“I’m worried about Harry,” Ron Weasley said. He and Hermione Granger were sitting in the Leaky Cauldron for their habitual Thursday evening drinks, a tradition that had once included the entire Trio. The Leaky Cauldron was quiet on Thursday evenings, with few people passing into Diagon Alley after the shops were closed. The three of them had been meeting here, using the relative quiet as a chance to keep up to date with their friends’ lives and concerns. Harry had always been there with them until recently, until three weeks ago when he had owled them with his excuses but no explanation.
“There has been something different about him lately,” Hermione agreed. She pushed her hair – now magically straightened and cut to shoulder length – out of her face and took another sip of her Cosmopolitan. A pink reflection from the drink shone on the polished wooden table and she traced its outline with an idle finger.
“Is he seeing someone? Is he busy with work? Why does he stop making time for us now, when we’ve had drinks every Thursday night for the past five years?”
“I think he must be seeing someone,” Hermione said. “He’s busy when I see him at work, but no busier than usual, and he seems happy.” Harry and Hermione both worked for a research company based in Hogsmeade, with her focus being on tracking down information buried in obscure references and his focus on developing new charms and spells. The creative flash required for the job was the exact challenge that Harry had needed after the war and it matched his talents well. Hermione was a brilliant researcher whereas Harry’s gift lay in the synthesis of information to create new and unexpected results.
“It’s about time he found someone,” Ron said. There were beads of condensation dripping down his glass of Firewhiskey, pooling on his fingers, but he ignored the moisture. “Still, doesn’t mean that he should start ignoring us after we’ve been best mates for so long. Drag him here straight after work next week, okay?”
Luna Lovegood frowned. The expression felt unfamiliar on her face and she transfigured a quill into a mirror to study it. Tilting her head from one side to another, she twitched the muscles around her mouth until the frown felt more normal. Returning the quill to its initial state, she inked it and held it poised over a blank piece of parchment.
She had all of the reports in front of her, arranged on her desk in an order that made perfect sense from her point of view, although a stranger might have asked why some of them were upside down and others were part of an elaborate origami structure. There was testimony from witnesses and statements from the Aurors, and while it was perfectly organized, none of it made sense. The inconsistency had not been obvious to the Aurors, but Luna had an advantage over them – she knew Harry Potter. She knew Harry Potter well enough to recognize that it was his magical signature scrawled all across the crime site and she knew Harry Potter well enough to know that it would be entirely out of character for him to commit a crime of this time.
After the war, Harry had calmed down considerably, his bursts of temper and uncontrolled magic becoming quite infrequent. He’d passed up an opportunity to join the Aurors and hunt down the Death Eaters, the followers of the man who had killed his parents, persons who had caused him no small amount of pain during his tumultuous life. Harry had become gentler, with a fierce light that still shone out of his eyes when his friends were threatened, but without the manic savior complex that he’d had in school. He’d made it quite clear to the world that his friends were under his protection and no one wanted to cross the man who had melted Voldemort like a candle. The rather graphic picture that the Prophet had printed after the last battle was still fresh in the minds of the former Death Eaters and the general public, and so there was no call for Harry to engage in missions of rescue or mercy.
Harry was never violent since the war had ended, not after all of the battle scenes he’d witnessed, and Luna therefore could think of no reason why Harry would have tortured Lucius Malfoy, turning his insides into his outsides. His lungs and heart and stomach and so on were all perfectly functional but not very aesthetically pleasing when displayed. It had taken several hours for the mediwizards to set him to rights.
After the man had squirmed his way out of Azkaban for the third time, buying his way to freedom, Harry and his friends had all made a conscious decision to ignore the man’s past misdeeds. There was nothing that could be done against the man, legally, and Harry had ruled that the Order would not be involved in vigilante justice, no matter how well-deserved it might be. Luna couldn’t imagine why Harry would have changed his mind and decided to extract revenge from Lucius now, years after his crimes had been committed.
Luna’s quill had dripped dark blobs of ink onto the blank parchment. With a conscious effort, she pushed the muscles of her face out of their frown and started to write up her story for the Prophet. She omitted any mention of Harry in the article that detailed the torture of Lucius Malfoy. After all, the Prophet had hired her with the explicit understanding that she was allowed to publish only solid fact and her private speculations about Harry and his motivation for torturing Malfoy were only speculations.
Elaine Arlington was bored out of her mind and ready to start chewing the chipped green nail polish off her fingernails for amusement. Working at a tourist attraction, the glamorous London Eye, provided some entertainment during the summer, when there were tourists with their strange ways and incomprehensible accents – it provided a lot of frustration, sometimes, but even frustration was better than boredom. It was chilly still in early March, but not cold enough to justify turning on the heater and Elaine shivered in the ticket booth, staring down at her fingernails and counting the hours until her shift was over.
All complaints about the misery of boredom were driven from her mind when two handsome men approached the ticket booth. They were both thin and pale and dark-haired, but any resemblance between them ended there. The older man, taller than his companion and blessed with shoulder-length hair that was glossy and beautiful, gorgeous enough that many women would kill to have hair like that, had amazing eyelashes that made a soft-looking sooty frame around intense dark eyes – Elaine stopped checking him out when she realized that the younger man was glaring at her. If looks could pierce through skin – the younger man put a firm hand on his companion’s arm and continued to glare at Elaine.
“I don’t think that we should do this,” the younger man said. “It doesn’t look very safe and what would happen if you were stuck at the top? I won’t do anything that could hurt you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the other man said. “It’s hardly dangerous if hordes of brainless Muggles use it every day. We’ll be together the entire time, there’s no possibility of either of us being injured. No.” He raised one hand to prevent his companion from interrupting him, and Elaine gawked at the long fingers, slender and beautiful. “No, I won’t listen to any of your protests. You’ve never done this before and we had an agreement.”
The younger man pouted and sulked, but the only response was a gentle caress from that beautiful hand, the elegant fingers reaching out to touch his protruding lower lip.
“It’s unnatural,” he said, “going up into the air like that – on some crazy machine that could break. It isn’t safe enough, that isn’t how I want to keep you safe.”
There was no response to this, as though the older man was unwilling to dignify that protest with an argument. Instead, he reached down and caught the other man’s chin with one finger, tilting it upwards and Elaine gasped at the look the two of them exchanged, the fervor and intensity of it almost tangible. Black eyes and green eyes met as though they were engaged in a silent duel and Elaine wondered how much the two men could communicate wordlessly when they turned as one to walk to the ticket counter, their hands moving to bridge the distance between them and meeting in the middle.
Nymphadora Tonks tripped in the Aurors’ cafeteria, almost sending her tray of food to crash into Kingsley Shacklebolt’s lunch. Ron Weasley caught her elbow and steadied the tray with one fluid motion, accustomed to the hazards of working with the Metamorphmagus. “Easy there,” Kingsley said. “I think there might be a few places in this building where you haven’t tripped yet and we wouldn’t want you to go and use them all up today.”
Tonks turned a light shade of pink, her hair flashing from green to blue as she set her tray down on the table. It was strange, Kingsley remarked, that the blush seemed to prompt her hair to change color as though it didn’t want to clash with her skin color.
Ron started eating with his usual dedication, only looking up when he had demolished more than half of his shepherd’s pie. “So, what do you think about this latest case?” he asked after casting a quick silencing charm on the area around their table. The three Aurors had been sent out together on a case that morning and only now returned, their mission reports still blank and waiting for them.
“There’s something pretty strange about it, I think. I mean, sure, Crabbe and Goyle were Death Eaters but they never amounted to much and they were cleared of all charges, thanks to Malfoy’s money. I can’t think of anyone with a serious grudge against them – I mean, this is some serious retaliation and took a lot of power to pull off,” Tonks said.
Kingsley nodded. “Several high-powered transfiguration spells, four selective Obliviates, and an unclassified spell that somehow convinced those two idiots that they’d been transformed into frogs without an actual transfiguration – borderline dark but clearly on the light side of the line – I’d say there’s only half a dozen people in the country who’d be capable of doing all that.”
Ron let his fork fall roughly from his fingers and clang against his empty plate. “I know. I know there’s really only one person who could have done it – that new spell, I mean, that took some real thought and creativity. I just can’t figure out why he’d do it.”
Taking a gulp of her water and sloshing liquid all over the table when she set the glass back down, Tonks said, “I know. After – after everything, it doesn’t seem like he’s done anything like that, not since the war ended. I …”
She paused, and Kingsley as the senior Auror broke the awkward silence. “There’s no need for this to go any further, not considering the general goodwill held for this individual and the fact that none of the spells he cast were more than borderline illegal. The frog spell is a little more uncertain but since it’s brand new and isn’t registered with the Ministry, it can’t be illegal yet. As long as the healers at St. Mungo’s manage to sort them out – even if they don’t, it’s not as though it’s a great loss – I’m going to suggest that we allow the investigation to quietly drop.”
They left their trays for the house elves to clear and made their way back to work, all three of them wondering what possible motive Harry Potter could have had for this attack on Crabbe and Goyle.
Kevin Matthewson, fresh out of college with an art history degree and no career plan, fell into a docent position at the National Gallery by taking the path of least resistance and found that he enjoyed it. He enjoyed watching people react to the art, hated them for brushing past unknown artists and homing in on the classics and the impressionists, and yet loved them for the fresh eyes that they brought to some of his old favorites. It was a slice of life, some days, watching lovers quarrel or sneak kisses in corners, watching children on their first visit, watching old ladies sit on the wooden benches and chat with one another in hushed tones while they waited for their grandchildren.
It was a Saturday, early enough that the crowds hadn’t built up to their peak volume, when he noticed the two men. One of them, dressed in severe black, was composed and matter-of-fact about the art, but the shorter man, whose green shirt matched his eyes, was clearly vibrant, excited and happy. “Did you know that there were so many of them?” he asked his companion. “Look at them, with so many colors and different frames. The way that they have them all lit up perfectly so you can see all the details – look at that one,” he gestured to a van Gogh, “you can see where his paintbrush was, practically imagine it moving across the canvas.”
“It is meant to be a collection of art, which would imply that there should indeed be more than a few, and for said collection to be displayed, one would imagine that proper lighting is a necessity.”
A woman bumped into the taller man from behind and muttered an apology that Kevin couldn’t hear. She followed the man with her gaze when the shorter man pulled him away from her, obviously appreciating his slender form and attractive face if her expression was any indication.
“She didn’t mean any harm, you realize that. She wasn’t about to steal me from you while you were watching.”
The shorter man blushed. “I know – I really do know, but it’s hard to remember sometimes. I …”
“If you apologize again, I will hex you.” This was said in a quiet, serious tone of voice and Kevin was certain that the man was serious. A smile twitched around the man’s lips as he brought the shorter man’s hand to his mouth and kissed the palm of it, closing their joined fingers around the kiss for a second before releasing the hand.
“I like you when you’re paranoid and possessive and protective, Potter. It fits you and not only because it’s charmingly alliterative.”
“You admit that I’m charming then?” Kevin watched the grin that sparked across Potter’s face and shone in his eyes and he was jealous of the taller man for being the object of such fierce protectiveness, of such a bright smile.
Ron met Hermione in the Leaky Cauldron for drinks, feeling awkward. It wasn’t a Thursday and Harry still wasn’t there, making it feel strange. Hermione hadn’t yet succeeded in dragging Harry straight from work to join them, and he’d given no voluntary explanation when he owled them. Ron was beginning to move past concern and into annoyance at his friend’s absence.
The presence of Luna Lovegood only served to make the experience more surreal. Ron watched her push a stray strand of hair out of her eyes – sometimes he wondered if Luna was a closet Metamorphmagus, the subtle way her hair changed color from no color to all colors to any color in particular, but unlike Tonks, she never ventured for any of the more outrageous hair colors and her hair seemed to change based on the lighting rather than her mood.
“There’ll be an article in the Daily Prophet tomorrow,” Luna said, “about Antonin Dolohov. They found him in Cornwall, running in little circles in a Muggle shopping mall and half out of his mind. He thought that the Galumphing Leaf-Snorters were after him, even though everyone knows that they only hunt during the autumn months.”
Hermione swallowed her drink too quickly and spent a few minutes coughing. Ron rubbed her shoulders when she’d finished, and motioned to Tom to bring another round of drinks. He’d found that a certain amount of alcohol was needed to deal with Luna’s wilder flights of fancy. “Were they able to help him at St. Mungo’s?” he asked.
Luna shook her head. “Not yet. They aren’t even sure what curse was cast on him, and we know what that means.”
There was silence between the three of them for a moment as they considered her words, Ron and Hermione wondering if it did indeed mean the same thing in Luna’s world as it did in their world.
“I don’t understand why …” Luna said in a softer voice that trailed off into silence.
“This is getting more and more serious,” Ron said after he finished his drink. “It was one thing when it was Crabbe and Goyle, or even Malfoy, but when he breaks a man out of Azkaban to curse him – I’m not sure how much longer the Aurors will keep quiet about it.”
Marcy Hartlerode had always enjoyed her job with the travel agency. She might not have the means to see the world as she had dreamed of seeing it in her youth, but she felt that enabling other people to see it was the closest she would come to it now. She liked the neatness and the organization of booking flights properly, the colorful brochures that she could spread out in a neat fan in front of prospective travelers, the way that common sense advice smoothed out their fears and fretfulness.
Marcy was confronted by two men waiting impatiently at her desk when she came back from her lunch break. One of them stood up when she approached, clasped her hand briefly, and said, “Ms. Hartlerode, it’s good of you to honor us with your valuable time at last.”
The second man stood at that and placed his hand on his companion’s arm, pulling him away from Marcy. His green eyes focused on her with an intensity that was almost frightening, and Marcy moved away to sit behind her desk. “If you do anything to annoy him, you will …”
He was interrupted by a calming gesture from the first man. “Stop that, Potter, you know very well that this is not the time or place. Ms. Hartlerode, shall we proceed to business? I am Severus Snape, my companion is Mr. Potter, and we wish for you to arrange a trip to the seaside for us.”
The two men reseated themselves, Severus Snape pulling his friend down into the chair and retaining a grip on his arm. While she searched through her files for the appropriate brochures, Marcy saw out of the corner of her eye that Snape was stroking a pattern of concentric circles on Potter’s wrist.
“Did you have any special seaside destination in mind?” she asked, spreading the brochures out in a colorful fan.
“The destination is unimportant, provided that we leave this afternoon.”
The beach was somewhere in the south of England – Severus had not concerned himself with learning the name of the Muggle city nearby, nor had he fussed over any of the details of hotel reservations or travel arrangements. The key had been to get Harry away quickly, away from London before there could be any retaliation for his actions, and he had in fact promised Harry a trip to the seaside.
They sat together in the sand, curled in the comfortable cool shade of a leafy tree. Harry, his green eyes big with wonder, was vocal in his amazement at the saltiness of the air and the sandiness of the beach and the scanty attire of the other vacationers. Severus pressed a quick kiss to his lover’s temple and allowed Harry to mound sand around their feet, trapping them together.
“Harry,” he murmured into his lover’s ear, using his sultriest bedroom voice, “Harry, you’ve got to stop this.”
Harry’s coral lips formed an adorable pout but Severus resisted the temptation to kiss him. He would not be distracted.
“It’s only a little sand, Severus. It won’t hurt your feet any.”
“I wasn’t referring to that. I was referring to your continued attempts for vengeance. I can’t have you chasing after people who hurt me more than a decade ago, Harry.” Severus ran a hand through Harry’s raven-black locks, rubbing his fingertips lightly against Harry’s scalp in lazy circles.
“I won’t have people thinking that they can just get away with hurting you, Severus, it isn’t acceptable to me. I need the world to know that you’re mine, that they can’t touch you or hurt you ever again.” Harry leaned into Severus’s touch, resting his head against his lover’s shoulder and pulling him into a loose embrace.
“They hurt me long ago, and it’s over with now. It would hurt me much more if you were to be put into prison for what you’re doing to them. You can’t just whisk a man out of Azkaban to satisfy your sense of justice, my love, and it won’t do any good. So far no one knows who did it or why, and they certainly don’t think it’s a message telling them to leave me unharmed.”
“They’ll figure it out. There aren’t many people who could have done it.” Harry wiggled his toes, breaking up the crust of sand that surrounded their feet.
“What are you going to do next, Harry? Are you going to dig up Albus’s corpse and punish him for hurting me with that Unbreakable Vow he made me swear? Are you going to summon Voldemort’s soul back across the Veil to make him suffer for each Cruciatus he cast on me? What makes you think that this revenge of yours will ever be complete? You have to stop now, before they catch you and take you away from me.”
“I wanted to do something nice for you, Severus. I thought you’d like it.”
Severus sighed with the realization that dating the most powerful wizard of the century meant that one occasionally received unusual gifts. “It’s not that it isn’t nice, if we must use that insipid word to describe it. It was thoughtful of you to go to all that trouble, and I’m flattered that you invented new curses for the occasion, but it has to stop now, Harry. You aren’t accomplishing anything with this revenge and you’re jeopardizing our future together. When they figure it out, when they’re afraid of what you can do with all that power, they’ll lock you up in a prison somewhere and say that it’s for your own good.”
Harry moved his fingers up and down Severus’s spine, counting the vertebrae and pressing against them lightly as though he were playing the piano on his lover’s back. “I just wanted to erase all the bad memories you had.”
“We’re replacing them with new ones, love, while we do all of the things that you never did during your childhood, making new memories to replace the bad ones for both you and me.”
Harry sat quiet for several long minutes. The breeze off the sea stirred his hair and tickled it against Severus’s shoulder.
“I do feel safe with you,” Severus said when Harry continued to be silent. “Safe and protected and happy, that’s how you make me feel. Please promise me that you’ll stop.”
Harry pulled away from Severus and stared into his eyes before nodding. Severus brushed against Harry’s mind with the gentle and intimate caress that only a Legilimens could use, and felt his honesty. With another mental caress, with no need for spoken words, Severus conveyed his gratitude to Harry.
While their minds were still connected, Harry placed a hand on the back of Severus’s neck and pulled his lover down for a kiss.It made Severus dizzy, feeling Harry’s tongue stroke his tongue from both perspectives. He felt the sweet pain of Harry’s gentle nip at his lower lip and the texture of skin between teeth from Harry’s point of view as well. He felt the caress of Harry’s hand against his neck, the gentle lines that he traced there, and he felt the texture of the skin, the silky hair brushing against his knuckles, from Harry’s perspective. He tasted the warmth of Harry’s mouth, the flavor of tea and tart apples still fresh on his tongue, and he felt Harry tasting the scone that he had for a midday snack at the same time. They rested there, caught in the slow languid kiss, unwilling to break away from the warmth and intimacy of the moment.
At length, Severus pulled away, pulled himself out of the physical embrace while his mind gave Harry’s mind one last caress, promising further delights later. “Shall we go for a swim?” he asked.
Harry’s arm reached out and wrapped around him, pulling Severus in close for another embrace. They were both covered in sand and Severus shook himself to dislodge most of it onto his lover. “Are you kidding?” Harry said. “With your pale skin, there’s no way I’m letting you go swimming. You’d get sunburned in ten seconds.”
It was Thursday night at the Leaky Cauldron, and Ron and Hermione had already ordered their usual drinks. Ron scanned the sparse crowd in the tavern with impatience, searching for Harry and the mysterious “friend” he’d said he would bring.
Hermione choked on her Cosmopolitan when Severus Snape appeared out of the crowd and asked if he could join them. “Ah … we’re actually expecting Harry to join us and he’s bringing a friend,” Ron said.
“Let’s pull up another chair, Severus, and then there’ll be plenty of room for all of us.”
“Are you crazy, Hermione?” Ron hissed at her in an undertone. “I know you get on with him ever since the two of you worked on that project, but he and Harry still hate each other. Asking him to sit and have a civil conversation with Harry is like asking him to make daisy chains and go on picnics.”
Harry came up behind Ron and put a hand on his shoulder in greeting, startling the redhead. He jerked around and realized that Harry hadn’t brought a friend but was carrying two drinks.
“Harry, it’s so good to see you. You deserted us for far too long, you know,” Hermione said.
With his trademark lopsided grin, Harry sat down next to Severus and pushed one of the drinks over to him. “Sorry, guys. I was working on a … project … that was taking up a lot of time.”
Hermione frowned and took up the lecturing tone that was familiar to all of them from their days at Hogwarts. “Harry, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” she said before he interrupted her.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I know what you’re going to say and you’re right. Don’t worry about it, it won’t happen again.”
Ron took a sip of his Firewhiskey, savoring the spicy flavor, and watched the expression on Hermione’s face. No one had ever avoided one of her lectures so adroitly and she looked as though she’d prepared a script and no one else was reading their lines properly.
Harry, whose chair faced the door, glanced up when Remus Lupin walked into the pub and made his way over to their table. “Harry, Ron, Hermione, it’s been a long time,” the werewolf said. “Hello, Severus, I’ve wanted to see you especially. Maybe we could go somewhere to talk?”
Harry’s face had frozen at Remus’s flirtatious tone but it was the casual hand placed on Severus’s shoulder that seemed to truly anger him. He set down his drink with a thud on the wooden table and stood, reaching out and knocking Remus’s hand away from Severus.
“Don’t touch him. Don’t ever touch him again like that, do you understand me?” he asked in a voice that shook. His eyes sparked with unusual energy until Severus reached out and placed a hand on Harry’s hand, calming him and grounding him.
Remus backed away and left without any goodbyes. Ron and Hermione watched him go, amazed at the changed relationship between Harry and Remus. Harry sank back into his seat, breathing heavily but otherwise controlled. Severus kept his hand on Harry’s hand, tracing circles there to comfort him.
In unison, Ron and Hermione turned from watching Remus’s departure to look at Harry and Severus.
A smirk formed on Severus’s lips when he saw the shocked expressions on their faces. “So, Mr. Potter, I imagine that there must have been a distinct lack of daisy chains and picnics in your deprived childhood. Perhaps we should arrange an outing with your friends.”