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Finders Keepers

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Finders, keepers.

i.without

His parents always fight about losing or finding alcohol, empty bottles, and money, so it takes Lily explaining the whole thing for Severus to understand. He never heard of soulmates from his mother, so he didn’t know that what one person lost, the other found; nor did he know, up to that point, that his parents were meant to be.

Lily heard about it from her magical Aunt, who quickly became their favourite person, albeit her short visit to their village, and they pestered her for stories of Soulmates finding each other through their displaced clothes, books, or other personal items. One particular time, a broom.

Severus became obsessed with the idea of having someone of his own. For the first few tentative hours upon hearing of it, he was convinced Lily would be it, but that theory quickly collapsed in itself as they both carefully lost a piece of their clothing in the nearby woods, but couldn’t find each other’s (or their own) afterward.

Severus’s shirt disappeared though, even if it didn’t reappear in Lily’s close proximity. Which must have meant that it landed somewhere, and that helped to bear the pain of the beating he got for being careless with his possession.

Severus went to bed every night fantasising about His Soulmate. The one who received his things, because Lily and he continued the little ritual of dropping or throwing some of their things away to help their Soulmate find them. It was a bit tricky, losing things intentionally, but when they couldn’t find the items they were sure it meant the magic worked.

After the shirt, he always remembered to label his things with his name, and sometimes even his address to help Them find him. Whenever that happened, they’d run away together immediately, and they would love each other so much that they’d never hit the other, and would always cuddle in bed before sleep (just as Mr. and Mrs. Evans did sometimes after lunch). Forever and ever. Until they died happily.

The Soulmate never turned up, but Lily reasoned it was natural if they were the same age, unlikely that their parents would let them come to seek him out and that maybe they’d meet once they’d arrived at Hogwarts.

. .

On the Hogwarts Express, they see James Potter playing casually with one of Lily’s favourite hair loops. The sinking feeling in Severus’s stomach, when Lily admits that she may have found some of this boy’s lost object in her house, but just didn’t know how to tell Severus, it almost physically pains him. The tight pressure gets a bit better when Lily vows to remain Severus’s best friend and swears him to secrecy and they make a pact to hate James Potter (who is an arrogant arsehole anyway) as if nothing had happened.

Then Lily gets sorted into Gryffindor, and Severus knows nothing will ever be the same again.

..

When their schedules don't allow them to hang out, Severus escapes to the library. It's wonderful to be around so many books, and Severus wants to be the best student in his year. His bullies, the second and third year Slytherins who call him half-blood, or ‘mud-blood loving skeleton’ also don't like the quiet or reading, so that's a plus.

After his homework is done, Severus reads everything he can find on soulmates.

There is a constant buzz about the topic in his dorm too, rumours of who’ve found each other this year, whispers about the awkwardness of a first and a seventh year student’s discovery, guesses about who Professor McGonagall’s soulmate might be and whether it is a person or a cat (which is stupid, animals don't have soulmates, and Animagi are not real animals anyway).

Severus does not point this out; he hides his knowledge as much as he hides his eagerness. At this point, he has lost almost everything he owned and could spare. The bare necessities remain. He is made fun of for not having fancy clothes or new books, but no one actually hurts him with anything other than words, so it’s almost okay.

But the years pass, and the Soulmate doesn’t come. Severus starts to fear he simply doesn't have one. He never finds anything out of the ordinary, even though he’s constantly looking, always alert. Nothing appears, and he’s slowly losing hope it ever will. Perhaps the others were right, half-bloods like him don’t have Soulmates. Although even some of the muggles do, even if they never recognise it as clearly. Lily’s blood is less pure than his, and she still got one, that bloody Potter who thinks he’s better than everyone.

Maybe Severus is just not right in a way that matters in these things. He must be broken, defected, bad.

After an exam, a few stupid and frustrated words leave his mouth and Lily says she will never speak to him again. Then Severus suffers the biggest humiliation of his life, and he basically becomes the entire schools laughing stock.

That's when Lucius Malfoy, a seventh year approaches him and offers friendship for a few tutoring lessons from Potions. Severus accepts, and from there, his road leads straight to the Dark Lord.

He’s wonderful, intelligent and slightly mad, but he preaches that you are a complete and perfect wizard without ever finding your soulmate. He doesn't have one himself and is proud of the fact. Severus wants to have that same self-confidence, that power, that respect, so he lets himself be marked.

Things are really good for a while. Severus’s father dies, he has a group of friends, and he’s earning some money making potions for Narcissa and her friends. He’s a frequent guest at the Malfoys, who ask him to become the newborn Draco’s godfather.

Everything falls apart gradually. First its only a bit of unease hearing some of the words the Dark Lord used, but soon its outright nausea as Severus watches muggles getting tortured. The last drop is the overheard prophecy. Riddle wants to hunt down a child now, a magical one. Lily’s son.

Not knowing what else to do, Severus goes to Dumbledore, who hides the Longbottoms and Potters.

Severus becomes a teacher and a double agent. Although he is a natural at the latter (rubbish at the first), he hates playing the game. Narcissa and Lucius come around, bring the little Draco to his quarters. Severus likes the little boy, even if he can already tell he’ll be terribly spoiled; and he’s grateful for Narcissa’s and Lucius’s friendship, although not as much as in the beginning. How much of their kindness is genuine, and how much is calculated on him being a useful person to keep on their good side?

Dumbledore doesn’t trust him. He constantly invites him to tea, to talk, just to keep an eye on him. Thus, his first year as a teacher is a disaster. Between brewing, Death Eater meetings, writing a curriculum and socializing with the Malfoys, he has barely enough time to sleep. His quarters are a mess, and there are random children’s toys that he keeps finding on his floor, behind his bed, in his bathroom, everywhere. Draco Malfoy only started running around a few weeks ago and he already has more things than Severus has at the age of twenty-one, so with a scowl, he simply collects the items into a bag, figuring he’d give them back to Narcissa or Lucius when they asked. He puts the bag away and promptly forgets about it.

The first night he has time to sleep again happens right after Lily and James are killed. After everything he’s been through, the begging, crying, reporting, swearing, shaking and vomiting, he curls up on his carpet in front of his fire, and stares into the flames until he falls asleep.

The world becomes bleaker. The years pass.

ii. change

When Harry Potter arrives at Hogwarts, Severus feels himself wake up as if having spent his last years in a fog. Suddenly, everything is sharper. The pain of losing Lily hurts more, the after-image of his childhood bully brings forth the memories of the worst humiliations James Potter ever inflicted on him.

What’s worse, Potter knows nothing. He was raised by muggles, he has no idea of Hogwarts, his parents, Potions. After failing to answer his third simple question, Severus lets himself be filled with the righteous hate he’s sure the boy deserves and what he’s been aching to experience again since the older Potter passed.

After his pitiful performance, Potter still has the gall to approach him after class.

“What do you want, Mr. Potter?” He snaps at him, hoping to discourage anything the boy came up with.

“Hello, Professor,” Potter mumbles, looking at his feet. “I have your things...”

Or perhaps he said ‘I hate your means.’ Severus isn’t sure and he doesn’t care to find out.

“In case what I said in the class wasn’t understandable, I will repeat myself. You are not to expect any special treatment from me because of your circumstances, Potter. Not even if you grovel and beg after lessons. So stop wasting my time. Get out of my classroom.”

The defiance so well known from James, although shining at him through Lily’s eyes throws him off for a second. Only for a second.

“But sir, I think I might be your so--”

“I said, GET OUT!”

Potter’s shoulders slump, and he glares at him for a second before disappearing. He looks strangely hurt too, the little brat.

Severus is in a sour mood until dinner.

What’s worse, Potter gets in trouble constantly. First, it’s fucking Quirrell, then it’s the Chamber of Secrets, then Sirius Bloody Black with his pet werewolf.

He is a vile little creature. Everyone’s sweetheart. He studies hard and makes too many perfect potions despite Severus and Draco sabotaging him at every turn. His unnerving eyes follow Severus whenever they are in the same room, and the look in them unsettles Severus. It’s like Potter knows something he doesn’t. And even though he questions Albus repeatedly, his friend swears Potter couldn’t know anything about his parent’s history or Severus’s past relationship to them.

Potter is in turns hateful, polite and sometimes downright disrespectful with him. Severus’s first instinct about him was right: he’s just as arrogant and egoistic as his father was, if not even more so.

Still, Severus helps him every time he truly needs it. He is Lily’s son too, after all.

Nothing really changes. The threat of the Dark Lord’s return looms closer, Potter drops his Tournament egg on the floor right in front of Severus’s legs, and he has the nerve to deny he was ever there the next day. He steals ingredients out of Severus’s private storage and lies about that too. Severus is frustrated with him beyond measure.

Then The Dark Lord comes back and Severus is wondering whether his life is worth living at all. He does what ‘the greater good’ (in Dumbledore’s opinion, anyway) requires, out of obligation to a ghost, filled only with a shadow of a guilt that once cut deep.

In Potter’s fifth year, things change. They start the Occlumency lessons despite Potter’s fanatical protests, and when they start practicing regardless, the boy, blast him, is not actually useless in this either. Which is good if they want to win the war, but bad for Severus’s general mood. Their sessions are an endless circle of him trying to break Potter’s concentration, and Potter firing hexes at him whenever he manages to push inside his mind. Potter is hiding something with so much ferociousness it’s actually a bit admirable. In useless, all-over-his-mind memories, Severus sees him learning Occlumency ardently with his friends, since the date he found out he had to start studying it from Severus. From that time, it took weeks for the little twerp to whine and resist and sweet-talk to Albus, all for nothing, of course, until he reluctantly agreed to meet with Severus. What Severus pieces together, from days of breaking into Potter’s mind and getting snippets only, is that Potter was only binding for time until he got half decent at firing curses automatically at Weasley while Granger was attempting to use Legilimens on him.

Severus can’t keep his concentration up when he has to defend himself against different curses. He is used to finding the willpower to protect his mind from unbearable pain, but The Dark Lord’s constant Cruciatus is different than Potter’s Jelly-Legs Jinx and Sponge-Knees curses. He is yet to break into Potter’s mind for more than two seconds, which are not enough time to properly see memories, only to grasp an image or a feeling of them.

Overall, he can’t help but be impressed. Then dismayed because he lets himself be impressed. And the whole thing completely spirals out of touch when Potter manages to break into his mind one evening, which leads to them both kneeling on his carpet, panting.

Potter goes too deep and witnesses an enormous amount of Severus’s pathetic longing for a soulmate, but at least he doesn’t see the whole mud-blood incident. Or anything Voldemort-related.

“Dismissed,” Severus spits in Potter’s general direction, not even bothering to berate the boy’s father. He startles violently when he feels a hand on his arm. Whipping his head up, he sees the boy kneeling in front of him, his eyes slightly wet and mouth soft.

“Professor, I wish you’d let me...” he starts quietly and winces when Severus pushes his hand away.

“If you dare to talk about this to your little friends...”

“I won’t, I promise.”

Severus holds his green gaze for a while. The swirling emotions in Potter’s eyes are indistinguishable from each other, but they are all very far from hate.

“I’m sure you’ll find the door on your own.” Severus intones sarcastically, getting up from the floor and turning his back on Potter. He doesn’t need his pity.

“You are not alone, I swear.” The boy whispers before he goes.

-

As if to make Potter’s nonsensical words come true, things start to appear in Severus’s quarters the very next evening. A chewed up biro, a small, blank notebook. A very grey and overused t-shirt.

Severus gave up on having a soulmate years ago. Getting one out of the blue unsettles him. Makes him angry beyond reason. Judging by his things, his soulmate is a child. A muggle child.

Severus hates children. He hates being a teacher, he doesn’t want to be a mentor to anyone, and just being a godparent-figure to Draco tires him profoundly. He knew soulmates aren’t always romantic in nature. But how could he connect with a muggle thirty years his junior?

Perhaps, it’s only a muggle-born wizard. Maybe it’s someone who is in a similarly shitty situation as he was in his childhood, someone he has to adopt. The things seem old and battered and perhaps belonging to an overweight boy. He checks the shirt again, simple grey in colour, finds a faded ‘D’ inside it. It seems to have been written on with a muggle marker.

Severus has a soulmate, and however inadequate and inconvenient said soulmate is, some invisible knot inside his chest can’t help but ease.

-

Even though Severus keeps receiving small sweets every once in a while, then a half-knitted scarf in ridiculous colours and more pennies he knows what to do with, general events take a turn for the worse.

Black gets murdered, Potter hears the prophecy, Severus has to play the double agent with increasing frequency. He’s constantly torn between being believing himself to be completely see-through or realizing he’s easily convincing everyone, even his own self. Who can tell if he is really a god-awful arsehole or just a person who plays one extremely well?

Anyhow, the year is finally over, and Severus plans to spend his summer going around in London’s orphanages, looking for a child who owns things labeled ‘Severus Snape’, but then Dumbledore foolishly touches a cursed object, and Severus spends the summer researching ways to save his life. The more dead ends he encounters, the more desperate he becomes.

When The Dark Lord orders him to take up residence in Spinner's End again, and Narcissa comes begging for Draco’s protection… Severus feels as if waves of heavy water are descending upon him, and he’s barely able to keep his head above them.

Albus assures him everything will be fine and dandy and going according to plan if only just Severus does his job and murders him at the right moment.

For the first time in six years, Potter is the least of his problems.

Potter, who brings him his old potions book in the first two weeks, which Severus completely forgot, not remembering that he left it lying around in his old classroom (according to Potter, who nervously blabbers on about that fact).

Severus frowns and takes the rattled thing out of his hands.

Funny, how old it seems, and still, how familiar to the touch. He opens it at the very first page, where it reads: Property of the Half-Blood Prince. Oh, how foolish the youth, calling himself fancy names instead of… wait.

“Why do you assume this is mine, Potter? Where did you get the idea that I’m this ‘Half-Blood Prince’ person? Can you imagine me going around and calling myself that?” Perhaps a bit overplaying it, but Severus doesn’t need to give a reason to become the centre of new rumours. Not now, when everything is so complicated already.

“Well, I.” Potter starts, unusually flustered. Severus looks him up and down properly for the first time since the welcoming feast. He has matured over the summer, especially his face.

“I found...” Potter exhales, like someone preparing to share a great secret. Severus is vaguely annoyed with him for taking away time from his grading, which he already hates without inane interruptions. “I, that is, I keep on finding...”

Then he just stops. Severus stares at him, then starts battering his fingertips against his desk in a very deliberately fast rhythm.

“Yes?” He widens his eyes at the boy, to let him read out of his eyes his utter apathy. “Spit it out, I don’t have all day.”

Potter bites his lips, and hesitates just a second more, before muttering defeatedly: “Nothing. I mean I assumed it was yours because it had brilliant potion-suggestions, but I guess not.”

It’s a barb at his expense, very clearly so, and Severus wonders if this warrants the taking of House Points, decides that anything that makes him wonder about that is, in fact, worth taking points, just to be sure he misses nothing.

“Five points from Gryffindor. For wasting my time. Dismissed.”

He is pretty sure he hears Potter punch something once he’s outside his office, but it hardly gives him any pleasant feelings.

-

How he makes it through the year, he has no idea.

As they get closer and closer to the end of the year, as Draco is getting paler and develops bigger bags under his eyes, as Narcissa’s letters get longer and more desperate, Severus juggles teaching, making Potions for the Infirmary, keeping The Dark Lord on his good side, and trying to find alternatives to prolong Albus’s life.

Saving it, he hates to admit to himself, is not possible anymore. He brews his friend so much pain-relief, he starts falling asleep between stages of the process.

On a Thursday (Thursday, 2nd-year Slytherin-Hufflepuff, lunch, double 4th-year Rawenclaw-Hufflepuff, 3rd-year Gryffindor-Slytherin, four… no, six detentions, night patrol, he has to take a Pepper-Up in case it’s a quiet evening), Potter stops him on his way to the dungeons.

“Professor!”

He has a rather pleasant voice, or perhaps Severus’s is getting delirious.

He quips an eyebrow at him, and Potter, quite out of breath, as if he was running after him, sighs.

“You lost this, and I found it on my way to class.”

Severus’s teacher's notebook is trust at him as if Potter is afraid if he holds it any longer, he’d contract a disease of some sort.

Ugh, it hurts every cell in Severus’s body, his morals, his intellect, his religious views and a great deal else to utter the next words to Harry Potter, of all people:

“Thank you.”

He escapes the scene with the notebook secured under his arm, wishing vehemently that nobody witnessed that horrible moment.

iii. you

Severus can still see Albus falling over the battlements. It has been a few minutes since he said those hateful words and still, his magic is reeling inside him. Perhaps it will never be the same again. They are running, him behind Draco and the others, when Potter catches up to him, screaming at him.

“How could you?! How could you?”

Potter is throwing curses at his feet, as if not trying to hurt him, just stop him in his tracks.

Severus swivels around. Perhaps he has time for a last advice.

“Keep your mind closed, Potter, otherwise...”

Shut up!” Potter’s eyes are brimming with tears, yet his face is contorted in anger. “You utter fuck--You are my soulmate!”

The world slows, or maybe time does. Someone is yelling in the distance, and Potter’s face is suddenly painted in orange. Ah, the hut. It’s burning.

Severus grabs the brat’s arm and pulls him over, out of sight of Draco or the others, in case they turn back to check on him. He towers over Potter. He must have misunderstood.

“How could you do this?” Potter demands, tears still streaming over the hard lines of his furious face.

“No.” He must have misheard. “What did you say?”

Some of the fight washes out of Potter’s expression. He seems broken, unbearably sad, older than his years.

“I’m your soulmate.”

No. No.

“How could you?” Potter repeats while whirling his wand around and plucking a box out of thin air. “He trusted you! I trusted you!”

Severus wordlessly takes over the box that is unceremoniously thrown at him. It opens easily. The box contains…

Oh.

So many familiar...

There are things inside. Things he hasn’t seen in years, decades, but once belonged to him. All smaller than he remembered. Undoubtedly his, once upon a time.

You?” Severus stares at Harry Potter, the Harry Potter he thought he knew. The Harry Potter who is his Soulmate. Who was his soulmate for all this time? “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Potter bares his teeth, like a feral animal.

“NO! We’re not doing this! I wanted to tell you countless times and you never listened, answer me now, you bloody idiot! Why did you-- How could you--”

Dumbledore. Lifeless. Falling over the… No, he can’t think about that now. They have to survive this evening, otherwise, it was all for nothing.

“I have to go,” Severus snaps, shrinking the box with a flick of his wand. “If this is true… Expect a letter from me. Burn it immediately after you’ve read it. Don’t tell anyone we’ve had this conversation. Guard your mind constantly.”

Potter grabs onto his robes.

“No, I won’t let you go. You owe me answers, you sodding--”

Severus Petrifies him and gently lays him on the ground. He nods at Potter’s betrayed expression and only lets the magic go a second before Apparating away.

-

He has ample time while waiting for the Dark Lord’s next orders. He examines his childhood possessions, lost and found. Sorts through all his memories of Potter in this new light, and curses himself over how his prejudice and hatred clouded his vision. Everything Potter ever did, the way he acted at certain times, it all makes perfect sense suddenly.

He writes about twenty letters and incinerates all of them. When he’d written down all the bitching, all the sarcasm and the worst insults Potter could be subjected to (and all the apologies too), and burned all of them, he settles for the next words.

What you have to understand, I am only a pawn in the game the Headmaster plays to win the war. If we go with this analogy, he was the Queen, while you are the King. This move was carefully planned and executed so I’d get into a position on enemy’s territory that is the most favourable in the long run. You saw the blackened hand: his days have been numbered. He made me swear to do it, so his death wouldn’t be in vain: so the Light would get an advantage. Burn this. I spelled the paper so the real writing is only visible to you, but the spell will diminish over time. Don’t make his death worthless by blowing my cover. ‘Your Soulmate’

A torn piece of parchment lands on his table only two hours later. It says:

FUCK YOU

Nothing else. Severus shreds the paper in his rage. Of bloody course, Potter would indeed be his soulmate. Who else? Harry Sodding Potter. Adding to that, surprise surprise, the stupid Gryffindor child is incapable of a proper discussion.

Severus is well into scribbling down his already five paragraphs long reply with all the insults he discarded earlier, sewing them together for maximum effect. Before he can send it, another parchment appears out of thin air and brushes him on the nose as it descends in front of him.

Let me clarify. Fuck you for doing what you did. Orders or not. Fuck you for waiting two weeks before contacting me. Fuck you for that shitty chess metaphor, and fuck you for air quoting ‘your soulmate’ to me. I burned your shitty letter faster than light, rest assured. Also, fuck you for treating me the way you did for years. Now that you know, I refuse to be treated anything but your equal. What else did D. tell you that I don’t know about?

Severus pulls up a blank parchment to answer him.

-

The more often their correspondence takes place, the closer the ‘lost things’ appear to Severus. He invents a spell to help the localization of the messages and this way he’s able to receive the new pieces of papers in the pockets of his robe. He teaches the spell to Harry, just for safety’s sake.

After spending almost the whole summer writing to each other, and getting used to the idea of his soulmate being Potter, Severus feels they’ve got the most they can out of the situation.

Merging the idea of a person Severus waited and yearned for his entire life, and fitting Potter in that image is… it takes time, effort and a lot of uncomfortable thoughts to sort through on Severus’s part.

Meanwhile, their connection is an incredible advantage in the war, one that cannot be wasted because of Severus’s conflicted feelings.

They are able to exchange information at a pretty fast rate, once they think of a working way to ‘lose’ their messages quickly. Magic has always been one of Severus’s favourite things, for this exact reason. He invents a spell for it in a span of a few weeks.

Harry gets relocated from Privet Drive without much trouble (although Severus brews potion after potion for his stupid bird that got in the line of fire. Hedwig eventually gets better, and Severus can’t pretend he doesn’t preen a little at his Soulmate’s grateful praise, or the knowledge that nobody got seriously hurt. Except for Moody, but good riddance.).

While they are on the run, Severus loses plenty of food to keep them fed. He looses his warmest clothes and goes to buy new ones. It’s a bit tricky to establish ownership over things he intends to give to Harry and his friends, but he always manages, sooner or later. He carries the sword of Gryffindor around with him for months and even places it next to his bed for the nights he actually lies down to sleep until he thoroughly feels like it belongs to him.

As the Horcruxes get destroyed and the Dark Lord becomes madder and even more impulsive, Severus starts feeling they’re slowly losing whatever advantage they once had.

When the Golden Trio decides to return to Hogwarts, Severus’s thoughts spiral to depressing ends. He knows that the end is nigh, senses it in his bones. For days now, the only words they’ve exchanged with Harry are, “I’m fine for now. Look after yourself.” and “Still okay. Take care.”.

On the day when he gets a note saying “today”, he barricades himself in his office and spells curtains over his predecessor’s portraits.

Then he paces until he feels the new message in his pockets.

I’m here. H.

Severus huffs, looking around in the empty room. “In the castle, or here, under your blasted cloak?”

A soft rustle of clothes, and Harry appears, standing only a few meters away from him.

Even with three-days old stubble on his face making him look more mature… It’s still Potter. His ex-student, someone who’s barely an adult. Still inherently the same person Severus talked to a year ago.

Harry seems to contemplate something similar, Severus can read it out of his face. He feels the awkwardness set around them like a heavy blanket.

Severus has to tell him what he has been putting off for months now. He must.

“Um. Are you okay?” Harry asks.

“Yes,” Severus drawls, “Considering the circumstances. You?”

“Peachy,” Potter nods with his mouth twisting into a mockery of joy. “If it wouldn’t be for this blasted Riddle fellow, everything would be oh-so-cool.”

Severus smiles shallowly, heart jumping in his throat. He needs to tell him that he has to die.

No, not just yet.

“Felix Felicis,” Severus says, walking to the hidden shelf on the bookcase, where he stores his most dangerous potions. He produces several vials, all worth about six hours of liquid luck.

“Only give it to the adults and the older students. It makes the drinker cocky, and we don’t want children to become--”

“We talked this through,” Harry interrupts gently. “I remember.”

Severus breathes out.

“All right. But don’t tell the teachers you got it came from me, because--”

“Snape,” Harry interrupts again, firmer. “I know.”

Severus wants to snap at him for being insufferable, but he’s afraid it would lead him to reveal Dumbledore’s last message. He’s equally afraid he can’t say it, dreading the look on Harry’s face when he understands.

“Promise me something, okay?” Harry says suddenly, stepping closer to him, handing one vial back to him. Their skin brushes against each other, almost a caress. “Promise you’ll take it too. Take every potion you can use safely at the same time. Promise.”

Severus looks at him and wishes he could see Harry in his sixties, with hair greying, with wrinkles around his eyes. He won’t.

He has to tell his soulmate to forgo planning and walk straight to the Dark Lord to be butchered. He needs to tell him, otherwise, they cannot win.

“I promise.”

“Good.” Harry nods at him curtly, and turns to leave, but stops the movement halfway through to look at him again. “If we don’t make it...”

“Yes,” Severus agrees without figuring out what to.

Arms come up around his sides, making him stiffen from the unexpected contact. Harry buries his face into his robes, breathing heavily. Severus wraps his own arms around him hesitantly, and just like that, they are hugging. It’s a foreign sensation, but pleasant, warm.

When they let go, the words are slowly rebelling against Severus. They are attempting to crawl out of his throat, to pour out of his eyes, to shake themselves out of his fingertips.

Harry is looking at him strangely, murmuring:

“Even if we don’t survive...” Oblivious to the war going on inside him, he moves in for another quick hug, squeezing him. “Thank you, Snape.”

Then he turns around, grabs his cloak and walks out the door without looking back. Severus lowers his hand that wanted to touch his face but was too late to reach him.

He thinks, entirely selflessly: Perhaps Albus was wrong. Maybe I can keep him alive.

-

When the Dark Lord summons him to The Shack, Severus takes care to drown his luck, his strengthening, protecting potions, and finally, some antivenom.

It seems such a stupid precaution when the Dark Lord clearly just wants to be rid of him as quickly as possible.

Before he dies, he wants to see Harry one more time, to tell him that he’s sorry he was such a horrible soulmate. He never apologized, they’ve exchanged so many letters and he never apologized. Now, if he could just go back and stay at his side, try to protect him, die to protect him, it would be a much better death then here with him and his bloody snake, he pleads and begs to let him go to Harry, but…

A flash of pain, something heavy slapping against him, the scent of blood in the air. He got bitten, and the Dark Lord is leaving.

Severus blinks, and the next second, Harry is there, looking down at him. It was worth it, taking the Felix Felicis, after all. Severus sighs, and offers him his memories, the most intimate thing he can think of. He stares into his frantic face, his beautiful green eyes until everything goes dark.

iv. touched

He wakes with a weight on his left side. Harry is lying there, breathing regularly, pinning Severus’s body to the mattress. He is asleep, and Severus is alive. His Soulmate is alive. A glance around the room assures him that they are safe: they are in his old Potion’s Master quarters, in the dungeons.

He raises a hand and brushes through Harry’s unruly curls. Even if the feeling is nice, it borders on uncomfortable to stroke his hair when he’s not certain how Potter would view this action were he awake, so he settles on the shake his shoulder lightly.

“You’re awake,” Harry assesses softly, then adds with some embarrassment. “Sorry for falling asleep on you.”

Severus’s old bed is big enough to fit them both comfortably: perhaps that’s why Potter decides on simply lying down next to him instead of getting up and sitting in a chair like any regular visitor would. Of course, other visitors wouldn’t feel the need to pass out on top of him: he’s not sure why Potter had, either.

The young man sighs, blinking heavily.

“How are you feeling?” He enquires quietly.

“It doesn’t hurt.”

Harry smiles tiredly. At least that.

“Madam Pomfrey said everything is responding well to treatment, and that you’ll make a full recovery apart from some light scarring. Although she thinks you’ll probably be able to take care of that too with some salve or other. Everything inside is functioning completely. Thank god.”

Severus considers this. He didn’t lie, it doesn’t hurt, not to speak, not at all. He feels the bandages wrapped around his healing skin, then lowers his hand when he realises perhaps he shouldn’t prod at them so. He turns gingerly onto his side, and Harry mirrors his movement almost immediately. They are lying side by side now, facing each other.

Harry moves his hand between their chests until it rests next to Severus’s. Their little fingers touch, barely.

“Tell me who died.”

Harry squares his chest, his fingers move away. Severus almost regrets asking, for a single second, missing that tiny contact. No, he needs to know, even if it will be hard for both of them.

Harry starts the list, voice stifled, trying to sound emotionless. The Weasleys lost two boys. The Malfoys survived. Lupin… Severus survived all the Marauders, and he doesn’t feel an ounce of joy about it.

After Potter finally runs out of names, they are both quiet, as if at a memorial. Severus thinks about the world now – the people gone, the people remained. How they will shape the future. He comes back to the present when Harry covers his hand with his own. The weight and the warmth of it ground Severus in a way he never expected, not that he thought about touches as innocent and commonplace (and missing from his life) as this.

When Harry breaks the silence, it’s to whisper:

“I used to imagine someone coming to the Dursleys and telling me there’s been a terrible mistake. They’d take me away and we’d live together in a really bright place.”

“Bright?”

“They kept me under the stairs a lot,” Harry explains with a wince. “Sunlight seemed like a luxury.”

Severus wonders what’s an appropriate reaction to that. Something that doesn’t sound like pity, something that expresses that small twist of his heart upon thinking about him, alone in the dark for so long.

“You might find it foolish…” Severus waits but he doesn’t continue. Harry closes his eyes, but his face still holds embarrassment.

“We will never find out if you don’t finish that sentence.” He means it as a challenge: how it comes out, it sounds as more of a reassuring.

“It’s just… after I found out about the soulmate thing, I imagined you.” Harry swallows, but seems determined to follow up: “I fabricated ridiculous stories, overly complicated ones, about how you miraculously found out over the holidays and just came to rescue me.”

It’s definitely guilt he’s feeling now. Then he remembers something that washes that feeling away. He can’t change the past, but seeing Harry’s openness, he can… He can try to share too.

“When I was really small, I did that too.”

Harry frowns. He squeezes his hand a little.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you.”

Severus lets out a breath he wasn’t aware he was holding in.

“Likewise.”

Harry doesn’t shy away from his gaze, even if he doesn’t return it for longer than a few moments. His focus seems to be on their fingers, interlocking and shifting positions slowly. Severus doesn’t remember who started those soft, stroking motions, but he knows he doesn’t want to be the one who puts an end to them.

“Do you hate that it’s me?” Harry murmurs.

“No,” Severus replies immediately. It’s the loudest noise they’ve made for since they woke up, and it feels wrong, even if it is to disperse any doubts. He quiets back for the next bit: “Not at all. I thought it was disgustingly ironic for a long time, mostly because of my history with your parents.”

“Okay,” Harry’s fingers twitch where they’re interlocked with his, but it doesn’t feel like he wants to pull it away, despite the light perspiration that immersed between their palms. “Because I’ve been thinking a lot about us, you know, when it’s all over and I figured if you thought this whole soulmate thing was bonkers, that I shouldn’t just assume you’d want to jump into a relationship with me just because some ancient magic tells us it has to be this way.”

Severus thinks about this.

“I found it’s useless thinking about predetermination when we are already infected with the idea.” He swallows, finding it hard to return Harry’s gaze. “That being said, if you want to go, I will not bind you to myself. Miss Weasley perhaps…”

“She found her soulmate already, and before you start pointing at others, I don’t have anyone else I like. How about you?”

Severus never anticipated this directness.

“No.”

“Well, it can’t hurt to try it together, then.”

We are holding hands, Severus realizes, just then, feeling like a right fool. Indeed their hands settled between them again, enveloping each other’s.

“Why would you want anything to do with me?” He asks desperately. Potter is a young adult, a person he let down, hurt and humiliated countless times. A boy he failed to love when he really needed it.

Harry’s other hand, the one not clutching his, comes to lightly touch his cheek. It would be similar to the gesture one would use when their lover is crying. Severus’s face is dry.

“You are brave and loyal,” Harry states, touching his face again. Severus feels like he’s been poured over with lava. Hotness blooms on his face, so close to Harry’s fingers. “Powerful and clever, and… older than me. While I’m young, rush, and a Gryffindor. I don’t know if that’s something you can get over.”

“We both know you got the rougher deal out of this... out of the two of us,” Severus says, chuckling darkly. He decides to ignore everything Harry said that puts hopeful little butterflies into his stomach. “My looks, my personality, my temper...”

“You see me more than anyone else. All I ask for is a little more kindness.”

His first instinct is scepticism. How could he ask that of him? The Death Eater, hated teacher, every child’s worst nightmare?

After the war’s over, Dumbledore used to say, in his last months, You will be free again.

He understood, back then, as ‘free of your masters’, but now another thought presents itself. Free to be whoever he wanted to be. He could be kind. Kinder, certainly.

“I’ll endeavour to be.”

“What do you want? What do you want this to be?” Harry swallows. “Us?”

This needs to be talked about, so Severus can tell Harry that he never had a friendship that lasted, so he can educate him how wizards view cross-generation relationships and teacher-student ones, so he can admit to him that while he shouldn’t be attracted to someone so much younger, he can’t help but is, that the last time he had sex with someone else he was about Harry’s age, that he never thought he would be capable of falling in love.

And somehow, despite everything that could be said, the first thing that comes out of Severus’s mouth is:

“I want to be touched.”

Harry’s eyes darken. Without words, he continues petting Severus’s face at that certain point, so close to his cheekbone. His fingertips are firmer now, making Severus shiver.

Harry shuffles closer to him on the bed, stroking his hand down Severus’s chest. He is in one of his ratty nightgowns, he notices belatedly, with mortification, while Harry is dressed in a grey sweater and black trousers that smell like Hogwarts.

Harry takes his glasses off, after letting go of his hand. He blindly reaches back to put it on Severus’s nightstand, but misses completely, and the spectacles fall to the floor with a clunk. They ignore it, shifting closer to each other, aligning their bodies to be closer, closer still...

Harry keeps staring into his eyes.

Severus exhales just before their lips meet for the first time. The whole sensation is new and unfamiliar, and still, Severus feels that it couldn’t have been any other way. Harry smells, tastes, and fits exactly how he always imagined his soulmate would. Perfect.

They kiss slowly, despite how hard Severus’s heart beats; as if urging him to go faster, take more, or perhaps the opposite, to stop completely and gasp for that much-needed air.

Still, he doesn’t change the pace. He keeps exploring Harry’s lips as if it’s the most expensive dessert he’s ever eaten, but thinking back, nothing Albus ever made him try could have competed with how Harry’s skilful, lush tongue swirls around in his mouth, nor did he experience anything that compares to the way his palate reacts when it comes in contact with it.

He feels like he could kiss Harry for years and never get bored of him.

Shivery hands touch him over his nightgown, sliding down his chest, his stomach. Harry quietly urges him to undress, to touch him in return, to kiss him again.

As they chase their pleasure together, striving to discover the other’s body, Severus thinks of his younger self losing item after item to help this boy find him. How absolutely certain he is, that Harry, who is holding him in his arms so tenderly, will be everything he has always wished for.