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Second Chances (Or, A Story about Coming Home)

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“Will the defendant please rise?”

Severus takes his time getting to his feet. His Ministry-assigned legal wizard stands beside him, fumbling to button his robes over the ill-fitting dress shirt and trousers he wears beneath. Severus is not in chains, though he might as well be, considering the layers of dampening spells they’ve cast over his person. One would think they didn’t trust the score of Aurors lining the perimeter of the room and standing guard at each of the exits to contain one unarmed Death Eater turned spy. He’d take it as a compliment, he supposes, if he could muster up the energy to care. 

For one brief moment, he considers testing the spell work. He has power enough to circumvent dampening magic and, though Severus doesn’t know who's anchoring the warding around him, he’s reasonably certain one intensely focussed Diffindo would do the trick. It would be an interesting experiment to say the least.

But Severus is not suicidal. And he does not have a wand. Even if he did, one against twenty is a losing game. Death by Auror at his own war crimes trial seems appallingly cliché. He will not give them the satisfaction of facilitating his ignominious demise. 

The aged Chief Warlock takes the proffered parchment from the clerk and pulls a pair of spectacles from his robes. He clears his throat, scanning the verdict before reading aloud: “After deliberation, the Wizengamot has found the defendant, Severus T. Snape guilty of murder, treason, and crimes against Wizarding society. These crimes include but are not limited to: The casting of the unauthorised and unforgivable spells, Imperio, Crucio, and the killing curse, Avada Kedavra. The passing of information to the dark wizard, He who shall not be named. Possession and use of restricted ingredients, classes C, F, and X. Unauthorised brewing of restricted potions with intent to…”

Severus hardly hears the litany of charges he’s been convicted of. He feels numb, out of focus. Certainly, he’d expected this all along—how could he not? But still, standing here in front of the Wizengamot, listening to his fate be read aloud as one might recite a grocery list is surreal. It’s yet another nightmare in a lifetime of nightmarish things.

The Chief Warlock stops reading. He turns towards the witches and wizards seated on the high benches behind him. “And this verdict was reached by a majority?”

The stout, grey-haired witch at the end of the front row stands, smoothing the front of her plum-coloured robes. “Yes. Forty-three in favor. Seven against.” 

Severus nearly laughs. That’s actually a handful more than he thought might think him innocent. Despite the Pensieve records Albus left precisely detailing the role Severus played for the Order, that each of his actions—his crimes—was carefully planned and deliberately executed, right down to the murder of his best friend and mentor, Severus had known he’d be found guilty before he ever stepped foot in the courtroom.

His stomach clenches. He knows he deserves this, but he will hate Albus until the day he dies for what the man made Severus do to him.

“All right,” the Chief Warlock says, “then in accordance with Section 3569.4B of the Wizarding Legal Code, I hereby sentence the defendant to a term of no less than forty years and no more than the length of his natural life. Severus Tobias Snape, you are now bound to the state.”

There’s a brief commotion and Severus turns to see Harry Potter, of all people, striding towards the door. It bangs shut loudly behind him, the sound echoing off the stone walls. The man’s presence does not surprise Severus. After all, Potter gave a ridiculously impassioned defence on his behalf not three days before. Still, he cannot imagine the man expected any other outcome or fathom a reason he’d be upset by the verdict.

***

Azkaban is cold. They’ve expelled the Dementors, but they haven’t managed to get the chill out of the walls. It’s the type of cold that seeps into your bones. Severus sits on the narrow cot and wraps his arms around his chest. The thin fabric of his striped jumpsuit provides little warmth. The sky outside the solitary window set high above his head is as grey as the stone of the walls. Outside, he hears the crash of waves against the rocks far below. He thinks, if he pretends, it sounds almost like the wash of the lake against his dungeon walls deep beneath the castle at Hogwarts. 

 

***

When the guard informs him of the visitor, he assumes there must be some mistake. After all, who would come see him? Lucius is serving his own sentence and, while he counts Minerva, Filius, and Sinistra as friends, he did not delude himself to think that the friendships extended beyond the walls of Hogwarts or, perhaps, Hogsmeade.

Regardless, Harry Potter is probably the last person he expects to see when they arrive at the tiny visitor’s area. A heavy wooden table occupies the centre of the otherwise bare room. The man is seated in one of the two metal folding chairs, but he stands when Severus enters.

“Professor,” he says, extending a hand.

Severus doesn’t take it. After a moment, Potter lets his hand drop again, but he doesn’t seem at all put off. Instead, he smiles a smile that is warm and genuine and says, “It’s good to see you too, sir.”

Potter is still a few weeks shy of twenty, but in his standard-issue Auror robes, he looks nothing like the student Severus taught three years and a lifetime ago. The war changed them all; Severus knows this better than anyone.

“Mr. Potter,” he says, when the man merely stands there. “Surely you’re not here in an official capacity. Or, haven’t you heard? I’ve already been convicted of all charges.”

“Yeah, I know.” Potter runs a hand through already dishevelled hair. “And no, it’s nothing like that. I mean, well—” He looks at the guard still standing by the door. “Can you leave us?”

The guard turns around as though, possibly, someone else is in the room behind him. “I, er, you want him chained?’

Severus feels ill, but Potter only laughs. “No. I think I can handle him.”

The guard grunts in reply and leaves. The iron door closes behind him and Severus feels the wash of magic as the dampening spells fall back into place. It feels as though the air has been sucked from the room.

“Will you sit?” Potter says after a moment, and Severus does only because he can’t think of a reason to refuse.

“I want your permission to ask your barrister to request an appeal of your sentence.”

“I…I’m sorry?” Severus is not sure what he expected Potter to say, but he’s certain it wasn’t that.

“An appeal,” Potter says slowly. “I believe your sentence should be reduced, if not overturned completely.”

Severus opens his mouth and then closes it again. Has Potter gone mad? Post-traumatic stress could cause such a thing. “What, in Merlin’s name, are you going on about?” he asks after a moment. Had it not been for Potter’s testimony at his trial, Severus might have thought this was some sort of cruel jape.

He still isn’t sure why Potter chose to come forward as his witness. It was an unpopular decision to be sure. But the man has always had a hero complex and, at least this once, Severus can’t fault him for it.

“I’ve already talked to Kingsley,” Potter says. “He’s agreed to review the trial transcripts. I’m certain he’ll support reducing or overturning your sentence.”
 
“Kingsley?” Severus says, confused. While he’s always gotten on tolerably well with Shacklebolt, he’s unclear what the man has to do with his conviction. “He doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Wizengamot.”
 
“Actually he does,” Potter says. “Despite the separation of judicial and executive branches, there’s precedent.” Severus frowns, but Potter continues: “After Dumbledore was relieved of his position as Chief Warlock, Fudge took over, though he was Minister of Magic at the time and certainly not elected to the post.” 

Severus almost laughs. After Fudge inserted himself as head of the Wizengamot, Severus was forced to endure Albus’s endless tirades regarding the former Minister’s disregard for legalities. “Even if, as Minister, Kingsley has grounds to intervene on my behalf, that doesn’t change the fact that I am, as it happens, guilty as charged.” Severus can hear the self-loathing in his words. “Surely you recall the rather unfortunate Mark on my arm. And, if memory serves, you were present on the Astronomy Tower the night I murdered Albus Dumbledore.”

Potter’s eyes flash darkly but, to his credit, his expression does not falter. “You acted on his express orders. He was dying and it was necessary for us to win the war.”

Severus does not need Legilimency to know the conviction in Potter’s voice is genuine. Perhaps this should please him, but it only turns his stomach. Potter may have forgiven him for what he did, but he will never forgive himself. “Murder is still murder, Mr. Potter. And it has always been unforgivable.”

“Not in times of war,” the man snaps, voice rising for the first time. The defiance Severus hears reminds him of Occlumency lessons so many years ago. “Or,” Potter continues, “have you forgotten that I am also guilty of murder?”

Severus rolls his eyes. “If you don’t see the difference between Albus Dumbledore and the Dark Lord, then you’re more of an idiot than I thought.”

But Potter is shaking his head. “Both deaths were necessary. You don’t get to pick and choose who gets punished and who doesn’t for the same crime. Not if you’re going to excuse any wartime murder as justified. We wouldn’t have won the war had you not done what you did, just as we wouldn’t have won had I not done what I did.”

Severus appreciates his determination, as misguided as it may be. “I am a Death Eater turned spy, Potter. You are the Hero. Saviour of the world. There will always be a double standard and, despite what I may have done in the end to further the war effort, I have a lifetime of crimes to atone for.” He sighs, exhaling deeply. “And our society isn’t in the habit of allowing Death Eaters to go without punishment.”

“You’re not a Death Eater, Snape. You haven’t been for quite some time.”

Severus doesn’t feel like arguing. He’s tired. He’s always so bloody tired. “Death Eater or not, I’ve cast enough Unforgivables to earn a lifetime in this place.”

“So did I.” Potter leans forward, presses his palms to the tabletop. “But just as the Ministry excused their use during the First Wizarding War, Kingsley has already granted immunity for all Unforgivables used in the effort versus Voldemort this time around. You are no more guilty than I am.”

“The potions…” Severus tries.

At that, Potter shrugs. “I’m not sure we can do much about the potions. But again, considering the extenuating circumstances, the charges should carry no more than a year or two sentence at worst. At best, some sort of probation with restrictions placed on your purchasing, brewing, and so forth.”

Severus looks at Potter for a long moment. The torchlight flickers orange against his glasses, casts shadows across his face, making the circles under his eyes look like bruises against pale skin. The man looks every bit as exhausted as Severus feels. And yet, for some inexplicable reason, Potter is here demanding permission to help him.

Finally, Severus waves a hand—a dismissive gesture. “Appeal away, Mr. Potter. Appeal away.”

Potter beams.

***

The next time Severus sees Potter they are in the Minister of Magic’s office. Kingsley is seated at his desk. His robes are off; they are draped over the back of his chair. Potter is pacing by the window, arms folded across his chest.

“No, absolutely not.” If Severus thought he’d get away with it, he would have stood up and walked out that instant. But while he’s sitting here on his own accord and not technically under Auror guard—if you don’t count Potter—he knows it’s only an illusion. Though the Minister did, incredibly, approve the appeal of his sentencing, he will not be pardoned. The Chief Warlock has made it abundantly clear that, despite inexplicable support from both the Boy Hero and the Minister himself, the Wizengamot still considers Severus an immediate danger to Wizarding society. “I can endure a great many things, but even I have to draw the line somewhere. I will not tolerate being Potter’s house pet.”

“Ah!” Matthias Coverly exclaims from the corner. The Chief Warlock is a miserable little man who has a penchant for wearing his plum coloured robes blazoned with the silver W and triple star signifying his position even when not in court. “You see, he is combative and non-compliant. Exactly as I predicted! With all due respect, Minister, you are making a mistake in overturning our ruling.”

“Yes, Matthias,” Kingsley says, annoyance clear in his voice. “Your objections have been noted…on multiple occasions.” He presses his fingers to his temples. “But the Wizengamot, like the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and the Minister’s Office, must, first and foremost, seek to uphold justice. And, in this particular instance, that failed to happen.”

Coverly sputters indignantly. “As I have said previously, it is neither the Minister’s Office nor the Aurors’ prerogative to challenge our interpretation of the law. You,” he glares at Kingsley, “enact them. The Aurors,” he waves a dismissive hand at Potter, “enforce them. But the Wizengamot applies them with all the consideration and expertise our society has come to expect from their esteemed council.”

Severus barely bites back a laugh. The man’s ego is astounding and he can think of more than a few examples when that ‘expertise’ was anything but.

Kingsley sighs rather loudly. “Yes, but when the Wizengamot fails to adhere to executive orders then it is the responsibility of my office to intervene and—”

“But this man is guilty!” Coverly interrupts, “by a ruling—if you recall—of forty-three to seven of treason and crimes of an unforgivable nature.”

At that point, Potter speaks for the first time. Severus almost smiles at the vitriol in his voice. “Your ruling was illegal. What part of the executive order authorising all use of Unforgivables pursuant to the defeat of Voldemort do you not understand?”

Coverly flinches, whether from Potter’s tone or his use of the Dark Lord’s name, Severus does not know. And, once again, he wonders what Potter must have done to secure his appeal. How does a boy, not yet twenty, challenge the Chief Warlock and win?

But then again, normal rules never seem to apply to their Saviour. Potter is only a second-year Auror, but he’s on a fast trajectory to make head of the department before he’s reached twenty-five. Severus can’t even pretend to be surprised that the Ministry doesn’t seem to mind that Potter never finished his formal schooling. He wonders if anyone bothered to ask if he even sat for his NEWTs. 

“I, well, I’ve never. If I had half a mind I’d—”

“Enough, Matthias.” Kingsley holds up a hand; his deep voice reverberates throughout the room. “There was more than sufficient evidence presented by the defence proving that Severus was on our side.” He emphasises the word as if to suggest that Coverly would do well to remember what side he was on. “Therefore, your ruling was in violation of our law.”

“I—” Coverly tries, but Kingsley is not finished.

“I have conceded your point that Severus’s…earlier allegiances cannot be overlooked. Hence my approval of this unconventional directive. Still, I reserve the right to revisit his sentence in two years’ time and reassess as need be.”

Coverly scowls but, seeming to realise that the discussion is done, nods once. “Well, since my presence is clearly no longer required here, I've pressing matters to attend to elsewhere.”

“Of course, Chief,” Kingsley says. “Thank you for making time in your busy schedule to fit us in today. Your next court session begins when? Three weeks from Tuesday?”

“I, er, yes,” the man says, uncomfortably. At least he’s the sense to realise when he’s being mocked, Severus supposes. The Chief Warlock shakes Kingsley’s hand before nodding curtly to Potter and slipping out the door. 

Kingsley leans back in his chair; it groans under his weight. “Are you certain, Harry, that this is what you wish to do?”

At Kingsley’s question, Potter stops pacing and turns to face him. “Of course. He doesn’t belong in Azkaban. You know that.”

“Yes…” Kingsley says slowly, “but that does not mean you must be the one to take on the responsibility.”

“If I don’t, who will? It’s not as though we’d have people queuing up for the opportunity.” He looks at Severus. “No offence, Professor.”

Severus does not roll his eyes. “None taken.”

“Right then,” Bellamy Hollis says, “I’ll just...” The legal-wizard had been doing everything in his power to appear invisible while Coverly was in the room. But now he waves his wand at the parchment in front on him. It flashes brightly. If Severus were to say anything at all about Hollis, it would be that the man has clearly earned whatever measly paycheque the Ministry provides for court appointed service. Severus has Galleons enough saved; he could have hired his own barrister, but no firm seemed eager to represent the man who murdered Albus Dumbledore. Severus can’t say he blames them, and Hollis’s work has been more than adequate.

“It all looks good,” Hollis says to Potter, who’s come to look at the document over his shoulder. “I’ve read it three times.”

“Yes, I know,” Potter says. He chews on his lip. “But the bond… I want Hermione to review and perform the spell work.”

“Certainly. Here—” Hollis points to a section on the page in front of him. “The bonding must be overseen by a Ministry appointed spell-wizard, but you are free to cast the magic yourself or have your…wife?”

“No,” Potter says quickly. “Hermione is a friend, but she’s got the best command of spell work of anyone I know. She’s training to be an Unspeakable and she’s researched bonding magic extensively.”

“Well, as long as you cement the bond within the week, that’s fine. Shall we sign?” Hollis says.

Potter looks to Severus. “I know this isn’t what you want but, given the circumstances, I believe it’s the best outcome. You do have a choice, though. You do not have to do this. You can return to Azkaban. Maybe file another appeal.”

 

Severus has been called a great many things, but stupid is not one. And, even though it sickens him to admit it, Potter is right: This…arrangement, as appalling as it may be, is preferable to a lifetime in Azkaban. He nods and his barrister initials the form before sliding it across the desk to Potter. The man signs his name and the parchment glows momentarily as the ink from his signature sinks into the page. A transcript will immediately be on file in the Department of Records. 

***

Grimmauld Place is exactly as Severus remembers it.

They Apparate directly to the foyer. Though Potter has clearly dismantled much of the protections that used to cloak the house, Severus still feels the wash of wards over his skin.

Potter shoves his hands in his pockets and scuffs the toe of his trainer against the antique Oriental rug. It’s stained and threadbare in places, the colours long faded, but Severus knows it must have once cost a fortune. Potter is uncomfortable and unsure; he looks nothing like the defiant man who demanded that the Minister of Magic himself appeal a Death Eater’s sentence, who challenged the Chief Warlock …and won. But, then again, Severus is not sure how one is supposed to look when standing in front of the man who was once your professor, your enemy, your begrudged ally who will now become your bonded— Bonded what? Prisoner? Property?

Severus takes a deep breath and tries to focus on the inhalation, exhalation of air from his lungs rather than the nausea that threatens to rock his system. Though he is still unsure as to why Potter did what he did—why he singlehandedly orchestrated an appeal that got him out of prison—he reminds himself that the man is nothing if not honourable.

“So, er…” Potter says, “I had Kreacher bring your things up to your room.”

“My things?”

“Yes. I sent for them. Minerva had them delivered this afternoon. But if you need anything else—anything at all—just tell Kreacher and he’ll pick it up for you.”

Severus has never been a big man, but after two months in Azkaban, his clothes are hanging from his too thin frame. A few new things might be necessary. “I… thank you,” he says genuinely. He feels out of focus and out of sorts. He woke up this morning in a nightmare, but now he’s slipped into some strange dream.

“I thought you should have Regulus’s old room,” Potter is saying. “I hope that’s all right.” When Severus doesn’t respond, Potter continues: “I’m in Sirius’s room. There’s a master suite on the third floor, but let’s just say that Sirius’s parents didn’t care much for half-bloods…or, well, anyone really. I’ve got it sealed off now. Trust me, there are worse things than a Boggart in there.”

“A Boggart?”

“Oh, yeah, there’s one in your closet. It’s in a chest. Thumps around a bit, and I’ve heard it howling a few times in the middle of the night, but I don’t think it will get out of there.”

Severus doesn’t know what to say. He supposes there are worse things that go bump in the night.

Potter is still talking. “You can get rid of it, of course. I just didn’t—” he trails off, mouth open in a round, pink O. “Your wand. You don’t have a wand. I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. I’ll take care of the Boggart for you, I—”

“No,” Severus says quickly. “It’s not a problem. Don’t worry about it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Potter rocks onto the balls of his feet; he practically vibrates with pent-up energy, with magic. “Okay, well, Kreacher’s making some dinner if you want to come down in a bit after you get settled. Or, he could bring something up for you.”

“All right.”

He leaves Severus standing there, disappearing down the corridor that leads to the kitchen. Severus climbs the stairs slowly, noticing absently that the landing is no longer lined with decapitated elf heads. It’s a marked improvement, to be sure, but the house is still gloomy, still tainted with dark magic. Still, it’s not Azkaban. It’s almost more than he can wrap his head around, being here in Sirius Black’s old house with Harry Bloody Potter as his saviour once again.

***

Severus is not sure if he should feel ashamed or grateful that his Boggart is still his father.

Tobias Snape drank himself to death the summer before Severus’s sixteenth birthday, but the man haunts him to this day.

At least his magic is good. Severus has always been skilled at wandless magic. But wandless magic when you don’t actually have a wand is a bit more complicated. Still, Severus holds up his hands, casts the spell, and feels his magic rush through his veins. It sparks in his blood and tugs at his spine. It’s intoxicating. It’s overwhelming. It’s like coming home. The bottle of whisky in Tobias’s hand turns into a rubber chicken. When the facsimile of his father looks down in confusion, Severus says Riddikulus once more, voice cold, careful, and the Boggart screams before disappearing with a crack. They’re immortal; Severus hasn’t destroyed it, but he is fairly confident it won’t return to this particular closet any time soon. 

Afterwards, he lies down. The bed is draped in Slytherin green, but the white sheets are crisp and clean, and the pillow is soft.

Severus hasn’t slept in years. At Hogwarts, he was plagued by nightmares. After all, he was living one. His worst nightmares were alive as he walked the halls at night, as he spent endless hours strategising with Albus, and, of course, whenever he was forced to Apparate away to the pull of his Mark.

And then, after the war, Severus was supposed to be done. He’d played his part until the very end. Death seemed an appropriate reward. But instead, he’d awoken in a private room in St. Mungo’s, Harry Potter—of all people—curled in the chair in the corner, and an armed guard outside his door.

The trial was another kind of nightmare with Azkaban as the inevitable conclusion.

But now…

Severus closes his eyes. That he would be here in his old housemate’s boyhood room just days away from being bonded to Harry Potter is likely the final scene in his lifelong nightmare. Or, maybe, it’s a reprieve.

He does not sleep but, for the first time in months, he relaxes for a little while. At half past eight, there is a soft knock at his door. Severus considers ignoring it, but after a minute he rolls over and stands up. There is no one there, but a tray waits for him with a bowl of soup, a sandwich, and a cup of tea.

***

Severus cuts his roast into thin strips. The meat is juicy and tender. It practically melts against his tongue. There are boiled potatoes, too. And little onions that burst when he bites into them, but he hardly tastes a thing. Ronald Weasley and his wife are here. They are seated around the large wooden table in the kitchen. Weasley spins his beer bottle around between his palms, but he does not drink. The Granger girl is hugely pregnant—no doubt a redheaded know-it-all in the making.

“All right,” Potter says, “tell me one more time. How does the magic work?”

Granger nods, shifting in her chair. She presses one hand to her stomach. “It’s a bonding spell. There is blood but no soul magic. The bond is uneven, of course. You are the anchor. Professor Snape will be bound to you. But there is no compulsion. Aside from the need to remain within a certain physical proximity, the spell will not require anything of you.”

Potter leans forward, rests his elbows on his knees. He’s not drinking and Severus does not think he’s touched his food. “Physical proximity? Do we know anything else about that component? Because I’ve read everything I can on this bloody spell and I can’t find a damn thing.”

The man has researched; Severus will give him that. The amount of time Potter has spent poring over the books in the Black family library has left Severus reluctantly impressed. Potter has taken the past two days off work and, aside from the occasional break for tea, he’s spent all his time in one of the old wingback chairs by the fire, reading one text after another.

Although Severus is one of the premier researchers in all of England, he hasn’t been able to stomach the thought of reading about the bond. Besides, he’s not sure it would matter. They will cast the spell. He will be bound to Potter. No amount of knowledge or understanding will change that.

“No.” Granger shakes her head, takes a sip of her seltzer water. “There are simply not enough documented cases of the spell’s casting to draw any convincing conclusions. Besides,” she continues slowly, “it’s clear this spell has a history of dark use.” 

Weasley grunts in disgust and stands, walking to the fridge for another beer. He’d been the most vocal against Potter’s decision. But once it became clear that his friend wasn’t going to change his mind, Weasley has been entirely supportive. Severus has to give him credit for that. 

“I know,” Potter says, running a hand through his hair. He’s wearing it longer now; it looks as if it hasn’t seen a brush in days. “That the Ministry would prescribe its use in this situation is bordering on reprehensible. But there’s not much precedent for our…situation. And I suppose beggars can’t be choosers.”
 
Severus feels sick. He refuses to contemplate what just a minor alteration, even unintentional, of the spell could mean. 

He takes a deep breath. Potter’s diligence and preparation here has been reassuring.  Though, it’s difficult not to be anxious when his life is at stake.  

Still, Potter has proven thoughtful and methodical, considering every aspect of the spell and its ramifications with an obsessive attention to detail. Severus must admit that he is nothing like the impetuous student who used to plunge head first into danger without a second thought. Though, the more time Severus spends around Potter, the more he begins to question whether he was ever that boy at all. 

“I’m comfortable that the spell’s ultimate manifestation hinges on intent,” Potter says. “And, as our intent is simply to satisfy the legal directive of the Wizengamot and ensure that Professor Snape is protected from any further prosecution, the bond will be devoid of any compulsory elements...except for the locational component. Which is ambiguous as fuck.”
 
At that, Severus can’t help but laugh. Otherwise he might scream. 

Potter and two Weasleys turn to him in surprise. It’s understandable, he supposes; he’s said all of two words this entire evening. “I think, by performing the spell here, your presumption is accurate.” Severus looks at Potter. “The magic will have no choice but to ground itself in this place. The bond will be to you, but there will also be a connection to the house.”
 
Potter nods. 

“Which I believe is a good thing.” Severus laughs again. “Despite the fact that such a thought violates every principle I hold dear.” He shakes his head. “At the very least, I shouldn’t have to sit under your desk at work each day.” 

Ronald pales a bit at that, but Potter smiles wryly. “They’d have to make you an honorary Auror.” His eyes flash with a hint of amusement. “Just imagine what The Prophet would say.” 

Severus snorts. “I think I’d rather have a drink.” 

“Good choice, that,” Potter agrees. And with a lazy wave of his hand, two bottles of beer sail from the fridge, landing smartly on the table. Severus refuses to be impressed by this casual display of wordless, wandless magic. Potter opens the bottles and slides one across the table to Severus. “To us,” he says, holding his drink in the air and adding, “What has the world come to?”

Severus takes a long swallow. 

Granger stands and clears their plates, pretending not to notice that neither Potter nor Severus have so much as touched their food. She starts the dishes to washing in the sink while her husband comes to stand beside her. He rests one palm on the swell of her belly. “I’ll go over the spell work once more tonight, Harry,” she says, “but the theory is sound.”
 
“I know. Still, I can’t help but feel like it’s the night before a big exam and I haven’t revised at all.”
 
Severus can’t help himself. “Then you’re entirely in your element, I gather.” 

Potter doesn’t even scowl; rather, he looks reluctantly amused. Severus takes another swig of beer. He can’t remember the last time he had a drink. The night before the final battle, most likely? The alcohol feels pleasantly warm in his stomach. 

“Nah,” Potter says. “We studied some at school. Hermione always saw to that.” 

She smiles fondly, though Severus can see sadness in her eyes. “I did what I could. Now I think it’s best if we all try to get some sleep.” She takes a step, grimacing. “Let me just use the loo before we go.” 

Once she’s down the hall and out of earshot, Ronald turns to Potter, arms folded across his chest. “Have you talked to Gin?”

Potter stiffens slightly. “She knows.” 

“I know she knows,” he says sharply. “All of England bloody well knows. I meant, have you really talked to her? Explained to her exactly what this means?”

“She understands.” Potter drains the last of his beer, banishes the empty bottle to the bin. 

“Does she?” Ronald’s voice rises sharply. “She’s knows it’s fucking permanent? That once it’s done he’ll be bound to you. And not in some kind of holidays and alternating weekends kind of way. Snape doesn’t get to go back to Hogwarts. You don’t get to buy some little flat in Diagon or Soho or wherever the hell she’s dreaming of these days.” He glances at Severus. His cheeks are flushed red with anger. “Unless, of course, he goes with you, and I’m pretty sure that’s not the kind of happily ever after my sister’s been envisioning since she was ten.” 

Potter’s expression falters for just a moment but he smooths it again expertly. “You know I never promised her anything. Besides, the spell is reversible.” 

“It’s reversible in theory,” Granger says from the doorway. Severus hadn’t realised she’d returned. “But you understand blood magic as well as anyone, Harry. And once the bond has settled...” She trails off, but Severus understands. He’s certain Potter does as well. Granger shakes her head. “You just never know how such a bond will react to an attempt at dismantling it. And that’s assuming we’re granted the pardon that would allow us to even try.” 

“Kingsley promised to review the case in two years,” Potter says resolutely. “He won’t go back on his word.” 

“No, he won’t,” Granger agrees, but her voice wavers slightly. “I don’t want you to get your hopes up, though.” 

“I won’t,” Potter says. “But he’ll do the right thing.” 

After the Weasleys have Floo’d home, Potter puts a hand on Severus’s arm. His touch is hesitant and Severus does not pull away. “Are you okay with this?” Potter asks, concern bleeding into his voice. 

Severus doesn’t know how to begin to respond to that so he says nothing. 

“I mean,” Potter continues, “I know you’re not. How could you be? But are you okay with Hermione performing the spell? I should have asked you first. I’m sorry, I didn’t think.” His hand falls from Severus’s arm, but he doesn’t step away. “I could have asked Minerva. I’m sure she would have happily done it, but I trust Hermione completely. And her grasp of the magic is better than anyone I know.”
 
“Aside from yourself,” Severus says. 

Potter frowns, but his skin pinks slightly. “Yes.”

“I am all right,” Severus assures, hoping his voice doesn’t betray him. “It will be all right.” 

***

For all its staggering ramifications, the spell is fairly simple. Still, Severus recognises the precision in Granger’s casting. It’s been years since he’s doubted her skill as a witch and now it’s markedly clear that very few wizards, excepting himself and Potter, Kingsley and Minerva, could match her power. 

Potter draws Severus’s blood—it has to be him. But the touch of his wand is gentle, and Severus hardly feels the cut until Potter presses thumb and forefinger to his arm, squeezes the wine-red blood into the waiting vial. Granger’s magic is almost soothing, as she weaves the spell work, intricate and binding.

And then he feels Potter. The pulse of the man’s magic is like a heartbeat, a rush of blood in his ears. It’s subtle at first, but then it builds. And though it now seems as though ages have passed since they trained together, fought together, hated each other, Potter is familiar. And he is strong. 

When it’s over, Potter sits down on the couch. He leans forward, lets his arms fall between his legs. He looks exhausted and although Severus doesn’t feel any different, he knows everything has changed. 

***

One week, then two, then three pass without incident. Potter Floos to work at precisely eight each morning. In the evenings, he sits at the battered table in the kitchen going over case files. Sometimes he can be found curled in one of the old wingback chairs in the library in front of the telly. Potter has a Muggle television set. How he’s magicked it to work is beyond Severus, but the man enjoys watching football matches and has a penchant for Muggle crime dramas.

One evening, Severus hears voices down the hall, but when he opens the door to the library, he finds Potter alone, loudly proclaiming his opinions on chain of custody and appropriate evidentiary procedures to the television set. 

Severus sits down opposite him. On the telly, a beautiful young woman in a form-fitting blue dress is scraping an unidentifiable substance into what looks like a sandwich baggie. She bends down to examine the blood splatter on the ground; her stiletto heels are clearly unsuitable for fieldwork. The victim on the ground behind her looks like he met the wrong end of a Sectumsempra or, as it turns out, a machete. 

“Don’t you get enough of this type of thing at that job of yours?”

Potter raises his eyebrows. “Yeah, I suppose. Though, this isn’t exactly standard operating procedure on the force.” He points to the telly. “I mean, look at that.” The woman is now holding her evidence bag up to the light, as though to determine its makeup from sight alone. “And can you imagine if I turned up at a crime scene dressed like that?”

The woman puts one hand on her hip, cocking her head to the side; a cascade of dark hair falls over her shoulder. Severus looks at Potter. The man is dressed in loose khaki trousers and a worn t-shirt professing the name of some Quidditch team in faded letters. His legs are curled beneath him, his feet bare. “I’d prefer not to.”
 
Potter laughs at that, a warm bark of sound. “No, better not. But there, look.” Another agent has arrived on screen. He’s wearing a perfectly tailored suit and a pair of mirrored sunglasses. He pulls them off dramatically as he surveys the scene. Then he proceeds to dip the toe of one no-doubt expensive Italian loafer in the trail of blood leading to the victim. 

Potter throws his hands up in exasperation. “See what I’m dealing with here? Our experts are surely more skilled than whomever they employ in the lab and even my guys would say that sample’s now been contaminated beyond use.” 

Severus concedes the point. “Their methods do seem to be lacking.” 

“I know. It’s a wonder they ever catch anyone at all.” 

“Perhaps you should give Scotland Yard a call.” Severus turns back to the telly. The programme has gone to commercial break. “Or, see if the network’s doing a casting call. They might be hiring.” 

Potter grins. “Maybe I will.” 

***

Severus used to believe that Potter loved the spotlight, that he basked in the attention his celebrity afforded him. At one point, Severus would have staked a lifetime supply of potions ingredients on such assumptions, and he took a degree of pleasure imagining that Potter spent all manner of evenings gallivanting around town with a bevy of young men and women following him about. 

But Potter is a homebody.

He eats dinner with the Weasleys once a week. Occasionally, he grabs a drink at The Leaky with his colleagues after work. But otherwise Potter is the last one to leave the Auror office at night. He eats whatever Kreacher’s made for dinner while reviewing the day’s case files. Some nights, he has a beer or two while watching the telly before going to bed.

As for his personal life, Ginevra Weasley has Floo’d several times since Severus has been here, and Potter has taken her to dinner once. But Ginevra did not return to Grimmauld Place with Potter afterwards and Severus knows the man has not spent a night away. 

During the day, Severus reads. Though he’s loath to admit it, the Black family library is entirely adequate. Not to mention, there are texts here that would make those in the Restricted Section look like children’s books in comparison. 

He misses his chambers at Hogwarts. He misses the cool, quiet darkness of the dungeons and the time he spent reading by the fire. But Minerva sent along the few books he’d taken from the house at Spinner’s End with the rest of his personal belongings, and he is neither lacking for reading material nor locked in a cell where he was allowed one book per week if lucky. 

The spell, however, haunts him. He can feel it in the air. It follows him room to room and invades his dreams at night. The magic is subtle and they were right: There is no compulsion. He feels no need to be near Potter. No desire to touch him or talk to him or even be nice to him. Yet still, he can feel the pull when Potter Floos to work each morning. He knows when the man is in the house and when he’s gone...even though he can go all day without seeing him. 

Severus is not depressed.  And he supposes there are far worse things than being bound to the Black ancestral family home, bound to Potter, but there are still times he can't think of any. Some days he thinks he might prefer the Dementors. Pity the Minister got rid of them. 

***

Severus puts down the book he is reading—Poisons without Remedy. It’s one of the more grisly volumes he’s found, and that’s saying something. He glances at the clock; it’s nearly midnight. He cannot stay awake as long as he used to. His eyes grow tired and the small lines of text begin to blur. He feels every moment of his forty years.

During the war, Severus would go days without sleeping. When Albus was alive, there was always some duty to perform, some task to complete for one of his two masters. After all, Severus was a spy and the work was never done.

Then after…

After he’d proved his loyalty to the Dark Lord once and for all, after he’d been given the post of Headmaster, Severus spent endless nights wandering the halls. He was terrified for his students and he’d promised Albus he would do everything in his power to protect them. But he couldn’t do that if he was asleep.

When he wasn’t pacing the halls looking for danger—and Carrows—at every turn, he was brewing. Though he couldn’t return to the Order—Albus had seen to that—he did what he could for the cause. He knew Poppy was passing on potions to Kingsley; if she thought she was discreet, she was mistaken. But Severus made sure her stores were always full. And those potions that did not find their way to the war effort stocked the hospital wing. Though Severus had no way of knowing at the time, those stores would prove invaluable when the Dark Lord attacked the castle that night.

To this day, he’s thankful he was prepared. The battle would have been even more disastrous had Poppy not had the supplies she needed.

He’s alive, too, thanks to his efforts and an impressive bit of healing magic on Potter’s part. Severus closes his eyes against the memories. The dark, dankness of the shack. The fear that went bone deep, even though Severus had long since come to terms with dying. The white hot, blinding pain as Nagini’s fangs sank into his throat. And then there was Potter’s fingers, staunching the flow of blood. His magic was soothing, gentle, and more powerful than Severus could have imagined.

Severus’s hand itches for his wand. He desperately misses its weight against his palm. The feel of the polished wood, smooth against his skin. And the magic... The magic that was always at his fingertips. Despite his proficiency with wandless magic, he knows he will never have even a fraction of the power, the precision he did with his wand. 

And then there are the potions. He misses brewing as one might miss a severed limb. But even if Severus could brew without a wand—which he cannot—he is certain it wouldn’t be allowed. Potter assures him that there is no trace on his magic. But he’d be a fool to think he wasn’t being watched. And Severus is reasonably certain that even the most rudimentary of Ministry detection spells would notice if a makeshift potions lab suddenly sprang up in a bit of wizard’s space off Regulus Black’s old childhood room. 

He stands and walks to the door. The loo is just across from his room; he needs to wash up and get some rest. His hand is on the knob when he hears the commotion. He stands very still, listening. His first thought is that something is wrong. Someone has circumvented the wards. Whether they’re after Potter or himself is anyone’s guess. He opens the door a fraction of an inch, careful not to make a sound, and peers out into the sconce-lit hallway. 

But there are no masked, armed Death Eaters there. Just Ginevra Weasley, pale and beautiful and shaking with anger.

“That’s it, Harry,” she says, voice high and shrill. “I can’t take it anymore. I won’t let you keep doing this to me.”

“I—” Potter is standing in the dark silhouette of his open door. His shoulders are slumped, his eyes down; he’s staring at some spot on the scuffed wood floor.

Severus knows he is intruding on a private moment. He should turn away and close the door, but he’s rooted to the spot and cannot move.

“I’m just not—”

“No,” Ginevra says sharply. “I’m tired of your excuses. I’m tired of waiting on you.”

She takes a deep breath and looks to Potter, as though waiting for him to protest, but all he does is shove his hands in the pockets of his faded blue jeans and say, “I know.” His shirt is rumpled and untucked and his feet are bare, but he still looks like magic in the flickering light of the hall.

“First it was the war—which I understood,” Ginevra continues when Potter offers nothing else. “Believe me, I did. Then, in the aftermath, there were the skirmishes, the cleanup battles. I know you wanted to keep me safe, and you did—you always did.” She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear; it hangs in a long sheet down her back. “But then it was Auror training. It’s been nearly two years! And I, well, what’s next?”

“I’m not sure, Gin,” Potter tries. “I want to. I really do. You know that. But I’m not ready. Not yet.”

Ginevra’s glare is scathing. “No, Harry, actually I don’t know. How could I? You never take me out. And even when you do, it’s not like you let me come round after, is it?”

At that Potter frowns. And though he looks a bit embarrassed, he stands up straighter, folds his arms across his chest. “I’m not that type of bloke, Gin. You’ve always known that.”

“Not what kind of bloke?” Ginevra’s voice is steely. “You’re twenty years old. I love you. We want to get married some day. I think I’m due for a proper snog.”

“Is this just about the sex? Because you know I’m—”

But Ginevra cuts him off. “No! It’s not just about the sex. If you truly believe that then it’s clear you haven’t been listening.”  Even from his vantage point, Severus can see the anger in her eyes. 

“Then what do you want from me?”

Severus nearly groans. He’s never understood the Muggle phrase ‘watching a train wreck’ more than at this moment.

“What do I want? What do I want?” Ginevra has gone very still, but Severus can sense the magic thrumming beneath the surface of her skin. Her power, like Potter’s, is tied to her emotions. But where Potter’s anger, his magic, flares hot. Ginevra’s feels cold, deadly. “I want you to spend time with me. I want you to want to spend time with me.” She shakes her head, red hair gleaming in the candlelight. “You eat dinner with my brother and Hermione once a week, yet I can hardly get you to answer when I Floo. Merlin, Harry, you see our old Potions master more than you see me.”

Severus almost steps out into the hall at that, but he doesn’t; it’s not his place. And Potter’s relationship, his happiness, means nothing to him, of course.

“We talked about that,” Potter says. “You know I did what I had to do. You understood.”

Ginevra’s glare is thunderous. “No. We didn’t talk about it. You told me what you were going to do after you’d already decided.”

Potter bites his lip, looks momentarily contrite, but he recovers quickly. “He was innocent, Gin. You know that. He’s a hero. We wouldn’t have won the war without him and I couldn’t let him rot away in Azkaban.”

Ginevra hesitates for a second, but then narrows her eyes again. “Of course not, but you could have gone through the proper channels. Forced a retrial, a sentence appeal. You could have petitioned that he be allowed to serve his time as a ward at Hogwarts, anything!”

Potter hangs his head. “I—”

“No. I’m tired of hearing it. Your whole life you’ve put everyone else before yourself.” Her face softens. “It’s one of the things I love about you. But Harry, enough is enough. You died for them. You died and came back and defeated Voldemort. What more can anyone ask?”

“I know. But I still had to,” Potter, says. “It was the right thing to do.”

She looks at him for a moment before taking a step forward, reaching out, placing a hand on his arm. “I understand that, but eventually you have to choose between doing the right thing and doing the right thing for you.”

Potter stares down at her hand. “What do you want me to do?” he asks finally.

“I want to get married. Now, Harry. We can have the ceremony in my parents’ garden. Nothing fancy—just close friends and family. Kingsley can marry us. I know he would. This weekend or next. That’s all I want.” And with that, she leans in and kisses him on the lips.

Potter lets it happen, but he doesn’t open his mouth, doesn’t move into the kiss, doesn’t do anything at all. And after a moment that’s entirely too short, he pulls away. “I—”

“Say yes,” she pleads. “Say you’ll marry me.” In that instant Severus sees the hope in her eyes, but it doesn’t take Legilimency to read Potter’s mind and he waits to see how he’ll break her heart.

“I’m sorry,” Potter says, and the words sound like the cost him something physically. “I can’t.”

Ginevra’s lip trembles but her expression remains devastatingly calm. She turns and walks away without another word. Potter doesn’t try to stop her. A minute later, Severus hears the whoosh of the Floo.

He considers going to bed, but then Potter sinks to the floor. With his back against the wall and his knees pulled to his chest, he looks positively wrecked. 

Severus sighs inwardly and steps out into the hallway. “Are you all right?” he asks. 

Potter blinks up at him owlishly from behind his glasses, as though wondering why Severus is standing in the hallway.

Severus isn’t sure himself.

“Yeah, I mean, no. Not really.” Potter sounds more than a little dazed. “But it’s all right. I’m sorry to have woken you.” 

Severus thinks he must be going mad but he sits down on the floor beside Potter, tucking his legs beneath him as he did as a boy. “I was awake.” 

“Oh, okay. So you heard? I’m still sorry. That was embarrassing and inappropriate.” 

“It’s hardly inappropriate to have an argument with one’s lover in one’s own house.” 

Potter bites his lip. “Gin’s not my lover. Never really was, I guess.” 

The man sounds so miserable that Severus nearly feels sorry for him. Nearly. “Do you want to talk about it?” He thinks even Cruciatus would be preferable, but the words are out before he can stop them. 

“I—” Potter, if possible, looks more stunned by the offer than Severus feels. “I wanted it to work. I really did.” 

“But you were not happy.” 

“No, not really.” He scrubs a hand over his face, pushing his glasses up to his forehead. In the dim light, his green eyes are so dark they are nearly black. “Gin’s a good friend. She always has been. We should be good together, but... I dunno. It just never felt right to me.” Potter looks to Severus hopefully, as though expecting some sort of confirmation.

Severus wants to bang his head against the wall. “Friendship does not always equate to romantic compatibility.” 

“Yeah, I know. But I wanted it to work.” 

“Why?”

“What do you mean?”

“If you were both unhappy, what good is served by remaining in the relationship?”

“I...I don’t know,” Potter sounds defeated. “But I feel like we should have been happy, you know? Or, we could have been happy had I only tried harder or something.” 

“Perhaps,” Severus says. He can count the number of relationships he’s been in on one hand, and it’s been over a decade since the last, but this...emotional strife is not something he misses. “But the onus is not on you alone to make a relationship work. As the saying, I believe, goes: It takes two.” 

At that, Potter’s cheeks pink slightly. “Yeah, well, on that front it’s my fault entirely.”

“You are not attracted to her?” Severus ventures. He gathered from the argument that physical intimacy was at the forefront of Ginevra’s complaints. 

“No, it’s not that.” Potter says too quickly. “Gin’s gorgeous.” 

“Yes,” Severus agrees, “she is a lovely young woman. But acknowledging beauty in a member of the opposite sex does not automatically equate to feeling attraction.” 

Potter leans back, rests his head against the wall. Severus’s eyes are drawn to the long, pale column of his throat, the swell of his Adam’s apple. He looks away. 

“I loved your mother,” he says, though, for the life of him, he’s not certain why he does. But Potter already knows this and he is not, has never been, ashamed of his love for Lily. 

“I know,” Potter says. “Did she not love you back?”

“No, she did.” At this point, Severus is comfortable saying as much. “I think she would have married me, too, had I asked.”
 
Potter frowns. “But you didn’t.”
 
“No. I knew I wouldn’t have made her happy. I knew I couldn’t give her what she wanted.”
 
“I want to want Gin,” Potter says after a moment that’s stretched into silence. “But I’m not good for her. I can’t be what she wants me to be.”

“We cannot always be what other people want.”

“I know. But that doesn’t make it any less of a disappointment.”

Something about his tone makes Severus question: “A disappointment to whom?” He doesn’t believe the man is concerned about disappointing himself. 

“To everyone.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I always thought I wanted to get married, wanted to have kids,” he finally says.

“You are young. There is still time.”

Potter laughs but the sound is devoid of humour. “I think we both know that this…” he waves a hand between them, “complicates matters.”

“I never asked for this,” Severus says harshly. He is guilty of a great many things, but he will not be blamed for Potter’s lack of foresight. “It is not my fault you chose to dive headfirst into such an arrangement without considering the consequences.”

Severus expects the man to argue, to say he had no choice. But, instead, he leans back against the wall again and closes his eyes. “I’m sorry. That was unfair. But you’re still wrong: I did consider the consequences. I thought about everything and I think part of me was…relieved to have a reason, an excuse for things not working out with Gin.”

Severus groans. He wants to grab Potter by the shoulders and shake him, but he forces himself to take a deep breath, to bite back the frustration threatening to overwhelm. “You willingly entered into a blood bond with a former Death Eater—a man you admittedly hate—to avoid breaking up with your girlfriend?” Severus has witnessed countless foolish and imbecilic things in his life, but this takes the biscuit.

Potter turns towards Severus; there’s a smudge of red lip-gloss on the corner of his mouth. Severus is struck by the disturbing urge to wipe it away.

“No. It wasn’t like that. Not at all. And if you think so, you don’t know me as well as I thought you did.”
 
Severus wants to say that he doesn’t know him at all, but he knows that’s not true anymore. Maybe it hasn’t been true for quite some time. 

“But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t appealing—the idea of having a reason as to why I never have a girlfriend.”

A reason… Severus doesn’t understand. “You don’t want a girlfriend?”

When Potter looks at him, there is something in his expression he cannot read. “I prefer men, Snape. I always have. Well, always since I realised there was such a thing as preference at all.” Severus hears the distaste there. It is achingly familiar.

But Potter has been with Ginevra for ages. They were an item back at Hogwarts, and he is certain there were rumours of other girls as well. As a Head of House, one could hardly avoid overhearing such speculation. “I thought—”

Potter shakes his head, “I mean, if Gin doesn’t do it for me, there can’t be much hope, can there?”

Severus can’t help himself. He laughs, long and hard. He can’t remember the last time he laughed like this.

For a moment, Potter looks distraught, but then his expression hardens. “Fuck you, Snape,” he says, getting to his feet. “I suppose this isn’t what you signed on for, but rest assured, I won’t be molesting you in your sleep. Still, you’re welcome to go running back to Azkaban if you’d like.”

Severus wipes his eyes. He actually feels bad for the man. “No, no, you misunderstand me. If you think I’m about to go running to my room, or to Kingsley screaming moral depravity, you’re mistaken.”

Potter looks down at him, his arms crossed in front his body, fingers clutching his elbows so tightly his knuckles are white. “You don’t mind?”

Severus stands. “It would seem, Mr. Potter, we have more in common than we originally thought.” 

***

Much to Severus’s disbelief—and perpetual chagrin—they get along remarkably well.

Kreacher’s food is adequate and, most evenings, Severus eats dinner with Potter at the long wooden table in the kitchen. Some nights they drink. Potter prefers beer but when Severus asks one night, he admits he’s never tried wine. So Severus requests that Kreacher pick up a bottle of red and a bottle of white and they sip Sauvignon Blanc with their pasta and then get drunk on Syrah while watching a particularly egregious investigation of a Muggle workplace shooting. Apparently they caught the entire thing on camera yet are still unable to apprehend the suspect.

Potter laughs. He’s sprawled sideways in his chair, legs dangling over the arm. “Can you imagine? A Junior Auror could catch that guy in an hour, two tops. Yet that Muggle copper acts like it’s the crime of the century.”

“Well, admittedly,” Severus says, draining the rest of his wine, “the detectives in this precinct don’t have your training.”

“My training!” Potter laughs again, a lovely bell-like sound. “You mean a modicum of common sense or basic investigative skills?”

Severus smiles. “Perhaps, Mr. Potter, you’re on to something.” He waves a hand and the bottle of wine glides in from the kitchen. Severus catches it and refills his glass. He holds it up to Potter in question. Potter’s eyes are wide. Severus feels something like ice trickle cold in his chest and suddenly he worries he’s made a grievous error.

“I knew you were bloody powerful, Snape, but fuck.”  

“An Accio, Potter,” Severus says carefully. “That’s all.”
 
“Wandless, wordless…and drunk,” he adds with a wry smile. 

“Nothing more than I see you do a dozen times a day.” He’s certain Potter could perform more magic in his sleep than he could do with his wand and all the spell books in the Black library.  

“I have a wand, Snape. You know as well as I that wandless magic still operates on the assumption that you do, in fact, possess a wand. And even then, most wizards go their entire lives without successfully casting any deliberate wandless magic.”

“We are not most wizards.” 

“No,” Potter agrees. “I never thought we were.”
 
Severus sips his wine. Potter is quiet. He wonders if he’s violated some term of their arrangement. His wand was confiscated before the trial. He assumes it was destroyed upon his conviction.  Severus read every word of the legal document signed on the day he was released from Azkaban into Potter’s custody. And while there were extensive clauses detailing the strict prohibition of wand ownership and/or use, there were no listed restrictions on wandless magic. “Should I prepare for a visit from your Aurors?” Severus asks when Potter has done nothing more than stare at the offending wine bottle. “Or—” Merlin forbid “Matthias Coverly?”

Potter makes a face. “What?”

“The magic. Surely I’ve violated some statute.” 

“Oh, yeah, no doubt. But, don’t worry. I won’t be calling in for reinforcements, and Coverly isn’t welcome here.” 

Severus’s wine is gone again. Potter picks up the bottle, pours a splash into his own glass and then upends the rest into Severus’s. Some sloshes onto his hand. He shakes red droplets off his fingers, sucks his thumb into his mouth. 

“You aren’t concerned?” he asks finally. Potter is staring down into his glass. 

“Concerned? No, of course not.” Severus sees a hint of a smile. “The opposite, really. Honestly, I was worried about how you’d tolerate living without magic. I’ve heard it can drive you crazy.  I know I get a bit on edge whenever I go too long without using.” He shakes his head. “I can’t imagine living without my wand.”
 
“I’ve seen you go days without using your wand,” Severus says. It’s true; there are times he doesn’t think Potter even carries it. 

The man shrugs. “Yes, but I have a wand. There’s a difference there.”
 
“You’re not going to report me to Kingsley?” 

Potter snorts into his glass. “No. He has better things to do. Besides, I like you with magic.” 

Severus purses his lips, unsure of what the man means. But Potter holds up his glass, red wine reflected in the curve of his palm.  “You can cast away, Snape. You have my unconditional blessing.” 

***

Severus puts the book he’s been reading down and turns on the telly. He’s been watching more lately than he’d prefer to admit, but one can only read so many Dark Arts books before the urge to commit hari-kari starts to set in. Perhaps he should see about adding some Muggle fiction to the collection. He changes the channel. An American woman is trussing a chicken. She mentions bondage and Severus likes her instantly. She’s roasting the chicken with onions and sage. He watches while she explains just how simple it will be to prepare the vegetable medley to be served alongside.

He presses the button for the guide. 

Apparently, the channel runs nothing but cooking shows. Severus sips at his tea and watches as the woman dollops cream onto a slice of sponge cake she somehow managed to whip up in the last five minutes of her programme.  

He’s halfway through the next programme—an episode of The Naked Chef, who, as it turns out, isn’t naked at all—when he has an idea. Severus cannot brew without a wand, but he could cook. 

He finds Kreacher in the front parlour. The elf is ostensibly dusting, but judging from the cobwebs that cling to every corner and hang from the chandelier, Severus wouldn’t vouch for his technique.

“Kreacher?”

The elf pauses, glances over his shoulder suspiciously. “Yes Professor Snapes?” he says with exaggerated courtesy. 

“I’d like you to pick a few things up for me at the store, if you don’t mind.”

Kreacher looks like he very much does mind, but he takes the piece of parchment and scans it quickly before nodding. “Master Harry is saying I get you anything you need. If you is needing these things, I am getting them for you.”
 
“Thank you.”
 
The elf disappears with a pop. 

An hour later, Severus is in the kitchen, pulling items from the brown paper sacks Kreacher brought home from the local market. 

***

“This is good,” Potter says, fork suspended in the air. “I unusually don’t care for fish...unless it’s fried, that is.”
 
Severus takes a sip of wine. He had Kreacher pick up a moderately priced bottle of Chenin Blanc as well. 

“I am sorry, Master Harry,” Kreacher offers from the end of the table. Potter always invites Kreacher to take his supper with them, and the elf usually obliges, though Severus is not sure he’s terribly fond of their company. “It was Professor Snapes. He is insisting upon cooking tonight.”
 
Potter looks stunned. “You cook?” he asks, mouth full of asparagus. 

“I brew,” Severus clarifies. “But there are some similarities.” 

“Huh,” Potter says, “I can see that.” He takes a swig of beer. “Well, if this is any indication of your abilities, by all means, cook whenever you like.” 

***

Severus does cook. 

At first Kreacher is distrustful of having him in the kitchen. But after a few successful meals—seared scallops with coconut curry sauce, pan baked artichokes with pine nuts and bread crumbs, a pot-roasted pork in white wine with fennel and rosemary, and tuna with ginger and chives—he seems to come around.

Some nights, Potter sits at the kitchen table while Severus cooks. They don’t talk, but Severus finds he enjoys the man’s company. And while cooking isn’t as satisfying as brewing used to be, Severus finds it calming. And sometimes, when he’s chopping vegetables or stripping herbs from their stems, he almost feels as if he’s in his laboratory again, his knife moving over asphodel root, hellebore, or belladonna.  

***

“Does this look like poison to you?”
 
They’re seated at the kitchen table. Potter has a case file open in front of him. Severus is reading an outdated Potions Journal he found in the fourth floor bath. 

Potter slides the file jacket across the table towards him. The photos are grisly. At first glance it looks as though some sort of corrosive agent was to blame. “Any spell residue?” Severus asks.  “A poorly cast incendiary spell could cause...”

“No spell markers for incendiary, flesh eating, or, well, anything I could think to test for that might cause that kind of damage.” 

It’s become increasingly clear to Severus that Potter’s spell detection skills are better than anyone he knows. He takes perverse pleasure thinking that they might even rival Albus’s. Severus looks at the pictures again, scans the preliminary report. “In that case, yes it does.” He summons a quill with a wave of his hand, ignores the fact that Potter smiles at the wandless magic. “May I?” he asks, indicating Potter’s notes. 

The man inclines his head. “By all means.”
 
Severus jots down a formula, then lists two possible counter reactions.  “Have your potions wizard check for this.”

*** 

“You were right,” Potter announces at dinner three nights later. He takes a swig of beer, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. 

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Once Whitley was able to isolate the poison, I could finally read the magical signature. We found the bastard. Montgomery Edwards. Heard of him?”

Severus has. “He wasn’t Marked, but not for lack of trying. The Dark Lord was not impressed with his particular talents.” Grease spatters across the plate as he cuts into his fish.  Kreacher’s fish and chips is surprisingly good.

“Well, Voldemort might have been impressed now. Four dead in less than a month. Aside from cause of death, there’s no apparent connection between victims. None were Marked. No known Death Eater ties.” 

“Most likely crimes of opportunity,” Severus says. “Edwards was always cruel, but he wasn’t exactly a criminal mastermind.”

From then on, Potter routinely asks Severus’s opinion on his cases and investigations. It’s surely against protocol, as Severus is neither a Ministry-approved consultant nor someone likely to be trusted with classified information. But Potter is head of his division, and it’s obvious that he is given impressively free rein insofar as procedures go. 

Years ago, Severus would have been irate at the thought of the Boy Hero receiving special treatment. But now he approves. After all, Potter solves more cases in a week than the rest of his team solves in a month. No one should question his methods.  Not if they value results. 

***

“So I have to go to Paris for a few days.”
 
Severus looks up from the programme he’s watching. An overly enthusiastic Cajun chef is yelling at his ingredients to “take it up a notch.” Severus does not approve of this tactic, but appreciates the man’s approach to blending spices. “Your case?”

“Yes. They’ve had three murders. I’m pretty sure it’s the guy responsible for my Newcastle murder. The spells tracked to the fifth arrondismont.”
 
Severus ignores the feeling in the pit of his gut. A few days without Potter will be a welcome change. 

“You’ll be all right?”

“Of course I will. I know how to work the telly and, assuming Kreacher doesn’t bar me from the kitchen, I shan’t starve.” 

“No, I know. That’s not what I meant.” He adjusts the strap of the duffle that’s flung over his shoulder. “It’s just we haven’t tested the bond in this way. I don’t know how the distance will affect you.” 

“I’ll be fine,” Severus says with a confidence he does not feel. He hates that Potter’s concern is warranted.  

Potter nods, but Severus sees the worry in his eyes. The man chews on his lip. “All right,” he finally says. “I’m only an Apparition jump away if you need anything—if the bond feels off. If something, anything doesn’t seem right…”

“I will send a Patronus.”
 
“You can do that? Without your wand?”

Honestly, Severus has no idea if he can. “Presumably. If not, I imagine Kreacher will be able to find you.” 

“Yeah. He definitely will.” Potter doesn’t turn to leave. He stands there with his fingers curled in the hem of his jumper. His name is stitched on the front in red block letters. A miniature broom rests against the Y. 

“Go.” Severus urges. “Catch your bad guy.” Then come home.. He doesn’t say it, catches the words before they slip between his lips. But it startles him all the same.  Severus used to be content with loneliness, but now the thought of being in this house without Potter makes his skin feel oddly tight. It’s claustrophobic. 

Potter pauses for a beat. His gaze is scrutinising. “Okay.” With that he does turn, disappearing with a crack. 

Severus always feels the tug of Potter’s Apparition. But this one knocks the air from his lungs. He feels the aftershocks long after he’s finished his cup of tea. They rattle his teeth and echo down his spine. Loneliness used to feel better than this. 

He tries to read, but a headache flickers behind his eyes and the words start to bleed together. He turns the telly back on, but the chef is preparing a lamb shank and the sight of roasting flesh makes his stomach turn. He changes the channel a few times before turning the set off again. He thinks about Potter in Paris and wonders if he would be able to tell if something happened to him. 

He stands. Clearly he needs rest. 

The walk upstairs is difficult. His head is pounding now and his joints ache. He is suddenly, overwhelmingly tired. He lies down on his bed. The room swims around him. Severus feels as though he’s falling. He closes his eyes as sleep drags him under. 

Severus doesn’t know how long he is asleep. He wakes with a start, his body drenched in sweat. Pain jars at his skull; it pulses white-hot behind his temples and sends pinpricks across vision. 

“Professor Snapes?” The elf is standing in the doorway, wringing his hands. 

“Yes?” Severus’s mouth tastes like ash.

“I is sorry to be bothering you, but you is saying you wanted to cook tonight, but you is not in the kitchen.” 

“I...” He tries to sit up but realises instantly that it’s a mistake. His stomach heaves violently and he barely manages to lean over the side of the bed before he vomits all over the floor. 

Kreacher sighs dramatically and casts a cleaning spell. “Professor Snapes, you is not well?”  It sounds more like an accusation than a question.

“No.” He can hardly think for the pounding in his head. He’s dizzy and nauseated and worries he might be sick again. He closes his eyes against the spin of the room. 

“Is you needing me to call a healer?”

“That won’t be necessary.”  Severus is very cold. He pulls the blanket around his shoulders. “But a headache draught would be nice, if you have one.” 

Kreacher nods and disappears with a pop. He’s back a few moments later with a glass of water and two paracetamol tablets. Leave it to Potter to keep Muggle medicine instead of potions. 

He manages to swallow the pills without retching.

“Is there anything else I can be doing for you?” The elf is watching Severus warily, most likely concerned he’s about to sick up all over the rug once more. 

“No. I just need sleep.” As he says the words, Severus realises how bone tired he is. 

He curls up under the covers and closes his eyes. 

He drifts in and out of a feverish sleep. When he dreams, he dreams of Potter.

They are in the shack. Only this time it’s Potter who is bleeding. Severus doesn’t have any dittany, knows his magic will never be enough. The boy gasps. Severus presses his hands to what’s left of his throat. 

‘Harry... Harry.... Look at me.’ 

The next morning, Kreacher brings him tea and toast but Severus can’t stomach it. He hardly has the strength to lift the cup to his lips. 

He refuses to think his condition has anything to do with Potter’s absence yet, at the same time, he can’t help but long for the man’s return. 

By noontime he thinks maybe he should have Kreacher send for a healer. Or, at the very least, go out for some decent headache potion. But calling for the elf seems like too much effort, so he sleeps.  

This time he dreams of Albus. The man is falling, always falling.

‘Severus, please...’

The taste of the Unforgivable is rancid on his tongue. And Potter... Potter is standing there, Stupefied in the shadows, betrayed and heartbroken and trembling, trembling with so much anger Severus can nearly feel it. 

He thought I was there to save him...

Severus wakes twisted in damp sheets; his shirt is clinging to his skin with sweat. There’s a vial of pain potion on the bedside cabinet next to a glass of water. It’s store bought, but better than nothing. His fingers shake as he brings the vial to his lips but he drinks it down without spilling any. 

The pain dulls. It’s not gone, but muted, pushed to the corners of his mind, and he can think again.

It’s past nightfall. The sky is dark, the moon obscured by clouds. A car drives past outside; its lights flash against the window. How long has he been in bed? Was it yesterday or the day before when Potter Apparated away? 

Severus should put on a clean shirt. He should wash his face and brush his teeth. Then, if he needs to, he can lie back down for just a little while. He sits up slowly, pleased when no fresh wave of nausea washes over him. He reaches a hand out to steady himself as he stands, but when he tries to take a step, his legs give out beneath him.

The floor rushes up to him as he falls. 

***

Severus must be dreaming because Potter is there. 

He hears voices in hushed whispers.  Severus can’t make out the words, but it doesn’t matter because the man’s hand is on his, thumb stroking back and forth along his knuckles. 

Potter’s magic is like a Siren’s song. He knows he could not drag himself away. For the first time in days, Severus feels right again. 

He sleeps. 

***

“Snape? Professor Snape? Can you hear me?” Potter’s hand is on his shoulder now, a point of warm, soothing pressure. “Kreacher’s made some broth. I need you to sit up and try to eat.” 

Severus ignores him, burrowing further beneath the covers. Someone has changed the sheets and he appears to be wearing a clean nightshirt. He can only hope it was Kreacher and not Potter playing nursemaid. 

“If you don’t eat something, I’m going to call Pomfrey.” 

Severus opens his eyes. 

Potter smiles. “I thought that might get your attention.” The man looks awful. He looks as if he hasn’t slept in days. Still, he looks fantastic. Severus hates himself for thinking so, but the alternative is admitting how breathtakingly relieved he is that Potter is home again.

Home.

When did 12 Grimmauld Place—Sirius Black’s ancestral house—become home?

He forces a few sips of broth down and Potter seems satisfied. None of it threatens to come back up. 

“You had me worried there,” Potter says, setting the bowl of soup on the side table. 

“How long was I asleep?”

“Three and a half days.” Potter leans forward, presses his fingers to his temples. He’s sitting in the single straight back chair that usually occupies the corner of the room. “I got home last night. Kreacher said he couldn’t wake you.”  He looks at Severus then, and he is struck by the concern in Potter’s eyes.  “Why didn’t you send for me?”

“I...” Severus honestly doesn’t know.  It never occurred to him to do so. “Did you catch your murderer?”

“No,” Potter admits. “But we tracked him to the Left Bank, near the edge of the Wizarding quarter.  Detection spells are in place. My team will find him.” 

“Without your impressive leadership abilities?” And your magic. 

“Eh,” Potter shrugs, “it’ll be good for them. I can’t always be there to solve the case, you know.” With that, Potter flashes a cheeky grin. Merlin, he’s missed the man’s smile. “Seriously, though,” Potter continues, “you should have sent for me. You promised you would if anything felt off with the bond.”
 
“It wasn’t the bond,” Severus lies. “It was only a fever. I can’t have you dashing home for every cold, cough, or flu.”
 
Potter sighs. “It wasn’t just a fever. You know that. We pushed the geographical component of the bond too far. Who knows what would have happened if Kreacher hadn’t come to find me.”
 
So Kreacher reported on him. Traitorous elf. Though, Severus can’t say he blames him. From a housekeeping perspective alone, it wouldn’t do to have him sweating through the bed linens and sicking up all over the expensive rugs.

“Have you slept?” Severus asks, changing the subject.  It is clear Potter hasn’t showered. His jeans are rumpled; there’s a stain on the front of his shirt. 

“I’m fine,” Potter assures, running a hand through his hair. “I got home last night.” 

“You should sleep,” Severus says. “You look like shit.” 

Potter throws his head back and laughs. The sound is like sunlight on Severus’s skin. “Speak for yourself.” 

***

Potter doesn’t go into work the next day or the next. Severus thinks the man would have sat by his bedside like some sort of grieving widow-to-be had he not barred him from the room. But even so, he can hear Potter pacing in the hallway, can feel his magic seeping through the walls and beneath the crack under the door. It’s suffocating and soothing all at once. 

When he dreams, he doesn’t dream of green light or falling, of rotted floorboards or a mouth full of clotted blood. But rather, he dreams of open fields and wind-blown hair, of summer skies and lilies—always lilies. 

***

“While unfortunate, I don’t believe it’s a particularly alarming or unforeseen development,” Granger says, twisting a dan dan noodle around her chopsticks. “We knew there was a proximity requirement inherent in the spell. We just didn’t know the extent or ramifications.” 

“It nearly killed him.”
 
Severus huffs in annoyance. “It most assuredly did not.” 

Potter rolls his eyes. “You were unconscious for three days. Not to mention the fever and vomiting that preceded.” 

“I’ve nearly died before,” Severus reminds him. “If I were on the verge of doing so again, believe me, I’d know.” 

“Point taken.” Potter reaches across the table for the platter of cumin beef. He ladles a generous portion onto his plate. “But that doesn’t mean I’d like it to happen again.” 

Severus has to agree. Potter had finally returned to work after four full days of hovering, but he’s refused to venture further away from Grimmauld Place than his desk at the Ministry. He’s delegated any fieldwork and returned home each night promptly before dinner. He even begged out of his weekly Friday afternoon pint at The Leaky. 

Come Tuesday, when Granger insisted on lunch, he’d given Severus no choice but to come along.  It would not have been Severus’s preference of outings, but it’s not as though he has any pressing engagements elsewhere. 

Potter avoids Diagon whenever possible, so they’re eating at a Sichuan place in Muggle London. Apparently the Granger-Weasley foetus craves spice, and the food is surprisingly good.  Aside from Potter’s incessant prattling about Severus’s most imminent demise by separation, he’s almost enjoying himself. Almost. 

He spoons a dumpling into his bowl of rice and stirs the sauce around. It’s tangy and spicy and pairs nicely with the sweet wine he ordered. 

“Have you experienced any other negative effects, Professor?” Granger asks. 

“Aside from permanent residence in Potter’s house, you mean?”

Granger frowns at this, clearly unsure how to respond but Potter laughs. More often than not, the man understands his humour. He glances across the table and sees something like fondness in Potter’s eyes. It’s disconcerting. He takes a bite of tofu. He needs to look up the recipe for the mapo sauce. It’s delicious. 

“I...” For once Granger is at a loss for words. 

“No other negative effects,” he says, swallowing.  “I can sense when Potter is home, when he Floos to work, or Apparates for a case, et cetera. But I’m not fully certain that is a consequence of the bond. It could just as easily be a result of his atypical power. Bonded or not, I imagine I would still feel his magic when in close proximity.” 

“It’s possible,” Granger says, “when he casts a spell.  But not when he’s not actively using magic.  What do you think, Harry? How does the bond affect you?”
 
Potter has a mouthful of rice and dumpling. “Sorry,” he says, taking a swig of beer to wash it down. “I’m still trying to process the fact that he thinks my magic is ‘atypical’.” 
 
Severus rolls your eyes. “Potter, you have always had atypical magic. Must I explain that this is not necessarily a good thing?  Need I mention, for instance, how you came to be able to talk to snakes?”
 
Potter grins. “True, but that’s not what you meant.” 

Severus finds he can’t deny it. He takes another bite of tofu instead. 

“Oh!” Granger cries out suddenly, pressing a hand to her belly. 

“What is it?” Potter says, practically jumping to his feet. “Is the baby coming?”

While Granger’s offspring is expected any day, Potter seems to have interpreted the impending due date as “any second now.”

“Not at the moment,” she assures. “Just some heartburn.”

“Are you sure?”

Granger laughs. “Yes, Harry. I do think I can tell the difference between labour pains and indigestion. Now, you didn’t answer me. Have you felt any effects of the bond?”

Potter is still watching her intently, but seems to decide that delivery isn’t imminent. He shakes his head. “No. Though, when I’m away, I feel as though I should be able to feel something.”

“Hmm...” Granger taps her fingers on the table, but doesn’t say anything else. 

“So can we fix it?” Potter asks after a moment. “Or, at least, mitigate any deleterious effects should I have to go away again?”

“I don’t know for sure,” Granger says, “but no, I wouldn’t think so. These types of bonds, once settled, tend to grow stronger, not weaker.” 

Severus knows she’s right. 

“So I’ll quit the force,” Potter says without hesitation. 

“Absolutely not.” Severus glares at him.  The man’s far too melodramatic. “France was, admittedly, a problem. But you have been other places outside of London. Newcastle, Kent, Leeds, Cardiff.” He checks them off on his fingers. “You’ve also visited Hogwarts and we experienced no problems.” 

Potter nods. “I spent the better part of an afternoon talking to Flitwick.” 

Severus finishes his glass of wine, debates if he should order another. “Yes.” Potter had noticed a similarity between two seemingly unconnected cases. His detection spells pointed to a particularly rare class of charms used in both crimes.  “And at no time did I feel the least bit ill as a result of our geographic separation.” 

Potter licks sauce off a finger, pushes his plate away. “So England and Scotland are apparently okay. But anything across the Channel presses the bond too far.” 

***

A soft knock at the door pulls Severus from his thoughts. 

“Professor?”

Severus sets his book down and rubs at his eyes.  “Come in.”
 
Potter appears in the doorway. He’s wearing jeans and trainers. There’s a hole in the neckline of his faded Manchester United t-shirt. He’s been doing fieldwork all week and Severus knows the case is getting to him.  “Are you all right?” he asks, when Potter doesn’t say anything, doesn’t step inside the room. 

“Yes, actually I am.” He steps forwards and only then does Severus see what’s in his hands.

It feels as though the air has been knocked clean from his lungs. He’s not sure he’ll ever be able to breathe again. He’s not sure he’ll need to.

“My wand.” 

Potter cradles the wand in cupped palms, holds it almost reverently.

Severus’s heart is a drum against his ribs. His hand shakes as he reaches out, curls his fingers around smooth wood.

“I thought it was destroyed.” 

Potter shrugs and looks down. “No. I wouldn't let that happen.” 

“But how?”

“After the war and that atrocious ordeal with Umbridge, we worked to enact laws protecting a wizard’s right to his wand.” Potter leans back against the bed. “It still makes me sick to think about,” he says, voice thick with disgust. “The Muggle Born Registration Commission. Thicknesse is one thing, but how Scrimgeour ever allowed her to return to her position at the Ministry after what happened at Hogwarts?” He shakes his head; dark hair falls over his forehead. He brushes it away again.

Potter’s feelings about Scrimgeour are well known. He was especially outspoken in the war’s aftermath, believing him complicit in the widespread corruption that plagued the Ministry during the second half of the war. 

“The only good that came from that bloody nightmare was significant legislation changes regarding confiscated wands. Now Ministry policy prohibits the destruction of a wand if the accused stands any chance of appeal, parole, or release upon completion of a prison term.”

“A positive development,” Severus says honestly, “but the fact remains that I am not a free man. So, even if my wand should not have been destroyed, that doesn’t explain why I should have it.” 

“A loophole, really. But since you are bound to me and not the state, I argued that I should be the one to determine whether or not confiscation of your wand was an appropriate condition of your sentence. And I don’t believe it is.” 

“Kingsley agreed?” Severus is shocked. 

Potter smiles. “Well, I might have also suggested that my own safety and well-being could very well be contingent on your magic.” 

Severus raises an eyebrow. He hasn’t set his wand down. He’s not sure he ever will. 

“Considering we have no idea what would happen to me should something happen to you, yes, I stand by the assertions I made. It is entirely in my interest for you to have a wand.” His lips curve slightly. “Besides, it’s the Ministry’s own bloody fault that we know next to nothing about long term ramifications of the spell they required.” 

Severus is once again impressed by the man’s ingenuity and persistence. He supposes Potter has always been this way. The difference is that he’s now the one who stands to benefit. 

“There are restrictions, of course,” he says, pushing up off the bed. “I can’t do anything about that. All spells will be monitored but—considering the amount of magic Grimmauld Place exudes—trust me when I say that, short of an Unforgivable, the Ministry detection spells wont be picking up much of anything. And your wand magic will be restricted to this house or, well, to me.” Potter rubs at the back of his neck. “But seeing as you’re not exactly leaving the house much alone, I didn’t figure that was worth fighting.” 

“No,” Severus agrees. He turns the wand about between his fingers, cataloguing the notches, the ridges that are as familiar to him as the lines on his face. 

“So, how does it feel?”

Like breathing. Like singing. Like being whole again. 

Severus is almost hesitant as he raises his wand. He vividly recalls standing in Ollivander’s twenty-nine years before. 

Let’s see now. Give it a try, my boy...

He’s not sure anything has felt as good as the simple Leviosa. 

Potter smiles warm and easy. “Glad to have you back, Professor.” 

“I...” Severus isn’t sure what to say. After all, this man has saved his life and now his magic.  “Thank you.” 

***

“So, we’re going to Madrid.” 

Severus looks up from the vegetables he’s chopping. “I’m sorry?”

“Yeah.”  Potter sets his messenger bag down and comes to peer into the pot simmering on the stove. “That smells good. What is it?”

“Beef stew.” Severus slides the carrots and onions from his cutting board into the pot. “Now what were you saying about Madrid?”

“I’ve been working in conjunction with Spain’s branch of the Dark Arts Detection Force. Our suspect is a British national. He’s been hopping back and forth between the continent and England for months now. Responsible for some pretty nasty curse work and, just recently, two deaths. But they’ve finally tracked his location to Malasaña. Looks like he’s staging something big there.” 

“And the Spanish Aurors are not capable of apprehending him on their own?” Severus asks, adding a handful of parsley and thyme to his stew. 

Potter goes to the fridge and grabs two beers. He sets one on the counter beside Severus. “No, I’m sure they are. But they’re ceding jurisdiction. So far, he’s carried out more crimes in the U.K. than he has abroad and their Ministry is happy to let our Wizengamot handle it once we catch the guy.” 

Severus ladles stew into two bowls. “I have my wand now. I am stronger with it. Surely I can manage a few days a few days in your absence.” 

“Absolutely not,” Potter says without hesitation. “I won’t risk it.” 

“It’s not your risk to take.” 

“Yes,” the man says, “actually it is.” 

This angers Severus. He turns away. The bread is warming in the oven. He takes it out, sets it on the cooling tray. “Oh yes, I forgot. Your ‘wellbeing’ could be directly tied to mine.” 

“Maybe,” Potter says, voice calm, matter of fact. “You know as well as I that we don’t actually know enough about the bond to have any idea what would or wouldn’t affect me. But no, I am not concerned about my ‘wellbeing’.” He holds his hands up at that, makes quotes with his fingers. 

“Then what?” Severus says, sitting down. He dips a piece of bread into his stew. 

Potter laughs, takes a drink of beer. “For someone so intelligent, you can be incredibly obtuse.” He takes his seat across from Severus, breaks a piece of bread in half.  “I’m concerned about you, Snape. Haven’t you realised that by now?”

***

They leave early the next morning. 

Potter offered to have a Portkey authorised, but Severus knows he prefers Apparition, even for long distances. 

“Are you certain?” the man asks again before taking Severus’s arm. “International jumps by side-along can be rather jarring.”

“I’m aware.” Severus isn’t exactly looking forward to the experience, but it’s undoubtedly better than the alternative. “The discomfort should be mitigated some by the fact that I am capable of Apparating that distance on my own.”

“Right,” Potter agrees. “And it sure beats a Portkey to Spain, anyway.” 

Just thinking about that makes Severus’s stomach turn. 

He could Apparate alone. Potter’s coordinates are good; he could follow him easily enough. But that type of magic wouldn’t go unnoticed. And while they have a perfectly valid reason for Severus to accompany Potter out of the country, they both thought it best to avoid scrutiny. Besides, few wizards are capable of international Apparition, and Potter is reluctant to draw attention to Severus’s power—‘Not when you’ve just got your wand back, and all.’

The sun is rising in Madrid, the sky awash with soft yellows and rosy pinks. The day promises to be clear and mild—a welcome contrast to the cold rain typical of England this time a year. Severus takes a deep breath and regains his bearings, then he sets off down the alley after Potter.

The hotel is nice. The lobby is elegant in its modern simplicity. The slate grey floor is polished to a sheen; wild flowers fill small glass vases on the front desk. Potter speaks to the receptionist while Severus examines the large wooden staircase that occupies the centre of the room.

“It’s the original,” Potter says, coming up behind him. “They’ve restored it. I find it quite grand.”

“Yes,” Severus agrees. “Have you stayed here before?”

“Just once. Come on, we’re on the fourth floor.”

They take the lift up.

The room is large and airy. Pale morning light spills across the wood floor. There are two beds and a separate sitting area with a sofa, breakfast table, and desk. Potter tosses his duffle on the bed closest the door. “I’ll take this one, if you don’t mind.”

Severus doesn’t. He walks past his bed to look out the large window. “If I ever hear you complain about budget cuts or lack of funding on that force of yours,” Severus says, “I’ll remind you of such ridiculous extravagances.” The window overlooks an interior courtyard. Pink bougainvillea spills down white stone walls. There are a dozen or so tables below. Come nightfall, Severus imagines the place will be filled with hotel guests enjoying cocktails. “Any department that pays for accommodations like these deserves to be audited.” 

Potter laughs. “You’re right, but the Aurors aren’t paying for the room.” 

“Oh?” Severus turns from the window.  Potter is pulling on his robes, trying to smooth wrinkles from the grey wool.  “Our budget barely allows for a hostel, I think. But I’ve got more Galleons than I can spend, and it’s not as though I have many expenses. Anyway, I thought you’d be more comfortable here, since you’ll be in the room while I’m working. And there’s a restaurant and bar downstairs if you don’t feel like room service.” 

Severus is once again struck by the man’s thoughtfulness. “That’s very kind of you.” 

Potter shrugs. “It’s no big deal.”  He pulls a case file from his bag. “So, I’m off. I told their Head Auror I’d meet him at eight. It’s most likely going to be a long day. Don’t worry about waiting on me for dinner.”

Severus nods and, with a crack, Potter is gone. 

***

Potter doesn’t return by dinner. Severus writes a note on a piece of hotel stationery and heads downstairs. The restaurant adjacent to the lobby is crowded, but Severus finds a seat at the end of the bar. The pianist is playing jazz; for some reason, it reminds him of his mother. 

The bartender looks older than Albus, but he pours Severus a glass of cava and recommends the soup of the day. 

Severus sips his wine, takes a cashew from the bowl in front of him. 

The room is crowded. A young man in an expensive suit leans close to an older woman. She nearly spills her martini as he places a hand on the small of her back, whispers in her ear. 

The small tables are filled with hotel guests. Business travellers drink cocktails, their eyes glued to their mobiles.  Pretty girls sit with legs crossed, their hair perfectly coiffed, makeup pristine, waiting for someone to buy them a drink, take them up to their room. 

Severus’s soup is good. It’s rich and creamy and pairs perfectly with his wine. He tries not to think of Potter. Surely he’s all right. The man’s magic is better than anyone he knows. But still, Severus knows it only takes one spell. One Avada Kedavra that catches you off guard and...

No. Potter is fine. Severus would undoubtedly know if he weren’t. He would feel it in the bond. 

He orders another glass to take back to his room before signing the cheque. He should sleep. That will calm his nerves. Upstairs, he drinks his wine while flipping channels on the telly, but half the channels are in Spanish and he can’t find the programme he watches with Potter so he turns it off again. 

Severus stares at the ceiling for a long time, listening to the sounds of the cars driving past on the street down below. He absolutely does not try to reach out, try to sense Potter through the bond. 

Potter returns after midnight. Severus feels the throb of his magic before he hears the soft “pop” of Apparition. He lies perfectly still and knows that Potter thinks he’s asleep. 

The man lays his robe on the back of a chair, then pulls his jumper over his head, tosses it on the floor. In the dim light of the room, Potter’s skin looks like milk. He turns, twisting at the waist before stretching his arms over his head. Severus does not look at the long line of his spine, the way his jeans hang low on narrow hips. 

Potter goes into the adjoining bath; the door shuts behind him with a quiet snick. Severus hears the rush of the shower and he hates himself for wondering what Potter’s pale skin would look like with water streaming over it. 

After a few minutes the water shuts off again. The door opens and Potter emerges. He has a towel wrapped around his waist and is patting his hair with another. Severus does not look as Potter lets the towel fall to the floor, bends to pull on a pair of flannel pyjama bottoms.

Potter flicks off the bathroom light and climbs into his bed. Severus listens to the creak of the mattress, the rustle of sheets. The man turns one way then another trying to get comfortable. Severus hears him as he rolls over, moving beneath the blankets. 

Potter sits up again, reaches to the bedside table for a sip of water, flops back down again with a sigh. 

Out of the corner of his eye, Severus sees the man shift, sees him slip his hand under the covers. Severus closes his eyes. Potter exhales. 

Then Severus hears the unmistakable sound of skin on skin. In the darkness he can see the outline of Potter’s body in the bed, he can see Potter’s arm moving beneath the sheets. 

Something in Severus tightens. 

Potter groans. It’s a soft sound, barely a whisper, but it curls in the air like magic. 

Severus wonders whom Potter is thinking about with his hand around his cock. He knows it’s not Ginevra Weasley. Severus wants to know if he imagines himself fucking or being fucked. If there’s some man out there that Harry Potter envisions in bed with him at night. 

Severus is hard.  He feels as if he’s seventeen again, pulled so tight with wanting. It’s disgusting. He should not be listening. He should not be so painfully aroused. He cannot even remember the last time he felt this way, the last time he wanted something so much. He tries to tamper the lust, to close his eyes against it. But he can’t help but think of Potter, of his hand moving against his prick. 

Potter moans again, a soft whoosh of sound. And Severus feels wire-taut; the desire in his belly rises up and up. If he only reached down it would spill over and over...

Potter gasps. “Fuck…” And then he shudders. Severus isn’t sure if he feels it or hears it, but he knows Potter is coming. Knows his cock is spurting into the palm of his hand, through his fingers. He has to bite his cheek to keep from crying out. His own cock is throbbing. But he won’t touch himself. He won’t sink to that level. 

Potter rolls over. Severus feels when he casts a cleaning charm and soon the man is snoring softly. 

Severus lies awake for a long time. 

***

In the morning, Potter leaves before Severus is awake.

When he does get out of bed, he takes a long shower and finally allows himself to reach down and curl his fingers around his cock. He jerks himself quickly in short, fast strokes.

He thinks about Potter, the way his hand moved under his blanket, up and down. He remembers the noises the man made. The soft, stifled gasps, the groan as he came. Severus comes suddenly, his orgasm coursing so rapidly through him he can feel it in his teeth. The pleasure is so intense, his knees nearly give out beneath him and he leans against the shower wall. The tile is cool against his forehead; it’s a welcome counterpoint to the heat barrelling through his body. He shudders as the final spasms ripple up his spine. 

Severus towels off. 

He orders room service for breakfast. Poached eggs with toast and a cup of tea. Afterwards he watches the telly and does not think of Potter.

After lunch, he considers going for a walk but worries Potter might return while he’s gone. Instead he leaves a note and goes down to the courtyard to sit at one of the small tables. A smartly dressed waiter appears after a few minutes, and Severus orders a beer. There’s an American couple sitting two tables over, a bottle of wine open between them. An older man sits alone, working on his laptop, a cup of coffee at his elbow. Otherwise the courtyard is empty.

Severus enjoys his drink. He drinks more beer now than he did before; Potter is rubbing off on him. The waiter comes by again and Severus asks for the cheque. He charges his drink to the room and stands. He thinks he could, perhaps, use a nap.

***

It’s nearly ten when Potter returns. Severus is in bed watching the telly. The programme is dubbed in Spanish, but he’s figured out the gist of the show. Apparently, two contestants are racing to make as many dishes using zucchini as they possibly can before a panel of judges determines the victor. 

Potter is flushed and smiling; his cheeks are pink, his eyes bright. “We got him,” he says without preamble. “We caught the bloody bastard.”
 
“Well done.” Severus switches off the telly. “It went well, I presume?”

“Yeah. No casualties. Suspect in custody, awaiting Portkey to England.” Potter takes off his robes, leaves them in a heap on the floor. “Merlin, I’m starved. Could really go for a beer, too. Want to come downstairs with me?”

Severus sees no reason to refuse. 

“Hermosos & Malditos,” Potter reads as they enter the restaurant. 

“It’s from Fitzgerald,” Severus says. “The Beautiful and the Damned.” 

“Huh.” Potter shoves his hands in his pockets, leads the way through the maze of tables and booths.  

They take the two seats available in the centre of the bar. The restaurant is busy now. The woman beside them sips white wine, while her date peruses the cocktail menu. An older man is drinking alone at the end of the bar, a half-empty bottle of Rioja on the counter in front of him. 

“Though,” Severus muses, “the name seems particularly fitting.” He turns to Potter. “Fitzgerald could describe us perfectly.” 

Potter chews on his lip, catches on more quickly than Severus anticipates. “You’re not damned, Snape. Far from it.” When he looks at Severus something in his expression trickles like warmth down his spine. 

“But unless I missed something there, did you just call me beautiful?”

Severus turns back towards the bar, feels his cheeks heat. “I absolutely did not.” 

At that Potter laughs, a pleasant burst of sound. “Of course not.” 

They drink beer. Potter orders a hamburger. He cuts it in half with his knife; juice spills across his plate. Severus watches as he sops some up with the bun. “It feels as though I haven’t eaten in a week,” Potter says between obscenely large bites. He licks grease off his fingers, wipes his mouth with his napkin. 

“You’ve had a long day.” Severus finishes his beer, signals the bartender for another. 

“Yes.” 

“What happened?”

“Detection spells were on target,” Potter says. 

“Are they ever not?” Severus asks. Potter’s tracking magic is the best he’s seen. 

The man pinks slightly. “As long as I have a solid magical signature, no, not usually. But sometimes there’s too much distortion. And false leads can be as detrimental to the spell work as insufficient information. But anyway, we tracked him to this flat in Chueca. Expensive place, that. He comes from money.” 

“Who?” Severus asks. 

“Alaric Morgan. I didn’t recognise the name. No Death Eater or wartime affiliations whatsoever. Spent the majority of the war away from England, actually.  Returned eight months or so ago when the crimes started. No fatalities at first, but some nasty curses. Three victims still in St. Mungo’s with irreversible maladies.” He takes a swig of beer. “Then the crimes stopped. Trail grew cold. But he’d only left for the continent. Soon we started hearing reports of similar incidents in France, Portugal, then Spain. Still no deaths—not until two weeks ago, that is—but increasingly vicious assaults and some bloody complex magic.”  Potter shakes his head. “You should have seen what he was working on.” 

Severus enjoys listening to Potter talk, the cadence of his voice, the way he moves his hands in illustration. He enjoys hearing about his work, his cases, the magic he encounters. His energy, his enthusiasm washes over Severus in waves. It’s infectious. And the man really is beautiful.

Severus must be drunk. 

“Morgan was working with two Potions experts,” Potter continues. “Local kids, fresh off their Masteries. Somehow they’d manage to imbue a common aerosol base with curse work. Must have had a hundred doses in that makeshift lab of theirs.”  The bartender brings Potter another beer; Severus shakes his head when he points to his own empty glass. 

“You throw one of those vials at a target and the glass shatters.” Potter holds up a fist, fans out his fingers, mimicking the explosion. “Poof! Like a grenade. Anyone within a fifty-foot radius is affected.” 

Potter is right: Severus wishes he could have seen the operation. “Creative use of magic, to be sure. Certainly an efficient way to obtain a maximum number of casualties.  Not a particularly precise delivery mechanism, though. Hard to control. Too many variables. Hard to target specific victims—I don’t suppose your perpetrator would consider that a downside, however.” 

“No,” Potter says, “I don’t imagine he would.” 

They sit there for another half hour or so. Potter finishes his beer. Re-enacts the raid on Alaric Morgan’s apartment with a handful of nuts, several toothpicks, and the saltshaker. Severus watches the man’s fingers, his hands as he stages cashew Aurors at three separate entry points. The toothpick criminals inside go about their sinister business unaware.  

Potter accidentally knocks over the saltshaker, laughs so hard his eyes start to water. “Well, thank God it didn’t go down quite like that. Hard to make a stealth entry if you face plant on arrival.” 

Severus can’t help it. He laughs too. After a moment, he catches his breath, finds Potter looking at him curiously. 

“What?” he asks, suddenly self-conscious.

“Nothing,” the man says quickly. “It’s just nice to see you so happy.” 

Happy...

“I assure, you Potter, I am no such thing.” 

The man laughs again, holds up his hands in acquiescence. “All right, whatever you say. One more round,” he says to the bartender “and our cheque please.” 

“I don’t need another,” Severus protests. His head is pleasantly muddled, his stomach warm with alcohol. 

“It’s for the room,” Potter says, as though that makes all the difference. 

Severus stands—more unsteadily than he’d prefer to admit—and follows Potter back out of the restaurant. The man stumbles in the lobby. Beer sloshes over his glass and down his arm, drips onto the polished floor. 

Severus casts a quick cleaning charm. “How you ever managed to stay on a broom,” he says under his breath. 

Severus doesn’t think he could ever tire of the man’s laugh. 

“Less alcohol, for one.” 

In the lift, Potter stands closer than Severus thinks is truly necessary.  His magic pricks like electricity on Severus’s skin. Severus holds his breath, watches the numbers light up the floors. Two...three...

“Deny it all you want, Snape, but it’s a good look on you.” 

“What?”

Potter beams: “Happiness.” 

The lift chimes their stop. Potter bounds off down the hall. His beer only spills once. 

***

He feels Potter before he hears him. The man radiates magic. It’s the kind of magic that hangs heavy in the air like dust, like smoke, like sunlight.  It crackles like static that makes the hairs on Severus’s arms stand on end.

Potter stands in the doorway for the space of eternity, as though working up the nerve to come closer. Severus holds his breath. He knows the man knows he’s awake, yet neither of them says anything. 

Finally Potter steps out of the shadows and into the room. The door shuts behind him. “I didn’t wake you,” he says quietly. It’s not a question. 

“No.” Severus feels tense, the air pulled tight in his lungs. Potter is bare-chested, dressed only in sleep pants. 

The pale light from the moon falls on sharp cheekbones, the white line of his throat. 

“Tell me this isn’t the bond. Tell me we didn’t bollocks up the magic.” The way Potter is looking at him sends a chill down Severus’s spine. Yet the man’s voice is haunted, is afraid.

“No,” Severus says and he knows, regardless of everything, that, at least, is true.

Potter lets out a sigh that sounds like gasp. “Because fuck, Snape, I want you, and that terrifies me. But I’m even more terrified I’m not supposed to want you.” 

Severus wants to say, of course, he’s not supposed to want him. He’s a Death Eater turned spy turned convicted felon. He’s twice the man’s age and Potter could have anyone, anyone...

“It’s not the bond but surely you see how, also, it is,” he says carefully. 

“I don’t understand.” Potter stands at the foot of Severus’s bed, arms folded across his chest, hands tucked beneath his armpits. 

“The bond hasn’t manipulated your emotions, your feelings. The bond hasn’t made you want me...or I, you.” The words cost himself something, he thinks. He’s not used to opening himself up in this way. But he knows it took something for Potter to come here tonight, to offer himself to Severus—and to face rejection. So Severus believes he owes him the admission.  “But without the bond, you wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be here. So yes, it is the bond.” 

“And not the bond at all,” Potter finishes. 

“No.” Severus sees goose prickles on Potter’s pale skin. “You’re cold.” 

“Yes.” 

He turns down the covers in invitation. 

Potter’s skin is too soft, too smooth against his hands. “Are you certain this is what you want?” That I am what you want?

“Yes.” He slides a leg over Severus, straddling him.  When he reaches out, his fingers are warm against Severus’s cheek.

“You’re wearing too many clothes.”

Severus tenses for a moment, suddenly self-conscious. Potter is gorgeous and he... He is old and scarred. But Potter reaches out, slides his fingers over the raised, silvery smooth skin at Severus’s throat. “I like you exactly the way you are, you know,” the man says as though reading his thoughts, though Severus knows Potter has always been deplorable at mind magic. 

He nods once, abruptly, and allows Potter to pull his long-sleeved t-shirt up and over his head.

The man’s fingers trace lines on his chest; his thumbnail scrapes over a nipple. Then Potter takes his arm, turns it over in his hands. Severus wants to flinch, to rip his arm away or push the man from his bed. But Potter presses a kiss to the curve of his elbow and Severus remains absolutely still. 

The Mark is dark against Severus’s pale skin; the grotesque snake curls around the skull in a sickly arc. “It just looks like a tattoo,” Potter says and then he is leaning down, cupping Severus’s face in his hands.

When Potter kisses him, Severus thinks he must be drowning. His throat feels dry and tight, but Potter’s mouth is soft and open. He twists one hand in Potter’s hair, holding his mouth to his, the other slides down the man’s back. He is a warm and solid weight against him.

Potter is hard. Severus can feel his erection against his stomach and it makes him gasp, makes his own prick throb. He moves his hips, presses closer to Severus.

“Is this okay?” he asks, voice ragged. 

“Yes.” It’s a wonder Severus’s mouth has formed the word because Potter shifts again, and their cocks slide together, separated only by a few layers of soft fabric. 

“Fuck,” Potter groans, the word melting like wax, like magic against Severus’s skin. He moves his hands to the curve of Potter’s arse to slip beneath the waistband of his sleep pants and to touch bare skin. 

He knows the man is already close by the way he stiffens against him.  

Potter is beautiful when he’s aroused. Even in the darkness, Severus sees the faint sheen of sweat on his brow, the pink that splashes down his throat, his chest.  The man is like a bloody statue. 

He tries not to think about how he must look in comparison. 

Potter’s gasping now, his breath coming quick between them as he grinds himself against Severus’s hips. He bites his lip, fingers clutching at Severus’s shoulders, and then he’s coming, shuddering and shaking himself to pieces above him. 

Severus feels the warm wetness spreading between them. Potter leans his head down, rests his forehead against Severus’s chest, tries to calm his breath. He can feel his own heart pounding in his chest. 

Severus traces a line along Potter’s ribcage with a fingertip, waits for whatever happens next. 

“Fuck,” Potter says again, after a moment that’s stretched and stretched. “Sorry about that. It’s been a while.” 

Something in Severus’s stomach clenches at the thought of Potter doing this with anyone before, but he forces himself to ignore it. After all, he’s the one here with him now. 

Potter sits up again. The movement sends a shock of pleasure to Severus’s groin. He looks down between them. A large wet stain darkens the front of Potter’s pyjamas. Severus’s own pants are damp, as well, but he’s so achingly, painfully hard, he does not care. 

Potter rolls over beside Severus. He grimaces slightly. “Let me just…” Then he’s slipping sleep pants down his thighs and off his legs, before tossing them on the floor.

Severus, doesn’t look, cannot look at his cock, or he knows he’ll come all over himself without another touch. 

The man is warm and languid against his side as he slides closer, pulls the covers over them. And when he kisses Severus this time, his mouth is slow, but certain. Severus feels as though he might combust. Then Potter is sliding a hand down between them, pressing his palm against Severus’s prick. 

“Can I?” he asks. Severus thinks he would agree to anything. 

“Yes.” 

Potter curls his fingers in the waistband of Severus’s pants, eases them down over his erection. And then they are naked together. 

“I think you should fuck me,” Potter says, against all possible sense. “I’ve been thinking about it for days and days. And, yeah, I’d like that.” Potter arches against him, and Severus feels his cock, half hard again against his side. “Would you want to?”

“God, yes,” he gasps, and he’s embarrassed at how breathless he sounds. A thousand times, yes. 

Potter shivers.

Severus reaches to the bedside drawer for the vial of lubricant there.

“Christ, Snape,” Potter says. “I should have known you’d be prepared.”  Something in his eyes sparkles like laughter. 

“It’s better than lotion,” Severus feels the need to explain, “for when, well...” He trails off. He’s about to fuck the man, he shouldn’t be embarrassed by his masturbatory habits...or lack there of.  

But Potter only groans, reaches down to stroke his own cock gently. “Now that’s something I’d like to see sometime, if you’d let me.”
 
“I can’t imagine why,” Severus says, but Potter only laughs. 

“Of course you can’t. Now, come on. I don’t want to come again until you’re inside of me.”
 
Severus’s hand shakes as he uncaps the vial. The clear, slick liquid pools in the palm of his hand, dribbles between his fingers, onto the sheets. “Here,” he tells Potter, “lie back.”

He slides a hand down the man’s thigh while a finger circles his hole. Potter tenses, sucks in a breath. “Relax,” he coaxes. “Spread your legs a bit.” 

When he presses one finger in, Potter cries out. “Oh God,” he whispers, head falling back, “that feels…oh fuck...

“Have you done this before?” Severus asks, both hoping and fearing that he’s the first. 

“This specifically?” Potter says, looking down between his legs. “No, nothing like this. I’ve been with guys before, though,” he adds quickly, as if worried he’s said the wrong thing. “Well, two. Once at school and then there was this bloke after the war, but we didn’t... Oh wow,” he breaks off as Severus twists his wrist. 

He slides another slick finger in, curving them both, pressing them deeper. Potter is tight, tighter than he imagined. It makes Severus’s heart pound and his prick ache. It’s a wonder he hasn’t come just from the feeling of his fingers inside the man’s arse. Potter closes his eyes, rocks his hips up as Severus stretches him.

It’s exquisite.

He gets a third finger in and Potter flinches a bit, but Severus curls his other hand around the man’s erection and he’s crying out again. 

“Okay, okay, please,” Potter says. “I’m ready.”

And Severus shudders, slipping his fingers free. He smears the remnants of oil on his cock, but then Potter’s fingers are there, slippery with lube, stroking him softly, and Severus knows he’s never wanted anything more. 

He catches Potter’s hand, pulls it away, positions himself between his legs, and starts to push in. The feeling is so intense, so overwhelming, that he has to bite the inside of his cheek to distract himself. They’ve barely begun; he’s only an inch inside and already he feels like he’s dying. He closes his eyes and presses his forehead to Potter’s shoulder. 

“Potter...”

“Harry,” the man gasps. “You’re fucking me. You can call me Harry.” 

“I, yes...”

“Good. Now move.” Potter—Harry’s heels dig into Severus’s thighs, pull him closer, deeper. And Severus does, moving in short, quick thrusts, pulling out then sliding in again. The friction, the pressure, the movement send waves of relief, of pleasure, down his spine, over his skin.

Harry cries out. His nails bite into his back. 

“Are you all right?” Severus asks, suddenly worried that he’s been too rough, that he’s hurt the man. 

“I, yeah… Just don’t stop.” Harry shifts a bit beneath him, presses a kiss to the curve of his throat. “That’s good,” he says, breath warm against his skin. 

“Touch yourself,” Severus demands, voice too rough, too strained to be his at all. He can feel Harry’s cock pressed hard against his stomach. “See if you can come again.” Severus desperately wants the man to come while he’s inside him, and he knows he won’t last much longer. 

Harry reaches down to stroke himself. It’s a bit awkward with his arm between them, his hand bumping against Severus’s hip, but it doesn’t matter because when Severus leans down to suck at Harry’s collarbone, he feels the man tense, stomach muscles clenching. And then he’s coming, slick and wet between them. 

“Oh wow,” Harry says, looking up at Severus, green eyes are wide, pupils blown. “That was… Wow.” He circles his hips once, tensing around Severus’s cock. 

It’s too much. 

Severus comes hard, cock pulsing deep inside of Harry. He can’t remember the last time he felt this way; he thinks it must have been a lifetime ago.

Afterward, they lie side by side. Severus listens to their breathing, feels the sweat cooling on his skin. Harry takes his hand in his, twines their fingers together. 

“So, do you feel any different?” Harry asks after a few minutes. “Because I think I do. But I’m not sure if it’s the sex or the bond.” He squirms a bit, getting impossibly closer. “We’re okay, aren’t we?”

Severus laughs and turns his head, nose sliding along the curve of Harry’s arm. He presses a kiss to Harry’s chest, rests a hand on his sternum.  “The bond is fine,” he assures him. “Nothing has changed.”

Except, of course, everything has. 

***

Epilogue. Two years later.

“So, I talked to Kingsley today.”

“Oh?” Severus is tired. He shifts closer to Harry on the sofa. The telly is on. A new detective has joined this force this season and she promises to be just as inept—albeit every bit as gorgeous—as the rest of her team.

“Yes, with elections coming up, he’s been going over some old convictions. He’s reassessed your case, as promised.”

Something inside Severus clenches. “And?” He’s almost afraid to ask.

“It’ll be a few days before the paperwork comes through. But you’ll be pardoned.”

“Pardoned…” The word sounds strange, foreign on his tongue.

“Yeah. It’s not probation or a parole or anything. There won’t be any conditions. No traces on your magic. No living or job restrictions. Nothing.” 

Severus feels stunned. It’s as though he’s surfacing from underwater, looking up from the bottom of a very deep well.  Though Kingsley had promised to review his case and Harry had always remained optimistic, Severus never allowed himself to hope...to think that one day he could be a free man. 

Harry is still talking. “The bond can be reversed, of course. Once the documents are signed, we will be free to try to break it.” Something catches in his voice, and Severus can feel the tension in his body, muscles pulled taut like bowstrings. Harry is not looking at Severus; his eyes are fixed straight ahead on the telly. “Hermione’s already started the research on how to undo the magic.”

“Surely she has better things to do,” Severus says. Granger and Weasley’s second baby arrived barely three weeks ago.  Over the past two years, Severus has spent more time with redheaded children than he ever felt possible. Harry is a doting godfather.  More and more often, their weekly Weasley dinner has involved restaurants with crayons and plastic tablecloths. And Harry never turns down an opportunity to babysit. 

Severus has added grilled cheese sandwiches and buttered noodles to his cooking regime. Not to mention the dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets that Harry seems to fancy a great deal more than Rose Weasley does. 

While the newest Weasley has done very little to distinguish himself as of yet, the girl—biscuit crumbs and runny nose aside—has proven more than tolerable.  He’ll never admit it, of course, but Severus has grown rather fond of Rose. 

“You know how Hermione is,” Harry says, butting his head against Severus’s arm. The man likes to be petted. Severus obliges, running his fingers through his hair, down the back of his neck.  “She loves her kids, but being home on maternity leave drives her nuts. She was excited to have something to do that doesn’t involve nappies or bottles.” 

He is most likely right. 

“Do you think it’s a good idea, though?” Harry asks after a few minutes and there’s something in his voice that worries Severus. 

“What do you mean?”

“Trying to undo the bond.  There’s so little information on the magic to begin with and no references whatsoever to its dismantling.”

Severus frowns. “We won’t do anything blindly. We will research. Use every precaution. We can even consult with Ms. Granger’s Unspeakables if you think it prudent.”

Though things have worked out better than they could have imagined; though, against all odds, they are happy here together, Severus cannot imagine Harry not wanting to break the bond. To free himself from its ramifications and restraints.  Yet still there is a sadness in his voice that Severus does not understand. 

“Are you all right?” he asks, and Harry nods, though his lips are pressed in a tight line. 

“Of course I am. It’s just, well, it will be a bit of an adjustment, won’t it? I know it’s crazy, but we’ve been happy. Haven’t we?”

“Yes,” Severus says slowly, still not following Harry’s train of thought. “I don’t see why that needs to change.” 

Harry looks legitimately confused. “Without the bond, you won’t need to stay here anymore, Severus. You can go back to Hogwarts. I’m sure you could have your old post if you want. From what I’ve heard from Neville, the new Potions professor isn’t exactly top notch.” 

Severus has heard as much from Minerva, but he has absolutely no desire to save the old tabby from her poor hire. It’s not his fault that there are no decent Potions experts about these days. “I can assure you, Harry, that I’ve had enough of teaching to last a lifetime.” Severus might miss detention on occasion, but if he never has to deal with another student again, he considers that an appropriate trade off. 

“Oh,” Harry says. Well, then you can get a flat. I’ll help you find one if you’d like. Somewhere away from Wizarding London where you’d have some privacy and—”

Surely, Severus should have seen this coming. 

“Are you kicking me out?”

“I...” The question seems to catch Harry off guard. 

Severus realises that he has never taken the time to think about what he would do...after. 

Severus wasn’t supposed to survive the war. And when he did, he wasn’t supposed to see the outside of his cell in Azkaban. Yet somehow, he’d been granted a second chance at life with Harry Potter. 

Severus never thought to imagine what he might do if he were ever given a chance on his own, if he were ever truly free.  Free from the bond. Free from Potter. He tells himself it’s because he didn’t want to get his hopes up. But maybe, just maybe, it’s because he didn’t want to admit how accustomed he’s become to having Harry in his life.  

“Are you kicking me out?” Severus asks again when Harry hasn’t answered, hasn’t said anything else at all. 

Severus would understand. The man is twenty-two. He has his whole life ahead of him. There is time for him to meet a nice young man—or woman—and settle down. He could have a family. He could have...anything. 

The thought hits Severus squarely in the chest, in the hollow place just behind his ribs. It saddens him in a way he is not expecting. And yet, he understands. 

“I assumed you’d want to leave,” Harry finally says. “I mean, why would you want to stay if you are free?”

Severus takes Harry’s hand in his, kisses his fingertips gently. “You said it yourself: We are happy here. I would be a fool to give that up.”

It takes a moment, but he seems to understand. 

“We could travel,” Harry says then. “It might be nice to go somewhere that I don’t have a case, for once.”

“Yes,” Severus agrees. 

“I’ve never been to the beach.” Harry rests his head against Severus’s shoulder. “I’ve been to the coast before, but never to a proper beach with sunshine and lounge chairs and those fruity drinks they serve in coconuts.”

“Coconuts?”

“Yeah, you know the ones. With the little umbrellas in them?”

“I’m sure we could find a place that serves such ridiculous beverages,” Severus says with a smile. 

“And what about you?” Harry asks. “What would you like to do?”

“Aside from drink cocktails out of assorted fruits?”

“Naturally.”

“Brew,” he says without hesitation. “I’d like to brew.”

Harry nods. “You could sell your potions if you’d like. Hermione is always lamenting the lack of quality products available by Owl Order. I bet there’s a market for it.”

The idea is strangely appealing. “I’d need a laboratory.”

“Would some wizard space work? Grimmauld Place is made for that sort of thing.  We’d only need to decide the place and work out the magic.”

“That sounds…perfect,” Severus says, surprised because, yes, it truly does.

“So you’ll stay?”

“Yes, I’ll stay.”

Harry relaxes against him again. The programme is back on, some new crime to solve—or, more likely, to bollocks up. But Severus isn’t paying attention. Instead he’s lulled by the rise and fall of Harry’s chest, the steady sound of his breathing. It’s like waves on the beach, sunshine on his skin. Severus cannot remember the last time he felt so content. He’s not sure he ever has.