to think about the reasoning behind it.

"I still hate him. But I can also see that he's been treated unfairly. I think you can, too." Ron looked at him. "If you're honest about it, anyway."

Honest? Harry didn't want to be honest. He didn't want to see that Snape had done what was right, even if he hadn't wanted to, even if it had cost him dearly. "I wish it were simple."

Ron ran a hand through his hair, and smiled slightly. "Me, too. If we don't do what's right, then we're not any better than they are."

"It's just hard. I can't believe that he's actually innocent."

"In this case, at least, he is. And as much as I hate him for killing Dumbledore, I try and remember that that was something bigger. Something that Dumbledore himself set up. Something we didn't even have a concept of in sixth year."

Harry knew he was right, but that didn't make it any easier to bear. "At least, I can hate him for being such a bastard for all of the years we were in school with him."

As he'd hoped, Ron laughed. "Yes. Me, too. But you know we're both going to end up forgiving him for that, too."

"Why do you think that?" Harry was not about to forgive him for anything, and especially not for making his life so much more difficult than it had to be.

"If we never saw him again, then we could hang onto our hatred, but even under the best possible scenario, we're going to be dealing with him for years to come. You more than me." Ron was right.

"It's going to be hard to maintain that kind of animosity for someone without it poisoning me as well." Harry wasn't even sure he wanted to hang on to it. Look at where his hatred had got him. He'd been wrong to treat Snape so poorly. Of course, Snape didn't help matters at all.

"Got it in one." Ron tipped his glass in salute.

Harry did the same. "So, maybe I should just give it up?" It wasn't going to be easy. He had a lot of hatred invested in Snape, and it wasn't just going to go away because he wanted it to.

"That's what Hermione would tell us."

"You know, it's scary that I can hear her words coming out of your mouth." He'd better get used to that, too. Ultimately, Hermione was right, especially this time.

"She's not wrong, though. Hate has its own cost. And I've lost too much to keep paying it. And so have you."

Harry's chest tightened. He had lost too much and he didn't want to lose any more. "You're getting way too grown-up for me."

"Nah," Ron said. "Never. Besides, the twins will never let me grow up completely."

"What about Hermione? She's so mature about everything. She's going to pull you right along with her. Like she does." Harry didn't resent it, not exactly.

"She'll take you with her as well." Ron's tone said that Harry should just accept it. He was right, too.

"That's what I'm afraid of." Harry's amusement faded. "Snape wants to go through my Dark Arts books."

"Why?" Ron asked, surprise written on his face.

"That's what I asked him. He didn't give me a satisfactory answer beyond that he wanted to look." Harry had too many world-domination scenarios starring Snape floating around in his head to be comfortable with the idea.

"Are you going to let him?" Ron didn't sound like he was particularly worried about it.

Maybe Harry should tell him a couple of those scenarios. Ones where Snape takes over the Wizarding world, becoming the next Dark Lord, using some obscure spell he found in one of the books. "I'm not sure I trust him not to do anything wrong."

"I don't think he'd harm anyone. Well, not really."

"You don't know with him. He might be plotting something." Harry could see it so easily. He didn't know what was in those books, or how Snape could use them, or extrapolate what was there. All he had to do was think about that sixth year potions book, and he was worried.

"What's he going to do? Summon a demon?" Ron laughed nervously as if the idea, once issued, could actually happen.

"I doubt that. It might be intellectual curiosity like he says." Harry really wished that he could believe that, but the more Snape pushed, the more concerned Harry got.

"Are you sure it isn't that you hate giving in to him on anything?" It never failed to surprise Harry when Ron said something insightful about him. He knew that Ron knew him, he sometimes forgot how well.

Harry drank the last mouthful of his ale and set the glass carefully on the table. "You could be right."

For some reason, Ron seemed to find that funny. "You and he are going to go head to head for the rest of your lives, aren't you?"

"Probably. I guess I can let him have a look. If he doesn't irritate me too badly."

Ron laughed again. "You're getting soft."


Part 6

The next few days were wonderfully peaceful for Snape. He cooked dinner most nights, and sometimes made breakfast for Potter. Thankfully, Dobby did all of the housework, including cleaning up after his cooking.

He'd never admit it to Potter, but being asked to join him at the table pleased Snape. It had twisted something inside Snape to stand and watch Potter eat the meals he'd made.

The only point of contention between them was the Dark Arts books, which Potter refused to allow him to look at. Snape thought it had more to do with Potter being a stubborn brat than it did any worry he had that Snape might use them for some nefarious purpose.

"How about a deal?" Snape asked after dinner. "What if I tutor you through your practicum, and in return, you can let me have a look at the books."

"Too late. I passed my tests yesterday," Potter said, smugly. "Besides, it wasn't the magic that was the problem. It was all the other stuff."

"Precise as ever. Define other stuff."

"I wasn't picking up the investigative techniques as quickly as I would have liked." Potter sounded as if that were still a problem.

Snape would guess that it was. But unlike Potter's friends, Snape had no problem believing that Potter would continue to work at being an Auror long past when it was either logical or practical. Potter defined stupid, stubborn Gryffindor. "I would have thought that a magical investigation used magic."

"It does. But like anything else, you have to know what to use, not just how to say the spell." Even looking beaten down by it all, Potter didn't look like he'd quit.

Snape wouldn't have thought it was so complicated, but knowing Potter, he probably went out of his way to make it so. "I'd still like to have a look at the books."

"Why?" Potter had that stubborn look on his face. The one that said he'd never give up. The one that annoyed the bloody hell out of Snape most days.

"Why not? I'm not going to hurt you or anyone else." Snape thought perhaps Potter didn't realize it. While he liked the idea of Potter being a bit wary of him, he didn't think it would suit his purposes to have Potter actually afraid. That would only bring him trouble.

"I don't know that for sure." It was clear from his tone that Potter didn't actually believe that, which meant that he was just being an obstinate brat. About par for the course with him.

Snape tried to shake off his irritation, but it was so hard. "You do. This seems more about control than it does about the bloody books. You just want to try and annoy me."

"They are my books. And I don't think I'm trying, I think I'm succeeding." Potter smirked at him, clearly pleased.

It was starting to wear on Snape's nerves. "You're acting like a child, tormenting your pet for fun --"

"Snape, you're many things, but you are no one's pet."

Snape had no real hope of Potter's behavior changing anytime soon. There was no incentive for him to do anything. "The trouble is that you want to have your cake and the moral high ground as well, don't you?"

"What are you talking about?" Potter looked at him as if he were mad. Maybe he was. But it was time the dunderhead listened to him.

"I'm talking about knowing what you're doing is wrong and doing it anyway. As you've been doing for months. A week of decent behavior, and you're ready to chuck it all when things don't go your way."

Potter's shoulders slumped. "I just want you to stop irritating me."

"Everything irritates you. You're miserable and want to take it out on me. I'm not going to have it." And of course, Snape knew why. However, he wasn't going to let that influence him at all. It was past time for Potter to grow up.

"I'm sick of it, and you, too," Potter growled.

Snape could not have cared less. He smiled. "The feeling is more than mutual."

For a second more, Potter's look was belligerent, but then he sighed. "Except that we have to live together. Is giving you access to the books that big a deal?"

It wasn't, of course. If he let Potter do this then he'd keep doing it, a bit worse each time. "It isn't the books themselves, though I would love to look through them. It's the idea that you're withholding them without a good reason."

"Are you saying that I have to let you have access to something that is mine?" Clearly, Potter was too stupid to understand what he was trying to say.

Snape gritted his teeth and tried again. "I'm saying that you want to have some control over me."

Potter surprised him by looking down, his cheeks staining red. "Maybe."

"That is what I'm talking about. If you want me to do something, simply ask. I'll say yes or no. Trying to force me will only annoy me. And it probably won't work." It might work, and they both knew that, but Snape didn't want to think about living like that.

"Yes it will --" Clearly, Potter couldn't let it go.

Snape sighed. "Given our relative positions in life right now, I'll concede there are things you can force me to do, but you won't like it."

"Probably not."

"Why not try asking?"

Potter looked like he might reply with something rude, but then, surprisingly, he nodded. "All right. Will you make dinner for Ron and Hermione on Saturday night?"

If Potter could play nice, so could he. It was certainly in his best interests to do so. "Yes. I will. What would you like?"

"Um...could you surprise me in a good way?" Potter's expression was tentative, hopeful even.

Snape tried not to find it appealing. He wasn't going to think those kinds of thoughts about Potter. "I think that can be arranged."

The next morning, Snape sprang another exotic surprise on Potter for breakfast. To Snape's continued amazement, it was as well received as the rest of his efforts had been. Perhaps the way to finally tame Potter was through his stomach. Of all the scenarios he'd ever thought of to best Potter, cooking hadn't even crossed Snape's mind.

He went upstairs after breakfast to change, and the outside door to Potter's office stood open. All of the bookcases faced out. Taking it for an invitation, Snape went in. He scanned the titles, not allowing himself to pull any out until he'd read through the entire shelf. The thoroughness of the collection surprised him. There was a legitimate reason to keep the books locked up.

When his stomach rumbled, Snape finally looked up from the book he'd been browsing. The clock said it was past lunch time.

"Dobby," Snape said.

Dobby popped into being. "Professor Snape is wanting something?"

"Lunch, if you please."

Two more pops and Snape had a sandwich he could hold while continuing to go through the titles. He found another obscure text on Dark Arts, and sat on the desk to look through it.

"I take it these books meet with your approval." Potter's voice startled him enough to jump. Potter laughed. "Sorry."

"Quite so," Snape said, truthfully. "Some of these books aren't available anywhere. Not in this time, anyway."

"You would know this how?" Potter's expression was a little too suspicious for Snape's taste.

"How do you think? You're not that stupid." Potter probably was that stupid, Snape thought, but telling him that wouldn't change it.

"Don't start with me. It's been a long day." Potter sounded tired to his bones.

"Then don't ask imbecilic questions. And you might deign to answer the one I asked." Snape wanted confirmation on where he thought the books had come from.

"Which one was that?"

"The one where you tell me where you managed to get some of these books?" Snape held up a copy of Dark Spells for all occasions. Despite its innocuous name, the book was deadly, and had been illegal for at least five centuries. Menace seemed to radiate off it. It made Snape uncomfortable just holding it.

Potter looked at the book and winced. "A lot of them came from Grimmauld Place."

Thus confirming Snape's suspicion. He reshelved it quickly, and with some relief. "What happened to that dump?"

"You're speaking about my late Godfather's home, and you might keep a respectful tongue in your head," Potter said, tartly. But Snape was aware that Potter didn't like the place any better than he did.

"I might, but it's unlikely. As I was saying, what happened to it?" One of the very few good things about leaving Hogwarts, aside from never having to teach again, was that he also never had reason to go to Grimmauld Place, either.  

Potter looked like he might not answer, but again, he sighed. "I had it completely cleaned of Dark magic, and I sold it."

"With Kreacher and Mrs. Black's portrait intact?" Snape could not imagine anyone buying the place.

"Kreacher met with a suitable end."

Something in the way he said that made Snape look at him. "You didn't murder the elf, did you?" He simply could not believe that of Potter, no matter how much he hated the elf.

"No. I gave the little bastard a choice: he could serve Hermione or he could take matters into his own hands." Potter's expression was troubled, as if he were having second thoughts about his actions.

"I don't need to ask, do I?" Snape suspected the little bastard got what he deserved.

"You don't. Hermione didn't speak to me for a week."

"I'm surprised it was so short a time, given her feelings on the subject." Snape had no problem with it. Kreacher was a threat, and a mean-spirited, loathsome one at that.

"I think she had grown up enough to understand. Even though it went against what she thought was right. It was necessary. We just couldn't give him clothes."

"Mrs. Black's portrait?"

"Turpentine." Again, Potter didn't sound as if he were as pleased as he should have been.

Snape could not understand that since the portrait wasn't anything more than an animation. "That shouldn't work."

"It does when you have it spelled to clean Dark Magic. Bill Weasley actually came up with the plan. I just executed the spell." Potter shuddered. "She screamed for at least an hour."

"She screamed for longer than that," Snape pointed out at Potter's nearly pained look.

"She did. But she couldn't really do anything." Potter's compassion was evident, and given everything, it was grating.

"That kind of vitriolic spew hurts everyone listening to it." And Mrs. Black's portrait was capable of nothing else. They were all well rid of her and Grimmauld Place.

"I guess you would know that, wouldn't you?" It was really amazing how fast Potter's moods changed. Or perhaps it was simply Snape's effect on him.

Either way, Snape refused to rise to the bait. "I guess that I would at that."

"Bastard," Potter said without any real heat in his voice.

"My parents were, in fact, married." Such that their marriage was.

Potter blinked at him, and Snape laughed at his expression.

"What's for dinner?" Potter finally asked.

"I'll think of something," Snape said, putting the book he'd been looking at back onto the shelf. "It's wise to keep it locked. Why not spell it to open for me?"

"What makes you think I'll let you look at the books again?"

"I could catalogue them for you. I doubt you know what's even here." Snape had to work hard not to make it an insult.

"I'll think about it." Potter waved his wand, and the bookcases all turned around to face the wall.

"Fine, but consider what I've offered." Snape wasn't going to argue about it now. No doubt, Potter would make him ask a few more times, and then spell the bookcases to answer him when the novelty of it wore thin.

"I'll do that."

Snape left to see about dinner.

Hopefully this dinner would go better than the last time, Harry thought, as he let Hermione and Ron in. He could see they were thinking the same thing.

Of course, this time, Snape had been cooking all day, and had refused to let Harry into the kitchen.

"Wow," Hermione said, taking a deep breath. "That smells amazing."

"Yeah. You didn't tell us he could cook so well." Ron looked surprised. "Pansy is a pretty decent cook. Now."

"She does try. And she's quite good at following a recipe." It didn't quite sound like a compliment, though it wasn't a complaint, either. Hermione was probably trying to be kind.

"At least, there is some compensation with Snape." Harry smiled as he said that. There wasn't that much that made living with him easier, but his cooking was definitely one of the few perks.

Ron had to know what he'd been thinking because he laughed and said, "He's a bit short on personality, isn't he?"

"Actually, I don't think he lacks it so much as he's a mean, stubborn git." When he'd been talking to McGonagall, it had been like he was a different person.

"He's got cause to be angry," Hermione said, once again defending Snape.

Despite everything, that didn't go over well with Harry, but he bit the inside of his mouth on a retort. That was no way to start dinner. "Why don't we go into the sitting room? I think we've got a bit of time before dinner."

Hermione and Ron sat on the sofa, and Harry lit the fire. "You said you were rewarding Pansy. Is it any different than before?"

"Yes. We're able to do more for her now." Hermione seemed pleased with that.

Harry looked up at her.

"Before we were limited to what we could afford which unfortunately wasn't that much," Ron said.

Hermione nodded. "Between getting only a trainee's pay and my stipend from university, we barely made ends meet."

As much as Harry wanted to say he could help, it wouldn't be well received. All of his hints over the years had been studiously ignored. He couldn't push. "What changed?"

"Pansy always wanted more, and resented it that we couldn't do it. I finally told her that we couldn't afford it." Hermione's tone said it was an unpleasant conversation. Harry had to wonder just how selfish Pansy was.

"She flat out didn't believe us," Ron said. "She knew we'd been given half of the Parkinson assets."

"That's the thing, though. She expected us to keep the money. We'd put it into a special account. We'd never just take it." She sounded as if she were insulted that Pansy would think such a thing.

Ron nodded.

Half of the Parkinson's assets were a huge amount of money. The family was on a par with the Malfoys for money and land.

"Pansy was so shocked by that, it actually shut her up. For about ten seconds, anyway. Then she smirked that annoying smirk she has, and said to spend the money on her." Ron shrugged. "It's her money."

"Yeah. The ministry took half of whatever was in Snape's account. They gave me what was left and the key. I've told McGonagall to deposit whatever she pays Snape in there. I've never looked in it."

"It's in your name, though," Hermione pointed out.

"Not much I can do about that." Harry wasn't going to worry about it, either. Money was the least of his problems with Snape.

Snape cleared his throat in the doorway and all three of them looked up. "Dinner is ready."

"Thanks," Harry said, standing. "It smells great."

"Yeah," Ron agreed.

Snape said nothing, disappearing back into the kitchen.

Snape started with the soup. He wasn't sure what had possessed him to go all out and cook such an elaborate meal for Potter. Perhaps, it was a peace offering. Potter had given him access to the bookcases yesterday, and he'd done so without a fight. He'd simply told Snape how to access the shelves at breakfast, and gone off to work.

"There's a place setting missing," Potter said, sitting down at the head of the table.

Startled, Snape nearly dropped the bowl of soup into Potter's lap. He managed to get it onto the table, but it was a near thing. "I think not," he stammered.

Both Granger and Weasley were now watching closely.

"You can join us or not. It's your choice." As unlikely as it was, Potter's tone clearly said he was welcome.

As he brought Granger and Weasley's soup out, he considered his options. He could listen at the door and they would no doubt talk unreservedly, forgetting he was there. Or he could sit with them, and it would be awkward, but it would serve to point out that he was...what? Snape didn't know what he was. Or even what he wanted to be.

He brought out a bowl of soup for himself, as well as another table setting. "Dobby will serve the rest."

Snape sat down at the opposite end of the table from Potter. The table easily held six, and he'd set it so Weasley sat on one side of Potter and Granger sat across from him. There was a noticeable space between them and Snape. He certainly didn't want to sit next to either of them and was rather sure they felt the same way.

"What is the rest?" Granger asked between spoonfuls. "And what's this? It tastes like warm Vichyssoise."

"It's similar," Snape said, surprised she recognized it. "It has the same potato and leek base."

"It's great." Weasley could barely get the words out as he stuffed himself with the soup. "What's for the main course?"

Snape was tempted to tell him to wait and see, but said instead, "Filet de Porc aux Echalotes et Asperges."

"Come again?" Weasley sounded remarkably like Potter. Philistines the both of them.

"Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Asparagus and Shallots," Granger said helpfully. Obviously she knew something about French cooking. Which shouldn't surprise him quite as much as it did.

"Can't you just say it in English?" Potter's expression was exasperated, but not angry.

That worked fine for Snape.

Granger smiled. "It sounds better in French. Besides, from what I can smell, it's going to be great. Just enjoy it."

"All right, for once I'm going to take your advice." Potter turned to smile at Snape. "Thanks."

That was probably the first time Potter had ever smiled at him unreservedly. And it slid ever so pleasantly along his spine. Snape inclined his head and said, "You're welcome."

After dinner, Snape excused himself to go read in his room, leaving Harry, Ron, and Hermione free to talk. The three of them settled into the sitting room.

Ron stretched out on the sofa with a groan. "That was fabulous, mate. You're going to get fat on Snape's cooking."

Harry laughed and patted his belly, which was a bit too concave for his tastes. "I wouldn't mind putting on a couple of pounds."

"I don't think it's going to be you who's going to put on weight." Hermione laughed, too. "Snape looks like he's gained some weight. Not that he's fat, but he's lost that half-starved look he's sported for so many years."

"Has he?" Snape looked the same as he always had. Not that he would have noticed anyway.

A not quite comfortable silence fell and Harry sat down, glancing at Hermione. "What?"

Hermione cleared her throat and seemed uncharacteristically uncertain. "I have something I want to talk to you about."

Her look did not give him any confidence that he was going to like what she had to say. His heart started to pound unpleasantly. "You can tell me anything, you know that."

"It's not bad. Or even about Ron or me...."

Harry hated it when she dragged things out. Even with her denying it, he was still afraid whatever it was would be bad news. "What already?"

She took a deep breath, and squared her shoulders. "I want to start a foundation to help the indentured. As well as some of the other people harmed by the Ministry's antiquated laws."

Harry thought it was a good idea, beyond that he was sure it would be something Hermione would be both good at, and enjoy doing. "How does that have anything to do with me?"

"I was hoping you'd help fund it." She should not have that much question in her voice, and certainly not the hesitation he heard there.

Confused by it, Harry studied her. There was obviously a catch somewhere that he was missing. And really, he wished she'd just get to it. "Okay. What else?"

"That's all." Except that she wasn't meeting his eyes.

"That can't be all. You look...." He wasn't sure how she looked, but it had scared him. If she didn't tell him soon, he was going to start shouting.

"I think she was worried about asking you for money." It sounded like Ron knew better.

At least one of them did, Harry thought. "You actually think I care about the money? Do you think I'd say no, if you asked for anything? And Hermione, I mean anything."

Hermione looked down, her cheeks red. "It's a lot of money."

"As if he'd care," Ron said, smiling at Harry. "I told you so."

"You did. But I'm not going to presume anything with anyone. It's a lot of money." Hermione smiled as she said it.

"This is Harry we're talking about. He's got the money." And clearly, that wasn't the first time Ron had said that.

"I'm right here," Harry said, glad that Ron understood, even if Hermione didn't. "I'm not going to have to do anything with this, am I?"

"Not unless you want to," Hermione clearly thought he should want to.

Maybe he would at some point, but now was not the time for that kind of thing. He had enough to do. "I'm kind of busy with training, right now."

"About that, mate. I've been meaning to talk to you about that." Ron took a deep breath and seemed to have claimed the uncertain look from Hermione. "I know you made it back in, but I think you should think about ... you know...."

There was nothing to think about, and really, Ron should know it. "I'm going to keep going."

Hermione looked at Ron with the same 'I told you so' expression that Ron had just given her.

"You have to understand what this means to me. I can't quit." Harry wished they'd understand, but he couldn't seem to explain it well enough so that they did.

"We do understand. But you need to know when you've put as much into something as you can." Ron seemed to think that he had, but he was wrong.

"I haven't reached that point yet. I'm going to see this through." Harry was disappointed with them, that they kept harping on this without getting that he was not going to quit.

Hermione looked at him. "We'll support you whatever you do, but really, think about it."

This was not what Harry called support, but he wasn't going to argue about it, either. "I have."

Hermione finally understood that they were pushing him too hard. "Okay. I'll let you know when I get the paper work for the foundation together."

He hadn't realized she could do that. "Don't you need a solicitor or something?"

"I think I can handle it myself. I'll have one of my professors look it over, but the magical world works differently than the Muggle one when it comes to the law. I should have my degree by the end of next year, anyway." She sounded like that was quite an accomplishment.

No doubt it was. Harry was proud of how well she was doing with her studies. Her and Ron both, actually. If he could have done better, that would make the world nearly perfect. "I thought it took longer."

Ron laughed. "Not for Hermione."

She blushed at that.

Part 7

Harry came in and hung up his Auror trainee robe. His training was almost done. Another couple of weeks and he'd be through it and ready to start his first real job. He wasn't going to finish with the kind of top marks Ron had, but he was going to finish. He hadn't failed. That was very important to him.

He went into the sitting room and found Snape lounging on the sofa with a book open on his lap. Snape still wore loose-fitting Muggle clothes, though they no longer said Property of Harry Potter on the pocket, and they weren't gray, either. Though Snape did favor dark colors, they weren't exclusively black.

"What's for dinner?" Harry asked, sitting down in the chair by the fire with a huge sigh. "It smells good."

"Boeuf Bourguignonne," Snape said, not looking up from his book.

"Can't you speak English?" Harry was thrilled by the variety of exotic foods he'd eaten since Snape had started to cook in earnest. He'd never thought about the subtle differences between spices or what kind of wine went with anything, but he was slowly learning. Snape was a fabulous cook, and dinner had become one of the high points of his day.

"I'm still experimenting with French cooking." Snape turned the page and continued to read.

Harry had found that Snape would not stop reading. It annoyed him at first, but then he wrote it off to just another Snape quirk. They were many and varied. Harry didn't let it bother him. "Ugh... It's something creamy and fattening, right."

"You have the sophistication of a teenager." And Snape said that as if it were a bad thing.

It made Harry laugh as he rather thought Snape intended. "Funny that, I am a teenager."

"Not for much longer." Snape smirked, still not looking up.

"Don't remind me. Hermione wants me to have a birthday party." The thought made Harry want to go on a long holiday, somewhere his best friend couldn't find him.

Snape looked up from his book and raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure she does. The hordes will descend to celebrate the 20th birthday of the Boy--"

"Don't say it, okay?" Harry groaned. "So what's for dinner, in English?"

Snape's look was condescending and superior as he said, "Beef Stew."

Harry just smiled. "Great."

Snape served Potter a bowl of the stew, and a piece of crusty bread he'd made that day. He sat down across from Potter. "So, do you plan to throw yourself a party? It would be very nice if you would tell me ahead of time."

"Why? Dobby will do most of the work. And we'll have it catered." Potter dug into the stew with enthusiasm.

Snape had to admit that one of the joys of cooking was having someone who appreciated the effort. Whatever else he could say about Potter, the boy loved to eat.

"I thought that I might visit Draco that night." Snape dipped the bread into the stew. He loved to eat well, too. For the first time in his life, he couldn't count his ribs in the mirror.

"You don't want to come?" Potter had a pout in his tone, as if he were hurt that Snape didn't want to come to his party.

Snape could not believe Potter cared that much. Although he found Potter's company tolerable, and he wasn't hard on the eyes, Snape didn't want to socialize with him. To be fair, Snape didn't want to socialize with anyone. He kept up contact with the Slytherin indentured servants because they needed it. "First off, you wouldn't invite me to your birthday party as anything other than a servant."

"I would if I were making the point that you shouldn't be a servant in the first place." Potter's tone was smug with his righteousness. The change from six months ago was still startling to Snape.

Potter's change of heart had eased the tension in Snape's life and he appreciated that. After the first few months, he'd forgiven Potter for his previous bad behavior, not that he'd told Potter that, of course. Let him feel guilty. He deserved it.

"I can't imagine why you care that much," Snape said, but he was glad that Potter did. It wouldn't do him much good, but the younger indentured servants didn't deserve what the Wizengamot had dealt them.

"You're such a fuck-wit. Why am I doing this?" Potter laughed as he said it, taking the sting out of the epithet.

"I have no idea why you do anything." Oh, Snape supposed, Potter had a few higher goals for all of this, but he hadn't started out that way. And Snape wasn't ever going to let him forget it.

"You should pay attention. Hermione and I have set up a foundation to work on the whole issue." Potter sounded proud of himself. Maybe he was. Maybe Snape was, too.

"I am infinitely more observant than you are," Snape felt obligated to point out. "I know you have. And it's not that I don't appreciate it, either. But really, I think you're going to push your Gryffindor luck past its limits, if you invite the indentured servants to your birthday party."

Potter wasn't listening, though. "I'm going to ask the twins to bring Draco, Bill and Fleur will bring that Ravenclaw they have, and I'm sure that Hermione and Ron will bring Pansy. She'll have a place to show off some of the wardrobe she's amassed. I hear she's got more clothes than Hermione."

"Which wouldn't be hard since Miss Granger doesn't appear to have any interest in clothes whatsoever." He'd never known a witch to have so little interest in that kind of thing, but Granger had always been odd.

"I wouldn't know." Potter looked at him with hope in his eyes. "You'll come?"

Snape couldn't think of a good reason to refuse him. "Fine. I don't suppose I have a choice. Is it formal?"

"You do, actually. And no, I'm not having a formal birthday party no matter what Hermione says."

Potter had to know better. As if Hermione Granger was going to listen to a thing anyone had to say about something she wanted.

"I'll need dress robes, then." Snape hadn't had new dress robes in years. He didn't have a lot of interest in clothes per se, but dress robes were somehow different.

Potter sighed in defeat. "Call Madam Malkin and order them. Or I could take you into Diagon Alley and get them."

"I dislike going there." The last time he'd gone to Diagon Alley, someone had spat on him. All that had kept him from committing an Unforgivable was that he couldn't carry a wand there. It was humiliating to him that he couldn't own anything.

"Fine. Call her and she'll come here." The shadow in Potter's eyes said he knew what Snape was thinking.

However much freedom he'd been given by Potter, Snape understood that the rest of the world wouldn't acknowledge it. Snape picked up his bowl and Potter's and took it over to the sink. Dobby popped into being just as he set them down.

The elf looked up at him with reproachful eyes. "Dobby is doing the dishes."

"I wouldn't dream of denying you your pleasure." Snape hated doing any kind of housework, but especially doing the dishes. He returned to the table. "Do you want anything else?"

"Tea?" Potter asked.

"Dobby is making tea." And a second later, two mugs of tea appeared before him and Potter.

"Thanks, Dobby," Potter said. "I have a date tonight."

"Another one?" Snape held back a snicker. Potter seemed to have no luck in the dating arena. He never lacked the next date, but he also never went out with the same person twice.

"Why not?" Potter sounded a bit defensive. But really, Potter was taking the whole dating idea to new heights of idiocy.

"Well, you have gone out on how many dates in the last three months?" Snape hadn't kept track, but Potter had probably gone on two or three dates a week. And he was always home early.

"It is time to start living again. Or so everyone has been telling me." Potter's expression was petulant as if he didn't want to start living and was being forced to.

"You needn't do it at this kind of pace. You'll burn yourself out before you find true love. Or end up with a venereal disease." Which no doubt, he'd be forced to brew the remedy for. On the other hand, he'd never let Potter forget it.

"That's not likely to happen." Potter's tone was not nearly so amused as it should have been.

"You're home even earlier than usual," Snape said from his comfortable position lying on the sofa.

Potter flopped down onto the sofa opposite Snape. After they had started to inhabit the same room at the same time, they had realized that the sofa was a point of contention between them. After a week of one row after another about who got to lie on the sofa, Potter had ordered a second one to match the first.

"Why is it that no matter how hard I try, and no matter what else I do, I'm always the Boy-Who-Lived?"

He supposed he should feel sorry for Potter, but he didn't. "Did the date have a hero complex? You do seem to find the ones that do."

"I hate this. I hate it when they want me as a trophy for their wall." Potter seemed upset that witches wanted to have sex with him.

Snape wished that someone, anyone, wanted to have sex with him. It had been so long that he wouldn't care about their reasons. "You'd need a very strong sticking charm for that."

"Don't laugh. It's not funny. I want someone to want me for me."

"Face it, Potter. You are the Boy-Who-Lived. And the Boy-Who-Defeated-Voldemort." And if it got him laid, he shouldn't complain so bloody much about it. Potter was probably too much the Gryffindor to take proper advantage of the situation.

"But --"

"There is nothing you can say to that." Snape didn't understand the angst. It wasn't as if Potter were going to marry any of them.

"I know. I just wish that someone wanted me." Potter was a good-looking man. He should be able to find someone to look beyond the hype.

Snape would, given the opportunity. "You'll have to look harder."

"Where? I've been set up by every person I know. I've dated every relative that Ron has. Everyone that any of my friends know. I've dated several of the Aurors in the training program. And nearly all of the female personnel in the Ministry office -- those who are anywhere close to my age."

"With all of that, Potter, you should be able to find someone. You do seem like you've gone about this in your usual reckless way --"

"Thanks so much. I don't see you out there dating anyone."

"It's not as if I can do that, now can I?" Snape kept his tone perfectly bland, but the comment bit into his pride. For too long, he'd been too concerned about staying alive and successfully serving two demanding masters to have time to find someone who wanted him. Now, with Potter, his lot was better, but he could hardly go out on a date with anyone. And really, he would like to get laid.

"Sorry." Potter looked contrite for about thirty seconds, and then continued. "You know, it's just not right that they all want to get into my pants before they even get to dessert."

"You make that sound like a bad thing." For Snape, as long as they didn't actively smell bad, he wouldn't care who it was.

"It is. Really." Potter was never going to convince him of that.

Snape eyed him, sprawled out on the sofa, looking quite messy and appealing. "Potter, you're a healthy, relatively attractive, teenaged boy. Sex should be fun. Not something to give you this much grief."

"You try being in my shoes. When no one wants to know who you are, and it's all about fucking the Boy-Who-Lived." He said it as if they could switch.

"I'd kill to be in your shoes, all the way around. Don't be so ungrateful," Snape snapped. This conversation, while amusing at the beginning, was quickly losing its charm.

"I'm not ungrateful. I just want --"

"I've heard. You sound like a girl. Don't you just want to have sex?"

"I do. I'd rather use my own hands than to have someone who doesn't want me for me. I'm not asking for love, or anything other than healthy lust, but it has to be for me. Harry Potter."

"You could always get that from me. After all, I'm a servant, required to serve you. I could hardly object." Not that Snape would object. Potter might not be all the things he'd want in a life-partner, but he was good looking and clean and healthy. And let's not forget that Harry Potter was passionate. Snape would bet that he'd be a handful in bed.

The color drained out of Potter's face and his eyes got huge. "How could you even suggest such a thing? I would never, ever, do anything so foul to anyone. God, what do you think I am?"

Dense. Quite dense, actually.

"I'm sorry," Snape said, not quite believing that Potter missed his point so completely. "It was a joke."

"It wasn't funny," Potter snapped. "I'm --"

Snape sat up, and put a contrite expression on his face. "I'm sorry, Potter. I didn't mean to imply anything by it."

Potter stopped talking and looked at him. "Did I just miss something? You don't apologize, not like that, anyway."

"You mean, I never actually sound like I am sorry?" Which would be an accurate observation. He couldn't believe Potter made it, however. Perhaps in some things, Potter was not nearly as dense as he had previously thought. In other things, he was clearly more so.

"Not usually, no. You mostly seem like you're sorry you got caught."

"Usually I am. However, in this case, I didn't mean for what I said to upset you, and clearly, it did."

Potter breathed out and seemed to relax. "It did. But..." He trailed off and shrugged. "God, I'm tired."

"It's late. Why don't you go to bed?" Snape wanted this conversation to end before it got any worse.

"Right, then. I will." Harry stood and left the room.

He breathed out a sigh. Potter hadn't caught on. Snape wasn't sure if that were a good thing or not.

"Hi Ron," Harry said, as he slid into the booth at their local. Hermione's late classes were on Thursday nights this term. "How did it go today?"

"Pretty well," Ron said, but clearly he was holding out. "How'd you do?"

"Well enough." Harry didn't begrudge Ron one instance of his success, but there were other things to talk about. "Look, training is almost over now. Let's just eat and not talk about work." The time for him to make a decision was fast approaching, but he couldn't honestly say he had any idea what he should do. All he knew was that he couldn't quit now.

"Harry, I know it's hard." Ron had that way-too-understanding look on his face.

But Harry knew that Ron couldn't understand at all. "You don't know the half of it."

"I know exactly how it is to want something so badly you can taste it. I know what it's like to never be good enough. This is the first time in my whole life that I've been good enough. And it feels brilliant." Ron looked down at the tablecloth as if he were embarrassed by what he'd said.

"Yeah. I know. I'm truly glad you're doing so well. But I don't want to give up my dreams." At last, Harry felt like he was finally catching on, and he wasn't going to stop.

"You must find new dreams. I'm sure there are lots of things that you're good at and that you enjoy."

Harry didn't miss the less than subtle hint. "I can't think about it now, not with that stupid birthday party coming up."

"Hey, you said yes to her, mate. It's on your head." Ron chuckled, but he wasn't any better at saying no to Hermione than Harry was.

"Snape is getting fitted for robes today. You are bringing Pansy, aren't you?" Harry was very glad to be off the subject of work. He knew that Ron meant well, but it wasn't something he was going to be able to help with.

"Of course. The silly bint has been excited about it since the invitation came last week."

"You don't sound like you approve?" Which, after everything, came as something of a surprise.

"I'm fine with it. I just...I don't know. It's the whole clothes thing, maybe. It's got out of control. She can't get anything else into her cupboard." Ron's expression was more exasperated than annoyed.

Harry was infinitely grateful that Snape had as little interest in clothes as he did. "Do you still think of her as a servant?" Somewhere along the way, he'd stopped thinking of Snape that way, which left the way open for other things.

"I'm not sure I ever did. I don't think that she should have been forced into servitude. But you know, I don't like her. And generally, she's still a superior, rich bitch. Even though she's not any of those things anymore. She's really moody."

Harry laughed at that. "And Hermione isn't?" Ron clearly had selective memory, didn't he.

"Not like that. And besides," Ron said, smiling a slow, happy smile. "There are benefits to Hermione that I am not getting from Pansy."

That reminded Harry of something else, something he'd been thinking about since it had happened. "Would you? Take those benefits, I mean. If she were a real indentured servant?"

"What are you asking me? Am I attracted to Pansy? She's not bad looking, but..." Ron shrugged. "I'd never want to be with someone who thought the way she does."

"Yeah. I guess. What I meant was that if she were a servant, would you?" It was not coming out the way Harry hoped it would. Talking about sex had never been his strong suit. Actually, talking about anything that dealt with emotions could be problematic.

"Would I have sex with her? If she offered, you mean? Because you're not asking me if I'd force her, are you?" And there was ever so slight a note of danger in Ron's tone. Something, Harry would have never expected to hear there.

"I meant, if she'd sort of offered." That sounded lame, but he wasn't sure what Snape had actually meant. He thought he knew, but he could be totally wrong and that could lead to a situation Harry couldn't bear to think about.

Ron tilted his head and looked at him. He could almost see the pieces coming together in Ron's mind. "Did something happen with Snape?"

"He said that I could force him to have sex with me." Even saying it made Harry want to wash his hands.

"You could. No one would say a word about it either. Well, except Hermione." Ron paused for a second. "And me."

Harry laughed because there was nothing else he could do in this situation. "I'm not talking about forcing anyone. I never would. But, sweet Merlin, Ron, he suggested it. I'm just not sure why he would."

Then, it was Ron who laughed. "He might have been offering." He was silent for another second. "Yeah. That's exactly what he'd do if he were willing and thought you might be, too."

"Why would he think that?" Harry didn't know how he felt about the subject of Snape in general. Sex with Snape was not something he would have considered in a million years. But now that the suggestion had been made.... What might have felt wrong six months ago didn't feel nearly so wrong now.

"What were you talking about to bring it up? I doubt he just dropped it into a conversation."

"I'd gone out with Bernadette from accounting, and all she did all evening was try to lure me into bed. I guess I was a bit put out by that." Harry hated to think about the amount of time, not to mention the galleons, that he'd wasted on people who didn't want him.

"I'm not surprised. I told you she was all about notching wizards into her bed post. And you would be the biggest notch. I'm sure she's telling people she slept with you --"

"I didn't. God, I wouldn't. You think that Snape wants to? I mean, with me?" The idea didn't horrify him, or turn his stomach. No, he could actually imagine it. Snape might be ugly and mean and greasy, but he also had a wicked funny sense of humor and there was something about him that Harry found...comfortable. Maybe it was just their forced cohabitation. But something....

"He might. You could ask him."

"No, I could not." He could admit to himself that the idea of sex with Snape held some appeal, but to admit it to Snape would be... what would it be? Snape had already admitted as much to Harry. Well, if he'd interpreted the situation correctly.

"Why not? If he's offering, then you could take him up on it and not feel like you're using him. Or maybe just in the way people do with each other."

"Yeah. It's been a long time." And the thought of being with someone who wanted him for himself was tempting, even if that someone was Snape.

"Since Ginny, right?"

Harry's face started to heat and he looked away. "God, how did you know about that?"

"Where do you think she got your invisibility cloak from?" Ron's tone was somewhere between amused and exasperated.

"I never thought about it." And really, looking back on it now, he should have done.

Ron's expression turned concerned. "You should really think about leaving the program, mate."

"Later. After the party is over." He knew he wouldn't leave. Not until he made it all the way through the program and out the other side. Until he was an Auror.


Madam Malkin was pinning up the hem on Snape's dress robes when Harry Apparated into the sitting room. She looked up. "Good evening, Mr. Potter. I'm just finishing up here. What do you think?"

The robes that Snape had chosen were made of dark red silk, bordering closely enough on black to shimmer black in the light. The material was so sumptuous it invited the hand to touch it. "They're nice." He looked at Snape. "Do you like them?"

"I would hardly have chosen them if I didn't."

"I guess that's fine, then." Harry couldn't care less.

She was done in a few minutes. As she was leaving, she handed Harry a receipt for the robes. He choked when he saw the price. "Do you think they could have cost any more galleons?"

"I could have had them trimmed in jewels, but I thought that would have been too ostentatious." He sounded serious enough that Harry wondered if he actually were, rather than being sarcastic.

"You know, my robes cost less than this." Not that it mattered that much what Snape spent but, "Couldn't you find something that was cheaper?"

Snape drew himself up to his full height, which unfortunately was still several inches taller than Harry, and looked down his considerable nose at him. "If you're going to make a point, then you should make it with as much style as possible."

That was all well and good. "I hope you plan to wear them more than once."

"A set of dress robes should last you your whole life. I actually owned two sets of them at one point." Snape said it as if he were repeating some great pearl of wisdom that every wizard should know.

"What happened to your other ones?" Harry hadn't thought much about what happened to any of Snape's belongings. He probably should have done. Or Snape should have mentioned it.

"I assume they were sold, along with everything else I owned, to pay my legal fees." There was a note of something very like sadness in Snape's voice.

There wasn't anything Harry could do about it, no sympathy he could offer that would be accepted, so he ignored the tone. "You had a barrister?"

"Such as he was. Yes. Everything that was left should have been turned over to you."

"They gave me half of what was in your Gringotts account. The ministry kept the rest. By the way, I didn't spend any of it. I've had all the money you've been paid put into the same account." Harry had no idea what was in there, either.

 "Your account," Snape reminded him, and then was silent for a moment, considering. "Minerva kept a few of my books for me."

"And you haven't gone round to collect them, yet?" That was a surprise. It showed a lack of trust that shouldn't surprise Harry as much as it did. "I would have thought that you'd do it first thing."

"As they are mostly related to the school or teaching, they weren't of that much interest to me." Snape shrugged as if to dismiss the whole subject.

"What happened to the rest?"

"I had moved them to my home over the course of that last year. I assume they were sold with the house," Snape said, and clearly it was painful to him.

That he had a house at all was news to Harry. "Where was your home?"

Snape looked at him and there was something in his eyes. "Didn't they give you the proceeds from the house at Spinner's End?"

"What house? There was no mention of a house in any of the documents I was given. I still have all the papers in my desk upstairs." Harry wondered that Snape hadn't found the papers on his first excursion through Harry's rooms.

"Would you mind if I had a look?" Snape asked very casually. So much so, that if Harry hadn't known better, he'd have thought Snape didn't care at all.

But Harry recognized that look. It said that Snape was trying hard not to hope for something. "No, go ahead. Actually, let's go up now."

Harry retrieved the folders, watching in silence as Snape went through them.

"What are you looking for?" Harry asked as Snape went through everything a second time.

"Some indication that they've sold the house. But there's nothing here. I wonder...." Snape looked up, his expression unreadable. "It was my father's house, and my father was a Muggle."

Harry did hope that they hadn't managed to take Snape's house. "You're thinking that they either didn't know or couldn't touch it?"

"Yes. All forms of slavery, including indenturing servants, were abolished in England for Muggles at least a hundred years ago." There was a non-expression on Snape's face again.

Harry was surprised at how well he could read it. "Well, there is something good to say about Muggle society, after all. How do we find out?"

Snape's look changed to incredulous. "We? This is...never mind."

Harry wasn't about to let him go alone, and really, Snape should know that. "Come on, Snape. I can help you. Why don't we go there and see?"

"What will going there do?" It was so clear that Snape wanted to go, and that he was afraid of what he would find. It was also clear that Snape was letting him see it.

"Well, if it's been sold, then your things will be gone, but if it's not, then..."

Snape nodded.

"I assume you know how to Apparate there?" Harry said, excitement growing. Maybe this would work out for Snape. He hoped it would.

Snape drew the spare wand, and moved closer to take Harry's arm. "I can take you side-along, since you're not going to be sensible and stay here."

"Nope. Sensible is not something that's usually associated with me, is it?" He leaned close, and caught a whiff of Snape's scent, and it sent a bolt of desire through him. The world compressed before he could do more than recognize it.

The house was exactly as Snape remembered it. The musty smell of books was nearly overpowering and so welcoming. Snape's eyes stung.


After everything, to find out it wasn't gone. He closed his eyes and let the feeling of rightness wash over him.

Beside him, Potter choked, waving a hand in the air. "Ever clean the house, Snape?"

Reluctantly, he was brought back to the present. "No one has been here in more than two years." What did Potter expect, maid service or house elves?

"Right. So, I guess you still own it."

Snape nodded, reaching out a finger and running it along the spine of a book. He sighed. "I've missed this place."

"It reminds me of you." Potter looked around with interest, walking out of the sitting room and clearly bent on exploring the place. Snape could have told him there wasn't much to see.

As he sat down on the sofa, a cloud of dust rose in the air. He sighed, raising his wand to banish it from the dirty room. Sitting back, Snape sighed in pleasure. It felt so bloody good to be here, to know it wasn't gone. To know he had something that was his.

A moment later, Potter returned. "Can I light the fire?"

"I didn't think we would be here that long." That said, Snape was in no hurry to leave. He wanted to luxuriate in the feeling of home. Of his place in the world.

And for whatever reason, Potter seemed to understand that. He smiled rather indulgently. "Well, I know how you like to linger over things...."

"Would you mind if I brought some of the books back with me?" It galled him to have to ask permission, even after the last few months of relative peace between them. If he'd learned nothing else, he'd learned never to presume anything. His books were too precious to risk.

Potter looked around and bit his lip, considering. "All of them are not going to fit. Not in your room anyway. I suppose we could make room for them around the house."

"Did I say all of them? I said some. You should pay attention." He felt too good about being here to waste much effort snapping at Potter. His books would finally be with him.

For some unknown reason, Potter blushed. "Yeah, about paying attention."

Tilting his head to glance at Potter, Snape wondered what was wrong now. Something was going on in Potter's squirrelly little mind. Snape could see it from the half-hopeful, half-fearful look on Potter's face. "What now?" Snape asked, with a sigh of resignation.

"I was talking to Ron the other day, and well... he said that you might have been offering rather than suggesting that I do it." Potter said it all so quickly that Snape couldn't make heads or tails of it.

"Do what?" Snape hated it when Potter didn't make himself clear. "I know it's difficult for you to communicate properly, but if you could be a bit more specific, I might understand what you're saying."

Potter blushed even harder, but he kept his head up and his eyes on him. "He told me that when you said that I might force you since you were my servant, you were actually offering. Except that I can't, for the life of me, understand why you would want to."

"Oh, I don't know. It might be that I haven't been laid in almost as many years as you've been alive." It might also be that Potter might be fun in bed. It also didn't hurt that once he'd bothered to notice, Potter turned out to be a very handsome man.

"It hasn't been that long for me. But...." Given the brightness of Potter's blush, Snape wouldn't have been surprised if he were lightheaded.

A frightening reason for that blush occurred to Snape. "Are you a virgin?"

"No. Ginny and I --" His voice cracked badly. "We had one night. Right before the final battle." Potter walked over to the window. "After curfew, she snuck up to my dorm wearing my invisibility cloak. And she cast a silencing charm on my bed and climbed in with me."

Potter stopped talking, and Snape could hear him struggling with his emotions. He'd never thought he would be in a position to have to comfort Potter, and he was still not sure what vengeful deity had placed him there, but he stepped up to Potter and put a hand on his shoulder, offering what comfort he could, fully expecting it to be refused.

Surprisingly, Potter turned into him, burying his face in Snape's chest. Snape's other arm wrapped around his shoulder and pulled him closer.

Breathing in, Snape sighed. Potter smelled like sweat and night air and soap. It was a heady combination and went straight to his groin.

"Do you even like men?" Snape asked after the silence had stretched out too far and he could feel Potter's response against his belly.

"I've been attracted now and again. I think that a person can respond to anything. If the other person wants them. I'm assuming you want me?" Potter's voice was muffled, but there was no question he meant it.

Snape turned his hips slightly. "What do you think?"

"I think that it's been a long time."

"It has. I'm not a sycophant. It's you I see. You did this." Snape ground his hips harder into Potter. Delightful, half-forgotten sensations washed through him.

"That's right, blame this on me," Potter chuckled, leaning into him a bit more.

"Well, it's certainly not my fault." Snape was amused by Potter's whole little act. He stepped back, and slid both hands onto Potter's face, enjoying the feel of the slight stubble along his fingertips. Holding Potter still, he leaned in and kissed him solidly on the mouth.

Potter melted. There was no other word for the yielding in him as Snape started to kiss him in earnest. It was the sexiest thing Snape had ever felt or seen. He nudged at Potter's mouth with his tongue and the yielding continued. Potter let him in, whimpering softly.

Merlin and all that was holy, Snape wondered if he could come from that sound alone. Snape slid one hand further into Potter's messy, but very soft, hair and the other stroked down his back, pulling him closer and closer still. Potter felt good against him, hard and masculine and just perfect.

Snape maneuvered him over the sofa and then down onto it. He knelt in front of him, and caught Potter's eyes. "Yes?"

"God, yes." Potter leaned forward and kissed him, then pushed up more to wrap an arm around Snape's shoulder.

Snape managed to get his hands on the front of Potter's robes and got most of them unbuttoned before he got frustrated and pulled. The rest of the buttons popped, but that left Snape free to start on his trousers. Potter, being, if not bright, then at least clever, also started to work on Snape's clothes, never breaking the kiss.

Finally, enough of Potter was bare that he could start exploring. And just as he'd imagined it would, Potter's skin tasted sweet, and salty, and altogether delicious. Snape supposed that he might not be the most objective source on Potter's charms as he hadn't had access to anyone's charms in eighteen years, but really, he didn't care.

"Oh, God," Potter moaned as Snape licked over a nipple. His hips jerked when Snape did it again.

Using his fingertips, Snape traced the line of hair that ran down Potter's belly. Despite his Auror training, Potter wasn't built like an athlete. For one thing, he was short, and a bit soft around the middle, though Snape was hardly one to point fingers. The last year had seen some meat finally apply itself to his own bones.

Snape tugged Potter's trousers down, and Potter raised his hips obligingly to help. "Please," Potter whimpered again when Snape licked his already wet prick.

Book learning was not going to do it, Snape realized as he tried to take more of Potter -- and there was a surprising amount of him, especially given his stature -- into his mouth and throat than would fit. He pulled back and sucked on just the spongy head. He wrapped his hand around the base, pumping up and down.

Thankfully, it didn't seem to matter to Potter. He cried out and came within a few seconds, which wasn't that surprising, all things considered. Snape expected to be as fast. He did manage to swallow most of Potter's come. It didn't taste anywhere near as bad as he'd thought it might, but it was rather slimy.

"That was brilliant," Potter's tone was heavy with satiation.

"Don't you think about going to sleep and leaving me like this," Snape warned. Potter had damned well better be ready to take care of his little problem. This was not going to be one-sided.

Potter's eyes blinked open. "I wouldn't. Just give me a second or two to recover."

Before he could answer, Potter sat up and pulled off the rest of his clothes. Snape wanted to hold him still and look at him. Naked, Potter was...not perfect, but appealing.

Without pausing, Potter started to work on Snape's clothes. They traded positions, and Potter knelt between his spread knees.

"I don't think I'm going to be any better than you at this, so be patient." There was a real note of apology in Potter's tone, as if he believed that anything he would do would not be good enough.

Snape couldn't decide if he should be reassuring or be insulted. All he really wanted was for Potter to get on with it. "What was wrong with what I did to you? You managed to come in record time."

"You'd never done it before." Potter didn't even phrase it as a question. "Besides, I haven't had sex in eighteen months, I'd come from anything."

"Anything. That could cover a lot of ground. What hidden depths do you have?" All of it was ground that Snape wanted to explore. Just not right this second.

"Do you actually want to talk about this or do you want me to try it?" Potter finally seemed to understand. His hand slid along Snape's bare thigh.

Closing his eyes, Snape settled into the sofa. "Do you even have to ask?"

"I shouldn't have to, no. But with you --"

"Shut it and suck me," Snape ordered, spreading his legs apart.

"Yes sir," Potter said, leaning up to kiss him instead. One hand tangled in Snape's hair and the other started a slow descent downward.

Any more talk might be a distraction for Potter. Snape leaned his head back, allowing Potter's talented hands and mouth to do lovely things to his body.

Taking a page from his book, Potter didn't try to take more than the head of his prick into his mouth. He sucked and pulled at the same time, and in a shorter time than it took Potter, Snape came with a grunt, and a sigh of relief. He relaxed back into the sofa, a feeling of pure contentment washing over him.

Merlin, that had been good. Of course, it had been so long that anything would have been good, and he knew it, but that had still been good. So good. Snape wanted to sink into the sofa and go to sleep.

"Do you have a bed around here?" Potter asked from somewhere in the vicinity of his knee.

"It's not been dusted in quite some time." Snape was too satiated to even think about a cleaning charm for his room.

Potter looked a bit disgruntled, but then he reached for his robe and pulled out his wand. "Let's go home, then."

With no more warning than that, the world went flat and compressed. When it righted itself, Snape opened his eyes, and he was lying in Potter's bed. "You might have warned me what you were planning, you thoughtless boy. And where are my clothes? I don't have so many things that I can afford to lose the ones I have."

"You can just order more, if you want." At Snape's annoyed look, Harry sighed. "Fine. We can get them, later." Potter leaned over and kissed him. Then kept kissing him for long enough for Snape to lose his train of thought.

"What were you saying?" Potter asked when he finally pulled back sometime later.

"I don't remember." And he reached for Potter. No sense wasting a perfectly good naked man, who clearly had recovered. "Teenagers."

"Only until next week." Potter ran a hand along Snape's now hard prick. "And what were you saying about teenagers?"

"It's been a long time." Even so, he was surprised at the speed of his own recovery. Clearly, Potter was inspiring.

Potter leaned in for a quick kiss. "I can help you with this."

"I'll bet you can." He was more than willing to let Potter do it, too.

Potter slid down, kissing his chest and then his hip and then his prick, but he didn't take it into his mouth.

Now wasn't the time for teasing. Now was the time for sucking. Snape made a disgruntled sound. "I thought you were going to help."

"I was just thinking about how you'd never done this either."

"Oh, please tell me you don't want to discuss that now." With Potter's hot breath sliding over him, that was about the last thing Snape wanted to discuss.

"I'm just curious." Potter gave him a little lick. "Why hadn't you?"

A strategic retreat might be in order, Snape decided. "I have nearly as little experience as you do."

"Oh. I've had sex once. How much more experience do you have?" Potter licked again. No doubt he was trying to entice Snape to answer.

That was the problem. He barely remembered the question. "I've had sex three times. All with the same boy from school. It's four times, counting you, and really, I'd like to make it five, if you're a mind to stop talking, and start sucking."

"I can do that." Potter bent his head and took the head into his mouth, his tongue slipping over the tip, and then swirling around the slit.

"Damn, that's nice," Snape said, feeling the familiar pressure start to build, much faster than he would have thought possible, given that he'd come very recently. He lay back and let it happen, let Potter suck him until he came with a groan. Pleasant lassitude took him, and he closed his eyes, content.

"Don't go to sleep," Potter said, repeating his own admonishment.

Summoning some energy, Snape rolled over and pinned Potter under him. He shifted a bit to allow his hand to caress down Potter's chest, over his belly, and take hold of his hard prick. "Got you," he said, ridiculously pleased by Potter and what had happened. As surprising as the idea was to him, Snape wanted to please him in return.

"What are you going to do with me, now that you have me?" Potter blinked up at him with lust shining in his eyes.

"Just this," Snape said, moving his hand up and then down. It wasn't as smooth as he would have liked. "Do you have something?"

Potter's eyes cleared. "Good idea." He reached for his wand and flicked it at his bedside table.

It opened and a jar floated out and made its way to Snape. It wasn't the quality that he would brew, but it would do. He slid his hand into it, coating it well. "Better?"

"It was good to start with."

"Then why don't I continue?" Snape asked, doing just that.

"You do that."

"Thanks so much for your permission. I will." The conversation was silly, but Snape was enthralled with the look of pleasure glazing Potter's eyes. He'd never realized it could be so sexy to do this for someone.

Potter sighed and settled back into the bedding. "Good. And while you're at it, harder."

"Fine. Anything else?" Snape said it sarcastically, but really, it gave him an odd sense of rightness to do this, to please Potter.

"Faster." Potter's tone had taken on a breathless quality that Snape liked a lot.

Potter bucked his hips up into each movement of Snape's hand and in a short time, came, groaning softly.

"Mmm..." Potter said. "That was lovely."

"Yes. I should get to my own bed." Snape didn't want to move, but he wasn't going to assume a welcome he might not have.

"Go, if you want." Potter sounded hurt.

As much as he hated to have to explain, he wanted to do it again. And that meant not alienating Potter this time. "I didn't say I wanted to go, I said I should."

"Say that again in English this time, if you would." Potter's sigh was long-suffering.

"Must I tell you everything?" But Snape conceded he knew as little as Potter about the etiquette of sleeping together.

"Only if you want me to know," Potter snapped.

The direct approach was necessary, Snape decided. "Fine. Issue me an invitation to stay if you'd like me to. Or send me away."

"Stay. If you want to."

"Fine, then. I will." Snape sighed and crawled under the covers, holding one edge up. "Coming?"

"No thanks, I already have. Twice, in fact." Potter smirked at him, but got in next to him, warm and smelling like them both.

Snape gathered him into his arms and kissed the top of his head. Feeling more content than he had in literally years, he let sleep take him.

Harry came out of a nightmare of being bound to the reality of it. He struggled to get away from the arms and legs that were wrapped around him, pushing at them until he was finally free. Taking several deep breaths, he awoke completely, and recognized who had been holding him.

"What?" Snape mumbled, rolling on to his back. "Don't want to get up yet."

"Blimey, Snape. You're like an octopus." Harry sat up. And felt something wet and slick run down his chest. " drooled on me."

Snape opened one eye and peered up at him through his dirty hair. "I was asleep, you inconsiderate boy. Why are you bothering me? I'd like to go back to sleep."

"You drooled on me," Harry complained again, wiping at his chest with the sheet. "That is so gross."

"Obviously, you've never slept with anyone before." And Snape didn't look at all repentant for what he'd done.

Harry was going to rethink this sleeping together. The sex had been great, but the sleeping part was clearly a problem. Harry had always slept alone. Even Ginny hadn't stayed all night. "What does one thing have to do with the other?"

"If you'd ever slept with anyone, intimately I mean, you'd know that you don't mention that kind of thing. It's rude." Snape sounded very sure of that, as if he were some kind of frigging expert or something.

Which Harry knew very well that he was not. "How exactly do you know so much? It's not like you've got that much more experience than I do."

Even half-asleep, Snape could manage to look condescending. "I know how to read. I've read about it. And actually, I've spent one night with my paramour."

"Paramour? Can't you speak English?"

Snape huffed. "Boyfriend. Is that better?"

"So you spent the night with your boyfriend. That doesn't seem like a lot of experience to me."

Snape closed his eyes again. "Was there something else you wished to complain about, or may I go back to sleep, now?"

"Actually," Harry paused. How exactly should he put this? He wanted to know how things had changed. Even before he'd slept with Snape, he'd known he hadn't hated him anymore. And he knew he could get to like him, possibly a lot. "We slept together last night. And well, what are we going to do about it?"

Snape opened one eye, and smirked at him. "I'm hoping to do it again tonight. Or perhaps later today. Or now, if you're interested."

Another round of sex held a lot of appeal for Harry. He wouldn't mind crawling back into a warm bed on a very regular basis. But, "We have to get out of bed at some point."

"All right. I'll concede that."

Harry felt awkward, unable to get the words out of his mouth. What should he say? "How are we going to be? I mean...are we even friends?"

"Nothing is going to change between us. I'm not going to suddenly become more demanding, if that's what you're worried about?" Clearly, Snape wasn't getting what he was trying to say.

This kind of conversation was always so...difficult. Not that Harry'd actually had one like this before, but any conversation that talked about this kind of thing was going to be difficult. "Not that exactly, but you know, there are certain...I don't know, things... about being lovers with someone."

That got Snape's full attention. Both eyes opened and he leaned up on the pillows. "Lovers? I'm not sure I'd categorize us as that." And then he looked at Harry. "Not yet. We're too new, and there hasn't been any of the love part."

That was a bit of a let down. "Do you want there to be?"

Snape cleared his throat and his expression was uncharacteristically uncertain. "We have a lot to get past before we can truly be lovers."

That was a given, but Harry liked the idea. "I thought we were past at least some of it."

"I will say I don't actively hate you anymore." It was obvious that Snape meant it as a joke, something Harry should know.

He'd hoped it, but the truth was that Harry was never sure of anything when it came to Snape. "Big concession. I would hope that you wouldn't have slept with me, if you had."

"Potter, you're good looking enough that I might have overlooked that." Snape actually leered at him.

Heat rose up from his toes to his face and probably every square inch of his skin was bright red. "You didn't just compliment me, did you?"

"It's possible that I did."

Harry took hold of the bed frame. "Hang on. I'm sure the world is going to start spinning in a different direction."

Snape laughed. A full-throated, out loud, laugh.

The sound slid very pleasantly over Harry's nerves. He liked it. Yes, he did. Harry also couldn't believe it. It made Snape look completely different. "Wow. I didn't know you could do that."

"It's been a long time since I've had cause. Are we done with this now?" Snape reached out and pulled a bit on Harry's arm, indicating what he wanted.

Harry went willingly into his arms, and allowed himself to be laid flat and kissed thoroughly. Damn, Snape might not have a lot of experience, but he knew how to kiss. And Harry could see spending a lot of time doing that in the near future. He gave himself up, and let Snape's hands and mouth take him away.

Part 8

"Are we ready to go?" Potter looked around at those gathered. They were standing in front of Potter's large fireplace in the sitting room.

Fred smirked and took Angelina's hand. "Ready --"

"--as we'll ever be," George finished for him. Both of them glanced at Draco, who looked nervous to Snape.

Draco sighed. "Is there a reason that we all have to go together?"

Snape understood that sentiment. Even though he knew the reason for going as a group, he'd much rather that they not make a statement.

"I asked the same thing," Pansy complained, in an annoyed tone.

As much as he felt a certain kinship with her as both a Slytherin and fellow servant, Snape still found her as whiney as he had when she was at school.

"I want to show a united front. Surely you can understand the strategic advantage of that," Hermione said, as if Pansy should know that already. No doubt she'd been told.

Snape was not sure Pansy had the interest or knowledge of strategy to care. "I would think that lying low would be a better strategy. Not putting this into anyone's face. Not flaunting the fact you're treating us well, rather than punishing us."

Potter was already shaking his head. "That's exactly what we do want to do. We want to show them that we're not doing what they want. That the decision that was handed down was wrong."

Weasley nodded, too. "We'll make quite the entrance."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Snape said, with a shudder. He was not sure that all of them arriving at Potter's birthday party en masse was the best idea Potter or Granger had ever had. He also wasn't sure about wearing his newly acquired dress robes. They seemed ostentatious rather than elegant now. Both Draco and Pansy were dressed in equally well made robes.

"It's going to be fine." Potter smiled at him.

A warm feeling went through Snape at the smile. Potter looked edible in his dress robes and Snape had a fantasy about stripping him bare and sucking on every inch of his body. He caught Potter's eye and watched him blush. Too easy.

"I somehow doubt that." Draco sneered at Potter, but it was half-hearted at best.

"Let's go. Hermione, you and Ron go first." Potter waved at the fireplace.

Since school was not in session, Minerva had been more than happy to allow Potter to host his party at Hogwarts, especially when she heard what they were planning. The Floo in the entry way had been opened for those invited to the party. Everyone made it through with a minimum of ash on their robes.

The Hall had been decorated in what Snape supposed was a festive manner, silly balloons and banners hung around the room. The ghosts circled, looking as if they weren't sure what was going on.

Their group was far from the first to arrive. And when the nine of them entered the Hall, for one second the noise dipped noticeably. Since there were already other servants in attendance, it was clear that people were, if not used to it, then not hugely surprised.

As planned, everyone in the party was seated at the head table, along with Bill Weasley and Fleur, who had also taken in an indentured servant. She had left school a couple of years before Potter and company. Snape vaguely remembered her name as Julietta Vancee. A Ravenclaw. She had been an adequate brewer.

With a grunt of displeasure, Snape sat down and glared at the people staring at them. Under the best of circumstances, he hated these kinds of large gatherings of people and he knew with bitter certainty that these were not going to be the best of circumstances.

"Do you know how to dance?" Potter asked, a telling look of anticipation creeping into his eyes.

"Yes. But I don't want to." Snape glared at him for good measure, too. When there were fewer people and less noise, he liked to dance a lot. Now, however, he would rather go home and find a good book to read. Even after more than a year, he'd barely started on Potter's library and happily, that didn't include the books from his own library.

As per usual, Potter wasn't paying any attention. "Good. We'll do it later."

"This may have escaped your limited notice, but I am not your date. Find someone else to dance with." Snape felt a slight pang at Potter's hurt look.

It was gone quickly, replaced by a determination that made Snape wary. "We'll dance later," Potter said.

Annoyed, now, Snape shook his head. "What part of 'no' don't you understand?"

"The part where we're here for a purpose." Potter gave him a look that said he'd better give in gracefully, because Potter was going to nag him about it until he did.

There were battles he would fight, and battles he would win. And then there were the ones he knew better than to fight. "After dinner."

Potter considered that for a moment and then smiled that idiot grin he had. "That's fine. I'll find you later."

Snape had every intention of hiding in a corner after dinner, and making sure he didn't have to dance with anyone.

Dinner was better than Snape had expected it to be; not up to his usual standards, of course, but more than edible. As much as he liked to cook, there were times when it was nice to be served.

"Severus," Draco said as Snape approached the group of servants off to one side. "Your robes are beautiful. What did you have to give Potter to have them made?"

Although there wasn't even a hint of an innuendo in Draco's tone, Snape had to force himself not to blush. "Potter was feeling generous. He's had quite the change of heart in recent months."

"And Granger has been very pleased to use it," Pansy said, smoothing her hand down her own well-made robes.

"I'm sure. He's helped her with that foundation she wanted to set up." Draco also looked resplendent in his black and white traditional robes.

Marcus Flint nodded. His own robes were of high quality, but not as high as the three of them. "I understand from Neville that she's actually had her petition to the court read. That's nearly unheard of without three or four years' worth of work."

"Not that it did her any good," Pansy said, sounding as if she'd hoped it would work the first time.

"It won't for several more tries. Or probably years." Draco sounded resigned. But there was hope underlying both his and Pansy's voice.

Snape knew they had to cling to that or their lives, no matter how tolerable, would become unbearable.

"How does it go with Neville?" Pansy asked, her tone coyly polite.

Snape wasn't surprised to see Marcus blush. He and Neville were an unlikely couple, to say the least, but he couldn't deny they made each other happy. It reeked on both of them, especially when they looked at each other.

"If Granger does manage it, what are we going to do, afterward?" Draco said, drawing the conversation away from Pansy and her intended target.

"Anything we want." Pansy glared at him as if he'd said something offensive. "Would you rather remain an indentured servant?"

"I keep thinking that none of us finished school. That right now, we don't even own the clothes we are wearing." It was a truth that none of them wanted to face, but one that was impossible to ignore.

"I can't believe that Granger would go to all this trouble for us, and then dump us on the streets. Besides, what would she do with my clothes?" Pansy asked, and it was clear that she wasn't concerned.

"For one thing," Draco said, "Even if they used your family's money to pay for them, your clothes still belong to her. You can't own anything, and neither can I."

For a moment, Pansy looked surprised, and then she shook her head, dismissing him. "I know she'll find some way to compensate me. And that she'll see that the rest of you are not turned out penniless."

"You have a lot of faith in someone you hate," Snape said. He knew Granger well enough to know that she would never allow them to be penniless. However, he found it hard to believe that Pansy had such faith in her.

Pansy stood straighter. "I don't hate her. If you must know, I actually admire her quite a lot."

Her tone and her sincerity nearly made Snape choke on his shock. "You're joking," he said before he thought better of it.

"No. I'm not. If our situation were reversed, I doubt I would have treated her half as well as she has treated me. And that has me rethinking everything I've ever believed. Here is someone who has every reason to hate me, every reason to treat me badly, and instead of that, she has worked diligently to free me, even knowing I might continue to think of her as someone who shouldn't even exist."

"She's a fool." Draco didn't believe what he was saying.

And it was also clear that Pansy knew it. "Do you think that the twins treat you as well as they do because they are Purebloods, too? Should I remind you that they were considered blood traitors by our previous lord?"

"You can say his name," Snape snapped. "Voldemort was a madman, and I think you're all finally coming to realize that."

Before anyone could say anything else, Granger joined the group. "Snape, Harry is looking for you."

Snape groaned. He did not want to dance with Potter. Or anyone else for that matter.

"Why don't you come with me?" Granger said, but her tone had that sound that made it an order rather than a request.

"What can I do for you, Miss Granger?" Despite everything, he did not have a comfortable relationship with Granger or Weasley, and speaking to her alone made him all the more wary.

"I wanted to tell you that if you hurt him, you won't have to worry about being freed, I'll eviscerate you." And she smiled sweetly as she said it.

Snape thought seriously of playing dumb and not acknowledging what she was talking about. It would do no good with her, however. She was the most tenacious witch he had ever met. And while that would serve them all well in the future, it did not make her easy to deal with now. "Are you threatening me?"

She met his eyes straight on. "I am."

Well, that was impressive, even if it weren't completely unexpected. "I'm not sure why you think this is any of your business."

"Harry is my friend. Despite what he might have told you, he doesn't have a lot of experience with this sort of thing."

Snape could not imagine how she knew about his relationship with Potter. There hadn't been time for her to have had a heart-to-heart with Potter. And it was more likely Potter would have told Weasley before he told Granger. "With what?"

She scowled back at him. "You know exactly what I'm talking about."

"Perhaps I do. And perhaps you should mind your own business." As far as he was concerned, she had no right to meddle. He and Potter would work it out. It wasn't as if they had a choice. Besides, he wanted it to work.

Not that Granger knew that. "I'm warning you...."

"Don't. I have no nefarious intentions where Potter is concerned." Which, as much as it galled him to say it, was completely true.

"Harry. Happy Birthday."

Harry looked up to see Rufus Scrimgeour bearing down on him and stifled a groan. "Thank you, Minister. I'm glad you could come tonight." Actually, he wouldn't have invited the bastard if he could have avoided it.

Scrimgeour smiled at him, but there was no warmth in it, and Harry could imagine what was coming.

For a moment, Harry considered chucking it all and walking away. The political realities being what they were required that Harry do a lot of things he'd rather not. Mentally, he squared his shoulders.

"How is your training going?" Clearly, Scrimgeour was going to make small talk to drag this out as long and as painfully as possible.

Great. Harry forced a smile and lied. "It's going just fine, sir."

"I had heard you were having a bit of trouble with it." That sanctimonious tone wasn't going to endear him to anyone. But then, he was already the Minister of Magic, he didn't need to worry about insulting anyone.

"Perhaps in the beginning, sir, but I think I've caught on, now." It annoyed him no end that Scrimgeour started with that, probably trying to put him on edge. Harry wasn't going to let that bastard get the best of him. He'd learn to spar with the best. Scrimgeour did not even come close.

"That's good to hear, m'boy." Scrimgeour ran a hand through his over-long hair, pushing it out of his face. "I feel I must point out that you should have been more circumspect."

"About what, sir?" As if he didn't know. Harry wasn't going to give Scrimgeour an inch, especially not on this subject.

"About bringing your servant to a party like this as a guest. It's most inappropriate. And I suspect there are several people here who are offended by being in the same room as them." Obviously, Scrimgeour counted himself amongst those offended, not that that surprised Harry.

Harry tried to rein in his annoyance. "You know my views on this. I hardly think of Sn...Severus as a servant. He should never have been convicted and certainly not sentenced as such."

"I realize you might...feel close to him, and it's perfectly all right to use him in whatever way you see fit. However, Snape is a convicted murderer, and should not be at this kind of gathering." Srimgeour's tone was chiding, not quite scolding, and it raked across Harry's already taut nerves in a most unpleasant way.

"You know as well as I do that Severus was not fairly treated by the courts." Harry put an edge in his tone. He didn't like Scrimgeour's superior attitude, but then, Harry could barely tolerate him at all.

Scrimgeour stood straighter, his eyes flashing with held back ire. "I know nothing of the sort. Indeed, I'm shocked to hear you say that. He was justly convicted of murdering poor Albus Dumbledore."

Harry couldn't believe that anyone could refer to Dumbledore that way. "He killed Dumbledore on Dumbledore's own orders."

"That was never proven in court." That prissy self-important tone made Harry want to hex him.

Instead, he found the control to answer in the same tone. "They refused to allow Dumbledore's Pensieve testimony. Which as we both know should have been admissible." That he hadn't made a point of dissenting at the time was a constant source of guilt to him. But he'd been blinded by his own grief and anger.

"Pensieve testimony is never allowed so far after the fact." He said it as if he actually believed it, rather than it being a convenient excuse.

However, Harry wasn't going to let him forget that, "It was less than three years. And there are cases where it was allowed up to ten years later."

"It doesn't matter. It was too long. The memories could have been tampered with."

Harry had learned that lesson only too well. "It would be obvious to everyone if the Pensieve memories had been tampered with."

"This is quite a change for you, Harry. And I'm disappointed in your attitude." Did Scrimgeour actually think Harry had agreed with him at any time? He hadn't. Even when he'd hated Snape with all his heart, Harry had known that he had done what had to be done.

Harry bit the inside of his cheek on a nasty retort. "I've grown up a lot in the last year." Living with Snape would age anyone, Harry thought, not completely unkindly.

"I'm not sure that's a good thing." Scrimgeour's sigh conveyed his disappointment.

"I need to get back to my guests." As excuses went it wasn't the best, but really, if he had to talk to Scrimgeour much longer he'd say the wrong thing, or worse, tell him what he really thought. Sometimes discretion was the better part of valor, no matter how much Harry wished it weren't so.

"We'll speak of this again." Scrimgeour made that sound like a threat.

"Yes, sir. Thank you again for joining us."

Scrimgeour walked away. Harry knew it was going to be an uphill battle, but he was even more determined to see it through. His own conscience was far from clear on the subject, and that made him even more eager to see justice served.

"Hey, mate. What did Scrimgeour want?" Ron asked as he came to stand beside Harry.

"To tell me I'd been naughty to allow the indentured servants to come to the party." Harry tried to shake off the bad feelings speaking to Scrimgeour had given him. "I argued with him about Snape's innocence."

Ron laughed. "I expect he was less than pleased about that."

"He implied that it was okay to sleep with Snape, even to force him, but it wasn't okay to bring him to the party." Even expecting that attitude didn't help Harry accept that some people believed their own lies to the exclusion of all else.

"And are you sleeping with him?" Direct and to the point, that was Ron.

"Do you think that's any of your business?" He wasn't embarrassed about anything he'd done with Snape, but it was still just too new to talk about.

Ron looked at him with that 'why do I even need to ask' expression on his face. "Yes."

There wasn't any arguing with that. Harry didn't want to, either. It felt good to know that Ron and Hermione cared that much about him. "Yes."

"Good?" Ron had that little smile on his face that said he knew the answer already, though how he did, Harry couldn't guess.

"Yes. Very. Want details?" The bravado in his voice did not match the blush that came up from his toes.

Ron chuckled, no doubt amused by his blush. "What would you do if I said yes?"

"Don't. Okay?" Harry wanted to savor the memories of what a tender lover Snape had turned out to be, for a while longer, anyway.

"I won't. But don't get too involved, okay? I don't think Snape is capable of more than..." Ron trailed off, obviously not wanting to say too much about that.

"Can you honestly say that you think Snape is capable of anything casual?" Harry could not or maybe he just didn't want to. It wasn't about love, but it was more than simply sex. Or he thought it was.

Ron looked like he was worried. "You hated him six months ago."

That was true. "Things can change a lot in six months. It's hard to hate someone you're living with day in and day out." And they touch you like you were something precious.

"You did it for a while."

"And I hated myself for not treating him right. And when I treated him like a human, he acted like one." His past behavior preyed on his conscience, and likely would for some time. All he could do now was try and make it up to Snape.

"What does that say about the way he behaved when we were in school?" Ron sounded far too thoughtful.

"He was a bastard beyond bearing." Some part of Harry would always resent Snape for that, but it was long past time to be worrying about it.

"He was. But he's changed and the world has changed." Ron was starting to sound more and more like a grown-up.

What was worse, Harry was agreeing with him. That could mean nothing good. "And we have, too."

"We have. It's inevitable that things will change." Ron shrugged. "I should go find Hermione. I think it's getting to be time for a dance." He walked away.

"Potter," Snape said as he materialized out of the crowd. "You wanted to see me for something?"

"No. I didn't." Harry could not help but notice how good Snape looked. Nothing would ever make Snape handsome, but he could and did look striking with his hair mostly clean, and wearing those fine robes.

Snape turned to look behind him and then back at Harry. His expression was puzzled. "Granger just said...."

"Oh, she must have seen me talking to Scrimgeour and thought it would be a good idea to send you over." Which would no doubt exacerbate the situation, but it would also serve to distract Scrimgeour from his focus on Harry.

"I see. I'll just return to my previous conversation." Snape started to move away, his robes swirling gracefully around him.

Harry smiled. Snape did looked striking in them.

"Wait. Don't you owe me a dance?" Harry nodded towards the floor, trying not to smile at the long-suffering look on Snape's face.

"Surely not." Snape's frown turned resigned, and Harry knew he'd won this round.

"Oh, I think so." Harry held out his hand. 

"I lead."

"Of course." When two wizards danced, the taller led. Harry was short enough that he almost never got to lead. Not that he got to dance much. But even when he'd danced with Parvati, she'd led. But that hadn't been because she was taller.

Snape led him out onto the crowded floor and took him into his arms. The music swelled around them, surrounding them in a nearly private cocoon. Harry lay his head on Snape's shoulder, moving slowly to the lush music. Oh, how he loved feeling someone's body against his, warm and hard, moving with him. As surprising as he found it, Snape felt good in his arms.

Closing his eyes, Harry leaned farther into Snape, letting him lead where he would across the floor. It didn't take long for the sway of Snape's body against his to arouse him. The friction of their moving together sent delicious heat into his groin. He couldn't help pressing forward into Snape, feeling the answering hardness press into him.

Harry looked up, watching as Snape licked across his own bottom lip. A bolt of arousal went down his spine. The tension of the evening fed into his arousal, and he was rock hard and aching.

Even as the music turned soothing, quiet, it had no effect on Harry's desire, which built with each press of their bodies together.

Snape's hand snaked out, holding his cheek gently, lowering his mouth to Harry's. The kiss was heated and long and when it was done, Harry was out of breath. His prick felt like iron in his pants. The press of cotton only served to aggravate an already out of control fire. He was about five seconds from pushing Snape to the floor and climbing on top of him and grinding himself into Snape's equally hard prick.

"We have to get out of here," Harry whispered urgently.

"I concur. Sooner, rather than later." Snape's voice sounded as breathless as Harry's did. "You should make your good-byes."

"No. No goodbyes. We need to leave. Now." Harry wasn't up for making conversation, not with all of the blood that should have been in his brain, elsewhere. "I really need you. Did I mention, now." He pushed into Snape again.

Snape closed his eyes and moaned softly. "This is a dreadfully bad idea."

"Do you think I care right now? Harry could feel the slick pre-come sliding down and it was maddening. He shivered hard, trying to regain some control. It wasn't to be had.

"Harry, think. We will make a scene that won't be forgotten any time soon." But Snape sounded like he was trying to convince himself even more than Harry.

"Did I mention how good the floor is starting to look?" Harry pressed against him, no longer making an attempt to look like they were dancing.

Snape moaned again. "We can't Apparate from here."

"We'll use the fireplace in the entrance hall, then." Harry took his hand and started to pull Snape towards the door.

"A little decorum, Mr. Potter." Snape's voice lacked any semblance of control. He had to be every bit as aroused as Harry was.

"Screw decorum. I want you." Harry did manage to let go of Snape's hand and hold his head up as he left the room.

Fortunately, no one tried to stop him and Snape. Harry wasn't sure he could have been polite at that moment.

They made it back to Harry's room without incident. Though he'd caught a glimpse of Hermione's face as he led Snape out and knew he'd never hear the end of leaving like that. He didn't care.

Snape kissed him hard, pushing him back on his bed and tossing his robes to the floor. Relaxing into the bed and the kiss, Harry sighed in pleasure, toeing off his boots and socks. Snape helped, and then removed his own robes and boots.

He loved the feel of Snape on top of him, kissing him. Snape's tongue deep in his mouth, Snape's fingers in his hair, Snape's body wrapped around him, and Snape's weight pressing him into the mattress.

Arching up into Snape's mouth, Harry moaned, reaching for Snape's buttons. Ahead of him, Snape already had most of Harry's clothes off. Snape kissed down the center of his chest, pulling at his trousers and pants as he moved downward. Very soon, Harry was naked and under Snape's mouth. Delighted, he arched again, giving Snape a hint as to what he wanted.

For a few minutes, Snape seemed willing to oblige him, licking and kissing and generally creating bliss in Harry's body. Snape's fingers traveled familiar paths, intimately touching Harry.

Harry couldn't keep quiet. He had to moan, had to let Snape know how much he was enjoying it. How much he appreciated Snape's touch. Snape did amazing things with his mouth, and Harry was lost in a whirl of sensation, each one building on the previous one until he was nearly mindless with it.

Snape's mouth kept at him, sucking, licking, and generally making Harry forget everything that ever existed in the world aside from that. He thrust up into wet heat, pleasure rushing all around him. Calling out to something, begging for it, and finally receiving it, Harry came.

After a second or two, Harry looked up. He reached for Snape, ready to do his part, and Snape shook his head.

Had he done something wrong? "What?" Harry asked, trying to still his suddenly racing heart.

"I want to try something new." Snape never seemed tentative about sex. That was one of the things Harry liked best. He took charge. But now he seemed uncertain.

It made Harry nervous, but he was game for whatever Snape could come up with. So far, he'd been a wicked good lover. "Okay. Do it."

"I want to fuck you."

That wasn't quite what Harry had been thinking about. He sat up. "Um..."

"You don't have to." Snape looked more uncertain. "I'm...willing to go first." But he did not sound like that was something he truly wanted to do.

Harry appreciated that he asked, and that he'd offered, rather than assuming that he could just take. "I've heard it will hurt."

Snape nodded. "I've read that if done right, it can be an incredible pleasure."

"I've heard that, too." He wasn't unwilling, exactly.


Part of Harry wanted to say no, to say he didn't want to invite pain, but he was curious enough to try it. "Yeah."

Snape's mouth covered his again, and Harry let himself melt into the kiss. As hard as he found it to believe, Snape kissed better than anyone he'd ever kissed. Okay, maybe he didn't have the experience to say that, maybe he'd only kissed, really kissed, a handful of people, but Snape's kiss was far and away above the rest.

He felt a pang for Ginny, that they hadn't had the chance to learn to kiss like this together, but Ginny was gone, and Snape was here, kissing him with such wonderful expertise that Harry couldn't think of anything else. Another moan escaped him.

 Merlin, but Harry loved the feel of it, the taste of it, the swirl of Snape's tongue in his mouth, the soft press of his lips. Snape pulled back and then moved forward for a few more quick kisses, as if to say he'd be back again soon.

 Snape's mouth worked its way down Harry's chest, sucking slowly and nipping lightly. Closing his eyes, Harry let Snape work his magic, bringing Harry back to the height he'd been at. Spreading his thighs at Snape's nudging hand, Harry felt slick fingers at his entrance, one pushed in slightly, then pulled back, and pushed in again, farther.

Harry wasn't sure he liked the sensation, but he was willing to go with it. When the finger was completely embedded, he sighed. Then Snape crooked his finger a little, as if searching for something.

A bolt of indescribable jolty pleasure went through him. Harry shivered, moving into the feeling. "Oh!"

Snape did it again.

And it was even better. "Yes. I liked that."

With a chuckle, Snape slid his finger out.

"I said I liked that, not to stop." Snape clearly wasn't listening to him.

"There is more to come."

The rest of the preparation was more painful and less jolty-pleasure-filled. Harry tried to appreciate it, and Snape took a long time to work through his fingers, until Harry was, if not comfortable with three moving in him, at least accepting of it.

The press of Snape's prick into him was definitely painful. Enough so that he grunted and tried to pull away.

Snape held him firmly. "Push back against me. It will help."

"How do you know?" Harry panted, trying to breathe around the pain that was like nothing he'd ever felt before. Given where it was....

"I've read it."

"And you believe everything you read?"

"I believe this. And you should listen to me."

"I'm trying. Good God, this hurts." Sweat broke out all over Harry's body as he panted to deal with the pain that was threatening to split him apart.

"Press back." Snape's hands roamed gently over his back and hips.

Harry pressed internally against Snape. Maybe he could expel him. The horrible pain eased enough so that it was only pain. And not unbearable.

Snape held still above him, his body trembling and sweating with the obvious effort.

"It's okay." 'Okay' being a relative term in that he wasn't on the verge of screaming anymore.

"Should I pull out?" Snape could not sound anymore reluctant. It must feel very good to be on the other end of this.

"Can you?" It had to be impossible.

"Of course I can. I'm not an animal." But it sounded like it would be an effort.

The constriction had eased a bit more. Harry was willing to give it a go. "Try moving a bit."

Snape complied.

"It's not bad. You can continue. But next time is my turn." He wasn't going to deny Snape his pleasure if he could stand it. Besides, he did want to try it himself.

Snape pulled out and pressed back in. The slickness made it easier, if not more pleasurable. Moving slowly, Snape did it again. Each time got a bit easier for Harry.

"It's okay now. Go ahead." Harry settled into the bedding prepared to ride it out. It wasn't bad now.

"You're not enjoying it." The disappointment in his voice was evident.

Harry didn't want to ruin his pleasure. He'd get his turn next. "I'm taking it that you are. You might as well finish up and then you can take care of me."

"If you are sure?" Snape sounded very relieved that Harry was willing to continue with it.

"Go on." Harry pushed his hips back, into Snape's thrust.

After a second thrust, that jolty feeling was back, stronger than before.

"Oh!" Harry called, and pushed back in earnest, chasing that feeling. "Do it again."

"I'm trying." Snape nailed it again and then again.

And Harry was with him, pushing into the feeling, chasing it, calling to it. Amazing. He could not believe anything that hurt that much to begin with could end up feeling so good. More. He had to have more. Now.

"You've made your point," Snape said, his voice amused and breathless at the same time.

Harry hadn't realized he'd spoken out loud. He'd be embarrassed about it later. Now, he wanted more, and this time told Snape that.

Snape complied. And complied again and again until Harry was flying with delight. His mind exploded in more pleasure than he'd ever contemplated would exist. And he fell into it with complete abandon.

At some point later, Snape pulled out of him, and muttered a cleaning spell. Harry thought that was nice, but he had no intention of ever moving again. When he would have closed his eyes, Snape smacked him on the buttocks.

"Come on, Potter," Snape said. "Straighten yourself up."

"No. I don't want to move." Ever again. Harry was perfectly amenable to spending the rest of his life right where he was. In glorious lassitude.

"You need to get completely into bed."

"I'm in bed." Harry did shift so that he was lying straight, head to foot rather than across the bed as he'd somehow managed to be.

Snape got in next to him and pulled him into his arms, kissing him softly. Sleep took him before he could do more than kiss Snape back.

Part 9

Snape woke to the feel of warm lips on his neck and a strong hand wrapped around his prick. It was still novel enough to startle him.

"Don't tense," Potter whispered into his ear.

Snape pushed back into what was nudging his buttocks. It was his turn. As much as the thought of what Potter was about to do to him troubled him, he wasn't going to renege on it. Given everything, he doubted Potter would take kindly to that. However, he sincerely hoped Potter had paid at least some attention last night.

He was pushed flat onto the bed, and the bedding was tossed to the floor. Warm hands and a wet mouth moved over his chest. It was lovely. Potter was a natural.

Snape reached for him, wanting to reciprocate. Potter snuggled against him, kissing him deeply.

"Mmmm...." Potter murmured softly. "I like kissing you."

The feeling was mutual, but Snape wasn't far gone enough to say that. He kissed Potter a few more times, before letting his mouth go and directing him towards other things.

Potter moved slowly, tentatively, down his chest again, stopping at his left nipple to examine it, and then tweak it with his fingers.

A shot of pleasure went through Snape. "Good."

"Do it again?"

"Maybe on the other side."

Potter did as he asked and Snape arched into it. "I'm not so sensitive," Potter said.

"We haven't explored you as thoroughly as we should have done." Snape's nipples ached as Potter continued to play with him.

"Maybe we should," Potter said, bending over to lick.

Snape moaned. Damn, he wasn't expecting to be so sensitive or that Potter would be so fascinated by it. "Potter, maybe it's time to move on."

"Maybe it's time for you to call me Harry."

"Maybe it's not." There was no reason not to, but Snape could not bring himself to that intimacy quite yet.

Potter licked him again. "You were saying," Potter said after he'd moaned again.

"You know, that's not sporting of you." Really, Snape was sure he'd agree to anything if Potter would continue.

"Harry," Potter said.

"Harry." It didn't matter that much. Or he told himself that it didn't. Truthfully, he didn't want them to get too close, too soon. It was a recipe for disaster.

Potter waited another second. "Aren't you supposed to return the sentiment?"

"What?" Snape had no idea what he was talking about. "Can we discuss this later? Perhaps after you've finished what you started."

"Feeling a little needy?" Potter's tone was amused, and knowing.



"Whatever. Do it."

"Roll over."

"That was quick." But Snape did. He spread his legs slightly, and the feeling was too exposed to be comfortable. "Just do it."

Potter bent again and kissed the small of his back, before reaching for the lubricant Snape had used on him the night before.

"You could use a spell, if you wanted," Snape suggested, hoping to hurry Potter along. There was nothing to be gained by stretching it out and Snape would just as soon have it all done.

"Why don't you let me do this, and you lie back and enjoy it." Potter said it as if he were sure that Snape were going to enjoy it.

Snape, however, was not nearly so sure. The whole thing left him with a feeling of...vulnerability and he was not comfortable with it. "You think you're going to be that good?"

"I think you should not worry about it." There was a note of doubt in Potter's voice that did nothing for Snape's confidence.

Snape sighed, and pressed into the bedding, looking for friction. A slap connected with his arse. Not painful enough to hurt, but enough to startle him.

"None of that." Potter leaned over and kissed the area.

"Don't hit me. I don't like it." His tone was too harsh for the offense. Snape knew that as soon as he'd said it.

"I'm sorry. I was just...." Potter trailed off, sounding contrite enough that Snape turned back to look at him.

"It's okay. You didn't hurt me, but I dislike anything that is...." Remotely violent, but the slap had been playful. Snape sighed. He had his issues, just like everyone else did.

"Shall I continue?" Potter's voice was low with promise.


Potter understood the basics, and performed them well, stretching and toying with him until he was reeling from the pleasure of it. But it hurt like bloody hell when he pushed into Snape's actively resisting body.

"Sorry," Potter whispered, his hands stroking lightly over Snape's rapidly losing interest prick. Potter's slick hand helped matters a bit.

Pleasure and pain slid through him as Potter moved out and then in again, very slowly. Snape's body gave in, and Potter moved faster. As his body continued to open to Potter's thrusts, the pleasure increased and the pain decreased, Snape decided it wasn't that bad. Then, Potter hit something inside and the world lit up with jolty, electric pleasure.

"Bloody Hell," Snape said, as he hit it again.

"Yeah. Good. That's what we're looking for." Potter was panting, clearly trying to hold it together. "Oh, God. No." Potter was moving quickly, and then stiffened, coming.

Which left Snape unfulfilled and quite annoyed about it. Potter pulled out of him gently, and lay down, next to him, panting.

"You've got some unfinished business," Snape said and rolled onto his back, his leaking prick in dire need of attention.

Potter leaned up on an elbow and eyed him, licking his lips. "It does seem like you have a problem, doesn't it?"

But Potter rolled over and moved down Snape's body to take him into his mouth. It hadn't been that long, but Potter had learned quickly how to suck, oh so perfectly. In a very short time, Snape was moaning, and then was coming, pleasure washing over him.

When he could think again, he gathered Potter into his arms, kissing him softly. As his eyes started to close, a nap looming in his future, an alarm sounded, startling him back to full wakefulness.

Potter had his wand in his hand and was handing him the spare one.

"What the bloody hell was that?" Snape asked, a shiver of dread striking into his spine at Potter's distressed look. He stood and wrapped a sleep-robe around him.

"Floo alarm in the sitting room." Harry pulled his own dressing gown on, and headed for the door. "No one is supposed to use it unless it's an emergency."

Snape followed him down the stairs to find Granger and Weasley at the bottom, apparently about to go up. They stared up at them, wide-eyed.

"What's wrong?" Potter asked, and his tone had a healthy amount of fear in it, enough to worry Snape.

"I told you we shouldn't Floo right into the sitting room," Weasley said, his face red. "Sorry, mate, she was worried about you, and what happened last night.

"What happened?" Potter's tone had become strangled. "You scared me half to death over that?"

Granger looked at Weasley. "I should have listened to you this time." Then to Potter, she said, "I wanted to speak to you about your exit." Her tone lacked her usual confidence. Snape was sure she knew Potter was not pleased.

Looking like he was trying to rein in his annoyance, Potter took a breath. "Give us a couple of minutes to get dressed."

"Sure mate," Weasley answered.

"Severus?" Harry led him back up the stairs, taking off his robes and searching for clothes. "That was embarrassing."

Snape watched him avidly as he moved around the room. Potter had a lovely body. One he was still amazed to have such unlimited access to. "Why would they Floo in now? They've never done it this way before."

"They have the address to every Floo in the house and they can find me with their wands, if I'm not home." Potter said it as if that were the way of things between them.

"Sweet Merlin, Potter, why?"

"It's a holdover from when we were searching for the Horcruxes two years ago. We wanted to be able to find each other, no matter what." Potter pulled on his pants and then his trousers.

"Ah." That did make a bit of sense, for then. "Why on earth do you still do it?"

"Because." Potter looked stubborn, and Snape was sure that he wasn't going to get a better answer. He pushed Potter towards the door.

Potter stopped and reached for him, kissing him, his tongue pushing into Snape's mouth. "I wish we had time for more."

"We could ignore them." Snape was all for making them wait until he was done with Potter. "It's my turn, now."

Potter smiled. "Are we going to take turns?"

"It seems fair to me." Actually, he'd much rather fuck Potter than take turns, but letting Potter do it to him hadn't been bad, even if it had been a bit too short. He wanted to keep doing it too, so whatever Potter wanted would have to suffice.

Something flashed in Potter's eyes. It was gone too fast for Snape to interpret what it was. Merlin, Potter probably wanted to be on top, too. Well, until Potter said something, they could just go on as they had.

Both Hermione and Ron were red-faced when Harry and Snape got downstairs again.

Harry was not pleased to be talking to them when he could be upstairs with Snape and they could be doing more pleasant things than this conversation was going to be. "What were you thinking to arrive here this early? And why did you come through the Floo? You know that's just for emergencies."

"After last night, we wanted to catch you alone, so that we could talk to you." Hermione looked pointedly at Snape.

Who smiled nastily at her, but fortunately, didn't say anything.

"What made you think I'd be alone, especially after last night?" Harry could not understand her line of thinking sometimes.

"That's what I said, mate, but she was sure you'd sent Snape back to his own bed." Ron shook his head.

Hermione stood up when Harry didn't sit down. "I can't believe you left your party like that. Do you think anyone missed it?"

"I don't care," Harry said. He'd been too aroused to care last night, and now, now, he just didn't.

"Mate, I got to tell you, that was quite an exit. Everyone knew what you were dragging Snape out of there for." Ron had the audacity to snicker at him.

He wasn't going to blush.

"And what would that be?" Snape asked, his voice low with danger.

The sound raced up Harry's spine and then down again. He couldn't suppress the shiver of delight that Snape's voice had suddenly started causing.

Three sets of eyes looked at him with varying degrees of disbelief, and Harry made it worse by blushing. Snape now looked smug, and like he wanted to take Harry back upstairs. It had to be obvious to everyone how much Harry liked that.

Hermione cleared her throat. "I can't believe you did that. I mean, you basically said you know, with him."

"I don't know, Miss Granger, why don't you tell me?" Snape's tone was pure evil.

And Harry was working hard not to react to it. It was just too soon to have to deal with anyone. He needed more transition time.

"Come on, Severus," Harry said, and was pleased by the look of surprise that briefly showed on Snape's face. "Don't make it worse, okay."

Snape sat down on the sofa. "As you please...Harry."

Giving him a smile, which didn't seem to leave Snape unaffected, Harry sat down beside him. "What exactly can anyone do, besides gossip about me?"

"Well, they could fire you." Hermione sat down, too.

"How? Last I heard it was not illegal for me to sleep with anyone I wanted. I'm not bound." He'd probably be teased, some good natured, some not, when he went back to work on Monday. Nothing he wasn't used to or couldn't handle.

"Harry, I'm sure there are going to be repercussions about this. You flaunted your disregard for the Ministry and the Wizengamot," Hermione said as if she didn't do the same thing.

Harry smiled at them. "I sure did. I think they are wrong and they know it. I have no respect left for Scrimgeour, at all."

"You know that, ultimately, he's your boss, don't you?" Ron pointed out, as if this were news to him.

"I try not to think of him that way." But Harry knew Ron was right.

"But it is that way, and you should realize it, Pott...Harry," Snape said. For the first time sounding like this might upset him.

Harry didn't want it to. He wanted Snape happy. "I know. It doesn't mean I have to like the prat."

"I don't like him either, but I understand that I have to be discreet." Ron folded his arms over his chest.

"Look at whom you're living with. Hermione is hardly low-profile." He approved completely of Hermione's work and knew Ron did, too.

"That's different. I didn't snog Hermione on the dance floor, and then practically drag her out the door to fuck her." Ron sounded a bit put out with him and Harry wasn't sure why.

"What's the problem here? I mean, I've been indiscreet before." Although he couldn't actually think of when in the last couple of years.

Hermione sighed. "I just think you're going to take a lot of ridicule for this."

"As if I haven't all along. It's not like I've been a star student the whole way," Harry said, trying to sound like it didn't bother the hell out of him. No one was fooled, either.

"Still, I think you're underestimating how much this is going to hurt you." Even though it wasn't going to affect her, Hermione sounded like she was angry about it.

Harry shook his head, exasperated. "You presuppose I care what other people think."

"You should," Snape said. His tone held a note of something that Harry couldn't quite place. It might have been aggravation or it might have been worry.

He looked at Snape and shrugged. "Maybe. It's too late, now. We already left the party."

"I think you'll see on Monday." Hermione stood. "We should go, and let you get back to...whatever it was you were doing."

Harry stood, too. "You're lucky we were done, or you would have got much more of an education than you needed."

Ron blushed. "I saw more than I needed to. I'm quite traumatized by it."

"I'm sure you were," Harry said. "Next time, remember that."

When they were gone, Harry turned to Snape. "Are you okay with it?"

"With what, Potter? That your friends caught us in flagrante delicto or that you're going to be alienated for having fucked me?"

"God, you never speak English, do you?" Harry didn't really mind so much, right now. "Besides we weren't actually caught, you know."

"It was close enough that both of them could smell it on us. And it isn't me who will suffer if your colleagues persecute you. I'm not overly concerned." Actually, he did sound like he was concerned, but perhaps not for himself.

The thought warmed Harry's heart. "Let's go back upstairs and start the day again." Harry held out his hand.

Snape took it and squeezed. "Fine. A bit of healing cream and some magic will serve well to fix the damage you inflicted earlier."

"Did I hurt you?" Harry asked, concerned that he had, and that Snape had let him. He'd tried to be gentle, but towards the end there was no way to even slow down.

"Not at all. There are a few things you need to know how to do, afterward." Snape followed him up the stairs.

"Like what?" It irked Harry no end that Snape was always so superior, even when he had no right to be.

"Remember, I've read a book or two. I don't suppose that you have?" Snape couldn't hold the sneer very well.

"Might have done." Harry took off his clothes and smiled as Snape's eyes followed him as he moved naked to the bed. "Coming?"

"I hope to be soon." Snape removed his clothes as well.

He had put on some weight, hadn't he? It looked good as far as Harry was concerned. And after a couple more minutes, he didn't care about anything other than Snape's hands and Snape's mouth and finally, Snape's thick prick pushing into him, driving him mad with pleasure. Fucking him into the mattress, while he begged for more.

Tired beyond words, Harry sat on the bench in the changing rooms, with his head in his hands.

"Hey, mate," Ron said, sitting next to him. "You okay?"

"Fine. But if one more person snickers at me, I'll scream." Harry stood, and wearily started to take his clothes off. He needed a shower. The past week had been every bit as bad as Hermione had predicted it would be. Maybe even worse.

"I don't want to say it, but --" Ron had a smirk on his face that Harry was not going to be able to deal with right now.

"Then, don't, okay? Just, don't." Really, he did not want to go over the whole thing again. Defending himself and Snape was getting old.

Smile fading, Ron held up his hands. "I was just joking."

"I know. It's been a long week." And he shouldn't be taking it out on Ron. It was his own damned fault and he knew it.

"Yeah. Kind of reminds me of the first week after your name was pulled from the Goblet of Fire. Before any one of us realized that no sane person would have wanted that." One thing Harry had to give Ron, he never jumped to that conclusion again. Other ones, sometimes, but he usually gave Harry the benefit of the doubt.

"Except, of course that this time, I did it to myself." He'd been an idiot to think he could get away with pulling Snape out of the Hall like that. Oh, wait, he hadn't been thinking, had he? Well, not with his brain, anyway.

"You did. Was it worth it?"

The trouble was that Harry had wanted Snape so badly that it eclipsed everything else. Even now, all he had to do was think about what Snape did to him, and he was filled with yearning. "You saw us. Did it look like it?"

"I'm no judge of those kinds of things." Ron's face had that tell-tale redness to it that said he didn't know what to say.

"It is. Really. I don't even understand what's happening." But Harry wanted it. If he didn't stop thinking about Snape's hands and Snape's mouth and Snape's prick fucking him, he was going to humiliate himself by getting hard in the locker room. That would go over so well with his colleagues.

"You're not falling for him, are you?" Ron's expression had lost all of its amusement, turning concerned.

"I don't think so." Harry shrugged, trying for unconcerned. Falling in love with Snape would be a very bad idea. But Snape made him feel so good, so wanted, so...Harry didn't have words for the tenderness with which Snape touched him. He was starting to crave it. No, not starting. He did crave it.

"Don't mistake sex, no matter how good it is, for more than that," Ron said, not looking at Harry when he said it.

That was never a good sign. It meant that Ron knew that what he was saying wasn't going to matter, but he was saying it anyway. Harry knew he was right. "How did you know what I was thinking?"

"Your face had this really...I don't know...'something' look on it. I know you well enough to know what that means. You used to--"

Harry had a bad feeling that he wasn't going to like what Ron was going to say, but he asked anyway. "What?"

"You used to look like that when you saw Ginny." Ron's tone was apologetic.

Shock of recognition went through Harry, hitting his bones and jarring them. Oh, this was not good. Not good at all. "Bloody Hell."

"Harry," Ron said, handing him a towel. "Please be careful."

"I will be." But Harry didn't know how to be careful when it came to himself. All he knew how to do was let it happen. He wrapped the towel around his waist. "I need a shower."

Harry Apparated into the sitting room and before he could get his robes off, he was pushed forward face first over the back of the sofa. His legs were kicked apart. A flash of fear stabbed at him until he realized who it had to be. Excitement tore through him.

"Yes?" a deep, sexy voice whispered in his ear.

"Yes, please." Harry's voice sounded shallow and breathy.

"Shall I make you ready for me?" Severus' tone was like warm honey.

And it slithered wonderfully along all of Harry's taut nerves. He forgot all about the day he'd had and everything else. "Yes, please," he whispered.

"Induviae Removeo."

Harry was naked. A tender kiss was pressed to the back of his neck. Harry sighed with longing. Merlin, he needed this.

Strong hands ran down his flanks and over his buttocks, pulling them apart. He blushed at the thought of Severus looking at him so intimately, even as he shivered in excitement. A warm gust of breath ghosted over his entrance, and Harry shivered again.

As Severus' tongue touched the top of the crease, he squeaked incredulously, "What are you doing?"

Severus' didn't answer, but his tongue started to slowly move down along the crease, marvelous sensation following in its wake.

Shaking his head, Harry could not believe what Severus was going to do, even as he wanted to beg him for it. "You're not going to --"

Further conversation was cut off as Severus' tongue reached its destination, and Harry moaned loudly, awash with spiraling, forbidden sensations. It was like nothing he'd ever felt before, nothing he'd ever conceived of being done to him, nothing he would have thought would feel so incredibly good.

How could Severus be doing this to him? It was wrong. Dirty.

Oh, God, right. So bloody right. It was too amazing to be wrong.

Severus was intent on his mission, continuing to lick and suck for a long time. Moaning and thrashing, Harry could do nothing but endure the pleasure as it started to overwhelm him.

Then, even more surprising, Severus' tongue pushed into Harry. He cried out, disbelief warring with intense pleasure. Harry panted, unable to think beyond the amazing delight of what Severus was doing to him.

It ended too soon; Harry came hard, without being touched in any other way.

Before he could recover or straighten up, a wand touched his lax entrance. He wiggled, the sensation of the wood on his warm skin almost too much to bear.

"Hold still," Severus ordered, pressing his wand in just a bit. "Lubricus."

Something warm and wet swirled inside him, and the wand slipped in a bit more. Oh, God, part of him wanted Severus to slide it in all the way and part of him wanted Severus himself. He held his breath, waiting to see what Severus would choose.

The wand disappeared, and was replaced by a finger. It slowly pushed into him, stretching him, and crooking just right to send a bolt of pleasure into Harry's spine. And then, down into his groin.

"Oh, please." Harry wanted more, had to have more, needed it, or he'd die.

"You are very impatient. I think it's my lot in life to teach you patience." Severus chuckled as he slid a second finger into Harry.

Harry moaned, pushing back into it, chasing that lovely jolty sensation. "Now."

"In my own time," Severus said, working in another finger. "I won't see you hurt."

He supposed he should thank Severus for his care, but really, all he wanted was more. "More. Now."

"You are a greedy little thing, aren't you?" Severus sounded amused when he said it.

Which Harry supposed was a good thing as long as, "You need to give me what I want."

"Did I mention demanding?" But Severus was positioning himself, and then he was moving forward, into Harry.

"Ugh..." Harry said, pushing back. It hadn't been that long since they'd started, and entry still hurt a bit. He waited it out. What was coming was more than worth the little price he had to pay for it. His body finally settled down, and he pushed back into Severus, letting him know it was time to move.

And move he did, slowly at first, letting Harry get the feel of him. "Harder, faster, more," Harry said.

Severus complied, moving more forcefully into him, his stroke gaining speed and strength. Harry groaned. It was amazing. Each time Severus hit that perfect spot inside him, it was as if lightning went off or fireworks exploded or something. He couldn't think of what anymore. His mind shut down and sensation overwhelmed him.

Harry was calling out and babbling, and he couldn't do anything about it. Everything was a whirl and blur of pleasure. Fantastic. Wonderful.

He came, hard, his vision dimming for a second. From somewhere above him, he heard Severus cry out his name and that pleased him greatly. He wasn't the only one caught in this, feeling this.

Severus kissed the middle of his back again, and helped him to straighten up. "Are you all right?"

"Yes." He kissed Severus. Deeply. He could never convey how perfect that had been. "What made you think of doing something like that?"

"I don't know. It was just a fantasy of mine." Severus shrugged, and then blushed.

That blush was so adorable. Harry couldn't believe Severus actually could blush. And really, he could barely believe that anything Severus did was adorable. "I liked it. It was just what I needed after the day I've had."

"More of the same?" Severus' tone was quite sympathetic as he'd been all week. He drew Harry into his arms, holding him close.

But Harry didn't want to talk about it, especially not naked in his sitting room. He leaned his head against Severus' chest slipping his arms around Severus' waist. "Yeah. And before you say it, I know it's my own fault."

"I wasn't going to say it. I was an active participant in that misguided effort." But clearly he wasn't that bothered by it. Severus' hand ran up and down his back, comfortingly. Then strayed down to cup his buttocks.

He pressed back into Severus' hands, enjoying his playful groping. "There is nothing either of us can do about it now, is there?" It didn't make the ridicule and teasing easier to deal with, but he was pleased that Severus cared.

"I expect it will die down soon," Severus said, patting his bottom, before moving his hand back up Harry's back.

"I'm thinking of having a talk with Shacklebolt tomorrow." It was past time that he did, too. The first assignments were going to be posted in less than two weeks. And this catastrophe could impact that. Harry eased away.

"Why not Robards?" Severus asked, letting Harry go with a quick kiss.

"Because I have some respect for Shacklebolt, and very little for Robards. Besides, he's actually my supervisor." Harry leaned down and picked up his robes. He found his wand and cast a quick cleaning charm on both of them.

Severus smiled his thanks. "What are you going to tell him?"

"I don't want to quit, but with what happened...." Harry wasn't ready to quit yet. Truth was, he would never be ready. "I don't know. Can we not talk about it?"

"Would you like dinner?" Snape's expression was curiously blank and that meant that he'd planned a surprise.

He'd had a lot of them lately. None so good as the ones Snape cooked for him. "Can I pronounce it?"

"Do you care?" He looked like he was trying not to smile.

Dressed again, Harry shrugged. "Not especially."

"Then don't worry about it." Snape kissed him soundly.

And Harry was pleased to let him.

It was late in the afternoon before Harry got the chance to go up to Shacklebolt's office. As he approached the door, he heard an argument in process.

"No," Shacklebolt said, firmly. "I will not drop him now. Not without a better reason than you're embarrassed by something he did."

Harry didn't have to wonder who they were talking about. His stomach sank.

"Why not? It's not as if he's doing that great a job. He's hardly lived up to his promise," a whiny voice that had to be Gawain Robards said.

"He works hard and he wants it. And to me, that's good enough. Besides, he's been doing quite a bit better." Shacklebolt's voice was irritated, a far cry from the normally pleasant tone he usually had.

"Define good enough for me, would you, Kingsley? He's struggled through the whole course and you know it," a third voice said.

Harry had no trouble recognizing Rufus Scrimgeour. His stomach sank further.

"I say he's passing, and in a week, will have passed the entire course. I'm saying he's fit to be an Auror. Are either of you going to gainsay me?" There was ever so slight a challenge in Shacklebolt's voice.

Harry was gratified that Shacklebolt thought he could do it. That he was going to pass. It meant a lot to him to know Shacklebolt thought so well of him.

"I can't believe you would let someone barely qualified out onto the streets," Robards said, his tone implying that Shacklebolt was playing favorites.

"As I said, sir, I think he's qualified. If I didn't, I wouldn't allow him to finish, no matter who he was. Or what our world owed him." Shacklebolt's tone was condescending, clearly putting Robards in his place.

Harry would have liked to have seen his face, but standing just outside the doorway, he couldn't actually see into the office.

"I want this matter resolved, now," Scrimgeour said, and it was also clear how he wanted it taken care of.

"Yes, sir. However, if you want to dismiss him, you are the Minister of Magic and have every right to do as you please."

"Kingsley --" Robards voice had a definite note of warning in it.

"I won't do your dirty work, Minister. I won't dismiss him without cause." Shacklebolt sounded angry, and challenging.

"I can force you to do it." There wasn't much threat behind Scrimgeour's words.

"You can, of course, dismiss me, too." Shacklebolt wasn't joking. Harry could hear that in his voice.

As much as it gratified him to hear someone defending him, he wasn't worth Shacklebolt's career. "That won't be necessary." Harry stepped into the room.

"Harry. What are you doing here?" Scrimgeour didn't meet his eyes and there was a very faint redness on his cheeks.

"I was hoping to speak with Mr. Shacklebolt." Harry kept his head up, and met Shacklebolt's eyes. He didn't want to argue with the Minister.

"I think we can conclude this later," Robards said, ignoring Harry altogether.

"That might be for the best," Scrimgeour agreed.

"My views on this are not going to change," Shacklebolt warned as both Scrimgeour and Robards sidled out of the room without another glance at Harry.

When they were gone, Shacklebolt sighed. "You might have remained out of sight for a moment or two longer."

It wasn't a surprise that Shacklebolt had known he was there. "They want me gone."

"They think you're becoming an embarrassment. The party this past weekend was simply the final straw in a long series of things." Shacklebolt didn't look like he had a problem with it.

"I was coming to talk to you about that. The party, I mean." Harry's heart started to pound. This was it. The moment he'd dreaded for so long.

Shacklebolt raised an eyebrow. "Oh? What did you want to talk about?"

"Should I resign?" That was the very last thing Harry wanted to do. But he would, if asked.

"Only if you want to. I'm not going to dismiss you for an indiscretion. Or for trying to do the right thing by Severus." Shacklebolt sounded faintly amused. Clearly, he hadn't been offended to see Harry drag Severus out of the Hall.

Harry cracked a smile. "Which is worse?"

"I suspect your foundation and work to free the indentured servants is more of an ulcer-maker for the Minister than your affection for an indentured servant. For what it's worth, I'm glad you're doing it."

"Thanks. It's the right thing to do." Harry looked down as his face heated. He should have done it a lot sooner.

"Don't be too hard on yourself," Shacklebolt's voice was tolerant, and sincere.

Harry looked up at him. "Why not? I could have done more, could have protested when they did what they did. Instead --"

"Instead you were grief-stricken and hurt. Besides you don't know what that might have done then. It could have made things worse." He sounded as if he actually believed it could have been worse.

"I don't know how. Severus and the others are indentured for life." And he couldn't help thinking that maybe if he'd spoken up then, it wouldn't have happened at all.

Shacklebolt shook his head, his expression exasperated. "Severus went to you, rather than someone who might have abused him. There aren't that many people who are powerful enough to hold him. Most are Aurors who can't stand him, even now."

"I couldn't stand him, either." Harry shuddered. It seemed like a life-time ago that he felt that much hatred pounding through him. He couldn't believe how short a time it had actually been.

"You weren't actively cruel to him." Shacklebolt said it as if he knew it were true, which of course, he didn't.

It made Harry's stomach twist into knots to think about how he'd treated Severus those first few months. "What would you call it, then?"

"Perhaps you weren't as kind as you could have been --"

"I threatened him with physical harm to get him to comply with my wishes. I made him cook and clean. And didn't give him access to my books." Maybe the last wasn't so bad in comparison, but knowing Severus as he did, that was a major torment.

"He still gained two stone in those months, and lost that gaunt, haunted look," Shacklebolt countered, as if those things actually made a difference.

"How do you know that?" Harry had noticed that Severus had put on weight in those months, but it really hadn't registered why then.

"I checked up on him. I'd rather not see a friend abused. If things had got too bad, I would have spoken to you about it."

"Oh." Harry didn't know what to say. No one except Ron and Hermione had ever said anything to him. And he was not sure he would have listened.

"Things did get better for him and for you." Shacklebolt smiled. "And if I'm not mistaken, they got markedly better just recently, haven't they?"

Harry blushed again. But that was not a subject he was going to discuss with Shacklebolt. "Which leaves my career where exactly?"

"Where would you like it to be?" Shacklebolt met his eyes seriously.

"Robards is right. I'm not that good at this." And that was the bottom line. No matter who defended him. It didn't change that fact. And Merlin, that galled him. He didn't understand how he could work so hard at something and still not be good at it.

"You're quite good at some things and mediocre at others."

"My investigative skills are barely adequate." God, it bit into his pride to admit that out loud, but he couldn't lie about it either.

"They are adequate. Your magic is very strong, and your deductive skills are excellent. You are good at intuitive leaps." Shacklebolt looked him dead on. "There are other things you can do with those skills. Being an investigative Auror is not your only choice."

"What else is there? I haven't heard of any other programs." Of course, he'd never asked or even thought to ask.

"If you don't make it through the basic program, you're not going to be able to do anything else, anyway. But you've made it through, or nearly so." There was more to it than that. Harry could hear it in his tone.

There had to be a catch somewhere. For him, there always was. "Is this being offered to anyone else?"

"We usually choose one or two candidates from each year's class. You are the only one from this year who would be a good fit."

Disappointment washed over Harry. "So I'm being singled out --"

"Yes. But it has nothing to do with who you are. It's all about how hard you've worked and what you are. This kind of work can be quite daunting." Shacklebolt sounded sincere enough for Harry to believe him.

Or maybe Harry just wanted to believe. "What I am?"

"This course isn't easy. It's a lot more work. It will take another year to complete the training. We are always looking for people with the right skill set to do this."

"How can I have the right skill set, when I'm only...." Harry trailed off, his face heating with the acknowledgement of his less than perfect skills.

Shacklebolt folded his arms over his chest, looking impatient. "The right skills include tenacity, strong magic, and the ability to learn and use different kinds of spells quickly."

"All right." Harry conceded that those were all things he could do well. "You haven't told me what this is, yet." Shacklebolt's belief in him was enough to have him nearly agreeing before he knew the details.

"Magical forensics. It's coming in after the fact, and figuring out what happened from the magical evidence that's left behind."

Harry hadn't even heard of that. "And how is this different from regular investigations?"

"It's more details, and much of it is done with magic. Someone gives you a piece of evidence they've found and you analyze with magic."

That sounded...fascinating. Excitement started to build in him. He could see himself doing that. "That actually does sound interesting."

"You'll learn a whole new set of spells and charms to do it with," Shacklebolt said, smiling at Harry's obvious pleasure.

"Really? I'd like that." Learning spells, then applying them quickly and easily was one of the things that Harry was best at. He could not believe his good luck.

"I thought you might. It dovetails with what you've been good at during your training."

Harry was dumbfounded. "You really think I can do this?"

"I wouldn't have recommended you for the training, if I didn't."

"That's great. Thanks. I'd like to try it." It would be so wonderful to do something he excelled at. He hated to admit what a hit his pride had taken this past year. But that wasn't just the training, was it?

"Very good." Shacklebolt looked pleased with his reaction.

Not half so pleased as Harry was. It meant another year of school, but he could deal with that. And he didn't have to quit. Except, "What about Mr. Robards and Minister Scrimgeour? Won't they balk at this?"

"Both are political creatures. Robards is an appointee. While they can suggest I dismiss you for your unpopular views, they can't actually make me do it. They can dismiss me, too. But how would that look to the public?"

Harry smiled. Maybe the political capital he had would pay off. "They can dismiss me themselves."

"They can, but it reflects very badly on them and they know it. Especially when I speak out about it. And they know I would."

"I don't want to cause you any trouble." But he also didn't want to have to leave. He supposed he could tough it out as he always did.

"You won't, really."

Harry sighed. "So, after next week, I'll start this new program?"

"Yes. I would also give you a word of advice for the next couple of weeks."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"Keep your head low and don't do anything outrageous. I'm fairly certain things will ease up with the rest of your class."

"What about when they find out about the new assignment?"

"I doubt most of them are interested in this kind of work. It takes a certain kind of thinking."

"Is it okay to tell people?" Harry couldn't wait to tell Ron and Hermione. They'd be so pleased for him. And so would Snape.

Shacklebolt nodded. "It will be announced next week when everyone else's assignments are announced."

"Thanks." Harry stood, relieved at how things had turned out. Although he had a lot more work to do, he could not have anticipated a better outcome.

"How is Severus?" Shacklebolt asked, his tone changing to friendly and slightly amused.

"He's good." Harry hated it that he blushed when he said that.

Shacklebolt smiled. "I'll bet he is."

Harry was so not going to answer that. Not in a million years. He nodded and left the office before his face started to glow.

Part 10

Harry woke slowly, strong hands sliding down his flanks, pushing him over onto his back. "Mmmm...Severus. Want to sleep."

"Do you now?" Severus' voice had that low sexy purr to it. His hand ghosted over Harry's suddenly interested prick.

Maybe sleep was overrated after all. Harry reached for him, pulling him up and over him. He loved the feel of Severus' body wrapped around his. It gave him the most unlikely feeling of being safe. Leaning up, he kissed him, his hands twining into Severus' hair.

Severus' hand scrabbled for the spare wand on the bedside table, and pressed it against Harry's entrance. "Lubricus."

Harry moaned as Severus' long fingers replaced the wand, moving in and out, stretching, toying with him, making him more ready than he'd been to start with.

"Oh.... Please.... Please..." Harry whimpered each time Severus' fingers moved inside him. He could not believe how good Severus made this for him. He could not believe how much he loved it. "Please."

"You beg so prettily. Should I give in, or should I make you wait?" Severus' tone was low with menace.

After just a few months, Harry knew better than to believe the taunt. "Please," he pleaded again, knowing that Severus would not torture him for long.

"All right, I'll be merciful this time," Severus said, pressing Harry's legs to his chest, and then pressing into him.

The slight pain was gone in seconds, and contentment washed over Harry, making him sigh for one moment. Passion, desire, heat took over and he couldn't think anymore.

Severus plunged into him, over and over, and Harry mewled with each thrust. God, it was so good, amazing. Pleasure invaded every cell of his body, just as Severus did.

Harry loved it. He loved how Severus held him, as if he were fragile and wanted. He loved the feeling that tore through him every time Severus hit that perfect spot inside him. He loved that Severus catered to his every desire. He loved everything about it.

"Close," Harry whined, needing just a bit more. Just one little bit. "Please."

Severus wrapped a hand around his aching, hard prick, moving it back and forth in time with his thrusts into Harry.

That was all he needed. White light and heat took him, and Harry cried out, coming in a rush of fire. He panted, sweaty, sated, waiting for his heart to calm down. "What a way to wake up."

"It's not as if I haven't woken you that way before." Severus' moved Harry's legs down from his chest, rubbing the circulation back into them.

"Thanks. It's good to be woken that way." Harry sat up and groaned. They had been a bit more enthusiastic than he'd realized.

"All right?" Severus had a slight note of concern in his voice that he couldn't quite hide.

Maybe he didn't want to. Harry was pleased to hear it, either way. "Fine. I should get out of bed. I have to be in early today."

"I don't." Severus said, closing his eyes.

"You could make me breakfast."

"I just shagged you. I'm tired. Make your own bloody breakfast." But Severus had already kicked the blankets off.

"Please...." Harry added for good measure. He was hungry and running late. Which Severus knew since it was his fault.

"Fine. But you'll owe me." Severus sat up and glared at him. "The things I do for you."

"I know." Harry pressed a quick kiss to his mouth and darted for the shower before Severus decided to hex him.

He showered quickly and breakfast was waiting for him when he got downstairs. "Thanks," he said, sitting down at the table. It was beans on toast. His favorite.

"I'm thinking of going into Diagon Alley today, later in the afternoon." Snape said, putting a mug of tea in front of him.

"Fine. And that reminds me," Harry said, picking up the "Prophet" and scanning the front page. No news was good news, as far as he was concerned. "I'm having dinner with one of my trainers tonight."

"Oh? Which one?" There was something off in Snape's tone, but when Harry looked at him over the paper, he looked fine.

"Isabella Rossi. You remember, I've mentioned her. She's a spell analyst." Harry had spent a fair bit of time the last few weeks telling Snape about what she did. He rather thought that was something he might want to specialize in.

"Yes. I remember. You said she was about your age, too?"

Why would that matter? Harry nodded. "Yeah. I think she's a couple, maybe five years older. She's nice enough."

"I'm sure she is." Severus' tone was flat.

Harry looked up at him again, but he wasn't showing anything on his face. It wasn't as if he could read Severus at the best of times. "I shouldn't be too late. I hope, anyway."

"It's not as if you have to report to me. Quite the opposite in fact."

That made Harry look up again. Something about that tone didn't sit right with him, but he couldn't put his finger on what was wrong. "What are you on about?"

"Nothing." His tone was still perfectly flat, and Harry knew only too well that Severus wasn't going to tell him without a fight.

Putting the paper down, Harry stood. "I've got to go." He reached for Severus and kissed him. Severus' response lacked a bit of enthusiasm, but Harry didn't have time to deal with his moodiness now. He was already running late, and it wasn't as if whatever was wrong wouldn't be there when he got home tonight.

Severus walked swiftly through Diagon Alley. Even under the best of circumstances, this many people about made him uncomfortable. The noise. The glares. It wasn't as if people were actively hostile anymore, but he disliked being stared at. Also, and more importantly, he couldn't carry the spare wand with him, and that left him feeing a bit too vulnerable for his tastes.

Severus sighed. Diagon Alley wasn't the problem.

He'd half hoped that Potter would go with him, but no, he was out with some woman. It wasn't any of Snape's business whom Potter dated, except...except, he'd hoped he'd have more time before it happened.

He hadn't expected it to be so soon. As hard as it was to admit, even to himself, he'd wanted to believe that Potter might keep him... for a while. As a lover.

Really, he should have known better. No matter how good at it he was, or how tender, or how he tried to give Potter what he thought he wanted, he would never be more than a convenience.

And yes, he knew that was what he'd said he'd wanted. After so long without, it should have been enough. How was he to know that touching Potter would be so addictive? How was he to know that once he'd started, he'd not want to stop?

Oh, he knew he wasn't, couldn't be, what Potter wanted.

Severus sighed, fighting against the certain knowledge he was going to be replaced. Fighting the reaction that caused in his chest.

Stop it!

He was being ridiculous. Whatever Potter wanted to do with him, he'd have to live with it. There was nothing he could do about it. There was small consolation in knowing that Potter would see him freed if he could, but Severus had no real hope that would happen. Not in the near future, anyway.

So, where did that leave him? He might convince Potter to let him move up a floor, especially after he brought a wife home. Or perhaps Potter would let him retire to Spinner's End. He'd have his home and his books. That would be best for everyone.

There was no question that Potter wasn't the type to have a wife and a lover. That meant he'd be relegated to cooking or worse, taking care of Potter's children. What an appalling thought.

Snape picked up his pace. He wanted to get this finished and then get home. Home? He snorted. A temporary place to live, that was all it was. He'd been foolish to think of Potter's house as anything other than that. It wasn't. And that was going to become increasingly clear very soon.

Without any warning, without any time to react, Snape was engulfed in pain. He screamed and screamed. Fortunately, the world went black soon after that.

As intense pain continued to wrack his body, he drifted in and out of consciousness with it, hearing snatches of conversation. "Harry Potter's find him."

Why did they need to find Potter, Snape wondered, before the world went black again.

"We can't ... Potter gets ..."

"...can't leave him like this."

"...against ... law..."

"Find Weasley," Snape gasped and then passed out again.

Harry was not enjoying himself. Isabella was putting the moves on him. He'd had enough women do it that he recognized even the most subtle invitations. Usually he could diffuse them, and the situation, with a carefully placed word that let them know he wasn't interested. The trouble was that he wasn't sure how to handle this situation.

She was one of his trainers, and he didn't want to be rude to her, but he also didn't want to end up in her bed. He had a lover.

He took a drink of water and smiled thinly at her. "No. Really, I'm, you know, involved with someone else."

She looked at him sharply, probably surprised that he'd cut to the chase so quickly. "I'd hardly call sleeping with a servant involved, Harry."

That attitude was unacceptable. He glared at her, making his displeasure apparent. Being rude suddenly didn't seem like an issue. "I don't consider him a servant of any kind. As a matter of fact, I'm quite shocked to hear you say that you do."

"The rest of the world does, too." She sounded exasperated, as if he were being dense or something. "I know you're trying to get him and the others freed, and I agree with you about the younger ones, but --"

"Severus is part of the reason we won the war. Beyond that, servitude of that kind is wrong, in and of itself." Harry could not believe that someone with her education, and intelligence, could still believe in such an archaic system.

"I'm not arguing that with you. I still think that he deserved to be punished. And somehow, sleeping with you doesn't sound like punishment to me." She smiled coyly at him.

He heard his own words coming out of her mouth and it made him sick. Before he could respond to her, a pop of Apparition next to his table had him on his feet with his wand drawn. It took a second to recognize who it was. "Ron? Is something--"

"Snape's been injured and we've been looking for you." Ron's voice shook ever so slightly, but it was enough to scare the bloody hell out of Harry.

His stomach dropped and he was suddenly lightheaded. He shook it off. "What? Where? How?"

Ron shook his head. "No time. You've got to come with me."

Isabella stood up. "I'm coming with you, too."

Harry wasn't going to argue. "St. Mungo's?"

Ron nodded. Harry Apparated out.

As soon as Harry appeared in the waiting room, the healer rushed in. "Mr Potter. Thank Merlin you finally got here."

"What's wrong with Severus?" Harry's heart was thudding painfully against his rib cage, every breath hurt. The one time he did anything at night, and Severus needed him.

"He's had a nasty curse cast on him. And we can't touch him without your permission." The healer's tone conveyed the seriousness of the situation and her annoyance.

Fear slid icily down Harry's spine. It didn't make sense to him. "What are you talking about? Why can't you help him?"

The healer gave him a disgusted look. "He is, for all intents and purposes, your property. We cannot do anything for him without your permission."

"You're joking. Go help him. Now. I can't believe you'd wait for me," Harry yelled at her. He couldn't believe they were that stupid. How could they wait? Why?

"There is nothing I can do about the law." As if that explained it, she turned around and walked away. Harry followed her.

Severus lay with a sheet over him, unconscious. He was gray and sweating. Touching Severus' hand and finding it cold and clammy destroyed Harry's ability to remain calm. He was beyond angry into livid. "How could you leave him like this? It's obvious to anyone he's in pain."

The healer looked up, looking surprised to find him there. "Let me finish with him, and then I'll speak to you. I need to concentrate. And you must go into the waiting room."

His hands clenching into fists, Harry reluctantly stepped back from the table. Someone was going to pay for this. Somehow, he would see this wrong righted.

When Harry returned to it, the waiting room had several people in it. He immediately went to Ron, who put an arm around him. "It will be okay."

He rested his head on Ron's shoulder, never so thankful as he was just then for his best friend's support. "They wouldn't treat him until they had permission. I can't believe that. Severus lay there in pain for who knows how long."

"I know," Hermione said, putting and arm around him from the other side and held on to him, too. He was shaking.

"This is so wrong." Hermione's voice was full of compassion and anger. Her hand stroked comfortingly up and down his back.

An hour later, the room was even more full, but Harry waited by the window alone. He simply could not talk to anyone.

The healer came in and cleared her throat. Harry was across the room and in front of her in a second. Hermione, Ron, McGonagall, and Draco were also beside him.

"He's going to live. He's in a considerable amount of pain right now. The curse was left to fester too long." She sounded like she blamed him.

"Then why the bloody hell didn't you do something before then? He was here for help!" Harry yelled at the healer. "He might have died."

"If it had gone on much longer, he certainly might have. I didn't make the law, Mr. Potter, and I can't break it. Need I remind you that you could have put the curse on him to kill him?"

"What?" Harry's anger rose enough that he was not sure he was going to be able to control it. "How dare you accuse me --"

"I'm not accusing you of anything, I'm telling you what is. This is a barbaric system and I am ashamed to call myself a British witch."

Harry took a deep breath and tried to rein back his anger. This healer wasn't the one who made the rules. "Okay. Fine. When can I see him?"

"He's asleep right now, and hopefully will be for several hours. He will be weak when he wakes, but should be able to return home in the morning."

Isabella joined the group. "Do you have his clothes?"

"What?" Harry couldn't believe she was asking about that, now. "Why?"

"I can try to analyze it. We might be able to figure out who did this. There might be some wand information in the hex. It has to be illegal to do this to anyone. You might be able to press charges."

"I didn't think you cared." Harry said, scornfully.

"Being denied treatment is something I had never even considered. It is....beyond the pale. I agree with the healer. It's shameful." She sounded as if she meant that.

Harry's opinion of her went up a notch, and he smiled at her. "Thanks. Yeah, get his clothes, and see what you can find."

"I'll also let everyone know you won't be in class tomorrow."

"Thanks," Harry said.

Harry sat beside Severus' bed, holding his hand, trying not to imagine the world without him in it. How had he gone from hating Severus to...what he felt now, in so short a time? It was inconceivable to him.

"Potter?" Severus' voice was weak, and dry.

Nothing ever sounded so good to Harry. "Do you want something to drink?" Harry asked, smiling for all he was worth.


Harry reached for the cup on the bedside and held it to Severus' lips, also helping him sit up a bit to drink it.

"Thanks, Potter." Severus lay back down with a sigh. Harry couldn't resist moving the greasy hair away from Severus' face.

"Didn't you use to call me Harry?" He could call Harry anything he wanted at this point, and Harry wouldn't complain.

"Not that I remember." There was ever so slight a note of amusement in Severus' tone.

It delighted Harry. "You've been out for a while, try harder to remember."

"I'm not feeling so badly that I'm likely to have forgotten such a slip."

Harry squeezed his hand. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I was hit by a train," Severus said, squeezing back.

"And you'd know what being hit by a train felt like, how exactly?" Harry wished there was more cheer in his tone, but his heart only now started beating again.

"Don't make me laugh, Potter, or I'll hex you."

"You'll need to get up to do it." And that was what Harry wanted more than anything right then.

"I'll work on it later." Severus' voice was fading out.

Harry leaned over and kissed his forehead. "You do that."

The conversation clearly exhausted him, and Severus closed his eyes and drifted off.

At some point later, the door opened. Ron stuck his head in. "It's almost time for me to get to work. How is he?"

"Woke up for a few minutes. Must have been an hour or two ago." Harry could not express his relief.

As he usually did, Ron seemed to understand. He came across the room and sat down beside Harry. "You've got it pretty bad, don't you?"

Even to Ron, to whom he was likely to tell something like that, he couldn't admit it. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

But Ron, being Ron, wasn't about to take that for an answer. "This is me, mate. I know you."

"If there were something, and I'm not saying there is --" except that he was, " -- then you don't seem to have a problem with it."

The look on Ron's face said Harry should have known better. "Kind of been expecting it. So, no, no problem."

That was all well and good, but Harry hadn't been expecting any of it. Not Ron's easy acceptance, nor his own feelings, which he still wasn't sure about.

"You do realize this is an entirely inappropriate discussion." Snape's tone was deathlessly cold and flat.

Harry's stomach twisted at Snape's anger. What had he done? Oh, Snape must still be in considerable pain. No doubt he'd take it out on Harry. "You're awake again."

"So it would seem. Your powers of observation never fail to underwhelm me. What have I woken up to? A soap opera." He sounded very annoyed by it and Harry wasn't sure what he could say to make it better. Sometimes Severus was just so difficult.

"I think that's my cue to leave." Ron stood and put a hand on Harry's shoulder. "See you tomorrow."

"Thanks, Ron. For everything. And Hermione, too." He smiled at Ron, his thanks heartfelt. He didn't know what he'd do without them.

As Ron closed the door, Harry turned to Severus. "You don't have to be rude, you know, people care about you."

"So it would seem, wouldn't it?" His tone said the opposite and Harry didn't understand why.

However, he was too tired for a fight. So he let it go, or he'd say something they would both regret. "Are you feeling up to going home, now? Or do you want to sleep some more?"

"If my home is an option, then yes, I'd rather rest there." Something in the way he said it made Harry think he wasn't talking about Harry's house.

Bewildered by the whole conversation, Harry helped Severus to sit up.

"Where are my clothes?" Severus asked, starting to pull off the hospital sleep robe he'd been issued.

Harry touched his shoulder to stop him. "That might be a problem. Um...your clothes are not here. Don't worry about dressing, I can Apparate us both from here."

"What happened to my clothes?" Severus asked again. He sounded like he wanted to make an issue of it.

"Isabella took them to analyze. She thought she might be able to figure out who did this to you," Harry explained, hoping it would mollify him.

He really should have known better.

"You let your girlfriend steal my clothes?" Severus yelled at him, his hands closing into fists.

"She didn't steal them. She's going to try -- " Harry stopped. He didn't need to repeat himself. Severus heard him the first time. "Why do you care anyway?"

As he stood up from the bed, Severus wobbled a bit.

Harry reached out to steady him and Severus jerked away, stumbling.

Shock and hurt slammed into Harry. He had to take a breath before he could speak. This was more than Severus being cranky because he was in pain. "What just happened?"

"Not here." Severus' tone was still like ice.

Harry couldn't see anything in his expression, which usually meant he was hiding something. "Fine." He took Severus' arm and Apparated them into the sitting room. He'd have to go back and deal with the paperwork later, but right now, this needed to be addressed before he could do anything else.

As much as he wanted to know what happened in hospital, the look on Severus' face said it would have to wait. "There are a couple of people you will have to call and reassure you're all right."

Severus sneered at him. "I'm sure. There are some people who care about me."

"You can start with Draco, Pansy and Minerva." Harry stopped and looked at him, starting to get annoyed himself. "What is wrong with you?"

"There is nothing wrong with me. I never expected anything more." Snape's tone had lost some of its belligerence in favor of something that sounded too much like unhappiness for Harry's peace of mind.

That made no sense at all. Not that everything Severus said did, but usually Harry could figure it out from the context. He was lost now and it made him nervous. "What the bloody hell are you talking about? What didn't you expect?"

"You never allow me even my dignity, do you?" His tone was scathing and his face twisted in a sneer, but under it there was something else. Something that might have been fear.

Which confused Harry even more. There was no reason for it. "I don't have a friggin' clue what you're on about. Tell me, damn it."

Severus stopped and stared at him. "I'm hoping you'll let me return to Spinner's End."

Harry got it now. Only he couldn't believe it. And dear God, it hurt. There was a tearing sound, and it took a second to realize it wasn't actually audible. Well, to anyone other than himself. "You want to leave me? What did I do?"

"You honestly think I'd want to stay? After this?" Severus' eyes were black and hard, with no mercy in them.

He shoved his hands into his pockets to hide the shaking that had started. "I'm sorry I couldn't get there sooner. Ron found me as fast as he could. Leaving me won't fix the problem." Harry was mortified that his voice cracked. "I didn't know."

"Potter, you thoughtless creature. Can't you understand that it wasn't that it took so long, it was --" Severus snarled at him. He still looked awful. His face was gray and he was sweating.

But Harry got it again, even if he couldn't believe it. "That I was out with someone else? But I wasn't. I mean, she might have thought it was a date, but I didn't."

"Not half an hour ago I awoke to hear you confessing --" Snape turned around and started for the doorway again. "I am not going to participate in this melodrama."

Harry smiled at that, relief washing through him. Severus was jealous. He was astounded that Severus cared that much. "I wasn't talking about Isabella."

That got a reaction. Severus stopped, standing perfectly still. "Then who the bloody hell were you talking about?"

How could someone as smart as Severus not see what was obvious to everyone else? Harry wanted to dance around the room shouting in joy. "Who do you think?"

Every one of the muscles in Severus' shoulders stiffened. "Now is not the time for guessing games."

Except that Harry couldn't admit it. He wanted to. He wanted to see Severus' face when he said it, even knowing that Severus would likely never say it back. Even if it were true. Which after this performance, Harry had reason to believe it was.

"I want to hear you say it. Maybe first." Once he said it, it would change everything. And if he were wrong, it would kill him.

"You may want a great many things." Severus' tone was as flat and cold as it had been throughout the entire conversation.

Closing his eyes, Harry willed it not to matter, but it did. Too much. And if he were wrong.... "So, you're saying you won't? Or are you saying you don't?"

"I'm not saying anything at all. I can't. Don't you understand that?" His coldness had been replaced by hot anger.

Harry heard a multitude of other emotions as well. And it gave him his first bit of hope. Maybe he wasn't wrong. Maybe it did matter to Severus as much as it did to him. "Why not?"

"Because I'm not free to do so."

It was a fact of their lives. Something he hoped would change. But it wouldn't be any time soon. Harry understood that, even as it disappointed him that Severus couldn't. He took a breath. "Then, maybe I should."

Severus turned back to look at him, surprise, but more than that, pleasure, written on his face. "Why would you want to, if I can't?"

Delighted by his expression, the hope, the want, the genuine affection in his eyes, Harry took a step forward and held out his hand. "So that you'd know. So that you wouldn't have to worry about it."

"What makes you think I'd worry about it?" Severus did seem to try to approximate his usual nasty tone, but Harry wasn't fooled. Especially not when he took another step, and took Harry's outstretched hand.

He met Severus' eyes. "This whole performance might be a clue. I do. Love you, I mean."

Instead of the smile Harry was hoping for, Severus sighed sadly, defeated. "I cannot say it. Not until...."

"I understand that. But, do you want to say it? Do you feel it?" He shouldn't be asking that, he knew it, but he needed some kind of reassurance, something to believe in, something to hang on to. Because in all likelihood he wasn't going to hear the words.

A chagrined, self-deprecating smile emerged. Severus tugged his hand, so that Harry was right against his chest. "Would you find it hard to believe it, if I said yes?"

As much as Harry hoped for that answer, it seemed very unlikely he'd get it. His heart soared. "Probably very hard to believe. But it would please me. More than I can tell you."

He wrapped his arms around Severus' waist, pressing his head into his shoulder. "My life didn't turn out anything like I expected."

"No? Mine, didn't either." Snape's hands smoothed down his back, cupping his buttocks, and squeezing affectionately.

Harry pushed back into his hands, loving the feel of them as they moved. "You know, I think it's going to be okay."

"I hope so." Severus took hold of Harry's jaw and pressed a kiss deeply onto his mouth.

That was all Harry needed to know.

Most nights, Harry wanted to be fucked. He wanted to feel Severus moving inside him, igniting fires that only he could quench. Tonight, however, Harry felt the need to take. To possess. He'd almost lost Severus twice in too short a time, and he wanted, needed, to reaffirm his claim.

As soon as Severus leaned down to kiss him, Harry took control. And surprisingly, Severus yielded. Maybe he needed it this way, too.

Rarely as it happened, it still thrilled Harry to have Severus surrender to him. Harry kissed him deeply, rolling on top of him, his hands tangling in his hair. "I want you."

Severus didn't answer, leaning up to kiss him again, his hands moving down Harry's back to cup his buttocks.

A primal need stirred in Harry, urging him on. His hands and his mouth moved down Severus' body, hoping to rouse him quickly. His need was too urgent to spend much time on preliminaries. After probably too short a time, he pressed his wand to Severus' entrance and muttered the lubrication spell.

He slid a finger into Severus, moving deeply, looking for that special spot that would give him pleasure. When Severus grunted unhappily, Harry slowed down, taking his time to stretch and pleasure Severus before positioning his long legs over his shoulders and pushing into him. He waited then for Severus to adjust to his invasion.

It was almost more than he could bear. He wanted to plunge, to take, to claim, but more than that, he wanted to please. Trembling, he held still, waiting.

Severus' body eased, and Harry slid the rest of the way in. Then waited again, giving Severus another moment or two to adjust before he started to move. He'd done this only a few times, but he knew the angle, knew what would give Severus the most pleasure. That was what he wanted, for Severus to enjoy this, to feel what Harry felt for him, to make the words physical.

Too quickly, Harry was at the precipice, orgasm pending. With a slick hand, he took hold of Severus' dripping prick. "Come for me, Severus. Come for me."

Severus made an inarticulate sound and did as he was instructed, arching his back, and coming over Harry's hand.

Crying out sharply, Harry followed him into the bliss, the ecstasy.

They lay together, sweat cooling on their skin. Severus leaned over and kissed him. "You don't usually care to take charge."

"Noticed that, did you?" Harry laughed. Aside from the one time, right at the beginning, they'd never discussed who would lead. And after the second or third time he'd done it, Harry had been quite happy to let it be Severus.

Severus snorted. "It would be hard to miss. As I do most of the work."

"Nice not to have to, for once, isn't it?" Harry was quite content to let Severus do all the work, most of the time.

"For a change. Yes. Quite nice." Severus kissed him again. "I understand."


"However, what I said earlier hasn't changed."

"We're going to work harder on fixing that." Harry redoubled his promise to himself to see Severus free.

"I suspect it's a wasted effort." He sounded like he actually believed that.

Harry didn't. They would free Severus and the others. And they would see this kind of servitude abolished. "No effort to fix something wrong is ever wasted."

"Dear Merlin, you are starting to sound like Granger." Severus' tone was perfectly horrified.

Harry laughed, snuggling down in the bedding and pulling Severus close to him. "You know, I'd rather not think of her now."

Severus kissed him again. After a moment of quiet, Severus whispered, "I would say it. I wish I could."

Harry believed him.


The Floo swished, and Snape looked up as Draco dusted the ashes off his formal robes. From the look of him, things had not gone well in court again. As disappointing as that was, Snape hadn't expected anything else.

"Severus," Draco said, sitting down opposite him on Harry's sofa. "Hermione's appeal --"

"Was denied for the sixth time." Even expecting it, to say it out loud left a bitter taste in Snape's mouth.

"She's not giving up and neither is Potter." Draco was attempting to sound encouraging, as if he actually believed it.

Although Snape appreciated that, he had no such beliefs. "They are Gryffindors. What else can one expect from them?" Harry had really put the effort forth this time, using his media capital, and all of the contacts he'd made in his career. "I suspect that a good portion of the Wizengamot is going to have to die before Hermione's appeal is seriously considered."

"I'm sorry." Draco looked down, contrite. "If there is anything --"

"I'm fine. Draco. Really." With only a few exceptions, Snape was content with his life. He wasn't one for counting his blessings in any situation, but this one could have been so much worse.

"I've thought of approaching Potter about perhaps having your indentured service transferred to me. How would you feel about that?"

Snape started. "Besides the fact it would take an act from the Wizengamot --"

"Actually, I don't think it would. According to my solicitor --"

"Why would you even consider trying that? And more importantly, why would you think I'd want it done?" He could not believe that Draco, of all people, could ask such a thing. Did the boy pay any attention at all?

Draco blushed. "I just think you might be happier with me."

"You never struck me as stupid before. Though perhaps you're quite a bit more inattentive to details than I'd realized. What makes you think I'm not happy?" His life had some unpleasant limits, and he wanted a wand of his own, but he could not believe Draco thought him unhappy with Harry. And as far as Snape was concerned, Harry was enough compensation to bear the rest without much complaint.

"Well, I don't think Potter's violent or anything like that, but he's turned you into a pampered courtesan."

The ridiculous child actually believed that, didn't he? Snape was torn between laugher and outrage. To be sure he liked his creature comforts. It made up for a lot. Snape laughed. "I can't say that I've ever thought of myself that way. However, there is nothing wrong with a little luxury."

"Look at you. Your hair is down to your arse. You wear silky Muggle clothes instead of robes. And you've got fat." Draco sounded just appalled.

"I am not fat." Even saying he was plump would be stretching it. He did love to cook, and he and Harry ate well, but he also kept fit.         "What part of me being happy don't you understand?"

"It's not that, it's just that you've changed. You're..." Draco waved a finger at him. "You've got this...I don't know...what happened to all of your ambition?"

Having been an indentured servant for five years to the Weasley twins had done nothing to encourage Draco's personal growth.

Snape thought for a moment on how, or even if, he should answer. "Most of my ambition was forcibly burned out of me by the time I stood trial for the second time. It might surprise you to know that I was miserable for the first forty years of my life. In some ways, these last years have been recompense for that."

Draco folded his arms over his chest with that disapproving look he sometimes had. "You don't do anything. You don't have a career anymore."

"You did realize I hated teaching? That I was glad never to do it again?" How could anyone, even one of his favored students, have missed that? No matter what happened, no one would ever force him to teach again. He couldn't help but think that was for the good.

"What are you talking about? You were a good teacher," Draco insisted as if he believed it.

"I was a horrible teacher. And I hated every single second of it." Just the thought of facing another classroom full of dunderheads was enough to give him nightmares for a week.

Draco looked shocked. "But --"

"No buts, Draco. Where is this coming from, and why now? I'm content with my life as it is. What more do I need?"

"To be able to walk freely."

"Yes. I'd like that. But I'm not likely to see it." If he was never freed, and at this point, he was fairly certain he wouldn't be, then he'd live with it.

"Do you enjoy serving Potter?" Draco met his eyes. "I mean, was it your life's ambition to be sitting around waiting for him to come home with your arse slicked so that he can fuck you."

Snape choked. Draco hadn't just said that. He couldn't possibly be that stupid.

"Well, if he's waiting for that, he'll probably be waiting a long time." Potter came through the doorway and stood next to Snape, his hands automatically going into his hair. Which was in fact, why Snape kept it long. Nothing like having a lover playing with a man's hair to encourage such a thing.

"Potter," Draco muttered, blushing six kinds of red.

"You need to find a life, Malfoy," Harry said, but his tone wasn't nearly as nasty as it could have been. In the year and a half since the younger indentured servants had been freed, Draco had been floundering, looking for a purpose in his life.

"I have a life." Draco's sounded quite defensive.

"You could finish school, do something with yourself." Harry's tone said do something other than hang about their house, which Draco did quite a bit. Though usually he was better company than he'd been today. Perhaps it was that the appeal was denied.

He was surprised by Harry suggesting he finish school, too. Since when did he care about Draco one way or another?

"Why would I want to do that?" Draco sounded interested, as if he wanted advice. He'd certainly never asked Snape for any, and had ignored it when Snape had offered. But given what he'd said previously, that was hardly a shock.

"It might give you something to do besides pester --"

"Harry," Snape said, stopping him. They did not want to get into it with Draco. Not here or now.

Harry smiled at him. "Fine. Maybe you could read law or something? I don't know. I'm sure Hermione and Pansy would welcome you into their firm."

"Pansy hasn't joined yet," Draco said, but it was clear from his tone that he knew she was planning on it.

As hard as Snape found it to believe, Pansy Parkinson had changed the most of all of them. By the time she was freed, she was actively working for Hermione. She sat her NEWTs and did well enough to get into the same legal program Hermione had gone through. No small feat for anyone, but he found it impossible to believe of her.

Draco shook his head. "I don't want to."

"What do you want to do?" Snape asked. "You can't go on like this."

"I don't know what I want." Draco sighed, sounding more weary than someone his age should have ever sounded.

That was the problem, of course. Snape and Harry exchanged a glance. "You should think about it, Malfoy," Harry said. "You're not used to being idle."

"I want to get used to it," Draco insisted.

"No, you don't. That's your problem."

"Why don't you ask Fred and George to let you buy into the joke shop?"

Draco looked at Harry, and for once second it looked like he wanted that, but he shook his head. "They'd never let me do that."

"As unlikely as it seems, I think they might," Harry said, and clearly he knew something Draco didn't. "Fred was just saying that they never see you anymore."

"They have no one to torment, now that I'm gone." But it didn't sound as if Draco minded that.

Which, all things considered, Snape found a bit surprising. "You enjoyed working with them on their projects, didn't you?"

"I got used to them, anyway." Draco's expression was wistful, as if he saw something he wanted and couldn't have.

"Why not talk to them?" Snape suggested. It couldn't hurt.

Harry nodded and then looked at Snape. "Dinner?"

"I got wrapped up in the article. Shall we order out?" Snape looked at Draco. "Are you staying?"

Draco looked surprised by the invitation. "No. Thank you. I have other plans."

After he was gone, Harry asked, "Besides the obvious, what was that about?"

"Seems he's worried I've become a pampered house pet."

Harry laughed again. "I was half-tempted to tell him that it was my arse that was usually slicked up and waiting to get fucked."

"Is that a hint?" Snape asked, hopefully. No matter how many times he'd had Harry, no matter how many years they had been together, he was always a bit awed that Harry was his.

Harry's expression was sober and he shook his head. "Maybe later. Did he tell you?"

"Yes. That was ostensibly why he came. I didn't expect anything else."

"I did. It almost seems that since the Wizengamot gave in on the younger ones, freeing them, they are going to dig their heels in over you." Harry sighed.

"Probably." Snape was sure they felt he deserved to be punished for what he'd done. "As punishment goes, this isn't so awful."

"Maybe not. But you're not free."

"No. I'm not. And I hate that. But there is some compensation," Snape said, reaching for Harry, who came willingly into his arms.

"We'll free you one day, I promise."

"I believe you." Snape kissed him with all the feeling he'd never be able to put into words, even if he were free to do so.