Of all the people Severus had hoped would be knocking on his door on a Saturday morning, Marcus did not even make the list. As it was, he was still nursing a headache from his overindulgence the night before.
“I’m sorry for interrupting you so early, sir, but I needed to talk to you.”
“This cannot wait?” Severus asked impatiently.
“No, sir, it really can’t. Please.” Marcus’ face was a picture of desperation.
Severus sighed. “Very well.” He moved aside and invited Marcus into his antechamber. He settled into his sofa and gestured for Marcus to take the chair by the fire – where Harry usually sat, he belatedly realized. With a tiny shake of his head, he cleared his thoughts and focused on his Prefect.
Marcus rubbed his palms against the tops of his thighs for a moment before looking up. “I don’t mean to be blunt, sir, but in this case I must. I… I know you are in love with Harry. Please, don’t deny it,” he added quickly, raising his hands in front of him, obviously trying to forestall the objection – or possibly the hex – he saw perched on Severus’ tongue. “That’s actually what I’ve come to talk to you about.”
Severus narrowed his eyes. He did not care to speculate on how Marcus had come to this conclusion, but could tell by the pleading look he was being given that there was more to say and Severus should hear him out. He pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh, closing his eyes for a long moment. Then, softly, “Go on.”
Marcus took a deep breath. “Good. Well, I guess I should start at the beginning…”
Severus sat and listened as Marcus came clean about his crush-turned-obsession with Harry, about how he’d been jealous of all the time Severus got to spend with him, and how angry he felt at being blocked at every turn. He confessed to stealing a small amount of Polyjuice, what his plans for it were, what he experienced while Polyjuiced as Harry, and ultimately his painful realization that being ‘The Boy Who Landed The Boy Who Lived’ would not be anything like he had fantasized it would be. Instead of being lauded for his catch, he would simply become eclipsed by Harry’s fame and fade into the background of the partnership, likely stripped of any identity outside of ‘Harry Potter’s boyfriend’. And, unfortunately for him, he wasn’t prepared to give up his status.
When Marcus had finished talking, he looked down. His face was bright red and he appeared on the verge of tears. Despite all the antics he had pulled, Severus still felt a tug of sympathy for him. He could certainly relate to the irresistible pull of Harry, anyway.
“I just needed you to know that, and I’m sorry, Professor. Harry’s yours. I won’t… I mean, I don’t think… I don’t think he’s the one for me.” It was clear to Severus that this particular admission had been the most difficult so far. Marcus’ expression was sour, as though the words themselves were distasteful to think, much less say.
For Severus’ part, he merely contemplated the entire confession for a short while – the silence stretching almost to the point of awkwardness – before asking about the one thing he was perhaps most unclear about. “One question, Mr. Braham.”
“Yes, sir, anything at all.”
Severus leaned forward, peering down his nose at Marcus. “What were you doing with your hand under Harry’s shirt last night?”
Marcus’ eyes went wide for a moment, as though he was surprised Severus knew about that, and then looked off to the side. “Touching his tattoo,” he muttered. “Hermione said if it moved away from me I wouldn’t be a good fit for him, or something.”
Severus’ worst fears seemed to be laying themselves out at his feet one by one. Not only had he sorely misjudged the interaction he’d overseen, but he’d erroneously assumed Marcus and Harry were dating (something Harry had also insisted was untrue, his mind supplied him unhelpfully). Severus sighed to himself. He had indeed made a colossal arse of himself, and this time the damage may not be reversible.
“And how did it react?” he managed.
Marcus gave a sad smile. “It practically disappeared. I think it ended up around his neck.”
Severus briefly considered how the tattoo might react to his own touch but then discarded the thought promptly. He couldn’t imagine it would be very favorable at the moment. Then Marcus looked up suddenly, something akin to hope blooming on his face.
“Is it possible it could have lied? Like a trick?”
Even with the little Severus knew about Harry’s tattoo, it did not change his answer. “No. Magic cannot lie. Its very nature is to be reactive – to a wizard’s intent, to its immediate environment, to the combination of other forces or elements – but there is no cognition behind it. It is something we simply borrow from the Earth to wield; we can no more fool it than create it.”
“Fuck. Er, I mean…” Marcus’ cheeks burned and he put his hands over his face. “Sorry, sir.”
Severus merely arched a brow, regarding his Prefect with a detached sort of amusement. Though why he should find humor in this, he wasn’t sure – perhaps because something already felt like it was shifting in his favor. Even if the reaction from Harry’s tattoo could not be interpreted that literally, Marcus had still taken on the task of removing himself from the equation. Severus sensed there was more to it, something that had forced Marcus to do what he did, but there was no point exploring that now. He sat back in his chair and folded his hands across his lap, regarding his errant student for a few moments before speaking.
“Did you stop by this morning to turn in your essay, Mr. Braham?”
Marcus’ head shot up. “What? Did you not just hear everything I—” Then he stopped, his eyes drifting to Severus’ arched brow and look of mild inquiry. Severus saw the exact moment when understanding hit him.
“Oh! No, sir, that one’s not due until Tuesday.”
“So it is,” Severus observed, pursing his lips. “Then I suppose that concludes our business here. Good day to you, Mr. Braham.”
Marcus stood tentatively and glanced around, as though he could not believe his luck. Then he bowed slightly. “Thank you, sir. Good day. And… good luck with Harry.” Despite his brave effort to deliver a conspiratorial smile, it only came out as wistful.
With the illicit thrill of Harry’s name lingering on the air to mark the moment, Severus’ quarters – and life – seemed once again as they should be. He felt the corner of his mouth tempt him into a smile, the traitorous thing, but he stamped it down easily enough.
Though even if resisting mirth was not his habit, the weight of what lay before him would have made quick work of it. He had an apology to make – something that was probably too little, too late already. Still, he owed Harry at least that courtesy, even if the sole outcome was his own catharsis. However, the prospect of facing Harry was too much; a letter would have to do.
Sliding open a drawer, Severus selected a fresh piece of parchment and picked up his black quill, ignoring the way it seemed to lay heavy with shame in his hand. He held it for a while like that, hovering until the ink nearly dripped – the embarrassment over what he’d done still rankling – before he pressed it to the fibrous paper and began to write.
Harry sat at the kitchen table in Grimmauld Place, one elbow on the table, his head propped in his hand. He was picking idly at his breakfast, pushing eggs around his plate with a fork. Thoughts of the night before continued to replay over and over in his mind and he tried to figure out how he could have done things differently; if there had been an outcome in there, any kind of possibility, that would have allowed him to kiss Severus instead of just sending him away.
Harry knew it would have been foolish to run after him. There were few things that would drive Severus underground faster than forcing an issue like this, and anyway, Harry was still sorting through his own feelings on the matter. Everything he thought he’d known about his relationship with Severus was being challenged. If he had gone after him, what would he have said? Or done? And how much would Severus have remembered, anyway? He had seemed a bit… impaired.
Harry was distracted from his thoughts by a loud clatter in the adjoining room, followed by the indignant squawk of an owl. Or was that Kreacher’s voice? The answer came readily as a large, tawny owl swooped into the room and landed on the table, upending the salt shaker and scattering a pile of Quidditch books. Startled, Harry looked over at Kreacher, who was running into the kitchen after it, a frying pan in one hand and a broom in the other.
“I am sorry, Master, but Kreacher was unable to catch the owl. It has been charmed for safe delivery.”
Harry hid his surprised bark of laughter behind a snort. “It’s okay, it looks like it’s just a letter.” The elf huffed and wandered back out of the room.
Leaning over, Harry untied the rolled parchment from the owl’s leg and offered up a piece of his bacon in return. The bird snapped at it impatiently, its beak nearly catching Harry’s skin, and then took off with a great whoosh of wings.
“Geez, you don’t have to take off my finger,” Harry grumbled.
Unrolling the parchment, he found a short letter penned in a familiar, angular scrawl. Suddenly, the owl made sense.
Harry cringed at the formality, already feeling his heart sink. He continued.
I will keep this brief. It has come to my attention that my assumptions about you and Mr. Braham were incorrect. Furthermore, my behavior at the party last night was both regrettable and inexcusable, and for this I must apologize. I fear I have done you another great disservice and would understand if you wished to cease your Evochi sessions.
A response from you is not required. I merely wished to express my regret, and hope this missive finds you in better stead than our evening prior.
Harry set the letter down and heaved a sigh of relief. Severus was just being Severus, and he could deal with that. He pulled his breakfast plate closer, his appetite now returning full force. He took several bites of egg and marmalade toast, and washed it down with coffee, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Then he dug around under the scattered mess of his kitchen table until he found a spare quill. Flattening out the parchment, he wrote a quick response. From his perspective, not much needed to be said.
I thought we agreed you were going to stop calling me Mr. Potter.
See you tomorrow at our normal time.
When the parchment came back that afternoon, it contained only one line:
Did you even read the letter?
Harry chuckled and grabbed his quill again.
Yes, Severus, I read the letter.
I forgive you.
He contemplated adding ‘you git’ to the end but decided not to press his luck. He knew what it was probably costing Severus to apologize without the expectation of a response, and besides, Harry likely had a few of his own things to apologize for as well.
He rolled up the parchment and attached it to the Hogwarts owl that had waited, realizing belatedly it had been busy helping itself to the remnants of his breakfast. He shooed it away with a hand and it took off through the kitchen window.
This time Harry didn’t receive a response. But then he hadn’t really expected to, either.
The following afternoon, a Sunday, found Harry draped across a chair in the Potions classroom, his feet propped on the desk before him. He was nursing a mug of hot cocoa while Severus was catching up on some idle work at his desk. The air between them carried a polite, if not awkward sort of tension, but if Harry seemed content to pretend the staff party hadn’t happened, Severus saw no reason to broach the topic, either. He supposed they’d said as much to each other with their owl correspondence the day before, anyway.
When Harry had arrived, he’d announced his intent to take a week off from his sessions, but asked if he could still stay anyway. Without their normal schedule in place, Severus decided to use the time to catch up on some projects he had been neglecting, and so invited Harry to join him in his classroom instead. It had the added benefit of giving him something to do with his hands (and to a lesser degree, his mind) as he doubted neither one of them would have been comfortable in his antechamber for long.
Yet even without this issue between them, Severus could tell Harry still had a lot on his mind; there were times, like now, where he seemed almost doubled over with the weight of it. Regardless, it was important that Severus let him air things on his own time.
As it happened, it barely took ten minutes.
“If I did another dreamscape, would I go back to the same place as before?”
“Not necessarily,” Severus answered, curious about what had prompted this particular topic again. “Dreamscapes reflect your desires at the moment you embark upon the session, but desires can change over time. Similarly, the potion may identify different or additional desires.” He paused, pursing his lips as he considered Harry. “You might, however, recreate the experience inside a regular Evochi session. It would be driven by your subconscious mind instead of your desires, but at least you would have control over the entire event.”
A flare of something like hope skittered across Harry’s gaze before his eyes returned to a dull curiosity. “Yeah, I guess… but would it be the same?”
“The same as what?”
Harry seemed as though he was willing himself not to blush, but was unsuccessful. He looked down at his shoes.
“Harry, it does not do to dwell on—”
“I know, all right?” Harry interrupted. “I know. I get that I shouldn’t… I just can’t stop thinking about it.” He sighed heavily, twining his fingers together around the mug in his hands. “It was just… really nice.”
Not for the first time, Harry’s comment made Severus wonder what he had experienced in his dreamscape session that he didn’t think he could replicate in reality. What was it that Harry desired so much?
By evening, the tension had lifted considerably, much to Harry’s relief. After a light meal in Severus’ quarters, they once again made themselves comfortable in the Potions classroom, their rapport seeming almost back to normal again. Or as normal as it ever got for them, anyway. Harry made himself another mug of steaming cocoa in an attempt to take the winter chill out of the dungeons and sat back down at the desk he’d occupied earlier.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been ‘The Chosen One’,” he mused. “It’s weird to think that part of my life is over, even if other people can’t see past it. But now who am I? What do I do now?”
“Have you never thought about what you might want to do as a career?”
“Not really.” Harry shrugged. “I suppose I didn’t think I would live long enough to have one.”
“Touché,” Severus conceded.
“You’ve had to guide your students into jobs over the years, right? I mean, what are some of the options?”
Severus seemed to contemplate him for a moment before opening a drawer in his desk. He pulled out a sheaf of parchments encased in a brown folio and levitated it across his desk, over to where Harry was sitting.
Harry sat back in his chair with the documents and read the cover: Hogwarts Career Mapping by R. Strathwaite. Across the bottom, in smaller letters, it read: Compiled 1990. Eight years had transpired since these documents were created. With increasing interest, Harry opened the folio, quickly discovering it was a long list of careers – both Wizarding and Muggle. They were split into three sections: From Hogwarts, From University and From Training Corps. Until now, it had never occurred to him there were so many different things to do. He looked up at Severus.
“These are all things witches and wizards can do after they’ve completed school?”
Severus affirmed with a nod. “It is by no means all-inclusive, but it should get you started.”
Harry began reading down the list, a finger guiding his spot as he went. He spoke aloud when something intrigued him.
“Artist, wand-maker – there’s a special mark after that one, what does that mean? Ohhh,” he said reverently, drawing out the sound, “a private investigator! Brilliant! Or a curse-breaker, warding specialist or Healer.” A smile began to play at his lips. For the first time in months – perhaps ever – his life seemed to be stretching out in front of him, overflowing with opportunities. It welcomed his exploration and choice in a way he assumed others always enjoyed but he’d had yet to experience.
“Philanthropist?” he asked next.
“A person who promotes the welfare of others, usually through monetary means.”
“I know what it is, I only meant I was surprised it was considered a career. You’re a bloody dictionary, you know that?”
Severus sneered, though it was only half-hearted, and Harry laughed.
“Okay, how about this: a Hippogriff racer, magical creature breeder or broom-maker? Hang on, there’s that special mark again, this time after broom-maker. What does that mean?”
“You might trouble yourself to scan the bottom of the page for an answer.”
“Oh. Right. It says, ‘Marked careers require demonstrated mastery or inherited magical traits.’” He thought back to the wand-maker listing and Mr. Ollivander came to mind. He agreed it would definitely be the type of position that required someone with a special talent – and not the kind you could teach. Still, it was interesting. He turned the page again.
“Auror!” he exclaimed with a snort. “Fat chance of that!”
“You would not consider it?”
“Ugh, no,” Harry groaned. “I mean, I think everyone always assumed I would become an Auror, but honestly, the thought of chasing Dark wizards until I’m old and requiring broom assistance doesn’t appeal in the slightest.”
“Yeah, you know, when I can’t walk on my own, I’ll have to ride a broom to get around.”
Severus rolled his eyes.
Harry was already scanning the top of the next page when his smile turned sly. “I could always be a singer. That’s listed here.”
Severus hummed with disinterest while shuffling a stack of parchments into order. “Perhaps you have forgotten the point of this exercise is to select a career in which you have a reasonable hope of success.”
“Hey!” Harry said with a laugh, though he knew perfectly well Severus was right – his singing was appalling. He suddenly got the mental image of himself wearing some flashy outfit, performing on stage in front of a crowd of adoring fans, and then immediately discarded it with a small shake of his head. He had no idea where he got these notions from, but that was definitely not what he wanted. He turned the page again.
“A barber or craftsman? Why would a witch or wizard want to do that?”
“For the artistic satisfaction, I presume – much like many of the Muggle jobs on that list. Just because one has magic at his or her disposal does not mean it automatically leads to fulfilling work.”
Harry blinked. “Huh. I never thought about it like that before,” he admitted. “I guess I just assumed if you lived in the Wizarding world, you did a Wizarding job. Are there are lot of witches and wizards who do Muggle jobs?”
Harry turned his attention back to the page in front of him, pursing his lips thoughtfully. “I could be a potter.”
Severus looked up but said nothing.
“You know, a pottery-maker. I’d be the potter Harry Potter. Or Harry Potter, potter.” Harry grinned, making a comma gesture in mid-air.
“Hilarious,” came the droll response, though Harry could hear the tiniest hint of amusement in it. He laughed and turned another page.
“Okay, how about a speaker, vacation tour guide or writer, then?”
“What about them?”
“I mean for me. What do you think?”
“My opinion is irrelevant. This is your path to choose.”
“I know,” Harry sighed, his mood sobering. “It’s just… I’m not even sure where to start. A lot of these jobs sound great, but how do I know what I’d be good at? I’ve never done anything.” At Severus’ quelling look, he quickly clarified. “I mean, I’ve never done anything else, like a trade skill or something.”
“I have it on good authority – if the Headmistress is to be believed – that you are a passable Quidditch player.”
Harry snorted, then looked back down at the career list. “Yeah, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, Quidditch is fun. I just don’t think I’d want to play it professionally.”
Harry fiddled with the corner of the page he was on, folding it back and forth in a small triangle shape. For a long moment, he said nothing, unsure whether or not he wanted to state his reasons out loud. When he finally looked up, it was to see Severus giving him that shrewd, penetrative stare that meant he was trying to figure him out. And by the look on Severus’ face, it seemed he already had. Harry sighed. Might as well say it, then.
“I don’t want to be in the public eye anymore. I never wanted it, actually. If I played Quidditch, I’d always—”
“No need to explain,” Severus interrupted, one of his hands partially raised off the surface of his desk. “Forgive my pressing on the matter, I had not thought it through to that consequence.”
“It’s okay, it was a fair question. This is stuff I need to be thinking about, right?”
“Perhaps, but you do not need to make a decision today. There is time.”
Harry nodded. “I just want to make sure that no matter what I pick, I’m able to get the job based on what I can do and not because of my name.”
“You do not need anyone’s approval to pursue work of your choosing, Harry. You are a powerful wizard with a powerful name. If you wished it, you could use both to carve out your own career.”
Harry fought back a shy smile as a familiar feeling of warmth flooded his stomach. “You mean like work for myself?”
“Yes. Is that such a strange notion? I imagine you could not invent enough ways to spend the combined fortunes at your disposal in the Potter and Black family vaults, nor do I see you as a man content to rest on his laurels, merely watching as the world goes by.”
“No, you’re right, I think I’d go mad. But what would I do, exactly?”
“If I had all the answers, this conversation would be moot, would it not?” Harry bit his lip to stifle the smirk that threatened while Severus continued. “What do you like to do?”
Harry thought about it for a moment, letting his mind drift back to times in his life when he enjoyed what he was doing, no matter the activity. “I like helping people.”
“Clearly. Anything more specific?”
“I like seeing the moment when people get excited or happy about something; when they understand it. Like when I’m explaining things, or showing them something, or telling a story.” Then he smiled at Severus. “I suppose I could always be a teacher.”
“You say that as though you do not believe yourself a competent or able candidate. Have you considered finishing your Hogwarts education?”
“Not really. I did consider it for a bit, but I don’t think I’m really the academic sort. I doubt I would’ve even got this far if it wasn’t for Hermione.”
Harry reflected on his statement as a comfortable silence descended upon them. The decision of whether or not to return to Hogwarts and finish his schooling had plagued him for months, but in the end he realized this was not the time for it, if he ever returned to it at all. He’d had so much on his mind – about the war, about everything – that getting his NEWTs just hadn’t seemed important. What would he have used them for, anyway? He didn’t know, and figured until he did, there was no point burdening Hermione with helping him prepare for it. Ron had decided not to return, too, opting to help George run the shop, but then Ron had never been all that academically-minded, either.
Harry looked up at Severus, who had since gone back to scratching notes on a curled parchment, and decided it was time to turn the inquiry on him.
“So what job do you really want to do? And don’t say teaching, because I know you hate it.”
To Harry’s surprise, Severus didn’t object to the accusation. Instead, his answer seemed readied. So not the first time he’s thought about this, then.
“Research. Publication. Developing new potions for rare ailments or conditions, or refining those that already exist. Ideally somewhere outside of Britain where I can source my own ingredients.”
Harry blinked, a bemused expression on his face. For some reason he had never considered that Severus would want to do a job that helps people, although now that Harry knows him as well as he does, he shouldn’t really be surprised. Research and publication suited Severus’ meticulous nature, and likely his need for intellectual stimulation as well. And even if it was less about helping other people and more about Severus’ own edification, it still charmed Harry to think of him getting to do exactly what he wanted to do, and on his terms as well.
Monday afternoon, after his classes had concluded for the day, Severus returned to his office. Staring absently at the parchments on his desk, he watched as their words slid in and out of focus. The drudgery of his job was grating on him more than usual, and his instinct was telling him that regardless of what happened elsewhere in his life, this would be his final year as Potions Master – or anything else – at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It wasn’t about paying his dues, or serving time as recompense for all that had happened in the past. That much was understood, anyway, and had since been forgiven.
No, it was because he was now living in a rather peculiar reality. One he had not planned on having, but one in which he’d woken to find himself very much alive, anyway. There was a part of him that didn’t dare trust in what he had been given, this second chance of sorts. At every turn, he fully expected some duty to resurface, some old debt to be called forth for payment. His life had always seemed to be a sacrifice for one thing or another; why should it be any different now? Yet there was still that other part of him, albeit the smaller, more cautiously hopeful side, that couldn’t help wondering what his life might be like, what it could become, if he was actually allowed to live it.
He remembered back to the day when that sterile, chemical scent had first tinged his nose. It was not at all what he expected the afterlife to smell like – not that he’d held out hope he was slated for the pleasant variety, anyway. The scent was instantly followed by a flurry of voices, the words of which he couldn’t immediately grasp, and then hands prodding him, as though they were checking for something. Gradually, more and more senses came back to him. When he finally managed to open his eyes, he had to blink straight away, for the lights above him were piercingly bright against the darkness he had grown accustomed to.
It was a fitting metaphor, he supposed.
And then who better to continue forcibly drawing him out than Harry – the Beacon of Light in the Wizarding world, their media darling and hero extraordinaire. Three titles he quickly realized Harry hated, and was desperately trying to hide from. It was one way to explain Harry’s continued existence at St. Mungo’s, at least, despite being formally released with a clean bill of health. Severus never did figure out how Harry had ended up in his room, occupying the bed across from him for better than a month. He’d been told it was a paperwork error, with all manner of medical staff apologizing for it, yet it never did seem to get corrected…
He also remembered his initial conversations with Harry – stilted as they were, they were simply meant to satisfy his curiosities about what had happened the night of Voldemort’s defeat. But then he’d learned how Harry had walked into the forest, prepared to sacrifice himself; that in fact his willingness to do so had created a protection for his friends – indeed for all those fighting on behalf of Hogwarts – similar to what Lily had done for Harry all those many years ago. How he had been knocked unconscious by the killing curse and spoke with Albus at King’s Cross, and how he’d been given a choice to move on or come back, even though he knew what awaited him if he should return. How it really had been Voldemort’s choices that ended it. And how Harry had somehow managed to come out victorious without true bloodshed on his hands.
Severus had also told Harry his own story of survival, about how Fawkes seemed to materialize after the last echo of green eyes faded from his mind. How the phoenix tears stopped the bleeding and closed the wound, lifting the Dark curse with an evil-sounding hiss. How Madam Pomfrey had appeared shortly thereafter (a side story Harry recounted about how he’d had the idea to send his Patronus to the Mediwitch after viewing Severus’ memories, an admission that left the two of them silent and avoiding each other’s gaze until a nurse bustled in, fortuitously appearing to check Severus’ vitals). And though Severus couldn’t speak when Madam Pomfrey had arrived, her training had obviously taught her how to identify the healing from phoenix tears. The skyward benediction she offered in thanks – to Albus or his loyalties, whichever had been responsible – was still firmly etched into his mind’s eye, more indelible than any other memory from that time.
But it was after all the academic stuff was out of the way when things really began to change. Harry had been getting more and more bold in his approach; Severus more yielding. One conversation in particular had been a turning point in their interaction.
Harry sighed, his posture deflating. His anger seemed to go along with it. “Look, I’m not going to argue with you about this, but the fact is, you didn’t kill my parents. It wasn’t your fault. Voldemort killed them because they were trying to protect me. It was me he wanted. You know as well as I do the prophecy could have meant Neville. It was Voldemort’s choices that marked my parents for death, not yours.” He held up his hand to forestall Severus’ objection. “I don’t blame you for telling Voldemort about the prophecy – about any of it. You were just doing what you thought was right, you had no idea what he was going to do with the information. And as far as I can tell, you didn’t even realize who the prophecy was about. So if you’re going to preach to me about letting go of the past, then you need to start doing the same.”
Severus had opened his mouth to say something – he wasn’t sure what, but he had something suitably scathing perched on the end of his tongue, he was sure of it – yet when words failed him, he closed his mouth with a snap and narrowed his eyes. Harry had since looked away, his brows pinched together in the center of his forehead, once again lost in his own thoughts and memories.
Harry had always managed to squirm in underneath Severus’ defenses, though, hadn’t he? And it wasn’t the first time he had impressed Severus with the depth of his understanding, either. Most people, it seemed, underestimated Harry. He was far more shrewd and aware than people gave him credit for, Severus included. No one seemed to doubt his prowess with a wand, but few acknowledged the particular emotional complexity that was Harry Potter. He wasn’t intellectually-oriented, like his precocious, high-achieving friend; he was intuitively-oriented. He felt life. It had taken Severus a long time to grasp that about him; to understand that it wasn’t a weakness or deficit in any way. In fact, it was an enviable trait, just one Severus was far too pragmatic to embrace. He needed quantitative figures and logic, things he could grasp through scientific means. He led from his mind, whereas Harry…
Harry led from his heart.
He’d long respected Harry’s resilience and adaptability – and his fool-hardy courage – even if it was only in the privacy of his own mind that he acknowledged it. But it was after this new realization at St. Mungo’s, with Harry seated across from him, a white rook pressed against his lips as he contemplated his next (and ultimately fatal) chess move, when Severus’ respect turned to admiration. And perhaps a little more.
Physically, Harry’d grown into a very attractive young man, now that Severus allowed himself to see it. No longer the coltish boy with gangly limbs, Harry had become a streamlined beauty with the compact, lithe build of an athlete. How could he not have, with the combined genetics of an admittedly handsome father, a beautiful mother and regular bouts of Quidditch?
As for the rest, they’d discovered (quite to the surprise of both) that without their long-suffering adversarial habit or the need to guard their roles, their dynamic together was actually quite natural. Both had seen and done unpleasant things in the war (more so Severus, he was sure) but they felt no need to talk about them. It was as though their separate pasts became shared; understood in a way that Severus had not experienced with anyone else, save Albus.
The knocking sound seemed oddly distant and hollow, as though it were not part of the memory.
Severus startled slightly, ushering away the guilty indulgence of his thoughts to see Hermione’s face peering around the door to his office.
“May I come in for a minute?”
At his nod, she entered his office and seated herself in the chair opposite his desk.
“I just wanted to thank you again for letting me participate in Harry’s Evochi session. It was great getting to see a new area of magic firsthand – while also helping Harry, too, of course.”
“I am glad you enjoyed it, though it is Harry you should be thanking. He is free to choose how to spend his sessions.”
Hermione smiled slightly, as though she was simply humoring him. “Well, then thank you for everything you’ve done for him. I’ve certainly noticed a difference, and it’s so good to see.”
Severus merely nodded. “As much as I may appreciate this line of flattery, I assume this is not the topic you have come to talk to me about.”
“No. Well, I did actually want to tell you those things, but I also…” She hung her head for a moment, her fingers tracing the edge of the book in her lap. When she looked back up, her gaze held the fierce determination Severus had long associated with her. “I never had a chance to tell you how sorry I am that I didn’t do more for you. That day in the Shack. It was unfair of me to judge you that way and I’m sorry. I didn’t know all that you had done, not until Harry told us what he’d learned from your memories.”
“Few knew. That was by design, as I am sure you can appreciate.”
She nodded. “Yes, but we watched that horrible snake try to kill you, and did nothing!”
“And what would you have done? You were neither properly equipped with medicinal supplies nor in any position to believe I was worth saving.”
Hermione gaped. “Sir, that’s not—”
Severus forestalled her with a hand. “I appreciate what you are trying to do, but it is unnecessary. The fact is, Mr. Potter had the foresight to call for assistance from Madam Pomfrey that night. The rest is, as they say, history.”
“He… he did that?”
Severus’ brow arched. “You did not know?”
“No…” Hermione looked stunned, as though her mind was in the process of rewriting things she thought she knew about something, or someone. “How?”
“Brilliant, Harry,” she uttered quietly, clearly very much in awe of her friend. She shook her head, seeming to release the breath she had been holding, and gave a soft smile. “So everything worked out all right in the end.”
“Unless you are all avoiding the awkward conversation of telling me that I am, in fact, a ghost, I would say that yes, things often seem to.”
Hermione giggled. “I suppose you’re right, sir. Thank you.” Severus bowed his head and she stood to leave. When she neared the door, she stopped and turned.
“You know, you really are a good man.”
For a moment, Severus considered a well-patterned retort, but then thought better of it. He allowed his expression to relax slightly. “You are not the first to accuse me of that, though I cannot fathom where these notions come from. Regardless, I fear for my reputation should news of that get out.”
Hermione giggled again. “Not to worry, sir, your secret is safe with me.”
“Thank you, Ms. Granger.”
Severus was just about to turn back to the work on his desk but looked up at the seemingly incongruous name. “Pardon?”
“Sorry, just that I am actually Mrs. Weasley now.” A faint tinge mottled her cheeks.
“Of course, my apologies. Mrs. Weasley. In either case, thank you Hermione.” Her expression brightened at the use of her first name, no doubt relishing the informality it implied. It was only later that he’d wonder if the small liberty he’d just taken had paved the way for the boldness of her next statement, or if it’d actually been the reason for her visit all along.
“I hope you won’t mind me saying this, but…” She leaned back into the room, one hand anchoring her to the door frame, and lowered her voice. “You would have my vote if you ever wanted… more with Harry. I think you’d be very good for him.”
Something in Severus’ stomach flipped nervously at the recognition of her words and he fought back the fluster that crept up his throat. He knew he’d not masked it quickly enough when the light twinkled behind Hermione’s eyes. Blasted girl! It was the reason he loathed being unprepared for things – he could not adequately protect himself on unknown terrain. Still, the look on Hermione’s face suggested her opinion of him had not changed despite her discovery; if anything, she seemed quite pleased. He sighed, acutely aware that his lack of response was tantamount to a confession. “If only it were up to us,” he acknowledged.
“Yes. Though he may yet surprise you,” Hermione said, the twinkle still in her eyes.
For some reason, it made Severus think back to his conversation with Marcus, and how his Prefect had also guessed where his regards lay. “Shall I even bother asking how it is that everyone is happening upon this information? Is there a placard above my office door that I am unable to see?”
“Everyone?” she asked.
“Yes. You and one of my Prefects. Merlin knows who else.”
“Ah, so Marcus has been to see you. Good.”
Severus eyed her shrewdly, connecting the pieces together in his head. “It was you who sent him, then.” She merely smiled, but said nothing. “Did he relay my feelings about Harry to you?”
“No…” She paused for a moment, letting her smile curl into a grin. “I just pride myself on being an insufferable know-it-all. Sir,” she added wryly.
Before he could respond, she slipped out with a small wave, letting the door close behind her. Severus snorted. Yes, blasted girl, indeed. And blasted Boy Who Lived! If he wasn’t careful, they were both going to be his undoing.
Later that evening, while comfortably ensconced in his antechamber, Severus looked up to see the flames in his fireplace blaze suddenly, their glow a bright green. The Floo had been activated. Knowing there were only a few who had access, and probably only one who would call upon him at this hour, Severus felt his heart skip a beat.
But instead of the black hair and green eyes he anticipated, out popped a somewhat wrinkled bit of parchment. It fluttered around in a loose circle after the fireplace ejected it, the edges a bit singed, until it settled before him on the coffee table.
Unfurling it carefully, Severus read:
Is it all right if I do another session this weekend?
Severus caught himself a bit in surprise. He wasn’t sure where they had left this particular topic. Harry had said he wanted to take a week off, but then hadn’t mentioned anything else about Evochi during their day together yesterday – and Severus wasn’t about to make any more assumptions. He scribbled out the least complicated answer.
If you wish to continue using Evochi, yes.
The Floo had barely accepted his parchment before the flames hissed again and a response came flying out.
I told you I did. See you Sunday, then!
Severus looked down at the paper, noting Harry’s obvious excitement at returning for another session. The easy forgiveness he had bestowed still seemed unbelievable, but then he was dealing with Harry, and nothing had ever prepared him for that. It was likely that nothing ever would.