Work Header


Work Text:

Part 1

"Are you sure about this?" Harry asked, leaning over to examine the contents of the old cauldron. Even though Hermione had assured him that what they were working on couldn't hurt any of them, something about it didn't settle right in his gut. Glancing around the empty class room they'd been using to prepare the potion, Harry could find nothing out of place, nothing seemed wrong. He willed his nerves to calm.

He looked back at Ron and shrugged. "I mean...."

"Yeah. We're sure. We've already been over this." Ron sounded resolute as he continued to stir the mixture. "Hermione should be back in a couple of minutes. With the last of the ingredients."

"I can't believe she agreed to steal them from Snape."

"Well, it's not like she hasn't done it before. Besides, it goes to show how much she believes in what we're doing." Ron met his eyes, seeming to convey his surety. He glanced up to look at the clock and then started to stir the cauldron in the opposite direction, his hand moving in perfect circles.

"If we get caught, Snape will throw a wobbly. We'll all be expelled." Harry trailed off, and sighed. "Snape is looking for an excuse, you know that."

"Yeah." Ron closed his eyes and shivered. "But if this works, we'll be able to join power and defeat You Know Who, once and for all."

"Voldemort," Harry said deliberately. "We can't be afraid to say it, or he'll have won without a fight."

"I know. But I still hate it when you say his name." Ron looked chagrined and then it faded as he nodded towards the cauldron. "I wish we could have found a better one. This one is really old."

"This is the only silver-lined cauldron I could find. I tried to buy one in Hogsmeade the last time we were there, but no one had one to sell."

"I know. Seems kind of odd that they are so rare. Be careful of this one. The handle is quite sharp." Ron flicked it up with his finger and it clattered quietly as it hit the rim.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief as the door opened. No one came in and then Hermione appeared as she drew off his invisibility cloak.

"Did you find it?" Harry asked.

"Yes. It was almost too easy." Hermione looked around and then back at them. "If I didn't know better, I would suspect something from Snape."

"What?" Ron raised an eyebrow. "He can't know."

Hermione pushed her bushy hair back from her face, and tied it with a bit of string before she approached them. "No. I know. But...."

"You're just being paranoid, Hermione," Ron said, but he didn't look like he believed it quite as much.

"He's never forgiven me." After last year, and all the problems with the Occlumency lessons, Snape had been even more foul tempered than in previous years. Part of Harry couldn't blame him -- he'd invaded Snape's privacy, but mostly he was too angry at Snape to care.

"For what?" Hermione asked, pulling the last of the ingredients from her pockets and slowly putting them into the cauldron. "Keep stirring, Ron."

"Yeah, mate." Ron looked at him. "Is there something specific that he never forgave you for? I mean, besides the obvious."

"No. Just for being me." Harry hated to lie to them, but despite how he felt about Snape, he could not, would not betray what he saw in the pensive. It was too personal. For both of them. It still hurt too badly to think about.

"Okay. It's ready." Hermione picked up a sharp looking knife from the table and muttered a few words over it. She handed it to Harry. "I've made sure it's clean. Use it to cut your palm."

"How deep?" Harry held his hand out with the knife poised over the bubbling mixture.

"Deep enough to bleed freely. We need three drops."

With a sigh, he slid the knife across his hand, pressing deeply and surpressing a wince when it hurt. The blood welled up from his hand and dripped into the cauldron. He counted out the drops. As soon the first one hit the other ingredients, the mixture started to boil rapidly.

Pulling his hand away, Harry muttered a healing charm and touched the cut with his wand. He watched it close, leaving only a thin red line as evidence.

Hermione spoke several phrases in Latin and the mixture stopped boiling and abruptly turned a murky white.

"Now what?" Ron asked, looking down at it with a grimace.

Hermione picked up the book from the table. "Now we wait exactly five minutes and then you and I drink it."

"Eww," Ron said, shaking his head. "It's going to taste terrible."

"Doesn't it always?" Harry smiled, looking at the potion. God, it looked like lumpy translucent milk, and smelled nearly as bad. His hand ached a bit, but at least he didn't have to drink it.

"What are you irresponsible idiots doing in here?" Snape's sneering voice cut through the quiet like a sword through butter. He stalked across the room, his robes flaring as he approached them. "What is this?"

Too stunned to speak, the three of them could only stare. Harry's heart pounded in terror. There was no mercy in Snape's cold black eyes.

In what seemed like slow motion, Snape's hand closed over the ring of metal at the top of the cauldron to remove it from the flame. He grunted, opening his hand and staring down at it.

They all watched as blood welled up from his palm and dripped into the mixture. For one second, no one moved or breathed. A white mist rose out of the cauldron, leaving it empty. It surrounded Harry and Snape, then it seemed to hover for a moment before sinking into them. He looked down at his robes, but there was no trace of it.

Harry exhaled sharply, trying to still his racing pulse with slow deep breaths, trying to tell himself that it meant nothing. Knowing in his heart that he had more to worry about now than being expelled.

Staggering backward, Snape's eyes were wild. "What have you done?" He stood very still, clearly trying to calm himself, too. His voice was deadly as he asked again, "What were you trying to do? What spell did you cast?"

Closing her eyes and then opening them, Hermione sidestepped towards Harry. "We were creating a binding spell so that Harry could share our magic."

"Which spell?" Snape's tone was still deathly calm and all the more frightening for it. "What did you use?"

"Socius-Vinculum," Hermione said. No one dared move as she explained what they had done. Snape's face became more chalky as she spoke. Harry's fear level went up another notch.

"You fools! You utter imbeciles! Do you have any idea what you've done?" The rage in his expression was terrifying, but worse than that was Snape's underlying fear.

He risked a glance at Hermione and Ron. They were both were looking like Harry felt. And there were no words to describe his horror.

"We were trying to help Harry," Ron said, squaring his shoulders for battle. Even at sixteen, he was as tall as Snape and wider through the shoulders. "We didn't want him to have to face... You Know Who... by himself."

"In your overly simplistic vision, you decided to bind yourselves to him." Snape's voice rang with scorn and disgust.

"We were going to drink it, not..." Hermione started to say, but Snape's glare cut her off.

"Do you have any idea what you've done to me?" Snape yelled at them, and then stopped, taking a deep breath.

"Actually," Harry said, having had enough of Snape's accusations. If he were going to be expelled, he might as well go down fighting. "You did it to yourself. I mean, they were--"

"Do shut-up, Mr. Potter." Snape's tone was ever so slightly more restrained than it had been when he'd addressed either Ron or Hermione. "I'll deal with you later. Right now--"

"No." Harry tried to glare at Snape and found it... he wasn't sure, but not as easy as it should have been. He felt almost reluctant to do it. Something had changed and that scared the life out of him. What had they done? "What?" He couldn't find the words to phrase the question.

"I said to be quiet." Snape didn't look at him. "We will need to see the Headmaster, but right now, I need to understand exactly what Miss Granger has done to me."

"It wasn't just her," Ron said, glaring back at Snape. "It was all of us. Together."

"Yes, Mr. Weasley, of course it was." Snape folded his arms over his chest and sneered at Ron, turning slightly to encompass Hermione in his look as well. "You'll all be expelled for this I'm sure."

No one said anything. Harry knew he was right. They'd made a hash of things. Even as forgiving as Dumbledore was, he wasn't going to excuse this.

"Now, Miss Granger," Snape breathed, his tone almost silky. "You will explain where and how you got the ingredients for this," he waved his hand at the now-empty cauldron, "mess." Her eyes flat with dislike, Hermione shook her head. "No. I won't."

"Shall we all go to see the Headmaster, then? I'm sure he won't mind being awakened at this hour of the morning." Snape smiled at them. It was not a pretty smile.

Harry, Hermione and Ron waited outside the Headmaster's office while Snape talked to Dumbledore. It annoyed Harry mightily that they weren't even allowed to defend themselves. Yes, it was wrong that they did it in secret, but it wasn't a bad idea. Maybe they shouldn't have stolen Snape's supplies, but they needed them. It wasn't as if Snape would have helped them.

"Do you have any idea what they have done?" Snape's raised voice startled them. The reply from Dumbledore was more subtle and they couldn't hear it.

Harry looked at Hermione and she wouldn't meet his eyes. A small shiver of concern slid down Harry's spine. He cleared his throat. "What have we done? Is it that bad?"

"It's not life threatening. Well, not exactly," She trailed off and still wouldn't look at him. "I mean--"

"What?" Ron had been very quiet through most of this. "I thought it was a sharing spell. You said--"

Hermione exhaled sharply. "If we had drunk it, it would have bound us to Harry and he would have had access to our magic. As I told you. That isn't what happened." She looked at Harry. Her eyes were sad. "Instead of Socius-Vinculum, a breakable bond with your friends, you have Sanguis-Vinculum a blood-bond with--"

"Snape." Harry wondered idly why he wasn't feeling more horror at the thought of it because some part of him thought he should be having hysterics. "What is that going to mean?"

"A very interesting question, Mr. Potter." Snape stood in the doorway to Dumbledore's office. "Very interesting, indeed. Do come in now."

Silently, they marched into Dumbledore's office and sat down in the semicircle of five chairs before his desk. Dumbledore looked... Harry wasn't sure what he looked like, and that worried him. Usually, there was some expression in his face. Now, there was literally nothing there. That could not be a good thing. "Sir?"

"We have a very serious situation here, Harry," Dumbledore said, standing and moving around his desk to take a seat with them.

"You could say that," Snape leaned against the overstuffed bookcase behind the chairs. "But it would be a vast understatement. Miss Granger," he said her name with terrible disdain. As if he blamed her more than the rest of them. "Why don't you continue with your explanation of the situation?"

Looking away from him, Hermione nodded, her face taking on a slightly pink pallor. "You and Professor Snape are now bound by a blood spell."

"You said that already. What does it mean?" Because Harry's mind was supplying more details than he could possibly live with. "Is there some way to break the bond?"

"No." Snape shook his head. He also wasn't looking at Harry. Indeed his eyes seemed to be focused inward. "Nothing that wouldn't drive both of us mad."

"Hermione?" Harry tried to focus his attention on his hands. He didn't want to look up or around. "Tell me. Please."

She sucked in a breath. "It means that you're going to share..."

Harry felt the panic rising in him again, and he tramped it down as best he could, but the idea of sharing anything personal with Snape made him want to throw up. He'd been there and done that, and really, he'd rather not do it again. "What?"

"Everything, Mr. Potter." Snape's tone should have been sneering, should have held the usual hatred and it didn't. "Quite literally, everything that you are, everything that you will become, every emotion you have." Then his voice changed, becoming an oily sneer as he glared at Harry. "Did you find the Occlumency lessons invasive? They will seem like a child's game compared to this."

Closing his eyes, Harry willed himself to stay calm and not strike out. "Surely there is something we can do. Can we fight it? Make it less intrusive somehow?"

"Unfortunately, not," Dumbledore said quietly. "As Professor Snape said, there is no way to break a bond made with your own blood, with the blood of both of you. If you fight it, it will become stronger, faster. And will move more quickly toward completion."

"Faster?" Harry shook his head, finally looking up at Dumbledore. "Completion? I don't understand."

"Of course you don't." Snape tone had almost, but not quite its usual, level of sarcasm but he was looking at Hermione. "Miss Granger?"

"I'm not sure." She looked at Dumbledore and he nodded. Her face became a deeper shade of pink. "I think they are saying that you will be soul-bound when it's done."

Harry choked back the bile that threatened to rise from his stomach. "Like married? That kind of soul-bond? To... To--" he couldn't say it. He simply could not. It was too much, too ghastly, too dreadful to even imagine.

"Yes, Mr. Potter. To me." Snape looked down at him. His cold eyes held the exact same horror that Harry felt.

Panic rose in Harry and he stood, his chair crashing back against the wood floor, grating loudly. He looked around, wanting to run, knowing he was being childish and not caring. This went beyond unfair into realms that Harry couldn't begin to contemplate.

A heavy hand fell on his shoulder. "You will not leave here, Mr. Potter." Snape's voice was silky in his ears. "Where is that lauded Gryffindor courage now?"

Harry pulled away and straightened his shoulders, trying to glare at Snape. "I'm not running. However, it's a bit much to be told at sixteen that I've just got married. I need some time to digest this."

"There will be ample time after the explanation." Snape took a step back. "Indeed, you'll have the rest of your miserable life to digest the information."

"There's more?" Harry looked at Ron and then Hermione. Ron's expression reflected everything that he was feeling: horror, disbelief, anger, helplessness.

Hermione didn't meet his eyes as she nodded. "It's not like marriage. Not quite. It's a bond that has no... no...." Her face went to bright red and she shook her head.

"No what?" Harry asked. From her reaction, he knew this would be even more embarrassing and important.

"No sexual aspect to it," Snape ground out. Before Harry could breathe out a sigh of relief, Snape went on, "However, the bond has a secondary aspect to it that the bond creator did not anticipate."

A cold dread washed through him and Harry wasn't sure how much more he could take. "Oh, God. What?"

"The nature of the bond," Snape paused and cleared his throat, "Makes having a relationship with anyone else," he paused again, and then spat out, "difficult."

"Difficult? How?" Looking at Snape, Harry couldn't help thinking: God, he's so ugly. His hair hung in greasy strands, like it had never been washed. The color in his face was somewhere between chalk white and pasty yellow. His fingers were stained. There was nothing to recommend him at all. Harry was nauseated by the idea he was... married to him. With a shudder, he focused back on the conversation. "Why aren't you as upset as I am? Do you want this?"

"No, Mr. Potter, I can assure you with all sincerity that I do not want anything to do with this travesty. Or the child who perpetrated it upon me. That would be you, in case you didn't realize." Snape frowned at him.

It was disconcerting. "Then why are you being so... so... nice." Well, nice wasn't exactly the right word for Snape's attitude, but saying something like, less awful than usual, probably wouldn't go over well with Dumbledore. He didn't care what Snape thought particularly.

"This is not nice, Mr. Potter. I am not nice." Snape glared at him. "I am certainly not nice to you. I am, however, trying not to fight the bond. Something I think you should take into account or this will become infinitely worse than it already is. Not that I can see how it could be any worse. However, I do not wish to find out I am wrong."

Shivering slightly, he was afraid that Snape might be right. "Why will it be difficult to... um... have a relationship with anyone else?"

"The bond will force us to be close to each other. In ways that lovers are close." Snape said it as if it were the most appalling thing he could imagine.

Strangely enough, that reassured Harry. He didn't sound like he wanted it any more than Harry did. "You said no sex." Harry forced himself to meet Snape's eyes when he said it. God, he could not think about that in any context. It was simply too awful to bear.

"Yes. There is no sexual pull in the bond, no compulsion." Snape sent a pleading look to Dumbledore.

"However," Dumbledore added. "When one person is very close to another person, they can, and often do, develop sexual feelings for each other."

So for all intent and purposes, he was married to.... It was too much. There had to be something they could do about it. Harry backed away from them all. "I have to go now."

"We are not done yet." Snape hovered near him, but thankfully, did not try to touch him in any way. "There is the matter of punishing what the three of you for what you have done."

Ron and Hermione looked up at Dumbledore. "Sir," Ron said. "We were only trying to help Harry. If he," he nodded his head towards Snape, "hadn't interrupted, we would have been fine."

"Mr. Weasley," Snape looked and sounded perfectly normal now, "do not try and weasel out of this." Snape smirked unpleasantly. "If you and Miss Granger and --" he drew a breath and then went on, "If the three of you had not been breaking at least half a dozen rules, I would not have interrupted you. I think those two should be expelled."

"No." Harry stood up straighter. He wasn't very tall, certainly not as tall as Snape or Ron, but he drew himself up and met Snape's eyes. "The three of us are together in this. You can't expel the two of them without me."

"The Headmaster may do as he sees fit," Snape snarled, not looking at Harry.

"As such," Dumbledore said, "I think that you three need to think about the long-reaching consequences of your actions in the future."

"But sir," Hermione protested, "we couldn't have known this would happen. I mean, how likely was it for Professor Snape to catch us and cut his hand and bind with Harry?"

That could only happen to him, Harry thought morosely. Why was it always him? "She's right, sir. I mean, this is a ludicrous situation."

"That may be, but you are all responsible for it. If you had come to me--" Dumbledore met Harry's eyes, "I would have told you this was possible." He looked at Hermione. "Miss Granger knew it, too."

"Yes, sir. But--"

"No buts." Dumbledore's tone brooked no arguments. "20 house points apiece and a week of detention for all of you. Harry with Professor Snape. Miss Granger with Professor McGonagall and Mr. Weasley with Professor Sprout."

"What? Very well, sir." Snape looked like he'd swallowed something bitter, but he said nothing more.

Hermione, Ron, and Harry all looked at each other. At least they weren't expelled.

Snape turned to Dumbledore as the three miscreants left the Headmaster's office. Even with their heads bowed, he knew they were less than repentant. "60 points and a week's detention, Albus? I find it impossible to believe that you let them off so easily. They should have been expelled."

"To expel Ron and Hermione, I would also have had to expel Harry." Dumbledore's look was slightly exasperated as he picked up a tea pot and filled his cup. "Do you want more tea?"

"No. Thank you." Snape tried to sound polite even though he wanted to kill something, preferably something small and fluffy. "I don't care if he is expelled. In fact, for what he's done to me this time, he should have been--" He couldn't finish the sentence. He wanted to, wanted to say that Harry should have been expelled, should have got a lot worse than that, but the words would not come out of his mouth. Another shiver passed down his spine.

"Exactly." Dumbledore turned to look at him, holding his teacup and saucer. "Do you understand the effects on you both over the next several months?"

"Of course, I do." In theory, anyway. He suspected it was going to be a lot worse than he was imagining. The very idea of being bonded to Harry bloody Potter made him sick to his stomach. "It's going to change how I deal with that brat."

"More than that, Severus. It's going to change you. And him." Taking a sip of his tea, Dumbledore frowned. He set it back down, and added several more spoonfuls of sugar.

"Oh Merlin, how can you drink it that sweet?" Snape hated sweet tea. Actually, he hated sweets in all forms just on general principal. "Tell me how long you think it's going to take before it takes hold and I lose who I am."

Dumbledore took another sip of his tea and sat back. The usual twinkle in his eyes was noticeably absent, and indeed his expression showed his concern. "There is every chance you won't mind as much as you think you will. You won't care you've been changed."

"I doubt that sincerely," Snape growled. "I care now. A great deal. I'd like to--" He clenched his hand into a fist and tried to force the words out again. "Teach. Him. A. Lesson."

"Do you feel better for being able to say it?" Dumbledore sounded a bit too amused for Snape's taste. "You know as well as I do that fighting this type of long term bond will only make the transition more difficult."

"You seem very calm about this, Albus." Snape closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Calm was not something he could manage right then. Smacking the insipid smirk off Harry Potter's face rated high on his list of favored activities right then. "I don't even like the brat."

"You will come to love him. Dearly." Dumbledore said it as if it were not a bad thing. Almost as if it were something he should look forward to.

"I'd rather not." That he could have such feelings at all made his intestines want to wrap around themselves in disgust.

Smiling again, and this time it did reach his eyes, Dumbledore said, "You don't hate him nearly as much as you would have everyone believe you do."

Well, he shouldn't expect to fool Dumbledore, even if the old man didn't know half as much as he thought he did; Dumbledore did know him. "Be that as it may. I'm certain he hates me every bit as much as I think he does."

At least Dumbledore couldn't deny that. Not that it would matter if he had, nothing would change the fact that Potter, with very good reason, loathed him. "Although Harry does dislike you, that will change as well," Dumbledore said.

"I'd much prefer that it didn't." It was easier all the way around if Harry Potter hated his guts, and he could pretend to feel the same way. It wasn't as if he liked the foolish, brave child, anyway.

"As with many things, what you wish will not have anything to do with what happens." Dumbledore had a sigh in his voice. "I know this will not be easy for either one of you."

"I am aware of that." A tremor of something Snape would not acknowledge passed through him. He slouched back in his chair, his shoulders slumping down. "I fear what will happen to me once Voldemort finds out."

"I'm not sure how he would be able to do so." Shaking his head, Dumbledore took a last sip of his tea and set the cup and saucer on the table between them. "It seems to me that he would not be able to sense it from your mind. You've blocked your spying for years."

"If my attitude towards Mr. Potter changes too greatly, others will notice and report it. I am already finding it difficult to speak to him and about him as I always have. I despair to think of the future if I do come to..." the words were like acid in his throat, " about him."

Understanding and apprehension in his eyes, Dumbledore nodded. "You shall have to find ways to compensate for your feelings. And his."

"You do realize that even if this manages to be a slow process, in all likelihood the brat will be in love with me before he leaves school." Of all the indignities he'd been subjected to and would be subjected to, that would be the worst. The very thought of how out of control the situation could become sent a shard of pure fear into his heart.

Dumbledore stroked a hand down his beard. "Quite probably. In all likelihood, you will fall in love with him as well. It might even be sooner--"

"Please do not say that." Snape looked away, unable to meet Dumbledore's eyes as revulsion rose in his throat. To be in love with James Potter's son. Surely, after everything, fate could not be that cruel. "I don't want to think about that part." Something else occurred to him. "I swear to you I would never--"

Holding up a hand, Dumbledore stopped him before he could express the unthinkable. "I know that. I know you. I suspect that shall be the hardest part of all of this."

"Not buggering the boy? I--" Snape shuddered. "I am not a paedophile. I do not sleep with children."

"He's not a child. However, he is a student." Dumbledore's tone should have carried a warning, even a slight one, but it didn't. "I trust you will do the right thing with Harry."

Putting his head into his hands, Snape groaned. Dumbledore's trust was misplaced, Snape knew it. It hadn't even started yet, and already he'd had enough. "I do not want to have to." He looked up. "I know the basics of this situation; is there anything else I should expect?"

"Just that you will be required to spend time with Harry. Try to do so as peacefully as possible until the bond settles."

"That may not be so easy accomplished." Snape stood, wishing there were someone or something he could appeal to for clemency, but of course, there was no one.

Dumbledore looked troubled. "No. I expect that it won't."

Harry paused in front of Snape's office door, it was a few minutes before 8:00. Usually, detention was from Monday to Friday nights, but Dumbledore decided they would serve seven days. Tonight through next Saturday. He'd spent the day avoiding everyone, especially Snape. Not that it mattered since he was here now.

Gathering his courage around him, he knocked.

Snape answered promptly and beckoned him in with a nod.

Standing just inside the door, Harry looked around. It hadn't changed much since the last time he'd been in here. Thick, ugly, grey-white walls, a big desk at one end, sitting below a high, heavily leaded window, rows of common ingredients on shelves, many of which he'd chopped, diced, and mashed during previous detentions. Idly he wondered just how many detentions he'd severed with Snape over the past five and a half years.

"Sir?" Harry watched as Snape seated himself behind his desk. "What did you want me to do?"

"Do?" Snape glanced at him with a raised eyebrow. "Why, Mr. Potter. Did you actually plan to do something?"

When Snape was in one of these moods, where his anger was barely contained, Harry had found that nothing he could say would help the situation. He took a breath and steeled himself. "Detention, sir. Aren't I supposed to do some unpleasant task for you?"

"Well, Miss Granger is studying with Professor McGonagall. Mr. Weasley is flying with Professor Sprout. Why would you think that I'd make you do anything more unpleasant than that?" Snape spoke through his teeth, but he didn't sound anywhere near as angry as Harry thought he should be. "Why should you think you'd be punished for this last little stunt?"

"Sir?" God, it was going to be like this, was it? Snape could be such an irritating bastard. "Why don't you tell me what you want me to do, and let me do it. All right?"

"No, Mr. Potter, it is not all right." Snape drew in a deep breath and let it out very slowly. "I want...."

"What?" Harry ground out after a pause of several seconds. He hated waiting for the other shoe to drop, hated having to even ask. "Just tell me already."

"Shut up, you brainless moron." Snape walked across the long, narrow office. He stood in front one of his shelves of potions, flexing his hands. "Let's try this again."

As he watched, Snape's fingers curled into fists, and then they released for the third time. "Yes, sir," Harry said.

"Sit." Snape pointed towards the sofa. "Now."

"Yes, sir." Harry sat with his back stiff and his shoulders straight. He was almost afraid to move lest he incur more of Snape's wrath.

Snape started to pace back and forth across the worn carpet. After a few minutes, Harry's patience was wearing thin. If he spoke, he'd bring attention back to himself, and if he didn't he might go mad from watching Snape pacing. Harry shifted and the leather of the sofa creaked.

Which was enough to settle Snape's attention back on him. "So, what shall we do with you?"

"Sir?" In the myriad bad moods he'd seen Snape in, this one was new. He had no idea what would help or hurt matters.

"It seems it falls to me to complete your education on the bond that you've forced upon me." Could Snape sound any more put upon? As if Harry had done it on purpose.

"Not just you, sir." He glared at Snape. "You're not the only one who is affected by this."

Pointing a long finger at him, Snape scowled. "You, at least, had a choice."

"I was going to bind with Hermione and Ron, not you." Harry shuddered, still not quite believing that something like this could happen. "I would never, ever, have done this with you."

"I could not agree more." Snape sneered again. "However, you certainly had more of a choice in the matter than I did."

It wasn't his fault. "You didn't have to interrupt us."

Snape sat down beside him. Running his hand through his greasy hair, Snape seemed to let some of his tension go. "We've been over this once already. We need not do it again. Let's move on to something more productive, shall we?"

Having geared up for a major row, the winds were now knocked out of Harry's sails. He was without a focus for his anger. "What would that be, sir?"

"That would be first understanding what is happening and then attempting, no matter how disagreeable it may be, to deal with it." Snape sounded nearly reasonable.

That didn't settle well in Harry's stomach. A nice Snape was an unpredictable Snape. Far too scary a concept for Harry. "Explain it to me."

Beside him, Snape tensed at his tone and then relaxed in stages. "The spell hasn't quite settled yet. It will within the next few days." Surprisingly, he spoke normally to Harry or what was as close as Snape could come to it.

A shiver rode down Harry's spine and he hid his fear behind a cold look. "What does that mean?"

"If you cease being an impertinent brat and let me explain," Snape began, but then stopped. Again, he seemed to force himself to be calm. "It means that you will start to feel a compulsion to be nice to me."

"I can't believe that," Harry said without thinking. As far as he knew there was nothing short of an act of God that could make him like Snape. Or a blood-bond, he reminded himself. His shoulders slumped. "I mean--"

"I know what you mean." Snape looked at him with annoyance in his eyes. "I agree. However, I believe this will be the first stage."

"We'll be nice to each other? It could be worse." Being nice would be okay. He didn't have to like him.

"Try and pay attention, you--" Snape cut himself off, and closed his eyes. "It will get worse. I promise you. It will get infinitely worse. The second stage will require us to spend time together."

"How much time?" He tried to tell himself that spending time with Snape wouldn't be that bad, but even as he formed the thought, he knew it would be dreadful.

"I'm not sure. The text I was reading--"

"There's something written about this kind of thing?" That didn't come out as he'd meant it. He sounded like an idiot and from Snape's disgusted expression, Harry knew what he was going to say before he said.

"You aren't that stupid, are you?" Snape shook his head mockingly. "Yes, of course you are."

Even knowing he shouldn't do it, Harry's anger racheted up a notch and his patience down one and he snapped out, "I'm not stupid and you should know it. You--"

"Do not say it, Mr. Potter. Do not." Snape gave him a warning look. "As far as I've ever seen, you're stupid and impulsive and irresponsible."

Harry clenched his jaw shut on a rebuttal and tried to remember this was a teacher, someone he needed to be respectful to, no matter how he actually felt about the prat. "Yes, sir."

"No reason to get angry at me. It's the truth." Snape sounded so perfectly reasonable again, as if it were all right for him to insult Harry.

"As you see it, sir. Not as I see it." Harry knew Snape probably thought it was his right to be rude. Nothing Harry could say or do would change that.

"What would you call last night?" Snape smirked at him, obviously playing his trump card.

Not impressed, Harry met his eyes, glowering at him with impotent fury. "I'd call it a mistake."

"A mistake you say? A mistake that I am going to have to live with for the rest of my life." Snape took another breath and suddenly looked tired. "This is not productive."

"You keep saying that." Harry stood up. If he didn't move, he'd go mad. He paced a few steps up to the desk and then back. "What's the next stage?"

"The third stage is more vague than the second one." Snape glared at him. "Sit down."

Hesitating for a second, Harry decided there was no benefit in defiance and sat. "Which is?"

"We'll start to know each other's emotions." The horror in Snape's tone matched precisely what Harry was feeling as he heard him say it.

Shuddering deeply, Harry felt panic rise in him. "Oh, God."

"Exactly. And it gets worse. We'll eventually be able to share each other's power." Snape looked properly appalled at that. "You will need to learn a great deal about control by then."

"What about you?" Harry had had just about enough of this. "You'll need to control yourself, too."

Snape gave him a completely disbelieving look. "I can already control my power, as well as my emotions."

Shaking his head, Harry couldn't help but smirk at him. "Really? I hadn't ever noticed that you could control that temper of yours."

"Ill-mannered brat," Snape snarled. He opened his hands and closed them again into fists. "Just be quiet and listen for once in your misbegotten life."

Harry was no longer in the mood to listen to the insults or anything else Snape might have to say. "Nice from you might be an interesting change. You certainly don't know anything about how to go about it, do you."

"Despite what you obviously think, I am trying." Snape took another breath. "You are too stupid to have any idea what is good for you, too stupid to realize just how close to the edge you are right now."

"Oh, I see you're trying so hard. You don't have any idea in the world what is good for me." Harry let out a bitter laugh. "I would almost think befriending Voldemort would be easier that this."

Turning white, Snape bared his teeth. "No, Mr. Potter. It is you who has no idea. None whatsoever."

Perhaps he'd gone too far, Harry conceded, but he could not stop himself. "No. I don't. And I don't want to. On either case."

"You're hopeless." Snape voice was soft and venomous. "Get out of here, you worthless creature. I can't stand the sight of you."

Harry fled.

Only to be required to return the following night.

Once again Harry hesitated before he knocked. As long as he hadn't thought about Snape, he felt okay during the day. Unfortunately, when he did let his mind drift in that direction, to Snape, he found his thoughts... he wasn't sure what the right word was, but softened came to mind. He couldn't bring up his righteous anger or hatred for Snape. It was almost as if it wasn't there anymore, but he knew it was, since he knew he still felt it.

In class, Snape had not spoken one word to him, though he'd taken points from almost every other Gryffindor in the room, much to the delight of the Slytherins. After class nearly everyone had a comment on how Snape hadn't taken points from Harry, but there wasn't much he could do or say about it.

Hermione and Ron knew, of course, and they were more than sympathetic. It was all too humiliating for words.

The door opened before he could decide whether or not to knock. "Mr. Potter." Snape just stood there, looking at him with a particularly unpleasant gleam in his eyes.

"Sir." Harry pushed past him into the room. "Do you have an assignment for me tonight?"

"Nothing more than last night." Snape sounded almost defeated and Harry wondered if he might also be confused, but decided that was unlikely.

"Yes sir." He sat down on the sofa and waited for Snape to do or say something.

Snape looked at him, and he could not meet his eyes.

"I can see you're starting to feel the effects," Snape said after a lengthy silence. There was almost no inflection in his tone.

"Yes, sir." Harry glanced up at him and then quickly away again. He didn't want to see Snape feeling the same thing he was. "It's disconcerting."

"I expect so." Snape seemed about to smile, but thankfully, he didn't.

As much as he hated to be nice, he couldn't help asking, "For you too, sir?"

Instead of an insult or a curse, which Harry expected, Snape shrugged. "Why would you think it would be different for me?"

"You're older. I thought maybe you could fight it better than me." Perhaps that was wishful thinking, but if Snape could fight it, then maybe he could, too.

"There is no fighting. I've told you that already." Snape opened his mouth to continue, and then did not.

Somehow, that made Harry feel a little better. "How long does each stage last?"

"Finally, an intelligent question." Snape's tone wasn't harsh, indeed it was nearly pleasant. Or what passed for it from him. "Unfortunately, I don't know the answer."

"What?" Harry glared at him, annoyed. "How could you--" he cut himself off as his anger faded away to nothing. "What just happened?"

Snape shook his head, looking rather smug. "You were angry and the feeling went away?"


"What did I tell you yesterday?"

Bloody hell. "When the bond settled that I would not be able to stay angry at you."

"Correct. Ten points to Gryffindor for finally getting an answer correct." Snape looked absolutely appalled by what had come out of his mouth.

"You're joking?" Harry felt all the blood drain out of his face. He could not believe that just happened. "In the five and a half years I've been here, I've never seen you give house points to anyone other than Slytherin."

"I don't. Unfortunately, once it's said, it's done." Hanging his head, Snape sighed dejectedly. "This will be much worse than I imagined."

Harry almost felt sorry for him, but after a moment's consideration, he decided the git deserved it. Then he rejected the thought and sighed. "People will know."

"That is going to be the greater problem of this. We are going to need to work together so that my true allegiances are not discovered." Snape seemed worried as he glanced at Harry. "It also goes without saying that this bond must remain a secret."

"I'm not sure how we're going to do that," Harry said. "You just gave me house points. Can you take them away?"

Snape started to speak and then stopped, shaking his head. He looked resigned. "Apparently not."

Harry smiled at him.

"You're too much the Gryffindor to use this against me." Snape sounded very sure of that.

Opening his mouth to disagree, Harry found it was true after all. Bugger. He supposed that Snape knew him well enough by now to be assured. "I wouldn't do that."

Instead of saying something scathing, or even looking smug, Snape merely nodded. "It isn't even part of the bond."

"Speaking of the bond," Harry asked. "Why does it do this in stages? I mean, why not get to where we can share magic immediately? I would have been able to share Hermione and Ron's magic after they drank the potion."

"The bond, the blood bond part was originally to produce trust and loyalty between warring wizards." There was a touch of irony in Snape's voice that Harry could appreciate.

"Not unlike us." Harry looked at him. "Why would they do it? Agree to the bond, I mean?"

"No. Very astute, Mr. Potter. Not unlike us at all." Snape turned his head away, but not before Harry could see him fight a smile. "The reason they did it was simply that they were usually forced to it by someone else. An elder in the family, someone of higher rank.

"It was found over time that if the wizards were forced to that intimacy too quickly it was found they could and did destroy each other. They needed time to adjust to the idea. So the bond was set to work in stages."

"Why didn't we know about it?"

"If you will remember, Miss Granger did know about it."

"She didn't mention it." Harry wondered about that, but it was too late to worry about it now. Maybe he'd ask her later. "Why isn't more known?"

"Because it fell out of use with most blood magics. Once set, the bond is irreversible. It's carried by the blood. Blood magic is the strongest of all kinds since it is bound by our blood." Snape looked at him seriously. "Be very grateful that the spell wasn't a love spell."

Harry shuddered and couldn't meet Snape's eyes. If he was going to end up... "It's not much better."

Snape folded his arms over his chest, but instead of looking menacing, he looked like he was trying to protect himself. "Would you care to have added a sexual compulsion to what you are feeling now?"

"No." Harry looked away. Seeing Snape as anything other than his nemesis bothered him in a way he could not explain. Like last year, when he'd felt sorry for the bastard for the way his father and Sirius had treated him, he hadn't known what to do with those feelings, so he'd brushed them away. It wasn't going to work anymore, he suspected. "But you said..."

"That it is likely we will develop..." For a moment, Snape looked uncomfortable, but it was so brief that Harry thought he might be imagining things. "As I said, that is the secondary component of the bond. It is very likely we will..."

"Will what?" Focusing on what Snape was likely to say, Harry felt his stomach roil at the implications. Still, he had to hear it. "Tell me please," Harry said, trying to prepare himself for the inevitable.

"We will find that, over time, we will form a deep attachment to each other." Snape's voice was quiet, and he sounded every bit as disconcerted as Harry felt.

"Do you even have those kinds of relationships now?" Harry couldn't imagine anyone wanting to sleep with Snape and the idea that he might want to -- even in some dark and distant future -- nauseated him.

"How dare--" Snape closed his eyes and when he opened them again, the anger Harry knew had been there was gone. "Yes. I have had those kinds of relationships in the past. Do you find that so hard to believe?"

Some part of Harry didn't want to answer, didn't want to be unnecessarily cruel. "Yes," he said, despite his reluctance.

Snape didn't look upset or surprised by the answer. "Did you feel compelled to answer and to be truthful?"

"Yes. Is that the bond working?" Oh. Bloody hell. Harry closed his eyes, considering what that could mean in his life. A fine trembling raced through him. "I won't be able to lie to you?"

"Nor I to you." It surprised him that Snape would volunteer such information. Maybe the bond forced him as well.

They were even, then. It wasn't as bad as Harry expected it might have been. He'd be able to give as good as he got. "That could be interesting."

"No doubt. However, you might wish to think twice before asking me anything if you do not wish to know the unvarnished truth." There was a definite warning in Snape's expression.

That wasn't a bad idea, Harry conceded with a nod. They remained silent for a long time after that. Finally, Harry was released to go back to his dorm. He had a lot of thinking to do.

Part II

"Harry," Ron called as he caught up with him right before lunch. "I heard Snape gave you a month's detention?"

"Yeah." He pulled Ron off to one side and let several students pass them. "Dumbledore thinks we need to spend time together to get to know each other."

Ron looked properly horrified. "Bugger. That is so unfair."

"Tell me about it. But it's happening between us. I mean, I can't even think about him without wanting to be nice to him," Harry said with an over-dramatic shudder.

He stopped as two more students passed them. One of them gave Harry a strange look. "We should go outside."

Looking around at the rest of the students milling about, Ron nodded. "Yeah, no privacy here, mate."

They were silent as they made their way out to the lake.

"You were saying about being nice to Snape?" Ron said, sounding as if he could not believe it.

Well, Harry found it hard to believe even as he was feeling it. "It's the bond. I can't say or even think anything against him. Nor can he say anything to me. He gave me house points a couple of days ago."

"God, you know, I saw that. I thought it was a mistake." Ron scratched his head. "Blimey. This must be driving you mad."

"It is. I remember how much I hated him, but I don't feel it any more." Harry looked out at the lake, fancying he could see the giant squid moving just under the surface. "I only feel..."

"What? I mean, how could it change so quickly." Ron shook his head. "No, I know. It's the bond. Do you think..."

"Think what?"

"That you're going to...." Ron's face went red and he looked away. "You know."

"God, I hope not. But already the idea doesn't make me sick any more." Harry didn't want to discuss this, not right now. It was still too close. "Let's fetch some lunch."

"I'm sorry." Ron put a hand on his arm. "I mean it. This is as much my fault as it is anyone else's."

"It's either all of our fault, equally, or no one's. We did this together." Harry shrugged, hoping he looked more careless than he felt. "We can't assign blame now."

"Are you sure?" Because Ron looked like he might be willing to shoulder it, if Harry should ask that of him.

Harry shook his head. He wouldn't do that to Ron or Hermione. "No. It's done. For all that I wish it could be, it's not going to be undone. So...."

"So, you're going to have to live with it." Ron stepped back. "No matter what happens, I'm still your friend."

"Even if..." Harry could not put his worst-case scenario into words.

"Even then. You're my best mate." Ron knocked his shoulder into Harry's. "Come on, we should go get lunch before it's all gone." Smiling at him, Harry was damned grateful to have him as a friend.

Every night for the next several weeks, Harry went to Snape's office between eight and midnight. If someone else was serving detention, which thankfully wasn't that often, he was required to serve it with them, chopping, dicing, mashing or otherwise preparing potion supplies. The injustice of it did not escape Harry's notice.

Mostly, however, he spent his time sitting on the battered leather sofa in Snape's office, doing his homework.

The bond was satisfied with them in the same room without requiring more interaction than that. It suited Harry very well. He hadn't cared enough to ask how it suited Snape.

Although he tried hard not to think about Snape in any context, Harry knew he did not hate him anymore. As appalling as it was to admit, even to himself, some small part of Harry had begun to think about reaching out, to get to know Snape, to find out what made him the way he was, to find common ground between them. Harry could and did ignore the inclination, but each time they sat together, night after night, the idea grew infinitesimally in his mind.

"Um..." Harry cleared his throat. They had spent yet another evening in total silence, and he was about to go mad from the lack of sound. "You haven't spoken to me all week in class."

"I have nothing to say to you." Snape's tone grated against him like sandpaper on silk, catching and pulling. "Did you require something? Conversation?"

"No." Harry shivered. He would have liked a better explanation. The silence was too much. "Do you want to... ah... talk about... anything?" God, he wondered if he could sound any more lame than that.

"No," Snape said harshly, but there was something more in his voice. What it was, Harry wasn't sure, but more than just a simple denial.

"Why not?" Harry could almost feel that Snape did want to say something.

Meeting his eyes, Snape exhaled audibly. "Because, I can no longer speak to you without giving myself and my feelings away."

He opened his mouth to ask, but decided he wasn't ready for the answer yet. "Oh."

"Articulate, as always." There was no sarcasm, no rancor, no anything behind the words. Snape's expression was mild. "Thank you for not asking."

"You're welcome." Harry tried to hold back a smile and couldn't quite manage it. "I'm not sure I want to know."

"Neither do I, Mr. Potter. I suspect these ignominies will come, one way or another. No matter how much we wish they would not." Snape's demeanor was, if not exactly friendly, then certainly not hostile either.

The whole conversation was starting to make Harry nervous. "Do you still want to humiliate me?"

Pushing his lank hair away from his face, Snape shook his head. "I can remember what I felt before, when I took great joy in it, but I no longer feel that way."

"Me neither." Harry wasn't even sure he wanted to feel that much hatred for anyone. Some part of him still blamed Snape for Sirius' death, and a host of other crimes, but he couldn't muster the anger. It was as if all the intensity of his negative emotions had been bled out of him, leaving only the husk, and the memory. "Has anyone said anything to you about it?"

"About what?" Snape asked, putting down his quill and gathering the papers he was working on into a pile. He focused on Harry.

Which Harry found more than a little disconcerting, but then, no more than anything else that had happened. "About the fact you're not speaking to me in class."

Snape actually chuckled, his eyes truly holding a trace of humor. "I've told anyone who dared to ask, and few are brave enough to do so, that I can't tolerate your insolence any longer."

"They accept that?" Harry found that hard to believe. "I mean, you didn't have to let me into advanced potions."

"I could hardly have kept you out with your OWL scores as high as they were." He said it matter-of-factly, as if he were the most fair and reasonable of teachers.

That went against every single thing Harry knew about Snape, but instead of being able to dwell on it, he had to move past it without consideration. "Would you have, if you could have?"

After a moment's hesitation, Snape shook his head. "No. Probably not. Anyone who does well enough on their OWLs has a right to be in my class, even if I don't like it."

"Nice to know you're fair about something," Harry said before he could pull the words back and regretted them as he saw something akin to pain cross Snape's face.

"Life is not fair, Mr. Potter. I would have thought you'd realize that by this point in your life." Snape's tone had taken on a churlishness that had been absent earlier, but it wasn't what Harry had come to expect when Snape was angry.

Almost before it could manifest itself, Harry's annoyance died out again, disconcerting him. "No," he said quietly. "I realized that a very long time ago."

"Ah. Tell me about your life in with the Muggles." Snape's dark eyes were clear, with even a hint of curiosity in them.

If there had been a sneer or even the slightest bit of mockery, Harry would have bristled and refused to answer. As hard as it was to believe, Harry could see he actually wanted to know and for some reason, Harry wanted to tell him.

"They didn't want me and made sure I knew it from the time I was old enough to understand such things." Harry didn't know what else to say about it. "Dudley was their son. He got everything."

"You received nothing?" Again, there should have been a sneer in his tone, some kind of ridicule. It was as if Snape knew this was the truth and accepted it.

"Nothing first. Nothing Dudley wanted. Nothing I wanted. After a while..." Harry looked away, a wave of bitterness crashing through him. "I stopped--"

"What? Asking? Wanting?" Snape looked over at him with startling sympathy in his eyes. "Didn't you resent it?"

"I just wished that --" Harry took a breath. "I never understood what it was about me--" He stopped, unable to go on. The bond compelling him to answer and he didn't want to sound more pathetic than he felt. Looking at Snape, he found wasn't above begging. "Please. I can't --"

"Then don't." Rising from his desk, Snape moved to sit beside him. Close, but not touching him in any way. "You have every right to be angry with them. To hate them."

Harry closed his eyes tightly, not wanting to see the pity in Snape's expression. "I don't hate them. I want to. But I don't. They don't owe me anything."

"Oh, but they do, Mr. Potter. They are your family and they have treated you abysmally." Snape sounded angry on his behalf.

Some part of Harry appreciated the sentiment, more than he could find the words to say. However, he still hated to talk about the Dursleys. "What about your family? What were they like?"

"I have little family left. A few distant cousins." Snape looked away and something crossed his face that Harry could not begin to fathom. "All of whom are in league with Voldemort and I don't see them."

"Don't they think you're part of that circle, too?" Harry would have thought that would make Snape more acceptable to them.

His manner changed to disdain. "Yes. That does not make them care for me nor me for them."

"Oh." Harry felt a ridiculous urge to put his arms around Snape and offer what comfort he could. He looked away instead. "Neither of us has much in the way of family, then."

"It would seem not. You seem to have chosen your family from amongst your friends." For some reason, Snape didn't sound like he disapproved as much as Harry would have expected.

"The Weasleys sort of adopted me." While they drove him mad on occasion, Harry loved them all dearly. It surprised him that Snape could understand that.

"Such that they are." Snape did manage to sneer, but it sounded a little too good-natured to truly have the desired effect.

"Oi. None of that. They are good to me. Mrs. Weasley gave me my first real Christmas present." She also was the closest thing he'd ever had to a mother. Nothing had touched him more than her and Charlie showing up two years ago at the tri-wizard tournament.

"The famous jumpers?" Snape had a smirk on his face, but it wasn't unkind. "Surely you've had better than that?"

"Not before I got the first one. I got a fifty pence piece from the Dursleys that year. I think they thought they were being generous." Harry could hear his bitterness in the words, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to mute what he was feeling when talking to Snape. "Perhaps we should go back to not speaking to each other?"

"I don't know that we can. We've pushed it as far as it will let us, I think." Snape didn't sound as if he wanted to go back to silence now that they'd managed to move past it.

Harry was afraid he was right. The truth was that he wasn't sure he wanted to go back to that either. He was... curious about Snape. "What are we going to do about class?"

"I'm going to continue not to speak to you, and you will do the same. I'll also continue to give you detention."

Just when he thought Snape might be human, he said something that reminded Harry of every bitter feeling he'd ever had. "I have no say in this?"

"Do you wish to have a night off?" There was that look of... almost concern in Snape's expression.

He couldn't believe it as his option reversed itself again. If Snape didn't stop changing so fast, Harry was sure he'd be dizzy by the end of the evening. "Now that you mention it, I haven't seen Hermione or Ron at night for more than a month."

"Perhaps I should give you all a detention?" He looked like he liked that idea a lot.

"I'd rather have a couple of nights off." At Snape's expression, Harry smirked at him. "You don't want to do that? God, you're starting to like me, aren't you?"

"I'm afraid that happened sometime ago." Something in the way Snape said it made him wonder.

His smile got wider. "Tell me when?"

Shaking his head, Snape looked... could that be embarrassed? "I'd rather not answer that."

Even though he knew he should, Harry couldn't make himself let it go. He wanted to know. "Oh, I think you should tell me."

"Fine, brat." He said it kindly and he had that almost smile on his face again. "Sometime in your fourth year."

"Really? You still treated me like crap." Harry glared. He knew he should be annoyed by that, but Snape's sheepish look was... something he could not describe. "Especially after last year."

"You deserved it after..." Snape trailed off and looked away. "Why would I do anything differently? I have a reputation to maintain, and suddenly deciding you were slightly more tolerable than I had originally thought is not a reason to stop acting as I had." Spoken like Snape of old. But he added, "It would have drawn too much attention to me, to us."

That did make sense, in a Snape kind of way. "You're treating me differently now."

"Worse, by most people's standards."

Harry nodded. He supposed that having a teacher not speaking to him would upset him greatly under other circumstances. "I expect you're right. About that night off?"

Looking at him almost dolefully, Snape nodded. "I'll give you a few days before the next detention."

"I suppose that's as good as I can get." Harry was pleased that Snape was going to be decent about it after all, but he was still annoyed to be getting more detentions for no reason.

"Trust me. You don't want to go too long." There was something too knowing in Snape's look and Harry could tell that wasn't a good sign.

"Or what?"

Snape raised an eyebrow at him. "Do you truly wish to find out?"

Part of him did, and part of him knew it wouldn't be good. "What will happen?"

"I think you'll be compelled to seek me out, to spend time with me as we have been. The bond may invoke a compulsion to do it."

"That's what I thought." Harry shuddered. "Give me a night or two, okay?"

"As you please."

After the animosity between them, no one found it that unusual that Harry spent the last two months of his sixth year in detention with Snape. Sometimes they talked, and sometimes they simply sat with each other. Harry stopped thinking about how much he once hated Snape and started to think about how much he enjoyed his company.

That the bond was causing this change was not a question, Harry understood that, but he didn't care any more. It was good to have someone to be with whom he knew wanted him, even if it were the bond causing it.

The school term was about to end for the summer and Harry was faced with a forced separation.

"Tell me again why I can't stay with you this summer?" Harry knew he sounded petulant, but the thought of the Dursleys made his stomach turn over.

"Because you must go back to them at least for some part of the summer." While Snape's tone was patient, there was ever so slight an edge of warning to it. He wouldn't be pushed on this.

Harry had heard this before from Dumbledore. His mother's family and the supposed protection of his mother's love for him. Part of him wanted to believe in that, but he knew the Dursleys too well. "Well, they certainly don't protect me."

"How bad was it last summer after half the Order threatened them with bodily harm?" Snape asked, his expression showing his concern.

"Not as bad as it had been, I'll grant that." Harry conceded to himself that it could have been a great deal worse. "They didn't speak to me."

Snape looked at him and grimaced. "I expect that is better than active hostility?"

"Only slightly." Harry sighed louder, knowing there wasn't a choice here. "If I must."

"I am afraid you must. I promise I shall see you after a few weeks have passed." He made it sound like an oath.

Smiling, Harry glanced at him, playing his one trump card. "What about the bond? Is it going to let us be apart for that long?"

"We shall see, won't we?" Snape didn't sound very happy about it either.

"I don't think it's a good idea." Harry felt more than a little worry at being apart from Snape for any length of time.

"The reason we've spent so much time together these past weeks is to allow the bond to settle in. It should not be threatened by a few weeks of separation. It will be okay." Snape's voice was gentle and reassuring.

"Except that I have to see the Dursleys." Harry shuddered dramatically. Going back to them filled him with too many memories, all of them painful in one way or another.

"There is nothing we can do about this. You must return to your family for at least part of the summer." Snape sounded concerned about him, and Harry was pleased to hear it, even if it didn't help that much.

"I know that," Harry said, squaring his shoulders and trying to smile. He did understand, but whatever the reason, he didn't want to leave. Somehow Snape had come to mean comfort to him in a way no one else did. "Well, if you're here and I'm there...."

"We shall cope." Snape stood, motioning for Harry to stand as well. "I don't expect it will be easy, but try not to fret."

Harry looked up at him. He'd grown a little over the school year, but Snape was still several inches taller than he was. "I'll try."

Closing his eyes, Snape took a deep breath and then opened them again. "This is wrong on so many levels. I should not allow it, but...." He slid his arm very gently around Harry's shoulder and with only the faintest amount of pressure, allowed Harry to step into his embrace. Sighing softly, his head rested on Harry's. "I can't help it."

Sliding his arms around Snape's waist, Harry held on, his face buried against his shoulder. Harry inhaled. Snape smelled good, like cardamom or some other exotic spice. He wasn't sure what it was.

When Snape finally tried to step back, Harry didn't want to let go. His eyes closed tightly, trying to memorize the moment, hanging on for one more second, before releasing him.

"I shall come for you as soon as it's possible for me to do so." Snape reached out as if to touch his hair, and then pulled his hand back without making contact. He shook his head. "No. I must not."

"Why?" Harry looked at him. "I mean--"

"I know what you mean." Snape blew out a breath, his expression troubled. "There should be no contact between us."

"How can that be? I've seen teachers touch students. I mean, it's not..." Harry's face heated and he still couldn't say it. The thought didn't bother him as it once did, but he could not think about that yet. Although he acknowledged to himself, it no longer seemed completely impossible.

Snape folded his arms over his chest, and instead of it being intimidating, it seemed more a protective gesture. "It might not be sexual, but it's still inappropriate."

Harry started to reach out again, but a look at Snape's wary expression stopped him. "You've got some weird, over-developed sense of propriety, don't you?"

"This will only become more difficult over time. If I were to give in to it now, I have no hope of surviving with my integrity intact."

"That's important to you, isn't it?" Harry didn't have to ask. If he'd discovered nothing else about Snape, he knew the man had a great deal of personal integrity. Given how he'd been forced to live his life, Harry suspected that at times it was all he had.

"Very much so."

"All right." Harry stepped back, away from him, already missing the comfort of Snape's embrace. He wondered how he would get through the coming weeks. "For now."

"For now, is all you need do." Snape moved to the door. "I shall see you in a few weeks."

Harry went out the door and then turned for one more look. Snape nodded and closed the door.

Part III

With the rest of the students, Harry took the train to King's Cross Station and had been met by several members of the Order, who once again gave specific instructions to the Dursleys about his treatment. They had looked perfectly horrified, but had nodded. No doubt telling themselves that this would be the last time they were required to put up with the mortification.

The first week hadn't been that bad. The Dursleys' new policy was to ignore him completely, which suited Harry just fine. He roamed the streets during the day, exchanged notes by owl mail with Hermione and Ron, and of course, Snape. Writing to him helped, even if he didn't say much. It simply wasn't possible to put what he was feeling into words.

The second week was harder. He missed Snape much more than he'd expected. He stayed close to the house and found it harder to write to him. He did mange a few notes to Ron, but he couldn't tell him the problem.

By the third week, he couldn't bring himself to leave the house. Most of his time was spent upstairs in his room, waiting for the next meal. Nothing had been required of him, and he had no trouble complying.

His contact with the Dursleys was almost nonexistent. Dudley had left to visit a friend and would be gone for a few weeks. Vernon worked and Petunia had nothing to say to him. He had nothing to say to any of them. At some point even going down to meals became too much of an effort.

When he'd missed three meals in a row, Petunia brought up a tray and stood over him until he ate most of it. There was a bit of weird irony in the whole episode considering how many meals he'd been deprived of when growing up. She was afraid of what the Order might do if they thought she was starving him. The ache in his chest was so bad he couldn't muster much sympathy one way or another.

By the middle of the fourth week, Harry spent most of the day sitting with his legs drawn up on his bed. He'd stopped writing to everyone several days previously. The need to see Snape was no longer an ache, but a full-fledged pain that stayed with him even when he was asleep. It could kill him, he knew that, but he didn't know what to do about it, couldn't find the energy to do something even if he could think of it. He was paralyzed by the need and his own fear.

The door opened without a knock. He looked up as Petunia came in. "There's someone from that school here to see you." Her tone said she was totally horrified that anyone from Hogwarts would dare darken her door.

His pulse picked up a beat, a sliver of hope edged into his heart. Saying nothing, he simply nodded to her. She took a hard look at him, and then stepped aside, leaving the door open.

There was a sound of steps, and Snape stood in the doorway.

Harry could feel his eyes widen, almost as if he could get more of the sight of him in. God, he looked so good, standing there, dressed in Muggle clothes that fit very well. Dark grey trousers showed off his slim hips and long legs, a white shirt that stretched across his chest, and shiny black leather shoes. His hair was still lank and hung around his face, but to Harry he looked beautiful.

Every instinct Harry owned urged him to move across the room, to touch what had been lost to him. He hesitated, looking at Snape, waiting for some sign that what he'd been feeling was reciprocal.

Coming farther into room, and closing the door, Snape met his gaze. The battle was plain to see, and even as he watched, he saw Snape close his eyes and give in. Harry was across the room, in Snape's arms before he'd finished raising them.

"Mr. Potter," Snape said into his hair and it sounded like a sigh of relief.

"We're not at school. Can't you call me Harry?" The pain in his heart started to ease, and the relief made his knees weak.

"No." Snape's arms tightened, clutching him against his chest. "No. It would not be right. Don't ask that of me, not yet."

"You know what's coming though, don't you?" Harry knew it was pretty much inevitable now. It would be okay, he knew that too.

"Come what may, we shall meet it at that time. I would not hurry it along." Snape pulled back to look down into his face. "Nothing, nothing before you leave school."

"Another whole year." Harry pressed his face into Snape's shoulder again and felt the contentment wash over him.

"You're not ready for anything of that sort yet, anyway. Give yourself some time." The sound of Snape's voice soothed something inside him.

"What about you?" Harry nudged his leg closer to Snape. No mistaking what he was feeling against his thigh. "Can you wait?"

Snape said nothing, and stepped back.

"I'm sorry. Please don't move." Harry heard the panic in his voice and didn't care. It was too soon to let go. "Please. I'm just starting to feel better."

Enfolded again in Snape's embrace, Harry closed his eyes and let Snape's scent sluiced comfortingly over him.

"When I touch you, it eases the pain?" Snape's hands moved slowly down his back. "How bad were you? I started to feel your distress these past few days, but before that, I didn't feel anything."

"Touching you does help. I didn't think that was part of bond." Harry trembled, even as the memory of the pain made him feel weak. "It was pretty bad before you got here, today, but it's better now."

"Clearly this is some aspect of it that wasn't documented." Snape's hands stilled on his back, drawing him closer. "Silly boy. If you were in pain, you should have contacted me." "I wasn't sure I should. And then, I couldn't seem to do anything." God, he hated the needy sound in his voice, but the thought of Snape leaving without him was so much worse. "Are you going to take me back with you?"

"You should be here at least until after your birthday."

Disappointment washed over him. "I--"

"However, I've got the Headmaster's permission to take you to Snape Manor for a few days." Snape sounded pleased with himself, which was fine by Harry.

The relief was nearly overwhelming, and he pressed his face further into Snape's shoulder. His voice was muffled as he asked, "You have a manor house? Like the Malfoys."

"I don't imagine it's nearly so grand." Snape's nose touched his hair again and he heard an indrawn breath. "Nor in such good repair, I'm sure."

"You've never been to Malfoy Manor?" Why he found that so surprising, Harry wasn't sure. Perhaps he'd just assumed that the elder Malfoy and Snape had been close.

"Not in many years. Why?"

"I had this idea that you and he were..." Harry trailed off embarrassed by the assumption he had no evidence in making.

"He is completely loyal to Voldemort. What idea did you have?" Snape pulled back again to look at him, incredulously. "That he and I?"

"Well...." Harry blushed. He and Hermione and Ron had gossiped about that possibility after second year when they'd seen Snape with Malfoy Sr. at the Quidditch game.

"You impertinent child," Snape said. A great deal of affection permeated his tone and Harry could not mistake the words for anything other than what they were. "As far as I know, Lucius is completely straight, nearly to the point of being straight-laced."

"And you?" Harry wondered at his own audacity.

"I?" Snape seemed momentarily reluctant to answer, but then he shrugged and met Harry's eyes. "I have always taken my comfort where I could find it."

That seemed unaccountably sad to Harry. "Why?"

Snape actually smiled at him. "Because when you look as I do, and you don't always wish to be alone, you take what is offered."

"You don't--" Harry was cut off by Snape's finger touching his mouth.

"You are hardly in a position to judge that any longer," Snape said, his voice more gentle than Harry believed possible.

Laying his head back on Snape's shoulder, Harry nodded. "I guess not. When do we go?"

"As soon as you can pack."

"Can I use magic?" Harry asked hopefully.

"No." Both the look that Snape gave him and his tone were categorically negative.

Harry knew better than to even try to answer that. "Then give me twenty minutes."

"I, however, am not bound by the same rules." Snape took out his wand. "What do you wish to take with you?"

"I'm not coming back, am I?" Harry's heart lightened at the thought. To be finally quit of the Dursleys was a much-cherished dream. "Just my trunk, Hedwig's cage--"

"And your owl?"

"When I started to feel badly, I sent her off to the Burrow to wait for me there."

"Instead of sending her to me?" He gently pulled on a lock of Harry's hair. "Which might have done you some good, if you'd bothered to think at all."

Harry hid his face against Snape's shirt. "I honestly didn't think it would matter."

Snape sighed long-sufferingly. "What else?"

He moved out of Snape's arms to kneel by the bed. Pulling up the floorboard to look in his hiding place, he felt around.

There were a few items from his childhood that he wished to have. Tokens to remind him of his life here, should he ever become nostalgic for this place. Not that he thought it would happen, but just in case. He took out a few broken pieces of toys, things he had received broken, or that Dudley had broken for him and put them into a pile with his school books and supplies.

Snape raised an eyebrow at him, but said nothing as he compressed it all into a one inch by one inch cube and handed it to Harry.

"You know, since you are of age, should take your Apparation test."

"I know. I was hoping to do that when I visit Ron at the Burrow the end of the summer." Harry looked at him as he slipped the cube into his pocket. "Is that going to be okay with you?"

Snape was giving him the strangest look. "What?" Harry asked. "Is something wrong?"

"No. Not exactly. I'm just not sure I'm comfortable with you asking me permission like that."

"Why not?"

Snape stopped before he closed the door and turned back. "At some point, we'll need to establish a more equal relationship."

That was very reasonable. The idea of Snape always being in charge bothered him, but some part of him admitted, at least to himself, that it wouldn't be so bad to have someone care enough to tell him what to do. "That can't happen while I'm in school, can it?"

"No." Snape opened the door. "Let's go."

Harry started down the stairs. "If you're not going to call me Harry, I guess I can't call you Severus, yet, can I?"

He heard Snape miss a step and grunt. "No. That would not be appropriate at all."

"Too bad. I'd like to call you Severus."

"Impertinent brat."

"Yeah, that would be me."

At the bottom of the stairs, Vernon and Petunia waited. They watched in silence as Harry walked to the front door. He turned back to look at them, seeing them for the miserable people they were and all of his much-thought-about blistering parting remarks left him.

"Don't you have anything to say?" Vernon asked, his tone infused with impotent rage. There was nothing more that he could do and they both knew it.

"No. I don't think so." Harry felt nothing as he turned away. Nothing at all. He wondered if there was something wrong with him that he couldn't even feel compassion for them. Turning back, he summoned a small smile. "Bye."

He walked through the door into the sunshine.

Anti-climatic to be sure, but they had to keep living that life, and he didn't. All in all, that made up for a lot.

"Well done, Mr. Potter." Snape was smiling at him, he started to reach out again, and then looked around. "We should go."

"Do you have a car or something?"

"Or something." Snape motioned him to follow him between the Dursleys' house and the neighbor on the right. He pulled a little trophy out of his pocket. "Take one end."

"Yes, sir." He did as he was told and felt the familiar pull behind his navel.

Part IV

When Harry opened his eyes, he was standing in front of a large, shabby-looking house.

"Welcome to Snape Manor." Snape's expression was wry as he put his hand on the door and it snicked open. "I hate this place."

"Why do you keep it, then?" Harry started to move inside, but Snape had stopped.

"Because as much as I hate it, I don't want my cousins to have it. Although, I'm sure they would keep it up better." The bitterness was clear, especially as he knew Snape was letting him hear it.

"When was the last time you were here?" Harry asked, still standing poised on the threshold.

Silent for a minute, Snape shrugged. "It's been years. We should key you to the door." Snape took his hand and pressed it flat against the wood of the door. He muttered a few words and then let go. "It should open for you, now."

Closing the door, and resetting the wards, Snape stepped back and nodded. Taking his cue, Harry pressed his hand flat against the door, and it opened.

"Very good." Snape led him in.

The walls were covered in intricately-tooled wooden paneling, and the floor was marble, but all four corners of the entry room had cobwebs at the ceiling. A dusty pedestal table sat forlornly in the middle of the room, with an ancient bowl of mummified fruit in the center.

Harry eyed a curving staircase that circled the wall of half the room. Standing below it, he could see to the third level.

"No House Elves? Hermione will be pleased," Harry said, not bothering to hide his curiosity as he glanced around. When he thought of a manor house, he thought in terms of grand and pretentious, or at least clean. The dust was thick enough to choke him.

"Should she ever come here." Snape led him into an equally dirty sitting room. Two brocade arm chairs sat before a large stone hearth. A sofa of indeterminate color was positioned near the two chairs with a shorter table in front of it.

Harry had never seen a room so desperately in need of cleaning. He sneezed twice. Turning towards Snape, he gave him a baleful look. "She's my best friend. I'm assuming that since I'll be living here, she'll be visiting me. And before you ask, Ron, too. Probably all of the Weasleys." He looked around and decided he could not even sit down without ruining his clothes. He sneezed several times and looked at Snape with runny eyes. "May I?"

"May you what?" Snape looked at the room and realized what he meant. "No. You can't do magic here, either." After a moment's hesitation, Snape raised his wand, and said testily, "Oh, all right I'll do it."

"I can breathe again," Harry said as the dust disappeared. Sniffing a few more times for good measure, he smiled. "Thanks."

"About anyone visiting here, don't you think that's rather presumptuous of you, young man?" The tone was all wrong for the words, it should have been more harsh. The light in Snape's eyes also didn't help his cause. "What makes you think we'll live here?"

"We'll have to live somewhere, won't we?" As much as he loved it, he didn't want to spend his whole life living at Hogwarts.

"I expect you're right." Snape's favored him with a wry smile. "If you'd like we can live here when you leave school."

"We'll need to clean it up first," Harry said with a smile. When Snape's gaze met his, he felt a curious warmth invade his chest at the look of indulgence. "I'm not so far out of line, then am I, sir?"

"No." Snape shook his head and held out his hand toward the archway at the other side of the room. "Let me show you the rest of it before you invite anyone over."

"What good manners you have." Although he tried to put a touch of sarcasm in it, Harry did think he had excellent manners when he allowed them to show.

"I should remind you that you are the one with appalling manners, Mr. Potter, not I. Having seen where you come from that's not surprising. Perhaps it will fall to me to teach you some."

"Do you think you can?" Harry would not take any bets on it. Aside from everything else, he believed a person needed to be taught while quite young for it to be effective.

"I can try." Snape's tone said that he doubted it would do much good.

"I suppose you can." Harry smiled at him.

His lips twitching into that half-smile he had, Snape again nodded towards the door. "Come along, now."

As Snape entered the kitchen, he waved his wand and muttered an all-purpose cleaning spell. It helped. Somewhat. Unfortunately, some tasks had to be handled individually. At least Potter would not be sneezing with the dust gone.

"Are you expecting me to help you clean up some of this?" Potter's tone said he was reluctant, but expected it that would be required of him. "I mean, manually."

Glancing at Potter and seeing his expression, Snape put down his wand and focused on him. "Why would you want to?" he asked.

Potter's eyes narrowed as if the answer took him by surprise. "You don't expect me to help you?"

"If you mean to actually do the drudgery by hand -- which is what I assume you meant -- then no. Again, why would you think I would ask that of you?"

Silent for a moment, obviously thinking about it, Potter looked up at him. "I guess since I know how, I assumed you'd want me to help out."

"You were expected to do this kind of manual labor for your family?" Snape did not like the sound of that or what it might imply. "Tell me more about living with them."

Looking away, Potter was silent for a count or two. Reluctance came off him in waves. "We don't need to talk about this."

"I think we do." Snape folded his arms over his chest and glared down at Potter. Never sure how far to push thing when talking about the Muggles who raised him, some instinct said not to let this go easily. "You will tell me."

"If I won't?" Potter mimicked his stance right down to the hard-eyed stare. "You can't force me to talk about them. They are out of my life."

"Given the bond and its effects, all I need to do is ask you the right questions." Snape knew that he'd made a mistake as soon as the words left his mouth.

Potter's expression became mutinous, his eyes burned with outrage. "If you try, I'll do the same thing. I know there are subjects you don't want to discuss."

This round to Potter, Snape conceded, and tried a different tactic. "What they did will continue to affect you unless you talk about it." He had thought the Dursleys neglectful and uncaring, but not truly abusive. Now, it seemed that he had misjudged the situation.

"I don't need a shrink, okay?" Potter snapped, the response well out of proportion to the question. "Please just let it go."

Snape was becoming uncomfortable with tenor of the entire conversation. He wondered what he and the other teachers at the school had missed. "Unfortunately, I cannot. What is a shrink?"

"It's a Muggle term for a healer of the mind." Potter seemed to close in on himself in a way that made Snape more nervous than his anger had done.

"Ah. You would need such a creature because?" His anger with Potter's family grew. They had a great deal to answer for and Snape was uncertain how to make them pay for it, but he'd give the matter some serious thought.

"I don't need one, that's what I'm saying." Potter's expression was defensive.

Not all wizard children were cherished, he certainly hadn't been, but actual abuse was rare. He couldn't deal with Potter as he would a suspected abuse case in his house, he was too close to him. Without an incident or idea as to how to proceed, Snape fell back on the familiar. "We shall have to discuss this. I think--"

"No. Don't think." Potter turned away, his back straight and his shoulders stiff. He started for the door.

"Do not think to leave this room." Snape made it an order, not that Potter ever obeyed him, but he hoped it would convey his seriousness. "You will tell me what happened with those people."

"They made me cook and clean for my keep. They made me wear Dudley's hand-me-down clothes. They would give a list of chores to do. Sometimes they would all go off and expect them done when they got home. Sometimes it would be after I got home from school, before dinner."

Something in the way Potter said list of chores struck a cord in Snape. "What kind of chores, exactly?"

Potter gave him an exasperated look. "The usual types of things. Tending the garden, mowing the lawn, pulling weeds. Indoor stuff, like cooking, dishes, vacuuming, washing the floors, cleaning the bathrooms and the kitchen."

"All at one time?" Snape asked carefully and was appalled when Potter nodded. "How much time did you have to complete the tasks?"

Looking uncomfortable again, Potter glared at him. "Usually I had a couple of hours."

Snape hid his fury. "How often were you expected to get this list of chores done?"

"Whenever they wanted stuff done." The way he said it indicated it was not on Saturday, but during the week. "It wasn't that bad."

"What would happen if you didn't get your chores quickly enough?"

"Do we have to talk about this now?" Potter looked around. "Shouldn't we be cleaning up here instead of talking about my life with the Durselys?"

It wasn't even a good attempt at distraction, Snape thought and then focused back on Potter. "I want you to answer the question."

"What if I don't want to?" Potter sounded desperate not to talk about it.

"I should think that is an answer in and of itself, isn't it." Snape tried to keep his voice as even as possible. "They didn't feed you, did they?"

With his face red with obvious embarrassment, Potter nodded. "No. They didn't."

"You thought this was acceptable behavior from those who should be taking care of you?" Snape asked, not letting his anger show, but he was already thinking of ways he'd like to deal with those Muggles.

Shaking his head, Potter's expression was bitter, with a world of hurt underneath it. "No. I didn't like it. But I had no rights. They knew it and they made sure that I knew it, too. They never touched me, not in any way."

It hurt him to believe that Potter thought his own happiness counted for so little, but then, there had been no one to tell him otherwise. No one to rescue him from a hideous situation. In fact, there had been any number of people, himself included, who had actively encouraged that thinking.

If he allowed himself the luxury of guilt about it now, he would go mad. Pushing it away for the present, Snape glanced back at Potter. "You're wrong. They were expected to keep you safe and treat you decently."

"We've already established they weren't any more thrilled to have me than I was to be there." Harry laughed humorlessly.

"There is a big step between 'not thrilled' and abuse." Snape wanted to do something unforgivable to the Muggles. The thought of that fat man under his wand gave him a small thrill. He took a breath and exhaled it slowly. That wasn't where he needed to concentrate his energies now. The time would come, perhaps.

"What makes you think you can tell the difference? I was there, and you weren't." Potter's tone was scathing, as if he could not imagine how Snape might know such a thing.

Focusing back on Potter, Snape made an effort to speak calmly and rationally. Allowing his anger to overwhelm him would do neither of them any good. "I'm head of House for Slytherin. Do you think you are the only child ever to be treated poorly by a parent or relative? I know the signs."

"Well, you're wrong here." Potter bowed his head. "Mostly they ignored me. I never got anything from them. Honestly. It wasn't abuse, just neglect."

Putting a hand on Potter's chin, he raised his head. "You do realize that it is typical for an abused child to blame himself for what happened. Besides which, is not neglect another form of abuse?"

"No. It's not the same." Potter jerked his head out of Snape's grasp. "I don't blame myself for what they did to me, I blame them."

"As glad as I am to hear you say that, I wonder how true it is." Potter might not be able to lie to him, but he could lie to himself. However, that he could say it at all was a positive sign.

"Can we just drop it?" Potter finally raised his head, his eyes pleading. "I'm out of their house. I don't ever have to see them again."

Knowing he shouldn't, Snape put a hand on Potter's face again, carding his fingers through the messy hair in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. "All right. I think you would benefit from speaking to someone else about this. If only to alleviate my fears."

For a moment, Potter closed his eyes and leaned into his touch. Snape's heart caught at his look of joy at being touched.

When Potter opened his eyes, he gave Snape a hard look, but couldn't seem to hold it. "All right, because you ask." Then he grinned. "You'll owe me one, won't you?"

Snape knew when he was cornered, and some part of him wanted to strike out, but even as he formed the thought, it dissipated and he gave in. "Fine, brat."

Potter leaned into his hand, smiling even more broadly.

Shaking his head, he denied to himself how good that smile made him feel. "Good enough." He extracted his hand as gently as he could. As soon as he got Potter back to school, he'd speak to McGonagall or Pomfrey.

"Can I help with the clean-up?" Harry asked, normally. As if the previous conversation had not happened.

"No. You can't do magic and I won't allow you to clean the Muggle way." Snape swished his wand in the air again and the floors and counter tops were spotless. "It won't take long for me to do this."

"The whole house is going to take a while." Potter made a point of looking around at the still dirty areas of the kitchen.

"I think we shall only do those tasks that need to be done to make the house habitable for the next few weeks."

"A place for me to sleep would be good?" Potter smiled at him. "Preferably with a large, comfortable bed."

"Are you tired?" Snape asked, looking at him and seeing the answer before Potter said anything. There were dark circles under Potter's eyes and a general air of fatigue a boy his age should not have.

"I haven't been sleeping well the last two weeks, so yeah, I am." His sentence was finished with a large yawn. "Dinner would be nice, too."

"We'll need to go into town for that." He should have planned this better, Snape decided. However, when he'd felt Potter's distress, all he'd thought about was getting to him, not about what he'd do with him once he did.

"No takeaway?" Potter's eyes sparkled with mischief and he looked smug as he asked, "Do you know what takeaway is?"

"I do." Snape smirked at him. "I'm not completely ignorant of the Muggle world."

"You'd be surprised at how many wizards are. Ignorant, I mean," Potter said leaning against the door frame and watching him clean.

"No. I am never surprised by the stupidity of my fellow wizards." Snape flicked his wand one final time and the kitchen was clean. "Let's do the bedrooms and then we can go into town for dinner."

"Good idea. We'll need supplies, too," Potter said as he opened a now clean, but completely bare cupboard. "I'm thinking biscuits, Swiss rolls and chocolate frogs all sound good to me."

Groaning softly as his stomach turned over at the thought of that much sugar and its effects on a teenaged boy, Snape put his foot down. "I think something a bit more nutritious might be more in order."

Potter made a face and followed him into the hall and up the stairs.

"You may sleep in here. My room will be down the hall in the master suite." They stood in the doorway of a room dominated by a large canopied bed. The drapes were dark blue velvet with a matching counterpane and pillows. Snape flicked his wand several times and the room was clean.

Taking the shrunken cube out of his pocket, Potter put it on the floor, looking at Snape expectantly. "How long are we going to stay here?"

"Long enough for you to get your summer homework done." He resized Potter's possessions. "About two weeks. I'll take you to the Weasleys' afterward."

"Thanks. I'm looking forward to seeing them." Potter looked around the room and smiled. "What are we going to do while we're here?"

"Do?" Snape hadn't actually thought that far ahead. "There is a library. I'm going to set up my lab. What do you want to do?"

"Aside from magic?" Potter asked, following him back into the hall. "I don't know. I guess I could look around."

The master bedroom was exactly as Snape remembered it when his grandfather lived there. Dark wooden furniture and gloomy drapes and hangings. If they did return, Snape promised himself that he'd redecorate. For now, he swiped his wand in the air a couple of times and the room was passably clean.

"I know that it will be difficult for you to do, but I do want you to try to stay out of trouble while you're here," Snape said, turning his gaze back to Potter.

"I'm sure I can do that." Potter's expression did not instill confidence in Snape at all.

"See that you do. I don't want to be bothered rescuing you from some desperate situation you've managed to get yourself into." Snape looked at Potter assessing the situation. Seventeen and bored was by no means a good combination. "Perhaps you can help me in the lab."

"You'd let me?" Potter looked shocked by the request, but surprisingly eager as well.

Raising an eyebrow, Snape waited a beat. "Yes. I'd allow it. If you paid attention and did what you were told."

"I think I can mange that." Shaking his head, Potter went out the door and then looked back at him. "Dinner?"

For some reason Snape did not want to examine too closely, he could not hold back a smile. "Yes."

Severus is dreaming. He tells himself it is not real, but that does not make it any less horrible.

He is standing with a group of Death-Eaters, watching a mudblood house burn. The dark mark rises above the structure.

Three small children race out of the flames, clutching their blankets. It's cold and dark. They see the line of Death-Eaters and slow their approach. They sense the danger and cling to each other.

As he watches, someone behind him calls out, "Crucio" and the largest of the children falls screaming to the ground. She is no more than ten. The other two children try to help her, but they too are caught with curses.

He hates mudbloods. He tells himself they deserve to die, but the screams pierce the night, the children writhe on the ground, slowly dying in agony. He wants to look away, to pretend it isn't happening, pretend he isn't a part of it. He hates himself so much more than he hates the mudbloods.

One of the children finally falls silent. The other two soon follow. Another scream rips the air: the mother has been released from 'Petrificus Totalus'. Severus watches the fight go out of her as she sees her children are dead.

She is thrown to the ground and Cruciatus is cast again. Laughter rings out. She screams and screams and screams. And then she dies. Her sightless eyes are staring up at him, accusing him.

The dream changes then. Different than before. Her face morphs into another. Into Harry Potter's face. He hears Potter scream and he watches Potter die.

Severus starts to scream.

Snape's own shouts woke him from the horror of his memory. He sat up in bed with a start, breathing hard and hating himself. Merlin, he couldn't stop shaking. Putting his head in his hands, he allowed himself to weep. No matter how much time had passed, no matter what he had done to atone, those memories did not ever let him forget his crimes.

He hated himself for what he'd done, for what he'd allowed himself to do in his stupidity and hatred, and he knew he was damned.

A moment later, there were arms around him, and even though he knew he didn't deserve the comfort, he leaned into it, savoring it without thinking. He cried, breathing in and out wetly, getting his bearings back.

No doubt, Potter would want an explanation. Snape realized he'd better think of something to say and he pulled out of Potter's arms.

"Are you okay?" Potter brushed his damp hair away from his face and looked at him. "Okay. Stupid question. What happened? What upset you like that?"

Closing his eyes, Snape sucked in a breath and let it out. He wiped his face on the edge of the sheet. "I had a nightmare."

"That must have been some nightmare to have set you off like that." Potter shuddered. "Want to talk about it."

"Not with you." Snape watched Potter's face fall, and sighed again. "It's very personal. How did you get in here?"

"The door wasn't locked. Actually, it wasn't even closed all the way." Potter sat up a bit. "I heard you scream my name. Want to tell me why?"

"No." Snape looked away. He remembered the dream had changed and how. "It was... something to do with my past."

"Death Eaters?" Potter asked, his tone far too knowing for Snape's peace of mind. "Something that really happened?"

"Why do you ask that?"

"What else would make you hysterical like that?" Potter's face was flushed, and he looked embarrassed.

More than the incident warranted as far as Snape could see, more than he himself felt. "My tears have upset you?"

Potter looked away quickly, but not before Snape could see the color on his face. He put a hand on Potter's chin and moved his face back to meet his eyes. "Why are you embarrassed?"

"Men aren't supposed to cry. Not about a nightmare," Potter said, his face going redder. "I'm sorry."

Muggle societal crap. It must be. Snape tried to tamp down his anger and told himself that Potter didn't know any better. "I see. So even if the nightmare is one of the worst memories of my life, and something I regret more than I can possibly say, I shouldn't cry over it, shouldn't feel regret? I should just... what is the expression, suck it up?"

"Well no, but..." Potter looked away again. "I thought your worst memory was..."

Yes, he knew just what Potter was thinking about, even without his saying it out loud. "That is definitely one of them. This however, is worse."

"Oh." Potter seemed fascinated with the brocade of the coverlet on the bed, tracing it with his finger.

Snape watched him, trying to gauge his mood. Potter could be so prickly about some things. "You never cry?"

"Actually, I don't." Potter was telling the truth, indeed, he sounded proud of it. "I gave it up. It doesn't help with anything."

Snape shook his head. "I've always found it helpful in releasing pent up emotions. The things you can't live with."

"Do you...uh... cry a lot?" His horror at the thought came through without the bond telling him. For some reason, it amused Snape almost as much as it annoyed him.

"What I do in my own bed, with no one to hear, shouldn't matter to you in the slightest." Snape hadn't meant to sound so harsh.

"I heard it. I will hear it in the future." Clearly, that did not sit well with Potter.

Too bad, Snape thought. He knew he was too emotional. Controlling his emotions had always been a problem for him, especially his anger. He yelled and screamed and cried when he felt the need. He even laughed on occasion. "Wizards, and witches for that matter, are discouraged from expressing harsh emotions in public, but in the privacy of their own home..."

"I'm sorry." He shivered. "I'll try not to be judgmental. I knew how bad you were feeling."

"I have nightmares on occasion. It has been some time since the last one." Snape straightened his shoulders. He was not going to apologize. "I would suggest that if my emotional displays bother you, you simply ignore them in the future."

Potter looked upset at that. "I don't think I could do that. You were screaming."

"I shall put silencing wards up on my rooms." Which he should have done already.

"Don't." Potter put a hand on his arm and squeezed. "I'd rather hear. Doesn't it help to have someone wake you?"

"Nothing helps." Snape remembered the comfort of holding onto someone. "Perhaps. And perhaps I don't --" he stopped before he could let those words out.

Unfortunately, Potter wasn't stupid. "You deserve comfort as much as anyone else."

"You can't say that. You don't know my crimes, Mr. Potter." Snape had no intention of telling him either. Not ever.

"It doesn't matter. I can guess." Potter tightened his grip on his arm. "I think the bond is going to make keeping secrets very difficult. All I have to do is ask you, right?"

Snape could hear that he wasn't going to ask in his tone. "You could."

"But I won't. Yet. I'll wait for you to tell me." Potter's expression was hopeful.

"Perhaps I shall tell you one day." Snape looked at Potter, who was sitting in the ruin of his bed, wearing only his y-fronts. "I think it's time for you to go back to your room."

Looking down and then seeming to realize what he was wearing, or not wearing, Potter blushed again. "Yeah." He backed off the bed. "I'll see you in the morning.

As he left, Snape let out a huge sigh. He'd have to try and control himself better from now on. Unfortunately, he already knew how effective that would be.

"What are we going to do about things?" Harry asked, sitting down across from Snape in the sitting room on the first floor. They had been at Snape Manor for nearly two weeks and he was to leave for the Burrow in two days.

"Ever so precise, aren't you, Mr. Potter?" Snape put down his book. "What are we going to do about what things?"

"School, my friends, Voldemort?" There were so many things in his life that were in flux, Harry couldn't quite process all of it. He felt as if it were all out of his control and it was, which made it all the more complicated.

"Ah." Picking up his glass from the table in front of the sofa, Snape took a long sip. "School should be much the same as it was last term. Perhaps even closer to what it should be now that I can speak to you without giving you house points or worse."

"Except, well...." Harry looked down, not sure exactly how to put it. "I can feel... I mean, you know..."

Snape looked at him intently. "Feel what, exactly?"

Harry couldn't look at him to say it. It was embarrassing to know something so intimate about Snape. He cleared his throat. "Um... I know what you feel for me. Since last week, it's more so."

"Does it bother you?" Snape's expression was bland, but Harry could tell he wasn't quite as comfortable as he wanted to seem. "Dealing with an over-emotional teacher is rather daunting, even for you, isn't it?"

"You're a lot more to me than just a teacher, and you know that." Harry met his eyes. "Don't try and make this less. I know I reacted badly. I wanted to say--"

"You did not react badly--"

"I didn't know what to do. I've never seen anyone cry like that before. Not someone--"

"In authority?"

"No. Not at all. Ever." Harry sighed. "The only time I've ever come close to crying, was after the tri-wizard tournament, but even then I didn't."

"Why not?" Snape looked at him, curious. "What stopped you?"

"The moment passed before I could react to it." Harry shrugged. He didn't want to talk about it. "You're not uncomfortable about what happened."

"You can tell that?" Snape's expression was somewhere between surprised and horrified. "Can you describe what you're feeling?

Taking a deep breath, Harry tried to put it into words. "It's not like I can feel your emotions, I..." He paused and thought about if for another moment. "I know what you feel. It seems to come from you rather than from me."

"Surprisingly, I do understand what you mean, despite your making a hash of the explanation." Silent for a moment, Snape seemed to come to a decision. "Tell me what you know."

"I know that you're not embarrassed that I saw you cry. I also know what you feel for me is not the same as what I feel for you." He looked at his own hands while he said it. Whether he actually believed that Snape felt that for him was another story. Wrapping his mind around the concept of Snape caring that much was hard for him. It was too easy to remember years of cruelty.

Again, Snape seemed to take this in and digest it. "No. I'm not embarrassed. And yes, I do know that what I feel is different from what you feel. It's to be expected."

"Why?" Harry thought they should be feeling the same thing. "We started at the same point."

"I'm older than you are, and I'm more inclined to accept what has happened between us. Does that bother you?" Snape's tone was honest, not at all condescending.

"Only in that I'm worried that I won't get there and you'll be hurt." It was true. He cared about Snape, would go a long way not to see him hurt.

Snape nodded. He didn't seem at all discomfited by it. "I'm not worried about that. Give yourself some time to grow up, to adjust to everything that's happened."

"I'm seventeen. Given everything I've been through, I think I'm grown up at this point." Harry felt a spark of anger ignite at Snape's words. God, he was so tired of being told how young he was.

"You were seventeen as of a week ago." Snape ran his fingers through his own hair, even away from his daily potions classes, it was oily, though not as bad as when he was teaching. "Try to pay attention, I know it's hard, but do try." He put a hand under Harry's jaw and moved his face to meet his eyes. "I would not hurt you. Not deliberately. Not any more."

"I do know that." He would know if there had been true malice. "I have noticed you've started insulting me again."

"Should I say that I'm sorry?" Snape didn't look very repentant at all, but he also didn't look antagonistic. "I would advise you to get used to it. I am not a nice man. Being nice to you was... challenging."

"It was out of character to say the least." Harry chuckled. He could live with a grumpy Snape, especially if he could see the humor and affection in what Snape said. It was pretty obvious, once he knew what he was looking for. "About school?"

"You'll return with your friends. We'll argue in class as we have in the past. I'll give you a great many detentions." Snape sounded like he liked that idea. Knowing him, he probably did. Killing two birds, as it were.

Harry, however, was not convinced that was the best way to handle things. "I want to say someone will notice that, but I don't think they will. We've never got along before. I guess it would be more out of character if we did now."

Snape nodded. "I would think so."

"What about Hermione and Ron?" Harry wondered what he could or would say to them about this. He'd exchanged notes with them both, but had been very careful in what he actually said.

"Speak to them when you see them. Things may have changed." The way Snape said it made Harry pause.

Ron and Hermione had not been that forthcoming with information in their notes either. It simply wasn't smart to say too much. "What things? Do you know something that I don't?"

Snape shrugged and clearly wasn't going to say anything more on the subject. "Are your worries about school eased?"

"And if they aren't?" Harry had a feeling he was missing something important and he couldn't figure out what it was.

"I would do what I could to reassure you." Snape sounded so sincere that some part of Harry warmed sweetly to it.

Harry put his hand on Snape's and squeezed. "You mean that. Thank you." Daring greatly, he turned his palm up, intertwining their fingers

"You're welcome. I hope in a few months that we will begin to share our magical power." Snape made that sound like a good thing and perhaps it was.

Harry wasn't sure he was ready for more complications yet. Too many things were happening at one time. "Yeah. What's happening with Voldemort?"

"Not much that I know of. I've only been summoned once this summer. I don't know if I'm out of favor or if he is planning something." Snape gently extracted his hand. "Are you almost packed?"

"Well... " Harry thought about the mess he'd made of the room Snape had given him.

"I'll take that as a no." He didn't sound overly annoyed by the idea. "However, I'm going to be taking you to the Weasleys' tomorrow rather than the following day."

"Why?" Harry was disappointed to be going early, even if he was looking forward to spending time with Ron.

"I have been asked to do something for the Headmaster." The complete lack of inflection in Snape's tone and the blank expression told Harry pretty clearly that Snape did not want to talk about it.

He shouldn't even bother to ask, he knew that, but he did anyway. "Will you tell me what is you're going to be doing?"

"No." The tone said he would not back down on it.

"Should I worry?" Harry pushed away a pang of something he couldn't quite identify.

Shape looked at him and shook his head. "Just let it go."

"All right." Harry stood and headed for the door. "I'd better go pack, then."

"Mr. Potter," Snape said. The slightest bit of uncertainty in his voice. "Do not be angry with me about things I cannot share with you. There are reasons."

Harry looked back at him. "I'm not. I..." He sighed. "I'm just not ready to leave yet."

Snape nodded once. "I know."

Part V

"Harry!" Ron said as he opened the door, smiling widely. He punched Harry playfully in the shoulder, and Harry nearly stumbled. Ron seemed to get bigger every time Harry saw him.

"We weren't expecting you until tomorrow." Ron opened the door wider to allow him through with his stuff.

"Snape had to go back to school, so he dropped me off early. Said to tell your mum he couldn't stay." Harry dragged his trunk and Hedwig's cage into the room. Snape hadn't miniaturized it for him this time. "Are you here by yourself? Where is everyone?"

"Mom and Ginny are shopping. They won't be back for a while. Dad's at work, and everyone else doesn't live here anymore." Ron grabbed the end of the trunk and helped him drag it up the narrow staircase to the fifth landing.

Once in Ron's room, which was still decorated with orange Chudley Cannons posters, they deposited the trunk beside the cupboard. Lying across the bed, Harry breathed out a sigh of relief. "That was a climb, huh?"

"You get used to it after a while," Ron said, sitting down next to him. "Not like I've got much choice."

Harry nodded. "When do we go to Headquarters?"

"We don't. We're stuck here for the next two weeks." Ron frowned. "What were you doing with Snape?"

"What?" Harry couldn't believe he wasn't going to be able to do anything with the Order at all over the summer. He should have talked to Snape about it, but they always seemed to have other things to talk about. "Why?"

"Dumbledore wants us here. I think something is starting to happen and they don't want to let us know yet," Ron said. "So about Snape?"

Clearly, Ron didn't want to talk about the Order, even if Harry did. "I spent the last two weeks with him. At Snape Manor."

"Snape Manor? I didn't know there was a Snape Manor." Ron's eyes got wide, and he looked aghast. "Alone? All that time?"

"Yeah." Harry wasn't sure he liked Ron's look at all. He simply couldn't be implying what he seemed to be implying.

"Did he try anything?" Ron cleared his throat, turning red. "Funny, I mean?"

Harry felt a moment's outrage on Snape's behalf, but couldn't hold it with the concern he saw in Ron's face. "Oh, God no. He wouldn't. God, he won't even call me by my given name."

Ron raised an eyebrow at that, surprised. "He won't? Even when no one else is around?"

"Especially then. Won't let me call him Severus, either." That was starting to drive Harry mad. Calling him sir or professor was surprisingly difficult when there wasn't that comfortable distance between them any more.

Ron nodded, and looked approving. "Well, I hope not. Wouldn't be right, would it?"

"Why not? I mean..." Harry lost his battle to not blush. He glanced at Ron, seeing the blush on his cheeks, too.

With a shudder, Ron's eyes showed a realization that hadn't been there before. "It's gonna happen, isn't it? You and him?"

"I reckon so." Harry still couldn't look at him. "I don't think there's much either of us can do about that at this point."

"You're not, now," Ron stammered. He took a deep breath. "I mean, are you?"

"No. Not yet. But the idea doesn't make me want to vomit anymore, either." To himself he could admit that it had been a very long time since he'd felt anything other than anticipation for what was coming. Even if he didn't quite know what it would be, he knew he wanted it

With a very over-done shudder, Ron glanced at him, his expression serious. "There's a long way from not wanting to be sick, to actually kissing the greasy git."

"Don't I know it. I'm a lot closer to the kissing, than I am to the vomiting." Deliberately, he allowed some of his anticipation into his tone. Ron needed to know he didn't have a problem with it.

Ron looked closely at him, and then grimaced. "I didn't need to hear that."

"Sorry." Harry smiled. Good to be able to surprise him once in a while.

"Have you ever?" Ron looked closely at him again. "I mean, with anyone?"

Trying not to be embarrassed, Harry shook his head. "No." He was old enough to have had more experience than he did. There just hadn't been time. "What about you?"

"Not that. But some other stuff." Ron's expression was thoughtful. "Have you done anything else?"

Shaking his head, he couldn't look at Ron. It was stupid to be embarrassed about his inexperience, but he was. "Not much."

"How can you be sure it's going to be him, then? How do you know it's even wizards that you want?"

"Since it's going to be Snape..." He trailed off, he hadn't actually considered the wizard part before. The idea in general didn't bother him.

"Do you fancy witches? I mean, at all? Are you going to miss..." Ron looked away, his face turning red again.

He thought about Cho. She was so pretty, but he didn't feel like he was going to miss anything by not kissing her again. Of course, kissing her the first time hadn't been so great. Harry shook his head. "I don't think so."

Ron shrugged. "How about... you know?"

There were some things that he knew even without thinking about them. "It's different with Snape."

"You've got nothing to judge by," Ron said, sounding concerned. "How can you know it's different?"

"Even without anything else to it judge by, I know it." There would be no explaining to anyone the feeling of Snape invading his very soul. While it was strange, it wasn't unpleasant or something he was afraid of. "I do wish I knew a bit more... about that sort of thing." Harry said wistfully.

"Do you want to try something?" There was a light in Ron's eyes that he had learned to recognize as Ron's adventurous streak. "With me?"

Rolling onto his side, Harry propped his head on his hand. "What do you mean?"

"How about I give you a bit of a snog..." Ron's expression was both eager and embarrassed. He blushed harder, rivaling his hair for color. "Just between friends and all."

"For comparison sake." However much it surprised him, Harry liked that idea. He looked at Ron, seeing him in a slightly different light than before. "Okay."

"Really?" Ron seemed surprised he agreed, but at least he didn't look any less eager. Indeed, he was looking at Harry as if he were a chocolate treat.

Harry wasn't quite sure he believed it, but he was willing to give it a go. "Okay, then. Come here." Harry laid back down flat on his back.

Ron lay down on the bed beside him and rolled over on top of him. It took a second to arrange their limbs comfortably, but the weight and the heat of Ron's body felt good.

Putting his arms tentatively around Ron's shoulders, Harry looked up into his eyes. "Now what?" Harry asked.

One of Ron's big hands, slid down his face to his jaw, and held him gently. The other hand plucked his glasses off his face, and set them somewhere out of reach.

Lowering his face, Ron's mouth brushed his. A sweet spark raced through Harry and he shivered pleasantly. It felt good, nice. Safe.

After another brush of his lips, Ron pulled back just a bit. "Okay?"

"Oh, yeah. Do it again." He closed his eyes, and tilted his head forward, allowing Ron to kiss him again. Longer this time. The intensity surprised him and he let go a shuddering breath. He liked the feel of Ron's soft mouth and the taste of tea, and the sweet pressure.

Opening his mouth, he let Ron's tongue slide in. That was nice, too. Ron's lips moved on his, deepening the kiss. Harry went with it, enjoying the physical sensations, but something was missing. He wasn't sure exactly what it was, but something indefinable didn't feel quite right.

Ron pulled back, a hand stroking down Harry's hair. "Well?"

"That was nice, mate." Harry said truthfully. "I liked it. Why'd you want do it?

"I've wanted to kiss a bloke ever since Seamus tried to kiss me two years ago, and I clocked him." Ron rolled off him and settled beside him.

Harry missed the feel of someone so close, even if the body wasn't quite the right one. "Why'd you clock him if you were curious?"

"Blimey, Harry. He scared the life out of me." Ron made a face. "Snuck up on me in the showers. I was not ready for that."

Shuddering, Harry could not imagine what he might have done, but clocking the prat would have been the least of it. "Yeah. Seamus has more enthusiasm than brains sometimes."

"Anyway, I wasn't adverse to the idea--"

"With Seamus?" Harry couldn't quite picture that, not the two of them together. Their temperaments were all wrong for that sort of thing.

"Well, not with him, no." Ron's blush deepened as he went on and he shrugged. "However, the idea in general held a bit of appeal."

"Are you thinking you're gay?" Nothing Harry had ever seen pointed in that direction, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. He'd not been paying much attention to anything recently.

Quiet for a moment, Ron seemed to be seriously considering the question. "No. I don't think so. Kissing you right now, was..." A blush stole across his face. "Nice, you know. But I've never felt a huge pull towards blokes. Just a bit of curiosity."

"I hope you're not going to use kissing me as a test." Harry didn't want to be the decision point in anyone's life, not even his own.

"No." Ron laughed. "I'm hoping to use kissing Hermione as the test, since she's the one I've always wanted to kiss."

"Why'd you kiss me, then? I mean, if you wanted to kiss her?" Harry asked. He didn't want to sound like he minded because he hadn't, but he couldn't wrap his mind around Ron's thinking.

"You're not a bad looking bloke, mate." Ron smiled. "Besides, I've wanted to kiss you, too. I still want to kiss her."

Ignoring the first part because it was such a lie, Harry asked, "So it was just what you said, then? Just curiosity?"

"Yeah. You're my best mate. And well..." Ron looked away.

He didn't have to say it, Harry knew. "Me too. But not like that. I don't think I like anyone like that."

"No one?" Why did he sound so surprised? Ron cleared his throat. "Not even... um... Snape?"

He shook his head. "Not yet."

"You think you will, then." Ron didn't sound like he was asking a question, more like he was reiterating what he knew. He also didn't seem very upset by the idea, which relieved Harry as much as it surprised him.

"Yes. Eventually." Harry did not want to talk about Snape anymore. "What about Hermione?"

"I never thought, you know, that she would be interested in me. I mean, she's smarter than me." Ron breathed out a long sigh. "We've been owling over the break."

"I've always had the idea that she might be." Part of Harry hoped that she was, that she liked Ron as much as he clearly liked her. Another part of him wondered where he would fit into that mix. That was petty, he decided. Snape was going to take a lot of his time from now on, maybe it was only natural that Ron and Hermione turn to each other.

"Yeah." Ron sighed again. "She'll be here on Friday."

"Then you'll have time to convince her. Let her know how you feel. I'm thinking it's going to work out just fine." He thought that Hermione and Ron were going to have less problems than he was going have with Snape.

"You're not going to be upset?" Ron looked away. "I mean, if she and I..."

Shaking his head, he was still glad that Ron had asked. "No. I think I'm going to be spending most of this coming year revising for my NEWTs or in detention with Snape."

"Dealing with 'You Know Who'," Ron added with a visible shudder.

Harry suppressed his own fear. "Yeah. That, too.

A door opened and closed downstairs. The sound of two female voices drifted up to them. "Mom and Ginny must be home."

They both sat up and looked at each other. "Okay?" Ron asked, handing Harry back his glasses.

"Yeah. And thanks, mate."

Ron smiled. "My pleasure."


Harry had been so tired the night before, he'd gone to bed early. As a result, he woke the next morning earlier than anyone else. For a while he lay in bed, but after he heard sounds downstairs, he decided it was time to get up. He went into the kitchen and found Mrs. Weasley talking to someone in the fireplace.

"All right, then. We'll speak more later," Molly said as the fire went out.

He glanced at her, but didn't ask.

She looked uncomfortable for a moment and then seemed to gather herself. "That was Professor Dumbledore," she said and cleared her throat. "He told me about the bond."

"Did he? Why?" He thought it was supposed to be a secret. Hadn't Dumbledore once told him that the more something was supposed to be a secret, the more people knew about it or something like that.

"Because Professor Snape feels it necessary to visit you here this week. Harry, I want you to answer me honestly." She looked right at him. "Has he done anything inappropriate to you, anything to make you feel uncomfortable?"

The little hairs on the back of Harry's neck stood up and he had to fight down his irritation. "No! Of course not. How could you think such a thing?"

"Don't get upset with me, young man. I'm trying to look out for your best interests. I would not like to see you hurt by him." She gave him that mother knows best look he'd come to associate with her when she was meddling.

Reigning in his anger took work, but Harry managed it. He knew she meant well. "I appreciate that. What is between Professor Snape and myself is between us. I don't want to discuss it."

Her expression said she wasn't going to take no for an answer. "You've been forced into a situation where--"

Cutting her off before she could even get those words out was the only way to keep his temper. "No! I mean, yes we were forced, but I wasn't the only one. He was forced, too." Harry took another breath, wishing for once people would at least try to understand.

"So Professor Dumbledore told me. I just don't see--"

"What? That he didn't like me any better than I liked him?" Unable to help himself, Harry glared at her. "You don't understand at all."

"Then explain it to me." She folded her arms over her chest and waited for him to say something.

His normal reticence to speaking of personal things was pushed aside in favor of defending Snape. "Mrs. Weasley, you can't begin to understand what this bond between us is like. It's made me like him. No, more than that, it's made me love him."

"You're in love with him." Molly looked appalled. "What kind of degenerate is he that he would do that to a child."

"One," Harry said through his teeth, holding up a finger. "I'm seventeen. I'm hardly a child." He could see she was about as impressed with that as Snape had been. "And two." He held up a second finger. "He didn't do anything to me to make me care about him. It was the bond that had forced it." Harry held up a third finger. "And three. I'm not in love with him. Not yet."

Tilting her head a bit, she met his gaze. She looked slightly confused, but still determined to do her best for him whether he wanted it or not. "You just said--"

It wasn't that Harry didn't appreciate that she cared enough to stick her nose in, it was just that he could handle his own life. "That I love him. And I do. But it's not 'in love'. Not yet."

"Not yet? That implies that you will be." She trailed off, seemingly horrified at the thought. "Do you think you will? Love him in that manner?"

"I think so." There was nothing more to say about that, not to his best mate's mum, even if she did try and mother him. "He has my best interests at heart, too. I know he does."

"How can you know that?" Molly sat back. "He's a grown man, with his own agenda."

"If nothing else, the bond won't let him do anything to hurt me. I believe he loves me." Harry looked down at his feet, but he had to ask, "Why do you suspect him? I mean, he's on our side."

"Of that, I have no doubt," Molly assured him quickly. "However, I've always found Severus to be cold and unpleasant."

"That's no reason to think he would take advantage of me." There was something more here and Harry wanted to know what it was. "I can't believe you would think that about him."

Looking down at her hands, Molly exhaled slowly. "He's much older than you are. A young boy like you could be easily led."

"Mrs. Weasley, do you know me at all?" Again, Harry felt his anger rising for Snape's sake. "I'm not so easily led. Nor would I allow anyone to hurt me."

"The bond might not give you the choice." She still wasn't meeting his eyes. "Or you might misread what you are feeling."

"I don't think you understand the nature of the bond. I know what he's feeling. I can't misread it." He tried to say it with enough force so that she wouldn't read his own doubt.

It must have been enough because her look gentled and she smiled at him. "I just don't want to see you hurt, Harry."

Dredging up a small smile for her, Harry knew she was trying to do the right thing by him. "I know and I truly appreciate that. Professor Snape is a good man, Mrs. Weasley. I wish you could see that."

Molly looked skeptical, but nodded. "We'll all see soon enough, won't we? He'll be here on Friday night."

Snape stepped out of the fireplace, and dusted the ashes off his robes. As casually as he could, he glanced around at those seated at the table. Locking his gaze on Potter, he breathed out sharply. Without a word to anyone, he opened his arms. Potter left the table to move into them with gratifying alacrity.

Five shocked faces -- Ms Granger was there as well -- greeted his stare over Potter's shoulder and he simply did not care. Separation the past week seemed harder than it had been during the few weeks after school ended. Snape could sense the desperation in Potter was well as what he felt himself.

"Bugger," Potter breathed against his shoulder. "I thought this was supposed to get easier."

"Apparently not." Snape closed his eyes and let Potter's heat seep into all of the cold places inside him.

"You're not going to leave again, are you?"

"It's not like I can stay here." Snape tried to pull back, to let go, but Potter held on. He couldn't quite find the strength to push him away. "Shhh, we'll talk about it later."

After several minutes, Snape opened his eyes and knew he'd have to deal with the aftermath of the scene they'd just played out. No one looked pleased with him, but they also didn't look overly surprised. What had they been told?

"Good evening, Severus." Arthur Weasley's voice was calm, almost as if nothing unexpected had happened. "Would you care to join us for dinner?"

Something in him wanted to laugh hysterically at the utter normality of the request, but he nodded. "Yes, thank you."

Both he and Potter moved to the table, and Ron shifted over to allow Snape to sit beside Potter. Molly got up and retrieved another place setting, then served him from communal platters.

For a long time, no one said a word and the tension, as everyone doggedly ate their dinner, was as thick as Molly's gravy.

"Does anyone want pudding?" Molly asked, her voice cutting like a knife through the silence.

"Yes, please." Ron said relieved to have something to say. "Harry? Hermione?"

Hermione shook her head and put her napkin on her plate without looking at anyone. "No. Thank you."

"Yes." Potter looked at Snape, taking his hand. "You?"

"No, thank you." Snape shook his head, his thumb traced over Potter's palm before he could stop himself. When he tried to ease his hand away, Potter did not let him go.

"No." Potter whispered, when he tried it again. "I need to touch you." In the silence, his voice carried and once again they were the focus of everyone's attention.

Closing his eyes, Snape drew in a breath, looking for strength not to explode. He hated this. "Can we speak of this later?"

The look in Potter's eyes surprised him. He recognized the belligerence even before Potter spoke. "You don't want to talk in front of my family?"

"Not especially, no." He glanced around the now silent table and tried to meet each one of their disapproving eyes.

Arthur cleared his throat. "I think we'd all like--"

"This discussion is not an option for anyone other than Mr. Potter and myself," Snape said in his most unforgiving tone. "Your opinion is not a concern--"

"Don't say it, sir." Potter cut him off.

Snape glared at Potter, and would have snapped off a comment to put him in his place, except he couldn't seem to work up the righteous indignation he needed. "Don't speak to me like that," he whispered, squeezing Potter's hand hard.

"Don't speak to them like that." Potter pulled his hand away. "They care about me."

"We do," Molly said, putting a cake on the table. She picked up a knife and started to cut it into slices. "We care about you both."

As if he were likely to believe that crap. Snape snorted. "I'm well aware of how you feel about me. Were I not bonded--"

"No." Potter put his hand over Snape's mouth. "No."

Outraged, he jerked his head away to shake off Potter's hand. "Outside," he ordered. Standing up, Snape pushed his chair back so hard it scraped loudly along the wooden floor. His anger had finally broken through the bond. He could not allow this to continue. "Now."

With his head bowed, Potter stood up.

"You don't have to go, mate," Ron said, glaring at Snape with what he was sure was his best bravado. "He's got no authority over you here."

Another foolish, brave Gryffindor, Snape thought snidely, glaring at back Weasley. Oh, and he was very pleased at how quickly young Mr. Weasley dropped his gaze.

"Very true." Arthur looked at him, trying to gauge the situation, no doubt. "Severus, let Harry be."

"No. I shall need to speak to Mr. Potter. Privately." He nodded his head towards the door. This simply could not go on any longer. "Mr. Potter."

Potter moved toward the door and he followed. Once outside, Potter turned back towards him, his eyes huge. "I'm sorry."

"I am as well." Snape took a breath, all of his anger draining away in the wake of Potter's contrite look. He opened his arms. "Come here."

As Harry moved into Snape's arms, they both sighed. A kind of peace he'd never known settled over him.

After a few moments, he pulled back from the embrace, gently easing Potter away a step or two so that they might speak. "I dislike having to explain myself to anyone," Snape said.

"Especially when you have students around to watch?" Perception was not something he'd previously associated with Potter, but once again Snape might have underestimated him.

Or perhaps, Snape thought, Potter simply knew him well enough to understand him. That idea terrified him. "Yes. It weakens my position."

"They won't use it against you." It was clear that in his naivete, Potter truly believed that.

"How can they not? The mean old potions professor has a weakness. How can they not exploit it?" Snape understood human nature too well not to see the potential for ruin when it smacked him in the face. "Even honorable Gryffindors are not above taking advantage of a situation."

"Not everyone is like that, you know. I'm not." Potter tried to glare at him, but his expression lacked heat or anger.

"It matters little now. We've added more fuel to our fire as it were," Snape said, sighing deeply. "We'll need to explain."

"I've spent most of the week explaining." Potter looked up at him, tentatively holding out his hand. "I don't know that it's done much good, either."

Against his better judgement, Snape took it, and held it, needing more contact after the strife between them. "What has been said?"

Breathing out on a deep sigh, Potter looked down, seeming dispirited. "Mrs. Weasley, Mr. Weasley and Ron all asked if you were doing anything inappropriate--"

"Good God!" Snape felt his anger rise, again. "Mr. Weasley, I can perhaps understand, but Molly and Arthur? I thought they both knew me better than..." He trailed off, feeling as defeated as Potter looked. "Apparently not."

Potter's hand tightened in his. "I told them both you were--"

"What? Decent to you? That I haven't tried to molest you. Did it ever occur to anyone that I might not want a sixteen year old boy." Snape closed his eyes, hating himself for being anything other than angry.

"I'm seventeen. And circumstances being what they are..." Potter pulled Snape against him, pressing the lower half of his body against Snape's.

A wash of wonderful and terrible sensations cascaded over him as Potter's thigh pressed into his groin. Somehow, he'd failed to notice how hard he'd become. Bloody hell. He did not want this, did not want to react to it, but his body continued to betray him. "It does not mean I would ever act on it."

"Don't you think I know that?" Putting both arms around his waist, Potter pressed his face into Snape's shoulder. "I know. But they don't know it. They care about me."

"I know they care about you. That is the only reason I tolerate this humiliation at all. They should know me better." Anger flooded over him again and he felt Potter's hand move soothing along his back.

"How would they?" Potter sounded sad. "How can anyone know you when you don't let anyone but Dumbledore -- and I'm not even sure about him -- close to you?"

Pulling back, he looked down into Potter's face. He knew what Potter was trying to say, but it was far too late for that. "I don't want my authority undermined with my students."

"Being a little less cold, or nasty, or closed off isn't going to undermine your authority." Harry looked like he was trying to smile. "Especially since you don't have to be."

"That is where you're wrong, Mr. Potter." Snape scowled at him. "You're laboring under the assumption that I care what people think of me. I neither am, nor want to be, a nice man." It was only with Potter and his bloody family that his skin was so damned thin.

"If that were true, why do you care what Mr. and Mrs. Weasley said about how you treat me?" Potter's eyes held his for a moment without triumph. "You're upset by it."

All right, so Potter might have a point. Damn him. "It's not in my nature to be nice to people, nor to explain myself."

Potter gave him another look that said he knew that Snape hadn't addressed the real question. "You don't have to be awful, either."

"Why not?" He sounded like a child being refused a treat and he knew it and didn't care. "I don't like most people."

"Well, I do. I love the Weasleys. They are a part of my life, and that isn't going to change." Potter's arms were still looped loosely around his waist and he leaned back to meet Snape's eyes. "You're now a part of my life, too. Get along."

"Insolent brat." He let himself move the fringe off Potter's forehead.

"Yes. I know." Potter tightened his arms, hugging him hard. "Let's go talk to them."

He held on for a moment more and then reluctantly released him. "Talk, fine. Nice, not bloody likely."

Snape woke with a start; the muscles in his back and neck on fire. Shifting, the weight on top of him grunted and rolled over, hitting the floor with a thud.

"Hey!" Potter said, sitting up and rubbing his bum. "Why'd you do that?"

"I didn't, Mr. Potter. You were asleep on top of me." Snape massaged the back of his neck, hoping to get some of the stiffness out.

"Oh. How--"

"I think you fell asleep that way." The last thing Snape remembered was talking softly to Potter. After the house had settled for the night, and Snape was safely -- or so Molly thought -- ensconced on the sofa with a blanket and pillow, Potter had slipped out of Ron's room and came downstairs to sit with him.

Even though he'd known he should have sent him back upstairs, he had not been able to bring himself to do so. "You should go back up now."

"I agree," Arthur stood on the stairs in his dressing gown. The expression on his face more forbidding than Snape had ever seen it. "Go on up, Harry," Arthur said, his voice milder than his look.

Lifting himself off the floor, Potter glanced his way nervously, but said nothing as he moved up the stairs. Arthur moved aside to let him by, but didn't follow him up.

Snape bit back a groan as he watched Arthur come down and sit down adjacent to him in one of the big comfortable chairs. "You and Harry were asleep?"

Straightening up, he met Arthur's gaze head on. "I think that's obvious." Snape had no apologies to make to this man or anyone else for that matter.

"Would you care to explain that?" There was a definite implication in his tone.

Snape did not care for it one little bit. "No."

Usually sweet natured, Arthur possessed a surprisingly harsh glare, which he now directed toward Snape. "I won't have you --"

To avoid even more offense, Snape cut him off before he could get the words out. "Do not presume --"

"Someone has to protect the boy." Arthur clearly felt that it was his family's job to do so.

With a snort of disgust, Snape ground his teeth and clenched his jaw. "Whom do you think you're dealing? That boy is the most powerful wizard of our time. I'm quite certain he can protect himself." Where Potter couldn't, it would be Snape who would protect him -- not anyone else. It galled him that they thought Potter might need protection from him.

The affable Arthur Weasley did not look so amicable now. Indeed, he seemed very much the knight-gallant riding out to protect the helpless child. "I want your assurance you will not hurt him."

As much as he would have liked to get up and walk out on this whole conversation, he couldn't. Snape took a deep breath, trying to let his anger go. Alienating Arthur would thereby alienate Potter. "I will not harm him." He glared at Arthur. "I cannot harm him."

"You can. You may not mean to, but you are so much older--"

"No." Snape shook his head one time. "I don't think you understand the nature of the bond between us. I cannot hurt him."

Taken aback, Arthur gave him an odd look. "Then, explain it to me."

"I'd rather not." It was none of Arthur's or anyone else's damned business. "It's between Mr. Potter and myself."

Folding his arms over his chest, Arthur stared him down. "Tell me about it anyway. You know I have Harry's best interests at heart. Reassure me."

Snape wanted to refuse, but Potter had been so bloody adamant about the Weasleys. Oh, he knew that for all their prying ways, they meant well, but it still grated. "Beyond being able to share magic, the bond will ultimately bind us to each other with trust so great that we will never do anything to hurt each other -- we are not capable of it."

Nodding, Arthur still seemed pensive. "That's what Albus told me."

"If you knew that why did you make me repeat it?" Sometimes Snape could not understand these people and their motivations.

"Do you love him?" Arthur asked meeting his eyes.

Of all the ignominious questions, that had to be the worst. "Good Lord, Arthur, you know me. Would I put up with this crap for any other reason?"

The bleeding sod had the nerve to chuckle and Snape gave a brief thought of hexing him into oblivion. "I expect not. What I don't know, or understand, is how you can go from hating him one day, to loving him the next."

Snape wanted to point out that he'd never actually hated Potter. Well, he amended, not in many years. "The bond forced our enmity out. We were not given a choice. Now, what has grown is every bit as valid, as real, as what our hostility had previously been."

Arthur nodded and then was silent for a moment before asking, "You let it happen, didn't you?

His first thought was to deny the assumption, but to do so seemed to be denying Potter's importance to him, which he could not do. Still, part of him rebelled against the idiocy of answering such a personal question.

In the end, however, he wanted at least one person to understand. He dropped his gaze to the sofa, running a finger along the seam. "I've always been alone. Over time, I'd convinced myself that I wished nothing more than that. It's easy enough to do when there is no hope of anything else."

"So when the possibility arose with Harry, you took it." Instead of the censure that Snape expected, Arthur's tone was soft with understanding.

Not looking at him, Snape nodded. "If there had been a choice, for either of us, I would not have sullied Potter with what I am." He held up his hand before Arthur could speak. "Don't say anything."

Arthur nodded.

Taking a deep breath, Snape continued, "Once my anger was gone, I realized the chance I had been given. I did not fight what came after." Intellectually Snape knew there was no fighting the bond, but he couldn't get past the fact that he hadn't tried. "I knew I had a chance for something... something I hadn't ever believed I would find." He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to let the guilt go. "I know I don't deserve it, but I want it."

As he nodded again, Arthur's smile was compassionate. "Thank you. It eases my mind greatly."

"See if you can convince Molly of it." Snape let a wry smile form on his mouth.

Chuckling, Arthur sat back in his chair, visibly relaxing. "She's tenacious when she thinks one of her chicks is threatened, isn't she? I'm still concerned about what will happen between you when school starts."

"Tenacious isn't the half of it." Snape smiled blandly. "As to school, I shall endeavor to treat Potter as I have in the past." It would never be the same. His only hope was that he could say the words and keep some of the affection out of his voice.

"It won't be easy," Arthur said, his expression a bit dubious.

"You have no idea how hard it will be." The idea of being deliberately cruel to Potter turned his stomach and he wondered how he'd ever done it in the past. "Only the thought of what might happen to him if Voldemort finds out allows me to do what I must."

Standing, Arthur looked down at him, his expression grave. "For all his power, and all he's been through, he's a young seventeen."

"I am well aware of that," Snape said. He'd bet he understood that better than anyone else.

Harry stepped back off the top landing, out of the shadow of the stairs. Putting a hand on the wall, he waited for the pounding of his heart to slow. Snape had implied that he loved him. Even though the bond had told him the same thing, he hadn't believed it, not really. He wasn't sure what to make of the strange conversation he'd overheard. It was possible that Snape had told Arthur what he wanted to hear to ease his fears.

Maybe it wasn't true.

Although the bond seemed to insist it was true, Harry couldn't be sure. Everyone said what they thought was true, but Harry had been told enough lies in his life never to trust anything completely. Not until he could prove it, one way or another.

He sighed and went up the rest of the flights of stairs to Ron's room.

"Where have you been, mate?" Ron asked as Harry came in.

"Downstairs, talking to Snape." Harry didn't have to force the yawn; he was dead tired and did not want to go into the rest of it. Even with Snape close to him, it didn't help the fact he hadn't slept well all week. "I needed to be near him."

"Why?" Ron put on the light and sat up. "I mean, why now? Something wrong?"

"No. Being next to him, touching him, makes me feel better." Harry wondered if that hadn't come out wrong. "I mean..."

"Oh. I know what you mean." He didn't sound like he understood, but that wasn't new, no one seemed to understand. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Your father is downstairs vetting Snape." Harry was pleased that the Weasleys cared so much, but he wished he could make them understand. "Snape is a good man. I know he is. Why doesn't anyone else realize that?"

"You've got a different way of seeing him than the rest of us," Ron said, lying back down on his bed and pulling up the sheet.

Harry let out a breath and climbed into the other bed. "I need to get some sleep."

"Okay mate, if you want to talk..."

"I know where you are."

Snape stayed another day and then left again, saying he had work to do. By the third day after Snape had departed, Harry was feeling much the same as he had after the third week at the Dursleys. Getting out of bed was a trial.

"Is it worse?" Ron's concern penetrated the fog of Harry's preoccupations with the pain he was in.

"It's okay." Harry tried to sit up and didn't make it, lying back down with a soft groan. The pain was similar to hunger, he thought, gnawing at his guts.

"Sure it is." Ron went to the door and called for his mother.

With a concerted effort, Harry pushed himself up again, using the headboard and pillow. He didn't want to make a fuss. "You don't--"

Mrs. Weasley came in, took one look at him and frowned. She put the inside of her wrist against his forehead.

"He doesn't have a fever, mum." Ron folded his arms over his chest.

Harry let her bustle about for a moment, and then said, "I just need to--"

"See me, perhaps, Mr. Potter." Snape stood in the doorway. Even when he'd stayed with Snape, Harry hadn't seen him so disheveled. His hair was greasier than usual, and his clothes looked unkempt and slept in.

To Harry, he looked fine. The relief was immediate and profound without even touching Snape. "Yes, please," he said, holding out his hand. "Are you okay?"

"I am." Snape moved across the room, to sit on the bed beside him. "It seems to affect you more than me for some reason."

Taking his hand, Harry noticed how stained his fingers were. "Been to school?"

"Preparing for the term." Snape nodded. "Classes start in a week."

"What are we going to do about this?" Molly asked. Harry had forgotten she was there at all.

"We're not going to do anything," Snape said acerbically. "However, I am going to take Mr. Potter back to school with me."

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Molly sounded disapproving of the idea. Harry, however, liked it a lot.

"Am I required to point out, yet again, that he was with me for several weeks this summer?" Snape's expression showed his annoyance.

"I'll be fine, Mrs. Weasley." He looked at her and saw her concern, wishing there was some way to have her to listen to him. "Professor Snape will take care of me."

The look on Molly's face said she wasn't convinced of that at all. "That's exactly what I'm afraid of--"

That did it. Harry moved to swing his legs over the side of the bed, and was blocked by Snape. "Let me get up."

"Not yet." Turning towards her, Snape snarled at her. "I have told you before--"

Molly didn't seem at all intimidated by him, indeed, she glared back. "I know what you've said, and what Arthur has said, but I can't believe you're not tempted by him."

"Mum!" Ron's face was red and he looked like he might have apoplexy. "I can't believe you would say something like that."

What did he think his mother was on about, Harry wondered. "Mrs. Weasley! Why can't you trust--"

"Quiet! Both of you." Molly glared them into silence. "This is between me and Severus."

"No it's not." Harry pushed and this time, Snape stood to let him up. Harry shakily stood and folded his arms over his chest, frowning at Molly. "It's between him and me."

"Harry," Molly started, sounding like she was trying to be reasonable. "Someone has to look out for you."

If she weren't Ron's mum, Harry would have given in to his outrage and started yelling. Since she was, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'm hardly a child in need of a keeper."

Snape snorted at that.

Harry turned and pointed a finger at him. "Keep out of this, please."

"I think it concerns me as well, don't you, Mr. Potter?" Snape gave him an odd smile.

"What?" Harry could not place the look.

"Nothing." Snape squeezed his shoulder and stepped back. "We should go soon. I have much to do at school. Shall I help you pack?"

Still looking unappeased, Molly shook her head. "I'm not sure--"

"Molly, I'm taking him with me to school." Snape was poised to say something scathing, and Harry put a hand on his arm. Snape took a breath. "I can assure you that there will be ample supervision."

"Anyway, I'm seventeen!" It annoyed him deeply that everyone seemed to think he couldn't take care of himself. He'd been doing it for a long time.

Ron laughed. "I don't think that's going to make much difference, mate."

"I guess not," Harry said, his shoulders slumping. Snape and Molly were trying to stare each other down and not paying him any mind. "That doesn't make it right."

Looked like Snape won this round. He turned away from Molly. "If you will all excuse us, I shall help Mr. Potter fetch his things."

Molly looked like she might object, but then glanced at Snape and thought better of it.

With Snape's help it took only a few minutes to pack his supplies, and books. Downstairs, he faced Ron, Molly, and Ginny.

"See you at school, mate." Ron said, knocking his shoulder into Harry's companionably.

"Yeah." Harry smiled at Ginny. "Bye. See you in about a week."

She smiled back. "See you."

He turned and hugged Molly. "Thanks for everything. Even though you're wrong about Professor Snape, I appreciate that you care."

She moved the fringe back from his face. "Most people care a great deal about you."

Shaking his head, Harry gave her a sad smile. "You're wrong. Most people haven't cared at all."

He turned away and took Snape's hand.

Part VI

Snape Apparated them to the gates of Hogwarts.

"Do I go directly to Gryffindor Tower?" Harry started up the path towards the castle. The very idea of being alone up there gave him a bit of the creeps. Or perhaps it was just the thought of being away from Snape.

After two steps, Snape stopped and looked at him. "I hadn't thought about that. You don't want to be alone there, do you?"

"Not really." What he wanted...was something that because they were back at school, he could not ask for.

"I don't think it would be proper for you to stay with me, not in my rooms," Snape said his tone apologetic, and his eyes soft.

Did the bond make Snape telepathic? It would be just his bloody luck. "Why not? I mean..." Harry trailed off. "It's not like you're tempted." It came out sounding more like a question than he would have liked.

"Do you fear that? Me?" Snape put both hands on his shoulders, and turned him to face him dead on. "You foolish boy. I would never do anything to hurt you."

"I know that!" Harry put his hand over Snape's and interwove their fingers. "I know you. I know how you feel."

For a long moment, Snape allowed the touch, but then he untangled their fingers and dropped his arms to his sides. "Then why did you imply it? Did you wish to hurt me?"

Until that moment, that he could hurt Snape had honestly never occurred to him. "But..." Harry met his eyes. "I know what you're feeling is getting stronger."

Bowing his head, Snape's shoulders slumped. "Then, you do think that I am tempted to take what I want?"

Putting a hand on his cheek so that he would look up, Harry met his eyes. "I do know that you'd never act on it if you were tempted. I can feel your conviction that it's wrong." Harry smiled up at him. "I don't agree by the way."

"What?" Snape looked completely horrified. "What don't you agree with? Would you rather I ravaged you against your will?"

With a bravado he almost felt, Harry leered at him from under his lashes in what he hoped was a sexy manner. "If you were to try, I think it would be closer to seduction, myself."

For some reason, Snape started to laugh. "When you are closer to meaning it, I think I shall be worried. Until then, I would never--"

"You don't have to tell me that." Harry's conviction never wavered. At this point in the proceedings, he'd come to know Snape well enough to believe it, even without the influence of the bond. "I know I feel safe with you."

"You shouldn't take anything for granted, foolish boy." Snape looked away again.

He put a hand on Snape's arm. "I'm not sure about a lot of things. However, that you would not hurt me is one of the things I am sure of."

Stepping back, Snape looked around as if suddenly realizing they were still on the lawn of Hogwarts, in full view of anyone who cared to look out. "We need to go inside and decide on what to do with you for the next week."

"Any ideas?" Harry's first choice had been denied. He hoped that he wasn't going to have to live in the dorm room by himself.

"I think we should talk to the Headmaster." Snape held the door open for him to precede him.

"Severus, Harry. What a pleasant surprise." Somehow Dumbledore's tone wasn't quite as cheerful as he usually was, but he smiled at them. "Come in. Come in."

He opened the door wider so that both he and Snape could pass into the hall. "Do sit down. Tell me how was your summer, Harry?"

"It was fine, sir." Harry tried to smile back, but thinking about having to talk about everything dimmed his mood. "I'm glad to be back."

"Perhaps it was not so fine as that?" Dumbledore sounded almost... troubled. "What has happened?"

Looking down, Harry chewed on his lip. There always seemed to be a fine line to walk when talking about this bond. "To be truthful, there were some complications."

"I imagine there were." Dumbledore picked up a glass dish of yellow sweets. "Would you like a lemon drop?"

"Yes, thank you, sir." Harry popped the sweet in his mouth and sucked on it. He loved all manner of confections and Dumbledore always seemed to have the best of them.

Dumbledore offered the dish to Snape, who shook his head, sneering, and looked as though he'd just been offered something foul. "Albus, we have a bit of a problem," Snape said.

"I gathered as much." Dumbledore set the dish on the desk behind him. "Why don't you tell me about it?"

Taking a deep breath, Snape seemed to steel himself. "For one thing, we are unable to separate for more than a few hours without causing Mr. Potter considerable pain."

"Not you?" Dumbledore asked, glancing in Harry's direction and then back at Snape.

"I feel the strain of separation, but not to the degree that Mr. Potter does." Snape sat back in his chair, his fingers steepled in front of him, his expression blank.

Harry wasn't sure what to make of that.

"I see." Dumbledore stroked his beard for a few minutes. "Please continue, Severus."

Snape went into a brief explanation of first Harry's stay with the Dursleys and then his stay with the Weasleys, and the intervening visits from him.

Sighing deeply, Dumbledore looked even more troubled. "I suspect you already know the answer, don't you Harry?"

He was afraid that he did. He looked over at Snape, who looked like he did too. "We strained the bond too far, didn't we, sir?"

"I'm afraid so," Dumbledore said, reaching for another lemon drop, chewing thoughtfully on it.

"Which is all well and good. What do we do about it?" Snape sounded impatient and at the same time reluctant to hear the answer to the question.

Glancing down at his hands, Dumbledore sighed softly. "I also suspect that you know the answer to that."

Snape growled inarticulately and stood. "Albus, school starts in a week. How can we... keep company."

"I am aware of when school starts." Dumbledore's voice was sharper than usual. "We will simply have to work out a schedule that will take the bond into account."

"I was planning to give Mr. Potter a good many detentions this year." The idea seemed to hold a lot of appeal to Snape.

However, Harry was none too pleased with it. "You can't keep me on detention the entire school year." Harry's voice rose with his annoyance. "That's not fair."

"Fair has nothing to do with it, Mr. Potter. It's for your own good." Snape smirked at him. "It will keep you out of trouble."

"No, it won't." Harry crossed his arms over his chest. He was not going to spend his last year at school on detention. "You're not going to do it to me, either."

Mimicking Harry's stance, Snape regarded him for a couple of minutes. "All right, then. What do you suggest?"

Breathing a sigh of relief, he was glad to know that Snape wasn't going to push him. "I can get into your rooms without anyone knowing."

Nodding, Dumbledore's mood seemed to lighten. "Harry does have means of visiting you after hours."

Snape however, did not look pleased at all. His face turned white and then red. "Are you actually suggesting that he break curfew?"

"Well, it wouldn't be the first time." Harry snickered. Since the incident in fourth year with Filch and Moody, Harry was sure Snape knew about the invisibility cloak.

The smile Snape turned on him was half-amused and half-exasperated. "I'm well aware of that and why as well. I don't think it's at all appropriate for a student to be visiting a professor in his quarters after hours."

"I think this might constitute a special case, Severus," Dumbledore said, a bit of the twinkle coming back into his eyes. "Especially with Harry's heath involved."

"There should be another way." It was clear that Snape could not think of one.

"It will work fine. It's not as though we'll actually be doing anything wrong." Harry watched two points of color form on Snape's cheeks and decided that might not have been the brightest thing he'd ever said.

"That is beside the point," Snape said, sounding like what little patience he'd had had been stretched far past his breaking point.

"No, actually, I think that is the point." Harry didn't want to argue this anymore. "I'll come by for a while every night. What about the next week? Where am I going to stay?"

Dumbledore was silent for a moment. "I think you can stay in some of the guest quarters on the main level. You can move into the tower when the rest of the students arrive."

Snape nodded.

"All right," Harry said with a sigh. That he wanted to stay with Snape didn't seem to matter to anyone but him.

"You wanted to see me, Professor McGonagall?" Harry stuck his head through her open office door after knocking on the wooden frame.

"Yes, Mr. Potter, come in." McGonagall waved him to a seat in front of her chair. "Close the door. I want to speak to you."

What had he done, he wondered frantically. It was only the third day of classes, he hadn't had time to do anything yet. Except of course, visit Snape. His heart sank. "Yes, ma'am."

She looked at him and even without saying a word, he could tell that she knew. "I've noticed that you've been out after curfew three nights out of three." Her tone became more stern. "What's more young man, I'm not the only one who has noticed you are not in your bed when you should be."

"Um...." Thinking quickly, Harry could come up with nothing but the truth, which was out of the question.

"You should have come to me last year about this." She had that chiding tone in her voice that said she was annoyed, but was not going to be able to do anything about it.

Which left him to wonder, "How--"

"Did I find out?" McGonagall finished for him. She raised an eyebrow at him, giving him that exasperated look she had.

He couldn't meet it and he glanced away. "Yeah..."

"I went to the Headmaster about what I should do with you, and he told me about the bond." She shook her head disapprovingly. "You are very foolish."

That went without saying as far as Harry was concerned. Trying to look contrite, he bowed his head and nodded. "Yes, professor."

"Don't yes, professor me, young man," McGonagall snapped. "I am willing to concede you a certain amount of leeway since it appears your health is at issue, but this situation is completely inappropriate."

It made him angry that she would think such a thing. "He's not going to hurt me." Harry folded his arms over his chest. "Why do I keep having to fight this battle? There are more important things I'm going to need to do."

"Be that as it may. You are involved with a teacher." God, could she make it sound anymore sordid or cheap?

Blushing furiously, Harry looked down, away, anywhere, just not at McGonagall. "I'm not. Not like that, anyway."

"I understood--" she started to say, but then stopped, looking at him sideways. "What, then exactly?"

Not able to look at her, which he resented as much as anything else, Harry sighed quietly. "I need to be near him. I don't need to fu--"

McGonagall held up her hand and shook her head, sternly. "Don't you dare finish that sentence."

From somewhere inside himself, he found the courage to face her down. "Why not? Are you afraid to hear it? It's the truth. You know what the spell was supposed to do."

"Yes. Of course, I know." McGonagall expression changed from righteous to tired in the beat of a heart. "I also know what it can and likely will be."

Shaking his head at her implication, Harry sat up straighter. "Not until after school. He won't allow it."

"He? Not you?" McGonagall's surprise was so clear. Didn't she know Snape at all?

He was finding out that no one did, and whose fault was that? "I'm not ready for that. I don't feel that way yet."

She looked hard at him. "You don't? That's surprising."

"Why?" Harry couldn't imagine why he was supposed to feel one way or another. But it always seemed, especially with this bond, that he never felt what he was supposed to.

"Are you fighting it, the bond I mean?" McGonagall asked, her tone only mildly inquiring, but he already knew this line of questioning.

He shook his head, already tired of the whole conversation. "No. It won't let me fight it."

"Hmm." She was silent, clearly thinking. "Can I ask you a personal question?"

"You mean, this whole discussion wasn't personal enough for you?" Harry had to fight the urge to laugh in her face, but that would not do at all. "Do I have to answer it?"

"Not if you feel it too intrusive." At least, she sounded serious about not forcing him to answer.

"Okay. What?"

"I'm just curious as to..." She trailed off, and her cheeks became flushed. Taking an audible breath, she seemed to gather her courage around her. "Have you ever been in love with anyone?"

That wasn't quite what he was expecting. "I had a crush on Cho fourth year and fifth year."

"But nothing since."

"I haven't had much time, have I?" Harry didn't know what she was getting at, couldn't begin to guess. "After mid-year last year, I had... well the bond. That took all of my time."

"All right." McGonagall nodded sagely. "Has no one asked if you even preferred men to women?"

"Well, Ron asked me that. I don't get what you mean by it." Harry glanced at her, shrugging. "Why would that matter, given everything, I mean."

"Only in that you may not fall in love with Professor Snape as you think you will, if you are not inclined towards men." She said it so matter-of-factly.

A horrible sick feeling came over him. Could she be right? "I thought I was destined to fall in love with him."

"Certainly not." She straightened up and looked at him directly. "If you're not attracted to men then one does not follow the other."

Harry shook his head, trying to work it through in his mind. He'd liked kissing Ron just fine, better than Cho, but then, Ron knew how to kiss. "I've never loved anyone like that."

"What about your attractions?"

Feeling a blush start, he looked away. He didn't want to talk about whom he was attracted to, not with McGonagall, anyway. As he considered it, he felt a little better. Although he'd never said a word to anyone about it, he'd felt a pull toward Oliver Wood, not enough to be a crush like Cho, but enough so that Oliver's smile did pleasant things to his insides.

Breathing out a sigh of relief, Harry smiled at McGonagall. "I don't think it's going to be a problem."

She smiled in that indulgent way "I'm glad. You shouldn't worry about it."

"Did you want something else?" Harry was ready to leave. All of these well-meaning people were going to drive him completely mad.

"Yes, actually there are two things." She looked stern again, like she wasn't happy about whatever she was going to say. "Your dorm mates know when you are not in your bed at night."

With the invisibility cloak, he'd hoped that he'd been able to conceal his comings and goings. "What can I do about it?"

"I'm going to teach you a charm that will make them think you are in you bed where you should be." She sounded more than a bit reluctant to do it.

"Brilliant." Harry said, thinking how useful that particular charm would be.

She gave him an annoyed look. "I expect you to use it only for reason it was intended and I expect you not to teach it to anyone else. Promise me."

"I promise." He let out a long sigh. That would have been quite a useful charm.

"It will only be effective if no one checks on you." McGonagall pulled out her wand and said a few words. "Repeat them for me."

Harry did as he was told, repeating the charm. He mispronounced one of the words, and she made him repeat them a second time.

She nodded when he got it right. "Very good."

"Wasn't there something else?" Harry asked.

McGonagall cleared her throat. "The official reason for this meeting was to discuss your career plans."

"Didn't we do that last year? Not to mention fifth year?" This was about the last thing Harry had time to think about.

"We do it every year. Do you still want to be an Auror?"

Harry shrugged. He'd literally had no time to consider it. "I don't know any more. I guess I should discuss it with--"

McGonagall seemed very disapproving. "You should decide what you want to do with your life apart from any outside influences."

"That's easier said than done, given what's going on in my life." Harry hadn't given it any thought, so he looked at her and forced a smile. "I promise to think about it, Professor."

"All right. Let me know what you decide. And if I may be of any help though, please don't hesitate to ask me." McGonagall said it as if she actually meant it.

However, he wasn't planning on spending his whole life defending Snape to people who should know better. "Yes, ma'am."

"What did McGonagall want to see you about?" Hermione asked as she fell into step with Harry later in the morning.

"What do you think?" Harry didn't even try to keep the annoyance out of his tone. "She knows about the bond, too."

"Is that such a bad thing, since you're out after curfew so often?" Hermione managed to sound as disproving as McGonagall.

Swallowing his annoyance, Harry didn't look at her. "It hasn't been often yet."

Hermione folded her arms over her chest and glared at him. "It will be. Do you want to get into trouble?"

"No, of course not." Harry conceded, at least to himself, that if McGonagall knew, it would lessen the impact if someone saw him with Snape. As they were walking toward the main hall, more people gathered around, moving in that direction. "Let's not talk about this now, okay."

"Okay." Hermione smiled at him. "Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something else."

Harry was delighted that someone had a problem for him, not about him. "What? Do you want to take a walk?"

Looking around at the people milling, Hermione nodded. "Yes. Let's go out by the lake."

"What about lunch? I'm actually kind of hungry. Maybe we can fetch something from the kitchens."

Hermione was one step ahead of him and held up a bag. "I got something from the House Elves before I found you."

They were silent until they reached the lake. Hermione sat on the grass, under a tree. The weather for September was unreasonably warm. There were other students out enjoying their break, but none were near them.

"Tell me what the problem is," Harry said, biting into this sandwich and chewing with relish.

"I wanted to make sure you..." Hermione looked away, digging in the bag. She pulled out two bottles of juice and handed one to him. She was looking a bit nervous.

Which did not give Harry a good feeling about the coming conversation. He did not want to go through it again. "I'm so sick of people worrying about Snape and me I could vomit from it. Why can't any one realize that he isn't going to hurt me--"

"That wasn't what I was going to say." Hermione's expression became quite cross. "You forget, I know the spell. I know what it did to you and to him. I know he won't hurt you. That he can't. Soon he's going to be in love with you and you with him."

Oh. Harry looked down, feeling stupid. When would he ever learn to think before he spoke? "Sorry. I mean, I've just heard it over and over. From everyone."

"Oh, Harry. I'm sorry. I know that must be hard." Hermione put her hand on his and smiled sympathetically.

He hated it when too much sympathy was focused on him. "So, what were you going to say before I so rudely interrupted you?"

She looked away. "Just about me and Ron. That you were okay with it."

Given the way she was not looking at him again, Harry felt his worry go up another notch. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Well, Ron told me that you and he..." She trailed off. "I was wondering, you know, if you liked it?"

"Yeah. I liked it fine." Harry was wondering where this was going and had the sudden insight that maybe he didn't want to know. "Why do you care?"

"Well, Ron said he liked it too. But that he'd rather kiss me," she said. "So, I was wondering since he did, maybe..." Her face was red. "I wanted to see if you..."

It took a second, but he got it and then his cheeks heated. "Why? I mean... why?"

"Because I want to."

That made no sense whatsoever. Harry shook his head. "To compare? Have you ever snogged anyone before?"

"Yes. Several people, as a matter of fact. I'm seventeen, remember." God, she sounded an awful lot like someone else when she said that.

Harry wondered if he was as readably defensive as she was. "Age doesn't matter in my case," he admitted, trying hard not to blush again and failing. "You'll be the third."

"Really. Why so few?" Did she have to make it sound like he was more of a freak than he already felt?

It wasn't his fault that no one wanted to kiss him. Except Snape, and even he wouldn't be doing it any time soon. "It's not like I had that many offers. Why do you want to kiss me?"

"You're quite cute." She smiled as she said it and Harry knew she had to be lying.

"No, really. Why me?" He glared at her. "It's not like you want me. I'm..." He paused and looked down. What was he, actually? "I'm safe, right?"

Hermione eyed him curiously as if she were judging what he'd asked, though why he couldn't guess. "You're my friend. I care about you. But mostly it's because you're quite cute."

"Oi. What about Ron?" An unpleasant shiver ran through him at the idea that he might come between them. He'd always loved Hermione, but she was not someone he'd ever felt that way about.

"Oh, he's cute too. I like Ron a lot. But..." She shrugged and looked down at her hands twisting in the pleats of her skirt. "Do you want to?"

Surprisingly, he did. "Yeah." He knelt up and put a hand on her face, drawing her towards him until their lips brushed. Sweet and warm, he sighed into her mouth. Pulling back slightly, he then bent again for a second one. It was better.

Hermione's tongue moved to touch his lips and he parted them, letting her explore his mouth. After a moment, she retreated and he followed, tasting her.

Shouldn't he be feeling more than he was, Harry wondered? No matter how deeply his tongue tasted, it wasn't anything more than nice. Drawing back, he ran a hand over Hermione's hair. "Nice," he said.


"Twenty points from Gryffindor for unseemly public displays." Snape loomed over them, his face like thunder, but his eyes... Oh, God, his eyes.

"Sorry, sir," Hermione started to say, "It wasn't--"

"Ten more points for not being able to keep your mouth shut when you should." Snape's sneer was vicious.

"You can't do that!" Harry was caught between his mortification that Snape had caught him and that he'd hurt him badly. "It was my fault."

"Then, ten points from you as well." Snape ground the words out and then turned, his robes flaring out around him and stalked away.

"Oh, no." Harry buried his face in his hands, his heart sinking into his shoes. "What have I done?"

"It was my fault. I asked." Hermione sounded as bad as he felt. "Is he going to forgive you?"

"I don't know." Harry sat back. He could feel that Snape was angry. More than that, he knew how deep the hurt went and it hurt him too. "It not like we have that kind of --"

Hermione was shaking her head. "Yeah, but you will. It's nearly inevitable."

"I'm not there yet." Harry breathed out slowly, hoping his stomach would settle soon. "I might not ever be there."

"Oh, of course you will. You just don't have much experience." Hermione started to pack up their sandwiches.

"How am I supposed to get any, if he doesn't let me?" He didn't actually want to do anything with anyone else, but he didn't want to be denied the option, either.

"I think you're going to have to get it with him." Hermione's tone said believed it was inevitable. "You saw him."

"I know." The look in Snape's eyes broke Harry's heart. "I need to talk to him."

"I think you should wait until tonight. Give him a bit to calm down." Hermione stood. "We should get back, lunch is almost over."

Nodding, Harry stood as well and brushed off his trousers. "I don't think that's going to help. He's angry with me."

"Let him think about what he did and why he did it," she said, starting on the path back to the castle.

"Aside from taking forty house points from us?" That annoyed the hell out of Harry. Even other Gryffindors wouldn't have gotten that many points for a single snog.

To his surprise, Hermione didn't seem that worried. "Well, McGonagall will take that many from Slytherin and we'll all be even again."

"Aren't you upset?" Harry asked. "What happened to the girl who cried when she lost house points?"

"I grew up, thank you very much." She gave him a wry smile. "With everything that's going on, I simply can't worry about house rivalries. We'll win the house cup or we won't. Ultimately, it won't matter in the least."

"Very mature attitude," Harry said, returning her smile. He held the door open for her. "Let's go in."

"Very good idea."

Harry's guts twisted into knots at the idea of seeing Snape that night. As he slipped out of the common room, he seriously considered walking around for a while before he went to see Snape. He knew he had to face Snape at some point soon, and a delay would not put it off long enough to matter.

He slowly started down the long hall towards Snape's quarters. Whispering the password into the rooms, Harry had wondered if it might be changed. However, the door opened under his hand, as it always did.

Pulling off the cloak, he didn't see Snape. "Professor?"

Snape came out of one of the other rooms, Harry presumed it was a bedroom, but he'd been asked not to go beyond the sitting room, and he hadn't.

"I wasn't sure you'd turn up." Snape's tone was blank, devoid of all emotions, as were his eyes. There was no emotion coming through their bond, either. He had no idea what Snape was feeling.

That scared Harry. He looked at Snape, trying to suppress his emotions. It was surprisingly much harder than it should have been. "Where would I go?"

"You might stay with Miss Granger, perhaps." For the briefest moment, Snape's eyes flashed with hurt, but it was gone almost before Harry could register what it was.

"Why don't I know what you're feeling right now?" Harry looked at him. "I could feel your anger and your... surprise, this afternoon. Why can't I feel you now?"

"Because I am consciously blocking you." Snape made it sound like a reasonable thing to do, not something that was hurting both of them.

"Why?" Harry had grown very used to knowing what Snape was feeling, to the undercurrent of Snape's affections for him. To be cut off from that was alarming.

"You have no right to that." The tone was more than just emotionless now, it was as cold as ice.

Harry shuddered with unhappiness. His crime was not so great that he deserved this punishment for it. "The hell I don't. I--"

"Mr. Potter!" Snape's voice was harsh, ugly. "You have no right to anything not freely given. Nor do I. Do try and remember that in the future."

To his utter mortification, Harry's eyes started to sting. "Do we even have a future?" he asked, his voice cracking a little under the strain of keeping it steady.

"I don't know." Snape glared at him, but after a moment, he took a breath and looked away. "I--"

Closing his eyes tightly, Harry concentrated on breathing in and out slowly, trying to find calm, and not letting his fear get away from him. "Do you want one? A future, I mean?"

"I think you know what I want. The question is, what do you want?" Snape didn't sound so cold or feel so blank now.

Harry could hear the hurt, even if he wasn't feeling if from the bond. "Of course I want it." Then he looked right at Snape. "It's not like we've got a choice here, either."

With a deep sigh, Snape nodded, but his expression didn't yield. "I expect you're right about that. However, that does not negate the question of what you were you doing with Ms Granger." The price of asking was easy to hear in Snape's strained voice.

On the one hand, Harry was desperately sorry to have hurt Snape, on the other hand, he had a right to his own life. He felt torn in two by it, but he couldn't give in because he knew if he did, Snape would walk all over him forever. "I thought it was obvious what I was doing."

"There was no subtlety. I'll grant you that. Everyone could see just what was going on." Snape's tone was as harsh as a slap in the face.

Harry looked away. He wanted this to be over. More than that he wanted Snape to understand, so he gave a little. "It was nice, you know, but it was missing something."

Looking up, Snape's eyes were riveted on him. The relief seemed almost visible. "You didn't like it?"

"No, I did. But it wasn't..." He shrugged. There were no words to describe the feelings he felt were missing. "It was nice."

Something in Snape's face softened and his eyes flashed with triumph for a split second before going dark again. "Tell me about it."

"No. I don't want to hurt you." Besides, Harry thought, it wasn't any of Snape's business anyway. He walked to the fire place and faced it, not wanting to look at Snape. "I know it does."

"You shouldn't be feeling my emotions." Snape took a deep breath. "I'm actively blocking you out."

"You're not doing a very good job of it," Harry said, adding a touch of humor. "I don't think you can keep me out for very long."

"Apparently not." Snape sounded almost amused by it. "Turn around, Mr. Potter."

Harry obeyed.

"Tell me about it. What was it like for you to kiss Miss Granger?" The order was absent in Snape's voice now.

"There aren't that many people who've ever asked me. I like Hermione. It was nice." He wasn't going to say he didn't like it or that it meant more than it did.

"So, she asked you." There was definitely a pleased note in Snape's voice.

That did not sit well with Harry. "It's none of your business who asked whom."

"You're quite right." Snape still seemed pleased, but he'd managed to pull it back some before Harry took offense. "Why did she ask you?"

"She said I was cute and she was curious." He laughed bitterly at that. God, he could barely say it with a straight face.

Raising an eyebrow, Snape didn't try to hide his amusement. "You don't believe that you are worthy of such attention."

Harry couldn't believe he would ask that question. "God, are you stupid?"

"Mind your manners, Mr. Potter." Snape's tone and expression were more chiding than reprimanding.

Breathing out a sigh of absolute relief, Harry glanced up at him. "I thought I didn't have any."

"Perhaps not, but I'm still your professor." He said it in that tone that meant he was trying to maintain appropriate distance between them.

It was something Harry tried to respect. "Sorry, sir." He looked down, trying for contrite. "No. I'm not very cute."

"Oh, I don't know about that." Snape seemed to be holding back a smile. "You're actually quite passable."

Harry glanced back up at him, disbelievingly. "Given everything, you're not the best judge of that, are you?"

Clearly losing his internal battle, Snape smiled at him. "Shall we take a poll, then? I think you'll find that there are many who find you quite--"

Holding his hands up, Harry shook his head in denial. He could not believe that they were discussing this. "Don't say it, okay? I know exactly what I look like, so you don't have to rub it in."

Some of the amusement left Snape's face. "I'm not sure that you do know, or why you don't. However, I would not tease you about it."

"Thanks." Harry detested being made fun of, especially about his looks. He was glad Snape wouldn't go on about it.

Snape inclined his head, still looking like he was holding back a smile. "We shall have to disagree on this one point."

"Only one?" Harry grinned, happy to let the entire subject go completely. "I think we disagree on several points."

"Back to Miss Granger--"

"No," Harry pleaded. "I don't want to talk about it. I didn't mean to hurt you, but I still don't want to talk about it."

"All right. Will you be doing it again?" There was more than that question in his words. Snape's face was blank.

What he could feel from the bond told him that Snape trying to bury his unhappiness. It upset him more than he cared to admit. "What do you expect of me?" Harry asked.

"Nothing." Even as Snape said it, Harry knew he was lying.

Harry looked at him, but Snape wouldn't look back. "You were very angry this afternoon."

"I was more startled than angry. I hadn't realized you would be able to be with anyone else." Snape tried to keep the blank expression and the matter-of-fact tone, but Harry could see through it even without the bond.

"That wasn't being with someone else, that was a kiss." Harry closed his eyes and took a breath. Maybe it was better to come clean totally. "It's not the first one since we've--"

In the space of one second, Snape went from amicable to outraged. His voice was raw as he rasped out, "Who?"

Harry folded his arms over his chest and thought hard about whether or not he actually wanted to answer that question. So much for having his own life.

This time it was Snape who looked down and he could feel his wrath pulled back forcibly. "You are correct. I have no right to ask."

"No. You don't." Harry tried not to feel the hurt that was coming from Snape. It was impossible. "It was Ron."

"So, both Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger felt the need to... kiss you." Again, there was a nearly audible relaxation from Snape.

"Well, yes." He looked at Snape. "Why doesn't it bother you?"

"Because unless I'm wrong, they are going to end up with each other, neither of them has real designs on you." Snape sounded very sure of himself.

"What if they did?"

"I would not be pleased." Snape met his eyes seriously. "However, I'm not sure there is anything I could do about it."

"That's right. Just so you understand that." As hard as it was to do it, Harry continued to hold Snape's gaze. It would be worse to let him have his way all the time. "I don't belong to you."

"Yet." Snape pointed one long finger at him. "There will come a time..."

"You don't know that." Harry knew he was just mouthing the words, worse, he suspected that Snape knew it, too.

When pushed, Snape was not above rubbing his nose in it, though. "I would say that you are too young to realize that, but given your previous response to that, I suspect I would be wiser not to."

"Good thinking." Harry looked over at Snape. "Are we okay now?"

"There was never a problem." Snape's mild expression and words did not match what had happened.

Harry knew he was lying and it infuriated him. Who did Snape think he was kidding? "You know, it's not going to work that way. We're not going to brush our disagreements under the mat and ignore them.

Snape's expression changed to puzzled. "Mr. Potter. I'm doing nothing of the sort. If you feel the need--"

"No. Okay. We have to be honest with each other if we're going to do this."

Looking exasperated, Snape stood and stalked to the fireplace to stand beside him, looking down into his face. "There is no 'doing this'. There is no choice here. In case you've managed to forget, we are blood bonded. There is no room for anything else."

"Fine. It's late. I should go back to the dorm." He'd had enough of this roller-coaster. Harry picked up his cloak and put it around him. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Good night, Mr. Potter," Snape said, his tone finally at neutral as if there was nothing left to say.

Putting a hand on the door, Harry felt reluctance to leave. He hesitated, unsure he should push beyond what was comfortable, but not wanting to stay, either.

"Is something wrong?" Snape asked, moving closer to him.

With his fingers flat on the wood, all he need do was push and the door would open. He couldn't quite bring himself to do it. "It's weird. I want to leave, but I can't quite do it."

"Do you think you can leave?" Snape's eyes showed his concern.

"I think so, but I'll have to force myself to do it." Harry turned back and stared at the door for a moment or two, then stepped away. "I think that we may have strained the bond again."

"Or I did, by trying to block you out." Snape closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them, regarding Harry thoughtfully. "I'm curious about why it manifests itself in you rather than me?"

"Just lucky I guess." Harry was not amused by the situation. It seemed woefully unfair to him that he had to suffer this. He sighed. Yeah, life wasn't fair, and he shouldn't be surprised by it. "Should we talk to the Headmaster again?"

Snape shook his head. "I don't know how it could help. We recognize the problem. I'm not sure what we can do about it."

The idea of leaving now left him more... disturbed than even a few minutes ago. "What if I were to stay here until right before dawn? I could slip back into the tower with none the wiser."

"You're truly not stupid enough to believe that, are you?" No matter how hard Snape tried, he couldn't fling insults like he used to.


"That's Professor McGonagall," Snape said automatically with a note of censure in his tone."

Harry sighed at Snape's pointed look. "Professor McGonagall gave me a charm to cast on my bed to make it seem occupied."

"Did she?" Snape looked and sounded completely appalled by that. "Why?"

Fighting a blush, Harry nodded. "I think she thought I'd be sleeping with you and didn't want anyone else to know."

Twin spots of color appeared on Snape's cheeks. "Dear Merlin."

"I need to stay."

"Make yourself comfortable on the sofa. I have papers to grade." Snape started for his desk.

As he moved away, Harry felt strangely abandoned. "What if..." Harry trailed off. He didn't want to sound like a prat.

"What, if what?" Snape asked, waiting.

"What if you sat with me?" He held up a hand to forestall Snape's objections. "If we strain the bond by pulling apart, what if we try to ease it by being closer together."

For a moment, Snape was silent, considering. "It is certainly worth a try. We can't be in each other's company at all times. Come, sit down."

Sitting down, Harry rummaged through his bag and found his book. Snape gathered some papers from his desk before he sat down beside him, straight backed and stiff as a board.

Not quite what Harry had in mind. He opened the book and turned sideways, leaning against Snape's shoulder and side.

"What are you doing?" Snape's voice sounded strained, uncomfortable.

With a sigh, Harry glared at him. Why did Snape have to be so bloody difficult? "Don't you think that it can tell you're uncomfortable? Relax. I'm not going to bite you."

"Shouldn't I be the one who is reassuring you?" There was a touch of amusement in Snape's tone.

Harry started to relax. "I think that might be the trouble. You're trying to keep your distance from me."

"What would you have me do?"

"Just relax for now." Harry nestled closer, contentment washing over him. It felt so good to be near enough to soak up Snape's presence.

With a windy sigh, Snape settled an arm across Harry's chest from the side. "All right?"

"Good." Harry settled back against him and started to study.

Part VII

"Minerva," Snape said, knocking on the open door of her office. He'd meant to get to this sooner, but he simply hadn't had the time. "If I might have a word with you?"

"Certainly, Severus." She didn't quite manage to hide her surprise at him turning up in her office. "What can I do for you?"

He came in and closed the door, throwing up a quick privacy ward. "It's about Potter."

Several expressions crossed her face quickly, the most prominent of which was disapproval. "What would you like to discuss?"

Well, there was no beating around the bush on this one. He met her eyes. "His home life with his Muggle family."

She started, clearly not expecting that. "I'm given to understand it's fairly strained."

Snape gave her an annoyed look. "That would be an understatement, I think. Tell me everything you know about it."

"Why, exactly, would I do that?" she asked tartly. "If he wanted you to know about it, he would tell you himself."

"In other words, you don't know anything, either."

She looked at him, her eyes narrowing sharply. "What do you suspect?"

"That he was not so well cared for as I would have liked to believe." Snape thought back to his conversation with Potter over the summer. "I think there may be actual abuse involved."

"Why bring this to me, rather than Albus?" Her tone was cool, suspicious almost.

Biting back a sigh, he answered without giving into the malice he was feeling. "There are several reasons. To begin with, you're his head of house. You might be able to encourage him to talk about what has happened."

Again she regarded him, and this time she sighed deeply "If he won't speak to you about it, what gives you the idea that he might speak to me?"

"I had hoped he might. You would be more objective on the subject than I."

"Harry Potter is a very stubborn young man. I think your association with him has shown you that."

Snape snorted inelegantly. "That would be another understatement. However, due to the nature of my relationship with him, I can't counsel him."

"What exactly is your relationship with him?" McGonagall looked right into his eyes as she asked it, as if daring him to deny her.

Part of him wanted to answer back scathingly and in no uncertain terms that it was none of her business, but he conceded that he'd just made it her business. It would not help the situation, either. He wanted her to talk to Potter. "I think you know the terms of the bond," he finally said trying for neutral.

"I've discussed it with Potter." Her tone said she found the conversation not to her liking. "He's very young. Too young to deal with this, really."

"He's too young to deal with a great many things that he has been required to deal with over the years. I would see the burden on him eased if I could." Snape sighed. It galled him that the entire wizarding world had put their hopes and fears on the shoulders of a seventeen year old boy. "If you would talk to him about his Muggle family."

"I doubt it will do much good. He's notoriously closed-mouth on the subject." She thought for a moment. "He isn't going to be returning to them this summer?"

"No. We shall probably live at Snape Manor."

"Then you plan to keep him?" She cleared her throat. "What will you do if his feelings for you do not materialize as you hope they will?"

That was a good question, Snape conceded, and one he didn't care to think about too greatly . "I shall cross that bridge only if I must."

McGonagall blinked and looked hard at him again. "You're in love with him, aren't you?"

"That is a very inappropriate question to ask me." He certainly wasn't going to dignify it with a response.

"I'm concerned about Harry." Her expression softened a bit. "And you as well."

"You're simply nosey." With a sneer, he looked down his nose condescendingly at her.

McGonagall laughed and inclined her head. "That, too."

"I think you have your answer."

"I expect that I do." She sat back in her chair. "I'll speak to him. I doubt it will do much good. I do know those Muggles used him as a house elf for most of his life. I suspect they didn't feed him well, either. Beyond that, I don't think there was physical abuse."

Feeling his anger rise again, Snape looked at her in disbelief. "Starving him wasn't abuse?"

She sighed. "The protection that his mother's family could give was deemed more important than --"

"The lacks he suffered at their hands." Snape allowed all the contempt he felt to explode in his tone. "The love and protection and caring he should have had and didn't?"

"That's unfair. He's grown into a fine young man."

"No thanks to anything any of you did to help him."

"You must include yourself in that, I think," McGonagall snapped, her expression angry. "Until very recently, your treatment of him was not any better than those Muggles."

Snape turned on her, his eyes burning with rage, both at her for daring to bring it up and at himself for having added to Potter's burdens. "Don't you think I know that? I'm trying to make amends." He took a breath to calm himself. "Will you talk to him?"

She nodded, also seeming to calm. "Yes."

"Thank you." Snape turned on his heel and walked out.

Just before dawn, Snape opened his eyes, his time sense alerting him that it was morning, or what passed for it these days. When he tried to move and all of his muscles protested. His breath hissed out through his teeth. Another night on the sofa.

Potter groaned and tried to turn over, falling off onto the floor with a thud. Unfortunately, that seemed to happen nearly every time they slept together.

Snape scowled. This was pushing the bounds of propriety almost beyond that which he could countenance, but he had little choice. Sleeping on the sofa was better than sleeping in his bed, which might be their next option if they strained the bond again.

Blinking up at him myopically, Potter grimaced. "You know, I wouldn't end up on my bum three times out of five if you'd let us sleep in your bed."

Shaking his head, he didn't look at Potter, too afraid the blasted boy would see the want in his eyes. "Don't ask that of me. This is as far as I can allow it."

Looking both exasperated and exhausted, Potter frowned. "I still spend every night in your quarters. What difference does it make where I sleep?" Potter rolled his shoulders and grimaced. "Or don't as in this case."

"You were snoring quite nicely, last night," Snape said tartly, but then relented at Potter's look. He picked up Potter's glasses off the side table and handed them to him. "I'm hoping in a week or two, we can stop doing this."

"It's been three weeks." Potter sighed, putting on his glasses. "I can leave in the morning, but not during the night. I don't think it's going to change any time soon."

Snape hated it when Potter was right. "Perhaps with a bit more time..."

"If you say so. I've got to go now, and get ready for class." Potter stood up and dusted off his bottom. His clothes were wrinkled and dirty, smelling faintly of sweat and teenaged boy. "I never sleep in my pajamas any more."

Sleeping in full robes was not any more comfortable, but too much familiarity would bring more intimacy. As much as he blamed Potter for many things, the truth was that he wasn't ready for that.

"Go," he said. "I'll see you in class."

Potter slid into his cloak and closed the door quietly behind him.

"Albus," Snape said, coming into the headmaster's office. "A moment of your time, if you will?"

"Yes, yes. Do come in." Waving Snape to a seat in front of his desk, Dumbledore waited a moment before he asked, "What can I do for you, Severus?"

"I suspect I shall be summoned by the Dark Lord soon." He never knew for certain when it might happen, but on occasion, he would get a sense of something coming. It was never regular enough to track or to even call more than intuition, though it did usually prove correct.

"I'm not surprised at all." Dumbledore nodded. "I must say, I do wonder that it hasn't happened before this."

"From what I've heard from my few contacts, I think he's planning something. Unfortunately, I am no longer amongst his most trusted to know what it is." Even after he'd been allowed back into the Dark Lord's presence, he'd never quite regained his status as part of Voldemort's inner circle.

"Do you think it's going to be dangerous for you to attend him?" There was a gratifying amount of concern in Dumbledore's tone.

"It is always so." Snape was never completely sure what Voldemort wanted or what might set him against one of his own. His chances of being tortured were about the same as anyone else's. "However, that is not the problem."

Dumbledore raised a startled eyebrow at him. "Indeed. What, then?" He held out his hand for Snape to continue.

"I could be gone a day or two." Snape cleared his throat. "If I were to be gone for too long, it could cause Mr. Potter some distress. Especially if I come back... damaged."

Looking thoughtful for a moment, Dumbledore nodded. "Perhaps if you spent a bit of time together before you are summoned."

"Therein lies the problem," Snape said, closing his eyes and trying to calm his frayed nerves. "I already spend a great deal of time with him, on a daily," he paused, looking down at his hands, "and nightly basis."

Dumbledore let out a long breath. It didn't seem to be news to him. "I assume that the bond is growing more difficult to ignore."

"Each time we attempt to pull away, to put distance between us, the strain on Mr. Potter becomes worse." Snape tried to contain his concern. "I'm beginning to worry about the long term effects and what damage it might do to him."

"There is surprisingly little written on the effects of this bond." Dumbledore looked troubled. "I've asked Miss Granger to research it."

Snape looked up, surprised. "Whyever would you do that?" Although he had stopped actively trying to antagonize Potter's best friends and they him, Snape knew he would never get on well with either of them.

The look Dumbledore gave him was amusing. "She is the best researcher I've seen come through this school since you were a student here."

Despite his best efforts to still it, a spark of pride slid through him at Dumbledore's words. "Did Miss Granger find anything of use?"

Dumbledore shook his head. "I'm afraid not."

"Then I still have reason to be concerned about Potter."

"But not yourself?" Dumbledore looked at him. "I'm concerned for both of you."

"I've had no adverse effects at all." Snape wiped his hands on his thigh. "My only true concern is that if I am summoned, the Dark Lord may recognize the bond."

"That is a possibility, yes, but unlikely I think." Dumbledore reached for a sweet and popped it into his mouth. "He cannot see into your mind."

Thankfully, he did not offer one to Snape. "He can, however, invade Mr. Potter's mind. At least to the point where he can send images."

"He hasn't since the incident at the end of Harry's fifth year." Dumbledore didn't have much hope in his voice.

"Mr. Potter is guarded against it, yes. However, being who and what he is, Potter might not recognize another kind of intrusion."

Dumbledore nodded, looking more troubled. "Will you begin to train Harry again in ways of shielding his mind?"

Even more uncomfortable, Snape shifted in his chair, not meeting Dumbledore's eyes. "I would rather not have access to his mind at this time." "Why not?"

"Because my relationship with him is already too intimate. My feelings..." Snape tried to find a decent way to put it and came up with none, "Are already too close."

"Perhaps that would work in your favor." Dumbledore did not sound like he actually understood the problem.

That seemed unlikely in the extreme. Snape took a breath and steeled himself to spell it out as he assumed Dumbledore wanted. "I would rather not give him an example of what I am feeling."

"Surely at this point, he already knows." Again, it seemed that Dumbledore was deliberately missing the point.

Another deep breath and Snape could finally look him in the eyes. "Knowing intellectually and having certain physical knowledge are two entirely different things."

Dumbledore looked back at him without his usual amusement. "Do you fear his reaction to your feelings or your fantasies?"

"My feelings. I try not to have fantasies about him." Although he could not help what he felt, he tried very hard not to think about Potter in any context other that the one they existed in.

Looking somewhere between disbelieving and amused, Dumbledore had the nerve to laugh at him. "I am impressed with your strength of mind, Severus."

"I refuse to think such things about a student." Snape folded his arms over his chest, feeling quite put out by the whole conversation. Everyone seemed to believe he was a lecherous man. "What do you expect from me?"

"That you admit your feelings for the boy." Dumbledore made it sound so bloody simple, as if he could simply declare himself and be done with it.

Even had he been the hearts and flowers type of man, which he most assuredly was not, declaring himself to a student under his authority was beyond the bounds of what he could do. "That's just it, Albus, he is a boy. Too young for this, for what I feel for him."

"Then you do know what you're feeling?"

Turning to glare at Dumbledore, Snape was an inch from saying something unforgivable. "Of course I do. I could hardly miss it."

"And Harry?"

"Probably would not recognize the emotion if it bit him," Snape said with a deep sigh. "I suspect that is why the bond is creating such havoc."

"It sees Harry's naivete as resistance?" Dumbledore nodded and reached for another candy from the dish. "I'm afraid it makes perfect sense."

"I thought so, or I would not have mentioned it."

"You might try helping things along then."

"Good Lord, what are you saying?" Snape was completely appalled that Dumbledore would even suggest such a thing. "What do you expect me to do, seduce him? A child."

"He's hardly a child, though not yet fully mature either. And no, I do not expect that of you." Dumbledore held up his hand. "All I am saying that you may not have the choice of remaining close fairly soon. It might be kinder to--"

"No. I cannot." Snape shook his head in denial even as he knew it might come to that. "I have little enough integrity left, allow me to keep what I have."

"It's not a matter of morals or integrity, it's a matter of keeping Harry -- and yourself -- safe and heathy." Looking and sounding admonishing, Dumbledore seemed to feel that Snape should already know this.

It wasn't as if he didn't understand. However, he'd crossed too many lines in his life already to cross more willingly. "I hear you telling me to seduce a student --"

"No." Dumbledore's expression was cross, his tone quite stern. "That is not what I am telling you at all. I am saying, however ineptly, that you may need to help Harry realize what his feelings for you actually are."

"You know as well as I do that the bond had no sexual component. There is no way of telling if he has actually developed those sorts of feelings for me."

"This is not about sex, Severus. It's about Harry knowing and accepting his feelings -- emotional feelings -- for you."

"Oh." Snape looked down, feeling like a great fool, something only Dumbledore could reduce him to. "What should I do then?"

"I'll leave that to your discretion, but I suggest you do it soon." Dumbledore stood. "I'll send for Harry and test his Occlumency."

"He's quite good at guarding," Snape said.

"With you teaching him, I expect that he would be. However, there is no harm in making sure."

"Good day to you then." Snape stood, grateful to get away.

Sitting back against the arm of the sofa, with his legs spread in front of him, Snape watched Potter take off the cloak and toss it over the chair. "Come sit with me," Snape said, holding his arms open in what he hoped was an inviting gesture.

Potter had the bad grace to look as shocked as he obviously felt. "What?"

"Good Lord, Mr. Potter. You needn't do it if you're uncomfortable with the idea." Snape hadn't meant for his tone to be so sharp.

Ignoring his tone, Potter smiled at him. "No. No. I think this is a good idea. I'm not uncomfortable at all."

He was lying, Snape was sure of that. With predictable Gryffindor courage, Potter came forward and looked down at him.

"What should I do?"

"Sit down with your back against my chest, and... well, I think you'll figure it out." Potter wasn't the only who was discomfited.

Settling against him, Potter squirmed once and then leaned back, sighing in contentment. "This is nice."

"It is... comfortable after all."

Turning around to look at him over his shoulder, Potter asked, "You didn't think it would be? Why...?"

"I thought...." He'd never be able to get past the fact that Potter was still his student. Unfortunately that argument had long since stopped being viable and, it opened a whole new avenue of things that he should be worried about. "This doesn't mean..."

"I know. I know." Potter sounded most long-suffering. "You've said it a million times already. I won't take advantage of you, sir."

"I did not think you would, Mr. Potter."

"Why not?" Potter raised an eyebrow at him. "I mean--" "I know what you mean. However, without the requisite feelings towards me, I expect my virtue is quite safe." In some ways, it was a tremendous relief to Snape, but there lived the niggling fear inside him that Potter might not develop those feeling, even given sufficient time.

"I don't have them for anyone else, either." Potter sounded dispirited, as if he felt he should have those kinds of feelings for someone. "McGonagall--"

"Professor McGonagall," Snape corrected with a disapproving look at Potter.

"Professor McGonagall said that I might not develop those kinds of feelings for you if I wasn't attracted to men in the first place."

"Interfering old tabby," Snape muttered under his breath.

Potter snorted, but wisely said nothing.

Snape cleared his throat. "I think the nature of the bond would override that. Are you attracted to men?"

"Yes. I think so," Potter said.

As quietly as he could, Snape let out the breath he was holding. Under the best of circumstances, he hated having these kinds of discussions, but with Potter, it seemed to be his lot. "Are you concerned?"

His head moved against Snape's shoulder. "Well, yes. I should be lusting over someone, shouldn't I? Even if it isn't you."

"Cheeky boy." Snape didn't let himself laugh. "Not necessarily."

"How old were you?"

Even without referents, Snape knew what he was asking. "Too young to be doing what I was doing, Mr. Potter. That is an inappropriate question."

"You answered it," Potter said. "Why don't you tell me more?"

Even though Potter couldn't see it, Snape shook his head. "No. I think not."

"Then, I think you should kiss me." Potter said it so casually that for a long second, Snape missed the meaning of the words.

"Pardon me?" If Snape could have pulled away, he would have. As it was, his heart rate picked up to snitch flying speed, and a shiver he was sure Potter could feel ran through him.

"I said--"

"Mr. Potter. I heard you clearly the first time." Furious with Potter's audacity, Snape closed his eyes and counted to ten, breathing in and out slowly. "Please, do not repeat it."

Potter turned quickly, somehow arranging them so that they were lying face to face. "I would like you to kiss me."

"I don't think that would be a good idea at all," Snape said through his clenched teeth, panic approaching at a brisk march.

"Right then. If you won't kiss me, I'll have to kiss you."

Before Snape could move from under him, Potter's hand slid into his hair, holding him still and he brushed his lips softly against Snape's. The simplest touch of Potter's mouth to his was unbearably sweet. His whole body froze in surprised pleasure. As Potter pulled away, it was all Snape could do not to follow him. He wanted to whimper with the loss.

Potter's mouth returned to his, and someone groaned as the kiss deepened and Snape was very much afraid it was he. More exquisite sweetness washed over him, and while it was an alien concept to him it was far from unpleasant. Indeed, he wanted more.

An inexperienced tongue brushed against his mouth and Snape opened to it, allowing it in, touching it with his own. More sensations bombarded him, drowning him in feelings he could barely conceive of let alone process.

Moaning, Potter pulled back, then leant forward again for another go at Snape's mouth. His tongue slipped over and under Snape's, teasing and retreating, and then moving forward again to tease once more. Snape responded, following, his arm tightening on Potter's back, drawing him closer.

Potter pushed back into his touch with a gasp of pleasure. "Yes. Oh yes." One of his hands slid down the front of Snape's robes, tangling in the material, pulling at the buttons.

An inch from surrendering everything that he held dear, Snape found the strength to pull back enough to gasp, "No. Please. This is wrong."

Contrary child that he was, Potter disagreed. "It's not." He punctuated his words with another quick kiss. "It feels too good to be wrong."

"It is wrong." Allowing himself a brief kiss, he pushed Potter until he moved away slightly. "We must stop this."

After a hard look at him, Potter nodded and took several deep gulps of air. "You know, I think that was what it was supposed to feel like."

"Perhaps it was," Snape said, not letting anything show in his voice. He couldn't encourage this, not now, not yet. Snape touched his mouth with a finger. His lips felt swollen and tender. "But now is not the time to explore it."

The look Potter gave him said he was barking mad and then ignored him. "I think it's because there's more between you and me than anyone else." He met Snape's eyes. "I also know that my feelings for you are changing."

With a deep sigh, Snape could no longer hold his gaze, his guts twisted. He shouldn't let this continue. "How do you mean that?"

"What do you think?" Potter put a hand on his jaw, tipping his face up and kissed him very lightly. "You know what I mean."

Of course, he did. "Be that as it may, we can't do this now."

Another kiss and Potter backed off again. "All right then, when?"

Because he had to or go mad, Snape pulled out of his arms completely and stood. "I've told you before. Not until you finish school."

"Next June? You've got to be joking." Potter looked just horrified. "I won't make it that long."

"Yes. You will. And so will I." Snape hoped by all that was holy that was true. How badly he wanted the brat was a constant irritation that he could not quite force into submission.

"Why?" Potter could whine like no one Snape had ever heard. "Why do we have to wait? It's stupid."

"Because I can think of few things I consider more wrong than a teacher having inappropriate relations with one of his or her students."

"Well, that certainly says it, doesn't it?" Potter folded his arms over his chest and looked like he was plotting something.

Snape shook his head, amused despite himself. "I know your propensity for breaking the rules, however this one shall not be broken."

"All right." Somehow Potter didn't look deterred, not at all. Indeed, the insolent brat grinned cheekily. "What about a bit of a snog now and then?"

"No." Snape would have liked to put some heat or conviction behind it, but it was hard to even get the word out strongly. "It will be enough to..." He waved his hand over them.

"Cuddle?" Potter's eyes sparkled when he said it. "I rather liked that. Though I'd like more kisses."

Gritting his teeth, he flexed his hands threateningly. "I do not cuddle."

"Okay, so what would you call it? "

He should be outraged by that grin, Snape thought. With a reluctant sigh, he admitted to himself that he found it adorable, just like everything else about the recalcitrant whelp. As long as he could keep that information from Potter, he'd survive the coming months.

"No answer? Well, we'll just have to call it a cuddle until you think up something more appropriate." Potter had the gall to laugh and hold out his arms. "Come on, then."

Some part of Snape would have liked to have refused on general principles, but wouldn't that just be cutting off his nose to... God, he hated cliches. He growled as he gathered Potter into his arms. "You shall pay for this someday, I swear it."

"I'm counting on it." Potter put his head on Snape's shoulder and exhaled slowly.

It was the end of potions class, at the end of a long week. Harry was hoping for a quiet weekend. He had revising to do.

Snape glanced into his cauldron without making eye contact with him. Harry put a scowl on his face and glared back at him. God, as much as he had gained an appreciation for potions, he hated the strain of this class.

"Somewhat passable," Snape sneered as he moved past him to look into Hermione's cauldron.

Harry relaxed a bit. That was high praise coming from Snape.

Seventh year advanced potions was a mix of all houses and there were only twelve students.

The depth and complexity of the class made it easier for Snape to speak to him reasonably or not speak to him at all. Although there were three Slytherins in the class: Malfoy, Bulstrode, and Zabini, none of them had time to pay attention to his and Snape's interactions or anything other than the potion they were putting together. Snape was a demanding teacher and no one dared cross him in the class.

As soon as Snape's dark mark started to burn, Harry knew it, felt Snape's flair of irritation and then resigned acceptance.

"Class dismissed," Snape said, and then looked towards the back of the classroom. "Mr. Malfoy, see to that everyone cleans up, would you?"

"Yes, sir." Malfoy beamed at him. Still the favorite.

Harry wanted to snarl that Snape belonged to him, but managed to keep any expression off his face. Glancing up at Snape, Harry couldn't catch his eye as he took off his smock and went to the door. If Harry thought he could get away with it, he would have followed him into the hall.

"What's wrong?" Hermione whispered, low enough that only he heard.

Shaking his head, Harry couldn't tell her here. Ron, on his other side, put a hand on his arm and squeezed very quickly.

Before they had completely cleaned up their potions, a third-year Hufflepuff student came into class. "Where is Professor Snape?" he asked.

Malfoy came to the front and held out his hand. "He's gone. What do you have for him?"

"It's for Harry Potter, actually, from the Headmaster." The boy's chest expanded a bit, proud of himself.

"Well, give it to him," Malfoy said, nodding his head towards Harry. "And then get out of here. Or I'll take house points from you."

Always the prefect, Malfoy was just as puffed up on his own sense of self-importance as the Hufflepuff boy had been.

Harry sighed and took the note without reading it. When he was out of class, he opened it.

"What does it say?" Ron asked, walking beside him back towards the common room. Hermione had gone to the library.

"The Headmaster wants to see me." Harry stopped, no point in going back to the dorm only to have to turn around. "I should see him now, I suppose."

"Does it say what he wanted?" Ron seemed distracted. "I've got practice in a few minutes."

"No. He doesn't say anything other than to come to see him." Harry shook his head, trying to hide his concern. "See you later."

"Are you okay?" Ron put his hand on Harry's arm. "I mean, what with..."

"I'm worried about it." Harry sighed. "I don't think that is what Dumbledore wants to see me about."

Ron nodded.

An icy north wind blew across the astronomy tower. Harry wrapped his arms tighter around himself and shivered hard. His invisibility cloak was great for not being seen, but it didn't do much against the cold.

It was late. He knew he should be down in Snape's rooms, but the dungeon had become too quiet. The silence was driving him mad. Snape still hadn't returned. Every time Harry thought about what that monster could be doing to Snape, his stomach roiled and he felt nauseated. He wanted Snape back, now.

"Harry? Are you up here, mate?" Ron's voice called from the doorway.

"Does it look like I'm here?" Harry couldn't help the snarky answer. Who else but Ron would ask that of an empty tower? Of course, who else would know he had the cloak, either? He pulled the hood down. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Ron stepped up onto the battlement and closed the wooden door behind him. "You're out after curfew, and you never cast the charm on your bed."

"Damn. I forgot."

"Would have cast it if I could, but since you won't teach it to me..." Ron gave him a slightly aggrieved look. He wanted that charm.

"Wish I could, mate. You know I promised McGonagall. If I gave it to you, she'd be after my hide, and I'm rather attached to it."

"Already got Snape after it, so what's one more?" Ron said, playfully.

Harry knew he meant it as a joke, but it wasn't funny to him. "Not like that. More the other way round to be truthful."

Ron's eyes grew wide and disbelieving. "You're after his arse? Since when?"

"Slow process. I've been standing up here thinking about all the horrible things Voldemort could be doing to him right now. All I want to do is find that bastard and kill him and make sure Snape is safe."

"You're protective of him, but that's not new," Ron said, tentatively. "Is it more than that? Do you actually want to... you know."

"Yes. I do. I have for a while now, but I guess," Harry trailed off, feeling stupid, "I didn't realize what it meant."

Laughing, Ron made a face. "I can't believe you could miss that. Even you."

Knocking his shoulder into Ron's, he frowned. "What do you mean, even me? You sound like you knew it all along."

"Well, you are kind of slow on the uptake about that kind of thing, aren't you? Besides, it was kind of obvious after a while." Ron laughed at him again.

"Did everyone know?" Harry could feel his face heat, even in the cold wind. "That could be a problem."

Ron shook his head. "Only those of us who knew you."

"Good." Harry breathed out a sigh of relief. "God, I'm worried. He's not back yet. I hate waiting like this.

"I know. I'm sorry." Ron's expression was sympathetic. "What did Dumbledore want?"

"To tell me that Snape had been summoned and to talk about Occlumency. He tested me on it." As much as it was less intrusive than with Snape in fifth year, it was not pleasant under any circumstance.

"Was he satisfied with what you know?"

"Yeah, I could block him out and I doubt that Voldemort is stronger than he is."

Ron shivered. "I hate it when you use that name. But he will be more ruthless than Dumbledore, even if he's not stronger."

"I know. But Snape taught me very well. He's hidden his spying from Voldemort for years, so no matter how strong he is, he's not invulnerable."

"I guess not." Ron shivered again. "Why don't you go down to the dorm and sleep in your own bed for tonight? Not that there's much of the night left, anyway."

Shaking his head, Harry looked out over the dark lawn, hoping to see movement. There was none. "I need to see Snape. I'll never sleep, anyway."

"Well, come on, mate. It's too cold to say up here. I'll go down to the dungeons to wait with you."

Even knowing he shouldn't let Ron do it, Harry didn't want to be alone. "Thanks. Best get under the cloak with me, then."

"God, I wonder if we'll both fit."

Harry laughed. Ron was a good deal bigger than he'd been the last time they shared it. "It's charmed to fit around whomever is wearing it."

"Make sense since it still fits you. Even if you haven't grown that much." Ron patted the top of Harry's head and snickered.

Height was an issue Harry didn't think about. It wasn't that he didn't care exactly, but there wasn't anything he could do about it, and he had so many other things to worry about. "Don't I know it?"

Just before dawn, Snape Apparated to just outside the gates of Hogwarts, surprisingly none the worse for wear for seeing the Dark Lord this time. Dead tired, he trudged along the paths towards the main entrance. He had to see the Headmaster.

Once that task was completed, Snape headed for his rooms. As he came through the door, he was wrapped in Potter's arms and held very tightly.

"What are you doing here?" Snape asked, pressing his face into Potter's hair, and breathing in the scent of him, letting it wash over him, soothing him. Something clean and good after the foulness of the Dark Lord's presence.

"Couldn't wait anywhere else. Couldn't sleep." Potter was shaking. "I was so damned worried about you."

"As you can see, I'm quite fine." Snape tried to pull back a little, but Potter would not let him go. "Let me breathe, Mr. Potter."

"Sorry," Potter relaxed his grip, but didn't release him completely. Something had changed, Snape realized and he peered down at Potter. "What?"

Potter shook his head and then glanced at the sofa.

"Why is there a Weasley sleeping on my sofa?" Snape put his best imperious tone on for that one. Under the best of circumstances, he would not have cared to come home to a Weasley; after the evening he'd had, it was even less desirable.

"Ron waited with me." Potter glared up at him. "Don't even think about it."

When had Potter got to know him so well. "Fine. Wake him up. I must change, see that he is gone when I return."

Potter didn't seem ready to release him and Snape couldn't find it within himself to force the issue. "Did you find out what's going on with Voldemort?"

For a couple of seconds, Snape debated whether or not he should say anything about it. He sighed, tiredly. "No. I'm not sure why I was summoned, especially so early in the day like that."

Holding him tight again, Potter buried his head against Snape's shoulder. "Perhaps it was a test, to see if you would obey him."

Snape nodded and gently pushed him away. "I would not put that past him. I must change." He pointedly glanced at the no longer sleeping Weasley, and put his hand on his bedroom door.

Potter nodded, relief and something else in his eyes.

When he returned, Weasley was gone and Potter was sitting on the sofa. As soon as he opened the door, Potter was in his arms.

"What is it?" Snape held him closely. "What's wrong?"

"I don't want to lose you." Potter said, muffled against his shoulder. "I kept thinking that Voldemort would do something terrible to you and I'd never have a chance to say how I feel. That I--"

"Don't say it. Please." Snape knew what had changed now, part of him wanted to dance with the sheer joy of it, and most of him wished it had waited a few more months. "Not yet. Not until it's appropriate."

"But what if I never--"

"Honor my wishes with this, Mr. Potter. It's only until you leave school." Snape was so tired. "I must sleep."

Moving backward without letting Snape out of his arms, Potter pulled him down on the sofa and shifted until he was comfortable. "I'm tired too. Sleep."

Without more fuss, he was just too tired, he laid his head on Potter's chest and fell asleep.


Snape held the door to the classroom open for Potter to precede him.

"Tell me again why we're here?" Potter said, looking around. "This is the room of requirements, isn't it?"

"Yes. Did you think only students knew about it?" Snape smirked at him.

"I never thought about it." Potter walked slowly around the room. "It's changed."

"Hence the reason they call it the Room of Requirements."

"Are our requirements such that we need to be using it instead of your classroom or office?" Harry asked.

"I need a place we will not be disturbed."

"For what?" Potter stopped in front of him.

"We are going to start to share magic."

Potter gave him a disbelieving look. "Just like that? No lead up? No nothing?"

"What kind of lead up where you expecting?"

"Something more than you just dropping it on me."

Snape exhaled and tried to glare at him. Harry had no patience at all. "You did realize this was the culmination of the bond?"

"Yes." Potter blushed.

It was too obvious what he was thinking. "That is a byproduct, not a part of the actual bond."

"Yeah, right. It would be more convincing if I wasn't feeling it more than I am your magic."

"That is not my fault." Snape folded his arms over his chest, and stubbornly told himself that Potter's blush was not at all cute. Unfortunately, he was finding it more and more difficult to believe himself, especially with Potter looking at him with those big green eyes filled with...

Snape closed his eyes and took a breath, letting it out very slowly, willing himself to think cold thoughts.

Eight months. That was all it was. He was not an animal enslaved to his baser instincts; they could wait that long

"It is your fault," Potter said, his voice low as he looked at him from under his lashes. "You know it is."

"Stop. We have work to do."

"We could do other things..."

Merlin, when had the brat learned to flirt like that? "Mr. Potter. Now is not the time for this." His voice sounded stern, or as much as he could muster. This was Potter after all.

The tone must have gotten through. Potter straightened up. "Fine. We'll do it your way. No fun at all."

"Not for some time to come, at the least." Snape faced him. "Now, what we're going to do is similar to the Occlumency lessons in that we'll touch each other's mind. Not attack and defend as before, but a gentle touch following the bond."

Potter looked up at him, expression puzzled. "How? Do you know where the bond is?"

"I can feel it, can't you?"

"No." Potter bit his lower lip. "I can feel you. Or rather, I know you're there. I can't feel a specific connection to you, which is what you mean, isn't it?"

"Yes." Snape focused inward, finding the connection and following it to Potter. He deliberately poked it hard.

"Hey!" Harry said, giving him a dirty look, which shifted to confused after he realized it wasn't a physical touch. "I felt that."

"That was the bond."

"Really?" Potter sounded like he didn't quite believe him. "Wait. Let me..."

A moment later, Snape felt an answering touch from Potter, not nearly so hard as his. "Very good."

Closing his eyes, Potter traced the bond into Snape's mind with the lightest touch. "I can't actually hear your thoughts."

"If you pushed, you'd be able to come into my mind, but don't. It's an invasion of my privacy." Snape felt him stop moving. "Now, I'll do the same thing." Reaching out, he consciously moved through the bond into Potter's mind. "We will cast the same spell, at the same time."

Potter looked nervous. "What will happen?"

"Hopefully, our powers will join and it will be cast with twice the power." Snape picked up his wand. "Let's move that ball from one end of the room to the other."

Raising his wand, he pointed it at the ball. "Agicedo"

The ball slammed against the opposite wall so hard it burst and the plastic that was left was embedded in the wall.

"Oh! That was brilliant." Potter smiled widely, glancing at the remains of the ball. "Though um... maybe we should pull it back a bit."

Ignoring the smile and the effect it had on him, Snape tried to scowl. "Your comments are, as always, lacking in eloquence. Shall we try it again?"

"Do we have another ball?" Potter held out his wand.

"Accio Ball." Snape caught it as flew towards him and nodded towards the balls piled in a corner. "Do you ever notice anything?"

"They weren't there when we came in." Potter's look said he wasn't sure.

He couldn't help smirking at Potter. "They were indeed, Mr. Potter. You weren't paying attention, as usual."

Potter blushed again and didn't meet his eyes. He held up his wand and Snape did the same, repeating the command.

The ball hit the wall with less force this time, but it was still enough to burst it.

"Well, this is going to take time, isn't it?"

"I suspect so." Quite a bit of time, Snape thought. "Shall we try it again?"


It took several hours to get the ball to move to the wall and bounce and return to them. By the time they had accomplished the task, both he and Potter were exhausted.

Sitting against the far wall, Potter breathed out heavily. "Well, at least we did it."

"After a fashion." This was going to take a phenomenal amount of work. Snape wondered where they would find the time. "Don't look so put out, Mr. Potter. It was a good night's work, but we have a long way to go."

"Yes. It was fun, though."

"I'm not sure I'd categorize it as that, but if you wish to, don't let me stop you."

"Ha ha." Potter smiled at him again, with that charming, easy smile he hadn't noticed before a few weeks ago. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"About the bond?"

"No, about what you've been avoiding every time we're together." Potter's smile changed from easy to smug. "Since that's every night, I thought I'd bring it up."

"If I haven't mentioned something, then you should be aware by now, that it might mean I don't wish to discuss it." Snape glared at him. Damned boy. Couldn't ever leave well enough alone, could he?

"What if I want to talk about it?" Potter wasn't smiling any more, indeed his expression had a definite stubborn look to it. Never a good thing with him.

Snape exhaled and closed his eyes. "Do you? Are you confused by something? Or do you just wish to torture me with it?"

"I wouldn't do that."

"Wouldn't you?" Snape knew very well that he wasn't above a bit of teasing, or worse. Nothing that would do more than prick, but even that could draw blood.

"No. I've been waiting for this." Potter pushed himself to his feet, and leaned against the wall. "I was afraid it wouldn't happen."

"Why were you afraid of that?" Snape could not imagine what went through Potter's mind sometimes. "You're a normal healthy young man. You knew..."

Potter shook his head. "No. I didn't. Aside from that crush on Cho, I never..." he trailed off, blushing.

If he said that Potter was young, Snape knew the reaction he'd get. So, he simply remained silent, waiting for Potter to finish. Which he hoped would happen soon. This could degenerate quickly into something he was not prepared to deal with.

Potter stepped up to him. Closer. Too close. "You feel the same way I do."

Snape took a step back. With Potter, sometimes he had to give ground. He didn't like it, but he understood intrinsically that Potter would not back down.

"You don't even know what I'm going to do." Potter reached up and slid a hand down Snape's arm.

"I can guess." The hand on his arm burned down into his guts, and Snape tried to suppress a shiver of pure pleasure at the touch. "And I do wish you would not."

Potter leaned up and kissed him, anyway. Pulling back slightly, he smiled and then kissed him again. "Nice."

Breathing out, and forcing his eyes open, Snape shook his head. "Please do not." Even to himself, his voice sounded strained and raspy.

"I'm not pushing it. I promise. Nothing until I'm out of school. But I need..." He blushed again as his hands tightened on Snape's arms. "Please."

Trying to clear his head, Snape could hear something in Potter's tone that wasn't a whine or a demand. "What do you need? Tell me."

"I need to be closer to you," Potter whispered against his lips, moving slightly to kiss him again.

As much as he would have liked to pull away, Snape could not. He actually leaned in and brushed another kiss across Potter's mouth.

They both sighed as he pulled back enough to look Potter in the face. "You need this?" Snape asked.

Meeting his eyes, Potter nodded. "Yes. I need it. I can't explain better than that. It's more than want. Something says I must..."

Letting his mouth quirk up into some semblance of a smile, Snape tried to find an answer that was reasonable. "Did you ever think it is simply teenage lust?"

Potter shook his head. "I don't think it is. Besides, I've learned with this bond that I have to listen to it. It's telling me to be closer to you."

"I'm not going to sleep with you."

At that, Potter laughed. "You already sleep with me."

Point, Snape conceded. "I meant fornicate."

"Yes, I did know what you meant. That is not what I'm asking for." Potter pressed another quick kiss to his mouth, but drew back before he could respond. "But speaking of sleeping, I'm tired of sleeping in my clothes."

"You could return to your dorm." Even as he said it, Snape knew it wasn't being fair. It wasn't as if Potter had any more of a choice than he did. It wasn't enjoyable to sleep on the sofa. Unfortunately, it was a fact of their lives.

Glowering at him, Potter shook his head. "You know as well as I do that I try to leave almost every night. That sofa is not very comfortable."

"It's not," Snape agreed. "However, it is the best we can do for now."

"We could sleep in your bed." Potter's expression turned earnest. "Would it help if I swore I wouldn't try anything?"

"It's not a matter of that," Snape said. "It's a matter of what it looks like."

"How much worse could it be than spending every night sleeping on your sofa?" Potter sighed. "Who is going to see anyway?"

"That's not the point."

"No, the point is that we have to sleep together, and you won't let us be comfortable to do it."

The brat had a point. Not to mention that he hadn't had a good night's sleep since Potter had started to stay. Was the idea of sleeping with Potter in his arms so overwhelming that he would try any way he could to justify it? Snape wasn't sure what he was doing and that annoyed him. "I'll think about it."

"Do that." Potter stalked to the door and pulled it open. "I'm hungry. I'll see you later."

When he was gone, Snape let out the breath he'd been holding.

"Harry!" Ron called, following him after class. "Haven't seen you for a while, mate."

"Yeah, I know with the endless detentions that greasy git has been giving me." Harry made himself sound right put out for those listening. "I've no time for anything other than revising for my NEWTs."

"You're not playing Quidditch, You should have more time," Allison Newbury, one the people added to the Quidditch team last year said, as she passed. "I mean, even with Snape giving you all those detentions."

"I wish I could play." He looked at her. "You know as well as I do that Umbridge's decree is still being upheld by the ministry." Harry had no time for Quidditch this year, but he was still angry that Umbridge's legacy hadn't faded completely from the school, nor from the back of his hand.

"Can't Professor Dumbledore do anything about it?" Allison persisted, folding her arms over her chest, and looking personally affronted. "I mean, if you asked him? We need you on the team."

"You don't think I have already?" Harry glared back at her. "The headmaster has better and more important things to deal with than me being on the Quidditch team. Sorry. I won't bother him again."

"Yeah," Ron put in, standing up next to Harry and towering over her. "It's not like we've got a bad team. We haven't done that badly."

"No, you haven't," Harry agreed, giving Ron an encouraging smile. "I'm proud of the team."

"Fine," Allison snapped, and turned away. "You've obviously got better things to do."

"What's with her?" Ron asked, putting his hand on Harry's upper arm and leading him out of the corridor into the main entrance. "Let's take a walk."

"Don't know. She's not usually like that. What's going on?" Harry shook off Ron's hand, and followed him down the steps. This wasn't like Ron and he was concerned. "Ron?"

"Give it a second," Ron said, nodding to several other students and they crossed the greens towards the lake.

Neither of them spoke until they were on the far side. It was wet and slushy; their shoes made squishing sounds in the mud.

"What?" Harry couldn't take the suspense any more. "What is going on?"

"People are starting to talk about you and the fact you're not around at all any more. Not in the common room, not at night. No one has seen you all term. The charm works fine in the dorm, but when someone actually looks for you..."

"I know you're covering for me, and I appreciate it." More than he was going to be able to say. "Hermione, too."

"S'what friends are for." Ron smiled but it didn't reach his eyes.

"God, what should I do? You know that I have to be around him." Harry looked at Ron, at a loss. "It's literally painful for me to go too long without seeing him."

"I know, mate." Ron shrugged. "I don't know what you can do. But I do know that my excuses aren't going to hold for much longer. It's been months. Can't you spend a night or two in the common room?"

"I could. I'd still have to go to him at night," Harry trailed off. He could feel the blush on his face.

Ron looked uncomfortable, and then sighed. "I wish there was something I could do to help you. There isn't, is there?"

"You're already doing more than you should have to." Harry felt grateful to have such good friends.

Ron shook his head. "We should ask Hermione about it, but I don't think anyone suspects the truth of where you actually are at night."

"God, I hope not." Harry shuddered. "He'd kill me if anyone found out."

"Why? I mean, aside from the fact he's a greasy, mean-spirited git," Ron smirked. "Oh, that would be the reason, wouldn't it?"

"Ron. Come on." Harry knew Ron understood how he felt about Snape, but it was pretty obvious that he still hadn't quite accepted it as fact yet.

Grimacing for a moment, Ron squared his shoulders. "I'm your friend, no matter what happens, Harry. You know that."

He did, beyond a doubt. "Thanks, mate."

"I got some news of my own." Ron looked away and then back at him. "Hermione and I are going out."

"Where?" Harry wondered why Ron was making a big deal out of going somewhere with Hermione. They went places all the time.

"No." Ron smiled and shook his head. "I mean we're going out. On a date."

"A date?" Harry asked, masking his surprise. It wasn't as if he hadn't known it was coming. "I hadn't realized you'd finally plucked up your courage."

"You knew how I felt about her." Ron blushed. "I mean, I told you I wanted to kiss her. Well, I did."

"She liked it, I take it?" Harry watched him smile as he nodded "Well done, mate. So, what happens next?"

"Dinner. She and I, the next Hogsmeade weekend." Ron seemed a little hesitant.

"That should be in a couple of weeks, right?" Harry saw the worry in his face and put a hand on his arm. "Is something..."

"No. Just, you know...." He looked away, his face flushing. "This is important to me, and I don't want to bugger things up."

"She's already your best friend, how could they get messed up?"

"That's how. I don't want to stop being friends with her."

"You won't." At least, Harry hoped they wouldn't. He could see a potential for a lot of things going wrong with this. There was also the potential for his two best friends to find what he was pretty sure he'd found. "It will be fine."


"Albus," Snape said, sitting down in the comfortable chair in front of Dumbledore's fire. "Did you want to actually talk to me about something or was this an enforced social call?"

"No." Dumbledore smiled infuriating at him, complete with eyes twinkling merrily. "I did want to know how things are going with you and Harry?"

Bugger all, Snape thought. Merlin, how he hated the impromptu status sessions. They always left him feeling like he wasn't quite measuring up and he was never sure why. "We spend an inordinate amount of time together. Far more than is proper."

"Given the strain that has been placed on the bond, I'm not surprised." Dumbledore sounded like he approved of the situation. "You don't sound any worse for it."

Which, as far as Snape was concerned, he shouldn't do. "You know how I feel about the brat."

"I do indeed." Dumbledore's eyes positively twinkled with his pleasure. "Now Harry seems to be returning those feelings."

Snape found his amusement most irritating when he was trying to have a serious discussion. He shouldn't be surprised that Dumbledore knew of Potter's nascent feelings, nothing got past him. It was the way of the world. He didn't have to like it, however. "Yes. It would appear so."

"You don't seem very pleased with the occurrence. Is there another problem?" A note of concern had finally slipped into Dumbledore words, but it didn't overlay the cheer.

Glaring at him, Snape wondered if Dumbledore actually grasped the seriousness of the situation. "You certainly sound to be pleased enough for both of us. Why is that?"

A bit more of Dumbledore's good spirits drained away. "I should think you would be happy about this as well."

"Why should I be?" Snape glared at him, glad he was finally seeing there was a problem. "It's seven more months before I can do anything about it. All it does is prolong our--"

"Yes, yes." Dumbledore waved his hand to stop what Snape was about to say. "I'm sure you're right."

"Furthermore," Snape growled. He was tired and annoyed and didn't care any longer. "I doubt Mr. Potter has slept in his own bed more than once or twice since the beginning of the term."

"Severus," Dumbledore said in a tone he rarely used, one that commanded attention when he did. "I don't need to know the details."

Despite the warning tone, or maybe because of it, Snape sneered at him. "Oh, but don't you want them? Don't you want to hear about--"

"No. I do not." Dumbledore's tone was stern and his expression grave. "Should I find out, in any official capacity that a professor was spending the night with a student, I might be forced to take some action on that. It is, as you know, against any number of rules."

Snape looked hard at him, knowing his comment had crossed the line, even if he hadn't. "That would be unfortunate."

"Indeed. For all concerned, I'm afraid." Dumbledore stroked a hand along his beard, his face intent. "As I have said, I trust you to do the right thing for Harry and yourself."

"What are you saying?" Snape was good at reading people; he had to be given both his natural inclinations and his secondary profession. "I'm not sure I understand."

"I thought I was being quite clear on this."

He hated when Dumbledore was deliberately obtuse, never quite sure if the man knew it and was playing with him or not. "You were not. Please spell it out."

"As I said, if I were to know officially," Dumbledore stressed the word, "of activities that were in violation of the rules, I might have to act on it."

He still didn't understand it and he shook his head. "I know this. Is there something you've heard that I should know about?"

"Only that Harry has spent a great deal of time away from his friends this term." Dumbledore sounded troubled. "The children of Gryffindor have started to speak of it."

Snape sighed. "I'm not sure it can be helped."

"I expect not, but consider it when you're keeping him close to you." Dumbledore looked at him and smiled. "Tell me, what if anything have you heard from Voldemort?"

Sometimes the way Dumbledore changed topics gave Snape whiplash. "I've heard nothing since I was summoned in October. However, I think I'll be called again during the winter break. I am not sure things are going well for him right now."

"No. I suspect that they are not. We've had several very successful operations recently." Dumbledore was looking quite pleased with that.

Indeed, Snape would have been pleased as well, except, "I didn't know about that."

"The Order hasn't met recently to allow the exchange of information." Dumbledore looked more cagey than usual. "How are the magic sharing sessions going for you and Harry?"

Letting it go, Snape knew he'd have his answers when Dumbledore felt like telling him and not before. "When the brat bothers to concentrate, he's quite adept at using the combined magic."

"And you?"

"I manage. I haven't as much raw power as he has." Snape shivered. All that power in Potter. It amazed Snape that he was on their side. Most people would be corrupted by it, but it seemed as if Potter didn't even have a concept of what he could do with it. Snape sometimes wondered what would happen if he'd told Potter the truth. "It requires more energy for me to control his power than for him to control mine."

"Because he will face Voldemort, that might not be so bad a thing."

"All things considered, probably not."

Part IX

At ten, the door to his quarters opened, and closed, without anything coming through the door. Snape took a sip of his tea. "Good evening, Mr. Potter."

The material of the cloak rustled and Potter's head appeared in mid-air. He smiled at Snape, "Good evening, sir. How was your day?"

"Fine. You're later than usual." Snape set his teacup down and shifted over on the sofa.

"I'm trying to spend more time in the common room, as both you and Ron mentioned it was becoming a problem." Potter tossed the cloak over the back of the sofa.

"Very good." Snape watched him retrieve a book from his backpack and come to sit down beside him. "Are you getting your revising done?"

"As much as I can," Potter said, snuggling down against him with a sigh. "It's hard to be away from you for so long."

"I know." Closing his eyes, Snape bent his head slightly to Potter's messy hair, and breathed in the scent of him. Peace settled over him. "I had hoped it would fade with time and proximity."

"I think it's better than it was." Potter didn't sound completely convinced. "I wonder if there's more we should be doing to ease it."

Before Snape could answer, a searing pain shot through his arm, and he gasped.

Potter sat up, and looked at him, expression confused. "Are you okay? It feels stronger to me this time."

"I don't have time to discuss why you're feeling more now. I must answer the summons, now." There was no time to change his clothes, perhaps he'd get lucky twice. Even as he thought it, dread washed over him.

"Damn." Potter's hand reached out but didn't connect with his arm. "I wish--"

"I must go," Snape said as his arm burned again, more deeply this time. As gently as he could, he pushed Potter away and stood. "Tell Dumbledore that I've been summoned, would you?"

Potter's expression was full of concern as he followed him to the door. "Is there anything I can--"

"No." Snape appreciated his concern. He drew his cloak out of the cupboard, and wrapped it around him. "I'll be fine."

The look on Potter's face said he didn't believe that. Wise boy. "I'll be here when you come back."

"It might not be for a few days." Voldemort was as unpredictable as he was malevolent and that made him all the more dangerous, especially to those who followed him. Or didn't as the case might be. "This might be an opportunity to be seen in your common room."

"Yes, sir." Potter's tone was too obedient, and Snape knew better than to trust it. The silly boy would no doubt haunt his quarters waiting for him. If he had time, he'd change his password.

Hesitating for a moment, Potter stepped up to him and slid his arms around Snape. He said nothing, but Snape could feel him trembling.

Holding him close, Snape buried his nose against Potter's neck. He wondered again if they had gotten too close, too quickly. "Go, now. You'll save me a few minutes if I don't have to stop to tell Dumbledore myself."

"Yes, sir." Potter held him for one more second and then let him go. "Stay safe," Potter whispered as a benediction.

Snape exhaled sharply and hurried out.

Harry stood before the Gargoyle, waiting, trying to contain his fear for Snape. "I must speak to the Headmaster," he told it again.

It looked at him, unimpressed. He truly hated that bloody thing.

"Mr. Potter," McGonagall's voice cut through the silence as she strode towards him. "Is there some reason you're out of bed this late?"

"Yes, ma'am." He turned to look at her, relieved at her fortuitous appearance. "I need to see the Headmaster. Now."

"And why would that be?" she asked, pulling her robe closer around her, and looking like she might already know.

"It's kind of private." He glanced at the gargoyle and then back at her. "Please."

McGonagall looked closely at him and then nodded. "Bertie botts." The door slid open and they both stepped on the moving staircase.

The door opened just at they got to the top, and Dumbledore stood there, wearing a bright green dressing gown that had horrible yellow polka dots on it. Harry bit back a groan at the headmaster's awful taste in clothes.

"Harry, what's wrong?" Dumbledore gestured for both him and McGonagall to move into his office.

"Sir, Professor Snape asked me to let you know that he'd been summoned." Harry shivered, trying not to show how afraid he was.

"Did he say anything more than that?" Dumbledore sounded concerned and put a hand on Harry's shoulder, squeezing in comfort.

"No, sir. He simply said that." Harry didn't know what else he could have said. "It all happened rather quickly."

Dumbledore nodded, but didn't elaborate.

They stood there looking at each other until Harry couldn't stand it any more. "Do you know how long he might be gone?" God, he hated the desperation in his voice.

Dumbledore glanced at McGonagall behind Harry and then back to him, sympathy in his eyes. "It's Friday night. That means it could be as long as Sunday before Professor Snape returns. Will you be all right for that long?"

"I'm not sure I'll have a choice on that, sir." Harry breathed out slowly as a sliver of fear slid into his heart. "I mean--"

"Mr. Potter should return to his dorm, now, I think," McGonagall said, cutting off what he was going to say. "There is nothing more you can do here."

Again, Dumbledore nodded, but he looked more apprehensive than he had. "I think you're right, Minerva. Will you see him back?"

"Yes, sir." She nodded. "Come along."

He wanted to say something else, wanted to know what was going on, but it was clear they didn't know or they weren't going to tell him if they did. He seethed with impotent fury and followed McGonagall out.

In the early dawn hours, Snape stumbled back towards the castle, trying to remain upright. Every nerve ending his body was inflamed, and painfully sensitive. When he knew he was going to be summoned, he usually took time to dress in soft clothes for such an eventuality, but yesterday, he'd had no chance to do so. Not with the ever-inquisitive Potter around.

Worse yet, he had gained nothing from being the night's entertainment. He left a brief note with the gargoyle for the headmaster, no sense in waking him up for nothing.

He pushed open the door to his quarters, and froze as Potter looked up, red-eyed and clearly as sleepless as he was.

"What are you doing here?" he snapped. He was not in the mood to deal with the blasted boy, not when he had to deal with himself first. "Go away."

"No." Potter rose from the sofa, and came towards him. Surprisingly, he didn't try and touch him. "I felt it. What he was doing to you."

Snape sighed. Worse than he thought. Despite how badly it chaffed his skin to stand there, he had to know. "How much did you feel? Were you hurt by it?"

"No. No. I'm fine, but I could tell what it did to you." Potter looked down at his hands. "I could feel your fear. I can feel your discomfort now, it's why I didn't--"

That Potter knew of his humiliation made it all the worse. At least the boy had understood enough not to give in to his own desire for reassurance and touch him. "Go away, Potter. I must remove my clothes."

Without looking back, he stumbled into his bedroom, and shucked off his robes. He knew that Potter hadn't left yet, but he couldn't wait any longer, he had to remove what he was wearing before the irritation from his sensitized skin drove him mad. Everywhere his skin touched cloth chafed like sand paper rubbed on a sunburn, a thousand pin pricks of irritation. No matter what he did, he could not get away from the torment. If left untreated for more than a few hours, his skin would develop sores that would ooze, and become infected.

Stripping with as much efficiency as his shaking hands could give him, naked the cool air touched his skin and he sighed. Not in relief, that would come only with the application of his desensitizing potion. He needed to summon Madam Pomfrey to apply it.

Potter would be good for something. Taking a soft sheet from his cupboard, and wrapping it loosely around him, he called, "Potter!"

Potter appeared in the doorway, looking wide-eyed at Snape. "Yes, sir."

"Summon Madam Pomfrey for me. Tell her as briefly as possible what has happened." Snape hitched the sheet a little higher around his shoulders, trying to make it fall so it covered all of him, and still didn't touch more of his body than was absolutely necessary. "Now."

Nodding, Potter moved away. Snape shuffled towards the bed, lying down gingerly on it as he heard his door snick shut. Finally.

As tired as he was, sleep was not possible, not with his skin on fire. He concentrated on remaining as still as he could, breathing in and out very slowly. Despite the coolness of the room, he was starting to sweat the beads coming up uncomfortably, and the irritation worsened causing him to sweat more. Merlin, how he hated this.

Where was Pomfrey?

A knock on the door brought him out of his miserable reverie. Pomfrey stood in the doorway, with Potter behind her. He didn't have the energy to care any more.

She moved across the room, carrying a glass jar that had his relief in it. Thank Merlin. "About time you got here."

The sound of the jar opening was possibly the most wonderful sound Snape had ever heard.

"Now, Severus," she clucked, "I came as soon as Harry asked me to."

"Please get on with it," he begged through his clenched teeth, and then let out a sigh as her fingers touched his skin with the gel.

To work, the potion required that every inch of visible skin be rubbed with the gel. That included his scalp and genitals. Pomfrey's touch was so clinical, even as she made her clucking comments, that he could not find it in himself to be humiliated by it. However, on the edge of his perception was Potter, watching from the door.

As the irritation and pain lessened, he was more aware of Potter. Until Pomfrey was done, he would not be able to move and he'd found it better not to speak. With a final stroke on the bottom of his left foot, final relief washed over him.

"There now," she said, patting his foot. "I'm sure you feel better."

"Much," Snape said, turning to look at her over his shoulder. "Thank you, again."

"You should work at not allowing 'You Know Who' to cast Cruciatus on you."

"Yes, I'll tell him that the next time he wants to torture me." Snape remained lying prone. He ignored Potter, who still lurked in the doorway. "I'm sure it will make all the difference."

"You never know," she said as she left the room.

"Thank you." With his head buried in the pillow, Snape breathed slowly in and out. He couldn't quite bring himself to move yet.

For several long seconds, Snape lay there, his face in the bedding, reveling in the relief from the after-effects of the curse. If he'd been alone, he might have given in to the need for emotional release, but he doubted Potter could handle that. He wasn't up to yet another explanation of how the Wizarding world's societal standards were different from the Muggle world's standards.

With a sigh, he sat up and regarded Potter. The reality of the situation did not escape him. He was sitting in his bed, naked, with Potter standing over him. From any angle, it looked appalling. However, the truth of it was, he was too tired, too emotionally drained to care any more.

"Are you going to tell me what happened?" Potter asked, still not coming into the room, but watching him closely nonetheless.

He supposed he should be grateful that Potter didn't look disgusted by what he was seeing. Not that there was a bloody thing he could do about it at this point. "I think it should be obvious. I'm sensitive to Cruciatus."

Potter's brow creased, his eyes glanced down Snape's body and then back to meet his eyes. "I didn't think Cruciatus affected anyone differently."

"It's been cast on me too many times."

Potter said nothing, but he closed his eyes and breathed out sharply. "I'm sorry for that."

"Enough. All right." He glared at Potter. "Get out so I can take my bath."

"Do you need help?" Standing up straight, Potter seemed ready to assist.

"No. I can take a bath on my own, I assure you." He moved to the side of the bed, sliding his legs down to stand. This was always the tricky part. His feet touched the floor, and he managed to make it upright, and then his knees sagged a little. He put his hand on the bed, and Potter was at his side in a second. "Didn't I tell you to go?" Snape asked, annoyed.

"You did, but I don't listen very well, do I?" Potter grinned cheekily at him. "Besides, I want to help you."

"Don't you understand that being here is not helping?" Snape tried to put as much outrage into his voice as he could, but he suspected that Potter knew he was lying.

With another grin, Potter put a hand on his shoulder, and slid the other around his waist. "Come on, let's get you into the bath."

"Do you care that you are shredding my dignity?" Snape asked, with far less force than the question deserved.

Potter laughed. "You don't have any where I'm concerned any more."

Biting his lip to keep from smiling, Snape knew better than to encourage him. "Brat," he growled.

"Yes. Very true. But you love me anyway."

"I never said that," Snape snapped, irritably. And he wouldn't for some time to come.

"You don't have to, remember?" With a smile that should have been more smug, Potter pushed open the door and then let him go to turn his attention to the taps. Snape swayed, but managed to remain upright.

Ever gallant, Potter helped him into the tub.

"Leave me," Snape ordered, as he finally settled into the water.

Silently, Potter did as he was told.

Snape breathed out slowly as the door closed behind Potter. Picking up the soap, he scrubbed the gel from his skin, glad to be rid of the slick feeling. Then, for a long time, he sat in the hot water waiting for it to do its job.

As the water cooled, Snape spelled it hot again, annoyed, but not surprised that it wasn't working. When the Dark Lord was in a particularly bad mood, as he had been this past evening and he took it out on Snape, it always took more than simple hot water to relax him enough to sleep. Rolling his shoulders, he could still feel the muscles bunching and refusing to yield.

Some part of it was physical, of course, the body wasn't designed to be tortured. But Snape knew most of it was mental: the humiliation of it, of submitting to it without a fight, of people watching him scream in pain, of knowing those same people were enjoying it. Merlin, how he hated it. His chest felt tighter than his abused muscles.

He leaned his head back on the rim of the tub and closed his eyes, sighing.

There weren't many options open to him for releasing the pent-up emotions in his body. Flying would take more energy than he had. As would most other physical activities that he usually indulged in when he needed something. What he wanted to do, what his body wanted, he couldn't imagine doing with Potter on the other side of his door.

Perhaps if he cast a silencing spell. He snorted. Silencing spell or not, he was a fool to think he'd get away with it. It wasn't just a matter of silence or even their proximity. There was no way he could be sure that Potter wouldn't feel it.

They hadn't tested that area of the bond. Well, it wasn't part of the bond. Bloody hell. His life was too complicated to bear. He sat in his bath, needing something, some kind of release to counter the torture he'd been through, and all options seemed closed. If he didn't do something then he would not sleep.

Potter would just have to understand.

With a sigh of reluctance, Snape slid his hand down his chest, one finger drawing a slow circle around his nipple. He drew in a deep breath as the sensation sparked, and his body took notice of what he was thinking about.

Despite his exhaustion, he couldn't seem to do this quickly. If he were going to acquiesce to his body's demands, then he would do it completely.

He thought about Harry's hands, about what they would feel like running down his chest, carding through the sparse hair. His own hand stroked down over his chest, touching his nipple again, twisting it gently, just enough to cause a pleasant ache. Breathing out, he arched into his own touch.

He thought about Harry's mouth, what his tongue felt like sweeping through his mouth and then instead of stopping, moving lower, to his chest, to his belly, lower still. His own hand ghosted over his belly, fingers moving slowly, twining in the hair, and he sighed, giving in completely. Spreading his legs as wide as the bath would allow, he settled further into the water.

He thought about Harry's body, pliant under his, thrashing as he took him hard. His own hand moved around to his back, sliding slowly downward and then a single long finger went in. The water sloshed over the rim of the tub, and Severus bit down on a groan. Merlin, it felt so good. He shivered, opening his mouth to pant as the movement of his fingers touched off electricity inside himself.

He thought about Harry's cries of pleasure, about his little moans, about his soft sighs. His other hand moved to take control. Moving slowly, surely, he stroked himself, pretending that his hand was Harry's, that he was pleasuring him and being pleasured.

He thought all the Harry thoughts that he never allowed himself, and he reveled in them until he couldn't stand it any more. Breath short, his mind filled with image after denied image. He moaned, unable to hold back the sound or the desire, only just being able to hold back his cries of delight as the dual stimulation took him away.

He thought about Harry, and lost himself in the myriad of pictures and fantasies and images, all denied him. His hands moved fast and hard, pulling the bliss from himself with a desperate intensity. It was good. Harry was good. Merlin, he needed it, wanted it, wanted Harry so badly he could weep from the hunger.

The tension in him built and built and built until it had to find release or he could die from the pressure inside him. Groaning as softly as he could, but probably not soft enough, he came, "Harry," whispered on his lips.

Opening his eyes, he leaned forward, putting his head in his hands, his wet hair falling in his face. The physical ache was gone, but the emotional one lingered, reminding him that what he'd done was a hollow parody of what he could have, if he'd take it.

Someday. But not today.

With a sigh, he lifted himself out of the water, and wrapped a towel around his dripping body. He closed his eyes, trying to force away the residual ache. Weary to his bones, he put on his dressing gown.

Snape stepped out of the bathroom, wearing a long black dressing gown, buttoned to his neck. Given what he'd just been doing, Harry thought the primness was out of place, and it annoyed him even more.

Sitting in the middle of Snape's bed, Harry had his arms wrapped around his legs and he could not remember ever being so aroused. "How could you do that?"

Taking a step back, Snape didn't seem to know what to say to him. He started to sneer, but then didn't. He just looked at Harry and shrugged.

"I can't believe you did that to me." Harry slid off the bed, and stalked towards him. It was difficult to walk as hard as he was, and he was sure that Snape had no doubt of what that was in his trousers. "After I promised not to do anything to arouse you, to tease you. You did that to me."

"What exactly did you feel, Mr. Potter?" Snape took a step backward, but with the door at his back there was no place for him to go.

"You weren't thinking of me as Mr. Potter before, were you?" Harry pressed into Snape so that he could feel just how hard he was. "What do you think I was feeling?"

"I have no idea or I would not have asked you." Snape drew in a breath and tried to put a hand on his shoulder to push him back.

Harry wasn't going anywhere, he pressed in harder. "No. I need you."

Closing his eyes, Snape shook his head. "Do not do this. I can't. Please."

"It's not going to work this time. I could feel you wanting me."

Snape just shook his head, not actually daring to deny it, but also not confirming it either.

"Fine." Harry put his hand on the back of Snape's neck and pulled him down to kiss him. Hard. Angry. He wanted Snape so badly he thought he could die from it and he wanted to know that Snape wanted him just as badly.

To Harry's surprise, Snape arms wrapped around him, pulling him closer, leaning into the kiss, trying to make it deeper. Groaning softly, Snape moved his lips on Harry's, nipping his bottom lip, before pressing in again.

Harry opened his mouth wider, his tongue nudging Snape's thin lips, looking for more intimacy. Snape obliged, opening his mouth and allowing Harry's tongue to move along his. One of Snape's hands found its way into Harry's hair, as Snape took control of the kiss.

Easing back and then pressing forward again, Snape's kiss went from passionate to out of control in a matter of seconds. It was soft and sweet and then it was hard and spicy. Harry reveled in the taste and texture and passion. This was what he'd always dreamed Snape's kiss would be. This was perfect. It was brilliant. It was amazing.

The sweep of Snape's tongue in his mouth, the smell of Snape's skin, the feel of Snape's hands on his body, even through his clothes, inflamed Harry. It felt like he'd burn up in it like dry wood doused in fuel and then struck with a match. He wanted Snape so badly that he might come from just this kiss.

Yielding to it, to Snape and his desire, Harry moaned, maneuvering them to the bed, still kissing and touching as he went. Harry undid the dressing gown, but couldn't get it off without letting go of Snape. He had no intention of doing that at any time in the near future. Sliding his hands under the heavy material, Harry touched bare skin for the first time. Trying to memorize each separate touch, each texture, they were moving too fast to register properly. Snape cried out as his fingers found soft flesh, jerking toward him with each touch, leaning in to get more.

They fell on the bed, rolling over and over, as he and Snape fought for dominance. Harry ended up on top, his shirt unbuttoned, and half off his shoulders, his trousers open. Snape's long-fingered hands ran down his chest, over his nipples and Harry groaned loudly. So good. So damned amazing. Nothing ever felt this good before.

Straddling Snape, he pressed down, rubbing against Snape's naked body. Snape groaned, arching up against him. Sensation, pleasure, raging fire sheeted across him, and Harry pulled his mouth away from Snape's to pant.

"Merlin, Harry..." Snape gasped, reaching to pull Harry back into a kiss. "Please."

His given name, whispered with such passionate surrender sent more fire down Harry's spine, but the reality of it was like ice water, shocking Harry into awareness. He leaned down and kissed Snape gently, pulling back and waiting for his eyes to clear.

"Are you sure?" Harry asked, knowing what the answer would be, but having to ask anyway.

Closing his eyes, Snape shook his head, breathing out on what sounded like a sob.

Harry understood. With his body screaming for release, he gasped for breath, sitting back on his heels, bracing himself. Some part of him was shrieking in outrage, could not believe what he'd done, that he'd stopped when he wanted to finish it worse than he'd ever wanted anything. Looking down at Snape, who still had his eyes closed, and who was as hard as he was, he knew he couldn't stay in bed for another second. "I need a shower."

He didn't wait for an answer, scrambling off Snape and out of the room without looking back. Seeing Snape lying there almost naked would be too much, he'd never be able to go. Now that they'd stopped, he was sure Snape was back in control. In truth, he'd never expected Snape to lose control in the first place.

Guess he's human after all.

As he closed the door behind him, Harry shucked off the rest of his clothes, and turned on the water. Cold wouldn't help, he already knew that. He climbed in and took care of his need as quickly and efficiently as he could, without thinking about anything beyond relief.

Turning off the shower, he leaned against the wet tiles for a moment, feeling an emptiness crawl deep inside him. It had been the right thing to do, he knew it, but that didn't make him happy or like it any better than he did. With a heavy sigh, he dried himself off and dressed.

Coming out into the bedroom, he wasn't surprised to find it empty. They would have to talk about it and Harry hated the idea of that worse than he did having to stop. He squared his shoulders and pushed open the door.

Snape was seated on the sofa, fully dressed with his white shirt buttoned to his neck, and his black jacket buttoned over it. He stared into the flames in the fireplace then looked up at Harry. "That was very Gryffindor of you."

"You're welcome." Harry sat beside him, relaxing infinitesimally. "I knew...."

"I've said it often enough." Snape glanced down, seemingly intent on studying his own hands. "I would not have blamed you."

"Of course you would have," Harry said. "You would have blamed us both. Besides, I started it, if you remember."

Snape's expression was rueful, but he didn't meet Harry's eyes. "If we are being honest, then I think that I started it before you did."

"Yeah." Harry nodded. "I'll agree that set me off."

"Be that as it may, arguing over whose fault it may have been serves no purpose." Snape finally looked at him. "What exactly did you... feel?"

"That's just it," Harry said and then took a breath, searching for the right words. "I didn't feel, anything. Exactly. I knew what you were doing. What you were feeling."

"What I was thinking? How did you know--" Snape cut himself off as his voice started to rise. Harry knew he was upset and could feel him fighting for calm.

Snape started again, "How could you know what I was feeling?"

"I just knew it." Harry shrugged, knowing he must look as confused as he felt. "I'm not sure how, but I knew you were fantasizing about Harry." He let himself smile a little at that. "I'm thinking that was me."

The look Snape gave him was pure exasperation "Don't be an idiot. Who else could it have been?"

"I don't know. I mean, there could be someone else." Potter knew he shouldn't tease about it, but it was so much easier than talking about what happened after. "You never even tell me you like me, leave alone love me."

"I think you are well aware of my feelings. Especially now." Snape looked back at the fire. Clearly, he was not going to give an inch. The stubborn bastard.

To be fair, Harry conceded, he truly didn't have any doubts any more. "Yes. I guess I am." Something inside him had eased. He didn't feel so frantic. "I'm okay with it now."

With lips pressed together in a thin line, Snape's whole expression showed his skepticism. "Are you? How exactly?"

"After what happened... when...." Harry waved a hand between them, fighting not to blush again. "I know how you feel."

"You could tell through the bond how I felt." Snape gave him an inpatient look and then seemed to look closer, almost into him. "Are you saying you doubted what you knew?"

Harry nodded, not meeting his eyes and feeling like a fool. Worse, like that pathetic needy little boy who could never believe that anyone would love him. "Why should I believe it, when every single thing you said denied it?"

Snape snorted inelegantly, and Harry would have laughed at that, had Snape's look been any milder. His eyes bored into Harry's. "Every action I took, every thing I've ever done has said how I felt as clearly as if I'd yelled it at the top of my voice," Snape said, his tone outraged.

"You didn't say it." God that sounded even more pathetic than it did in his head. He was hopeless. He pushed on. "If you didn't say it, it wasn't true."

"You're not really stupid enough to believe everything you are told is true. Where is your sense, boy?" Snape actually pulled off the sneer, something he hadn't done in a long time.

Somehow, that made Harry feel a little better. "No, but--"

"Besides which, I still haven't said anything." Snape glared at him. "Nor will I for some time to come."

"You're always so controlled. Always dictating how everything between us should be." Harry knew that wasn't coming out the way he meant it.

"So, you required a practical demonstration," Snape said, looking at him thoughtfully. "Didn't my jealousy of Miss Granger tell you anything?"

"Not enough." Harry glanced down at his hands. "You lost control tonight."

"I'm very well aware of that." Snape did not sound pleased with himself for having done it, nor Harry for mentioning it.

Harry supposed he could understand it. "With me."

"I said--"

Harry cut him off. "No. You're missing my point."

"Did you actually have one?" His tone had gone back to its normal impatience.

"As a matter of fact, I do." Harry glared at Snape. "What I was saying was that because you lost control, I know... I understand." Harry shook his head. "I can't begin to explain how important it was. I feel like--" A shiver ran down his spine. "Like I know, truly know, that you're mine."

Snape looked down. "Do you need me to reiterate that in some way?"

As much as he wanted to hear Snape say he loved him, Harry knew what it would cost Snape to say it now. He didn't need to hear it, just to know it was true. "No. I think that's okay." Harry put a hand over his. "Why wouldn't you before?"

"I don't think it's proper." Snape looked at him. "I still don't. Besides which, you should have known."

"It might have saved us some..." Harry trailed off and waved his hand again. "I mean..."

"Oh, I think I know exactly what you mean, Mr. Potter."

It sounded wrong to him when Snape called him that. He hated the formality of it, the reminders of what was between them. "You're still going to keep calling me that, aren't you?"

"I just did." Snape regarded him gravely. "And yes, I will continue to do so."

Harry understood the necessity, but, "One day, I swear..."

"In about six months or so," Snape said, his tone wistful. "Until then, I think it best we keep what distance we can between us."

"How? We have to sleep together every night." Even as he said it, Harry wasn't sure it was true any more. Or if it was still true, it didn't seem as true.

"We shall endeavor to keep it as platonic as possible." Snape sounded like he hoped this would work the way he wanted rather than he actually believed it would.

There was no getting by the fact that they would be less likely to slip if they tried to kept their dealings as non-physical as they could. That seemed only fair to Harry. "All right."

"No arguments, Mr. Potter? I'm stunned." Snape's tone was mockingly incredulous, but his expression was amused and surprisingly grateful.

Harry laughed. "I'm sure you are. It's only six months. I can live with that. I know, I have no choice."

"You did have a choice tonight," Snape said, with a note of admiration in his voice. "That you chose to honor my wishes means a great deal to me."

"Yeah, well." Harry could feel his face heat. Doing what was right was important to him. Snape should realize that. "It was--"

"The right thing to do." Snape actually smiled at him, a genuine pleased smile. "I think you shall be rewarded for your patience and forbearance."

His breath caught in his lungs, and he returned the smile in full measure. "What?"

"When the time finally comes, I guarantee that whatever you want from me, you shall have." Something bright flashed in Snape's eyes and his voice was deep and rich with promise.

Harry's pulse started to pound and he felt arousal slide through him again. "Anything? Because that could cover a lot of ground."

The smirk on Snape's face sent Harry's blood pressure up several notches. "I sincerely doubt a virgin such as yourself could come up with something I haven't at least thought of, if not tried."

Grinning widely, Harry inclined his head, accepting. "Now there's a challenge, if ever I heard one."

"Surprise me, Mr. Potter." God, Snape's voice was dark and soft and six kinds of sexy. He'd never heard him speak in quite that way before.

It sent a shiver of anticipation down Harry's spine. He grinned widely, wondering how he was going to figure out what to do. "Don't think I won't try."

"I'm counting on it." Snape laughed, breaking the tenseness.

"It's still a long time away." Harry sighed. "I should go now."

"Can you?"

Harry nodded. "Something has changed. With the bond, I mean. I think I don't have to--" He wasn't sure how far they should push it, or more accurately how far the bond would allow him to push it. "I don't feel compelled to stay here tonight."

Looking surprised, but not overly disappointed, Snape nodded. "Then you should go. I think we are both very tired."

After what happened, Harry wasn't disappointed to leave. A bit of cool-down time wouldn't go amiss, he decided. "I hate to agree with you. It will be strange, though."

"Yes. I've grown--"

"Accustomed to me?" Harry stood up, and the put a hand on Snape's face, leaning down to kiss him very lightly on the lips.

"That wasn't very platonic, Mr. Potter." His words held an accusatory sting.

Harry thought about pointing out that Snape had responded to the kiss, but decided that, given everything that happened, it might not be a good idea. "You're right. I'm sorry."

Snape squeezed his hand. "We will both have to work to achieve this."

Nodding, Harry straightened up. "Yes, sir."

He gathered his books together, and picked up the cloak. It would be weird sleeping in his own bed. Probably not good weird, either. "Good night," he said as he closed the door and made his way back to Gryffindor Tower.

Part X

"Are you sure you don't want to come to dinner with us, Harry?" Hermione asked. She and Ron were standing on a street corner in Hogsmeade.

"No. I think I'd be a bit out of place on your date." Harry laughed and then yawned. "I'm very tired. I'm just going to go back to school and take a nap."

"In the middle of the day?" Hermione looked scandalized.

"I haven't been sleeping that well." On the nights he spent in his own bed, which was about every third night, he never slept well.

"Have you seen Madam Pomfrey about it?" Hermione asked in that proprietary tone she had.

"No." Harry shook his head. "It's not something she can fix."

Both she and Ron nodded. Their expressions said they knew what it was about and wouldn't ask, for which Harry was grateful. After what had happened two months ago, he and Snape tried to maintain some sense of propriety. What amazed him the most was that no one noticed that he'd not been in his dorm bed for all those months, and now no one noticed that he was there once in a while now.

"Well..." Ron was trying to look like he wanted Harry to stay, and at the same time, it was more than clear he wanted to be alone with Hermione.

"Go. I'm going to go to Honeydukes and then go back to school. I"ll see you later." He knocked his shoulder into Ron's and smiled at Hermione.

"Be careful," Ron admonished as both he and Hermione walked away.

Harry watched them move closer. Ron took Hermione's hand.

It wasn't as if either of them were someone he wanted to be with like that. It wasn't as if he didn't have his own entanglement. It wasn't even that he thought they might stop being friends with him. To be truthful, he had no idea what it was, but something about seeing them together like that left him feeling empty inside.

Changing course in mid-step, Harry decided to go back to school and skip the confectioner's shop. He wasn't in the mood for sweets after all.

He kicked a rock along the street.

It was quiet. Too quiet. He looked up and found himself alone on the path back to Hogwarts. That was odd, wasn't it?

Immediately alert, he peered into suddenly growing gloom, the clouds seemed thick and the fog started to roll in. It seemed more like dusk than mid-afternoon. All he felt was a vague sense of unease, nothing he could put his finger on. He glanced around again. Nothing. Trying to shrug it off, he moved a little quicker. Strange that there was no one around now. Shouldn't at least a few students be heading back to school?

A movement caught his eyes, right at the edge of his peripheral vision. He turned round sharply, but before he could make out anything, the world went black.

Snape sat upright at his desk, his pulse pounding hard in his veins, panic encroaching; Potter was in trouble. His fear was more than just knowledge; it was a living thing in Snape. He dropped the book he'd been reading, but before he got to the door, the fear had vanished and Snape knew Potter had been knocked out.

Concentrating hard, he sensed that Potter was being moved, quickly. He needed to follow. Reaching for a quill and parchment, he would leave a note for Dumbledore on his way out of the school. As he made his way up towards the main entrance, his arm started to burn. "Damn," he cursed softly. Now he'd have to see Dumbledore and explain.

"Bertie Botts," Snape said to the Gargoyle in front of the stairs. The doors parted, and he rode to the top. Dumbledore opened the door before he got to the last stair.

"Severus?" Dumbledore looked old, right then. "What's wrong?"

"Potter. I believe he's been taken against his will." He looked at Dumbledore and watched his face go pale. "I am able to track him. However, as bad luck would have it, I've been summoned."

"We can only assume that Voldemort has him."

"I concur." His arm pulsed again and he put his hand on it as if that might stop the pain. "Put a tracking spell on me, and follow me as quickly as you can."

Dumbledore nodded. "I shall need time to summon the Order."

"I do not believe Potter and I have such time. I must go."

Dumbledore raised his wand, and muttered a few words. He could feel the spell sink into him. Without another word, he headed back down the stairs, and through the gates. Once clear, he Apparated to Hogsmeade and, in a back alley, found the portkey that would take him to the Dark Lord. Merlin, how he hated this.

He was met at the portkey site -- a nearly Muggle looking establishment -- by Lucius Malfoy, looking a bit too pleased with himself. Snape wished he'd stayed the hell in prison where he belonged.

"Malfoy." Snape nodded to him, nothing beyond cordial. "What's going on?"

Lucius smiled. "You'll see. Our Lord has a surprise for you."

"I'll just bet." Snape slipped his mask over his face as he followed him into the shop. They made their way to the back, where a warded door led to a room that was bigger than the establishment should have allowed. There were several doors leading off in various directions. Voldemort sat on a carved wooden chair on a raised dias.

No symbolism there, Snape thought with a mental smirk. "My Lord," Snape said as he knelt and kissed the hem of Voldemort's robes. Remaining on his knees, he looked up, waiting for Voldemort to speak to him. He knew better than to speak without leave or to look at anything other than Voldemort.

"Ah, Severus." Voldemort turned his ugly pale eyes on him. "I have a surprise for you."

"I'm honored." Snape put his hand over his heart and bowed. Not so easily or gracefully done on his knees, but he managed well enough. Again, he waited for Voldemort to speak.

"Bring him in," Voldemort said, nodding to Lucius and two other Death Eaters standing at his side. "Now."

They opened one of the doors leading into the room and pulled a still struggling Potter in. He was gagged, his hands were tied behind his back, right eye was blackened, and his lip was split. Snape had never been so glad for his mask as he was in that moment, fearing that he'd never be able to hide his outrage. Taking a slow, deep breath, he forced his anger and fear aside. That Potter still had enough energy to fight them relieved Snape's mind slightly.

Now, all he had to do now was keep him alive until Dumbledore arrived.

"I know how you feel about our notorious Boy-Who-Lived," Voldemort said, standing as Potter was forced to his knees in front of him. "I'm going to let you kill him."

Stall for time, was Snape's first and overriding thought. "I'd hate to simply kill the brat. Surely, you will be kind and allow me to play with him a bit first?

Voldemort gave him a sly look and then chuckled. "Why Severus, I knew I could count on you to entertain us."

Snape looked up at him and inclined his head politely. "Yes, my lord."

"You may do as you please," Voldemort said, waving his hand towards Potter.

Standing, Snape drew his wand, and silently apologizing for what he had to do. "Crucio."

Potter fell to the ground and started to scream.

Standing over him, Snape wondered if there was a way to lessen the spell. He stopped it and Potter panted. "Enjoying yourself, Potter?" Snape sneered, his tone filled with hatred.

"Bastard. Why don't you just kill me?" Potter's breath came in painful pants as he looked up at Snape.

"I think I'll enjoy watching you scream a great deal more. Will you beg for mercy, I wonder?" His voice held a sneer, and audible hatred. Behind his mask he grimaced, and said, "Crucio."

Watching Potter convulse and cry out, Snape's heart felt pulverized, and sweat prickled unpleasantly down his back. The movements changed very slightly, and something didn't feel quite right with it. Snape couldn't put his finger on what it was, until he felt Potter's touch in his mind.

//I'm blocking most of the pain out,// Potter said. //I think I can break the bonds on my hands.//

For a moment, Snape faltered as Potter spoke directly into his mind, but he gripped his wand tighter, and continued to cast the curse.

//Hold on. Dumbledore will be here soon.// Snape sent back.

//I have an idea. Follow my lead.//

As if Snape could do anything else in this situation.

Potter moved suddenly on the floor, throwing himself onto his back, screaming louder, as if suddenly in more pain. As he twisted, the ropes binding him fell away.

Voldemort and the Death Eaters laughed, clearly enjoying the show.

With no hint of what he was planning, Potter completely deflected the curse and stood. Before anyone could react to that, he grabbed Snape's wrist, turning his wand on Voldemort. Snape felt Potter push a staggering amount of power through him and shout, "Avada Kedavra," at Voldemort. The blinding green light shot out of his wand, and slammed into a stunned Voldemort, killing him, his mouth still open with shock.

"Combustus!" Harry roared. Flames consumed Voldemort's body and in seconds he was reduced to a fine gray dust. Then in slow motion all the other Death Eaters seemed to come alive. Harry turned towards them, and shouted "Petrificus Totalus," still gripping Snape's wrist, holding his wand, moving it in an arc to catch as many with the spell as he could.

Three of the Death Eaters standing around them fell, arms and legs stiffly at their sides.

Dumbledore, Lupin, Tonks, and several others of the Order that Snape was too far gone to identify, burst into the room just as Lucius raised his wand to hex them.

Snape felt as if he were being burned up from so much power rushing through him. He could also feel Harry weakening. The bond screamed as too much energy was channeled through it. Finally, it was too much, and he couldn't hold onto consciousness anymore. Blackness took him.

Even as Harry floated in a world with no pain, he knew something wasn't quite right. He'd have to wake up to find out what it was, and he was just uncomfortable enough to consider it.

"Harry," a voice penetrated his fog. "Come on, now. It's time to wake up."

He knew that voice, knew it wasn't the one he wanted it to be, knew it wasn't the one it was supposed to be. Nonetheless, it was one he had to obey.

Taking a deep breath, Harry forced open his eyes, and then winced, wishing he hadn't. The room was too bright. It had been afternoon when he'd been taken... was it yesterday? Now it seemed like a sunny morning.

"Harry," Dumbledore's soft voice penetrated his confusion. "You're safe. You've defeated Voldemort."

That was good. He remembered the power surging through him, through Snape, and through their bond. The bond. That was the problem. Tentatively, he reached for it and found it... fragile.

It wasn't supposed to be like that. A faint shiver of worry slid down Harry's spine. "Snape?" Harry's voice was raspy, and dry. "The bond."

"Professor Snape has not regained consciousness yet, but Madame Pomfrey tells us that he will be fine." Dumbledore did not sound like he actually believed that. "What about the bond?"

"It feel like it might be... breaking." That wasn't exactly true, but there weren't words for what he felt. "Like it's going to break."

"Harry," Dumbledore smiled at him, but his eyes were curiously flat. "The bond can't break. It's a blood-bond. It's simply not possible to break it."

"But it feels--"

Dumbledore held up his hand. "Let me summon Madam Pomfrey. She wanted to be notified when you were awake anyway."

"Sir," Harry said. "Aside from the fact that she knows the bond exists, I don't think she knows anything else about it."

"Perhaps not, but she does know about you." With that, Dumbledore moved away, returning a moment later with Pomfrey.

She held her wand over him and clucked. "You'll be just fine. You're drained magically, but you should be fine with a day or two of rest."


"Well," she said as she glanced over at something behind him. "Professor Snape is here, as well."

Harry started to turn over to look, and Dumbledore reached out to help him. "Thanks," Harry said as he settled on his side, facing Snape. Something eased inside him, but not enough for him to completely relax. He desperately needed to touch Snape. His mind turned toward the bond, and then backed off without touching it. It was disconcerting to find his link to Snape so weak.

Turning onto his back, Harry stared up at the ceiling, then looked back at Dumbledore. "How long has it been, sir?"

"Two days." Dumbledore looked like he'd been here the whole time. "Can you tell us what happened?"

"You don't know?"

"When we arrived, Voldemort was dead and most of the Death Eaters were under Petrificus Totalus, beyond that, no. Both you and Professor Snape were unconscious."

Closing his eyes, Harry let out a sigh and began telling Dumbledore the bare facts of what had happened, and then he looked up and smiled. "We made the power sharing work."

Dumbledore smiled back, looking pleased with him. "I did think you must have."

"Was anyone else hurt?" Harry asked.

"No one was hurt aside from you and Professor Snape. Not even the Death Eaters."

"Good." Harry was relieved that no one else has been hurt. It didn't make him feel any better about the bond or Snape, though. "What about Snape?"

"As I said, Professor Snape should be fine." Pomfrey said as she straightened his sheet. "If you need me for anything, I shall be in my office."

"Thank you," Harry said as she left the ward. "I can barely feel him."

"Your awareness might be so low because he's unconscious. It will return in time."

"How can you be sure?"

"I can't be, but I believe it is so. Why don't I let you sleep now?" Dumbledore patted his shoulder. "I expect during lunch you'll have many visitors. You're quite the hero, you and Professor Snape."

"Not too many, please." Harry looked at him beseechingly and Dumbledore smiled and nodded.

He didn't want to be a hero and he especially didn't want to see anyone right now. "Thanks."

Dumbledore left quietly, and Harry reached out to touch the bond again, tracing it to Snape gently, afraid that if he put too much pressure on it, it would break entirely. His chest felt tight with unease. He hadn't wanted the bond, but now he could not imagine living without it.

Despite the tentativeness of the bond, he could feel Snape's jumbled sleeping emotions through the bond, and he found that oddly comforting. With a sigh, he closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

It felt like he'd been asleep for only a few moments, when Ron and Hermione came in. "Harry," Ron said, his voice bright with happiness. "How are you doing, mate?"

"I'm asleep." Harry turned over to face them, reaching out for the bond. It was still there, still too weak. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes.

"No, you're not. I can see your eyes open." Ron beamed at him, his eyes sparkling.

That smile was too infectious not to return. Even if he were not in the mood for seeing anyone, Harry couldn't help smiling back. "Never could get much by you, could I, mate."

"How do you feel?" Hermione asked, looking more concerned than Ron, but pleased with him, too. "Are you okay? I've been out for two days."

The longer he was awake, the more he wanted to move closer to Snape. He couldn't concentrate on what Ron and Hermione were saying. "I'm only tired."

"I'll bet." Ron grinned again, and tapped him lightly on the shoulder. "You truly did great, Harry. You killed him."

"I didn't have much choice, did I?" Harry sighed. He hated the idea that he'd had to kill anyone. There was something wrong about how overjoyed everyone was that he'd had to kill someone, even if that someone needed to die. "What has been happening?"

"Well, you're a hero, like usual," Ron said. Clearly he thought this was a good thing. "There's going to be a feast when you and Snape are better." Ron's smile finally faded as he looked over at the other bed and then away.

Hermione followed Ron's gaze and then looked back at Harry. "How is he doing?"

"He hasn't woken up yet." He could hear the worry in his own voice, and knew his friends could hear it, too. As he said it, he couldn't help but touch the bond again.

"Why? Is something wrong? What did Madame Pomfrey say?" Hermione actually seemed concerned about Snape, which surprised Harry.

"I didn't think you cared about him, either of you." Maybe that wasn't fair either. They had both been supportive of him. Harry looked away. "Sorry."

"It's okay. I mean, he is a greasy git, but we know that you care for him," Ron said, and Hermione nodded.

"Thanks." Touched by their concern, Harry tried to smile at them, but found that his emotions were drained as his body and his magic. "I think I need to sleep now."

"Are you okay?" Hermione seemed about to say something else, but she didn't. "I mean... with everything that happened."

Harry nodded and yawned. "I'm fine. Really. I just need more sleep."

"We'll see you after dinner." Ron and Hermione went out together, both stopping at the door to look back at him. He waved them off.

He hadn't meant to get rid of them like that, but he wanted a minute to think before he went back to sleep. Pushing himself into a sitting position, he considered Snape on other bed. They would be more comfortable touching, he knew it in his bones.

Getting there was the issue. It was only a few steps, but as weak and exhausted as he felt, Harry wondered if he could even stand long enough to move across the distance. It would be worth it if he could, he decided, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Putting both hands flat on the bed, he pushed himself up, and his knees started to give way, immediately. He sat back down, taking several breaths.

There was no pain, only a strange weakness, like all of his energy had been siphoned out of him and he was left with the very dregs. The craving to be near Snape was all consuming. He didn't want to ignore it.

With another breath, he pushed himself up again. This time, he locked his knees and they held. Managing a step, he had to stop and stand perfectly still while sweat broke out on his body. Breathing in deeply, he took another step. Almost there, he told himself as he took a third step, and could put his hand on Snape's bed. Easing himself into a sitting position, he wiped the sweat from his face. He could not remember ever being so exhausted.

Slowly, he lowered himself next to Snape, putting an arm around his waist, and nuzzling his face into Snape's neck. With a sigh of pure relief, Harry fell asleep.

Feeling safer and warmer than he had in many years, Snape woke to the sound of murmuring voices above his bed. He snuggled back into the arms holding him, and tried to figure out why this didn't feel quite right.

"How exactly did Mr. Potter end up in Professor's Snape's bed?" A voice that Snape vaguely identified as McGonagall's asked in a half-shocked, half-amused tone. "And what are you going to do about it?"

"I'm not sure there is anything I can do, at least until they wake up," Dumbledore's unmistakably amused voice said.

"Will you both keep it down," Snape snarled, turning over onto his back and dislodging Potter from his position wrapped around him. "Let the boy sleep."

Grunting an objection, Potter shifted and then settled more comfortably against him again, his head resting on Snape's chest. He didn't wake. Snape slipped an arm around him, holding him loosely.

"He isn't the one who's been unconscious for three days," McGonagall said tartly. "I'll go fetch Madame Pomfrey."

"That's a good idea, my dear." Dumbledore lowered himself into a chair beside Snape's bed. "How are you feeling, Severus?"

"Like I've been run over by a train." Doing a quick inventory of himself, Snape decided he might have overstated the issue a bit. He felt tired to his soul, like he could sleep for a week and still not catch up, but not as if he'd been hurt -- at least not physically. "Three days, did you say?"

"I'm afraid so."

"Potter?" Snape realized he was carding his fingers through Potter's already messy hair and forced himself to stop.

Dumbledore noted his movements and smiled at him. "He woke up yesterday."

"If he felt as I do, how did he make it into my bed?"

"Sheer determination," Potter said, opening his eyes and looking up at Snape. Then he turned his head and took in Dumbledore seated beside the bed. Harry blushed and reburied his head against Snape's chest.

"More like utter stupidity." Closing his eyes, Snape breathed out heavily. McGonagall returned with Pomfrey in tow.

"Severus, it's good to see you awake," Pomfrey said with altogether too much cheer in her tone.

Snape glared at her. He was too tired for this. "I wish to return to my own bed. When am I to be set free?"

"As soon as I say." Pomfrey waved her wand over him, and then made a few humming and clucking sounds that could have meant anything. She turned to look at Dumbledore and nodded.

"What?" Snape demanded. "Is something wrong?"

"No. You're just drained. The same is true of Harry. A few days in bed will do you both a world of good." She smiled at him.

"No doubt." He looked up at Dumbledore. "Can you tell me what happened?"

"What do you last remember?"

"Your fortuitous arrival just as Lucius was raising his wand." From the outraged look on Lucius' face, Snape had been absolutely sure one of them was going to die.

"Mr. Malfoy is back in Azkaban along with the rest of his co-conspirators." McGonagall said, with a certain amount of unsuppressed glee.

"Good to hear," Harry said from somewhere under his chin. "So, what did we miss?"

"I was just getting to that," Dumbledore said, still sounding amused. "And nothing. We showed up in time to do a bit of a mop up."

"That's it?" Harry looked back up at Dumbledore. "I mean, nothing else?"

"I'm afraid not."

"That's so... anti-climatic." Harry sounded a bit put out.

"Go away," Snape said as exhaustion slid down upon him again and suddenly he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. With a huge yawn, Snape put his arms around Potter, and buried his face in his messy hair. Propriety be damned, he needed to sleep.

"Are you going to tell me how you managed to get yourself kidnaped?" Snape's tone was sharp enough to startle Harry.

He looked up from the book he was studying, or at least, attempting to study and shrugged. "I was just walking along."

"By yourself?" Snape sounded very angry. "What were you thinking?"

Giving Snape a baleful look, Harry felt that he shouldn't have to defend himself. He hadn't done it on purpose. "I wasn't--"

"Clearly not." Snape looked at him, disgusted. "You should have known better. You are--"

Knowing exactly what Snape was going to say, Harry cut him off before he could say it. "Were a--"

"Are," Snape paused to glare at him again. "You are going to be a target until all of the Death Eaters are rounded up and put in Azkaban."

"No one said not to go. That there might be any danger. I was just coming back--" Harry bit back a sigh.

Snarling, Snape didn't sound like he was going to listen any more to anything Harry had to say. "I don't want to hear your excuses--"

"Then why the bloody hell did you ask me?" Harry said, anger boiling up in him. "It wasn't my damned fault."

"You could have been killed, damn it all." It wasn't hard to hear the fear in Snape's voice.

Harry tried to be understanding. "I wasn't killed. We both made it out."

"Through no common sense of your own."

"Hey, I reckon it was me that saved us both."

"I wasn't in any danger."

"You were going to have to kill me. How --" Bloody Hell. Harry looked at Snape and he looked away.

Taking a deep breath, he sat up and put his feet over the side of the bed. After he'd fallen asleep with Snape again, Dumbledore had gently reminded him that discretion would be a good idea. So, he'd gone back to his cold bed.

"What do you think you're doing?" Snape's tone had a outraged note in it as well as a dose of fear. "Do not leave that bed."

As if he had any intention of listening to Snape. Harry shot him a disgusted look as he pushed himself up. It was a relief to find he wasn't nearly as weak as he'd been yesterday when he did this. However, it still wasn't easy. Where was all his energy? Oh, yeah, he'd used it killing off the Dark Lord. He got to his feet.

"Potter, get back into that bed." Snape sat up and leaned against a couple of pillows. He looked tired and resentful.

"No." Harry made it across the short distance between them, and sat on Snape's bed with Snape glaring at him. He pushed Snape's lanker-than-usual hair out of his face. "You didn't hurt me."

"What nonsense are you talking about?" Snape's darted around the infirmary, settling anywhere but back on Harry.

"About the fact you cast Cruciatus on me."

Snape drew in a deep breath and glanced down at his hands, but said nothing.

"You didn't hurt me. I was blocking it." Mostly. It hurt to start with, almost more than he could bear, but he had and got past it, too. "Once I could shield against the pain --"

"How did you do that?" Snape put a hand over Harry's. "It's not something we ever worked on."

"I know. It was just an idea I've been thinking about." Harry nodded. "I drew strength from you, through the bond."

Snape looked up, surprised. "I didn't feel it."

"I didn't need much. Just enough to put a..." Harry paused, looking for words, "layer of magic between me and the curse."

"Once the shield was up, all I had to do was touch you to channel my magic through you. Then you could cast the killing curse."

Snape shook his head. "I cast nothing, Mr. Potter. I was merely there. As you said earlier, you did all the work."

With a sigh, Harry turned his hand up, interlocking his fingers with Snape's. Didn't Snape realize what had actually happened? "Without you, I would not have been able to do it."

"Be that as it may. You're the hero in this story." Snape wasn't sneering, wasn't nasty. Indeed, he almost looked... well... proud.

"Thanks," Harry said, trying not to blush. Some part of him wanted to preen, but it hadn't only been him.

Clearing his throat, Snape brought his attention back to him. "I do think we need to explore how you blocked Cruciatus. I think it shall be quite useful in the future."

That was all well and good to Harry aside from the fact that, "I just did it, like I said. I used your magic to do it."

"Yes, but how exactly?" Snape paused, waiting for an answer that Harry didn't have.

Feeling foolish, Harry shrugged. "I did it without thinking of how I was doing it. I suppose this will mean more lessons."

"Do you find the idea of more lessons in controlling your magic so onerous?" Snape asked, a curious note of something Harry couldn't quite figure out in his tone.

"No." Harry turned his hand up and intertwined their fingers, his thumb stroking across Snape's palm. "I like working with you." He reached out to Snape through the bond, and felt as if it were going to give way under his mental touch.

As he jerked back, Snape started. "What did you just do?"

"I tried to touch you, through the bond. It's very fragile. Every time I go near it, if feels like it's gong to disintegrate under my touch." He could hear the fear in his own tone, but Snape didn't seem to understand it.

The look Snape gave him said he was being stupid. "It's a blood bond, Mr. Potter. It can't break down in that manner."

Frustrated, Harry shook his head. No one seemed to get what he was saying about the bond. "Try and touch it. You'll see what I mean."

Closing his eyes, Snape seemed to be doing ask he asked, but Harry couldn't be sure because he was afraid to reach out.

"It does feel different, but not necessarily weaker." Snape's expression was speculative. "Do you think you could break it?"

An unpleasant shiver ran down Harry's spine. That was not a question he wanted to hear asked. "I thought--"

"Hypothetically speaking, you can't. However, the reality is we've pushed so much through it, that perhaps it could be broken." From the sound of Snape's voice it didn't seem like that idea was at all repugnant to him.

It was to Harry. "Would you want that?" he asked, suddenly and desperately afraid that given a choice, Snape would want to go back to the way things had been before. "I mean--"

Taking a deep breath, Snape drew back mentally and physically. "I think that if you can free yourself from this, then you should."

Shock washed over him, cold and ugly. Snape wanted him to break the bond. "What if I don't want to?"

"You are far too young to know what you want," Snape's face was completely blank, no emotions showing, no inflection. "Can you try it?"

"What about you?" Harry closed his eyes, hoping against hope that he was wrong; that Snape would want to keep the bond, keep him. "Do you want me to break the bond?"

"Yes." Snape's resolute tone was so sharp that it cut like him like a knife.

Harry bled inside. In his whole life, no one had wanted him, no one had loved him. And then Snape had. But it hadn't been real. He should have known it wouldn't last. Snape didn't want him, hadn't ever wanted him, and would be glad to be quit of him.

As a last resort against the pain, Harry tried to tell himself that he hadn't wanted Snape either, but the truth was that it didn't matter now, because he loved Snape. And he did want him, on every level it was possible to want.

To know he wasn't wanted, wasn't loved, cut something precious out of him. He promised himself he could live without it and knew he was lying.

With another deep breath, his eyes stinging, Harry nodded. "All right, sir. I'll try," Harry said, his voice low, not letting anything out.

Closing his eyes tightly, Harry reached inside, looking for the bond, visualizing it. It was there, leading from himself to Snape. Taking hold of it, he pulled a little, to see if it would give. It seemed to stretch, but not break. He pulled again and Snape's gasp was loud enough to penetrate his concentration.

Looking up, he saw Snape was very pale and sweating. His breath was coming in pants. What just happened? Dumbledore came through the door at a dead run, with Madame Pomfrey close on his heels.

"What are you doing?" Dumbledore did not exactly yell, but his voice was as strained and angry as Harry had ever heard it.

"I was trying to break the bond, sir." Harry looked back at Snape, who was now sagging on the pillows, looking worse than he had when he'd woken up. Oh, God, what had he done? Dread washed over him.

"Harry," Dumbledore said, looking very cross. "Why would you do that? I've told you that you couldn't break the bond, more than once."

"It's so fragile and weak. I thought I could." Harry glanced at Snape, who still seemed very pale. "Professor Snape doesn't want to be bonded to me any more." It hurt so much to say it, but somehow Harry managed to get the words out without his voice wavering once.

"Severus," Dumbledore actually snapped. "What were you thinking?"

Dully, Snape looked up at Dumbledore and shrugged. "He said he could break it. How could I hold him? What right do I have?"

"He'll kill you in the trying, if not himself as well." Dumbledore looked at Harry, folding his arms over his chest. "Fix it."

Harry looked back up at Dumbledore, dismayed. If he'd known how to fix it in the first place, he would have rather than trying to break it further. "How?" he asked.

Seemingly very annoyed with him, Dumbledore pointed to his chest. "Go back and put your magic into it, until it's strong again."


"Do not argue with me, Harry." Dumbledore's glare was sharp and painful. "You could have done Professor Snape serious damage."

His eyes stung worse now and he had to blink several times to clear them. How could this have gone so wrong? He looked up, blinking again. "He told me to do it."

"You don't have to listen to every foolish thing he says. You should know that." Something in Dumbledore's tone has softened a little.

"I'm lying right here, Albus. Try not to speak about me as if I weren't." Snape's raspy dry voice sounded quite irritated.

"Do be quiet and go to sleep, Severus." Dumbledore glared down at him. "Poppy, how is he?"

Madame Pomfrey had been running her wand over Snape. "He's drained even further. It will now be several more days before he can leave."

"What about Harry?"

She flicked her wand in his direction and then looked curiously at him. "Nothing. He shows no adverse effects."

Dumbledore looked at him inquiringly. "Tell me exactly what you felt when you trying to break the bond?"

Harry shook his head, not understanding anything more than he'd hurt Snape and Snape had let him. "Nothing. Let me fix it."

Without waiting for an answer, Harry reached inside and found the bond, pouring as much of his energy as he could manage into it. As he touched it, the bond became stronger, firming up and not seeming so fragile. There was still something strange about it. He could feel Snape again, now, he knew how exhausted he was, but on the whole, he was less aware of Snape through the bond now.

He took Snape's hand, and Snape turned to look at him wanly. "I'm sorry," Harry said. "Why did you do that?"

"I already said why." Snape nodded towards Dumbledore and Pomfrey. "Now is not the time for this."

"Professor Snape needs to sleep." Madam Pomfrey, motioned him back to his own bed and she and Dumbledore went out.

Part XI

Harry was released from the infirmary the next day, and Snape was to stay for another week. When Dumbledore's edict about no visitors had been obeyed, Harry had half-hoped that it meant that he hadn't gained any more notoriety from recent events. Unfortunately, when he got back to his common room, everyone stopped talking to stare at him.

"What," Harry said, still tired beyond belief. He looked back at Dean and Ginny, both were sitting by the fire, gazing at him.

Ginny got up and came forward. "We're glad you're okay. We heard you'd been injured when you killed You Know Who."

"His name was Voldemort," Harry said softly. "He's dead now and you can say it."

"Sorry," Ginny looked down.

"No. I am." Harry sighed. "I'm just tired."

"Can you tell us about it?" Seamus asked, coming across the room to stand next to them.

"Yeah, no one has said anything," Allison came over to them, too. "We all want to know what happened.

And that was the last thing Harry wanted to talk about right now. "Can't it wait? I mean..."

"No. Come on," Allison insisted. "We only heard the announcement from Professor Dumbledore."

"He must have given you some of the details." Harry inched away from the door, as more of his house mates came into the room. He wondered if he could make it the stairs before they suffocated him.

"All he said was that you..." She took a breath and squared her shoulders. "That was dead and that you killed him."

"I didn't do it alone. Without Snape, I would have been dead." In more ways than one, Harry added to himself.

"Yeah, I'll just bet he was so very helpful. Just like he always is." Dean snickered loudly and several others joined in. "Why would you let him have any of the credit? He'd never give it you."

Harry was too tired to muster the righteous indignation at Dean's comments, but he gave it his best shot, annoyed beyond reason that they would try to try to negate that Snape was there and deserved credit. "It was his wand that dealt Avada Kedavra."

"You used his wand?" Ginny looked at him disbelievingly. "I didn't think that was even possible. How could you?"

"I didn't exactly use his wand. It's hard to explain." Harry didn't want to either. Because one explanation would lead to another. Glancing at Ginny, he caught her eyes, and tilted his head, hoping she might understand.

Ginny nodded slightly.

"Can't you tell us anything?" Seamus asked. "We're your mates."

"I know." As Harry took another step towards the stairs, Hermione and Ron came into the room through the portrait. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so grateful for anything.

"What's going on?" Hermione said in her best Head Girl voice. "Can't you see Harry's flagging? He's supposed to be in bed."

Ron put his hands on his hips and glared all of those surrounding Harry. "Come on, let him be. You know he's been through a lot."

Feeling a bit light headed, Harry moved towards the stairs up to the boys' dormitory. He reached out and grabbed the banister.

"Are you all right, mate?" Ron asked, his voice sounding loud in Harry's ears. He put a hand on Harry's shoulder.

"Yeah," he lied and could tell by Ron's look that he hadn't been believed.

"Should I get Madame Pomfrey?" Hermione asked, putting her arm around Harry's waist and seemed intent on helping him up the stairs.

"No. I'm just tired. I didn't expect an interrogation when I got back here."

"I know. I'm sorry we weren't here." Ron also had his arm around Harry's waist.

His two friends got him into bed. Harry was more grateful than he could say.

"You know, mate, you're going to have to say something to them."

"I know, but not right now. Okay?" Harry looked pleadingly at them. "I'll do it when I feel a bit better."

"What's wrong exactly?"

"I'm tired. It took a lot of energy to kill Voldemort."

Hermione met his eyes. "How did you do it? I didn't think Avada Kedavra would have worked on him."

"The regular curse mightn't have. But when I channeled my power through Snape, it did work." Harry saw understanding come into Hermione's eyes.

"By using both of your powers you made it exponentially stronger. I was right about the spell working for you." She looked down. "I'm not sure it would have been as good if it were me and Ron sharing magic with you."

"I don't know." Harry lay back against the pillows. "I think it might have. It would have been different. The real problem would have been that we would have all had to be in the same room with Voldemort. I think I'd prefer that you both were safe."

"We would have been honored to stand with you," Ron said. He looked fierce and determined, but then he looked at Hermione. "But --"

"Yeah," Harry nodded. "But."

"You should sleep, Harry." Hermione pulled his duvet up and tucked it around him.

He smiled up at her. "Thanks."

"Let's get out of here, Ron, and let Harry rest."

"Hey, this is my dorm room, too, you know."

"You're not ready for bed yet, are you?" Hermione smiled at him, and he blushed.

Harry chucked to himself as she led Ron out. They were sweet together.

"You're to be awarded the Order of Merlin, first class." Dumbledore smiled at him as he took a seat in front of fireplace in the office. "I'm very proud of you."

"What about Professor Snape?" Harry folded his hands over his chest. If they thought they were going to honor him and not Snape, they all were going to find out just how wrong they were.

Putting a hand on his shoulder, Dumbledore laughed. "Oh, he's getting one as well. You needn't worry about that."

"Just so." Harry sighed. "When?"

"When Professor Snape is released from the infirmary. Next week, I suspect." Dumbledore took a seat. "Would you like some tea?"

He knew Dumbledore too well. "Yes. Please," Harry said, giving him a suspicious look "The tea or the medal isn't why you called me here, is it?"

Dumbledore continued to smile at him, but some of the brightness dimmed. "Quite right, my boy. There will be questions about how you killed Voldemort."

Harry took a sip a tentative sip of the tea Dumbledore handed him. "What kinds of questions?" The expression on Dumbledore's face was making him nervous. "Is there going to be a problem?"

With a sigh that sounded a bit more worried than Harry would have liked, Dumbledore shook his head. "I don't think so. However, I'd like to keep your relationship with Professor Snape as far out of the limelight as possible."

Harry tilted his head and looked at Dumbledore. That didn't sound like a bad idea to him, either. "I'm sure it would cause problems."

"It could very well."

Given all the things he and Snape had done together, all the nights he'd slept in Snape's bed, even if they hadn't done that -- Harry doubted anyone would believe that they hadn't -- he could well imagine the problems, for both Snape and the Headmaster.

He met Dumbledore's eyes, steadily. "What can I do to protect him?"

"Say as little about your relationship as possible and nothing at all about the blood bond." Dumbledore took a sip of his tea and set it back in the saucer.

That sounded like good advice to Harry. "All right, sir. I used Professor Snape's wand to channel my power. I'm not sure what to say about that."

"You can tell them that, but don't mention the power sharing."

"Looking stupid when they ask me something I don't want to answer will be a good idea, too?" Harry would do what he had to protect Snape. "Are you going to let him talk to the press?"

"To be truthful, I doubt they will want to speak to him."

"I think that is unfair. He's as much a hero as I am."

"I know that. But in this case, putting you out front is going to work in our favor." Something in the way Dumbledore said it, pressed against Harry's brain.

"You forced them to give him the award, didn't you?"

Dumbledore was silent. His eyes didn't meet Harry, and he had his answer. Rage seethed through him. "How dare they? That is completely unfair."

"It is. But Professor Snape has made a lot of mistakes in his life, and people are not so ready to forgive them."

"He's done his penance. He's paid for his crimes." Putting his teacup down, Harry glared at him. "Don't you think so? He should be--"

"Harry." Dumbledore held up his hand. "I do think so. He's paid for his crimes, many times over."

"All right. I'll do the press stuff and we'll keep Professor Snape out of it." God, how he hated being in the limelight, having to talk to people, answering inane questions.

"Good boy." Dumbledore, having got what he wanted, smiled at him.

Harry let out the breath he'd been holding.

"Why didn't you tell me it would hurt you?" Harry asked, indignantly as he sat down on the bed in Snape's quarters. "I would never have tried it."

"Do you actually think I would have suggested it if I'd known it would hurt me?" Something in the way he said it made Harry actually look at Snape.

Although Snape met his eyes, Harry wasn't sure he believed him. He couldn't feel anything coming from him, so Snape was blocking him. "Stupid git."

"Have a little respect, Mr. Potter." Snape's tone was admonishing, but not overly sharp.

"Sorry, sir," Harry said, looking down and trying for contrite. And failing. "But you are. I know you'd rather not be bound to me--"

"Mr. Potter, I should think, that if it were possible to break the bond, you would wish for it to be done." Snape still wasn't letting anything come across, but Harry could tell by the tone of his voice that maybe he didn't actually want to break it so much as free Harry.

"I don't want to be free of it. Not now." Harry looked pleadingly at him. "I want--"

"No. You're a fool." Snape's tone was harsher than it had been in some time. "You have your whole life ahead of you. You don't need to spend it bound to... me."

"Well, I am. I'm not going to kill you to get rid of it either." He glared at Snape, finally beginning to understand what Snape was saying. "Now that I've fixed it, I doubt I'd be able to break it."

"You shouldn't have fixed it so well." Snape's tone said he was relieved it was fixed, even as he continued, "If you could break it--"

"No." Harry held up his hand to forestall anything else Snape might want to say. "Do you want to go back to hating me?"

"I doubt that would happen." Snape lips turned up in that almost smile, he sometimes had. "If you will remember, I didn't hate you to start with."

That was all well and good for him. "But I did hate you." Harry glanced at him, but Snape wasn't reacting to that. "I don't want to go back to that."

"You wouldn't. What we feel for each other, whatever it is," Snape took a breath, "is not caused by the bond. It's an effect."

"How can you say that?" Harry looked at him and shuddered at the memory. "I hated you. And then I didn't anymore."

"True. However, you grew to love me. It wasn't magical. It didn't just happen. Those feelings wouldn't change. For either of us." Snape didn't sound a hundred percent sure of that.

"Then why would you want to break the bond?" Harry asked, confused. "I thought you wanted to be shut of me."

"No." Snape shook his head wearily. "I wanted to break the bond so that you could come to me freely. If you choose to do so. There would never be any question in your mind."

He got it. "The result is the same."

"Only because I explained it to you."

Harry thought about that for another second. "Now that you have. It does make sense." At least Snape didn't really want to be rid of him. Or maybe he just wanted to believe that.

"You are not so stupid after all."

Harry smirked at him. "Of course I'm not."

"There are times Mr. Potter when I wonder."

"God, Hermione." Harry sank down against the tree he'd found her sitting under, a few weeks after the awards ceremony. "It's good to see you."

"Harry?" She closed the book she was holding quickly and turned it over. "What are you doing here?"

He glanced at the book again and then at her. What was she hiding? "I saw you by yourself and I was hoping to talk to you... " he trailed off. "I can leave if this is a bad time?"

"No. No." Her smile seemed forced. "I was just... revising for my NEWT... in..." She sighed and looked up at him.

"It's okay, I won't ask. I promise." Harry was relieved it wasn't him. "I just want to see a friendly face that doesn't want something from me."

"Is everyone giving you a hard time?" She sounded concerned.

"You have no idea." Harry sighed again. Having people in awe of him was much worse than having them ignore him, or think ill of him. "I've had marriage proposals from six witches, only four of whom go to this school. And three wizards! I've been asked on dates by everyone you can think of. Everyone: including Draco bloody Malfoy."

Her eyes grew wide with that. "Malfoy! He'd be the last one I thought would be pleased that you killed Voldemort -- given his family and all."

"Seems he didn't want to take the dark mark, and had been putting off telling his father about it. Now, he doesn't have to. He's grateful, or so he tells me." Harry shivered. Malfoy was beautiful in a cold, forced kind of way.

Clearly thinking the same thing he was, Hermione shuddered dramatically. "I wouldn't want him that grateful."

"Even if I weren't... you know," Harry said, feeling vaguely nauseated by the idea of dating Malfoy. "I wouldn't either."

"Ewww..." She laughed. "So, aside from that--"

"I'm not done yet." If he were going to complain, then he was going to get it all out. "It's worse with the younger ones. They're following me around." Harry nodded his head towards a group of first and second years, standing off to one side, but keeping their eyes on him. "They've asked for my autograph! I can't believe that."

"It's tough being a hero." She ought to sound more sympathetic than she did.

"They don't treat Snape like this."

"They're too afraid to." Hermione looked down. "Don't take this the wrong way, but you're much cuter than Snape and so--"

"Yeah. Sure." Harry shook his head. He was a lot of things, but cute was not amongst them. "Besides, Snape isn't that bad looking."

Her expression didn't change, he had to give her that, but her distaste was telegraphed just the same. "You've got to admit you're a bit biased on that subject, don't you think?"

"Perhaps." Harry looked down and caught sight of the book Hermione had been reading. Curious, he turned it over. The Joy of Wizarding Sex. His face heating, Harry looked back up at her.

She closed her eyes and sighed. "Harry--"

"I'm sorry. I always do that, don't I?"

"Yes." She sighed again. "It's okay. I wanted some information."

"About?" He looked at the book again. "Oh, I guess I don't need to ask that. Why look that up in a book, though. I thought, that you know, if you and Ron..."

"Because sometimes, having a little knowledge goes a long way." Hermione glanced out at the lake. "Besides..."

"What?" He put his hand on hers. "You can tell me."

"It didn't go at all well. I mean the first time..."

"Did he hurt you?" Harry didn't want to come between them, but he'd have a talk with Ron if he had to.

She nodded. "He didn't know anything more than I did. I should have done this first, then at least one of us would have had a clue. I'm hoping that maybe it will be better next time." Her tone said there wouldn't be too many more next times, if it wasn't.

"That's a very good idea." The image of Snape's face as he said, Surprise me, had imbedded itself in Harry's mind and fueled his fantasies since it happened. He could use a bit of advice on this subject, himself. "Do you think they have books on gay wizard sex?"

"Of course they do." The look she gave him said if he ever read anything he'd already know that.

"How would I get one?" He could feel himself blushing harder. "I mean, I'm thinking that's not going to be in the library, even in the restricted section."

"The basic sex books are in the library. It's part of the curriculum."

"Yeah, but that was just how it all works from a reproductive stand point. Not actually how, you know."

"Yeah, I know. I got this in the bookstore in Hogsmeade last weekend. I'm sure there are books you can use there too. Shall we go next Hogsmeade weekend?"

Not at all sure he'd have the courage to do it at all, he shook his head. "I think I need to do this by myself."

"Are you sure?"

He nodded. "Yeah. But thanks."

"You do realize, Mr. Potter, that school will be over in less than two months," Snape said as Potter settled beside him on the sofa in his sitting room.

The sly smile on Potter's face sent a shiver of anticipation through Snape. "Don't think I don't know that very well, sir," Potter said in a low voice.

Snape forced his mind away from where Potter clearly intended it to go. "Time enough to consider those things when we can do something about it. That's not what I'm talking about, however."

"Too bad." Potter turned to look at him and gave him a sultry look. "I'm still working on those plans."

"I was thinking of your long-term plans," Snape said, and then shook his head at Potter's renewed interest in the subject. What would you like to do with your life?"

Looking down, Potter's cheeks were flushed. "I don't know. I did think that I wanted to be an Auror, but I am not sure anymore."

"Why not?" From what McGonagall had told him, and from his grades, Potter had a better than fair chance of making it into the training program.

"Killing Voldemort bothered me. I know I had to do it and I would do it again, but I didn't like it. There was no satisfaction or pleasure in it." Potter sounded as if he were surprised by it.

"As well there should not be." Snape understood too well what he was saying. "Killing, no matter what the reason, should never be easy."

"I've found out," Potter said quietly, his upset apparent. "Everyone is so bloody pleased with me. No one seemed to understand that I killed someone -- bad and awful though he was. I still ended his life."

"Why haven't you spoken of this before now?" Snape asked. It had been three months since they had defeated Voldemort.

"I've tried, but no one wants to hear it." Harry made a frustrated movement of his hand. "Ron and Hermione and just about everyone else all think I've done this great thing. And maybe it was the right thing, but--"

"But it still hurt you to do it?"

Potter nodded.

"I understand." Snape put his hand over Potter's. He rarely allowed himself to touch, but now seemed appropriate. "Tell me what you're feeling?"

"Like I shouldn't be happy. Like I'm not sure I did the right thing, even though I know I did." Potter met his eyes. "Like I want to throw up."

"The first time I killed a person....." Taking a breath, Snape felt a shudder run through him, and Potter both. "Without the reason that you did, and I was sick to my stomach for a week. I've never forgotten it."

"What happened?" Potter asked, his voice earnest.

"It was not something heroic, nor something that I am proud of." Snape looked away, his stomach starting to roil. "I created a potion for the Dark Lord, something that killed rather nastily, and he used on someone he thought was a spy."

"Oh. Was he?"

"No. He would have exposed me as such had I not acted. I had information that was essential to the Order." Snape took a breath, and didn't look at Potter. "I've told you, many times, Mr. Potter. I am not a nice man."

"I suppose you have a lot of that in your past?" There was surprisingly little judgment in Potter's voice. Between what he could ascertain from the bond and as often as he'd been a party to Snape's nightmares, it wasn't any wonder that he understood at least some of what Snape had done.

"As I'm sure you realize, a great deal more than I wish." Snape looked straight ahead, not allowing himself to look at Potter.

"Have you ever killed... directly?" His voice was low, as if he knew the answer and simply wanted confirmation.

"Yes," Snape said, giving it. "Not often, but enough. I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind." His many crimes haunted him in all their awfulness, so much so that he was unlikely to ever forget. Not that he wanted or deserved to forget.

"All right. But you can see that being an Auror might not be the best of career choices for me." Potter seemed willing to let the subject go, for which Snape was grateful.

"I think you would succeed at it." At Potter's look, Snape decided that the subject was closed. "Do you have any other interests?"

"I have plenty of interests, I just don't want to do them for a living." Harry sighed. "I don't know what I want to do."

"Perhaps you would like to travel for a time after school is over." Snape smiled at Potter's startled look. "I think it would allow you to see more of the world than you have thus far in your life."

"Since I've never been anywhere, seeing anything would be a novelty." Potter beamed at him. "I'd like to see the world."

Which led to the question, "I know you were left some money by your parents--"

"Between what my parents left and what Sirius left me, I probably don't ever need to work. But I couldn't live that way."

"I understand. I feel the same way," Snape said, recognizing that Potter would want to do something meaningful with his life.

Looking at him carefully, Potter seemed to assess the situation and come to a conclusion. "You don't need to work either."

"You seem surprised by this." Snape sighed. The Occlumency lessons had given him a skewed view of Snape's childhood. "My grandfather was quite well off. He died after my father, so I inherited everything."

"I see."

"You don't. I'd rather not go into that now, either." All of his relationships with his family were complicated and fraught with problems. Someday, perhaps he'd explain it to Potter.

"Fine." Potter's expression was disgruntled, as if he felt it were his right to know. He focused back on Snape. "If you don't need to teach, why do you do it? I've always thought that you hated it. Or at least the students."

"I detest it." There was no arguing with the truth. "I do it because Hogwarts has been safe haven for me, and the Headmaster my protector."

"Now that Voldemort is dead, what are you going to do?" Potter looked at him. "What would you like to do?"

Very few people in his life had ever asked him that question, and fewer still had cared about the answer. He did have a few ideas, most of which had to do with his own laboratory. "I suspect that has a lot to do with what you want to do. However, I've tendered my resignation. Whatever else happens, when this term ends, I'll no longer be teaching."

There was understanding in Potter's eyes as he nodded. "Good. That means, you can come with me on my trip."

"You're joking," Snape hadn't meant to sound as surprised as he did. "I would think that you would wish to go by yourself."

"Don't you want to come with me?" Did the brat have to sound so hurt?

"It isn't a matter of that. You need time to..."


"Grow up a bit. Have a bit of fun, perhaps." He got the words out by force.

"No. I need time to learn about the wider Wizarding world, but I don't have to do it alone. I've been alone most of my life." He took Snape's hand. "We're in this together, you and I, and it's going to stay that way."

"Mr. Potter--"

"Deal with it, sir." Potter brought Snape's hand up to his mouth and kissed the back. "You're not going to be able to get rid of me."

"Stubborn brat." Although he wouldn't admit it to Potter, he would be thrilled to accompany Potter.

"Yes. That would be me." Potter leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the mouth, pulling away before Snape could respond.

"None of that."

"Only two more months." Potter's eyes lit with a hint of mystery.

He was planning something, of that Snape had no doubt. A shiver ran through him, but he said nothing.

"You know--"

"Don't say it." Snape put his hand over Potter's mouth.

The brat licked his palm. Snape couldn't decide if he should be outraged or amused.

Part XII

At the leaving feast, Dumbledore publicly thanked both Harry and Snape again, going over all the events. He also announced that after sixteen years at Hogwarts, Professor Snape would not be returning in the fall, much to everyone's shock.

After Dumbledore stopped speaking, Snape stood, and bowed towards Dumbledore, then looked out at those gathered in the great hall. He caught Harry's eyes and nodded.

Harry's heart started to pound. Snape went down the steps of the dias the head table was on and started to move out of the hall.

"Severus," Harry called out before Snape could reach the door. It sounded so strange to say it out loud. He'd never allowed himself to think it before.

Snape stopped, and slowly turned around, his robes flaring perfectly. The whole hall held their breath, probably wondering if Harry would be hexed for his audacity. Harry smirked and stood, moving away from the Gryffindor table, ignoring everyone's gasps, and walking slowly towards Snape.

"You do have a way with grand gestures, don't you?" Snape said as he came to stand beside him, but his eyes were gleaming.

"I want there to be no misunderstandings about this. As of this moment, you are mine." Harry looked up at him.

"My, my, aren't you a possessive brat." God, he loved the smirk on Snape's face as he said it.

"I expect I am." Harry also noticed Snape didn't deny the claim and knew that if he did, he'd be lying. "Time?"

"It's time." Snape bowed slightly, indicating that Harry should precede him out of the hall. Behind them, he could hear the stunned silence erupt into loud babbling.

"Where are we going?" Harry asked as Severus led him out of the entrance rather than down into the dungeons.

"Snape Manor."


"Because we require privacy." Snape turned to look at him, and then took his hand, hurrying him along.

"Good idea."

When they got to the gates of Hogwarts, Snape turned to face him. "All right?"

"Do you need to ask?" Harry snorted and took hold of Snape's arm. "Now."

Once again, they were in front of the door to Snape Manor. Harry reached out and the door snicked open under his touch. As he moved inside, he was shocked to find the marble floor polished to a sheen; the wooden paneling gleaming and smelling of beeswax.

"Wow." He turned to a smirking Snape. "You had the place cleaned."

"Since we're going to live here, I thought it a good idea." Snape looked around, and Harry could tell he was pleased with the way the place had been cleaned up.

"Are we?" That was news to Harry. When he'd mentioned it last summer, he hadn't thought Snape liked the idea much. "If the rest of it is as clean, this won't be so bad."

"It had better be," Snape said, moving further into the room. "Do you have an objection to living here?"

"No. No. Living here will be fine." Harry looked around and then moved to the curving staircase. "At the moment, I don't care where we live. Only where we're going to spend the next couple of hours."

"For once, I agree with you." Snape took a step towards him, menacingly, in a very sexy way.

Harry took a step backward, up onto the second step on the stairs. "Actually, we do kind of need to talk."

"About?" Snape raised an eyebrow.

Taking a deep breath, Harry steeled himself. "About preferences. What you like to do. How you like to do it."

Two unlikely spots of color darkened Snape's cheeks, but his eyes never wavered. "What about you, Mr. Potter?"

"I don't know mine yet." Harry smirked. "So I'm thinking I'll have to try everything once." He thought about some of the things he'd read about and felt a blush heat his face. "Well, not everything, there were a few things I want to skip all together."

. What things would those be?" Snape stopped at the bottom step.

"Some of the more... out there types of things. Things that have to do with pain or...." Harry left it at that, feeling his face heat, despite his desperate wish not to sound any younger or more inexperienced than they both knew he was.

There was a knowing look on Snape's face and he nodded. "Shall we go up and start on the things you do want to do?"

"God, yes." Harry backed up another step, his heart starting to pound in earnest. Through the bond, and from the look on his face, Harry knew Snape was just as eager as he was.

When Snape took a step up, they stood close. Harry leaned down a little to kiss him. It was a unique feeling. Although he'd grown over the year, he was still several inches shorter than Snape. "Nice," he murmured against Snape's lips.

"Very." Snape pulled back. "Unless you'd like to try it on the steps, I think we should go the rest of the way up."

"I will at some point." Harry laughed at the look on Snape's face. "But not this first time. I want to do it in a bed."

"I concur."

All of the rooms stood open on the second level. The room he'd used over the summer had been cleaned and polished. "Your rooms?"

Snape nodded but said nothing else as they entered his rooms. The gloomy drapes and bedding had been replaced with light green ones. The heavy furniture was gone. Lighter colored -- if no less sturdy -- furniture stood in its place. Harry didn't associate the light colors with Snape and sometime when he had more interest in his surroundings, he'd have to ask about it.

Returning his gaze to Snape, Harry shivered, scared half to death and not knowing quite why. Maybe he'd wanted this for too long. As inconceivable as it seemed, Harry knew that Snape was nervous, too.

"Don't fret, Mr. Potter," Snape said, pressing a hand to his cheek. "It will be fine."

Before Harry could lean into the touch, Snape's hand fell away. "You have to call me Harry, now."

"As you please, Harry." Snape wore an inscrutable look, but under it, there was amused exasperation. "I'd give you the same right, except you've already taken it."

"I guess I did at that." Harry squared his shoulders and met Snape's. "You promised me whatever I wanted."

"So I did." Snape leaned against the wall, almost slouching. His tone was indulgent, his posture languid. "What is your pleasure Harry Potter?"

The sound of Snape saying his name in just that tone nearly did him in, but Harry took a deep breath and let it out. "My pleasure is your surrender."

Wow. It looked like he had managed to surprise Snape after all. "And how would you wish that?"

"I want you to yield to me, to let me pleasure you, to give in to me." Harry took another breath, and reached for his courage. "I want you. Slowly. Deeply. Madly."

Something flashed in Snape's eyes right before he bowed his head, his hair falling forward. Slowly, oh so very slowly, he sank to his knees before Harry. "It shall be as you wish it."

In his entire life, Harry had never, ever, ever seen anything so sexy, so arousing, so all together amazing as what Snape had just done. Not even in his wildest most fanciful dreams could he even have conceived that Snape was capable of it. No one would ever believe it. Not that Harry had any intention of mentioning it anyhow. No, this was a memory he would savor forever.

If he didn't catch his breath soon, he was going to hyperventilate. "I wish you to stand up. I want surrender, not submission."

"Do you know the difference?" The smugness was back in Snape's tone, but this time it was tempered with a... not quite meekness.

"In theory." Harry grinned at the thought. "Maybe later in practice. If you've a mind."

"Later, to be sure," Snape said quietly and Harry didn't need the bond to know that he meant it. Another rush of excitement poured through him and Harry took a deep breath to find calm.

As Harry reached for the buttons on the long robe, Snape stood quiescent under his hands. When Harry got the robe off him, Snape pulled off his own boots and socks. Then he stood still again.

Harry stripped off the rest of his clothes, and stood back to look at Snape. That night, he'd caught glimpses of Snape's body. At first, he'd been too concerned about Snape's welfare and then the rest had happened too fast.

Now was for slow. Now was for looking and very soon for touching. Snape was lean and angular and pale, and surprisingly well muscled. His chest was nearly hairless, except for a thin black line of hair that ran from his navel down to thicken at his groin.

Standing quietly, Snape seemed neither embarrassed nor self-conscious about his body. He could sense that Snape was at home in his own skin. Harry was sure he'd never be able to stand there and let someone else look at him like that.

There was nothing beautiful or attractive about his face and his body had its share of scars, but Harry found him absolutely compelling nonetheless. Beyond that, he wanted Snape with a hunger he could barely contain.

Easing Snape back onto the bed, Harry climbed up and leaned over him, still wearing his school robes. Harry slid his fingers into Snape's hair, which was slightly less lank than usual and anchored his head to kiss him. He slid his tongue into Snape's mouth, tasting him, sucking at his lower lip, before delving back into his mouth.

For a while, Snape let him lead, let him set a leisurely pace, touching him, but demanding nothing.

"Harry," Snape panted pulling back from the kiss. "I want to touch your skin."

There was something so thrilling about being fully dressed while Snape was naked beneath him, but he supposed he should be fair about it. Shifting so that he was sitting on his knees, he pulled his robe over his head, and took a vial of oil out of the pocket before tossing the robe to the floor. He set the vial on the beside table and glanced at Snape, wondering despite everything, if he'd get a protest.

"I have something better to use in the bedside table. The top drawer." Snape's look was sultry and keen.

It sizzled along Harry's nerves and down his spine. He leaned over and opened the drawer, pulling out a glass jar and hoping it up for inspection. "This?"

"Yes. That should be better than anything you've bought. Now the rest of your clothes, if you please. " Snape had a definite command in his voice.

He set the jar on the table. Leaning down, Harry kissed him and then tapped him on the nose. "Who's in charge here?"

Catching Harry's hand in his, Snape brought it to his mouth and nipped it. "Remember it is just for tonight."

"If it's only for tonight, then I'd better enjoy it."

"Take the rest of your clothes off, you impossible brat."

"Yes, sir." Divesting himself of his clothes with alacrity, Harry laughed as Snape rolled his eyes.

As he kicked his pants off, Harry sat back on his knees, and Snape sat up, leaning against the headboard of the bed.

"You're so...." Snape seemed at an unlikely loss for words. His long fingers reached out and trailed down Harry's chest. From the bond, he knew that Snape thought him beautiful, and for once there would be no arguing with the conclusion. Whether or not Harry believed it didn't matter, Snape believed it.

He smiled his delight down at Snape. Sliding both hands into his hair and holding his head, Harry kissed him hard, sucking on his bottom lip as he pulled back. He moved backward, and indicated that Snape should lie down again. Silently complying, Snape's dark eyes were fathomless and Harry thought he might fall into them and never find his way out again.

"As much as the long looks are all the romantic rage, do you think you could hurry things a long a bit?" Snape's tone was quiet and intense, but his eyes were amused.

"Oh, I don't know. I quite like that romantic stuff."

"You would." Snape breathed out in an over-done sigh. "Typical Gryffindor."

"I'd say so." Harry shut him up with another kiss. This one lasted a long time as he explored all the tastes and textures of Snape's mouth. Listening to Snape's breath change, for each inhalation of pleasure, Harry felt a sharp thrill. This was what it was supposed to be like.

Moving away from Snape's mouth with reluctance, he nibbled along the column of his neck, and down to his shoulder. Snape groaned softly. Harry continued, kissing the shoulder joint, and then down his arm to the bend of his elbow.

Snape drew in a sharp gasp when Harry licked along the inside of his wrist.

"Like that, do you?" Harry grinned. "There's more."

"There had better be." Snape didn't sound quite so patient now.

"Shut-up." Harry kissed the palm of his hand and went back up to start on the other side. After that, he slowly licked down the center of Snape's chest, moving first to kiss one nipple and then to do the other. Going back and forth between them.

"Pick one and stick with it," Snape growled after the third time back. "You're making me dizzy."

"I'm going to make you more than that." Harry laughed, and chose the left side at random, pressing his mouth down on it, sucking hard.

Snape arched, his chest thrusting forward, a deep growl escaping his mouth. "Merlin, you have a sinful mouth."

"I've only just started." Harry flicked his tongue across and then back a few more times. He didn't linger long. There were too many delights at this banquet yet to sample.

Nuzzling his face into Snape's belly, he stuck his tongue into his navel, holding Snape's hips so that he couldn't squirm away. "None of that. Take it like a man."

"Brat." Snape sounded more and more breathless. "You know, my turn will--"

"Ooh. Promises, promises. It's my turn now." Harry moved his mouth to Snape's bony hip, and worried the bone, his cheek close, but not touching certain other parts.

Snape made an incoherent frustrated sound. Harry decided he rather liked it.

He moved down further, ignoring what he was sure that Snape would rather he not ignore. For the moment, he was in charge, and he was going to do what he wanted. Torturing Snape with pleasure was high one of his list of priorities.

Caressing Snape's long legs, he worked his way down them. Taking one Snape's toes in his mouth, he sucked on them, slowly.

Snape bucked and tried pulling away. "Potter," he growled threateningly.

"Nope. Only Harry here." Harry took the other foot and bent to suck another toe.

This time, Snape managed to jerk his foot away, but Harry easily caught it again, and hung on to it. "Be good."

"I'm never good." Snape growled again.

"Turn over," Harry said, watching the startled look cross Snape's face. Even though he wasn't going to be able to see it, he hoped he could produce a few more of those looks.

Snape complied silently with the request, turning over and spreading his legs apart. Closing his eyes, Harry took several deep breaths to regain his precarious control. He wondered if Snape had any clue how sexy he was and then decided he must have known.

Leaning up over him, Harry moved his dark hair aside, kissing the back of his neck. Beneath his lips, a shiver ran through Snape. Working his way down Snape's spine, Harry sucked and licked each vertebra. He pressed his face into the small of Snape's back, and kissed the rise of his buttocks.

Holding him open, Harry ran his tongue slowly down the crease to the bottom and then back up again. Snape shuddered violently. "Oh, Merlin, Harry."

Starting to repeat the move, Harry got to the center this time, and stopped, licking back and forth, sucking, and then sliding his tongue in as far as he could. Below him, Snape was shivering pretty consistently and making gurgling sounds deep in his throat.

"Merlin, Harry, please." Snape pressed his hips back, begging for more.

Harry was more than happy to oblige him, for a while, anyway. As he pleasured Snape, he started to work his fingers into him, as well. It had probably been a long time, given everything, so he knew he'd have to take his time with the preparations.

Without looking up from his task, Harry held up his hand and Accio'd the glass jar from the bedside table. Opening it, he slicked his fingers and returned them to where they would do the most good.

With each lick, each thrust of his finger, each movement Harry made, Snape seemed to give himself up further to his ministrations. This was everything he'd hoped for, everything he'd dreamed about. Actually, not quite everything, he decided and pulled back.

Snape turned around and gave him a most mournful look. "Why have you stopped?"

"I haven't." He put both hands on Snape's hips and brought them up.

Settling onto his elbows and knees, Snape sighed as Harry pushed into his heat. Harry stilled, waiting for the constriction to ease and praying the pleasure didn't overwhelm him before he could move. He thought cold thoughts, thought about unpleasant things, thought about school work, Arithmancy, and divinations, and charms.

It wasn't going to do him any good, he could tell already. Thrusting slowly in and then pulling out, the pleasure flowed down over him like warm honey, coating him and not letting go. He breathed out slowly, moving again.

It was too much.

He groaned as he could no long hold back the waves of ecstacy that broke over him. Closing his eyes, he gripped Snape's hips harder, and surrendered to it. Thrusting out of control a few more times, he came blindingly hard.

As soon as he was back inside his own head, he pulled out slowly, and turned Snape over. Before he could utter a scathing word, all of which Harry knew he would deserve, Harry took hold of him, and brought his mouth down. Even having read about deep-throating, he couldn't do it. He gagged and had to back off. Keeping the tip in his mouth, Harry sucked greedily, loving the taste. With his hand around the base, he stroked up and down slowly. Snape didn't last long, moaning desperately as he came.

"Sorry," Harry whispered. "I hoped it would be better for you."

"Idiot." Snape said it so affectionately; Harry knew he couldn't be that disappointed in him. "What did you expect?"

"That it wouldn't.... well, you know." Harry looked away, blushing. "I was pretty quick off the mark."

Snape glared at him and shook his head. "If I had not known for certain that you have had no experience, I would not have believed it."

Rasing an eyebrow, Harry felt a little better. "So it wasn't too bad, then."

"Harry," Snape said, leaning up on an elbow, "if that was not too bad, then I am not sure I shall survive your becoming truly proficient."

"I wanted to please you."

"You did. Very much so." Snape met his eyes. "Some of what you did was fairly sophisticated for a new lover. I'm rather surprised you tried it."

"You said to surprise you. I..." Harry looked down, blushing. Then he squared his shoulders. He wasn't embarrassed by what he'd done. Besides which, if he could do it, then he could be honest about how he'd come by the knowledge. "I researched it. To figure out--"

"What made you decide to do that?" Snape's expression was suspicious.


Snape's face went red and he sputtered, "You discussed our sexual relationship with--"

"No. Of course not." Harry shook his head and then sighed. "Well, she did kind of tell me about --"

Snape held up a hand as if to ward off the image. "Don't say it. The last two people I want in our bed are those two."

Harry laughed. "Still, she pointed me in the right direction."

"Very right direction." Snape kissed him, slowly, languidly, pulling him down on top of him. "Very right indeed."

Blinking awake, Harry was sweating. He had a human blanket wrapped around him. They generated so much more heat naked. Of course they did, Harry snickered at himself.

"Mmm..." Snape stirred beside him, snuggling closer to kiss him softly. The sleepy contentment in Snape matched Harry's own satisfaction.

He opened his mouth, letting Snape's tongue in to explore. Arching his neck back as Snape's mouth made contact with his skin, Harry moaned softly.

"My turn, I think," Snape said with a positively evil smile.

A warm anticipatory shiver ran through him. "Yes."

Snape feasted on his neck and upper chest for a while, his tongue sliding along Harry's flesh, finding spots that were much more sensitive than Harry would have ever have thought. Harry was flying from each touch, each caress, and Snape would not let up. His pulse galloped so fast Harry could barely catch his breath.

When Snape's mouth closed over him, he tried to cry out in pleasure, but could not find enough air in his lungs. He made a choking, gasping sound that might have sounded like he was in pain, but Snape clearly didn't think so. His mouth continued to torture Harry, sliding all the way down and then back up, encircling him with moist heat.

Harry couldn't help his jerky motions, his hips would not obey his commands, and neither would any other part of his body. Orgasm hit him quick and hard. He gasped out Snape's name, trying to in drag in enough breath to survive the encounter.

Still panting harshly, Harry came back to himself. "God, that was brilliant."

"There is more coming soon."

For a second, Harry had to think about what he meant, but when Snape's hand moved over his buttocks, his meaning became too clear. A moment of panic seized Harry, and he forced it back. He'd taken, now it was his turn to give. Snape certainly seemed to enjoy it. The books all said it was fabulous.

However, some part of Harry's mind said something that big wasn't going to fit easily into something as narrow as him.

"Harry?" Snape looked concerned and for a second, Harry was afraid Snape might know what he was thinking.

"Oh, sorry." He smiled at Snape, consciously blocking out that thought. "My mind went somewhere else."

Something flashed for one second in Snape's eyes, but he kissed Harry softly. "Do try and pay attention, Mr. Potter."

"Hey, No Mr. Potter in bed." Harry cuffed his hand gently to the side of Snape's head. "And you should be paying attention."

"To what do I need to pay attention?"

Harry reached down and closed his hand around what he was talking about. "Need I say more?"

Snape jerked and then sighed. "Well, since you have your hand there, the least you could do is move it a bit."

"Oh, I guess I could do that." Harry moved his hand up and down once. "I'm thinking you might want to do something else with that."

Letting out a sigh, Snape leaned back and let Harry move a few more times. "That feels quite good from where I'm sitting."

"There are things I know for a fact that feel better."

"Indeed. Maybe we should try a few of them, don't you think?" Snape opened his eyes and met Harry's.

"Yeah. I think we could."

Without warning, Snape moved forward, pushing Harry down onto his back, and kissing him hard and then easing back to kiss him softly. For a time, Snape seemed content to kiss him, slowly, languidly, exploring the recesses of Harry's mouth without end.

Snape's hands and mouth seemed everywhere at once, and after a very short amount of time, Harry couldn't process it anymore. He simply gave himself up to the sensations of Snape working magic on him. Moaning softly, he knew he'd allow Snape any liberty he wanted. "Please," he begged, not even sure what he was begging for.

Flat on his back, Harry looked up to see Snape straddle him. Harry groaned loudly as Snape reached back and positioned him, and then simply sat down. The heat and constrictions were even better than the first time. He couldn't believe how good this felt.

With his head thrown back, and his eyes closed, Snape moaned softly. He moved up and then down on Harry, creating a slow rhythm. Heat built in Harry, his skin tingling, his breath coming in sharp pants, he closed his eyes and prayed he could make this last. It didn't.

Snape's mouth opened on a moan, and he froze, his hand reaching to pump himself hard. A strangled sound erupted from Snape. Harry watched his face twist, looking almost as if he were in pain, but clearly he wasn't. Reaching up, Harry brought him down for a kiss just as Snape started to come. With a soft cry, Snape slumped over him.

Taking hold of his hips, Harry bucked up into him several more times and then gave himself over to the pleasure, too.

Soft kisses on his chest brought Harry back from wherever it was that orgasm had taken him. "Mmm." Harry ran a hand through Snape's sweaty hair, pushing it back from his face. "Mmm."

"Oh, so articulate, Mr--"

"Don't say it." Harry put his hand over Snape's mouth.

"Habit, I'm afraid," Snape said, nipping his palm.

Drawing his hand back, Harry smiled. "Break it. I mean it. I don't like it when you call me that, in that tone."

"It shall be as you wish." Snape used the same tone he'd used when he'd gone to his knees.

Shivering pleasantly at the memory, Harry leaned up and kissed him. "As if that's likely."

"More likely than you give it credit for." Snape kissed him and moved off him, to the side.

"Maybe." Snuggling up next to him, Harry felt sleepy and warm. "Thanks."

"For what?" He didn't sound like he knew what Harry was talking about, which Harry found hard to believe.

Rolling over onto his back, Harry opened his eyes. "For not, you know..."

"Oh, yes. I see." There was a note of something in Snape's tone.

Harry didn't know what it was, or what to do about it. He could sense from Snape that he wanted to say something. "What?"

"Remember that talk we were going to have about preferences?" Snape looked serious and Harry felt his concern.

However, Harry was not comfortable with it at all. "I'm thinking this is not the time to have this conversation."

Snape raised an eyebrow in query. "What better time?"

Suddenly, Harry was acutely aware of his nakedness. "How about when we're both dressed and had something hard to drink?"

Snape shook his head and ran a hand slowly down Harry's side. "Is it just fear of the unknown?"

"Mostly." Feeling foolish about his fears, Harry could see that Snape wasn't going to let it go. "I can't imagine how it could not really, really hurt."

"Did it look like it hurt? Either time?"

"No." Harry looked away. "I was surprised..."

"That I didn't take you against your will?"

"No. It wouldn't have been against my will." Mostly not, anyway. "That you let me... twice."

"Stupid brave Gryffindor." Snape sat up, plumping up a few pillows, and leaned against the headboard. "Did it ever occur to you that I might enjoy it?"

"Well, it was clear that you did." Harry glanced at him. "I never thought... I mean, I just didn't think you'd want to do that very often." If at all.

Snape shrugged and looked amused at him. "It feels quite good."

Harry knew his expression was skeptical when Snape laughed at him.

"There is some small amount of pain. Especially, the first few times, but a caring lover can see that it is very minimal. You needn't worry. I'm quite content with things as they are."

"You're never going to want to--" Harry couldn't believe that. It felt too good never to do it.

"Oh, I expect that you'll want to try it eventually. If only to see why I enjoy it so much."

Already curious, Harry smirked at him. "I think it will be sooner than eventually."

Snape leaned down and kissed him. "I'm sure it will be. But not in the next few minutes. I'm drained dry."

Harry laughed. "Can't keep up with me, old man?"

Snape hit him with a pillow.

Snape woke to warm lips moving down his back, and then nipping at his buttocks. He groaned. "Harry, you're insatiable."

"No. Just making up for lost time." Harry moved back up to nuzzled against the nape of his neck, his hands snaking around Snape's waist.

Turning over, Snape wrapped his arms around Harry and kissed him. "Again?"

Harry thrust himself against Snape's thigh. "What do you think?"

"What I just said." Snape wondered how much sex a man could have before everything shut down completely. He supposed he was going to find out.

"I'm still haven't even reached my prime yet."

Snape groaned again. "Merlin, help me."

"No mercy for you." Harry smiled at him, and he kissed him softly. "I was thinking..."

"Oh, is that new for you?" Snape smirked at the mock hurt look on Harry's face. "What did you have in mind this time?"

"Maybe, you could...."

Tilting his head, Snape regarded him seriously. "It hasn't been that long."

"Well, three days of you screaming in pleasure--"

"I do not scream in pleasure," Snape said tartly. "Perhaps I moan a little, but nothing more undignified than that."

Snickering with amusement, Harry leaned over and kissed him. "Yeah, tell that to someone who wasn't there."

"I think not."

"Anyway...." Harry took a deep breath. "I want to try it."

Snape looked at his determined face and saw the lack of fear there. He still wasn't sure it was a good idea. "Harry, it can wait."

"I don't want to wait."

Was there anyone more stubborn in the whole of the world, Snape wondered. "Why am I not surprised to hear that?"

"You know you want it, too."

"This can't be about me." Snape sat up, and bit back a wince. He plumped the pillows and leaned against them. "This is about you. What you want. I've told you, I'm--"

"Are you okay? Did I hurt you?"

"I'm old and I'm sore. I am not hurt." Snape glared at him, daring him to argue.

Harry gave him a skeptical look, reaching out to pet along his thigh. "We've done it a lot."

"I know exactly how many times we've made love. I was there." He looked over at the bedside table. Next to the lubricant was a painkilling, muscle relaxant potion. Opening it, he drank about half the contents. "Give it a minute, things will be fine."

"You shouldn't have to do that."

"Don't be an idiot." Snape shook his head and when Harry would have said something he held up his hand. "No. We are not going to discuss my over-used muscles."

"Okay." Harry sat up too. "Can we get back to what I wanted to talk about? Because if you're okay, and I have to accept that. Then when I say it's okay, you have to accept it, too."

Snape opened his mouth to argue, and then closed it again. The brat had a point. Besides which, he could tell exactly how much Harry did want it. "All right. I'll take you at your word."

"Taking my word is not all--"

"Please don't say it." Snape leaned down and kissed him, sliding his hand along Harry's back and turning him.

Harry rolled into his arms and smiled up at him, looking quite pleased with himself. "Convince me not to."


"If you don't like bad puns--"

Snape shut him up with a kiss. Then continued kissing him for a long time, moving slowly down his neck to his chest. Even after three days of sampling Harry's flesh, Snape could not get enough of the taste, the texture, the silkiness of his skin. Hearing Harry thrash with pleasure as he worked his mouth down his body only added to Snape's enjoyment.

It had been a long time since he'd had anyone like this, but his fingers remembered well the paths they should take and he spent a long time on them, pleasuring Harry as well as preparing him. Harry moaned and writhed, crying out when sensitive areas were caressed.

A moment of pure heaven stole over him as he sank ever so slowly into Harry's young firm body. Harry froze, and then relaxed incrementally. Waiting, Snape breathed out and in slowly, letting Harry's body calm and give up its death grip completely before he moved. Then slowly, very slowly, he pulled back, and moved in again.

Harry sighed, spreading his thighs a little wider, and pressing back tentatively against him.

He repeated the move, changing his angle slightly, and heard Harry gasp. He knew he was on the right path. As Snape moved forward again, Harry moaned.

If there had been a choice, Snape would have kept up his slow, easy pace for a long time, but there wasn't one. The pleasure built too quickly, and he could not control it. He plunged and heard Harry cry out, "Harder!"

Snape was lost. Passion overwhelmed him and his voice joined Harry's in a loud wail of completion.

Some time later, he found the energy to move off Harry's back, settling beside him. His breathing returned to normal slowly. When he opened his eyes, he peered into Harry's eyes.

"Okay?" he asked, not sure of the look he was seeing. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"No. It was good. Very good, in fact."


"No buts."

There was something in the way he said that set off Snape's alarm bells. He gave Harry an unconvinced look. "There is always a but with you. What is it?"

Letting out a very long sigh, Harry turned to look right at him. "It wasn't what I was expecting."

That didn't sound like a ringing endorsement. "Wrong?"

"Not at all," Harry snuggled closer, leaning over to kiss Snape on the chest. "It was closer than I thought."

Of all the things that he'd expected Harry to say, that wasn't amongst the possibilities. "I'm not sure I follow. Closer, how?"

"It was intimate."

Shaking his head, Snape chuckled, looking very amused. "You've pushed your mind into mine. You've had your tongue up my arse. How much more intimate does it get than that?"

Harry blushed again, eyes darting away and then back. "That's just what I mean. I just didn't expect to react to it that way."

"Do you want to do it again?"

"Of course, I do. I liked it. I...." He shrugged. "I don't have words for it. I wish I could explain it better."

Snape nodded. "There's plenty of time."

"Our whole lives, I'm thinking."

"So it would seem."


"Wake up," Snape said, shaking Harry's shoulder. "Your idiot friends just crossed our wards. You'll have to go down to meet them."

Harry opened one eye and groaned. "Why me?"

"They are your friends." Snape rolled over and pulled the blanket up over his head. "You deal with them."

"Thanks, ever so much." Harry sat up and groaned. He certainly felt it this morning. Still, it had been worth it.

Pushing himself up, he looked around for his dressing gown. It was in a crumpled heap on the floor where it had landed the last time Snape had taken it off him. Shaking it out didn't help, but he had no time to do more than slip into his pants, and put it on over.

Yawning, he made his way down the curved staircase to the front hall. Taking a breath and squaring his shoulders, he pulled open the door to find Ron and Hermione looking quite worried.

"What?" he asked staring at them.

"Is that any way to greet your mates?" Ron asked, sounding indignant, but his lips were twitching as he took in Harry's appearance.

No doubt he looked like exactly what he felt like: well shagged.

"Yes, exactly. We've come to see if you're all right. The least you can do is be polite and fix us some tea." Hermione didn't even bother trying to hide her smile.

"Oh, come on in." Harry stepped back so that they could get in the front door. "I'll get some tea going."

"Good." Ron and Hermione didn't even bother to hide their curiosity. Hermione especially seemed to take in all the details.

"No House Elves," Harry said as he led them into the kitchen.

"Very good." Hermione and Ron made themselves comfortable at the kitchen table and Harry put the kettle on. He used the gas rather than spelling it. For some reason, tea needed to be steeped in just boiled water. It didn't taste right to him otherwise.

"Is this just a social call, or did you actually have a reason for waking me up at the crack of dawn?"

"It's nearly one in the afternoon," Hermione pointed out in a tone she could have borrowed from Snape.

"And no one has heard from you or Snape in four days." Ron seemed put out by this. As if Harry should have stopped what he'd been doing to owl his friends.

"We've been busy. Did you want an update or details?" Harry said as he sat down a bit too hard and had to shift.

Ron looked away and muttered, "I can see that."

"Did he hurt you?" Hermione asked, blushing, but refusing to look away. "You can tell us."

"Oh, God." Harry buried his head in his hand, laughing hard. After everything, he couldn't believe this. "You have no idea. None."

"Harry, it's all right." Hermione stood and put her arm around him. She sounded angry now. "We'll get you out of here."

Harry raised his head, and laughed even harder.

"What is going on down here?" Snape came into the room, also dressed in a rumpled dressing gown. He looked at Harry. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Harry managed to gasp it out between fits of hysterics. He wanted to tell Snape what his friends were thinking, but he couldn't stop laughing.

All three of them glared at him until he quieted down enough to speak. "My friends were just worried about me."

"I see." Snape turned away and fixed himself a cup of tea. "Why?"

"As we told Harry, no one has heard from you, either of you, for four days." Hermione folded her arms over her chest, and clearly was trying to reassess the situation. "We were worried."

"How did you find us?" Snape asked sitting at the table next to Harry. "No one should have known where we were, much less how to get here."

"Professor Dumbledore knew." Ron looked smug. "He told us."

"Oh, lovely." Snape glared at them. "I don't suppose you'll go away now, will you?"

They both shook their heads in tandem.

"Severus," Harry said, and then choked again at the look on both Hermione and Ron's faces. "What do you expect me to call him?"

Ron blushed. "I guess I never thought about it."

He could almost hear Ron thinking how much he didn't want to think about it. Or anything else for that matter. "Ron, Hermione, we're both fine, okay?"

Hermione breathed out a sigh of relief. "We--"

"I know." He put his hand over hers. "I appreciate it. But really, I'm fine. We're fine."

"Okay." Ron took a sip of his tea, and then pointed looked at Snape. "We also wanted to tell you about what happened when you both left school the way you did."

"I can imagine," Snape said. "I've resigned. There is nothing they can do about it, now."

"Except that everyone is saying that you and Harry were...." Pausing, Ron took a breath. "Were shagging since before school ended."

Snape made a strangled sound and Harry put his hand over his and squeezed.

"That's not fair." Harry was angry. "What did they think we were in such a hurry for if we were doing it already?"

"Well, people suddenly remembered that you weren't in the common room for nights at a time. Now they all seem to think they know where you were."

"Which is true," Snape said. "However, what we were doing isn't what they think we were."

"Since you're no longer a teacher, can they do anything to you?" Harry looked at him, concerned.

"No. I do not believe so. Especially if you were over the age of consent when it allegedly happened. "

"Besides which, you can both swear under Veritaserum that you didn't." Hermione was always trying to be helpful.

Harry looked away and didn't say anything.

"Can't you?" Ron asked, he looked unsure.

"Yes." Snape glared back at him, saying nothing more.

"Is there more, Harry?" Hermione also looked concerned now.

Harry opened his mouth to say something and then one look at Snape shut it. "What do you want me to say?"

"It's none of your business, Weasley." Snape's tone was harsh. "If the Ministry or someone else calls me to task for what may or may not have happened, then I'll answer to them. Not to you."

"Severus." Harry folded his arms over his chest and glared. "Try not to be so rude to my friends. They care about me."

Snape huffed and mimicked Harry's stance; it was ruined when his lips twitched. "Let them mind their own bloody business."

"I am their business." Harry turned to them. "No. Nothing until school ended."

They both looked at him, clearly waiting for more. He looked back at Snape, who shrugged. "Tell them what you please. You will anyway."

"It wasn't wholly innocent. I mean, we kind of snogged a couple of times."

Both Ron and Hermione looked relieved. "Oh, is that all."

"That is quite enough to have got me sacked."

"Yeah, but not enough to have done any damage."

"For God's sake," Snape growled. "Will no one believe I would not harm you?"

Harry leaned over and kissed Snape right on the mouth, and caressed his cheek with the back of his knuckles. "I've always known it, and frankly, I'm the only one who counts."

Startlingly, Snape nodded. "You're absolutely correct." He raised his teacup to his mouth and finished it in one last gulp. Standing, he gathered his dressing gown around him along with his dignity, and smiled down at Harry. "Enjoy your visit with your friends. I'm going to have a bath."

With that, he caressed Harry's messy hair once, and swept out.

Hermione's mouth was literally open. "I knew it had to be true, but--"

'Yeah," Ron agreed. "If I hadn't seen that I wouldn't have believed it."

Harry just sat back smiling. It was all going to be okay.