Work Header

The Same Coin

Work Text:

To hate, to be violent, is demeaning. It means you're afraid of the other side of the coin -- to love and be loved.
--James Baldwin

"Welcome back to Hogwarts, Mr. Potter," Minerva McGonagall said, smiling from the front doors as Harry, leaning heavily on his cane, made his way up the wide stone steps.

Harry smiled back at her, hiding the trepidation he felt. It had only been two years since he'd seen her at Dumbledore's funeral. His world had changed significantly since he'd been part of the Auror honor guard with several other former Hogwarts students.

He glanced up at her, automatically assessing her with an Auror's eyes. From what he'd heard and read, McGonagall had weathered her first years as Headmistress well, but clearly it had not been without a price. Her bearing was straight to the point of rigid. A tartan trim edged her otherwise black robes, making her complexion look even paler than he remembered. Her gaze through the square glasses was as direct as it had always been.

"It's good to be here, Headmistress." Harry reached the top and tried not to look as if he were breathing hard. "And please call me Harry."

She held out her hand to him and he took it. "Of course you may call me Minerva. We're all very excited to have you with us. Do come in."

"Thank you." Harry followed her inside.

"Even without your injury, it can be difficult for first time teachers to handle a full schedule. And teaching Defense Against Dark Arts can be very physical." She glanced at his cane pointedly.

"I think I'll be able to handle a full course load and what is required for the job," Harry assured her steadfastly. He wasn't willing to entertain the possibility that he couldn't.

She must have seen something in his eyes, because she gave him a hard, assessing look and asked, "How are you feeling, really?"

Her expression indicated that she expected honesty from him. "I have good days and bad days, about what you'd expect. It's been six months. I think it's more than time to get on with my life."

McGonagall nodded, seeming to accept what he said at face value. "Are you in much pain from your injuries?" She stopped in the middle of the main entrance hall. "You'll have to tell Madam Pomfrey what, if anything, you require."

"It's manageable most days. I don't require anything on a daily basis." He looked up at the moving staircases. "Stairs can be a bit of a challenge, though."

"I thought as much." She glanced at the stairs thoughtfully, and then focused back on him. "There are rooms available on this floor, but they won't be quiet once the children arrive. The dungeon rooms are cold, but the stairs down don't move and might be easier to maneuver. There are, of course, rooms on the third floor of the North tower; it's farther away, but it does have the advantage of nearly perfect privacy. You may have your choice."

The dungeons were out. He couldn't envision living that close to Snape. Granted, he probably wouldn't hate Snape as a colleague as much as he did when he was a student, but Harry also couldn't imagine he'd be pleasant to live around under any circumstances. Besides, the damp would not help the constant ache in his hip. The first floor would be the best for him physically, but he wanted privacy. "I'll take the rooms in the North Tower, if that's all right with you."

McGonagall looked skeptical for a moment, but finally nodded. "I'll take you up, then. If you do find that you need to change locations for any reason, don't hesitate to let me know."

"I will." Grateful for the assurance, Harry made his way slowly to the stairs and followed McGonagall up.

His rooms were spacious, with big windows that let in a lot of light. Despite the difficulty of getting to them, Harry knew he'd made the right choice.

It felt good to be back at Hogwarts, and so good to have something productive to do. He'd missed that when he'd been convalescing. God, that had been awful. Even with the care he'd received, the constant, unrelenting pain had nearly driven him mad. The inability to move freely enough to go outside or even to the loo without assistance had been worse than the pain itself, and had made him irritable and unpleasant to be around. He'd hated having to ask for help. With a shake of his head, he let the thoughts of that time go and focused back on the present.

There were things that needed doing and it was time he got to them. He pulled three small cubes out of his robe pocket. They contained all of his worldly goods. Before he'd given up his flat in London, he'd miniaturized the furniture he thought would be useful and sold the rest.

He set the first one down on the floor, and waved his wand. The furniture grew back to its normal size. A second wave of his wand and a sofa, two arm chairs, and a desk arranged themselves in his sitting room. Another wave and some of his pictures and other possessions arranged themselves on the walls and tabletops.

The bedroom had several windows that looked out over the back garden of the castle. He could see Madam Sprout's greenhouses. Beyond that was the hut where Hagrid had once lived. Even now, years later, Harry felt a pang in his heart when he thought about the gentle soul who had been his first friend.

Harry set down the second cube and waved his wand. His bed, cupboard, chest of drawers, and several small tables grew back to their proper sizes and moved around the room to the correct positions.

He set Hedwig's cage on one of the bedside tables and looked over at the window where she was perched on the sill. At his gesture, she came to sit on his shoulder, nipping his ear playfully. "Well, girl," he said, reaching up to stroke her soft feathers. "It looks like we're home again."

She hooted happily.

"Yes, I know. It's been a while since we lived here, hasn't it." Over fifteen years, Harry realized with a start. Oh, he'd been back since he'd left school, but never for more than a few days.

Now -- now he was back to stay. A sense of satisfied pleasure settled over him.

The last small cube contained his luggage, all of his clothes, his books, and the few other sundry things he'd collected in his travels. It wasn't that much to show for thirty-three years of existence, Harry thought, sliding the last book into place with a flick of his wand.

Before he could spend too much time contemplating that depressing thought, a knock at the door pulled him from his reverie.

"Yes?" He opened the door to see Madam Hooch standing there. "Oh, hello."

"Good to see you, Harry," she said briskly. She looked the same as he remembered, tall and solid. Her eyes were so light they looked yellow in most lights. Not unlike Remus Lupin's, actually. "Minerva asked me to stop by to let you know there's a staff meeting after supper. She said she was sorry she forgot to mention it this afternoon."

"You didn't have to come all the way up here to tell me that," Harry said. "It's good to see you, though." Secretly, he was pleased that she'd made the effort.

"I live just down the hall. Besides, I wanted to welcome you. How are you doing?" She nodded towards his leg and cane.

"Fine." He mustered a tired smile. Traveling and unpacking had worn him out. "I'm glad to be back. Do you want to come in?"

"No. I don't want to disturb you." She took a breath, looking slightly uncomfortable. "I haven't heard how bad you were.... Can you fly?"

Something sharp twisted in his chest, but he was used to ignoring it. The thought that he might never fly again was too much to bear. "No. Though they tell me there's some hope that I will be able to someday." Just not much, he admitted to himself.

"I'm so sorry." She looked down, clearly ill at ease. "I'm so sorry to hear that. You were such a…" she trailed off, her face flushing. "If there's any--"

Shaking his head, Harry stepped back, refusing to let his sorrow show. "Thanks for letting me know about the meeting, Madam Hooch."

"Oh, do call me Xiomara." Hooch smiled, her awkwardness easing. "We're to be colleagues after all."

That was going to take a bit of getting used to, Harry thought, but appreciated her easy acceptance of him. "True enough. Thanks. I'll see you at supper."

She waved and left. Harry turned back into his room. Hedwig, who had retreated to her window perch at the knock on the door, flew back to his shoulder. "Well, what do you make of that?"

Hedwig hooted sympathetically, nibbling on his hair and he stroked her chest feathers. After a moment, she hooted again to let him know she wanted something and flew to the window. Harry let her out. "I bet you'll make new friends with the owls here." He watched as she flew towards the owlery. "At least one of us will have a social life." He hadn't come back here for a social life, in fact, he'd come back for just the opposite: to find something productive to do and maybe a bit of peace.

Before supper, Harry glanced into the mirror as he ran a brush through his hair. He was too pale. His green eyes didn't seem as bright as they once had. Too much had happened, he supposed, too much pain, too much worry, too much of everything. It had worn away at his optimism about life. As much as he might wish it weren't so, he wasn't the same person as he'd been last time he was here and he never would be again. As if to prove the point, his thigh started to throb and he reached down to rub it absently.

Before he could slide into despair, he shook himself. No, he wasn't the same, but he was still himself, could still contribute something to the world around him and this was where he was going to start.

Squaring his shoulders, Harry gathered his courage around him. Right now, he had dinner and a meeting to attend.

When he'd been in hospital, he'd been too occupied with other things to get his hair cut. It now fell just past his shoulders in heavy waves. To his delight, he'd found that the weight of it tamed some of its unruliness. He kept it tied back with a leather tie.

The scar on his forehead had faded in the years since Voldemort's death. Even with his hair tied back, it was visible only if you looked for it. Unfortunately, though, to many people, no matter how many years had passed or how much his scar had faded, he would always be the Boy Who Lived and then Lived Again when he killed Voldemort.

He checked his robes before he left and decided that he looked acceptable for supper and the meeting after it. The worst problem with his injuries, Harry thought with some irritation, was that he had to leave a lot of extra time to get where he was going

Dinner was served in the teacher's common room rather than the Great Hall when the students weren't present. There were several staff members already there when he limped in. Harry glanced around, trying not to look as nervous as he felt.

"Good to see you, Harry," Professor Flitwick said, looking him up and down, not bothering to hide his curiosity.
Harry supposed he preferred honest curiosity to the surreptitious, pitying glances of most of his friends
Although he was not tall by most standards, Harry still towered over the diminutive Flitwick. "And you, sir. You're looking well."

"Do call me Filius, dear boy." Flitwick smiled. "I am well. How are you? We've heard about --" He nodded toward the cane.

"You could hardly have missed it, I'm told." Harry forced a smile. As much as he hated to talk about it, hated having to relive the whole thing over and over, he knew everyone was going to ask it. He told himself that he should be grateful for their concern. Unfortunately, he couldn't always control what he felt. "I'm fine. Really."

Flitwick, seemingly content to accept that at face value, nodded and moved away to talk to someone else.

After several minutes of chatting with the few Professors that he did know, Harry had to sit down.
A long table had been set up across the back of the room and several of the teachers were already seated. He sat down next to Madam Hooch, relieved to be off his feet.

"Strange, isn't it?" Hooch bit into her chicken leg and chewed with obvious relish. "Coming back as an adult."

"It's going to take a bit of getting used to, I will say that." Stomach growling, Harry helped himself to a piece of chicken from the communal platter, along with mashed potatoes and glazed vegetables.

When he'd been a student, the food at Hogwarts had always seemed so plentiful and so delicious. It was no less plentiful now, but after a few bites he had to admit that his tastes must have changed, because it seemed a bit ...well, a bit bland. He reached for the salt shaker and sprinkled it liberally over his chicken.

"Ah," a voice said softly from behind him. "Harry Potter. Our new -- celebrity."

Harry looked over his shoulder, and for a moment he was eleven again, speechless with outrage. The feeling faded quickly, though, and he forced a smile. Some things never changed. "Am I more famous now, do you suppose?"

Snape's mouth twitched very slightly. Harry couldn't quite believe it, but it looked like he might be trying not to smile. "We shall see, shan't we, Mr. Potter?"

"It's good to see you, sir," Harry lied, making an attempt to be pleasant.

"I rather doubt that." Snape moved past him and took his place at the end of the table without another word.

Shaking his head, Harry went back to his food, dismissing Snape from his mind. There were too many other things to worry about to even consider Snape, starting with his teaching schedule and lesson plans then continuing on to his condition and how well he actually was going to hold up.

Although he hadn't admitted it to McGonagall, he was concerned about teaching and its effect on his recovery. He hoped he was going to be strong enough to meet the demands of his position. No, he told himself, he couldn't think like that. If he did, he failed before he even started. One way or another, he'd do what he needed to do.

After supper and the staff meeting -- where he'd actually exchanged a few civil words with Snape -- Harry knew he could not put off seeing Madam Pomfrey any longer. Reluctantly, he made his way to the infirmary. It was only after he arrived there without mishap that he realized that the stairs had not once tried to trip him or make him lose his way. Climbing them still wasn't easy, but at least the stairs hadn't gone out of their way to make it more difficult for him. He didn't know if they only tried to confuse the students or if they were being merciful to him, either way he was grateful.

"Madam Pomfrey," he said, knocking on the doorjamb of her office and then sticking his head inside to smile at her.

Pomfrey looked up. "Harry, dear. It's good to see you. What can I do for you?"

"I wanted you to see me before I start classes." He hated having to expose the wounds to anyone, even someone who was a professional. But he knew that she needed to know all the details just in case something went wrong.

"Why don't you go into the examine room," she said, pointing to the door across from her office, "and get undressed. There should be a smock on the table. "I'll be in a couple of minutes."

Harry nodded. He found the smock and got undressed. Using his hands, he lifted himself into a sitting position on the table, then swung his legs over, draping a sheet around him and lying back.

"Do you have your medical records from St. Mungo's?" Madam Pomfrey asked as she came around the curtain of the exam table.

Harry had expected the request and was already holding out the small ball that contained all of his records.

"Thank you." She slipped the ball into the pocket of her robes and smiled at him. "So now give me the condensed version."

"Don't you know already?" Harry was chilled from the coolness of the room, and shivered.

"Are you all right?" she asked, seeming to study his face intently. "It isn't cold in here."

"I'm fine. I seem to feel the cold now more than I did before." Lying half naked on a table with only a sheet for covering didn't help that fact much, Harry thought. "What would you like to know about the injury? It was in all the papers for months."

"I know that you were injured, rather severely, in the line of duty." She looked admonishingly at him. "Beyond that, I have no knowledge. I do not read nor listen to gossip."

She must be the only one then, Harry thought with some bitterness. God, he hated to talk about it, hated to think about it. "Of course not. I was hit with a Gladius spell."

He could see from her expression that she didn't know what that was. That didn't surprise him. It was a rare spell that required a tremendous amount of power from the wielder. There were much easier ways to kill. "It's quite literally a sword spell. The wand can cut in the same manner that a real sword would, but without any direct contact from the wielder. I have a glancing blow across my lower back and hip because I turned as the witch I was fighting cast it the first time." Harry shuddered as he remembering the sickening feel of rending bone and muscle, and then the blinding pain.

Pomfrey motioned for him to continue.

With a deep breath, Harry pushed past the memories and continued on, focusing back on her. "The wound on my thigh was a more direct hit. She sent the sword spell right through it. Intended, I suspect, to cause me to bleed to death. I would have, too, if one of my people hadn't been able to spell the bleeding temporarily. I survived, as you can see, but my career as an Auror is over."

"Don't tell me they sacked you?" Despite her words, her tone indicated she would have no trouble believing such a thing of the Ministry.

"Mandatory disability retirement, with full pay." It wasn't that much, but Harry didn't need the funds to live on, either. At least he hadn't had to fight for it as some injured Aurors did. "They are paying for my medical expenses."

"As well they should, with you injured in the line of duty." She raised the sheet and looked down at his thigh for a moment, seeming to asses the wound on sight alone. "Let's look at your back."

"It's not very pretty." He gritted his teeth as she rolled him on his side to look at the wounds on his back first. They were still red and ugly and painful. Even after they faded with time, they would always look awful.

He could hear her sigh and pull out her wand and felt her run it over the wound, following it with a gentle finger. "These things never are pretty or pleasant. At least the wound has closed and has begun to scar over."

"The healers at St. Mungo's did what they could to close it, but unfortunately it took some time before the bleeding stopped fully. They could stop it for a time, but it always seemed to start to bleed again if I moved wrong or did too much. It's only now that I can move around without worrying about opening it back up again." Harry could hear the relief in his own voice. The truth was that he'd been terrified they would not be able to get the wounds closed permanently. "As it was, it took months."

Pomfrey nodded, understanding and sympathy in her look. "You were in hospital for almost three months."

"Yes. Then I spent three more on semi-bed rest at the Burrow." Harry smiled. He adored Molly and Arthur Weasley. They had insisted he stay and then had taken care of him as if he were one of their own.

"What are your most pressing problems?" She looked him right in the eyes, her concern evident. "What pains you the most?"

"I have deep muscle cramps and spasms." Harry touched the scar on the front of his thigh lightly and felt it tighten further. "The quadricep is so badly damaged from the spell that I wonder sometimes how I can walk on it at all." Despite the pain of it, he was damned grateful to be upright and mobile under his own power.

"I can see that." Pomfrey watched it intently for a moment. "You must have been in very good shape physically before the injury."

"I played amateur Quidditch with the MLE league after work. We all kept in shape that way." Harry looked away, not letting her see how badly it hurt to know he'd never play again. "It's hard to believe that I was ever that strong. I seem to spend so much of my time in pain."

"I suspect it will be a long while before that changes." There was sympathy in her voice. "They were after you specifically, weren't they?"

Perhaps she had read some of the articles on the raid after all. "Yes." Harry tried not to wince at that. He couldn't help feeling helpless and annoyed that fifteen years after he'd killed Voldemort there were still people out there who were trying to kill him for it. What did they think, that killing him would somehow bring Voldemort back? "Ouch," he murmured as she probed a little too hard and he could feel the already tense muscle cramp hard.

"Sorry, dear." She pulled the sheet back over him. Then she raised her wand and flicked it once. The muscle relaxed. "Better?"

"Yes. Thank you." He closed his eye for a moment and breathed out in relief. "I know you can't do that very often, but it does feel so much better."

"I know it does. However, to continually force the muscle to relax would damage it over time." She patted his other thigh gently. "You're not in that bad shape, considering everything."

"No. I suppose I'm not. I do know I'm lucky to be alive." He wasn't ungrateful, either. But the cost hadn't been cheap and he'd be paying it for a long time to come. "They say it's possible I might be able to fly again."

Her compassionate look told him her view of that assessment, but she nodded just the same. "One day. Perhaps. You'll have to do a lot of healing first. The muscles will need to be a great deal more flexible than they are right now."

Disappointed not to be given more hope, he knew that it would be better not to have any expectations. It would lessen the devastation when the time came to accept the inevitable, but some small part of him refused to give up the dream. Maybe it hadn't been long enough for him to let go without a fight. Or maybe he was just grasping at straws. "I know," Harry said, sitting up. "I'm very stiff much of the time and I've been told it will only get worse. Do you have anything that might help with that?"

"I don't keep anything that potent on hand, but I'll ask Professor Snape to brew a potion to help relax the spasms." She said it as if she believed that Snape would do it just for him, just because she asked.

Harry knew better and grimaced. Even if she could persuade him to do it, the last thing he wanted was to owe Snape anything. "I don't suppose there's anyone else who could do it?"

"Not unless you do it yourself." The admonishing look Pomfrey gave him made him feel about twelve. "You're a teacher now and as such, I think it might be wise for you leave your schoolboy grudges behind you."

Well, he'd certainly been put in his place, hadn't he? Instead of getting angry, though, he smiled at her, lowering his eyes. "Yes, ma'am. You're quite right."

She laughed at him. "Always the charmer, aren't you, Harry Potter."

"If only it worked half as well now as it did when I was still young and cute." Even to himself, Harry sounded far too wistful.

"This has got you down a bit, perhaps?" Pomfrey's tone shifted again, becoming serious and concerned again.

What was he supposed to say to that? She had to know this hadn't been the easiest thing he'd ever gone through. Though, all things considered, it hadn't been the hardest, either. "A bit, perhaps. It's taken a lot out of me."

"You can talk about it with me, if you would like." Pomfrey met his eyes. "I'm trained to help you."

"Thanks." Harry looked away. While he did know the benefits of talking out his problems with an uninvolved third party, he wasn't quite ready to do it yet. It was too hard to even think about what he'd lost. "I'll think about doing that."

"You do that." She stepped away and took hold of the curtain, preparing to pull it around. "Get dressed and come to see me in my office."

Harry nodded as the drape closed. Talking about it with her, or anyone, wasn't going to help him accept his limitations. No, he was going to have to figure out a way to do that on his own.

A few days later, Harry came around the corner of the corridor that led to his rooms, and slammed into something hard and unyielding. He bounced back, landing on his bum and hip.
"Oof," Harry gasped as pain exploded through his leg and up his spine. A wave of nausea flowed over him and he breathed in and out slowly, hoping it would pass before he got sick or passed out.
Looking up to see Snape hovering over him did nothing for his disposition. Harry was mortified that it had to be Snape seeing him like this. He muttered, "Damn it," through his teeth and sat up gingerly, trying to keep his weight off his hip.

"Are you blind? No, of course you're not. You simply can't be bothered to watch where you are going, can you?" Snape's, tone was as waspish and cutting as it had ever been in class. "Do you plan to get up off the floor?"

"I'm thinking about it," Harry snapped back, fighting back the need to be sick as the pain subsided enough for him to think about moving. Getting up without leverage took some work, even using magic. He set his cane upright on the floor and waved his wand at it to make it stay that way. Then, using it as leverage, he forced his shaking legs under him and stood.

Snape looked at him, his lips twisted into a disgusted sneer. "You imbecilic boy. If you needed help getting up, why didn't you simply ask?"

"I want nothing from you, Snape. Nothing at all," Harry said through his gritted teeth, his fury surging past all bounds. God, how he hated that Snape was seeing him like this. "Besides which, I'm quite sure that if you even deigned to help me, it would be tainted like you are."
Before Snape could respond, Harry continued on his tirade. Now, having found a convenient target for all of his frustrations, he couldn't seem to stop himself. "In fact, I'm surprised you're not laughing at the funny sight. Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived is now The Boy Who Is Broken. You've been waiting years for your revenge on me, or maybe even longer for revenge on my father, and now's the time." Some part of him knew he wasn't being fair, but his temper had snapped completely.
He looked up at Snape with all the animosity he'd ever felt for the bastard oozing through him. "Why don't you just kick me while I'm down? It wouldn't be the first time, would it? And it's not as if I'm going to be able to retaliate." Feeling himself sway, Harry gripped his cane tighter. "I can't. Just like I couldn't when I was when I was a student. Why don't I ask for help? I'll tell you why — because I know you would never help me."

Snape's head jerked back as if he'd been slapped. "You're quite right, Mr. Potter. I would never do anything to help anyone as unappreciative as yourself. Good day." Snape turned on his heel, his robes flaring out and started to walk away.

Rather belatedly, Harry realized that Snape wouldn't be on his doorstep without a reason. "Why were you here in the first place?"

"I'd come up here to trip you, of course. I get my jollies that way. Didn't you know that?" Snape turned and sneered at him, but there was something in his eyes that didn't match the look on his face.

"I don't doubt it." Harry saw Snape's nasty expression falter for a split second. It was enough to let him know that he'd gone too far, said too much that he shouldn't have said, but he couldn't quite bring himself to care. He took a breath and tried to look contrite even if he didn't really feel it. "What did you want?"

"What makes you think I wanted anything from you?" Snape nodded towards the other end of the hall. "As it happens, Madam Hooch lives right there. Perhaps I was visiting her."

Closing his eyes again, Harry willed the ache in his leg to subside enough so he could think more clearly. If he didn't sit down very soon, he would fall down. He repeated his question. "Why were you coming to see me?"

"As I said--"

"Don't. Okay." Harry paused and took a breath wishing he was sorry he'd blown up at Snape, but if anyone he'd ever met was worthy of his ire, it was that bastard. "I'm sorry for snapping at you. That's more than you ever said to me for all the shit you put me through in school. Now, tell me what the bloody hell you wanted."

For a second, Snape seemed taken back by Harry's anger. Then he straightened up to his full height, and looked down his long nose at Harry. "Madam Pomfrey asked me to make a potion for your injury."

"Oh." Bloody hell. Harry felt like ten kinds of a fool. He hated it when he let his temper get the best of him and unfortunately that had happened a lot lately.

"Yes. Exactly." Snape glared at him, his expression furious. "Since obviously I've made a mistake in coming to see you, may I leave now?"

"Would it help to say I was sorry?" Harry asked, with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach and knowing already that it wouldn't, that it would take a great deal more than an apology, even a sincere one, for the greasy git to be at all forgiving. If he ever would, which now that Harry thought about it wasn't at all likely.

"No." Snape turned around and walked away.

Harry hobbled into his rooms and collapsed on the sofa with a sigh of disgust. Hedwig came over and sat on the back of the sofa and pulled at the tie in his hair. He stroked her soft head and murmured dejectedly, "What am I going to do now?"

The stairs down to the dungeon were stone and didn't move, but that didn't make them any easier to maneuver, especially not when he was in a lot of pain. Of course Harry wouldn't be going to down to see Snape even if he weren't in so much pain. He didn't want to apologize again, but the ache and tremor in his hip and thigh were only getting worse. He had to have a muscle relaxant, and nothing Madam Pomfrey had would help him.
As Harry saw it, he had two distasteful choices: he could go to St. Mungo's and ask for something from their sometimes less-than-adequate staff or he could throw himself on Snape's mercy. All things being equal, he'd rather fire call St. Mungo's, but he knew that anything they gave him would be less effective than one of Snape's potions. He hated the circumstances that made him a supplicant, but he knew he required Snape's skills.
Harry rapped once on Snape's office door and then he pushed it open when he heard something he hoped was an entry invitation.
Snape didn't even bother to look up from his desk, continuing to work on whatever was in front of him. "Go away."

It had been only two seconds and he hadn't said a word, but Harry could already tell this was not going to go well. Irritated beyond words, he nonetheless gathered his courage and continued anyway. "I need you to do me a favor."

"No." Snape still didn't look up. His voice was flat with recrimination. "Go away and don't come back."

"No." Determined, Harry folded his arms over his chest. If the prat was going to be stubborn about it, he could be too. The utter ignominy of having to beg for this tore at his pride and made him queasy. "I know I was an arse, but I need the potion."

"No." There was no give in Snape's voice; his refusal sounded final. "Get out of my office."

"I'm not leaving until you let me apologize." Harry admitted to himself that he should have done that anyway, even without the promise of the potion. He felt bad about what he'd said. It didn't make it any less true, but he shouldn't have been so cruel.

"Since the only reason you would do that is because you need me to do something for you, it would be rather meaningless, don't you think?" Snape finally looked up at him. His face was impassive, but his eyes were furious.

"I would have apologized anyway. I know I was being an arse. Pain does that to a person." Humiliated by the whine in his voice, Harry gritted his teeth and went on, "Surely, even you can understand that."

"I understand nothing. Did you not say that?" Snape sneered at him, his face ugly and twisted with disgust. "I don't care."

It struck Harry that nothing he could say would change Snape's mind. Unbelievably, Snape simply wasn't going to help him. And Harry was shaken by the idea. He honestly hadn't expected Snape to deny his plea, to leave him in pain. With a sigh that allowed too much of his defeat to be heard, his shoulders slumped in defeat, and Harry took a step back. "Sorry to have bothered you."

"Close the door on your way out." His tone was implacable; he really didn't care.

Without another look at Snape, Harry turned and left. He felt like he'd been slapped, stunned, as he always did when someone was ruthlessly cruel. Even with everything he'd seen in his life, it always came a as a shock.

Trudging up the long hallway towards the first set of stairs, he looked back, half hoping Snape would come after him. He should have known better. There was no mercy in Snape, no understanding, no compassion. Only malice and hate and bitterness. That it was Harry's own fault that he'd brought Snape's wrath down on himself made him feel all the worse.

Suddenly, he was so tired. It seemed to take hours to reach his rooms. He fell into bed. Even though it was the middle of the day, he just couldn't keep his eyes open.

When he woke again dusk was falling. Pushing himself out of bed took a great deal of energy, but Harry managed to reach his desk and scribble a note to Madam Pomfrey. He gave it to Hedwig to deliver. It galled him to have to ask for help, but he couldn't do more than simple spells as he was now.

Hedwig must have realized how bad he felt, because Madam Pomfrey arrived at his room remarkably quickly. She looked at him consideringly. "Why won't Professor Snape make you what you need?"

"I insulted him." Harry wasn't going to say more than that if he could avoid it. Knowing he was wrong and actually having to admit it were two different things. His pride had already taken a thorough beating, and he wasn't sure how much more he could take. "Will you spell my hip and thigh again? The muscles are cramping and twitching almost constantly now."

She felt it through his trousers. "It's a deep spasm."

"I know that. I need something to relax it," he snapped and then looked at her apologetically. "I'm sorry. It hurts."

"I know it does." She closed her eyes and touched his leg with her wand. To Harry's relief, the muscle relaxed immediately -- not completely, but enough so that he could think a little more clearly.

"Thank you," Harry said, grateful beyond words that the pain had eased. "I'll fire call St. Mungo's now."

"You might try talking to Professor Snape again, apologize." Pomfrey looked displeased with him. "There are only so many times I can use that magic. Eventually, spelling the muscle will cause it to deteriorate."

"I know. I've tried to apologize to Snape." His anger surged as he thought about his treatment at Snape's hand. "I'm not going to try again. The man hates me and is looking for an excuse to be cruel. It doesn't matter that I'm an adult, he continues to treat me as if I were a student here."

"You've given him so much reason to change that opinion, haven't you?" Her expression and tone were sarcastic enough to rival Snape.

"Whose side are you on, anyway?" Harry didn't understand her defense of Snape. "I haven't done anything to him."

"I am on no one's side," Pomfrey said tartly. "Have you truly done nothing to warrant his bad temper? Would you have said whatever it was you said to him to anyone else?"

Looking down, Harry knew he wouldn't have, but then, no one else he knew deserved it the way Snape did. "Anyone else would have helped me."

"Without asking?"

"How do you know what happened?" Harry glanced suspiciously at her. "Did he tell you?" Then, he realized how foolish that was. "He wouldn't do that. I know him. He'd never admit to anything."

She simply shook her head. "You might consider that you don't know him nearly as well as you think you do."

Harry wondered if he should say something else, but the truth was, he didn't want to know Snape. He didn't want to have anything to do with him. "I'd better call the mediwizards at St. Mungo's now."

At least, Madam Pomfrey could take a hint. She gave him a small frown but then left his room without any further comment.

The potion the healers at St. Mungo's gave him was less effective than he'd hoped. It did reduce some of the swelling and ease some of the spasms, but not enough to make him truly comfortable. Nothing would do that, though. He told himself he should be grateful for what he could get. He could function. That was all he could ask for.

Classes began.

For the first class of his third years, Harry decided he'd take a page out of Remus Lupin's book and use a Boggart.

He felt a pang of guilt thinking about Remus. They hadn't seen each other in months, and only rarely exchanged owls. The only people Harry had kept up with while he'd been convalescing were the Weasleys and then only because he couldn't avoid their intervention.

"All right, class," Harry said as he limped into the classroom first thing on Wednesday morning. "You may put your books away. We're going to have a practical lesson today."

The class murmured. Several students looked up at him expectantly.

"Bring your wands and follow me," Harry said, picking up his cane and hobbling down the steps and then out of the classroom.

Unlike Lupin, he wasn't going to take them into the teachers' lounge; he went instead to an unused classroom across the hall. He opened the door and the students filed in, milling around.

Moving through them and across the room, Harry stood beside an old wardrobe he'd had brought in for the occasion. It rattled ominously and he saw several of his students jump. "There's a Boggart inside here." Harry gave his statement a moment to sink in. Some of his students looked puzzled, but more looked scared. "Can anyone tell me what a Boggart is?"

Robert Kinsey and Adam Chesler looked at each other and then Robert raised his hand tentatively.

"Mr. Kinsey?" Harry nodded to him.

The boy cleared his throat. "Um… A Boggart is a shape-shifter that becomes an image of our worst fear."

"That's right. It will take the shape of our worst fear." Harry smiled reassuringly, as several students began to look even more nervous. He explained how Boggarts liked dark places and how more than one person could confuse it. "There is a charm that will repel the Boggart. It's easy to say, but you must put some force behind it. Let's say it together first, without our wands. Riddikulus!"

Dutifully, the class repeated the word.

"All right, Miss Dearborn, come forward." Harry felt desperately sorry for the poor girl. She was third year's Neville Longbottom. Except where Neville had been good with plants, no one could seem to find anything poor Amelia Dearborn was good at. Maybe this would help her.

A thin-faced girl with long, limp dark hair looked up at him, her eyes filled with fear. "Yes, sir," she whispered.

"What is the thing you're most afraid of?" Harry asked gently, leaning on his cane, giving her an encouraging smile.

She blushed and looked away, but said quite clearly, "Professor Snape."

There were several snickers from the children gathered. As much as Harry would have liked to agree with them, especially since Snape utterly terrorized her, he could not disparage a teacher in front of the students, it would send the wrong message. He nodded, accepting her choice without comment.
"When I was in school here," Harry said with an understanding smile for Amelia. "One of my friends was also afraid of Professor Snape. Our Defense Against Dark Arts Professor had my friend imagine Professor Snape in his grandmother's old-fashioned green dress with a hat. A big hat with a vulture on it."

The whole class laughed nervously.

"The key to making a Boggart less scary is to laugh at it. Do you think that seeing Professor Snape in such clothes would make him less scary?" He stopped and smiled at her, waiting for her to nod. "All right, imagine him in such clothes." Even if it didn't help her to deal with the bastard, he remembered that particular class very fondly.

Amelia sucked in a breath and nodded.

Harry turned toward the rest of the class as he spoke, "I want you all to imagine your worst fear, and then what would make it silly or funny. Remember that laughter is what we use to banish a Boggart."

He gave them a moment to think about it, and then he nodded for Amelia to take a step forward. "After Miss Dearborn, I'll call each of you forward." He turned to Amelia. "Ready?"
Stepping forward, she held out her wand bravely as he opened the door.

Snape stepped out, glaring right at her.

" Riddikulus!" cried Amelia and Snape changed clothes, wearing a fair rendition of Neville's long-dead grandmother's green dress and vulture hat.

Amelia smiled, clearly pleased to have done something correctly, and stepped back.

"All right, Mr Baxter," Harry said as the Boggart turned its attention away from Amelia. The boy stepped forward and held out his wand.

The rest of the class went well, but standing the entire lesson had made Harry's thigh throb incessantly.

He crawled into bed that night exhausted, his hip and thigh aching and wondering how he was going to make it through the next day.

By the end of the first week, he had to face the fact that there was a very real possibility that he would be unable to complete the term. Hell, he wasn't sure he could get to the end of the month.

He slept most of Saturday, and went to see McGonagall in the late afternoon.

"Minerva. Thank you for seeing me," Harry said, limping into her office, gripping his cane so tightly that his knuckles were white with the effort. He glanced briefly at the portrait of Dumbledore, half-hoping to have a word with him, but he was asleep, snoring softly.

"Are you all right?" McGonagall's expression revealed her concern clearly. She glanced pointedly at his hand on his cane. "Do sit down. I've been very pleased with the reports I've been getting on your first week."

Delighted with her praise, but dreading what he had to say, Harry sat down gracelessly in chair in front of her desk. "I'm glad to hear it. I like teaching. However," he paused, and after a moment, sat up straight and plunged on, trying to keep back the disappointment he felt with himself. "I think I may have overestimated my ability to handle this job."

"I thought you were mostly recovered." She looked startled and upset by his pronouncement.

"It will be years before I recover completely. I had hoped--" He looked down and took a deep breath. Christ, how he hated to admit any weakness; even more than that, he hated how his body had betrayed him. "I could manage the physical aspects of the position."

"You are finding that you can't?" McGonagall met his gaze. "Are you in tremendous pain?"

He nodded. "Nearly constantly. I've barely made it through the first week. Madam Pomfrey has had to spell the muscles twice."

McGonagall shook her head, her hand touching her throat. "Dear Merlin. I can imagine how bad that must be for you."

"I wish there was something else that would help the muscles relax, but I haven't been able to find anything." It was his own fault, as always. Foolishly, he'd allowed his temper to mucked things up with Snape, and now he had to live with the consequences. "I had hoped that I would be stronger."

"Harry, I'm sorry. I wish I could tell you that I could find someone to replace you, but I think you know that unlike other subjects, Defense Against Dark Arts requires a special kind of magic." Her voice held a world of sympathy, but that didn't negate her expectations of him.

He felt the weight of those expectations settle heavily on his shoulders. Not letting himself sag, Harry nodded. "I understand." And he did. He'd been hired to do a job and was expected to do it. No excuses.

"However," she continued, with a glint of challenge coming into her eyes. "I think there are a few things we can do to make the situation a bit more bearable for you."

"Yes?" He hadn't expected that anything could be done.

"For one, can we recruit a couple of the better seventh year students to help out with the practical demonstrations. I think that might permit you to stay off your feet for at least part of each class." She thought for another moment. "Perhaps some of the seventh year students who are writing their theses on defense might like to experience teaching?"

Harry nodded, intrigued by the suggestions. It could work. Where there had been only determination and despair a moment ago, hope started to build. "Yes. Yes. There are five students doing defense theses this year. I think any of them would be excellent, and they would no doubt love to help out with the younger students."

"That would be good for all involved." McGonagall's brows creased as she thought for another moment. "Perhaps we can also minimize your trips across the school?"

His brow creased as he considered it, mentally counting the times he walked across the school and the amount of pain he was in on his return. "Yes. Even a few less trips would help."

"That's what I thought." She smiled. "Why not take lunch in your office rather than going all the way down to the Great Hall?"

"I hadn't thought of that, either." It was easily a ten minute walk -- or in his case nearly twenty -- from his classroom to the Hall just for lunch.

"I can ask the House Elves to bring your meal to you." She was silent again. "You might consider breakfast in your rooms?"

"No. I think I should be there for breakfast and dinner, if at all possible." He would miss too much if he were absent from more than one meal a day.

She nodded. "As you please, Harry. If it gets to be too much, you must let me know."

"I will. Thank you." Relieved and buoyed by his conversation, Harry squared his shoulders and stood up. "I do feel better today after some sleep, too. I'll see you at dinner."

After sleeping most of the weekend, Harry felt well enough by Monday morning to face his classes. He made it to breakfast with almost enough time to actually sit down and enjoy it.
"You're an idiot, Potter," Snape said softly as he passed Harry's chair on his way out of the hall.

"Quite likely." Harry hadn't spoken to Snape in nearly two weeks, not since he'd asked for help and been denied. Keeping his eyes on his plate, Harry refused to spar with Snape, not this morning, hopefully not any morning. It was too frustrating and he couldn't win. In his mildest voice, Harry asked, "How in particular am I an idiot today, sir?"

"See me after classes today, and I'll be quite happy to tell you." Snape swept past him without another word and left the hall.

As Harry watched the swirling black robe disappear, a voice inside his head told him that the only reason Snape would order him down to the dungeons was to torture him. Harry promised himself he wasn't going to expect anything from that ruthless bastard.

Although his classes were easier after a restful weekend, by the end of the day Harry was exhausted. He'd managed to find time to speak to his seventh year thesis students, and he was relieved and pleased to find that all of them were willing, indeed eager, to help him. However, there were some tasks, such as the three detentions needing supervision that evening that Harry had to do for himself. There would be no going to bed early for him.

With barely enough energy to keep his head held up, let alone held high, he nonetheless trudged into the dungeons. A strange mix of hope and dread filled him.

"Come," Snape called at his knock.

"You wanted to see me, sir?" The tentativeness in his own voice galled him. He sounded like he had when he'd been a student reporting to Snape for detentions. Straightening up, he met Snape's gaze, determined to see this through no matter what the greasy git said to him.

"Yes, Potter. You're no smarter now than when you were a student." Snape seemed pleased with this pronouncement.

A flash of anger flared inside Harry, but he was too tired to sustain it. "Is that why you called me down here? To say that again? Couldn't you just have said it in the Great Hall? It would have saved me the trip." He carefully kept the disappointment out of his voice. No sense in giving Snape more ammunition.

"Are you so ignorant that you don't know how this game is played?" Snape's face was twisted in an ugly sneer.

He had no idea what he Snape was on about, and frankly, he didn't care. This was hardly a game to him. "Professor, do you have a point?" Harry asked, attempting, with only moderate success, to keep the irritation out of his voice.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do." Sitting back a bit, he folded his arms over his chest and glared at Harry. "You were supposed to ask me again."

Fury started to roil through him, and he glared at Snape. What was he talking about? "Ask? For what exactly?"

Snape's look grew harder, more disgusted. He seemed to be taking this as a personal affront. "You are such a blithering idiot. You were supposed to ask for the muscle relaxant potion."

What did Snape expect? That he'd keep asking and being refused? That he'd allow himself to be humiliated over and over to keep Snape amused? Not a bloody chance of that happening. His anger and frustration went up another notch as he shook his head. "You said no. I didn't think--"

"No, of course you didn't think. You never think." Exasperation rolled off Snape in nearly visible waves. "I came to you to offer you my services, and you insulted me."

That hadn't actually been fair of him, Harry admitted that. However, they had been over this before and he wasn't going to go over it again. "I said I was sorry. What more did you want?"

The look Snape shot him was the classic look of a teacher faced with a particularly dense student. "Your apology only evened the score."

Harry got it. He didn't like it, not one little bit, but he now understood where he'd gone wrong. "I needed to ask again. So that...."


Pride warred with pain for less than an instant and pain won easily. Straightening his spine, Harry sucked in deep breath and let it out slowly. He inclined his head politely, and said sincerely, "I'm very sorry I insulted you. Would you please give me something to help with the muscle spasms?"

He hated Snape more in that moment than he'd ever had before. That Snape deserved the apology only made it worse.

There was ever so slight a triumph in Snape's black eyes as he pulled a jar out of his drawer and set it on the desk. "This is a general muscle relaxant. You may use it twice a day, morning and evening, directly on the wound. It should be effective for helping the spasm and some of the pain. If you want something tailored specifically to you, I'll need to see the wound and know the exact circumstances under which you received it."

Harry allowed a small amount of hope to wend its way into him. He should have realized why Madam Pomfrey insisted he see Snape. The knowledge sat like acid in his belly. "Would you do that? Tailor it to me...?"

Snape's expression was so sharp it could have cut flesh. "Of course I would, you moron. Why else would I ask you down here? It wasn't for your scintillating conversation or your delightful personality I can assure you." Snape stood and walked around the desk. "Take off your robe and trousers. Let me see the wound."

Fighting a blush and losing, Harry shook his head, glancing pointedly around the office and shivered. "Not here."

The glare was a perfect imitation of the one Snape had used in Potions class when he'd been about to reprimand someone – usually Harry. "Why not?" Snape asked, folding his arms over his chest.

"I'll need to strip completely for you to see it properly and it's too cold in here for that." Harry tried not to squirm under Snape's disproving gaze.

With a loud sigh that sounded affronted by the inconvenience, Snape nonetheless nodded. "All right. Let's go into my rooms. They should be warmer on your delicate skin."

Could Snape be anymore condescending, Harry wondered as he followed him down the hall and around a corner, away from the main classrooms and student labs. The dimly lit corridor easily could have been, and probably was, missed by most students. Snape led him to a heavily warded door.

Once they were inside, Snape turned to him and gestured. "Now, if you please, Mr. Potter. I don't have all night."

Relieved that the rooms actually were warmer than Snape's office, Harry tossed his robe over a nearby chair, and then bent slowly to remove his boots and the rest of his clothes.

He felt ridiculous standing in front of Snape wearing nothing but his shirt, tie, and socks. Lifting the hem of his shirt in the back, he tried not to grimace at the thought of anyone, even Snape, looking at the ugliness of his wounds. He mentally steeled himself and pretended an indifference he didn't feel. "As you can see there are actually two wounds. One is across my lower back and hip and the other is the gouge on my thigh."

Snape knelt down and examined both scars, tracing them first with his wand and then with his finger much as Madam Pomfrey had done. "The damage is much more extensive on your thigh, isn't it?"

It sounded like a rhetorical question but Harry answered anyway. "Yes. The wound on my back and hip was painful and bled a lot until they got it closed, but it was nearly superficial." Or as superficial as a sword wound across the back could be, Harry supposed.

"Hardly that." Snape's tone didn't quite sink to uncaring. "I would say simply not as life-threatening as the other wound."

"I suppose so," Harry said, knowing he'd been lucky and hoping his luck held for just a while longer.

As Snape continued to examine the wound, Harry took advantage of the opportunity to look around the sitting room.

It was long and rectangular. A brocade sofa and matching chair sat in front of a large fireplace. A large wooden desk sat in one corner, across from a door that presumably led into his bedroom. On either side of the fireplace stood three or four floor-to-ceiling wooden bookcases over-filled with books and scrolls.

For all that the room was empty of personal effects -- except of course Snape's Order of Merlin, First Class -- they were not cold or Spartan. Maybe it was the cream and brown colors or the comfortable look of the high quality furniture, Harry didn't know. It wasn't what he'd expected of Snape.

"Get dressed," Snape said, startling him out of his thoughts. Snape sat down at his desk, picked up a quill and parchment, and began to write.

Harry dressed silently and waited as patiently as he could manage for Snape to finish writing.

Finally, Snape looked up. "Explain to me exactly how you were injured and what was done about it. Leave nothing out."

With a sigh, Harry recited the story by rote, including as much detail as he could remember. He tried to keep his voice uninflected, but his gut tightened painfully while he spoke. It was impossible to talk about injury and the aftermath without reliving the horror of it and Harry didn't have the perspective of time to ease him through it.

"You're a great fool, Mr. Potter, but a damned lucky one. That wound should have killed you," Snape said when Harry had finished his recitation. Snape's expression revealed nothing of his thoughts on the subject or maybe he simply didn't care at all.

"I do know that. The question is, can you help me?" Harry tensed, waiting on pins and needles for the count or to it took Snape to deign to answer him.

Snape's grin was completely self-satisfied. "Yes. Of course I can. I'm very good at what I do. I'll need to create something special, though, and it will take several tries. We shall have to see how the muscles respond to the various combinations."

At the arrogant assurance of success, Harry felt something he hadn't felt in a very long time: hope. He wasn't sure why he believed it, but if Snape said he would help him, then Harry had no doubt that he would. Snape might not make it easy for him, probably would do everything in his power to be difficult, but however grudgingly, he would do what he said he'd do and do it well. "Thank you," he said, quietly. He'd never meant anything more.

Snape shook his head, his expression wary. "Don't thank me yet. We may have a long road ahead of us. In the meantime, the potion I gave you earlier should help you get through the day. It should be more effective than what you've been getting from those imbeciles at St. Mungo's." Without warning, Snape's patience seemed to run out. "Now get out."

Harry took the jar and left without another word. Not even, he realized as he shut the door, any thanks.

As much as he might hate Snape personally, Harry had to admit the potion was brilliant. After just a few days of using it, he felt better than he had since before the injury. Not perfect, not even good, but so much better than he had been. He had every hope that he might make it to the end of the month without doing himself any more damage.

After a week, he'd used most of the potion. At breakfast that morning, Snape told Harry to meet him in his office after classes had finished. When Harry arrived, Snape took two jars out of his drawer and set them on the desk.

"This one is my first attempt at a custom potion," he said, pointing a long finger at the first jar. "And this is the regular muscle relaxant. Don't mix them up, and don't combine them. You must use one or the other."

"Which one should I use?" Harry asked, excited about the prospect of something more potent than what he'd been using.

"It is your choice. However, if you choose to use the experimental potion, I cannot guarantee it will work. If it does not work, then you will also not be able to use the other one right after it." Snape's words sounded like a dire warning.

For a moment, Harry thought about it, weighing what a custom potion would be worth in the long run. "I'll try the experimental potion. That's what this was all about anyway, wasn't it?" Harry reached for it. "Thank you."

Snape closed his hand over Harry's before he got to the jar. His palm felt surprisingly calloused. "I would like you to record all your reactions to each potion, no matter how small."

When his hand was released, Harry eagerly pocketed the jar, and raised an eyebrow at Snape. "Why do I need to do that?"

"Did you sleep through all of your potions lessons?" Snape's glare carried so much disdain that Harry wanted to hex him. "You are an imbecile."

"So you've said." Even if he found it galling, Harry could put up with insults if he had to. Now that he knew Snape's potion worked, he was willing to endure whatever humiliation Snape deemed as its price. Of course, he'd hate Snape even more for it. "Answer the question, please."

Snape shook his head, looking disgusted, but to Harry's surprise he answered. "Each combination of ingredients reacts differently. I will be better able to tailor a potion to your specific needs if I know exactly how you react to each combination. Write it down. It's for your own good."

"I'll do my best," Harry said without inflection. As frustrated as he was with Snape, as much as he hated him, Harry knew better than to let it show. Snape would not waste a chance to use it against him and Harry simply didn't have the energy to deal with that.

"Having seen your best, I would endeavor to do better than that, were I you," Snape said dryly, and then looked down at the book on his desk, clearly dismissing him.

With anger pulsing through him, and no other choice but to go, Harry turned around and walked out.

That night, he applied the experimental potion. While it warmed his skin nicely, disappointingly it didn't loosen his muscles nor continue the warmth for long. After an uncomfortable night, Harry limped down to Snape's rooms in the early morning.

"What do you want, Potter?" Snape asked as he pulled the door open, wearing a long plain black dressing gown.

"How did you know it was me?" In pain and out of sorts with everything, the last thing Harry wanted to deal with was a malicious bad-tempered Snape. He leaned on his cane, and gritted his teeth. "The potion didn't work. How long do I have to wait until I can use the other potion?"
"Did you write down the effects?" Snape's tone was silky with menace, quite similar to the tone he'd used when asking if Harry had completed his homework.

After Snape's insistence, he wasn't stupid enough to have forgotten that. With a wan smirk, he pulled the parchment out of his robes' pocket and held it out. "Yes. Of course."

Snape read it quickly and then looked disgusted. "This isn't very detailed. I had hoped you might have learned something after leaving school. More fool I."

A scathing or insulting retort would have felt ever so good right then, but Harry closed his eyes and concentrated on letting his annoyance go. He needed Snape and they both knew it. "I don't think well when I'm in pain."

Snape didn't look as if he cared one way or another. He lounged in his doorway, obviously not intending to invite Harry in. Not that Harry cared all that much for the niceties, but he'd have liked to sit down before making the long trek back to his rooms. "You can't use the other potion until tonight."

Bloody hell, Harry thought as his knees started to go weak, but he forced himself to stand up straight, telling himself that it wasn't as bad it could have been. The throbbing in his thigh gave lie to that. Irritated, he took a breath and let it out slowly. "Fine. I'll need that jar of it."

"You might ask nicely." If Snape had sneered or been condescending, Harry would have seriously considered an Unforgivable, but he said it almost as a matter of course, as if his heart wasn't in it. Part of him really wanted to taunt him or hit him, but Harry knew better.

It didn't matter, Harry thought and tried hard to believe it. With a deep breath, he gritted his teeth even harder, and then gave into the inevitable. "If you please, may I have the muscle relaxant potion?"

"I'll get it for you." Snape turned back into his rooms, leaving Harry standing in the open doorway.

Harry waited uncomfortably, damming Snape to all seven levels of hell. What was it about him, what grievous sin had he committed that made Snape want to torture him this way? Fine, he'd been rude, but hadn't he paid for that?

"Here. Use it only twice a day," Snape said, handing him the jar. "I'll have another version ready by the end of the week for you to try."

Harry nodded, not trusting his voice. God, how he hated Snape.

At week's end, Snape provided a second version of the experimental potion. This version worked better than the first. It actually loosened the twisted muscle, but it only lasted for a short time, so it was less than ideal.

The process was repeated in the following weeks, and the potion continued to work better with every iteration of it. Harry was pleased to be having more good days than bad, and even the bad days weren't as draining or debilitating as they had been before the potion. Snape wasn't any easier to deal with, but Harry felt his pride was worth the gains.

A few more weeks into the process, Harry received a note from Snape telling him to report to Snape's lab the following Sunday before breakfast and not to use the potion that morning. Harry supposed it was not as bad as being told to report for detention, but something about the tone of the note was like a tiny burr under his skin, not quite painful, but ever so annoying. Still, he knew better than to argue with Snape about anything having to do with his potion.

Early Sunday morning, he trekked down into the dungeons, noticing that the walk was not as painful as it had been even two weeks ago. That it was early morning, and he hadn't used anything on his sleep-sore muscles meant he didn't have an easy time getting around, but it was easier than it had been.

"You wanted to see me?" Harry said, as he came into Snape's lab. There was a narrow table set up in the middle of the room with a white sheet draped over it.

"Yes, I did." Snape gave him a long-suffering look and pointed to the table. "I want you to take off your clothes and lie down on your back."

Snape surprised him again. Of all the things Harry had expected him to say, that hadn't even amongst the possibilities. If it had been anyone else, Harry might have made a joke about it, probably something with a blatant double entendre, but not with Snape. He laughed nervously. "Why?"

"I want to use the newest version of the experimental potion on you. I think it would be better if I apply it." Snape turned back to his desk, and shuffled through a sheaf of parchments. After a moment he looked up and scowled. "Get on with it."

Without another word, and fighting a blush he felt stupid having, Harry stripped off his clothes. He lay down on the table, and covered himself up with the sheet. "All right. I'm ready."

There were several colored jars on the table next to Harry. Snape chose one of the jars and opened it.

"That smells nice," Harry said, using idle chatter to cover up his nervousness about whatever Snape was planning. "Like cardamom."

Without responding, Snape lifted the side sheet and tucked it around Harry's thigh, leaving the wound exposed, but did not apply the potion. He seemed to be examining the scar, but with Snape, it wasn't always easy to tell what he was doing.

Harry felt his irritation levels rise at the continued lack of information from Snape. "What are you doing to do?"

"I'm going to apply this potion." Snape's tone was condescending as if he were speaking to an idiot or a child. "What did you think I was going to do?"

"That's just it, I don't know." Every encounter with Snape was frustrating in the extreme. If the bastard hadn't made so much progress, and weren't so good at his craft, Harry might have given up on this by now. He let out a sigh. "Let me rephrase it: what exactly are you going to do me and why?"

Snape picked up his wand and touched the back of his own hand and then repeated the move on the other hand. He muttered something that sounded like "gauntus", but Harry wasn't sure and he didn't recognize the word. "What was that?"

"A spell to protect my hands," Snape said, dipping his fingers into the jar, and scooping some of the contents out.

"If you need something to protect your hands, what about my skin?" His voice rose to an appalling squeak. Despite that, he wasn't actually worried that Snape would hurt him. Since he'd begun this, he never once questioned that Snape would help him, never even thought to question it.

"You should have thought of that before you climbed up." Snape's smile was nasty, but it seemed to be forced, as if it were just for show. Snape put a large dollop of the cream into the indentation of the scar and smoothed it into the wound and surrounding area.

Immediately, the potion warmed against Harry's skin. Then it grew hot. Not hot enough to burn, but enough so that Harry could feel the heat as it seeped in deeply. Lifting his wand, Snape waved it over Harry's thigh. The potion started to vibrate, and seemed to be making the muscle relax, not exactly the same the way spelling the muscle did, but the result was close to it.

"Wow. That feels amazing." Harry leaned up on his elbow. "I thought you couldn't use magic to relax the muscle."

"No, you stupid boy, you can't use magic to spell the muscle to relax." Snape wasn't looking at him as he spoke. His whole focus seemed to be on wound.

Confused and becoming annoyed, Harry gritted his teeth and tried to let go of it. "Isn't that what I just said?" Because that's what it sounded like it to him.

"I didn't spell the muscle to relax, you fool. I created a potion that did it," Snape said, his tone making sure Harry felt like an idiot.

"Okay. How exactly is that different?" Harry still didn't understand at all.

"The muscles were not forced to relax. They were coaxed into it, by the heat of the potion. That is the difference and because of it the muscles aren't damaged by it." His tone dripped with condescension, as if he were explaining to a none-too-bright first year.

Harry still wasn't sure he understood the distinction, but given the results, he wasn't going to argue about it anymore. "Thank you."

There was no acknowledgement of his thanks and by this point, he wasn't expecting any. It annoyed the hell out of him that Snape didn't even look at him. "Turn onto your stomach and I'll finish this," Snape said.

Grunting, Harry rolled over. He gritted his teeth and said nothing, trying to control his wish to slap Snape out of his indifference.

A few minutes later, Snape was done and had replaced the sheet. "You may return next Sunday and I will apply another dose."

"Not before then?"

"No. This should see you through the week. If it does not, I wish to know about it immediately." Snape gave him an admonishing look. "Take detailed notes on every reaction you have."

"Of course." As if he would be stupid enough to forget something like that. He knew he'd never hear the end of it.

"Get dressed and get out of here." Snape walked away.

Even though he knew he should be used to it by now, Snape's abrupt dismissal stung just a bit. Harry sighed as he sat up and reached for his clothes.

As the weeks passed, Snape continued to adjust the formula, and Harry dutifully noted his reactions to every change. It was a bother to keep such detailed notes, but he steadfastly did it. The results were amazing and Harry was delighted with how well he was feeling.

Finally the potion had been refined to Snape's satisfaction and he declared that only minor fine-tuning was necessary. After using the final potion for a week, Harry reported to Madam Pomfrey to discuss the results.

"I'm sure I don't have to tell you that you're much improved." Pomfrey sounded pleased, but there was an edge to her tone that bothered him.

"It feels like the wounds are starting to heal. Not just relax for a moment or three, but to really heal. I feel stronger than I have since before I was injured." For the first time, he had hope that he might actually be able to get his life back together. "There are days when I feel good," he added with a smile of pure pleasure.

"Very good." She ran her wand over his thigh again and smiled at the results. Then she looked back at Harry, her expression turning very serious. "Make no mistake, the improvement is entirely Professor Snape's doing. His expertise is the reason you feel so good today."

He'd been there every step of the way with the snapping, snarling, brilliant bastard. There was no doubt whatsoever in his mind how good Snape was. "I do appreciate it."

"You might show it a bit more," she said, shaking her head and seeming exasperated with him. "Have you even thanked him properly?"

Harry was puzzled by her reaction and a little hurt. Didn't she realize that he and Snape were only just on this side of the civil line when dealing with each other? "Of course I have. Are you angry with me? What did I do?"

"I shouldn't have to tell you this." Pomfrey said, sounding very much like a disappointed teacher with a student who had done something stupid, something that they should have known better than to do.

He waited, expecting her to continue, to explain. When she didn't, he let out a frustrated sigh. "Tell me anyway, all right. Clearly, I've missed something."

"Don't you think Professor Snape deserves your thanks and gratitude for the improvement in your condition?" Again she sounded like she felt she shouldn't have to be telling him this.

It was starting to seriously irritate him that she wouldn't let this go. "I've thanked him repeatedly." Only because Snape had forced it out of him, Harry admitted to himself, and he'd hated Snape for every ignominious word he'd been required to utter.

She must have seen that in his eyes or read it in his expression. "Why shouldn't you be grateful, damned grateful in fact, for what he's done? It took a great deal of his time and effort to help you."

Her words prickled at Harry conscience, because he was grateful. Grateful beyond what words could express. Not even in his wildest dreams had Harry imagined the potion would be so effective. While he wasn't entirely free of pain, he was as close as he was likely to ever come. "He's made me beg for everything he's done for me."

Shaking her head, Pomfrey looked utterly disgusted with him. "So, he doesn't deserve your thanks?"

"He's a hateful man," Harry said, feeling guilty for saying it since he knew she was right, but having Snape rub his nose in it made it more difficult to cope with. "Why do you defend him?"

"Perhaps I believe he is worthy of my defense. You have not treated him well." She made it sound like he started it. Snape was the one who wouldn't let things go.

"He's treated me worse than I have ever treated him." By the look of her, Harry'd bet that wasn't what she wanted to hear. But it was true and he wanted to believe Pomfrey knew it, too. He had tried, and he'd been constantly frustrated by Snape's bad tempered response or his indifference until Harry was inured to it.

She shook her head again, seeming to grow more frustrated with him. "He answers back forcefully, yes. Sometimes, I'll concede, more forcefully than he should. His life has not been easy."

That was all fine and dandy for Snape. "'Harry Potter. Our new celebrity'," Harry said, glaring at Pomfrey. "Those were the first words that bastard ever said to me." They still cut into him, even years later. Harry remembered years and years of being humiliated by countless questions that he couldn't answer and a teacher who seemed out to get him for no apparent reason.

Pomfrey sighed. "Harry, you were eleven. You're old enough now to let it go."

"My first night here, he repeated the words, in exactly the same tone as he did all those years ago." Harry took a breath, trying to reign in his anger. But there was no calming it. "The bastard wanted to shove my nose in it again. Just as he has done since I started here as a student."

"You're hardly a student now," Pomfrey said, her tone not quite as reasonable as it had been a moment before. "Can't you let your anger go?"

"Every time I'm around him, I feel like I'm being treated like a student, and a not very bright one at that. Why do you defend him? Why do you even like him?" Harry shook his head, disgusted to be having this conversation. How could anyone like or defend Snape?

"He's not a nice man, Harry. Not by any means." She met his eyes with all seriousness. "He is, however, a good one. He is deserving of some consideration."

"I'll grant that he is a good man," Harry said, forcing a mildness into his tone that he didn't feel. "But he makes it so hard to do anything other than be rude to him. He's never acknowledged my thanks in any way. After a while, I've just stopped saying it."

"Do you think that's the right way to handle that?" Her tone was as mild as his had been and it didn't sound as forced. "That you should be less grateful? That he deserves no consideration?"

"That's just it. I am grateful." Harry looked at her pleadingly, wanting her to understand. "But he's such a mean-spirited and ugly man. As for consideration, he shouldn't expect to get what he does not give."

Pomfrey folded her arms against her chest and shook her head, her expression disappointed. "His lack of physical beauty should not enter into it."

"It doesn't. I meant inside. I would never, ever, judge someone on how they look." Harry glared back at her. "I think you know that."

A dull red touched Pomfrey's cheeks and she stood, her expression slightly more embarrassed than annoyed. "All right, we're done for now. Go on and get dressed." She left him after that.

That she actually seemed to like Snape was more than Harry could begin to understand. Confused and annoyed by it, he half-wondered what he'd missed with Snape. He climbed off the table, and pulled on his clothes.

That he hadn't properly thanked Snape for his time or his help prickled Harry's conscience. Spending even the smallest amount of time in Snape's presence had the tendency to send his blood pressure through the roof. Harry breathed out slowly, trying again to stifle his anger.

Maybe he wasn't being fair about Snape, but Snape wasn't fair either. Why was Snape allowed to be less than fair and Harry was called to task for answering it? He picked up his cane. Time to go and apologize to Madam Pomfrey, even though he wasn't sure he should have to.

He knocked on her office door and waited for her summons.

"I'm sorry," he said, looking down at his feet. "I don't want to fight with you about him." Harry didn't add that Snape wasn't worth it.

Pomfrey cleared her throat and met his eyes. "I'm sorry, too. That was rude of me. However, I do believe that Professor Snape's done you a great service."

"I know he has." In all fairness, he admitted, at least to himself, he probably could never adequately thank Snape for what he'd done. "I don't think I can get that across to him."

She met his eyes seriously and smiled slightly. "I believe that if your thanks came from the heart, he'd know it."

Despite the fact he was sincere, was grateful, Harry wasn't so sure about that or that he could make it seem sincere, but he nodded anyway. "I can try."

Pomfrey's expression softened and she smiled at him. "I think that should be good enough. I'll see you for another checkup sometime in January, after the winter term starts."

"Yes, ma'am." He stepped back. "Thank you."

Harry thought about it for a day, and then found himself going to see Snape. Madam Pomfrey was right and he'd put it off too long already. Much as it galled him to admit it, he owed Snape more than simple thanks could repay, more than anything could repay.

He stepped into the doorway of Snape's open office and he rapped his knuckles on the frame. "May I speak to you for a moment, sir?"

"What do you want, Potter? I'm quite busy." Snape barely looked up as Harry came into the office and stood in front of his desk.

Thirty-three years old, and he was once again reduced to thirteen by this man. God, how Harry hated him. "I've come to thank you for the potion." Harry cleared his throat and tried to put some sincerity behind his words, but it was difficult with annoyance clashing with the gratitude. "For all the work you put into it. I very much appreciate it."

Snape didn't look up. "Fine. You've done what you came to do. Now leave."

Despite his best intentions, Harry's temper slipped. "You're a right bastard, aren't you? What does it take to satisfy you?"

Looking up slowly, Snape fixed him with a withering look. "You might try sincerity, Mr. Potter. Or at least--" Snape cut himself off. "Get out."

"No. Damn it. I came down here to thank you -- sincerely -- and you treat me like I've insulted you. I haven't. I'm damned grateful for what you did for me, you bloody self-righteous prat." Frustrated almost beyond words, Harry took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Why is everything so damned hard with you?"

The bastard actually smiled at him. "I'm difficult. Live with it and I'll keep making you the potion or don't and find someone else to brew it for you. Either way, get out of my office."

Harry wanted to throttle him. He wanted to wrap his fingers around Snape's skinny neck and squeeze until the bastard turned blue. "Can't you give an inch?"

"No. I give nothing. Ever." Snape glared harder, his mouth twitching into an ugly sneer. "Didn't I tell you to leave? Your listening skills are no better than they were when you were a student."

Just when he had thought he could not get any angrier, Harry was further annoyed to learn he was wrong. God, he was ready to scream with frustration. "Damn. I'm letting you do this to me, aren't I?"

"Bravo, Mr. Potter--"

"Oh, belt up, you arse," Harry said, through his clenched teeth, his fury reaching critical mass. "I'm so sick of this."

"I am not asking you to stay and listen to it." Snape's eyes narrowed and his lips twitched before they flattened out into a thin line. "Actually, didn't I ask you to leave? Why yes, I do think that I did."

"I'll leave when I'm good and ready." It finally had occurred to Harry that Snape was baiting him, trying to get a rise out of him as he always had done, and it was working because Harry was letting it work. Harry wasn't stupid nor was he a coward. He'd faced down taunting Death-Eaters without showing even a flicker of emotion, but when he was around this man, he lost his ability to see reason.

He looked at Snape, actually focusing on him. As if a veil were lifted, for the first time ever, he saw Snape simply as a man: someone who was bad-tempered and nasty to be sure, but also someone with vast skills that he'd used tirelessly for Harry's benefit, someone who never got the accolades that should have been accorded him, someone who deserved Harry's absolute and unstinting gratitude. He was someone who deserved Harry's respect.

Harry blinked, half-expecting the image to change, but it didn't. No monster here.

Snape looked back, right into his eyes. Not flinching, not angry, seemingly not caring at all.

"It's a game to you, isn't it?" Of course it was, Harry thought, remembering that Snape had called it exactly that when all of this had begun. Insight brought a surprising calm with it and the release of his anger.

Something flashed in Snape's eyes, something that wasn't the bored irritated look he usually favored. "Do shut the door on your way out."

Debating what he should do for about ten seconds, Harry finally turned around and limped out with as much dignity as he could muster. If Snape wanted gratitude, then Harry would give it to him. Oh, yes, Harry thought determinately, he'd give the man gratitude.

"Minerva. Thank you for seeing me," Harry said as he came into her office. He smiled up at the portrait of Dumbledore, who waved, but didn't seem inclined to say anything to him. "I'm wondering if I might say a few words at dinner tonight?"

"About what?" McGonagall managed to look both curious and suspicious as she gazed at him over the top of her glasses. "I don't usually allow speeches."

Smiling his best and brightest, trust-me smile, Harry said, "I'd like to publicly thank Professor Snape for all the work he'd done on the potion that's enabling me to live with my injury."

McGonagall looked skeptical for a moment as she assessed him. She must have liked what she'd seen because her expression softened. "Not enough people realize how fine a potions master he is. Still, I'm not sure he'll thank you for the notoriety."

"He won't take my thanks in person." Harry tried to convey his sincerity, which wasn't hard since he was. "I thought a bit of a grand gesture might convince him of my gratitude."

"I think that's a fine idea," Dumbledore chimed in from the wall, his eyes twinkling in their characteristically bright way. "Severus would like the attention."

"You mean you would, Albus." She glared at him, but he continued to smile happily. "Snape is a different animal entirely. Now go back to sleep."

"Not with all this noise about." Albus looked awfully spry in his portrait. "Besides, I think you need my advice. Let our Harry say his piece."

Harry grinned at Dumbledore, appreciative of his support.

"Despite what Albus says, I'm not sure Severus will appreciate a public declaration of thanks, no matter how well intended." She glanced away from the portrait and back at Harry. "However, if you feel that you should do so, you have my permission."

"Thank you. I won't speak for long." Just enough to get his point across to Snape, Harry thought with anticipation. He could hardly wait to see how the bastard responded to his little speech.

"I should hope not." There was a note of amusement in her voice now.

"Thank you," Harry said to McGonagall and stood. "Good to see you again, Professor." He waved at Dumbledore on his way out.

Harry had barely made it back to his office after dinner when Snape descended upon him, his robes flaring.

"You imbecilic moron!" Snape's face twisted into a ferocious scowl. "What on earth did you hope to accomplish with that... display?" For all his glowering, Snape didn't seem cross at all. In fact, under the bluster, his face seemed to be flushed and not angrily either. Harry would bet that he was pleased.

Leaning against the front of his desk, Harry smiled at him as sweetly as he could manage, hoping he didn't look as self-satisfied as he felt. "I wanted you to have no doubt of my sincerity."

"Bloody Gryffindor." Snape faced him, stalking closer. "Do you think I'm stupid enough to believe that... that..." he seemed to have run out of words.

With considerable effort, Harry bit back a laugh. Finally, finally, he'd done something right. "Actually, yes. I thought it was necessary to demonstrate the lengths to which I would go to show how grateful I am for what you've done for me." He pushed off the desk and took a step forward, so that he was right in Snape's face. "I am grateful, you bastard. I really, truly am."

"Perhaps you are at that," Snape conceded, and then his thin lips lifted a bit and his crooked yellow teeth showed, and Harry thought perhaps he'd actually smiled. A real smile.

He couldn't decide if he wanted to hex the prat or kiss him.

That last thought brought Harry up short. He hated Snape. Deeply. There could be no kissing where there was hating. That was too sick to think about. But there he was in Snape's face, with Snape looking down at him, not scowling for once. Snape's mouth looked awfully soft … all it would take would be for him to lift his head...

Oh, God. Harry was utterly horrified. "Urgh..."

Thankfully, Snape stepped back without seeming to realize how close he had come to... Harry couldn't even think it. It didn't happen. It wouldn't happen.

"You are as articulate as ever, Mr. Potter." Snape's acerbic tone brought him safely back to reality.

Shaking off what had just almost happened, and burying it deep down inside him, Harry tilted his head and looked at Snape. "You know, you might call me Harry."

Snape looked at him suspiciously. "Why would I want to do that?"

"Why not?" Harry quirked his lips and almost grinned. "We're colleagues after all; a bit more informality is permitted." Not too much, though, Harry decided.

"I'll give it some thought." To Harry's surprise, Snape also seemed a bit disconcerted by the whole encounter, and without another word he turned and left, his robes billowing out perfectly behind him.

Harry's knees would no longer hold him, and he collapsed into a nearby chair. Sweet Merlin, he'd just thought about kissing Snape. Snape! He needed a drink.

Harry stayed at school during the winter break, even though Hermione and Ron had asked him to spend the entire Christmas hols with them. As much as he loved both of them -- all four of them counting the kids -- he'd wanted a bit of time to himself now that he was feeling better and could enjoy it. He had agreed to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and although they were disappointed, they said they understood. Harry hoped that they did.

"It's been an age since we last saw you," Hermione said, handing him an ale. "How are your leg and back?"

For once, Harry didn't have to come up with a polite lie, not that such things ever worked with either of them, but he usually did try. "I'm actually doing well. I'm in a lot less pain than I was even a couple of weeks ago."

"I'm glad to hear that, mate," Ron settled on the sofa next to him, and Hermione disappeared into the kitchen.

"Where are the kids?" Harry asked. Ron and Hermione had two sons, six and eight years old. Harry was proud as hell to be godfather to the oldest boy.

"They're both at my parents' for Bill's daughter's birthday party this afternoon." Ron let out a sigh. "My parents are going to bring them back tonight for Christmas Eve dinner."

"Good. I was looking forward to seeing them." Harry loved them both so much and delighted in indulging the boys whenever he thought he could get away with it. "I've got presents for them." He pulled the shrunken cube of presents out of his pocket. He'd brought presents for Hermione and Ron as well.

Ron groaned. "Do you have to spoil them so?"

"Of course I do." Harry smiled at Ron's distressed look. "It's part of my job as godfather to spoil them rotten."

"You're only godfather to James, not to Daniel," Ron said.

"Wouldn't want poor Daniel to be jealous, would you?" Harry laughed. He lived to spoil the boys. "I want to do it. I love them."

Ron shook his head and then smiled. "Don't I know it? Fine, then. What did you get them this year?"

"You'll see when they do." Harry smiled mysteriously, anticipating the surprise and he hoped delight when the presents were opened. He'd gotten both boys the latest model of brooms for younger children -- they had parental controls that could be set for height and speed. "It always surprises me when you mention Bill's daughter."

Ron looked at him, his eyebrow raised. "What? After being so wild that he actually got married? You know that he loves his wife."

"I know he does. It's not like I'm heartbroken or anything. But he had such an impact on my life." Harry thought back on that time with a combination of warm nostalgia and not a little bit of chagrin. "It was only the one summer, but...."

"Yeah," Ron chuckled, almost to himself. "We all knew before you did."

Harry felt a blush creep across his face. He knew there had to be worse things than his own cluelessness, but sometimes he wondered why he couldn't see what was in front of him. "If Hermione hadn't said something to me. God, I wonder how old would I have been before I figured it out?"

Ron laughed again, and took a long pull from his ale. "I'd like to think you would have figured it out sooner or later."

"Figured what out later?" Hermione asked, settling next to Ron. With a smile, Ron tossed his arm around her casually and pulled her against his body. She snuggled into him, tilting her head up, and he leaned down to buss her lips.

Although Harry tried, he couldn't quite suppress a jolt of pure envy. Seeing them together reminded him of what he wanted, and had just about given up hope of ever finding.

"That I preferred wizards. Though switching sides didn't help in the relationship department, either," Harry said. It troubled him to think about how many women he might have hurt as he kept searching for something he wasn't going to find with any of them.

"You'll find someone, Harry." Ron always seemed so sure about it. Of course, it was a lot easier for Ron to say that. He'd known his beloved since he was eleven.

Harry, however, hadn't. By the looks of it, he didn't think he was going to find him, anyway. Before he could get too maudlin, he forced a smile and said, "I think I'm going to take a break from dating for a while. I'm not up for the search these days."

Hermione's expression showed her concern and she reached out, putting her hand on his. "You're doing so much better. It's been months."

Nine months and two weeks. "I am doing much better." He looked at Hermione pleadingly. Talking about the glaring lack in his life hurt too much, and he willed her to change the subject. "When is dinner tonight?"

"We're actually going to eat fairly late, given the party and the amount of food that the kids will have consumed. How is school?" Hermione smiled at him, understanding without words as she always did. "I always thought I would be the one going back to Hogwarts to teach."

"Why haven't you?" Harry had wondered that himself. She'd be an excellent teacher. "You would be very welcome."

"I would have to give up my job, and I love it enough to defer teaching for a while longer. I'll get to Hogwarts one day, I suspect." She touched his shoulder and smiled encouragingly. "What's it like to be back there?"

"I call almost all of the other professors by their given names. I think that was the hardest thing to get used to." Harry laughed and then added, "Everyone except Snape, of course."

"Of course," Ron's face twisted into a frown. He hated Snape every bit as much as Harry always had. "Is the greasy git still awful to you?"

To be fair, Harry conceded, maybe he didn't hate Snape as much as Ron did anymore. If he went that far, maybe he might admit that he didn't hate Snape at all. However, to acknowledge that would require that Harry consider what he did feel about him, and there were simply too many emotions connected to Snape. He hadn't had time to sort through any of them. "He was awful to start with, but I think he was reacting to me."

"How do you mean?" Ron finished off his ale, and set the bottle on the table. "He's still a complete bastard, isn't he?"

"Sometimes." Harry sighed at Ron's confused look. His confusion about Snape made it difficult for him to put it into words. "It's not the same as when we were in school. When I started to treat him differently, he did the same. Not that he's a nice guy or anything close, but he's not... overly horrible."

"I'm thinking that's probably as good as you're going to get with him," Ron said, thoughtfully. "I still wouldn't want to have to see him every day."

Harry nodded, but he wasn't sure about that anymore either, "He did make a potion that's been helping my muscles to relax enough to heal properly." If he were being honest, "Actually, it's done more than that. I'm so much stronger than I was a few months ago that...."

"What?" Ron asked. "You didn't mention he was doing that."

"Didn't I?" Harry felt his face heat with embarrassment. He knew very well he hadn't mentioned it to anyone and he should have done. It was hard to talk about. First, he hadn't wanted to get anyone else's hopes up, and then he didn't want to talk about how horrible Snape had been treating him.

Ron shook his head slowly, looking somewhere between hurt and annoyed. "No. You did not. I talk to you at least once a week, and you haven't mentioned a thing."

With his school schedule and Ron's changeable Auror shifts, they couldn't see each other as often as they had when they worked together, but they did stay in close touch.

"I'm sorry. I should have mentioned it sooner. At first, I wasn't sure he would do it, and then I wasn't sure it would work." Harry felt like an idiot. He wasn't sure why he hadn't mentioned it, but he felt compelled to add, "I'm very grateful to Snape for it. I will never walk without a limp, but I'm more pain free and healthier than I ever believed I would be."

The shocked look on Hermione's face had Harry a little baffled. Almost nothing surprised her like that. "What?" Harry asked. "Are you that surprised that Snape did this for me?"

"Quite frankly, yes. I'm very surprised."

"Why?" Harry didn't understand her attitude. "I mean, yeah, he's a greasy bastard, but even he has some compassion." Even if you had to drag it out of him, Harry didn't add.

"Let me understand this," Hermione said slowly, her words very precise. "Snape made you a potion that helped with your injury? Made it so well that you're in better shape than you ever thought you might be?"

"Yes." Harry definitely got the feeling he was missing something. "It took him weeks to do it."

"I'll bet it did." She met his eyes. "Did you know that Snape is one of the top potions masters in all of Britain? That his services are highly sought after by just about everyone? That he almost never does anything for an individual." Hermione shook her head in exasperation.

"If he's so good, why does he still teach at Hogwarts?" Ron asked, his tone edged with disbelief. "I mean, after the war, he could have gone anywhere. Why didn't he?"

"I believe that Hogwarts is his home," Hermione said with understanding in her tone. "I know that he could write his own ticket anywhere in the wizarding world. I don't think you appreciate just how good he is."

"No, I didn't know that," Harry said, thinking about it for the first time. Snape had done something amazing for him, something that was better than he could have ever hoped for. His conscience stabbed him because he still wasn't grateful enough. What did that say about him? "I suppose it makes sense. By the time he perfected it, the potion worked beyond my wildest expectations."

"I'm sure that it did." Hermione sounded just a bit sarcastic right then. "Harry, he simply did this for you? Because you asked? And you still hate him? Don't you think that's awfully petty?"

"Well... He's a mean-spirited, bastard." But maybe... Harry sighed. He was more than a bit conflicted where Snape was concerned.

She shook her head again, and this time she looked frustrated with him, rather the same expression Madam Pomfrey had sometimes.

Ron seemed to understand though. He looked at Hermione. "Why should Harry feel anything other than hatred?" He held up his hand. "Okay, maybe grateful too, maybe even very grateful, but that doesn't change the fact that he's a git. I'll never forgive him for the way he treated us at school."

A buzzer sounded and Hermione stood up. "I'd like to point out that we've been out of school for twice as long as we were in it. It's time for both of you to let it go."

Harry watched her retreating back. "I've never been able to think of Snape rationally," Harry said, draining his ale. "But I think she might have a point."

"I don't think so, mate. I'm going to hate that bastard until I die." Ron grinned as he said it, as if he enjoyed his hatred of Snape.

Harry never had, despite hanging onto it for so long, probably a lot longer than was healthy. He needed to think about it.

Harry returned from Ron and Hermione's on Christmas night, Apparating to the gates of Hogwarts. Because it wasn't late, and he didn't feel like going to bed yet, he detoured by the Quidditch Pitch as he always did when he came in the side gate and had the time. It was just to... to what he asked himself? Relive your former glories? He could almost hear Snape's mocking voice asking him that.

There was someone flying, out above the pitch. Harry stopped to watch the silhouette against the night sky. A deep yearning split his chest and he had to remember to breathe. Whoever it was knew how to fly. They looped and rolled against the backdrop of the nearly full moon. Harry felt so much envy that he hardly bear it. He might fly again, someday, but he would never again move like that on a broom.

Tears prickled in his eyes as he watched another perfect maneuver. Harry never cried. Not over anything. If he were ever going to give into his despair, this shouldn't be the thing he wanted to cry the hardest over. The thing that hurt the worst. All the people he'd lost, all the things that had gone wrong, all the mistakes he'd made, and he wanted to cry over flying. Snape was right: he was a fool.

He stood there looking up, watching and envious. The rider fell into a deep dive, and Harry had to duck to get out of the way. "What are you doing?" he called out to the person who had just missed him. He came to a stop beside him, and he saw it was Snape.

Snape's hair was tied back, his cheeks were flushed red with the cold, and he looked like he'd been enjoying himself. The jealousy burned like acid in Harry's gut.

Looking at Harry for a long moment, Snape said nothing at all. Then, amazingly, he moved backward and inclined his head toward the broom.

"I'm not sure I can stay on." Harry glanced at him regretfully and then thought for a moment. "If you hold me, I could steer."

"I think it would be better to let me steer," Snape said. "Just hold on."

With his heart pounding in fear and excitement, Harry set his cane against the bench he'd been standing near, and climbed on. His thigh muscles protested when he tightened them, but they did what he wanted them to do. That he would pay for this tomorrow was not even a question. That it would be worth the cost, even less so.

Snape's arm went round his middle and held him in a firm grip, his other hand held the broom in front of both of Harry's hands. They both kicked off and soared upward into the cold night air.

He was flying again!

There were no fancy moves, no loops or rolls, but they moved fast enough for Harry to hear the roar of the wind and feel it whip through his hair. It felt wonderful beyond words.

Fierce joy filled him. It was better than the first time he'd flown because this time he'd known what he'd been missing. Harry thought his heart might burst from the sheer amount of happiness in it.

As the first shot of adrenalin wore off, Harry became conscious of the pressure of Snape's chest against his back. Of Snape's warmth surrounding him, of his arm across his belly and his hand in front of Harry's steering the broom. In the sheltering embrace, Harry felt safe in a way he couldn't quite understand and surprisingly didn't care to question.

"It's time to go back, Potter." Snape's low voice cut through the wind and his thoughts. Harry nodded as Snape landed the broom efficiently.

When he climbed off, Harry turned back to look at Snape. "Thank you." The words seemed so woefully inadequate to express what Snape had done for him. "That meant a lot to me."

"You're welcome," Snape answered and kicked off again, disappearing into the night sky.

All of Harry's leg muscles protested greatly as he walked slowly back to the castle. He didn't care. Whatever stiffness or soreness he might endure tomorrow would be more than worth the joy of that ride.

It was entirely possible, Harry thought, ignoring the papers piled on his desk, that he didn't hate Snape after all. With a deep sigh, he acknowledged that he didn't even dislike the bastard. How he actually felt, Harry wasn't sure and probably didn't want to know. He could only go so far at one time.

The broom ride puzzled him. Snape's reasoning for showing him such kindness continued to evade Harry's ability to understand it. It was going to drive him mad. It made no sense. It was out of character, as he understood Snape.

Which meant that Madam Pomfrey was right and he didn't understand Snape nearly as well as he'd always thought he did. It was that or Snape had gone mad. Of the two options, Harry assumed that since no one else seemed to think that Snape was acting oddly, perhaps he hadn't suddenly gone batty. So, it was the first option.

That was troubling.

What was more troubling than that, though, was the desire to kiss Snape had returned, and with more force than Harry's previous encounter with it. Not only that, but now the urge to touch him was accompanying the longing to kiss. That left Harry shaking, but as hard as he tried to tell himself that it was revulsion, he knew that it wasn't.

Contemplating Snape over dinner a few days after the ride, Harry simply couldn't understand where the impulse had come from. Snape was ugly. Any way you looked at him, there was little, no, nothing, to recommend him. His hair was lank and oily. His skin was pale. His teeth were yellow. He was skinny and as disagreeable as a man could be.

What was it about the man that made Harry want to have anything to do with him?

Looking up, Snape caught him watching and Harry gave him a weak smile. Snape looked away, disgusted.

"May I have a word with you?" Harry asked, leaning on the open doorway of Snape's office. Between picking up the potion, discussing the results -- Snape was still making minute changes to formula -- Harry felt like he spent an inordinate amount of time in the dungeons. This time, however, it was of his own choosing.

"About what?" Snape looked up briefly at him and then back down at the stack of whatever he was grading. "As you can see, I'm quite busy."

Thinking about his own stack of end-of-term essays that required grading before the students came back from their winter holiday, Harry nodded with sympathy. However, he knew he had to understand what happened before it drove him mad. "I wanted to thank you again for the broom ride."

"You're welcome." Snape looked at him again. "If that's all..."

In his mind, he steeled himself and outwardly he straightened up, tension creeping into his gut. This was even harder than he'd thought it would be. "No. Actually, I'd like to know why you did it."

"Why?" Snape's expression turned amused and he shrugged. "Why not?"

"Keep the enemy off balance? Is that it?" Harry asked, thinking at least that made some sense to him -- all part of Snape's mind games.

Some of the amusement left Snape's smirk. "It's a wise strategy. However, I do not consider you the enemy. More of a permanent annoyance, to be truthful."

"Thanks, I think." Relaxing just a bit, Harry hoped that might be some progress. To where, he wasn't sure, perhaps only another step away from enmity. "You're going to drive me mad, you know that don't you?"

"I shall look forward to it." Snape's mouth turned down, smile fading. "If there was nothing else, Mr Potter, I should like to finish this before midnight."

For a second, Harry thought about going, just leaving well enough alone, but something inside him couldn't let it go. Those urges to touch Snape hadn't gone away, in fact, they seemed to be getting worse, going so far as to invade his dreams. He had to resolve this. "I'm not going to leave until you tell me why you did it."

Frustration and annoyance bled off Snape. "Don't be a fool. It was obviously a momentary lapse on my part. If it engenders this kind of reaction, then I surely won't be so stupid again."

Harry hadn't thought he'd consider doing it again. Truth be told, he still couldn't quite believe it had happened the first time.

Snape must have read his thoughts on his face, because he scowled. "If I promise to take you up again, will you leave?"

Harry knew a good deal when he heard one. Already anticipating another ride, he smiled and nodded. "Saturday afternoon or do you have a hot date for the first night of the New Year?"

"Saturday is fine." Snape picked up his pen and then looked at him. "I don't date."

Something about the way he said that bothered Harry. It sounded a little too final. "Anyone? Ever?"

"No one. Never." Snape glared at him, and Harry knew he'd worn out what little welcome he'd ever had.

"I'll meet you on the Quidditch pitch at 4:00 pm." Excitement had him smiling widely as he regarded Snape. "Thanks."

"Fine." Snape's look was assessing, and then changed back to annoyed. "Now, leave me alone."

Harry left then and without another word. He was going flying with Snape again! If he could have, he would have kicked up his heels in glee, both at the prospect and, yes, he could admit it, the company. God, what was he thinking, he wondered, and then decided that he didn't care.

A few minutes before 4:00 on Saturday afternoon, Harry limped to the bench where he'd met Snape the previous week. It was cold and the wind had picked up. Snow was expected again during the coming week and he knew there wouldn't be many more clear days like this until spring.

The anticipation he'd been feeling for the last few days exploded in his chest as Harry looked up and saw Snape dive down towards him, coming to a stop right above his head, and then moving down.

Harry waited until Snape was close enough so that he could mount the broom comfortably.
"I'd like to fly. If that's all right with you?" Harry asked, hoping that Snape wouldn't mind, because he wanted to fly a broom on his own so badly right then he could almost taste it.

"If you feel up to it, I have no objection." Snape moved back enough to make room for him.

Once on the broom, Harry's excitement soared as he settled close to Snape's chest, and Snape wrapped his arms around his middle. That same safe feeling washed over him, and Harry inched closer, basking in it.

After kicking off, they climbed high into the cold afternoon sky. The broom moved easily under Harry's direction. Exhilaration swept through him. How he loved to fly, to feel the cool wind move past his face, to feel free and unencumbered.

On impulse, he sent the broom into a dive. Snape clutched him tighter. He couldn't help laughing out loud as he pulled back up. It felt fabulous.

When he leveled off, he was breathing hard, giddy with excitement as his heart pounded in joy. "That was brilliant," Harry murmured.

"You idiot. What if you'd fallen off?" Snape's anger was brutal and raw, his fear evident in every harsh word.

Harry hadn't been worried at all. It had felt too good after so long without even the hope of being able to do that. "It would have been worth it."

"No. It would not have been. Don't do it again." The fear Snape wasn't able to hide overrode some of Harry's joy.

"I'm sorry." He felt badly now, especially when Snape had been so.... Harry was at a loss for a word to describe Snape's generosity in taking him flying and what it meant to him. "It was stupid of me to do that. I'm sorry I scared you."

"Indeed, it was idiotic." Snape nudged him and he took the hint, flying upward again, and this time, he circled around the forbidden forest, thrilling in every second he was on the broomstick. Surprisingly, Snape's warmth near him added to his enjoyment.

After an hour, Harry was disappointed to have to end the ride, but he knew that it was time to go back. His back had started to ache from the cold, and his legs were already numb. He landed by the bench, and wasn't surprised at how stiff he was as he dismounted.

As he looked up at Snape, he smiled widely, all of his joy showing on his face. "Thank you. I owe you for this."

"You're welcome. However, you owe me nothing." Snape didn't smile back at him, regarding him with an intense look that seemed pleased.

"I owe you more than I shall ever be able to repay," Harry said softly. For a moment, his dearest wish was to show Snape just how much he felt for him. Without considering it any further, he slid his hand around the nape of Snape's neck, and kissed his cheek softly. "Thank you."

Snape's eyes were wide and glassy with what seemed like shock. He blinked several times, looking almost as if he were puzzled by what just happened.

Harry couldn't resist the pull, and leaned up again, nudging Snape forward, closer this time, sliding an arm around his waist. Very gently he pressed his mouth to Snape's, their cool lips brushing briefly. He pulled back almost as soon as he'd begun. Snape's mouth was sweeter than he'd ever expected.

Fear and exultation and longing all roiling inside him, and his heart pounding harder than when he'd dived the broom, Harry moved closer still. He wanted badly to taste the sweetness again. Leaning into another kiss, he let his mouth cling to Snape's for a long moment.

At first, Snape's mouth was completely slack, as if he couldn't believe Harry's audacity. As Harry started to pull away, fearing that he'd offended him, Snape moved with him, too hard, mashing his lips against Harry's.

Harry put a hand on Snape's cheek, and eased him back a bit. Leaning in again, he molded his mouth to Snape's, softly and firmly, delighting in the taste and texture of Snape's lips. Snape mimicked Harry, his mouth yielding into the kiss.

Snape moaned softly.

The sound glided across Harry's spine, and down into his gut, arousing him as few things ever had. Enchanted, he pressed closer to Snape, deepening the kiss, desire starting to build inside him.

He licked along Snape's lower lip, using his teeth to pull gently on it. When Snape opened his mouth, Harry slipped his tongue inside. For one very long second, Snape stilled completely. Harry was about to withdraw, when Snape's tongue tentatively touched his. An electric shock went through Harry, straight down his spine and he shivered in pleasure.

Harry slid his other hand onto Snape's waist to draw him even closer. The positioning wasn't good, not with Snape hovering on the broom. Disappointed, he took it as a sign this wasn't the right time, and pulled back completely.

Glancing at Snape half fearfully, Harry was surprised to see his eyes were still closed and his breathing was labored.

With a deep, soft sigh, Snape licked his bottom lip and opened his eyes. He looked shocked. No, more than shocked, Snape looked like he wasn't entirely sure what had just happened.

Then, just to be difficult, Snape leaned forward and brushed his lips across Harry's. "Good night, Potter," he said, his voice husky, and he flew away.

Harry looked after him in disbelief.

As much as Harry wanted to talk to Snape about Saturday afternoon, and even though they saw each other at least twice a day during meals, he didn't find any time. His classes were going well, but that meant planning, and office hours, and a myriad of other responsibilities.

The one night he did find himself free, he met Ron for drinks in a pub in Hogsmeade. He'd thought about bringing up the subject of Snape, but since there wasn't anything to say, he'd decided against it. He wasn't ready to fight that battle, especially if nothing came of it.

It was Saturday again before Harry had time to pursue the issue. The snow was falling as it had been the entire day. No flying today.

There had been no contingency plan. Actually, they hadn't agreed to fly that afternoon either, but Harry had planned to be on the Quidditch pitch. He expected that now was the time to take himself down to the dudgeons and have a chat with Snape.

"What do you want?" Snape said as soon as the door opened, and he saw who was standing in front of it. "We're not flying today."

Harry shifted, trying not to let his nervousness show. "No, I expect not. I do know that snow and flying don't mix well."

"I ask again, what do you want?"

"May I come in?" Harry asked, taking a deep breath and preparing himself for a negative response.

Snape's look turned suspicious. "I'm sure I'm not going to like whatever it is you have to say." However, Snape stepped back and let Harry come in. "Get it over with."

"You don't have to sound so resigned." Amused by the ploy, Harry felt his mouth twitch as he tried not to smile outright.

"I am resigned." Snape's tone held a note of suppressed laughter. "Why are you bothering me?

The smile he'd been fighting broke loose. Snape sounded neither resigned to Harry's presence nor unhappy about it, both of which made Harry feel a bit less nervous. "May I sit down?" Harry asked solicitously.

"If you must." Snape started to return to his sofa and then stopped and looked back at Harry. "I suppose you'll want a brandy, too?"

"That would be very nice." Harry couldn't help his grin. Once he understood the language Snape spoke, it was like talking to a different person. "Thank you for asking."

"I didn't ask."

"Of course not." Smiling back at him, Harry took the snifter that was handed to him. He didn't know a lot about dishes or glasses, but the crystal seemed very fine to him. The brandy was delicious. "This is quite nice."

"Yes." Snape sat down and sipped his drink, saying nothing else.

For a few minutes the only sound was the crackling of the fire, and both of them sipping their respective drinks. The silence started out companionable, but became strained with time.

"The social niceties have been performed," Snape drawled lazily. "What did you wish to speak to me about?"

"Last week." Harry's nerves jumped a little. He wasn't all that sure what he wanted, except, perhaps, to understand what he was feeling, and maybe figure out what Snape was feeling as well.

Snape gave him an impassive look, letting nothing of what he might be thinking escape onto his face. "What about it?"

"You don't make things easy, do you?" Tensing up more, Harry breathed out, trying to relax the knotting in his shoulders. "We kissed."

The look on Snape's face didn't change, but his lips twitched slightly. "Yes, Potter. I did notice that."

"I noticed something else, as well." He'd thought a lot about that. None of the answers he'd come up with made much sense. No, that wasn't quite right. One of the answers made too much sense. He just couldn't credit it, even from Snape.

Snape continued to regard him, clearly waiting for something. When he didn't say anything else, Snape shook his head. "That's very observant of you, Potter."

Harry wondered if Snape were being deliberately dense, or more likely he was embarrassed by it. "By my calculations, you're fifty-four."

"You can add, too. Amazing what they teach the young in school these days." Snape's look turned withering. "However, you've still not made your point."

The game playing with Snape was starting to drive Harry mad. "I think that is the point."

Snape shook his head, confusion finally showing on his face. "My age? I know your logic is convoluted at the best of times, but you've lost me completely. What does my age have to do with a kiss?"

He wasn't a hundred percent sure, but it seemed like a good guess. A trickle of worry went down his spine. If he got this wrong, Snape would be scathing in his condemnation. "Only that you hadn't done it before."

"Ah. I see." Snape didn't look the least bit discomfited by the observation, nor did he deny it. "I don't believe that is any of your business."

Well, it wasn't, Harry acknowledged, but he was starting to believe that he wanted it to be. More than that, he thought perhaps Snape might want it, too. "How it's possible that you hadn't?" Harry kept his voice soft, inquiring, no hint of mockery or laughter.

"Why should I tell you? Do you wish to have more fodder with which to ridicule me?" His whole expression and demeanor changed. It seemed that he actually believed Harry could or would do that to him.

Taking offense at that, Harry glared at him. "I haven't belittled you at all." At Snape's continued acrimonious look, he amended, "Well, not about that. I wouldn't."

"What do you want?" Snape sighed and put his snifter back on the small table between the sofa and the chair. "I've asked that several times now, and you've not given me a satisfactory answer."

While Harry didn't understand the fascination he felt for Snape or his attraction, he was willing to accept it as well as the implication of what he thought he knew. Soft peddling the whole subject was not, however, in his nature. "All right, if you want it spelled out for you: how is it that you've never been kissed before?"

Snape sneered at him, seemingly unembarrassed by either Harry's outburst or the information that it contained. "The answer should be self-evident, Potter. Even you can figure it out."

"Clearly, I'm not very bright. Indulge me in an answer, Professor." Exasperated, Harry put just the right amount of mocking in his tone to hopefully annoy Snape into an answer.

"I didn't want to." Snape stood and walked to the fireplace, putting his hands towards the flame as if to warm them. "I think that's all the answer you shall need."

"Then, why last week? What great and momentous thing happened then?" Because Harry knew that there must have been a reason for Snape to allow it after remaining untouched -- that didn't seem like an appropriate word to use in context with Snape, but it was all Harry could come up with -- for his whole life.

"You happened, Potter. You simply took what you wanted." Snape sounded both belligerent and bewildered.

Harry wasn't sure exactly what he'd expected or wanted from Snape when he came in tonight but now he was determined to have an answer. "Oh no, Professor. You're not getting away that easily. That wasn't just me kissing you. You were giving it back just as good as you got."

Turning around slowly, Snape's eyes flashed with something Harry couldn't read. "Fine. I liked it. All right? It was pleasant." Snape's words held his surprise and his tone lowered. "It was surprisingly sweet."

Well done Harry, he thought, as a shiver of pleasure went through him. "Oh," he said, amazed that Snape would admit it.

Standing before the fire, with his hands twisted in his robes, Snape seemed uncharacteristically shy. It was not a good look on him, and Harry was grateful when the moment passed quickly and Snape's familiar sneer returned. "If you have nothing else to say, I think that it's --"

"Actually, I do." Even if he didn't understand his own desire, Harry knew it was real and, he suspected, returned. He stood up. His movements were neither graceful, nor quick. If Snape wanted to move away, he had plenty of time to do so.

He didn't. Watching Harry warily as he stopped right in front on him, Snape looked like he might have wanted to move back, but there was no place for him to go. "What is it, Potter?" His voice had a very slight waver, and beneath it, Harry could hear fear and want in nearly equal measures.

His own nerves vibrating with tension and desire, Harry put his hand on Snape's cheek. "Just this." Stretching up, he kissed Snape. His mouth moved against Snape's, tasting the brandy and his unique flavor. Whatever else Harry could say about him, Snape was delightful to kiss, his lips soft and giving.

Sliding his arms around Harry's back, Snape drew him closer, holding on as the kiss deepened. Snape seemed have an innate talent for this, seeming to understand the concept without instruction. His tongue slid into Harry's mouth, and with the great attention to detail he was known for, Snape slowly explored, tasting every surface.

Desire humming through him, Harry groaned, tipping his head back. Snape leaned forward a bit more, moving his mouth from Harry's lips to his neck, licking along his throat down to the collar of his robe, his arms tightening further. Delightful sensations rippled along Harry's skin, everywhere that Snape's tongue and lips touched.

Sliding his long fingers into Harry's hair, Snape pulled it free of its tie, letting it fall free. The feel of Snape's fingers in his hair was just exquisite. Moaning softly, Harry gave himself up to it, relishing each separate sensation as well as the whole.

Moving his own hands from Snape's face to his body, Harry slid one hand firmly down his long back to his waist, and then down further to his bum, squeezing gently. The firm round flesh under his hand, even through several layers of cloth, felt absolutely delicious. Harry squeezed again.

Snape stiffened and pulled back to look at him, his expression startled.

"No?" Harry asked, regretfully moving his hand up to Snape's waist.

Closing his eyes for a moment, Snape let out a sigh and opened them again, but he hadn't relaxed. "Apparently not."

"Okay." Harry didn't let his disappointment show. This could not come easily to Snape, he thought. "Um... I guess, we should stop."

"As it isn't going to go where you want it to, I expect you're right." Snape's tone was barbed and jagged, but there was an undercurrent of annoyance that Harry didn't understand. Perhaps it was directed at himself, rather than Harry. Snape stepped back, pulling roughly out of Harry's arms.

"How can you know where I want this to go, when I don't?" Frustrated again, Harry knew that everything about this situation was so fraught with problems, for both of them. "Maybe we should talk about this?"

"Talk about what, Potter? There is nothing to talk about." Snape's tone had grown colder and harder, but the expression in his eyes belied that. "I do think it's time for you to leave."

"Running away won't make it better." Harry looked up at him, patience warring with exasperation.

"I thought you understood. Nothing is going to make it better." Snape turned away and faced the fire again.

"Well, I think you owe me an explanation." That was a stupid thing to say, Harry thought, not quite believing he'd actually said it.

Obviously neither could Snape, his shoulders visibly stiffened. His tone scathing, Snape started to say, "I owe--"

Harry cut him off before he got it out. "I know." He held up his hand as if Snape could actually see him from behind. "You owe me nothing."

"Exactly so." Snape sounded almost mollified and he turned to look at Harry. "Do try and remember that."

"I want to know. I want to understand you." Harry sat down on the sofa with a sigh of relief. While he was kissing Snape, he hadn't noticed the ache in his muscles from standing too long.

"Why should I satisfy your curiosity at my own expense?" There was something in his tone that Harry recognized far too easily: distrust. How could that be such a surprise?

Still the level of it upset him enough to consider what they were doing. Yes, there was an attraction, and kissing Snape was delicious, but even if he didn't dislike him anymore, did he actually want more than that from him? Could he go that far? Uncertainty and desire clashed as Harry looked at him and found his answer. "For whatever reason, I'm starting to care about you."

Snape actually laughed. "I don't know why I should be surprised by your impertinence. You are a fool."

"I'm sure I am," Harry said, uncomfortable with having admitted his tentative feelings and knowing instinctively that Snape would not be so forthcoming with his emotions. If he even understood his own emotions. This was Snape, for God's sake.

With an uneasy expression on his face, Snape sat down beside him. "I can't do this now. I need time to think, and by the looks of you, I believe you do as well."

"Do you want to do it at all?" Harry saw this for what it was. If he, if they, continued, it would be very complicated. There would be no easy answers, no easy outs. "I don't think either one of us can do this lightly or casually."

"I hadn't considered I would do it at all. Not before this moment." Snape looked down at his hands. "I never thought I'd want to or that it would be so..." He trailed off and took a deep breath. "So intoxicating."

Harry's stomach tightened in sympathy. He couldn't imagine what kind of life Snape must have led to say that about a few kisses. Something in him wanted to make it better.

It was time for him to go. He stood, and reached for his cane. "Next week, perhaps? Do you want to have dinner with me, and discuss it?"

Again, Snape looked startled. "Are you asking me for a date?"

Was he asking Snape for date? That idea ricocheted off his bones and he felt a second of panic before he pushed it back. "Yes, I suppose that I am."

"Oh." Snape looked as if he'd been hit with a blunt object. It took him several seconds before he nodded. "All right."

To remind himself why he was doing this, Harry leaned down and put a hand on Snape's face, tilting him up for a kiss. When he pulled back from it, Harry ran his knuckles down Snape's cheek in an affectionate little gesture.

Snape's eyes widened at it, but he said nothing. His hand, seemingly of its own volition, reached up to touch his cheek and he had that astounded look on his face, again.

A moment passed.

"Next week, then? Why don't we go into Muggle London and eat there? I haven't been out to dinner in a long time and I think less people will recognize us than in Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley." Although it didn't happen that often anymore, Harry would prefer not to chance a mob scene.

Nodding, Snape didn't seem any more inclined toward being recognized than he did. "All right."

"Do you have Muggle clothes to wear?"

"Of course I do," Snape snapped, his inertia falling away in favor of his acerbity. "I'm quite well versed in passing amongst the Muggles."

"I didn't mean to insult you or imply anything." Harry turned to hide his smile as he made his way to the door, looking back over his shoulder to smile at Severus before he closed it. A tendril of warmth slid through his chest as Severus smiled back at him.

The following morning, Harry woke in a bad temper. He'd slept poorly, his mind going around and around the Snape issue. What was he doing, he asked himself more than once. What was it about Snape that wouldn't let him go? What was the fascination?

One thing Harry did know: he wanted Snape. He wanted to kiss him and to touch him and to fuck him. He wanted to bask in Snape's nascent sexuality and he wanted to show him how good it could be. He wanted to hear Snape moan his name in passion so great they both lost control and in bliss so sweet that they could drown in it.

If he could get past Snape's defenses.

If he could get past his own prejudices.

If that happened, then what?

Then he would be Severus Snape's lover, a voice said clearly in his head and it sounded very much like a horrified Ron.

Harry felt all the air leave his lungs and panic start to rise. Bravely, he fought it back. He thought about kissing Snape, no, not Snape anymore, Severus, by God. He thought of all the things they would do together. A shard of hot desire rippled through Harry and he knew, against everything, this would happen.

Squaring his shoulders, Harry got out of bed, more determined than ever to see this through.

When he got to the Great Hall for breakfast, he saw Snape -- Severus, he mentally corrected himself -- eating by himself as was his habit. Severus looked up at him and then back at his plate with no acknowledgment.

That would not do, Harry decided, moving past his usual place to sit down next to Severus.

"What are you doing, Potter?" Severus glared at him for a moment and pointedly went back to his breakfast.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" Amused by the tactic, Harry smiled at him, as he reached for the eggs. Suddenly, he was quite hungry.

"It looks like what it is: you being annoying." Severus buttered his toast so hard that he snapped it in half. "Why are you making a spectacle of yourself and me?"

"We may as well start now." Harry took a forkful of his eggs, chewing with relish. Food tasted so much better when you were in a good mood, he decided. "We'll never keep it a secret."

"Nothing exists yet that should be kept a secret," Severus hissed, clearly trying not to draw any further attention to himself or Harry. With a quick glance around the room, Harry saw that no one was paying them any attention.

"It will. I know it will." Harry thought about putting his hand on Severus', but that might be pushing things too far. Besides which, they would always have to be circumspect when the students were about.

"What makes you so sure of that?" Severus' voice had a hopeful note to it, letting Harry know that the idea pleased him.

Both relieved and pleased himself, Harry smiled brilliantly at him. "Because we both want it to and so it will happen."

"Oh." Severus looked down at his plate, probably to hide the smile that was starting to dawn on his face. "What about Saturday?"

"We'll have a nice dinner and talk about the details then." Harry finished his eggs, and started on the bacon. "Unless you have time to speak sooner?"

"No. Saturday is fine." Severus pushed his plate away. "I must get to class."

As Severus passed him, he put a hand on Harry's shoulder and squeezed briefly. Delighted beyond words, Harry grinned, watching as Severus went out the side door.

On Friday afternoon, Harry had an appointment with Madam Pomfrey. He was feeling so well that he'd almost canceled it. However, he knew she'd likely track him down, so he gave in as gracefully as he could.

"Just what do you think you're playing at?" Pomfrey said by means of an entrance. "And why would you do it?"

Confused and hurt by the attack, Harry glanced at her, trying to understand what he'd done to deserve it. He opened his mouth to ask, "I--"

She never gave him the chance. "Don't play innocent with me, young man. I want to know why you would be so despicable as to play with Professor Snape that way." Her eyes were flashing with so much anger that Harry could swear he saw sparks. "It's not right."

"Uh.…" What she was implying was contemptible, and something she should know he'd never do to anyone. Harry's hurt increased. "You don't understand. I've come to--"

"To what," she asked, folding her arms against her chest and glaring at him, her expression disgusted. "To find his weak points and exploit them? To hurt him?"

"How do you know what's going on between us, anyway?" All they'd done publicly was sit together at breakfast and supper. Not even every night, either. All right, Harry conceded, five out of six nights and each morning for the last week. Anger beginning to replace his hurt, he frowned at her. "What possible business can it be of yours anyway?"

Pomfrey regarded him with suspicion. "I do not wish to see him hurt by you. I know how you feel about him."

"No, you don't. How can you when I've only just realized my feelings for Severus were changing?" He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, forcing himself to calm down. She was only trying to protect Severus and he could understand the need to do that a lot better now than he could have even a few weeks ago. "I'm starting to care for him."

"What's changed?" Her fierce expression and tone had altered, mellowing into something else. "A month ago you couldn't stand the sight of him."

God, was it only a month? Harry did a quick calculation and found it was a bit more than that, but not much. "A lot can happen in a month."

"Such as?" she asked. It sounded like she might want to believe what he was saying, but wasn't sure she could trust him.

"He took me for a broom ride." That sounded pretty lame to say it out loud, especially in the face of all the other things that Severus had done for him. He explained the circumstances. As he did so, he realized with a start, that while that had been his moment of revelation as it were, his true feelings had been changing since Severus had begun to work on the potion, even when Severus was still being a git about things.
Pomfrey's expression softened into a satisfied smile. "I told you he was good man."

"You're right, of course, but I had to stop seeing him as I did when I was a student and start to see him as he is now. He's changed, even since I was in school." A warm feeling settled into his chest as he thought about Severus.

"Some, I'd say." She paused and her brow creased a bit as she was thinking. "He really hasn't changed that much."

While Harry disagreed, he wasn't going to argue about it. "He's as caustic as ever, but maybe I can see through it better now." Harry looked at her and asked with all seriousness, "Why do you defend him so ardently?"

"Don't you think he deserves a defender?" She tilted her head and regarded him suspiciously again.

"I think he's well able to defend himself." Even as he said it, he wasn't convinced that it was entirely true. Severus was a hard man, but he had his weak points just like everyone did. He simply hid them better than most people. "That doesn't answer the question."

Her eyes narrowed, and she was gave nothing away. "I'm not sure that it's any of your business."

Again, Harry disagreed and this time he couldn't let it pass. "In a short time, everything about Severus is going to be my business."

"So sure of yourself, are you?" She shook her head, but beneath it, she seemed pleased about his possessiveness. "I've known Severus a long time and he is dear to me as any student or teacher. Beyond that, ask him yourself. If he wishes to tell you, then he will."

"I'd like to think I'm sure of him." He wasn't of course, not really, and it wasn't any of her business. "I will ask him."

Again she stared him down. Harry didn't blink. "I hope you are right, then," Pomfrey said softly. "Now, tell me how you are feeling."

With a sigh, Harry let it go. He started in on a recitation of the last few weeks and his progress.

Just before 7:00, nervous and trying not to show it, Harry made his way down the path to the gates. This was important to him and he'd dressed with care, choosing what he'd hoped were flattering Muggle clothes.

Severus was already waiting for him, wearing a black wool coat and a felt hat. He seemed to be perfectly calm, but Harry could detect some tension in his stance.

"Good evening, Potter," Severus said quietly, a small smile forming on his mouth

Harry smiled reassuringly at him. "And to you, Severus. I'll Apprarate us both since I know where we're going."

At his nod of agreement, Harry took hold of Severus' arm.

They arrived in the alley behind the restaurant and Harry led them out onto the street. Harry shivered. It was not as cold in Central London as it was at Hogwarts, but it was still cold enough to bite.

"I used to come here sometimes, when I wanted good Indian food." Harry turned to look up at Severus and held the door open for him. "I didn't think to ask before, but have you ever had it?"

"Yes." Severus went into the restaurant. "I'm rather fond of it, actually."

Harry couldn't help his surprised look.

Raising an eyebrow with disdain, Severus smirked at him. "Did you think I've never left Hogwarts?"

Feeling very foolish, Harry said, "I never gave it much thought. But I'm glad you're familiar with it."

Harry smiled at the hostess who took their coats and took them to their table.

Before they sat down, Harry glanced over at Severus. He had to work at keeping his mouth from falling open in shock. A tendril of desire swirled slowly through Harry's gut. Severus looked good.

Wearing fitted black trousers that cupped his backside lovingly, as well as accentuating the length of his legs and the slimness of his hips, Severus was dead sexy in a way Harry would not have believed he could be. The black wool jumper fit very nicely across his chest, adding to the overall look.

He sat down gracelessly, but it had a lot less to do with his injuries then it did with shock. Shifting in his chair, he tried to adjust his suddenly too tight trousers without looking like he was doing so.

"What are you staring at?" Severus sat down and glared at him.

"You. Muggle clothes suit you. Very well, in fact." Harry let his appreciation invade his tone.

Severus' eyes widened just a bit before he looked away and snorted. "Don't be absurd. Clothes are clothes."

"I disagree. You look fine in what you're wearing." Harry would have leered playfully, but he could see it would be lost on Severus.

"You needn't lie to me. I am well aware of what I look like." Severus' tone was harsh with annoyance.

For a moment, Harry thought about arguing, telling him again how very good he looked, but it seemed like a losing battle. Severus would not believe him. A prickle of hurt for Severus went through Harry that he should feel so unworthy of the smallest compliment.

"Everything I've had here has been good," Harry assured him as he picked up the menu and started to go over his options.

A waitress came by and took their order. Silence fell between them like a wall.

Severus sat in front of him, with his hands folded on the table, saying nothing. Harry was ready to scream with frustration. He glanced at Severus again, thinking he seemed... nervous. Well, Harry thought, hadn't he been nervous on his first date? Wasn't he nervous now?

Determined to break the silence and try to put Severus at ease, Harry cleared his throat. "So, how are your classes going this term?" Wincing, Harry wondered if he could have sounded any more lame.

Severus raised an eyebrow and looked like he might actually laugh. "Is that your idea of conversation?"

"Well, damn it, you aren't saying anything." Harry breathed out in frustration again. "What would you like me to say?"

Favoring him with a caustic but still amused look, Severus sneered. "Even I could think of something better than that."

"Do so, then." Harry wondered why everything was so abominably hard with this man. Oh, yes, now he remembered: it was Severus and he defined difficult. "What would you like to talk about?"

"Fine." Severus was silent for a moment, clearly thinking about it. "It's nice weather we're having, isn't it."

Harry snorted inelegantly. "Actually the weather is lousy. It's cold and wet and didn't it snow again yesterday?"

Inclining his head in concession, Severus smiled too. "So, I am no better at this than you are. At least the field is level, then."

"I suppose that it is." That wasn't a bad thing, Harry decided. "Can I ask you something?"

"I thought that was the purpose of all of this." Sounding resigned, Severus waved a hand between them. "Go on. What would you like to know?"

With a grin, Harry inclined his head, saying, "There are a lot of things I want to know about you. The first thing that comes to mind is: why does Madam Pomfrey defend you so dearly?"

"I hadn't realized that she did." Severus' brow creased as he seemed to puzzle over it. "I've known her for nearly all of my life, but...." He shrugged.

"I suppose that could be it." Harry thought it might also be that perhaps of all people at Hogwarts, Severus was most likely to go undefended. "She is rather adamant about it. If she weren't twenty years older than you--"

"Do not even suggest that." Severus' tone was harsh and brittle with outrage. "I find the very thought offensive."

Surprised by the intensity of the outburst, Harry cocked his head to one side to study Severus. "That a woman would be interested in you or that she might be?"

"That you would think she would even consider me in such a manner?" Severus' tone had eased back from its initial outrage, but there was still an appalled note in it.

"Why not?" Harry regarded him closely, looking for a sign as to why this was upsetting him so much. "I'm considering you in exactly that way. And the difference in our ages is the same as yours and hers."

His cheeks turning red, Severus coughed and looked away. "That is different. She was here when I was a student. I cannot believe she would ever see me in such a fashion. Or any student for that matter."

Something about the way he said it made Harry wonder what he'd been like as a student. Well, he'd had a glimpse, hadn't he, and it wasn't at all pleasant. "You were a student so long ago. You've taught here as an adult for many more years than that."

"She's known me at my worst." Severus blew out a strangled breath, sounding embarrassed by it. "She helped me after I left the Dark Lord's service."

Harry waited, holding his breath, not daring to speak.

"I spoke with her about what happened. For a time after..." Severus left the rest of it unsaid, his finger tracing the pattern in the tablecloth. "Other times as well."

"I know that sometimes that can help." Harry kept his voice soft, knowing he could never completely understand what Severus had lived through.

"I am not sure I would have been able to go on. I did some…" He trailed off and looked away. "I do not wish to speak of that time."
Harry could understand that only too well. "After I killed him," and there was no need to say whom, since they both knew. "I spoke with someone too. I had to forgive myself for killing."

Looking up from the table, Severus focused on him, meeting his eyes with certainty. "He, of all people, needed to die."

"Oh, I know that. I knew it then, and that I had to kill him." Harry took a shaky breath. This would never be a topic he could speak of easily. "I've never found that easy, even when it was necessary."

"Given your career choice before the present one that seems an incongruous statement." Severus raised an eyebrow and waited.

"I'm powerful enough so that I almost never had to kill anyone." Harry hated to talk about how powerful he was, indeed, he hated to even think about it. It was something he accepted because he had no choice, but he would never be comfortable with the amount of power in his control. "When I did, I went back to the Muggle psychologist I saw after I killed Voldemort."

"A Muggle?" Severus did not even try to hide the shock in his voice. "Surely you would not speak of the wizarding world to someone who was not in it."

"I spoke in general terms, not telling her anything that would be to difficult to believe. She was trained to help police officers who've had to kill in the line of duty." Harry closed his eyes and pushed his guilt away. "It's something we should have in our world and don't."

Looking at him closely, Severus asked, "Why did you kiss me?"

The abrupt subject change made Harry blink. He sincerely appreciated that Severus understood he did not want to continue to discuss it. "Thanks," Harry said, smiling at him.

With a nod, Severus gave him an expectant look. "It's a question I would like an answer to."

"I--" Harry stopped. For all his thinking about what could possibly be between them, he'd never stopped to think about why he'd done it in the first place. "Impulse, I guess."

"Typical Gryffindor." He didn't say it as if it were a curse, indeed he seemed almost amused by it. "I find that hard to believe. You simply don't kiss a person, especially someone like me, with no reason."

Fighting a blush, Harry shrugged, glancing down at the table. "I... I don't know. I supposed I simply wanted to kiss you."

With a look that said exactly what he thought of that, Severus snorted. "Right. You have this uncontrollable urge to kiss me."

"I thought that was obvious." Amused by the flabbergasted look on Severus' face, Harry smirked back at him. "I didn't say it was logical, only that I wanted to do it."

That effectively shut Snape up. Harry couldn't help laughing as Severus' cheeks turned red and he looked away. Poor Severus, Harry thought without much sympathy, he was going to have to get used to so many new things.

The waitress served their somosas on small plates. Harry broke his apart and ate it with his fingers. Looking at Severus, he was surprised to see him eat it delicately with a knife and fork.

"What are you looking at now, Potter?" Severus growled, catching his staring.

"You have very good manners." If he had thought about it, he wouldn't have allowed so much surprise in his tone.

"Of course I do. It was beaten into me as a child," Severus said completely without inflection. "I'm a pureblood. We're taught these things young and the lessons never go away."

"Not if they are beaten in." Harry grimaced. As bad as life with the Dursleys had been, at least they had never raised a hand to him. "I've always felt the lack of my wizard education. Now, I'm not so sure that was a bad thing."

Severus huffed and gave him an exasperated look. "I didn't mean it literally, you idiot. You've had many years away from the Muggles to catch up, if you chose to do so. I'm not surprised that you haven't used the opportunity."

Part of him bristled and wanted to slap back at the insult, but he curbed the impulse. There wasn't enough malice in the tone to truly take offense. "As a matter of fact, I have. I've lived in this world for twenty-two years. But--"

"But?" Severus asked, sounding more curious than Harry would have expected.

"Sometimes, things still catch me up." In the most unlikely of places, Harry thought, and looked across at Severus. "You're proud of your pureblood heritage?"

"I'm not sure proud is the correct term. It is what I am, nothing more, but surely nothing less." Despite the words, it was clear to Harry that Severus was a proud man, proud of whom he was, and what he was.

They ate in silence for a few moments.

"Hermione told me that you're one of the best potions masters in all of Britain." Harry tried not to phrase it as a question and definitely made sure he sounded like he believed it, because God, knew, he did.

His shoulders stiffening with a perceived affront, Severus looked at him sharply. "With your vast knowledge of these matters, you find this hard to believe?"

"Don't be foolish." Harry enjoyed saying that more than he would have thought. "I have ample and indisputable knowledge of just how good you are. What I was wondering is why you are still at Hogwarts when you could be anywhere you wanted to be."

Something softened in Severus' countenance. "It should have occurred to even someone as dense as you that I stay at Hogwarts because I wish to be there."

"Yes, I did figure that out." He shook his head wondering who was being dense here. "I want to know why."

"Do you actually think that's any of your business?" Something about Severus' tone told him that his automatic defense response had kicked in with the question.

Harry refused to allow himself to be frustrated by the terse words, and took a deep breath. He could have said a lot of other things right then, but he decided that, "Yes," was all that was necessary.

"I stay because Hogwarts is my home." His words were soft and simple, but conveyed his need. "There is no place else I could go and feel as...comfortable."

"Or safe?" Because Harry could understand that better than most people. Until he'd come back to Hogwarts, he hadn't realized how much he'd missed the feeling.

Severus met his eyes and nodded, then looked away again as if he'd admitted something dreadful. Harry understood.

Their main dishes were served and they both ate in companionable silence for a time.

"This was very good," Severus said, pushing his plate away, and sitting back. "I am quite full."

"Yeah, it was good." Tossing his napkin onto his plate, he sat back too, regarding Severus critically. No matter how anyone looked at him, Severus would never be considered a handsome man. To be honest, not even passable. But Harry could deny neither his attraction nor his desire.

"You're staring at me again. Please discontinue as I find it annoying." Severus glared at him.

"Sorry. I can't seem to help it." Harry grinned. No one could consider Severus' personality anything close to pleasant, either. "I suspect you'll have to get used to it."

Severus glared at him for another minute or two, but then curiously looked away, his cheeks coloring again.

"Do you want pudding?" Harry asked after several minutes of silence.

"No, thank you." Severus cleared his throat. "I think perhaps we should go."

As much as he'd enjoyed dinner, Harry thought Severus was probably right.

They Apparated back to the gates, and Harry walked Severus back to the outside entrance to the dungeons.

"You should go in the front; the stairs are slippery here." Severus looked at him regretfully.

"I can't kiss you good-night outside like this." Harry kept his voice low, not wanting anyone who might be lurking about to hear him. Then he waited, not very patiently, for Severus to say something. Anticipation and desire bubbled up in Harry. He wanted his good night kisses, and more than that, but kisses would do for now.

Severus simply looked at him for a moment and then nodded, holding out his hand for Harry to precede him down the stairs.

Just inside Severus' door, they exchanged several slow kisses. Harry leaned into each one, enjoying the warmth and tenderness, the slow arousal inside him, the feel of Severus' arousal against his thigh. As Severus pulled away, Harry sighed with the loss.

"If..." Severus took a breath, and seemed to be forcing the words out. "If you would like, I will cook dinner for you next week."

"You can cook?" Harry could feel his eyes widen and a smile stretch across his face. Why hadn't he expected that? "Really?"

"Of course I can, you idiot. What do I do for a living?" Severus' entire body seemed to be vibrating with tension. "Answer the question," he snapped, as if he might be worried about the answer.

"Dinner? Yes. That would be lovely." Harry smiled at him and leaned up to kiss him again. "Next week?"

"Yes." Severus breathed out slowly, relaxing into Harry's arms. He leaned down and kissed him again.

Harry was nervous as he knocked on Severus' door Saturday night. Part of him half-hoped that Severus would back out, decide that all of this wasn't worth his bother. The rest of him knew what was at stake for both of them and wanted it, but both options frightened him.

"Come in," Severus said, stepping back to allow Harry to move past him. Even dressed in his regular teaching robes, Severus looked formidable.

As he passed, Severus touched Harry's hair, nothing more than a glancing of fingers through the strands, but it startled Harry and he turned to look at Severus.

Severus shrugged unrepentantly. "I like the feel of it under my fingers."

It occurred to Harry that Severus probably hadn't had that many opportunities to touch anyone. It was a deficit a person never completely recovered from. Sadly, Harry understood that need better than most people and wished that neither of them did.

"It's okay. I like it when you touch me." With his hip and thigh aching worse than usual, Harry sat down heavily on the sofa and was grateful to be off his feet.

. "Your limp is worse than usual. What damned fool thing were you doing today?" Severus' tone was both concerned and scolding

Pleased by the concern, Harry hid a smile. "I watched Quidditch practice this morning."

"In the cold? Have you no sense at all?" Severus shook his head, giving him an admonishing look. "You never learn your limits do you?"

"Not usually. No." Harry waited a moment, but Severus didn't seem inclined to move from his position of standing over Harry. "We were going to discuss something?"

"I thought perhaps we might eat first." Severus pointed to a table set for two.

Harry breathed in the rich, wonderful scents coming from the small kitchen. "It smells delicious. What's for dinner?"

"Duck with orange sauce, roasted potatoes, and glazed vegetables," Snape replied with substantial pride.

He couldn't believe that Severus had gone to all that trouble for him, but it thrilled him that he had. No one did that for him. At least, not in a very long time. "Wow. That sounds marvelous. I love duck." The house elves served duck only a few times during the term and he could never get enough of it.

"I did notice you were fond of it when it was served." Severus said it matter of factly, but he didn't look at Harry, as if he were embarrassed by his own generosity and thoughtfulness. This being Severus, it was entirely likely that he was.

"Did you?" Harry smiled at him, unable to contain his pleasure. "You didn't have to go to such trouble for me."

"It wasn't any trouble." Severus looked uncomfortable. "I simply wished to prepare something you would enjoy."

"Given that I was lucky to get fed at all when I was a kid, nowadays I eat anything that's put in front of me." Harry had meant it to be funny, but it came out a lot more melancholy than he'd intended. He glanced up at Severus and smiled again. "I do appreciate it."

"Did the Muggles not feed you?" Severus tone seemed to be caught between disbelief and disregard. He cocked his head to look at Harry, critically.

Harry wondered how much he actually knew about his childhood. "There were times when they didn't."

"You're joking? I had heard rumors of you being kept in a cupboard. I had discounted them as unlikely." Severus paused and regarded him seriously. "Is that true?"

"Only until my Hogwarts letters came." There should have been some satisfaction in seeing Severus so surprised, but Harry couldn't find any. "My childhood was hardly glamorous."

"So it would seem." For a moment, Severus looked very uncomfortable. "How bad was it, truly?" His expression said he was wondering what he and the other teachers had missed.

"Bad at the time it was happening, I won't lie." Harry hated talking about the Dursleys, hated to even think about them. It brought it all back, and frustrated him even more now since there was nothing he could do at this point, short of finding the Dursleys and hexing them.

"In the end, I walked out of their house the summer before seventh year, and I never went back. They are presumably still living their miserable lives."

"You were scarred by it." Severus' normally lush voice was dry with outrage. On his behalf, he realized. Harry couldn't help but feel pleased that he cared that much.

"We are all scarred by our childhoods, aren't we?" He met Severus' eyes, deliberately. "Do you want to talk about yours?"

A visible shiver ran through Severus. "No."

Harry found a weak smile. "Thought not. Me neither."

"Fair enough." Severus stood. "Let me check on dinner. You may sit at the table now, if you please."

"Thanks." Harry took a seat at the small table. It was set with linen and nice dishes. Somehow, he wouldn't have expected this from Severus. Madam Pomfrey's voice telling him that he didn't know Severus at all came back to him, and he decided she might have been right after all. It made Harry more determined than ever to get to know him.

"This is just fabulous," Harry said, wondering how he could stuff the last bite of the duck into himself without bursting. "I can't remember the last time I had anything this good."

"You're hardly starved. The house elves do an adequate job of cooking to everyone's tastes." Severus' tone was dry, but he practically glowed under the praise.

"It's not anywhere near this good." Harry popped the last bit into his mouth, and chewed it slowly, with relish. "This is... beyond words. Thank you."

"You're welcome." Severus paused a moment. "I'm glad you enjoyed it. There is a chocolate pie for dessert."

Harry rubbed a hand over his belly and considered loosening his belt. "I need to sit and let this digest before I can eat anything else."

"You did manage to eat all of it." Severus made a point of looking at the empty dishes.

"Don't even start to tell me you're not pleased." Harry would have glared at him, but he was too replete to consider it.

"I said as much." Severus drew his wand and waved it. All the dishes lifted and headed towards the kitchen.

Severus sat up straighter and squared his shoulders, glancing at Harry and seeming a bit nervous. "Despite the fact that things between us are going well now, I can't get beyond the idea that getting further involved is... would be a colossal disaster."

Breathing in deeply, Harry ignored the start his heart gave. He should have expected this. Severus had to be nervous. Actually, if he were anything like Harry, he was scared to death. "What, exactly, do you think is going to happen?"

"What has already happened only more so. My life has been disrupted." Instead of sounding as if he wanted to back out, Severus seemed resigned, perhaps there was even some eagerness under the resignation.

Did he want reassurances, to be coaxed, Harry wondered. He believed that Severus wanted to do this as much as he did. At least, he hoped so. "Relationships do disrupt your life. It's not always a bad thing."

"I expect that they do." Severus sighed. "I'm not sure I can."

"It's your decision. I won't push you," Harry said, looking into Severus' face and praying he kept his own hopes well hidden. "I think you know how I feel. I think you know that I want you."

Severus' cheeks reddened and he nodded. "You may want to rethink your wishes. I've never had sex with anyone." He looked down at his folded hands on the table. "More than that, beyond the occasional fantasy, I've never considered it."

Even having assumed it was true, hearing it said out loud was something of a shock. Harry drew in a shaky breath. "May I ask you why now? Why me?"

"Because you asked. Because I find that I might have been wrong to think that it was something I didn't want." Severus' cheeks colored even more, and he still would not look up. "I suspect it's easy not to want what you don't have any chance of having."

"You have the chance now, I promise you that." Reaching across the table, he took Severus' hand, tugging at it until Severus raised his face. Harry let all the desire and want he was feeling show, hiding nothing from Severus. "I want you."

"I do not need my hand held, Potter," Severus snapped. His eyes flashed with fear as he tried to pull it away, but Harry held on, seeing this for what it was.

As he stroked his thumb across Severus' palm, a tremor ran through Severus, which pleased Harry and let him know he'd made the right move by not letting go. "Maybe I want to hold it."

"Why?" Severus asked with genuine confusion on his face and in his tone. "Why would you want to?"

"Why not? Don't you find it comforting?" Harry intertwined their fingers. "I do. Will you tell me why?"

With his back straight and his shoulders stiff with pride, Severus met Harry's gaze without flinching. "As you well know, I was not popular in school. I never felt the desire to approach anyone and no one approached me."

Given what Harry knew about Severus' school days, as well as his personality, Harry could understand that he might not have been anyone's first choice for a date. "And later?"

"I couldn't allow myself--" Severus cut himself off and pushed his hair back, out of his face with a not quite steady hand. "I do not care for ridicule."

Having been the target of some fairly intense mockery in his life, Harry could understand that, too. "Surely--"

"No." Severus stood up and walked back into the sitting room, leaving Harry to follow him.

"Severus...." Harry said gently as he sat down next to him on the sofa. "It's all right. I do understand."

"I didn't really..." Severus took a breath and seemed to force the words out. "I didn't feel true desire until I was older than most boys."

"How old?"

"I was in my twenties, my second year of teaching in fact, the first time I felt anything that could be called desire. It was a seventh year student. To have it be a student nearly destroyed me." Severus hissed out a breath, clearly the memory still had the power to hurt him. "I was more cruel, more cutting to that boy than I have ever been to anyone else."

"So very fair of you." Harry couldn't believe he'd said that. Opening his mouth to apologize for his rash words, he never got the chance.

"Belt up, Potter. I'm --" Severus looked at him, furious. "What am I doing? Sweet Merlin, I'm sitting here--"

"Don't say it. People who are in relationships talk to each other." Willing to wait him out, Harry patiently took his hand again. "I'm sorry. I know it must have been difficult."

"Really?" Severus sneered, his tone dripping with scorn. "I hadn't known that because I wasn't there."

"Having a relationship with anyone is not easy." There was something so odd about having this conversation with Severus. But Harry knew it was as necessary as anything else they might do together tonight.

"I'm not convinced I can do this. Or that we should even try." Severus didn't pull away, but his expression was discontented.

"You've come this far." Harry moved his hand up Severus' arm, to his shoulder and then into his hair.

"I know what you're doing, Potter." That didn't stop him from leaning into the touch or nearly purring as Harry stroked his fingers through his hair.

"You might call me Harry." Leaning up, he pressed a kiss to Severus' mouth, and then moved away before either of them settled into it. It was too easy to get lost in Severus' kisses and ignore everything else.

Silent for a moment, Severus considered him. "I'm assuming you've done this before."

"Well, I did start a bit late with wizards, but yes." Ironically, he'd been with far less wizards than he had witches.

Severus raised an eyebrow. "All right, I'll take the bait. Why?"

"I didn't realize I preferred wizards until I was twenty-three." Harry tried to hide his chagrin behind a cough, and fought hard against blushing. "I wouldn't have realized it at all, had Hermione not told me."

A crinkle appeared across Severus' forehead, and he looked like he might be holding back a smile. "How on earth could anyone, even someone as unobservant and mindless as you are, miss something like that for so long?" Severus snorted. "Even I realized my preferences quickly enough. Even if I never intended to do anything about it."

Harry felt his face heat more, the skin feeling as if it were stretched too tight, and he looked down, hoping to hide it. "Mostly I had other things on my mind, especially as a teenager."

"You simply missed the fact that you weren't enjoying the woman you were having relations with?" Severus' expression was mocking and far too superior for Harry's tastes.

He thought seriously about actually hexing Severus for that look. "It wasn't that I didn't enjoy it. Exactly. More that I thought something was missing, but I thought it was me, my lack."

Still smirking, Severus took his head. "Why would you think that?"

"Because nothing else occurred to me." Looking back on it, Harry did wonder at his own naiveté. How could he have missed the obvious?

"You were with a great many women to continue to think that you were the problem." Severus was quick to add, "The Daily Prophet, and various other periodicals were inordinately fond of your exploits. I could not help but notice."

Very pleased with the implication, Harry smiled. "Nice to know you kept up with me while I was gone."

"I notice you're not jumping up to deny it." There was quite a bit of smugness in Severus' tone.

"No. I slept with almost everyone they accused me of sleeping with. Except Ginny Weasley and Hermione, of course." It embarrassed him to admit it, but he couldn't start a relationship with someone like Severus with anything other than honesty.

"Of course." Snape pursed his lips, looking uncomfortable with the knowledge he'd asked for. Nothing to be done about it, Harry knew that. "It was Miss Granger who finally told you of your preferences? She always was smarter than you."

The little dig annoyed Harry, and he snapped, "She's been a Weasley for almost ten years, and you know it."

With a dramatic sigh, Severus shook his head. "I prefer not to think someone such as she married into the Weasley family."

Bristling with anger at the implied insult, Harry pulled away from him. "Because she's a mudblood and they are purebloods?

"Certainly not." Severus' jaw tightened and his expression turned offended. "Because she's so intellectually superior to them that the very thought pains me to consider it."

Mollified that all Severus was insulting was Ron's intelligence, Harry put his hand back on Severus'. "For all that, Hermione and Ron get on well, even after all these years."

For one second, Severus' hand tensed as if he might pull away, but he didn't. He turned his palm up, and interwove their fingers instead. "Go on."

Even knowing he was going to sound quite dim-witted, and feeling fairly stupid anyway, Harry continued, "The first summer Ron and Hermione were married, Bill Weasley came home to stay at the Burrow. I spent a lot of time with him, and well, I had a crush on him--"

"And Miss Granger--"

Harry gave him a disapproving look.

"Fine. Mrs. Weasley had to tell you why." Severus snickered at that. "I'll wager she tried to be tactful, too."

"Yes." That hadn't made it any less mortifying a conversation. Harry shuddered to think about it, even now.

"Bill didn't know?" Severus sounded incredulous.

"Oh, Bill figured it out pretty quickly. Once I knew why I wanted to spend so much time with him, I was quite happy to switch sides. It was like having everything fall into place." Harry felt a smile tugging at his mouth. God, Bill had been so kind to him, so thoughtful, making the transition so much easier, and more fun than he'd had any right to expect. He'd taken it as a personal duty to teach Harry everything he needed to know as passionately and magnificently as he could.

"You're smiling," Severus said, in a not quite accusatory manner. "It must be a very pleasant memory."

Even if it might make things easier with Severus, he wasn't going to lie about it. "Yes. Very much so. Bill was good to me. He spent a lot of time with me over that summer." Harry felt another warm sweet bit of nostalgia seep into his heart. "He was great."

Severus did not look like he appreciated that last comment at all; indeed he looked like he swallowed something sour. "I had heard that Bill was married?"

"Yes. He is. I went to the wedding a few years ago." It took Harry a second to realize why Severus seemed much more horrified. "No. He played for both teams." At Severus' blank look, he tried, "He's bisexual."

Shaking his head, the look on Severus' face became more confused. "I had not thought that was possible."

Harry supposed there was a great deal of misinformation out there about bisexuality. "I think that most people are one way or another, but some actually are both."

A wry smile touched Severus' mouth and he nodded. "All right. Are we finished with this discussion? All we've done is talk about far too personal things."

"I keep telling you, relationships are personal." Amused by the sudden eagerness in Severus' eyes, Harry put a hand on his arm and leaned a little closer. "To make this work, we'll have to talk about things."

"I think I'd rather do it than talk about it." For all the complaint in his voice, Severus blushed when he said it.

Biting back a smile, Harry found him too enchanting for words and knew Severus would not appreciate his observations at all. "We're going to get to that. But not necessarily right now."

Severus frowned. "Why not?"

As much as he'd like to jump right to the good part, he truly thought that Severus was going to require more time. "Don't you think we should take this slowly? Maybe eat the Chocolate pie and talk some more?"

"I'm sure the pie will wait a bit. I rather thought we'd get to it sooner rather than later. In fact, now would be a good time." Severus' eyes lit with his enthusiasm.

A shiver of anticipation raced down Harry's spine at the slightly rough feel. If Severus thought he was ready, then Harry would accommodate him. Leaning up, he kissed Severus slowly, enjoying the feel of his mouth moving and his tongue sliding along his.

"Okay," Harry said as he pulled back a little, and smoothed his hand along Severus' cheek. A shiver of desire trailed up his spine at the slightly rough feel. "We should move this to your bedroom."

Severus stood and held out his hand. "For once, I agree with you."

Standing as well, Harry took his hand.

The bedroom was as much of a surprise as the sitting room had been. Even knowing him, Harry had half-expected unrelieved black, but the room was done in browns and greens with heavy masculine furniture. The bed was large, canopied and had a green velvet counterpane, which matched the drapes along the walls.

Tension already starting to build in his belly, Harry reached for Severus, gathering him into his arms, kissing him. Closing his eyes, Harry gave himself up to the kiss, savoring the taste and feel of Severus' mouth on his, the movement of his firm lips, the stroke of his moist tongue. Everything about kissing Severus captivated him completely.

Severus responded with his whole body, shuddering and tightening his arms. He groaned, the lush sound coming from the depths of his chest. His desire was raw and obvious as he ground himself against Harry's hip.

Unable to control the need of his fingers, Harry slid his hands down Severus' back, feeling, learning each muscle group, each bony knot in his spine. He remembered the last time, and hesitated at Severus' waist before moving lower, and cupping his bum, tentatively waited for a reaction.

This time, instead of freezing, Severus pushed back into his hand. "I want it all," he murmured.

"There's plenty of time for everything." Even with excitement starting to effervesce in his blood, Harry knew better than to try and rush this. "One thing at a time. Let's get out of our clothes."

With charming alacrity, Severus pulled back and started on the buttons of his robe, concentrating on getting them open as fast as he could.

"Why not let me do that?" Amused at Severus' continued eagerness, Harry reached out to push his hands away.

With a slightly disgruntled look on his face, Severus asked, "Why would you want to? I can do it faster."

"Sometimes, it's not the destination so much as the journey to get there." Smiling, Harry took his hands and brought them to his mouth to kiss each in turn, watching Severus' eyes widen at the gesture. He then put them on his own robes. "You can undo my buttons."

Although he didn't look convinced, Severus did as he was asked, undoing the buttons on Harry's robe as fast as he could get them undone. When he'd finished, he pushed the robe off Harry's shoulders and started on his shirt just as quickly.

"Slow down," Harry murmured, putting his hand over Severus'. He leaned up and kissed Severus' neck. His tongue flicked out to taste the sweet flesh there, and he felt Severus shudder under his mouth. "Mmmm." Harry already loved the flavor of his skin.

His hands slid down Harry's back as Severus pulled him closer. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the point was to be naked."

"That's the eventual goal. However, I want to enjoy you as I go about meeting it." Harry trailed his hands down Severus' arms, feeling his warmth through the many layers.

Severus gave him another skeptical look, and returned his hands to the front of Harry's shirt. He bent his head to lick along Harry's neck. "I wish to see what you look like."

As Severus' mouth touched him, he shivered. "You've seen me." Or most of him, Harry amended; the worst of him. "At least, it's not going to be a shock to you."

"What isn't?" Severus looked up from what he'd been doing, his hand stilling, a frown forming on his mouth.

Harry couldn't meet his gaze. It hurt to think about how awful he was going to appear when his clothes came off. "The scars."

"Are people shocked?" Clearly, the thought hadn't occurred to him before.

"I've thought they would be." Actually, Harry thought that they would revolt anyone who saw them. After all, they horrified him. "I haven't actually been with anyone since before it happened."

"They were honorably obtained. It should not matter." Severus tipped his face up to look into his eyes. "It does not to me."

The words slid over him like silk and Harry was surprised at how much that meant to him. "Thank you," he said quietly.

Severus put his mouth on Harry's throat again and kissed down his neck to his shoulder. His neck was so sensitive and Severus was kissing it in just the right spot to send the most wonderful sensations through him. Harry panted softy.

"I begin to see what you mean about the journey," Severus said, his voice low and sexy, as he reduced Harry to mindless want.

Resisting the urge to say I told you so, Harry was too elated to be petty. He brought his mouth back up for a kiss, excitement and pleasure and relief all going through him at once.

After he finished with Severus' jacket, there was a waistcoat beneath it, and a shirt beneath that, Harry groaned in frustration. "Why do you wear so many clothes?"

Severus, however, smirked at him, his fingers slowly exploring along the planes of Harry's chest. "You did say something about the journey...."

"Oh, shut it. I didn't expect the journey to have so many layers." Harry finally opened his shirt, and was pleasantly surprised by the muscular chest that greeted him. "Nice," he said, running his fingers lightly over the dusting of fine black hair. "Very nice."

Breathing out on what sounded like a sigh of relief, Severus stopped his hand and brought it to his mouth, kissing his palm.

Delighted by the gesture, Harry touched his face with a finger, running it down Severus' cheek. He smiled and reached for the belt on Severus' trousers. "Ready?" Harry asked, his blood starting to pound with anticipation.

"Very much so." Severus stood still while Harry undid his zip, and pushed his pants and trousers down his hips.

"I wasn't expecting this, either." Delighted by his discovery, Harry wrapped his hand around Severus' thickness. No, he decided that Severus probably wouldn't appreciate a joke about big noses and the ratio to other large things. He pumped his fingers up and down a few times just to enjoy the weight and feel of Severus in his hands.

With a long moan hissed out between his clenched teeth, Severus came over his hand after the forth stroke.

"Oh sweet Merlin," Severus said breathlessly as he pulled away, and put his face in his hands. He leaned back against the bed, his legs seemingly no longer able to hold him. "How utterly mortifying."

Through extraordinary strength of will, Harry managed not to crack a smile. Although he'd expected it to be quick, he had to admit that he hadn't expected it to happen quite that fast. "It's okay. Truly."

"It is not okay at all." He lifted his head to scowl at Harry. "I've just humiliated myself thoroughly in front of...." He put his face back in his hands.

Nothing he could say was going to make Severus feel any better. "Why don't we get into bed? I think things will work themselves out. Give it a few minutes."

"I'm surprised you still want to." Severus pulled off his boots and socks, and then his trousers and pants which had kept him from moving very far. He sat down on the bed, and reached for Harry, pulling him between his legs. "Of course, you haven't come yet."

"I did notice that." Harry thrust into Severus' hand as it closed over him through his trousers. "Why don't you take them off?"

"I suppose I could do that. Lift up your foot so I can get at your boots."

"My thigh is a little too sore today. I don't think I have the muscle control to keep the right one up." He was very glad he wasn't in more pain.

"Ah. What did you do to make it so sore?" Severus slid to his knees and pulled off both of Harry's boots and socks.

Harry shrugged. It had been foolish to spend so much time in the cold this morning but he'd been enjoying watching the practice too much to leave.

Remaining on his knees on the floor, Severus stripped off Harry's trousers and pants as well. Nuzzling his face against Harry's groin, he breathed in audibly. He pulled back slightly, and used one finger to trace along the edges of the triangle of hair. Harry bit back a giggle and Severus looked up at him, fear that he'd done something wrong plain in his eyes.

"It tickles when you draw your finger across me like that." Harry said, quick to reassure him,

"Should I cease doing it?" Severus started to pull his hand back.

Harry put his hand over Severus' and shook his head. "No. I like it when you touch me."

Severus looked pleased with him. "I was enjoying it as well." Holding onto Harry's hips, he leaned forward and slowly ran his tongue up the underside to the tip.

"Please continue," Harry choked out trying to remain still and let Severus explore as he wished. Excitement built with each touch, each lick, each kiss. It would be so very easy to become addicted to the sweet torture of Severus pleasuring him. He leaned into each touch, moaning softly, letting Severus know what he was doing was pleasing him, pleasing him very, very much.

When Severus took the head into his mouth, a moan escaped him and it was all he could do not to thrust forward. As the sensation flooded over him in waves, he had to grip the bedding tightly to keep himself upright.

What exactly he'd expected in the way of reticence or shyness, Harry wasn't sure, but Severus' boldness delighted him. Moaning as Severus' tongue made contact again, he knew he wasn't going to last much longer.

With a soft touch to Severus' hair, Harry hoped he was communicating that he was about to come. However, Severus didn't lift his head. A moment more and there was nothing Harry could do about it as a familiar tightening in his gut told him it was too late. Pleasure overwhelmed him, and he came hard.

Severus' swallowed once, but clearly wasn't expecting more. Semen dribbled down the side of his mouth. His tongue slid out to lick at the residue. "That wasn't what I was expecting."

When he stopped shaking from the reaction of a mind blowing orgasm, Harry leaned down and tenderly kissed him. There was nothing quite like tasting himself on Severus' mouth. Another pleasant tremor went through him. "What were you expecting?"

Standing, Severus slid his arms around Harry and kissed him again, deeply. "I'm not quite sure, but that wasn't it."

"Did you like it?" Harry pressed into him for a moment, enjoying the feel of their skin sliding together.

"Enough to try it again, if you did," Severus said, either not able or not willing to hide the slight worry in his tone.

Pleased that Severus liked it, Harry pressed a deep kiss to Severus' mouth before he answered. "I think my enjoyment was obvious."

"So it was." Severus sounded relieved as well as smug. He got into the bed, and pushed the counterpane and sheets down to the bottom of the mattress and held out his hand.

Taking it, Harry tossed his glasses onto the side table, and snuggled in beside him. Then he rolled on top of Severus and sighed in deep pleasure. There was nothing quite like the feel of Severus' naked body against his.

With his hand resting on Severus' cheek, Harry kissed him, languidly. Responding in kind, Severus kissed back, his tongue sliding in to roam through Harry's mouth. His hand moved down Harry's back to his bum and then along the scar on the small of his back and his hip.

"You don't mind touching it?" Harry could hear his own horror in his tone. He hated the thought of anyone touching his scars. They were so ugly. "I just can't believe that."

"As I said earlier, it's a mark of honor." Turning them over, and moving down the bed, Severus licked along the scar on his thigh. "Can you feel anything on it?"

Both thrilled and horrified, Harry wasn't sure how to react to what Severus had done. Part of him wanted to tell Severus not to do it again, but it had felt good in a sexy way, and comforting in a completely different way. "I can't feel anything directly on it. I think the nerves are dead. But I can feel around it."

"Like this?" Severus licked just outside the scar and Harry shivered. The skin was more sensitive right there. "Or this?" He tracked the length of it again with the tip of his tongue. "Or this?" he asked, moving on to Harry's thigh.

"Yes. God, yes." Harry's voice became a hiss as Severus placed an open mouth kiss on the inside of Harry's knee, and then moved up his thigh, nuzzling and kissing as he went. With his heart pounding hard and excitement boiling in his blood, Harry moaned out loud, his head going back and he tangled his fingers in Severus' long hair.

Pressing Harry's thighs apart, Severus settled between them, exploring with his hands and lips. His mouth was wet and soft and curious. Harry floated on the sensations, not quite enough to send him reeling, but more than enough to arouse and tease.

If he'd thought about it, Harry never would have expected Severus to be kind of lover that would spend so much time learning his partner's body and what pleased him. Given the intensity with which Severus did everything, Harry should have done. "Severus...."

"Stop complaining. I've got much to make up for." Severus licked along the seam where his thigh met his groin, nipping just enough to spark. "I intend to do it thoroughly."

"You don't have to do it all tonight, you know. We have time." There was definitely a whine his voice that he was sure that Severus could hear as well. Harry groaned. This was driving him mad. It didn't matter that he'd come just a little while ago, each touch of Severus' curious tongue was arousing him more and more.

Raising his head, Severus' eyes held a look of trepidation, as if he wasn't quite sure he had the time Harry had promised, as if perhaps he hadn't heard the want, only the words. "Perhaps," he said, leaning down for another long lick.

"What do you mean, perhaps? This is not some casual one-off. I thought we established that." Although, Harry wanted to reassure him that he believed they had a future, that there would be time for everything, he wasn't quite sure how to put it so that wouldn't seem too…demanding. Pulling away so that Severus was not a distraction, he met Severus' eyes. "I thought we had an agreement."

"Actually, we have nothing of the sort." Severus sat up, glaring at him, seeming almost annoyed. "We've been a bit too distracted to discuss it."

Diplomatically, Harry decided not to point out that the glare didn't work half so well with Severus naked, his mouth red and wet from his explorations. "Do you want to discuss this now, or do you want to finish what you started?" Harry asked. Because his first choice would not be to stop and discuss things with a raging hard-on.

"Personally. I'd much rather finish you." Severus' voice low and husky, his hand sliding along Harry's side.

"I agree with you." Vastly relieved there would be no interruptions, he pulled Severus down and rolled on top of him, kissing him hard, his tongue sweeping along his lips.

Severus moaned, lying still and allowing Harry to touch him. Harry soaked up the warmth and passion of Severus' response. Despite the amount of experience Harry had, he could not remember a lover who responded as whole-heartedly and completely as Severus did. He arched into every touch, every kiss, every lick, making soft gurgling noises, sounding almost surprised that anyone would touch him in such a way.

Charmed and delighted by the response, Harry was more than willing to be generous himself. He took his cues from in-drawn breath, from ragged panting, from soft moans, thrilling in the reactions he evoked. Harry lavished his attentions on him until Severus was writhing nearly uncontrollably under him.

"What do you want?" Harry whispered, not sure that Severus could actually understand him at this point, but willing to give what would please.

"I want you. I want to fuck you." Severus panted, seeming to force the words out of his expression raw with desire.

Leaning down to kiss him, Harry had no objection to that, at least in theory. "Are you sure you're ready for that?"

Severus calmed enough to smirk at him. "Of course I'm ready. I'm inexperienced, not without knowledge. You don't have to let me, if you're uncomfortable with the idea."

"I want to give you what you want." Harry took a deep breath. He sincerely hoped he didn't sound as nervous as he felt. Being fucked by a virgin could be a messy, painful experience. He didn't believe Severus would hurt him deliberately, but he wondered just what he knew and where exactly he'd come by the knowledge. "I didn't think we'd get to that quite so soon."

Carding his fingers through Harry's tangled hair, Severus tugged on a strand and then let it go. "I want to do everything."

It was about trust more than anything, Harry thought and leant up to kiss him. "Do you have any lubricant?"

"Stupid question." Moving across the bed to his side table, Severus pulled a glass jar from a drawer. When he opened it, the smell of spice filled the air.

"Use a lot of it on me." Rolling onto his belly, Harry relaxed into the pillow, letting Severus' fingers work into him. It wasn't his favorite position for this, but it would be the most comfortable with his injury, at least this first time. "It's been a long time for me."

As soon as Severus started to touch him, his trepidation disappeared. He should have known Severus would never put a finger wrong. By the time Severus was done with him, Harry was whimpering with need, and flying with sensations. Severus' long fingers knew exactly where to touch him and how to make it as pleasurable as possible. Harry arched into each stroke of those lovely long fingers, moaning, letting his enjoyment be known.

"Enough," Harry said, when the lovely sensations had built inside him far too intensely and he was standing on the knife's edge. "I want you now."

Severus said nothing, slicking himself and then slowly pushing into Harry.

"Mmmm." The burn lasted for a short time, but even that was its own pleasure. Harry arched into the first thrust, trying to angle his hips so that Severus would touch fire inside him. The second thrust hit home, and Harry cried out. "Oh, yes. There. Exactly."

A few more thrusts and Harry was lost to all higher thought functions, to anything beyond the amazing bliss of Severus moving inside him, Severus' hands on him, Severus loving him. Throwing his head back, Harry cried out sharply as he came.

Sometime later he felt Severus slip out of him, and take him into his arms. "Brilliant," Harry murmured as he pressed a kiss to the hollow in Severus' throat and dropped off into sleep.

Harry woke in the dark and in pain. He didn't recognize his surroundings for a moment and had to fight back panic before his mind engaged and he realized where he was. His lower back ached horribly, and the muscles in his thigh were bunching and jumping. He needed his potion, which was in his rooms. As much as he didn't want to disturb Severus, he had to get up and do something.

"What?" Severus mumbled into his pillow.

"I need to go back to my rooms." Harry wasn't sure Severus was awake enough to hear him. "I need my potion."

Severus opened his eyes and grunted unhappily. "I have some here. In my work room." Sitting up, Severus pulled a dressing gown from the foot of the bed, and stood to put it on. "How bad is it?"

"Bad enough to wake me. Not bad enough to make me howl." Which said nothing, really. Harry thought he could make it back to his room if he had to.

"All right." Severus went out and was back in few minutes with a familiar jar. "Shall I rub it in for you?"

"Please." Harry turned over so that his hip was exposed. He hissed as the cold potion touched his thigh, but Severus' fingers were gentle as he rubbed the ache out of the muscles. Harry breathed out sharply as most of the pain faded. "Thanks. Better wash your hands."

"I do know what to do." Severus' tone was sharp with annoyance as he climbed out of bed and headed to the loo.

When he returned to the bed a few minutes later, Severus laid down, regarding him with an unreadable look. "Do you wish to return to your rooms?"

Surprised by the question, but he knew he shouldn't be. Severus was an intensely private man and having someone in his rooms like this must feel like an invasion. Harry tried not to let his disappointment show. "If you want me to leave, I will."

Tilting his head, Severus appeared to consider it. "Is there some protocol I should know about and don't?"

"No. Just what you want to do." Harry hoped Severus didn't want him to leave. The thought of his own cold bed after the warmth of the past few hours was not at all appealing.

"Or what you want to do." Severus gave him a considering look and asked again, "Do you want to leave?"

Harry could almost hear the "me" he didn't add. "No," Harry said, making his voice as emphatic as he could.

Severus' sigh was exasperated and impatient. "Then why did you ask in the first place?"

All he could do was be honest, even if it hurt. "I thought you might want me to leave. That you might want to be alone, now."

With a nasty smirk edging onto his face, Severus snorted inelegantly. "If I wanted you to leave, I would have told you to leave."

"That's right, no standing on ceremony for you," Harry snapped, annoyed by the smirk and his whole attitude.

"If you expect to change me, you will be quite disappointed." But his tone had changed, some of his arrogance was gone and he almost seemed worried.

"No. I don't expect to change you. I don't expect anything from you." Harry knew that he was lying. There were things he wanted and things he needed and he did expect Severus to give them to him.

"Yes, you do. Try as I might not to, I expect things from you as well." Severus sounded defeated by the admission.

"What do you expect from me?" Harry was sure that whatever Severus wanted or needed, he would try to provide. It wasn't in him to be a stingy lover.

"More of the same." There was a yearning in Severus' eyes that both pleased and frightened Harry, but he hadn't actually answered the question.

"Only sex?" He could hear the fear in his own voice. It wasn't just sex. Not for him. It couldn't be. And he sincerely hoped, not for Severus either.

"Is that all this was to you?" Severus' tone was that perfectly flat inflection that Harry had learned meant he was hiding something, most probably his hurt.

"It was..." Harry took a breath. While it wasn't just sex, he wasn't ready to put a name to what it was or what he hoped it might be.

Severus' eyes darkened and his mouth turned down into a frown. "If it isn't sex, then what is it?"

"I don't know," Harry admitted honestly. "It's too soon to know."

"Allow me to rephrase it then, what would you like it to be?" A lot depended on the answer to that question, Harry could tell that by the look on Severus' face.

"I don't know that either." He wished he had a better answer. "What would you like it to be?"

"We are not advancing very far from the original point, are we?" Severus pinned him with another intense look. "I wish for it not to be casual."

Breathing out on a sigh of relief, Harry nodded. "I can guarantee that. It's going to be too much trouble to be casual."

"I'm certain you're correct." Severus put a hand gently on his thigh, his fingers tips stroking lightly over the edges of the scar. "Do you feel well enough to sleep now?"

"Yes." Harry curled into Severus' arms and closed his eyes. The pain in his body had faded, but it had left him strangely awake. He lay still for a long while, hoping sleep would come, hoping his restlessness wouldn't wake Severus.

After what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few more minutes, Harry eased out of Severus' arms. Severus made a protesting sound, but didn't wake. Putting on his glasses, he shrugged into Severus' dressing gown, which fit him fairly well aside from being so long it brushed the floor as he walked.

Harry rooted through his cold, wrinkled robes and found his wand. Easing the door open, he went into the other room and lit the fire. He helped himself to a cup of tea from the kitchen and glanced through the books on the various bookcases. He found a text wizarding history that he hadn't read, and sat down in the comfortable chair to look through it.

Restless and out of sorts for no immediate reason he could find, Harry couldn't concentrate enough to focus on the book. Putting it down, he ran a hand through his hair, and closed his eyes. Pleasant memories of last night filtered down into his consciousness, and he smiled. He'd been so delighted with Severus' response, never suspecting he could be so sensuous. That part at least, boded well for their future. As for the rest, he supposed he should just take it as it came.

An hour or two later, the bedroom door opened and Severus, wearing a threadbare nightshirt came out. He stopped when he saw Harry sitting beside the fire. "I thought you'd left." His flat tone didn't quite hide his hurt.

"No. I couldn't sleep and I didn't want to disturb you." Harry looked at Severus, meeting his eyes, seeing them shutter. A frission of worry skittered down Harry's spine: something was wrong. "I wouldn't have left you like that, especially after we'd talked about it."

Severus said nothing, but he took a deep breath and then moved towards the kitchen. "I'll have some tea, I think."

"Right, then." With a deep sigh, he put the book in his lap aside and glanced up at Severus, who wasn't looking at him. Frustrated, Harry knew he was missing something and he wasn't sure what it was. "Severus? Is something wrong?"

"What? No, of course there isn't." Severus sounded defensive, and annoyed as he glared at Harry. "Go away."

Harry looked at him, trying to gauge his mood, trying to tell himself not to be hurt if he were thrown out. "Do you want me to leave?"

"No, you idiot. I want you to be quiet." With a seemingly uncaring shrug, Severus sat down on the sofa and took a sip of his tea.

"Severus. What's wrong? Please tell me." He could almost see the waves of unhappiness rolling off Severus and it frightened him. What had he done to hurt Severus? More importantly, how could he fix it?

"I said nothing is wrong." Severus took another sip of his tea and was pointedly not looking at him.

He tried running their previous conversations in his mind, but annoyingly, he could find nothing in them to account for this. "Shall I start guessing?"

Severus gave him a disdainful look. "Please do not."

"Then, you're going to have to tell me what I did to hurt you."

"You did nothing wrong." Severus' tone said he was lying and that Harry had done something.

Closing his eyes in exasperation, Harry pushed away his worry and tried to think it through. "You woke up alone. You thought I'd left."

Severus breathed out audibly. The twin red spots on his cheeks betraying him as thoroughly as if he'd actually agreed. "Potter, let it go."

Harry felt wretched. Severus had every right to expect that he'd wake up in his lover's arms. What was worse, Harry realized, was that Severus probably thought it was his own fault, that he'd done something wrong. "Oh, God. I'm sorry. I--"

He stood, waiting a second for his muscles to firm up, and he hobbled over to Severus and lowered himself beside him on the sofa. Taking the teacup that Severus was clutching, he set it on the side table. "This was my fault. I wasn't thinking." Harry picked up his hand and pressed his palm to his mouth. "Please forgive me."

"There is nothing to forgive." His tone once again said something different. "I'm still not sure of the rules of engagement involved with this."

"As I told you earlier, there aren't any rules. Just what you desire and what I desire. This is something I should have thought of." Remorse flowed over him and Harry raised his hand to his lips again and kissed his fingers. "It's a courtesy you deserved and I failed you."

"You failed at nothing, Potter. I'm grateful for what you've done. The tenderness with which you've treated me." His tone was heartfelt, and sincere. "I've never expected to have the like."

It tore at Harry's heart to hear him say that as if he were unworthy of the slightest consideration from a lover. Harry smiled sweetly at him. "You don't have to be nice about it."

"I'm trying to convey my gratitude, you fool." Severus tone was a familiar harshness, but his fingers tangled gently into Harry's hair. "Can't you at least say thank you when I make effort?"

"I'm your lover. You're not supposed to be grateful. You're supposed to know you're entitled." Harry let out an exasperated breath, but he felt a bit better.

Severus looked like he felt better, too. "If I'm entitled, then come here." He pulled until Harry was straddling Severus' lap.

"I'm too old and too big for this." Despite that, Harry found the position surprisingly comfortable. He spared a thought to how much his thigh was going to protest in the morning.

"I rather like it." Severus ran a hand down his back, to his buttocks and squeezed gently. "I like it a lot."

"Oh, shut it," Harry said, kissing him.

Severus' hand roamed over his body, divesting him of the dressing gown, and then finally laying him flat on the sofa. Harry went with it, reveling in Severus explorations.

When Harry woke the next morning, a glorious feeling of warmth and safety surrounded him. Lying still for a moment, he savored the feeling. Before long he heard Severus' breathing change as he woke, too.

"Good morning," Harry said, trying not to let his slight nervousness show. The morning after, even after such a spectacular night before, could still be fraught with unforeseen problems and regrets. Things that had been hidden by the dark.

Severus turned over to look at him, his expression not quite nervous. "Is it?"

"You tell me." Harry held his breath, tension creeping into his chest. He should have thought that Severus might change his mind in the clear light of day, but he hadn't even considered it. Now it was too late to prepare, now after giving himself so freely, he would be devastated if Severus decided they had made a mistake.

With a sudden smile, Severus slid languorously on top of him and kissed him with slow intent, his fingers tangling in Harry's sleep-disheveled hair.

Okay, Harry thought as he leaned into the kiss, that was a good answer. He relaxed into the bed, letting Severus kiss him.

Unhurriedly, the kiss went on, Severus' tongue sliding into Harry's mouth and then retreating teasingly. A completely different kind of tension was now starting to build in him. Harry rolled them over to begin a leisurely exploration of Severus' mouth, nipping softly at his bottom lip, licking over his top one, sliding his tongue in to touch Severus'.

When they moved apart sometime later, panting, Harry was relieved and grateful that Severus had no regrets. Leaning down again, he took Severus' mouth, kissing him hard. His hands moving over sleep-warmed flesh, hard muscle and soft hair. "I want you," Harry murmured and felt Severus freeze beneath him.

Opening his eyes, he looked into Severus' face and guessed his mistake. Without letting any of his disappointment show, he said gently, "You're not ready for that, are you?"

"No. I am ready." His voice betrayed his nervousness and fear. "It won't get any easier by waiting. I want to give you what you've already given me."

It was sad that Severus would think about sex in those terms, but completely in keeping with the silly prat's outlook on life. "It doesn't work that way."

"It does in my book."

"Stupid Slytherin. Not everything is about that." Harry tried to smile when he said it, but God, how could anyone so smart be so stupid? "Sex... making love isn't like that. It's supposed to be an expression of feelings. In our case, it's feelings we can't even name." Well, that Severus couldn't name. As much as he wasn't ready to admit it and it scared him to death, Harry actually was starting to have a name for it.

Severus looked at him as if he were mad. "And here I thought it was about pleasing each other."

"That too." He pressed a kiss to his mouth, savoring Severus' response to him. "I can please you in many different ways that have nothing to do with that."

"What if that is what I want?" Severus could be so damned stubborn when he wanted to be. "What if that's how I want you to please me."

"Why? You don't even know what it's like. You might not like it." He slid his hand down, stroking just enough to draw interest. Delighted by the answering firmness his fingers encountered, Harry wrapped his hand around him and moved up and down a few times.

Severus' head came up at that and he moaned breathily, but then he put his hand on Harry's to stop his movements. "Stop that. I can't know if I like it or not if I don't try it."

Considering that for a moment, Harry thought perhaps that he should take Severus at his word. On the other hand, he wasn't sure that doing everything at once was necessary. "What if I don't want to?"

"Right, then. You expect me to believe that? That you'd never want to fuck me?" The sarcasm in Severus' voice was rich and thick.

Caught, Harry chuckled. "No, I can say categorically that's not true. I do want to fuck you. But not if you're not ready for it. It doesn't have to be today."

Severus' hand found its way into Harry's hair. "Don't think I don't know that. So take what's on offer."

"It's not about that. It's about you being ready and more importantly, really willing to allow it."

An exasperated look crossed Severus' face. "If you want it, I can give. Just as you did."

Harry frowned at him. Clearly, Severus was not comprehending what he was saying. "You have to want it. It's not quid pro quo."

"I do want it." Severus rolled off him onto his belly. He propped his head on his hand, leering mischievously. "I would like to try it this way. I expect you to accommodate me."

Between the playful look and the sight of Severus' long bare back, and invitingly spread thighs, Harry's blood pound in his veins so hard he wondered that they didn't rupture. God, he wanted Severus so much, wanted to slide into him, and make love to him until they both couldn't think anymore. Harry put a hand on Severus' back and smoothed it down over his bum. "You do submissive so well."

Severus looked back at him and snorted. "So take the initiative and do it. See if you can make me submit. Just get to it before I get too old to enjoy it."

With his heart pounding even harder, Harry straddled his back. "Oh, you'll enjoy it old man, that much I can promise you." Leaning forward he pressed a kiss to the back on Severus' neck, slowly with a lot of attention to each vertebra of his spinal column, Harry moved his mouth downward licking each section he came to. Exhilarated beyond words, Harry's hand stroked gently before his lips followed them. He nuzzled his face into the small of Severus' back.

Each moan, each sigh, each jerk of muscle under his mouth aroused Harry more and more until he was nearly as turned on as Severus.

Moving to settle between Severus' legs, he patted both cheeks before spreading them and swiping the length with his tongue.

A startled sound came from Severus, his entire body went still a moment, and then relaxed back into the bed. "Oh Merlin," Severus whimpered in a strangled, breathless tone.

Encouraged, Harry did it again and received a similar response, this time Severus pressed back into his mouth. After that, he concentrated on the middle, licking and sucking. And God, but he loved that musky flavor of Severus'.

Beneath him, Severus made the most wonderful babbling sounds. "Potter, oh, Merlin. What are you doing to me? Oh, God."

It should be obvious, even to Severus, what he was doing. Harry laughed against his flesh. He was a bit busy for speech, even if he thought Severus might be able to understand or answer him, which clearly he wouldn't. Everything about making love to Severus this way thrilled and excited him, but especially the way he reacted to each touch. The soft whimpering sound went right through Harry's gut, straight into his balls.

Lifting his head, Harry said, "Accio lubricant." It came to his hand from the bedside table. He worked his fingers in slowly, carefully, making sure there was as little discomfort as he could manage. Severus moaned, moving with his fingers, pressing into them., very clearly feeling pleasure.

"Are you going to do this any time in the near future, Potter?" Severus hissed when he'd moved a third finger into him.

"When I'm good and ready. And when you are as well." Amused and aroused by Severus' eagerness, Harry continued what he was doing, his fingers working to stretch and loosen and arouse. By this point, he knew what would be good for Severus whether he'd thank him for the time spent or not.

"I think I'm ready now." Severus' voice was satisfyingly breathless.

Harry was getting a bit desperate himself. However they would both have to wait for Severus to be ready. "You're ready when I say you are. I know what I'm doing, remember."

"I'm not seeing much of that, now am I?" Even when he was being pleasured, Severus could sneer like no one Harry'd ever heard.

"You will," Harry promised, slipping his fingers out and then wiping them on the sheet. Anticipation rose in him as he applied the lubricant to himself as gently as he could. All the play had put him far too close to the edge.

Severus looked over his shoulder and gave him a disgusted look. "You'll wash that sheet when we're done."

It seemed that Severus could always find something to complain about. "Do you want to do it this way?" Harry asked, chuckling and giving his bum a fond pat.

"I've read it's easier, but I'd rather face you."

"All right." Harry wanted to watch his eyes when he sank into him. Gently, he eased Severus onto his back, arranged his long legs to his satisfaction. He made eye contact with Severus before he started to push in. "You know it's going to hurt a bit."

Severus nodded, and then sighed as Harry embedded himself partway inside. Harry stilled, waiting for the constriction to ease. It felt good, so good, so hot, so tight. He almost couldn't contain the need to move, the need to take. But Harry waited, smoothing his hands along Severus' damp skin, caressing softly along his thighs, waiting for Severus' body to accept his invasion. When it did, Harry slid the rest of the way in, pleasure sluicing over him, through him.

The feeling of being embedded completely in Severus' body exhilarated Harry beyond words. Nothing had never felt so good or so right as being with Severus at that moment. Desire had pressed him to the very edge of his tolerance, and he knew he wasn't going last very long.

Hot, intense, exquisite pleasure washed over Harry as he slipped very slowly in and out of Severus. He angled each thrust inward, changing the angle slightly and then again until he heard Severus' sharply indrawn breath.

"Do that again!" Severus angled his hips up to meet Harry's thrust. "Merciful Merlin, that was--"

"Yeah..." Harry would have laughed, elated by the sheer joy in Severus' voice, but he didn't have the breath. He panted and a strangled noise came out of him as he slid in again. Sweat dripped off him as he tried to keep his thrusts slow and even, tried not to think about how good and how right this felt, how fabulously Severus' body fit to his, how much this felt like coming home.

Severus, on the other hand, was ordering him to move faster, tilting his hips and clutching at him in an effort to have those orders obeyed.

Smiling down at him, Harry was having none of it. Slow and easy was the order of business for this time and Harry had every intention of keeping to it as long as he could. Which unfortunately wasn't as long as he would have liked. The sound of Severus' pleasure was too much to bear. Harry picked up his pace, moving harder into him, faster, until his world exploded into white light and he cried out, losing himself in the bliss.

Some amount of time later, Harry's mind returned from its vacation and he realized he was lying on top of Severus, who was bent nearly double below him. He eased out and off, helping Severus straighten out his legs.

"Enjoy yourself?" Harry tried not to sound too smug about it, but it was hard. What had gone before had been so far beyond anything he'd ever known that he could not begin to express his joy.

"I'm not quite sure, Potter." Severus smiled evilly at him. "I think we'll need to do it a few more times before I can make an informed decision."

Enchanted by the passion and anticipation in Severus' eyes, Harry didn't even bother to hide his own grin. "Of course we will. Wouldn't want you to be unsure about it, would we?" Harry yawned. "I need a nap."

"We'll miss breakfast," Severus complained, yawning back. "After that, I'm hungry."

Harry looked up at the wizard clock over the chest of drawers. "We've missed it. We'll have a large lunch, later."

"I'm hungry." Severus sounded as petulant as a first year.

"Haven't you got a snack in here somewhere?" Harry snuggled up against him and closed his eyes. "I'm shagged out."

"The young," Severus huffed, putting his arms around Harry. "No stamina."

Sunday evening came and with it the need for Harry to return to his own rooms. Part of him was happy to go, to be alone for a while, and think things through. Most of him, however, didn't want to leave Severus. He liked sleeping beside him at night, liked having the cold kept at bay.

Monday night, sleepless and irritated, Harry wondered how he could have got so used to sleeping with Severus that he felt alone and out of sorts when he wasn't there. It had only been one night. He rolled over and grunted, staring up at the canopy of his bed. It was ridiculous.

The next morning, he sat beside Severus at breakfast, considering him as he buttered his toast. Harry had half-expected him to look different after what happened between them, but he was still the same ugly, evil-tempered bastard he'd ever been. Realistically speaking, Harry knew he'd never be an attractive man, but something inside Harry went soft when Severus looked at him with that too-intense gaze of his.

Sometimes just hearing him speak or watching him gesture turned Harry on so fiercely that he had to wait until Severus left the table before he could get up without embarrassing himself.

"I feel you staring at me." Severus favored him with a familiar irritated look. "Do I have something hanging from my nose?"

"No." Forcing himself not to smile, Harry knew it would not do to give away more than he already had. It was too soon for the words that Harry might have wanted to say. "I slept poorly last night."

Severus actually turned to look at Harry, worry flashing briefly in his eyes. "Were you in pain?"

"No." Surprised and grateful for the concern, Harry shook his head. There was no way he'd admit how foolishly sentimental he was to lose sleep over Severus. "I suppose you slept just fine?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Severus asked, picking up his tea and taking a sip, his eyes flickering around the room and then back to Harry, giving nothing away.

"Why, indeed?" That certainly told him, didn't it? He was every bit as much of an idiot as Severus ever accused him of being to get this worked up over a few nights alone. "I've got to get to class." Before Severus could say anything else, Harry stood and picked up his cane. Wishing he could make his robes swirl, he stalked off, feeling like an over-romantic fool.

Wednesday night as Harry tired to grade third year essays, he found that no matter what he did, he couldn't concentrate. He wanted to march down to the dungeons and be with Severus. They didn't have to do anything. Although, he'd like that too -- but to see him, to be with him was becoming an imperative. With a sigh of frustration, he put aside the essays and thought about getting some tea.

Before he could do anything else, his door wards sounded. Harry ordered himself not to get his hopes up, that it couldn't be Severus. That Severus wouldn't come up to his rooms without an expressed invitation.

Pulling the door open, Harry's heart gave a start of pure joy to find Severus on the other side. Stepping back, he let him come into the room.

"Is this part of it? Severus asked, without preamble and sounding quite cross.

Usually Severus made enough sense that he could follow his logic, but Harry had not a clue what he was on about. "Which part of what?"

Folding his arms over his chest, Severus glared at him. "I wished to see you. I have wished to see you since you left on Sunday night." He said it as if he couldn't understand why it was true and was quite annoyed by it.

Well, Harry could understand that, on all counts. Except he wasn't annoyed anymore, he was relieved and maybe a tiny bit grateful that he wasn't alone in this. "I thought you said--"

"I actually never said that I was sleeping well...or at all." There should have been more irritation in Severus' tone. He sounded like he was more desperate for Harry's company than he was about keeping his distance.

Harry could live with that. "What would you like to do about it?" He looked down at the essays and then back at Severus. "I know what I want to do."

Clearing his throat, Severus put his hands into the pocket of his robes. "Perhaps we might be in agreement about what to do, then."

"We might." A shiver of anticipation went down Harry's spine and settled nicely into his belly before working its way lower.

Severus pulled a glass jar out, and handed it, palm up to Harry. Understanding the implications as a wave of lust washed over Harry, he pocketed the jar and took Severus' hand, leading him into the bedroom.

As soon as the door closed behind him, Severus pressed him up against the wall and kissed him hard. Desire exploding over him, Harry thrust himself into Severus, grinding against him. Too much material separated them and Harry's one thought was to get rid of it as quickly as he could. His hands pulled at Severus' clothing, wanting him naked now.

Later he was never sure how they ended up in bed, and Harry didn't care. He was too far gone on Severus to notice anything else.

"Enough already," Severus said, pushing back against his fingers as he worked the lubricant into him.

"Oh, do shut up," said Harry, exasperated. Despite his having done this twice so far, Severus was still too new at it not to be prepared properly. "It's for your own good."

"I'm likely to die of frustration before you finish with it," Severus hissed through his clenched teeth.

An amused chuckle escaped his control as Harry bent down and pressed a kiss to the small of Severus' back. "You'll survive, I'm sure. Come on, now. Roll over."

"It's about time," Severus growled.

Severus rolled over and spread his thighs, sending Harry's arousal soaring so high he was afraid it would short-circuit his nervous system. Taking a long slow breath, Harry fought for control over his basest instincts. Instincts that told him to take and to claim what he desperately wanted. He resisted the urge, instead gently positioning Severus.

They both sighed deeply as Harry sank into him.

"God, you feel so bloody good." Harry ran his hands soothingly over Severus' legs and over his hips. "So damned good."

"Move." Severus tried to cant his hips forward, but the angle was wrong and he didn't have the leverage to fix it. Which was fine with Harry, he wanted it to last. Leaning down he managed to press a kiss to Severus' mouth before he started to move. In far too short a time, Harry felt the fire start to consume him and he groaned out Severus' name.

Afterward, Harry lay with his head against Severus' chest, stroking his fingers in the chest hair, generally feeling much better.

"You never answered the question," Severus murmured, his own fingers carding through Harry's messy hair.

"What was the question?" Because he couldn't remember what he was thinking a minute ago, let alone whatever Severus' steel-trap mind had come up with.

"Was it always like this?" There was a half-hearted huff in his tone, but Severus didn't seem to be able to work up to even nasty.

Harry had to think for a second before he got the context. "I don't know. It never has been with me before. But then--" Stopping short, he decided not to tell Severus that he'd never felt this way about anyone before. It simply would not do. Besides he wasn't all the sure that Severus would believe him.

"What?" Severus put his hand under Harry's chin and raised his face. "You're not going to say something disgustingly sentimental are you?"

"Would you like me to?" Harry asked. It would come out all wrong, he knew it. He supposed he could make an attempt, if Severus wanted him to.

"Not particularly."

"Good." He breathed out in relief. "I'm not inclined to it." That was probably an understatement. He'd had more than one lover complain about that, but he couldn't help it. He was too practical to be mushily romantic.

"I suspect that neither of us are." Severus snickered and looked relieved. "I should get back to my rooms. I have so much grading to do, I doubt I'll be finished by morning."

"Me too." Even if they couldn't lie about in bed for the next few hours as he wished they could do, he didn't want to let Severus go yet. Harry thought for a moment. "Why don't you go and get it and come back here?"

Severus looked puzzled and suspicious, but there was no acrimony in his words when he asked, "Why would I do that?"

"Because...." Harry trailed off, worrying that he'd suggested something foolish, something that would satisfy only him. He had no true reason for wanting it beyond having Severus with him, rather desperately. "Because, I want you to."

Hesitating for a moment, Severus surprised him by nodding. "It's an absurd idea. I doubt either one of us will get anything done, but all right."

"Good." Pleased beyond words, Harry beamed at him, kissing him again, but not allowing himself to fall into it or they would never get anything else done tonight.

Harry came around the corner to his office, and stopped at the sharp laugher coming through the open door. Stealthily, he slid into the shadow of his doorway.

Three students stood in his office. He could only see one of them, Janis Miller, one of his thesis students. She had been helping out with his fifth and sixth year classes and sometimes she graded papers for him, which explained what she was doing there. The others were clearly waiting for him.

"You shouldn't be saying that, Bradley," Janis admonished, but there was laugher in her tone.

"I swear," Bradley Jackson, a sixth year Slytherin, said. "I heard it from Wayne Brighton, and Liz White. Potter is doing Snape."

"And just how would they know that?" Janis asked, her voice held a bit of curiosity that she couldn't hide.

"A few weeks ago, they saw them coming back together from a date. Potter followed Snape into the dungeons." There was a definite smirk in Bradley's voice as he continued, "They were holding hands and making cow eyes at each other."

"Ewww," said the third voice, whom Harry thought might be another sixth year. "That's disgusting. I know you must be wrong. What would Potter want with that greasy bastard? He's got too much class for that."

"You're only saying that because you want him yourself." Janis laughed and it wasn't a nice laugh. "We all know how you feel about Potter."

"Come on, it's not like you don't want him yourself, Janis, even with that giant Hufflepuff boyfriend of yours." The boy snickered. "That's why you're always so willing to help out."

"I'm gaining practical teaching experience." Her tone was crisp and superior. Harry thought she sounded a bit like Severus, though he supposed nether would care for the comparison.

"Yeah, sure you are, Janis," Bradley said and then he chuckled. "I know I'm right, Peter. He's seeing Snape."

"How?" Peter Davidson made a strangled sound. "That is so disgusting."

"You said that already." Bradley tone had a sneer in it. "They spend a lot of time together. They eat together and they patrol the hall after hours together."

"That doesn't mean anything," Peter insisted, sounding unsure, but hopeful. "Besides Snape is so ugly and mean and so bloody unfair. He's thinks he so bleeding superior to everyone. Snape the fucking pureblood." Peter warmed to his subject, and was obviously settling in for a long tirade in the same vein.

Outraged, Harry had heard enough. How dare they speak of his lover in those terms? Taking a deep breath, he tried to pull back from his fury. It took him several seconds to calm down enough to move out of the shadows to confront them. With his best angry teacher look firmly in place, he stepped into the doorway and cleared his throat.

Peter was facing away from him, and didn't hear him. Both Bradley and Janis' eyes widened and Janis had the good grace to wince. Bradley tried to pointing, but Peter wasn't listening. But then, that was part of the boy's problem in the first place.

"Ten points from Gryffindor and you have detention tomorrow night for disrespect to a faculty member, Mr. Davidson," Harry said, pushing past the startled boy and coming into his office. "I won't have you speaking that way about a teacher at this school."

Peter's eyes grew wide, and then narrowed. "When you were in school, you hated him, too. Just because you're seeing him, doesn't mean he's any nicer to the rest of us."

"That's a week's detention with Braddock and ten more points from Gryffindor." Braddock had replaced Filch when he retired and he made the old caretaker seem like a kindly old man. The children were all terrified of him. "Would you care to try for a fortnight and thirty points?" Harry glared at Peter until he dropped his eyes and shook his head.

"Sorry, sir." His tone was not nearly meek enough for him to sound even remotely repentant.

Perhaps another night's detention would give him something to think about, Harry thought, but decided against it. He leaned on the front of his desk, and met Peter's gaze sternly. "What did you want, Mr. Davidson, aside from insulting myself and other faculty members."

"I didn't mean to insult you, sir." Peter looked up at him with his feelings clear in his eyes. "Just him."

There was nothing to do or say about that look. He ignored it as he always did, but it made him horribly uncomfortable to be the object of any student's affections. "Then consider that if I am seeing him -- and I'm not saying I am by any means -- then what does it say about me?"

Peter's cheeks turned red, and he looked down. "Sorry, sir." This time he sounded like he did mean it.

"You should think before you speak." Not that he thought they would take his advice. They never did. He regarded the boy without expression. "Mr. Davidson, what did you wish to see me about?"

"Just some extra help with the lesson from this week," Peter pulled his book out of his backpack, ready to show him.

"Miss Miller," Harry said and she looked up from where she was trying to be inconspicuous. "Can you give Mr.Davidson some help?"

"Yes, sir." She beamed at him and then turned to Peter. "Why don't we go into the class room?"

Peter cast a glance at him, looking very disappointed, and then nodded, following her out.

Harry turned to Bradley. "Five points from Slytherin and you have a detention tomorrow night for spreading gossip, Mr. Jackson. I also want a three-foot essay on why gossip is harmful to everyone involved."

"Yes, sir." Bradley did not look cowed, but he never did. He was one of the worst gossips Harry had ever seen, and nothing deterred him. There were times when he was so vicious that Harry wanted to have him expelled. Harry disliked Bradley Jackson more intensely than any other student at the school.

"Now, what did you want to see me about, Mr. Jackson?" Still annoyed, Harry sat down heavily behind his desk.

"Nothing, sir." With a knowing smirk, Bradley picked up his books and started for the door.

"Mr. Jackson?" Harry knew the boy couldn't wait to spread what he'd heard, and would no doubt embellish it as he went on. His voice was hard when he asked again, "What did you want?"

Bradley nodded his head towards the door the other two had gone through. "The same as Davidson."

Giving him another disapproving look, for all the good it would do, Harry pointed at door. "Then I suggest you join Ms. Miller and Mr. Davidson in the classroom."

He looked disappointed to be thwarted, but he wasn't stupid enough to argue. "Yes, sir."

After he disappeared through the doorway, Harry laid his head on his desk and groaned.

"Minerva. May I have a few minutes of your time?" Harry asked as he got to the top of the moving stairs that led to her office. The entire school seemed to be talking about the detentions he'd given out two days ago. He knew he couldn't put off this conversation any longer, no matter how much he wished he could avoid it or how uncomfortable it was going to be.

"Come in, Harry." McGonagall held out her hand for Harry to precede him.

As he came in, Harry glanced up to the portrait gallery. Dumbledore looked like he was happily snoring.

Taking a deep breath, Harry tried to tramp down his nervousness. He faced the headmistress dead-on. "I don't know if you've heard or not--"

"That you gave Peter Davidson and Bradley Jackson detentions for bad-mouthing Severus?" She smiled at him. "Of course, I've heard. Everyone has heard about it, I'm afraid."

"I'm not sure what I can do about it. It is rampant now." It was mortifying to be the topic of so much speculation. To Harry it seemed that everyone wanted to express their opinion on the subject of Severus and him supposedly seeing each other

Her look was slightly exasperated. "You should do what you've always done. You should ignore it."

"That's easier done when it's not true. However," Harry paused and mentally squared his shoulders. He didn't want to seem embarrassed to be seeing Severus, because he wasn't, but he'd have liked to have kept it quiet for a bit longer, simply to enjoy their privacy. "Severus and I are seeing each other."

"I did know that, too." Her eyes sparkled behind her glasses as if the information pleased her greatly. "I'm happy for both of you. I've always thought that much of the animosity between you both was a redirection of other feelings."

Half amused and half shocked, Harry knew what he was feeling must be on his face. "Even when I was eleven?"

McGonagall laughed brightly. "No. Then I think it was Severus needing to grow up and let it go. But since you arrived this past year, perhaps?"

Harry felt a blush heat his face. It wasn't something he'd considered before, but she might have a point. "I wished I'd known. It would have saved me a lot of trouble. How did you know, by the way? I mean, we've tried to be discreet."

"As well you should be," McGonagall said and gave him an encouraging smile. "At least, until you make it all official, then you may share quarters if you'd like."

Harry felt the blood drain from his face and his stomach drop. As much as he cared about Severus, he was afraid to think about doing more than enjoying the moment. "Official?"

"You did know that wizards can marry?" McGonagall asked, sounding as if she weren't sure whether or not he knew and was trying to hide her surprise.

"Yes, of course, I knew that. But you don't think.... I mean, we're just...." Harry stammered to a halt, not knowing what he could say that wouldn't sound as lame and idiotic as he felt right then.

Her look turned stern and slightly disapproving. "What? What are you? I don't think that Severus is capable of a casual relationship."

No, Harry thought, he was absolutely certain neither of them were. Unfortunately, he didn't know what it was beyond that. Only what he wanted it to be. "It's not casual. Not at all."

Relaxing, she sat back and regarded him seriously. "All I ask is that you continue to be as circumspect as you have been."

Harry nodded as he relaxed well. "Do you suppose we could find some way to muzzle Bradley Jackson?"

She shook her head sadly. "I'm afraid not. I'm sure he's going to have a wonderful career as Rita Skeeter's replacement at the Prophet."

"No doubt you're right." There was nothing he could do about it and that annoyed him as much as anything else.

The following Friday night, he and Severus walked through the darkened halls of the school, looking for curfew breakers. There were always more on Friday night than any other night.

"Potter, you're an idiot," Severus said fondly, and with more tenderness than the words usually got.

That was as close to an endearment as Harry thought he'd get and as such, let it warm his heart. "What did I do now?"

"You should have let Jackson and Davidson off with house points." Severus' tone was annoyed, but Harry heard his pleasure at being defended under it.

"He was disparaging a faculty member. That deserves more than house points." There was no way in hell Harry would ever allow his lover to be denigrated in his presence.

Severus made an impatient noise in the back of his throat before he said, "I appreciate your defense of the indefensible -- "

"Belt up, Severus. I was doing what I said I was doing." Mostly. "I would have done it for anyone." Harry could hear the prevarication in his tone and knew that Severus could probably hear it too.

"Really?" Under the mocking, there was a delighted note to Severus' voice. "As I understand it, you only took ten house points last term when someone was mocking McGonagall in the halls."

"You of all people should know better than to listen to gossip." He tried to sound admonishing, but knew he couldn't quite carry it off. Why couldn't Severus understand that he cared?

"You never cease to amaze me, Potter." Severus' face had an anticipatory look that Harry didn't understand.

They slowly climbed the steps to the astronomy tower.

"Why are we going up here?" Harry asked. "And why do I amaze you?"

"We're checking for students out after curfew, remember?" Severus said in that irritated tone he had when something was obvious. He held the door open for Harry to go before him.

Puzzled by the need to return, Harry gave a quick glance around the tower room. Empty. He couldn't even sense anyone in the vicinity other than Severus and himself. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't we already been here tonight? About two hours ago."

"We have been, true." Severus raised his wand and spelled the door closed. He moved toward Harry, his eyes menacing, stalking him until he was pressed to the wall. "At that time, I couldn't do this." Catching Harry's head in his hand, he tilted his face up. Severus leaned down, kissing him softly and then pulled back. "I've always wanted to have a snog up here."

Once again Severus had surprised him. Amused and delighted by a playful Severus, Harry laughed against his lips. "By all means, then. Let's have a quick one."

Pulling back a bit, Severus frowned. "Why quick? I had hoped to spend a bit of time up here with you, now that all the children have gone to bed."

"It's too cold to stay up here too long. Unless you've brought a blanket with you. Even then, I'd rather be warm in your rooms or mine." Harry hated to be practical, especially with Severus' lips pressed so lushly to his, but it was damned cold on the roof.

Severus gathered him closer, and brought his head down for a long slow kiss. His hands slid into Harry's hair, and the tie came undone. Giving in to the kiss, Harry opened his mouth, letting Severus' tongue tease him. Sweet fire raced through him with each stroke of Severus' tongue, each caress of his hands, each press of his body into Harry's. And Harry luxuriated in every movement of Severus' sensuous company.

For many long moments, they kissed, and caressed each other until there was nothing left in Harry's mind except Severus' touch. Reality intruded when Harry's feet started to go numb from the cold, despite his heavy socks and boots. "It's too cold for this," he said, leaning further into Severus' warmth. "We should go back down."

"If you wish." Severus sounded a bit put out. If it were anyone else, Harry would have said he was pouting. "Your rooms are closer."

Severus unwarded the door and opened it for Harry to go through.

As they reached the bottom, Janis Miller and Robert Aggers opened the door to go up. All four stared at each other for a moment.

"Mr. Aggers and Miss Miller, what are you doing out of bed at this hour," Severus asked in a silky voice that had both of them cringing.

"Um...I was just going to show Robert the constellations," Janis said quickly, glancing at Harry and then at Severus.

Harry realized his hair was unbound and they probably looked like they had been snogging up there. Since they had been, Harry felt it was unfair to be chastising them for doing the same thing. He had no choice. "Don't you think it's a little late for that?"

"Well, sir. You can only see some of them after midnight," she said, giving him a hopeful smile.

He looked at Severus and saw him shake his head minutely. No favoritism. They had agreed when they started to patrol the halls together. "Be that as it may, you should have a pass for this sort of thing. You know it."

"Yes, sir." She looked down.

"Five points from each of you. Now, you'd better get to your common rooms," Harry said sternly, trying not to sound half so guilty as he felt.

"Yes, sir," Janis murmured, sounding very disappointed, and Robert echoed her. They turned around and walked away.

When they were out of sight, Severus put a hand on his shoulder. "That was necessary, you do realize that?"

"Of course I do." Harry sighed again and leaned into Severus' arm as it slipped around his shoulder. "It's also a tad unfair since we were doing the same thing they were going to do."

"I shouldn't have to tell you that we're adults, responsible for ourselves." Severus tightened his grip. "It's late. Let's go to bed."

"Good idea."

A few weeks later, Harry got a testy owl from Ron, wherein his best friend complained about not having seen him in months -- it actually hadn't been months, actually only a few weeks. It reminded Harry of another salient point, Ron and Hermione didn't know about Severus, yet.

With more than a little bit of trepidation about what he had to say, he wrote back asking Ron and Hermione to meet him in London at their favorite pub the following Friday night and that he had a surprise coming with him.

Later that evening, still debating with himself about what to tell Severus and how, Harry knocked on his door. Since their first night, they had alternated rooms, spending nearly every night together.

Before his knuckles touched the door the second time, it opened, and he was pulled inside, pressed against the wall and kissed within an inch of his life. Oh, but life was good sometimes, Harry thought, as he thrust his tongue into Severus' mouth and gave himself up to the kiss.

His hands found purchase in Severus' dressing gown, and it slipped easily from his shoulders. Naked flesh greeted his hands, and desire flared hotly through Harry. Control rapidly slipping away, Harry pressed himself into Severus' hip.

Severus broke the kiss to bend over to retrieve something from his dressing gown. A jar of lubricant was pressed into Harry's hand, and Severus turned around and leaned on the door, spreading his legs and canting his hips.

Harry fought for breath. There was nothing in the world that turned him on faster than Severus offering himself. He fumbled with the cap.

"This isn't going to work," Harry said regretfully as he pushed a slick finger into Severus who pushed back into Harry's hand, moaning softly. The responsiveness blew a circuit in his mind, he loved to hear Severus sound like that. If they stayed together forever, he would still never get enough of it.

"Why not?" Severus sounded gratifyingly breathless, as well as slightly disgruntled. Clearly this was one of his fantasies.

Harry hated to disappoint him, but physics were what they were. "I'm too much shorter than you to be able to do it properly. How about over your desk?"

Looking back over his shoulders at him, Severus nodded, but seemed rather displeased anyway.

"Be grateful I have the strength to do this at all. You're actively reaping the benefits of your potion making." Firmly, Harry took his upper arm and marched him over to his desk, pressing him face down over it. Excitement surged through him as he watched Severus spread his legs apart and pillowed his head on his arms.

"Then it is a good thing that I am so good at it, is it not." Severus raised his head long enough to smirk at him.

Anticipation urging him on, Harry unbuttoned or shifted his clothes out of the way enough to pull himself out and use some of the lubricant he'd been handed. He pressed a kiss tenderly to Severus' back, giving himself another second or two to cool off. It didn't help.

With desire burning hot in his blood, Harry pushed Severus' legs further apart, and slid into his heat with a soft groan. Beneath him, Severus sighed, and pressed back into his thrusts. Tight and hot and delicious, Harry loved everything about this man.

After a couple more thrusts, Severus moaned out his pleasure in time with Harry pressing into him. Some distant part of his mind wondered how either of them had ever lived without this because he was sure he couldn't live without it again. Severus was so responsive, so giving, Harry knew he'd been spoiled for anyone else.

Lying in bed later, Harry finally remembered what he'd wanted to talk about. "Severus?"

"When you say my name like that, I know to worry." Severus sat up, dislodging him from his usual place. "What?"

He cleared his throat and tried to will his voice to casual when it wanted to sound very
nervous. "I'm going to meet Ron and Hermione for dinner tomorrow night."

Severus shrugged. "So?" His expression changed, and he glanced suspiciously at Harry. "You haven't told them yet, have you?"

Harry shook his head. A bit of worry had already started to settle into his stomach. Harry ignored it.

"Oh." That single word encompassed a world of emotions and the biggest of them was easily identified: fear.

"There's nothing to worry about," he started to say, but Severus was already moving. He put his hand on his arm to stop him, but Severus shook him off and got out of bed.

"Don't you dare leave this room," Harry ordered with more force than was strictly necessary. More anxious than annoyed, Harry eased himself out of bed. The bitter cold outside and the damp of the dungeons, not to mention their previous activities, all conspired to make him stiff.

"These are my rooms, I'm not likely to leave them." Sneering, Severus folded his arms over his chest, and glared at him. "However, you may go if you wish to."

God, Severus annoyed him sometimes. Even knowing the cause, Harry still wanted to hex him for his lack of faith. "You're such a bloody minded prat. You did know that didn't you?"

Relaxing some, Severus' expression turned amused by the familiar words. "So you've said. On more than one occasion, actually."

"Why don't you come with me?" Harry said, making it sound off the cuff. "We'll tell them together."

"However, I do wonder about your complete lack of sense at times." Severus sneered at him again. "I can just imagine how such a meeting would go."

Unfortunately, so could Harry. It put a ball of nerves in the pit of his stomach, not that he'd admit that, of course. "These are my friends. They want me to be happy."

Severus could clearly see through that and he laughed bitterly. "I can assure you that they do not want you to be happy with your hateful, ugly, ex-potions master. I can't believe you'd be imbecilic enough to even suggest it."

Harry folded his arms over his chest. Hermione and Ron would be upset. He should have told the both of them months ago, after he and Severus had first got together, and he knew it. Despite his lauded courage, he could be as much of a coward as any man, and the thought of their reaction worried him. Enough to want Severus with him

It would be harder for them to make a scene meeting in public as they had planned, harder still with Severus with him. "I want you to come with me."

Although his look was mutinous, Severus sighed. "I think that is a spectacularly bad idea. Why would you think, even with your limited intellectual resources, that I would do that?"

"Because I'm asking you to." He met Severus' eyes, trying to convey how important this was to him. "Please."

"Bugger off, Potter." Harry could hear his answer, despite the abusive words.

As they walked through the restaurant, Harry took hold of Severus' hand, knowing it would symbolize to anyone who looked how close they were. In the wizarding world, only lovers held hands in public. He was absurdly grateful that Severus consented to it without an argument. Perhaps, he wanted the comfort, too.

At the back, he spotted Hermione and Ron in their usual spot. Then, they spotted him, or rather who he was holding hands with.

Hermione looked shocked, then upset, then resigned in rapid order. Ron's eyes widened and then his face went white and then red. His rage was more than apparent; it was incandescent.

Oh, God, Harry thought with a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach, he'd made an enormous mistake doing it this way.

"No," Ron said, standing up and shaking his head slowly. His hand reached into his robe, probably going for his wand. "Not a chance in hell."

"Ron--" Hermione said, also standing, and putting a restraining hand on Ron's arm.

"I can't accept this." Ron looked right at Harry. "This is not possible. What did that slimy git do to you to make you think you love him? Whatever it is, we'll get it fixed."

Severus straightened beside Harry. "Calm down, Weasley. I know it's difficult--"

"Not at all difficult, Snape. It's impossible. What did you do to him?" Ron took a step sideways to move around the table, and Hermione's grip tightened visibly on his arm.

"If you will sit down, we might attempt to speak of this in a rational manner." Severus' voice was perfectly flat, and supremely controlled.

"Rational?" Ron snorted. "There is nothing rational about a dirty, slimy, Death-Eater, buggering my best friend."

"Don't you dare speak to him that way," Harry said, infuriated with Ron's invective. He'd expected a certain amount of dismay, anger even, especially from Ron. His feelings for Severus weren't that different from what Harry's own had been to start. However, Ron had to understand there were limits and Harry had reached his. "I won't allow this to continue."

"Ron--" Hermione tried again, but he pulled out of her grip.

"No." He shook his head, looking at Harry pleadingly. "What do you mean you won't allow it? How can you let him touch you? He's filthy."

"Ron," Harry said furiously through his gritted teeth. He was now past his limit of tolerance, even for Ron. "Listen to me very carefully. You will not speak to him that way."

"I can't believe you'd defend him. You hate him. What has he done to you?" Ron's voice rose again and the pub began to grow silent around them.

"Ron--" Hermione elbowed him. "Stop. For God's sake, think about what you're saying and to whom you are saying it."

"No. Just no." Ron was apparently beyond thinking. Turning to Severus, he sneered. "Don't you have any shame?"

"None whatsoever, Mr. Weasley." Severus pulled his hand out of Harry's with some force since Harry didn't want to let it go. "Clearly, this was a mistake. As I told you it would be. I shall leave you to your friends and see you back at school." He bowed slightly towards Harry. Turning on his heel, he walked away with his back straight and his robes flaring.

"Not if I have anything to say about it," Ron called after him.

Rage ate at Harry's gut and he felt sick. "You don't have anything to say about it, Ron." Taking a deep breath, and fighting for a calm Harry couldn't even imagine feeling, he held up his hand, his thumb and forefinger a centimeter apart. "I'm this close to never speaking to you again -- "

Utter disbelief clouded Ron's expression and he shook his head. "Harry, you don't mean that. You're well quit of that bastard."

"Ron--" Hermione turned him towards her. She sounded upset and angry. "Apologize right now, you prat."

"No." He looked back at Harry, hurt, anger, a million other emotions flashing across his face. "How could you?"

This is your best friend, Harry told himself, barely resisting the urge to draw his wand and hex Ron. "I expected better from you than this." Harry was appalled when his voice broke. "I brought him here to meet you like an adult and you reacted like a child."

Ron's face grew redder. "He's..."

"My choice, Ron. That's what he is: my choice." Harry's voice broke again and his eyes started to sting. Damn, Ron. How could he be so awful? A voice inside him said that not that long ago he would have agreed with Ron. Shaking off the thought, Harry met Ron's angry stare. "I love him."

Some of the rage faded from Ron's face as he looked at Harry disbelievingly. "You love him? How could you love him? He doesn't love you. I'll wager he's not capable of loving anyone."

"I don't know how or why, but I do." Anguished, Harry's shoulders slumped. This wasn't the way it should have happened. God, he felt so awful. "I'm hoping he cares enough about me to let this pass."

"You're going after him?" Ron sounded very surprised. "Why? How can you?"

"I'm going to apologize for your behavior and pray that he forgives me for making him come here to be insulted by you." Harry faced Ron, letting all of his fury show. "If you ever," he paused, and then went on, his voice quiet and as forceful as he could make it, "ever, speak to my lover in that manner again, our association will be ended."

Ron went white. "You're joking."

"I assure you, I am not." Harry turned around and walked out.

Harry Apparated to the gates, and limped up the path as fast as he could, every instinct he owned screaming at him to go to Severus, now. Even though they were slippery, Harry took the outside stairs down into the dungeon because they were faster.

His heart pounding with dread and fear, he knocked. After the second time, he knew that Severus, if he were inside -- and the chances were that he was -- had no intention of answering.

As he saw it, he had two choices. He could leave Severus to cool off or he could take down the wards and break in. While the first option was infinitely saner, Harry wasn't one for sanity when he was upset and he was so far past that now, it didn't even register as the same emotion. Taking out his wand, he attacked the wards with a vengeance. Despite being well constructed and quite strong, Severus' wards fell easily against his magic and his rage.

The sitting room was dim, lit only by the flickering fire.

"How did you get past my wards?" Severus asked, his voice devoid of all emotion, his expression blank. He sat in the chair in front of fireplace, his legs stretched out in front of him.

"I was an Auror for more than ten years. Wards don't exist that I can't break." Harry moved into the room, coming to stand beside him. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your place to apologize for your friends."

"I know. But you're owed an apology for tonight, for being put in that situation." Desperately, Harry tried to come up with something to say to ease the situation, but he had no idea what that would be. He felt trapped between his friend's aspersions and his feelings for Severus. As much as he'd hated doing it, and as much as it had hurt him, he'd been forced to make a choice and he had. His friendship with Ron had been the balance due and he'd paid it, but that didn't mean he wasn't grief stricken by payment of it.

For several long seconds, the only sound was the fire popping, and the creaking of the castle. Nothing to break the deadly silence between them. Nothing to ease the guilt and grief in Harry.

"I don't like this part," Severus said, his voice hoarse. He looked up at Harry, his eyes accusatory. "You did this to me."

"I did." For one second, Harry closed his eyes, trying to ignore the ache the words caused, trying to gather his strength for another battle. On the edge of an emotional precipice, Harry wasn't sure how much more he had to give. He held out both hands. "I'm sorry."

"That does not help or change the situation." Severus looked back at the fire and let out a shuddering breath. "I should have known that it would be...."

Still dancing on the edge of a cliff, Harry waited a beat, hoping Severus would continue without prompting. When he didn't, Harry asked, "That it would be what?"

"That the cost would be more than I was willing to pay." He didn't look at Harry, and he seemed to be drawing in on himself.

A shiver of dread went through Harry and his heart started to pound painfully. How could this be happening to them so soon? It had only been a few weeks, surely he would have more time. Taking a shuddery breath, Harry asked, "What are you saying?"

"I can't do this. I can't live with this kind of emotional upheaval in my life. It's too fraught with the unknown." Severus' voice was soft with his unresolved fears.

"I'm still here. I haven't left. I won't." Barely able to breathe past the lump in his throat Harry trembled, as afraid as he'd ever been. He gracelessly lowered himself to the ground beside his chair. "Don't you realize that I care about you?"

"This isn't love." Severus took a shuddering breath, sounding defeated. "This can't be love."

"You bastard. What else could this be?" His eyes stinging worse than they had in the restaurant, Harry sucked in a breath that sounded too much like a sob. "I just told my dearest friend, someone who has stood by me for twenty-two years that either he accepts my relationship with you or I'm quit of him. What do you call that?"

"I call that..." Severus closed his eyes, and sighed. "I call it insanity. And you a fool to sacrifice your friendship over this... insignificance."

"How can you think this isn't important?" Harry had lost all ability to hide what he was feeling, his hurt, his fury, his outrage were all obvious when he spoke. "I think it should be cherished."

"Could you be any more of a fool, Potter? What do we have here? Sex. That's it. This is nothing." Severus said it like he meant it, but Harry couldn't believe that. He couldn't believe he meant so little to Severus when he meant so much to Harry. It couldn't be true.

He started to shake as fear pounded like bitter rain inside him. Harry looked up at him, but Severus was looking at the fire. "It's not. It can't be."

"Of course it is." There was enough of a sneer in Severus' voice to chill Harry. The words cut into him with exquisite precision, as only Severus could do. And God, did it hurt.

That tone hadn't been directed at him in a long time and he took a breath, fighting the desolation that threatened. "Please. Severus. Don't do this. I care for you."

"Do you?" Severus stood and faced the fire, away from Harry. His voice was low with jeer and bitterness. "Or is it just that I'm here and available." He laughed, then, an ugly sound. "Oh, and let's not forget willing."

Blinking, Harry pulled himself to his feet. This couldn't be happening, not now, not after he'd realized what he felt. Not after he'd finally found someone. Not after he'd fallen in love. "Why are you saying this? Don't you care about me?" He paused for a second, the lump in his throat growing exponentially. "At all?"

"What ever gave you the idea that I did?" Severus' tone was harsh, cruel. He didn't care, hadn't cared.

Some part of Harry wouldn't let go. Maybe there was a way to fix what he'd done wrong. Maybe there was something he else could say. Maybe it didn't have to end like this. Maybe his heart wouldn't be broken. "I thought--"

"That always was your problem, Potter, you assumed too much. You assumed that people would love you just because you were you."

Harry shook his head. His eyes starting to sting as he began to accept the inevitable. What was so wrong with him that he never found anyone who cared enough to love him? He would have begged Severus to love him, but love was something that had to be given freely or not at all. "No. You're wrong. I never expected anyone to love me, least of all you. I certainly didn't expect to love you, either." Harry's voice shattered completely.

"You don't." The denial was total. Severus didn't want his love, didn't want him. "I know that you don't."

Leaning on his cane, Harry moved slowly toward the door. The raw emotions crashing through him making the ache so much worse. "I do. I thought...I'd hoped that you..." He looked up again, and blinked as his eyes filled. With his last ounce of courage, he took a breath and said, "I thought you might care." He looked hopefully at Severus, but he wouldn't meet Harry's eyes. It was over, before it had even really begun. "I should have known better."

"Yes," Severus' voice was soft with scorn. "You should have."

"Okay. I'll go," Harry said softly, still hoping for a reprieve. That somehow he'd be found deserving, that somehow Severus would love him, and then knowing that it would never happen. Closing his eyes, Harry willed the tears away. He would not cry. It had been foolish to have expected better. He should never have believed that happiness could be his.

As he reached the door, Harry looked back at Severus. He was still facing the fire, his shoulders and back stiff. Misery radiated off him in waves.

Some part of Harry's mind went back over the conversation, and found a loophole. "I'll go," Harry said, and cleared his throat before he could go on. "But first you have to tell me that you don't want me."

Severus didn't turn, but his voice was scathing as he said, "Do you actually want to hear me reject you? I thought you would want to spare yourself that."

"I want you to turn around and tell me to my face that you don't care about me at all. That you don't love me." Harry sniffed. If Severus did it, it would be awful, and final and more devastating than he could bear. If Severus said it.

"I don't." Severus' expression was hard as he crossed his arms over his chest, but instead of it being intimidating, the gesture seemed oddly self-protective.

"Say it, then. Harry said, trying to meet Severus' eyes, hoping he was right, and that Severus' wasn't going to torture him.

"I've said it."

"Not good enough." Harry mimicked his stance, glaring at him. "If you're going to reject me, then do so. In so many words. It won't be the first time."

"I. Don't. Want. You."

For one second, Harry literally thought his heart would stop from the pain. As his eyes blurred in defeat, Harry saw the abject misery on Severus' face. In his mind, he heard Severus' painful determination as he spoken those words.

Harry breathed out slowly, and found the courage for one more chance. "I don't believe you."

Severus opened his mouth and then closed it, his shoulders sagging in defeat. "You damned fool, don't you realize it's for your own good? You shouldn't be with me."

Finally, he met Severus' eyes and all the anguish was there for him to see. Harry straightened his back, hope cautiously coming back. "I chose to be with you."

"At the risk of your family." Severus shook his head. "I can't allow that."

"It's my risk, and my family. If they won't accept my choice, then they don't love me as much as I hope they do." As hope bubbled up into his heart, reviving him, Harry moved away from the door towards Severus.

Fear and longing unmistakable on his face, Severus took a halting step forward. "You are such an idiot. I'm not worth the risk."

"Oh, but you are. You surely are." Putting his hand on the back of Severus' neck, Harry brought his head down and kissed him lightly. "I've never said it to anyone. I don't know how or why, but I do love you, Severus Snape."

Severus' black eyes turned liquid and he nodded. He took several shuddering breaths, opening his mouth only to close it again, silent. "I..."

"You have to say it," Harry said, putting a finger on Severus' bottom lip. "Even if it's only this one time. You have to acknowledge it, me."

Severus breathed out sharply. "I'm every bit as much of a fool as you are, but I do. I swear I do."

"I have to be worth the words," he said, closing his eyes. Please say it, Harry prayed. Please. Please. Please.

"Damn you, Harry Potter. I do love you." Severus' breathing was ragged, but his voice carried through the room. "I don't want you to leave," Severus huffed and then glared at him. "If you try to, I'll...."

With his heart bouncing in jubilation that Severus did love him, Harry decided he could ask, "You'll do what?" It came out sounding breathless and strangled, not at all joking as he'd hoped.

Severus' sniffed wetly and tried to scowl at him. "I don't know. I'll do something horrible. I'll turn you into a newt, perhaps."

Harry laughed, joy and relief making him giddy. "I won't leave you. I promise." Still feeling nervous, Harry put his hand on Severus' damp cheek, and tenderly brushed away the moisture. "The same must be true for you."

"As if I'd ever go anywhere. I live here." With a chuckle that sounded like relief, Severus gathered Harry into his arms, and nuzzled against his neck. He tangled his fingers in Harry's hair, holding on to him tightly, kissing him until they were both trembling with desire. Without a second thought, Harry give himself over to Severus' commanding kiss.

Somehow, while Harry was being kissed senseless, his robes were pushed off his shoulders and his shirt undone, his glasses floated over to the mantle above the fireplace. Closing his eyes and surrendering to the tenderness, Harry allowed himself to be moved and fondled and loved. Severus might never say the words again, but they were there in every touch, every kiss, every movement of their bodies together.

Severus' hands brushed over his chest, fingers circling and then moving down to his waist. With a groan of pure pleasure, Harry arched into the loving touch.

His trousers and pants were loosened, and he was pushed backward onto the sofa, Severus settling between his legs, never breaking off the kiss. Without conscious thought, only feeling, Harry spread his thighs, needing more, wanting more, wanting Severus.

When Harry tried to reciprocate, to touch Severus, his hands were put above his head, and Severus raised his head long enough to give him a stern look. Desire shot through Harry and he left his hands where they had been placed.

With a gentle smile, that Harry would bet that no one else had ever seen, Severus' resumed their kiss. It was slow and sweet and demanding and melted Harry's heart even as it heated his passion to near boiling. Severus' tongue stole along the contours of Harry's mouth, taking his time to explore, then pulling back slightly, only to delve in again with more devotion. All of Harry's thoughts acquiescing to the sensations, he surrendered himself to it as well, allowing Severus to take it where he needed.

After several long moments, Severus broke off the kiss again, only long enough to remove Harry's boots and slide his trousers and pants off. Excitement pounded through Harry and it became even more difficult to breathe.

With great care, Severus eased Harry's legs upward to his chest, leaving him exposed to Severus' mouth. Desire flooded Harry, pushing at him hard, he wanted to move, wanted Severus to get on with it and never wanted it to end.

Some small part of Harry's mind was amazed at how well Severus had learned to use his lips and tongue in the short time he'd been doing this caressing him. Most of him was too busy enjoying what Severus was doing to care about anything else. Moaning in pleasure, Harry clutched the arm of the sofa above his head, panting and writhing, arching up into each movement of Severus' extraordinary mouth against his most intimate body parts.
Severus looked up, and called the lubricant from the other room. A moment later, cool fingers slid into him. Harry grunted, first with discomfort and then with growing pleasure. He moved back against the intrusion, loving it, loving Severus. He loved Severus. It felt so incredibly liberating to finally allow himself to think it, to know it.

As Severus pressed into him, he pushed back. The delicious burn streaked across his lower back, good, excellent, making him ache. Severus' movements were fervent and sure, not giving him time to think, only to feel: each separate thrust, each spark of pleasure, each shard of emotion. His long oily fingers wrapped around him, moving fast, and the ache exploded through Harry. He cried out, arching forward harder, pressing himself deeper into Severus' thrusts until he didn't know where he ended and Severus began.

Joy, fierce and hot as fire washed over Harry, heat and light detonating inside him. The world broke apart and reformed itself and he was left, still joined to Severus, gasping out sobbing breaths, feeling as if he had somehow been reborn.

Severus' head was pressed against the hollow of his throat, his gasps puffing warm air across Harry's wet skin. "Have I hurt you?" Severus asked, his tone full of remorse.

Bugger that. "Are you mad?" Sated and thrilled beyond words, Harry could barely move, truly wondered if he'd ever move again, and then decided that moving was definitely overrated, and he'd stay right where he was forever.

As Severus pulled out of him, he sighed with the loss. Severus helped him to straighten out his legs, which complained mightily about the abuse they'd been subjected to, but Harry was too contented to care and ignored it completely. "That was brilliant. Better than that even."

Instead of lying down beside him, Severus sat up against the cushions. He tugged the damp shirt off Harry's shoulders. Severus' own clothes had disappeared along the way, though Harry thought he'd been wearing most of them when they first started.

Harry smiled and ran a hand down the middle of Severus' chest. "It was beyond words. It felt…."

"What did you feel?" Severus asked, his hand smoothing across Harry's belly. He sounded more than idly curious; the answer seemed important to him.

Harry took a deep breath, trying to will away the blush that he felt forming. He thought himself extraordinarily silly to be saying it out loud, but, "Would it be too much of a cliché to say... I felt claimed?"

"That would be astoundingly clichéd, as well as inaccurate as I'm not the one who did the claiming in this relationship." Severus motioned for Harry to lift his feet so that his socks could be removed.

Contented to do as Severus wished, Harry swung his legs up onto his lap. When his socks had been removed, Severus didn't release his feet. He dug his long and amazingly strong fingers into Harry's feet, massaging them. Harry moaned in pleasure. Leaning over, he touched Severus' jaw so that he would look at him. "You believe I've claimed you?"

"Didn't you?" Severus asked. "It would never have occurred to me to kiss you. I wouldn't have even thought of it."

Harry sighed as Severus' fingers continued their magic on the other foot and Harry sighed in pleasure. "Damn, you're good at that."

"You're welcome." Severus smirked, digging his fingers in harder.

Content with everything just then, Harry tilted his head and considered him. "How did you think of me? Weren't you attracted to me?"

"I don't, didn't, think in those terms. Despite my better judgment on the subject, I had begun to like you." Severus finished the other foot and set them both back on the floor. As if he couldn't stop touching Harry, he reached out with one of his fingers, tracing across Harry's cheek. "I suspect that was why I was furious when you were so rude to me."

"You certainly made me pay for that." Harry tried to fight off the irritation that thinking about that caused him. It didn't stop him from leaning into Severus' hand as he continued to caress his face.

"Of course I did." Severus leaned down for a long kiss. "Aren't you glad that I did?"

"Not especially. I think we might have got to this point without me being humiliated at every turn." Amazed that he could still feel so annoyed when he'd been so languid a moment ago, Harry's tone was sharper than he would have wished. He hated thinking about Severus and the beginning of the term.

"Shall I apologize for it?" Severus sounded like he would do it if Harry wanted him to and for some reason that placated him.

Despite being tempted to say yes just to hear Severus say it, Harry knew it wouldn't be fair, Severus wasn't the only one to blame for what happened. "If you want to."

"Perhaps, I was a bit harsh." Severus pushed Harry's messy hair out of his face, and leaned down to kiss him again. As he pulled back, he met Harry's eyes. "You were so arrogant in your assumptions, so sure of your righteousness."

"I know." Harry had no defense. He'd been an utter prat. "I was still thinking like a student. You had treated me so awfully while I was in school. I had a hard time seeing past that."

Severus nodded, his expression bland and less accusatory than Harry would have expected. "I'm sure you did."

"I'm not the only one who had trouble letting things go." Harry had never forgot what he'd seen in the pensive all those years ago or the fact Severus never let go of the memories.

"Be that as it may. You weren't interacting with me as an adult. I was--" Severus stopped and looked away, visibly withdrawing.

It wasn't hard to figure it out, though. As scary as the thought was, Harry was starting to actually understand Severus. "You were hurt by it, weren't you? That was why you lashed out so harshly."

The question didn't actually require an answer since Harry could read it on Severus' face. "I answer back with force when compelled to do so."

"I'm sorry." Closing his eyes for a moment, Harry felt a prickle of embarrassment. "You don't make it easy, you know."

"I don't usually, no. I won't change," Severus said, taking his hand and intertwining their fingers. "I can't change."

The truth was that Harry didn't want him to. He loved Severus as he was, meanness and tenderness and all other things. "I would be foolish enough to expect that from you."

Silence fell between them and to break it, Harry asked the first thing that came to his mind. "I'm curious about your attraction to Bill Weasley?"

"What about him?" Severus' eyes narrowed and he pulled his hand away from Harry.

With a sigh, Harry put his hand on Severus' arm so that he wouldn't try to move away. "He's the student from your second year of teaching, isn't he?"

"Why would you think that?" He looked like he was trying to hide his shock, but he wasn't doing a very good job of it. "I didn't tell you who it was."

"No," Harry said, but from what Bill had told him and from what Severus hadn't said, it wasn't hard for him to figure it out. "I know that Bill never understood why you were so horrible to him seventh year when you hadn't been that bad sixth year. He mentioned that he'd grown up a lot over that summer."

Shaking his head, Severus' smile was positively nasty. "I'm horrible to everyone, every year. It's part of my charm."

"Severus," Harry said, exasperated, wanting to take Severus back in his arms, but the stiffness with he held himself said he would not be amenable. "Give it up."

"No. I don't ask you about your past." Severus shook his head and folded his arm over his chest. "Don't think you can ask me about mine."

"You don't have a past. Not that kind, anyway." From the look on his face, Harry thought he should have found a more diplomatic way to put that. Harry spread his arms in invitation. "Ask me what you will."

"I don't want to know." Severus' tone was soft, and cold.

Taking Severus' hand, Harry raised it to his mouth and kissed it tenderly. "I want to understand you. Our situation is rather...unique."

"I expect that it is." Severus seemed to steel himself. "Aside from that, is there something else you wish to know?"

"No. Not if you don't want to tell me." Harry watched Severus' shoulders slump in relief and knew he'd been right not to ask. There would be time enough to know more details. Harry was satisfied with that. "Maybe we should go to bed, then."

Severus looked down at his hand, still joined with Harry's, and then back at him, his expression serious. "I am never going to be easy to live with."

"I know." Harry had known it from the moment that he realized his feelings were something other than pure hatred and accepted it. "There's a Muggle saying about things that come too easily not being of the same value as things that you have to work for. That will be you and I."

Several expressions crossed Severus' face before understanding settled there. "I am inclined to agree with that. Do you wish…."

"I thought that was obvious." Feeling things settle for the moment between them, Harry raised his hand to Severus' cheek, cupping it, and leaning forward to kiss him. "You're worth the work. I do love you."

"I'm not sure why you would, and I don't care. I'm grateful." He leaned into Harry's hand. "I do as well."

"You're not going to say it again, are you?" As much as Harry might want to hear it said a bit more often than he thought he would, it was not something he could force. He could live with it as it was. "As long as I know you feel it."

"You should have no doubts." Severus smirked at him. "I would not wish to over use it."

"Not a chance of that." Harry kissed him, and then stood, pulling on his hand. "Let's go to bed."

Severus nodded. "For once, a wise suggestion from you, Potter."

"You know, you could call me Harry." He didn't understand why Snape continued to call him Potter, especially after they were involved so deeply. Considering who else in Severus' life had that name, it made no sense.

Opening the door to his bedroom, Severus gave him a withering look over his shoulder. "I could, but I won't."

"Why not?" Harry could hear the endearment when he said Potter, but it still made no sense. "Will you tell me?"

With a sigh, Severus leaned on the door jab. "Everyone calls you, Harry. I'd rather call you something else."

"I bet you don't use nicknames, either." From Severus' scowl, Harry knew that was a correct assumption. "All right. I can live with it."

"It's not like you have a lot of choice." Severus caught him in his arms, and kissed him hard. "I do love you, Potter. I suspect I always shall."

Something warm and soft settled into Harry's chest, and he steered Severus into the bedroom.

Despite being sated and sleepy, Harry couldn't relax. He yawned and tied Severus' dressing gown around him as he closed the bedroom door quietly. Even though he had his own dressing gown in the bedroom, Harry preferred Severus' because it smelled like him. After the trauma of their argument, he found that oddly comforting.

As he came into the sitting room, he glanced around. Without his glasses, his vision was poor, but even so, he could see that Ron was asleep in the chair by the fireplace.

Silently, he moved across the room to retrieve his glasses from the mantel. He put them on. The world came back into focus and Ron was still there. For a moment, he considered sending him away. He didn't feel like fighting another battle tonight. "What are you doing here?" Harry asked, keeping his voice down, but not bothering to hide his anger.

Ron yawned and blinked at him, looking chagrined and worried. "Wards were down when I came by earlier. Couldn't leave you unprotected, could I?"

With a sigh, Harry realized he should have put them back up as soon as he was in. In his own defense, he had been distracted. Besides, "What's to harm us here?"

"You don't know, Harry. That's just it." Ron gave him a look that said he should know that, and Harry knew he wasn't wrong.

"Why did you come by Severus' rooms in the first place?" Harry sat down on the sofa across from Ron.

"You weren't in yours." Ron shrugged and looked down. "I came by to apologize. I was a right prat and I know it. I am so sorry."

Harry's heart unclenched a little at the sincerity of Ron's tone. He meant it. "Hermione read you the Riot Act, did she?"

"She's not speaking to me. Told me not to come home until I'd made up with you. " Ron sat up, but didn't meet his eyes. "I'm trying to understand," he said, his tone was low and pleading.

"I wish I could give you an answer you would accept." Harry sighed and looked down at his hands, hoping for inspiration, but unfortunately nothing came to him. His anger was slowly thawing, but they weren't reconciled yet.

"How did it happen?" Ron looked up for a moment and then back down at his own hands. "You hated him so much, just as much as I do."

With a sigh that was mostly chagrin at his own immaturity, Harry shook his head. "Hermione was right. It's the hatred of a child for a mean teacher." Some small part of Harry would always hate that mean teacher, but most of him had let it go.

"He was more than a mean teacher. He was cruel and prejudiced and..." His face started to cloud up again, and Ron sounded appalled. "He was a Death-Eater."

"He also saved my life more times than I can count while I was in school, not to mention during the last battle. More than that, of his own volition and on his own time, he created a potion for me that made me able to move better than I ever thought I would, better than any healer ever hoped. He..." There was deep and abiding gratitude in his tone and he hoped Ron could hear it. "He helped me to heal, Ron."

His cheeks were tinged with red as Ron shook his head. "He's tainted."

"No. He's made mistakes, but he's not tainted." Trying not to get annoyed, Harry glanced at Ron and then away. "Don't get me wrong, he's a sarcastic git and he can be as petty and vindictive as I've ever known anyone to be, but he's also good."

"How can you love him?" The question, instead of being sneering, was honestly asked; Ron wanted to understand.

"I wish I could tell you, Ron. I really do." Harry stood and moved to the side of the sofa and rooted through the pile of clothes dumped there until he found his wand. "I can't. I just know that I do love him. Deeply."

"I'll try and accept it." Ron met his eyes. "Your friendship means a lot to me, and I don't want to lose it."

Harry flicked his wand at the fireplace and it lit, burning warmly. Grateful for Ron's words, and feeling better about the whole thing, Harry sat back down on the soft and looked at him. "Thank you."

"What is going on out here?" Severus came out, wearing a black cotton nightshirt that came to mid-calf.

He gave Severus a tentative smile he knew was filled with his trepidation, and nodded towards the chair. "Ron's here."

"So I see." Severus' tone was pitiless as sat down on the arm of the sofa next to Harry rather than beside him, his hand resting on Harry's shoulder. The protective position was not lost on Harry and by the look of Ron, not him either. "What do you want, Weasley?"

Ron opened his mouth to say something and then sighed. "I came to apologize. I'm sorry I caused a scene and I'm sorry I was rude to you. Can we try...."

With his expression more blank than anything else, Severus raised an eyebrow, but said nothing, waiting for Ron to continue.

Taking a breath, Ron squared his shoulder and faced him. "Can we try to get along? If for nothing else, then for Harry's sake?"

When Severus was silent for too long, Harry elbowed him in the side. "Severus."

"Fine." Severus let out a long-suffering sigh as his fingers made their way into Harry's hair. "I can put up with you for Potter's sake."

"Big of you," Ron muttered, sounding just as put upon Severus did, but was carefully not looking at Severus.

"I thought it was." Severus moved his hand to the back of Harry's neck, stroking one finger along his nape.

Harry shivered with pleasure. There wasn't much in the world that he loved more than the feel of Severus' hands on him.

As Ron's eyes flicked to Severus' caressing finger and then back to Harry's face, he shook his head, seemingly still not getting it. "Why doesn't he call you Harry?"

"How do you know I don't?" Severus' look focused on Ron.

To his amazement, Ron blushed. "I... I've been here a while."

Harry thought back to what they'd been doing and then mortified, he blushed himself. He hadn't taken down the silencing wards on the rooms, but from inside, it wouldn't have mattered.

"Why are you embarrassed?" Severus asked, looking at Harry and sounding perplexed as if he honestly didn't understand.

"Why aren't you?" Ron asked, a note of belligerent disbelief in his tone. "It's a normal reaction, but then...."

Harry gave him a dirty look before he could complete that sentence. Ron glanced down again and wisely did not finish it.

Severus still looked puzzled, but stood. "I'll leave you to your conversation." His hand slid into Harry hair, and Harry looked up as he bent down to kiss him. Severus disappeared back into the bedroom.

His eyes widening at the exchange, Ron shook his head. "Don't take this wrong, but I never thought someone like him could want someone like you. He's so jaded and used. Even if he atoned for what he did, he still did those awful things. I just don't understand what he sees in you. Or what you see in him. You could have someone who is unsullied, someone pure."

The irony in that statement was too much for Harry and he started to laugh, hard. And then he couldn't stop. The events of the evening had finally started to overwhelm him and he gave into the release. Bending sideways on the sofa, holding his stomach, his laugher became almost demented. "I can't believe you said that." Harry finally gasped out. "I just can't believe it."

"I didn't mean it like that. Stop laughing. It wasn't that funny." The indignation in Ron's voice was clear even to a hysterical Harry. He couldn't stop laughing long enough to say anything to appease him.

"It was more funny than you are ever likely ever know, Weasley," Severus said, lounging in the doorway. "It's impossible to sleep with you making that racket, Potter. Do stop."

Harry tried, he really did, but it was all too much for him, and he couldn't.

"Why are you laughing like that?" Ron seemed utterly perplexed. He looked at Severus. "Why is he laughing?"

"It's funny, Weasley." Severus smirked at Ron, but the look faded. "Give it a break, Potter. It's not true anyway."

Sobering up, Harry took several deep breaths; he glanced over at Severus, frowning. "It is in all the ways that matter."

Severus' eyes slid to Ron and then away. "We can discuss this later."

Considering both him and Severus, Ron shook his head, his look somewhere between stunned disbelief and outright incredulity. "Tell me I'm wrong about what I just heard."

"It's none of your business," Harry said. He pointed at Severus. "Let it go, okay. And go back to bed."

"If I remember correctly, Potter, these are my rooms." Severus folded his arms over his chest, stubbornly.

Turning to Ron, Harry gave him a wan smile. "As you see, he and I are well matched."

"I'm still not past the last part." Ron blushed again. "You're not going to tell me, are you?"

"What would you like to know, exactly, Weasley?" Severus' voice was silky and dangerous.

Ron hadn't spent the last eleven years as an Auror without his share of courage. He faced down Severus. "He implied that you were somehow pure."

"Not in the truest sense of the word, I can assure you." Severus held Ron's gaze, not dropping his eyes or giving in.

Ron didn't either. "In what sense of the word, then?"

"It's none of your business, Ron. I told you that." Annoyed to start with, how he was more so. Harry glared first at Ron and then at Severus. Neither were paying any attention to him. "This is childish and I want this to stop, now."

"You may want many things, Potter. You don't always get them. Even from me." Severus still wasn't sparing him a glance.

"Ron? Come on. Let it go."

"No." Ron folded his arms across his chest in an imitation of Severus' stance. "I want to know how he meant it."

Ready to hex them both, Harry had had just about enough of this display. "Do you want me to tell him the truth, Severus? Do you truly want him to know that?"

Breaking off his contest of wills with Ron, Severus turned to look at him, his face serious. "I have a great many things in my life that I'm ashamed of, things that I would do anything to change, but having you as my first lover is not amongst them." He bowed slightly to Harry. "I don't care at all what Weasley or anyone else thinks of that. What you think matters to me." Severus turned around and closed the door behind him.

"Blimey!" Ron's face went red as he stared at the closed door, his expression utterly astounded. "He does love you. I would never have believed it."

Harry nodded, dazzled himself by what Severus had said. A wave of warmth and sweetness settled through him. He needed to go into the bedroom and kiss Severus, touch him. "Ron, I hate to throw you out, but...."

"Yeah, I get it." He stood and stretched. "You and Snape will come for dinner next Sunday?"

He punched Ron on the shoulder. "Yes. We'll be there."

"Are you sure he'll want to?" Ron glanced worriedly at the closed door.

"Yeah, I'm sure about him," Harry said, answering more than he'd been asked.

Ron knew it too, and he grinned. "Don't forget to put the wards back up," he said as he closed the door.

"Thanks, mate," Harry called after him. He put the wards up as fast as he could and then went back to Severus.