Severus doesn’t believe in celebrating birthdays. He doesn’t believe in being congratulated on the creep of old age, the advent of fresh scars and aches in his limbs that mark another year gone by. He stopped gazing through frost-bitten windows for the owls that never arrived a long time ago. He doesn’t like balloons (wretched things), doesn’t have a sweet tooth and can’t abide the awkward social niceties required at gatherings people inexplicably choose to call parties.
No, Severus doesn’t believe in celebrating birthdays. He’s too old for surprises, too cantankerous for most company these days and too bruised from an unhappy past to see the point in celebrating with anything more than a stiff glug of alcohol and a sliver of bitter chocolate torte with a splash of cream. Birthdays are up there with aggravating conversations with the portrait of Albus gifted to him shortly after the Battle of Hogwarts, and poorly timed calls from Potter, who seems to favour inane questions about potions and bollocksing around with his head in Severus’ fire over official Ministry business.
Frankly, Severus can hardly bring himself to care if he lives to see another birthday or not.
He pours himself a healthy glass of port, extracts the last of his festive mince pies from the Tesco’s Finest range and settles in his armchair with one of the few books on potions that he’s managed not to throw across the living room in recent years. He pushes his reading glasses onto his nose (he’ll be sure to thank old age for that particular annoyance) and opens the book to his favourite chapter.
He’s just getting stuck in when his Floo whooshes and an altogether too cheerful Potter stumbles into his living room. Severus peers over the rim of his glasses, taking in the shaggy mop of hair, the beaming smile, a gift that could have been better wrapped by a drunken crup and – most offensive of all – the silver ribbon around Potter’s wrist attached to a metallic splash of letters that bounce against the low cottage ceiling.
“Potter.” Severus is well-versed at speaking in a manner which communicates his substantial displeasure and he pours it on thick for this unwelcome intrusion. “I intend to close my eyes for a moment. If I open them and discover you are, indeed, in my living room with those—” Severus waves his hand at the garish balloons “—those idiotic Muggle decorations, I will not be held responsible for my actions.”
Severus closes his eyes, counts to five and opens them again.
Potter beams, having taken the time to unleash the balloons which bounce jauntily across the ceiling. He thrusts the misshapen package towards Severus. It appears to have been wrapped with magical paper which starts warbling when Severus extends a tentative hand towards it. He snatches his hand back and glares at Potter.
“Happy Birthday,” Potter says. He drops into the armchair opposite Severus, all toned legs and insolence. “Mind if I join you?”
Severus does mind. He minds a great deal. Yet because his mouth and his brain don’t seem to be quite as well connected as usual, he simply says, “I have port.”
“Ah.” Potter takes off his glasses and cleans them on his jumper. A dreadful knitted monstrosity with a Snitch on the front. “That sounds just the ticket. Don’t forget to open your present. I spent a lot of time wrapping that.” He uses a not at all impressive display of wandless, non-verbal magic to send the gift in Severus’ vicinity and it mercifully stops singing as it lands with a bounce in his lap.
With a harrumph of displeasure, Severus opens the gift as Potter helps himself to some port.
“Don’t suppose you’ve got any more of those mince pies?” Potter sounds hopeful, and Severus looks up from the gift he’s currently wrangling with.
“No.” Severus flicks his eyes over Potter, taking in the lithe frame and flush in his cheeks. His heart gives an unsteady thump, no doubt another thing he can add to the growing list of age-related ailments. “I have a little chocolate cake in the kitchen. I was saving it for later, but you may have some if you insist.”
“Oh.” Potter grins, glasses pushed back on his nose. He pushes a hand through his hair, lightly flecked with a little silver but for the most part as dark and unruly as ever. “Brilliant. Don’t mind if I do.”
Severus scowls and gets back to his present, which is proving impossible to open.
The fact he glances at Potter’s not completely hideous backside as he strolls out of the room is simply another sign of senility.
At this rate, Severus will be lucky to still be alive by Christmas.
“Indeed.” Severus turns the gloves in his hands. They are soft, exquisite and the pleasing scent of leather is familiar and warming. “They are…quite something.”
“Oh, good.” Potter sits back, relieved. “It was a toss up between that and a beer hat that’s shaped like a dragon.” He grins. “I went with the gloves.”
“A wise decision.” Severus places them on the nester table next to his book and hopes Potter doesn’t notice the carefully folded wrapping resting beside them. He clears his throat. “Thank you.”
“No problem.” Potter points at the ceiling. “Do you like the balloons?”
The Happy Birthday bounces and shimmers in the candlelight. Severus glares at the letters. “I have never been fond of balloons.”
“I knew I should have gone with chocolates. They had champagne truffles which tasted amazing. I’ll know for next year.” Potter drums his fingers on his knee. “Unless you prefer flowers?”
Severus glances at Potter, arching his eyebrow. “Flowers and chocolates? Are you trying to wish me a happy birthday, or romance me?”
“Well.” Potter gets pink in the cheeks and his lips quirk into a hesitant smile. “Maybe a bit of both?”
Severus stares at Potter until the blasted wrapping paper starts singing again.
Severus makes an irritated sound in the back of his throat. “This?”
“Flirting.” Potter turns (mercifully) and shrugs, keeping his gaze fixed on Severus. “I’ve been playing hard to get for months, but it doesn’t seem to be working.”
Severus swipes his tongue over his lips, watching Potter. “I see. I am not overly fond of games.”
“No?” Potter tips his chin and pushes his hands into his pockets. “Not even with a worthy opponent?”
Severus snorts and rubs his jaw. “You play Quidditch. You know the thrill of the chase better than most. Even with a worthy opponent, games are fleeting.”
“Not always.” Potter moves, dropping slowly to his knees in front of Severus. The ease with which he settles into position takes Severus’ breath away. “Not if we’re playing by my rules.”
“It is customary for both players to know the rules before the game begins.” Severus touches his fingers to the curve of Potter’s jaw, noticing the way it works as Potter swallows. “Harry.”
“Do you ever think about it?” Potter looks up, his expression serious.
Severus nods. “Of course.”
“Aren’t you tired?” Potter tips his head towards Severus’ hand. It’s as familiar as it’s ever been. Candlelight and green eyes. The hiss and spit of a fire in the background. The sound of their breathing and the light rustle of clothes.
“More often than not, these days.” Severus brushes his thumb against Potter’s cheek. Harry’s cheek.
“Me too.” Harry sighs. He puts his hands on Severus’ knees and moves closer to fit into the empty space between them. “I’m tired of pretending not to want you. I won’t do it. Not anymore.” He presses closer, his voice fierce and passionate. “I’m so fucking tired.”
It comes back in an overwhelming roar. The din of the crowds in Soho. The theatre goers spilling out onto the streets and the lazy thrum of music inside the small bar. The unexpected face, young and full of promise. The sweet, heady taste of liquor against lips and the sharp sting of perspiration on his tongue. The intoxicating taste of Harry. The swell and the curve of his backside, the hard lines of his torso and the slight curve of his prick. The heat between his legs and the coarse, wiry hair at the base of his cock. The sounds. The sounds. The gasps and groans. The primal coming together and the press of teeth against flesh. The pleas and the shadowy pulse of the night as it gathered around them. Severus inhales, sharp and jagged. He reaches for Harry and tugs him up. It’s not the Harry from before who arranges himself in an ungainly mess of limbs on Severus’ lap. This Harry has lines at the corners of his eyes and the thick, black hair which Severus pushes his hands into is flecked with silver.
“Then stop,” Severus says. His words hover between them, caught on a hot, unsteady breath. “Stop pretending.”
Harry closes the distance between them, and that’s new too. It was Severus, first. Severus who turned the strange, electric fight between them into something more. Something ill-defined that perhaps neither of them was prepared for. The kisses are different, too. They speak of experience which makes Severus growl as he grips Harry’s backside in his hands and pulls him deeper into the kiss. No more, he thinks. No bloody more.
It doesn’t take long for the kiss to become something else entirely. Severus pushes open Harry’s trousers and teases, sucks and bites along the curve of his neck. His cologne is different, but familiar. Like the scent Severus used to wear years ago. A scent which reminds him the years when you could still smoke in bars and hazy cigarette smoke filling crowded rooms. The sweat, the noise and the way all of that could fade into nothing in one moment. They way they used to fuck like they were still fighting a war. The way they kissed hard enough to bruise and said goodbye like there might not be another tomorrow.
“This…” Severus removes his lips long enough from Harry’s skin to all him to tug off his jumper. His fingers slide from Harry’s prick and move to brush the mottled line which runs from his collarbone down. Another lightning bolt. Larger, this time, with the red faded over the years. “Who did this?”
“A fight. It was a long time ago. Doesn’t matter.” Harry’s hair stands on end, making him look thoroughly rumpled. He places a firm hand on Severus’ jaw so their eyes meet. “It’s over. All those battles from before. The war's been over for a long time. I’m thinking of getting a crup.”
It’s such a peculiar non-sequitur that Severus bursts out laughing. The sound takes him by surprise, the rich depth of it and the way it fills the room. “I’ve got your prick in my hand and you’re talking about buying a pet?”
Harry laughs too, the sound light and unburdened. “Actually, you don’t have my prick in your hand anymore.” He manages to sound disgruntled, despite his smile. He swipes his tongue over his lips and his voice lowers, warm enough to send a shiver down the length of Severus’ body. “I think you should fix that.”
“Do you?” Severus smirks at Harry and thumbs at one of his nipples, a hard nub beneath his fingers. “Insatiable brat.”
“Always.” Harry shifts off Severus and takes his hand. What a ridiculous sight they must make, Severus thinks. Potter with all his looks, money and charm, his jeans open and the silvery balloons bobbing above them. Severus, another year older and apparently no wiser. Not when it comes to losing his head over a wizard that always somehow managed to find his ways into Severus’ thoughts, even in those moments when he tried very hard not to think of anything at all. Severus had surmised that Harry could be kept at arms-length if Severus learned to think of him as Potter again. The ease with which Harry strips away those carefully constructed mental barriers makes Severus wonder if Harry ever really left his heart at all.
They stretch out by the fire, slowly undressing and pressed together on the soft rug. Harry’s hands are everywhere, his kisses searching and his skin hot and slick. The passion is just as assured as it’s always been, but the fighting which always ignited it ebbs away. The push and tug and the sense of something on the cusp of ending fades away into distant memory. Severus takes his time. He sucks Harry into the back of his throat and holds him steady against the floor despite Harry’s attempts to grind and push, his hand tangled in Severus’ hair. He tongues behind Harry’s balls and moves up again, to his cock. He presses his lips around it and slides down again, the motion drawing a blissful sigh from Harry and a litany of curses.
Severus pulls back slowly, reaching for his wand and Summoning a small phial. Harry watches him, stroking his hand over his prick. His eyes are dark with arousal, his skin flushed from his chest to his cheeks. “Does it feel different?” Harry’s voice is low, quiet and unusually serious.
“Yes.” Severus brushes his fingers against Harry’s thighs and they part easily for him. Severus slides Harry’s leg over his arm and hitches him up so he can get the best access. “Of course.”
“Thought so.” Harry sounds pleased and he drops his head back, arching beautifully at the first slide of Severus’ slick finger inside him. There’s another scar by his hip. A mark that looks like a burn on the top of his thigh. A slight curve to his belly and a confidence to the way he drops his hand to his prick and strokes again, with a twist and a squeeze to the base. This is a Harry that’s fucked more times than Severus cares to think about. The thought sends a powerful, possessive rush through him and he slides two fingers inside Harry’s body making sure they’re slick with lubricant and taking his time to twist, curve and slide as Harry moves and perspires beneath him.
“The difference,” Severus says when he can form words, “The difference is, this time you’re not going to run off. I assume you won’t, at least. Although I should like to know more about this game of yours. These rules.”
“Just the one rule, actually.” Harry’s words are unsteady, and he groans when Severus slides his fingers out. He blinks, his expression hazy and his fingers reaching out to touch Severus. It’s been so long since Severus has been touched like this. So long since eager fingers pressed against the hottest parts of his skin.
“Which is?” Severus slicks and positions himself, Harry’s leg over the crook of his elbow and his other hand pulling Harry in, closer still. He pushes forwards just enough to make Harry’s breath hitch. There’s a decadence in the way Harry’s lips part, red and full. Severus drinks it all in. The shadow of stubble on his chin and the forceful clench of his jaw. The way Harry looks lost in ecstasy is something Severus never thought he would see again.
“I want to stay the night,” Harry says. “Please.”
It makes Severus swallow around the lump in his throat. It hits him, how easy it might have been. How much time they might have had. Such a simple, honest request. He aligns himself and pushes into Harry, pressing Harry’s legs back as his body yields to Severus. He captures Harry’s lips in a kiss, catching every gasp and ragged huff of breath between his lips.
“I think—” Severus pushes again, deep and firm. He feels Harry’s hand working between them and he kisses Harry hard, losing himself in the sensation. Harry is so tight, hot and achingly familiar like something lost returned. Severus presses his lips to the pulse point on Harry’s neck, tastes the skin and sucks a mark into it. “I would be a fool to let you go again.” He means to say a fool to let you go home. He doesn’t mean for his words to come out so rough and desperate, for his lips to seek out Harry like a starving man. But yet, they do. Perhaps in some ways, they always did.
Severus loses himself in every push and pull, the wet pulse between them as Harry clenches down around him almost taking him off guard. It’s messy and the living room carries the heady scent of sweat, cologne from too many years ago and the wood still burning in the fire. Severus reaches his climax with a low growl, pushing Harry back into the floor and fucking him with wild abandon. When he comes down from the heady rush, Severus rolls back onto the rug and lets his breathing steady.
Harry’s hair tickles his chest and he extends an arm, wrapping it around Harry and tugging. They lie for a while – breath slowing and hearts beating restlessly.
The silvery balloons wink and bob on the ceiling as Severus holds Harry close.
Severus laughs under his breath. “They served their purpose.”
“They did,” Harry agrees. He presses his lips against Severus’ chest and mouths a whispered happy birthday against his skin. When he’s finished with his peculiar task, he props himself onto his elbow and looks down at Severus. “About this crup—”
“Absolutely out of the question.” Severus knows exactly where this is going.
“I don’t think he’d be too much trouble.” Harry traces his name on Severus’ chest with his finger. It’s a mark of a kind, but not the sort Severus minds. There’s something permanent about it, even as the warmth of the touch fades and Harry pulls his hand back. “It just seems a bit unfair to leave Kneazle at Grimmauld Place if I’m staying here some nights.”
Severus rolls his eyes. “I refuse to have any dealings with a crup called Kneazle.”
Harry studies Severus. “What if he’s part of the package?”
Severus meets Harry’s gaze and doesn’t miss the flicker of uncertainty behind his eyes. “I suppose if he’s part of the package, certain accommodations can be made.”
“Did you go back to that bar again?” Harry asks. He rolls onto his back and looks at the ceiling, his jaw working.
“Once, after you left for New York.” Severus closes his eyes. “Never again.” There were other bars, of course. Other bars, other men, other cities. He doesn’t say that out loud, because they both know what sits between the last kiss and the first. A restless history filled with faceless shadows of other people that filled in the gaps. What felt like a maddening, fleeting passion burned too bright to fade. On the loneliest days memories of those smoky rooms and shadowy kisses would hurt like a bruise that never quite disappeared. Lying together in the small room, Severus can’t help but notice that even that tremulous history has a peace to it. Even the biting kisses and the sometimes-bitter recriminations and past wrongs take on a different, wistful taste. Time has stopped moving at the incessant, frantic speed and the clocks now tick their steady seconds with soothing regularity. It’s quiet, in the room.
“I wish I’d never had to go,” Harry says. There’s surprising heat in his words. Severus went to New York, once. He saw Harry under the bright lights of Times Square with a Gryffindor scarf wrapped around his neck and his head tipped back in the snow. He looked happy and Severus took that as an answer to the questions he never asked out loud. But New York is another story. It’s something Severus will ask about, in time. Just one of the conversations they’ll have, with the tales that accompany all of Harry’s unfamiliar scars and blemishes.
“But you did. We both had our own battles to fight.”
“Then we should have fought them together.”
“Perhaps.” Severus slides his fingers between Harry’s and their hands clasp together. “No more battles.”
“Except for the ones about Kneazle.” Harry’s voice is soft, amused and heavy with sleep.
Severus nods, even as he knows Harry isn't awake to see it.
“Except for those,” he says, to the darkness and Harry's snores.
Because old age is clearly turning Severus into an insufferable fool he flicks his wand to Summon the balloons from downstairs. He watches them, silver and curved, catching the moonlight as they move gently in the breeze from the open window.
He falls asleep with the words Happy Birthday etched on his mind and for the first time that he can remember, the happy sits just right.